Wednesday, 23 December 2009

The Miracle

I've been sicker than many a sick dog over the last week, though on the upside, my previous virus, which lasted a mere nine weeks, had been well and truly out of my system for almost five days before this new thing started, so I've had a really good spell of near-health lasting almost a week. Musn't grumble, eh?

So, here's what I wanted to talk about. One evening last week, just before the icy Armageddon wreaked its chaos - how will we cope, by the way? - I was about to make my ascent up Archway Road on my trusty, middle-of-the-range Pinnacle bicycle. It's a bastard, that hill, a precipitous gradient close to vertical. I'm 51, you know, and asthmatic, and I've got exceptionally dodgy knees, and I've been a little above my fighting weight for a while now (47 years) yet I am forced into daily combat with this demon if I am to make it back to the sanctuary of my Muswell Hill manor.

Now, as any regular cyclist will attest, there is no such thing as a following wind. It doesn't exist. It's a chimera. Cycle round a roundabout, a full 360, and the gale will be in your face all the way round, battering you, pummelling the flesh on your face, ripping your hair from its very roots. All the way round. You hear me? It's nature at its most taunting and vindictive. And if there's a bit of rain in the air - with its spiteful shards and needles which pock and slice, opening little wounds to the flesh and spirit that may never heal - God help you.

So, anyway, there I was, rounding the grim dereliction of Archway Roundabout, bracing myself for the routine double whammy - wind-against plus vertical ascent - when a gust, no more, lifted me, driving me onwards and upwards on gossamer wings towards the brief, free-wheeling relief of Muswell Hill Road, my aching, ageing legs suddenly spared, my bronchial, wheezing lungs in unexpected oxygen-credit. It was like God's arm around my shoulder, forgiving me all my cycling sins (ok, I go on the pavement sometimes and ignore the odd - and even - red light). And, in that brief, epiphanic moment, I questioned my violent atheism for the first time in thirty years.

Course, it only lasted five seconds. A sleet-speckled tornado opened its jaws and pummelled my soul, mocking my natural lack of aerodynamics, my physical decrepitude, my fleeting belief in another way, and forced me to cycle through treacle as I searched for a gear that didn't exist.

Hey, cycling's fun, isn't it? Thinking of creating a blog all about its myriad joys - I've got a million stories. I mean, there are zillions of cycling nerds out there. Maybe someone will actually read the fucker.

Monday, 30 November 2009

From a King to a Klutz

So, there I am, last Thursday, doing my stand-up schtick to a packed and febrile house at the Chambers Courtroom in Jersey (Channel Islands, that is, not Joyzee - as if they actually fuckin' tawk like dat dere) and I'm killing...killing! I could have thrown in my legendary (though sadly underemployed) Ronnie Corbett impression and still been carried shoulder high along the prom in St Helier. Suddenly, it's like the old days - you remember, when I was a contender, Mr Jongleurs, Mr Radio 5 Live...Mr Celebrity Squares (ask my agent - his cretinous idea) - and I thought, so what if I'm a somewhat senior performer with nary a brown hair left on my head? Funny's funny.

So I'm a comedy genius. Except, as it turns out, not every night. My recent comeback to the world of stand-up has been surprisingly encouraging. I'm more relaxed these days, less hidebound by the rigidity of tight routines, more audience-friendly. In the past, I've sold myself as an impressionist, which got me plenty of work but didn't do much for someone who's not in love with the art form. I've worked with the current maestros of mimicry many times and while they fret and agonise and practise like dervishes, I only do impressions if, by some vocal happenstance, I can do them. Or if there are exceptional circumstances ('can you do Russell Grant?' 'pah! wouldn't do him if you fucking paid me' 'five grand?' 'the moon is in Capricorn...don't worry, I'll get him').

Anyway, I'm throwing the impressions away these days rather than making a big matzo pudding out of them and I hope audiences think of me as a comedian who does a few voices. Unless, of course, I'm performing in Nunhead, as I did the following night, where they probably think of me as a cunt who couldn't raise a titter if he tickled a hyena. It was a strange old night. I mean, the venue was in such a remote part of London, my satnav just said, 'fuck it, find it yourself.' It was a mixed bill - magicians, people who just got up and talked for no apparent reason, sketch artistes - and I didn't get on until 11, following a man whose sole raison d'etre was to appear from behind the curtain, wave his penis at the audience and leave. Not your typical comedy night. Not even close. And, in fairness, I raised a few muted laughs, persuaded a few people to smile and even garnered the odd whoop, so it could've been worse, but after the triumph of Jersey, it was a sobering experience

Still, as all comedians know, it's the audience, stupid.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Would It Help If I Died?

Hope I'm not tempting fate, but I couldn't help thinking as I laboured through the first 200 pages of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, that Stieg Larsson only started shifting shedloads of his Millennium Trilogy after he passed away. I can't see what all the fuss is about. He seems to break every novel-writing rule ever posited. It's slow, laden with exposition, lacks tension, has about a thousand characters - all but three of whom share the same surname - and turns the previously immutable law of show, don't tell on its head. One weighty paragraph is devoted to the detailed technical specifications of various laptops...which is where I decided to put myself out of my misery. I know his politics were laudable and he was, apparently, a wonderful and gifted man, but I can only think that the origins of his must-read popularity have little to do with the quality of his fiction.

James Dean was a decent pretty-boy actor - one of many - who became iconic posthumously having appeared in only three films. Van Gogh was either ridiculed or ignored during his life. Michael Jackson is selling millions more albums now than he was a few months ago. Death, the bandwagon effect, even notoriety, can influence one's judgement. I mean, is Robbie Williams actually any good? Can't put my finger on it but I quite like him -sorry- and it doesn't matter if there are a million better singers. Russell Brand has never made me smile, let alone laugh; others think his hair alone is side-splitting. And what about Picasso? - don't get him at all. Does anyone?

So, what does this all mean? Fuck all, probably. Or maybe that I ought to give serious consideration to swan-diving off Tower Bridge. Ultimately, it's impossible to second guess the public. So what if my books are better than Nick Hornby's or Tony Parsons'? (Bad example - anyone's books are better than Tony Parsons'). But until someone in a position of power comes along and validates me - and the public back his/her judgement by buying my books - no-one will ever know.

Now, where was my submissions list?

Memo to self. Must stop ranting.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Shit, now I've got to write something...

Seemed like a good idea, this blogging mullarky, but only in the abstract. Now I'm here, I'm not so sure. I've quite enjoyed setting up my account, entering all the info, picking the template et al, but I'm already straining for anything useful to say. Maybe a bit of background will do the trick.

Ex-solicitor, occasional businessman, stand-up comedian/impressionist, writer - aah, yes, that's why I'm here. Ok, in addition to material for my live work, I've written comedy for TV and radio for 12 years, mostly for shows in which I've also appeared. I've been in all sorts stuff - Dead Ringers, Week Ending, Loose Ends, Fordham & Lipson (yes, my own series on Radio 4 - went out at 11am - no-one noticed) and a host of pointless and long-forgotten TV shows (FIFA's 100 Greatest World Cup Goals (ITV4) anyone? Ok, what about Celebrity Squares? you're impressed).

I've also written a couple of novels and have my own literary agent (I mean, I share him, obviously, but you get the idea) albeit the only book of mine to hit the shelves so far (my bookcase at home is bending under the strain) was a self-published affair which bore testimony only to utter frustration with the publishing industry and a sudden bout of vanity. Before signing with my agent, another huge agency - they act for a rather successful female writer - was interested in this book but I rather stupidly got on my high horse when I should have revised my manuscript in complete accordance with their suggestions. They know what sells; I don't. Never mind artistic integrity. Lesson learned.

So now I'm plugging away at screenwriting. BBC Films are interested in a screenplay I submitted to them last year. It is taking forever, but I remain hopeful that they'll want to develop it. I'm now writing a sitcom (pilot and episode outlines) which I hope to submit in a few weeks' time. Not sure to whom yet.

There we are. Five paragraphs of nonsense which I'm sure no-one will ever read. But at least I feel virtuous.