Saturday, 29 September 2007

This is what we do. Part 2

(originally posted on myspace here)

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"Actually what we're really looking for right now is sex."
"Like... What, what do you mean?" I asked.
"A hundred and fifty thousand words. Sex every twenty pages. A Jackie Collins. A Jilly Cooper. So if you know anyone who's done anything like that -"
And I thought: Could I do that? The children's novel is probably going nowhere bowed beneath the weight of my own expectations and I haven't even started on the picture books. What if I just knuckled down to some porn then? No really. How hard can it be? Fnar.

This conversation (with one of a number of women I know who work in publishing and are called Alex) rounded off an audition for a charity pantomime in - I think it was called St Mungo the Martyr's - one of the many darkened churches hanging round the press of the Square Mile obstinately like goats at a book launch. I'd been droplifted into last year's panto with a week's notice and I had loved it. I had loved the short rehearsal period, and I'd loved mucking around with old friends and shark heads and pretending to hide from Frankenstein's Monster in a jungle and to fall in love and dancing with a Pirate Queen. But this... this audition... standing in a thick coat behind a slightly mardy MD at a piano in a stone hall once the sun had set - I didn't like that. It reminded me of choir. Too long ago. And I've been sleeping strangely lately. Catching up with sleep. Catching up in general.

The Dungeon's still pretty quiet. There's time to sit on the mortuary steps and ask each other: "What if she was perfect in every way, but made of chalk? And the bed was made of blackboard?" or: "If you had to go out with a woman-shaped animal, which animal... etc." Someone suggested a chameleon. I thought, yeah she'd be quite fun, turning up to the restaurant late in her boa and beret, loudly. I don't know who I had in mind.

And I finally answered the questions that had been sent to me by Dan who runs the Mitchell and Webb fan log. Far too late, I think. Long after they'd been sent, certainly. Long after the recording of my one sketch for the television series, which went well, which was significant. Long after the wrap party in the brightly lit room at the top of Television Centre with the ceiling that very slowly and joylessly faded from red to green to yellow for no reason where I ended snorted helium with the producer... I print some of it below only because it's unlikely to appear anywhere else, along with a still that James Bachman took of the set, which actually maybe isn't such a hot idea. Unless you are an enormous fan of the show it probably won't always be clear what I'm talking about either so, I don't know, just pretend I'm talking about Sergeant Pepper or Richard E. Grant going "FORK IT":

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Hello. Sorry I took so long. Yes, you had some questions. This is probably far too late to be of any interest to you now but here are my answers. I feel a bit like that guy they accidentally got on the news to talk about Apple.

When did you realise you were funny?

I just assumed. As a baby.
What sticks in the memory are those moments from childhood when you realise you're NOT funny... when a dinner lady tells you that she can't do two things at once and you say "Why not? You've got two hands" which, it turns out, is not funny at all but obnoxious and hurtful... or when your parents are talking about how someone fell from a window and you say "Maybe they jumped."

How did you get the Mitchell & Webb job?

Mark Evans spotted me working in a second-hand bookshop while on the lookout for an Auburn Consultant for Rob - who you may have noticed likes to play a lot of redheads but is a bit method - and Mark knew that David knew me from a touring production of Hamlet I'd done in Seoul (in a part I'd got instead of Rob) so asked if I'd be interested. I said yes but refused payment electing instead to bring along a number of conversations I had transcribed to learn if this was the same thing as "sketches". David explained that it wasn't, I asked James Bachman if I could borrow a pen and some cigarettes, and the rest is history. And I went to Cambridge.

What makes you laugh?

The same as everyone I think, minus catch-phrases, punch-lines and racism (unless it's making fun of accents), plus assonance and obscure references to things I thought only I liked. Actually I'll normally laugh at anything I'm enjoying on any level at all even if it isn't funny, just out of relief. I'll laugh at food, me.

What is your favourite self-penned Mitchell & Webb sketch?

Whatever anyone else's is. I don't care. It's all good. I genuinely don't know what's funny, and I've written stuff I like that nobody else will get but what's the point? A lot of people laughed at "Asbo Zappruder" the baby seal sketch, and that took me no time to write at all (two evenings - for me that's nothing) in fact I almost didn't send it in, so I found the recording of that immensely satisfying because it went down very well. And I think "Padlockigami" will go down well when/if it's broadcast. It's the only thing I've written for telly so far, and seeing that much work put in by other people to televise some ridiculous idea you scribbled down in a note-book back in 2004, and to see that WORK…

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...It won't come much better than that.

Where do your ideas come from?

Walks. Unbearable predicaments. Sounds I find myself making (Both Padlockigami and Asbo are sketches that owe their existence to words I thought sounded good). That question drove Alan Moore mad and now he gets all his ideas from a pretend snake deity. True.

What would you be doing if you weren't doing comedy writing?

Sitting in front of an application form for a grant from the Arts Council.

What's next for you?

Well, since I've taken so pathetically long to answer these questions I can tell you. Not the enormous crippling come-down I was fearing, just bits and pieces for the snowballing oeuvre. Some performances on and under bridges. Actually I'm taking some time off work next week to knuckle down to a couple of things, a sitcom about a deeply scarred wedding planner with a monk sidekick, and also a little idea for a variety show called "Allnighter" which can be very accurately pitched as a cross between "Prairie Home Companion", "Battlestar Galactica" and "Bagpuss". Hopefully a week will give me enough time to work out if either makes any sense.
What's next IDEALLY is that I reach the point where I know the stuff that stormed wasn't a fluke. But I'm nowhere near that point yet, so thank you very much for taking the time to interview me. (Actually it's more of a questionnaire, isn't it.) Bye, Dan. Be well.

Monday, 24 September 2007

tiny memories of the east

(originally posted on myspace here)

of barbican and ethanol that we took out to the desert while the others danced back in
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covering them with black plastic to keep them
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after 2 weeks of awe something back
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(... Fragments prompted by a DVD I received in the post - and out of the blue - from an old colleague, Kammy Darweish, of a Middle-and-Far Eastern tour from 18 months back... and by the little photos from the old phone. Ta, Kammy.)

Friday, 21 September 2007

Qui Make Ispum Makeman (warning: garbled quasi-scientific tuppencey)

(originally posted on myspace here)

In the Dungeon the Summer hours are over, the party thrown, the prize for best costume perched atop my locker and swaddled in the tubigrips that I wore as Milla Jovovich, and when the Germans aren't passing through my shows and blowing on their swatchels I've been tucking into the classics. Two hundred pages into Samuel Butler's "Erewhon" - a book from 1872 that crops up a lot in science fiction histories as the first to discuss Artificial Intelligence - I have finally hit upon those chapters that form "The Book of Machines". The meat. It was received as just a piss-take of Darwin upon its publication, but what The Book of Machines actually does is ask quite sincerely: "What will be the next living thing?"

"Machines" it goes on to suggest. "Not for a while, no... Not for say hundreds of thousands of years... But eventually we will have to consider them as living beings. Already we feed them and help them reproduce as the bees serve the poppies, and we hear them calling out to each other in the street - even though we're currently the ones who sound their horns - but the machines are evolving. And they will develop Consciousness."
And this was back in 1872! He was talking about pipes!

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So no wonder his readers at the time just went: "Hahaha, screwdrivers with souls, vair good." But reading it NOW... in the Dungeons...

Or sitting in a pub off the Essex Road last night waiting for John Finnemore to return with some shopping (I'd arrived half an hour too early for a read-through, despite losing myself in one of the most pleasingly evil and deserted underground stations ever to be burrowed, tiled and filled with cameras).... I sat with my copy of Erewhon and I thought of Battlestar Galactica (the new, good one) where it's only the machines who still believe in God. And I considered the old arguments - Monotheist: There must be a designer. / Atheist: Who designed him then? Eh?... And I don't know how the argument goes after that, or even if it does go on after that - I'd always up to this point assumed that "Eh?" was the last word on the matter... up until this point...

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But now, as I finished my half, I thought: Wait? What if we say that question ISN'T rhetorical, who did make God then?... What if we start singing along to the Pixies: "If man is 5, then the devil is 6, and if the devil is 6 the God is 7!"... which of course still leaves room for an 8, a 9 and a 10... And what in that case is 1? And what's 67,825?

And playing around with that idea I felt a lot closer to an understanding of... of our total lack of understanding (which is the MAIN THING) just as I had at that party full of architects last Saturday night where in a garden over some cake the Uncertainty Principle was finally explained to me NOT as the simultaneous existence of two separate states (at which point I would normally thank whoever was at the quantum desk and head off to look for a night bus) but simply as an illustration of the flaws in our definition of that state (Should I go into this?... ie: we're saying that something can exist simultaneously as both a wave and a particle NOT because we've discovered that reality is on the fritz, but because we've learnt that the multiple choice options we give reality - "wave and particle" - just aren't that useful at a quantum level. We're taking a poll and forcing the facts to choose from A, B or C when really what they would rather be doing is filling in the box at the bottom of the page and going onto a sheet of A4... See also: eleven bloody dimensions.)

So even if you say there is a God who made us he's not the answer, just the next level up... like the family tree at the back of my book of Greek Myths where the father of the gods is the son of Time, and Time is the son of, I think, Uranus, oddly.
And maybe in the end, as with everything else, the chain of command is a loop. I mean we know that if you're given a powerful enough telescope you can see the back of your own head. Hypothetically.

And maybe it's a really small loop.
I mean at CERN they've already got a machine that can recreate the big bang! A bit.

And at Essex Road they've already developed a machine that ignores you, and they've stuck it in a lift.

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Monday, 17 September 2007

Supermale ands the Dancing Puppet of Tradge

(originally posted on myspace here)

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I couldn't face Ken's wedding reception this evening. Not at first. I turned up at the venue round the back of Waterloo in my dark suit, but couldn't see him there so walked out again. I haven't been good with other people's weddings for a few years now. I hadn't been to the service at the temple in Taplow either. I stood still outside EV for a bit, putting things out of my head and then went to see if anything was going on down by the river.

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At Waterloo Bridge there were things in the distance and people up lamp-posts. But nothing was moving. What was about to happen would often halt, it transpired, and I don't know if this was because things were breaking down or blowing up, or because people were in the way, or because they'd lost the music or simply because someone had decided that it was better if, occasionally, everything halted. But after the first three seconds of about twenty different tracks the false starts stopped and things got moving. And most of these things had people inside.

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The Bolivians were the first to pass. Then Donna Summer's "I Feel Love" sounded and teetering puppets of King, Queen and Caesar bore down on us, frowning but friendly with big, flat hands flapping, patting, petting, all that. I followed them down the hill to the viaduct at Butler's Wharf. A lot of people were dancing now and at the brow of the hill you could see smoke.

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Ken is a Buddhist. We'd won medals for acting in Kuwait and when we'd go fishing in the Gulf he would always whisper to his catch before releasing it. And whenever an insect appeared in our room he would always trap it under a glass and then let it go, but only after he'd kept it there for twenty-four hours, during which he might whisper to it. And whenever he chanted it sounded like the washing machine downstairs. We bumped into each other again in the street last month, just outside the Dungeons. I hadn't seen him in four years. A fire alarm had gone off and I was dressed as a corpse. "Simon!" he said, and we hugged, "You're looking well."

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Someone blue was sweeping the road now with a maritime flare to prepare the way for an elephant made of pink light. I've never been to a carnival before. These are details. Chiefly of course the parade was made up of dancers - or rather people dancing - every age and shape of person adorned and bared and providing their own light. And lanterns. And the music that we danced to we'd be dancing to every day if people hadn't got so bloody excited about Britpop. And a very good and very loud argument was being made for the Thames as a conduit for all countries that had ever displayed a talent for making something out of paper and mirrors.

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A cyclist passed dangling lampshades and behind him... Luke! Dressed as a cherub, riding a bike, with two doves perched on his wrists: "Simon! I'm freezing! Do you know where this ends?" Then the final phoneix ducked to get under the viaduct, scraped its beak, and the fireworks started. Along the South Bank and along the Embankment and along every bridge we all watched. And I watched, thinking myself the only one there on their own, as I always do at these things. And I thought "This is great." And it was. I went back to EV and I found Ken this time. He was sitting outside beside his bride, Yuki: "Simon! Y-..." He was smiling so much that he could hardly speak. So we shook hands. For quite a while.

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I was part of the festivities yesterday. Sofas were laid along the apex of Southwark Bridge and I sat in a hairnet and yakuza blue suit clutching a bunch of daisies and a yellow copy of Alfred Jarry's "The Supermale", glancing at my watch for eight hours. It was packed. I left no trace. Just a tiny slick of spirit gum in the apple-bobbing barrel. But what they did tonight was much better.

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Wednesday, 12 September 2007

from: Greek Mythology Class 3 (found in France)

(originally posted on myspace here)

The Ninth Task
Hippolytis' Belt

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- You'r next task is to bring back Hippolyte's Belt for my daughter's wedding present

- But I can't do that!

- Why not?

- Because the only way I can get it is by force and I do not fight women

- If you refuse who knows what the gods will do?

- You Provokers!!!

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At Thermedos

- Why - Hercules - have you and your companions come here?

- I have come to take your belt... but not by force!

- Very well then. If you win the fight I have with you, you will have it.


- Here! she's got grease on her

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- Well done Hercules. If you come to my feast at dusk you shall have the belt

- This will not do. I will go down and tell a bodygaurd lies.

- Mistriss. I have just been told that Hercules has come for the belt... And you! Let me kill him.

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- No!!! Arhh

Back at Mycenea:
- Here's the belt

(No-one less brave than Hippolyte deserves the belt.)

Excellent Again - One House Point for the last 2 tasks

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

trickle trickle buzz

(originally posted on myspace here)

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Another embarrassed angel.

Well this isn't Britain, is it? It could be the geckoes that give it away or the quality of the algae (rare), or the size and colour of the crickets, or the white earth and purple shadow and the fact that the bees are blue. We could be in Palestine or Bel Air (does the grass that bothers to grow here even know it's supposed to be green?) but in fact we're in Languedoc… Cathar Country (acute and obtuse hilltop strongholds stand vacant for 900 years)… home to the vine and to fields of sunflowers all past their prime and eerily bowed like shower-heads at exactly the same angle and in exactly the same direction in their millions… and my parent's home for the past year. They live in a small snail-shell-shaped village called Puisallicon (Salty Well) in one of the newer buildings at its base. The pool's now finished, and so is the cinema. The seats are brand new (Europe's only cinema seat factory is apparently very nearby) and it even has a clock - which now I come to think of it isn't that common a feature, but my dad's cinema in Arbroath used to have one and so – well in fact it had this one. It's the same clock, the very clock my dad would keep an eye on in his teens to make sure he wasn't late for rehearsals. It lights up green. (He'd miss the first half hour of a movie as well, to make it more engaging.)

As I write this two turtle doves are falling out over some seed at my feet. They sqwark like Graham Chapman. I'm here for four days, which should be enough time for whatever has infested the far end of my mattress back in Brixton to die of starvation. On Saturday evening I accompanied my mum to the church at Puisallicon's apex,  the same pale ochre as the dog on its steps. I spent a lot of the sermon considering the priest's hairpiece. I was considering it charitably. It didn't look anything like the rest of his hair but I thought: We don't scoff at make-up because it doesn't look like real face, why are we so sniffy about wigs? I also considered a painting of a saint being welcomed aboard by the baby Jesus in a cloud. I thought: He didn't get up to that much as a kid though, did he? He was just baby-shaped TO BEGIN WITH so he could get out of Mary. At least Krishna stole some butter, I think. And it's just occured to me: What happened to all the fuss made over Jesus when he was born? Thirty years later when he performed his first miracle at the wedding in Cana did everyone go: "Ah! Finally!!!"

Village announcements are broadcast from the water tower. The wind's getting up. In the neighbouring village of Puimisson (Soft-water Well) a mechanic is practising jazz on a mandolin. Mum wants to know if she can get me anything. Dad has some Droopy we can watch later on.

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Monday, 3 September 2007

First Recorded Symptom of Not Getting Angels

(originally posted on myspace here)

 In late and happy conversation with my sister on Saturday night I hit upon a neat idea of what I need: "lessons and homework". It hasn't changed since I was four. Lessons and homework. And a girl who smiles back.

I've moved my chair round. It faces the bookcase now so I can sit and write without staring at my bed and my desk feels more like a nest. But the slope in the floor's a lot more more pronounced this side of it. I'm sort of leaning to the left. Swings and roundabouts. I had to move boxes to do this. It's good they've moved. And here's another drawing from when I was eight.

It illustrates: Joseph of Arimathaea's request to entomb the body of Jesus... Pilate's provision of a guard for the tomb... and Mary Magdalen's encounter with an angel on Easter morning. (In the Gospel according to Mark it's a "young man arrayed in a white robe". In Luke it's "two men in dazzling apparel". In Matthew it's an angel and an earthquake, which may be why my guard has fallen over. Or he's swooned.)

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Tick. Tick. Tick. See? Is your favorite bit the fact that my understanding of angels as beings of absolute goodness means I have to make him apologize for his own existence?
Mine too.