Sunday, 29 August 2010

The bendy bus and more Argyle woe

Over the years I have been challenged to do many things through my radio show. One of those was to put myself through the bus drivers' test which involved a lot of work to get through the practical and the theory.

Fortunately, I passed first time, and have since jumped at any opportunity to drive a bus.

When I was invited by CityBus to get behind the wheel of a bus that is on trial in Plymouth, it was too good an opportunity to turn down - especially as it is a type of bus I have never driven before.

The 'bendy bus' is a Mercedes, and at 19 metres long is by far the longest vehicle I have driven.

Brian and Kev were assigned to look over my shoulder as I climbed into the cab.

After just two rounds of the bus depot at Milehouse, I felt comfortable enough to get onto the road.

Driving a bus involves plenty of mirror work, as with quite a swing of the rear of the vehicle on turns, extreme care must be taken.

It was a joy to drive, and I did notice that other road users were more defensive, particularly when considering whether to overtake such a long vehicle.

If all fails in radio, I have been assured there is a job waiting for me at CityBus.

The latest episode in Plymouth Argyle's season saw the visit of Peterborough United to Home Park.

I was hopeful that a few ghosts could be laid to rest.

No home wins since March, and that last success was against Bristol City. It turned out to be the final game in charge of City for Gary Johnson.

As manager of Peterborough, he was making a quick return to Home Park. But, the omens were not good as Argyle met United in the final game of last season. I described that meeting on radio as 'The Wake'. Both sides were already assured of relegation from The Championship, but United were more than willing for a final hurrah before dropping into League One.

Craig Mackail-Smith scored twice that day. For this latest game, he was still in the side - and repeated his feat of two goals in the game.

Unfortunately, the Devonport End goal net, pictured, did not bulge. All the goals came at The Barn Park End during the second half, and Mackail-Smith left me in admiration of his overall performance and finishing.

An Aaron McLean goal sealed a 3-0 defeat and left Argyle fans to trundle home feeling somewhat deflated.

Without a game next Saturday, there is a period of two weeks before The Pilgrims have an opportunity to kick-start the season after the solitary win on the opening day at Southampton.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

It has been a little while since the last blog, but life has been busy. The new football season has seen a return to rituals, updating stats after each game and preparing stat sheets for each commentary game.

With three league games played it's one of each - a win, draw and a defeat. Hopefully, manager Peter Reid is now getting a good idea as to what pleases him, things he needs to change, and business he wants to complete while the transfer window is still open.

He was in great form when we went head-to-head for 'Ready Steady Cook' as part of Flavour Fest. Peter teamed up with Chris Tanner while my chef was again Peter Gorton.

It was the seventh year of competition and I had a (not) proud record of played six, lost six coming into this year's event. The form book was true to its' word, although Peter (G) didn't help when he reached for caster sugar, but instead sprinkled cornflour on to my souffle.

Never mind his Michelin stars, TV shows and award winning food on his CV. I think Peter is the common denominator as my 100 per cent record was maintained.

I am also back in the swing with a 13th season of 'Green Barmy', the weekly retro themed column surrounding Plymouth Argyle. This season's theme is notable events off the pitch. I think with the history of The Pilgrims, I won't be struggling for subject matter to last me until early May.

'Good Morning Plymouth', my weekday show on BBC Radio Devon, seems as strong as ever. A great production team, lots of talking points and the movers & shakers of the city as my guests all make for what I hope provides plenty of interest.

But when we have a good interactive feature, I get a real buzz. This morning's worked a treat.

The culture minister, responding to declining figures in the use of public libraries, has suggested that the facility could be extended to supermarkets and even pubs.

So, in an unashamed pun fest, listeners came up with a great list of books that would be suited to reading in the local boozer. Here are the best:

From Beer To Eternity
An Ale Of Two Cities
Alice Through The Pint Glass
Bleak Public House
Rin Tin Gin
The Forsyte Lager
Whisky Galore
West Cider Story
London Pride and Prejudice
Huckleberry Gin
Stout of Africa
Olive and a Twist
Scotch for all seasons
War and Peanuts

Finally, look out for the 'bendy bus' that's on trial in Plymouth. If you see it on Thursday, you may find me behind the wheel as I have been invited to take it for a drive. I will see if I can drive it anywhere near a supermarket - should be able to fit a week's worth of groceries on board without a problem!

Thursday, 5 August 2010

A busy week, and it's not over yet!

Busy, but rewarding. Had some great guests on the programme and interesting discussion which is a good combination for radio.

I met a young lady who is qualifying as a funeral director, and talked to an MP who was on the phone from a very unusual location.

Then there was the discussion about the Civic Centre. The councillor responsible for the city budget revealed on the show that the crumbling building, still used on a daily basis, would be sold - although that may prove difficult. As with many stories, it was picked up my other areas of the media (it often happens, but I like to think other areas of the media are helping to boost our listening figures, of which more in a moment).

That was followed by a piece with a member of the 20th Century Society, the body responsible for applying to English Heritage for listed status. My immediate first point, informing the listeners that the lady from the society does not, or never has, lived in Plymouth did not go down well with her. It kicked off.

On telling her that the actions of the group led to a decision that did not affect her as a taxpayer, she seemed to stumble around her words.

The reaction from listeners showed that the item had certainly got people thinking and feeling that their views had to be aired - whether in favour of pulling down the building or not.

While each guest is an important part of the programme, I particularly enjoyed Gyles Brandreth. The former MP and well-known writer and broadcaster did a piece about our relationship with the French.

This followed a news story that reveals we still have the same stereotypical views of the nation and its people as a generation ago, but they, too, have views about us.

He was humourous, and just as I hoped he would be - essentially eccentric.

The official radio ratings were released and both programmes I present each morning have received a good increase in numbers. Always a good thing to hear - it's our equivalent of sales figures.

Of course, we are hoping the next set of figures, released in three months, also reflect good audiences for our football coverage. Again, BBC Radio Devon provides live and exclusive coverage and the first match takes place at Southampton on Saturday.

A new season means preparing a new stats book and refreshing myself with all the records I keep on individual players and on the club in general.

So after my on-air duties on Friday morning, I will be travelling to Hampshire in readiness for Saturday's match at Southampton.

With a new manager in Peter Reid and player personnel changes that always occur at football clubs, hopes are there for a good result to get Plymouth Argyle underway as The Pilgrims look to recover from last season's dismal season which ended in relegation.

A win, or a draw, and the drive home will be so more enjoyable. Particularly as it is a lunchtime kick-off. I would hate to see Argyle lose and hear about other teams scoring goals and claiming points in the afternoon matches.

But hopefully, it will be the rarity of arriving home in daylight from an away game. All being well, I can meet up with a group of friends that I normally only see on Saturdays after home matches - The Coffin Dodgers.

I may reveal more about this odd group on a future blog.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

It has been an interesting week.
Getting into the swing of using the new studio layout has been more fun than I anticipated, then on Friday I moved back into Studio 1A after temporarily presenting from the all-new 1B.

With the studio I normally use all ready by late Thursday, I arrived at work on Friday morning with a note left to say that everything was ready.

Not only a whole new set of desks and screens, but the studio has been 'turned around' so that I am now facing my producer. This last week, James was the early producer, but from tomorrow Jenny has that honour and the misfortune of having to look at me through the glass.

It was nice to let the hair down (what is left) on Friday night when a summer party was held for all BBC staff. Don't worry, no licence fee payers' money went towards it!

It was something of a party weekend as Saturday saw the annual Fantasy Football barbeque and presentations.

Andy, one of my neighbours, hosts the party in superb fashion with great food and cold beer. Once again this season I did not trouble the awards, although I have won in a previous year.

But there was good banter among all the 'managers' of the teams in our mini league. Now the competitive element will begin again as we choose our teams for the forthcoming season.

When I got home, switched on the TV and was surprised to see the end of a programme about the guests of 'An Audience With ...'

Then I received text messages and there were Tweets as well saying I had been spotted on national TV.

Now, a few years ago, with fellow members of The Great Bruce Forsyth Social Club', I took part in 'An Audience With Bruce Forsyth'.

I went to the website and looked at the programme on the replay facility, and there we were. My hair was certainly darker in those days.

In the interviews, former MP Edwina Currie said nice things about us, but she did get our name wrong! I live in hope, but I am not expecting extra royalties dropping onto the doormat.

Hoping for as good a week on the radio as last week when international swimmers were among the guests. Also, it was good to see Michaela Breeze again before she goes to the Commonwealth Games. You may recall Michaela went through agonies at the Beijing Olympics when her back gave in during her weightlifting competition.

She is adamant she is retiring after the Commonwealths, although I tried my best to persuade her to carry on until the London Olympics of 2012.

All being well, Plymouth Argyle manager Peter Reid will be on the show this week giving his view of how the squad looks ahead of the new season which starts on Saturday.

I know he was watching our first opponents, Southampton, this weekend in a pre-season game. We can only wish him well for his first competitive match in charge of the team in our season after relegation.

Let's hope we are challenging to return to The Championship at the end of the season!

Monday, 26 July 2010

Back in the routine

No photos with this blog, which I hope does not make the content seem rather plain.

I am now back in the groove, having returned to my radio show this morning after what seemed like and endless weekend of travelling.

I decided to go to JFK airport at 11am on Saturday even though check-in had to be by 6.00pm for the 9.00pm flight.

The reason was the New York heat. At 100 degrees and stuffy humidity, the city was not the place to be. I went to Macy's, purely to use the restroom. It was up five floors but the air conditioning was so welcome.

There was no way I could spend the whole day wandering around the shops and taking in the sights in such conditions. So I used the airport as a place of refuge.

A conversation with an English businessman between flights passed away an hour, and the purchase of the New York Post passed another.

As I finished reading the printed press from cover to cover, I began an encounter which was to last a full 90 minutes.

A young Brazilian gentleman sat next to me and asked if I knew of any hotels in the area. I managed to decipher that he had arrived at the airport, but his connecting flight to Brazil was not until Sunday evening.

When I tried to explain about hotels surrounding the airport, albeit with limited fine detail, the conversation became more difficult as he only had limited English and I have no knowledge whatsoever of Portuguese. So we continued our chat via an English/Portuguese translating website where we both typed in out own tongue and pressed the translate button.

On visiting websites of well known chains, the nearby hotels were fully booked. So I had the idea of a comparison website and typed in JFK. Hey presto, a room was found and he was delighted at the prospect of not having to endure sitting in the airport for around 30 hours.

The address of the hotel was noted and I accompanied the young man to the taxi rank. I'm glad I did. Immediately we stepped out into the heat, the 'bandits' offering a taxi and would have no doubt ripped him off were approaching.

We went to the front of the official taxi rank, and the genial yellow cab driver agreed to my request of giving my new Brazilian friend a quote to ensure he knew what he would expect to part with.

My flight was busy, but behind me was a spare row of two seats - the final row at the rear of the aircraft.

I told the gentleman sat next to me I was going to move back and he seemed as delighted as I was with the prospect of more space to stretch out the legs.

I am not a good sleeper on planes, but did manage to nod off for two brief periods. Transatlantic flights on the return journey always seem strange when breakfast is served around three hours later than the evening meal.

Then, at Heathrow, the menace of queues. Welcome to Britain!

Numerous planeloads of passengers, and only two customs officials at the UK Passports line.

My luggage had probably done a number of circuits by the time I reached the carousel., then the wait for my bus to bring me back to Plymouth.

Managing eight hours sleep, I felt better than expected when getting into work this morning.

Luckily, my producer, James, had agreed to come in early as I was using a new studio for the first time.

Faders that work in the opposite direction that the old studio, buttons in different places and touchscreens for some controls. The new carpet is quite nice as well.

Fortunately, at 9am and after my four hour on-air stint, no mishaps occurred.

I could sigh a breath of relief more confident that tomorrow I will feel comfortable and it wasn't as daunting as I may have feared.

So where does this leave my blogging? Do I continue every few days with experiences on the show? Maybe there could be interest in my football broadcasts with any odd stories that pop up.

I have my Twitter account running, but maybe if I am asked to continue to blog my life away, then I shall succumb to furthering my social networking.

Comments welcome!

Friday, 23 July 2010

Celebrating Christmas before hitting the road

Yesterday was Christmas! Well, in a way.
Through my friends at Positively Cleveland, I was introduced to a group of writers visiting the area. After a great meal, we headed out to Fat Head's - a brewery with bar and restaurant that had brewed, in limited supplies, its' Christmas Ale.

Christmas In July is something that has evolved over the past few years in Cleveland. Ted, the big chief at Fat Head, was only too willing for us to taste eight different brews.

They were just a small selection of those available. Christmas Ale was tapped on the day we tasted and, without prejudice, tasted superb.

Whilst there, I met one of the locals who was around 70 years of age and had visited over 300 breweries and tasted - wait for it - over 8,000 different beers! He keeps a log book of the beers tasted, but had not a trace of beer belly on him!

This morning was the time to leave Cleveland to head towards New York before Saturday's flight home.

A couple of hours into the journey I stopped for brunch. A fantastic corned beef has with real American (loosed) has browns on the side and scrambled egg.

A hearty meal was needed as I was only a fraction into the drive. As I ate, I was watching the local news channel that revealed that the overnight low of 75 degrees broke a record that had stood since 1935 in that county.

Plenty of iced water was again the order of the day. The drive was not helped by four major sets of roadworks on Interstate 80 East, one lasting for 11 miles.

Tuning to 1640AM gives traffic and weather reports, wherever you are. It proved to be company as I was motionless for quite some time as lane closures caused tailbacks, and took a photo to show the highest temperature of the day.

But also, the accuracy of the weather forecast - sorry, truecast - again didn't fail to amaze.

The weather guy read out storm warning number 521 (I presume for the year), with possible lightning strikes for the rest of the day, and a severe thunderstorm warning for 2.13pm tomorrow. I shall be checking my watch at 2.13pm and make a complaint if there is no storm.

Or will I? I fly tomorrow, and can do without any of that nonsense!
Roadsign of the day was spotted on the I80: Buckle up. Next million miles.
It wasn't quite that far to New Jersey, but I have arrived and booked in to a bed for the night.
Tomorrow, it's just a 30-minute drive to Manhattan, traffic permitting, for my trusty Subaru and I to part company.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Bowled over and right (not left) around a roundabout

Today’s blog is something of a photo fest, but hopefully will help to illustrate the accompanying words.

Last night, met up with all of my friends who work at Positively Cleveland: Mark, Freddy, Sam, Jeff, Bob, Lexi and Corinne. The food at our meeting place was superb with both the ham and the cheese hot.

We then moved on to the oldest bar in Cleveland. As we arrived in the area known as The Flats, a mural depicts the area when it was once full of drinking establishments. The graphic was in the form of the well known board game, and entitled Flatsopoly with a map of the area showing where each public house could be found.

The Harbor Inn opened in 1895 and the bar was one of the longest I have seen. I am sure that all the drinking houses in Cleveland are in competition with each other to see which one can stock the most number of beers.

It is a place to enjoy yourself, as not only are there pinball tables and plenty of video games, but one of the more popular pastimes in these parts. Bar bowling has been around for a few decades and the machine at The Harbor dates back to around the 1960s.

Mark, pictured, is looking in very competitive mood. After he, Bob and I had something of a warm-up game, it then got serious. It was suggested that $20 each, to make it interesting, was put down. I declined, as I don’t gamble. Anyway, I didn’t want to take their money.

I may have been the visitor and fresh to their game, but with a score well in excess of 200, they were humbled. Only now shall I reveal to them that I used to play in a skittles league many years ago where the pins are at the end of a long alley, not a few arm lengths away.

Many a time after a night out, the customary burger or kebab has been consumed after a good evening testing liquid refreshment, but the guys suggested a local delicacy before calling it a night.

We stopped off at a 24-hour hot dog emporium where the list of dogs alone was equal to the list of beers previously seen. I opted for the Slaw Dog. Remember that phrase I mentioned a couple of days ago? ‘If it ain’t on your face, you ain’t eatin’ it right.’ That certainly came to mind as I tried to contain everything within the bun.

Today, I went to Crocker Park – a retail park on the west side of Cleveland. The short drive ended with a successful negotiation into the multi-story car park, then out on to what can best be described as a mini town.

All low level, it is beautifully laid out. The seats to relax with a coffee are so comfortable, but as I looked across, I noticed something I had only ever noticed once before in my previous travels to The States, and that was in Plymouth, Massachusetts.

A roundabout!

I just had to go around it before leaving the park. Just to break the monotony of driving in straight lines.

With that in mind, tomorrow I head back to New York. It will be the final, yet longest leg of my journey of 470 miles before I get the flight on Saturday night that will take me back to Blighty.