Monday 8th February 2010Rob the WebGenius to the rescue
I did post at some point last year that one reason I was going to get an iPhone if they ever became available on Orange (which they did in November) would be in order to gain the facility to update this blog from wherever I might happen to be and whenever inspiration struck, rather than waiting till I got home (by which time inspiration's generally buggered off again).
The more attentive among you will recall that I acquired the iPhone in December and may have been wondering therefore why the promised restoration of my blogging mojo has yet to kick in.
Well, as it transpired, even with the iPhone running proper full-size Safari (though I notice sites with "mobile" modes generally default to those settings) I couldn't get the phone to co-operate with my own site.
Some sort of Cookies-related issue, apparently, or perhaps a rare and unforseeable conflict between the phone's security systems and those of the site... In any event, Rob the Webgenius got on it, and after a couple of attempts he's got it up and running. Sort of.
I can now create and update entries on this page and the news page, but only by writing in basic HTML. The only real effect this has on me is that I can't just use the return key to create a new paragraph; I have to type... well I can't actually tell you what I type, 'cos if I type it you won't see it; we'll just start a new paragraph in the middle of a sentence for no apparent reason.
The only other factor mitigating against my use of the iPhone to post regular blog entries is the fiddliness of its virtual keyboard. I've been using it for a couple of months and I actually seem to be getting worse. What you've read do far in this blog entry has taken me about half an hour.
But, it's good to know that this facility is here if I ever have something immediate or urgent to tell you. Although if I ever have anything urgent and lengthy to tell you, I think I'll wait till I'm back with the iMac.
Friday 8th January 2010
Rrright, first of all, it turns out that as it stands I CAN'T blog with the new iPhone. Not yet anyway. Some sort of cookies-related issue; Rob the webgenius is investigating as we speak.
What this means in the immediate term is that far from it suddenly becoming possible to update this blog on the move, I'm still stuck with updating it from my home iMac, which is a bummer since the very fact of my BEING at home usually means there's a dozen other things need doing.
And as those of you who follow my adventures via Twitter or other means (whatever those might be; actually that's quite a disturbing thought... let's move on) will know. December DIDN'T turn out to be relaxing and laid-back after the lunacy of the ongoing tour/two or three concurrent PR campaigns/semi-regular TV spot scenario of the autumn. It was all pretty enjoyable stuff but by 'eck there were a lot of it.
Oh yeah. I've got an iPhone, as you may have noticed in the first paragraph. It's a hoot, quite frankly. I keep discovering more things it does. I think my favourite of its more obvious functions is its ability to be an on-line iPod, so while at home (or anywhere else I can get a WiFi signal) I can listen to all the BBC iPlayer's radio content.
I'm waffling, aren't I?
It's almost as if I'm avoiding a topic or something.
Bollocks; ok, I weighed myself for the first time in over two months and I've put on about a stone and a half. I'm now somewhere just under 23 stone (the digital scales vacillated between 23 dead on and 22 10-ish). While this is annoying it's nowhere near as bad as I'd feared it might have been; the main reason I'd been avoiding checking all this time is that I'd been afraid to look. I'm an utter moral coward where my weight problem is concerned which was, after all, the main reason for "going public" with it on this blog in the first place.
In any event I'm not going to let it get me down; I'm still about two stone less than when I started the weight blog 18 months ago and I'm re-committing myself to the project wholeheartedly. We've even got a Wii Fit. I'm still too heavy to USE it of course, but we've got the bloody thing, and if nothing else GETTING down within its tolerance limit (think I'm only a few pounds over) is a nicely concrete initial goal to set myself.
Friday 4th December 2009
It's that time again and so I thought I'd re-post the reading I made last year of the whole of Dickens's A Christmas Carol; it's in five "staves" (as in the book) - you can download 'em all at once or serialise it for yourself. It's on the podcasts page.
(While I'm here, many of you have been asking if I'm going to do any more podcasts; the answer is probably not in the same format as the ones I used to post, but I'm working on a whole new podcast format which I hope to kick off in the New Year - stay tuned etc.)
Sorry if it seems a bit cheeky of me to offer you last year's Christmas present all over again; I'm sure there are those among you who've only become aware of me in the last twelve months and won't have heard the reading yet, so it's "new" to you guys.
Meanwhile so the rest of you don't feel cheated here's just a little something I know none of you will have seen yet; it's a bit I wrote for The Now Show Book Of World Records which didn't make the final cut, for one reason or another. My money's on "another"; you'll see why when you read it.
MOST POPULAR BOOK
The most popular book ever written is THE BIBLE (God & various contributors, 6006BC-AD34). It has been translated into every known language and several unknown ones. It has been reprinted more times than any other published work and has outsold all other books put together. Despite all this, there is no record of God ever having claimed any royalty payments (although it is understood that the Vatican bank is holding onto all God's unpaid residuals “just in case”).
The Bible can, broadly speaking, be split into two distinct halves: The Old Testament and The New Testament. The Old Testament tells the story of how God subjects his chosen people the Jews to thousands of years of slavery, bondage, exile and misery in order to prove to them that he loves them best.
The New Testament (original title GOD II: THIS TIME HE'S CORPOREAL) tells of how God despatches his one true son Jesus to live among mortal men as a great moral teacher and spiritual leader before having him tortured to death and blaming the entire human race for this, even those yet unborn, in order to show how much he loves us all.
As is often the case with sequels, The New Testament was not as universally well received as its predecessor with many staunch fans of the original refusing to accept it as part of the “canon” and preferring to ignore it completely (see also Highlander II: The Quickening).
A rumoured third installment BIBLE III: REVENGE OF THE LIZARD PEOPLE has yet to materialise, although many Bible scholars regard the final section of The New Testament, Revelations, as a separate book in its own right. Revelations tells in vivid language how God will one day leave the world to suffer centuries of war, famine, anguish and torment and the thousand-year reign of the Anti-Christ, before returning to destroy the entire planet to show how he loves us so much.
Sunday 29th November 2009A bit.
So the tour's over; we ended in fine style at the Gulbenkian in Canterbury in front of an audience whose enthusiasm rivalled even that of the London show's crowd (and considering how many ringers - erm, I mean, Close Friends And Relations - we had in at the Bloomsbury, I think we might even say that the Canterbury crowd "won").
The show was recorded "off the desk" - it's clear as a bell but since there were no audience mikes in operation the laughter and applause is only barely audible. It might be possible to tweak this and make the recording available in some form in the future; obviously I'll announce that if and when it happens. We stuck the freshly burned CD on in the car on the way home, ostensibly just to see how it had turned out quality-wise. We ended up listening to the whole thing. I'm pleased to say that, experiencing the show for the first time as a listener, I was struck by how well it flowed and held together. I think this was our best show so far and it sets a high bar for next year.
And one way or another I'm fairly sure that there will BE a next year. At the end of the last tour I was pretty content but knackered, and decided that unless there was a marked upswing in attendance for THIS year's tour, I probably wouldn't bother touring again. Now, despite the fact that there hasn't been a particularly obvious advance on last year numbers-wise (maybe a slight increase on last year; we await the final scores) I'm now of the opinion that even if I only ever tour at this "level" it's still a worthwhile exercise in itself. I've enjoyed ALMOST every show (not naming names) and the camaraderie between myself and Ives & Kirst has been better than ever (unless they're REALLY bottling it up), making even the long hauls entertaining. It's been noticeable that we've done best in places we've played before (The Bloomsbury, the Gulbenkian, the Cambridge Junction, The Dancehouse in Manchester), so the trick is obviously to keep returning to the scenes of our greater triumphs and build upon them.
I'm glad I'm feeling this way; not because I've completely given up on the idea of Doing Bigger Things (I haven't), but because I'm no longer allowing my desire to Do Bigger Things to distract me from appreciating the worth of the things I've done and am still doing. That's a good attitude to have when you're about to turn 40, I reckon.
When you're young you do rather live in the future all the time. Your mind's full of what you're gonna do, and where you're gonna go, and who you're gonna be. When you get to my age, and you notice that your past is now at least as big as your future, you start to realise that while it's always good to have one eye on the future, the present is where you actually live, and if you're not paying attention you might miss it.
Monday 26th October 2009
I know it's been weeks and I'm getting as sick as everyone else of the fact that every entry on this blog now begins with a lengthy grovelling apology for the length of the gap since the last one, so shall we just say sod it, until at least the end of November (when the tour finishes and my life will return to what passes for "normality" in my case) this is how it's going to have to be with regard to blog entries and the frequency thereof. Having said that, apparently Orange will finally stop teasing me and release their first iPhones in about three weeks after which I'll be able to update the blog while on the move (at the moment I can tweet using my phone but that's all).
Speaking of Twitter, a day or so ago I made a promise to a Tweep acquaintance of mine to follow up more fully on a conversation we were having; basically (as far as I can tell) she's getting hassle from her family to study something at university which doesn't interest her but which they feel will give her the best job opportunities. A mutual friend of ours weighed in to the effect that she should do the degree which would help her get the job SHE wanted, rather than the job her parents thought she should get. On reading this I felt compelled to join the discussion; I said I'd go further than that - I thought she should do whatever degree she'd enjoy doing the most, and sod the job prospects. Realising that this might sound glib or reckless (not to mention a bit smug and complacent coming from a bloke who's managed to end up singing rude songs for a living) I promised to explain at length why this comment was not reckless hedonistic or irresponsible, but was in fact sage career advice. This would take many many tweets to do properly, so it is to you, my poor neglected blog, that I turn.
Here's the thing; when I was a kid the people I envied were not so much those who made big bucks, drove flash cars and lived in rambling mansions as those who Got By doing something they loved. I always figured enjoying your life was better reward than cash and toys, and that no amount of cash and toys would make up for hating your life.
As I've gotten a bit older, and dare I say it wiser, and I've met plenty of people who've achieved varying measures of success at various jobs which they liked or disliked to varying degrees, I've revised - or rather refined - my opinion. I still think it's better to make a living doing something you enjoy rather than achieve wild success in doing something you don't, but I now realise you're actually MORE LIKELY to achieve wild success doing something you enjoy.
I realise this is a bit counter-intuitive, crapping as it does all over both the Protestant Work Ethic and the prevailing Judeo-Christian principle of Redemption Through Suffering, not to mention sounding Too Bloody Good To Be True, but here's how it works.
Achieving wild success at anything takes Bloody Hard Work. However talented you are, however naturally immediate job-by-job success comes to you, developing that talent into a career takes Bloody Hard Work. Even if wild success falls into your lap, even if you win the X Factor, KEEPING that success takes Bloody Hard Work. In short, material success by any means other than winning the lottery takes Bloody Hard Work.
BUT... if you enjoy your job, you will do that Bloody Hard Work with a spring in your step and a song in your heart. You will get up at dawn, slog till the next dawn and beyond, blister your fingers and bend your back and you'll do it all with a big dumb grin on your face. You'll persevere through the lean times and keep working just as hard during the good times, because you're doing what you love.
None of this guarantees success, but you're far more likely to keep at it long enough to give yourself a chance at success than if you're doing something which fills you with despair all week and dread all weekend.
I've been doing a bunch of interviews for this tour I'm on, and in many of them I've observed that I think I probably have more fun than just about anyone I know. There are a few aspects of my job I could live without; I could do with a bit less driving, certainly, but by and large I spend most of my waking hours enjoying myself in one way or another. I like performing, I get a great amount of satisfaction from writing, I enjoy meeting my "public" (most of them...).
Having said all that, I also work harder than pretty much anyone else I know, particularly just now. The tweeps among you may have read a few days ago about the twenty-straight-hours shift I pulled last Thursday. I commented on that not to whinge but just to point out the bleakly comic aspect of just how relentless that day was going to be (the fact that it ended with me driving to Hull from midnight to 3am meant it even had a punchline of sorts). I may occasionally find myself Not Really In The Mood and have to kick my own arse into gear, but I never find myself truly miserable at the prospect of another day at the office, probably because every day at my "office" is different.
So there you go. Doing what you love is no guarantee of wealth or success, but it's its own reward in many ways and you certainly won't harm your chances of real success any.
Oh yeah. Weighed myself; 21 3, same as a few weeks ago. Think I went up a bit and them back down again.
Wednesday 30th September 2009
Here's the press blurb for the documentary I've been working on for the past few months. I haven't heard the finished one but I've got a fair idea how it'll sound, and I hope everyone likes it. I'm happy anyway as it gave the me the chance to meet a couple of heroes of mine for the first time; Jeff Wayne, of "...'s Musical Version Of The War Of The Worlds" immortality, and Brian Blessed.
Jeff Wayne agreed to be interviewed on Horsell Common near Woking, the site of the first Martian landing in TWOTW (book and album; one thing we discussed is that for all that his record is a weird disco-prog hybrid concept album it's actually the only one of the myriad adaptations of TWOTW which even attempts to be faithful to the book) which was damned sporting of him considering the interview was for the radio, and dragging him all the way to darkest Surrey didn't really achieve anything sonically save for a bit of atmos we could have gotten off an FX CD. He's a remarkably unassuming guy and quite humble about the record itself - I learned a few things I hadn't realised, such as the fact that he financed the whole recording himself, gambling every penny he and his whole extended family had on the project before he'd even attained a firm commitment from any record label to release the damn thing...
Meanwhile, Brian Blessed, you'll be delighted to hear, is pretty much exactly how you've always imagined Brian Blessed to be. I interviewed him in a small recording booth in Whistledown studios in Southwark - almost certainly the fullest that booth's ever been with only two people in it. He's wildly enthusiastic about everything he discusses and could digress for Britain in the Olympics - trying to keep him On Topic is like trying to herd a flock of large, ebullient and very loud cats. Thank heavens for the gift of editing, as it enabled us to distill some fantastic stories from the torrent of riotous, hilarious and frequently libellous anecdotes that issued forth from the great man (and kept us all out of court, most probably).
The other person I interviewed for the programme was, of course, Rick Wakeman, but this hardly counts as "meeting", as not only have I known Rick for ten years now, but I've been seeing quite a bit of him lately - I performed at a charity gig he organised a couple of months ago and I've done an interview for his show on Planet Rock radio which I believe goes out this Saturday.
I've also shot another vid for Watchdog; this one will air on Thursday evening. I'll be on stage in Durham.
Oh, and woo hoo!
Tuesday 29th September 2009
I really must start using this blog for things other than the bloody weight thing - damn Twitter, it's so bloody easy and it makes me feel like I'm staying in touch with everybody while neglecting this place.
21 3, so another half pound gone, I think.
Meanwhile, I'm given to understand that people have started receiving their copies of The History Of The World Through Twitter - it certainly sold out on Amazon briefly (they've got more in now) which can only be a good thing as it isn't even offically published for a couple of days yet. Such feedback as we've had so far has been overwhelmingly positive but any thoughts you may have are much appreciated.
Monday 21st September 200921 3 and a half, so half a pound down, so yay me. Got to dash, off to rehearse wi t'band.
Sunday 20th September 2009
It's five to 8 on Sunday morning and I've been up since before 6. I've seen 6am on Sunday morning before but not, I think, coming at it from this side.
I'm sitting at a desk in the newsroom of BBC TV Centre - I've done one rentagob bit on Breakfast News already (at 6.50) and I'm doing another one at 8.50. Since they don't seem to have anywhere for me to go in the meantime they've found me a desk with a computer to keep me occupied and stop me roaming the corridors. As this is the first time in weeks I've found myself sitting at a computer with no specific task to hand I though I'd do a quick blog.
I didn't actually weigh myself on Monday - can't recall why at the moment - but I'll be sure to do so tomorrow.
The response - within the Beeb, anyway - to my first Watchdog song was very positive, so much so in fact that the day after the first ep transmitted they decided they wanted another one for week two. This gave me four days to write a new song, inevitably re-write it once or twice (for running time and legal compliance reasons) and then make another video. The first one took three weeks.
The brief was to write about a particularly annoying fault with the Sony Playstation 3, which causes it to fail completely without warning (flashing up a yellow LED as a sign of its morbidity) and which happens commonly enough to suggest a design flaw but since it usually doesn't occur until after the unit's warranty's expired it seems impossible to persuade Sony to do anything about it.
The LED in question has acquired the nickname "The Yellow Light Of Death" among gamers and it was this phrase which leapt out at me form the brief - I though it sounded like the title of a Johnny Cash song and so that's what I went with musically.
I also suggested to Bob Jefford - the incredibly industrious director (and cameraman) on my "bits" that we could use Ham Lands, the nature reserve just by my house, for some suitably Nebraska-ish exterior shots. We filmed the interior bits in my living room (you can see Greta's dolls' house in one shot).
We were filming last Tuesday - it absolutely bucketed rain all day, leading us to doubt whether we'd actually get any exterior ahots done at all until the rain slackened off just a little, we hurtled out into the fields, filmed for an hour, wrapped it up and ran back to the house just as the heavens opened again.
The thing is, it's all gone off a bit since the item was transmitted - Sony have been writing very stiff letters to the BBC saying they're being unfairly represented, and meanwhile the blogosphere is alive with scuttlebutt. You see, not being a gamer myself I didn't realise - although now I think about it it seems obvious - that the whole PlayStation vs. XBox thing is a broadly similar dichotomy to the Apple/PC rivalry, and since Iain Lee presented the segment and also writes columns for the XBox magazine, some PS3 stalwarts are denouncing the whole thing as a conspiracy between Microsoft and the BBC to stitch up Sony (it wasn't, as far as I know).
I haven't had any death threats from PS3 fans so far; I'll let you know if I do. Meanwhile I'm not doing a song for this week's Watchdog - at the moment the plan is for me to do seven out of ths nine shows in the run with this week being one of my two weeks off.
The tour starts this Friday; I'm starting to do a lot of local press and radio interviews; you can hear one of them here.
Tuesday 8th September 2009
Yes I know it's been a little while - actually, yes I know it's been a BIG while. And yes I know I've now missed two weight blogs, so let's deal with that first. Last week I dropped a pound to 21 4, this week I'm the same. That's that out of the way.
In terms of more general where-the-hell-have-I-beens, well I know I say "I've been busy" a lot, and for what it's worth it's always true, but it's never been quite so VIVIDLY true as it is just now. This autumn I am doing pretty much everything I've ever done in terms of writing and performance all at once, as well as a couple of things I've never done before.
Aside from the forthcoming tour (see the gigs page for dates if you haven't already) which is coming forth at an alarming pace (two and a bit weeks and counting; where the hell did THAT particular bit of time go) and finishing the accompanying album (all recorded; being mixed) there are THREE books coming out in the the next month or so, the which I've either contributed to or co-written: there's The Atheist's Guide To Christmas, for which I've written a chapter (and recorded the audiobook version, that was fun); there's The Now Show Book Of World Records, for which I've written several chapters, and there's The History Of The World Through Twitter, of which I've written about half, the rest being provided by Jon Holmes of this parish. This last one is the one I'm keenest to promote as a. it was my idea and b. it's the only one I stand to make any real money out of (hint). In any event plans are afoot for readings, possible launches and maybe even signing tours, hopefully to be in some way co-ordinated with my tour TOUR type tour.
The other new thing I'm doing - and since the first one's "in the can" and is to be broadcast this very week I guess it's okay to plug this now - is contributing, possibly on a regularish basis, to the new series of Watchdog. It's being relaunched and re-vamped, Nicky Campbell's left, Anne Robinson's back and it's been extended to an hour. The thinking - as far as I can tell - is that the sort of strident indignation which characterised Nicky's Watchdog would be a tad relentless over an hour, so they've been trying to come up with ways of breaking the format up a bit, hence the involvement of yours truly.
We finished shooting my first "bit" on Monday afternoon... I THINK I'm happy with what we've done although I haven't seen the final edit. Suffice to say that the "bit" went through several different forms and variations, over the course of many meetings and phone calls, before we finally agreed to make it exactly how I'd suggested we make it at our first meeting nearly two months ago.
If nothing else this means that if I look an utter twat when it goes out (Thursday 8pm on BBC1) at least I'll have the comfort of knowing that it's entirely my own fault. Seriously; I don't mind making making a fool of myself as long as it's in the pursuit of my own dumb ideas rather than in meek acquiescence to somebody else's dumb ideas.
Anyway, like I say, it could develop into a regular feature; I guess this depends on how it's received on Thursday. One way or another my bit is going to stick out like a sore-ish thumb in the context of the rest of the show - whether the punters will view it as a breath of fresh air or a jarring and unwelcome shock remains to be seen. I wouldn't dream of soliciting positive feedback from your good selves, but nor would I discourage it.