make ’em laugh

With The Persuasionists going down terribly (“..this isn’t so much Mad Men as Pathetic Men” and Big Top not worth mentioning it all, I thought some fresh new ideas for BBC sitcoms would go down a treat.

So here are some ideas for the head of BBC Comedy to consider. I’ll be watching. Unlike anyone with any sense to The Persuasionists, KA-BOOM.

[1] The Lady’s Not For Turning
Amanda Holden and Stephanie Cole appear in a rip-roaring/cosy Sunday crossover feast of laughter set in a sleepy parish council with a hilariously euphemistic name. Amusing titters aplenty over the large vegetable tables and tittering gay vicar, played by one of the less funny ones from Skins. Or the IT Crowd. Viewers who press the red button can access footage of Amanda Holden struggling to read any one of Alan Bennet’s Talking Heads.

[2] Stars and Hype
Amanda Holden and whichever Heroes actor is available this week star in this hard hitting, side-splitting, cross-Atlantic comedy based in the heady world of PR. Mmm, just feel the cutting edge, it is SHARP. She’s a ditzy PR girl with sass, he’s probably black, it’ll certainly mix up the expectations. Viewers pressing the red button will be able to see Amanda Holden trying to fill her bra with crushed Maryland cookies.

[3] The Temp Agency
Former The Bill, and Primeval stars…erm….you know them by now, household names…join Amanda Holden in this new, fresh look at British women in the 21st century. They shop, they have one-night-stands, they’re so NOW, and WITH-IT. Includes hilarious parodies by not-unfunny-at-all punchline flogger Mitch Benn. Viewers pressing the red button can access footage of Amanda Holden inventing new swear words as she tries to give a fair evaluation of Lisa Tarbuck’s career.

[4] Please Put Items Into Bagging Area
Former Dinnerladies star….er….and Amanda Holden struggle against the daily grind of the automated shopping centre in this groundbreaking true to life instant comedy classic. All the observational comedy gems it takes a production team of at least 20 to get just right for months, packed into just one episode. Viewers who press the red button can watch Amanda Holden reading the back of cornflakes packets for a meals on wheels information cassette.

[5] Make ’em laugh
Amanda Holden and Jonny Vegas feature as washed up comedy turns in a comedy so full of self referential jokes, the final ten minutes is slow motion footage of Mark Lawson masturbating into a cup. Viewers who press the red button will access footage of them pressing the red button…

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It’s my currency…

Gyles Brandreth, Kenneth Williams, Lord Alanbrooke, Alan Clark, even ex-Torquay manager Garry Nelson – all diarists whose published works are on my bookshelf up against assorted Margaret Atwood novels and back issues of High Voltage.

Reading and writing published diaries has been the subject of some recent programmes on BBC Four. Richard E. Grant questioned whether Kenneth Williams had ever written a true word throughout his acerbic journals; Mariella Frostrup wondered if fictional diaries contain thinly disguised truths from the author. And then there are the likes of me, whose scrawled jottings and inspired mutterings, not to mention bad poetry, has been a largely secret record of the events of the past with varying degrees of accuracy and proportionate emotion. At least the poetry appears to have stopped.

With only a 17-month break in 10 years – that gap spanning the period from my grandmother’s death to the first Weatherspoon’s breakfast of 2010 – my diaries are as much or as little a valid record of the 21st century as the countless real-time online message boards and blogs covering the same period. Diarists are fairly odd sorts, with their daily duty (or chore?) involving no more equipment than a pen and a Collins page-a-day.

If my keeping a diary is because of the frustrated writer inside me, the only reason why I keep a penny-jar is for the teaching of a little restraint. People who know me will be quite surprised to learn that my diaries haven’t been torn to shreds in a fit of pique; it must be picking-up-from-the-floor-time when you all discover my cup of loose change hasn’t been thrown at a wall or carried to work for a splurge on meat pies and Manchester Tarts.

Having had the snooty treatment from bank clerks who think the changing of change is somehow beneath them, I will cart my screw-top jar of shrapnel to the nearest supermarket magic machine sometime summer-wards. Money tends to burn a hole in my pocket, so anything which promotes restraint can only be beneficial. Heck, I’ve knocked the glass over enough times to think, “Screw it, you are coming with me to Tesco and you’re going to get spent.” When full, the contents of the glass will be transferred to the screw-top, and the whole process will begin again.

Unlike blogging – where the author expects readership, maybe comments, possibly recommendations and quotations – diary writing can be as insular or full of expression as the writer dictates. It’s no more “self obsessed” than the first-time author getting his characters to mention in-jokes halfway through a chapter. Penny-jar husbandry must seem just as alien, some outdated act alongside making pastry from scratch or sewing buttons. There is something to be said of the age when the walk from my house to the bus station can often result in a £1 profit from the haul of the previous night wallet-fall.

I don’t keep a diary “so as to have something scandalous to read on the train”. Nor do I put 20p coins in a jar to kill off the sudden pang of hunger for Fox’s Creams at the dead of night. It’s how I go about wandering around this great big cloister-fach of a gameshow we call life, if it’s anything at all. If the opposite of doing either is spray-painting my name on bus-stops or slotting every last penny into an arcade machine, then I’ll carry on being uncool.

Oh, and the Garry Nelson diaries, “Left Foot In The Grave”, are very good…but I donated them to one of the solider charities at Christmas…Sure some brave boy out in Helmand really wants to know about the daily life of a lower league football club…

In no particular order…

As expected, Tony Blair has scribbled all over the newsgrids in place for January and his questioning at the Iraq War Inquiry. The former prime minister told renowned investigative journalist Fern Britton that had he known about the lack of WMDs in Iraq at the time of the Parliamentary vote on any proposed Iraq invasion, “other justifications” would have been sourced and used. This is the infamously grey area barely above the level of lying so favoured by the political class: the world of “known unknowns” and suppressed legal advice and other such curtains drawn to hide the facts.

The media have not done themselves any favours against claims of “dumbing down” in recent months, not least in their coverage of the Iraq Inquiry. With barely any headline news, it has become pretty much established fact that the war had its genesis years prior to the World Trade Centre attacks, that “regime change” was far above any other justification for invasion, and George W. Bush did not necessarily require the firm handshakes or solemn prayers of Tony Blair before sending American troops into battle. How the media will cover Blair’s actual questioning in front of Chilcott will be interesting now the “big admission” has been so subtly placed into the public arena “a month early”.

The bigger story for both BBC News and Sky News this past week has been Tiger Woods’ “moment of madness”. Interestingly, BBC News placed Blair above Woods in the running order only after placing them the other way around for most of the day. Sky News was still preferring Woods to Blair at first thing this morning. It is quite the unfathomable thing that the pulling out of British troops from Iraq and subsequent uncovered allegations surrounding the war have had barely anything like the media coverage at the time of the invasion. Is it boredom on the part of the news teams? Focus Group feedback?

As I potted down to Tesco this morning for a croissant and the NonLeague Paper, I noticed each and every tabloid front page was covered self-generated X-Factor press releases and speculation. The stars may not be the best or most talented – and anyway, why do I care now Stacy has gone – but the genius of Simon Cowell to ensure his empire strikes at the top of every office coffee break, breakfast table banter and indeed chart rundown shows no sign of being reduced. That he is considering taking the X-Factor model into some kind of international Eurovision-style festival of amateur talent should come as no surprise and as a warning to anyone who would prefer a return to the days when the ability to sing came above the ability to manipulate an audience to telephone vote for you.

It’s Christmas early-pay-day-week. And I’ve yet to start any Christmas shopping. I’m playing “Christmas chicken”, it’s a bloke thing. In any case, there’s every chance that financial pressures will tighten so why not wait until every scarf, chocolate box and voucher is available at cheapness for the right to say the purchasing was genuinely all in the spirit of Goodwill?

Yep, I’m convinced. More convinced than by Blair, I’ll say that….

Index Eye

By using Google Analytics and StatCounter I am able to spot who is reading what, when, and from where they are staring through a screen at my Missives. Oo-er and indeed missus.

The following six (and a bit) entries are not necessarily the most popular, rather they have maintained a loyal little readership long after the publication date. Can blog entries be “published”? Of course they can, that orange button says “PUBLISH POST”. Right, good, that’s sorted.

So, here are the “Top 6-ish blog entries which have maintained popularity over a certain amount of time, listed to give readers a chance to peruse entries they may have missed. Type thing.”

1. Book Clubbed. In which I go through how many writing pads have been filled with endless attempts at writing novels and stories, only to end somewhere mid-sentence through a middle chapter in a mixture of resignation and slight disappointment.

2. Derren Brown – parts one and two. When the “wisdom of the crowds” met the “scepticism of the Doktorb”. Guess who won…

3. Backstory – Jumper No idea why this is still picking up the readers, (it seems to be very popular every now and then with American IP addresses). What happens when a younger Dok goes into a clothes shop. And fails to do anything right.

4. Scotland Memories of Mallaig, the Small Isles, and such like. Badly typed Gaelic too, I wouldn’t wonder.

5. Nick Griffin – parts one and two No surprises here, I suppose. The one surprising thing about my articles making the case for the BNP leader to appear on Question Time is how many people got here searching for “X Factor” and “Simon Cowell is a [naughty word]”.

6. Sleeping with John Peel Musical musings and such like memories. I can only assume it’s the provocative title, you know….

Dusk’s optimism

These are the shadows embracing, the firm embrace of dream-time loosening, loosening. What strength drawn through the light milk of translucent morning stirrs the consciousness; arms stretched and hands posed as to admire jewellery.

These are the thoughts of uncertainty which melt with the dawn, voices not your own, typeface characterised in colour. If this is the wariness of dawn its partner must be the optimism at dusk.

Your footsteps have been walked before, we call them the witness of strangers, only with the addition of clunking chains. Maybe the touch of fabric against skin, slightest whispers of leaves, twigs, branches, rustling in the chase. Footsteps of a Victorian gentleman starched and bearded: else a lost woman holding up her hand to shade light and deflect attention.

In our hands grasped, an orb, purple and shocking-pink; these are the reputations we do not realise are held by others. Heavy, unusually warm, our bounty we are eager to hide under a plenitude of x’s. Imagine the jagged donut-hole.

Our ironic egg.

Book Clubbed

If it be true that “everyone has one novel inside them”, I must have taken the quota for an entire postal district. Going through the memory banks I have brought to mind some of the aborted attempts at getting my name on the Waterstones bookshelves. Here’s what the Bestseller lists won’t be featuring anytime soon…

1) “Write about what you know…”
Get a group of lads forming a band at the height of Britpop, a group of girls hoping to win the prime-time “What It Takes” talent show, and with a bit of mild political satire the ingredients for an acceptable first-novel. In reality a dozen pages of rough drafting created a dozen characters who all sounded the same and no actual storyline.

2) “Write about something you don’t know…”
Take “Catcher In The Rye”, run over it with assumption and speed-reading, and…Get three or so scribbled pages on which there is nothing of much attention. I was young(er), there is that as an excuse…..

3) “It’s like Handmaid’s Tale but with blokes….”
So I borrowed far too much from Margaret Atwood (well, songwriters always get something in from a song they just heard on the radio…don’t they?). Despite my best efforts – “Sperm Bank Corporation”, “Bloke Farms”, that sort of thing – nothing, er, came.

4) “Dystopian futures, they’re popular…”
Drug taking, bored layabout northerner (I’m good at imagination) wakes up in Earth-like planet meeting strange people along the way. Twelve pages of drafting resulted in countless backstories, bad sex scenes, and a lead character who was essentially a Chinese Whispers version of me. Next!

5) “No, dystopian futures always work, try again…”
So in a Britain where homosexuality was never legalised…Twelve or so pages of drafting resulted in pretty much everything above, with the added secret ingredient of a lesbian who sounded like the most boring woman on Earth.

Essentially, I have more of the failed novels which everyone attempts to write at least once, all tucked away inside my head. It’s not as though every character killed along the way is still chunnering in my imagination craving atten….Wait, I have an idea……To the writing pad!

backstory – family wedding

“Church”. To my family, to all Wiganers truth be told, it should rhyme with “first” and “worse”. And so it did, at the wedding for people I cannot recall by name, in a year lost in memory. The church was blue, Methodist, in Bryn. The wedding between a man I had never met before in my life and a woman who was the daughter of the daughter of the sister of somebody else.

This being Wigan, you could walk from house to house meeting relatives with no more struggle than if you were setting out for a ‘paper and some milk.

(Incidental memory: my grandmother, finger running down the small print of a phone directory tapping, running through the names of people who had died, to her knowledge.)

What did I wear? Cannot remember. A school-shirt, possibly, one of dad’s work-ties. Hair cut no doubt. My sister? A blank too. I recall only very specific things, like watching a video late at night with the sound down.

What I wore then cannot be recalled. I stood next to my grandfather with his booming singing voice in fine form. My voice was muted, slightly scared. The whole atmosphere was stifling, maybe it was the weather. It wasn’t just the weather, it was the service, which was quite fervent and traditional. The service was led with some emotion by a man, who was old, I remember that. Or do I remember it? The view I have through my memory is of the wall behind him, which was blue, and on which was painted a caption, the only word of which I can recall with any certainly is “JESUS”. Maybe it was “SAVES” although that doesn’t sound very Methodist at all.

He was saying – the man, not Jesus – that essentially the happiness of the wedding was all well and good but didn’t we realise that in the eyes of God we had pretty much failed Him and there was not a single pot of jam more we could sell or apology we could pray that would save us. We’d just have to work bloody damn hard every single minute of our lives until we died. He didn’t say “bloody”. He sure as Hell said “damn”.

(Incidental memory: my grandmother wearing the same dress as another guest. It was my sister who spotted this, I remember.)

This was my only family wedding. Which is unusual, given the closeness of the upbringing. I have had two funerals, only one of which was family, although close (to me) family members have died. The closeness of the family unit is as odds with geographic elements. And other elements too, which are easily resolved, if either side of us took the time to resolve them. I wish I could recall more than just trivial highlights, though. We must have had drinks after – did I have a drink? Such things were frowned upon, small “c” conservatives. The Methodist element of the equations were, for want of a better word, diluted.

We must have had drinks, then.

(Incidental memory: a distant relative, near the Bryn railway station. A garden, square, with birds. Something fleeting runs through my long-term memory, as though I am staring at a photo album on top of a camp-fire, photographs flicking and turning and racing up through the heated air.)

backstory – jumper

Preston College Students Union office, before “the troubles”. A friend of mine has suggested I am in someway showing off by turning up, head to toe, in clothes bought that weekend with my wages from my first ever job. Maybe I was. No, scratch that: I was not. Assuming it was a joke, (it was a joke), showing off was the last thing on my mind, given I was wearing a fisherman’s hat, skin-tight army-print t-shirt and a corded jacket. Jeans, certainly, but they were old. Or so I assume.

But purchasing clothes, then and now, is not something I do with great haste or enjoyment. It is something of a chore, like buying shoe-polish or replacement lightbulbs. I remember the incident with a grey jumper really clearly, not least because my mindset (behaviour?) remains fairly similar now.

The store was Officer’s Club, which exists today but not where it once was. The original store was tucked away in another part of the Fishergate Centre, above what once was the cafe (what was this called? The Station? No…The Platform? No…It was called, WhistleStop, I remember now. There was a miniature train which ran along a track fixed to the ceiling. It did not whistle. Or stop.)

So, then, Officer’s Club. It was from there I bought a blue jumper, sky blue, with a design like a jagged rainbow on the front. “Oh Jesus,” said my dad. “Oh God,” said my sister. My dad was not one for bothering with the purchasing of clothes, with the kind of attitude suggesting that any bloke who spends more than a few minutes down the market buying a jumper is showing the kind of behaviour which would have him expelled from the army. At the back of my mind then and now such a forceful piece of Wiganer logic remains. Absent-mindedly checking out the fabrics and prices of every rack in the store is a worrying trait in anybody not a grandmother or teenage girl.

So, the jumper. I had walked in, spotted the familiar sense of feeling ‘watched’ and ‘scrutinised’, and how awkward I felt being in a clothes store, even if it was Officer’s Club with its constant discount offers and endless sales. I would have liked a grey jumper, found one, bought it, left. On discovering it was sleeveless, a kind of tank-top affair, my mother did not take “It’s fiiiiiine” for any kind of excuse, taking me back to the shop to exchange it for something more suitable. She actually said to the guy behind the counter, “He thought it was a jumper”. Maybe I looked away at this point, studied my shoes. Else I was already looking away.

Lessons have been learned, but not heeded or remembered all the time. Only two years ago I returned from a retro clothes store in Manchester with a yellow-and-blue Adidas top (and very nice it was too), in the size “oh eck this is a bit tight”. Refusal to try clothes on in store (for fear, and it is fear, of resembling someone who wants attention from staff) will forever be my downfall.

Dad was right, though.

interruptions from history

FC Utd. Bank. Exploding lightbulbs. There’s a lot to remember after some time away.

And I’ve not, technically moved anywhere.

You need to listen to the Empire State, they’re very good.

I made it to FC Utd, for a very good struggle but ultimately a 2-0 defeat for the mighty Berske. For the first time I was, all things considered, the target for “You Scouse bastards” chanting. “They’ve got a Liverpool postcode, that’s enough for me,” commented a bloke on the tram back to Victoria.

Two days later, at home, normal service is not quite resumed, ending up 8-0 victors against a clearly hastily thrown together Durham side. Two goals disallowed (one for “pushing in the area”, which in non-league surely isn’t an issue?)

The Bank are getting testy. I haven’t been chased for the c/c so often before. I think it’s just the mood of the nation, such as it is. But they’ve got an increase in minimum payment, that’ll do for now. Covered tracks, sort of thing. Then I go and see a bloke on BBC News talking about how his wife and he managed to pay off some multi-thousand debt during the credit-crunch “which now is gladly over” or some such dribble. Balls to it, I say.

Woke up this morning (no, this ain’t a blues song), all my lightbulbs blown out. Need to get a torch. No, revision: I /have/ a torch but no batteries (damn Maplin). So may have to hot-foot it to Argos. Or buy matches. I’ll buy matches, probably.

I have limited time on this computer. Darn it! I must get internet access at home….

Away!

from a fiction

Typewriters. There’s a meme. Orchestrated, drumming as would impatient people at bus-stops, fingers against timetables. Maybe the typewriters created the timetables. Smoke in the circles, circles as lines. But the typewriting people – me, as one, there are others – indicated something. There were voices, but I cannot recall them now. There’s a characteristic of dreams; voices and sounds rarely remain. If anyone says different, potentially they’re being untruthful.

So if not only typewriters, what else? A house, a very nice house. Three floors – maybe more? Certainly expensive. Wallpaper, patterned, ever-so-slightly raised, suggestive of a show-room. Carpet, white, I had to take off my shoes as I could see the mud I was bringing with me. There was two showers in the one bathroom….was there? Certainly [X] – who I have not seen for ages – was there, dressed in a manner I have never seen before in real life. So fantasy? No, plain sight, just ordinary. Not that kind of dream.

Something else. Or, “other”, then, but I cannot recall. There was three wake-ups this morning, for house, and for typewriters, and for some other interruption. My stomach currently swims with too many full bowls of Sugar Puffs and milk (my fridge houses only milk and pasta sauce). Was it family, in the third chapter of the dream?

I cannot recall.