Tuesday, 9 November 2010

So tired and feeling sad about John 'Abbo' Abberley

I don't know if it's a combination of the cold weather, the central heating and being excessively busy at work, but I am a mess at the moment.

My complexion is suffering. One minute it's dry, then it's blotchy, then it's spotty - the list is endless. I know I'm not painting a very pretty picture of myself at the moment, but hey, I can't be perfect all the time.

My downer in my mood was pushed further into black yesterday when I heard about the death of a former colleague at BBC Radio Stoke. The man in question was a legend. By the time I started there in 1986, he'd already been there nearly 20 years and was coming to the end of his radio career but John 'Abbo' Abberley was someone who touched everyone's lives and carried on doing so up until his death as a columnist on his beloved Stoke Sentinel, where his fledgling career started when he joined as a cub reporter at the tender age of 17.

He was the kind of person who had his opinions (and not everyone agreed with them) but he put his argument across with conviction and passion. He adored debating, talking politics, sport and issues that affected his hometown. He was one of its fiercest critics but one of its greatest supporters. He believed in the people of Stoke and they believed in him and trusted his judgement.

When I first joined the Beeb, he was already someone who was highly regarded in both print and broadcast journalism, so to find myself working alongside him and rubbing shoulders with him on a daily basis was surreal. As a youngster, I used to listen to him on the radio and never thought for one minute that one day I'd be working with him.

I remember my Mum being really proud of the fact that the great John Abberley was one of my work colleagues. He was held in very high regard by all who worked with him but to the ordinary man in the street, he was a local hero and I say hero in the true sense of the word.

I was very sad when I found out that he'd died because it made me think about the happy times I had in local radio and in my earlier days there, John was such a big part of my working day and was always on hand with some advice, words of wisdom or a throw away remark that would leave you in stitches.

He was a great story-teller. He could hold the attention of a room and have the audience eating out of the palm of his hand.

If I was feeling a bit low before-hand, after hearing about John's passing, I was feeling so very, very sad.

It takes something like this to make you realise that our time on this earth is very short and that we should make the most of every opportunity and take each day as it comes.

One of the stories I tell about John is the fact that he used to act absent minded, but he was as sharp as a tack. If I was to say the phrase, 'Am I On Yet' to anyone who worked at BBC Radio Stoke, they would all know that it was indeed John that I was talking about.

I hope the tributes will be coming in thick and fast for him and that his family will take comfort from them because it will show them just how loved he was and what a big hole there will be in the hearts of all those who knew him.

He was a great person, with a fabulous sense of humour as this clip will prove - enjoy. He'll be entertaining them in Heaven now!

John 'Abbo' Abberley. Legend.


Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Farewell to one of the nation's favourite clowns

Norman Wisdom was like the marmite of British Comedy – you either loved him or you hated him and thankfully, most people loved him.

Whenever I see that one of his films is on, I always sit and watch it because they bring back so many happy memories for me growing up as a kid as his films used to be screened mainly on a Saturday morning before the likes of Tiswas and Multicoloured swap shop.

They were entertaining films with more slapstick than dialogue and the usual endings of the little man who takes on the big companies and not only wins, but gets the girl at the end as well.

Sir Norman Wisdom was one of those people who made you smile. You only had to see him and you laughed in anticipation of his falling down the stairs or doing one of his comedy trips. He was still doing them in his 80s and famously did a trip when he collected his Knighthood from The Queen.

My favourite Wisdom film is the one where he is working as a milkman with a horse drawn carriage and is being bullied by the big dairy that is trying to take over Mr Grimsdale’s patch.

The dirty tricks, the poisoning of his horse and the bullying were all things that the ordinary man could identify with and so there were loud cheers when he finally caused chaos at Consolidated Dairies

The film, called The Early Bird, has the following entry in Wikipedia:

The Early Bird is a 1965 British comedy film directed by Robert Asher and starring Norman Wisdom. It also featured Edward Chapman, Bryan Pringle, Richard Vernon, John Le Mesurier and Jerry Desmonde. It was the first Norman Wisdom film to be shot in colour. The title is taken from the expression "the early bird catches the worm".


Wisdom’s character works for Grimsdale’s Dairy as a milkman in competition with Consolidated Dairies, an ever-growing rival company under manager, Walter Hunter (played by Jerry Desmonde).

Much of the humour centres on classic slapstick comedy, with Norman encountering various comedic escapades, from being dragged around Mr Hunter’s gardens by an errant lawnmower to using the fire brigade’s high pressure hosepipes to blast fireman off their ladders after being called to a suspected fire at Consolidated Dairies’ HQ.

The film used some notable special effects to create extra storeys in the Consolidated Dairies’ building and to place the head of the Grimsdale’s Dairy horse on an image of Miss Hoskins.

It is my favorite Wisdom film and has me laughing every time I see it.

However, something that I have in my CD collection is a great CD of songs by Norman Wisdom. Not only was he a funny man, but he could dance, play several musical instruments and had a lovely singing voice. "Don’t laugh at me coz I’m a fool" being his most famous hit.

He had a good innings. 95 is a wonderful age and he leaves behind a legacy of laughter.

There will no doubt be many tributes to this funny little man of comedy and I wouldn’t be surprised if Albania had an official day of mourning.

Norman had cult status in Albania as his films were the only ones allowed to be screened in the country. He once went over there will a BBC film crew and was mobbed by all these adoring fans.

So farewell Sir Norman.

There will be a bright star shining in heaven now; I just hope he doesn’t trip up the steps to the pearly gates!!

RIP Sir Norman Wisdom, 1915 – 2010.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Lisa Moss - a tribute

Lisa Moss - what can I say about this remarkable young lady?

We both started work within a week of each other and as she had seven days worth of knowledge over me - she showed me where to go and get my pass, she showed me how to log into my PC account and generally helped me through my first week at a new work place.

She was a gem. Always laughing, always making me smile and as you can imagine, we hit it off straight away.

When she got promotion to the job of events manager, our paths crossed more as we worked in the same offices and used to work long hours, especially when we were working on the same events.

Poor Lisa was also subject to some of my terrible practical jokes and I often used to tease her for how easy she was to fall for my pranks. She took them all in good faith and we'd often giggle about the sillier things in life.

We both had an unhealthy obsession with Holby City and used to spend our tea breaks or chats in between walking to meetings catching up with the latest news at Holby.

Lisa didn't know just how funny she was. Her natural flair for saying things that had us all in stitches was legendary. Her sat nav in the car broke and she came into the office one morning extremely flustered as it was no longer working. "I'm just lost without my sat nav" she piped up. Not realising why we laughed at her comment.

Then things changed. One day when we were just having a chat in the office, she mentioned to me about a lump she had discovered and that was the day that her life took a totally different direction.

Finding a lump is something a woman fears most and after she'd had it checked out and it was confirmed that it was cancer - Lisa went into her warrior mode. She was not going to let this awful disease get the better of her. She was going to fight it - no matter what. And fight it she did.

She went through the pain of surgery, chemotherapy and all that comes with it to emerge the other end, smiling and laughing at the different wigs she had to wear to conceal the fact that her hair had gone.

Not once in my company did she complain. We both had crying sessions when I hugged her and let her sob on my shoulder and she had the odd pangs of "why me" but everyone does - but she coped with it in her stride and we were delighted when she announced that this life-threatening illness had given her a new zest for life.

She took out her savings, learned to salsa dance in Cuba, went to and took part in the Rio Carnival, visited Bangkok, Thailand, Spain and went on various cruises - life had dealt her a blow but she was going to enjoy as much as she could.

We were all delighted when after more surgery and a double reconstruction, she was back at work but her good fortune was not to last and the illness returned with an even more aggressive streak.

The brave Lisa battled on; determined that she would once again beat it. After a year of constant treatment, stays in hospital, chemo-therapy, blood transfusions and endless trips to the consultant - she got the news that she was not going to get better and that body blow saw her deteriorate so quickly.

She passed away on 12 May with her family and friends at her bedside.

Thirty seven years old is no age to die. She had so much more to do with her life, things she wanted to see, people she wanted to meet but she was so cruelly robbed of those chances.

I only knew Lisa for five years but in those five years, she was one of the kindest, nicest and most precious friends to have.

Although my last memory of her was as she lay in her hospital bed on Tuesday, I'm hoping that in time, the image you see in my blog is the one that comes to mind when I think about her - smiling, happy, vivacious and stunning.

She was my friend, my colleague and a true inspiration.

Rest in peace my beautiful girl. I'm going to miss you so very, very much.


Wednesday, 27 January 2010

The wonder of worm charming!

I had an email read out on Chris Evans' breakfast show today on Radio 2! I was sooo excited and it was in response to his interview with the organiser of the Annual World Worm Charming Championships in Willaston, Cheshire.

I have taken part in these very championships. It must have been about 1991 when I was working at Radio Stoke and I was approached by the Cystic Fibrosis Society, Stoke-on-Trent branch to compete in the championships and get sponsored to raise money for their charity, so of course, I jumped at the chance.

Now I couldn't even charm a duck off the water, so what chance had I of trying to persuade some innocent little worms to leave the sanctuary of their soggy underground haven?

For those of you that don't know what goes into the art of charming the worm, the rules are many but simple. You are given a small plot of land and have about half an hour to charm as many worms as you can and these are the rules:

Each competitor to operate in a 3 x 3 metre plot.
Lots to be drawn to allocate plots.
Duration of competition is 30 minutes.
Worms may not be dug from the ground. Only vibrations may be used.
No drugs to be used! Water is considered to be a drug/stimulant.
Any form of music may be used to charm the worms out of the earth.
A garden fork of normal type may be stuck into the ground and vibrated by any manual means to encourage worms to the surface.
Garden forks to be suitably covered to prevent possible injury when being transported to and from the competition. No accidents please!
Each competitor to leave his/her fork in allocated plot on arrival.
A piece of wood, smooth or notched may be used to strike or 'fiddle' the handle of the garden fork to assist vibration.
Competitors who do not wish to handle worms may appoint a second to do so. The second shall be known as a 'Gillie'.
Each competitor may collect worms from his/her own plot only.
Worms to be handled carefully and collected in damp peat and placed in a suitable, named container provided by the organising committee.
A handbell to be rung about five minutes before the start of the competition.
Competitors to keep clear of competition plots until given the instruction "Get to your Plots".
The competitor who 'charms' the most worms to be the winner.
In the event of a tie, the winner to be decided by a further five minutes charming.
Charmed worms to be released after the birds have gone to roost on the evening of the event.

When I took part in it, I managed to con my Mum into coming with me by promising her a day out in the country! It was an incredibly hot day and I felt really sorry for her as she didn't like the heat and so I got her a chair in the shade so she could sit and watch her second born make an absolute charlie of herself.

First of all, I was wearing a very ill fitting T-shirt which doesn't help when you're a big girl. There was a cartoon worm on the t-shirt which looked a bit distorted because my boobs are quite big and the worm looked like his head was sticking out of his body! In fact, my large chest made the worm look like he was in 3-D!! (or should that be a 43D?Lol!!)

Secondly, I drew a plot that was in direct sunlight so no worm worth his salt would want to come out into the sunshine.

Thirdly, the only tool I bought with me to charm the little blighters out of the ground was my plastic recorder! I thought I would lure them out with music rather than the primitive garden fork method - I now know from bitter experience that Cheshire worms are either deaf or do not appreciate live music. That's probably why you never see any worms at a Coldplay gig.

The half hour seemed like six hours and after ten minutes or so, I'd run out of my recorder repertoire so then I started to improvise or play familiar tunes over and over again. I think I played the theme from Z Cars a few times, three blind mice, Mull of Kintyre, a bit of classical and something that Wilson, Keppel and Betty used to do an Egyptian dance to. (See the film below by following the link or Google Wilson, Kepple and Betty - you'd love 'em)

I was so relieved when the bell sounded but at the same time, deeply ashamed and embarrassed. It was also a bloody good job that I wasn't sponsored per worm or else I would have made hardly anything for the charity.

When I tell you that the winner had the grand total of 200 worms charmed, you will appreciate why my haul was so pitiful. I only managed, THREE, yes THREE and I'm sure one of those was cut in half. It was very embarrassing but like I said, I was in a bone dry plot in direct sunlight so I was fighting a losing battle.

However, it was all good fun and I think I raised £500 from listener , friends and family donations, so the charity was a winner at least.

My Mum enjoyed her trip to Cheshire - well at least she didn't say she didn't and somewhere in my photo album I have a picture of her taken on the day of the worm charming championships and it's one of my favourite pictures of her.

I must admit that it was certainly an experience I will never forget but sadly, it has not made it to my CV yet under hobbies or interests!

So you can imagine my glee at hearing Chris read out my email in full to his millions of listeners. I was at work when he read it out and my friend Katie heard it! That's one thing I love about email, it's so instant. Being able to respond to a radio programme about an item you've just listened to and have your message read out minutes later just makes me want to say in a Fast Show character way:

"Int' modern technology Brilliant?"

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Goodbye dear friend...end of an era

You could say that I am a Cadbury baby. I was virtually weened on the brown stuff. Cadbury chocolate has always played an important part in my life and today, it is with great sadness that I say goodbye to a dear friend.
When I was growing up, Cadbury chocolate was given to me as a treat, it was given to me as a reward, it was given to me to cheer me up should I be down and to calm me down should I be playing up.
The Cadbury purple has always been my favourite colour and I could sing everyone of their catchy jingles. I must have eaten every chocolate bar they have ever created.
Yes, I know, that could be the reason why I am the shape of a Cadbury Lime Barrel (to be found in a Milk Tray selection) but it has made me realise sitting here typing this, just how much a part of my life has been made happier by scoffing their sticky delights.
To let Kraft, a big US conglomerate, snatch a part of our heritage away from us right under our noses is too much for me to bear without getting hot under the collar.
Britain's best loved chocolate-maker is no longer ours. Two hundred years of history with quaint but wonderful Quaker traditions has been surrendered to a processed cheese giant with little of no regard of what it has won - to them, it's just another company to be swallowed up. To us, it's our last great asset which will be stripped in no time.
I am mad. No, I am angry. Why has this been allowed to happen?
It's not too late. Please Cadbury shareholders, don't surrender. Think of what you are letting go.
The once sweet taste of success for a family-run firm will now be a bitter pill to swallow seeing the drum-playing Cadbury gorilla wearing a hat made from processed cheese.
I've nothing against Kraft, they saw a firm that was iconic and much loved the world over which was making a profit in today's troubled times.
Mark my words, a few years down the line thousands of loyal Cadbury workers (many of them generations of workers from the same family) will find themselves on the dole when production is shifted abroad to cut costs so Kraft can pay for the loans they have had to take out to pay for takeover.
Hostile takeover? You bet I am hostile towards it and judging by the reaction of people I have heard being insterviewed it should not have been allowed to happen. It wouldn't have happened in France or Germany but we let this go on time and time again. It has got to stop before we lose every scrap of identity and pride in what we produce.
This sucks, it stinks, it's wrong but it's not over till the fat lady sings and I am not singing until the bitter end.
Keep this wonderful company the way it is and save it for future generations to enjoy.
It's not too late. Say no to the money - you know it makes sense.