9 August 2008

"Take your marks..."

Although I'm distinctly uncomfortable with a country of China's murky reputation hosting the Olympic Games, I'm no political activist and will watch them, as I always do. Swimming is my main sport of choice at the Games as it was my sport of choice as a child and remains a sport in which the rest of my family is heavily involved.

In 1988, Kevin Boyd qualified for the Olympic Games in Seoul. He was a medical student at university in the north east at the time and was therefore labelled by hacks and commentators as "Kevin Boyd, from Tyneside", but was in reality very much still a Hull boy, and kids like me who watched him ploughing up and down the fast lane at Albert Avenue Pool's training sessions throughout the 1980s were really excited that we knew an Olympian personally.

He was a backstroke specialist as he grew up but switched to long-distance freestyle as his international career blossomed, and in Seoul he made the final of the 1500m, which is the swimming equivalent of the marathon. He didn't get a medal, but he came back a hero to his city of birth. He was a guest on my programme a few months ago.

The 1500m is a gruelling event, irrespective of your abilities in competitive swimming. I did numerous 1500m races as a kid - my first one, aged nine, at the City of Hull Swimming Club's internal championships, was in the old 33.3 yard Beverley Road baths and therefore the nearest we could get was a 1766 yards race, which was 53 lengths. It wasn't an age group race - I was the only nine year old even half-capable of doing it without either drowning or still ploughing through the water at midnight - so it was a boys race of all ages. I took to the pool with four other lads and came second to Andrew Pritchard, who was two years older than me (in fact the other swimmers - Graeme Shaw, Simon Henrickson and Andrew Parker, were also two years older). The second heat involved the elder lads. It was a heat declared winner system (so the fastest five didn't then compete in a final - thank God) and although I wasn't placed, I later acquired a City of Hull Super Swimmer T-shirt - a prized garment within the club, seriously - for my achievement in being the youngest ever member to partake in the race. That record will, I'm sure, have been long broken.

Once the new Ennerdale pool (no gags about sheep dip, please) opened in the mid-80s, the club shifted to that as it was a 25m pool and therefore we could measure our times via the nationally-endorsed metric system. The 1500m race - 60 lengths, arithmetic fans - was harder here because the pool temperature was very high and the whole building (a glass construction) was absolutely sweltering. It's a very strange feeling when you feel completely dehydrated while immersed entirely in water.

This race was age-grouped as we had a lot more swimmers capable by now, and as I recall, Mark Billam and I had a right old battle throughout but he beat me in the end over the final 100m and did so comprehensively. I settled for second, which was what was largely expected of me. At the time I was a huge Depeche Mode fan and the Singles 81-85 compilation had just come out - I had saved my pocket money to acquire this vital cassette and had been listening to it on my Walkman on the poolside through the other events. This meant I swam 60 gruelling lengths of a roasting pool with Shake The Disease - and especially Martin Gore's falsetto moans at the beginning - going through my head over and over again.

My last 1500m race was at South Hunsley pool, west of the city. We had converted to yardage again for this, and on this occasion it was a Hull & District Championship race, meaning that the lads round my age from other clubs in the county were taking part. I was 15 and had started to decline as a swimmer, both in interest and ability. This was an odd old race, as I was expected by everyone, including myself, to finish a conclusive last of only four competitors, and Mark Marshall - a good swimmer from Bridlington - was expected to lap me during the 53 lengths.

He certainly was miles ahead of the rest of us, but I kept up with Mark Raper and Bradley Palmer throughout the race and indeed led them for vast chunks of it. I had no sprint after 50 lengths though, and was frustrated as my tiring arms couldn't cope with these two guys' strength in reserve. They eased past me and I duly finished fourth, but a far more respectable fourth than initially anticipated. On reflection, I was to that race exactly what those uncompetitive pacemakers are in athletics races when someone else in the field is after a world record. Still, my mum was proud of me and said so as I got out of the pool - and ran straight across the green faux-carpet poolside at South Hunsley to the changing rooms to be physically sick.

I gave up competitive swimming within the next year. Ale, girls and exams - you know how it is...

David Davies is our great hope in the 1500m in Beijing, just as he was in Athens where he got an excellent bronze. He's also doing the inaugural 10k open water race, which takes endurance swimming to a totally alien level. International swimmers do a 1500m race in about 15 minutes, whereas lads like me in 1982 took twice as long - making it hardly the most enthralling spectacle for those on the poolside and balcony.

I hope David can go one better this time, if not two, of course. Irrespective of your performance level, there's a great feeling attached to winning a 1500m race - I know this as I did win a couple of mine, yet they are the ones I can remember nothing about!

8 August 2008

Sky of the tigers

Oh heck, it's only eight days away ... and look, Sky Sports have put Dean Windass, Nick Barmby and Ian Ashbee on their main advertising billboard.

My belly's churning.

7 August 2008

Manic Miner update

Having finally worked out the crashing sequence in the Skylab Landing Bay and got through that level, I've now reached The Warehouse, which is the 17th cavern of 20. I only had one life left when I got there, and that was soon extinguished, so I'll be having another go soon.

Exciting, huh?

6 August 2008

"Today, live from the Paddock Boating Lake in Cleethorpes...!"

Mondo's mention of the Radio Rewind site on the thread below got me even more nostalgic. Go visit it - it's basically a potted history of Radio 1 - biographies, timelines, DJ details and some fabulous audio of jingle packages and show clips. I've been dipping in and out of it for years.

Although my working life has been in commercial radio, I barely heard any as a young listener because I was Radio 1 daft. Once I'd decided that my own ambitions were related to radio (something which made everybody laugh at school - students, teachers, even one of the dinner ladies) then I began to listen even more closely, as a connoisseur rather than just a consumer.

This, if you want to get on the radio yourself, is actually a mistake. Nobody wants a clone of someone who already exists, they want somebody new, different and true to themselves. There was no point in me going on Kingstown Radio and doing the gags that Gary King had done on the early show that very morning because the demo would be thrown straight in the bin by any professional station which heard it.

For all that, I did send a demo to Radio 1 as a naive 17 year old and got a nice reply from Jerry Foulkes, who was DLT's producer at the time. He was polite, without actually commenting on the tape's contents (thank God - can't remember what was on it and I'm glad I can't) and told me to keep gaining experience in hospital radio.

When I was 19, I left journalism college and got a week's trial at the Grimsby Evening Telegraph. They put me in a tiny but smart guest house close to the newspaper offices for the week and I enjoyed my time there - predominantly because my trial coincided with the Radio 1 Roadshow's annual visit to Cleethorpes.

I'd been the year before as a punter. Three of us went - my mate Chris and a French exchange student from Douai called Damian accompanied me. Phillip Schofield was the host and it was that rather famous occasion when he was Gotcha'd by Noel Edmonds. He took part in a warm-up "saw your head off" trick but the "magician" "lost" the keys to the guillotine and so Phil, ever the pro, had to do the whole roadshow on his knees with his head stuck in a hole. Noel pitched up shortly before the end of broadcast to huge cheers.

It was supremely entertaining from start to finish. Phil's swearing on the off-air mic was eye-opening too. The only thing that spoiled it was that everyone had seemingly brought their own Gordon the Gopher with them, thereby the whole experience was infested with grating squeaky noises all the way through.

So this time round I was anxious, despite being the placement student, to work at the roadshow. And the news editor, bless him, gave me one of the paper's press passes. He knew that I also had radio ambitions and was seemingly impressed that I had a part-time job at the time reading out non-league football results on BBC Radio Humberside, so I got in. Me and two reporters therefore spent the roadshow behind the scenes, chatting to the competition winners, staff and, most importantly of all, the stars.

Well, I say "stars". The two live acts onstage were the Smart E's and the Brand New Heavies. The former were clearly a novelty dance act with a name of minuscule-controversy; the latter were, erm, brand new jazz-funksters who'd later get much better and much more famous. When they were onstage, I remember watching the drummer being careful, as the performance was a mime, not to actually strike a single drum or cymbal with his sticks.

There was also Patrick Swayze there. Well, the crowd thought so, at least. He was introduced as such and got the most ludicrous scream, epic it was, from the female contingent gathered on the paddock. Leather jacket, shades and elaborate quiff all added to the act, but it was in fact a stunningly accurate lookalike and the truth was never revealed, on air at least. I'm not even sure his fakery was ever revealed to the crowd off air, come to think of it. If you were there and I've just ruined the moment you've clung on to for the last 16 years, sorry.

And who was hosting? Bruno Brookes. He wasn't my favourite at the time because he'd replaced Gary King, my idol, on the early show that year. But I interviewed him and then afterwards told him I was a fledgling jock who wanted to get where he was. He was extremely nice about it, really encouraging. Also there - here's a real blast from the early 90s - was Man Ezeke, who fitted the unfortunate "do we have to play this?" tokenism of 80s and early 90s Radio 1 and black music. Dixie Peach had previously done it, then the Ranking Miss P, prior to Ezeke's own one solitary hour per week on the air with his Sunshine Show. He was also encouraging, telling me - and I quote directly here - to "keep making those tapes, boy". What a nice chap.

And so I'd worked at a Radio 1 roadshow and I've still got my 1FM press pass in my box of keepsakes. Years later, doing roadshows for Viking FM and Imagine FM were enormous fun, and if you work for a local station that happens to be blessed with great heritage and a lack of competition, as Viking was, then you can attract huge crowds. My first ever roadshow as a full-time jock was at the Princes Quay Shopping Centre in Hull (opened by Gary Davies and a Radio 1 roadshow as part of Radio Goes To Town a few years earlier) in 1998, when all the presenters did a stint during an all-day event. It was Valentine's Day and Joel Ross, our resident heart-throb, was trying to break the record for partaking in the most kisses in a certain period of time. Joel, bless him, stood around all day while girls (and a good smattering of sporting lads with a degree of comfort about their heterosexuality) queued up to peck him on the cheek. He loved it, though needed regular applications of lip balm. When JK did his stint with the mic, his first act, under a little playful crowd duress, was to grab Joel and do tongues. For effect, obviously. It got a big laugh.

I did the last two hours and had great fun with it too, wandering around the balconies and concourses of this big shopping centre, persuading folk to join the queue and handing out random merchandise. It was an amazing buzz. And, as if to prove my theory that radio increases your sex appeal irrespective of what you're really like, I received a letter the following week from the student girl who'd been working that day for the event's sponsors, asking me out. Result!

Since going freelance in 2005, I've not done any type of roadshow. Before that, at Imagine FM we did a few, but it was harder to acquire them as the Manchester area has such an amazing array of radio stations, some regional, all powerful, whose clout financially was so much bigger. However, one thing we did get for three years in a row was the switching on of Stockport's Christmas lights and I was lucky enough to be the main presenter at each.

I committed some faux-pas during these events. I warmed the crowd up by running round the front of the cordons, asking random people what their names were and what they wanted for Christmas. One chap curtly told me "I don't celebrate Christmas, I'm a Muslim" - this is into a mic and out of large speakers, remember, so everyone hears it. I asked another lad his name and he excitedly said "Jay!" I then continued, in DJ mode, "so Jay, what do you want for Christmas?" but unfortunately this lad had an almighty stammer and was still telling me his name when I put the mic back in front of him, finally saying "Jay-Jay-Jay-Jay-Jay-Jason."


One year we got the Cheeky Girls on. This was only a fortnight or so after they'd done their infamous audition in front of Pete Waterman and co on that reality show, the name of which escapes me as I didn't and don't watch any of them. I had no idea who the Cheeky Girls were but was reassured that it would be fun. Onstage they came, to enormous cheering, and myself and the three other jocks on duty had been told, in no uncertain terms, that we would be dancing with them. That record of theirs came on and there's me, a 30 year old 6ft 2 bloke, in a radio station puffa jacket doing sub-normal choreography that Black Lace would have deemed too embarrassing.

When the "touch my bum" line came up, one of my colleagues decided he would do as he was told, quite substantially too. He claimed later he didn't realise he had touch his own buttocks...

The same year Michael Le Vell was there. We always got a Coronation Street guest (Sally Lindsay had come along the year before, and was an utter delight and incredibly sexy) and so getting a chap who for 20 years had been on our premier soap, which I've loved all my life, was a great coup. He knocked about jauntily on the stage with us but then, as the cheers rang out, he started to ask us, on the mic, where the lights button was, assuming he was turning them on. He wasn't. That was the job of a competition winner from a promotion we'd done with the shopping centre. He looked a little taken aback that he was the big star of the event (and he was) but wouldn't be doing the big star's task.

And Toyah was there. I've adored Toyah all my life; she's one of those women who's got so much sexier as she's got older. She was in panto at the Plaza in Stockport and so turned up, with her Widow Twankee in tow, to do a chat with us onstage. She was fab, a great pro. I loved her even more. The only problem was that she and Twanks started to chuck sweets into the crowd, which should be fine, of course, but the jocks had been strictly warned beforehand not to do this because of, yes, Health and bleedin' Safety. Our roadshow co-ordinator gave me daggers from the side of the stage, and I gently stopped them chucking these toffees (they could have a child's eye out, y'know...) into the heaving throng of vulnerable, unprotected victims-in-waiting. Cuh.

Also because of Health and Safety, the actual switch-on was cocked up one year. We did the countdown from ten down to one, and the button was pressed and - hey presto! - the lights came on. Hurray! But the fireworks and crackers and general loud things were not set off simultaneously, as planned, because someone was standing too close to one of them (about five yards) and so they weren't ignited. Given that explosives 20 times the size of these things go off at stadia when a trophy is presented on a pitch and there are many human beings stood next to them, I thought this a little too cautious. It ruined the moment, really.

My favourite roadshow was in 2000, when Viking FM did its Party On The Pier at Cleethorpes (the seaside equivalent to anyone else's Party In The Park). Top of the bill were 5ive, and Billie Piper was our opening act. I did a segment on the air and stage and got the greatest crowd reaction I've ever had in my career when I said to them: "I reckon we could do this all night, what do you think?" (thieving from Brian May, that one) and the "yeeeeeeeeeeeeees!" in response from these thousands and thousands of people was just explosive. I had a lot of hair at the time, and it all stood up.

I peaked at that stage, as I then went on to introduce Scooch, and then afterwards Sid Owen and the Bomfunk MCs. Showbiz. The other highlights included the chorus of Angels which all the jocks together got everyone to sing before saying goodnight, and the member of Fierce (girlish trio who you won't remember) who responded to a request from below the pier by a group of Lincolnshire lads to, erm, reveal a dual part of her anatomy to them for their entertainment. And she did, just as I was walking past. I bet none of the Three Degrees ever did that.

So my favourite roadshow happened to be in the same town as the one which began my fascination for them, back in the days when I was a teenage wannabe, working as a hack and wearing terrible ties. They really are great fun.

5 August 2008

And he's trying a segueway to heaven...

Reading the blurb about the Radio Luxembourg 75th birthday reunion at the weekend brought out the radio nostalgist in me. I didn't hear a great deal of Luxembourg as the medium wave reception round East Yorkshire was at the crappier end of crap, but it is a great radio story.

Working with Tony Blackburn and Paul Burnett lately (by 'working with', I suppose I really mean 'occasionally being in the same building as') has further rekindled my interest in the medium's past. I have friends who have reels and reels of old Revox tape full of interviews, jingle packages (including never-aired underscores and pre-mix sessions) and programmes in their attics. And in their spare rooms. And in their garages. I don't have quite this admirably nerdish approach to it all, but I do love reading about how it once was.

Here's the deal with the mechanics of radio now; a presenter on commercial radio walks into a studio (sometimes it's the only studio, so has to 'hot seat' with the preceding presenter during the news or the last song) and logs into a computer which displays all his songs, ads and required bits of production, in order. He then presses big buttons on a customised keyboard which play these things in turn. The only faders on a desk he need ever touch with regularity is the one which opens his microphone and the one which brings up the newsreader.

When I started as an amateur in the early part of 1990, a presenter walked into a studio and began a process of cueing up, checking for levels and spinning into its correct starting place a whole host of vinyl records. CD players were only really installed at the BBC by this time. Jingles were played off the iconic Sonifex cartridges which could contain any number of production snippets but you needed to be on your toes as to which one was where on the list. Other stuff would be on reel tapes, the cueing up of which was a laborious, finger-twisting process which could not be rushed even by those actually in a rush.

Inevitably you'd sometimes start a record at the wrong speed (Cuddly Toy by Roachford regularly got me, as it was a 7" single released at 33rpm) and reels were also capable of being unwittingly speeded up or slowed down by a nonchalant, accidental flick of a switch. It was all part of the learning process; it kept you on your toes, taught you the value of absolute preparation before a programme and complete concentration during it, and gave you immense satisfaction when a segueway which involved three different faders being opened at carefully rehearsed times was executed perfectly. Presenters are notoriously self-critical and think they hear errors or bits of clumsiness that in reality didn't happen, but back when the technical side was so much more complicated it was easier to feel pleased on those occasions when you felt you'd done a good job.

You could spend the duration of a three minute record rehearsing and double checking the process of segueing into the next one; a process which to the listener is an unremarkable few seconds - they're more interested in enjoying the next song - but to the presenter is a work of art, a sign of slickness and good production values. "Nobody remembers a good segueway", one of my ex-bosses used to insist. But the presenter doing the segueway does, and technical excellence back then would provide an adrenaline rush and galvanise the presenter into making the rest of the show just as good. Only once the segueway was absolutely memorised, ready for its on-air execution, did you consider doing stuff like answering the phone or preparing the next link or more humdrum necessities like visiting the lavatory. And sometimes you wouldn't have time. Afterwards, he'd listen to his own cassette recording of the show to see whether various segueways were as good as he thought they were.

The first time I was introduced to a playout computer was in 1996 at Hallam FM in Sheffield. I was transfixed by it; and also terrified of it. Even at this late stage, all I'd done was use CDs, vinyl and cartridges, and the only computer I'd ever needed was the one which had the record library catalogued thereon, telling you whereabouts on the shelves you could find the circle of vinyl or the CD. Now I was being asked to learn to use a system which was wired to the faders on the desk and contained all of the station's adverts and jingles. Later, these playout systems would be upgraded by their manufacturers so that the database was substantial enough to place all the music on as well. CDs on the radio, except in specialist shows, became pretty much obsolete from 2000 onwards. Some stations donated their CD and vinyl collections to local hospital radio stations, others kept theirs for the inevitable computer crash. You may have seen how the technology has now become part of club DJ-ing too, as more and more jocks deploy laptops with sophisticated segueway tools and mixing facilities to pump out the sounds. I don't do this, yet. It does mean that in theory, a jock can prepare his whole set at home, plug the laptop in and then spend the evening doing what his punters do but be paid for it. It's clever, but it's also impersonal, especially as it seems to rule out customer requests.

The radio playout systems also have substantial editing functions and remote facilities to play out audio which isn't even on the machine, but attributed elsewhere to the desk. Furthermore, they can keep a radio station on air without a single person being in the building for hours on end by doing its own timing, seguewaying and news introduction, providing its clock is set correctly. Numerous small stations within larger corporate groups in the UK now do this, for obvious but sad budgetary reasons.

And so we're now in that situation where we don't need to touch the faders which actually play out the stuff you hear on air. I grew up, professionally at least, with these systems but there are older presenters out there who seem to resent the technology a little as it takes away some of the 'performance' associated with live, pacey radio - performances such as those by the jocks fortunate enough to work for Radio Luxembourg during their careers.

4 August 2008

Hearts desire

A new footballing experience for me yesterday - I visited a Scottish ground for the first time ever, tipping up in Edinburgh for Hull City's pre-season friendly at Heart of Midlothian.

It's actually only my second visit to Scotland as a whole in my entire life - the first was back in 1990 when I agreed to travel with my parents to the Glasgow Flower Festival on the proviso that I could beetle off to the Glasgow Radio Festival when we got there. Inevitably, my parents decided upon arrival that the radio festival was too far away from the parking facility at the flower festival (for what it's worth, I can't remember any of the details) and so instead I spent four hours wandering around a glorified garden centre looking as bored and as irritated as any archetypal lad pushing 17 could look at a distinctly teenage-unfriendly location.

So this time I was hoping my second visit north of the border (do the Welsh use that expression too, even though they have to go east of another border first in order to head for Scotland?) would be more productive and enjoyable.

And it was.

The Sunday morning drive up from Stockport (where I'd done my gig the night before) was pleasant and quiet, which I needed after just five hours' kip. I am always enchanted by the beauty of the Lake District when I see it, and after crossing the border (and chuckling as I recalled our beloved Dean Windass believing he needed a passport when he first joined Aberdeen) I drove through countless easy-on-the-eye Scottish villages after leaving the A74 near Lockerbie and heading eastwards.

I managed to park in an extended car park adjacent to a local Somerfield and did so for free. In England, most private car parks on matchdays fleece you for up to a tenner. These, of course, are not car parks at all, but the local tyre firm with a spot of extended land making a quick buck by planting a crudely drawn "CAR'S AND MINIBUS'S - £7" sign at their entrance, and then packing you in so tightly that everyone's safe exit before midnight is only guaranteed once the owner of the very last car to squeeze in actually returns to their vehicle.

I walked along Gorgie Road, a brilliant football fan's road (plenty of seedy pubs with doormen and takeaways of considerable greasiness, plus the obligatory bloke selling knock-off scarves for HEART OFF MIDDLOWTHIAN while watching out for trading standards) and got the odd "who are ya!" from the more cerebrally unblessed local who'd cleverly ascertained that my black and amber striped shirt, complete with giveaway badge bearing the words 'HULL' and 'CITY' meant that I was possibly not in attendance to support the same team as him. The fact that he still had to ask who I was is something I can't explain...

Ended up in one of these seedy locals, the name of which escapes me. It wasn't the Tynecastle Arms, which my two comrades who'd travelled by rail had managed to infiltrate, as that pub wouldn't allow any club colours inside. My pals were in civvies and presumably at least one of them had affected enough of a Morningside accent, drowning out the famously lipless Hull vowels, to the chaps on the door in order to worm their way in. The pub I drank in could, from the inside, have been a pub anywhere in the UK, although the £2.70 it charged for Guinness suggested that prices from south of the border (and certainly south of Sheffield) hadn't quite made it to their parts.

Tynecastle itself is part-smart, part-neglected. They've done three of their stands excellently, with the seating spacious and the view unobstructed by those ridiculous pillars that some clubs insist their roofs need right behind the goal. One side - where the club officials and press have their quarters - is less developed. The really neglected bit is the immediate surroundings of the viewing area though - the concourses are dirty, the paintwork dead and I'm in no doubt that the rust on the corrugated steps leading from the turnstiles to those concourses is decades old. I can't imagine what a Hearts v Hibernian match was like here in the 1970s - I thought the south stand at Boothferry Park (Hull City's lamented old stadium) in 1987 was scary enough.

I ate quite easily the worst-tasting (and worst-prepared) hot dog in the history of dodgy football catering before the game. Imagine taking a sausage in the factory from the bits normally deemed not good enough for sausages, undercooking it in tepid water, then placing it in a stale, half broken breadcake which isn't big enough to accommodate the sausage while simultaneously grunting your desire to be somewhere else, wiping your nose and demanding three quid.

I had four bites, just as many grimaces, and then located a bin.

The game itself was not good, but pre-season friendlies are rarely designed to entertain. They're there to get the players fit, introduce the new recruits to their team-mates and give the manager as good an idea as possible about the formation and personnel required for when the real business starts.

In front of 300 or so hardy Hull souls (plus the Hearts contingent which wasn't plentiful enough to warrant opening all three of their viewing areas), we lost 1-0.

As I walked back along Gorgie Road to the car, I had to pass lots of bus stops full of claret and white shirts and scarves. One or two teenage types started singing "1-0, 1-0, 1-0" at me, presumably in case they needed me to confirm the score back to them as they'd forgotten. Amazingly, a chap in an orange cagoul across the road started chanting "Premier League, you're having a laugh" at me, while walking his small daughter (assuming a woman has ever allowed him into a position to father a daughter, which I'd doubt, so maybe it was his niece) home from the game. Quality display of responsible, mature fatherhood, or unclehood, there. I could have responded by saying something like "at least our chairman doesn't sack the manager every five games before finally appointing one of his mates with less-than-impeccable qualifications without giving him total control of the team or who to sign, resulting in your status as the Old Firm's most likely conquerors being severely tarnished to the point of finishing in the bottom half of the table and as the laughing stock of the Scottish game" but I couldn't think of a popular melody in which it would easily scan.

These people are the exceptions, of course, and I got some polite "good luck" comments from many more at these bus stops, although most totally ignored me, and quite rightly. We had our usual unlovelies in the Hull City end too, who embarrass me.

A four and a half hour drive back to Hull then followed, which was almost entirely motorway free as the sat nav took me to Dalkeith and Jedburgh prior to reaching the border (the border point on the A68 is absolutely brilliant, by the way - stones, flags, a beacon, tourist lecterns and a great reminder to 'drive on the left', as if the Scots have actually been right-hand drivers all this time and just forgot) before a long traverse through the Northumberland hills and Durham countryside, finally hitting the A1 at Scotch Corner, 75 minutes from home. The scenery is absolutely mesmeric, utterly gorgeous. The length of time taken to drive through it when heading a long way south is not, especially as the endlessly rural route renders service stations an unnecessary eyesore, even when there are long distance drivers with empty bellies and full bladders coming through. Like me.

Got home just after 9pm (the game ended at 4pm, then the walk to the car was half an hour), had a pie and chips and fell asleep on the settee, totally spent. And we do this all for fun.

The Premier League starts a week on Saturday.