I’m sitting in the reception of BBC Broadcasting House in Belfast waiting to go on the radio to talk about the challenges of being a daddy.
The last time I was in this building was about a decade ago when I went live on BBC News 24 to discuss whether the UVF murder of a man in Belfast was a breach of ceasefire (I guessed yes). Life has a strange habit of flowing in directions that you neither planned or directed.
The security guard appears unimpressed when I tell him that I’m here to do Good Morning Ulster, giving me a look which seems to say ‘There used to be a time when that meant something’, although I may be reading too much into it. He gives me a pass.
When the producer phoned me the night before I was told Karen Patterson and Joel Taggart are presenting and one of them would interview me. It’s Noel Thompson’s day off and I’m a little relieved that I won’t have to endure one of his political style grillings.
My mind wanders to an alternate universe.
‘And we’re joined in the studio by Jonny McCambridge. Mr McCambridge you’re not very good as a father are you?’
‘Eh? Excuse me Mr Thompson but…’
‘What I mean by that is that you’ve clearly done a u-turn on the vows you took when you got married, isn’t that right?’
‘Well the reality of the situation is…’
‘It’s all on the public record. What do you have to say for yourself?’
‘Well let’s try this instead. You say you broke down in tears. Isn’t there a danger you’re just making yourself out to be a great big sissy Mr McCambridge?’
‘Well, just hang on a….’
‘It’s a straight yes or no answer Mr McCambridge?’
‘But you’re not letting me…’
‘And I’m afraid time has beaten us. Jonny McCambridge, thank you very much.’
My mind returns to focus. I’m led to a room where the walls are beige and the seats are the colour of red wine. This is The Green Room.
If I’d known I was coming here I’d have put in some demands for refreshment, some outrageous riders. I think I would have asked for raspberry jelly and marzipan shaped to look like creepy, scary fingers. Next time.
I’ve dealt with both Karen and Joel before although I don’t expect either to remember me.
Karen came to a newspaper office where I was working about 20 years ago to do a radio interview with a former colleague of mine. Her sheer loveliness reduced him to a blubbering, incoherent wreck.
At the time she recorded me typing randomly on my computer so the piece would have an authentic newspaper office style noise. I hits the keys with élan and abandon, determined to impress her. It remains some of my best work although scandalously overlooked during awards season.
Joel has interviewed me much more recently for The Nolan Show. I know with him if the interview runs into trouble we can always talk about the pros and cons of having beans in a fry or the comparable merits of a Caramac against a Curly-Wurly.
It’s early in the morning so there are just a few journalists about in the newsroom. I recognise the urgent, haunted look in their eyes from my previous life. Business Editor John Campbell walks quickly past me, scowling like a little boy who has been told he can’t wear his Spider-Man wellies to school.
The radio is playing in the room, an interview is being carried out about bonfires, or, as the contributor insists on calling them, ‘bonefires’. This makes me think about how the bones are the only part of the human body which will not burn in a normal fire. I wonder if I should mention this on air but decide against it.
Soon I’m brought into the studio and sat in front of a large microphone. Karen and Joel are barely able to acknowledge me as they work through the news agenda. Hey I didn’t expect rose petals to be laid out in front of my feet as I walked in, I’m a realist.
Joel is chatting to former boxer Dave ‘Boy’ McAuley about the big Carl Frampton fight. Dave is one of the few people in Northern Ireland who has a bigger culchie accent than me and I’m assuming they have him on so I’ll sound a bit more cosmopolitan next up. I’m touched by the generosity of the gesture.
I’m tempted to interrupt the interview to ask Dave whether he ever fancied changing his nickname from Boy to something more threatening like Bonecrusher or The Human Mincer but I’m picking up that the etiquette is that I stay quiet.
But the more I think about staying quiet the more I’m tempted to burst into song right in the middle of Traffic and Travel.
Bizarrely the song The Way We Were pops into my head and I’m hit by a burning urge to grab the mic, jump on the table and let it all out, ‘Memories….of the way we used to be!’
I had a similar situation once years ago when working as a journalist covering a royal visit. The Queen walked within three feet of me and I couldn’t make the voice in my head stop saying ‘Kick her in the arse…..kick her in the arse…..kick her in the arse.’ I didn’t.
The interview begins. Karen introduces me and on the phone they have a child psychologist called Emma Kenny. I curse inwardly. When the producer called last night I thought he’d said Enda Kenny so the three hours I spent swotting up about the economy in the Republic is wasted.
The presenter asks me about the emotional challenge in dropping a child off at crèche. I’ve got a gag prepared and ready to go about this.
‘Well Karen there are plenty of tears and tantrums,’ I begin confidently.
‘And that’s just you!’ she jumps in, stealing my only joke.
‘Uh,’ I say.
I refuse to allow my stride to be broken.
‘Well, as I wrote about this week in my blog….’
My blog. What’s it called? The blog which I have spent every moment of the last week in nurturing, cultivating and caring for. The very reason I’m doing this interview. The blog I want to plug on the radio. The name of it has gone from my head just at the very first moment when it might actually be useful to know it.
I say something. I’m not sure what. It all seems to pass in a blur after this, as if I’ve left my own body and floated away while the husk of me is left talking to the nation. I have a notion that at some point I was going on about Andy Murray and Wimbledon, but I may have dreamt that.
When Emma the psychologist talks her voice is like melted chocolate. Mine sounds like a stick of rock being smashed with a mallet.
Karen asks me another question, but it sounds like some scientific puzzle she’s asking me to solve. The first thing which pops into my head is the burning bones but it doesn’t seem like the moment.
I decide to give exactly the same answer as I did to the previous question. And the one before that. Heck, just repeating the same few words over and over hasn’t held Theresa May back.
And with that the interview is over. Both Karen and Joel have a momentary break while the news is read, we briefly chat and they wish me well.
I notice there is a piece of paper stuck to the wall. It warns people not to leave mugs in the studio. Menacingly it is signed by ‘The GMU team’. Don’t mess with the GMU team.
Moments later I emerge blinking like a mole into the morning sunlight. My phone is already flashing with messages of congratulations and friends telling me they heard it.
People are usually always nice to me on social media, as if they instinctively know that nastiness and negativity will crush my spirit like a Rice Krispie caught under the heel of your shoe.
I only launched the blog a week ago and already I’m being asked on to do radio. I start my car. I love broadcast and can’t wait to do it again.