The first time I saw the schedule for my trip to the UK, one section in particular caught my attention. From 9.15 am to 1.00 pm on Wednesday I would be doing GNS interviews, back to back, whatever they might be.
At the time of writing this post, I realise I’m still none the wiser about what GNS actually stands for. Gruelling National Speak-a-thon, perhaps?
Imagine, if you will, a tiny studio at BBC Broadcasting House. I sit at a desk covered in some sort of material, which is less than ideal for setting down cardboard cups of coffee as the surface is treacherously uneven. In front of me sit a large microphone and a pair of headphones. Over the course of a few hours I am to speak to fifteen local radio stations who have booked ten minute slots of my time. Some will be live, others will be pre-recorded. By 1.00 pm I’m told I’ll have been beamed into the homes of three million listeners.
I’m not feeling particularly intimidated by the prospect. Probably because I’ve already had the pleasure of talking about suppositories on live national radio earlier that week and, that very morning, I briefly parked my buttocks on the couch of BBC Breakfast. Radio is like blogging: I talk, but I can’t see my listeners and they can’t see me. There is none of the fear of falling quite literally flat on my face as I creep into a TV studio, step over all the trailing wires, and take my seat next to the presenter while she talks live, on air. There’s nothing quite as paranoia-inducing as having to stick your hand up your skirt to feed a tiny microphone up inside when you are approximately 10 cm outside the range of a live camera.
By 10.30 am I’m crossing my legs and trying not to think about wanting to go to the toilet. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve uttered the words “sock suspenders” and appear to have a number of other pet phrases I trot out at regular intervals, which you will have heard if you were tuned into BBC radio Newcastle or Jersey or Cornwall. Mostly the presenters are kind, asking straightforward questions and seeming interested and friendly, despite the fact they are unlikely to have given Penguin’s press release more than a cursory glance. A couple of them actually quote sentences from the book, which I find impressive. And those that introduce me as petite anglais or petit anglaise – effectively transforming me into a shemale – are in the minority.
Then comes the unpleasant exception: a pre-recorded interview where I’m questioned by two clearly unsympathetic presenters, a man and a woman. The line of questioning is tough from the outset. ‘Wasn’t it completely insensitive of me to write about real people?’, they enquire. ‘What about Mr Frog’s feelings in all of this? And how do I think my daughter will feel when she reads it one day?’ Their tone and tack seem to indicate that they find the whole concept of blogging and memoir writing thoroughly distasteful.
I explain, patiently, that the book is dedicated to my daughter and her father, and that Mr Frog not only had to sign forms to say he was happy with the portrayal of his personal life but he actually enjoyed the finished product. Some parts more than others, obviously, and I had to make a few minor changes at his request. But overall I think he comes off well in the book. He’s a far more likeable character than the narrator, in my opinion, and is, arguably, the hero of the tale. As for Tadpole, I’m sure there will be moments in her teenage years when she will hate me for recounting her exploits or recording her sing. But will she squirm any more than I did when my parents got the baby photos out in front of guests? I’m willing to bet there will come a time when she’ll be pleased so much of her childhood has been preserved for posterity. In the same way that I now love the silent super8 films recorded by my granddad when I was little and wish that he’d made more.
By the end of the interview I feel as though my interrogators have thawed somewhat, and our chat ends on a pleasant note. The researcher comes back on the line and thanks me for my time, and for a few moments I can still hear the presenters wrapping up the interview with the usual ‘petite anglaise, published by Michael Joseph, is available in all good bookshops’.
But, when the recording is over, just before the line goes dead, I hear the woman say something to the man and my heart stops beating. It’s a word which was clearly not intended for my, now burning, ears. A word said so dismissively, so spitefully that it brings tears to my eyes. I whip the headphones off and stare at my Press officer (who has been sitting on a sofa in the corner throughout, also wearing headphones) in disbelief.
‘That presenter just called me a SLAPPER!’ I say, incredulously, unsure whether I’m about to laugh or cry. She looks horrified, but we don’t have time to talk as BBC Radio Ulster have just dialled in. Carrying on as though nothing were amiss requires every ounce of professionalism I possess, but somehow I manage to hold it together.
Next time we have a two-minute gap and our BBC contact man pops his head cheerily around the door, I recount what I heard earlier. He scurries off to investigate, then returns, armed with an apology and an explanation so far-fetched that I’m almost tempted to believe it.
They have their own brand of banter, the two presenters in question, you see. He always monopolises female guests, and talks to them in a different, slightly flirtier voice. And when he does so, once they are off the air, she’s in the habit of calling him a slapper. So it wasn’t directed at me; it wasn’t even about me. Allegedly.
Now, I have a friend I often refer to as ‘slag’ to her face, with such an affectionate tone that it’s almost become a term of endearment.
But I can’t shake off the feeling that there was venom in the voice I overheard. I don’t think I believe that it was harmless banter. And although I shouldn’t care about the opinion of one ill-informed stranger, I find that I do.
The upshot of this is that, for me, the ‘S’ in GNS will forever be associated with the word ‘slapper’. Which just leaves the small matter of the ‘G’ and ‘N’.