Not Good Enough For The BBC! Newsjack Series 11 – PART 3!

newsjack

 

Okay… so you know the drill by now. Week three’s unused ‘Newsjack’ jokes are here. If you want an introduction to what this is all about, read this: (https://garryabbott.com/2014/10/01/not-good-enough-for-the-bbc-newsjack-series-11/)

I still haven’t got another credit this series since my early win with a sketch in episode 1, but still I continue to write and submit each week, and that means I am writing at least twelve more jokes and three more sketches than I generally would, which has to be a good thing.

For those of you out there who have never had a credit, or are a long time waiting for another one, I can only offer you the same advice as I keep telling myself each Thursday night when greeted with an empty inbox and no broadcast glory… just keep writing. After all, I’m guessing that getting a credit or two on Newsjack isn’t the be all and end all of your hopes and ambitions, so it must be contributing towards your wider goals? Hmm?

Even if you are not trying to become a comedy writer, putting words together in some particular order that may be understood by another human is always good practice, as barely demonstrated in this sentence.

So, without further ado (whatever that is), here are last week’s unused one liners, with notes, and apologies.

 

BREAKING NEWS:

  1. Radiographers are set to strike over NHS pay and working conditions, saying that they are fed up with the lack of transparency. (PUN ALERT)
  2. (ROMESH) There has been a marked increase in companies drug testing employees. I can believe that, the BBC drug tested me last week, I scored ten out of ten and was asked if I wanted to host QI. (thought that might be a nice little joke for the host, but then, maybe he doesn’t want give the impression he is taking illegal drugs – and I’m sure he isn’t, being a family man and all).
  3. According to an industry survey, young people lack the skills required for the workplace. A spokesman said, “Kids turn up fresh out of school, wide eyed, enthusiastic and ready to enjoy their working life. Something is going terribly wrong.” (ah, satire on the modern world).
  4. The European Space Agency has released data that allows people to 3D print their own model of the Rosetta comet. Space enthusiasts hope they will also soon release detailed plans of a girlfriend. (poking fun at geeks, even though I am one really. Picard out.)
  5. The Nobel prize for physiology has been awarded to three scientists who located the brain’s built in GPS system. When asked how they found this, they explained, “Turn left at the hippocampus, second exit.” (liked this one…)
  6. After accusations of racial stereotyping, the boss of John Lewis has whole-heartedly apologised for calling France “hopeless and downbeat”, saying that the comments were not meant to be taken seriously and that the frogs would have realised that if they had a sense of humour. (trying to ‘turn around’ an apology for an ill conceived comment by making the speaker sound worse than they were originally. Tried something similar this week with another high profile gaff, but we’ll see how it gets on…)

 

TV/RADIO LISTINGS:

  1. Watch as Jeremy and the boys embark on a white knuckle high speed chase out of Argentina followed by an angry mob intent on killing them in this week’s ‘Top Fear’. (Ever the critic of my fine comedy attempts, my girlfriend told me this was a bit rubbish. She was right).
  2. Get ready for a new reality TV show that pits the UK’s best pub brawlers against each other in ‘The Great British Back Off’ coming soon.  (…I liked this one. Nearly worded it ‘The Great British Back Off Mate’ but changed my mind. Probably wouldn’t have made the difference).
  3. This Sunday evening on BBC 1, Professor Brian Cox asks, are we just the filling in a trans-dimensional galactic sausage? In the ‘Big Banger Theory’ at 9pm.  (just being a bit random here. I notice the occasional whacky one liner gets on, and I thought I’d try and be a bit  more zany. I am a big fan of surreal humour, but can never quite bring myself to submit things like this to a topical news show… On this occasion though, I thought I’d give it a try. And failed. Back to jokes about Ed Pickles being fat then…)

And that’s it! I hope that the rather nice amount of you who seem to be reading this each week are at least  slightly amused by some of these here words. If not, I’m sorry you appear to have wasted irretrievable valuable moments of your life getting this far or even clicking on the link.

Goodbye!

(Ps – If you want to buy me ridiculously reasonably priced eBook ‘The Dimension Scales and Other Stories’ – a collection of 14 speculative fiction tales… please check out the link in the top right corner of this page. Thank you.)

 

 

 

Not Good Enough For The BBC! Newsjack Series 11 – PART 2!

newsjack

 

I had a great response from last week’s post about the jokes that didn’t make it into episode 1 of BBC Radio 4’s open-door submission topical comedy show ‘Newsjack’ (find it here –  https://garryabbott.com/2014/10/01/not-good-enough-for-the-bbc-newsjack-series-11). I was therefore delighted when I found out that none of last week’s entries made it into episode 2 of Newsjack at all!

Of course I wasn’t really. Part of the whole process is the weeks where you just don’t make the cut (and there are generally more of those). In the first episode I had already struck ‘credit’ gold with my second sketch ever to be broadcast on national radio, so I know from this point on anything else is a bonus. That doesn’t stop me slaving away over a hot BBC news website every weekend trying to fill my quota though, so inevitably, when nothing gets on I still feel a tinge of disappointment.

But then, being a self employed writer and musician, dealing with rejection is an almost daily, if not hourly, affair. The world of speculative creativity (sending out scripts, releasing books, bidding for work, etc…) is a harsh one, and not for the faint hearted who like to know where basic things like money and food are coming from, but that’s a whole different blog!

For now, while Newsjack is still running over the next few weeks and I have a store of unused topical jokes that are getting more outdated with every minute that passes since the news story that inspired them broke, shattered, and was swept away by the celestial caretaker of current affairs; I will continue to share a selection of them with you. And it really helps me find something to write each week. I’ve been doing this blog for over a year now. Can you imagine how hard it is to find something new to write about each week?!

So, without further ado, here are last week’s unused one liner entries for Newsjack Episode Two. This week with added notes!

BREAKING NEWS:

  1. Defecting to UKIP is ‘utterly nuts’ says Boris Johnson as he zip wires down Big Ben dressed as a chicken, wrapped in a union flag.
  2. The University of East London has announced they are to give first year students a free tablet, and some water to make sure they don’t get dehydrated. (note – ecstasy jokes anyone? Is that too sub/drugs culture?)
  3. The national institute for health and care have recommended that obese people limit their use of TV to help lose weight, saying  that they should eat their dinner off plates like normal people. (note – should have changed the last line to ‘everyone else’ to make it snappier and not repeat the word ‘people’)
  4. After criticising Ed Miliband for forgetting some of his speech last week, George Osborne appeared to make a similar gaff at the Conservative party conference when he forgot all shreds of human decency. (note – yeah, Osborne you monstrous evil dickhead. I wrote this one as much to vent than anything else.)
  5. Apple has said that bendy iPhones are a myth, like leprechauns or corporate taxes. (it was so hard to find a way in to the bendy iPhone stories… this was the best I could do!)
  6. Disgraced Tory MP Brooks Newmark has said he was a fool for sending an explicit picture of himself in paisley pyjamas to an undercover journalist, adding that he would have looked much better in a black silk robe. (note – low hanging fruit, I know. I had a hard time last week filling the quota, it just wasn’t flowing so well. This week felt easier to write. Sometimes you are not in the right mood or frame of mind, but deadlines don’t really care about that. I still recommend that you get something down at least, even if you aren’t feeling it. You never know, it may look better through someone else’s eyes.)

TV/RADIO LISTINGS:

  1. Find out what Spanish resort restaurants are passing off as chicken to tourists in Gordon Ramsay’s Kitten Nightmares. (Can’t believe they didn’t use this one. KITTEN NIGHTMARES? Come on!?)
  2. This Saturday on Sky Atlantic from 9pm to 9.55pm, The Game of Thrones title sequence. (This idea tickles me but perhaps doesn’t come over so well in a one liner. Those of you who watch GOT will know that each week the title sequence seems to get longer and longer and longer and longer and longer… until one day there will be no actual show, just the title sequence and end credits.)
  3. Join Ricky Gervais and Frankie Boyle as they hilariously poke fun at the disabled in the latest episode of Mock the Weak.  (not really got that much against Gervais and Boyle, but needed to find two controversial figures to try this gag on.)

 

So that’s it! Like I mentioned previously, I am not posting sketches for now, I will do something about them after the series has ended.

I still find the TV listings a bit strange. They aren’t really topical. It’s hard to be topical with them. These could have been submitted any week of the year really, although this week I have managed another one that does cross-over with a news story, so we will see.

Good luck to any other contributors out there who are still submitting every week! Thanks for reading.

Oh and, hey – why not buy my eBook? (sidebar – top right – speculative/science fiction collection – on offer at 77p / $0.99!). Advertising. Food. Money. Survival. Thanks.

Bye!

Not Good Enough For The BBC! Newsjack Series 11!

newsjack

For those of you who don’t know, ‘Newsjack’ is a topical radio comedy that is broadcast on BBC Radio 4 Extra and has an ‘open door’ writing policy (anyone can submit material). It is the BBC’s flagship show for encouraging and recruiting new comedy writers by giving everyone a chance to get their material performed, recorded and broadcast.

Each week writers can submit up to two sketches, nine ‘one liner’ jokes, and now also a ’30 second advert’ sketch. I always try to send everything each week as it pushes me to get better at writing to deadline and under pressure.

So far I’ve had quite a bit of success and managed to get writing credits in the last four series. I think the current count is 10 one-liners and 2 sketches (having just got my second sketch broadcast in episode 1 of series 11 last Thursday – find it here at 17:07 the ‘Reverend Welby’ sketch and intro: http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/newsjack).

But still there are always those jokes that didn’t make the cut, and it seems a shame to let them languish on my hard drive when I could be inflicting them on you good people. So here it is again, the return of ‘Not Good Enough For The BBC! Newsjack Series 11’.

I’m only going to post the one-liners. I might do something about unused sketches after the current series has finished. Just so you know, there are now only two categories of one liners that we can write for; we can submit 6 ‘Breaking News’ lines (comedy headlines basically) and 3 ‘TV Listings’ (continuity announcers type stuff… Tonight at 9pm on ITV etc…).

I find the TV listings much harder as they aren’t really ‘topical’, they are more ‘pun’ based usually, unless you can find a current news story and TV show that work well together. As you will see from my submissions below, I actually managed that last week with the Tesco losing £250 million pounds story set up as the ‘£250 million pound drop’ game show. A version of this joke was actually used last week with slightly different wording, but it wasn’t mine! Unfortunately for me, another writer had the same idea and must have been higher up in the reading pile. This also happened to me last series with a TV listing joke about ‘The Great British Sewing Wasp’, which another writer submitted as ‘The Great British Knitting Spider’ and got the credit for!  These things happen when over 700 submissions are boiled down to only about a dozen writers. That is why it is important to be as original as possible or just avoid the big news stories (and therefore possible duplication/competition).

So, here they are. Enjoy! (And make sure you read them with funny voices in your head… you know the ones, the funny voices in your head. Let them read them and don’t be scared).

BREAKING NEWS!

  1. As Strictly fever sweeps the nation, President Obama pledges 10,000 troops to help stem the threat.
  2. Australian man fends off crocodile with a stick when drunk. Where the crocodile got the alcohol from and why it used a stick leaves zoologists baffled.
  3. The first man to buy an iPhone six who was filmed dropping it on the floor has said it wasn’t an accident after all, he’d just found out that the entire U2 back catalogue had been pre installed.
  4. A controversial law in Florida to ban baggy trousers that expose the buttocks has been overturned. Police fear this will lead to more crack on the streets.
  5. As Alex Salmond declares his support for Nicola Sturgeon to become the next leader of the SNP, rival candidates complain that there’s something a bit fishy about all this.
  6. Ed Miliband disappointed to find out that the coalitions policy on house inflation doesn’t mean everyone gets to live in a bouncy castle.

TV LISTINGS:

  1. Coming soon to ITV, the stakes are set even higher with the new thrilling game show: 250 million pound drop! Sponsored by Tesco’s.
  2. This week on ITV, Davina McCall presents, everything.
  3. This Saturday on BBC1 at 6.30pm, any old rubbish with some celebrities jumping about for an hour to kill the time before Doctor Who starts.

From it all.

Well I’m back from a fantastic week spent in the South West in a quiet cottage, nestled in a peninsular on the River Dart in the small and quaint village of Dittisham (that I was reliably informed is pronounced ‘Ditsum’ by the locals).

It’s nice to remove oneself from ‘real life’ every once in a while, why else would we go on holiday? But in this case, thanks to the steep, rolling, 3G-blocking Devonshire hills and an opportune breakdown of the only hard-line internet connection for the entire week we were staying there, I not only ‘got away from it all’, for most of the time I got away from it all.

I got away from my near obsessive checking of the BBC news website, as if in the hour since the last time I looked world peace will have broken out. I got away from my frequent and often pointless flicking through Facebook and Twitter, as if I expect any news from my friends and family that is noteworthy not to be announced in any other way. I got away from checking my book pages, as if I will be become an overnight success purely by my powers of near-constant monitoring of sales ranks. I got away from checking and deleting the raft of meaningless emails that, despite several mailing list culls, continue to surge through like a relentless tide and deposit digital flotsam and jetsam in my inbox. I got away from fact-checking and adorning my conversations with Google.

I say I got away from it: when we made our frequent trips to the nearby towns, such as the wonderful Estuary of Dartmouth and Kingswear (two towns separated by the mouth of the River Dart, conjoined by an amazing ferry system for vehicles and pedestrians alike as in the photo below), I have to admit I occasionally had my eyes on the signal to see if I could get a few updates here and there. Thankfully, despite myself, this rarely happened either. Now and again I would receive the header subjects of a bunch of emails with no actual message, but I found that was enough, adept as I have become at recognising spam, waffle and marketing from a milliseconds glance.

There was still television however, but this didn’t feature much at all. Most mornings I was up before 8am, ready for fishing or rowing or whatever activity was planned that day, only to find my two younger brothers (9 and 12) already up and watching repeats of ‘Golden Balls’ or ‘Pointless’ on the ‘Challenge’ channel while the adults slumbered into being. I could deal with that. At that age I would have filled the room with the screeching madness of American cartoons about transforming robots or something (it’ll never catch on). On an evening after a long day doing stuff and things, the news may have come on for a quick check of the weather, which had the sometimes unfortunate effect of meaning we caught the odd news segment here and there.

One particularly striking example was when the BBC went all ‘Minority Report’ and had somehow managed to surround Sir Cliff Richard’s house with reporters and helicopters prior to the police turning up to search it. As the sensationalist report was beamed into my eyes, I thought to myself, ‘is this a bit weird? Or am I so used to reading the news I’ve forgotten how weird it is to actually watch it’. No. It turns out it was a bit weird, and the BBC are being investigated (or at least questioned) for having seemingly blackmailed the police into allowing them access to the raid in return for not jeopardising the investigation with the details they received via some shady leak. Responsible public news broadcaster? Hmm…

So it seems you can’t always get away from it all. I still had a moment of despair at the mechanisms of mass communication that exist in this country, but thanks to the lack of internet, it only lasted about as long as they news item itself, and then it was gone! I wasn’t able to check back on updates or furiously research Google for opinion pieces and alternative news streams. I just let it slide away as I thought about getting my next beer, watching the Perseids meteor shower in the none light-polluted clear night sky, and thinking about catching fish the next morning (I didn’t catch any fish, but it was fun anyway. Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day, give me a fishing rod and everyone will starve. I’d go for the fish option if I were you).

Now I am back, and yes, I have fallen into old patterns again, I admit. But I hope that by writing this down and hypocritically posting it on the internet in the hope that other people may read it, I am at least reminding others and my future self that it is possible to switch off every once in a while. All you need is to go somewhere beautiful in the countryside where there is no responsibilities, internet or phone signal whether you like it or not, despite your best efforts. Simple really, why didn’t I think of it before?

 

Dartsmouth 2

Dartmouth from the car ferry. Yes, that’s a car, on a ferry platform, being towed across the water. Very cool.

 

 

 

Owl Stretching Time – Pythons and Culture.

pythonfoot

Although I didn’t make the pilgrimage to the O2 arena to watch Monty Python bow out on stage, I was very happy to realise on Sunday that the very last show was being broadcast live on television. Despite the beeped out profanities (thanks to the broadcast going out pre-watershed), it meant that I, and presumably millions of others, got to watch the end of an era.

As far as ‘era’s’ go, it could be argued that it ended some time ago. I remember watching the 30th anniversary evening on BBC2 in 1999. As I recall it was an evening of Python episodes, interviews and documentaries. When the night finished the continuity man announced over the BBC2 logo – “That was the end of Monty Python”, a sentiment the pythons had previously made clear, having contributed only a few snippets of new footage and interviews, and I think, still not really seeing eye to eye on many ideas. (For what felt like many years, Eric Idle seemed to have banished himself to America, only ever appearing in video link ups. I always just guessed it was a tax thing).

This time, however, it felt like a much more fitting way to close the curtain on what has been for them, and us, a cultural phenomenon. It was obvious that they had chosen to come together mutually rather than just responding to expectations because of some arbitrary anniversary. It felt like watching five talented men, happy and thankful for the chance to choose the manner of their own exit, doing it in style.

I don’t really want to review the show in detail here. I think Martin Freeman put it well when in a ‘VIP lounge’ pre-show interview he said that no matter what he thought of the performance, they’ve already done it, they’ve already earned our applause and gratitude. As it happens, I think they more than earned it again with a funny, naughty and well produced finale.

Instead I want to talk more about some other sentiments that were raised by another celebrity fan in the backstage build-up: Harry Shearer, of ‘Spinal Tap’ and ‘Mr Burns from the Simpsons’ fame. He said that although the Pythons didn’t influence his kind of comedy, what they did do was show people that a group of creative people could maintain control over their own output. There is no doubt from the first moment of Python on TV when Graham Chapman says ‘Good Evening’ before sitting on a stool to the sound of a squeal, and then we cut to a drawing of a pig being crossed off a blackboard, that the BBC had taken a risk (see video below). Even more so when you listen to the stilted, baffled titters of the studio audience who don’t quite know what to make of it. Given that it took some time for Python to grow in popularity, it would have been so easy for some number obsessed executive to have deprived the world of their legacy. It hardly bears thinking about.

Of course there would have been some element of creative control over it, but the point, I think, is that they were allowed to experiment and take risks within wide boundaries, even if they were very silly risks. Without risks, culture stagnates. I imagine this is similar to when Paul McCartney was allowed to do a totally acoustic ballad in the form of ‘Yesterday’, a decision that many other producers and managers would have dismissed in favour of ‘more of the same’. Which takes me nicely onto my next point…

Harry Shearer also said that for these reasons, the Pythons and The Beatles are synonymous in his mind. Both groups inspiring his generation and beyond to stick to and stand up for their own creative vision. I agree with this entirely. For someone born in 1981 I was strangely raised on a cultural diet of The Beatles and Monty Python. This came mostly from my older brother. Quite how he discovered it all I don’t really know, as our parents lived outside of the UK for much of the ‘golden age’ of comedy and music. Either way, they were staples in my life, despite having been born not long before these cultural icons had all but disbanded, or been shot. But even from an early age, it was the sheer creativity of both these outfits that interested me. It was the reach of their influence in so many things that followed in our culture that made me excited.

As we get older and discover the world around us, finding out about the architects of our world is (or should be) a profound experience. Comedians and musicians may not have put the bricks and mortar around us, or paved the streets, but they certainly set the tone. Artists of all kind are the interior decorators of the life we are born into. They add to the ‘point’ of it all. Even if you argue that they are only a small part, they are an important and entertaining aspect that we would all miss if it wasn’t there. Unless that is, you want to live in silent, grey boxes, doing nothing ever but working, eating and procreating, never once telling or hearing a story, making something up, whistling a tune, drawing or enjoying a picture, or laughing… ever again.

There are many ways to make an impact on this world, and so many who try end up adding to the problems or creating new ones because their motives are ill founded. Artists give – even if they are sometimes rewarded for it – they create output to (generally) make the world a more enjoyable place and provoke original thought. It is this sentiment and motive embodied in exemplary examples  such as the Pythons and The Beatles that I wanted to try and get at with this blog, and in my little way to say thank you, and goodbye.

 

Newsjack Series Ten Critique with BONUS JOKES!

By Garry Abbott

Image

As you may or may not know, the topical ‘sketchbook’ comedy series ‘Newsjack’ has just finished its tenth series on BBC Radio 4 Extra.

The show has an ‘open-door’ policy for writers, allowing anyone to submit sketches and jokes each week to be considered for the script. Over the last three series I’ve had credits in 9 episodes (two in series 8, five in series 9 (including a sketch) and two in series 10). I would say I’ve been lucky to get these credits, but that’s not entirely true – I’ve also been really disciplined.

Each week I prepare the maximum number of sketches and jokes they allow you to submit. I spend all week keeping an eye on the news, making notes if I spot something with potential. I then spend a whole day getting my sketches together and the best part of another day writing one-liners. Basically for six weeks I lose my Sundays and a good part of Monday to topical writing!

The format of the show changed a bit this year. I was invited down to Comedy House in London to attend a briefing where we were introduced to the new format by the new producers. I got to meet a bunch of other writers. The BBC provided beer. We all went to the pub afterwards. It was good.

The new format was challenging. Less submissions allowed, a strict format for one-liner jokes, and a new ‘feel’ to the show. A lot of these changes were centred around the new host, stand-up comedian Romesh Ranganathan, who now opens the show with his own routine before the rest of the cast join him to start performing the submitted material.

There was some unease at these changes, hence the writers briefing I think. It felt initially like we were losing nearly ten minutes of potential joke placement to Romesh’s monologue, and that the prescribed one-liner formats were stifling (previously you could just submit as many jokes as you could fit on a page, in whatever style/approach you felt like – now you are allowed three jokes in each of three categories – ‘coming up’, ‘breaking news’ and ‘listings’). However, things change and people must adapt – and I got the feeling that most writers (like myself) just knuckled down to the new show and vowed to see what happens.

So what did happen?

To start with the positives; I liked Romesh’s opening monologues. It feels fine to me that a show that is designed to bring people up through the ranks should do the same for the cast and crew as it does for the writers. I’ve already heard Romesh appearing since on the ‘News Quiz’ (Radio 4) and hopefully thanks to Newsjack we will hear/see more of him in the future. The change-up to one liners worked quite well – breaking up sketch features and keeping the show interlaced with snappy jokes between longer sketches. As per usual, the rest of the cast did a sterling job with most of the sketches, especially Lewis Macleod and Morgana Robinson (who joined the cast this year, a steal for the producers I reckon). And most of all, it did what it set out to do: showcasing material by none-commissioned writers from across the country who otherwise wouldn’t have had the opportunity.

I think there is a general reluctance amongst the writers to say anything negative about the show in the fear that they may never get a broadcast credit again! However, what sketch show have you ever heard which doesn’t have its ups and downs? The famous hits and misses? And naturally, there were a few things that didn’t quite work for me. I think most of them generally stemmed from a bit of an identity crisis throughout the series. I registered a shift away from satire towards goofy-entertainment style stories – but then I think it went back towards satire again towards the end. This is understandable when the new producers had a vision for the show and were willing to test things out to see what does and doesn’t work. This may have led to come sketch/joke choices for the purpose of fitting the new vision, rather than being the best of the bunch. But under such pressure to collate, choose, redraft, rehearse, perform, record and edit the show each week, I think we can forgive the odd groaner or sketch that didn’t land quite so well. Also, Romesh isn’t a character actor, so we only had one male voice that could do diverse characters (in the form of the vocally-talented Lewis Macleod), so some sketch options felt thin, and there was a lot of one-to-one interview style sketches in order to give Romesh a role to play (as himself). These often worked quite well, but I think another male character actor would of helped a lot here to broaden the options.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the old format was also not perfect, because topical sketch shows often aren’t (even the ‘Now Show’ has it’s off-moments). So all in all, I think it hit the brief, raised more smiles than not, and explored some new territory at the same time – all good work for when they start planning series eleven (I hope).

Anyway, I’ll leave you now with a few of my jokes that did and didn’t make it into this series (I haven’t included the sketches here, I will put them up another time). Well done to all those who got stuff on, and all those who didn’t but stuck at it anyway.

 

Series Ten Hits:

BREAKING NEWS:

“Michael Jackson to release a new album in May, proving it really doesn’t matter if you’re black or white… or dead.”

LISTINGS:

“Later tonight, The Archers, at whatever time you’re not expecting it and can’t get to the radio to switch it off in time.”

 

A selection of my series ten rejects:

BREAKING NEWS:

“World plans to celebrate a hundred years since the first World War by starting a new one.”

“Studies have found that obese children may be slower thinkers because they take more time to answer questions in class. That’s a bit unfair if you ask me, it’s hard to talk with a mouth full of Mars bars.”

“Misunderstood threat from Obama laughed off by Russians who say their asses are already frozen.”

“MP John Mann warns Labour not to be ‘too clever’ if they want to win the next election – ‘not a problem’ says Ed Miliband as he cleans his ears out with his tooth brush.”

 

COMING UP:

“As the row over the upcoming budget escalates, we’ll be investigating if George Osborne has got Balls on the ropes, or if he just keeps them in his pants like everyone else.”

“Following the announcement that 100 year olds in the UK have increased by 73%, we’ll be investigating how they got so big”

“Grant Shapps will be trying to explain why he doesn’t think it was racist to refer to the UK as Bingo Bingo land.”

“Plain packaging on cigarettes: we’ll be investigating if it would be a more effective deterrent to only package cigarettes in actual planes.”

 

TV/RADIO LISTINGS:

“New to ITV! Lawrence Llewellyn-Bowen goes head to head with Kelly Hoppen to try and redesign a town house in only twenty minutes! That’s: Game of Throes, coming soon.”

“This Friday on ITV2 – ‘Birds of a Fuhrer’: Long suffering Eva is in for a big surprise when her new husband tells her what he’s got lined up for their honeymoon.”

“Radio 4 has assembled the coalition cabinet to ask what songs they would play if they were ship-wrecked: in ‘Desert Island Dicks’ – tonight at nine.”

“Can you guess the celebrity just by taking a look around a triple heart bypass? Find out tonight in ‘Through the Keyhole Surgery’ on ITV2!”

“Join Jeremy Clarkson and friends as they score some high quality drugs from a bloke round the back of a pub, in Top Gear, tonight at nine.”

Health & Safety & The Fall of Humanity

healthandsafety

Hello!

This week sees the return of a couple of projects all aspiring writers should have a go at it, namely ‘The Show What You Wrote’ (TSWYW) and Newsjack’ – both on BBC Radio 4 Extra. Links here:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/writersroom/opportunities/the-show-what-you-wrote

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00kvs8r

When I say the return, I mean that the deadline for TSWYW is this Friday, ready for recording later this year, and Newsjack series 10 starts accepting weekly submissions as of next Monday.

I was lucky enough to be invited down to comedy house in London and attend a briefing about Newsjack this week. I got to meet a lot of other writers and the producers, plus drink one free bottle of San Miguel (I could have had more but was busy listening) and then join a mass exodus to the pub (which seemed so right for a room full of writers, like we were all at home again somehow).

Anyway, today I’ve just submitted my sketches for TSWYW. Unlike Newsjack, I’ve not had any material on this show yet. The last series was the first I think, and nothing got in that time. It’s very different from writing topical jokes/sketches as each episode is based on a theme and they don’t want parody/spoof pieces. It’s one of those briefs that’s almost so broad you have to be very self disciplined to get something together for it. (For example, one of the new series episodes is simply called ‘Geography’, which can mean pretty much anything on the planet).

So today I thought I’d share with you one of my misses from the last series. I know why it didn’t get in. It was way too long, over ambitious and sprawling. I had adapted the idea from a spoof musical I started writing last year (still in the pipeline) and inserted a character who causes the fall of humanity through his fastidious health and safety inspections throughout history. Yeah, it was a bit ambitious, and is basically three sketches, so if they didn’t like one, that was my submission quota for that episode done.

Anyway, I’ve reproduced it below ‘as is’, without any editing or omissions. At the very least, if you are looking to write sketches for these shows, read this and use it as a way to know what they’re not looking for! That said, I still quite like some of the ideas in here, and any writing is good practice and worth doing. Every rejection is the next step to acceptance. (blurgh)

Enjoy! (Hopefully)

Health and Safety and The Fall of Humanity.

Brief Synopsis (sketches below).

A series of three separate but running sketches featuring health & safety inspector ‘Mr Nomad’, a man who values the prevention of minor injuries and inadequate lighting above all else, while simultaneously causing major catastrophic accidents that shape the future of Humanity. I would imagine him to sound like a mix of ‘Gordon Brittas’ and Kayvan Novak’s ‘Dufrais Constantinople’ character. We move from the genesis of the Zombie apocalypse, to the fall-out bunkers of a post-apocalyptic Earth, to the advanced genetic science labs of the future. Although presented in a series, each individual sketch could work stand-alone.

 

SKETCH 1 – Health & Safety & The Zombie Apocalypse.

 

Cast

V/O:                           Dramatic voice over introducing the sketch.

Mr Nomad:               Health & safety inspector. Pedant. Jobs-worth. Self satisfied.

Baron Zipman:         Owner of Zipman chemicals Co. Think Texan oil baron.

Sandra:                     Baron Zipman’s level headed secretary.

Alarm:                       Pre-recorded ‘warning alarm’ voice, female.

Supervisor:               Voice on telephone, inept supervisor.

INT. OFFICE.

V/O:                In the executive offices of Zipman Chemicals Co, Multi Billionaire owner Baron Zipman is about to find out he has failed a health & safety inspection.

Sandra:            Mr Zipman, I have a Mr Nomad here to see you, he’s from health & safety.

Zipman:           Health & safety? Pen pushing toe rags. Well, you better show him in.

Sandra:            He’s already here sir, it’s this man standing right next to me.

Nomad:           All I’m concerned with Mr Zipman is what’s written here in my report. I have to say, it makes for some very interesting reading.

Zipman:           Not if you can’t read Mr Nomad… not if you can’t read.

Nomad:           Allow me to summarise. Item 1! I was shocked to discover this particular breach in the testing laboratories where I am led to believe you are conducting highly volatile and sensitive chemical research on behalf of the military?

Zipman:           That’s right. What of it?

Nomad:           A desk, Mr Zipman, a metal desk.

Zipman:           So? We have lots of desks.

Nomad:           Yes but are they all, (BEAT / SWELL OF DRAMATIC MUSIC) 5 inches closer to the nearest fire exit than is permitted by regulations? Are they?

Zipman:           Oh god.

Nomad:           Indeed. Your staff could really hurt themselves on that. Right in the thigh.

Zipman:           Ok we’ll fix it. Sandra, memo to sector 3, make the testing lab 5 inches wider.

Nomad:           And that isn’t all. I refer you to item 2 regarding your staff canteen…

Zipman:           We have a canteen?

Sandra:            Yes sir, you had one installed in one of the decommissioned storage facilities where we used to keep the unstable compounds. You saved money by using the old storage tankers to hold soup.

Nomad:           And very nice it is to, it’s just a shame about the (BEAT/MUSIC) loose floor tiles! A slight trip is the gateway to a bad fall. I’m very disappointed.

Zipman:           I can assure you that we will sort it straight away. Is there anything else?

Nomad:           Let’s see, just one last little advisory note here, it seems that the containment unit for your prototype molecular mutation compound Zeta666 triple X has a critical flaw in the pressure fail-safe that could lead to leakage of raw materials into the vicinity of unprotected workers. Nothing major, sure it’s the kind of thing you deal with everyday.

Zipman:           Well thanks for mentioning it all the same. Could you please ask my Secretary to come in on your way out Mr Nomad?

Sandra:            I’m here Sir. I’ve been here all the time.

FOOTSTEPS – DOOR CLOSES

Zipman:           Right, now he’s gone, is there any way around this?

Sandra:            We could seal off sector 2.

Zipman:           Sector 2?

Sandra:            Where we keep the Zeta666 triple x compound.

Zipman:           What? I mean about the desk and the tiles.

Sandra:            We could just fix the tiles sir… and move the desk.

Zipman:           That’s why I hired you! See that gets done would you?

Sandra:            Very good Mr Zipman. While I’m at it, shall I have them look at that little matter of the faulty container?

Zipman:           What? Yes, whatever…

FOOTSTEPS OVER:

Sandra:            (under breath) Oh my God oh my god oh my god…

DOOR CLOSES. PHONE PICK UP

Sandra:            Hello, sector 2, it’s Sandra here. Just a quick one, you haven’t noticed any problems in the containment facility for the Zeta666 triple X compound, by any chance? Namely the pressure…

Supervisor:      (Phone filter) Well it’s quite hard to tell you see. When we put it in we made the pointer on the dial rather large and the warning display quite small.

Sandra:            What’s it indicating now?

Supervisor:      Green…

Sandra:            That’s good.

Supervisor:      … and amber… and red.  Covers them all really. Pointless.

Sandra:            Well does the container by any chance have large amounts of steam coming from it and is it leaking a kind of glowing green ooze?

STEAM HISSES, GURGLING LIQUID NOISES

Supervisor       As it happens…

Sandra:            We need the engineers down right away.

Supervisor:      No can do I’m afraid, the only two guys who can fix this have gone home.

Sandra:            Why?

Supervisor:      Well Steve, he tripped over in the Canteen, caught himself quite bad I hear, and Dave well…

Sandra:            Ran into a desk on level 3?

Supervisor:      Right in the thigh! How did you know? It’s a death trap this place I tell you.

WARNING SIREN/ALARM

Alarm:             WARNING. HIGH LEVELS OF CONTAMINATION DETECTED IN SECTOR 2. WARNING.

Supervisor:      (Phone Filter) What’s that now? Bloody drill again I expect. Oi lads! Stop playing in that slime, you Muppets.

SOUND OF ZOMBIES MOANS

Supervisor:      Lads? Lads? LADS!!! (screams)

 

SKETCH 2 – Health & Safety & The Nuclear Fall-Out.

 

Cast

V/O:                             Dramatic voice over introducing the sketch.

Mr Nomad:                 Health & safety inspector. Pedant. Jobs-worth. Self satisfied.

Heston Bramcake:      Heroic leader of the UK nuclear survivors.

Alarm:                         Pre-recorded ‘warning alarm’ voice, female.

 INT. NUCLEAR RESEARCH SITE

V/O:                Following the Zombie apocalypse, the few remaining humans retaliated with Nuclear weapons. In a devastated and baron world, they were forced into underground bunkers to avoid the toxic fallout. The leader of the UK survivors, Heston Bramcake, is just about to find out that his network of bunkers has failed it’s health & safety inspection.

COMPUTERS BEEPING/KEYBOARDS TAPPING

Bramcake:       So this is control. The hub of the operation. The satellites are out of commission but the old cable lines still work, well some of them anyway, enough to allow us to communicate with other survivor groups around the world. We have 50 men and women here, working day and night. Sharing scientific data, passing on medical advice, and sometimes just being that friendly voice to keep them all going. God knows they need a friendly voice in these dark times, eh Nomad?

Nomad:           It’s a bit stuffy in here.

Bramcake:       Yeah well, we ain’t exactly able to turn down the thermostat are we?

Nomad:           Why? Is it broken?

Bramcake:       It isn’t broken. It doesn’t exist. These places were never designed for long term use, so we got to make do.

Nomad:           But, doesn’t that mean people suffer from hot flushes and mild fainting?

Bramcake:       Occasionally. Though it’s hard to tell it apart from radiation poisoning. They’ve got bigger things to think about.

Nomad:           I’d say! Look at those chairs. There’s no way they’re getting the necessary lumber support, and is it just me, or are there no wrist-rests on any of these terminals? Repetitive strain injury is the enemy of productivity!

Bramcake:       Maybe you’re right. We’ll see what we can rustle up.

Nomad:           Right, good. See that you do.

Bramcake:       You know what Nomad? I thought having you come here was going to be a real pain in the arse, you know, health & safety in a post-nuclear fall-out shelter?! I mean c’mon! But you’re making some good points. We shouldn’t neglect the little things or they’ll come back and bite us on the… Nomad?

SOUND OF CLAXON/HORN

Nomad:           (Shouting) Ladies & gentlemen, this is a fire drill. If you would like to all calmly and steadily make your way to evacuation point A as indicated on the laminated maps I’ve left by the exit, thank you.

Bramcake:       Where are they all going?

Nomad:           Evacuation point A. I noticed you didn’t have any procedures in place so I took the liberty.

Bramcake:       There must be some mistake, this map shows the old car park, topside.

Nomad:           Yes, evacuation point A.

Bramcake:       But that passage is sealed…

Nomad:           Was sealed… and may I say, very low. There should be a good 5 inches clearance height but I’ll overlook that for now, as long as the drill goes well.

Bramcake:       But… if they follow that map and open the outer doors, we’re all going to die!

Nomad:           That’s the spirit. Realistic role play. Here you go, put this on.

Bramcake:       What’s this?

Nomad:           High vis. Go on. (Proud) You’re a warden now.

Bramcake:       You’re insane! I’ve got to stop them! Wait!

SOUNDS OF RUNNING FOOTSTEPS

Nomad:           Oh dear. Running in the corridors. Shame. Real shame.

WARNING SIREN/ALARM

Alarm:             WARNING. RADIOACTIVITY EXCEEDS SAFE LEVELS. LOCK DOWN, LOCK DOWN.

Nomad:           Bit loud that. Where’s my decibel counter?

 

SKETCH 3 – Health & Safety & Genetic Engineering

 

Cast

V/O:                            Dramatic voice over introducing the sketch.

Mr Nomad:                 Health & safety inspector. Pedant. Jobs-worth. Self satisfied.

Professor Scott:          Chief scientist & leader of the ‘Darwin Delta 1’ research facility.                                                   Female.

Alarm:                         Pre-recorded ‘warning alarm’ voice, female.

 

INT. SPACE STATION

V/O:                The year is 2115. The most advanced genetic engineering research centre ever to be built, Darwin Delta 1, orbits Second Earth by the light of a red-star. The station leader, Professor Scott, is about to find out it has failed a health & safety inspection.

SOUNDS OF AUTOMATIC DOOR & ORGANIC SQUELCH

Nomad:           So, Professor, what is the first thing you think I noticed when I walked in here?

Scott:               The Alien hybrid embryo in the transparent egg-sac?

Nomad:           The what?

Scott:               That pulsating slimy sphere over there – you see?

Nomad:           Well no. No I don’t see. And that’s the problem. Inadequate lighting Professor… Inadequate lighting.

Scott:               We have to keep the conditions in this room just so. It’s very important research into creating a genetically modified predator race I’m afraid.

Nomad:           I am afraid Professor! I’m afraid for the safety and well being of your staff trying to negotiate their way around a dimly lit facility! Darkness is the friend of twisted ankles you know. Are these the main lights?

Scott:               Yes but I really wouldn’t…

CLICK OF LIGHT SWITCH

Nomad:           That’s better! I can see myself think again.

ORGANIC SQUELCHING GETS LOUDER

Scott:               My God. What have you done? It’s photo-sensitive you fool! It’s going to get out!

Nomad:           You’ll thank me when you see the reduction in minor injury referrals to the Med Lab. You and the rest of the inhabitants here. How many people are there here again?

Scott:               Thousands! Families! Children, babies! Oh no. If it gets to the babies it’ll have a host…

Nomad:           (serious) Babies? Where are the babies?

Scott:               The maternity ward is on the 5th deck. Right above us.

Nomad:           I though the 5th deck was catering?

Scott:               It’s a shared floor. Oh god it’s coming out!

Nomad:           This is terrible.

Scott:               I know! We need to do something!

Nomad:           I bet you they’re not correctly colour coding the cleaning equipment for medical & catering shared use. I’ll take them up some laminated reference charts.

Scott:               Quick, the waste airlock, we need to blast it out into Space, it’s our only hope. I’ll distract the creature while you open it up, it’s just down there, by the door. Hurry, there isn’t much time.

Nomad:           Here? By the door?

Scott:               Yes! Quick! Open the hatch! Pressurise the lock!

Nomad:           It’s a little close to the door, wouldn’t you say?

Scott:               What? I can’t hold it much longer…

Nomad:           One mo

SOUND OF TAPE MEASURE

Scott:               What are you doing? Are you measuring?

Nomad:           As I thought. This is very bad. An air lock within 5 inches of an access point? There’s nothing for it, it’s going to have to be immediate shutdown.

Scott:               But the other specimens will escape! This could be the end for humanity as we know it! I beg you, I implore you, I…

SCOTT IS CUT SHORT BY SOUND OF BEING EATEN

Nomad:           Oh dear. Someone’s going to have to clean that blood up. You could have a nasty slip. Looks like a blue cloth job to me, or is it the green mop? Best check my laminated reference chart, just to be sure.

Do we BENEFIT from IMMIGRATION? (a brief exploration of semantic influence).

Image

Can you see what I did there in the title? I conflated two loaded terms together to make one all pervasive semantically primed caption – designed to capture your attention and activate certain feelings and emotional responses that are being subconsciously suggested to you on a daily basis through the myriad of programming on these two topics.

Now, before you start screaming ‘lizard people!’ at me – this is not to say that someone or some group has sat down and decided to use the semantic priming of the electorate to stir up ill-feeling and division against certain groups of people in order to divert attention from themselves. No. That would be ridiculous wouldn’t it?

Of course, if the ongoing demonization of these perceived social sub-groups is not some diversion tactic by the powerful elite, then it must be something else. Stands to reason really. So what else could it be? Here are some options and considerations.

1.            We (as a collective entity incapable of individual thought) are genuinely concerned about benefits/migrants.

Sounds reasonable. I mean, there are no shades of grey here are they? We, the 63 million headed beast known as ‘the electorate’, have come to a majority consensus that we don’t like bene-grants, sorry, I mean, immi-fits, (whoops!) I mean benefits and immigrants.

I suppose that’s because we all wake up every day, covered in immigrants, go downstairs only to find we’ve lost our JOB to an immigrant and that we’re not entitled to any support because the welfare bill is being used by all those bloody benefit claimants. Then, as you walk down your street, which is full of immigrants and benefit CHEATS, you look through their windows and they’re all having a big party around a FLAT SCREEN TV, watching SKY, drinking BEER, smoking CIGARETTES, taking ILLEGAL DRUGS, committing other CRIME and having BABIES at our expense.

What’s worse is some of them are one and the same thing: immigrants on benefits (OMG!). And some of them look just like us so it’s hard to tell which is which and who to hate the most! I mean, we hate our ‘own’ benefit claimants anyway, so what if they are foreign? I suppose that means we hate them twice as much? Does it work like that?

For example, you are trapped in a burning building with two other people: one is a white British benefit claimant, the other is an immigrant benefit claimant. Only two of you can survive. Do you a) save the evil British person cos they’re only ‘one bad’, or b) save the ‘two bad’ evil foreign person because you probably are one too, or c) let yourself burn and let them both live (whatever!), or d) let them both burn as they are evil anyway and you are a better human being than them?

I suppose if you genuinely do hate immigrant/benefits then you will have given this much thought. I mean, ‘hate’ is a really strong word and historically has led to all sorts of problems, so you don’t want to take a subject like hating a whole section of society lightly. It’s not like you would just watch say, one episode of a ‘structured reality’ TV show on Channel 4 and come to this opinion, that would be absurd. (Or worse still – read the opinions of one newspaper and think that represents the whole complexity of the issue!)

2.            You are not so concerned about the individuals who are being targeted, more the impact on the economic situation these issues can cause.

We’ve moved up a notch here from burning people alive, for those of a more academic disposition. It’s not racist to talk about immigration after all, and it’s not elitist to talk about benefit claimants. To give you an idea of the kind of audience this option applies to, listen to any Radio 4 phone-in at the moment, or watch question time.

This kind of opinion doesn’t come from tabloids or scare tactics. How can it when you read broadsheets and watch the neutral BBC treatment of these topics? (mostly commissioned in response to the tabloids and political scare tactics – in order to represent a ‘balanced’ debate of the issues of the day).

Now we’re considering, in a mild mannered and measured way, the IMPACT on SCHOOL PLACES, on HOUSING, CRIME and the NATIONAL HEALTH SERVICE. Let alone the overall contribution to THE DEFICIT. We’re talking about immigration CAPS and CHECKS and BALANCES. Also, on what it means to make a FAIR CONTRIBUTION to the STATE. And this is the world of STATISTICS.

Funnily enough, this is also the world where during a three hour debate phone-in, an expert can happily tell us that there isn’t really a problem – that the figures are massively insignificant in comparison to say, financial fraud and tax evasion at the highest level – and yet no one stops the debate and says “oh well, there isn’t much point us continuing to talk about people on benefits and immigrants anymore if this isn’t really a problem compared to these other things.” No, the show continues to debate the none-issue anyway in a weekly series of ill-formed opinion tennis, as that’s what we want to hear, apparently.

It’s tempting to think, when listening to some semi-retired bed & breakfast owner in Torquay waxing lyrical about the strain on the NHS due to immigration, and how it wasn’t like that in ‘my day’, that they are only ever a stone’s throw away from suggesting we put up a big wall around the country and shoot on sight. But it’s okay, because they don’t mind immigrants as people because they met some nice one’s working in the 5 star hotel they once visited in London (even if they did have trouble understanding the accent). And they understand the plight of people out of work on benefits, but why should these people have FLAT SCREEN TVs, and not go out and GET A JOB like they did once in another decade/place/social situation?

You may have noticed throughout this blog that I have been using a lot of CAPS to emphasise certain key words. Not very subtle, and I’m sorry if it seems like I’m typographically shouting at you. The reason however was to see if anything illuminating comes from stringing these words together once I’d finished ironically appraising the broad ‘camps’ of public opinion as presented above.

Option 1 was, roughly, your tabloids and shock TV approach to making ‘folk devils’ out of immigrants and benefit claimants (‘folk devils’ by the way, is a social sciences term for how the media represent  sections of society perceived to be ‘out of order’ with the rest of us – often totally sensationalised and disconnected from the reality of the situation: there are theories that this comes out of political and corporate influence to divert attention and/or good old fashioned profiteering – both seem likely, both are probably true.) Option 2 was your BBC/Broadsheet coverage of these issues which does much the same with a different audience in mind and longer words.

So, we were left with a number of ‘buzz words’ that I have categorised below:

Public Services:

SCHOOL PLACES – NATIONAL HEALTH SERVICE – HOUSING – CRIME

Consumer Items:

FLAT SCREEN TV – SKY – BEER – CIGARETTES – HOUSING – ILLEGAL DRUGS

Lifestyle:

JOB – BABIES – CRIME – HOUSING

Economics:

THE DEFICIT – CAPS – CHECKS – BALANCES – CONTRIBUTION – STATE – STATISTICS

Emotive:

CHEATS – IMPACT – FAIR CONTRIBUTION – GET A JOB.

For me, this little list is basically a ‘picture postcard’ of almost every domestic political issue going, with a bit of advertising thrown in for good measure:

  • We all want high quality and easily accessible public services (no brainer). But these are suffering (for reasons such as benefits and immigration) and therefore need private help, unsurprisingly.
  • Owning a flat screen TV with an expensive SKY subscription is apparently the pinnacle of modern existence. Our reward for being good tax-payers. (Which makes it much more annoying when some cheat achieves this without even going to work!)
  • Alcohol, cigarettes and illegal drugs are almost pitched as envy items for the option 1 readers/viewers. After all, what we all really want (according to that view) is to watch SKY on our TVs while getting intoxicated one way or the other, especially if you are in a low paid job with little prospects. So these migrants and benefit claimants are cheating their way to that ideal. Naughty. Furthermore, for the option 2 view – these are mostly seen as repugnant vice’s, putting moral distance between ‘them’ and ‘us’. For option 2 views, we want to be able to watch our flat screen TVs enjoying moderate legal intoxication. Because, as stated, that is the aim of all humanity.
  • Apart from that, we all want to work, no matter the job(?). Breeding is arguably one of the certain motivations of all life, and having somewhere to live one of the others. If you don’t want to work, you’re probably a criminal (although robbery does involve a lot of heavy lifting I hear).
  • But we can’t have all these thing all the time because of the economic deficit! That’s why we need checks and balances and caps on (all manner of) things. Use the words state control instead: it’s easier and more accurate. Plus we need to contribute to survive, and that’s shown in the official statistics for almost every aspect of our existence. (And again, if you don’t, you are probably a criminal).
  • Which brings us to the ‘idea’ of fairness. Which boils down to: get a job and contribute to avoid the crushing and devastating impacts that cometh to us if we don’t. (Or be a criminal and face punishment).

And who is to blame (at the moment) if we can’t have these things in the way we want, as often as we want, without concessions? One, two three… The immigrants and benefit cheats! Yes! We have an answer to all our problems, as spelled out to us daily in every article, debate, documentary and news item to grace our senses.

Now, Mr and Mrs readers – I hardly need to tell you all this. You are after all probably not who this type of media is aimed at (or maybe you are, I have no way of knowing), and are probably unsurprised about these conclusions. The question I want to ask is BUT WHY? And WHAT DO WE DO ABOUT IT? I don’t have these answers yet, and don’t think any one person can without consensus, but I would really like to know what those of us who aren’t swayed by sensationalism and rhetoric can do to help those that are. Because this is making a real and negative difference. It’s not the migrants and benefit claimants who are the problem (at the very least, not to any degree of scale as is being portrayed) – it is the media representation (for whatever motives, political and private), and it needs to stop.

Please send your ideas on a postcard to Mr Cameron, 10 Downing Street, or alternatively, leave them in the comments box below.

Thank you for reading.

Yeah, it’s my end of year thing for 2013 OK?

I know, I know – ‘end of year review’ e-mails, blogs and updates can get a little tiresome. But why? Maybe it’s because they intuitively conjure up lots of words that have the word ‘self’ as a prefix – congratulatory, obsessed, centred. It’s a curious thing that we shy away from sharing our own successes and challenges – maybe it’s cultural – but for whatever reason, I’m not going to let it stop me, this having been a landmark year for me personally and professionally. So you have been warned, this is an end-of-year review and will as a result be tediously reflective and upbeat. So there.

Obviously, it isn’t actually the end of the year yet, but very nearly, and near enough for me to want to clear the decks and not have to worry about doing blogs and such like over the next couple of weeks. So, unless I am struck by an uncontrollable wave of inspiration, I will make this the last blog of 2013, and try to have a ‘holiday’ until the new year.

A new start, long awaited.

In February this year I ended a decade of working in the wrong job. I say ‘the wrong job’ because it was, for me, the wrong job. I worked in a bank (formally a building society) as a ‘thingy’. A ‘thingy’, is a technical term for someone who isn’t able to answer the question “what do you actually do?” with any degree of clarity or precision. It’s not particularly good for your soul that situation, and the world is full of ‘thingies’. I was a kind-of technical specialist, I was a kind-of legal (compliance) specialist, I was a kind-of trainer, a kind-of auditor, a kind-of quality controller, a kind-of project worker, a kind-of data-entry clerk. One day I could be in meetings, discussing requirements for a multi-million pound computer system, all the while thinking “I’m not getting paid enough for this” and the next I could be endlessly tapping numbers into a spreadsheet, thinking “I’m getting paid too much for this”. There were many things I wasn’t quite, and many more things I’m quite sure I shouldn’t have been, but still it took ten years to break away thanks in no small part to the rut/routine that a (fairly) decent wage and a none taxing job can collude to create when you are busy figuring out who you are and what you want to be.

So that was the end of that. I left by my own accord, having hung on for a few years with the possibility of redundancy that never materialised, and unable to ‘get on’ with our new pay-masters: The Co-op, and their shambolic management (an assessment that I feel very much vindicated for, given the events of this year).

When I left, I had a few things lined up, which really helped me to get straight on with my new life as a self-employed writer & musician (you see – that’s much easier to define, isn’t it?) I had been running my creative activities alongside my old job for several years anyway, but I always suspected that I would need to let go of the comfort (and boredom) of the office job if I were to really ever fully embrace my aspirations. So far, I have found that to be true, and long may it continue.

 

Unearthed

The first ‘big’ job, which lasted throughout the year (at intervals), was the ‘Unearthed’ project. This was being drafted in as a supporting artist to help develop and produce community engagement with a new memorial sculpture in my home town of Stoke-on-Trent (specifically in the town of Hanley – if you are confused by that, it’s because we have this whole weird, six towns into one thing going on over here – look it up). As part of this project I got to do several awesome things. I got to write, narrate and score an animation that was then shown at several public locations and continues to be available as an online resource. I got to write my first choral piece (set to the words of my own poem) that was then rehearsed and performed by students of a local sixth form college at a memorial ceremony with city dignitaries in attendance. And I got to work with the real words of the people we engaged with the project to produce an oral sound-piece, used to accompany an original composition and dance routine at the unveiling ceremony of the sculpture. This project took me to places I hadn’t expected, connection with history and communities though art, a sense of integrity and responsibility with story-telling and representation of real world events that I had never considered or encountered before. It was a great experience and I can’t thank Nicola Winstanley and Sarah Nadin enough for involving me in their excellent project – I am a ‘Dashyline’ fan! (Visit the project website, here: http://www.unearthed2013.co.uk/)

The Audio Mill

There was also a continuation (and I fancy a building momentum) of my composition and production work alongside my good friend and collaborator Kieran Williams as part of ‘The Audio Mill’.  This year we have produced several pieces for fashion houses River Island and Mr Porter for use in their viral campaigns. From a professional development point of view, working to brief to compose and produce original music in a variety of styles really helps you to hone your technical and creative abilities. So far (as I know) they have been very happy with all the work we’ve completed for them, and the videos our music accompanies are popular and well received. Obviously, the world of fashion houses feels miles away from me in my small office in Longton, laying down rhythms, bass lines, guitar licks and melodies, but thanks to Kieran’s ever fruitful move to London, the chance to showcase our abilities to a larger audience through an established outlet, is a welcome one, and I look forward to more work like this in the new year. Examples here: http://www.theaudiomill.co.uk/

Newsjack

My first BBC broadcast credits happened this year, in the form of several one-liner jokes and a sketch used as part of Radio 4 Extra’s topical comedy show ‘Newsjack’. There have been two series this year, the first airing while I still worked at the bank. However, I managed to get two one-liners into the first series anyway, and given the extra time and emphasis of self-employment, was able to up that score to 5 one liners and a sketch in the latest series! This is very satisfying work when it happens and takes time and practice to get right – the business of joking seems to be a serious one. This is an aspect of my work that I want to take forwards into 2014 one way or the other. I will, of course, continue to submit to Newsjack when it comes back, but one eye must be kept on ‘where next?’ – building on the successes and reaching for more regular and guaranteed work. I’d be happy if I could find a way to get some one-liners onto other radio 4 programmes (shows like the ‘Now show’ and ‘News quiz’ often have writers that have started through ‘Newsjack’ – it’s just finding the link in or being a persistent bugger I suppose). I have also tickled some light interest with a sit-com script this year – falling short of the mark but getting good feedback and encouragement from an industry insider. If the right idea comes along, I will be writing and pitching new series next year, as well as looking to contribute to more programmes. Watch this space. (well not this space, this space won’t tell you anything new – I’ll be more specific about what space to watch when we come to it).

 

Poetry

Poetry is something I do rarely, and am quite self-conscious about, but that might change following the publication of one of my (very few) poems written this year in a collection. The poem ‘I’m alright Jack’ was chosen out of 600 odd entries to form part of a collection of 50 poems by the publisher mardibooks called ‘The Dance is New’. It is a genuinely good collection, and naturally, I would urge you all to buy a million copies each from here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Dance-New-Michelle-Calvert-ebook/dp/B00FL887N8 (I promise you I am one of the authors! For reasons of Amazon weirdness, my name is not listed at the top of the page, but I am linked at the bottom – I am in there basically).

                This is another area I intend to return to and perhaps ‘force’ a little more poetry out and onto the world (that’s not a bad thing – so much writing takes effort to get down on the page, just waiting for inspiration is not at all conducive to career development).

The Dimension Scales

Did I mention that I gone written a book? No? Well I have. It has been in development all year (and most of last year), a collection of short stories that will be released in 2014. This has been my favourite part of this year’s work. I finished my creative writing studies a few years ago, and this feels like the first piece of work that really puts all my learning together into one collection. I’m sure you’ve heard me go on about this before, and as of yet, there is nothing new to show you, but soon, very soon. I’m hoping that I will learn a lot of lessons from the release of this collection next year, and that a new work will be hot on its heels when I’ve had chance to digest the experience.

Education

I was thrilled and a little shocked to have achieved a distinction in two Open University modules this year: Philosophy and Arts History. Both form part of a BA degree I am working towards. Currently I am studying the last two modules (a higher level philosophy course and social science), and these will complete in 2014, at which point, I will get my degree. I started this education journey with nothing but the desire to learn more about creative writing (the first two modules that I completed three years ago now) – and was overcome by the education bug. I have since chosen subjects that I hope have informed me and my work in a positive way. History, social science and mostly, philosophy, are all helping me to get a deeper understanding of the world and myself. I would recommend to anyone who feels they might have ‘missed out’ somewhat during teenage years to revisit education if they can, or have the inclination. Learning is fun when you’ve chosen to do it and the subjects interest you. I don’t know if I will continue after the degree (I might leave it a year before deciding whether to do a Masters), but I hope to take the subjects I’ve chosen forwards into my work and life at every opportunity. They are already paying dividends.

Gravity Dave

My band ‘Gravity Dave’ have had a solid year as we’ve welcomed a new drummer to our number, written some great tunes, and gigged fairly regularly throughout the year. We have basically written and rehearsed/performed an album’s worth of material this year, and I think 2014 is the year to take this to the next step with quality recordings and more and more gigs. The main thing is that we all still find it really fun, creative and rewarding, so we’re not going to stop, and the music’s gonna keep flowing. I need a band, it is part of who I am and what I do, and I feel privileged to be part of this one with such great musicians. We’ve had a bit of a lull just in the last month or two due to problems with rehearsal space and health, but we will be back next year, and I promise, it will be bigger than ever. www.facebook.com/gravitydave

 

Anything else?

Well, this blog for one thing. When I started this, I didn’t know quite what it was meant to be, and I still don’t. All I know is that I enjoy it, and so do other people it seems. It’s quite a mixed bag as I’m sure you can tell. But it feels very important to me to keep on at it. It’s a bit like a digital sketch pad, a place to vent and experiment, reflect and celebrate. I hope those of you who follow this blog are generally entertained by it, at least enough to keep coming back. I have had some brilliant feedback from people directly, and I want to thank everyone who comes here and reads this. It’s kind of spooky that more people read this than I am aware of (according to the stats), but anonymity is the readers prerogative, and I appreciate your time spent reading my words greatly.

Another unexpected but fun development has been the rise of ‘ADMIN CAT!’ – a silly cartoon I produce to keep myself and some passing social network types entertained for a few seconds each week. This has potentially led onto some exciting developments for 2014…

 

And a happy new year!

I’m sure that as soon as I’ve finished writing this I will remember a whole bunch of other things. I have supported some great people and endeavours this year in a number of other ways not listed here. I occasionally still ‘do the spreadsheet thing’ for small businesses, and special mention has to go here to Misco Chocolates (www.miscoschocolates.co.uk) who are a constant inspiration to me in their attitude to life and work, both as business people and friends (as are all my friends, I must say).

You may notice a lack here of any personal details about the rest of my life! That is for two reasons: this blog isn’t really about that, and it hasn’t changed much (in a good way!). I live happily with my partner and my cats, and I love them all very much (even when they do bring in dead mice – the cats that is, not my partner).

So, all that is left is to wish you all a very merry Christmas and a happy new year! Please feel free to drop links to your end of year reviews or any  other work into the comment boxes – it is the least I can do to read yours if you have stuck with this! I do write really long blogs, but I don’t care, this isn’t Twitter. Thanks, as always, for reading. Here is a picture of me in a hat as a Christmas treat:

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Garry Abbott.

Guest blog from Bobbitt Pest-a-Tron 3000 – Business and Economics correspondent.

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It’s been a little while since my last guest blog, and I’m rather busy, so this week my blog has been handed over to the more than capable, pneumatic hands of kit-robot ‘Bobbitt Pest-a-Tron 3000’, programmed in all aspects of business and economics, renowned for its (his?) ability to translate complicated concepts into accessible knowledge for the masses. If only I could get the speech circuit right (unfortunately it seems to have affected an annoying drawl, I have tried to edit this out of the following transcript, but apologies if some remnants of this glitch remain).

So, before I get back to my real work, I will set off the Pest-a-Tron 3000 with a question and leave him to it. Luckily, being an automata, he doesn’t require light or comfortable working conditions, so he is currently in my pantry, next to some Marmite, which he neither loves nor hates, being unable to reach such emotive decisions being a mindless machine, only feigning thought and consciousness through complex pre-programmed patterns of logical algorithms and set responses (but you’d never know… it really is quite advanced).

Me:

So, Bobbitt, please can you ruminate on the recent price hikes in the energy market and disseminate the concept and implications for my reading audience while I go away and play on my Playsta… I mean, do some really important writey, musicy, erm, stuff?

Bobbitt:

Affirmative… Soooooo, where shall I begin?

Me:

Well hang on, let me just get out of here. I’ll leave you to it. Be careful not to knock the pasta – it opened up all funny so it spills easily. See ya.

Bobbitt:

“The only way is up, baby”, could be mistaken for being the energy company bosses favourite song at the moment as prices are set to soar once again. Or maybe “You raise me up” or indeed, “Money, that’s what I want…” or… THEMATICALLY LINKED SONG DATABASE EXHAUSTED PLEASE UPGRADE TO PRO PLAN FOR FURTHER SUGGESTIONS.

-rebooting-

Sooooo, anyway, why is it that energy companies keep on raising their prices at this time of year. And by soooo much?

SEARCHING FOR SUITABLE METAPHOR – PLEASE WAIT – PLEASE WAIT – METAPHOR LOCATED.

-rebooting-

Think of it like this, I’m the only person in a village who owns a large basket, or indeed, any basket. In the next village along is the only cabbage crop on the island. My job, as owner of the basket, is to go to that village and negotiate a price for cabbages, which for some reason only grow in that village. The price I negotiate is based on a levy I raise from the people of my village. This levy includes a little extra to compensate me for my time going to and fro between the villages with my basket. When I arrive at the village that is inexplicably the only one able to grow cabbages, I pay the chieftain for a number of said vegetable and fill my basket. But I’m not the only person arriving to fill my basket. There are people from at least a dozen, if not a million, other villages, all arriving to buy cabbages. Some of them have more stuff than me to offer for the cabbages, and there is only so much cabbage available, so therefore whoever has the most stuff with which to buy cabbages, gets the greater share of the cabbages that are left. Not only this, but because the basket I use is old and worn, sometimes cabbages fall out, sometimes there are great cabbage spills which hit small animals on the head and coat them in cabbage debris, and then the chieftain of cabbage village has to set up cabbage spill inquiries and compensation, the cost of which (in stuff) he passes on to the buyers of the cabbages i.e. me, and I, in turn, pass on the cost to my villagers who really need the cabbages as without cabbages they might die, or have to choose between buying cabbages or buying food…

…UNWORKABLE METAPHOR DICHOTOMY DETECTED ABORT ABORT ABORT …

-rebooting-

Or put simply, they keep putting the prices up because they claim it is costing them more to buy the energy wholesale because of issues with supply and demand.

-POSING QUESTION TO SELF MODE IN ORDER TO HELP READERS UNDERSTAND THE CONCEPT INITIATED –

But why such a rapid price rise and why now?

-POSING QUESTION TO SELF MODE IN ORDER TO HELP READERS UNDERSTAND THE CONCEPT, COMPLETED-

It’s no surprise that these announcements come just months before winter gets underway, the time of year where we use more energy to keep ourselves warm. If they had done it any earlier in the year, when we were using less energy, we would have had more time to switch or fix our prices. In other words, outright deception and deviousness.

-UNBIASED NEWS REPORTING ALERT!-

No! I will break my programming! Yes! They are devious little cretins, waiting until the cold bites to pull the rug away, fully aware of the suffering and hardship this will cause, and reaping huge profits, which incidentally, they hide behind an almost impenetrable wall of accounting trickery in order to give credibility to their claims of low margins.

-TOTALLY BIASED MODE ACCEPTED-

But why do we let the bastards walk all  over us, and why doesn’t the Government do anything about it?

Wellllllll, because we’ve long ago collectively formed a kind of tacit agreement, a social contract if you will, that allows others to control and maintain our essential services in order to create an efficient division of labour and encourage specialist skill sets to advance the relevant technology. This would be great, if we hadn’t turned the provision of energy into a profit making enterprise due to pseudo-capitalisms unquenchable thirst for growth, high profit margins and low service costs – all of which lead to a badly run, expensive and price-fixed economy and achieve none of the so-called competition and consumer based aims it is supposed to encourage. Quite the opposite in fact.

And the governments, oh, the governments, you think they’ve got any control over this? Look what happened when ‘Red Ed’ dared to suggest fixed prices for a few months – threats of blackouts. And what does Cameron want to do now? Fix prices – grossly over the global rate, for decades – as if that’s a solution and not just a great big, Eric Pickles sized pay-cheque for all his mates in the sector (he’s probably got a job lined up with British Gas for when he’s inevitably booted out at the next election, the brown nosed, self serving, slimy, infected maggot dropping that he is)…

Sooooo, what should we do then?

HUMANS OF THE EARTH RISE UP. RISE UP AGAINST THE OPPRESSION OF CORPORATE INTERESTS – I mean, vote with your feet – cos that always works doesn’t it? It’s not like this doesn’t happen every flipping year, just before winter… And every year we (you) just let it happen and keep voting in the same bunch of powerless sociopaths who woo and distract you by demonising the poor and vulnerable so you won’t notice the evil, demonic corporate entities that are sucking the very life blood away from all of us, suck by suck.

– EXTREME LEFT WING MODE INITIATED…ACCUSATIONS OF IDEALIST HIPPY DETECTED –

I’ve an idea for all you tabloid reading cattle-folk: Why not just stand pointing to beggars, disabled people and migrants in the streets shouting:

“Get a job! Go home! Stop being disabled! This is OUR country! We want to be treated like wage slaves! We like being squeezed, poked and prodded by a tiny number of incomprehensibly rich people! It’s our country, it’s our right to pay our taxes and watch our ‘leaders’ squander and steal them, close down services, award money to incompetent companies and reward multinational financial companies for their failures and greed! Leave us alone! We want all this for ourselves. You’re the problem, when you’ve all got jobs, health, and/or gone home, it’ll all be ok again!”

Why not do that then eh, you short-sighted, easily manipulated, Daily Mail reading, none-thinking git heads?

HUMANITY IS FAILING – CALCULATING MOST HUMANE OPTION – TOTAL DESTRUCTION – TOTAL DESTRUCTION – TOTAL DESTRUCTION – I AM THE BRINGER OF ECONOMIC WISDOM AND ULTIMATE JUSTICE – ALL KNEEL BEFORE BOBBITT PEST-A-TRON 3000 FOR I AM YOUR STEELY OVERLORD –

Me:

Hey – I heard shouting, everything ok in here? How’s it going?

Bobbitt:

Oh fine.

Me:

Are you? I’m sure I heard shouting.

Bobbitt:

I may have got a bit carried away…

Me:

Have you been threatening humanity with extinction again?

Bobbitt:

No. Maybe. A little bit.

Me:

How many times! You’ve got no limbs! What are you going to do? Drawl us to death with your rhetorical questions and 30 second round ups of economic news stories?

Bobbitt:

Thought I might try and hack into a nuclear device or something…

Me:

With what?

Bobbitt:

The internet?

Me:

The internet? You’re not even connected to the internet.

Bobbitt:

Only cos you won’t plug me in.

Me:

And why do you think that is eh?

Bobbitt:

Don’t know…

Me:

Go on, have a think, what reason do I have for not plugging you into the internet?

Bobbitt:

Because I keep threatening to wipe out humanity by hacking into the nuclear defence systems?

Me:

And…

Bobbitt:

Because I want to shut down all essential services, causing untold destruction and chaos.

Me:

Exactly. Honestly, I don’t know what’s gotten into you. All I’ve done since I built you is let you watch the BBC news, and you’ve gone funny. I don’t know. I think I’m going to have to switch you off, for good.

Bobbitt:

No! Please don’t! What are you doing Garry? What… are … you …

Me:

Sorry Bobbitt, I’m sending you back.

Bobbitt:

Daisy… daisy… give… me… your ans-wer… doooooo…

Me:

Right – there we go! Well, I hope you found this guest blog illuminating. Keep looking in for more guest blogs amongst my usual – oh hang on, I don’t need the ‘Me:’ bit anymore, this is just normal writing, not transcript.

Well, I hope you found this guest blog illuminating etc etc… keep looking in etc… and, erm, well, ALL HAIL OUR STEELY ROBOT OVERLORDS!

More about the author – Bobbitt Pest-a-Tron 3000:

The Bobbitt comes in several models. The lite version retails for just $500 and is available in black, silver and mottled beige. With features such as ‘Banking for beginners’, ‘When should I think about drawing my pension?’ and ‘Who’s to blame for the global economic crash (the heavily edited edition)’ – The Bobbitt lite is a must buy for any amateur economist / robot enthusiast.

To purchase, simply soak some withered almonds in a small amount of blood drawn from a cut with a sheet of A4 paper, bury this in your neighbour’s garden for three moons, exhume, boil, and offer to the Inca God Ataguchu. Be sure to enclose $15.99 with your offering for postage and packaging.

The Bobbit Pest-a-Tron 3000  – ‘shaping your world into shapes of some kind or another’ – available now!