Thursday, 18 March 2010

Woking - home of McLaren F1 and the new MP4-12C

This is the new, environmentally-friendly McLaren MP4-12C.

Actually it's a gas-guzzling beast, but according to the marketing blurb "With the 12C’s power output of around 600hp and its low CO2 emissions, it delivers the highest horsepower to CO2 ratio of any car on the market today with an internal combustion engine…and that includes petrol and diesel hybrids.”

So your conscience is clear.

The car will be built in a new £40m factory in Woking (where the McLaren F1 team are based), creating 300 jobs.

Quite how the construction of the 12C sits with recent comments made by Woking Borough Council about how we should all be doing everything we can to reduce our carbon footprint makes for the subject of an interesting email from Mark in Woking. It's the longest email I've ever read out on air, but I thought it was worth sharing.

"Hello Nick,

A recent edition of the "Woking Magazine", contained the obligatory environmental feature mentioning Woking Borough Council's Climate Change Strategy, stating: "this is not something to be ignored, we all have to take action now".
We now have the MP4-12C, McLaren's new road car, to be built in Woking.

I must congratulate McLaren on the environmental "spin" in their press release: "lowest CO2 emissions per horse power of any car". Definitely worth shouting about if the car is 60bhp, but surely not if it is 600bhp!
The facts are it is a two seater, 3.8 litre twin turbo, that does 0-60mph in 3.5 seconds, with a top speed of over 200mph, and will cost £150,000. It does not sound like a vehicle that will "save the planet".

Ron Dennis (McLaren Automotive Chairman) describes the car as a "long held dream". Surely for WBC it should be a climate change "nightmare".

I have nothing against McLaren as a company, indeed I know them to be an excellent employer. But I wonder if any representatives of WBC will be at the McLaren party when the production line starts in 2011.

WBC recently granted planning permission for the new factory. It will be discreetly hidden behind trees and a grassy mound. (Out of sight, out of mind?). You would presume WBC would want McLaren's employees to cycle to work, or use public transport. Wrong. There is also a 400 space car park included in the plans.

So why did WBC grant planning permission? Probably because this new facility will provide 300 new jobs. Is it an uncomfortable truth that the economy always has priority over the environment, even in Woking?
Perhaps I have got it all wrong, and this is a wonderful "carbon neutral" project. I would be very interested to hear a public statement from Ray Morgan (WBC CEO) as to whether our green council endorse the production of a 600bhp road car.
Instead of "By Faith and Diligence", perhaps the Woking Borough motto should be: "Don't do as I do, do as I tell you", or "One rule for the rich, one rule for the rest".

So come on everyone, change your light bulbs, get on your bike, and order your photovoltaic solar panels. Remember, as The Woking Magazine says: Climate Change "is not something to be ignored, we all have to take action now".

Well, perhaps not all of us it seems."

As I write I am earwigging a conversation with my producer who is on the phone to Woking Borough Council trying to persuade them to come on and address the points Mark raises in his email. We'll see what happens.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

A day in the life

I have two alarms. One alarm goes off at 4am. The other alarm goes off at 4.01am. Getting up isn't the problem - it's going to sleep at an early enough time. Presuming eight hours is a good idea, I usually get six.

At 4.01am I pull on my Slobbing Around At Home Clothes and head downstairs with my ipod in my hand. Over breakfast I check my twitter feeds, which will usually alert me to any big local or national story and an interesting number of small ones. I can also check my emails and facebook messages so that by the time I go back upstairs to have a shower and get dressed I'm already thinking about what I can put into the show.

I make sure I'm in the car by 4.55am as that allows me to get a bit of the LBC paper review before switching over to BBC Surrey at 5am to a) check the early breakfast show presenter is there and b) hear what he has to say in the 5am news.

As soon as he finishes the news and weather, I switch over to Morning Reports on BBC 5 live and keep it there until I arrive at BBC Surrey in Guildford at around 5.15am.

It takes 15 minutes to make a cuppa, log on and generally adjust to being at work, but by 5.30am I am having an initial conversation with my producer about the big topics on the show.

Between 5.30am and 6am my producer is cutting, writing and editing. I am usually going through listener correspondence - deciding what I will read out on air, and how much any listener correspondence will shape the editorial direction of the show.

By 6am I am looking through the scripts we've been left from the night before, getting my head round the stories.

I know at breakfast people are dipping in for a short period of time, but if I start with a few things and a few ideas about where they might go, it helps. You need to have a few (hopefully witty, pithy and illuminating) lines ready in your head before you go on air. Scripting doesn't work - it has to sound right.

Also around 6am the papers and the newsreader arrives. We have an hour to get the programme ready and we do so by beavering away feverishly at our terminals, watching the telly and reading the papers, but also by talking - what is the big story? how do we present it? what ideas and audio will lift the programme and make it genuinely engaging?

So the hardest creative thinking work is done at the most difficult time of day - between 5.30am and going on air at 7am.

Starting the programme isn't easy - we hot desk, which means the early breakfast show presenter Ben Kerrigan finishes saying what he's saying and leaps out of his seat, giving me the duration of a song to watch his computer log off, log back in as me, re-arrange the keyboard layout to the way I need it, log out of his running order and log mine in, all the while trying to come up with hilarious, witty weather/travel/news/music-based banter which will ease the transition into my show and keep in my head the top stories and a reasonably sharp preamble.

Thankfully Ben is a past master, both technically and professionally, so we get through what is quite a sticky junction without too much awkwardness.

The next three hours (7am - 10am) are about being across my brief, and concentration.

During the programme, I interview at least ten people, talk my way around various recorded features, promote the schedule, host a quiz and try to steer the listener through the news, weather, travel and sport, without too much in the way of hesitation or repetition. Deviation is fine, though.

At 10am I switch the transmitter and saunter/stagger back into the newsroom. Usually I am assigned to report on a story happening somewhere in Surrey or North East Hampshire for the following day's programme. I wolf down a sandwich and head out in the car. After recording what I need to record, I go straight home, and try to get an hour's sleep before waking to pick my daughter up from school at 3pm. I then have 4 hours of childcare before my wife returns home.

This does not leave much time to make calls or process emails, let along grub up stories. Like anyone at work, I get around 50 - 100 emails a day and I prioritise those from listeners, and then those directly addressed to me. The rest don't really get read, let alone actioned.

Between 6-6.30pm I'll get a call from the day producer, to talk me through the next day's show. This is vital - chewing everying over with the person who has set the stories up, asking the questions you'd ask on air and making sure they're happy you know what you're going to talk about, and you're happy you've got a proper story to get your teeth into.

My wife Nic returns home around 7.15pm and helps put the kids to bed. Once they go down, usually around 8pm, we eat some dinner, tidy up, and have a brief chat before we start preparing for the next day.

Each second after 9pm I am awake has a significant impact on my ability to perform the next day. I usually get to sleep around 10pm.

It's a tough gig, but there's nothing I'd rather be doing right now. And, of course, the weekends provide a respite. It's how I find the time to do things like put together this.