Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Just back from a few days off, having been caught by a speed camera for the second time in six years and the second time in my life.

The first time it happened I was doing 60 in a 30 mph limit – fast enough to face a ban.

I got off with a £400 fine because the magistrates were parents and understood what it must’ve been like to see my 11-year-old’s face crumple as he waited to catch an early morning train for his first lone school trip and realised his overnight bag was still in the living room.

I showed them a letter from the deputy head confirming I’d had 20 minutes to dash back or follow the 6.15 to Fort William, produced a Met report showing how safe the conditions were, photos of the empty road at 6am and even a couple of articles I’d written condemning dangerous driving.

They yawned, signed, winced a little when I addressed them ‘may it please your worships’, told me to ‘please sit down’, and bunged six points on my licence.

The latest flash came as I the M1 in Bedfordshire in a flash new Saab Sport doing a tad over 30 as I slowed into a village. Everyone told me no-one gets done for doing less than 38. The penalty notice arrived two weeks later: I was doing exactly 38. Not 39; not 37. Jesus.

I admitted the offence and didn’t try to blame it one worries about my 11-year-old’s travels.

He’d turned 17 and was in Istanbul with his brother on the week the bombs went off. I did phone the Foreign Office helpline from the car as news came though on the radio.

Please note: it was on a hands-free set.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

It's been more than a week since I left full-time employment and I'm having withdrawal symptoms. With no wire service, no 24-hour TV, no news schedules to stare at every waking moment, I'm reading everything that comes through my door.

I live in a village and, once a month, The Voice of the Village is delivered. Last month's had a carnival picture on it and I threw it in the bin with the Indian menu and neighbourhood watch stuff. This month's had a picture of cricketers on the green opposite and I read it cover-to-cover.

It's citizen's journalism in print. Seventy-two pages of A4 folded in half, full of snippets, profiles of local people, listings, what feels like a 200gsm glossy cover - and all printed by a bloke down the road.

It covers what local papers call parish pump: Ofsted praising a local school, plans for a phone mast, the usual yellow-lines controversy and even an appeal for neighb ours to be considerate when lighting barbeques.

But what makes it worth reading is when it tries its hand at traditional reporting. A two-page spread on PC's (sic) winning bravery awards carried a hiilarious account of a potentially serious incident in which local bobbies "attended the scene", tried to "locate the offender" while "maintaining a position at the front of the premises". On another page, they report that a local "male" is being held in custody on driving charges.

It's full of companies vacating premises, people working in commercial units and living at residential addesses and littered with minor mistakes. But it's absolutely packed to the rafters with ads from estate agents, glazing firms, pubs, restaurants, garages, builders and hairdressers.

I can see the bloke down the road vacating the village soon for the sun.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

One of the benefits of being suddenly freelance is that people you may have entertained from time to time now insist on paying for lunch. A downside is that it cuts your day in half and, without a schedule to fit it into, leaves little time for anything else.

It does mean you're still plugged in to what's happening in the world though. It also means you get to see lots of new restaurants and, like a driver suddenly in the passenger seat, begin to take note of your surroundings.

I've written before about being a Blackberry addict. I've lost count of the times I've gone from office to pub to Tube to taxi rank and rarely raised my head from the screen in my hand.

My eyes are slowly opening. I now know the name of a church I have passed 1,000 times and stopped to study a roadside tourist map instead of Googling on my mobile. I even gave directions.

If the weather holds, I'll maybe set up as a tour guide . . . or a restaurant critic.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Friday saw me step aside as editor of after five years in which the media landscape changed beyond recognition.

And for the first time in years, I took a Monday off. I went for a jog in the sun, read a book in the bath, sat down in front of the TV - and watched England win the World Cup.

How's that for a delayed-drop intro?

Anyway, there was no more surfing the Net for news, reading the weekend roundup from Lovelace, listening to Five Live in the traffic on Holloway Road. I just sprawled out to re-live the full 120 minutes I saw live in 1966, in colour at the cinema a few years later and on video 10 years ago when son Andrew was old enough to appreciate sporting nostalgia.

And did the memories come flooding back? Sadly not. From the moment Kenneth Wolstenholme - as BBC posh as Sir Alf was plummy - began talking us through England's greatest sporting moment, all I could think about was how far we'd come in broadcasting.

Here was this legend among commentators sounding like a kindly uncle talking you through a changing of the guard while adding little in the way of critical understanding of the game. The match drew millions of new fans, particularly from the middle classes who'd never stood on rain-lashed terraces. You couldn't wish for a better moment to bring them into the fold.

But what did they get? Apart from a few name checks, not a great deal. I wondered what my old colleague, Alan Hansen, would have made of George Cohen haplessly trying to dribble out of his own box, or Ray Wilson 'gifting' the Germans their opener and what Gary Lineker would have said about the space Geoff Hurst had to grab an equaliser. Never mind 'gole! It's a gole!' Where was the bloody defence?

That competition was my induction to the beautiful game I grew up thinking it was OK to toe-poke passes to the other side, fall flat on your arse and repeatedly whack left-footed bloomers into the photographers from 25 yards.

Okay, so the players were on a tenner or two a week, their wives went to Tupperware parties and the balls weighed a ton in the wet. It wouldn't have been fair to critise every flick and turn. But it would have been nice to have known what was what.

I've got the full Leicester City box set to get through. Even the Foxes greatest moments video: no silverware, but plenty of action. And the 1998 season highlights that sums up almost every season: So near, yet so far.

I'll still swear at the dodgy decisions - but I'll never knock Mottie again. We rhink it's all over? Well it is for me. For now.

Let's see what tomorrow brings.