The Half Five Drive

Half Five Drive Field

Considering I’ve always wanted to work in radio, it seems silly that I never foresaw how difficult it would be to get up for work. After all, the breakfast show heralds the start of the day, so spare a thought for those who have to get up BEFORE the start of the day. But two months in to freelancing for local radio, mostly BBC Radio Kent, forcing myself awake just after half four is not getting any easier. However, asides from the bleary eyes, the even-earlier-than-early rise does have its perks.

BBC Radio Kent broadcasts from the Great Hall Arcade in the centre of Tunbridge Wells, on perhaps the most western corner of the county. With the TV studios for South East Today and digital teams also sharing the building, it’s an impressive operation that you’re proud to be part of. Normally the dozen or so miles to the office would be half an hour at peak times, but for me, it’s under twenty minutes. Why? Because there’s practically no one on the roads at half five in the morning, and it’s bloody lovely.

Most adults know the repetitive grind of the nine-to-five commute- endless queues, constant delays, the slog from one set of traffic lights to another. But before everyone else is up, the roads are motionless, a driver’s dream. The number of cars you encounter are so few that you wonder the reason they’re there in the first place. There’s the occasional taxi, a handful of delivery drivers, and others like me who reject the traditional work hours for whatever reason. The easy flow of the journey certainly beats the stagnant congestion and slight panic that you’re going to be late, which greets you every morning.

It certainly helps that the A264 from home in East Grinstead to work in Tunbridge Wells is a very pleasant one. Passing through a collection of sleepy villages at the top of Ashdown Forest, crossing one county into another, there are plenty of serene landscapes bursting with nature along the way. Of course, you get used to them when you make the same journey several times a week, but it still makes you smile occasionally, especially when you catch the different shades of colour striking the fields after sunrise.

Obviously there are a few downsides, some of which you can probably predict. Firstly, the tiredness. No matter how many times you do it, you never get used to getting up to work on a breakfast show. You can be a veteran of the industry, but that just means the bags under your eyes are even bigger. Maybe if I actually went to bed at eight like I said I would, rather than after ten and cursing my procrastination, maybe that would help. But nothing can prevent you from feeling tired at half five in the morning. Just thinking about that time makes me yawn.

But there are other factors to take into account that you might not expect. Deer, for example. Understandably, on the outskirts of an enormous forest, there are scores of the antlered animals, and they do have a habit of bolting across roads in groups. On one occasion, I came round a corner to find several of them lolloping on the tarmac. I’m still not sure who was more surprised at the encounter, but thankfully I was keeping well within the speed limit, or it would have been bye bye for Bambi.

To be honest, whatever your commuting pattern is, chances are it is not something you are likely to consider before starting the job. Okay, you may think about the distance, but not necessarily about the route itself. Rather, it is something that comes with the overall package, rather than being the deciding factor. But as a new driver, I much prefer the tranquil state of the half five drive. I’ll hold my hands up and admit it’s a tired tranquility, but you can’t have everything.

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Jack The Lad #6: End of the line for East Grinstead?

train-station-336602_960_720

After the news broke that East Grinstead train station could lose its ticket office, only three years after the extensive renovations were completed, I decided it was time to return to the East Grinstead Courier to air my thoughts. Have a read below and see what you think!

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If it’s estimated that over 2000 people use East Grinstead station every day, you think that would prescribe it a certain level of importance. But imagine there being absolutely no human interaction during that process: dull, grey boxes dispensing tickets to get you through stiff, stubborn barriers, before an android on wheels descends along the train making checks, like a cold, contentious C3PO.

Maybe I’m exaggerating things here, but cuts have a habit of sitting at the top of a slippery slope, and the speculation that East Grinstead may lose its ticket office has been greeted with the exact kind of negative retorts that you would expect.

Looking round the current site, you have to admit how immaculate it looks. And it should do, at a cost of £2.1 million. It’s been there just long enough for any memories of its decrepit former host to be banished from the minds of the many commuters who use it.

There was even a ceremony with the Town Mayor and our local MP present at its official opening in March 2013; it was seen as that much of an occasion, something to make a fuss about. So why is it, less than three years later, that there are talks of closing the ticket office? You might as well shut the whole station building; after all, why do these things in half measures?

Before you start to get really worried, if this were to actually happen it would not be for a long time. According to reports, the station has been listed in the third wave with the station to close outside of peak hours after a longer period of re-education, with a threat of eventual total closure of the office.

But given the size of the town and the station’s position at the end of its branch for the Oxted line, the fact that the idea is even being debated is utterly ludicrous. Sure, some of us aren’t always in the mood to talk to anyone else and appreciate the serene silence a self-service machine brings, but just picturing the prospect throws up all kinds of questions.

What about season tickets, renewing railcards, or even just a question that a machine cannot answer for you? And what if those ticket machines malfunction? It’s no good being an expert in pushing the right buttons if there aren’t any to push in the first place.

If anything, some people just like to have human interaction. You can just imagine swarms of perplexed customers piling into the Bluebell Railway office trying to renew their monthly passes, or the staff at Motown Coffee facing bemused commuters trying to jab “delay repay” forms in their faces.

Then again, you can certainly see why they’re doing it. We’re seeing more self-service checkouts at supermarkets every day, and banks are gradually encouraging us to become more machine-savvy. But you can afford a delay when you’re doing your weekly shopping; if a machine breaks down at a train station and there’s no kiosks, that’s rush hour chaos guaranteed, regardless of any cancellations.

At a time when half of Southern’s customers are unsatisfied with the franchise’s overall service, it’s hard to imagine this announcement having any kind of positive effect. The solution is simple: stop prioritizing profits over customer service, and stop trying to put us off public transport at a time when more of us should be using it.

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If you enjoyed this post, give it a like and let me know your thoughts in a comment below! You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram, and I also have a whole host of videos to enjoy on my YouTube channel. Check them out and subscribe! (please.)

Taking apart the Reading & Leeds 2016 headliners

music concert

Legends of live music or rite of passage for school leavers, monumental in rock history or trying too hard to cover all bases; there are all kinds of views to be found on Reading and Leeds, and as one of the UK’s major festivals it’s likely that most music fans will have one. Reading was my first festival, back in 2011 as A Levels faded into oblivion and the prospect of abandoning the south for University in Liverpool drew closer and closer. And you know what? As an entry level first time festival, it was a lot of fun.

I fell in love with Big Deal and Little Comets in the cramped corner of the Festival Republic stage, and was blown away by the sheer force of Crystal Castles in the NME tent. The Strokes were pretty good, even if Julian Casablancas sang with the air of someone who’s been dragged along to their own birthday party, and Muse played Origins of Symmetry in full to a crowd of mostly bemused students whom the magic was lost on. I see the appeal of toasting albums when headlining festivals, but it just wasn’t the right audience. It wasn’t till Plug In Baby that the crowd fully went for it.

Anyway, I’m dwindling in festival nostalgia territory here, but it’s worth noting that this was the Reading when the only hint of anything other than rock was the Dance Stage on Friday. Now it’s a gigantic behemoth that tries to cover all bases in a Glastonbury-type manner. Glastonbury gets away with it because it IS Glastonbury, but Reading and Leeds’s attempt to become the festival of all trades means it often spreads itself too thin. Bear that in mind as the headliner debate unravels.

I’m going to go through the festival headliners day by day and offer my thoughts accordingly:

 

Friday: Foals and Disclosure

Both of these acts, for me, are a no brainer. Foals’ frenetic, draining live performances have always been destined to steer them to the top of festival bills, and they’ve already proven they’re capable of it, having headlined Latitude back in 2013. What Went Down, while not their strongest album, certainly channels the more ferocious elements of their previous efforts, and will work wonders on the Main Stage.

Similarly, while Disclosure’s second effort Caracal might not have had the same impact as Settle, they certainly have enough tunes in their arsenal to make for a memorable set to finish Friday off. And just think of the number of guest vocalists across their releases! There’s bound to be a few surprises along the way. More than anything, the duo’s style highlights the festival’s desire to expand the sound of the two sites, a trend which can only be healthy for the festival community as a whole.

 

Saturday: Red Hot Chili Peppers

Maybe it’s just me, but having spent my early teenage years basking in the glow of Stadium Arcadium, the follow up I’m With You just didn’t make the same impact. It took five years for that to be released, and five more have passed since then. I’m not disputing their legacy for one moment- one listen of Blood Sex Sugar Magik would dissuade me from ever doing so- all I’m asking is, just what do the Chilis mean in 2016?

Having said that, they also tick a lot of boxes to be headline material at Reading and Leeds; they’ve clocked up enough years to know how to carry a crowd, and they’ve enough hits to pack their slot fit to burst. Finally, maybe my adolescent adoration of Stadium Arcadium is getting to me, but I would argue they also carry enough nostalgia for many music fans to build up the crowd’s endearment as the night goes on.

 

Sunday: Biffy Clyro and Fall Out Boy

Writing this next one is going to be tough. I’ll get Fall Out Boy out of the way first: as much as I wasn’t that fussed about American Beauty/ American Psycho, it was another solid effort from a band who have had an incredibly successful comeback. Their early pop punk gems combined with their new pop rock singles will make for a winning set.

Now, I love Biffy Clyro. They gave me imagination for feeling young, and I still can’t decide whether I think Puzzle or Infinity Land is their best album. 2013’s Opposites had several stellar tracks that were full on alternative anthems, but stripped of the math-rock and post-hardcore tinges that characterised their early releases, it was probably their safest album to date. Yet its success made them all the more capable of stepping up to headline Reading and Leeds.

Three years later, the Biffs are headlining again, and I wonder if enough has happened to warrant them doing so. We’ve been told April or May is when to expect their latest effort, but even if the goods are delivered on time, is that enough time to let the record fully sink in? Hordes of Glasto-goers have criticised the decision to put Coldplay on top for the fourth time, but five years feels more like a suitable gap, and at least they’ve had two albums out in between.

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Overall, I want more of Friday night. There are countless bands that made a mark in 2015 that deserve to be given a shot at headlining status; funnily enough, Latitude, the first to give Foals headliner status, has done the same this year with The Maccabees. More festivals should be following their lead and give new timers a chance to make their debut- we don’t want to be ten years down the line with a serious drought of main stage closers. Or maybe Reading and Leeds will just try and knock us with six in 2017?

The Ninth Blog Of Christmas: Boxing Day

Boxing Day

It’s rare that you have a family member who has a birthday on Boxing Day, but even rarer when you have two! This is the unusual circumstance that has given my family a second Christmas Day, where we celebrate with my Dad’s side of the family on Boxing Day; a nice contrast to spending the main event with my Mum’s side. The two birthdays are my gran and one of my cousins, and the day involves us all journeying down to my gran’s to have a good catch up. With most cousins around my age, it’s interesting hearing how the year has treated them.

We’ve been doing it as long as I can remember, only changing location and number of family members present each year; we’re a pretty diverse group, so it always makes for an interesting occasion. It’s usually short and sweet, with a few final presents thrown in for good measure, which I think fits in nicely with Boxing Day’s early tradition of giving boxes to the poor; I’m not saying my family are poor for one second, but I can’t imagine spending it any other way.

You may find this surprising, especially considering that for many, it’s just another day; maybe a time to indulge in the sales or go on a family outing. Some European countries hold it as a second Christmas Day though, while Catholics hold it as St. Stephen’s Day, which commemorates the first Christian martyr. Many sporting organizations, such as the Premier League, even hold a full day calendar to entice fans along, and I always find my dad salivating over the listings.

These circumstances can affect my family too; with so many places now open on Boxing Day, occasionally a few of us have to work, but at the same time we never like to let my grandmother down. After all, Boxing Day is much less defined, which I think you need after the big day itself- the downside to so many rigid conventions is that it can be stressful making sure they are all met. Even though it gets harder each year to maintain the tradition, I’m still incredibly grateful to be part of the festivities. It’s still a public holiday after all, so I would stress you make the most of it too.

The Eighth Blog of Christmas: Christmas Day

christmas day pud

From a couple of years ago: debating the pudding choices, while my sister revels in the glory of it all.

When I was younger, the night before Christmas Day would transform me into a full blown insomniac. I would go to bed nice and early on Christmas Eve, only to wake up around 3 AM and see the stocking at the end of my bed and find myself giddy with anticipation at the day ahead. One year, too excited to even think about sleeping again, I filled the time with reading books- that old form of entertainment before we had iPods, iPads and Kindles- until 7 AM where I could finally justify running in to my parent’s room to reap the rewards of the day.

Now, my Christmas Eve is so jam packed that I never have any trouble getting a good night’s kip, but we all still manage to get up in the late morning to open our presents together. My Nan stays round, so there are five of us eagerly opening our stockings to see what Father Christmas has bought us each year, before we spend the morning enjoying our new gifts. It’s never Christmas without a new pair of socks and a toothbrush, and as usual he didn’t disappoint. Even though I’m now twenty two, I could never bear the idea of just giving money to my family; it just doesn’t compare to the moment of opening presents together.

I only ever have a slice of toast for breakfast, as I need to save room for the main attraction. At one, it’s over to my Aunt’s for Christmas Day lunch, where we all have a good catch up with my Mum’s side of the family before devouring what can only be described as the most delicious roast in existence. It’s not just the turkey- the sausage meat stuffing is to die for. If only I could write poems of tribute to the power of the stuffing. Everyone else in my family has tried to repeat the recipe, but no one has come close. Sorry Mum.

After that, it’s time for more presents from the family, before the ominous presence of pudding rears its head; somehow welcome, yet not at the same time. After that, I was in charge of the Christmas quiz, the first we’ve done in many years, and I never believed there would be so much stress from trying to choose the right questions. I changed the music round several times when I realised my “mainstream” choices were a bit too obscure.

It’s not often I realize how incredibly lucky I am at Christmas. The last Saturday before Christmas, dubbed “panic Saturday,” saw scores of shoppers frantically searching for something to encourage a smile from their family members on the big day. The upside of this is that you may just find the perfect little trinket or toy to bring joy to their Christmas. The downside is the cruel hypocrisy that while we go consumerist crazy, there are many who will be in poverty, in debt, or alone. 13 million in the UK alone will be in poverty. In 2015. What a golden age we live in.

I’m sorry if that might seem a rather sobering statement where really, on the big day, the last thing many of us want to think about is the problems that we face in the real world. It’s that reason exactly why we can’t have Christmas everyday, not simply because it wouldn’t be special anymore; the world as we know it wouldn’t be able to function properly if it was. I’m not saying go out and donate all you have to charities either; I’m simply saying you should value what you have each Christmas, and by that I mean those around you and what is intrinsically important in your life.

The First Blog of Christmas: when does it actually begin?

advent calendar

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas shopping season. Aisles packed with frantic parents trying to remember what size shirt their teenage son is, or frustrated Dads charging past a mechanical reindeer that glides past the shop entrances. With an artificial tree  several floors high and a Santa’s grotto with queues that would make retail CEOs weak at the knees. Crawley County Mall looks just like a Christmas card, albeit one you send in jest to a close friend to bemoan the festive season in the twenty-first century.

I myself was doing a spot of festive shopping a couple of weeks ago, and considering how busy it was then, I dread to think how it is now. But a particular scene in River Island really got to me: I was queuing to buy some clothes  when I heard a young girl ask “Mum, ow many days until Santa comes?” There was a pause while Mum did the maths, before she replied “34.” The girl’s response? “But that’s aaaaaaaages away.”

My God. The little primary school girl had hit the big red man with the long white beard square in the face with a barrage of snowballs. She doesn’t understand why on earth we should be getting in the Christmas mood in November any more than we do, except we just shrug it off and occasionally shake our fists at the retail giants who shove mince pies down our throats at the earliest opportunity.

Believe me, I understand it’s good to get ahead of the game and buy presents now before it gets really stressful, and some retailers only stay afloat thanks to the festive period. But I want to hear “Fairytale of New York” for the first time when I start opening the doors on my advent calendar, not forced upon me by a fuzzy speaker next to a bleary eyed elf who looks ready to drown themselves in eggnog.

I know some stubborn purists and borderline Scrooges who are worse than me and insist Christmas belongs to Christmas Day itself, and not a day earlier. I suppose I sit comfortably in the middle; once the advent calendar has begun, so does my festive spirit. Out comes a colossal yuletide playlist, mince pies are always waiting in my kitchen cupboard, and I’m never seen without my Christmas jumper. I’ve had the same one for three years now, and never felt the need to change it; it has all the festive qualities without the weird knobbly bits that look so unflattering.

A month of Christmas shenanigans is enough for me. In my books, extending the festive season in to November removes some of the magic that makes Christmas so special; that feeling we long for each time it comes round. Yet that only reinforces just how diverse Christmas is, even within your own country. For many in times of hardship, be those economic or personal, Christmas is a constant that we can rely on to come about and spread peace and goodwill. Numerous renditions of Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas stress the importance of temporarily forgetting your troubles so that they do not constantly weigh you down.

In fact, the more I think about it, who am I to bemoan a source of comfort to those who really need it? If it really does roast your chestnuts, the best thing to do is to keep it to yourself, like all the other annoyances you deal with on a daily basis. So, if you were to ask when does the festive season actually begin, I guess there are two answers to my question: Christmas Day will always be the main source of celebrations, but otherwise Christmas begins when you want it to. Just make sure you go into it with all guns blazing.

Jack The Lad #5: The device that makes saving lives shockingly easy

One of the defibrillators now installed in our town as a result of the Survival Can Be Shocking campaign. Start a cause, make a difference; simple as that really.

One of the defibrillators now installed in our town as a result of the Survival Can Be Shocking campaign. Start a cause, make a difference; simple as that really.

I was lucky enough to attend a training session on how to use defibrillators a while ago, and what really stood out to me was how easy it was to use them. Ever since he was bought back from the brink after suffering a cardiac arrest, Steve Morris has tirelessly campaigned for more awareness of the devices, with two now installed in the town centre as a direct result. Shouting about it myself in my column for the East Grinstead Courier was really the least I could do!

Go on, have a gander.

http://www.eastgrinsteadcourier.co.uk/Device-makes-saving-lives-shockingly-easy/story-28107013-detail/story.html

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If you enjoyed this post, give it a like and let me know your thoughts in a comment below! You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram, and I also have a whole host of videos to enjoy on my YouTube channel. Go on, take five minutes off and enjoy something different! (That sounds like I’m promoting Greek yoghurt or something, but you know what I mean).