Sunday, March 25, 2007

Bingo The Imaginary Dog

Originally uploaded by kraftybkraft.
My wife and I have taken to walking in the local woods because we enjoy the exercise and being in nature. Basically, for fun. But here’s the thing: we never bump into anyone who hasn’t got a dog. And they always assume we’ve got a dog somewhere behind us in the wood. We’ve had people ask us “Where’s your dog?” and “Have you got a dog?” And worst of all, just look at us oddly, as if to say: “In the woods? Without a dog? You perverts.”

The other day, something in us snapped. We borrowed a leash from an understanding neighbour and whenever we bumped into anyone in the woods, we would shout “Bingo! Bingo! Come here boy!” into the woods, while slapping our thighs and shaking our heads and rolling our eyes as if to say “That Bingo! Always getting into trouble!” Anyone we bumped into also rolled their eyes and shook their heads as if they too had encountered Bingo and his unruly ways before.

To complete the illusion, we even carried a bag full of Bingo’s poo. We’re nothing if not responsible in cleaning up after our imaginary dog. Although judging by the size of his stools, Bingo is, in fact, a six foot tall dog-man.

I had suggested we call Bingo “Felcher” which as well as being a very rude word, is one of those lovely catch 22 rude words that people can’t actually get offended at without losing the moral high ground, as the very act of getting offended reveals that they know a great deal about deviant sexual practices and therefore have no right to judge.

However, it was pointing out that shouting “Felcher!” into a wood might feasibly attract a gay man with that proclivity, who would arrive very disappointed when he discovered that we were simply trying to attract an imaginary dog.

So “Bingo” it is.

Friday, March 23, 2007

When To Shove

Originally uploaded by urban hermit $27.55.
When I was about ten or so, I developed an odd little game. A friend of mine would stand on the school playing field with their eyes closed. I would then stand next to them and explain that they were in fact standing on the very edge of the roof of an immense skyscraper. I would then describe in great detail their surroundings, the wind whistling around them, the dizzying height in front of them.

And then, at the very height of their absorption in the story, I would give them a good hard shove in the back.

Now, twenty six years later, I'm doing exactly the same thing for a living.

And now, as then, it's all about deciding when to shove.

An Open Letter To Myspace Users

See if this sounds familiar;

Someone asks to be your friend on Myspace that you’ve never heard of. You check out their profile and think: “Our Venn diagrams don’t overlap even a sliver. We have nothing in common at all. This friendship would be a huge mistake.” But then an inner voice accuses you of being an old curmudgeon and that you’re missing the whole point of social networking so you click on “Accept” and welcome them in to your bulging friend pit.

And instantly, your “bulletin space” lights up with two or three inane pieces of crud from your “new friend” that you have no interest in whatsoever.

Here is my advice to you: delete that so called friend immediately. Dump ‘em. Leave them confused as to why their friend list bleeds members every time they send out a bulletin.

If I wanted to know your deep inner thoughts I would read your fucking blog. If I wanted to find out what side of the bed you slept on, I would sleep with you. If I wanted to find out your favourite colour, I would pull both your eyes out with a fork then ask you what colour you missed the most. Stop telling me this shite.

I even debate the merit of pimping gigs you’re doing. Fine. Do it. But in moderation. Save it for the really special gigs you’re justifiably proud of. If I want to find out where you’re playing I’ll visit your page.

I realise of course that in sending this out, I risk the same fate I am recommending. My friends list may suffer a sudden huge drop in members, but I win either way, as to do that you’ll all be conceding, even as you delete me: “You know what, that guy had a point. Bye bye you smug fucker.”

Friday, March 02, 2007

Payslip Of Destiny

Jamie at Royal Mail
Originally uploaded by mathieson_jamie.
I used to work in the phone based customer service department for Royal Mail, the UK postal carrier. The calls were primarily along the lines of “I’m 78 and the postman has left my gate open again.” or “Where is my benefit cheque? I am going to f**king kill you if you don’t find it”

You know, the usual.

But I had a plan. Oh yes. I was going to escape and become a stand-up comedian, an ambition I was already making inroads into.

I was paid monthly and never spent too much time checking my payslip – if it looked about right, I would shrug and file it. I usually cleared about £800 a month.

Until one month my payslip read £8000.

That’s right. An extra zero. The decimal point had slipped one place to the right, earning me £7200 in the process. And this wasn’t just an error on the payslip – the money actually turned up my account a couple of days later.

But what to do?

I discussed it with my wife over a weekend. Two options presented themselves; just keep quiet, spend it and hope that no-one spotted the error, or come clean and give the money back.

And this was big money for me in those days. I could survive for months on eight grand. Months without work to focus on the comedy.

But after much soul searching I decided on option two, to give the money back, which may sound crazy, but I really didn’t like the idea of looking over my shoulder for years, fearing that at some point, payroll was going to come knocking on my door and ask for their money back. Presumably at the point when I was furthest in debt.

So, first thing Monday morning, I rang payroll and explained to the nice lady on the line that I thought they’d overpaid me a little. She checked the records and sounded a little shocked as she agreed with me, then put me on hold as she got the manager. The manager came on and explained:

“Er, we haven’t overpaid you. That’s back-pay. We’ve been under-paying you for five years.”

I stood up at my desk, brain whirring and got him to repeat this bit of information. He did, with a little more detail:

“Every year you worked here, you were due an increment which you never received, due to an error in payroll. We have only just spotted and corrected this error.”

The money was mine.

After a quick phone call to my wife, I marched into my manager’s office and asked for six months off unpaid leave. She was only too happy to agree, as her budget was now down by £7200, which not paying me for six months would certainly help.

During my six months off I managed to get enough comedy gigs booked to ensure that I never had to go back to customer services.

And the moral of the story? Be sloppy with your finances. And write good jokes.


I have seen the future

Originally uploaded by redisred.
Drum roll please:

I have seen the as yet unreleased film “Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel”. Twice.

Or to be more accurate, I have seen two different cuts of the film. At the moment it doesn’t have all the music, it’s in mono and the special effects are obviously temporary or indeed, missing. But nevertheless, I have seen it, from beginning to end.

The story I made up in my brainhole and squirted from my fingers into a keyboard has now been squirted in through my eyes and back to the grey pulp where it began it’s journey.

“But Jamie” I can hear you all screaming in the void “Is it any good? Tell us details and stop beating around the bush, you fat ponce.”

Stop being so impatient. And rude. We’ll get there, we’ll get there.

My first viewing was with Justin and Neil, the producers, in the conference room of an office building. On a television. And about ten minutes in, I realised I had lost all perspective. I knew the jokes too well. I had forgotten why they were ever funny.

(Apparently Richard Curtis guards against similar fatigue by putting stars in the margins next to jokes that make him laugh in his first draft, because he realises that six weeks down the line, he won’t have a clue. But I digress. And possibly repeat myself from another blog entry.)

I genuinely didn’t know if it was any good. I was too close. I mean technically, it felt like it worked. Everything was in the right place. The funny bits felt like they should be funny, if only I wasn’t mouthing along with the actors. Justin and Neil thought it was really good. But the only bits I really laughed at were ad-libs I didn’t know about, or quirky takes I hadn’t seen in the rushes. I genuinely didn’t know.

Then we had a test screening. With real people. Most of which knew nothing about the film and none of which who had read the script. And they laughed. And we breathed out. And they liked it. And we breathed out some more. And they filled in questionnaires and offered opinions on what bits they thought were slow and what they liked and didn’t like.

And Gareth and the Editor considered these questionnaires and notes from us and went away and tweaked and tucked and recut.

And lo, then there was another test screening. Which scored even higher. And there was much rejoicing in the land.

And flushed with this early success, a small paranoid voice in the back of our collective heads whispers that maybe, just maybe, we’re all doomed.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

"I am not a Number", etc

Originally uploaded by jwight.
I have just returned from a very pleasant few days in Portmerion, where they filmed influential mind-mashing sixties telecast "The Prisoner".

By law, all writers of twisty turny high concept fantasy must come here periodically to recharge their creative engines. Using the key which I keep around my neck at all times, I unlocked the secret gate and descended through the echoing dripping passage. Soon I had reached my goal - the machine which swiftly rejuiced my maguffin gland.

I returned blinking into daylight feeling rejuvenated and filled with the promise of stories as yet unborn . To celebrate, I ran along the beach shouting Prisoner quotes in my best Patrick McGoohan voice (not bad, but sadly very similar to my Patrick Stewart. And for that matter my Ian McKellen.)

And then it rained for two days.