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Monday, November 29

The jokes write themselves:

Well, an interesting layout for this Sunday. I think that I'd spend more of my days like this if it were winter all the time and I didn't have to work.

I woke up early, which is annoying for a Sunday, even more so when the reason for getting out of bed is to stop one's back from hurting. No lying down position seemed comfortable. On the up-side, I didn't waste a moment of the day. I spent a fair amount of it reading. It was probably the reading which had set my back off (that and the tightening of the belt owing to the weight gain), but sitting reading on the sofa didn't seem to cause any problems. Indeed, it was a great way to spend the morning. I didn't eat anything, partaking of the occasional cup of coffee to go with the book.

When hunger eventually set in, I dressed and went to Tesco. I had the idea of buying a cheap toaster. I am toasting a lot at the moment, and the grill is a bit inconvenient. Tesco had their own-brand value toaster, with integrated bun-warmer for under £6. But I wanted to be able to toast two bagels simultaneously and I wasn't certain that the slots would take a half-bagel. So I thought about the four-slice toaster - £13. Then I thought it would take too much space, so perhaps just the nice steel Tesco toaster - £10, but that didn't have an integrated bun warmer. So, perhaps the Breville two-slice toaster - £15, with removable bun warmer. Then I thought that perhaps a bun warmer wasn't as important as toasting the two bagels, in four halves, simultaneously. How about the four slice tefal adjustable toaster with special facilities for bun warming and conditioning the bread, reduced from £40 to £30. Yes. Yes. Yes. No.

I walked away from the toaster section. I only want toast from time to time and the grill works perfectly well. What's the point of wasting money on machine which I've nowhere to keep in the kitchen - there's not a hell of a lot of work surface in my kitchen.

Wisdom prevailed.

I bought a notepad £1.77 - spiral bound, hardback, A5. Rock!

Back home, I finished my book - The Blue Nowhere, Jeffery Deaver - and copied various notes from other notepads into the new notepad. Henceforth, this shall be known as my joke book. It's a list of my jokes. It's only two pages' worth. Maybe 40-50 minutes' material, though. Some of it probably shouldn't ever be used.

I left the house and headed to Sunderland at around 5.40. I had to meet two students at 6.30 at the venue. They were going to interview me for their radio-production project. I arrived at the venue virtually on time, having been stuck in traffic around Gateshead, and having done a dodgy U-turn on a strange bit of Sunderland street, in front of a Police Van. I'm pretty certain that I drove illegally in a bus lane in plain sight of the Police, but perhaps they didn't care.

Arriving at the venue, I met quickly with the interviewers and managed to fend off a bizarre drunken performance poet. We did our interview and the poet collared us just as he left the place. "Can I just say something?" he begged. I let him, since he was going to do so whether with or without my blessing. With seemed the better of two evils. He then launched into a hum-drum monologue about a cocktail party, bristling with ill-conceived half rhymes and peppered with misogyny. Well done Sunderland.

The gig followed and went ok for me. The audience seemed to get enough from it. The comedians had their work cut out for them, mind. Part of the problem is the shape of the room. Part of the problem was that we kept the audience waiting until 20 minutes after the billed start time before the P.A. system was even installed, starting 30 minutes late and with nothing more than the light of a 40 watt desk-lamp for illumination. That's showbiz.

I did ok. I didn't lose my confidence, though I did lose a few too many punchlines and also my train of thought. It took me a while to get going. It's amazing how quickly one becomes rusty.

My next gig is this time next week. Same sort of thing. I'll find a bit more time to prepare.

Right - off to find another book to read. Two books complete in as many days. I like reading.

Sunday, November 28

What is a waste of a Saturday? I don't know. I know that I've had an enjoyable time over the last few hours, but I can't describe it as productive. Maybe it was the sort of day I needed. Maybe I've just wasted some of my life.

Following breakfast - thick sliced toast with scrambled egg and brown sauce, I messed around on the computer, finished reading The Woman in White and started reading another book. I had a bath and then watched some TV. The TV show was simply superb - composer Howard Goodall taking apart the music of the Beatles to show how good it was. It was pretty much the equivalent of a really good GCSE music lesson. I knew some of what he was talking about, but to hear it described in those terms, well, it inspired me. For Channel 4 to have made such a programme is quite a surprise. It's probably cheap to make, most of it being down to Mr Goodall's script and some split-screen pseudo-pop-video shots to keep it visually interesting. I was going to leave the house earlier, but the show rooted me to the living room.

Once 8pm had arrived, I scooted off to help a friend move house. Well, move from one flat to another. I didn't know the precise destination and I was surprised to find that I was going to be delivering the car load of stuff and new tenant to none other than the complex of flats I first lived in when I came to Newcastle as a student. Not only that, but the same block. Block D (of 4). Had it been the same flat and same room, I might have been totally freaked out. As it was, I found myself on the inside of a complex of flats that I had not visited since being a student. This was totally weird. Especially when I had to walk past the kitchen window and then front door of my old flat on the way to the flat we were visiting - the next in number.

I gave the keys back for flat D2 in June 1993 and never expected to see it again. I never hoped to see it again if I'm honest. It was really odd suddenly finding myself there again.

I came home, with a pizza from Domino's - the audacity of them, advertising alongside The Simpsons on Sky One... it works. I then proceeded to watch a making of programme that I'd already seen, but which came on the League of Gentlemen DVD that I bought last week, and so needed to be watched for the full value for money thing. I followed this viewing extravaganza with the film Brassed Off. This was a good movie, showing off a lot of British talent and containing a lot of good music. I've realised that I like a hell of lot of different forms of music. This is a good thing. I will always have something to listen to which suits my mood. It can be brass band music, or it could be hard rock. I don't mind.

The diet starts tomorrow. Honestly.

Saturday, November 27

Another few days away from the blogging. I've done a lot of things, but not many of them are interesting enough to warrant the attention of a web-based diary. I'll try to summarise.

After the exertions of heading to London on Monday night, getting frustrated by the bizarreness of Blaized Carmey's show, and then heading back on the train, writing my mammoth epic blog entry, Wednesday was bound to be rubbish. It wasn't a day that contain much of note.

I had planned to go to see a play, or maybe see some comedy. As it happened, it made more sense to stay in the house and get myself an early night. This I did. There was a good reason for it too. I was due on a plane the following morning - back to London.

So, I watched some TV, ate some food, climbed under the duvet and disappeared into the land of Nod. Not a bad end to a day. It's quite unusual for me to go to sleep on the same day I woke up.

I woke up at 4.45. Yes AM. Quarter to 5 in the morning. I'm usually still awake then from the other side. Not actually true. Usually isn't the correct description of how often I'm awake. Occasionally. Not usually. Still, it's not a time I like to be awake - whichever side I approach it. It's worse, though, for it to be a getting out of bed time. Anyway, I got my shower, got into my car and drove to the airport. I was in reasonable time for the plane without feeling like I'd overdone it. I met my other work colleagues for this trip and we jumped on a plane to London.

I read my book. It's The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. This book forms the background material for the latest Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, which I hope to see at some point next year. Probably late in the year if my current plans are anything to go by.

We arrived in Stansted airport, which the pilot of the plane had referred to as London. It's not London. It's far away:

Anyway, we got our Stansted Express train to Liverpool Street, then walked from the aforementioned station to the Ironmongers' Hall of the Barbican Centre where the conference, the purpose of this trip, was being held. We arrived within 5 minutes of the start of the first keynote speech. The wrong side of the start, but not enough to worry anyone.

A day of conferencing and we ended up in a pub - the "Pull My Finger", or something like that. After the pub it was a meal and after the meal it was late night drinks at the hotel. I remember going to bed very late, having spent the entire evening talking about work with a workmate, whom I've known for years. It was just like what happened on his stag do. We had drinks and went on about work. Weird.

Sadly, my brilliant ability to get up on Thursday was followed by a lack-lustre awakening on Friday. I rose at the time I'd planned to, but had, in my foolishness the previous evening, calculated a foolish time to plan to get up. I had to miss breakfast, grab a shower and rush across town to be back at the conference. The hotel near Liverpool Street station had been very good. Sadly, our route back to it the previous evening had been circuitous - we were almost lost. We weren't lost, or we'd still be there, but we just hadn't grasped exactly where we were going for much of the journey. This meant that when I left the hotel I had no idea of which direction the conference-centre was. After about 3 minutes' pithering, I found myself on track and got myself there about 5 minutes earlier than the keynote speech. Result.

Lunch on Friday was pretty poor. The food was smashing, but the quantity was so limited that I was confused. Were they winding us up? Were these bitelets of food just the starter for some fat-ass steak dinner to come? No. Very unsatisfactory. Man cannot live on coffee and biscuits.

After the conference, we made our way to Liverpool St. Then took the Stansted Express to, well, Stansted. Then it was time to hang around waiting for the plane. I chose to hang around well known sandwich and coffee establishments. These proved most refreshing.

Arriving in Newcastle airport, more of my book read, at about 10.30, I had time to pay the £25 parking charge. Twenty five quid. Are they mad? For 2 days? They're taking the piss! I then had time to drop a workmate home before going back to my house for cheese on toast. Toast is a great food.

That's today, and not much has happened so far. I've had some more toast. I've watched a DVD that arrived in the post this morning - it is a DVD of a performance I gave during the York Comedy Festival. I got a few good laughs, I also had a real tussle with the audience. This appears to be down to a lack of control and timing on my part. I can see some basic ability in what I did, but it's patchy. I think I've learned a lot, mainly confidence, since then. I didn't cringe watching the recording, which is something.

Blaized Carmey
After blogging about "him" on Tuesday, it seems that he's taken to blogging about me. I got a text from a friend on Thursday indicating that Blaized, in his weblog - Blaized's Dairy (sic) - has published all the emails we've swapped since June. I don't know what purpose this serves either of us. It appears to be a responsible posting of our correspondence, in that my email address and mobile number have not been quoted.

Since Blaized is a fictional character, nothing that has passed between us can, by definition, be confidential. I'm still waiting for the climax of this story. Why is there a Blaized? Who is doing it? For what possible reason?

It remains to be seen, I suppose.

The weekend stretches ahead. More reading, I think.

Tuesday, November 23

One word. Smoothwall. I mentioned in my mammoth post, below, the fuss I'd had trying to get my internet connection back up. The problem was a machine called the firewall - this acts as sentinel and guardian of my home computer network (yeah, geek, home network... whatever). Sadly, the firewall died and I didn't have the time nor the inclination to spend the hours it originally cost me setting it up again. The hardware failure was a dead hard disk. Once I'd replaced this, the software was looking like a lot of effort. So I downloaded Smoothwall. This claims to have you up and running in 10 minutes. It's not kidding. Okay, so I have a fair amount of geek knowledge to help me, but this installation made the task very very easy. It literally took 10 minutes, and most of that was just waiting for it to load off the CD. It worked first time. Brilliant!

The man in the car
Another story that I forgot from the weekend. This one is not a happy tale. I was standing in a bus queue (that's how you spell queue - there's a guy in the sandwich shop below our office who spells it "que" - what a cock!) waiting to come home after my afternoon out on Saturday. While in the bus queue, I got chatting to the person in front of me. He started the conversation which was, I believe, "whither short skirts" - not a bad conversation though he gave it a slightly seedy undertone. No matter. As we were chatting this BMW came cruising past playing some blaring black spoken-word music. Hip hop of some description. I commented that the person in the car did not seem to be the sort of person to whom that music was intended. Indeed, the chap was a middle aged fellow in a suit - he looked more like a solicitor than anything else. I said something like "He hardly looks like he's from da street" and shared a laugh with the person in front and, newly introducing himself to the conversation, the person behind me in the queue (not que - que?).

No sooner had we finished laughing than the man appeared to gain a number of youths from Old Eldon Square, clustered round his car. Indeed, he seemed to be engaging them in some sort of conversation or, dare I say it, transaction. I had to correct myself... "Oh," said I "it would appear that the man's a drug dealer. Perhaps he's wearing the suit after a recent court appearance, or perhaps having attended the funeral of one of his recently demised gangster mates... perhaps he is justified in listening to pimp music...". And then we stood by for about 10 minutes, watching this man, his car festooned with youths, doing whatever it was he was doing. We idly ignored what really did look like illegal substance trading.

I don't know. Maybe this fellow is a parole officer, who happens to have a BMW, who cares for his charges so much that he plays their sort of music. Maybe he's their lawyer and really is down wid da kids. Maybe he's someone's dad and the music just happened to be playing - that might explain the kids clustering round his car - they all knew him. Someone's cool dad. Who sells them drugs. Who knows!?

I got on the bus and pretended I'd seen nothing... until now...

As is customary, I've let the blog suffer for far too many days. Thankfully, I have a fair chunk of time with which to redress the balance. I have much to report, though I suspect very little of it is of more than passing interest. We'll see.

Monday 15th
I spent the evening at home with my piano and microphone. I was intending to make a lovely sweet recording of some new songs I've been writing for a new musical. If we drop the adjectives, there's no doubt that I achieved something. A recording was made. I quite enjoyed the process, though I suffered from red-light syndrome. This is the process of being suddenly unable to play a single note accurately so long as something is recording you. Having said that, I also discovered that a big disadvantage of trying to record something that one's just written is that you have absolutely no experience of playing it accurately. It was only as I got to the tail end of a near-perfect recording of one song that I remembered that I had no idea how it ended.

Anyway, my recording session was pretty successful, though I gave up on the fourth of the songs, finding it too hard to get my head around it. I don't like to record too late, partly because it can annoy the neighbours, partly because I don't play well when tired, and partly because, when it's late at night, I tend to whisper and play quietly - this doesn't make sense when you're recording something that's meant to be witty and exuberant.

Tuesday 16th
Following a day in the office, I headed off to my rehearsal for Guys and Dolls. I didn't even bother taking my music in with me. I've long held the opinion that music is best learned without the benefit of looking at the sheet. I've not got a photographic memory, but with certain bits of the music, I have found myself mentally scanning an image of the sheet music to remember it... it seems to work. Anyway, I spent the rehearsal looking at the rehearsal schedule that is to consume my life for the next 3 months. It's busy. Oh... it's busy!

After the rehearsal, which was surprisingly brief, I headed home to record the last song. I am not going to be in as many of the musical numbers in Guys and Dolls as the chorus, and my part is a non-singing part (well, I sing, but I don't have my own solo singing line), so I was feeling the need to do some hardcore singing. I recorded a song called No Questions Asked, the title for which was suggested by my co-writer. This song is for three men, so I sang all three. Now who gets a solo? Me! Three times!

The aim of these recordings was to demonstrate what I've done so far. My co-writer is a lot less hands-on that my previous musical collaborator. I'm doing the writing and using the co-writer for background research, ideas, inspiration and feedback. Since I was heading to Edinburgh on Thursday, I was hoping to show the first ten minutes' worth of music to the lady in question in order to gather some momentum and get some reaction to where I've been going on my own.

Wednesday 17th
This was a most unusual day. I spent it chasing The Musical!. The previous weekend I had pretty much come to the conclusion that the show would not play again. Having said that, I was juggling the possibility of doing it in Glasgow in March 2005. This juggling was dependent on whether my musical other-half really wanted to do it and whether we were thinking of doing the show in earnest again at all. Although I'd reached a point where I thought I was finally solvent and moving on from producing costly vanity projects, things changed. Actually, they'd changed the previous evening, after a call with the Australian Connection.

Glasgow is definitely going to happen. We're in the final contractual stages now. Friday 18th and Saturday 19th March 2005.

Melbourne has turned from a probably-not to a definite-maybe. We're looking at numbers now. I've asked for the time off work. We've checked out flights. It's looking do-able. We'd have to work really hard, but it could be an amazing project.

So if we're going to do Glasgow and Melbourne, surely we need more of a run up? We may as well do another show in the North West... and Newcastle... and maybe some more in Scotland.

Oh dear!

Oh dear, oh dear!

Anyway, on the Wednesday, I headed off to Sunderland to watch the gig at The Royalty. This was a notable occasion. The audience had dwindled to nearly single figures. This used to be an excitable and large crowd. The promoter had no choice. He had to pull out of running the show in future. One cannot afford to be paying a headliner fee when you end up with a show that you run for free because it's not going to be very good. Therefore, the Sunderland comedy show is now going to be run differently. It should be interesting to see what it turns into. Sadly, I'll get little chance to go along, what with two sets of rehearsals to attend over the next few months.

Following the show we went back into Newcastle and to a bar called Popolo's. We found a booth with three young ladies in it and asked if we could share. When they said that we could, we bundled in around them, imprisoning the poor lasses in the corner of the booth - this wasn't an intentional ploy, but it happened. They kept themselves to themselves and we were there for chat and our own company, not to harrass young ladies. However, one of our party turned out to know them and so they were strangers no longer. Hooray - instant party.

Leaving the bar relatively late, I dropped a friend home and then returned to my own home in order to transfer my recordings to CD. This sounds easier than it was - not the dropping off, that was easy. The process of transferring a recording to CD should be easy. I have a digital recorder and CDs are digital. The recorder even has the facility to transfer to CD... however, I don't have the right kit. Previously, I've used a computer to get the sound out of the recorder and then transferred from the computer direct to CD. Sadly, the computer I used is out of commission at the moment. So, I had to borrow a laptop from the office to achieve this. The laptop made a horrible crackling noise when connected to both its power and the recorder (at least the noise was on the recording). This is not surprising. Laptop power supplies are quite nasty for recordings and are made worse when the laptop is connected to another powered device - say a recorder. So, the solution should have been to run the laptop on its batteries while recording. But no. That would have been too easy. This laptop had a battery life of about 2 minutes - this is no exaggeration. So I had to make do with the poor recording sound. I also had to redo the recording a couple of times because the sound skipped. This took me late into the night. I had gigs in Scotland the following day and I was up late listening to the sound of my own voice and playing on a CD that I was desperate to get made before I went to bed.

The CD was made. It sounded ok-ish.

Thursday 18th
Spent the day at work, occasionally listening to the CD I'd made the night before. I left the office at around 4pm, rushing to be in Scotland for the two gigs that I was booked to perform at. The first required me to attend for 7pm. I made it on time. I was at the foot of the Forth Bridge, in South Queensferry. We were in a lovely arts centre. The hall was great. I had a lovely sound check, unfettered by any interruptions from early-comers. Audiences can spoil sound checks. They didn't spoil this one. Oh no. In fact, we sound checked for much longer than necessary. We sound checked so hard, that I broke a string on my guitar. Luckily, I'd packed my additional spare strings. This was lucky because the string that broke was one that I had no other spares of (except in the new pack of strings). I had time to restring the guitar, retune it, re-soundcheck... the audience never came, in fact. We gave up the gig at about 8.45pm. They weren't coming. Luckily, I still got paid.

I was due to open the South Queensferry gig and then close a different gig in Edinburgh city centre. Given that we had a comedy crew in South Queensferry, we all headed into Edinburgh. I assumed that the headliner from the South Queensferry gig would replace me in closing the Edinburgh gig - I didn't mind. Performing is the important bit, not one's billing. As we drove into town, I explained to him about Blaized Carmey, this curious character that has been buzzing the comedy community for the last few months. I explained that I would be going to see Blaized's show on Monday 22nd. Describing Blaized can make one sound like a nutter. I really had no idea what was going to happen on Monday, but I wanted to know what all the fuss had been about. The guy I was talking to could see my point, though he's very good natured and would have attempted to, even if I were raving.

Anyway, we arrived in town and the act I'd transported decided to bail. Fair enough. The venue that I was due to do the comedy in was going to be a weird one. As it turned out, it was weird AND wonderful. The audience were simultaneously quite short of attention span and attentive. I went up there with gay abandon, grabbed their attention and gave them 25 minutes of Ashley gold, of which they appreciated maybe 15 minutes! I made them applaud hard at the end of my set and left the stage. There's a trick I've discovered for making the audience applaud hard. My last song ends on a long chord (repeatedly strummed on the guitar). They know it's the last song because I tell them that it is. They start clapping during the last chord. As they clap, I make the chord louder, this makes them clap harder (they think they're enjoying it more, or something like that). I can keep that going as long as I want. I decided to make sure that they worked for me at the end of that set. I had given a lot to them. Fair's fair!

Anyway, I left the stage, imagining that my work had been done. I was then roped into singing over karaoke backing tracks for a further hour as the evening degenerated. I left just before it got really weird and just after I'd been paid. It made sense at the time.

What about the CD I'd been up until all hours making? Well, I played it to my collaborator, who'd attended the Edinburgh city centre gig. We snuck out to her car to listen to it. Twice. She seemed almost non-plussed. This was a bit of an anti-climax. Especially since I'd worked hard to write the stuff, then to record it, then to make it into a CD. Having said that, I had high expectations for the reaction I was going to get. I suspect that she'll find that the songs grow on her. I live in hope that she'll react well in the future, but it was a bit of a disappointment for her not to be jumping up and down in joy. However, we've not worked together before, so perhaps her expectations of a demo-recording were different and perhaps the jumping for joy doesn't happen. Not to worry.

I got home very late. Not terribly late. I've done terribly late and it's not pretty. Just very late. That's more acceptable.

Friday 19th
This was a relatively humdrum day in comparison to other parts of the week. I went to work. I left work and went to my rehearsal - South Pacific. I was given the line to sing in There is nothing like a dame that I've always wanted to sing. I hope that I'm still charged with that responsibility when it comes to the final production. I'm a sucker for a bass solo. I was the guy who was up for weeks when I got to start Wouldn't it be Loverly in My Fair Lady. I'll never forget the feeling of plucking my note out of the accompaniment, stepping forward slightly and going "It's rather dull in tahn, I think I'll take me to Paree".

I grabbed some food on the way home and gave myself an early night. Well, early-ish.

Saturday 20th
Waking up remarkably late on the 20th, I had time to discover that my internet connection appeared to be down. See, there's a reason I've not been blogging until now - my internet ain't been working. I grabbed some late lunch and a shower and then headed into town. I walked into town, with the aim of meeting a friend for a coffee.

Instead of coffee, we went to a pub. I had a pint, my friend a whiskey (with the E, since it was Irish) and I witnessed an hilarious event - a pint of Guinness was knocked off its perch on top of a partition between a seating area and the fruit machine. I noticed it while it was in mid fall - a black cloud of liquid first, followed by the glass. It was almost in slow motion. I saw them hang in the air before time and gravity regained control and they landed, splat, on a woman whose initial shock turned into intense (and hilarious) anger, argument and nagging. I felt sorry for her, but I was also amused. Maybe that makes me a bad person. It was just funny. What was funnier is that neither her husband nor the fellow who knocked the pint on her were able to see why she was so annoyed. They just waited her anger out. It's a comedy basic, which I describe as "Oooh, that must have hurt, I'm glad it didn't happen to me". Ah, the amusement.

Anyway, the pub visit was soon over and we found a cafe for more refreshment. Then we found Popolo's. Second visit for me in the same week - bonus! Then it was time to make a decision, shall I go home and be a wuss? or shall I go with this friend of mine to a gig in Sunderland.

The film Finding Nemo wasn't going to watch itself. I went home. Like a wuss. The film was ok. I had higher hopes, but it was engaging enough. It didn't have enough big laughs for me.

I decided to have a look at my internet connection before going to bed. It turned out that the machine, through which my internet passes, was no longer functioning. I had some spare parts, but the spares didn't quite work. This was frustrating. I actually managed to get the machine part-functioning, but I needed to change some settings on something, and I'd forgotten the password which I'd set about 18 months previously. There was nothing I could do. I actually had a basic connection to the internet, but I couldn't use it. Grrrr.

I had a look at another faulty computer in my collection and that was behaving strangely too.

I had a look at the CD player I'd got for my digital recorder - wondering if I could break the run of bad luck by making this work. It didn't.

A hat trick of computing failures. Very annoying. Before I knew it, it was 2am and I had wasted the tail end of the night running round after dusty machinery. I turned everything off and went to bed.

Sunday 21st
Waking up late again - such is my way on weekends - I set out of the house, a man on a mission. I needed to buy new shoes. I find that the Clarks shop in Royal Quays manages to sell shoes that fit me (ish) without putting a ludicrous price on them. After trying on a few pairs (well, three), and remembering the rule that one's foot takes on any available size in the shop, but returns to its usual and larger shape outside of the shop, I selected a pair of shoes that were inexpensive and to my liking, and paid for them. They cost me just over £20. Not bad really. Having worn them for a couple of days at the time of writing, I can confirm that they really really hurt. They'll be fine, probably.

Anyway, I couldn't resist a trip to the naughty DVD shop. That's the shop where one can naughtily buy DVDs, rather than buy naughty DVDs. I bought the third series of the League of Gentlemen for a tenner. Not bad at all.

Then off to the supermarket. I had decided to make a pizza. I haven't made one in a while - as I was to discover when I got to the actual making of it. While there, I decided to make a mushroom soup too. I bought a bunch of other ingredients for the following week's consumption. It was not an expensive trip.

Getting home, I set about food preparation. I like cooking and, although I was a suitable sous-chef the previous weekend, I haven't done much in the way of cooking this year at all. At home, the nearest I've come to cooking has been boiling up some pasta or cutting a sandwich or two. So, I had fun in the kitchen.

The pizza was not a disaster. Sadly, the dough didn't work very well. I think that it was simply too cold. I could have used warmer water (it felt warm enough at the time), but the dough felt cold when I kneaded it and it didn't come together very well, or rise that well either. I think it could have been a hell of a lot worse, though. The soup was pretty good (there's some in the freezer for later too) and the tomato sauce for the pizza was one of my finest creations, containing quite a lot of garlic - I've not done it with garlic before, but I liked the idea of garlicification.

Following my culinary creations it was time to continue being a domestic goddess and deal with the laundry that I've been neglecting for quite some time. So, I ironed while watching my League of Gentlemen DVD. I must have done 2 hours' ironing. The rest of the DVD was also watched, including some of the extras.

Then bed again. I had packed some clothes for the following day. I was due to make a trip to London. As I'd mentioned, I was going to see this play relating to Blaized Carmey.

Monday 22nd
I woke up at a time which looked definitely wrong. Either the clock was lying, my eyes were deceiving me, or I only had 5 minutes to get dressed and into the car.

5 minutes later I was speeding to the office. I had a half day at work before heading off to London. I made my train in plenty of time and, as I am at the moment sitting with a laptop on a train writing this, so I sat on that train with the laptop doing some "work". The work in question relates to Incredible Productions. I entered all the financial transactions that I've made as a stand-up/production company into a database. I'm trying to keep good accounts so that I can see what things are really costing for my own purposes and so that I can tell the tax man what I've been up to. For instance, if you exclude the cost of equipment, The Musical! only actually cost £500 to produce. That's pretty good. My most successful Edinburgh show, Rehab's for Quitters only cost me £9.40. Anyway, I now have everything logged and I feel legal. I did have to spend a lot of time entering data and then checking sums to work out why things didn't add up to the other records that I had. It passed the time. I feel financially responsible now. There's been a lot of money spent this year, though. A lot.

I arrived in London a few minutes late and headed off to Camden to meet a friend and see the show. I'll write about the show separately.

Following the show and post-show chatting, we headed around Camden looking for food and drink before giving up and heading back to Highgate for food and drink. A few minutes later it was time for an extended session of eating Indian takeaway and drinking beer. This diet is just not working! Chatting late into the night meant that I didn't get a whole lot of sleep. I've had tougher nights out, though. It was worth travelling to London for the company. It didn't feel like a 300 mile trip for a night out. Not at all. It might sound like I'm being sarcastic, but I'm not. I do so much travelling and spend so many nights away from the house, that a few hours on a train with my laptop and the time passing by quickly feels like no effort. Finding myself in a different (but familiar) city with friends who don't live close by is no surprise, and since the company and entertainment were good, it felt like a good use of my time and effort.

Tuesday 23rd
Woke up. Got tube into town. Got on train. Turned on this computer. Completed some accounting I'd forgotten to include the previous day. Started writing this blog. It took a couple of hours. Other stuff is still to happen.

What's with the Blaized Carmey thing then?
Oh dear.

Oh dear oh dear.

A few months ago, a character appeared on the Chortle Chortle Comedy Forums. These forums are inhabited by denizens of the comedy world, sometimes under their own names and sometimes with silly pseudonyms. Blaized has always claimed to be an old man and has, from time to time, written copious amounts of text on any subject of his choosing. He writes in a childlike, naive mode with plentiful spelling and "pronunciation" mistakes (since it's written, it's not quite about pronunciation - he writes phonetically these errors). For example, he might say about me:

I lick Aslee, he's my fiend

This is clearly not the work of someone who is getting stuff wrong. He's using wordplay and he's using it for great comic effect.

Blaized claimed to be putting on his play The Great Spider Welch at the Underbelly this Fringe. He called it Twinky Bartem's Underbelly - undoubtedly referring to Ed Bartlam - one of the organisers of the venue. I was at the venue a lot but didn't see any sign of him. I assumed that he'd not been there. Having said, that, this character seems to know a fair bit about The Musical!, having referred to things relating to the show that people in the know would be aware of, but which you'd not know from just having seen my literature on it.

So who the hell is he? I've emailed him and he's refused to drop the act by email.

He organised a show "The Universal Language - of the animals" on Monday 22nd November. He'd started out by asking for volunteers to be in the cast. The description of this show was that it would star the cast and him, Mr Blaized Carmey. Was this to be the final moment of revelation? Would we find out who was playing Blaized? It's clear that this person know the world of comedy and how to get people wound up. It was also clear that people were curious about his identity.

As far as we knew, the cast were recruited and sent scripts without having met Blaized. The theatre, which is the same venue that Chris and I used for our London previews of The Musical!, claimed not to have met Blaized. They claimed that he had passed them envelopes of cash under the door and only communicated by email and letter. So everyone claims that this mystery wrapped in an enigma called Blaized was yet to be discovered.

Travelling all the way to London for a 1 hour fringe-style show with an under-rehearsed cast, just to find out who Blaized Carmey is was quite an effort. I didn't even know if there would be a show. I didn't know if the whole thing was a wind-up. I wasn't certain that Blaized would turn up. It was really going to be a waste of time and money. I can think of any number of more valuable activities. But I had to go. I wanted to be a part of this. Blaized has entertained and amused me, and he's been attentive enough for me to want to be attentive in return.

The part of Blaized in his show was played by Dan Mersh of The Trap. This was interesting for me. I already linked Blaized with The Trap since his website was set up by Chris Limb, who is, I believe, the brother of one of the members of The Trap (they're a great sketch comedy group). I wondered whether Dan was Blaized.

The show went ahead. A voice over, sounding like Dan, said that Blaized was in the audience but would meet us later. Noone materialised after the show to put us out of our misery. The audience comprised various people from the London comedy community. We all watched the efforts of the cast and were occasionally raised to laughter, except for the folks from the theatre, who were frequently brought to unbridled mirth.

And then...? Well, the cast claimed ignorance of Blaized. Well, some did. They had a lovely cover story about Blaized being too ill to attend, after a flu jab. They claimed that they had a suitcase full of props and costumes left for them and that they just put the show together over the weekend without Blaized's help. They volunteered this cover story in full without being prompted. It's a lie. It's all lies.

Dan claimed to have met Blaized and that he's an old man. He was also aiding the deception.

There was no big reveal.

It was very frustrating.


But I was there to be frustrated. I'm still amused.

Sunday, November 14

Well, another busy weekend and a bit of time available for me to document it. So here we go.

The weekend started for me when I stopped working at around 5.30-6.00ish on Friday. Some people might have celebrated this by leaving the office, but I had other plans. With my new hiking boots to play with, and some recorded radio shows to listen to, I was happy to make my own entertainment with my headphones on. I was in the office, but I wasn't at work. I was hanging around in town simply to fill in time. I had a rehearsal in North Shields and 7.30pm and there was little point in driving home, only to have to turn the car around and drive in the opposite direction.

Playing with the hiking boots, I observed that, despite being a size smaller than my regular shoe size, they seemed to fit me comfortably. I didn't have my hiking socks to hand, so I had to assume that these boots would do the job. In any case, I was going to find out soon enough, since there was to be hikingage on the weekend and my boots and socks would be used in conjunction with my feet, whether I liked it or not. It's frequently my experience that shoes always fit perfectly in the shop, even if they prove to be cripplingly painful in real life. I thought that trying them on in the office might give me some insight into what sort of anguish might be to follow on the hiking of the weekend. In the office, the shoes felt fine.

I'm having something of a recorded radio programme listening fad at the moment. As I wrote last weekend, I was thrilled to listen to a couple of programs over the internet and had a great day listening to some live radio on the way to Scotland, coupled with episodes 1 and 2 of the latest series of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. The recent purchase of the Lee and Herring DVD has provided me with hours of listening to enjoy and I'm working through the world of radio comedy. I had packed the car with episodes 3 to 6 of the aforementioned Hitchhiker's Guide programme, for my listening pleasure of the weekend. So long as the CD player continued to do the job I coerced it back into the practice of doing, I was going to be able to gorge my ears on the recorded fun.

Friday night rehearsal
I was a little worried about the rehearsal for South Pacific. Now I have the dates for the rehearsals of Guys and Dolls I can see that I'm scarcely available between now and 13th February. I do not believe in stringing anyone along and I wanted them to be clear how little of my time I could give them. I also wanted to repeat the message that they could have the rest of my time with pleasure. Despite my attempts to warn them that I might turn into a liability, they still seem to want me to be in the show and I'm still happy to do it. I'm still not certain that they know what they've let themselves in for, but if they're happy, then I'm happy.

Having said that, after a couple of brief exercises and a cup of coffee, they seemed to no longer require my presence (along with much of the rest of the male chorus) in the rehearsal and so I was on the road at 9ish to head to the weekend's festivities - it was for this car journey that I'd packed some of the listening materials. I stopped briefly at a Tesco Petrol station to by some liquid supplies and sandwiches for the journey. Then I was heading off to the Dales.

Coverdale, night 1
My journey to the designated place was conducted with relative ease. I had a map. I had a working vehicle and I had my entertainment. The CD I was listening to ran out when I hit Leyburn, and I was saving the next one for the journey home. With the arts programme playing on radio 2, I negotiated the rather snakish roads that I assumed led to my destination. Every so often, something flashed at me, filling the whole car with light. I wasn't near any speed cameras, nor was I speeding. I felt rather bemused by this until I realised that the flash was being caused by the cabin light of the car. I assumed that something was hitting the loose connection in the boot, which also relates to this light, and causing the flashing. I later discovered that the boot wasn't actually shut firmly, so it was probably the occasional bouncing of the boot lid that was buzzing me. No harm done.

At the moment that I felt that my last turn, from civilisation into some country lanes, had been a foolish one, I saw a 1 mile sign for the village I'd been aiming for. A few minutes later, I breezed into a pub and was presented with a most-welcomed pint of bitter. The weekend had started.

The weekend
I think it would be foolish to attempt to give too detailed an account of the weekend. This is partly because it wouldn't read well, and partly because it's more interesting and bemusing to simply list the myriad activities that were undertaken by a group of 30-31 year old men, whose principal connection with each other was that they happened to attend the same school at some point 12 or so years ago. Not that this was the first time we'd seen each other since then. We all knew each other pretty well and the group of 5 us, who filled one of our number's family's country cottage, made for a cheerful and stimulating weekend's company.

Here are some of the things we got up to:
  • Silly conversations
  • Playing Top Trumps with Simpsons Top Trump cards
  • Playing "Blind Ignorance", which is just "Who am I?" with card telling you who the one person who doesn't know who they are, is.
  • Talking Yiddish - one of our number has become fascinated by this language
  • Listening to "Meshuge Music" - a CD compiled by the Yiddish-enthusiast, of crazy tunes
  • Re-listening to "Meshuge Music" while some (not me) of the folk act like total Meshugenes - don't ask - it's too hideous to explain
  • Drinking wine
  • ...or beer
  • Hiking around the Dales - we did about three hours on Saturday and an hour or so on Sunday
  • Cooking and eating Coq Au Vin with garlic bread - this was quite an exercise in culinary creation
  • Eating cooked breakfasts
  • Listening to more "Meshuge Music"
  • Listening to "The Musical!" - everyone present had seen my show and I provided free CD's - they've got to go somehow
  • Cleaning, tidying, washing up, vacuuming
  • Videoing or being videoed doing some/all of the above
  • Watching videos of previous times that the gang had met up
  • Watching video footage of the weekend we were having... including some events which were only a few minutes old when they were watched
  • Not videoing ourselves watching the video of what we'd just done... that would have been stupid
  • Sleeping
There were also moments of nudity and strange dressing-up which I didn't participate in. I am quite concerned for the mental health of some of my friends.

All in all, it was a load of fun. The walking was surely good for one's system. The rich food was probably equally bad for it.

The hiking boots should have destroyed my feet, but were very well behaved.

The car CD player lasted the rest of the weekend, playing me the final two episodes of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy for my drive home. Following a refuelling session at my local Tesco/Petrol station, I arrived in the house with supplies for an evening meal which I'm off to prepare shortly. It won't involve the effort/artistry of the French cuisine of yesterday, but I know that my kitchen skills haven't totally deteriorated through misuse... which is nice.

Friday, November 12

Just a wee aside. I'd always recommend that people take non-violent direct action if at all possible. I've been very annoyed about our Coke machine. Of all the missions one could chose, a coke machine is clearly not important. While the term non-violent direct action might usually be used to relate to something important, like ensuring adequate childcare facilities for immigrant workers on low income, or something, a coke machine does seem a bit of a weak cause. My cause is not even based on conscience - perhaps I should be thinking about attacking the Coca Cola Corporation for their anti competitive behaviour and marketing to children - I don't even know whether they do that. I don't want to attack them. I actually want to give my hard (or not so hard) earned money to the big evil corporate. My problem is that we have a Coke machine which regularly shows the wee "sold out" lights on some, sometimes all, of its Diet Coke buttons, of which there are 3, but seldom even sells out on one of its regular Coke buttons. In other words, the machine runs out of Diet Coke very quickly and never runs out, even slightly, of regular Coke. In other words, the ratio of Coke (4) to Diet Coke (3) is wrong.

You'd think that someone observing the machine when it's refilled would go something like - "Oooh - they've sold 250 Diet Cokes and 50 Cokes - I'll put more Diet Cokes in this time. It might even make some more money, since the diet coke wouldn't sell out and the drinkers won't have to go elsewhere for their crazy-assed-low-calorie-soft-drink-with-vegetable-extracts." But, no. The machine person doesn't use his/her brain. He just blindly sticks some cans in and pockets the cash.

Well, I've had enough.

So I've put a wee note on the machine advising the person who stocks it to have a long hard look at their stock-taking policy.

I put it more simply than that.

I'll bet that I'm ignored.


Another tip, I think. If you are going to go hiking, then it's best not to seal your hiking boots along with socks in a tied up carrier bag for 9 months. Strange molds will form. These will wash out of your socks, but the hiking boots might get ruined... or seem so grim that it's not worth cleaning them up... they might have... oh I don't know... a carpet of mold inside of them.

I bought some new hiking boots today. I don't even go hiking. There's a threat of some proper walking this weekend, so I'm going to be prepared with my new boots. They fit in the shop, so they'll undoubtedly prove odious and uncomfortable on anything more than a brief wander across a soft carpet. I even bought the more expensive and apparently smaller pair. I think it's because the other pair reminded me of the pair I'd just thrown away. I hate the fact that I'm a creature of habit, so I thought I'd break out of replacing like for like, by getting a pair of shoes which didn't look like the last pair. Indeed, the pair I've bought should be more comfortable and should allow my feet to breathe while simutaneously keeping air and moisture off them. Good. We'll see. If I don't use them this weekend, perhaps I'll have to invent a use for them next weekend. I presently have no plan for next weekend. Maybe the plan is to walk somewhere and I just don't know it yet.

If feet can breathe, then surely it would be impossible to suffocate someone with a pillow over their face. Mind you, if someone's in a position to receive a pillow on the face, maybe they're in the bed and their feet are covered up. But then surely there's a lot of air under the sheets? I think the moral of the story is to ensure that your suffocation victims are wearing bed socks which don't let their feet breathe - just to be on the safe side.

It's been a weird couple of days in the office. Although I have a good sized team to work with, they're all not present for one reason or another. We have someone who has just had to have an emergency appendectomy. One of our number is off with a random lurghi. Another has a girlfriend with mumps and has taken time off to nurse her. This makes me wonder whether I ever left my ex-other-half at home ill when I should have taken time out to do the nursing. I don't remember. I'm sure I wouldn't have left an invalid alone at home raving in pain and blithely gone into the office and forgotten about it. I know, however, that I never took time off for nursing duties. Perhaps I've forgotten the exact list of ailments that were experienced when I didn't live alone. Ah well. It's irrelevant now. I'll make a mental note to advise people that nursing their partners is a good reason to take time off work.

This weekend should be fun. I'm off to a mystery location after tonight's rehearsal. Tonight's rehearsal may also be the last rehearsal that I have for South Pacific as I have to explain to them how unavailable I'm going to be over the next few months. If they still want me, I'm theirs. However, I suspect that I'm simply not going to be present enough for them to be able to take the burden of having me in the show. I may be wrong, and I'm happy to cram in as much time as it takes to do whatever I need to if they can use me when I'm free. Anyway, after the rehearsal, I'm driving to a location in Carlton, North Yorkshire. I've never been there before. There shall be much merriment. This may also be the site of some proposed walking. I've no idea. Anyway, after the rehearsal, I shall buy some food and drink and head south. I guess we'll play it by ear. I do that a lot.

Thursday, November 11

A couple of things. Singing in the shower is to be encouraged. Singing while shaving, on the other hand, can lead to lacerations of the top lip.

Secondly, I'll, apparently, be in a full cast tap routine in February in Guys and Dolls. I'm rather looking forward to that. I've never tapped a tap in my life, but I'll give it a damned good go.

My sense of humour is definitely darkening. I walked past an ex-work-colleague in town recently and I avoided having any conversation with this person because I knew I was about to say something desperately inappropriate. It made more sense to avoid engaging the lady in question in conversation than to make an effort to speak to someone I neither know nor respect, especially when all I could think of to say was "So, are you still cheating on your husband without his knowledge then? Or have you told him?". To me, that would have been very funny. I am a sick and twisted individual.

Actually, I'm not sick and twisted. I just have a little thing about fidelity. It's only a little thing, and relationships are never simple enough for me to sit in judgement or anything. Indeed, I'm sure it's always different when you're on the inside, but fidelity, in general, is important to me. I always found it rather comical that the male-half of this cheating had managed to get embroiled in relationships (brief or otherwise) with not one but two female work colleagues who were themselves in long-term relationships. Mind you, he wasn't totally lacking in understanding of their predicament. He was in a long-term relationship of his own. He's not now. Indeed, I'm sure he'll be very happy with the aforementioned married lady, once she admits to her husband that he's subsidising her infidelity, and does the honourable thing. Yes, I've gone from laughing at people's misfortune to making my own rash judgements... I'm really nothing to do with this. This is why I didn't say a word to the woman, and nobody got hurt. By me, at least.

What is love anyway?

On a lighter note, I have been having a challenging and fun week in the office. With plenty to occupy my time, including lunch-breaks spent listening to a mid-90's radio series from a dodgy DVD I bought on ebay, the week has flown by. Last night I went to a comedy night and had fun, especially since the closing act is a mate from the world of comedy, whom I'd not seen perform in quite some time - he's come along so much that it's only the fact that I'm happy for him that stops me being somewhat jealous. Having said that, you can't really be jealous of someone because they've improved. There's nothing better than seeing someone develop. I'm proud of the lad. Even if he is losing more hair than I am... ha ha ha these early 20's lads with their pattern baldness. At least I kept my hair into my mid 20's!

I was blessed with scintillating company on my trip to and from the gig, in the form of a fellow comedian. This person gave me ideas. Oh yes. By simply making the decision to act in a certain way and following that decision through, your life can temporarily take a turn for the absurd, without you needing to abandon your sense of logic, or your sanity. I won't spoil the stories that are to come by giving the specific example I was given of what I've turned into a somewhat pompous generic description
. Instead, I'll describe how this has already affected my life.

On the weekend, a friend of mine admitted that she was obsessed with chicken. I don't think she was really obsessed with it. She likes eating chicken, and chooses to do so whenever she can. This may pass, or may be an example of her body "self-medicating". I'm sure she's totally sane. However, I have become somewhat fascinated at the idea that someone might be obsessed by chicken. Indeed, you might say I've been obsessed with it. I decided to kill two birds with one stone tonight and decided to have an eating theme night. The theme? - why it was Chicken, of course. At first glance, this sounds perfectly logical. I decided to eat a meal consisting of chicken in various forms. I went around the supermarket sourcing ingredients for the meal. I then went home and ate the meal. It doesn't seem especially interesting or even "wacky". However, here's is what I ate this evening:

Starter - Chicken and vegetable soup
Appetiser - Chicken drumsticks, thighs and wings
Main course - Chicken breast baguette
Dessert - Egg Custard Tart

And to follow, a bucket.

I don't even like Egg Custard tarts, but I got swept away by the totally arbitrary mandate of eating chicken or chicken-based products. They didn't even have a little one. I ate much of a large Egg Custard Tart that I didn't want. This was simply because I'd decided to act in a certain way - namely eat a lot of chicken-related products.

I realise that this is odd behaviour, and I'm neither worried, proud nor apologetic. This is what I spent my evening doing and I am admitting it here for all to see. I must add that this is a poor manifestation of what was described to me yesterday - I am just building up to the more unusual behaviour.

Until then, do Cadbury's Creme Eggs count? I bet you can't buy them at this time of year anyway!

Tuesday, November 9

I am easily pleased. I have been looking at my blue fleece with a sense of pride and admiration since I... wait for it... washed it. I have had it an awfully long time never to have stuck it in the washing machine, but it went in on Sunday night. It came out virtually dry, dried overnight and has a lustre I don't remember it ever having had in the past. Perhaps there's something in the washing powder.

As an encore, I've put my light-coloured coat into the machine this morning. Hopefully it will emerge looking like less of a dirty mac than it went in.

A DVD arrived for me this morning. This contains the complete works, TV and Radio, of the double-act Lee and Herring. While many of the radio broadcasts can be downloaded from, this DVD represents quite a lot of material that is not available elsewhere. Conveniently packaged on a single DVD-R by one of their fans, making a fast buck for himself, no doubt, I reckon there's entertainment a-plenty there for me. I saw a lot of their work in the mid-90's when it was released, but not all of it. So, it will both bring back memories and create new ones. Hurrah!

Easily pleased!

Monday, November 8

I've a little more time than usual to write this blog entry, so I hope I can use it to my advantage and craft some words that are worth reading.

On Friday, I had precious little time to comment on anything other than the fact that I was still suffering from a case of the Berties (let's just call that some sort of ailment of the body) and that the day was going awfully badly. I didn't get the chance to mention anything of the previous evening's entertainment, which is best summarised as going out for drinks, which was enjoyed simultanously with not going to a comedy night that turned out to be a bit of a washout. I enjoyed the evening immensely as a result of a good choice of company and activity. Perhaps it was more enjoyable because it nearly fell through. However, you had to be there to really have any measure of the evening and since, for the majority of people reading this, you weren't, and since I already pledged to try to make this an interesting piece of writing, I'd better move on.

Incidentally, I received a few emails today from someone who randomly stumbled across some of this site while searching for something else. What can you do under those circumstances? A complete stranger suddenly knows some personal stuff about my life? Is that meant to be embarrassing? Should I attempt to forge a bond with this person since fate and google have brought us in contact for apparently no worldly reason? Or should I cynically suggest that they buy tickets to see Guys and Dolls in February. The latter, I'm afraid. Bums on seats, performances and wires. That's what it's all about.

Anyway, back to the summary of the days between blogging.

This was largely spent in a haze of activity in the office. I rather like a busy day since the time does fly by pretty much of its own accord. Sadly it flew by in a way which prevented me from feeling like I'd achieved anything of discrete value, but fly by it did. Could the next working day be as absorbing (after a period where perhaps I've found my working life somewhat less than absorbing)? Well, you'll have to see when I get to the bit about Monday. Don't read ahead now. First things first.

Part way through the day, I rushed into town to buy a pair of dice. I needed them for one of the shows I'm involved with. You'd think that it would be Guys and Dolls, since this is a show about crap shooters. In a surprise turn of events, I was getting hold of the dice for a rehearsal for South Pacific, which, to my knowledge, has no mention of dice in it. The idea, I believe, was to use them in some sort of role-playing situation (that's acting, not dungeons and dragons). Dice should not be a difficult thing to source. I headed to one of the role-playing shops (that's dungeons and dragons, not acting) in order to procure some spotted cubes. Dice were readily available. Indeed, I was quite able to buy some battle dice, which appear to be normal dice, but coloured red. However, I had no need for 36 of the little blighters and reckoned that I'd prefer to part with pence, rather than pounds for the privilege of ownership. I was directed to another shop, one which sold dice, figurines, magazines and Star Trek videos. Oh yes, I had entered the world of geekery, wizardry and nerdery. Given that I work in front of a computer, sit in front of various screens the rest of the time, and have sympathy for sci-fi, I was worried that this shop might have the power to change me into a true geek, rather than a citizen of the real world, temporarily geeking for cash on a daily basis.

I escaped my shopping trip with 90 pence worth of dice and no immediate urge to watch Star Trek Voyager. Later in the day I would, in the spirit of completing my catalogue of props for the evening's session, print out a picture of a 1940's film star - I chose Ingrid Bergman - I chose her because I have limited imagination and reckoned (correctly) that Casablanca was probably made in the 40's. 1942, I believe.

Following work, I drove to my rehearsal. I arrived early, but that wasn't a problem. Had I left later, I would have arrived on time, but I might have risked getting a parking ticket, and we all know how much I despise parking tickets. Anyway, I got the chance to sit in my car outside of the locked rehearsal space and sing through the three songs in South Pacific that I'll be involved with, provided I have the energy and availability to go to full term with this crazy notion of performing in two full scale musicals in the same month.

We needed neither dice nor photographs during the rehearsal.

After all was duly rehearsed, I scooted to a comedy night in Newcastle, where I watched an open spot do his second gig. All I could think of was that this guy wanted to appear like Bill Hicks. Maybe I'm getting all Bill Hicksed out. When I see someone ranting and raving about something totally unimportant, I immediately assume that they've seen Bill Hicks and concluded that ranting and raving is, somehow, an intrinsically valuable and funny thing. It's not. Ranting and raving about something with depth can be a truly amazing experience to watch and one can laugh, provided that the thing you're ranting about is big enough to warrant the passion. No amount of selling is going to make me thing that a full on rant about Sunderland being "a bit downmarket" is really very funny. Actually, the gig, as a whole, was not especially easy in the end, which is a shame, because it can be a lovely room. However, the headliner did his job beautifully, even explaining why the audience should not be so uptight about a Ken Bigley gag. Ah yes. The cheek of a Ken Bigley gag. I find it funny when people attempt to get away with something which really doesn't amuse audiences (though comedians are a different matter)... in this case, the guy did it. Big respect to him too. He came out of it with the audience still on side. It was a good gag too... well, a bit more inventive than most.

How can I put this? Saturday was the best day I've had in a very very very long while. Well, actually, last Saturday was, but this Saturday was the best Saturday I've had since, and was certainly the best Saturday I've had in a very very very very long while which began with me waking up at home. Everything that I'd hoped to fit into Saturday was successfully fit into it. Given the way I live my life, this is no mean fit. The first success of the day was getting out of bed before 10am. On a Saturday! I know! Crazy! I had a plan. Breakfast. Toasted bagels with cream cheese dripping off them, along with a nice "Cilky" - that's a milky coffee.

Next off, I sat in my little office and listened to a radio programme I'd missed the previous Saturday. This show broadcasts at 1.30pm and I was planning to listen to the last episode en route to Scotland, so thought I'd catch up on the previous week's before I set off. I also found a show called 15 minute musicals, and listened to a witty 1 act 15 minute musical about the life of Jeffrey Archer. While I was listening, I thought about the most recent series of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, none of which I'd heard, but which were available in digital form for me to download. So, I downloaded them, the idea being that I could burn them onto a CD for my in-car listening pleasure. The problem is that the car CD player didn't work. I think it stopped working in late January or early February. Possibly earlier.

So, after a shower, I headed out to the car and took the unit to pieces so as to fix it. I've done this countless times before and I succeeded in getting it working again. Ok, so I accidentally installed it facing round the opposite way to normal (this goes against habit, rather than its behaviour), but I got it working.

I then managed to get going on my journey to Scotland only 20 minutes later than I'd intended. During the trip, I listened to 3 comedy radio programmes (2 on CD, one broadcast) and some of Guys and Dolls. This was going well. I arrived in Edinburgh just in time to be let into the flat of the person I was visiting by her flatmate. I then fixed the computer I'd promised to fix. Ate the light lunch I'd been promised in return for the fixing of the computer, speedily (like, in 5 minutes) wrote a song which turned out not to be stageworthy, but entertained us anyway, and then, with my companion in tow, got onto the road Dundee-bound. Admittedly, it was about an hour later than I'd planned, but this proved to be no problem.

We arrived in Dundee in plenty of time, met one of the lads who was running the gig and did possibly one of the longest sound-checks/room-setups in my gigging history. The time needed to get the sound working was a 20th of the time we spend messing on with the microphone and guitar, once everything was ok. It's nice to do a warm up.

The gig threatened to be a tough one, but I close the show and gave 25 minutes of Ashley gold... and really enjoyed it. In fact, despite the constant stream of heckling - they were enthusiastic, not hateful - or maybe because of it, I found it a very enjoyable experience with lots of little spontaneous moments in it.

After the gig we went back to the flat everyone (comedians and friends) was staying in and had a late night session of eating Chilli, drinking coffee and talking shite. The shite was talked into the wee small hours, until we each found an appropriate bed or sofa and crashed out.

So why was this a good day? Well, it had a bit of everything - a nice breakfast, some entertainment, a nice gig, good company, travel and talking shite.

This was the day to get back to the North East. People go away for the weekend. I go away at the weekend for a day or so here or there. I had someone to drop in Edinburgh as I, myself, had to rush to be back in the North East. I was due to perform in a gig whose location I didn't quite know. The idea was to be back home in time for the organiser of the gig to pick me up. When I received a text, somewhere on the A1 between Edinburgh and Berwick, that the gig was off, I was more relieved than disappointed. It would be disappointing if the gig were on and my appearance in it were cancelled, but I don't mind the occasional gig being cancelled. I'd been worried that I might lose the ability to do a good gig after a few days out of the loop, and I'd also worried that I might not be able to sustain my act for longer than 10-15 minutes, after so long not having done more than that. Given how well Dundee's gig went, under harder than normal circumstances, I didn't feel like I needed more practice immediately. So, I was glad of an evening in the home to recuperate from a busy week gone by.

Sadly, my resolve to look after myself had failed me, and I ended up consuming a vast quantity of calories while sitting on my arse and watching a movie. Blazing Saddles is a good movie, and my new-found love of Mel Brooks was greatly indulged as I watched it and then resaw 50 minutes of it while a Mel Brooks interview (not commentary) played alongside it. It was odd realising that the interview bore no relation to the specific bits of action I was watching - there were occasional synchronicities, which kept things interesting.

I went to bed early, and went to sleep.

Now, although I hadn't expected the lure of the sci-fi world to be that great, I must confess that I got up at 4am, went downstairs and watched about half an hour of Star Trek Voyager. This, I hasten to add, was not planned. I have been suffering from rather bad back ache in the night of late. I'm fine during the day, but when I sleep, I must be contorting into a position that puts me into some sort of pain. Thus, I wake up and cannot get into a position which doesn't hurt. The solution is to get out of bed and wait for it to pass. I really didn't want to be up from 4 in the morning today, so I watched some TV until the pain passed and went back to bed. It took a while to get back to sleep - the TV watching having woken me up - but I got there in the end and was suitably late for work through oversleeping.

Hopefully these aches will pass. Maybe it's belated growing pains. Maybe it's the new-found tension in my belt. Maybe I need to do more exercise. Or perhaps I need a massage. Time will tell.

I had been concerned, over the weekend, that my role of team-leader was missing one vital aspect - a plan of action for my team. It's not up to me to decide this, but I should be certain that we have one. If there's no plan, how do you know if you're doing the right thing? Luckily, my role is more of a figure-head than it is to be the only one with a brain and my team came through today to define its own goals. I'm really pleased with the work we did on this. We planned an 11.30 meeting for an hour and didn't emerge until 2pm, but we emerged motivated and with a coherent plan of action. This is a good thing.

As a result of the late morning, the long meeting and a quick trip into town to buy the team some congratulatory biscuis, the day seemed to fly by. Indeed, I left the office at 6.30pm not really feeling like I'd had a particularly taxing day.

Sadly, I couldn't bring myself to do anything useful in the evening.

So I wrote this.

Friday, November 5

I'm still not 100% today. I've still got the Berties and I'm having a very odd day-from-hell. Lots of random stuff getting in my way.


Thursday, November 4

I don't feel especially well. I think there's a stomach bug heading around the office and perhaps I've succumbed. It's either that or the cavalier way that I ignored the date on some pasta sauce that I microwaved last night. I gave it a good blast, I'm fairly sure that there's nothing in tomato and basil sauce that can bite you on the ass if it's a couple of days (well, 4) out of date. Surely that couldn't be responsible for my general disagreement with my digestive system today.

If I could choose what I'd prefer to be doing right now, it would probably be sitting in a theatre in London watching The Producers again. I'm still glowing from seeing it this weekend. It needs to be seen again. Soon. However, I have things to do instead and I'm sure this evening will be very enjoyable (comedy watching in Stockton), assuming I don't actually shit myself.

Yesterday I drove into work early and found this van in front of me:

Sunderland has gone to the dogs

It's hard to see, but the writing on the right hand door of this fan claims that it's attached to a particular trainer. If suggesting that a van is attached to a trainer were not ludicrous enough an idea already, this signwriter executes a smashing coup de grace by spelling it incorrectly - attaTched. Muppet. Still, it cheered me up in an early jaunt into the office. Aren't camera phones great!?

Last night I went to see Guys and Dolls in Darlington. It had some good points and some not so good. I think the real shame was that it was a great theatre, a good set, a friendly audience and yet they were not moved to much in the way of excitement. Perhaps that's the audience, or perhaps it was the limpness of the performance. The choreography was superb, and often well executed (in movement terms, it was one of the best amateur choruses I've seen). However, there was little power to any of the performances and the show seemed to stop short of filling the room. Some of the lead actors were really not very good at all. There were highlights and one or two numbers inspired me to want to clap. I hope that we put a hell of a lot more energy into the show when we do it in February. It's a great show. Sadly, unlike Little Shop of Horrors which is an excellent show, no matter how badly it's performed, this show needs energy.

Bizarrely, given the nature of the direction/choreography on display last night, I got to giggling to myself about the song Keep it gay from The Producers.

Tuesday, November 2

Highlights of the last twenty four hours would include various frivolous and totally unreportable emails and text messages alongside cleaning the toilet, reading a book and reading stuff on the net. It's worth pointing out that these myriad unrelated activities are of different magnitudes of highlightery on the scale.

When a highlight of one's live involves cleaning the toilet, there's definitely a time to stand back and take a good hard look at your life. In my case, I also cleaned bath and sink... that's not helping. I think the point is that I've been looking at these fittings and wanting them cleaned, but have somehow felt powerless to clean them. Apathy is a bigger enemy than misfortune. Anyway, they're clean now. If only I'd also done the washing up...!

I'm amused from reading the net, since I've read a rather witty review of a comedy night and a great preview of a night I'm supposed to be performing in. Apparently I'll be hitting them with my "funny stick". That reads funny in my book. On top of that I read a quote from a "spokes person" - that's a great typo. He's the guy who deals with the bits connecting the inside to the outside of their wheel. Ho de ho.

Monday, November 1

Wow. It's November already. Where does the time go? The time on the weekend went by at top speed; I must have been having fun.

Well, another day in the office, preceded by a bus ride into town, which didn't seem to take very long as I engrossed myself in the free paper. It was to be a day of travel, so I was glad to arrive at work in a good frame of mind. I'm not quite sure what I did in the office all day, but it was soon time to start the last minute panic about how long it really takes to get to the station on foot from there. I had about 20 minutes to do it in, and made it in half the time.

Having failed to prevent my weight-problem-inducing instincts from forcing (yes, forcing) me to buy and consume some totally unhealthy pastry-wrapped food, I boarded the train. It was busy. Very busy. My hopes of settling down at a spare table with my laptop to do some writing were totally dashed. This train was packed to the ceiling with people. Well, not literally packed to the ceiling, but every seat was taken. I was also rather hot from the trip across town. I thought it was going to be a totally unpleasant 3 hours on board the GNER 225 to London Kings Cross, via Darlington, York, Peterborough and the pits of hell! I was wrong.

Notable companions emerged from my part of the carriage. Firstly, there was a young child (4 years old) whose eye I caught early on. I flashed her a smile and she totally blanked me. I was only slightly phased by this. Normally, I get a smile back from making cheerful faces at children, but this one was clearly a tough nut to crack. Having said that, I'm not going to be bullied by a four year old. Not much. Another notable companion was sitting across the aisle from me. I observed that our seats were ideally located for conversation in that they were diagonally opposite each other and facing in opposite directions. Thus a conversation was possible and indeed occurred. As we chatted, so the children in the seats immediately in front of me, now no longer feeling as shy and snooty as before, started to vie for attention. I ended up simultaneously talking to the adult companion, the children and a range of soft toys. The toys were initially more talkative than the kids, but this barrier broke down.

The train became distinctly more empty at Peterborough - I lost the adult company - and thus I spend the tail end of the journey chatting to the two children. The four year old girl and six year old boy turned out to be at about my intellectual level. I was amused enough by this chitter chatter. Highlights included finding out that they'd started their journey to Ashford (in Kent) from Inverness that morning. That's a shed-load of travelling and I could tell that these relatively well-behaved children were due to get into their intolerable, insufferable, tantrummy sort of a mood. It was bound to happen, and I suspect that there were tears about 25 minutes after we all arrived in Kings Cross. Another highlight was hearing about the "special" garden of a house they'd stayed in. "It's special because it has deer in it", piped up one child. "Yes, and it has grass," said the other. I could barely contain my excitement.

Arriving in London, I met my weekend companion and, via some supermarketesque shopping, we attended a pub where we spent the rest of the evening. I like the idea of attending a pub - it almost makes it sound like a religious experience. Worshipping at the alter of alcohol and good food. The pub food was not really akin to pub food. Interesting and well prepared, it was a highlight of the consumable substances on offer. The beer was pleasant too. After pubbery (is that a word?) we went back to settle in for the night. However, no night is complete without:
  • A trip to the roof
  • Consumption of fine wine and cheese with a panoramic view of London and its surroundings
  • Inept playing of the piano
  • Talking of nonsense
  • Sloping off to bed as your host reaches utter exhaustion

I awoke to find that breakfast was in the process of being made. It was being made very well. Very well indeed. It also went down very well. There was much toast.

We couldn't hang around getting breakfast (well, it was nearer lunchtime, but let's not go into that). We had a show to catch. After a brief delay of showering, changing, wandering through the gardens, getting various tubes, we were in town and heading, at top speed to the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, to see The Producers. I may have mentioned (about 95 times) that I was looking forward to seeing this show. In fairness, we didn't quite arrive at the theatre on time. The show had started promptly and we failed to see the first 90 seconds of it I reckon. Bizarrely, as we hurriedly found front of house staff to direct us, one of them pointed at me and said "I know him" - well, exclaimed it. It was one of the guys who did a show in The Underbelly at the same time as us back in August. It turns out that his whole group work in that theatre. It's weird, arriving at a theatre I was excited to be visiting and finding two familiar faces working in the foyer (I turned round to see a lady whom I'd flyered alongside a few weeks previously). Anyway, we couldn't hang around. We had a show to stop missing.

The run up the stairs, the slight embarrassment of being seated after the show had gotten going, the overheated body... none of these impaired the enjoyment of the show.

The Producers is quite simply stunning. Every moment was a work of art. I was laughing at jokes, admiring performances, staging, writing, sets and loving the way that the audience were as excited as I was that this show was so damned good! There are many many highlights and I won't pick the show to pieces here and ruin it for anyone. I will simply say that I wanted to see it again immediately afterwards. I will be going again. Soon! It's just great. Lee Evans was splendid and Nathan Lane just IS the part and he was so naturally funny, holding the audience's attention effortlessly. I had high expectations of this show, but I would have had to have built it up in my head as some sort of religious experience to have my expectations anything other than exceeded by what unfolded. Wow!

Leaving the auditorium, I ran into someone from Tynemouth Operatic Society, with whom I'll probably be doing a show in February. These coincidences just mount. I had a chat to the front of house staff I'd met in Edinburgh and gave them CDs for our show, which they'd never gotten the chance to see. I happened to have some spares in my pockets - it wasn't a premeditated effort to find the cast of "Eeeny Meenie Miny" and give them CDs.

Meanwhile, my companion, who claimed not to have a love for musicals was suddenly fired up about the possibility of seeing another musical. Right away. Strike while the iron is hot. Who else could he go and see a musical with? Me, of course. After debating which musical might fit the bill, we narrrowed it down to Chicago and Sweeney Todd. The former would have been more fun, the latter was to be more interesting. The decision was partly made for us as Chicago was sold out. So, off we went to the Ambassador's Theatre to see Sweeney Todd. On the way, we stopped for food at a fabulous Japanese restaurant where not only do they cook your food in front of you, but it's a curious sort of omelette thing, which can only be described as amazing. I'll never look at eggs the same way.

I first experienced Sweeney Todd on CD. Stephen Sondheim does not make musicals easy to perform, but they are great works of writing. Sadly, my first experience of a live performance of this show was at the Fringe in 2003. I was not altogether impressed. This professional production promised a couple of advantages. Firstly, these were professional performers, getting good reviews (from what I'd heard on radio at least) and secondly, the cast were also acting as orchestra. The show was staged with minimal set and part of the action involved instruments moving around with characters, soloists playing the instrument in their hand in between singing and people swapping places at the piano at the back of the stage. This was quite an experience. We really enjoyed the show. It had many fewer laughs than the previous production we'd seen, but it was well executed and seemed not to even slightly compromise the tone of the sound, despite the apparent limitations of requiring the cast to act as orchestra. Splendid!

Of course, you can't go and see multiple shows on the same day outside of some sort of festival? Can you? Well, we'd seen two shows, so surely that was all? Actually, I had a record from December 2002 where I'd seen 2 West End shows on the same day (Macbeth and Art), but I wouldn't have expected to exceed this. This Saturday we bust that record's ass.

After the show "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest" they reuse the theatre for an occasional comedy night, starring the cast. We had a go at attending this show. It was pleasing enough, though I have seen open mic spots with more of an idea of comedy stage etiquette than some of the guys who performed for us. When they turned the latter half of their "show" into improvisation games, I could smell the lack of production values. Again, it pleased the audience and Christian Slater probably made the night with his a capella singing of swing classics.

Three shows watched, surely we were satisfied? Well, perhaps just one more? Late night show at the Comedy Store, Leicester Square. I've never been there before. What a smashing gig! MCed by Jo Caulfield, this gig went very well and was closed by Gavin Webster, who is still one of my most favourite circuit comedians.

Then we really did need to get back home. One nightbus later and we were eating toast in Highgate. Then we played piano, creating duets by taking a hand of Beethoven each. Soon it was very very very late. We went to bed.

So we awoke around lunchtime and it was time for more toast. I like toast. This toast was followed by ablutions and then a final trip into town (suitcase in tow, since this was the trip which ended with a trainride back to Newcastle). Seeking a gastro-pub or restaurant for lunch proved to be troublesome. Apparently, Sunday is a day of rest in some parts of London. However, as our watches read 4.45pm we arrived at a theme pub, whose theme was food. It claimed to stop serving at 4pm. We chanced our luck and they were happy to serve us. Wow. That's service. 45 minutes after they stopped serving, they served us anyway. Good stuff.

Food consumed, we mooched around for a few hours, much coffee was drunk.

Arriving at King's Cross, we discovered two surprising things. Firstly, the clocks had gone back and we'd forgotten about it - that explained how we got odd looks at 3.45 asking for lunch in a place that advertises food until 4pm. Secondly, my 10pm train (11pm according to my watch and body-clock), was due to be part-replaced by a Doncaster to York bus service. It was to be a long night.

Eventually on the train, I managed to get a couple of hours' writing in. This made carrying the laptop around with me seem ultimately worthwhile. I still have a lot more work to do before I can get excited about this new show, but I'm on the way there.

Sadly, we weren't really on the way to Newcastle. When our arrival at Doncaster was complete there was much hanging around before a bus arrived.

I spotted this hilarious sign:

In Yorkshire that "T'" gets everywhere

The bus turned out to be full. I ended up in a taxi with 4 strangers, one of whom was a grumpy office worker, another was a pretty sports teacher from America, who now works in Darlington (must be a punishment for a transgression in a previous life). My favourite co-passenger was the pilot. I was in desperately high spirits and made cheery chatter for much of the journey, to the occasional chagrin of the more highly-pissed off of my co-travellers. Most of them had intended to get the earlier train (unlike me, with my scheduled ticket for the 10pm train) and had been frustrated in their attempts to board it (other transport delays). In addition, they were disappointed to realise that the 9pm train would not have incurred the massive delay.

After a long journey through darkened A-roads in a taxi, we arrived in York for a half-hour delay before the train set off for Newcastle. I was looking to settle myself in a seat, away from the taxi-companions, whose patience with me was pretty much reaching its limit. I spotted a familiar face - it was a comedian I knew. We had a great yarn for the course of this journey. Though I consider myself a cheery soul, this man made me look like a miserable curmudgeon in comparison to his genuine bonhomie. Darlington arrived in no time at all.

Sadly, my chum departed at Darlington. Then the train stopped for about 10 minutes with a "mechanical problem" in the middle of nowhere. We passengers were all slightly stunned at the possibility that home would not be reached. Eventually, though, after we got going again and I managed to get a rather surprised taxi from the rank outside Newcastle station, I reached my bed - the time was merely 3.15am (4.15 according to my badly adjusted clocks).

It was an eventful weekend.

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