Sunday, December 05, 2004

Nil By Mouth, No Mock Jocks

I made a slightly derisory comment about Hospital Radio in my post yesterday. This is an organisation where people give up their free time to bring music and words of comfort to the sick without any financial reward. I therefore wish to apologise for making that single disparaging comment. It was completely inadequate and I'm going to make a great many more of them.

I've never been on the receiving end of hospital radio, not having been in hospital for about 45 years. Nevertheless, this is something I probably share with 99.9% of people who have spent a lot of time in hospital. For the few who have listened to it, it's either because they hadn't the limb movement to re-tune to something else or because the boys from Hospital Radio had been round and immobilised the tuning knob with masking tape.
However I have been a 'guest' on Hospital Radio a few times. It was their equivalent of 'Parkinson', except you didn't have to walk down a staircase, nobody had the faintest idea who you were - including the interviewer - although this didn't matter because you weren't anybody anyway, and nobody was listening to you - including the interviewer, who was shuffling a stack of ancient vinyl LPs. But there remained the rather spooky possibility that in some faraway ward a senile old lady was spending her last moments on this earth listening to your voice and thinking you were Wilfred Pickles.

I once asked a Hospital Radio presenter why they constantly gave time checks, apart from to reassure any listener that, contrary to impressions, time really was passing. After all, people in hospital weren't hurrying to get to work or to go to meetings and there was probably a bloody great clock on the wall in the ward. But he looked at me as though I was someone who had stood in Santa's Grotto and announced to tearful kiddies that this was all make-believe.
Make-believe or not, there's as much naked ambition, bitchiness, back-biting and jockeying for position as you'd find in Broadcasting House. This is because Broadcasting House is where most of them would like to be, after a brief spell toiling in the foothills of local radio. Worryingly, it's where quite a few of them will end up. And the answer to the assertion that Hospital Radio is just a harmless hobby that benefits the community is just two words: Noel Edmonds.

Many of the programmes on Hospital Radio are record requests. This is a bit of a problem when you've got virtually no listeners. So the Hospital Radio people have to go round the wards and forcibly extract requests from the sick and dying. It's as though Terry Wogan turned up at your house and asked you for a request for tomorrow's programme, except that it's an odd looking man in an anorak with a notepad and pencil hovering by your drip-feed. Once, while visiting someone in hospital, I saw one of these embryonic Noel Edmonds trying to shake someone out of either a coma or post-operative unconsciousness to ask them if they'd prefer The Bachelors' 'I Believe' or Kathy Kirby's 'Secret Love'.
My God, from the dates of those records, perhaps it was a 16 year old Noel Edmonds and I could have stuck a hypodermic in his arse and done the nation a favour.


Returning from the library I was surprised to find Carlo and Lee sitting in the kitchen in high spirits. There was a clutter of lager cans on the table and Lee was sucking on what looked suspiciously like one of the cigars that Sandy Mannington-Preen gave me last Christmas. He looked like the cat that had got not just the cream but the Haagen-Dazs ice cream as well. Seeing my surprise, he removed the cigar from his lips and said: "All charges dropped."
"Yeah!" said Carlo, banging his fists on the table, "all charges dropped!"
"DNA", said Lee, tapping his nose.
"What the hell's DNA got to do with it?" I said. "There must have been enough of your DNA in that car to clone an entire prison wing of delinquents. And you never denied you drove the car to Blackpool."
"Not my DNA", said Lee. "Jamie's".
Jamie was Giles Humphries' teenage son. Expensively educated, the investment seemed to have paid off. Jamie was Head Boy at school, a Queen's Scout and someone who helped old ladies across the High Street whether they wanted to cross or not. His DNA would probably fetch a good price on Ebay. But I struggled to find a connection between Jamie and Lee's joyride to Blackpool.
"Got the sample here", said Lee, taking a Swan Vestas box from his pocket and walking over to me.
"Oh my God" I muttered, grabbing a bottle of cooking sherry from the shelf and taking a swig, horrified at what might emerge from that box.
He opened the box and thrust it under my chin. Looking down I saw the decaying remains of a spliff.
Lee grinned. "He's a naughty boy, that Jamie. You'd be surprised the things he puts in his mouth."
"But for personal's not an arrestable offence any more", I said.
"No, but when Daddy's on the Police Committee and I've got friends on the local paper...."
I rather doubted the latter claim but I could see that any provable and publicised link between the saintly Jamie and what Giles always calls 'marry-hue-arnah' could be enough to make Giles offer Lee a permanent car-sharing arrangement.
Lee was looking at me expectantly as though awaiting my congratulations, like a junior member of the hood who had proved he was now ready to move on to the serious stuff. I did indeed feel a certain admiration but it was mixed with revulsion that I was now implicated in blackmail just by knowing about it.
Stupidly, I said: "You're like a cross between Machiavelli and Dennis Neilson."
"Yeah!" said Carlo and started singing 'Everybody's Talkin' At Me'.
"That was Harry Neilson, you cretin", I said.
"Strange pair of fuckers, aren't you?" said a puzzled Lee.
Next time in The Adventures of Carlo: I see another side of Lee


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