The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Friday, 31 July 2009

La Roux


Love the new album by La Roux. I have it on my mp3 whilst out jogging. It gives me the energy to get up the hills. It’s all quite marvellous, particularly the singles and the they-should-be-singles I’m Not Your Toy and Cover My Eyes. They have it all. They have the look, the haircut, and the sound; somewhere between Yazoo’s first album and Yazoo’s second album. With maybe a spoonful of Blancmange. Oh, I recognise those synthesizers; it’s great to hear a band that have clearly been paying attention to Vince Clarke’s extraordinary ability to create layered arrangements from interweaving synth parts and his minimalist approach to middle eight solos. But without, for an instant, being retro; the songwriting is quirky, catchy, never obvious, the mixing is super-punchy and Elly‘s vocals are both vulnerable and gutsy. All in all, a great emotional, energy-filled kick.

Can’t help noticing, though, a certain reptition of certain lyrical device; the use of a life-threatening predicament as a metaphor for heartbreak. With that in mind, UTH can exclusively reveal some lyrics from La Roux’s second album:

It was a choice I couldn’t make
It was a chance I couldn’t take
A pain I couldn’t disguise
Hit me between the eyes
It was like standing on a garden rake
It was like standing on a garden rake


***

I should have read the lines I know
The skull and crossed-bone signs I know
But all my heart-aching, it was just like partaking
From a bottle marked ‘poison’
From a bottle marked ‘poison’


***

I’m at the edge and it’s too late
And there’s no ledge to halt my fate
No time to wonder ‘what if’
As I fall over the cliff
With my foot attached to a hundred-tonne weight
With my foot attached to a hundred-tonne weight

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Good Company


Another week, another plug for a thing what I have done the writing of. It’s another Doctor Who audio, and it’s called The Company Of Friends. The twist with this release is that it’s four one-episode stories, each by a different author, each pairing up the eighth Doctor Who (Paul McGann) with a companion who hasn’t ‘appeared’ with him in the audios before; Professor Bernice Summerfield, Fitz Kreiner (from the eighth Doctor Who books, such as Anachrophobia and The Tomorrow Windows and apparently some others), Izzy Sinclair (from the comic strips) and Frankenstein author Mary Shelley (mentioned as a companion in other audio adventures). The stories are by Lance Parkin, Steve Cole, Alan Barnes and yours truly respectively.

An unusual brief, to tell the story of how the Doctor met and teamed up with an early nineteenth-century author of gothic/romantic fiction. I think I tell the story of how it was commissioned elsewhere so I won’t bore you with it again. But it was a fun job, one of my better efforts, and I learned a little bit of history along the way. It’s called Mary’s Story and tells the story of how the Doctor met Mary at the Villa Diodati in 1816, just as she was about to put pen to paper to write her famous novel...

I’ve now heard the finished thing. It sounds magnificent. Brilliantly directed, marvellous Hammer-Horror-y atmosphere and music, and performances which stick a rocket under my dialogue and sends it whooshing into orbit. I have to thank Nick Briggs, director and sound man, Anthony Glennon (Percy Shelley), Robert Forknall (Lord Byron), Ian Hallard (John Polidori), Katrina Cooke (Claire Clairmont) and most of all Julie Cox (Mary Shelley).

I’ve also heard the Izzy story with Jemima Rooper. Which is even better than my one.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Hotel


Over on the BBC Writers’ Room blog, Michael Jacob has posted an analysis/scene breakdown of the Fawlty Towers episode The Kipper And The Corpse. As my own sort-of addendum, here’s how I think the episode was written.

Cleese and Booth would’ve had a list of ‘guest house’ plots; a fire, a hotel inspector, a gourmet night, a thief, visiting foreigners etc. to use (or combine) for episodes. TKATC starts with ‘dead guest’.

Which gives you two key comic areas to look at; discovery of the body, and disposal of the body. How can the body be discovered in the worst possible way? And then, what are the worst possible things that could happen with it being disposed?

Discovery: Basil thinks the death is his fault (hence kippers). Basil doesn’t notice guest is dead.

(Which explains the presence of the old man and the call-girl – it’s to lay a false trail about what the episode will be about).

Disposal: Guest locked in cupboard with corpse. Corpse having to be hidden from guests/corpse’s friends, colleagues and relatives.

(If the corpse is being hidden, it has to be discovered – in the worst possible way.)

This creates more lists and plot problems. You need a reason why they don’t just leave the body in the bed (the room is booked, there are no spare rooms). You need a reason why they don’t call a doctor – because there’s already one staying there.

But the problems solutions create more ideas. How do they move the corpse about? Put it in the laundry basket – which might then get taken away by the laundry men!

The plot doesn’t get going until the guest dies? So take another idea off the wall – guest with dog – and use that for the opening and bring it back as a b-plot.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

She Blinded Me With Science


Monday night telly.

CBBC! CBBC! Yes, it’s Bang Goes The Theory. A programme made out of all the reasons why we stopped watching Tomorrow’s World in the first place. You’d find more actual science in a shampoo commercial. The Gadget Show without the gadgets. Making a science show for people who are not interested in science – waste of time, they’re not going to be watching a science show. Making a science show for people who are actually interested in science – might fall dangerously close to fulfilling the BBC’s remit. “Meanwhile I’m going on board a yacht to talk to a scientist who is doing something controversial. It’s a five minute report and at no point am I going to tell you precisely what it is, or why it might be controversial.” Doomed to failure.

Which reminds me. Why is it, whenever they try to bring back Top Of The Pops, the BBC have it presented by Fearne Cotton and Reggie Yates? That would be like if they’d brought back Doctor Who in 2005 with Sophie Aldred and Sylvester McCoy.

Bing bong. University Challenge. Oxford vs Cambridge. Can’t decide which team I want to lose. Paxman clearly bored.

Only Connect. This week, in an astonishing break from tradition, it’s the geeks versus the nerds. Two teams of dour-faced weirdoes who are greeted with a collective sigh of despair whenever they enter a pub to spoil the quiz for everyone else. Still, lots of fun watching Victoria Coren attempt to engage in humorous banter with the sullen freaks, only to fail because they have no personality to speak of and neither does she, beyond a sort-of head-girlish sneering contempt. Only John Humphreys’ ‘little chats’ on Mastermind are more socially awkward.

Supersizers. Would watch it, but I’ve had enough Coren for one evening.

Monday, 27 July 2009

God Knows I'm Good


Read a thing that annoyed me in one of those free papers that litter the tube the other day. It was an opinion piece by some gimp-about-town that said that Christians would find it harder to be successful working in the City because of their moral consciences, unlike atheists who would find it easier to bullshit and make a profit at the expense of others; apparently a prerequisite for the job.

I found this mind-bogglingly offensive. An absence of God does not not not equal an absence of morality. Atheists are not liars and cheats; indeed, the whole idea of atheism is about avoiding those who claim things to be true without evidence. It’s about as offensive as somebody saying that religious people are only being ‘good’ because they have been instructed to do so by their God via his human-transmitted holy handbook; that their ‘morality’ is merely a question of choosing between the carrot of heaven and the stick of hell; that they are only pretending to be nice in order to (quite literally) get into God’s good books; that were it not for God and his threatening list of dos and don’ts, they would all be quite happily murdering, raping and stealing without hesitation.

Clearly this is not the case. This is because morality is not the unique product of religion; it’s how we are brought up, the society we are brought up in, what behavioural norms are established. Religious morality is merely a re-iteration of social conduct memes which evolved as a necessary part of the progression of human civilisation. Empathy is also hard-wired in by evolution; great apes can't read the Bible but still act kindly towards each other. Conscience is not God-given; God is simply the first answer people thought of to the question, ‘Hey, where does our sense of right and wrong come from?’

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Lazing On A Sunday Afternoon


...And on Sunday we walked for a few miles along the coast heading north, along Viking bay and then round the edge of the cliff-tops of the Isle of Thanet to The Captain Digby pub. Basically, you know Kent, well, the top right-hand corner. All very sunny and blue skies. As a result, I very nearly have a tan; I look like I’ve been dunked in coffee whilst wearing swimming goggles.

Speaking of which. Lots of people in their late middle-ages sitting out on the seafront in bikinis or less. Obviously they hadn’t been ‘cc’d in on the memo about skin cancer. I don’t want to be disrespectful, but there’s also a kind of correlation between how much flesh someone has on display and how much you wish they didn’t. I blame Jerry Springer and all those overweight women shouting about how wearing revealing clothes is a right and if they feel comfortable with their bodies then why should anyone else have a problem with their bulging stretch-marked midriff being on display. Not even ‘for the sake of human dignity’; I mean, we all of us have unsightly bits, and it’s out of a sense of embarrassment that we keep them tucked out of sight. But not these sunbathers, prickling brownly in the heat. I’m reminded of my mum saying that if you eat too many sausages, you’ll turn into one.

Passed the cove where Joss Snelling, the ‘famous Broadstairs smuggler’, did his smuggling. Until, according to the sign, he died peacefully in his sleep at the age of 96. I’m not sure quite how much smuggling he had been doing at the age of 95. I suspect by that point he had scaled down his operations to wobbling gamely through duty-free with an expensive cheese under his hat.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Seaside Rendezvous

A weekend away. Travelled down on the train to see my sister in Ramsgate; not convenient for me, but extremely convenient for her, as that’s where she lives. Or Dumpton Park, to be more accurate. The station consists of two platforms overgrown with grass; no buildings, no electronic display, nothing. It looks for all the world like one of those abandoned stations.

We walked along the seaside to Ramsgate. Never having been there, my mental image was that it would be identical to Margate; full of cockneys and Essex people doing the bandy-leg Lambeth walk in Kiss Me Quick hats eating jellied seafood and chips with an accompaniment by Chas’n’Dave. And with Roger Lloyd-Pack wandering around carrying an inflatable dolphin.

Instead, Ramsgate’s actually a bit posh, not really catering for the handkerchief-on-head and rolled-up-trousers brigade. It’s more for tourists who like to go out to sea in a boat for the weekend. Because, as shown in the film Jaws, there’s nothing quite so relaxing as a nice sea voyage.

It’s a very pretty place, largely because it’s architecturally eclectic; it’s a bit Georgian, a bit Victorian, a bit 1920’s art deco, all muddled-up together. I was particularly impressed with the Victorian lifts down the beach.

In the evening, we walked the other way along the seaside to Broadstairs, for a lovely meal at the Osteria Posillipo Pizzeria, not far from Bleak House where Dickens wrote Harry Potterfield, staring out to sea, trying to think of pseudo-autobiographical adventures for the young Daniel Radcliffe. Bleak House, of course, later gave its name to one of Dicken’s novels – Barnaby Rudge. Broadstairs was pleasant enough, with a nice smuggly, nooky, Cornish sort of atmosphere. Wikipedia tells me that Broadstairs was also the location of the original 39 Steps. They’re not there now.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now

I hate Gordon Brown.

Bit of an odd thing for Jonny to say, you might think. He’s still, quite literally, a card-carrying member of the Labour party. But that’s why I hate Gordon Brown. He’s letting my team down.

They should never have got rid of Tony Blair. Or, if he decided to go, we should have had a proper leadership election so we could vote for David Miliband. Instead Uncle Grumpy turns up like a bad smell and slowly but surely the lights go out all over Britain.

The fact that he’s still here, after the credit crunch, beggars belief. It happened on his watch – either as Chancellor or Prime Minister. Under the Tories, every time the economy took a tumble, they sacked the Chancellor. It was almost a tradition that we got through Chancellors of the Exchequer in the 1980’s even faster than we got through Doctor Whos.

Instead he lingers odd, the dead hand at the wheel. He doesn’t seem pleased to be there. Where’s the excitement, the enthusiasm, the sheer look-at-me-wheee!-ness in having the top job? Instead he seems to be mentally ticking off the days until the day David Cameron becomes Prime Minister.

The frustration is, the government isn’t doing anything. It gives the impression it’s run out of ideas, as each new measure is so half-baked, so riddled with uncertainty and compromise, so lacking in purpose and ideology, so ineptly delivered, you’d think they didn’t have a majority.

And the cabinet; with a few exceptions, are a load a time-serving second-rate blank-eyed condescending no-hopers promoted way above their abilities.

And the country’s more unfair than it was when they got into power.

In the interests of balance, I’ll be doing a Why-I-Hate-The-Liberal-Guy just as soon as I remember who the hell he is.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

When I Live My Dream

One odd thing about dreaming is that, during the dream, you travel back in time and lose all memory of your ‘future’ self. I’ve mentioned before my recurring nightmare about being back at university, with exams approaching, being lost in a labyrinthine campus, with no lecture timetable, and none of the books I need in the library. The odd thing being I always wake up in a panic and then have a moment of relief going, ‘Oh, thank Christ I’m not at university any more.’

Other dreams leave you with mixed emotions. I’m sure it’s a universal thing, but I’ll give a specific example from my life. Sometimes in dreams I’ll be a kid again, twelve or whatever, back at home with my mum, dad, my sister and my brother. And I wake up, and there’s no moment of relief, just the sad feeling of remembering that my brother isn’t around any more. He died about ten years ago. But while there is that feeling of sadness, there’s also a sense of feeling happy, that for a few hours, even just in my sleep, I forgot that my brother was dead and thought he was alive again.

Lots of complicated and painful feelings about this, and this isn’t the place to write about them. The other thing is, though, which again I’m sure is universal, is the way we remember people. It’s through hearing their favourite songs, or watching their favourite TV shows or films. I can’t watch One Foot In The Grave without hearing my brother’s roaring laughter. And sometimes, even shows he didn’t watch, I can hear his laughter, at Bubbles Devere, or the old lady pissing herself in Little Britain. He would have loved that. It’s just a complete sod he wasn’t around to see it.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Another Girl, Another Planet


Quick plug. In the new issue of Doctor Who Magazine, that marvellous journal of all things dimensionally transcendental, they’re doing a promotion whereby the readers can download a previously-unreleased Doctor Who Companion Chronicles play from the Big Finish website. The play’s called The Mists Of Time and I wrote it. It stars Katy Manning as Jo Grant, who was the assistant to the third Doctor, Jon Pertwee. Like all the Companion Chronicles, it’s somewhere between a dramatic monologue and a two-hander play.

I’ll witter on remorselessly about writing it some other time, if I can think of anything interpreting to say (or, more likely, even if I can’t). I was fortunate enough to attend the recording; Lisa Bowerman was directing, marvellously, and Katy Manning was lovely. In fact, she was so friendly, enthusiastic and tactile I was a little overwhelmed. I’m not used to it. But the recording went well, and Katy seemed to enjoy herself, although I gather in retrospect she’s become a bit uncomfortable about returning to those days, so this may very well be the last Companion Chronicle she does. Or it may not. I don’t know. It’s entirely her decision and a decision I respect. But I hope she does more.

At the time, we didn’t know it would be a DWM giveaway. Would we have done anything differently had we known? I don’t know. Maybe I’d have made it tighter and shorter (but I say that about everything I write). I was surprised (and delighted) by the decision to use it as the freebie; the idea being that it will encourage readers to buy more CDs and downloads from Big Finish (and I hope it does). A greatly flattering and much appreciated vote of confidence. And hopefully their website will cope with the strain...

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Charmless Man


I hate David Cameron.

Why do I hate him? I’ll explain. I hate him in a very specific way. I hate him in the same way that I hate Coldplay.

You see, every now and then I’ll hear a Coldplay song on the radio. And, not realising it is Coldplay, I’ll listen to it, and think, ‘Hey, this is quite good. This is quite catchy. I quite like this’. And then I’ll recognise it as a Coldplay song and feel literally disgusted with myself. I’ll feel despicable, degraded and dirty. As though I have betrayed the most fundamental of human decencies.

And that’s what David Cameron is like. Because I’ll listen to him delivering a speech or soundbiting on the news, and I’ll find myself agreeing with him. ‘Nurses are good,’ he will say, ‘We should help to improve the National Health Service’. I agree with that. ‘Teachers are good,’ he will say, ‘We should fund state education properly’. And I agree with that. ‘Crime is bad’, he will say. ‘We should work to reduce it.’ And I agree with that.

But he might as well be saying ‘Oxygen is good. We should make sure that everyone has access to as much oxygen to breathe as they need’, because all he ever says is stuff that is so basically, universally, obviously self-evident that no-one in their right mind could ever disagree with it. It’s the political equivalent of a Coldplay song. It’s calculated, focus-grouped, crowd-pleasing mediocrity. It's political beigeness.

And this is why we should hate him. Because politicians who only tell people what they want to hear are not motivated by principles, but by the pursuit of popularity, by power for its own sake. If the guy has any principles, he’s doing a good job of keeping them quiet.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Joy In Repetition

One aspect of Tony Garnett’s criticism of BBC Drama which hasn’t really been addressed in the reponse is its over-reliance on ‘continuing dramas’ to deliver ratings.

As I’m sure I’ve said before, I have no problem with soaps, I’m a reformed addict, but I can’t help feeling that they aren’t always about actors delivering great performances or writers addressing issues in a distinctive and original way. They are too much of a sausage machine for that, and just as with sausages, a lot of the appeal is the fact that you know what you’re going to get.

But soaps have pretty much killed weekday prime-time television in the UK (by which I mean between 7pm and 9pm – a time when families might watch together). It’s either channels showing soaps or the other channels not bothering to show anything of any worth because there’s a soap on the other side. I mean, that’s fair enough for ITV, but I’m not sure it’s a good use of the license fee for the BBC to effectively ‘give up’ five hours of prime-time a week.

Of course, it’s all about chasing ratings, and that’s the problem, because it’s not about trying to get as many people watching a channel as possible, it’s about trying to get the same six million (or however many) people watching a channel as often as possible. Which is no good for the BBC, which has to justify it’s ‘reach’, and not much good for ITV; I’m sure advertisers would rather advertise once to twelve million people than than to the same six million people three times.

And by over-catering for fans of ‘continuing dramas’ – there’s no slots or money left for sitcoms, for dramas like Tenko or Bergerac, or shows like Tomorrow’s World or Top Of The Pops.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

A Teenager In Love

Yesterday was Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince day. Or, to give it its name according to all the bus stop posters, Harr Potte And The Half-Bloo Prince. The art of typesetting is, it would appear, dead.

Enjoyed the film lots. Not a great deal actually happens, and the climax isn’t exactly climactic, but all the teenage romance stuff was hilarious – particularly the girl infatuated with Ron, second-best performance of the film – and the trials of Draco Malfoy – best performance of the film, the actor getting across a heart-wrenching personal dilemma and descent into emotional hell without actually having any dialogue. And all the regulars were marvellous as always, although Severus Snape seems to have put on a few pounds. Qui-digestum-totus-pieus!

Only real quibble is a problem with the book – Harr Potte spends the whole two hours trying to find out something for Dumbledore which turns out to be something Dumbledore already knew. And the book's central mystery – the identity of the eponymous Half-Bloo Prince – is thrown away. On the other hand, though, the sequence in the cave, which fell a bit flat for me in the novel, was stunning and nightmarish and terrifying.

As a general observation – and one where Harr Potte is a vivid example – I think that this era of film-making will be looked back upon as the time when everyone went a little bit mad with the grading. It seems every film I see nowadays has been graded to within an inch of its life; bright golden summers, dark green scary bits, grey-blue flashbacks, blood-red nightclubs and overcast skies bringing a sense of grim foreboding whichever way you turn. If I were a cinematographer I’d be whimpering myself to sleep. When they say this Harr Potte will be the darkest one yet – they shouldn’t mean it literally.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Chinese Torture

Over on the Guardian website we’ve just had the now-traditional annual article pointing out that BBC Drama would probably been in a much better state if the people making the shows didn’t have to deal with quite so many executives (who don’t actually have any programme-making experience or any power to decide whether or not shows get made) sticking their oar in.

Probably some truth in this. Certainly, in my experience, one frustration (with any TV channel) is the time spent waiting for somebody to say ‘no’, and often the reason why that ‘no’ is so long coming is because your script has to be painstakingly shuffled all the way up the chain of command, when ideally you want your script to be on the desk of the one person who has the power to say ‘yes’ as rapidly as possible. As it stands, you have to go through the psychological torture of knowing that the longer you are having to wait, the more likely it is that the answer might be ‘yes’...

The other problem is that, in television, it seems there are too many people who are paid to worry about people might think. I mean, it’s good that scripts come under such intense scrutiny, but worry is the enemy of creativity. As soon as you start worrying ‘Will audiences get this joke?’ rather than ‘Do I find this joke funny?’, or ‘Will my boss like the show? rather than ‘Do I like the show?’ you’re in danger of smoothing out so many corners that you end up with a script that no-one could possibly dislike and no-one could possibly love. Criticism is good, notes are good... but second-guessing the tastes of others just demonstrates a lack of confidence in your own judgement.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Tripping

Have just realised that yesterdays’ blog wasn’t blog two-hundred. Oh, sod it.

I nearly went for a jog on Wednesday. I say ‘nearly’. I was listening to Neil Hannon’s marvellous Duckworth Lewis album on my mp3, bounding along like a gazelle that’s eaten a bowling ball, when, as I passed the churchyard on the way to Blackheath... something went in my left leg. The calf-muscle, I think. It was there. Then it just went.

So a twenty-minute walk home, followed by a couple of days of making old-man noises whenever I have to climb the stairs. It doesn’t hurt except when I put my weight on it, which is fine except that’s what I tend to use my left leg for, fifty per cent of the time.

The worry now, of course, is whether this constitutes sufficient ‘underlying health problems’ for me to die of Swine Flu. It’s the phrase of the year. ‘Underlying health problems’. It’s the difference between life and death. Nobody quite knows what they are – they lie somewhere in the gap between having unplucked eyebrows and already being dead.

I should be okay. I don’t think having a mildly achey ankle which only hurts WHEN I REMEMBER is going to kill me. And I don’t smoke, I don’t take drugs, and I only drink alcohol because I like being ever-so-slightly drunk. That said, I’m not looking forward to this Swine Flu. Flu’s a swine at the best of times. I had it a couple of years ago, and before that I had it in 2003. I remember it distinctly, as I was laid up in bed listening to Big Finish’s Zagreus whilst enjoying mild dream-like hallucinations. I particularly remember the bit where William Hartnell turned up. At the end of my bed. In the nude.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Whatever You Want

Two hundred glorious blogs. It’s a landmark moment. A milestone. A number which is arbitrarily considered to be of significance because it ends in zeroes.

I’ve been a bad blogger. The last couple of weeks, maybe month, I’ve been pulling blogs out of my ‘bottom drawer folder’. I’ve still got about twenty-odd left, including 900-odd words on Why Richard Huish College Destroyed My Life. And, you’ll be pleased to learn, no more pointless pop lists.

If anyone’s still ready this, I have a question for you. Why? And what would you like to read? More reviews? Music stuff? Telly stuff? Observational stuff? More humorous rants? Politics? Books? Tips on writing? Stuff I’ve written?

Thing is, I’m tapping away quite a lot at the moment, work things, so I’ve been putting off the blog until late at night and discovering I’ve run out of words. It’s a principle, maybe a superstition, that in writing you have to put more words in that you send out, that you read more than you write. You only have to look at an internet forum to discover what happens when people write more than they read. It’s like people who talk more than they listen; they’re not learning from the world, they’re imposing their own stupidities upon it. Usually whilst jabbing out an index finger or a lit cigarette in order to make their point.

Still, plenty to write about coming up. I’ve three Big Finish things coming out in the next month or so, plus some others things TBA, a comic strip in the next Doctor Who Storybook – I’ve seen some of the artwork, and it looks stunning, and the story, well, it was a struggle but I got there in the end.

So expect lots of horn-tooting. Taking a deep breath now...

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Bigger Doesn't Mean Better

Continuing what I wrote earlier about fat kids. It’s the parents that are the problem.

After all, we’d think nothing of condemning a parent or parents for starving their child to death. The adverse consequences for the child’s health, short-term and long-term, are obvious. Parents who neglect to feed their children, who deprive them of nourishment, are obviously unfit for the job and require either (preferably) guidance or (unpreferably) replacement.

And yet we don’t look at parents of fat children in the same way. We should. The adverse consequences for the child’s health are as great, if not greater, because once you’ve become fat, and once you’ve developed that lifestyle and eating pattern, it will require extraordinary amounts of willpower to correct (compared to a malnourished child who requires only a few decent meals). Overweight children tend to become overweight adults who are overweight for the rest of their lives. That’s what parents do to their kids. In a way, it’s not so different from a parent encouraging their children to smoke, drink or take drugs. It has the same addictive capacity, the same I-do-it-to-make-my-feel-better-when-I’m-sad quality, the same I-do-it-to-celebrate-when-I-feel-happy quality. And ultimately it’s as bad for their health.

Why do parents over-feed their kids? I don’t have all the answers, but one of the answers I do have is that, like all parents, they want their kids to be happy and to reciprocate their love, and one way of getting that parental validation is by giving the kid their favourite treat. In contrast to the feelings of bad-parent-ism you would get from a kid kicking and screaming because they’ve been forced to eat something which isn’t yellow or brown. It’s negotations, tantrums, and power games, kids being neophobic and wanting control over what gets shoved in their faces.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Seconds

More Top Ten Greatest Hits That Are Not On The Greatest Hits

Queen

Dear Friends
Bring Back That Leroy Brown
Death On Two Legs
‘39
Seaside Rendezvous
Spread Your Wings
Mustapha
Need Your Loving Tonight
Sail Away Sweet Sister
Is This The World We Created?


The Human League

Circus Of Death
Introducing
The Black Hit Of Space
Life Kills
Crow And A Baby
The Things That Dreams Are Made Of
Darkness
I’m Coming Back
I Love You Too Much
Words


The Beatles

I Saw Her Standing There
It Won’t Be Long
What You’re Doing
I’m Down
For No-One
Here, There And Everywhere
Rain
Glass Onion
I Will
Golden Slumbers


Depeche Mode

I Sometimes Wish I Was Dead
Nodisco
Nothing To Fear
Something To Do
Black Celebration
Judas
One Caress
Sister Of Night
The Bottom Line
The Dead Of Night


David Bowie

Did You Ever Have A Dream
Fill Your Heart
Hang On To Yourself
Cracked Actor
Station To Station
Always Crashing In The Same Car
Fantastic Voyage
It’s No Game (Part 1)
The Pretty Things Are Going To Hell
Days


The Kinks

I Go To Sleep
A House In The Country
Two Sisters
Afternoon Tea
Do You Remember Walter
Picture Book
Sitting By The Riverside
Mr Songbird
Young And Innocent Days
Til Death Us Do Part


The Beach Boys

Girls On The Beach
You Still Believe In Me
Don’t Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder)
I’m Waiting For The Day
Here Today
Wonderful
Surf’s Up
Time To Get Alone
This Whole World
You Need A Mess Of Help To Stand Alone


Prince

Sometimes It Snows In April
The Ballad Of Dorothy Parker
Starfish & Coffee
Lovesexy
When 2 R In Love
Can’t Stop This Feeling I’ve Got
Grafitti Bridge
Loose!
Dolphin
319

Monday, 13 July 2009

I Forgot To Remember To Forget

Oh dear. I seem to have missed a day on my daily blog. I shall have to post twice today to make up. I think what happened was that I posted my thoughts on Torchwood late Friday night, and when it came to post my Saturday blog, I thought I’d already done one. You see, I don’t pay the slightest bit of attention to this blog either.

Maybe I’ve been distracted. After spending three weeks writing two hours of a thing I can’t talk about, and naughtily taking three days off in the middle of it to write a kid’s drama script for a BBC competition, and rewriting my sketch for The Works evening, I’ve written rather a research-heavy article and now, after re-writes to the thing I can’t talk about, the plan is to spend any spare time in the rest of the month writing a new sitcom script, or sorting out my film idea.

I have a list of things to blog about which I haven’t got around to. My thoughts on recent telly – loving Krod Mandoon, Mock The Week and Mitchell & Webb, despairing quietly at Psychoville, Getting On, Mumbai Calling and Taking The Flak. Or my thoughts on the frequency of fried chicken outlets as an economic indicator for the physical and intellectual well-being of a neighbourhood (I can understand one fried chicken outlet, but two next to each other?) Or my thoughts on watching Star Trek and The Wrath Of Khan, and the odd, melancholic feeling you get watching a movie you know better from the 3-D Viewmaster slideshow. Or more pop lists; top ten songs that sound slighty like The Beatles' ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’, that sort of thing. Or a slideshow of my walk along the Thames Path.

The fun never starts!

Cheap

I felt ever-so-slightly guilty after writing my entry about my celebrity stalker, Su Pollard. Not because I was ashamed to be amusing about Su Pollard’s public persona, she comes out of the story with her reputation unblemished, maybe even enhanced. There’s not an ounce of malice in anything I write.

No, what made me feel guilty was the laziness of using a celebrity from days-gone-by as the ‘butt’ of a joke. I’m loathe to use the word ‘lazy’ to describe any writing but in this case it might actually be deserved. It’s a say-the-first-thing-you-think-of gag. It’s a do-you-remember-the-80’s gag. No, it’s worse than that. It’s a bullying-the-unfashionable gag. It’s picking on somebody who used to be famous, usually in quite a mainstream, kids' television context, and mocking them because they don’t have the same level of fame any more.

This makes me angry. The laziness of it... and the unfairness of it.

I mean, it’s easy to get a laugh by taking the piss out of Duncan ‘Chase Me’ Norvelle, or Stu Francis, or Gary Wilmot, or Joe Pasquale, or Timmy Mallet. The naff celebrities of yesteryear, oh, they’re so naive, and-didn’t-we-find-them-annoying. It’s on a par with mocking past pop stars for having the wrong hairstyle and not being in the hit parade any more, or – laziest of all - mentioning ‘Chessington World of Adventures’.

These people can hardly hit back. And the idea that certain people are ‘naff’ and should be consigned to the dustbin of fashion is... risible. Okay, they may have been loud, over-enthusiastic, worn garish clothes and got themselves typecast. But they were also talented, hard-working and successful. People still pay to see them. I’d rather be entertained by any of these people than by the lazy comedians who use their names to score a cheap laugh.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Glory Days

As you gets older, and your pop heroes get older, you start to notice a musical form of middle-aged spread. It seems to happen to all artists of all pop genres.

Musically, the middle-aged spread is most obvious in that their tracks will start getting longer. Intros will become flabby, sometimes over a minute in duration. Middles will sag and outros will ramble on aimlessly until they’re faded out.

Tempos will also start to slow. The artist doesn’t have the energy to hit 132 bpm any more. 108 bpm feels much more natural. They’ll concentrate more on ballads and even the ‘up-tempo’ rock-and-roll numbers will be hands-aloft shuffles for the dads rather than frenzied pogo attacks for the young turks.

As the songs get longer and slow down the singer will find it easier to sing in a lower key. They can’t hit the high notes any more, and they’d rather not hit the low notes for too long either. The end result is not dissimilar to what you’d get playing a 45rpm single at 33rpm.

Instrumentation also changes. It becomes more important to be ‘authentic’, to get in touch with your folk roots, to explore world music, to own a ukelele, to do acoustic versions of all your old hits where they become more meaningful slowed-out, stripped-down and croaked-out. Gone are the days of distortion. Now you want nothing more raucous than an oboe.

Songwriting changes too. Sometimes there will be long gaps between lines as you forget what you were singing about. Sometimes you’ll use major seventh chords, because you’re not quite sure which chord fits any more, and because you’re now a ‘proper’ composer who knows what major sevenths are.

And your songs will be all about having kids, getting divorced and ‘the good old days’.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Torch Team

Never been quite sure about Torchwood.

Started off on a bad note. The original BBC press release (which Russell T Davies has disowned) described it as ‘dark, wild and sexy’ and ‘The X-Files meets This Life’. Which gives you no idea of what the show will be like and yet makes it sound wretched at the same time.

I was extremely impressed by the opening episode, by Russell T Davies, ‘Everything Changes’, though I couldn’t help noticing it hadn’t quite established the format – we still didn’t know who Torchwood worked for, who paid for it all, or quite how secret this secret organisation was supposed to be.

And for the next two years, that never really got sorted. I didn’t quite know what had hit me after I saw ‘Day One’ and by the time we got to ‘Cyberwoman’ and ‘Countrycide’ I’d stopped taking it seriously. Even the better episodes seemed curiously muddled (PJ Hammond’s ones) or were reinventing the wheels of science fiction and giving us plots that were over-familiar, not just from Buffy and Angel, but from fifty-year-old Twilight Zone episodes. Plus there was an ever-present sense of adolescent misanthropy, as though the show was designed for teenage boys who fast forward to moments of sex and gore. The characters seemed unlikeable too, all selfish and glib.

Series two was a improvement, particularly ‘Reset’ and ‘Dead Man Walking’, though it still felt like it had a wobbly wheel, and I think I was enjoying it more because I was skipping all the Chris Chibnall episodes.

But series three has been terrific. A massive, well-deserved success. At last it has become the show that I was looking forward to after ‘Everything Changes’. Now it has Russell T Davies' humanity, humour and intelligence behind it.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Bad Day

Bad mood at the moment. Lots of running but still getting the feeling I’m gradually sliding backwards on the treadmill.

It’s all work related. Some days I’m tapping away, words tumble out, I send them off, they get read, people say nice things, they even send me contracts and cheques. Other days I’m just tapping away, and all the things which I had convinced myself that were going to fall through so that I wouldn’t get my hopes up turn out to fall through just as I had expected.

I don’t feel like this often, to be honest. I think everyone feels this way every now and then. Even writers who are doing better than me moan about the writers who are doing better than them. The trick is not to resent the success of others; it’s not an either/or situation. Though in my experience, that’s often how it will be portrayed by those trying to let you down gently, ‘We would’ve done your thing, except there was already this other thing’. That’s not letting down gently; that’s trying to make me feel that the other writer was responsible for the failure of my project, rather than person who actually made the decision. I think it’s something television executives get taught in management classes.

Still have lots of ideas, though, ideas which I will think are brilliant right up until the point where they come to naught. I worry that I’m getting worse, as the more I do, the less time I have to fiddle and finesse. But that’s the bad day speaking. You don’t want to hear me on a good day, trumpeting my own genius and my many successes (which, unlike everyone else’s, are purely down to hard work and talent and have nothing to do with luck).

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Search For Tomorrow

Hero time again. Roger Joseph Manning Jr.

He first blipped onto my pop music radar in the early 90’s. He was one of the two important ones in the sublime combo Jellyfish. A band that was possibly a little too clever, and certainly way too retro, to ever trouble the pop charts. The early 90’s being a bleak era, music-wise. Too much bad techno.

Jellyfish wanted to be The Beatles. And Queen. And The Beach Boys. And pretty much every other band from the 60’s and 70’s. All at once. Their greatest three and half minutes were ‘The Ghost At Number One’. Check out the video. Roger is the one who looks like Neil out of the Young Ones.


As is so often the case, just as I started getting into them, they decided to call it a day. They’d written a song for Ringo Starr, and after that, where else can you go? So Roger started up another band, Imperial Drag which very nearly had a hit with ‘Boy Or A Girl’ but didn’t.


Around the same time, Roger was – much more entertainingly – messing around with analogue synthesizers. The results being The Moog Cookbook’s two albums of contemporary and classic rock hits performed in the style of a late-60’s novelty moog record. They are sublime. The joke never wears thin.


Somehow this led him onto doing mind-bogglingly excellent remixes and collaborations with the Eels, Beck, AIR. He then decided to release a soundtrack album for an un-made sequel to Logan’s Run and form another band, TV Eyes, while doing the tunes for Lost In Translation.

And now, recently, he’s put out two-ish solo albums, The Land Of Pure Imagination and Catnip Dynamite. Which are, basically, I-can’t-believe-they’re-not-Jellyfish albums. I’d recommend them, but I like them being my special secret.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Sitting By The Riverside (Mono)

Odd day, yesterday. After writing something like goodness’ knows how much over the past three or four weeks, I decided to have a day off. I’d just go for a walk, clear my mind.

So I walked from Victoria to Hammersmith, along the Thames Path. I’m quite a dull person, I enjoy long walks on my own. They’re kind of meditative. And I saw bits of London I haven’t seen before, more pieces of the jigsaw. I now know where Battersea Heliport is, and that it’s nothing like the place where the Daleks land in The Dalek Invasion Of Earth.

I would’ve kept on walking – the plan was to get to Richmond, and maybe, one day, get as far as Hampton Court – but for two things. Firstly, the weather was strangely horrible. Heavy rain followed by hot sunshine followed by heavy rain. Sticky.

And secondly, as is the tradition, I was ill on my day off. A temporary – I hope – but almost total deafness in my right ear. Overactive ceruminous glands leading to auditory occlusion. I think it might be partially psychosomatic as I’ve been reading a biography of Brian Wilson.

Life in mono is disconcerting. The main scare is how it affects balance, going down the stairs first thing in the morning. Other than that it’s like being an old man, having to take extra care crossing the road, feeling a little isolated and vulnerable and self-conscious, having great awkwardness in talking to people, having to ask them to repeat, and ending up short-tempered and sulky. That’s what I have to look forward to!

Except I found the cure. Not cotton buds – they’re what caused the problem – but rolled-up tubes of tissue paper. That was my exciting evening. Watching Torchwood and Krod Mandoon whilst unplugging my ears.

Pretty. Odd.

The plan is for me to eventually review all the albums I got last Christmas by this Christmas. It’s important to stay ahead of the game and be totally topical.

I absolutely recommend Pretty Odd by Panic! At The Disco. And yes, just as Human League’s 'Romantic?' should always be mentioned using question intonation, it’s pronounced PANIC!!! At The Disco. Possibly with jazz hands.

The album’s basically an American attempt at Britpop. It has that sort of ELO meets Chas’N’Dave’s piano with the trumpet section from ‘The Theme From Minder’ vibe, particularly on the opening segue from the ‘Sgt Pepper’-esque ‘We’re So Starving’ to the ‘Mr Blue Sk’y-tastic almost-a-hit ‘Nine In The Afternoon’. This track also illustrates a couple of other aspects of the band; their trying-too-hard lyrics and the fact that all their songs are strong, catchy tracks –sabotaged by being quirky for the sake of it (for example, NITA’s wrong-footing time signature).

That said, the songwriting is consistently inventive and each song passes the Jonny-will-skip-ahead-if-nothing-interesting-happens-in-the-first-30-seconds test. Just as you’ve ‘got’ a song sussed something unexpected happens – a change in arrangement, tempo, whatever. Reminds me of Jellyfish or The Boo Radleys or Super Furry Animals. Or even Octopus, the 8-piece band which outnumbered its fanbase by about 7. It’s Americans being quirky – but without that self-consciously arch quality you find with The Flaming Lips and The Hoosiers (plus, unlike The Hoosiers, they have more than one song).

I can’t imagine a worse time to release a psuedo-Britpop album, as landfill indie is finally being turfed over, which is a shame as Panic! At The Disco deserve to sell enough copies of each album to be given the chance to record another one. We can’t have enough bands that are trying to sound a little bit like The Beatles.



Additional: Oh, they've just split up. Bugger.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

I Just Don't Understand

I’m quite good at Maths. I studied it at unviersity at degree level. I’ve forgotten pretty much everything I was taught there – indeed, a considerable proportion of it evaporated from my mind like morning mist as I entered the exam halls – and aside from a healthy suspicion of all statistics used by people who haven’t studied statistics, I can’t say it did me a great deal of good.

However, that’s not what this blog is about. It’s about the bits of Maths I don’t understand. For instance, I have not the remotest inkling what the scoring system of cricket is intended to signify. It seems to be an entirely different form of Maths altogether, one developed by PE Teachers who have their own idiosyncratic notions about what constitutes an ‘average’.

I distinctly remember missing the one lesson at primary school dealing with analogue clocks, and for years I always had a little trouble telling the time on old-style clock faces. I say ‘a little trouble’ – it took me about two seconds. I don’t have the problem any more, but for a while it was a curious omission.

But even now I have not the faintest clue about imperial measurements. I’m sure I wasn’t taught them at school; in the late 70’s, europe was the future and decimalisation was an inevitablilty. So pounds and ounces, pints and gallons, farenheit and feet, are all a mystery to me. It’s like old money. I can never remember whether it’s 12 of one thing equals 1 of another, or is 14, or is it 20? I can’t retain the knowledge because it’s so unimportant and arbitrary, because I don’t need a second system because I already know and understand the metric system which is inarguably better.

But it’s all Margaret Thatcher’s fault.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Wuthering Heights

It’s wrong to pick on tall people. It’s not their fault that they’re tall. It’s just an accident of genetics and hormones. But speaking as a short person, there are a few things where we don’t see eye to eye...

Firstly, the whole standing up to have a conversation thing. It’s okay for the tall person. They must feel like a giant visiting a creche. However, for the shorty, it feels like they are Frodo having an audience with Gandalf. So, tall people, I beg you, try to bear this in mind and reconvene to a seated area? That way, you won’t have to spend half the time repeating yourselves because mouths and ears are in different gradations of the atmosphere.

Additional to this point; smoking. Now, tall people smoking doesn’t bother me, it’s way up in the clouds, possibly of a navigational danger to aircraft but that’s about it. What’s annoying is when tall people, between puffs, move their ciggy down to what they consider to be ‘waist height’ – but which, for us shorties, is directly at eye-level. A famous writer who I shall not name – as his initials of RTD should suffice – did this to me once at a writers’ get-together and I still haven’t forgiven him. For that and for ‘Boomtown’.

Finally, now we’re in festival season, a word about concerts (admittedly I don’t go to festivals any more; I hate the rip-off ticket charges, I hate the bands, I hate the lousy sound quality and I particularly hate other people who go to festivals). But if you’re tall, don’t stand at the front. There’s no need, you could see perfectly well from a hundred yards back, rather than obscuring the views of a hundred shorties. And whatever you do – don’t wear a big funny hat.

Friday, 3 July 2009

Wake Up Boo!

I’ve a question. When you wake up with a song going around in your head – who chose the playlist?

I only ask because the assortment of songs which are going around in my head when I wake up is very peculiar. They are not, as you might expect, my favourite songs or the ones to which I listen most frequently. Instead there seems to be some sort of subconscious selection process at work.

Bond themes are quite frequent. This is because I am a Bloody Bloke and, in many ways, very similar to James Bond. And they’re always from early Roger Moore films. ‘The Man With The Golden Gun’ by Lulu. ‘Live And Let Die’ by Paul McCartney and Wings. ‘Nobody Does It Better’ by Carly Simon.

What’s more irritating is when the playlist chooses a song which I know but of which my conscious mind does not approve, causing me to wake up feeling shameful and metaphorically soiled. Such as, oh,’My Heart Will Go On’ by Celine Dion, or ‘Sparrow’ by The Ramblers or even, oh God, ‘Tattva’ by Kula Shaker.

Maybe my brain is punishing me. Maybe it’s trying to induce a panic response because I’ve fallen asleep cutting off the blood supply to my arm. But that’s still no excuse for dumping the lumpen melodies of Coldplay and U2 into my cerebellum.

Once I woke up with a song going around in my head which I couldn’t identify. Maybe, I thought, I had come up with a brand new tune, like Paul McCartney dreaming up ‘Yesterday’. And then, after minutes of painstaking research, I found out what the melody was. ‘Grandma’s Party’ by Paul Nicholas. A song I hadn’t heard for 30 years, but once heard, never forgotten.

And here it is. Please, don’t have nightmares.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Miracle (Early Demo)

As mentioned by Simon Guerrier over on his tralala, the latest issue of Big Finish’s Vortex magazine is out now and features fascinating interviews with me, Alan Barnes, Steve Cole, Lance Parkin plus a ‘What I Did On My Holidays’ article by Simon Guerrier himself. It’s freely available on the internet and there’s a literally real pamphlet version which gets sent out to the marvellous people who actually buy the CDs.

Being interviewed is weird. My main worries are always the photo of me which will accompany the piece (I always hope they don’t use one) and whether the interviewer will add exclamation marks to the end of jokes to indicate that they are jokes. It’s a proper journalistic thing, I know, but it bugs the tits off of me. Makes everyone sound like Paul Whitehouse’s ‘Brilliant!!!’ character. Still, no exclamation marks in Vortex, but there is a photo – so that’s a one-all draw.

Rob Stradling over on his Whispers and Moans made an amusing comment about the fact that one girl survived a plane crash that killed 152 others was described as a ‘miracle’. But whilst I may pay subscription dues to the society for fighting the debasement of the term ‘genius’, I’ve no problem with ‘miracle’ being used as a synonym for a fortunate coincidence or, indeed, for an inspiring medical or technological achievement. That’s what miracles should be; better to disassociate them with dubious feats of religious wizardry.

I mean, if Jesus was a fictional character (if?) he’s barely got the skills to be a second-rate X-Man. He’s so small-scale. He can’t even fly or shoot lasers. He could probably be a minor supporting character on Heroes – Water-To-Wine-Man. Even the resurrection reads like a last-minute tagged-on cop-out ending added to placate the fans and keep the franchise alive.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

It's All Done By The Machine (featuring Vince Clarke)

At last it’s the 1980’s again. Been a long time coming but now it’s back.

Been a few false dawns along the way. First there was the futile attempt by the Melody Maker to launch Romo much to the hilarity of their readership. Then little hints of 80’s magic crystalising around the fringes of disco – Les Rhythmes Digitales, Mirwais – which tragically got sucked into the vortex of Madonna’s leotard. And then there was Electroclash, where Fischerspooner briefly seemed like the next big thing until everyone bought their album only to discover they were one-hit wonders where the one hit wasn’t actually a hit.


But now, at last, plinky plonk synthesizers are all over the charts like a rash. My favourite is La Roux. They are best, that is official, in years to come when researchers are putting together montages to illustrate 2009 as part of some future ‘Rock And Roll Years’ the soundtrack will be ‘Bulletproof’. Over, oh, a clip of that house for ducks, surely the defining image of the year.


Doomed to historical footnoteage, in my estimation at least, are Lady Gaga, Little Boots, Florence And The Machine, Empire Of The Sun. Of course they’re all riding Goldfrapp’s glittery cape-tails. You have to feel sorry for poor Client who have been doing the early 80’s thing for aaages but who suffer the unfortunate musical handicap of being mind-numbingly tedious.


Now that La Roux is basically taking a cover of Yazoo’s ‘Don’t Go’ to number one, and The Saturdays are coquettishly arse-wiggling their way through Vince Clarke’s back catalogue surely a critical re-appraisal of the genius of Erasure cannot be far off? Then I won’t be the only one who knows that ‘Chorus’ is the greatest album of all time...