Follow me on Twitter: @janemcintyre12



I'm Jane McIntyre, a voiceover and writer, formerly an award-winning BBC radio newsreader and producer. My blog covers life, love and loss; travel, coffee and chocolate; with some heartfelt pieces in the mix about my late dad, who had dementia. Just a click away, I'm half of the team behind - two empty nesters who whizzed round the world in 57 days.

Thursday 29 August 2013

Sleepless in Leeds

...I don`t need a rock DJ.

Not when I`m sleeping in the hotel opposite his club, and my alarm`s set for 4.30am, I don`t.

It all looked great when I arrived mid afternoon, of course. It was bright and sunny, and close to some fabulous shops. Only a couple had PVC catsuits and whips in the window, so the area wasn`t *that* bad.

The reception staff were really welcoming. They gave me an immediate upgrade to a `Kingsize` room, with a gorgeously large and comfy bed; oh, and free wine, which I necked. I know why they were so generous, now, but at the time I was delighted with it all, and slightly squiffy, so I dumped my bags and headed (slightly sideways...) for the (better known) shops.

A couple of hours later, laden with bags and a sobering Starbucks, I went to relax in my boudoir. I ran a gloriously bubbly bath, watched Sarah Beeny doubling the size of someone`s house, booked a cab for crazy-early, set two alarm clocks, and thought about dozing off. get double glazing so that you can shut out the world, don`t you? And air-con, so you don`t then swelter in the summer. But this was a hotel booked in a hurry. For `air-con`: read `ceiling fan`. It whirred rather ominously, so I switched it off and pulled open the sash window. Just an inch or two.

You know those nights when you really, really need to sleep because you have an early start?

Well by 9 pm, Leeds seemed pretty much at full pelt ...and I was in the thick of it.The DJ was hammering those decks; the punters were singing along; apart from the ones who were *chatting outside*. Loudly. There was a whole heap of showing off. Small hatchbacks at full throttle were tearing up and down the main street; keen to impress. Column upon column of click -clack heels marched by, with much hilarious laughter.

The DJ`s set got more eclectic. And louder still. An Abba mix. Really. Then House. Then Horse. Two of them. Mounted police; patrolling the streets. Sheesh. Sometime after 3, someone pulled the plug on the rock DJ, and the heels started clickclacking home.Armies of them, followed by huge, noisy tanks. Roadsweepers, I think, clearing up who knows what. Oh hang on, yep, probably the police horse poo.

Peace again. I got about fifteen minutes. Bliss.

Then the drayman arrived at the bar opposite. Ugly big lorry. Effing great barrels, which, not content with having been rolled out all night, were now being dragged and scraped down the pavement for the next night`s revellers.

He drove off. I shut my eyes again. JUST in time for the 4.30 alarm. You have to laugh, really , don`t you? I mean really, if I`d had heels and a dress instead of a bag load of hiking gear for the next day`s filming, I`d have joined them. Leeds is a brilliant city.

Twelve hours later; that filming was finished, and seven of us were in a Landrover, hurtling back down the steep track through stunning Yorkshire moorland , back to base. Knackered? I should`ve been. But we`d spent an afternoon high on a windy hill with a 360 degree view of some of the most breathtaking countryside you could ever see, shooting a brilliant new drama--one fabulous, professional, caring film crew and a great mix of extras, from all walks of life, swapping life stories over a delivered feast of sandwiches, cakes, fruit and chocolate. Delicious. Look out for me on the telly. I`m the one with the big happy smile....and the dark rings under her eyes :)

Monday 19 August 2013

Rhubarb. And custard.

Ever wonder about all the faces in the crowd you see on the TV or in movies? Who are they? How do they get there? How much do they get paid--and do they ever get to rub shoulders with the stars? After leaving my radio producer`s job with the BBC, I signed up with three agencies for fun, really, and seem to pop up quite regularly now in anything from prime time soaps to feature films. Want the inside story on the stars? Buy one of those weekly mags. Extras are sworn to secrecy. So...this is the latest instalment on the `ordinary` people ....whose names you never get to know.....

Miming looks so easy, doesn`t it?

You just speak--without the sound.

That`s what I thought before I started working as a film and TV extra. Then you hear the words: `.....aaaaaaaaaand.....ACTION...`  and you realise you probably should have sorted out your game plan first.

You`re not important,but you might be `in shot` you have to say something. Anything, really, but remember people can lip-read, so nothing saucy. And it`s no good `talking` at the same time as the person you`ve been paired up with. That would look daft.

In my eight months as a TV and film extra, I`ve just been whispering stuff very quietly, and nodding and smiling a bit. It`s gone down OK. I`ve tried the technique in Corrie, Emmerdale, a couple of feature films, a Japanese soft drinks advert, an ITV drama series, a kids` show and a comedy or two. And I haven`t been chucked out yet.

But the other day, I met and married Graham. Sort of. It was a two day `marriage of convenience` for the purposes of a prime time soap. And I realised he was a bit of an expert in the art of talking --no, miming--complete and utter rhubarb.

The stars were filming a few metres away. This was a real `longshot`. Nevertheless, `my husband and I` got placed on a sumptuous sofa in the garden room of the location--an exquisite country house hotel. Before us, on a low table, two porcelain cups and saucers, and a solid silver coffee pot,along with sugar bowl, tongs and spoons. Graham was given his `prop`--a mere newspaper. That left me with the challenge of pouring, stirring, and handing over his cup....silently.


I needn`t have worried. One command and Graham was off. As I gestured towards the coffee pot, with a carefully raised eyebrow (order my Oscar now...) he smiled, nodded, and then got into his stride.. jabbing at an article in the paper, shaking his head and tutting as quietly as anyone could....and then....mouthing complete and utter twaddle. Bits of words. Snatches of sentences. I realised I was frowning to work out what the devil he was saying. Until ....`CUT! `restored his power of intelligible speech. Actually, it was quite masterful and I`ll try his technique next time.

Graham was just one of a lovely bunch on set that day. His background was, ironically, in the world of real soap--the froth n` bubble variety. He`d been an executive for a major company based in Africa. Between shoots, I heard all kinds of tales, about luxury living, raising a family thousands of miles from home, and resettling back in Blighty.

He swapped hair-raising stories with Peter, who knew Nigeria well. Jason was there too--a mature drama school student who`d reassessed his life after nearly losing it in a holiday balcony fall. There was Johnny, an ex forces pilot, and lovely Michael from the Wirral, one of dozens of retired police officers who seem to find their way into extras work. Over two days we acted (a bit), chatted (a lot), watched a lively soap storyline being filmed in a gorgeous setting, got paid...and got incredibly well fed.

 In fact--they feed you so well, sometimes, that it can be a struggle to manage your tray, loaded with plates, dishes and cutlery, and your bag, and heels, often, down the steps from the catering truck and then up into the extras` double decker diner.... which is where the custard came in....or out, really, dribbling dangerously over the edge of Liverpudlian Pauline`s dish, curling over the edge of her slightly sloping tray and funnelling neatly into a tiny gap in her handbag, before reaching into its murky depths and spreading itself over the contents.

Messy for Pauline, but she laughed; we all did--then tidied ourselves up and got back on set: a bus load of shadows behind the stars...clocking up another (sometimes sticky ) day in the life of an extra.

+ Fancy being an extra too? Want to hear about the `extra` I met on Coronation Street, who works in between lifesaving dialysis treatments? Click on `Life as an extra` under Topics (up there on the right)...and see some hints and tips on getting started. Make sure you come and say hello if you see me on set !  :)

Thursday 1 August 2013

Coal, koalas and a dad with dementia

Who cares? Well, you do, when your baby`s new. Every blinkin moment. Later in life, when you`re old and infirm, maybe those roles will be reversed.

It`s a perfect blend of pride and panic, isn`t it,when they hand your newborn over.You`re completely responsible for every nanosecond of their life. And you really don`t have a clue how you`ll cope. It`s like starting a brand new job in a blindfold. Terrifying. But you feel your way. Learn as you go. And the rewards just keep on coming.

Not that there aren`t screamingly manic moments along the way. Those supermarket toddler tantrums when everyone stares.That aching tiredness from a week of sleepless nights. The fraught mornings when you`re late for the school run; late for work, your youngest is wearing two left shoes and is massaging a dollop of strawberry jam through her long hair like a Trevor Sorbie conditioning treatment. Oh and the car won`t start.And when it does,alongside the revs, is the gleeful repetition of the F word that she heard you scream. Been there?

Years down the line...they help you a bit in return, don`t they? Show you how to synch your i-phone and stuff. Download music. Retrieve lost files.They know you need their help. So it`s their turn to provide it.

There was more of that role reversal thing in New York last summer. I was standing alone in Times Square while the girls `finished` their shopping. (This was a lie. It never ends). I was completely absorbed as a television team filmed some interviews. And while I watched them work, one of the camera crew had apparently been watching me. He ambled over. And invited me to a party.Yes I know he was probably a complete creep but I felt strangely flattered. I was New York! And as I opened my mouth to reply...I heard my voice, my tone, only younger. My 14 year old had returned silently, peeped over my shoulder, clocked the date on the invite and told the bloke: " She can`t. She`s flying home tomorrow."

One day, maybe, I`ll be glad she`s looking out for me. I saw dad today. He lives three hours away. He`s 83 and has Alzheimer`s. We had coffee and sandwiches, and posh cookies from M and S. Only a few years ago, we`d have spent those two hours laughing endlessly about our shared family memories, or sparring over politics, fighting to get a word in edgeways. Now, the task of remembering what he had for breakfast is a challenge. And there are no questions back. No natural dialogue. His once razor sharp mind has been dulled; dumbed down, by dementia.

You sometimes get a flash of those long held memories though. They`re moments to cherish. Like the day I rang, and told him I`d spent the day by the sea. He broke into a near perfect rendition of Sea Fever, by Masefield; which was pretty stunning.

How many pictures does his monochrome mind retain now, though? Can he see himself as the 14 year old following his dad and grandad into the same Scottish coalmine..because that`s `what they did` in those days? Can he recapture the moment when he decided to get out of the dark, study hard, leave the village and take his first ever trip to London on the sleeper down to King`s Cross? How terrified was he on his first day on the beat as a London bobby in Harrow Road, with that stiff, scratchy collar and an accent no-one understood? How often now, does he compare those days with what was to come--selection for an amazing, elite role which saw him travelling the world, in private jets sometimes, destined for sparkling palaces.No coal. No dust. No crawling through low, dark tunnels because that`s `what you did`.

Even though he hardly ever got a break on those trips abroad, he`d always find local markets and buy gifts
for us. Today I could remind him about how much pleasure they gave us: Koalas from Canberra; trinkets from Katmandhu; hippy scarves from San Francisco. There were African dolls made of black cotton and raffia, with baskets full of fruit on their heads, silver bangles and turquoise rings from Mexico; grass skirted dolls and rows of beads from Tonga-- no one got `business trip` gifts like the ones our dad brought back; and the stories about the places he`d seen were worth a million geography lessons.

Even when he had to spend weeks at Balmoral in Scotland one year, and summer turned to autumn, he gathered dozens of different leaves from the local woodlands, and stuck them in two, identical books; one for me, one for my sister, with all the tree names labelled, so we could get a sense of the glorious changing season around him. You could smell the pine and squeeze the little Rowan berries till the juice spurted out.

Today, when it was time for them to take me to the station, I helped him on with his coat. Found his walking stick. Remembered his tough,tall presence beside me at all kinds of moments in my life. Today it was a frail frame leaning on me,as we walked tentatively to the car.That blend of panic and pride I felt as a new parent was back again.Fear, this time, about what lies ahead for dad. But so much pride about his past.