Origins

‘Everything has its origins in the place we are born’

– Dario Fo

I was asked again recently, at an informal talk, how I had got involved in what I ‘do’ – meaning really walking, writing, making films and videos. I think the first time I was asked this question in a public setting was by Gareth Evans at a screening of The London Perambulator in Greenwich (my film about Nick Papadimitriou), and I think prompted by the appearance of the comedian Russell Brand in that film alongside Iain Sinclair and Will Self, which many people find incongruous but is perfectly logical to me. But to answer Gareth’s question I spoke about the great Italian satirist and playwright Dario Fo and how he was an important inspiration for me early in my creative journey. This took Gareth by surprise and to be honest I hadn’t thought much about how to properly articulate it.

So when I was asked the question again in a more relaxed setting, I once more started with Dario Fo which again prompted raised eyebrows. Now, I should be preparing for tonight’s talk with Iain Sinclair at the Wanstead Tap but I really feel the need to share this and clear my mind a litte – even if I don’t get much further, and whenever I attempt this explanation – man it really goes on. But simply:  my interest in politics (my undergraduate degree) and comedy (Young Ones, Blackadder, Ripping Yarns etc.) led me to Fo. Added to that my childhood love of history and mythology and it was all there in the work of Dario Fo. The final ingredient that tied it up with walking was reading how Fo drew heavily on the culture and topography of his region of Italy.

I grew up walking, everywhere, but what stayed with me particularly was walking with my Dad in the hills around Wooburn Green in Bucks, where I grew up. The old man is still a great story-teller and I loved listening to his tales of the characters he knew around the villages, scrapes with game-keepers, ferreting when he was a boy – all that stuff. The landscape for me was a place rich with narrative. Later, inspired by Fo, I went looking for older stories from that same landscape and found tales of heretics and martyrs, Mummers, and minstrels and I wanted to mix it all together somehow with things from my own time. Some of that resulted in the Remapping High Wycombe project. And there’s a fairly straight line from there to here.

The other element to all of this is how digital media played a role in providing a platform to articulate some this. I’d started out in small fringe theatres and moved online, starting blogging, initially as an extension of the work I’d been doing in live venues but then realising that I really preferred to document the world around me than to try and be sardonic or satirical or polemical. Of course sometimes, when asked, I progress to talk about how I ended up working with Russell Brand and why he’s in London Perambulator (he introduced me to Nick in 2005 realising we had a lot in common – they met through drug recovery programmes – this is in the film).

Of course when you say this out loud it can be a bit confusing, it’s probably a bit confusing written down.

Ok, I’m glad I shared that with you. I nearly lost the lot when the wifi went down just now so it must be fated that I actually post this. Now to prep for tonight’s talk with Iain Sinclair at the Wanstead Tap.

Why I Blog

London Loop Uxbridge

This is something I’ve composed in my head I number of times in the past but never actually written, mainly because of the feeling that it somehow has to be definitive – that once placed here on my blog will be cast in stone. Which of course is nonsense, and ironically the freedom to evolve ideas as they occur in a public forum is one of the reasons I started blogging in the first place 14 years ago. So I’m just going to freewheel it a bit here. Please bear with me. I’m not even writing this on a document first, just typing it straight into the blog.

I published my first blog on 7th July 2003. I was coming to the end of 4 weeks paternity leave and had read an article in the Guardian about a new platform called Blogger. The blog post was a variation on an article I’d pitched to The Guardian’s G2 section and they’d rejected on the basis that it was a few days too late to be newsworthy enough. So the new self-publishing platform seemed like the ideal alternative to the commissioning process. I stuck a version of the piece there and I don’t think I’ve pitched an article to anyone ever since.

The birth of my first child also meant re-evaluating my priorities. I’d been half-heartedly doing some occasional stand-up comedy, more as a means to develop and showcase my writing rather than try and build a career as a comic (in fact when approached by a representative from mega-agency Avalon after my third gig I turned them down – which in retrospect was a stupid decision). Doing stand-up had come out of the satirical comedy revue show I’d written and directed (and later performed in) which then gave its name to the blog – The Soapbox Cabaret. As a new Dad, working full-time in a low-paid job, blogging would allow me to continue my work without spending evenings in half-empty rooms above pubs. There was a strong political dimension to my work back then, which seemed to fit with the nature of blogging at that time so it seemed like a good match.

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This articlation of my blogging started a year later on 7th June 2004. I think it came from the desire to write more about the world around me, vignettes from the streets. I’d kept a regular journal since I’d gone backpacking 10 years before, my backpacking journal became a walking journal when back schlepping around London – so I wanted my blog to become more reflective of that, rather than the polemicising and satirical asides of my first blog. This very quickly became my more natural home.

I got some local press almost immediately. Funny to think now but blogging was still a bit of a novelty in 2004. Social media was still in its infancy really – there was no Facebook, Twitter or YouTube. New platforms would launch then fold in a couple of months. It was quite a volatile but exciting digital landscape. I also started getting comments on those early posts – something that seems to have dried up in recent years whereas most of my interaction now comes on Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook, reflecting wider online trends. (Anyone remember internet forums ?- they seemed to have died a death along with Friends Reunited and MySpace).

In some ways I feel like I’m at a pivotal point at the moment – it’s 4 years since my book was published, I’m freelance now so constantly on the look-out for work, the baby who I had sleeping on my shoulder as I wrote those first blog posts is now a strapping teenager. I’m in my mid-40’s not my early 30’s. But the blog has been a constant through all of this. When I try to unpack the course of my – I hate to use the word ‘career’ but I can’t think of an adequate alternative – over the last 10 years or so, many wonderful things have happened.

The graft in those half-empty pubs paid some dividends when I went to work for my old comedy pal Russell Brand’s production company. One of my briefs was to look after his online platforms. Turns out TV professionals didn’t have much experience of blogs, social media and online video back then (I’d started a YouTube channel in 2006 just after it launched) and so it came in very useful – particularly when we went to America where they’d embraced the digital realm much earlier than in the UK which was still focused on ‘legacy’ media. I made my own documentaries that were shown at festivals and in cinemas. I produced and presented a radio show. Then I got a book deal with Harper Collins – an incredible moment. The shape and tone of that book, the basic idea, came directly out of this blog.

It’s only now, in this moment of reflection trying to untangle it all, that I realise all those wonderful things, and many more, grew out of this blog.

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So in some ways I find myself at a similar point to where I was on paternity leave in 2003. I’m a stay-at-home Dad, the kids still come first. I don’t have a publisher for my next book as yet. My primary creative output is this blog and my YouTube channel. I still get knock-backs for proposals and applications – getting institutional support hasn’t gotten any easier. Blogging has been an ever-present, the activity that has carried me through, and keeps me going. I feel incredibly fortunate to have had your support as readers, sympathetic ears.

This blog post has gone on a bit, thanks if you’ve made it through this far. It’s come out a bit drier and more earnest than I would have liked but that’s the nature of the beast. I could save it and review later but that would just be an excuse to consign it to the digital bottom drawer.

Thanks for your support through all of this – it’s hugely, colosally, appreciated.

Right, I’m off out on a walk then I have to finish off another proposal before the kids get home from school and we sit round watching Meme compilations on YouTube.

New notebook

Notebook

Cracked open a new notebook in Mayesbrook Park on Friday – always a great moment, peeling back the cellophane, cracking open the spine, scrawling name and address + reward if found on the facing blank page. I’m trying to move on from uniform black Moleskine/Ryman pocket books so picked up this orange number in Book Warehouse on Southampton Row (I uncharacteristically dispensed with the manufacturer info in the park bin) but only once peeled did it reveal a sparkly gleam to the cover and an unsettling textured finish. It started to bother me as I took it out of my bag to make notes on the hoof. This wasn’t good – when trying to distill the essence of an experience of place or the overheard conversations in a Wetherspoons toilet cubicle I don’t need to be distracted by the sound of my fingers vinyl scratching across the cover of my pocket book. It needed masking. I ransacked the leaning tower of product boxes in my work cell till I came up with this combination – the final touch applied in the Red Lion, sealed with a libation of Butcombe’s Haka Bitter. It will also be a constant reminder for the next 3 months to find a use for the footage that I sent off to be processed at Super 8 Reversal Lab.