18 July 2013

Bentley 2002-2013

With every pet you bring into your home comes the knowledge that one day, he or she won't be there.

As the owner/servant of numerous dogs and cats at once, it's something I have to get used to. And overnight, Bentley passed away. I'm getting angrier with myself with each sad demise of a dog I've cared for. Bentley is the third to die, and for the third time I've not been there. He was staying at kennels with the other two Bassets while we holidayed in France, as has been the case for the last decade.

Two days prior to our return, the kennels left a voicemail saying he'd had a funny turn and they'd rushed him to the vet. He didn't come out alive. Bentley was 11 and a half, which is a decent age for a Basset hound, the breed being more prone to various canine illnesses than many others within the species. The strangest thing about him was that he seems, without much information to hand, to have died from nothing but old age. Given some of his lifestyle choices in his all-too-brief time on the planet, that comes ultimately as both a relief and surprise.

He came to us aged one, a Basset who had been born to breeders and showers in Lincolnshire but had been deemed not quite built correctly to become a major player as a showdog. A home was required and so when we went to collect Penny and Ruby from there after a holiday, we ended up bringing three back. Bentley was a cut-price, budget Basset and never less loved nor valued for it. He was slightly too long, his paws were slightly too big, his disposition was slightly too morose (for a Basset, even) and his discipline faltered regularly due to being a total wuss.

He wasn't cut out for showdogship but he was certainly cut out for housedogship. His life was one long sigh. He was the George Roper of dogs; all he wanted was a quiet life. Food, sleep, walks and plays were all he desired. The other dogs seldom allowed this, however. Penny was head dog and wasn't slow to pick on him; frequently she would start fights with him which would get his dander up but even then he was only forceful enough to defend himself, never to try to inflict harm on the dog giving him jip. When Boris arrived a year later, he made Bentley's life often miserable, but Bentley was classy enough to just accept his place in the pack and get on with whatever he was told. The four of them lived in the large kennel converted from half of our garage, and Bentley's sole purpose in the early days of this luxurious new accommodation was to get a bed with Ruby. This was despite a) there being four beds in the room, and b) Penny and Boris also wanting Ruby's nocturnal company. Bentley rarely won, even after Penny died in 2010, but never tired of getting into Ruby's bed, prompting Boris to bark and howl the district down until someone went into the kennel to get everyone in the right place. Every time Bentley was instructed to get into his own bed, he conformed, and every time it broke your heart that not only were you depriving him of cuddle time with his soulmate, but that he relinquished his place in the bed without protest or delay. He was a masterful dog.

He did have some rather gross habits. Let's just say that he enjoyed coprophilic pastimes; he was what Andrew Rawnsley may have called "scatalogically flawed". He did this all of his life and yet was never ill. The only time he ever had his tummy cut open by a vet was when he swallowed a mass of small gravel pebbles from the drive because, well, because they were there. The vet took each one out diligently and placed them in a glass jar and, while other more revolting habits remained, Bentley never took to scoffing stones again.

Not that he would have got a lot of joy from the stuff he shouldn't have ingested, because he seemed incapable of getting any from the stuff he should have ingested. He was a vacuum cleaner when it came to dining; a bowl of food would be placed before him and the suctionometer within his gut would be flicked on. Ten seconds later and his dish was empty and you had to ask yourself whether it had actually gone down the correct hole. His appetite never wavered, despite the one medical anomaly which affected him all his life; the state of his teeth. His rather unusual self-foraged diet didn't help, of course, but his teeth generally were a mess. Frequently the vet said some gnashers needed to come out - dental work being, of course, the one thing about canine health that insurance companies won't touch - and by the end there was only basic front molars left in his mouth.

The difficulty of eating without even a quarter of the requisite teeth didn't seem to affect him, however, except that the nourishment from his meals seemed to go straight to fighting the various dental infections that haunted him and, as a result, he never put weight on. He was long and skinny all his life and was skinnier than ever in his last weeks - yet his organs were working perfectly and his blood unaffected, right up to his last hours.

He was regularly thrown outside by Boris when it rained, leaving him standing under a quickly emptying cloud making confused woofing noises until someone went back to the kennel to restore order and tell Boris off. In the pre-Boris days when the three of them lived in the conservatory, Penny would regularly use her mood swings to send Bentley packing through the dog door. This was a miracle in itself, as when the dog door was originally fitted, only Bentley struggled to understand what it was for. The others went in and out even without a biscuit-shaped incentive at either end, but Bentley wasn't so convinced. His dimness became legendary and the training session with the dog door one Saturday afternoon provided great amusement to the neighbours to the extent that getting Bentley not to be frightened by a plastic flap over a square hole became a spectator sport.

But things like that frightened him easily. The blinds on the kennel would gently flap with the window open and this would petrify him, especially at night where his response was to try to share Boris and Ruby's bed. Boris would growl and Bentley would plead and, through the baby monitor upstairs, Muggins here would be roused from his pit by dogs squabbling quietly but threateningly at 3am, meaning a trip down to the kennel in dressing gown and slippers in all weathers to try to get Bentley to relax and sleep.

Never once did this dog fail to melt my heart when he was scared of something, even if it was something that wasn't actually scary. On Bonfire Night, it was a write-off. Initially, in his younger days, a loud radio would be enough to get him through the night without a nervous breakdown but then a fateful switching of bed positions one year meant he could also see the fireworks in the sky and that freaked him out completely. It was for this reason the blinds were erected - the blinds that would then scare him when they gently flapped - and so eventually we just accepted that we had a bit of a wimp for a dog. But there was nothing wimpish nor amusing about his terror on November 5th two years ago; he was so terrified that he soiled his bed and the whole kennel floor around him. I cleaned up heaven only knows how many times and eventually only the ticking of the clock and the decision of the neighbourhood to put the matches away and retire finally got him settled. The plug-in pheromone sprays and chocolate-flavoured relaxation liquids purchasable from the vet (at inflated prices, notch) helped him greatly as the post-November 5 firework sale meant that the village's party, and Bentley's nightmare, continued for several days more.

Bentley was old, tired and skinny, but he had pretty much all the health and more expected of a Basset when he went to the kennels two weeks ago with Ruby and Boris. He died alone at the vets overnight just 24 hours after refusing his breakfast and seeming to seize up in the run-out area of their kennel. At the vets, they tested his blood, which was fine, and gave him morphine to ease his pain, but the best they could diagnose was a sore tummy, and if my dog is set to die overnight, I want to know why. Now it's too late, and there are other aspects of the veterinary treatment and policy on this occasion with which I am deeply, deeply unhappy, but that's for another time.

We were abroad when it happened and arranged to come home early; eventually we got the dreadful news as we headed north towards the sea on France's motorway system. By the time we collected Bentley this morning, his long and lifeless old body had spent 24 hours refrigerated, and he was wrapped in a black plastic bag. He is now at the pet crematorium and his ashes box will be given to us next week, and he will join three other deceased pets on our bedroom windowsill.

And then there were two. Ruby, who has bad eyesight, is only eight months younger than Bentley and Boris is the pup, albeit a pup who will be ten in March. We collected them from the kennels and brought them home, and they had a look around for their old buddy/punchbag, only to not find him. They'll soldier on because dogs do. But Bentley has done his soldiering now and he will be missed greatly.

4 December 2012

A final shift at Television Centre


My friend Callum, whom I've known for ten years, has just finished his final shift at Television Centre before he and his BBC News colleagues decamp to Broadcasting House. He took the opportunity to write a note on his Facebook page detailing his memories of the place. It's absolutely immaculate and he has generously given me permission to reproduce it below:-

(I'm in the middle of my final shift in the newsroom at BBC Television Centre. You know the address off by heart, I expect. Wood Lane, London W12 7RJ. My job is moving to Broadcasting House in central London next week. For all the hue and cry about my employer selling off the home of showbusiness, there has been remarkably little said about how to many people, this is not much more than a nicely-shaped office block, handy for the Central Line. It's riddled with asbestos and mice. There's nothing for miles around, except for the gargantuan cathedral of retail which opened across the road a few years ago. There is, it has to be said, a bar on the fourth floor, thank God. I'll be quite pleased to leave. But I'm also quite pleased to have worked here. I've written a few thoughts about it.)

I didn't want to work at TVC because it was the home of the biggest and most famous news operation in the world. I wasn't that attracted by Graham Dawbarn's doughnut of brilliant and brutalist glamour. I wanted a job there because it was where my girlfriend worked.

So one Wednesday in the summer of 2005, eight days after terrorists had gone to blow up the Tube, and couldn't, I was shown through the glass gates of Stage 6 and told to get some news on the World at One.

I wasn't terrifically successful. A few hours' work experience didn't cut the mustard when I returned a week later for an interview. A fellow candidate I'd chatted to that morning in reception beat me to the job.

A couple of months later, there was a phone call and a sleeper train arranged hastily from the north. This time, I passed the interview and on December the 28th, 2005 I sat down next to Brian Perkins (Brian Perkins!) for my first day proper.

My girlfriend still worked at TVC. Her job was in what I came to realise was the "showbiz end", where work also meant laughter and lunch. Soon afterwards she left the BBC but, thankfully, not me. (As the saying goes, reader: I married her.)

The newsroom became my routine. Three on, three off. On that first day there was Champagne after the six o'clock news. There was none on the night shifts. The need to deliver quality first means there is none at any time, now. But 2am breakfasts are still on sale in the Foyer, and I've shared plenty.

There followed seven years, on and off. Once, we snuck into the empty Newsnight office for a peek at the Paxman empire. It was at TVC in the humour-deprived small hours that I wrote an inconsequential news story which gave Charlotte Green a fit of the giggles. You can find it on YouTube now.

Other memories: a colleague hacking into the first-floor chocolate dispensing machine one humid weekend and filling his Panama hat with Minstrels. Christmas carols rehearsed in the basement and performed in the church on Uxbridge Road (St Stephen and St Thomas: the martyr and the doubter.) That basement was the venue for a few angry union meetings, too. I always got lost trying to find the right room. We walked out on strike at midnight more than once, and for a few months we walked out every Monday in support of our colleague Alan Johnston, kidnapped in Gaza. There was a weekly silent vigil, 3pm in the car park. I was here when he walked around the newsroom, free again, and shaking hands.

I was up all night on Up All Night. Occasionally, I was embarrassed on air by Dotun Adebayo. Ben Jacobs fed us so much honey cake once, in honour of Rosh Hashanah, that I couldn't speak. My first time presenting half an hour of national radio and the weather forecaster, due on at 28 minutes past 5, failed to appear. I can't remember what I said or how I filled the space. I don't want to remember, that much.

I made too many friends at TVC to write down now, for fear I'd miss someone and offend them. I miss the brilliant Julian Krause. There was a story told at his funeral about the time he took a roll-your-own smoking break under a balcony just as the Real IRA blew up a taxi on Wood Lane. With his ears ringing and bits of black cab raining from the sky he turned to Corrie Corfield, fag aloft, and asked: "Blimey, Corrie. What did you put in this?"

At 3am on a Sunday there was not a lot of showbiz to be found at TV Centre. Thankfully, there was a lot of wit.


Brilliant. 

19 November 2012

"It involves cables, but I'm not going to say any more than that..."

We're now at the stage of this year's Strictly where the block vote is starting to take effect. This year's block vote isn't because of heart-throb status or great legs, but because of sporting heroism.

 

Victoria Pendleton has improved markedly as a dancer, but is unquestionably the weakest in the field now, combining a remarkable ability to lose her steps and never recover with a general lack of personality on the floor. It's quite tough to watch her now, as she comes across as chirpy and competitive and approachable when in the training room or on Zoe Ball's settee, but gets all serious and flinchy at showtime. And yet the public saved her.

She deserved to be in the dance-off after Saturday's showing at Wembley Arena (which Tess Daly called "iconic"; two words - it isn't) but did the regular thing of crawling from the bottom two after the lines closed, leaving the dull but effective Nicky Byrne on one of the rungs. And the show lost its funniest and most effervescent character in Richard Arnold as a result.

The Pendleton block vote comes from her Olympian achievements, of course; as a sportswoman who is also decorative, one can't imagine she's getting loads of votes from that sector of women that claim partaking in physical sport to high levels ruins your femininity. But for the majority who see sports people as just that, especially ones who took gold at the biggest event on earth, she's seen as someone who deserves to stay in the competition because she was brilliant on a bike. It must be the reason, as she isn't justifying her survival as a dancer at all.

Arnold's exit is a shame as he transformed the notion that someone half-noticeable on ITV should remain half-noticeable during their tenure on Strictly. Camp as a teepee and as funny a man as the show has ever hired, he ultimately paid the price for his lack of rhythm in the latin section. That he could have fun as a latin dancer and rack up points with the ballroom disciplines was a trait that could only take him so far, though with Pendleton still surviving, it's disappointing that he didn't carry on at least another week. And he wasn't helped, I'm sure, by the singing of Club Tropicana being subject to some kind of technical failure in the arena.

Still, if the man has ambitions left in telly, his handful of weeks mugging to the crowd, outwitting Bruce Forsyth and the judges on a week by week basis and generally managing to progress as a dancer while always happy to send himself up will help him achieve those ambitions.

Pendleton and Byrne are the next obvious knockouts though much depends on whether the remarkable Michael Vaughan can maintain his improvement levels and get somewhere in the latin rounds. His American Smooth on Saturday was superb, and to see him third overall and therefore a shoo-in for the next stage was a feeding time moment. He, along with Byrne and Pendleton, won't make the last three, irrespective of what order they exit the show, but as for who will, that's entirely up for grabs. And I rather like that.

The obvious three seem to be Denise Van Outen, Louis Smith and Kimberley Walsh. The former is relentlessly delivering each week, but there are issues for the other two - Smith is dividing the judges and his marks are inconsistent, while Walsh found herself in the dance-off the other week, suggesting a public apathy (though it could be just because Cheryl Cole was in the crowd). A continuing uncertainty for either of these two should act as music to the ears of my own dark horse, Dani Harmer, whose potential seems to have been entirely lost on people. Lisa Riley is probably too reliant on being a "character" to make the final but has real hope for it nevertheless.

As for the show itself, it looks like Craig Revel Horwood has been instructed to end any negative reviews with at least one positive, something which takes the gloss off his candour as a judge, though if he means it, then there is no reason to grumble about it. The panto booing really gets on my nerves, especially as it's obvious the contestants - and their professional partners - are far more interested in what he has to say than the other judges.

Two other things from the Wembley Arena show: firstly, Girls Aloud were actually great, and secondly, why did we need half a dozen close-ups of Rory McGrath in the crowd? Is he Dani Harmer's uncle?

13 November 2012

Patten down the hatches

The D-G has gone, senior news executives have gone, the self-flagellation levels are at an all-time high, and still it's not enough, or not right, for some people.

What's that you say? Chris Patten should go too? But he's not an executive or employee, you bozos. He heads the BBC Trust - he represents the licence payer, not the organisation.

Inevitably, the naturally left-leaning self-appointed guardians of our lives on social media have just thought of Patten's politics first and decided he has to go, without actually noting what job he does. He's a Conservative, therefore he must be wrong/unsuitable/culpable/dishonest. Grow up.

29 October 2012

"That was more than magical - it was a miracle!"

And three weeks in, time to talk about Strictly. Given that I'm usually prone to babbling on about the show once a week, it perhaps shows just how uncontroversial this current run is, without ever being uneventful.

 

Things have altered for me though in the opening spell, mind, such as my opinion of Richard Arnold. Didn't like him at first, as the regular crowbarred-in-from-ITV contestant who will guarantee discussion of the show on the main rival channel. But he is someone I've warmed to. He isn't especially charismatic, but my goodness does that man have wit. He genuinely makes me laugh. He isn't a good enough dancer, especially when forced to turn on the machismo, but his self-deprecation and side-ordered one-liners will earn him votes for a little longer. He's learned how to take the show seriously without taking himself seriously, and that's tough.

Beyond that, the rest of the bunch have pretty much evened themselves out and now it's a proper contest. The three who have gone have not been surprising, especially with the welcome if rather boring return of the dance-off, and as a result Johnny Ball and Jerry Hall got their deserved cards, one by dint of being not very good, the other by dint of being not very dedicated. Sid Owen's exit yesterday was simply about not being good enough, irrespective of his attitude or experience of stage performance. He didn't seem to be having much fun either.

Michael Vaughan's quickstep represented probably the most extraordinary transformation we've ever seen in the space of seven Strictly days. In the dance-off last week and surviving by a whisker, he skipped about the floor in his penguin suit at the weekend as if he'd been doing it for years. Like Robbie Savage last year, he seems to be developing as a ballroom man, and his continuing presence is dependant on his performing properly in the ballroom disciplines while doing enough in the less predictable latin.

Vaughan's one glorious display doesn't yet make him a dark horse; I'd love him to win, as he's a great sportsman and a smashing bloke, but he's the definite outsider still, and goodwill for the man as a cricketer and leader of the finest England team in a generation will keep him afloat for a bit, but not forever. The other blokes vary from the unexciting but competent, such as Colin Salmon; and the over-eager buck who'll survive through his fanbase, like Nicky Byrne. Louis Smith, meanwhile, is the Ricky Whittle du jour - he'll sail through to the last stages but lose out because ultimately he isn't very interesting.

Calling the female competitors is much harder as, now that the awful Hall has gone, they're all pretty good. Victoria Pendleton can still resemble a chick whose stilettoes have snapped when she misses a step, but get her through a whole dance and she does well. Fern Britton will get better by the week and has national goodwill that a minority sports star, even one with Olympic gold medals, can't manage. Lisa Riley is very entertaining and not unaccomplished either, while Dani Harmer and Kimberley Walsh have that youthful confidence and focus that will take them far, though Harmer for me is treating the competition with more respect.

That leaves Denise Van Outen, who has had to cope with criticism for being too good too soon, which is a tad unfair, and it's almost as if she's deliberately toned it down in order to level off the flak, when a competition is just that. She's still the obvious winner at this stage.

As for the show, the dance-off's return - good for dancers, bad for entertainers - will at least make sure that the brief that the connoisseurs demand the show sticks to will be retained, and so far nobody has controversially gone through at the expense of someone better in the dance-off. On the judging panel, it annoys me that Bruno Tonioli feels the need to stand up and gyrate with every single comment he makes, though it actually annoys me more that Len Goodman hams up an irked reaction his way next to him every single time. I'd like to think that Darcey Bussell demanded to be sat away from Tonioli when she agreed to become the new judge. She's following Craig Revel Horwood's lead by being honest and practical in her criticisms - though not brutally so, of course - and her stay is working wonders.

They've tried to take it on a step this year with extra props in the dances and extra-curricular duties for others - Revel Horwood as the Tin Man, Anton du Beke as Frankenstein - and the 'abracadabra' gag from Vaughan after his quickstep made me laugh a lot. It at least shows that the production team is afraid of going stale. No such thoughts from Bruce Forsyth though, who seems to be playing along with the idea that he is going stale. More and more fluffed lines keep a-coming, but to combat that he seems to be improvising more than ever, and when he does an aside to the crowd or the judges he gets it largely spot on. Ultimately, however, I still think the only reason he is doing the job is because nobody at the BBC has the guts to tell him it's over.

20 October 2012

Ruby at ten

She may be going blind, but she's still my gorgeous, lazy, mischievous, manipulative, stomach-of-clockwork Basset hound - and yesterday she was ten years old. Here's Ruby basking in the glow of her double-figured awesomeness after breakfast yesterday.

I sing her name every day to the intro of Hot Chocolate's Every 1's A Winner. Try it. No, go on.

12 October 2012

Leppings Lane



In 1989, society and the establishment hated and mistrusted football fans. If the disaster at Hillsborough hadn't happened, it still would have done somewhere else before long, just as devastatingly, and just as rife with recrimination and bitterness afterwards.

I've been to Hillsborough four times as a supporter and once as a journalist. The latest visit as a supporter was last Saturday. Away fans are given the infamous Leppings Lane end. The road itself is residential, predominantly, and a huge roundabout with a standard Highways Agency sign leads up to it. It's called, somewhat doggedly, the Leppings Lane roundabout. It's a road with national significance but still local meaning. People who live or work on Leppings Lane will be proud of their locality, and there's no reason why not. But that stand, that away end, especially now as the horrors of that semi-final day return to the public psyche, is unmatched as the most gruesome place in football.

It's not the actual viewing area that's the problem. Clearly the crumbled terraces that were divided into three cages - cages, that word still makes me shudder - with inadequate emergency exit facilities have long gone. The stand is now divided into two tiers of seating, with the lower tier not taking up half the allocation but much less of it. And they don't even allow that lower tier to be used. The upper tier only is where away fans go, and to access that tier you have to go through the same turnstiles, up the same staircases, into the same cramped concourses and up the same narrow walkway tunnels to reach the open air that greets you with the game that Liverpool fans used in 1989.

It's not just that these are the same - you can tell they're the same. The concrete floors in what is by some distance the most unroomy concourse I've ever experienced in nigh-on 80 grounds is ancient. The catering staff stand behind age-old cages, like exhibits in a Victorian asylum, dispensing the pies and ale from under a hatch measured at just big enough via millimetres to fit an open bottle of beer through. The walls are undecorated, the toilets awful, the whole place dusty, unloved, untouched, utterly bleak. I'd been before, in similar numbers with other Hull City supporters, but perhaps because - no, absolutely definitely because - the lethal combination of rank facilities and an attitude by the authorities ranging from suspicious to evil had finally been fully exposed to the world, 23 years after 95 funerals had been held and one life-support machine was ticking over, I felt at my most queasy and uncomfortable there.

Sheffield Wednesday own this ground, and this end within the ground. I have no idea what the facilities are like for home fans in the other three stands at Hillsborough. They may be similar, they may be totally removed from what the visiting supporter paying £28 to watch his team has to endure. But the very notion that they haven't actually touched the access and indoor sections of the most notorious stand in football since it contributed majorly to the deaths of 96 people, even after all this time, is pretty much unforgivable. Maybe they have plans to do so - if so, these plans are long overdue. Maybe they should raze the whole damn end to the ground and start again. Not one person would mourn it.

Hull City won the game and I left the stadium with very mixed feelings indeed. Satisfied with the result, shocked at what we had to put up with. This is without the continued stinking attitude of South Yorkshire Police, whose current incarnation seem hell bent on putting football fans in their place for daring ever to question their authority, judging by the relief sent to look after men, women and children of all ages who wear black and amber scarves and wanted to watch their team play in comfort, safety and - lest we forget - with a bit of fun. Football is sport. It should be a fun experience to watch it.

Hillsborough's fateful Leppings Lane feels and looks like the self-same Leppings Lane end that produced English football's darkest day. I now don't want to go again.

8 October 2012

Love, love them do


It is impossible to criticise the Beatles, I find. So elevated is their status as life-changing purveyors of art that altered Britain forever, that any attempt to make a negative comment about them is quickly refuted, shouted down or taken as coming from someone who doesn't know what's good for them.

See, while my mum and dad were exactly the right age to idolise the Beatles, they didn't. Mum thought they were good. Dad thought they were acceptable. Neither thought, even when the bandwagon's tyres had been deflated by the weight of the world jumping on it, that they were this colossal, uber-positive phenomenon that most people of that generation would have us believe.

There were people born in the 1940s and 1950s who disliked the Beatles, there really were. They disliked the hairdos, the repetitive choruses, Lennon's attitude (or McCartney's boyish cheekiness, but probably not both), the domination of the radio when they wanted more Motown or Perry Como or Cliff Richard. They weren't controversial or anarchic, they just had an opinion. It differed from the norm, but an opinion it was. These same people exist today, and their opinions won't have changed. It's just that nobody who controls the flow of information can believe for a moment that their view has relevance. They're the Beatles! Everyone loves the Beatles, don't they? So let's say so!

I get disappointed when people do that excruciating thing of claiming Ringo Starr was a crap drummer, I think I Want To Hold Your Hand was pretty much unrivalled in the trite and twee stakes until the Corrs turned up, and I think John Lennon was disturbed and overrated. Yet I like the Beatles. But, as the stuff written last week about Love Me Do's anniversary showed, we're not allowed to just like them, let alone scorn them, however articulate our argument. We've got to idolise them, adore them, not question them, because, well, that's just what the world does, isn't it?

27 September 2012

Ruby update

Ruby was in quite a happy, frisky mood this morning when I went to give her and the others their breakfast, so perhaps a Ruby update is in order.

Her eyesight is continuing to decline, but it's hard to tell exactly the speed or the extent. Some days she can walk perfectly in line with anything when it's pitch black, while on others she can barely see her paw in front of her face in bright sunshine.

She's never been a complex dog but she's proving quite baffling here. If there's a sudden change in conditions, like switching a light on at night or putting her outside in the evening, this confuses her. It's as if her sight is at its strongest once it has had time to get used to the conditions around it. As such, Ruby can get out of bed when it's dark outside and, despite the light being on, walk into a wall a couple of times before eventually finding her water or the dog door. It's endearing but obviously it is a little heartbreaking each time too.

Her demeanour, however, hasn't changed despite her occasional frustration and her nose touching brickwork when it shouldn't, and that's key, I think. On top of that, she's as fit as she's ever been despite approaching her tenth birthday - pensionable age for a Basset - and there's nothing wrong with her appetite or her other faculties. She can still bark the place down when Boris won't let her into bed and still roll on her back when she's feeling too lazy to have her lead put on.

On her walk the other evening, she tripped over a kerb, even though she and the others have got used to me saying "ups!" every time we approach a kerb after crossing a road. I've said it to them for as long as I've had them. Her timing let her down and she sprawled a bit. Bassets aren't entirely expressionless, even though the happiest dog still always looks as miserable as sin, and the look she gave me was one of weary embarrassment more than anything. She didn't hurt herself though, and didn't look particularly upset.

Ruby has made it her mission to live the simplest of canine lives since she walked through the door as a puppy who tripped over her own ears and stole an entire chicken pasty off the coffee table while I answered the phone. Somehow, bless her heart, she is continuing to do that despite gradually losing the benefit of the most important sense of all. I love her even more for it, and as the one thing she doesn't experience in all this is pain, I suspect she might be with us for some time to come, even if her sight isn't.

18 September 2012

Pooling your resources

Note to ITV4 and its viewers - when Wimbledon FC players shoved Martin Tyler and Dave Beasant into a Torremolinos swimming pool during a TV interview, it was 1987, not 1988. Telling us it was the way they prepared for an FA Cup final was disingenuous, at best.

This is the sporting pedant in me, sorry. The reason I know is that Tyler is asking Beasant about his manager Dave Bassett seconds before the rest of the players joined in, and Bassett quit at the end of the 1987 season to go to Watford. Also, one of the cutaway shots of the squad relaxing by the pool included Nigel Winterburn, who also left Wimbledon in 1987 to join Arsenal, where he stayed for 15 years.

I don't know why it was felt necessary in Ned Boulting's narration to claim that this was the Wimbledon squad preparing for the FA Cup final - a 1988 event in which they famously beat Liverpool - as it would have been perfectly okay to use it as flashback material instead. Wimbledon were promoted to the top flight in 1986 and so the 1987 season allowed us the first view of the Crazy Gang ethos. To admit to the true antiquity of the footage, even in relation to the FA Cup success, would not have shamed anyone.

It's nitpicky, but to nostalgists and sports lovers - I tick both boxes - it's important, and it further strengthens ITV's reputation for carelessness when making factual stuff. And it's a pity, because the World Of Sport archive shows, decade by decade, mixing Steve Davis and the first televised 147 with lethal double decker bus racing, have been great fun to watch.

17 September 2012

Grace of God


My tally of collisions in motor vehicles grew at the weekend, after a prang on the car park at Hull City's stadium left my car with ruined driver's side doors, another with a crushed bonnet and a third with a scratched wing. The courtesy car is on the way today and I dread to think what it will be.

However, that's nothing compared to what happened elsewhere, in a borrowed car, ten hours later. I was running a few minutes late as I wearily headed back to the M62 from the club night, longing for my pillows and quilt. The matrix above the motorway informed the handful of nocturnal motorists of a closure near Oldham, and I blasphemed loudly within the confines of the car.

Sitting in a motorway traffic jam at 3.30am is the weirdest feeling on earth. That journey is one I make at that time every week and sometimes you don't see another vehicle for 20 minutes. But there were plenty of them huddled into two lanes as the police and highways people closed the carriageway.

Eventually we headed off the motorway and snaked slowly up hills and around unlit sharp bends across the old New Hey Road that took traffic across the Pennines when the M62 was still a transport minister's little pet plan in a ring binder.

With every slowdown, every traffic light, every brief pause because a truck could only negotiate one bend at five miles per hour, came a curse from me. And undoubtedly from many others too. Ahead of us, we knew that a further, planned closure was in place between Brighouse and Bradford for interminable roadworks so we'd have to go through this all again.

Eventually, we re-emerged on to the M62, close to its highest point at Ripponden and re-established proper progress through the night. The second closure duly arrived four junctions later and by now I was as weary as I'd ever been. Over the years I've learned how to cope with it and stay alert, but as I progressed, eventually crossing from West Yorkshire to East near Goole, I needed help. The last service station had gone and the next turnoff was some distance away.

I stopped and sent a tweet, asking anyone who had my number and was still up - it was 5.15am, half an hour after my usual hometime - to ring me. The one thing that always perks this tired boy up during a long drive at the wrong end of the day is conversation.

A few minutes later, Louis rang. We had a chat about anything and nothing really; subject matter wasn't the issue. Then he retired for bed, and I returned a call to John, a fellow broadcaster who'd got my voicemail when trying to ring. He was up due to work at the Great North Run and joyful new fatherhood and so again we had a chat about something and anything. By the time he left for his duties, I was 15 minutes from home and made it quite comfortably.

A few hours later, I was scouring the news pages with my first brew when I saw that a young woman had been killed on the motorway in a collision with a car apparently being driven in the wrong direction by someone who subsequently failed a breath test. The accident happened at 3am; had it happened 20 or so minutes later, I'd have been right there.

When your brain is tired, it doesn't always function logically, and even though it was the police running the show, barely for a moment did I consider something serious had happened; all I could think of was my long journey home being made even longer. I feel awful about that now.

13 September 2012

"Mourning, mourning, Jameson here..."

"Ian, your foursome goes like this...

Cyril Smith...

Marilyn Monroe...

Derek Jameson and, back by popular demand...

Robert Maxwell."

"Well, Robert Maxwell, erm, it was alleged, was murdered by Mossad. Marilyn Monroe was murdered by the FBI. Derek Jameson murdered Radio 2..."

("...and the English language...")

"Is it that Cyril Smith's ate (sic) the other three?"

"Well I can tell you that Cyril Smith, Marilyn Monroe and Derek Jameson were all born out of wedlock, whereas Robert Maxwell was, of course, a different sort of bastard."

My grandma loved Derek Jameson. I can't pin down the dates when he was doing the Radio 2 breakfast show, but at 7.30 each morning following the death of my grandad, I'd arrive at her house in my school uniform to walk her dog just as his dulcet tones were chiming out of her radio.

My abiding memory of him on the telly was from that ghastly journalism quiz he did on ITV in the mid-80s, called Headliners, when he once said to a female team captain: "That's the wrong answer, but I'll give you the points because you're so beautiful." Somewhere at an adjacent desk Nigel Dempster was calling him a twat, and if you could irritate Dempster then you were pretty good in my eyes.

Otherwise, I didn't really know much about him, but he always seemed, well, affable. I don't know. He was married a lot, and issued at least one stupid libel writ, but beyond that he seemed decent, a bit old-fashioned, and quite ordinary. And that was the point.

11 September 2012

"God know why Sid Owen was codenamed 'Sushi'..."


There are 14 people needed for Strictly Come Dancing each year and you can usually guarantee that particular categories of celebrity have been sought in order to fill the show's criteria for a strong line-up.

We have no retired politician this year - I suppose after Edwina Currie and Ann Widdecombe there would have been nothing but comedown in getting Hazel Blears - but otherwise generally we're there with this year's rollcall, I think. Let's see.

Retired sporting hero? Yep, there's Michael Vaughan. If he's bobbins he'll still have time to join the TMS team in India. But cricketers have a very good Strictly record - two of them won the whole thing.
Youthful pop star whose band aren't as good as they once were? We have two. Nicky Byrne from Westlife and Kimberley Walsh from Girls Aloud. Given the success (note: not the talent, just the success) of their two bands, it's an impressive pairing though neither were the main focus of their groups and could walk down my street without me knowing who they are.
Popular soap star of yore? Two of these - Lisa Riley and Sid Owen. The former will also fit the "obese person who will use it as a weight loss experiment" category. The latter, meanwhile, didn't have much rhythm when dancing to his version of Good Thing Going while briefly being a pop star, so may be a bit of a dud.
TV royalty of yore? Sir Johnny of Ball, who obviously the whole nation over 35 will want to win.
Current BBC A-lister? Er, well Dani Harmer, I suppose. I've never heard of her but she seems to be big in kids' telly.
Person from flagship ITV show to guarantee promotion from rivals? And Daybreak again submits one of its stooges, some dude called Richard Arnold. The recruitment of Fern Britton, despite her currently inconsistent career on the light channel, is helpful here too.
Macho sporting beefcake who "needs" to "discover" his "softer" side? Yep, Louis Smith. Though I'm not sure how macho he is in personality, judging by the soft tones of his interviews after winning silver in gymnastics over the summer. But the muscles alone will assist him get votes, even if he can't transfer his rhythm from the pommel horse to the cha cha.
Famous for association with someone far more famous? I don't wish to belittle or undervalue Jerry Hall's modelling career, or her Bovril adverts, but...

That leaves Denise Van Outen, whose role in life is currently hard to pin down but after many years of being really good on telly, even in really bad telly programmes, is now a West End and Broadway star and, to be truthful, it's a surprise to see her doing this. That said, as the longest-standing celebrity crush I've ever had, I'm chuffed she's going to be on there. Get her on the It Takes Two settee on a Tuesday night with Karen Hardy and I may not survive.

Colin Salmon, who has three Bond films behind him, is another one whose recruitment seems quite a coup. I don't know much about him. Victoria Pendleton, meanwhile, was unable to make it more plain she wanted to do Strictly unless she'd invaded the Newsnight studio with a huge placard saying 'GET ME ON STRICTLY'. And after her posturing there'd have been a mild outcry if she hadn't been asked, especially given that she's now retired from her sport.

They get introduced to their partners on Saturday. You just know that Anton du Beke is going to get Fern Britton. This Strictly junkie will be watching every week, as ever.

6 September 2012

Striking oil

Okay, I watched Dallas. I did so reluctantly, because people were tweeting about it, because there wasn't much else on, because I was curious. Etc.

It was absolutely brilliant.