Thursday, May 29, 2008

You Make Hay While The Sun Shines...

... but you wait until it's pissing it down to hold a festival.

The last week has been... wet. Not so much Hay On Wye as Hay In Wye.

When I got there the sun was shining. I'd been billeted in a B&B in the tiny village of Llanigon - a couple of miles out of Hay - and so I thought I'd do the smart thing and hire a bike. About two hours later it started raining.

And it didn't stop. The festival is held in a network of tents and marquees all erected in a large field. Or swamp. Once you're on the site you can get from A to B on covered walkways... which is remarkable... but you still have to get to the site and that almost always meant mud. I'm sure a lot of books are sold at the festival... but I dare say they ruin almost as many shoes. It's a shoe-ruining festival is what it is.

I saw a few events - and tended to enjoy the factual/socio-political ones most of all. A nice couple at the B&B offered me a lift down to the site on the first soggy morning and I accepted... but I was determined to make use of the bike and so decided to invest in some all-weather get up. Buying wellingtons is a sure sign that things haven't gone to plan. The only thing worse than buying wellies is needing to buy wellies and not being able to. With rubber boots and waterproof trousers I then cycled each day.

I managed a couple of excursions into the countryside and a couple of rock-balancing sessions too:

... but mainly I got wet, heard people discuss the books they'd written and watched as a few thousand people pretended they didn't watch television. They do.

There was a lot of free time and with the weather as it was there simply wasn't a lot to do with it so I was glad of any distraction. Just A Minute was more fun than the last time I did it... and I really enjoyed guesting on Marcus Brigstocke's show The Early Edition too.

The reason I was there was to film a show for Sky Arts. It's called What The Dickens? although I think there was only one Dickens-related question in six episodes. It's a panel show with the brilliant Sandi Toksvig as host and Tim Brooke-Taylor and myself as team captains. It's fantastic to watch Sandi work. She just seems to get better and better... she really is as complete a comic voice as I've encountered. And what can you say about TBT? He's a Goodie for crying out loud! I loved The Goodies! What kind of ridiculous world is it where I go away for a week and film 6 shows with a Goodie? In a tent. In the rain.

If you see any of them... I'm probably wearing wellies behind that desk.

Friday, May 23, 2008


Cow, originally uploaded by Dave Gorman.

Firstly... rejoinders to my last un-bloggy news entry:

1: Heresy: a pleasure. Especially as I got to meet and work with the masterful Clive James.

2: Soccer 6: Such a great day out. We were in a group with teams labelled Justin Hawkins, Reality TV stars and McFly. Some teams had ex-pros assigned to them - we were delighted to have none other than Neville Southall in goal - but McFly were the pre-tournament favourites. They had Dean Saunders playing for them and had somehow managed to bag the highly skilled former Big Brother winner Anthony Hutton as well - how dare he betray his reality roots. Of course if any of McFly farted the crowd roared - sorry, squealed - with delight and any team playing against them were immediately cast as pantomime villains. We beat Hawkins' mob 6-1, Reality FC, 2-1 and then had a hard fought 1-0 win against McFly. Confidence was up. But then we lost in our quarter final. 2-0. I don't know who the opposition were to be honest. But I know their goal-keeper was on fire. They had two shots and scored two goals. We sent balls fizzing past the post on several occasions and their keeper kept out 9 or 10 more. So they deserved to win. But we were gutted.

3: Hay: What The Dickens. I'm on my way to Hay soon. While there I'll also be recording another episode of Just A Minute. Lord only knows if I'll find it any easier to get a word in edgewise this time. I hope so.

New Un-bloggy News:
I'm a guest on The Paul O'Grady Show on Monday. So's Duffy. She's ace.

I don't know if I'm going to be online when I'm in Hay... so there might be a prolonged period of radio-silence.

There are already thousands of reasons to love Half Man, Half Biscuit but their new album 'CSI: Ambleside' provides dozens more.
"I'm gonna feed our children non-organic food..
and with the money saved, take 'em to the zoo"
is one of them.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Un-bloggy news...

Gull, originally uploaded by Dave Gorman.

1: I'm a guest on an episode of Heresy (Radio 4) that records tomorrow (Friday 16th) night at the Drill Hall in central London. (Tickets)

2: I'm the weak link in a comedian's team that are playing in Soccer 6 event on Sunday. (Gates open at midday, tickets are £12 in advance or £15 on the day and all money raised goes to support The Samaritans... which is probably a bit of an unfashionable charity but no less worthy - or indeed necessary - for that.) Omid Djalili, Russell Howard, Lee Mack and Noel Fielding are all meant to be playing and they all possess silky skills that put me to shame.

3: May 24 to 28: I'm going to be in Hay on Wye for the Hay Festival where I'll be taking part in recordings of What The Dickens for Sky Arts.

Red Van. Blue Containers. Green Containers. Swan. River.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Ahoy Fowey

Sometimes things fall into place and it feels like the fates are looking after you.

I really like the Daphne Du Maurier Festival. I've performed there a couple of times before and found it to be charming and eclectic and exactly the kind of thing a festival in a small town like that should be.

They asked me to return to do another book reading this year and it coincided perfectly with a run of existing book readings so it was really easy to say yes and add it on at the end. Lovely.

Then I got asked to do Grand Designs Live. They started looking for someone to present some films about quirky American houses for their Channel 4 show at around the time my film about an American road trip was broadcast on More 4. It rated well. The idea for the film is in part explained with reference to my interest in Googie Architecture... it obviously seemed like a good fit. I'm a fan of Grand Designs in its regular incarnation so after meeting the production team to discuss the films they wanted me to present I was very happy to say yes. Lovely once more.

There was the faint hint that there might be a spanner in the works when I then discovered that as well as making the US films I was going to have to be on the set to introduce them each night. The show was being broadcast each night from May 4th-9th and the reading was already scheduled for the 8th. Oops... I thought I was going to have to decline the GDL offer. But nope... there were only four American houses to visit - and the films would be played in on the 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th and then there was another UK based event they wanted me to be involved in which would be filmed on the day of the 6th and shown on the last show - the 9th. As if by magic the one day I wasn't needed was the 8th... the one day when I wasn't available. Perfect.

Well almost. Fowey is a spectacularly beautiful spot but it's also a very long way away from London. The original plan had been to drive or train it down a day early and extend my stay into the weekend and take in a few of the other festival shows hither and thither. (Kate Rusby was appearing there on the Friday night and she's ace so I was definitely looking forward to that.) Doing the return journey in one day seemed less than perfect. That could have meant spending twelve hours in a car just for a 75 minute book reading. But then my publishers came up with a new plan. An early morning flight to Newquay. A cab from there to Fowey. (Conveniently taking me from coast-to-coast. Sort of.) A reading. A few hours in the Cornish sun and then a cab back to Newquay and a late flight home. My trip to Cornwall would still be Rusbyless... but it was still feeling pretty close to perfect.

But then... while the whole of Britain seemed to be sweltering in the sunshine, Fowey was mysteriously beset by rain. Rain that started about ten minutes after I'd finished signing books and ended just as I got in the cab to Newquay. Hmm. Not lovely. Not perfect.

And to make matters worse, Newquay was then consumed by fog... which meant that our flight home was cancelled. I don't understand how these things work. I'm sure when a train is cancelled the operators are under some obligation to make amends. Buses are laid on at least. I've been in the States when an airline has had to cancel a flight and I saw passengers being offered hotel rooms overnight because... well, because you can't just leave people with nowhere to stay just because you've cancelled a flight. But here it seems you can. Ryanair cancelled the flight and we were told we could get a refund or we could rebook for the next day and that was that.

I don't think Ryanair actually have any staff on the ground themselves but the airport staff did a grand job of staying calm while dealing with a plane load of angry, stranded passengers. Myself and my travelling companion, Ed (see last blog) ended up having to stay over in Newquay and when you add the price of a hotel room into the mix those bargain airlines suddenly don't seem quite such a bargain. And because everything else was booked up we ended up staying in a rather bleak Best Western which was seemingly occupied entirely by a coach load of elderly German tourists unperturbed by its 1970s decor.

What a strange poetic injustice that my book tour should end like this. There I am promoting a book about my efforts to drive across the States without using any chains... and then circumstances beyond our control force me into the world's largest hotel chain. It felt oh so wrong. And yet stupidly inevitable at the same time. Ho hum.

Monday, May 5, 2008


Galway, Manchester, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee. It's been a busy week. I wasn't travelling alone though... the publishers make sure I have a baby sitter. Ed came with me for the first three and then I was met by Helen in Edinburgh who took over for the Scottish events.

The week began with a train ride to Luton and a flight to Galway. Except you can't get a train all the way to Luton airport at the minute so actually it was a train to Luton Parkway and then a bus to the airport. It was sunny when we left Luton. It was pouring when we got to Galway. This theme was maintained for the whole week. Whenever I left a city it was sunny. Whenever I arrived it was raining. Apart from my return to London. It wasn't raining when I landed in London. But Boris was mayor and that's worse. Honestly, I turn my back on the place for five minutes and they elect a buffoon. What can you do?

Rather than brave the weather in Galway, Ed and I settled for lunch at the hotel. I browsed through the festival's brochure while we waited and discovered therein that the people of Galway are known as Galwegians. I had no idea. It's the kind of new word that makes me smile. I like it.

"It makes sense," said Ed. "Norway. Norwegians. Galway. Galwegians."
"Yeah... but you get Glaswegians and that doesn't end with 'way' does it?"
"Are there any other places that end in 'way'?" I asked. "I can't think of any."
There was a pause. Hardly a beat.
"Luton Parkway," said Ed.
"Where the Luton Parkwegians live?" asked I.
"That's right," said Ed.


Started on Grand Designs Live last night which like all live shows seemed to whizz by at such speed that I already can't really remember. I'm back again every night this week bar Thursday when I'll be in Cornwall for the final book reading.