Monday, 6 July 2009

This fire

The tragic, grim and almost entirely incomprehensible ending of Ibsen’s Ghosts involves Oswald staring into the middle distance like an extra in Apocalypse Now and muttering ‘The sun, the sun’. It’s widely held to be something to do with going mad from syphilis. But think about it: he’s Norweigan. You don’t need to have a mentally debiliating sexually transmitted disease to start having horrors about the sun - you just need a slightly warm afternoon.


Similarly, London has recently been unreasonably, immorally, hot. It was the kind of heat that made respectable people start thinking that maybe yeah, rioting is a valid life choice, and hey, doesn’t Greenland have quite a low population density? To put it scientifically, God pushed the wrong button on the giant microwave in the sky, and we came out slightly overcooked.

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Songwriting with The Smiths

For those who are unaware, there was once, and in the hearts of many, still is, a band called The Smiths, who, despite their name, at no point worked in the medium of metal. The band was well-known for Morrissey's unique songwriting, but what is not so well known is the tortuous artistic process behind many of the songs and lyrics that made it onto record. Through the ceaseless research of my super-secret contact, I am now very proud to present an exclusive look into the working titles of some of those cracking tunes.


How Soon Is Next Wednesday?

'How Soon is Now?' began life as a melancholic tale of waiting for a plumber to call to fix a dodgy boiler, with the plaintive slide guitar representing the little whining noise one makes when trying to take a cold shower. Lyrics re-written to avoid offending the lucrative plumbing market, known for their consistent support of jangly '80s guitar bands.


This Wretched Man

'This Charming Man' was originally written about the morning after, and included the chorus lyrics, 'I would go out tonight, but it's Sunday and it's raining and I'm hungover'.


Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others

Actually made it onto the album after it was decided that the original, 'Some Girls Make Me More Miserable Than Others' was deemed to leave the album 'a bit heavy, man'.


Pretty Girls Make Papier-Mâché

A paean to the glory days of Blue Peter, this was re-written as 'Pretty Girls Make Graves' because the primitive printing technologies of the day couldn't get the accents for 'Mâché' correct on the album sleeve.


I Owe You A Pint

Early version of 'I Don't Owe You Anything', born when Johnny Marr mistook a scrawled reminder from Morrissey as a cryptic lyric for a new song.


That Joke Cracks Me Up Every Time You Wit

Became 'That Joke Isn't Funny Any More' after Morrissey realised that in fact, he was heartily fed up with the joke, and rather hoped Marr would stop bloody telling it. The joke's exact words are unknown, but the punch-line is believed to be “Oh, I'm sorry, I thought you said 'bacon'.” On a related point, 'Stop Me If You've Heard This One Before' is named after the last thing Johnny Marr said before Morrissey punched him, causing his departure from the band.


The Queen's Just Stunned, She'll Be Alright in a Minute

The Queen's medical condition worsened considerably between draft and the studio. A proposed closing song entitled 'This is An Ex-Queen' never made it onto the album. Or, curiously, anything else.


There Is A Light That Is On The Blink, Would You Mind Taking A Look At It?

A tragic tale of a short man's inability to change a bulb, this was later changed to '...That Never Goes Out' after Morrissey was enthused by tales of newly developed energy-saving bulbs.


Vicar in Hatutu

This story of failed missionary work on a South Pacific island was almost shelved when it was discovered that only eleven people knew that Hatutu was a real place. A fortunate likeness of sound saved the song from the cutting-room floor, and 'Vicar In A Tutu' survived to kick-start a sadly brief fashion in the Church of England, an achievement fortunately not replicated by Mansun's 1996 single 'Stripper Vicar'.


I Know It's LBW

One of the best-known songs about cricket, this was altered to 'I Know It's Over' purely to help the scansion, although the change has led to some thinking that it has something to do with sex. People are strange, huh? Another frequently misinterpreted track is 'I Started Something I Couldn't Finish', which is, of course, about a particularly large ice-cream sundae.


Last Night I Dreamt That I Was Being Chased By Robert Smith, And When I Woke Up There Was Hair-Spray On My Pillow

The epic centrepiece to Strangeways Here We Come, 'Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me' was originally a stream-of-consciousness narrative detailing Morrissey's anxieties about the state of grumpy British music, but was eventually transformed into a dour meditation on love and loss. The two-minute intro of chaotic shouting is the only known recording of the notorious fight between The Smiths and The Cure.


Sadly, there are no visual recordings of the brawl, but a passing sound engineer described it as 'basically like that gang battle in A Clockwork Orange.' The feud began when Robert Smith accused The Smiths, en masse, of stealing his name. In response, Morrissey insisted that there could only be one enduringly popular British band from the 1980s beginning with 'The'*, but was quite willing to refer to Smith's group as 'Panacea'**, whereupon Porl Thompson nutted him. Smith was going to, but didn't want to ruin his hair. The ominous piano that plays over these sounds of conflict is in fact part of the same recording, since Johnny Marr was too wrapped up in his instrumental to realise that there were fisticuffs breaking out all around him.



-


* And you wonder why The Stone Roses broke up?


** Since used as a name by a Swedish doom metal covers band who misread their dictionary.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Spies on a shoestring

With last weekend's update not being massively exciting, I thought I'd post the Spooks deleted scene from a while ago.


Disclaimer one: this was written before every news article in the world began with the phrase 'In the current economic climate', and I'm entirely aware that by now nobody sane can be bothered to read anything more about how, for reasons that can only be explained through eldritch accounting terminology or mind-numbing cliches, money has broken.

Disclaimer two: this was written while the last series of Spooks was still going, so you'll have to imagine it being attractively topical. I also apologise for my hopelessly inaccurate judgment of a certain character, in the light of all the nastiness from the end of the last series.


Anyway.


(MI5 Headquarters, ground floor meeting room. Harry Pierce, head of section, stands at the end of the table, waiting. Ros Myers enters, chewing a lemon.)


Harry: Thank you for coming, Ros. I'm afraid I have some bad news.


Ros: Is it...


H: No. Nobody has been blown up, shot, drowned, burnt to death, strangled, tortured or gone off the rails. It's rather less fatal than that. I've just been to see the Home Secretary, and I'm afraid there are going to have to be some cut-backs. We've talked through a restructuring plan, and everything's going to be fine.


R: Damn it, Harry, the safety of millions of people is at stake!


H: Let me speak, Ros. The Home Secretary and I have talked this through, and I'm afraid we're going to have to let you go.


R: This is ridiculous, Harry. We're overstretched as it is. Last week Lucas had to take on some of Jo's Anguished Flashbacks, and last series Malcolm had to step in as Action Sidekick.


H: It's been decided, Ros. There's nothing I can do.


R: I'm the head of Section, Harry. You need me.


H: Don't make this harder than it has to be, Ros. You've already spent several weeks being dead, and nobody minded then. Lucas is going to take over your work Looking Stern and Killing People Who Deserve It.


R: He's not ready!


H: Not yet, perhaps, but he will be soon. In the meantime, I'm taking on some some Scum Murdering, and we're promoting Ben to probational Having a Six-Pack to give Lucas more time for his other work.


R: But Ben's Token Middle Eastern Guy! That's a full-time position, and you know it.


H: We're not asking much more from him. I'm confident in his abilities.


R: What about Hard-Nosed Bitch? You've got nobody else who can do that.


H: We intend to share that between Jo and Connie.


R: Jo's way too troubled, and you know it. And how are you going to fit that into Connie's remit? She's bland, old and nice through and through.


H: Age has its advantages. The writers are considering a personality-altering stroke.


R: Sheer desperation. It'll never work. Why not cut her entirely? You'll never slot her into Slightly Unconvincing Love Interest.


H: She's Token Old Person, Ros. We need her. She does Non-Sexual Sympathy like nobody else. Besides, what if there's a resurgence of cold war plot lines? She has Russian knowledge, and we might need that soon. Jo has been training for Slightly Unconvincing Love Interest for some time.


R: She's useless, Harry. She's clearly going to move from Worried and Vulnerable into full-scale Losing It, and that's not profitable in the current climate.


H: It's not up to you to say what's profitable, Ros.


R: Damn it, Harry, the safety of millions of people is at stake!


H: Yes, Ros, we're aware of that.


R: [Desperately] Malcolm! Dump the wet, mumbling nerd.


H: Ros, you know that's madness. He's the only one with a personality that doesn't depend on staring into the middle distance. Besides, it's hard to find a Likeable Geek who can deal with British accents.


R: Damn it, Harry, the safety of millions of people is at stake!


H: I know you're upset, Ros, but it’s not just you that’s being affected by this. We’ve relocated Lucas’ safehouse from Hampstead to Stockwell. Malcolm’s been moved over from Mac to PC, and you may have noticed that the projector in this meeting room has in fact been replaced by a blackboard. Also, before you become too distraught, I must say that we have lined something up for you. Have you ever fancied yourself in a different time?


R: [Brightening] Not...


H: Yes, Ros...


R: [Excited] You're transferring me to Doctor Who?


H: Er, no, sorry. What about a classic car, eh? Ever grow a bit bored with our generic black saloons? Fancied something with a bit more colour?


R: [Still quite excited] You can swing me Life on Mars?


H: [Giving up on trying to interest her] It's Heartbeat, Ros. The Oop North (Rustic Division) have called. They need a new bad-tempered feminist detective.


R: Damn it, Harry! I’m not a period-piece feminist, I’m a Hard-Nosed Bitch. I wear trouser suits. You know what? You can’t make me do this. I quit. [Hurls badge on desk.]


H: You’re a natural. I’ll tell them you’ll take the job.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Two-thirty, the dentist's hour


On the whole I think dentistry is a dashed good thing. I am glad there are strange people willing to poke about in our mouths in exchange for little more than a feeling of absolute power and a sizeable property empire. It’s one of those areas where it’s hard to be nostalgic. The very crustiest of fogies sit, encased in their gentlemen’s clubs (no ‘members’ clubs’ for these old oafs – we’re talking about the kind of ancient who isn’t entirely sure women ought to exist, let alone be allowed into exclusive establishments), and in exchange for a pint of modest-quality gin will rant about the horrors of modern inventions like moveable type, steam engines and democracy. Yet even these decaying, hate-fuelled creatures are quite fond of modern dentistry. For a start, it’s quite hard to complain vociferously when your mouth contains little more than enamelled shrapnel.

Perhaps I am too harsh on mouthwork’s manky past. For the wealthy, there were alternatives to a face full of grit and bone. You could have some artifical gnashers constructed from coal and asbestos. For a few bob more you could have the real thing torn from the face of a loyal servant or defeated foe, and then shoved into your own necrotic gob. You could have an elephant slaughtered especially, and some shiny new incisors carved from its tusks. Or, of course, for the true decadent for whom any minute away from the opium pipe is a minute wasted, you could simply train an obedient houseboy to do all your chewing for you, then pipe the resulting meat gruel directly into your own bloated belly, washing it down with several gallons of port.

See, the old days weren’t so bad. However, we now have shimmering surgeries that look like images of heaven from 1920s films. There are neutrally decorated waiting rooms that are between them solely responsible for keeping Readers’ Digest in business. Here musak tinkles in between softly spoken adverts for increasingly nuclear forms of tooth-whitening.

Compare these cool, Scandinavia-on-a-strict-design-budget vistas of peace and glass-topped tables to Gps’ waiting rooms. These are an infernal combination of creche, retirement home and consumptives’ sanatorium, where you all wait for weeks for five minutes of time with an overworked doctor permitted only three answers: “Ask somebody else”, “Hope it goes away,” and “Take these mysterious pills”.

However, there is a consolation: doctors rarely see fit to surround you with pictures of the terrible things that could happen if you don’t visit them regularly. Dentists, on the other hand, are quite happy to pack their realms with posters of gum disease, murals of misaligned molars, and hideous images of cheap, broken fillings. It’s all very unsettling – a bit like visiting the DVLA and finding yourself surrounded by sculptures of car crashes.

There’s a good reason why doctors don’t do this: decorating the place with pictures of dead ‘flu victims and people who’ve turned into giant rashes is considered slightly bad form. Also, a doctor without a giant queue is a happy doctor. Very rare, in other words. A dentist in a similar situation, however, is pretty swiftly going to find themselves out on the High Street with a cardboard sign saying ‘will cap teeth for food’.

Bad teeth are good business, and the worse we think our teeth are, the better that business gets. True, as a nation we ought to spend a bit more time having our teeth examined, but that’s not enough to excuse handing new patients a ‘smile assessment form’, as my local did when I signed up. The form was packed with leading questions designed solely to make me question my self-worth enough to sign up to heinously expensive and entirely unnecessary cosmetic procedures. “Are you satisfied with the shape of your teeth?” It asked, only barely suppressing the subtext: “Really? Are you sure? Justify yourself, scum. Yeah, you really think they’re good? What about their positioning, angulation, colour, length? Listen up. Your mouth is a miasmatic pit of menace, and nobody will ever love you. Unless...”

It did surprise me to learn that everything wrong with my life is a direct result of my dreadful teeth, and that it can all be solved by a simple, regular application of money. I’m glad the answer is so simple. Now all I need is an attractively illustrated pamphlet explaining how to get hold of enough cash to afford any of these life-changing procedures.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

X Cathedra


The Roman Catholic Church has had a hard time of it recently, and when I say recently I mean since 1517 (and this isn't the 1517 that happens about an hour and a half after lunch). In recent years the death of dear old JPII was a bit of a blow. The latest Pope-switch was basically the equivalent of taking James May off Top Gear and replacing him with Fred West. JP was a cuddly, progressive, goalkeeper in a comedy car, who was widely rumoured to be appearing as Father Brown in a forthcoming ITV crime drama. This new chap, when it comes down to it, is scary. Some jazzy red shoes and a bewildering love of cats (any owner of a fuzzy beastie will tell you that white vestments don't go well with the moulting season) can do little against the great PR barrier that sits on his forehead. He is a one-man argument for male eyebrow plucking. Maybe he should start a comedy duo with Alistair Darling?

Following swiftly on from this awkward replacement came the Da Vinci Code. Dan Brown received the Usborne Bumper Book of Conspiracy Theories for his eleventh birthday, and has been working his way through it ever since. This is great news if you're a paranoid loon who lives in a bunker, but rather less inspiring if you prefer multi-page chapters, sentences that stretch a bit and plots that weren't already the subject of jokes twenty-five years ago (see Foucault's Pendulum). It's also bad news if you're the Church of Rome (which I appreciate you probably aren't), because it's had to suffer not only the books but also two whole motion pictures of Tom 'Matt Damon's Dad' Hanks crashing about ecclesiastical sets breaking floor tiles, setting things on fire and being portentous.


Now, however, the tables are set to change. My super-secret contact has picked up some exciting news from movie-world (and I don't mean the shabby rental shop in Hammersmith): the church of Rome is getting behind the camera! Already in the early stages of production, this all-action spectacular is expected to be the big blockbuster of 2011.


Tentatively titled X Cathedra (other mooted possibilities included The Empire Strikes Back, The Godfather, and The Bible Code, but it was eventually decided that the Vatican must render unto Caesar what is due unto Caesar's arcane collection of intellectual property laws), this is the tale of one divinely appointed representative of God on earth's mission to save the world from an evil conspiracy hatched by a sinister conglomerate of condom manufacturers, biologists, thriller writers, and Jews. With nobody left to trust, the Pope is forced to take the law of God into his own hands.




There are already a host of big names on board, among which Mel Gibson features prominently, repeatedly and nauseatingly. However, the real news on the casting front is the first cinematic appearance of Pope Benedict XVI (credited as Joey R) himself. If previews are anything to go by, it's unlikely to be his last big-screen role.


Directed by John Woo, this shows the holy pontiff as you've never seen him before. An interview with a wildly over-enthusiastic Mel Gibson, slated for the DVD extras, contains a few clues about what we can expect:


'I thought I'd been in some pretty cool shit, but you ain't seen cool until you've seen the Pope kick someone in the head. We're putting the mental in sacramental. We're going to do for Catholicism what Battlefield Earth did for Scientology.'


Joseph Ratzinger himself is understandably reticent, but producers the Wachowski Brothers have nothing but praise for his talents. In an interview snippet acquired by my contact, Andy Wachowski says:


'I've never seen anything like it. He is like totally convincing on screen. He's spent literally years preparing for the role of a paranoid, prejudiced man of the cloth out of touch with the modern world.'


His brother Larry adds:


'And on top of that, he did all his own stunts. Joey is an awesome dude.'


Excitingly, my super-secret contact also managed to acquire a couple of rather shabby, grainy pre-production images. Excuse the picture quality – you know wat they’re always saying about these devious film pirates and their poor-quality recording equipment.





Thursday, 11 June 2009

Brief Encounter: Extended Edition

In honour of the coming of Railnarok this week, I thought it a suitable time to put up a scrap of script from long ago that never quite made it to the 'blog until now.

*

My super-secret contact was taking a trip through the hidden catacombs of a film production company and uncovered an exceedingly early alternative ending for Brief Encounter. This would have been on the DVD release, but unfortunately they didn't have DVDs in 1945, so it's been languishing in a lost chamber far beneath the earth for more than sixty years.

To put this extract in context, it was written before the actual script of Brief Encounter was put together. As you will see, aside from plot, characters, dialogue and everything else, the most important change that was made between this and the finished version was the changing of the male lead's name to Alec. As should be obvious, Alec is a name which immediately signifies manners, breeding, charm and wit. Also distant Scottishness, which I'm not going to apologise for putting on the list of obvious virtues. Aside from Brief Encounter, other notable Alecs include two actors, a slightly terrifying German musician, and the villain from Goldeneye. To me, that reads like a list of everything any man could ever hope to achieve.

Right. The script. This was slated to be the final scene, before a mysterious briefcase full of cash arrived from British Rail. Apparently they'd found it in lost property...


Harold Grant: "Oh Margaret [women in old films with bobbed hair and
large coats are always called Margaret. It was decreed in that law
about 'good taste and decency'] dear, I do love you, but now I must
go."

Margaret Goodwinson: "Oh Harold!"

H: "I am so sorry, my dear. It is my duty."

M: "I'll never forget you, Harold!"

(They wait. Harold approaches the stationmaster, a small, aggressive
man watching the couple disdainfully while chewing gum and tapping his
foot impatiently. There is a litter claw and a bin bag on the platform
next to him.)

H: "Excuse me, my good fellow, have you any idea if there'll be a
train to Far Away along shortly?"

(The stationmaster shrugs. Margaret approaches.)

M: "It's just that we don't have a great deal of script left, and we
can't spend more than nine seconds kissing or we'll be arrested."

Stationmaster: "Signal failures. Might be an hour or so."

M, melodramatically disappointed: "Oh, how dreadful."

(The director calls out from behind the camera: "Improvise!")

H, aghast: "For an hour? Listen, old chap, you might be wearing a
berée, but I'm a matinée idol. I am dashing and chipper, and I put
accents on my words in the appropriate places. I don't improvise."

M: "And I'm a 1930s lady. I'm not allowed to think for myself."

(A sigh from behind the camera. Time lapse shot of clock hands
spinning. A train arrives.)

M: "Oh Harold, it's so awful that you must leave."

H: "Oh Margaret, I'm still so sorry, although my expression of longing is
distempered by anger at having to stand here for an hour."

(He boards the train and goes to his seat. Margaret stays where she is, waiting.)

M, to Stationmaster: Sorry to bother you, sir, but do you know if the
train will be on its way soon? Only, I have to run alongside it
fluttering this handkerchief while Harold watches me nobly and
mournfully from the window. I do so hope my asking isn't a bother.

S: Should be on its way soon, love.

M: Oh, thank you ever so much. (An afterthought.) Oh, and please don't
call me love, or my father will send round some burly men to box your
ears.

(S chews gum noisily)

(M sighs, hitches her skirts and dashes to Harold's window. He
scrabbles at it for a while before giving up and going back to the
door.)

H: I'm so sorry my dear, there's been a further delay for an
unspecified reason but an excuse has been requested and should be with
us shortly.

M: Oh Harold, I'm so glad you could stay with me for a few moments longer.

H: Oh wait, an announcement.

(H rushes back inside the train to listen. M re-positions herself for
running-alongside-waving-a-hanky-and-maybe-weeping-a-bit. H manages to
open the window this time, by about four centimetres at the top. He
tries to adopt a noble expression, and manages thoughtfully
disgruntled instead. It's good enough. The director yells 'action'. M
runs towards the window as H stands beside it calling to her. The
train doesn't seem to be moving much. M reaches the window and blows
her nose noisily.)

M: Oh, darling, why must you go?

(H tries to say something but his voice is drowned by four teenagers
wandering past with a mobile telephone playing a tinny rendition of a
work by a popular urban rhythmic poet.)

M: What is it, dearest?

(H finally makes himself heard.)

H: I've got to take a replacement bus service.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Poetry season

This week saw Britain's most exciting democratic event of the year: the start of Big Brother. I hear might have been some stuff about Europe, too. Like Orwell's Big Brother, Channel Four's monstrosity is now an omnipresent force for oppression. There is simply no way to escape it. Even more disturbingly, nobody can remember life before it appeared, and a worrying number of depraved individuals have somehow learned to love it. Fortunately, being thoroughly on the beat of popular culture and down with the kids and all that, I am not going to speak of Big Brother (or of that Europe business), but of the real, big news of the week. The stuff everyone's talking about: BBC Poetry Season.


For me this has so far involved watching two BBC4 documentaries about retro poetry. The first of these taught me the true meaning of television. It turns out that it is not for watching films five years after they come out and being glad you didn't pay to see them in the cinema, nor about watching people pretend to murder one another on ITV, nor even, and it pains me to say this, about watching a nine-hundred-year-old time traveller struggling with emotional repression (apparently they have public school on Gallifrey). No. As Simon Armitage's amazing documentary about Gawain and the Green Knight shows, television is about watching an enormous side-burned farmer breaking a deer's back with his bare hands, soundtracked by PJ Harvey screaming about fertility symbols. I was left in so much shock that I just used the word 'soundtrack' as a verb. Take that, English language.


Television is also about Simon Armitage, who proves to be an eminently pleasant, dryly witty chap, saying things like 'and the magic rock is where we have arranged to meet Chris, a local pagan'. I was hoping for slightly more charming eccentricity from Chris the Pagan, and possibly a ritual sacrifice, but it turns out that the chief accoutrements of hardcore modern paganism are a natty hat and a pierced ear. While disappointed by the lack of a giant wicker Camelot, I acknowledge that flaming effigies are few and far between these days. As the great philosopher Henry Crun often said: 'You can't get the wood, you know.'


Basically, the documentary featured Simon Armitage retracing the footsteps of Gawain, looking mournfully at blasted industrial landscapes, trying to use a fourteenth century poem as a tourist guidebook, and finding patches of wilderness populated by strange shirtless farmers who speak entirely in different forms of mumbling. If they'd been further south, I'd have expected them to start muttering about mollocking.


As well as being a great film about a great poem, it also managed a notably rock and roll soundtrack, even if they did break the iron laws of mix-tapes by including two Mercury Rev songs. This approach is ace, and was presumably a result of realising how much budget they had left after spending about twenty pounds on the rest, which can be itemised as:


  • One northern poet with cagoule.

  • One film student with slightly wobbly camera.

  • Several train tickets.

  • Several dead animals.

  • Bag of sweets for tempting reticent locals in front of the camera.


Taking a slightly different approach from Mr Armitage and his slightly nervous enthusiasm was Michael Wood, who bounced around historical sites and sights, chattering about Beowulf. He spends his hour grinning, nodding, and wearing a striking collection of long scarves that he won from Tom Baker in a bet in 1971*. His excitement is so constant that I imagine him thinking not just 'Blimey, I'm in Seamus Heaney's living room', or 'Lawks, it's the original manuscript of Beowulf', but also 'Amazing! Pungent marshland!' and 'Wow! A tree!'


He is like the universally adored schoolteacher who continues to expound delightedly about the Anglo Saxons, entirely unaware of the three-quarters of the class who are brawling and chucking things at one another, or the remaining quarter who are too hung over to fight or throw things. Primary school isn't what it used to be.


At one point Wood teams up with a more doughy but equally loveable fellow called Sam Newton, who has the same hat as Chris the Pagan from the Gawain documentary. They drive and walk around together for a while, throwing historical facts about and grinning at one another in the silent conspiracy of people who are at last going to be put on television for knowing weird and interesting stuff about things that happened a very long time ago. I want them to have their own series in which they wander around the country solving historical mysteries, chatting up owners and housekeepers of old country estates, being entirely oblivious to all the sexual tension, then driving off together in a 2CV while chateline and servant gaze longingly after them from the windows of their Midlands mansion. It would be a cross between The Remains of the Day and Starsky and Hutch.


Anyway, after all this, the filmmakers ended up with about twenty-five minutes of Michael Wood being chirpy, and about twenty more of arty camerawork, which usually seemed to consist of standing really close to a leafless branch, moving in and out of focus, then bleaching all the colours out. It occasionally felt like the Blair Witch Project, but better, because watching it didn't make you long for a weird beastie to come along and slaughter all the main characters. With fifteen minutes left to fill, the Beeb did what any right-thinking person would do: film Julian Glover ranting, hamming, shouting and becoming increasingly drunk, in front of an audience who, between them, haven't had a haircut since 1982.


These weren't a collection of hirsute extras who'd been shoved into some helmets: these people were in it for the love. They were enthusiasts who had built their own Anglo Saxon mead hall, acquired a collection of beards and hats that would put the Cambridge Folk Festival to shame, and then installed Julian Glover as a juke-box: fill him with mead, and he'll recite Beowulf, with all the hand gestures. It was deeply mad, but utterly brilliant. And that, pretty much, is what television should be.


-

* About whose guest voicing of the Shipping Forecast would cause more impressionable young ladies to swoon beside their radios. Sadly, either historty neglected to record the results, or it was a nil-all draw, but Tom Baker did cause a small fishing vessel to ground itself on the isle of Skye after announcing that the mainland had been taken over by Cybermen.

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Ashes to Ashes and the Bowie Broadcasting Corporation

Ashes to Ashes, the retro cop show with added '80s television cameos, is drawing to a close. Or at least, I hope it is and they don't have some devious Lost-style plan to turn it into a non-sensical eight-hundred episode trawl through increasingly desperate plot lines.

Anyway, while not Life on Mars (what is?), Ashes to Ashes has its moments. It has Gene Hunt, which I'm beginning to think might be the key to making a successful television programme. Forget consistency or genre, just whack him in anywhere to rage and rant and drink and fight and yet be fundamentally decent. He's like a misogynistic, northern Philip Marlowe. Have him present The Weakest Link ('Get it right? What do you bloody think? You're not the weakest link, you're the bleeding missing link. Get off my show, you pathetic southern pansy'). Have him march around Casualty (I'll show you a sodding accident and emergency, you miserable oik. Now stop bleeding on my lovely hospital). Actually, forget it, just send him straight to the news. That'll get people's attention. Forget the passive, calm, polite, neutral approach to telling the people about wretched things far away – just have somebody shout at the camera for half an hour about how messed up the world is, and how he'd go out there and sort out those Somalian pirates if he wasn't stuck in a studio waiting for somebody to wipe his spittle of the camera lens. It would be like letting Charlie Brooker loose on current affairs. In other words, amazing.

Of course, Ashes to Ashes demonstrates another ingenious approach to television, and I don't mean giving Keeley Hawes a flicky new haircut and a script that contains nothing but the words 'pout' and 'panic'. This devious new technique is simply re-naming everything after Bowie songs. The possibilities are pretty much infinite – this is a chap whose back catalogue was a more valuable investment than government bonds, even before money exploded. The highlights of the Bowie Broadcasting Corporation schedules could include:

London Bye Ta Ta
Property relocation programme, in which disgruntled posh people hop the first train out the capital and try to rebuild their vapid lives in the provinces. Lots of shots of retired lawyers staring at cows in absolute bafflement. More Agas than is usual.

Queen Bitch
Hate-fuelled talent show contest to find the most offensive person in the country. In other words, The Apprentice, without the unconvincing pretence of having anything to do with business acumen. Enormous ratings swiftly collapse as viewers across the country destroy their televisions out of sheer fury.

Oh! You Pretty Things
Patronising look at modern youth, in which a middle-aged man with a moustache attempts to understand teenage culture. Hangs around under-18 clubs, being repeatedly mistaken for a paedophile. Most scenes end either with nervous explanations to irate parents, or with the professor and his camera crew fleeing from a knife-wielding gang of the Almost Grown.

This is Not America
Rich Hall and Bruce Springsteen drive a pick-up truck around countries that are not America. Actually, I think I'd watch this.

Space Oddity
Late-night science fiction drama, featuring a spaced-out Starman pottering around a psychedelic universe. Approximate budget of fourteen pence and two mirror-balls per series. Cult audience of stoned students and the curious few who wished 2001 could have gone on for another three hours.

Always Crashing the Same Car
Spin-off from Top Gear focusing on the dreary escapades of the stunt man. Cancelled after four episodes when the car goes on strike.

Cracked Actor

Documentary about Tom Cruise's decline from successful toothpaste advert into a crazed cultist.

Sufragette City
Germaine Greer starts her own town on an uninhabited Scottish island. Series begins with utopian ideals, concludes with Greer hiding in a cave clutching a sharpened stick, clicking a torch on and off, and waiting for the end.

Loving the Alien
A Chinese labourer spends two weeks living with a violent, racist, recently divorced builder. Begins with glances of seething hatred and occasional shouts of 'coming over here, taking our jobs'. Finishes with manly hugging, floods of tears, and the immigration authorities breaking down the door.

Oh, and I suppose:

The Laughing Gnome
Ian Hislop shows us around his house.


Look, there are something like three-hundred Bowie songs. I'm going to stop before this gets out of hand.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Midweek cuckoos: adventures with Gumtree

Another improper post - the other piece to be dragged across from my Facebook.

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Like many things on the internet, Gumtree is an impressive combination of incredible usefulness and spectacular silliness. It's as if somebody asked Father Dougal to design a train service, and somehow it ended up working. Anyway, a few months ago I spent a while glued to Gumtree (Ha. See what I did there?), staring at adverts asking for people to come and live with them. Most of the adverts can be safely divided into a number of categories:


- Moments of horror: 'come live wiv 3 cool/fun-loving/debauched guys who love to party'.

Who would do such a thing? This is more or less equivalent to being offered a mattress made entirely out of empty beer cans, and the opportunity to use a stack of pizza boxes as a table. Also, see Black Books for wanton and irresponsible use of 'party' as a verb.


- The slightly unconvincing: 'a cosy room ...' accompanied by pictures of what looks suspiciously like an airing cupboard. Still, can't blame a fellow for trying, what?


- The unreasonably sexist. A frustrating number of tempting descriptions of rooms finish with 'sorry boys, women only.' I can clean! I don't think chairs are an appropriate substitute for wardrobes! Why can't I live there? Grr. There's also a lot of the more ominous 'female gender wanted', which sounds like a desperate plea for a slightly scary kind of surgeon.


- The ineptly criminal: 'my flat is very cheap but you must show me that you are serious about living there by going through an elaborate and entirely unconvincing series of wire transfers'.

It does seem that a large number of the world's less successful felons have been bought broadband connections, presumably in an effort to keep them off the streets. While one can't fault their sense of enterprise and ambition, most of them fail at the first hurdle by demonstrating such a degree of illiteracy that they think a comma is what their mate Gary slipped into after popping too many pills. It's a reasonable assumption that somebody who couldn't spell their own name with their passport wedged beneath their eyelids isn't going to 'be a gud lawyer who just wants somebody nice to look after their big hous'.


- The chronologically unhinged: 'ten minutes to the centre of London', accompanied by a map of somewhere in a zone they had to name after a letter because they'd run out of numbers. Rickmansworth, for instance. Or Scarborough.


- The sadly misguided: '... in a lovely area of Peckham.' Possibly with a cheerful view of burning cars.

and, finally:


- The terrifyingly creepy. 'Are you a gorgeous girl?' is always a sure-fire way to make your advert sound like it was written by the Childcatcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, but there are a genuinely horrifying number of people who think that even buying a bride on the internet is just too much like hard work. Sadly I lost the exact advert so I can't quote it exactly, but there was one that surpassed sinister and strayed into outright sex slavery. It was too frightening to be a joke. It included the following:

'the accommodation I am offering is worth £2,000 a month. It is yours for free if you are willing to share my bed (you know what I mean by this)'.

Oh, that's alright then - as long as the flat's really classy you're not soliciting. You're just saving time. The slightly embarrassed metaphor just adds to the sleaze. Don't worry, it's not prostitution, it's just 'sharing my bed'. Nudge nudge, wink wink.

But don't worry, the young rake had an explanation:

'I am a stockbroker and do not have much time to meet people.'

I want to make a sarcastic comment at this point, but there's better to come:

'Besides, I wanted to meet somebody different.'

What, somebody with morals so loose you could use them as a tent? Or just somebody who didn't run in terror when you offered to fund their drugs habit in exchange for carnal favours?

Anyway, this lot aside, there are a small number of useful, sane adverts by pleasant people with attractive rooms to let (after all, I did end up living somewhere). However, in approximately equal numbers, there are also some fantastic moments of complete madness that I felt compelled to share.

These ones are genuine, literal quotations, though, admittedly, they may not be entirely in context.


- Girls wanted ASAP

You'd probably get along with the chap above...


- 'Ravenscourt Park Station, Available Now'

Is it? Gosh. Can I sleep on any platform I like? If I buy three others, can I charge people more to visit?


- 'Eat-in kitchen and bathroom'

I'm actually quite taken with this idea. In today's busy modern world, you have to be able to multi-task, and surely having dinner and a shower at the same time is the paragon of efficiency?


- 'Balcony with washing machine'

Again, potentially sane: they're noisy, so whack 'em outside on the balcony. However, every washing machine I've ever had has managed to shift itself at least a foot forward with every cycle. Plonk it on the balcony and you're going to have the people on the ground floor asking why there's a broken washing machine in their garden, and if anybody's seen their cat, which was out there on the patio a moment ago.


- 'double room ,girl only own floor internet tv window ,long and seperet kitchen and bathr garden near all amunities 3 munites to hammersmith station near sainsbury post office video renting chops and busses and park'

There's a lot to get through here, and I had to translate it word by word, but cripes it was worth it. 'Floor internet TV window' isn't a description, it's just a load of words that happen to be standing next to each other. Calling that a sentence is like calling the queue for a bus a family. This same literary style is continued, finishing in a torrent of over-excited noun-listing that climaxes with 'video renting chops'. I wonder what sort of films chops like. Soylent Green?


- 'u got tv + free internet guarden in the house'

I'm reasonably sure that The Internet Garden is a chapter from a JG Ballard novel. If it isn't, it should be. But besides that, it's 'in the house'. What? How? Like Ali G? I hate to generalise, but gardens have things like soil and plants. Houses have things like floorboards and foundations. They don't get along.


- 'SHARE WITH MAINLY FEMALE AUSSIES'

I dig gender-neutral language and all that jazz, but I'm still slightly scared by the thought of somebody only 'mostly' female. It's the uncertainty I'd find distressing: which bits were, and which bits weren't? A wise friend of mine suggested that this was, perhaps, a simple typo for 'MANLY FEMALE AUSSIES'.

Anyway, this same advert rapidly spiralled out of control:

'NEAR SHOPS, PUBS AND ACTION BUT IN A QUIET PEACEFUL ENCLAVE'

Suddenly a flat in Putney sounds like a mercenary base near the Gaza Strip, offering a peaceful enclave near the action, with a free grenade if you move in before Tuesday.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Recommendations for the next expenses scandal

Like many people, I am enormously disappointed by the revelations of MPs' use of their expenses. These are the people we have elected to run our country, and what do they do? Blow all our cash on their houses. I expect better. After all, this is massively, deeply, offensively dull. Blast it, I want more imagination than farting about on the property market. If all they wanted to do was waste other people's money on homes, they should have become estate agents, and been more popular, to boot.

Ashamed by these revelations, I have felt compelled to assemble some recommendations for the sort of things I want to see next time there's an expenses scandal. Please add your own, and eventually perhaps our collective recommendations could be sent to, I don't know, the Telegraph?

Tories:


£1,000 Customised snow-plough for shovelling poor people from the path of gigantic car.

£16,000 Installation of secret passages in Gothic hilltop abode.

£10,000 Live-in grape-peeler. Grapes not included.

£15 Megaphone for increasing volume of English when speaking to foreigners.

£2,000,000 Para-military operation to take over small African country.

£12,000,000 Research grant for development of giant, heavily armed, robotic Margaret Thatcher.

£350,000 Underground lair, plus hot-tub.

£17 Subscription to The Chap magazine. Complete absence of irony: priceless.

£2 Tipping the houseboy for turning off Have I Got News For You particularly promptly.

£2,000 Cleaning of moat. Oh, wait...


Labour:

£250,000 Bribing the watchdogs not to take action for continuing to trade under the now inappropriate name of 'Labour Party'.

£100,000 Bribing publishers to remove 'nationalisation' from all major dictionaries. Cost includes a year's supply of pencils.

£3,000 Gordon Brown's smiling lessons. Costs expected to continue.

30p Packet of crisps for making 'bang' noise, in attempt to remove more elderly Tory opposition.

£6,000,000 Flying in spare coal mine from Russia.

£9,000 Addition of priest hole to London abode, since crypto-Catholicism seemed to work for the last fellow.

£10,000,000 Research grant for time machine to take us back to 1997, when it all seemed to make sense.

£5,000 Exit plan.

£50 Boxed set of Rebus DVDs.

£10 Pornography. Oh, wait...


Liberal democrat:

£17,500 Bribing the Greens not to win an embarrassingly larger number of votes. Price includes collection of attractive canvas shoulder bags.

£600 Yogic flying lessons.

£5 Bucket, for the catching of tears.

£11.99 Politics for Dummies. Paperback edition.

£4.50 Catnip and ball of wool for sickeningly cute party political broadcast.

£25,000 Cheeky Girl delivery and maintenance.

£200,000 Hiring performers of popular music from the land of youth for Obama-style rock and roll extravaganza. Accidental hiring of Clifford Richard.

£22,000 Commissioning historian to write account of past Liberal glories. Accidental hiring of David Irving.

£50 Trouser press. Oh, wait...

Obviously it's easiest to come up with entries for the Tories, because with the disconcerting, certain-he-must-be-up-to-something exception of David 'I thought I'd signed up to New Labour' Cameron, they're basically a collection of cackling villains from Victorian novels. On the other hand, Labour are slightly more difficult because they don't seem to have an ideology any more. It's harder still to come up with anything for the Lib Dems, but not necessarily because they've been less villainous: I just end up feeling slightly sorry for them.

Just for the record, I know these aren't all personal expenditure items, and that many are instead party funding issues. Sorry about this - I did start out with the best of intentions, but became slightly carried away. Which, incidentally, is the same explanation some of the MPs have been giving. Frankly, this list could go on for ages, long after it ceases to be relevant (a bit like the Conservatives, then?).

Incidentally, I want this year's all-MP pantomime special to be a re-make of The Good, The Bad And The Ugly. In fact, they could do it every year, but switch around who plays whom, and possibly change the ending a bit (alright, a lot) depending on how depressingly influential the Daily Mail was that year.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Midweek cuckoos: modern witchcraft

Not a real update, this - just moving some stuff over from my Facebook profile.

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I just want to say I've had it up to here with witches. Coming over here, cursing our livestock, tainting our wellsprings, and throwing boils about without a thought for the livelihoods of local disfigurement distributors. At first there were just a few around, and I've nothing against a bit of diversity in the preternatural arts. I shared a tower with a druid for a couple of years, and he was a decent fellow, though he covered the place with spittle when he was animating the spirits of the forest, and I got fed up with the wolves clawing the curtains. And that bloody raven, cawing away at all hours...

What I mean is that I've nothing against a bit of diversity, not at all. But that's the problem: there isn't any these days. Just witches, crones and hags as far as the eye can see, flogging potions for ha'pennies and taking jobs from perfectly good local soothsayers. You can barely walk to the village without passing a dozen of them, braying maniacally to the moon, licking toads and rolling their eyes. I know for a fact that Ambrosius the Florid has two whole families of them living in his dungeon with just a carpet of flayed human skin hanging between them.

As a warlock of considerable experience, I'm thoroughly fed up with the standing stones being full of naked cavorting and pagan ritual every bloody equinox. I wouldn't mind so much if there were a few sirens and succubi around, but no, just wrinkled harridans showing too much yellowing, leathery flesh. In my day they'd at least have covered up with a good robe. What's more, if you popped down the henge for a quiet hex, there was space for everybody to carry out their unholy rites as the spirits migrated across the ley lines. Nowadays the moment you manage to grab a spectre's attention with a nice blaze of brimstone it gets distracted by some cackling harpy flailing her arms like she's drowning. And that bint from cave thirteen will be drowning if she keeps picking all the poisoned mushrooms from my foetid swamp. I even sacrificed a perfectly good goat last week, and what did I get for it? Nothing. It was organic and everything – they don't come cheap these days now everyone's switching to sheep farming. Ever tried invoking a servant of the devil with a piebald lamb? There'll be limbs and entrails everywhere, and they won't all be from the sheep, let me tell you...

Where was I? Witches, that was it. Nothing but ruin for the dark arts, you mark my words. Just try making an appointment with a minor earl of pandaemonium. Go on, try – I'll bet you a two-headed chicken they're all out on call. Guess who to? Right. Witches. It's barely possible to hold a séance without getting an engaged tone on every half-decent historical figure. Some bugger even called up King Egbert the Partially Lit last week. Nobody's Oujied him since 1021, and even that was a wrong incantation. And as for incantations, I'm not kidding, some of these witches can barely rant in proper Latin. It's all gibberish chanting and possessed babbling and airy-fairy limb-waggling these days. Tell them to recite the Lord's prayer backwards and they'd probably ask which Lord you meant. Why would you even think of spellcasting around here if you can't read the grimoires properly?

Now, don't get me wrong - I'm not against witches full stop. Some of my best friends are witches. Mavis Hemlock from the tallest tree in the twisted forest can bubble up a mean cauldron of venom, and I've been to some quality ritual slayings round her way. But even so, they've got no sophistication, no sense of the culture and history of malignant sorcery. I tormented my apprentice with febrile dreams for three weeks while he weaved mystic symbols into the hem of my cloak, and for a while, it paid off. There were a few months when I cut quite a figure down the catacombs, even if I did keep getting my hat stuck in low archways. Now, though, with witches all over the bloody place, you can flash all the gold embroidery you like, but all anyone wants to talk about is the best way to get a good blood-stain into your torn rags.

All I want to say is that if that bunch of peasants from Splottenden hadn't burnt the ducking stool to get through last winter we'd be having none of these problems now. Oh, and don't get me started on the sodding peasants. First chance they get, it's burning, burning, burning. Assemble just one hideous and malignant creature from the corpses of their loved ones and before you know it some kid on the corner's making a mint selling pitchforks, and everyone's suddenly an expert on how to throw a flaming torch without the wind putting it out.

Sorry, what was it you wanted? Four newts and a mandrake root? That's be two groats, please.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

The torment of Terry

There is a strange fever in the air, and I'm not talking about swine flu. It is, as any wrong-thinking individual knows, the day of Eurovision, the original, and still the most absurd, televised talent contest. In its way, Eurovision is quite like alcohol, probably something quite strong, with a tendency to make you wake up in a ditch feeling like spent the previous night headbutting a statue of Clint Eastwood. Like alcohol, you should only partake of Eurovision in moderation, you should never, ever do it alone, and there's a reasonable chance of forgetting most of it by the morning after.

However, this morning I've been pondering last year's, which I actually ended up watching (not alone, not sober, and not in moderation, thankfully). Despite sitting through approximately a month of reprehensible cheese and a voting process that makes Zimbabwe look fair, Iraq look stable and America seem calm and restrained, I missed the important part: Terry Wogan's existential crisis.

The wailing and gnashing of teeth that accompanied the loss of the Wogan was drowned out only by the cavalcade of despair that broke out when people discovered that Graham Norton would be taking his place. This is the equivalent of declaring that the next Doctor Who will be Justin Lee Collins, armed with a selection of priapic jokes about his sonic screwdriver. The advent of a Woganless Eurovision should be a time of national mourning, like the death of a monarch. If dearest Bessie shuffled off, taking her hat collection with her, you wouldn't chuck the crown to Davina Mccall and open a telephone vote to decide the next Prince of Wales.

Apparently our Terry's departure was spurred by the realisation that Eurovision isn't about the music. Considering that he started presenting when we were still trying to coax the last few beasties out of the Ark, this is possibly the slowest dawning of understanding since the final episode of Roadrunner, in which, after forty years of failure, Wile E Coyote recognises that he'll never catch his prey, and sits in a darkened room sobbing for eight minutes. Even for a generation weaned on the vicious and victorious bullying of Morph, the gender repression of Mr Ben, the inexplicable chaos of the Clangers and the Lovecraftian horror of Fingermouse* this was deemed too harrowing, and the episode was never shown.

The wisdom of Wogan is, obviously, the truth – of course it isn't about the music. Even if each nation is voting according to the kind of song closest to its own national traditions of music, that means that most countries in Europe seem to have cultural traditions with a strong resemblance to cheesy pop circa 1995.

It's oft-muttered that it's all about politics, but I don't quite see how. I don't think anybody's out there scoring countries according to the order in which they acceded to the euro, or marking penalty points for countries that clearly aren't in Europe. To be fair, one of those is Israel, and I don't think they'd do terribly well in Middle-Eastovision. I just can't imagine any government discussing aid and trade and all that jazz, and having one of those everyday conversations that go:

'Fourteen million euro and the cabbage concession to Albania?'
'What? Are you mad? They gave us nil point. Fund Estonia instead – at least they had the decency to support us when it really mattered – Eurovision.'

So I don't believe it's politics either. I can't imagine anyone taking it seriously enough to get all political. People get angry about politics. They assemble posters, speeches and expense accounts. Doing that for Eurovision isn't democratic involvement – it's time for a trip to the asylum on the hill with the gothic towers and constant lightning. Perhaps that's why so many of the national presenters wear naff white coats?

But if not music or politics, what remains? Well, I reckon there's a very good reason that Eurovision's on the television rather than the radio: it's all about spectacle. Like Cirque du Soleil, but cheaper, and camper (which, incidentally, is the same relationship Graham Norton bears to Terry Wogan). As evidence for this, I've contemplated how much of last year I can remember:

- The Latvian pirates. This was so wilfully and fabulously absurd that I actually remember the country responsible. In fact, I'd even go so far as to say I remembered the chorus. I think they said 'yo ho' at some point.**

- The loopy one with the washing line, the guy with the wild, staring eyes (who round here would be arrested if he so much looked at somebody's washing, let alone sang a song about it) and the girl in the weird gravity-defying skirt that probably took a team of expert aerospace engineers three months to design. It looked like somebody had opened a golf umbrella, shoved her through it and then drenched the results in glitter. They were like Goldfrapp if they'd been brought up eating special mushrooms on a collectivised farm and never been told about sex.

- The one with the afro angels and the creepy greasy fellow who poured blood over one of his dancers. This was memorable chiefly because it was actually quite disturbing. I think it was an allegory of the growth of capitalist enterprise in ex-Soviet nations, but all I'm sure of was that it occupied the little-travelled space between Meatloaf and John Milton, with sillier costumes.

I don't think any of these won, or even did particularly well, but I think they truly summed up the spirit of the competition: really, really confusing people.

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* This one may just have been me. Apparently it left me traumatised. But face it: it was a scary bearded man with a creepy voice and murderer's gloves, and one of his fingers was a mouse's head with ears like satellite dishes. What was there not to be afraid of?

** There has since been a genuine reputable piece of music with this chorus. Check out Alela Diane's 'The Pirate's Gospel'. It's actually brilliant, despite the bewilderingly moody video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SpwSxHiiNSw

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Disgrace

As a spoddy, nerdacious and antisocial teen (and we're not talking the new kind of 'antisocial' here, which involves having high spirits, a gang and a knife - this kind of antisocial didn't have enough friends to have a gang, and even if it did it would probably have ended up as more of a book club) I learnt history from a collection of exciteable middle aged gentlemen who heard about the elbow patch in 1972 and never looked back. They were the kind of men (and they were all men) for whom twelve-thirty meant the death of King Otakar I of Bohemia* not a slightly early lunch.

Anyway, one of those fine fellows maintained a honourable yet faintly baffling belief that the most serious punishment he could inflict as a teacher was to put somebody in disgrace. This was a private school, so the alternatives included picking up litter, writing improving essays about morality, sweeping the chimneys or providing the CCF** with a mobile target for shooting practice. But for this man nothing could be worse than to be put in disgrace. He would fix his pale and weary eye upon a juvenile miscreant and intone:

"Would you rather be in detention, or in disgrace?"

The smirking delinquent would inevitable answer the latter, whereupon the teacher would sigh sadly, as if trying to expel all the world's wrongs through his nostrils in one go, nod sternly, and announce:

"Very well. You are in disgrace."

And that would be that.

The point is that if this web-log were a history essay, perhaps on the socio-economic causes of the European counter-reformation, or maybe just on the historical context of the bedroom-dwelling, internet-connected Londoner, I would almost certainly be in disgrace. This sorry excuse for an update is ten months late. Ten months! I could have had a baby by now. Well, in terms of time, anyway. I wasn't that bad at biology.

So, my excuses. I don't have a dog who could have eaten it, so that option's out. I have a cat, but they don't have quite the same appetite. They can barely manage a week's essay in one sitting, even if you write it in tuna-flavoured ink. I know. I've tried. It knackered the fountain pen, let me tell you. You'd need a pretty hefty feline to chew through a ten-month hiatus. I'm thinking Jungle Book, here. Maybe something prehistoric with tombstone teeth.

With the canine excuse no longer an option, I might as well tell the truth. For the first few of those months I was finishing a novel of dubious quality (For the Sake of the Song, a modern thriller of murder, mystery and folk music, available to anyone with the patience, inclination and my e-mail address). Much of the rest of the time I frittered away, and that's to give a bad name to potato fritters. Then, fuelled by determination and Victoriana, I polished off a mildly shoddy radio script (A Wait of Years, a tale of modern London featuring a gentleman thief, an heiress, a mad scientist and an explorerette (or whatever might be the correct term for a lady who explores***).

Basically, I'm contemplating getting back in the swing of things. I have a few scribbles from the past few months which I'll shove on here over the next few days, and then I'll start posting some new stuff. Perhaps nobody will read it, perhaps it will peter out after a month or two, or perhaps I'll accidentally uncover a shocking conspiracy theory and be disappeared by Them. But none of that matters: like an ex-member of a boy band embarking on an ill-advised, short-lived and entirely unmemorable solo career, I'm giving it another go.

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* No, they didn't teach me that. Wikipedia did. Wikipedia also taught me what actually happens in Book III of the Faerie Queene, but you're not allowed to tell any of my university tutors that. For the uninitiated, the Faerie Queene is a spectacularly lengthy Elizabethan poem about knights, violence and propaganda, structured in a fairly similar way to Leonard Cohen's career: it starts off being massively exciting, then meanders off pointlessly, has a late-season revival (that'd be I'm Your Man for Lennie, or for Spenser Book V, the tale of one noble knight and his psychopathic robotic manservant. No, really), then drifts away again into jazz minimalism. Er, less jazz for the Faerie Queene.

** The Combined Cadet Force. At an all-boys school, an ever-popular way to control the more murderously inclined students is to let them play with firearms. This gave teachers a small scrap of the revenge which they longed for, and quite frankly deserved, by permitting them to make the evil youths march in squares and roll in mud for hours on end. It also provided the popular fantasy that one day Britain would be invaded and all the little bastards would be drafted and sent off to fight more little bastards from another country, while the teachers of the world would gather in peace to drink whiskey in comfortable chairs by the fireside.

*** I initially put 'lady explorer', but that might have been misinterpreted as 'Russell Brand'.