Friday, July 31, 2009

Hello Ardlui... is anyone there?

Hmm... I'm getting a wee bit worried about one of the gigs on the tour.

I know I'm going to be exhausted but I want to try and perform a show every night because in some ways I think it's easier to maintain momentum that way. A night off can be like letting the elastic out of the system and it gets harder to wind yourself up to top gear the next day.

Organising the shows has been a far more complicated affair than normal. With a normal tour you go wherever theatres want you. You play when they're available... which is why on most tours you see people going from Southampton to Glasgow to Portsmouth to Newcastle or whatever. If that's when the theatre is available, you fit it in. But with the cycling tour that obviously isn't possible. Every venue has to be within range of the last and the minute one gig was firmed up in the diary all of the others had to fall into place. The only sensible date for a gig in Preston was the day after the Manchester gig and so on. There have been one or two venues along the way who've bent over backwards to accommodate the peculiar circumstances - and I'm hugely grateful to them for that.

In the long stretch after Exeter travelling out east to Lowestoft then north as far as Lancaster the country is well populated and there are so many good sized towns dotted around the place that if we couldn't find a venue available on a given day we were able to look elsewhere and take a slightly different route instead.

But after Glasgow there really isn't that much versatility available. The route takes me out to Ardnamurchan - the most westerly point of the mainland - and then back across the country heading north and east and it's not exactly overflowing with people or towns which is why some of the venues are a little more improvised. I'm not complaining about that, I really like the fact that doing a tour in this unconventional way has led me to play in such a wide variety of venues. There can't be many tours that take in halls ranging from 30 to 2000 seats.

One of the trickiest to arrange has been Ardlui. There isn't really another town in range that day and they don't have a community centre or village hall or similar. In fact we were told they were trying to raise the money to build one. So we suggested that if we could find a makeshift venue for the evening we'd donate the money raised to the fund. I thought we'd found a solution - and we probably have - but the trail seems to have gone a little cold.

While the local paper seems to have confirmed that the show is welcome at the Ardlui Hotel, we're finding it rather difficult to actually speak to anyone from the hotel itself. I reckon it's just us fussy London media types panicking unnecessarily but I'm told that a lot of phone messages have been left and e-mails sent without reply and it's really difficult to trust that the show is definitely happening without actually speaking to someone to confirm it. Fingers crossed.

And if you're in Ardlui, could you tap on the window as you pass by and let them know we're coming.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Not Just Wrong...

Comedy journalism - by which I mean journalism about comedy as opposed to journalism that is comic - can easily rile those of us who work in the industry. I don't really mean comedy reviews where the scope for upset is obvious, I mean the broader sweep of journalists writing about comedy in general. Any article that purports to "take the comedy scene's temperature" or what have you is bound to annoy those who work within it because we inevitably see it as a more subtle, nuanced and mixed up world.

If you want to write a piece saying that comedy has got more fey/offensive/sweary/scientific/pious/surreal/real/personal/abstract/aggressive/passive/passive-aggressive/stupid/intelligent/subtle/unsubtle/satirical/knowing/gag-based/anecdotal or any other adjective you care to mention it would be easy to find five comedians whose material you could use to support your hypothesis. As the vast majority of people never go to see live comedy in any form your readers will accept your chosen sample as being representative and therefore accept your hypothesis.

To those of us who feel we know better this is annoying. Most of the time any such annoyance is wasted. The articles aren't of much import. They distract a few people during their lunch hour. The fact that a few thousand people read a piece arguing that comedy has recently gone all fey won't do anything to change the comic landscape. The fey comedians quoted will go down just as well that night as they did the night before and the unfey comics will carry on regardless. Pfft.

But yesterday's Guardian piece (and indeed most of the rest of their "comedy special") seemed to go beyond this normal annoyance. It wasn't just wrong, it seemed to be malignly, dangerously so.

It's titled, The New Offenders Of Stand Up Comedy and the idea seems to be that comedy has thrown off the shackles of political correctness and is now setting out to offend. Like I say, it would be easy to find five comedians and use their material to make this - or any - case.

So what's odd about this article - what makes it quite so annoying - is that it takes the material of comedians who are quite deliberately not doing that instead. By cherry picking words and removing all context it steamrollers through facts and makes its argument anyway.

I'm not familiar with the material of all those quoted - and at least one of the comics referred to is really not to my taste - but I have seen a fair bit of Richard Herring's work in the last couple of years. If I hadn't I would have assumed from yesterday's Guardian that Richard was a racist comedian. Or at best, a comedian doing some borderline material about race under a cloak of irony. He's not. His material is explicitly anti-racist. So, the article says:
This year, veteran comic Richard Herring is sporting a Hitler moustache for his show, Hitler Moustache, in which he argues "that racists have a point".

Then there's a new sentence. About another comic. So the summation of what Richard's new show is about is, according to The Guardian, "that racists have a point." What an amazing charge to level at someone.

My understanding of the show is that by attempting to reclaim the toothbrush moustache from fascism (Hitler) for comedy (Chaplin) it opens up a broader discussion about the issues. (I've made it sound dry and pious now... which I'm sure it isn't.)

Rather than arguing that "racists have a point", Richard says, "let's assume they have a point and see where it takes us" and then follows the logical argument through to its farcical conclusions... thus demonstrating that if they have a point it's a horribly flawed one. That's probably not the conclusion you'd draw from the sentence, in which he argues "that racists have a point."

Later in the article it says:
In another routine, he claims to support the BNP's policy to deport all black people from the UK.
Again it's hard to imagine a reader unfamiliar with Richard reaching anything other than the wrong conclusion. I mean... it's pretty clear isn't it.

Only I've seen the routine in question and it does no such thing. The journalist responsible has seen it too. I generally hate it when I see material quoted because not only does it generally work worse on the page, it also robs the comedian in question of the ability to surprise some of his/her audience. So with apologies to Richard, I'll tell you how I think that routine works.

It starts with Richard suggesting that anyone who votes for the BNP should have their right to vote taken away from them. In a lot of clubs this suggestion gets a cheer from the largely liberal crowd. But then Richard points out that taking away their right to vote would be a form of fascism in itself. And he follows the logic through a series of well-if-I-think-that-then-this-must-be-true-and-if-that's-true-I-must-think-this-too contortions with each new revelation being more ridiculous and comic than the last. By following this rat-run of (flawed) logic through he ends up in a confused place where his right-on desire to remove the right to vote from BNP voters means that he also supports their views and so wants to remove his own right to vote as well. It's a ridiculous, circular piece of playing with ideas, of starting somewhere well-intentioned but ending up somewhere ludicrous and the only conclusion any sensible audience member could draw from it is that if you want to defeat the BNP you can't do it by lowering yourself to their level.

Which is quite different to, "In another routine, he claims to support the BNP's policy to deport all black people from the UK."

Like I say, normally articles like this are best shrugged off. But I went to bed thinking about this one last night and I woke up still thinking about it this morning. It's got nothing to do with me. Richard and I do know each other, we're friends but we aren't bosom buddies. But that really isn't important. This isn't the fleeting ire one feels at seeing a friend get an undeservedly bad review. This particular article goes beyond being just plain wrong. Not only does it brand someone as racist it knowingly ignores plenty of facts in order to do so.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Blackberry Crumble Tumble

The video I posted earlier today was shot on Saturday when TDB and I went for a ten mile cycle into Hackney/Walthamstow marshes and back. Lovely day. Nice bike ride. Tested the new helmet cam. All was well.

I'd forgotten how good that patch is for blackberry picking. I reckon we must have passed 20 or more people out there scavenging in the brambles. I picked some last year and they were ace - any fruit you pick yourself in the wild will always taste better than the stuff you pay for, it's the rules. So on Sunday, we decided to return... only this time we brought tupperware.

The camera was still mounted on the helmet and I decided it was more trouble than it was worth to unstrap it so I plugged it in and filmed once more. Here's the video:

I've used the music I used on my first cycling video from a few weeks back when I was trying out the not-quite-up-to-snuff GoPro Hero camera. It's by Misty's Big Adventure who I've mentioned in this parish before now. They're ace.

Anyway... as you can see I took a bit of a fall on the way back. It felt horribly dramatic at the time - I was pretty sure I was going to land on my chin but managed to get my hands out in time to break my fall. My gloves got pretty torn up... which makes me very glad I was wearing them. I was wearing a helmet too although I'm pleased to say it wasn't necessary.

I cycled home slowly, not really able to fully grip the handlebars as the heels of both palms were starting to swell up. Once home I had a cup of hot, sweet tea and put my hands on ice but was aware that I couldn't get the full range of movement out of either thumb. The pain - and the swelling - reminded me of the time I fractured a bone in my toe a few years ago and I was getting worried that I'd done something similar in one, or both, hands.

So I took a trip to my local A&E. I've got nothing but good things to say about the Royal London. They were ace. Polite, caring, charming and quick. If you're going to visit your local A&E I can recommend early Sunday evening. If you can hurt yourself before the drunks come out to play you really shouldn't be waiting long so, y'know, try and do it then. Or not at all obviously. Yeah... not at all is probably best.

Anyway... no bones were broken. Painkillers were administered and the swelling is going down. My biggest worry was that I'd have done something that would make cycling in September impossible. What would happen to the tour then? Tickets have been sold... I'd have to show up. But if the bike-ride that's become a bike-ride-tour was to become just-a-tour before it had even started I think I'd pretty glum about it.

There was nobody else involved. Just a wet iron plate under a bridge that made my wheel slide away from under me.

Still, the blackberry and apple crumble was divine. Normally I'd have it with custard or ice cream. But ibuprofen seemed to be just as good.


The camera I've been experimenting with for cycling videos has a big drawback: the amount it can record in one stretch.

I have no purpose in mind for filming the ride - indeed I've turned down the opportunity to make a documentary about this autumn's tour - but as I've never done anything on that scale before I feel like I ought to film what I can of it. But if I have to stop every hour or so to change a memory card then it's more disruptive than anything else and it would change the experience rather than record it.

So I've upgraded to a new cycling camera - the POV1.5 from VIO - which can, in theory, record for a much longer stretch. The above video is my first test for it.

I've always been quite guarded about my private life in these parts (I figure there's been enough honesty to go round on stage without spooning any more in here) but for what it's worth the girl who cycles ahead of me at times is my girlfriend, the delightful B.

I reckon 3 or 4 minutes is about the limit for these kind of things and it's going to be impossible to get a whole day of riding down to that kind of time without making it impossibly jerky. This is about 60 minutes sped up and condensed and it's quite nauseating as it is. I certainly won't be able to edit videos as I go on the tour so all that's going to happen is I'm going to finish my 1500 miles of cycling and have hundreds of hours of footage backed up somewhere. But, hey, I might think of something for it and it's better to have the option than not.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Chain Reaction

Dummies, originally uploaded by Dave Gorman.

On Tuesday night, feeling kind of jet-lagged from Latitude, I took part in the Radio 4 show Chain Reaction.

To their credit, Diana Ross doesn't sing the theme tune.

Each show is an interview but that episode's interviewee becomes the next ep's interviewer with a new interviewee and so on. So I become a link in the chain between Robert Llewellyn and Frank Skinner and it worked out that it was convenient to record both those episodes on the same night.

It was only when I got to the venue that I started to feel the unusual pressure of that situation. You can't really prepare for being interviewed so there's no way of feeling in control. But if the audience didn't enjoy me being quizzed by Robert... well then it would be really uncomfortable stepping on stage to ask questions of Frank after the interval. And feeling a bit spaced and jet-laggy didn't help.

I needn't have worried. The audience were fab and Robert was a warm, charming and witty host, which made the first half easy. And that meant I felt really relaxed stepping out for the second half. The truth - I suspect - is that it was never going to be a hard task to interview Frank. It's not exactly a difficult job to get him talking... and if he's talking he's funny.

I don't know how the chain ends but I think it starts with Robert-me-Frank and then goes to Eddie Izzard and then, perhaps more oddly, Alastair Campbell and beyond.

I'm not sure when they'll be broadcast but I think it'll be sometime in September. Ish.

Thanks to all who came along. It was a really fun night.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Latitude Gratitude

The weather reports were threatening but in the end I had a fabulous time at Latitude this last weekend. Just ace.

Here I am feeling all heroic after erecting my tent on the Friday.

The festival tries to encourage everyone to be green and to use public transport wherever possible but after a nightmarish journey home last year - which started with a minibus from the performer's campsite to the back of a 5000 person queue for a bus to a train station I decided I couldn't face it this time and so arranged a hire car instead. Taking 4 hours to leave the site was just too unpleasant.

For a short while I thought the fates were punishing me for this ungreen decision as my well thought out plan threatened to fall apart before I'd even left home.

I was meant to be picking up the car on July 17. I'd paid for it on June 24. On July 16 - at around 4pm I got a call from Budget telling me that they might not be able to honour the booking. I asked them why and they told me that the car was currently hired by someone who'd taken it to Paris and wasn't able to return it in time. So when they said they "might not be able to" what they really mean was "definitely won't be able to."

I'm sure this sort of thing happens all the time - whoever had that car can't have been the first person to bring a vehicle back late - but it seemed really odd the way they told me this as though it was now my problem and nothing more to do with them. Surely they have some kind of procedure for dealing with the situation? If they did, the local office who were responsible didn't seem to know about it. So I called the national phone line and asked them for help. I was told there was nothing they could do.

There's a secret code for dealing with these situations, a magic incantation that often gets results. I crossed my fingers and uttered the words, "can I speak to your supervisor". Quite why so many companies operate this system of customer-services is beyond me... a raft of people who's job seems to be answering the phone and denying that the company have any responsibility but who will - if you're lucky - hand you over to someone who will help if you ask them to. I don't know anyone who doesn't know the can-I-speak-to-your-supervisor spell so surely everyone just says that and they gain nothing by their stonewalling except more annoyed customers? Wouldn't it be easier to just employ more people who can actually help?

So the supervisor managed to make an alternative booking through a different company - Avis - and promised that, while this new booking was more expensive I would be refunded the difference. Something which didn't happen at the time and that they now seem to be quibbling over...

Of course, if I'd cancelled on them at less than 24 hours notice they would have charged me 50% of the rental plus a £20 administration fee so it seems a little unfair that they can cancel on me and offer nothing except a more-expensive-alternative. I think I should be entitled to the same 50% +£20... that would just about cover the extra costs I've incurred. (I'll let you know how I go with that.)

But more importantly, my Latitude plans were back on track... in the shape of a Chevrolet Matiz. A shape so small that could just about cope with a tent, two bags and one passenger but nothing more.

I was expecting horribly heavy traffic and a long journey through rain drenched roads but apart from a small snarl up near Ipswich it was easy going and as we got closer to the site the sun came out in a glorious fashion. I was just glad it was still light and dry as I erected the tent.

There really isn't time to detail every performance I saw but as is often the case with festivals how much I enjoyed a gig seemed to bear little relation to how likely I am to own an artist's CDs. Some of the people you wouldn't think about buying a ticket for can really surprise you... and often it's about the venue and the atmosphere and so on as much as it is the performance. I think almost any gig would be better with a roof on it but Grace Jones was simply amazing at playing such a big arena and managed to make the atmosphere reach all the way to the back. The Gossip - a band I've not paid much attention to before now - were ace live. The good songs all sound a bit like that one really big hit they had, but Beth Ditto works the crowd brilliantly and has one hell of a pair of lungs on her. Live, she's thrilling and charismatic to watch. Showmanship. Good.

The only disappointment musically was that First Aid Kit had cancelled. The stage they were due to play on - in a small copse in the woods - would have been perfect for them. Oh well.

But Latitude is as much about spoken word as it is about music and my favourite performance of the weekend was a one-man play called Coelacanth by the brilliant Ben Moor. I love Ben's work but had never seen this show before. The setting was perfect. The writing and performance too. I had a tear rolling down my cheek at the end but I laughed a lot along the way. Even as I type this I feel a small tingle of excitement at the memory. Watching Ben perform is like being hugged. His one-man shows have been collected together as prose stories in a book. He's lyrical, brilliant and his alternative universe is a bit like this one only sweeter. I highly recommend it... it's here.

Last year I did a book reading in the Literature Tent. I loved it. I think it might have been the beginning of me thinking about returning to stand-up. It took me a while to get round to it but I think the seed was planted there. It seems counter-intuitive but in a way a book-reading has more in common with stand-up than my story-telling shows do. So I was very happy to come along this year and do some stand-up.

I had a really nice gig but I think I was lucky because a large crowd had turned up and they were focussed enough to ignore the sound of the main stage that was way, way too intrusive. When the crowd weren't as focussed it was really detrimental to the show. It wasn't like that last year and the technicians who were working on that tent were on their walkie-talkies desperately trying to get the mainstage to turn things down a bit but with no joy. It might have been a nice gig but it meant it was an environment that only suited certain types of comedy and that's a real shame and a bad change from the Comedy Tent of last year. Unless they can do something to improve that situation I think a lot of people will choose not to do it again next year.

As well as my stand-up set I also sang in the Cabaret Tent with Ward And White's Karaoke Circus. I say 'sang'... that's really not the word for my performance. Did I sing Daydream Believer? No. Ruined it? Yep. But I rescued it with a stage-dive at the end. Thanks to everyone who caught me.

There was a really lovely atmosphere for the whole of that show and singing ability wasn't really what it was about. It was just lovely, inclusive, silly fun. And I was stupidly excited to be "singing" because the lead guitarist in the band is Foz from the excellent David Devant & His Spirit Wife. I'm a fan. Now I've sung with their lead guitarist. Life is daft.

I also did a small something at the final Book Club in the Literature Tent. Robin Ince is surely the hardest working man in showbiz... I'm pretty sure he was doing 4 or 5 shows most days. His hosting of The Book Club is always hilarious and his organising of it, heroic. I will be scarred for life by the contribution of Pappy's Fun Club that night. Their stylophone based sketch is stunning. Just properly, gasping-for-breath funny. There is no need for them to do it naked. No need. Scarred. For life. Naked.

It was a great way for the festival to end.

And I was very glad that I had a car for the journey home. Tired - especially as some twonk thought it would be nice to play the guitar until 5 in the morning in the middle of a campsite - because, y'know, tents are really well sound-proofed aren't they? - we ambled our way back, taking a nice detour to Aldeburgh for some chips on the beach. Perfect.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Mr Bar

This landed on my door mat yesterday.

Like many people, when times are tough I have been known to visit a "Mister" Bar. I like hanging out with his friend Mister Rum and from time to time can get on famously with Mrs Wine too.

They've never managed to bring any loved ones back mind you and I suspect that deep down they weren't actually helping me out at all.

Sunday, July 12, 2009


Buttercups, originally uploaded by Dave Gorman.

The upcoming tour offers two quite distinct challenges. There's the bike ride - which is far and away the most physical thing I've ever done and then there are the the gigs: every night. I've done gigs before, obviously, but it's a long time since I've done straight stand-up and while doing a gig every night is one thing, doing them while dealing with the physical effects of cycling each day is another.

I find my concern oscillates from one to the other. There's no point doing the thing if the show isn't up to snuff and there's no point having a great show if the physical effort involved in getting there breaks me.

Luckily both concerns seem to be being well looked after. Having completed the 120 mile ride to Brighton and back I reckon my training has paid off. I've lost a chunk of weight and seem to have picked up some stamina along the way. So without stopping training completely I feel free to focus on the show.

I've done two previews recently. One in Leamington on the 6th and the other in Cheltenham on the 10th. (I wonder if something I said was misheard by my agent and he thinks I insisted on Spa towns?)

Anyway... when the show tours properly it will be something like 90mins+ in most venues but for these previews the intention has just been to see if I can put together a decent hour.

They both had nice full rooms and they both went well - very encouraging. I had to glance at notes only four or five times and I forgot a chunk in Leamington and another smaller bit in Cheltenham but they both ran to an hour and ten and left me some material to spare.

One of the things that fascinates me with stand-up is that it's not just how a particular piece of material is written or performed it's how it's placed in the greater scheme of things. A new routine that stormed in Leamington felt lacklustre a few nights later when I was doing a short set in London and then in Cheltenham it suddenly packed a real punch again. Same words. Same ideas being traded. Odd. And really interesting to observe and learn from. (Hmm... maybe it is the Spa town thing?)

In August I'll be doing fuller previews - there are three nights in Porthcawl and a further three in Andover (see the main site for details) - where I'll be adding more elements and reshuffling the jigsaw to try and find the best blend. I'm looking forward to them. Especially now it feels like the show has strong foundations.

I didn't cycle to the previews. I thought about it for the Cheltenham gig. I reckon it was just about in range. But the point of these gigs is to sort out the content and I had stuff to do the next day that made a long ride home a bit more problematic. So I hired a car for each of them.

It's ages since I've driven a car. It's horrible isn't it? Especially in London traffic. On the way to Leamington there had been an accident on the M40. It was on the other carriageway but rubbernecking meant that those of us heading North were crawling too. That combined with the normal slow route across London meant that it took me two and a half hours to travel the first 60 miles.

The drive to Cheltenham was worse. A road in East London had been blocked by the police which gridlocked a whole load of roads. By the time I'd weedled my way around it all - effectively getting me one mile into my journey - an hour had already gone. It took another hour to actually get across London and then I got snarled up in the Friday rush hour around Oxford too. All in all, the 90 mile journey took just over four hours.

So not only did the gigs give me confidence in the show's content, they also left me feeling very glad that I'm going to be cycling.

Friday, July 10, 2009

118 800

Phonecall, originally uploaded by Dave Gorman.

In September last year I received a text message from a stranger that said, "Oh my God! I can't believe this is Dave Gorman's phone number!" (Only with poor spelling and grammar) I ignored it. It was possible that it was a friend with a new number trying to wind me up... and if it wasn't and some genuine stranger had actually happened upon my number, I guessed they'd probably go away if ignored. I didn't blog about it at the time because when someone's trying to get a reaction out of you, it's really best not to give them one.

But they didn't go away. They called me at 8, 9, midnight and 3am. I ignored all the calls. But being an idiot they didn't think to hide their number, so on an off chance I googled it. Unusually, it turned up. I found the name of the person responsible. he was 19. He was at Surrey University. He played in a horribly disappointing rock band, used to play in a jazz orchestra and had a depressingly illiterate myspace page.

The next day there was silence. But then the next day there were more nuisance calls. I screened all calls that came from unknown or hidden numbers. There were many. Mostly from hidden numbers.

The day after that, work took me to Austria. And on Saturday night, in Austria, I received something like 40 or 50 nuisance calls. I didn't answer them. I stopped looking at my phone. I wasn't going to spend an hour wading through my messages on an extortionate T-Mobile roaming rate just to hear a variety of prank calls from a variety of students. I knew there might be some calls from friends in amongst them but I figured they could wait til I got back home.

Not one of the prank calls was mean or abusive. There was no name calling or anything like that. It was more:
"Hi Dave, it's Gordon here from BBC3, we've got a really exciting project lined up for you, can you give me a call on the following number asap..." at which point they'd give me their mates number in the hope that I'd call that number and hilarity would ensue. That sort of thing.

(It is fascinating to discover that that's how they imagine things work. Yes, TV executives (whose voices haven't broken yet - even for BBC3 this is far fetched) are always calling me up from rowdy pubs at 10 o'clock at night and offering me great opportunities... and I'm so desperate to suckle at television's teat that I'm obviously going to call them immediately to pursue it.)

But while they weren't abusive - it felt more like I was the prop in a gag they were playing on their mate and they'd have been just as likely to do it to WH Smiths, say, as me - en masse it was becoming a huge inconvenience. But it became more than that when I went through my messages back in London. There was one message from a friend. It was important. Not in a work way, but in a personal way. It was something I shouldn't have left for a day. I really should have responded. Someone, somewhere needed to hear from me and as a friend, I should have been there for them. The details aren't important... what's important is that some students having a laugh had managed to make life quite a lot worse than it should have been. It was no longer just an inconvenience...

Oh... and on my first day back in England I received around 150 calls from unknown numbers. It was still escalating.

So I decided to do something about it. So I hid my number and called the semi-literate, Surrey University student. He seemed very surprised to hear from me. He was 19 years of age but sounded like a 12 year old who thought he was in trouble. His voice was shaking. I could almost hear his heart beating. I honestly thought he was going to cry.

I asked him how he'd got my number. He sounded flustered and pretended he couldn't really remember. I told him that he could. So he did and he told me. He'd got it from a friend. Who'd also got it from a friend... who had been in Edinburgh during the festival where he'd found a mislaid mobile phone. Being a decent sort he tried to find out who the phone belonged to by looking through the numbers it contained. Which is where he found my number. Instead of thinking, "oh look, I've heard of him", shrugging his shoulders and carrying on, he'd thought, "oh look, I've heard of him... I'm going to write that down."

But then the phone had rung and he discovered the phone's owner on the other end and he'd made arrangements to give them their phone back.

So, I asked my nearly-blubbing student for his friend's number. He said he didn't know it. I told him I knew he was lying and he nearly started hyperventilating under the pressure. I suspected he was telling the truth. But one of the things I'm good at is finding information. I had a name. And a place to start, so I soon found the next link in the chain.

He also sounded like a scared animal when confronted. I asked him how he'd got the number. He corroborated the story. I asked him for the name of the friend who'd found the number.
"Don't pretend you don't know."
"Okay. It was ????? ??????"
"Right. And do you have his number?"
"You do."
"I don't think I can access it while I'm on the phone."
"Yes you can."
"I don't think I ought to just give someone's phone number out..."
No irony. He meant it.
"I agree. And I think I'd like to tell him that too..."
"Oh... right. Yeah... it's..."

So it took me three phone calls to get through to the man who'd written my number down and started it all. He too seemed shocked and scared to be hearing from me. In fact I'm pretty sure he did start crying during the call.

But these three phone calls identified only a small handful of people who'd gotten hold of my number and the calls were coming in from different numbers every day and there was no point me trying to pursue each and every one of them. Besides, scaring 18 year old boys and making them cry wasn't making me happy.

What had happened is that the first person had found my number, gone back to his home town and given my number to four or five others. They were all about to go off to different universities. So they all did. And in the craven social atmosphere of Freshers Week they'd all done a bit of showing off... which had involved giving my number to new people who'd all done the same... and some of them had done the same and so on. First year students drinking please-like-me pints do that sort of thing.

Making nuisance phone calls is a crime. The calls kept on coming and the police did get involved warning some of the people who were making them. But as the number was being passed on to new people every day that wasn't doing anything to contain it. So, with regret I was forced into changing my number. I'd had that number for as long as I could remember. I knew that number inside out and backwards. I've had my new number for ten months now. I still don't know it. I hate that I was forced into changing my number.

Anyway... that was probably at the back of my mind when I first heard about this new 118 800 service - a directory enquiries for mobile phone numbers. The idea that anyone could dial in, try their luck and get my new number was alarming to me. There have been a number of scare stories in the media about it... like this from the BBC and this from The Register.

I find the whole idea that you can opt out offends my sensibilities. It seems to me that it's the kind of thing you should have to opt in for.

According to that Register story, Connectivity confirmed it had planned legal action to get access to operator data saying, "Exactly as all the landline directory services were entitled to request telephone number data from BT, 118800 is also legally entitled to request data from telecommunications companies."

The thing is... if I remember rightly, when I moved house and got a new landline number I think I was given the option there and then on making it ex-directory. When I was given my new mobile number I wasn't. So the comparison doesn't stack up. BT might be obliged to hand over those details to a ladline directory service... but they do so knowing that their customers have consented to being in a directory. As a mobile directory didn't exist when we were given our numbers nobody stopped to ask.

As I type this the 118800 website is currently not working. Presumably because of all the people using it to try and make their number ex-directory.

In fairness to them, I ought to point out that they don't actually give your number out to anyone. What they told me is that they call you, explain who's asking for you and then offer to patch the call through. Which is still too much intrusion for me.
Getting a call from 118800 saying "Hello... we have someone called Gordon from BBC3 on the line, do you want me to patch it through?" isn't materially different to getting a message from a student saying the same thing after all.

Because the website wasn't functioning properly yesterday I called the number and asked to be made ex-directory. The person I spoke to was very defensive about the whole thing and very keen to tell me why I shouldn't believe things I might have read in an e-mail. Which seemed odd because I didn't know anything about any e-mail.

He went to great lengths to explain that they had bought their numbers from legitimate sources and that if I'd never given my number to any company I had nothing to worry about.

But I have experiences to prove that's nonsense also. I've had compensation from two companies who have sent me spam text messages before now. Both were mainstream companies. Both had bought lists of numbers from reputable sources. On both occasions the reputable sources had got my number illegally. On both occasions I put more man hours into it than is reasonable in order to prove my case and get compensation.

I'm delighted to see the 118800 website is down. I hope it stays that way. If you haven't already, do call them and ask to be ex-directory. Let's keep them so busy removing numbers that they don't have time to actually call anyone and offer to patch them through.