Category Archives: Personal

My Own Personal Kind of Lockdown

The UK officially entered into lockdown on March 24th 2020 in response to the Coronavirus pandemic. In a previous blog, I commented on how relatively little my own routine would change under lockdown, as my way of shopping and doing volunteering in particular had radically altered since June 2019, in such a way it was lockdown friendly anyway.

My initial lockdown blog was written after two weeks, and I’d just managed to successfully record at home my monthly two hour hospital radio show for March. In the five weeks since, the April edition of my Angie’s Allsorts show has been broadcast AND I’ve developed an idea to produce a show called Beautiful Sunday. This has been an ambition for years, but I couldn’t commit to being in the studio on a Sunday because of my reliance on public transport. However, remote recording has made my fortnightly Beautiful Sunday show a reality, making its debut for Easter on 12th April. The three shows I’ve created so far I hope evoke a pleasant and calm atmosphere, and provide a much needed “ahh moment” for patients to enjoy. All the music and poetry/verse pieces are carefully chosen to complement my personal stories, and I wonder if my musings are anything like the legendary fireside chat radio recordings of President Franklin D Roosevelt? Certainly in these rather strange times I’ve drawn upon memories, feelings and at times a growing awareness of those things that have grounded and shaped me. If listeners can relate to what I’m saying and feel I’m talking directly to them sharing stories, perhaps they will feel a little better and less lonely too. That’s what I hope for anyway. My creativity has heightened and my volunteering productivity increased, despite having no football to commentate and being home based.

Part of my growing awareness, is realising where some of my reactions stem from regarding the pandemic crisis. Seven weeks into the lockdown, it has dawned on me I’ve created my own personal lockdown format too. I’ve gone from being a TV news junkie to switching off completely since the lockdown announcement itself, with the exception of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s speech on Sunday May 10th announcing some relaxation of lockdown rules in England. I check news app headlines (CNN, Sky, BBC) daily on my phone, read the odd article here and there, and view Twitter trends with wry amusement. I’ve known a long time that Twitter inhabits its own bubble, but I can gauge what’s going on for example in breakfast TV shows by the trends. This usually confirms to me why I don’t tend to watch them, but the Twitter trends can also be enlightening as well. When several disinfectant brand names simultaneously trended I knew something was wrong, and a President Trump speech was behind it. And I found out about Capt Tom Moore’s fund raising efforts through Twitter as well. So I can keep abreast of the Coronavirus situation very well, without watching TV news literally consumed by the pandemic story. The monotony of bad news and depressing statistics can’t be good for anyone’s mental health well being,

Of course social media provides everyone with a sound box where they can rant about anything and everything. As a result it can be a very nasty world being vindictive and downright vicious at times. I’ve seen people being verbally mauled on Facebook and Twitter just for having a different viewpoint, or standing up for themselves. So rather than lockdown making me closer to people through social media, it’s made me effectively run in the opposite direction. I don’t want to be anywhere near someone (virtually or physically) who with sanctimonious self-righteousness THINKS they know how I’m behaving and isn’t afraid to stick the boot in. My husband will jump into any “discussion/argument” with his size 10 ½ feet and go on and on and on with his views, although admittedly he has kept quiet about the pandemic issue since lockdown began. But I’ve never had that mindset, I can’t be bothered getting into a dialogue that is effectively a written fight, I don’t have the inclination nor the energy and would begrudge the time spent on it as well.

This “mindful running away” from aggression and unpleasantness I’ve realised directly stems from growing up witnessing domestic violence. Although people knew what was going on, there was no talk about it, so no questions asked and no telling tales. It was me, the level headed responsible child, who separated fights and became the emotional support/counsellor to my mum. But no one was mine! Behind the respectable facade I dealt with the emotional chaos ALONE with nothing but the TV, music, my teddies and pet dog and canary for solace. This inflicted isolation I had thrust upon me at too young an age, means that the lockdown social isolation people bemoan has no terrors for me at all.  I kept quiet about so much when I was younger it’s easy for me to clam up with a “no-comment” mindset regarding anything unpalatable. My parents were so wrapped up in themselves my opinions never mattered, and little thought went into how I was feeling about things. Joining Facebook was quite a big deal for me, because it was a way of expressing thoughts and feelings and sharing news about what was going on in my life, not that I was sure anyone cared. And of course there has been the delight of finding long lost names from the past and reconnecting with them. But over the seven weeks of lockdown I’ve barely spent any time on Facebook (less than 2 to 3 hours in total), just briefly skimming the five most recent posts on my feed. On the pandemic crisis I’ve reposted two amusing pictures/one news link and made ONE personal post (regarding a work email my husband received) that’s it. Personally I’ve posted about my remote recording for hospital radio and made about four tentative Facebook message enquiries. But I had to really force myself to do even this, my natural inclination to go silent. Twitter posts have been just as sporadic as well, although I’ve advertised my blogs there but not on Facebook.  I’m painfully aware I’ve gone into my protective bubble mode as a way of coping with the pandemic situation. A couple of random posts spotted from one particular friend helped remind me of the more fun aspects social media can provide. So having delved joyfully into my photo archives, I will hopefully be a little less withdrawn and a bit more proactive on Facebook again soon.

Society Changed By Coronavirus

The coronavirus pandemic has made a huge and indelible change on society, in a very short space of time. So much that was taken for granted is no longer certain, and the best and worst in us has emerged. I’ve tried to articulate my thoughts here.

ASSUMPTIONS, MIXED MESSAGES & GREATER EXPECTATIONS

ASSUMPTION: The majority of people are able to work from home, children can easily be schooled at home, groceries can be bought online and delivered, and public transport or car use can be largely avoided. These assumptions presume that everyone has 24/7 fast broadband internet access at home, their own transport, and the type of employment that is not location dependent.  But a number of jobs are location dependent (hospitals for example) and rely on staff having their own transport to get there, as public transport links are poor at best and are certainly not compatible with shift patterns.

Public transport is the ONLY means of getting around for many people and large numbers of households don’t have any internet access due to income poverty. For this group an online shop (with minimum spend), or accessing schools/government online learning resources is impossible. Single mums, those with limited income or who don’t drive, require smaller more regular shopping trips using public transport. Under the lockdown terms, excursions are permissible for groceries, but I can imagine the frowns of disapproval seeing the elderly shopper at the bus stop, single mum with children in a queue, or using cash rather than cashless payment. THERE IS LITTLE COMPASSION FOR THOSE WHO HAVE NO CHOICE, the assumption being we are all on a level footing, and we are nowhere near it.

MIXED MESSAGES: Just about anything said by the government or an individual, can be interpreted in numerous ways. No matter how carefully worded a statement is, there is bound to be a perceived lack of clarity somewhere in it, or a complete misunderstanding of its meaning. This isn’t good in normal circumstances, but it is even more significant now. At best a less than well thought out edict or statement can cause hurt, cause distress or make someone feel marginalised. Government statements and legal legislation are being interpreted in erroneous ways today, and little good can come from it. The police especially are enforcing the new rules in mixed ways. The other day (April 9th) the chief constable of Northamptonshire police suggested his force “were days away from road blocks and checking people’s shopping trolleys”. Outrage at this resulted in him issuing a “backtrack” statement that ended with the suggestion these measures could still be taken at some future point!

GREATER EXPECTATIONS: Carry On Regardless springs to mind. All jobs requirements will still be done, meetings still held, deadlines (made largely redundant now) will still be met, and future plans made for when normality returns. But this depends on the workforce having full technological connectivity. The pressure to keep “the ship sailing” whilst being based at home without access to all the hardware, is putting undue pressure on employees. Although they are working in a more relaxed personnel environment at home, more hours are being put in, attempting to try and keep up with everyone else.

THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE UGLY

GOOD: A sense that in many areas there is a thriving community spirit.

GOOD: Many thousands of people volunteered to become NHS Responders to help where needed. The same thing happened when retired medical personnel volunteered to return to work.

GOOD: One thing is for sure, the unsung heroes in this crisis will not only be the NHS medical staff, but the ambulance drivers, care workers, delivery men, shop workers and hygiene executives (bin men & cleaners) usually at the bottom of the pay scale. Respect for medical personnel has solidified (it has always been there), but an increased awareness for the little people too easily forgotten has given them a new status of respect as well.

GOOD: In times of adversity HUMOUR can be a real tonic, and I’ve seen some highly amusing stuff floating around Twitter & Facebook (my only social media apps).

GOOD: Economic promises have been made to support business companies and workforce wages, an unprecedented move by the UK government. Despite amendments to address self-employed concerns (initially a glaring omission), there will still be economic casualties. I suspect those on zero hour contracts (many probably in companies plying their trade until forcibly closed) won’t be eligible for help, nor freelance workers whose incomes have dried up as the work evaporated. And the self-employed criteria for financial aid seems much more complicated than it need be, so many will probably be disadvantaged.

GOOD: An obvious improvement in the environment with less pollution worldwide resulting in cleaner air and waterways (eg. Venice lagoon).

BAD: In many cities worldwide a mass attempt at disinfecting streets and buildings has resulted in unknown chemical cocktails being released into the atmosphere. Respiratory issues may well stem from these initiatives (open windows whilst de-contamination happening!) and undoubtedly the chemicals used would eventually find a way into the soil and water table causing problems for the future.

BAD: A palpable sense that a large majority of people are living in a high state of fear and terror. Sadly this has resulted in cases where medical staff who privately rent have found themselves homeless, so acute was their landlord/lady’s fear of the germs they worked around.

BAD: Opposing viewpoints has seen a nasty spike in vicious vindictive abuse being dished out on social media platforms (nothing changed there). I can already see both blame and shame games going on, and it helps no one. Since this virus hit the news, I’ve felt the divisions in our society would become all too apparent, and sadly that has been proven correct.

BAD: Media coverage doesn’t help either, being consumed by coronavirus news to the detriment of almost anything else (like UK Brexit era) and seemingly concentrating on only the negative side most of the time. Other things are happening in this country and around the world, but little of it is reported. What is really going on beyond the umbrella of coronavirus? And I doubt we are getting the full story on coronavirus either.

BAD: Relationships with any kind of tension within them will undoubtedly worsen during lockdown restrictions. And there is a high probability of increases in people suffering from anxiety, depression or OCD tendencies.

BAD: Only essential food shops and pharmacies remain open. Yet many post office services are located within “non essential” premises such as newsagents, stationary stores and village halls. So many post offices are now inadvertently closed, and to make matters worse I’ve read the postal workers union leader would like to see only “essential” items delivered by his members. If such a directive took hold, the Royal Mail (who always finds their customer) would be catastrophically undermined, by handing business to couriers who are not the greatest in finding their destination.

BAD: Police have been known to issue directives on what can and cannot be sold in shops and petrol stations. Explains the disappearance of newspapers from petrol station foyers!

BAD: Food stockpiling, resulted in store empty shelves and long delivery delays. Now there are item limits being implemented, and the number of delivery items allowed being reduced. An unsavoury undercurrent that has developed is that the general public themselves are beginning to express their ideas on what is a “necessary purchase”, commenting on what people are buying and questioning if it is allowed. Do people not realise the danger in these thoughts? This is a very slippery slope that would be difficult to get off once Joe & Jane Public step onto it.

UGLY: Big brother is most definitely watching everywhere! Civil liberties, data protection, freedom of speech are all under potential threat. Those who would normally jump up and down on these issues are either keeping a low profile, or are part of the “thought police”. God help anyone with even a hint of individuality of thought, or a questioning mind all will be cursed on social media platforms (at least). Will mobile phone companies use data/location tracking to record your every move? Anyone it seems can deem your purchases non-essential, movements and attitudes dangerous, and report them to the authorities. Channels for communication and receiving information have been reduced, due to post office closures and reduced newspaper availability. When you work from home, even if your channels appear to be secure, you may be under unwitting surveillance! Those in authority say it’s for the greater good (maybe for now), but who is to stop these measures continuing once they have been implemented?

BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR

Any measure put in place by a government during periods of heightened fear, are done with the complicity of a scared population. There is nothing to stop those measures staying in place once the crisis has calmed down. Fractures in society are being exposed, and many things we know today may not return again. The mantra is “we will get through this together, see you on the other side”. The other side will be a very different place, the normal we had will never quite be the same again.

Living Under The UK Lockdown

Exactly two weeks on March 23rd 2020 UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a 3 week lockdown for the country, due to the Coronavirus outbreak worldwide. He had negotiated a much slower pathway to this situation, and many condemned what they saw (at best) as ineptitude and poor leadership.

Other countries were in lockdown long before us, and implement it seems, a harsher form of lockdown. At the time of writing UK residents are allowed to have one period of daily exercise outside, and can also leave their home to get essential food and medical supplies, and travel to work if it is considered absolutely necessary. Public transport and car use should be used ideally at the absolute minimum.

My household is a non internet area, and I’m a non-driving housewife who relies on public transport use for shopping, entertainment and volunteering activities. Since last June my use of public transport has radically altered, due mainly to a combination of reduced services and the realisation of how much it was costing. I changed my hospital radio show commitments to enable independent travel and to allow a grocery shop afterwards. Further shopping trips were added to the days when I did my volunteer football commentary. In doing so I got the full use out of my bus tickets, and any other shopping trips were tagged onto the cinema visit, theatre show or pub meal events. This meant I could easily manage nearly two weeks without poking my nose out the door, with the exception of my daily Pokémon Go walk. So inadvertently I’m nicely settled into a lockdown mentality anyway, and am quite happy spending time at home and in my own head.

I can stock up for about a maximum of 14 days, using a larder fridge, freezer and cupboard space. Living in a small flat where everything has its place, I can’t comprehend bulk buying anything. Much of my shopping is done using smaller shops and public transport, so is usually limited to how much I can carry anyway. The car gets used on the more “heavy haul” trips. Having stocked up just prior to the lockdown (which I anticipated), we managed two weeks before it was wise to confront the grocery run again. The car took us into town and my husband did a Lidl shop, whilst I walked to an independent butcher and loaded up a bag with fresh meat goodies. So in all honesty the only real difference to my food buying routine is that it’s a dedicated outing in the car, rather than being tagged onto other activities as they are all unavailable just now.

One thing that could be attributed to the “lockdown effect” is an awareness of a heightened sense of focus and mindfulness. My daily Pokémon Go walk now demands I’m more vigilant in caring for the contents of my Pokedex and bag! Rather than think it would be nice to photograph the wildlife, flowers and surroundings on my walk, I’m now making the conscious effort to do it. I’ve always had ideas for blogs, but more often than not I’ve thought “not just now I’m too busy” then kicked myself when a perfect moment for the idea comes and goes. So I surprised myself on World Poetry Day, when I sat down for about three hours, pulled together thoughts on a three year old idea, and articulated them into a blog. Only after it was uploaded did I prepare to do the quick shopping trip I’d planned. These are definitely actions from an altered state of mind, a much quieter mindset with less “noise” from everyday living.

I’ve never understood the concept of boredom; I always have ideas on how to spend my time. There is usually a list of things I’d like to do long term, and as time progresses these hopefully are ticked off, though some carry over between seasons. But they will get my attention eventually, especially now. Onto the usual list of paper/writing/music & audio projects, I’ve added in some wellness aims as well. At different times I’ve managed to do some home exercise routines for example, or played Brain Train exercises on my old Nintendo DS Lite console. I’ve resurrected both these activities in the last week, and I’m gunning toward a promised project to myself for when I turned fifty. I got the guitar I’ve had a while restrung and setup not long ago, with the idea of learning to play it using some gifted music books and online tutorials. So I’m using the unusual worldwide situation as a catalyst to improve MY greater good, which can’t be bad.

In closing, I mentioned before I do hospital radio, and my last shift in the studio was due March 31st. With the normal schedule suspended, and a show planned, I managed to record my two hour music “cheerfest” at home, and send the files electronically to my colleague who deals with the technology side of the business. I wasn’t in the studio physically that afternoon, but thanks to this game changing possibility, my voice & music entertained patients that evening. Once again, I’ve got more ideas for show formats, but with travel constraints, they would never see the light of day. But now…..who knows!

Adrian Mole the Musical

I’ve posted this blog on World Theatre Day 2020 (27th March) as a reminder of a terrific show seen last year. All entertainment forms have been cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic crisis, so its a perfect opportunity to reminisce.

I enjoyed an afternoon matinee performance of this limited season production on August 8th 2019. Having recently read ALL the Mole books I was intrigued to find out how Adrian’s first diary (aged 13 ¾) would be interpreted on the stage. The show was extremely well done and at times was absolutely hilarious. In fact, for me, the fun began when I took my seat before curtain up. 80s music was emanating from speakers and I began to quietly sing and bop my head, exactly the same as a woman in front of me. Making small talk with her and reminiscing, she admitted her teenage daughter was so mortified by her mother’s behaviour; the girl had sought refuge in the bathroom until the show began! We laughingly agreed it was something Adrian would do too.

The story was concentrated on the first year of Adrian’s diary and covered the major events well; meeting Bert (although he was cleaner & less slovenly here, and more politically correct in thought), Pandora’s arrival at school and her going out with Nigel before moving onto Adrian, Mole parents separation, bullying, red sock protest, tonsillitis, Bouncy magazine references, Royal Wedding and the alternative Christmas nativity. The terror headmaster, dizzy teacher, bully Barry, formidable Grandma, Mole dog (but not Bert’s dog Sabre) were all present. The stage production highlighted the early 80s era very well particularly with Adrian’s bedroom paraphernalia. I spotted signs of Grange Hill, Olivia Newton-John, Buckeroo, Orville the Duck, Bagpuss and a Noddy duvet. As Adrian’s bedroom morphed into the Mole living room/kitchen area, the original Noddy wallpaper would have been too much. But Adrian’s snorkel anorak hanging by the door and a super woofer hi-fi in the living area were other signs of the Eighties, just as George expecting his wife to have dinner on the table & Adrian saying Pandora could work in a cake shop after marrying him, screams of male chauvinism at the time.

For artistic licence the storyline was subtly fudged around the edges, but in a minimalistic sort of way. A few incidents and references for example, came from books further down the line, but all were true to the overall story. Adrian’s red sock protest got him suspended, he wasn’t victorious over the headmaster at all, and he didn’t stand up to bully Barry, Adrian’s Grandma took on Barry and his Dad instead. But for the musical it was best our hero came out on top. And although Bert did have a heart attack, it had nothing to do with the electricity going off at the Moles residence during the Royal Wedding! In the books the Mole telephone line is cut off, not their power, and the Indian family next door with a recuperating Bert Baxter, descends on Adrian’s home when their TV fails. Grandma’s dislike of “foreigners” comes to the fore here in the book, and this aspect of 70s/80s racism wouldn’t go down well with today’s audience. In the musical Pauline tries to explain to Adrian why she is leaving him and his Dad George. She laments in a beautiful song “20 years together just 17 at the start”. But later books reveal that the Moles married because Pauline was pregnant with Adrian, so at the very least the maths are wrong considering Adrian isn’t 14 yet. After having his tonsils removed, Adrian’s dream about Barry Kent receiving the Nobel poetry prize, harks toward later books where Barry becomes a renowned writer and poet. The Mole parents get back together, but not right after Adrian’s successful (and accidental) comedic Christmas play. The Mole’s relationship breakdown was amazingly portrayed through the exquisite harmonization of singing between George/Pauline on breaking up and Pauline/Grandma during a breakup altercation. These scenes were heart rending, incredibly moving and beautifully done. I wasn’t the only one brushing away a tear and gulping down a sob.

The adult actors largely transformed into classmates of Adrian for school scenes. It was amusing to see Grandma as a gum chewing gal with attitude, and the sight of Mr Lucas (with moustache) skipping onto the stage wearing pigtails and short skirt garnered quite a few laughs. The outrageous, over the top flirtation scenes between Mr Lucas/Pauline, Doreen/George, with a naive Adrian unwittingly caught in the middle, were very funny. More laughter came with the extravagant interpretation of Adrian’s alternative Christmas school play. References to a family planning clinic, no room at the inn as Jerusalem playing Man Utd, Pandora as Mary giving a convincing auditory birth scene, Mary’s death (I think) with some sort of resurrection afterwards (not sure who) were all funny, yet thought provoking at times as well. After all without Christmas and the birth of Jesus, there is no Easter and the resurrection to save all mankind.

The funniest part of the show was undoubtedly where Adrian had his tonsils out and dreamed he had died.  This plays on the well known fact that Adrian Mole was a consummate hypochondriac, with melodrama for any affliction. So Adrian’s parents, Grandma, Bert, Nigel & Pandora all grief stricken, gather at the grave side to say goodbye. Suddenly Grandma becomes a wailing banshee figure sounding rather like Sarah Brightman in Phantom of the Opera, with arms waving like Kate Bush doing her Wuthering Heights video (I do love both artists). Then banshee Grandma fades into the mists, only to return as a wizardly looking God and Adrian asks to be returned to earth as he has people needing him. Along with the audience I was crying with laughter at this spectacle, it was so good and brilliantly done.

It was a terrific show that kept true to the realms of the Adrian Mole story of teenage angst, school life and family/friend relationships. The whole cast were amazing, but a special mention must go to the younger cast members, who without their superb and highly talented performances, the show would never have been possible. Bravo!

World Theatre Day Celebration: Adrian Mole the Musical. Photo credit abmj

Seven Poems That Have Stayed With Me a Lifetime

World Poetry Day is celebrated on March 21st and I got to thinking about poems that have remained with me throughout my life. Poetry was NOT a subject on the reading itinerary at home, but I recall as a toddler much enjoying nursery rhymes.

HEY DIDDLE DIDDLE– My all time favourite nursery rhyme and I can still recall the picture book with a huge smiling cow jumping over the crescent shaped man-in-the-moon, with a fiddling cat, a laughing dog, and a very lifelike run-away dish and spoon underneath!

Around the same time I was savouring nursery rhymes; my Uncle Harry gave me a gift of a small book, where the narrative was a long poem. The author is unknown to me, the book long gone, but the poem was committed to memory. SO NOW TO SLEEP can be viewed in full here:-

https://angiesallsorts.wordpress.com/2016/03/08/seven-books-from-childhood-that-have-stayed-with-me/

My first ever encounter with a bona fide poet was when I began learning Robert Burns at primary school around the age 8. TO A MOUSE has always struck a particular chord with me especially the second section “I’m truly sorry man’s dominion Has broken Nature’s social union, An’ justifies that ill opinion, Which makes thee startle”. A couple of years later when faced with the News Daily Diary English exercise, I began writing my own poetry to reflect the news headlines, reckoning if Burns could write about daily life and historical events, then so could I.

Study of poetry in a fuller sense continued at high school and the poem that had the most profound impact on me was DULCE ET DECORUM EST by Wilfred Owen. My beloved Latin was used at the end of this harrowing stark narrative regarding the horrors of the battlefields of World War One. I quote “The old Lie: Dulce Et Decorum Est Pro Patria Mori” and recall distinctly my teacher Mrs Best translating it as “to die for one’s country is a great and noble thing”. Having digested the raw reality within the poem the fairy tale bravado of those sentiments was not lost on me.

The solemnity of war takes me to another poem written during a period of conflict HIGH FLIGHT by John Gillespie Magee Jr. a pilot lost in World War Two. In complete contrast to Wilfred’s poem John’s narrative describes the exhilarating joys of flying, whilst poignantly alluding to the fragile hold on life a war pilot had. Ronald Reagan quoted from it during a moving tribute to the Space Shuttle Challenger crew lost in 1986 “they slipped the surly bonds of Earth, put out their hands and touched the face of God”. Those words were indelibly etched into my brain that day, as the world reeled from the shocking news of the disaster. Such was the impact of those words; I used the same quote for my Mammy’s funeral memorial sheet.

ISAIAH 40: 26 & 28-31 The bible reading I had for my Mammy I felt related in the same way to the euphoric expression within Magee’s poem. My mother had been riddled with rheumatoid arthritis for years before a stroke robbed her of her remaining mobility and speech. When she died I thought of all the pain and frustration she was released from, and believed her faith in God would not be forgotten “calling them all by name, not one is missing…they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not be faint”. The poem quote and this bible passage, for me, mirror the same sentiment and I will forever associate the two together.

The first poetry book I ever bought as a teenager was called Britain in Verse, and contained the most exquisite full page colour plates and beautiful subtle line drawings to accompany the poems. I fell in love with “a host of golden daffodils” in I WANDERED LONELY AS A CLOUD by William Wordsworth and “a robin shrills his lonely tune” from SNOW by Walter de la Mare.

So that’s my seven lifetime poems (including the nursery rhyme) and a bible quote I’ve referenced, in celebration of World Poetry Day. Song lyrics have just as much meaning to, but that’s for another blog.

Hear Here 6: World Radio Day

I’ve discovered February 13th is World Radio Day, and I’d like to celebrate a medium that has been a lifelong friend, an ever present companion, and a source of connection between millions around the world. Radio has certainly shaped and influenced my life from a very young age, so in honour of this, I’d like to share some of my personal radio memories.

My earliest recollection is the sound of music emanating from the family “radiogram”, a wooden piece of furniture standing on four legs, with a built in radio receiver and a record player cabinet.  I distinctly remember hearing Tony Blackburn’s voice and “Arnold” the barking dog on Radio 1, and I’ve loved Tony ever since. Radio Luxembourg a pirate station had a regular bingo broadcast which my mammy listened to? I thought this was a rogue piece of imagination on my part, but my husband (a pirate radio buff himself) assures me this did happen! This would have been around 1971-73 before commercial radio began in the UK.

When the commercial Radio Clyde was born on 31st December 1973 broadcasting to Glasgow and West Central Scotland, my radio experience grew, especially when a tape recorder machine and small microphone were purchased not long after. Before a year had passed, and I still hadn’t started school, I had graduated from being the Hogmanay DJ playing records, to an adept “radio producer” creating tapes of music and chat for a beloved uncle in Australia. Mammy’s record collection was my main source of material, and I practiced hard, because birthday requests for Uncle Harry were sent to Radio Clyde and I was responsible for recording the greetings. Many years were spent listening to Frank Skerritt and Sydney Devine Saturday morning shows, capturing these missives, so the tape could be sent to Australia in time for 11th November. So long before January 1975 when I turned five years old, I was well accustomed to having headphones on, listening to the radio voices and capturing big moments.

Aged around 7 I got my very own radio cassette recorder machine inherited from a work colleague of my Dad’s, as he was upgrading his music system. The radio had a short-wave band, a new encounter, which literally opened up the world for me to explore from my bedroom in a small Scottish village. Turning the dial slowly, different music styles and foreign voices speaking unknown languages would come through between areas of static noise and interference. Then people with beautiful English and the hint of an accent were discovered, and I was introduced to the English language broadcasts from several countries around the world, predominantly Europe. The Cold War between West and East European ideologies was at its height, and so the likes of Radio Moscow and Radio Tirana could easily be picked up loud and proud. I know they had an agenda (who doesn’t if we are honest) but hearing such a different approach to the news was a real eye opener to my younger self. It broadened my mind to other cultures with different ideas, and made me realise that despite the differences, we were all essentially the same.

I recall searching for the American Forces Network broadcasts of baseball matches to service personnel based in Europe. Something about Friday night’s listening to a game springs to mind, even though I didn’t fully understand the terminology of the sport. For over a decade, an hour was spent with Radio Moscow’s English program early on Saturday mornings. Sunday afternoons, before the Top 40 show and after attending my Baptist Sunday School, were spent in the company of Vatican Radio’s Latin Mass. The ultimate blend of Ying & Yang, West verses East, Protestant verses Catholic, and emblematic of my refusal to be stereotyped in any way.

I kept a radio logbook which alas disappeared years ago, but when I met my husband, I delighted in seeing his radio memorabilia instead. He had also been an avid listener as a child/teenager and we discovered a shared love for short-wave radio. Over the years we have bought some very nice SW radios with ever greater range capabilities. To this day, and I’m fifty years old now, I’ve never lost that wondrous thrill I experienced as a seven year old, on hearing something different from an unexpected distant place.

Sadly, especially in the last decade, my SW radio hobby has got harder to sustain. Many SW stations have ceased broadcasting completely, and the internet age seems to have created a nightmare listening scenario, with household Wi-Fi connections causing hideous interference. Living in a ground floor flat probably exacerbates this problem, even though we don’t have an internet home connection ourselves. Before widespread personal internet connectivity and mobile phone use, my handheld SW radios could provide excellent to moderately interfered sound quality, making the listening experience enjoyable. Just switching them on today finds your ears assaulted by white noise that seems almost impenetrable, however hard you try and tune into a station. Going 21stC I’ve discovered a mobile app called Radio Garden that allows you to find radio stations worldwide. This has soothed my aching heart a little, although they are regular broadcast outputs, rather than the distinct programs made for a global audience that SW radio specialised in.

For the last 16 years I’ve been involved in hospital radio and enjoy the freedom to play a wide and varied selection of music. Many of the UK’s domestic radio stations seem to be networked these days, and the music output in particular seems to be quite formulaic as a result. Hospital radio provides a unique environment to communicate with and entertain patients, and the limits are defined by your music collection sources and the presenter’s imagination. In a way, this platform has enabled me to return to my childhood radio roots.

         Celebrating World Radio Day. Image credit abmj

Real News or Fake News?

NEVER would I have believed I’d question the INTEGRITY (if not the message given out) of a news report. Yet within ten minutes of the 11pm Brexit Day deadline (January 31st 2020) that’s EXACTLY what happened to me. Was that news report for real or was it faked? So the date and time not only heralded a moment of political history, but a seismic shift in my thought process, and here’s why.

For years I’ve switched to RT and Aljazeera (I know they have their own agendas) for proper world news coverage, as our own BBC and SKY has had a reduced output in this area, especially since the referendum. But Brexit Day was a domestic event, so I watched SKY for the occasion; a little unsure if the BBC would report anything, shall we say, a bit out of step with the majority. On the TV appeared one of the saddest things I’ve seen-the EU countdown clock super-imposed onto the White Cliffs of Dover! As the zero moment struck, goodbye to Europe written in multi-languages appeared followed by a WE’VE LEFT sign. Effectively the proverbial two-finger salute over the English Channel, which I could not feel proud in seeing.

A similar countdown clock had been super-imposed onto the facade of No.10 as well, followed by an appearance of Big Ben seemingly bonging zero hour, adding insult to injury. Within minutes I began wondering, dig the Big Ben and Dover Cliffs thing REALLY happen, or was it some digital wizardry mixed with subliminal message reporting instead? It seemed an accurate account of what was happening, but my mind hesitated, especially as the events were so surreal it was like a bad dream of someone’s figment of imagination. This was compounded by the revelry documented in various parts of England, and the mournful sombre mood seen in Scotland. Further evidence, if any was needed, of a divided United Kingdom mindset.

I thought of a London based teacher friend who was visiting the North of England on Brexit night. A student of his had accused him of treachery for such an offense, and I wondered if the Morpeth fireworks in north England would appease the young person’s attitude.

As I watched the singing, cheering and flag waving taking place in Parliament Square and beyond, it had a remarkable similarity to the celebration at the end of World War 2. Looking at it, you could say that the Brexit issue has been like a civil war in this country, a war of harsh words, fierce debate, insults, and fallings out. Last night’s victory seems very hollow, because those injured feelings won’t go away lightly, if at all.

I knew Brexit would happen one day; I wasn’t in denial and accepted the referendum result, even if I didn’t like it. I know of people who voted leave, a few I deeply respect, and my respect for them remains.

This morning I just feel incredibly sad, that a political mandate driven to prop up the Conservative Party, has caused such a division in this nations psyche. That as a country we have walked away from a union of nations who in my lifetime have been close allies. But I’m also personally shaken, that the manifestation of that mandate and how it was reported, made me seriously question the validity of the TV evidence in front of my eyes. The realisation of something lost in my faith/trust in the world is very hard to stomach.