D-Day

My grandfather was there on D-Day.   As I understand it he was one of the Royal Engineers, who went in on D-Day -1 to clear mines from the beaches.  He once told me that only two of his group came off the beach alive.  He didn’t like to talk about it – in fact I don’t think he ever really told my mum anything – but once or twice he told me a few things, particularly after I went on a school trip to Normandy in the Sixth Form and visited Arromanches.

He’d spent much of his war working on the railways and in the run up to D-Day he had been helping build the floating docks for the Mulberry Harbour.  After D-Day he continued on the advance through France and into Germany, ending up in Hamburg working on boats in the port.  I don’t know what went on the way to Hamburg or when he was there, but he talked about that even less than D-Day (and he didn’t talk about that much).  I know that  he and his friend gathered tins of cigarettes from the water as they landed in France and dried them out – he saved some to smoke as a treat for his 21st birthday in November 1944 and I saw some pictures of the Officers Mess at Hamburg, but that’s about it.

He was never properly demobilised – he was released from his unit to go and become the foreman at the factory he’d worked at before the war – and he still had his log book – the last entry before he was sent back was that he was due to be sent to the Far East.  Thank god his factory needed him.  His cousin Eustace – who worked in a gentleman’s outfitters in town – was sent to the Far East and died as a POW working on the railroads.  I think the only time I ever saw my Grandpa cry was when I found the information on the Commonwealth War Graves website that Eustace was remembered on a memorial for soldiers with no known grave.

I can’t imagine my Grandpa killing anyone.  But logic dictates that he probably did at some point on the beaches, or on the way through France.  He certainly had nightmares about what had happened – but I only know that because my grandma told me.  But he carried on with his life, never complaining, and only applied for his medals in the 1980s right before the deadline for getting them – and only then because my Grandma told him to do it.

I remember watching the 60th anniversary commemorations – and talk that they could be the last time the veterans were there to mark it.  I’m glad we have another opportunity to remember what those young men did on the beaches of Normandy all those years ago – and for children now to see the veterans and hear their stories from their own mouths.  When I was at primary school in the late 1980s, most of us had grandparents who had served in the war – now it’s the ones lucky enough to have great-grandparents who have that first-hand link.

When I was little I had a great-uncle (well we called him uncle, but he was the husband of one of my grandma’s cousins) who was a First World War veteran – Uncle Richard had a limp and was really quite deaf from all the shelling and almost even more fascinatingly to me (as I was obsessed with Queen Victoria at the time) had been born in the 1890s.  The earliest Remembrance Day parades that I can remember  – 70 plus after the Armistice – had quite a number of World War One veterans marching past the Cenotaph.   Now, they are all gone – the Great War is out of living memory, and in 20 years time, World War Two will be too.

My Grandpa would have been 91 this year, but he died four years ago in July.  I still can’t really talk about him without crying – in fact just writing this I’m getting teary-eyed.  His life was about so much more than the war – he spent more than 40 years as chief engineer at two of Northampton’s shoe factories, he was a lecturer at the local college, he married and had his family after the war.  I lived next door to him from the age of 3 and considered it a bad day if I hadn’t seen him at least once.  When I was little understand why he didn’t go to Remembrance Day Parades, or wear his medals like the people on the TV did, but now I understand – he didn’t want to let a terrifying, horrible and scary part of his life define the whole of the rest of it.

But it is important to remember what those young men and women did for our freedom – and to honour them while they live, record their stories and we make sure that the children of today hear as much as they can about what happened, from the people who lived through it, to make sure that it doesn’t turn into just another chapter of the history books.

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The Magic of Monaco

The F1 circus is in Monaco this week.  But what is it about this race that makes it so special?  Is it the yachts? The proximity of the barriers? The glamourous women?  Well, it’s certainly not the overtaking!

For me, I think it’s something to do with the fact that it’s the first race track that I can remember as a separate entity.  I know I started watching Formula One with my dad when I was quite small (in the days when Worzel Gummidge was still on TV – was it even on on a Sunday the same as F1?) but I don’t remember a lot of detail of those early days.  But Monaco was different – it didn’t look like the other tracks did on the TV and that means that it stood out to me as a child (and they stopped making new Worzel Gummidge when I was 5!).  So Monaco is tied up with my early memories of F1 watching – along with drivers hitching a lift back to the pits on another drivers car and the fact that Nigel Mansell could never beat Ayrton Senna.

The Boy says that he likes Monaco because it rewards a certain type of drivers – good drivers go well, but the ones with the skills who are in the lesser cars can (and do) shine too) – and I can get on board with that, although my rage at Enrique Bernoldi for “holding up” David Coulthard for lap after lap in 2001 is still strong even now, although with two victories around the Monagasque streets DC can hardly be accused of not having what it takes to shine in the principality.

So what can we hope for this weekend?  Well, I’m hoping that someone with some skill at parking their car on apexes and blocking overtaking moves gets themselves in front of the Mercedes and provides us all with a bit of entertainment.  As for who the most likely candidates for that role are, I would suggest that either one of the Ferrari duo is capable of keeping people behind them if they can get out front in the first place and Hulkenberg could do it  – if he can get far enough up the grid.  The Red Bull chassis could be good enough to outshine its engine’s lack of power around the streets of Monte Carlo – Sebastian Vettel has won in Monaco before – but I’d kind of prefer at Ricciardo win, if just to see what sort of meltdown might happen in the German side of the garage.  Beyond that, Jenson Button’s a previous winner – and there could be a surprise or two out there.

Here’s hoping that the Mercs aren’t a second and a half faster than everyone else in Thursday practice!

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Elections: The Most Wonderful Time of Year

love elections.  I don’t like politicians, I don’t have a party I support, I just love elections.  When I was little, every time voting day came around, my mum would make sure that she took my sister and me with her when she went to vote, and as we walked from our house to the polling station (the village pub, 7 minutes walk away) she would always tell us about Emily Davidson.  The story increased in detail as we got older, but from when I was very little, the message was clear -this lady cared enough about women being able to vote, that she died – it is important that you exercise your right to vote because she gave up her life to try to get you that right.  And every time my polling card comes through the door, I hear my mum’s voice in my head, reminding me about Emily Davidson.  My urge to vote is so strong, that the year that I moved to Southend, I drove all the way back to Colchester to vote in the last European elections – because my name hadn’t got on to the Southend Electoral roll in time and I was still on the one there.  I dread to think what my mum would’ve said if she’d found out that I hadn’t voted – and she doesn’t care who I vote for, just that I go and put my piece of paper in the box.

What I really love about elections is election night – and the results programmes.  In 1997, when I was 14, I was allowed to stay up late to watch the results come in and I still believe that the schedule that night was perfect:  Nine O’Clock News, Blackadder III Dish and Dishonesty (aka the election one) then Vote 1997 at Ten PM.  It should be compulsory to have to watch the Dunny-on-the-Wold by-election before you see any “proper” election results:

As a side point, on my year in France, my history lecturer – a proper Anglofile – made me explain the “Pitt the Glint in the Milkman’s eye” sequence to a class of French undergradautes – they didn’t get it.  Even when he tried to explain it.  Such a shame.

Anyway, back to election nights.  In 1997, I stayed awake long enough to see the result in Tatton (Martyn Bell vs Neil Hamilton) and was found asleep on the sofa the next morning, with the TV still on.  At university, the highlight of the student radio year for me was the student union elections – with the candidate interview night, the live coverage of the hustings, the exit poll to compile and then results night itself (and the after party!).  There’s a recording still in existance (unfortunately) of me trying and failing to sign off the election results programme in my second year – bursting in to tears in the middle of the last line because it was all over, I’d worked so hard on the organisation and some of my best friends were graduating and I was off to France so that it “would never be the same again” – photos from 10 minutes later show me and an esteemed member of the BBC Health unit crying in a corner.

On the aforementioned year in France, I coincidentally managed to make a special trip back home to see my then boyfriend happen at the time of the student election results night coverage (it wasn’t the same).   When the general election happened during that same year in France (the first time I was actually able to vote) I sent in my postal vote (although I’m fairly sure it didn’t get there – but Emily Davidson meant I had to) and spent the early hours listening to 5Live over extremely crackly medium wave that only just reached the Touraine.

In 2010, I was lucky enough to get a new job at a time which meant that I could time my last day at my old station (where I was breakfast newsreader) to be polling day – so I could stay up all night to watch the results and not have to worry about being at work at  4.30 am!

So, after this litany of election-based geekery, it’ll be no surprise to you that when I was offered the chance to work on the BBC’s local election coverage two years ago I nearly bit my boss’ hand off in my eagerness to take part – and I managed to cajole my line managers in to letting me take part last year – and for both the local and the European elections this year.  So, whilst usually seven shifts in nine days (I’m not thinking about the ones in the week after) would not usually be a prospect that fills my heart with joy, because it’s elections, I’m really rather excited.

Don’t forget to vote on Thursday – Emily Davidson says you should.

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Eurovision spoofs and other odds and ends

Having already had my say about my favourite entries in my memory, and having bitched written extensively on NutleyOne’s liveblogs of the semi final, I thought I’d mark the actual night of the contest with two brilliant Eurovision spoof songs.

Father Ted

If you’ve never seen the “Eurosong” episode of Father Ted, you should go and find it.  It is a work of genius.  Dougal’s dream version of My Lovely Horse is the highlight though – the music and vocals come courtesy of Neil Hannon of the Divine Comedy fame.

High Life

I know nothing about this show other than that it was about cabin crew, that it starred Alan Cumming and that it gave us this insanely catchy Eurovision spoof.  Warning: You will be humming Pif Paf Pof for days.

I did warn you.

If you need something to (try to) get Pif Paf Pof out of your head, here’s this years Greek Entrants Freaky Fortune and RiskyKidd doing a rather lovely Eurovision medley – which NutleyOne and I saw them perform live and to a rapturous reception at the Cafe de Paris gig last month.

And one last thing… It would be remiss of me not  to mention that this year is the 20th anniversary of Riverdance.  I’m still not sure how they spun a nine minute interval act into a full length arena show, but my friend who saw it back in the day said it was very good.  Here is the original – which is I’m sure the reason that Ireland won the contest that year – after all who can remember their song!

PS. Vote Conchita (because we can’t vote for Molly)!

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Pandas on standby

The Boy has always thought that it’s odd that I can work in news and see really very graphic pictures, when I couldn’t even watch the whole of Pulp Fiction with him.

To be honest, I think it’s a bit strange too.  I’ve never watched violent films and I once cried at a party political broadcast (Labour, before the 97 general election characterising the Conservatives as a football team who treated some players better than others – I ended up crying about a player who got really badly hurt and just had a sponge thrown at him.  I know.  I still can’t explain why I ended up in tears).  But at work I’ve sat through footage of shootings, of dead bodies, the aftermath of bombings and all sorts.

My coping mechanism is videos of pandas.  When it all gets a big depressing or too much for me I watch footage of pandas for a little while to take my mind off it.  I know, it sounds strange, but nothing cheers me up more than a video or two of baby giant pandas gamboling around and enjoying themselves.   Videos like this:

The worse the day, the more panda breaks I take.  It’s even developed into a code in our house – “how was your day?” “Oh not great – two panda” or “terrible –  three panda.”  Very rarely have we got into more than three panda territory (some of the worst Syria stuff and some massacre footage from Africa being among the examples I haven’t blocked out).

Today at work, I was tasked with complying the live stream of the Oscar Pistorius murder trial – a case I’ve found quite upsetting in places, even though the content is nothing worse that I’ve heard many times before and which doesn’t have any distressing video or pictures accompanying it (or it if does, it’s my job to make sure that it doesn’t get out to the rest of you).  My day watching Steve Wright giving evidence at the Ipswich murder trial didn’t get me in the same way some of the Pistorius has – although to be honest, with Wright I was too incredulous at the story he was trying to spin to be upset by the fact that I was listening to a mass murderer.  But for some reason, the Pistorius cases pushes my emotional buttons.  I’ve had the pandas on standby.

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The Eurovision Song Contest

I’m probably too old to be excited about Eurovision but I don’t care, and I’m going to share with you my favourite Eurovision songs! To be honest, all my favourite songs are classic cheesy Europop fare – as you’re about to discover…

The first year I can remember was 1992 – and Michael Ball singing One Step Out of Time. This doesn’t mean I didn’t watch 1991 – I may have blocked Samantha Janus’ effort out as a bad memory – but I still have an enormous fondness for Mr Ball’s effort (he was robbed!).  I can remember watching the songs on the little TV in my parent’s bedroom as they had dinner guests downstairs – and then listening to the scores on the Radio 2 show after being sent to bed.

The song I know best is the UK’s effort from the following year – Sonia’s Better the Devil You Know – and this is entirely because one of my sister and my regular Saturday night videos was our recording of the Children’s Royal Variety Performance 1993 – which featured Sonia in the Arabian Nights section – I think there was a point when my sister and I could recite the whole script of that show bad jokes and all. In honour of that, here’s the section of the show with Sonia in tinfoil trouser-skirt thing.  Sadly her performance has been cut into pieces by the person who uploaded this – She starts at 7’35 in the first video – that is if you don’t want to watch René from ‘Allo ‘Allo doing Beauty and the Beast’s Be Our Guest or Bobby Davro…

There’s a fair few years where the only songs I remember are the UK entry – and as Gina G was the best of those and is fairly ubiquitous, I’ve left her out!

My home village’s claim to fame (apart from allegedly being the only village in Northamptonshire that’s a dead end) is that the drummer from Katrina and the Waves grew up there.  He went to school with my mum, and I remember his elderly mother (who was friends with my grandma) going around the village with Post-it notes with the name of the song, the time of the Song for Europe selection programme and instructions on how to vote.  When they were picked as the UK entry we were all sure that it was entirely down to us – and when they won the whole thing it was such a thrill!

Now whilst everyone else may remember 1998 as the year of Dana International, for me it was the year of Guildo Horn – a German novelty act who I first encountered when I was on the school German exchange in Rheinland-Pflatz. Sabrina, my German Exchange partner, had MTV – and I saw Guildo there a month or two before the contest.  Who doesn’t love the sheer madness of a man who does a cowbell solo and has a backing band called “The Orthopaedic stockings”? Ignore the text that says it was performed in Stockholm – it was performed at the NIA – because we’d won the year before….

To be honest, the late 1990s/early 2000s are my favourite Eurovision years – I liked the winners and it was before the Eastern European bloc vote took all the fun out of it and when you still got the “proper” annoucement of all the scores – none of this only read out the 8 10 and 12!

Of all of them, Charlotte Nilsson’s Take Me To Your Heaven is my favourite – it’s just my sort of pop music – Abba-esque, catchy and easy to sing along to.  Terry’s right though – she is wearing too much purple eyeshadow…

The following year it was the Olsen Brothers and Fly On The Wings Of Love which isn’t my usual Eurovision fare – as you’ll have worked out by now, but it’s still on my list. I can remember having a few arguments at school over DJ Sammy’s version and the fact that all the “cool” kids were listening to a Eurovision rip-off…

2001 was “Everybody” which was just so upbeat and fun (even if the singers later fell out) and was a great Eurovision song not produced by Scandanavia – although Estonia’s so close you could say that those Scandi Eurovision skills rubbed off on them!

2001 in Copenhagen was also the year of Doctor Death and the Tooth Fairy – the Danish TV presenters who spoke mostly in (very bad) rhyming couplets.  The interval act was Aqua – and I loved it.  But then I’m one of the rare beings who owns both Aqua albums and will admit to it. Cartoon Heroes is an underrated classic.

And speaking of bizarre Eurovision happenings, my final entry on this list is going to be Russia’s winner from 2008, not because it’s a brilliant song, but because it features Russian Figure Skating Star (and Wilde household favourite) Evgeni Plushenko – making him the only person to have an Olympic Gold medal (actually he has two now, and two silvers too) and the Eurovision Song Contest Trophy.  Little Sis and I had no idea he was taking part – and spent the first part of the song saying “Isn’t that Plushy’s violin player” about Edvin Martin (he is) and then did full blown squeals when he appeared! You’d think we were past the squealing stage wouldn’t you?!

There are other songs that I’ve loved – the classic UK entries obviously and Lena and Loreen haven’t been bad in recent years.  This year I went to the Eurovision preview party at the Cafe de Paris and so I’ve already had a sneak preview of some of the acts and know which ones I want to go through to Saturday’s final.

Actually, this year will  be the first in as long as I can remember that I won’t be watching the contest live – as I inadvertently booked tickets to go and see Rich Hall on Saturday night without realising that it was Eurovision.  Still I’ll be watching the semi’s (much to my boyfriend’s disgust no doubt) and I’ll TiVo the final to watch after the event.

I leave you with my favourite song not to represent the UK – Deuce’s I Need You, which I think would’ve done better than Love City Groove (if they kept it in tune)…  For trivia lovers it also features Mrs Ant McPartlin – Lisa Armstrong – now a make-up artist who frequently pops up on TV – and is in charge of make-up for Strictly Come Dancing

The biggest Eurovision fan I know, and one of my regular partners in crime NutleyOne will be providing expert commentary on the semis – and has several blog entries about this years contest (including about our trip to the Cafe de Paris) – he knows much more than I do about this years runners and riders so go have a look.  Vote Austria! Pray for Latvia!

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Senna – Twenty Years on

A lot has been said this week about Ayrton Senna da Silva.  I have no expertise to add, no memories of meeting the man.  But what I do have is a vivid memory of sitting on the sofa in horror as some thing terrible unfolded on the television.  I was ten.  I had no idea that drivers died in Formula One – and I hadn’t heard about what had happened to Roland Ratzenberger.  My Dad, who introduced me to motorsport (and Star Trek and Worzel Gummidge), shook his head and went out to do some gardening.  I can remember running out to the greenhouse to find him, to tell him that it was going to be fine, that Senna had been airlifted to hospital.

“It must be ok – because they wouldn’t do that if he was dead would they”

“Try not to get your hopes up – he may still be brain dead”

“What’s brain dead Daddy?”

Bless him, he explained – just as he explained to me what AIDS was when Freddie Mercury died – and he comforted me later in the day when I was crying my eyes out after the terrible news came through.

It took me a few weeks to be able to watch any motorsport again.

There has been no death in F1 since that horrible weekend in 1994, but I still get the same lurching feeling in my stomach that I first remember having whilst watching F1 that day whenever I see a big crash – Sato and Heidfeld in Austria, Kubica in Canada, Webber in Valencia to name a few.  I hope it never ends in tears again.

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