31 December 2010

That was the year that was

I attended three funerals in 2010, including those of a dear uncle and my first boss. Then there was the demise of an adored pet and the loss of a job that had given me such hope at the start of the year. An annus horribilus, maybe? Well, it could have been better, certainly. But I have health, great friends and still much to look forward to professionally and personally in the year and more to come.

I shall, as ever, be bringing in the New Year at the decks in Stockport, doing a six-hour set of everything and anything. I am still debating what will be the crucial first song of 2011 after the last bars of Auld Lang Syne have died out. It's a big decision. Last year was Greatest Day by Take That, which worked a treat. The year before it was Set You Free by N'Trance, and the year before that Dance The Night Away by the Mavericks. Hardly iPod classics for this bit of blogsville, but they don't half get a merry crowd up and moving.

Thanks for your continued reading and comments, and whether you're out partying or staying in with a glass of Merlot and Jools Holland's Hootenanny, I hope you have a great evening - and a superb year to come. To you!

24 December 2010

"He's so lazy, he puts food down the toilet to feed the birds at the seaside..."

While everyone bangs on about how unspeakable Frankie Boyle is (and he is), last night we got some proper comedy gold.

The tributes to the Two Ronnies, in the form of an old Christmas special (including Elaine Paige, natch), a Ronnie Corbett tribute documentary, some remarkable studio footage of the two in action - out-takes, re-takes, gurnings and all - and then a repeat of the Ronnie Barker BAFTA tribute, were compulsive viewing.

Barker, as I said here, never excelled himself more than when he played Norman Stanley Fletcher, I felt, as it was the only untypically Barker thing he did that gained a high profile. Corbett, now, is getting the attention as a milestone birthday approaches. Although a multi-skilled performer, consummate joke-teller and seemingly very broad-minded and generous chap, he was in the shadows, and not just literally, for all the years and he and Barker were together.

Sorry! was a brilliant show but didn't deliver in the way that Barker's two major sitcom projects did (although I still think Open All Hours was salvaged just by Barker's stutter and Lynda Baron's bosom). It is rarely repeated on satellite channels and never terrestrially. And on last night's Corbett tribute, it disappointed me that in the context of his career, it was deemed to be worth only five minutes or so of mention, prior to much smoke-blowing regarding his interesting but (especially in the latter) largely unfunny appearances on Extras and Little Britain.

I used to get snorts of derision for this, but I always felt that when Corbett sat in his chair, telling a 20 second joke that ended up taking five minutes due to digression, it was often the highlight of a whole Two Ronnies episode, and they were all good ones as well. Given that Barker frequently had wordplay sketches to himself, it was both fair and sensible that Corbett was offered his weekly opportunity to show his particular individual skills too. He was a comic, Barker an actor. They taught each other what they knew. And, as somebody said on the documentary, in the end the actual joke being told was not really the point of having Corbett in that chair, with his yellow-logoed sweater. On the warts-and-all Two Ronnies studio show afterwards, I loved the footage taken from behind the chair, especially as some of it was Corbett hamming it up while the cameras got into position.

After all this Two Ronnies action we got another episode of the Goodies. I know more about the Goodies' legend than I do of the actual programmes. Never really been a fan of Bill Oddie in modern times but I like Tim Brooke-Taylor and utterly adore Graeme Garden, so I watched. It was the end of the world at Christmas 1977 and I laughed like a drain. Now, at last, I know what the fuss over 25 years of allegedly being airbrushed out of BBC comedy history was about.

Clean, daft, moving, clever, topical (for its time - if Bill Oddie wants to spend his last half hour conquering the Three Degrees then that's fine by me) and just great fun. They're on late night on BBC2 all week until the New Year. My education has begun right here.

As for me, I have a club night to do tonight and then a busy holiday season follows. Thanks for reading all year and if it's ok with you, I'll keep writing it. Have a fantastic Christmas.

22 December 2010

Something cute and innocent associated with Zimbabwe

Sometimes, a litter of 17 healthy Rhodesian Ridegback puppies is all you need.

21 December 2010

Norton your nelly

I watched that Graham Norton talk programme last night. It's been on in the background before, but as I was cooped up in bed with a horrendous cold I had little choice but to take actual notice this time.

And I'm glad I did. I really enjoyed it.

Cher and Dawn French were the guests, and it was notable how the conversation seemed totally unplanned or unstructured; Norton went from one to the other, finding links from their lives to address to the other lady on the sofa and making them feel entirely relaxed.

I switched off when he introduced The Script - even I have limits - but it was tremendous.

I've always been a bit 'meh' about Norton. It's well documented that he got a regular television gig sort of by accident; he was the camp unknown who was roped in by the unwatched (and, in Huddersfield at the time, unwatchable) Channel 5 in its mid-90s infancy to cover for Jack Docherty on his semi-awful late night talk show. And he ended up being miles better at it, to the extent of winning an award when it wasn't even his job.

Talk shows are pretty much what he has done ever since, albeit some complicated and extreme innovations of the genre. I didn't care as much for the type when seeing an mpeg of a man's head disappearing up a donkey's arse was as vital to the show as asking Joan Collins about her bra collection, but this new incarnation on the BBC seems to have him in exactly the right place.

He can ask serious or frivolous questions without the guest feeling put out by either, and it has to be said that as a gay man, he can ask saucy questions of female guests that a straight man could not. He got so much information from the newly-single Dawn French about her dating habits last night while also, without any great effort, getting Cher to reveal the colour of her knickers. It's hardly thought-provoking stuff but it was all in context for a revealing, entertaining and not too deep but also not too dumb knockabout bit of telly. And at times it was screamingly funny.

There was much gnashing of teeth from the anti-BBC rags about Norton's contribution to the corporation after signing on a megaquids deal and then seemingly doing very little for some time. But if this is the culmination of that search for the correct vehicle, much kudos to those who were involved. Far better this than Jonathan Ross's embarrassing sycophancy and ill-research, or the method of "come on, get the plug in and piss off" brand that Michael Parkinson, the nasty old get, troubled himself with in his dying years while having the nerve to criticise others.

17 December 2010

"Champagne for three?"

It was the TV Cream festive shebang at the Phoenix Arts Bar in fancy London town last night. I'm writing this with coffee and mild headache in the lobby of the Etap hotel next to London City Airport, a rather small example of its ilk, to the extent that the planes that land there have a boy's voice and the word 'JIMBO' emblazoned on the side.

It was all a bit rushed, having got home from Plymouth late on Wednesday night, only to be up early and off to the railway station to head capitalwards the next morning. Dearest Alex met me off the train and we had a celebratoty Costa coffee while being hassled by bootleg cake salesmen and discussing his forthcoming nuptials.

Then it was to Oxford Street, as I used the opportunity of a London trip to prep this weekend's Q The 80s at Mappin House, home of Q Radio. Then it was a couple of swift vodkas with my TV Cream colleague Ian before we leapt on the DLR to go to the hotel.

I've never been on the DLR before. All I assumed was that it was an overground version of, well, the underground. This is the case, though it is also driverless. This made me wonder what happens in the event of an emergency that takes place between stations and how quickly a member of staff could get to the train to manually sort it. A medical emergency is probably harder to sort; a first aid kit and one diligent passenger shouting "is there a doctor on the train?" is probably the principal way of trying to get help.

Our drinking on Oxford Street had left us not much time; we got to the hotel, checked in, ordered a cab and were out again and back to the DLR in 20 minutes. Upon arrival at the Phoenix, I squeezed into a seat with the others and was immediately confronted by a dual problem.

There was a spotlight shining on a glitterball and the harsh reflective light was right into my eyes. Meanwhile, the choice of music was unsurprisingly Christmassy, but mixed in with John Lennon and Wham! were full choir versions of carols, which were very loud and very slow and brought the mood down. Being the self-important types, we got both the lights and the music turned off. The lights stayed off. The music didn't.

Much approving conversation about the Coronation Street tram crash and live episode, including titbits about one of our brood fulfilling a life's ambition by interviewing Betty Driver during the 50th birthday publicity, when she was, in a rare public appearance, wheeled (literally) in front of a gaggle of television hacks invited to Granada. Meanwhile, this collection of minds remembered crucial information about the character played by prolific second-string sitcom sleazer Milton Johns after he bought the corner shop (Brendan Scott), the unnoticed microphone problems when the Rovers burnt down in 1986, the time Eddie Yeats got so pissed he painted yellow lines along the street to stop traffic from parking there, and Stan Ogden's infamous toe injury which resulted in a picture of the heavily bruised waggler featuring on the front of the Weatherfield Recorder.

Louis was there, of course, doing his life and soul shtick with his usual bombast and beauty. A discussion about Band Aid led to him having a "eureka!" moment and digging out his laptop to show us this...

It's from Norway, and I think it's all the guests who have appeared on a particular chat show over there. The funny thing about it is, aside from every ex-celeb on show being slightly more incongruous than their predecessor, that there was obviously a licensing problem with the Beatles and so the version of Let It Be they're lip-synching is the one done by Ferry Aid in 1987. Immediately, as we sat down to watch, everyone asked: "Who's going to be Kate Bush?"

Louis, on a weekend of debauchery in London of which we were a mere part, also brought with him, as a gift to anyone who snaffled it, an ITV-branded pedometer which he was sent in the post. I have it. And I don't know why. But for your pleasure and sheer delight, here it is...

We then were greeted by a well-known face in the shape of actress Fliss Walton, who some of us know via other networking means. She is an actress with an extensive CV but for the moment she is known as That Woman Who Sings Isa Isa Baby In the Halifax Ad. She's all very cool about it, and didn't slap anyone who asked her in a "comedy" manner if she would like some solidified water in her gin and tonic.

Ian and I left, in the company of Louis, Justin, Phil and Suzy, and headed for more vodka in the comfort of a smart flat in Bethnal Green that has a lift with over-sensitive buttons. A cab ride followed for the hotel's glorified prison cell. Ian, who was drinking Bombardier, feels like death warmed up. I don't.

A top night with top people. Please visit the TV Cream site, not least because it's had a gorgeous refurb recently. It's one of the internet's great British brands, 13 years standing, and it's the reason these splendid meeeeeeeeja doofuses know one another.

15 December 2010

"Pull, pull, pull!"

I'm in Plymouth, visiting my brother and nephews as I won't see them over Christmas. Heading home tonight but first a visit to the theatre to see a production of The Enormous Turnip.

It's a book I read as a child, though I had to Google it to be reminded of the plot.

I should make it clear that my nephews are eight and six, and yes, they are attending the production.

Yesterday it was a case of history repeating itself as I was beaten, fairly and squarely, at ten pin bowling by one of the nephews. Every benefit in making them feel like winners at an early age, isn't there?

10 December 2010

"Get rid of that shirt..."

Could be a spoiler here, careful...!

So, the Coronation Street tram crash. I don't think it was flawless, but I do think it was brilliant. The live episode was a triumph for every performer and crew member with a role to fulfil.

Beyond the hysterics over the explosion and crash itself, I think more praise should be offered to the notion of keeping storylines going that were brewing before the Joinery smithereened. John Stape, the most mild-mannered, gentle, caring abductor, body-concealer and brain-caving thug in existence, had just battered Charlotte over the head with a hammer and was considering how to hide the evidence when the Joinery went up. Steve and Becky were searching fruitlessly for an apparently runaway Max when the Joinery went up. Molly was escaping from Tyrone after dealing the body blow about baby Jack when the Joinery went up. Gary was going through the worst throes of post-traumatic stress when the Joinery went up.

And, as people escaped, or found themselves further trapped, or sipped brandies in the Rovers while a GP that made Dr "call me Fred" Fonseca from EastEnders of yore look positively charismatic dabbed wounds and wondered where ambulances were, these stories continued. Gary was going through hell via flashback and double vision as he heard the bangs and crashes from within the sanctuary of his family home; Max's evil mother turned up and admitted to taking him to "test" Steve and Becky's compassion; Molly breathed her last via a confession to Sally about Jack's true parentage; John managed to accompany Fiz to hospital to see the premature birth of their daughter while also eventually dragging the supposedly lifeless Charlotte from the house just far enough for a dopey cop to assume she had been caught in the blast.

I wonder how much running Graeme Hawley, as John, must have done during the live episode to get from scene to scene? It's well known that the outdoor scenes of Coronation Street are filmed in an entirely different area of the Granada complex to the indoor studio sets. He had to be at the hospital, then back home, then in the back alley. There were fewer than two minutes between his last scene indoors and the moment he appeared back on the street and feigned emergency services duty in order to get past the cops and into the house to get Charlotte's body away. At the very least, he did amazingly well to deliver his lines with both full-blooded conviction and a lack of breathlessness. If a star of the show must be singled out, this is the man. And Jennie McAlpine's performance as a frantic mother-in-waiting was excellent, even though if there is one role an actor wants in the event of a one-off live performance in front of a third of the nation, it's that of a woman in childbirth, as deviating from the script is easy.

And the other titbit observations that one makes during a live episode; firstly, there were no kids at all. Ashley's two, Dev's two, plus Russ, Max, Amy and Simon, all made no appearance. Even Molly's rescued baby, or the plastic version of, wasn't seen in the hospital. Ten years ago a ten year old (ish) David Platt, in school jumper and with football, was the first person seen on the 40th anniversary live episode. Perhaps the nature of it was too much for them; perhaps in the case of each they're not child actors to any real extent (with the exception of the lad who plays Simon, who out-acts most of the adults a lot of the time) and therefore in the real world their scenes are filmed and re-filmed and chopped, dubbed, edited, spliced, everything.

Simon's absence also ruled out an appearance from Deirdrie in the live episode. She was looking after him while everyone else attended Peter's bedside. I wonder if Anne Kirkbride had ruled herself out of appearing, prompting the storyline, or if the scriptwriters had to tell her that the plot demanded she was deemed unnecessary? There was also no Emily in the live episode, despite an appearance in the build-up edition the previous evening. Is Eileen Derbyshire not up to live telly?

There has been a bit of jumping on those who dare to praise these actors for their performances by pointing out that actors in theatre do live performances all the time. Well, yes, but in front of a few thousand, not 14 million. And if they get something wrong, they have the next night's performance to get it right. Live television acting is such a novelty even to high-calibre performers that it won't feel like theatre at all. I genuinely couldn't see or hear a mishap, and that's both a credit and a relief. Some people tune in for the car-crash possibilities (or tram-crash, if you prefer) whereas I hate the thought of something going wrong. I'm a Coronation Street nut and I want it to be spot on all the time. I don't want them to be actors, I want them to be people. And if any of them get it wrong, they have to live with it forever. Scott Maslen declared on Strictly... that he knows he will always be remembered as the guy who cocked up on the live episode of EastEnders, irrespective of the heights his career still has in wait for him.

Realism wise, I do wonder why Sally wasn't given a helmet once she was under the rubble with Molly, even though the fireman had been heard asking for one for her prior to leading her through the cordon. Could it be to do with the wig that Sally Dynevor has to wear? Also, given that it was clearly a gas leak that had caused the explosion, I suspect that all gas to the area would have been cut off afterwards, hence my confusion at Roy being able to use his hob in the cafe.

I loved the live episode, and I've been gripped by the whole project. It's had its faults - Mary's comic turn in the cafe was, for once, out of place last night, and there wasn't a single real tear as the performers tried desperately to cry properly - but all involved deserve the sort of praise usually reserved for the elements of theatrical performance that are upheld in the name of snobbery. Soap or not, this was outstanding stuff. Now to realise Rita is missing. She's not in some gin den, damn you all...!

My only gripe now is that the TV listings mags for Christmas and New Year are in danger of giving stuff away - not through synopses, but through their insistence on listing the cast...

9 December 2010

Your commentary team is Andy Cole, Paul Merson and Phil Neal

Michael Atherton, Nasser Hussain, Ian Botham, David Gower, Michael Holding and Shane Warne are the six commentators looking after the Ashes series for Sky. Over on the BBC, Jonathan Agnew, Michael Vaughan and Geoffrey Boycott are among the Test Match Special team bringing their ball-by-ball banter to overnight listeners.

They all have something very basic in common that even non-cricketists will know. They all, very simply, used to be international cricketers themselves.

Cricket, along with snooker and athletics, is fortunate enough to have a whole range of educated, articulate and knowledgable guys coming out of the game who are broadcasters in waiting. In fact, these three sports have always done this.

Now look at football. Every commentator is still a football-loving communicator and journalist first and foremost. They have never played the game for a living and so their insight comes from research, observation and understanding of the mechanics of the game rather than direct experience of it.

The only ex-footballer in the major broadcast media whose role isn't either as a summariser or pundit is Gary Lineker, and although he took to presenting well, that is all he does. He doesn't describe, he doesn't comment. He reads autocue, tells dodgy jokes and makes the weekly claim that Alan Shearer has something insightful to say. The get-out for Lineker against those who don't rate him is his former England team-mate John Barnes, who was simply the worst presenter on any kind of television at any point ever, although as he was on Channel 5, people often didn't notice.

I have to say I'm in favour of both practices at work here. I'm assuming that the reason footballers haven't become leading commentators is because none of the ones expressing interest in television or radio work have the intelligence to do it properly. It's easy and sometimes forgivable to trot out the usual artless soundbites but so much harder to put pictures into descriptive, emotive and accurate words all while dealing with talkback, checking notes, communicating with your co-commentator and still spotting the ball while all this is happening. I can't think of a single regular football pundit or summariser who I'd expect to be able to do this job. Andy Gray is a possibility, if pushed, though I suspect he gets too much fun from telling referees they don't know the laws of the game to have to go impartial and professional. In fact, Stan Collymore leaps to mind as someone who could commentate if given the opportunity, but only if a) people were finally prepared to put his private indiscretions aside; and b) he could keep his opinions to a minimum. He's very, very good on talkSPORT, even though it's not a station I actively choose to hear very often.

But in the case of cricket, ex-players make up the majority of voices they have hired to lead the commentary since the days of Arlott and Johnston. Even Henry Blofeld, the mainstay of BBC radio coverage until recent times, had a decent university career and only missed out on the pro game through injury. These former cricketers have the wit and intellect to combine the role of both describer and commenter, and switch roles frequently in order to do so. There isn't the jingoism from them either, even though we know how much patriotism exuded from the likes of Botham and Hussain when they played.

Perhaps it says more about footballers than it does about most other competitors that no ex-footballer has been trusted with the kind of responsibility in retirement that many of their peers in other sports have. The only other reason I can think of is that most high-profile footballers quitting the game are set up for life and don't actually need to work any more.

4 December 2010

Dance hall days

Strictly Come Dancing will be interesting tonight, as of the half dozen remaining, there is a very real chance that one of the "big four" will go.

The splendid Patsy Kensit's disappointing exit last week exposed more than ever this brand of voting that is making the eventual outcome unpredictable and prompting the dancers and judges to panic a bit. Every professional dancer who has left the competition while seeing Ann Widdecombe and, to a lesser but just as relevant extent, Gavin Henson survive will be seething under the fake tan and tooth caps. The judges feel the same. The rest don't, clearly - and they're the ones that matter.

But with Widdecombe clearly getting the entertainment vote (though I expect it's Anton du Beke's attitude to it all that is gathering in just as much core support) and Henson getting the girlie vote, a mega shock could be on the cards tonight. Though the departures of Kensit and one or two before her were premature, the sadness at their farewell will be nothing if Widdecombe and Henson each survive another week.

Matt Baker, Scott Maslen, Pamela Stephenson and Kara Tointon are all tremendous performers and, crucially, they have also come across as sporting characters as well. They are focussed but not to the extent of forgetting that a television audience wants to see sparkle as well as steps. They've been the four front runners from day one. And, thanks to Widdecombe's goofiness and Henson's pectorals, one of them might now go.

I think Baker and Stephenson are probably safe until the final. Both are flawless, consistent, amiable, in good partnerships and have found the key balance between competitiveness and humility. Both have also recovered brilliantly from mild setbacks. It's the current EastEnders star and former EastEnders star that feel in danger, to me. Maslen is a terrific dancer and a likeable bloke but is capable, as he proved last week, of spectacularly cocking it up. The two 9s he got for a dance littered with basic errors were scandalous, frankly. Tointon, meanwhile, still doesn't do it on the charisma front for me and, in a reflection of the reality television mentality that we often see, the majority of voting viewers will be jealous females who want her out.

I wouldn't miss Tointon if she went, but there would be an outcry from the dance fraternity if she, or any of the other three, did get voted out. The absence of the dance-off will be felt more than ever if so, and expect at least one of the pro dancers to kick up a stink in the papers or on Claudia's settee over the coming week.

Widdecombe wants to win. I still don't think she will - not least because I expect there will be a furtive change in the rules to allow the judges a bigger say in the final, just in case she gets there - but this weekend will be the ultimate test of just where the rule changes to Strictly... has taken them.

3 December 2010

And since we've no place to go...

I'm not a fan of snow because of the chaos it can cause. This year, however, I've warmed to it (so to speak) as it has occurred when I've been planning to stay at home anyway. As such, being snowed in has been rather fun.

The dogs have had some great walks, with their minute Basset legs disappearing in the deeper bits and therefore forcing them to bounce along rather than walk. The roads are almost entirely impassable and therefore it's been easy to have them off the lead as walking along our village side streets and estates have been akin to scampering about on fields and in country lanes. With the street lights reflecting on the snow, it's a remarkable sight.

This week I've helped dig out or push in three cars in my village, allowing me to speak to neighbours with whom I've barely or even never exchanged a previous pleasantry. I doubt that one act of brawn (which in my case is a bit restricted anyway) is going to get me an invitation to a neighbourly candlelight supper but that community spirit gubbins really is there.

I walk past houses and there are people clearing driveways, making enormous piles of snow. One house near me has a snowman as tall as the house itself. Everywhere there are fathers who can't get to work spending the day tugging their kids around on sledges. The local primary school is reachable for the kids but not for enough of the staff, and so they have days off.

Walking the Bassets at about 7pm last night was eerie. It felt like 4am, such was the absence of movement from anyone or anything. The snow had started to come down again just after we left, and on our normal village route, which took slightly longer due to unsteadiness underpaw, we saw next to nobody. Only one car came down any street, and that was one that I helped shove into the tyre marks from several inches of sticking snow while the female passenger got out and held the dogs for me. The night before, my mate Tony ran past us - in shorts - towards the local shop so he could get his lottery ticket just before the machines stopped, and he was the only person we saw. The only giveaway as to the presence of life was that every house had lights on inside.

People talk about how beautiful the snow is. Well, if you've had a meeting cancelled, a flight or train journey delayed or any other number of inconveniences thrown your way, then the aesthetic pleasure of a seriously big quantity of snow will, er, leave you cold. For once, the snow hasn't been disruptive or dangerous to me, and it has been both of those things in the past. The main roads have been well gritted on the one occasion since the weekend I've had to venture out, though driving the car has become an almost complete no-no in the last 48 hours.

And the snow, while plentiful, hasn't been horrible. By that I mean there haven't been nasty blizzards in severe winds. The seriously cold temperatures have been restricted to overnight, and we've had decent winter sunshine between the outbreaks.

This weekend will be fun though. The football match has been postponed but I still have to get to Stockport on Saturday night...

Anyone got some corn for popping?

26 November 2010

Lusting after famous women

Teenage girls of all generations have had pop heart throbs and happily talked about them. My mum's lot loved Elvis, 60s girls went for David Essex and the like, the girls in my class at school panted for Duran Duran and then Take That and their successors came along.

But lads? Well, I'm guessing it's always been harder to admit which pop stars you fancy, because the intention is slightly less delicate than that of a girl dreaming of her handsome Nick Rhodes or Jason Orange sweeping her off her feet.

In the gym today, a bunch of sixth form boys were having an iron pumping competition, while watching one of the digital music channels playing some kind of Top 10 pop girls thing from the last decade.

There were some good radio songs in there (that's good radio songs, not good songs per se) that I hadn't heard or played for a while. I found myself knowing all the words to Sweet Dreams My L.A. Ex by Rachel Stevens as I worked the chest presser.

I played this such a lot on the radio when it was in the charts.

Anyway, these lads were giving their own opinions on the "fitness" (appropriate term, given our setting) of these popstrels. As well as Stevens, there was Christina Milian, previous incarnations of the Sugababes, Britney Spears, P!nk and one or two others.

They kept their comments quite respectful as far as the other gym patrons were concerned, though there was no ambiguity about what they were actually thinking. Must be all the testosterone flying around, aided by lifting dumb bells that succeed in displacing your scapula while you pretend not to notice. Nothing makes an adolescent boy more boyish than lifting weights while staring at decorative pop stars.

And their final conclusion?

"None of them are as fit as Cheryl Cole or Alesha Dixon."

Blimey. Sixth form boys really do find those two attractive? Cheryl Cole has the build of a wastepipe and Alesha Dixon the personality of the same.

As this crumbling, delapidated 37 year old tried to locate his own youthful red-bloodedness of yore, I recalled who, on purely lustful terms, my favourite female pop star of the 1980s was. I liked the music, of course, but on this occasion it was a distinct second best...

I feel sorry for today's teenagers; they don't have a Hoffs after whom they can hanker.

22 November 2010

The language of football

One of the many criticisms aimed the way of England football coach Fabio Capello of late has been his apparent inability to progress in his grasp of the English language.

Many a cynic has claimed that Capello is selectively good at English; that is, if he is asked a question that he considers unfair or difficult, he claims ignorance and looks to his interpreter to find an answer, or just declines entirely to respond.

Capello didn't have a word of English when he accepted the job in 2007. Since his appointment, three more Italian managers have come into the English game at the highest club level, and all are far more adept at the native tongue than the man in overall control of the nation's footballing aspirations.

It's a bit unfair on Capello to compare his standards to that of Roberto di Matteo, the heavily-scarfed, buzzcutted Italian now in charge of West Bromwich Albion, as he has had an association with the English game since arriving at Chelsea in the mid-1990s as a player. He now has a warming hybrid accent of Anglo-Italian and is, as is the case with many other non-English managers, one of the more articulate when communicating with the media.

But since Capello, both Carlo Ancelotti and Roberto Mancini have come into the English game, as Italian head coaches at Chelsea and Manchester City respectively. Ancelotti had no English at all but used the summer break immediately after his appointment to go to intensive lessons, in the Netherlands if I recall rightly, in order to learn the basics of the language and the most pertinent clichés in the game.

I watched him being interviewed today, artfully issuing denials about his rumoured offer to resign over alleged hierarchy problems and two straight defeats for his team. He has got to the stage now where he knows what he is saying, and can understand the questions being asked, but has yet to adapt to structure and mannerisms that will fully anglicise his speech. He is, however, miles better than Capello.

Mancini had a little English when he took over at Manchester City about a year ago, having briefly played for Leicester City towards the end of his career. The telegraphing of his appointment, at the expense of dead man walking Mark Hughes, over a good few weeks prior to the final confirmation, meant he could bury his head in his Italian-English English-Italian textbooks and get himself up to speed. He is now understandable and quite fluid in his speech, though he can go even longer than Capello with his "errrrrrrrrrr" fillers while translating ahead what he wishes to say.

Two of Ancelottis predecessors at Chelsea were Italian, with Gianluca Vialli already fluent (thanks to a classical education back home) upon arrival to the extent that was uttering expressions like "over the moon" and calling the players "the chaps" the first time a British mic was shoved under his nose. The ace Claudio Ranieri needed a translator upon arrival, including one memorable rant-like spiel in his nativ tongue which went on for 30 seconds and was, with exquisiter deadpannery, translated by his intepreter as "a game of two halves", leading to suspicions that the interpreter, who doubled up as a Chelsea executive staff member, had no Italian at all and was just taking the mick. Ranieri eventually learned the language and became the most charming man in football.

For all the concerns about foreigners in the game, be they on the pitch or in the dugout, there is rarely an opportunity to be disappointed by the way they take on the language and adapt to it. Thierry Henry speaks impeccable English, both grammatically and in terms of his charisma and sincerity. George Boateng, a Dutchman, had an accent akin to that of an upper class member of the English gentry. The current manager of Wigan Athletic, Roberto Martinez, is Spanish but has spent vast swathes of his adult life in English football and therefore hardly a hint of Spaniard is present when hs speaks to the media. Despite a tendency to use the verb "to do" misguidedly ("I think we can do a good game") and his insistence that "chances" were in fact "occasions" ("we created a few good occasions to score") there was very little wrong with Sven Goran Eriksson's grasp of the language during his tenure as England coach, if not his grasp of using substitutes wisely.

That's not to say some foreign footballers don't struggle, but it's usually with their delivery rather than their knowledge. Osvaldo Ardiles already knew English when he arrived from Argentina in 1978 and has spent most of his subsequent life and career in the UK, but I still can barely understand a word he says. Much criticism was made of the Togolese striker Emmanuel Adebayor when employed by the BBC as a World Cup pundit in the summer - not because of his accent or knowledge, but simply because he spoke far too quickly. British viewers can forgive that if it is a Brit doing it, but a chap from Africa is on a hiding to nothing. Pity, as he came across as a nice fellow.

The main source of amusement to be had is when a player from foreign climes adapts not just the native tongue, but the regional tongue too. Jan Molby arrived at Liverpool in 1984, aged 21, and immediately spoke his already-fluent English with a Scouse accent. He still has it to this day. There is a player currently unattached to a club called Jérémie Aliadière, who arrived at Arsenal from France as a 16 year old and now uses a stunning hybrid of French accent and London dialect stylings when talking.

None of this helps Capello, whose struggles with English are now providing a handy stick with which he can be beaten by those who are conscious that blaming a manager for the lack of quality players available to him is both unfair and meaningless. His likely successor for the job is Harry Redknapp, the manager of Tottenham Hotspur who, despite being English, has still not learned the value of an adverb. "We did great, he played fantastic" - you won't catch a well-educated Italian saying that...

21 November 2010

"I really like Marmite..."

Well, the Pet Shop Boys interview was broadcast last night. Here are the 20 pieces of music they selected, which we played during our conversation.

Janella Monae "Neon Valley Street"
Bob Lind "Elusive Butterfly"

Klimek "The Ice Storm"
Zoot Woman "It's Automatic"

David Bowie with the Pat Metheny Group "This Is Not America"
Harpo "Moviestar"

Art of Noise "Moments in Love"
Kleerup with Robyn "With Every Heartbeat"

Streets "Weak Become Heroes"
Johann Johannsson "The Sun's Gone Dim And The Sky's Turned Black"

Underworld "Always Loved A Film" (live)
Jody Wisternoff "Starstrings"

Tiesto "Who Wants To Be Alone"
Grum "Want U"

Ke$ha "Take It Off"
Sub Focus "Could This Be Real"

P Lion "Happy Children"
Tinchy Stryder "Number 1"

Izzy Stardust "Any Love" (Scandal Sunset On Ibiza Remix)
Wolfgang Gartner "Illmerica"

Thanks for the nice comments.

20 November 2010

We were never being boring

My interview with the Pet Shop Boys is on Q Radio tomorrow at 6pm. It's a biggie, and they were fascinating and terrific fun.

We are on DAB in London, online here and on Freeview channel 716. They've picked some remarkable music, 20 tracks in total, and I shall put them all on this blog on Monday after the interview has been broadcast.

I promise to shut up about it after that...

19 November 2010

Pudsey bear minimum

It's Children In Need tonight. A few quid has gone into a tin and I shall be watching Coronation Street and the Grand Slam of Darts, before perhaps enjoying Newsnight with a nightcap.

This doesn't make me cold or unfeeling, as I'm all for the cause. But filling hours of licence-funded airtime with JLS, Take That and Cheryl Cole, all coincidentally with new records out, while making Kate Silverton dress up as Lady GaGa and singularly reminding the country that Gaby Roslin exists, means there is little televisual merit in it whatsoever.

17 November 2010

Billy and Kate

The blanket coverage of Prince William's engagement to Kate Middleton has, almost forcibly, prompted memories of his parents' wedding in 1981. The decision to give that iconic engagement ring to the future Queen Kate has, of course, jogged the memory even more.

I was eight years old when Charles and Diana got married. I remember, weirdly, more about the courtship (that teeth-chatteringly awkward interview, the commemorative crap we tried to make at school, a song that featured the line "Diana's gonna marry our Charlie boy") than I do the actual wedding - probably because come the day itself it was a sunny afternoon in East Yorkshire and the inhabitants of Lambert Park Road aged 13 and under were all on the street, playing.

When William started nursery school, some tossy hack wrote a piece for a tabloid offering opinions on who this four year old (that's *four* year old) should marry. Top of the list was Fifi Trixibelle Geldof. That worked out well, then.

The announcement yesterday has, as usual, brought out the mixture of soppy gag-tellers and whining cynics. Someone I know well used the word "parasite" when describing the princess-in-waiting - charming - while others have, not unreasonably, expressed concern about the cost of the wedding to the taxpayer during times of cuts.

The answer, for me, is simple. Get her dad to follow tradition and pay for it. He is a self-made millionaire and so he can afford it; he will regard it as his duty, irrespective of the groom's stock; and, most notably, he has the chance to be seen as a national hero for doing so. If he offered I'm almost certain the state would decline, so instead of offering he should insist - and he should get his daughter and future son-in-law to back him up.

16 November 2010

"West Ham United 2 Arsenal 3 Manchester City 0..."

Alex and I on the latest Nerd Night. This was an especially enjoyable edition of our now traditional bi-monthly gathering of radio types in a different city in order to eat, drink and chew the fat off the industry.

We went to York, one of England's genuinely adorable cities. I only live 40 miles from the place and yet have been, in adulthood at least, very rarely. This was my first night on the tiles there for quite some time; I usually associate the place with daytime historical trips or the odd football match from my past career as a commentator.

The bulk of those attending gathered in a hotel on the A64 for the first of many alcoholic beverages, prior to a handy eight-seater minibus turning up to take us to our restaurant booking. There were 12 of us but we had one participant off the booze so he took his car, with three passengers, while the rest of us jumped in the bus.

The chap with the car, our pal Matthew Barton, is from Basingstoke and had never been to York in his life. Our taxi driver was, well, from a local taxi firm. But only one of these two drivers had trouble finding our restaurant, and it wasn't the Basingstoke chap. By the time we had dismounted, paid our four quid each and entered the restaurant, the other four had drinks in hand and were chatting to our remaining pals who were meeting us there.

Still, all settled down quickly in what turned out to be probably the best restaurant I've ever been to in England. I really mean this. It's called Plunkets, and you'll find it here. The hospitality was excellent, the seating comfortable, the room warm, the music dimmed and the food was both delicious and reasonably priced. I had a loaded skins starter with chilli con carne, followed by a lemon chicken dish with olive oil mash and seasonal vegetables. I couldn't have cooked it better myself. (No, I really couldn't have cooked it better myself).

Kudos and warm thanks to Ann Marie, a gorgeous York expert who gave us the heads up for the restaurant but, sadly, had to pull out of making the trip herself on the day.

Her absence meant that there were 17 of us in attendance, 16 of whom were men. The exception was Charlie Jordan, the former Radio 1 DJ still unjustifiably not featured on Radio Rewind and also a former poet laureate of Birmingham. I'm not sure whether she is planning a ditty on being in an enclosed room with 16 drunken blokes (especially as only a penchant for chocolate liquers prevents her from being entirely teetotal) but if she is, then it may end up being NSFW*.

As usual, the conversation was principally about the industry, with the latest updates from our own careers plus some ever-juicy gossip and terrific anecdotes from our pasts. Jules Bellerby, breakfast presenter for the local BBC station, was in attendance which, sadly for him, prompted me to remind him of my 19 year old self starting out as an irritant trainee at BBC Radio Humberside, where he was doing the drivetime shift ("Humberside Today, with Jules Bellerby") and would open his show with I Got You Babe by UB40 & Chrissie Hynde at least once a week.

The stories came thick and fast and at my table, as the lemon chicken slid down, I enjoyed hearing of the newsreader who turned up for work pissed and fell asleep in the office on arrival. The presenter faded him up at 6am, got no response and so went straight into a song before rushing up to the newsroom to find out what was happening.

He found the hack asleep in a chair. He shook him vigorously awake and shouted, angrily: "You idiot. You've just missed the six."

The journalist stirred, checked his watch and replied, with a yawn: "That means I've got an hour to the seven", before turning over and going back to sleep.

Then there was the presenter whose backtiming (we've all been bad at this) was regularly so off the mark that he would miss the pips and would therefore sing them himself. Instead of the impeccable, timeless beeps associated with flagship news bulletins, we got a human version of "bip, bip, bip, bip, bip. biiiiiiip", each a semitone or so different from the previous one.

The blog title relates to another tale. A presenter who somewhat lacking in familiarity with football still needed to read the scores during his show, but made the mistake of assuming the fixtures were read downwards rather than across. And there were only three matches on. Suddenly, we realised that Alex's long belief in "tri-team football" had an accidental sympathiser.

Upon the exit from the restaurant, we followed the owner's pointed finger towards our next planned port of call, a smart hotel bar which we had been told would be a) open until 2am, and b) not playing loud music. There is no point in people travelling from all over the country (London, Birmingham, Swindon, Basingstoke, Biddulph, as well as various Yorkshire spots) if they were then unable to partake in a conversation afterwards.

The pointed finger was all the restaurateur got wrong all evening. We found ourselves nowhere near where we needed to be but, fortunately, happened upon another hotel with the required accoutrements. Therefore, in we piled, much drink was taken (a bottle of Jack Daniels was certainly emptied) and we carried on. A highlight (I really should put that word in inverted commas) came when two of our brethren had a bet with each other, to the tune of a whole pound, as to which brand of amplifier was being used behind the bar. From their angle they could see the side of it but not the label on the front. I can't remember which brands they bet, nor what the actual brand was and which of them, if either, took the quid. So you'll just have to bite the back of your seat with anticipation for the rest of your life. Sorry.

Carriages at just gone 2am, back to the hotel and a comfy, if short, sleep before all met for lukewarm fry-ups and discussions about the weekend ahead. Those who had sensibly done a StreetView search for our hotel had noticed the McDonalds next door and had therefore not paid for a seven quid breakfast but promised themselves a sly McMuffin and milky coffee instead for five quid less. Then, one by one, we were off back to our own lives and careers once more.

When we went to Blackpool about a year ago, I overheard a lady's ecstatic groans in the room opposite mine and a buzzing noise that suggested a spot of, er, self-help was going on therein. Well, this time I received a tweet from one of our group claiming that a couple were doing rather loud naughties next door to his room, and a tape recording had been made, ready for use on the radio. Honestly, some people... (wonder if they have Listen Again?)

That's it for Nerd Night until the New Year. The radar is showing Norwich as the frontrunner for our next jaunt, though I'd be surprised if Norwich is on anyone's radar if my journeys there in the past are anything to go by...

*Not suitable for work, of course. Unless you work in muckiness.

10 November 2010

Widdecombe, widdego

Strictly..., then. It hasn't been amazing for its newsworthiness so far this series, but now it's starting to hot up. It appears that Ann Widdecombe is coming under pressure to quit the programme for fear she might win.

I don't think she will win, but if she does, then so be it. Again it takes us back to almost arcane argument about whether it is an entertainment show or a dancing show. Only the judges seem to think it's the latter.

That's their prerogative, of course, as dancing connoisseurs, but at least Craig Revel Horwood is consistent in his view. He is the only one who says Widdecombe is a bad dancer and proffers accordingly bad marks. Len Goodman, who has in the past offered a whinge about the public not protecting the dancers as opposed to the cabaret acts, is now marking up Widdecombe having previously said it was a dancing contest. He may have changed his mind or he may just be getting confused as to what he really believes.

Widdecombe won't win it but, unlike John Sergeant, she won't quit either. She's having way too much fun and doesn't have any loyalty to the programme or the BBC to offer herself as a sacrifice. One of the criticisms Sergeant got when he dropped out a couple of years ago was that it was unfair to his dancing partner, Kristina Rihanoff. While I don't suppose for a moment the great Anton du Beke is high on Widdecombe's priorities when maintaining her stance, he seems to be having more fun than ever chucking her about and his patience and humour is clearly helping her catch the bug for the show.

Lorraine Kelly took the ludicrous stance of saying people shouldn't vote for Widdecombe because she decided in her Home Office days that pregnant prisoners should remain cuffed when giving birth. It was a horrible policy but it is entirely irrelevant now. It suggests anything from a contestant's past that satisfies present prejudices seems to be fair game, if we use her argument. England fans could therefore have got rid of Peter Shilton for diving over that Polish shot in 1973 which was key to the nation's non-participation in the 1974 World Cup, not because his charleston was lumpen and weak and he couldn't smile on cue.

When Jimi Mistry exited at the weekend, his partner Flavia Cacace didn't look shocked or upset. She looked downright livid. She's a dancer who expects the worst dancer to go, and this is to be expected. But while there is an aesthetic pleasure from an immaculate dancer (which, incidentally, Mistry was proving to be anything but), the Strictly... format offers room for humour, charisma and, for want of a better expression, an element of journey making. Widdecombe can learn steps but has no natural rhythm and, therefore, du Beke is creating routines directly from her incompetence and achieving cracking results from it.

The removal of the dance-off is controversial and I'd rather it was still there. Three of the five "bottom two" scenarios so far would have had different outcomes had it been left to the judges. But so far it hasn't caused the biggest possible stink among the purists because Widdecombe hasn't once been in the bottom two. Once she does end up in there, let's just see if the public have the sheer nerve to say she's worthier than Scott Maslen or Kara Tointon. That would make fantastic television if so, and the outcry would be as entertaining as Widdecombe's clumping quickstep. Sergeant staying in at the expense of Cherie Lunghi would have nothing on this.

The bigger scandal at the moment, to be honest, is that both Michelle Williams and Gavin Henson are surviving despite being neither great dancers nor great characters. Williams talks well of being a trier but isn't pleasing the purists nor entertaining the proles with her performances, making one wonder if it's Brendan Cole who is actually keeping that pairing afloat. Henson, meanwhile, also benefits from a personality partner, and may have all of Wales supporting him, a la Rosser & Davies, but one can't help but feel it's the exposure of his chest and little else that is persuading people to dial the number next to his name. No straight male judge would dare make a lewd comment on Patsy Kensit's expression of perfect filth when doing a latin dance, so Alesha Dixon is both out of order and damnably unconstructive when critiquing Henson purely on the subject of how attractive his backside apparently looks (unless she's doing it because she hates Charlotte Church). The judges, as they like to tell us, are there to comment on dance and not on personal image. Genesis did a song about people like Henson...

An element of personal integrity or historic fondness will always assist when the decisions are made by the nation. Widdecombe has a degree of public respect aimed her way from even those politically her opposite. Felicity Kendal remains a national treasure (eugh) due to one sitcom done with a muddy face and hugging denims in 1975, something that is all she's ever managed if one believes the references to her career made on the programme. Pamela Stephenson, as a 30 year old goddess in 1979, undid her top on television and activated every gramme of testosterone across the nation with the immortal question "Would you like to rub my tits too?". That she still looks pretty much the same at almost 61 as she did then also helps. Kensit has a complicated life story but is improving as a dancer and, when her hair is down and her dress is short, she's hotter than anyone else thereon. We all know an alluring mature woman like her, and they have extraordinary power. It's fickle, it's idealistic and it's pretty vacuous, but it's how viewers of such programmes work. The sooner the dancing fraternity accepts that, the better.

For all this, my predictions haven't changed. Matt Baker is still the front runner, combining a boyish, bashful decency with a sense of humility and an excellent ability to dance. He hasn't had tens and therefore isn't peaking too soon, which might not be quite so straightforward with Maslen, although he too is coming across as fundamentally good. Tointon is technically impressive but lacks charisma, while Stephenson is in need of a second wind and may not necessarily get it.

Barring a major surprise (which, in Kensit's case, could happen), the remaining five, including Widdecombe, are heading for the exit over the next five weeks. But nobody should be shocked, nor annoyed, if Widdecombe is the last of that also-ran quintet to go. The backlash this week doesn't seem to have worn off the novelty of seeing this squarest of women glam up and perform daft routines with a partner who is killing himself laughing throughout, and the prospect of her doing a bitty but self-deprecating salsa is infinitely more tempting a spectacle than seeing Tointon do a spot-on tango with a shiteating grin.

The show is, like any other light entertainment offering, principally about attracting viewers. I'm sure dance connoisseurs have been gently reminded of that bigger picture and, if they don't agree with it, they should be reminded that the non-celebrity Come Dancing was on after 11pm on a weeknight.

9 November 2010

Moments in soul

I appear to be in Playlist City, Arizona this week. Here's what we managed at Friday's second of three classic soul, funk and disco nights. The next one is in December.

Mtume "Juicy Fruit"

Velvelettes "I Can't Dance To That Music You're Playing"

Stevie Wonder "Signed Sealed Delivered I'm Yours"

Phil Fearon & Galaxy "Dancing Tight"

Isley Brothers "Harvest For The World"

Ike and Tina Turner "River Deep Mountain High"

Hot Chocolate "You Could've Been A Lady"

Mai Tai "History"

Supremes "Stoned Love"

Ohio Players "Love Rollercoaster"

Maceo & the Macks "Cross The Tracks"

Womack & Womack "Love Wars"

Untouchables "Agent Double O Soul"

The Real Thing "Can You Feel The Force?"

Sam & Dave "You Don't Know Like I Know"

Amii Stewart "Friends"

Gladys Knight & the Pips "Take Me In Your Arms And Love Me"

Chic "My Forbidden Lover"

Vesta Williams "Once Bitten Twice Shy"

Temptations "Papa Was A Rolling Stone"

Grace Jones "Slave To The Rhythm"

Cerrone "Supernature"

Rare Earth "Born To Wander"

Billy Ocean "Red Light Spells Danger"

Coffee "Casanova"

Jimmy Ruffin "What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted"

Shalamar "I Can Make You Feel Good"

Bob & Earl "Harlem Shuffle"

Michael Jackson "Rock With You"

Martha and the Vandellas "Heatwave"

Kool & the Gang "Too Hot"

Curtis Mayfield "Move On Up"

Len Barry "1-2-3"

Labelle "Lady Marmalade"

Smokey Robinson & the Miracles "Going To A Go-Go"

Drifters "Saturday Night At The Movies"

Aretha Franklin "Respect"

George Benson "Give Me The Night"

Crusaders "Street Life"

Fontella Bass "Rescue Me"

Claudja Barry "Sweet Dynamite"

Isley Brothers "This Old Heart Of Mine"

Tina Turner "Let's Stay Together"

Jackie Wilson "Higher And Higher"

Supremes "The Happening"

New Edition "Candy Girl"

Heatwave "The Groove Line"

Showstoppers "Ain't Nothing Like A House Party"

Michael Jackson "Off The Wall"

Blackbyrds "Walking In Rhythm"

Tom Jones "The Lonely One"

Whitney Houston "I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)"

Stevie Wonder "Superstition"

Gloria Jones "Tainted Love"

Earth Wind & Fire "September"

Temptations "Get Ready"

Narada Michael Walden "I Shoulda Loved Ya"

Wilson Pickett "Mustang Sally"

Candi Staton "Nights On Broadway"

Mary Wells "My Guy"

Prince "When Doves Cry"

Sam & Dave "Soul Man"

Commodores "Machine Gun"

Valentine Brothers "Money's Too Tight To Mention"

Supremes "You Can't Hurry Love"

James Brown "I Got You (I Feel Good)"

Luther Vandross "I Really Didn't Mean It"

Four Tops "I Can't Help Myself"

Donna Summer "Bad Girls"

Arthur Conley "Sweet Soul Music"

KC & the Sunshine Band "That's The Way I Like It"

Temptations "Ain't Too Proud To Beg"

Sister Sledge "Lost In Music"

Al Wilson "The Snake"

Stevie Wonder "We Can Work It Out"

Deniece Williams "Let's Hear It For The Boy"

O'Jays "Love Train"

Wilson Pickett "In The Midnight Hour"

Marvin Gaye & Tammi Tyrrell "You're All I Need To Get By"

Bill Withers "Lovely Day"

Freda Payne "Band Of Gold"

Pointer Sisters "I Need You"

Bobby Fuller "The Magic Touch"

Cameo "Single Life"

Gladys Knight & the Pips "Midnight Train To Georgia"

Otis Redding "(Sitting On The) Dock Of The Bay"

Marvin Gaye "I Heard It Through The Grapevine"

Dionne Warwick "Walk On By"

Thanks for all the suggestions and anything you happen not to see above probably got played the week before. The two nights have gone down pretty well so far, despite the odd person claiming that Wilson Pickett is shit and not a patch on Ne'Yo. I laughed too. Highlight for me was seeing a group of five blokes aged no more than 30 each going totally mental (in a good way) to the Commodores.

I hope you'd dance.

8 November 2010

Truthful songs over an eighties groove

It is such fun having three hours of radio to play songs like these...

Proclaimers "Letter From America"
Alison Moyet "Love Resurrection"

Evelyn Champagne King "Love Come Down"
Nik Kershaw "Don Quixote"

Deacon Blue "When Will You Make My Telephone Ring"

Belouis Some "Imagination"
Inner City "Whatcha Gonna Do With My Lovin'"

Undertones "Wednesday Week"
Paul Young "Wonderland"

Pet Shop Boys "Love Comes Quickly"
Bobby Thurston "Check Out The Groove"

Blondie "Island Of Lost Souls"
Beach Boys "Kokomo"

Phil Collins "I Missed Again"
Fields Of The Nephilim "Moonchild"

Adam and the Ants "Kings Of The Wild Frontier"
Communards "Tomorrow"

Japan "Quiet Life"
Gloria Estefan "Can't Stay Away From You"

Deacon Blue "Chocolate Girl"

Soul II Soul featuring Caron Wheeler "Keep On Movin'"
Smiths "Sheila Take A Bow"

Lydia Murdock "Superstar"
Adventures "Broken Land"

Toy Dolls "Nelly The Elephant"

Abba "Lay All Your Love On Me"
Heaven 17 "Come Live With Me"

Kool & the Gang "Misled"
T'Pau "Secret Garden"

Waterboys "The Whole Of The Moon"
Narada Michael Walden "I Shoulda Loved Ya"

Strawberry Switchblade "Since Yesterday"
Dire Straits "Twisting By The Pool"

Deacon Blue "Dignity"

James Ingram & Michael McDonald "Yah Mo B There"
Def Leppard "Pour Some Sugar On Me"

UB40 "If It Happens Again"
Natasha "Iko Iko"

Squeeze "Is That Love"
Howard Jones "Life In One Day"

George Michael "Kissing A Fool"
Ward Brothers "Cross That Bridge"

Dead Or Alive "Lover Come Back To Me"
Fresh 4 featuring Lizz E "Wishing On A Star"

Same again this coming Sunday from 6pm? Oh, go on then.

5 November 2010

My uncle Gerald, 1937-2010

My uncle Gerald died suddenly today. He wasn't my actual uncle, but was as much an avuncular figure to me as any real uncle. He was actually my dad's cousin and this morning he passed away, a couple of weeks or so before his 73rd birthday.

Gerald represented to me a classic example of the man from one era trying to move into another. He was resolutely old-fashioned and had a lack of world wisdom and education, but he had the best ever excuse for this: he was a farmer. He was born into it, was doing jobs on the land not long after learning to stand up straight and was running the place on his own pretty much from his own coming of age.

We all know, even if it's just from passing interest, that farming is relentless. The mornings are early, the hours are long and the days off are non-existent. The plusses seem to come in the form of physical fitness, considerable fearlessness, a handiness with any outdoor task that happens upon you and a steely work ethic. Gerald epitomised the lot.

His farm was in East Yorkshire, in a village just outside Beverley, and my dad was a frequent visitor there as a child for playtime purposes. Every member of the family got their Sunday roast meat from Gerald as well as their Christmas geese and turkeys but, Gerald being a farmer, they all had to pay up, without family discount. He had a living to earn and saw no reason, quite rightly, why accident of bloodline should mean he earned less from rearing one chicken than from the next.

When my dad qualified as a motor mechanic at the end of the 1950s, Gerald would give him stuff from the farm in return for suitable odd jobs. There were semi-regular visits to the farm to collect poultry or vegetables or dairy products and Dad, sleeves rolled up, would wind up fixing a tractor or plough instead of handing over the money.

There was an occasion that my mum still brings up now - and will almost certainly be given as an anecdote to whoever provides next week's eulogy - when Gerald had set aside a goose for the Rudd family Christmas one year in return for something skilled my Dad had done, but by the time they turned up at the farm on Christmas Eve morning to collect, he'd sold it because someone had made a better offer than the financial equivalent of replacing the wheel on a trailer or something. Mum was livid and had to start making last-ditch trips around village butchers to have something for the oven the next day.

For me, it was all about the fun of having a distant but friendly relative with a farm. When I was a kid, the trips at weekends and in the summer were quite regular, with my brother and I jumping about on the straw while Mum and Dad had a cup of tea and caught up with Gerald. By now he had built a proper house on the farmland, with his ageing mother - my Dad's auntie - staying in the original farm shack with a rocking chair and the biggest coal fire I have ever seen. Gerald married late in life and had a baby daughter by this time and so needed his own space. His second child, a boy, came along when he was nearly 50.

Whenever there was a family get-together for weddings or birthdays, Gerald would tell stories of the hard life in farming and would get the odd crocodile tear from those of us who felt he was laying it on thick. He was easy to tease and he knew it but he had gone through far more tough times on a physical level to get worried in semi-retirement about how he was perceived by the townie side of his family. I just found him fascinating, straight, decent and funny - he could tell a great joke - and his lifelong interest in Hull City also gave us something in common. The Tigers were the only consistent reason he had to go into the city of Hull at all.

At Dad's 70th birthday do earlier this year, I asked Gerald when he had last been to London. "1951, Festival of Britain" was his matter-of-fact reply. The maths show he was 13 at the time. I wish I'd known this when the Tigers got to Wembley because I'd have bought him a ticket and taken him to the game. Otherwise, he had barely travelled out of East Yorkshire and if he did manage to get farmhands to look after the land, he'd take his family to Bridlington or Scarborough for breaks, both only half an hour from home to allow him to nip back each day while the rest of them ate ice creams on the prom.

He retired a few years ago but maintained his financial interest in the farm and bought a house nearby. He couldn't stop himself from working though and still, on a part-time basis, dragged machinery around and fed chickens and herded sheep. The last time I visited his house, a new home on a smart estate, there was an enormous bag of sheep feed in the driveway and wellingtons on the doormat.

He was born into farming and died half a mile from it, and I'm in little doubt that he'd have been doing something farm-related today if fate hadn't stepped in. But all the hard work and thriftiness will benefit his family substantially, especially as his eldest has a child on the way. And thank goodness he took the bollocking my dad gave him a while back on the chin and made a will, because at the age of 70 he hadn't sorted one out. That was Gerald all over.

He'll be missed.

4 November 2010

Hosing and scrubbing as best they can in skirts and suits

Yeah, sorry about the post below. This week I've had to deal with changing the computer (oooh, the rows) and the car (oooh, the rows) as well as dealing with what has been essentially three solid days of migraine and vertigo symptoms. I haven't been swimming for three weeks because of this now and I'm annoyed. My mobile phone company is still taking money off me that I don't owe it. And the bloody fireworks have begun, meaning I have three howling, petrified Basset hounds to console at all hours.

But anyway, hello again. Now, I mentioned changing the car. I'm giving up the Mondeo, the same one that I crashed into an M62 barrier near Goole two and a half years ago, and taking on a two year old Renault Scenic. Today, as a precursor to handing the Mondeo back to the dealership and smiling sweetly, I've had it washed.

I haven't personally washed a car since 1988, when the 15 year old me took part in a sponsored car wash to raise money for the swimming club. Prior to this, I partook in a school car wash for cystic fibrosis in 1985 (a lad I grew up with had the disease; he passed away in 1996) and succeeded in removing some blue paint from the camper van of Mr Richardson, the fearsome basic skills teacher. Mortified, I was. And yet he didn't notice.

Since learning to drive and taking ownership of vehicles - all Fords; that's four Mondeos, two Fiestas, an Escort and an Orion - I have found that utilising the services of the local car wash, be it an automatic machine at the garage or one of those forecourts resplendent with willing, sponge-wielding scallies, to be far more preferable than knocking my pan out with hoses, sponges, various smelly products and my driveway at 10am on a Saturday. The chap who lives opposite me is obsessed with washing his car. He is doing it every weekend, to the highest standards, whether it needs it or not.

His choice. Mine happens to be different. Hand over a few quid and let someone else do it while you read the paper and send text messages.

There is a forecourt in Hull that does a quite brilliant wash and mini-valet for 12 quid, and this is where I took the Mondeo today. It was early afternoon and I'd not eaten, so I took a sarnie with me, gave them the car and seated myself in their warm waiting room, reading a three day old edition of the Daily Star. The warm but intense gas fire makes one think of a minicab office as you wait.

While I settled, no fewer than seven youngsters washed, wiped, vacuumed and scrubbed my car. As ever, the job they did was absolutely tremendous.

And none of them are English, nor speak any more than a few rudimentary words in order to be able to comprehend what the customer wants. The options are plastered on the forecourt in bright lettering of such a size than one can almost just point and grunt and they get it. I wanted a Green Valet, so I pointed at Green and got a "yes" and a thumbs-up. I don't know where they're from but on a colloquial level locally they're known to anyone I mention them to as Croatians. They could be from anywhere just as exotic and far flung, like Greece, Poland or Whitehaven. I don't like to ask. I probably wouldn't be understood anyway. And it may turn me against them if Hull City once had a rubbish, money-grabbing player from their nation. And this is entirely possible.

I drove the car away as if it were brand new, save for the massive scratches that remain after an unforgiving Portsmouth fan let his keys dangle too close during last season's game at Fratton Park. Oh, and the 147,000-odd miles on the clock. Must remember to fill in that form on a certain irritating website that allegedly buys any car and tells you relentlessly via advertising. Over the weekend the trusty Mondeo - and it has been; only the crash took it off the road at any time, and it survived that - will leave my driveway for the last time. And it will be clean and shiny in doing so.

Those car-washers would be just perfect if they didn't insist on retuning Radio 2 to Radio 1 for the duration of their task. That said, it was pushing 2pm so Steve Wright was due on. Even when you don't speak the lingo, there are clearly limits.

3 November 2010


This week has been beyond all realms of appalling. Back soon.

1 November 2010

That show's still on

Another edition of Q The 80s done and dusted. Good one tonight, enjoyed it...

The Jam "Start!"
Elbow Bones and the Racketeers "A Night In New York"

Four Tops "When She Was My Girl"
Stephen TinTin Duffy "Icing On The Cake"

Kate Bush "Babooshka"

Jesus & Mary Chain "April Skies"
Bobby Brown "Every Little Step"

Nick Heyward "Take That Situation"
Cyndi Lauper "I Drove All Night

Simple Minds "Kick It In"
Cocteau Twins "Pearly Dewdrops' Drops"

Midge Ure "Call Of The Wild"
Carmel "More More More"

U2 "The Unforgettable Fire"
Odyssey "If You're Looking For A Way Out"

Aerosmith "Love In An Elevator"
Stevie Wonder "I Ain't Gonna Stand For It"

Billy Joel "We Didn't Start The Fire"
Swans Way "Soul Train"

Kate Bush "Breathing"

Morrissey "The Last Of The Famous International Playboys"
Hue & Cry "Labour Of Love"

Fun Boy Three "The Telephone Always Rings"
Prince "Alphabet Street"

Samantha Fox "Touch Me (I Want Your Body)"

Kim Wilde "Never Trust A Stranger"
Average White Band "Let's Go Round Again"

Queen "It's A Hard Life"
Ray Parker Jr. "I Don't Think That Man Should Sleep Alone"

Tracey Ullman "Breakaway"
Lloyd Cole & The Commotions "Perfect Skin"

Human League "Louise"
Luther Vandross "Stop To Love"

Kate Bush "Army Dreamers"

Housemartins "Me And The Farmer"
Dan Hartman "I Can Dream About You"

Madness "Shut Up"
Level 42 "Tracie"

S Express "Hey Music Lover"
Jona Lewie "You Will Always Find Me In The Kitchen Parties"

Big Country "Wonderland"
Roman Holliday "Don't Try To Stop It"

Black "Wonderful Life"
JoBoxers "Just Got Lucky"

And there'll be another edition this coming Sunday. The Pet Shop Boys interview will be broadcast in three weeks.

31 October 2010

The sleeve shows him climbing a tree as a seven year old

And so tonight we head the way of Q The 80s again. We shall be on from 6pm, either online here, or on Freeview channel 716 or if you're one of those posho London folk, via your DAB radio.

One of the songs featured you can deduce from the title of this blog, while another is for your excitingly pre-emptive enjoyment below.

The Featured Album is an enigmatic masterpiece from 1980 and the Guilty Pleasure song came via Twitter and is likely to earn me a yard of alcoholic refreshment at a London party just before Christmas.

Hope you think it's ok...