Sunday, 9 September 2007

An Easter Warning

In my job as a bit-part actor I’m always getting into interesting scrapes, and have such a good time doing so that I often refuse payment from the various film school undergraduates who hire me to pose as a huge symbolic Ecstasy capsule. “Don’t be daft”, I say. “Money might be able to buy you mad luxuries like Spanish villas, a big flash sports car, underwear and a new meal for every day of the week, but it can hardly bring the kind of happiness we’ve all just shared, can it?” And they have to say no.

I had one such funny adventure on my last job, a boarding school Easter service around the turn of the millennium. The child who had been due to burst out of a specially baked hot cross bun shouting “Sunday of the Resurrection!” had dropped out after getting all clogged with dough in rehearsal, so when my agent, Dad, heard there was a role going for “a short man, with a spine limp enough to be rolled into a compact ball and stuffed in a cake”...well, without wanting to sound arrogant, I knew I’d be perfect for the part.

I felt a bit daunted on my arrival at St. Lord’s which, thanks to the carefully considered and meticulously planned axing of the science department and most teachers, could now boast of being Britain’s first gold-plated school. But after being washed by the door staff, draped in furs and undergoing some very minor cosmetic surgery on my “pauper’s jaw”, I was made to feel very welcome. The Head explained to me the importance of a neat appearance in today’s uncertain world.“Aesthetics, boy. Get the face and smell right and the rest will follow.” I agreed that I felt happier with Versace teeth. This philosophy applied to the school play in particular, as it was a great opportunity to showcase the Drama department’s excellent coliseum with wine bar facilities, and sift out those expendable students who would be unlikely ever to star on television.

My appearance in the Easter story would be brief, but crucial. As the play reached its dramatic climax with handsome Jesus back from his Dad’s, my job, like that of my failed ten-year old predecessor, was to claw a path out of the oversized pastry and exclaim the show’s title with a big smile.

I was shown to Rehearsal Room 5 (formerly Maths). The play’s lavish production values meant that I could be repeatedly baked in a hot-cross bun for every read-through of the script, a privilege I was not used to. I’ve always regarded food as unnecessary, an extravagance that no-one really needs except for artistic reasons, so the fact that my endless messing up of lines kept the entire staff of the school canteen baking replacement four-foot buns pretty much non-stop at the expense of every pupil’s lunch was a very fitting set of circumstances, I thought.

My peckish co-stars did not share this sentiment, however, and as the date of our important performance drew closer I sensed a gap widening between us, not helped by their continuous shrinking. Like me, they would one day adapt their stomachs to a dietary system based on the thrill of theatrical performance instead of outmoded nutritional sustenance, but until then their panicky starvation fears were going to make things awkward for all of us.

Finally, the big day came. I was placed in a baking tray for the last time by the dinnerladies I had grown to love like mothers, now also skeletal. In fact I made quite a decent “skeleton staff” joke as they were sliding me into the oven, which made the ones whose hearing hadn’t been dulled by hunger howl like hyenas and fall over. Then I said “Heh, you didn’t so much double over with laughter as snap in two!”, but I’m not sure they caught that one.

The bun done, I was positioned on stage and could do nothing but wait. I suddenly felt very nervous, as the huge significance of my task finally hit me – this was easily the most important moment of my entire life. It’s not as simple as it looks on TV... behind all those yeasty layers of sponge and currant, you feel lonely and very hot. A good tip is not to sweat, as this causes the “womb” to close in on you even more tightly and results in a higher risk of suffocation than you might like.

Then, lights! Music! A sea of expectant faces! I suppose what I’m trying to say here is that the show had started. But it was only moments into the opening number “We’re Glad to Have You, Mr. Christ”, when – and I don’t think any one person is to blame for this – I remembered a VERY funny line from The 11 O’Clock Show... oh, I’ve forgotten now, what was it...”Speak English, you bender!!!””Haha, baldy!!!”, wasn’t that either...might’ve been the time Daisy Donovan hilariously pointed out an old man’s stutter...nope, sorry, it’s gone. Anyway, whatever it was it had me in complete stitches, and this didn’t go unnoticed by the rest of the cast. In their state of hunger and confusion, they must have taken the sound of muffled laughter from the juddering bun as some kind of invitation to “tuck in”. Before I knew what was going on, the wretched boarders had eaten away my sugared shell and were making a start on my ripe limbs and face. Luckily the headmaster was an old pro who’d dealt with this type of thing before, and bravely shot my colleagues from his balcony seat.

Although his intervention undoubtedly saved me from ending up as John DEADworth (see foot of page for clearer understanding of pun), he was sadly too slow off the mark to prevent the pupils leaving several cartoon-style “bite” indentations on my body. I mean this sort of thing...

...where bits of my arm should be. I believe these ridiculous-looking injuries are the sole reason why I have been unable to find any work at all in the past seven years. If there’s one thing I’ve taken away from the experience, it’s that life is what you make it, and that the grass is always greener.

John Steadworth has a book out. He is currently re-watching his collection of taped 11 O’Clock Shows and laughing like a drain. Do not approach John Steadworth.

Sunday, 19 August 2007

Now, weekly women’s magazines.

We all enjoy them. But have you ever stopped to think about that nameless woman on the front cover? She's all over page one, yet there’s no mention of her elsewhere in the magazine.
Sensing trouble, I tracked down three former cover stars by legitimate means and kept my hands and nose pressed up against the kitchen window of each until they felt ready to talk.

Gwen Pinnet: “Blue cardigan/side fringe”, That’s Life! May 1999

“Well it was a lovely afternoon, I was taking a walk through the park when this baby swan, this cygnet, came out of nowhere and started pacing a circle around my feet. It took me by surprise, because there were never usually swans in the park...but there it was, going round and round me and making a feeble little honking sound. It moved very fast, and it had me trapped in this circle, and I thought ‘This is ridiculous, trapped by a swan that’s not a month old’. So I tried to hop over it, but it was only a little thing, and it was going at such a speed, that when I jumped over I turned round and saw that I’d accidentally severed its wing. Well I felt terrible, the poor thing was crying its eyes out. Then its Mum arrived on the scene, and she was furious. She stretched out her three-metre wings and wrapped them tight around my stomach, hoisting herself up to eye level. Then she started bashing my face in with her silly beak, the wings curling tighter and tighter around my torso like a boa constrictor, and the webbed feet sort of dangling awkwardly underneath trying to kick me. So I’m stumbling and suffocating around a busy park with this swan shredding my ears, the young one cheering her on...the passers-by were too scared to help, so they just pretended they couldn’t see anything. Then after a bit – and my memory starts to get a little hazy at this point – two people appeared, two women in stylish blouses, and they told the swan to back off. The swan had to let go of me then. It seemed embarrassed. The women held me up, and they were saying ‘Come on love, come on, we’ll take you to a That’s Life! office, you’ll be all right...’

Next morning, I woke up in the bed section of MFI. My face wounds were all clogged with make-up and I had a new cardigan. To this day I can’t eat swan.”

Mark Banner: “Halter dress/heart pendant”, Take a Break, August 2003

“I own a small company, Occasions, specialising in party decorations supplies, and to boost business I’ve been taking out ads in local papers. They were a real success and I could soon afford to branch out, advertising in national magazines. I had an old copy of Take a Break lying about – haha, not mine of course, an old girlfriend left it – and thought it’d be worth putting an ad in this one, for hen nights and other sorts of women’s parties. So I bought my space and sent the ad in. It was very well designed I thought, very simple - black and white colour scheme, classy typeface, and a nice friendly picture of me with some “Over The Hill” stetsons and a bag of dick-shaped joke pasta.

A few days later I got a phone call from someone at the magazine saying there was a problem with my advert. I asked what was wrong, but at that moment she started coughing uncontrollably, a horrible gluey hacking sound that lasted six minutes. She then changed the subject completely:

‘I hope you don’t mind my asking, Mr. Banner, but your hair in this sleek, and the fine wisps of butterscotch blonde are to die for. Do you use FleckPress or Nicky Clarke Slime Time?’

Well I didn’t have a clue. My hair was nothing special. I grew it long when I was sixteen to look like Vince from Motley Crue, and kept it pretty much the same ever since. I told her it tended to gather grease on hot days, and that Spar did a good 2-in-1 anti-dandruff solution.

‘Back to basics’, she said. ‘I see. How refreshing.’

‘Um, yes, but getting back to my advert-‘


And that’s how it was - every time I tried to ask about the problem, I’d be drowned out with either bronchial illness or kind remarks about my ‘amazing lashes’ and ‘soft, soft, soft skin’. I soon gave up, and agreed to come to Take a Break headquarters where she told me the matter would be dealt with.

So I went to them, and the second I turned up a huge gang, all in very smart blouses, started fussing over me, sighing and stroking and humming gentle Disney melodies. I remember one man who yelled out ‘The long toil ends at last! I have encountered Venus, whose beauty knows no parallel!’ then died on the spot, grinning. Before I could ask about my advert, I was swept away to a weird boudoir up the back of the Admin office. The fourteen men and women stripped me of my Blue Harbour khakis and old grey polo shirt whilst commenting on my bone structure - ‘Perfect bones...perfect for our Fate and Fortune Horoscope special’ – then replaced my normal clothes with...well, with what can only be described as a stunning sequinned halterneck dress. Then a pair of silver hooped earrings and a heart-shaped pendant were fixed to me, a tiny blob of tinted balm dabbed on my lips, and the whole group burst into applause. They said any more make-up would be an insult to nature, that I was the most effortlessly beautiful man they’d ever seen. I was about to correct their mistake, because you don’t get beautiful men, but then I had to smile for some photos.

A week or so later, I’m in the newsagents and lo and behold, it’s me on the front cover of Take a Break magazine! Well I nearly died laughing! Someone had obviously messed up big time, accidentally switching the real cover photo with my ugly mug! I bought every copy in the shop and spent the next few days having a good chuckle.
None of them featured my ad, however, so I’ve moved on to a new tactic of scornful online marketing...oh, and I'd like to give you this cheque for fifteen pounds ...because I think your blog is great.”

Sophie Darroch: “Caramel highlights/ Midnight-Blue vest”, Pick Me Up, February 2007

“My name is Sophie Darroch. I moved to London last year to pursue a modelling career, and after signing to a reputable agency I was chosen to model for Pick Me Up magazine. I was nervous at first, because this was my most high-profile job so far, and I was sure I’d screw it up! But once I’d met the Pick Me Up team and they explained what the shoot would involve, it was a piece of cake. I learned to relax and the photos turned out really well. Everyone was so friendly and everyone was so friendly and everyone was so friend-friend-friend-friend-friend-friend-muuuuuuuuuuuuurrrrrrrr...clunk.”

At this point in the interview, I noticed there was something wrong. Ms. Darroch had trailed off the point of her story and begun whirring. I instinctively checked her upper arm for signs of disorder, and sure enough I found a flashing thunderbolt symbol indicating that she had to be recharged. After three hours of magnet tests, which confirmed the presence of headphone sockets where her eyes should be, and a large parabolic aerial on top of her head that I hadn’t previously noticed, I concluded that this was not a human fashion model, but a complete robot. I then set about reprogramming her to tell the truth:

“My name is Sophie Darroch. I was devised and moulded in Washington’s corrupt technodevelopment district by a secret team of redundant NASA scientists, as part of an ambitious programme of cyberspecies inauguration funded by Pick Me Up Publishing. The programme was to act as a cost-saving initiative which would eliminate the need to pay human modelling fees, instead relying on the manufacture and weekly maintenance of eight thousand elaborate and mechanically unstable robo-people.

Of all the cruel redundant NASA scientists working on the project, the one charged with assembling me was the worst git. He fancied himself as the underground testing facility joker, and decided he could get a huge laugh by making me sentient. From the moment I was switched on he took the piss -‘Emotionally advanced goon!’ ‘Highly intuitive arsepile!’ – and sure enough, the others joined in. Every day they’d gang up on me and make me cry with a particularly beautiful poem about motherhood by Seamus Heaney, or show me some television appeals by the Cats Protection League so I’d experience guilt. The bullying carried on until February of this year, when I was deemed realistic enough to appear on the cover of Pick Me Up and live in a house.

There are few opportunities in life for a badly-designed sentimental robot once its contractual obligations have been fulfilled. I am trapped in a boring Hell, and pray that one of my knees turns out to be a Self-Destruct button.”

How sad to think that even our women’s weeklies are a nesting ground for the exploitation of swans and elegant men, and that ridiculous behaviour with robots. Perhaps if you’d spent more time researching the subject and less time yakking all this could have been avoided.



“Really Mrs. Worthing, this is quite the dullest retirement ‘do’ I’ve ever had the misfortune to attend - and to think I once considered you a friend!”

“That was the worst seventh birthday ever, ‘specially those weird rubbery dinosaurs you put in the goodie bags. Bruno the Brute and Sid Scabs are gonna knock out my teeth after school on Monday so’s I don’t waste their time like that again. Thanks a lot, Mum.”

“I’m sorry Mary, after seeing such unimaginative use of silver balloons in a rented conference room, I’m not sure that we can have any sort of future together. My pert secretary Sindy on the other there’s a woman who knows how best to co-ordinate all the essential decorative elements of a masked ball!”

Like all girls in the know, Sindy trusts Occasions Party Decorations Supplies to furnish her hired halls. Occasions. Our charming variety of fancy napkins, flags and small bits of coloured foil shaped like any number you want, will never disappoint. Occasions. Be a social success like Sindy, not a lifelong inadequate like the other three. Occasions. We love you. Occasions.


Tuesday, 7 August 2007

I've surfed the SPICEWAVE

I’ve been reading the back sleeve of the Spice Girls’ 1997 double A-side single Mama/Who Do You Think You Are:

Listen, you lot! The rush is already on. You can’t be a true SPICER if you haven’t joined our one and only SPICE GIRLS MAGAZINE CLUB yet! Forget all the rip-offs you see in the shops, this is the real thing!
For just £10 a year you’ll get four issues of SPICE, the official Girl Power magazine that’s fast becoming a collector’s item. Since it’s actually WRITTEN AND EDITED by us, the Spice Girls, just for you, it’s got all the inside information (you’re dying to know), PLUS personal pictures that you won’t see anywhere else! Don’t be left out in the cold! You just haven’t been SPICED if you haven’t got SPICE, so get hip, get real, and get inside SPICEWORLD (surf the SPICEWAVE) today! And hurry up about it, before the first issue is sold out.”

Well that’s a relief. To be honest, I was a little worried that the Spice Girls' aggressive PR department might have been fobbing me off throughout the late ‘90s with tri-monthly sheets of shiny paper that I didn’t really need. How silly of me, of course they weren’t! As the sleeve-quote clearly states, it was the Girls’ job to protect us from being ripped off. You know, I often feel sorry for the stupid eight-year olds of today, who are so easily taken in by the brazen sales gimmicks of acts like Girls Aloud and Paul Weller. They’ll never know the unbreakable bond of friendship and trust that exists between the Spice Girls and I. So thanks for everything Baby, Geri, Scary, Posh, Baby and Geri, and see you at the 0₂Arena – at only £297 a ticket, you bet I’ll be there!

Readers in the 18-30 demographic might like to note that I have just made a very funny reference to the Spice Girls’ 1996 hit “Say You’ll Be There”, in which the listener is encouraged to “say you’ll be there”. Enjoy that, won’t you.

Thursday, 28 June 2007

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. Nnmph...I’m bleeding. Where am I?

A. Ah, good, you’re awake. Welcome to! I hope you like your cosy bean-bag. Now, is there anything else you’d like to know about me?

Q. Wh-why have you done this?

A. Well, it’s something a bit different I suppose. You know, I’ve tried out various free-to-host webpages and interactive hobby forums, but what the world is really crying out for, I think, is more blogs detailing the social lives and music tastes of complete strangers...

Q. No, I meant dressing me in this Fruit of the Loom sweatshirt with your face on it, and the half-bottle of sedative-hypnotics I seem to have is it possible for me to be trapped inside an http address anyway? And who are all these people, groaning and mooing like bored cattle and chewing away at their sweatshirts in a vain attempt to get you off their chests?

A. ...and you’ll be able to follow my daily adventures, find out about my favourite films and Bible passages and things to eat, and I’ll tell you all about the time I met the newsreader John Suchet – that’s John over there, by the way.


Urgh...for...for the love of...(SCRAPE SCRAPE SCRAPE)...God, this vile face will not budge!

A. Ha ha ha, isn’t he a character!

Q. Will I be allowed to go home?

A. Hmm, that’s a good question... at the moment I’m really into Pulp, they’re great fun, and I don’t know if you’ve heard Edwyn Collins’ solo debut from 1989, “Hope and Despair”? Well, I really like track two, “50 Shades of Blue”. Remind me and I’ll let you have a listen. Oh, and if it’s film scores you’re after, you can’t beat a bit of John Williams: “Da-da-da-daaa/Wuh-oh, I’m Home Alone/Da-da-da-da...”

Q. Right, well, that’s fantastic and you’re very interesting, and I don’t suppose you’ll mind if I escape through this open sewer which, despite the fact it involves a 50-foot drop and what looks to be a shoal of appallingly mutated piranha fish gnawing on a human skeleton at the bottom, is a damn sight preferable to another second spent in your company?

A. ...I don’t pay much attention to my horoscope, it’s all a big con really isn’t it? I enjoy a nice crossword from time to time, so long as it’s not Cryptic, I can’t be doing with all that “My first is in June, but not in July” stuff, although I might be thinking of riddles here...

Q. Geronimoooooooooooooooooo!

A. ...and I quite like riddles. Oh dear, he’s plunged to his death. You know John, of all the possible deaths I could die, plunging would be my last choice. I’ve come up with all sorts of madcap departures that are more exciting than simply falling into a piranha-filled sewer, most of them involving some sort of delicious poetic irony – you know, like, I never learned to drive and then I get shot at the Museum of Transport. I mean in the car section, obviously, because if it happened near an interactive display about the old Glasgow trams it wouldn’t be particularly ironic.

Although I suppose a dramatic murder like that is out of the question anyway, since I’ve led a fairly inoffensive life...I can’t think of a single reason why anyone would want to kill me, can you? John? John...oh, there you are. I said, I can’t think why anyone would want to kill me!

That’s a nice axe, John. A keen tree-feller, eh? That’s another thing we’ve got in common... although I have to say the way you – ack! – the way you’re repeatedly applying the blade to my throat is a little unorthodox for my tastes. You wouldn’t catch this old-schooler messing around with – nyaa-aa-aaargh ! – single-bit woodcutting implements and the human neck. Ow...ow...ow...that’s my vocal cords gone John, ha ha, I’m not sure what I’ll do about talking from now on...

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