Monday, 3 May 2010

Taking the tasks

Question: what do bingo-calling, pork pie-making, street cleaning, floristry, town crying, maypole dancing and beatboxing have in common?

Answer: I can do all of ‘em! Maybe not to the very highest standards, but I definitely can!

One of the features of the BBC Radio Leicester show of which I’m currently long-term caretaker, is a weekly challenge.

As if mastering the technicals of 21st-century radio wasn’t enough for my aging brain (see previous blog), I have, from the start, been required to master a new skill every seven days, too.

Listeners follow my progress through the week as an expert tutors me and I practice. At least, I hope listeners do so: for all I know, they could be yelling at the radio: “Who cares whether you can construct a simple bouquet with three long-stemmed roses and a variety of ornamental grasses, Bill? Play another song, for heaven’s sake, before we retune to commercial rival Anonymous FM!” (strapline: “playing Leicestershire’s favourite six songs over and over again until you lose the will to live”).

On Friday, teacher turns examiner. He or she concocts what they consider to be a fair test of my abilities, and I take that test live on air.

I don’t like to boast (is it ever true when someone says that?) but thus far, I’ve passed seven out of seven.

As with most things, there’s more to floristry, bingo calling, even litter picking, than meets the eye.

Take the bingo. For a start, camping it up by announcing 22 as two little ducks, 59 as the Brighton line or, perish the thought, 88 as feelings-hurting, litigation-creating two fat ladies, is strictly verboten. Bingo has gone serious, slick and modern with cash prizes running into four figures. Neither the players, many of whom are no longer fat ladies of a certain age, incidentally, nor the management, want time-delaying whimsy anymore; they demand fast, efficient delivery, and nothing but.

Each numbers must be announced in a certain way. 50, for example, can only be delivered as ‘five-oh, fifty’. The same rule applies to all the others that end in 0. The reason? If you say ‘forty’ before you’ve said ‘four-oh’, it can be misheard as ‘fourteen’ and occasion a false shout of ‘House!’.

Single digit numbers, meanwhile, must always be announced as, for example, ‘eight, on its own, number eight’. No other permutation is acceptable, not even ‘number eight, on its own, eight’. Again, this is because this form is thought least likely to cause confusion.

Only machine gun delivery will do. There simply isn’t time to think: “Ooo, 64’s come up. Do I say ‘six and four, sixty four’ or is it ‘sixty four, six and four?”

The hundred-odd bowed heads at Mecca Bingo’s lunchtime session formed a daunting sight, but I pulled it off. Being a broadcaster to the souls of my feet and roots of my hair, the fact that tens of thousands of radio listeners were eavesdropping on my moment of pressure, which I guess would be many people’s primary concern, never occurred to me, let alone added to the pressure.

I’m proud to say I got a spontaneous round of applause from the players at Leicester’s Freemans Common (which sounds quite scenic but is, in fact, an industrial estate). I controlled my euphoria and managed not to thank my mother, agent, director and, more than anyone, the writers for such a fabulous script (52, 7, 13, 44, 8: poetry!) before handing the mic back to the regular caller.

In the course of these challenges, I’ve also managed a bit of cliché destruction. My colleagues (and I, if I’m honest) assumed that, as a gay man possessed of, shall we say, a certainly degree of flamboyance, I’d take to floristry like the proverbial duck to water, but struggle with becoming a binman.

It turned out to be quite the reverse: despite kind and patient tutorage and much practice, I never really produced a professional-looking bouquet. In fact, I still can’t work out how anyone with fewer than four hands manages it. Not only do you have to hold together countless stems of varying length, they also have to be at different angles. Grasses must be wrapped around to form bows or heart-shaped loops. Then it all has to be tightly secured with ribbon. Relax the grip of your aching hand for even an instant and you end up with blooms lolling at crazy angles in a “bouquet” no-one in their right mind would want to give or receive.

My teacher-turned-examiner gave me a pass for my Friday on-air effort which I think says more about her benevolence than my skill. Floristry was certainly the closest I’ve come to a fail.

Being part of a Council gang, cleaning Leicester city centre’s streets, however, was both relatively easy and great fun. I bonded with the other guys instantly and soon got to grips with the mechanical claw device that saves you bending to retrieve every crisp packet and Coke can. I derived satisfaction, too, from giving the manky, hard-to-get-at corners of various items of street furniture, a good brushing. I’m sure it would be miserable on a cold, wet day but, with the sun on my high-visibility jacketed back, it seemed a lovely way to get some light exercise and do something useful at the same time.

You’ve indulged me sufficiently for one session, so I’ll regale you with my pork pie making, town crying, maypole dancing and beatboxing in future blogs.

Coming up this week is horse riding. I confidently predict my first fail. I only hope I don’t end up concussed or permanently wheelchair-bound. It has long been my view that horses are highly strung, bloody minded, excessively emotional scaredy cats, just waiting for an excuse to toss that pesky rider off their back and canter free. If God meant us to sit up there, about a thousand miles above the ground, he would have given us unbreakable spines and denied us the intelligence to invent the pedal cycle and combustion engine. “You’ll never get me up on one of those things” has long been my equine mantra so quite why I have agreed to saddle up at one of Leicestershire’s riding schools, I have no idea.

Anyway, watch this space. I shall report back on my dealings with Dobbin. Anyone got any spare apples or sugar lumps?

No comments:

Post a Comment