Sunday, 21 December 2008


It's 20 years today since the dreadful loss of PanAm 103, blown up by a bomb over the town of Lockerbie. I guess we all have our own personal "you know exactly where you were, when..." lists. For me, the night of Lockerbie is definitely on the list.

I was the late-shift television continuity announcer on BBC1 that evening, and we were into the network's main evening entertainment schedule when word came through from the newsroom that there had been a plane crash in the Borders. Probably a military jet on a low flying exercise, I thought, knowing the Borders as a prime area for RAF training sorties. Some more time went by, and then a clearer picture began to emerge. By the time it became clear this was a large passenger jet, we were broadcasting a lavish and hugely expensive drama production, which had been the subject of major-league promotion and and media buzz. Interrupting such a programme for a Newsflash was not something the BBC did lightly, but this was clearly a major story and - in the days before internet and tv rolling news channels - we ought to get it on air as soon as possible. As soon as Newsroom were ready, the Presentation Director faded the drama to black, I selected the "News Report" caption to my vision output, opened the microphone and explained to the viewers that we were interrupting the programme to cross to Nicholas Witchell in the Newsroom.

As Witchell broke the shocking news to the audience, up in the Pres suite, we faced a little concern of our own: how are we going to get neatly back into the play we interrupted? (This is typical of life in a Presentation department. World changing events may be going on outside, and we worry about the minutiae of making the channel look smooth! But, hey, that's what Pres is there for!) In this instance, luck was on my side. I'd actually been watching the play and enjoying it, rather than - as usual - reading the paper with my feet up. "Don't worry" I said to the Director "Rewind the tape by 30 seconds or so, I'll do a recap of the story so far, then you run the tape when I start waving." (no instant start video servers in those days. Programme tapes needed a 5-second run-up) At that, the newsflash ended, we put up an appropriate caption and I embarked on my impromptu recap, waved manically at the Director at an appropriate point, and we got back into the play. If you ever fancy testing your knowledge and observation of a drama you've just been watching, I heartily recommend doing it live and scriptless on BBC1 as a way of concentrating the mind!!

There was a further moment of mad juggling at the end of the play. News were all set to appear at the programme junction, with a fuller report on the incident. As the credits rolled on the drama, our preview monitors showed a shot of an empty chair on the news set. "You ok, News? With you in 1 minute." Yes, they'd be fine, they assured us. "30 seconds, News. You ready?" Still nobody in the presenter's chair, but still they sounded confident. The producer credit and BBC copyright notice froze, centre frame, and the theme music ended. As the vision began to fade to black, the talkback from News erupted: "Don't come to us, Pres, we can't go ahead!". It's at a time like this that human hands on buttons and faders score big time over a computerised transmission system. With a splendid display of fast fingerwork, we got the BBC1 network symbol up on screen, and I began to chat away on air about the delights to come, while the Director hastily shuffled her options in the main gallery next door. An adrenaline-filled few moments, but we got away with it!

So, that was my Lockerbie night, exactly 20 years ago.

The enormity of the incident itself was brought home to me soon after, as I made the drive from London to Glasgow, for a seasonal break. With me in the car, my wife and my newly born son, Jamie, just a few days old. The route to Glasgow took us up the A74, slowing to a crawl as we passed Lockerbie, since the road was down to half its normal width, on account of the damage the plane crash had caused to the southbound carriageway. Our slow passage past the site afforded us a clear view of the devastation wrought on Lockerbie. Houses, roofless and scorched, starkly illuminated by temporary floodlights, and the enormous crater gouged out at the roadside, where a wing laden with fuel had crashed to earth, unleashing the fireball that vapourised not only bricks and mortar but also the residents within. By now, the crash investigators knew it had been a bomb. On the back seat of the car, Jamie slumbered on. He'd entered the world on the 12th of December and, two weeks on, I couldn't help but wonder just what sort of a world it was that he'd entered.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Farewell, Mr Bagpuss

Today's News reports the death, at 83, of Oliver Postgate, the creator of some of the best loved shows from what people of a certain age like to recall as the Golden Age of children's television.
This was the man who brought us the Clangers, in all their knitted glory, complete with dialogue played on the Swannee Whistle. The driving force of Ivor the Engine, too, and Bagpuss.

Bagpuss image © BBC

These were simple creations, but utterly charming. No computer wizardry, just humane warmth. As the narration said, of Bagpuss: "Just an old, saggy, cloth cat. Baggy and a bit loose at the seams." For those of us who are also beginning to feel a bit baggy and loose at the seams, these characters evoke some very special memories. So, cheers, Mr Postgate and, as the Clangers' Soup Dragon would surely have said: "Whoo-woo-woop? Woo wu wooooooh."

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Necessary journeys

Now then. Winter in the UK and we're having a bit of a cold spell. This means we'll soon be in for a forest of well-intentioned advice, from local authorities, police, the Highways Agency and others of their ilk, all rushing to warn Motorists not to travel unless their journey is really necessary.

This hardy perennial can be guaranteed to pop up every winter, and I swear it only does so to irritate me.

"Motorists" for a start. I'd like to see this term banished to the history books. It's redolent of a bygone age, of the illicit pleasures of Mr Toad, a new and daring pursuit for the well-to-do. It belongs in that era when a smart young cad-about-town would take a young filly for a spin through country lanes, or a family might pack the perfect picnic hamper and set-off with their perfectly scrubbed children for a charabanc outing to a summer meadow, there to meander without care, or bask in the afternoon sun, blowing dandelion clocks and taking in the heady aroma of wildflowers, as the ....... well, you get the picture. The point is, life on four wheels just isn't like that anymore! It may sound like a minor thing, but I actually think that the continued use of this term is damaging, as it allows governments and regulatory bodies to continue to paint the car user as somehow removed from the rest of responsible society. Once you've positioned them thus, it becomes a bit easier to clobber them with draconian regulations, of the sort that require the suspension of normal rules of evidence and legal procedure. After all, they're Motorists, they're not like you and me. Wrong! They ARE you and me, and it's time, I say, for those in authority to acknowledge that driving a car is something that people do, and will continue to do.

Oops...heading off on a rant. Calm down dear!

When is a journey necessary? Well, again, it's all anchored in the past, isn't it? Those jolly country jaunts weren't necessary, but who makes that sort of trip in miserable winter weather conditions? In fact, given the state of Britain's roads and the level of traffic congestion we have today, does anyone really head out there for pleasure? A dark night, blizzard conditions, floods, plage and pestilence? I know: let's go for a drive! I'm not convinced.

As I write this, darkness has fallen in London and it's started to rain again. You wait. Any minute now, some herbert will be on the radio with another of these infernal warnings. Well, I just don't care. Home is where I want to be and that makes my journey necessary.

Wish me luck as you wave me goodbye. I may be some time.

Thursday, 27 November 2008


An anniversary for me this week. 30 years since my first paid employment as a broadcaster. It was this week in November 1978 that BBC Scotland were bold enough to take me on, as the youngest staff presenter the BBC had ever booked. In fact, they were so dubious about the whole thing that they had to send off to London for permission to give the job to such a callow youth. While they waited for the BBC equivalent of the Vatican's white smoke, they fiddled the issue and put me on a temporary Engineering grade. All was soon sorted, though.
So, 30 years of professional rabbiting, muttering, shouting and rambling on British radio and television. What fun, and what a privilege! And what changing times, not least in the technology of it all. From playing vinyl records, tapes and cartridges in radio, 2-inch and 1-inch video and even telecine in TV, to the era in which a hard-disk playout server seems to be the source of everything. It mostly whirrs along quite nicely, but there's not so much to get excited about when the equipment you're battling with is an inscrutable black box in a chilled server room at the other end of the building!
Anyway, enough Luddite rumbling from me for now. I hereby wish myself a happy Pearl anniversary. Send gifts of suitable jewellery to the usual address.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Istanbul this morning, homeward bound.

Last call on this mini-adventure is the exciting city of Istanbul. It's a big place, population upwards of 10 million, and an intriguing mix of the ancient and the modern. On crowded streets, trams glide past market stalls selling all manner of colourful goods, while moustached, leather-jacket-clad salesmen sweep towards you with an armful of rugs.

The famous Grand Bazaar is something to behold, though the most accurate marketing statement is probably the one offered, with a large grin, by one of the vendors near the entrance: "We won't cheat you as much as the others!".

I'm leaving the ship now, as duy calls back in London. Many thanks to the good folks of Cunard for such a memorable time and, of course, to the TOGS, without whom.....

See you back in Blighty!

Last Night at Sea

Well, I've made it to my last night on this glorious, windswept, TOGS' Voyage.

All going swimmingly, apart from one poorly TOG who they think might have appendicitis. Either that or she's getting her excuse in early for dodging Alan Dedicoat's karaoke efforts.

Today we anchored off the Turkish port of Dikili. Many of us braved the rain and went ashore to explore its delights. To describe it as a one-horse-town might be to do a disservice to the horse, who may simply have been on annual leave at the time of our visit. Actually, Dikili did have a very nice sweetie shop, a tremendously well stocked bucket emporium and a number of outlets selling shiny fresh fish. Outside each fish shop was a scraggy, but hopeful looking cat. There was also a cat seeking refuge from the rain in the engine bay of the local police car. We returned to the ship, pausing only to neck a Turkish coffee in a Turkish cafe.

I promised myself an early night tonight, yet it seems to have become unexpectedly late. I blame the two TOGS who detained me in the bar. And one of them stole the slice of lime out of my gin. Trying to ward off the scurvy, I suppose.

Must close now. I've just seen the members of the string quartet heading, instruments under arm, for the exit. If they put on warm clothing and strike up with Nearer My God To Thee, I'm heading for the lifeboats, or perhaps just back to the bar.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Still at Sea

To paraphrase Brian Hanrahan, I'm not allowed to tell you how many TOGS went ashore to visit the monastery at Volos, but I counted them all out and I counted them all back again. My last-minute decision to wimp out of the trip, on the grounds of inclement weather and inadequate personal cladding, was thoroughly vindicated. The TOGS returned chilled and windswept. A good time was had by all though. The ancient monastery comes highly recommended by today's visitors, though their initial excitement at discovering a 16,000 litre barrel of wine up at the mountain top turned to despair when they realised that it had been drained before their arrival. Coincidence....?

Dickie bows and posh frocks were required for this evening's Black & White Ball. A bit of a shock for me, as this was a late change to the schedule and I hadn't packed for a Formal Night. As luck would have it, Alan Dedicoat had left his DJ hanging in my wardrobe for safe keeping, ready for his return to the ship next week. Only one problem: he and I are about a foot different in height. Nothing the on-board tailor can't sort though. Which is good news for me but may be tricky for Deadly in a few days' time. Mind you, the extra braid round the cuffs may suit him. Don't tell him, will you? By the time he rumbles it I'll be safely back in Blighty.

We're sailing through the night as I write this missive. I was sitting in the comfortably appointed Commodore Club, listening to an entertainer who sounds uncannily like the late Hubert Gregg singing George Formby songs, while I made a thorough assessment of the accommodation for next week's live radio broadcasts, but then I heard the mournful sound of a foghorn off the starboard bow, which appeared to be gradually getting closer. Natural caution made me abandon my position near the front on the foggy side and take refuge with two TOGS from Holmfirth in the ship's Casino. I can't hear the foghorn anymore, which probably means the danger has passed. Or could it mean that those manning the foghorn have simply nodded off? Time will tell. Whatever, I have confidence in the crew of this mighty ship. I'm sure they have someone up at the bow with a decent torch.

Here's a pic of me in action at last night's TOGS' Champagne Reception, with Pudsey keeping a weather eye on proceedings.

All at Sea 2

Greetings from the port of Volos, where the good ship Queen Victoria docked at 0900 local time today. It's cloudy and cold, and we're berthed here in one of Greece's biggest container ports. As I survey the scene from the poop deck, I can see cranes, containers, an oil tanker and a bulk-carrier loading shredded scrap metal.......Oh yes, and a fleet of coaches being boarded by a fleet of TOGS, heading off for today's excursion. These are the hardy ones. The trip includes a 150-step climb up a rocky hillside to reach a historic monastery at The Meteora (means "suspended rocks" or "in the heavens above" depending on who you believe) and there's a strict dress code for those who wish to venture in. Skirts below the knee are de rigeur, and woe betide the female TOG who sports a pair of trousers. Not for her the warm welcome and the monastic embrace. A sound thrashing from the brotherhood, more like. Come to think of it, I'm sure that's a positive incentive for some TOGS!
Here are a few of the grop, preparing for departure, complete with Pudsey the Children-in-Need bear. I hope the monks don't take exception to his lack of formal attire.

I waved the TOGS off on their adventure and then returned to my cabin for a ship's biscuit and some restorative cocoa. It was just too windy and cold for me to contemplate the hill climb to the famous monastery and, besides, I didn't have room for warm clothing when I packed my case for this trip. I've made good use of my time in the Queen Victoria's excellent Gym, and I'll be poised with the hypothermia treatment when the TOGS return at teatime.

Monday, 17 November 2008

All at Sea

Off on a bit of an adventure now. It's time for the TOGS' Voyage. (If you're new to the concept of TOGS, see my earlier posting on the subject, or listen to Terry Wogan on Radio 2!) In a new and daring venture, some 300 of our loyal listeners have booked themselves on Cunard's latest cruise giant, the Queen Victoria. Their voyage takes them around Ancient Wonders of the Mediterranean and it's my pleasure to be able to join them for the first few days of this exciting outing. We sailed tonight from the port of Piraeus, near Athens. This giant of a ship slipped her moorings and edged out of the harbour so smoothly and quietly that it took a moment or two to be really sure she was actually moving. In a trice, the memory of a drizzly London was erased, to be replaced by.....a torrential downpour in Piraeus! But at least you get a better class of thunderstorm in Greece.
As soon as we were under way, a champagne reception kicked off the TOGS' Voyage in style. We saluted the TOGS and their great achievements in fund raising for the Children in Need charity. And now, at the end of a long and arduous (Don't you mean "drink laden"? Ed.) day, I've now retired to my Stateroom to write these words and, perchance, to dream. Tomorrow is another day, this time in the port of Volos. Assuming, that is, that the ship safely navigates what looks to me like quite a tight path through the various small islands that punctuate the Aegean Sea. It is very dark out there. But I'm sure these guys know what they're doing... Don't they?

Volos has a Monastery, and tomorrow we're going to visit it. Very strict dress code, apparently. Women must wear skirts. Not above the knee. Trousers are right out, it seems. Questions come to mind: What's wrong with trousers? Will the monks be inspecting the skirts for suitability? If yes, how do they avoid studying too closely and giving the wrong impression? Will one particular monk be in overall command of the skirt regime? If yes, will he be called Brother Skirtchecker? One thing is for sure. My journalistic instinct will come to the fore and I shall doggedly pursue answers to these questions and more. Further reports will follow. Probably from a police cell, or possibly the British Consulate.
Avast Behind!
Pictures below:
Voyage planning with Alan Dedicoat ... and yours truly on the majestic grand staircase

Manning the TOGS Desk, with (L) PR guru Dan Kirkby, and Alan Dedicoat.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Bond, Charles Bond...?

My attention was drawn, a couple of weeks ago, to a Facebook group entitled "Charles Nove to be the next James Bond". It turns out to be the creation of a keen Radio 2 listener called Nat. Thanks to the wonders of Facebook, membership of the group has been ticking steadily upwards, and the numbers are now well past 300.

The concept of me as the world famous secret agent is a new one on me, but I must say it seems an enticing concept! Thanks to some egging-on from my chums, I decided to venture a photographic audition...

What do we think? Am I made for the role? Should I set aside some filming dates in my crowded 2009 diary? Do I get the girl?

I guess it's over to EON Productions and Barbara Brocolli. Operators are standing by to take your call.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Piece of Cake!

Some newsreading shifts are tougher than others.
At Radio 2, the breakfast duty has its occasional compensations...

Here are this morning's 7.30am headlines, complete with Children-in-Need chocolate cupcake, which makes it all worthwhile...!

Commotion at Radio 2

Everyone I meet who knows I'm in some way associated with Radio 2 has something to say, or to ask, about the station's recent ... er ... turbulent times. (for our overseas viewers, or anyone who's somehow managed to miss out on this story, there's piles of stuff in the press about it, and the Media Guardian has a pretty decent summary here. )
I can think of a number of convincing reasons why I shouldn't wax too lyrical about all of this. It does expose a number of interesting problems and questions, though.
  • Is swearing and cruelty the common currency of young, thrusting, cutting-edge comedy?
  • If it is, does it have to be, or will there be something new along in due course?
  • How does cutting-edge comedy find its place on a popular mainstream broadcast channel without sometimes causing offence?
  • How does an organisation the size of the BBC run an effective system that prevents Really Bad Stuff from going to air, without also strangling creativity in a web of paperwork and rules & regulations?

I don't claim to know the answers!

One thing that really strikes me is the changing role of the Producer in radio. When I started in this game, 30 years ago, the Producer was the one sitting in the control room with the running order and the stopwatch. He or she was also listening to what came out of the loudspeakers. Today, on some shows, the Producer is in the studio with the "turn", joining in the fun and games, laughing at the jokes and playing an on-air role in the programme. I'm not levelling criticism at any individuals, but I do wonder if enough thought has been given to the difficulty of retaining objective oversight when the producer has become one of the acts in the circus.

Whatever, in all this, Radio 2 has lost the services of a Controller who knew the station forwards, backwards and sideways. It's very unsettling and we're all wondering what comes next.

Ho hum ...

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

The youth of today

Driving my younger son to his guitar lesson today, he and I fell into one of our discussions about music. Our tastes, as you might expect, differ a little. One way of dealing with this is for him to put in his earphones and enjoy selections from his own favourite repertoire. But there's a problem. The warnings I've drummed into him since his earliest Walkman years, about the need to protect his hearing by maintaining moderate listening levels, seem to have worked. The trouble is that my "cheesy old rubbish" emanating from the car speakers overwhelms the sound in his earphones so, from the passenger seat comes constant heckling and surreptitious adjustment of speaker volumes throughout the journey.

This isn't how life's supposed to turn out. Surely I'm supposed to be the one telling him: "You call that music? Turn that awful racket down!".
Oh dear. Where did I go wrong?

Friday, 17 October 2008

View from the Bridge

The wonderful world of Voice-over takes you to all sorts of places. Here are a couple of my favourite views, starting with the outlook from Voice-of-God corner:

Glamorously located behind a makeshift fence in a darkened corner of the function suite of a top London hotel, poised to announce the names of the nominees, losers and winners at a business awards ceremony. I love doing this sort of work. There's always a great buzz about it. You're a small cog in an extensive machine, working with a highly skilled team who descend on one of these rather anonymous function rooms and, in just a few hours, transform it with set, lights and theatrical magic, into a vibrant venue fit to host an exciting show.

"Voice of God" has become the industry term for my role. It's not my preferred expression, since I don't suffer from delusions of deity (well, only sometimes...). So, what to call it? Announcer seems a bit stiff and formal. Gob on a Stick, some say, but that sounds somewhat unsavoury. Actually, I've yet to find a description better than that coined by my former Radio 2 colleague, the late, and much missed, Ray Moore. "Coughing and barking in the undergrowth" he used to call it. The undergrowth being the decorative potted palms behind which the voice artiste is normally concealed as he barks out his sporadic bursts of unbridled vocal enthusiasm.

And here's another nice place to be. The voice-over booth at National Lottery HQ. The regular occupant is my esteemed colleague Alan Dedicoat, the Lottery's Voice of the Balls. When Alan is on holiday, or otherwise indisposed, it's time to draft in his stunt double ... yours truly! It's a trifle daunting, because Alan is very good and never gets it wrong. But it's live broadcasting, which is my great delight. The trickiest bit is being sure whether the ball tumbling out of the machine is a 6 or a 9. When they are sitting still, it's perfectly obvious, but add a bit of a spin and some sheen from the studio lighting and it can become confusing. There's always that slight nagging fear that I'll become the Voice of the Balls-Up but, so far, we've always got away with it!

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Royal Mail

I came home today to find a card from the Royal Mail.

"We've been unable to deliver your post as there is a fee due"

A fee of £1.06 to be precise, because someone has underpaid the postage on an item they've sent me. What a lot of postage to underpay, I thought. Closer examination reveals that the actual amount underpaid is 6p and there's a £1 handling charge.

This is happening a lot, I understand, since the introduction of Royal Mail's ludicrous Pricing in Proportion scheme, which replaced a simple array of weight-related pricing with a system requiring not only weighing but measuring too. It's easy to end up 6p adrift if your measuring and theirs don't precisely agree.
Now, I don't claim to have all the answers to the numerous problems of Royal Mail, but I can't help thinking that a system that costs £1 to collect 6 pence isn't at the cutting edge of business efficiency.

Friday, 5 September 2008

Life's Irritations #591

Call Centre Artificial Niceness

Someone, somewhere, is training Call Centre and Tele Sales operatives in the infuriating art of asking spurious, pseudo-caring questions. I'm sure it's meant to "humanise" the experience but, for me, it usually winds up making me hate the company responsible.

Cold callers, for example. They're not bad people. We've all got to make a living, after all. But if you've interrupted my busy day, at least have the courtesy to cut-to-the-chase.

Caller: Hello, is that Mr Nove?
CN: Yes
Caller: Hello Mr Nove, how are you today?
CN: (manfully fighting the desire to rant on about how my state of health and wellbeing is none of their concern) What can I do for you?

It's not just me, is it? Does anyone actually respond positively to this sort of thing?

Yesterday, I received a new mobile phone. A forced upgrade, after my battered old phone finally gave up the ghost and sputtered to a halt. Once you've got the phone, you charge it up and then ring the Activation line to get changed over from old phone to new. I rang the number and was warmly greeted by a call centre operative in warm Mumbai. I gave my details and awaited instructions. "And how is your life going, Mr Nove?" was what I got. That did it. One short diatribe from me later, he rather sheepishly agreed to get on with the business in hand. Then came a fulsome apology for having asked an inappropriate question. So now I feel bad for having barked at this poor man who's just trying to sound friendly. But what is it that makes his management believe that, when I call a number specifically designated for the activation of new phones, I want to be engaged in discussion about my life?

And ........ breathe .......

Monday, 1 September 2008

All Togged Up!

A cracking start to the weekend, with a grand adventure in Leicester, where I had the pleasure of joining The Togs at their annual Convention. For the uninitiated, I should explain that The Togs are the hardest of hardcore followers of Sir Terry Wogan's Radio 2 breakfast show. They have a whole community of their own, full of colourful characters with improbable names such as Luke Warm, Payne N Diaz and Edina Cloud. Hearts of gold, these folks - their charitable efforts raise huge amounts of money every year for the BBC Children in Need charity. The Convention provides a great excuse for a bit of a knees-up, and The Togs are kind enough to invite us Radio 2 folks to come along and share the fun.
Here we are, launching the 2009 Togs Celebrity Calendar
with, from left to right, "Pause for Thought" regulars Canon Roger Royle, Cpt Charles King of the Sally Army, Rabbi Pete Tobias and Rev Rob Gillion. Then Alan Dedicoat, me, Radio 2 Producer Alan Boyd, Sir Terry Wogan and John "Boggy" Marsh.

Onward into the evening, and the eagerly awaited Fancy Dress Competition with, of course, an expert panel of judges. Ours was a gruelling task, so I'm sure you'll understand that the glasses on the table are there for purely medicinal purposes....
The eventual winners? The Crinklies with their remarkable portrayal of Intrepid Explorer and Colourful Bug. This is the sort of thing that keeps Britain Great!
Togs, I salute you! And thanks to Hellen Bach for the pictures.
The Togs Celebrity Calendar, in aid of a very worthy cause, can be purchased from: and there's more Children in Need stuff on offer at:

Thursday, 28 August 2008


I've not been feeling 100% for the last few days. A bit of a stomach bug, I think, probably encouraged by an overly swift transition from American holiday time to a week of British BBC Radio 2 early shifts.
Mrs N has been doing what all good wives should do, and hectoring me about going to the doctor. I've been doing what blokes do and saying "No, no, I'm sure it's getting better."
Anyway, last night, in a moment of weakness, I thought I'd check out my symptoms on the web. I found a very promising site with a sophisticated Symptoms Checker which allows you to add in all your symptoms so that it can carefully consider your condition. I filled in my list of symtpoms. I shan't trouble you with the gory details. Suffice it to say that they are most of the symptoms you'd expect with a stomach bug! The computer went away to think for a while and then offered a long list of possible ailments. Prominent therein was:

DEAFNESS (an inability to hear sounds)

Er .... am I missing something? I think I might know if I was deaf. And it wouldn't be my stomach that was giving me the clue !

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Plenty of room on top!

I'm a Voice-over. And a radio broadcaster. And the boss of a London sound studio. What do these activities have in common? You spend a lot of your time sitting in a small room, staring at pieces of paper. So, it's good for the soul to get away and do something completely different. In my case, that often means driving this, the 1966 Routemaster double-decker bus, owned by me and four fine friends and colleagues.

Here's the view from the cab, as we navigate the country lanes of England, on the August Bank Holiday weekend. We were providing a shuttle service for the attendees of the brilliant Towersey Folk Festival. Every summer the tiny village of Towersey, in Oxfordshire, plays host to a fine array of folk musicians and a huge throng of visitors, most of whom set up camp in the fields on-site. Our job is to take them to and from the local town centre, where they can drain the cashpoint and stock up with supplies. Most of which come aboard in bags that go "clink clink"!
After a night under canvas in summer rain, our trips to the local Leisure Centre afford a very welcome chance for a hot shower too.

Festival-goers boarding our bus. If you think locusts harvest effectively, you should see this lot clear the shelves of the Co-Op in Thame town centre!

Here's me in action with the ticket machine, on a Conductor shift

And at the wheel of the mighty beast.

Happy days!

We're by the way, if you fancy hiring a bus for your special occasion.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

California Dreamin' pt2

After the fun and frolics of the conference in LA, we headed for San Francisco, pausing for an overnight stop at the picturesque town of Carmel. That's where Clint Eastwood was Mayor for a while back in the 80s. I kept hoping to bump into him, to see if I dared to mutter "Go ahead, punk, make my day!" I bet he loves that. He'll never have heard it before. Sadly, no sign of Clint, but there was a very fine Classic Car display in town. Interesting vehicles from all over the US, a few from further afield, and of course examples of those HUGE American cars in bubblegum pink that belong in nostalgic films about Drive-In movies and High School Proms.

One thing that struck me during this visit is how the US, long criticised for its status as a major world polluter, is now trying all sorts of ways to clean up its act. There are ads on TV and Radio encouraging fuel efficient driving and promoting ways to cut electricity and water usage. Many of the cities are now pushing cycling in big way. In LA, a local high school had done a sponsorship deal with local business to enable it to offer a free bike to any pupil who was prepared to sign an undertaking not to bring a car to school. What a great, positive idea!

Another very smart concept is the placing of bicycle racks on the fronts of all the service buses. An easy-to-use clamp holds the bike in place. The rider stands right in front of the bus driver when he is fitting his bike to the rack, so there's no chance of the driver not seeing him.

It seems like a great way to promote bicycle usage in town. If your working day is such that a bike would be useful for getting around, but your home-to-town commute is too long to make cycling all the way a practical solution, this could be just the ticket. Here in the UK, of course, the only time you're likely to see a bike on the front of a bus like this is when it's been impaled there and the rescue services are still looking for the unfortunate rider!
I'm really taken by these ideas, because they are about positive encouragement and enablement. Quite a contrast, I think, with the British approach which seems, sadly, to be anchored around punishment and taxation.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Life's Irritations. # 642

Hot Air Hand-driers. What is it with these devices? Great in theory, but so often infurating in practice.

Too much heat, not enough fan. So your hands are scorched, but still wet.

Too much fan, not enough heat. Hands cold, and still wet.

Unit activated by a sensor which requires your hands to be very close to the bottom of the machine, and a few inches to the side of the hole where the air comes out. As soon as you move your hands around, the blasted thing switches off.

Trust me. These devices are sent by hostile foreign powers intent on disrupting our equilibrium. They must be defeated.

Monday, 18 August 2008

California Dreamin'

Hello and welcome to Charles’ Blog, Episode One. Always good to be in at the beginning of something, I feel.

This opening gambit is being written 38,000 feet up, on a flight back to London from California. I've been there for a couple of weeks and it’s all come to an end a touch too soon for my liking.

I started my American sojourn on a work footing, with a trip to Los Angeles for an international Voice-over convention. Yes, it did just what it says on the tin: a convention of voice-over artists, from all over the world (though mostly from all over the US), gathered together in a hotel in the aspirationally named Avenue of the Stars, in LA’s Century City. For four fun-packed days, the voice community spoke, and listened, learned and discussed. It was great to put faces to names, kick around ideas on business strategy and discover how many of the challenges are common to all our markets. Such a relief to discover that voice artists everywhere occasionally struggle to find the desired interpretation from such gems of direction as: “Could you do that faster, but slower?” and “that’s a good read, but I’d like it less peach and maybe a touch more raspberry…”.

Curious place, Los Angeles. It is, famously, a city wedded to the car. On the way in from the airport, you can drive for many blocks without seeing a single pedestrian. It’s also, at least in the movies & showbiz districts, a place of some physical extremes. All around you are the skeletally thin, the bleached, the lipo’d, the nipped and tucked and the botoxed. Every so often you see someone who’s dodged the net of manufactured perfection and flies the flag for obesity. But where are the “ordinary” body shapes? They sure as heck aren’t in the Century Plaza Shopping Mall. I know. I lurked there for hours, in the name of scientific research! Security are probably still sweeping the area for the dodgy-looking Limey in the sun hat…

I love California. The sunshine, the breeze, the accents, the attitude, the welcome. I’ve always liked the experience of hiring a car in the US, too. Somehow, car hire in Britain seems rather difficult. It’s expensive, and you come away smothered in extra insurances you weren’t expecting and with the definite impression that the rental company is doing you a big favour by allowing you to borrow one of their precious offspring. I’ve always had better, cheaper, smoother experiences in America, and the pickup in LA was no exception. Things got off to a good start when, slightly overdressed for a Californian summer day, in my I’ve-been-to-a-business-convention jacket, I was greeted by the young lady at the counter with “Hello Sir, you look hot!”. I thanked her warmly for bolstering my faith in my often under-appreciated beefcake rating. She blushed to her roots.

I’d booked a convertible, for the full sunshine experience. I was grateful for the wise words of my friend and colleague Alex Lester, who’d told me to expect a Chrysler Sebring. A fine vehicle, but with a boot (trunk, for US readers!) big enough to accommodate the grand total of a paperback book and a pocket handkerchief once the amazing folding roof gizmo has done its thing. Behold, ladies and gentlemen, the stylish convertible with two cool cats cutting quite a dash on the Californian highway…. And three layers of luggage stacked up on the back seats!

After work in LA, onward to San Francisco for a proper break. More on this in our next, thrilling episode.