Wednesday, September 13, 2006

A late night chat...

Genius seems to have got off to a good start with some good press and some nice feedback. Apparently the show was on Pick of the Week although I didn't hear it. If you missed the first show with Johnny Vegas as guest, you have until the next one goes out on Thursday to catch it on the Listen Again page over at BBC Towers.

In my last post I mentioned a Guardian photoshoot. It was for a feature on comedy in which several comics recreated famous images. Along with Lee Mack, Laura Solon, Tim Vine and Jason Byrne, I was part of a recreation of the Trainspotting poster. You can see it - and all the others images, here. It's only really ruined by my beard. And the faint hint of a belly in that tight tee. Not very heroine chic of me. They obviously didn't like my answers to the questionaire very much... but then I don't really have an ability to be concise on things like that. Or anything pretty much. That's why I generally don't do those Talking Heads shows... I don't do pithy. I convolute.

It was back in February that I realised I had become a man with hobbies. Cycling, photography, poker and rock-balancing being they. The problem with my work is that it can be all-consuming time-wise and for periods I am robbed of the free time I'd like to have to indulge in such things. I'm aware that I'm about to have all of my time eaten up - the process is already happening - which might be why I've been trying to get some of these things done in odd spare moments of late. No rock-balancing I'm afraid... I just haven't seen any rocks to balance. But I have played poker. It was a home game at a friends. 8 of us. £5 each and winner takes all. I came second in the first game, winning nothing but salvaging some pride after a poor start. I won the second, pocketing £40 and then was dreadful (and drunk) for the third and went out early. That's £25 profit. Minus a bottle of wine.

I had dinner with some lovely friends in Chelsea the other night. I ought to mention that one of them was Geoff because as you know, he likes it when I mention him here. I cheerfully cycled over to Chelsea for the dinner. A while ago that would have been an intimidating journey, from the East of London to the West but these days I find myself wanting to do it far more than I want to sit on the tube. Knowing that I would be cycling home late and that I would be in the unfamiliar environs of west London, I put my camera in my bag thinking that if I was wide awake I would steal the opportunity for a bit of night-time photography on the return journey. I like night time photpgraphy most of all, I think because the photographer wields more influence over the final image - choosing the exposure time and so on. Golly I'm interesting.

On my way home I was scooting down Chelsea Embankment and into Grosvenor Road and I thought the disused Battersea Power Station was looking pretty spectacular against a clear night sky and so I decided to stop and have a crack at getting a decent shot or two. Bike parked up, tripod out, camera on... away I go. Here's one of the pictures...

Battersea Power Station and Grosvenor Bridge

I'd been there a little while when a police car pulled up on the street behind me. Two officers got out. One male, one female.

They told me that they were stopping me under the Prevention of Terrorism Act and asked what I was doing.
"Taking photos," said I.
"What of?" asked she
"Battersea Power Station," I said. "Would you like to see some?"
"Yes, if you don't mind," she said.
I showed her a picture.
"Can I see some more?"
I showed her 6 or 7.
"They're very good," she said. "Have you go any ID?"
"Yeah," I said, handing her my driver's licence... "what do you need that for?" "If we stop anyone under the Prevention of Terrorism Act we have to fill in some paperwork. Do you have any possessions?"
I pointed at my bike with a bag on the panier.
"Just that," I said.
"Okay... well, even looking through your camera constitues a search so we have to fill in the form."
She started filling in Form 5090: Stops and Searches.
"It's a beautiful building," said her colleague. "The thing is, we're in Central London and we have to be really careful these days. I like your shots though... very nice. What do you do with them?"
"Nothing really," I said. "I'll probably put a couple of them on a website."
"Right. What website is that then?"
"Oh flickr!" said the WPC, stopping her form-filling for a moment. "I've got photos on there. Photos of my wedding from 7 weeks ago."
"Really?" I asked. "It's good isn't it? Oh... and congratulations on 7 weeks ago."
"Thanks," she said with a smile. "So... have you ever been arrested?"
"Err.... no"
She picked up her walkie talkie and contacted someone else, asking them to run a check on my name. There was no awkward break in the conversation though as her colleague picked up the slack.
"So, is digital the same as a film camera at night?" he asked.
"How do you mean?"
"Y'know, exposure time and all that... with the poor light," he explained.
"Yeah, I guess so," I said. "That's why I like night time photography. But I've never been any good with film."
The walkie-talkie crackled into life to tell them there was no match with my details.
"Do you mind if I write down that website?" asked PC Chap.
"It's" said PC Lady.
"There are thousands of people posting photos there." I explained.
"How do I find yours?" he asked.
", slash photos, slash dgbalancesrocks," I said. "Don't ask."
"Here's your copy of the form," she said, handing it to me. "Nice chatting to you. You can carry on if you like." "Thanks," I said. "Have a good evening."
"Thanks," said he.
"Thanks," said she.
And they drove off into the night. It was all surprisingly jolly. A novel good cop/good cop routine.

I've got the form here. Stop Code: B = To check personal details/documents. Search Code: J = Terrorism 44(2) Outcome Code: 1 = No further action. Search started 12.55am. Search ended 12.57. Grounds for Search or Reason for Stop: Male seen taking photos of powerstation. Vicinity of bridges, within government security zone. Stopped under terrorism act.

They were both lovely and chatty. It was a surprisingly friendly and untroubled exchange. I'd go so far as to say that I enjoyed meeting them.

A little while ago I was chatting with a stranger - a normal one, not a police officer who had stopped me under the Prevention of Terrorism Act - and they said, "Your comedy is very studenty isn't it?" I find that odd. In this instance they meant it as a sort of compliment although the word can be used to mean both good and bad... and for that matter indifferent things.

People often assume that if they get something it means that other people don't. In Manchester one day after a gig I spoke to a father and daughter who had both come along without the other knowing. It turns out that when my first TV show was on she'd watched it upstairs in her bedroom thinking 'Dad wouldn't get this... he's too square' (because that's how young people speak) and her Dad had been watching it in the living room thinking, 'She wouldn't get this... she's too young to follow it' (or something like that.) It was only when they set eyes on each other in the theatre bar that they realised they both got it. It's true that when I last toured a large part of the audience were students but a large part were grey-haired also.

On stage I don't do any of the things that I would label as studenty comedy - I don't celebrate drink or drugs, I don't discuss sex and I'm not remotely ladsy. (Am I? I swear a bit in the Googlewhack Adventure show but only because the real life story pushed me into a place where normal language fails me.) There's no sexual content and no sexism at work - not even of the postmodern, ironic variety. Essentially I just tell a story - albeit it one augmented with evidence provided via a powerpoint presentation - but still, what could be more old-fashioned as a form of entertainment than a story-telling show?

The more I analyse what I do, the more old-fashioned it seems to me. I like that. I think Genius is quite an old-fashioned format. It's really just an excuse for a silly conversation.

Having hobbies seems old-fashioned too. I cycle around London at night with a tripod and a camera in my bag in case I happen upon something I want to photograph. It's hardly the life of the young and fashionable is it? No. Good. At the front of my last book in the 'about the author' blurb at the front the last sentence says, 'His ambition is to one day become a team captain on Call My Bluff.' I've met a couple of people who thought I was joking. I wasn't. I love Call My Bluff. I think it's a far superior show to the testosterone fuelled nonsense of, say, Never Mind The Buzzcocks and it's ilk. Nothing against that show in particular, just that it doesn't seem to be about enjoying each other's company.

With this in mind, you can imagine how happy I was to be asked this week to write a foreword to an Observer book of Cryptic Crosswords. Heavenly. I am the old fuddy duddy I've always wanted to be.

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