Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Media Land

Since my last entry here, life has returned to normal: valuable times with service users, grim times with NHS managers, busy times with a family growing up and leaving home, and a little bit of green time with a brilliant holiday read called "Sustainable Energy - without the hot air" and down at the yurt. Which, although randomly overgrown with everything from thistles to orchids, is looking wonderfully rustic in the midst of a town-of-ugly-repute - and producing great runner beans, courgettes and soft fruit. It reminds me of a couple of greencare principles: a weed is just a plant in the wrong place, and there's no such thing as bad weather, just wrong clothing. Which reminds me of my summer holidays, in a very beautiful part of England where the Pennines start, but for which I very definitely had the wrong clothing (though it was warm and sunny when we left Berkshire, honestly!).
In a town of ugly repute...
My dear employers, Berkshire Healthcare Foundation Trust (who now deliver all mental health and community services right across 'The Royal County'), had been beavering away on my behalf while I had been away on my hols. At Yousuf's suggestion, I had let them know that this blog was 'out there'. Their diligent PR department had done good work, and alerted BBC Radio Berkshire to the fact. So on my return, I had a few emails asking me to contact their newsroom. Could it really be that so little of interest is happening in Berkshire that they want to talk to a random psychiatrist about helping a foreign colleague? Well yes, they were interested in my tale - and the first phone call to them left me feeling quite excited that this was interesting stuff. And - though it would be touch-and-go whether I'd get to my groups in time, they provisionally booked me into the Andrew Peach Breakfast Show for Tuesday. I'd heard Andrew Peach a few times, quite liked his style, and thought it would be nice to meet him - but my excitement was squashed when I later got an email saying 'sorry, we can't fit you in. We might get back to you'. Don't call us we'll call you. Oh well, maybe somebody in Chapel Row has a new insight about Kate before she knew you-know-who.

But then they did get back to me - and a wonderfully engaging young media type, called Tom, phoned me and asked if he could ask me a couple of test questions and record them for the show. Wow - so this is what fame was like! I then spoke to somebody very helpful who explained that they wanted me to do TWO spots on the Wednesday morning breakfast show - a quick one, like a taster, at 0820, then a longer chat at 0915. I tried to get out of it by saying that I wasn't media-friendly and I'm not very good at this sort of thing - but then I thought of Yousuf and all he's doing for his devastated home town, and how he had asked me to get all the publicity for the project that I could once I got back home. They promised me that it wouldn't be at all like a grilling from J Paxman, so I said yes. They emailed me a map of where to go and asked me to be there for 0810 so I had 'time to relax' before I was on air (as if!).

The family were not impressed with the fact I'd need the car - as a few boyfriend/girlfriend/sleepover arrangements would need changing - and I set my alarm for quite a lot earlier than I needed. So when it went off I sat up in bed for a few minutes and wondered what on earth I had to say that was worth saying, then made myself a strong coffee. In the car, I decided to write myself a list of  three essential points that I wanted to get across. I did one per red traffic light, and I got to eight by the time I was in Caversham, near BBC Berkshire. Forgoing my usual fix of James Naughtie, I tuned into 104FM to hear all about the lastest advice against having caesarian sections, and listener's responses. Now why on earth would those listeners want to hear anything at all about sorts of therapy that none of them have ever heard about in far away bits of the world that none of them would ever be likely to go to?

The directions were odd, and had a space warp included - I know Caversham fairly well, but have never really known how to get into the enormous and palatial BBC estate there (most of which I understood is their main British listening station for all overseas broadcasting). I tried about three wrong turnings before finding the right one - after asking a local, who seemed surreal in her friendly coolness. Security was impressive - enormous folding road ramps that were only lowered when they had checked you on the list, and then a long drive between well-manicured lawns to a visitors car park. As I parked I thought "I expect they need this sort of thing in Tripoli at the moment, but why CAVERSHAM???".
The BBC's palace in Caversham (the nice side of the river from Reading)

The laid back receptionist pointed me to the seats in the waiting area - it was about 0800, and fairly quiet. But the whole area was what you would expect of a rather distinguished and long-established private mega-multinational, not the dear old Aunty BBC - public servant that she is. With a high-ceiling, classical columns, graceful arches, whole wall screens of News24, extremely funky computer hot-desks, nests of comfy chairs and emotionally intelligent management advice on the notice boards - this was very different from the NHS (or indeed Kabul MH Hospital).

Tom came to find me at 0810, as planned - and I found out that Tom is a first year journalism student at Cardiff who is there on a week's work experience. He enthusiastically told me that they had used a short sound clip from the phone interview (that he did with me the day before) at 0710 to trail my interview. Even more wow - this is really what it's like to be a star! And what a great work experience for him, we agreed (OK, maybe I was getting a bit carried away by now...). But he certainly had that 'put you at ease' thing, and we chatted quite easily while sitting on the producers' room sofa watching the studio through the one-way mirror - just like a good family therapy set up, I thought. The producer was soon to go on maternity leave, and not entirely comfortable with all the chat about why people had emergency C-sections. But the screens relentlessly showed progress of the show - and as it edged towards my time I was led into the studio, sat with two multicoloured microphones across a table from the presenter - James Cannon - who was standing in for the day for Andrew Peach. But I was impressed with the smoothness and flow of the whole thing, and particularly how James was so natural with it all - but I suppose that's his job. I think he's probably what I'd call a 'butch and hunky' DJ rather than a 'warm and fluffy' one - but that is in no way to detract from his professionalism.
Warm and fluffy?
Butch and hunky?

Just before my slot, he turned off the speakers and was talking normally - until I realised it was to thousands and thousands of people out there, and he was starting to talk to me.

I forget the rest, but don't think I said anything too bad.

When I checked my list, I think I'd covered two of my eight points, and I was going back in for more in about three quarters of an hour. So I was given a cup of BBC coffee and did some work in the canteen. Which was well-populated and rather plush; some of its patrons spoke in american accents and I could quite imagine them with those curly wires going from their ears under their collars. Spooks? Who knows, I certainly don't - but then I reckoned it could explain why the BBC needs such exquisite surroundings for their international listening station, and how they can afford to live in a palace!

Round two felt a bit more under control, and started straight after Diana Ross, on the dot of 0915, though I got the feeling that I went off into long chatty rambles that were rather off the point. But James seemed perfectly cool with it, asked good questions to keep me in my comfort zone, and rounded off nicely when our time was up. I had managed to squeeze in six out of my eight points.

Now I wanted more!

A very friendly and helpful editor from the newsroom took me out, and said that they may be interested in doing more on this 'story'. She wondered if one of their journalists might be able to come with me on my next trip: it could make great radio, she said. I enthused about how much Yousuf would appreciate that, and how it might help the long-term future an sustainability of the project. Yet more wow. I left with a spring in my step, and drove back into the normal world of Reading's late rush hour traffic jams.