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'.