I am a free man!


Having struck a chord with what turned out to be one of my most-read blog entries in June, Keeping up appearance fees, in which I railed against a mission creep within the media whereby contributors are expected to contribute their expertise for free, it may seem counterintuitive to have launched a second blog.

wedding george bestTheRakesCapturePublicEnemyit-takes-a-nation-of-millions-to-hold-us-back-50ab8c2ed4d8e

Let me explain. Blogging has always been free. I started this one in 2006 because, after a number of years broadcasting every weekday on 6 Music I’d moved to weekends, and found the daily blog I started on the station’s website a fun way of staying in touch with the listeners during the week. I moved over to Blogger in order to a) relieve me of the workload pressure of writing every day, and b) relieve me of the editorial pressure of doing so on a BBC website. I’ve been tapping out my thoughts ever since.

A childhood diarist, I used to use the blog as a place to post bulletins from my ordinary everyday life. But this solipsistic approach has hardened into something a little more formal, and a little less revealing since 2007. I can’t imagine how I can have become more busy since the punishing days when I was a DJ, author and scriptwriter in the late noughties, but I find myself going for a whole week sometimes without blogging now. If it weren’t for my weekly alert for Telly Addict, which takes five minutes to write, the gaps would be longer. But when something’s on my mind, it’s a unique outlet, with a surprisingly large available audience, thanks to Twitter.


The new blog, Circles Of Life: The 143, came to me in early July, when I felt an urge not just to catalogue the best 143 songs of all time, but to write a short, personal essay about each one, and do so in an aesthetically pleasing manner and gradually. So it came to pass.

Because these entries about individual songs are by their nature fairly brief, I feel I can snack on them, publishing them as and when I have the spare time in an otherwise busy day. So far, I’ve published 13. Only 130 to go. I quite like not knowing how long it will take, and I love the freedom to mould the list as I commit it to the public domain. (It’s based on an actual playlist I made for my iPod earlier this year, and only one song is permitted per artist; I’ve already added, dropped, altered and replaced quite a few as I’ve catalogued them in The 143. It is the compiler’s right to do so.)

Anyway, have a look if music is one of your lifelong passions. Compared to the numbers under the bonnet on this blog, the following is modest, and not all that vocal. But a “soft launch” was my aim, and a soft launch it has been.

It was very kind of the esteemed David Hepworth to blog and Tweet about it earlier today. Numbers have risen as a result. So I’m officially “hard-launching” it here. What I wanted to say was: yes, I’m writing prose for free. I’m not trying to get a book deal, or even an eBook deal. I’m not trying to get a job. But rather than wait around for a publication to pay me to write about music, I’m doing it anyway. For fun. Barney Hoskyns’ campaign to withhold freelance labour from those who would exploit us is something I’m right behind. But since nobody asked me to write about my 143 favourite songs, I don’t feel I am exploiting myself in doing this.

I’ve spent much of my professional life writing about music; for around seven years, I did this while on the staff of three consecutive music publications, thereafter in a freelance, per-word capacity. But when Word calamitously went down a year ago, I lost my main outlet for paid music writing. (The Times dallied with me for a while, but lost interest – hey, commissioning editors change jobs, you fall in and out of favour, it’s a cruel world.)

I’ve grown quickly fond of The 143 blog. I like the “theme” I’ve chosen from WordPress. I’m quietly proud of the 999-based montage I made on my scanner and with very basic “effects” software. And I hope you enjoy reading my free essays. There’s nothing to you can do recompense me for them. That’s not the idea. But if you enjoy them and have something to say, post a few words, follow the blog, and that will be payment enough. It’s all about the music in any case.



Writer’s blog: Week 6, Wednesday


At last. I’m doing something interesting. It’s Wednesday, and instead of photographing myself self-consciously looking to one side in the British Library canteen, or on a train, I write today from Glasgow, which in itself is unusual, and from within a caravan, which is even more unusual. This caravan is my dressing room, for today I am an actor. Look, there’s my name on the door. The caravans are parked up in the car park of a suburban industrial estate, which is where Scottish production company The Comedy Unit live. (They live in a unit.) They are currently making Secret Dude Society for BBC3, or “the Pappy’s sitcom” as it’s colloquially known.

My work as script editor finished just before Christmas, when pre-production turned into production, and any further edits to the script would be the responsibility of the writers and producer. I have just been into makeup (which is another, bigger caravan) although you won’t notice, as I have been made up to look like myself. This is because I am playing “Andrew Collins” in the show. I only have two lines, but it’s a lovely gift from Pappy’s, in return for being the schoolteacher who’s been marking their homework with a red pen since September.


An actor’s life can be a lonely one. I have discovered that. I am alone in my caravan. The other three actors who are filming today are in their own caravans. Whenever my next-door neighbour, the actor Kim Wall, enters his caravan, it shakes, and so does mine. I am holding up today’s call-sheet in the picture above, but have been careful not to show anything that’s on it, as I suspect this is not for public consumption. I will have to check with the producers before I reveal any more about my cameo role. In fact, I’d rather keep it a secret until the show is broadcast – it’ll be more fun that way. I am expecting to be called to costume any moment, so I’ll stop typing.

Photo on 2013-02-06 at 09.25

Another rare thing was waking up in a hotel room this morning. There is something slightly extravagant about taking a train up to Glasgow and being put up in a hotel in order to deliver two lines in a sitcom, but that’s entertainment. There is also something about travelling alone that lends you the air of a sales rep. Breakfast for one, all that. Fortunately, I was rescued from the tragedy of eating room service, alone, last night, as Pappy’s – that is, Matthew, Ben and Tom – are pretty much living up in Glasgow for the duration of the show and they took me to their local tapas bar, where we drank beer and picked at “small plates” until midnight, subsequently joined by none other than my old radio pal Josie Long, The Pictish Trail aka Edinburgh’s fine-bearded Johnny Lynch, and “young comedian” Tom Deacon, who I like very much. (Tom is also up to deliver two lines for Pappy’s.)

Photo on 2013-02-06 at 09.26 #2

Anyway, here’s another pathetic shot of me in Room 212 at the Abode Hotel (or the Adobe Hotel, as Matthew erroneously calls it, imagining it to be photoshopped and daubed with mud). It’s nice to stay in pleasant hotels, but it’s nicer to stay in them with a friend, spouse or partner.

Hey, I like to think of myself as well-travelled, but until today I had never seen or used one of these before:


It’s a kind of self-contained, ready-loaded individual plastic coffee filter-ette. Environmentally destructive, it also makes a disgusting cup of coffee, I discovered this morning while waiting in my room to be picked up and ferried to the “unit base” and thence to the filming location. (Mind you, I put UHT milk in it, and that’s against nature, and the downside to making coffee in a hotel room is, of course, that you use water from a bathroom sink, which isn’t for drinking.)


As I type, I’m on the train home from Glasgow and back in the stultifying realms of the usual sort of Photo Booth picture I take of myself for Writer’s Blogs. The actual filming took very little time, although it was thrilling to be around technicians and crew who know exactly what it is they’re doing. It’s like a well-oiled machine. If something went wrong, you just know these people would deal with it, and get back on schedule.

Director Ben Kellett (the man you see at the end of Mrs Brown’s Boys, taking a bow with the rest of the crew and family), whom I’d never previously met, seems to be “on it”, and Pappy’s seem pleased with the way the show’s panning out. I won’t give anything away about my tiny cameo, or Tom Deacon’s, but it’s in what’s planned as the final episode, and this was my costume. (I wore my own trousers.) Oh, and when I mischeviously Tweeted the shirt earlier, one brilliant wag asked, “Are you playing Jason Manford.” Now that’s comedy.


It’s been a fun trip. I managed to write a 1,000-word feature on Judd Apatow for Radio Times on the train journey up, and my Films Of The Day copy for Radio Times on the train journey back. I’m like a shark; if I stop moving, I die.

By now, this caravan will have been converted back into a dressing room for the next actor. But it was mine for a couple of hours. Mine.



Writer’s blog: Week 4, Monday


I feel like doing one of these, now that the year has sort of kicked in a bit. It’s Monday, and I’m on a South West Trains train from Bournemouth to London (you can tell it’s a South West Trains train because there are no seat numbers, so you can’t book, and they have not heard of power sockets on trains). I have not been to Bournemouth. But because of what I think of as “weather”, but the infrastructure of Great Britain thinks of as “an emergency”, the usual train from London to Dorchester South is now divided up into two bits, so you must change at Bournemouth.

Proustian rush: in 2004, I came to Bournemouth, on my own, to attend the Tony Hancock Appreciation Society annual dinner at the hotel where Hancock lived, briefly, as a child, Darlston Court. I was a member of the THAS for a couple of years, and enjoyed it very much, although I confess I felt a little out of place at the dinner, where, as a 39 year-old I felt decidedly young. The late Ray Alan and the still-going June Whitfield were guests of honour. A unique evening. Here’s a pic:


Anyway, I was in Bournemouth this morning for about three minutes, the time it took to run down the platform from one train to another. My destination was Billy Bragg’s house, in Dorset, where I was called upon to interview him, off-camera, for the EPK (“electronic press kit” – get with the 90s record-industry jargon) that will herald his surprising new album, Tooth and Nail, in March. You can read about it and hear some music on his rebooted website. (You can also engage him in a free and frank dialogue about why you may only pre-order the album via his website from Amazon or iTunes. Although I’ll tell you in advance that there had originally been a link to HMV but HMV went down before the page went live. It’s funny how the massive chain of superstores now almost feels like an indie alternative, post mortem.)

As previously mentioned, I was down at Billy’s before Christmas to research the new chapter for my official biography, which I have now delivered, and for which we don’t have a specific publication date, but it will be available for the first time as an eBook. It was a brief visit, top-heavy with travel, light on actual engagement, but we had enough time to effect the genial interview for the cameras, and to eat a wrap and some soup, before I was shuttled back to the station for the two-train ride home. (It was good to meet Jack, who is making the films.)

I’ll be honest, the whole thing was an utter pleasure. Not the most taxing job in the world, I grant you, but I’ll be back down the mine tomorrow. It was a welcome chance to get out of London and to soak up the views of rural and coastal England which the train affords, much of it carpeted in snow. As I rather unkindly Tweeted, when we passed through the marshlands around the Wareham Channel, where wading birds dotted the uninterrupted view out to sea, the blissful sight was only tarnished by the seasonal phlegmy coughing of my fellow passengers in the “quiet coach”. (I dare not turn around to look, in the carriage I am in presently, as it sounds suspiciously as if someone is clipping their nails. Let’s at least hope it’s the fingernails.)

On a locomotive theme, I am thoroughly enjoying BBC2’s Great British Railway Journeys, with Michael Portillo, the gentle travelogue brand that he has made his own over the past few years. Forget his politics. He’s a true rail enthusiast, and I always think of his bright pastel shirts and his Bradshaw’s Guide when I step on or off trains now. On a recent leg, he was travelling through Kew, and happened upon a plaque commemmorating the re-opening of Kew Bridge station in 1989 by then-Transport Minister in the Thatcher government, Michael Portillo. (I guess it’s ironic that a man whose party privatised – and thus tore the heart out of – the railway network in this country now promotes them.)


Even though South West trains don’t have anywhere you can plug anything in, and the wi-fi/mobile signal was the very definitive of patchy the other side of Basingstoke, I managed to do some work on the way down, and on the way back. I am currently developing two comedy pitches (well, one of them is a comedy drama) for a certain broadcaster, based upon a reasonably upbeat meeting last week. This is where you work for free, on spec. It was ever thus, but I like the pressure to have to come up with brand new ideas; it’s amazing how fruitful that artificial process can be in getting the gears to go round.

You’ll be relieved to learn that I have now successfully seen all of the key “awards season” movies, just in time for last week’s Golden Globes, and in plenty of time for the Baftas and the Oscars. Django Unchained is now in cinemas, so you can go and see that, and Lincoln is almost upon us. I’m seeing The Sessions tomorrow, as that’s out, too. It’s always a golden time of year for the higher end of American cinema. But don’t expect it to last. Come March, I’ll be gagging for something in a foreign tongue. (On the subject of which, I’m delighted that Haneke’s Amour is being treated as “a movie” this year, and not as a “foreign movie”. It’s picking up nominations and awards left, right and centre. Good.)

I may not blog every day this week, but I will if anything out of the ordinary happens.

I love 2006


I don’t love 2006, or at least, no more than I love any other year from the past, but it was brought to my attention yesterday that the “feed” for this blog (I don’t really know what a feed is, but I know there is one) has – of late – been clogged with seemingly random old posts from 2006. I know why, but I don’t know why, so if someone can help me with this, I’d be grateful:

For some reason, when I switched servers a couple of years ago, a whole load of pictures I’d posted to accompany some of my older blog posts disappeared. So, occasionally, I’ll randomly dip into the archive and reinstate the pictures. While doing this, I also neaten up the comments sections. Another bizarre thing: when migrating this blog to WordPress from Blogger even more years ago, only about three quarters of the comments were transferred across. So I migrated the whole thing again, and, in many cases, each comment now appears twice. This is annoying. I know for a fact that very few people read those old blog entries, but I am nothing if not a perfectionist, so – occasionally – I delve back in to remove the duplicate comments, too. (Three of the random pics I’ve recently reinstated are lined up above. Yes, pretty random.)

Anyway, when you do this, you have to press UPDATE (where you would normally press PUBLISH on a new post). Seemingly, this announces the old posts on my “feed” as if they are new.

This must be annoying for those who follow me via “feed.” Anybody clever know how I can update old posts without fanfaring the fact?

It doesn’t matter if not. None of this really matters that much. I’ve not even had my breakfast yet.

Oh, and if you want to explain what a “feed” is for, I’d like that, too.

Graphic, novel

Public Service Announcement. I have changed the “theme” of this blog, via the magic of clicking on one I liked the look of, under the WordPress bonnet. There’s no deep reason for this. No crisis. I’ve been blogging a bit more regularly of late, and the way the pictures look has been getting on my nerves – the thick, pale pink borders? – and the fact that the date stamp didn’t include the year. (The circular stamp and typography were pretty, but without a year, the archive and search facilities felt a bit woolly.)

I wanted something a little cleaner, and clearer, and plainer. This is the one I’ve chosen. As you can see, I’ve brought the Mitfords banner with me, and the “widgets” are the same. I hope you find it easy to navigate and read. (For the record, the “theme” is called Twenty Eleven in the “theme” catalogue. That’s me: living in the past.) I’m open to comments. As ever.

We are not abused

This is by way of an administrative apology, really. You may have encountered a bit of trouble leaving comments on my blog for the last month or so. Only today, I’ve had one of you leaving a perfectly legitimate and interesting comment three times, clearly out of frustration that it didn’t appear the first time you posted it. Well, just for the record, the comments are moderated, so if I’m away from my computer (and I don’t use a smartphone, so unless I’m sitting down, I’m not online), comments are queued. However, to make matters more inconvenient for you, I have had to add in a spam filter and a registration wall in order to discourage abuse. Clearly, I’m not going to go into any details, as the haters and the irritants usually do it to get attention, and even by typing this I’m sort of indirectly acknowledging their existence – but it’s a necessary level of protection for me. I don’t invite abuse. I do my best to write in a fair and balanced way – irritatingly so, at times, I should imagine – and even in my critical writing, about films or books or TV shows, I make it my business not to slag off for its own sake. I’ve done my slagging off. When I was a hungry NME journalist in my twenties, I’m sure I wrote some horrid things about Elton John and Mick Hucknall, but it was in the spirit of the publication and anyway, you grow out of that.

As someone who writes, and broadcasts, in the public domain, I accept that I am fair game to a degree. Also, as a user of Twitter, I’m above the parapet by choice. But I do not accept abuse, especially when it is posted anonymously. So I’ve put in a few mechanisms, provided by WordPress, to keep the tiny minority of timewasters at bay. I have an email address which is public and available to all, but to use it requires an email address, and those who abuse and waste time are not looking for a dialogue. They are, as I’ve stated before, doing the equivalent of knocking on your front door and running away.

So, once again, apologies if it’s harder to get in than it was once, but you’ll respect my reasons for doing it, I’m sure. You are the good guys and girls. I welcome comment. I encourage dialogue. And a lot of you read this thing now, which I really appreciate, and as proven by the comments left after the more serious recent entries about the financial meltdown and the riots, an encouragingly fair and intelligent debate often ensues.

When I’m on the radio, with text and email and social networking in full swing, it’s a piece of piss to lob an insult at me, or my Saturday morning co-host, and yes, it stings for a few seconds, and the first instinct is to reply, but you must never do that, as it seems to be what a lot of anonymous idiots are fishing for. On Twitter, if someone has a go at me, I can block them instantaneously, and then not only will I not hear from them again, they will not hear from me again, so everybody should be happy. They can go and slag off someone else. The Guardian Telly Addict review worried me when I started it, as a minority on the Guardian website use it as a forum for rampant nastiness, but they seem to have either been very kind to me, or disinterested, either of which is a result.

Tim Adam wrote an interesting piece on the psychology of anonymous online abuse in the Observer a couple of Sundays ago, which didn’t exactly crack it, but at least organised a few examples. Have a read of it. We’ve seen a lot of people wearing masks to achieve anonymity and doing stupid, despicable things this week – in real life – and I guess anonymous looting on CCTV in broad daylight in some cases puts online abuse into perspective. It’s braver to go and loot a shop, but only marginally.

I’m not sure why what I do attracts the abusive. I’m not really a table-banging shouter. I have shall-we-say unconventional views on the culling of animals and the rights of complementary practitioners to go about their business, but I have learned to keep these views to myself, rather than broadcast them here, as you will have noticed. Why? Because I do not set out to rub anyone up the wrong way. By and large, I will be preaching to the converted by even saying this, but I’m saying it anyway. And I’m certainly not fishing for compliments or ego-stroking, believe me. I have long since stopped visiting the Word message boards where I seem to draw frequent slings and arrows, and yet I adore that magazine, and feel it is a privilege to write for it; this is a shame, but what’s the point of raising my own blood pressure defending myself, and my work, against a handful of insult-mongers? Best to retire gracefully and let them get on with it.

To paraphrase something Michael Moore once said to me, when I asked him how he stays so certain that he is right: “If I’m wrong, I’ll change my opinion and then I’ll be right again.”

Merry Christmas


Unbelievable. Apologies to anybody who comes here regularly, but the previous post descended into puerile abuse and I was forced to shut it down temporarily (for the record, unless he/she was also posting anonymously, this had nothing to do with “Stockhausen and Waterman”, none of whose comments I had to remove). This keeps happening. I’m going to continue blogging, but I’m going to have to leave Comment Moderation on, as I’m spending half my time removing anonymous abusive posts at the moment. It’s bloody tiresome, and it’s taking all the fun out of it. As previously stated, I write stuff on here because I enjoy it. Unfortunately, because it’s posted under my own name, and because I operate on the fringes of the public domain, this makes me fair game for abuse. “Collins, you’re a fucking knob,” ran the contribution that broke the camel’s back. How does one respond to that? “No, you are!” I’m sticking with the previous analogy: you’re round my house, talking about stuff, and if you’re round my house, you have a bit of respect for me, and for others. This is not a forum. Bad Science is a forum. The Comedy Forum is a forum. The British Sitcom Guide. Comment Is Free. Any number of BBC forums. But you have to register to join a forum, and you can be thrown out. Anybody can post on here, under any pseudonym they like, with no comeback, no email address. It’s actually more open than a forum. So the only way to stop a decent dialogue descending into abuse or just childish idiocy is to regulate it. I do so with a heavy heart, as it will involve a queueing system, and goes against my instinct for free speech. But I am so close to being worn down into the ground by it, it’s for the best. Those who seek to call me a fucking knob only do so because it’s public. If that luxury is taken away, they soon go away. (Calling someone a fucking knob in private is no fun, as who will be impressed if there’s no one to see or hear it?)

A statement

Sorry, I’ve been offline for most of the weekend, and I’ve missed a lot of the fun. I’m glad I had comment moderation on, as the holding pen is now full of anti-homeopathy enthusiasts trying to bring me down, and agreeing with the notion that a man who gave his daughter homeopathic treatment which did not save her life a “cunt”, which is a new low for this lobby. I should have known I’d been targeted again, as anyone who strays from the Bad Science status quo must be. What a lot of energy they spend on attacking. I mean, really, what’s the point of attacking me? I’d said my heart sank when I read the latest Goldacre piece, which it did, but I was careful not to get into an argument with him/them again, as I remember only too well how it played out last time. Stalemate is a nice way of putting it. I only wrote the pied wagtail entry to express the way the sight of a bird lifted my spirits during a bit of seasonal affective disorder, and how even the idea of another anti-homeopathy piece in a national newspaper sank it again. I choose birds.

Unfortunately, I’ve now read the lengthy thread about me on the Bad Science web forum (started by someone who actually posts sensibly on here about other subjects, with a handy link to come and get me – talk about backstabbing). It’s so full of bile and sarcasm (one person calls me a cunt, and says I only have my writing career through good fortune and not talent, which is pretty much what I say in my book), I’m quite exhausted by it all. If these people are so sure they are right, what threat am I?

Anyway, I’ve had to take the previous thread down and re-post it without the dialogue, as it had descended into name-calling and scoundrels misleadingly posting under other people’s names to stir things up, and in a moment of late-night madness I even decided to ban one person after his comments on the parent mentioned above (whatever you think of an issue, calling a man whose daughter had died a “cunt” smacks, if nothing else, of a complete lack of compassion – a quality I believe lies at the heart of all the political ideas I hold dear – also, and I know I’ve used it in the past, but the word does still offend some people). The act of removing the comments from the thread, which meant well, but led down a dark path, will look to the Bad Science regulars as if I have “taken my ball home” or something, or as if they have won. Well, in a very tiny way, they have won, yet again. They are tenacious. They take no prisoners. But I have won too, because by writing about anything but the h-word in the future, hopefully they will find someone else to belittle and patronise and attack. I hereby remove myself from the public debate on this matter.

I had one comment over the weekend from “bengoldacre” but I don’t believe it is from him. As ever, my personal email address appears for all to see on this website, and always has done, so even if I never blogged again, it would remain open to anyone who wished to challenge me or, frankly, call me a cunt, if that gives them a thrill. That’s the nature of these things. Oddly, it seems that the game is calling me a cunt in public, not in private, and no fun otherwise. I don’t mind being a cunt if a cunt is someone who enjoys the natural world and sometimes writes about it, and exhibits inconsistencies and changes his mind, and wonders aloud. I don’t even mind being one if a cunt is someone whose heartfelt views don’t stand up to rigorous scientific scrutiny. The message coming through from Bad Science is that if I dare to even allude to my views on homeopathy, they will be forced to shut me down. Such a sense of righteous purpose! One person on the BS forum was crowing about “marking” my previous God Delusion review a “D-minus” – what a glorious victory for science that was. If I am to write anything, I have to provide evidence and citations, as if writing in the Lancet, and yet, it was just on a blog. As I’ve said on many occasions, as a writer, I enjoy writing on here because it’s not for publication and doesn’t go through the usual filter of editors and sub-editors and fact-checkers, or, in TV, script editors and producers. That’s the fun of doing it. To write what I think, at any length, whenever I fancy it. Nobody is going to commission me to write about a science book or a religion book, so this is my only outlet to stray and experiment and go out of my depth.

Anyway I’m bored with the whole thing, and don’t have the strength for a fight. I wish I’d never mentioned the h-word (I think the BS believers call it “woo”, which I guess is a reference to it being “magic”), even in passing, on here. Please don’t bother visiting the Bad Science forum to counter house policy. It’s really not worth posting unless you’re one of the gang. Maybe there’s a gang here, too. A much nicer one.

Here’s a revolutionary idea: I have actually fixed it so that you can’t leave comments after this particular entry, which I’ll leave with you for a while. It is, as stated, a statement.


I’m getting a bit tired of the little spurts of abuse I’m currently attracting, so I’m giving myself a few days off the blog. I’m on the radio all week anyway (10pm-1am, 6 Music, Mon-Fri; Rockumentary Rollercoaster one-off documentary, Radio 4, Tuesday Nov 13, 11.30am and on Listen Again thereafter for seven days), so feel free to get in touch. It’s amazing how quickly the fun goes out of all this when you are constantly niggled. When I’m feeling a bit less fragile, I’ll be back with more drivel. Your patience is appreciated.