Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Happy New Year!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Happy Christmas


3D Santa, originally uploaded by Dave Gorman.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Seasons Greetings...

Right... I expect this'll be my last post for a little while. I didn't have Christmas last year. I'd missed several deadlines on my book, had torn up a big section and started again and so I decided to stay at home, ignore the festivities and work. I say 'decided'... I didn't have much choice. I got up on the 25th and worked from 7am through to 4am stopping only to call my folks and to make - and consume - a butternut squash risotto. It was quite definitely the least Christmassy Christmas of my life.

I did do another Christmas by myself. I was in New York doing an Off-Broadway run of Googlewhack Adventure at the time. There was no show on Thanksgiving because, quite rightly, every American stops for Thanksgiving... but the same isn't true for Christmas and so the show went ahead. It was sold out as well. The audience was almost exclusively Jewish save for two British tourists and a guy who'd had a row with his wife. I had a Chinese takeaway for my lunch that day and then went to work... but it was still a damn site more cheerful than last year's Stakhanovite non-festivities. (Yes, I do know that writing can never be truly Stakhanovite in nature... forgive me... indulge me...)

Anyway, it's satisfying to look back on the year and feel that the work I was doing twelve months ago was worth it. The book did really well and as a result, I think there's a new cheap and cheerful edition coming out in the spring. Hurrah.

And this time round I've got all my work wrapped up and ready before Christmas so I'm able to stop and enjoy. The telly version of Genius is all boxed and ready. I don't know exactly when it'll be on air... probably springtime too. Obviously, I'll be sure to let you folks know as and when.

Of course there's a Christmas Special on Radio 4 on Monday at 6.30. How that recording has been wrestled down to thirty minutes I'll never know. But it has and I think it sounds great. I hope you can catch it.

Now... as I sometimes use this space to grumble about things I thought it would be more festive to mention a few things I really like instead. So rather than mither about the poor service I had out of Apple recently, let me recommend All Things Mac instead. This is only any good to you if you live in the South East of England and you're a Mac user (so that's about three of you) but they were fab. They were friendly and helpful and went out of their way to give me advice that saved me money and earned themselves nought. They could have solved my problem and made a few quid... instead they chose to give advice and not make a penny. Of course I'll be using them again as a result and I think they're smart enough to know that longterm customer loyalty is worth more than a few quid now.

Here's something else I recommend. Gold by Dan Rhodes. I love Dan Rhodes and this book - which had sat unread on my shelf for yonks - is up there with his best. It's just utterly charming. It's elegant, delicate, wry and absorbing writing. (I loved The Little White Car too and it's just occurred to me that both books have female protagonists... which strikes me as unusual for a male author. Mind you, I'm not sure why that it is. Noone thinks it odd when a woman like JK Rowling puts a male character at the heart of things do they? And no one even bats an eyelid when a computer programme like DanBrown2.0 attempts to put a human being into its "stories". Hmmm.)


I recommended this album, Television's People
back in October too... but it really is fab so I'm doing it again. Grandmaster Gareth - the driving force behind Misty's Big Adventure - did me a huge favour by writing a special song for an extra on the Are You Dave Gorman DVD and I'm thrilled that they've now done the theme music for the TV version of Genius too. It's such a ridiculous thrill being able to work with a band that I'm a huge fan of. What a silly and exciting world this is. Anyway, I can't recommend them highly enough.

Talking of bands I'm a big fan of and who have written songs for my DVD extras - and I think you'll find I was - this Helen Love album, It's My Club And I'll Play What I Want To, came out back in February this year. They're fab. It's fab. I love Helen Love and you should too. What's that, you say? You do? Oh. Great!



Right, that's a book and two CDs... so here's a DVD. It's from Robin Ince who is one of the finest live comedians I know. Not only is he a brilliant writer and performer himself, Robin is one of the unsung heroes of comedy - or at least a not-sung-about-enough-hero. He curates fabulous nights in strange venues and has gone out of his way to foster a creative environment that allows comedy to expand beyond the rather rigid boundaries imposed on it by most pub-bound circuit-gigs which, while perfectly good in and of themselves, only really allow for a procession of gag-merchants with 20 minutes a piece. The comedy world is hugely enriched by his presence. The DVD is released by a company called Go Faster Stripe who specialise in promoting comedians they love but who aren't necessarily going to have their work advertised all over TV at Christmas or on a rack at the front of HMV. If you're really interested in live, UK comedy, you'd do well to peruse their catalogue... there's some fascinating stuff there.

Crikey... look at that for unbounded positivity! It's all stuff that has made my life more colourful and enjoyable one way or another and even if none of this is for you - I don't know, you might be a PC user who doesn't live in the South East and who hates whimsy, elegance, beauty, charm, wit, excitement, flair and anything thought-provoking - well, the wider lesson is surely that somewhere out there, there is stuff that will excite you as much as this stuff excites me. Seek it out. Then tell your friends.

To round things off - and to add a seasonal note - here's an old video I found on youtube from the aforementioned Misty's Big Adventure. It asks the question we've all wanted to ask before: Where do jam jars go at Christmas time?


Happy Christmas!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Casting the New Humanist Pod

I don't think I've mentioned this before... but it seems eminently plug-worthy so I really should have done.

It's the New Humanist Advent Podcasts... a rationalist advent calendar in audio form. Behind each, erm, window there's a short audioclip where someone names the scientist/philosopher/thinker they think deserves to be celebrated.

Alexei Sayle, Stephen Fry, Chris Addison and Eddie Izzard sit alongside science writers like Simon Singh and Ben Goldacre

You can find them on the New Humanist blog, here, and if for some strange reason you're visiting from the future and can't be bothered to scroll back through their blog to find December, you can find a handy collection of all the podcasts here.

My own rather ropey contribution is here... happy Erdősmas.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Time to fall over.

We recorded the Genius Christmas Special last night... in what turned out to be a marathon recording.

I think we ran nearly an hour longer than our normal shows... and I'm aware that my energy levels were dropping by the end of the night.

I thought it was a more rambunctious show than normal but all of the punters were great, as was our special guest, Lee Mack... and the diversity of the ideas was lovely too. It should definitely make for a fine show... but I wouldn't fancy being the one who has to cut it down to thirty minutes. You can judge for yourself when the show airs on Radio 4 at 6.30 on December 22. (It's repeated on the Sunday after Christmas too.)

I've spent the last two or three weeks trying to shake off an annoyingly persistent cold. I tend to get better as the day goes on... but then wake up each morning feeling like I'm back to square one. My normal reaction to a cold is to exercise. I like to tell my body that I'm here and I'm fighting... so I've been cycling to Genius HQ each morning. Someone who seems to know what they're talking about has recently told me that it's the wrong thing to do and that it lowers the immune system... but by the end of a five mile bike ride I feel so much better than I do after cooping myself up on the tube so I keep doing it.

There was one day last week when I did a morning in the office, an afternoon at home, a gig (yes, my experiment with unadvertised, short notice, short sets of stand up is ongoing) at the Albany on Great Portland Street, another gig at The Kings Head in Crouch End, returned to the Albany to see a few friends and then returned home. I reckon that added up to something like 25 to 30 miles of cycling although the hills around Crouch End made it feel like more.

By the end of the day I was feeling the full smugness of a cyclist. Not only had I done my travelling in about the same time as the tubes and buses would have reasonably got me from A to B (to A to C to D to C to A) but the exercise left me feeling really healthy. I felt like I'd conquered my cold. My lungs were full of oxygen instead of the radioactive phlegm I'd been growing accustomed to... I really thought I'd won.

Boy did I feel shit the next morning. Wiped out. You can't win. The only thing that makes me feel better in the short term is some exercise. But the next day it seems to have made things worse. So I get on the bike once more... and feel better. Only to be worse still the next day.*

Anyway... last night's show was my last work for the year. I've been trying to fight the illness for long enough to get that out of the way. Today I feel completely wiped out so I think it might be time to give in to the cold and let it take me down. I'll emerge on the other side. Hopefully before Christmas.











*You have no idea how hard it was to resist the obvious, "it's a vicious cycle" pun.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Day Seven. The aftermath

I'm no historian...













... but I could have sworn it lasted longer than that.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Self Doubt. And wombs.

Sometimes you hear something that makes you question your own bank of knowledge... that makes you wonder whether something you've always held as a fact is actually nothing of the sort.

Some time ago I went out with someone who didn't know that emus were real. She'd reached adulthood under the impression that 'Emu' was just the name of Rod Hull's puppet rather than an actual factual type of flightless bird. Then one day, we were sitting around watching TV and a nature documentary came on featuring emus.

I could sense some kind of mild panic in the room as my companion tried to work out what was going on. She looked at me suspiciously as if the whole thing was some kind of elaborate practical joke... as if I'd somehow managed to make a fake documentary and get it broadcast on TV... just to con her into believing in these so-called 'emus'. Slowly it dawned on her that emus were indeed real, that this wasn't an over elaborate plan to make her believe in a fictional bird and that all it was, was a strange and hard-to-explain gap in her knowledge. Emus were real... and somehow they'd avoided her radar for more than 20 years of her sentient life.

Well... there was a day this week when I found myself racked with self-doubt, convinced that I had stumbled upon a glaring hole in my own store of general knowledge.

It started as I was cycling to Genius HQ a few mornings ago. I found myself caught up in heavy traffic and stuck behind one particular bus for longer than normal. Every now and then I'd get ahead of the bus - or it would motor ahead of me - but somehow, at the next set of traffic lights it would end up in front of me and there wouldn't be a channel wide enough for me to edge past it while we were stuck on a red light.

There was a poster on the back of the bus that caught my attention. It was telling people to be Cervix Savvy... to have their cervix screened in case of cancer. What made it odd was that the face on the poster was categorically the face of a man: a vaguely hunky bloke wearing a beard and a green t-shirt. I didn't have a camera to hand at the time or I'd have taken a snap but I've just googled it and while this isn't the exact same ad, it is the man I'm talking about:

The ad I was looking at - and that kept appearing in front of my eyes at every set of traffic lights - was basically a picture of that chap with the slogan 'Be Cervix Savvy' written across it in big letters. Why on earth were they using a man to tell people to be cervix savvy?

Honestly, as I found myself confronted by the poster for the third or fourth time, I was starting to wonder whether I actually had a cervix. At the age of 37 I was cycling through London and genuinely wondering whether I'd spent my entire adult life wrongly believing a cervix to be a specifically female thing.

Surely, I thought, it's the lower end of a womb. Isn't it? Isn't it? It must be. But if it is... why would they be using a chap in the advert? I mean, you could use a man to tell women to have their bits checked... but... but... but you just wouldn't. It just didn't make sense. For that advert to make sense, a cervix has to be a man-bit. Doesn't it? Or maybe a unisex-bit? Either way, that means it can't be a part of the womb. Because men don't have wombs. (Well, this man does but he was born female so that doesn't count.)

Had I really spent years of my life not knowing what a cervix was? Was I really so cervix unsavvy? It's not as though I often sit around talking about cervices but I'm sure they've cropped up in conversation once or twice. How embarrassing were those conversations? Had people walked away thinking it was odd that I kept bringing the conversations round to wombly matters when they were trying to have a serious conversation about cervices? How had I got the wrong impression? Who'd told me that a cervix was a lady-bit? What had I mis-read? What joke had I failed to grasp?

And what else was floating around in my bonce, masquerading as fact but really just an embarrassment timebomb waiting to go off.

By the time I got to Genius HQ it was really troubling me but I didn't bring it up with any of Team Genius because I didn't want to have an emu moment. I didn't want to reveal my ignorance.

It was only when I got home that evening that I decided to look it up for myself. I went to a dictionary and looked up cervix to see what it really meant.

cervix: n. the narrow neck like passage forming the lower end of the womb.

So I wasn't having an emu-moment after all. I did know what a cervix was. That was a relief. (And how nostalgic: I was a mere slip of a lad when I last used a dictionary to look up a gynaecological term.)


So does the ad make sense? According to the website (www.BeCervixSavvy.co.uk) there are a few ads out there... and they all feature men. Here are the five men they chose:
I'm very confused. But at least I'm confused about an ad agency's decision-making processes and not basic anatomy.

Of course it goes without saying that if you have a cervix it's probably something to be savvy about. So do visit the over-manned and under-womanned site.

[I've nabbed the pictures from the site so clicking on them here won't take you to the pages they mention... but the first picture is meant to go here... and the second one, here.]

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Dry Mouth

I'm not a doctor but in my amateur opinion I'd say that water makes for a more than adequate solution to any 'dry mouth' issues you may experience.

In fact, it's not just mouths that can be made less dry by water.

I don't want to blind you with science so let's just say that water is one of the wettest things in the world. It's brilliant at being wet and can be used to make almost anything less dry.

It definitely works with mouths. Well it certainly does with mine. In fact my mouth was feeling a bit dry only two or three minutes ago. I drank a glass of water. Problem solved.

Of course water isn't always available in a big city like London so it's worth pausing to consider how I might deal with a dry mouth if I found myself unable to locate drinking water. If only someone could invent a dry mouth spray of some kind.

Of course while an amateur like me is capable of coming up with the glass-of-water solution it would need an expert to come up with a dry mouth spray... after all, it's not like it's going to be mainly water now is it?

Oh. It is.

I'm sure I'm not the first to say this but...










... this one's made of Andi Peters.











Actually, I asked about the ingredients and it's just Meatloaf.



Thought he hadn't released anything in a while.


Sorry. Normal service will be resumed soon.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Woolies RIP



Some Chinese girls, some Cossack boys, Anita Harris, Windsor Davies and Don Estelle... what looks through the grainy, blurry, pixellation to be a Princess Diana lookalike and for some inexplicable reason only two Goodies. Cracking tune, mind. So long Woolworths and thanks for all the tat.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Post

The post round my way has often been a troublesome thing. A couple of years ago I had a postie who didn't even try to deliver parcels. I'd be in my kitchen making a cup of tea and I'd hear my letterbox snap. I'd wander over to the hallway to discover that there was a card saying "We tried to deliver a parcel but you weren't in" etc. etc. when clearly no such attempt had been made. I'd then have to wait two days before traipsing over to my local collection office to pick up whatever it was that the postman was too lazy to try and deliver. The collection office was a disorganised mess and often I'd have to return on another occasion because it could take over an hour to get to the front of the queue and even then there were times when they couldn't locate the parcel in question. Bah.
I even wrote a letter of complaint. But who knows if it was ever delivered? Another bah. That's two now.

But that wasn't the worst of it... I also had a postman-thief. I was contacted one day by some special Royal Mail Investigation Unit who asked me to confirm that a particular parcel had failed to arrive. I did. They had the parcel. It had been found in the flat of a postman alongside several hundred other unopened parcels going back months. I'd like to think that his crime had been uncovered through top sleuthing but as it happens he'd been stopped by traffic cops for some routine check and just happened to find a load of undelivered parcels in the boot.

Anyway, that was all a few years ago and things seem to have been sorted out these days. The service is much better. In that they deliver things and don't steal. What more could I ask for? Post before 11am? Now that's just fussy. The collection office is considerably nicer and more efficient than it was, too... I'm normally in and out in less than 10 minutes.

So, about a week ago while I was over at Genius HQ I got one of those cards telling me that they'd tried to deliver a parcel. As I'm working office hours at the mo', getting over to the collection office during their opening hours hasn't been possible until today. Today I was having the morning off because other commitments this afternoon made the trip to Genius HQ kind of futile.

So I duly scooted over to the collection office... to discover that there was a twenty strong queue in front of me. Damn. I'm guessing it's because of people sending Christmas presents and so on. I think a long Post Office queue might well be the first truly Christmassy experience of the year for me. Maybe it'll help me get into the Christmas mood for the Genius Christmas Special?

Anyway... I queued for 40 minutes to then be given my parcel. It contained four energy saving light bulbs. It had been sent by British Gas. I hadn't ordered them... they'd sent them as a thank you. Or a bribe. Or something. Anyway... they're very useful. Thank you British Gas. But it's a ten minute walk to the collection office and a ten minute walk back... so that's cost me an hour this morning... and all to collect something I didn't ask for and don't really want. Almost every bulb in my house is of the energy saving type already. I've never had to change one yet - they do seem to last forever. It might be ten years before I get to use my free gift from British Gas. Oh well, I thought, never mind.

Except that when I got back home I discovered that the postman had been... and tried to deliver a parcel... which I'd missed because I was at the Post Office collecting a parcel. I have no idea what this parcel contains or when I will be able to collect it. But that's basically another hour down the pan. Two hours of my life... for four lightbulbs. I'm not sure that's such a good deal.

I know I sound ungrateful when they're basically trying to give me some free stuff. But if someone stopped me in the street and said, "If you stand here for thirty minutes I'll give you a free lightbulb... make it two hours and I'll give you four." I'd tell them I had better things to be doing. Even if I was on my way to Lightbulbs-R-Us to be buy some lightbulbs.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Last Night's News... and Christmas Genius

Cor, last night was exciting wasn't it? The world feels like a different place already. It's obvious the man's a born leader.

No doubt about it... not everyone could have slotted home that 95th minute penalty, salvaging a draw and leaving Liverpool top of the group. Now... I ought to check the news and see what happened in those elections they were having in Americaland. I hope that Obama chap won. The Palin lass scares me.

Now... Christmas.


Retro Christmas, originally uploaded by Dave Gorman.

I know it's only early November... but these things need to be planned.

We're going to make a Genius Christmas Special for Radio 4 soon... and it would be fabbo if the show was jam packed with seasonal ideas. So if you think you might be a genius and you have an idea that relates to the festive season - whether it's Christmas, Hanukah or simply something that'll make the New Year go with a swing - then get in touch by e-mailing the show on Genius@bbc.co.uk.

If you fancy being in the audience... well, as I type this, free tickets are still available here.

The show will record on the evening of December 10th... see you there, yeah? Yeah? Great.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Live

I did some stand-up for the first time in nearly 8 years last night.

I mentioned a few days ago that I'm trying to work out how to get back into some kind of live performance... but that I'm not sure what form it should take.

The thing is, I gave up stand-up for what seemed to be very good reasons at the time. The landscape has changed a bit these days. Somebody has coined the phrase 'documentary comedy', giving a name to the genre*. Each year at the Fringe there are maybe a dozen shows tagged with the phrase and audiences turn up to see them without questioning what the format will be.
*Or maybe they're just pretending that the age old art of story-telling is some kind of new genre by coming up with a new name for it. Either way, the effect is the same.

When I first did Reasons To Be Cheerful at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1998, audiences were confused about what to expect. There would often be some awkwardness at the start of the show as it dawned on them that they weren't watching the stand-up show they were perhaps expecting. People simply didn't believe that I really was going to spend the whole show discussing one subject, without jokes, and that it would be funny. Luckily, on most occasions, most people were won over eventually. (As those who saw it will know, I've got the marbles to prove it.)

Of course it makes sense that audiences were expecting a stand-up show: I'd done stand-up shows at the festival for a few years running. I was a stand-up comic. And there wasn't really another kind of show for them to expect it to be.

The night I finally decided to knock stand-up on the head came after a gig at The Meccano Club in Islington. I'd just finished a ten-show run of Are You Dave Gorman? in the West End. I was really proud of the show. It hadn't been on TV yet but word of mouth meant I'd managed some respectable ticket sales in a proper West End theatre. It was really exciting and I was convinced it was the best show I'd done thus far.

Then a week or so after the run had ended I was booked for a thirty minute set at The Meccano. It went well although most of the material in the show was more than three years old. At the end this nice young couple came up to me.
"It was really good to see you tonight," said she, "We wanted to come and see you in the West End but we couldn't get a baby sitter. But it doesn't matter because we've seen you now."

That was it. As far as they were concerned seeing me do 30 minutes of jokes was equivalent to seeing me tell a 90 minute long story. I wanted to try and point it out to them... I wanted to explain that it was a completely different thing. But I didn't. I think I'd have looked like a churlish arse if I'd tried to explain it. I probably look like a churlish arse right now for admitting that I wanted to. But I did.

So, while I left my arse unchurled, I did decide there and then that if audiences were going to see me once and make their minds up about me based on that one offering, then I should only make available the work I was proudest of. If people didn't like it, that was fine - so long as enough people did - and it was better than confusing the issue by working in different fields... especially when they appear to be so similar in an I-talk-I-stop-they-laugh way.

I didn't have many stand-up engagements left in my diary... so the next day I called my agent and told him that I wouldn't accept any others. From that point on, the only thing I wanted to be judged on were the one-man shows.

Over the next few years I toured four different stage shows. And over time I definitely noticed that audiences' expectations were changing. When I revived Reasons To Be Cheerful a few years later they were entirely comfortable with the format of the show. There was no awkwardness at the start. The idea that I was there to discuss one subject, to tell one story was no problem. In fact that's what people expected of me.

So part of me thinks that maybe I don't need to draw the line in the sand for myself anymore. If someone saw that I was doing a storytelling show one night, a book reading on another and some stand up the night after that, I think they'd understand that each of those things were going to be fundamentally different in a way that wasn't clear 8 or 9 years ago.

It's probably been true for a while. It's just taken me some time to see through the fog I created for myself. I am stupid.

Anyway... I haven't toured a live show since I came home from my exhausting American tour of Googlewhack Adventure nearly three years ago. And that means I've been starved of audiences. I love doing Genius and that obviously involves a live audience but at six shows a series it's hardly feeding a habit.

When I was doing the book-readings for Googlewhack Adventure they were fun but it didn't possess any great novelty because I'd only just finished touring the UK with the stage show and more overseas touring was just around the corner... so facing an audience was just a normal, everyday thing to do. It's always been something I've enjoyed... but it's only when you don't do it for a while that you realise quite how much fun it is. And that's what I discovered (rediscovered?) when I did the run of book readings for America Unchained. I was really excited to be doing them... and I decided that when the book readings ended I'd try to work out a way of doing something else live instead.

I don't think it would be sensible to try and contrive another big story-telling show. I'm proud of how honest and un-contrived the previous shows have been and think it would inevitably feel a bit lacklustre if I engineered something just so I could do another one. Several people have suggested I create a stage-show out of America Unchained... but I can't see the point in telling people a story they already know and so, with the book and the documentary already out in the wild there's no reason to tell the story another way.

I still don't know what this is all going to lead to. Maybe I'll get back into stand-up properly. Maybe I won't. I just know that sitting around and trying to think of things in the abstract isn't very helpful. The only way of finding out is to go and do something and see how it fits. It'll either provide enough fascination and drive or it won't. Maybe it'll close down some options but maybe it'll open up others. On stage, with an audience to play to (and with) the possibilities become real in a way that they never will when I'm sitting on my sofa muddling my thoughts.

But I'm aware that I've unlearned some of my stand-up ways and it's a form that needs to be respected. So, I'm not going to start hawking myself around as the finished article. So yesterday, I put together a short set - maybe 5 or 6 minutes - and went to a new material night run by some friends.

It went well. I enjoyed it. Things clicked. I was aware that my brain wasn't thinking as fast as it should. I was lucky. Because the audience were going with things I had plenty of thinking time to spare. It didn't matter that I was a bit behind the pace. But if it had been a quiet room - or perhaps if it hadn't been a new material night - where the audience don't expect the performers to be quite so well-oiled and slick - I might have been playing catch up; finding my next move a few moments after it was really needed.

Still it was a worthwhile exercise. And I guess I'll do some more short sets in the next few weeks. Just to loosen my muscles and tighten up some words. I might as well find out.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Genius Bowlarama

Making Genius for the wireless has largely involved a team of 6 or 7 people. For the tellybox Team Genius expanded rapidly. Suddenly we had production accountants, production coordinators, production managers, an art-department, a set-designer, a director, an executive producer or two (or three) and so on. These are all jobs that needed doing and they were all done by people that were naturally welcomed into the bosom of Team Genius.

With so many new people involved we decided early on in the production to have a night out as a bonding exercise. This was when our work was largely office-based and before we started recording the shows; before the whole working into the early hours schedule really kicked in.

So Team Genius went for a night of fun and frolics. And competitive bowling. Fun was had by all. Luckily - and I really was lucky - I won. As a reward, I was allowed to host the show. It could all have been so different; Gemma (Team Genius, Non-Bearded Division) came a very close second.

Anyway... when the series ended we wanted to have a wrap party and because various members of TG were working on other projects we had to wait until this last Friday to do it. Now that we'd been in the studio, membership of Team Genius had swelled further still as there are people who only join a production at that nuts and bolts stage. Opinions were canvassed but there was no real debate. Bowling had somehow become the official sport of Team Genius. So a second Team Genius Bowlarama was arranged.

Of course this put the pressure on me. I knew that my job was on the line. Winner = host. It's as simple as that. In the first game of Bowlarama II, Gemma (TGNBD) equalled my score but we were both left in the shade by a fine game-winning performance from Paul (TGNBD(WTF)). I knew that in the second game I had to step it up. Not only did I need to win, if I wanted to continue hosting Genius I needed to do it with a score higher than Paul's first-game-winning total.

It was a close call. It was difficult to keep track because Team Genius were spread over three lanes. It wasn't just Gemma (TGNBD) and Paul (TGNBD(WTF)) I had to worry about... a newly competitive Alison (TGNBD) was bowling well also... with her and Paul ahead of me for most of the game.

With two frames to go I was in deep trouble. If either Paul or Alison hit strikes I was out of it. And I needed not one, but two consecutive strikes to put me back in contention. I love hosting Genius. I couldn't let someone steal my job from under my nose. I dug deep. Strike. Strike.

My job is safe ladies and gentlemen... I, Dave Gorman (TGBD), am the Two-time, Team Genius Bowlarama Champeen. Get in.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Cheltenham

I enjoyed the reading at Cheltenham last night although I was slightly annoyed by how rusty I'd become since I last did one.

My performance felt woolly and shapeless at the start and I don't think I pulled it into proper shape until we got into the Q&A part of things.

I always like the Q&A bit, not least because it makes each night different for me and stops the evenings becoming routine. It was certainly interesting last night to find the questions were a bit more writerly than normal. Maybe it's a consequence of being part of a literary festival. Or maybe it's what happens when an audience breathes in Cheltenham's refined air. Or maybe it's simply because the book's now been out for quite a while and so more of the audience have actually read it and so have opinions and questions that relate to the content. I hadn't expected that - most readings happen so soon after publication that you can safely assume nobody there has read it - but I enjoyed it for all that.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Some things I recommend...

Read Frank Skinner on the Road. It's a journal describing Frank's return to live stand-up after a ten year hiatus and it's fascinating, honest and funny. I guess I'm finding it particularly good because I'm currently trying to work out how to get back into live performance myself... although, in my case I don't think I ought to do another big story-telling show and I don't want to do straight stand-up either... but I think anyone with even a passing interest in comedy will find the book a fascinating insight into the paranoid mindset that I think many performers share.

If you're in or around Bethnal Green, visit Gallery 320 and take in Sean Pines' exhibition of fashion photography. The gallery can be hard to find, mind. According to that link it's on Bethnal Green Road... but the entrance is in Voss Street.

Listen to Television's People by Misty's Big Adventure. They're fab. The album's fab too.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Apparently this is where...

This morning I asked the question: where does money come from.

I illustrated the post with a picture taken on my roadtrip outside an abandoned gas station in Moab, Utah. It turns out it was a pretty good answer to the question. Sorta.

The following video seemed to be about as informative a response as any. It's 47 minutes long, but I think it's worth it...

Where does money come from?



Credits Cards same as Cash, originally uploaded by Dave Gorman.
I'm sure I'm going to look very simple... but it's a genuine question.

Where does it come from? It's all symbolic anyway. If there were a hundred people living on an island without any contact with the outside world and they all had a pound each... and one of them opened a bank and offered the others 1% interest per annum... then how would they pay that interest? If someone invested their whole pound, then at the end of the year they'd be owed a penny and that would mean the banker had only 99p of their own pound left... which would make banking an inherently unprofitable business. Which (despite the recent evidence) it can't be... or there wouldn't be bankers.

If those hundred people continued to live with their pounds, swapping them here and there, the baker buying an apple from the greengrocer for a penny here and the greengrocer buying a loaf of bread from the baker for tuppence there, then I can see how some people would do better than others. Some people are going to get richer than others because more people spend more with them... but the sum total of their money would still be £100 and the only way of changing that would be to create more money out of thin air.

If some of them had kids that would just spread the wealth a little thinner. There are more people in the world now than there were 300 years ago and there's more money too. So where did it come from?

Someone has to have decided to just make more of it. Someone somewhere must be deciding to increase the amount of money in the world year on year. But who decides how much and where does it go to? Say you're one of the 100 people who all started with a pound each. And say you've decided that for your society's economy to function you need to have another £10 added in to the mix? So what do you do next? You mint another ten coins... and then where do you put them? Who do they belong to? Are they yours? The governments? How do they get into the system?

If governments are just creating more symbolic money each year, how do they decide how much to create? How do they balance that out with each other?

Let's say there was another group of a hundred people who lived on another island and they all started with two dollars each. Then one day, some brave mariner from Island A discovers Island B and the two islands start trading with each other. As it goes, what costs about a penny on Island A costs a couple of cents on Island B so everyone's happy trading two dollars for a pound.

So now what happens when the first island decides to add another £10 into their economy. They've just created something - out of nothing - that makes them wealthier than their neighbours. So what's to stop Island B deciding to just create even more money to make them even wealthier?

Countries borrow money from each other. For that to work there has to be some agreement between nations about where money comes from. You can't decide that a pound is worth two dollars if they're allowed to just make more dollars whenever they want.

Somebody somewhere has to be increasing the sum total of money in the world bit by bit... because there's more of it now than there was then... and there has to be some kind of international agreement between governments about how that works... or there would be no way of trading with each other.

So... on the off-chance that the World's Money Increaser (I think that must be his/her title) is reading this (and come on, I think there's every chance they google themselves) can I offer them this suggestion: make more.

You know how tax-payers are meant to be bailing out the banks with 500 squillion pounds? Why not just create a new 500 squillion pounds and use that instead? You won't even have to print the paper or mint the coins... because it's the kind of money that only really exists on computer screens and bank statements. Just tell everyone it's there... and then it is there... because surely that's how all money works anyway. Then the problem is solved and it won't have cost tax payers anything in real terms because we'll only be spending money that didn't exist before.

You know that National Debt that people are always going on about? However much it is... that's how much I'd create on Day 2 if I was in charge. Just make enough money to pay it off.

I don't know why no one seems to have thought of it sooner.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Genius...

After shows three and four I said something about how every show was turning out really differently as the guests - and the people pitching their ideas - had all stamped their personalities on their respective shows.

There was no chance of the last two recordings bucking the trend as our guests were Johnny Vegas and Germaine Greer respectively. They were both on remarkably good form. There was a moment in Johnny's show when I looked across and saw people literally crying with laughter. The fact that I was experiencing no small amount of physical pain at the time wasn't unconnected. Definitely a highlight. For the audience at least.

Germaine really is a remarkable woman. She's sharp, witty, feisty, flirty and seems to have boundless energy. A real treat. The fact that she left our show and immediately skipped into the studio next door to appear on a live show - Newsnight Review - only served to underline quite how fab she is. She's a force of nature and quite, quite, brilliant.

There's always a strange low after something like this draws to a close. Making the show has occupied pretty much every waking minute of the last few weeks - and not just for me. So many people have been putting in remarkable hours to make things happen. From the outside looking in I think people imagine there's an endless pot of money in tellyland and that anything you want built will be... but obviously that's nowhere near the truth. We've had a small team working really hard with quite limited resources... tie that up with a show that is constantly evolving as the recording approaches and you don't get a show out the other side without people going the extra mile to help.

It's going to be a bit strange on Monday when I don't head to Genius HQ in the morning... and I'm going to miss working with those people. But then it's going to be nice to sleep. And to have my social life back and... and I'm going to miss working with those people.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Facebook

Okay... so, there are some things that make facebook a bit of a mare.

One is that, when you have three thousand, ahem, friends, it can make opening your own profile a bit difficult. I've never understood all the applications that exist, I have no desire to be a vampire or a pirate or to send a stranger a questionnaire or... or any of that. But obviously lots of people do. And they often send them indiscriminately to their friends. So I often find I have 200 pointless invites waiting for me... from people who weren't really specifically aiming the invites at me in the first place... they were just clicking a button that meant some of their friends got an invite. The point of me using facebook in the first place was to try and live a more spam-free online life... but the reality is that facebook's never ending stream of applications that are developed faster than they can be blocked - not to mention all the groups and events - just add up to another kind of spam. A well-intentioned kind, maybe... but if you've got five minutes to check your mail and find 300 invites waiting for you first it adds up to the same thing.

The other problem with facebook is what happens when someone decides to create a fake profile, pretending to be me... and then goes ahead and mails people, creates groups and so on.

So, the sensible advice seems to be that I should set up a page instead of (or as an adjunct to) my profile. So I have done. It's here.

Monday, October 6, 2008

A Fake Me...

Hmmm. I'm having a bit of a problem with a fake me on facebook. I've been getting a lot of mail from people who've been taken in by him... and I don't like it.

(I also don't like how hard facebook have made it to report... and how slow they are at reacting...)

I have a website. (I know... you know.) Given that I have a website, what are the chances of me having a facebook profile or a Myspace profile and not linking to them? Pretty slim I'd have thought.

Which is how you can verify that this is my facebook profile and that this isn't. That second link has got nothing to do with me. Unless you're listed as his friend (or you're in the Brighton and Hove network) you won't be able to see his page. But he's using my photo, my name and my biographical details and basically trying to pass himself off as me. Which is kind of unsettling to begin with... but is made worse by what he then does as "me."

He's created two groups.

One of them is called Gormans Idea Group.

He introduces the group saying "A group for my friends and fans to post any ideas they may have, for new books or tv programmes for me to write, as i am suffering from serious writers block at the moment.... lol."

Agggghhh. Leaving aside the whole people-might-think-I'm-begging-for-ideas thing... there's also the fact that he thinks I'd use a lower case i and a lol. Lord help me. I don't lol. I often laugh out loud. But if I ever want to tell someone that I've laughed out loud... I don't lol.

His other group is just as bad. It's called Googlewhack Fan Club. My skin crawls even as I read the words. In his introduction he writes, "Been a while since i did the googlewhack series, thought i'd give my friends a chance to post their own. When i get chance i'll check them and post the results. maybe devise a leaderboard or something - DG....."

Where do I start? Googlewhack series? Well there's your proof that it's not me writing those words right there. What series would that be? There wasn't one. There was a stage show and a book. The stage show was filmed and is available on DVD. But there's no series. Then there's that lower case i again. And again. And again. And the idea that I'd encourage people to try and googlewhack... or even go near the game again myself. Ugh. Shudder.

I've written to facebook and asked them to remove him but they don't make it easy to report these things and they're being very slow in responding. Far slower than Myspace have been when similar things have occurred over there. If you're a contact of the fake me... or you're in the Brighton and Hove network and can therefore view his profile, why not take the time to click on the 'report this person' link that should be there towards the bottom left hand corner? Or e-mail him... gorman1@live.co.uk and ask him to kindly stop...

Saturday, October 4, 2008

What Came First...

... the chicken or the egg?


It turns out that some of the time, the answer is neither. Sometimes it's the turkey.

Turkey

What am I on about? Well, it turns out one in five large chicken eggs are actually small Turkey eggs. They taste the same, apparently. Actually, if you think about it they must do. Because if one in five large "chicken" eggs is actually a turkey egg, the chances are we've all eaten plenty of them and nobody I know has ever noticed. I had a three egg omelette for my lunch earlier so there's every chance I had one today. It tasted, y'know, kind of eggy!

It seems that if they put them in boxes and label them "turkey" eggs, they just don't sell as well for some reason. Duck eggs, yes, turkey eggs, no. I guess people think of duck eggs as being exotic or luxurious, whereas turkey eggs just seem a bit bargain basement.

I wonder what else we're eating without realising? Pig milk cheese anyone?

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Two thirds...

Genius seems to be happening remarkably quickly now that we've started filming them. It feels like we've only just started but we've already got four out of the six shows done. Crikey. It's exhausting... but at the same time it's giving me an adrenaline rush and I think one is cancelling the other out. I expect I'll collapse into a heap the day after the sixth show.

This Tuesday/Wednesday our guests were Stewart Lee and Frank Skinner respectively. They were both brilliant. They also, both took really different approaches to the show which is one of the things that makes the job so exciting for me... it shows no signs of ever becoming routine.

There are so many variables in a show like this. It's not just the guest genius, there are also the members of the public who pitch their ideas, and of course the ideas themselves. The end result is that every show feels really unique... while at the same time, the series seems to have a really strong identity binding it all together. I hope that comes across on screen as well as it does in the studio.

Once again, our pitchers (for want of a better word) all seemed to have a good time. On paper, Genius could have been a show that chewed people up and spat them out and I'm really proud of the fact that we don't do that. Without exception they're always really beaming at the end of the night and whether they were deemed a genius or not, they're always happy that they took part. Before the show I always tell them that they're going to enjoy it... and I can tell they don't all believe me... but afterwards they always tell me how much fun it was. Which makes it all the more fun for me.

This time next week I'll be part way through recording the fifth show... and by the end of Friday night, the series will be over. Lorks.

By the way... a few people have asked a few questions about the show... so here are the answers:
1) It'll go out early next year some time. The dates will be on my site as soon as I know them.
2) Simply because we get loads more ideas from men than we do from women. Of the ideas we receive, something like 19 out of 20 come from men. We'd love to have more female pitchers too - get thinking ladies...
3) Yup, the ideas for this series are locked and loaded... but we're always looking for more. But I'm not the person to send them to. I'm the least organised member Team Genius... so visit the Genius website instead.
4) Yes, he is real and yes, his name really is Thorin.

Friday, September 26, 2008

...5, 4, 3, 2, 1

So that's the first two recordings done and dusted. But not edited. (I think they should dust them after the edit - there'll be less to dust that way and nobody enjoys dusting, do they?)

The guests were both fab - as I knew they would be. I've always said that the guests should come from different fields and make every show feel different and we definitely got that with Catherine Tate and Jonathan Pryce. There were a couple of times during show 2, that I caught myself in the middle of doing something ridiculous with Jonathan and had to pinch myself. "He's the finest Hamlet of his generation, a Bond villain, Madonna's hubby in Evita and Keira Knightly's Dad in Pirates of the Caribbean... and now he's here doing this with me!" What a ridiculous world.

The first show was plagued by a few technical problems which really slowed things down. It took a lot longer than it should and lost some of its sense of flow on the night so I'm very grateful to the audience for staying as energised as they did. It's always a learning curve and by the second show a lot of small kinks had been ironed out of the process so we were able to make everything happen much quicker and smoother.

But perhaps the best part for me was seeing the reactions of the, for want of a better word, contestants. They're naturally nervous before the show but afterwards, regardless of whether they were declared genius or not, they all seemed elated. When I chat to them afterwards the most frequent comment is always, "I'd like to do it again. Now." It's really quite exciting to be a part of.

For the next recordings we're going to jig a few things about and add in a few more rows of seating... that way we'll be able to get a load more people in too. Hurrah for things like that.

Monday, September 22, 2008

10, 9, 8, 7, 6...

Genius is on the launch pad. We film the first episode on Tuesday and the second on Wednesday.


Face 98, originally uploaded by Dave Gorman.



Then it's non-stop til it's all filmed. We have some amazing guests booked. I'm looking forward to it. I have meetings on Monday. About details. I'm bored of the details. I want to get in the studio and make the thing.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Thanks...


Seats, originally uploaded by Dave Gorman.

... for the overwhelming response on the logo front. I wasn't expecting so many people to respond. I wasn't really aware that so many people were reading. Maybe I should make more decisions this way. Next time I'm not sure which tie to wear I'll remember what a great resource this is. Anyway... ta.

If you want to see what decision we made you'll have to come to one of the studio recordings or wait for the broadcast.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Logotastic Opinions Welcomed.

According to a reliable source the office in which I'm spending most of my life right now was formerly the office occupied by Noel Edmonds when he was working on Noel's House Party. I hope some of the Edmond's magic rubs off on Genius. (Obviously I mean his telly magic, not the Cosmic Ordering "magic" stuff - that's just bonkers.)

Anyway... one of the reasons we did the run-through of a show at The Drill Hall recently was to help us test out a few things that we want to change from the one-off show we made last year. We definitely need to change the set we used for that show because it was very limiting. We want to be able to try out so many varied and different things on the show and that means we need a set that is particularly versatile.

And if we're changing the set that means it's only sensible to stop and consider whether all the visual elements are as good as they can be. So this afternoon we were talking about logos for the show. We had one on the one-off show - although it wasn't very visible on the set - but, the question was asked - could we come up with anything better. Something simple, unobtrusive... but essentially Genius.

We came up with a shortlist of ideas and argued the toss for a while before realising that we were
a) all getting a bit wordblind
and b) all too busy to spend quite that long discussing something like that.

"What we need," said one bright spark, "is to find out what some other people think. Some people who aren't as close to the show as us..."

So, in no particular order, here's our shortlist. They're only rough versions to give you an idea... although one of them is pretty much what was used on the one-off show.
Option 1:

Option 2:

Option 3:


I don't want to say too much about my own preferences because I don't want to steer you one way or the other... but if one of them grabs you... or one of them repulses you... or you think they're all duff... let me know. If you've never listened to the radio show... what would these logos make you think the show was? If you have listened, which is the best fit for the show? Let us know...

Friday, August 22, 2008

A Non-Broadcast. And A Broadcast.

On Tuesday night we ran a kind of workshop performance of Genius with a small audience at the Drill Hall in central London. The point of the show was to try out some new things and solving some of the problems that are thrown up now that we have to think about filming the show instead of just taking the sound.

We're pretty confident that we know how to best handle the heart of the show - the ideas sent to us by potential geniuses - it's the stuff around it that we needed to experiment with. But there's no way of just trying out that stuff... we obviously needed to run a proper show as well. If you were planning to build a wall and you knew what bricks you were going to use but had yet to make your mind up on the mortar... you wouldn't be able to test the mortar without using a few bricks as well.

I'm very grateful to the people who came down to pitch their ideas - especially to a couple of people who stepped in at short notice after two of our intended idea-pitching-potential-geniuses had to pull out.

We videoed proceedings so that Team Genius could review it later and see what things looked like from number of different angles. But because we were recording it we had no choice but to turn the noisy air conditioning unit off. Rarely have I performed in as uncomfortably hot space... which isn't me complaining... indeed it's the audience I felt sorry for. It's can't be easy sitting in a sauna and watching a third variation for an ending to the show you've already seen reach a satisfying conclusion. But they stuck with it and continued to give us some really valuable feedback right to the end. They really couldn't have been much nicer. (With the possible exception of one person who seemed very happy but really wanted me to be performing something he'd already seen me do 8 or 9 years ago... sigh.)

Still, it was a very satisfying night on the whole. If you came along: thanks for the feedback and sorry for the almost unbearable heat.

Team Genius spent Wednesday deconstructing what had happened. To be honest it wasn't too hard to work out which bits were going to survive and which weren't. Laughter is unequivocal like that.

Aerials, originally uploaded by Dave Gorman.



On Thursday I was just round the corner from the Drill Hall at the BBC Radio Theatre for a recording of Armando Iannucci's Charm Offensive. I've done the show a couple of times before and it's always been a pleasure but this time I turned up feeling a bit underprepared.

Because I'm in production on something like Genius it starts to occupy my every waking thought. I'm in the office five days a week - and because of Tuesday's workshop I worked through the weekend too, getting the ideas straight in my head, tweaking scripts and so on. But I needn't have worried... it's such a self-assured show and the best things to come up always emerge out of the conversation anyway. In the end it didn't feel like work at all.

And the theatre was pleasantly cool too. Which was a relief.
It goes out today (Friday) at 6.30pm.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

My New Car...

... isn't a car at all.

I sold my car a while ago. I'm very glad I did but one of the consequences I hadn't predicted is that my home has become messier.

Things that I would normally run to the tip or the local charity shop have been amassing over time. I don't want to put them out with the rubbish and I can't be bothered trying to sell individual items for pennies on ebay so they've ended up collecting dust at home instead.

Then a few weeks ago my TV gave up the ghost and died. I'd owned it for eleven years. I can date it because the TV before that one decided to go kaput during the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales. Anyway... the telly that died a few weeks ago was deemed beyond saving and so I bought a new one. Which meant I had a silly, big, old broken telly in my living room. If I had a car I'd have taken it straight to the recycling centre (which is what they call the tip these days) but instead it just sat in the corner of the living room that is least used. My council will collect bulky items like that but I've not really been at home all that much - at least not with predictable enough hours - and so I've not bothered to try and coordinate it.

But none of this has persuaded me that owning a car would be a sensible thing to do. I just don't want one. So I've invested in this - my new bike trailer - instead. Day one: two huge bin bags full of clothes/books/CDs went straight to the charity shop and then at the weekend I cycled the 4 or 5 miles to the recycling centre with the broken telly. I don't know how heavy it was but it was a big old beast and I definitely felt better coming home with the trailer, empty.

Anyway... I love my trailer. I love not being one of those people who just dumps his old telly in the street and I'm going to do a lot more tidying in the weeks to come because I'm sure there's an awful lot of stuff in my attic that really shouldn't be there.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Charcoal

As I already mentioned in these parts, I enjoyed Latitude a lot. The devil is in the detail. Here's one of those details. The festival has an Artist in Residence. I like that. They don't have to do it. It will make no difference to the thousands of people who attend the festival, most of whom will be completely unaware that it happens... but it's still a lovely thing to do.

I only know that such a person existed because she came and introduced herself before my reading and asked if I'd sit for her. I said I would if there was time. As it was, finding time became immaterial because she crouched in the wings during the event and did a sketch then. I really like it.



You can see more of Lorna May Wadsworth's drawings at the appropriately named website: LornaMayWadsworth.com.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

More BT

I thought about just adding a comment on the bottom of my last post to update the situation but then I thought I might just keep typing and it would probably justify a new post... let's find out... cover me, I'm going in...

[EDITED TO ADD: this did indeed turn out to be a huge long ramble of a post. The short version is that the fault was fixed after 5 days but only because I managed to e-mail the CEO of BT who - to his credit - took action and got a top trouble-shooter on the job. I believe the system that's in place at the call centres should have resolved the issue in a day or two but that the staff are ridiculously ill-trained. Managers at the call-centre were no more competent than the front line and they blatantly ignored company-policy on several occasions... the long version is below... enter if you dare...]


Tunnel, originally uploaded by Dave Gorman.



So... the first thing to say is that I'm now back with my broadband connection. I don't know what the problem was exactly but I do know that it should have been fixed sooner. I spent two days with no connection and three days with a next to useless dial-up connection... that's two days standing besides the information superhighway with my thumb out and then three days sitting in the passenger seat of the beaten up milk float that came to my aid. It wasn't nice. I don't want to go back.

Here are a few snippets of information.
I kept hearing the following phrase:
"Your case has been escalated to the complex faults team but due to a system error the task has failed."

I kept asking the helpdesk staff to explain what this ridiculous sentence meant. On every single occasion, they just repeated the phrase as if repeated listening would make its meaning transparent. Then, when locked in a two-hour+ conversation with one of them and having long reached a state of tetherlessness I started trying to break it down.
"What is the system? What is the error? What is the task and how has it failed?" I asked.
"Due to a system error the task has failed."
"Yes. But I don't know what that means. I need you to explain the words to me. What task has failed?"

Guess what? What it meant was: we've sent a message to the engineers but due to a cock up, the message hasn't got through.

In short, their department was doing nothing because they thought the engineers were dealing with it and the engineers were doing nothing about it because nobody had told them about the problem in the first place. Apparently this was the situation for the first twelve hours... so the first half day was wasted doing nothing.

Of course if they'd had to say, "we failed to pass the message on" it would be like admitting they'd cocked up which, um, they had... and that would involve having to apologise and stuff and it's probably far easier to make it sound like some diagnostic test has let them down by saying, "due to a system error the task has failed"... isn't it?

My other highlight/lowlight is as follows. Each time I spoke to someone on the help desk they would start by scanning through the notes on their system and then say something like:
"I see you have an intermittent loss of service, Mr Gorman...?"
"No," would say I, "I have no service at all..."
"Really? It says here that it's an intermittent fault..."
"Well it isn't... it's a complete loss of connection. Just like I told the last person. And the person before that... and now you."

Then they'd make me perform the same tests as the last person and then they'd conclude that there was indeed no connection and then they'd tell me that the engineers were aware of the fault. Or not. Depending on whether the task had failed or not at that time.

On the fourth day I was speaking to one of the help desk managers and he suddenly said:
"Oh no... what's happened here is that someone's entered the wrong code for your case..."
"What do you mean?"
"It says here you have an intermittent fault..."
"I know... I keep telling you that it isn't..."
"Someone should have changed the code... the engineers won't be able to fix this because they're looking for the wrong thing..."

Four days. Four sodding days. At this point I was thinking about buying a car just so I could hunt Kris Marshall down. At least I would have done if it hadn't been for the assistance of one of you...

In the comments left on my last post someone (perhaps wisely remaining anonymous) said that they worked for BT and then provided me with e-mail addresses for Steve Robertson, the boss of OpenReach (the part of BT that deals with their infrastructure) and Ian Livingston, the Chief Executive Officer of BT... he's been in the job for about two months.

I wrote an e-mail to Steve Robertson. I tried to keep it concise and polite. I tried not to rant about the small details - I'm sure they hear about helpdesk incompetence all the time - so instead I tried to focus on constructive suggestions (why not offer dial-up as a matter of course? how about usb-dongle-modems for longer cases?) while also detailing a couple of specific failings - not of the helpdesk staff but of the helpdesk system.

I didn't think there was much chance of a reply but for the hell of it I cc'd the top dog, Ian Livingston as well.

The e-mail to Steve Robertson bounced back telling me that the domain openreach.com didn't exist. So I tried .co.uk instead. That bounced back telling me there was no such user. Oh well. But - and I'm genuinely surprised by this - Ian Livingston did write back. Or at least someone using his e-mail address did. I'd like to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume it was him. I don't think it's fair to directly quote any correspondence but the gist of it was that most of their broadband issues are sorted quickly, that the suggestion regarding dial-up would be passed on but that the usb-modem suggestion was probably too costly.

I was about to write back to suggest that if the majority of their broadband issues were sorted out really quickly the cost of the usb-modems shouldn't be prohibitive because they'd only have be used in a tiny number of cases... but when I looked at the clock I realised I didn't have time to write that e-mail. Someone from the call centre had promised to call me about half an hour earlier and - as happened every time they promised to call - they'd failed to do so... so I picked up the phone, took a deep breath and launched myself once more into the abyss.

This phone call began with someone telling me that I had an intermittent fault. After ten minutes of pointless conversation I asked to be put through to a manager... who then told me that I had an intermittent fault before going back to square one and repeating the questions that I'd already heard from his colleague...
"Who do I complain to when your department fails to do its job?" I asked.
"I'm a complaints manager," said he.
"Well you're not trying to solve the problem," I said. "You're just giving me the same pointless answers as everyone else... can I please speak to your supervisor."
"I'm a complaints manager."
"Yes, but I don't think you're doing a very good job and I want to complain about you." This was met with silence so I continued. "You must have a boss, right?"
"Mr Gorman, I'm a complaints manager."
"Please just answer the question... do you have a boss?"
"Yes."
"Then can you please put me through to your boss...?"
"I'll just put you on hold." SILENCE. "Thank you for your patience, I'm afraid I am your last port of call."
"But I want to speak to your boss."
"There is no phone number for that. I can't put you through because there's no number."
"Then please ask your boss to come to your phone. That's who I want to speak to."
"I'm your last port of call."
"Please put me through to your supervisor."
"I'm your last port of call."
"Please put me through to your supervisor."
"I'm your last port of call."
"Please put me through to your supervisor."
"I'm your last port of call."
... and so on for a full two or three minutes (I kid you not) before I eventually gave in and put the phone down.

I had a cup of tea and then called again. I got through to a different man - another complaints manager. This conversation stretched to over two hours and it was this conversation that ended up revealing that vital four-day-wrong-code fact.

When this call ended (with the manager promising to call me back later... guess what... it didn't happen) I unplugged my phone and launched the slow, buzzy whirrs that set me limping on to the internet. And then I wrote my reply to the Chief Executive of British Telecom... replying to his points... and then adding the freshly minted information that his staff had spent four days not dealing with my problem at all because they'd failed to diagnose it in the first place.

I don't know if this last e-mail tipped things over the edge or whether the process was already in motion... what I do know is that about three hours later I received a call on my mobile from a man called Chris who told me he was one of BT's Business Improvement Specialists. Ian had called him and told him to fix things. I reckon that when the CEO wants something fixed he speaks to someone with a bit more clout than those I'd been dealing with... Chris was the first person I spoke to who appeared to know what he was talking about.

I don't understand the technical details but he told me that he'd had the engineers dismantle my account and then rebuild it from scratch and that it seemed to have sorted out the problems. It was now possible to log in remotely... but the real test would only come when I tried to log in at home... something I wasn't in a position to try until this evening... when it failed. But Chris had given me his mobile number and in less than ten minutes it was working. Hurrah.

Here's the thing though. I asked Chris if there was anything he'd done that couldn't have been done on day one... he paused... and then told me there wasn't. I think he was able to speak to more qualified engineers more quickly but he assured me that the tools he'd used were all available to the call-centre staff who should have known how to use them...

He wanted to know more about the problems I'd faced. I explained it all. Apparently the company policy is that every case that isn't solved within 48 hours should be automatically escalated. This obviously wasn't done in this case. Apparently it should always be possible to take a case to a higher authority... but no matter how hard I tried it simply wasn't. (Except of course by e-mailing the CEO... and I can't help thinking that everyone involved would prefer it if I could go just one stage higher instead of going straight to the top dog.)

Somewhere there's a team of experts who are meant to be called in whenever a case reaches 48 hours... but as not one of the less qualified staff I spoke to decided to escalate my case even after 96 hours (and I think that includes speaking to 4 managers) it's impossible to imagine this crack squad of engineers actually doing anything. They have their best people sitting on their thumbs while an army of less qualified people sit feeling harassed and exhibiting various blends of disruptive/incompetent and dishonest behaviour.

Apparently "due to a system error the task has failed" is the wording they see on their screen... but they know what it means and they aren't trained to just read the words like a script... or at least they're not supposed to be. And they should have just picked up the phone and passed the message on to the right people instead of just accepting that it hadn't got through and they should have...

Actually, there was a long list of 'they should have's and I genuinely believe that Chris wasn't just saying what he thought I wanted to hear. I'm left with the impression that if their staff followed the correct procedures my problem would have been fixed sooner. Possibly within a day and certainly within two. But I simply don't believe that I got unlucky and ended up speaking to the least able of their staff because I just spoke to too many people and there were too many managers amongst them for that. I didn't get a few rotten apples... the whole system is screwed up. It's obvious that the department isn't adequately trained and/or funded. The correct procedures have been worked out... but nobody's managed to make sure they're actually followed.

I think it's because the vast majority of calls to IT helpdesks probably start with user error. If 95% of calls come from people who've forgotten to plug their computers in then the very basic procedures that are laid out for the helpdesk staff will solve all those problems in minutes. If you were a statistician monitoring that department and you saw that they solved 95% of their problems in a matter of minutes you'd think they were doing a bloody good job.

But what about the 5% of calls from people who have a genuine complaint? Based on my experience they haven't got a hope of having their problems fixed. The call centre staff seem to be stuck in a rut where they will do anything except pass the problem on to an engineer. Of course they're stuck in a rut... they spend 95% of their time telling people to press the 'on' button... the poor souls must be bored out of their minds. How are they supposed to suddenly up their game for that 5% of calls where someone has an actual fault to deal with?

It might look like a really successful department that deals with 95% of problems really well... but in reality it's a woefully inadequate department that fails to deal with 100% of actual complaints.

I can't help thinking there should be a two-tier system in place. Let them have their call-centre and let them locate it wherever in the world they want. Let that call-centre be the first port-of-call for customers... but let that call centre deal only with those calls relating to user-error. The moment it becomes clear that it's not such a case and that the caller is reporting a real somethings-gone-wrong fault they should be put through to a new, more highly trained department. That way, skilled staff aren't wasting time telling idiots that they're monitor is facing the wall and the less technically gifted staff aren't wasting customer's time by telling them that system errors are responsible for tasks failing. Or something.

Anyway... it's a mixed bag of a result. I'm surprised and not a little impressed with Ian Livingston. Whether it was him who replied or not, the fact that someone is monitoring that e-mail account and responding so promptly and politely is to be applauded. Chris was fantastic, proactive and suitably embarrassed by the obviously systemic failure of the department to do what they're supposed to do... He assured me that lessons were being learned as a result. Perhaps I'm naive to believe him... but I don't think so.

Besides, what's the point in being cynical when someone does do and say the right thing? I'm not pretending that everything's now okay just because I've had my problems fixed (and my time and inconvenience sort of compensated for - I should have asked for more).

The helpdesk system that's in place is obviously still a crock. But I really do think that they intend to change things for the better. I wonder how long it will take? I wonder if it will happen at all? I wonder if the problem is caused by a lack of proper investment or management? Or a bit of both? I wonder if they'll be prepared to make the necessary changes. Especially if they cost money. I do believe the right people want the right things to happen... but that doesn't mean they will.

And I wonder if I'm in the wrong game... I should be in business consultancy and BT should be paying me a fortune to overhaul their call centres...