Saturday, April 30, 2011

I am made of paper

The amazingly talented Sally Grosart has a designed a paper engineering figure of me! I'm so flattered. It looks just like me too!

Follow her on Twitter - she's @scallyg. And visit her Wee Paper People site here where you'll find printable patterns to make your own QI panellists, Mighty Boosh and Doctor Who characters and many more. Flock there in your droves!

The luckiest man in the world (or deafest)

365 Doodles - Day 120

This is Radigast; a Baltic war God easily spotted by the bull’s head on his chest … and the swan perched on his head. Radigast may have been an aspect of the top god Svandovit who was often depicted as having four necks and four faces. His high priests were required to hold their breaths when cleaning his temple, but that may have been a good thing as he stabled his horse in there. Radigast was known as the god of thought and of good advice. However, would you take advice from a god who hasn’t thought about how silly he’d look with a swan on his head?

Another of my 'Odd Gods' series.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Royal Wedding Bliss

Congrats to Wills and Kate - a lovely day stuffed ful of pageantry, uniforms and hats, Eugenie's extraordinary fascinator, WW2 fly bys and glorious Alexander McQueen dresses. But THIS was the highlight. Definitely.

365 Doodles - Day 119

To mark the occasion of the wedding of the year - that being Laura Stabb and Matt Cocking - here's the tea towel design I did for them.

Do follow their happy day on Twitter with the hashtag #royaltwedding. Laura is @laurastabb and Matt is @matt220781.

Have a great day my lovelies!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

365 Doodles - Day 118

The Centzon Totochtin (the ‘400 Rabbits’) were the children of Mayahuel, the goddess of excess, and Pantecatl, the god who discovered fermentation. They are chiefly associated with drinking (usually of Pulque or Octli, an alcoholic beverage made from the fermented sap of the Maguey plant). In the Late Postclassic period of Aztec history, these gods became the focus of the Octli Cult – which a cynic could view as an opportunity to get rat-arsed in ‘honour of the gods’. The chief ‘drunken rabbit god’ was Ometochtli whose name translates as ‘two rabbit’. Among his beer buddies were the gods Texcatzonatl, Macuiltochtli, Colhuatzincatl and Tepoztecatl who was particularly associated with wind. It is not recorded whether their names were just as unpronounceable when sober.

Another 'Odd God'.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

365 Doodles - Day 117

Zahhak (meaning ‘he who has 10,000 horses’) is a character from ancient Persian mythology. In the Avesta, he is described as a monster with three mouths, six eyes, and three heads. In other texts he is described as a man with a snake growing from each shoulder that could not be removed and which fed on human brains. Zahhak ruled Persia for 1000 years after deposing the fruitily-named King Jam and had a gang of demons – or daevas – to help him. He was eventually defeated by a nine year old called Fredon who hit him three times with a mace and then stabbed him three times with a sword. From out of the wounds crept all manner of crawling and slithering things. The god Ormazd ordered that Zahhak be chained up on a high mountain somewhere to avoid pest infestation. It is said that at the end of the world, Zahhak will be freed for just long enough to be slain by a resurrected hero called Kirsasp. Hardly seems worth undoing the padlocks.

Another of my 'Odd Gods'.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

365 Doodles - Day 116

Another mythical beastie today from my 'Odd Gods' series. This one is for all my friends down under.

If Australian Aborigine parents wanted to ensure that their children did not wander too far from the camp, they would tell the story of the Yara-ma-yha-who, a small but very nasty demon who lives in the crowns of fig trees. The Yara-ma-yha-who feeds firstly upon blood, which it slurps up through octopus-like suckers on its hands and feet, and then eats its victim. Later, after a drink of water and a nap, it is violently sick and the eaten person is restored, albeit a bit shorter and a bit redder. Should the victim be unfortunate enough to suffer several of these attacks, they will eventually become a Yara-ma-yha-who themselves. Looking like a small hairy red man with an enormous head and a wide toothless mouth, the Yara-ma-yha-who cannot run very fast, having a slow, rolling gait like a parrot or Johnny Vegas.

No more carriage returns

Know what I bought with my first ever proper pay packet in 1980? It was a typewriter. I think it cost me around £20 and I bought it from a branch of Ryman's in Uxbridge, where the bus station is now. Up until that point I'd written everything out in long hand and occasionally used the typewriters at work during quiet night duties to type up my stories. Having my own machine increased my output substantially.

I loved that typewriter but it was living on borrowed time. By 1988, I owned my first 286 PC and from that point on, the old machine was doomed.

In some ways I miss my old typewriter. Okay, so it only did one font and the only colour inks were black or red ink (if the ribbon was fresh enough). To underline or to bold you had to pull the carriage back and type the line again. There was no cut and paste, only Tippex, and there was no spell checking. To copy your document you reverted to carbon paper. And if your manuscript was damaged or destroyed, you had to start from scratch. There was no back up or save option with paper. But there was still real joy in using my typewriter.

Writer Nicholas Jackson captures the feeling perfectly with this paragraph: 'There's something about the large, clunky, mediaeval device that appeals to the aspiring writers among us; they make you feel more connected to your work. When a story is done and has been pulled off the roller, you can still feel it in your fingers.' I do miss that. There is something magical about seeing the direct link between your thoughts and the words. Press a key on a computer keyboard and somehow a character appears on the screen. I have no idea how. But press a typewriter key and you can see the beast's inner workings; the springs and levers, the cogs and switches, the spools edging the ribbon along one character at a time, the satisfying thunk of the hammer hitting the paper. And that's another thing we miss out on with our modern machines - all those wonderful sounds; the kerchunk of the shift key lifting the type basket, the ping and ratch of the carriage return, the thak thak thak of the keys. You can actually buy software programmes - examples include Home Typist and Typewriter Keyboard - that make your computer imitate those sounds and I have at least one writer friend who swears that it makes him more creative. I've tried it and I'll admit that it's oddly comforting.

Typewriters had a kind of personality; my old thing had a badly cast lower case 'a' so there was always a crescent-shaped mark inside the loop. You could tell my manuscripts from any other manuscript in the world by my typewriter's fingerprint. You don't get that from software. It lacks soul and punch, in the same way that jabbing the red button on a mobile just isn't the same as slamming the reciever down on an older phone after an argument. There's tactile pleasure in clunky mechanical stuff. I think it's why we still fawn over steam engines and analogue watches. I reckon that the whole Steampunk genre stems from wishful thinking about what might have been. I mean, which would you rather? That bland uninspired laptop you have or something like this?

I realise that many of you reading this may never have actually used a typewriter and have always known the ease and utility of word processing. Therefore, it may not mean too much to you when I tell you that today Godrej and Boyce, the last company left in the world still manufacturing typewriters, has closed its doors. There will be no more new machines made. The typewriter is no more. I'm a little bit sad about that.

And even though I have absolutely no more use for one than I do a flint hand axe, I honestly feel like I've lost an old a trusted friend.

Monday, April 25, 2011

365 Doodles - Day 115

Not an 'Odd god' as such but a curious mythical beastie called the Fachan from the western highlands of Scotland. He is portrayed with one leg, one arm and one eye and is supposedly so frightening that the mere sight of it induces heart attacks. It can destroy an orchard with a chain in its strong, singular, withered arm, in a single night.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

365 Doodles - Day 114

Even the afterlife needs catering and in Norse mythology, this task fell to Andhrimnir and his magic cauldron, Eldhrímnir. He was responsible for feeding not only the gods (the Æsir) but also the inhabitants of the Halls of Valhalla; the glorious dead slain in battle (the Einherjar). In order to feed this ever-growing crowd, ‘Sooty’ (for that is how his name translates) would slaughter and cook the beast called Sæhrímnir. It is not recorded what kind of beast this was, but it must have been a seriously pissed-off beast because every evening it came back to life in time to be slaughtered and eaten again the following day. Drink came in the form of mead, magically brewed from the milk of a goat called Heiðrún. It is possible that the Valkyries occasionally helped with the washing up.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

365 Doodles - Day 113

This is Tefnut, today's 'Odd God'.

Also known as Tefenet or Tefnet, she was the ancient Egyptian goddess of the rain and the dew and she usually took the form of a lioness. Her name means ‘moist waters’ – although it’s hard to imagine any other kind. There are conflicting stories regarding her origin: one states that she was created by the Sun god Atum from his mucus (a possible alternate translation of her name is ‘spat water’). Another states that she was created when Atum coughed to clear his throat. The most bizarre is that Atum was masturbating one day and his semen became Tefnut.

So, say hello to the goddess of bodily fluids.

Friday, April 22, 2011

365 Doodles - Day 112

The Russians believed that the world was created by Rod. Rod the God. According to Slavic mythology, Rod was born from a golden egg floating in a void of nothingness. The book, Songs of the Bird Gamayun, tells us that Rod’s first act was to create Lada - the Mother Goddess of love as opposed to a slightly dodgy car. He cut his own umbilicus with a rainbow and set to work separating the ocean from the sky. He then separated light from dark and truth from lies and divided the universe into three areas: Prav – the abode of the gods, Yav – the visible world, and Nav – the underworld. He then created the Earth and held it under the ocean until he was ready to use it. His face became the Sun, his chest the Moon and his eyes the stars. His eyebrows became the sunrise, his thoughts became the dark nights, his breath the wind, and his tears the rain and snow. His voice was the booming sound of thunder and sparks from his gritted teeth made the lightning.

Rod then sat back and relaxed. He popped out a son called Svarog and left him in charge. To help him do his job better, Rod gave him four heads so he could see everything at once. Svarog then realised that he had absolutely no idea where Dad had put the Earth. ‘Somewhere under the water’ being somewhat vague, he asked a small grey duck to dive to the bottom of the ocean to look for it. The duck returned a year later saying that it could no longer hold its breath. So Svarog asked Rod to intervene. The elder god blew a mighty wind that pushed the duck deeper below the waves. Two years later, the duck returned, once again moaning about the lack of oxygen. So this time, Rod used the thunder and lightning to make a storm that pushed the duck deeper than ever. After three years the duck returned with a branch in its mouth. Svarog rubbed the branch between his palms and called out, ‘Make warmth, Sun! Light up, Moon! Blow, Wind! We must save Mother Earth, our nurturer!’ All the elements came together in a mighty blast and the branch was blown from Svarog’s grasp. As it plopped into the ocean, Moist Mother Earth appeared at the surface, and the Moon quickly cooled her down. As his last act of creation, Svarog created a great and mighty snake, Yusha, whose job it would be to hold Moist Mother Earth above the water like a lifebelt. When the snake shifts position, the earth trembles and quakes.

Another from my 'Odd Gods' series.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Summery Song

Here's a little song I wrote about five years ago accompanied by some photos taken this last fortnight in my back garden. It features some of our local, and very common, red kites and my dogs Willow (the white one) and poor little Buster who died last week aged 15.

365 Doodles - Day 111 - Special Edition

Within an hour of posting my pic of P'an Ku, the hugely talented Bryan Panks - creator of Channel 4's hilarious Max Bear - knocked this short animation together.

Isn't it great? Makes me wonder what potential there might be for further animating some of my characters? Interesting ...

Follow Bryan on Twitter - @bpanks

365 Doodles - Day 111

In Chinese mythology P’an Ku is said to have chiselled the universe out of Chaos. He was the child of the dual powers of Nature, Yin and Yang, and his name is a combination of the words for ‘eggshell’ and ‘solidity’. He was a dwarfish chap, usually dressed in bearskin – though where the bear came from is never adequately explained – and had two small horns on his head. Armed only with a hammer and chisel, he set about the creation of the heavens and the Earth; a task that took him eighteen thousand years. Every day he grew six feet in height and on the day he finally hung up his tools, he died. By my reckoning, that means he grew some 26,000 miles in height during his working life.

Another of my 'Odd Gods' series.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

365 Doodles - Day 110

Some Native American Gods. Apparently they made the world by kicking it into a ball. That fact dictated the composition. Click on the pic to make it larger.

From a book project I may one day get around to finishing.

... then I went all numb

So sad to read of the death of Lis Sladen at only 63 years old. My thoughts are with her family. I met her a few times and she was never less than charming, enthusiastic and, let's be honest, gorgeous.

She follows far too quickly upon the heels of Nick Courtney, another Doctor Who stalwart who died a month or so ago. Both were a big part of my teens. Both will be very sadly missed by this old Whovian.

I went all tingly ...

Someone on Twitter made me aware of this today:
Nothing to do with me but strangely pleasing to see nonetheless. Order yours here! Or don't.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

365 Doodles - Day 109

A picture I did for a larger lady who got her self-esteem back by learning to pole dance. I did this around the time that Mika released 'Big girl, you are beautiful'. So that became the title.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Friday, April 15, 2011

365 Doodles - Day 105

This is Pete the poseur, a fantastic character I met on holiday in Corfu a few years ago. He had a blonde ponytail, hooped earrings and wore the skimpiest Speedos you've ever seen. The picture commemorates one morningwhen he emerged, lion-like from his chalet, gave all the ladies a bit of a show by flexing his muscles and then jumped gracefully into the pool ... only to emerge seconds later flustered and panicking as he'd forgotten to remove his bum-bag and it contained all of his Euros. He laid them all out to dry carefully on a table along with dozens of small strips of paper on which he'd written useful Greek phrases. A few days later I was on a beach when he came riding by on a bicycle. He skilfully jumped the bike off the path towards me but then discovered why they use sand in sandtraps. The bike stopped dead, he flew over the handlebars and, red-faced and smarting, he said 'Cool' as if it had been his intention all along before limping to the sea for a paddle. What a guy.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

365 Doodles - Day 104

My good chum Dan Schreiber (in heavy disguise) conducting an impossible interview with a Brontosaurus. Drawn for his blog.

Bye bye Buster (1996-2011)

Back in 1996 I was working a night shift, driving the van at Ealing Police Station. It was early January and it was -3 degrees outside. The van had a rubbish heater and I had about three layers of clothing on. My co-pilot was an officer called Claire. Around 4am I got a call to go to an estate in Hanwell, West Ealing to 'sounds of animal trapped in a bin shed'. I often got calls like this because I'm used to handling animals, domestic or wild, and dogs in particular. What I thought I'd find was yet another urban fox that had chanced to climb into a skip after old pizza and discarded KFC and had got trapped. It wouldn't be the first time.

When I arrived I found three of those big silver tubular wheelie bins each around five feet high. We could clearly hear whimpering from within. Claire wasn't keen to climb in as (a) she was a bit scared of dogs and (b) it was a skip full of rubbish, so I had a go ... and tipped the skip over with a very loud clang that probably woke everyone up within a mile radius. However, the deed was done so I started wading through the garbage and eventualy tracked the noise to a soggy looking Walker's crisp box. Inside were two tiny brown puppies, one recenty dead, one alive but thin and weak. Both of their tails had been docked in a very amateur way; you could see the bone on the dead one's tail. The live dog had a sticky out rib which, I assumed, meant it might be broken. I took him out of the box, found a dry Walker's crisp box (they obviously liked their crisps locally)and an old shirt and put the puppy inside and drove back to the police station.

The puppy was small and looked something like a miniature dobermann except he was chestnut brown. He was very hungry and ate an entire can of dogfood in what seemed like 30 seconds. Despite his obvious maltreatment he was a happy little chap. I hated having to put him out in the kennels in the freezing cold station yard. But, as it happened, I didn't have to. I tried it but he was so small that he limbo-ed straight out under the door. The officers in the control room didn't mind. They loved having him in there with them. Battersea Dog's Home didn't collect on a Sunday and it was only just Sunday so I made the decision to take him home after my shift. It's not something that cops normally do but these were unusual circumstances. I deliberately didn't give him any kind of a name and insisted the kids didn't either as I expected we'd lose him after 24 hrs.

Later that day and before my shift started I drove to Hanwell and asked some questions of the locals. Most of them were quite rightly horrified that anyone would have thrown the puppies away so callously. I was pointed in the direction of a nearby group of travelers who had dogs that shared some of the puppy's characteristics. In particular there was a part Dachshund, part Manchester Terrier that was a lot like him. I was pretty convinced that this was where the puppies had come from. I could never prove it of course. The travelers moved on just a couple of days later. Meanwhile, and despite my words of warning, the kids had named the puppy Buster. I had him checked by the vet and he was okay but dehydrated and underweight. He did have a broken rib but it had mended. He was riddled with worms and his tail, though damaged, had healed. I'd kind of fallen for the plucky little chap too and the name was perfect. Consequently, I went through the process of officially applying to keep him. And he's been with us ever since. Buster was always fun. He was gentle and playful and never spiteful or snappy. He liked to play and he was fearless. He liked a challenge. We once inflated 50 balloons for a party. Buster got into the room and made the effort to destroy every single one. He had an obsession with tennis balls and we were told by an animal psychologist that the best way to deal with it was to give him a lot, all at once, to make them less special. So we put him in a room with about 20 tennis balls. He was in Heaven and happily ripped every single one to pieces before looking at us hopefully in case we had more. This penchant for destroying toys (he never damaged furniture or shoes or anything he shouldn't have) nearly killed him when he was seven. He pulled a supposedly indestructible figure-of-eight shaped rubber dog toy to pieces and swallowed a large chunk in one piece. It lodged in his intestine and he needed an operation to remove it. As the years rolled by he got slower and greyer. His knees started to go and he went deaf. But still he demanded his walk every day and he loved to swim. Most recently he started to lose his eyesight and his sense of smell. Then in January he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, unusual in a castrated dog. By the time it was discovered it was inoperable and we knew he was on borrowed time. I just hoped he'd get a few more days in the sun - no dog ever liked to sunbathe as much as he did. Sometimes he'd get almost too hot to stroke. I'm pleased we had that run of good weather this past week. Buster got his mini-Summer. He went downhill very quickly these last few days and finally became so down and miserable that he looked like he'd had enough. His insides were so squeezed by the size of the tumour that he couldn't go to the toilet without discomfort. I took him to the vet today to see if there was anything they could do. There wasn't. A smashing little dog. He'll be very very missed.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

365 Doodles - Day 103

The programme and poster design for a local Am Dram company's production of 'Dazzle'.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

365 Doodles - Day 102

Cartoon I did about four years ago of a friend's pet cat. She was, as I understand it, an extraordinary sneak thief.

Someone once stuck me on a Boris Bike ...

This is me being a bit silly and holding up a placard with a phrase that my old art teacher once told me: 'Every child is an artist - the problem is how to remain an artist once you grow up'. It's actually a misquote of something Pablo Picasso once said but it's always stayed with me. It's the idea that once the constraints of society and 'behaving like a grown up' settle on your shoulders you lose that naiveity and daringly creative spark you had as a kid. Sir Ken Robinson tells a great story about a teacher who asks a young pupil what she's drawing. 'I'm drawing a picture of God', she says. The teacher frowns. 'But no one knows what God looks like', he says. 'They will in a minute,' she replies. Kids take chances, push boundaries, dare to do what they like and to Hell with the world. I've tried to keep that sense of playfulness and wonder all my life. The photo was taken by the excellent Mario Cacciottolo (on Twitter he's @SOTMario), a BBC photo-journalist who runs an amazing website called Someone once told me on which people are invited to submit photos of themselves with a phrase, word, saw, proverb or piece of advice that was once given to them and which has meant a great deal. The stories they tell to accompany the photos are poignant, hilarious, tragic, uplifting - it's well worth a look. Anyone can submit a photo but Mario augments the collection with photos of people he meets, as happened with me. Do have a look. It's wonderful stuff.

Monday, April 11, 2011

365 Doodles - Day 101

We'll start the week with a militant bug. From my sketchbook. Pens and watercolours.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

365 Doodles - Day 100!!

100 days in and here's the follow-up picture to yesterday's 'Mushroom pickers'. Click for a larger picture.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Too sad to flutter

I've never been a gambler. I don't even do the lottery. But I've got nothing against anyone else gambling. It's just not for me. Horses for courses you might say. Although I'd rather you didn't. Especially not today, Grand National day. If I did ever start gambling, one of the very last things in the world I'd ever bet on is the Grand National. These awful photographs show the moments just before two horses died for our entertainment today. We're supposed to be a nation of animal lovers. Isn't it about time we stopped this cruel spectacle? Let me explain what I mean: I'm not some animal rights protestor out to ban horse racing. Nor am I someone who gets all emotional and mushy about animals. What I am is a pretty average kind of guy who thinks that animals should be treated like animals; free from cruelty and afforded a degree of respect. I used to be a keen rider myself and I know full well that horses delight in galloping and jumping. But courses like Aintree have now gone so far beyond a horse's natural ability that they have become killing zones. The course is now so challenging and so dangerous that horses die every year tackling the jumps. In fact, today's deaths brings the total to 20 since 2000 - and that's just in the main race. A horse called Inventor was destroyed on Thursday after breaking a leg. Last year four horses were killed and a record five in 2009. In total a staggering 35 horses have been killed since 2000 at this one racing meet. Is this really acceptable? Can you imagine anyone allowing an annual sporting event where it's pretty much guaranteed that an average of three athletes are killed every year? 600 million people tuned in to watch today and many of them would have had a harmless 'flutter on the gee-gees'. As you can see, it's far from harmless. It's carnage. We've grown out of bear baiting and bull fighting. We've pretty much done away with cock and dog fights. We've even gone some way towards taking the animals out of circuses. So why do we still allow this every year? Surely we can tone down the courses and still have a damned fine race and watch all of the horses come in safe and alive? Accidents will always happen of course; horses aren't indestructible. But we are killing hundreds of them every year - 676 in the past four years according to charity Animal Aid - just for our sport. And that is simply unacceptable. If you're interested, here's the fatality list to date. It may seem like I'm being a moany old curmudgeon. I'm not. I am an angry old curmudgeon. I'm angry that the Grand National has been turned into such a cultural event that we are now prepared to sacrifice a few horses every year for the sake of entertainment. I'm angry that the deaths of the horses are played down by the media; the BBC utterly failed to mention them during their coverage and even described one fallen animal as an 'obstacle'. How callous is that? Is keeping the viewers happy really more important than animal welfare? And then later, BBC presenter Claire Balding said on Twitter, 'Very sorry to report two fatalities at the Grand National - thoughts with all those connected with Ornais and Dooneys Gate'. Personally, my thoughts are not with the trainers, jockeys and millionaire owners. They're firmly with the horses who died. It doesn't have to be this way. The courses don't have to be so gruelling. I implore the owners of Aintree and similar racecourses to please, please, please make the races safer. We'll still watch. In fact, we might enjoy it more if there were fewer horses dying. Please don't put greed before animal welfare. Next year it would be great if everyone could walk home from the bookies with their winnings andclean consciences knowing that all of the horses have made it home too.

365 Doodles - Day 99

Mushroom gathering. From the late 1990s when I was still obsessed with pens. The tree is drawn from life. It was a wonderful, centuries-old, gnarly thing that used to be seen in the village of Penn, about five minutes drive from where I live. Sadly, it became a danger and had to be taken down about 10 years ago. At least it's comemorated here.

Click on the pic to see a larger version.

Friday, April 08, 2011


Ants That Count! from NPR on Vimeo.

Did you know that ants can count? Me neither. Extraordinary. Found on the Brainpickings site.

That was the week that was

It's been a busy week with several trips into London and shedloads of researching and writing done. First stop in the week was Notting Hill Gate on Monday to have lunch with a friend over from Canada. She grew up in the Notting Hill area and knows it intimately. Next door to where we ate on the Portobello Road is an amazing old cinema called The Electric. This is how all cinemas should be.
There's a bar at the back of the cinema where you can order great food and drinks and there's waiter service so you don't even need to get off your fat arse. Those with a fatter than average arse like me might want to take advantage of the seats at the back. Basically, they're huge leather double beds for you to sprawl on as you eat, drink and be entertained. If that's too hedonistic, the normal huge, plush leather seats are as comfy as anything and come with footstools ... what a joy. This ain't no Odeon.
Here's a view up Portobello Road ...
... and some graffiti that amused me. A Banksy do you think?
I then met with Alex Andreou, actor and superb political columnist (see his blog here) for tea and cakes at Maison Bertaux in Soho. It's London's oldest patisserie and boasts some great contemporary art including work by The Mighty Boosh's Noel Fielding.
I spotted this drawn on the wall of the gents. I suspect Mr Fielding had a hand in it. The art obviously, not the loo.
Beers came next at the Pillars of Hercules with the QI crowd, fresh from a production meeting with Talkback Thames for the new series which starts filming soon. Final trip of the day was to BAFTA on Piccadilly for a screening of new British horror film Stormhouse, written by my mate Jason Arnopp. It's rare a horror film makes me jump. This one did. It was great! It also showed just how important a good script and tight direction (by Dan Turner) can be. Stormhouse was made at a fraction of the cost of Hollywood fare like Final Destination and Paranormal Activity but was just as visceral, just as scary and just as professional looking. Well done lads!
That was just Monday. Tuesday saw me going into London again for the final recording of the fourth series of the BBC Radio 4 Museum of Curiosity show. It's hosted as ever by QI creator John Lloyd and, this year, Dave Gorman acting as curator. Beforehand, I popped along to Tate Modern for a look at Ai Wei Wei's Sunflower Seeds installation.
I can't say it made me go 'Wow' in the way that Louise Bourgeois' 'Mother' or Anish Kapoor's 'Marsyas' did but it is pretty humbling looking at those millions of porcelain seeds and realising that each one was made by hand.
On the walk back over the footbridge to St Pauls, I couldn't help but be impressed by how quickly The Shard is going up. It's going to be a Hell of thing once it's completed; a true 'vertical city' as it's described in the press blurb with offices, shops, a hotel and penthouse living.
No less impressive but a million times more charming is the Henry Heath's Hat Factory building just off Oxford Street. Now a suite of post-production offices and studios, the original building's facade has been wonderfully preserved. No less wonderfully preserved is Mr John Lloyd himself, seen here in a post-recording moment of relaxation in the pub. The new series has been wonderful - possibly the best yet - with guests Graham Linehan, Lucie Green, Harry Enfield, Alain de Botton, Robin Ince, Helen Scales, Jimmy Carr, Rory Sutherland, Alex Bellos, Lord Alan West, Alex Horne, Francesca Stavrakopoulou, David McCandless, David Crystal, Sara Wheeler, Roger Highfield, Gareth Edwards and Natalie Haynes.
The remainder of the week has been spent at home working furiously on the new book and enjoying the glorious warm sunshine. Also enjoying it is my little dog Buster who has developed the habit of turning up in odd locations and pretending to be dead. He may be terminally ill but he seems determined to fool me at every opportunity while enjoying every last drop on sunshine he can soak up.
Next week it's the London Book Fair. Let's hope it's more successful than last year. Thankfully, volcanoes seem to be the one natural disaster that are behaving themselves.