31 December 2008

I don't know the words to Auld Lang Syne

Be safe and have fun tonight. See you in 2009, then.

30 December 2008

No good ad-vice

BUPA, who put high prices on health and breathing, have moaned that our soap opera characters with bad habits don't show enough symptoms or side-effects from their vices.

Oh, just shut up.

It's fiction. It's drama. As engrossed as I am by Coronation Street, I know it's not real, therefore nobody in their right mind is going to be influenced by the activities of a fictional character.

I also know that there are few smokers in Weatherfield these days. Becky Grainger lights up constantly but doesn't have a hacking cough. This is because the actress, Kate Kelly, doesn't smoke in real life and therefore she sparks herbal fags. As good an actress as she is, I suspect a hacking cough in which oysters are regularly hawked up is quite hard to feign if your airways are, in fact, clear as glass.

After her, who else smokes? Liz and Steve McDonald (though Steve didn't seem to start until a couple of years ago, oddly) plus Lloyd Mullaney, Janice Battersby, Peter Barlow and that new limping Windass fella, the one who separates his fry-up on dinnerladies and doesn't seem to have anything more than the tiniest dog-end on the go anyway. None of them smoke indoors as the homes on the Street are, of course, really workplaces and therefore the scripts avoid the issue as nobody is allowed.

I no longer watch EastEnders but I know Dot Branning still smokes like a chimney, and proper fags too. BUPA says she should be struggling for breath all the time. But if June Brown - who mirrors Dot in her longtime habit of chaining real fags - isn't breathless, then why should her alter ego be? Drama is supposed to reflect life and, sorry BUPA, but while bad habits are to be discouraged, it doesn't mean that everyone who smokes (or drinks a bit, or has a bad diet) is going to be severely ill, earlier than expected.

28 December 2008

You know, Russian geezer, had a mate called Perry Stroika...

One of the glass collectors at the club had a bit of an accident over Christmas, which left him with a large cut on his totally bald pate. By the time he turned up for work last night, the cut had dried up and a large bruise was, instead, impressively spreading towards his scalp.

On the mic I spent the evening, cruelly but aptly, calling him Mikhail. He got the joke but the bar staff didn't have a clue.

The bar staff are all under the age of 26. One's age really comes to the fore when the last Soviet leader, as famous for his port-wine birthmark as for his reforms, is someone not even remotely on a grown-up person's radar. I'll have the bath chair now, thanks.

26 December 2008

"Doorman please!"

A cracking club night on Christmas Eve, with punters of all ages turning up and not too many complaints about the music as I played a bit of everything from 60s Motown to modern RnB. You can't win though sometimes - stick on a Christmas song and someone moans I'm playing too many; stick on a dance anthem or some 80s pop and someone claims I have no festive spirit.

One of my regulars on a Saturday is a policewoman by day, but likes to revel like any member of the public who's had a hard time of it on shift during the week. Sadly, one of the punters recognised her - despite her snazzy dress and Santa hat - as the woman who'd banged him up a few weeks earlier and decided to have a pop. As an argument and threats brewed and her boyfriend tried to step in, I called for the doormen who promptly - and literally - threw the aggressor out of the building.

The song I was playing at the time? Happy Xmas (War Is Over).

24 December 2008

How was it for me?

I'm sorry that some bloggers have had a bad year, judging by their festive posts. My 2008 has been very good, with work issues sorted and improved, the extension almost finished, my family sport of swimming restoring its reputation in Beijing and Hull City's promotion adding a period of sheer euphoria which we're still feeling round these parts. The club's new-found role as the saviours of English football (not an exaggeration) also pleases me greatly.

It's not been all great, of course. Charlie Smith's death saddened me but his longevity and amazing life achievements will always neutralise the sense of loss. My road accident at Easter will give me nightmares for a while to come yet. And there was the death of my neighbour. We didn't get on with him at all, but that doesn't stop me thinking of his family at this time of year

2008 also brought about the first anniversary of this blog, a date I never believed for a moment I'd reach. That's thanks to you for maintaining a level of interest which makes writing this guff always a pleasure.

Whatever kind of year 2008 has been for you, I hope 2009 is as good as it can be.

Kind regards and merry Christmas.

23 December 2008

Wrapper's delight

The NB wrapped up all our presents yesterday. I occasionally held ribbons down with one finger while she applied the sellotape (TM) while otherwise feeling entirely useless.

This is because I'm appalling at wrapping presents. When I try, I end up ripping the paper or not quite cutting enough from the sheet to cover the present entirely. Therefore I end up tearing an extra bit to stick over the gap, making it look all unwieldy, inconsistent and appalling.

One year I hit upon an idea. I took my unwrapped Christmas shopping to work with me, plus all the wrapping accessories required - paper, labels, ribbons etc - and then made an on-air appeal on my Imagine FM breakfast show for someone who was a) available, and b) kindly, to pop round our studios and wrap my presents for me. It worked a treat, as half a dozen women in their 30s and 40s popped round over the next half hour to offer their creative skills. Within another half hour, I was driving home with a bagful of immaculately wrapped presents.

Boy did I get some playful stick for this. But I'd do it again...

22 December 2008

"Like Bisto gravy, you saved the best for last!"

Strictly Come Dancing is over and I warmed to Tom at the last minute, especially after Rachel's showdance proved to be such a typically tedious effort. I got numerous texts while it was all going on because I was driving to Stockport at the time and had it on the Sky+ for when I got home. Lisa shouldn't have gone out when she did - not after getting 80 out of 80 - but Tom's showdance was exceptional and he was worthy as a winner.

The highs and lows of the series then...


1 - Austin Healey and Erin Boag
2 - Claudia Winkelman expressing a desire to be Craig Revel Horwood's gay lover ("is that wrong?")
3 - Vincent Simone and Brian Fortuna, the real stars of their particular partnerships
4 - The singers, especially the one who did Moon River
5 - Lisa Snowdon in long gloves
6 - Karen Hardy making it clear she loathed Gary Rhodes
7 - Rachel Stevens' meathead brothers
8 - John Sergeant shamelessly courting the public vote, and succeeding
9 - Cherie Lunghi showing her knickers and Gillian Taylforth not showing her knickers
10 - Tom Chambers and Camilla Dallerup's showdance


1 - Arlene Phillips' utter witlessness
2 - That partner of Cherie spitting his dummy out over John quitting
3 - The over-celebbed studio audience, many of whom craned their necks to be seen; would they be bothered if it wasn't on television?
4 - Bruce Forsyth's performance on finals night
5 - The voting controversies and on-air apologies, just to try to prevent the Daily Mail from sticking the knife further in
6 - Rachel's utter lack of personality or charisma
7 - The assumption that the whole country knows where Lisa is on the radio every morning
8 - Len Goodman claiming the Austin/Erin paso lacked content
9 - The bullying of John
10 - Crocodile tears upon exiting - if you're going to "miss" dancing so much, then you could always take it up as a hobby, y'know...

21 December 2008

"That's where I'll be, since you left me..."

Christmas songs are a nightmare for me, as a club jock. At this time of year I'm asked by fifty per cent of the punters to play loads of them, while the other half I could confidently say absolutely hate them and make it plain that they do. So it's lose-lose for me.

Another problem is that with few exceptions, they're really hard to dance to. Do you want to sing loudly or dance wildly? Again it's lose-lose for me - put on an undanceable Christmas song and the dancers complain they can't move to it; leave out the undanceable songs and the festive fetishists moan that they can't sing along.

Phil Spector's album is the bane of my life at this time of year. The songs are wonderful, the production fantastic, but only when you put them on in a club, at some persuasive woman's intoxicated behest, do you realise that a) the sound quality doesn't carry into sophisticated amps; b) you can't dance to any of them; and c) nobody knows the words. That's lose-lose-lose.

Then there are the depressing Christmas songs. I'm forever amazed that radio stations play the records by Band Aid (any incarnation), Mud and numerous others. Christmas may, yes, have messages and meanings and it is about thinking of your fellow man and the more unfortunate, but people lucky enough to have fun at Christmas shouldn't be made to feel guilty.

The only truly danceable songs are the ones by Mariah Carey and Shakin' Stevens, neither of which are much better than hideous when played really loudly. I'll be glad when it's over.

19 December 2008

No, it really *is* F-C

This is F-C, hiding behind his choice of holiday reading matter.

A superb It's A TV Cream Christmas! evening on Tottenham Court Road last night, with attendees including him, him, him, her, her and him.

I have photographs of bloggers pretending to be in love, doing impressions, sleeping drunkenly and generally arseing about. I drank lots of Guinness and spent most of the evening chastising Phil jealously for being a) immensely photogenic even when he pulls a face; and b) in possession of the most alcohol-resistant liver that human biology has ever created. He should be cloned.

Somebody brought in a freebie DVD of the Flying Doctors. It's probably still on our table now.

18 December 2008

"Sorry, can you just pass me that two pence piece, please...?"

Got a train to catch soon to join the other TV Cream staffers (and half of blogdom) on our Christmas shebang in London. Ahead of discussing the canned laughter on All In Good Faith and whether Bertice Reading was being 'worked' underneath her Blankety Blank chair, I just have time for a few more random irritations that have got me lately:-

1: National presenters/hacks saying they are "up in Manchester" (or Leeds, Glasgow etc). You're not "up" anywhere, as you serve a country and your regular base, or your situation away from your work is of no relation or consequence to your port of call when on air. Your northern listeners are not "up" like you, but you are "down" in London or the Home Counties to them. Would you say that? Of course not. Stop it now, please.

2: Journalists being clichéd on soap operas. According to all continuous serials on our television sets, every journalist, even the one predominantly occupied with flower show results on the local weekly pamphlet, is a scheming, heartless, Machiavellian, instantly unlikeable scumbag who nobody whatsoever trusts or wishes to talk to. Whatever flaws I have in my personality, I found that even the bereaved or the aggrieved were polite and courteous when I had to doorstep them, and most would agree to a conversation, on the record or otherwise. The female hack asking about Liam Connor's death on Coronation Street was treated with utter contempt when she turned up for reaction - but if nobody's in court to report on Tony's eventual trial (I assume there will be one) then everyone would be very pissed off.

3: Dropping change from a card wallet. I don't use a money wallet, just one for credit cards and the like, so my loose change often gets stuck on the wallet sleeves. Out comes the wallet to retrieve a card and instantly there's a multiple pinging sound as a pile of five and twenty pences go flying across the floor. That's embarrassing and I'd like it to stop.

4: The voiceover for Come Dine With Me. You are sneery and unfunny and irritating and I want to turn the sound off.

5: Fans of other Premier League clubs still assuming the Hull City bubble will burst. Actually, you carry on feeling like that, as it just means we'll take points off you too.

Right, I can see the guard waving his flag. Have my favourite Christmas song until I get back...

17 December 2008

Strictly Come Arguing

People are still arguing about Strictly Come Dancing's decision not to eliminate anyone last Saturday. For Cliff's sake, it's perfectly simple - the judges tied two contestants at the top, meaning that even if the whole bleedin' universe voted for that smug Holby City bloke, he would not have avoided the dance-off. Therefore you'd be throwing your money away voting for him to remain. The BBC seem to be damned if they do and damned if they don't.

The contest should have three finalists anyway, so they've done the right thing on that score too.

Next year, some changes. Give the couple who top the judges' board an automatic place in the next round. Make the public vote for who they want to get rid of, not save. Decide if it's a dancing contest or entertainment contest and adjust the power of the judges' or public's votes accordingly. Have a back-up plan to separate tied contestants, such as the biggest number of 10s awarded (then 9s, then 8s, etc). Don't hire anyone to take part who has the personality of a skirting board. And make sure Karen Hardy dances with someone good/likeable so we actually get to see her a bit.

And as I first said here, Lisa Snowdon to win. It's gonna happen.

16 December 2008

Phoney Blackburn

I'm inclined to sympathise with Paul Ince, a proud footballing great who has been sacked by his club, Blackburn Rovers, after a mere 17 games in charge. The LMA are livid, rightly, while general consensus is that football is simply too cut-throat to be fair these days, and you cannot judge a man's ability on the strength of just 17 games.

Then I remembered that Hull City sacked Phil Parkinson after a similar number of games - and a similarly paltry win ratio - and hired Phil Brown. Within 18 months he'd not only cleared up Parkinson's mess, but taken us to promotion.

Sorry Paul. It's a rotten world.

15 December 2008

"We prefer to call it Gallic, not Gaelic..."

Another radio boys night at the weekend, this time we chose Leeds as the venue for our eating, drinking and swapping of anecdotes about jingles.

To be in the company of Charles Nove, Alex Lester and Martin Kelner while they tell stories is like having a front row seat or an exclusive interview. I wish I could relay just one of their tales to you. I can't for reasons of a) discretion; b) loyalty; and c) libel. Let's just say that (literally) invisible BBC staff, an engineer's secret tape recording, getting the local lingo in Scotland wrong and the phrase "she was always capable of night-time adventure" were randomly scattered about the pub while the rest of us laughed.

I've never met Martin Kelner before but I'm a longtime fan. I used to enjoy his BBC night-time network programme on the local stations up here, and he is always the best thing about Fighting Talk on 5 Live whenever he is recruited. As with the first time I met Alex, and for that matter Richard Allinson, I happily and unashamedly began my first conversation with him by telling him of a time I'd corresponded with his programme, expecting him to remember instantly. He did. He may have been acting politely, mind...

The restaurant was a new Italian joint, which looked after us well (despite only 12 people turning up for a 20-strong booking) although it was one of those places that liked presentation as much as it valued taste. As a consequence, my fillet steak was excellent, but when the menu said it came with chunky chips, I didn't realise they meant five solitary French fries which were each the size and shape of housebricks, and all piled on top of each other. My builders would have been tempted to cement them together.

Our final drinking location was the bar at the local Jury's Inn hotel, which initially looked us up and down at the door - having supposedly adopted a policy of hotel guests in the bar only - before agreeing to "15 minutes only" for us in their bar. As raucous as our collective lives may have been in the past, I was surprised that this self-important doorman could believe that Alex and Charles were potential rioters in his precious hotel. Anyway, we stayed an hour and a half in the end before the hay finally beckoned. A fab night.

11 December 2008

Keep on jumpin'

Why can't you buy a good, honest jumper any more?

Amid the last trail of Christmas shopping, I also was seeking a new jumper for myself. Preferably blue, definitely thick and warm (this is still the jumper I'm referring to, by the way) and polo neck if possible but certainly leaving little neck flesh exposed.

The trend for men's long-sleeved overgarments today, however, seems to consist of none of my requirements. Well, I could get blue. But they weren't warm, they weren't to the neck and, in most cases, they weren't even jumpers. Cardigans? You are kidding, right? I looked abysmal in a grey school cardigan in 1980 and I'd still look abysmal in one now.

They have these vile button-up things in all the high street chains and the designer shops too. They are mostly awful and many of them look unflattering even on the headless mannequins (presumably the mannequin was so embarrassed he asked the window dresser to slice his head off before displaying him). I was mildly tempted by something which had Ronnie Corbett's yellow chair-monologue logo on it as it only possessed two (large) buttons at the top and was thickly crafted, but it cost £125. As if.

All of them are still cardigans, no matter how you try to rebrand them. Then if I did find something I would call a jumper, it was invariably too thin, too summery, the sort you'd take with you on a June stroll with the dogs in case the sun went in, but wouldn't look out of place tied round your neck if the sun stayed out.

Have these designers and retailers not seen the weather forecast? In Hull it's been -4c overnight, for example. In such a climate, grandmas everywhere are informing their offspring-but-one to make sure they wrap up warm. Well, I can't wrap up warm in something which provides all the insulation of a serviette.

There are also versions of these thin pullovers which have the sternum area of a T-shirt sewn into the top, to make it look like you're wearing a whole T shirt underneath. Someone cocked up here, really. Why design something that prevents the customer from buying a whole extra article of clothing from the same store?

It is possible to have a jumper which is a) stylish; b) warm; c) inexpensive; and d) traditional. I've seen them. In the past, I've owned them. However, it appears the global warming lunatics might be right about our planet's temperature as there doesn't seem to be a market for clothing which keeps out the cold.

10 December 2008

A canine carol

Dog tags ring, are you listening?
In the lane, snow is glistening
It's yellow not white, I've been there tonight
Marking up my winter wonderland

Smell that tree, that's my fragrance
It's a sign for wandering vagrants
Avoid where I pee, it's my property
I've marked it as my winter wonderland

In the garden Dad will build a snowman
Following the classical design
Then I'll lift my leg and let it go man
So all the world will know it's mine all mine

On the gate, on the fencepost
It's my pong that you'll sense most
Says 'stay off my turf, this small piece of earth
You're walking in my winter wonderland'.

9 December 2008

What the hell is Zabasearch anyway?

Urrrrgh. More computer trouble. Something has arrived on my system which evaded Norton and now every so often I get Internet Explorer pop-ups when surfing, even though I use Firefox and have the pop-ups blocker set to maximum.

Norton can warn me about attacks it is blocking, but it can't prevent pop-ups nor find the source of the problem when I scan the computer. The pop-ups are occasional, apparently harmless and easy to cancel but I'd rather not have them.

Yesterday I spent nearly seven hours on live chat with Norton's techies in India, who took remote control of my computer and did all sorts of work on it to try to get rid of the pop-ups. No luck. They promised to ring me back at 12 midday today, and it's now 12.30. I paid £70 for this expert, reliable help too...

I've been advised against a system restore but it may be my only option now.

8 December 2008

It made Norman Lamont's career

I always look forward to the British Comedy Awards, but this year's were very disappointing.

Angus Deayton is an autocue master but maybe the live broadcast and the fact he has to stand up all the way through (exposing his awkwardness at his miniature stature) is detrimental to his performance, as aside from the opening monologue, he was largely poor. Mind you, that gag about Jonathan Ross knowing now his brother felt was masterful.

As for the winners, well ... ho hum. There is no way that Russell Brand is funnier than Michael McIntyre, Ricky Gervais isn't fit to lace David Mitchell's loafers and there is only so much laughing you can do at American superstars who are slow on the uptake before it becomes a bit too smug.

The rescue acts were Frank Skinner at the end ("when does your suspension come to an end, Angus?"), the impassioned speech by David Renwick and the amazing hush around the building as Geoffrey Perkins was posthumously honoured. I was pleased Jasper Carrott was recognised for his life's work, although I suspect the reason he chose to be serious in acceptance rather than funny is because he has to be tightly scripted to raise laughs.

5 December 2008

Today's Favourite Music

My return to radio whoring commences tomorrow with breakfast show cover here, so it's a rather early start as I head up to Thornaby for 6am.

In a nice twist of fate, I'll undoubtedly talk up on air Middlesbrough's chances in their Premier League fixture later the same day, prior to leaving at 10am and heading back home to watch Hull City play .... Middlesbrough.

The freelance life. Can't whack it.

4 December 2008

"You're playing for something far more valuable..."

Now that I'm no longer driving to a studio of an evening, I've begun to watch Eggheads again. A thrill a minute, my life. Anyway, this week they've introduced the new 'sixth Egghead' to the programme, the winner of that Are You An Egghead? series which Dermot Murnaghan has been hosting lately.

Why have they done this? It's not as if they've had to replace anyone directly. So far this week, Barry has replaced CJ, Daphne and Chris, while not appearing at all in the other episode. He seems unable to look at a camera properly, rolling his eyes while keeping the rest of his smiling expression fixed, in the way David Blunkett does. Blunkett has a better reason for it, mind...

Ultimately, Eggheads will always be the same programme, irrespective of the strength of the challengers or the person Barry has replaced. Judith will be useless and an embarrassment on anything that doesn't involve polo, Emily Bronte or silicosis; Daphne will express gestured shock when someone on her team guesses incorrectly but then struggle on one of her own questions; Chris will get a question about the Sugababes and decide to claim he couldn't care less rather than take a wild guess; and Kevin will know absolutely everything that has ever happened since the universe began.

Only when Barry replaces Kevin - which hasn't happened yet - will the opposition have a chance to win in a manner which isn't freakish.

3 December 2008

"This holy tide of Christmas, all other doth deface..."

Wandered around the city centre in Hull yesterday, doing a spot of Christmas shopping. Everywhere you go now you can hear carols, apart from in Princes Quay shopping centre itself (opened by Gary Davies) which was playing Secret Smile by Semisonic.

Hull is renowned for its long-serving buskers. A blind chap has diligently sat down next to M&S on Whitefriargate almost every shopping day for at least 30 years, playing his accordion. At this time of year he has a Santa hat on his head and some tinsel wrapped around his white stick. There's always a bloke playing - oh dear, don't actually know the name of this instrument - one of those harp-like stringed things except you place it on your knee and strum across it, rather than pluck it vertically. He was on Jameson Street yesterday, just outside Greggs.

Then there was a bagpipe player in Queen Victoria Square. Now, I'm not sure whether he was raising a few quid for himself or doing some charity thing, but he stood, in full regalia, playing carols on his bagpipes. As I wandered by, he was playing God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen so I put a couple of coins in his container - not because it's necessarily my favourite carol, but because it always makes me think of this (about 28 seconds in)...

... and this (first scene):

2 December 2008

Cold calling

It's December, it's freezing and the nights are drawing in, and yet an ice cream van is still merrily driving down our street at gone 6pm every single evening, playing a screechy version of Heads & Shoulders, Knees & Toes as it saunters by.

Nobody down our road is buying the man's wares. I feel a bit sorry for him, but he must know that his work is entirely seasonal, and even kids with sweet tooths and an uncanny capacity to nag their parents into buying them something would prefer a large portion of Wellington fudge and custard to a Cornetto or a 99.

1 December 2008


December 1st, so yes, very well, I no longer object to the Christmas lights in people's windows and the fake trees on doorsteps.

Maybe I'm jealous because chez Rudd is bare to the core due to the building work and we have to do decorating before decorations. The most we ever manage decoration-wise usually is putting the cards on the windowsill and mantelpiece - a tree of any type, size or description is never the wisest idea when five playful, destructive cats have free run of the house. After one festive season we were still finding needles in the litter tray in February.

I played Macy Gray's I Try on the radio at the weekend and mentioned that she seems now to only re-emerge, as a voice at least, at this time of year when that version of Winter Wonderland she did ends up on some advert or other. Still, at least the song is about Christmas - there will be the usual clamour for Stay Another Day, Keeping The Dream Alive and The Power Of Love this year, despite the fact that none of them are Christmas songs, nor were intended to be. East 17's record wasn't helped by the bells on it - what a crazy production decision that was - and Frankie Goes To Hollywood's video was a nativity scene, which given the nature of their previous two videos, I suppose they were just making sure it got on telly this time.

As for Freiheit, well, theirs just wasn't about Christmas, so there...

29 November 2008

Latest Corrie questions

1 - Who's going to be the star witness in Tony Gordon's downfall - Rosie Webster or Jed Stone?

2 - Is Molly doing 14-hour shifts in the shop now that Dev's ruining kebabs and Amber's in Finland?

3 - Will we ever meet the owner of Turner's Joinery?

4 - Why hasn't Jed been re-introduced to Ken Barlow yet?

5 - Why didn't Gail go utterly and totally apeshit over someone nicking her kitchen?

6 - Are they splitting Steve and Michelle up to make it easier for Kym Ryder to quit?

7 - How absolutely brilliant is Graeme?

8 - How absolutely brilliant is Tina?

9 - Why has nobody noticed that Michelle's mum is the big sister of that mad Carmel nanny?

10 - Why can Becky never finish a cigarette?

28 November 2008

"A million years passed by, and his work was done..."

My apologies for the length of this blog entry, I just went a bit mad. The title of it seems more appropriate than ever...

Both F-C and ISBW have given Howard Jones a bit of a verbal lamping lately, over his appearance on that mostly pointless Now That's What I Call 1983 thing which was on ITV1 last Friday. I didn't see it (I was working) but I played New Song at the club night to suggest I was there in spirit.

Howard Jones was my childhood hero. He emerged when I was ten, which was the right time for me to be taken in by the image of someone on Top Of The Pops and really want to learn about them and play their music on a tape recorder over and over again. In his orange boiler suit, he did New Song with Jed Hoile (or Hollie, depending on which magazine you read) and I was absolutely, completely hooked.

Before this, my pop interest had largely been kiddish. Shakin' Stevens was popular with under tens for his child-friendly act, and with grandparents who enjoyed the revival of some very old songs. Although I was aware of most of what was going on in the charts, I didn't have the maturity to hook on to a pop star as a mentor or icon. Then along came Howard Jones.

I look back now and I think it was two things in particular that did it for me. The first was the hair - bright orange, spikey and totally unlike anyone else's even in the world of pop. The second was his array of keyboards - he surrounded himself with synths, at two tiers per side, and did that ace thing of playing two at once in any combination - he could turn to his left and play one-up one-down; or to his right and do likewise; or one on each side; or both of those ahead of him; or a combination of one ahead and one to either side. Naivety stopped me from realising (look, I was a child) that Top Of The Pops was a miming show at the time, and only when Nik Kershaw did I Won't Let The Sun Go Down On Me six months later did the penny drop that he was pretending, and Top Of The Pops as a whole was based on pretence.

I didn't buy New Song because the adverts for the inaugural Now! album had begun, with New Song featured, and I asked for it for Christmas. Even then, I was aware of the needless nature of buying singles if they were on an album you were due to get. I was rubbish at record collecting, really.

I got the Now! album as requested (on cassette, and I still have it) and New Song was played more often than anything else on there, either side of (Keep Feeling) Fascination and Please Don't Make Me Cry. My main pressie was a Casio MT-45 keyboard, and soon I was playing the melody to New Song (which is a piece of piss, frankly - B-B-B-B-B A-G-G.... etc) incessantly, until my peace-craving mother came home from the sales with a cheap pair of earphones to plug in. One problem was that I didn't know all the words ("preconceived" wasn't in my ten-year-old's vocabulary, for example) and I didn't start buying Smash Hits until the start of 1984, so I was stuck. Fortunately, Kerry Grannon (who was a 14 year old swimmer at the club I frequented) kindly handwrote them out for me.

What Is Love? came out at Christmas and this time I bought it. It was the first record I ever bought for myself, on my own, with my own money, and that is something of which I remain proud. Again, I still have it, in good condition in its shadowy, silver sleeve. I loved the video - all fallen leaves, berets and donkey jackets.

Hide And Seek was the mournful next single, and I remember seeing Howard do it on Top Of The Pops and my dad - as if to enforce all dad stereotypes regarding kids' music shows - moaning that he couldn't understand a bloody word he was saying. I must confess, I had that trouble with Hide And Seek too, especially in the second verse. I didn't buy it as my 11th birthday was coming and Human's Lib, the debut album, was on my list - thinking ahead again, see. My grandma was the lucky person whom I asked to purchase it for me (and she pretended, in an effort to show that this Crossroads-obsessed septuagenarian who thought pop music was the devil's work, that I'd said Human League, which was impressive for her) and so on May 24th 1984, I unwrapped a precious cassette copy of his album.

I liked that album. Conditioning and its oddball slot-machine beat; Equality and its unpretentious do-gooding; Don't Always Look At The Rain and it's fag-lighter chorus. I was intrigued by William Bryant, enigmatic co-writer of some of the songs, whom to this day I've never heard Howard mention or namecheck. He did a concert on Radio 1 to help promote the album and the screaming and singing from the crowd was fab. Sadly, my cassette got stuck in the tape recorder after only a fortnight or so (you and your mp3s, you don't know you're born...) and the only way to free it was, devastatingly, to reach for the scissors. I never replaced the cassette, only re-purchasing the album when CDs became popular.

My bedroom was now like a shrine to the man. Smash Hits had enclosed one of those super-sized posters in an early 1984 issue which had Howard in yellow luminous socks, tucked into his trousers. Boy George was on the other side. That poster was straight on to my wall, and all subsequent centrespreads or A4 pics which the magazines used were quickly and mercilessly ripped out and blue-tacked.

Pearl In The Shell was next, a great thumping brassy record, and another Top 10 hit. By now, Howard was really starting to take stick because he was something of a clean-liver. He didn't smoke or take drugs, he was a vegetarian and campaigned actively for animal rights. He was once, however, labelled incorrectly as a teetotaller, to which he retorted: "I'm not. I enjoy a drink!" He was a popular star who wasn't living the rock 'n' roll lifestyle, owning a High Wycombe estate with his wife while his mum, in his childhood home down the road, ran his fan club. This made him undesirable, uncool, unrelatable - but it didn't stop him selling a lot of records.

Like To Get To Know You Well
, dedicated to "the original spirit of the Olympic Games" was next, and I bought this. It taught you via the sleeve how to say the title in ten languages (and used them on the 12" version too, which we found out via the groundbreaking 12" Album, which came out at the same time). I remember snickering at the line "just want to reach to the real you inside" - it took a while before I learned that being figurative was part of the songwriter's art. And the last person you expected to get filthy in lyric was Howard Jones; this at a time when lyrics were being scrutinised like billyo after the Relax saga.

I thought this was the No.1 in waiting - it climbed from 33 to 10 to 4, the sort of progress which offers short odds on a further climb to the top. But it stalled, and still What Is Love? was the closest he'd come. Pity. The latest B-side was Bounce Right Back, a darker song about the perils of espionage, for which Howard and Jed would put on trench coats and shades at live performances. It never got on an album, but it did get on TV Cream's Top 100 B Sides because I made sure of it and, in case you're bothered, wrote the entry for it. No.51, actually.

Christmas 1984, and my disappointment at not seeing Howard at the Band Aid recording is tempered by my acquisition, via my mother, of my first bit of official merchandise. This was how it worked in my family - I'd save my pocket money for something I wanted, then (depending on their mood) my parents would reward me for saving up by buying the item themselves on the understanding that the saved money would then go in the bank, rather than on Texan bars and cans of Quatro. I can't remember how much the T-shirt was, but I was on 50p a week at the time, so I'm guessing it took a while. I was anxious to own it before the South Holderness School festive party for first years.

Mum bought the smallest T-shirt she could find, which was still way too big for me, the underdeveloped 11 year old. I tried it on and I was essentially wearing a dress with Howard Jones' face on it. When my mum's giggling suggestion that she wrap a belt around my waist and have done with it was met with indignation, she threw it in the wash on a high temperature. Then she did it again. And again. It did shrink a little, but now I just had a T-shirt on of the size which suggested I wanted to show off my bare legs. The fact that I was wearing jeans (with zip-up pockets!) was neither here nor there.

So off I went to the party, in an oversized (but not as oversized as originally intended) Howard Jones T-shirt. I got admiring glances from some, and laughter from others. I also got Katrina Lord on one of the Craft House sofas for the evening, so I was happy. I can't say it was down to the T-shirt, as this obviously underestimates my sparkling personality and boyish good looks (I was 11, so my looks couldn't have been anything other than boyish), so we'll assume that the T-shirt just rounded off the positive attributes already in existence. No, we really will. Be quiet at the back.

For Christmas, I got the Howard Jones video. Naturally, this was on Betamax, and consisted of a teen concert given by the great man interspersed by the videos to the first four singles, which played after his live version of the appropriate song. There was a voxpop of High Wycombe's residents with the question "What do you think of Howard Jones?" with replies obviously complimentary, although one market stall holder did shout "rubbish!" which amused my heavy metal devotee brother greatly. That video stayed in my possession for 20 years before it finally went to the charity shop, hoping that someone with a Betamax VCR and a fetish for the 1980s would wander in.

Howard took a break to record his next album, and I remember being really excited when a trailer for Whistle Test popped up during some guff on the telly (almost certainly So You Want To Be Top), stating he would be performing some, er, new songs (arf) on their programme that evening. I think Richard Skinner was hosting.

Whistle Test
was on too late for me, so I taped it for when I returned from school the next day. On came Howard, his orange hair de-spiked a little (I always compare the trichological change between the first two albums as similar to that of Bugs Bunny when he's upset or frightened, and his ears go right down) but ... what's this? He has a band? A band?

Yep, and among them was his own younger brother Martin on bass. I'm sure he was a good bass player, but I've always wondered if the Jones matriarch, in between banking postal orders and sending out Risk memberships to 12 year olds, had turned to Howard and said "can't you give your brother a job?" And so, it came to pass, that Martin Jones, complete with very ordinary haircut, appeared on stage with his big brother. Also there were barking mad brass collective TKO Horns, a Geoff Capes lookalike stand-up drummer who was asking for a coronary and gospel backing singers Afro Diziak, featuring Caron Wheeler.

The bass and drums could have still been synthed by Howard himself, but the horns and the backing singers were there as there was a less electronic feel about the new material. On this Whistle Test session, Howard did Look Mama with the band, then No One Is To Blame alone at the baby grand, then Things Can Only Get Better with his new mates. On the latter, the horns were the mainspring of the song, while the very catchy "woah woah" chorus was parroted by the new singers. It was a hit, surely!

And out it came. Gary Davies was beaming with pride as he introduced Howard back on to Top Of The Pops in a seriously sycophantic manner. You could tell the public liked having him back - Things Can Only Get Better entered the charts at 18, and peaked a fortnight later at 5. I bought the 12" single, which featured a long instrumental version of album track Why Look For The Key? on the flip, entitled You Jazzy Nork. I used it for years as backing music when doing financial news on hospital radio. No, really.

Look Mama came next, a song about parental interference in one's private life and career path (though he may well have written it after Mrs Jones insisted young Martin got on the next record) and it reached 10. Life In One Day, a shanty-ish bit of weirdness with acoustic guitar underscore, got into the Top 20. No One Is To Blame, a less likeable song (made all the more hateable once Phil Collins got his hands on it and covered it in drums, natch) stuttered into the Top 30.

Within all this, Howard did Live Aid. Badly. Now I was at football practice on the afternoon of July 13th 1985, but had scoured the pull-out guide to Live Aid which the Hull Daily Mail had graciously included in its Friday edition. Howard was due on at roughly 4pm, as far as I recall. It wasn't running late when I got home just before that time (indeed it did okay for schedule until Pete Townshend started arseing about, of course) and Howard came on, nervous, said "hello", went on about sharing the experience with everyone, played Hide And Seek on Freddie Mercury's piano, got the audience to sing the chorus, then buggered off again. That was it. How come he only got to do one song? Nik Kershaw got to do four! Swizz.

I bought Dream Into Action, the album, and liked it, but my interest was waning. The last Howard Jones related memory of my time actively enjoying the man's work and existence was when he did the Comic Relief live show, alongside Afro Diziak, doing a semi-acapella version of Life In One Day. You might recall the announcer (Alan Dedicoat?) introducing Joan Armatrading, who walked on with guitar, waved, then walked off again, so instead he said "Oh, well in that case, please welcome Howard Jones!" who did his turn. I've never got to the bottom of that Armatrading no-show. It was probably a daft joke.

Howard had a baby that summer, called Osheen (who's now an actor, I believe) and his comeback single of late 1986 was called All I Want. It was poor. I watched him do it on Top Of The Pops and the flame had gone out. He was trying to attract an adult audience now, not a 13 year old lad, and I fell by his wayside. The single struggled just into the Top 40, and he's never been there since. The follow-ups were as unremarkable, but I remember Everlasting Love coming out in 1989 which was excellent, and I still think so now. Yet even though the 1989 record-buying public were reviving Tears For Fears after three years away, still putting Duran Duran into the Top 10 and almost forgiving Spandau Ballet their sins, they would not do likewise for Howard Jones. It peaked somewhere in the 60s, I think. Not long after, he released his first cover version - a rendition of I.G.Y. (What A Beautiful World) which was very good, without even casting the merest cloud on Donald Fagen's bit of immortality, and it didn't chart. Howard's newer material was, occasionally, getting into the US Top 10 (City Song) but the UK didn't want to know, and the only thing I bought after Dream Into Action was his Best Of... collection a good decade or so after his relevance had ceased. And, of course, my CD copy of Human's Lib, probably 15 years after the cassette had been ruined.

My adulthood has allowed me to like Howard Jones all over again, simply because I think he was a worthy and skilled hero for a boy of ten in 1983 to adopt. He was popular but not notorious, he was genuinely brilliant as a musician, and he had a physical image that helped identify the 80s for those of us who don't just blithely label it as the decade that taste forgot. Squeaky clean he may have been, but it should always be about the music - if it's good, anything else is forgivable. And Howard Jones' music, for the era it represented, was ace.

26 November 2008

Milk and thirteen sugars - #6

We now have a new bedroom, en suite bathroom, hallway, entrance, study, dining area and downstairs khazi.

Well, we have the structure for them, anyway.

The builders' work is just about done. The walls are built, the frames in place, the floors are down and plasterboard all attached. They have to re-pave outside and re-build the garden wall (which they dismantled at the beginning for easier wheelbarrow access) and then they take the cheque away and the plasterers and plumbers come in.

Then it's the decorating and furnishing.

My main interest is the furnishing. Being someone invariably lacking in taste, the Natural Blonde and my mother (you try keeping my mother out of our decorating plans) have already ordered me to stay well away from the decor catalogues. The NB is also non-plussed by my fabulous (well, I think so) idea to have a framed Hull City shirt from my 15-year collection in every room. Every. Room.

Suffice to say, she'll get her way.

We did aim for it to be done by Christmas. Let's see...

25 November 2008

Let's work

Now that I'm back on the freelance trail again, the emails on spec have been going out to contacts, programmers and the generally powerful who can make sure I eat and clothe myself for the next few months by putting me behind their microphones.

So far so good - 96.6 TFM (the Teesside station which was fab to me last year) has given me some Christmas and New Year cover and I'll be on Pure FM in Stockport more often over the festive period too.

Many of us seated around this particular table at Blogland are freelancers in our fields, for whom life revolves around gaining a decent enough reputation in order for the offers and commissions to float in. Although the driving at times knocked my pan out (you haven't lived until you've pulled in to an M42 layby at 8am and slept for three hours while the rush hour rages past you), the variety of work and the feeling of being wanted (we all love that) made it all worthwhile.

This is something I wrote on Media UK's forums on 30th December 2005, having just done an impossible week of non-stop driving, sleeping and broadcasting...

What fun I’ve had. Maybe this could be of interest…

Years ago, when I was a kiddy beginner at Hallam FM, I was doing some seat-of-your-pants mid-morning cover and Tony Howard, ex-Capital and top bloke whom I’d got to know a bit through being on at the same time as him at weekends, walked in to do his last day of cover on Magic AM’s afternoon shift.

Tony was his ever-pleasant self and said hi, but he looked knackered. He was unkempt, unshaven and baggy-eyed. A feature duly appeared in Radio magazine the following week about the reason for this; as well as afternoons in Sheffield that week, he was also doing breakfast in Carlisle and lates somewhere else The rest of the time he was either driving his car or sleeping in it.

This is the week I’m now having. It’s only (ha ha ha - only??) two gigs a day rather than Tony’s three - overnights in Gateshead, drivetime in Sheffield, but the distance between the two cities and the fact I live in Hull and therefore have no practical reason for going home means that I’ve been reclining my driver’s seat in some Little Chef car park on the A1 somewhere, twice a day, for three hours at a time. This will end later today (Fri) when I’ll go home, shattered but somehow with a sense of achievement, after completing my last booked gig in Sheffield.

The plan initially was to borrow the flat in Scarborough currently occupied by Media UK’s own champion beard-stroker Wesley Mallin and deploy it as a halfway house, but the exacerbation caused by the weather, which made every A-road out of Scarborough undriveable, put an abrupt halt to this plan. I vacated Wesley’s premises on Wednesday morning and took to the road for accommodation instead.

It’s actually been fun in many ways, although I’ve no doubt that I absolutely stink and the now well-documented lack of gritting on the lesser A-roads in the north east have made the journey to and from Century more tough at times, although the A1 and A19 were fine.

I’ve done ablutions and clothing changes in service stations and radio station washroom facilities, and have only had one tumultuously tired spell at the wheel without time to stop (that was after attending a football match on Wednesday night instead of kipping, a decision vindicated by a fine 2-0 win). I already knew the A1 pretty well - now I can about reel it off by heart - and the real joy of working with Scott Makin again in Gateshead while also being back at Herries Road and talking up Howard Pressman’s show (is it 1997 again?) on Magic, albeit for just four days, has made any uncomfortable spells more than worthwhile. On top of that, the shows have gone well (subjective of course - let’s see if I’m asked back…) and there’s naturally a few quid to claim.

When I went freelance - not through choice - back in May, I wondered what lay ahead for me. The year’s actually turned out pretty well and this week’s eventful, eye-opening (paradox?), semi-sacrificial experiences actually come highly recommended, provided you can cope with your paranoia about personal hygiene and keep the engine running to provide heating for your sleepy spells while the world rages at -5c outside. The taxman will help you recompense Mr Esso for the fuel.

I’m naturally aware that there will be barren weeks ahead when regular jocks return from their Christmas breaks, but I’m ready for a rest, actually. That might not come as a surprise to you all…

My wife-to-be, my own bed, my shower and my Bassets await me at about 8pm tonight (Fri) as I depart Sheffield and head back, finally, to my lovely home east of Hull. I’m ready for them! Then it’s a ten hour club gig to bring in the New Year… *yawn*…

Much has changed in the nigh on three years since that wild week. There are now more radio stations that are either networking or voicetracking their off-peak output, thereby negating the need not only for holiday relief or locum jocks like me, but for the regular jock I'd have been depping for in the first place. That means there are more of us scratching around for the spare shifts than ever before, and so any work I get will be as much about timing as it is about ability. Wish me luck.

24 November 2008

Sing up Pompey, Pompey sing up

Went to Portsmouth for footballing reasons on Saturday. I've been once before but not for a good few years.

All I remember about what was definitely as unmemorable an occasion as football can sometimes regurgitate was the endearing way away fans were at the mercy of all elements as their stand was uncovered and they were barred from taking umbrellas in. On that occasion, they travelled a very long way to be rained on, sleeted on and snowed on while their team lost 2-0.

Since then, Portsmouth have settled into the top tier and finally got round to building a shelter on their away end, so the visiting supporters could at least watch the game in slightly more humane surroundings. Fratton Park is easily the roughest and least developed of the old grounds in the top flight, with rickety fences and seats grafted on to old terracing giving away the lack of development the stadium has had.

Still, the game was good and we got a 2-2 draw. My main observation concerned the atmosphere in the ground. We created our own, just like we had to at Old Trafford the other week, as the silence from the locals was deafening. However, I will cut them some slack because of the abominable crowd silencing scheme they have in one corner of the stadium.

There is a well-known fan of Portsmouth who calls himself Mr Portsmouth. His photo is everywhere, his tattoos and tall hats, plus his large bell (stop it), make him something of a cause célèbre and as Portsmouth's FA Cup run picked up pace last season, his profile followed suit.

Locally, he is known as a drummer at the ground. I hate drums at football and indeed, many clubs have chosen to ban drumming as it irritates far more people than it inspires. Huddersfield Town has a drummer in the far corner of the Kilner Bank stand, while Leicester has a bloke who is 25 stone or more and covered head to toe in tattoos who does that side to side thwacking of a big bass drum as if he was leading a team of galley slaves, rather than a few thousand underwhelmed football supporters.

Drumming is a nu-fan thing. It belongs at ice hockey. At football it is irritating, loud and counter-productive, and nowhere is this more obvious than at Portsmouth.

So annoying did it become that the club built a hut in the corner of the ground with an open front, like a Punch and Judy stall, and put Mr Portsmouth and his percussive companion therein. Throughout the game on Saturday he drummed and drummed and we all became more and more exasperated. Yet such was the volume from his little corner that all natural vocal support for the club had been extinguished. There was no way a crowd noise could drown out the drumming, and only when Portsmouth had a corner did we get a few strains of Play Up Pompey, Pompey Play Up. The rest of the time it was the relentless thud thud thud of this drum.

It cost me £35 to get in. That's too expensive, especially when the ground lacks reasonable facilities for away supporters (poor seating, unclean lavatories, dodgy fencing) but especially so when concentration on the game and general desire to cheer for your team is neutralised by this crazy, monotonous noise in the corner. I am astonished Portsmouth allow it, and I'd be more astonished if the fans, as a whole, approve of it. I know he's a "real fan", but he has achieved his publicity from the club's success, not vice versa. The drumming has to stop and the singing must be allowed to restart.

21 November 2008

Broadband on the run

Got the broadband back at last, not despite the best efforts of Kingston Communications. Their engineer turns up, doesn't fix the problem, comes back the next day (but only after we bollocked his supervisor - until then there was nobody free until Wednesday next week), sorts the problem again, but then says he can't help set up the new wireless broadband connection he has installed, because ...

a) ... he is disallowed from touching a customer's computer. I offer to do all the clicking and typing while he just speaks, so ...
b) ... he says we should ring the technical support desk of Kingston Communications who can help us better, and just in case we start pleading with him not to inflict half an hour of Greensleeves on us, he then adds...
c) ... he's got to go to another job. With that, he walks out without testing or checking the job he'd done. Our extension builders watch him leave, appalled at the lack of customer care.

So we follow b) only to be told that Kingston Communications do not 'recognise' Netgear stuff and ring off. They can install it into their lines but then not help us connect it up. Brilliant. Their own engineer told us to do this, remember.

With a sense of dread, we have no option but to try self-installation. This then hits a snag, so eventually I ring the national rate number on the Netgear booklet. Initially an English accent turns into an American one and finally the real person I get is in India.

Ten minutes later she has superbly taken me through the set-up procedure. Professional, charming, courteous and patient. This rotten phone and web company we have to use round these parts could learn so much.

20 November 2008

Typing this on my parents' laptop

I'm being quiet because my broadband is bust and Kingston Communications are being their usual incompetent selves in getting round to fixing it. A bloke arrived this morning, saw the workmen doing the extension and blithely asked "So where have you cut the wires then?". The ignorant arse. The problem is not related to the renovation at all. He then proceeded to fix the landline (which was also down) and forget about/prove incapable of mending the broadband. He left, and I still have no idea if he's coming back.

You lot who don't have a monopolising telecommunications company in your town or city are the lucky ones. Customer care is not a heavy priority when the company has no rivals.

So it's nothing personal, promise. This is assuming you've noticed. After all, Phil only writes something once a month and I for one hang on his every word. So go read his blog while I try to regain homebound access to mine. And make yourself a brew whil you're at it.

18 November 2008

Milk and thirteen sugars - #5

An electrician is coming round today to wire up the new additions to the house, and I'm typing this via a makeshift computer desk on a filing cabinet as he needs access to the corner of the room where the PC has been parked for many years.

With the gas and the water already connected, the addition of electricity is another watershed moment. The builders have done a cracking job, to the extent that they've got two new jobs out of it for the New Year. The couple across the road have just acquired permission for a loft conversion and popped over to ask our three if they were available, while a friend of another neighbour has just accepted a quote for a new driveway. I suppose in the building trade recommendations and evidence with your own eyes of a builder's ability is all you need - no wonder so many builders' vans have 'RECOMMENDATIONS ONLY' painted on the side.

In the new bedroom, the walk-in wardrobes and entrance to the en suite bathroom have been fixed, while downstairs the wooden frames which will become dividing walls have been constructed. The cats, when emerging from their daily hiding places, love these - Sidney has already started leaping between them like a monkey while Sox, the large-bellied moggy, has managed to defy gravity and size issues by falling asleep on a piece of wood half her own girth.

The builders have been listening to Radio 1 rather loudly every day, which surprises me a little as the youngest of them has just turned 39. Chris Moyles played The Only One I Know by the Charlatans on Friday, and I was asked by the builders which year it was. Cue half an hour of memories of seeing the band at Bridlington Spa in 1990...

Judging by the lights in Hull city centre and the adverts featuring Mariah Carey on television, Christmas is close by now. This means the extension will soon be finished. Hurray!

17 November 2008

Popping the Cherie

Oooh, I sense an outcry on Strictly Come Dancing. Another passably talented celeb in Cherie Lunghi gets the bullet while John Sergeant, hapless but endearing, survives the public vote.

The judges are livid and, as specialists in their field, their chagrin is understandable. It's also funny. Len Goodman wants to spontaneously combust. Craig Revel Horwood seems to be on the point of quitting. It's not for the purists of movement to music, but Sergeant's continuing survival is gripping stuff nonetheless.

First and foremost, Sergeant is surviving because the public like him. It's a popularity contest as much as a dance contest. Were it not designed so, then 50% of the voting tally wouldn't have been handed over to people who know nothing about dance. Sergeant, unlike previous car crashers (hello, Fiona), has not sought to claim he is any good, not made excuses, smiled at the criticism (he got far worse from Margaret Thatcher in his time) and issued the odd belly-bending one-liner.

Cherie Lunghi was unfortunate, certainly. She's great at ballroom but clunky with Latin (apparently... I'm going by what the judges have said over the weeks) and ultimately her Latin let her down. Jodie Kidd isn't as good as her, but she's also getting through on the popularity stakes, being as she is easily the most likeable, down-to-earth of these model types who also claim to be television presenters. She survives because the public like her, end of. Lunghi isn't disliked, I suspect, though she won't get any girlie votes because of jealousy (the awful Jessie Wallace called her a snob, remember, just because she has a middle-class accent) and won't get the casual vote because she hasn't made jokes or challenged Bruno Tonioli to a fight.

As the other competitors emerged from backstage to console Lunghi and her partner (whose name escapes me, but he appealed to the public to start voting for the dancing - ie, spend your money on a phone call but make sure you do it how we want, please), you could tell they were stunned that an obvious big-hitter had gone while an obvious outsider remained. And more may yet fall by the wayside as Sergeant makes his progress. It's not his fault he keeps surviving, but the judges and professional dancers are wrong to claim it's the public's fault. Give a half of the vote to people who are notorious for looking at personality ahead of suitability and you're on a hiding to nothing. It makes me wonder whether Sergeant's charisma is strong enough to withstand a backbiting session from the other competitors, all of whom are now petrified of exiting while he remains.

Irrespective of where Sergeant finishes overall (I reckon he'll go in the next fortnight - eventually he'll be in the dance-off and it would take that Holby City bloke to suffer acute cramp in his groin before Sergeant survives one of those), watch the rules take a subtle alteration next year. They'll give the couple with the highest score from the judges an automatic place in the next round, and reduce the public vote to a quarter. Hopefully they'll reduce the cost of the phone call as a consequence.

Lisa Snowdon to win.

14 November 2008

Out with the old

My parents are having a small clearout, and one of the items on the condemned list was their old hi-fi that they've had about 15 years. It's still pretty good to look at but they've upgraded now to one of those the size of a thimble, so the old system has no further use.

Dad and I therefore transported it - speakers, cabinet and all - to the local hospice charity shop. As Dad chatted to the woman behind the counter, I had a sneak look at the large row of LPs and 12" singles they had. I'd never been in this charity shop before, but soon it was obvious it was a little goldmine, full of compilation albums and extended plays from the 1980s that F-C and I would pore over for hours. I intend to go back when I have a little more time to peruse them further.

As with all such stores, there was a large array of old clothing, particularly lots of pairs of jeans. Numerous household items, accessories and toys adorned the other shelves. Amusingly, the clock on the wall had a handwritten warning notice next to it saying: "ATTENTION! THIS IS THE SHOP'S CLOCK AND IS NOT FOR SALE" which tickled me.

Given that a record player - which people are buying again, judging by the two second-hand ones which have been installed for one of the other DJs at my club - was part of the old hi-fi system we'd just donated, I suppose I'd better get my skates on if I'm going to thumb through those long players a bit more. Maybe some 80s freak like me has been waiting for the hospice to ring them with the words: "You can come and collect your records now as we've just been given something to play them on."

Also on the clearout list, which they found by accident (and is of no use to a charity shop) is this.

My mum's first mobile phone. She said she was given it by her forward-thinking employer in 1992 but barely used it.

I know it's easy and unoriginal to laugh at old cellphones, but compare it with the one she has now.

The only tragedy is that Dad also has a modern mobile but, as a man who never properly learned how to programme the video and still asks me for advice about his computer, his knowledge of mobile phone technology extends to switching it on. When he can remember to.

13 November 2008

"You don't have to have the solution..."

I realised as I unzipped the CD wallets last night that I've never given you a rundown of a setlist for the 90s Night. So, as if to provoke numerous angry reactions from Valentine Suicide, this was what the midweek dirty stopout Stopfordians got last night:

George Michael & Mary J Blige "As"
Big Mountain "Baby I Love Your Way"
Lionel Richie "My Destiny"
Lighthouse Family "Ocean Drive"
Black Box "Fantasy"
JT & the Big Family "Moments In Soul"
Mantronix feat. Wondress "Got To Have Your Love"
Family Stand "Ghetto Heaven"
Electribe 101 "Talking With Myself"
Soho "Hippychick"
Saint Etienne "You're In A Bad Way"
Young Disciples "Apparently Nothin'"
Brand New Heavies "Shelter"
Freak Power "Turn On Tune In Cop Out"
Jamiroquai "Canned Heat"
Reel 2 Real "Jazz It Up"
K Klass "Rhythm Is A Mystery"
Nightcrawlers "Push The Feeling On"
Livin' Joy "Follow The Rules"
Tamperer feat. Maya "Feel It"
Brothers In Rhythm "Such A Good Feeling"
Moloko "Sing It Back"
Todd Terry feat. Lisa Marie Experience "Keep On Jumpin'"
Rage "Run To You"
Rozalla "Are You Ready To Fly"
Dr Alban "Sing Hallelujah!"
Ce Ce Peniston "We Got A Love Thang"
Kym Sims "Too Blind To See It"
Opus III "It's A Fine Day"
Blue Pearl "Naked In The Rain"
West End feat. Sybil "The Love I Lost"
Ultra Nate "Free"
Everything But The Girl "Wrong"
M People "One Night In Heaven"
2 In A Room "Wiggle It"
Adventures of Stevie V "Dirty Cash"
Shamen "Phorever People"
Happy Mondays "Step On"
Charlatans "The Only One I Know"
Northside "Take 5"
Divine Comedy "Something For The Weekend"
Inspiral Carpets "Saturn 5"
Cast "Sandstorm"
Babybird "You're Gorgeous"
Oasis "Don't Look Back In Anger"
Bluetones "Slight Return"
Blur "Song 2"
Stone Roses "I Wanna Be Adored"
Stereophonics "Pick A Part That's New"
Stiltskin "Inside"
Ugly Kid Joe "Cats In The Cradle"
Nirvana "Come As You Are"
They Might Be Giants "Birdhouse In Your Soul"
Lenny Kravitz "Are You Gonna Go My Way"
Prince "Cream"
Eagle Eye Cherry "Save Tonight"

Beautiful South "Don't Marry Her"
Go West "The King Of Wishful Thinking"
Del Amitri "Always The Last To Know"
Sugar Ray "Every Morning"
Guns n Roses "Yesterdays"
Primal Scream "Movin' On Up"
Mr Big "To Be With You"
Right Said Fred "Deeply Dippy"
Deep Blue Something "Breakfast at Tiffany's"
Def Leppard "Have You Ever Needed Someone So Bad"

Very guitar-based in the second half, untypically. The array of 90s chuckaway pop I'd normally play - Take That, Gabrielle, Madonna, Spice Girls, 5ive - got the night off as we were unusually bloke-heavy last night and they kept asking for rockier stuff.

Within the above list is my all-time favourite song of the 1990s. Any guesses?

12 November 2008


I watched a documentary on the Crime & Investigation channel about the Stephanie Slater case last night. Today I've found her official website. I can't recall, at the time, the details of the sexual assault, makeshift coffin and potential for electrocution ever being mentioned in the news bulletins, even after she was released, so the torture she went through seems even more unspeakable than the basic horrors we can imagine over being abducted.

I do remember Rob Newman getting laughs about it in his act though, and feeling that even allowing for humour in adversity, he went too far.

And to think Michael Sams is now moaning that his prison bed is too hard.

10 November 2008

"That was a transmission issue beyond our control..."

I've acquired a new Sunday morning show on Pure 107.8 FM in Stockport. It's a laid-back 10am-1pm slot and handy for me as I'm in the town doing the club gig the night before anyway, so a quick kip in the car is all I need prior to going on air.

I did the first one at the weekend and, of course, it was Remembrance Sunday. This is always observed impeccably by the radio industry, with the general way of going about the build-up to 11am being roughly the same from station to station - tone down any wacky content from 10.30am, play slightly more chilled music up to 11am, then observe the silence and play something suitably sombre and slow afterwards.

For our part, Pure did a grand job. Eva Cassidy's version of Fields Of Gold, then one of the station's volunteers read Flanders Fields in a wonderfully poignant manner. This took us to the silence at 11am, and then John Lennon's Love eased us back into regulation programming.

There is invariably one practical problem caused by the obligation to observe the silence - the prospect of the transmitter believing you have gone off air. If you ever happen to observe the silence with a radio station on in the background, you'll notice that the sound of birdsong, and maybe the odd passing aeroplane, is remarkably loud on your speakers amidst the hissing noise which radio equipment otherwise picks up as human respect for those who sacrificed their lives fills the airwaves.

The reason for rather loud birdsong is because the presenter has turned the levels on the satellite feed from the cenotaph up to maximum. This is so the transmitter recognises that there is output coming from your radio station, as anything beyond 30 seconds of silence prompts a back-up CD to kick in from the transmitter site.

These back-up CDs are a lifeline for when a building needs to be evacuated or when equipment goes wrong, especially at non-peak times when automated or pre-recorded or networked programmes are going out, meaning that the building is entirely empty. Unfortunately, they do have a habit of coming on when a station is observing the silence, as the birdsong levels are often not loud enough for the transmitter to register.

This has happened to me, a few years ago, when I was on a Sunday morning shift and was horrified to hear the back-up CD start fewer than 40 seconds into the silence. The only way to stop it is to restart something in the studio, as it then realises that output has returned and automatically resets itself, ready for the next time there's - literally - a breakdown in communications.

The other problem with back-up CDs is that often they are hopelessly out of date. The music on them may reflect what the station was playing at the time the CD was made but once it goes on air during a technical mishap, the station's music positioning seems to have made an almighty change for no apparent reason. Years ago, workmen sliced through underground cables in Manchester which rendered numerous radio stations off the air for a whole day. Our back-up CD at Imagine FM came on, playing some music we'd ceased to play ages before. Once the repairs had been done, I received calls on the breakfast show saying how refreshing we sounded (!) - but that it got a bit boring hour after hour.

That's another problem. An all-day cut in power or equipment can mean the same hour of music being played over and over again on the CD. I never wanted to hear When You're Gone by Bryan Adams and Melanie C ever again by the time the outage had finally come to an end, and I wasn't massively keen on the song beforehand. I'm still not.

And yet another problem is that the radio station needs to be identified during an outage, but an out-of-date back-up CD is likely to feature old jingles or sweepers, since when the positioning statement may have changed (ie, from "Today's Best Music" to "More Variety") and the package itself has been modernised or altered, often with a new v/o artist.

Radio stations should update their back-up CDs every six months or so, and immediately whenever they get a new jingle package, but only for the times it is necessary. For what it's worth, I'd always make sure the duty transmitter engineer switched off the array of radio station CD players before him just before 11am on one Sunday of each year.

7 November 2008

"So whose matches are those?"

Without even the merest hint of smugness, I've realised that today marks the fifth anniversary of my cessation of a cigarette habit.

Yep, I gave up on November 7th 2003. All meticulously plotted and planned it was too, in order to give me the best chance of succeeding.

Previous attempts at packing in the weed had failed dreadfully. The best I managed was roughly five weeks, with gum permanently wedged between teeth and cheek, before I reached for a fag while inebriated and ended up purchasing 16 Regals from the machine.

I once laughably tried to stop by vowing to smoke other people's fags, which many of those 'occasional' smokers (my, they irritate me) still do to this day. I ultimately got tired of being refused/threatened/reported for haranguing innocent drug addicts and so reverted to my own purchases.

However, a moment of shame prompted my successful aims to be rid of tobacco forever. In 2002, the Natural Blonde and I visited France, as ever, and acquired a mighty stack of fags on the boat back. Hardened smokers will scoff (between coughs) at my preferred brand, Silk Cut ("like smoking fresh air, that!") but the shame remains when you pile 2,000 of the blighters in a cupboard in your living room.

"That's it, " i said, out loud. "I'm smoking every single one of those, and then I'm going to stop."

Hollow words they may have sounded to anyone else, but that's precisely what happened. As a 25-a-day man it didn't take as long as it would for those 'occasional' smokers, but the process of giving up and meeting a day of judgement was underway.

I got down to the final 200 and braced myself. You see, although I knew it was ruinous to my health and wallet, I loved my fags. The first one of the day, the one after a big dinner, the ones you light up with ale, were all divine. Soon, unless I was to be seen as a coward, a weakling with no will power, all that would be gone.

The last packet was opened at 3.15am on November 7th 2003, five years ago today. I had just got up, as I was on Imagine FM's breakfast show at the time and needed to be in Stockport for 5.30am, so these sort of alarm calls were regular. I smoked my normal load through the day, ending up with about half a dozen by teatime that evening. However, on my way home, I stopped at the local chemist, a determined man, and bought a pack of those patches.

Point of order: If there's one thing that stops smokers giving up, it's that the products designed to wean you off the things cost a lot more than the fags themselves.

I smoked a handful more after eating and then fell asleep on the settee. This was clear as day (even though it was night) as when I woke up, pushing midnight, I looked in my fag packet and there was one left. I knew if I saved it for the morning I'd buy another pack straight afterwards. So, I enjoyed one last glorious dozen lungfuls of poisonous fumes, put the fag out and hopped to bed.

The next morning, I put a patch on my arm and began the day.

You get seven patches in a pack, designed to last you a week. I used six of them - the seventh remains buried somewhere in my bathroom cupboard in the event of an 'emergency'. No such emergency has occurred. Cravings since the proper cold turkey began were minimal, and I don't get them at all now, even though the NB still smokes, albeit only five or so a day. She also smokes menthols, which I could only bear when I had a cold. Recently, when back in France, she and our two friends were all smoking. I was the exception and it never got to me, either through craving or passive smoking. Sometimes I'd quite like a cigar after a hearty feed, but have always refrained from doing so.

Five years is an important milestone, as when I happened to visit my doctor this week (nothing serious, you'll be relieved to learn), she asked if I smoked. She'd clearly not glanced at my medical history prior to calling me into her surgery. I said no, and then realised how close the anniversary was. Upon pointing it out to her, she advised me that after five years I become as susceptible to smoking-related illnesses as every person who has never touched a cigarette.

I'm not an anti-smoker, even though many ex-smokers become vehement (and conceited) in their denouncement of people who enjoy a fag. I'd hate to be like that. I loved smoking, though I would never return to it, and I was fiercely against the smoking ban. The atmosphere might be cleaner now that the addicts are all in heated outdoor shelters, but it's also less fun. At my club nights, when everyone buggers off for a fag, there are massive empty spaces on premises deemed 'full'. It's crazy.

Anyway, if you smoke, then just get on with your lives. I have (again, without smugness) proved it is possible to give up, but I'm certainly not going to tell you to.

6 November 2008

Milk and thirteen sugars - #4

The first hole in our living room wall.

It's a watershed moment (not least because the house is letting in water and we may have to sleep in the shed) and as I type this, the builders are turning the above hole into a connecting door sized one.

We've shifted masses of stuff into the garage as the living room finally begins to be gutted. The initial hole above was acceptably cat-sized, so all five of our moggies have been shut in the master bedroom (with water, grub and tray) and last time I checked on them, one of them had left a deposit on the bed in protest, while two others were fighting. A fourth was (still) hiding under the bedclothes, where he has seemingly been since yesterday morning and the fifth is making good use of the shoe rack in the wardrobe.

The heating was off all last night, but tonight it will be working again. However, the presence of a door-sized hole leading on to an enclosed bit of building site makes me glad that East Yorkshire has had it mild of a night-time lately.

I knew it would be chaotic, and now I want it to be over... roll on Christmas.

5 November 2008

A wary White House experience

The American election was all a bit complicated for me, but I had a couple of hours flicking through the various news channels anyway. I started with ITV's coverage, then saw that Jon Culshaw was on and switched over instantly. He wasn't even on as light relief, but as supposedly a proper commentator on American politics, albeit one who kept going into Bush impressions.

Ultimately, while waiting for results and for Jeremy Vine to do something gimmicky and stereotypical with that touchscreen, the Natural Blonde challenged me to name all 50 American states. I managed 38 before I fell asleep.

Woke up this morning thinking McCain had won, because I thought Republicans were blue and Democrats red, in the way that our right-wingers are blue and left-wingers red.