Saturday, July 16, 2005

The Love Cry Of The Travelling Man Goes “No One Knows Who I Am” 

On Friday afternoon you’d have found me wandering around Manchester city centre, feeling light headed, not really going anywhere in particular, just blending in with the sunshine, drifting among the crowds, ebbing and floatage. You could say I was A Free Man In Piccadilly Gardens. I had an overwhelming urge to buy gifts for my nearest and dearest, and ended up in HMV - a store that normally brings me out in a state of mild panic after a couple of minutes - taking my time, living in the moment, buying stuff. After all, I had unlimited free parking in the BBC car park and it seemed churlish to waste it.

The previous Friday, the day before this blog was Guardianised - and hello and welcome to new readers, please enjoy in moderation, etc. - I received an email from Philo Holland, a very nice man and a journalist with the BBC.
He’d been asked to contribute a piece on blogging for BBC Radio 5 Live, and was looking for someone local to Manchester with “a popular, unusual and amusing blog.” Would I be able to help?
Ever the fledgling media whore, apparently hell bent on self destruction - a sort of Pete Doherty with a 3-times-a-week blogging habit - I said sure, why not?

A week later and I was in Philo’s little office on Oxford Road, shooting the breeze with him and his colleague Derek Ivens, also a very nice man, not that I’m trying to pit them against each other in a Battle Of The Very Nice Men.
They said that in the winter, when the trees were bare, there were cracking views to be enjoyed of the ballet school across the road. I took a long look, but saw no ballerinas. The sun shone brightly through the leaves.
Here I was, standing in the very building from which Simon Armitage reads poetry to the nation, and me in particular. I felt calm on the outside, slightly giddy on the inside.

Derek told me about a friend and colleague of his - Stuart Hughes - who writes a blog, and had I read it? I said I hadn’t, but I’ve seen it now. Fucking amazing stuff.
It started out as a ‘journalist working in Iraq blog’, then all too quickly became a ‘journalist with an amputated leg blog’.
By now, I felt I was getting on OK with Derek and flippantly wise-cracked “Does he have a big following among the amputee blogging community?”
It was intended as a little half-joke but somehow it went over his head and he replied, straight faced “Yes, but also in the general blogging community at large” or words to that effect, and I felt such an arsehole for sounding like I was taking the piss out of his friend after all the crap he’d been through.
I should have said so at the time but didn’t, so I’ll say it now - sorry Derek.
Amputation humour: an easy one for the novice to mis-judge. Oops.
I said something about how my blog’s nothing like that, mine’s just a load of old bollocks, and he said “No - stupid’s good. Stupid’s very good,” which I thought was extraordinarily gracious.

We left Derek reading AFMIP and moved into the little studio next door.
Philo asked me to read a few choice segments from Wednesday’s ‘Fast Car’ post. He insisted I couldn’t say “Twat Brothers” and suggested Twit instead. I negotiated hard and we settled on “Prat Brothers.” I was feeling pretty bullish at this point.
He asked me to tap at a keyboard while I read, to make it sound as if I was thinking aloud while writing a real post.
I was useless and couldn’t do it. I would read a bit, then frantically type like mad for a few seconds, then read a bit more, and it just wasn’t working darling. It ended up with him holding the microphone in one hand, randomly typing with the other, and me trying to read.

Next he interviewed me about how I started blogging, what kind of buzz I get from it - instant, if short lived gratification - and what sort of things people comment about. I mentioned the recent Homer Simpson / Sideshow Bob rake debacle. I’m glad that commenters here seem to know that it’s OK to take the piss. I didn’t explain it very well and it’ll probably be cut.
Other stuff. Why do I blog under a pseudonym? I dunno, I just do.
How often do I blog? I replied something poncey and high-minded about whenever I want to, and not when I think I should.

I gabbled. I gabbled like a hyperventilating pre-teen enjoying a private back stage audience with Britney Spears, which took me by surprise.
I’d fully expected to dry up - think footballer, randomly chosen to provide a urine sample, shorts down and pulling a funny face, barely producing a dribble. I’m like David Beckham in so many ways.
As it transpired, I was spraying all over the place, splashing into the plastic cup and out of it, the full twin jets treatment. I so gabbled.

Philo was very patient. I’ve not witnessed such patience since the bloke at the opticians wasted a whole afternoon trying to teach me to insert contact lenses.
At one point I said, more than a little fatuously “Well, it’s not as if anybody ever listens to 5 Live, is it?” to which he replied that they get two million listeners.

Two million? Fuck.
At that exact moment, I became two million per cent less funny.
I looked on aghast as right before my very eyes, all my former witticisms transformed into wankicisms. I turned cool clear waters into piss.

Being clever while typing into a computer is a far cry from being clever talking into a microphone.
My aim here is to appear effortless and erudite, but the truth is anything but. I grasp and fumble for words. The thesaurus gets a frequent seeing to.
With a microphone under my nose and the mini-disc rolling, I didn’t feel quite so smart. I was outplayed all over the park.

Eventually Philo switched off the microphone and we fell into a pattern of just chatting and if I said anything usable - hah! - he’d switch the mic back on and we’d repeat it for the mini-disc. A very strange way to hold a conversation. I’m worried that because I’d already said my piece once and was now repeating it, to the listener it may sound like I was a wee bit too sure of myself, cocky, too knowing.
Try to imagine a job interview where there is no job at the end of the line, and selected highlights of the nervous twatty things you say are broadcast to two million people. Bloody fantastic. I don’t even have a Lancashire accent.

I can’t remember which pieces of the conversation were committed to mini-disc and which weren’t. I don’t think I said anything bad, but can’t be sure. Please please please understand that if I cause any offence to anybody, at all, anywhere, I apologise fulsomely and unreservedly. I was swimming with my boots on. I only had a small breakfast.

I dropped in the occasional prepared ad-lib. At one point I said “Sorry, I was just thinking about sex. Could you repeat the question?” which seemed amusing when I thought of it in the car on the way down, but, you know, it stank of inexperience.

Derek was still reading my blog when we came out of the studio half an hour or so later. He complimented me on it being very funny, and I told him to get a life. I’m a real people person.
We chatted some more, then I checked my flies, stepped once again into the famous Manchester sunshine and went CD shopping. I kept my visitor’s pass as a souvenir.

The journey home was timed to coincide with rush hour, so that fellow travellers could take a good look and say to each other “Hey, isn’t he the guy who writes that blog? You know - the one about Prestatyn? He’s alright, but he’s no Magnetic Kid Liv.”

I’ve been promised it’s going out on Wednesday July 20th, some time between 9:00am and midday.
There’ll be about two minutes of heavily edited me - two minutes? Bloody hell, what have I been getting so up myself about? Surely there’ll have been enough of me not coming on like a sanctimonious dickhead to fill two minutes - followed by ten minutes or so of the excellent Richard Herring, who’ll be analysing the very latest blogging news, live in the studio as events unfold.
And then he’ll get off the bus.

I distributed gifts to the appropriate recipients, and told my step-sons that I’m 95% certain I’m going to sound like a complete tosser. They didn’t try to persuade me otherwise, although I detected some kudos for the Richard Herring connection.

I hope Leanne likes hardcore Bavarian euphonium techno. I wasn’t thinking at all. My body was in HMV: my mind was still down a corridor dimly at the BBC.
Later on that evening she sent Girlfriend an email saying that I am to remember who my real friends are.

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