Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Strange Days

Over the last four years there were a number of things I had anticipated happening on the day that our house finally went up. In the event, two proved to be spot on. These being that it would pour with rain. And that seeing the frame of our virgin home being driven onto its plot on the back of a lorry, unloaded by crane and erected in just twelve hours by a handful of willing and very able hands would be an overwhelming experience. However, at precisely no point in all of that time did I envisage that also present on site would be a nine-strong TV crew and Robson Green, but there they were with the rest of us, wet, cold and very much in the flesh.

Indeed, Robson Green's was the first face we saw as we turned into our soon-to-be new driveway at eight am on the morning of Saturday 15 July. The man well-known for acting in such dramatic fare as Wire in the Blood, hosting the piscine orgy that is his Extreme Fishing show and singing a smattering of best-not-remembered '90s pop hits alongside his somewhat less adaptable Soldier, Soldier sparring partner, the lolloping Jerome Flynn, emerged at a gallop through the spray and mist thrown up by a Biblical deluge. Already sodden and windswept, he all but flung himself into the back seat of our car, squeezing in alongside Tom and Charlie. Whereupon he shouted out, "Are you insane?" and introduced himself as if to old friends. Clearly, this one was going to be a very strange day indeed.

Some context might be in order. Several weeks beforehand, our architects had called to tell us of an approach made to them by the producers of Robson's Green's Coastal Lives. They were planning an episode devoted to Skye for the second series of the ITV1 show and to participate wanted a family that had moved up to the island from across the border and were having their own house built. I think the exact words used were 'young family', but in the case of me at least someone was evidently prepared to make an exception. At all events, we were asked if we would be interested. I would like to say that I spent restless hours ruminating over the offer, carefully weighing up the preciousness of our privacy and the possible pitfalls of subjecting the boys to such scrutiny, versus the benefits that might accrue for our future B&B business. But I didn't. In fact, I instantly shrieked, "Yes!" and at such a high pitch that it pricked up the ears of several dogs around the neighborhood. In fact, so enthusiastic did I sound that Denise mistakenly assumed I was having an out of body experience.

The thing is, in my previous life I got asked to appear on TV quite a bit and never failed to acquiesce or enjoy it. Invariably, and as those who suffer with insomnia and have found themselves at some ungodly hour watching repeats on Channel Five will testify, I appeared as a talking head on shows with titles that included the words 'One Hundred,' 'Worst' and/or 'Most Shocking'. Doubtless, I would pop up for mere seconds at a time, but enough for one or other acquaintance of ours to have seen me and be left wondering at the ridiculousness of the world. I say 'doubtless', because whenever it was that these shows aired, I could never bring myself to watch me on the telly.

That would have been all too much of a horror, since I imagine I always looked like nothing so much as a disgruntled potato. What's more, I was meant to be informed but pithy, but fear that the act of sound recording would have stretched my Black Country vowels like elastic and so that instead I came across as a man still mastering the art of speech.

As such, I think I can get away with dismissing rampant ego for my seemingly boundless willing to 'do telly'. Rather, I much prefer to subscribe as much to my being inquisitive and eager for new and different experiences. In this regard I am very likely delusional, but for sure TV has served me with some enduring memories. For instance: appearing live on CNN to explain how, and furthermore why Elton John had accused Madonna of lip-syncing at the Q Awards on that very same October day in 2004. Or having an almost comically plummy-voiced BBC reporter venture to me the opinion that Radiohead's Thom Yorke was, and I quote, "a terrible c**t."

Most indelible of all was a short-lived appearance I made on The Weakest Link. Back when I was editing Kerrang!, I was invited to appear on a one-off, music-themed edition of the Beeb's light-entertainment behemoth. Ludicrously given my involvement, this was billed as a 'celebrity music special.' Someone within closer grasping distance of musical stardom, a local church organist perhaps, had evidently pulled out at the last minute. The in-a-pickle producers had spotted a broadsheet newspaper piece on the glories of heavy metal that I had just then written, panicked and before I knew it, I was being whisked off to BBC Elstree Studios on a springtime Tuesday afternoon in the back of a chauffeur-driven car.

Among my fellow guests on this ill-starred ...Link were glam-rock vixen Suzi Quatro, middle-England's one-time soprano of choice Leslie Garrett, unreconstructed DJ Dave Lee Travis, Carol Decker from '80s one-hit wonders T'Pau, and the Bard of Barking himself, Billy Bragg, who seemed even more surprised than I to be in the midst of this decidedly odd company. Each of us was granted our own dressing room and with a glittering star stuck to the door. 'Paul Reeves' read the name tag pinned to mine, instantly dispelling any inflated sense of self-worth that I might otherwise have felt.

Cementing my place in the day's pecking order, I was the first of the 'celebs' to arrive by at least an hour. Not long afterwards, and whilst helping myself to a pot of tea and fruit plate in my misspelled sanctuary, I heard a door handle being furiously rattled in the corridor outside and then an expulsion of expletives. Gingerly opening my own door, I found the show's acid-tongued dominatrix, Anne Robinson, looking all at once forlorn and furious. Spotting me, her expression softened. "My dressing room is locked," she pleaded.

In advance of the day, I had been told I should make no attempt whatsoever to fraternise with La Robinson, since her tyrannical act was dependent on her being able to convincingly convey utter contempt for me and also my fellow contestants. However, it seemed unduly harsh to leave her stood out there in a corridor, so I invited her in for tea. She accepted and we proceeded for the next half-hour or so to have a most diverting chinwag. I can't actually for the life of me recall most anything that we talked about, though I seem to remember trying to explain death metal to her at one point.

From there on, it was downhill all the way for me. Everyone else turned up in the nick of time: Quatro charming; Garrett effusive; Decker scary; Bragg nonplussed; and Lee Travis just like you would expect a man who nicknamed himself 'The Hairy Cornflake' to be. We were all of us made to line up behind a thick, black curtain drawn across the at-that-point-all-too-familiar ...Link set. And so that an over-jolly compere could introduce us, one at a time, to the audience of blue-rinsed ladies and perhaps mentally ill and/or long-term unemployed single men.

Each of the others got a loud cheer, even Lee Travis, but for Billy Bragg and even he was afforded polite applause. Yet when I was announced it would have been possible to hear a pin drop from several miles away. I walked out to utter silence. As I mounted my podium, one old dear loudly inquired of another, "I know the others, but who's he?" Angry-looking Anne stalked onto the set right behind me (cue the most effusive cheer of all) and the quiz-show antics began. I thought I did OK in the first round, answering my three allotted questions correctly. Nevertheless, and to my consternation, and how shameful that is to me now, I received two nominations to be ousted. I was only saved from an embarrassingly premature exit by hoofing soul belter Shola Ama, who recorded a one-hundred percent rate of failure and got yanked instead.

Directly afterwards, I had an even greater shock. As a fleet of technicians and clipboard-armed assistants rushed onto to the set during the break in filming that followed each round, Leslie Garrett sneaked up and pinched me on the bum. Next, she whispered in my ear: "Sorry about voting you off, darling, but no-one knows who you are." Aghast, I somehow flustered through the second round, but slipped into a blind panic in the third, breaking out in a cold sweat and wrongly answering a succession of questions barked at me by my erstwhile tea-time companion. "You are the weakest link," Anne Robinson eventually told me, bringing my torture to a merciful end and leaving the way clear for someone not entirely anonymous to win (Mr Bragg as it happened).

Aspects of our ...Coastal Lives adventure were nearly so surreal, though nothing like as barbed. Robson Green was a consummate pro, as relaxed and down-to-earth seeming as his jobbing persona. His crew could not have been more patient or attentive towards putting us at our ease. Even still, it was impossible to escape the sheer bonkers-ness of being stood out there on an exposed hillside, watching our house being built before our very eyes, and all the while the bloke who once co-crooned the Righteous Brothers' Unchained Melody to the UK Number One spot was asking Denise and I what had brought us to this point and how it felt now that we were here.

We were all brought back together again the week following, and thanks to the vagaries of TV to film what will be seen on screen as our first meeting with the Green machine. This took place harbour-side in Portree, Skye's capital and under blue skies and a milky sun, and before a gaggle of curious onlookers, tourists from overseas most of them and so doubly bemused. Once this scene-establishing footage had been shot, the boys and I were shepherded aboard a boat and sent off on a fishing trip with our rod-bearing host. Now, I'm not going to make any pretense toward dispassionate coolness here: it was fantastic. All the more so since young Charlie has, for reasons still mysterious to me, been an obsessive-compulsive consumer of Extreme Fishing since toddler-hood and Tom fetched an enormous eight-pound Pollock out of the sea with almost his first ever cast.

All things being equal, we will be both in our new home and 'on' ITV1 some time in September. Some semblance of normality ought to have returned to our (coastal) lives by then. For now, though, Denise and - to a lesser and more ineffectual extent - I are caught up in a mad dash to ensure that a kitchen, two bathrooms, a wood burner and much else besides are delivered to us in correct order and good time, and fretting about countless other details big and small. For me, there is also the looming and more chastening concern of once again appearing before a not insignificant portion of the nation as a babbling root vegetable. Then again, no-one ever said this self-building lark would be easy...

This Week I Have Mostly Been Listening To:


The View - Grace

Because at times such as these, it's good to be made to feel wide-eyed and exuberant all over again.


  1. the best yet... by a country mile

  2. I can only sit here agog at such wonder that is Robson Green. Bloomin' marvellous read and will of course be watching in September. Mrs Pike

    1. Paul, all he best in the new home, we will be back in Highlands and islands next summer !

    2. Thank you sir, and do let us know when you're making your next Highlands jaunt.

  3. Just re read this blog smiling at your tales of TV stardom. Looking forward to watching Mr Green & Mr Rees converse on life on Skye & watching your family home grow from the ground - Celeste

    1. BaggieGirl - that's the spirit! Come up and see us on Skye sometime...