Tag Archives: blog

How to write a daily blog? Easy. Incest, grumpy camel stories and nude women

If desperate, use a nude, copyright-free Wikipedia photograph

I can’t remember why I was being interviewed last night by Ian Fox, comedian, photographer and online omni-presence.

It is for some online jollity he is planning and he did mention it to me before I went to North Korea (did I mention I went to North Korea?). In fact, I think he suggested it to me almost two years ago. I have a notoriously bad memory and can’t remember why he was asking me questions.

But one was: You write a daily blog. Is it difficult to keep coming up with stuff each day?

My answer was: “It’s not that difficult.”

Ironically, I then woke up this morning with no obvious subject for a blog.

But incest can be a fruitful thing.

If Ian Fox interviews me for some online project he’s doing, then I can blog about him interviewing me. On this basis, British-based American comedian Lewis Schaffer and I have built up a fruitful cyber-incestuous relationship by occasionally blogging about each other. I quote him in my blog, which he then mentions in his blog, which I then comment on and on and on…

When short of a blog idea, I highly recommend going along to one of Lewis Schaffer’s free shows and then letting him buy you a Chinese meal and/or an expensive ice cream afterwards. It costs you nothing and New York Jewish comedians’ neuroses are always a bottomless pit to excavate. It also makes you feel better. You think: At least my life is not THAT shit…

Also useful is recycling your as-yet unprinted interview answers.

Last night, Ian Fox asked me about the lowlights of my career.

I told him about the occasion when I was working for the children’s TV series Tiswas and a circus provided me with a one-humped Bactrian camel. I was not well-pleased. A child had written-in saying he wanted to ride between the humps of a camel. This requires a minimum of two humps. The circus guy swore blind to me that this clearly uni-humped creature was actually a two-humped Bactrian camel and it was just the way the humps were lying that morning. The camel appeared to be as grumpy as I was; I think it had expected to be on a better class of TV show. The child was, fortunately, just happy to be on any camel.

The camel farted.

That’s the way to fill up a blog when you have nothing specific in your mind.

Tomorrow, though, I should be OK for a blog subject.

Because today I am having a ‘death lunch’ with Lynn, my friend of 37 years. We are executors of each others wills and occasionally meet to update where we keep our money, our knowledge of Kyrgyzstan and other goodies.

After that, I am eating with miniature comedienne Laura Lexx, then comedy scriptwriter Mark Kelly, then street sensation Paolo Ferrari, then doyenne of comedy critics Kate Copstick… and then I am seeing Lewis Schaffer’s ongoing twice-weekly comedy show Free Until Famous in Soho. And possibly getting a free curry or ice cream out of him afterwards.

Surely one of those people has some bloggable story I can steal. My motto is: Get someone else to write your blog for you. If all else fails, Lewis Schaffer’s neuroses can be excavated.

The downside is that, with all those meals and muffins and sitting around, I get ever fatter.

Writing a daily blog?

It’s a piece of piss.

Which is possibly what a reviewer would say.

* * *

The interview by Ian Fox appears HERE.

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How I talked myself out of comedian Lewis Schaffer’s naked radio show

Martin Soan (left) Lewis Schaffer (being Jewish) last night

Two days ago, comedian Lewis Schaffer asked me to be on his weekly radio show next Monday and wrote in his blog that my own philosophy of blogging and performing was that “garbage set free is better than genius hoarded”. I have never said that, but I guess I do think it, so maybe I will claim it was my phrase not his.

Yesterday, I went with comedian Martin Soan to see Lewis Schaffer’s twice-weekly show Free Until Famous in London’s glittering West End – well, OK, it is in a basement in the rather dingy corner of Soho near Piccadilly Circus.

After Lewis Schaffer’s show, the three of us ended up in an ice cream parlour in Old Compton Street.

“Why do you want me on your show next Monday?” I asked Lewis Schaffer.

“I felt guilty about how bad the two shows you were in before were.”

“You felt guilty?” Martin asked.

“He’s Jewish,” I explained. “What was wrong with my two appearances on your fine radio show?”

“When we first started to do it,” Lewis Schaffer explained, “I didn’t know what the radio show was about… Now I know it’s about me and Nunhead, where I live. It’s about the life of a very small, previously-ignored inner city suburb and all the funny things that go on in this tiny little place that people who are not from Nunhead enjoy hearing about, because it’s got a funny name and no-one’s ever heard of it. So what’s interesting is Nunhead stuff. You’re not from Nunhead, John.

“In some cases I will have people on who are famous – because they’re famous – you’re not famous, John – or people who can help my career. I’ve known you for years, John, and I’ve now realised you can’t help me. But I keep forgetting that. When I…

Martin interrupted: “But John has got something to do with Nunhead now. He’s always coming down to my monthly comedy club Pull The Other One. And that’s in Nunhead.”

“And I’ve always supported you too” said Lewis Schaffer. “I’m always mentioning Pull The Other One on my radio show, though you probably haven’t sold a single ticket because it’s radio. I don’t know how many listeners we have: we could have anything from 10 to 30,000 listeners… and that’s literary ten.”

“Has he asked you to be on his show?” I asked Martin.

“No,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“Yes you did,” Martin corrected him. “I Facebooked you… You asked me to come naked but then you bumped me from the show.”

“I didn’t!” said Lewis Schaffer.

“You did,” said Martin.

“I didn’t know that! I apologise… I thought… I dunno… I thought…” said Lewis Schaffer. “But I like the idea of you coming to the studio naked.”

“Do the radio rules allow you to be naked?” I asked. “Perhaps you should have a balloon to hide your modesty?”

Lewis Schaffer and Martin looked at me. There was a long silence. Eventually, Martin said: “That’s a good idea, John.”

“So,” I suggested to Lewis Schaffer, “next Monday, why don’t you un-invite me – I have nothing to do with Nunhead – and invite Martin on naked.”

“Naked would be better radio,” enthused Lewis. “You come into the studio totally naked… and then, during the show, I’ll get naked too.”

“OK,” said Martin, “We’re shaking hands on this now.”

“We’re shaking hands on it,” said Lewis Schaffer, shaking hands on it.

“Have you still got your female co-presenter?” I asked.

“Lisa Moyle. Yes,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“Do you maybe think you should ask her about this?” I asked.

“No,” replied Lewis Schaffer, “What’s the problem? I think it will make good radio… So what are we promoting? We’re promoting your next Pull The Other One show?”

“I’m not promoting anything,” Martin said.

“You have to promote something,” said Lewis Schaffer. “It’s a chat show.”

“Well… Ah!…” Martin suddenly enthused, “I could talk about what I’m doing in Nunhead.”

Lewis Schaffer looked at him.

“I’m working with old age pensioners,” explained Martin.

“That’s bad for comedy,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“I’m doing community work in Nunhead,” explained Martin.

Lewis Schaffer reconsidered: “I like the idea of you working with old age pensioners in Nunhead – probably a lot of the original residents of Nunhead – and now the dirty immigrants have moved in, like the Americans. I like that idea.”

“You could say,” suggested Martin, “And now, for Florence, who’s listening out there, here’s Martin who fitted your toilet seat last Thursday. He’s sitting here naked.

“And can we get into an argument and talk about America?” Lewis Schaffer asked enthusiastically.

“We can,” replied Martin.

“And you can talk a lot about toilet seats,” I suggested.

There was a long silence.

“Martin – you naked will be good radio,” mused Lewis Schaffer. “John would not be good radio. He’s run out of ideas.”

“I’ve run out of ideas?” I asked.

“That’s why you’re here,” Lewis Schaffer told me. “The only time you come to see my show is when you’ve run out of ideas for your blog. I wrote that in my blog. Now you’re going to write it in your blog. And people are going to read about Lewis Schaffer and think Oh shit! How boring! John’s run out of ideas again. He only goes to see Lewis Schaffer when he’s completely empty.

“What John’s really good at,” said Martin, attempting to be constructive, “is reminding you of the ideas you had but had forgotten about.”

“But how does he make a living doing that?” asked Lewis Schaffer. “People like us, people like Lewis Schaffer, we are busy people. We’ve got gigs and promotion to do; we don’t have time for a blog. Then John comes and sucks the life out of us, which makes it even harder for us to do a blog because he comes and takes all the ideas that we were going to use in our blog and puts it into his. I wrote in my blog the other day that John’s philosophy of blogging and performing is that Garbage set free is better than genius hoarded. I made that up. But I bet John will claim he really did say it.”

“No I won’t,” I told Lewis Schaffer. “And I don’t need to steal your ideas. I am not going to blog about this evening.”

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A blogger at the end of his tether…

Writing a daily blog which is occasionally picked up by the Huffington Post has two effects.

People want to be mentioned and simultaneously sometimes exactly the same people do not want to be mentioned.

Performers, in particular, are keen for publicity.

People have started to tell me highly personal things which they never told me before and preceding their stories with: “You must not publish this in your blog, but…”

Then they start telling me the most amazingly personal details about themselves and other people which are often so sexually detailed and/or self-incriminating that I can’t, in all conscience, print or even hint at what they have told me.

It can be very frustrating.

It is as if it gives them the thrill and catharsis of self-exposure with none of the normally inherent dangers.

For me, it is just frustrating.

And people also want to ‘have a go’ at other people via my blog.

Last week, a comedian was desperate to slag off another comedian via my blog and someone else was insistent that, if I mentioned someone in a story they gave me, the adjective “evil” had to be added in front of that person’s name, even though I have never met the man and he may be a terribly nice chap.

“It is not libel. He can’t deny he’s evil,” I was told.

Well, I think he probably can. And so can his lawyers and his friends with the baseball bats. I have enough people and incompetent companies I want to slag off myself without adding other people’s bête noires to my list.

(By the way, I removed all reference to the “evil” man so, no, you cannot guess who it is by re-reading last week’s blogs.)

All this is particularly galling if you wake up with absolutely no idea what to blog about.

I went to a party last night where there was a three-year-old boy who was the spitting image of comedian Michael McIntyre.

His mother (the child’s mother, not Michael McIntyre’s mother) is currently reading Michael McIntyre’s autobiography.

That is slightly odd, but not enough for a blog, is it?

The child’s father was enthusing to me about a comedy show called Dirty Fan Male which he had seen as part of Workers’ Playtime at Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club.

But, you see, it is still not enough. I have not seen the show.

Someone else at the party had recently been made redundant by the BBC but, before he left, they put him on a £5,000 TV director’s course.

That is a very BBC thing. But it is not really fascinating enough, is it? Nor unusual.

Until yesterday, I had not fully bathed for a week, because there were stitches in my neck and at the top of my left leg/groin and I was told not to get the areas wet. The stitches were from a minor operation a week ago, to remove two bobbly growths on my skin. I blogged about it before. So I can’t really blog about it again.

The Irish nurse at the hospital yesterday asked, after I had spoken just two sentences: “Are you Scottish?”

This was gratifying because although, yes, I am Scottish, I have an English accent. I never tried to lose the Scots accent; it just got worn away into a Scots-Essex-East London-Home Counties mess of an accent from nowhere.

Before yesterday’s Irish nurse, the only two people who had ever immediately twigged I am Scottish were the genuinely very lovely Scots singer Isla St Clair and a Cockney tea-lady at Thames Television, no doubt equally lovely in her own way.

“A cup of tea, please,” I said.

“Cor, you’re Scottish, ain’t ya?” she replied.

Obviously, I mis-quote her accent for effect.

The tea-lady, not Isla St Clair.

But a mis-quoted Cockney tea-lady and Larry Grayson’s former sidekick on The Generation Game – no matter how nice she is as a person – are not a good enough excuse for a blog.

I am at the end of my tether.

I am going to have to watch a DVD about the art of farting which Mr Methane sent me and which I told him I would take a look at.

You can rarely go wrong with a fart blog.

But not today. Not today.

Tonight, I am going to see a show at the RAF Club in London.

I have high hopes of a more worthy blog tomorrow.

Today’s blog – the one you have surprisingly and admirably just finished reading – will, I feel, not be picked up by the Huffington Post.

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Shakespeare, Chaucer, Jane Austen – all of them bad at the English language

(This blog was later re-published in the Huffington Post)

I posted a blog (or did I?) the other day.

Someone on Google+ took offence (or did he?) and posted (or did he?) this comment:

“no offense,” he wrote, “but can we stop calling blog posts and blog articles ‘blogs’? unless you actually are composing an entire collection of articles and posts each time you say you’ve written ‘a blog’, you’re really not using the correct term and are just coming off as uninformed and just desperately trying to drop a buzzword (albeit incorrectly).”

I am not sure about this.

He is, I presume an American, because he wrote “no offense” instead of the British English “no offence”. I have a suspicion the problem may be an example of two nations separated by a common language – even in cyberspace.

I am sure I have commonly seen and heard in the UK, the word “blog” used both for the collection within which the “posts” are… erm… posted… and for the individual blogs… erm… posts… themselves.

But, some might think surprisingly, I am no great upholder of ‘correctness’ in writing. If you get too hung up on the niceties of what is ‘correct’ and what is ‘not correct’, things can get pretty mind-numbingly dull, as I am about to prove…

I think the French are mad to have an academic body which decides what words and phrases are or are not ‘correct’ French. They are mad to try stopping ‘Franglais’.

The nearest thing we have in Britain is the Oxford English dictionary which decides to include not what it thinks is ‘correct’ English but what has become common usage.

The sentence, “Men and women competed in a quiz with a £1,000 prize but the rules stated that, when the single eventual winner received THEIR money, THEY had to donate it to charity,” is clearly grammatically incorrect, because “winner” is singular but “their” and “they “ are both plural.

The Oxford English Dictionary decided several years ago that the use of “they” and “their” in this sort of sentence structure was “acceptable” usage simply because it had been so commonly used for years by everyone. The alternative would be saying “he or she” and “his or hers” instead of “they” and “their” every time the circumstance cropped up and your tongue and brain would go potty after a time.

In English, ‘good’ English is ultimately whatever way English speakers actually speak and write the language. The French are heading towards a dead language; ironically, they are stifling it by trying to protect it.

The English language is a bit like the Edinburgh Fringe. No-one actually organises the over-all thing, anyone can join in and it becomes all the more vibrant for it.

It is anarchy, but it works.

Shakespeare could not even spell his own name the same way every time he wrote it – he used various spellings. As far as I understand it, English spelling had no need to be uniform until Dr Johnson published his dictionary in 1755 – and, even now, we are in the anarchic position of having “humour” and “humor” and “colour” and “color” being correct in different places and how the fuck did “programme” and “program” and “aluminium” and “aluminum” ever come about? They’re relatively new concepts!

I share comedian Stewart Lee’s horror at the constant mis-use of apostrophes though it is a losing battle and what gets up my own personal nasal passages is the mis-use of commas around subordinate clauses and in lists.

If you have a list of A, B, C, D, and E there should be no comma before the “and” because, in a list, the commas represent “and”s – that’s what they are, so it should be A, B, C, D and E (without the fourth comma).

But I think Americans have a different usage and the comma is correct in the US.

The abbreviation Mr for Mister should never have a full stop (i.e, Mr.) because the full stop represents an abbreviation as in etc. which has a full stop because the “etera” has been cut out. It’s like the apostrophe in “don’t” or “wasn’t” – it shows there is a missing letter or letters.

People lament the change wrought in the language by the arrival of text messaging.

But who cares?

Shakespeare wrote in what was virtually a foreign language.

Chaucer certainly bloody well did.

Even some of the Victorian novelists are a bit heavy-going nowadays.

The English language is constantly changing, which is what makes it so vibrant.

I worked in Prague in the mid-1990s, writing scripts for TV voice-overs to read in Czech – a neat trick, as I did not speak, write nor understand Czech. The scripts were translated into Czech and I then had to direct the recording of the Czech-language voice-overs – giving the TV announcers direction on intonation and suchlike – another neat trick.

On several occasions, the translator came back to me and said: “I can’t translate this exactly, because I can’t translate the nuance. Czech has fewer words than English and I can’t translate what I know you want to say.”

It is like the (apparently untrue) story that Eskimos (sorry, Inuits) have 30-odd words for “snow” and we have only five or six.

English is a wonderful language because it is so rich but also because it is so fast-changing. And long may it continue to be so.

Language is about communication not rules.

According to an Oxford University professor who has seen her original manuscripts, Jane Austen was shit at grammar and crap at spelling. I happen to think she wrote dull novels as well (apart from Emma). Others disagree with me on that. But she is an example that great writers are about ideas not linguistic rules.

Grammar and punctuation can be ‘cleaned up’ by a sub-editor.

Clear ideas are what matter.

Now, if only someone could come up with a word to replace the valuable lost meaning of “gay”…

What a great word was lost there…

I am sure Jane Austen used it.

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In the cyber world of viral publicity, BBC America sent me an e-mail today

Today, I was invited to go to a media show next week – MediaPro 2011 – and all they really wanted to know in cyberspace was my e-mail address and Twitter name.

Why?

I have no idea.

I have a friend who works for a major charity. Coincidentally, today she sent me an e-mail asking:

“Do you like Twitter?”

My answer was:

“I don’t really understand it – possibly because I do not have a smart phone.”

And I do not understand it, though I use it slightly for self-publicity.

It could cope with it a bit more once I understood the use of the hash sign.

But there is the problem of people actually seeing any message in the Twittersphere.

A comedian I know who also uses it for publicity sends any message mid-morning, late afternoon and near midnight to try to get it read.

It seems very popular with celebs and performers. I can’t imagine why they talk to each other on it, though.

My comedian chum Janey Godley Tweets extravagantly and swears it is useful if, for example, she goes to a new city – people will tell her useful information.

It has immediacy, which something like Facebook does not necessarily have. But coming with that is transience – if you Tweet a message at 10.30am, someone following 800 people may not see it if they don’t look until 3.00pm.

It is in that (what I think is an) odd area where, instead of talking to one person on the phone or in an e-mail, you talk to multiple people and (for reasons I cannot begin to fathom) you are having a conversation with one person which anyone is invited to listen in on.

As far as I can see, if you want to Tweet some one specific person, you might as well text ‘em.

I told my Charity friend:

“You might take a look at Google+ for work… Google+ seems to me to have a more up-market clientele than Facebook.”

(Nothing personal to my Facebook Friends).

The best proven way to get publicity, though, is to be included in my daily blog.

Bizarrely, BBC America would seem to agree. Today, I got an e-mail from someone at BBC America:

_______

Hi,

I work for BBC America, the U.S. cable television channel. I came across your blog and wanted to reach out, because BBC America is premiering a new series, WHITECHAPEL, on WED OCT 26 that I think would be interesting to you and your readers.

WHITECHAPEL is set in modern-day East London where a copycat killer is terrorizing London – and it’ll take everything these police officers have to keep history from repeating. The force is faced with the brutal and bloody history of their streets, from echoes of the 19th century & Jack the Ripper to the infamous 1960s crime twins Ronnie and Reggie Kray. Can these officers “solve the unsolvable and catch the most famous serial killer that ever lived”?

WHITECHAPEL is from the producers of the Emmy Award-winning Downton Abbey and starring Rupert Penry-Jones (MI-5, Cambridge Spies), Phil Davis (Sherlock, Bleak House) and Steve Pemberton (The League of Gentlemen, Viva Blackpool).

Don’t miss WHITECHAPEL every Wednesday at 10/9c starting Oct 26 only on BBC America. Can’t find BBC America on your cable dial? Use the Channel Finder in the top-navigation bar on bbcamerica.com.

PLUS:
• Watch the extended trailer now: http://bbca.me/WhitechapelTrail
• Get an exclusive look Inside the Making Of… WHITECHAPEL: http://bbca.me/MakingWhitechapel
• Watch a special advance sneak peek of the series premiere: http://bbca.me/WhitechapelPeek

Cheers!

_______

Now, I will plug anything for anyone if it sounds interesting – as the above proves – for a bit more profile, but why me?

I may bullshit, but I am a minor little blogger in the grand cyber scheme of things.

I know BBC America will have sent out hundreds of e-mails. But why to me?

I am not  complaining in any way. Far from it. I am delighted, but…

Why me?

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You can learn some creative techniques but you cannot learn to be talented

At the weekend, crime writers P.D.James and Ruth Rendell were chatting to each other at the Soho Theatre in London. Someone (clearly not me) asked if they had any advice for a young person who wanted to write.

P.D.James wisely replied that it depends whether you want to be published more than you want to write.

It is possible to be published without being a good writer.

But, if you want to write, then you have to write and there is no real advice except possibly to read lots of well-written books – because reading badly-written books will only lead you on to writing badly-written books.

Personally, I have a feeling that taking writing courses may also lead people on to bad writing because they might start to think there are rules.

It is a bit like the view of the late comedian Malcolm Hardee, who had little time for jugglers because he saw juggling as a skill not a talent. If the average person practised eight hours per day, five days per week for two years, they could probably become a good juggler because it is a skill you can learn. But being a stand-up comic is a talent. If you are not funny, no amount of practice will ever make you truly, truly talented.

You can learn some stand-up comedy techniques from experience, but you cannot learn to be talented.

Same thing with creative writing.

There is no shame in that.

I am crap at science and foreign languages. But I can write a bit.

On the other hand, never say never.

RKO Pictures’ screen test report on Fred Astaire read: “Can’t sing. Can’t act. Balding. Can dance a little.”

There are limits, though.

P.D.James and Ruth Rendell both said they were particularly drawn to crime fiction and have written little else.

A friend recently suggested I could make a lot of money by writing romantic fiction but I said I did not really think I could write it because my heart was not in the genre. I partly said this because someone I used to work with at Granada TV actually tried to write Mills & Boon type novels and gave up.

She told me she eventually realised that you can only write that type of fiction if you believe in it heart-and-soul and enjoy it yourself. A friend of hers did enjoy the genre and he did successfully write for Mills & Boon. She did not enjoy the genre wholeheartedly so was, in effect, writing pastiche not the real thing, which she did not want to do.

She wanted to write well in a particular genre, but that was not her genre, so she felt she could not write as well in that genre as she felt she could in others.

I once had a conversation with an editor at Random House over a book which was never written. He said something to the effect of:

“I don’t know what your style is, John. I read I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake and I read Handstands in the Dark and I don’t know what your own style is.”

I told him: “Well, I hope I don’t have a style. I just write in whatever style seems most appropriate.”

In the case of I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake, it was Malcolm Hardee’s autobiography and it was written from tape recordings of chats with Malcolm, so I just had to make the words on the page seem as if they came from Malcolm’s mouth. You can’t just write down exactly what people say: people don’t talk in coherent sentences. So I had to reconstruct what he said in a way that made it seem like what he had said. Of course, they were the words he had said on the tapes, but re-arranged for print so that, over-all, it read like what he would have said. They were his rhythms and words re-arranged for print.

“In the case of Handstands in the Dark, that was Janey Godley’s autobiography and she wrote it herself. At the beginning, I cajoled and encouraged her and suggested how she should perhaps go about it but, by the end I was just doing simple sub-editing – occasional commas and paragraph manipulation. I never wrote the words or sentences myself.”

When I was at college, at the end of the course (or it might have been at the end of Year One, I can’t remember), we had to deliver a significant creative project of some kind. I chose to write a novel and it was shit. But it got it out of my system. I felt that, if I wrote another two shit novels, the fourth one would be quite good.

When I was a teenager, I had wanted to be a writer and had admired (I still do) George Orwell as a communicator of thoughts. He is not a novelist, but he is a great writer – Nineteen Eighty-Four has some very dodgy characterisation and writing (the heroine is badly-drawn and the love scenes are crap). But the ideas are wonderful. It is a below-par novel but a great book. And Orwell’s non-fiction Homage to Catalonia, about his experiences in the Spanish Civil War is a masterpiece.

George Orwell is a magnificent factual writer, though not a good novelist. But he is such a good writer, he transcends that – Nineteen Eighty-Four is a wonderful novel, even if he is not a good novelist.

It seemed to me that George Orwell had achieved his ability to write so well simply by writing a lot at the BBC and elsewhere. (For a period, he literally worked in Room 101 at BBC Broadcasting House.)

So, after college, I consciously looked for somewhere I would have to write a lot, quickly, under pressure, reasoning that I might be able to write anything about anything reasonably fluently.

And that was why I initially became a Promotion Scriptwriter, writing scripts for TV announcers and trailers every day and often under extreme time deadlines.

That did result – I think – who am I to truly know? – in my being able to write pretty much anything in any style under pressure. And, because I also interviewed people for magazines, I knew the difference between writing for the human voice in vision and out of vision; and writing for different types of print.

If you are writing for TV trailers and you have to make Benny Hill, a documentary on Auschwitz and an episode of Coronation Street seem like a sensible single evening’s entertainment entity, you have to know how to tape over the cracks to join things together.

So I think I can write in pretty much any style and make the result seem fairly fluent.

But romantic fiction is just beyond my limit. I would not do it well.

And I want to write well… not just be published.

Write it as art and sell it as baked beans.

Absolutely.

But write it as art and it might last.

Unlike blogs, maybe.

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The Welsh language is just plain silly and is a clear sign of national insecurity

So, tell me, what is the point of having a blog if you can’t write bigoted pieces based on truth, half-truths and misunderstandings?

For the last couple of days, I have been staying on Cardigan Bay in West Wales.

When you walk in the streets and go into shops in Cardigan – or Aberteifi as it is now pointlessly half-re-named – people are sometimes speaking Welsh not English to each other. It was not until I worked in Ireland that I started to think the propagation of the Welsh language is ridiculously pointless.

If a language is dead, let it die. If it is still alive, it will survive without heavy-handed insistence that it must be used.

What is very relevant to this blog is the fact I am Scottish not English. Remember that my mother’s grandmother did not speak English until, in her late teens I think, she came down from the hills. The image of my grandmother coming down from the hills is one a friend of mine finds peculiarly funny but, anyway, my mother’s grandmother originally spoke Scots Gaelic as her native tongue, not English.

I once spent some time in the Outer Hebrides where I admired and was fascinated by how, in shops, people would speak to each other in sentences that meandered almost randomly between English and Gaelic words and phrases. They used whichever words and phrases came more naturally and fitted better. Sometimes the words were Gaelic, sometimes English; all within the same sentence.

I once had an interview for a job with Grampian Television in Aberdeen which basically transmitted to the Highlands while Scottish Television transmitted to the Lowlands. The conversation came round to starting a number of Gaelic-language programmes transmitted on Grampian (part of ITV) and on BBC Scotland. I said I thought it was silly because such a relatively small percentage of Scottish television viewers – by then almost entirely in the Western Isles with a small smattering in the Highlands – actually spoke Gaelic as their natural tongue.

The Grampian TV executive interviewing me was highly miffed.

“Ah! But you’re English!” he said to me.

“I was born in Campbeltown and partly brought up in Aberdeen,” I told him. “Where were you born?”

“London,” he said.

I did not get the job.

Later, I did a lot of freelance work over many years for HTV in Cardiff – or Caerdydd as it is now pointlessly half-re-named. It’s a bit like re-naming Saigon as Ho Chi Minh City when most of the inhabitants continue to call it Saigon.

As far as I remember, when I started working in South Wales, almost all the local signs were in English. I mean the road signs and the general retail shop signs.

At some point, almost imperceptibly, dual language signs started appearing, usually with the Welsh version first.

At around this time, or maybe a little later, there was an extended period where my full-time freelance work alternated between working for HTV in Cardiff and Tara TV in Dublin.

In Dublin, I could see old, rotting, rusting and ignored street signs in Irish Gaelic. All the current signs were in English. This was the period when the ‘Celtic Tiger‘ was on the rise and the Irish Republic had re-discovered its self-confidence.

It is very relevant that I was once sitting in an edit suite at Windmill Lane Studios in Dublin, directing a trailer for an RTE television programme which included an interview in which someone said a couple of sentences in Irish Gaelic.

“What did he say?” I asked the Irish videotape editor sitting with me.

“No idea,” he told me.

We had three other Irish people come into the suite. None of them knew what the Gaelic words meant. They had all had to ‘learn’ Gaelic at school but, just like British schoolkids who do five years of French at school, they could not speak and could barely understand the language because it was bugger-all use to them in everyday life.

It was at this time – alternating my time sometimes one week here/ one week there/ one week here/ one week there between Cardiff and Dublin – that I began to think the Welsh language was just plain silly.

It was silly because it was a mostly dead language being revived and imposed by a clique on a predominantly non-Welsh-speaking population.

One week, I returned to Cardiff from Dublin to find that the local Tesco store had changed all its signs to dual-language Welsh and English signs. Someone (Welsh) told me in near-disbelief that all the signs at the Tesco store in Abergavenny, where she lived, had also been changed.

“I swear to God, no-one bloody speaks Welsh in Abergavenny!” she told me.

By the time I stopped working at HTV, Lloyds Bank was calling itself Banc Lloyds (it has since re-re-branded itself simply as Lloyds TSB) and other shops and businesses were doing the same: making up their own names in Welsh. Mostly, I suspect, they were English companies trying to be politically correct and liberal, much like that English executive at Grampian TV trying to be so ‘right-on’.

Shortly before Tesco started changing its signs to dual-language Welsh & English, I had been on holiday to Cambodia and, in Phnom Penh, there was a street of hovels and shacks which were all English language ‘schools’. At that time, no-one had any money and there was a very real possibility that the homicidally extreme Khmer Rouge might regain power in the next month or two. But, as in almost all other parts of the world, people wanted to learn English because it was and is the ‘international’ language. If you are an outward-looking country with outward-looking thoughts, you learn English.

My understanding is that, after most of Ireland gained independence from Britain in the early 1920s (let us not get into any pedantic details of dates in Ireland: it will all end in many tears and much wailing), the republicans who ran the country wanted to encourage self-confidence and national pride.

So they called the new country Eire instead of Ireland, painted the red pillar boxes green, changed a few of the royal crests on stone buildings to harps and tried to get everyone to speak Gaelic. The country rotted in inward-looking isolation for decades, admittedly not helped by the fact successive UK governments had every reason to dislike American-born Eamon de Valera and his blindly Brit-hating chums.

But, by the time I worked in Dublin in the mid and late 1990s, the Irish Republic had regained its self-confidence and, although civil servants had to know Gaelic, the English language had taken over all everyday usage except in the extreme west of the country. The few Irish language signs in Dublin were faded and/or rusting.

Irish, like Scots Gaelic, was then and is now effectively a dead language naturally spoken by few people. Though long may they speak Gaelic in Ireland and Scotland. I have nothing against the natural rise and fall of any – indeed, all – languages.

But I am told by Welsh friends that, except in the West and sparsely-populated central highlands of Wales, the Welsh language had pretty-much died out by the late 19th century.

It was re-imposed rather than re-grew in Wales in the late 20th century.

My memory is that extreme Welsh nationalists got publicity in English newspapers by setting off some minor explosions and burning down occasional second homes owned by ordinary English people in Wales.

Then some second-rate people who could not get jobs in media, politics and the local civil service had the bright idea of looking to what their USP was – they could speak Welsh – and they pushed for Welsh-language TV programmes, an entire Welsh TV channel and the use of the Welsh language in the local civil service because, that way, they would have a positive advantage in getting jobs.

The Welsh language was, to an extent, partially revived not by natural growth and usage but by xenophobia and the self-interest of a small clique.

Yes, that’s a very personal view of what happened, but not necessarily totally untrue.

English politicians, frightened of alienating the Welsh, went along with it for electoral gain and you now have a country where people have a TV channel –  S4C – which most of them don’t understand and dual-language signs only half of which most understand – the English language half.

While the rest of the world was moving towards internationally-understood English, a group of self-serving xenophobes in Wales (where English was already established) were pushing for the renewed use of a mostly-dead language known only by some in Wales and nowhere else except some obscure area of Patagonia.

Looking inwards in an increasingly international world is not a good idea. An insistence on trying to spread the Welsh language more widely in Wales is not a sign of national identity. It is a sign of national insecurity.

Right or wrong, that’s my viewpoint. Like I said at the start, What is the point of having a blog if you can’t write bigoted pieces based on truth, half-truths and misunderstandings?

Oh – Abergavenny has now been pointlessly half-re-named Y Fenni.

Really! Give me a break, chaps or – as Google Translate claims that would be said in Welsh – yn rhoi i mi egwyl, chaps.

What sort of sensible language doesn’t have a word for “chaps”?

Dim sense.

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Filed under History, Politics, Wales

How did spaghetti-juggling get into this year’s Edinburgh Fringe programme?

The ever-energetic comic Bob Slayer is looking after The Hive venue at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe for the Laughing Horse Free Festival and, back in January, he asked me if I wanted to do any chat-type shows based on my blog.

I had already arranged to stage a two-hour Malcolm Hardee Awards Show on the final Friday of the Fringe.

So we arranged that I would precede this with four ‘talking head’ shows. Debates, but with comedians. I would chair the first two and doyenne of Edinburgh Fringe comedy reviewers Kate Copstick (a Malcolm Hardee Award judge) would chair the second two. The subjects seemed quite clear:

On Monday – “Comedians are psychopathic masochists with a death wish” – based on a blog I wrote which comedy industry website Chortle later used.

On Tuesday – “Racist or sexist jokes? It doesn’t matter if they’re funny!” – again based on a blog of mine which Chortle later printed.

On Wednesday –  “Have the Big Boys Fucked Up The Fringe?” about large promoters, producers and management agencies’ effect on the Fringe.

On Thursday – “Are Bono, Bob and the Big Boys Fucking Up The World?” about charity and aid money.

This was all OK until Copstick discovered, at the last moment, that she had to be in London for the final of ITV’s new reality TV series Show Me The Funny on the same days as her planned Fringe debates – and possibly rehearsing in London on the previous two days.

This happened a few days before the final Fringe Programme deadline, when the titles and billings had already been submitted.

I have always wanted to hear the introduction, “And now… a man juggling spaghetti…”

I would accept a woman. If you have a spare one, let me know.

But, if I could hear that introduction and then see someone do it, I could die happy and fulfilled.

Since the mid-1980s, when I was working on the LWT series Game For a Laugh, through series like The Last Resort with Jonathan Ross, I half-heartedly tried to find someone who could juggle cooked spaghetti for more than one minute. It appears it cannot be done. In the 1990s, I tried with the brilliant juggler Steve Rawlings, at which point, I gave up – If he can’t do it, no-one can do it, I thought – but it has always simmered away at the back of my mind.

So, on the basis that I could not think of anything better, I decided to hold the Malcolm Hardee Spaghetti-Juggling Contest – Year One (who knows if there will be a Year Two, but it sounds good) at the Laughing Horse Free Fringe venue which is exactly what it says in the name – Outside The Beehive – in Grassmarket for 45 minutes on the final Tuesday and Wednesday nights of the Edinburgh Fringe.

It should be messy and, if it rains, shambolically messy – a fitting tribute to Malcolm Hardee. But it might get a few pictures in the media and/or some word-of-mouth to plug the Malcolm Hardee Awards Show on the Friday night. And I suspect I can get quite a few comics to wander along and take part as well as members of the public.

The submission has gone in to Guinness to see if – in the unlikely event someone can actually keep cooked spaghetti in the air for more than a minute – they would actually recognise spaghetti-juggling as a world record.

Now all I have to do is find somewhere to get large amounts of cooked spaghetti on two nights in Edinburgh in late August…

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If the Daily Mail calls you “zany” is that good or bad at the Edinburgh Fringe?

It is good to know the Daily Mail reads my blog, even if a little belatedly.

Yesterday’s column by Richard Kay carried a piece using a quote from my blog last week about increasingly embattled government minister Chris Huhne. I am not quite sure if it is intended to support or undermine him. Who can understand the Machiavellian machinations of Fleet Street where politics are concerned? Or maybe it’s just printed because the quote is quite sweet. Let’s assume it is that:

________

Chris Huhne’s reputation as a ladies man has been enhanced by zany stand-up comedienne Charmian Hughes, who recalls a romantic encounter with the priapic Lib Dem Cabinet minister when they were teenagers in West London.

Convent school-educated Charmian says her first snog came courtesy of Huhne, who used to drive around in a London taxi, when she was 15 and he 17. 

‘He was a very glamorous and sexy figure. We all adored him. He was brainy and cool and sophisticated. I think he only snogged me to put me out of my misery.’

________

It is a pity the Daily Mail calls Charmian “zany” as that is one of those words which sometimes sit uneasily as a quote on an Edinburgh Fringe poster – and anyone performing at the Fringe in August is currently poring over possible quotes for posters, flyers and press releases.

“Zany” is one of those words which student revues use on their first trip to perform at the Fringe – it’s only one step down from the much-dreaded word “wacky”.

I wrote comedy reviews at the Edinburgh Fringe for a couple of years. One comic still calls me a “cunt” on sight because of one rather mild review I wrote of her performance. But, if I ever saw publicity for a comedy show billing itself as “wacky”, I would run a royal mile and try to find a group of limbless orphans performing a play about the Moors Murders. More chance of comedy in that.

The other problem is that the “zany” quote comes from the Daily Mail.

The Mail is like a red (or should that be blue?) rag to a bull for many comics because of its perceived too-far-to-the-right-ness. What this knee-jerk reaction misses, of course, is that it has built up its massive circulation because it knows what Middle England likes and thinks. (Its sales in Scotland, interestingly, are negligible.) I wrote an unloved blog about this which got me e-mails saying I’m a prat with neo-Fascist tendencies. But beware of ignoring the selling power of the Daily Mail.

A quote from the Daily Mail will not get you loved by mostly Guardian-reading reviewers, but it may well get you more bums-on-seats.

Whether a very good stand-up like Charmian Hughes can put “zany” on her poster (I think she can) and can use a quote from the Daily Mail (I think she should) even if it’s out-of-context because it is not actually a review of her show (everyone does that at the Fringe) will be one of the many interesting things to see in August.

When I told her about the Daily Mail quote, Charmian’s reaction was:

“OMG, how do they know I am zany? Do you think they were secretly in my audience at the Brighton Fringe?… I’m using ‘hilarious’ Guido Fawkes as a quote.”

This could turn out to be a battle of the quotes. The Guido Fawkes political website – which deals in Westminster gossip – tweeted that my blog is a “hilarious read” and that the specific Chris Huhne blog in question was “a brilliant post”.

Now I just have to figure out how to spread the news that I am a “hilarious read” before news of Charmian’s “hilarious” zaniness spreads to Edinburgh.

Or could Charmian’s surprising and, to me, suspicious schmoozing of politicians, websites and the Daily Mail be a devious early ploy in a campaign to win the much-coveted and increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award?

Publicity?

Tell me about publicity…

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Filed under Comedy, Newspapers, Politics, PR

The story two-faced Tony Blair/Bliar successfully hid from the British public

The individual’s right to privacy, the public’s “right to know” and freedom of the press.

Now there’s a difficult balance to strike.

And then there are super-injunctions.

One of the reasons for granting one of the notorious secret super-injunctions was apparently that, if the man’s marital infidelity were revealed, his children might get bullied at school. I rather think that, if the guy’s kids get bullied because their father has been sticking his knob within someone other than his wife, then the guy should take responsibility. It ain’t for the public courts to help him try to hide his adultery.

But the protection of children versus freedom of the press can be a well-balanced problem – of which more later, with Tony Blair.

Yesterday, the Guido Fawkes blog ran a story that, since 2008 – unknown to the British public – it has been an offence punishable by imprisonment to reveal that Lakshmi Mittal, the richest man in Britain – who has donated £2 million to the Labour Party – has a super-injunction gagging all reporting of an unknown and unprintable matter.

And much was made in the press yesterday about the super-injunction with which former RBS boss Fred Goodwin tried to hide an affair he had with a married subordinate before the financial crisis of 2008. This was the super-injunction which also, technically, made it illegal to describe him as “a banker”.

There have been lots of worthy ‘public interest’ words about how the public deserved to know about Fred Goodwin’s affair because it may have affected his judgment in the period leading up to the point at which the British taxpayer had to fork out billions of pounds to save RBS.

I’m not convinced that Fred The Bed’s rumpy pumpy is too likely to have specifically contributed to RBS’s woes in any major way. I think that may be more to do with the near-meltdown of the entire world’s financial system – and, from my biased perspective, two Icelandic banks which stole the money I had invested in them. But stress, obviously, does affect people’s judgment in times of crisis.

If – let us say for argument’s sake – if… a Prime Minister were making important life-or-death decisions in a highly volatile post-war situation, the public would have a right to know if he were making those decisions under extreme personal stress, wouldn’t they?

Well, no, apparently the public would not have any right to know that.

Call me old-fashioned, but I think highly personal matters SHOULD be in the public domain if people – perhaps hundreds, perhaps thousands of people – might die because of a potentially wrong decision taken by a politician under extreme personal pressure.

Tony Blair – sometimes called Tony Bliar, a far more fitting spelling – the man who brought in the Freedom of Information Act – claimed he wanted ‘open’ government.

Yet, when his 16 year old daughter Kathryn attempted suicide on or around 13th May 2004, he and his chaps went to the editors of the main British newspapers and had all reporting of the attempted suicide barred from publication because it was a solely personal, private matter. Rupert Murdoch barred publication of any reporting of the incident in any of his newspapers worldwide; I do wonder what sort of political payback he could expect for doing that.

It remains one of many stories known by but not reported in the UK media. Many people who knew about the attempted suicide at the time agreed and still agree with the blanket non-reporting of the fact it happened. They believe that it was and is a family tragedy and there is no “in the public interest” factor involved; they argued and argue that the physical and psychological protection of the individual child outweighs any public right to know. I disagree.

In a recent blog I mentioned I tried to commit suicide when I was 18.

The Blair daughter suicide bid happened almost exactly one year after the invasion of Iraq, which was in an even worse mess and the Abu Ghraib torture pictures had recently been publicised. The suicide bid was rumoured to have been caused by a combination of exam stress and bullying by schoolmates about her father’s involvement in Iraq. Which is where that earlier reference to school bullying comes in.

The Blair suicide story is not an urban myth. I know someone who, at the time, was connected to the Blair daughter’s Roman Catholic state secondary school, the Sacred Heart in Hammersmith. I heard about it at the time because, obviously, the school knew it had happened.

I first heard the story mentioned in public by an Irish comedian at the August 2004 Edinburgh Fringe. The story had been published in Ireland and abroad but not in the UK and not by any news sources controlled by Rupert Murdoch.

At the time, there were unexplained stories in the British press that Blair was considering leaving office. No reason was given in the reports as to why Blair might leave office beyond, occasionally, some vague reference to “family”. And it seemed to me that Blair suddenly visibly aged at that time.

If those stories were true and he was indeed considering actually resigning for family reasons then it does not seem to be a vast leap of supposition to believe that he was making important decisions of life and death in an extremely volatile and unpredictable high-pressure post-Invasion situation while under extreme psychological stress.

The reasons for his stress might well have been “personal” and “private” but, when personal, normally private events affect national and international decisions and potentially the deaths of hundreds or thousands of people, the public has a right to know the circumstances under which those decisions are being made.

There ARE cases where the public’s “right to know” and freedom of the press over-ride people’s “right to privacy”.

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Filed under Newspapers, Politics, Sex