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!