The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Tuesday, 30 June 2009


Recently read and massively enjoyed Fever Crumb by Philip Reeve. It’s a prequel to his brilliant ‘Mortal Engines’ quartet of novels. Without wishing to spoiler, it’s set a few hundred years before the events of those novels, telling the story of how London stopped being a stationary city and started to become a city that rolled around on caterpillar tracks.

I don’t gush often but when I do I gush a lot. What I love about these books is Philip’s extraordinary imaginative powers in building such an awe-inspiringly vivid, detailed and original fictional universe. I mean, I make up stuff, but I’m not this good. It’s not really fair to compare, but I’d say I got more pleasure out of the ‘Mortal Engines’ books than I did out of either the Harry Potters or 'His Dark Materials', and I loved both of those. Without wishing to raise unfair expectations, I can’t recommend these books enough. I’m always buying them for people as gifts. Buy them for your kids if you have kids and if you don’t have kids, either have kids and buy them the books or skip the whole having kids part and buy the books for yourself.

He’s written a couple of other book series, and as much as I enjoyed the cyberpunk stylings of ‘Larklight’ I prefer the ‘Mortal Engines’ as they’re written for a slightly older readership which means I can pretend they are novels for grown-ups merely written in a very clear and concise style.

The other great thing about the books, though perhaps not so great for Philip’s bank account, is that they are pretty much unfilmable. I mean, you could do it, but you’d need hundreds of millions of pounds. It’s a story which will always be more spectacular on the page.

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

I’ve never smoked. Well, not quite never. I’ve had a puff on about as many cigarettes during my life as I have fingers on my left hand, but I as I didn’t inhale and didn’t smoke the cigarette to the end (apparently you have to do both of these things to count as having smoked a cigarette properly in the eyes of cigarette smokers) I’ve never smoked and will therefore never die.

Looking back, it’s odd that I never started smoking, because when I was 16, virtually every one of my friends smoked. Even the ones with asthma. Even the ones without lungs. And yet, firmly and stolidly, refused to take participate.

It’s not because I didn’t like the taste, I’d never tried it so I never knew what I was missing. If anything, the smell brought back fond memories of my grand-parents front room in Allowenshay and be allowed to watch Bullseye on ITV.

No. It’s because peer pressure didn’t work on me. I was either, to put a positive spin on it, a fiercely independently-minded teenage iconoclast, or to put a less positive spin on it, relentlessly geeky and unfashionable. I will leave it to you, and the considerable photographic evidence, to decide of the two it might be.

The other reasons – not that I needed reasons to be self-important and holier-than-thou in those days – were that my grandfather, the one with the TV set that picked up the third channel, had recently died of lung cancer, and seeing him in hospital a few weeks before he died made a rather strong impression on me in terms of smoking’s causes and effects, as you might expect.

And secondly, to be indiscreet, by that point I’d kissed a girl who smoked and had found the experience utterly revolting.

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Never Clever

Read a review of a thing I wrote, many years ago, where the reviewer said the ‘story wasn’t as clever as it thinks it is’. Now, I’m not going to disagree with the statement, arguing with bad reviews is like trying to persuade a girl to go out with you after she’s turned you down – pointless and counter-productive. But I found this statement intriguing, irrespective of the fact that it was about one of my things.

Firstly, how can a story ‘think’ itself to be anything? A story is a load of words relating a series of events, ideas, emotions or amusing misunderstandings with an Antique Cow-Creamer. It has no sentience. Yet it’s not uncommon for stories to also be described as smug, or patronising, or lazy.

Obviously what’s happening here is that the reader or viewer is compounding the motives they ascribe to the author to the piece of work itself. Which in one way is kind of daft, but in another way it’s interesting to consider ‘the mood’ of a piece. I’d say, for instance, that The Two Doctors feels like the work of somebody who’s having a really bad day. Robert Holmes may have actually been typing away full of the joys of spring, but that’s not what he put on paper.

The other confusion is the idea that a work – or an author – isn’t being as clever as they think they are. Now, I consider myself fairly intelligent, but also to be nowhere near as intelligent as I’d like myself to be. Being clever is, after all, having a highly-developed sense of your own ignorance (because stupid people think they know everything). I suppose it means there’s a feeling of ‘Do you see what I did there?’-ness... and in writing, there is no crime greater.

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Medicine Jar

Read a brilliant book the other day. Bad Science by Ben Goldacre. It’s about all the stuff I rant about on this blog; homoeopathy, alternative medicine and the placebo effect, the media misrepresenting scientific facts in the name of ‘balance’, the medicalisation of social problems, superstition being taught in schools, all that stuff. It’s one of those books that you read going ‘Yes! That’s exactly what I already thought, but put slightly more clearly!’ If you haven’t rushed out, bought it and read it, you have to do so now. It won’t change your life but you’ll get an intellectual blood transfusion. I should also add that much of it is hilarious; Ben has a poetic gift when it comes to extreme sarcasm.

The rule should now be that no-one should be allowed to enter an argument going, ‘Hey, there might be something in alternative medicine after all, you don’t know, science doesn’t have all the answers, does it?’ if they have not already read Bad Science by Ben Goldacre. Because the person who has already read Bad Science by Ben Goldacre will win. And the same applies for people who think ‘nutritional science’ is a science or that the MMR business was about the government and multinational drug companies and the medical establishment attempting to cover-up a problem, rather than what it actually was, which was evidence of the strong and compelling link between people being scared because they don’t have enough information and people buying newspapers.

It reminded me of The God Delusion by Dicky Dawkins, another hilarious book by someone who uncannily agreed with what I already knew to be true. And one which people feel bizarrely qualified to criticise on the grounds that the author is didactic, humourless or arrogant. They couldn’t be more wrong.

Friday, 26 June 2009

The Ghost At Number One

I’m afraid I have no great feelings or insights on the death of Michael Jackson. Like most people, I liked his stuff in the 70’s with the Jackson Five, didn’t mind his stuff during the 80’s and lost interest after that when the whole freakshow element took over.

Obviously I gain no delight from the news, and his family, friends and fans have my sympathies, but I’m unmoved, I make no apologies for that. If I knew him personally, or was a fan of his work, then I’m sure I’d be distraught, but I’m not.

The best way of talking about this is what happened in the UK when Diana Spencer was killed. Strange days indeed. The news media whipped itself up into a frenzy of griefsploitation. For a brief moment, we had a glimpse of what it must’ve been like in a Communist or Fascist state when a leader died – the media telling people they should be upset, and with those people who were upset taking offence at those who weren’t displaying sufficient misery.

It’s that sort of you-must-be-distraught-because-the-media-tells-you-to-be element that makes me uncomfortable. It’s even more cynical and unforgivable when it comes to kids which have been neglected, gone missing or died. I can’t help feeling that this is devaluing the currency – rubbernecking and commodifying the real grief of those directly involved, the family and friends, not the people who read about it in the Mirror and felt obliged to leave some flowers, a teddy bear and a mawkish card. I don’t blame people for doing that, not for an instant, it’s the manipulative, prescriptive, emotionally-bludgeoning nature of the press I find distasteful.

And I don’t want to feel responsible for all the journalists camped outside the homes of grieving families. Not in my name.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Ticket To The Moon

An amusing thing has been pointed out to me by my substantially better half about John F Kennedy’s ‘let’s all go to the moon’ speech. It’s in the bit which is always wheeled out for the clip shows. It goes like this.

“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things.”

What was that again, John? ‘And do the other things’? And what ‘other things’ might they be? They’re clearly on your ‘to do’ list with ‘go to the moon’ but you’re being rather unspecific, if not downright cagey, as to what they might be.

The speech continues. Often it’s presented on television in an edited form; here is the speech in full, with original Presidential vagueness intact.

“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things. Not because they are easy, but because they are hard... and stuff,

Because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, and some more things like that,

Because that challenge is on that we are willing to accept, and whatever,

One we are unwilling to postpone, etcetera,

And one which we intend to win, and the others, you know that other shit I was talking about earlier, we intend to nail those ones as well, too.”

But what exactly were those other things? Well, here, revealed in full, is John F Kennedy’s ‘to do’ list.

1) Go to moon.

2) Shag Monroe.

3) Tickets for Sinatra.

4) Order in some more delicious ‘Berliners’.

5) Sort out Cuba (and do the other things)

6) Civil rights and stuff.

7) Take more drugs.

8) Have fitting for bullet-proof vest (and get a bullet-proof canopy for the limo too).

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Fat Children

As I type, there’s a documentary on ITV about fat kids, or Supersize kids as they’re now called. Presumably it’s about some miserable teenager going on a voyage of self-discovery; as they lose the pounds, so they discover the person within. And all that.

Now, I consider myself a fatty; whenever I look in the mirror I try to correct the aspect ratio back to 4:3. And when it comes to fat kids, I have nothing but sympathy for their predicament. Because getting fat is something that creeps on you when you’re not looking. It’s a combination of a sedentary lifestyle and overeating.

First, sedentary lifestyle. Exercise is boring. I love jogging, but that’s because I enjoy the zen tedium-ness of it. It’s like meditation but with varying scenery and the occasional girl bouncing enthusiastically towards me in the opposite direction. But sports, oh I loathe sports. Unless you happen to have the right combination of eye-foot-hand-combination or a genetic predisposition to jump a long way, you’re going to fail. In my case, you’re going to be picked last and develop your own game of ‘sarcastic football’ where you try to score as many own-goals as possible. That is a true thing that I did. And as far as I can tell, cricket and rugby are both the result of exercises in trying to come up with the most boring and opaque games possible. Cricket is a game with all the fun sucked out.

And overeating? Human beings are programmed to want to eat more food than they need. You eat too much today because you might not eat tomorrow.

I don’t blame the kids. But I do blame the parents. Regarding child obesity, the parents should be treated as though the child were underweight by the same degree.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Great Things

List time again. This might be an ongoing thing, I like making lists. It’s not because I’m autistic, I just like being organised. And today’s list game is:

Top Ten Greatest hits that are not on the Greatest hits

The rules are like me – simple but pedantic. You can choose any songs an artist has released except for singles or tracks included on their Greatest Hits. And you can’t choose a-sides but aa-sides of double a-sides are permitted.


My Insatiable One
Still Life
Killing Of A Flash Boy
Another No-One
The Sound Of The Streets
Beautiful Loser
Golden Gun


Leave Me To Bleed
Weight Of The World
Knocking On Your Door
Dreamlike State
2000 Miles
Looking Glass Sea
Let It Flow
How Can I Say


Up In The Sky
Married With Children
Take Me Away
D’Yer Wanna Be A Spaceman?
Fade Away
She’s Electric
Morning Glory
Cum On Feel The Noize
Don’t Go Away
Stay Young


Star Shaped
Never Clever
Young & Lovely
Theme From An Imaginary Film
Best Days
It Could Be You
Yuko & Hiro

The Beautiful South:

Oh Blackpool
Woman In The Wall
I Think The Answer’s Yes
Domino Man
His Time Ran Out
Hold On To What?
The Slide
Just Checkin’
Let Go With The Flow
I’m Stone In Love With You

Robbie Williams:

Life Thru A Lens
Teenage Millionaire
Phoenix From The Flames
Karma Killer
Better Man
Karaoke Star
Man For All Seasons
Sin Sin Sin
Viva Life On Mars


Rock Me
When I Kissed The Teacher
My Love, My Life
As Good As New
Kisses Of Fire
Happy New Year
I Let The Music Speak
Slipping Through My Fingers
You Owe Me One

Monday, 22 June 2009

Too Many People

Following on from my previous posts about the Optimum Population Trust. One area of policy where the Trust is weak is the economic argument for population control. Yes, there is an economic case to be made in terms of the environmental impact – but what are the other economic benefits?

Obviously the answer is a very big yes. Firstly, the idea that a population growth is conducive to economic growth doesn’t bear logical scrutiny. Think of it this way. In one year, the UK has 1 per cent economic growth. And its population also grows by 1 per cent. So the result, on average, is bugger all.

Whereas a 1 per economic growth without an increase in population would mean we would, on average, be slightly better off. In essence, any growth in the economy based on population growth is no growth at all; our economy is only growing in any real sense if economic growth exceeds population growth. One very easy of making sure of this is by reducing population growth.

Secondly, there are all the other financial benefits of lowering the population. Not just less pollution, but less traffic congestion, shorter hospital waiting lists, maybe even full employment. As it follows that increasing population density leads to greater pressures on society, greater lawlessness and a reduction in freedoms, so a population reduction is necessary to safeguard our personal liberties (see Asimov’s Bathroom). So much of our national resources are spent dealing with the consequences of a services being run on a crisis basis of ever-increasing demand exceeding capacity; those resources would be better spent improving the services. If you’re not spending all your money building new homes, you can improve the ones you’ve already got.

In short, a nation – or a world – with fewer people makes financial sense.

Sunday, 21 June 2009


I was out with some friends a couple of weeks ago, in a pub in London’s West End, and towards the end of the evening in walked Su Pollard, the actress famed for her portrayal of chalet maid Peggy Ollerenshaw in TV’s ‘Hi-De-Hi!’ and her 1986 hit single ‘Starting Together’.

Nothing remarkable in that, you might think. Nothing sinister. And you’d be right.

A few days later I was out jogging, listening to my pop selection on my mp3 player, and passed a gaggle of middle-aged women in the park. One of whom was Su Pollard, the actress famed for her portrayal of chalet maid Peggy Ollerenshaw in TV’s ‘Hi-De-Hi!’ and her 1986 hit single ‘Starting Together’.

‘A mere coincidence!’, you may say. That’s what I thought.

A few more days passed, and I was in central London again, shopping and picking up contact lenses. Walking down Oxford street, who should I pass but... Su Pollard, the actress famed for her portrayal of chalet maid Peggy Ollerenshaw in TV’s ‘Hi-De-Hi!’ and her 1986 hit single ‘Starting Together’.

And then I realised the chilling truth.

I am being stalked by Su Pollard. Now, wherever I go, there will be a distant, haunting, banshee cry of ‘I want to be a yellowcoat!’ and ‘Blimey heck, Mith Cathcart’th gonna have my gutth for garterth!’

Unless... unless there is a second, even more terrifying, possibility. Which is this: I am now trapped in a universe where, Being John Malkovich-style, the people around me are being transformed, one by one, into Su Pollard, the actress famed for her portrayal of chalet maid Peggy Ollerenshaw in TV’s ‘Hi-De-Hi!’ and her 1986 hit single ‘Starting Together’.

Or maybe it’s all in my mind. Maybe it is a strange new madness.

Help me. Before it’th too late.

Saturday, 20 June 2009


There’s a famous memo from the late 60’s, regarding the tobacco lobby. I’ll quote it:

“Doubt is our product, since it is the best means of competing with the ‘body of fact’ that exists in the mind of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy. Spread doubt over strong scientific evidence and the public won’t know what to believe”

Of course, their approach failed dramatically. In partly, I suspect, due to the fact that WRT tobacco, no matter how much uncertainty may be cast over the empirical or statistical evidence, any smoker who has woken up coughing has plenty of physical evidence in their handkerchief that smoking isn’t doing them any good. I think this is also why the alcohol lobby has never managed to get a similar policy of confusion to stick; we know alcohol is bad for us whenever we wake up with a headache in a pool of vomit in a strange bedsit in Ruislip.

But the memo seems to have been ‘cc’d to other groups. The petrol industry used a similar approach when it came to the environmental impact of burning fossil fuels, both in terms of exhaust emissions and climate change. It’s also a strategy employed by the ‘creationists’; with about as much ethical justification as the tobacco lobby’s attempt to ‘teach the controversy’ about smoking.

The principle is simple. Create a ‘debate’ and any coverage will, in an attempt to be ‘balanced’, give equal weight to pro and con; creating the impression it’s six of one, half a dozen of the other, a fifty-fifty coin-toss that’s still up in the air – with the truth either ‘to be decided’ or somewhere half-way inbetween.

The mischief-maker in me, though, wonders whether this tactic might not be used for good. Religion shouldn’t be taught in schools – it is, by definition, indocrination – but if it is, then educators should also ‘teach the controversy’. Pupils should be told how contradictory and plagiaristic their magic book is; and how its version of history is not merely unsupported by primary evidence but utterly invalidated.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Together In Electric Dreams

Finally got Electric Dreams on DVD. It’s a marvellous film, with the magnificent Together In Electric Dreams playing over the end credits. What I love about it are two things.

Firstly, it’s very much of the era when computers were new and exciting and full of romantic possibilities. Not romantic in the going on a date sense, but romantic in the going on an adventure sense. I’d say Electric Dreams was the best of a home computing sub-genre that also includes Weird Science, Automan, War Games, Tron and Superman III. A time when there was still a little bit of magic and mystery about those bulky beige boxes that went beep.

Secondly, it still gets me. The story is essentially a re-write of Casablanca but with Humphrey Bogart played by a Commodore 64. It’s the timeless story of boy meets girl, boy buys computer, boy brings computer to life, computer falls in love with girl, computer gives up girl for boy, computer commits suicide. I’m sure I didn’t do it intentionally but I so ripped off the ending for Festival Of Death.

Of course, it’s massively dated, and yet – by using the power of selective description – it’s also uncannily timely. After all, the boys’ troubles only start when he mixes going on the internet with drinking alcohol; and within a matter of days he’s ripping off someone else’s music and passing it off as his own.

I think it’d make a great West End Musical. With songs from the early 80’s, by The Human League and all the other bands around then which were a bit like The Human League. I’d write it. You’d have to sort out the plot – the film has a couple of odd loose threads – but it’d be worth it just for the closing number.

Thursday, 18 June 2009


Today is a sad day. It’s the day of the last episode in the present series of the best sitcom currently on television, the awesome The Big Bang Theory. Happily it’s been renewed for not one but two more series. It seems television people in America recognise a hit when they see it. It’s extremely well-written – with that holy grail of comedy, new jokes about now - it doesn’t sentimentalise or patronise, and it features five extremely vivid, here’s-a-brand-new-archetype characters. The greatest of which has to be Sheldon, the socially-awkward Maths genius and inarguably the most note-perfect sitcom performance since Niles Crane. You must watch it. You must buy the DVD. It’s hilarious, and I don’t praise easily.

It’s a pity there’s nothing like it on British TV. Prime-time sitcom seems to mean domestic sitcom; middle-aged couple exchanging insults while their kids chip in with wisecracks. Nothing wrong with that, except they’re all rather generic and interchangeable and could’ve been made at any point in the last forty years. The problem, apparently, is that it’s terribly difficult to launch a mainstream sitcom, because any show put on against Coronation Street is doomed to flop. Though I’d suggest that if you’re looking for a good ‘nursery slope’ to try out a new sitcom, putting it against an ITV soap would seem ideal, so long as you’re not going to deem it a failure if it doesn’t set the world of viewing figures alight. Anyway.

And there’s The IT Crowd, which bears some superficial similarities but is more of a live-action cartoon. It’s about working in IT about as much as Father Ted was about priests; it’s a starting-point for surreal comic adventures, but it’s not the source of the comedy.

Anyway, here are some of my favourite TB-BT moments. Enjoy.

Sheldon is the Sword Master:

Sheldon smiles:

Sheldon drinks coffee:

Sheldon tests the acoustics:

Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock:

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Mr Robinson's Quango

And now we go over live to Nick Robinson, for more details on that story.


Thank you Huw, on what must be one of the grimmest days for Gordon Brown as Prime Minister. If only he’d listen to me! (SIGH) If you’ll remember, it all started yesterday when I broke this story on the ten o’clock news’.


But more trouble lies in store for Gordon Brown tomorrow. If only he’d listen to me! (SIGH) I spoke to him a few minutes ago, when I asked him this question.


Prime Minister? A bad day tomorrow?


To which the Prime Minister gave an extensive and detailed reply which I'm not going to tell you. Instead, I’ll tell you what I thought of it - although he came across as outwardly positive, in my opinion he was merely trying to disguise his feelings of utter dejection. Huw.


That was me, yesterday, reporting on the news that I had asked the Prime Minister a question. Since then I’ve spoken to several members of the cabinet who did not wish to be identified on account of the fact that I’ve just made them up, who all made it clear that this had been an extremely bad day for the Prime Minister and who all agreed that I would do a much better job - if only they’d listen to me! (SIGH) But instead I’m going to end this report on a meaningless non-sequitur. Because one thing's for sure - in politics, as in life, only time can tell. Huw.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Don't Look Down

I’m scared of heights. You only have to walk up to me and say ‘Six foot two’ and I’ll be reduced to a gibbering wreck.

No. To be more accurate, I’m scared of drops. In particular, drops which are in very close proximity to me. I find I don’t mind so much if the drops are a safe distance way, such as in another country. It’s the ones which are nearby that worry me.

I don’t think it’s an unreasonable fear. I think the problem is more with the complete accuracy of my fear. I can imagine with precise vividity what would happen to me should I fall over that drop. That bit where the guy falls off the bridge in Saturday Night Fever, that’s my worst nightmare.

Douglas Adams once wrote that the fear is because we are fighting an instinct to leap. Well, I’m certainly very conscious of not wanting to jump. It’s an over-riding concern. But the fear comes from not trusting my legs to undergo an involuntary spasm and launch me over the brink of their own accord - and the more scared I get, the less control over my legs I have. I’m thinking ‘must not step forward, must not step forward,’ but – like being told not to giggle – the very fact that you’re trying not to do something creates a compulsion to do it.

I think the reason I’m scared of heights is because I’m short (“What number is this? 7A!”) so my head is used to being quite close to the ground most of the time. Despite this, I’ve confronted my fear; I’ve been to the Grand Canyon and looked down a mile-deep drop, and been to the top of the Eiffel Tower, the Empire State Building, even the World Trade Centre.

Monday, 15 June 2009

So The Story Goes

Every now and then you’ll get a famous writer slagging off Robert McKee’s Story. ‘He’s never written anything himself’, they’ll say. They’ll blame it for homogenised, predictable, formulaic storytelling. And then other people will misunderstand what the famous writer meant and will go, ‘Ah – you see – structure isn’t important.’

Structure is important. It should be instinctive. I’m not sure it can be taught, any more than an appreciation of fine music can be taught. But what can be taught – and what McKee’s Story is excellent on – is how to fix a story that’s not working. Story is a troubleshooting manual. It helps identify potential problems and find solutions.

The problem is when script editors, or producers, or whoever, use Story in a prescriptive way rather than a diagnostic way. Which is like using a car repair manual as a guide to constructing a car.

The other problem is that this leads to script editors, or producers, or whoever - who can’t tell if a script is working because their job is all about fretting about scripts not working – who use Story to find not problems but quibbles. One hears horror stories about writers being given notes that the b-plot should have its first beat half-way down page 7, not at the top of page 8... which is nonsense, because it’s a problem begging to be fixed by the writer sneakily fiddling with the layout settings. And which results in shows and films which feel over-formulaic and lifeless because they are structurally unsurprising.

That’s not to say writing can’t be planned out structurally. It can, just as when building a car you might first decide to stick a wheel in each corner. But what makes a story exciting is not how similar it is to other stories but how different.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

The Sound Of The Crowd (Remix)

Gordon Brown booed by D-Day veterans! That was one of the stories of the week. Apparently he’s so unpopular that even eighty-year-old soldiers who have gone to Normandy to honour their dead comrades are prepared to shout at him because of some mix-up to do with the Queen not being invited.


Watching the coverage on the BBC News, some questions occurred to me. I don’t want to accuse anyone of dishonesty but there are certain... perplexities to this story.

Perplexity one: The BBC footage doesn’t show any veterans. Indeed, none of the footage of any of the outlets shows any veterans either booing or being present at the place where the booing occured. The Sky News report even pans the camera across to the source of the booing – to find a quiet old codger with his medals on display lost amongst a large crowd of, er, TV journalists and football hooligans on a booze cruise. Boos cruise, geddit? Oh never mind.

Perplexity two: The boos – of which there are maybe half a dozen – don’t sound like the boos of men in their seventies or eighties. They sound like the hearty boos of men in their thirties and forties.

Perplexity three: Would World War Two veterans, men who have fought for our country, really behave in such a yobbish and disrespectful manner? I don’t think so. I think to suggest so is actually rather insulting towards them.

Perplexity four: There are no interviews with or quotes from any of the veterans who were present explaining why they booed Gordon Brown in any of the news reports. This is a curious omission.

You could almost be forgiven for suspecting that a load of TV journalists, sent to cover a story about Gordon Brown being unpopular, had been the ones doing the booing!

Saturday, 13 June 2009


Watched 'Southland Tales' last night. I thoroughly recommend it. It’s the most badly-made film in the history of cinema and you’ll be left with a greater appreciation of every other movie ever made. Because no matter how bad they may get they’ll still be better than ‘Southland Tales’.

I won’t both going into too much detail about the plot, because the writer of ‘Southland Tales’ certainly didn’t, and I don’t think any description I can give would really do it justice.

Actually, what it really feels like is the work of somebody who isn’t particularly bright and who isn’t particularly well-read trying to be pretentious – the result being they only expose the paucity of their intellect and the painful limits of their knowledge. The writer of ‘Southland Tales’ has read maybe one poem, read maybe two books, and seen no more than half a dozen films; but in order to show us how clever he is, he’s going to quote from them endlessly.

You know who I really blame, though? The audience. This film is made by the same guy who did ‘Donnie Darko’. A film which, to be fair, isn’t quite as awful as ‘Southland Tales’ but which was a similar adolescent incoherent mess.

But a certain section of the audience enjoyed that aspect of it. They thought the fact that the story didn’t make sense made it more interesting. It’s the same reason why some people think the last episode of The Prisoner is profound; they can’t tell the difference between textual complexity and self-indulgence.

It’s the ‘hey, it can mean whatever you want it to mean’ death-of-the-author nonsense that I loathe. There is no virtue in shoddy or confused storytelling. You want that? Then you’ll end up paying for more movies like ‘Southland Tales’.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Long Hot Summer

Spent the last couple of days up in North-West London in a studio recording my next Big Finish Doctor Who audio adventure, The Eternal Summer. I’ve been sworn to secrecy about the cast, but suffice it to say that there was an actor called Peter in the leading role and an actress called Sarah playing his assistant. They were both extremely good – even better than they usually are.

The recording went exceptionally well. One of the most enjoyable recording sessions for these audios that I’ve attended (and I’ve turned up for as many of them as possible). This was largely due to the fact that the Moat is a great studio, Toby puts on fantastic lunches, because Barney is a lovely director, and because he put together a simply brilliant cast. Two names in particular will, I think – I hope – get the fans as excited as I was when I heard who we’d managed to get. One of whom had actually been my suggestion – this never happens.

It’s weird going back up to the area where I used to work ten years ago. The Mute Records greenhouse where I used to shiver and swelter is now a block of luxury flats. The dodgy gym opposite is still there – I have fond memories of the whole office coming together to watch the not-infrequent police raids.

So much has changed and yet so much is the same. I’m sure they’ve moved Trellick Tower slightly to the left.

In other news, my dad’s been interview for the BBC Somerset website in his capacity as Publicity Officer for the Somerset Beekeeper’s Association. He tells them all about beekeeping. Apparently it’s very relaxing.

My name has also been included on the list of writers for an upcoming comedy sketch night in London, The Works.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Skweeze Me, Pleeze Me

Following on from DOGs, the matter of credit squeezing–the practice, at the end of TV shows, of making the end titles look smaller so that the channel can tell the viewer what’s coming up next. It’s more of a BBC problem – all closing titles on ITV are near-identical and designed to be legible when shuffled to one side – and has been going on for so long that even Equity have noticed.

The reasoning behind ‘credit squeezing’ – of not waiting a second before a show has ended before bombarding the viewer with trailers – is that research shows that viewers start channel-surfing the moment a show has finished and if you want to retain viewers you have to tell them what’s on next ASAP.

I’d like to see this research. Far be it for me to suspect motives, but it’s not unusual for research to end up being interpreted in a way which uncannily matches what the person or organisation that commissioned the research had intended to do in the first place. And BBC Presentation has a vested interest in research that shows what a vital and influential department of the BBC it is.

The thing is, the reason why people start channel-surfing is because they either a) are fully informed as to what’s on next and aren’t interested or b) know that if they stay tuned to the same channel they’ll have to sit through three or four tedious will-to-live-draining minutes of irrelevant trailers and idents before the next show begins. That’s why there is the absurd situation that you get a trailer for the TV show which is on next!

The other irritation is that the BBC hasn’t even bothered to get the software to work! Every time they shrink the credits, they judder. It just looks shoddy.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Beat The Clock

Apologies in advance, but this blog’s going to get a little dull over the next few weeks. I don’t know if I’ll manage to keep up the daily rate, even if I start using up my archive of ‘rainy day’ blogs. I’ve got a bit of work on, you see. I have to write about 90 minutes of script by the end of the month. That’s a lot of words.

I realise I should be intimidated or scared, but either the penny of fear has yet to drop – which is quite likely, I’m an expert at being in denial (no I’m not) - or I’m too delighted and excited to have the work to care. I like a challenge. I like having more work than I can cope with. Busy is good. Busy makes me happy.

I’m even looking forward to the deadline crisis dream, the one I’ve mentioned before, about being back at university and having an exam coming up which I could pass if only I worked really, really hard – but giving up instead. The fear there isn’t the fear of the exam, or the fear of failure. It’s the fear of giving in to my own indolence. The fear of letting myself down because I’m just too lazy to pull my finger out. It’s my subconscious giving me a kick up the arse – as if to say ‘You might not be consciously worrying about this in the ego section, but back here in the id quite frankly we’re shitting ourselves’.

I’ve got an archive of about thirty blogs (!), some of which are now hilarously out of date. I’ll try to keep on tapping away here – it is less than three hundred words, it only takes about ten minutes – but please forgive me if I don’t.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Used To Be Bad

I heard someone once call it Scary Monsters syndrome. That is, whenever David Bowie releases a new album, all the reviews will say ‘This is his best album since Scary Monsters’.

Now, this might actually be the case. But given the number of times this trope appears in reviews – it’s obligatory for Paul McCartney, or any band or artist widespreadly considered to have had a lapse from form – the cynic might have cause to speculate whether the critic has actually listened and evaulted all the intervening albums, or whether they’re just assuming they were crap because they haven’t.

It makes no sense. Not every successive David Bowie album can be his best since Scary Monsters – that would mean each was improving upon the last, which hasn’t been the case, because he has yet to better hours... (which really was his best album since Scary Monsters).

Even more annoying, though, was an interview with Noel Gallagher of the Oasis boys, where he was saying their new album was great, and was their best one since Morning Glory, and wasn’t crap like all the rest. Well excuse me, Noel, but I paid ten bloody quid for each of those albums. And whilst they might traced the downward trajectory of diminishing returns with quite startling accuracy, it’s a bit rich for you to turn around and slag them off now. And your new album isn’t the best since Morning Glory, it’s like someone just took the songs from all your previous albums and then averaged them out.

The same goes for artists slagging off each other, Blur vs Oasis, or whatever. I like you both! Don’t make me choose! Can’t we all get along? It just makes you seem petty, that to big yourself up you have to belittle someone else.

Monday, 8 June 2009

Misty Water

I remember walking past the Centre For Homeopathic Medicine in London. It’s a huge, imposing building. Which is ironic, really - you’d think a much smaller building would be more effective.

Obviously homoeopathy is a load of old nonsense and is not merely unproven but thoroughly disproven. Why is medicine the only area in which you can get a ‘complementary’ treatment? Why aren’t there complementary mechanics? They could treat the whole car holistically. They could probably fix a sticky clutch by sticking pins in one of the wheels,

What about the anecdotal evidence? Well, drinking lots of water is good for you. The placebo effect can be a powerful thing, particularly with regard to nebulous psychological conditions such as mood or a sense of general well-being or those niggly little complaints which are part and parcel of being alive.

Homeopathy works in the same way that a lager shandy will be more potent than a straight lager. The lemonade ‘remembers’ the lager and replicates its effect. Similarly, we all know that a gin and tonic will get you more drunk the more tonic there is and the less gin there is. That’s not a fact but don’t let that get in the way of you believing it to be true.

But maybe there is something in it. I like my coffee black. If there’s been so much as a single droplet of milk in it I can tell and will send it back. They love me at Gregg’s for doing that. But coffee with a tiny bit of milk in it is even more revolting than coffee with a lot of milk in it.

One argument in favour of alternative medicine on the NHS is that it keeps the hypochondriacs happy and lets the doctors concentrate on people who are genuinely ill. But, on the other hand, it’s alternative medicine that’s driving tigers to extinction because some Chinese men think their willies are magic.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

The Revelations

On the recommendation of top author Daniel Blythe, earlier this year I checked out this video by girl group The Revelations. I liked it enough to download the track, and the song they entered into last year’s Song for Europe, ‘It’s You’. They grew on me further, and I downloaded a couple more tracks from their album on iTunes... until eventually I’d downloaded the whole thing.

Can’t recommend it too highly. Lovely summery vibe. You may remember a while ago when the word was that the Pipettes would be the next big thing, until it turned out their album was ghastly. Well, The Revelations are doing a similar thing – 60’s flavoured pop – but their album actually delivers on their potential. It should have done really well – as the album hasn’t even had a CD release, I can only guess that it’s a damning indictment of the state of the music industry that more people haven’t heard of them.

But what really attracts me to the band, other than the obvious fact that they are all extremely attractive, is the quality of the songwriting. Each track is a potential hit, if not for them then for someone else, the melodies are robust and catchy, and each song has more hooks than is decent in this day and age. It’s also excellent jogging music.

It would be easy to dismiss what they’re doing as pastiche, as many of the tracks wouldn’t be out of place in a production of Grease, but it’s actually much more clever and modern that that. So I’m passing on the good news. Check out this video. If you like it, download the track. Give it a few listens, if you like it, download ‘Baby I Want You To Know’, ‘You’re The Loser’ and ‘I’m A Lover’...

Saturday, 6 June 2009

I'm Not The Man I Used To Be

Rush out now and buy the latest issue of Doctor Who Magazine, it has an article by me in it. My record so far is managing to get my name or something I’ve written onto about 16 pages of the same issue; clearly I’m not in the same league as Benjamin Cook or Jason Arnopp, but plugging away in the second division. This time the article is a mere 9 pages (9!). It’s about regeneration. It was Tom’s idea.

I researched it quite meticulously. I re-read the script for The Power Of The Daleks. I re-read the synopses of Spearhead From Space and Robot. I’d only watched – and sworn profusely throughout – Castrovalva quite recently so that was still fresh in my mind. I enjoyed The Christmas Invasion for what must now be the dozenth time. I re-read the script for Journey’s End. And – should my dedication be in doubt – I even re-watched The Twin Dilemma. I’d always said I wouldn’t watch it again unless somebody paid me – well, this time somebody was paying me. And may my bones rot for obeying them!

I was discussing this with a fellow contributor the other day, and how we both always guiltily read our own bits first before reading the rest of the magazine. I say ‘guiltilty’, because it seems a bit self-congratulatory, doesn’t it? Though, on a few occasions whilst reading the 200 Special, I found myself agreeing with the wit and wisdom of a particularly excellent review only to find, when I got to the end, that I’d written it.

The other reason I read it first is to find out what’s been edited out. For instance, in my last article I included several paragraphs bemoaning the fact that my novel The Tomorrow Windows is now out of print...

Friday, 5 June 2009

Don't Back Down

So it’s the end for Doctor Who Forum. Formerly known as Outpost Gallifrey. I can’t say I’m surprised or altogether disappointed and can only agree with Shaun’s decision to shut it down. It’s just not the fun place it once was.

Seems to me, it’s the recurring pattern of the internet. A small group of friends get together, on a bulletin board, newsgroup, yahoogroup, internet forum or wherever. They have larks. Gradually the group expands until it stops being a group of friends and becomes a group of strangers. The signal-to-noise ratio decreases and the in-fighting begins. People lose patience, they niggle at each others’ nerves, arguments get entrenched into ruts and by this point the small group of friends who started the whole thing have long-since departed for greener pastures. Or start writing blogs instead.

I don’t know what the solution is. Gated communities, probably. Invitation-only members’ clubs. There are just too many damn idiots out there and they shout too damn loud.

Regarding Doctor Who Forum, I’m surprised Shaun kept it going for this long. If I was in his position, I’d have shut it down permanently after the whole Christopher Eccleston leaving brouhouha (where one ‘super-fan’ memorably described the actor playing the Doctor as being ‘lower than a cockroach in [their] estimation’). I’d have shut it down again after the unholy and unbalanced reactions to Daleks In Manhattan and Catherine Tate’s casting – it’s one thing for fans to let off steam in private, it’s quite another for them to do so on a public forum which is being trawled for scandal by tabloid journalists. It’s because ‘fans’, for so long, have been used to slagging off actors, writers and producers on the assumption that their subjects would never get to hear about it. Well, no more.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Election Day

Today I will be mostly voting... Green. I would vote Labour, but I think I’ll save my last vestiges of party loyalty for the general election.

Might as well add right now that if you’re reading this in the UK, you have to vote. It’s vitally important. It’s proportional representation so not only will your vote count, but – more worryingly - so will everyone else’s and you know what other people are like. There has been too much coverage of the ‘threat’ from the BNP – which can only have served to bolster their support – but all it takes is for people to sit at home going ‘there’s no point in voting, they’re all as bad as each other’ for them to become more powerful.

Should also add, whilst I’m talking about politics European, the Guardian’s recent article about David Cameron’s recent alliance with Urszula Krupa, who leads the Law and Justice party in Poland. Basically, they’re the people your MEP will be forming a power block with if you vote Conservative. Their ‘policies’ include declaring homosexuality a ‘pathology’ and denying the existence of climate change. So if you agree with these views, you should vote Tory.

And just in case you think the Christian party is a fluffy bunch of Dibley-style vicars – they also (unsurprisingly) would ban abortion and are in favour of a health campaign against the danger of homosexuality, teaching creationism in schools, and, bizarrely, changing the law to give ‘witness’ statements precedence over scientific evidence and discouraging the use of the abbreviation ‘Ms’! And the party’s leader co-wrote Sinitta’s ‘So Macho’. The real danger with 'Christian' politics, though, has been demonstrated in the USA – where funding is refused to aid organisations that perform abortions (even for life-saving medical reasons) or promote the use of contraception.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

I'm So Excited

TV executives are, without exception, intelligent, erudite, and genuinely enthusiastic people; that’s so true it's very nearly a fact. But you wouldn’t think that from reading the press releases. You’d think they were either insincere corporate noddies or suffering from a Sunny Delight overdose. Because they’re so bloody excited all the time.

You name it, any new show, and the executive responsible will say they are ‘excited’ about it. One wonders quite how excited they are by the process of commissioning, say, a programme in which Adrian Chiles visits the UK’s top fifteen cheese museums. Is there a quickening of the pulse? The breaking of a sweat? Are they aroused sexually? Are they enduring sleepless nights, such is the fervour of their anticipation? Is theirs an excitement which they are unable to contain? Do they find themselves dancing on their desks, a-whooping and high-fiving with glee?

No, of course not. That would be sectionable. I realise I’m reitering David Mitchell’s rant on passion and that he’s funnier than me, but I don’t care - I was genuinely excited to write this blog.

Of course, these press releases are written by a press-release monkey (one of those chimps that’ll eventually knock up Hamlet) - the executive merely signs off on it. Claiming that the executive is ‘excited’ is merely part of the formula along with summing up a show with three adjectives which are either mutually exclusive or mean precisely the same thing.

This formula is irritating, partly because it insults the intelligence of the reader and does a disserve to the sincerity and eloquence of the TV executive, and partly because, like the boy who cried wolf, you’ve left wondering what they would be left to say if they actually were excited by something – and whether anyone would still believe them.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

There's No Business Like Show Business

I’ve described my hate-hate relationship with pantomimes in the past, but I do have something of a fascination with the posters They have a strange alluring quality - a state of timelessness, as fashions wax and wane with the seasons, pantomime posters still look exactly as they did thirty years ago. If Keeley Hawes woke up after a road accident, and she saw a poster for Stu ‘Crush A Grape’ Francis in Mother Goose at the Theatre Royal, she’d have absolutely no idea which decade she was in.

The rules are simple. The title of the panto in swirly lettering, as close to the Disney font as you can manage. Around it, head-shots of the cast floating in vague order of recognisability. Ideally they’ll be depicted in costume, but half the time they’re just whatever 8 x 10 their agent had to hand. And any remaining space on the poster should be filled with stars and galaxies.

What’s fascinating is the way actors are billed. If you’re properly famous to be recognisable by face and name alone, it’ll just be your face and name; ‘John Barrowman’

If you’re not quite properly famous, your face and name will be preceded or followed by the TV show you were in; ‘’Hi-De-Hi’’s Su Pollard’.

If that’s still not enough for Joe Public to have the faintest clue who you are, your face and name will be accompanied with the name of the character you played in the TV show, or, if you’re a comedian, your catchphrase; ‘Chrissie’ from ‘Hollyoaks’ or ‘Duncan ‘Chase Me’ Norvelle’.

And if you’re a complete non-entity, they’ll just give the name of the character you play.

And then there’ll be something insanely inappropriate in the corner. ‘Featuring SOOTY’. ‘Featuring THOMAS THE TANK ENGINE and FRIENDS’. ‘Featuring CARTESIAN GEOMETRY.’

Monday, 1 June 2009

Take The Money And Run

My frustration with this whole interminable MP’s caught-fiddling-their-expenses business is that it could have – should have – been the best thing that could have ever happened to the Labour Party. A year before the election, “Conservative MPs are discovered to have basically stolen tax-payers’ money to spend on their own moats, duck-palaces and so forth.” That’s the ideal story. It would remind voters that the Conservative party are a bunch of opportunistic shysters, greedy and corrupt in the way that only those born into over-privilege can achieve. It would show up David Cameron for the ineffectual leader that he is – sanctimonious and glib, with policies about as robust and tangible as a hologram of a cloud.

But – and this is what makes me livid – a small but not small enough bunch of Labour MPs were also caught red-handed with their fingers in the House of Commons communal money bucket. Now, clearly their money-grubbing lacks the sheer audacity and imagination of the Conservatives’, and it’s always for niggling borderline things like declaring the VAT on the fees of accountants giving advice on deferring interest payments on mortgages – but it creates the impression that they’re all as bad as each other. With Labour coming off worse, because while you expect this sort of licentious behaviour from the Toffies, you expect better of Socialists.

The reason why this happened is because of this small but not small enough bunch of Labour MPs who are, basically, ideological opportunists. Labour should be about representing and empowering the underprivileged and wiping all social inequality from the face of the Earth. That’s what should get them up in the morning. But instead you have a generation of career politicians – people who go into politics just because they want the power, the prestige and the money.