A rather scruffy cuddly dog, wearing a striped scarf with a bobble. Dropped by a passing child, unwanted by a nearby householder or just out for a walk and it stopped to cock its leg?
Alas, it was not to be another five week epic. Let's hope that the child found him before the street sweeper.
That's it for the year from me. Season's Greetings to you all. Sorry that the posting got a bit sporadic after MY LOVELY BABY was born, but then so did the sleep. Thank you as ever for all your comments. It really makes a difference knowing that people enjoy the silly stuff that I come up with. From considering going back to C++ last January, I think I've got seven writing jobs on the go next month, one of which came in a totally unexpected way from the space I have to try ideas out here, so I have much to be grateful for. But mainly MY LOVELY BABY!!!11!!!!1!!
Thursday, December 20, 2007
A rather scruffy cuddly dog, wearing a striped scarf with a bobble. Dropped by a passing child, unwanted by a nearby householder or just out for a walk and it stopped to cock its leg?
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Our boiler is covered under a maintenance plan with British Gas. We have never needed to call them out, so I was a bit miffed when they jacked up their price by 39%. I had a look around and found that I could save us £30 a year by switching to Coverheat. (Don't worry that I have sold out and am now plugging companies on my blog. Rest assured that no one comes out of this well, including myself.)
The Coverheat man came out on Friday and serviced our boiler, which was working perfectly well (heating the flat, giving us hot water - the only two things that I really ask of it), then told us that the spark electrode was cracked and wouldn't go back properly. This meant that the boiler was now no longer working as he couldn't even try to refit it (Corgi regulations, possibility of dying etc). I was somewhat bemused that a boiler repairman had taken a working boiler and turned it into a non-working boiler. The only explanation that I could find was that the space-time continuum had been reversed and that we can soon expect the re-election of Tony Blair, withdrawal from Iraq and global cooling (so it might be quite nice to have a boiler that worked).
He could fix it though. Yes, he could fix it. But because we were not yet covered under Coverheat as the boiler had not passed its initial inspection, it would cost us about a billion pounds. Aha, but I had been SO CLEVER as I had not cancelled the British Gas contract yet. The only problem was that when you are covered under one of these contracts, you are NOT SUPPOSED TO LET ANYONE ELSE TOUCH THE BOILER, particularly someone from another company who might break it. So, I made him put it back together in such a way that although it wouldn't work any more it wouldn't be obvious that someone else had just serviced it. British Gas would come on Monday, and we were going away for the weekend, so we wouldn't be cold for too long.
On Monday, the British Gas man came and removed the boiler cover. "Has it been serviced recently?" he asked.
"Um, fairly recently", I didn't quite lie.
He poked around for a bit, then said, "Yep, it's the gas valve. I can't do it now, but I can come back and fit it tomorrow."
But it wasn't the gas valve, was it? It was the spark electrode. I knew that, the Coverheat man knew that, if only the British Gas man knew that. What would probably now happen was he'd come back on Tuesday, fit a new gas valve, then realise it was the spark electrode after all and we'd have to wait yet another day in the cold. But how could I tell him that it was the spark electrode without letting on that someone else had serviced the boiler?
"Um, are you sure?"
"Yeah - those symptoms, it's always the gas valve."
"Really? It couldn't be anything else?"
"Nah. I do one of these a week."
"It kind of sounds to me like, I dunno, something isn't sparking? You know? Not that I know anything about boilers, or anyone who does, but from the noises it makes it sort of sounds like the gas is coming in, and then something should spark to light it, some kind of, I dunno, electrode? And that isn't happening."
"I'll see you tomorrow when I come back with the gas valve."
Today he came back and fitted the new gas valve. Obviously, the boiler then still didn't work. He was very apologetic. He should have checked the spark electrode as well, but in seven years he'd only seen one faulty one. He's coming back tomorrow with a new one.
We are currently warming ourselves on the heated towel rail. Maybe I could spend that £30 on an extra jumper.
Thursday, December 06, 2007
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
After the revelation of how much childcare costs (think of a number, double it, add a zero - that's what you can pay just to be on a waiting list), I have taken on a foolish amount of work. As a result I have been learning to work with distractions such as a crying baby, so a slight buzzing somewhere in the room is nothing to me now.
Whatever has been buzzing has been doing it for half an hour or so now without bothering me. It's late afternoon, my girlfriend and baby are out, and I have a deadline. But, pleased with working an Apocalypse Now reference into the script that will go over the heads of only 99.999% of the audience, I sit back and notice a wasp buzzing around my head!!! In December!!! I hate wasps!!! If this is what is happening due to global warming I might even turn my patio heaters down when I'm not using them.
I yelp and jump around a bit like an 8-year-old girl, flap my hands, then do a funny run with my arms down by my sides. I shut it into the study and look for a bit of newspaper to hit it with. What with all the working and looking after the baby I've hardly read any of the weekend's papers, and I don't want to get squashed wasp on the international news section, Guardian editorial or business and finance (OK, the Sudoku, TV guide, and the dot-to-dot in the family bit). Eventually I settle on the Observer travel pages - there is no way we are travelling anywhere in the foreseeable future.
I peer around the door. The wasp is buzzing around the halogen spotlights. I raise my arm to hit it. It flies off.
Now it is on my whiteboard. I raise my arm to hit it. It flies off.
Now it is back on the lights. I raise my arm and give it one hard whack. I hit the light. The bulb blows. This blows the main fuse, plunging the entire flat into pitch darkness.
(What followed was like The Blair Witch Project, only instead of three students in the woods there was an idiot middle-aged man with a dodgy torch trying to find a five-amp fuse, and instead of a ghost there was a wasp.)
Friday, November 30, 2007
Friday, November 23, 2007
If you're attending a writers' meeting to come up with new ideas, don't show everyone this video
at lunchtime and expect anything constructive to happen in the afternoon. Next time, wait until the end of the day. Well, not that, obviously, but something like that. Or not.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
9:58am The day starts badly. I’ve had a flu-y stomach bug for a few days, been knackered after a run of baby-induced sleep-interrupted nights and I have to pitch three ideas at a meeting tomorrow. So far I have written none. But my girlfriend said that she would take our baby into the living room for a night so that I could get a good night’s sleep and awake refreshed and raring to go. I awake, refreshed and raring to go, but two hours behind schedule as I have managed to sleep through my alarm clock.
10:30am I start work. My girlfriend and baby are at a post-natal group, so the flat is quiet. Having found out the cost of nursery fees I have been taking on any work that I can, but three ideas in a day is a tall order. Particularly as I have to cook the dinner and want to watch the football at 8pm.
10:45am I have an idea!
11:15am Idea 1 finished! This is a great start.
12:10pm Another idea! I am on fire.
1:15pm Idea 2 finished! What a day! I break for lunch and an episode of Heroes.
2:00pm Back to work. No ideas forthcoming.
3:00pm Still no third idea.
4:00pm Aagh! Nothing.
4:15pm My girlfriend and baby come home having also been shopping.
5:00pm No idea.
6:00pm I go through every unsold episode idea for every other show I’ve ever worked on in the hope of being able to cobble something together. But nothing is suitable. My girlfriend starts the baby’s evening routine of bath, feed and bed.
6:35pm I have an idea!
7:00pm Idea 3 finished! Baby bathed, fed and asleep. Girlfriend asleep on sofa. I start manically chopping vegetables.
7:30pm Dinner in oven. Girlfriend asleep. Kick-off and dinner both 30 minutes away. All well with the world.
7:31pm Baby crying! As stated before, MY BABY IS LOVELY, but boy is it difficult to get him to go to sleep. The fact that he’s woken between feeds is not a good omen. I go into our bedroom and start off with some shushing.
7:32 Shushing and rocking the Moses basket. The baby is still crying.
7:34 Some light jiggling on my lap. The baby is still crying.
7:37 Walking around holding him. The baby is still crying.
7:42 Lullaby nightlight on. The baby is still crying.
7:45 Lullaby nightlight off. The baby is still crying.
7:49 Shushing and jiggling, trying to mimic the sound and motion of being in the car. The baby is still crying.
7:56 Shushing, jiggling, rocking, walking around and lullaby nightlight on. The baby is still crying, probably due to overstimulation.
7:59pm The baby is asleep! Gently, gently I lower him into his Moses basket and turn to tiptoe out of the room.
8:00pm My alarm clock goes off, waking the baby. I hadn't slept through it this morning, I'd just mixed up am and pm. The dinner burns. England lose.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Just around the corner from our flat is a beauty clinic. For years I have walked past it, and each time I have quickened my step slightly, because the sign outside read "Unwanted Hair Removal". I always envisaged burly men accosting me, dragging me inside and shaving, plucking and waxing me against my will.
Also, each time I have passed I have thought, "I must take a photo of that sign - it's very funny and would make a good blog entry, particularly now I have nothing to write about apart from HOW LOVELY MY BABY IS!!!"
So I went out today with my camera, only to find that they are under new management and the sign has gone. Which I guess is unwanted "Unwanted Hair Removal" removal.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
The votes are in and counted in the great Should Toilet Paper Hang Against the Wall Or Away from It? debate. 141 of you voted, and I love the fact that there was not one single person who voted "Don't know". On other, less weighty issues of the day, such as who should be Prime Minister, whether we should pull out of Iraq, or if nuclear power could combat global warming, there is always a sizeable minority who have no opinion. Not about this though, and I am glad that I am asking the kind of big questions that people really want answered.
Unfortunately, your answers were mainly incorrect. 28 of you (20%) gave the right answer, but a whopping 113 of you (80%) didn't and thought that the toilet paper should hang away from the wall. James Surowiecki was wrong; there is no wisdom in crowds: 80% of you are idiots.
Come the revolution you will be first against the wall.
Monday, October 22, 2007
My girlfriend looks at me grimly. "We're never going to agree about this, are we?" she says. I fear that she is right. Every time I change the toilet roll, I orientate it so that the paper hangs against the wall. Every time she changes the toilet roll, she orientates it so that the paper hangs away from the wall. Which is annoying as I then have to change it. This has been going on ever since she moved in three years ago. Instead of saying something straight away during her induction period (like with the tea towels), I have just let it slide, resorting to the passive-aggressive method of quietly correcting it every time and hoping that she gets the message. And they say that men aren't good at communicating.
I explain that my method is neater, more aesthetically pleasing and just plain right. She disagrees. I quote from the episode of The Simpsons when Homer and Marge leave the kids in Abe's care. Child protection agents scrutinise the ensuing chaos and amongst their damning indictments is "Toilet paper hung in improper overhand fashion". My girlfriend still disagrees.
I go on and on and on about it, and finally she concedes that it might be OK to do it my way. I am shocked with her for changing her view. Say what you like about the Nazis, but at least they stuck to what they believed in. At no point did Magda Goebbels ever say "Maybe the Allies have a point". No, she killed her six children then committed suicide rather than live in a world without concentration camps.
But in the interests of domestic harmony I am going to listen to the wisdom of crowds and ask you to complete this survey. Then we will know who is right and who will have to crack open the cyanide tablets.
Friday, October 05, 2007
I have had loads of great suggestions as to what to call my baby on this blog. Here are just a few highlights:
Matt - This was actually in the final five on our real life shortlist. It wasn't till it kept turning up here (sometimes with one 't' or preceded by Bart) that I realised the subliminal link that there must have been in my head to everyone's favourite bathroom accessory. But I think that it might be disresepectful to the bath mat and also unfair to my son to try to relive those exciting, emotional days through such an obvious substitute, particularly when the grief is still so raw.
Zeus - This was such a great suggestion that I almost put it on to our real life shortlist. It is a brilliant name - the king of the gods, and it begins with 'Z', which is cool. If my name began with 'Z' I bet that my life would have been much more exciting, like Zorro's, and much less inclined towards a career in IT. I blame my parents.
Gene - This led me to think that if I were a geneticist I could call him XY. I used to work in IT, so I thought about v1.0. Then I thought that as I'm now a writer I could call him Working Title. But that might get confusing if I ever have a script in development with the film company of the same name - I might write something here like "Working Title did a poo on my script", and you wouldn't know whether I was referring to an innocent accident by a toddler, or a meeting with Messrs Bevan and Fellner that probably meant that they weren't going to greenlight anything just yet.
I was even offered sponsorship money if I always referred to him here by a certain brand name. My response to this ugly commercialisation? "Double it and I'll put it on the birth certificate as well."
But I think that for now I will just call him my baby.
Monday, October 01, 2007
The parenting thing is going OK so far. The answer to "Either he has wet himself or I have" turned out to be that he had, which means that I am not yet incontinent, and as a bonus our new sofa's covers are, as advertised, removable and washable. As were my trousers.
But our baby does not yet have a name. Both in real life and also, more importantly, for the purposes of this blog. And this is where you come in, dear readers. For I am running a competition where you have the chance to name my baby (for the purposes of this blog, not in real life - I am not a total idiot). Just leave your suggestions in the comments box. And please note that, unlike Blue Peter, I am not bound by any Ofcom guidelines and can choose any name that I want - we won't be immediately having another baby that we then have to call Cookie.
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Monday, September 24, 2007
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
Friday, September 14, 2007
It is still dinner à deux chez Vincent. The baby had better come soon as I am fast running out of ways to describe its non-arrival.
I liked the story of Mackenzie Crook having to have Gareth's hairstyle in all his wedding photos as they were still filming The Office at the time. I went to the barber's this afternoon. Ever the attentive father-to-be I told my girlfriend that I had my mobile with me, and to ring me if anything happened. Though I did then add that I would probably wait until he finished my haircut before running home, as I wouldn't want to be in all the baby's first photos looking like Phil Oakey.
But nothing happened and I am now evenly shorn.
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
If you guessed that we have had a baby, then you still have one more guess. Because we haven't. Not yet.
To be fair, September 11th maybe wouldn't be the nicest birthday to have. All your life people would be referring in hushed tones to "The events of September 11th", and you would be thinking "Maybe they are planning a surprise birthday party for me, and another treat, because they are referring to events in the plural", but it would always end in disappointment. On the upside, it would make it very easy for your poor, tired parents to remember your birthday. Instead of viewing Osama bin Laden's annual late summer video threat with horror or revulsion, they would think "9/11? That reminds us - we must go and buy some Lego". Though there is always the chance that one of them might be an idiot and buy you presents on 9th November instead.
Monday, September 10, 2007
Still no baby.
I am beginning to wonder whether my girlfriend is really pregnant at all, or whether she is faking the symptoms in order to get maternity pay and back rubs.
We went to see Atonement last night, which I thought was very good, despite having already read the book. My two criticisms would be (a) they couldn't spell ukulele in the credits, and (b) it wasn't a ukulele anyway. All the multiple viewpoints, non-linearity and unreliable narrator stuff worked fine.
But neither the film, with its tragic romantic narrative and harrowing scenes of war, nor my expert analysis afterwards, with its focus mainly on spelling mistakes and the works of George Formby, brought on labour.
Thursday, September 06, 2007
It is like the Phoney War (the bit of the second world war between the invasion of Poland and the invasion of the Low Countries and France, for anyone educated after 1986). We know that a dictator is about to march (well, OK, be carried) into our home and change our lives forever (how long can I keep this analogy going?), but at the moment we're just testing our early warning systems (baby monitor), stocking up with basic foodstuffs (Tesco Finest ready meals) and negotiating lend-lease agreements with a major neutral power (borrowing a travel cot from a friend).
Though I'm still waiting for my government-issue gas mask.
Tuesday, September 04, 2007
No baby yet.
I am, however, pleased to have calculated that due to a combination of a surprise win by Aston Villa, the Euro 2008 qualifiers fixtures list, and our local hospital's policy on inducing overdue mothers, our baby will almost certainly be born with Liverpool topping the football tables for the first time in years.
If it is very late and a long labour then I will be looking for a win in the lunchtime game at Portsmouth on the 15th to make sure (should be OK on goal difference). Anything less and I will be telling my girlfriend to push it out before 4:45. I am sure that me switching over from whale music to Sport on 5 will help.
Friday, August 24, 2007
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
A friend of my girlfriend’s from Germany has come to stay. Yesterday we were talking about my work.
“That children’s show you wrote? It is still on in Germany.”
“Oh, that’s great.”
“Ja, it’s very popular. All the kids love it.”
“That’s really nice to hear.”
“Me and my friends watch it as well. It’s very funny.”
“That’s great. I love putting little jokes in that grown-ups will appreciate as well.”
“It’s – how you say? A cult?”
“A cult? Really? Wow.”
“And all the toy shops are full of the toys.”
“That’s fantastic – maybe they’ll even make some more episodes.”
“Ja. I hope so. You could say that Germany loves Spongebob.”
Which would have been the most amazing thing to hear... if I had written Spongebob Squarepants instead of a completely different show, one of whose characters bore a slight, superficial resemblance to one of Spongebob’s friends.
Perhaps I could show her my Fawlty Towers videos and tell her which ones of those I wrote.
Sunday, August 12, 2007
For the past eight months I have been wondering what sort of a father I will be. I was still wondering at our first ante-natal class yesterday. The only other father there was Keen Dad, who was asking more questions than all the mothers put together. I like to think of myself as a New Man - I've certainly flicked through a couple of my girlfriend's magazines about babies and stuff, but this guy sounds like he's been conducting his own medical trials on the long-term effects of different feeding methodologies.
I try to think of a question to ask that will make it clear to everyone present that I too am going to be a great father. I think so hard that I knock a glass of iced water all over the doll that the midwife has been using to demonstrate feeding techniques.
I try to make a joke: "Oops! I think your baby's wet itself."
"I can see we're going to have to tell Social Services about you", jokes the midwife. At least I think she is joking.
Perhaps being a father is like being an actor - bad dress rehearsal, good performance?
Sunday, August 05, 2007
Once more, the bath mat sends a message from the afterlife. I initially thought that it was a trick of the bright evening sun - a glint of blue that made my heart skip, even though I knew that it could not be my old friend. Like when my beloved cat died, and every time I saw a certain cushion on the sofa out of the corner of my eye I thought it might be him. But the spirit of the bath mat has actually managed to turn a small rectangle of the pavement just to the left of where it spent some of its last days on earth blue. Blue - the very colour that the bath mat used to be, in its physical form. It is a sign.
There can be no explanation other than that this is proof of the afterlife. I should have put a bet on with William Hill and won £1m like this bloke. But when you have contact with the afterlife you are beyond earthly concerns such as money - what price the joy of knowing that the bath mat lives on and we will one day be reunited in a heaven with no street sweepers? The fact that Thames Water have gone around the surrounding streets spraying all stop cock covers blue so that their employees can identify them and work on them is just a coincidence. Remember that I know all about coincidences.
This is a message from beyond the grave, and we should all heed it.
Thursday, August 02, 2007
Wednesday, August 01, 2007
I am achier than Billy Ray Cyrus's breaky heart. My back hurts like that of my village's coalman in the 1970s and my knees are sorer than Monica Lewinsky’s (note to self – try to think of some more up-to-date references), but I have laid the kitchen floor.
All the kitchen furniture, including the fridge, is in the living room. There is still tacky glue everywhere so we have to wear plastic bags on our feet when we cook, and I’m fairly sure that the cooker is stuck fast to the floor, which will at least be a good excuse for never cleaning behind it again.
The biggest difficulty was that once I'd opened the adhesive and started spreading I had to finish the whole job there and then, so it wasn’t until 1:30am that I laid the last strip. Aching, I removed my sticky clothes and washed my hands, peeling huge wodges of tacky glue from my fingers and was just about to go to bed when I found a sticky problem. My DIY jeans had their knees ripped years ago, which meant that my bare knees were now completely covered with dried glue.
I’m quite a hairy man, and despite stoically not complaining about the back pain at anything less than three minute intervals all day it just hurt too much to pull the glue off. (Ladies - please don't bother trying to trump me with any “You don't know what pain is till you've had a bikini wax” stories. It is a well known medical fact that men's knees contain more nerve endings than women's loolahs.) I tried opening the freezer door and freezing it solid like chewing gum so I could chip it off, but other body parts were in danger of becoming brittle as well. There was only one more thing I could try...
And that, darling, is why you found me in the shower at 2am this morning shaving my legs.
Tuesday, July 31, 2007
Please enjoy this page from Ceefax for a while. I am back from my holiday, but am about to tackle the kitchen floor, so I am sure that I will be back with a tale of disaster soon (unless I glue myself down, in which case I shall have to survive on whatever is in the nearest cupboard. *Makes mental note not to start in "cleaning products" territory*).
Thursday, July 19, 2007
I have an annoying habit. It is that I can’t help pointing out to people that what they think of as amazing coincidences are usually statistically fairly probable. I am often to be heard using the phrase “What would be really amazing is if there were no coincidences”. By the time I have mentioned self-selecting samples or false causality it is usually agreed that I have won the point, or that it is time to be going home.
As an example, my Dad, who was a primary school teacher, was amazed by the fact that he never once taught a pupil who had the same birthday as him. But I used some simple maths to show that 25 new children each year for 40 years is only 1000 kids – it would be more amazing if all those birthdays were evenly spread throughout the year. It was actually quite likely that there would be some days with no birthdays, and it was only because one of those days was his birthday that he found it significant. This speech perhaps wasn’t the high point of his retirement party.
Anyway, so a stranger from off of the internet wanted to ask me some questions about writing and I agreed to meet him for a drink after work so that I could impart all of my wisdom and experience to him. It turned out that I actually didn’t have all that much wisdom and experience to impart, and there was a good 10 minutes before I needed to leave to meet my girlfriend and some friends of ours for dinner. (NB this is probably the first time in the last decade that I have gone from one social engagement straight to another without an intervening period of two weeks or so watching repeats of Friends.) So, with a bit of time to kill I asked the stranger from off of the internet where he came from originally. Only to find out that we went to the same secondary school!
Isn’t that amazing? Of course, we both thought that the other one was winding us up, or stalking us, or that some kind of ITV Friends Reunited show was underway and that the hidden cameras would come out any moment.
The hidden cameras did not come out. It truly was an amazing coincidence. And luckily I never bullied him and he didn’t have a sister whom I failed to get off with so it wasn’t awkward or anything.
I then went to my dinner engagement. My girlfriend and our friends were already there, so I made a grand entrance and told them all to shut up as I had the greatest story ever told, and I started to relate the events of the evening so far, right up to asking the stranger from off of the internet where he was from. “And guess what?” I said, triumphantly.
“He went to the same school as you?” my girlfriend asked. I made a note not to invite her to any more stand-up gigs I might do.
“Yes! Isn’t it amazing?”
There were some polite nods.
“Was he in your year?”
“Was he from your village?”
“Did you know him at all?”
“Er, no. He’s five years younger, and because of the schools in that town reorganising we were never actually at the same school at the same time. But we remembered a couple of the same teachers.”
The conversation stopped. I felt a bit like the scientist who announced about 20 years ago that he had perfected cold fusion to give us all limitless free energy. When he had actually just perfected heating up some water in a test tube. Imagine if he had also said that in an amazing coincidence his new lab assistant had turned out to be his cousin’s friend’s neighbour’s ex-husband’s brother-in-law.
“So it’s like when I met your friend Denise you did your MA with, and it turned out I went to the same school as her”, said my girlfriend. “But again we weren’t in the same year and didn’t actually know each other.”
“Not really”, I said. “You both come from London, and you met her in London. That’s not an amazing coincidence. This is – we went to school miles from London. This must be a one in a million chance.”
There was then some discussion about this implying a significant overspend in the government’s education budget, with a secondary school for every 60 people, regardless of whether they were aged 11-16 or not. I shortened the odds somewhat, but still insisted it was amazing.
Then one of our friends asked about all the hundreds of people whom I’ve met in the past couple of decades who didn’t go to my school, and whether I found that remarkable in any way.
I had taught them too well; my own weapons had been turned upon me. I muttered something about wanting to choose a starter, and the conversation moved on. But after that amazing coincidence I'm doing the lottery this weekend. Somebody's got to win it.
Monday, July 16, 2007
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
Show, don’t tell. Those three words have probably been scrawled in the margin of every script ever written at some point. It’s a simple rule, but surprisingly easy to forget. The gist of it is that instead of telling the audience something (eg that a particular character is not very nice), you should actually show this character doing something not very nice. It is agreed by everybody that this is better.
I was reminded of this yesterday, when a production company said that they wanted to “show me how much I was valued”, then proceeded to talk about how great my scripts had been on this series and how much they wanted me to work on the next series, but said that they couldn’t do anything about the contractual dispute that we were having. ie merely tell me how much I was valued.
Which is funny, because I don’t remember Cuba Gooding Jr saying “Tell me the money”.
Friday, July 06, 2007
They say that being good at pool is a sign of a misspent youth. I have just found out that I can still do three-quarters of a Rubik's Cube.
Wednesday, July 04, 2007
It was quite a good party anyway. Then the birthday girl brought a gentleman over to me and said, "This is my friend Ray. He wrote Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em."
Monday, July 02, 2007
Friday, June 29, 2007
What is it about this particular road? It must be the Spaghetti Junction of ley-lines, as just a few paces from where the bath mat spent its final weeks on earth, then was reincarnated as a snowman, this blue door has appeared. If this isn’t a portal into another dimension then I don’t know what is.
Has it fallen off a passing Tardis?
Is it an elaborate set-up for a “knock knock” joke?
Is it a trap door into a cave?
What is the meaning of the six, not-quite-evenly-spaced holes?
Dare I open The Door That Could Lead to Adventure?
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
This is probably the best headline in the world ever. I have no idea whether the clowns were doing the attacking or were the victims. I didn't want to look at the newspaper because whatever had actually happened wouldn't be half as funny as the image in my head.
Though I suppose things might have got nasty if someone went for the juggler.
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
Today is my birthday, the day that I stretch the definition of "mid-30s" ever closer to breaking point. I have been wished a happy birthday by my girlfriend and received cards and presents from her, from family and friends. My parents and niece rang me this morning to wish me a happy birthday. People I have never even met in real life have given me virtual presents on Facebook.
So why is it that when I needed to write the date on something I paused, thought about it, then looked at my watch to see what day it was? Whatever this is a sign of, it cannot be good.
(At least my watch is one of those that does actually tell me the date - it is not as though someone asked me the way to the station and I looked at my watch. I will save that particular insanity for my "late-mid-30s".)
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
On Sunday I went to the park with my girlfriend and her parents and we played with a Frisbee. I thought it might have been a bit boring, or even embarrassing, but this was actually the most fun I have ever had with my clothes on (that involved my girlfriend's parents). Not that I have ever attempted to have any fun with my clothes off that involved my girlfriend's parents. Though her Mum has shown interest.
I am pleased to report that Frisbee technology has improved since I was a kid, and this one had a special rubber edge which meant that it didn't hurt your hand when you tried to catch it. I never liked that and generally went indoors and played with my ZX Spectrum at that point, pretending not to be crying.
But not only did I not want to go indoors this time, I was easily the best at it, which has never happened before in any group of people with whom I have been doing any kind of sporting activity. The fact that I was playing against two pensioners (one of whom is recovering from an operation) and a pregnant woman had no bearing on my victory and will be expunged from the record books.
Monday, June 18, 2007
I needed a ladder to fix a burglar alarm to the outside of the flat. But I do not own a ladder, so the burglar alarm just sat uninstalled on the table for several weeks. I was worried about this. Someone could break in and steal all our expensive electronic items – like the new burglar alarm for a start. But it would be a waste to buy a ladder to just use once, particularly as I have nowhere to store it.
I decided that I would ask to borrow my Dad’s ladder next time I go to see him, then try to find somewhere to keep it in the flat until I could take it back. Hardly ideal, but I emailed him to ask.
I then went to take the rubbish out and what did I find next to the bins but an old, paint-covered ladder. What are the chances? Imagine if I had asked to borrow a million pounds from my Dad. Or a naked Jenna Fischer. What would I have found by the bins then? Perhaps this could be the plot to a magical realism film like Being John Malkovich. A moderately successful children’s TV writer finds that when he emails his Dad asking to borrow something, the very thing that he asked to borrow appears next to his flat’s rubbish bins (albeit a bit covered in paint).
Even more serendipitous, the ladder was exactly tall enough for me to stand on the top step and reach up and drill the holes. And even more serendipitous still I didn't fall off the ladder and drill a hole through my skull as I hit the ground as I feared that I might.
I put the magic ladder back by the bins, ready for another adventure. (I know that leaving ladders out is a silly idea as they can be used by burglars, but obviously I have that covered now.)
I emailed my Dad again and said it’s OK – I’ve found a ladder. But if he’s finished with Ms Fischer...
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
Here in London we are constantly being told to be alert. Apparently our country has a shortage of lerts. Haha. No, obviously it is the threat of bad people and their nasty bombs.
So when I spotted an abandoned rucksack on a bench at my local tube station I knew that despite once again being in a dilemma of not wanting to die horribly, but also not really wanting to make a fuss, I should really tell somebody about it.
I suppose that I was expecting armed police, bomb disposal experts, a sniffer dog at the very least. What actually happened was that a female member of London Underground staff prodded the bag a bit, opened it, and said, “Yeah, it’s just got some clothes in it”.
I suppose that this must be a common occurrence for them, and that they have to judge each case on its merits before calling out the emergency services. I can see that 99 times out of 100 simply prodding and opening the bag would produce a quick, simple answer to the question of what was in the bag, but I couldn’t help thinking that on that hundredth occasion... No, actually it would always produce a quick, simple answer as to what was in the bag.
Monday, June 11, 2007
It has been a long search for the perfect car. I have been reading surveys, browsing magazines and scouring price guides. I have registered with websites, and automated emails have filled my inbox with likely candidates. I have spent days going to look at these, only to find each one fall at hurdles such as not having been serviced at the correct intervals, having a rather worrying sticker on the dashboard warning me that the mileage might not be accurate, or having more scratches than a flea-ridden dog.
Finally, we have found The One. It is the right make, model, age, condition and price. It has the correct stamps in the service history, and my detailed multi-part mechanical inspection has confirmed that it does indeed have four wheels.
My girlfriend goes to find a salesman just as I decide to perform one last check.
She returns, the salesman taking one look at me and instantly upgrading his monthly bonus expectation.
“Actually, I’ve changed my mind”, I say, as I sprawl casually against the side of the car.
“What?” asks my girlfriend.
“Yes. There’s a problem with the...” Damn, the car is perfect. “The colour.”
“But you’re the one who wanted silver.”
“It looks different in this light.”
The salesman looks around, confused, as there has not been an unexpected eclipse in the last two minutes. I lean further back, desperately trying to mime something to my girlfriend.
“We’ll keep looking”, I say, sending the salesman back to mentally cancel his foreign holiday.
“What was wrong this time?” my girlfriend asks with a sigh. It is true that I have been dragging her around lots of garages when, to be honest, we could have already been driving around in something perfectly suitable for the past month.
“I wanted to see if it had a lock on the petrol cap, and this came off in my hand”, I say, showing her part of the fuel filler flap that I had only managed to hold in place by nonchalently leaning against it.
I sort of wedge it back on, and we continue the search.
Friday, June 08, 2007
I have spent the last few weeks having great fun working on a children's quiz show. I was just going through some of the footage yesterday when I came across this damning indictment of Labour's record on education:
QUIZMASTER: I'm going to ask you some general knowledge questions...
11-YEAR-OLD BOY: What's general knowledge?
What makes it worse is that he was the eventual winner.
Wednesday, June 06, 2007
Mocking advertisements and pointing out the inane lies behind them is like shooting fish in a barrel. And not lots of little fish that are swimming around quickly, making them a bit difficult to aim at, what with water refracting light and giving a false perception of depth, but one fat fish that is so big it’s pretty much wedged into the barrel. A fish that has also been genetically modified to grow a series of concentric circles on its back like an archery target with a big flashing neon arrow saying “AIM HERE ->”.
It’s unsatisfyingly easy, but I was intrigued by the latest advert from Head and Shoulders that promised to leave me “up to 100% flake-free”. That “up to” is worryingly non-specific, isn’t it? By its very definition, percent goes from 0 “up to” 100, so what they’re really saying is “anything could happen”.
On that basis anyone could claim anything:
“Werthers Originals – make you up to 100% immortal.”
(I don’t have dandruff by the way – just healthy-looking hair.)
Friday, June 01, 2007
The flat is almost back to normal. Worse things happen, I think to myself as I relax on the sofa for the first time in weeks as it is no longer covered in books. And if our upstairs neighbours had never flooded us (twice) then I’d never have met the man who came to clean the carpets, and he’d never have been able to go home and tell his two autistic sons about how he met one of the people who wrote their very favourite CBeebies show. Perhaps someone has been moving in mysterious ways.
I give a contemplative glance heavenwards. Where I am reminded that I still need to get all the bloody ceilings repainted. Truly there is no God, I rage, as I storm off to chase up painters and decorators.
Except... That brown water stain above the bookcase – it looks a bit like... It can’t be. The Virgin Mary? This is fantastic – not only do I not need to paint over it, I can charge admission.
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
“You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone”, sang Joni Mitchell on her 1970 hit Big Yellow Taxi.
To which I would add “Or you’ve moved every single thing you own into the kitchen/bathroom/stacked it on the bed because you’re going to have your carpets cleaned because your upstairs neighbours flooded you (twice). Then dusted underneath it all because you always have to clean before the cleaners come. Then had to move it all again because the carpet cleaning firm double-booked you, and it would be quite nice to be able to, say, open the fridge door, use the toilet as its makers intended rather than performing a stunt defecation whilst precariously balanced on an upside-down swivel chair, or lie directly on the mattress as opposed to on a pile of sharp metal drawers. Even though you will never sleep well again, every night noise waking you in terror in case it sounded like something dripping through the ceiling again. Then moved it all back the next day to actually have the carpets cleaned. Then moved it all back again. You also know what you’ve got then.”
Thursday, May 24, 2007
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
When I am not complaining about the long winter evenings I am complaining that at this time of year the sun wakes me up too early. I am probably only happy for two days out of 365 – around the vernal and autumnal equinoxes. And only then if the weather is good.
So I decided to fit a blackout blind in our bedroom to help me sleep until the Seasonal Affected Disorder kicks in again. Miraculously, the made-to-my-measurements blind fitted, and when I put it up it not only stayed up, it also blocked out about 99.999% of the daylight. Could this plan have worked?
I went to the bathroom in the middle of last night. When I came back it was so dark that I stubbed my toe on the bed. Now I'm really unhappy.
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
It has been a busy few days. On top of the tail end of our building work, I have had to mop up leaks, move half our furniture to pull up carpets, and also deal with insurance companies, neighbours and tradesmen who may or may not have any liability insurance. As well as have discussions with script editors about why it is OK to show a cartoon character's head being blown off on children's television, but another character simply dying is a bit odd. (I agreed with him, but couldn't quite put my finger on why.)
I was absolutely starving last night (my girlfriend is not around to cook for me on Tuesdays and Thursdays), so I just put a frozen ready meal in the oven and set about my last job – writing a letter to Homebase explaining why they are idiots.
It was a long letter (of the five things that I ordered from them, one was missing, one was scratched and two were just completely wrong – to be fair to them the shower screen is great, so well done on the 20% customer satisfaction rating), but just as I was signing off with a flourish of hate-filled invective the oven beeped. Perfect timing – everything in the flat was being sorted out, and now I could cue up a recorded Grand Designs (always nice to see other people having a worse time than me), get out a lap tray and relax.
I prodded the lasagne. Something was not quite right about it. I am not a very good cook, but even I can tell the difference between “piping hot” and “still frozen”. I peered inside the fan oven. As far as I could tell it seemed to be doing only 50% of its job description. I couldn't fault the “fan”-ing side of things, but there was definite room for improvement in the “oven”-ing area. It is a while since I studied thermodynamics, but I'm pretty sure that my meal would be past its use by date long before I managed to cook it by blowing cold air at it.
I put down my knife and fork, switched off the television and looked up the phone numbers of a takeaway and an oven repairers.
Monday, May 14, 2007
“I say, I say, I say. What is the secret of comedy?”
“I don’t know, what is the secret of com...”
Comedy = Tragedy + Time
What the above means is that one day I will be able to laugh about the fact that my upstairs neighbours flooded my flat (twice) the week after I finished decorating the kitchen and having a new bathroom fitted, rather than the week before I started.
I’m pencilling in 2017.
Thursday, May 10, 2007
Yesterday our building work was nearly finished. The bathroom looked lovely, and would look even lovelier when we have painted it. I still need to lay a new kitchen floor and fit a blind (pencil “I have glued myself into a corner!!!” into your blog-reading diaries for about three weeks’ time), and the builders need to come back and fit a waste pipe on the kitchen half-sink, and also replace a bathroom fascia panel that they had cut incorrectly (full marks to Armitage Shanks for simply sending me a new piece for free, when I was preparing myself for being told to buy a whole new unit).
One of the nice new features only just fitted is a soothing nightlight on the bathroom cabinet. Pregnancy has meant that my girlfriend has to get up more in the night now, so it’s good to know that we have made this chore a little bit more pleasant and that she would be able to get back to sleep more quickly.
“Enjoy your visit to the loo”, I said as I kissed her goodnight. (NB I normally say something a bit more romantic, like “Did you remember to turn the hot water off?” or “Can you remind me to tape that programme about steam engines tomorrow?”) The building work has been a bit stressful at times (I often imagine Kevin McCloud saying “Salvadore has bought materials from Homebase and B&Q, he’s using builders one of whom doesn’t speak English, and he’s trying to hold down a full-time job whilst he also occasionally makes them coffee), but it was almost all over. I relaxed and closed my eyes.
It was with some surprise that I was awoken by my girlfriend at 4am to be told that there was water coming through the bathroom ceiling. My sleep-addled brain realised that even Polish plumbers can’t make water defy gravity, so the problem appeared to be coming from upstairs. Which left just one problem: what is the etiquette of waking your neighbours in the middle of the night?
I was in my usual conundrum of having something quite bad be happening to me that is entirely someone else’s fault, but also not really wanting to make too much of a fuss about it all. Perhaps if I took the fuse out of the lighting circuit so we didn’t actually die when we touched things, I could leave it till morning? Or maybe put a note through their door and knock quite softly. Then I could say “I did try to wake you.”
I was once in a fast food outlet in London, at the height of the IRA’s mainland campaign. Bombs had been going off in litter bins – the first sign of which was often smoke coming from the bin. I looked out of the window – smoke was coming from the bin outside. I knew that I had to do something – I couldn’t let innocent people die because of not wanting to make a fuss. So I went up to the counter and queued up to tell somebody. Which is nearly as English as when that person then just said “Oh, is it still doing that?” and threw some water over it. Hah! No wonder they’ve had to end up sharing power with the DUP.
OK, if upstairs’ flat was on fire I would definitely tell them (polite knock, “Sorry to trouble you...”). And if the water’s coming through a concrete floor it must be getting quite bad up there. I’d want to know. They’d surely want to know before their bed floated away.
I was apologetic. He was apologetic. At the end I went even more English and decided to then formally introduce myself to him, which was a bit weird as he was possibly only wearing a T-shirt, pulled down quite low. Having to remove one hand to shake mine didn't help the situation.
After thinking that the building work was nearly all over, we might have to remove loads of tiles and re-lay the sodden floor that was only laid last week. But, whilst we wait for the ceiling electrics to dry out, at least we have a nice soothing nightlight to work by.
Tuesday, May 08, 2007
I am quite indecisive. Or am I? Haha. No, I am. Definitely. I think. My girlfriend shares this quality, which tends to make for a happy relationship. I would imagine that one decisive person and one indecisive person together would be a nightmare for both. Two decisive people together would be OK, so long as they also agreed on their decisions. But two indecisive people together seems to work. Though for all I know, my girlfriend still might not have made up her mind about me, and 5½ years on with a baby on the way she is perhaps totting up columns of pros and cons somewhere (“Pros: am having baby with him. Cons: can be quite indecisive.”)
So, painting the new bathroom has turned into quite a complicated decision-making process. We have already totally blown our budget just on tester pots. It’s not helped by the fact that the colours in the brochures and the colours when they are actually put on the wall bear as little relation to each other as Prince Harry and Prince Charles. We literally have the entire range of Homebase, Crown and Dulux colours in the neutral/brown palette, from Jasmine White through to Choc Chip on the walls. In fact, the 20+ different samples now cover more wall area than the old paint does. It looks like a patchwork quilt, apart from the Choc Chip bit, which has gone on a bit smearily, and looks like some kind of dirty protest.
We are getting nowhere with just picking which is our favourite, so decide to have an elimination process. We pair samples up randomly, then decide which of the two we like better. The loser is voted off, and after qualifying heats, first round, quarter finals, semi-finals and a grand final, we have a winner. Predictably, it is an inoffensive, neutral hue, almost exactly halfway between Jasmine White and Choc Chip.
“So, which one is that?” My girlfriend asks.
“I have absolutely no idea. I should probably have labelled them all somehow.”
I open all the pots up again and start to paint some more patches, trying to find the chosen colour.
Friday, May 04, 2007
There is a part of me that is slightly embarrassed by the fact that I have always made a living by sitting in front of a computer screen. Like most other things that I am slightly embarrassed about it all comes down to the fact that I think this lacks masculinity.
So, when one of the Polish builders (Pole 4, whose English is at least as good as Pole 1’s. Don’t ask me about Pole 3 – I haven’t seen him since their initial visit, though on alternate days there has been a Pole 5 – the Daily Mail is right – we are being swamped!) asks me to go out and buy a couple of things for them my first thought isn’t “Hang on, aren’t I paying you to do stuff like this?” but “Hurrah! I am one of their gang, doing proper man’s work!”
As I have previously mentioned, it is only 522 paces to Homebase, it’s a lovely day and I could do with a break and some fresh air, so it’s no imposition. OK, so they are still doing most of the job – the cutting breeze blocks, sawing wood and touching things that have had poo on them, but as I stroll there past my fellow builders in their white vans, I realise that this is how it must feel to earn an honest living with your hands. This is what it’s like to make something tangible and useful each day and to feel the weary satisfaction of physical labour, instead of messing around on the internet till about half four, having a bath, then cobbling together some gags that you saw on Have I Got News for You the previous week.
If this is the job satisfaction you can get, perhaps I should stop this writing lark and become a builder. Maybe just a junior builder, like when I was helping my Dad with DIY as a kid and he’d ask me to saw a Very Important Piece of Wood. Which, now I come to think of it, probably never made it into the finished item. Hmm. I will inspect my parents’ bookshelves closely next time I visit. There’s no way that this is some joke that builders have with builders’ merchants is there? To see how many idiots they can get to go in and ask for a 38mm reverse retracting grommet wedge?
Still, it will all look lovely when they finish it with the striped paint.
Wednesday, May 02, 2007
I have a high-powered meeting to go to. Usually my meetings are powered more at the level of saying hello to the greengrocer, or stroking a neighbour’s cat, so it always comes as a surprise when, about once a year, I have to shave and practise smiling and shaking hands. The meeting is with a top company about a secret new project and it could mean some work.
I am preparing to set off when I realise that I could do with going to the toilet. I have been learning to synchronise my urination with the Polish builders’ cigarette breaks, mainly because I don’t know the Polish for “I’d like to use the toilet please”, and I don’t fancy translating it into international sign language. At best they might bring me the bill, at worst they might think that I was putting on some kind of a skit.
However, I can feel that this toilet visit has the potential to develop into something a bit more time-consuming. On the one hand I want to be able to concentrate in the high-powered meeting without all sorts of uncomfortable rumbles going on, but on the other hand my bathroom has no window, the extractor fan has been disconnected while the builders tile, and I really really don’t want to create an unpleasant working environment for them. They might take it as grounds for constructive dismissal and decide that things weren’t that bad in Poland after all.
I could go when I get to the high-powered meeting, but I don’t think it would look great if the first thing I say is “Hi, nice to meet you. Can you just give me 10 minutes? And I’ll have the crossword if no one’s done it yet.”
My third option is to go somewhere en route. But going to a pub or cafe might necessitate buying something in order to use the facilities. And whilst I am the kind of idiot who can make a great big fuss about something as simple as going to the toilet, I am also very mean with my money. A ridiculously large amount of my brain is therefore devoted to remembering locations of free toilets in any area of town that I might conceivably visit. I could probably have used this brain power to learn another language. Maybe even Polish.
Aha! I can go at the station on the way. I am going by Underground anyway, so it won't cost me any more. But what if they don’t have any toilet paper there? Sitting in the high-powered meeting would then be as uncomfortable as if I hadn’t been at all. So I take a roll of toilet paper with me in my bag. That way I have planned for every eventuality. A free toilet visit, with my own soft toilet paper, then I am comfortable to proceed to the high-powered meeting...
Where I open my bag to get out a notepad, and show everybody present that I like to carry a roll of Andrex with me.
Monday, April 30, 2007
The three Poles stand in a line in my bathroom. By this I do not mean that I am installing telegraph wires; I mean that there are three men from Poland standing next to each other. I was just making a pun on their nationality. Bob Monkhouse used to claim that he could make a pun on any nationality.
“Japanese?” someone not at all planted in the audience would shout out.
“Give a chap-an-easy one”, Bob would reply.
OK, so the Pole/pole one is not quite up there with Bob’s best, but no Japanese builders contacted us, so I have to work with what I’m given. The EU might like to consider pun-ability when it next votes on accepting new members. I could do something great with Turkey. If I were Hungary I would be Russian to get some. If Hungary were not already members.
The bathroom is tiny, and with me in there as well there is not a lot of room. It would have been better if they were just poles. If poles could tile and drink coffee with four sugars in.
ME: We were thinking of putting a concealed cistern in here.
POLE 1: Kjkćź kw łńkwzwv z ńżćczś.
(Note that this is probably not actual Polish – I am just pointing out the funny way that foreigners all speak.)
POLE 2: Vzwjkćtczćź kw łńkjlw v zńżś.
POLE 1: That is OK.
ME: And, er, perhaps put the shower here?
POLE 1: Wjkćtczć kjwl zńkpżś wćźt.
POLE 2: Złńkwzwv kz ńżćczś zjlk.
POLE 1: That is OK.
ME: Tile along this bit.
POLE 1: Zńkćź kwś łzjkwv z ńżćwcz.
POLE 2: Vkzjk wś łwvćcz zjk żćw.
POLE 1: That is OK.
ME: And perhaps a cupboard here?
POLE 1: Zkżćwv kz ńżćcz wz kwżćc.
POLE 2: Zkżćwv kz ńżćcz wz kwżćc?
POLE 1: Vzź kw łńkjlw wjkćtczć jkćź kw kwzwv złń.
POLE 2: Wjltnzć kjwl zńkpżś jkćtcz?
POLE 1: Wćwv żćkz ńż wz kw kwzw.
POLE 2: Zwjkćtcz jltnzć kjwl ńżśkp jkćtcz zćt kwzw zwjkćtczćź kw łńkjlw v zńżś kwś łzjkwv z ńżćwcz ćczćtcz jkćź kw kwzwv złńćcwjltnzć kwcz kw łńkwzwv z ńżćczś.
POLE 1: That is OK.
What was wrong with my choice of cupboard location? Does Pole 1 actually speak English, or does he just know the phrase “That is OK”? More to the point, where does Pole 3 fit in?
Just to reassure myself that there can be no actual problem with hiring builders on the basis of price alone I watch the episode of Fawlty Towers where O’Reilly’s men block off the wrong door, put a door in in the wrong place, then use a wooden lintel on a supporting wall.
Yes, it will all be fine. At least they were not Israeli. To make a pun about them is-really impossible.
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
Friday, March 23, 2007
I have just spent £8.99 on a notebook. Next to it on the stationer’s shelf was something similar and perfectly adequate for a fraction of the price. But as the point-of-sale information helpfully pointed out, this cheap alternative would not be a Moleskine, the legendary notebook used by Picasso, Hemingway and Van Gogh.
Notebooks are important to writers. Travel author Bruce Chatwin wrote that "To lose a passport was the least of one's worries: to lose a notebook was a catastrophe". Oscar Wilde declared that “One should always have something sensational to read in the train.” When Moleskine production ceased in 1986, Chatwin bought up all that he could find. Now the little notebook with the famous pedigree is back.
Perhaps I had been reading too many Paul Auster novels where notebooks take on mystical powers over their owners. Or perhaps, like would-be creative types before me, I simply read the blurb and thought “Aha! So that was their secret.” That all that was standing between me and artistic greatness was choice of stationery.
It is very nice though – with its smart black cover, bookmark and strip of elastic to keep it shut. It even has a little pocket at the back for keeping things in. I know what I am going to keep in it: THE RECEIPT THAT SAYS THAT I HAVE JUST SPENT £8.99 ON A NOTEBOOK!
Whatever I write on the first page needs to be something pretty profound. I cannot sully its virgin expanse with a gag about George Bush being a bit dim. But my mind is as blank as the paper. I caress the cover, trying to channel my more famous predecessors. Then, perhaps in the way that Picasso got the idea for cubism, inspiration strikes: “I have just spent £8.99 on a notebook...”
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
We are in position on the sofas. I have a copy of 7000 Baby Names with Adolf, Gaylord and Iaian already crossed out. My girlfriend has a similar tome lent to us by another well-meaning friend. We have agreed upon a complicated system of vetoes that would make the UN look like a model of concordance and productivity.
It is actually quite fun. We just call names out in no particular order and the other person has to give a gut reaction, generally based on the criterion “Was I ever bullied by a person of this name?” We mix it up a bit, throwing in the odd silly name to get a laugh. This also helps in case my girlfriend laughs at one of my serious suggestions – I can then just pretend that there was no way I was ever really contemplating calling out firstborn Stanley.
Most of my gut reactions are what the kid will get called as a nickname.
“Guy?” suggests my girlfriend.
There was a lot of homophobia at my school.
We also quickly settle on “pony” as shorthand for any girls’ name like Camilla or Fenella which sounds like it belongs to the sort of person who might have a pony.
“Briony?” asks my girlfriend.
“I really like it.”
“Nope. Definite pony.”
My girlfriend flicks through some pages and tries again.
“What about Trudi?”
“Trudi?” I laugh. “That’s what you’d call a hamster.”
“My grandmother’s name was Trudi.”
“Er... Obviously a hamster you were very very fond of.”
I quickly try to pass a resolution that comparing a deceased ancestor’s name to that of an imaginary pet rodent does not infringe middle name rights of the other gender, but I think Stanley’s definitely off the table now.
Monday, March 19, 2007
I know that 6997 Baby Names isn’t quite as snappy a title, but please, for the love of God, will you remove the following boys’ names from your book:
– Adolf. The poor kid is going to hear That Question for the rest of his life. Yes, “Do you spell that with an F or a P-H?” Oh, and the Hitler stuff. OK, so Stalin didn’t ruin Joseph for everyone, but then Jesus’ stepfather kind of balanced things out a bit there.
– Gaylord. Hahahaha. Even now I am laughing about how funny it would have been if I had been to school with a kid called Gaylord. It is a million times worse than Adolf. At least if you got a little bit of stick about the whole Third Reich thing you could retort by saying, “Actually, it means “noble wolf”, and what about Adolphe Sax who invented the saxophone, or Adolf Dassler, who founded Adidas? Everyone loves saxophones and trainers, so that is nearly as good as being Jesus’ stepfather.”
– Iaian. What? Seriously, what? Iain condemns you to a lifetime of “That’s I-A-I-N”. Iaian would leave you with irritable vowel syndrome. What next? Iaiain? Iaiaian? Iaiaiaiaiaiaiaiain? Each time you gave your name over the phone it would sound like you were singing Old MacDonald. At least there is only one way of spelling Gaylord.
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
I am walking in the park with my girlfriend, admiring the signs of spring and generally being happy that so many people are out enjoying themselves. Suddenly, a stray football heads towards us. A group of men shout and indicate that they would like me to kick it back to them. I really really want to kick it back – it is immensely satisfying to connect your foot with a football and give it a good hard thump.
However, they are very masculine looking men – a couple of them even have their shirts off, and it’s not that warm – and I don’t want to miskick it in front of them. It is also possible that my girlfriend may have inferred from past footballing anecdotes that I captained the England schoolboys team and that I have never corrected this misapprehension.
The truth is that I did play football for my school. My primary school. Whose team was selected entirely from the top class. Which contained 12 boys. I was the substitute. Who was often lucky to get a run out at all. It wasn’t even some kind of FA academy school that I went to either, where I was being kept on the bench by a young Alan Shearer.
The truth is that despite my enjoyment every time I kick a ball I am probably not that good at football. So, as the ball bounces towards me I am aware that there is a lot riding on this kick. I keep my eye on the ball, head over the ball and strike through the ball, like it said to on my Kevin Keegan poster.
It goes flying through the air, swerves, beats the keeper, top right corner: GOOOOOOOOOOAL!
My trainer, that is. The ball slices off at about 130°, narrowly missing a surprised woman walking an even more surprised dog. One of the bare-chested men sighs and runs to collect it.
I mutter something to my girlfriend about being used to playing in proper football boots, and hop off to collect my shoe.
Friday, March 09, 2007
Go here and see how, like me, you could contribute to a book of funny blog posts for Red Nose Day.
Now I'm just off to play golf with Brucey and Tarby.
Thursday, March 08, 2007
Britain witnessed a lunar eclipse last weekend. Lunar eclipses have traditionally been seen as bad omens and, lo and behold, the very next day Take That were number one again.
Madame Tussauds has been bought by the company that owns Legoland. So, the makers of countless model people with shiny yellow faces with simplistic features that all look the same except for unrealistic interchangeable hair has been bought by Legoland.
Children as young as 11 could have their fingerprints taken to be stored on passports. Though with 11-year olds these days I just hope there’s enough room on the biometric chip to also store their weight, criminal record and how many children they’ve got.
A 54-year old woman in London desperate to become a mother has resorted to advertising on buses for an egg donor. I expect that she'll have triplets. It’s always the same – you wait ages then three come along at once.
Tuesday, March 06, 2007
– Who are you and what are you doing in my bedroom? Mummy says I shouldn’t talk to strangers.
– I’m not a stranger; I’m you. I’ve come from 30 years in the future.
– What’s happened to your hair?
– Yes, your hair is quite fair in 1977, but it will get gradually darker with time.
– No, I mean the grey bits.
– Shut up. Those aren’t grey. They are some left over blond bits. Anyway, I’ve come to tell you about the future.
– Cool. Have you got a spaceship? Or a jetpack?
– Er, no. I drive a Renault Clio. Diesel.
– That sounds rubbish.
– It’s my girlfriend’s.
– Girls? Eurrgh!
– Yeah, you’re going to change your mind about them. Anyway, you know how you love cartoons? Well, I’ve come to tell you that in 30 years’ time you’re going to spend a whole day watching every episode of a series, then you’ll get a job writing a new episode. Isn’t that exciting? Isn’t that the coolest job in the world?
– What about my dream of becoming an accountant?
– I’d like to help companies do their accounts and VAT returns every quarter. Or maybe be a management consultant.
– But being a writer is great!
– It sounds worryingly unpredictable in terms of workload and income, with lots of crushing disappointments on the way. Do you even have a pension?
– A final salary one like Mummy and Daddy have because they are teachers?
– Er, no. I sort of give some money to someone every month and they, er, I’m not really sure. By the way, that book you wrote about the cave was rubbish. I’ve deconstructed it on a website in the future and everyone agreed that the characters and plot were very poor.
– I’m only six for fuck’s sake.
– How do you know the word fuck? I didn’t know the word fuck at the age of six.
– Because I’m just a literary device, and you think it would be funny to make a young child swear. Frankly, if that’s the kind of thing I’m going to grow up to write I’d rather be an accountant.
– Fuck off.
– Ow! Mummy!
Friday, March 02, 2007
It is said that all stories should have a beginning, a middle and an end. This can be traced back to Aristotle, who, in The Poetics, wrote, “A beginning is that which is not itself necessarily after anything else, and which has naturally something else after it; an end is that which is naturally after something itself, either as its necessary or usual consequent, and with nothing else after it; and a middle, that which is by nature after one thing and has also another after it.”
Here is last weekend in the form of what screenwriting gurus now refer to as The Three Act Structure:
ACT I – set-up
“These cupboards will look great. I wonder why I don’t do DIY more often.”
ACT II – conflict
“SHIT FUCK SHIT SHIT SHIT FUCK AAAAAGH!!!”
“Are you all right?”
“DON’T COME IN!!! Er, can you get me some plasters? And some Polyfilla? Lots of Polyfilla.”
ACT III – resolution
“These cupboards look great. I wonder why I don’t do DIY more often.”
DIY is the closest that men get to the experience of childbirth. To keep the human race/Homebase in existence, as soon as it’s over our brains release a chemical that instantly makes us forget how awful, painful and bloody the whole thing was and instead makes us lovingly coo over our babies/cupboards and immediately start planning to have another baby/knock through into the living room.
Of course, when Aristotle said that there is nothing after an end, Ancient Greece had yet to form the concept of the sequel. This weekend: Spur Socket – The Fusebox Strikes Back.
Wednesday, February 28, 2007
Monday, February 26, 2007
Thursday, February 22, 2007
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
I had a lovely weekend in Derbyshire with my girlfriend. We packed a lot in, enjoying all the things that are different to London. So much so, in fact, that it wasn’t until we were halfway round one famous attraction that, with a massive déjà vu-like rush, I realised exactly where I was.
I was in a cave.
I was having an adventure in a cave.
I rarely visit caves. I have only ever been to two or three previously in my whole life – an average of perhaps once a decade. So what were the chances of me finding myself in one so soon after having transcribed and analysed the whole of Adventures In The Cave? It can’t be discounted that the prominence of the story in my mind meant that I had made a subconscious choice of which tourist attraction to visit, but the joyous surprise I felt at the sudden revelation made it feel that life had some kind of meaning.
I nearly laughed out loud at that moment – the guide certainly gave me a funny look as he was pointing out some fossils, and I was in a good mood for the rest of the day. I’ll never say that life doesn’t imitate art again.
In tribute, here is my adventure:
Salvadore and his girlfriend lived together. One Saturday, Salvadore’s girlfriend said “We’ve come all this way, let’s go out somewhere.” So they went.
At the cave Salvadore couldn’t find the way in. He picked up a sharp rock, but then the guide opened the door. So they went in.
“Wwwwhat is ththat” said Salvadore’s girlfriend, questioningly. “It can’t be a gosht” said Salvadore, doubtfully. “It’s a rock that looks a bit like an elephant” said the guide, in an explaining way. “Hi here’s a kind of ladder” said Salvadore. So they went up the kind of ladder.
“That’s a Tyranosawas Rex OK” said Salvadore. “That’s what’ll” said Salvadore’s girlfriend. “Tyranosawas Rex” said Salvadore. “This is a fossil of a brachiopod – a kind of shellfish” said the guide. “That’s what I meant” said Salvadore.
“This must be the way out” said Salvadore, pointing at a door that had not vanished.
“Yes, that’s the way out” said the guide.
So they went back to the hotel.
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
In the final part of this serialisation we will look at the book’s illustrations. Firstly, the inside front cover:
There is nice attention to detail here with Susan wearing the white knee socks that were fashionable in the 70s, and in her carrying the item that is first on the equipment list of any potholing expedition: a handbag. But my main observation is that if you are writing some kind of action-adventure thriller, the climax of which is the unexpected and shocking appearance of a long-dead monstrous creature, don’t put a picture of it on the inside front cover. It is like starting The Crying Game with the caption “Oh, by the way: she’s a bloke”.
Now let’s look at the inside back cover:
Again, nice crayoning, but it does rather support my view that Steve and Ian are somewhat indistinguishable. Not sure about the lesser known combination of brown trousers and blue shoes, but their black leather jackets look ace.
Finally, the back cover:
I have no idea why I drew this. It could be some kind of attempt at a publisher’s logo. Unless this is the gosht...
Monday, February 12, 2007
Previously on Adventures In The Cave: Steve, Ian and Susan heard a gosht, had an argument about proceeding and went up a kind of ladder.
The trap door closed. “Ha Ha” said a vocie. “HELP” cried Sue. “Thats Tyranosawas Rex O.K” said Steve. “That’s what’ll” said Sue. “Tyranosawas Rex” said Ian. “Hi here’s a trap door” said Sue. “It must be the way out” said Steve. “Oh dear they’ve discovered the way out” said a voice. “Here we go” said Ian. So they went down the trap door.
OK, you were only six years old, but I have to say it: this is rubbish.
You seem to jump genres from supernatural horror (the gosht) to thriller (a human who has set traps and laughs at them) to sci-fi action (a dinosaur recreated in the modern world). Did you plan this at all before you started writing?
We should now be in the most perilous part of the story, with the stakes raised to their highest point, but your protagonists’ reaction to seeing a ferocious flesh-eating monster that should have been extinct for millions of years doesn’t really convey this. Steve says “That’s a Tyranosawas Rex OK” in the same it’s-a-bit-annoying-but-let’s-keep-cheerful way that one might say “That’s a flat tyre OK”.
You have set up an antagonist who can make doors vanish, who has created an intricate underground system of trap doors and kind of ladders, who has brought to life a long-dead reptile from the Cretaceous Period (note to self: check primary school’s Friends Reunited entries for M Crichton), and his reaction to his prey escaping is “Oh dear they’ve discovered the way out”? That’s it? Hasn’t he got anything else to throw at them? To have gone to all this trouble to ensnare children for presumably the sole purpose of seeing them be eaten alive suggests some major psychological issues, unlikely to be resolved with a breezy “Oh dear”. I can’t imagine Darth Vader saying, “Oh dear they’ve blown up the Death Star”.
A major question is left unresolved: Who is the antagonist and why does he want to do this? Picnic at Hanging Rock may have preserved its mystery intact, but this story is crying out for a scene where the meddling kids find out whose voice it is. The only other character mentioned is Mum – is she behind all this? Was this all to stop them pestering her to get the sleeping bags out of the loft again?
Antagonists should be scary. Alas, yours has fallen for every Bond villain’s fatal mistake of giving the hero a chance to escape, though in this case the cave system, obviously designed to trap people with a dinosaur, had an Achilles’ heel in the form of a clearly-labelled exit. Did he or she perhaps want to be caught?
I’m fairly sure that I can spot the exact moment at which your teacher said that the lesson was nearly over. Sadly this moment coincided with the exact moment when you realised that your protagonists were trapped underground with a carnivorous reptile, but no obvious means of escape. So before you can say “deus ex machina”, they find another trap door – both problems solved. This must have been the most disappointing third act ever till Ralph Bakshi’s The Lord of the Rings movie ran out of money at the end of The Two Towers.
There is some expressive use of language in using CAPITAL LETTERS FOR SHOUTING, along with “That’s what’ll”. And it is a welcome reversal on the previous stereotyping that it is Susan who finds the trap door, even if it is Steve who works out where it goes. But it is perhaps in keeping with your newly acquired literary style that the last sentence is another “So they went...”
Next time: We take a look at the artwork that accompanies the book. They say that a picture paints a thousand words, but what if one of those words is 'gosht'?
Friday, February 09, 2007
Look! Look! Look! Look! Look!!!
As if life isn't exciting enough already what with all the adventures going on in the cave, I have just been to the shop, along the route that in happier times would have taken me past the bath mat, and, despite nearly all the snow around here having melted, I saw a suspiciously large pile of snow right where the bath mat used to be!!! You can look back at Day 1 for proof - the bath mat spent its first weeks on the paving slab in the top right of this new picture.
Closer inspection revealed a carrot - the snow used to be a snowman! (It is a reflection on both the era and area in which I live that instead of lumps of coal for the eyes, grapes have been used.) But why would someone build a snowman on a narrow pavement? They are usually built in gardens or parks - there is a front garden immediately behind the wall and I have seen lots built around here in the past couple of days. But none on pavements. In fact, I am sure that I have never ever seen a snowman on a pavement, not even in the proper winters we used to have years ago when I had to walk through miles of snowdrifts to school, which makes it all the more amazing that one would be built right here.
The only explanation is that the spirit of the bath mat lives on in this spot, and given the first opportunity it had, it expressed itself in the physical world. Alas, the medium of snow is only temporary, and I clearly missed it in its full glory, but in this crazy mixed-up world it's good to know that an old friend is still around.
Previously on Adventures In The Cave: The door that used to be in the cave had mysteriously vanished, so Steve, Ian and Susan threw some sharp rocks to break a doorway.
“That’s done it” said Ian. “Wwwwhat was ththat” said Sue. “It can’t be a gosht” said Steve. “It it is” said Ian. “I don’t like it at all” said Sue. “Don’t be a baby” said Steve. “I am not” said Sue crossly. “Let’s explore” said Ian eagerly. “Why not” said Steve. “I’m not going” said Sue. “You would’nt” “I’m not going and thats that so there” said Sue folding her arm’s. “We’ll leave you” said Steve. “All right then” said Sue. “Come on” said the boys. “I’m coming” said Sue. “Please do’nt dawdle” said Ian. “Here’s a kind of ladder” said Steve. “Why do'nt we climb it” said Ian. “Come on then” said Steve. So they went.
Your use of quotation marks is impressive, but I have to say that these two pages are somewhat dialogue heavy. In fact, you are telling the whole story through dialogue – not something that is recommended. You try to enrich this with modifiers such as crossly and eagerly, but as Stephen King warns in On Writing, the road to hell is paved with adverbs. The foregoing prose should tell us how an action is done – is there another way to respond to being called a baby, or to want to go exploring? At least your young mind has not yet been corrupted by passive verbs.
There is good conflict between the characters though, albeit somewhat stereotyped, with the boys teasing the girl for being scared. And some of the dialogue has inventive features, such as “Wwwwhat was ththat”, showing influence from undoubted masters of the style such as Scooby-Doo.
Horror and fantasy authors time immemorial have created fictional creatures – from orcs to zombies to hippogriffs we have been transfixed by these beasts. Your gosht is an intriguing addition to this canon, though I have absolutely no idea what one could be. It is true that the scariest things are always in our imagination, but a few pointers as to how we should imagine a gosht, and why the characters might be scared of one, would be welcome.
Looking at the crossings out in your original manuscript it seems to be very important that it is Steve and not Ian who says “Don’t be a baby”, and that it is Ian and not Steve who says “Please don’t dawdle”. To be honest, I can’t tell the difference between these characters. The only hint that Steve might be older is that his name comes first in the opening sentence – apart from that they are indistinguishable. In situations such as this I would suggest merging them to make a composite character, combining their personalities to make a protagonist who is capable of both throwing sharp rocks and recognising things that are like ladders. These kind of multi-faceted characters really come to life and leap off the page.
The good news is that you end this section with a sentence that is not dialogue. The bad news is that this sentence is another "So they went".
Next time: What is up the kind of ladder?
Wednesday, February 07, 2007
Previously on Adventures In The Cave: Steve, Ian and Susan decided to go on an adventure to the caves and that they would need food and sleeping bags.
“I know” said Ian. “We could ask mum for them now.” So they went. In the cave there used to be a door but it had vanished. “Whats happened to the door” said Susan in a frightened way.” Its vanished of course” said Steve. “We could throw some sharp rocks on it” said Ian. “O.K.” said Steve “get some rocks.” So they started throwing rocks. Steve and Ian got a big one and threw it which broke a door way.
Your decision not to use paragraphs and chapters adds a certain breathless pace to the story, but it is good to vary this from time to time. As you build to the climax, it is good to take your foot off the gas occasionally to give the reader space to reflect on events. Less is more – that kind of thing. What I am saying is that there is not enough red ink in the world to use on the sentence “So they went”. It is as redundant as Prince Edward.
The next sentence is more interesting, introducing an air of mystery, and also referring back to something that actually predates the beginning of the narrative. This kind of detailed back story roots the narrative in part of a larger world with its own complex history, a bit like Tolkien did with Lord of the Rings. However, it is unclear whether this vanishing is due to supernatural forces, or perhaps something more mundane like a rockslide. It might be a good idea to clearly foreshadow any supernatural elements here, and give the audience a hint of the genre that we are working in.
This sentence is also an example of a third person omniscient narrator, a style common amongst 19th century authors such as Austen or Tolstoy, but less popular since. Your attempt to start a revival in the 1970s was perhaps a little ambitious. But straight away you then use dialogue to tell the audience something that they already know – that there used to be a door, but it has now vanished. Either the narration or the dialogue is redundant. All the dialogue adds is more sexual stereotyping of Susan being frightened, and the boys being the ones with knowledge and ideas. Perhaps the vanishing door could be explained by a mentor or threshold guardian character. Could this character warn them off looking for the vanishing door and suggest instead coming to look at some puppies?
I must admit that throwing rocks is a novel approach to their predicament, and shows them to be the kind of wilful protagonists that readers like. The assured specificity of the rocks being sharp (flint?) shows good attention to detail, and the extensive geological research that clearly predated the writing was time well spent. Readers love having confidence in an author in this way and it helps them to suspend their disbelief and accept the fact that children could throw rocks big enough and hard enough to break a doorway in a cave wall. Perhaps the throwing of rocks could be linked back to a special skill that one of them has in the old world of their home life? eg Susan might be gifted at the shot put?
Next time: What is through the doorway?
Monday, February 05, 2007
Steve, Ian and Susan lived together. One Saturday Steve and Ian said to Susan “We want to go on an adventure.” “Yes” agreed Susan because we could ask mum for some food and three sleeping bags.” We could go to the caves” said Steve.
There have been some brilliant opening lines in literature: “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen”, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”, “Call me Ishmael”. Unfortunately, this isn’t one of them. At best its ironic understatement promises a look at the reality of a polyamorous relationship, at worst it is the dullest way imaginable of introducing three siblings. What about "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that three middle-class children in possession of sleeping bags and food must be in want of an adventure"?
The inciting incident appears to be Steve and Ian wanting to go on an adventure. What about if they don’t want to go on an adventure, but accidentally find themselves in the middle of one? That would give scope for dramatic conflict, of which there is none here. Susan immediately agrees (again, no conflict), and the location for the adventure is also decided upon straight away. What would be great is if we could spend a bit of time with the characters to begin with, then use suspense to tell the reader what the protagonists do not know.
There is also a lot of sexual stereotyping going on here. Firstly it is the boys who want the adventure, and it is Susan whose thoughts immediately turn to domestic matters. And from whom will she procure these household items? Mum, of course. You’ve got no excuse for this sexism as your own mother went out to work – she was the one who set this project for your class. Could they not live with a single dad? Or two dads? Alternatively, investigate the issues surrounding the fact that mum appears to allow her children to sleep rough, perhaps introducing the overriding fear of a social worker splitting the family up.
I like your self-styled “Master” honorific though. It's a nice gimmick, like JK Rowling or JRR Tolkien using their initials, and it subliminally gives the casual purchaser confidence in your literary skills.
Next time: They get to the cave...