Making my peace with an old enemy

I went to see a film called Blinded By the Light on its opening night on Friday. I was keen to see it, as I like director Gurinder Chadha’s work, and really enjoyed the trailer (below).

It’s the story, set in 1987 in Luton, of a British Asian boy who grows up in conflict with his father. He wants to be a writer and finds solace in the music of Bruce Springsteen. If you’ve read my Duran Duran story, you’ll know that there are more than a few parallels between our lives.

It’s based on a true story: that of Sarfraz Manzoor. Who, you might ask, is Sarfraz Manzoor? Well, funnily enough, he’s a journalist who used to moan about me in his Guardian columns!

In 2009, Sarfraz blamed the Atheist Bus Campaign for making him feel sad about death:

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That same February, I wrote a very lighthearted column about Valentine’s Day for the Graun, suggesting that it wasn’t all bad being single. Sarfraz was not happy, and called me out by name.

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I didn’t really mind, though twice in two weeks was a bit much! But writers need stuff to write about, and I’m glad I was consistently giving him material.

Anyhow, I really enjoyed Blinded By the Light – it was very warmhearted and funny as well as poignant. And it’s weird thinking that this guy I’d pissed off with my columns and atheism had so much in common with me, and I never knew. We could have been friends, bonding over the way music can affect everything in your life and change it for the better, if you let it.

Do go and see the film if you can – it’s brilliant. But don’t just take my word for it – it has a score of 92% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Here’s Sarfraz with The Boss:

sarfraz

THE GREAT WEIGHT LOSS CHALLENGE!

Day 34

Me: 12st 4.2lbs (total loss in 34 days: 10lbs)

I’m really proud of myself today as I talked myself out of bingeing last night!

John: 14st 3.5lbs (total loss in 34 days: 4lbs)

The iPhone filter ‘Silvertone’ is making these photos look all romantic!

This post has been made possible by my awesome Patreon supporters Peter Weilgony, Ricky Steer, Marc Alexander, Chris Birkett, John Fleming, Mary Clarke, Matthew Sylvester, Brian Engler, Jack Scanlan, Dave Nattriss, Musical Comedy Guide, Mark White, Lucy Spencer, Shane Jarvis, Graham Nunn, Emily Hill and Marcus P Knight.

They receive a whole host of exciting rewards in addition to this credit, including my secret never-published fiction and top secret photos! If you enjoyed this post, please support me on Patreon. 

Rewards start from just $1 a month, which is 85p in real money and gets you access to my weekly Patreon email. It’s like this blog, but EVEN BETTER!

The time I made a man pick his nose

My dad was a film lecturer, and was always visiting London film institutions like the BFI, the NFT and the Goethe Institute, often with me in tow. One day when I was eight years old, he took me to London’s Museum of the Moving Image (MOMI for short) on the South Bank. It was fascinating: there were all kinds of activities for kids to do, but the one I remember best was drawing your own animation.

You were given a long strip of paper with eight rectangles on it, and told to draw a cartoon. You drew a similar scene in each rectangle, with a subtle change. Then, when you slotted the paper into a round spinner called a zoetrope (shaped a bit like a lampshade; the paper filled the inside of the lampshade) and spun it, you could see your animation come to life.

zoetrope.jpg[A zoetrope I nicked off Wikipedia. That’s not my carpet, I PROMISE.]

As I was rude and cheeky, I thought it would be funny to draw a man picking his nose. I started with his finger below his nose, then made him push it into his nostril, then pull it out covered with green slime.

My dad, who shared my sense of humour, thought the animation was hilarious, and laughed uproariously when he saw it. He said to me: ‘Next time, do something really raunchy!’

I frowned: ‘What does ‘raunchy’ mean, Daddy?’

‘Really rude and naughty!’ he replied, smirking.

‘OK,’ I said, baffled but pleased to be given carte blanche to draw rude things.

I don’t think we ever visited again though. And sadly, the Museum of the Moving Image closed down 12 years later, so I can’t even continue the family tradition by taking my eight-year-old there and telling her to draw a cow farting.

Funny Toddler[Me, aged three or four. I don’t have any photos of myself
from the ages of five to ten, so this will have to do.]

THE GREAT WEIGHT LOSS CHALLENGE!

Day 11

Me: 12st 10.2lbs (total loss in 11 days): 4lbs

Arrgh, I hate plateauing, especially when I tried really hard the previous day! Never mind: onwards and downwards.

John: 14st 6lbs (total loss in 11 days): 1.5lbs

John is trying to distract the reader from his fungal toenails again. I’m not sure Yanggakdo International Hotel would be best pleased by the product placement.

This post has been made possible by my awesome Patreon supporters: Ricky Steer, Chris Birkett, John Fleming, Mary Clarke, Matthew Sylvester, Brian Engler, Jack Scanlan, Dave Nattriss, Musical Comedy Guide, Mark White, Lucy Spencer, Shane Jarvis, Graham Nunn, Emily Hill and Marcus P Knight.

They receive a whole host of exciting rewards in addition to this credit, including my secret never-published fiction and top secret photos! If you enjoyed this post, please support me on Patreon.

Rewards start from just $1 a month for my weekly Patreon email. It’s like this blog, but I’m even more open in it (if you can imagine that!)

My first ever (technically illegal) job

On Twitter recently, there was a trend for people to list five jobs they’d had. I’ve had some truly crazy jobs – and that’s before we get to TV sitcom writing, journalism and broadcasting. Here’s my tweet:

My first ever job as far as HMRC are concerned was being a cleaner at McDonald’s in 1996, aged 16, which I wrote about for the Guardian in 2008. But a year before that, in 1995 when I was 15, my dad employed me for six weeks.

My dad was often a physically violent, emotionally abusive, utterly deranged monster. I still have regular dreams (nightmares, really) about escaping from him and my mum, running from the house and never looking back.

But he could also be kind, funny and encouraging – and he and my mum were always very generous with money. So when I couldn’t get a job aged 15, he agreed to ’employ’ me for £4 an hour, writing sticky labels for videos.

dad

[Dad and me in 1982, when I was 18 months old. I was slightly older than this when I wrote the video labels.]

My dad taught at the University of Westminster (which was called the Polytechnic of Central London for the first half of his career). He was Course Leader or Lecturer on each of three degree courses – Film & Television, Media & Communication Studies and Journalism – and it doesn’t take a Freudian to point out that these are all the areas I ended up going into as a writer. Excuse me while I get the brain bleach!

Dad lectured several future celebrities, a couple of whom I now know – Charlie Brooker and Jon Ronson – and I ended up going to the same university for my own first degree (a BA in Commercial Music). Sadly or happily though, depending on how you look at it, Dad didn’t give me any contacts in the media, and he didn’t help me get into university either. I had to graft and do all the hard work myself. I got into television aged 21 after entering a BBC scriptwriting competition I found in a leaflet in HMV, and got into journalism at the same age after applying to do work experience at the NME.

When I was a kid, Dad would occasionally take me into work with him, and I once disrupted a lecture aged four by screaming ‘Daddyyyyy!’ after I got my leg stuck in a chair. My dad had to stride down the theatre aisle and rescue me in front of hundreds of laughing students.

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[Me aged four. My parents were not the best at framing photos.]

Anyhow, my dad had amassed what I believe is technically called a ‘shit ton’ of video tapes. For over a decade, he’d illegally taped films off the telly to show in his seminars – every day, he circled all the films he wanted to record in the Guardian TV guide – but all these black cassettes were in blank cardboard VHS cases with yellow Post-it notes on.

Post-it notes aren’t very sticky after a while, as I’m sure you know, so my dad wanted me to transfer the information on them to proper white adhesive labels to stick on the sides of the videos. He could have done it himself – he certainly had lovely neat, precise handwriting. But it was a menial and boring chore, so he delegated it to me, even though my handwriting was very scrappy indeed. And he actually paid me 25p more per hour than the £3.75 I subsequently got at McDonald’s for cleaning toilets!

So I spent the summer I turned 15 holding a squeaky marker pen in the Film & Television department of my dad’s university, hunched over a roll of sticky labels, writing titles like ‘The 39 Steps (1935, Alfred Hitchcock, 86m).’ It was very dull, but school was very dull too, and at least I got paid for this.

Age 14.jpg

[Me aged 14, when I didn’t have any jobs at all. I did, however, have a horrible bag.]

My dad was forced to retire from the university in 2003 when he turned 65. It was truly sad to watch, as he was crushed by not feeling needed anymore. Ironically, it was a bit like the film About Schmidt, as Dad kept on going into the building unpaid until he was told he was no longer welcome. He threw himself into researching his family genealogy for the last 13 years of his life instead – I think it was a suitably academic task that made him feel needed again.

Still, I bet somewhere in a dusty library in the University of Westminster’s Film & Television department are several thousand illegal videotapes of films off the telly, recorded by my dad and labelled by 15-year-old me.

THE GREAT WEIGHT LOSS CHALLENGE

Behold my toes, resplendent in neon orange varnish! I even partly waxed my legs for you, before I got bored and stopped. Don’t say I never spoil you.

Day 4

Me: 12st 10.6lbs (total loss: 3.6lbs in four days)

Hallelujah! Praise the Gods of weight loss. Yesterday I was downcast, but today it’s all turned around for me.

John: 14st 5.75lbs (total loss: 1.75lbs in four days)

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I am now doing over twice as well as John! Will he be able to catch up? Stay tuned…

This post has been made possible by my Patreon supporters Chris Birkett, John Fleming, Mary Clarke, Matthew Sylvester, Brian Engler, Jack Scanlan, Dave Nattriss, Musical Comedy Guide, Mark White, Lucy Spencer, Shane Jarvis, Graham Nunn, Emily Hill and Marcus P Knight.

They receive a whole host of exciting rewards in addition to this credit, including my secret never-published fiction and top secret photos! If you enjoyed this post, please support me on Patreon. Rewards start from just 85p ($1) a month.