Life Is One Big Gameshow.


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Sometimes, I think I have had a pretty uneventful life. Not that it is over by any stretch. At least, I don’t think so. If you know better, why not pop the details of my impending demise into the comments box below. Preferably, before the incident that shuffles me off this mortal coil occurs. I know that would empower me to take action to prevent my clog popping, but I promise I will continue as if I never knew. Like the “dealers” when they accept the kind offer from the banker in Deal Or No Deal, and they swear to play the remainder of the game honestly. Which ties me nicely into the why I had reason to rethink the opening line of this article.

What is an uneventful life? Grow up, get a few qualifications, get a mediocre job, get married to a bland person, have a load of beige kids and then retire at a party where 50% of the people in attendance are unaware of your name? I honestly don’t know. I have done some fabulous things so far. I have been to Las Vegas more times than I can justify. I have parachuted from 15,000 feet. I have bungee jumped over a canyon. I have stood, alone, on a stage and tried to make people laugh. I have played the roles of assassin, kidnapper, murderer and others. I have presented radio shows on a number of radio stations. I have been a fire fighter. All of those things are probably not regarded as run of the mill.

The interesting and exciting things tend to get lost in the day to day mechanics of life. It is only when you have reason to dredge up the remnants of these unusual situations that you begin to realise that you have done something that other people might find vaguely interesting. During a conversation with my friend, Darren, I mentioned that I have appeared on a couple of TV gameshows. He was taken aback by this. “Did you win anything? What were you on? What was it like?” I realised that I have been asked these questions many times when folk find out. I always have to explain why I appeared on some gameshows along with a few grainy details. You see, I don’t always like the people I see on gameshows. I wonder what made them apply to be on a TV show where they are publicly trying to gain cash or prizes. I don’t blame them for doing it, but you are opening yourself up for humiliation. But that isn’t why I did it.

After wandering around a couple of fire stations in North Yorkshire, I was tremendously lucky to be transferred to York Fire Station. More than that, I was extremely fortunate to be placed onto Green Watch. Those of you that have watched “London’s Burning” and other such incredibly realistic TV shows, will know that the shift system on fire stations is broken up into “watches”. It all harks back to the war where people would watch for bomb explosions and incendiary fires during a blitz. Or something like that. In the UK, there were three watches that took their designation from the Union Flag. Red, white and blue. As the shift system changed, they added green, apparently because it was the politically “in” colour. Once again, I am not certain of this. So, anyway, Green Watch was born. In order to fill up this new shift, the red, white and blues had to “nominate” people to leave their ranks and create the new, greener, one. Rumour has it, that they “nominated” all of the people that were the most unpopular at the time! So Green Watch was made up of the waifs and strays that nobody else wanted.

In keeping with this rag-tag ethos, I fitted in with Green Watch immediately. I don’t know about other fire stations, but Green Watch always had a certain pride about how it came into being. “The one’s that no one wanted”. Green Watch at York had a particular fondness for practical jokes, banter and camaraderie. I am sure other watches did to, but Green were fiercely proud of this. Every year, this manifest itself in a very particular way.

The annual “Greenies” Green Watch Awards were the highlight of the year and took place around Christmas time. They were unofficial in as far as they were not sanctioned, nor inclusive of, the management of the brigade itself. In fact, I am not certain if the brigade knew that they actually took place. If they did, I am sure they might have frowned upon some of the awards, but they should be very pleased with the team spirit that they included. From a distance though. Under no circumstances should management be able to infiltrate “The Greenies”.

Awards were presented for an array of disciplines and attracted a certificate, along with a round of applause and very good natured ribbing. “Comment Of The Year” was presented to the fire fighter who had made the most stupid comment in the previous year. Bob won it every year I attended. I won’t say his surname but can still recall his “nasty shed” moment. “Brigade Man Of The Year” was for the biggest brown noser, or creep, but I am not entirely certain that those that won this award were aware of the shame of winning it. I was a frequent recipient of the “Horse Play Is Fools Play” award for mischievous acts and practical jokes. Some awards came with additional prizes. “Driver Of The Year” attracted a Metz (Turntable ladder) T-shirt and was signed by the previous winners. It was the newly formed Gwyneth Paltrow Award For Media Appearances that caught my attention.

Every time your photograph appeared in the media, you scored a point. The person with the most points at the end of the year, won the award. And what a tremendous award it was. A disposable camera that Kev had nailed onto a stick, and then nailed onto a plinth. And sprayed gold. An actual award. After the “probie” (probationary firefighter) won the Gwyneth, I couldn’t stand by and allow this to happen again. In keeping with the name “Media”, I decided to extend my search for appearances beyond the simple newspaper photographs at incidents that had secured the trophy for the probie. I did have a number of phony birthday photographs appear in the local newspaper throughout that year, but I needed to do more to ensure I could not be beaten.

I applied to a number of TV shows. I wanted to get my face on the screen so that Green Watch could not deny that I had secured more media exposure than any other fire fighter. Obviously, I couldn’t let them know until the appearance was aired as some of the others might have used the same tactic too. I was invited to travel to London to appear on a daytime gameshow called 19 Keys, hosted by Richard Bacon. As I was only there to get my face on telly, I didn’t take the competition very seriously at all. In fact, you could say that I went out in London the night before and got absolutely smashed. I seem to recall it involving being punched by a woman too, but it is all a little hazy. Incidentally, the punching was a case of drunken mistaken identity. Anyway, I went to the filming of 19 Keys and had to repeatedly go to the bathroom to be sick. Despite this, I somehow managed to fluke my way to a win of nearly £2000. Not bad for a terrifically hungover fool who only wanted to get his ugly mug on the box.

The production company seemed to like me and kept me up to date with other shows that were being made and I became a regular on the game show circuit. In fact, I cannot remember how many, or the names of many of the shows I appeared on, but I took them all with the same level of professionalism as the first. None. I just wanted the Gwyneth Paltrow Award from Green Watch. In all honesty, I think I won 6 out of the 7 shows I remember appearing on. Some wins were larger than others, but nothing life changing. And the winnings all helped a poor fire fighter to pay the bills. If you think they are well paid, think again, despite what the government and newspapers will tell you.

Then I was asked to appear on 24 Hour Quiz. It was a new ITV show and a lot of money had been invested into this prime time show. Should you be selected, you would be living in a Big Brother style pod for as long as the public decreed and would answer questions all day long, each one attracting a varying cash prize. Most were £1 but some were £100. There were also spot prizes to be won too. I arranged the holidays and additional cover with work just case I was lucky enough to win through the initial stages where only one person would be able to replace the least successful of the 3 incumbents of the “pod”. It wasn’t very likely, so I didn’t think I would need to worry.

Then, three weeks before I was due to go and try my luck, I injured myself at work. It was only a pulled muscle and would heal in a few days, but I was unable to work. I got the all clear from my doctor and returned to work, only to be sent home again. The management had decided not to believe my doctor and kept me on sick leave until I could see the brigade medical advisor. This appointment was one month away and I was forced to remain absent from work until he gave me the all clear. This would ordinarily be frustratingly brilliant! Told to stay at home even though there was nothing wrong! Awesome! However, it also meant that my booked holidays were “on hold” as I couldn’t be sick and on leave at the same time. I argued that I was fit and healthy (as I clearly was), but to no avail. I had to see the brigade medical advisor. This left me with a decision to make. Do I still attend a potentially rewarding gameshow or sit it out at home waiting to be seen for a non existant injury and face the wrath of the fire brigade? I had to rely on my sense of extreme responsibility and do the right thing.

I am not entirely sure how I managed to win my way into the “pod” but I smiled from ear to ear as Shaun Williamson (Barry from Eastenders) escorted me to my seat. From thereon in, I won a tidy sum of cash and some amazing prizes. A quad bike, a visit to Goodison Park to see Everton v Blackburn (we lost) and a chat with Everton striker Kevin Campbell on the phone. Lots of new ladies underwear, flowers every fortnight for a year. There were loads. Seriously, loads. One other contestant even got upset at the amount I was winning as he felt I was winning too much. The public seemed to like me and it didn’t look like I was going to be leaving any time soon. But I needed to attend the brigade doctor appointment or risk being sacked. The only way to leave was to be voted out though, and that didn’t seem likely. I was told that if I walked away, I would lose any prizes and any cash I had already won. A quandary, I think you will agree.

I left on the following Monday to attend the doctor’s appointment on Tuesday. The production team had changed the rules and being evicted from the “pod” was no longer down to being voted out, but on correctly answering a random trivia question. A really obscure trivia question. I got it wrong and had to leave. The following day the rules returned to the original format. I don’t, for one minute, think that they changed the rules to facilitate me honestly and correctly leaving the show, but it certainly helped me. My local paper at the time even thought it newsworthy.

I attended the medical and passed with flying colours. Of course I did. There was nothing wrong with me. I explained this at the disciplinary hearing where I was informed that the brigade were going to sack me for “working while on sick leave”. Working. As a contestant on a game show. On sick leave. Though I wasn’t sick. And the only people that thought I was sick were the people with no medical qualifications or knowledge of my injury at all. Once the disciplinary case had been laughed out, I looked back at the whole experience and I remember thinking, “I bet there aren’t too many people that nearly got fired for going on a gameshow”. But then again, not many people go on gameshows for over a week. Or return for the Champion of Champions finale. And win it*.

So, overall, what with The Greenies, quiz shows and disciplinary hearings over farcical buffoonery, maybe I have had some eventful moments in my life. Even more than mentioned here. I sincerely hope that Green Watch still hold the Greenies awards every year. Everyone needs a little nonsensical fun at work.

And for the record, I romped home with the Gwyneth Paltrow Award For Media Appearances. And the Horse Play Is Fools Play award that year. I suspect I will always be in the running for the latter.

*I sent my parents on the Caribbean Cruise prize and they said it was lovely.

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