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

David and Jeremy love your children so much they could just die, squealing in ecstasy

27 01 2014

Well, what a funny 48 hours.

Since announcing on The Jonathan Ross Show that I’d be standing as a potential MEP, everything’s gone a bit  well, I don’t know how to describe it really…foamy? Fractal? Hmmm. It’s definitely gone a bit weird, but in a way I’m completely unused to. And bearing in mind i’ve been bodyslammed at The Brits, broken eggs with my reproductive organs and had Donny Osmond sing me ‘Happy Birthday’, I thought I had a pretty good handle on weird. Turns out I was wrong.

On the off chance that you read no further than this, let me urge you to look at The truth of what’s happening to our remarkable NHS is all there.

If you want to know what the National Health Action Party proposes to do to rescue it, take a gander at The NHA’s Action Plan.

Okay – done that? Good. On with the show.

The reason my day’s been weird is that Toby Young (like what would happen Phil Mitchell impregnated a Pug and the product was haunted by William Hague’s childhood diaries), decided to try and create a shitstorm over the title of my last blog-post. He failed – or at least he succeeded, but only with the sort of people who would agree with him on everything anyway. However, Julia Hartley-Brewer decided to give him some air time on LBC… yada yada yada. In essence, there’s been a lot of people who like using words like “pinko” and “sleb” calling me a c**t all day.

This tidal wave of foam-mouthed blue spluttering was accompanied by no shortage of people being incredibly kind and tremendously supportive. As the principal aim of my MEP run is to highlight the dangers facing our Public Health System, the fact that there’s been such an increase in people spreading the word about these reprehensible changes, is already a win of sorts. Basically, I’m shouting and hoping more and more people hear me. If you RT, facebook or tell a mate about what these scumbags are up to, you’re shouting too. Eventually, we’ll get heard. I truly believe that once people really understand what’s at stake and how utterly they’ve been lied to, we will become irresistible. That it’s up to us to stand together and absolutely insist that the NHS is ours and not for sale.

However, I suppose today I realised the cost of doing this. I thought I did before, but it’s only really dawning now. I mean, my wife’s spent some of today crying, and she’s the toughest person I know (I saw her get a baby out of herself. Twice. She’s nails.).

It’s partly my fault, of course. I used deliberately provocative language in that original blog post, so the inevitable backlash to it was always going to be fairly stiff. I could have made it easier on myself, on Beth and possibly on my fellow NHA-ers. It’s hard to defend someone who’s being deliberately offensive, but that’s what good men like Dr Clive Peedell & Dr Richard Taylor have had to spend some of their time doing today.

The other downside is – obviously – that being brash, loud, offensive means that you actually put more people off your cause than you draw toward it.

The downside of being polite is that you look passionless, bland and exactly the same as the current pack of Westminster bastards whose complacency, self interest or corporate-whoredom has got us into this mess.

So, I’m going to be a *bit* more polite. It’s a compromise. Compromises are – apparently – what grown-ups do. Who knew?!

Also, I’ve been asked to do heaps of interviews and things today. I will do them, but not yet. I’m deep in rehearsals for the show, and as that’s my actual job, I have to give it my all. The campaign starts in earnest at the end of April, by which time I will have plenty more man hours to give to the NHA, and will be.

Oh, and ‘to be clear’ David and Jeremy love your kids. They don’t want them to die. Ever. They just want to squish and hug them and buy them lollipops, and read them bed time stories and kiss them til they pop. And if you think otherwise, Toby Young’s going to fucking have you.

This. This is how I really feel:


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