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.