Tuesday, February 28, 2006


I really enjoyed the Colin & Edith Show last night even though Jim Noir turned out not to be playing after all in one of those last-minute-things-that-happens-when-making-TV-shows. The two bands who were on (The Zutons and We Are Scientists) were both great and great company too. As it happensJim Noir are doing a gig in London tonight - within walking distance of home - and I've managed to blag a ticket for that instead. A complete set in a decent venue will be more pleasing than one or two songs in a TV studio for sure.

I read something in the paper yesterday about the £53million robbery. It all sounds pretty brutal and unpleasant but what surprised me was the way in which the police had reached the conclusion that one of the criminals had been wearing a false beard. It basically said that he had a scruffy, wiry and wispy ginger beard but that it was probably fake because it was a different colour to the hair on his head. I thought this was really common. In fact a few months ago I was arguing this same point with a female friend in a pub. She was intrigued by my own mismatched beard/hair combo and I was explaining how common it was. She didn't believe me and so we conducted a small survey of the other men in the group - all of whom were clean shaven. Over half of them said that they too had ginger beards and not one of them had red hair. You'd think the police would know this. (Not about the specific conversation between me and some friends in a pub a few months ago - that would be weird and scary - but about the widespread redness to the beards of non-red-headed men.)

I think I've been the victim of a less serious crime myself recently. Like all right minded people I've been a huge fan of Channel 4's Peep Show. I think the idiots have decided not to recommission the series and partly prompted by the realisation that it wouldn't be on my telly anymore I set about trying to buy the show on DVD. I got Series 2 for a reasonable price but while Series 1 was released on DVD some time ago it no longer seems to be available. So I thought I'd have a quick shufty on ebay to see if I could pick up a bargain there.

I managed to buy a copy for only £6.99 and promptly sent off my payment. Then I got a message from ebay advising me that the item had ben removed from their listings because it breached 'one or more of our policies.' It went on to explain; 'Any offers or bids placed on this listing are now null and void. We advise you not to finalize this transaction with the seller. As stated in the eBay User Agreement, neither seller nor buyer should engage in transactions that breach the law or eBay policy.' Which is all right and proper but doesn't really help me given that I'd already paid for the item. Ebay can never confirm the particular breach of its terms and conditions but I suspect that the DVD was a bootleg copy. I don't want to buy a bootleg copy so I wrote to the seller requesting a refund. They wrote back to say that they would send the DVD and that I could get a refund if I wanted.

Needless to say the DVD hasn't arrived. I contacted Paypal - the ebay owned company that I'd used to transfer the funds - and opened up a complaint procedure. Ten days later Paypal wrote to me to say that they'd found in my favour but that they were unable to refund the money because the seller's account was empty. I should think it was. They were no longer listed as a seller on ebay and had no doubt emptied the account when they knew their nefarious bootlegging operation had been discovered.

So I've sent a stranger the grand total of £6.99 and received nothing in return. Ebay and paypal have politely explained that they're unable to help me to get my money back and that seems to be that. Obviously it's only a small amount of money in the grand scheme of things but even so it's a bit galling and it certainly puts me off using ebay a bit as despite all their advertising stressing how safe and secure it is there appears to be nothing stopping people from getting away with this kind of small scale nonsense.

Of course it would be petty and childish of me to publish the e-mail address of the seller responsible. But on balance probably not as petty and childish as it was to take my money and run so I'd like to say a big hello to k****.o******@talk21.com. (self censored, March 10) You're a very naughty girl.

Saturday, February 25, 2006


I've thoroughly enjoyed my two weeks standing in for Tom Robinson on 6Music. I think the main thing when doing a job like that is to not annoy the regular listeners. They obviously listen for a reason so to change the show in any big way would spoil it for them. All you can really do is present the show the way it is... but in your own way. Which in my case means in a shambolic way.

We had some really great bands in the studio and I started to enjoy chatting to the guests which hasn't always been the case in the past. Well, I've always enjoyed having bands in, I've just never considered myself much cop when it comes to interviewing people... but I think that side of the job saw a marked improvement this time round.

As always while I try to play some music that won't have had much play on the radio before I also end up discovering music that's new to me and leaving with a big shopping list. I now have to get hold of some Jim Noir amongst other things.

I seemed to be all over the place yesterday. The episode of Banter I recorded recently was on Radio 4 at 6.30, then I was hosting the 6Music show from 7 til 9.30 and when I got home there was a repeat of the Culture Show on BBC2 with my contribution to the Design Quest thing in it. It's always a bit weird when that happens. Things that were recorded in advance just colliding randomly... I always get a bit paranoid and imagine someone somewhere accidentally catching them all and feeling like I'm electronically stalking them.

I've been invited to appear on a new BBC3 show hosted by Radio 1's Colin and Edith which is taped on Sunday. I don't know too much about it but I think Jim Noir are playing and that's reason enough to turn up as far as I'm concerned.

The variety I've been enjoying of late continues... I'm a guest on two episodes of Radio 4's Quote Unquote which record next Tuesday and on March 4th I'm returning to take part in another episode of Celebrity Poker Club, the show that started me off on the road to ruin this time last year.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

You've got to have a hobby

If you'd asked me a year ago what my hobbies were I would have struggled to answer the question. The things that interest me; reading, listening to music and so on aren't really hobbies because they're things that everyone does. Aren't they? I probably thought that hobbies in general were a bit strange. It occurred to me tonight that I can now legitimately claim to have three hobbies: cycling, photography and poker.

I started playing poker about a year ago when I was invited to take part in a televised tournament. I got very interested after the show and started to play online occasionally. Recently I've played more frequently online and in person on a few occasions. I've even won a small amount of money of late and while I'm certainly not in profit overall, I have made a profit in 2006.

I've been an occasional cyclist for a long time but it was always just a practical best-way-from-A-to-B kind of cycling. Then last year I started to go for bike rides just for pleasure and to get away from things. (There's a great 10 mile round trip that takes me through the Lea Valley - it's beautiful, quite a bit of it is a nature reserve and you wouldn't have a clue that you were in London) While I was in the States towards the end of last year there were a few occasions when I hired a bike in order to disappear and see some stuff. You see things differently on a bike than you do from a car. Partly I suppose it's just the difference in pace but also I think you pay attention in a different way. When you're driving you're looking out for things because you don't want to hurt anyone. When you're cycling you look out for things because you don't want to get hurt.

It was while I was in the States that I started taking photos with a different eye also. I started because of the rock balancing but once I'd discovered the photo-sharing website flickr it wasn't long before I was putting more thought into photography as well. (Oo... rock balancing; that's four hobbies - I've clearly gone hobby-crazy!)

I was thinking about this because tonight I indulged in three of them and they all left me feeling strangely fulfilled. A friend was hosting a poker night. It was out near Greenwich/Blackheath and I decided that while I didn't really know the way it would be a decent bike ride. I'm guessing that it's about a 6 or 7 mile ride from Bethnal Green (I'm sure someone will correct me if I'm wrong) and I know my way over to the Isle of Dogs pretty well but after that I'd be guessing or, more likely, referring to maps.

Because I haven't done the journey before I wasn't sure how much time I should allow so in the end I decided to put my camera and tripod in my bag and leave early. That way, if I made good time I could dawdle awhile and take some photos and if it was further than I thought I could just keep cycling. If only I'd thought to take a detour via some balanceable rocks too.

It meant that I used the Greenwich Foot Tunnel for the first time in my life. I pushed my bike through because I am a law abiding citizen but even so it was a great reminder of why I love cycling. I had no idea the tunnel was there a short while ago and yet it's an amazing part of the city I live in. It's 1217 feet long and around 40 to 50 feet below the water. It's impossible to walk through it without wondering about the weight of all that water overhead - the River Thames. But the tunnel has been in use since 1902 so I guess it's likely to last a while yet.

All in all it was a good night out. I've got to be a bit healthier for a 13+ mile bike ride, I've had a nice time in good company and it hasn't cost me a thing. In fact I made a small profit. I've also discovered something new about London, connected parts of the city that weren't really connected on my mental map and taken a few pictures along the way.

It occurs to me that maybe one of the reasons I've got into scrapes in the past might be that I had time on my hands and nothing to do with it except look for trouble. Maybe now that I'm hobbied-up to the max there'll be less strife.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Pretending to be a DJ

My occasional stints on 6Music are easily amongst the most enjoyable of my distractions. I think if I did the job week in week out the shine might come off it but getting the chance to go in every now and then to cover for someone else is just a perfect gig. I never feel particularly slick or professional but it is the radio station I listen to most which means it's easy to be enthusiastic about the music. They allow me to play quite a lot of stuff of my own choosing as well which makes it even easier.

The most enjoyable aspect for me has been the live sessions. I had a meeting with the producer a few weeks ago to chat about who we thought would be good on the show and I've been amazed at how many of the bands I suggested have been available. We had Jim Bob in on Monday. I think he was my very first interview on my first stint on 6Music many moons ago while I was standing in for Gideon Coe. He's really good company and when the album School comes out in April I highly recommend it. (Sample lyric: There was an altercation at the Esso station, they used to call it smash and grab/ There was a theft of fuel and a fire at the school. It started in the science lab.)

Tuesday and Wednesday saw Misty's Big Adventure and The Boy Least Likely To respectively. They're very different to each other yet they both have something charmingly childlike in their music and both of their latest albums are amongst my current favourites. Today we had Teddy Thompson in the studio. I'm less familiar with TT but he was really relaxed and enjoyable company and again his latest album is very, very good.

I didn't know that the thing I recorded for The Culture Show was going to be on this evening. I only realised when we got a text message at the studio asking me how I was managing to be on 6Music and BBC2 at the same time.

Because the show runs Monday to Thursday I now have a three day weekend before I'm back in for a second week. I hope you get the chance to tune in - if you ignore my babbling you'll hear some really great music.

I spent Wednesday afternoon recording a voice over for the BBC4 Top Of The Form night. This involved sitting in a studio watching an edited version of the programme I filmed all the links for last week and then fitting the appropriate words to the appropriate shots where I wasn't on screen. If you watch the show when it goes out you'll notice that I have a very red nose in most of it. I told you it was cold in that Neasden warehouse.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Top of the Culture Show, Mr Robinson

I've really enjoyed this last week. Every day has been different and fun. Yesterday was spent in a freezing cold warehouse in Neasden recording stuff for a BBC4 show about the old school's quiz Top Of The Form. The channel will be having a Top Of The Form theme night which I'll be hosting. They'll show a couple of (highly entertaining) shows from the archive, a modern day revival made with current schoolkids, a documentary about the show and some other related programmes. I'm sure it was important for the whole look and feel of the evening to record the links in a freezing cold warehouse. In Neasden.

The first part of today was spent in Clapham filming a short piece for The Culture Show. It's a short piece that's longer than the short piece I filmed for them two or three weeks ago. It's all to do with a feature they're running called Design Quest which aims to find the public's favourite piece of classic British design. The first recording I did was used as part of a programme in which various people discussed 25 different classic, British designs. Then viewers voted for their favourites and these votes have whittled the list down to a top 10. Now longer films are being made to represent each one.

Mine is about the world wide web. A new tranche of voting opens next Thursday and this will get them down to a shortlist of 3 and then there is presumably more voting to select the winner. Trying to explain it is exhausting enough. How anyone is meant to compare an angelpoise lamp to a routemaster bus to the world wide web is beyond me ... but if they do I'm sure they'll agree with me and vote for the web.

After that I headed into 6Music to take part in the venerable broadcasting institution that is Roundtable. I've done this a couple of times now and it's always mischievous fun. It was nice to pop in because for the next two weeks I'll be pretending to work there when I deputise as host for the Tom Robinson's Evening Sequence. I'm looking forward to that.

Thursday, February 9, 2006


I've had a very enjoyable couple of days. I spent last night at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards. I was there to present an award but really that was just an excuse to spend the evening in good company, witnessing some amazing live performances. It really was a pretty special night.

Tonight I spent the evening recording a panel show called Classic Comebacks. It's about old TV shows and was hosted by Les Dennis. I scared myself by knowing more about Prisoner Cell Block H than I thought I did.

I've generally been having a high old time of late and I've been trying to work out why these things are making me quite so happy. I mean they are fun to do but I think there's more to it than that and I think I've worked it out.

I am essentially self-employed. I write stuff and I perform stuff. That's it. I think I'm incredibly fortunate to be able to make a living in this way. But within the range of things that I do there are differing degrees of responsibility.

The Googlewhack Adventure for example carries quite a lot of responsibility. It's a show and a book about events in my own life that I wrote and that I perform. Although there are a lot of people who helped to make it happen at the end of the day, my name is on the book cover, my name is above the door of the theatre and whether or not the project works is going to come down to me.

In contrast the work I've been doing lately carries very little responsibility. I don't mean to suggest that I don't care about the outcome - I do - only that the shows I've done haven't been mine. It doesn't matter whether it's The Wright Stuff, Classic Comeback, Banter, BBLB, Morning Glory or The Culture Show each one is someone else's responsibility and I'm hired to slot into them in some way. They're less challenging than a one-man show but less stressful also. Somewhere between these extremes lies Genius. I host the show but it's put together by a team of people and it's a real collaboration.

I think in an ideal world I need to have a healthy mix of these things. If I have too much of one I start to crave the other. I love the excitement of a new project and to some extent I think I thrive on the pressure that goes with it. But I don't think it's healthy to have just that.

For most of the last three years I've been consumed by The Googlewhack Adventure one way or another. There have been diversions along the way but it's taken up a huge amount of my time. It's been very exciting at times but it's also prevented me from doing some of the other less stressful gigs along the way. Especially given the amount of overseas touring I did with that particular show.

So now that I'm back and that show has been put to bed I think I'm redressing the balance. I have no desire to take on any big new project for a while and I'm loving the variety of things that are available to me. None of which give me any sleepless nights.

On Thursday I'm filming some links for a BBC4 documentary I'm presenting and on Friday I'm recording a longer follow up piece about the world wide web for the Culture Show (assuming enough people decide that the world wide web is a great bit of British design) while on Monday I begin a two week stint hosting a show on 6Music. No wonder I'm enjoying things at the moment; the last four months of 2005 were high on pressure and low on variety and the first 38 days of 2006 have been the exact opposite.

Saturday, February 4, 2006

Wright Stuff

The Wright Stuff has made for a very enjoyable week. It has to be enjoyable in order to justify getting up so early each morning. The show has two panellists who appear all week and then each day there's another guest as well. Almost every time I do the show the other regular is Janet Ellis as was the case this week.

There's something odd about sitting behind a desk with someone who was presenting children's TV when you were a kid. It's like bumping into one of your old teachers in a pub... nice to chat to them on level terms but you have to remind yourself that you are on level terms. When I was 12 I watched Janet break her pelvis. Not on purpose you understand. Blue Peter wasn't that cruel back then.

Thursday, February 2, 2006

A book I like...

This book has a cover I don't really like, it's about a subject I don't find particularly appealing and it's a debut novel from an author I've never heard of. I don't really know why I first picked it up.
But I picked it up on a whim while I was in the States and I'm very glad I did. It's a rites of passage tale set in the Southern States. It's the intertwining stories of three girls through summer camp, high school and the University of Alabama. The opening scene is utterly astonishing and the story rattles along to a thoroughly surprising and rewarding end. Fantastic.

Eating The Cheshire Cat

See all the books I've recommended so far here.