In the un-read comments beneath Going-Postal’s weekly unread Question Time Review, Puffin’s ask how is it done? Or rather, why is it done? Even, why bother doing it? No matter. Perhaps answering the first unread question may cast light upon the late-night masochism that is authoring the weekly QT Review?
One recalls the story of the chap who worked in the circus, cleaning the elephant’s bottoms. One night, after work, he confided to his wife he hated it. The money was crap. He stank. At the end of every shift, he came home covered from head to toe in elephant muck.
“Well, love,” consoled his concerned wife, “Why not leave? Get a job stacking shelves or driving a van. They’re hiring and the money will be better.”
“What!?” He replied in astonishment, “And leave show business?!”
An episode of QT Review begins weeks in advance when the venues are announced. Some places your humble author may have visited or flashed through on the train. There’s occasionally a tale to be told. English seaside resorts (yes, you Morecambe) always provide scope for black humour. Croydon is an easy target. Canterbury allows for reminiscences upon better times trundling towards the near continent, as does anywhere in Essex (en route to Harwich, destination the Low Countries).
Although I sometimes don’t, an introductory paragraph offer readers more than starting with “questioning one was.”
The guests for QT are announced the previous day, Wednesday, at tea time, 5 pm or 6 pm-ish. They appear on the BBC Question Time website in a text list, and via a tweet accompanied by mugshots. Sometimes a Puffin may screenshot and post them beneath a late Wednesday or early Thursday article providing some pre-publicity and groans from the gallery.
Although the QT format hasn’t changed for years, my routine has. Regular readers will be aware I used to play 7-a-side Wendyball on (Millwall) Mondays but was transferred to (Sheffield) Wednesdays. There is one more season left in these old legs, a mantra chanted for many years now.
Although this interferes with my QT preparation, it hasn’t made much difference. By 8:30 pm on Wednesday, I’m soaking my aching knees, hips and ankles in the bath while browsing the panellists on the Kindle. After bath time, I’m too knackered to do anything so my prep propper starts on Thursday morning. This is a good thing. Various odds and ends sink into the subconscious and rearrange themselves in the realer world of dreams, ready to jump to the blank page better formed the next morning. Yes, I dream about Emily Thornberry and Lisa Nandy, of George the Poet and Nish Kumar, all made worthwhile when Rose McGowan and Isabelle Oakshott visit me in my slumber.
On Thursday morning Wiki calls, especially the references and links in the footnotes which allow for a deeper dig to be dug. Also LinkedIn (which is a CV database) and the national and local newspapers. If folks are media professionals, the IMDb database has a use. Most in the business have done something crap that we can laugh at. If they’re in business business, there may be something in the leaked tax haven Panama Papers to gasp at.
No Thursday morning is complete without a trip to Amazon to catch up on the latest sales figures of our published work of record from which we reference the success, or otherwise, of panellists’ writings: the Marquis de Sades 120 Days of Sodom.
Guests more often than not penned something obscure that never sold. Brainy ones will have published unreadable research papers with daft names that we can sneer at.
As a pen to paper wallah myself, at times I feel sorry for them – just. In his declared interests, one politician who must remain anonymous (Nadhim Zadhawi), noted the hours worked on his mighty volume were ‘too many to count’ and his share of the sales was something like £90. If you’re the Puffin who bought a few crates of Masters of Nothing: How The Crash Will Happen Again Unless We Understand Human Nature from Poundland, peed on them and put them on the compost heap, I salute you.
At times I can remember something from years ago. Although for a review of Farage on GB News, Peter Oborne’s vile QT comments about girls raped by Asian Muslim paedophiles stuck in the mind as did his co-incidental articles for Middle Eastern publications. This brings us to the journalism site Muck Rack, another useful source.
Likewise, Dominic Lawson’s use of the N-word many years ago came in handy during the BBC’s Black Lives Matter meltdown. A quick free trial subscription to his Sunday Times column and I could email him. He was kind enough to find the bait irresistible and to be quotably rude when this Puffin suggested he paid reparations.
As well as providing jolly e-mails for the review, Mr Lawson also gave the excellent long-running strapline and apparent personal recommendation “You have entertained me.” What this reviewer omitted to mention was the complete quote ran, “You have entertained me enough, Mr Worth-Saying, now naff off”.
Yes, as well as pen, paper, Wiki, LinkedIn, MuckRack and a twenty-twenty memory, the reviewer needs a brass neck. I wasn’t joking the other week when I hinted the early morning shift at the US Embassy in Singapore got an unexpected time zone driven call asking of dual nationalities and Indian passports. And helpful they were too, unlike the British Embassy who, as you know, being of the Foreign Office, exist for the benefit of foreigners.
Also in brass neck territory are calls to friends, some of whom I lost touch with long ago, who have an interesting constituency MP or one or two contacts in business. One little reminiscence can set me off down the rabbit hole chasing something that may add spice to the review.
For tax purposes, many of those sat beside La Bruce are directors of companies. Add Companies House to the list of places worth browsing. Although many directors use convenience or third party addresses, others don’t which allows for a quick spy at the outside of their houses on Street View and sometimes the inside if the property has been featured on a realtor’s website.
One frustration is the same guests being over-invited. For whatever reason, the political parties and BBC seem to think Zadhim Nadhawi, Emily Thornberry, Lisa Nandy, Lammy and a Trougher-Kinnock or two are ‘good on the telly’ or at least tick a box. A better practice would be only one guest appearance per season.
Although there is only so much you can find out about them, one never tires of reading Lord Bilimoria’s ‘charity’s’ accountant’s advice that ‘giving crates of beer away isn’t in itself a charitable act’.
Do mistakes creep in? Sometimes. Swiss Bob saved thin-skinned Andrew Neil from bursting into tears, and ourselves from a lawsuit, by pointing out it was Alaistair Stewart, and not Paisley’s finest, who once drunkenly wrapped a car around a telegraph pole. An eagle-eyed Puffin spotted Alison Pearson and Alison Phillips aren’t the same person. Another slip of the ink moved RAF Kinloss from the North Sea coast to the banks of Loch Leven at Kinross.
By Thursday dinner time, I have brief biographies supplemented with a couple of longer ones based upon further research. The aim is to have about 1,000 words of introduction and biography and another 1,000 from what’s said in the programme.
By mid-afternoon, the prep is written up in sentences that include alien things such as words properly spelt and commas in almost the right places. Time to chill. When I first took on QT Review, and Swiss Bob has the timed email proof, I wasn’t getting to bed until about three or four in the morning. I am not a teenager. It was a bit much. Now the well-tuned machine, further along the learning curve, allows not only for an earlier night but a breather in the late afternoon. After tea time, I do little more than try to sleep on the settee. Even so, waiting for QT is about as relaxing as hanging about for an air raid or thumb-twiddling in anticipation of a firing squad.
I stir at about 10:20 pm, head back to my little office and set up the computer screen.
- Step one: Buy. A. Mac.
- Step two: Make. Sure. You. Have. A. Mac.
- Step three: Set the Mac up for QT.
I put a screen capture of the panellists’ Twitter mug shots and names at the top left corner, as I forget who they are and can never spell them.
Below that is my prep, which on the photo is in Open Office’s word processor, but now I use AutoCrit. On the right is WordPress, the software Going-Postal is published via. Although unfamiliar to Puffins, this is what the ‘staff’ spend their whole lives in front of. As much as I can, I set up well in advance. I ‘paste up’ as much as I can for all the articles I’m writing or ‘setting’ on a Sunday then slap in the copy upon arrival (or as I write my own). For QT Review, this includes code for the header photo, guests’ names, venue, date etc and the code for the audio file and featured piccie. Relevant categories are check-boxed to the right (offscreen) and tabs added at the bottom (also offscreen).
The actual programme plays via the iPlayer on my Kindle with the subtitles switched on because I don’t hear well. I use earphones out of consideration as it’s after bedtime.
During the broadcast, I type away as panellists and audience members speak, correcting as I go along during the dull bits and trying to copy and paste my prep into the body of the work at appropriate points. All the while, with the other side of my brain, thinking up sarky remarks.
If in doubt, say what you see. One SNP lardy really did look like a Lewis Carol looking glass character trapped in a room with herself far bigger than the door. Lisa Nandy’s constituency attic conversion (that you paid for) does resemble a healing pyramid in Wigan. Another nonentity was Les Dawson in a purple wig. Shapeless Val McDermid reminded one of her near-namesake, the dermoid cyst. When the pandemic forced such things to Zoom, an audience member did broadcast from the Bible room of the late Pastor Jack Glass’s Glasgow manse.
Fatal error to be avoided. Never click the iPlayer’s pause button to catch up on your typing. If you do, you will be up all night. Nobody watches the programme. No stain can attach to your character if you miss something out.
The show ends a touch before midnight by which time I have those precious extra thousand words. Time to read through once or twice, out loud is best, correcting the worst of the spelling and grammar and trying to get the prose to flow. I am writing to a deadline. The piece is never going to be perfect. As ever, unnecessary perfectionism does no more than cost valuable time.
When I’m happy enough, I go to bed. No, I don’t. Bed is for wimps. QT Review HQ never sleeps.
Time for the podcast. The Kindle contains a handy MP3 recorder with a useful pause button. Listeners might notice an occasional slight click of pause/record as I make another round of corrections as I talk. Time prevents editing, so the podcast has to be done right first time, or added to WordPress messed up. Sometimes the text is different from the audio. The text will be the later, corrected and easier to read version. But won’t contain my impersonations of John Major, Alan Bennett and the Rev Ian Paisley.
Previously when I’ve heard my recorded voice, I’ve spoken in an awful dull off-northern monotone. From the outset with QT, I decided to try to vary the voice and fell upon a kind of innocent delivery where pauses and a change in the infection on the last syllable of a sentence feigns surprise that the politicians are all liars, the businessmen are all crooks and the media guests are all fakes.
Unread comments have suggested a YouTube version. I did try. As often, harder than you might think.
Guest Rose McGowan broadcast from her Mexico home during the pandemic. She is photogenic because she spends a fortune on hair, clothes and cosmetic surgery. The lighting (pricey reverse bulbs in reflective umbrellas), the sound, the camera, the widescreen, was impressive as was her delivery. As ever in media, if it is spontaneous and done by one person that’s because it has been well prepared and rehearsed by a team of professionals.
That didn’t stop this ill-equipped lone amateur from trying. The Puffin is a smart bird, broadcasting to them is a collar and tie job. Likewise, a gentleman can’t have a ‘Make America Great Again’ hat about the office and not wear it.
Early GB News style, I was in the gloom and couldn’t get the ‘letter box’ to fit. Worse still, the audio wouldn’t sync with the video. Brainwave – wear a mask. Although my office is kept tidy, the slightest object jumps out of the screen in front of that cruel truth-teller known as the camera. I covered everything in flags. The resulting National Action coup d’tat announcement broadcast was enough to make an elephant mess itself. I’ll stick to reading, writing and podcasting.
Your humble author is one of those dreadful people who enjoys listening to his own voice and laughing at his own jokes. After uploading the podcast, the finished article can be ‘previewed’. i.e. read through as the reader will see it, listened to and chuckled at while making sure all is well. After which, I put it on WordPress’s ‘pending’ and email Swiss Bob to let him know all is ready for an 8 am Friday publish.
That’s all there is to it! And, on a good night, more fun than cleaning an elephant’s bottom. Just.
© Always Worth Saying 2022