Archives for the month of: February, 2019

Uh oh. Here I go again. Blubbin’ over my John Lewis pillar box red DAB radio.  Crying over a radio programme again, Elaine? Yes, I’m listening to Ann Cleeves on Desert Island Discs.

veraI’ve always loved Desert Island Discs and wasn’t suprised to learn earlier this month that the long-running series was named the greatest radio show of all time by a panel of industry experts compiled by magazine Radio Times.

The show beat British radio classics such as The Archers, Round the Horne and Hancock’s Half Hour to top spot, with over 40 radio experts picking their favourites from broadcasting history.

Speaking to Radio TimesDesert Island Discs producer Cathy Drysdale attributed the show’s 78-year success to it’s “genius format” that “gets to the heart of people — what moves them and motivates them, what inspires them and enthuses them, who and what they care about.”

Fifteen years ago I was involved in an RSL in West London. An RSL is a restricted service licence radio station. RSLs usually run for weeks or months at a time. This one operated for a month out of the Riverside Studios on the south side of the Thames at Hammersmith. My friend Jonathan Slack and I hosted a Friday evening show called The Friday Night Guest List  (FNGL) or “Feh-Nuggle” as we pronounced it.

royI adored Desert Island Discs and created my own homage for FNGL. The feature was called Eel Pie Island Discs, after the small island along the Thames at Twickenham. The format was basically a shortened version of Roy Plomley’s creation. Eel Pie ran for 15 minutes and guests chose three rather than eight tracks to take with them.

I interviewed guests with West London and BBC Radio links. Annabelle Dowler (aka Kirsty from The Archers) lived round the corner from me in Shepherd’s Bush and taught me Spanish for a while. I also interviewed West London dweller, Jeremy Vine. Jonathan Slack secured the interview…in BBC’s Broadcasting House! Jeremy recorded the interview on the Beeb’s equipment. Ha! He also introduced me to Steve Wright who was coming out of  a toilet at the time. He wiped his hand on his trousers then shook my hand.  I kinda wish he hadn’t done that.

Eel Pie Island lasted for a month but Desert Island Discs is going strong. I’m enjoying new presenter Lauren Laverne’s input. I wonder, does she have a say in the choice of guests? I’d like to think she chose recent castaways Ann Cleeves, Wendy Cope and Bob Mortimer. All three of those guests made me cry when they talked about their family life.

bobI’ve fantasised over the years about which tracks I’d take to a desert island but you know, it isn’t the music that matters. It’s those memories the tracks evoke.

Here’s to many more years of peerless radio from Cathy Drysdale and team. I hope my bright red radio doesn’t develop salt marks from my tears.


Do you remember Mike Teavee, the television-obssessed boy revealed as the fourth Golden Ticket winner in Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? I was that child back in 1970s Gateshead. Some of my earliest memories are of lying and sitting cross-legged in front of our TV. I watched all the kid’s programmes from Bagpuss and Bod to Playaway and Vision On via Ludwig, Noah and Nellie and Pigeon Street. I also watched the news, Spike Milligan’s Q series and discovered art history and the plays of Alfred Jarry by watching Open University programmes. I also loved the test card.  And the adverts, especially the Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut advert starring Frank Muir.

Throughout my teens and early twenties in the 1980s and 1990s I watched soaps (Corrie, Brookside, Albion Market, Eastenders, El Dorado), Channel 4’s classic dramas and films, and music programmes including The Tube, Whistle Test, ORS, Riverside and Rock School. I watched French New Wave cinema on BBC2 and Melvyn Bragg’s South Bank Show on Sunday evenings.

At some point in my mid 20s I  found myself living on my own in Streatham. I didn’t bother renewing the TV contract with Radio Rentals when it expired. Blimey, had you forgotten about that? That’s what we did in the 1990s. We rented TVs from Radio Rentals!  I didn’t miss television and contented myself with radio. I was an early adopter of the internet and listened to BBC6 Music, the Asian Network and BBC7 (now Radio 4 Extra) via my PC. I still have the Roberts DAB radio I was given in 2002.

For the past two decades I’ve lived with and without a TV.  I guess I used to watch it for an average of an hour and a half a day during this time. I usually watched news bulletins or something on BBC4. Then I started watching more and more including Match of the Day, Antiques Roadshow, Who Do You Think You Are and Death in Paradise. By last autumn I was watching almost three hours of television a day.

My last TV died of built-in obsolescence in October 2018. I struggled with going cold turkey. I missed the news. I particularly missed Katia Adler keeping me updated on Europe’s view of Brexit.

Soon the angst about missing out on breaking news lifted. I realised I could get all the information I needed from radio, the internet and newspapers.  Being TV-free seemed to give me the permission to spend less time online and on my mobile phone.

My living room feels lighter without a TV. I read more and I sleep better. I spend more time talking to my partner and we’ve booked trips away instead of sitting in front of the Goggle Box.

Over the years I’ve tried living without meat, sugar, alcohol and cheese. The first few weeks of Life Without TV were almost as bad as living without cheese  because I believe a life without cheese is a life half-lived.

I thought I couldn’t live without a TV but I can. Life without a TV is not a life half-lived.  I know that in future when I stay at hotels, I’ll enjoy flicking channels in bed for half an evening.  I also know I’ll be happy to return home to my lovely living room and the DABs positioned around my home.hqdefault

I’m on a high. I’ve been on it since the pre-gig adrenalin kicked in a few hours before last Thursday evening’s Meet the Poet: Elaine Cusack event at Whitley Bay Library.  I’d been looking forward to the gig. I felt supported by North Tyneside Libraries and knew their promotion of the event would ensure a healthy-sized audience.

Performing in Whitley Bay library Jan 31st 2019. Photo credit: Penny Blackburn

I took the advice of my friend Ron and followed the Six Pees Rule (Proper Preparation Prevents Piss-Poor Performance). I was prepared for the event and thoroughly enjoyed reading old and new poems plus extracts from my latest and forthcoming books.

After the show I was inundated with congratulations from audience members. Since then I’ve read lovely comments on Facebook and via email from attendees. I’m delighted that so many people “get me. ” It’s life-affirming to feel listened to, appreciated  and understood as a person and a writer.

Over the years I’ve had insults thrown at me by folks who felt insecure around me and jealous of my gifts. They haven’t stopped me from writing and performing but I’ve been guilty of silencing myself in response to their behaviour. I hid my talents to keep them safe.

Perhaps you’ve done the same with your artistic flair or sporting ability? Isn’t it time you let your talents speak for themselves?

I have the following quote from Dorothy Rowe’s The Successful Self handwritten on a piece of paper and Blu Tac-ed to the wall in front of this ol’ PC of mine. It’s just above eye level and I see it every time I sit down or stand up.

“Trusting yourself is an essential part of creativity. You must still your criticizing conscience and let the process flow. The flow is spontaneous but not uninhibited. There is channelling, but channelling by wisdom and experience, not by inhibition and negativity. There is a sense of the rightness of things, and the creative process comes, burgeons, and closes with the sense of roundness and completion, yet, until the whole enterprise is complete, there is a link, an opening to the next stage in the creative process.” Dorothy Rowe The Successful Self.


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