Wednesday, 24 December 2008

'Twas the night before Christmas

And I'm spending it at 5 live. The photograph above is of the trees outside the Westfield, that massive shopping arcade which has just opened opposite Television Centre. I went there yesterday to buy some dinner, and after walking for about half an hour found myself in Waitrose. I bought some sushi, green tea and a flapjack and then walked the half hour back. I can report that it was all quite busy, and nothing was closing down.

When I agreed to do the show tonight I had no idea I'd be missing the kids so much. I haven't seen my older daughter for 2 days now, and whilst I was driving in to work this evening she was with her sister at a crib service, both dressed as angels. I called up this evening and she proudly informed me she'd put out a mince pie and a carrot for Father Christmas and Rudolph along with "a glass of milk and a glass of water", an evening combination she's partial to.

The show tonight finishes at 0030, which means half an hour's more sleep than usual before they both wake up. The subjects under discussion tonight include Christmas, Christmas TV and which is the best religion. I hope my mood improves as I don't feel too up for it at the moment. Thankfully I'm not working Christmas Day, which was a tough call as the money would have seen us well into January, but I've done it for the last 2 or 3 years and it felt right to give it a miss this time.

Happy Christmas everyone, thanks for taking the trouble to read this blog. I'll probably shut down for a bit until the New Year, but if you're a 5 listener I'll be doing breakfast next weekend. All the best.


Friday, 5 December 2008

Josh Hartnett, James DeGale and Boy George

Josh Hartnett

All in a week's work, with grateful thanks to London Tonight. On Sunday, as mentioned in my last entry, I went along to the Old Vic to see luvviedom in excelsis.

Six mini-troupes of actors all frantically rehearsing six 15 minute plays that had only just been written. At lunch I spotted Sally Phillips, Julia Davis, the butcher from the League of Gentlemen, Dervla Kirwan, Jessica Hynes (nee Stevenson from Spaced), Tim Piggott-Smith and a lovely lady who I think used to be in EastEnders.

I didn't get to interview Martin Freeman because his wife had broken her hand the night before, so due to childcare issues he had to pull out. I also didn't get to interview Kevin Spacey as he wasn't in the country as his plane back from NY was delayed and there were some question marks as to whether he was going to make it back to London in time for the performance.

I did get to interview Josh Hartnett, Michelle Ryan (Zoe off of EE), and Jenny Agutter (one for the target audience), but first I got to see them trying to learn their lines, act and work out the direction all at the same time.

Josh alongside Sanjeev Bhaskar, which was strange, and Michelle and Jenny alongside Tim Piggott-Smith.

It's always rewarding to watch talented people at work, and getting access to the rehearsal rooms was a real privilege. The concentration levels were immense - trying to turn a freshly-laid script into a watchable play in the space of 11 hours is very hard work, and the collaborative creative process was absorbing.

I didn't ever quite forget we were watching Josh from them Hollywood films and Michelle off of EastEnders, largely because we were trying to shoot them with a view to putting a decent news package together, but part of me could have sat there all day picking up the trade shorthand and seeing exactly how it's all done.

Josh in the end was very helpful - I got a good interview and he was willing enough to do an opener down the barrel, which meant we had a great start to the package.

I interviewed Michelle a few years back in the line up for the Glamour awards when she'd just left EE and she was dripping with charisma. Every hack in the room thought she had a hell of a lot about her (even the girls, who aren't slow to find fault).

This time she was much more guarded and professional. Still obliging enough, but wary of evil people like me...

James DeGale, Frank Warren, Billy Joe Saunders and Frankie Gavin.

Frank Warren has signed James, Billy and Frankies up to go professional after their Beijing experience.

DeGale got a Gold, Billy Joe was just outside the medals and Frankie Gavin was sent home without throwing a punch after failing to make the weight.

Their professional 'coming out' was at a restaurant called Fredericks on Camden Passage in Islington. There was a presser, a photocall and then as many one-on-ones as you like.

I did an as-live with James DeGale for lunch, then more interviews than I actually needed and started to feel seriously unwell. I'd gone to bed with a ropey gut the night before but woken up not feeling too bad. Being freelance, it's not a good idea to call in sick, ever. So I went in. I left Fredericks with some good stuff from DeGale slagging off UK Sport and the ABA, however the story du jour was Olympic funding, and the reason for being there (a story in itself) was the fact Frank had signed these guys up to tour the country under the banner of The Olympians.

Having got all the material in the can I went back to base to edit. Because all I wanted to do was keel over I decided to focus on getting the piece edited and to air, when in fact I should have been doing some phone bashing to get the views of UK sport and the ABA.

In the end the piece wasn't as strong as it could have been. Wednesday was spent mostly at A&E in agony.

Two different doctors couldn't decide what was wrong with me. I left with a prescription for buscopan and a recommendation to take some paracetamol. I was booked to work at London Tonight, but had to call in sick and given how bad I felt I wasn't in any way sure I could work Thursday, so I knocked that one off too.

On Thursday I got an appointment to see my GP who gave me a prescription for some more drugs and a call to work for London Tonight on Friday. Were they sure? Apparently so....

Boy George

... which meant I found myself at 10am on Friday morning in Snaresbrook Crown Court to hear the verdict against Boy George. Court cases are a newsdesk's nightmare. Whether they conclude at 4pm or 10am, they have to fit into the evening's schedule, or even worse the jury stays out another night. Then the resources thrown at the story on the day are wasted and the programme has a big hole in it.

Conveniently we were getting a cuppa at the court canteen at just gone 10am (as was Boy George) when the call on the tannoy went out to file into Court 2. The jury delivered the guilty verdict, the judge said he'd sentence after Christmas, but that jail was "the most likely option" and ordered George too stay at home over Christmas and New Year.

I did a live from outside the court into the 11.11am update, then drove to Shoreditch to do a piece to camera for the package outside the flat where the sordid deeds took place and actually got my piece sent to the gallery server an hour before TX. I was quite pleased with it. And it was the lead, which was nice.

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Dark, bleak, murderous night

It's not really, properly winter until you have travelled to work in the dark and left in the dark. Today, for me, is properly winter. Getting up at 5.45am this morning was not nice. Scootering 21 miles to the ITN building in the freezing rain, was not nice. Turning up for work half an hour early was just stupid. I forgot there wouldn't be much traffic before breakfast on a Sunday morning...

So I got to look at the day file and joy of joys I am doing an entertainment piece, but more importantly an INDOOR entertainment piece. It being a Sunday, and this being London Tonight, I was fully expecting to be reporting from the scene of another Saturday night stabbing in the freezing rain, but no, I have a 10.30am appointment with Martin Freeman, Jessica Hynes (nee Stevenson, from Spaced) and Michelle Ryan. And possibly Kevin Spacey.

Those crazy actor types are putting on their annual attempt to conceive, write and stage six 15 minute plays from scratch in 24 hours at the Old Vic. The writers get in at 7pm, they write all night. They give their finished scripts to the directors at breakfast. The directors have a think then meet the actors at 10 to start line-learning and rehearsals. They plays are staged at 7pm tonight. Then everyone goes and gets pissed.

It sounds pretty cool, and it looks as if tickets are still available. If you have between £75 and £250 to spare, it might be just the thing. The minimum price gets you free drinks. The maximum price is best seats in the house, free champagne, access to the dress rehearsal, a ticket to the pre-performance cocktail party and entry to the after party where all the actors makes speeches and get drunk. If I had £250 to spare I'd be there like a shot.

I will be filming part of the rehearsal process for the 4pm edition of London Tonight on ITV1, which means I will arrive whilst everyone is at their busiest and unlikely to want to disrupt rehearsals to talk to me. Nonetheless, and at the risk of annoying them intently, that is what I will try to do.

Then I'll get back to Gray's Inn Road for 2pm and spend the next hour and a half frantically editing the whole thing together. I will also try and take some photos for this blog if the cameraman has a stills camera.

Monday, 17 November 2008

The Glamour of Television

Welcome to the view from my hotel window by the River Severn: That doesn't really do it justice. It's a lot uglier in real life. Unfortunately getting real life out of a built-in webcam on a solid state netbook which can barely boot up without falling over represents something of a triumph.

Especially as pressing the "shutter" involves making wild stabs at the track pad as the pointer drifts past the relevant link on the "USB camera device" application. The blurry lights represent the warehouse.

It probably covers a good square kilometre of land, and is so big there are road lanes on a nearby roundabout which have "AMAZON" painted onto the tarmac.

Look, here's me: In a hotel room at very short notice ahead of a shoot for Five News tomorrow. What's it all about? I refuse to tell you, but it will be worth the trip, indeed.

Although this pc has the brain power (and the design values) of the average solar-powered calculator, it does also have a full keyboard and 3g connection. It in fact came free with a broadband dongle, which is like getting a free car with your tank of fuel. On the surface, a bargain, but in all honesty, it doesn't say much about the car, does it?

Still, here I am, listening to the radio genius that is Gideon Coe (John Peel's spiritual and stylistic heir) on BBC 6Music, tapping contendedly away, when I should probably be thinking about going to bed.

Gideon is now playing Killing Me by The Primitives. I'm as close to heaven as you can get, sober, tired, on your own in a room overlooking Europe's biggest metal shed.


Friday, 14 November 2008

Radio At The Edge Conference

On Monday I hosted the Radio Academy's Radio At The Edge conference.

A one-day fixture held at the Lewis Media Centre. Last time I was there I was judging a talent competition with Gareth Gates: On Monday, it looked like this: It was all quite fun. I got to have a very nice chat to Iain Lee, and Andrew Collins and Richard Herring recorded their podcast as their session - it's very funny and can be heard by tapping Collings and Herrin into the iTunes store.

Thanks to Lewis PR and Matt Deegan for the photos.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Radio 1 presents the Student Radio Awards 2008

I invented these, I did. That might be slightly over-egging it a bit, actually. In 1995 I wrote to Matthew Bannister, the then controller of Radio 1 and suggested we set up a Student Radio Association (SRA) awards, which Radio 1 sponsor.

To my alarm and disquiet, he wrote back (in those days, kids, that was how bidnid was done), saying he thought it was a marvellous idea and we should all get together and make it happen. Unbeknown to me, Dan McEvoy from University Radio Nottingham had made a similar approach to Matthew and Radio 1 pointed us in each others' direction.

As a result I asked the long-haired Dan to join me on a trip to London to meet a the poshest lady I had ever met (I think she was called Sophie McLaughlin) and a man called Matt Priest to discuss taking all this further. Which we did.

The first ever Radio 1 Student Radio Awards took place upstairs at ULU on Malet Street W1 in 1996. Jo Whiley and Steve Lamacq compered. The Ents manager who gave us the room was called Ricky Gervais. The comic who introduced the bands was Peter Kay. Jarvis Cocker turned up to the gig. I brought my mum. I was quite proud.

This year it's at the IndigO2, in Greenwich, on Thursday.

I will be there, largely in order to feel very, very old. It will be fun.

UPDATE: This piece has been expanded here, after I was asked to write a short history of the first awards for the 2011 SRA Awards programme.


Saturday, 1 November 2008

Going back to Old Trafford

It's been a while.

I don't really call myself a supporter of Manchester United any more, as I don't support them in any tangible sense, or get to any games, other than today. If anyone asks I say I follow United - in that I look out for their results and dearly want them to win everything going, but I can't lay much more of a claim to fervent fandom than that.

Part of the problem is that I am exactly the sort of person real football fans despise, a Southern red. In mitigation, I visited Old Trafford with my godfather at the age of 5, and, as the first professional football ground I had ever been to, it made sense to adopt them as my club. And Gary Bailey had blond hair like me, which was how I ended up being a goalkeeper at school.

My first game at Old Trafford was a pilgrimage as a student, on my own, doing the same journey from Oxford Road to Trafford on a rickety train. I stood on the terraces and was thrilled when my heroes Ryan Giggs and Lee Sharpe started knocking a ball around before the game just a few feet away from me. I don't even remember who we were playing - I think it was either a Cup Winners Cup game against Montpelier (circa Carlos Valderrama - that was surreal watching such an exotic World Cup figure in the flesh skipping along the touchline) or an FA Cup game against Brighton (which we won 2-0 - that's all I remember).

For the last 17 months I have been visiting Manchester on a regular basis to present the Stephen Nolan show. I didn't get my act together to grub up any tickets at all last season, something I was very keen to resolve this time round.

Strangely, two sources appeared within days of each other, and I arranged to meet a colleague of a schoolfriend (who introduced us via email from Australia) two hours before kick off at Old Trafford for a Premier League encounter against Hull.

I met up with Wayne after arriving early and getting roped into signing up for a United credit card in exchange for a free scarf outside the ground.

Wayne is a lifelong United fan thanks to his father - he told me his first game was United vs Benfica in the 1968 European Cup Final at Wembley - not that he remembers much about it, being 4 at the time.

Wayne also appears to be very wealthy. He's got 2 season tickets in the prawn sandwich seats (access to a lounge bar and restaurant, cracking view) and was driving up from London in a hire car this morning before flying back down this afternoon.

I think it's fair to say we didn't have much in common, but I'm grateful to him for giving me his spare seat and providing a slightly confusing insight into the world of global property market indices.

The game itself was weird. United were firmly in control, but couldn't kill it off. We eventually won 4-3, but Rooney and Berbatov were off their game, leaving that Ronaldo fella to put two away, with the other two from Vidic and Carrick (who I once met outside a Madonna showcase in Camden - he was a Spurs player at the time and terminated the interview when I asked if he was going to Old Trafford).

It was great to see 7 goals, but only 2 were at our end and the atmosphere was odd too. When I lived in Oxford I used to go to the Manor ground and by far the best thing about the experience was the wit of the London Road end (although given how dire the football was, that's not saying much).

At Old Trafford there are a fair number of songs, but no one shouts anything other than abuse. Yes, yes I know - I'm watching it in the wrong place. My other contact has access to tickets in the Stretford End - I'll go there next time.

The wonderful thing about the game was seeing a full strength United team in full flow. The worst player on the United side was Gary Neville. The rest - Ronaldo, Nani, Anderson, Berbatov, Rooney, Carrick, Vidic, Ferdinand, Van Der Saar, Evra (and Giggs and Tevez as subs) were brilliant, especially Anderson, Ronnie, Ferdinand and Vidic.

What I was pleased about was that I could recognise all the United players almost instantly, and actually tried an imaginary commentary in my head to prove it to myself. The Hull players might have been from Mars.

In the same way I've always wanted a proper local pub, I've always wanted to go to football games on a regular basis - have a club to call my own, and now I'm that sort of age, have the bonding experience of taking my kids to matches. Sadly, my lifestyle dictates that although I have 4 lovely pubs on my doorstep, I'll never be a regular customer, and unless I move to Manchester when 5live comes up here, and my daughters show an interest in the communal experience of attending football matches, I'll never be a regular at live games.

I have toyed with the idea of taking them to Fulham or Southampton, and trying to get involved in that, but what would be the point? I've got no interest in Fulham or Southampton. I could never love them like I love United.

Although I am the archetypal plastic fan, I have followed them for 30 years and been actively enchanted by them for the last 24.

Oh well, back to the armchair.


Sunday, 26 October 2008

Harry Redknapp goes to Spurs

And so did I. For Five News. Doing a package based around a football match without the rights to use any of it is hardly a new challenge, but usually under the Sports News Access agreement, it's possible to use limited amounts of material, and if it's a Sky Sports game, we can often negotiate more (because Five News is a Sky News production).

However, the Spurs/Bolton game wasn't going out live, so we had no rights to use any on-pitch material until it had been screened for the first time by the rights holders, which I think I'm right in saying was the BBC's MOTD2. Hmm.

As Sky News were all over the story, it was our job to get some nice stuff in the Five style and put me in the shot, so that we had ownership of the report. When time is tight, this boils down to voxes, GVs and a piece to camera. We had 90 minutes. And we were stuck outside.

Getting some nice external shots of the White Hart Lane stadium is a tricky job at the best of times. On a cold, grey, autumnal day it's almost impossible. The (even uglier) buildings around it block any wide shots and close by there's nothing really to latch onto other than some very prosaic signs. With apologies to Spurs fans who may love it like no other structure on earth, I think it has all the architechtural merit of a landfill pit.

So we had to focus on the intiinsic natural beauty of the Spurs fans themselves. Our opening shot was a speeded up, locked off shot of hundreds of supporters walking up Paxton Road. We then got some lovely voxes from the various people milling around the merchandise stalls and burger vans before kick off, and I risked a piece to camera in the middle of the Spurs supporters in the same spot we did the locked off shot. To be honest, I wish they'd been more rowdy. Most were quietly happy about Harry's appointment, but no one was singing from the rafters and not many people were in the mood to play up to the camera. That kind of day.

The rest of the package was Sky News and Sky Sports News material. They had someone covering Harry getting off the Spurs coach and arriving at the ground and they also had someone at Portsmouth. They also stuck around until after the match to get post-victory reaction, all of it a bit subdued.

But we got Harry, we got the Pompey fans reacting to his departure and we got some nice pre-match colour from our voxes and the post-result update voxes to complete the piece.

We left Tottenham before we got a ticket from the nice man in the Sainsbury's car park and sat listening to the match stuck in traffic on the North Circular.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Broadcast News

I'm sure we've all been there, still editing a package whilst the programme has started.

Still putting astons/supers in inews/enps as your piece is going out. Hells bloody bells I feel mentally scarred by today's experience.

Excuse me if this begins to read like therapy.

At 1pm I get given a story for TX at 6pm. To be fair, it was a story about Walthamstow and I was already in Walthamstow at the time.

I'd been filming material for LVJ's piece, but then LVJ had to be shifted onto another story after an element we thought we weren't going to get until a later date suddenly presented itself (an interview with BoJo, as it happens).

So muggins here gets to pick up the pieces on LVJ's package, most of which he had already filmed with him in shot, so other than a 3 minute interview with a local councillor we had to start from scratch.

To cut a long story short, we'd done all the filming (school canteen staff serving, kids eating lunch, voxes of kids, head teacher, external gvs, internal gvs, piece to camera, bong (headline in vision shot, not water-cooled inhalation device), fast food shop gvs, fast food shop manager, fast food shop PTC, kebab-eating childrens' voxes) by 3.30pm.

In the process we nearly started a mini-riot with screaming kids all desperate to get on TV. I thought the yout' was too cool to be bothered by that any more. They were all high on chips though.

We got in the car thinking we might be alright for time, but the traffic round Walthamstow was appalling. After half an hour we'd gone half a mile, although it did give me a chance to think about the structure of the piece and write a script.

By 4.07pm, things were looking bleak. I got out of the car with the tapes and called the newsdesk, telling them we were in trouble. I ran through Walthamstow to Walthamstow Central station and caught an overland train scheduled for 1620 - it was 10 minutes late and packed.

Discussing edit options on the phone to a carriage full of nonplussed Londoners was not exactly my idea of fun, but there wasn't much I could do about it. I felt like turning round and saying "This is telly, darling, it's important!", but I resisted. They didn't seem in the mood.

At Highbury and Islington I got off the train and headed onto the Victoria Line to go the one stop to Kings Cross. I nearly got run over trying to flag down a taxi to take me half a mile down Gray's Inn Road to the ITN building.

I ran in at 4.53pm and tried to load the main tape into the ingest point. It jammed and then got crinkled. It was taken out of my hands and someone spooled it off. At this stage getting a package out was looking a tad optimistic, but my spirits were raised when I was assigned Dave, one of the top ITN picture editors to cut the piece with.

As I lay down the voice track, it became apparent that someone had got the tape working again and on to the server. We went at it steadily whilst I picked out a basic shotlist from my tired, stressed and generally addled brain.

At 6.02pm with the programme already on air the package went to the gallery server. I was under the impression we were in the second half of the programme, but we were 3rd item.

It was only as I strolled into the gallery (feeling a little pleased with myself) with the final aston details in my hand I noticed my piece was already on air. The producer alternately hissed and glared at me.

Thankfully we got everything into the aston computer in time and it all went out correctly. For some reason LVJ's piece turned into a SOT/grab, which was due to an unspecified technical problem only alluded to obliquely in the debrief.

The debrief ended and I found myself actually shaking with stress.

The nice newsgathering lady who put me all up to this had left by the end of the show, the prog ed had other things to deal with, the producer was standing with the other producers who were all seething about something else.

I chased after the picture editor who cut my piece as he was walking out the door. "Dave", I gushed, "thank you."

Dave raised his hat and strolled off into the night.

"Aw." said Ted, an old school picture editor who witnessed this touching scene, "Go give him a hug."

I felt so jumpy the only way I managed to calm down was by telling myself how terrible I'd feel if the piece hadn't made, or was broadcast with some glaring error in it.

I was in no fit state to get on my scooter for at least 15 minutes so I shared some random bitching with Glen Goodman, a deeply sardonic and very brilliant reporter.

I told him I hadn't seen his piece, but was certain it was a work of genius. He agreed it probably was.

I got home in one piece and watched the programme properly, and my package was actually quite good. I feel ill. The joy of news.


Friday, 17 October 2008

Going Underground

I spent Wednesday from 9pm through to 6am on Thursday filming gang workers fixing the Victoria Line on the London Underground for the ITV programme "/london".

I actually managed to take my personal camera with me, so there will be some photographs going up shortly. It's a strange business alright. Because there's very little available time to do the work, everything is on a very tight schedule. But because everything has to be safe, there's a hell of a lot that has to be done, checked, signed and double-checked before certain jobs can be done.

What struck me most about the whole experience, and I hope this comes across in the piece, is the relish with which these gang-workers attack their jobs. I was expecting professional, but moody, taciturn types getting on with it. Not so. Communication is a big part of the job, and as a result confident, verbose people are a requirement.

They also have to be fit (some of the lads clearly work out, very few are overweight) and they have to trust each other, look out for each other and demonstrate they know exactly what they are doing at all times.

There are no passengers (excuse the pun) on any track gang, and there is no time for anyone who doesn't have a specific, and clearly defined role. As a result - happy campers. It's well-ish paid (a track op starts at around £26K rising to £43 for a SPIC - site person in charge) and there's plenty of overtime.

The work is intense, but the hours are short - clock on at 9.45pm - done by 4.30am (unless something goes wrong or overtime, in which case there is an inquest back at the depot). None of the team seem to mind working nights and they seem very engaged with the work - they sense they are doing something that is precise and useful, oiling the cogs in a very big machine.

They also tolerated us, and when they had decided we weren't complete prats were actually quite friendly. Our chaperones for the evening - a PR guy who was ex-ITN and an engineer from London Underground couldn't have been more helpful.

The night I was there all the jobs got done (some cutting and welding of replacement rails and cracking out of old wooden sleepers to be replaced by cement ones) on time or early and everyone was pleased with a good night's work. I think we got what we needed, but I'm writing this as the rushes are ingesting, and I'll only really know when I've logged them.

Gonzo: the new film about Hunter S Thompson

I knew Hunter S Thompson was a major counter-cultural figure, and I liked what he represented, but I'd never got very far with Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and that was the extent of my knowledge of his work.

I also held the mistaken view that he'd shot and killed his first wife in a William Tell-style game that went horribly wrong. No idea where that came from as there she was, bright as life, giving interviews for the film I saw on Tuesday.

It's a 2 hour documentary, narrated (very well) by Johnny Depp, who played Thompson in the Terry Gilliam movie of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and who also payed for Thompson's spectacular funeral.

The movie isn't out until December, and I'm probably not meant to be talking about it in any way that could be considered a review, but it certainly joined the dots for me in terms of linking up his association with Tom Wolfe, Ken Kesey and the whole Haight Ashbury movement. And it is extraordinary to see the affection in which he is still held by the people he very publicly hated.

The real shame is that Thompson didn't really produce anything of note for the last 25 years of his life. By the end his alcohol consumption had made him incapable of writing anything useful, and he took his life before he had a chance to see the Obama/McCain tussle, which a lucid Thompson would have relished.

Being Stephen Nolan

It's been a busy week. It started with a 7 hour journey to Manchester on Sunday (thank you Virgin and your incredibly smelly trains) to present Stephen Nolan's show on BBC Radio 5 live.

I'd spent most of that time trying and failing to sleep. By the time I arrived (late) I was a semi-coherent wreck and was, of course, thrust straight into the studio to talk to Dominic Littlewood about Strictly Come Dancing and the Bishop of Lancaster about gay adoption.

The interview with Dominic was not great, but I had warmed up a bit by the time it came to the Bish. It contrasted my style with Stephen's. He likes to go for the jugular, ripping specious arguments apart. I prefer to give people enough rope and let the audience make up their own minds.

Doing what Stephen does takes some balls - you have to be very confident in your own rhetorical skills and certain that even if you are arguing the toss with someone on a subject they may have studied at length for weeks or months, you can go toe-to-toe with them, live on air. I am always acutely aware of my lack of knowledge on a subject, but even I can see some gaping holes (don't even think it) in the churches' problems with homosexuality.

Curiously, I just didn't want to go on the attack. Whether its because I don't want to unnecessarily antagonise a large chunk of the audience, or whether I'm worried about exposing my own prejudices, or whether it is just having aired the argument, and explored it fully, people are perfectly capable of making up their own mind without me having too much to do with the shaping of their views, I don't know. But it made me realise that even if I was capable of doing what Stephen Nolan does, I wouldn't do it.

So why do they hire me to do Stephen's job? I guess they don't. I guess they hire me to do a job on Stephen's show in my own style, and they like me enough and think Stephen's audience will tolerate me whilst remaining entertaining enough to stop the casual 5live listener from switching off.

As I have absolutely no idea how many people are listening when I cover Nolan or Bacon (it's frankly impossible to measure the impact of a stand-in presenter on the radio unless it's for an entire quarter (the period a rajar diary - the way radio listeners are measured)) it's very hard to know whether you are gaining or losing listeners during a show. I guess I shouldn't worry too much about it.


Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Ashley Cole gets booed by England fans

Why is it left to Danny Baker to say what all the pusillanimous pundits, hypocritical journalists and fantastically self-deluding, venal and contemptuous footballers failed in their duty to acknowledge?

Ashley Cole is a twat and deserves all the booing he gets. It is the right of the paying fans to give voice to their dissatifaction over a mistake made by an unpopular player, just as it is their right to display their delight at a top class performance from a popular player.

Do you think Ashley Cole likes football fans? Where do you think they come in the order of importance after his bank balance, his career, his fellow professionals and his celebrity? F***ing miles away. He treats fans with contempt, and doesn't care if he shows it, so why shouldn't the loathing be mutual?

Still, you wouldn't expect anything less from a top footballer nowadays - insulated from the real world from an early age, surrounded by sycophants, treated as if they are gods among men.

But the media?! Where was the pundit or journalist standing up for the fans? Why didn't anyone make the point that if you pour insane amounts of money and hype into the game, if you remove any possibility of shared identity between a fan and a player, and if that player doesn't make the slightest bit of effort to be anything other than a craven, mercenary, arrogant tosser, then the booing on Saturday afternoon was a refreshing inevitability.

It is the only way the fans have left of making their point heard, and to hear them dismissed so many times by so many hacks on 5live and in the newspapers was shameful.

I can only assume that a) they have relationships with clubs, players and sponsors to protect and therefore don't want criticise for fear of losing access or b) they've been freeloading for so long they've lost touch with reality.

As Danny Baker (cheekily) made the point on 5live on Tuesday night - what happened when Ashley Cole got booed? England got better. They woke up. They raised their game. They got a big boot up the backside and responded. They went from 2-1 up and playing badly to 5-1 up and winning comfortably.

As a result of this I am supporting Danny Baker's call for 30 seconds of sustained booing from the fans at the start of every match across the country this week, followed by random booing every 10 minutes thereafter.

If you want fans to stop booing, start delivering. Start caring. Take a bit more notice of the people you consider suckers and graft yourself a bit of respect.

Then you'll get the unquestioning adulation you think you deserve.

Friday, 10 October 2008

Murderous dogs

Monday was interesting - meeting a woman who was savaged by two pit bulls whilst pushing her 19 month old son home in his buggy. The dogs' owner pulled them off her and then just walked off. He threatened the neighbours who followed him and as far as I'm aware still hasn't been caught. It was lead story on London Tonight after it appeared in the (London) Evening Standard newspaper's first edition.

A couple of the national TV channels picked it up the next day. The woman's husband only contacted the Standard when it became patently apparent the police couldn't give a monkeys.

The woman had deep wounds, she could describe the dogs' owner, the neighbours could give descriptions of him and followed him some distance, but the Met said because no one witnessed the actual attack, they were reluctant to open an investigation. They didn't even inspect the crime scene.

Of course as soon as it got in the paper the police were all over it, assigning the couple a new case officer and promising to get results, but, honestly...

This woman was the victim of a very serious attack and the dogs' owner knew that he could just walk calmly away because he wouldn't be investigated.

I was quite pleased with the piece - we tried something different with the piece to camera which worked, I ordered a treated top, which the editor did before I got back, and that worked, and we had access to the hospital and the lady herself who was willing to be interviewed in the hope the bastard who allowed the attack to happen gets caught. The lady in question is a concert pianist so we also got some good quality video of her performing, which helped.

Tuesday was another stab at the Ark Academy being built at Wembley Park. Basically the council are getting millions from the government to build this privately-run state school and are being accused of running roughshod over the planning process to get it. There's a desperate need for school places in Brent, and this is effectively a free school, hence their determination to make sure it happens.

They've been tackled every step of the way by a small group of agitators who have a problem with the private sector running state schools and who have successfully put lots of flies in the ointment for the council. The council and the school are slagging off the agitators as unrepresentative, and maybe they are, but because the proper procedures don't seem to have been followed (usual farcical "consultation" process etc), there are a lot of things that haven't been addressed, including the traffic congestion that is going to build up along an already busy road, the broken promises given to all the businesses on the site - including a children's nursery that was effectively forced out of business by the appalling way in which the council treated it.

The council's dismissal of the agitators as irrelevant doesn't excuse their shoddy treatment of others. The local MP thinks its a wholly inappropriate site too.

Saturday, 20 September 2008

I confronted two thieving hoodies

in the early hours of this morning.

I was driving back from presenting Bacon on 5live at TVC when I remembered my pushbike was still locked up on the London-bound platform at Walton on Thames station. I thought rather than have to walk the 25 minutes to the station to pick it up the next day I might as well stick it in the boot and drive it home. 

It did strike me I might look a bit dodgy, rolling up at a deserted station at 1.45am, and driving off with a bike that I couldn't prove was mine, but I felt able to convince any interested police officers of my outstanding moral rectitude, if challenged. And I had the keys to its lock.

What I wasn't expecting, as I walked onto the fully lit station platform, was to see two young (15 - 17), very spotty when I come to think of it, hoodie-wearing lads walking towards me carrying an expensive looking front wheel in their hands.

They clocked me, and their completely relaxed body language made me question what I was actually seeing, but as no innocent explanation sprang immediately to mind I stopped 10 yards in front of them and asked:

"Is that your wheel?"
There was a brief pause.
"No." said the one holding the wheel.
"Give it to me then." I said.

There was another very brief pause whilst they considered their options. I was obviously weighing them up too - both were pretty scrawny and only about 5'6 so I felt reasonably confident if they decided to rush me I wouldn't get a proper kicking. I just hoped if they did decide to do it, neither had knives.

I reached into my pocket and put my hand on my mobile phone. I was covering the only exit from the station, so they'd have to get past me if they wanted to leg it, and as that seemed to be the most likely option the adrenalin was making my head sing and I was trying to decide whether or not I would really try to tackle them or just let them go.

Thankfully the lad holding the wheel gave it to me. I said, rather pathetically, "You can't just go nicking other peoples' stuff.", when patently, they could.

As they calmly walked past me I got my phone out and dialled 999, and I'm ashamed to admit my hand was shaking - I couldn't actually hit the dial button at the first two attempts. They heard me say "police" into the handset when I did get through to emergency services, and one turned round and said "Alright, mate?" as they walked off the platform.

I followed them out as I spoke to the police, and evidently wasn't making much sense, as the officer kept asking exactly what was going on, but I wanted to follow the lads to double-check what they were wearing and where they were heading. They didn't bother to quicken their pace, which meant I got a good look at them, and they soon ducked out of sight down the subway under the tracks.

 Of course, the copper couldn't be less interested.

"What's your name?"
I told him.
"Where do you live?"
I told him.
"What happened, then?"
I told him.
"Have you got the wheel, sir?"
"So nothing's been taken now, then?"
"Well, no, but..."
"Can you describe them for me?"
I started describing them and before I'd gone too far he cut in "And which direction are they headed?"
I told him.
"We'll keep a look out for them, sir, in case they're up to any more mischief, then, sir."
"Right," I said, "What am I supposed to do with this wheel, then?"
"Well I don't know if you've got any paper on you sir, but if you could leave a note by the bike and take it home..."
"Don't suppose there was any CCTV, was there, sir?"
Well yes there should be absolutely loads of it as there are cameras all over the station, it's incredibly well lit, and thanks to the station clock I can tell you exactly what time it happened.
"Well, I'll mention that too. Thanks for your call, sir, goodnight."

Obviously he didn't want to pursue this as it would mean a crime number, and then it would count against their stats. I imagine he would make a brief call to local control to mention what I told him and that would be that. I started writing a note to the owner of the bike (who had secured the rear wheel and frame to a metal fence with 2 massive locks) and then gave up.

It would just look odd "I've got your front wheel - call me...." and be a whole bunch of hassle for me and the owner of the bike.

Unless they're queueing up to nick stuff from Walton on Thames station the wheel was probably safe for the rest of the evening, so I tucked it behind the bike and left it.

I went home angry and profoundly depressed. Angry these little oiks knew that they could walk into a well-lit, CCTV-monitored area, lift whatever wasn't nailed down and walk off with impunity because even when they were caught red-handed, they knew there was absolutely no way anyone was going to do anything about it.

And, of course, I was angry that despite the fact they were caught red-handed, despite the CCTV, despite the vast amounts of money the police take from our tax bill, the unsexy, difficult to solve, thankless to deal with, low-level crime that actually bothers most ordinary people is never, ever going to get dealt with whilst we have the system that we have in place.

I don't want to be called sir, I don't want a victims of crime counselling leaflet (which is what happened when I got the hub caps nicked off my car a couple of months back), I don't want someone in a remote call centre pretending to take my details before making some desultory call to a control room who may or may not pass on the information to the one or two squad cars on patrol in the 20 mile radius who will then ignore it because they've got other things to do.

I want to go through to the duty sergeant in the local cop shop who can take a proper description, recognise who I'm talking about and go and find out where they are. OR give me a crime number, promise to look at the CCTV and then follow these f***ers up.

Because, of course, people like this know they can get away with it even when someone like me catches them red-handed, and they're going to keep nicking stuff until they graduate onto something more serious.

If they exist in such a moral vacuum that they can go thieving in the early hours of Saturday morning, with impunity, as a lifestyle choice, then you might as well try to put them through the criminal justice system, because nothing else is going to change their ways.

People say prison doesn't work. I KNOW prison doesn't work, but it also keeps thieving lowlife off the streets. So whilst brighter minds than mine are working out a way of making prison work, let's not stop sending people there who are perfectly relaxed about make other peoples' lives a misery because they don't give two s***s about their fellow human beings.