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Today I leave the Mighty Halesowen News - I remember my first day like it was yesterday
Posted on the 5th May 2017 in the category sport



Today, after eight fun-filled award-winning years, I leave the Halesowen News. 

This job saved my life, god knows what would have happened if I'd not been given a second chance in journalism all those years ago. 

Thankfully a great man called Paul Walker gave me that chance. Here is what I wrote about being allowed back in the game. 

 

The day I got back into journalism – October 2009 - from Obama and Me: The Incredible True Story of a YouTube Sensation

 

I opened my eyes at 6.30am, ten minutes before the alarm went off. My first thought was ‘How can I afford to get to work’? Nicole, who had returned from her weekend soujorn to fuck knows where, was wrapped up in duvets so I couldn’t touch her. She hadn’t brought any wages back from work and had left me starving all weekend, despite my fronting over £1,500 for the house we lived in. The house was perfect - and art studio for her, a writing room for me and a garden for the dog.

She hadn’t even bothered unpacking her stuff. I knew she was using our dream home as a stepping stone, because she’d been about to get evicted from her own flat. She knew I couldn't afford the place on my own, and I didn’t technically need an art studio or a garden because I couldn’t draw and I knew she’d take the dog with her if she left, but I moved in thinking I’d spend the happiest days of my life under that roof. She’d moved in counting down the days until she could move out.

All my friends had told me not to put my money into the house, on the not unreasonable grounds that they knew she was having an affair. I did too, but I wanted to look in the mirror when she left and see a man who had done everything in his power to hold onto the woman he loved. 

The only money in the house was £2 in coppers, and the only food two slices of bread and marmalade. I laughed at the note I’d left her: ‘Hey babes, no money for a Daysaver! So borrowed money out of change bag. Didn’t want to wake you as you were dead to the world! Ring you later about cheque! Love you!’.

I didn't have enough bus fare to get to work so thought I’d try to jump on the bus with my out of date travel card. The baby worked and I got to work five minutes late and started to write.  A few weeks before Gurdip had told me that there were three days of freelancing work available at the Halesowen News. I’d got the gig and chased stories liked my life depended on it. I loved it, loved having power again. I loved being back where I belonged.

I’d only lasted two days as a door to door salesman. It turned out I’d been sent around an estate that already had Scottish Electric, as the woman in the last house I’d knocked had explained to me. I poured my heart out to her, about everything. She made me a cup of tea and when she realised it was commission only told me to give up the job, claim benefits and write a book.  

The boss at the Halesowen News liked my style though. He’d been getting more complaints than he’d had for years prior to my arrival, and he kept inviting me back at £85 a day - which, after months of being on the breadline, was like winning the lottery.

At 10am on this particular October day I threatened the Press Officer at West Midlands Police. At 10.10am I demanded that his Dudley Council counterpart get me information about teenage pregnancies, and at 10.30am I phoned George Wimpy’s press office and read out inflammatory quotes to scare them into giving me a quote about floods in Halesowen. At 10.50am I scrounged a roll-up off the journo opposite, smoked it and then spotted a half smoked fag in the ash tray, which I finished off too.

At 11am I excused myself to go and get some money from a cheque that should have cleared. I filled the form in and went to the cashier. She took ages and I was nervous. “I cannot authorise this payment, please go to the reception”, she said.

My stomach turned as my financial future flashed in front of my eyes. The receptionist disappeared into the back. I was worried he was going to perform a citizen’s arrest based on the arrears in the current account, but he came back out and said “There’s been a fire in one of our business centres, so your cheque will take a day longer”.

At 12.30pm I flirted with an ex-Sandwell councillor who was 65 but sill loved a bit of it. I then conducted a little debate with myself. I had £4.50 with £2 in coppers, and was wondering whether to buy a packet of snouts or save up for a pint. In the event, I bought the fags and a pack of Somerfield cut price ginger nuts, attractively price at 39p. They were my lunch. I plugged my earphones in and listened to Tom Jones ‘I'm Never Going To Fall in Love Again’ on repeat, following it up with Michael Buble's ‘Cry Me A River’ and Gordon Lightfoot's ‘If You Could Read My Mind’.

At 2.30pm and after more threats to George Wimpy I spotted the boss, Paul Walker, nip out for the fag. I had my own so I followed him. He’d told me he’d make a decision on whether I got a full time job by today. We made small talk. He’s from Zimbabwe and after discussing his 20s in Africa we walked back in to the newsroom, at which point he said “You’ll get a letter the next few days with the official offer”. My spine tingled and my heart missed a beat. “Do you mean I’ve got the job?” I said. He looked at me and said: “Of course”. Relief hit me and I grabbed his hand and shook it too hard. I got back to the desk and the four journalists around me all clapped and gave me the thumbs up.

I knew that Paul believing in me and letting me get back into journalism was massive. I’d thought that getting another job after all the YouTube stuff was going to be nearly impossible, but thanks to him seeing my work day to day he knew I was good enough. I had had an outrageous publicity stunt planned to show the world what Nicole and her new squeeze had done to me, but now I had my dream job there was no way I was going to risk losing it.  

Facebook statusSteve Zacharanda “The reports of my demise in journalism were greatly exaggerated (had to ask new colleagues how to spell that) – I am a hack again.



Bugger, Blackburn is in charge of Sounds of the Sixties
Posted on the 26th February 2017 in the category sport



As I passed 40 I made a conscious effort not to be plastered every Friday night, so my aspiration was to have a good kip and be awake for Brian Matthew Sounds of the Sixties at 8am on Saturday morning on Radio 2.

His knowledge was impeccable, there are so many of these shows and stations churning out retro radio playing the hits everyone has heard a million times but with SoS I really learnt stuff about bands I'd never heard of.

Matthew worked with Phil "the Collector" Swern who had incredible rare records.He was ill over Christmas and his stand-in was OK with the Collector guiding him. Well Brian was back this week, sounding great for an 88-year-old, mixing Elvis with obscure one hit wonders and even a German version of a Supremes hit.

You read that right 88-years-old, I'm 41 and have done The Steve Zacharanda Radio Show for eight years but I can't imagine doing it in 47 years.

We lost Desmond Carrington this year too, he was broadcasting into his 80s too, the class both men exuded on air was an inspiration, compare their style to celebrities who get their first radio job on Radio 2. Carrington and Matthew had encyclopedic knowledge of music but they way they imparted it was without blowing their own trumpet.


After being delighted Matthew was back he dropped the bombshell after 27 years he was leaving, and didnt sound best pleased about it. It appears Radio 2 bosses "retired" him to rest him from "the treadmill of weekly shows." He had been at the station since 1954. And he had wanted to carry on.


Then during the Graham Norton show an advert for Sounds of the Sixties with Tony Blackburn, at 6am next Saturday followed by a new breakfast show Dermot O'Leary! Breakfast shows at the weekend are never a good idea, this one will be safe and boring.

Blackburn is the polar opposite to Matthew, one introduces a song with the same lame link he has been using since 1970 and the other will tell you about the drummer's next band's success. The decision to pick Blackburn and move it to 6am is the radio equivalent of getting a vote of confidence from the Leicester City board. 

What a crock of shite, I wonder if The Collector will be involved, either way I might start drinking on Fridays again.

I dont fancy waking up to Tony Blackburn playing the usual 60s stuff whilst reminiscing with Gambochini about the glory years not mentioning they probably were tredding in Jimmy Savile's spunk every day...

 




From a friend I've never met - the best round up of 2016 celebrity deathfest
Posted on the 19th December 2016 in the category sport



If you had told me twenty years ago I would have friends that I'd never met then I would have said you are mad. Then again if you would have told a wide-eyed me at on a Sunday morning there would be a pub in One Stop Shopping Centre which starts serving at 9am I'd have said your stark raving bonkers.

But thanks to social media I do have friends I've never met. Jez Hemming is one of those friends. Back in 2009 when I was persona none grata in West Midlands Media for my YouTube Two Fingers at the Brum Mail I was offered an olive branch by Danny Kelly on Radio WM. He stuck his neck out as his then boss was friends with my old boss who I had pissed off royally and had stopped presenters reporting the YouTube stuff when every other radio outlet in the city were revelling in my infamous idiocy.

I became a regular on his show reviewing papers and then every Friday doing a round up of wacky internet stories. One of those segments Jez was listening, he is a Brummie by birth but lives in North Wales, and he was in Brum listening to the show on the off chance. He liked what he heard and looked me up on Twitter. I was being followed by the Urbane Guerrilla. Great name I thought.

I was running Goggle-eye online at the time and asked the Internet for a Blues writer. Jez obliged. His copy was great, he loves the Blues and it showed in his writing. I'm well past hating the Blues with a passion now, as a young buck most weeks when I was only a weird second away from getting my head kicked in by Blues fans in some early hours drinking den it all seemed so real. But now, who gives a shit. So a mutual respect and admiration was forged.

After Goggle-eye collapsed we lost touch. Then a few years ago I got a message which contained one of my biggest achievements of my years in the game. It was Jez, he was doing a journalism course in Lancaster and told me he was on the verge of chucking it in, he was in his 40s and trying to enter journalism at an age most have thrown in the towel to go into PR.

He had read Obama and Me: The Incredible True Story of a YouTube Sensation and my tales of rambling madness and love for this dying game had made him change his mind and stick with his quest to be a journalist.

He now works for the North Wales Daily Post. That I played a part in this happening makes me very proud. And he is a bloody good journalist. Like me an old timer in a newsroom of bright young things who are naturally more adept at working within a hierarchical structure and are copy machines. What is needed in the newsroom of 2016.

But me and Jez still have our jobs, because we get great stories, you could not have newsroom full of hacks like Me and Jez but I'll argue till the day I drop down dead prematurely living on my own with a pot noodle in my hand that every newsroom needs a Jez or Me.

And like me Jez has had to work in this intense and demanding environment whilst being a carer, only someone who has done that week after week, month after month and year after year understands how sapping it is on mind and body.

Like me Jez likes to write. And he sent me something which is sublime. It is like poetry. I have written stuff like this before and I know how hard it is, it's phonetic, it's the written word but it is all in the reading of it, out loud by a Brummie preferably.

As this year of celebrity death nears to an end there will be a lot of stuff written about those who have shuffled, jumped or were pushed off this mortal coil and I bet nothing will be better than this.

 

2016 - Annus of Horribilis - Jez Hemming

I could have lied and said I’d cried when any of these celebrities died - But it’s fair to say, if the year was a ride It would have been a car crash, despite the fake grief for people we didn’t know.

Colonel Abrams no longer trapped with the crap that he rapped And Robert Stigwood became dead-wood as only he could. If you didn’t know, he was the geezer behind Saturday Night Fever, Aged 81, so not a big surprise when I heard he’d gone.

Another for the reaper was DJ Ed Stewart, Stewpot, But that wasn’t the most famous name to flee - that was David Bowie. The Starman, Ashes to Ashes, funk to funky, The man who fell to earth and outed Major Tom - the junkie.

Another to act out his final jape – the man aka Professor Snape, The camp Sheriff of Nottingham - Alan Rickman, A further loss to the luvvies and the hams was the beardy bloke who played Grizzly Adams, And the furnace heat is on for another one, because Glenn Frey was also done.

Frank Finlay will be an inlay on the celebrity tomb as he too drifted away, Twas sad, but this was very, when news broke of the demise of Sir Terry, His eyes and his ECG - Blankety Blank. Synonymous with Children in Need, for which he got a fee he didn’t need.

Among the members of well known bands who shuffled off to their Boogie Wonderlands, Maurice White, Earth Wind and Fire, great singer but sadly a consummate dier. Pete Burns failed to thrive when he gave us the answer to Dead or Alive, But he was not the only one goin’, so too was song-writing poet, Leonard Cohen.

In the lottery of life another loser, was George Martin, fifth Beatle, the producer, On the conveyor belt of those who passed Cliff Michelmore breathed his last And another robbed of life’s sweet magic, Paul Daniels disappeared, now was that tragic? It was for Debbie McGhee - but not as heart-breaking for me.

It was “Goodnight from me” in 2016, if you liked the Two Ronnies you’ll know what I mean, Another whose circadian rhythms went terminally wonky was that bloke Henry from Drop The Dead Donkey, Though he wasn’t the last to lose his spark, Because Howard Marks, the salty old scoundrel, became food for the sharks.

David Gest was past his best. Well I assume this is true as they laid him to rest And despatched to his heaven was the Welshman that starred in that awful Blake’s 7, It wasn’t good, nowhere near as good as Victoria Wood, Her life now replete, she left an unplayed piano and its empty seat.

The life of Prince was this year evinced, his purple face erased in a deluge of Purple Rain, never to be seen again, Like that literary Liver Bird – Carla Lane. The next departure we were to learn was the untimely ghosting of Caroline Ahearn, She was Royle family, Mrs Merton, and too premature for her final curtain.

Wilder still the end of Gene, who exited his final scene, Young Frankenstein, his best roles forgotten as Alzheimer’s sent Wonka to an end so rotten, Then Yorkshire born and Yorkshire bred, Jacko’s inspiration, Rod Temperton, was Yorkshire dead. Joined on the Viking burial barge by Jimmy Perry – they don’t like it up ‘em sarge.

Harper Lee wrote her final words, killing her instead of Mockingbirds, And Feck Arf Frank Kelly, Father Jack - no longer sweary but eternally smelly. Another whose work/life balance was overdrawn was the Man From Uncle actor, Robert Vaughan, And we learned Manuel was unwell as Andrew Sachs slipped through life’s fragile cracks.

A year of toil and watching stellar names shuffle off their mortal coil Not having had our fill of constant morbidity, We bade farewell to sporting greats: John Cruyff and Muhammad Ali.

Yet Katy Hopkins lives and breathes and spits her venom at refugees, And Sir Cliff Richard, he’s still here, protesting to the end that he’s not…going anywhere. And Donald Trump, his bloody face like a porcine rump, With promises to throw away, to be caught by the bigots of the KKK, The President erect, leader of the right-wing, white-wing, post-truth sect.

Brexit wrecks it, Jim’ll never fix it, and Cameron, disgraced, raced to a sharp exit, Intolerance and arrogance and dark, satanic hubris, The angriest year I’ve ever known, The Annus of Horribilis.

PS: I’m sure you’ve had your fill, But late news in, The sandman just got AA Gill.

And Zsa Zsa is no-more.



 

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