Mark Cummings: Let’s go back to the 80s

PUBLISHED: 14:24 27 April 2020 | UPDATED: 14:24 27 April 2020

Mark experiences the woes of self-isolation with no access to a barber

Mark experiences the woes of self-isolation with no access to a barber


Cummings’ Goings with BBC Radio Gloucestershire’s Mark Cummings

Let’s go back to the 80s

The most trivial of decisions at the moment appears to be what to do with your hair as it could be months before it gets a proper cut. I could shave mine off, allow my daughters to have a hack as they’ve suggested or just let it go wild and re-embrace the 1980s. I’m going for the latter…

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any madder…

May’s column usually reflects the glorious month of madness in the Cotswolds where the eccentrics, the show-offs and the joy bringers go cheese rolling, woolsack racing and find any old excuse to pull on something frilly, grab a stick, and head somewhere high up to perform a fertility jig on May Day.

However, now it seems every second of every day we are surrounded by the wider, global, mad position we’ve all found ourselves in. A world of unspeakable kindness of strangers; mind numbing selfishness of panic buyers; homemade bread; knackered dogs who’ve never walked so far in their lives; Skype dating; more homemade bread; Thursday evenings full of clapping/whistles/rattling pots and pans; homemade banana bread; long telephone calls to loved ones; unused gym kit bought off a shopping channel dusted off and in service; just one food shop a week; perfect gardens; nearly perfect guitar playing; reading three books a week; homemade Focaccia bread with sun-blushed tomatoes, feta and a dribble of virgin olive oil.

The power of radio

What I’m about to write next might surprise you. Radio isn’t just about being a lifeline in times of crisis. For me it’s crucially important that my show is more compelling, surprising and entertaining on a bog standard, drizzly, nondescript Tuesday morning than all the other radio stations who are struggling to find something relevant to talk about.

HOWEVER…here comes the BUT and a slight contradiction. Having said all that I’m fully aware that in the times we are living through at the moment what we broadcasters do and how we do it can have a positive impact on people’s lives. Compared to other essential workers and what the real heroes achieve, what we do is a mere speck but if we get it right we can inform, entertain and raise spirits. My golden rules are to give people a show full of experts rather than lots of opinions, keep it calm, warm and entertain, entertain, entertain. My job is to weave in humour and surprises along with the grim news, the latest advice and help bind the community together with the essential information people want to share.

Ninety-five per cent of my broadcasting career has been spent entertaining during the simple, normal times we generally live in. However, some of the shows you look back on tend to be the ones in times of great drama: General Election nights, sitting with the PM Tony Blair in the studio and having an hour-long phone-in, hosting the Breakfast Show on Pennine Radio in Bradford the morning after the Bradford City fire disaster, the floods of 2007 etc.

I’m currently on air now from 6am until 10am because many people get up later without the normal commute or school run. People’s listening habits change but their thirst for the joy of the Cummings County Quiz is as strong as ever. In these worrying times it’s heart- warming to know that fun, distraction and the sound of a familiar voice appear to bring comfort to many.

I say goodbye to my bathroom

My daughters had moved out. They were living the independent lives we’d always wished for them with occasional, voluntary visits home for the odd weekend, family get-togethers and a free summer holiday somewhere hot. Almost overnight this changed and two adults returned to the house they’d grown up in.

The night before their return I sat in my family bathroom, looked around at the small but perfectly useable bath tub, the array of pretentious shower gels (Sandalwood and green tea, Cinnamon and raspberry ripple and my favourite chia seeds and Jaffa cake) and my lovely cabinet full of razors, shaving gel and my personal collection of tubes of Anusol… and I said a rather emotional goodbye. I knew that night that the chance of gaining access to my bathroom had ceased until this situation is over.

We live a very strange but workable existence. I leave at 4am usually a couple of hours after a nameless member of my tribe has come to bed after gorging on “quality” TV. When I come home at 11.30am another nameless member of the family is still in bed so I make them a cup of tea and then I go to bed for a couple of hours. When I wake up I’m greeted by a mixture of home workers on laptops in various corners of the house, usually some beastly home workout sessions on YouTube and two dogs looking totally confused as their quiet paradise has been smashed to pieces. I exercise between 4 and 6pm usually a bike ride then somehow we all come together at 7.30pm for a meal.

Soothing sounds

I invited my audience to help me build a soothing soundscape of the noises naturally generated across the Cotswolds to give us all a moment of calm during this storm. If you tune in every day at some stage you can enjoy the following… the ancient bell at Sharpness Docks designed to warn river users of fog, the sound from The Shed when Gloucester Rugby score a try, the whoosh of the Severn Bore, the chimes of Baker’s Clock at Gloucester Cross, the dawn chorus recorded in the hills above Wotton-under- Edge in the 50s with the sound of the steam train from Charfield and the peal of church bells from around the Cotswolds mixed with the bells of Gloucester Cathedral and Tewkesbury Abbey. One of the most soothing voices I know belongs to Gloucester rugby legend and World Cup winner Phil Vickery. One of my listeners described his voices as like standing under a warm shower of melted chocolate. So, very kindly, Phil has recorded for me the poem Leisure by the Nailsworth poet WH Davies… imagine the soft, warm chocolatey tones of Phil Vickery reading the following.

What is this life if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare?

No time to stand beneath the boughs,

And stare as long as sheep and cows;

No time to see, when woods we pass,

Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass;

No time to see, in broad daylight,

Streams full of stars, like skies at night;

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,

And watch her feet, how they can dance;

No time to wait till her mouth can

Enrich that smile her eyes began?

A poor life this if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.”

The phone call you dread

Imagine the scene. It’s the weekend ahead of the first lockdown when the world seems to have turned itself inside out. I’m at home on a Saturday gearing up to host an extended four-hour show and I’m fully aware the next few days will be a monumental time in our history. Added to that I’m thinking of my mum stuck at home all alone and self-isolating, other loved ones suffering financial stress and generally getting my head around the current, crazy, anxiety-ridden life we are all having to adjust to. Then the phone rings and it’s one of my bosses at BBC Radio Gloucestershire.

“Cummings, we have a bit of a problem. The Mail on Sunday have been onto us and they want a comment about you claiming you were kidnapped by Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen!”

It i the phone call you dread. The phone call that tells you a Sunday paper has a story on you and they are going to print something the next day. For context, last month in this column I wrote a pure fantasy/comedy piece about stepping on LLB’s toes by being asked to open his local fête in Siddington near Cirencester. In the article I made up a ludicrous scenario about being “invited” to his house for a chat. It even included a disclaimer making it clear it was total nonsense. However, some hungry journalist amazingly decided I was being serious and wanted a quote from the BBC. So during the turmoil of global pandemic my bosses and I had to reassure the BBC press office and this journalist that it was a gag. We didn’t know whether to laugh or cry so we decided to laugh. You couldn’t make it up… well actually I did!

For the record, when we meet occasionally at some bash I have lots of fun with Laurence and his amazing wife Jackie. Laurence always takes the mickey out of my hair for some reason, always gives his time freely to be interviewed and as Kurtan says… he’s very humble.


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