2010: wounded knee

This is not a review of the year. It’s a review of my year. And a partial one, as I’ve run out of time and if I don’t post it now, it’s going to look pretty daft. So how was it for you? Here’s how it was for me. It’s almost done now, and what do I have to show for it? Well, a scar on my left knee. Early on in 2010, I tripped and fell at the top of the escalator that travels up from the Jubilee Line to the National Rail link at Waterloo, in London. I was wearing some new trainers whose laces were too long, and one of them got caught in the moving stairs as I was about to step off. This is the first time this has even happened to me, in a lifetime of travelling on escalators, and 26 years of using the public transport system in London on an almost daily basis. I tripped and fell flat on the floor. I picked myself up immediately to assure fellow travellers that I was not injured, dusted myself down, picked up my bag and kept walking. Although I’d fallen on my knees, my trousers were not ripped. This was a result. (A few years ago, I fell down some stairs at an overground station in South London and tore holes in both knees of a pair of trousers I really liked, something that made me self-conscious all day at 6 Music – I felt like Just William.)

However, closer inspection when I got home revealed a lot of blood and pretty big tear in my left knee – not the trouser, the knee. It healed quickly enough, but I didn’t get the Arnika on it quickly or regularly enough in those crucial first days and I’ve been left with a meaningful scar which I might not have been. This scar, just a short curve of angry red on my knee, might just sum up my 2010.

Firstly, to quote the title of William Leith’s 2008 book, bits of me are falling apart. Although the knee scar is a self-inflicted injury, I have reached an age where physical decline begins in earnest – the noises when you sit down and get up, the heartburn, the spiraling inability to drink heavily and do anything the next day – and all attempts at healthy living and preventative medication are launched on a sloping playing field. I have started running to stand still, in health terms, and by that I don’t mean I have started running. Better get used to it, I suppose. That and the fact that – apparently – people you know start dying when you’re in your forties. This is not as advertised. I kind of assumed that didn’t start until your sixties!

I haven’t started running, but I do plenty of walking – anyone who uses public transport does – and in fact, all that walking and observing and thinking and transport-using helped me create my first one-man comedy show for Edinburgh, Secret Dancing, a major achievement and milestone for me which, on its own terms, was a success. I thoroughly enjoyed writing the show, building it up around various unconnected ideas – unconnected ideas which in their very unconnectedness sum me up, for better or worse – and honing it in front of paying and unpaying audiences in London, Brighton, Northampton, Edinburgh and Cardiff. Along the way, I admit, I harboured desires to become a stand-up comedian, and in this regard, I experienced some amazingly open-minded and unprejudiced support from those who actually have become stand-up comedians, and are stand-up comedians, as opposed to writers who cannot resist a dabble. As well as the obvious, Richard Herring, I was encouraged by Michael Legge, Phill Jupitus, Sarah Millican, Gary Delaney, Mat Ricardo, Jason Manford, Peter Buckley Hill, Martin White, stand-up musician Jim Bob and Robin Ince. This counted for a great deal.

I came away from Edinburgh feeling satisfied. Satisfied that I had been able to perform the same one-hour, one-man set daily for 16 consecutive days to full houses – to remember what order it all went in and to project it, clearly, once without a PA, due to a technical mishap. I also realised, through homesickness and all-round tiredness, that this was not an alternative career for me. To actually make a go of it takes more time and energy than I have at my disposal. To continue dabbling would, I felt, be an insult to those who really have paid their dues and continue to put in the hours of practice, development and self-improvement the job demands. I was offered a number of gigs in London when I got back from Scotland, and I politely declined them all, before even realising that I must retire. I can still see myself playing the fool onstage with Richard next year, and I retain the confidence to walk onstage in front of people and talk should I be required to do so, but it’s not something I wish to pursue any further.

It’s not often you get the luxury of making a big decision like that. So I will always look back on 2010 with fondness for that reason. I had a go. The last two years have been tough, workwise, constantly spinning the requisite plates (and two platters called Work and Life), and devoting all that time to meetings, pitching and proposing and “bouncing a few ideas around” on spec, and for no money whatsoever, in the hope of at some stage eliciting some development money or an actual, paid commission.

At the beginning of this year, I note, I was putting the finishing touches to the second draft of an ambitious comedy-drama I had in modest development with BWark, who make The Inbetweeners (and who thus had a very good year). That went to BBC Comedy and was rejected on the grounds that they had no hour-long slots. We duly took it to BBC Drama, who showed interest – showering me with praise, in fact – and then rejected it as they didn’t have the slot for it either. It now sits in limbo. That’s been a disappointing outcome. So was the fate of the sitcom I developed with another writer, which was again forged in the white heat of enthusiasm at an independent production company and was decisively turned down by BBC Comedy, this time because of the subject matter, which was out of fashion that week, after which the production company dropped it like a hot brick. (I was never paid a penny for all of the work that went into developing the proposal. Plumbers get a call-out charge. Writers do not.)

I am not moaning. It’s the game. If you can’t stand the rejection, you’re in the wrong job. I am lucky enough to be connected to an ongoing BBC sitcom, Not Going Out, whose fourth series begins on BBC1 in the first week of 2011. This, as you probably know, was cancelled, then reinstated, against all BBC orthodoxy. It returns in a later slot, on a less important day than Friday, and there are only six episodes, instead of the usual eight, but I was very grateful to be commissioned to write one of them, with Lee Mack – gagged up by a whole team of other writers, of course – and it’s called Debbie, or was.

Writing for a popular mainstream sitcom does open doors for a writer. I can “get a meeting”, as they say in LA, but meetings do not pay money. However, this was ultimately a good year: I finally got a commission for a sitcom I’ve been trying to get commissioned – literally – for over ten years. At the beginning of 2009, amid great hope, I had it in development with BBC Comedy, but, after nursing me through six drafts of a pilot script, they passed on it. Due to the tenacity of the production company, Avalon, it has now found a home at Radio 4 – Mr Blue Sky will be my first ever solo-written comedy, four episodes ordered up, and we start rehearsals in February. This has been the best news of 2010, professionally. (The worst was probably BBC2’s loaded decision to move The Persuasionists, the advertising-set sitcom on which I was script editor, to some godforsaken graveyard slot mid-run, to protect it from being seen by anyone. I was angered by the personal abuse Iain Lee, one of the stars, endured on Twitter, and impressed by Adam Buxton’s response to the show’s failure. All I can say, with my hand on my heart, is that when we were making it, and filming it, we all thought it was very funny. It just goes to show.)

My other source of professional joy has come from 6 Music, who, after a long period of estrangement, put me back on the subs’ bench last Christmas, and have been giving me work ever since. This was the year that the axe hovered over 6 Music, and a phenomenal groundswell of support saw that axe withdrawn. I can take no credit for any of this – it was the listener campaigns that saved 6 Music – but it has been a fabulous time to be connected to the network again. (The fact that, coincidentally, I was in the studio when Lauren Laverne read out the reprieve press release – I was there filling in for Grace Dent’s regular TV review slot, ever the deputy – was the most glittering prize.) Sometimes permanence can come from transience, as Richard and I discovered: asked to fill in for the missing Adam & Joe in February, we are still in “their” slot, almost a year later. We may not be contracted beyond the show we are actually presenting, but we feel like part of the furniture, and that, in its own way, helps pay back for all the free podcasts we’ve given away since February 2008.

I have, as I have made clear, mixed feelings about the way the podcast, or at least the semi-fictionalised relationship that drives it, has been evolving. Most of it is a joy, but regular listeners will have detected discomfort in some of my reactions to some of the extremes the Podcast Richard Herrin visits upon the Podcast Andrew Collings. This is kind of par for the course, I know, but controlled comedic abuse is one thing; when that spills over into the way I am regarded by our audience, it’s something else. Richard gets away with a lot, because our relationship is based on proximity and a three-dimensional dynamic; my skin is not yet tough enough to handle the occasional shot across the trenches, usually fired in anonymity. Richard is far better at processing comment than I – this is something I have learned this year. When Richard refers on the podcast to my “made-up charity”, it is funny because he knows that it gets under my skin and is a very bad thing to say about a registered charity, and he also knows it isn’t made up … but when someone on Twitter says it, my hackles are raised. I need to get over this! Can I really be that I am becoming more sensitive in my old age, and not less? Who predicted that?

I was wearing trainers with too-long laces on the escalator because they used to be my gym trainers and when I cancelled my gym membership as part of an economy drive I decided to put them into daily service and was wearing them on the Tube for the first time. Nothing is unconnected. We are in a recession and I’m sure I’m not alone in watching the pennies this year. None of us knows if our job is safe. I may be self-employed, but cuts are being felt everywhere, including TV budgets, and these cuts affect us all, unless we are investment bankers. It’s been a long time since I lived under a government I voted in, but the coalition have proved anything but the coalition advertised. They are a Tory government in all but name. Labour may have ushered in this financial mess – by, ironically, behaving like a Tory government – but Cameron and Osbourne seem to see it as a Shock Doctrine-style opportunity for social engineering and a Thatcherite Trojan Horse. Nick Clegg is powerless, it turns out. He will never again be voted for by Liberal Democrats. This is a bad outcome for him, and when he became a flammable effigy for protesting students, he must have wondered what the hell he’d done.

I have long held the view that the young generation are apathetic and apolitical. I was delighted to be proved wrong in 2010. I was a student in the 80s when we had means-tested grants and benefits and rent rebates. It was easier to be left-wing and angry with that feather bed beneath us. Today’s students already have it tougher than we did, but the tuition fees rise seems to have broken the camel’s back, or dragged the camel away from Loose Women and out onto the streets and into the refectory. Good. New Labour kicked the idealism and out of this nation, especially over Iraq (I certainly found mine ebbing away after the anti-war marches in 2003), and it’s taken a while to get that back. I welcome it. There will be more to come.

I hope you either had a tremendous 2010, or you have made a commitment to have a better 2011., or both. There really is no point in sitting around moping and counting the lines around your eyes. I’ve been working too hard, I guess, but only out of self-preservation, and with my magpie eyes on a greater prize, hopefully not too far down the road. I know this: if you live like a shark, when you stop moving, you start to feel vulnerable. As detailed elsewhere on this blog, it’s been a vintage year for intellectually stimulating foreign movies – and some English speaking ones – and my laptop has held out for another 12 months, and Tony Blair had to cancel some of his self-aggrandising mini-Nurembergs when his book came out. Some of my tooth fell out, but hey, that put a stop to the Double Deckers I had drifted, imperceptibly, into eating on a regular basis, as if reverting to childhood. Always a good time to cut back on the white flour and the sugar and the alcohol, a New Year. Because I’ve been writing back-up gags most weeks for the inspiringly quick-witted and fleet-minded Chris Addision on Five Live’s Seven Day Sunday – and occasionally appearing on it as a guest, when someone has dropped out at the last mnute (I’m not proud; my career would fold if I started worrying about being second or third choice!) – a weekly commitment which continues in the New Year, I have probably read more newspapers in 2010 than in any previous years. I sort of hate them all, even the Guardian some days, but I don’t want them to close down. An exclusively wired world would be a cold and lonely one indeed. I demand tactility!

I wish Word hadn’t stopped my column. I wish I’d liked The Walking Dead a bit more. I wish I didn’t hate and love Twitter at the same time. I wish I’d looked after me teeth. I wish I didn’t care what anybody thought of me. I wish cream didn’t make me sneeze. I wish I liked modern music a bit more. I wish I was as energised by socialism as I used to be, and did more for the environment, and liked the way I looked more, but come on, there are people living without fresh water in Belfast. Spare a thought for them.

Tomorrow is another year.

28 thoughts on “2010: wounded knee

  1. Andrew you are a marvel and one of my favourite broadcasters. There are not many people who could deal with Richard but your ability to be the foil to him makes the both of you better.

    I am so glad that I went to that banter recording years ago and then found the podcast.

    The fact that you are such a talent in so many areas is an inspiration and I hope that the experience of the stand up show and its success will help with getting the writing going in 2011.

    I look forward to the Not Going Out episode and the radio show. You both seemed so convinced when you started on the podcast that you would never be back on the radio but here you are with 6 music gigs galore and now a Radio 4 show!

    Cheers Mr Collins I wish you and your knee well in 2011!

  2. Great blog Andrew. Unfortunately it is usually idiots with negative things to say that take the time to do so. I like to think I am not an idiot and prefer to say positive things, so here goes.

    I have very much enjoyed your work throughout 2010, yours and mr herrings voices have given me much fun and laughter (2 hours a week) from your podcasts.

    Also saw the live Bristol show, which was brilliant.

    I even enjoyed the weekly episodes about who you would take on a date to see star wars.

    So keep it up. Myself and many others have a lot of respect for what you do.

    Happy new year

  3. I think Andrew, if we’re all honest we get a bit like yourself. We have self doubt, we worry about what people think of us. Unlike most people you have a great talent for writing. You are able to write comedy, reviews (film, books) and a great blog. Keep up the great work and all the best for 2011.

  4. Happy new year Andrew!

    It’s so easy to get consumed by thoughts of self doubt and that is further compounded by instant access to personal views held by other people on the internet. People are often more likely to criticise rather than compliment, and unfortunately it is generally criticism that sticks with us and becomes all consuming. The CaB forum is a good example of this, and you were lucky that most posters on that particular forum are intelligent, articulate people able to argue in a coherent way…but even intelligent, articulate people can start making pointless personal attacks. It’s a cliche to say it, but it’s just a case of trying to be more thick-skinned and remember that the views are those of a minority of people.

    On a lighter note, I’ve really enjoyed your work this year, it’s been especially good to have you back on 6Music where you belong! I hope you continue to work for the station throughout 2011. I have missed Adam and Joe this year, but I can’t think of anyone I would’ve liked to hear more than you and Richard in their absence. I hope the BBC give you both a permanent slot this year, failing that I hope they keep you on the subs bench 🙂

  5. Long time podcast listener, it is the BEST podcast out there and the first thing I listen to when I update my zune on a weekly basis. Herrin is a dick sometimes but you are forever the perfect straight man who he knows he’d be lost without.

    Keep up the good work and looking forward to a fruitful 2011 from you.

  6. Always enjoy your work Andrew; podcasts, journalism and all the other commentaries you do. You have a sense of optimism and respect that is both sincere and inspiring.

    Congratulations on all your successes of 2010 and hope you have many more in the next year!

  7. What hairbyslice said. Your warmth and humanity makes me wish you were a mate.

    Seeing Secret Dancing in Brighton (my wife Viks came up on stage) and meeting you briefly afterwards was one of the highlights of our year.

  8. I’m not sure it’s a question of self-doubt. I think if you care about showing due respect to others (and respect is due to everyone until they prove themselves unworthy) – if you think that’s important – then it will rankle when others are disrespectful to you. We all enter this world utterly selfish and self-centred. It’s a survival thing. Some people take longer than others to realise that everyone else has an equal claim to… well, everything. Some people never do. And the internet is full of young people. And most of what we can loosely call your audience is younger than you. You are a man who wrote a set of rules for how people should behave in public to make the world a better place. These things are going to get to you. I can’t offer any advice though: they get to me too.

    Sorry to bang on about the Lib Dems again but you let Clegg off the hook when you suggest he’s powerless. He isn’t powerless. If you believe governments really matter then Clegg is arguably the most powerful man in Britain right now. Unlike Vince Cable, Clegg really could bring the Coalition down if he chose to. He doesn’t choose to because he really does support Cameron and Osborne’s Big Project. He really, really does. He’s as culpable as they are for what’s coming. He is not powerless. It’s just that he’s a dick.

    Happy New Year!

  9. Andrew, enjoyment of various bits of your output (podcasts, radio shows, Edinburgh show) certainly added to my 2010. Happy new year and I hope you have a good 2011.

  10. You make the world a slightly better place, Andrew. The fact you are sometimes hard on yourself or feel down about the world is proof you’re on the right path- if you didn’t have that sensitivity, you wouldn’t be the same person. Anyway, even as someone who has never met you, I like you very much and I’m glad you’re around. Happy new year x

  11. Happy New Year Andrew!
    I think if I were to ever right a review of my year, I would allocate a few sentences to 6 Music as well. Like I knew it was there, but never really listened to it. I really started tuning in when you and Richard started appearing on it, almost regularly on Saturday morning and your sub slots.
    Btw, I’ve super enjoyed your breakfast show fill in these past 2 weeks

  12. I’ve really enjoyed so much of your work this year. Secret Dancing was inspired and made me laugh so much, I do it all the time now. I love the world you live in!

  13. You are the highlight of my podcast week (with Herring and BBC ). I have listened to you since the beginning. I think nothing would be lost if your family and favorite charity were left out of discussions. I would be very sad to see this end due to this upsetting you as I believe you have a lot more to give us. Thank you for everything and have a great and prosperous 2011.

  14. I have really enjoyed your blog, 6 Music show and most of all the Collings and Herrin podcast during the last year.

    Thank you and keep up the good work which is appreciated.

  15. I have to add my thanks also, Mr Collins – I love your work, and you shine both as a performer and as a person. Of course, I don’t know you, but I suspect I would be very pleased if I did. Anyway, sounding mawkish now. Thank you for making me laugh. Happy New Year.

  16. Thank you for writing this.

    2010 was the year I discovered your work; first on 6 Music and then your brilliant book, ‘Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now’. It was also the year that I graduated into this uncertain job market and began to take small first steps into professional journalism. This has caused many moments of panic over the past few months. However, reading about your moments of self-doubt, both professional and personal, has really helped.

    Please keep blogging in 2011. Happy New Year.

  17. Hey Andrew,

    All of the above, and more! Good, caring, creative sensitive blokes are hard to come by in this world (I’m lucky enough to have one myself!), but the downside is that sometimes people ride roughshod over them, and maybe they hurt a little more when that happens. But they are very necessary people in this world, and I think they make a difference.

    I love when you ‘supply’ for 6 music, especially the longer stints – you really get into your stride. I’ve been listening to your breakfast cover on iplayer while I work. It’s like having a mate round for a chat. I hope you get a lot more airtime next year (or even a permanent slot again?). You deserve it!

    Happy new year, and as they say here in Scotland, ‘Lang may yer lum reek!’

  18. Hello from Australia! I enjoy your blog and the C&H podcast, both of which I discovered in 2010. I’m sure that your incredible generosity in giving those things away free will result in tangible rewards eventually. Thank you!

  19. Still very much enjoying your output, Andrew. And you gave us a good summer night in Brighton (we were going to come and buy you a drink afterwards but before we got our nerve up you went!). Very good news about the R4 deal – well done. Here’s to fucking the begrudgers in 2011.

  20. I’ve really enjoyed your writing and ramblings through 2010. You seem a bit worried about what others think of you. No need to worry about that, most of us think you’re great.

    Keep up the good work.

  21. Happy New Year, old friend!

    My 2 cents: I hate the term branding, but maybe 2011 can be the year the Andrew Collins brand is cemented. Zero in on exactly what you want to do and concentrate on it alone. Give it 6 months and see?

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