I don't know what made me more nervous: singing Debussy in front of the head of opera and the head of vocal studies at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, or answering questions about American soccer with James Richardson and Barney Ronay looking at me like I was a run-over pigeon.
It's been that sort of week.
I was officially in London for the musical side of whatever the hell it is I do to get me through this once-lived, solitary life, but as with all things, football managed to creep in. Or burst in in my case. An email back-and-forth with Sean Ingle saw me arrive at Kings Cross station last Monday, slightly late to the Guardian offices for what I thought would be a mere sit-in on taping of Football Weekly.
I was immediately greeted by two gorgeous receptionists. They smile at you like they know why you're there. They kindly ask for your coat. They ask you to spell your name out in full. They bring you water. It all reminded me of a Leonard Cohen song.
I sat down and waited for the Football Weekly producer, Matt Hall, to fetch me from the neon chairs in the downstairs lounge. I had a pad and pen, but no camera. In fact, I took only one photo of my entire trip. Here it is:
That's Stamford Bridge as seen from Brompton Cemetery.
Anyway, there was nice man in a suit who sat down across from me in the waiting area, visibly nervous. He was interviewing at the Guardian for a new position covering local news in his area. We discussed the decline of print journalism, the dearth of good reporting jobs, his desire to go out and get stories rather than sit behind a desk, reacting. I think he was practicing his interview.
Matt Hall eventually arrived. A very amiable man, non-intimidating even though he about twice my size, he helpfully answered my inane questions. He mentioned the problem with video podcasts (no reliable download numbers for advertisers), how some journos had been eager to get on the pod while others scoffed at the idea, and the incredible importance of a good presenter. After a quick chat, we went to the sound booth.
The panelists—Barney Ronay, Fernando Duarte, Kevin McCarra, and James Richardson—sat down in front of the glass, chit-chatting amiably, like the pod with a lot more profanity. It was shortly after that James Richardson burst in the booth, asking if I could sit down for Part Three.
Shit. Of course I said yes.
I sat through the taping petrified, hoping they'd all forgotten, or come to their senses and realized what a horrible idea it would be to have me splutter on. Producer Ben handled the sound boards; he looked no more than twelve years old but managed to match the panel stat for stat, joke for joke, all while managing to keep the thing going at breakneck pace, working through Sid Lowe's awful cell phone connection, keeping an eagle eye on the time (the Sounds Jewish podcast had the studio right after us). He was the best kept secret of the whole operation.
The rest was a bit of a blur. Kevin McCarra went to the dentist, I sat down in front of a covered black mic with those horrible headphones and a few minutes later was castigated by Barney Ronay for mentioning a tired, out of date stereotype about English women. If anything, it was good prep for my auditions, which essentially consisted of trying to be musical in front of three people staring at you blankly, letting you know how you did via stewards with white envelopes.
All I can say for certain is that James Richardson is some kind of mad genius. He is on fifth gear the whole time, and puns with the same effort most people take to breathe. Yet he was exceedingly gracious. It's borderline criminal that Ray Hudson has a TV job and AC Jimbo does not.
I left thinking I had just done a poo on the rug, but later I read listener comments which were graciously positive. I had been in London for thirty-six hours.