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

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Sunday, January 20, 2013

The blizzards of 1963

Deep snow in Burrow, Lancs, 1963
It's snowing.
As usual, the UK is grinding to a halt: there have been angry scenes at Heathrow airport.
But it all pales into insignificance compared to the blizzards of 1963.
If you get chance to see it, BBC2 showed an amazing programme from then entitled "Winterwatch: 1963."
That winter, the snow came in December and didn't disappear until March.
With temperatures so cold the sea froze in places, 1963 is one of the coldest winters on record.
It began abruptly just before Christmas in 1962. The weeks before had been changeable and stormy, but then on 22 December a high pressure system moved to the north-east of the British Isles, dragging bitterly cold winds across the country. This situation was to last much of the winter.
Many people didn't have central heating. People were literally trapped in their houses, with snow piled in drifts up to the roofs.
My parents were living in St Budeaux, Plymouth, and my dad was unable to get home from Bickleigh Barracks for four days. My mum couldn't get outside the door. Eventually a truck brought my dad home and he dug us out (I was two years old). My dad still went to work the following evening. He put on his great coat and boots and walked to Bickleigh, several miles away.
The TV programme showed scenes you would never imagine seeing in Britain. The sea, frozen. People "commuting" to work across the Thames on skates. Trains so buried under snow, it took teams of dozens of men days to liberate them.
 The snow was so deep farmers couldn't get to their livestock, and many animals starved to death.Several people died as a direct result of the weather.
This snow set the scene for the next two months, as much of England remained covered every day until early March 1963
The first thaw was gentle and everyone heaved a sigh of relief. But just a few days later, the freeze was back - and the second thaw was fast and brutal causing floods.
Me out in the snow today

John sets off early this morning

Thursday, January 17, 2013

A great day in broadcasting history

Viewers of BBC Breakfast News today will be aware that today marks the 30th anniversary of the birth of breakfast TV in the UK.

That's not the only milestone. This day, 30 years ago, two new local radio stations were born, BBC Radios Devon and Cornwall.  I was hired by Radio Devon as a fresh faced reporter called Gail Tyler, and I was proud to be there on launch day.

When the station launched it came from Broadcasting House in Plymouth. The studio complex in Exeter was still being built, and two Portakabins were being used on the building site.

We all came together a few months before the launch and spent six wonderful weeks in London training. I was the youngest, and the only one with absolutely no radio experience. So there were quite a few memorable faux pas along the way. One of our training projects was to "find" someone interesting and interview them.  My great friend Julie Skentelbery, who was also in London with Radio Cornwall, facilitated a meeting for me with one of her former colleagues on the Sunday Independent:  Alastair Campbell.

He had played the bagpipes as a busker in the underground.

We recorded the interview at Marble Arch underground. Alastair didn't have his bagpipes. I was not in full control of my equipment (a Uher tape recorder) so used the Auto setting, and the sound quality was terrible.  Worse still, I had about 20 minutes of Alastair rambling on and I didn't know how to edit. Fortunately Julie seized the razor blade and saved the day.

The fledgling radio station played host to the Director General, Alasdair Milne, who sadly died last week.  Mr Milne is seated on the right, looking as if he might go for a spin on the turntable. I am "at the controls" in the Plymouth studio. My colleagues in the picture were Mary Saunders; the late and great Reg Henderson Brookes (second right), and the wonderful David Bassett, whose booming voice would announce "Bon bons for all, this day!"  He always came into the office with a great flourish, and if we didn't pay enough attention he would go out and come back in again.

Alasdair Milne was mentioned on the very popular Treasure Hunt quiz show presented by Douglas Mounce.  The question was: "who wrote Winnie the Pooh?" and quick as a flash the listener replied "Alasdair Milne."

Other memories:
  • My first live news bulletin, which went out on a Sunday and was four minutes long.  Mike Gibbons, our Programme Organiser, was on the beach in Weston-super-Mare and managed to pick up the transmission. He called me to say it was very good, but I'd forgotten to say who I was.
  • As a more experienced newsreader, I became adept at editing copy as I read it. During a bulletin Allan Urry rushed in with "news just in," and as he and David Willis were great jokers, I didn't trust the copy and ended up saying "The dead man....is not thought to be seriously hurt."  I came out of the studio with great poise, hoping I had got away with it, but then picked up the phone to a listener who said "tell your newsreader she made my day"  (I had denied being the newsreader).
  •  Evelyn the cleaner had her favourites and fortunately I was one of them; one of my colleagues had to suffer the indignity of Evelyn Hoovering outside the news cubicle as she read the 10 minute bulletin.


Tuesday, January 08, 2013

David Bowie: Where Are We Now?

Goodness knows how it was kept a secret, but when millions of Davis Bowie fans woke today they learned that their hero, 66 today, had come out of retirement and issued a single.

Not only that, an album is to follow in March and can be pre-ordered!

Friends will know that David Bowie has been an obsession of mine since I was 12. I've written about him several times on this blog. In 2007, I was worrying why we never heard anything about him.

I've downloaded the single, of course. It is a gentle, dreamy, poignant evocation of Bowie's time in Berlin. The accompanying video shows his face superimposed on the body of a puppet.

There have been rumours for years that Bowie is not in good health. There is something of a farewell about this song and the video, where he seems wistful and almost tearful at times. I just pray that isn't the case.


Thursday, January 03, 2013

Lieutenant Pigeon

Introducing the sad, lonely pigeon who lives in our garden.

I'm afraid he's a bit camera shy, so he doesn't pose very well for photos.
There is he, enjoying the rare flash of sunshine that we had on New Year's Day.

This plump wood pigeon has lived in our garden for the last couple of years. We didn't realise it until we got rid of the previous owner's leylandii trees and started to notice the pigeon roosting on the fence. He came back day after day. When spring came, a year later, he was still on the fence but occasionally joined by his mate.

Now he is solitary again.

He turns up every day at 8.30 and spends the hours pecking hopefully beneath the bird feeders, picking up the seeds that smaller birds have dropped. I imagine he must have several gardens he visits because I doubt if he would be so plump on the strength of our dropped seeds.

When the sun comes out, he perches on the garage roof and his head droops to his chest as he enjoys the warmth on his feathers.
When it's windy and wet, he sits gloomily on the fence and his plumage gets ruffled.

I've grown attached to "the pidge" and look out for him during the day when I'm working, with my view of the garden. He could be around for quite a while. I'm told they live between 3 - 5 years, occasionally up to 15.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

The real reason we put on weight after a diet (it might surprise you)

Are you on a diet?  It's that time of year. 

I am a little smug, having lost a stone and a half in the run - up to Christmas, and not having put any weight back on. That meant that there were no festive niceties in the house. No cheese, no Christmas cake, no trifle, no chocolates.  J didn't mind - he still had his favourite items, nuts, beer, cheesecake and cream.  I enjoyed a normal Christmas dinner; I just didn't have anything else that day. And I treated myself to a couple of mince pies over the break, outrageously calorific at 250 each. I painstakingly worked them into my weight maintenance target of 1400 calories.

Yes, 1,400 calories. That's the MAX number of daily calories I need to keep my weight stable.

I discovered this by having my metabolic rate tested courtesy of Alizonne. Using a device called a MedGem, I discovered that far from the generous 1,878 calories quoted for my daily needs by Nutracheck and other diet sites, I require no more than 1,400.   Astute dieters among you will know that 1,400 is actually the number quoted for weight loss. It's the target Nutracheck set me when I said I wanted to lose one to two pounds a week. I stuck to it and couldn't understand why the pounds wouldn't budge.

I'm now convinced the main reason why we put the weight back on is that we're not given a realistic picture of how little we should eat in order to keep our weight stable.

No wonder Joanna Lumley talks about mainly eating lettuce.  Her words "don't eat that cupcake, you'll get fat, you fool" ring in my ears. I've decided I don't want to put on weight again. I hate having to wear clothes in a larger size, and it becomes harder and harder to lose weight as you get older. Do the maths:  if I gain weight on more than 1400 calories a day, I'm going to have to drop to 900 calories a day to lose weight.  Each pound gained is equivalent to 3,500 calories. If I was blissfully unaware and keeping to 1,878 calories a day, I would have gained a few pounds already.

I'm still using Nutracheck daily but now I use it to ensure I don't exceed 1400 calories a day. If we're going to the pub on Friday, I eat frugally during the day to ensure I can have scampi and chips. (The pub doesn't offer many healthy options - and life is too short to always go for poached fish!). Occasionally I do what I call "an offset" to have something I like. A very long walk on Monday meant I could have one of those mince pies.

Now you can see as well why people start to see exercise as a necessity. Elizabeth Hurley and Nigella Lawson have both talked about taking more exercise in order to be able to eat more. If I exercise more, my metabolic rate will rise. I look forward to warmer weather when I will happily get my bike out.

So if your New Year's resolution is to lose weight, I wish you luck ---- and recommend very strongly that you get your metabolic rate tested at the end of it so that you have every chance of success in the harder science of keeping the weight off.
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