The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

You Little Thief

File-sharing on the internet isn’t stealing. It’s probably not helpful to call it that. Because the people who do it don’t think they are stealing. They’re using the Adrian Mole defence.

In one of the early Adrian Mole novels – i.e. the first two, the good ones – our hero justifies taking a train journey without paying for a ticket because, I quote from memory, ‘the train would take me there whether I paid for a ticket or not.’

That’s pretty much the same argument that file-sharers use. The people who make TV shows, CDs, books or computer games aren’t being deprived of a sale because otherwise you couldn’t have afforded to buy them; the people who want to pay for these things still will pay for them because they are rich enough to afford to, it doesn’t matter if other people who aren’t as well-off get them for free.

To use another analogy, it’s like people sneaking in free to cinemas without paying. After all, they’re going to show the film anyway whether you pay or not, right? And if you couldn’t get in free, you wouldn’t have gone to see the film, so it’s not as if the cinema or the people who made the film are missing out on getting your cash.

But to extend the metaphor – file sharing means that for the one person in the cinema who paid for the ticket, every other seat is taken up by someone who got in free. Who the one person who paid for a ticket is subsidising. They’re the real victim in this – the person who pays more because they’re paying for everyone else

File-sharing is...it’s like those people who shove themselves through a tube turnstile immediately after you because they haven’t got a ticket. That’s what it is.

Friday, 30 October 2009

Second Time Around

One of the most useful tools in a writer’s arsenal is a fresh pair of eyes. Another useful thing is the ability to spot a mixed metaphor; you don’t keep tools in an arsenal, you keep weapons. I’ll start again.

One of the most useful tools in a writer’s toolshed is a fresh pair of eyes. You can become too close to something you’ve written, become blinkered to its faults. Your brain is automatically correcting typos and the imaginative processes behind the work are still ticking away, filling in plot-holes and filling out characterisation. It’s hard to be objective because you’re still seeing the story as you imagined it, not the script or prose tapped out by your fingers.

Joe Orton used to keep his plays under his bed for six months to ‘mature’. Well, I think that’s a fact, though when I just looked it up on the internet the only source for it was, er, me. But I’m sure I heard it somewhere. The point being that most of the time, what with deadlines, you’re not often given the chance to leave a piece of work and come back at it with a fresh perspective. If you can, that’s ideal, because whenever I look over stuff I wrote, say, three months ago, its weakness become obvious and I get to laugh at my jokes all over again.

Failing that, you need other people to read things for you – people who can be constructive, people who know what is useful to guide a writer and what’s not. In telly, it’s a job, they’re called script editors.

And failing that, my tip is this – change the text so it reads differently. Change the font. Change the font size. Print it out. Believe me, it can be a big help.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Something Kinda Ooooh

They’re not quite singles. They’re not quite album tracks. They’re those extra songs you get on Greatest Hits compilations. Depending on your perspective, either a cynical record-company ploy to fleece the fans by forcing them to buy a collection of songs they already own just to get one new one, or a generous record-company gesture to reward the fans’ loyalty for buying a collection of songs they already own.

These songs have a fascination all of their own. Sometimes they’re tarted-up out-takes from abandoned albums by a band in the epilogue of their career. Sometimes they’re attempts to write another ‘Greatest Hit’. Sometimes they’re just updated remixes (which, TBH, really are ripping off the fans.)

Who’s idea was this? What was the first Greatest Hits to include a ‘new’ hit? What are my favourite tracks in this musical category which I've just made up?

ABBA – The Day Before You Came / Under Attack
The Beautiful South – One Last Love Song / The Root Of All Evil
Blur – Music Is My Radar
Depeche Mode – Shake The Disease / It’s Called A Heart / Only When I Lose Myself / Martyr
The Divine Comedy – Gin Soaked Boy / Too Young To Die
Girls Aloud – Something Kinda Ooooh / I Think We’re Alone Now / Money
Lightning Seeds – Song For No One / Tables Have Turned
Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark - Dreaming
Paul McCartney – Once Upon A Long Ago (in which Paul veers dangerously close to sounding like Cliff Richards. Oi, Macca – no!)
Pet Shop Boys – DJ Culture / Was It Worth It? / Miracles / Flamboyant
Prince – Peach / Pink Cashmere / Pope
Pulp – Last Day Of The Miner’s Strike
Queen – No-One But You (Only The Good Die Young)
Robbie Williams – Radio / Misunderstood
Steps – Baby Don’t Dance / Only In My Dreams
Suede – Attitude / Love The Way You Love
Sugababes – Easy / Good To Be Gone
Take That – How Deep Is Your Love?

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

My Ark

Just finished Stephen Baxter’s novel ‘Ark’. Absolutely marvellous, spellbinding, thoroughly recommended. It’s a sequel to his earlier, and equally magnificent ‘Flood’, so you should read that first.

The titles are fairly self-explanatory; ‘Flood’ tells the story, set in the next fifty years or so, of an Earth where the sea levels are rising at an exponential rate until, eventually, every land mass is underwater. It’s all about the breakdown of society, and the development of rafts and submarines as two of humanity’s three solutions to the crisis.

‘Ark’ deals with another of those solutions; the construction of an interstellar space craft, housing about eighty hand-picked candidates, travelling to an Earth-like planet around a nearby star. Even though the craft can travel faster than light, the journey still takes about ten years. The book’s about life on this space craft, cramped and sweaty, and then when they reach their destination, they discover the planet isn’t so great and have to decide whether to make the best of it, try for somewhere else another thirty years’ off, or head back home.

Both these novels are Steven Baxter writing hard science fiction disaster movies, but bringing in ideas about of survivalist psychology and sociology, and ultimately human evolution. What I loved about it, though, apart from the visceral delight of such a well-constructed and detail apocalypse scenario, is that it’s just all so damn exciting. Really – one of the set-pieces, for instance, is a rocket taking off in the middle of a war zone, complete with exploding helicopters. It’s blockbuster writing.

My only complaint is that I wanted the book to go on for another 500 pages. There has to be a sequel about how things turn out for the various groups of survivors fifty years later. I’m placing my order now.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

The Innocents

This week, Mute has released a re-mastered version of Erasure’s 1988 album ‘The Innocents’. The first of, hopefully, a series of re-masters – certainly their first two albums, and everything up to and most definitely including ‘Loveboat’ could do a digital spit and polish. The re-release includes, as bonus bollocks, a DVD of the concert the band did for the BBC in 1988 (which was not part of ‘The Innocents’ tour, but who’s splitting hairs?) and a CD of remixes, including the ‘much sought after’ 7” mix of ‘River Deep, Mountain High’ (much sought after by those fans who don’t already have it as part of the singles box set).

Oh, I’m being churlish. But whilst I am, it would’ve been nice to have had the radio session of ‘Phantom Bride’ included. There’s also some nice rehearsal footage from the BBC show which I dug up for one of the conventions, back in the day.

Beside the point. The point is that ‘The Innocents’ is a magnificent album, featuring ten terrific Clarke/Bell originals, some of the strongest stuff they’ve ever done, including their best song, ‘A Little Respect’, plus an instrumental Vince wrote after hearing M/A/R/R/S Pumping Up The Volume in the studio next door, and two bonus tracks which DON’T COUNT AS PART OF THE ALBUM.

Whilst I love it dearly, my criticism of it – as follower of the true faith of V & A – is that it’s Erasure's most generic-sounding album. Because it’s produced by Stephen Hague, it sounds similar to the stuff he was doing with The Communards and the Pet Shop Boys at the same time. For me, Erasure are at the best when all the lead and backing vocals are by Andy, and all the other noises are by Vince (using vintage analogue synthesizers only).

Monday, 26 October 2009

Mad Bears 1

The Story Of Goldilocks And The Three Bears (Part One)

Once upon a time there were three obsessive-compulsive bears. Mummy obsessive-compulsive bear, daddy obsessive-compulsive bear, and little baby obsessive-compulsive bear. Together they lived in a house, where they would spend their days scrubbing down the walls, dusting every surface, making sure all the electric appliances were switched off, washing their hands, and checking they hadn’t left the oven on. They lived together happily and very, very hygenically.

One day, the three bears had to pop out to go to the woods. Being bears, that’s where they liked to go when they wanted to go to the toilet, and because they didn’t like to have dirty, smelly things in the house. As usual, they spent half an hour making sure all the windows were double-locked and everything was unplugged at the mains before they left for the woods. Having pre-heated their morning breakfast of porridge to consume upon their return.

But while they were out, who should throw a brick through a rear upstairs window but Goldilocks! Having successfully broken in without detection, she skipped gaily downstairs to inspect the bear’s breakfasts. She was a big girl and liked her food.

She tried the first bowl of porridge. ‘Ugh. Too hot’. She tried the second one. ‘Ugh. Too cold’. The third bowl of porridge, however, was Just Right and she gobbled it all up.

Now she needed a sit down. She tried the first chair. ‘Ugh. Too big’. She tried the second chair. ‘Ugh. Also too big.’ The third chair, however, was Just Right and she had a good old wriggly-fidget sit down on her big sweaty bottom.

Having done this, Goldilocks suddenly felt very tired. So she went upstairs and tried out the bears’ beds. (As mummy and daddy bear were obsessive-compulsive, they slept in seperate beds for Reasons Of Personal Hygiene).

She tried the first bed. ‘Ugh. Too hard.’ She tried the second bed. ‘Ugh. Too soft’. The third bed, however, was Just Right and so she got into the bed and fell into a warm, snuggly sleep.

To Be Continued.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Mad Bears 2

The Story Of Goldilocks And The Three Bears (Part Two)

Not much later, the three obsessive-compulsive bears came home, and they immediately began their inspection routine of every single item in the house. The first thing they noticed was the porridge. Because even though Goldilocks had only had the tiniest mouthful from the first two bowls, that was enough for the obsessive-compulsive bears to notice.

‘Ugh. Who’s been using my spoon?’ said the daddy bear.
‘Ugh. Who’s been using my spoon?’ said the mummy bear with a scream.
‘Ugh. Who’s been using my spoon and licking my bowl?’ cried the baby bear. 'Mummy, daddy, I feel sick'.

‘We must never use these spoons or bowls ever again’, declared the daddy bear, and together they wrapped them in clingfilm and threw them into the bin.

Suddenly feeling nauseous and dizzy, the three bears needed to sit down. But because Goldilocks had moved each chair ever-so-very slightly away from Where It Was Supposed To Be, the three bears instantly noticed something was amiss.

‘Ugh. Who’s left their bottom-sweat on my chair?’ said the daddy bear.
‘Ugh. Who’s left their bottom-sweat on my chair?’ gasped the mummy bear.
‘Ugh. Who’s left...’ began baby bear before bursting into tears. As his bottom had made contact with the sullied chair, he quickly pulled out a brillo pad and his hygienic wipes and began to scrub himself down until his own bottom was raw.

‘We must never use these chairs ever again’, declared the daddy bear, and together they wrapped them in clingfilm and threw them into the bin.

By now, the three bears were getting a bit tired and irritable – which happens sometimes when you miss breakfast – so they went upstairs for a nap. Can you imagine what happened next, children?

‘Aaaaargh! Who’s disturbed the sheets slightly on my bed?’ screamed the daddy bear.
‘Aaaaargh! Who's left a slight indentation on my mattress?’ screamed the mummy bear.
‘Aaaaargh! Mummy, daddy... ' choked the baby bear. 'There’s a girl sleeping in my bed!’

The three bears stared at Goldilocks, who was still in a very deep, contended sleep.

‘We must leave and never set foot in this building ever again,’ declared the daddy bear. ‘It is unclean’. And together they packed away all their things, unpacked them, packed them away again, unpacked them, packed them away again, checked all the electrical appliances were switched off, and then ran away as fast as their legs could carry them.

So when Goldilocks woke up she had a lovely new house. And she lived happily ever after.

The End.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Turn Back Time


Another film review. Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel.

Before I begin, I should declare an interest. Up until last year, I was working with the producers of FAQATT on my own film script, until the project went cold because nobody was investing in British films at the time (it seems the film industry knew there was a recession coming). Despite that, it was a good experience, I got an option fee, I got paid for re-writes, and I remain hopeful the script – which is the best thing I’ve ever written – will one day flicker in the darkness of a cinema auditorium.

As my project was the follow-up to FAQATT, I had a clear personal interest in hoping that FAQATT was a success, and followed its production closely; I met the writer, and listened with interest to tales of how the film changed after the test screenings; originally, the whole story was set in a pub, but then a new beginning was filmed, and a new ending, which meant it ended up coming out a year later than planned.

Which, finally seeing the film, was a bit of a pity, as a sci-fi film set entirely in a pub is an intriguing, out-of-the-ordinary prospect, whereas a sci-fi film set almost but not quite entirely in a pub just feels low-budget.

That said, I really enjoyed it. It was clever, original, funny, and as it’s about time-travel pub-bore sci-fi nerds having time-travel adventures, it struck a wish-fulfilment chord. If anything, I wanted it to go further; to have more, stranger iterations of past and future, becoming completely Being John Malkovich, whilst still tying everything together with cause-and-effect. As it is, the happy ending doesn’t quite pay off the slow build-up; it feels abruptly Hollywood rather than British Shaun Of The Dead-style charm.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Shopping


Friday. Went to John Lewis’ on Oxford Street, not to spend wedding vouchers, but simply to look at things we might spend wedding vouchers on one day. It’s a massive department store, and possibly the most middle-class place in the entire universe. I think we were the youngest people there, apart from the girls on the make-up counters who were so thin you wouldn’t be able to see them if it wasn’t for all the concealer they were wearing.

Then popped in Forbidden Planet, to buy myself the Doctor Who comic novel The World Shapers. It’s all old strips from the 80’s as drawn by John Ridgway, and contains two marvellous stories I love dearly; Time Bomb and The Gift. Plus the rather under-rated Profits Of Doom! and Nature Of The Beast.

In the evening, went to Greenwich as SG was giving a talk on how to come up with Doctor Who stories, and as I’ve got a bit stuck with a thing I’m working on I thought it might help crack the block. I’m not sure I agree on his approach – starting with the monsters, using New Scientist stories for inspiration – I’d say you start with a situation, ideally one which taps into primal childhood fears, and the ‘monsters’ merely arise from an attempt to shape that childhood fear into some sort of narrative device. But what do I know. The other point is, of course, that it’s very rare to be given a blank slate, normally you’re working to a brief of like-this-but-not-this or not-like-this-but-this and you’re trying to find logical, dramatic, or amusing ways of doing whatever it is the guy with the money wants you to do, with the story being reverse-engineered as you spot holes in your plot and try to paper over them.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

A Question Of Time


I have no problem with Nick Griffin appearing on Question Time. I mean, I have every problem with the guy, and everything he stands for, but if you believe in things like free speech then occasionally it means you have to let the idiots have their turn.

But the way the BBC have dealt with the whole thing is pretty reprehensible. Because, firstly, the amount of preliminary coverage they gave the show was totally disproportionate. In a effort to bolster ratings, they built him up into some sort of visiting celebrity; headline news on every news show of the day, taking up half the news website, videos of him entering the BBC, of protestors outside the BBC. The endless trumpeting reminded me of Radio One when Madonna appeared on Top Of The Pops; Madonna is in her car approaching Shepherd's Bush, Madonna’s limo is parking in the car park, Madonna is now in make-up. You give someone a fanfare, they’re going to look more significant than they are. Which kind of undermines the whole ‘proportionate coverage’ thing; I don’t remember them making this sort of fuss when the Green Party had their leader on.

When, really, the way to go would be to treat it as any other edition of Question Time. No extra trailers, no making the show into a news story. Because what the BNP – a piddling, marginal, extremist bunch of twats – want to be seen to be controversial, news-making, headline-grabbing.

(I suppose, though, it fits in with the BBC’s general policy of trying to bring back the 70’s.)

The second problem is that the show itself – thanks to what was an even more cherry-picked audience than usual – became all about the BNP. Have them on the show by all means, but don’t make them the show.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Above The Clouds


Off to the cinema again, this time to see Pixar’s Up in 3-D. And, for once, there were no annoying people in the cinema chatting, kicking or texting. It’s the honeymoon effect; I feel I am living in a charmed bubble of splendidness.

Little b-movie beforehand about a cloud making babies for storks. Which was perfectly fine.

And then the main feature. Oh my god. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film where I was so heartbroken in the first ten minutes. I mean that in a good way. Maybe it’s being recently married makes me more susceptible to love stories; but even so, the first ten minutes is one of the most beautiful, finely-judged, and I’m not ashamed to say, tearjerking things I’ve ever seen. The lump in my throat was so large I could barely breathe.

After that, well, the story kicks off proper; a curmudgeonly old man decides to have an adventure by tying hot-air balloons to his house and floating to the Amazon. Along the way, he makes friends – a young boy scout, an eager retriever and an exotic bird – and learns various lessons about growing old, regret, and letting go. Because, for all the jokes and hi-jinks, the film is all about grief and lost hope.

If anything, it could do with more comedy, if only as a relief from all the stuff which makes you want to cry. The jokes and hi-jinks are fine enough; maybe things get a bit formulaic, a bit computer-gamey in places, and a few of the talky scenes with the villain do drag, but that’s me being churlish about a film which is pretty much perfection in every other respect; it looks stunning – but doesn’t over-do the 3-D gimmickry – and it’s very nearly up there with Wall-E.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

The Honeymoon Song


Today – well, I write this six days later, but it was today when it happened – we visited Leeds Castle. Which, as I’m sure you all know, you get to by going to Leeds and then asking a taxi driver to take you to the castle.

It’s a lovely place. Of course, the main reason I wanted to visit was because, twenty-odd years ago, it was used as the location for the filming of a Doctor Who story. So I made my own little video documentary in the style of the DVD extras. Just messing about. I even sneaked onto the golf course in order to get a view of the tunnel K-9 used to get into the castle. It was important, okay?


But mainly the day was spent breathing in huge sleepy lungfuls of fresh air, and wandering the grounds, and making our way through the various rooms. You start your tour via the wine cellar – where Doctor Who had his swordfight with Count Grendel – then make your way upstairs, going through a mixture of chambers, some restored to their original 16th century look, others remaining as examples of roaring 1920s luxury. Very eclectic; a French fireplace here, a Chinese screen there. Henry VIII stayed there, as did Noel Coward. Doctor Who was filmed there one week after the building had been used for a peace conference between Egypt and Israel.


Having done the castle, we visited the world-famous Dog Collar Museum – featuring dog collars dating back to the middle-ages – before visiting the maze, which wasn’t too large or difficult so we managed to get to the middle before it stopped being fun. In the middle is a grotto, quite fun, though I’m not sure the Rime of the Ancient Mariner is about being struck in an underground grotto.

video

Monday, 19 October 2009

The Village Green Preservation Society


Today, off to Bearsted in Kent for a few day’s holiday. I can’t imagine how insanely expensive the houses are, but it’s like an English village theme park, complete with green and church, wobbly-walled medieval pubs and gourmet restaurants. And lots of signs saying no to the Kent International Gateway, whatever that is. TBH if someone plans to build something ghastly like that, they should stick it in Ashford-upon-Tory, which is already the most mind-numbingly ghastly town in Britain.

We were staying in the Marriott, one of those places where every style of internal decor from throughout the globe has been meticulously assimilated and averaged out. Which bothers some, but to be honest the room was nice, the staff were friendly, and the restuarant was okay (though fifteen quid for an English breakfast? You could have three English breakfasts at Maggie’s for that. But unfortunately going on honeymoon at Maggie’s was not an option.) Second night, we ate out – D had the most delicious lamb ever and I had some mmmelty chicken at The White Horse. It was so nice we plan to go there again for anniversaries.

We chose this hotel for pampering. A swimming pool, a jacuzzi, a sauna. I’m racking my brains trying to remember the last time I did swimming; possibly I dipped into the med near Venice, otherwise it must be ten years or more. I’m a terrible swimmer, have to keep my eyes out of the water – contact lenses, y’see – so could only do swimming froggy-style. Still, it was probably very good for all those muscles I hadn’t used in a decade. And after doing the Roman thing of getting wet, hot and dry, wet, hot and dry and wet a few times I felt so super-clean every pore was tingling with joy.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Imagination


First day of married life was spent opening all the cards and gifts. By the end, we felt extremely over-awed at the generosity of our friends and relatives. It’s hard to put a financial figure on friendship, but for future reference – and more importantly, for the thank you cards - we wrote down the amounts anyway.

In the evening, to the cinema for the long-awaited pleasure of seeing Terry Gilliam’s new film The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus.

Thoughts. It’s a game of two halves, really. All the scenes set in the world of the imaginarium are fantastic. Gilliam doing what he does best. Bizarre, free-associating fantasies of imagery. And great performances from Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell and Jude Law.

And the other half? The stuff in the real world with Heath Ledger, who, it’s a shame to admit, is the only weak link and the fourth best actor playing ‘Tony’. Everyone else is magnificent; Tom Waits as the Devil, Christopher Plummer as a mad, seedy Dumbledore and Lily Cole as a human doll.

My main criticism, though, would have to be that’s it’s ironic for a film which is one long celebration of storytelling to have such a weak, muddled and poorly-told story at its heart. The script needed a second draft – by Tom Stoppard? – to sort out the whys and wherefores of which bits of plot should go where, to sort out the motivations, and to give the clunky, stilted dialogue a kick up the arse and add some jokes. Only the scene with well-to-do ladies volunteering for soul removal made me laugh.

As it is, it’s a dizzying, undisciplined, ramshackle spectacle which leaves you feeling that it could really do with someone cutting the script down by half an hour. So, it’s a Terry Gilliam film then.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

We Got Married


And now the wedding day itself.

Side-note before I begin. Although I’m writing up the day as an aide-memoir, I’m also aware that this blog can be googled and read by strangers, so it’s going to be very light on names and specific details, as I have no desire to betray my own privacy, never mind anybody else’s. Those who were there, or invited, or who contributed, will be able to look at photos on Facebook or by popping around for a cup of tea and an evening with the big wedding album.

The day, of course, had been meticulously planned down to 5-minute intervals by D. My contribution to the day was through being consulted at each decision and agreeing with what D had already decided. That’s only old long-suffering husband joke, BTW, and not remotely the truth; we did all the walking around the venue, meeting caterers, photographers and so on together, though D did all the flower, cake and clothes-based deciding.

Woke up. SB made bacon and eggs and coffee. S came around with MG who had travelled all the way down from up North. How did I spend the morning of my wedding? I watched the first story of the Sarah-Janes, which was mostly hilarious and marvellous, save for a weak comedy sub-plot which seemed to have been added by a different hand at a later date. And then I watch a bit of an Attenborough nature show on blu-ray to see what HD telly looks like. It’s great. You can make out every single penguin.

Then a shower, and a shave – a shave which took about half an hour, I was so careful it was as though I was restoring an ancient painting – then into the suit. From this point on, time was speeding up. It would feel like five minutes had passed and it would be twenty minutes later. I ran-through my speech to the assembled focus group; cutting a couple of over-eggs, but with a greater sense of confidence about the rest.

Then the taxi. Which is when the nerves started. It’s quite an odd thing; before a wedding, everybody asks you if you’re nervous. Which after a while gets a little wearisome; but I was so nervous whenever anyone asked I’d give them a full and accurate description of exactly how nervous I was. I was mentally very much in the moment, like when you first arrive in a new country on holiday, or find yourself in a car crash; it’s all vivid and your brain is set on ‘Record’. I also found I’d forgotten how to go to the toilet. And in the car, on the way, I thought I was suffocating. It was a stuffy car, and I’d garrotted myself with my tie, so no air was getting in. Reluctantly I loosened my collar by one button.

I arrived at the venue about forty-five minutes before the ceremony. Some of D’s friends were already there, soon her brother R was there, and E arrived to set up the video. Deciding with him where to put the camera, I was grateful to have something to do. I spoke with the junior registrar, just to check my name and single status hadn’t changed. And then I wandered.

I popped into the reception room. It looked glorious, white tablecloths, all mint and sparkling with massive loudspeakers in the corner. The flowers were in the Long Gallery, looking splendid. Button holes were in a box as indicated. The CD player had moved unexpectedly in the night to another corner of the room. Everything was set. I had nothing to worry about except worry itself.

People started arriving. I went down the creaky staircase to meet my parents just as they were coming up in the lift. It seemed a little unreal to meet them in this context. Things got even more unreal when I went downstairs to see my oldest friend and next-door-neighbour, JD, with his girlfriend. And next to him, my sister and her boyfriend. And looking across the room, it was like seeing everybody I’d ever known at once; like the Sergeant Pepper album cover or my Facebook ‘people I actually like’ list. I wanted to say hello to everybody, dashing from person to person, meeting D’s uncle and aunt, shaking hands, being asked if I was nervous, telling people how nervous I was, meeting wives and girlfriends, and eventually moving outside for air and to see where some more friends were having a last-minute smoke. I also met M, the site contact, who seemed lovely, if a little confused about who was my best man, N. Who was also there from about half-an-hour to go, sitting in the Long Gallery with his girlfriend N and forever asking me when he should sit up or stand down.

At this point it was about five minutes to go. I thought only five minutes had passed but the clock was ticking, tick-tick-tick-tick-tick. I’d texted D to say I’d arrived. R told me D was on her way, but her car was stuck on Blackheath so she’d be late. But I couldn’t accidentally set eyes upon her as she drove in, so it was time for the ushers – S and R – to usher everyone in the Long Gallery. They’d already done this. By the time I got there, it was full. I went to the front to speak to the Proper Registrar, DS, who was lovely with a very calming way of speaking. She indicated a knot in the floorboards where I should stand. And so for the last minute or so all I did was stare at that knot on the floorboards. I didn’t want my marriage to begin on the wrong knot. I told my best man when to stand – at this point, plans seemed to be shifting by the minute, we weren’t standing exactly where I’d thought, would we be standing or sitting during the reading? Time for an executive decision. Standing. I didn’t want our backs to the camera set up in the corner. Posterity is important.

Oh, I haven’t mentioned the photographer yet, N. She was there, buzzing around like a photographic bee, but – brilliantly – without being distracting.

Every now and then I’d look back at the gathered throng. GR waved a copy of Doctor Who And The Power Of Kroll he’d brought specially. CH pulled a scary face. Others did thumbs-up, which is Traditional.

Buttonholes! We had buttonholes. My mum pinned mine. Never having worn one before, I wasn’t sure what to do, as apparently there’s a Tradition about which side they go on and which way up. Fortunately N’s girlfriend knew the Tradition. My tie was re-tightened, my collar re-buttoned. I still had no idea how to go to the toilet or whether I would ever be able to go the toilet again.

D’s mother, bridesmaids and brother entered and took their places. Which meant that D had arrived and was probably outside the door. Everyone stood up. My best man sat down. Then I stood, as though pulled by an irresistible force, and made my way to the Knot where I would tie the knot. Best man still not sure whether he should stand or, indeed, if he was at the right wedding.

The music started – too quietly, should’ve been louder – the version of Maybe I’m Amazed off of Paul McCartney’s Working Classical album.

I looked over my left shoulder, and turned. And there she was, on her father’s arm, looking perfect. A gorgeous dress, just the right combination of romantic and drop-dead sexy. She’d had her hair done. It sounds like a cliche, but sod it, she was a vision of loveliness. Eyes sparkling. Beaming a smile of nervous and excitement.

I’ll remember every step she took towards me.

And then we were together, and everyone sat down except for my best man, and the registrar told us face each other. And at the moment the rest of the room melted away and it was just D’s face, and her hand in mine. My future bride was smiling at me and that was my whole world.

I’d have to check the video what happened next. All I remember is D’s face. I think we moved to N’s reading of Shakespeare, which was simply beautiful; she did the clever thing of including us in it, as though the speech was written to advise us. Did it get applause? I don’t know. It must have done. All I could think about was D’s face and her hand in mine.

The service was much as we’d rehearsed, except it was easy to state the words loudly and clearly without slipping into William Shatner or Cartman impersonation. The registrar only gave us a few words of the ceremony at a time; I had to resist the temptation to say ‘why I’ in a Geordie accent. I sighed with relief after the just cause or impediment bit and I paused just before saying I do; I wanted to make the most of the moment. Moment? It was a millisecond. And I said I do. And then, shortly afterwards, so did D.

It was ring time. My best man had the ring I had entrusted to him about five minutes or five hours earlier. I placed it on the end of D’s left middle finger. And then the instruction came. ‘Engage the ring’.

Then the registrar – who, by now, had decided on a new career as a stand-up comedian/Blakes 7 dialogue consultant – said a few words I can’t remember about friends being a witness to the marriage and that they should remind us if we ever forgot. I was still entranced by D and what working parts of my brain remained were devoted to not accidentally standing on her dress. And looking out at everyone smiling. No-one crying, I think.

And, in the background, SM and his wife slipping into the room, late arrivals.

D and I kissed as wife and husband. Best kiss ever. We had a couple more.

Then, as is Traditional, we walked down the aisle – couldn’t hear the music if it was playing, I had my own music – and out into the reception room place. A glass of champagne drifted by. I grabbed it, and drank half in one mouthful.

After about five minutes of rushing around say hello to people I hadn’t said hello to and chatting to my new relatives, it was out to the gardens for photos. Which was surprisingly painless, largely because the photographer wasn’t doing the perfectionist thing you sometimes get, the whole ‘Could Uncle Jack move three quarters of an inch to the left and try to smile less seedily’ thing.

It was almost relaxing. We worked through all the combinations of relatives, bests, bridesmaids, ushers and everybody else. Hopefully they all came out okay. Then, as if by magic, or at least without me noticing, everyone made their way into the Old Library for the reception. D and I had a quiet moment outside where we tidied up some wine glasses, checked there were none left upstairs, and D made sure a discarded coat and rucksack were checked into reception. Because even when there is nothing left to sort out, if D wants to sort things out, she will find things that need sorting out.

Into the Old Library to applause, to sit between D and my mum. Decided to alternate between red wine and water – the Jesus of Nazareth technique for not getting drunk. The food was magnificent. Mmmmelty salmon. Bread with peppery bits in it. Sausages. Vegetarian stuff that didn’t taste of packing. I had seconds. And profiteroles dripped with black and white chocolate, to signify racial harmony. I popped into the catering place to check what the plan was regarding the toasting wine – speeches – coffee – cake- cutting running order, because although it had already been sorted out and was running perfectly, it doesn’t hurt to double-check for your own peace of mind – or your new wife’s.

Everyone had their toasting wine, I cued my best man, who was now fretting about when exactly to ping his glass for attention. The father of the bride, my father in law, gave a lovely, charming and witty speech about how friends are the new family. He also pre-empted my first joke, so when I did my speech, I had to go off-script straight away, which was kind of a good thing because it meant I never felt the panic to go back on-script; my first joke got a laugh, so did my second. I wasn’t nervous, I was enjoying myself hugely. Though my right hand started shaking, not having been included in on the memo. My last joke got applause, which kind of messed up the toast – knowing that people repeat your last three words, I’d been racking my brains on how to toast my new wife without getting one hundred people saying ‘my new wife’ in unison.

And then my best man did his speech, which was hilarious, inspired, superb, which was a huge relief because I thought, given the material he had to work with, the odds were against him. He did me proud. He got more laughs than I did. The one thing I’d been worrying about and it was three bull’s-eyes in a row.

The cake-cutting was weird; being photographed to commemorate a married life of cutting cakes together whilst holding the same knife. I nearly forgot to actually eat any of it. Our cake was also magnificent, with a beautiful twining rose stem design, very art deco.

Next, the first dance, to the Beautiful South’s cover of the Zombies This Will Be Our Year. We’d rehearsed this bit, but nevertheless it felt bizarre. We don’t dance a lot, and wedding dresses are not the easiest things to get hold of; you can’t feel your partner’s back, you just feel corset ribs. But by the end some other couples had joined in which spared out embarrassment. Then we had Take That’s Shine as our ‘floor-filler’, which worked, up to a point, though the hall was too well-lit and the guests still too sober for the party to swing to its fullest amplitude and Erasure’s Victim Of Love proved a sure-fire floor-emptier.

The rest of the night was all one whirling, wonderful blur. With more red wine. Sorting out the lighting so the hall wasn’t seated-people-in-darkness, dancers in bright-lights. Flittering around, talking to everyone. D raving to JR about his novels. My mum trying to get me work and complaining to TS about the cover of his magazine. My dad being a little bit drunk, which I’ve never seen before. My mum being convinced that SM had told her he was gay (which you really wouldn’t suspect from his dancing). Catching up with JD. Popping outside to catch up with the smoking gays, to cool off and get scandalous gossip. Seeing such a wonderful once-in-a-life-time collection of friends and relatives on the dance floor, joining in with Elvis’ Burning Love. The DJ, PC, getting away with playing Tainted Love because he’d opted for the vastly superior Gloria Jones original. Forgiving him for Song 2. Doing the hokey-cokey to Don’t Leave Me This Way. And me, manly-hugging and kissing everyone in sight, drinking in compliments like wine, thanking everyone for being there, and basking in the glow of my wife’s beaming grin. All magical. I think everyone knew how much I loved them by the end of the evening. I tried to be as thorough as possible.

Oh, and I eventually remembered how to go to the toilet, which was useful.

As isn’t traditional, D and I were the last to leave, having hugged and kissed goodbye to everyone and seen them safely off into taxis. And when we got home, we had a cup of tea and I draw a veil.

Well, that wasn’t under three hundred words, was it?

Spotify wedding playlist

Friday, 16 October 2009

This Time Tomorrow


Today was the day before I got married. I’m writing about it six days later because, as you might expect, I’ve had better things to do. It’s only out of a desire not to let events slip into half-forgotten memory that I’m typing about them now.

The day before I got married was like any other; I was writing a script, it was going okay, keeping out of the way of D and her bridesmaids. Was I nervous about the following day? I’d woken up from a few nightmares; my fear wasn’t that D wouldn’t turn up, or that she would unexpected be replaced by the Dark Lord Voldemort, or that it would rain, snow or earthquake. My fear was always that the day would end with D crying her heart out and using the word ‘ruined’. For me, the day would be a success if it ended with us hitched; anything else, to use the rock star cliche, would be a bonus.

That was my fear. Not standing up in front of people – though I was wary of mis-pronouncing my own surname, I’ve never been happy about my Rs, and of my speech lead ballooning, or my best man doing his ‘fisting’ joke. All that mattered that enough people turned up and those that did had a good time – to use another rock star cliche. So long as the people who mattered made it.

I also finished writing my speech on this day; it won’t be going on this blog, if you weren’t there, you’ll have to ask me on Facebook or email me. And in the evening there was the traditional pre-wedding outing to Pizza Express for an American Hot. My parents had phoned to say they’d arrived. And so my last evening of bachelorhood was spent first dropping off boxes of things for the next day at the venue – the reception hall looking sombre, dark and echoey, the taxi driver having no idea how to get there - before drinking far too much red wine and chatting with S, his D, and SGrw.

After that, a taxi back to mine and an amusing half hour where I was the Boy Born With No Brain as I struggled to find everything I’d need for the next day; the flat had been Tidied so nothing was where it normally lived. I had to phone out for the location of my shoes. Then a taxi to SB’s, where I would be staying the night on a gradually deflating bed. Probably very good for my posture.

More red wine – and plenty of water to prevent hangover – and we watched a couple of episodes of a Family Guy spin-off thing, in which the funniest thing was that the next-door neighbour was a bear, and two Star Wars parodies by a sketch show called Robot Chicken which were amusing but required quite a lot of concentration after so much red wine. And then, to sleep – to sleep like a log on a punctured lilo.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft


Went to the cinema on Tuesday to see District 9. It was great fun, and you don’t need to have seen the previous 8 District films to understand it.

District 9 is an odd film; in terms of the subject matter, it should be a low-budget, straight-to-festivals genre piece. Instead the director was given loads of money and made an action blockbuster, but with what would seem to be a very uncommercial premise. The fact that the film’s done very well just goes to show that Nobody Knows Anything and that what is ‘commercial’ is often so safe, samey and predictable it performs badly, when what each film needs is to be Like Nothing You’ve Ever Seen Before.

Obviously there are all sorts of reversals I wouldn’t want to spoil; suffice it to say that in the first ten minutes of film you discover the setting; it’s set in the present day, more or less, but one in which an alien spaceship appeared in the skies above Johannesburg twenty years ago bringing with it a million alien refugees resembling giant prawns. Ever since, the refugees have been held in a ghetto township, and as the film starts, plans are afoot to have them moved to a concentration camp.

I’m not sure the film is supposed to be drawing specific analogies with the apartheid system; it does provide a certain frisson but mostly the South African setting is for novelty, and to give the film a gritty, dusty atmosphere, to make the science fiction elements feel more grounded and visceral.

The other uncommercial element of the film is that it doesn’t have any stars in it, no Toms, Brads or Johnnies. Instead it has a career-making performance from Sharlto Copley, playing a middle-manager who is wildly out of his depth.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Brief Candles


Internal Office Memo

To: Vampire Master
From: Chief Acolyte

Re: Candles

Hate to trouble you, I know how busy you are with the Forthcoming Great Arising, but I feel I should give you a quick ‘heads up’ regarding the whole candles situation.

Now, as you know, one of my duties is maintaining the candles in your lair, aka the Cave Of Evil.

The problem is, I can’t help feeling the whole business with the candles has got a bit out of hand. At the moment the C.O.E. is lit with over four hundred individual candles. We're currently getting through twice that number daily; I’m having to buy in in bulk. But the main difficulty is in making sure they’re all lit up at once. Because, basically, by the time I’ve got all four hundred flaming away, the first ones have burned down and I have to start all over again. It’s like painting the Forth Bridge and I’m finding that with all the candle lighting and replacing, it’s not allowing me a great deal of time to devote to my other duties (the Anointing Of The Chosen One, the Translating Of The Dark Prophecies, the Filing).

I realise it’s important that the C.O.E. is well-illuminated, and the effect of four hundred candles burning at once is very atmospheric, but I feel obliged to point out there are some other drawbacks. The ventilation, for one thing – what with the C.O.E. being deep underground, with all the candles going it does get a little stuffy. And I don’t want to be all ‘health and safety’ but I’m sure the combination of candles and hundred-year-old drapes is an accident waiting to happen. I’m not even sure it’s a good idea to have so many candles about the place, given that a naked flame is lethal to vampires (you’ll recall we vetoed the crucifix-patterned wallpaper and running water feature for similar reasons).

My suggestion is that we possibly look into some other lighting solutions; such as candle-effect bulbs. I’m putting together some budgets now; bearing in mind our present running costs, I think we could be looking at a long-term saving. After all, we’re not working on an unlimited budget here. We may be Evil Incarnate but we still have to make ends meet!

Yours sincerely,

C.A.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

So Hard


Something a little different today. Over on Roobarb’s Forum there’s this ongoing Doctor Who quiz thing where people stick up screengrabs from episodes so people can guess the story. The idea being to choose shots which are both cryptic but not impossible-to-guess. It’s far too addictive, and although I’m not very good at it compared to some people, I do scare myself sometimes.

Anyway, just for fun, here’s all the screengrabs I’ve posted so far. Answers will follow in due course. Widescreen shots are from the recent series, 4:3 from the old one.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Reach Out


A problem with British television is the obsession with ratings. Because the drawback with chasing ratings is not that you end up going downmarket, but that you end up catering for the same viewers over and over again – so you end up reducing the amount of people who watch your channel and have a lower audience ‘reach’.

The BBC produces hundreds of hours of drama. Which is great. However, in a given week, about seven or eight hours of that drama will be given over to soap operas; EastEnders, Casualty, Holby City, Doctors. Which is great if you like soap operas; those eight or nine million people certainly get their license fee’s worth every year. Unfortunately it means that the remaining hundred or so hours of drama the BBC produces – one or two shows a week – are all the original drama that’s produced for the remaining fifty-odd million people who also pay the license fee and who don’t follow soaps.

Similarly, ITV produces I-can’t-remember how many episodes of Emmerdale and Coronation Street a week. Which on the one hand is good for advertisers – these shows get about ten million viewers – but on the other hand, if those advertisers buy space in those shows they’re going to end up selling to the same ten million people again and again. And, as these shows have been running for forty-odd years, their demographic tends to be elderly.

If you want to gauge the health of nation’s television, see how much prime time is given over to production-line drama; in the UK, it’s squeezing out sit-coms, shows like Top Of The Pops and Tomorrow’s World, detective shows like Bergerac. A greater diversity of output would mean more people watched BBC 1. And would give channel controllers more shows to take the credit for.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

One Man's Rubbish


Many things annoy me about the people who argue in favour of unrestricted ‘file-sharing’; their smug someone-else-can-pay manner, their obliviousness to common sense, basic economics and morality, and the way everything is reduced to an ‘ad hominem’ argument of I-think-this-specific-artist-is-crap-so-they-don’t-deserve-to-be-so-rich.

It’s been the ruination of the music industry, television and films are going the same way, and literature will be next. Already some sod has made my books available for torrent. Well, excuse me, but if my work is out of print I want it to stay that way; I want people scouring auction sites and second-hand book shops; either that or give me some money.

But anyway, the argument I really hate is the one that goes along the lines of;

“The music industry has been ripping off fans for years; I bought an album on the basis of hearing one track and it turned out to be rubbish.

Excuse me? This person bought a crap album – for, say, £10 – on the basis of hearing one track and they’re prepared to boast about it in public? They’re prepared to stand up and say ‘I am a complete and utter mug’? Whatever next? 'My mum chooses my clothes for me?' 'I require written instructions in order to wipe my own bottom?'

They never say which album it is, of course, do they? Because that would expose them to ridicule – “What, you mean Right Said Fred’s Up didn’t live up to your expectations?’ – or contrary opinions – ‘Excuse me, I think you’ll find that the The Las is full of shoegazey scouse-rock classics’.

These people do not deserve to be listened to. They clearly have questionable judgement. These, after all, are people who buy albums without asking to hear them in the shop (something you’ve been able to do since the days of wax cylinders), who hand over their crispy tenners without reading reviews or soliciting opinions from friends, who don’t listen to the track previews on Amazon, iTunes, myspace or elsewhere.

I’m racking my brains to think of any albums I’ve bought on the basis of one track. White Town’s album, maybe, but that only cost me one quid. Forever Changes by Love, possibly, possibly not. Oh, and The Who Sell Out, that was bollocks. Curse you, music industry, for taking my hard-earned cash and forcing me to buy an album full of crap – I shall now feel entirely justified in stealing music for ever more.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Believe In Humanity


RIP Barry Letts; amongst many other achievements, producer of Doctor Who during the first half of the 1970’s.

To be fair, that eras isn’t a favourite; I’ve never been that keen on Doctor Who stories where the Doctor is stuck on Earth, usually in a power station, working for the army. To be fair, though, Barry Letts wasn’t that keen on those sort of stories either. He only stuck with them of a sense of obligation to his predecessor; but after a couple of years, the Doctor was off exploring alien planets again and the army – well, the Brigadier, Captain and Sergeant who constituted ‘UNIT’ – would only turn up for a few weeks each year.

During his time with Jon Pertwee’s Doctor Who he transformed the show from a low-rating show which was under a hovering axe to a high-rating popular success. His most obvious contributions to the show were creating the characters of the Master and Sarah Jane and casting Tom Baker as the fourth Doctor Who. As well as producing, he directed and co-wrote a whole load of stories as well; the One With The Troll Doll Coming To Life; the One With The Daemons, the One With The Maggots, the One With The Spiders. All those fantastic, memorable stories – and The Time Monster as well.

But more important, perhaps, was the intelligence he brought to the show. During his time it was more sophisticated and contemporary in a way it wouldn’t really be again until Russellty took over. All those stories address topical issues; with a strong moral base, a pro-liberal pro-ecology pro-equality and pro-science outlook. And pro-humanity. That’s what comes across, loud and clear, in every episode. The humanity of the man.

After he left Doctor Who, he spent fifteen-odd years producing nearly every BBC Classic Serial; most of Dickens, Beau Geste, The Invisible Man, Gulliver In Lilliput, Alice In Wonderland. Anything which featured rouged cheeks and large amounts of facial hair.

I’m over my three hundred words, but sod it, one more thing to add. Being a fan of Doctor Who is about celebrating heroes. Barry Letts was a hero of television; the millions of people who watched his Doctor Whos, or his many Classic Serials, had their lives enriched by his talent and intelligence; but such is the way of the world, his contribution was never generally recognised or rewarded – it’s the actors who get the trophies - except by those of us who are geeky enough to read the end credits of programmes, who know how much great work he left behind; and who know that we’ll wish his memory well whenever we watch one of those shows again.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Mamma Mia


Watched Mamma Mia! the movie last night. Thoughts.

It’s sort of half-brilliant and half-awful. The brilliant bits are from the stage show; the ingenious way the plot has been constructed so that the songs actually push the story forward and deliver big emotional moments – which is what ABBA did best, writing songs about heartbreak that made you want to sing along.

The awful half is everything else. Okay, so splitting scenes over various locations means the film looks scenic, but chopping out songs* – and chopping down songs to two verses and two choruses – seems to be missing a trick; on DVD at least, this film could easily have sustained a Rodgers And Hammerstein running time. Instead, for a musical, it’s incongruously brief.

The casting also seems to have been done by somebody on mad pills. Meryl Streep does an impression of Jennifer Saunders’ Meryl Streep impression. The girl’s okay, the boy’s played by Dominic Cockney, who has already made a name for himself as one of the most irritating young actors of his generation. Meryl’s friends are Leonard’s mum and Mrs Overall, ever-ready with her two soups.

But where it really goes to pot is with the men. I mean, good on Colin Darcy and Pierce Bond for attempting to sing, but their voices are about as good as... well, mine. No-one in the cast is a strong singer, and that’s the problem; soundtrack-wise, it’s bad karaoke. I mean, it doesn’t matter as no-one is listening, everyone is singing along, but I can’t help feeling these songs deserve to be sung by people who can actually hit notes.

* Whilst adding When All Is Said And Done to the end; not a bad song, but an odd choice for a wedding as the lyrics are all about splitting up.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Hands


Yesterday went down to Tunbridge Wells, to meet the DWM boys. I do a bit of work for them occasionally and was there to discuss Future Developments Which May Or May Not Prove Exciting. The office was as cluttered as I’d imagined; I saw the shrine where they keep every photo from every Doctor Who story ever (more of a filing cabinet than a shrine) and the photograph of Jeremy Bentham on the wall smiling down beneficently upon the geeky proceedings.

On the way back, listened to the Little Boots album, Hands, on my mp3. It’s okay. It starts out very strongly, with three singles – the Human League-esque New In Town, the Moroder-esque Stuck On Repeat and I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-a-Xenomania-song-for-Girls-Aloud Remedy. After that it rather fizzles out a bit until Phil Oakey turns up to lend his asymmetrical hair-stylings to Symmetry. Actually, fizzles out is probably a little unfair; it just doesn’t have the same energy and there are several songs that probably Reward Repeated Listens, because to begin with they sound Disconcertingly Interchangeable.

Can’t help comparing it to the La Roux album; Little Boots vocals are stronger, and there isn’t much between the arrangements, but La Roux sound, to me, much spikier, eclectic and weirder whereas Little Boots sounds occasionally like glam-era Goldfrapp or, and this might just be me, Erasure’s last album, Light At The End Of The World. Which is kind of damning with high praise; I have no objection to owning a CD that sounds a bit like stuff I already own, that’s how my music collection works. Certainly Mathematics sounds more like La Roux than Little Boots.

Of course, the real test is whether it’s good jogging music. I shall have to save Meddle for that particularly steep bit on the left-hand side of Greenwich Park.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Stripped


Time for another Doctor Who merchandise plug. What, did you think a month would pass without there being a plug for some Jonny Morris-authored peice of Doctor Who merchandise? Well, if you did you thought wrong.

This time it’s the all-new Doctor Who Magazine graphic novel, in which four – yes, four – of my comic strips are reprinted. I realise that technically that my previous sentence didn’t contain the correct usage of the term ‘all-new’ but let’s not get bogged down in factual accuracy. What’s important is that the graphic novel is glorious and a bargain at whatever discounted price amazon are selling it for. You also, as a bonus to my stories – Sun Screen, Death To The Doctor!, The Immortal Emperor and The Time Of My Life, get five other stories – The Woman Who Sold The World, Bus Stop!, The First, Universal Monsters, and The Widow’s Curse (which is excellent).

The main reason why I haven’t blogged behind-the-scenes for those stories is because this graphic novel also includes a bumper commentary section, in which, and I copy and paste, ‘the writers, artists and editors reveal the stories behind the strips, featuring never-before-published sketches, unused and deleted scenes, original story outlines and more!’.

How can you survive without it? How have any of us managed to live up until now without it? All those questions and more will be used in a desperate rhetorical attempt to get you to go out and buy the thing. I don’t get royalties, it’s just that I’m incredibly proud of these stories and would love for even more people to enjoy them, in the form of a large paperback with top-quality glossy paper.

You see that empty space on your shelf, over there, just above the pot plant? That’s where this book should go.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

The Boy Who Knew Too Much


Someone one told me I have gay pop music taste. I don’t think that’s true. I think I have taste, and all interesting pop music is a little bit gay. Going back to Little Richard, pop music is about being unorthodox, androgynous, singing in falsetto, having long hair, wearing make-up, maybe a type of seedy, faded glamour, but mainly it’s just about having the balls to say ‘this is worthwhile, I like it and I don’t care what other people think’. And that’s what all great pop music is; from The Beatles to David Bowie, from Queen to Erasure, from Suede to Goldfrapp.

Heterosexual music just makes me think of the middle-aged stodge of Dire Straits and U2. Anything enjoyed by the sort of men who wear driving gloves.

This is all precursing my review of Mika’s new album. Apparently it’s showing a new darker side of Mika. Well, yes it is, in the same way that a clear blue sky with one small cloud in the distance is slightly darker than a clear blue sky. Because basically it’s back into the romper-suit, back into the playpen, with bouncy nursery-rhyme tunes and lyrics written in multicoloured felt-tip.

It is, as you might expect, brilliant. The first three tracks could be singles and almost certainly will be. Dr John is a close relative of Billy Brown. I See You will have the stage show lighting guy hitting all the lights marked ‘blue’. Blue Eyes makes little immediate impression so will be a grower. Good Gone Girl is my favourite, a track a little too odd to be a single. Touches You is the sort of thing Prince did when he still had it. By The Time will have the stage show guy hitting all the lights marked ‘purple’. One Foot Boy is about as bad as it gets. The cod-Doll On A Music Box-show tune Toy Boy reminds me of Sparks’ Indiscreet. Pick Up Off The Floor is smoky fifties blues. And the final track – which iTunes tells me is We Are Golden (Acoustic Version) but which clearly isn’t – is an I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-Queen track for those of us who think that Killer Queen and Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy were the best things that band ever did.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Smile Away


Who watches the Watchmen? Well, last week that was me. Four quid, Virgin movies on demand. I like the word ‘demand’. Makes me think I’m banging a fist on a desk saying ‘Give me my movies, damnit!’.

It was okay. I suppose the main criticism anyone could have of it is that it’s an adaptation which is too faithful to the source material. Where the source material is very long, very talky, low on action, and ends anticlimactically with a daft villain plan to bring about world peace by destroying New York. Instead it’s all about exploring a fictional world where superheroes once existed and were outlawed, and about exploring the back-stories of those superheroes as they look back to more innocent times. The murder mystery, even the gang-getting-back-together, are almost incidental.

And to be fair, they did get rid of all the tedious cutaways to pirates in the original book, though I did miss the giant space octopus turning up at the end.

It could have done with some cutting down, focussing, because where the comic strip takes its time, in a movie you get the point very quickly and don’t need reminding twice; and it’s preferable to find out about characters by what they say and do, rather than what they recollect in flashback whilst gazing out of a rain-spattered window.

Three major flaws though. The wigs were terrible. Utterly unbelievable. Even worse, though, was the prosthetic make-up. Nixon has never looked less like Nixon. It did that annoying thing that Stardust did, of casting young actors to play elderly characters, when it would be much simpler, cheaper and more convincing to cast old actors.

And thirdly, the choice of songs on the soundtrack. Dylan. Hendrix. Basically anything you might expect to find on Jeremy Clarkson’s iPod.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Warriors Of The Wasteland


Yesterday was my stag day. I’m getting married in a couple of weeks. It’s a tradition.

Friend’s stag dos have varied from a quiet Guinness with the groom’s father and uncle to a week-long orgy of debauchery in a major East European capital city. Different strokes.

I’m not going to go into much detail about what I did, to protect my own privacy and that of my friends, and because if you don’t know me and you’re reading this then it’s none of your business. Suffice it to say my friends are magnificent and I had a wonderful time.

That said, writing this is the nearest I’ll get to a diary, so I might as well put down some notes to jog future memories. Mainly, the beginning of the day, which began with laser tag at the London Paintball Centre. We had to dress up like Kwik-Fit-Fitters in burqas – or like Balazar in The Mysterious Planet, should your terms of reference extend to Colin Baker Doctor Who stories. We were rather nervous that we’d accidentally signed on for paintball, having expected to shoot out in lots of dark corridors filled with dry-ice, in the manner of the SAS storming a provincial night club. Instead there was mud, wooden houses, a tank, and lots of chippings. It looked distinctly paintballistic. I was pre-emptively nursing where my bruises would be.

But fortunately it was laser tag, and it turned out to be much more fun than I’d imagined, and within minutes we had all transformed from mild-mannered writers and magazine editors into homicidal Vietnam vets whose battle strategies included ‘Try not to be killed straight away this time’ and ‘Everyone get the speccy one, he’s a bit scary.’ And, although we were outnumbered and lost, we had the moral victory.

Except at half-time, where we stopped for a cup of tea.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Lend Me Your Comb


Walking down the street the other day, I passed a man with a ginger wig.

It was obviously a wig. Men who are clearly in their seventies, at their least, do not sport thick, Joe-Brown-style ginger manes of hair without getting the occasional grey hair, receding hairline or bald patch. They certainly don’t manage to do so whilst still having dark brown sideburns, as this man did.

I considered his choice to be a Wigster. In this day and age, there’s no shame any more in being bald. It’s a sign of virility, or homosexuality, or that you are one of the Mitchell brothers from EastEnders. Or Moby. Or Duncan Goodhew. Or Cyril Shaps. Should I ever start to go bald – something which fortunately hasn’t happened yet no matter what other people might say – I wouldn’t be worried at the thought of being bald. Many of my best friends are follically-challenged. I’d rather look like a Snooker ball than suffer the ignomnity of being a Wiggy.

Because wigs are all about vanity, aren’t they? That’s why TV presenters wear them. The thought that given the options of looking old and bald and looking stupid and hirsute, the second option is the better (because they think it makes them look younger. It doesn’t. But presumably they think it does.)

But to choose a deliberately ill-suited wig – and a ginger one at that – struck me as a different story entirely. A man down on his luck, without the love of a good woman to set him right. Maybe he’s concealing an unsightly scar. Who couldn’t afford a proper wig, and instead had to get a wig on the NHS, or from the charity wig basket, and the only one they had left was a Tina Turner Comedy Shock Wig from 1979.

Friday, 2 October 2009

BC


Watched 10,000 BC the other night. It’s set exactly 90,000 years after 100,000 BC, the movie with Raquel Welch in a fur bikini fighting a giant gecko.

Never mind the historical innacuracies. It’s not meant to be a documentary. If it’s a choice between having our heroes attacked by terror birds or not, then I say go for the terror birds. Mammoths building pyramids – yeah, why not. It’s not supposed to be Egypt. I think it’s supposed to be Eridu or somewhere like that, but earlier. Or something to do with Atlantis.

No, I thought it was a lot of fun. Formulaic but with a messy plot – every ten minutes we’d cut back to Blossom Jackson from EastEnders covered in snow and staring into the distance – and for some reason the sound quality on the DVD was so poor we ended up selecting subtitles.

My main quibble – and this is a more general point – is that it was a film that had clearly been ‘dumbed down’ after having had some negative feedback at preview screenings. This was obvious in two ways; whenever the plot moved foward, there would be narration telling us what has just happened in case we didn’t understand it and secondly, about ten minutes of explanation of what-you-are-about-to-see has been stuck to the beginning of the film. Complete with dodgy, last-minute-rush green screen composites.

It’s not as bad for that as The Golden Compass, in which the desire to make that film idiot-proof meant that all the explanations came in the first five minutes which meant it ended up being even more confusing than it would’ve been otherwise.

Viewers should have the option, like with age ratings. Do you want to see the version of this film made for intelligent people, or re-edited for redneck morons?

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Passionate Reply


Amusing thing over on the Irish Times website, where they’re reprinted in full a letter from Chris De Burgh complaining about a bad review.

And, much as I dislike everything Chris De Burgh has ever released, except possibly his Christmas song about the alien astronaut, he does have a point.

It’s really easy to write a negative review. It’s not the lowest form of wit but does give a writer loads of opportunities to be amusing, by exaggerating for comic effect, tossing in a few sarcastic barbs, by using a few well-crafted similes of excruciating grossness. Charlie Brooker has made a career out of it.

On the other hand, it’s incredibly difficult to be positive. No-one likes to put their head on the block and say ‘I really like this, even if people laugh at me’. Most people feel too self-conscious to gush in public.

And the reviewer of Chris De Burgh’s show clearly only went to the show so that he could give it a hatchet-job write-up, and use whatever happened on stage as a source of comedy material. To spend the whole show, arms folded at the back, sneering with derision at all the people who had paid their money for tickets and were having a really good time.

That’s what’s so awful about this review. I don’t know what criteria the critic was using, but with a concert, if the audience is having a good time, then the guy on stage is doing something right; succeeding at what they set out to do.

But then the journalist does the cheapest of cheap-shots, and takes the piss out of the audience for not being cool. For being sad and lacking taste. That’s just so contemptuous, so glib, I can see why Chris De Burgh got typing fever.