Coping with night shifts

bbc-at-night

Sometimes, I wish the world would shut down overnight. Everything would pause, as if in a real-life mannequin challenge, only to resume upon the sunrise. The times I wish this is before, after and especially during a night shift at the Beeb, because unfortunately, life doesn’t stop and news keeps coming from around the world, so once a month I do a string of them to cover shows across the World Service. It’s amazing what can be achieved with a constant supply of caffeine.

I’ve just finished my fourth run of nights since I started my job, and they are not getting any easier. I had plenty of prior warning about the difficulties of getting through them, but I still didn’t fully appreciate the challenge until the first batch arrived. Granted, most graduates end up as night owls in their final year of university, and I’ve even worked a job that was permanently on late shifts, not finishing till 1 in the morning. But all the way through till dawn? That’s another thing entirely.

Yet the whole issue of catching every one of your forty winks isn’t consigned purely to those who work night shifts. Sleep has been the casualty of a world that refuses to shut down and embraces the 24/7 mentality from all angles. This is rather alarming, considering that rest is a necessity as fundamental as food and drink. For me, the moments of exhaustion in the early hours, counting down the minutes to the end of your shift, do occasionally cause me to worry about the long term effects.

Then again, I am not permanently on nights, and I am also lucky enough to love my job to bits, so at least I am enjoying my work whilst fighting to keep my eyes open. In a way, there is something quite peaceful about the deserted office, only broken when you wander into a darkened room and encounter the deep rumbles of someone snoring through an early morning nap. Then when I work regular hours, I try getting the Underground at half eight- the curse of the commuters- and wonder how anyone can do it Monday to Friday.

One of the main things I’ve learned is that everyone copes with night shifts differently; they’re such an unusual and daunting beast, that you have to develop your own strategy of dealing with them. But over the last few months, I’ve picked up a few techniques that help me prepare for and cope with them better- not so much completely removing the impact, but softening the blow at least. I thought I’d share them below:

  • If you work blocks of shifts like me, staying up late the night before yours first shift works wonders in moving your body clock forward. I usually stay up till around 2 and then sleep in most of the morning, to make the first great push less of a challenge. Remember being a kid and staying up late was the coolest thing in the world? How times change.
  • For me, the hardest part of nights is coming off them the other end. There are a few options: the first is get a few hours sleep, rise around the start of the afternoon, to get your body clock back to normal. The second is to stay up all day and go to sleep in the early evening- quite an endurance as you’ll be up for over 24 hours! The final option is to stretch the process over a couple of days (so you go to bed in the early morning after your first day off, and gradually push your sleeping pattern back a few hours at a time). What you actually do depends on your immediate plans after your last night shift- I prefer the latter option, but usually end up with the first!
  • The F word- no not that one, food. Some swear by not eating at all, and I don’t blame them: your metabolism is greatly reduced during the wee hours, so it’s generally not a great idea to binge overnight. I tend to follow the breakfast-dinner-lunch plan: have my main meal before getting in to work, and then a sandwich in the early hours to keep me sustained. Just be aware of how your body processes food at a slower rate.
  • Pace the caffeine! I try and stay off coffee for the second half of my shift- although I do still have tea, because little else will make me feel warm and comforted at that time in the morning- so that there is nothing to stop me falling asleep the moment I get home.
  • Invest in some decent ear plugs and an eye mask. Trust me, you’re going to want to get as much rest as possible, and the best way to achieve this is to limit factors that can force you awake. Shutting off any sound and light is guaranteed to keep you sound asleep.
  • Try to avoid making plans during the day. Sleep needs to be prioritized! In between nights, I never plan to do anything that can’t be done within the parameters of my flat, or even better, my bedroom (don’t give me that look…) Having said that, I would recommend getting some decent exercise before your shift. I find an evening run is brilliant for waking yourself up for the night ahead. You’d think it would only make you more tired, but actually it’s an ideal way to de-stress.
  • Keep your workplace brightly lit during your shift. It can be tempting to keep them dimmed but in fact, your body reacts to the light and makes you feel more alert. That’s why you can end up staying awake for hours from staring at your phone in bed, because the bright light causes your body to think it’s daytime and you should be awake. Use this during night shifts to your advantage to give yourself an attentiveness boost.

Hopefully these tips will help! If you are tackling night shifts in the future, and reading this article has sent you into a sleepless panic about the consequences, then just remember this: as poor souls drag themselves out of bed for another day at the office, it’s the former that YOU will be going home to. Forget the rest, for your rest will come soon after.

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The Great British Bake Off Referendum (#GBBOR)

baking-bird

It was an emergency meeting at the Council of Bakers, and Paul Hollywood was bashing his rolling pin on the table. Thankfully, Agent Mel and Agent Sue had arrived just in time to make a cheeky innuendo about it.

“Well!” gasped Mel. “I never thought I’d see the day that Paul Hollywood would get his rolling pin out in front of everyone.”

“I know!” responded Sue. “He clearly means business today.”

“Agent Mel and Agent Sue!” said Paul sharply. “I have just about had enough of your inappropriate innuendoes. Baking was a fine art before you started ruining it with your insinuations!”

“Ooh!” said Mary. “Look at the size of Sue’s buns!”

“NOT YOU TOO MARY! HOW COULD YOU?!” Paul roared, like an injured (bread) lion.

“Paul, I was just referring to the iced buns that Sue has bought along for the meeting,” Mary replied sternly. “I know you’re stressed out, but you need to remain calm. There’s no room for soggy bottoms around here.” She took a deep breath, steadying herself as she did so; it had been a manic couple of days, a real life technical challenge.

“First of all, thank you all for coming to this emergency meeting, and at such short notice. As past winners of Great British Bake Off you have all proven yourself to be important members of the Council of Bakers… Nadiya, and everyone else who came before, I can’t actually remember your names as it’s been so long but we still very much appreciate you coming.

“Now, the reason I have called you here is because the unthinkable has become a reality- the BBC has lost Great British Bake Off.”

There were audible gasps around the council table; it was Baked Alaska all over again.

“Channel 4 has put in a higher bid and won the rights to the programme. The reason we are telling you this is because we, as presenters and judges, have a very important decision to make. We want your advice in this crucial, once in a life time referendum: shall we remain with the programme, or shall we leave? Are we IN, or are we OUT?”

“Why not just let the public decide?” asked Mel.

“Yeah, I know we’re the ones that are part of the actual process, but this sounds like far too important a decision for us to make by ourselves,” Sue added.

“We did debate that, but what if it was a really close result?” reasoned Paul. “Our audience, united by so many things, suddenly split down the middle. Can you imagine the arguing? It would be too much to bear.”

“I believe we should leave!” A mysterious unknown baker had suddenly entered the room. He had a mess of blond hair, and a mad look in his eye.

“Sorry, but who are you?” asked Mary, trying her best to remain polite.

“I am Boris Chelsea Bunson!” declared the baker with great dramatic flair. “I’m one of those unknown bakers from one of the earlier series that you’ve probably forgotten all about. Now I know I have always professed a love for the company that produces our programme, but I say now that we should leave! Take back control… of our production!”

“Outrageous!” interjected Paul. “You just want to be the new head judge on the programme!”

“Nonsense!” Boris fired back. “I am more likely to be reincarnated as an olive-stuffed focaccia than to become head judge on this programme!”

“But have you really considered what it would be like if you were to leave?” spoke up Nadiya. “There is no certainty as to what would happen. We could lose our jobs! The ratings could slump. We are bakers. We should stick with what we know.”

“But Channel 4’s content is all about innovation, experimentation, creativity!” Boris retaliated. “The Great British Bake Off is quintessentially a BBC programme! The BBC has a long tradition of making programmes  that encapsulate our favourite hobbies and show off the best of British, like Strictly Come Dancing, and Crimewatch! If we can’t remain with the BBC, we should look to go elsewhere. We are a valued commodity in the world of television. They need us more than we need them!”

“Enough!” Paul raised his hands, and silence swept round the room. “To aid our discussion, I sent Agent Mel and Agent Sue to find out what will happen if we go to Channel 4. Agents, what have you found?”

“It’s a lot worse than we ever realised,” shuddered Mel. “They are already planning a spin off show called “Come Bake With Me,” where the contestants have to go round each other’s houses to try three courses of baked goods.

“There’s also rumours of a show called “Baked Attraction,” where contestants work out whether to go on dates with one another PURELY on their baking,” Sue added. “Can you imagine anything so objectifying?”

Both agents then looked at each other, and breathed in heavily. Bemused expressions flooded the room; something else was clearly wrong.

“It’s been a tough decision to make… but we feel this is one recipe we cannot follow. We’re stepping down from the show.”

They said this both in unison, tears slowly forming in their eyes as the council stared back with shocked expressions. Paul was the first to respond. “Surely this idea is half baked?”

“No, we’re not taking the pitta,” Mel replied. “Yeah, we’re scone for good. Doughnut try and stop us,” added Sue.

They both knew that deep down, Paul really did love the puns, and all of the other bakery-related wordplay. At that moment of staring into the brink of the unknown, there was only one thing you could say for certain; at least we’ll always have the innuendoes.

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My first time at the Proms

BBC proms

A man reaches for a Tupperware of grapes during the interval, as the smell of wine hangs thick in the air. It’s my first time at the Proms- officially as a “Prommer” too- and of all the concerts, gigs, live events that I’ve been to, this is one in particular that is unavoidably informed by the atmosphere. Of course, classical music can be enjoyed anywhere- and maybe likening it to the grandiose architecture of tonight’s venue plays into a certain snooty stereotype – but the ambiance of the Royal Albert Hall really lends to the feeling of the Proms as an occasion, one to celebrate.

And yet, here I am with my flatmate Gavin for the cost of seven pounds. Yes we’re technically standing (though many choose to sit down even during the recitals), but in terms of encouraging people from all backgrounds to experience classical music, the cheap price of the tickets is really promising. There was no queuing for hours either- this is the first year the Proms have started selling these tickets online, on the day of the prom itself. Granted, you can only buy one each, but if you organise it in advance it’s a relatively straightforward process; you really haven’t got an excuse not to give it a go.

The main difference here is that Gavin really knows his classical; he was so determined to hear two of the pieces at this particular prom that he was originally planning to go by himself until I jumped at the chance. I really enjoy classical, but I suffer from a naivety about the different composers, pieces and periods. Sure, I could throw a handful of names at you, but I wouldn’t feel confident debating it. However, your own experience can surprise you at times, and I was happy to find I actually knew the first piece on the bill, Maurice Ravel’s “Bolero;” I just wasn’t aware of its name. Gavin wasn’t a huge fan of its repetitive nature, but I liked the way it built with the number of instruments throughout.

After this came Sergei Rachmaninov’s “Piano Concerto No 3 in D minor,” an early twentieth century composition with the reputation of being one of the most technically challenging of its kind. As the grand piano was wheeled out, Gavin was craning to see who would be rising to the challenge, and was taken aback by the youthful appearance of Behzod Abduraimov. For such a complex composition, it soared and shimmered throughout its forty two minutes, with an abundance of keys giving the effect of a waterfall. Only the back of Abduraimov’s shirt at the end betrayed how difficult it must have been; the fact he returned for an encore was even more commendable.

Neither of us were aware of Ustvolskaya’s third symphony “Jesus Messiah, Save Us!” but given the uplifting nature of the previous two pieces, it bought a curtain of melancholy that felt out of place; sometimes formidable, sometimes sombre, never really welcomed.  It was intriguing, but fell to Rachmaninov’s shadow. But the fourth! It was a suite from Richard Strauss’s opera “Der Rosenkavalier,” which revived the merrier mood that had started the night. The melodies swelled and dived at such a pace, accelerating up to the gallery before crashing down again, without ever jerking out of place, that it all flowed rather beautifully.

Somehow, I had not comprehended the notion of an encore at the Proms, but after some frenzied foot stomping from the concertgoers, we were treated to two additional pieces. The first neither of us knew, but the second was an unexpected treat that again I knew by ear and not by name- Bach’s “Air on a G String.” Seeing as I have been trying to find the name of this for quite a while, I was rather chuffed to be able to experience it. For me, it’s always felt like a piece of reflection, a time to consider the events that have just occurred. Somehow I got caught up in the notion of an aftermath of a furious battle; quite a contrast to the gentle, contemplative ending it provided to a fine, varied evening of music.

The main thing that I took away from my first night at the Proms is that, because of a lack of lyrics (well, mostly), classical music is something you feel- there were plenty around us, sitting or standing, with their eyes closed as in meditation, just letting the music flow through them. It provokes such a wide range of emotions, that if you’ve not given it a chance before, I reckon you’ll be surprised. After all, movements, keys and composers are just names- the most basic instinct is whether you enjoy it. I can honestly say, as a Prommer, there’s nothing like it.

Working on the 24 Hour Broadcast for BBC Sussex

BBC Sussex towns

Take a moment to consider this point properly- who honestly doesn’t love a radio marathon? The highs of an on-air challenge and the lows of trying to stay awake during the early hours, it’s like a broadcasting roller-coaster that throws all the loops in at the start of the ride but leaves plenty of surprises for the rest of the journey.

I’ve been freelancing in BBC Local Radio for nearly two months now (something I honestly never thought I’d write), and what struck me initially was that from 7pm till 6am the next day, the South East stations switch to networked content (with the occasional exception)- i.e. programmes that are broadcasting on several, or in some cases all, BBC Local Radio stations. With that in mind, I was honoured to be asked to be part of BBC Sussex and BBC Surrey’s 24 Hour Broadcast, from 8AM on Thursday 21st April to the following day.

The celebration of 24 hours in Sussex and Surrey was tied in with the festivities to mark the Queen’s 90th birthday- journalists were out across the counties reporting on all manner of stories, including one lucky reporter who got to be a zookeeper at Drusillas in Alfriston and a producer who got to meet a remarkable woman sharing her birthday with Her Majesty. It was an enormous operation, with so much content being generated across the event that it was difficult knowing where to look next.

Even better was the chance to be part of the station’s online output, as I was one of the social media producers for the event. Given my past experience in managing social media accounts for student radio and a laser tag company, it was something that fitted my skill set while also encouraging me to explore how the content could operate as a distinctive, standalone platform that was in a league of its own, rather than just accompanying the on-air content.

Sitting at the back of the office alongside the station’s editorial team, my shift was an endless cycle of retweeting, sharing and scheduling content across both Sussex and Surrey. Depending on your attitude to social media that may sound like heaven or hell, but you’ll be glad to know it was the former for me! What was even more interesting from my position was being able to watch the producers working alongside the presenters, and watching the shows come together before your very eyes.

Of course, first and foremost it was a rare and distinctive experience for the listeners, but it was also a wonderful chance for the station’s team of producers, reporters and presenters to come together and be part of an exceptional event. Most of the members of staff I hadn’t met before, so it was also a fantastic opportunity to exchange stories of the radio industry. But more than anything, it reminded me that it’s the stories from the people within the remit of a local station that make it worth tuning into.

So all in all, a fantastic opportunity to fine tune my social media marketing skills (creating a gif of one of the reporters dancing was a highlight), and an important learning curve at the same time. Click here to listen to some of the highlights from the broadcast.

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Apple and biscuits: my week with BBC Wood Norton

BBC Wood Norton

Apple and biscuit. Not a snack, but a microphone. On the last Tuesday of January, I found myself in the company of several other like-minded radio enthusiasts, each of us gazing over a selection of archaic microphones like kids in a sweet shop, as our tutor picked out his favourites and explained the differences between them. The STC 4021, an omni-directional microphone, was known as apple and biscuit for its distinctive shape. Before that session, I had no idea what an omni-directional microphone was; in fact, before last week, my knowledge of the technical side of radio was so much weaker than it is now. But you can learn a lot in five days, and Wood Norton was the perfect environment for it.
To summarize it neatly, I spent the last week of January with the BBC Production Operations team learning about the field of radio operations; in other words, the ones who push all the buttons and make everything sound right. The course was run by members of the team from BBC Radio 5 Live in Salford, and among things we learned about the responsibilities of studio managers, how to operate mixing desks for different types of shows, and of course the ins and outs of microphones! Sometimes, it was a challenge just keeping up with how much content we were going over- and we weren’t just being spoon fed slide shows, we were there pushing the buttons ourselves. It was certainly nerve-wrecking at times, but equally as thrilling.
Outside of office hours, me and the other “pupils” (I use that term loosely- even though we were there to learn, it felt too informal and was too much fun to be anything like the traditional definition of education) frequented the Wood Norton Hotel, a Victorian stately home that became a station for broadcasts for the BBC during the Second World War. With the training college a few minutes into the grounds and with little reason to venture into the town of Evesham, staying away from home made the trip feel more like a unique, one-off experience, tucked into a corner of Worcestershire that I have never had the need to venture to previously. At times this isolation veered onto the edge of an idealistic, dream-like existence; this was something I could happily see myself doing every day.
More than anything, it was so refreshing not just to learn about radio, but to be constantly surrounded by people who were as equally enthusiastic about the subject as I was. Each person had their own unique background and perspective on the field, and it’s always enlightening to encounter a new viewpoint on the industry and a different reason for wanting to get into it. Now I’m home, I’m all the more enthused about pursuing a career in the radio sector, but at the same time it has really opened my eyes to different opportunities that I hadn’t considered before. It’s fair to say this January took the biscuit, and I mean that in a good way. Add a few slices of apple and there’s definitely a huge smile on my face going forward.

All we know is he’s called Jeremy Clarkson.

jeremy clarkson

It’s time for a good old fashioned motoring show that isn’t really even a motoring show, and that means handing it over to our not-so-tame, rather outspoken presenter.

Some say he punched a producer after a day of filming because the only food available was cold… and he wanted a steak. All we know is, he’s called Jeremy Clarkson.

Some say he used the “n-word” when trying to decide between two cars using the “eeny meeny miny moe” nursery rhyme. All we know is, he’s called Jeremy Clarkson.

Some say he named his dog after Didier Drogba because it was black. All we know is, he’s called Jeremy Clarkson.

Some say he referred to a man crossing a bridge he built as a “slope.” All we know is, he’s called Jeremy Clarkson.

Some say he called for public workers that took part in strikes to be executed in front of their families. All we know is, he’s called Jeremy Clarkson.

Some say he parks electric cars in disabled parking bays, and even critiqued one car as having special needs. All we know is he’s called Jeremy Clarkson.

Some say he thinks that TV bosses are obsessed with hiring “black Muslim lesbians.” All we know is, he’s called Jeremy Clarkson.

Some say he’s an English broadcaster, journalist and writer who specialises in motoring. Some say he lives in Chipping Norton and has two children. All we know is… that’s true enough. The rest? Well, that’s just Jeremy Clarkson.