Writer’s blog, Week 10, Tuesday

Blog4Mar14a Happy birthday, Bobby Womack. It’s traditional for me to say that on my birthday. It’s my birthday. I’m still, miraculously, in my 40s, and found a single grey hair in one of my eyebrows the other day which I have yet to pluck expertly out for visual continuity. I feel OK, thanks. My eyesight is not as sharp as it was last year when I tried to avoid seeing the Oscar winners on breakfast news while I was on the treadmill in the gym (planning to watch the whole ceremony, as live, during the day) – what I’m saying is: it was a little bit easier to do so yesterday.

Clearly, I am giving myself the day off. (It was a close-run thing last night when I was called up at the last moment to spend at least part of today in the offices of a Shoreditch-based production company where I’m helping another writer storyline the second series of her sitcom, but I was stood down about an hour later, so the day is back to being my own again.) Even when you’re self-employed, as I have been now since I was 32, you have the moral right to give yourself the day off without written warning, especially when you’ve been routinely working weekends since Christmas. I am going to see a gay film.

It seems, momentarily, to have stopped raining, which is a plus. And there are two baby sparrows in the back garden, hopping optimistically about. I have delivered a workable draft of Drama A, as I am calling it, so the waiting game begins. Torture, in other words. Meanwhile, what I shall herewith name Sitcom A (as the previous Sitcom A has been rejected by the BBC, so this one moves up to most-likely-to position) seems to be enjoying a shot in the arm, in the form of interest from a performer who might consider taking the lead role, which will really raise its game when we request a “table read” as a way of impressing upon its potential commissioning editor that he should commission it. We already have a fine cast assembled, but the lead pulled out, and the replacement is a much bigger name, so maybe it was for the best.

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Not that anybody really cares, but of the eight main Oscar categories I was forced to predict for Radio Times, alongside my teen-cinephile hero Barry Norman (another annual tradition), I got half right. The one I wished I’d got right was Best Adapted Screenplay for Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope for Philomena, which went to John Ridley for 12 Years A Slave. I enjoyed watching the whole extravaganza play out in “real time” during the day yesterday, with coffee and chocolate. I’ve been measuring out my life in Oscar ceremonies since I was that young teenager, steered into film appreciation by the BBC’s Film programme and not just Barry, but a string of replacements they put into his swivel chair in – I think – 1981: Ian Johnstone, Michael Wood among them. I’ve taken films seriously ever since.

I had a two-page feature printed in the Guardian yesterday about TV medical documentaries. I’m very proud of it. You can read it here. It’s proper, and a nice little marker flag on my CV: first two-page feature in G2. Like Matthew McConaughey says, if you make yourself in ten years’ time your hero today, you will never attain the position of “hero” but it will always give you someone to aim for. I’m definitely not the “hero” of myself in 2004, so maybe his crackpot, God-fearing theory holds some water.

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25 years in showbiz

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As 2013 fades from view, and with it, one largely overlooked anniversary – that is, My First 25 Years In Showbiz – I ponder the fact that I had once considered actually marking my silver jubilee in the media with some kind of tour, or one-man show, but I seem to have settled with some determination into scriptwriting (under which umbrella I include script editing) as my chief creative outlet in recent years, and even radio seems to be fading now, so it seems more suitable to simply mark its passing with a blog entry. Writing prose for free: that sums up my current lot, too.

My quarter-century is well documented, not least in my third memoir That’s Me In The Corner, which you can now buy as an eBook for £5.42 from the evil, tax-avoiding Amazon. (I can’t. Or at least, I can, but I don’t have a Kindle to load it up onto.) So I thought I might cut the yakkin’ and sum up 25 years of indecision and happy accident in a single image. The grab above was captured from the studio webcam of what was the main 5 Live studio in Television Centre, a building now cruelly and unsentimentally condemned. I think an eagle-eyed listener grabbed it, and sent it to me. If it was you, raise your hand: it’s a superb shot. I’m dating it back to circa 2009? I am clearly waiting for the light to go green. My best guess is that I was filling in for Mark Kermode – a gig that I haven’t done since I was pushed off the subs’ bench by Simon Mayo’s producer and replaced by Nigel Floyd and Boyd Hilton because their names rhyme – and Simon was broadcasting from a sporting event, possibly the cricket, which is why the studio was otherwise empty. There I am, on my own, waiting, with my BBC canteen coffee, summing up my own career!

Actually, the very fact that it’s indistinct is perfect. Here are a few other images that either give me a Proustian rush or say something thematic about the past 25 years.

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I’m rather tempted to leave them uncaptioned. Let the images speak for themselves. If they say anything, it’s that I have spent a good chunk of the past 25 years being around famous and talented people and not complaining or being self-conscious about that fact. Not always by the side of a lake in Sweden, as above, usually in front of “branding”, but in the vicinity of talent, and that’s the key.

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This one needs captioning. It’s the mighty 6 Music team finally winning Digital Radio Station of the Year at the Sonys in 2012. I was not there, which is the significant part. I celebrated their win anyway.

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C&H166I hope you enjoyed that visual celebration of not knowing what to do with myself for 25 years. (My home life has been, it must be said, a whole lot less chaotic.) Let’s get on with the 26th and make it so boringly focussed, there’ll be nothing to illustrate it with bar a selfie of me at my laptop.

Happy New Year!

Writer’s blog: Week 41, Sunday

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Guess why it’s been a long while since I’ve blogged, solipsistic diary style, about my writer’s life? Because I’ve been crushingly busy actually writing. For my job. So today, Sunday, a day of rest, here I sit, and here I sip, in a unique position. One, I have what we’ll round up to “five minutes” to take stock. It is an unusual Sunday morning in many other respects. Chiefly, I am in the conservatory of a very nice hotel. But I am not on holiday. I am here, in the rarefied environs of Cheltenham, for the Literature Festival, where last night I appeared, live and direct and strapped into a Lady Gaga-style headset mic, in a rain-lashed tent, “sold out” (except the tickets were free), banging on about subtitled films and telly and the joys thereof.

For this unpaid job (I know, the devil’s work, don’t tell Philip Hensher etc.), I was put up in a very nice hotel for the night. You have to grab such opportunities. The hotel just plied me with a very nice Full English and I have taken coffee to the lounge to listen to the rain and traffic in a wicker chair. It may be pissing down, but the sort of very nice person who attends a literature festival – and Cheltenham is less a festival, more a 10-day way of life – soldiers on regardless, hungry for stimulus of a literary bent. I so wish I could afford the time and money to come here for a week’s holiday and “do” the rich calendar of talky events. I am easily the least famous speaker in the fat Cheltenham booklet. (As I tarried in the “Writers’ Room” hospitality tent before my gig, I saw John Bishop and David Davies and no doubt half a dozen august novelists I wouldn’t recognise from their ruddy faces and tweed coats.)

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It’s not unpaid work. I am here as an ambassador of Radio Times, whose presence at the festival is considerable, and who pay me a stipend to be their Film Editor. I can’t tell you how many of the hardy band of lit-hounds who filled the Exchange tent from 7.30 last night were Radio Times readers, but all were interested enough in foreign films and telly to come along, in the rain, when the pubs and restaurants of Cheltenham warmly beckoned. I told them that it was an privilege to be among them, and it was. I had a basic PowerPoint presentation to help me, and a stack of DVDs to give me something tangible to hold and wave, but it was essentially me talking about my own childhood introduction to foreign films and telly, and sharing some thoughts about the importance of availing ourselves of other cultures through “national cinema” and, increasingly, imported foreign TV. But the crux, for me, was getting the audience involved, and it was a joy to have them shout out the foreign films that first inspired them. A shared experience in bad weather. Terrific.

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This, above, is one of the jobs I’ve been doing rather than blogging for free. I cannot give away specific details for – here we go again – superstitious reasons, but I have been locked in an office with another comedian, with whom I’ve been cooking up a pilot script of a new comedy. It’s been something like seven years since I did this with Lee Mack on series one of Not Going Out and I’ve had a few flashbacks, mostly good ones. You’ll see whiteboard and Post-It notes. It’s that serious. (If I had an office to work in full-time, you wouldn’t see the walls for Post-it notes. But they take a dim view of that at the British Library.)

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Fruit. Marker pens. Cups of coffee. Through such talismanic items are scripts co-written. Look at the size of these Sports Direct zero-hours mugs which we found in the kitchenette. My co-writer enjoys funny tea in a gallon of hot water.

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Because I can be in four places at once, I’ve also been battling away with a radical second draft of a pilot script of my own, which hit a patch of turbulence, was then becalmed, and has since chugged back into life after a useful meeting with the two executives I owe it to. (What insight this must offer: vague descriptions about projects with no names and no pack drill.) I am also script-editing the second series of Badults, whose first read-through with “the boys” took place on Friday, so that’s off the starting blocks. I am also doing a “read and notes” on another script for another set of people. And until yesterday, I was working up a viable presentation about subtitled films and telly. And writing my first ever TVOD for the Guardian Guide, which you’ll be able to read next Saturday.

It has been whatever the positive and grateful version of a living hell is called. And I think I have earned this little break in a wicker chair before heading back to London to put my clips together for tomorrow’s Telly Addict. I plan to do no work whatsoever in the car.

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Oh, and “that” read-through (left-to-right: Tom, Ben, Matthew, exec Gavin, script editor me, producer Izzy) …

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25 Years in showbiz: a prelude

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Right, Here’s a splendid photo of me and three-quarters of the band Cud, backstage at Brixton Academy in November, to put us all in a happy place at the end of one year and the tentative, under-par beginning of another one. In other words, let’s just clear up 2012 before we really get stuck into 2013. By my calculations, 2012 was my 24th year in Showbiz. Which is a glib way of saying that I’ve been working in what we must, without irony or sneering, call “the media” since the summer of 1988, when I first stepped foot in the NME office, and wangled a part-time job in the layout room.

It was, of course, through working as a journalist for the NME that I met Cud, along with countless other bands. Without the NME, I might not have played the drums for them for one song at a soundcheck at Wakefield’s Rooftop Gardens in May 1992, thus setting a precedent. Having kept up genial diplomatic relations with the band ever since, I was invited to go one better, 20 years on, and if the notion hadn’t been wiped from history in 2012, I’d have called it a middle-aged man’s “Jim’ll Fix It moment”. I wrote about it here. When you reach my age, milestones come less often. To have played the drums onstage at Brixton Academy, for one song, was one of them. It will forever nail 2012 to the map. As will my appearance, in January, on Celebrity Mastermind (it was filmed in 2011), where I scored 23 points but still only came second.

This was a milestone in the sense that I crossed the Rubicon and became further proof of the dire elasticity of the word “celebrity.” (Watching this year’s run on BBC2, I noted that in his call for future contestants, John Humphrys says, “You don’t have to be a Celebrity to appear on Mastermind.” No, and you don’t have to be a Celebrity to appear on Celebrity Mastermind, either. I wrote about my experience for Radio Times here.)

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It is not to seek sympathy if I say that, on the whole, despite these two marker flags, 2012 was not a historic year. for me. They can’t all be, can they? While the Olympics, the Paralympics, and Euro 2012 ran a highlighter pen through the sporting summer, on a personal level, as a competitor in the rat race, I feel like I spent most of the year running to stand still. The recession continues to bite hard, and the price of everything rises at an inhumane pace, so, in line with the general outlook since 2008, it was a case of watching expenditure, travelling only when my journey was really necessary and reading books I already own, as per my New Year’s Resolution. When you’re self-employed, you do everything in your power to keep working, but it’s never a walk in the park.

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Professionally, I was proud to have my name on the credits of school sitcom Gates, as co-writer and co-creator, which helped relaunch Sky Living in August, having been on ice for about eight months. Sadly, it didn’t ring the ratings bell and was not recommissioned. (I wrote about the show here.) Neither was a much more personal project for me, Mr Blue Sky, although I think we were all very pleased with Series 2, which went out on Radio 4 in April and May, and gathered some nice reviews. Not nice enough to earn us a third series, although it wasn’t through want of trying, I can tell you. (I wrote about Series 2 for Radio Times here.) I’ve written two further scripts, for two further broadcasters, in 2012, and one of them may yet prove to have legs in 2013, depending on how a January meeting goes. Fingers crossed. Actually, my fingers are always crossed; I am a writer. I’m also very excited to have made a ten-minute short film with Simon Day for Sky Atlantic; the all-star anthology of which it is a part, Common Ground, starts on January 14.

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Back in January I did the finishing touches to a script I had in development with ITV which then disappeared in a puff of smoke when the in-house producer I was working with left ITV. This is what happens. Get used to it. My ardent hope for 2013 is to get a comedy commissioned.

In terms of radio, I’ve noticed a slight reduction in hours spent in front of a microphone. I had a couple of nice runs on 6 Music Breakfast, and a short go at Saturday mornings, solo, while they waited to fill the slot with someone more famous. (I was also offered Breakfast in Christmas week but I wasn’t around, to be fair.) I presented the Radio 4 documentary Oscar Sings in February, but that’s pretty much it for me as a “proper” presenter. However, ironically, via the tradesman’s entrance, I appeared in about 50 short films in 2012, further honing my Autocue skills for the Guardian‘s weekly Telly Addict review. I love doing this, so long may it continue this year.

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I had a great time at the Edinburgh International Television Festival, hosting Q&As with Charlie Brooker, Steven Moffat, Victoria Wood, Robert Popper, Frank Spotnitz and others, and this is an area I’d really like to develop. Having sensibly put stand-up behind me, this feels like a far more age-appropriate and far less egomaniacal way of talking in front of an audience: this is the job of the facilitator. You get to meet amazing people, doing it, too. (It was cool to meet Todd Solondz before doing a Q&A with him at the Curzon, Soho, in the summer. You should never get blasé about this kind of privileged proximity.)

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Socially, 2012 was quiet, but deliberately so. I avoided parties, as a rule, although the Radio Times covers party presented its annual opportunity for me to play Zelig with the stars of TV, unashamedly. Here I am with two of the ladies of Downton (and some mad-eyed feminist), and Vic Reeves and Vicky McClure.

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While we’re talking about magazines, 2012’s greatest loss was surely Word magazine. You can read my requiem here, although it’s worth stating that its sudden closure in June – another victim of the advertising revenue downturn and the general decline of print – was twice the loss for me. I miss Word as an employee and as a subscriber. It leaves a void. (It also means I am probably doing more prose-writing for free, on here, than I might have done previously. Sign of the times.)

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Sad, too, to see Karaoke Circus go, after all these years of good-natured, have-a-go entertainment. The final showdown, at the 100 Club, on 29 October, crowned the run in suitable style, even if my overambitious rendition of Jay-Z’s 99 Problems was one of my worst. Nobody complained. And that is why we shall miss it. (The following shot of the final finale is by Russell McGovern, whose full set of pics are here.)

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On the whole, 2012 was less about evenings, more about mornings and afternoons. More about meetings. I’ve had tons of them. Some have led to work, most have not. Some have been administrative, others more sociable. Some have been script meetings, as a script-editor – which, again, is a much less egocentric job to have on a TV programme. I had a brilliant time at the end of the year working on Secret Dude Society for BBC3, an actual, six-episode commission, with the beloved sketch trio Pappy’s, and although it has yet to be filmed (that happens in Glasgow in February), the majority of my editing work is done, so that ought to be a satisfying thing to look forward to in 2013.

When I look back over my 25 years in showbiz, as I am bound to do, I recognise that the bulk of my work has been entirely egocentric and self-centred; whether it’s being an opinionated music journalist, a DJ, an author, or a stand-up. It’s all been about my name at the beginning or the end. The past few years have seen me settling down into a quieter life, whereby my work is often out of the spotlight, behind the scenes, in meetings. This can only be a good thing. There are enough people out there vying for your attention with loud voices. I’m happy if you catch an episode of a sitcom I’ve written for Radio 4, brought to life by professional actors.

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I’d certainly be happy if you bought the new edition of my Billy Bragg biography, Still Suitable For Miners, which Billy and I have been working on updating over the last couple of months, starting in MediaCity, Salford, where I accompanied him for his John Peel Lecture in November. The new edition is due out, in physical form and as an eBook, in the early part of this year (no fixed date as yet). Revisiting his stirring lifestory – and in order to write a new chapter, it is advisable to re-read the existing ones – has reignited my leftist fury. The Tories continued to drive me round the bend in 2012, with raids on the public sector whose bare-faced audacity would have made Mrs Thatcher blush, and a general, all-round dismantling of the state whose ease merely exposes the historic failure of New Labour to do anything to reverse the trend while they were in power.

In this sense, 2012 was an angry year for me. The reelection of Barack Obama provided some relief from apocalyptic thoughts – at least the world is spared a Tea Party in control for another four years – but the news has been ostensibly depressing most days, from ecological disaster to corporate tax avoidance to widespread child abuse hidden in plain sight. Billy Bragg reminds me that hitting your fifties, as he has, does not have to denote giving up, or tuning out, or logging off. He was as fired up by bankers’ bonuses and the Bullingdon Club cabinet in 2012 as he was about the miners and Reaganomics in 1985. We should look to people like him for inspiration.

Maybe Still Suitable For Miners is a perfect example of a project that isn’t primarily about me. It’s about Billy Bragg. I am merely facilitating its existence. That’s got to be a more dignified way forward.

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.

Writer’s blog: Wednesday

Day three

Each day I walk to the local shop to get the paper. I like this walk. I pick up the obvious paper, as it is my paper, and I spend a while gazing at the other papers, which are helpfully arranged so that I can see their covers. It’s always an enlightening way of taking the temperature of this great nation of ours, with the Mail frothing about something that signifies that rationing has sadly ended, the Express literally talking about the weather, the Sun and the Mirror and the Star shouting about a minor indiscretion among the celebrity class, the Independent doggedly restating its independence by highlighting an uncool issue, and so on. Not these past two weeks: every cover story has been the same.

It’s odd to see the whole gamut of daily newspapers covering literally the same basic story, every day. Big pictures of smiling or grimacing athletes abound, assorted puns on keywords like “gold”, “medal”, “Hoy” etc. Is this really the united nation it gives every appearance of being? If so, what’s going to happen after Sunday? Who will we cheer? What will we do with our cape-sized Union flags? What will we watch on the telly? What will the newspapers write about? What will the commentators commentate on? How will we maintain this unification of optimism in the face of cold, hard reality? It could be quite a comedown.

Anyway, GOLD!!!!!!!!!!

As you can see, I won an Olympic gold medal today. It was a chocolate one, but I sort of won it, as I didn’t pay for it. I found it in the “welcome pack” at my new office. It isn’t strictly my office, it’s the new office of Radio Times, where I go to work once a week, as I have done for many years. (Just as, when I was a kid, Thursday was the day my Nan came round, Wednesday is the day I go round to Radio Times.) This used to mean going to a building owned by the BBC, when the BBC owned BBC Magazines, but the BBC had to sell BBC Magazines, along with some of its buildings, when the Murdoch government negotiated the Licence Fee to stay the same until 2016. Radio Times is now published by Immediate Media, who had to move us from the BBC building to a new one, which is in Hammersmith.

Although I quite rightly fear change, it’s not a bad space. They don’t seem to have finished the ceiling – unless it’s a tribute to the film Brazil – but there’s a cafeteria that seems competitively priced and there was also a £10 voucher in my “welcome pack”, of which I spent £4 on posh coffee and the kind of muffin I would never ordinarily buy to celebrate the move. It was free, like my gold medal, which I ate at my desk before even setting up my email account. Priorities.

I was delighted to be commissioned by Radio Times editor Ben to write an account of my life as an Olympics widower: looking after the shop while the rest of the country is glued to the Games. I am happy to be that steward. (And always happy to write something for what we in the Film Unit call “the rest of the magazine.” You can read it next week. They’ll probably put in online, too.) Wow, I ate that muffin next to no time. It’s almost as if it is mainly made of air.

Note to self: don’t buy muffins.

Another evening in the adjoining room while the Olympics played out in earshot. I sense that for Team GB, the Games are sort of over. They’ve certainly peaked. I’m no expert, but I think “we” failed to win any sort of medal today. No golds, at any rate. This is the downside to achieving so much more than anyone realistically expected. You have to readjust to real life afterwards, where there is no podium for you to “podium” on, no medals to “medal”, no similar nouns to “noun” into a verb.

Anyway, I watched another Michael Haneke film on DVD from my big box of foreign-language DVDs: The Piano Teacher. (You don’t know this, as I wasn’t writing a diary last week, but I plucked Haneke’s Code Unknown from the box and thoroughly enjoyed that, hence the yen for some more.) It’s a brilliant but disturbing experience. Isabelle Huppert is, as every awards committe on the planet seemed to spot at the time, superb in it. Brave and subtle and, hey, she can even play the piano really well. It was, I’m guessing, a very different experience to the one on offer in the living room, which seemed to be all about BMX bikes, then hurdling. (I had planned to break off from Haneke to watch Usain Bolt in a final of something at 20.55, but I had misread the RT supplement – it’s on tomorrow at 20.55. This is just as well; you can’t break off from Haneke.)

Oh, and I announced on Twitter, pointlessly, that I was about to watch The Piano Teacher and one joker responded, “dirty old man.” Yes, because what better film to watch if you are a dirty old man? I’m not sure I can think of a less arousing film. Unless you are turned on by Schubert and razor blades.

Holding pattern

Hello, all. Another rolling apology for not tending to the blog garden as regularly as I should be. Not only am I up against the aforementioned Mr Blue Sky script delivery deadline, which looms ever closer each day (the first full cast read-through happens on March 5, on which day all six scripts will need to be in shape), but I’m doing 6 Music Breakfast all this week and next. It goes without saying that I enjoy both jobs, and could have said no to 6 Music, but I am determined to fit both in, and emerge triumphant and not as throaty and tired as I feel today. (I’m mainlining Vitamin C, and going to bed as early as 9pm, and not drinking, so I’m looking after myself.)

Breakfast is a blast. I like the photograph above of me hugging Alex Horne, and he hugging me back. I thought I’d publish it to raise a smile. Also, lest we forget, it means I am podcasting on a daily basis. The bite-sized best-of Breakfast Podcast is available all week right here. Yesterday’s includes the Alex Horne interview, too. (He does too many things, as I do, many of them in the evening when I am nodding off in front of Friday Night Lights, and he has a young family. I don’t know how he does it.)

I am also beholden to Radio Times to supply at least a weekly blog for their website, so, if you don’t already, why not bookmark this page, and maybe have a glance at my most recent blogs about The Muppets, and J. Edgar. I’ve been managing to fit in numerous film screenings, so there’s a massive backlog of reviews I’ve not had time to write: Martha Marcy May Marlene, A Dangerous Method, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, Girl Model, Carnage, the DVD of Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Pt 2, the list goes on.

Thank you for bearing with me. It’s amazing that the blog still gets over 500 visitors a day, even when I don’t post anything new. Normal service will be resumed. And there’ll be another Telly Addict on Saturday. I don’t remember when I was last this busy, but the self-employed do not complain about such things.