Friday, 19 March 2010

Finding my feet and fish in The East

Look at the date on my previous blog: 3rd March!  That's over two weeks ago and represents the longest gap between posts since I started.  I humbly apologise.  I don't know why you all bother with me, but I'm glad you do (quite a lot of you, according to Google analytics - who are these readers in India, Russia and Canada?  I'm intrigued.  Shows yourselves!)

You'll have to completely let me off, at least as far as this last week is concerned.  I've been up in the East Midlands presenting BBC Radio Leicester's lunchtime show and it has wiped me out.

This is not what I was expecting.  I've been presenting daily programmes on BBC local stations, off and on for more than 20 years.  I thought I'd breeze through it, especially as it's only a two-hour show.  I thought I'd have so much spare time, I'd be blogging until you couldn't bear to read another word.

What I hadn't taken into account, because I'd completely forgotten about it, is how tiring working in a new environment with new colleagues is, however nice it and they might be (and both the building and people seem very nice at the Beeb in Leicester).  I ran around like a harrassed, headless chicken for the first couple of days, unable even to find the studio, toilet, my desk or the kitchen. 

You might think mislaying the kitchen wouldn't be the end of the world unless you were starving but, on Day 2, I was to interview a fishmonger there as he poached haddock, boiled roe and sauteed chitterlings (which, it turns out, are fish intestines - you learn something every day - and absolutely yummy). 

In the studio, I commanded the computer to play a longish song then headed kitchenwards with headphones, microphone and a box of technical tricks I don't understand that enables me to continue broadcasting away from base.  The BBC at Leicester is hardly a vast, labyrinthine edifice like London's Broadcasting House or Television Centre yet I simply could not find the blasted kitchen.  After a couple of panic-filled minutes that felt like a week and a half, I put my head round the door of the engineers' office and begged them for help.  "It's just there," they replied.  I was approximately three feet away from the kitchen door.  I made it just as the record began to fade.

Once I'd got my breath back, the food feature turned out to be a joy because John Heath, the fishmonger in question, and I have had dealings before.  Three years ago, John's fish, chips and mushy peas was runner-up main course in Series 2 of Britain's Best Dish, the annual, culinary contest on ITV1 featuring chefs Ed Baines and John Burton Race and wine guru Jilly Goolden. 

Ed, John and Jilly act both as mentors and judges on the show and, towards the end of the series, were augmented by London Evening Standard restaurant critic Charles Campion, culinary goddess Sophie Grigson and me.  We were rendered ecstatic by John's pearly white, perfectly flaky cod in gossamer-light batter with chips that would have your great granny weeping with nostalgia. 

He was beaten by the narrowest of margins by an ambrosial lamb biryani.  We all felt awful having to choose one dish over the other as they were both way ahead of the pack, and couldn't have been more different: it was like saying a superb pear was better than a stunning apple.

John appears to have recovered from the disappointment of ending up so near yet so far from the glittering televisual prize and is still happily supplying haddock, halibut and herring to the good folk of Wigston Magna, as he has done for an amazing 47 years. 

Some of my more squeamish new colleagues were aghast at the relish with which I consumed his roe and chitterlings, so goodness knows what they'll make of next Tuesday's cookery feature.  I'll be meeting a guy who cooks roadkill in the exhaust pipe of his camper van.  Fricassee of squirrel, anyone?  I like to think of myself as fearlessly omnivorous but maybe even will be yearning for the return of fried fish intestines. 

I suppose I could always fail to find the kitchen on purpose......

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