Sunday, December 16, 2007
Okay... here's the thing. There are two sorts of songs that should succeed at Christmas.
Cheesy pop songs are perfectly acceptable if they're Christmas themed and have snow in the video. Wham's Last Christmas - absolutely fine. I'm even prepared to let Shakin' Stevens' Merry Christmas Everyone pass. I think Slade's Christmas song is a genuine classic.
There's a league above these things though... and it's occupied by the very special category of songs called Christmas-songs-you're-happy-to-hear-at-any-time-of-year. Right now, I can only really think of two: Fairytale of New York by the Pogues with Kirsty MacColl and Stop The Cavalry by Jonah Lewie. I love Stop The Cavalry... what a ridiculously beautiful thing it is that an anti-war song can become a Christmas classic.
I was thinking about this because having done my best to avoid the X Factor this year, this evening I slipped and fell on to my sofa and when I looked up I was watching the X Factor final results and saw the start of the campaign to make this year's winner, Leon, the Christmas Number One. I shuddered at the depressing inevitabilty of it all and then flicked channels where I caught the end of the video to Jonah Lewie's beautiful song. "Bada-dada-om-pom, Bada-dada-om-pom, Bada-pom, Bada-pom, Bada-dada-om-pom... wish I could be home... for Christmas", I sang to myself while pining for the days when such a thing could be a chart hit. "Oh well," I thought, "The X Factor has killed this kind of thing off and that's for sure."
But then an hour later I was noodling around online and I found myself reading about the song We're All Going To Die by the brilliant Malcolm Middleton (formerly of Arab Strap). It seems there's a campaign going to see if we can make it this year's Christmas number one I can't think of a better way to demonstrate one's distaste for the X Factorisation of the world.
The thing is, it's not that I think the X Factor should be stopped. It is what it is and it will carry on being an entertaining telly circus, chewing up and spitting out young people for a long time to come. But ignoring it isn't enough. Because in years to come people will look back on the start of the 21st Century and they'll be amazed that we kept falling for the same schtick; voting for people, buying their first single in "record numbers" and then forgetting about them when we realise that they're not as good as we thought they were. "Actually," we'll protest, "some of us weren't doing that at all, we were just ignoring the whole thing."
"No you weren't," will say the producers of a TV show caled I Love the 2000s, "you were all X Factor crazy... look, they kept getting Christmas Number Ones!"
Or alternatively, we could all download Malcom Middleton's We're All Going To Die and make it a Christmas number one. If we do, then in 20 years time when they make that I Love The 2000s telly show, they'll be forced into acknowledging that there were a lot of people who didn't fall for the same schnizzle every year.
Of course some people will suggest that this is just a great marketing scam... a way to boost the sales of an otherwise un-commercial song. To those people I say two things. 1: "Isn't that exactly what the X Factor is?" and 2: "What do you mean 'un-commercial'? It's ace!"
Besides, even if it is the case, I say we do our best to make this marketing scam better than that marketing scam.
If you've never downloaded a single before... make this your first one. Go to i-Tunes now and do it. Do it to show Simon Cowell and Louis Walsh that they can't make just anything happen. Do it so that future generations don't judge us too harshly. Do it to show the children that they don't boss the charts. But most of all do it for Christmas.
Wednesday, December 5, 2007
Monday, December 3, 2007
were both empty this morning.
I think my computer must hate me.
A little while ago I mentioned that I was going to redesign my site. I was asking for help because I seemed to be unable to get in touch with the web designer who had originated the current design. For some reason e-mails between us were going awry. I did manage to get through to him eventually though and the new design is now online.
It's not hugely different. I imagine a lot of people won't even notice. If you spot any glaring errors let me know. But not by e-mail. I'm getting enough e-mail.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
My mouse hovered over the "add to cart" button on the website selling Moldovan internet domains but in the end I decided that $399 was too much to spend for two years worth of owning a domain I didn't really want.
If Moldovan domains were priced in the same way that .co.uk domains are I'd have snapped it up for a tenner...
Saturday, November 24, 2007
Stephen Mangan was a superb guest. (I knew he would be because we'd met recently (at a poker table) and it was obvious then that he'd be a really good fit for the show.) As we were taking the show into a new environment it was really reassuring to have a guest that inspired 100% confidence.
More importantly we had some brilliant ideas from some brilliant people. They were all supremely confident and very ready to defend their "genius" ideas and for me, that's always what makes the show come alive.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
While listening to a Radio 5 Live late night phone in you are never very far away from hearing the old, "It's political correctness gone mad" phrase trotted out in all its meaningless glory. But a couple of nights ago, someone managed to trump it.
Here are the words that fell from the rabid lips of one angry caller:
"It's not just political correctness gone mad, it's political correctness gone insane if you ask me."
Further comment is futile.
On Channel 5's early evening news they ended the bulletin with their "light hearted story." It was about a Florida man, Arnim Ramdass, who won the lottery but didn't tell his wife, Donna. He turned off the TV and disconnected the phone to keep her from finding out about it. She got suspicious. Then she found a postcard about a house he'd purchased and got even more suspicious. She googled his name and discovered that he'd won the lottery. He then disappeared.
The report (here's the story, as covered on a Fox News website) should have ended with her saying, "I still care about him, but I want justice." But it didn't because there was a short snippet of voice over to end the piece. The reporter adopted a world weary cynical tone of voice and capped Donna's plea for justice with, "... and money Donna, justice and money."
What a strange thing for a reporter to do? Adding her opinion to a news story? But also, what a dimwitted opinion. Surely, in this instance, justice is money. Of course she wants her share of the money. For richer, for poorer and all that. Surely when she said she wanted justice she meant exactly that; that she wanted her share of the money. How dare you pretend to be upset about your husband leaving you, deceiving you, lying to you and humiliating you... you're not really upset are you Donna, you just want money. Tch. Some people.
But it gets worse. Because when the report ended and they returned to the studio a smiling John Suchet sat on his sofa and chipped in with, "I think I'm with him on this one..."
So that's John Suchet saying, "yep, if she was my wife I'd have done a runner with the money as well, eh lads?" Yeah... why would anyone with 600 grand in the bank want to stay with that angry woman eh? Come on, we'd all do it.
Further comment is futile.
I wasn't just lazing in front of the TV by the way. I was working and the TV was on in the background, sort of keeping me company. Countdown is perfect for that kind of thing. It's as if my Mum is in the kitchen nattering to a friend. Isn't Des bright as a button? Anyway, I suddenly realised that the voice in dictionary corner wasn't that of Suzie Dent. It's been a while since I saw the show but I'm pretty sure that last time I looked, Denty was quite heavily pregnant. I'm assuming she's off having a baby. Well done Suzie Dent. Anyway, having realised that she was missing, curiosity made me look up to see who was there in her stead. At which point I fell ever so slightly in love. Alison Heard, apparently. In Dictionary Corner. I love dictionaries. And corners.
Further comment is futile.
Friday, November 16, 2007
For three series the core of Team Genius has been the same four people; Ali and Dave who thought up the show in the first place, Simon who produces it and myself. (We have had assistance from fantastic people like Marijke and Gertrude but their reluctance to grow beards has always troubled the core team.)
When we had our first meeting about the TV version a while ago we were joined by a head of production - another Ali - and a set designer - another Simon, making for a ridiculous six-way meeting with lots of Ali/Ali, Simon/Simon, Dave/Dave confusion. Since then more people have been added to the mix. Fortunately they tend to have different names.
In the past if we wanted a fingernail brush I'd sit up one night with a load of fingernail clippings and some superglue and make one. When we wanted a jacket made out of hoover-detritus, Simon would e-mail round the BBC asking for full hoover bags and with the help of a charity-shop-bought-jacket and some PVA, he'd make one. (And we had a lovely friend of the show, Bill who made lots of the more fiddly things also.) Now we have an art department.
Now someone asks me what I'm going to wear and the answer is supposed to be important. There are things we'd just go ahead and do on the radio that present health and safety issues in tellyland... but then there are things we can do in tellyland that we simply can't do on the wireless. Swings and roundabouts. For example. We couldn't have put a swing and some roundabouts in the radio show. We could do that on telly. Not that we are, it wouldn't be relevant to any of the ideas. But we could... and that's the important thing.
All in all though, while telly does inevitably make a few things more complicated, that's not such a big deal and I'm pretty sure we're doing a grand job of preserving the spirit of the show. The conversation will still be able to go wherever it goes which is really what it's all about. When we started the first series on radio there was a concern about whether people would send us enough ideas to make it work but the ideas keep on coming. We had so many great ideas to consider for this show that even agreeing a short list was really difficult.
But I think we've got them down to a final selection and I think it's a great mix. And we have a genuinely top drawer guest too. Hurrah. But perhaps the most exciting moment for me came as a result of the "what are you going to wear?" conversation. I was taken shopping yesterday. (Yes; "taken" and "shopping.")
"What size trousers do you wear?" asked the shop assistant.
"I'd love to say 32," said I. "I used to be 32. Then I put a load of weight on. But I've just lost a stone and a half so I don't really know..."
"Well these tend to be quite small for their size," said he, "so let's try a 34."
We did. Actually, only I did. But he saw the result. They were very big.
"We could take them in for you," came the helpful suggestion.
"I might as well try a 32," I said.
"They are very small 32s."
"Well, let's have a look."
So we did. Perfect fit. Mission accomplished. I'm now back to the same size I was when I was 19. Hurrah.
Wednesday, November 7, 2007
As part of their efforts they have offered local residents a cheap deal on a wormery. I guess it must be worth them picking up some of the cost if it means people end up throwing less stuff away each week.
A wormery seems like a very good idea to me. You put in your kitchen waste and some worms. The worms get to feast on the rotten vegetables, tea bags and banana skins you throw their way and by doing their wormy thang they turn it into liquid fertiliser and compost. It's a win-win situation.
So I called the council and took them up on the offer. a few days later a man turned up at my door with said wormery. It's a green bin. With a tap to run off the liquid fertiliser. And some other bits that you have to assemble yourself. Which I did. The one thing they don't give you straight away are the worms. Instead you get a worm voucher. You send it off to the wormery people in Devon and they send you your worms in the post.
I thought sending worms in the post was a bit weird but sure enough, another few days later a small brown envelope arrived and inside it was a small plastic bag with some earth. And lots of wriggling little worms. They're Tiger Worms apparently and the wormery people reckon they're the best breed for the job so don't go trying to cut corners and using any old worms you find in your garden. Oh no.
So, I'd already constructed the wormery according to the instructions and now I could add the worms. And a small layer of kitchen waste. And because I'd read the instructions I knew that I was supposed to leave it all alone for a number of days.
The wormery people had explained that the worms would want to explore their new home and that they'd crawl all over the walls and roof of the wormery for a while before deciding that they really preferred the warm, dank, moist, rotten stuff.
Which is fine... except that with my wormery the rubber seal that's supposed to keep the lid tight and wormproof was all thin and almost worn away. Of course, not having another wormery to compare it to, I didn't know that until it was too late.
I wasn't aware that they were escaping for a while because I wasn't really paying the wormery a great deal of attention. But then a few days in I spied one of the worms on the outside. I picked up the wormery and another was nestling underneath. I thought it was odd but lifted the lid and flipped them inside.
It hadn't really occurred to me that it was especially important to have a tight seal because I couldn't imagine them wanting to leave. After all, the conditions inside are surely perfect for them.
But then I noticed there were a few strange marks on my kitchen floor. On closer inspection, they weren't just marks... they were dried up, shrivelled tiger worms. Hm. They don't cope well in a dry environment that's for sure. The biggest one had travelled maybe three metres from the wormery before the moisture free tiled floor proved too much for him but most of them were within a metre or two.
What were they thinking? Why didn't they turn back? Where did they think they were heading? They should have stayed in the wormery for crying out loud! It was built for them. It's a worm nirvana. A wormana. It contains everything a discerning worm could possibly desire. I mean, it's not called a wormery for nothing. How much more obvious could they make it?
I contacted the wormery people and they were brilliant. They've sent me some new sealant for the lid and another batch of worms. So I fixed (I think) the lid and put the new worms inside this evening.
But now I'm worried. Maybe the wormery people are lying to me. Maybe the worms hate it in there. Maybe that's why the lid has to be wormproof. If it was genuinely a worm-idyll would that be necessary? Am I making these noble beasts work for me against their will? Are they unwilling slaves in my compost and fertiliser factory? What if my fix isn't good enough and this new lot escape and perish as well? I don't want another batch of worm suicides on my conscience. Or on my floor.
Tuesday, November 6, 2007
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
To begin with the idea was that I'd do the trip, come home and then write a book about it. But when I talked about it with a few friends they suggested it would be a good subject for a film.
Initially I was reluctant... I didn't want to have a crew following me and I didn't want to end up hosting one of those travel shows where the presenter meets a sequence of pre-arranged eccentrics that a researcher has found. It seems to me that when it becomes one-of-those-shows you end up being robbed of the personal experience because you're just going through the motions of a story that someone has worked out in advance... whereas I wanted to actually try to do something and either succeed or fail on my own mettle.
So we ended up making the film in a nice low budget way by just finding a brave film-maker who was prepared to come along in the car with me and shoot whatever happened. No crew. No schedule. Just us, an idea and a car.
I'm still writing the book - which will be out in April/May (I think) but we've spliced the film together already. It'll be shown on More4 in February. I'm really pleased with the result... but it's always impossible to guess what other people will think of things... especially when it's really different to the kind of work I've done before.
The movie was submitted to the Austin Film Festival and I was really delighted when they came back saying they wanted to include it in the schedule. From my point of view it was the best way of getting some proper feedback on the film. The audience there wouldn't have any preconceived notions about what I do because they wouldn't have a clue who I was. They'd just view it as a film from a couple of unknown film-makers. Hopefully they'd enjoy it. Maybe they wouldn't.
It turns out they enjoyed it. I've been really pleased with the reaction. (You can see the audience reviews here.) That was pretty much all I hoped we'd achieve at the festival - just some good honest feedback - but yesterday the news got better still. I heard that we'd actually won the Audience Award for best Documentary Feature. A champagne cork has been popped. Hurrah for things like that.
If you've seen or read Googlewhack Adventure you'll know that Austin, Texas is the scene of one of the lowest points in my life. Right now it feels like I've pulled it back to a 1-1 draw.
Sunday, October 28, 2007
Saturday, October 27, 2007
One of the things that makes these games fun is the eclectic mix of people you end up chatting to. This time round the line up was Hardeep Singh Kohli, Stephen Mangan, Howard Marks, Cleo Rocos, John Thomson and myself. In what other circumstances would I end up sitting round a table with that lot? Hardeep definitely has the most poker experience but Howard has the best poker face I've ever seen. Mind you, I'm not sure he's deliberately hiding his emotions... it's got more to do with a lifetime spent frying his nerve endings.
Thursday, October 18, 2007
There's something ridiculous about the excuses - sorry, explanation - being offered by Michael Grade for the large scale fraud that ITV have perpetuated.
Basically they've encouraged the public to call premium rate lines either to vote or enter competitions... even though they knew their votes wouldn't be counted or that hundreds of thousands of them were entering competitions they had no chance of winning. They made nearly £8 million out of it and they're now shamefaced and apologetic and offering refunds and so on.
No-one's going to lose their job and according to Mr. Grade that's partly because the motivation wasn't "venal"... it was "to get a better show" and "misguided but not corrupt."
Contestants for the "Jiggy Bank" on Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway (youtube) weren't selected at random for example. They were selected because of their geographical location and their likelihood to react well on screen. In other words, someone who lived within an hour of the game and who was likely to be the most excitable was selected.
Now I understand why the producers want the most excitable person for the show. It's not as much fun watching someone who's too cool for school winning a few grand... you want to see someone jump for joy. So yeah... that decision was made with the show in mind.
But the decision to ask everyone to call in and try to get on the show wasn't. The premium rate phone line doesn't make the show any more or less entertaining. But it does make the show more profitable.
If they made no money from the phone calls I'll bet they wouldn't have encouraged viewers to call half as much. In this multi-channel world, advertising revenue has been falling drastically and they've turned to these things as another way of raising the money.
Yes, selecting the contestant in the way they did was a decision made with the show in mind... but the decision to solicit for contestants via a premium rate phone line was venal. The norm these days... but venal nonetheless. There's no reason why they have to make money out of a viewer entering a competition or voting for a reality show contestant.
Of course it's not just ITV who are mixed up in all of this. Thanks to a misnamed cat on Blue Peter the BBC is tying itself up in knots and we are left in the ridiculous situation where Match of the Day isn't allowed to run a Goal of the Month competition.
Meanwhile in unrelated news we emerge blinking from a postal dispute. The strikes were to do with changes to working conditions that the management were trying to force through... but deep down it's to do with the Royal Mail's struggle to modernise. They're having a hard time these days, partly because we're all sending less letters in this e-mail-friendly world.
Both of these problems can be solved in one fell swoop. Let's do things the way we used to do them. When I was a kid and you wanted to enter a TV competition it was always, "Answers on a postcard..."
Monday, October 15, 2007
As sporting weekends go I'd say we just had a bit of a classic. Brilliant for the English sports fan and pretty damn good for the Scots too.
England beating Estonia in the football provided only 45 minutes of entertainment but the Rugby World Cup semi-final delivered a match full of drama and tension. Not quite as exciting as last Saturday's Quarter Final victory over Australia which was so ridiculously against the odds it was Roy of the Rovers stuff. (That's in the little known spin off strip, where Roy leaves Melchester Rovers and decides to try his hand at rugby instead. Y'know, for a change.)
But isn't it faintly ridiculous when the BBC tries to pretend that ITV aren't covering the rugby? Am I the only one blushing in sympathy with John Motson when he has to say something like, "Of course there's the Rugby World Cup semi-final against France this evening... I should think that's unmissable on Radio 5 Live..."
I love Radio 5 Live. I often listen to their coverage of sport when I'm working. But not when watching it on the tellybox is an option. Given that everyone who heard John Motson say those words was in front of a telly at the time... don't you reckon that most of them are the kind of people who might want to watch sport on TV... rather than listening to someone else watch it via the wireless?
Friday, October 12, 2007
My life I've put some weight on. I have no idea how heavy I should be only that I'm far heavier than I once was. My view on this is skewed because I weigh myself so rarely. When I finished touring Googlewhack I was just under 11 and a half stones. But then I lost a lot of weight while touring that strangely physical show. After three years of pretty incessant touring my clothes were hanging off me and a lot of people were telling me I looked gaunt. Strangers as well as friends and family. I fainted twice which was another good clue that things weren't quite right.
By contrast writing is incredibly sedentary. It also involves biscuits. So I would have been hugely surprised if I wasn't heavier than I had been back then. But I wasn't expecting such a big increase. I weighed myself before taking part in the Premier League All Stars thing. I was nearly 14 stones. I don't know how much went on when but that's nearly 2 and a half stones in 2 and a half years. Oops.
I was horrified. And I've been trying to do something about it. I've been for a run each morning since. Sometimes just a kilometer, sometimes 2 and occasionally 3. I've cut out biscuits. Mostly. I've made sure my fruit bowl is more regularly replenished. I've had breakfast. In 2 weeks I've got down to 13 stones.
I know I never keep these things up and at some point the running will stop and a chocolate biscuit will look much more appealing than an apple so I will try not to obsess about it.
I have no idea if it's connected or not but I think my writing has improved too. I was getting worried about this book. It was feeling flabby and plodding in places and I couldn't see a way of picking up the pace while being true to the story.
But this last week I think I solved the problem. I've found a way of looking at the story through a different, less tortured, lens. It means I have to go back through a large part of what I've already written but because the idea excites me it's fun to do. Are my thoughts leaner because I am? I doubt it. I think I'd probably have arrived at the same place creatively regardless... but maybe not.
PS: I'm pretty good at updating my website myself... but I always need assistance with the big things. I think I need to do a bit of an overhaul on the site as it is so that it feels less focussed on old projects... but I don't seem to be able to get in touch with the chap who designed the current site to ask him about it. I just want to make a few changes to the layout of the front page so if anyone has the know-how, it would be good to hear from you.
PPS:Thanks for so many offers of help with the site. They've all been very gratefully received. I've got someone tinkering under the bonnet as I type.
Monday, October 1, 2007
Thursday, September 27, 2007
Phil Neal, Bob Bolder: gentlemen, heroes, teachers. Team-mates.
Colin Murray, Euan Blair, Paul 'Wilbur' Smith, Graeme 'G' Inman, Nick Haycraft: LFC fans, friends, soldiers. Team-mates.
Because of late changes to our team we had Liverpool legends Ray Houghton and Jason McAteer in the side as well, but while Phil Neal and Bob Bolder were with us for the whole day, they turned up later. Playing 20 minutes in their company was a heightened experience. A rare pleasure.
There's something about watching people with so much ability up close. They ooze quality. They do difficult things with ease and they think faster.
In spite of the way it ended, Tuesday has to rank right up there as one of the most enjoyable days of my life. Phil Neal and Bob Bolder were with us from the start and were so good at taking the 6 amateurs under their wings and sharing their knowledge. Meeting heroes is a dangerous game. They can disappoint. Illusions can be shattered. That didn't happen. Phil Neal exceeded my every expectation. I can't remember meeting a more inspiring and invigorating person. Nobody who was involved in the day has achieved more than him (8 League Championships, 4 European Cups) and yet nobody involved gave more of themselves. A true honour. At the end of the day, I nicked his captain's armband. We all want souvenirs.
There are two matches each day. The first of which kicks off at 8pm. Because of the filming the day is long and there are several hours after the coaching and before the kick off where there's really nothing to do. The production team warned us that the day could be boring and recommended that we didn't stay around the Academy. But after our coaching session we decided we didn't want to go our separate ways. We wanted to hang out together. We wanted to be a team. And so we did just that. And it wasn't boring.
And nor was the game. 3-1 down at half time, we summoned the spirit of Istanbul, dug in and came back to 3-3. The tournament has a vaguely complicated structure which I won't bother to explain, suffice to say that we didn't just need to win to get through to the quarter finals... we needed to win by two goals.
This being a TV show they have a few changes to the rules all of which are intended to keep the action going and encourage attacking play. In the final minute of each half they have a powerplay... during which, all goals count twice. So, in the 20th minute, we were needing to score one goal to take a two goal advantage and put us through to the next round. We had two great scoring opportunities, but the ball didn't find the net and the game ended in a draw... meaning that both teams failed to get through. We were devastated. I really wish we were going back for another match on Friday. But we're not. I'd do it all again at the drop of a hat.
Sunday, September 23, 2007
I've written before about the late night quiz shows. (Actually, they're not quizzes are they? They're guessing games. If you went to your local pub quiz and Question 1 was "Name a female singer with an 'M' in her name?", you'd think it wasn't a very good question because there could be so many right answers. If when the marks were being handed out you found your answer, Madonna, didn't score a point because it wasn't one of the answers they were looking for, but that the table next to you did score a point with Kylie Minogue, you'd probably feel a bit pissed off.)
My opinion on the shows hasn't changed since I wrote about them in June. I still think the presenters have an admirable ability to talk about nothing. It's like watching QVC except that instead of selling diamonique jewellery they hawk empty hopes and dreams. Which is worse. Obviously.
Anyway... somehow, the knowledge that not only were ITV and five both broadcasting examples of the genre in the early hours of the morning but that they were actually broadcasting near enough the same game at the same time made the whole thing seem worse. They're both asking you to think of words or phrases that follow the word Hot. Yes, one is hosted by a pretty but not sexually threatening blonde and has a wordsearch and the other is hosted by a hunky blonde who can't work out whether he admires Alan Partridge more or less than he does Steve Coogan but the essence of both games is the same: HOT-BLANK.
I don't know why this makes the whole thing seem worse. Surely when things are as rotten to the core and morally bankrupt as this nothing else matters? Maybe the two near-identical games just underline the paucity of imagination at work? Or maybe it feels like they're ganging up on people and working as a team. I don't know. In any case, I think it's pretty strong evidence that we are all going to hell in a handcart.
Saturday, September 22, 2007
When I spoke to the researcher about the show a few days ago I ended up mentioning this football related looky-likey that I'd seen. It's from the video to the Kaiser Chief's song We Are The Angry Mob. One of the characters in the posh restaurant looks the spit of Rafa Benitez. Okay, he has a full beard... but last season Rafa had no beard and this season he has a goatee so it's entirely possible that he grew the full beard and then trimmed it back. I mean... it could be him. It fair freaked me out when I first saw it. It's probably been discussed elsewhere and I wouldn't have been at all surprised if they'd mentioned it on soccer am before now... but apparently not. Apparently they were planning to show it this morning. But - as happens so often on live TV, they ran out of time. So, seeing as I didn't have the satisfaction of sharing it with the world then, I'll share it with you now. The video can be found on youtube. And here's a screengrab from near the end:
The only downside to appearing on the show was that afterwards my Mum called and asked me me to explain what I'd said towards the end of the first chat (clip.) I'm not going to explain what a camel-toe is to my Mum. If you don't know what it means, you're a winner. Continue not knowing. It's better that way.
Friday, September 21, 2007
It's a 7-a-side tournament which mixes up ex-pros, members of the public and, ahem, so-called celebrity fans. I always find the word "celebrity" vaguely uncomfortable but not to the extent that I'd turn down the opportunity to play football for the team I support... especially when there are some former players in the same side.
I'm a Liverpool fan and I know the ex-pros in the 10 man squad will include Gary McAllister and Jamie Redknapp. How ridiculous is the world? Criminy, I've just realised that Gary McAllister was winning trophies with Liverpool when he was the age I am now... which makes my lack of fitness all the more embarrassing. (As you can see, I had the belly and the ball control when I was a bairn... nowadays it's just the belly.)
Also pulling on the Liverpool jersey will be Radio 1's Colin Murray and son-of-a-former-Prime-Minister, Euan Blair who at least has youth on his side. I read a press release for the show somewhere and the names I saw playing for some of the other teams were a bit intimidating; Mark Ramprakash for Arsenal, Martin Offiah for Wigan and Jonathan Edwards for Newcastle for example. So that's a cricketer, a rugby player and an athlete... while we're a pretentious comic, a disc-jockey and Tony Blair's son. Hmmm. Could be interesting.
Anyway... we're playing Derby on Tuesday night and I'll be popping up on soccer am on Saturday morning alongside the lovely, funny (and surprisingly skilful midfield wizard) Omid Djalili.
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
We're making a one off episode of Genius for the tellybox later this year.
It'll be towards the end of November... I'll let you know more about it and how to get tickets to come and be in the audience nearer the time. (If you want to be the first to know, sign up to the mailing list - the link is on the right)
But for now, all we know is that if we're making a new show we want to hear more of your ideas. If you've heard the show you'll know the kind of thing... although having said that, we don't want to have a load of ideas that are a-bit-like-the-ideas-we've-already-discussed... we want to hear your ideas that are brand spanking new and y'know, genius. Think outside the box and we might well ask you to appear on it.
Don't send your ideas directly to me mind... I'm an idiot with a book to write so I'll only go and lose them somewhere on the way to Genius HQ. Send them direct to Genius HQ instead:
Monday, September 17, 2007
This was followed by a lovely night at Hell's Kitchen on Saturday. The food was good (fab mussel soup/slightly dry fish cake/sherry trifle better than the one my auntie Peg used to make at Christmas) but the secret ingredients that made it a really good night out were:
a) my Dad
The old fella was visiting London for the weekend and staying with yours truly so I thought it would be fun to take him there and even more fun to not tell him where we were going. I was right.
They film it at Three Mills studio. I think three mills is one of London's lovely little hidden gems but you approach it by taking a dark and dingy lane through a dark and dingy industrial estate and you definitely don't feel like you are on the way to any kind of fine dining experience.
How many times are you going to sit down for dinner with your Dad and have a conversation that legitimately includes the phrase, "Crikey, I see Andi Peters has been working out!"?
Not often, I'll wager. And he has, you know. It's like seeing Andi Peter's head attached to someone else's body. Tickled by life. Very, very tickled.
Wednesday, September 5, 2007
"Oh yeah... you claim to be working hard... but you obviously have time to party, Mr Gorman."
In the end I decided to go. If it was a trap it was a silly one. If it slows down my writing they'll only have themselves to blame. Besides, it was a huge opportunity for smugness. Cyclists are a smug breed at the best of times but never more so than when there's a tube strike. You can grind to a halt if you like London... but there's nothing you can do to stop the cyclists. We will prevail. Lovely.
Friday, August 24, 2007
The other guests were Jo Brand and Will Smith which makes for about as polite and civilised a bunch of comics as you could really hope for. It was one of those lovely recordings where it didn't feel like work at all, just an evening spent in good company being silly.
At one point I found myself ranting about daytime telly, making mention of the Car Booty episode I discussed here a few days ago and the use of music in Homes Under The Hammer too. Thoughts that were only crystallised because I'd written about them here basically. Which is an interesting side effect to blogging that I hadn't foreseen. Whether it will make the edit or not I don't know. Nor does it really matter... it's just interesting (to me) to discover that thoughts that would previously have floated through my brain unchecked were instead digested and turned into something vaguely useful because of this outlet. Who knew?
Thursday, August 16, 2007
With apologies for what promises to be a dull and self-serving post...
Here's the thing... the photo you see here has apparently been selected as one of twenty pictures (from eighteen different photographers) to be exhibited at the National Media Museum in Bradford this autumn.
It's part of an exhibition called Britain in Pictures which is connected to a BBC project of the same name. I'm slightly confused because, while I submitted a few photos to the project, I didn't realise that this exhibition malarkey was a possible consequence. I know that sounds disingenuous but I really didn't.
The thing is, I like photography. I also like the photography website, flickr and I have an account there. Flickr contains groups for all sorts of different interests, themes, styles of photography and so on.
I read about a group for photos of British buildings and seeing as I have a fair few of those and it only takes a few clicks of the mouse to join, I did so and submitted a few photos. I knew it was connected to some BBC4 photography project but I obviously didn't read the small print or I'd have known about this exhibition. But I didn't. Until I received an e-mail telling me that the judges had selected their favourite twenty photos and that this one was amongst them.
I'm told that when the exhibition has finished they'll send me the framed photo. Which is nice.
I'm not sure when the exhibition starts but you can see all twenty photographs on the BBC website here.
Here ends the photoboasting. I told you it was dull.
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
It's not like they started off great. It always seemed like a dodgy sales pitch in the first place when they had the advert in which - if memory serves - a badly dubbed child asked their mother for "some chocolate, a toy and a surprise."
I always thought it was a bit cheeky of them trying to make it sound like there were three things involved when in actual fact the toy was the surprise. It wasn't some chocolate, a toy and a surprise... it was some chocolate and a surprising toy. But I'm quibbling. And this has nothing to do with my complaint.
This is the thing. I'm pretty sure that in the beginning a Kinder Egg toy was something that needed some building. You built it and when it was finished it was normally bigger than the plastic yolk that the parts had come in. That was the point of the Kinder Egg... they'd ingeniously put inside them, toys that shouldn't have been able to fit inside.
But then it all went wrong. In my recollection it started with the Smurfs. The toys started being small little molded bits of plastic that you didn't have to build... and obviously that means that they were all small enough to fit inside the egg in the first place. The first time I opened a Kinder Egg to find a small plastic Smurf I felt cheated. I mean what was the point?
Recently I've noticed that one of my local shops sells a different brand of chocolate egg; the Ülker Toto. I think it's a Turkish brand but wherever they're from they have renewed my faith in the whole chocolate-egg-containing-a-toy genre. Let us compare and contrast.
Saturday, August 11, 2007
This is true. Kind of. I went on holiday when I was a kid, obviously, but in my adult life I've never actually gone away for a week's break. I've done the odd weekend away and I've travelled a lot with work and I've gone awol with a break down... but not a break.
Now obviously, doing a run at the Melbourne Comedy Festival, say, equates pretty closely to a kick arse holiday but that's just spoiling a fact with, um, another fact.
Most of the things I enjoy telling people I've never done fall in the pop-culture category. The things that people assume everyone has done. I've never read any Harry Potter or seen any of the movies... which is even more fun to reveal to people if I also get the opportunity to slip in that I have met JK Rowling. (Edinburgh 2001, she was lovely.) Similarly I've never seen or read anything of the whole Lord of the Rings hoo ha... although I have never met JR Tolkien.
I've never seen an episode of The Sopranos, The West Wing, 24, Lost, 6 Feet Under, Deadwood, House or Desperate Housewives. Which I know is nonsensical especially when you consider that yesterday, while gearing up to start writing, I watched a whole episode of Car Booty with Lorne Spicer. (She wasn't watching it with me, she was in it.)
In the episode a family put loads of their stuff into a car boot sale in order to raise some spending money for a holiday they were taking to Morocco. They raised the sum total of £36. Thirty six pounds! That's it. Just over a pound for every minute of the resulting show. Thirty six measly sodding pounds! To spend in Morocco!
I've been to Morocco. Twice. Lovely holidays. I was a child at the time so it doesn't count.
Wednesday, August 8, 2007
Because I have an e-mail address in the public domain where anybody (and any bot) can find it I get a lot of spam. Over 1,000 a day. Almost all of it is successfully filtered into my junk file and goes unread but some inevitably slips through to my inbox. Where it goes unread because, while my computer hasn't spotted it's spam, I have.
Recently, I've been fascinated by one particular brand of spam that is getting through the filters on a regular basis. As you can see:
It seems to me that by sending the same e-mail to me 5 times in the same minute (and then again, 2 minutes later) they don't help their cause. Presumably they think that by sending it so many times (and with slight variations in the content) they are increasing their chances of getting through people's defences and having at least one e-mail land successfully where that 1 in 10,000 idiot might send them some money. But surely when they all arrive at the same time like that, even the 1 in 10,000 idiot is going to think something is up.
I mean, what are the chances of 5 different Corine OLearys sending me 6 almost identical e-mails in such a short space of time? And then 3 different Catalina Spicers doing the same thing 37 minutes later. By sending 9 e-mails like that they haven't made it 9 times more likely to succeed... surely they've just made it 9 times less believable.
In effect, they've done more work but reduced their hit rate from, say, 0.01% to 0.001111% (recurring) which is a dreadful thing to do to their profits. If they were making $1,000 a month by getting 1 e-mail through, they'll reduce that to $111 by getting 9 through. Which means that with a hit rate of only 0.001111% (recurring) they'll need to hit 9 times as many people in order to make the same amount of profit as before.
So to get the same return out of sending a million people one e-mail each, they'd have to send 9 million people 9 e-mails each which is 81 million e-mails instead of 1 million e-mails. That's 80 million more e-mails for no increase in return. What ridiculous goons they are.
Of course, to get through the filters what they do is change small variables in the content (not just the middle initial of the apparent sender) so that the anti-spam programs can't spot a pattern. When you see the variables they use you start to realise that they're reducing their options even further:
I mean... while it's a stretch to imagine anyone falling for any of it... if I accept that somewhere there's a chap falling for the 'Girls always laughed at me' pitch, surely even he wouldn't take the 'Baronesses always whizgiggled at me' pitch seriously. Would he?
Is there anyone in the world thinking, 'damn those baronesses. And those gars with their whizgiggling, I'm never using a national comfort station again. If only my putz was more preponderant than civil... then I'd have the last smile.'
Saturday, August 4, 2007
Tuesday, July 31, 2007
So, since I broke my toe I've been missing out on most kinds of exercise. And I'm alarmed to discover that I've reached the age where these things matter. I spend most days sitting at a computer, writing this book and as everyone knows, the main activity of a writer is eating biscuits. It's essential. 10 years ago... maybe even 5, I'm pretty sure I could have sat at my desk all day eating biscuits and not put any weight on. Sadly this is no longer true.
Well my toe has done its time and while I can still feel it's a little off it's better than it was and I'm happy to push it a little bit. I'm no good at exercise for the sake of it... I play football and I ride a bike because they're both pleasurable. I reckon with my normal day-to-day gadding about on a bike and a hopefully-weekly game of footy I'll get my fair share of accidental exercise and shouldn't need to force myself through anything else.
Incidentally, these musings are all very much the undercard for the main bit of the story which I won't be getting to for some time yet. You might want to make a cup of tea.
So anyway... I woke up on Wednesday with a terrible cold and have been producing record breaking levels of snot ever since and on Saturday as I stared at a blank screen, the ability to put one word after another having left me, feeling heavy, lethargic and muddle-headed I decided to take the bull by the horns and fill my lungs with some good healthy oxygen.
So I decided that a bike ride was the order of the day and that a trip into the Lea Valley - (glorious countryside/can be reached in 30 minutes/wouldn't know you were in London) - was a good idea. And seeing as I've turned into a boring old man with boring old man hobbies, I put my camera in my saddle bag as a way of giving myself an excuse to dawdle when I was out there.
So... near the start of the journey, I head through Victoria Park where I discovered there was a funfair running. I recognised many of the rides because the same fair seems to pop up in various East London parks during the summer every year. I stopped and took a couple of shots of the ferris wheel for the sake of it... one of which later became this:
A nice 10 mile ride, some photos of a canal and more of an electricity pylon later and I was heading back through Vicky Park feeling altogether healthier. I wasn't aware that I had a cold and I was feeling pretty smug about having forced the lethargic me of before to unletharge himself.
As I came by the fair it seemed a little livelier and though it certainly wasn't dark yet the light was different and I thought I'd take a few more shots. I've photographed it before now so I wasn't expecting to get anything startlingly different out of it but it delayed me a little while longer and kept me in the outdoors.
"Of course you can," said I, because, of course, they could.
"Can you just come with us, away from the noise then," said he, guiding me away and behind the rides.
"Can we ask what you're doing?"
"Fairground rides. Would you like to take a look?"
So, I handed him my camera and showed him the first few photos... all of which were shots like the one you see here. I was using a slow shutter speed and trying to capture the movement of the lights every time. Mostly failing but still, they were all pretty much of the same kind.
"How do you scroll through this?" he asked, clearly wanting to see more than I'd shown him.
I showed him how and he proceeded to whizz through.
"Okay," he said, "I'll explain why we've asked to speak to you. We were called in earlier because someone else was taking pictures of children."
"I see," said I. "Well, as you can see, that isn't what I'm doing..."
"No. I can see you're doing... um... arty stuff," he said, still scrolling through, now examining several shots taken from underneath an electricity pylon. "There's nothing wrong with this at all."
"I mean, I understand why people are concerned," I said.
Which is true. I'd hate for anyone to think I was taking a picture of their kids which is why I never pointed my camera at any. The only photos I took were of fast moving rides... the kind of rides that little kids are too little to go on in the first place. Rides which were obviously pretty photogenic in their own right. Even so, these are paranoid times and I understand why people want to be careful and I was genuinely untroubled by the fact that the three of us were having this chat.
"There's nothing wrong with anything you've got here," he said, handing me back my camera. "We're just having a friendly word. That said, my advice would be that you should leave."
"Look, we'll tell the security guards that you're not taking pictures of people but that's not all we're worried about. There are parents around and there have been incidents where parents have beaten people up because of what they think they're doing."
Now, I understood why he was giving me this advice and it made sense to me in the abstract. At the same time, it didn't tally with my experience. I was being careful of what I shot and how I shot it and I didn't have any sense of anyone being uncomfortable with it. More to the point, I didn't want to be seen having a word with a couple of policemen and then disappearing straight away with my tail between my legs. I thought that would make me look like I was doing something wrong when in actual fact they'd just established that I wasn't. We were on public property after all. Which is pretty much what I explained to them.
"I see where you're coming from," he said. "We will tell the security that you're okay but I still wouldn't hang around if I were you."
"I'll just be another 5 minutes."
"Okay," said she as we prepared to part company, "can I just take your name and your date of birth."
I gave her both and she scribbled them down in a notebook. I thought it was odd that she didn't check by asking for ID.
We went our separate ways and I pushed my bike over to another ride. There was a hard looking guy operating it, cajoling punters on to it and so on and so, mindful that he was someone I wouldn't want to be on the wrong side of, I asked him if he minded me taking any photos of the ride. He just shrugged and said it was fine. He obviously couldn't care less and seemed confused that I'd even felt the need to ask. So when the ride got going I took a few shots - all of which were uniformly dreadful.
As I wheeled myself away from that space there was a familiar tap on my shoulder.
"Mr Gorman," said Mrs Plod, "I thought we asked you to leave."
"Really?" I asked, genuinely bemused, "I thought we agreed I was going to stay for a few minutes."
"I don't think so," said she which was the first moment where I felt a tinge of annoyance because it was quite definitely how our earlier conversation had gone.
"We don't want you to take any more photos Mr Gorman," said Mr. Plod. "The security guards don't like it."
"But the guy who's running the ride doesn't mind."
"The security guards don't like it."
"But you've told them that I'm not taking pictures of people. I mean, it's not just not-kids... it's not even people."
"Yes... but the security guards don't want you taking pictures of any of their rides."
"Okay," I shrugged. "Only that's not what you said before. It was people taking pictures of kids before. I mean, there weren't even any kids on the ride."
"Are you going to leave now, Mr Gorman?" she asked.
"Yes, but I'm just trying to make it clear that..."
"Because if you don't, it will be a breach of the peace," said he, making it clear that our conversation was over.
"Yeah and I'm going but..."
And then I gave up. Because, really, what was the point? So I turned and cycled home feeling ever so slightly threatened by life. I really do understand why there might be some rational concern about a single man wandering around a fair with a camera but at the same time... it wasn't overrun with kids and I was careful never to do anything that might give anyone any reason to be worried. Unless simply being in possession of a camera is enough these days? But then fairs are photogenic places; full of character and light. People are bound to want to take photos of them, aren't they? Now, the next time the fair comes to one of my local parks I'm going to think twice about getting my camera out because the next time the police ask me I'll think, "yeah... and my names already in their book." and I really don't think I should have to feel like that.
I honestly don't mind them asking me what I'm up to... but I do mind that when they establish that I'm clearly not doing anything wrong I'm made to feel like I am.
Thursday, July 26, 2007
Sadly that isn't the point and I might well turn out to be the lowest scoring contributor ever. It really is devilishly difficult to even get on the microphone so quick are the others at spotting a repetition. I spent the whole of the evening pressing my buzzer and discovering that someone else had managed to press a split second sooner. The live audience were aware that I was pressing and not getting in on time and they enjoyed my playful frustration but of course the listening audience won't be aware of any of that.
It was definitely a jolly evening and I was getting laughs from the audience for acknowledging my own ineptitude but those are the kind of laughs that inevitably hit the cutting room floor... quite right too as they do sort of sit outside the show. Which leaves me concerned about quite how scant my contribution to the shows will be. Especially the first of the two.
I was very glad there was a second show because I'd already improved a little bit and knowing that the audience were onside I felt more able to be bold about making challenges. I think I managed to talk for a good 45 seconds on one of the subjects before grinding to a halt. Sadly it wasn't long enough for me to reach Gertrude's whistle and so I didn't get a point out of it.
The comic challenges people make - usually for deviation, where you know they will be given the subject back but also that it will raise a laugh - have to be judged right. I think until the audience trusts you it can feel as though you're spoiling someone else's flow rather than adding to the comedy. I think I got those right - and certainly the audience seemed to go with them - but they also seemed to be dismissed with speed while others seemed to be dwelt on. But that might just be my imagination.
All in all it was an enjoyable form of torture and it's interesting to see how closely my own experience tallies with Michael Palin's from 1975. Of course he only published his diaries recently - which is a very slow and non interactive form of blogging. Here I have the advantage because by the time I got home someone from the audience had left a nice comment on my previous entry. I'm sure Michael Palin would have felt similarly lifted if someone had scribbled a nice message like that in his diary at the time. So long as it could have been done without breaking into his house and finding his diary. Isn't the internet great?
Saturday, July 21, 2007
In order to remain focussed on the book I've been turning down everything else I'm offered. I know I'd enjoy popping up on bubbalub and chatting to Dermot about this series of Big Brother - and I think there's a lot to be said about the current crop of housemates - but I've decided that, for now, the book is more important.
I thought I was going to maintain my no-other-work rule no matter what but then along came an offer that was simply too good to refuse: Just A Minute. JAM is one of the great radio shows. (There's only really I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue that can compare.) So how could I possibly say no when asked to take part? I couldn't. I said yes without hesitation. Or the other two.
And then, I suddenly found myself increasingly worried about what I'd agreed to. Because while I love the show it's also incredibly intimidating. The other contestants will be Paul Merton, Tony Hawks and Clement Freud all of whom are exceedingly skilled players of the game with buckets of experience on their side. Clement Freud had been doing the show since before I was born.
Whatever the show, regulars always have an edge with the audience because their relationship already exists - they've already earned their respect. Anyone new has to try and win that trust anew. I reckon that the longer the regulars have been on a show the harder it gets for any incomers... and there aren't many shows that have been running longer than JAM.
Not that I'm complaining about the situation. They've earned their place in the audience's heart after all. And besides, as a fan of the show I'd be disappointed if Clement Freud wasn't there.
Suddenly it feels like I'm stepping into a boxing ring for my first ever bout and I've been pitted against a an undefeated heavyweight. I will be pummelled. Gulp.
When Tilusha, the show's producer, called me to talk about the show and explain some of its subtleties I confessed that I was feeling intimidated by it. She told me that most people did and that yes, it was quite an intimidating show to step into for just those reasons. Which didn't make for the peppiest of pep talks.
She then told me that Michael Palin had written about the show in his diaries. He appeared on the show in 1975 and he was intimidated by the show then for much the same reasons. I googled it and found the extract here.
"The three regulars have been playing the game together for five years, Williams and Freud for eight, and it shows. They are smooth and polished, they know when to ad-lib, when to bend the rules a little, and when to be cross with each other."
"The game became easier but I never mastered the technique of microphone-hogging which they have all perfected."
Somehow the fact that Michael Palin - official comedy God and NicestManInTheWholeWideWorld felt slightly out of his depth doing the show isn't particularly reassuring.
Having spoken to Tilusha about the show I was surprised to find that our paths crossed again later the same day when we were both at the same book launch. The book being launched was How to Bring Up Your Parents by Emma Kennedy. Emma writes one of my favourite blogs and it's no surprise that such a consistently funny bloggess has turned out such a funny book. (There's a quote from me on the cover so obviously I do genuinely recommend it.)
Seeing Emma's pride and excitement as her tome makes its way into the big wide world was a good reminder of why it is I want to concentrate my efforts on my own book. It has to be something I can be proud of. So other things must go by the wayside. Apart from exciting and intimidating invitations to enter hallowed radio institutions. They must be accepted. I'll be recording two episodes on Tuesday night at the Radio Theatre.