Sunday, 19 February 2012

its been another hectic week at the Radio Station.
My week started with tossing pancakes at Sheffield University which had organised to break the Guinness world record for collective pancake tossing. I presented a live item from The Edge - the new name for the Sheffield University student village in Endcliffe. Queues of students were given frying pans and ready made pancakes to toss in readiness (so much for the stress of fees, graduate unemployment and loans to worry about). 1200 of them turned up to have a go and we covered it live with that well known 'tosser' Ian White from BBC Look North also having a go. (no offence meant or implied - lovely guy, no really !)
Two legal cases dominated the news; One the murder of a teenager in Doncaster and Arthur Scragill in Sheffield trying to recover his phone and car allowances from the NUM in the County Court. More about those later..

This week we nailed on what devices we'd be using to pre-record material for programmes and news. We should be getting iPhones at some stage with the ability to WiFi material back to the studio, but for now we've been issued with small Yamaha digital dictation machines which I was sceptical about at first but have got used to. They aren't a patch on the versaility of the Eten recorders we've been using because we can't send material back to the studio from them, but the sound quality is good and so far they're ok. I went out to Maplins and bought some mini-mic shields and they at least look the part, apart from feeling like a dick at major police and other press conferences looking like something out Ugly Betty when you pull it out and feeling self-conscious amidst a sea of expensive media technology. Ah well Cest La vie it'll be reight enuff as we say up North ! 

The major news story of the week was the death on tuesday of a teenager who'd been stabbed in a park in Doncaster. 13 year old Casey Kearney was stabbed in Elmfield Park in Doncaster at around 1.18pm. She called 999 herself and said I've been stabbed and was found by passers-by who tried to help. I interviewed the man John Willis a local tennis coach who was in the park with his kids. He was very emotional and left flowers and a card at a local floral shrine that's been started at the memorial in the park.

A 26 year old woman was charged with her muder at Donny magistares court on Wednesday. I was sat on the press bench with the national Sky, BBC, ITN and other journalists waiting to see her come up from the cells covering her committal hearing. She appeared in  ablue tee shirt with tatoos and nodded at her name and date of birth and spoke only to confirm her address. Magistrates committed her to Sheffield Crown Court for plea next Thursday. Covering this case standing yards from where Casey was killed and talking to locals is not an easy job but it has to be done. I had a near punch up with a rude man from Sky news who just rushed up to me talking to John Willis whilst he was putting his flowers down and shouted ' SKY News can we gate your name and shoved a camera and mic in his face'.

National reporters can be over aggressive when they think they're losing an exclusive. John just walked over the the radio sheffield van with me and told me his story about how he tried to comfort Casey as she lay dying in the park, all very emotional and its affected him greatly. My colleague Katherine Cowan has also done a sterling job bringing us daily details of the case, but Casey was named on my shift and I saw the accused's face in court (NB: There were other details which we cannot report at this stage for legal reasons, but which will emerge at the trial).

Top and bottom is that a very loving family and friends have lost someone dear to them in the prime of life and they are overwraught with grief ! Not an easy task for a reporter in the middle of that. When the police came to do their press conference at the park gates I got more aggro from the camera operators for being in their shot with my 'ugly betty' recorder and the back of my bald head!

The other big case in the news this week is Arthur Scragill whose taking the NUM to county court because he says they renaged on a deal to pay him his home phone and mobile telephone costs and a car allowance when he was Hon President of the NUM up to December 2011. This is Court 9 at Sheffield Combined Court Centre - a piece of pure theater in my book - I would have paid for tickets to see. The most recognisable and formidable trade union leader of my generation taking the NUm to pieces over expenses allegedly owed to him. He's after £14k for his new car and the other costs. He had the poshest QC you  could imagine while the NUM Trustee reps put their foot in their mouths every time they opened it. They didn't even know they were employing him under a contract drawn up in 2002 when he stepped down as full-time president, until May 2009 Ha this was farcical to say the least. The judgement is on Tuesday and if Scargill doesn't win I'll eat my cycling shorts !

Finally my Saturday Sat Van (Verve) Breakfast shift took me to Barnsley to meet a great young man with  acute lymphoblatic leaukemia and his mum.  Lucas Sutheren aged 12 from Gawber in Barnsley is walking 4 miles with Sir Ian Beefy Botham on the 12th April
to help raise money for Leukemia research. Beefy has called Lucas one of his heroes and he really was chatty, intelleigent, grown up and brave and his mum Jill was lovely. Cor ! They don't half make tea like sump oil in Barnsley but it was passable with one sugar !
Any way you can find out more about Lucas and how you can help him at

On then to the Tropical Butterfly House and Falconry Centre at North Anston in Rotherham. A hilarious encounter with Jasper the parrot and Vernon the Vulture and the lovely Heather Scott who all came on air with me with hilarious results: Have a listen at

My week over I relaxed watching a great win for the newly WBC Superbantamweight champion from Sheffield 'Kid' Ala-Awad Gallahad. He beat Jason Booth at Magna in Rotherham in front of a large crowd. Great technique from Brendan Ingles stable of fighters just like NAZ in my book. Also caught up on Braquo and 'Being Human'

We've finally managed to nail on where three pals and I are cycling to this year. We've decided to cycle from Newcastle to Edinburgh and then onto Perth and beyond. This year we re cycling in May and I'm raising a bit of cash for St Wilfrid's Centre for the Homeless and Vulnerable in Sheffield. Please help if you can:

It was my son Justin's birthday this week and Carol and I took him out for a meal at the remarkably transformed and former student pit pub The Broadfield which has become a bookable gastro pub overnight - unbeleivebaly nice grub and then on to the Crucible for a dire show called 'The Way of The World' which we found very disappointing and tedious. Walked out at half time interval and went home..New Years resolution - don't sit through a pile of pooh if you don't have to. See you next week.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Saturday Verve Van Man

The verve is a small van with a satellite dish where we arrive at a location, push the button and then hope it finds the cheap satellite somewhere over Brazil which the BBC has invested in. Today, the verve caused me endless problems and we were only in Thursncoe, South Yoprkshire to visit a local youth project which is getting £30k a year from BBC Children in Need. Several attempts at getting a signal failed and I had to resort to a trusty old 3G back up kit. £50k wasted in my book. Still its only a pilot and we have to log all faults and problems in a green book nicely drawn up by the Assistant Editor (MW).

It was great seeing Ian Ball the leader of the club whom I fist met 26 years ago as a young welfare rights worker in the Dearne Valley of South Yorkshire where I was based for 6 years from 1987 to 1993. Ian then was a slim, dynamic young volunteer and now (the same age as me) has broadened as we all have and sadly told me he'd had cancer and had just lost his wife to cancer. It was remarkable how he managed to get a dozen of those kids aged between 8 & 17 oyears out of bed for a couple of minutes on air with Radio Sheffield. They are taking 10 of them down to Parliament and Downing Street next week and to visit other youth projects in Barnsley's Olympic partner Newham. Great stuff !

Onto the Doncaster Racecouse ,for similar verve problems, at the Festival of Railway Modelling. A vast exhibition space where every inch is covered in 80 trade and enthusiast's stand and 30 model railaways of every size, shape and variety. 6,000 people are expected this weekend and they were queueing 4 deep at 0830 as I got there. John Medley from the Doncaster Railway Modellers was a great sport and interviewee (not tempted to call him and anorak or a geek at all!) he was lovely and he and his team are strewarding this popular event this weekend. I had a go on a model railway and its was sublime!

Onward to the last but one job at the Doncaster Minster to meet the lovely new Bishop of Doncaster Peter Burrows and his Archdeacon Steve Wilcockson for their civic ceremony of welcome to the town (should be a city but we won't go there!).  Steve was late for his his robing and for my interview but he squeezed me in before the Mayor and the County Lord Lieutenant arrived and other bigwigs. Steve and his family has moved from Merseyside to Doncaster to take up the post (should be good enough grounding for Donny then!)

I'm always surprise at how jolly and friendly the clergy are these days, no ego or the big 'I am ' about them and Steve offered to stay in touch. The Minster (The Minister Church of St. George)  is a magnificant Church in the middle of Doncaster right next door to the Frenchgate centre. that other temple of mammon.

My last job before heading back to the studio in Sheffield is  to call in on the end of the three month occupation of Sheffield Cathedral by the anti-capitalist protresors who have adorned the forecourt since November 5th.  I managed to record the dismantling of the Occupy camp in the face of £100k legal action by the church authorites and get lots of sound effects as they threw pallets and poles around for BBC sfx purposes.

Deacon Dave a well known 'clergy' member, activist and protestor in the city gave the eulogy of good bye to the camp which is taking up occupation in the derelecit former Salvation Army Building on Cross Burgess Street in the middle of Sheffield. The camp has been a rag bag collection of people who collectively spoke up against bankers greed and white collar tax dodgers at a time of austerity, massive redundancies in local councils and swingeing central government cuts. They had a point and they made it and whether you like it or not that's what democracy is about.

A local radio reporters reward for all this effeort is a gian brown bun filled with bacon, eggs and sausage and large mug of tea...and thus back to the studio to edit material for tomorrow's news.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Starting the BBC satvan known as the 'Verve' up at 0600 for three mornings this week as early breakfast reporter, has been a 'joy' especially when there's no anti-freeze and it's -5C and you have scrape the ice off windscreen with the plastic binder we use to record our journeys ! 

Going out, whatever the weather, is always preferable to hanging about in the sterile atmosphere of the BBC news room where the legendary morning news reader Everard Davy always mutters 'there's no stories in this building y'know - are you going out ?' as if in anticipation of being handed a new breaking story.

To him, just driving around in readiness is more justifiable than surfing the net and updating facebook as some are apt to do or waiting for the latest BBC GNS audio to drop in. We also spend a great deal of time reading yesterday's news in the print media. Breakfast ,muesli and tea and then gone...

This week, I  interviewed the family of two men who met a untimely end. One was the family of a 17 year old young man from Chesterfield found hanging in his cell at a young offender's institution HMP Lindley near Wigan. His family say he was bullied and had learning disabilities and killed himself despite having previously been identified as at risk of suicide or self-harm.  His mother was too overcome with grief to speak to us but his father spoke bravely and demanded justice and an enquiry into his death and those of other young men in custody. The MP for Chesterfield Toby Perkins came on with us to discuss the case and it was his referral which led us to the story - a very pro-active local MP !

The other case involved a 53 year old man with a serious heart condition who'd been sent for one of these much loathed 'Work Capability Assessments', currently being carried out Atos Healthcare Ltd for the Department for Work & Pensions. He'd only won an appeal nine months earlier against disallowance of his benefits when he was sent again and 'thrown -off' as they say having been 'found fit for work'. Three weeks later he died from a massive heart attack. His son and brother, overcome with emotion and anger, spoke to me about why they think the stress of it all killed their beloved father and brother and said they dismissed his heart condition and instead concentrated on a bad knee which he also suffered from.  There's a national campaign calling for changes to the WCA, seen as a poitically driven cost-saving measure to drive people off the more costly disability benefits at a time there are no jobs and the labour market shows a paucity of vacancies with up to 30 or 40 people chasing every vacancy in many of our towns and cities.

Yesterday, I was out for the regular after 0900 phone on the breakfast show in Sheffield City Centre on the big topic of cuts to council budgets. Sheffield City Council has to save £55 million this year and plans on shedding 550 jobs. My job is to persuade people with an opinion to come to the satvan , don the headphones and speak 'live' to me and Toby Foster (the presenter) during the debate. The number of times you get a lively, volubale, opinionated person who clams up or ends up talking like a sparrow when they go 'on air' is amazing.

Regardless, we did get some great contributions and Unison the council trade union sent a rep up which resulted in a great 'barney' with Toby, about paid full-time officials still getting their council salaries whilst on union business.

Luckily, he gave as a good as he got and took it in good humour ! Unlike some we get on, where Toby plays devil's advocate with a position he takes (and doesn't really support but takes it just to wind the guest up !) and ends up in a full scale row with them.

Tommorow, I'm on the early Saturday breakfast shift (0600-1400) and planning to visit a tremendous youth project in Hickleton near Thurnscoe which used to be my old stomping ground when I was a welfare rights worker.  Then it's onto Doncaster where I'll drop in on the World's biggest Model Railway Festival and then to the fabulous Doncaster Minster where the new Bishop and Archdeacon are being welcomed to the town by the parishioners. Doncaster really should be a City, given its size  and to call it a town doesn't do it justice.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Things that touch the heart

It was so nice to meet up with my son Justin whose a civil servant in Sheffield to travel on the train to Manchester. We went along to the Bridgewater Hall to see jazz trio The Brubecks play the greats of their father, the genius Dave Brubeck, who had his first hit with 'Blue Rondo a la Turk' back in 1959. They were joined by saxophonist Dave O' Higgins, a splendidly inventive and talented player.

'Take Five' and all of then other original hits of Dave Brubeck were so memorable ! The Brubecks have played for Barack Obama.  Justin and I ate in the Pizza Express in Manchester and even shared a bottle of  Rioja, after sharing  a beer or two on the train. It coat me £45.00 for the ticketson  the train for the two of us and I thought that was a bit expensive...should've booked in advance. I didn't let it spoil an otherwise splendid event even though it was a school night and I felt a little dicey today.

Lat week, I stood a few yards away from the Queen as she visited Sheffield Cathedral. I was covering her trip for our local BBC station where I work as a jobbing reporter. She always looks much smaller and demure in real life, but her smile dropped as she walked past me with a microphone in my hand. Sharp as a button at 84, good old Liz. I may be a republican but she worked the crowd hard that day. 

Later in the day some anti-war protestors turned up at the Advance Nuclear Manufacturing park in Sheffield where she was turning the sod (using virtual technology) to initiate work on a new research centre.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Occupation has a proud history

I thought that Fiona Phillips hit the nail on the head in Saturday 13th November's Daily Mirror regarding the student protest and the turmoil to come. Have  a look at it :

In today's Observer students are set to begin a 'viral' campign to change the law to be able to recall MP's who tell lies and behave contrary to their promises if 10% of constituents  sign a petition to demand this. I like the sound of this. Great to see students being radicalised in this fashion. I have to say that sit in's and occupations hava  long tradition in the trade union movement. I led my first sit in over unfeasible rises in Hall Fees when I first went to university back in the late 70's and many trade unionists have used this tool to great effect ever since.

Among the targets will be Nick Clegg's Sheffield Hallam seatand Don Foster's seat in Bath as well as David Laws in Yeovil (where the Government this week invested £32 million in the AgustaWesland helicopter plant after refusing Sheffield Forgemasters an £80million loan)

I will say now, that I totally abjure and condemn violence in any context of industrial struggle. peaceful occupation and protest is the only way of securing any objective.

Been to visit my 82 year olf mum today. Bless her, she has Alzhiemer's but is living independently with support. How long it will continue though is anyone's guess. She's on Aricept to control it and some days she is more upbeat and less depressed than others. Today was a good day. Also my wife Carol had a knee operation to relieve 5 years of cartilage pain and after successful keyhole surgery she is back on her feet and pain free. Shame we had to have it done privately after an NHS cock-up which would have condemned her to 9 more weeks of pain.

Great to see the release this week of democracy hero Aung San San Suu Kyi by the Burmese Junta after her 7 year house arrest. Let's hope the military dictators can be shown the door by the people of Burma.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Starbucks - Do you get it ?

You know, I just don't get the Starbucks experience.

Today in Sheffield; Long queues, indifferent staff, dirty tables and £5.95 for a christmas motif coffee thermos (x 3) for family members. Where do these people get off charging £3 and £4 for a latte??

There was, however, a fantastically talented saxophone player outside Mothercare, next to John Lewis in Sheffield today playing the most remarkable rendition of 'Central Park West" (Coltrane) from the iconic 1964 album Coltranes Sound.  This warranted a reasonable donation. 

What else did I notice today; Larger than average numbers of shoppers out pre-Christmas shopping in Fargate and the Moor, Amnesty International street charity hawkers almost tripping shoppers up with their over-friendly 'Hello Sir" patter. I've also stopped buying The Big Issue because there's never anything newsworthy or featury about Sheffield or South Yorkshire in it - It's all Leeds and Manc. Ha\s anyone else noticed this?

Here's a picture of a cup of tea and a piece of cake we had in Doncaster this year which didn't add up to the cost of a Starbucks latte...go figure !

Friday, 12 November 2010

my week in brief

It's been a funny mix of stuff this week. After spending last weekend on the NUJ picket line (BBC staff strike over pensions row) in Sheffield, I returned to work on Monday. I've been covering a number of routine stories around my patch (Chesterfield & North Derbyshire and Rotherham) but I was asked to visit some BBC Children in Need funded projects around the region to produce some packages for broadcast. On Tuesday, I went to the Greentop Youth Circus in the old St Thomas' Church in Brightside. This is a fantastic scheme to get kids juggling, spinning the diablo, hoola-hooping and riding the uni-cycle and other things. Well, I was amazed at the range of skills these kids demonstrated. They were mixed in age and ability, but they were all having FUN and thanks to £78,000 of CIN cash,  they can keep on having more FUN and learn a few new tricks and make some new friends into the bargain. It was truly impressive stuff!.

On Wednesday, I went to one of the toughest areas of South Yorkshire. This is East Herringthorpe in Rotherham with high unemployment and poverty. I went to look up a youth project called the 'Base to Beat' music studio which has received £73,000 of CIN cash to help pay skilled and talented musician/youth workers to engage young people in writing, creating, recording and producing their own music. I interviewed Richard and Marcus at the project and four of the young musicians and was impressed at the dedication and enjoyment they get from being part of the project. Great work and some wonderful results in turning lives around.

Thursday was Remembrance Day (formerly Armistice Day) in the UK and I covered commemorations and other events at the Cenotaph in Sheffield. Very moving talking to veterans and meeting people who lost loved ones in all conflicts from 1914-1918 to the present day. Some black cab (the colour of the cab) taxi driver in Sheffield had to go and spoil it by refusing to carry a serving RAF officer.

Today, has been about gathering routine news stories in North Derbyshire. I visited the new Bolsover school which has been rebuilt with £16 million of Government funding and met some very committed PCSO's at Newbold in Chesterfield (These are uniformed officer attached to the Police in the UK) and which provide a visible presence on the streets to help deter and detect crime (no powers of arrest).