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Friday, 27 March 2015


"This programme is also available on the BBC website, on iPlayer and as a podcast. It will be repeated indefinitely on Radio 4 Extra". When I hear the announcer say that my heart dies a little.

It's just not right. Radio 4 should be just The stuff old Guglielmo Marconi pumped out in the early 20th Century. Wireless, with an aerial, twiddling dials and crackles, fading in and out and back lit stations. That is radio. That is excitement. That is under the bedsheets with a torch trying to tune into Radio Luxembourg or listening to the pirates as they rocked on the high seas in 1964.

How I wetted myself in late 1963 when I heard that the Beatles had the top five singles in the US charts: it was an under the covers broadcast. "I Get Around" never sounded better than  on Shoreham beach out of a KB valve portable with a battery the size of Mount Kilimanjaro. Every Sunday I would record Alan Freeman's "Hi there Pop Pickers", on a Pye one speed reel to reel tape recorder. No USB, no jack plug: it was recorded live using the mike placed near to the radio. O.K. so Bryan Hyland's "Sealed With A Kiss" wasn't too good: the mike having fallen on the floor half way thro' the song. But I got Johnny Tiverton's "Poetry in Motion" in one take, along with Roy Orbison's "Only the Lonely" - a song that still moves me to tears. Anyway, the charts were so predictable in those days, I could record Bryan the following weekend.

Now it's all too easy. There are so many channels (they should be called "stations"), in any format you want. Click on my phone, computer or iPad and I can bookmark a myriad of stations offering a universe of music styles. Everything comes thro' crystal clear: there's no Hancock "Radio Ham" moment, blaming the loss of signal 'cause the ship in distress is bobbing up and down on the stormy seas.

In my more lachrymose  moments I even get nostalgic for the car radios in "Z Cars", "The Sweeney" and "Juliet Bravo".  And if you were around in the early to mid 70's all that was hot and hip was "CB Radio" and Rubber Duck and Convoy. It's imprinted on my minds eye: Hutch placing the flashing light on the roof of their red Ford Gran Tourino with the white dagger strip, while Starsky shouted into the radio mike.

Now we're spoilt, I'm spoilt. Miss "In Our Time" on a Thursday, no probs, I'll listen to it in bed on the Beeb's radio player. The same with masses of detective serials and sci-fi progs. Catch up with them later. Pause: replay: fast forward. That's not an experience: that's a piece of hi tech electronics. Excitement, pain and drama, diced up into bytes and streamed anonymously thro' the www.

Now I'm completely disconnected from my portable radio and its expensive battery. Now I listen to a year's programmes on the tube where radio waves are not permitted except by wi fi thanks to Virgin Media at a tube station somewhere near you. Now I load my phone with pod casts, plug my headphones in...and take them out again 'cause the tube train is rattling so much that the noise drowns out the Cumbrian lilt of Melvyn Bragg.

Frankly it all started to go wrong when Lord Reith allowed Yogi Bear to transmit moving pictures using his TV thingy. That was the start of the rot, that and that bloody scientist at CERN,  Sir Timothy John "Tim" Berners-Lee, OM, KBE, FRS, FREng, FRSA, DFBCS thinking up the www.  What was he playing at: he was a government employee for Christ's sake!

It's been down hill since then.

As my old mucker Hancock would say "Does Magna Carta mean nothing to you? Did she die in vain? Brave Hungarian peasant girl who forced King John to sign the pledge at Runnymede and close the boozers at half past ten! Is all this to be forgotten?"

I rest my case.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Top Gun

I feel for Tony Hall the BBC's Director General. I really do.

You've the licence renewal coming up. You've  politicians who, as a class, have little patience with the Beeb and your star performer goes and does it again: except this time it's not a humorous bit of banter. It's full verbals and a knuckle sandwich.

What do you do? A million petrolheads sign a petition calling for a full pardon. The Sun, who hates the Beeb with ferocity that Medea would die for, is jumping all over the Corporation. No doubt eminent dons at Oxbridge are working up their thesis on "Clarkson: the flawed hero - much loved but hated in equal measure". But apparently Jeremy threw a tsunami of a wobbly because his steak and chips weren't ready and lashed out, verbally and physically, at one of the production team on "Top Gear".

I'm really not hugely concerned one way or the other. I think "Top Gear" is a great show and it is Clarkson that makes it so. I'm not sure if his many mis speaks reflect his real views or are just part of his TV persona. I have to say that I rather like them.

The contrast between the grey suited DG, with his corporate mindset and Clarkson's show ground personality couldn't be greater. It's ironic that Cameron, a silky suited salamander if ever there was one, was bang on side with Clarkson. But then Cameron is a calculating, principle less, numpty and he knows most of the million signatories are either Tory or UKIP drones.

TV is boring enough. "Top Gear" may be formulaic: but when J builds up a head of steam it's sheer joy. He is "Top Gear". The Beeb's TV lines are drawn: "The Voice", "EastEnders" "Dr Finlay's Casebook", all the cooking, knitting, gardening, antique bilge that we get shoved up our arses. Then there's "Top Gear" and....."The News Quiz".

Clarkson's sacking might not have happened if the Beeb or Jeremy hadn't been so greedy. Had the Beeb not bought out Clarkson's company and took him on as an employee, we could have avoided all this heart ache. J. could have sacked himself, agreed to 200 hours community service and the Beeb could have come up with some form of weasel words which would have got them off the hook.

The thing is: big beasts, in whatever field, are not always as white as driven snow. What makes them watchable also makes them edgy, dangerous.

In an earlier time, although not in Lord Reith's hegemony, Clarkson's behaviour would have been dealt with differently. If this had happened in the early 60's  Peter Cook or David Frost would have satirised the whole thing so that we'd have laughed it off as one rather fat, red faced, ill dressed buffoon in a  late mid life crisis, getting his comeuppance. If he'd slept with Christine Keller that might have had the broadsheets pronouncing. But not a little artistic tantrum. I suspect Sir Larry and Sir John may well have had similar paddies.

It's a shame he's been sacked. I'd have yelled with delight if Tony Hall had, instead of dressing in corporate grey, worn a clown's suit and said:

 "You know, I don't care a toss. JC is a treasure, more than that he's a bloody gold mine. He may piss off a few Mexicans, Argies and MumsNet, but 350 million people watch the old fart and love him. I've called him in: shouted at him for 20 minutes, slapped him across the face and told him to go and make the next series. And next time, let's do something that really pisses off all the Grundian readers." 

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Carry On Screaming

It's been a funny old weekend.

It started when I went downstairs on Friday morning to find 'er in doors, awake, dressed but decidedly in pain. She'd been up since 1 am awoken by a severe stabbing pain in her stomach. She didn't look well.

I insisted that she phone the doctor: pain like that wasn't normal. She did: they offered her two slots late morning or late afternoon. As she had a meeting with a client she chose the late afternoon slot.

I drove her to her meeting as she had difficulty walking. After the meeting she came home; extremely pale, finding it difficult to keep awake and extremely cold. It took the doctor ten minutes to write a letter and we sped to our local A&E. She was fast tracked and before we knew it two surgeons in Ghostbuster suits were prodding her here,there and everywhere. Off to X ray and zapped, at about 21:00 hrs, into the Acute Admission Unit 1 (AAU1) where she was placed on a drip (he didn't mind) and tucked in with the dreaded "Nil by Mouth" logo above her bed.

I cannot speak too highly of Whipps Cross A&E. It's as if they'd been on the same customer service course as Virgin-Atlantic first class stewards. At every stage of the process, the staff introduced themselves, said what was going to happen next and were just so friendly. The same in the AAU1, she was greeted like a first class passenger on the Titanic: but nothing was to pass her lips. Why?because she was down for a CAT scan in the morning.

The missus didn't sleep that well on the first night, being woken up every two hours for a blood pressure reading. Before leaving her on Friday night I'd drawn up a list of items she'd asked me to bring in the following day. I asked Pickfords for a quote. The list grew as I was texted from her hospital bed.

The list of duties meant that I didn't get to the hospital, with the MAERSK container in tow and the missus's sister, until early afternoon on Saturday.

She was still "nil by mouth" and tearing at the sheets and sucking the moisture out of her toe nails. They hadn't done the scan and this was early afternoon. But the ward was lovely, the nurses caring and attentive. It's just they had no idea what was going on. We chatted, filled in the "How do you rate us " cards and left expecting to hear from my wife later on that she'd had her scan.

A couple of hours later I called her on the mobile. No reply. I called her again half an hour later. Her sister phoned; she'd heard nothing. She must be in the scanner, they've had to operate urgently, the call's been diverted to the morgue!

I phoned the hospital. I hung on for 10 minutes before the switchboard clicked in. I was on the phone for another 10 minutes as the poor operator tried to contact the ward. Had they been all abducted by aliens? Had one of Jeremy Hunt's cuts happened there and then? I finally got thro' to AAU2; they'd take a message and get AAU1 to phone me.

An hour later I again phoned the hospital. Got thro' to the switch board straight away and to the correct ward. I explained my concern - you'd all been abducted - the nice nurse explained that my wife had been asleep and no she hadn't had her scan or anything else. He'd get her to call me when she woke up.

An hour later, I called my wife. She answered. Her mobile's battery was low so to save power she'd turned it off! I'd taken in the f***ing charger so that wouldn't happen!!! No, she hadn't been scanned and she was still on "nil by mouth"

Received a text at about 10 pm saying she'd been given two slabs of mush in between was sandwiched a slightly harder piece of mush. The only food in more than 24 hrs.

Early Sunday morning the missus texted me. She'd been moved from AAU1 at 1 am in the morning to a surgical ward. It was like being down graded from First Class to Ryan Air. She was back on "nil by mouth".

I went in to see her at lunch time, but because it was lunch time I and her sister could only stay 5 minutes. Loads of lovely ladies in the ward. All pissed off with everything about the NHS experience. The Sunday lunch smelled and looked fine, except, I was told, it was cold and tasteless. They were bored witless. I asked if they had wi-fi. There is wi-fi but it's not for the patients (University College hospital has free wi-fi). To watch the telly costs you a tenner. You couldn't do this or that. You couldn't have your kids in! It was like the good old days without Hattie Jacques as matron.

The missus was still "nil by mouth". No indication of when she might have the scan. Why the f*** not. Why the secrecy? No one knew. So you figure they don't know because they don't know what the hell is going on. The missus was fuming. She'd lost 2 stone and missed at least four hearty meals, not to mention a glass of wine or two.

They were worried about her blood pressure: but not because it was high, it was too low. She had a head ache and was told that was because she was on a saline drip and on "nil by mouth"!

Finally, finally this afternoon she had the scan, Because one of the nurses pestered and pestered. Then like God descending from the clouds a surgeon appeared. Nothing was showing up on the scan, and subject to the results of the blood test taken more than 48 hours ago she can go home tomorrow.

The hospital is Whipps Cross which is under special measures. I can't believe it's the nursing or even the medical staff, although I think doctors are arses, that's the problem. It's the politicians who really would love the NHS to just go away. They don't see it as a brilliant humanitarian achievement, but a problem. They may say how much they love it but that's crass two faced Hippocratic humbug.

I'm cleaning up the house for the missus' return and have told the cats that things are likely to be less loose when she steps through the door.