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.
Monday, July 16, 2007
Okay, I know I'm on thin ice with this what with my catalogue of autobiographical work behind me and this blogging malarkey but here goes...
The thing is, when you write about yourself your ego is bound to control things at least a little bit. It has to. I'm pretty sure that most of what I've written about my experiences shows me to be the dysfunctional tit I am but even so, I'm bound to have crossed the line some of the time and written something that equates to I'm-great-me! And for that I can only apologise.
The best place to look for ill-advised, self-aggrandising nonsense is probably the blogosphere but I think you'd be hard pushed to find a better example of the genre than the accidentally hilarious piece written by Joan Collins in this Saturday's Daily Mail. Rarely have I read anything more lacking in self-awareness.
It seems JC has a new autobiography coming out and to plug it the Daily Mail published an extract covering a tour of US theatres in a play with her former Dynasty co-star (and real life nemesis) Linda Evans.
You can read the piece here and here. (Yes, it's in two parts. I'm not sure why. Maybe the Daily Mail haven't worked out how to scroll properly. <<*EDIT TO ADD: the article has mysteriously disappeared from the Mail's site now... but the text has been lovingly preserved here EDIT ENDS*>>
Anyway, make yourself a cup of tea, settle down and read the article. It's worth it. It's not just that Joan is being catty about someone - after all, that's part of what normally makes Joan so deliciously entertaining - it's all about how blind she is to her own vanity and her own faults. If Linda improvises it's unprofessional. If Joan improvises it's professional. When the director gives Joan notes to improve her performance he's wrong. When anyone gives notes to Linda, they're right. Before they've started rehearsals, the producer is interested in Joan's rewrites - all of which are fabulous and improve the play no end - and yet two days before opening night they're not so interested. Surely Joan is the only person in the world who hasn't worked out that they were only being polite in the first place and their politeness has now run dry. There are simply too many fabulous moments for me to mention them all or I'll end up doing a line by line dissection of the piece and honestly, you'll enjoy reading it for yourself. Read about Linda stupidly wanting to do the fight scene onstage and Joan sensibly wanting to do it offstage. Then read the review from Variety in which the director gets criticised for inexplicably staging the fight out of sight. Then read bitchy comments like "A simply horrible review in the local paper, almost as bad for me as it is for Linda." Then go back and read the review from Variety again and see who come off better in the serious trade journal. Some random lines that made me spit my tea out with laughter: "My finger is in agony because Linda kicked it last night." Oof. "I find her an acting coach she can work with after rehearsals." Ow. and then this exchange at the end of a row... well, this takes the biscuit:
As she goes, I say: "I don't think that's very professional." She screws her head around - like Linda Blair in The Exorcist - and a demonic croak comes out of her mouth: "Well, you're unprofessional!" Everyone around us is agape. I'm furious. It's one thing to describe an actor's specific behaviour as not professional, but quite another to call the actor unprofessional. She obviously hates me and is jealous of my happiness with Percy.
Do you follow? Joan said Linda was being unprofessional and Linda responded by saying that Joan is unprofessional. That's where she crossed the line. Grrr. Must be cock-jealousy that's behind it. That. Is the only. Explanation.
Friday, July 13, 2007
Except that's not what happened. It's just the way it looked in the edit. But because that's the way it was presented all the papers ran with the story when in actual fact the footage that appeared to show ER leaving was actually footage of her arriving. So now the BBC are on the back foot, apologies are flying around and resignations are being called for.
What strikes me as odd about this is that these kind of editing techniques are clearly used all the time in telly-land. It's only because it's embarrassed the Queen that they've had to apologise. I bet she didn't have to sign the usual release form waiving all her rights before they started filming. (She doesn't wave or waive like anyone else, that one.)
If you watch a Wife Swap/Holiday Swap/Shipwrecked/whatever, I'm sure you'll see the same kind of editing all the time. Rows are ramped up and conversations manipulated in edit suites every day.
When there's only one camera crew in a room they have to use shots out of sync because they can't film what one person says and the other person's reaction at the same time. So at the end of a long day when they catch someone looking bored and yawning, they'll take that and cheerfully splice it into a conversation from earlier in the day to make it look like the two people weren't getting on. You see reality TV participants complaining about it after the event all the time... but nobody asks anyone to resign over it. We all just think they're complaining about nothing, that they should have known what they were getting into and that it doesn't really matter because it's only telly.
A friend once told me about the contract they were asked to sign for a reality TV show. One of the clauses was that the company had the right to misrepresent the participant. Reality. Misrepresent.
In a joint statement from the BBC and RDF they said, "This assembly was never intended to be seen by the public or the press," which does make you wonder who it was meant to be seen by. Were they making it for their own amusement? For a bit of a laugh? What seems most likely to me is that the piece was put together by someone who just went about their job the way they normally do... using the footage available to them to make the most entertaining story they could. It's just that nobody stopped to think, that maybe, just maybe, they shouldn't do that to the Queen.
I bet it won't stop them doing it to anyone else though.
Here's the Queen storming out of a photoshoot with me some time last year:
I'm really pleased with the guest list again this year. I the guests have to come from different fields so that the show doesn't become predictable. My theory has always been that if you put all the guests from one series together they'd make a really good panel for Blankety Blank.
Matthew Wright, Rob Newman, Simon Munnery, Gyles Brandreth, Germaine Greer and Charlie Brooker. Now come on - you'd watch Blankety Blank if that was the line up. Professor Greer would have to go in the bottom right. You know, where the ditsy blonde always sat.
No. I wouldn't say that to her face.
On the way to the pub afterwards we found ourselves walking up Portland Place and arriving at a junction at the same time as a huge bunch of rollerbladers. There were loads of them. I'm useless at assessing numbers so I'll say there were between 50 and 200 of them. I had a small camera in my pocket and as the lights changed and they went thundering past I snapped this.
Quite a sight they were. Apparently the group goes skating round London every Wednesday night. If I could rollerblade I'd join them.
Saturday, July 7, 2007
If there was one show this series that I was trepid about it in advance it was the one we recorded last night. The guest was Germaine Greer who I confess to being a little scared of in advance. (Does that say more about me or her?) Would she enter into the ridiculousness of the show? It's not like we have many ideas in the series that would actually work. This is one of the things that I like about the show... that everyone maintains this strange internal logic and takes these ridiculous proposals "seriously." Of course if you take them seriously (as opposed to "seriously") it can fall apart because it's unlikely that you'll discover any actual genius there. (Whereas if you take them "seriously" you might well find "genius") (Obviously, it's all about the "")
We had a brief chat before the show and I still couldn't get a read on how playful she would be with the ideas. But when the show started she turned out to be just about the perfect guest. I think it's the atmosphere created by the audience that does it... there's more of them than anyone else in the room and they seem so tuned in to the show's tone these days that I think they create an irresistible force. She's such a strong personality and has a great (and funny) way with words so maybe I shouldn't have been worried about it in the first place... she was always going to be great.
Wednesday, July 4, 2007
They were blogged far and wide at the time and I started to get strange e-mails asking me about them from Canadian typography experts and the collection ended up being published in a Brazilian magazine too. But that was ages ago and they're now buried deep within the bowels of my flickr account where they largely go unnoticed.
Suddenly this week they started to attract loads of views and comments and I wasn't sure why for a while. It turns out they were linked to by the superb BoingBoing. (Which is very flattering because I heart BoingBoing. It's ace.)
Even better, it seems a chap called Carl Pappenheim has written a really nice program for them, that allows you to write anything you like using them as your font of choice.
Tuesday, July 3, 2007
And he was nice again last night. You add into the mix another bunch of supremely confident punters - including one who brought a scale model of his idea along with him - and it makes for a very enjoyable night all round. Although how Gyles and I ended up wrapped in a duvet together is another story. A memorable night for sure.
Photo: A man, a smile, a scale model of his "genius" idea and a scale model of the Genius trophy. (1:1 scale)