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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

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.



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.