Thursday, 27 May 2010

Speaking to Mexico from my roof

The day does not begin well.

When I stumble out of bed I get a sharp, stabbing pain in my lower back. It’s a familiar pain which afflicts me every six months or so, and over the years has kept several osteopaths, chiropractors and acupuncturists in gravy.

The most painful part is always getting dressed. I hop around my bedroom, swearing loudly for about ten minutes, trying to get my trousers on. What I really want to do is swallow handfuls of strong pain-killers and go back to bed but I have to get up. I have things to do.

I rub in some deep heat cream and hobble to the bank to order my travellers’ cheques for my trip to Mexico next week, and then hobble back in time to be interviewed over the phone by the Manchester Evening News.

Interview over, I set about tidying the flat in preparation for the arrival of a film crew from Televisa, Mexican’s biggest TV network. And just in case they want some tea, I pop out to the shops to buy some milk. I have never known any Mexican to drink tea, but you never know.

The rushing to the shop and bending over to pick things off the floor does my back no favours. I swallow some pills and rub in more deep heat cream. I realise the flat is beginning to smell like a rugby changing room.

It’s five minutes until Televisa are due to arrive and I remember I need to send a text to someone I am due to meet this evening. But where is my phone? I looking on my desk and in the kitchen, I pat my pockets, look in the jacket that I wore to the bank. It’s not there. I call my number from the landline so I can track it down. It goes straight to voice mail. That’s what happens when someone steals your phone: they take out the SIM card so they can sell the handset.

I swear again. And again.

It’s now 3pm. The Mexicans are due to be here, but I need my phone so I can concentrate on my interview. If I have left it at the shop, the sooner I get there, the more likely I am to find it.

My mobile is not at the shop. That must meant that unless I dropped it on my way to or back, my neighbours, the ones I have only seen once, when I asked them not to make so much noise in the mornings, must have broken in to my flat and stolen it. The bastards.

When I get back, there is a Mexican film crew standing at my front door, looking at their watches. I lead them upstairs and try to forget about the phone. It’s my first interview in Spanish, and I am a little apprehensive; in any interview one needs to be pithy and concise. That’s tricky enough in English, much more so in a second language.

We are standing on the roof terrace and I am talking into a Televisa microphone that the journalist is holding towards me. I try to imagine my Mexican aunts and uncles eating their breakfast sometime next week, and what their reactions will be when I suddenly appear on the screen.

“Ay, mira, es Robiiiin!”

After the interview they film me sitting at my desk pretending to be fascinated by what’s on my computer screen, looking through the photos of Mexico, and finally, of me walking out of the door with my rucksack, pretending to go to the airport. The pain my rucksack gives me when I sling it over my shoulder for the camera does not bode well for my trip to Mexico.

I now have to sort out my stolen phone. I spend over an hour cancelling and replacing the SIM card and convincing the insurance company to give me a new handset. They eventually agree, but say they can’t deliver it straight away. I won’t receive it until July.

It’s 5.30pm now and I remember I am meant to be meeting someone at 6pm. Her number is of course on my phone which has been stolen and the SIM cancelled. I send her a mail, hoping to reach her before she leaves the office. My laptop has gone into hibernation mode and as I wait for it to warm up, I move some papers. And my mobile phone falls on the desk.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Speaking to the nation from a cupboard under the stairs

My taxi pulls up to the gate at BBC TV Centre. The security guard asks the driver who he is there to see. He jerks his thumb over his shoulder to where I am sitting. The back windows must be tinted because the security man peers through the driver’s open window to look at me. From the look of disappointment on his face, he had been hoping for someone famous. He checks his list, and the car is allowed through and I walk into the grand art deco entrance.

I am due to be taken to the 5Live studio. A producer is to meet and prepare me for the interview which will take place “down the line” to the Stephen Nolan programme in Manchester. For some reason, the receptionist insists that the producer doesn’t work there, and escorts me to a tiny studio under the stairs beneath the reception of Television Centre.

There are no producers to be seen. This can’t be right. “No problem,” says the receptionist, “It will all work fine, as long as this light is on here,” indicating the power switch on the wall.

It is the hottest day of the year and there is no air-conditioning. I undo a couple of shirt buttons and gulp some water as I look around. The “studio” resembles a store room more than a place from which one can broadcast to the nation. The new government may well whine about excessive spending at the BBC, but I can assure them that there has not been any excessive spending here. There are two pairs of headphones on the coffee-stained table, one of them is in several pieces, the other has wires escaping from some unstuck gaffer tape. I sit on the chair and sink so low I can barely rest my chin on the desk top. I reach for the headphones, which I have to hold in place so they don’t slip off my head, and wait.

Nothing happens.

Sweat is dripping off me now. The interview is meant to begin any moment and I have doubts that anyone knows I’m here.

I am about to return to reception and demand to speak to a producer when lights begin to flash on the console in front of me and I can hear the disembodied voice of a producer in Manchester, sounding as if he is leading a séance. “Robin, are you there?”

Before I know it, I am speaking to Stephen Nolan and we begin the interview. It’s probably available on iPlayer somewhere, but I wouldn’t encourage anyone to listen to it. Stephen was very good, but his interviewee was not at his best.

I notice my shirt is soaking wet when I stagger back up the stairs. I turn my phone back on and see I have several messages from London-based 5Live producers, no doubt speaking from plush, air-conditioned studios, wondering where on earth I am.

Friday, 21 May 2010

A sleepy reflection on the week

It’s Friday afternoon and it’s time to reflect on the week. I think the achievement of which I am most proud is managing to sleep through the chainsaw of the tree surgeon working in the next door garden.

I did work up in a blind panic though, thinking I had also managed to sleep through the taxi due to take me to the BBC at 7.30. Fortunately, I now realise that I have another four hours to fully wake up. The taxi is to take me to record an interview for the Stephen Nolan show on BBC 5Live, which will be played out tonight, tomorrow or Sunday.

Unless I fall asleep again (and you never know), you can listen to the interview on .

On Tuesday there was a really well-written article in The Times by Helen Rumbelow. I noted that she seemed to suggest I have commitment issues, though...

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Summer Party

I have been invited to my publishers’ summer party. The invite, which arrives in a calligraphy-written envelope, evokes the type of “Dahling! Love your dress! Mwaa, mwaa” soirée at which my friends seem to assume all writers spend their evenings.

Shortly before I leave the house, I call to check the dress code. This turns out to be a good move, the dress code is very strict, and I dig out some clothes I wore in the days when I had a job to go to.

I arrive and I am ushered through to a Georgian drawing room and given a sticker with my name on.

I mingle. Momentarily, it feels like I am walking into the playground on my first day at school and I am the only person who doesn’t know everyone else.

Then I realise I do know some people, even if they don’t know me. Sebastian Faulks is the first person I notice, predictably surrounded by an adoring crowd. Then I spot Ross Kemp – I think I have only ever seen him in is Extras and the Labour Party election broadcast, in which he was very convincing, but has he written a book? I decide not to ask him this question. He looks pretty hard.

I see another bloke built like an armour-plated Hummer. He has a tree trunk neck and slightly cauliflower ear. I assume he must be a rugby player, here to promote his memoir. I watch him move fluidly through the multitude, trying to work out where I have seen him before. He collects a glass of champagne from a waitress and returns to a petite woman encircled by a group of people. Then I realise who he is when I recognise the woman he is cuddling: the publishing sensation Katie Price.

Trevor, my publisher, sees me and introduces me to a glamorous lady from the Daily Mail with sparkly eye-liner. She tells me about her book, about “William Harry”. I have never heard of the man, but don’t want to reveal my ignorance and so nod and ask what angle she has taken. 

It’s not until she talks about Kate Middleton that I realise she said “William and Harry”. Even I know who they are.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Non-pulp non-fiction

I was woken this morning by a text from my friend Luke. He was calling me Tarantino Bayley. I had no idea what he was talking about until I bought a copy of The Independent:

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Press and Biscuits

I am up early. A journalist and photographer from The Times are due this morning and the flat is a tip. I also realise that I have no biscuits to offer them. Or milk, or tea, or coffee.

While I am out, my agent calls me to tell me that a radio station, having seen an article about the book in a newspaper, is interested interviewing me about the film version of the book.

“Fine,” I say, not really concentrating as I try to decide between All Butter Flapjacks or Luxury Chocolate Chip Cookies.

I go for the Flapjacks and fret all the way back to the house whether I have made the right choice. I am plumping up cushions, and wondering whether I should pop out for the Chocolate Chips when the journalist arrives. I take her coat and offer her a cup of tea or coffee and hope the biscuits are acceptable.

“Just a glass of water, thanks,” she says as she gets out her notepad and Dictaphone. I knew I should have gone for the Chocolate Chips.

The Dictaphone is as big as an old mobile phone and squeaks as the spools turn. Somehow, I find this reassuring.

I am impressed by the thoroughness of her interrogation. She drills down deep on the parallels between my great grandfather and me, and our attitudes to relationships, family and commitment. Afterwards I feel like I have been on the psychiatrist’s couch and just hope that my answers make good copy. Being interviewed in the press is a bit like being in an exam; you never really have any idea how you have done until the results are published.

Shortly after she leaves, the photographer arrives. I was hoping for a coterie of make-up and wardrobe assistants, and that I would get a whole season’s worth of free clothing, but it’s not that type of shoot, apparently. It’s just the photographer and me. He photos me on the roof terrace, the landing and the stairs. “Stair wells often have good light,” he says.

As he is setting up the last shot, the researcher from BBC Tees phones to make sure I’m okay to be interviewed for the primetime show. I say I am and go back face the camera.

An hour later and I am on the phone, listening to BBC Tees. I am staring out of the window, my mind drifting. Suddenly, I’m on.

“And we’re now joined by the writer of The Mango Orchard, which is about to be made into a Hollywood feature film.”

I have to answer briefly, and positively, about the movie which is far from being finalised. I talk about the conversations, rather than the inconclusive nature of them.

“Why do you think your book will make a good film?” she asks.

I tell the story. I talk about the tales my grandma told me as a boy, about the bandits and the bags of silver and the narrow escape from the Mexican Revolution. Then I talk about my journey, about how I tracked down the small village near a small town near Guadalajara... Over five minutes as gone and I haven’t heard a word from the interviewer. Is she still there? I carry on talking about the factory where my great grandfather worked, about my newly-found uncle who greeted me... I still haven’t heard a thing and I wonder whether it is more pathetic to be speaking to a dead telephone line, or to say “Hello? You there?” in the middle of a live broadcast.

Finally she interrupts me. “Who would you like to play you in the film?”

“James McAvoy,” I say. I like Martin Compston, who recently starred in The Disappearance of Alice Creed, but I momentarily forget his name.

I hang up and open the packet of All Butter Flapjacks.