Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Six

You know when you see the clock-tower of the Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh, and you can't stop thinking about how it looks like some mad early twentieth century monarch of a minor Balkan state?



...Oh, don't you? I mean... No. Me neither. 



In other news, the English For Pony-Lovers episode of Double Acts has been nominated for the Writers' Guild Award for Radio Comedy.  Hooray! So, concentrate on that. Forget that nonsense about kings and clock-towers. 








Monday, 5 December 2016

Five

I'm sorry to do this to you, so early on...




Sunday, 4 December 2016

Four


Saturday, 3 December 2016

Three


Friday, 2 December 2016

Two



Thursday, 1 December 2016

One


Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Probably best just to tell your insurance company you work in a cubicle.



Ancient Assyrian careers advisor: 'So, to sum up... you like working with your hands, you don't mind enclosed spaces, and ideally you'd like to work with animals. I think I may have just the thing for you!' 

Ancient Assyrian school-leaver: 'Ok, but will it be boring? I don't want a job where I'm bored all the time.'

Ancient Assyrian careers advisor: 'Do you know what... I really don't think that will be a problem.' 




Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Over my head



Wittgenstein, enjoying a joke.

This is from a memoir of Ludwig Wittgenstein by his former pupil Maurice Drury:

'After tea Johnson played some of Bach's Forty-eight Preludes and Fugues. Wittgenstein told me he admired Johnson's playing. On the way back to Trinity he told me that at one of these afternoons Johnson had played badly, and he knew it himself, but the audience had applauded loudly. This annoyed Johnson, so by way of revenge he gave as an encore the accompaniment only of a Beethoven violin sonata, which of course was meaningless without the violin part. This gesture seemed to please and amuse Wittgenstein.'

Ways in which, had I been there, I would have failed to get the joke which pleased and amused Wittgenstein:

1) I wouldn't have noticed Johnson was playing badly.
2) I wouldn't have noticed the audience were applauding indiscriminatingly.
3) I might have noticed Johnson was annoyed, but I wouldn't have known why.
4) I wouldn't have recognised the Beethoven violin sonata.
5) I might have noticed the piece sounded odd, but I wouldn't have known why, or that it wasn't meant to sound that way.
6) Even if I had understood all of the above... I don't think I'd have realised the choice of the sonata was intended as a rebuke to the audience for clapping the player's previous poor performance too enthusiastically. That seems to me quite a... subtle point.

I suppose what's happening here is I'm coming to the shocking conclusion that Wittgenstein was a cleverer man than I am. And also that I slightly regret not living in a world in which people take their revenge through their selection of Beethoven sonatas. Though, of course, the above shows that quite possibly people around me are doing things like this all the time, and I have simply never had Wittgenstein around to explain them to me.

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Ahoy hoy!

This week I was honoured to make my first appearance on Radio 4's comedy warhorse Just A Minute, now in its astonishing 75th series, and which I've listened to and enjoyed all my life. It was enormous fun, and the regulars were very kind to me.


Here it is on iPlayer , for the next three weeks or so.  

Hoy. 

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Lines imagined to be written by Galileo Galilei upon demonstrating that, contrary to Aristotelian thought, the ratio of gravitational mass to inertial mass is essentially unity.



Whether they're large or
Whether they're small
Has no effect on
The rate that things fall.

But whether you choose
To accept this or not'll
Depend on your faith
In that fool Aristotle.



Tuesday, 17 May 2016

The A, of course, stands for 'avoid thinking of envelopes'.




Like everyone else, I used to confuse the words 'stationery', meaning materials to do with writing; and 'stationary', meaning not in motion. And like many people, I now tell them apart with the mnemonic that the E in 'stationery' stands for 'envelopes'. 

But it only today occurred to me to wonder why two words with such different meanings should be so similar. So, I looked it up... and it turns out that the first stationers, in the Middle Ages, were scribes and paper merchants given licences, typically by universities or law courts, to ply their trade from permanent booths- or stations- as opposed to their competitors, who were itinerant peddlars.

So, pleasingly: stationers sell stationery because their stations were stationary. 

I thought you'd like to know. 


Saturday, 27 February 2016

Emu's debut.

Something a bit different today - I've written a crossword. If you're in Britain, it's published in today's Times, on page 54 of the Saturday Review section. It's also available online here, although it may be behind the Times' paywall. And here's a picture of it.



As you can see from the extra instructions at the top, The Listener is a bit more complicated than most crosswords, with extra rules to follow, messages to find, and an overall theme to discover. Personally, I think that makes them far more rewarding, but they do take a bit of getting the hang of, so if you haven't tried cryptic crosswords at all before, this probably isn't a good one to learn on. If you do give it a try, bear in mind another thing that makes The Listener tricky is that the setter has license to use any word or abbreviation found in The Chambers Dictionary, however obscure; which makes the puzzle difficult, if not impossible, to solve without using that dictionary as well. On the plus side, if you use this site, then you can search for words using ?s as wildcards, so for instance typing ?R?S?W?R? will return 'crossword' (and indeed 'brushwork'). Some purists might call this cheating, but not me. I think it's fine.

If you do tackle it, let me know how you get on...


Friday, 12 February 2016

You're just in time to miss the last episode!

So... the fifth series of John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme has been going out!



Featuring this pile of idiots. 


That's... that's definitely the sort of thing I should have been posting about here. Oh dear. Well, the last one was broadcast yesterday, but that does mean that there is now a two day window - today and tomorrow - where all six episodes are simultaneously available on the BBC iPlayer.  On Sunday, the first one will drop off, then a week later the second, then... well, I'll leave you to work the rest of the system out for yourself. Anyway, sorry for being so rubbish at publicity, and hope you enjoy them.

Thursday, 31 December 2015

24 Doodles - 16 to 24

What, did you think just because I started a series called '24 Doodles' on December 1st, it was some kind of advent thing? Well, I don't know where you got that idea. I'm sure I never said so. No, the idea was always to post one every one or two days for about a fortnight, and then the rest all in one splurge on New Year's Eve. So here, as part of the plan that was definitely the plan all along, are the other nine. Happy New Year!







16. First try at a young Ezra Pound, July, British Library, working on 'English For Pony-Lovers'.



17. Second shot. July, BL, E for P-L.



18. Tiny little doodle that I'm rather fond of, London, November, working on Souvenir Programme




19. Little girl looking for fish in a pond. With, as you see, some success. (It was a very low fence, by the way. She's not a giant little girl.) St Albans, September, working on Souvenir Cabin. 



20. Victorian gent in a photograph on a pub wall. Durham, February, working on the thing that later became Wysinnwyg.




21. Statue. Leros, Greece, April,  working on another element that later became Wysinnwyg. (Wysinnwyg gave me the most trouble of all the Double Acts.)



22. Man off the telly. London, February, working on an idea for a Double Act later abandoned.



23. Weather house people. London, November, during the recording of Hot Desk.



24. Your guess is as good as mine. But I wouldn't want to meet it on a dark night.  Dorset, December, working on Souvenir Programme. 

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

24 Doodles - 15


Two people who passed my window in November, while I was finishing The Goliath Window. (The woman was carrying a white bag, by the way; she's not dressed as a French maid...)


Tuesday, 15 December 2015

24 Doodles - 14

...and here's the more stylised version.



(The red stains on both come from a drop of candle wax, which fell on the second page, and then, next time I left the book in the sun, melted and seeped through to the first page as well. I rather like the way that, purely by chance, this makes the second stain look like a stylised version of the first.)

24 Doodles - 13

Here's my first attempt at the Edwardian paterfamilias in a photograph hanging in the room in which I was working on Hot Desk in August...




Sunday, 13 December 2015

24 Doodles - 12

You know I said a while ago sometimes my doodling is extremely literal minded? Well, here's half a page of notes from Dorset in September on Red-Handed. Yeah. It's not exactly wild, creative, free association, is it?


(By the way... I would just like to make it clear that I'm not putting these - any of these - doodles up because I think they're good. They're all genuinely what I was doodling in the margins while I was working, and so most of them are rubbish- these hands certainly are. This is not 'Behold - pages from my sketchbook' it's 'Look what nonsense my hands got up to while my brain was trying to solve plot problems.')

Saturday, 12 December 2015

24 Doodles - 11

Here is a marginal piglet from Tuttlingen in Germany in May, in a pleasant Gasthaus where I ended up doing so much useful plot work on English For Pony Lovers that I set the episode there in its honour.


Thursday, 10 December 2015

24 Doodles - 10

More experimenting with repetition to achieve stylisation, this time from March, in a fish restaurant in Greece. By the end I got to something which I think would make quite a fun character design for a druid or something, but really has very little to do with the poor chap enjoying his calamari across the way. For one thing, he seemed to age twenty years with each iteration...

Meanwhile, the notes are the very first seed of what eventually became The Goliath Window, though as you can see nothing about the story beyond the first idea of 'portrait painter and sitter' emerged that evening, with the possible exception of the idea of a model's discomfort at having to pose upside down for St Peter, which arguably eventually turned into the 'holding the spear aloft' sequence. Though just as arguably, it didn't. 




(Incidentally, the French painter I was trying to remember was GĂ©ricault.  )

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

24 Doodles - 9

From August, in London. How are you feeling about those deadlines, John?




24 Doodles - 8



Back to the Souvenir Programme notebook, and back to a bloke who sat near me in a pub, this time in Hampstead. Poor blokes who sit near me in pubs. One day, one them's going to notice. That will be a bad day for me. (Though if it happens in Hampstead, I'll probably be ok.)




Monday, 7 December 2015

24 Doodles - 7

Here's a little bit of research I diligently did into stained glass terminology for The Goliath Window at the British Library in October... none of which ended up in the script. But then, you never know what will be useful until you do it.

That 'Why's it funny?' question was one I had to keep reminding myself to ask whilst writing Double Acts - it was easy to get seduced by the story-telling aspects, and then realise later a page had gone by without any jokes. The answers I came up with here are largely not the answers I ended up with, but at least it reminded me to bear in mind it was a comedy.



Sunday, 6 December 2015

24 Doodles - 6

This is from August, when I was working on Hot Desk. There was a photo of a girl on a horse lying around on the table I was working on. I like the horse's legs in this, but not much of the rest of it.

(Incidentally, the 'Aesop version' actually turned out to be The Tortoise That Fell In Love With A Hare. But the rabbit and the lion were useful staging posts to getting me there.)


Saturday, 5 December 2015

24 Doodles - 5


Changing notebooks, here's a quick and scrappy doodle of a sphinx from a page of my Souvenir Programme notebook where I was trying to work out a sketch about the riddle of the Sphinx. Sometimes my doodling can be quite literal-minded.


24 Doodles - 4


They haven't been all that doodle-y yet, have they? Here's a properly doodle-y one, from May, when I was working on Wysinnwyg in Dorset. It started off entirely abstract, but I think at the last minute the middle section sort of morphed into a picture of one of the characters...




Friday, 4 December 2015

24 Doodles - 3

This chap was sitting along from me in the British Library in June, while I was working on what became English For Pony Lovers. I've been trying to learn to be more stylistic with my drawing, which I only seem to be able to do by doing the same drawing repeatedly, only more so each time.




Thursday, 3 December 2015

24 Doodles - 2



A quick sketch of Evelyn Waugh, drawn in March, on the island of Kos, whilst listening to an interview with him which contained the seed from which A Flock of Tigers grew. The man from whom Edmund Willard got his initials, and some of his opinions. (Though Edmund is fundamentally nicer than I fear Evelyn was, at least by this age.)

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

24 Doodles - 1




This chap sat over the way from me in the Union Jack pub in Waterloo this February, while I was working on the plot that eventually became Wysinnwyg. You might be able to read the note that says 'Is the problem that the Sues and Adele come from different sitcoms?' The answer to this was... yes. 



Sunday, 23 August 2015

Stairway to heaven


When I was little, one of my grandmothers lived in a bungalow, and the other lived in a house, with a staircase. And one day, I remember one of my parents - I don't remember which - casually saying that this was sensible on the part of bungalow-Gran, as it meant she would be able to carry on living there even when she was very old. (It must, by the way, be one of the strange hazards of being a parent that, while the vast majority of everything you say to your kids, especially concerning teeth-brushing and room-tidying, is instantly forgotten; every so often you'll say something utterly unremarkable which your kid will NEVER FORGET.)

In this case, I think the reason it made such a big hit with me was it was the first time it had ever occurred to me that old people could get even older. I knew about death, of course, and I knew, without really believing it, that I would be a grown up one day, and my parents would get old. But this idea that either of my grans were not yet as old as they were ever going to be - as old, indeed, as it was possible to get - was completely new.

And I remember having two distinct reactions to the stairs thing: on the one hand, following my parent's lead, I too solemnly commended bungalow-Gran's foresight and good sense. But, at the same time, I secretly rather admired stairs-Gran's daredevil recklessness - her apparent refusal, not that I would have put it this way at the time, to go gentle into that good night...

Stairs-Gran would at the time, I think, have been about 65.

Monday, 17 August 2015

John Finnemore's Souvenir Cabin


Hello! I am very excited to announce that this autumn I will be doing a live stage show for two weeks only at the Shaw Theatre in London. Here's the poster, and tickets are on sale here.






The show will be a mixture of favourite sketches from John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme; brand new sketches; a 'Since You Ask Me' adventure; quite possibly a song or two… and a specially written new monologue by Mr. Arthur Shappey, making his first live stage appearance. He's very excited. Well, obviously he always is, but I mean specifically about this.

Each show will feature one of five guest stars, as shown in the poster: the four cast members of John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme, plus Kevin Baker, the 'Kevin' out of John and Kevin's Sunday Papers. The selection of sketches will be slightly different for each performer… and on the two Sundays, Kevin and I will do a live 'Sunday Papers'.

Here's who's on when:

30th September, 1st and 2nd October: Simon Kane.
3rd October: Margaret Cabourn-Smith
4th October: Kevin Baker
6th October: Margaret Cabourn-Smith
7th and 8th October: Lawry Lewin
9th and 10th October: Carrie Quinlan
11th October: Kevin Baker.


LINKS AND MISCELLANEOUS INFO

Tickets, as I say, can be bought here. 

The show has a Facebook page (which is more than I do.) It's a good place to ask any questions not answered here.

It also has a Twitter account. Why not.

The show begins at 7.30, and will be about two hours long, including an interval.

It is suitable for children. We've put over twelve as a guide, but this will not be rigidly enforced. If you have a well-behaved ten year old, bring them along. Come to that, I suppose, if you have a badly behaved fourteen year old, keep them away.

The Shaw Theatre is on Euston Road, next to the British Library, midway between Euston and King's Cross St Pancras stations.

…And I think that's it. Any questions, ask in the comment section, or on the Facebook page. Hope to see you there!


Monday, 10 August 2015

With Great Pleasure


Since I'm back on this blog, I really ought to mention 'With Great Pleasure', a Radio 4 show I presented last week, and will therefore be available to listen to online here for the next three weeks.

In it, some idiot gets to pick eight pieces of writing they enjoy, and, crucially, two actors to read them out - which meant that I got to stage a partial Cabin Pressure reunion with the wonderful Stephanie Cole and Geoffrey Whitehead. For anyone needing further evidence of their genius: firstly, what's the matter with you? and secondly, I direct you particularly to the way Stephanie says 'accompany me on the harp', and Geoffrey says 'beautiful, beautiful flamingo.'

I hope it's half as much fun to listen to as it was to record.

Click to make readable




Friday, 7 August 2015

The Super De Luxe even includes a bed.


- 'Now, we offer a range of caravans, Sir, what sort of thing did you have in mind?'
- 'I don't know… what have you got?'
- 'Well… for the economy minded customer, we offer the Compact. Value for money, but perhaps a little cramped. Then of course there's our Standard model, which offers rather more space and comfort, whilst still being very competitively priced. And then, of course, for the caravan connoisseur... there is the De Luxe.'
- 'The De Luxe? That sounds good.'
- 'Oh, it is, sir. The last word in luxury. Assuming of course that money is no object.'
- 'Well, I wouldn't say that, but… we're only likely to buy a caravan once… What the hell! We'll take the De Luxe!'
-  'An excellent decision, sir! One never regrets buying the best! Mr Stephenson? Pray prepare for the gentleman… our caravan De Luxe!'