The new abnormal

I think the weekends are going to be the hardest. People who’ve been working from home this week have told me that they find it difficult to concentrate, that being at home is distracting. But I suspect that in fact the distraction goes both ways.

This is now my 26th year of working from home so I don’t find it distracting at all, but what I think I recognise is that working takes your mind off things. There’s work you have to do and, moreover, there are colleagues waiting for it, so whether it’s difficult or not, you do focus on that and while you’re focused, you’re not thinking of anything else. Or at least, you’re not thinking of it so much.

Then the weekend comes and if it’s your first weekend during this enforced isolation, there is a bit of you that will be relieved to have got through the week.

And a larger bit of you that then finds yourself unsure what to do for the weekend, unsure what to do without this fallback position of having to work. One answer, of course, is that you could carry on working but I’m afraid that’s what I do and it isn’t a good idea.

You do get more done, you do get ahead, and you don’t have to think about anything else or how you were looking forward to seeing friends. In that sense, carrying on working is an excellent idea. But trust me, when Monday comes and you’ve worked straight through, you will be sick of it and since you can’t walk away from your job, you have to sit there, possibly increasingly hating it.

I do think that having worked from home for so long, I know what it’s like and what the pitfalls are. I don’t mean to suggest this means I’m any good at dealing with them.

But even in my screen-obsessed, work-obsessed way, I have found that there are things that help. Such as switching off all computers and reading a paperback book. Radical.

Or such as just moving from your computer to your iPad, moving your butt from the desk chair to the living room couch. Last week I told you that I write to you from my couch and that’s exactly what I’m doing this moment. In a minute, I’ll go to my office desk and start working, which will mean leaving a screen and keyboard to instead go use a screen and a keyboard for ten hours or so.

It won’t be the same screen and keyboard, but it easily could be. It’s the change of butt position that gives this a change in mental position, I think.

Which is why although I think it’s tempting to run away from screens when you reach the weekend, and why I think you should, I also know that it’s worth keeping them around. It is genuinely wonderful that technology means so many of us can physically work from our homes, but I offer that this same technology is what will help us all through the toughest times.

That screen in your pocket, the one with Facebook and Candy Crush on, it’s got a phone built in. Call someone. Bitch to them about how hard all of this is, bitch to their voicemail about how they never answer the bloody phone.

Or FaceTime. Skype, if you’ve got the patience. Any kind of video call, we can do this and we can do it so incredibly easily.

Technology is how we can stay apart, but it’s also how we can cope.

The new normal

I’ve been working with a lot of writers lately and specifically about how to make more time for your writing. It’s not as if this is something I’ve never done before, but it is unusual how I somehow currently have three totally separate projects with completely separate groups and even in entirely different forms, that are all about this.

Maybe it’s that volume of thinking about this topic, maybe it’s because I’ve learned from these writers, or maybe it’s just age, but I have realised something. I realised it this morning, actually, as I came to talk to you.

If you want to write or to do anything, make it normal. Don’t think of it as new or different, it’s just what you do, so you’re doing it.

It takes time to make something a normal, regular part of your routine, but I would have said it takes five years and now I think it can be weeks.

Don’t let me sound as if I’m talking about making a habit of something. That’s different. What I mean is – well, actually, let’s take you and I for an example.

When Self Distract started, easily ten years ago now, it was a place for me to promote something or other. Something to do with Radio Times, where I was doing most of my writing at the time. But it changed.

It’s now you and me getting to talk. And I don’t know when you read it, but I do know exactly when I write it.

Early every Friday morning, I make us a mug of tea and we start. Like we always do. Like it’s normal. And if it’s taken years for me to see it as being as much a normal part of the week as cooking breakfast is, the last few months have seen a change to that normality.

Lately I’ve been spending so very many hours at my desk most days that to talk to you, I move to the couch in my living room. If you’d asked me about it yesterday, I’m sure I would’ve told you that I do this, but I’d have had to think about it. Whereas this morning, I had the tea, I had the couch, but I’d forgotten my iPad. It’s in my office and surely the sensible thing is just to go there and write, especially since the moment you and I finish nattering, that’s exactly where I’ve got to go.

But it felt wrong. Without my realising that it had happened, the couch had become normal and anything else had not.

I got the iPad. I made more tea.

And if all of this is on my mind today, I think that perhaps it’s because I’ve been looking for it. You know how when you hear some word for the first time, you are somehow guaranteed to keep hearing it over and over again. Not once in your life had you heard it before, now it’s practically daily.

I think that really the reason I’ve been looking at how to make something part of your normal life is that something else has changed for me and it’s probably only taken a month or two.

Twice this week, two entirely separate firms I work with had problems and I offered to produce a video for them. In fact, for one of the firms, I just did it. Wrote, produced, shot, edited and delivered a video that did this thing they needed.

At some point very recently, video production became one of my regular, normal tools. It helps that I write the scripts, and it helps that I do believe video editing uses the same mental muscles as writing, but still something has changed. I’ve edited video for two decades, easily, but never before has it been the obvious solution to a problem.

What’s changed is not that I now edit video, but rather that it is a normal part of my working week.

Once you make something normal, you just do it. And I think you end up doing so much more of it than you had thought. That’s both in terms of how you find more uses for whatever it is, but also you do somehow make more time.

I shot five videos this week and so far have delivered four of them. Whether they’re any good or not is a very different issue, but the five came on top of everything else I was doing this week, which is exactly what I was doing every week two months ago.

I know you get faster at things through practice, but I believe that you can take on something new and that you can find the extra time to do it more when it stops being this scary new thing and instead becomes normal. When your To Do list becomes Write Script, Pitch to X, Interview Y, do Food Shopping – and Shoot Video.

So come on then, it’s just you and me here, let’s figure out what new things we can take on next.

Faster and slower

Lizzy didn’t like Mr Darcy at first, but then she did. Scrooge was this right old git, but then he slept on it and bought a turkey. There was a bit of war, but then also a bit of peace.

There you go, you’ve just read three books and doubtlessly got the full value out of them. Mind you, I realise as I say this to you that while I know many people who haven’t read Pride and Prejudice, I don’t know anyone who has only read it once. Such a great book.

Here you go: Lizzy didn’t like Mr Darcy at first, but then she did. You’re welcome.

I’m saying this to you because I’m grumbling. There’s this thing in podcasts which some people love so much that I just read a piece where someone was longing for film and television to do exactly the same thing.

Speed up.

Now, you can think of films that dragged a bit, naming no names Sean-Bean’s-death-scene-in-Lord-of-the-Rings, but that’s not what’s going on. It’s not that anyone wants films to get on with it, it’s that some want the footage to run faster, and reportedly many play their podcasts at 1.5 or twice normal speed.

Many podcast apps have a button for this. Some will analyse the podcast episode and also remove silences so that it runs a bit shorter.

I like to get on with things, but if you’re listening to a podcast or one day watching a film that you genuinely believe is improved by running at twice normal speed, I have a different button for you.

It’s the stop button.

Ditch that show and go listen to something better made.

For just as the spaces between words in a book are crucial, so the minuscule silences in speech are, too. I’ve produced a lot of podcasts and there was one where for some reason the recordings had a teeny delay so that it sounded as if my co-host was forever aghast at the stupid thing I’d just said. I did edit that to cut those out, but I left many of them in because quite often he was.

There is a reason scripts have the phrase “beat pause”. There is a rhythm and a pace that is every single bit as much a part of the whole story as the words.

The argument for speeding up what you’re listening to is that you get the information faster and you can enjoy more podcasts or whatever in the same amount of time.

I think the latter point is spurious. You’re not enjoying the podcast, you’ve already decided not to experience it the way it was built and produced.

And I think the first point about getting the information faster is idiotic. Since you’re ignoring the form as it was created and you’re believing that the worth is in the words spoken, read the damn transcript.

There was an acclaimed audio series recently that was on a topic I was deeply interested in, but the presenter’s delivery was so slow that it was as if she were insulting us. It was as if she were talking to a child and it was unbearable even before the show also became repetitive.

I did have a 1.5 button on that app. I did have a twice-normal-speed button.

But instead I used another control entirely. I tapped on Unsubscribe.

Motivation

Clearly, I am the first ever writer to act on stage. I hear rumours of some other person called William who’s done it, but no, it was me. And as such, I have advice that I can now bestow for all writerkind to learn from.

Don’t ignore flashing red lights.

I really did act last night, and it was the first time I’d performed someone else’s script, but I was also producing. And I wrote another of the pieces for the evening, which I performed. Get me. Part of the production job, though, was recording the night.

So I had two locked-off cameras shooting video and audio from left and right of the stage. I had one lapel mic which we used to audio record parts that had a solo performer on stage. And I had two separate audio recorders positioned on the set.

I set all this going just before we opened the doors and I can see me now, asking an actor whether “that red flashing light” is distracting. I’d never seen this particular audio recorder flash red quite so much, but in my defence, it did look like it was flashing in time to the music.

Since I usually use it for interviews and so once it’s running, I’m not looking at it, I figured I’d just not noticed the red flashing before.

And I can see me now, finding something in my gear bag to cover up the red lights.

For this particular audio recorder, you press Record once to, I don’t know, arm it. Then you press Record again to set it actually recording.

And it turns out that until you press it that second time, the whole unit flashes as many red lights at you as it can.

Consequently, while the other cameras and all the other recorders captured about 90 minutes of show, that last audio recorder has about 15 seconds of me swearing.

But I swore very well. I emoted. I conveyed with clarity the depth of my feelings at that moment.

I wasn’t acting.

I’m not certain that I was acting when I performed my own piece. It’s a one-man short play, and the thing of it is that you’re not supposed to quite realise when I go from introducing the piece to actually doing it. You’re not supposed to know that every word from when I get on stage to when I leave is actually the story.

While it’s effective and, most importantly, right for this particular story, it also means that for a lot of the time, I am presenting as if I were doing a workshop. That is a performance, and the fiction of this story requires me to get quite upset, but it’s closer to what I do all the time.

Plus, it was my script, so of course I know it. I’ve acted in my own pieces before – hardly often, but generally very successfully.

What was different for me last night was that I performed someone else’s script.

And that is weird.

For the first time in my life, I have actually said the words “what’s my motivation?” during rehearsals. So much of what we write, or maybe just of what I write, is instinctual, and it’s when you have to see it from another direction that you become conscious of it.

It was all there in script, I just had to find it and in that digging, I was examining all the things about character that I usually just do unconsciously while writing.

Previously I’d have told you that I understand how actors do what they do, I mean I can comprehend the process even if I can’t do it. But now I can tell you that I don’t have a clue why they do it.

But it was pretty great getting to do a curtain call alongside proper actors.

Time is a commodity, watchtime doubly so

Oh, give me strength. I have been obsessed with time as a writer for my entire life – you can see that theme in just about every fiction I write. And I’ve been panicked about time for just as long – I may even be chronophobic, I’m so constantly anxious about not having achieved anything, not being ready, not being good enough yet in this frustratingly short lifespan we have.

And now I’ve only gone and found a new time to think about.

It’s called watchtime, perhaps you know it already.

My 58keys YouTube series has six episodes, totalling 58 minutes and 31 seconds, so far. A few hundred people have watched, which is great, and reportedly they have in total watched 22 hours of it. Actually, 21 hours and 58 minutes.

Compare that to the millions of hours of watchtime other shows get and it’s rubbish. Compare it to the zero watchtime hours I had before I made the show, and it’s amazing.

And if you do what I appear to be doing now, it’s dizzying. I think about that watchtime, I check it a lot, but I also think about the individual running times of each episode, I think about when I am or am not using that time well, I’m thinking about the watchtime compared to how long any one or all of the episodes have taken to make. I’m thinking about the next two episodes which I finished last weekend and will publish in one and two weeks. I’m thinking about the social media that I wrote when I finished each episode and is currently scheduled to automatically post when the show is published. I’m thinking about when the best time for all of this is.

Watchtime, calendar time, production time, durations, time of day, day of week, time as a commodity and a tool, time it takes to edit, best times to shoot because of the lighting, best days to shoot because I’m not committed to something else but I am also not so knackered that I’m incoherent, time as a barrier – I’d like to be further ahead with episodes but that takes time I haven’t quite got yet. Plus I really need to fit in a haircut.

All of this time has a shape. I’ve got an hour of 58keys now, but that’s split across six videos. When you’re doing an actual hour, one 60-minute something, you’re thinking about the top of the hour and the bottom, you’re thinking about what works at the start, how it must end, you’re shaping the minutes. I am doing the same with these 8- to 17-minute episodes. (I worried so much about the 17-minute one being too long, but it’s by far the most popular episode so far. By far.)

Nobody watching should ever think about this, but when making it I am deeply conscious of every second. I’m not saying I’m any good at each second, I’m telling you I lie awake at night deciding to reshoot whole episodes because I can convey the information better or at least faster.

And my favourite part of all this so far is video editing. Sitting in front of Final Cut Pro X at midnight, looking at one minute of me talking, comparing that to the episode’s duration so far, and realising that with a single cutaway mid-sentence to something else, I can ditch 45 seconds of me and make the world a better place.

So now there’s real time, there’s me sitting in the dark, and there’s the duration of the video as recorded, the duration of the video as edited, and all these minutes of trims taken away from it.

In the olden days, thousands and thousands of years ago, there was when the sun came up and when the sun went down. Now there’s all this.

Look at what we do. Look at how much we try to wedge in to our days, and how much we can treat time as this product we shape and sell. And yet there isn’t a single thing we can do to make even one extra second of time.

I could grow an ulcer from how much I worry about time and it isn’t funny that the obvious solution is to take some time off.

Talkback

Last night I was asked to give a talk about dialogue. The poor fools. They thought they’d get me for an hour or something, but instead I got them. Barricaded the room and settled in for at least a month’s discussion about this.

I’m quite keen on dialogue.

Toward the end of the session’s official, planned, reported running time, though, one man there asked a question that ultimately became the answer. Not just to his point, but actually to just about everything I love about dialogue in scripts and prose fiction.

He asked whether what I was really saying was that character comes first. That without the characters, the dialogue won’t ever be any good.

I know that this is what I have always believed, I know it. But – possibly ironically given the topic of the talk – it was someone saying it that made it work. That made it real and concrete.

For all the things I could enthuse at about dialogue, as I pulled down this barricade stuff and let them out as free human beings once more, it does come to this. What a character wants, what a character does, who a character is, that is what makes dialogue powerful.

We had an example last night, for instance – wait, I’m making an example of an example, I’m not sure that’s even allowed. Anyway. We had an example of one character who is advising another not to take a particular job.

If that first character is a good friend looking out for his or her pal’s best interests, the dialogue will be one thing. If this first character wants the job and is trying to get rid of some competition, it will be something else.

The words will be remarkably similar, but the dialogue will be totally different.

I would like to say that I went last night to bubble over at people about this wonderful topic. You could say that I grandly went to dispense wisdom.

But you can’t and I won’t deny that I learned something.

Accented characters

I’ve a friend who insists, really strongly insists, that he has no accent whatsoever. He’s American. I just look at him. But then this week, I was asked if I had deliberately changed my own accent.

I’m from Birmingham in the UK and if it’s fair to say we have a particular accent, then it’s very unfair how that accent gets maligned. When a Cockney tells you that your accent makes you sound stupid, truly the only thing you can say is “goodbye”.

As it happens, I don’t speak in a particularly Birmingham accent, but I am deeply uncomfortable at the idea I might have deliberately done that. I vow to you that I haven’t, but the very idea cuts deep into me and in part, I think because it connects to a key failing I think I have in my writing.

Let me triple underline that I have not and would not deliberately change my accent. I’m told that at times a sudden stab of Brummie will come out of me in some particular word. Good. If I cannot change my accent to avoid Brummie, I suppose I can’t in all conscience choose to change it so that I am more Birmingham, but I am proud of where I come from and where I live now, and enough so that I want you to know. If you get that from me actually telling you, fine. If you get it from a sudden Brummie word, all the better.

I used to tell people that my accent is what it is because I grew up watching Bob Hope films. But as I said to the person who asked me about it this week, I’m no longer comfortable saying that because of how Hope treated his writers.

He used to make them all stand at the bottom of some stairs while he was at the top. He would write their cheques and throw them down to them.

Maybe I could just amend my accent explanation, maybe I could just be more precisely accurate. I grew up watching the Road movies that Bob Hope and Bing Crosby were in. Seven movies from 1940 to 1960-something, so long before I was born, but films like Road to Singapore, Road to Rio.

My favourite is Road to Morocco, and probably because it contains one of my favourite lines from any film. It’s a quite tortuous line that Hope and Crosby manage to sing on their journey and it goes: “Like Webster’s International Dictionary, we’re Morocco-bound.”

Now you’re looking at me.

I wonder if my clearly British but otherwise not apparently very precise accent is less my exposure to American films, and more because of this writing failure.

I could tell you the history of Birmingham. I have been a kind of tour guide for the place, I’ve dragged friends from the US and Canada around it. With friend and writer Yasmin Ali, I’ve put a visitor from Myanmar through every possible site in the city. I remember when I eventually left him and Yasmin, I actually sank to the street, my legs were evaporated.

When an interviewee recently described Manchester as Britain’s second city, I switched off the audio recorder and gave him a talking to.

When a college friend insisted that actually Nottingham should be the second city, I explained “Bollocks”.

Yet apart from right now, here, talking with you, I don’t think you ever see Birmingham in my writing. It’s certainly not from any particular decision, and I do have a current script that’s set here in the city, but my writing is definitely not riddled with my home town.

And I do think that’s a failing.

Alan Plater’s work, for instance, was so often not just set in the North East, but positively imbued with the place. You can think of so many more, too. Places, usually home towns, that seep into a writer’s work and, I think, give it something I lack.

I have set more writing in the TARDIS than I have in Birmingham.

And this is all on my mind again because the friend who asked about my accent did so at a book event. There’s a new book called “Spake: Dialect and Voices from the West Midlands“, published by the great Nine Arches Press. It’s a collection of prose and poetry and essays about and using the dialects –

– sudden flashback to school. I’m in a technology lesson and the teacher is talking about computer languages and dialects. Then he finally writes that word on the board and the whole class goes “Oh, I see” because it had kept sounding like he was saying “Daleks”.

The book is funny and insightful and it’s a collection of writing from writers whose work I relish and some of whom, I know and relish as people too.

Each piece is about myriad other topics as well, but they all touch on location and they are all deeply steeped in the different regional accents and dialects of the West Midlands. I think sometimes it’s piled on a bit for effect, but the effect is brilliant.

The more precisely defined that a region is in these pieces, the more specific and particular the words and the grammar and the sounds of the writing, the more universal it all is. You may not know what a particular word means, but still it gives the writing life and verve.

You can’t make this stuff up, I can’t fake an accent I don’t have, and I suspect my writing will always lack this core, but that doesn’t mean I have to be okay about it.

EU, Me and 58keys

Some days I’m glad we’ve got this self distract thing. Such as today, January 31, 2019, a day when I’m embarrassed and mortified and ill about the UK leaving the EU.

Oh, this week was going to be so easy. I like talking to you and I don’t ever seem to be quiet, but some times I just know what I want to say, I can’t wait to tell you something and I cannot wait to see your face. This would be one of those weeks as I’ve just two days ago launched a new YouTube series that I’m really pleased about.

But, Brexit.

So much so that even though it’s you, I did consider shutting up today. Just as I did back when the Brexit vote result was announced. That day I was too paralysed to write to you, today I’m bruising. That day I thought there was nothing I could do, and this day I know there’s nothing I can do but sod it, sod everything, I’m doing things anyway.

Such as making things. My new show is called “58keys” and it’s for writers – what else would I do? – but specifically for writers who use iPhones, iPads and Macs. YouTube loves a really, really specific niche and this suits me because I know bugger-all about Android, Windows and PCs.

If that’s of use to you, do please take a look and maybe do all that subscribing lark, but by design it isn’t for everyone. And yet maybe the name 58keys is.

Or maybe it isn’t.

I’ve decided to be mysterious.

I wasn’t going to be. There’s a whole new shiny website for the project and up until about half an hour before its launch on Wednesday, it featured a page that explained why it was called 58keys.

But I announced on Facebook and Twitter that it was coming and enough people told me they liked the title that I decided to remove that page. If they like it without knowing what it means, I figured, maybe I could build up some tension and suspense.

Or maybe I can’t.

I’m not sure that mysterious is working for me.

Listen, I like the name, I like the series, but even though you know that whenever you do something like this you’re supposed to shout about it from the ceiling and include links at everypossibleopportunity, I wouldn’t have gone on about it with you. I’d have told you, I have to tell you, it’s you, how could I not?

However, the reason I’ve kept thinking about it is not the topic and not the name. It’s just because I did it. I decided to make a YouTube series and it is out there now, it is real and it is live. Whether it’s good or not, that’s one thing. I’m too close to it to see either the good or bad. But that it’s real is true and undeniable.

Okay, I said I’d do it by the end of January 2020 and my teeth lost a layer of skin in the process, but it’s real.

And if you’re thinking that’s very nice for me, I think you’re right. I needed to do something. This is something, I needed to do it. The Brexit syllogism.

You know I love writing. But, always, my favourite thing is thinking of something and then doing it. Turning an idea into something physical or at least, given that most of my work is online, something concrete.

Making, creating, building, producing, it’s all better than pulling out of the EU.

On this last day in the European Union, I may be regretting that I don’t drink, but I will definitely be talking on the radio about the best television couples in comedy and drama, I will be working on a play, and even if it takes huge effort, what I will remember of this week is that I created 58keys.

Make something of yourself

A friend was on Sky News on Wednesday night and I tuned in early to make sure I saw her. Sky News has a permanent countdown clock at top left on the screen and it was saying 9 Days, so many hours, so many minutes, so many seconds.

For quite a few of those seconds I was actually wondering what in the world was going to happen in nine days.

Then just in the same instant that I realised, the clock confirmed it by rotating to briefly display a banner saying “Brexit Countdown”.

And then I got to spend all the time between then and when my friend was on thinking about what in the world is going to happen in nine days.

I think you can go so far into misery about this that it’s paralysing. The only Friday I haven’t talked to you in about seven years was the one when the Brexit vote was announced.

I do also think that you can go too far the other way, that you can decide to abandon politics because it isn’t working, the system is broken and there’s nothing you can do. True, it isn’t working, the system is broken and there’s nothing you can do. But it doesn’t get fixed by turning your back on it – even if you are in any kind of position to do that.

Yet, maybe just because of that countdown and this impending day, I do need to think about mental health. And I do need to think about one particular thing.

It’s that we need to make things.

This isn’t really about politics, it’s really about us and the world today. I know people who are astute in their political opinions which they tell me about a lot – but they don’t actually do anything. I professionally know people who have opinions about art – but never create any.

I ran a workshop this week about vlogging, a day for musicians, actors, journalists and writers about making videos and series of videos. At one point we got deep into a discussion about how you deal with comments, with internet trolls really.

And partly because I was watching the clock and did need us to get on to the next, I said something that I didn’t realise I truly meant.

Ignore the comments, I said. Ignore everything and just keep on making things. Control what you can control, make what you can.

I’ve been thinking about that since I said it.

Listen, I see you as a writer but even if you also dabble in other things like art or a proper job, make something. I think you need to.

Childhood’s start

I’ve been waiting all week to tell you something but instead a completely different, pretty much entirely forgotten memory has come back. I’d vow to you that it was entirely forgotten, except that obviously I’ve remembered it.

It’s about a friend I had in school. I won’t name him, chiefly because I cannot quite grasp his name across all these years – but we fell out. I’m not sure when it was now. Fourth year of school? Fifth? No idea. Plus I’ve no clue what happened, though I suspect that’s not just because the chasm of time involved. I’ve a sense that didn’t know then, either. I remember it hurt. It was one of those where your friend is suddenly someone else’s friend instead, you know the thing.

But as I close my eyes, really squeeze them tight shut and try to remember his name or even just picture him, what I’m seeing instead is a Doctor Who book. For some reason, and who knows why, the closest thing I’ve got to a concrete memory is of his reading a Who book called Horror of Fang Rock by Terrance Dicks.

I hope he was a Doctor Who fan, that it wasn’t just the book he’d happened to pick up out of the school library. Because he should’ve stuck with me, kid. For this week I’m the one who got to make an obituary speech about Terrance Dicks at the Writers’ Guild Awards.

More than 200 of the UK’s finest writers watched me speak – and so did Terrance Dicks’s family. I’m not sure which made me more nervous, but his family being in the room, these writers, the sheer honour of talking at those awards and the unimaginable privilege of being the one to deliver this writer’s obituary, I was shaking before I started.

I’m relieved to tell you it went fine. Actually, solely since it’s you, I’ll tell you that it could not have gone one pixel better.

But if it was all the thinking about my own reading of Dicks’s novels back in the day that brought this old school friend to mind, this has coincidentally been a bit of a week for nostalgia all round. And not all of it good.

I’ve been watching Alan Plater’s 1990s episodes of Dalziel and Pascoe, remembering the stories he told me about its production, and getting weirdly sentimental about the days when mobile phones were bricks and there were still Dillons bookstores.

I’ve been reading one of Isaac Asimov’s books, The End of Eternity. When I was a schoolboy, I thought it and he were marvellous. It didn’t take much growing up for me to spot that Asimov writes like a schoolboy, but still the ideas in that book are tremendous. Unfortunately, this week I learned that Asimov used to go around snapping at the elastic on women’s bras. And reportedly rather than shaking some woman’s hand once, he shook her breast instead.

Cheers, Isaac. Made me queasy. I read your autobiography, I want to un-read it now.

Fortunately, though, there was one more thing this week. Something much nicer.

This week I can tell you of a 1970s legend whose reputation will never be tainted. He might have a world-size ego, but this time he earned it, he deserves to think this highly of himself.

At the Writers’ Guild Awards this Monday, I met and shook paws with Hartley Hare.

He presented the Best Children’s Television Award with his friends Nigel Plaskitt and Gail Renard. (Danger Mouse won, by the way. I punched the air when I found that out, I was so pleased.)

Anyway, follow me for a second. You know that at an awards show, there is a winner and there are runners-up. The presenter says who has been nominated before they read out the winner’s name, and they also say a little something about each show.

There was nothing different about how it was done at these awards, but it was in every way different for me because I wrote the descriptions of the children’s shows. I wrote the descriptions that Hartley Hare read out.

I have written dialogue for Hartley Hare. And I got to be the one to pay tribute to Terrance Dicks.

Take that, you Horror-of-Fang-Rock-schoolfriend-somebody thingy thing.