8 September 2010

Just give it to Alex

It's a bit too easy to declare why Sarah Kennedy was such a divisive figure with the Radio 2 audience. It's far more interesting to speculate on what will happen next.

It's interesting, for a start, to note that Kennedy has been given the opportunity to state that the decision to leave was hers. Most of the papers claimed she quit the network and used that slightly sick-making quote about being able to destroy her alarm clock.

Given that she had caused more problems with her performances on air and sudden absences from it than all of the other weekday presenters put together, it's hard to imagine that the hierarchy within the network are not all breathing at least a mild sigh of relief that it's over. And her taking of the credit for the decision also deflects any tiresome further criticism from the vehement anti-BBC press about their treatment of older women.

Beyond the highly-publicised crass remarks over the years, I found Kennedy to be unaware that she actually had any kind of audience. She was the radio equivalent of those Big Brother contestants who say or do unspeakable things and then express surprise, upon leaving the house, that we all know about them.

There was an element of car-crash temptation about her, and while I'm in no doubt that the majority of her sizeable audience loved her, I also have little doubt that a good chunk of those who ticked next to her name at diary time did so because they got a kind of sport from hearing her self-destruct. People who, as Terry Wogan once deliciously put it, sit by their radios waiting to be offended.

She was also quite extraordinarily bad, or slapdash, or just uncaring, about the mechanics and formats of radio. The only jingle she played was the news jingle, and even then she'd not have finished her ramble by the time it came on, meaning that she either forgot, ignored, mistimed or just rushed the incue for the long-suffering newsreaders on her watch. Far worse than this was her tendency to start a record with just a minute - or less - to the pips, and it didn't matter if it was a 1.59 ditty like From Me To You or a 6.30 epic like Hotel California, you knew that it was going to be ruined.

The sound effects during travel bulletins. Gaaah. And in the last couple of years she has witlessly banged on about her expensive holidays despite a lot of the audience going through financial hell. Lack of awareness again, both of herself and the needs of those who relied on her.

When Wogan left and people got shuffled about to accommodate Chris Evans' arrival, Kennedy was shifted from 6-7.30am to 5am-7am, gaining half an hour but starting an hour earlier. Now you know I'm unashamedly loyal to Alex Lester, but it could have been Slobodan Milosevic that she took the 5am hour from and he still wouldn't have deserved all the texts from "dawn patrollers" proclaiming just how oh so wonderful it was to have her on at 5 o'clock now. That kind of behaviour stinks, especially when the presenter who used to have that hour is still in an adjacent studio after coming off air. It wasn't the texts per se that provided the problem, it was her self-serving decision to read them out.

And playing It's 5 O'Clock Somewhere as her first song in her new slot? As clich├ęs go, that's right up there with playing a certain U2 song every January 1st.

On to the matter of replacing her, and, well, you know what I'm going to say. Alex is big enough (figuratively) and battle-hardened enough not to need his audience and his radio comrades to fight his corner, but it's happening anyway. Leaving my loyalties aside and putting it purely on radio terms, it appears that he seems to be contesting the role with Liza Tarbuck and Aled Jones.

Or, if you prefer, an experienced career broadcaster, an actress and a singer.

Put it like that and it should be a no-brainer. But then you have to remind yourself of just how much Radio 2 has embraced the celeb presenter in recent years. Any number of people famous for other things have come in because they generate instant headlines and publicity, if not instant ratings. They don't embrace what radio is about though, not in the slightest. They don't have the technical skills, the patience to feel an audience build, the one-on-one qualities and, in some cases, have never performed a broadcast live before. Telly is well and good, but so much of it is done in takes until you get it right. Daytime radio is one chance and it's gone.

Given that - assuming the hours don't change - the Kennedy replacement will be providing breakfast radio against successful commercial radio hosts all over the nation, then installing a beginner for whom radio is not their chosen livelihood but a nice little sideline for a bit would be suicidal. An actress like Liza Tarbuck, amiable though she may be, wants to win acting roles, and in the event of being offered a good one, do you not think for a moment she won't choose to take any number of weeks off from her little radio show to go do it?

As for Aled Jones, I actually don't mind him. He's affable but has a formatting to his delivery that suggests he'd be better off on local radio as a big cheese rather than doing safety first stuff on the biggest network in the country.

This leaves Alex, along with his professional contemporaries Richard Allinson and Lynn Parsons. These are all proper radio people - clever, focussed, coherent. The other two get regular depping time on the early slot - Lynn Parsons is in the chair right now - while Alex only tended to get it when Kennedy decided she was too pi... er, unwell to come in and so he'd get a call on the ex-directory asking him to carry on after 5.

Evidently I endorse Alex for the slot - a judicious increase of the Janice Long and Evans shows would mean they could save Kennedy's salary, aside from anything else - but ultimately the decision is about picking a real communicator who will be reliable and professional, or a famous person who will rely entirely on faceless backroom people and expect results immediately. It shouldn't even be a tough call.

7 September 2010

Glass and chocolate


There are plenty of dog owners reading this blog. See what you make of this.

Every month, the parish council in our village sends out a cheaply photocopied newsletter which is shoved through the letterbox of every house.

And in every issue, the main complaint made to the council that month is about uncollected dog "mess".

(I've always endeavoured to avoid mentioning this subject, as it isn't particularly edifying. But my goat has been got).

I live in a village which, I'm convinced, hates dogs. Plenty of people own them but they only have the residential streets to walk them on. Every bit of greenery - the huge playing field area, the school grounds, some farmers fields - are either prohibited to dogs via signage or made inconvenient through restricted access and overgrown walkways.

There are no pavements on the main road on three of the four main exits from the village, so taking the dogs on paw into the surrounding, accessible countryside poses quite a risk.

What irks me most is that the council have spent some serious money putting those "Clean It Up" signs on the lamp-posts and yellow-painted warnings on the pavements (showing a cartoon image of a dog parking its breakfast - how charming) but have not supplied a single bin for those of us who diligently follow instructions. We have a large village but only five generic litter bins (one of which is on the out-of-bounds playing field).

I have three dogs. I used to have four. On our daily long walk, this is potentially a lot of waste. I go armed with half a dozen bags and do my duty as soon as they do their business. It's unpleasant but it goes with the territory. I understand that and so do 99% of the dog owners in the village. Yet there seems to be a relentless campaign afoot, via some nasty little newsletter featuring contributions from folk who haven't much of a role in life, to make all dog owners feel like absolute scumbags.

The main point to all this is that we have major double standards going on, and here we get to the reason why I'm putting this on here. Yesterday afternoon I took the three Bassets out for their constitutional and as we passed the entrance to the playing field, the leads suddenly extended as they frantically went for something exciting of smell and look on the ground.

Somebody had dropped a full glass jar of Nutella chocolate spread.

So, we have a combination of broken glass and chocolate. How to make a dog severely unwell, at best, in one fell swoop. I dread to think what would have happened if a dog off its lead had found this pile of danger. Some vandal had dropped this item on the footpath that dog owners have to stick to because they cannot take their pets on to the field. And although I managed to keep two of mine away in the end, Bentley took a huge lick of chocolate.

To my great relief and my big boy Basset's immense fortune, he went for the abandoned label rather than any of one of the many chocolate-drizzled pieces of jagged glass. I managed to prise the label from his mouth and he spent the rest of the walk licking his lips. We ended up on the field, from which we are banned, because the broken glass and chocolate - for those of you who don't know, a small amount of human-consumption chocolate can kill even a reasonably-sized dog - had made the footpath impassable. Three Basset hounds are not as pickupable as a single Westie.

I almost wanted to be apprehended by a woman in a parish council T-shirt and a clipboard. I'd have enjoyed not paying that particular fine and giving my reasons why.

One assumes dogs are banned from the playing fields in order to protect the kids and teenagers that use them from the mess. Fine, that's understandable, even though more mess is created by litterbugging kids and cider-swilling teenagers than by dogs, and only a minority of owners barely visible on a pie chart are of the type that don't pick up after their pets.

So how about switching this courtesy to making the footpaths and public walkways equally as safe for dogs? The chocolate spread within smashed glass was a particularly nasty and extreme example, but every day there is fresh broken glass on that particular path, almost always a lager bottle. Ten yards away there is a bin on the playing field and whoever has consumed that lager has chosen to smash the bottle rather than use the bin. Usually I can shorten the leads and guide the dogs around the glass, but yesterday it was impossible.

Ruby has had cut paws in the past, and yesterday afternoon I was checking on Bentley constantly in case he suffered any bleeding. Nearly 24 hours later he seems fine and that is a merciful outcome. If he had ended up at the vets with cuts to his mouth, or worse, I'd have sent the bill to the council. They wouldn't have accepted liability, of course, but it'd have been fun to throw back a bit of what they constantly throw at us.

I'll get stick from some for this post, probably city dwellers with no pets and no empathy for pet owners. I know a few like that. But I still feel better for it.