28 December 2011

That's Asda price

Back to one of my bugbears, but with a rare positive slant. I'm one of many thousands of drivers who, I'm sure, feel quite grateful towards Asda.

A couple of months back, Asda brought down the price of its unleaded petrol to 129.9 pence per litre. This sort of price hasn't been seen, even in the forecourts of the traditionally cheaper supermarkets, for some time. I was dedicated straightaway to finding branches of Asda whenever my car needed one of its many refuellings, with a Hull branch of Asda handily having a 24-hour garage with self-service pumps.

After a short while, the other fuel outlets began to follow suit. Other supermarkets have dropped their fuel down to below 130p a litre, while Shell and Texaco garages - though not all - have also cut their prices. The cheapest Esso and Total filling stations I've encountered have managed to take themselves to 130.9 pence per litre. Only BP - which has an oil leak to pay for - remains high above the Asda benchmark, with the lowest I've seen 132.9 pence per litre. Some are still as high as 138.9 pence. I'm amazed when I see car drivers using their pumps. Then there are the many brands that operate at motorway service stations who currently feel unaffected by Asda's efforts and continue to charge crazy money - I'm pretty certain that if Asda somehow publicised its branches that are based close to motorways, they'd get traffic prepared to briefly turn off and fill up there.

129.9 pence is still far too expensive of course - I always point to episodes of Top Gear that are under three years old that show pumps charging 99.9 pence per litre - but Asda have at least made a start, and have recently upped the ante further by getting down to 128.7 pence. It proves that these fuel companies will charge only what customers are prepared to pay, despite them banging on about Government duty and the rising price of oil. I really hope that Asda, with all the good publicity and goodwill attained by their actions, will dare go for it again soon and whack down their prices further. In the meantime, it's quite nice to be able to fill the car to the brim and not see that day's wages almost entirely vanish in doing so.

21 December 2011

Two earholes per ear

After attending a football match at the weekend, I dropped into a branch of Subway for some sustenance prior to catching my train.

The young chap behind the counter was welcoming and helpful and everything you want from someone serving you in an eaterie. I found it hard, however, not to stare at him just a bit.

Clearly, this fellow had chosen to make a major cosmetic alteration to his appearance, but had gone beyond tattoos. He had decided to not just have his ears pierced, but his ears punctured.

I've seen a lot of people lately, almost always men, with these coloured discs pushed into their earlobes. I can't imagine either the frame of mind of someone who chooses these mutiliative decorations, or the pain barrier they must have gone through to have holes the size of ten pence pieces made in their ears and then a disc shoved into each.

Thing is, however, Subway clearly have a uniform policy, based on either appearance or safety, that disallows any member of staff from wearing this stuff on duty. So the reason why I had trouble tearing my eyes away from this kindly chap wasn't because he had the discs in, but because he hadn't the discs in. He was behind the counter with two enormous holes in his ears.

I thought you were meant to put sticking plasters over them in the event of taking these items out, to avoid infection. Evidently not. They make me wince each time I see them; they remind me of the Amazonian chief with whom Sting was in cahoots in the late 1980s as he banged on about deforestation. I'm not sure what Subway policy is on lip plates, but I suspect it's roughly similar to how they view ear enhancements.

20 December 2011

"Nancy's in a five-star hotel; Robbie's in a golf and country club; and Russell's camping..."

Bit irked about the Strictly Come Dancing final, to be honest. Jason Donovan, though the obvious outsider of the three prior to the curtain going up, didn't deserve to be ousted by the public after the first two dances. The judges' scores, though only a guide, proved that.

But all in all it was a tremendous watch and Harry Judd was, on a technical and clinical level, a worthy winner. I enjoyed the way he skilfully avoided Sir Bruce Forsyth's observation that he now had a career as a dancer ahead of him if he wanted it. If you're the drummer in a pop band of heart-throbs still having hits, you're not going to give that up for eight hours a day of jiving and foxtrotting. Not yet, anyway.

I liked Chelsee Heeley's partner, Pasha Kovalev, the only male pro dancer on the show without any evidence of ego or showbiz-seeking. The singing and musicianship was, as always, tremendous. Bruno Tonioli and Craig Revel Horwood remain the worthiest of the four judges. Zoe Ball was superb on It Takes Two. Contestants who came across well included Russell Grant, Anita Dobson, Robbie Savage and even Audley Harrison.

But there are gripes. Sir Bruce continued to cock up the autocue and Tess Daly is actually starting to grate now. She can do live telly but she isn't a reactive person to the often chaotic stuff around her; indeed, Alex Jones showed when removed from the constraints of autocue just how much sparkle and charisma she actually has. When you look at the combination of Sir Bruce and Tess, it's opposites working together - the old man can't read properly but can still show and improvise; the youthful sidekick can read properly but has no real awareness of what to do when the script has to be thrown away.

Len Goodman, meanwhile, has become a miserable, curmudgeonly, picky, lazy, soundbitten old get.

14 December 2011

Taking a big blow

This is my own personal nozzle. Any ideas what it's for?

It was a gift presented to me in the daft hours of Sunday morning by a kindly copper. Yep, after driving what I estimate to be 1.5 million miles in my life, in all weathers, at all hours, in all places, for all kinds of reasons, I was breathalysed for the first time.

It was Saturday night, and the cop had watched me, at 3am, leave the bar where I have my longtime residency. I managed 100 yards before the blue lights flashed behind me. After a cursory discussion about one of my tiny number plate lights being out, he brought out the breathalyser.

I'd been on soft drinks all night, as is the norm for me when working, and so the word ZERO emerged on the screen after I completed my little exhalation. I'd already informed him that a) I was the DJ as opposed to a punter; and b) I had been on diet Coke all night, but he still whipped out the in-car intoximeter. I should add that I didn't just belligerently offer these facts, but did so in response to his questions "where have you been?" and "have you drunk any alcohol?". Despite my latter reply, he still tested me out - and then looked a bit surprised when it traced no alcohol at all, as if he was used to dealing with inebriated liars.

He then reminded me about the number plate light and allowed me to go.

It's December, and every copper is doing it, of course, and quite right too. I'm just surprised it's taken so long for me to blow into the box for the first time. It nearly happened earlier this year in Manchester but the officer accepted my offer of a smell of my breath to save time and let me on my way. And yes, I'd been on the soft drinks all night again.

And, presumably for DNA-related reasons, I am now the proud owner of my own police breathalyser nozzle. I'm half-expecting to have gained quite a collection by the end of the festive season.

Poor Robin Tripp wasn't so diligent...

13 December 2011

"Where better to do your best dance than the semi final?"

So we're approaching the Strictly Come Dancing final this weekend and even though the largely predicted trio of couples have come through, the show hasn't suffered for it.

Kicking out two couples from five would have been more interesting had there not been two obvious rank outsiders from the quintet of pairings that took to the floor at the weekend, but even so the fact that Jason Donovan found himself in the bottom two last week meant that nothing could be taken for granted. A hellraising display from Alex Jones coupled with Harry Judd turning an ankle slightly and the whole thing was up in the air.

As it turned out, however, the three market leaders barely put a toe wrong. Judd is brilliant but very clinical and I still wonder whether his personality is enough to make him a winner, as he hasn't got that extra bit of obvious chutzpah to hang on to. Donovan, with his intensity in performance and ability to act as a spokesman for them all, and Chelsea Heeley, whose bubbliness has become less irritating as the weeks have passed, both have something extra off the floor to endear them to the crowd.

The two that left at the weekend, Alex Jones and Holly Valance, were telegraphed as likely to depart prior to broadcast, and once Jones got the terribly patronising comments about "deserving" to be in the semi-finals and that she "should be proud" of herself, it was clear the judges didn't see her as a finalist in waiting. The marks proved it. That said, even though she finished fifth out of five, she didn't seem as obvious to exit as Valance, the icy Aussie who was forced to do the dance most deeply unsuited to her laid-back attitude, the Charleston. Wearing sequinned hotpants that were inexplicably pulled up to her navel, she surpassed anything Russell Grant and Audley Harrison had honourably achieved earlier in the series for the title of least suitable dance for any celebrity, and she looked just relieved when it was over, not caring a jot what others thought of it because it couldn't be any worse than how she viewed it herself.

That meant that it was something of an anti-climax when Jones was the first to be declared out of the competition, as an early ejection for Valance might have just prompted audible tension as Jones and Donovan lined up for the final announcement of who was staying and who wasn't. As soon as the two Aussies were pitted together, with Jones out and the other two safely through, the tension evaporated. The public were not going to oust Donovan, with his perfect 40 score for an extraordinarily hot Argentine tango that could have easily represented 90 seconds of pornographic pre-amble, against Valance and her hotpants.

Strictly... has done Jones the world of good. Cast generally as a bit lightweight and slow since joining The One Show, she has shown in the last three months without the restriction of autocue that she has wit, self-awareness and rather brilliantly, she becomes so much more Welsh when being herself, as if the BBC had asked her to tone it down and make her accent more generic when chatting each weeknight. She has become very likeable indeed and maybe she'll be trusted to do better stuff on telly as a consequence of it.

So, the final. My money is on Heeley to win, as her talent is the most natural and her personality the most warming. She has flowered as a celebrity too, being possibly the least well-known of all the amateurs that lined up at the start of the run but now being instantly recognisable by face, smile and those fabulous Eccles vowels, which were mocked ungentlemanly by Sir Bruce Forsyth several times at the weekend.

Heeley also has an advantage over Judd in that her partner, Pasha Kovalev, makes no concessions for her amateur status and throws her in at the deep end. Judd's partner, Aliona Vilani, is a magnificent performer but has incurred the wrath of judges and audience in the past by doing too much scene setting when choreographing a dance and not enough traditional steps. It probably cost Matt Baker the title last year.

Donovan is the outsider, which may suit him given his regular position at the top of the show's earliest leaderboards as other celebrities took longer to settle, but he is the only one with real A-list status and a CV of achievement behind him that will potentially prompt block-voting. Out-and-out popularity with the television audience will decide the final if nobody makes a mess of their dancing, and this is where Donovan's main hope should rest. There is goodwill also for his partner Kristina Rihanoff, whose history on the programme has been via clunking incompetents until this year - John Sergeant, Joe Calzaghe and Goldie all had their limitations, to put it charitably - and so her own long-awaited rise to the top has been noted by the viewers.

Of course, we get show dances in the final too, which ultimately can be the actual difference between first and second. Nobody thought Tom Chambers would win, for example, until he did this...

6 December 2011

The best time of the day meets the best day of his time

Alex, my dear friend and total hero, got married in a gorgeous, ancient East Sussex hotel at the weekend. It was a smashing do, classy and enormous fun, befitting the character of the man. His new wife, Kerry, is of course totally stunning, and it was a privilege to be there.

Alex's speech lasted half an hour and was pure stand-up comedy. Then Clive, one of his two best men who also uses the professional name Bill Shipton (one for 1980s soft porn fans there), gave a speech which reduced grizzled broadcasters and cynics to a hysterical jelly.

Edwina Hayes sang this at the ceremony and there was a lot of "something in my eye" nonsense going an afterwards...

And I got to meet Janice Long ("They told me at Live Aid that if Status Quo's microphones failed, I had to go on and fill") and Neale James ("Matthew Bannister said I had six months to go at Radio 1. I could either flounce out like the others or have six months of great fun, so I had six months of great fun") so all was fantastic, really.

Alex is now totally loved up and can't stop grinning. But we all agreed that upon his return from honeymoon and to the airwaves, he'll be still a cynical old get, and our favourite cynical old get at that. Congratulations to them both.

1 December 2011

"Otherwise it's B.F.H. - bus fare home..."

I've taken to watching repeats of Bullseye on Challenge, and it seems I'm not alone. They occasionally trend on Twitter - I'm guessing via drunk people thinking they're being ironic - and the odd newspaper TV critic has commended Challenge for putting them on.

They are such fun. Yes, it's easy and unoriginal to laugh at colour tellies "with remote control!" and some of the bespectacled muddlers in the contestants' chairs who think that anthracite is a freshwater fish. But it was actually a nicely honed quiz, with a host who seemed to genuinely care for the contestants, and for all its cheapness on set, contestants often went home with several grand in cash and goodies.

I worked out last night that the most a duo could win in the opening Categories round of Bullseye was £1,140, which is a lot of money now, let alone from 1981 onwards. I very much doubt anyone ever managed it - it would have relied on the thrower to hit three bullseyes and his or her partner to answer all three of their questions correctly, rely on the other two to be wrong on every answer they gave, and then know the answers to their questions too.

Perhaps it was the stinginess of ITV that prompted the change in the rules midway through the run that meant that the winning duo had to gamble away their money as well as their prizes when it came to getting 101 or more with six darts. Initially it was just the prizes that were at stake. Also, it wouldn't surprise me that when auditioning contestants, they chose ones whose dart players were mediocre, as opposed to really quite good. There were a lot of 41 and 26 scorers over the years. And I'd love to know if there was ever an episode where all three duos refused to gamble for the star prize, leaving Jim to just reveal the fully-fitted kitchen or holiday to Lanzarote that nobody wanted.

Anyway, they're worth watching in a totally appreciative, unscathing way. And a mention for Tony Green, whose kids and grandkids probably thought him the coolest guy on earth when his Bullseye exploits got him a cameo on Newman And Baddiel In Pieces.

25 November 2011

Wounded knee, wounded pride

Friday has started with a rare feeling of human achievement. Driving away from the gym (a place where I seldom feel human achievement), I edged round the final corner and came across a moped rider flat out on the concrete.

Quickly I got out of the car and remembered one of the few episodes of Casualty I'd ever watched - "have you hurt your head or your neck?" I asked. The answer was a very pained no - and so I asked the rider to remove their helmet.

The injuries suffered by this girl - and she was a girl, 17 I reckon - were two heavily gashed knees and some severe, severe embarrassment. I applied tissue to the heavier of the cuts while another motorist who'd just turned up was calling 999. I then lifted her into the back seat of my car so she could sit up properly and then shifted her bike, then we all waited for the ambulance.

The operator seemed to have no access to Google Maps, or common sense, or sympathy, given that he was still asking me for a more precise address in a featureless voice when the bloody ambulance itself actually turned up. The communication system in that avenue of the emergency services needs a bit of work, really. It was one of those Ambulance Responders, the type you mistake for police cars all the time, and the burly bloke inside had a bedside manner ("I had a knee like this after crashing my go-cart", "you'll get a scar your boyfriend will be proud of") that made this lass smile and blush simultaneously.

Then a "proper" ambulance turned up, containing two more burly blokes. They cracked weak but reassuring jokes and then the three of them lifted her into the back of the ambulance as her parents arrived to check on her welfare. I'm assuming this girl was arriving for sixth form lectures - the gym is tagged on to my old school - and instead found herself being given medical treatment by three men. She's got a story to tell to her mates.

Anyway, my work was done. She couldn't look me in the eye once her helmet had come off - teenage pride and deep embarrassment over the fuss - but I think she was grateful. Teenagers, eh?

23 November 2011

It actually says: "Welcome to Barbados, have a nice day..."

"To you it may be taboo to boo the tattoo; but for me the tattoo is something to say ta-ta to..."

When you watch a Premier League match on telly now you see an array of artistic images burnt into the flesh of the players. There has been quite a rise in the prominence of the tattoo in recent years, possibly as a direct consequence of these chaps.

How do they cope with the pain? Given that some have a penchant for rolling around in agony for ages when an opponent exhales on them, it's quite remarkable to consider that they can sit for several hours in an artist's studio while needles dipped in a combination of ink and molten lava are rammed under their skin.

Players who choose to wear short-sleeved shirts show off their forearm pictues and patterns; those who take their shirts off entirely for any reason are often sporting serious artworks on front, or back, or both.

As for me, nope. Not on your nelly. I expect I'm in only a small majority of tattooless people of my generation. I don't have kids, so I don't have the motive for a tattoo that many people choose to use. But now there is quite the number of people who have their kids names, or some Greek proverb, or an oriental bon mot, branded into some area of their anatomy. And I have both admiration and a touch of pity those who have the patience and pain threshold to sit down, keep still and bite on a wooden spoon while their artist of choice imprints an image of Enceladus or Selene, sitting proudly on a rock while holding a staff and shield, into their back.

Admiration for the nerve and commitment, and pity for when the day comes that, for whatever reason, they regret it. Usually this applies with ex-spouses, doesn't it? You're asking for trouble the moment you imprint a partner's name indelibly into your skin.

The stories about tattoos are well-thumbed, aren't they? The woman who thought it would be amusing to have a No Entry sign imprinted in the very base of her back. The Geordie who had a complicated, agonising, detailed tattoo of Andy Cole put into his torso 24 hours before Newcastle United sold him to Manchester United. The woman who had a cartoon image of Kelly Holmes crossing the finishing line tattooed into her back, only for the tattoo artist to forget the letter 'l' in the athlete's name.

And I can say this as a chap who can recognise a good-looking guy without any question marks over sexuality, but that thing on the back of his neck has ruined David Beckham.

(I assume you recognise the punchline in the title of this blog...)

22 November 2011


There was no voting scandal in the end as, finally, Russell Grant bid farewell to Strictly Come Dancing. He had been entertaining, willing, self-deprecating and humorous to the limit, but the timing of his exit was spot on.

His now familiar position at the bottom of the leader board was cemented by a public vote that the programme actually seemed to cock up in using its "no particular order" policy for announcing the results. The two participants immediately above him - Robbie Savage and Anita Dobson - were the first two to have their safety confirmed, making the eventual confirmation of Grant's exit something of a non-event. Ultimately, it was the clinical Aussie plaything Holly Valance, fifth of the eight, who stood beside him as the other celebrity in danger and although one wondered briefly if we were about to witness a genuine outrage that would have surpassed anything Ann Widdecombe's shtick last year attained, the result was obvious.

Len Goodman said, not entirely without a menacing tone, that we'd remember Russell Grant flying out of his camp cannon for years to come. He was right of course, but I thought it was a dreadfully executed stunt. A potentially great idea ruined by the desire to make spectacle outweigh substance. That Grant emerged very slowly and with his belly attached to some kind of protective toboggan made it all the more pointless. He then landed on the deck and proceeded to parade and point rather than dance, something which even a man of his limited abilities had admirably managed to avoid in previous weeks. He and his partner thought about the setting - Wembley Arena, 6,000 people - far too much, and forgot about the contest.

From his point of view, that was a pity, because there were enough weaknesses in his nearest rivals to give him half a prayer of surviving another week had he done a better job. Savage isn't improving enough and cannot convince the judges at all; Dobson is only as good as she was in the first fortnight, which is a real worry for her; Valance has ability but doesn't seem remotely emotional about it at all; and her Aussie compatriot Jason Donovan is in danger of seeing his considerable chances ruined by his own intensity. His missing steps within a jive that had been built up and built up by others as potentially one to ape the Halfpenny standard of seven years ago could be the starting point of a breakdown before our very eyes. His perfectionism and professionalism is proving to be part of the problem rather than the solution. He needs to lighten up.

Still, all of the aforementioned remain, and Grant has gone. With the comic relief confined to the audience from now on, the competition again can restart, just as it did when Nancy Dell'Olio got the shepherd's crook three weeks ago. The remaining septet are all winners in the making, but right now only Harry Judd is obvious. Chelsee Healey is hot on his trail and the surprise package Alex Jones needs to be taken seriously - in the past slowburning improvers like Darren Gough and Chris Hollins have overwhelmed more instantly gifted rivals to peak just at the right time. It helps that Jones has come across as witty, humble and affable, attributes that we had not been previously able to see from someone whose national profile had been 100 per cent in front of an autocue.

As for the show, it just didn't work. Of course, it was fine for the crowd packed into Wembley Arena, the admission fees of whom had contributed a six-figure sum to Children In Need, but for the dancers and television viewers - the two most important sectors in all this madness - it wasn't good. The floor was too big for some of the less fit competitors while we at home were forever seeing crew sneaking around while hearing bad echoes and wrongly activated microphones. For what it's worth, however, it did seem to be one of Bruce Forsyth and Tess Daly's best performances as a presenting team, and the main man himself has been much less prone to error in general this year. And Bruno Tonioli really, really made me laugh.

I keep changing my mind, but at the moment it's a brave person who backs anyone other than Judd or Healey for the title. Much will depend on whether ultimately they have the personality to match their dancing, deficiencies that have done for other competitors at the last minute in the past. The biggest personality has now gone, but he wasn't a dancer, so now on likeability we're looking at Dobson and Savage. The best dancers are lacking personality and profile, while the best personalities are lacking as dancers, so maybe someone in the middle - someone who can combine a bit of ability with a smidge of character - has a better chance of winning this thing than they realise.

17 November 2011

"Now that's what I call... anarchy!"

My pal Alex has done overnight radio for 20 years now. He knows the small hours better than anyone. My own handful of years on the nightshift (1997-2001; 2006-2008) give me some idea of how they hang too. But in the confines of a radio studio, with natural lighting effects in the ceiling and loud music playing, only the clock and the tiredness give away the daypart.

If it isn't for work, then there aren't many other reasons to stay up all night. I would expect that there are people experienced in this world who can count on one hand the number of times they've actually seen through a whole night awake. Sometimes emergencies occur, of course, but they aren't attached exclusively to the small hours. And plenty of hard-drinking partygoers still find themselves looking at their watches at 2am and longing for their beds.

The first time I deliberately stayed awake all night was as a teenager, when my parents were away on holiday and I, for the first time ever, had the place to myself. It was the summer holidays, my exams were over, and I just decided to watch telly all night. We had the array of ITV nonsense that masqueraded as nocturnal entertainment back then - Quiz Night, Crazy Like A Fox, America's Top 10, repeats of The Chart Show, and one extremely dodgy, low quality film. Then, at 4am, came Jobfinder. Even I wasn't going to sit through this, so I decided, in my semi-comatose state, to see what outside was like.

I got on my bike - a newly-acquired black and yellow Peugeot Elite which I'd saved my part-time wages for - and cycled around the small town where I grew up and where my folks still live in that same house. It was spooky just how quiet it was, even though it was August and so 4am was three quarters to broad daylight. The sun was poking through and as I traversed the streets and estates, going nowhere in particular but wanting to go everywhere, the only signs of life were other cyclists who had far more important destinations than I. Some said good morning, some gave me odd looks, some assumed I was up to no good.

The place isn't big but by day it's bustling, with shops and a market place and two primary schools. August meant the latter were shut, of course, but even so the first time you see the place you know so well, and had spent every day of your life, being so empty and still and silent, is a most eerie experience. You could hear the blood rushing round your head. I got back after about 45 minutes, having achieved little but thought plenty.

45 minutes was important, as my big target for my night away from sleep was 5am. I had just started to enjoy the radio and harbour little thoughts about how one could get into this industry, and for a while I'd wondered, in a manner all radio anoraks of my generation (and there are bloody loads of them, trust me) how Radio 1, my station of choice, got underway in the morning. 24 hour broadcasting was still anathema to the "station of the nation" and at this time, it ended at 2am with Richard Skinner's programme (always with the "England! Scotland! Ireland! Wales" Sister Sledge pastiche jingle) and started up again with Adrian John's early show, with pilot-tinted glasses, three hours later. But how?

I switched on my dad's beige one-tier Sanyo stereo and re-tuned it from Radio Humberside at about 4.50am. There was a sporadic beeping noise. Then the beeping noise got a bit quicker. Then, suddenly, at 4.55am on the dot, a jingle came on. And another. And another. And...

Forgive me, but this was the most exciting and enthralling thing I'd ever heard.

That five-minute sequence changed every few years as jocks came and went and packages were updated, but essentially you got every main jingle, stabbed versions of the same, jock IDs and a one-liner from the presenter in question, and a few short music beds (one of which was clearly based on the intro to Footloose) prior to an instrumental jingle at ten seconds to the hour (which Adrian John would always "la la la la" to, if he could) which then brought in the pips. He'd say good morning, we'd get one final jingle later, and his name ID ("do do dah do, Ay-drian Joooohn!") would play into the intro to his first record, which was always something from the current Top 40 which, on this particular day, was Soul II Soul's Back To Life.

Words can't express how thrilling it was to hear this. I wanted to hear it again and again and cursed myself for not putting a blank cassette into the stereo. This was remedied the next time I managed a night up and about a few weeks later, though by now Adrian John had left and Jakki Brambles was on, but I'd tuned in for a week of Gary King, to this day one of my radio idols, depping for her and for the first time heard him wish the pips "good morning" which was his subtle way of proving that he'd hit them spot on. Within 18 months the opening sequence had gone and Radio 1 was broadcasting 24 hours a day.

Subsequent all-nighters have been slightly less thrilling and enlightening (apart from one or two obvious ones, the details of which I'll spare you...). And it's no slight on Adrian John at all, but on that first occasion I was in bed by 5.15am. I was knackered!

15 November 2011

The greatest Dane

You can tell we're a nation of animal lovers. Schmeichel's peaceful passing in Coronation Street last night moved me far more than any other soap death. I was in floods.

And yes, I know it's not real, and Schmeichel was played by numerous dogs, and I'm a fool. I don't care.

10 November 2011

Back of the head with a plastic cup

A compelling debate on 5 Live this week about truancy, with education professionals contributing alongside former pupils who skipped school regularly and their exasperated - and criminalised - parents.

It was compelling because the two ex-truants on the programme, both females now in their early 20s, were fantastically eloquent and convincing in their reasons for not bothering, not to mention candid too - they declared, for example, that they were sorry their parents ended up before the courts but it didn't stop them continuing to stay away.

The listener response was predictably mixed - from people saying the one-size-fits-all system has never worked and girls like these needed to be taught according to their skills and capabilities, to the usual array of faux-outraged anger merchants who said the fines imposed weren't big enough owing to the number of malingering parents laden down with vodka, fags and scratchcards.

The nearest I came to truant was feigning a headache in order to get some coursework finished. This hardly makes me disruptive pupil of the century, not least because the feigned headache was believed by my mum so she knew I was home, and I was staying home to do schoolwork anyway - just different (and considerably more vital) work to that which I'd have done if I'd turned up. It could easily act as the most impotent act of teenage rebellion ever.

I had long spells of loathing school but I never thought of bunking off, simply because authority figures around me were frightening. I pass no judgement on today's teachers and parents, but I suspect they haven't half the scare factor - possibly as the law doesn't permit it - as they did "in my day" (I hate that expression, it makes me feel like Arkwright lecturing Granville). My dad was and is the most fantastic man on earth, but when he was cross with either of his sons we knew about it and learned. And there were enough petrifying figures at school to act as a deterrent too.

One lad in my class regularly "twagged" from school. He didn't go as far as to turn up, register and then just walk out again, like the seriously nerveless kid would, but just not come in at all. Upon his eventual return, he would hand over a sick note purporting to be from his mum but evidently written in his own infant school scrawl, and not even remotely looking fussed that the forgery was obvious. I never saw him get into proper trouble though, possibly because he lived in a village far enough away to need a school bus, and so it was a bit of a bind for the school to send someone round his house. I haven't seen him for 22 years but I hear he's still local.

The best thing about this debate on the radio was that the two girls who had avoided education for probably a quarter of their schooling life were now both in enjoyable jobs, working their way up and getting on positively with life. Their argument was that school wasn't of interest to them but their working lives are, and so they put more into those as they are getting more back. It's hard to argue with them as they've lived it for real, but you have to believe they are the lucky ones. I expect there are many ex-truants of all generations regretting to this day that they chose not to go to school.

8 November 2011

Smoke gets in your purse

Eight years ago yesterday, I stopped smoking. I've blogged about it before so I won't bang on about it again.

What I would say, however, is that while purchasing a newspaper yesterday, I noticed how much it now costs for a packet of 20 fags. Nearly seven quid? Blimey, even rich smokers must be tempted to stop for that much money.

4 November 2011

Firework week

It's chucking it down. Let it rain, I say. I've spent the entire night up with three spooked Basset hounds after a particularly long and loud evening of fireworks.

Bentley, especially, is affected by the bangs and crashes. For Saturday night, the one evening where we should reasonably expect fireworks to go off for a bit, contingency plans were made. The radio was going into the kennel and blinds were being put up. But last night, on the playing field close to the house, a group of ne'erdowells were setting fire to a few quid of their pocket money for hours on end.

It's a gripe we have every year, and never does anything seem to be done about it. Is it wrong to ask that fireworks are not sold until a short, set time prior to Bonfire Night itself, or not at all unless to places doing official functions? They've been going off round here for days now. And only wet nights have given my dogs any peace.

Bentley is nine years old now and has always been something of a wussy character, but all animals of varying degrees of courage are spooked by fireworks going off. Granted, some of them react by looking bemused out of the window - all my cats are in this group - while others howl and screech and whine, which is the stock Basset reaction. Bentley, however, gets so stressed that it affects him physically - and it's me who had to keep getting up during the night to clean up.

There are at least two more nights of this ahead unless the one saving grace can keep the neighbourhood quiet and the animals chilled. And that's the rain. Right now it's pelting down against my window, but during the day it's of little value. Hopefully it'll keep up through the night and beyond, and Bentley can get comfortable again. So let it rain, I say. Let it rain.

3 November 2011

"You have your legs open a lot, it's very unfeminine..."

So, she's gone at last, after three goes in the bottom two. I was starting to get worried, to be honest. But the dreaded Nancy Dell'Olio has made good her exit from Strictly Come Dancing and now the competition can begin without any further distractions.

And, even by her standards, she deserved it. It was clear from her attitude, her self-obsession and her known approach to the whole competition that she wasn't putting in the effort. The judges were kindly one week, claiming there could be some talent under all the posing and awkwardness, but I'm not so sure. Anton du Beke got a dud, yet again. And this time it was a dud whose ineptitude couldn't be turned into comedy and used as a tool for survival.

This is where we thought we were going to find Russell Grant, perhaps. However, the astrologer is showing a genuine aptitude for showmanship on the floor which, with a rough cut of the correct steps, could take him far. He garnered comic and sympathy points in the first couple of weeks, but that tango to Sweet Dreams was terrific as a showcase and had a technical competence to it, turning him from wooden spoon contender into someone for the longer term. He won't win, but in this vein, he may boot out a few of the more humourless duos on his way.

So now we have ten left. There are probably three who are currently nailed-on finalists - Jason Donovan, Chelsee Healey and Anita Dobson - a further four who could make the final but simultaneously are one rick away from being kicked out - Alex Jones, Harry Judd, Holly Valance and Robbie Savage - and three who will only get any further now through luck, charisma and application - Grant, Lulu and Audley Harrison.

My other beef at the moment is with the marks being handed to Judd, the drummer from McFly. I can't help but feel that Alesha Dixon is not happy about being in the papers too rarely these days, and so has given tens to him to garner some publicity. This will add fuel to the fire over the extent of her knowledge, as simultaneous to these perfect scores were criticisms from the other judges over the lack of traditional content his partner Aliona Vilani has put into the dances, something that Strictly connoisseurs claim cost Matt Baker the title in cahoots with her last year. Did McFly and Misteeq ever tour together, I wonder?

I still don't like Lulu very much, but there is something brilliant about watching a Scottish 1960s diva, dressed as a bat, flying through the air prior to doing a Spanish bullfighters' dance with a prickly New Zealander as a BBC orchestra and classically trained session singer perform Highway To Hell by AC/DC. That alone explains why Strictly is storming the ratings.

1 November 2011

"Look after yourself for seven days until we return for more Fix Its..."

I watched Jim'll Fix It religiously, like many other kids of that era. I don't think I ever wrote to the programme though. A pal at school called Mark, who was a wiz at BMX biking, wrote to ask if he could go round some complicated course with the top rider of the time (whose name escapes me) and was put on standby. It never happened though.

Isolated Fix Its still stick out. The kid who wanted to jump through a paper hoop, the one who sang with Tight Fit (and got kissed by both women at once, to his obvious delight), the one who read the football scores (he supported Everton and Cambridge United so their scores were both 35-0, or something), Peter Cushing's quest for a rose in his late wife's name, and the much-repeated bunch of cub scouts spilling their Snoopy flasks on the rollercoaster.

I've looked for two in particular. This is the first. I think it's significant because in 1985, Duran Duran had stopped needing to do kids telly and Top of The Pops, they were so globally huge. And yet their lead singer had time for this...

I love that the "victim" is way too overwhelmed to react in the way you'd expect a Duranie from the mid-80s to react, and that there is generally very little bruhaahaa from the kids in general, barring a few older girls screaming as he disappears on the horse. Also, the editing is clever enough not to show the real rider coming into the school, but still manages to show him, in knight's regalia, pulling the horse away afterwards while the two of them sit on top. Brilliant.

Then there's this one. No dousing down of anyone's bonfire is intended, but I can't help but think this one isn't as genuine as it makes out...

Her parents must have told her to expect nothing, and Jimmy himself said she was the lucky one of thousands, but there she is, with a line to speak on EastEnders, purely from writing to Jim'll Fix It. The use of specially made end credits over footage of her at school, rather than actual credits that appeared over the cartoon image of the Thames, is a giveaway too. If it really did happen then one assumes there was an acting union agreement that she'd not get crediting. Plenty of agents and parents representing professional child actors would have had a fit, wouldn't they?

It's not online, but I'd love to see again a clip of the bloke who was taught by the show's videotape editor how to be a videotape editor, as his daughter had noticed from the Jim'll Fix It credits that they shared the same name - Chris Booth. We then got a set-up whereby Jimmy was shown some pottery by an enthusiast (played by Tony "Merry Balladeer" Aitken) who accidentally broke one, so produced another, and then misidentified who gave it to him - he said it was his brother, rather than his mother. One Mr Booth then showed the other how to edit the film so that all mistakes were cut out and it all emerged as intended.

Sir Jimmy Savile was a radio man who transferred effortlessly to telly, something that not all radio greats have been able to do (and even fewer telly experts can do radio, of course) and the tributes from the famous and the not famous since his death at the weekend have been very warm indeed. Jim'll Fix It, as a television institution, is as brilliant a legacy as any guy of his professionalism and longevity could have hoped to leave.

28 October 2011

A nailbiting moment

One of those moments you get in radio. I'm on the air, playing a standard Spot The Intro competition, and put a lady on the line.

She told me on air she was a nurse. All good so far. Then she added that she was on holiday next week, but would still be working part-time in her other job as a Marie Curie nurse.

"Oh that's interesting," I said, kind of. "Do you do pedicures too?"

Face omelette. I thought she'd said she was a manicurist.

Still, she wasn't offended. And she won the cinema tickets. And it made Fat Mancunian laugh when he popped into the studio five minutes later, so all good, really...

25 October 2011

Taint along with Nancy

Alexei Sayle once wanted to put "the public" into Room 101. He had a grander idea of what "the public" meant, but nonetheless there were a few mild jeers from the studio audience.

They also use the term "the public" on Strictly Come Dancing a lot. Not surprising, considering that 50 per cent of the vote each week goes to them. And, as a consequence, we have the old trouble emerging each episode, like Basil Fawlty's shrapnel in the leg. The public aren't voting for dancing.

That's fine. Make it an entertainment show. But it does leave the judges slightly impotent. 50 per cent is quite a cut for them to have as far as power of each contestant's future is concerned, but it isn't enough, clearly. Nancy Dell'Olio is finishing way behind the others on her judges' score week on week, but "the public" is keeping her in.

Given that she has little discernible commitment or interest, possibly the least arsed Strictly... contestant ever, she is currently riding on a combination of luck and the popularity of her partner. Strictly... is several years old now and we know the professional dancers well. They are celebrities in their own right, with their own personalities, some charismatic qualities and an understanding of how to work a camera as well as a dancefloor. And the Anton du Beke factor can't be underestimated.

Last year, he and Ann Widdecombe epitomised car crash television. The fearlessly unshowbiz attitude of the former MP did much to keep her in week on week, despite hysterically awful dancing, but that wouldn't have worked without a partner who got the gag. If you'd put her with a moaner like James Jordan or an ego like Brendan Cole, she wouldn't have lasted five minutes. These guys want to win and have no way of adjusting their approach once they're lumbered with someone who simply can't win. Cole, a chippy character at the best of times, has stopped being a dancer or a personality this series because of the uselessness and arrogance - a dreaded combination - of his partner Lulu and has become 100 per cent a dancing teacher. He's never had to work so hard for what will be ultimately little reward.

du Beke doesn't have to do that. Everything about his approach demonstrates his ability to adapt to his partner's shortcomings with a general willingness to send the whole thing up. His asides to the camera while the judges are slagging his partner off or Tess Daly is asking something especially banal are priceless. He makes me laugh more than any other regular on the programme. And it is he, not Dell'Olio, who is charming the public into voting for them. He and Widdecombe were very much a double act last year, on and off the floor, but this year he is having to do all the work himself, and he is succeeding.

But is this tainting the programme? du Beke might be a giggle but I'm sure he'd rather just be a dancer teaching to dance someone who has a modicum of aptitude for it. Again, it returns us to the age-old question of whether the motive for the show's existence is to entertain the public or teach them about good dancing. There are four judges of four different backgrounds who would probably split 75-25 on that score - ask them, and I suspect only Alesha Dixon who say it's about the entertainment factor, despite being the brave one who bemoaned the axing of the dance-off last year. The overmarking of wildcards like Russell Grant while genuine triers with movement potential like Robbie Savage and Alex Jones get underscored suggest they are trying to avoid the argument completely this time round.

Rory Bremner, who looked after a brilliant quickstep last week like the sort of slowburning contestant who could eventually go all the way, was removed by "the public" in favour of Dell'Olio at the weekend. Although the studio audience seem to be mainly made up of contestants' loved ones and people with connections generally to the BBC, and therefore little representation of "the public", there did seem to be something of a collective sharp intake when the result was announced.

Bremner was patently a better dancer than Dell'Olio; if "the public" believe Dell'Olio is also a better entertainer than him then he may as well give up everything he does right now. Dell'Olio, assuming she has spent enough time awake to give it serious thought, may assume she's currently fireproof. She isn't. But her partner might be.

20 October 2011

Going west

Through playing stuff through speakers and good processing on the radio, I think I can gruffily acknowledge a good pop song when I hear one, and Westlife made one or two. Only one or two, mind.

I also find myself worrying that I have far more of an opinion on Westlife splitting than I do on the Stone Roses reforming.

Anyway, if there was one good thing Westlife did for music, it was to make people more aware of this...

...though they still turned it into this.

Up to you which one(s) you click...

18 October 2011

"John's soap's a pretty colour!"

"And Wendy comes to you hotfoot with her diploma from the Geneva school of sterilised blackhead popping..."

My mate Dave, with whom I was thick as thieves during sixth form, never got a single spot during this time. He used to drive me crackers as, in that sort of unsympathetic manner that all teenage friends manage to show, he used to laugh like hell at me every time another belter erupted on my face.

Like probably 80 per cent of teenagers, I had a zit issue. And although in the worst cases they can be as distressing as any non-fatal condition going, there is absolutely no getting away from the pisstaking that comes with it.

My dad used to go on about having them "mounted", and also used to crack a joke about a plate of liver that I've never quite understood. My brother, three years older than me and therefore free of the affliction, used to tell me not to be so "eruptive... sorry, I meant disruptive" and think he was hysterical. My mum, ever the carer, used to remind him of his own spotty days whenever this happened which, bless her, was of little consolation to me on my worst days.

The advertising for spot-zapping products was relentless during kids' telly, sporting programmes, soap operas and Blockbusters. They knew their market. We got the bloke shaving through a spot on the Oxy ad and the girl who with a quick rub of Clearasil-soaked cotton wool would suddenly see a suspiciously large black patch appear on it upon second glance. That kind of dirt doesn't suggest a blackhead issue, love, it suggests you never bothered washing your face beforehand.

The big winner, though, was Biactol. That stuff was the facewash of the gods to teenagers. It got kids with overactive pores washing twice a day - that's twice a day - and in my case, it largely worked. The excess era of spottiness still required some prescription tablets when I was 18 but this over-the-counter pink soap in a squeezy bottle largely did the trick. My parents used to go on about eating fewer chips and sugary products, despite the medical advice of the time telling us, no doubt with a heavy heart, that although obesity and tooth decay were issues with such foodstuffs, acne was not.

Since the age of 19 my spots have been down to the very occasional one, making them all the more surprising when they do turn up. They don't bother me, they just make me think back to the awful, awful times when you'd wake up with a face like a trayful of cherry bakewells. And I have one right now (it's in my ear, which is awkward but at least invisible) which has prompted this blog post.

The single worst occasion of my late teenage life was spot-related. I had a part-time job in a local restaurant, which mainly involved serving in the takeaway area, and a couple in their late 20s came in. They looked at the large menu on the wall, ordered their food and then, turning to look at me, the woman blurted out: "Have you got chickenpox?" I said no, with a professional smile, but I was beyond mortified. She realised she'd said something amiss but didn't apologise. I applied every product related to skin care to my face that I could find prior to going to bed that night.

So my mate Dave never got spots, ever. Fortunately, he was my pal and so didn't take the piss too much. And the rest of the sixth form generally had the same issues as me, with only one half of them able to use make-up as a form of portcullis against it. It doesn't matter how cool a teenager is or isn't, the spots always act as a great leveller.

Great acting from the bloke who played Ant Jones in Grange Hill here...

Just before Mandy first arrived to nick Pete Beale's takings...

And here's Patsy the rock chick...

13 October 2011


The judges lost some of their credibility for me this week, you know. Over many years of Strictly Come Dancing, they've contributed their own slice of panto by declaring that the public are voting for the wrong couples, and that it is a dancing contest rather than an entertainment show.

We had this with John Sergeant. Last year we over-memorably had it with Ann Widdecombe (though in truth, she left at the right time - after every other dancer not good enough to win the competition, leaving behind four who were, plus Gavin Henson), and presumably this year we're going to get it too.

The problem is, the judges have seemingly thrown in the towel and bought the entertainment argument. How else could you explain their marks for Russell Grant?

He is Strictly's elephant in the room this year, and that's not a comment made unkindly. With the appropriate and christ-motheringly predictable Dancing Queen in the speakers, he paraded and camped about in a pink feather boa and royal blue windcheater of kinds, the usual daffy grin on his face, while Flavia Cacace did all the work. Oh, of course, it was funny, and entertaining, and all the other things in the remit of Saturday night telly.

But the judges fell for it, as if they couldn't be arsed arguing for another year. So up went the 6s and 7s, and everyone cheered. Hooray!

Cacace was livid - eyes down, mouth downturned, headshake - when she and her partner Jimi Mistry got the boot last year. He was in the bottom two alongside the considerably inferior Michelle Williams, and the public got rid. They essentially dumped him because he was a middling actor of limited recognition with a northern accent and the glamorous American pop star who kids once worshipped will always get the nod. One assumes Cacace will be equally livid when her partner boots aside abler contestants as this year's contest go on, because it's going to happen.

Grant hasn't done a ballroom dance yet, and maybe he'll be good at that. But as the ballroom dances demand discipline and drama, and he's having to use the "look at me, aren't I just so much fun" dollar as his ticket into the next week, he's got his work cut out. I like him, he is personable - and lordy, there are some others taking themselves fantastically seriously this year - and just wants the thrill. He's going to have to work harder to maintain it though. The public will only keep him there for so long, the question is whether it'll be too long.

He is easily the most interesting contestant in these early stages. The rest are busy putting themselves into the usual groups. The natural dancers - Jason Donovan, Holly Valance, Anita Dobson; the triers who will get better - Chelsee Healey (eugh), Robbie Savage (highly praised and then bizarrely undermarked last week), Alex Jones (looking good), Harry Judd; the outsiders with mild potential - Rory Bremner (he's my new decent bet as a winner, actually), Dan Lobb; and the ego-driven lumps of uselessness - Audley Harrison, Lulu and Nancy Dell'Olio.

Those last three are excruciating to watch off the floor, let alone on it. Harrison's introduction as "Olympic champion boxer" immediately reminds everyone that he had ten rubbish years as a pro afterwards, and when in the bottom two against the unlucky Edwina Currie last week said he'd be sorry to "get back on the plane home", therefore also revealing that he didn't even live in the UK any more. He's better than the last boxer to appear, but at least Joe Calzaghe ended his stint on both arenas with a world title and a glamorous dancer girlfriend.

I've always disliked Lulu. Her first dance was hilarious, the epitome of the arrogant showbiz starlet who assumes that 40+ years on stage and screen would be enough to get her through it. You could tell from when she was first paired with Brendan Cole that she didn't respect him, and the opening dance proved it. That seemed to act as a wake-up and she improved last weekend, but it would be fantastic to see her ditched by the public as quickly as possible. They tend not to forget.

As for Nancy Dell'Olio, well, what a mess. "Lawyer and media personality", they call her. No. She's Sven Goran Eriksson's ex and that's the only thing that's got her on the show. And I know Len Goodman is in his 60s and she's a good deal younger, but I wouldn't have relished an accidental sight up her skirt when she stood on the judges' table last week. I'm sure they give Anton du Beke these duds deliberately. His demeanour and reaction to the the judges' rightful hammerings wins Dell'Olio half her battle. I can only assume the recruitment team looked at the Pamela Stephenson phenomenon last year and tried to replicate it - trouble is, Dell'Olio has no talent, not a great grasp of English, zero charisma, little visible work ethic, adores herself too much and has no history with the British public.

Strictly has made me like Alex Jones for the first time, have sympathy for Rory Bremner as he manfully tries not to use impressions on the live show to curry favour with anyone and remind myself that there never was a better time for EastEnders than when that manic grin of Anita Dobson was behind the bar. Jason Donovan should win, but right now up to half a dozen are in contention.

12 October 2011

The perfect blend

I don't do movies at all, but in the process last week of going through the latest cinema releases for the benefit of radio listeners, I noticed something that interested even me.

Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark is a new movie now showing somewhere near you. Check local press for details, and all that. It stars Katie Holmes and, among others, Guy Pearce and Alan Dale.

Or, if you prefer, Mike Young and Jim Robinson.

I watched The King's Speech on DVD earlier this year and enjoyed Guy Pearce's turn as Edward VIII. I knew that he'd made it in Hollywood after leaving Ramsay Street, but as someone who held the tiresome - and, rather insulting - received wisdom that all Aussie soap actors were somewhat limited in their abilities, I assumed this was a one-off.

But Alan Dale too? Well, of course, he made it on telly in America with Lost and The West Wing after Jim Robinson suffered his final, melodramatic coronary, but even so, seeing these two former budget telly colleagues next to each other on a big new film that presumably the world will watch is somewhat quirky. And, while it may not necessarily endorse Australian soapland as a major breeding ground for global acting greats, it certainly enhances what has always been a rather demoralising reputation.

Simultaneously, Jason Donovan is the bookies' favourite for Strictly Come Dancing (more on that another day). Kylie Minogue and her little sister are still pop superstars with occasional diversions into reasonable acting roles when they feel like it. I expect there are numerous other actors from that background now doing very nicely indeed both in terms of their work and their reputations.

For me, undoubtedly without any fairness at all, the Aussie soap will be associated with hams for as long as that scene where Sharon Davies, trying to slim into model shape by just Not Eating, fainted into the swimming pool with all the natural grace of a giant redwood getting stuck mid-fall on an obstinate twig, remains in the memory. My father's incredulous snort when that scene was completed will live with me forever.

None of this suggests that Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark is any good, though as the lead role is played by a child, it will probably receive some kind words, irrespective of what is merited. The sequel, Still Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark, Cobber will feature comebacks for Kristian Schmid, Ashley Paske and Lucinda Cowden. And there will be an offscreen role for Len Mangel, obviously.

EDIT: I've found it! This is Neighbours legend, this, right up to the bit where Bev gives the lecture about not "paying too much attention to the images promoted in advertisements"...

8 October 2011

A rare chance for Martin to sing instead of Dave

Q The 80s is on this weekend, as ever. You can locate the show on Freeview channel 716 or online here, and we're on from 6pm on Sunday.

Three hours of 80s goodness, including a song represented by the title of this blog and another represented unmysteriously by the embed below.

We shall have our two Floppy Discs - failed singles from major artists - and an entry from The Nobody's Diary - the acts that never quite made it.

See you on Sunday evening!

5 October 2011


I went off John Motson a bit the other year when he commentated on Hull City's goalless draw at Tottenham Hotspur and proceeded to mispronounce the name of our heroic goalkeeper, Boaz Myhill*, all the way through, but even so the man has deserved the week's worth of celebration of his 40th anniversary with the BBC this week.

He is quite the survivor really, as he sounds very old-fashioned and staid in comparison to many modern commentators but that should be regarded as a strength. You only have to listen to the abysmal Jonathan Pearce chucking in a hideous "where Eagles dare" pun (in relation to the Bolton player Chris Eagles) to realise that Motson has always been about the commentary and not the commentator.

The moment that made him came in 1972, when Ronnie Radford scored a ludicrous goal for non-league Hereford United in a replayed FA Cup tie (which they went on to win) against top-flight Newcastle United. Motson was the junior on a year's trial and this game was not regarded as the great tie of the day so, in deference to people like David Coleman, Barry Davies and Alan Weeks, he got sent there. His commentary, coupled with the now immortal images of the crowd made up entirely of parka-clad schoolkids invading the pitch, became part of folklore. Every football fan over the age of 16 can parrot the commentary and see the images in their mind's eye as if it were happening out of their bedroom window there and then.

Coleman remained the BBC's main man, but Motson got an extended deal from that day and when the famously stroppy main man sued the BBC in 1977, he was removed from football duty and Motson - instead of the more experienced (and, apparently, mightily peeved) Davies, got the FA Cup final. Coleman returned a year later, but from 1979 and for pretty much two decades thereafter, Motson was the BBC's man at Wembley. In the days when both the BBC and ITV covered the big game, it was always the Beeb and Motson for me, and only partially because Brian Moore on the light channel was always unusually hysterical and prone to missing stuff.

The guff about statistics and sheepskin coats are superficial labels pinned firmly to Motson's image; what football thinkers tend to see when his name comes up is a deep understanding of the game, a thirst for accuracy and gravitas and a quiet dip into the background when not required in a gantry somewhere. In more recent times he has become a bit easier to parody, but much of the criticism is because he is the same guy he's always been, now the elder statesman alongside dashing young bucks who are good but largely featureless and, in many cases, all sounding the same.

Some of his commentaries are perfectly ordinary, but there is nothing wrong with that. He hasn't got a "they think it's all over" moment, but at least you know that if it had ever come his words would, like Kenneth Wolstenholme's, been natural and of the moment, not scripted and delivered with a smirk and a clench of the fist by loons like Pearce.

I remember reading a Q&A with Motson a few years ago and he was asked about the commentary he wishes he could take back and do again. Surprisingly, he didn't mention his twice calling Stuart McCall "Steve McCall" when the flame-haired Everton substitute had just scored an 89th minute equaliser in the FA Cup final, but instead went for this (9'35" in)...

Motson says he cringes when he hears his commentary on this goal, the most important England had scored since 1966, because he is too concerned with the antics of the German defenders and doesn't notice Gary Lineker enough until he's actually swiped his shot into the net. I think he's being harsh on himself.

As for my favourite bit of Motson, there's only one choice:

It misses the incredulous "WHAT a goal by Brady!" at the end but it works for me simply because he commentates like a football fan would, sitting at home. And as Motson is a known Tottenham supporter, that also shows his absolute professionalism, especially as Arsenal actually won this game 5-0.

There are things about Motson I struggle with - the daft cackling, the occasional insistence he has on defending overpaid players who misbehave (he said something on the radio about Ashley Cole recently that boiled my blood) - but the man is still great to hear on television and is representative of football's great television age more than anyone else.

He has quit going to tournaments now - indeed, aside from his sojourn to Old Trafford last week, and even that seemed to be only so he could interview Sir Alex Ferguson for the first time in years on his 40th anniversary weekend - he now never seems to leave London. But as long he's behind a microphone somewhere, there's something eternally soothing about watching the game, with all its faults, on telly.

*pronounced "Bose". Motson went for "Boz".

30 September 2011

Working my way back to you

A lot of people have commented, with equal measure of praise and disdain, about how much work I've done lately. Wherever and whenever I'm on air, I tend to promote it on Facebook and Twitter, predominantly for reasons of pure ego, but also to remind future potential employers of my existence and current "popularity".

Anyway, this week, it screeched to a halt. An enchanted seven months or so of non-stop work on a total of ten different radio stations had suddenly had a vast, yawning crevice opened up before it. The calendar for the whole week was blank.

It meant I could rest. It meant I could take the dogs for longer, more leisurely walks at nicer times of day. It meant I could go to an away game on a Tuesday night (albeit the closest one of the season, at Doncaster) and not worry about missing out on much-needed kip afterwards. It meant I could go to the gym. It meant I could see people and places that had been off my radar.

And I really didn't like it.

Well, I did, but you know what I mean. When you're freelance and overworked, you have to strike a balance between needing the money and not doing yourself a mischief. When you're freelance and underworked, you have to strike a balance between needing the money and being able to enjoy your life. Thing is, my profession is a privileged one (despite the moaning that sometimes comes with it) and I try not to lose sight of that. So by Tuesday of this week I was starting to panic about where the next job was coming from. Then by Wednesday, the panic was over. Two late breakfast bookings in Bradford, the second of which was this morning, and then next week I'm doing drivetime cover in Wigan. Phew.

People at various stations ask me where I get my energy and appetite for all this work from, plus the patience to do all the travelling and stupid hours that go with it. My answer is simple: it combines a love of the job with a morbid fear of unemployment. For as long as someone thinks I'm of use, I'll keep doing it. And although I do want to be back on a full-time schedule, it's quite nice to be known - rightly or wrongly - by up to a dozen radio stations as someone reliable and versatile enough to step in and do the right kind of job for them when needed.

Have a nice weekend.

27 September 2011

"She finishes at four, she'll be in the pub at five past..."

If you've ever read this blog with reasonable frequency, or had to put up with me for a while on Twitter, you'll know I'm a considerable devotee of Coronation Street. Well, at the moment the programme is taking some flak over its characterisation and storylines, and I'm inclined to agree.

The problem I think is that the older characters seem to have been left behind somewhat, and they are the key to the light and shade that Coronation Street has always exploited flawlessly in the past. Admittedly the death of Maggie Jones (who played Blanche Hunt) left a yawning chasm in the humour stakes, but to me the obvious replacement is staring the show's masters right in the face.

How fantastic has Stephanie Cole been since joining as Roy Cropper's mother? Like when Blanche first returned years ago, the character of Sylvia initially came only with negative attributes but a settling-in process, helped by the ground rules that Roy managed to put in place, has developed the character beautifully. Now is the time to get her into the silver-haired circle that includes Emily, Rita, Norris and the brilliant Dennis. For as long as these older characters continue to be in place, Coronation Street shouldn't go far wrong. But, of course, that's only if the decision-makers allow them the airtime.

Emily, for one, hasn't been on for a while. Betty, meanwhile, doesn't get mentioned half as much when she's in view as she does when she's allegedly "in the kitchen" or "on her own behind the bar" as other characters do scenes in differing rooms of the Rovers. But Rita, who has never been more waspish in her manner before, plus Norris and Dennis (the tiny side story of his continued skintness is delightful) are still on the full-time rota and need more. Add Sylvia to the mix and they've got what's missing.

Let's be honest, there isn't a lot of humour elsewhere in the show at the moment. Sean used to be funny and whimsical, but he's now sour, jealous, pompous and hypocritical. Eileen, who is brilliant when given comedy to do, hasn't had a storyline of note since half-arsedly nicking Owen's accounts. Eddie and Graham, characters of loveable eccentricity, have both gone and been not replaced. Steve and Lloyd's domestic issues have prevented them from having showtime together in the cab office - and the sooner Eileen goes back to work there, the better. Julie, supposedly a funny character, just gets right on my nerves and it's only going to get worse if that Brian type becomes a regular as her beau. That's quite an alarming thought. Dev makes me laugh, but not necessarily in a good way. This bland story of his son's potential as a golfer will probably be quietly disbanded in a few weeks time.

There's still much Coronation Street is doing right - the Carla/Frank saga justifies the discomfiting subject matter with the dramatic and pinpoint portrayal from all concerned, while I like the prospect of Tyrone getting fruity with a smart looking girl, even though we all know deep down a Kirsty like that wouldn't even glance sideways at a Tyrone like him.

Oh, and if I can be shallow just for a moment? Anna Windass should be glammed up like that in every single episode. That's all.

23 September 2011

It's the end of the world as we know it

I'd love to blog about R.E.M. and their demise, but I don't really feel I have the clout for it. Though they were formed at the start of the 1980s, they're not some chuckaway 80s pop act whose very existence needs the likes of me to justify. They're far more important than that.

All I know is that a pal of mine started a small but intriguing Twitter debate which suggested that the USA, with the exception of the Beach Boys and R.E.M., didn't tend to produce "good" bands. One assumes the criteria includes longevity, statistical success, worldwide appeal, continued credibility as tastes change and a generally good reputation that combines musicianship with a spot of devilment. When you give it some thought, he isn't far wrong.

I think R.E.M. may lack on the devilment front - the nearest they've had to scandal or an off-diary story is Peter Buck getting pissed on an aeroplane and being acquitted of any further wrongdoing afterwards - but otherwise they've been as good an American group as any since the Beach Boys. They're outstanding composers, professional performers and yet when you read their interviews or sleevenotes, their seriousness doesn't ever come across as pomposity or self-absorption. If the Americans ever adopted a class system like ours, Mike Mills would be the ultimate middle class American.

Ultimately though, I just care about the songs. Find The River is their most exquisite single composition of all. Finest Worksong rocks. Crush With Eyeliner is brilliantly scary. And, of course, people will always think of Losing My Religion, a song that has never really suffered in the UK for being what our beloved radio industry thinks is pretty much the only playable song the band have ever produced in 31 years.

I've never been one for live gigs, more fool me, but R.E.M. are one band I always thought I would go and see play one day. I hope there'll be a reunion tour in five years or so because otherwise I'll spend the rest of time kicking myself that I didn't take up an opportunity go along. With my musical tastes, they're the nearest I've ever got to liking a band that "proper" music fans like, and the quiet arrival of a new, polished R.E.M. album every three years will soon be missed.

Not allowed to embed Losing My Religion at the moment, so have a gorgeous bonus track - the one that tried to emulate those very Beach Boys mentioned here...

22 September 2011

Bowl provider

Been working in Preston this week, covering the breakfast show on Lancashire's Magic 999. Good fun.

The radio station, with its sister 97.4 Rock FM (together the two used to be the old Red Rose Radio brands), is based in an old church on the Preston ring road. It's a bizarre place to work but wholly satisfying as well, seeing meetings take place between ancient archways and walking down arcane stone staircases from the offices to reception and the studio area.

Anyway, like all radio stations, it has commemorative framed discs pinned on every wall, proudly proclaiming the station's contribution to an artist's sales. One of them is this, featuring the much maligned (and fairly so) Michael Bolton.

All fine so far, taste issues aside. Then a second photograph reveals the actual context of its display.

Yep, in one of the traps. And it makes me laugh every time I see it.

(Okay, I'll even it up a bit. I liked this one...)

20 September 2011

"We have a Matthew James Rudd at customer services..."

Brief sojourn into a well-known supermarket yesterday, and a lost child was being comforted by staff as they tried to locate his parents via the tannoy system.

Brought back the memories, it did. To my knowledge, it occurred twice in my tinier years. The old Jacksons Grandways superstores had a big branch in east Hull, and this was the favoured store of choice in the late 1970s for my parents to do the weekly (always weekly, back then) big shop. As the younger of two boys, I'd be the one in the little trolley compartment, whereas my brother would cling on to my mum. Dad, with hindsight, clearly didn't want to be there and his job seemed to combine keeping us youngsters occupied before finding boxes from the back to pack the wares into as they were tilled through.

Anyway, once I was not sitting in the trolley, for whatever reason. I think I probably decided that at six years old - and proud of it - I was now able to walk round the shop with big brother and the grown-ups. And so, naturally, I got lost. I looked round a few aisles but to no avail, and can't imagine how frantic my family were when they noticed my absence. In the end, I had the sense to accost a person in a Grandways tabard who was stacking a shelf and asked, very innocently: "Excuse me, do you know where my mum is, please?" That's the one bit I remember clear as day.

Quickly I was transported to the customer services desk and within ten minutes I was back in the company of my parents. I blamed them for losing me, of course. Though I was a bit upset and very relieved, I was most of all utterly terrified. My naivete in assuming Grandways person would know the identity of my mother hit me quite quickly afterwards. And in later years when thinking about it, I realised how fortunate I was that I didn't just ask some random customer.

The second time wasn't long afterwards, I think. This time it was the dreaded family trip into "town". All families did this. The mother would insist that we needed to spend a whole Saturday morning, and sometimes part of an afternoon, in Hull city centre, traversing the shops. My dad never made any secret of his loathing for this but, being a good dad and husband (and figuring it'd be easier to look after us two when walking us round town than it would be at home without my mum), he loyally tagged along. Like all kids in this situation, my brother and I were very, very bored, especially when the dreaded moment would arrive involving my mum bumping into someone she knew and spending 20 minutes gassing to them about bugger all, meaning the rest of us stood motionless, anxious to move on. Or, better still, go home. I think the naggy question I asked more than any other during this period of childhood was "Can we go back to the car now?" I think my dad wished every single time I asked that he could say yes.

Anyway, the Hull branch of British Home Stores. Mum, dad, brother and I are looking at clothes - well, Mum is, dad is pretending to, and me and big bro are tossing about like kids do - and I wandered round a corner or two expecting to be chased by him. I wasn't. I tried to retrace my steps but suddenly there was no sign of anyone I knew. Unlike at the supermarket, I have no idea how I ended up as an official BHS misper but before I knew it my name was on the tannoy system and, as if to prolong the agony further, the staff had picked me up and stood me on the enquiries desk so that the whole damn store could see me. My strongest memory of this incident was saying "You lost me!" to my mum when the rest of the clan finally saw me and returned to pick me up.

There was one occasion when Mum genuinely did lose me. I've been told, and heard told to others, this story a thousand times. My mum sees it now as some kind of badge of honour. The pair of us were, it appears, out of hospital not very long after my birth when she took me into the village in my pram while paying visits to the bank and the Co-Op. When going inside, she left me outside. She then returned home and Dad asked her where I was. The story goes that she said she'd left me with him, only for her jaw to then drop on the very last syllable before declaring "I've left him outside the Co-Op!" Into the Ford Cortina they dived to speed to the Co-Op - and there I still was, happily playing with the plastic things in my pram, oblivious to my brief period of abandonment. And yes, the story in all subsequent tellings has come with the obvious punchline.

I didn't hang around this supermarket to see how quickly this family were reunited. But one suspects the little lad will remember this moment for life.

16 September 2011

"Who did it? Was it Captain Lancaster?"

Glory, glory, hallelujah
Teacher hit me with a ruler
The ruler broke in two, so she hit me with a shoe
And my bum went black and blue.

Corporal punishment is under discussion today. A survey has suggested that more than half of parents questioned would approve of its return in secondary schools.

I got smacked on the backside with a slipper* and also a twelt on the palm with a 30cm ruler** during my primary school days, but fortunately for all concerned, corporal punishment was outlawed a year or so later.

You can't justify violence against kids in any circumstances whatsoever, even if the kids are evil and spiteful, which, let's be honest, some clearly are, and even if they are big enough to fight back.

I suspect the parents who would care for the return of corporal punishment are a) parents of kids who never get in trouble (and therefore, if their kid ever got a lawful twelt on the palm with a ruler, would complain to every individual and sue every authority in existence); and b) parents who don't instil enough discipline at home and think their child's behaviour in school is the school's responsibility.

Campaigners in favour say it will make kids learn discipline. My view is that it will make them more shrewd when it comes to getting found out, and glamorise the use of violence for allegedly "positive" reasons. The short-term pain for the kid will be to the long-term detriment of everyone else.

Also, the "never did me any harm" brigade consistently fail to notice that it did do them some harm, as they now advocate the beating of children in a civilised society rather than accept that their own experiences should be something they wouldn't wish on anyone else.

Lastly, a lot of kids in school get unfairly punished for stuff they didn't do. Any kind of punishment for an innocent person is one punishment too many, but if it involves physical discomfort and mental scars, then that is unforgivable.

I'm being a right lily-livered sort here as I don't know what the best answer really is. I know I'd like parents to back the schools a bit more when news comes through of a child being bad. But I'm pretty certain that smacking children under 16 is the worst answer of all. Moreover, I suspect that teachers themselves would simply refuse to administer corporal punishment even if it was re-introduced.

*telling a dinner lady to "go pick yer bum", if you must know. I was seven and totally stitched up by an 11 year old tell-tale tooley at my table. I still actually hate him quite a lot even though I barely ever saw him again.
**genuinely can't remember what the crime was, but I remember the teacher and room concerned and was therefore eight years old.