Tuesday, 31 December 2013

That was the Year that Was

2013 was a big year for me so I thought I'd dedicate a blogpost to looking back over the past 12 months and picking out some of the highlights.

I guess the most obvious thing to mention is that this year was my first year as a fully-fledged QI elf. I've been involved with the show, in a peripheral way, for some years but I can't begin to tell you how exciting it is to actually be involved in writing it. It's one of my favourite TV shows and has been since it began. January through to April I was attending research meetings and April to May I was at the live recordings and I loved every minute. I can't wait to get going on 2014's 'L' series in the new year. The QI people are wonderful to work with and it's fantastic getting to meet so many great comedians.


The army chap with me (above) is one Tony 'Baldrick' Robinson of the London Irish Regiment and, as you'll know if you watched the Christmas show this week, he's holding one of the footballs that were smuggled into the trenches of WWI and which was kicked-around during the famous Christmas armistice. What an extraordinary object to be able to see and touch. And, talking of extraordinary objects, we had some amazing things brought into the Museum of Curiosity this year too.

2013 was my second year of writing for QI's sister show on Radio 4 and we wrote and recorded Series 6 during June and July. It isn't often that the guests bring physical objects in to show us but this year we had two marvellous things to drool over. The explorer Colonel John Blashford-Snell brought us in the actual compass owned and used by Stanley when he went to find Livingstone. And Professor Joann Fletcher brought us a silver Roman Denarius struck by Mark Antony. How cool is that?


The Museum was touched with tragedy this year, however. We were genuinely awe-struck when Sir David Frost agreed to appear on one of the episodes as he doesn't really do panel shows. And he was as charming, erudite and knowledgeable as you'd imagine he would be. I spent quite a lot of time chatting with him and he was a delight. He had the ability to make you feel as if you were the most important person he'd spoken to that day - a very useful skill for an interviewer and, let's face, there's never been a better one. I was hugely saddened to hear of his death just a few weeks after the recording. It turns out that we were his last public appearance. He kindly signed my copy of his book on the Frost/Nixon tapes so I guess I have one of the last, if not the last, books that he signed. I will treasure it. What a huge loss to the world.

Incidentally, also on that show, we had Dr Paul Sinha and Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock who has been recently announced as the new presenter of The Sky at Night. It couldn't have happened to a nicer or more brilliant lady.

2013 also saw me embarking on something of a national speaking tour of the UK. The organisers of QEDCon in Manchester invited me to open this year's conference in April with a talk I'd done a couple of times before called The Skeptical Bobby. It's all about grass-roots skepticism and how I have learned to question the world around me in a healthy way. Anyway, the talk went down well and I got a standing ovation from no less a person than Professor Richard Dawkins. The upshot of this was a series of invites to repeat the talk all over the UK. Between April and December, I did just shy of 50 performances including the Edinburgh Festival. My 'tour' took me from Glasgow to Winchester, Lincoln to Oxford, Liverpool to Southend-On-Sea and I still have bookings into March in places as far afield as Newcastle and Teesside. On the right hand side of this blog there's a link that will show you where I am and when.

On top of the Skeptical Bobby talk, I also gave talks to the British Humanists Association, the Ethical Society (Conway Hall), did a turn at a couple of stops on the Ig Nobel Prizes UK tour, Museums Show Off, Creat-Ed, the One Life Festival, Village Green Festival and several shows for Salon including the Harrogate International Festival, the Transmission Awards and Latitude. Latitude proved to be the biggest challenge as I, and many other performers and festival-goers, found ourselves stranded at London's Liverpool Street station thanks to a disturbed person threatening suicide at Ipswich station. Eventually I reached the point where I would not be able to get to the gig in time so I did it using my phone and the audience at Latitude got to hear me, if not see me. Thank goodness for technology, eh? My involvement with Salon continues into 2014 as I've been asked to be a judge for the next Transmission Awards.

And then, of course, there was the new book ...

It was published in October and has the most AMAZING cover by the genius that is Tom Gauld (that's him and me above. Dammit, I'm wearing the same t-shirt as I was in that earlier photo. Makes it look like I only have one. I have four, honest.) How lucky was I to get such a great cover artist? I also got to record the audiobook, which was a new experience. And I got to pimp it at the world-famous Hay Festival. It was my first Hay and it was glorious fun.

Other highlights of the year included writing and running two pilots for a show called 101 People to Meet before You (or they) Die with Dan Schreiber (write ups of radio pilot here and live pilot here), a visit to Dublin for International Colgan Day (No, really, see here), appearing in the video for Emperor Yes' new single (January 2014) End of the World, and visiting so many new places and meeting a literal horde of great people. It was also a year in which I finally seemed to get to grips with painting (after 18 months of continual practice) and in which I got my first newspaper column, writing the 'Weekend Wonders' feature for the Sunday People (all of which are reproduced on this blog).

We also said goodbye to some famous names; some loved some hated. Among them were international names like Margaret Thatcher, Hugo Chávez and Nelson Mandela. But there were people from my childhood too and many personal heroes including TV and radio personalities Sir David Frost, Alan Whicker, David Jacobs, David Coleman, Derek Batey and Roger Ebert; actors Peter O'Toole, Lewis Collins, Karen Black, Graham Stark, Richard Griffiths, James Gandolfini, Esther Williams, Milo O'Shea and Nosher Powell; writers Tom Sharpe, Syd Field, Doris Lessing, Tom Clancy, Michael Baigent, Eddie Braben, Seamus Heaney, Elmore Leonard, James Herbert, Richard Matheson, Jack Vance and Iain Banks; comedy stars Elspet Gray, John Fortune, Felix Dexter, Peter Gilmore, Mike Winters, Paul Shane, Frank Thornton, Bill Pertwee and Norman Collier; sculptor Sir Anthony Caro and Asterix translator Derek Hockridge; musicians Lou Reed, Richie Havens, Peter Banks, Reg Presley, Kevin Ayers, Kenny Ball, Slim Whitman, George Duke and Bernadette Nolan; directors Mel Smith, Michael Winner, Bryan Forbes and Ray Harryhausen; archaeologist Mick Aston, wrestler Mick McManus and Roobarb animator Bob Godfrey; Yoda sculptor Stuart Freeborn and Dalek designer Raymond Cusick; album cover guru Storm Thorgerson and comedy star-finder Addison Cresswell ...and so many others.

Roll on 2014. May it be as full and exciting and challenging as 2013.

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