Friday, July 29, 2005

I go to London.

The LTLP was a bit worried about me entering the City of Fear, but I am brave and will not let the terrorists win by changing my way of life and stopping me making a journey I don't like to a place I don't like to meet people I don't like and discuss things I don't like.

Truth be told, I do have a nagging concern in the back of my mind. Society has always had odd standards and ethics about the way we kill people (dropping TNT on their houses is quite all right, but poisoning their water supply is a bit beyond the pale). Anyway, seeing the photos in the newspaper of those nail bombs, I can't help thinking that they look quite unsportingly and unpleasantly... pointy.

As has been terribly demonstrated in London once before, these devices are used only by the genuinely psychotic.

As my train draws out of Farringdon a man approaches and sits opposite. He has wet his pants. (i.e. literally, not as in 'he is very frightened about suicide bombers' but as in 'he is sitting opposite me in a pool of his own stale and foetid urine')

The gag reflex is fairly strong, but of course the not-wanting-to-appear-impolite reflex is superior. I do not know what the etiquette is when you are faced with a man who has wet his pants. One lady on the other side of the carriage subtly gets up and moves. I nonchalantly stare out of the window, which is not very interesting when you are under the ground, although there is some interesting cabling to study.

He looks shabby and a bit run-down, but not down-and-out. I have forgotten all about suicide bombers in my curiosity, although it would be nice now for him to go somewhere else, preferably well-ventilated. A ticket collector approaches. My urine soaked companion has a valid ticket. As the train emerges into the daylight at Blackfriars, he pulls out a mobile phone and makes a call.

Perhaps he works in the media and there was a big feature about tramp-chic in Guardian Weekend that I have missed. Or he has upset some people from Dynarod. Or he wet his pants in an accident some days ago and his wife has not yet got round to washing his trousers.

A crowd enters the train. As one, they turn and head in the opposite direction, some passing through the connecting door into the next carriage. Nobody wants to be near us.

At which point, I realise. He has cleverly wet his pants because he will be safer from terrorists that way. It seems rather drastic.

He alights at London Bridge. I rise and sit elsewhere.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

I have got fat!!!

I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror in a ladies' clothes shop. (I was in there with the LTLP, I need to point out that I was not buying ladies clothes for myself at all in there, as that is less confidential than doing it over the internet).

A sickening mass of blubber drooped over my belt, thrusting my tee shirt away from my body like a flared shade on an obese standard lamp that walks around and lives in Norfolk and has a widely-read Internet Web Log. I couldn't believe how this had crept up on me.

The shop assistants were pointing and whispering about my fatness, so I sort of breathed in and folded my arms to make it go away.

My recent incapacitation meant that I did not do any exercise for several weeks, and it transpired that I had put on just over nine pounds in weight. No wonder I was huffing and sweating wherever I walked - it was just as if I was carrying a Victoria Beckham stuffed up my shirt. We lollopped through the shopping centre sadly.

The LTLP was less than sympathetic. She is at the stage where rather than looking 'pregnant' she looks 'quite fat' and her first reaction was that she didn't want to be seen out with me in case people thought that we had met via a specialist dating agency. In my demoralisation and despair this was not what I needed to hear, and I went into a bit of a sulk for a bit.

People have this lazy image of the fat community as being jovial, happy-go-lucky characters. That is a stereotypical generalisation.

Really we are all hurting inside.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Vandalism on the Village Green!!!

The 'Village Green - this way' sign has been uprooted and dumped in a hedge. And some 'House For Sale' signs have also been pulled up and thrown around.

One minute we are a friendly Utopia, the next we are a community under seige.

It is fairly obvious that it is kids that are to blame - just a small minority of kids, however, and that they have done this because they hate our freedom.

I am a bit torn as to how to feel about this. I could feel angry at their actions and want to hunt them down and give them a good kicking, which I naturally do although I suspect them or their friends will then do it again going 'nya nya' because I can't guard the Village Green all the time. Or I could try to work out exactly why they thought it would be a fun thing to do, to see if there was anything at all I could do in order to stop them thinking that vandalising the village green was the best way to spend the evening.

I have read loads about this sort of thing and apparently it is not allowed to do both. You have to take one course of action or another.

The latter course of action - the 'working out' bit - would also make me no better than the perpetrators themselves, and if I'm going to do that I may as well go and uproot some signs myself, smash some windows in the Social Club and piss all over the graves in the churchyard before killing myself at the disrespect that I have shown to the householders who have had their signs interfered with.

I don't really fancy that.

Friday, July 22, 2005

We attend the Big Village Pub Quiz Night.

Mr & Mrs Short Tony, Big A and I huddle at a table in the courtyard, as the quiz was being held outside under 'weather permitting' rules. (For overseas readers I should explain that the British definition of 'weather permitting' means "not like in the film 'The Day After Tomorrow'".)

"Brigadier Alastair Lethbridge-Stewart," I inform the table. "Played by Nicholas Courtenay".

They are amazed by my general knowledge.

"I wish the quiz would start soon," complains the LTLP. "I'm freezing."

In truth, I have mixed feelings about this quiz. I am extremely good at quizzes (that is a fact, not just me boasting. Sometimes I worry about telling people things because it sounds like me boasting, whereas I am actually just trying to tell them a fact that they will be interested in and not boasting at all.)

Anyway, I am as extremely good at quizzes as I am as a lover, and the others are quite clever as well. So we had won the previous two quizzes. After the second one, there had been a certain amount of booing, and so I have it in the back of my mind that perhaps it would be a good idea not to win this one.

This thought seems to be in the backs of lots of other people's minds as well.

It is all very well saying that winning again would be as tedious as if Ricky Gervais had done loads of easy comedy again in his new show about being tactless to disabled people and ethnic minorities. But when the adrenaline starts pumping and the questions start being called, it is impossible not to cover your bit of paper just in case people are looking and hiss 'sssshhhh' when the LTLP suggests an answer in too loud a voice.

"Ernie was the fastest milkman in the West," announces the landlady. "What was the name of his horse?"

"Oh!!! Oh!!!" says Big A. "Wasn't it something like -"

"Sssshhhh!!!!!" I hiss.

We finish the quiz second, due to not knowing that a cockroach has seven penises.

I shake the hand of the winning team leader, who I know quite well. Now that it's over, I am pleased with second place, and that nobody can accuse me of engaging in unnatural practices with cockroaches.

We collect our beer tokens. We spend them.

(Note to Mr Gervais's agent - I have not watched it yet but I am sure that it is very good. I also really liked the funny joke he did at the first tube bombings when he announced that in fact they hadn't happened after all, and that it was all a joke and that we could all go home. Or maybe that was at Live 8 about the starving people in Africa - sorry, it was all in the same week and I get a bit confused.)

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

I have a bonfire!!!

There is nothing so manly as having a bonfire. I love it. I dodge in and out of the wind so my hair does not get smoky. Unfortunately the wind seems to be going in every direction at once and blowing with more gusto than Abi Titmuss on performance-related pay, and soon my hair, my clothes and my entire neighbourhood are engulfed in a billowing thick and woody smog.

I look round guiltily, worried that somebody will turn up and shout at me.

Although I live in the country, I am a townie by birth, and am therefore a bit sure about the rules RE bonfires. If you are from the countryside you are allowed to burn anything, anywhere and at any time - crops, cuttings, old tyres, sheep etc. Whereas I get a bit nervous about this.

My very second encounter with Short Tony next door (after the time when he came to apologise for getting the LTLP horribly, incapably drunk within two hours of her moving in) was to apologise to him for an inappropriate bonfire. He was very nice about it, and didn't say anything about having to re-do his washing, clean the ash out of his open-topped car, etc.

Since then, we have got to know each other better, and I have smoked him out many times without him complaining, moving home, etc. Although admittedly, the time the smoke was inside the house was still a bit embarrassing on my behalf.

I chuck another pile of the green leaves on and crawl around the garden holding a hanky over my mouth and nose. A shape looms out at me - at first I think it might be the police wearing those chemical suits, but it is the LTLP calling me in for dinner. (Although her maternity outfits do look a bit like those chemical suits).

I disappear indoors, leaving my bonfire unattended in strict breach of the law that I am sure there must be.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

In the village pub.

"And then Daltrey tried this," continues the Well-Spoken Barman. "And Townshend worked on a few chords, and got something together."

We lean in, agog to hear his stories about his times with The Who pop group.

I sit at the end of the bar sipping my drink, and smile. I do not mention my time in the nineties supporting The Sultans of Ping, as it is rude to trump other people's stories.

We continue talking about music. By closing time we have formed a band. I had known that the Chipper Barman played the bass, but finding out that the Drumming Barman played the drums is a bonus, especially as it fits his name so well.

"We need to have a rehearsal now," says Short Tony (vocals/saxophone).

With the Chipper Barman needing an early start, it is just the three of us that head back in a sort of zigzag fashion to my living room. At this point it transpires that the Drumming Barman, whilst being a good drum player, doesn't actually have any drums. But he has a didgeridoo, which he picks up on the way.

"I'll get some wine," says Short Tony.

"Are you sure this will be OK?" asks the Didgeridooing Barman.

I explain that the LTLP is away for the night, and start setting up my Massive Cock-Extension Amplifier. Unfortunately after several pints the wiring bit defeats me, and I have to bring down my smaller Size-Is-Not-Important Amplifier instead.

At this point, things stall slightly. There are a limited number of songs in the classic pop canon for our particular mix of instruments. Short Tony announces that 'Rat Trap' is really the only thing he knows on the saxophone, and I remember the overall, major, most fundamental thing that has always done for me at parties - that I am completely unable to play the guitar when I'm drunk. Meanwhile, the Didgeridooing Barman is playing along nicely, but potentially getting a bit frustrated with the single note that he is able to generate.

Still, we get through a passable 'I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)" which shows promise.

We part in the early hours, enthusiastic to arrange our first gig.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Many thanks to Salvadore for taking over once more.

It seemed only right that he should have finished the series of posts planned before he was so rudely interrupted. With myself having been called into London for a couple of days at short notice, it was an ideal arrangement.

I was a bit loath to leave the thousands of small white maggoty things that had invaded my larder, and all the food therein, during my week away. However this was pushed to the back of my mind when I found that a project that is my largest single source of income is clearly going, as we say in the Important World of Creativity 'tits up', with me set to fulfil the traditional role of 'the one a long way away who can be blamed because that won't require everybody else to face up to their own institutional incapableness'.

Obviously I would have been in better form for my meeting had a problem with a hotel not forced me to spend the night sleeping on a floor. I can't grumble however, as many people sleep on floors all the time, and the onset of what would prove to be lengthy bouts of firstly sinusitis and then food poisoning put it all into perspective anyway.

I returned to Norfolk on Friday, presenting my suit at the village shop (dry cleaning division) and instructing them to remove the spatters of blood obtained during my - possibly unwise - intervention in a particularly cheery post-pub mugging the previous night. I should reassure that the blood was the other chap's, perhaps the most rubbish mugger in the entire history of that activity, who took one look at me, started an exchange of pleasantries then fell off the kerb, injuring himself badly in the process. But it was a nice suit and one of which I was fond.

Back home, a message from the LTLP explained that she'd spent the evening in A&E herself, having accidentally nailed her hand to the garden wall.

By Saturday the food poisoning was reaching its climax, but, it being too late to decently drop out of the cricket team, I packed several mountains of toilet roll and turned up for the game. Fortunately the fresh air seemed to settle things down, although I had to call a halt when my calf muscle pinged again and I found myself unable to walk.

So as you see, I have been getting back to normality here. I have a bit of a backlog to clear, then I will be returning to my usual role as the Venerable Bede of North West Norfolk.

Until then, please talk amongst yourselves.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Hello, Salvadore Vincent here again – back just for the day this time...

All three of us were quite excited to be going to see “Madagascar”. My girlfriend was excited as it would be the first time she had taken her 5-year old godson Simon out without his parents. I was excited from a mainly professional point of view to see if Dreamworks' animated features were catching up with Pixar's, but also quite excited about the film itself. And Simon was excited because all day people had been asking him if he was excited.

Our friends dropped us off and we arranged what time they would pick us up. We bought our tickets, bought our ice creams and waved goodbye to Mummy. Though neither of us said it, as we stepped away from the box office, just the three of us, I am sure that both my girlfriend and I were thinking that this is what it would be like to have a family. That the success or failure of this trip would indicate something important...

We'd all been out to a WWII Victory event earlier that day and Simon had been scared by a small and frankly quite crap dragon made out of cloth on a stick. We shall call this Ignored Warning Sign #1. Then, as we ascended the final escalator in the cinema complex, his little voice said, "It's dark up there." We shall call this Ignored Warning Sign #2.

Before we went into the cinema itself I asked Simon if he wanted to go to the toilet (as I didn't want to miss any vital plot developments half way through – I really was quite excited at this point). He did, so I decided that I would take him whilst my girlfriend held the ice creams. I had imagined us standing side by side at the urinals - not father and son, not technically godfather and godson, but I thought that maybe I could teach him some kind of helpful “using a urinal” tip that would make him feel like a man like I am.

Of course, the urinals were all too high so we headed for a cubicle. Then he started stripping off and said "I want a poo". This must have been what it felt like on Apollo 13 when, hundreds of thousands of miles from earth, they heard a big bang. I was alone, I was in charge, and I didn’t know what to do. Did he want me in the cubicle? Should I wait outside? I settled for hanging around in the doorway. I'll spare you most of the next ten minutes, but I did receive some quite graphic descriptions of what was happening.

He also told me that he was worried about the lion in the film. I was trying to explain that it was a funny lion who was more scared than scary, but then he decided that there was going to be a dragon in the film as well. No, there are no dragons, I confidently promised, praying that there wouldn't be a surprise guest appearance in the third act. Then he decided that he felt poorly and didn't want to see the film. I'd like to say that my first thought was for his wellbeing, but I'm fairly sure it was "Thank goodness he's already sitting on the toilet and we've got plenty of toilet paper." Then he said:

"I think I've got a tummyache because I'm allergic to the suncream."

This was about as convincing as him telling me that he couldn't go swimming because he'd got his period, but I sympathised with him. I used to try a similar (though slightly more plausible) trick and it was good to know that he wasn't actually ill. Perhaps we could get him in there after all. I reassured him that he'd be sitting between us and could hold our hands and that it wasn't real. I asked him about his only previous cinema visit and found out that he'd really enjoyed it, but had been scared beforehand as well.

Then he dropped his second bombshell: "Will you wipe my bottom?"

Sometimes what seem like inconsequential decisions have unforeseen ramifications. In much the same way that JFK probably thought “Why did we take the convertible?” my first reaction was “Why didn’t I just tell my girlfriend that I’d hold the ice creams?”

But even though he wasn’t my godson, I couldn't fail the kid at this point. So, despite the fact that I'd never done this before, I rolled my sleeves up and went in. We'd just about got sorted - perhaps we'd only missed the trailers by now - when he decided that he wanted to do another poo.

It was at this point that I heard my girlfriend shouting, "Are you all right in there?"

So, there were then three of us in the cubicle (with the added bonus of my girlfriend getting to see the inside of a gents' toilet) which I decided was far too overcrowded so I stepped outside and, holding three dripping ice creams, planned how to get him into the cinema. I was sure that once he was inside and used to it he'd be fine. Parenting Tip #1 - share information and present a united front. I'd taken my eye off the ball, and when he came out with my girlfriend they'd decided they'd like to go home.

I wasn't going to give up so easily though and tried a couple more things. First we went back downstairs to the promotional cardboard cut-outs for the film. The lion didn't look that scary, and the other animals all looked very funny, so we decided we'd have a peek inside the cinema, and could always get a taxi if we didn't like the look of it.

I’d love to be able to report that I won the kid round. That he went into that cinema a frightened child and came out a man (not literally – the film isn’t that long), held aloft on my shoulders as part of a cheering crowd (and that some of this cheering was for me for getting him into the cinema in the first place). And that maybe he would grow up into a famous movie director and revitalise the British film industry, and that when he accepted his first Oscar he would say, “I’d like to dedicate this to Salvadore Vincent – for getting me into that cinema when I was five, and starting a life-long love affair with movies. Sal – this one’s for you, big guy.” (He probably wouldn’t mention that I’d wiped his bottom before we went in.)

Unfortunately, the film had already started, so instead of being able to go into the cinema with the lights on and get used to that first, we were presented with a huge, dark room with really loud things going on inside. I crouched down next to him by the door to see how he was, and from his POV I could see that it was actually quite scary. Even I wasn’t too sure about the lion at that point.

We turned it around at the end by saying that we'd had an exciting trip out anyway - we'd had ice cream and we'd been in a taxi! And I explained that perhaps Mummy and Daddy could buy the film on video, then if the lion scared him he could just turn the television off to make him go away. (I thought it would be churlish to mention that perhaps Mummy and Daddy could lend us the video afterwards as the trip had cost us about a pound per second of film actually seen. i.e. 30)

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

JonnyB's Holiday Snaps - #3 in a series of 3.

The plants have been thriving!!!

We return home to find them healthy and strong. Having asked Short Tony if he would water them every day - despite the fact that he is a man of the most unreliable and irresponsible character - we are extremely pleased at this.

However, as I had just assumed that they'd be all dried up and dead, this puts me in a difficult position - viz, I have not purchased a small packet of 'A Present From Northumbria' fudge that is standard payment for things like this. Fortunately he is out, so I have time to think of a plan.

I decide to mow his lawn.

It's looking a bit overgrown, and is a nice neighbourly act I can perform.

The thing is, Short Tony has quite a big lawn. I hadn't realised quite how big. I usually look at it from the vantage point of my own scraggy piece of grass, and perspective makes it seem quite small. But no. I lug my big throbbing great fuck-off petrol mower over there and start on the stripes, but ten minutes and one bag of grass cuttings later I don't seem to have dented it at all.

After what seems to be an age, I finish lawn #1 and start on lawn #2. I bag up some more grass cuttings. I work out how many pots we have that required watering, I consider whether it would be reasonable to sort of half-mow this lawn and leave the rest as a sort of nature haven for rare birds etc.

More grass cuttings get bagged up. The mower runs out of petrol. I refill the mower. I bag some more grass. The landscape is dotted with bags. By the time I have finished lawn #2 the first one has grown back, but I have had enough. There is a limit. I am stinking hot and covered in sweat, flies and grass cuttings.

But I am happy with a job well done.

These simple acts of neighbourliness are what I like most about living in the village. I wrestle the mower back into the shed and retreat into the cottage for a shower.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

JonnyB's Holiday Snaps - #2 in a series of 3.

Hexham promised to be a pleasant enough place. We parked Daisy the Car and set off up the hill to the town.

Halfway up, a man started playing some bagpipes.

I hurried the LTLP along, concerned about the safety of my unborn child. I did look for a policeman but there were none in the immediate vicinity, so I had to let it lie.

Ironically enough, when we reached the town centre, Hexham seemed to be full of police. Not in a threatening, swarming way like a G8 conference or Italy, but just sort of wandering around in pairs, chatting to shoppers and shopkeepers and generally being There and Reassuring.

It was nice. Earlier on, I'd witnessed scores of vans full to the brim with tense-looking Metropolitan Police officers haring up the A1 away from the Capital towards Scotland. Who tipped them the warning??? If we could find this out then we would be closer to catching the bombers.

Anyway. I was going to stop a policeman and report a walk-by bagpiping, but I imagine it would have involved lots of filling in of forms and stuff, so I didn't bother.

Did I do the right thing? I don't know. They might get bagpipe-related incident all the time. It is the Northern equivalent of happy slapping. (I guess using Northumbrian pipes rather than Scottish ones is the equivalent plea to 'diminished responsibility').

I didn't want to get involved, the curse of twenty-first century society.

Monday, July 11, 2005

JonnyB's Holiday Snaps - #1 in a series of 3.

As somebody who regards themselves as a profound and thoughtful person, I'd always wanted to visit Lindisfarne. Recently I had found myself questioning a number of my core beliefs, having concluded that Keane were one of the best live acts in the big concert on the radio, and so a bit of spiritual stuff seemed to be in order.

Holy Island, on which the ancient priory is set, lies a mile or so out into the North Sea. The road to the island and the town thereon is accessible twice a day at low tide. Then the sea sweeps in and it's cut off for five hours or so, the highway - road markings and all - eerily engulfed into the swirling grey water.

Like this.

I wanted to see the island. But I also wanted to see the high tide. So we made a detour.

"Doesn't it come in quickly?" I observed profoundly, as I took a step back to avoid getting my feet wet.

The LTLP didn't reply. She was looking out onto the road.

"I'm sure there's something out there."

"Don't be silly."

"No. There is."

I looked and, sure enough, I could see a shape in the distance that appeared to be moving. A local fisherman or bait collector, wading waist-high through the water using their expert knowledge to ply their traditional craft. We watched.

He or she was moving towards us. I couldn't see their waders or wetsuit or whatnot, but they appeared to be carrying something above the level of the water. A lobster pot, I thought. Or a bucket of sea-things.

It was only when they got much closer that I realised that it was an extremely bedraggled elderly Dutch tourist wheeling a bicycle.

By this point a small crowd had formed. People were pointing. One lady was taking photographs. The chap trudged towards us miserably. In fact, the word 'trudge' could have been invented for the situation. At around eight inches of depth, he attempted to mount his bicycle and travel the remaining ten feet to dry land on two wheels, which he did in a wobbly, uncertain fashion.

He dismounted next to me, shaking his head in confusion. Water was pouring off him. He made some cursory attempt to stamp and shake the water from his shoes, unsure whether to attempt to retain any semblance of dignity. I half expected him to reach back behind his head and pull a whole fish from his anorak hood.

"You're a bit wet," I pointed out.

"Yes," he agreed.

Conversation stalled a bit after that.

"I think," he said, "that I will go back to my caravan now."

We'd seen his transport stationed yards away in the car park. He remounted his bicycle and pedalled unsteadily away.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

I have returned!!!

But I'm doing my unpacking.

Thank you, thank you, Salvadore for your week's blogsitting. I sniggered like a girl.

I'll be back on Monday. It's odd when you go away for a week and don't get to see a newspaper, or the news, or any blogs or anything. But I don't suppose anything major has happened.

I suppose I could write something serious. But then they'd have won, wouldn't they?

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Hello. Yes, I am OK, thank you, but currently checking out rural house prices - I hear that Norfolk is nice. Hope you are all OK too.

What I had actually planned for today's post is now somewhat inappropriate - maybe it will keep. Combined with the fact that I wasted a lot of time in an edit suite (showbiz for "breeze-block-walled basement with a VCR") watching actors' improv tapes when all I found out was that I should really get my teeth whitened means that I must bid you all farewell now.

I can, however, give you the top 3 conspiracy theories that I have just made up:-

3. US wanted to move G8 agenda from poverty and climate change to security and terrorism.

2. Support was waning for ID cards.

1. French really really wanted Olympics.

Same time next year?

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Radio Gaga

I often don’t have much to say. The only place I might ever truly be considered the life and soul of the party would be a wake at a Trappist monastery. And only then if they let me at their homebrew. My career path has gone quite happily from computer programmer (sitting on my own, staring at a computer screen) to senior software analyst (sitting on my own, staring at a computer screen) to freelance writer (sitting on my own, staring out of the window).

So it was with some trepidation that I found myself being interviewed on live radio.

It all began on Friday in the National Railway Museum in York – a fantastic place, and also an absolute bargain as I discovered at the entrance...

ME: (suavely flashing NUS card) Do you do a student discount?

CONFUSED MAN: Er, no. It’s free for everyone.

ME: (suavely putting NUS card away) Good. Thanks very much.

Anyway, en route to the Royal Trains section I found that I had a voicemail message from the BBC. Not a “yes” to the script they’ve been reading for the last seven months (I’m really starting to empathise with John Kennedy Toole these days), but they wanted to interview me on Sunday about another play that I wrote last year.

I didn’t want to do it. I really didn’t want to do it. I’d had enough problems doing a pre-recorded interview to go with the original play to the extent that I’d convinced myself afterwards that I’d got my girlfriend’s name wrong and had had to email them and ask them to check. Speaking live to the nation would be many times worse. Secondly, I had begun to see myself as the JD Salinger of pre-school television/minor radio plays and didn’t want to break the enigmatic fa├žade that I had been cultivating. (Note to self – did Salinger ever write about his testicles on the internet?) Finally, I would spend the rest of my time in York worrying about the interview instead of enjoying looking at the Flying Scotsman like I had planned for this romantic break with my girlfriend.

So I phoned back and left a message on the producer’s voicemail to say that I was in York for the weekend and thus unable to make it to the studio. This was both technically and actually a lie as we were coming back on Saturday evening. But it got me off the hook.

Then, whilst taking a short trip down a siding on an actual live steam train my phone went off again. I didn’t want to conduct top-level showbiz negotiations in front of a carriage-full of children who were already staring at me anyway, so I switched it to voicemail. Then, after getting off and politely thanking the driver I checked my messages. They could do the interview over the phone. Clever, clever...

My Mum was right. You can’t just tell one lie. You always have to tell another one to cover it up. Then another one. Until you begin to wish that you’d never opened her damn make-up bag in the first place.

So, I started concocting tales of intermittent laryngitis. Of being on the moors out of mobile contact. Of being at a funeral. (Note to self – check they actually have funerals on Sundays. If they query it say it’s a Sikh custom. If they query that say you meant Jewish. Or just say enigmatically that it’s what he would have wanted).

But a little nagging voice (my Mum would call it my conscience) said that despite taking 209 days and counting to read fewer than 7000 words the BBC had been quite good to me. That I should repay a little of that by answering a few questions. So I rang the producer...

“Er, I thought I was away all weekend. But I’m not.”

Not put off by my obvious lack of eloquence he told me what time to get to the studio. Which is how I found myself sitting in the BBC reception area checking my pre-prepared, spontaneous answers (“How I got into writing”, “How I got the idea for the play”, “How to get out of doing live radio interviews”). After all, if you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail (©1998 Glenn Hoddle).

Just as I was called into the studio the producer casually dropped a bombshell...

“We’ve just lost an item so we’ve got some time to fill...”

I’d like to think that I was all right to begin with. My pre-prepared, spontaneous answers felt more spontaneous than pre-prepared. OK, so I wasn’t Alistair Cooke in his heyday (honeyed tones talking informatively, wisely, expansively and wittily on a cornucopia of topics), but then again I wasn’t Alistair Cooke now (completely silent).

Then we moved from the subject of writing to the general events of the day. Still with quite a lot of time to fill. Why had I started the papers that morning with the Funday Times instead of the Observer editorial? Why? My self-image that despite being quite quiet, I was still an erudite, interested, socially aware individual able to converse with anyone about anything was disappearing fast. I began to realise what it must be like to wake up and find that you’re David Beckham.

I hadn’t willed a clock hand to move round so much since double French, and with each slow second came a grudging respect for Vanessa Feltz, Chris Evans, even Terry Christian – anyone who can just keep talking about anything. My insightful, incisive, yet also time-filling answer on whether Steven Gerrard would stay at Liverpool?

“I hope so.”

I began to pray for any interruption...

INTERVIEWER: “I’m sorry, I’m going to have to stop you there as the news desk need to fill the rest of our time with a report about a deadly fire at an orphanage.”

ME: “That’s fantastic!”

Finally, finally, my ordeal was over and I slunk out of the studio. Back to sitting on my own, staring, I think. Or maybe I could join that monastery.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Never Mind the Bollocks...

Hello, I’m Salvadore Vincent, and I’ll be looking after Jonny’s blog for the week. Hopefully you shouldn’t notice too much of a difference – whenever I mention Kathy Sykes, just think “Kirstie Allsopp” and it will be business as usual. If there are any problems, the emergency exits are located here and here.

To refresh my blog-writing skills I looked back at the last time I blog-sat and realised that Jonny must go away at the same time each year. This means that you always get me in a slightly melancholy mood the week after my birthday. Sorry. It was a big one this year as well – half the three score years and ten. Inevitably, my thoughts have been turning to my own mortality and the absolute certainty that any new lump or bump in my body must be terminal cancer.

This is how I came to be sitting in a hospital waiting room wearing nothing but my shoes and a not-quite-opaque-enough gown, praying that having a man touching my testicles with an ultrasound scanner wouldn’t give me an erection.

My name was called. I went in, lay back and tried not to think of Kathy Sykes (the aesthetically aware man’s Carol Vorderman). From his computer screen, the man selected the settings for his hand-held scanner from a menu. It must be that you need different amplitudes and/or frequencies of ultrasound to penetrate to different parts of the body I reasoned scientifically as he scrolled through the long list – “Head”, “Leg”, “Foetus – 3 months”, “Foetus – 6 months”, “Foetus – 9 months”...

Then, finally, he selected the last option: “Small parts”.

HE HADN’T EVEN BLOODY LOOKED YET!

I shall spare you the details of the lubricated testicle touching itself except to say that it’s more expensive in Soho, but you get what you pay for. I have, however, now seen the inside of my scrotum, and very few people outside the field of zip testing can say that. It was actually so fascinating that I was going to ask for a printout of the scan so that I could compete with my sister and her photos of my unborn niece.

“Look everybody – twins.”

But instead I made my excuses and left.

Thankfully, the outcome of the scan was good news – I didn’t get an erection. Oh, and I also don’t have cancer. Roll on 36.

Friday, July 01, 2005

I go on holiday!!!

Er - so I won't be here for a week.

However, writing here for the next week will be my old friend, occasional writing partner and genuine TV, radio and comedy writer Salvadore Vincent.

I put that in red. Because it's more showbiz.

Please make him welcome.