Huey and Ruth

hueyFor some reason, I’ve been told a few stories lately about feeling – and being sick. So, in the queasy spirit of the times (Brexit, Trump, general hell in a handcart), I’m going to share them with you. One of them happened to me, one I observed, you’ll have to guess which.

Going to an Average White Band gig; your wife nearly falls down a manhole cover on the way there and you’re red wine sick out of a taxi afterwards. “Let’s not go round again,” commented the vomiter.

Meeting up with someone you’ve worked with via email for the first time. You have two glasses of wine, then it’s blur because someone’s spiked your drink and you’re in A&E. Fortunately, you’ve missed the bit where you had to be taken home in a taxi and pebbledashed it with vomit, causing the person you’ve never met before to have to fork out £50 to the poor driver.

Getting a bit drunk and being sick on the train. Telling your partner when you get home that it’s because “someone was speaking German. Or possibly Dutch”.

Spotting a young woman intently reading the Evening Standard on the train late at night; her face very close to the pages. Then realising she’s being sick into the paper, and turning over the pages when she’s filled them up. (Gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “subs to fill”). She then folds the paper up and leaves it on the train table, making a lovely surprise for the next commuter in search of something to read.

Having a conversation with a colleague after a long, boozy awards do at a stately home. Walking along with them through the gardens, then saying “Excuse me for a moment,” then vomiting profusely and noisily into a flowerbed, and continuing the conversation as if nothing had happened.

However, when it comes to stories about bodily fluids, this one takes the cake (and then shoots it out again). It’s vile, but hilarious.

 

S-H-O-P-P-I-N-G

Was planning to do something more interesting today, but due to unforeseen circumstances (BLOODY BLOODY SOUTHERN RAILWAY) I spent the afternoon Christmas shopping in Croydon. I find Christmas difficult, so plodding around shops looking for presents that nobody really wants is a joyless slog anyway, but doing it in Croydon, a town which Time Out recommends moving to because a lot of it is going to be demolished, is never going to have you waltzing through the Whitgift Centre singing It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year and hoping to bump into Terry and June.

I’ve always been fascinated by a shabby shopping centre, particularly during the day when most people are at work. I come from Stevenage, whose retail offering can at best be described as “a steaming pile of shite” with as many retail options as downtown Omsk circa 1965, with its arcades empty of shops (particularly since M&S and BHS went), and what little remains is pound shops, greasy spoons and, bizarrely, a jewellery chain called Pandora which is apparently A Big Thing for those who like charm bracelets. In Stevenage, they probably sell charmless bracelets instead, ones with little sparkly dog turds and miniature silver McDonalds wrappers on them.

Stevenage Town Centre has become horrible, with no big stores and only the aroma of the cheap noodle stall by the switched-off fountain reminding people of something more exotic. Croydon’s different. It’s a bit Hyacinth Bucket; a woman who puts on a phone voice and has those cafe net curtains with pictures of swans on, as it’s got a newer shopping centre, Centrale – note that ‘e’ on the end –  dead classy! – where a modern day Beverley from Abigail’s Party can nip into the MAC concession in House of Fraser and say “I have beautiful lips” whilst slathering on the Ruby Woo.

But it’s still awful. There’s a new Boxpark near East Croydon station where you can eat variations on overcooked pork whilst sat with strangers on a bench, but the main shopping area is grim. Allders department store (where I’m sure June would have bought everything for their house in Purley) was replaced three years ago with an alleged designer shopping outlet – ‘designer’ only in the sense that everything has to be designed – which is now only one floor of hideousness whose lighting designer appears to have come from working on public toilets, such is the ambience. There’s a stall on the street outside, “YOUR NAME ON A NECKLACE”. I wondered if they’d make me one with the words “kill me now” on it.

On a weekday afternoon, the people are very different from the weekend. Young mums with little ones, elderly mums taking their middle-aged, disabled children out (I find this unbearably poignant), schoolgirls sat sulkily slurping three quid milkshakes with the same calorie count as a roast dinner. They seem to be there for something to do, not go into a shop and get out as fast as possible. The idea of retail being the centre of a leisure activity. Ugh.

And as for Christmas ‘gifting’. Oh God. What do men want? According to a shop selling gifts just for men, cuddly, furry potatoes are the thing, including a ‘desk potato’. They want anything to do with vast quantities of drinking (tequila roulette, hip flasks, unhip flasks, an ‘international lager selection’ in a box). They want anything penis related; a rainbow-coloured knitted cock-and-ball warmer would make an hilarious festive gift for the man in your life with a sub-zero sac. And this year’s big trend appears to be a remote control drone so you can spy on your neighbours on Christmas morning, and have your drone stuck in a tree forever by Christmas afternoon.

And for the ladies? Smellies, of course. A selection of tiny toiletries in a gift set. A dressing gown or bootee slippers designed to make you look 93. An Audrey Hepburn DVD collection. A diamond.

AAAAGHHHHHH.

Drives me mad. The happiest, most hapless shopper I saw today was a bloke who went up to his wife brandishing a DVD box set and saying “Your Dad would love this! Ten discs! All the episodes! He loves comedy!”

“No, Trevor. I don’t think that’s very him,” said the wife, sending a crestfallen Trevor and his silver sparkly box set of Absolutely Fabulous back to the stack.

 

 

 

 

No wires

wireless
Apart from a recent happily stoned afternoon in Eastbourne watching The Peter Serafinowicz Show and Modern Toss on YouTube, I can’t think of the last time anything on the box really made me laugh. The wireless – and by that, I largely mean Radio 4 – on the other hand has had so much brilliantly amusing stuff lately, it’s hard to keep up. John Shuttleworth’s Lounge Music  is a treat, especially the one with a giggling, mildly awestruck Chris Difford  (Nick Heyward singing a plangent version of I Can’t Go Back To Savoury Now is also memorable).

Alexei Sayle’s Imaginary Sandwich Bar is a particular triumph; brilliantly observant stand up with an autobiographical twist that only an experienced comic can do. The material in this series is particularly good, with Sayle’s writing obviously sharpened by his work as a short story writer, novelist and biographer.

Ed Reardon’s move to studying at South Herts University  has been a creative triumph for Christopher Douglas and Andrew Nickolds, and the genuine LOLZ keep coming – biggest ones for me involved the idea of  going to see  Starlight Express with Martin Bormann and a riposte involving an emoji of a depressed giraffe, if I remember correctly. And I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue, even without Graeme Garden (a recurrence of Bell’s Palsy, perhaps?) continues to be a guarantee for the silliest laughs of the week, and Richard Osman has been bloody great.

I think half of those programmes I’ve come across by accident rather than design. I didn’t realise Ed was back until the third episode of the last series; hooray for the iPlayer. As print publications shrink – and arts coverage does proportionately – it’s harder than ever to read and write about radio. There are still broadsheet radio critics, but when the paper where I’m Arts Editor downsized, I lost a feature and my radio review which wasn’t helpful. I ought to pay more attention to BBC Radio Programme Information or a handy listings section, but I think I’m going to carry on taking my chances with wireless listening, especially as I enjoy playing iPlayer Russian Roulette and just pressing a random button on the app on my phone to see what I get.

I’m working my way through Great Lives (and learning a lot), have listened to a programme about why we can’t get enough of books about Hitler, and one about why the Greeks can’t afford to bury their dead. Not a lot of laughs, but hugely interesting. BBC Radio also throw the best Christmas parties, and I vow that I will do my best to try to write about more radio in 2017 because it’s the best.

‘Reserved for families’

families

In a coffee shop last week with this on a table for two. Should we – a straight single woman and a gay single man with no kids between us – have been sitting there, even though we didn’t have laptops, or was it reserved for a couple with a baby, or a divorced dad who was fed-up of taking his child to Maccy D’s? If friends are the family we choose for ourselves, then I suppose me and S are family – I feel he’s the brother I never had, and for that I am extremely lucky.

I’d been contemplating the idea of family all week, then this morning, Bibi Lynch posted another deeply personal piece on being childless on the Guardian. She got a right kicking from some sources for her first piece, and some people are rather less than charitable about today’s piece, too. But Christ, she’s entitled to her feelings, no matter how angry you might think they are. She desperately wanted to have a baby, something so many people – male and female (Robin Hadley studies men’s feelings about the issue) – wanted too, but never happened.

What Bibi says resonates with me, but rather than the idea of a baby, I really mourn for the loss of a chance of a family. My friend K has gone down the IVF route as a single parent, but that’s not a choice I wanted to make, and I suspect Bibi neither. It’s really difficult, and what I miss the most is the idea of an intimate relationship. Being a single person is very difficult.

It’s not just the balls-achingly dull bits; paying a third more Council Tax than a couple, paying all your living costs alone, not minding paying your National Insurance to help everyone, but not being able to claim for extra care when you might need it when you’re older because everyone assumes you have family to do that. People assuming that because you have a vaguely interesting job, you must be a hard-faced career person who put work before everything else, and that’s why you’re by yourself. Seeing endless pictures of couples’ bloody minibreaks on Facebook.

It’s mainly having nobody who puts you first. My parents have been dead for a very long time – as we know, home is the place you go where they have to take you in – and whilst I’ve learned to live with it, the feeling that you are the next generation, and the end of your line makes you feel like a Brontosaurus before that bloody big meteorite hit. And of course, you can’t discuss how alone you feel, it’s probably easier to admit that you wanted a baby than a half-decent relationship.

Out with a friend last week, we talked about some married friends of his who were working on some non-work projects together, similar to something I was thinking of doing. He asked me why I didn’t get on with them. ‘They offer each other mutual support. It’s too hard doing it by myself,’ I said, closing the subject down. I’m sure my friend thought I was a spineless quitter, but when you have to do every single damned thing in life by and for yourself, it is hard. One more thing is just one more thing on top of everything else.

So, say the cynical, go out there and flood the world with love. Give, give, until you can’t give any more. Lovely idea, but I’m with Bertrand Russell in this nifty little essay; ‘… general self-confidence towards life comes more than anything else from being accustomed to receive as much of the right sort of affection as one has need for’. People need reciprocal human intimacy, when we don’t get it, we ail and sometimes turn in on ourselves. Someone once asked me why I was so bitter. I didn’t answer at the time, but now I can. It’s because nobody ever loved me back. That I never really had someone to play with, someone who got my jokes, liked me despite what I am. Someone to give love to.

And it’s harder to write that than say I’d have liked to have been a parent. And don’t tell me that ultimately, we’re alone anyway. Some true companionship along the way makes the road to oblivion more enjoyable.

 

 

Talk

This BBC Wales programme about Mavis Nicholson, the absolutely wonderful TV interviewer, is a must-watch for anyone interested in celebrity culture. She interviewed the biggest names in showbusiness, starting on an innocuous afternoon show aimed at women, and always got the greatest answers from them, due to her honesty and rapport with her subjects.

In the programme, Eamonn Holmes points out how times have changed in the world of asking people how wonderful it was to work on their latest film. “You had got that in-depth interview where it mattered, where questions were important, where you cared about the quality of what you were talking about. That’s all different now…the PR companies rule the interview shows. They decide who you interview and what you’re going to ask them.”

Mavis talks about telling Kirk Douglas that their interview will be “the conversation you’d like to have, rather than what you expect to have”, and this interview with Kenny Everett shows how she gets so much out of him; it’s almost like therapy and you can feel that there’s something cathartic for Everett to talk about big issues.

27 years ago that was, and you simply can’t imagine anyone in the public eye talking like this in a TV interview.What I love about Mavis’ style is that it’s so deceptively easy. Unlike Michael Parkinson, she wasn’t a journalist, and her style reflected that. This 1974 interview he did with Richard Burton acts as a great compare and contrast between their styles. Parky’s clipboard questioning gets the results, but it seems far less relaxed and natural than the Nicholson way.

Hard to imagine such a major star and serious figure putting themselves through this kind of thing today, where it’s all about the comedy chat show, where you don’t have to reveal a single personal thing apart from something funny that happened on the set of your latest film. Ultimately, the celebrity interview is about flogging a product, and in a world where there’s now so much media that allows you to do this, you don’t have to do an hour baring your soul on a talk show.

The star interview thing is a strange concept. Every time I sit in a hotel room and switch my recorder on, I think how fake it all is.  As journalists, we’re supposed to come out of the encounter being able to tell our audience exactly what our subject is like, and ideally get them to tell us something they’ve never told anyone else before, the sort of thing you’d have to have months in expensive therapy to draw out normally. When it does happen, it’s great, but there are increasingly few opportunities to sit down in a room with a subject any more.

Print journalists may be asked if they want to do an interview via email, or via conference call with the subject’s press officer listening in. They may be asked to a ’round table’ event where you sit at a table with the celebrity and half a dozen other journalists with different aims and different questions. I remember years ago there was this dreadful woman who could turn anything round to the fact she worked for the Highgate Residents’ Association publication. If someone had confessed to a murder in a press conference or round table, she’d butt in with the line “Yes, well, I understand you live in Highgate; what do you think of the changes in the refuse collection timetables?”. Brilliant.

There was also a press event where I was beside myself to find I was the only journalist at a table with Alan Bates. We were talking about his new project for Christmas and a woman came and sat beside me and asked Bates if he was going to spend the festive season with his family. Normally you’d find this personal information really useful when writing a piece, but I was desperately trying to change the subject, as in the previous few months, Bates’ wife had died, and a son died a couple of years previously. Awks.

Another great chance to talk at cross purposes come at the events where both press and public meet. The public pay to come to an event which a TV company also uses as a launch, and while the press want stories for websites and papers, Brianna who’s come all the way from Idaho just wants to tell her screen heartthrob that she fancies him. Very nice, Brianna, but most people don’t actually care.

It’s only a few places that major stars will talk to any degree, and on television, hardly at all, which is why the Mavis Nicholson programme provided a great chance to watch the halcyon days of intelligent people talking to each other about things that matter to all of us, and bring us together in a very human way. Here’s Mavis with Bowie, which is just lovely.

I think it would be great if a TV copany commissioned a new series of  Mavis Nicholson interviews with some of the major personalities of today. As you’ll see when you watch the programme about her, she’s still got it – and also, 40 more years of experience from when she started the job. Imagine how great it would be if her fabulousness was unleashed on a new generation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Return To Yesterday

It’s been a bit of a week of things coming back from 2003 that hasn’t been seen since; fortunately not Saddam Hussein or Den Watts in EastEnders (a third comeback from the dead would be pushing it a bit). Last Friday, I went to the launch for the new series of Cold Feet, and Monday was the screening of Ricky Gervais’ Office movie reboot, David Brent:Life On The Road. You can guess which one I enjoyed more.

cold-feet-reunion

The first episode of Cold Feet saw Adam (James Nesbitt; yes, there is reference to his richly luxuriant barnet) return to Manchester to announce to his friends and son that he’s met a hot, young, beautiful millionaire’s daughter and is going to marry her, such is the power of a hair transplant. Expectations amongst a room full of journalists were high, and fortunately, nobody seemed disappointed.

The new series of Cold Feet isn’t a retread, merely a continuation by the writer and creator Mike Bullen, and feels like meeting old friends again after 13 years. It feels seamless, although of course things have moved on – Pete and Jenny are back together, Karen’s a successful businesswoman, David’s married to his joyless, bossy divorce lawyer, they’ve all got teenage kids. It all bobs along in a warm and witty fashion, on your screens in September.

The David Brent movie is out on August 19 and with that I’m not so enamoured. We’re supposed to feel sorry for the salesman; he’s had a breakdown, he’s now a rep for Lavichem, purveyors of bathroom supplies (cue tampon gags ie ‘One size fits all…oh, no, it doesn’t…’) but still yearns to be a rock star. He hires musicians who hate him for a tour of the Thames Valley with his band Foregone Conclusion, drags along a young mixed race rapper who’s become involved with him somehow, says a million embarrassing things and sings (I did like the line in Native American where he rhymed ‘American’ with ‘a pelican’).

Brentlifeontheroad

I guess we are now invited to feel pity for Brent, having been ill and now reduced to selling bog brushes, but it’s all a bit late. Even vague flashes of self-awareness don’t make him likeable; I can only draw comparisions with Alan Partridge, who I like more for being an out and out arsehole. Do we really want a cuddly Ricky Gervais…oops, David Brent? Brent’s arseholier-than-thouness makes him the character he is and as a fictional comedy creation, we don’t have to like him, he just has to make us laugh. Ricky, you can want to be loved, it’s only human, but you’re not Brent, yeah?

Did it make me laugh? In parts. Too much cringey stuff that we just know Brent is going to say because he is a copper-bottomed, well-created character. Very little story arc – drama is conflict, and because people generally walk away from Brent, tutting, nobody ever really confronts him about what he does. What would happen if someone punched him? Other irritants including a scene where Brent does a publicity shoot to the accompaniment of Bowie’s Fashion (‘I knew him, you know’) and Gervais’ strange fascination with giving fat women a kicking, in this case, twice in the movie. Being fat makes them unloveable, being an arse still gets Brent a nice lady admirer in the office.

Different critical reactions to both media events, different personal ones as well. Forget the past 13 years, the Cold Feet launch was like the past 25 going past my eyes; it seemed that every writer I’d ever worked with, and the occasional publicist, was in the room. It also made me think about the people who weren’t there, the dead ones in particular. Whilst talking to a PR and having a gush about how good it was, I felt tears in my eyes and had to make my excuses and leave to have a minor bawl in the well-appointed lavatories of the Soho Hotel.

After the Brent movie,  I felt nothing but really grim, probably because it too made me think about what had happened in my life in the last 13 years. The Cold Feet characters had had success, sadness, families, relationships and seemed set for a comfortable middle age, bar the dramatic stories that Bullen had planned for them. Brent had none of the above. Guess which one I felt more akin to?

Kill me now. But not before you book me into a blog reading tour of venues in the Thames  Valley.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Fat White Duke and other middle-aged rock and roll stories

fatfansTo the Robin 2 in Bilston last weekend, to see a Bowie tribute. Look, you gotta get it where you can these days. Anyway, I like me any kind of tribute band; all killer, no filler; they won’t play three tracks from their new album to please themselves and the MegaArena’s booze sales, and it’s a bloody great, cheap night out. And at the Robin, you can have the “Whatever happened to the Robin 1?” conversation as well.

The band were great. Lead guitarist looked more like Trevor Bolder than Ronno (though they weren’t supposed to be lookalikes), and Bowie? Well, an excellent soundalike, and from the lips upwards, fantastic. Costume-wise, two black suits and a Kansai Yamamoto-tribute cape as the chap in question was a bit broad in the beam for the one-legged Ziggy bodysuit. He’d been at the game for 24 years, so you can’t blame the bloke for getting a tad middle-aged, as had the audience as you can see from the photo. 

We all had a great time, though, unlike the poor sods at the Brentwood Festival who were berated by Bob Geldof for “wearing wall-to-wall fucking Primark”, adding “‘This is a rock and roll festival. When you come to a rock and roll festival you dress for a rock and roll festival. You can never be too careful.” Dear God, Bob, the Rats are still great, but it’s not particularly punk to have a go at your older, fatter followers 40 years after your greatest success, especially when you can still fit into a 28″ waist, you bastard. If you don’t like playing provincial pop festivals to people with 15-year-old kids and an Esky, then don’t play provincial pop festivals to people with 15-year-old kids and an Esky.

But maybe the problem with big pop events is that they’re big pop events. I was in Hyde Park for Stevie Wonder, courtesy of a very kind friend, and the irritation level of bloody people was almost off the scale, especially the two twentysomethings trying to chat up a girl in the middle of Love’s In Need Of Love Today – ‘YAH, I’VE GOT A BALLS-ACHINGLY DULL JOB IN THE CITY” sounds great over a gospel background. “Not that good a one, otherwise you’d have been in the VIP area,” I muttered under my breath. To be fair, when they told those of us who asked them to pipe down and they told us to go somewhere else “as it’s an open air festival with a different vibe, yeah?”, they got a chorus of ‘No, you go somewhere else”. And, to be fair, they did. Mars, I hope.

The middle-aged there that day tutted as their picnic rugs got trodden on as crowds heaved together for the four-hour gig (“But I’ve been here since TWELVE NOON!”), but the best audience sight of the day was two middle aged women having a fight, induced by too much expensive, rubbish rosé drunk in the heat. Their faces! Alcohol plus vitriol created a right scene as they were dragged apart, snarling, by their companions. Maybe the middle-aged shouldn’t be allowed out after dark in the open air.

At least Stevie didn’t insult us. I broke my personal record of leaving a stand-up gig a few weeks ago, lasting about two minutes. I’m usually pretty good at being an upstanding audience member, but once this comic walked onstage with a bulging notebook and biro writing all up his arm, I thought: “Hello. Work in progress.” He then called the audience “cunts”, and asked what had made them pay £16 to see him; galling when you can pay a fiver to see a work in progress gig by a middle-ranking comic in a pub and not be made to feel like scum. 

Not being in the mood to be feebly insulted I left. My friends who stayed managed about another 15, and told me the insults continued, with the mainly young crowd seeming to laugh a bit with fear of being picked on. At least Jerry Sadowitz did it with some style and a disappearing coin.

Pick on your audience who won’t see 40 again at your peril. Although it’s easy to take the piss out of bingo wings underneath a sequinned bolero from Primark or a too-tight Fred Perry polo shirt, it’s the wearers who’ve got the money to pay for the tickets. They might even buy your latest album that nobody else gives a toss about and stay for the three tracks you play from it.