Diary - Alexei Sayle
Do I look like a torturer? I clearly recall in the aftermath of the Iraq invasion that a lot of ex-B
My voice-over agents - the people who handle my work doing TV and radio commercials and documentaries - have just had their Christmas party. They reckon that in the run-up to the festivities there are too many other parties, so they hold theirs a few weeks late. The woman from the B&Q ads before last was there and the man from Dove haircare products and Telewest Broadband; indeed, there were so many familiar and distinctive voices echoing about the room it was as if there were several radios dotted around, all tuned to different commercial stations.
I once made Pseuds Corner in Private Eye talking lyrically in an interview about the skills required to do an ad voice-over, but I still maintain it is a rare and precious thing to be able to invest a commercial for a carpet warehouse in Croydon with pathos, passion and meaning, and all in 29.5 seconds.
And commercials voice-overs can be used for more than just to sell you the most reasonably priced floor covering in all of the south-east of England. I am currently helping the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture to put together a radio advertising campaign that we hope will encourage people to leave this highly worthwhile organisation legacies after they die. Having always been wary of doing charity things where your only contribution is your celebrity or where, like Live 8, the main beneficiaries seem to be the artists involved, I prefer to do things like this. I'm voicing the ad and persuaded my friends at the production house Radioville to contribute their writing skills and what would normally have been highly expensive studio time. Except of course I may benefit from doing the ad because I'm writing about it now, hoping you'll think me a good person and buy my new book.
Whenever I go for a meeting at the Medical Foundation's headquarters in Islington I always feel deeply uncomfortable about how to behave while in the waiting room. I'm painfully aware that all the other people in the room are probably there because they have been tortured and are now receiving medical or psychological treatment, so I never know what sort of expression to wear. Should I look jolly to try and cheer them up, or would that just get on their nerves? Sometimes I think I should try to look downcast as if I, too, am receiving treatment. But when I attempt this, I resort to such strange facial contortions that I make everybody uncomfortable, and usually have to go and stand in the garden until my appointment comes to get me.
It also struck me today, reflecting on my visit to the Medical Foundation, that in fact, being a swarthy fat guy, I might in some way resemble the people who'd tortured some of the foundation's clients in the first place. I clearly recall in the immediate aftermath of the invasion of Iraq that a lot of the ex-Ba'athist secret police running amok were unshaven, dark-skinned, overweight gents just like me. The early TV coverage of Iraq showed so many tubby men rampaging around that it seemed as if all the contestants in the World Darts Championship had suddenly taken to the streets waving AKs above their heads and firing off RPG-7s.
I reckon if only the US forces had equipped each of their platoons with - in addition to M-16s and illegal phosphorus grenades - a pair of Gap chinos with, say, a 38in waistband, and then they'd arrested any Iraqi male who failed to fit comfortably into these "freedom pants", they would have avoided all the later problems caused by the Saddamist-led Sunni insurgency.
My house is quite near the British Museum and a lot of tourist buses go past. Today, a coach from Gijon in northern Spain went by, so I waved at the holidaymakers inside. There is a reason for me doing this. One of the disadvantages of writing for a national newspaper, in my case the Independent, is that they have your phone number. Just before Christmas somebody rang and asked me about my New Year's resolutions and, feeling jovial, I replied: "This year my resolution is to wave at more people. I have let my waving slip in recent years, as you do get kind of busy. Hopefully I'll get back on track with my waving this year."
Unfortunately, having said it in the paper, I now feel I have to keep doing it. I'm aware that people look up to me as an ethical role model, and if they see me in the street and I'm not waving at something or somebody, they may become disillusioned with life. It's a heavy responsibility.
Alexei Sayle's latest book, The Weeping Women Hotel, will be published by Sceptre on 27 February (£12.99)