Well, that’s disagreeable.

I spend a fair amount of time at Karen’s place in Essex these days, but I do like to get back to my house in Acton on a regular basis. Mow the lawn, collect the post, check that it hasn’t developed a case of the squatters, that kind of thing.

Sometimes I like to combine it with a bike ride. Over the last few years, Transport for London have been developing a mostly segregated East/West cycle superhighway. Ultimately it’s supposed to run from Barking in East London, all the way to, believe it or not, Acton. It’s going to use a lane of the A40 Westway for the western end, which I imagine will cause howls of protest. But that’s for the future.

The part I like to use runs from the Tower of London, down though Blackfriars, along Embankment, through Parliament Square and then into the Royal Parks. There’s some confusion about the exact route around Buck House, but it spits you out onto the Bayswater Road soon enough and it’s not too hard to pedal home from there.

The Superhighway

So yesterday I loaded the bike onto the train at Rochford heading for Liverpool Street. Off the train I threaded my way down through the City, past the Old Bailey (no big trials on at the moment I noticed) and joined the Superhighway at Blackfriars. I was soon back in  the west, feeling pleasantly exercised.  Had lunch, sorted the mail, did a couple of chores, and started the return quite early. (I had to get a train before 16:30 to be allowed to take the bike)

Along Western Avenue, down Old Oak Road, turn into the Uxbridge Road, heading for Shepherds Bush and…

…all of a sudden I  I was sitting in an ambulance. My left shoulder was very sore and a paramedic was shining a torch in my eyes. A cop was standing by the back door taking notes.

Not good.

For a short, confusing and rather worrying period I couldn’t even figure out where I was. Even when I grasped it was the Uxbridge Road I couldn’t remember WHY I’d made the trip over.

It all came back to me soon enough, right up to the turn onto the Uxbridge Road. The actual incident, though, whatever it might have been,  is still a complete blank.

To answer the two obvious questions, yes I’d hit my head, and yes I was wearing a helmet. I always do. You can see what is a surprisingly small dent on the left at the back. (Small dent or not, the lid is a write off. Not that I’ll need one for a while, but we’ll get to that)

According to the cop, I’d had some kind of entanglement with a BMW. (He said his oppo was interviewing the driver) The paramedic reckoned that the Beemer had done a U turn and…

Well, it’s not clear if it actually hit me. The bike (according to the paramedic) shows no sign of an impact and I have no injuries I can detect on my right side, which is where it would have hit. I can only speculate that I saw a situation developing and took evasive action that pitched me off. Maybe I’ll find out in due course.
They took me and the bike  to Charing Cross Hospital, which, confusingly, is halfway between Hammersmith and Fulham. They handed me over and left, but not before taking the trouble to secure the bike. I appreciated that

First order of business, a CT scan of my head. Retrograde amnesia raises all kinds of cerebral red flags. Then an X ray of my left shoulder and a surprisingly short wait. By which I mean only about 90 minutes.

(I actually found this reassuring. I figured that if the CT scan had shown anything alarming they’d have been all over me in a hurry.)

So around 7:00 I got called to see a doctor. He reassured me that there was nothing to worry about on the head scan. (Also, no headache, no blurred vision, no obvious bruising, etc, etc) but in the light of the mild amnesia he did have some advice. Viz: no alcohol for two weeks.

And I have a fractured collarbone. He showed me the X ray.  I’ve been fitted with a “collar and cuff” which is not nearly as elaborate as it sounds. It’s a long strip of soft foam with a loop at each end. It goes round my neck and the forearm goes in the loops.  Sorted.

Here are some painkillers, here’s a letter for your GP (not clear if it’s my copy or if I have to deliver it) see you in the fracture clinic. Goodnight.

I had a think, reclaimed just one wheel from the bike to immobilise it and hailed a cab for Liverpool Street. Didn’t feel like facing the Tube.

Fractured collarbones don’t seem to be all that serious. In fact, unless there are obvious complications they’re dealt with by…putting the arm in a sling for six weeks. It seems the fracture clinic (April 11th) will be more of a follow up than a primary treatment.  I don’t suppose I’ll be doing much cycling for a while. Plenty of time to get a new helmet.

I’ll find out more at the fracture clinic. In the meantime I also have some sore muscles around the ribcage and a bruise on my left thigh where my wallet dug in.

Sleeping is a bit of an issue, Apparently I should try to stay upright to let gravity keep the cut ends aligned. I suppose I’ll get the hang of it.

Oh, and my phone’s gone funny.  It must have got a whack, because although it mostly works as a pocket computer, it no longer functions as a phone. There’s no cell service, That may be fixable. I’ll take it to Bodgers R Us sometime soon.

And that was my day. Thank you for your attention.

 

The long hard life of Elizabeth Philips

About twenty five years ago–long before Who Do You Think You Are– I started looking into my family history, just out of curiosity.

Back then, there was no internet, no Ancestry, no electronic indices and the search procedure was rather tedious so it took me quite a while to track down very much at all.

Over the years, though, I built up a patchy but reasonably accurate (I hope) picture of my ascending family tree.

Mostly it’s fairly mundane. The Gilletts and the Clares (my mother’s family)  were mostly “ag labs”–agricultural labourers–in the nineteenth century and even when they migrated to the towns and cities in the late nineteenth and early Twentieth centuries they remained mostly unskilled.

I was, though, oddly fascinated by one particular ancestor and her life.  It took a while to put it together. In fact, I ground to a halt on a bit of a problem and stopped looking for quite some time until about ten years ago  I got to talking to Karen about it and she managed to break the logjam.

But this isn’t the story of how we unearthed it; this the the story we unearthed.

Her name was Elizabeth Philips and she is one of my Great Great Great Grandmothers.

Elizabeth Philips was born to Anne (born Trehearne) and William Philips in Upton on Severn in Worcestershire in 1804, they having married in August the previous year. She was baptised there on the 22nd of July and that’s really all I know about that. There’s some information regarding William and Anne in later life, including a couple more children (Hannah, 1806 and Joseph, 1815) but little else.

Elizabeth didn’t trouble any other official records that I know of until 1835 when she had her second child, Ann, baptised at Saint Martin’s in the city of Worcester.  I have no way at the moment of knowing how she came to leave Upton on Severn to the city.  I know Ann was at least her second child because she  also recorded an older brother, James, in the census of 1841 but I haven’t turned up evidence of his birth or baptism–which would have been sometime around 1829 or 1830. She didn’t mention a father for Ann and it wasn’t until the 11th of December 1838 that she married. Her husband was Edwin Gillett, a plumber and glazier originally from farming stock in Gloucestershire–perhaps tenant farmers, perhaps ag-labs; I haven’t been able to find out.

Was Edwin Ann’s father? I have no idea. He might have been, but there’s no evidence of it. He would have been eighteen or so at the time. He was born to a Charles and Mary Gillett,  in a small Gloucestershire village called Temple Guiting in 1813.

Edwin and Elizabeth did definitely have one child, John, born in October 1839, but he only lived for six months before being carried off by Tuberculosis in the spring of 1840. Edwin, sadly, had gone before, also succumbing to TB in December of 1839.

And so in the first national census, taken in April of 1841, we find Elizabeth, James and Ann living in Water Course Alley in central Worcester.  It seems likely that it was a bit of a slum. My first thought was that, from the name, it was canalside, but  a more or less contemporary map shows   houses on the alley marked as “City Ditch (site of)” Presumably the ditch was built over. . Water Course alley isn’t there  any more of course. It’s now a municipal car park between Queen Street (which does survive, at least in name, from 1841) and the A34, constructed on the course of Silver Street.Watercourse

It must have been a hard life for Elizabeth, what we’d now call a lone parent, faced with bringing up two children once Edwin died. Ann was quite young, only about 6 and James was 12. He was in fact working, as a “twine spinner” which is part of the process of ropemaking but at the age of 12 he couldn’t have been getting paid very much.

Elizabeth  was a “gloveress” which is interesting in itself. According to Amanda Wilkinson, a historian specialising in 19th century female work, in Worcester it was very often a cover for prostitution.

https://19thcenturyhistorian.wordpress.com/2014/02/14/g-is-for-gloveress/

Glove making was skilled and delicate work, but appallingly badly paid and so many gloveresses supplemented their income on the streets. I can’t help wondering if that’s how Elizabeth found herself with two fatherless children by the age of 30.

Incidentally, fans of Terry Pratchett may be noting the similarity to the profession of “seamstress” in Ankh-Morpork. I’m sure it’s not an accident. Sir Terry was very well versed in social history and must have been aware of the realities facing single women in poverty.

She wasn’t single for all that long. In early 1843 she married one Henry Lewis, a widower and (according to the census) neighbour in Water Course Alley. Henry was a cordwainer, or shoemaker, also a highly skilled trade.  Henry and Elizabeth then fade from official records for ten years.  I’ve never managed to find them in the census for 1851 but in 1853 Henry died at the age of 39 (He was probably born  in 1813 although there’s no definite  record I can find) The cause of death was recorded as a “fit of apoplexy brought on by intoxication,” which is alarming,  His place of death was a street called Lowesmoor, only a short distance from Watercourse Alley. Elizabeth, James and Ann were on their own again.

Until  May 1855,  when Ann had a child of her own. And here it gets just a little murky. Ann’s child was registered as William Gillett CRANNAGE. She gave the little boy “Gillett “ as a given name after her mother’s first husband. Does that suggest that Edwin was  in fact her natural father?

William’s father was named as a William Crannage, a “stoker at the gas works” but nowhere is there any record of a marriage between them. Six years later in the census of 1861 young William was living with his mother,  grandmother and uncle James all under the name of Lewis in Pheasant St, again, very near Watercourse Alley. Of William Crannage there is no sign.  There are a handful of candidates appearing in various census records but none  I can definitely pin down as the father,  the Elizabeth was working then as a laundress–possibly a little too old to carry on as a “gloveress”–as was Ann, and James had become a boatman.

In 1862, at the end of August, Ann (as Ann Gillett) married a Seria Gunnell and then with somewhat indecent haste, had a child in early 1863. Make of that what you will. It seems she left Elizabeth’s home but didn’t take William with her, as the 1871 census shows just Elizabeth and William living together: Elizabeth as Elizabeth Lewis, widow and laundress,  and William as William C. Gillett, a labourer.  There is no mention of James; I’ve never found any definite trace of him since. Ann, meanwhile had given Seria three more children.

Elizabeth was quite old by then  and at some point in the next six years she went into the workhouse where she died of “senile decay”–effectively old age–on the 2nd of May 1877. She would have been 73, not a bad age for a working class woman in Victorian England I think. I’d really like one day to have a sight of whatever records of the workhouse survive.

William Gillett/Crannage/Lewis–take your pick; he did–married a local girl, Jane Stevens, in 1878 and had eleven children, one of whom, William Alfred,  was my grandfather. The eldest child was a girl, whom they named Elizabeth Ann. I find it interesting that William honoured his grandmother first.

There is one odd fact. William married Jane under the name of Crannage, that was what was originally on the marriage certificate and in the register,  but all the children were registered as Gilletts and in 1921 their marriage certificate was formally amended to show that the then William Gillett was the William Crannage who had married 43 years previously. Karen has suggested that this was to validate an entitlement to a pension that was going to kick in at the age of seventy.

It leaves me wondering, though. It seems that by strict linear paternity, I’m not really a Gillett at all, but possibly a Crannage. There’s no guarantee that Edwin was even my genetic three-greats grandfather through Elizabeth. Who, in fact, do I think I am?

But this isn’t my story. It’s the long and hard life of Elizabeth Philips. She had three children by at least two different fathers, both of whom she outlived,  and brought up an abandoned grandchild as her own. She was a survivor and in a curious  way, I’m kind of proud of her.

 


12,701 days: The first four years

On the 29th October 1979 a ), nervous, young (ish)chap presented himself at Centre House, just opposite Television Centre for his first day at work.

He, well, I, joined five others all making their debut at the BBC. We were a bunch of so called Direct Entry engineers, plucked from university, poly or other college with a built in knowledge of electronics who were to be given a couple of crash courses in television to make up for a sudden rush to the exits by engineers seduced by the glamour (and just maybe the  pay) of Independent Television.

Once we’d done our three week orientation–being whipped dizzyingly round all departments from studios to transmission–we  were dispatched to work “on station” and that’s where I had a stroke of fortune that led to my future career.

I was sent to the Central Technical Area for Television News: SCAR. It stands for Spur Central Apparatus Room; the BBC loves acronyms. (Incidentally,  when the whole shebang was forcibly transplanted to New Broadcasting House,  AKA the Temple of Doom, the equivalent technical hub was officially named “CTA 2;” but up to a couple of weeks ago at least, the engineers there would still pick up the phone and cheerfully announce, “Hello: SCAR.” I found that rather comforting)

At the time the BBC was in the middle of experimenting with those new-fangled electronic cameras.  There were a handful of camera-recorder kits around and some of the grizzled old film crews were having a go with them. On top of that, News had built a transmitter truck–a  Range Rover with a four foot microwave dish on the roof to send pictures back either replayed off tape, or occasionally live.  Given that the only other mobile live source in those days  was the News Outside Broadcast Unit: a rather  unwieldy operation with two hefty studio cameras, this was potentially  revolutionary.

I think the original plan was for the camera crews to travel in and operate  the Range Rover and send as well as record material but plans never survive contact with reality and eventually the system we still see today evolved. Crews shot material and delivered it (or it was delivered by bike) to the links vehicle which was operated by a couple of links trained engineers.

The receiving equipment for this was controlled by the staff in SCAR so we found ourselves working quite closely with the teams that operated the Range Rover and when an entirely new department was set up in about 1981 to crew it and provide other engineering support to the ENG crews, SCAR engineers found themselves in pole position to apply for those jobs.

I didn’t get one.

I was far too new and inexperienced, even though I’d done a little filling in while some of the staff were away for the Falklands war. But in 1982 I got a second go when there was a major expansion of the unit–from 10 to 15 I think– to service the coming  new Breakfast News programme. This time I got in, effective 1st January 1983, just in time for the first transmission.
It was a good job. We operated the Range Rover (and other, newer vehicles when they arrived) hung around with crews if we could get close enough to the story and we travelled around the UK and occasionally abroad to set up and operate feed facilities where this new ENG stuff hadn’t yet arrived. I found myself working in Manchester, Sheffield, Glasgow,  Nottingham and for one job down in Cornwall–connected to the loss of the Penlee lifeboat we set up at  Goonhilly Down because it had decent connection to the rest of the country.

I did a couple of trips to Belfast as well. The tensions had eased a bit in Northern Ireland by this time but there was still the occasional flare up. I remember driving into Derry early one morning after a riot looking for the crew that had been out in it all night and the first thing I saw as I entered the city was a copper standing by an armoured Land River carrying a sub-machine gun. Not something a sheltered London lad was used to.

One other trip from that time that particularly  sticks in the mind was to Tripoli in Libya sometime in 1984. I think the Libyan government had  invited the press in for the celebration of the fifthteenth anniversary of the revolution.  I suspect the BBC weren’t particularly interested in that but it was an excuse to get Kate Adie and a crew (Peter Matthews and Roy Benford) into the country to see what they could see.  I spent most of my time shuttling between the hotel (Al Khabir–the Grand, which it wasn’t) and the TV station where I would attempt to feed the stories back.  It mostly worked out well enough and I was spared the majority of the official (and apparently compulsory) press functions.

It was an interesting trip but I wasn’t sorry to come home after ten days.

In amongst all this flitting about I’d started doing the odd day as a relief sound recordist, getting to grips with microphones and the heavy and unwieldy U-Matic  field recorder, the Sony BVU-50. Sony had tried to keep the weight down by stripping out everything not directly concerned with recording pictures. It couldn’t, for example, replay–not without an extra piece of kit. As I recall there weren’t many  controls: on/off, record,  (although generally that was under the control of the cameraman) tape eject and a couple of tiny audio level controls.  If you wanted more facilities there was a bigger, heavier record/replay unit, the BVU-110 but no one wanted to lug that thing about routinely. Sometimes someone had to if there was a shortage of kit. And given that the acting relief sound recordist was at the bottom of the heap, it was often me.

I quite enjoyed it. It brought me closer to the stories than feeding tapes and I was beginning to think that was where I wanted to be.

 

From the memory archives.

This story is one I’ve told many times in person,  so if you think you’ve heard it before you can go and have a beer or something while I get it off my chest.

I was reminded of it when Andrew Steele, my former boss (well, my former-boss’s boss’s boss but who’s counting?) told it as part of his valedictory address at the combined summer barbecue and retirement party they held at BBC Park Western on Thursday night. This is the full, true (as far as I can remember) and unexpurgated reality.

It would have been March or April 1990. I’d been a cameraman, a fully fledged, post holding cameraman, for rather less than a year, so I was still pretty much the new kid on the block.  There had been torrential rain and flooding in parts of North Wales and one town, Towyn near Llandudno in Conwy, was apparently particularly badly hit. I was sent up there to cover it. For reasons I don’t actually remember I didn’t have Denis Howard my usual sound recordist (sound recordists, those were the days, eh?) for this. I was temporarily partnered with someone who shall remain nameless –he’d been a sound man for a few years having started a little while after me.

We drove up to Towyn and the next day filmed around and about for a while. Towards the end of the afternoon we realised it was approaching high tide and went out to an area where the sea had come over the defences and was inundating the railway lines. I got some nice pictures of all that and we headed back to the car to take the cassette to the link truck a couple of miles away.

That was when we found it had all gone a bit wrong.  We’d driven up the main road with no trouble but–well remember I said it was approaching high tide?  The sea had come in and flooded the road both  in front of and behind the car. We’d parked on a bit of a high spot so the car was more or less dry but there was no way we could drive through the new lakes on either side of us. We didn’t even have a clear idea of how deep the water was.   We were trapped.

I called the producer at the truck and explained and we settled down to wait.  After a while the BBC Breakfast crew came past. They’d had the foresight to fly up to Liverpool and hire a Range Rover so they were still mobile. They took the pictures off us (“Nice pictures,” someone said later)  and we waited a bit more.

It was getting dark when I decided I could see the waters receding. I don’t think they were; I suspect I saw what I wanted to see but that’s hindsight for you. I told the sound recordist it was shallow enough to  try driving out. He started the car and we edged cautiously into the pool.

We got about twenty yards before the engine sucked up a lungful  of water and died. I shouldn’t have been surprised; the water was about level with the doorsill at that point. We tried starting the car but (obviously) it wouldn’t and that flattened the battery. Now we were even more stuck.

Ages later, or it may only have been half an hour, a fire engine came past and the crew, bless ’em, stopped to see if they could help. They tried jump starting the car but even the huge battery in the truck couldn’t get us going. (Of course it couldn’t. The cylinders were full of water. ) Eventually they towed us out of the flood to a safe bit of dry land near the links truck. We grabbed our camera gear, locked up and walked the rest of the way. I think we cadged a lift back to the hotel with the the second news crew. The next day I saw the car on the back of a low loader being taken home.

One of the nice things about the old job was the cameraderie. After a wet, miserable day like that you get together with your colleagues and have a drink and chat and cheer each other up. I tried to buy a round for the four of us  in the bar and couldn’t find my wallet. Panic. Where the hell had it got to?

I figured it out eventually. When the fire brigade had dragged the car out of the flood I’d dug out my wallet to give them a tenner (“…for the widows and orphans fund” as Andrew said in his speech.) I was wearing waterproof overtrousers at the time and must have put it back through the pocket slit but not into the actual trouser pocket below. The wallet was probably halfway to Ireland by this time.

It took a while to live all this down–in fact I’m not sure I ever did. Even as recently as last year people were still making jokes about not sending me to cover flooding.

One of the reasons I couldn’t live it down was because the other cameraman on that job made it his business to spread the story about and  keep it alive. Fate saw that he suffered for it though.

About six months later we were, again, both on the same story– a miner’s rally and conference near Durham. I was working for Newsnight; he was again on news.  He was covering a march and at some point his sound recordist, a really nice bloke on attachment from TV studio sound, dropped the car keys. That would have been awkward but survivable given that they had a set each. The problem was that  the keys had the registration number on the tag. Someone–probably a miner–found them, located the car and in what we surmised was retaliation for the BBC’s perceived bias in reporting the miners’ strike some years earlier, drove it into a field and set fire to it.

Total write off, along with a fair bit of expensive TV gear. Not the camera, that was in use, but quite a lot of other stuff. The blackened skeleton of the steering wheel was on display behind the assignments desk for years.

So now I could point out, every time my fraternal colleague had a few beers and began the story of how I drowned a car, at least when they’re wet, they’re that much harder to burn.

 

 

 

The final party.

One of the things I’ve enjoyed about the last few weeks is that I never seem to have been far from some sort of  party. I was bought lunch (a very up market burger) on my last operational day; we all went down the pub on my birthday; I had a barbecue in my garden a few days later and on Thursday just gone I was invited as a retiree guest of honour to what is becoming the annual summer party at the BBC News operational base in Park Royal.  They get caterers in to do the barbecue properly,  lay on some beer and wine (and soft drinks, don’t forget the soft drinks)  and just relax for an evening.  They chose the date in the hope that it would be a quiet spot between big stories–after the World Cup and Commonwealth Games but before the Scottish referendum and the party conference season.  This year they got Bob Prabhu to issue a general invitation through his retired staff newsletter.

It was already going when Karen and I turned up. Plenty of people eating and drinking and just about the first person I bumped into was  an old picture editing hand who got the evening off in the right spirit with an anecdote about the old days. Apparently he showed up to edit on a job I was doing and I promptly forced the camera on him because I needed the loo.  I’ll have to take his word on that because I don’t remember it at all. All I can say is that I knew he’d cope because we’d done the basic ENG course together thirty years ago.

Then I was accosted by a someone I knew by sight but had not ever had an occasion to speak to–Andrew Steele, a senior manager in Operations. He’d actually been my manager about three levels removed for the last  year or two but somehow our paths hadn’t crossed.  he said he wanted to introduce himself because in an hours time he was going to severely embarrass me and I should at least know who he was.

That was nice.

We had a burger; we drank beer (They got in some good stuff. London Pride and Marston’s Ped for a couple although unusually I ended up drinking San Miguel, mostly because it was kept cold) and soon  Andrew called the meeting to order.

After a few words about the trials and tribulations and successes of a stupidly busy summer he took us back to 1979. Margaret Thatcher and so forth and how, on the 29th October, a young man called Roy Gillett started with the BBC and I held my breath

It was mercifully brief. He didn’t give a full rundown of my time, just mentioned that I was one of only a few who’d come through engineering to the camera unit (actually he reckoned I was unique in that respect but I don’t think so) and only told one embarrassing anecdote: a tale from 1990 about how I drowned a camera car in Wales, losing my wallet in the process.  You can read my version–the true version– of that incident here.

Then he gave me a leaving  gift . Another present! I thought the assignments desk had taken care of the leaving present but here was another one.  I scrabbled to unwrap it as Andrew segued from my departure to saying goodbye to Andrew Latham, who’d been running Operations for many years and was also leaving.  I got the parcel open and…

OK, I wasn’t quite as stunned as I was when I got the paintings from Karen (here and here) but it was quite a shock.

Some history. When I left Manchester  (UMIST)in 1979, a bunch of friends got together and got me a leather beer tankard with the UNIST Socials logo on it. I still have it. I never actually drink out of it; I suspect it would be unwise after thirty five years. At the very least it would need to be re-conditioned (soaked in beer for a couple of days) but I keep it on display in the living room.  Steve Hughes, who was part of that team,  had the idea to do it again, for the sake of symmetry. He conspired with a mutual friend, Jackie Burns, who knows people in the art world and recommended the craftsman  and with Karen whose task it was to get my precise joining date out of me without spilling the beans (because it seems HR couldn’t oblige)  and commissioned a leather tankard with my career dates.

And as I stood there gazing at it in disbelief, Andrew thrust the microphone at me.

I babbled. I gabbled. I’m not entirely sure what I said. I think I eventually burbled something about thanks and how the two mugs perfectly bookended my career. There is a threat of a video. Bob Prabhu was filming the whole thing for prosperity. If it goes on Facebook I beg you not to watch it.

And with the formalities over, we settled down to some serious partying. I was pleased to see a couple of recently retired  colleagues show up, including Monty Johnson who gave me advice on being retired (get up in the morning!) and Dave Heath. Everyone I ever speak to who has retired has never regretted it. I was amused to find I’d become the advocate for leaving. Several serving members told me they were seriously considering their options and I told them, with all the authority of my three weeks’ experience of retirement, Go For It.

I got a couple more little leaving tokens from Grant Henderson (wine!) and Alan Murdey, which touched me greatly and we eventually weaved our way home when things wound down at about 10.

I managed not to take any usable photos at the party itself (camera in self-timer mode, photographer in  beer mode) but here’s one from the next morning: me with both mugs.

Mugs1

 

I look pleased I think

So thanks to Steve, Andrew Steele, Karen, Jackie , Bob Prabhu and everyone who came to Park Western that night and gave me a great send off.

Maybe I’ll see you next year.

 

Courgettes, I’ve had a few…

Sorry about that. One of the things I’ve been doing for the last ten days is helping Karen harvest her kitchen garden and the aubergines and courgettes are coming in.

So what is retirement like?
I don’t know yet. I don’t think it’s quite sunk in.  At the moment it’s a bit like being on leave, or in the middle of a long weekend. I spent the first three days getting the house ready for having a few people round for a barbecue. We got in enough booze to launch an ocean liner only to discover that everyone was driving. I’m now self sufficient in beer and wine for months and the freezer is bulging with burgers and sausages.  Then I came over to Southend and relaxed for a bit. Swimming, cycling, bringing in the veg–exactly what I’d do on an August weekend any other year.

Something inside me still hasn’t quite disengaged. Several times over the last week or so I’ve seen a news item or a friend’s Facebook update from location and instantly thought, that will be my job soon. No it won’t! But the gut reaction is still there. Yesterday I briefly found myself wondering when it would be my turn to stake out Cliff Richard’s place in Berkshire and this morning I had a moment trying to work out where I’d park for the Ecuadorian Embassy.

“I don’t miss this at all” I commented on Facebook.

“Liar” came the response.

The truth is perhaps somewhere in between, but rather closer to my comment. There are things I’ll miss, but not so many I want to change my mind.

Definitely “…too few to mention.”

 

 

 

 

The Present

My OH, the lovely Karen decided that a Significant Birthday needed a Proper Present. So she commissioned a couple of paintings from a Liam O’Farrell.

Here they are on my wall.

Pictures1

They’re studies of the Old Bailey and the Royal Courts of Justice with a slightly forlorn cameraman in the foreground

Bailey RCoJ

The Old Bailey has a lone cameraman trudging down Old Bailey to take up his position in the early morningDeatil1

and the RCoJ features the cameraman and his correspondent doing a  piece to camera

detail2

Karen tells me she sent the artist every photo of me on location she could find so he got the idea–and then he filtered it through his style. Apparently he loved the  the woolly hat (which I was wearing the very first time she met me at the Bailey eight years ago; a story I will come to sooner rather than later) and really wanted to include it.

I think they’re wonderful and I think in some ways  the hat says everything.

Thank you so much dear.

 

…Gone

So that was it. My very last official day at the BBC.

No one expected me to film anything (although I did take the precaution of ringing in at 7 o’clock, same as usual, just to make sure) so the schedule was up to me.  I had a few bits of admin to do and then I was going down the pub where I would attempt to stay upright and coherent at least until Karen poured me into a taxi.
First up, handing back my camera and stuff.  I had a relaxed  start, walked round the corner to the BBC’s engineering base and hauled the stuff out of the locker.
photo (3)

Couldn’t resist one last selfie–if I can call it a selfie when someone else actually took it.
The maintenance manager and I stepped through his list and he didn’t grimmace  too much at the occasional ding or evidence of  <cough> wear and tear.   I even had everything on his list still in the kit.

Job one, <tick>

At New Broadcasting House later that afternoon I handed back the laptop that I’d never edited on. I tried to hand in the phone but they told me to keep it until the number got transferred to my new handset.

Job two. <tick>

Then–the surprise. The assignments team took me to one side and produced tea and cakes; a few then someone made a short speech thanking me for my efforts.  At that, Louise Croft produced a card absolutely crammed with good wishes, a bottle of what I am assured is top notch wine (Chateauneuf du Pap) and two magnificent cut glass goblets to drink it out of.

I was stunned speechless. (and not for the last time that day either but we’ll get to that) It wasn’t something I was expecting and I was rather touched. <sniff>

Then: the pub. I got there a bit after Karen did having got slightly wrapped up in tidying my BBC network area but she bumped into a producer she knew slightly

I lost track of who came. A couple of dozen at least. I lost track of who bought me a beer and who I bought beer for. I think we drifted away sometime after ten. A good night. Masons arms

That was about half the number who came. I won’t name them all; they know who they are. Thanks.

The highlight of the evening though was the present from Karen. Entirely unbeknown to me she’d commissioned a couple of paintings from one Liam O’Farrell. They show the Old Bailey and the Royal Courts of Justice with a tiny cameraman in the foreground.Paintings

That was when I was really, truly struck dumb. They will have pride of place on my walls for ever more.

RoynKaren

We got a cab home (courtesy of the app on Sara Shepherd’s phone) and collapsed into bed to sleep it off.
And just so you know, I didn’t have that much of a hangover.

The presents

Presents

‘Poo from Bobski Prabhu and craft ale from Sara.

Many, many thanks to everyone and I may see you again at future events.

 

 

 

Going, going…

Thursday was almost certainly my last day on camera for the BBC. I have one more day on shift, next Wednesday, but that’s going to be taken up with handing back my camera kit, editing laptop, phone, ID and other stuff. Unless various kinds of gooey stuff hit the fan in a big way between now and then I won’t be expected to film anything.

Yes; curiously, some of us still casually use “film” as the verb despite the fact that it’s been thirty years since we switched to tape and I’ve never shot a frame of film in my career. We’ve been through three different cassette formats and now shoot on solid state memory cards but the terminology seems dug in. It’s less common to hear the edit suites called “cutting rooms” but it has happened.

If I’d thought I was going to get an easy ride, a gentle, relaxed day at the end of a career I was sadly mistaken. Just as I was going home the night before I was handed the call sheet for a six o’clock start: a two camera interview in the NBH building with the outgoing CEO of energy company Centrica.

It wasn’t anything particularly challenging, but I could have done without needing to get up at half past four. Especially when I actually had to get up at half past three, unable to sleep. Still, it meant I was unlikely to be late.

The job went off painlessly enough and I was a bit chuffed that John Moylan, the correspondent took a minute to wish me all the best for the future.

Another quick job in the building followed and then, after a couple of large coffees, came the call. Could I please set up on the Piazza at the front of the building for an interview at midday?

Of course I could.

That, it seemed to me, was liable to be IT. My last job. Ever. My crack of dawn start meant I was supposed to be back in West London at half past three and allowing for travelling I didn’t see time for any more shoots.

My last job. Better get it right then.

Don’t panic, I got it right. I did keep obsessively checking that I was turning over; (See what I mean about the terminology? Memory cards don’t turn) it would have been mortifying to make that classic mistake at the finish. (I did do it once, in about 1995, and when the pain has faded in ten or twenty more years I might write about it)

I got the producer to take a couple of photos for posterity.

PiazzaMe

Perhaps I could have tucked my shirt in but then again it’s how most people will remember me.

piazza3

The guest is a James DeWaal from Chatham House, the international affairs think tank and he’s talking to correspondent Nick Childs about NATO’s response to Russian aggression.

 

 

And the camera’s eye view.  I can’t post a video due to filesize restrictions so here’s a grab

Piazza4

Admire how I threw the background out of focus.

And that was it. Unless  a truly major story–and it would have to be Senior Royal Death major I think– breaks in the next three days that is probably  the last thing I’ll ever shoot for the BBC.

I have to say It didn’t feel that momentous.  The sky didn’t darken and lightning didn’t flash. There was no portentous synthesiser accompaniment swelling in the background. I handed over the card, wrapped up and took the kit back to the car.

And apart from the very nice lunch the desk took me out for, thank you all, that was the end of the day. One more to go and I’m as free as a bird.

 

What?

In eight days time I shall become a retired person. A<gasp> pensioner. 

Well, sort of. I’ll be in receipt of an occupational pension. (At least, I assume I will be. So far I’ve heard very little from the pension fund. Maybe they don’t adopt me until August 7th)  But as far as the government is concerned I have another five years and eleven months to go. They moved those goalposts while I wasn’t looking. I will get free prescriptions though unless they change the rules in the next week and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they did.

But yes. Retired. A pensioner. Friends of mine who’ve gone before say it’s a bit like being a kid on the summer holidays again, only with my own money. I can do anything I like. Anything. (You knew  that within the law  is to be taken as read, didn’t you?)

But this poses, if not exactly a problem, a bit of a conundrum. When you can do anything you like, how do you choose? What shall I do? I was never much good at amusing myself on summer holidays as it happens.

I’ve had some ideas. This is one of them: whitter away on a blog. I don’t see that taking up all that much time, especially as I have no intention of making any kind of regular commitment to it. I’m not going to be like Tim Fenton (Zelo Street–over there on the right) putting up three well researched posts a day regular as clockwork.  It will be as the fancy takes me.

Someone has already noted that I will probably get out on my bike a bit more–there may be note at some point about how I came a bit late to cycling and now love it–and that was always my intention. I  I’d like to do more mass participation rides as long as I can find some that knackered old gits can complete in their own time.

Learn, at long  bloody last, to play a musical instrument? Actually take lessons rather than just aimlessly noodle on one? Possibly. Although I suspect that it was lack of any perceptible musical talent rather than lack of time is what’s inhibited  me in the past. Perhaps, like Dan Weir in Iain Banks’s Espedair Street, I should take up the bass guitar because my fingers are too clumsy for anything else.

Get properly stuck back in to my family history research? I’ve been looking at that on and off for the best part of twenty five years but I’ve discovered nothing much new for the last five. I think there are courses I could take and there’s a  possibly of field trips–particularly to Worcester, where my father’s family came from– to look at actual paper records.

Travelling a bit would be good if the pension will stretch, but I’d always want to go with Karen, the other ‘arf, and she’s still working for a living.

Maybe  something I hadn’t thought of will suddenly come along and, in my late mother’s words, “hit me over the head.”

I think for the first couple of months, though, what I’ll be mostly doing is not going to work.

Stream of consciousness from the top of my head