26 January 2008

"Bup! Bup! Bup!"

The manifestly admirable and incisive Louis Barfe labels this blog kindly on his links section as a discussion of "the finer things in life, like radio and dogs." So, creaking underneath the weight of expectation, it's time I mentioned the dogs again.

Here they are...






Dogs entertain you, provide great affection, frustrate you and keep you active and alert. Sometimes they can also make you laugh, really laugh.

Our four Bassets live in the garage in a closed-off luxury kennel, with a bed each, a hatch to an outdoor run, heating and even a radio. However, due to having a humourless neighbour who believes all dogs should have their tongues removed, we occasionally have a problem with noise.

Not having any concept of time (and you try fitting a wristwatch on to those paws) the dogs bark or play or sing whenever they feel like it. 3pm or 3am, makes no odds. And because neighbour sleeps in his back bedroom and we sleep in our front bedroom, he is often first to be roused by any mild grumbling coming from the kennel.

Even though the noise is always short and not excessive, he is always quick to jump from his pit and bang some hard object against the adjoining wall of our semi-detached properties to scare the crap out of us.

I swear he did this once and it took me ten seconds after waking from a deep sleep to realise that the house wasn't falling down.

Often it was one dog, outside, barking once while he or she did some emergency business, or as we often tried to point out to neighbour, protecting our properties from someone walking past outside. Yet sometimes we'd get to the kennel and they'd all be in bed, looking at us in a way which suggested we'd disturbed their sleep by switching on the light. How dare we.

So, with the neighbour threatening action involving Environmental Health (which he's done to every dog owner in the street over the years), we compromised. He didn't deserve compromise, but we're reasonable people who want a quiet home life. So we started to shut the hatch at night.

The dogs would just bark inside instead.

The neighbour could still hear them.

The walls were still banging.

The Natural Blonde wanted to kill him.

That said, he does go to bed at 9pm each night and I think a barking dog is fair game at that time.

He also has a delinquent daughter who has had drug and crime problems, and we have heard her going at him with a knife late at night. He has had police visits at late hours.

We didn't complain once. As reasonable people, we realised that it was a problem which didn't need neighbourly interference and it was beyond his personal control. We even sympathised, privately.

And at the time I was rising at 3.15am each day to drive to Stockport, so I was being heavily disturbed.

However, he seems to think dogs can understand English and don't have minds of their own.

Some dogs are trainable. Basset hounds are not.

So, when the occasional bark woke him from his precious dozing one evening when the hatch was shut, he banged on the wall again.

I was ready to run round his house and throttle him.

Instead, we unbelievably compromised again. There was something in the fact he could hear them before us, which probably wouldn't help our cause just in case EHOs did ring the bell.

We should have told him to move bedrooms. His delinquent daughter was now living in some puddle somewhere. The room was free.

Instead, we bought a baby monitor.

A baby monitor!

Now we can hear every moan, bark, scrap, whine, slurp of water and yawn when the dogs are in bed at night.

And here I come to the issue of dogs making you laugh.

Last night Ruby, below, started dreaming. She does this occasionally, but she is the only one of the four who dreams vocally.

So, through the baby monitor at 3am, we were both woken by this quiet, high-pitched "bup! bup! bup!" noise.

When dogs dream, it is funny. When they dream through a baby monitor, it's hysterical. We're both sat up in bed, bleary-eyed but wide awake, crying with laughter.

"Bup! Bup! Bup!"

What are they dreaming about?

Frank Skinner reckons dogs dream about chasing rabbits. My Bassets are useless hunters though; they can smell the bunnies in our village fields but it's only me who actually sees them. So Ruby can't be chasing a rabbit as she's never seen one.

Our belief is that she is actually chasing a string of sausages. Being Ruby the slowcoach who doesn't run unless she absolutely has to, the sausages are on the back of a horse and cart and she has made it to a light canter in her efforts to catch them.

And this is enough to make her go "Bup! Bup! Bup!" in the night.

It's enough to make us laugh sillily.

And it's enough to make us realise that our neighbour's complaints will never manage to sully the joy of owning these dogs.

24 January 2008

Come on down, Natalie



This is me with Natalie Pike, taken in the studios at Imagine FM in Stockport, where I hosted the breakfast show. It dates back to 2004.

Natalie was from Wythenshawe and was at university locally when I received a letter from her, asking for assistance in her quest to become FHM's High Street Honey, having been nominated by her boyfriend and made it through to the latter stages.

I hadn't read FHM for years; I was 31 by this time and had grown out of it. But I did know about the High Street Honey competition from my time with the radio wing of FHM's parent company, Emap. The radio stations were constantly encouraged to cross-promote through their DJs and so many a jock would start personality links with "just been reading in the new Q magazine..." and the like. Heat, an abomination of a publication, got a lot of this cross-promotion. They repaid the compliment by making an ad for broadcast on our stations which promoted an interview with Zoe Ball - at the time she was hosting Radio 1's breakfast show; the ads even referred to this. Programme Directors within Emap were hopping mad and the ad was pulled quickly.

Anyway, despite my lack of knowledge of FHM's current campaigns, I invited Natalie and her fella (I feel awful, but his name entirely escapes me; he looked like an unbearded Badly Drawn Boy and was a dead nice chap) on to the programme and began our own mini-campaign to get the listenership to vote online for her in the final. She impressed me a lot - not just physically, but she was engaging and droll and articulate and seemed to be having real fun in her campaign to win the contest.

During the weeks of voting that followed, she had acquired enough local kudos to secure an invitation to the Manchester City players' Christmas party. As she was a City season ticket holder (this is allowed when you live in Wythenshawe) she accepted the invitation. It was the occasion when Joey Barton had that mis-coordination involving a cigar, a team-mate's eye and a spot of red mist. Natalie duly came into Imagine the next morning to explain what she'd seen, giving us an exclusive for our news team which nobody else could get. She also told us she had been pursued by Shaun Wright Phillips all night - whom she politely told to go away. Good lass. All this was good radio for us, and good preparation for her as the final approached...

She won by a mile. An absolute mile. I can't say how effective our campaign was, but I'm damned sure it helped. And, reverting to red-blooded male type for a moment, I scanned the physical wares of the other candidates and saw nothing which should faze her.

I didn't live locally and occasionally stayed on a contra deal at a hotel up the road from the studios when a long day's work had made the trip back to Hull counter-productive. On the night of the final, I was dead to the world in my room when my text alert beeped and roused me. It was Natalie. All she said on her text was "I won! I won! I won! Thankyou, thankyou, thankyou!". As soon as the result was announced, a camera crew started following her for a week, and two days later it was in my studio, filming the two of us, plus proud boyfriend, as she kept a promise to give me the first full interview (after that of FHM themselves) if she proved victorious.

My abiding memory after that was our attempts to organise an FHM signing session at the local WH Smith store with Natalie, which she was up for, but the alpha female in our sales department who was incapable of liking anyone who challenged her self-appointed position as Most Beautiful Woman Alive was so snooty and horrid about the idea that Natalie decided to pull out altogether. She kept us informed of her activities for a while, and the product of the camera crew's efforts was shown on Bravo a few weeks later. The bloke who fired me from Emap - see one of the quotes on the left - emailed me after the programme was aired to say he'd seen it; it was the first time I'd had any communication with him since the day I'd left his employ four years earlier.

I left Imagine FM within another six months or so. The last time I saw Natalie, she was a hostess on the revived The Price Is Right. When I knew her, she was bright and resourceful, as well as easy on the eye, and I genuinely hope she's doing really well today. Her bloke was dead proud of her ("it's all his fault") and the thing that struck me most was how she was so disdainful of lazy hacks who assumed that now she had a soupcon of semi-fame, she would dump him and go for some tossy footballer or F-list pop pleb. I don't know what either of them are doing today, a little more than three years on, but I hope they're doing it together.

23 January 2008

Asda update


After musing on the subject of supermarket shopping here, and adding as an aside that Asda bombard with me junk daily after just one online shop, I was rather surprised and pleased to receive the following email within seven days:

Matthew,

Apologies for contacting you directly - I hope you don't find this too intrusive, but I stumbled across your blog this morning and read with interest that you've had difficulties unsubscribing from ASDA emails. If you let me know which email address you're subscribed with I'll make sure you don't receive emails from us in future.

Apologies for any inconvenience this has caused.

Many thanks,
Chris.


Chris is Chris Dalrymple, online marketing manager for Asda.com, and to receive a personalised email like that shows a touch of class. I might even shop online at Asda again and take the risk...

Now, about those irritating emails from Tesco...

21 January 2008

Not copying, honest

Far be it from me to be deeply unoriginal, but as it's being done here and has been replicated elsewhere on this little roundabout of the bloggers' ballpark, I thought I'd do it too.

So go on, ask me a question. I dare you.

"Are the windows bomb proof?"

Honestly, the sense of humour of some people. All I did was text some of my friends and regulars who attend my club night to say we were open again after a three-week hiatus, and the title of this entry was an example of one of the replies...

We had something of an "incident" on New Year's Eve (well, early New Year's Day). It happened at just before 4am, an hour before the place was due to close and about half an hour after I'd left, having spun wheels and been called "shite" by drunken 19 year olds for seven hours.

It didn't involve nor hurt the punters or staff and happened in an area closed off to customers, thereby negating any need for fear or recrimination. But a police investigation was necessary and the premises were closed, and I found myself suddenly free for two Saturday evenings in a row.

How do you spend Saturday night these days? I didn't know what to do. The first weekend was easy; we were at Plymouth in the FA Cup so I just took my regular carful (normally reserved for midweek matches) to the game and then back home to Hull afterwards - had I been at the club I'd have had to travel alone as I was going straight there after the match.

The second weekend was a home match, late kick off on Sky. We were due to attend a friend's wedding bash in Manchester that evening, but the Natural Blonde was unwell so we cancelled our appearance with a heavy heart. Instead, I got home from the game, ate, walked the Bassets and watched telly. Watched telly! I can honestly say that the last time I watched Match Of The Day on a Saturday night, rather than get the old Sky+ series link mechanism working and see it at 10am the next morning, was in January 2005, a month before I started at the club.

It felt genuinely bizarre not to be there and I did have worries for the future. The crowd on a Saturday night had developed into a cracking bunch of folk, with lots of regulars who shake your hand or peck your cheek each week before enjoying a shameless dance to old stuff for up to six hours. But highly reported incidents can have a knock-on effect, especially when they prompt a venue's closure.

The Saturday just passed was our first one back. I'd already had a poor day, having driven to Colchester for the usual spherical ball reasons only to hear on 5 Live just two miles from the ground (and therefore 261 miles from home) that the pitch was unplayable and the game was off. The conjecture from our club and a spot of local research suggests that not a great amount of effort went into making the pitch worthy of use. Yet nearby non-league sides like Braintree, Grays and Chelmsford all had their games on (some of my mates leapt on a train to Chelmsford to see their game; determined as they were not to just catch their return train home). We'll now be back at Colchester on a Tuesday night sometime, which will severely dent the numbers in away support and cost a further £50 worth of diesel, in my case.

So, having left Colchester, cursing, and gone home again (was watching the latest scores on Soccer Saturday by 4.30pm) I then had to make the trip to the club, wondering what sort of crowd we would get. Normally I start at 10 with the leftovers of the teatime/early evening rush, and the partygoers start arriving from 11. By midnight we're usually full, by 1am there are queues and by 2am the crowd slowly begins to trundle home. At 3am we're anywhere between nearly full and a third full, and at closing time at 4am we're usually a quarter full.

This week, by midnight, we were half full. I gulped, played the tunes and did my best.

By 1am we were three quarters. Not bad. The sign outside the venue on a handily-placed lamp-post saying "SERIOUS INCIDENT HERE!" courtesy of the local rozzers as they appealed for witnesses can't have helped...

By 2am we were nearly full. And many of them were my regulars.

A pal of mine told me that one regular walked in, saw me onstage and yelled "Well, thank f**k for that!" If ever my ego got a boost, it was at that point.

I was thrilled. Looks like nobody's going to put off the 80s crowd, when there's WKD to drink and Livin' On A Prayer to dance to...