Writer’s blog: Week 4, Thursday

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This picture is a cheat, as I took it yesterday, Wednesday. But it is packed with significance, of a sort. On Monday, as documented, I travelled to Dorset and back on the train, about 12 hours round trip, door to door. That was pretty unusual for a working day, and a pleasant diversion. I haven’t travelled outside of London since then. Most days – and this is why I don’t inflict a daily diary on anybody – I’m in the British Library, or at the Radio Times office, or shuttling between meetings and work engagements in and around Central London, at the peak of activity either writing, or talking.

How interesting is any of this? How interesting in anybody’s daily life? As it happens, later today I am catching another train, this time to Northampton, as I’m giving a lecture/Q&A to journalism students at the University of Northampton tomorrow. It being a careers-based talk, I shall be roadtesting Andrew Collins: 25 Years in Showbiz, or Indecision: a Career Choice. There will be slides. I don’t write these talks, as such, but I shape them in advance, and use props, or images, to punctuate them and act as guides for me. I don’t like them to be too rigid; I prefer to roll with the reaction of the audience – if, that is, I can gauge it. Students can sometimes be inscrutable, but most are at an age when “cool” drives their personalities. I know this. I was one.

Here’s how my life works: I do a string of low-paid jobs and then, occasionally, if the stars align (fingers always crossed), I get a higher-paying job for which I actually have to block out weeks or months in order to fulfill the commitment. It’s not unusual for a self-employed person to exist in a permanent state of rollercoasting. A talk at a university is not a high-paying job, but I like doing them, they keep me in practice for public speaking, and it’s Northampton, so I can visit my parents and claim back the modest train fare. I am looking forward to both bits.

The snow’s almost melted in London. I’m glad to see the back of it. It breaks my heart to see how weak this country’s infrastructure is. God help us if there’s a war.

Yesterday, I did two low-paid jobs, and I managed to group them together so that I could do one, followed directly by the other – one was in Broadcasting House, the other in Western House, both BBC buildings, and next door neighbours. For both jobs, I was being interviewed for the radio, but pre-recorded, which means you say a hell of a lot more than anybody listening to the radio will ever hear. For the first, I was interviewed about the film Jaws. When the programme airs on Radio 4, I’ll let you know. This was fun. I had my childhood diaries from 1976 and 1977, so could revisit how, as an 11-12-year-old, I was affected by Jaws, long before I actually saw it. (I saw it in March 1977, when I was old enough to see an “A” certificate.)

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Next stop: 6 Music, where I was interviewed by Steve Lamacq’s producer Phil about Britpop – specifically the April 1993 “Yanks Go Home” issue of Select, on which I worked – for an ongoing history project about which I’m sure all will be revealed. I am an interviewer’s dream and worst nightmare: ask me a question and off I go. Especially if it involves remembering. I am good at remembering out loud. (Coincidentally, this hallowed issue of Select is one of my props for tomorrow’s talk at the University.)

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Anyway, the gaps between my visits to 6 Music are lengthening. The last time I was in, before Christmas, was to appear on Steve’s show when he was doing the TV Themes World Cup. Before that? October, when I literally just dropped by to empty my pigeonhole, which kindly pluggers and PRs still keep topped up with pre-release CDs by bands I’ve usually never heard of. It’s nice to be remembered by them. And I left 6 Music with about 20 singles, all of which I intend to listen to, out of gratitude for being given them, and out of eagerness to hear something new that I like. I get a Tweet at least once a week asking when Josie Long and I are back on 6 Music. Never, I fear. We had a great run in the six months leading up to Christmas 2011, but have never been asked back, which, after a calendar year, is a fairly easy to read sign.

I sincerely hope 6 Music will get me back in 2013 to emergency plumb for one of their regulars. It’s the best place on earth to broadcast from. But here’s the scary bit: although people I know at 6 Music are always cheery and pleasant to me when I venture back into the office, each time I go in, more faces have appeared whom I don’t know. This is bound to happen. Eventually, all my contacts there will erode, and my name will fall off the whiteboard. It happens. You’d be amazed how many people who don’t listen regularly to the station still think I have a regular slot on the network. (The guys from BBC Bristol who interviewed me about Jaws did.) You have to move on.

Remember the theme of my talk? Indecision. It’s indecision that’s driven and stunted my career at the same time. Not being able to decide which path to take – or to commit to one branch of the entertainment industry – has lead to an enormous range of work over those 25 years, but it has also prevented me from specialising in anything. I accept that as my destiny.

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And here I am, in the British Library canteen again, contemplating that very conundrum. Any questions? (That’s what I’ll be asking at the University of Northampton tomorrow.)

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11 thoughts on “Writer’s blog: Week 4, Thursday

  1. Can I be the first to comment on this post by saying I wish you were back on 6 Music too? Saturday mornings just aren’t the same.

    • You can. I have to say, I benefited a lot from the station’s indecision around what to do with Saturday’s “Adam and Joe slot”, first with Richard, then with Josie, and latterly solo. But it’s better for 6 Music that a) they’ve got Adam back, and b) they’ve crystallised a permanent line-up for the weekend. I had an excellent run without having to commit any further ahead than a couple of months. (I much prefer not to work at weekends, given the choice, but made an exception for 6 Music and for Zoe Ball, for self-evident reasons.)

  2. Well Edith’s pregnant so presumably won’t be staying on Saturdays for that much longer – who knows who may fill that slot next!

  3. We can only wonder what Low paid means in your profession. Less than minimum wage? A rate you would only get a half decent plumber for…..
    Don’t forget your tax return is due!!

    • It’s all relative. A plumber can charge a call-out fee for turning up and assessing the job. I can’t, and I often have to travel in order to meet a potential employer, or client. In order to get scriptwriting work, I have to pitch, which is unpaid work and that’s lower than the minimum wage. It’s sometimes quite difficult to compare one self-employed trade to another. Each has its individual challenges.

      In any case, the minimum wage is an hourly rate. I don’t work by the hour. I don’t even work by the day. I work by the job. Sometimes you have to start work before a contract is drawn up, due to transmission/production deadlines in TV, which I would imagine is easier to avoid if you are a plumber.

      I am a keen supporter of the minimum wage, even though it doesn’t affect me directly. I also think it’s too low at £6.19 for over-20s. You can’t live in London on that kind of money.

      Having a full-time job would appear to be the most secure position to be in, although you can lose that job, whether you’re a British soldier, or work in a high street chain of record shops. If you’re self-employed, it’s unlikely all of your clients will stop using you overnight, but you earn in a much more precarious way. I guess winning the Lottery would be preferable to both.

  4. Am afraid I don’t listen to 6 Music as much as I used to-some of those ‘new faces’ are definitely not my cuppa! Funny isn’t it- the bosses get undeniable proof that the formula they have already got works and is valued by listeners ( through the campaign to save 6 Music) and then they start messing with it!!! Weird way to manage success!

  5. I wish you were back on 6 Music again too, but it’s interesting to see where you pop up in other places too. Hope you enjoy your trip back to Nottingham.

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