Miscellany and detritus, from the writer of Is This Mutton?com

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Saturday, August 26, 2006

Radio Devon anecdotes (1)

Hawses for Courses
I was a journalist at BBC Radio Devon from its launch (1982) until 1988, working first as a reporter and then a news producer. The latter included a lot of newsreading. To start with, I was very self conscious about my Devon accent. A more experienced producer, Helen Hughes, advised me to think of different spellings of words: for example, hawse instead of horse. It worked well. However, there was a monthly curse of the unemployment figures, where the "rip and read" always started "the number of people out of work and claiming benefit has risen / dropped" (delete as appropriate). I didn't like words with 'R' in, so I always changed this to "number of people without jobs."

Raining Men

One of our DJs, Ian Brass, had a wicked sense of humour. I had a news story about a man who threw himself over the top floor of the Newton Abbot multi storey car park, unfortunately landing on someone and causing serious injury. After I'd finished the news summary, Ian followed up with the song It's Raining Men. I'd like to say that was the only time, but after I'd broken the news about the Challenger disaster, I heard "Space Oddity" as I left the studio.

Not Thought to be Seriously Hurt

As I got more adept at newsreading, I started live editing, where I would read the bulletin and edit the copy as I went along. For example, sometimes I forgot to take the snippet about today's weather in with me, so I would ad lib depending on how it looked outside. Or I would not have time to edit a piece of copy about a court case from one of the local news agencies, and would edit it live to avoid the legal errors they always included.

On one occasion, I was nearly at the end of a bulletin when a colleague burst in with a piece of paper and mouthed "news just in." I delivered the phrase with great relish and proceeded to read out how a man had been killed in a road accident. The copy had handwriting all over it and I was suspicious it was incorrect, so I hastily ended the piece "the dead man is not thought to be seriously hurt." I groaned as I closed the fader, realising what I'd done. I sneaked into the main newsroom but fortunately Trevor, the news editor, was listening to our competitors Devonair and hadn't heard my faux pas. Then the phone rang. I picked it up: it was A Listener. He asked if could speak to the newsreader. I gritted my teeth and said "she's not around, can I take a message?" He chuckled and told me to tell the newsreader that she had made his day.

Cycling in Wales

Those of you who know me from a few years ago will be more than mildly surprised to know that I've just cycled 120 miles up and down (it seemed like mostly 'up') the Welsh hills.

Since meeting John two-and-a-half-years ago, I've had to put my couch potato days behind me and start a new lifestyle which includes cycling, running (though I have to get beyond 5km), the gym and eating healthily.

But nonetheless, as I am a very reluctant cyclist, and training consisted only of a one hour session cycling behind John as he ran along the canal, I was filled with trepidation at the prospect of a six night cycling holiday with John and his 15 year old daughter Rachel, herself no slouch in the saddle. They recently did the London to Cambs cycle ride and she came third in the Pedal in the Park, ahead of serious cyclists.

The holiday started at the farm HQ of Wheely Wonderful Cycling in deepest Shropshire where friendly Chris & Kay gave us our bikes, confortable touring machines (Rachel had a mountain bike) and we sheltered under the awning waiting for the rain to stop. It didn't, so we set off for the first stop, a pub for lunch. Except that when we got there, at 2.30, it had stopped serving food and we couldn't even get a sandwich out of them. So fortified with crisps and nuts we set off again in the rain for Presteigne. The hotel dated from Tudor times and had some very strange and interesting twisty staircases. Fortunately the heating was on - we needed it to dry our clothes and hats - and it took a hot bath before circulation was restored.

The next day saw us cycle for 21 miles to Hay-on-Waye, the town of books. The day after, 21 miles to Builth Wells and a very elegant country house hotel; an easier day of 15 miles to Rhyader and then the killer day, 33 miles to Knighton. The route, the Welsh national cycle route, was mostly quiet country lanes (and hills) with hardly any traffic. There was one short off road section where the mountain bike excelled. There we saw two dead sheep. I wondered how they got there - the rest of their brethren were grazing below, fenced in.

Fortunately on the killer day the weather was kind to us; the forecast had been for torrential rain. We seemed to be ahead of the rain all day. But it was very bleak at times. The first 20 miles seemed to be all uphill. The plus side was that the remaining 13 miles were mostly downhill - but too steep for me to be comfortable. All you could hear was the screech of my brakes as I inched my way down the hills, John and Rachel already waiting at the bottom.

Ah yes, bottom. A gel saddle cover was not enough to prevent the agony of cyclist's ass for the first two days. If I could give any advice to novices like myself it would be to acclimatise yourself on a bike beforehand to try to avoid being saddle sore. It's a killer, and something I will happily consign to Room 101 if Paul Merton ever asks me.


Friday, August 11, 2006

Me and David Bowie

David Bowie for me began in 1973. Well actually it was 1972, but 73 rhymes better. I was a blank sheet aged 11, waiting to make my own discoveries of popstars, authors, fashion, life. Top of the Pops came on and it was the now eponymous show that featured David Bowie & the Spiders from Mars performing "Starman." (I've since read that Ian Mccullough from Echo and the Bunnymen discovered Bowie from this performance). I watched transfixed. Now here was the popstar for me. I didn't like the saccharin appeal of David Cassidy or Donny Osmond: here was a genuine British eccentric, so colourful, so controversial. I immediately scoured my mum's Freemans catalogue and ordered the LP (yes, vinyl) Ziggy Stardust, paying 10p a week. I was so thrilled with the album, which I played hundreds of times in my tiny bedroom on Sid, the old Alba record player, that I promptly put myself into debt by ordering Aladdin Sane, another 10p a week.

I wasn't allowed to see David's Ziggy retirement tour when he visited Torquay. A big injustice at the time, but I was only 12 or 13 and Torquay was a far way from Plymouth. But I read about it in NME and it became one of the things I've always held against mum ("you never let me see David Bowie" "you used to make me drink cold tea" "you never bought the basket I made at Sunday school," etc).

I finally did see David in 1983 on the Serious Moonlight Tour. I saw the ad in NME and immediately requested a ticket for London but received Milton Keynes instead. At the time the ticket was in my eager hand, I hadn't passed my driving test, but the thought of being able to drive to MK in my Datsun, a hand-me-down from my dad which cost me approx £1,600, spurred me on and I passed with three weeks to go before the gig. I booked accommodation at The Cock, Stony Stratford (not far from Milton Keynes Bowl), and, armed with an AA route map, set off for the great adventure, a Plymothian aged 22 with zero experience of motorway driving.

For some reason I hadn't brought an outfit to wear. I didn't like to wear jeans back then - I thought they made me look fat. So I found myself in a rather staid ladies' boutique in Stony Stratford looking for something to wear. I bought the most horrendous jade green pair of trousers with a jacket in a rigid unmoving fabric. I wore these with my red shoes (made me think of the video for Let's Dance with the aborigine girl in the red shoes) and a turquoise t-shirt. When I turned up for the gig, very early, I felt a bit out of place: everyone else seemed to be wearing jeans. Somehow I went the whole day, several hours, without speaking to anyone (chronically shy), or buying anything except for an official t-shirt. I didn't buy any drinks in case I needed the loo, and I wanted to keep my spot. It wasn't too near the front but it wasn't too nar the back either.

It was a sunny day and I enjoyed the support acts: Madonna, hardly famous then, prancing around singing "Like a Virgin." The Beat, who I'd seen before. Icehouse, whose appearance was preceded by a flying banner from an aircraft. I became a big Icehouse fan after this. And finally, David Bowie.

This was what I call his commercial time when he looked gorgeous, wore sharp suits and played music that sold in millions. He changed suits about three times, leaving Carlos Alomar to play virtuoso guitar solos. I was transfixed the whole time. I think we danced, swayed, clapped. "We" being the adoring audience of thousands. At the end, the huge moon-shaped shapes at the side of the stage opened and dozens of helium balloons were released. I was so thrilled to catch one, and so disappointed when it got taken from me at the gate. I couldn't believe they needed them for the next performance.

It took ages for me to find my car. In the excitement of arriving, I hadn't clocked which field I was in. Suddenly it all felt very flat because I had no-one to share the experience with. There were no mobile phones then and it was already half past eleven. So I crept back to Stony Stratford and my hotel room.

The next morning, the breakfast room was filled with people wearing the official t-shirts, smiling at each other in acknowledgment. I felt proud to be part of a tribe. I drove home light in heart, occasionally even doing more than 70 mph.

I've seen him three times now but the first time was the most special, even if it was also the loneliest.
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Thursday, August 10, 2006

Big Brother - thank God it's nearly over

As it limps towards the finish post, is this the end of the line for Big Brother? It's been longer this year and even more tedious than last year.

As always, every year I resolve I won't watch it this time. But somehow I succumb. This year, it started the day before the Eurovision Song Contest so I'd gone to my mum's in Devon to watch the songs and it was a no-brainer we would watch BB. Yes, even though I'm near the age of the hapless Susie (and I'm still smarting from the housemates sneering that she was too old to take part), my mum is even older (obviously) and she still watches it too. She even watches Love Island. I couldn't take on two reality series at the same time. Too much of a commitment.

Anyway, back to BB. It's pretty safe to say that Nikki will go back into the main house, so I'm confident to predict the winning order: #1 Pete, #2 Nikki, #3 Glyn, #4 Richard, #5 Aishling. I'm assuming Imogen will be evicted this week. About time! She may be pretty, but soooo dull. I can't believe she's supposed to have a degree. The thing that irks me most about the housemates is their level of intelligence. There's never any interesting debate about anything, or if there is, we don't see it. Some of the tasks show their woeful stupidity. I can't believe how, with so many empty hours stretching before them, they don't have interesting debates about art, literature, sociology....anything!

And I'm with Susie on the swearing. Must be an age thing. I used to think that if (God forbid) I ever ended up in the BB house, I would introduce them to some debate on good food, wine, music, literature, ballet (maybe only with Richard, thinking about it).....but I guess the reality would be that I wouldn't play spin the bottle, the prospect of kissing Glyn being too horrific, and I would drink tea endlessly.

BB used to be a good psychological study. It was fascinating seeing all the misfits trying to interact with each other. But after the first couple of years, they all became wise to performing for the cameras and had tactics to try to win. Mikey, for example, tried to make himself visible in the last fortnight by arguing with everyone. It backfired and he got evicted. That was a magical moment, as was Sezer's eviction. I was so thrilled that the two arrogant muppets were put in their place. Nikki's eviction was a mistake and BB's fault for giving the public too many to choose from. They should have turned it into "you're voting to SAVE...." instead of voting to evict.

Pete used to be endearing but I'm very cynical about his sudden revelations about his mother, the crying and the news that his dad suddenly wants to get in touch. Seems a little manufactured at this stage. I'm not sure why everyone seems so enchanted with Glyn. His whiny voice and constant cries for "foooood" drive me crazy. His poor mum will be dealing with a monster when he gets out.

So, not much longer to endure. I don't even watch it every day now, so tedious has it become. I hereby commit that I will watch the next celebrity version (only 3 weeks long) but next year I may hoist my colours on the good ship Love Island.

Monday, August 07, 2006

The Bolshoi Ballet in Swan Lake

On Saturday (Aug 5) went to see the Bolshoi in Swan Lake at Covent Garden. Haven't seen the Bolshoi before. For the last two summers, have taken my mum to see the Kirov. Coincidentally they were also in London at the same time but because they've changed their name to the Maryinsky, I missed the programme announcement. Anyway, we were excited at the prospect of seeing the Bolshoi. Their version of Swan Lake is much acclaimed, and the Russian productions are always special with sumptuous costumes and gorgeous sets and scenery.

Big disappointment!

I've seen many ballets over the years and this one was probably the most boring. The two leads were soloists, not principals, and the young male had no charisma whatsoever. It seemed like the company was going through the motions; there was no passion, no sparkle. The orchestra was too slow. I kept thinking "put some heat under it!" like Jack Lemmon in Some Like It Hot. Even the costumes and set looked tired. Usually in Swan Lake (we've seen several versions) there's some trickery or devices to make you think you're watching water and swans. There was nothing notable in this version. A tatty curtain with a swan painted on it was lowered every now and then, but that was it.

I looked eagerly in the Sunday Times to see if they'd reviewed the production but they'd reviewed the Bolshoi's new production of The Pharoah's Daughter. Very enthusiastic review and said the Kirov had been outshone. Perhaps they put all their investment into the Pharoah. Swan Lake has been in their repertoire for ever; perhaps they should shelve it for a few years.

Next year we'll be seeing the Maryinsky (hopefully).

The best version of Swan Lake I ever saw was at the Coliseum with Rudolf Nureyev. It was in the early 80s and he'd lost it in terms of his ability to dance, but he was still very commanding and charismatic. Odette/Odile was a Japanese dancer and she was amazing. She actually danced some of the segments that he should have danced. I'll always remember how she fluttered across the lake like a bird.
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