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Mrs Pooter’s Diary (Guest Post)


One of our many shared fanships is the late Keith Waterhouse, whose straightforward response in his Daily Mirror column at the end of 1972 to Nixon’s latest murderous “peace offensive” in Vietnam I still cherish, in the original clipping.

(Roy’s right. I do archive things – a professional deformation of someone whose first official task in Her Majesty’s Service was ensuring the accurate computer posting of accounting records, and whose last often involved researching back to the dawn of VAT in 1973.)

In response to the comment “But what else could he do?”, Waterhouse says: “Well, the alternative to doing something is not doing it.” I haven’t seen anyone improving on that excuse exterminator in just shy of fifty years.

I haven’t yet read “Diary of a Nobody”, which introduces us to the supposed narrator, Charles Pooter: I don’t know if Roy has. But Waterhouse had, and had the genius idea of writing a parallel version from the wife’s point of view, which became a very successful stage play. And it was called “Mrs Pooter’s Diary”.

So when I saw Roy’s account of our beginnings, I was always going to have that precedent come to mind and want to give the world my own take on “This is how we met”.

(And by the way: the price of that ticket in April 1980 was £1.40 – terrace of course.)

I have archived Compuserve Forum discussion threads where this Roy Gillett geezer pops up fairly constantly going back to around 2001: I think if I tried harder I could take it back a long way further.

He always kept it polite, even when obviously exercised over some topic that had pressed a pet “hot button”- I won’t mention them, but anyone who knows us both can guess a few. Seemed harmless enough, and a couple of times when a bunch of us from UKCA Forum met up, we got on pretty well. The second time in fact Roy and I “closed the pub” after Budgie had gone to roost, since neither of us had anyone to go home to, we were still enjoying talking, and the beer in the Black Friar (a remarkable pub – not to be missed if you have the chance to see it) was outstanding. I could drink a lot more of it in those days (sigh).

In the year that followed, outside the Forum, I used my honed audit skills on the Census returns to solve a family history puzzle for him, and he advised me on the odd tech issue. It felt a bit like finding a friend – but not too close, and not too much. I’d heard too much about the perils of “online dating”.

So then there started That Long Discussion Thread (“Life on Mars”). I probably wouldn’t have read it if Roy hadn’t asked about Old Trafford – I never watch telly as a rule. It sort of sprouted branches, as discussions do, and I somehow mentioned that I was thinking of popping along to the BFI to see a Buster Keaton film – I’ve always preferred him to any other silent era classic. And, as Roy says, I pulled his leg about it being “The Cameraman” – I said he might want to come along and pick up a few professional tips.

I mean, this is a senior news cameraman for the national broadcaster of Great Britain I’m tweaking, but he didn’t then know where I lived, why worry? And how likely was it he’d say yes?

Oops.

Now I was only some five years from the breakup of my first marriage, and a very nasty business with The Other Man that had me pretty well traumatised. And even more recently, a sweet, elderly and very junior colleague had also refused to take “just friends” for an answer and been so upset by my eventual very clear rebuff that when he shortly after expired from a heart attack, it was hard not to think “Well couldn’t I have just tried?”

I had little reason by then to trust either men, or my own judgement of them. So it was not without trepidation I agreed to meet this guy in a possible dating context, choosing a pub literally within shouting distance of the office – and took care to let a friend or two know where I was going, and where to find him if I didn’t show up for work next morning. (Roy Gillett – if anyone could have managed to spell it right first time! – at The BBC. Gonna be a really hard find, that one.)

So I walked in and there was this bloke in pale-coloured “smart casual” wear scrunched up behind the farthest table from the door – he swears he wasn’t cowering but that was what it looked like to me. And if I really made that teeth-grindingly corny remark, I’m not surprised. He didn’t even correct me (as he usually does) that he’s NOT a stills photographer!

We had that pint, chatted, and saw the film – and it soon became apparent that, having either never picked up or easily forgotten about his increasing deafness, I had hit the jackpot choosing a silent film. Things were going well, and thanks to a friend who at that time played regularly with the Philharmonia I knew a reliable Portuguese/Italian restaurant only a step away.

(Caprini is still there, and still feeding singers, musicians and audience at a very reasonable price. It’s on the corner past St John’s church, heading for the station.)

We talked. And we talked. And we talked some more. And we pretty well “closed” the restaurant as well.

So the evening got to that point – the goodbye scene. A quick, polite kiss and he says something like “Let’s not leave it that long again.”

And I thought: “Yeah. I think you’re going to be ok.”

And I dared – and here we are. Thirteen years, already, and still talking.

Happy Anniversary.

And thank you, Dear.

Thirteen and counting

Friday 10th March,2006. I’m sitting in a pub in Southwark–The Stamford Arms, now rebranded as The Hungry Bear of all names–and in walks Karen.


Karen and I knew each other slightly from a Compuserve forum: UK News and Current Affairs and we had, in fact, had a beer a couple of years previously along with another member, Lee “Budgie” Barnett, but mostly we knew each other online.

A couple of months earlier I’d posted a question about a detail of the BBC’s entertaining SF detective series Life on Mars. A minor plot point involved a game at Manchester United’s Old Trafford ground and I was surprised at the very low price on the ticket. I asked if that had been the going rate at OT in the early 70s. Karen not only knew the answer but, being a Moo fan, had a more or less contemporary ticket to prove it.

Well it started a long running discussion that ranged all over the place, so far beyond the remit of the forum and the other members that we soon took it private, and somewhere in there she mentioned that she was going to see a classic Buster Keaton silent film one Friday at the NFT, which wasn’t far from where she was then working on the South Bank

“Oh, ” typed, “want to kill the time before the film with a pint? “

“If you’re going to come to the pub, why not come to the film as well?”

Seemed like a plan. She bought tickets.

So she walked into the Stamford Arms, looked round and said ” ‘Ow’s my favourite snapper?”

The film was The Cameraman, in which Buster’s character trades in his tintype for a newsreel camera in order to impress the love of his life. It was an appropriate choice; being silent it posed no problems for my hearing and I did rather enjoy watching Buster more or less invent all the tripod related slapstick that I regret to say we were still doing in the industry 80 years later. (No I don’t)

After that we went for a meal and…

…we still haven’t stopped talking. And a couple of months later I realised we’d shifted from “Want to do something this weekend” to “What shall we do this weekend?”

I could bang on about how we discovered a shared love of the classic The Perishers cartoon from the Daily Mirror and bonded over a strip featuring Ole Boot at the Cartoon Museum. Or the day out in Brighton that was nearly scuppered because my car got stolen. But I probably wouldn’t be able to stop so I’ll leave it at “…haven’t stopped talking.”

So we adopted the 10th of March as our anniversary, which handily gives us an excuse to swerve celebrating Valentine’s Day. We just do it four weeks later

That was thirteen years ago. This year will be different, though. As you probably know, we finally took the next step and got married last April, so we’ll mark it properly in a few weeks.

But for now, Happy Anniversary, me dear.




Also Disagreeable

Have you ever noticed that sometimes you see something and it’s so unexpected, so out of the ordinary, that for a short while you don’t actually see  it? You just feel that something in your sight is indefinably wrong but you don’t know how?

Happened to me a while ago. First week in March last year

I was over in Acton for the day. I had an appointment on the High Street and it was at a time that made it convenient to take the bike on the train and cycle from Fenchurch Street.  Well, I did all that. Got away from my commitment at about 2pm and rolled gently up Horn Lane to Casa Gillett. All I wanted to do was a security check and collect the post.

I opened the front door and–well it’s hard to say what I saw. It’s a bit of a blur.  I simply couldn’t process what was in front of my eyes. It had no context . I have an impression of there being something  large and white lying in the hallway and my first, panicky thought was that I’d been burgled. Again.

Then the noise broke through the fog. A rushing, roaring sound, and I saw that, well, I couldn’t properly see the length of the kitchen.

And then it pulled into focus. Water. Cascading through the kitchen ceiling.  Sheets of it.

A leak. A bad one.

It took a while, and involved lying face down in a couple of inches of cold water reaching under the kitchen cabinets but I eventually managed to close the main stopcock and the torrent  slowed and stopped. 

Then I had to take stock.

The power was off, and with that, the heating. Large chunks of the ceiling had come down in the back  bedroom and in the rear half of the living room.  The “white object” lying in the hall was a sheet of the ceiling paper and the plaster work above was bulging.

The suspended ceiling in the kitchen was just a sagging, soggy mess and the floor was inches deep in water. All the carpets were soaked. 

So I phoned the insurance.

They were very good. The call handler took details and once I’d confirmed that the water was off she told me to lock up and walk away for the day; a loss adjuster would be in touch. She offered to find me alternative accommodation but I just said I’d go to the “other ‘arf’s” and she was OK with that.

I secured the bike and got the train back to Essex

Over the course of the next couple of days I played phone tag with the loss adjusters in amongst trying to evaluate the damage. I really shouldn’t have bothered. It was a professionals’ job. The only thing I did of any use at all was to get into the loft and fix the source of the trouble. 

It was all down to the “Beast from the East”.  Despite me keeping the heating on as frost prevention, at some point in the week before the discovery a water pipe had frozen up in the loft. It hadn’t burst the pipe though; as far as I could tell, the ice had pushed a compression joint apart. It was a simple enough matter to remake the joint. and it’s been fine since. 

Basically, mains pressure water had been pouring into the loft for up to a week. It quickly soaked through to the rear bedroom and bathroom and then into the void between floors, where it spread through the whole house and down into the ground floor.

The loss adjusters were pretty good. The first thing they did was assign a local recovery specialist and I met the boss on site about a week later. 

He walked into the house, took one look and muttered, “This is Bad” (It sounds a lot worse in his Eastern European accent) His crew started work that day. 

They condemned almost everything and started slinging it out. Bed, chests of drawers, dining chairs, most of the soft furnishings, all the carpets and floorings  except for the front bedroom. Then they installed a bunch of dehumidifiers–large fan heaters that suck in cold damp air and condense moisture out and left them going.

They ran for six weeks before it was declared dry. It cost a fortune. I know because they were efficient enough to note the meter readings before and after. 

Then the builders came. Well, eventually the builders came, but that was my doing because I was expecting the loss adjuster to call me, and he seemed to be waiting for me to call him. I suspect that with a fair number of water damage cases on his desk he was happy to expedite those that were costing a mint in bed and breakfast accommodation and leave me at the bottom of the pile. 

Down came almost all the ceilings. Off came all the plaster. Out went all the kitchen units and the non-ceramic bathroom stuff. I got sent a “Schedule of works” and a request to choose wallpapers and paints and stuff and there was some back and forth with the supervisor and the office about what I could and couldn’t have. That took another couple of months until they signed it off in November and then the carpet people got involved.

That was an interesting example of the kind of fragmentation and diffusion of responsibility that seems to be the norm now. 

The  insurance issuer  (Nationwide) had passed me on to their underwriter (Royal Sun Alliance) who appointed a specialist loss adjuster (who, by the way changed ownership during the year but that was at least transparent to me; my bloke-of-contact remained the same)  who engaged a flooring surveyor in Blackburn who sent the assessor round and nominated a supplier and fitter in Kenton. Who I then had to visit. And by this time it was late December and they couldn’t get the new carpets ordered before the New Year.

Oh, and then they screwed up by making an appointment to fit it all assuming that all the carpet would arrive from the manufacturer in time. Which it didn’t.  So they had to come back a fortnight later. It was finally all finished only about a month ago. Just short of a year.

And while all this has been going on I was intermittently in contact with the loss adjuster about the financial loss. I made an estimate, based on comparing the bill for first quarter of 2018 with Q1, 2017 on how much the water escape had cost. He accepted that in such a hurry I wondered if I’d underestimated. He got, as I said, a cost of electricity from the recover team and I had to put a price on the list of stuff they’d thrown out. Much rummaging in the files for old receipts, checking websites for current equivalents, and for the bed, I think it was, submitting a scan of an old credit card bill with all but the one relevant line redacted. 

Finally I tried to estimate out of pocket expenses for living away. I suggested a proportion of the council tax and utility costs here at Watson Towers and added a couple of overnights for the days when I had to meet tradesmen on site first thing in the morning. And again, he agreed so fast I wonder if he’d been expecting a lot more. I think perhaps he was just relieved I wasn’t costing him £500/week in a Travelodge (And frankly, having stayed in the local Travelodge when I had a morning appointment once, I was relieved too.) 

One final thing. When the time came to turn the heating back on, it wouldn’t. I got the engineers in and after a bit of faffing  they diagnosed a failing pump. With that replaced all was fine, but I wondered. Did the pump fail a year ago and cripple the heating? Was that the original cause? Probably never know, because the  flood (Not a flood, said the family insurance expert. An “escape of water.” There’s a technical difference) put the power off and erased the evidence. 

And there we are. The place has been about 80% redecorated mostly at someone else’s expense. We took the opportunity to empty it of most of my accumulated stuff and this now looks like a good time to let it go. I really can’t justify the cost of keeping a 3 bedroom house in West London just for the handful of times a year we need an overnight. The savings on Council Tax, insurance and utilities would pay for quite a few hotel stays and we’re already looking like Frequent Flyers at the local Holiday Inn. 

More on that as it eventuates.

I’m riding for charidee!

A couple of years ago I was going into a large store and was hailed by a chap standing behind a table in the lobby. 

Imagining him to be selling double glazing or something I muttered something dismissive and marched on. A few second later my forebrain processed the image my eyes had delivered and I realised he was raising money for the Essex and Herts Air Ambulance. I turned back to apologise and make a donation and ten minutes of conversation later I was a regular sponsor. I’m a bit of a fan of Air Ambulances anyway, having seen the Thames Valley team in action after a road accident in Bucks some years previously

Fast forward to last month and in one of their regular  emails they told me about a cycling event they’re running out near Colchester in April. Well I’m always looking for new routes on the bike so I thought I’d have a go. I’m signed up for the 80 mile (128km) route which is on the long side for me but I think it’s doable.

The 80 mile route

It starts and finishes just outside Wakes Colne up near Colchester. The height profile doesn’t look TOO awful and as long as I just keep spinning away I reckon I should be able to knock it off in 5, maybe 5 and a half hours in the saddle. a bit longer with rests.

It’s not the only longish organised ride I’m signed up for this year –I’m currently registered for at least four more, including one if February which will be a struggle if if the weather doesn’t im prove and let me get some miles into my legs, but the only one where I feel mildly obliged to solicit donations.

If you feel like it

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/roy-gillett1

A quick taster

So you probably know  we got married.
Karen and me. We got married.  Friday 20th.  It was great. We had a seriously good time–so good I’m still reeling  and trying to bring it all into focus to write something about it.

But while I do, here is something I prepared earlier. It’s the short speech I gave before the Best Man’s speech. I’m not sure that this was fully in compliance with the traditional order of events, but I really don’t care.  There was stuff I wanted to say, and say it to all the friends and family.

This is my script. It was NOT delivered exactly as written. I kind of surfed the euphoria a bit and ad-libbed a few times.  “Check against delivery,” as it used to say on the advance copies of political speeches I occasionally saw in my previous life.

Seemed to go down reasonably well.  It got a few laughs anyway.  For those who did see it live, thank you for being so appreciative.

Well, it’s been a while coming, hasn’t it?

I mean, not many people wait until their 60s to dip their toe into matrimony for the first time.. Usually once you get into middle age, you’re a bit set in your ways, but this seems like the right thing to do now.

From another point of view it’s been twelve years. Twelve years since Karen and I decided we’d been typing at each other on social media long enough and went to see Buster Keaton in a silent film called The Cameraman. It was great fun to see him inventing all the slapstick stunts with the tripod that we were still doing 100 years later. And afterwards we decided maybe we should do something one day again soon. So we did, and 12 years later we still haven’t stopped talking.

But maybe the real wait has been six years.

Let me take you back to March 2012. Karen had joined me at the BBC at a retirement party for a fellow cameraman.  As usual, a whole bunch of old hands showed up and I found myself in conversation with quite a few of them. Most of them seemed to think I was likely to be the next departure, and on the whole they were encouraging me to take the plunge as soon as I could. And so so, they reckoned, should Karen.

Well, we chatted about it and started thinking out loud about what retirement would mean and then she said something along the lines of, “That would be a good time to “sort out the paperwork”.

“Sort out the paperwork” was our euphemism of choice for the “upgrade” of Karen and Derek’s long standing separation to a full divorce.

Hmm. I said. “Well, if you did do that, I’d be happy to do the next bit of paperwork”

There was a pause. She looked at me, looked at the glass of BBC red wine I was holding, which was definitely not my first of the evening, looked back at me and said “Does that mean what I think it means?”

“Er…yes. I suppose it does,”

There may have been less romantic proposals, but maybe not by much, and I couldn’t let it end there. So a little while later, when were leaving the party I did, in fact, get down on one knee and proposed properly, just so it was official.

And for the avoidance of doubt, I said it AGAIN once I’d sobered up the following morning.

And here we are.

Before I hand over to Steve for the ritual character assassination I do just want to say a few words of thanks.

When I started seeing Karen I was a bit nervous about meeting her extended family. I needn’t have been. Without exception, everyone on her side has been welcoming to the newcomer. Particularly, I want to thank Chris, Tom and Clare who took to to “mum’s new bloke” without so much as blinking an eye and made me feel like one of the family.

Thanks also to the staff here at the hotel for arranging all this for us.

And finally thank you to all of you for coming. Some of you have come some distance to join us today and I can’t tell you how much we appreciate that. We hope you’ve had, and will continue to have, a good time.

And now it’s Steve’s turn, but first

At this point I muttered something about traditionally giving the Best Man a present but thinking that he’d appreciate this rather than a set of cuff links or something and handed him a bottle of decent (as recommended by the local Majestic Wine Warehouse) Pino Grigio (As recommended by a mutual friend)
I ran the first draft past Karen and she made a few suggestions, which I incorporated and reminded me of the following .  I’m including it for completeness.

We actually first became acquainted online in the late 90s: the earliest post from “Roy Gillett” on UKCA I can find quickly in my archive is from 2000, and even then we were disagreeing *very politely* on the existence of God 😀

In 2004 we nearly met, but Brendan [Brendan Stallard, an old online mate of ours]  couldn’t find a slot in the schedule so it fell through. I can’t find the one where we all met up in the Black Friar but it must have been shortly after that.

In 2005 you were helping me with getting a facsimile signature into my E mail sign-off, and I was helping you with family research on the Censuses.

At the end of the year, or early in 2006, the famous “Life on Mars” thread started – and you, as an old UMIST student, queried the credibility of the price of a ticket to Old Trafford as portrayed on the screen. I aced the game by being able to produce an actual stand ticket from Easter 1980, priced at £1.40. It’s fair to say I have a certain reputation for record-keeping.

After that the conversation sort of carried on and deviated into other matters – culminating in me saying I was going to The Cameraman, and you offering to meet up for a drink between work and then….(see above)

Steve’s speech, since you ask, was pretty damn good.  I was only very slightly embarrassed and Karen didn’t recoil in horror once. Well, in twelve years she’d heard most of the anecdotes already,

I want to write a bit more about the planning and build up and the event itself but it’s going to take a while and I need to wait on the photos from the official photographer.

Thank you for reading.

PS I should probably mention that the headline picture is an early preview of the set from the official snapper–an old BBC mate, Jon Daly Photography. An the embedded speechifying picture is courtesy of Louise Nicholson, probably my oldest friend there.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.