Since last we met, my travels have taken me to Glasgow, Swindon and Belfast. The key headlines from each: Tricky Questions; Concrete Jungle; Fowl Alert.
So, the Glasgow trip first. I'm always glad of an excuse to return to my home town, so when the makers of the BBC 2 quiz show Eggheads extended an invitation, I was delighted to accept. They're lining up a series of "Celebrity" episodes for transmission sometime near Christmas, and some bright spark had thought of having a team of Voice-over Artists. First challenge, when we arrived for the show? Choose a team name. This was the subject of hot debate, over a cold lunch. I can exclusively reveal that the final choice was Rent-a-Gob. Elegant, don't you think?
That's about all I can reveal, without spoiling the various surprises of the show, but here's a glimpse of our team:
(L to R) Redd Pepper, Me, Jon "Weakest Link" Briggs, Steve Punt, Mitch Johnson.
Eggheads is made at the BBC studios in Glasgow. Always nicely nostalgic for me to work there, as it was BBC Scotland that gave me my first professional broadcasting job, back in 1978. The fine old building in which I worked has now been reduced to rubble, and the site awaits eventual redevelopment (rather more eventual than was envisaged, it turns out!) while the Beeb now occupies a glossy glass box in the heart of town beside the Clyde.
I did most of my growing-up in a house across the road from the old BBC building, so it was always just sitting there when I looked out of the window. On the occasion of this visit, I was staying in a hotel just across the river from the new building, so there was something slightly familiar about the concept of eating breakfast whilst looking out at the day's workplace only yards away. Fortunately, I did manage to remember that it was now a river, not a road, that lay in between home and work, so feet remained dry!
And as for the quiz itself, well, I won't spoil the surprise (transmission is due shortly before Christmas), but I would refer you to that headline I mentioned....
And so to Swindon, the latest venue for our periodical Radio Lags' Night Out, that jolly fixture which brings together a disparate array of wireless practitioners intent on (a) a good time; (b) a drink or two; (c) foul and contemptible gossip; and (d) staying awake til long after bedtime. I am pleased to report that all of the above was achieved, but there was a time when it was looking a little questionable. Swindon must have one of Britain's least navigable town centres. A veritable feast of that greying 1970s concrete, it gives little quarter to the casual visitor. The famous Magic Roundabout (pictured above) is definitely a highlight. A quick Google of the postcode for our budget hotel had brought up a rather vague location. The newly built commercial estate on which it sits is sufficiently newly built to be absent from the map, but it appeared to be within a couple of miles of the railway station. No worries, I thought, I'll get a cab from the station. This was a good idea. And I should have stuck to it. So, what went wrong? Well, I fell for the yarn spun by a Swindon taxi driver at the station. He assured me that the hotel I wanted was just round the corner, so close that it made no sense to go by cab and I'd be there in a trice if I just wandered up the road and turned right. I set off, trying to ignore the drizzling rain, and followed the directions. Moments later, I found myself facing an array of featureless buildings and a hotel or two. But not my hotel. I continued to wander, but the mystery just deepened. Then I saw a row of Bus Stops, with maps. Phew! I even found a service that listed a destination with a similar name to my hotel's location. Simples! Now, which way should I be going? This side of the road or t'other? I tried wandering into the local Bus Station, but the uniformed figure lounging against the wall had no idea and just gestured vaguely in the direction of the street from which I'd just come. Muttering darkly, I returned to the Bus Stop Maze to review my options. At that, a gaggle of local Pensioners fluttered in and roosted on the seats in the shelter. "Might any of you ladies know the way to Kembury Street?" I ventured. None of them, it transpired, had any clue where Kembury Street was. Sadly this proved no impediment to a lengthy group discussion about where it might be. I swear I was stuck there for 10 minutes listening to the theories. I left none the wiser, and with the heady aroma of Algipan assaulting my sinuses!
And so, dear friends, we draw a veil on Swindon and move on to matters Fowl.
This was a trip to Northern Ireland, to visit some friends in farming territory on the outskirts of Belfast. Very enjoyable, with good hospitality and fine fresh air. And some scary wildlife...
This is Cogburn. The rooster. And, yes, he comes complete with a John Wayne swagger and a "don't mess with me matey" attitude. I never expected to be cowed by an aggressive chicken, but encountering Cogburn changed all that! He patrols his territory thoroughly, sizes you up and then runs at you. If he gets close enough, he then leaps into the air, turns his heel spurs your way and digs in with vigour. The approved technique is to push him away with your foot while you prepare to scarper. He reacts to this rather in the manner of one of those town-centre drunks you see on Police Camera ASBO Danger Reality Crime Wars Uncut when you can't find anything worth watching on Sky, staggering backwards, neck puffing, shoulders swinging, before rushing forward for Round Two.
Keeping my eyes fixed on the hostile fowl, I started to reverse slowly towards the safety of the house. It was going fine until I heard a threatening hiss and a loud HONK! Oh Lord, now it's the bl**dy Geese!
This gorgeous family of feathered beauties wander round the farm according to some unpublished schedule all their own. The fact that you're standing there is no reason to change their plan. George, the Boss Goose (the girl is called Mildred!) simply walks up to you and delivers a series of clear messages: stretched neck and hissing, honking, wing flapping and the repeated thwack of webbed feet on tarmac. It doesn't take a genius to translate. Two words, and the second one is "off". I beat a hasty retreat.
You know, I don't think the farming life is for me!