16 June 2011

"That's an 'h' because it stays on top of the line..."

Busy old time, one of those purple patches for work which come rarely in my industry and so I'm happily grabbing it all with both hands. Within the various stints on other people's shows, however, came a more much unusual booking.

My pal Charlie Jordan, formerly of Radio 1 and whom I know from my time at Heart in Birmingham, rang me up a week or so ago and asked if I fancied earning a few quid by talking to a bunch of schoolkids about reporting on sport. It was in Wolverhampton, hardly convenient for the perennially northern boy such as me, but I was in. She had been hired to talk about other aspects of broadcasting, and showcase her phenomenal abilities as a poet, and two newspaper journalists from London were also booked.

So it was on Wednesday this week that I told 18 tables full of West Midlands kids aged ten to 14 about life as a sports journalist on the radio and in print. I have done both, although a) not for a while, and b) in isolated times, not very well. Knowing that although these kids were of the elite level and actively interested in creative stuff, they'd be bound to tire soon, I also chucked in a few bits about being a radio DJ.

Great fun, it was. The organisers wanted the kids to be set small tasks as we went along, so immediately I sought a cocky volunteer - in a room of ten to 14 year olds, there are always a few - and got a lad up on to the platform with me who was not actually cocky at all, but very confident. I showed him Diego Maradona's brilliant individual goal against England in 1986 and got him to commentate on it himself. He was excellent and got rapturous applause from the other kids. I also had them thinking about how to recognise footballers on a pitch when reporting, and trying to tell the rest of the room a few simple facts about themselves without reading off a script. They seemed to enjoy it.

The last bit, which I only came up with while waiting in the wings and had to make quick, judicious use of a Molineux photocopier to achieve, was to show them the alphabet in Teeline shorthand and briefly explained what shorthand was and why it was useful. This had them hooked. My time was up so I couldn't write a few of their names out on their notepads as I had hoped, but it mattered not. During the first break between speakers, I was quietly sitting at the back of the room behind a table, sipping a soft drink and nattering to Charlie, my work supposedly done, when this glut of smiley kids descended on me - and formed an orderly queue.

I think I wrote out 100 different names in Teeline shorthand over the next hour or so. It was like a book signing; I'm behind a desk and kids are patiently - they were ever so well-mannered - clutching Berol markers and their special notepads for the day and I'm writing their names out in these strange hieroglyphs. Lots of smiles and thank yous as I did so, while teachers took photos in the background. It was genuinely one of the most rewarding things I've ever done in my life.