The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Saturday, 28 February 2009

People Are People

People - can’t live with them, not allowed to shoot them. Why do they have to be so... awful?

Take, for example, people who eat stuff whilst walking around supermarkets. People who are, apparently, so hungry that they can’t even wait until they’ve paid for their food at the checkout - they have to have their biscuits now. And then pass the crumpled wrapper through the barcode reader.

Or people who walk around with their mouths open. For all I know, you might have a PhD in organic chemistry, but if you walk around with your mouth open you’re going to look like a gormless nincompoop. Someone who has to concentrate a little bit in order to remember breathing.

Another one. People who, when they’re buying stuff in Gregg's, continue to chat on their phones. How busy do you have to be that you can’t interrupt your conversation in order to speak to the shop assistant? It’s just so selfish and so insulting. I mean, it wouldn’t matter if the person had a genuine reason why they had to be constantly on the phone – why they’ve invested in one of those hands-free phones that you hook onto your ear – but somehow, given the fact that they tend to be teenagers, it’s unlikely they’re running the stockmarket.

People who walk slowly, I have no problem with them. People who walk slowly in groups so they take up the whole pavement, though, should be shot. So should people who, when coming the other way, force you to walk into the road to get past them. And so should people who ‘tut’ when you ask them to get out of the way. In fact, anyone who ‘tuts’ about anything should be shot. Oh, I’ll deal with them in detail in another blog.

Friday, 27 February 2009

Catfights And Spotlights

I’m a latecomer to the Sugababes party. I’m not sure I was initially resistant to their pop charms; maybe I’d got them confused with the Atomic Kittens, or I found their early we’re-so-urban-and-grimy videos off-putting. Whatever. I was dumb, I was wrong, I let myself down, but I know everything about them now.

Catfights and Spotlights is marvellous album. I got it for Xmas. Hopefully, at my current reviewing rate, I’ll have reviewed all the albums I got for Xmas by the time next one comes around. It’s the Sugababes spin on this current make-everything-sound-like-the-late-60’s thing that’s everywhere right now; you know, Duffy, Cilmi, Adele, that skanky horse-faced woman who takes drugs, the Girls Alouds. Basically, if it hasn’t got sleigh-bells and sound like it was recorded in Wookey Hole, we’re not listening.

Catfights opens with Girls, a song based around that advert, and possibly the result of a last-minute cynical ‘we need a hit single’ record company directive. Track two You On Good Day seems to have been intended to open the album; beginning, as it does, with the Sugababes introducing themselves. You On Good Day troubles me; it’s a great song, an obvious single, but the relationship it describes is so dysfunctional, and the boyfriend depicted is such an arsehole, that the feminist in me wants to scream at the singer, ‘sister, ditch the waster, you're worth so much better’.

Elsewhere, highlights are Beware – which should’ve been the theme to the latest Bond – the equally epic Sunday Rain, Sound of Goodbye which is a Too Lost In You Part 2, and the totally poptastic Nothing’s As Good As You and No Can Do. Only Side Chick annoys – too r’n’b’ – and track 12 suffers the misfortune of having the same verse melody as track 8. Howdthathappen?

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Very Funny

List time. I think it’s in David Nobbs’ excellent autobiography where he explains why TV comedy is important; if you’re spending all day caring for the elderly, or digging up coal, or have any kind of a Proper Job, then you deserve a good laugh. It’s theraputic. There was a story a while ago about a US psychotherapist prescribing the Some Like It Hot DVD for depression. And whenever I feel that old black dog kicking at my heels, I think of the following:

Early Doors – The scene where Eddie and Joan ask around the pub whether anyone likes circuses.

Frasier – so many moments, but top of the list has to be Gil’s attempts to deliver his speech about ‘romping in the fens and spinnies’ in the sublime Ham Radio.

Men Behaving Badly – Gary and Tony come home drunk.

Blackadder The Third – The Prince Regent doesn’t know what a rotten borough is and asks, ‘So what is... a rubber button?’ Apparently John Lloyd wrote this bit.

Father Ted – the priests hold a competition on the plane to see who gets the parachutes.

The Office
- big Keith fills out a work-appraisal questionaire.

The Thin Blue Line - Goodie is cross-examined in court and bursts into tears. ‘You’re so mean!’

Yes, Prime Minister – the scene where Sir Humphrey is locked out of the office.

Just Good Friends – the punchline to Daphne’s story about a friend she once knew who had a child out of marriage.

The Big Bang Theory – ‘I’m the swordmaster!’

Help! - Fishing. Dancing. Fishing. Dancing...

‘Allo ‘Allo – Helga inflates a tyre on Herr Flick’s car.

Only Fools And Horses – the scene from The Longest Night where Del and Rodney are being held prisoner. As their captor falls asleep, Rodney reaches for his gun...

Coupling – Jeff’s spiderman dance.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Slow Down

Moore’s Law states that every two years the number of transistors that can be placed, inexpensively, on an integrated circuit will double; this means that every two years the processing speed of computers will double.

Morris’s Law, however, states that no matter how much faster computers get, they will still take the same bloody amount of time to get started. Why is that?

I mean, all I really want is a computer where I switch it on, it goes ‘boop-deep’ like the old BBC Micro Model B, I press a button and instantaneously I’m in Microsoft Word, ready to put off doing any work. Why is that too much to ask?

Instead, the faster computers get, the more kerfuffle they have to go through each time you switch them on. Memory checks. Loading up software that will do bugger all in the background. Scanning for viruses. Searching for updates. Moaning about applications failing to start, there not being enough memory, asking me, ‘do I want to send an error report?’. Reminding me that my printer isn’t switched on. Basically, it takes about as long to get into Word as if I’d loaded it from tape.

It’s like DVDs. In principle, they should mean you can access your movies instantaneously. No more tedious rewinding or spooling through the first minute of blank tape. Instead, you now have to spend even longer than you did with videotapes, enduring some idiot telling you ‘You wouldn’t steal a car! You wouldn’t steal a handbag! You wouldn’t eat a baby! etc’ And there’s logos and trailers and title sequences and other superfluous nonsense you can’t skip.

All I ask from technology is for it to not waste my time. My precious, short time on Earth.

And they take bloody ages to switch off too.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Getting Better

A wise man once said the secret of becoming a good writer is seeking out harsh criticism. This is exactly right. You can’t improve if you don’t know what you’re doing wrong. The best writers tend to also be their own harshest critics; that’s what makes them stay up till 4 in the morning on draft number 15 when other writers are tucked up in bed with draft number 1.

It’s also, possibly, why great writers become less great; they find harsh critics harder to find and maybe harsh criticism harder to take. After all, as in any field, from pop music to politics, once you’ve had some success you’re going to start believing you know what you’re doing. And the prospect of an early night becomes more appealing than an early morning spent tweaking dialogue.

I wouldn’t consider myself a good writer, but whenever I’ve written something that’s gone down well, it’s because it went through a process of harsh criticism; several processes, several harsh critics and several drafts. It’s also why I tend to over-write; because in editing down, you can cut all those bits you weren’t quite sure about. It gives you permission to be brutal somehow. And, eventually, once you’ve cut all the crap, you’re going to end up with something incredibly good. Or something incredibly short. One of the two.

But I wouldn’t seek harsh criticism on the internet. Reviews, I mean. Because it’s too late. Harsh criticism is invaluable during the writing process. Afterwards, it’s pointless. You can't go back and do another draft, you’re never going to write that story again, and next time will be different, it always is.

So if writers don’t engage with internet criticism of their work... that’s why. Because it won’t help them become a better writer.

Monday, 23 February 2009

Is It A Dream?

Our hero is asleep in his bed. He wakes up – to hear a buzzing coming from the bathroom. There, framed in the doorway, is his ex-girlfriend. Masked and brandishing a chainsaw. She approaches. Our hero screams...

...only to wake up. It was all a dream. The buzzing was his alarm clock.

This scene, or variations upon it, turns up in drama all the time. While it was funny to begin with, it’s started getting really old. It’s becoming a cliché. I think it’s time to call a moratorium on this particular trope.

I’m not talking about all dream/fantasy sequences. I’m talking about the ones that at first appear to be genuinely continuing the narrative, before turning surreal (and often comically violent) only to be revealed to be all in the imagination of one of the characters.

It’s used incredibly well in Cold Feet and At Home With The Braithwaites, in High Fidelity, where John Cusack fantasises about smashing in Tim Robbins’ skull. But too often it feels like it’s a gimmick, a shock effect, rather than furthering the narrative or telling us stuff we don’t already know about the characters.

It’s cheating the audience; you need a good reason for doing that not to leave the audience feeling short-changed after having invested their time in two or three minutes of drama only for it all turn out not to have mattered.

Worst of all is the cynical use of these dream/fantasy sequences to fabricate 'must-watch' moments for the next-week trailer. Like in the otherwise sublime Pushing Daisies, where the next-week trailer will show the Piemaker finally kissing Chuck. You tune in, because you want to see the episode where that happens... only for it to turn out to be a dream/fantasy sequence.

That’s just prick teasing.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Leave My Kitten Alone

It always bugs me when I hear people – usually members of the Jesus appreciation society – using the expression ‘thrown to the lions’ as a synonym for Christian perscution. I mean, it’s an everday expression, and that’s what it means... but it’s wrong. It’s referring to something which didn’t really happen.

Now, let me get it straight. I’m not saying that Christians weren’t persecuted during Roman times. They were – certainly during the reigns of Nero and Septimus Severus, at least – though it usually gets overlooked that during the reigns of most of the other Emperors, Christians were left to their own devices (which is why they were permitted to build such vast catacombs outside Rome).

But they weren’t thrown to the lions. Didn’t happen. They were certainly executed – Tacitus records Christians being crucified, burned alive and fed to dogs – and some of those executions may possibly have taken place at the Colosseum (although it was only one of many sites of execution in Rome).

But they wouldn’t have used lions. They were too valuable – too expensive to import – and were reserved for gladiatorial contests. If you think about it, it wouldn’t even work – lions will only kill what they need for food, so effectively you’d need to have a lot more lions than Christians.

The only record of a Christian execution using wild cats appears to be that of St Ignatius. Which isn’t conclusive – all we actually have is his description of being transported to Rome with some leopards. Which may simply be a mistranslation of ‘guards’.

I’m not denying Christians were executed, which was either heroic or tragic, depending on your point of view. But surely, out of respect for these martyrs if nothing else, the very least you can do is to try and get your facts right.

Saturday, 21 February 2009


Pubs are places of beauty, where men and women can gather together, and exchange ideas, chat-up lines and, in the toilets, bodily fluids if they so wish. They are places of poetry, of literature, of philosophy, and of being able to lean 45 degrees to one side because your shoes are stuck to the carpet.

But one thing annoys me about pubs, and that’s when you order an orange juice or a lemonade and the barperson nips out the back...

...and you watch them pouring you a drink from a supermarket’s-own-brand lemonade bottle or a supermarket’s-own-brand orange juice carton. I mean, how cheeky is that!

I don’t mind being served cheap lemonade or orange juice per se, but they could at least maintain the pretence that they’re not simply ripping you off by charging you a quid for a glass of lemonade poured in front of your eyes from a bottle with ‘49p’ written on it. They could at least make the lemonade or the orange juice come out of the squirty soda thing. That, as a bar-frequenting customer, is what I’m paying for; the illusion that a pub-bought lemonade costing a quid isn’t exactly the same as a supermarket-bought lemonade costing 49p.

And they could at least get half-way decent lemonade or orange juice. Marks & Spencer’s lemonade or orange juice, not Poundstretcher’s lemonade or orange juice. It’s just the rubbing-the-customer’s-face-in-it that I object to, the sheer unadulterated contempt. The fact they can’t even be bothered to conceal the fact that they're ripping you off.

I’ve taken a stand. From now on, I’ll be boycotting all lemonades and orange juices in pubs and will be sticking strictly to wines, lagers and spirits. It’s the only sensible course of action. Join me, it could become a national campaign.

Friday, 20 February 2009

Hound Dog

Inspired by those DVD trailers for insane-family-films-you’re-never-going-to-watch...

I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation, and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office. So help me God. Now gimme a goddam biscuit!

Cut to inauguration ceremony. Where the PRESIDENT is... a YORKSHIRE TERRIER!

Woofington G Barker is a dog with a difference. A dog with attitude. A dog from the street. He’s also the forty-fifth President... of the United States.

WOOFINGTON is in the oval office.

Hey, where’s the goddam washroom, or am I gonna have to do my poop in a plant pot?

The CHIEF OF STAFF is power-walking down a corridor, West-Wing-style.

How can a dog be president? It’s unconstitutional!

Article two states that every citizen of the United States can be president. It doesn’t say anything about them having to be human.

Back to the oval office.

Too late, I done my poop in the Resolute desk! Somebody crack open a window!

He’s not even house-trained, never mind White-House-trained!

Scenes from WOOFINGTON’s life: meeting POLITICIANS, in AIR FORCE ONE, CONVENTIONS. Music: That’s The Way I Like It by the KC Sunshine Band. Then cut to the incident room:

We gotta act fast, there’s puppies down there. Let loose the dogs of war!

WOOFINGTON meeting the QUEEN – and one of her CORGIs. It’s love!

(wolf whistle) Now she is one hot bitch!

Walt Disney Pictures presents... President Pooch.

The little dog... who had a big dream.

Now gimme a goddam biscuit!

Thursday, 19 February 2009

(Keep Feeling) Fascination

(Time for) another pop list, courtesy of my iTunes.

(Song titles which start with) parentheses.

(Here’s a list of) some of the best. (It’s) alphabetical.

(As Long As They’ve Got) Cigarettes In Hell – Oasis
(Baby, Baby) Can I Invade Your Country? – Sparks
(Can I) Find The Right Words (To Say) - Blondie going for the double.
(Crazy For You But) Not That Crazy – Magnetic Fields being silly.
(Feels Like) Heaven – Fiction Factory
(I’m Always Touched By Your) Presence, Dear – Blondie again.
(I’m Not Your) Stepping Stone – Monkees
(I Got) The Fever – those wacky Oasis boys again.
(I Wanna Give You) Devotion – Nomad featuring MC Milkee Freedom. Quite why I have this in my iTunes, I don’t know.
(If Paradise Is) Half As Nice – Amen Corner
(It’s Good) To Be Free – Oasis a third time. Joke getting old now, fellas.
(Just Like) Starting Over – John Lennon
(Keep Feeling) Fascination – Human League. Definitive use of parenthesis.
(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear – Elvis Presley
(Marie’s The Name) His Latest Flame – Elvis again.
(Nobody Does It Like) The Ukelele Man – Ivor Biggun. I’m so ashamed.
(Now And Then There’s) A Fool Such As I – Elvis catching up with Oasis.
(Probably) All In The Mind – Oasis nudging ahead again.
(Remember The Days Of The) Old School Yard – Cat Stevens
(There’s) Always Something There To Remind Me – Sandie Shaw. Most redundant use of parenthesis ever.
(‘Til) I Kissed You – Everly Brothers. Second most redundant use ever.
(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thing – Heaven 17
(We Want) The Same Thing – Belinda Carlisle
(You’ll Always Find Me In) The Kitchen At Parties – Jona Lewie
(You’re So Square) Baby I Don’t Care – Buddy Holly
(You’re The) Devil In Disguise – Elvis catching up on four...
(You’ve Got) The Heart Of A Star – Oasis, the winners on five.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

I Don't Like You Anymore

As far as I’m aware, I’ve only ever seriously fallen out with two people. The sad thing is, they’re the two people I’d most like to still be friends with, or at least, be on good terms. I have no reason to dislike them, except for the frustration arising from the fact that they seem to think I’m a total arse.

Some people are fine with having enemies. I’m not. I don’t believe in karma but as a guiding principle, it makes sense. I don’t want someone to die despising me, not before I’ve had a chance to apologise, make amends, put things right. And I don’t want to die being despised. The fact that I’ve unilaterally turned these two friends against me haunts me. It preys on my mind. It’s unfinished business.

Problem is, I wouldn’t know where to begin in putting things right. I’m pretty sure any overtures I made would ring hollow and would only serve to increase irritation. I’m not very good at that sort of thing. I can only hope that one day they realise that I’m not being a total arse deliberately and they make the first move. If only to make peace and move on. The whole ‘you’re at the same party together pretending each other is invisible’ business, it breaks my heart.

I can’t quite cope with falling out with people. I’m good at losing touch with people – I can be a bad friend – I’m not one of those people who remain in touch with everyone they schooled with, everyone they universitied with, everyone they worked with, everyone they’ve ever done the bedroom bounce with. I think that’s inevitable; I think girls are much better at that sort of thing.

But I suppose, on balance, two’s not too bad. Three would be worse.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

It's A Knockoff

Another moan. People who criticise a comedy show because there’s a gag in it which is similar to a joke from another comedy show. Or similar to a joke they sent in which got rejected.

A few points. One. All writers are surfing the same zeitgeist. They’re watching the same shows, reading the same newspapers. The terms of reference are shared – and so will the jokes. It’s inevitable if, say, the news breaks that John Prescott has been shagging his secretary then many of the ‘satirical’ gags will be covering the same ground. I was once told the best approach with topical material is to write the third joke you think of – because everyone else will have already thought of the first two.

Two. No writer’s career rests on one joke or sketch alone. Producers aren’t interested in writers because of one brilliant joke or sketch or even one plot idea; they’re interested in writers who can offer them an endless supply of jokes, sketches or plot ideas. It’s not the individual nuggets that are important; it’s the fact that you own the gold mine.

So someone else had the same idea as you. And it wasn’t as good as your thing would’ve been. No, probably not, never mind, get over it, move on.

Three. Plagiarism doesn’t happen. Well, I suppose there might be one or two producers and script editors out there who steal ideas – one hears rumours – but they never get anywhere because they don’t own the gold mines. It’s a clear conflict of interest when producers or script editors write for their own shows, they should be too busy. But ninety-nine percent of the time – it’s coincidence. Completely unintentional. It really isn’t worth worrying about.

I wrote a sketch on this subject. Please don’t nick it.


A living room in a homely country cottage, circa 1802. A crackling fire. Wine. An evening with WILLIAM and DOROTHY WORDSWORTH, SAMUEL COLERIDGE and ROBERT SOUTHEY.

SAMUEL COLERIDGE: (at the end of an anecdote) which point, I’d forgotten the second half so I never bothered to finish it!

Oh, Coleridge what are you like, you mad drug-addled fool!

Convivial laughter.

I hope no-one minds, but there’s a small piece I’ve been working on I’d like to share... I’d be interested in your thoughts -

Oh, do go on brother William, do.

Indeed - Another Wordsworth masterpiece, no doubt!

If you’re sure. (reads) “I wandered lonely, as a cloud, that floats on high o’er vales and hills, when all at once I saw a crowd, a host of golden daffodils...”

(pissed off) Aw, what!

Sorry, Southey, is there a problem?

Yeah, there is - you knew I’d been working on a poem about daffodils.

No –

You did! I told you I was in the middle of writing one.

I don’t remember –

When we were out walking, the other day, when I said, ‘ooh, you know, us having a wander lonely over vale and hill like this, that makes us a bit like clouds’.

I don’t recall –

And then, when we were just coming up to the lake, we came across all these daffodils, and I said, ‘that’s brilliant, I’m definitely writing a poem about that.’

I honestly don’t remember you saying that. I’m not even sure you were there -

SOUTHEY gets out his own poem.

Here. (reads) ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud, that floats on high, o’er vales and hils, when all at once, I saw a crowd, a host of golden daffodils’ – it’s exactly the same!



Look, okay, maybe we saw the same host of daffodils, and we were inspired to write similar poems, that’s all. It happens, you know – great minds think alike!

Or you just copied me.

Copied you?

Well it’s a bit convenient otherwise, isn’t it? I see some daffodils and write a poem, and then you ‘see’ the same daffodils and write the same poem...

No, this sort of thing is bound to come up from time to time. If we’re going around looking at the same things, there's bound to be an ‘overlap’ of subject matter...

An overlap? Plagiarism more like!

Come now, Robert – William does have a point. You are both ‘lake poets’, based in the lake district, so naturally some of your poems will be covering the same ground. The whole idea of coming here was to share inspiration –

Yeah – or, now I discover, so that ‘Wordy’ here could just rip off all my ideas!

Come on! Coleridge is a lake poet too, and I don’t hear him complaining –

Yes, but that’s because he’s so stoned out of his skull on laudanum all his poems are about sailors wandering around with dead seagulls tied around their necks.

SAMUEL COLERIDGE: (oblivious to the above discussion)
Is there any water anywhere? Could do with a drop to drink –

Well, maybe if you feel we’re treading on each other’s toes, you should try writing about something else. Go and be a ‘town poet’, see how that suits you.

Yeah, yeah, I think I will.

SOUTHEY gets up to leave. As he does, a nightingale sings outside.

What’s that – a nightingale -

ROBERT SOUTHEY: (inspired)
“Hark - the nightingale begins its song - a most musical, most melancholy bird...”

Turns to see WILLIAM WORDSWORTH hastily writing this down – he looks up, caught in the act.

What? What?


Monday, 16 February 2009

Pirate Aggro

The problem with internet piracy is not so much with the people downloading stuff – which isn’t stealing, it’s accepting stolen goods – but the people who upload stuff. I mean, why do they do it? It’s not out of selfless generosity is it?

No. It’s all an ego-trip. A way for someone who has no talent of their own to feel important. To feel they are sticking one over on ‘the man’ (a mythical figure who works mainly for the government but who occasionally moonlights for the recording industry). That somehow they are being a little bit clever, a little bit rock’n’roll. You can read their petty self-justifications all over the internet.

I don’t think calling it ‘piracy’ helps. Piracy summons up images of guys with Cornish accents who like to get into cutlass fights despite suffering a shortfall in the hands/legs/eyes/ears/noses/teeth department.

I suggest a different name. ‘Littledicking’. Let’s all start calling it that. There is far too much littledicking on the internet. Torrent sites are full of littledickers. The reason why indies are going the way of the pig-footed bandicoot is due to all the littledicks. The reason why labels don’t invest more in non-mainstream music is because, what with all the littledickage that's going on, it’s not worth it.

FWIW. I’m talking about littledicking in the sense of people who upload CDs (or whatever) the day they’re commercially released (or before). That’s the real problem. With regard to, say, people downloading TV shows from other territories, it’s more a matter of TV distributors and channels not getting their arses together so that shows are legitimately available everywhere at the same time. In those cases – where there is no available commercial option – I suppose it’s okay if people want to leech off any littledicks that are sticking up.

Sunday, 15 February 2009


I’m currently taking a month off drinking alcohol. Why February? Because it’s the shortest month, hohoho. It’s not that I have a drink problem, I get along without it very well, but it’s good to have a break. Plus I’m getting too old to wake up feeling like a brand new kitchen (i.e. having been recently plastered).

I find my drinking is all about social anxiety. I need a couple of pints so that I’m able to say all the devastatingly clever and witty things I’m thinking in my head before I think better of it and don’t. And, with each additional pint, so the bar gets lowered and the threshold of quality becomes ever less perceptible.

This only really becomes a problem when I’m with strangers, intimidated by people who are famous or powerful or just too damn tall, and it takes more than a couple of pints to make the social anxiety go away. I remember one occasion where I was stone-cold sober after about two bottles of wine – I was that nervous – which only hit me when I left the event, and which, after an hour's interval, hit all four of my bathroom walls and part of the ceiling as well.

Going to the Tavern sober is an experience. Going drunk is an experience too. but it’s the default experience. Being sober surrounded by drunken people makes you feel super-sober, as though you’re at a job interview or a funeral or getting your test results back from the clinic. After a while the social anxiety evaporates as you realise you’re the sharpest-minded person in the pub and could run mental rings around everyone else. Kind of like what it must feel like to be Stephen Fry.

Only real drawback is, all non-alcoholic drinks taste really boring.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

All Of My Friends Were There

Valentine’s Day, which means only one thing. Half my friends are on the other side of the world at the Gallifrey One Doctor Who convention. And I’m not.

Why not? It’s a question of logistics, tethering together a sufficient number of wild horses to drag me there, basically. I can think of nowhere else I’d rather not be.

My friends adore it. They look forward to the event with anticipation, have a great time with friends old and new, and come away with a renewed sense of joie de vivre. Good for them. It wouldn’t work for me. I’m a miserable git and would spend the whole weekend ensconced within a cloud of my own gloom.

I used to go to conventions in the early 90s. Although I must’ve enjoyed them, what I remember most of all is that they were largely passive experiences. As an attendee, you’d sit and watch interviews, videos, queue for autographs. There wasn’t really a sense of community, of people having fun. Though, in retrospect, I see that was due to my cloud of gloom.

I appreciate that the Gallifrey Ones aren’t like that. They’re not about herding ridiculously large numbers of nerds into vast soulless hotel rooms so they can hear John Levene opining about the UNIT family. They’re about discussions, panels, the to-and-fro of ideas. I can’t help feeling Americans do conventions better – they, after all, invented them – and that the UK ones missed the point somewhere along the way.

I understand why my writer friends go. It’s nice to pretend to be famous for a weekend – I’ve done signings, I’ve had my ego inflated, count me in – but for all the time Gallifrey One’s been running, almost every Valentine’s Day has coincided with me having a girlfriend. That’s the real reason.

Friday, 13 February 2009

ABBA Undeleted

Much has been written about the Swedish pop quartet known as ABBA. However, one startling aspect of their music has been overlooked. Until now.

The number of ABBA songs which seem to have been inspired by Swedish porn films.

When I Kissed The Teacher – He was trying to explain the laws of geometry when one of the pert young Swedish girls he was leaning over couldn’t resist kissing him. Everyone screamed, he blushed... but then smiled. And said, ‘Now for the second part of today’s lesson. Spanking test’.

Does Your Mother Know – A peculiarly morally-upright song this, about a pop star refusing to sleep with a groupie because she’s too young. Even though her feelings are driving her wild, he advises her to wait... until she’s legal.

Two For The Price Of One – The rudest of them all. A railway station platform cleaner answers a classified ad which promises a threesome with two girls – but it turns out to be a girl... and her mother! But the offer’s still on the table...

Summer Night City – ‘Walking in the moonlight, love making in the park’. A paean to sex in the great outdoors. If that wasn’t bad enough, it doesn’t sound like they’re singing ‘Walking’ – it sounds much more like ‘F**king’. Or 'Dogging'.

Honey Honey – ‘You’re a love machine, Oh you make me dizzy...!’ Who could the ABBA girls be referring to? We have no idea until Bjorn sings, ‘I don’t want to hurt you baby...’ Boastful Bjorn.

Plus the following self-explanatory titles:

Bang-A-Boomerang, Nina Pretty Ballerina, The Day Before You Came, Man In The Middle, So Long, Head Over Heels, Me & Bobby & Bobby’s Brother, Slipping Through My Fingers and On Top Of Old Smokey.

Disgusting. And they play it on the radio when children might be listening.

Thursday, 12 February 2009


There’s nothing quite as lazy as criticising a writer for being lazy. I mean, I’m sure many writers are lazy. Working from home, you put in as a few hours as you like, you get up when you want, you can type horizontally upon a cushion. But when I read reviews that accuse the writer of laziness... that’s just such lazy. Such lazy journalism, if the person is a journalist. Glib, facile, knee-jerk. It’s almost – almost but not quite – as irritating as people condemning a show for having ‘canned laughter’ when it has a studio audience laughter track. But I shall explode about that later; I can feel it building.

Thing is, the stuff that falls under the umbrella of ‘lazy’ tends to be one of two things. Writers rarely get accused of laziness for writing functional dialogue. They don’t get accused of laziness for writing purple, flowery dialogue, because clearly effort has been taken, polishing the words for that lilac hue.

No, ‘laziness’ is demonstrated either in a) the apparent existence of a plot hole or b) a predictable joke.

a) first. You know that plot hole you so cleverly spotted? The writer spotted it months ago. They agonised about it, found a credible solution to it, but after hours of weighing up alternatives, decided not to include it. Whether they were right or wrong is immaterial; point is, they weren’t lazy.

Regarding b). People laugh at predictable jokes. Predictable jokes – even a guy slipping on a banana skin – can be funny even if you spot them a mile off. The biggest laughs tend to be from big, obvious things – chandeliers falling, silly dances, public nudity. There’s nothing intrinsically lazy about trying to write big jokes; as in writing songs, ‘simple’ can be hardest thing to get right.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next

A Plea For Less Tolerance.

Tolerance annoys me. The word, I mean. It annoys me when politicians claim Britain to be the most ‘tolerant’ nation in the world. Or when they appeal for more ‘tolerance’ of other cultures, other beliefs.

It’s just that I don’t think ‘tolerant’ is the right word. Because it’s synonymous with ‘putting up with’. Pretending not to mind something when you do. After all, to tolerate means to endure.

I mean, I’d say I’m quite tolerant towards people playing their music too loud on their headphones. It irritates the hell out of me and the only consolation is that they are doing irreparable damage to their ears – which I will no doubt have to pay to have treated on the NHS out of my taxes – but I can put up with it. Just as I might tolerate someone smoking or believing in astrology.

It’s the implication that things which are ‘tolerated’ are somehow negative or abnormal which gets me. We don’t ‘tolerate’ people having blue eyes. If someone likes toast, you don’t say they’re ‘tolerant’ towards heated bread.

I wouldn’t say I am tolerant towards homosexyness, or race, colour or creed. I am completely indifferent. I wouldn’t say I was disinterested but only because people might confuse that with being uninterested. It’s all the same to me. Colour, sexual preference, gender, not something I have to ‘endure’ or ‘put up with’. Something I couldn’t frankly give a shit about either way, to be honest. And I find the whole idea of racism a ridiculously laughable nonsense.

Oh, I suppose ‘tolerance’ is a step in the right direction. Better people pretend not to mind things if they do mind them. Because then, only then, can Britain hope to become the most indifferent nation in the world.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

More Than Words

On one of Stephen Fry’s recent podgrams, he expounds upon the delights of the English language. Which, I suspect, is what you’d expect if you had a talking Stephen Fry doll with a cord coming out of the back. He even strays – I’m guessing inadvertently – into an old Fry & Laurie sketch:

Well, tonight, Matthew, I shall be Stephen Fry...


Mmm. Frussity-gusset nimbly-pimbly wibbly fluffy-bot, tish-pish, Aaaaaaaalan!

Mmm. Dimbly-wimbly Marjorie trousers moist lemon-soaked-napkins American cousins a smarter investor national treasure smooth-talking bar-steward Twinings. Aaaaaaaalan!

Baaah! Dear Oscar said Harry Pocoyo Blackadder Mr Wooster-sir Mr Dalliard Twitter I-phone I-Mac I-frussity-gusset Garboldisham Vivian Stanshall Prince Charles m’colleague Hugh bipolar gay the moistness and fluffiness of the BBC pausing to pick a buttercup though who leaves buttocks lying about the place... and Alan’s buzzer goes... Aaaaaaaalan!

...and witter about the delights of the English language. That is, the words we have for things which are mildly aggravating, confusing or nonsensical.

Take, for instance, brouhaha. It’s like a hoo-ha but with added brou. It may involve a hubbub, a hullaballoo or some hurly-burly. It may start as a to-do, a squabble or a rumpus but turn into an imbroglio or a fracas. It may even result in a kerfuffle or a ballyhoo.

Aren’t these simply the best words ever?

Or you have gobbledegook. Which is like a combination of poppycock, folderol and balderdash. With a side order of piffle, claptrap, gibberish and hogwash. The whole rigmarole and palaver.

That’s why English is the greatest language in the world. It’s the only language which has so many words for things that we don’t understand and for having arguments. You get a sense of where our priorities lie.

That’s the problem with the French - they have no word for brouhaha.

Monday, 9 February 2009

This Will Be Our Year

It was quite disorientating, being a Doctor Who fan, when it came back and was a massive, land-sliding, all-consuming success. Because, well, us fans had always believed that the show should be brought back, and that if it was done right, with a good writer, good lead and a decent budget, it’d be a huge success. We just didn’t expect it to be quite so huge.

But we believed. Even during the late 80’s, when the show was well down the list of the BBC’s priorities, we fans believed. Not because we liked the way the show looked, but because we could see beyond the ropey production values to the potential of what the show could be, what it had been during the 1960’s and 1970’s and what it could be again.

And then we were all proved right. Which is... strange. It’s like having your favourite football club win the FA Cup – and then the European Cup and then the World Cup. Or having your girlfriend become a supermodel. Or having your favourite pop group go from obscurity to number one.

Which is where I arrive at my point. I’m also an Erasure fan. I’ve always felt, very strongly, they are massively under-rated. Kind of like Abba were during the 80’s; maybe some of their songs are too much of their time and it’ll take a while for people to see past the sequins. But I believe that one day they will get the recognition they deserve. Sometimes, A Little Respect, Ship of Fools, Blue Savannah, Love To Hate You... these are all phenomenal examples of songwriting craft. Their 90s albums are all fantastic yet always get overlooked. They’re one the greatest bands there’s ever been.

And one day, it won’t be just the fans who know that.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

The Dead Only Quickly

Watched 28 Days Later the other day. I know, old film, everyone’s seen it, but it could be worse, I watched The Godfather Part II the other day too and that’s even older. I could be blogging about that. In fact, maybe later I will.

Anyway, I was so impressed watching the first five minutes of 28 Days Later – that opening scene with David Schneider and the monkey – that I immediately had to rewind and watch it all over again, with subtitles, so I could read the dialogue like in a script. It’s a thing I do. I prefer reading scripts to watching them; well, no, ‘prefer’s not the right word. Enjoy-just-as-much.

The rest of the film did not disappoint. For some reason I’d got the impression it was yet-another-Zombie-film. I’ve never quite ‘got’ Zombies because they are both medically implausible and so slow-moving as to be unthreatening. How do you escape from a Zombie? Walk briskly.

But no Zombies here. They’re humans with a particularly virulent strain of rabies. They can run. They will keep going even if in pain. Now that’s scary.

And it was scary. It was also extraordinarily, I’m-sorry-I’m-going-to-have-to-pause-this-and-have-a-cup-of-tea-or-I’ll-have-a-cardiac-arrest suspenseful. Totally gripping. And – let’s take it as read I’ve written out the word ‘brilliantly’ here twenty times – written. Flawlessly structured. Beautifully plotted. Fabulously directed. And there were some good actors in it, too. If only Survivors had been made like this...

What’s fascinating, with DVDs, are the deleted scenes. They’re encouraging, for writers, to see that even the best writers occasionally get stuck or end up following a half-baked idea down a blind alley. And that they write bits which don’t work or turn out to be redundant. It means there is hope for all of us.

Unless, of course, the Zombies catch us first.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

There's No Such Thing As Aliens

I have an article in the latest edition of Doctor Who Magazine. It’s the one with Matt Smith on the front in a posture I can only describe as a ‘quizzical squat’.

I’m very happy with how it turned out. Gorgeous artwork from Adrian Salmon. Lots of lovely photos to illustrate the points what I make.

The article itself seems to have gone down well. My last couple of big articles in DWM weren’t hugely popular – indeed, my first, about how Doctor Who was essentially a game show, was calamitous – but this seems to have hit a... thing. The article’s about the problem in the series of having big, blatant alien invasions happen which then get conveniently forgotten. It was pitched and mostly written last year, before The Next Doctor, and then hurriedly re-written because The Next Doctor had done precisely one of the things I’d said would never happen in Doctor Who – a big, blatant alien invasion set in the past.

It was a tricky article to write. Finding a way of clearly identifying the ‘problem’ took a lot of pondering, as did working through the logic of the whys and wherefores. I’m still not sure I entirely gree with some of the conclusions I draw.

My one worry with the article was that it is mildly critical about some aspects of the current series. Not that I’m worried it would prejudice me from future employment – I don’t think it’ll make the slightest difference – but because I’m massively positive about the show and didn’t want to misrepresent myself.

But I think, following Gary Gillatt’s lead in pointing out that perhaps Planet of the Ood wasn’t the most gripping adventure ever, it’s the first article to (gently and affectionately) take the piss out of the end of Fear Her.

Friday, 6 February 2009

Get The Joke

A while ago I came up with the concept of the ‘aspel’. An attempt to kick-start a meme. What’s an aspel, I hear you ask? Don’t interrupt, I was about to explain.

An ‘aspel’ is the phenomena (particularly prevalent on the internet) of people adding their own extra little funny bits to the ends of the other people’s jokes. Specifically, it means adding extra little funny bits which are essentially the same joke - but spelt out. Which means that the person doing the ‘aspel’ wasn’t aware that the joke had been finished and felt that it required their own Mike Giggler-esque punchline.

It’s named in honour of the great Michael Aspel. When he presented This Is Your Life, not an anecdote could pass without him tagging on his own little superfluous re-iterative adjunct.

Example: Someone on a forum discussing, say, Shameless, might say, with tongue in cheek; ‘I hope it doesn’t become one of those shows which keeps on going long after all the original cast have left and end up a shadow of its former self!’. To ‘aspel’ this would be to add, ‘I think it’s a bit late for that!!!’

The best ever ‘aspel’ was by a flatmate of mine. Someone had told this joke online:

There’s three men and a woman hanging from a cliff by a rope. The rope isn’t strong enough for all of them, so they decide that one person should let go so that the others can survive. The woman gives a very touching speech about how she will be the one to let go, because she is used to giving things up for men without getting anything in return.

The men are so moved, they all start clapping their hands...”

Cue my flatmate’s ‘aspel’: “And then they all fall off the rope!!!”

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Singalong Junk

I like theme tunes which have lyrics. It’s something to do, while waiting for the show to start; you sing along, you get in the mood for another exciting episode of Dogtanian and the Three Muskehounds, Perfect Strangers or Tenko.

But, frustratingly, some theme tunes don’t have lyrics. I feel it’s my mission in life to correct this shortcoming and make up lyrics for their theme tunes. And then to sing them until my girlfriend asks me to stop (usually just before I am about to start).

For example, here’s my lyrics to The West Wing:

(The) west wing, the west wing
It is where Jed Bart-lett works
It is where he does his thing (his president-ing)
And it is where he talks real quick
With Josh
And CJ too
And Leo, Sam, and alltheotherpeoplewhoaretalkingreallyfastinthe
West wing, the west wing

A vast improvement I trust you’ll agree. This is why I am better than Aaron Sorkin. I’ve proved it through the medium of theme tune song lyrics, oh yes.

But does it only have to be for drama serials? No! Here’s my lyrics for Channel 4 News:

Channel Four, Channel Four, here’s the news, Channel Four, we’re the best
Channel Four, we’re the best, for the news - yes we are!

(This should have a sort of backing vocal going on, like ‘It’s-time for-the news-now, yes it’s-time for-the news-now... etc’)

Sadly many theme tunes are either too brief or tuneless for lyrics. Lost, 24, it’s the bane of modern television. But that will not deter me, oh no. Here are my lyrics for Spooks, using the theme from an entirely different television show:

Meet the gang ‘cos the spooks are here
The spooks who are spying on you
S. P. O. O. K. S.
The spooks who are spying on you!

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

When I'm Sixty-Four

New sitcom. The Old Guys. Roger Lloyd-Pack and Clive Swift in a show which I’m sure every television critic in the land is calling Peep Show forty years on, because it’s written by the Peep Show guys and my brain is tired can I stop thinking now.

If you were to broaden your terms of reference, you’d see that it’s closer to The Odd Couple, the stage show that became a film that became a sitcom. And anyway, it’s a sitcom staple – from Hancock and James to Mayall and Edmonson. It’s what happens in any flatshare. One of you becomes the tidy, neurotic grown-up and one of you becomes the untidy, carefree juvenile.

I thought it was very good. Some very funny, idiosyncratic, out-of-left-field lines. A plot which had enough going on but not too much. It deserves to do well. I hope it gets another four or five series and a Christmas special.

It wasn’t really a surprise to see that it was a Cheryl Taylor commission. What does surprise me is that no television critics have picked up on the fact that most of the BBC’s most well-received comedies are commissioned by Cheryl. No, it shouldn’t surprise me. They are television critics, after all.

If I had to find a criticism, I didn’t quite get a sense of Roger Lloyd-Pack and Clive Swift inhabiting their characters. I don’t know if that’s because it was the first episode or merely my unfamiliarity with the characters, but there is a tendency with sitcom performances to become mannered; not theatrical, not shouty, but just banging-that-comedy-nail-in a bit too emphatically. It’s the trick of great sitcoms that they make the jokes seem incidental; you watch the shows because you love the characters. It’s not enough to just have lots of gags.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

People Take Pictures Of Each Other

Visiting Rome last year – about which I shall witter in detail at a later point – something curious struck me. Although I’d been to Rome before, I recalled virtually nothing about it. Which is odd, bearing in mind that Rome is quite a memorable place.

I did remember a few things. The Capuchin Crypt. The Spanish Steps. And I vividly recall going up the dome St Peter’s Basilica in Rome, where there was a very narrow walkway which contrived to be simultaneously vertiginous and claustrophobic – where two Italian youths were busy writing graffiti on the whitewashed papal wall in green marker pen.

Yes. I don’t remember visiting the Pantheon, but I remember that the marker pen was green. I didn’t go up the dome last year, so I don’t know if the graffiti was still there. Look out for it next time you go.

I have a theory why these memories have eluded me. It’s because, on my first visit, I took lots of photos. Which I have lost. This time around, I probably took many of the same photos again.

But the point is, because I was taking photos, I wasn’t taking the time to remember. I think that’s a danger; you’re so busy snapping, you’re not actually experiencing in the moment.

So my thinking, when visiting places now, is to take as few photos as possible and to remember as much as possible. Not just sights, but sounds, smells, tastes, how much my feet hurt, what the girlfriend and I were chatting about.

Because why do people go on holiday? It’s to relax, to escape, and to collect memories, of scenes picturesque, exotic, hilarious and debauched to keep them going for the rest of the year. But you can’t collect memories if you’re too busy taking photos instead.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Word Up!

This blog’s been going for about a month, so I’m thinking it might be time to start actually telling people about it. After all, I’m not writing this for me. I’m writing this for... no, I am writing this for me. (ROCK STAR) And hey, if anyone else likes it, that’s just a bonus (/ROCK STAR).

It’s been fun. I’ve kept it up. In fact, I’ve ‘banked’ about two weeks of future blogs, just in case the day comes when I can’t think of something to witter on about. I’ve even made a list of another month’s worth of subject matters upon which I feel I have some burning wisdom to impart. So it looks like I’ll be doing this for a while yet.

As a preview – coming up – more reviews, more heroes, more obsessions, my thoughts on the evils of computer games, whether Christians were ever fed to lions, whether Charles Dickens would have written for soap operas, my enemies, and... ducks. I also do requests, so if there’s anything you want me to witter on about, please scissor out the appropriate letters from the newspaper of your choice, Pritt-stick them to a sheet of A4, attach with an elastic band to a convenient rock or house brick and hurl in my general direction.

What I do need help with, though, is getting the word out. I’m loathe to toot my own trumpet – only one percent of men can do that successfully – but any other suggestions are welcome as I am quite profoundly lacking in initiative. If you’ve enjoyed something I’ve written, tell your friends. Link to me. Spread the joy like flaming beacons upon a mountaintop. You have my permission.

I guess what I’m saying is that it’s not a secret any more. I’m going public.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Imaginary Friends

Facebook is fun, but I’m not sure what the point is. Okay, so you can chat with your friends, share baby photos, organize get-togethers, look up school pals... but I’m sure pretty you could do that before Facebook. And you can play scrabble, chart the progress of an influenza virus through your friends’ status updates...

Regarding friends. I’ve about 200, but I’ve limited it to people I’ve met in real life, or have known ‘virtually’ for a while. I don’t quite understand why people who don’t know me want to be my friend; I’m guessing it’s some new form of sarcasm that I haven’t yet grasped.

And gradually you discover more about each other, which I suppose is a good thing, though it can lead to tongue-tied pub conversations because everyone already knows everyone’s news. And I was a bit disconcerted when an acquaintance joined one of those ‘The killers of Baby P must die!’ groups. In fact, the whole process of joining a group to express sympathy or indignation seems such sanctimonious nonsense. Going on a march may be futile, but at least it gets you out into the fresh air. (I used to go on marches, which is how I know what worthless exercises in conscience-salving they are.)

But for those of us who suffer from social paranoia, it kind of doesn’t help. When someone ‘unfriends’ you, you can’t help wondering why, what did I do? I didn’t join ‘the killers of Baby P must die!’, so why don’t you love me any more?

And there’s the whole business of ‘blocking’. Where, to pluck an example randomly from the air, someone can block an ex to avoid ever seeing their ugly mug again. Oh well, fair enough. I do have an ugly mug after all.