Sunday, December 22, 2013

The visitor

At 8pm last Saturday night, the phone rang in my hotel room. The receptionist sounded suspicious and protective. 

“There’s a, er, gentleman here who wants to talk to you.” 

I was expecting him. 

“It's OK, we have an appointment – please tell him I’ll be right down.” 

She sounded only a little relieved. When I saw him sitting silently on a sofa in the corner of the reception area, I understood her reticence.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Postcard from America

My next-door neighbour tells me you had a terrible storm earlier last week that nearly washed you all into the North Sea. I’m sorry about that. 

Our farmhouse, which has so far survived 343 winters, simply shrugged and asked for another log to be put onto its roaring fires. Or so our housesitter told me, when I phoned her to see if it had blown away. 

“Yes, it was a bit windy this morning, but it was worse in Newcastle”. 

Worse, I understand, was a completely flooded Quayside. 

Well, if makes you feel any better, it’s been raining here as well. A real deluge battered homes, washed out drive-through hamburger joints, drenched the health food stores. 

It is strange to see Southern California in the rain. People don’t really have umbrellas or rain coats. They don’t even have gutters on the side of their houses – there’s no demand. They just drive their cars closer to the supermarkets and run for it in their white jeans and teeshirts.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

What Daddy does at the football

Izzy burst into tears when I turned off Pixie Hollow to watch the game. 

The fairies were flying busily around the wood, minding each others’ business as fairies do, and then suddenly, without warning, mean Daddy turned them into magpies in black and white stripes, running and kicking a ball with some people dressed in red. 

When she’d calmed down, which was a whole chocolate biscuit later, I sat her on my lap and together we watched the game. It was her first football match.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The magic of Doctor Who

[The Doctor Who 50th anniversary special was on BBC1 last night.]

I was eleven when I first saw Susan Foreman and her grandfather. 

Susan was a pupil at Coal Hill School in Shoreditch, and her teachers were worried about her because she had a strange take on the world. Almost alien, you might say. 

Coal Hill School was on television on Saturday night, watched by millions around the world. It’s the most famous fictional school in Britain, for Susan’s grandfather was William Hartnell, the original Doctor Who, and they had stopped off in Shoreditch while he was trying to fix a technical bug in their Tardis, which caused it to keep its shape as a London police box when travelling through time.

Monday, November 18, 2013

A very senior moment

I had my first senior moment this morning. It was very embarrassing. 

I was in Waitrose, where I love using the self-scanner handset they give you so you don’t have to queue at the checkout – you just scan all the items as you shop, then swipe your credit card and walk away with bulging bags and a sense of superiority. 

Except that today, when I inserted my credit card in the slot, the bill came to just £6.75. Considering my laden basket included a whole shoulder of lamb, I realised I must have absent-mindedly bagged half a grocery list without scanning.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The next hot thing

Sunny Sunday mornings are always special. 

A leisurely soft boiled egg with soldiers lying lazily beside a frothing cappuccino, my computer open at a blank page, ready for the weekly update on my world. It’s my favourite moment of the week. Except that instead of a view of my frosted garden, I’m looking at the Empire State building glowing in the sunlight of a New York midtown skyline. 

Outside my hotel here in Brooklyn, the streets are still silent, no sign of life apart from a few tracksuits in the park jogging guilt into my brain as I order another round of buttery toast. 

I only arrived last night, and this afternoon I’ll be back in the care of British Airways, 14 hours of my weekend lost on a plane. It’s a long way to come for one meeting, but that’s the strange world of television. You work away at a project for months, and then suddenly somebody says they’ll meet you, but only next Saturday, and off you fly. Literally.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Doggie Doos and Don'ts

I think the fairy period of Izzy’s life may have peaked. 

Not that she’s discarded them yet. In fact, as I write this, she’s sitting on the floor building a new fairy house. It’s a shoebox decorated with glitter and nail varnish (which I’m not sure Mummy knows about, but I’m not going to be a spoilsport) and will soon be filled with pixie dust and other tiny objects in order to attract a real live fairy to come and live in it. 

While construction work is proceeding, we’re keeping Boots out of the room in disgrace. Last night he leapt over the dog gate and ate Tinkerbell. Izzy’s hoping the fairy that inhabits her new box will be Vidia, because she says it’s her favourite. 

I looked Vidia up in Wikipedia. She has pouty lips and arched eyebrows. She is also selfish, with a secret box of fairy dust under her bed which she hides from the other fairies, which explains why Izzy has suddenly acquired one too, in which she keeps a collection of birthday cards, broken dolls and old yoghurt pots. 

Vidia is self-centred, calls everyone “darling” and believes that not all fairies are created equal. Izzy says she likes her because she flies the fastest and has purple bits in her hair.  She is the Joan Collins of fairies, and I’m not sure I want Vidia living in my house, even if she’s hidden under Izzy’s bed – she reminds me of my ex-wife.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Russell Brand: a very trivial man?

Last Wednesday in a Newsnight interview, Russell Brand told a bemused Jeremy Paxman: “David Cameron says profit is not a dirty word; I say profit is a filthy word, because wherever there is profit there is also deficit”. 

He is absolutely right, of course. Back in 2007, you wouldn’t believe what Mr Brand was paid to present a television series called Russell Brand’s Ponderland. That was one stonking profit to Mr Brand, while the balancing deficit was incurred by me and hundreds of thousands of other disappointed viewers who switched off during the first episode. 25 wasted minutes stolen from our lives, never to be repaid. And not a single laugh in the bank. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Reunion

"We take the A train," said our leader, squinting at the map, before exclaiming like Captain Mainwaring, “This way, chaps.” 

We struggled to keep up. Ahead of him were two large signs – one with a large red A pointing right, the other left with a B indicating left. 

“Look, there’s the train,” shouted the leader, confidently turning left. 

I opened my mouth to protest, then saw that it was a double decker. None of us had ever been on a train with an upstairs. We were like excited schoolboys as we clambered aboard. 

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Just an old hippy

Deep down, maybe I’m an old hippy at heart. Why else would I have felt such nostalgia last weekend when I read of the death of the Volkswagen campervan?

Monday, September 30, 2013

Operation Pied Piper

The ancient little bus rumbled on down the lane.  

We peered into the darkness, trying to spot familiar landmarks, while at the front, two little schoolgirls, with luggage labels on their coats and gas masks round their necks, fearfully clutched their tiny suitcases. 

None of us knew what was in store as the bus, its engine angrily growling and gears crunching, pulled into the grounds of Wallington Hall. 


We’d arrived in a different world: for the schoolgirls, it was a million miles from their homes in Scotswood; for us grownups, we were suddenly in 1939, transported by a theatrical time machine. 

Monday, September 23, 2013

The North-South divide


Izzy looked up at the nice lady who’d spent the previous hour inspecting every nook and cranny of our property, and politely asked her, “Excuse me, are you going to buy our house, then?” 

The poor woman was completely thrown. After a rather too lengthy pause, I let the lady off the hook: “I think it depends on whether you keep your room tidy or not.” 

“Yes, I do like tidy rooms,” the lady confirmed, with a sigh of relief. 

That seemed to satisfy Izzy, who wandered off to organise her mermaid collection.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Winding back the BBC clock

Why did Lucy Adams, the BBC’s confounded and derided HR boss, wear spectacles glued to her scalp whilst being grilled by MPs? Does she have two extra eyes in her head, through which she can seek divine inspiration from the gods of HR? 

She certainly demonstrated something that I’ve always suspected: the pointlessness of her profession.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The first day of school

On Wednesday my daughter aged by about two years. 

It happened right in front of us, in an extraordinary transformation at exactly 8am. One moment Izzy was a fairy princess, dressed in pink and purple pyjamas whose only concern in life was Eric, her handsome prince; the next, she had become a schoolgirl.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

It's a hot dog's life

As Murphy and I push open the metal gates of the dog park, a three-legged black labrador nearly wags itself off balance in excitement. 

Murphy waves his grey bushy tail in greeting and sets about his daily examination of the canine message boards. Murphy is half cocker, half English shepherd. He’s my brother-in-law’s mutt and the reason we turned our world upside down by buying our own English shepherd. 

We wanted a dog just like Murphy – friendly with a bushy tail. Unfortunately we miscalculated the relative contributions of spaniel and shepherd to the Murphy mix and ended up with a horse. 

Even on four legs, Boots now stands taller than Izzy. At least he’s stopped eating the chair legs. Now we fear for the ceiling.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Boots meets his match

Benji and Boots

Boots the English shepherd may be adorable, but he is eating us out of house and home. 

It’s not the amount of food he eats, though that’s pretty impressive. Our two spaniels stare in admiration and jealousy as he chomps through shovelfuls of “large puppy” kibble. Large puppy? He’s nine months old, and the size of a pony. 

Our problem is that Boots is rather partial to the kitchen itself.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Why do women love expensive handbags?

So Oprah Winfrey was upset because a shop assistant refused to show her a handbag? She only wanted it to hold her lipstick at Tina Turner’s wedding. 

I guess the fact it cost £24,000, was made of dead crocodile, and was designed by Tom Ford for Jennifer Aniston (hence it’s name, The Jennifer), made it newsworthy. Oh, and the fact that the shop assistant thought she couldn’t afford it. Because she was black, Oprah claims. Now that’s a story.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Vegetable Wars

Courgette surprise

We have a vegetable crisis. 

In the garden I have 15 raised beds, all neatly organised and rotated. They are a thing of wonder. 

Or so I thought. I know, I’m a vegetable bore. I insist that unsuspecting dinner guests take a tour of my vegetable patch before they can enjoy our canapés. 

But the other week, as soon as some friends arrived for supper, the husband asked to see my garden with just a little too much enthusiasm. This was suspicious. 

“How’s it going?” he asked, as we passed the greenhouse, aubergines fighting cucumbers and peppers for space. 

I sensed a dangerous smugness in his voice. I showed him my bulging peas and beans, calmly growing towards their moment of destiny. He moved on, feigning as much interest as a member of the royal family. But I knew he wasn’t really looking. He was comparing.

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Performance

The moment I saw the venue, my hands went clammy and a cold sweat broke out on the back of my neck. 

As we swept up the wide staircase, my brain had already spun into a spiral that matched the brown swirly carpets, and by the time we entered the cavernous hall, with its rows of white-covered chairs facing the window, I felt sick to the core.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Memories are made of this

Mel Smith RIP

Tyne - picture from Side Gallery

It’s been a week of stirred memories. 

Live Theatre’s production of Tyne was a treat. Michael Chaplin had encased this compilation of Tynerabilia within a loose-fitting narrative about an ex-pat Geordie who returns for his father’s funeral. It was undisguised sentimental indulgence – a perfect show for the theatre and the region. I’m rather glad Jo didn’t go: my American wife wouldn’t have understood a single reference. 

As I spent my own childhood in Tynemouth, in a house that looked out over the two piers, the play was two hours of nostalgia-inducing pleasure.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Howzat! The village cricket match.

What a thriller. On a hot summer’s day, the match ebbed and flowed; the capacity crowd was at fever pitch to the very last ball. 

I’m not talking about the Ashes. That was humdrum stuff compared to the cricket match I witnessed yesterday afternoon. This was an even more fiercely fought fixture, one that pitched neighbour against neighbour, farmer against land agent, furniture salesman against vicar. 

The Middleton versus Hartburn village match is a highlight of our community’s year.

Monday, July 8, 2013

A new Mrs Gutteridge

Another Mrs Gutteridge entered the world on Saturday. 

This time I wasn’t responsible – my eldest son, a film director, has finally tied the knot. 

The wedding took place at the home of an ex-Mrs Gutteridge, Jilly, my first wife and mother of the groom. It’s always nice to see the by-product of one of my divorce settlements: in this case, it's a picture-book beautiful farmhouse in Sussex, a perfect setting for any wedding.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Proud mums and pushy parents

This afternoon a 19-year-old girl will take hold of Britain’s nerves and torment them for a couple of hours until she either makes history or goes back into the big box of British sport’s near-achievers. 

Laura Robson, this season’s tennis darling, has already managed to demonstrate both aspects of British sporting prowess – flashes of brilliance interspersed with nervous unreliability.

Monday, June 24, 2013

The road to a very expensive bill

Thirty five years ago I was in India, driving in a campervan on a dusty road, which had been confidently marked on the map as a motorway. It was called National Highway 7 and ran for 1300 miles to Calcutta. 

The campervan literally bounced its way for five days on the worst road surface I’ve ever experienced. By the end of the journey, my back was wrecked and my head sore from hitting the ceiling every time we encountered a bump. The car survived – I have a picture of it, covered in dust, beside a smart government road sign that reads: Roads Reflect The Culture Of A Nation. 

That was in 1979, so I imagine the Indian Government will have improved National Highway 7 since then. It’s almost certainly the smooth 6-lane highway the map promised. Unfortunately we’ve had no such luck in Northumberland.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Some days it's good to be a father - or a 4-year-old

It was exactly 8am, and I was fast asleep in bed on a silent Sunday, when the body of a small child landed directly on my head. 

“Happy Father’s Day,” Izzy screamed in my ear, and started bouncing on my tummy. 

She was wearing a bright blue and green princess dress, bedecked with pink daffodils and sequins. Behind her, Jo carried a tray. 

“Uh-oh,” I thought.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Izzy's pretty house

Izzy is a little confused about the process of moving house. 

“Please can we take this house with us to Nana’s, but not the sky?” 

This took a little while to sink in. You want us to take the house to America? 

“Yes, because it’s so pretty and all my toys are in it.” 

“But why not the sky?” 

“Because the sky is nicer at Nana’s.”

Monday, May 27, 2013

Woolwich: the backlash begins

The murder of Drummer Lee Rigby has cast a pall of sadness across the nation. 

Whereas every person with an ounce of humanity has expressed utter disgust at the act, including the leaders of all the major British Muslim groups, other more sinister forces are already exploiting it. There’s evidence that far-right organisations are using the murder to provoke racially motivated unrest and an anti-Muslim backlash.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Parenting Skills 1: The Sleepover

It was well past 1am when we heard the kerfuffle. There was a patter of little feet, and a lot of giggling and shushing. Then a thump and more shushing. 

I crept onto the landing. The light was on in Izzy’s room, so I silently pushed the door ajar and peeked inside.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

After the holiday

Jo nudged me awake. “Are you awake?” she whispered. 

“I’ve been awake for the past five days,” I growled. Another hour of sleeplessness wasn’t going to make any difference. 

Next door we could hear Izzy singing. She makes up the lyrics as she goes along. She’s singing about mermaids on sunny beaches and Truffle our dog marrying Boots, the monkey from Dora the Explorer. 

It’s 4am. Five days after our return from Los Angeles, Izzy still has jetlag. As a result, so do we.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Letter from America

Happiness is a warm beach
As we drove over the hill, white smoke was billowing out to sea. Or rather ocean. 

Our American friends laugh when I describe the Pacific Ocean as the sea. They scoff when I mispronounce their streets: Sunset Boo-le-vard, rather than buller-vard. I even mispronounce their city: Los Angelees, to rhyme with peas. 

“It’s Los Angeliss, to rhyme with hiss,” says Jo.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

A milestone

In case anyone was curious about how my new diet has helped me lose a stone in just 16 days, I've now shared some of the recipes on

Though I must admit that a cheeseburger would be rather welcome right now.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Thatcher's legacy could be Cameron's downfall

In two days Mrs Thatcher will be buried and we can all get on with our lives. The headlines writers will move on; the television news pundits will find something else to talk about. 

But I for one seriously fear the consequences of the past week – the cans of worms that have been opened, which threaten to spread bitter conflict through our nation.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Diet update

For those who may be interested in the progress of my diet, I'm ever so slightly proud that I have managed to lose 12 pounds in the last 11 days. 

By comparison, The Dukan diet, which made its creator a fortune, was half as effective and turned me both green and grumpy. 

See my other blog: Bringing Me Down To Size.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

It's All Your Fault

People of Jesmond: you’ve let me down. 

You’ve allowed your most valuable asset to slip through your fingers. You have failed to protect a tiny jewel in your community’s collection of treasures, and soon it will vanish. 

Residents sitting in trendy cafés with your flat whites; students munching takeaways in your bedsits; rich folk at smart dinner parties in the villas at the top end of Osborne Road: I blame the lot of you. All except a very few loyal supporters. Like Dominic Parker.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

A Perfect Night Out

I’ve never been to Tup Tup Palace, that nightclub of dreams in the centre of Newcastle. 

Not just because the bouncers wouldn’t let me in – no amount of “don’t you know who I am?” could squeeze me through those doors – but I honestly can’t think of a more horrendous way to spend a Friday night. I’m sure the hundreds of young people who swagger in and stagger out again at 3am into urine-sodden streets have a wonderful time; I’d rather endure an evening with Nigel Farage at a UKIP rally.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Space Precinct Legacy

The cinema billed it as “the story of the most ambitious television series ever made”. Outside, the hoarding lit up the night sky: Space Precinct Legacy. 

I can’t believe that anyone actually remembers Space Precinct, the 1994 sci-fi series I co-produced with Gerry Anderson, let alone that it has any legacy, other than grey hairs on my head and a big red loss on the books of our backers.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Mothers' Day

More people have a mother than a lover, observed the consumer research analyst from Kantar Worldpanel, explaining why we spend twice as much on Mother’s Day as we do on Valentine’s Day. 

Apparently this year’s sales are likely to have dipped because Mother’s Day came early. With the two events so close, and Christmas just a few crumpled-wrapping-paper weeks before, it’s not surprising that our wallets have been feeling a little jaded. Apparently we’re all suffering from “gifting fatigue”.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Boots Goes To School

“Here, Poppy!” called out a female voice, more in hope than anticipation. 

Instantly three little dogs dashed across the room, wagging their tails in excitement. 

“Good girl,” said three owners simultaneously. 

Poppy is clearly the in-vogue name for dogs – there appeared to be several of them in Central Bark, our local dog training school (or maybe “Puppy” sounds like “Poppy” in a Geordie accent?). I guess the teachers in Izzy’s school have the same problem with the multiple Olivers and Charlies. 

“Boots!” I called out, confident in the knowledge that only one dog would react. My puppy, who was pretending to eat a small spaniel, immediately turned and looked at me and I felt a flush of pride. That’s my boy. 

“Here Boots!” I called, and he replied by bounding off in the opposite direction.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Vive Le Toon

On Saturday I read Jo a news report, which claimed that Tynemouth not only boasted one of the ten best beaches in Britain, but was also at that very moment the warmest place in England at 2° Centigrade. 

“See,” I said, “Who needs California when we’ve got the Geordie Shore Riviera?” The flying hot water bottle missed my head by millimetres.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Miliband Blows It

We’re putting our house in London on the market this week. 

Ever since we moved to the North East, it’s been rented out to a very nice American family with two children. It’s suited them well and given us some extra income. But now it’s got to go. Ed Miliband’s to blame.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Horse Meat Scandal: Mum Speaks Out

[Following the discovery that packets of Findus Beef Lasagne, together with beefburgers and other products from numerous supermarkets, contained up to 100% horsemeat, there's an outcry across Europe]

If there’s one thing my Mum knows quite a bit about, it’s processed food. 

At a time when women were expected to stay quietly at home cooking for their husbands, in the forties Mum was general manager of a large factory making potted meats. Yes, potted meats – remember them? Little jars of pork, chicken and beef. 

Friday, February 8, 2013

Trouble At The Beeb's New HQ

Further to my earlier post about the meeting rooms and other facilities at the BBC’s new headquarters building, I note with interest this article in today’s edition of Broadcast magazine: 

More microwaves and meeting rooms: BBC reacts to NBH complaints 

8 February, 2013 

By Balihar Khalsa 

Additional meeting rooms are being installed on the sixth floor of the BBC’s New Broadcasting House, as part of a number of changes that have been made to the corporation’s new building. 

The new meeting rooms as intended to provide extra private space for BBC Vision management, and are one of a range of changes being made following feedback from BBC staff now based at New Broadcasting House. Complaints have included difficulties around hot desking and poor quality catering, plus overcrowded lifts and an insufficient number of microwaves. 

Sunday, February 3, 2013

RIP Mr Etch-A-Sketch

Boots the new puppy has now added chairs to his diet. The one I’m sitting on has scores of little teeth marks down the leg. 

Jo says it improves them because they now look old and worn. She says everything looks better with a little wear and tear, including me.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Boots Settles In

This morning, before I’d even finished my first double espresso, I had another pan of Irish stew bubbling on the hob. 

That’s the third batch this week. Jo reckons if she sees another lamb chop, she’ll start baa-ing. It’s not because we have a freezer full of dead sheep: it’s down to the new puppy.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Four hours at Terminal 5

I can imagine what it’s like for travellers with cancelled flights at Heathrow. Actually, I can more than imagine – I was in a dress rehearsal there last week.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Inside the BBC's New Broadcasting House

When he becomes director-general in March, I wonder if Tony Hall will have his own desk, or just a filing cabinet to store his stuff. 

Think I’m joking? I’ve just been to the BBC’s new headquarters, and I’m afraid Tony is in for a bit of a shock.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Les Misunderstanding

A version of my previous post “How Was It For You? - The Worst New Year Ever” was published on Monday in the Newcastle Journal. On Wednesday the Editor received this letter from a concerned reader: 

Hello Mr Aitken, 

I was quite alarmed to read Tom Gutteridge's New Year article in yesterday's Journal where he openly admitted to watching a video of the new Les Miz film. Alarmed as it is not released in cinemas until Friday so it cannot be a legal copy, and surprised that such a reputable newspaper has published the crime!

Monday, January 7, 2013

How Was It For You? - The Worst New Year Ever!

Well, that wasn’t a very good start to the New Year. 

“How was it for you?” people ask politely. 

“Lovely, thanks, and for you?” I’m supposed to reply. 

But that would be a lie. So far it’s been a miserable 2013.