The quirks of regional programming

[Another brilliant example of my ability to completely forget to publish something, even though it’s finished. Pretend this was published a week ago, it’ll work much better…]

The UK comprises many parts – as we are increasingly aware as September 17th and the Scottish referendum approaches – but it can be the most mundane things that highlight that it is not simply one, monochrome whole. Travel into Wales and immediately road signs are twice the size and only half as comprehensible. Go north of the border or over the Irish Sea and the currency stays the same, but the notes change colour. Even within the entity that is ‘England’, things are different – try buying the humble bread roll in 5 different counties and you’ll probably need 5 different words in order to manage it. [Bap, barm, cobb, bun, muffin…]

As a child, one of the most obvious differences whenever away from home was on the TV. Regional news bulletins involved unfamiliar accents and places I’d never heard of. Holidays in Llandudno provided The Smurfs and Superted in Welsh, which was rather disconcerting to a 6 year old. When we moved to Gloucester, we discovered that our house (thanks to an aerial on a building over the road) was alone amongst our friends in that it picked up BBC South West and HTV as opposed to Midlands Today and Central. [It might not seem like much of difference, but it did mean that we got classic NZ hospital soap Shortland Street, which wasn’t shown on Central – it’s the little things!]

Fast forward to 2004 and my parents’ move to Belfast. Move to another province within the UK and things change considerably. Many Brits of my generation will remember with fondness the Broom Cupboard of CBBC which was the lynch-pin of weekday evening TV. A daily feature, before that day’s Neighbours was shown (an essential part of 1980’s/90’s TV viewing), was the presenter bidding Northern Irish viewers goodbye several minutes before Neighbours started. I didn’t give it much thought at the time (I was more concerned with what Brad had been up to in Erinsbrough), but once subjected to TV in Northern Ireland on a regular basis, I wondered what they were watching when we were indulging in Ozzie high jinks…

[I’ve just Googled it. According to this interview with Andi Peters, they had Neighbours an hour later than us. At 5.30pm they had local news instead. Who knows why!]


There are a lot of differences in the scheduling of TV in Northern Ireland. It becomes a bit of an issue at Christmas, when the rest of the country is watching something significant – one year it was the Gavin & Stacey Christmas Special – and instead, viewers in NI are treated to a local comedy like The Folks on the Hill. (That’s not to say that this satirical cartoon isn’t quality entertainment – it is – it’s just that I’d rather have been watching a keenly awaited show that everyone else was enjoying!) Regularly, Mock the Week is shown over an hour later in the province, a fact that led my mother to inadvertently tweet a celebrity for the first time. [Chris Addison had tweeted something witty about the time of that night’s episode, which I had retweeted. My mother (thinking that the ‘Chris’ in question was my friend Christopher, not an award-winning actor/comedian) tweeted back: “…except in Northern Ireland, when it’s on at 10.40pm – it takes longer for the boat with the tape to get here”.] 

I’ve been over in Belfast for most of the last week and spotted a trailer for some interesting looking drama on BBC1 (it’s got Olivia Colman in it, so it’s got to be good) but noticed that they were being shown at 10.40pm. Lauded new dramas are not broadcast at that time of night – they’re on at 9pm. What was Northern Ireland getting instead? On Monday night, I experienced the schedule shift for myself. While the rest of the country was (potentially) enjoying New Tricks (can’t see the point myself), we settled down to a BBC documentary commemorating the 20th anniversary of the IRA ceasefire.

I was rather surprised that such a programme wasn’t on the national schedule. [You can catch up with it on iPlayer – there’s a dedicated Northern Ireland section there.] When I was growing up, and for decades before that, the Troubles were usually the top item on the news. Living in London, I experienced at first hand some of the effects of the IRA’s actions – feeling the tremors of a controlled explosion of a bomb in John Lewis Oxford St during my first term at secondary school; being prevented from taking my usual route to school because of overnight bombs; the secret service protection of a neighbour who worked in the NI Office; not to mention the shock and horror everyone felt at the atrocities carried out by both sides over the years. Without the ceasefires, the Good Friday Agreement and everything else that has paved the road to peace, I wouldn’t now be travelling to Belfast on a semi-regular basis.

The Troubles were not solely a Northern Ireland issue, they were a national issue – an international one in fact. This documentary was an important reminder of how far things have progressed in a comparatively short space of time and thoroughly deserved a national airing. But as I watched, I realised that it was far more detailed than most of the programmes I’ve ever previously seen on the conflict. It was made with those who had lived in and with it year after year after year in mind. For a population where everyone knows someone who has been directly affected by it. Maybe it wouldn’t have made much sense to the typical 9pm BBC1 audience?

As a result, I’ve been somewhat reconciled to the peculiarities of regional scheduling. Clearly, Northern Ireland deserves programmes that cater to their knowledge and experiences, that would probably go over the heads of many people in England, Scotland and Wales. They deserve to watch them at a sensible hour and on a ‘normal’ channel. But, we need to be careful not to exclude the rest of the nation. What happens in one province doesn’t leave the others unaffected. We are – for now – a United Kingdom.

The Joy of Procrastination – Childhood Edition

I’ve just emerged from a cloud of essay toil. Yesterday, I handed in my second essay in the space of three weeks, on the not-so-simple subject of Systematic Theology (specifically, the Trinity). For many, many days, life had little more to offer than the reading of textbooks, the making of notes, and the eventual writing of 3000 words. However, the writing process was made especially long and arduous because my procrastination tendencies decided to kick in (I blame the fact that I’d only written an essay 3 weeks previously – an essay written with minimal procrastination).

You know how it is, you’re trying to put together a coherent argument on why the doctrine of the Trinity is essential, and all of a sudden you find yourself on Wikipedia, reading articles about your favourite childhood TV show – all because the old podcast you’re listening to as you write happens to mention an actor that starred in it…

[Tell me I’m not alone! Doesn’t everyone find themselves in a black hole of Wikipedia articles from time to time without any real idea of how they got there?!]

Anyway, this particularly Wikipedia jaunt also resulted in a search on YouTube and a yell of delight when I discovered that finally – after several searches since YouTube began – videos of The Biz were available. If you weren’t aged 10-15 in 1995/6 and living in the UK, you probably have no idea what I’m talking about. Basically, it was a CBBC show of the traditional children at drama school fame genre, which my sister and I considered to be the best thing since we first watched Grease. What can I say? We both desperately wanted to go to stage school (especially a boarding school version) but this was the closest we could get. [Although I did go to a secondary school that took in those asked to leave Sylvia Young and Mim did become a drama teacher. Obviously, she wins.]

This song was my first find, complete with the realisation that despite the passing of 18 years, I could still remember 90% of the words. Yes, the vocals sound really thin and the singers aren’t the best, but it was glorious – honest!

There are a whole host of clips from the show (just the songs as they’re uploaded by the series’ composer), they’re probably only interesting to former fans of the show, but there must be at least three of those reading this…

That was Friday’s major procrastination. [Notice that I didn’t do any blogging – I didn’t want to do anything that would reveal to others that I was being distracted!] Saturday’s was even more joyous and potentially more relevant. I’d worked hard all morning and over lunch flicked through the channels, alighting upon the final 5 minutes of the 1995 version of Frances Hodgson-Burnett’s A Little Princess. It’s probably my favourite of H-B’s books (yes, even over The Secret Garden) and I was shocked to discover that this version was set in New York, during the war and had a different ending – scandal!

Back to Wikipedia I returned, looking for information on the adaption that I consider to be the best – the 1986 LWT version, starring Maureen Lipman, Miriam Margolyes and Nigel Havers. Seriously, a children’s series with that cast of adults? How could it be anything less than awesome? YouTube was an obvious next step and there I found every single episode – the delight! I was worried I’d be disappointed, but it was just as I remembered. I sobbed over and over (it’s an incredibly sad story). I swooned over Havers. I mused on whether the title cards were designed by the same person who did Tenko (they’re a similar era of TV). I sobbed again when it reached its conclusion.

And, I watched all six episodes before I’d finished my essay. (Though, in my defence, I stopped after episode 1 and didn’t restart until I had over 2000 words, so I think that’s less awful.) Here’s part one:

Procrastination is a joy when you discover things like this.

The Guide badge of Vicar School

A little known fact about me – depending on how long you’ve known me – is that I am a warranted Guider. (Well, I was. Warrants expire after 5 years and that happened to me in 2007.) It might come as no surprise to those that have known me a while that I was something of a try-hard Guide and Brownie.

Uniforms? Yes please!
Hierarchy structure with leadership potential? Count me in!
International network and history? Ooh, fascinating!
Multiple badges? When can I start?!

It was the badges that really got me. In my first week of being a Brownie, I’d read the handbook cover to cover and established exactly what I needed to do in order to gain the Footpath, Road and Highway badges (you did one a year over a three year period). I’d learnt all I needed to learn in order to get enrolled – and yes, I can still tell the story of Betty, Timmy and the talking owl from memory.

I joined Brownies back in the days of brown dresses with a strict badge etiquette. Interest badges (the subject, free-choice ones) went down the right arm (and then down the left, if you were especially try-hard). There were rules over badges that needed to be removed once you’d passed another year (promise badges) or gained another annual merit (the Footpath/Road/Highway series); plus badges that had to go beneath or above others. It was complicated…

Can you believe I found this image on eBay
Who would want to sell their complete Brownie history? More to the point, who would want to buy it? 
By Guides, the new uniforms with sashes had arrived, but the lack of sleeve challenge didn’t quash my motivation to gain as many badges as possible. Fear not, the uniform’s designers had thought of that – there was an extra-long sash for such circumstances! My try-hardness did not go unrewarded – I reached the pinnacle of achieving the Baden Powell Trefoil Award. [At the presentation evening, my parents heard how all those receiving the honour had done multiple good deeds and had done much hiking and camping. They wondered how on earth I’d managed to gain the badge without ever having done any hiking and only 2 nights of camping…]

Guide badges aplenty

Weirdly, this sash is nearly identical to mine – down to the three-stripe Pack Leader badge and Young Leader badge tab bearing a Baden Powell Trefoil. (Found here.)

Anyway, before I descend into too deep a Guiding reverie, my point is that I appear to have discovered the Guide badge of Vicar School – although sadly, as far as I’m aware, we don’t actually get a physical badge in return for our efforts. (Which is a shame, as I bet cassocks would look a lot more interesting with lines of badges on them.)

What we do get is 60 credits towards our theology degree – the equivalent of three modules. All we have to do is prepare an ‘Accreditation of Prior Experiential Learning’ portfolio. I say ‘all’, it’s hands-down one of the most tedious missions I’ve ever engaged in, involving endless tasks akin to the most frustrating application form you’ve ever completed – you know, the kind that basically ask the same question 7 times, but expect you to answer it a different way and with different evidence every time. (Anyone who’s had the pleasure of applying for a Methodist job would be familiar with such a thing.)

The Guide badge similarity dawned on my while I read through the process back in April, while on board Eurostar. [Oh yes, I am so try-hard that I started work on this thing a full 8 months before it was due. I’d be impressed with myself, but one of my class-mates had already handed hers in by that point.] There, I came across the instruction: ‘Find a shoe box (or box file) and fill it with anything that might be offered as evidence for your learning…’ I’m pretty sure that was the exact same instruction when preparing for the Baden Powell Trefoil – except this time I don’t have to cook anything over a campfire; organise a sing-song; or help with a Brownie pack for two years.

However, right now, having spent 90 minutes of my Wednesday evening filling in endless boxes proving that I do indeed have key skills, a campfire looks really rather appealing. Maybe to make the process a happier one, I’ll design a badge I can award myself with once I’ve finished the beast. If anyone would like to suggest an image for it, then please do so…

The strange world of shaving

You know how when you were young and you wondered why your Dad had a big beard but other peoples’ Dads had no beard at all? (Ok, your Dad might not have been beardy – mine was, still is in fact.) Maybe you wondered what stopped hair growing on the chin? Maybe you were simply confused as to how men’s facial hair could vary so much? [Yes, I was a special child who wondered about a lot of things.]

It’s clear that what I needed to understand this tricky situation was none other than Shaving Fun Ken. Oh yes, I kid you not, a doll whose beard could be ‘shaved’ off and would then reappear. Confused as to how this might happen? Let this advert for Cool Shavin’ Ken from 1996 explain:

To be honest, this probably would have confused me more. There were no razors in the house until I started shaving my legs, so based on the Ken concept, I probably would have thought that shaving was a less than arduous activity. I guess I’m lucky we never owned a Ken doll. [We were a Sindy household – the only Barbie was one I was given after I’d run through someone’s front door. It now strikes me as odd that they gave me a present after I’d destroyed the entrance to their building…]

Anyway, Ken has been shave-able through the decades and now that he’s been brought back into Barbie’s life, a new version has arrived. Question is, which of the versions is the hottest?

Shaving Fun in the 21st Century:

Two versions from the 1990s – 95 & 96:

(Clearly 1995’s Ken wasn’t cool enough – I’d blame the stripes.) 

Or, Ken ready for everything the 1980s could throw at him:

That last one (from 1979) is shaving fun with an added bonus of sportiness. The blurb from the ad reads:
‘He’s athletic. He’s all man. He even “shaves”! …They [the kids playing with him] can pretend he’s a tennis star or marathon runner with or without a moustache.’
Tennis star or marathon runner, straight or gay…

Personally, I’m loving 1995 Ken (well, I’ve always had a soft spot for a guy with hair you can run your fingers through and who can wield a frisbee effectively). He comes with a matching backpack and visor – super cute! The ad for this one is also a favourite, particularly as it does absolutely nothing to remedy the confusion I might once have had about shaving:

At 0.18 the song tells us: “Only one guy’s beard grows back to shave again.” I may not have a beard and I may not have a significant other on who to test my beliefs, but I’m pretty sure most guys’ beards grow back if you shave them off. Bearded (or non-bearded) readers, can you confirm this?

Ahhh, if only life were as simple as Mattel makes it out to be.

This post was inspired by this one from the ever-wonderful The Hairpin.

The black-hole of children’s literature

One of my (many) bad habits is that I’m not very good at putting myself to bed (actually, I’m excellent at getting into bed, I’m just very bad at turning the laptop/tv off, putting the phone away and letting myself fall asleep). I get easily caught up in things – writing blog posts, chatting or following gripping sporting events on the other side of the world. The last two nights have found me online past midnight and placing book orders after 1am – this, particularly on Thursday night, was not especially conducive to a good night’s sleep.

Why was I placing book orders at such a late hour? Well, after nearly eight years lurking in the shadows of my life, the black hole of children’s literature reappeared with a vengeance and sucked me into its vortex…

It began innocently, late on Thursday afternoon when a tweet popped up mentioning an article about Noel Streatfeild [yes, the i and the e are that way round] and Ballet Shoes. This prompted a quick trip to Amazon to hunt out the only adult work of hers that’s in print (and by adult, I obviously do not mean pornographic) as well as a few other juvenile titles we’d missed out on in childhood. As I added Saplings (the grown up book) to my basket, Amazon helpfully informed me of what people who bought that title also bought – and I let out a squeal that had to be quickly muted.

There, right in front of me, was a book whose title I knew well, but which had acquired mythical status when I was young. Maddy Alone is a sequel to one of our favourite theatrical themed books – The Swish of the Curtain (Pamela Brown). Our mother had been a fan when she was young and even owned the rest of the series, but, by the time we were reading it, only the original was in print. Amazon was helpfully informing me that not only had Maddy Alone been republished, but so had the next in the series and that the final instalments were imminent. In order to make it clear that I am not alone in my excitement, both my mum and sister have responded joyously to this news and there is now a waiting list to read them.

Thursday night’s Amazon binge was a combination of these books and a mission to complete my Streatfeild set. Of course, it couldn’t be as simple as just looking up titles and clicking ‘add to basket’. Oh no. What the black-hole also does to you (ok, me) is make certain things incredibly important – namely, edition styles and titles. I won’t go into the tediousness of my Chalet School rules, but it bothers me that half our Drina books are lovely colourful editions and the other half boring red spined ones – I’d love them to match and all be the former. [Writing that sentence has just revealed to me just how OCD I am about this, oh dear.]

In the case of Streatfeild, this complicates matters. The newer editions are nicer than many of the hideous 1970s/80s covers, but they bear the wrong titles – yes, the wrong titles. [Warning: rant approaching.]

When published in America, a terrible thing happened – the publishers decided that a significant group of her books were a series (they’re not, there are only vague connections, like the Fossils of Ballet Shoes appearing briefly in certain books) and that the only way in which Americans would realise they were a series was if their names were similar. Thus, every book Streatfeild wrote (with a few exceptions, like the ‘Gemma’ series and Thursday’s Child) has to have ‘shoes’ in the title.

The only ones to actually contain that word are Ballet ShoesBallet Shoes for Anna and Tennis Shoes (the latter being only her second children’s book, so it can be forgiven as a title). My favourite books – Apple Bough  (in which a family tour the world with their talented pianist son) and The Painted Garden (where a family move to California for 6 months) – became Travelling Shoes and Movie Shoes respectively, hugely unoriginal. Even shorter titles, like Party Frock and White Boots have the second word swapped for ‘shoes’, despite the fact that the frock of the former is the central element of the plot! How are you meant to distinguish Dancing Shoes (originally Wintle’s Wonders) from the other ballet books?

Thank goodness they left The Vicarage Family (another favourite, being semi-autobiographical and telling the tale of Noel’s childhood as the plain daughter of an impoverished Vicar) alone, because the concept of ‘Vicarage Shoes’ is quite honestly a ridiculous one. (Though I suspect such shoes would be very sensible house slippers, what with such places being known as fridges.)

So basically, I was on the hunt for the originally titled books, but with nice covers – harder than you’d think. Into the Amazon order went a new copy of Dancing Shoes, because you cannot find it under the original title (easily), but the others were potentially doable. Night two of late night book buying therefore consisted of the conclusion of some time spent trawling second hand children’s book dealers to find them. I’ve had to accept a naff cover on Curtain Up rather than owning a new (nice) copy of Theatre Shoes (and it was only 50p – bargain), but in total, acquired five more Streatfeilds for my collection as well as duplicates of a couple of favourites that are in danger of falling apart. (And yes, at this moment the thought in my head was “when I read this with my daughters…”)

Can you see what I mean about the covers? 

It was this trawling that led me deeper into the vortex. Back in the early years of this millennia, I haunted these websites semi-obsessively in order to complete my Chalet School collection (I was finishing a degree or working in a bookshop – what else did I have to do with my time?) and returning to them could have opened a Pandora’s Box. Hurriedly, I scrolled past lists of hardback Chalet Schools (although I have all 62 paperbacks, I long for all 58 hardbacks – yes, I’m special). On one site, a title stood out – Fifth Form Friendships at Trebizon – and for a second I thought I might be about to complete my Trebizon collection. My heart beat faster and then I looked it up and realised I already owned it and that my missing book was in fact Fifth Year Triumphs, a subtlety different title as I’m sure you’ll agree. [You may not have realised, but a significant element of my OCD is a need to complete collections.] But in the case of Trebizon, completion will have to wait just a while longer.

I’m happy to report that I’m now holding my own in the vortex. No time has been spent hunting for books today (good job too, having spent over £30 in the last two days) and I resisted any new purchases while staying warm in Foyles this afternoon – though I should share that I spotted a gorgeous new hardback edition of Ballet Shoes (with a red ribbon round its centre, how cute!) that even contains the original illustrations, beautiful. There are a couple more Streatfeilds I’m on the look out for, but I may contain myself at least until I’ve read some of what is currently en route. In the mean time, if anyone hears of a support group for people who suffer from such a condition, do let me know.