Monday, 30 July 2007

Random Opinion Generator

I quite like doing radio, no one has to look at me, it's done quick and often live and it's usually less rubbish than the tiny bits of telly I've been involved with. It's quite reassuring to find I can talk coherently off the cuff and be understood by people who can't see my lips moving too, but what is strange is how eager you become to have views on everything as soon as the transmission light goes on. You become a hyper-opinionated caricature of yourself because there's nothing worse than being dull, disengaged or just failing to fill the silence.

You begin to suspect that some of the more unpleasant "shock jocks" might even be quite nice in real life when not raising their personalities and voices and my blood pressure on air. Time must be filled and listeners connected with, and I suspect it's far easier to do that by going a bit extreme, than by being sensible, understated and reasonable.

I wonder if this is how Lord Haw-Haw started?

That's what went wrong then- nothing interesting enough happened to be worth an entry, how dull. Maybe I should be attempting to lift my on-line personality into caricature too? It's either that or witter on about nothing much to fill the time in.
Oh hang on, false dichotomy- wittering on about nothing is my personality.

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

Latest BBC dishonesty shocker

The idiot who says "Good luck, everyone." on the National Lottery doesn't mean it, and hasn't even thought it through properly.
How can everyone be lucky any how? Just supposing they were, the consequences would be disastrous anyway- they'd either all end up winning a proportion of the jackpot smaller than their initial stake money, or bankrupting Camelot by winning larger numbers of the smaller fixed amount prizes than had been budgeted for.
Doesn't add up.

Furthermore, I have reason to suspect that Lottery HQ is in fact not a real building but a crude computer generated facsimile and doesn't even have real helicopters with searchlights flying over it (unlike our neck of the woods on a Saturday night).

I do hope the BBC reconsiders and puts an end to this wicked deception of the credulous...

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

God Only Knows

“If you want to make God laugh,” they say, “tell Him your plans.”
Of course, if you do want to make God laugh, you’re probably religious and more a little over-confident, and need to consider just what kind of God you’re dealing with before developing your set.

Number 1) Is He Existent? Don’t both trying to make any non-existent Gods laugh. It’s your own time you’ll be wasting, not His.

Number 2) Is He Omniscient? If so, I’ll wager He’s heard it, whatever the joke, however, if also Omnipotent and So Inclined, He may be able to laugh at jokes He already knows. This may also require Him to be a Personal and Active God, not to mention Personable (which I haven’t, OK?), and much may hinge on the way you tell ‘em.

Number 3) Is He a God who allows humanity Free Will? If the Universe in Deterministic and Pre-ordained it’s possible God will already know the outcome of your life (not to mention your comedy routine about it, which I have mentioned, to be honest, but only in parentheses) and may thus find your plans amusing.
If He’s one of those laissez-faire, leave it all down to you Gods, then He may have no idea how things will turn out for you and may thus fail to appreciate any possibly irony, unless He’s, as mentioned before, Omnipotent and/or Omniscient.
It goes with out saying that if Omnipotent He can also be Omniscient as required (obviously it hasn’t gone without saying just now, but it could have done).

When I was making my list of "things that could possibly go wrong" before, I neglected to count the barbecue being cancelled due to ill health as one of them, which is obviously far far worse than any of the scenarios I’d come up with in my head, and I hope all works out well.

That’ll teach me.

Sunday Morning

Okay, so I've agreed to do a local radio show for taxi fare only (normally I want at least some kind of token payment to remind them I do this sort of stuff for a living, however meagre, but I like the host).
It's on Sunday morning after a traditionally boozy and rather classy Saturday evening barbecue we attend every year. There's a jazz band there and all sorts and I always end up tipsily rasping along in my best Fats Waller voice to I Can't Give You Anything But Love. Hint- my best Fats Waller voice is not by any means even as good as your worst one, and I've heard yours is rubbish.

What can possibly go wrong?

I've come up with a list of about five things so far. Six now, I've just thought about the things that can go wrong with a Halloumi, pepper, mushroom and courgette veggy kebab. Make that seven actually, ooh no, nine. Twelve for safety.

I was warned about this- after a certain amount of time 'blogging, you deliberately go out of your way to do stupid things just so you'll have something to write about afterwards. Oh dear, this is what comes of not posting enough this month.

Monday, 23 July 2007

One person didn't pass on the chain and ghastly things happened to them, though it's unclear how this information entered the text of the chain letter

"Where've you been, Ian?" I hear you cry out in unison in voices so soft you can't actually discern them yourselves.
"Oh, about," I say, mysteriously failing to sound mysterious.
"And what, pray, have you done?" you respond eagerly, while carefully maintaining the punctuation that helps readers parse your collective utterance. "You've not posted in so long, your mother was considering 'phoning you," you add, unnecessarily archly, I think, but I'm pleased nevertheless that you're like me and you put an apostrophe at the start of 'phone.

Well, I tidied a bit, then messed a bit just so the tidying didn't feel too smug about itself, sent off one contract for a book when I should have sent off two, grizzled pointlessly over the bits of m'radio show I don't like any more and which are all my fault, considered an invitation to go on local radio again (still am doing), and didn't reply to a perfectly polite virtual "tagging" because they're just a reincarnation of those faintly sinister chain letters you sometimes got from friends in the 1980s really and all they ever do, if you fill them in, is tell you that you have fewer friends than your contemporaries and that you're eager to waste some time.

After that, I wrote the first draft of a 6000 word short story, when really I should have been writing a synopsis of it.
There's a good reason for this- the story is a ghost story based on historical fact, and a synopsis of it wouldn't contain the atmosphere, liberal smattering of verifiable period detail and little misdirections and suggestions that hold the thing together. Well it could do, but it would be about two thirds of the length of the actual story if it did and be about an eighth as interesting. So, caution to the wind, I did a first pass at the whole thing, which takes longer for me to produce and the possible purchaser of the story to digest obviously, but hopeful affords us both a bit more pleasure.

I'm quite pleased with it, it feels like it obeys the rules of the form quite nicely in a sort of MR James gets a bit more with it kinda way, and sends a little pleasurable chill up my spine. It has a proper plot too, which is a relief because my last short story was such a mood piece- just a very long conversation hinting at a plot really.

Fingers crossed, if it's knocked back I'll find somewhere to pop it on-line.

Monday, 16 July 2007

Medicus ex Machina

Oh, and about the Doctor Who finale...

I loved it, which surprisingly, to me, seems rather at odds with the Who weblogs I read, written to a man, as they are, by very smart people, and yes, as you mention it, to a man by men too.

Thing is though-
it didn't skimp on the bleakness of the End of Days Utopia had rather skimmed over (and paid off on little Johnny McWood's 'Diamond Sky' cameo),
it took Martha's journey to a logical end (I'll miss her a lot though),
it had that lovely "Who's been watching Blackpool?" karaoke moment,
it played up the central theme of humans as potential monsters and heroes really nicely,
it just did madder and madder things to our hero while failing to diminish him (eat that The Leisure Hive),

and crucially

it explained why the hell this production team brought back something as naff as the Master- to define the Doctor in opposition to him and to finally kill him and make his death matter (eat that Planet of Fire).

Even the Ming the Merciless tribute loop-hole shot near the end didn't reduce the power of that last Doctor Master scene for me (and I was so pleased that "the one thing" the Doctor had to say was the one I'd said I hoped it would be to the wife).

Furthermore, right at the finish, what I thought was just going to be a tortuous gag about/explanation of how John Barrowman would be visibly ageing in Torchwood while playing an immortal turned into a supremely daft, but for me, just plain cool twist reveal. Air punched, much laughter. It did everything I wanted.

So, sorry, potty and all over the place, sure, but I adored this and it brought my raves of the series to an almost respectable five out of thirteen.

Disappointingly, a rather excellent actor I slightly know , has just had to turn down a role in the Christmas episode due to prior commitments, but I'm quite hopeful about that one still.

There can't be Robot Santas on the Titanic, can there?

Fire Coming out of the Monkey's Head

I was once on Radio 4's popular (with people who listen to The Archers but are a bit slow getting up afterwards to switch the wireless off) arts show Front Row, talking about Monkey!, you know.

I was there primarily in my guise of cheap Stewart Maconoid to provide sound bites about the TV show for their review of a stage version of the story (I think in Bristol), but having read a translation of Journey to the West and knowing a tiny amount about the history behind it, I was able to talk a bit about the source material too.
Thus, I'm astonishingly well qualified to pass judgement on the "circus opera" Monkey- Journey to the West, which I saw just before my recent bout of radio madness broke out at the end of June.

Firstly, Manchester's Palace Theatre remains a rotten place to go and see anything if you have above average sized legs and below enormous depth pockets. It's veal crate seating unless you're loaded, and the sight lines in the balcony meant the tops of the animations, some flying effects, and the sub-titles above the orchestra pit could only be seen with considerable effort (with the whole tier moving like a Mexican Wave ripple to properly discern the latest plot point or bit of bizarre imagery).

The music however is great, melodic, dramatic, and satisfactorily Western and Eastern like Pizzicato Five meets Philip Glass (this is how music journalism is done by the way, by claiming something original sounds like a fusion of two pre-existing things, ideally a fusion readers can't easily or usefully imagine even if they actually have any idea how the two fused things sound individually), there are some lovely visuals (and visual jokes), some astonishing acrobatics and the plot and point of the original text is well served alongside the anachronistic zaniness of the TV show.

However, it's too long (in those seats anyway) and its episodic nature and sheer visual splendour early on, means diminishing returns set in over time. By the hour mark, people could be dismembering themselves and having the individual limbs dance on independently and we'd still be feeling we'd seen it or something more impressive earlier on.

More disappointingly, Jamie Hewlett's terrific animation, which plays alongside the action fantastically early on, all but vanishes as the piece progresses, which is a real shame. I hope as this spectacle tours the world they'll find room for more of it later in the show and that some way can be found of marshalling the many and various acrobatic wonders, so that the later scenes of human endeavour make audiences gasp like the early ones.
Hewlett's costume design is fine, though real world physics make his horse less appealing than his design sketch, but what really is weird is to see actors moving and dancing like old frames from his Tank Girl strip- the big straight-legged heel forward steps of our heroes on the march, and the peculiarly angled arm and leg grooving of the Peach Girls in particular, took me straight back to Deadline magazine days, putting a big stupid grin on my face.

Go and see it, but somewhere else, and in a bit, ideally.

Oh and my top bit of pseudo-Maconie punditry on Monkey! for Radio 4?
"Monkey! is very much like Last of the Summer Wine. Monkey is human cunning, ingenuity and desire for betterment, he's like the Foggy/Seymour inventor figure, Pigsy is base human desires and instincts like Compo, and Sandy is a melancholic, penitent engager with the human spirit, world-weary and gentle like Clegg. The only difference is there wasn't a Buddhist monk in Last of the Summer Wine."

I got paid for that.

PS Have any of you out there ever heard Kenneth Williams' audio book reading of Journey to the West? I read a review of it, many years ago (Times Educational Supplement of all places), but I've never actually seen the thing...


Okay, so this is nearly what I wrote before the great sleep deprivation experiment a bit back. It isn't it, obviously, but it's a decent enough looky-likey, badly mimicking the real entry to Cat Deeley's most unCrowther-Kellyish pleasure in an assortment of strappy whore shoes...

My work here is done, I said, (cue statuory opening bars studio audience applause) where "work" equals "work on No Tomatoes "and "here" equals "Manchester and m'attic".

Now we enter precis land, where we hope the shockingly non-period backing dancers and the fact I'm dressed and coiffed quite like a reference photo of my previous entry will make up for the fact I'm not really much like it.

Basically, we did a day and a half frenetic recording in Studio 3 at the BBC in Manchester (where we did my play Made in Sheffield too) on Tuesday and Wednesday the 3rd and 4th of July. My stars were Paul Copley, who's just recorded one of those cameos in Coronation Street in which the actors, writers and producers don't quite know who the character is yet but do know they might be back and Helen Moon, who's currently in that thing on BBC 1 with Paul McGann and Dervla Kirwan (the well known bad hand at Scrabble) and all those sisters who you vaguely recall from something else.
They were both brilliant and lovely, and kind enough not to keep reminding me just how am-dram I am, or keep asking me where the funny bits were and both brought sections of the script to life in ways that surpassed my dreams.

I didn't sleep well in the hotel in between the two sessions to be honest and the second session was a bit of a blur for me, but I managed to get home with the recordings on a portable hard disc that evening, have my first drink in a week or so and fall deep into the arms of Morpheus, and worrying dreams about Dennis Norden.

The plan was that I'd deliver my edits and sound design on the six episodes for Monday morning when the people at Manchester would the do some tidy ups and master the things for broadcast.
The only problem was that on Thursday morning the portable hard disc wouldn't do anything with any of my PCs apart from generously try to reformat itself (I now know I need something called Mac Drive 6 to stop this hilarity). The only solution was having the DVD safety copy of the recording sessions couriered over, and that's what happened.
The DVD arrived about 2pm and, after cunningly providing the file extensions the Mac that wrote the disc felt it could do without, I was away.

Long story short- I worked quite hard for a few days after that, sleeping two hours on the Thurday night, three hours on the Friday, five on the Saturday and working through on the Sunday. Despite that I'd only managed to complete five episodes for the Monday morning sessions at the BBC.
Luckily, there were also sessions booked for the Thursday and Friday, so after a full night's sleep on the Monday I was able to complete the job with another all nighter on the Tuesday to deliver episode 6 for the second part of the session. It seems I'd done a lot more than had been expected... and much pleasure was expressed at how little needed doing and how good it all sounded, which was a relief.

Pleasingly, we had more material than the episode slots required, and as well as making minor cuts, I've chucked away five whole sketches, not very far away admittedly, just in case, and my only real regrets are a few ropey performances from me, a few vocal clicks and nasty edits all 'round that I didn't have time to sort and a couple of sketches where reverbs were applied live in the studio, which meant I had no clean takes of them and made editing at home much harder.
I've now also put together the FX and music list (a document the length of two whole scripts, absurdly) and knocked together some possible trailers for 7, and now it's time to start on the next jobs.

Bits of it still make me laugh even now, which amazes me, and there is a sketch in there that we all think might be the basis of a series... so pitchery may well ensue on that.

It goes without saying that the insomniac version of this entry was much better than this and had interesting insights into how you can function quite well (bar sudden blackouts into REM sleep if you sit still for too long) on prolonged wakefulness although you quickly become incapable of sociable conversation or lying (there is a subtle difference between the two).

Honest opinions just come pouring out unfiltered, even when they're about the suitability of work outfits, or indeed perceived arse size in them.

Manners and deceit are higher brain functions requiring rest I reckon, and I'm convinced if I'd stayed up another night I'd have been in that state of mind you see in 1960s spy thrillers where I'd have been involuntarily spilling out all my nuclear secrets to the Stasi, even those ones I hadn't previously known I had...

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

All Nighter

I just wrote something very interesting about the effects of sleep deprivation on higher brain function, then accidentally deleted it from the paste memory on the way over here to posting land. I think this may be all you need to know.

In an attempt to reassure me, Microsoft is sending a pretend orange dog with a friendly face on a potentially fruitless quest for the bevanished fragment in the Lost City of TMP files.

More, or about the same later, more or less.