A trip to London, ostensibly to sit in on a recording of the television programme QI. I’d recently made the acquaintance of Steve–one of the legendary QI Elves–and as well as granting us an interview for New Escapologist he kindly invited us along as production guests.
Shortly after arriving in London and about to step onto a zebra crossing into Hyde Park, a police officer pulls up on a motorcycle and politely but firmly asks us to “hold on a moment, please”.
A black limo came into view and Samara said “Is it her?” She was half-joking but I’d already spotted the unmistakable silhouette in the back seat. As the car rolled by, I smiled at Her Off The Money and waved. To my surprise, she waved back, though she regally avoided my gaze. “I’ve lived in London for fifteen years and I’ve never seen her,” says friend Tim, feigning fury, “but you’re in town for fifteen minutes and you get a wave!”
The QI recording was a hoot. It felt very strange to watch Stephen Fry and colleagues being witty and knowledgeable in the flesh and for two straight hours. The show will be edited down to 30 minutes but the whole two hours struck me as perfectly broadcastable: in the age of the podcast, which is allowed to be lengthy, it struck me as a bit of a waste. The panel do their own warm-up, incidentally, and do well to include the audience. In fact, it felt more like a stage show than a studio record, to the production’s credit.
Everything–set, people, format–was familiar from television but different. I found myself glancing repeatedly at a camera operator’s monitor, which looked exactly as QI looks on television, to help restore normality.
After the recording, we were lucky enough to spend time in the green room. Steve the elf took pains to introduce me to John Lloyd, simply because I’d asked him in advance not to. My fear was that I’d turn into a blubbering pile of fanboy slop, having been a fan of JL’s work for a long time. The Meaning of Liff was a sacred text of my teenage years and Spitting Image all but provided the building blocks of my sense of humour. For want of anything else to say, I explained to John why Steve had mischievously decided to introduce us. He was very kind about my inarticulacy and gave me a high-five! When it became apparent that I was unable to converse further, he chatted warmly to Samara about Canada, where apparently he grew up.
I managed to escape when I spotted some of the other elves huddled in the corner. I went over to say hello and to congratulate them on their recent Chortle award. They seemed happy to be recognised and struck me as funny and clever people. They’ll be performing in Edinburgh this year, a live version of their podcast, which will certainly be worth a look.
Leaving the green room in a lift, Steve points out that my flies are partially unzipped. “You’ve been talking to comedy royalty with your knob out.” No wonder Sue Perkins had given me the raised eyebrow.
As if this weren’t enough hob-nobbing with celebrities, we spent the next morning in the Natural History Museum where an advert offered a free tour of museum treasures “including the giant squid”. Well, we didn’t have to be asked twice. The squid, being giant, did not disappoint but the real thrill was meeting Darwin’s adorable pet octopus, preserved in alcohol but categorically not a specimen.
In a mission to similarly preserve ourselves, we took flight to the Coach and Horses. Outside, we bumped into Dickon. It was all I could do to restrain myself from embracing him and kissing him on the face, so delighted I was to see him (in his natural habitat, no less, Greek Street being a place he sometimes mentions in his online diary), but I somehow managed to cork my delight for the benefit of all involved.
We spent the rest of our London time with Tim, who’d just returned from the Isles of Scilly. We’d not seen him since his trip to Montreal over two years ago. Catching up was a warm pleasure, but it didn’t feel like we had quite enough time. We left London vowing to return soon.
Before returning to Glasgow, we took a National Express coach to visit my parents in Dudley. It was a beautiful and colourful journey, England green in the springtime with Red Kites hovering over yellow fields of rapeseed crop. I’d intended to sleep on the journey since we’d missed so much sleep in London, but I opted to stay awake and absorb the early morning splendor. Exiting the motorway into Birmingham, agriculture gave way to suburbia and I was immediately overwhelmed by the gaudily-printed, sometimes-misspelled, consistently witless signage of local businesses, the names and functions of which betrayed frightened and meager minds. Now now, I tell myself, this is where you’re from. Be kind. But when a place feels more violent and less beautiful than a motorway, it’s hard to be positive about it.
Still, fine times were had with my parents (a pretty drive to Ironbridge, a tramp around the Roman ruins of Wroxeter, a great curry from Wolverhampton), and with my sister who mentions her plan to retire next year at the age of 30. I’d never pegged her as an Escapologist, but she’s a better one than I, having knuckled down properly in business and made enough money not to worry anymore. She takes my picture for an art project.
We finally arrive in Glasgow rejuvenated and with exciting moments to look back on (the Queen! J. Lloyd! Darwin’s octopus!) but looking forward to being still for a while. We’ve had our Glasgow apartment for a couple of months now but have not yet settled in at all, what with catching up with Glasgow friends and even popping back to Canada and now this mad week in London. Time to calm down and get on with things, I think. And our stuff from Montreal should be arriving any moment… now.