I still believe

27 06 2016

So, the whole Corbyn thing. The last thing anyone needs is another blowhard with another opinion, but this was originally written for  the spiritual home of pointless blowhards. So, sorry, but…

It’s hard to defend Jeremy Corbyn as a leader. He’s no Churchill/Henry V/Mon Mothma figure, but what’ve we had before? The slick salesmen before of Blair, Cameron and now  Johnson – all style, no substance . What people voted for when they chose Corbyn (in droves) was substance. A man with a long, proud record of anti-war, anti-apartheid, anti-nuclear action. So yes,  his lack of style is excruciating, but we knew what we were voting for – a good grandad not another flash uncle.

These last few days, I’ve been accused of backing ‘one man over a whole party’, but actually, I’m backing an ideology. That ideology is lightly socialist. The idea that our economy should be run to benefit the vast majority, not the 1%. That the age of ‘greed is good’ has bought us to the brink of environmental and social catastrophe, and that urgent action is required to save us all.  The only main-party politician who has truly vocalised this in my lifetime is Jeremy Corbyn. The savaging he takes from the plutocrat-owned-press only confirms that he genuinely challenges their perceived right to rule.

If we don’t change how we organise our society, the rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer – for which, read shittier schools, fewer hospitals, doctors, fire engines, worse public transport… etc.

So, when a prospective leader of a major political party stands up and says, “Let’s create a better way”, I’m with them.

The trouble is that, once elected, he became the leader of a PARTY. JC cannot spell out the necessity of change alone. What’s required is that EVERYONE in Labour, but ESPECIALLY the PLP is front footed in their evangelism. This has never happened. Corbyn may have ‘failed’, but if he did, it was only because the rest of the team were sitting on the bench watching him fail, instead of tightening their boot laces and getting stuck in.

So, no, i’m not party loyal. I’m ideologically loyal. I accept that you can’t be a member of a political party and get everything you want as policy. Compromise is the key. But replacing Corbyn with some diet-Tory, to promote the broken ideas that are failing us isn’t compromise, it’s surrender.

Was Jeremy lukewarm over the Referendum? Hell yes.  Is it surprising that this well known Eurosceptic had his reservations? That a man elected for his principles struggled to fully volte face, slip one arm around David Cameron’s shoulder, bratwurst baguette in hand, shouting “Woop-de-doo, I love EU!” ? Yet 67% of Labour voters voted remain. Did he convince those outside of Labour to follow him? Not so much. But could other Labour MPs have lead that charge? Certainly, yet where were the other Les Titans de Labour?

Waiting, it seems, knife in hand for our good grandad to give them a clear run at his back.

Shame on them.

Look, Corbyn is far from perfect, I agree but I just don’t see this whole ‘electability’ issue as anything other than the establishment winning. Yes, Labour needs to take power, no it cannot simply be the party of handwringing, morally-superior-yet-Tory-aiding-London-Media-types but to do that means we must spell out to our countrymen why austerity is a lie, why the Tories can’t be trusted and how a better world is possible. That is the only solution to the problems this recently-kneecapped nation faces.

Yes. I agree. Jeremy Corbyn is unelectable.

But not because he’s wrong – because we’ve yet to convince people how vital the change he presents is.

The coup to oust him, to prevent social change, has been orchestrated by Tories in red ties. If you want something better than that, stop swallowing their shit, evangelise social justice and stand by your man.



Friday’s Countdown Poem – ‘Your target’s not zero’

27 02 2015

So here it is. The last thing I did with my time in Dictionary Corner.

I can honestly say that I think this might be my favourite thing I’ve ever written, so I hope you enjoy it.

Anyway, here goes. Have a lovely weekend, and again – my sincerest thanks to Nick, Susie, Rachel and everyone at Countdown HQ. Couldn’t have loved it more.

Your Target’s Not Zero

In the secular world
Of twenty fifteen
It’s common to wonder
“What does all of this mean?”
“What if all of it’s pointless?
It all comes to nout?”
And you sit in the dark
Tryin’ to figure it out.
But life’s like an onion
The more that you peel
The harder you cry
And the less that you feel
And once it’s stripped down
right down past the core
There’s nothing worth keeping
And your eyes are red raw
Coz the truth is that
Given enough time and thinking
some mild desperation,
a night’s heavy drinking
Everybody on earth
has got the ability
to repaint the world
fifty shades of futility.
Don’t look for THE meaning
Just pick one for you
Coz nothing means nothing
When ‘to thine own self’ you’re true.
Nothing is pointless
If you choose it that way;
Your reason for living
self-determined each day!
Be it friends, dogs or children
Your husband, your wife
Cats, hats, bats, football stats –
All Meanings of life!
And if you have God
And thus tenets of duty
I pray that you still see
the power and the beauty
Of chaos and random
Of luck and of chance
As our little blue planet
And shining stars dance
Coz it’s really no biggy
To realise how small
In the grand scheme of things
we are. All of us. ALL!
And love is the answer
The question? Who cares!
You’re free if you choose it
The winner’s who dares.
And nothing is pointless
No, nothing at all!

…maybe that one thing
Right there, on the wall.
Now my euphoria’s
starting to waver
And if you’ve an answer,
please do me a favour
Tweet me or email me
Please let me know
Why does the hand
on the countdown clock go ONLY HALF WAY ROUND?
At no point in the show
Does any round in it
Happen for anything
close to a minute!
Each word challenge issued
Each total that beckons
Each rascally conundrum

I mean bits of it light up,
It tics and it tocs
But as the hand hits the bottom – it gives up – it stops!
I’m sorry, I’ll calm down
I’m here for a laugh
But who builds a whole clock
Then just uses half?!

In conclusion then:
Try thinking out of the box-
Define your own happiness.
And don’t stare at clocks.

The good burghers of Twitter have pointed out to me that Jimmy Carr made a similar observation about the clock on Catsdown. Please accept my apologies – no plagiarism intended. It’s just one of those things. In fact, I’d be surprised if he was the first to mention it. I’d think any comedian looking to make jokes about Countdown might notice the same thing, but – for the fact that he got there first – sorry.

Thursday’s Countdown Short Story

26 02 2015

Hello – thanks again for all your lovely words about me being on Countdown. Really very kind. Here’s today’s offering, but two things first.

1)This version is slightly longer than the one that went out on TV, because when I wrote it I had no idea how long it’d take to read aloud and so it had to be editted for time.

2) The reason the characters are named Tracy and Dan, is because I once promised my lovely friend @tkingdoll that I would repay one of her many kindnesses with “something I had made”. She is nothing like the Tracy in this story, and her partner Dan is nothing like ‘Dan’. But they do love each other very much, so in that way, they’re almost identical.

A Three Letter word

Dan was normally down for his lunch at one, prompt, but – thanks to Greg in Office Management who apparently couldn’t tell the difference between “staplers” and “paper clips” – it was now after three and he was starving. Plus he was certain that all of the stroganoff would be gone by now, and he’d been really looking forward to that.

He pushed open the door of the staff canteen with his foot, and walked into a room that he’d never seen so empty. The odd plate scattered about, the waft of recent habitation, but deserted. The Marie Celeste! – if it had been the works dining hall of the most successful pebbledash supply company in Leeds. Well, as of just recently Leeds’ second most successful pebbledash supply company, which Dan attributed, mainly, to that idiot Greg in Office Management.

As he slid a plastic salver across the tray rail, he peered into the steaming bain maries, all empty save for smears of what once they’d held. There were half a dozen string beans and nine discs of carrot, which Dan dumped onto a plate with a sigh. “One of those days”, he said to himself. “One of those days.”


Dan looked round. Well, yeah, he knew he could stand to lose a few pounds, but anonymous shouting was a bit much. It had been a woman’s voice, but from where, he knew not.


There it was again! Dan jumped, and dropped his plate. The beans and carrots would have gone everywhere, if there’d been many of them. The sound of clattering ceramic was, however, sufficiently alarming, that a woman in an apron appeared.

“You okay?”, she asked.

“Yeah.” said Dan, because he was. “Just a bit startled. Someone shouted.”

“Oh – right. Yeah. That was me. Sorry. I’ve got Countdown on in the office. At my house you have to shout out the words as you get them or no-one believes you. Force of habit. Sorry.”

“”No, don’t… um… don’t be.” said Dan, blushing. He always blushed when he met women, especially ones as clearly lovely as the one in front of him now.

“Tracy.” She said, sticking out her hand.

“No,” he replied “It’s Dan.”

“No, I mean, my  name is Tracy” she countered.

“I know. Sorry. It was meant to be a joke.”

“Oh – yeah right. Course. Sorry.” she smiled.

So did Dan.

“Well, look, do you want feeding?” she asked “I’ve got some stroganoff put aside for Greg in Office Management, but if he’s not been down yet, so I doubt he will be. Shame to waste it.”

Revenge – as it turned out – was best served piping hot, with new string beans and additional carrots.

“If you don’t want to sit on your own,” Tracy continued “you can sit in the office with me, but shush. Countdown’s on.”

And so it began. From then on, Dan took his lunch break at 3.15 and shouted words at a screen with the loveliest girl in the world.

A year later, and Tracy was a bit sad. Stood in the queue on her own, she was wishing Dan was with her. She’d been thrilled when he told her he’d got them both tickets to see Countdown being recorded, and they’d bought the train tickets to Salford together, but then something at work had come up, and now she was here on her own. It’d be fun, but not as fun as if Dan was here.

She took her seat and put her coat on the empty one beside her. Daft, but she missed him. The studio lights dimmed and out came Nick, Suzie, Rachel, some bloke with a beard she’d never heard of and the contestants.

The contestants were a quantity surveyor from Guildford and … and… Dan. As Dan took his seat, he looked nervous. Tracy’s heart was in her chest too, if for no other reason than she nearly always beat Dan when they played together, and this Quantity Surveyor had Octochamp written all over his face. Tracy was stunned. So stunned in fact, that the top of the show was a blur. By the time she snapped out of it, Dan was asking for his first set of letters.


Tracy’s mind started whirring. It was true what they always said on the telly – it was harder to think in the studio. She’d got stuck on “Props” for five, but just before the timer ran out, she saw “Apropos” was there and had to stop herself from shouting it out. Seven. Not bad. Apropos was a funny word though. An odd shape. Not the sort of word Dan would normally get. Ah well, fingers crossed.

The dashing Nick Hewer turned to Dan. “What have you got Dan?” he asked.

“Eight.” Dan replied, and the crowd oohed.

Before he’d had time to say what the word was though, Rachel began shifting the letters, but was in the way. Tracy couldn’t see what she was doing. As if that wasn’t enough, Dan had stood up – had actually stood up in the middle of a game of Countdown – unheard of – and was making his way over to Tracy.

Tracy looked back across at the board, with Rachel stood now to one side.


When she looked back to Dan, he was down on one knee; a ring in his hand and hope in his eyes. An expectant hush fell over the studio.

And that was the day a three letter word won Countdown.

Wednesday’s Countdown Poem

25 02 2015

The Line Gets Thinner

He sat there and gazed at the scoreboard
Things hadn’t been going so great
The moment he’d taken the champion’s chair
He’d got himself into a state.

Yesterday’d been a whole different story
In the challengers seat next to Nick
He had felt like his answers jumped right off the board
His words long, his sums right and quick.

The conundrum? It hadn’t been crucial
Yet the moment the thing was revealed
He’d buzzed and in under a second
For ten extra points got ‘congealed’.

After the credits stopped rolling
in the green room he’d been to decamp
where he heard a few folk from production
mutter – under their breath – “octochamp”.

But today all that promise was broken,
Some kid – barely out of short trousers
Was fifteen points up by the end of part two
Having played ‘axolotl’ and ‘browsers’.

So he knew that he needed to man up
To focus, zone in, get a grip!
To forget what had happened thus far in the game
To hunker down, centre, let rip!

He could feel his lungs rising and falling
The blood to his temples was jumping
As the corival picked his nine letters
His dander was up, his heart thumping.

He wrote down the letter selection
Saw some fours, then a five – then an eight!
And then – no! He couldn’t believe it!
It can’t be… yes, is it? No, wait…

And just as he started to check it
the half minute music went “boo”!
Should he play the safe eight or just chance it?
Oh, what was a poor boy to do?

In the stress of it all he was drowning
His opponent, when asked, declared “Eight.”
And our champion thought “Now or never!
Be Brave! Go for Gold! Vanquish fate!”

Then everything went in slow motion
So he took a deep breath – and again
And when Nick asked him what he was playing
He said “Well, Nick, I think it’s a ten.”

(And a massive thanks to Rachel Riley’s Dad who said some very lovely things about me to his girl genius)

(Oh, and a massive thanks to the very many of you who have been so kind about my tenure in DC. Loved it.)

Countdown – poems from Monday and Tuesday

24 02 2015

Hello. You may be new to this (very occasional) blog, but have come here as a result of seeing me do poems on Countdown. The lovely folk who make that show have said that the lovely folk who watch it have been asking for copies of them. This, as you can imagine, is very flattering.

I’m not known for poetry, but having been raised on Countdown by my Nan (see poem #2 ‘Let’s Play’) I’ve always felt that the great Dictionary Corner guest’s all do a bit of a party piece. So, I wrote some poems. I’ll do four this week and a short story. You’re very welcome to all of them. If you’ve enjoyed them, thank you. If you haven’t, well, you’ve really come to the wrong place.

Ruf x

[sidenote: I just couldn’t have enjoyed filming Countdown any more than I did. They are a truly lovely bunch, all of them; the production, the crew and the faces on screen. They say ‘Never meet your heroes’, but Countdown exceeded all expectations. Truly, a life’s ambition well met.]

countdownSalvation is a nine letter word

In ancient texts, since time began
In carvings, wax and scrolls,
In the dreams of Homo Habilis
And the yearning of our souls

Forever has there ever been
In mankind’s expectation
Promises of beings who
Will bring with them salvation.

But who are these leviathans,
These long awaited saviours?
What are their races, faces, places
statuses and flavours.

I’ve trawled the universities
I’ve asked and binged and googled
I’ve poured through dingy libraries
With sniffer dogs and poodles.

It’s been like the Da Vinci code
‘cept with me – and not Tom Hanks
I’ve searched for answers ceaselessly
Stopping not for food or w…hatever else one might stop for.

Then, finally, I found it!
The answer to my prayers
Descriptions of our rescuers,
Of three deific heirs.

The first is tall and fair of face,
But judge her not on beauty
The mistress of Mathmatics
Undivided and square-rooty
She solves the kind of sums that leave
Mere mortal brain cells broke
When Grandad first clapped eyes on her
Nan said he had a stroke.

The second of this trio
Is a mighty lexicographer
You could try to steal her special books
but you’d never get them off of her.
The picture of serenity
Etymologically sublime.
And when you’re sitting there with five,
She’s sitting there with nine.

The last of them’s distinguished
And the leader of this clan
Not O’Connor, Lynham, Stelling
Whiteley, Carr or Vorderman.
A wit dry as the Gobi,
A classy sort of geezer
A puller of great faces
And a total teatime teaser.
Once apprentice, now the master
Argent locks upon his head
He’s the man that Nanna thinks of
On the stairlift up to bed.

But where can these three Gods be found
These thwarters of the humdrum
I’ve no idea! I’m at a loss!
It’s a real ruddy conundrum!

Let’s Play

I don’t want to sound terse
But I’ve written this verse
As a way of my trying to tell
you the reason yours truly
is sat here all cooly’s
because of my Nan – Isabelle.
“I’m back off to work!”
My mum said with a smirk
In – I think – about – um – ‘85?
“And while I’m away
After school, every day
It’s your Nan’s job to keep you alive.”

So, off went my mother
And me and my brother
Got picked up by Nan from then on
She was kind, she was fun
the Mum of our Mum
and a chain smoker second to none.
She made tea with two bags
And smoked blue Rothmans fags
(Which thirty years back was less rare)
Her guitar was acoustic,
She was champion at Pooh sticks
And her ashtrays smelt just like her hair.
When we got home each day,
Before we could play
We’d do home work whilst she cleaned her dentures
But once we were done
It was time then for fun
And Nan made up brill’yant adventures.

There were dinosaur hunts
And BMX stunts
And football and cricket and tag
We got taught how to knit
And never to hit
though if we got hit, to hit back.
But no matter how dirty
we got, at 4:30
On went the telly – fourth channel
And while Nan put a brew on
We’d get pencils to chew on
And wait for that vision in flannel.
Mid-forties, but sprightly
The host – Richard Whiteley
With ties that were bad as his jokes
He’d welcome the presence
Of gathered contestants
Then Nan’d be back with her smokes.

And we’d silently sit
As the letters were picked
“An I, N, a G… oooh, that’s good!”
And once there were nine,
Whiteley started the time
And we each made the best word we could.
The numbers, with sums
solved on fingers and thumbs
If we got one we’d sing Hallelujah!
Then letters once more
“I think I’ve got a four.”
“Well, I’ve got an eight!” “No way! Do yer?!”
Our vocabularies grew
And the new words we knew
Meant that each time we played we did better
And I remember with love
My Nan and my bruv
Daily playing ‘Des Chiffres et des lettres”

Five years later, she died
And I cried and I cried
And I miss her, still do to this day
But each afternoon
When I hear the theme tune
I can still hear my Nan say “Let’s play.”
So, wherever you are Nan – let’s play.

My Nan - God, she was brilliant.

Alons y! Geronimo! Alba gu bràth!

2 09 2014

So, tonight I sat down with my son and we watched the first of the new series of Doctor Who. We got back from our holidays today, so tonight was our first chance.

Well, I say our first chance, but implies that we had a mutual desperation to see it, but just couldn’t make our diaries line up, which isn’t true. He’s six and a half. When he was three and a half, I took him to the press opening of ‘The Doctor Who Experience‘. We made it as far as the lobby before he totally freaked out. There was a looping video of the David Tennant ->Matt Smith regeneration and he just kept screaming “Why is that man on fire?!” We went home.

...but not before getting this picture :)

…but not before getting this picture 🙂

I decided that day not to rush it. It was a classic ‘dad move’ I think, especially with a son – maybe even double-especially with a first born son. When you hold your little bundle of mewling pink possibility for the first time, the sudden understanding that you are now Yoda to their Luke is visceral. It rests upon you (You!) to guide this little soul toward greatness, to fill their lives with great stuff. A mental list immediately begins. If the chief task of parenthood is to raise your kid not to be an utter arsehole (the world’s got enough of those) then what is the stuff that you have to expose them to? What can you let them see that helps them figure out the world and their place in it?

My boy’s been to Glastonbury, graveyards, Atheist churches and pubs. He’s hung out with Tim Minchin, Marcus Chown and my best mate Steve.

Is he ready for any of those things? No, not really.

Maybe there’s some deep, amygdala-rooted, fear of death bullshit going on. Maybe the apes that came before me were hardwired to teach their kids where the food and clean water was as soon as possible, just in case they themselves didn’t make it through the night. Maybe it’s some Freudian Oedipal aversion tactic – “If I show them all the good stuff, maybe they won’t grow up and kill me”.  Maybe it’s simply impatience in using them as an excuse to relive our childhoods/escape adulthood. Maybe it’s all of these things, maybe it’s none of them. Google ‘maybe’.

Dads whose kids have grown up are forever telling new dads not to wish that time away, to enjoy their children’s childhood. “You’ll never get that time back!”, they warn warmly. But babies are fucking rubbish. Feel free to disagree, but they are. There’s no reasoning with them and they’re just so fucking needy. It’s like living with a Kardashian, but with the added evolutionary imperative not to chainsaw them into tiny pieces. If I could have fast forwarded my son to his third birthday an hour after having him, I would have done. Even now, there’s times when I look at him and just think “Until you can put in a competitive time on Rainbow Road, just what use are you?”

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m trying not to rush the boy through his childhood, but I’m also desperate for him to catch me up. A completely, idiotically unrealistic goal, but one I seem incapable of shaking.

The magic happens when you time it right.

A couple of weeks ago I took him to Secret Cinema’s ‘Back to the Future’ screening. I know he’s still too young for that flick, but he totally dug it. We got home, I downloaded the sequels and he’s watched the entire trilogy half a dozen times since. It probably shouldn’t, but it makes me love him more. Seeing him get it. Seeing him rooting for Marty. Seeing him cry when Doc still gets shot by the Libyans; his pure joy at the sellotaped letter.

I love the kid plenty enough already, but watching him enjoy that stuff for the first time, his reminding me of my first time, that punch of understanding that we’re emotionally close in feeling what we feel when told excellent stories – I love him all the more.

So, tonight I sat down with my son and we watched the first of the new series of Doctor Who. We got back from our holidays today, so tonight was our first chance to share another thing I love.

He loved it. He was scared and hid behind a cushion, but was then totally turned on by the way the Doctor figured out how to win – and by the way he figured out how the Doctor was going to win. We’ve saved episode two to watch together and if I’m being completely honest with you, I’m crying as I write that. Being a dad is about so much more than just what you watch, but sometimes it is about that. As someone who has grown up loving stories, loving movies and TV sharing that part of my life with my boy matters to me. That it matters to him too is just… well, y’know.

Oh, the wonderful things I can share with my little companion on our adventure through space and time.



Secret Cinema folk – some good news

25 07 2014


I’m writing this in a real hurry, so sorry if it’s a bit… y’know… rubbish, but, I just found out Secret Cinema had to cancel tonight.

That sucks. I know everyone is cross with them, but let’s assume they tried their best and something just went wrong. It totally sucks. I have tickets for Sunday night and am so stoked about it, so I can imagine how annoying and frustrating it’ll be if it gets cancelled.

Anyway, I just got off the phone from the people who are running ‘Dirty Rotten Scoundrels’, the show I’m in. We’ve had an idea.


If you have a ticket for tonight’s Secret Cinema, turn up at The Savoy Theatre instead and you’ll get a complimentary ticket ‘Dirty Rotten Scoundrels – The Musical’

Yep. You read that right. You don’t have to do anything other than turn up with your Secret Cinema ticket, and you’ll be welcomed into the world of another cult 80s movie. Go to ‘Back To The Future’ when they re-schedule you, but tonight, if you’ve got a big gang of pals all in London, all excited about going out and now you have nowt to do, well, now you do 🙂 And for anyone who doesn’t want to, I hope your night doesn’t end up too ruined.

Your Pal,

Calvin Klein

Darth Vader

Clint Eastwood

Marty McFly

Rufus Hound