Writer’s blog: Week 14, Good Friday

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I am, unusually for a working day, sitting in my kitchen. It is Good Friday. The British Library is closed, which is fair enough, as Good Friday is a bank holiday. I have too much to do to contemplate a day off, but I’m not angling for sympathy. To everyone who does get the day off, on full pay, I wish you a most excellent day (and likewise on Monday, which is Easter Monday, when I will be writing and filming Telly Addict at the Guardian just like it was a normal Monday). At least at home, I can drink my own coffee, and not pay through the nose for it.

Actually, of late, and to beat the system, I have been taking a flask out with me, charged with homemade coffee, which I then decant into a paper Peyton & Byrne cup in the Library canteen. There are polite notices up stating that only food and drink purchased on the premises can be consumed there, but I don’t believe this has ever been aggressively policed – at least, Library users are exactly the type to bring in their own sandwiches. Tupperware tubs are prominent, and, frankly, as long as most diners pay through the nose for Peyton & Byrne’s expensive cakes, I feel sure that capitalism ticks over. I don’t flaunt my not-bought-on-the-premises food and hot drink, and if I’m meeting someone, I always buy Peyton & Byrne’s coffee, and if the person I’m meeting is paying, I always have an overpriced cake too!

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Talking of food and drink, I’m hooked back into Masterchef. I usually favour the Celebrity version for reasons shallow, but I reviewed the first episode of the new series of the Civilian one for the Guardian and haven’t been able to tear myself away. It’s formulaic, but some of the most comforting telly is, and Gregg and John move ever further into self-parody, but, again, it isn’t broke, so why fix it? (The irony here is that Masterchef has repeatedly tried to fix itself when unbroken, but aside from the impossible new “palate test”, this series is relatively untinkered.)

I was given the basic Great British Bake Off Learn To Bake book for my birthday earlier in the month, and I’m also watching Paul Hollywood’s Beard on BBC2 and finding him a stout and reliable tutor, so cooking is back on the agenda. I made this marbled chocolate banana bread at the weekend, which was supposed to be baked in individual tiny cake cases but I chose to do it in a single loaf tin. The result is not “marbling” in the elegant Baroque sense. But it tastes bloody nice. (Someone on Twitter asked if it was gluten-free. I’m afraid not. I have tried baking with rice flour, and various ancient grains, none of which truly did the job. The gluten is the protein that binds dough, and without it, you’re on the back foot. I avoid wheat for reasons of waistline expansion and maintenance of general energy levels, but I am not allergic to it, so when it comes to cake, it’s gluten or the highway.)

BananabreadmarbledMar24I’d read that you can freeze individual slices of cake, but never tried it before, so – after a call-out for tips and advice on Twitter – I wrapped them in tin foil and put them in a sealable bag. Yesterday I took one out, and by the time I was ready to eat it, it was as good as new. (Typically of Twitter, someone re-Tweeted my call for advice to food writer and TV cook Nigel Slater himself, who said, “It should work, but I’m no expert.” I was happy to report back to him that it did work, which makes me an expert.) When you’re baking to save money on shop-bought cake and biscuits, you have to learn how to ration. There’s a war on.

I should, by rights, have been in Glasgow last night, attending the studio recording of the final episode of “the Pappy’s sitcom” for BBC3, which as you know I script-edited. (I think it’s still called Secret Dude Society, but that may not be fixed.) However, it was being filmed in BBC studios, and the wrap party was also being held on BBC premises, so I didn’t travel up for what would have been, for me, a massive jolly, as the NUJ and Bectu were on strike from midday, over redundancies and “bullying”, and it would, for me, have been inappropriate. (It’s an entirely personal matter, and I make no judgement on anyone else.)

Anyway, I got a lot more work done yesterday and this morning as a result. As usual with these writer’s blogs, I cannot give too much away, but I have three comedies in development, currently, all at varying stages. Of the two pilots script that I’ve written, one, with C4, is written and delivered, and has hit a stalemate, but it’s not over yet. The other, for the BBC, was delivered last year and sent back for a complete overhaul – it’s the one that gave me writer’s block – and I have finished the second draft, which I wrote again from scratch, a blank screen. It’s almost ready to go to the broadcaster. The third comedy has only just been green-lit for development, and I’m carefully constructing a story breakdown with a production company before launching into the script. In comedy terms, I have three plates spinning. It’s all about keeping them from crashing to the floor.

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I’m printing this picture in memory of Richard Griffiths, who died yesterday but whose passing was announced today. I feel certain it was taken at the first Empire Awards, which were in 1996, although I can find no record of the event to confirm it. I was definitely at the first Empire Awards, and the second, as a chaperone, and I had a terrific time at both, with various approachable film people, so who knows? I seem to recall a whole load of people connected with Withnail, so was there a special award for that film, or for Bruce Robinson? Don’t look on Wikipedia, as it’s not there. If anyone can help, I’d be grateful. I certainly jumped at the chance to have my meeting with Richard Griffiths captured on camera, and it’s a treasured Polaroid in my archive. Someone on Twitter pointed out that he can only have been 48 at the time, as he was merely 65 when he died. I am 48 today. Mortality is a terrible c—, if you’ll pardon the apposite language.

Two further things before I sign off:

Went to the cinema this afternoon – awarding myself half a Bank Holiday, as I’d completed my main writing task of the day by getting up at 6.30am – and after the trailer for A Late Quartet, starring Christopher Walken, I heard an older gentleman in the row behind claim loudly to his wife, “That’s Angelina Jolie’s dad!” (I resisted the urge to turn round and say to her, “It’s not. Don’t listen to him.”)

Now that we’ve seen the David Bowie exhibition, with all of his costumes on display, seeing footage of him on TV has taken a new turn. Catching the end of another repeat of BBC4’s Ziggy Stardust documentary (the one narrated by Jarvis), we found ourselves going, “Ooh, we’ve seen that cape!” and “Ooh, we’ve seen that fishnet vest!” It reminded me of my own dear Nan, who used to love to point out places she and Pap had been on holiday if they ever turned up on television. “Ooh, we’ve been there, Reg!” she would shout, if they showed, say, Minehead.

Happy Easter.

 

Writer’s blog: Week 10

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More solipsism, good idea. It’s Thursday and I took this picture last night, in the dressing room at the Roundhouse in Camden, North London. I was hosting the first of three previews and Q&As for the Guardian Edinburgh International Television Festival (formerly the Media Guardian Edinburgh International Television Festival). You may recall I did some intensive hosting at the Festival last August, and had a rare old, star-spangled time. I’m hoping to do the same again this year, hence my access to this glamorous dressing room last night. It wasn’t my dressing room, I was sharing it with at least four other people, possibly five, as it was also our green room.

Our first preview and Q&A was for The Incredible Mr Goodwin, a brand new vehicle for the swashbuckling talents of daredevil escape artist Jonathan Goodwin, whose amazing feats you may have seen on the likes of Dirty Tricks, or Death Wish Live, or The Indestructibles, or One Way Out, being buried alive, sticking needles through his hand, hanging from great heights, that sort of caper. This is the show that will, hopefully, put him up there with Derren Brown, Dynamo, and other hip performers who do astounding feats – although call Goodwin’s stunts “tricks” and you might feel the weight of his inflated upper arms!

There’s a teaser here, if you dig that sort of thing. It’s like an urbane, well-read Jackass with a wife and kids.

It’s on Watch, which is part of the UKTV “family” of channels, alongside Dave. It’s interesting that it’s on a boutique channel, but that’s a sign of the times. Watch, or UKTV, gave Goodwin and his producers at Objective the budget and freedom they needed to make what is a pretty glamorous, transatlantic “fuck-off moment” compendium (Goodwin’s description), and they’ve been marketing the hell out of it. (He hung from a burning rope off the London Eye on Tuesday, which proved an effective teaser stunt.) I hope the show draws a record audience to Watch, as they’ve taken quite a big punt on this, and as anyone who makes television will tell you, it’s no longer the case that the big terrestrial broadcasters hold all the money.

Anyway, I enjoyed meeting Jonathan – as affable and candid in real life as he seems onscreen (think: the medical opposite of David Blaine, who happens to among those whom Goodwin has advised in the past) – and his producer Matt, and the half-hour Q&A was easygoing and informative. We had some smart questions from the audience, too, which was made up of industry onlookers and paying punters, my favourite being: “Have you ever been psychoanalysed?” (He hasn’t.) Goodwin’s wife and baby appear in the show, to point up the humanity of a man who is prepared to be buried alive or to climb a skyscraper using only gloves and grippy trainers.

The bonus came at the end of our session, when the screen rolled up and Goodwin revealed a large bed of nails, which – surprise! – he didn’t lay down on. He plucked a woman from the audience and cajoled her into laying down on the nails, which turned out to be less painful than you might imagine, apparently. This is because the weight of the body is evenly distributed over the nails. Then came the reveal: his producers lifted the bed of nails, and left a lower bed bearing just the one six-inch nail. At which Goodwin stripped his t-shirt off and laid down on it. For the count of ten.

Whether or not the stunt is 100% honest and “real” or not, it bloody looked real from where I was sitting. And that’s the appeal. In the first show, he pushes a needle through his cheek and pulls it out of his mouth using pliers. He climbs beneath an SUV as it barrels down a runway. He monkeys up a building, past the window cleaner. He puts his hand in a bear trap. It’s entertaining stuff, and it was fun to sit next to Goodwin himself and watch the show on the big screen. He relished watching the reactions of the Roundhouse audience when, onscreen, he pushed the needle up his nose and out of his throat. These stunts require an audience, sometimes a close-up audience of a handful of “witnesses”, to make sense. I must admit, it’s not my usual cup of tea, but Goodwin won me over, with his affability and his apparent minimum of ego.

This made it a fairly unusual Wednesday. I’d spent the early part of it waiting in for a tradesman whose office called to say he wasn’t going to make it. As I think of myself as a tradesman, I was a bit pissed off, but they re-booked him for 8.30 this morning, and he was there, bright and early, and did the job brilliantly, so I’m not complaining. The work I do for people does not require them to “wait in” for me, as I am likely to be sending it by email at a designated time, not knocking on their front door. (Interestingly, on Tuesday afternoon, I was trying to arrange a way of taking efficient delivery of the DVDs I need for the next GEITF Q&A – ITV sitcom The Job Lot, for which I will be talking not just to the writers, but to stars Russell Tovey and Sarah Hadland! – and after a few emails, I decided to just walk to the production company’s office and pick it up myself. That’s the kind of hands-on guy I sometimes have to be. So much fannying around otherwise.)

I seem to be doing a lot of hosting these days. I am a host, just like Hannah’s friend on Girls is a hostess. This is not such a terrible rung to have reached in my 25th year in showbiz. As I always say to the people who employ me in this capacity, I have yet to grow blasé about meeting and talking to people who make telly programmes. Whether it’s a writer, or a producer, or an actor, or an escapologist, they are interesting to me per se. I met a lovely guy called Rich last night. He works for UKTV. When I first knew him, in 1997, he was a runner at the production company which made Collins & Maconie’s Movie Club for ITV. This is how TV works, or can do. Jonathan Goodwin used to be a stunt adviser; he trained to be an actor; now he’s got his own show as a bald nutcase with his name in the title. (Yeah, been there, done that, in 1997 – always be nice to people on the way up, as you’re bound to meet them again on the way down.)

I’m pretty sure they’re nearly sold out, but if you’re a Russell Tovey fan, or Olivia Colman fan (who isn’t?), the other surprisingly intimate GEITF screenings are bookable here. Thanks to Liz for setting it all up, and to that large bunch of young people I fell into enthusiastic nerdy conversation with at the Roundhouse bar afterwards about Breaking Bad, Black Mirror and Game Of Thrones. I didn’t catch everybody’s name. (One gentleman among them lamented the fact that I am no longer on the radio with Josie Long. There is, almost literally, always one, wherever I go.)

These are the cats on today’s calendar. I like them. And thereby hang two tails.

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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.)

Writer’s blog: Week 4, Monday

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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:

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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.)

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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

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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.

Writer’s blog: Week 47

Wednesday

I give up. I don’t know what week number it is. Anyway, we’re hurtling toward December, I know that much, it’s Wednesday, and the heat is on at the Pappy’s sitcom for BBC3, Secret Dude Society (the working title seems to have almost hardened into a title, but not fully so hold your horses for a bit longer). As I type, I’m currently on the East Midlands train, more literally hurtling back to London Euston from Northampton for a full day’s script meeting with “the boys” – Matthew, Ben and Tom, who are not boys – our fastidious Scottish bosses Gav and Rab from Glasgow’s illustrious, industrial estate-based production company The Comedy Unit, and producer Izzy (with whom I previously worked on the cruelly cancelled Gates for Sky). I am, as previously stated, script editing the six-episode series. The onus remains on “the boys” to come up with the goods, which, after all, they will be acting out in a TV studio in February before a live studio audience, but my job is to help pat it into shape. It’s cool to be part of someone else’s first sitcom and to be around a conference table with creative, funny people.

I was involved in a talk at the University of Northampton last night, part of a series called Articulation, a sort of “tag lecture” with fellow alumnus Bill Drummond. I will write about that unlikely and amazing experience once I have the photographic evidence that it even took place.

Thursday

I am unnaturally soothed by the repetitive, mundane, always-looking-sideways-off nature of the PhotoBooth pictures I take of myself to illustrate Writer’s Blog. They are spectacularly uninteresting, and reveal little about my physical context (oh, not those ducts at Radio Times again!), but they are honest and true. And they reveal the routine nature of my life. And the occasional fluctuation one way or another in terms of the size of my double chin.

Arrived in London at 10.27 yesterday morning, as advertised (I must admit, I am generally quite lucky on this train from Northampton, the 09.25, which I regularly take after a sleepover at Mum and Dad’s), and joined Pappy’s and co round the circular conference table in a ground-floor conference room at the West Kensington-based media company who own The Comedy Unit by 11.00, unnaturally hot, as ever, after a trudge in too many layers with too many bags. (This time of year is always a conundrum: waterproof outer layer, optional jacket underneath, optional cardigan under that, over shirt … how to strike the perfect, temperature-controlled balance? On Stephen Fry Gadget Man on C4, he demonstrated an air-conditioned jacket, from Japan. I don’t want one.)

With all six scripts at varying stages of completion, we read aloud, and made notes, and shared notes, and made more notes, from 11am-6pm, and ate the traditional platters of M&S sandwiches and sausage rolls (cheese ones for the veggie) while we worked, so as not to waste valuable time. It was, as you can imagine, as hard and tiring as the equivalent time spent working down a coalmine. I still love the fact that the sort of food we eat in the middle of a working day is exactly the kind to ensure a slump, mid-afternoon: bread, pastry, sponge, potato. We are a curious race.

My day at Radio Times today has been focussed. I have had to supply a week’s worth of Film of the Days for the magazine that will hit the armchairs of Britain in two weeks’ time, as we are in “Christmas pick-up”, which is where everybody works super-hard in order to get the famous Christmas double-issue (our biggest seller of the year) out in good time for the festive period, which means foreshortened working weeks in order to pull all schedules forward. (This means that the staff get an actual week off for Christmas, secure in the knowledge that the issues for the first week of the New Year is already “in bed”.)

Arrived home to find that my annual Cats Protection advent calendar had arrived in the post today. You may be unsurprised to hear that this is my favourite charity after Thomas’s Fund, of which I am a proud patron. What can I say? I like cats. It is also an annual New Year tradition to scan the opened calendar, even though it is impossible to do it and let you see inside each door, without removing the doors, which would be counterproductve, as the names of the kits are on the door.

Oh, alright, here’s one where the doors are off. You’re so demanding.

Anyway, it’s good to think of those less fortunate than ourselves at this cold and festive time of year, so spare a thought for those who haven’t been sent a Cats Protection advent calendar.

Read an alarming but expected piece in today’s Media Guardian about BBC4 controller Richard Klein considering axing the currently ongoing, back-to-back Top of the Pops repeats from the late 70s. They’ve had to yank a couple presented by Jimmy Savile in recent weeks, and one presented by DLT, and you can understand why Klein might be nervous about forging on with the initiative into 1978 next year. (After all, even though Kid Jensen, Noel Edmunds, Peter Powell etc. are free from any implication of wrongdoing, it’s the atmosphere of adult male DJs surrounded by fawning teenage girls and introducing the lovely Legs & Co with a glint in their eye that now seems to have curdled with recent revelations.) I love these re-runs – shown in full, unedited, they present valuable social documents, and I hope BBC4 keeps airing them. It’s too easy to edit the past, and these half-hours show 1976 and 1977 as they were, with The Jam rubbing seditionary shoulders with the frankly offensive Barron Knights. Save TOTP!

Watched Sky’s documentary about Bradley Wiggins, A Year In Yellow (can’t imagine why Sky had exclusive access to him … oh yes), and found myself utterly captivated by it, despite my threadbare interest in sport and almost non-existent interest in cycling. Not only did it explain the Tour de France for me – thanks to intelligent and eloquent input from three cycling journalists who were a credit to their trade and chosen sport – it depicted Wiggins in an honest manner. He seems decent, self-aware, dedicated, a family man, averse to fame, a bit shy, a lover of peace and quiet, proud of his tower-block roots (his Nan, who raised him, still lives on the same estate) and committed to the purist notion that he will not leave his wife for a supermodel, nor takes drugs to enhance his sporting performance. I wish him well, and will review this programme, with clips, on next week’s Telly Addict.

Friday

Just heard from the University of Northampton that some official photos of my night with Bill Drummond are on their way, so expect a full account soon. I’m off for a meeting with my agent today, what we call a “catch-up”, which is always done face to face. Clearly I can’t give anything away, but I will say this: I’ve had some encouraging news from a particular broadcaster this week about one of the projects I have “in development”, something I’ve developed and written by myself and have invested a lot in. Not a commission, as yet, but not a knockback, or an interminable series of notes, and that in itself is promising.

As mentioned above, but not stated for the record before, Gates has not been recommissioned by Sky Living. I’m sad about this, as I felt we – the team who wrote it – had more stories to tell about these parents and teachers. It is not to be. And there was me thinking everything got a second series on Sky! I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned that Mr Blue Sky – a far more personal project – was not automatically recommissioned by Radio 4, but we’re in the process of re-submitting it as we speak and have fingers crossed for a good decision before Christmas. If we get the green light – and again, I have loads more stories to tell with Harvey, Jax, Ray, Sean, Lou etc. in a third series – it may not air until 2014, but it would mean a concrete commission for the New Year. I’d love to end another uncertain, up-and-down professional year with something positive in the diary for 2013.

I do know that Personal Training, the short film I wrote with Simon Day, who stars, will be airing in the New Year as part of Sky Atlantic’s Common People strand, for which ten character-based shorts have been made by Baby Cow. That has been officially announced: it begins in January as part of Sky Atlantic’s Comedy Monday line-up. We shot it in two days, and I can’t wait to see the finished product. It marks the debut of Simon’s latest character, Colin Reed. We wrote a film about him for C4, years ago, which was put into development and then cancelled before it went into production after one of those pesky management changes that happen all the time. We have always been determined to get Colin out there, and thanks to Sky, and Baby Cow, that is definitely going to happen.

The estimable Stuart Jeffries, who has written scathingly about C4 in the past, has gathered his thoughts on the 30-year-old channel for the Guardian this week, a very good read. Over the years, as both presenter and writer, I’ve been in and out of meetings at all the major broadcasters, including C4, although off the top of my head, I think the only actual programmes I’ve been involved in have been clips shows (nothing wrong with those, of course, although they’ve thankfully dried up).

When I was still paired with Stuart Maconie in the 90s and simultaneously on ITV with the Movie Club and Radio 1 with the Hit Parade, we paid our first visit to C4 at Horseferry Road to pitch our own comedic cultural magazine show (Get Culture!) with a supportive commissioning editor who left the channel about a week later. We learned a valuable lesson that day: you’re only as popular as the current commissioning editor thinks you are.

The late Harry Thompson, whom I interviewed about Peter Cook for Radio 4, and had stewarded The 11 O’Clock Show to fruition, gave me an insight into how C4 then worked: some excitable exec would designate some up-and-coming comedian as “the new face of the channel”, tell them so, wine them and dine them, try them out in a few things, and then tell them that, in fact, they were no longer “the new face of the channel”, because somebody else was. In this, I guess C4 are not so different from the BBC, or ITV, or Sky, who have long been in the business of creating a Hollywood-style “stable” of stars. But unless you have signed a contract, it’s all meaningless.

When Simon and I developed and wrote the 90-minute version of Personal Training for C4, in 2007, we had every reason to believe it was going to air. Instead, it was never shot. You weather such setbacks, or else – as I always say – you get out of the business. When the 10-minute version airs on Sky in the new year, all the agony and the ecstasy will have been worth. (You could conceivably write scripts that are never made forever and live off it. But what kind of life is that? And in any case, unmade scripts will eventually start to work against your professional reputation!)

I discovered yesterday that Lee Mack’s autobiography, Mack The Life, has been published in hardback, in time for Christmas. I knew he was writing it, as he tapped me for some clarification about the early days of Not Going Out last year. I look forward to reading it, as I sincerely hope I am at least a footnote. But Not Going Out, as important as it has been for me, professionally, was never my show, and series six – the first without Tim – is being filmed right now, the second series with which I’ll have had no involvement whatsoever. I’m glad it’s still going, although Tim’s absence will be a problem, I suspect. We shall see. I’m out. When you work on a show almost full-time for two series, then as one of a much larger team for two further series, this seriously reduces your annual income. Then, we you are relinquished altogether, that has an even more profound effect on your income. But it’s good to be forced to concentrate on projects of your own. Series six airs in the new year. (Lee and I remain friends, by the way.)

Roll on the end of the year. It’s around now, just before the advent calendar doors start to be folded back, that I always start to take stock of the disappearing year. Has it been an improvement on last year, or the opposite? Have the highs outranked the lows? Have the slaps in the face outweighed the pats on the back? Don’t know yet.

Writer’s blog Week 46

Wednesday

Again, not actually sure if it is Week 46. It might be Week 45. I don’t really work in week numbers, other than the week numbers we use at Radio Times – which is where I am today; check out the ducting in our office! – but these refer ahead to the week of the issue we’re working on.

It’s dark. It’s only just gone 4.30 in the afternoon and it’s dark. Is it any wonder we, as a species, get depressed, or at least melancholy and reflective, in the autumn? It’s also dark – pitch black – when I leave the house in the morning, as I have joined a cheap gym and have pressed myself back into the service of keep-fit, after too long in the sedentary wilderness due to fiscal belt-tightening. Anyway, when I woke up this morning at just before 6am, I seriously forgot that there was a US Presidential Election going on in America. I checked the BBC News website on my phone at the bus stop at around 6.20am and was relieved to read the first headline saying that Obama had won. My only thought was: phew. (I Tweeted this.)

I watched his victory speech, live, from 6.30am. I was at the gym, first in the changing room, where the TV had sound, and then on the treadmill, without sound (or headphones), so I wasn’t able to hear all of what he said in Chicago. I could, however, read the closed-captioning on Sky News and ITV Daybreak, and I was struck by the frequency of this particular phrase:

[CLAPPING AND APPLAUSE]

I may remember that phrase for years to come, as it marked a happy day in all our lives. (Unless you think abortion should be outlawed and gays shouldn’t marry and poor people should stop complaining about being poor, which is your democratic right to do.) Seriously, if Romney had got in, we’d be looking at four very anxious years, especially as the full extent of his party’s right-wing extremism was allowed to uncoil from behind the facade of private-equity sheen like a big, scaly snake. At least this way, America probably won’t bomb Iran. Probably.

One of the tellies at my gym seems permanently to be tuned to one of those channels that just shows infomercials, which at least make perfect sense without being able to hear them: they are simply and baldly selling a product, which you send off for, and if you don’t like it after 30 days, you get your money back. I found it pretty easy to ignore a half-hour “show” in which Robert Dyas the ironmonger demonstrated lots of products, QVC-style, including what looked like a simple jug, but there’s a recurring ad, which also goes on and on and on for 30 minutes, which advertises a fitness regime you can do at home called Insanity. I find it harder to ignore.

I’m slightly fascinated by Insanity. I don’t need to check to know that it’s American. What’s funny about it is that, unlike other fitness programmes, which are usually predicated on being some kind of shortcut to fitness, this one looks … hmmm … insane. They keep cutting back to a massed workout where a eugenically musclebound instructor called Shaun T throws himself around and ordinary bodybuilders copy him. (Nobody looks unfit in these videos.) But when they show film of ordinary members of the public – you – working out in front of the TV, it looks really cumbersome and awkward and unsexy.

Frankly, unless you live in a hall, or a mall, with masses of space, Insanity looks awful. Sure, the results are there to see: men take their t-shirts off all the way through the infomercial to reveal rock-hard pecs and abs – but I foresee quite a lot of junctures at which you, at home, could feel like throwing in the towel.

What’s sweet about the package is that, as well as the DVDs, and a book, they also entice you with an Insanity calendar, featuring, well, men and women in PE kit with hard muscles, smiling. I’ll stick to photos of cats.

Thursday

Exciting day the British Library, as we had to evacuate the building at around midday. This happens sporadically; it’s a building with 14 million books in it, and I suspect it has pretty sensitive smoke detectors. It’s a huge upheaval, with hundreds of staff, readers and visitors forced not just out of the building itself, but off the grounds too, while the fire brigade investigate. The whole drill took about half an hour, but when you’re stood outside the gates, clutching your laptop (they instruct you not to take anything with you, but who’s going to leave their laptop?), unable to even nip to a coffee shop or pub until it’s blown over because your wallet is in your locker (maybe that’s just me), it feels like a major inconvenience. Once it’s clear that no book, or manuscript, or person, is in peril, you are at liberty to shuffle and moan and read Jonathan Freedland’s assessment of Obama’s second-term victory on your phone. (How did I ever survive without a phone that lets me read the Guardian on it? Why did you all stop me from getting one for so long?)

I should write something about writing. I’m waiting for some notes on one script I have in development with one broadcaster (let’s call it Script B), which, it has been reported back to me, they “really enjoyed.” Since a commissioning editor has no reason to pretend to have “really enjoyed” a script, I’m kind of hoping they actually did, and that the notes won’t make me want to give up writing for a living like the last set of notes on a different script – let’s call it Script A – in development with a different broadcast did. (That’s why I started writing these writer’s blogs in August, in fact.)

What’s really driving my working days, though, is the Pappy’s sitcom, whose working title is The Secret Dude Society, for BBC3, and which I am script editing. I like script editing; it harks back to my years in magazine publishing, when I edited as much as I wrote. It’s the closest I get to being a teacher, almost literally “marking” other people’s work and handing it back to them.

I find I am now often hired out to script-edit pilot scripts at various stages of development – in this capacity I’ve been lucky enough to work with Joe Wilkinson, Greg Davies and Shappi Khorsandi in the past 12 months – but the only full series I’ve edited has been The Persuasionists for Bwark on BBC2 in 2010, a show which I think legally has to be prefixed with the description “ill-fated.” For various reasons, it didn’t hit the spot, despite the talent involved, and the channel buried it mid-series after some bad reviews, but I sincerely hope its failure was nothing to do with my script editing.

Anyway, Secret Dude Society is another six-parter, producer by those kings of Scottish comedy The Comedy Unit, based in Glasgow, where, in January, Pappy’s will perform their first sitcom before a live studio audience. I won’t give anything more away other than what it is in the public domain already. I can, however, publish this exclusive shot of Matthew, Tom and Ben working very hard on a train home from Glasgow in September, at the start of our “journey” (but about halfway through our journey).

The “boys”, as we have taken to calling them, in true showbiz style (they are all about 30), are – naturally – also on tour, while writing five further episodes to make six along with the pilot (a read-through of which clinched the Grail-like series commission, before I came onboard). This is the way comedians like to work, it seems; a state of “up against it” seems to fire them. I’m thoroughly enjoying working with Matthew, Ben and Tom, and the wily Scottish men of the Unit. The funny thing is, as a script writer I seem unable to employ the advice I offer other writers as a script editor. Editor, edit thyself? I don’t think so. Turn out it’s much harder to “mark” your own work.

By the way, I saw Skyfall for the second time on Tuesday night. I really enjoyed it, again, after an interval of only three weeks. That’s the mark of a decent film. I also caught a bit of Never Say Never Again on Sky’s 007 channel, in which Sean Connery appeared, without irony, in denim dungarees with no shirt on underneath. That’s the mark of a shit film.

I’ve seen lots of other films that I haven’t had time to review here, but I have been very busy over the last few weeks and haven’t been blogging nearly enough. And I am going to have to stop blogging right now. I’ve worked out that since the tragic demise of Word magazine, there is a frustrating vacuum in my creative life, as nobody is employing me to write prose any more. I have plenty of dialogue to write, and other people’s dialogue to edit, but outside of my Radio Times duties, I don’t write articles any more. I find I use the blog to keep my prose-writing muscles toned, but no money changes hands, and so I feel kind of guilty for spending any time doing exactly what I am doing now.

That can’t be right, can it?

Nor can this, Medusa-like ball of paranoid ire Melanie Phillips’ refreshingly mad view of Obama’s re-election, linked to here for balance. Don’t worry, it’s not a link to the Daily Mail website so you won’t be adding to their hits.

Writer’s blog: Week 40

Sunday. I think, actually, today is officially the last day of Week 39, but if I write a bit more tomorrow, it will be Week 40. (Who numbers weeks? Apart from weekly magazines? It’s so impersonal.) I find myself in Northampton for a couple of days, at my Mum and Dad’s, and I type from “the office”, which used to be my bedroom when I last lived here, 28 years ago. Let’s run that number again: 28 years ago. I brought my new Cud mug up with me, the one that Cud kindly sent me, to leave it here as “my mug.”

I came up on the train yesterday. An easy enough journey, just under an hour from Euston if it doesn’t stop at all the incidental stations, like Cheddington and Tring, which it didn’t. (I’m sure they’re not incidental if you live there.) I was sat parallel to a party of six young men who were on their way to Birmingham for a rave-up. They weren’t the most objectionable young men you could share a carriage with, as they weren’t swearing constantly, which is frankly amazing, but they were drinking, and bantering, and doing so at a high enough volume to make it impossible to ignore them without headphones. Because I could hear literally every word they said, I know that they were staying in a hotel in Birmingham, and meeting up with some other mates for a drink, then going on to some exotically named club for 8.45. This was about 2.30. They were a pretty beefy bunch, and I’m sure they could take their booze, but, having broken open a bottle of transparent spirit, and even taken the Glyndbourne-like step of bringing ice to put it paper cups, they were playing cards and drinking shots as forfeits. Even over an hour, you could clearly detect them getting drunker and more slurred, and more “fucks” started creeping into their dialogue.

I feared they were peaking too early, but maybe a nap was built into their itinerary at some stage. When I was a young man, I’m sure I traveled with mates and made similarly gregarious noise (there was one train journey to Derby to see the Boo Radleys in 1993 …), but am I simply post-rationalising if I suggest that my generation had a bit more self-consciousness than the current younger one?

It’s always pleasant, and a bit weird, to be back in Northampton, especially as my folks still live in the house we moved to in 1983, a year before I left (and to which I returned regularly during the next three years at Chelsea). In many ways, it hasn’t changed a bit. My sister and her family still live here – a five minute drive away – and very few of the next tier of the family have strayed very far. My Dad’s sister and her husband spend a lot of time in their apartment in Spain, and one of my male cousin’s two daughters has literally just ventured down to London to go to university, which has been big news within the clan. Good for her, I say. It’s not contractual to leave the town you grew up in – and if you’ve read my books, you’ll know that I owe Northampton a lot, and regard it with massive affection – but it’s good to test your boundaries, and see if perhaps they were further out than you imagined.

Because it is Monday, I find myself at Mum and Dad’s on the very day that they go out for an organised ramble, with friends. This is a regular meet, once a month, and it involves a gentle walk though the open pastures of Northamptonshire, beginning in the car park of a pub that serves good food, and ending in the car park of the pub that serves good food. I have heard tales of these walks, and they always sound bucolic and encouragingly local and not too strenuous, and with a pint and a plate of grub built tantalisingly in. So I accepted the invitation to join them, and make the number up from 11 to a round 12.

We gathered at 10.30am in the car park of the Britannia on the old Bedford Road. Now, I know this pub of old as a remote outpost of hospitality visible from the A428 and nestled by the river Nene. Today, this once-rural inn is blocked in on all sides by newly-built office blocks and retail-park hotels (which must be good for business). The pub itself, inevitably run by a national chain owned by an even bigger national chain, seemed really welcoming, especially after a three-mile hike, but had this lunchtime been cursed by a power failure. So we drove to the next likely spot, the Lakeside, another pub run by a national chain, but also, sadly, jinxed by the same local power outage. We ended up – happily – at a less corporate, more cosy, lower-ceilinged pub in the village of Great Houghton called the Old Cherry Tree, whose friendly staff rose to the challenge of seating and feeding a dozen middle-aged ramblers with a thirst.

Mum and Dad’s friends, a bunch of retirees of similar vintage – and most of whom I’ve met at Wellingborough & Hatton Rotary functions where my Dad had to provide the speaker, so it was me – proved voluble and inclusive company, and I enjoyed being the token under-50 among their sensibly-shod ranks. They joked about me turning them into a sitcom, and the funny thing is, it might just work (mental note etc.). There’s something charming about the over-60s, as we shall politely call them, and the comfortable way they mock each other and chuck innuendo around and claim to be eating “healthily” by not ordering the chips, but then eating chips off other people’s plates. I wouldn’t mind being like them when I am over-60, and I salute them for building this exercise/booze-up into their monthly calendar. (Part of our walk, by the Nene, seemed to coincide with the famous Nene Way. It certainly took us up to Weston Mill, which is a spot I visited as a child, and which terrified me then.)

Living in London, the countryside feels far away. In Northampton, you don’t have to go far out to hit rolling fields. The town is speckled all around its edges with gorgeous villages, like Great Houghton, and a pub lunch can never be far away. They do not call them “gastropubs” round here, as they are unpretentious, but they hit the spot.

As did Hot Fuzz, which I watched again last night, having “taped” it off ITV2 the night before. (My used of “taped” on Twitter caused a degree of nostalgic merriment.) Having already been awestruck by Shaun Of The Dead, and its Pegg/Frost/Wright progenitor Spaced, I knew Hot Fuzz was going to be for me, but remember being even more blown away by its fizzing, metatextual ambition than I’d hoped when I saw it in 2007, prior to meeting Pegg for the first time for a Word magazine interview, after which we rather sweetly stayed in touch. Although the shock value has gone, I was still blown away, again, by how rich and funny it is. Bring on The World’s End, the pub-crawl finale to their Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy and being filmed, well, right now.

It is Tuesday. Here’s a weird thing. Yesterday, I picked up a copy of the finale to my own trilogy of memoirs, That’s Me In The Corner, published the same year Hot Fuzz came out. (And for the cover of which Simon Pegg kindly supplied a quote. What a shame even his mighty reputation couldn’t help us shift a few copies!) The reason I did so is that in October, it joins Where Did It All Go Right? as an e-book. I’m excited about this, so I idly flicked through it, wondering if it really was as bad as its sales figures and near-total lack of press coverage suggest.

Do you know what? It’s quite interesting. I mean that objectively. With its tales of pre-PC newspaper publishing, pre-Internet journalism, pre-digital radio, pre-satellite TV and pre-Twitter information sharing, it may just have evolved into a valuable social document. It’s only six years old, but it seems so very quaint.

Also, if Twitter had ruled the world, I would have been able to promote it myself, without the help of a disinterested publisher. I looked it up on Amazon, to confirm its e-publication (you can pre-order it for £7.69), and, of course, found myself doing the thing you should never do …

I must admit, because it was roundly ignored by the press on publication, I was delighted at the time to get a couple of rave customer reviews on Amazon. I have rarely checked back since. These raves have now being tempered by some real stinkers! Now, before you say it, I know you need thick skin to put yourself out into the public domain, but I always found negative customer reviews the most astringent (and we are talking one-star assassinations in some cases), as these poor bastards will have paid good money for my work. If a critic doesn’t like it, so what? I have not fleeced them of any money, only time. As an author, you do not wish to pickpocket anyone, and fervently hope that a combination of honest packaging, hard work and the context of your previous endeavours will be enough to frame an informed purchase, and thus rule out crashing disappointment. But this isn’t always the way.

“Disappointing … a chore … dull” … These were not the reactions I was aiming for when I wrote That’s Me In The Corner, as you can imagine! Anyway, as my publisher said to me on publication of my first book, in 2003, when I earned my first Amazon customer slag-off, this puts me in the same bracket as Ian McEwan and Martin Amis. I’m feeling more philosophical about the negative reaction to the book now – and the most negative reaction of all was not to even mention the book, a route most national publications took! – and wonder if, by the power of Twitter and the passage of time, That’s Me In The Corner will take on a new, Kindle-fanned life? If it sells two downloads, I shall be happy, as long as the two people who download it are happy. (I wonder if Ebury will let me write a new chapter dealing with that last six years? Hmmm.)

This is me posing in front of three large photo-collages my parents made a few years ago and which are clip-framed up in the “office”. (Actually, maybe my brother made them?) Not that you’ll be able to make much out from where you’re sitting, but the middle one is themed around me, my brother and my sister, from childhood to young adulthood. (The one to the left, out of shot, is based around their kids; the one to the right, partially obscured, is all Mum and Dad.) They’re fun to gaze at, with all their fashions and their haircuts. A couple of days at your parents’, and you do tend to fall into nostalgic reverie.

My new 3G phone, the Samsung Galaxy Ace I, is supposed to arrive today. I am entering the future – or the recent past, as the Ace I is very much last year’s model – while at the same time gazing at my distant past. My parents have recently bought a new PC for the “office”, and with it, changed broadband provider from Orange to BT. They wish to move certain important emails from their Orange account to BT, but due to computer woes, had been reliant for way too long on the remote Orange website client, where their emails are now stored. I set Outlook Express up for them and hooked it up to BT, so that they may now use that to retrieve and send emails, but I could not for the life of me get Outlook to import message from the Orange website. I actually spent a lot of yesterday afternoon trying, and failing. I asked the glorious hive mind of Twitter – the Twitterhive – and received a lot of helpful advice and hints, but none worked, and it looks as if my Dad is going to have to simply forward the important messages to the new account by hand – a laborious task, and one we were trying to sidestep.

If you have any further advice (and I even tried setting up a Gmail account and importing to that, but the password kept being rejected, even though it’s correct, so I gave up), there’s still time!

In the meantime, I have work to do, so will end this Northampton-based blog entry with another pic that sums these past couple of days up. (Thanks for having me, Mum and Dad!)

Writer’s blog: Week 37

Alright. I haven’t got time to write a daily diary. It’s the hard-bitten truth. I put in a week’s worth last month, but only to ostensibly unblock my writer’s block, which worked, as it happens. It’s something to do with exercising your keyboard fingers and jump-starting your brain. It’s more fun to write, than to write for a job. But when you write for a job and it’s going well, it becomes fun, so that’s always there to fire your turbines.

I wondered if I might get a weekly diary going, though. Just as an exercise. It may well be all about writing, but that’s the nature of the game.

Monday was a Bank Holiday. Because I’d spent half of Saturday working, and the other half traveling back to London from Edinburgh, I allowed myself the Monday off, like ordinary bank employees. Also, I drank a certain amount at a family barbecue on Sunday, with some downtime in mind.

I hit the media ground running on Tuesday, with a 10.30 meeting at the offices of a TV channel which I won’t name for fear of jinxing my livelihood. It was a good meeting, or felt like one, and if I could only live off good meetings, I’d be a rich man, but I can’t. I can only hope that I made a good enough impression, and pitched some good enough ideas, for it to lead down the crooked path to work. (I got lost on the way to the building, and then lost again inside the building. I am like Mr Bean. But Mr Bean gets loads of work, so … )

Above is a picture I took, and Tweeted, at work on Wednesday morning. The accompanying caption was something like, “Oh no! They’ve put me in a writing room that contains Quality Streets! How am I supposed to get any writing done?” It was true. “They” had. And I thought it would make a funny picture. “They” are my management company, Avalon, whose offices are far, far away in West London, otherwise I might exploit them for a luxuriously-appointed writing space more often. (Not all of their offices are luxurious. One they put me in didn’t even have a plug socket. Another was out of range of the company’s own in-house wi-fi.) As it was, I had pencilled in two half-days of intensive writing with my friend Simon Day, which could not be accomplished in the quiet of the British Library, so we went legit and got a room.

But he blew me out, on both days, for perfectly valid reasons. So I made use of the room. The room with the chocolates in. (You might argue that since my management company take a percentage of my earnings, then I am already paying for the Quality Street, ultimately. It is therefore in my interest to eat them. Or not eat them, if you look at it another way.)

I haven’t had a rented office of my own since 2008, when the financial crisis dissuaded me from such profligacy. It doesn’t really matter but here is a picture of me in my last-but-one rented office, which was shit, and leaked rain onto my laptop in 2007, because I stupidly left it there over the weekend. I never let a laptop out of my sight any more.

The British Library has, it is well documented, become my default office since then, and I find it not only vitally useful as a library, but inspiring as a workspace. I’m here right now. In the canteen. Look. I think my hair has grown up since 2007.

But on Tuesday and Wednesday I was in the offices of Avalon Ltd., working. Most who responded to my silly Tweet about the Quality Street crisis appreciated that it was not a real crisis. One, however, satisfied the predictability quota by comparing my job to one working down a mine. You know the comparison: it’s the one where my job, which doesn’t involve dangerous physical labour under the ground, comes out looking pre-e-e-etty easy. Even though I am about as self-aware as anybody in an essentially administrative job can be – crippled by self-awareness, like any good woolly liberal – it’s helpful to have the non-dangerous, non-physical aspects of my job pointed out to me.

I ate some of the Quality Streets – the soft ones – felt a bit sick, and then got on with my writing. Then Mrs Thatcher dismantled the industry I work in and I found myself on the scrap heap due to market forces and Chicago School economic doctrine.

I caught up with a really good BBC4 documentary about the Nazi death camp Treblinka last night, and found myself in sick awe, once again, at the evil that must exist somewhere deep inside every man and woman, but which is thankfully kept buried for nearly all of us for nearly all of the time. I wonder if our current Tory government secretly wishes that it, too, could simply erase a large unwanted chunk of the population – not on ethnic, religious, sexual or physical grounds, like Hitler’s willing executioners did, but on social or economic grounds. If David Cameron could send the poor of this country to their deaths, and get away with it in PR terms, I think he might. Maybe I have gone mad. Or maybe the world has.

Talking of being a liberal, if you’ve been following my boring soap opera of a life, which would struggle to find an audience if it were an actual soap opera, you’ll know that an invisible switch has been pulled somewhere deep within the Twittersphere which means that I am constantly being “followed” (not actually followed) by illiterate teenagers who really like a certain tiny pop singer, know how to make this ♥ on Twitter, and seem only to be following me because someone else they follow is following someone who follows someone who follows me, and because being “followed back” is literally their only reason for living. This is not a crisis, or as bad as being a miner either, but it’s something that exercises my mind nonetheless.

I have learned a lot about a certain demographic since this started happening: largely American, sometimes Latino, always young, as in young enough either not to be able to spell, or too buzzing with youthful energy to have time to do anything as bo-o-oring or lame as spell (or too non-English-speaking to be able to spell in English, let’s be fair), and hopelessly devoted to one of three international pop acts – a young man, an older woman, and a group. I have learned about them not through choice but because, overnight now, without fail, at least a dozen of them follow me with their ♥s and their “xoxo”s and their desperate entreaties to “follow me bak”. I block them all, which is boring, and time-wasting, because they are either following me by mistake, or because they follow anybody, or because they aren’t real (you never can tell on Twitter), or because they are using software to automatically follow people in order to accumulate “follows”. It’s a mad, self-serving, insular world, albeit one populated by millions, and I wish no part of it.

Some have asked me why it bothers me so much. Because it’s creepy? Because it’s irritating? And because I do not seek a PG audience for my Wildean witticisms and Parkeresque aphorisms and plugs and recommendations and leftist rhetoric.

Anyway, as well as the tweenies, I also found myself being followed by right-wing fundamentalist Tea Party Christian “patriots” last week. It was like a waking nightmare! At least they were adults, but again, they seemed to be passing me around and recommending me. I could find no prominent US politician called Andrew Collins, but I did, eventually, track the source of the virus to one of their flag-waving number (according to his charming Twitter bio, a family man committed to destroying the “cancer of liberalism”), who had been listing me among other “patriots” to follow. I informed him of his error, politely. And he politely apologised and Tweeted to his fellow Americans not to bother following me, as I was not “the Tea Party AC”, but “some lib from the UK.” I was so proud.

More Twitter fun yesterday, Thursday. While I was in Edinburgh, which is basically London-on-Tweed (don’t correct me geographically; it sounds good) during the various festivals, especially the TV one, I finally reached the point where my defiantly primitive 1G Samsung phone [pictured] stopped being funny. I have never owned a 3G phone. I did have an LG one two years ago with a touch-screen, but I smashed it twice, and resented paying another £40 to get it fixed, so petulantly bought the baby Samsung for £5 in Carphone Warehouse, much to the amusement of the hip young man who helped me choose it. I like to bring entertainment into the lives of others, especially if they have a job as hard as working in a mine. (Actually, maybe he thought I was a Wire-style drug dealer, who was only buying it to make one call before throwing it in the bin. Cool, eh?)

It’s not as if I am against Apple – I love Apple products and am one of their masochistic slaves – but I am trying to watch my finances, and would resent seeing £30 go out of the bank account every month just to have a fancy phone that might get stolen from my hand in the street by a child on a BMX bike for resale. I have found a good deal on a Samsung Galaxy Ace, which looks fine to me. I don’t want to watch films on my phone. I just want one that I can use to check my emails, check Twitter, check a map, and just generally check. I cannot do this on the stupid babyphone, which doesn’t even have a camera, and whose only advantage over smartphones is that it’s very small, and nobody is ever going to nick it, even if I asked them to. I have no experience with a 3G phone, but have seen them in action as nearly everybody I know has one: media friends, non-media friends, family, young and old. My stance has gone beyond noble Luddism (I can’t walk past a Spinning Jenny without kicking it) into the realms of self-abuse.

So, I asked Twitter if there was any meaningful reason with a Samsung Galaxy Ace wouldn’t do the job, and feared a barrage of abuse. None was forthcoming. Most said it did what an iPhone did, but just wasn’t an iPhone. Many gentlemen said their wives had one, and had no complaints. One young man told me he’d bought one for his Mum, and she had no complaints. That clinched it. I think I am going to get one, be like someone’s wife or Mum (respondents’ accidental sexism, not mine), and enter the early part of the 21st century, gingerly. If you think I am throwing £18 p/m (not including cashback) away, you can tell me. I will prevaricate for a few more days, I think. But I feel this was Twitter as a force for good, and not as a force for evil. I got a broad consensus, and that was very useful, as a consumer service.

And here’s today’s Commute Playlist (all new stuff from 2012, randomly sequenced, of course):

ALABAMA SHAKES Hold On
ST. SPIRIT Tooth & Nail
PADRAIG WHELAN Mex!Can Ac!D [sic]
DEAD FLAMINGOES Jealous Sailor
PAPER CROWS Changing Colours
BLUR The Puritan
THE NEIGHBOURHOOD Sweater Weather
WILD FLAG Boom
FUNERAL SUITS All Those Friendly People
KING CREOSOTE & JON HOPKINS Third Swan
THE MACHINE ROOM Your Head On The Floor Next Door
ZEBRA & SNAKE Money In Heaven (Helsinki 78-82 Remix)
THE WINTER OLYMPICS I Prefer The Early Stuff
BOXES Sharks
RACE HORSES Cysur a Cyffro (hey, it’s in Welsh)
THE SLOW READERS CLUB Feet On Fire (at which point I arrived at my destination)

The great think about this playlist is that I have whittled down loads of stuff I’ve been sent at 6 Music so that it’s all stuff I have initially liked, and now I’m roadtesting it, to see how it grabs me on second, third or fourth listen. It’s all 2012, but some are older than others. You should see the size of my Luddite’s iPod, by the way.

I’m back on 6 Music for four consecutive Saturdays, starting tomorrow. I am very pleased about this. In the first show, 10am-1pm, we’re going to “love” 1979. Get in touch via @BBC6Music if you want to play.

Stop press: just had my latest insane Tween follower on Twitter. I won’t give his name, although he’s from Australia, so that’s a nice twist, and, according to his illiterate bio, “Flirting is my game Folllow me and ill follow back”. (Imagine having so much youthful energy you don’t have the time to even read your own bio back!) Here’s his most recent Tweet: “aiming for 1.000 followers please everyone HELP ME!” I have not corrected his grammar. Maybe he really does just want 1.000 follower? It won’t be me. Have we uncovered the new, cool, 21st century kids’ version of trainspotting? Just collecting meaningless “follows” from people who have no interest in who you are or what you do? I respect trainspotters, that’s the only difference. HELP HIM!

Writer’s blog: Thursday

Day four

I forgot to publish my commuting soundtrack yesterday. It actually accounts for the commute in and out:

50 CENT In Da Club
WILSON SIMONAL Não Vem Que Não Tem (Nem Vem Que Não) [not 100% sure of the details but it’s from the City Of God Remixed album]
SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES Switch
SONIC YOUTH Catholic Block
SPARKS No.1 Song In Heaven
THE VERVE Love Is Noise
YEASAYER Ambling Alp
SPEAR OF DESTINY Never Take Me Alive
THE WOODENTOPS Well Well Well
POP WILL EAT ITSELF Get The Girl! Kill The Baddies!
PLAN B No Good
YOUNG DISCIPLES Apparently Nothin’
WU-TANG CLAN Intro (Shaolin Finger Jab/Chamber Music)
YEAH YEAH YEAHS Heads Will Roll
WU-TANG CLAN Bells Of War
SONIC YOUTH Against Fascism
TALKING HEADS This Must Be The Place
SANTOGOLD L.E.S. Artistes
PSYCHEDELIC FURS Into You Like A Train
TING TINGS Great DJ
SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES Red Light [lots of Siouxsie yesterday)
THE TWILIGHT SAD The Room
TALKING HEADS Born Under Punches
SUGAR JC Auto
TV ON THE RADIO Wolf Like Me

Phew. Made two hot, crowded Tube journeys in inappropriate long trousers a whole lot easier.

Incidentally, I was wearing long trousers on a short trousers day because I had a meeting in the middle of the day yesterday at the Groucho Club. As usual, I am unwilling to reveal which media luminary I was meeting there, as it was the first time we’d met and it may one day evolve into a “project”, which I must not jinx; suffice to say, I very rarely cross the threshold of this or any other private members-only Soho media watering hole, and such, it’s always a tiny thrill.

I have never been a member of any club that charges a large amount of money for me to be a member of it, even if the club would have me as a member. (The gym is the closest I’ve ever come, and I haven’t been a member of one of them for four years.) I’ve been in the Groucho as a guest on a number of occasions down the years, and had some media fun in there, but I once met a powerful media figure there while I was off the booze and the media figure was so disgusted that I wouldn’t take an alcoholic drink I genuinely fear the evening cut off a whole avenue of work for me in the future. It appears to be a social club, but it is in fact a series of meetings, even after hours. I spent a happy evening watching a World Cup game in the upstairs bar with genial Inbetweeners co-creator/writer Iain Morris in 2010. And after a big 6 Music/Radio 2 Christmas bash when such things were allowed, Rowland Rivron got about 20 of us in as his guests and would not let anybody pay for anything. That felt like a definitive Groucho Club experience, with the definitive Groucho Club host.

Anyway, I had two coffees and it was a very promising meeting indeed. You wouldn’t want to go in there in shorts, even on a hot day, although I expect Keith Allen has been in there with his top off during his pomp.

Now, I deleted my mentions of Tom Daley’s Twitter troll from Twitter yesterday, as by even mentioning this damaged individual on his favourite forum risks glorifying his actions further. As you can see, I even smudged out his @Twittername in the grab I made. (Anyone who has cared to follow this obnoxious story will know that he’s @Rileyy_69 – which seems safe to mention within the unsearchable sancity of this blog entry – but I sincerely urge you not to visit his feed.) He seems to have been released by Dorset police after his malicious Tweets to Daley, although I understand a whole litany of previously offensive Tweets, some of them overtly racist, are still to be investigated. But if he’s under caution at all, he really ought not to be broadcasting on Twitter. And yet, he is, and full of himself. He’s obviously proud of being “famous” and “a legend”, and of putting on over 30,000 new followers since he entered Daley’s radar, and he’s in fact back to insulting Daley, albeit not using the diver’s @Twittername this time. So he has learned something.

I know I appear morbidly fascinated by the story, but it’s not about him as an individual – he’s only 17, lives alone in a bedsit, and was said in a Daily Mail report (which contained an interview with his despairing, hand-washing dad) to have a form of ADHD that he is not being medicated for. (The Mail piece also had an erection about the fact that he’s “on benefits”, but that’s irrelevant.) I’m not sure why Twitter haven’t suspended his account – all of his original offending Tweets are still up, and the racist ones before those. They were quick to suspend the account of Guy Adams of the Independent. Maybe if Rileyy-69 had insulted a corporation he’d have been in more trouble.

Anyway, to happier matters. I was so taken with the new Radio Times office – much more agreeably air-conditioned than the shed in White City, and laid out with geometric efficiency unlike the old jumble, such that it might be mistaken for the Washington Post – that I chose to come back here today, rather than trek to the Library. I still have vouchers for the coffee bar, too, which clinched it.

Maybe the stars are aligned for me today: just saw a Tweet from the British Library saying that it’s closed due to a fire alarm. Thank you, random swirl of the universe.

Oh no! Came home early (in order to make a soup with the chicken stock I made yesterday, of which more presently) and found the new New Yorker on the mat. Disaster! I’m still two whole issues in the red. These two, if you’re following the saga:

The new one looks terrific, with a piece on the Olympics so far (Medals and Marketing by Ben McGrath) which promises to be wise and analytical; a profile of Imran Khan (Sporting Chance by Steve Coll, a man you can trust on geopolitics); and a piece by lively TV critic Emily Nussbaum (who seems to have replaced lively TV critic Nancy Franklin) on Big Brother‘s 14th “season” on CBS. I’ve already read David Denby on The Bourne Legacy, as I always read The Current Cinema first, because it’s only ever two digestible pages long. It’s my treat. How I’m going to resist tearing into the meat and potatoes of this new issue before I’ve finished the previous two, I do not know. “First World Problems”, eh?

I hate the Twitter hashtag #FirstWorldProblems. It’s intended as a knowing admission of bourgeois hand-wringing for those with missionary guilt and is applied to the end of a mundane gripe. Fine. If you must. What it isn’t for is to apply to someone else’s Tweet, as a touché. Someone, now blocked, did this to me when I Tweeted about not being able to decide which biscotti recipe to try off the internet. I’ll be the judge of whether this is a #FirstWorldProblem, thanks. And I judge that it is not, as I do not recognise the First, Second and Third World rubric. It’s an outdated Cold War precept, and for me, has the nasty tang of colonialism, to designate an implicitly noble and authentic part of the world as “third”, where problems are more, like, real, man. We all understand the disparity between rich and poor nations, fully industrialised and rural economies and all points in between, but it’s not as simple as a league table. To even point out a #FirstWorldProblem is a #FirstWorldLuxury, so stop it. Good, glad to get that off my chest.

The soup, since you ask, is another jazz recipe which I made up as I went along: the gorgeous chicken stock (made from a carcass and some onion and celery) was added to a pan in which some spring onion, more celery, courgette and previously blanched green cabbage had already been softened in oil. I ground up some cumin and coriander seeds, too, and threw in one and a half chillies, as is my wont. It smells bloody lovely, simmering away there on a hot evening, while a Perroni speed-chills in the freezer. For me, this soup is all about stretching a chicken that has already provided two meals into at least two more, and uses up some of the less glamorous vegetables before they pass their peak. Clearly, it would work with vegetable stock.

Someone suggested on Twitter than I start a food blog. Would that I had the time. I don’t even have time to do this. I started it to help with my writer’s block and I’ll see it through to tomorrow, Friday, but it was intended to help me write this – pardon my language – fucking script, and not replace it! (The fucking script is moving in the right direction, which is: three steps forward and two steps back. That’s winning.)

I predict an evening of eating, drinking and watching either another foreign film on DVD in the kitchen, or some token Olympic action when the famous person Usain Bolt runs in something important.