No Kisses for Piers, once lips for Keaveny

210 minutes sleep.
Wake up, brush my teeth.
The tentative bowel movements of a too early morning.
No Sun yet.
Chatty driver to the South Bank.
“what am I doing?”
Mention of science book plugging brings a hush with mildly ground teeth.
He’s a Jehovah’s Witness creationist.
We argue gently.
I try to explain that 13.7 billion years isn’t “just guesswork”
We amicably part and I take the lift to a mild powdering.
Brian Cox is almost late.
Still debating if time is more relative for some, we sit on stools near Piers and Susannah.
Piers mentions he has recently interviewed PROFESSOR Stephen Hawking more than once.
His Professor is in bigger letters than Brian’s.
We joke and talk of simulation.
Apple pastry.
Two apple pastries. To Shaun Keaveny.
Unlike Piers, I have kissed Shaun Keaveny full on the lips…for the sake of the show of showbusiness.
We measure tent volume in peas but not petit pois.
To Victoria Derbyshire and some smart young things of Ruislip High.
Talk of dead strawberries and simulated universes.
I am not allowed inside the studio of Adrian Chiles, just Clever Brian Cox for that.
To the Guardian building for a facebook interview.
Apple pastry sugar running dry by now.
He gently goads.
I parry.
Our book plug done, he to Canada (soon) and me to Broadcasting House
To tiredly attempt to muster patterns for Monkey Cage next with Sash
Producer/co-writer/ wrangler
To Cambridge. Type a page of next book. Delete. retype. Stop.
There’s a psychologist called Dickon
He drinks tea but I stay dry
as he explains Freud and Bowlby
Empathy and imagination
Plug for that benefit that just won’t sell
Blog typing til home
Things done
Though not enough

My last two tour dates in UK for a month are Southport and Norwich.
Benefit is at New Wimbledon Theatre w/ Billy Bragg, James Acaster and more than enough people worth £20
Monkey Cage book is out in 70 hours or less.

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Today’s Choose Your Own Adventure Game… The Old Blind Man and The Slick Young Thing

The woman was curt with the old blind man, the seat was hers and he was in it. To be fair, she didn’t know he was blind at first, then she did, then she wanted her seat.

The Virgin train seat reservation system did not seem to have kicked in throughout carriage D.
It was a busy time, air warm with yeasty booze breath and rapidly sunk Subway sandwiches.
The slick young things, lean, greased and groomed boarded and saw the old hatted man taking one of their seats.
“You’re in our seat.”
He was not quite sure what was going on.
“These are our booked seats.”
They looked as if they could not understand why he did not move quickly, after all, he as trespassing on their cushions.
I lent over and explained that the seat reservation system was not working.
They did not understand why he asked about his friend and where she was.
Their young knees must have been twitching in the agony of having to remain unbent and put upon all the way from the Malmaison.
I wasn’t sure how to say “he’s blind” to explain why he wasn’t moving quicksmart as I didn’t want to offend the sat man and technically it was not my fight.
I gestured through a hand across my eyes and a mouthed “he’s blind” and the man nodded.
His partner was less patient.
Fortunately, the blind man’s friend came back and helped him to seats further away. By this point, I was giving up my seat to a mum of three, so I hand nothing tangible left to give.
What would you have done?
I don’t think the slick young thing was being unkind, she was just taking what was hers. Her ticket had a number on it. Those were her seats. Nowhere in this project was there the thought that she could go somewhere else because there was an old blind man in her seat, what if that interfered with the pattern of her day?
Later, it turned out the seat I had given up had been booked at Stoke on Trent. The woman with the foiled sealed glass of Pinot Grigio ousted her and the three, popped the earphones in and sipped.
The children played with the doors.
The rules were all being followed. Those who had their numbers must obey their numbers.
I was happy crouched by the door, hobo scrunched and immersed in a good book.
The lack of stale crisp belch fog and rheumy eyed booze faces was reward enough.

I am on tour. The Monkey Cage book is out tomorrow. I am doing a benefit with Billy Bragg, Mark Thomas and more. Details of all such things are HERE.

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My Manifesto, My Agenda, My Neediness…

My current tour was originally going to start with this.

welcome to the illusory
delusional me
the public presentation of who I think I ought to be
saved for your possible approbation or ridicule
The non nose picking
not grudgeful
never porn peeking
rarely masturbating…
…unless ethically necessary
fair trading
gift aiding
because i want to be
not because I was told to be
advert shunning
never pandering
or mansplaining.
and i want to be a vegan
but I’ve got a protein problem alibi
creator without an ego
“I hope this is ok, sorry if it’s not, I don’t want to let you down
I really do me to entertain…”
It’s the five star seeking deliverance of something human…maybe
but always
a work in progress
under construction
on the brink of demolition
now lets kick out the jams, motherfuckers

It is one of my sort of poems. I Wrote it on the tube on the way to a Sunday afternoon preview.
I had been thinking about what comics are trying to present in stand up.
Now I am back touring again, I have been thinking further about what I hope to be and do as I make shapes and bellow at strangers.
The (sort of) poem was about the ambition of projecting to an audience who we think we should be. There are some who project a rebel pose, some who project a pose of kindness, some are convivial and some are brutish, some are just plain daft. The extent to which the comedian is like that off stage depends. I have known comedians who have been aggressively rude on stage and are an utter delight offstage. I have experienced comedians whose “matey, wouldn’t you want to have a drink with that lovely guy” stage persona could disappoint many of the fans should they see the grouchy, fuck you, hate people, offstage reality. Most of my favourite comedians are on stage exaggerations of an offstage reality.
On the list of “what do I hope to achieve from my solo shows” and in no particular order then,
1.      I would like to reflect a version of myself that is better than the humdrum reality, but hopefully not so distant from it that I am alien to the spotlit me.
2.      I want to enthuse people. I want them to be as excited by the things I discuss as I am. This has been true of the science shows and is now true of the current show, which is more a celebration of artistic imagination than of experimental physics (though there is some of that as well)
3.       There is a section on mental health and suicidal thoughts and I hope that there is some pragmatism behind it. In it’s low culture, show off, silly punchlines and strange child memory way, I want to think it may even be useful to someone.
4.         I hope enough people turn up that I can do this forever and make some money from it.
5.         I hope enough people turn up so that I don’t feel almost the entirety of my adult life has been a stupid waste of time and that my ego is grumpy and crushed.
6.          I hope they have a good time. When you watch me on stage, you may not realise, but there is a little holiday rep in my head secretly bellowing out to the audience, “are you having fun! I hope you are having fun! FUN!”. You may not think it when I am in the midst of something idiosyncratic, but I never forget that the prime intention is to entertain. They have chosen to waste their time on me, so at the very least I must attempt to give them everything within the bounds of my agenda.
7.           I hope people leave the show more curious and more excited about the things they can confront in the world. I hope they feel that the venal, the vicious, the dogmatic and the hate preaching may be assailable.
8.            And so back to… I hope they leave and think, “he seems like an okay guy”. and round and round we go.
But I know that because I have set up certain rules of what i should talk about and what I want to achieve, some may leave thinking, “well, that was not my cup of tea at all” like I overheard the technician at Richmond’s Georgian Theatre saying to the bar staff. In Chippenham, someone said, “I can’t stand you on Radio 4, but I love your stand up.” That is probably the right way around for my ultimate hopes.
I liked Gray Couzens tweet to me after my Hull gig – “even more eccentric than usual”

And this sort of comment makes me happy.

“Your passion for what you love is infectious. I’ve not been to a gallery in a year…this weekend that will change” Si Williams

But I still looked down the section under a Guardian piece I did until I found the negativity, so balance is still there.

I am on UK tour – Leeds, York, Nottingham, Norwich and many more, Details of all 40 plus gigs HERE

Also off to New Zealand and Australia w/ Prof Cox in November

Monkey Cage book is out now.

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Must Latin Still Denote Superiority

On seeing the front page headline “I’d Blast Corbyn into Orbit” lying on the train carriage floor. Written hastily as the adrenaline of disdain hit me.

The Eton Yob ascends the podium.

The Eton yob ascends.
The Eton yob ascends because he knows he deserves to.
The Eton yob has been assured that he is the rightful heir of a better destiny since he was manipulated from the womb.
The Eton Yob plays a low stakes game for him, but a high stakes game for those that will suffer from the shards of collateral damage. His friends can afford a higher hedge so as not to see the rifling in the bin for sandwich corners.
Bellow-mouthed, he threatens under the pretence of jocularity.
His education is superior, yet his vocabulary, despite its elongation, is impoverished.
A smattering of Latin or quotations from Herodotus create an illusion of deep intelligence, but his speeches are devoid of imagination or vision.
The Eton Yob has had all the that education, but knows nothing of beauty.
Compare his words with the language of William Blake or James Baldwin.
These are careless people because they can be.
The damage done is unlikely to dent them, an occasional demotion followed by an elevation to the Lords.
The papers that promote them pride themselves on a love of a Britishness, but this is a Britishness of “no hot water after 7am” and “No blacks, no Irish no dogs”, not a Britain of Alec Guinness dreams in an Ealing film.
It is a nostalgia for horses charging towards the jumped up sods who dared to protest for the right to avoid famine when a few had seven courses in aspic.
It is a Britain where success by “pulling yourself up by the bootstraps” is loudly advocated by people who had their bootstraps pulled up for them.
I am from a privileged class. I am fortunate. I can watch Ken Loach films and up my direct debit to charitable trusts safe in the knowledge that my likelihood of waiting for the bailiff and browsing spaghetti shapes at the food bank is lower than most, nearly all.
I have seen up close the arrogance that comes from an abundance of advantage that is taken as earned or not noticed at all.
I do not understand how many do not see through the meanness of the vision that returns us to landscape that you are born to it and others must die for you.

Sorry, just getting it out of my system.

I was talking to a veteran political correspondent on the eve of the first London mayoral election that Boris Johnson won. I asked if he thought Johnson could win and he replied, “I really don’t think the people are that stupid.” It seems we are discovering that when the means of mass communication are in the hands of so few, it gets easier and easier to be very stupid indeed.

The term “Eton Yob” is not meant exclusively for Etonians, nor is it meant to include all Etonians, it is meant to reflect a type.  I don’t want to be accused of hate speech.

Also, this is not anti all of those who use Latin. I am not anti-Latin.

I am putting a benefit for CLIC Sargent and Helen Crimmins starring Billy Bragg, Josie Long, Mark Thomas, Charlotte Church, Hollie Mcnish, James Acaster, Alistair Barrie and Chris Stokes. Details HERE.

I am on tour – Winchester, Bristol, York, Leeds, Norwich, Southport and plenty more


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Just some words. Just some 21st century quandaries and confusions.

Train home, post some drinking blog post.

Ethics are difficult. It is easier to attempt no kindness or protest ever, as it will save you from the accusation of hypocrisy. Do nothing and say nothing, just smell the fumes of the world burning, you’ll be purer if you agree not to get involved.
This is a blog post of questions, no solutions, no certainties.

1. The ethical and moral worth of your death is a volatile number depending on the power of the interested parties looking at your final breath. This is highlighted by yet another murderous spree in the USA. It seems that if your murder is the result of Islamic terrorism then you are the propellant for Draconian immigration regulations and possible declarations of war, if you are killed in a spree by a gun nut, you are the collateral damage for a society’s rights to fetishise weaponry and ensure easy access to it. For the family of the victims of either, the despair is the same.
That is the thought that irritated my skull as news of the Las Vegas shooting broke on social media, another quandary between the right to be armed and the right not to be savagely and pointlessly killed. For those of us who are not immersed in the culture of weaponry, the preposterousness of a nation that wishes to be both the pinnacle of civilisation, yet rejects ideas of the rights of universal healthcare while embracing ideas of universal gun ownership is horribly absurd. (As Desirina Boskovich has just tweeted,  “as The GOP insists that the Vegas shooter’s gun arsenal is “a right,” but medical treatment for his 500+ survivors is merely “a privilege.”)Yet somewhere in the UK culture and politics, there seem to be slavering gimlet eyes that envy these “freedoms”.
I am confused. In my current show, the most likely lump of overrunning material to be vaporised is about the problem of hypocrisy in the complexity of our current civilisation. And here I think of the ugly spectacle of the rapidly deflating priapism of the “Nationalist” and “Country lover” who is disappointed to discover that the perpetrator of a town square massacre or manslaughter does not belong to religion or colour of those he wishes to see crushed and banned, so the lives lost become nothing to him anymore.

2. Here I am, trying to write a blog post that hankers for justice and decency in society on a laptop that may well have been made in slave-like conditions by suicidal workers.
If you can’t keep your cognitive dissonance active and energetic, you’ll be stunned into silence by your self-deceiving duplicity. It is what the more controlling elements are hoping for, a nation of discontents who will fail to act because they are aware of their complicity. It’s what Louise Mensch was relying on when she belittled anyone who dared to protest capitalism while being unable to to find an independent and ethical coffee shop near their protest.
I found myself in this position at New Scientist LIve on Sunday.
I try to be careful what I do for fear of further tainting of my tattered gown of tie-dye liberalism and leftism. I saw that some corners of the event were sponsored by Bae Systems, a company that I had done benefits to fund a legal fees to battle their more suspicious enterprises and a company that had paid for someone to befriend and spy on Mark Thomas, amongst others.
Back in the 1980s, Carl Sagan wrote of the disturbing problem that after being imbued with curiosity, such a high proportion of scientists would spend their life utilising that curiosity to create weapons of pain and destruction.
Another sponsor was Shell, a company that seems to be working towards adapting for climate change, but also has a history of aggressive lobbying against renewable energy and also against the targets of the Paris agreement. New Scientist has some very good coverage on climate change science, but it also finds itself unable to fund a big event encouraging people to be scientifically interested without taking money from a company that has to ignore certain statistics and campaign against them for the sake of profit.
I did my event at New Scientist with Helen Czerski, Andrew Steele, Lucie Green and Adam Rutherford. Helen brought up the atrocities of Yemen, sped on by Saudia Arabian purchases from Bae, and Lucie mentioned her own discomfort, and I finished my referring, yet again, to Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot and the tragedy of the “all the bloodshed so men could be the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot” and how so much of scientific investigation is focused on destruction, not creation.
Was that enough?

(I have met people who worked in development in Bae systems, they were not evil, they just made weapons because that was what they did. That was an odd night in a curry house. I am more disconcerted with the boardroom chiefs who have no interest in who they sell to as long as it appears to fit within regulations, that must surely be a cognitive dissonance that wheezes and creaks sometimes…doesn’t it?)

3. A man of Scottish brogue and oily hands was begging on the train. Usually, I don’t give. I make sure I have a direct debit to try and wash my hands of it all and have subsidiary rules that every busker, even the one that was doing a hopefully inimitable version of She’s The One this evening, gets at least 50p from me as “we’re all showbusiness together”. Tonight, I broke my rule, heartily hearing the condemnation that he’ll spend it in drugs and demeaning pursuits. What do all the other people I hand my money over to spend their cut on?

Just some words.
Just some 21st century quandaries and confusions.

I am on tour, savagely cutting my show to fit the allotted time – Winchester, Salford, Hull, Nottingham, Bristol and on. Details of all 50 dates HERE.
Helen Czerski is here @helenczerski on twitter, find out how to sponsor her for her humanitarian crisis charity exercise.

Also, there is a big cancer benefit w/ Billy Bragg, Mark Thomas, Charlotte Church, James Acaster, Hollie McNish, Josie Long, me and more. Please support and spread the word.

A survey on values.

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And Who Shall Be Healed… Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds on Ice

Who was healed tonight?
Arms reached out desperately to touch and he touched them.
Those nearest the stage were caught between the imagery of a Baptist revivalist ceremony and a zombie movie. Did they want to take communion by taking and eating the body of Nick?
But Nick Cave’s audience are not brutal, just adoring.
On a rare occasion, some shouted out song requests, my favourite being the call for “Anything!”
No one controls their audience like Nick Cave, he conducts them and benevolently controls them.
There is respect from both sides.
When there was a brief shouting out of requests, one man topped it all with the request of “anything!”. And there is the rub, greatest hits are not required, the experience of seeing Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds usurps the necessity of a greatest hits package.
For those who wanted “classics”, there was early work with From Her To Eternity, Tupelo and The Mercy Seat, and the nineties were represented by The Weeping Song, The Ship Song and Into My Arms, but Skeleton Tree dominated.
Oh to have been such a doubter that I had wondered if Skeleton Tree was “an album to played in arenas”.
My level of wrongness is on a cosmological scale.
The entirety of the album was played across the evening, the craftsmanship and charisma easily translating its terrible beauty to the environment of an ice skating arena in the Midlands.
The lengthy distance between me and the stage made no difference, the sound was magnificent.
If anyone still wishes to declare that popular music is not worthy of being called art, then let them be struck down by the ghost of Stagger Lee.
It is striking how easy Nick Cave makes being magnificent seem. He talks to the crowd as humans and they reciprocate by being gentle even when the grip on his wrist seems muscular.
By respecting them, they respect him.
There is a lesson, such an obvious one but repeatedly forgotten or ignored at the moment, that if you treat people humanely, they will be humane.
On the way in, my wife commented how polite and friendly this vast throng of people seemed to be. Trust them, many of them are avid readers I imagine. The weight of beat literature in their heads could crush a Kraken.
I thought about my diminished interest in Morrissey and wondered at what point Nick Cave had overtaken him? Lyrically, Nick Cave never bores. Musically, he and the Bad Seeds continue to surprise. Last night, I thought of how Nick Cave communicated and how different he seemed to Morrissey. Morrissey seems to love his audience because they adore him, Nick Cave’s appreciation seems deeper, as his lyrics repeatedly demonstrate, he is an interested human with a curious mind.
Morrissey retreats and blames while Nick advances and experiences. I can think of no other artist whose back catalogue is so full of adventure, and whose continued work, now deeply into a fourth decade, is so artistically fulfilling. There are no duds and there are few who have remained so fecund.
I was once asked to describe Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds by someone who knew nothing of them, and the best I could come up with was “imagine a band on a cruise liner that has an air the Marie Celeste and is operated by Allan Ginsberg, and the band have been playing for eternity, their beards getting longer and longer and entwined in the instruments, yet what comes out becomes more and more beautiful. And they are lead by a Chimpanzee that has not only become sentient, but has advanced beyond human capabilities since the black obelisk appeared, and he has declared himself an altruistic preacher…”
I am not sure it makes any sense, but I knew what I meant at the time.
As Cave wiped the sweat off his face with an audience members knitwear, we saw Elvis, but there was Johnny Cash and Leonard Cohen and all the shoulders of giants he stood on, but those shoulders were buckling under the weight of this man, too.
Near the end of the gig, he welcomed a hundred or so of the audience on stage. This was one of the few moments I got tetchy from a distance. Put your fucking iPhones down and just immerse yourself in the experience of being an impromptu choir for a murder ballad. Seeing one woman selfie-ing herself dancing along to him, he cheerily admonished, “what must sex be like in your house?” and later add the line “here comes the devil with an iphone in his motherfucking hand!”
One day, there may be some who will lose their memory when they lose their memory card.
Sorry for being so florid, but the night was remarkable. “It was like giving a blind man eyes,” as a notable biologist once said after a day in the rain forest, I’ll repeat it now after a night in an ice hockey rink.

Coming soon – Billy Bragg, Charlotte Church, Mark Thomas, James Acaster, Josie Long, Grace Petrie, me and more are doing a cancer charities benefit at Wimbledon Theatre on 23/10. come along.

My tour continues – Salford, Hull, Colchester, Bristol, Norwch, Leeds, Winchester and on. Details HERE

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What’s so Wrong with Employing The Interested?

I don’t read newspapers much, so I am terribly out of touch with things that will be forgotten by next Tuesday. It is part of my anger management. I am fully aware that a newspaper’s prime job is to make you paranoid, confused and righteous before luring you into a reader’s offer for canvas trousers.
Today, I picked up the Observer because there was a piece about The Naked Ape and an article about Bruce Chatwin, who I have never read but know I should and probably pretended I had sometime in the early nineties. My lack of knowledge about Bruce Chatwin makes me just the person to present a BBC TV show about him it seems. Not reading newspapers, I was unaware that BBC’s Front Row was coming to television and that a Radio Time interview with it’s new presenters had caused a minor rumpus. I was made aware of this by David Mitchell’s column in defence of his brother in law, Giles Coren. On first reading, it seems that this new BBC enterprise will take as much care and consideration with the arts as they now take with their news coverage, increasingly a post modern jape put on like a footlights review by former Oxford PPE graduates.
It seems that the presenters of the show were more than a little offhand when it came to theatre, rejecting the quality of the seats, the proximity of the toilets and the fact that some plays take a while. These are all common complaints with some truth to them, but it seems that if your first reaction to “what do you think of theatre” is “the legroom is less than adequate”, then you don’t have much interest. If my primary opinion on the Tate Modern is the disappointment in their gluten free Bakewell tart, I might not really be paying enough attention to the walls.
Mitchell worries that the show off community who reacted with umbrage are being disingenuous, wouldn’t they, like him, far prefer to be watched than watching? But the hosts of this show are watchers and tasters by trade, so I am not sure that has much of a point. As a show off, I would also disagree that we are all not too keen on watching others. When I took some time off my own showing off, I tried to go and see as much theatre as I could and on no occasion did I think, “it should be me up there.” During the Edinburgh Fringe, performers like Michael Legge try to see as many other shows as possible.
Mitchell sees nothing wrong in these three presenters not being much interested in theatre, but aren’t there some people out there who can look at a camera without squinting and say words without spinach on their teeth who really are fascinated with the arts? It is not about it being an expert, just being interested and it being at least some part of your life. I am not a scientist, but I present a science programme. Much of my life is reading about science and meeting scientists, even when it has nothing to do with making a programme and there is no hourly rate.
This reminds me of the difference between Barry Norman and Claudia Winkleman, Barry Norman was a film enthusiast, Claudia Winkleman liked films a bit. If I am reading someone on film, I like to imagine they have seen Robocop and Stalker. Reading the Radio Times interview it smacks of the fear that to like things that may in anyway be considered high brow or challenging is pretentious. I still believe people are not as dumb as a lot of TV people would like them to be. Doing my rambling, jumpy uppy downy show about art, the conversations I have with people at the bar afterwards are invigorating. At Northampton I was chatting to people from lots of backgrounds and some as young as sixteen and I don’t think any of them are people imagined by the managers of demographics.
I don’t care whether those at the helm are experts or keen amateurs, but I want to believe that it is more than just a job. I am a crazed idealist. There are so many presenters, and not enough enthusiasts. I suppose this is yet another Gove-ian of anti-expertise.

I am talking excitably on art, love, science and death across the UK – Salford, Nottingham, Hull, Winchester, York…details HERE

I would also like to make it clear that none of the above should be seen as a personal attack I hope.

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