2011: the 1% vs. the 99%

Well, that’s enough lists. How about I sum up 2011 in terms of things that came and went, and stuff that went right and wrong. This was a year of momentous news from around the world, some of it uplifting, much of it troubling. The so-called Arab Spring, which seems not to recognise the seasons, has been both. The disparity between the Level 7 meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in March and George Monbiot’s turncoat “green” conversion to nuclear power made it a very confusing world. I can no longer treat Monbiot as a beacon of common sense.

I’ve long admired Will Hutton, but his assessment of the current Tory government’s handling of the Eurozone crisis – that Cameron is not in politics for the sake of politics, merely to feather nests for his toff mates and then move on, hence his veto on behalf of the Square Mile – puts him back at the top of media commentators I take notice of. I have found the news to be the most compelling narrative of the year, despite all those films and TV shows I usually write about. It’s hard not to feel utterly powerless when capitalist institutions are allowed to go about their merry business even after they’ve fucked it up for everybody.

Certainly we can protest and we can occupy and we can boycott (I can’t wait for my contract with Vodafone to end so that I can extract myself from their dirty dealing with HMRC, although let’s face it, one telecommunications giant is as shifty and shareholder-beholden as another); but the financial system that governs us all is not something that anybody can control, seemingly. And governments aren’t in a hurry to change it.

One goes on with one’s life. I find ecological tumult and civil unrest more worrying than the failure of financial services, although it’s the money markets that have turned me, not uniquely, into a penny-pincher. Another year of cuts at home, and no holiday. This is the way we live now; when I spend time among my friends and family, we all seem to be talking about money – the rising cost of utilities, rip-off Britain, bargain-hunting, vouchers, the shocking injustices of curbed council spending and rising unemployment in the public sector – this is the national conversation. In this regard, I think I’d rather spend time with people who don’t work in the pampered media. I find I’ve had a more serious 2011 than I expected.

I ended my flirtation with stand-up comedy in 2010 and I’ve not looked back. I’m quite happy to let others stand up and make me laugh. I missed Edinburgh, in both senses of the word, but I needed to make a break from my silly fantasy about becoming a comedian. I’m too old for all that, and much better off trying to get better at writing scripts.

I spent a lot of time interviewing Iain Morris and Damon Beesley this year for a long piece about the genesis of The Inbetweeners for Word magazine, work that I’m inordinately proud of. Instead of trying to be them, I was happy enough translating their testimonies into what I think was a clear and entertaining read. I’m not a journalist, but I do get a big kick out of seeing my words on a printed page. I love printed pages.

It was a surprise to find myself engaged on a professional basis by the Guardian, a newspaper I’ve never managed to get into by the front entrance. I’ve been reviewing telly and harvesting my own clips on a weekly basis under the guise of Telly Addict since April, and it’s a proper thrill when it goes live on their website, almost in secret, around midnight on a Friday. I like the fact that all 33 of my little eight-minute films, most of them directed and edited by the indefatigable Andy Gallagher, are available to view. I don’t really know what my job at the Guardian is – am I a critic now? – but I do know that it’s possible to work for them without anybody outside of the digital republic knowing I’m in the building.

On a slightly more even keel, this has been my tenth year at Radio Times, and even though its publisher, BBC Magazines, has been sold to the highest private-sector bidder in order that the Corporation can “deliver quality first” to a Tory government that despises it, I seem to have survived another upheaval. I only really go to the office once a week, but it’s nice to have a bit of routine in the midst of an otherwise amorphous and insecure career. Long may they keep me on. It’s a paper magazine that still sells a million copies in an age when paper is on the way out, or so we keep being told. It’s too big – and represents something even bigger – to fail!

I survived 2011 without succumbing to the iPhone or the Kindle. I feel very good about this. For a start, I can’t justify the expense. For another thing, I still value not being connected. I spent two days at my parents’ house this week and I checked my emails once, on their PC (as it was officially a working day and I am self-employed). If I’d had a smartphone, I would have been tempted to check them every five minutes and it would have tainted a happy visit. Once I’m online, I will check Twitter. So, best not to be constantly online. I retain mixed feelings about social networking, and feel pure for boycotting Facebook and all the other ones, but Twitter entertains and informs me. Unfortunately it can also show the worst aspects of human nature in action: pettiness, meanness, disruption, cruelty, idiocy. I am constantly pruning in this regard. And I love carting unwieldy books around in my already-too-heavy bag. I love it.

One must make social networking work for you; one must not work for it. The adventure with Boston’s Andrew Collins on Twitter, who was so kind and sporting, and let me have his Twittername in March, was a heartwarming slice of human interaction across two continents. I wish it could all be like that.

I thank Martin White and Danielle Ward for giving me the chance to show off, every couple of months, at Karaoke Circus. This is as close as I get to being in a gang, or a club. And it’s certainly the closest I get to being a performer. Many things have ended this year. Let’s hope Karaoke Circus keeps going, in some form or other, in 2012. Again, it represents the 99% of human nature that’s silly and supportive and kind, rather than begrudging and abusive and self-aggrandising.

I do not get on the telly very much (I’m not saying that in a Richard Herring “Pleeeease let me be on the telly” kind of way), so I guess it’s rather apt that over Christmas I’ll be seen on two talking heads shows – Epic: A Cast Of Thousands, BBC4, December 24, 10.40pm, repeated December 28, 11.40pm; and The Greatest Ever Carry On Films, Channel 5, December 27, 10.05pm – the sort of programme that people expect me to be on. (C4 repeated The 100 Greatest Toys from last Christmas, and it’s amazing how many people remarked upon it, many assuming it was new.) I know my place. I’m not going to be picked to present anything, or to appear on Have I Got News For You, so it’s nice to be asked to pontificate and busk at a three-quarters angle every now and again. Keep your ambitions small and avoid disappointment!

I am 46. I have been skulking in reception of The Media since 1988. That’s 23 years in, or near, showbiz. And yet I still get excited about having my photo taken with someone famous. Long may this continue. I am cynical in many ways. I literally disbelieve the news. I distrust every single politician on television. I am tempted by every conspiracy theory going. I assume everyone is corrupt, or simply in it for the money. And yet … give me half a chance to grin next to Jean Marsh or John Humphrys for a camera, and I will, happily. You should never get jaded. I can’t believe I’m still so starstruck, but I am, and that little burst of twinkly innocence is worth hanging on to.

I took delivery of a new Apple MacBook Pro this year. I am using it right now. It turns out to have a fault with the Ethernet input. Not something most users would even notice. But I tried to connect it up to my stubbornly old-school broadband router at home and the Mac would not recognise the cable. However, if you plug it into my old MacBook, which is all sluggish and tired, it works. Hence: it’s the socket, not the cable, or the router. I cannot be arsed to take it into the menders, so have brought my old MacBook out of retirement and now use it at home if I need to get online. In this, my enduring love-hate relationship with Apple – and my inert tendency towards Luddism – flourishes. I feel bad that Steve Jobs worked and fine-tuned himself to death. Nobody should let their work kill them, but from where I’m sitting, that looks to be what happened. I will not let my work kill me. In 2011, I kept my weekends largely for “family time”, which includes DIY, digging holes in the garden, baking biscuits and, frankly, doing nothing or catching up with what’s on the Sky+ from the week. I’ve worked Saturday mornings on 6 Music for some of the year, but only because I want to maintain my relationship with the station, and with its listeners. And who turns down work? I’m sad that they’re taking me and Josie off the air for at least a couple of months in 2012, but I’ll be glad to have my Saturday mornings back.

I first met Josie Long in 2008, when I made my debut at one of Robin Ince’s inclusive comedy nights at Battersea Arts Centre. I have performed on the same bill as her – thanks to Robin, and Karaoke Circus – on many an occasion since. But this year was the first time I’d worked with her. It was an experiment on the part of 6 Music, and I feel that it worked. I am certainly grateful to have had the chance to work with her, as she is a breath of fresh air on many levels, and she has changed me for the better. She seems built for the tumultuous times we live in. I think I was built for the 80s, so it’s good to get an upgrade, politically speaking.

The August riots were horrible. They spread like a very fast rash down to my end of South West London, but did not actually reach my high street, despite all signs that they might. (If the riots did any good, it was in binding communities: I found myself in meaningful conversation about social unrest with the old lady who works in my local newsagent, and the lady in the queue behind me. It’s good to talk.) When Clapham Junction was looted and despoiled, I could almost smell the smoke. I identify with some of the anger that clearly underpinned the mini uprisings – about reduced public services, job losses and the overarching disparity between ordinary people and the fabled 1% – but I’m comfortable enough in work and at home for this not to find an outlet in stealing some trainers. However, forgive me, but anything that makes David Cameron even momentarily uncomfortable is fine by me. I want him to think, “Shit, why didn’t I just stick to my cushy job in PR?” on a daily basis. This is, after all, his adventure and we’re powerless to opt out of it – so no wonder sparks fly and blameless local traders are smoked out of their livelihoods by enraged but directionless youths.

We all have to eat. We all have to work, or at least try to work. I don’t know how the rest of you cope with kids. It’s expensive enough feeding and heating two adults and a cat. Those of us who are self-employed must take work where we can get it. I have been paid by Rupert Murdoch this year, on more than one occasion. I also pay him to deliver satellite television into my house and for one of the Sunday newspapers. Principles are harder to come by in a recession. Equally, I doubt if Rupert Murdoch knows that Sky1 has a new sitcom called Gates in production, one of whose writers is me. (He would have us believe that he doesn’t know anything much about what happens at the various companies he runs, of course. But he’s lying about a lot of that.) I still regret crossing the NUJ picket line in November 2010. The fact that I refused to cross it when they went on strike this summer reflects, I hope, a re-hardening of my old principles. As far as I know, only myself and Lauren Laverne stayed away from 6 Music on that day. I do not believe in name-calling, and it must be up to the individual conscience, but in 2010, when times were even less hard than they are now, I allowed a fear of loss of earnings to influence what became, for me, a practical, dispassionate decision. I learned this summer that it cannot be made without passion.

At the end of the year, I find myself more serious, more passionate, more realistic. I think I still have a few more years of energy left in me, and I suspect I will need to make the most of them if this laughably gelatinous career is going to see me through to anything approaching retirement.

The elephant in the room for 2011 remains my relationship with Richard Herring, which effectively ground to a halt after Podcast 166 [pictured above, with oddly prescient absences where he and I should be on his sofa in the attic]. I didn’t realise I was bringing it to an end when I made my momentous decision to work with another comedian on 6 Music, but history tells us that it was my doing. I feel sad that it came to an end without the chance to say goodbye. When, 21 weeks later, we tried to mend things, it was, again, my decision to knock it on the head after Podcast 167, which is literally the only podcast I have never listened to. It was too painful, and I didn’t enjoy recording it, so had no enthusiasm to listen to it, as I have traditionally done since February 2008. I was always the only one of us who listened back to the work. Richard was, perhaps correctly, more inclined to let it go and move on. Having kept going through the “tiny Andrew Collings” storm, I assumed we would go on forever. I was wrong. I retain a tiny hope that Richard and I will reconnect, if not professionally, then personally. I really like him, after all. And we did some amazing stuff together. We even got paid for some of it. Friendships do have a habit of hoving in and out of view. I have old friends I’ve not seen for years but whom I still consider to be friends. So all hope is not lost. Lots of things began and ended in 2011, but this was the biggest and most difficult.

Such things are sent to try us. I expend an awful lot of energy trying to be nice and decent and polite and moral, so it was unpleasant to have upset a friend in a way I hadn’t anticipated. But at least I never called him a “mong.” That would be unforgiveable.

Hey, it’s nearly Christmas. I could do with a couple of days off. Thanks for reading this blog this year. I am always surprised by how many visitors I get a day, even when I’ve not posted anything new for a week. I have so much work to do I don’t really have time to write this. Or to take a couple of days off. But sanity is important.

Here’s to many more vouchers in the year ahead. We must not let the bastards grind us down. You know who the bastards are.

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9 thoughts on “2011: the 1% vs. the 99%

  1. Collings & Herrin is sorely, deeply missed. Can’t tell you how much I nerdily-enjoyed it on my commute. It’s just not the same now.

    I had two big personal tragedies in 2011. This hasn’t helped! Do please try and reconcile in 2012.

  2. Thanks Andrew. Always enjoy reading your posts, although I’m a relatively new reader. They always seem structured and well considered and you have a habit of saying exactly what I think on a subject, but a lot better than I could ever put myself.

    Personally, I enjoyed secret dancing (I was too late to the party to see it live, but have the DVD). But I understand why you’d decide to stick to the normal stuff over pursuing that.

  3. It depends on your point of view but I think Will Hutton’s description of Cameron amounts to a man who *is* in politics for the sake (merely) of politics. In an oddly balanced way I’ve personally known two let’s say also-ran prospective Tory candidates, and two Labour ones. All really good people to know socially as it happens. But for what it’s worth the Tories both saw it as a game and an end in itself, and were perfectly open about that. The Labour men were never so blatant, though I’m not sure they were really any different. Being a politician and being able to run a country are different skill sets, aren’t they? The system makes no sense. We say we don’t want spin yet we keep electing career politicians.

    Good luck for the new year. Keep shunning the smart phones. I can’t remember times that were ever more serious. And somehow we seem to have convinced ourselves that laughing at comedians who can weave something that isn’t quite satire out of knob gags is empowering us. It’s giggling while Rome burns. (I can’t believe I’m writing that where people might read it.) At its best, I think personal blogging is anything but solipsistic. Please keep finding the time to do this. Even if it does mean tolerating my rubbish responses.

  4. I have enjoyed reading this blog. I think I discovered it this year, and your posts are always well written, insightful and include a good deal of tips for films to watch etc. I saw Animal Kingdom last night – it was fun, if that’s the right word.

    I’ve enjoyed your other output too,

    Have a good 2012 and keep up the good work!

  5. Well….you never called him a mong…until today, of course.

    I’ve been conflicted about a friendship that’s ground to a halt this year. I expect it can be resurrected but it won’t be the same.

    Nothing lasts forever, of course, and on that cheery note I’ll wish you and yours a Merry Christmas and very happy 2012.

  6. Hi,

    All the best for the New Year Andrew. I came here to see what was going on with the Collings and Herrin podcast and I’m sad to read that it’s defunct again. Sadder still that the two of you aren’t getting on. I enjoyed the podcast. Being a bit solitary (if I’m not careful) it was nice to have a couple of funny friends to hang with every week. I’ve been listening to RHEFP and I can see on this blog that your careers are in good health so clearly not the end of the world (that’s next year). It also forced me to go looking for other podcasts, like TBTL, which was a good thing. Close creative partnerships like yours are difficult to maintain.

    Thanks for your work, I hope we all have a good one next year…

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