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Take That China!
The Continuous Descent Into Madness
You've Been Cancelled
Sort Yourself Out eBayers
The Art of Not Writing
Give Me Your Voice
Not Another Virtual Choir
Demented Reality
My Way of Losing My Mind is Quite Constructive
I'm A Cilla Black Fan On Bike

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Tuesday, December 21

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaagh... my leeeeeegs.....

Just tackled one of the more daunting hills in Newcastle. I conquered it. I was travelling at no more than 3mph, but I got to the top. Now who hurts!?

Off to London shortly. This may be my last post, or I may find some wandering WiFi connection to latch onto while I'm in London. Keep well over the Christmas and I'll be back with you soon.

Monday was certainly a busy day...
...and I'm possibly dealing with the jinxed computer setup from hell. Everything I do to sort out this computer system goes wrong. I dropped some CDs round today, realising, as I was explaining what was on them, that they were the wrong CDs. It's infuriating. However, it should sort itself out tomorrow.

Incidentally, tomorrow is my last day in Newcastle. It's going to be pretty action-packed, though I'm not sure whether it will be as fun-filled as today. Let's see how today actually worked out.
  • Cycled into the office - well, that's already known, since it was in my post of earlier on.
  • Spent some of the morning groaning about my sore legs
  • Tackled an annoying but ultimately satisfying problem, relating to some notes I had had no idea what to do with
  • Grabbed a quick lunch - the oriental lady in the sandwich shop doesn't listen; I know English is not her first language, but I speak clearly and she understands me when I repeat myself without slowing down (ok, maybe I could be a bit more forgiving... but aaagh!)
  • Went to a slow sales meeting, where I gave a presentation which was not slow - it perked the room up... comedy skills!
  • We reviewed something or other
  • Then a big full-company meeting
  • Then a quick meeting with the boss
  • Then I intended to do some last minute sorting out jobs (it was 6.30pm by this stage) but ended up in conversation (albeit work-related) with a colleague, counselling him on a work problem
  • Then I cycled home: the hard way
  • I didn't go into the house - I went straight out to deliver the wrong CD: D'oh!
  • Then to Tesco for some essential supplies
  • Home. Food. Washing up.
  • Laundry
  • Tidying the house
  • More laundry
  • Organising my mp3 collection to re-upload it to the mp3 player for my London trip
...and that's brought me to now. It's really been a massive day and I'm very tired. My legs can just about thunder me up and down the stairs.

I'm amazed at how much weight I've obviously put on since August. I wore the same pair of brown trousers for most of August and some of September. They were reasonably loose, especially in the first week of the Fringe. Now they barely go on. But I shall get them loose again... indeed, they shall be so loose that I won't be able to wear them. Damn my sweet-toothed folly in putting on weight. Those London streets and my bike will cure me... unless I foolishly feel like I can substitute for the exercise by eating a pile of rubbish. In this latter case, my belly and chest will remain the same size, but my thighs will get fatter with the extra muscle. My problem with trousers will then increase - they'll have to encompass both big fat thighs and a big waist. Let's assume that I'm not that stupid... it's quite a trusting assumption.

I should have gone to a tap dancing rehoysal for Guys and Dolls tonight. It was not mandatory and I wanted to go. I just couldn't. I was in the office until after 7.30 (15 minutes after it started). I cycled home in about 25 minutes - not bad, considering the huge hill I tackled - it wasn't the big big big hill, but it wasn't an easy route. I kept going. I'm still not entirely safe on the bike, but I need to get used to challenging heavy traffic, and I think I held my own pretty well. As well as being exhausted when I reached home, I still had many chores to get done. I want the house in order before scooting away to London. This is simply because I will not have the energy to put things straight on my return and I like the idea of returning to a haven, rather than a hell.

I haven't actually packed anything yet, but I have sorted out a lot of things, which should make the packing a bit simpler. I'm playing this trip by ear. It should be ok. What's the worse that can happen?

Monday, December 20

To bike or not to bike
I couldn't get out of bed this morning. I just couldn't move. I was very cold and I didn't want to get out of the luke-warm nest I'd managed to create within my bedroom. I had no energy whatsoever. Eventually, I swung myself out of bed and started to calculate how long I had to get showered and get out of the house. Would I be able to take the bike? It's quite important, if I'm to be a regular 10 mile a day cyclist as of Thursday of this week, that I do as much cycling as possible to build up the strength, stamina etc etc.

Well, it was split second timing all round. The postman (who was frustrated by my sometimes-self-locking-letterbox) lost me a minute, but I used that minute to pick up one of my freshly-ironed shirts from the kitchen. I hit the street with the bike and pedalled for all I'm worth. At the moment, I'm not worth very much, but I was worth enough to get myself from home to work in about the time it takes by car. Journey time - 13m 27s. Average speed 12.9mph. I'm very proud.

Now my legs are feeling quite tender and my saddle soreness could be a little easier. This is nowhere near as bad as it was a couple of weeks ago when I first took to the road on two wheels. This is partly down to a certain amount of tolerance in my muscles and arse (and arse muscles, no doubt) and also partly down to the fact that the new bike - the Trek 3500 - is a more comfortable ride. Going home will be harder. If I'm feeling really ambitious, maybe I'll tackle a few hills. Aaaagh!

Live life to the Max
I used to live on a diet of Pepsi Max. I could go through 6 cans in one day at work without even noticing it. A year ago, I had a nasty stomach complaint - possibly an ulcer or general dysfunction. Who knows!? Anyway, during the illness I found the taste of Pepsi Max to be rather metallic. In short, I went off it. I returned to Diet Coke, which I'd previous ditched for the aforementioned Pepsi.

I've been drinking the Diet Coke for the last year and I don't recall touching Pepsi Max since... until Saturday. While I was waiting for the bike shop to prepare the bike for me, I went for a wander around South Gosforth. I thought I'd warm my legs up with a walk before I got home and started the cycling. I bought a bottle of diet soda from a newsagent on my travels and, tempted by its special offer, opted for Pepsi Max. It didn't have a metallic taste that made me feel sick. It also didn't have a memorable taste that made me want anymore. I have no desire to have any more of the stuff.

I suppose that these chemical-laden drinks are all as bad as each other. I should be drinking water or fruit juice (though some of that which calls itself fruit juice is just battery acid by another name). Here's me campaigning to have the coke machine sell more diet coke, because I want to pump two or three quid into it every day to rot my gut and make Mr Coca Cola richer. Maybe I should be campaigning to have the thing removed from the office and replaced with a water cooler. Or a tap.

As an aside, on the first week or so after the machine was converted to sell more Diet Coke than Coke (oh yeah - victory) it ran out of Coke and had no red lights on the Diet Coke. Perhaps the guy over did the conversion (he replaced two of the Cokes with Diet Coke, I would have just done one), or perhaps the Coke drinkers did some panic buying. We'll never know. Panic buying of Coke sounds like the sort of pointless thing that today's people might do if they thought there was a war coming along or something. "Have you got the Coke dear?" "Yes, thank god." "What about canned foods and long-life milk?" "Ah... right... never mind."

Another day that didn't stop (Sunday, that is)
I am glad I slept in for two hours longer than I'd planned to. I still awoke at a respectable pre-lunchtime hour and had something in the way of breakfast (well some freshly sliced bread) before heading out for a bike ride. I covered eight and a half miles. I didn't reach a level of exhaustion or leg fatigue which was noticeable. I twice crossed the Millennium bridge between Newcastle and Gateshead while mounted (on the bike, that is). I even nearly got myself arrested for cycling on Northumberland Street - apparently it's no cycling. The copper seemed satisfied when I apologised and took to wheeling the bike. Overall, I had fun on the road (pavement, car parks, bridges etc).

After a brief lunch at home, I rushed out to my rehearsal in Durham. We rehearsed, which involved much in the way of standing up and sitting down - ideal for recently tired cycling legs! We rehearsed some more, making my gruff voice something which came quite naturally, rather than having to be put on. We rehearsed a little more... and then I was free.

Rushing home, I had time for something to eat, some watching of the Simpsons, which was actually a cover to do an hour and half's ironing. Then I had to rush out to attend a poorly computer. I'd previously attended this computer the night before, where I'd escaped at about 8.30 with a sense that this machine would need me back. Tonight I was a lot more confident, though I have worries about the installation of Office. I guess time will tell.

Yesterday's computer setup taught me something curious. I'm not naive when it comes to internet security, but I was absolutely stunned to find that, within only a short time of being connected to the internet, the computer I was setting up was riddled with nasty things that the internet had forced it to download and run. The aim was to get online and then, within a few minutes, download appropriate blocking software to fight such nasties. The internet hacking types had the machine downloading gay porn of its own volition and, more worryingly, installing software in front of our very eyes, within minutes. By the time we had the blocking software downloaded, it was a case of closing the stable door after the horse had bolted. I've been spoiled by my prior internet experiences (which have always been safely behind a private network - like the one I set up for myself to avoid such nasties).

Tonight, we reinstalled everything and put the blocking software on before even thinking of connecting to the net.

It's been a full day and I'm pretty tired now. I think I deserve some rest. So, off to bed.

Saturday, December 18

Busy busy
Well, it's been a busy week, so there was no reason why Saturday should be any less busy. As it happens, today things look like they're coming together nicely.

Before I go on with the story of the day, I should like to rant at a minor frustration I had on Friday. I went into my online banking and could not remember the ID code. I've been using this code for a few years. I can type it in my sleep. All of a sudden it was no longer in my mind. My bank account number was similarly not in my mind. I've been able to reel that off for the last few years also. I thought I might have been having a Homer Simpson moment. Something along the lines of "every time I learn something new it pushes some of the old stuff out of my brain". I have been taking lots of information in recently - like the moves and lines for a couple of musicals. However, it turned out that this memory loss was only temporary. I must say, I can now empathise with the older generations who find some of the simplest things dropping out of their mind. With my 31st birthday coming up in the near future (well, it's a couple of months away, but I live life quickly, so it will be upon me in no time) perhaps I'm feeling my age. There are certainly one or two extra miles on my clock.

Anyway, today started early for a Saturday as the postman called. They say the postman only rings twice. This guy didn't. He rang once and then knocked. I rushed downstairs to receive a new toy. This device plugs into the car cigarette lighter (are these ever used for lighting cigarettes? I don't thing I actually have the heated elementy bit anymore) and also into one's MP3 player. Then you tune your radio to 88.1Mhz and you can hear your MP3's through the car stereo. As with many of the gadgets I've bought recently, I'm unimpressed, but it does the job and I'm getting used to its shortcomings (which are that it broadcasts a low intensity signal and so the radio has to be turned up far enough that there's an obvious background noise). The good news is that this cheap and cheerful device (under a tenner) will do the job well enough for me to enjoy using it for the purpose and I can travel to London listening to pretty much anything I like from my music collection without so much as having to touch a CD.

Last night I was intent on buying a new bike. I wasn't going to give up the dream of pedalling around London. I bought one. I did my usual trick of buying the first bike presented to me in the first shop I went to. This didn't work last time, but the shop I went to this time was pretty smashing. They sold all sorts of gadgets and their price tags were in dollars. This was a computer error (well, not an error - they have american inventory software - I saw them using it) and actually their prices were 1:1 with pounds. Still, it was entertaining to look at.

I have spent more on the bike I bought today than I did the first time around. This bike has more gears and seems a lot more solid. It's also bigger. On paper it has a smaller frame, but it's clearly bigger and more comfortable. I test rode it before buying and it felt right from the off. They've given me a service plan. A service plan! and they even fitted all the accessories for me. I like this idea of not doing anything technical with the bike. Let someone else worry about it until it becomes my problem.

After a trip to Asda, at which I bought a handsfree kit for the mobile phone - I've been far too naughty and illegal thus far - a couple of shirts and a shitty pair of trainers, which will undoubtedly prove to be the most comfortable shoes you can buy for £6, I came home, changed and went on my first proper ride on the new bike.

The first bike got a 2 mile run, after which I came home (having walked for some of the way) and collapsed on the sofa, unable to move for some 90 minutes (also unable to breathe). On this bike, the more comfortable seating and pedalling position, coupled with the extra gears, coupled with my reacquaintance with cycling technique and a little extra lower-body strength, developed in the first 25 miles of riding the previous bike, meant that I had a longer first ride. I went for just over 5 miles. I only got off the bike to deal with dangerous junctions (easier as a pedestrian) and I tackled some bastard hills. I was able to breathe and my legs were not burning. I'm also not as saddle sore as I was.

I hope this is a sign of a long and happy relationship with the new velocipede.

Time will tell.

Friday, December 17

I'm a moron
Don't worry. This is not some sort of outburst of self hate. Believe me, I have no need to do any hating of myself - there's enough on the internet about me already. No, this is a burst of honesty at my current state of stupidity.

Firstly, I should point out that my last post, which quoted a lyric I wrote for The Musical! in the same space as one from Les Miserables was not some bout of delusions of grandeur. As far as I can tell, I'm not suffering from some sort of bizarre set of delusions. Not me. No, the purpose of quoting the two together was a combination of playing the lyric game - i.e. making pertinent remarks using pre-written lyrics - and also a way of indicating that Les Mis was right where I was wrong. I had come to the belief that all it took to put on a show was the desire to hire a theatre. I thought you could dream what you like. The Les Mis lyric - "there are dreams that cannot be" rather put me in my place. Well, that and the Melbourne comedy festival organisers.

Never mind. This doesn't make me a moron. An optimist, perhaps, but not a moron.

The establishment of Ashley Spencer Frieze as a moron is quite simple. A couple of years ago I lost a shed load of weight. I worked hard to work it off and I felt great about myself. Over the last few months, I've watched it pile on. Well. I haven't watched it pile on of its own accord, I've munched on inappropriate food and eaten on the pounds. This is not good for me. Admittedly I have been steadily gaining weight since June 2003, but it's starting to get silly. I had my waist measured this evening and I'm disgusted. I'm also surprised that my trousers fit at all. By the reckonings of the tape measure, they're about 6 inches too small. I guess that waist measurement is not an accurate science.

How did I celebrate this realisation? I'll tell you. I had a fucking pizza. Moron! This really has to stop. It's essential.

Bike fun
I have been demoralised and demotivated since last Saturday when, collecting the supposedly fixed bike from the shop, it went wrong within a couple of miles of the shop. I'm a week behind on "the cycling" and haven't had the will-power to keep off the cakes. Somehow when I had a daily struggle to get DOWN a hill, the whole health thing seemed like more of a motivation in my life.

Anyway, tonight I went back to the shop, at which I've been a visitor for many days over the last couple of weeks. I received a refund on the bike, but agreed to keep the accessories. If nothing else, this is good motivation for me to get another bike (planned for tomorrow) and start using the bastard. Surely I can't be so far gone that this is impossible.

The reason that the last bike failed is clearly down to my incredible mass (expressed to the bike as a weight) and the way in which the rear wheel bearings were manufactured. It doesn't really matter why they were not up to the job, but they were not. I cannot spend a few quid on a generic bike and expect it to support my weight. Simple as that. I am, however, determined to get on a bloody bicycle and prove that I am no hontass (made up word, don't worry about it).

Only two days of work to go before I end the year. I'm not entirely certain what I can achieve in those two days. I'm not a miracle worker. Work is busy and slightly stressful. Pissing around on the internet would be easier.

Last night I went to The Funny Magnet in Stockton. I used to run their website until one day when I had a wee look on it and found that it was being run by someone else. That was quite a surprise - to be sacked from the job so unceremoniously. This was not entirely a problem, since I had no desire to be their webmaster permanently. Still, it's an odd way to find that sort of thing out. I currently host another comedy website and have already suggested to the owner that it is moved into someone else's hands. I think I'm not the person to host other people's websites.

Anyway, I digress.

It was the last gig of the year for Stockton and there was a smashing line-up including Die Clattershenkenfietermaus (I'm not sure that's the spelling) who are a spoof German Techno band. I laughed a lot. Then Duncan Oakley was the headliner. Duncan is a great musician who makes audiences laugh immensely. I've been compared unfavourably to him. I can see why. Some people think I'm trying to nick his ideas and do an act like his... they are then additionally disappointed that I don't seem to be very good at it. There would be no point in attempting to emulate the Oakley. He's in a class of his own. Immensely silly and immensely entertaining. I want to be something different. There are a couple of similarities that I ought to admit:

1. We both go on stage with a Fender guitar - his is an American Stratocaster, mine is a big fat red dreadnought
2. We use the SAME GUITAR STRAP - oh my god, will people think I'm copying
3. We both do a George and Zippy routine - his is ruder, mine is more accurate, his gets more laughs (well, I said I wasn't as good)
4. We both do something on the song Amore - he changes one word of it - I do a minor deconstruction and then get logical on its ass.

Apart from that, there's nothing else to say except that I laughed so hard last night that I went home with sore testicles. I wish it weren't true, but it is!

Wednesday, December 15

When you're a writer, you're writing the dreams
Ashley Frieze, The Musical!

There are dreams that cannot be
Herbert Kretzmer, Les Miserables

It seems like our dreams of Melbourne are not going to become a reality. Shame!

Here's a frightening statistic: The daily warblings on this site amount to an estimated 20,000 words of warbling a month at the current rate. Cripes!

When I was young, I wanted to be a writer. It looks like I sort of am.

Just not a very articulate one.

Tuesday, December 14

Mein Camp
I was reviewed by the Sheffield Last Laugh Comedy Club website as being something of a camp figure. There's no doubt that The Musical! requires both myself and my co-star to go camp for the laughs. However, I've never really considered myself camp. The conversation over lunch turned to the question of my purported campness. I was surprised that my luncheon chums agreed with the judgement. Apparently, I come across camp from time to time. Writing a musical, apparently, only adds to the body of evidence of my campness. I have no problem with the epithet - it's better for people to have an opinion of my behaviour than for me to be totally faceless.

Camp! Really! And a lot of the people I was talking to hadn't actually seen the musical. Believe me, the cross-dressing would have tipped them over the edge!

A busy day
It's been another busy. I can't quite put my finger on what I've done today. I know I've managed to piss someone off at work. I organised a whiteboarding session and my flippant description of what we'd be doing has clearly caused offence - albeit offence presented in a lighthearted way. The bottom line is that we can't afford to let our ego rule our work. Having said that, I suppose I'm indulging my own confidence by suggesting that what's gone before is in need of improvement. However, anyone should be able to do that, provided they offer a reasoned argument and are prepared to work to help things improve.

I have a sign above my desk which I made. It reads you are not your work. Just because you made something, it doesn't make that thing brilliant. If someone criticises the thing you've made, they're criticising that thing, not everything about you. I have had to read some harsh reviews on my performance and writing as a comedian and stager of The Musical!. I'll admit it. It's hard not to take these things personally. In some cases, reviewers (well, hacks on internet forums) have taken the opportunity of reviewing my act as an opportunity to attack me personally. I think one's justified in taking that personally, though knowing how to act under the circumstances is always trying.

I'll be clear. If you produce something that's dumb and I notice it, I'll want to tell you that it's dumb and needs changing. That's how I am. I will not compromise. What's the point? If something can't be changed, then leave it in its rotten state of inadequacy, but don't defend it. Some people would take feedback and assistance as an opportunity to improve. I hope I'm one of them. It took a certain amount of swallowing of my pride when we asked a director to help us polish our show between its London preview and taking it to Edinburgh. To look at changing that thing we'd created seemed to be to admit our failures... yet the fact that we did that made it a better show. So, what should the person who suggested we get a director have done? Should they have kept quiet?

Fair enough, people have feelings and there is such a thing as tact. In the office environment, though, I think that tact and diplomacy can foster an atmosphere of prima donnas and otherwise precious stakeholders. The more you have to tiptoe around people who might blow up if handled incorrectly, the more you're wasting your time. People are paid to do the best job they can under the circumstances. They're not paid to be happy. They're not paid to be friends. They are meant to act professionally and get along with each other and the job in hand. If this is not possible, then it's a distraction from doing the work in hand to have to deal with it.

I'm in a position at work where I have to be more diplomatic than I'm suggesting in this article. Perhaps some of the members of my team would not like to read this. If you are reading it guys (and gals), don't worry. I'm not actually some sort of thought-fascist. I see it as important for everyone in the team to get on and will do my best to keep people cheery and talking. I don't want to pander to people's sensitivities; I also don't intend to ignore them. The goals of the team are collective goals. Every individual member is important, but it's selfish for any individual to make their feelings an issue for the team. It's also a poor team that steams ahead and crushes anyone (member or otherwise) in its way.

Management is a tough job. Keeping people happy is too hard and is not a management goal. It is, in my opinion, rather cowardly management that seeks always to have buy in and happy campers (ooh, there's that "camp" thing again). Management is about leadership, knowing when to dictate and when to impel. Management is about facing problems, not sweeping them under the carpet, or hoping they'll go away in the end. Management is about facing down individuals and protecting the team.

Anyway. I've been beavering away today. The team seem in good spirits. We had lunch together. Another bloody meal out. My waist is suffering. I'm a big fat monster!

This evening
Er. A rehearsal. What a surprise. I'm now at home, where the washing up has been completed and where I'm listening to the Broadway cast of Chess doing a different version of the show (different plot) than the one I was in in March 2003. I've done a lot of performances since then.

The laundry is in severe need of attention.

I have a Douglas Adams book on the go. I think I'd like to spend some time with it.

The tetanus jab is hurting and itching less. Go me and my immune system. I should really try out my amazing powers of healing and uncover my slashed wrist.

Maybe tomorrow.

Monday, December 13

Well, I'm a sad lonely man. I went to the cinema on my own this evening. I saw Phantom of the Opera as planned.

Quick bit of backtracking. In many ways it's good to have people to share things with. It's nice to have company and it's nice to have the support. But you don't NEED to have these people at every step of the way through life. If you're alone and you are used to be so, then not having support is not a problem. It's not expected. It's actually worse to be with company and NOT get the support you think you'd like.

Today I had some rather disturbing news. Nothing particularly bad or particularly likely to affect me, but detrimental anyway. I'm often the recipient of such information. One hears tidbits through the grapevine that have to be taken in one's stride. I remember a time when sharing such bad news actually doubled it. I would dread telling the story since I worried that I would have the confidante turn into a member of "the other side"; these frequently happened. When alone, one doesn't have to worry.

Likewise, going to the cinema with a friend is great, but when you come out, you're bound to talk about the film. It's generally a bad idea to criticise the movie you've just seen - what if the other person really liked it? What if you spoil the whole evening by being critical? I'm a critical guy. I like to chew over what I've just paid £5.60 (five pounds sixty!?) for.

So, it was probably for the best that I left the cinema tonight alone. I was incredibly puzzled by how they'd managed to take one of the most cinematic and slick stage shows in theatre history and turn it into such a clunky and heel-dragging movie. In addition, they seemed to be trying to do something to temper the extremes of sung-through musicals by speaking some of the lyrics that would normally be sung as recicitive. My enjoyment of this was hindered by the fact that I've seen the stage show twice and frequently listened to the definitive original cast recording. In some ways, I think they were trying to avoid the movie turning out like a predictable musical. In others I think they were in denial that they'd basically taken a stage play, crossed out the word "stage" and written "screen" in crayon and then done a bit of editing.

Key problems were the tempos (tempi) of the songs and gratuituous scenes of backplot which did not help the mood of the film and probably confused us more about our feelings to the Phantom. The actress playing Christine, beautiful though she is, didn't really seem to know what she felt about the Phantom either. The Phantom was far too handsome for most of the show and didn't seem old enough. Raoul was too flimsy and foppish until the moment of the sword fight and even then that was a little overblown. Most of the thing felt a little like karaoke of a stage show with a music video director having a go at some scenery behind it.

Having said that, the denouement (and I like a denouement) was on the whole better than the stage version. I'm referring to the scene where Christine is forced to choose between the Phantom and Raoul - this worked really well. Having said that, the very end of the show is a magic trick which would look rubbish on screen. As such, they had trouble stopping the film. I don't think they did a bad job of it.

Jennifer Ellison was very pleasant. Minnie Driver is actually quite witty with her brashness and appears to have a damned big pair of lungs on her. She does, however, look like the mumps covergirl. And wasn't it Jack Boswell from Bread, playing Piangi? (yes, it was, I looked it up on IMDB)

I had planned to buy the soundtrack to this movie. I'm not sure I want to now. I think they could have done it a whole lot better. And to think... I actually looked forward to this movie and forced myself to take myself to see it. I should have gone to see The Incredibles instead.

...all my troubles seemed so far away. It's irresistable, isn't it. One word and you want to complete one of the most famous lyrical phrases of all time. I like the song "Yesterday", we did an upbeat cover version of it at an acoustic gig during the Fringe. It wasn't funny, but it was entertaining.

Anyway, yesterday started with a lateish wake up. After I'd pulled myself out of my slumber, and come to terms with the variety of the previous day, which I described in my previous post, and whose end comprised the concert at City Hall (Christmas music) and then a curry in town, I had to prepare to head to Scotland.

In truth, any attempts I've been making to get healthy have come crashing to the ground with the bicycle troubles (still unresolved - it's a lot of money to have spent to then ignore the problem) and the fact that I've eaten out many many times this weekend. This is not a good situation. At this rate, I'll be my old size again in no time. Bad bad bad. They're making me a costume for Guys and Dolls. In other words, I'll be headed to Leeds in January for a suit fitting. They'll make it to measure. So, I can't afford to change measurements from early Jan. I should choose some measurements and stick to them. Aaagh. Pressure.

Anyway. With some petrol station nourishment for both car and me, I hit the A1, heading up to Scotland. I had a late lunch planned with a friend. I had the radio for company, and I drove enraptured by the Sunday show, hosted by Elaine Paige, all about the music of musicals and movies. Given that Mary Poppins opens this week in the West End, it received a huge amount of airtime. I have no problem whatsoever listening to the likes of Cameron Mackintosh talking about the latest show to come from his astoundingly successful stable. Given that the show was co-produced by Disney, it is unlikely to be anything other than stunning. It could end up one of those things that's powerful but rubbish. It is possible to produce something with a huge amount of impact, but no merit whatsoever - just look at some of the Hollywood blockbusters. However, I believe wholeheartedly that people will be enjoying Ms Poppins' antics for quite some time.

Arriving in Edinburgh, I managed to wave at the departing flatmate of my friend (she always manages to be leaving just as I arrive). A cup of coffee later, we were headed to the Theatre Royal Bar, which is next to the Edinburgh Playhouse. We ate lunch under giant posters of, and signed by the cast of, Miss Saigon. Musical-tastic.

The Gig
After lunch, we set off to the gig in Peebles. I had been contracted to do 15-20 minutes, but was told, during the setup, that I had to do a minimum of 20. The implication when you hear this is that you'll not be paid until you're clocked over the 20 minute mark. Luckily, I had a shopping list of things I wanted to do that naturally took me over the 20 minute mark. 20 minutes is fairly easy to fill if you know what you're doing. If the audience really go for it, then 20 minutes is exceedingly easy to fill. If you're working hard, then it can be a long stint. I was going on first, which meant that the audience weren't likely to be especially warm.

I finally decided to try my song about President Mugabe. It got a reaction, and the other comedians on the bill were positive about it. I'm still not sure. I shall have another go with it. We'll see.

I got something from the audience. I messed about a bit, but the structure of the set was also there, so the time whiled itself away and I easily exceeded the allotted minimum time. I felt that I could have done more time up there, but I'd equally reached a point where I felt that I'd done enough with the crowd. Some audiences are so nice that you never want to leave the stage. Some are so tough that you do your thing and get the hell away. Peebles were somewhere in the middle. Again, I enjoyed myself, so it worked out very well for me.

The other acts were, as always, a pleasure to watch. There's a nice wee group of comedians in Scotland whom I really like. They seem to like me. It's a good system.

After a drop-off in Edinburgh, I was back on the A1. I got home, a little wound up, at 2am and so did a bit more reading of the Douglas Adams book I have been taking to bed over the last week. I slept enough to get myself to the office (by car sadly) for 10 this morning.

The tetanus jab has been itching somewhat over the last few days. If anyone reading this has medical training and thinks that that sounds like a problem, feel free to get in touch. I'm taking it as a natural symptom of the immunisation process and I'm doing my best not to scratch and especially not to give it a squeeze.

Being liked
It's quite clear to me that people don't like me. Not all people. In fact, probably very few people don't like me, but some people take a position of absolute opposition to me. This is a real shame. I'm sure that we all have people who can't stick us. Don't we? Is it just me? Maybe there are some people who are liked by everyone who knows them. Maybe these people are utterly charismatic and wonderful in a way I couldn't even understand, much less achieve. Maybe there are some people who are so innocuous that they cannot possibly inspire anyone to dislike them; maybe these same people can't inspire anyone to really give a damn either way. That's probably a shame.

I'm quite an in your face person. I'm big. I won't be ashamed of my stature - I'm frustrated by certain aspects of it, like my waistline, but I'm not ashamed to be a big guy. I have an assertive mind. I make my thoughts known. It's who I am. I'm naturally quite arrogant, but I'm also naturally quite self-deprecating. It's an odd mix. There are some people who fail to see how these two attributes can balance each other, they just see the confidence/arrogance and assume I'm a total ****. In some ways, it's a shame that that happens. In other ways (and I'm indulging my confidence/arrogance when I say this) sod the small minded ignorant muppets. I'm not a bad person. I'm excitable and self-obsessed (I mean... I've been writing about myself for years on this website), but I wouldn't intentionally set out to harm anyone. Okay, so I might exact revenge, or hot-headedly knock someone down, but it's not something I take pleasure in doing. I get off on pleasure, not destruction or suffering.

Sadly, I'm also able to see through a lot of the fallacies we humans surround ourselves with. My instinct to deconstruct is something of a problem. So people don't like me for various reasons.

Yet, I go on stage in various guises with the sole intent of creating a mood of goodwill with me at its centre. Oooh! Now who's trying to compensate for something. I've said it before and I'll say it again; I've a massive fear of my own mediocrity. I'm not sure how, but during my formative years, I've been taught to believe that I'm special and I still want to believe it. I do my damndest to accept the contrary, but the self-belief is still gnawing at my common-sense. I was standing outside my house waiting for a taxi on Wednesday night, clutching my injured wrist and imagining that I was probably going to be fine because I have exceptional powers of healing. I have no evidence of this. It was nothing other than my optimism and delusional self-belief that made me assert that.

Having said that, I do have a lucky life. I've had things very easy. I have material wealth. I have health. I sail through life unafflicted (notwithstanding foolish incidents with bicycles). Perhaps this is a reason for people to look at me in disgust. Maybe I'd hate myself if I weren't me. Maybe I do, in some ways, despise myself. Certainly my behaviour in respect of my self-control annoys me. Maybe I shouldn't be so self-absorbed.

This Christmas, taking a break from the real world, I should get some of my perspective back and be able to set out in the New Year recharged and ready for whatever life throws at me. I probably need to widen my circle of friends. I probably need to invest more effort in getting to know people. Maybe I need to slow down long enough to be able to meet someone whom I might like to date... or maybe I should totally resign myself to never dating anyone, given that it's always a surprising "crash bang alacazam" when the right person comes along and it can't be that if you're carefully watching everyone you meet to check out whether this person could be "the one".

I'm wringing every last drop out of the time available to me. I'm not creating too much of real life-altering worth, and I'm no closer to being a happily married family guy, which is what I think I'd like to be long-term. If people can't see me as the lovely warm teddy bear that I am, then that's going to have to be their problem. Sadly, I'm the sort of teddy bear, at the moment, whose owner has grown out of him and put him in a dark cupboard to gather dust. At least (continuing this metaphor beyond its pitiful pathetic conclusion) I wasn't thrown on a bonfire, or pissed on by a dog, or perhaps shredded at a fibre-recycling plant.

Enough navel-gazing.

Despite outward appearances and the slight melancholic (slight?) tinge in this post, I'm in a reasonably good mood at the moment. I've got a busy week or so at work and then it's time for the well-needed break. I've got four rehearsals this week, but only two are consecutive. This means I've time to do other things. Tonight I'm taking myself to the movies. Yes, I'm going on my own. As much as I'd prefer to have company, the benefits of being alone is that one can (and I always do) please oneself. Tonight I shall please myself with the company of the Phantom of the Opera (nobody wanted to come with me, so I'll happily go alone, and I won't cry... not even at the sad bits). Wooo!

Saturday, December 11

Life can be pretty frustrating
I arrived slightly (well, rather) late at the Doctor's on Friday morning. Since then, things have been running under immense time-pressure. They were hardly easy-going prior to that. One thing I learned on Friday (more on that later) is that one's efficiency starts to reduce as one approaches 100% utilisation. In other words, the busier you are, the less return you get on your efforts. I'm too busy and I'm currently left unsatisfied and frustrated. I have managed to achieve a lot of the goals I had, but the transitions between tasks have been less that smooth.

So, Friday morning. I announce myself at the doctors. "Oh. Your appointment was earlier. I'm not sure the nurse will be able to fit you in." I was there for a flu jab. I'd had a tetanus the previous evening (which is now starting to itch and hurt - is that bad? pass). "Would you be able to check for me?" - I was being patient. I had announced myself alongside an apology for my lateness. The nurse, quite reasonably in my opinion, decided to see me. No sooner had the door swung shut than the jab was administered and I was putting my shirt back on to leave. It was about 90 seconds' work.

Arriving in the office on Friday, we had an all day seminar which I interpreted as "all the things we've been trying to say for years". It was interesting that the group who attended the seminar were as enthusiastic about it by 5pm on a Friday as they had been when it was in full swing. This is what seminars should be like. Anyone who wasn't present at that seminar is a filthy-idiotic-stick-in-the-mud-who-will-impede-progress... or had other commitments. Quite what happens after such a potentially life-altering event is anyone's guess. My faith is not present. We'll have to see. I'm open minded.

Bike: Episode 1
Friday night was a question of going to pick up my bike. I drove home. I walked to the bike shop. I picked up the bike. The rear wheel bearings had been dodgy. They'd been fixed. I was shown what to look for, a wobble in the rear wheel. I cycled maybe three quarters of a mile up a hill and felt the wobble. The bearings weren't fixed. Damn! I cycled back down the hill. I gave the bike back to the shop for them to replace the rear wheel. This is all warranty work, which is fair enoughski, so you'd think...

Friday night
I had a house guest on his way. I walked home from the bike shop. I sewed some buttons on the costume for the following day's photoshoot. I tidied around the place. I got changed. I managed to get things done in order of importance and was complete at the exact moment my guest arrived. We went into town and found Pizza Express to be devoid of the expected crowd of imbeciles. We had a good meal and came back. This was a good time. The sheer weight of what I'd been doing all week slowed my brain down, though.

Saturday morning
After a scant few hours' sleep, I arose, got a quick shower, headed to a wee cafe for breakfast - which was excellent - and then got back home. I had time to change into my costume and realised that I'd misplaced the map of where I was headed. I rang ahead and organised a different meeting place. Then I drove at top speed to Durham. Sadly some muppet impeded my progress, sitting in the overtaking lane at 65. Irritating. This impedance was nothing compared to the long line of standing traffic (relating, I later found out, to an accident). I called ahead and warned them of my potential for arriving very very late. Then I managed to get through the traffic and so had to call ahead and rearrange for the original meeting place. Well, not the original meeting place - I'd lost the map to that - I mean the replacement meeting place. Oh dear. This morning was barely a couple of hours old and things were getting silly.

Having said that, I arrived at the designated spot early, was picked up and spent a congenial 3 hours in the company of my Guys and Dolls production chums having photos taken and putting on silly voices. We also talked musicals. These people make my knowledge of musicals look less cavernous and more superficial.

Saturday afternoon (including Bike: Episode 2)
The most pressing thing for me to organise after the photo call was the replacement of the dressing on my wound. I found a chemist with something appropriate. I don't like the look of the thing. I hope it's recovering well. An infection would be totally unpleasant!

Home. Lunch. Then a walk to the bike shop to pick the bike up. The guy in the shop told me that if this set of bearings wears out, he might be looking at a full refund on the bike, rather than going on replacing wheel after wheel. I understand his point of view. I also consider it a threat. If that's the situation then it puts the bike at risk. If the bearings come loose, they'll soon go irrevocably wrong. He had tightened them up before releasing the bike.

I cycled home effectively. As far as I can tell, the bearings are not performing correctly. They may sort themselves out if tightened. I may simply wear them in more heavily that most. I don't want to lose the bike. I'm rather pleased with my progress on the thing. To be suddenly bikeless seems a real shame. I guess I'll have to work out a plan of action tomorrow. I'm too pissed off to think about it now.

Saturday evening and beyond
Tonight I'm off to see some sort of music performance at City Hall. I'm knackered. It should be entertaining and invigorating tonight. I was thinking of walking into town to see it. I'll see how I feel about that in 20 minutes when it's time to decide how I'm getting there.

Tomorrow I have a gig in Peebles. I shall be driving to Scotland for lunchtime and shall hopefully have a pleasant pre-gig relaxation session. That sounds like a euphemism for something. It's not. Doing a gig is a social experience. Being sociable prior to a gig in a relaxed way is a good warm up. I'm looking forward to tomorrow for that.

So. In summary. Very busy. A few frustrations. I'm very very tired and my wrist is not on top form yet. Anyone fancy a pint?

Thursday, December 9

Oh for ****'s sake!
This week is rapidly going downhill and that's not just the easy bit of the cycling. There's no doubt that I've achieved a few things this week. So far, I have cycled in and out of town 4 times since getting the back. This has become progressively easier. Three days I've been to work and three days I've done it with bike in tow. The pain in my legs and arms is worth it for the satisfaction of feeling like I can do it.

Go me.

On Tuesday I decided to buy myself the ultimate cycling companion. An MP3 player. I had been looking at my wishlist for such a machine and, on the way home on Tuesday night, bought a machine which I believed had all of my desired features, namely:
  • A load of space for songs - in this case 20Gb - about 10000
  • A voice recorder - enabling me to record my gigs in a digital and carryable format
  • An audio recorder - enabling me to record stereo from my other gear for quick transfer to the computer
  • A radio...
Sadly, I'd not done my homework properly, and my first disappointment with my Philips HDD120 is that the FM radio is not there. This is not a major disappointment, since there's a hell of a lot of listening available from its huge hard disk. The unit is also lighter than my mobile phone, though a bit bigger, and relatively straightforward to use.

On the down side, the method of transferring music to the machine is a bit clunky, though I'm sure it will make sense in the end. I would have preferred to copy all the music I have on my work machine (all of which is from my own original CDs) in the exact structure that it appears on that machine, for the MP3 player simply to mimic. No. The MP3 player has its own ideas about how I'm allowed to sort my music, find it, and play it. I'm also not entirely convinced that it knows how to go back to where I left off should the machine be turned off mid-song, or even turn itself off after 2 minutes on pause. Shame. However, it's a cracking toy and should be pretty handy at gigs.

So, Tuesday was quite a day. I cycled into work. I worked. I went out at lunchtime. I worked some more. I cycled from the work to the MP3 player shop. I spent a lot of money on a toy. I cycled home. I had 10 minutes to grab a yoghurt and change shirt. Then I drove to my rehoisal in Durham. Then I went to see the tail end of a gig in Newcastle and then I drove home for a restless night. I had a few minutes' play with the MP3 player and transferred some music into it.

The biggest success of Tuesday was making it home on the bike quite rapidly and without avoiding certain key hills.

Wednesday was, in comparison to the rigours of Tuesday, a nightmare. This was because I had too many big ideas for what I wanted to achieve on Wednesday. Here is my Wednesday wishlist:
  • Cycle to work and back
  • Do a day's work
  • Get a hair-cut
  • Pick up DVDs of The Musical! from the post office (that was my big news - they've finally arrived)
  • Rehearse in Durham
  • Watch the end of a gig in Sunderland
  • Fall in love (well, it's always a possibility)
  • Watch the DVD of The Musical! to find the good bits
  • Convert the good bits into a format that can be downloaded by the organisers of the Melbourne comedy festival
This is clearly a very busy day. I achieved a lot of these tasks. The only task I did not complete was the bit about converting and uploading the files for the Melbourne lot. This is a shame, since I need to do this asap. It will be done tomorrow.

If you're that busy, you have a massive risk of things going wrong. Things went wrong. The bike is definitely the centre of the wrongness. Firstly, I had a wee skid down a hill out of the office. This, actually, did no harm, though it reminded me of my mortality. I didn't remind me enough, since I played chicken with a car on a chicane near my home - the home stretch is one I like to leather it on. I won the game, but, in the process, got very close to the pavement. I made a snap decision to leave the road in favour of the pavement and this, coupled with a bad angle of attack, toppled me from the bike. I emerged unharmed - except for, perhaps, my pride. Even my new MP3 player, which was playing Robbie Williams in my pocket, wasn't jarred. I landed well, putting out hands and knees to catch the ground as it came to me. I feel that I probably leapt from the bike, rather than lost control completely.

Seemingly, this was an easy escape.

But no.

90 seconds later, as I stopped the bike outside my house, I heard a hissing. The back tyre was going flat quickly. Perhaps this was unrelated to the adventure with the pavement, especially since I don't recall the back tyre actually hitting anything. I don't know. So the bike is now out of action. Never mind. I only had 2 minutes to get back in the car and get to my rehearsal. This had been complicated by the fact that I'd forgotten to pick up my rucksack from the office and had to detour in order to get it. The rucksack contained the DVDs I intended to watch and convert. Oh dear. The evening's already going pearshaped.

A bit of rehearsing and rapid driving later and I managed to leave Sunderland having seen the gig I went to see and having rehearsed on time. I also picked up a costume for a photo shoot we're doing on Saturday. I need to adjust some of this with sewing and some of this with safety pins. Both are doable. I don't know when I'll have time to sew buttons between now and 9.45am on Saturday. Aaagh! The time will make itself available.

Anyway, I took a detour on the way home to go to Tesco - I bought some shirts, one of which will do as a replacement for the ridiculously small shirt I was sent with my costume. I also bought some sandwiches. I'd not eaten for about 11 hours at this stage.

The DVD watching was hampered by the fact that the DVDs don't read well in 2 of my three players and nearly didn't read in the last. Sadly, one of these players was the one in the computer, which ultimately hampered the process of converting to downloadable form.

Finally, having set the computer onto the task of converting something it could convert, I thought I'd take a look at my flat tyre. If I could quickly remove the wheel and patch the inner tube, I'd be able to take another crack at my cycling into work thing. There was a problem, though, the nut holding the wheel to the rear fork, was very tight. It was too tight for the wee spanner-like thing that came with my puncture kit. After a bit of searching, I found an old-fashioned cartoon-dog-bone-shaped thing which is used for bicycle nuts. I applied a huge amount of downward force to this spanner and it sheared off in my hand. Not satisfied with breaking the spanner, the force then continued to take my wrist across the sharp end of this recently sharpened spanner fragment and create me a gash in the wrist.

It's now the small hours of Thursday morning and, at the end of a hectic, nightmarish day, I'm standing in my hall with a wound that is in a rather important place and starting to bleed. Bugger!

Keeping one's head in a crisis
I live alone. I don't call on the neighbours to do much for me. I don't really call on anyone. I was looking at what might be a serious wound and wondering whether I'd lose a serious amount of blood. I was slightly shocked by how the day had managed to take such an amazing downturn. I was pissed off at the bike for being just annoyingly inadequate enough to add itself to being instrumental in my injury. This was in addition to the fact that it had clearly not been assembled brilliantly (the overtightened nut being one example, a few creaks being another, and the fact that neither front nor rear gears engaged accurately being a more annoying manifestation).

Things were not looking good.

I didn't so much dither as wander around a little pondering my options. I eventually talked them through. Doing nothing was bad. I might bleed too much, stain my bedclothes, get tetanus, have a poorly healing open wound or any number of nasties. So I felt that I needed immediate medical attention.

I couldn't walk to the hospital, I sure as hell couldn't cycle there, and my left hand was far too busy holding the wound on my right for me to be much use driving myself. It was quite a comedy thing to see. Me trying to operate phone books (for a taxi), telephones, shoes, a coat and the front door, while simultaneously trying to hold my blood in, thus occupying all spare hands. With a taxi called, I waited outside. I waited for the taxi. I waited for the hysteria to kick in. I was probably in a little shock. I made me a joke to laugh at. "I thought the bike would be good for me." It's not a classic, but it made me laugh.

The taxi came in the end and I got to the hospital. The wound across the wrist, did look like self-harm, but my cheery face and demeanour made the staff discount that possibility... in addition, I hadn't done a good job of harming myself. I was placed in the waiting room. I was only there for about 2 and a half hours! I'm not exaggerating.

Since I hadn't purposely slashed my wrists, the experience in the waiting room seemed intended to make me at least contemplate the prospect of having a go. I managed to stay cheerful and occupied. I watched a few people. I chatted to some drunk people, who make the majority of the clientele at that time of night. I mused at my own stupidity. I watched my wound go from a fragile thing that needed the other hand to keep my very life-blood in, to something I could almost ignore, but for the tingling and look of it.

Eventually, I was seen. Had I received stitches, I might have felt like I'd got my wait's worth in attention. As is common, though, they applied external strips to hold the wound together. Let nature take its course. I was professionally cleaned up. I was given a tetanus jab. I was soon back in a taxi headed home.

The day is now over. It can't get any worse. It's too late.

Now to sleep, perchance to wake up and discover this was all a bad dream.

Monday, December 6

I was lying in bed this morning, looking at the clock and debating whether I could adhere to my plan of cycling into the office. Somehow, I managed to talk myself into it and, one 15 minute bike ride later, spent in the company of radio 2, I found myself at the office. This almost-entirely-downhill-morning-route is quite invigorating.

Having said that, my feet hurt, as does my backside.

When I lost weight a couple of years ago, I made a weekly track of how many pounds I was losing. Perhaps with the efforts to become a cyclist, I should track how many times it hurts to sit down. Or how many times I do a poo with the dent in it in the shape of a saddle.

Sunday, December 5

Well, I made it home.

I have cycled (or pushed the bike - after all, it is a push-bike) around 7.75 miles since I left the house. I can't feel my legs no more. I'm a mass of sweat. I can breathe, which is a bonus. I'm now going to have a long and relaxing bath.

Before I had a go at this cycling lark, I imagined that I'd soon think that a 10 mile jaunt hither or thither would be a mere trifle to the bond of man and machine that would be the bike and me. I have burst such illusory bubbles. Travelling any distance by one's own efforts requires just that, effort. I am nearly 31 years old, overweight and unfit. Until that changes, I will suffer every time I exert myself. Having said that, though, the purchase of the cycling computer means that I can challenge myself better. I know my speed. I know my distance. I know how long I've been going. I can easily time my journeys, track my improvements and goad myself into trying harder.

Or I may simply find excuses not to go into the garage anymore, where the unused bike will sit as a constant reminder of my failure.

We'll see.

Well, it's Sunday morning, and I'm at my desk in the office.

Don't worry. I'm not doing any work.

I came down to the office to see how far it is from home on the bike. It's two and three quarter miles; approx 15 minutes riding, accounting for traffic lights, chains coming off and saddle-soreness.

I shall be returning to the office later in the afternoon to do some more non-working. At the moment, I'm on the outside of a can of diet coke and I'm debating which route to take to leave this place. Sadly they're all uphill!

So far so good. I can still move and breathe. Having said that, most of the downhill riding only involves holding onto the bike.

Saturday, December 4

Had some exciting news today. I'm expecting a package in the post shortly. This should be the end to a lot of waiting. More news when it's safely in my hands... mwah ha ha ha.

Last night - part one - the rehearsal
Well, last night was quite a bizarre mix of activities. Leaving the office to arrive at my rehearsal in plenty of time seemed like a good idea. The days have been flying by in the office of late, which is a good thing. Moves are afoot to increase my responsibilities, which will add to that fly-by-factor. The downside is that I would rather love to be one of the hyper-productive foot-soldiers that I'm trying to foster in the rest of the team. The double downside is that I'm not sure whether I'm up to the exertions of mind required to achieve that role.

Anyway, fast moving days are good. Slow moving ones are not. Being mentally befuddled ain't good. I've half a mind to spend some time drawing a diagram that demonstrates why I'm the perceptive one and everyone should listen to me. I've half a mind to do that, but not a whole mind. Time out of the office is intended to be spent on things that aren't office related.

So, rehearsals. Yes. They're a good way to spend an evening. Or at least that's surely the intention, since I'll be rehearsing for the majority of the next 8 weeks. On top of a full-time job, it had better be worth it.

Sadly, arriving at the rehearsal early was only beneficial from the point of view of being there in time to give another early-arriver, a respite from the cold air outside the locked rehearsal space. It was additionally beneficial from the point of view of giving me about 5 minutes of time on the piano between being let in and the arrival of the accompanist. I don't mind messing on a piano when its intended player is absent, but always defer to the more qualified musician on his arrival. The rest of the rehearsal was spent sitting around. I think I was actually in the process of actively participating in the rehearsal for about 15-20 minutes. I managed to royally mess up one of the bits of my participation, but that's okay in a rehearsal room. I was eventually realease from service early and headed, via a trip to the petrol station/sandwich vendor, to the comedy night in Heaton.

Last night - part two - comedy
The comedy was a lot more fun than the rehearsal. I needed something to release me from the stress of the day and a good laugh was definitely the ticket. I'm not going to review the performances of the comedians. Everyone did well and I knew quite a lot of the acts, which meant for a relaxed back stage mood. I'm gigging with a couple of the guys tomorrow, so it will seem like something of a comedy weekend for me.

I like comedy.

Post comedy
I came home. I had some chocolate porridge - this is a treat I'm indulging in again (I'm fairly certain I was hot on porridge - no pun intended - back in January or February). I don't think it's especially bad for you. It's just oats, drinking chocolate, milk and water. Blast it in the microwave and watch out for the bit where it goes everywhere - try to pre-empt that, so it doesn't.

Then, porridge having been consumed, I retired with a book. The Time Ships, the sequel to The Time Machine. I'm steaming through this book, which I borrowed maybe 18 months ago and never got around to reading. I shall return it to its owner very soon at this rate. I read until about 2 in the morning and then went to sleep without the alarm clock. My mission for Saturday, and I've already mentioned, was to buy a bicycle. I was in no rush to get onto this task and, with the various activities coming up, reckoned that uninterrupted sleep would probably be a good way to prepare for the week ahead.

Saturday morning
I had a couple of false wake ups, earlier in the morning, but eventually rose at 11ish. I had some breakfast - toasted bagels with very low fat cream cheese. Did I mention that the diet is really not happening at the moment and that I'm concerned for my lack of general fitness and the size of my waist? Well, I am, and eating bagels doesn't really threaten that. It still bothers me that I consume much in the way of food and do very little in the way of exercise.

Anyway, after mooching around the house for a bit, I had a showed, dried myself while watching one of the episodes of Fist of Fun on the hooky DVD I bought from ebay a few weeks back, and then forced myself out of the house. I was going to look at the possibility of buying a bike.

Biking a buy
I wandered around the nearest shop that sells bikes. They're pitching the purchase of a bike at the Christmas present customer. Fair enough. The CD in the shop was playing Christmas songs. It was, in fact, at this shop that I had my first hearing for this season of Slade's "So here it is, Merry Christmas" - last year, I think I heard it in November. It's not in my blog archive, so I can't be certain. At least I've recorded this year's first hearing. It's not important, but it's still stored for posterity.

Anyway. Bikes.

Well, they had loads of the buggers from the inexpensive through to the rather expensive. The reason for buying a bike? Well, I think I might be able to combine a need for transport with the need for exercise. If I can make myself exercise, but not put it in the way of my ability to arrive somewhere on time, then the bike could become an integral part of my day to day routine, without me losing out on everything else I do. The main part of this plan is to be able to go about London over Christmas without resorting to the car, or just use the tube and get no exercise.

I want to be fitter. If I'm not fitter, I will not survive the next few months. Well, I will, but it might not feel that way.

So, I chatted to the chap in the shop about the bikes on offer and what might suit me. This was a fatal mistake. Once I've gotten speaking to someone, it's very hard for me to walk away. The lad (and he was a lad) was not trying to sell me anything, he was merely answering my questions about what would suit me. We quickly narrowed it down to two models and then to one. Now I really can't walk away. I'd priced bicycles on the internet earlier in the week and had some idea of what sort of price I might be asked to pay. This lad was offering me the bike and a bunch of accessories to go with it, for about what I'd expected to pay for the bike alone. I couldn't really say no. So I didn't.

I now own a 18 speed mountain-bike-style conveyance with front suspension. It doesn't have disc braking. Shame. It does have a 22" frame. I have lights. I have a tyre pump. There's a lock. I bought a bike computer to show me how fast and far I'm going. Oh, and I even bought a puncture repair kit.

The lad in the shop said he'd assemble the bike and attach all the accessories for me. He predicted half an hour's work. I toddled off home and did some general purpose tidying and the like. After an hour I returned to the shop. The 30 minute estimate had been way off track. The attachment of accessories had proved more of a time-cost than they reckoned. I mooched around the shop, waiting for the engineering project to be completed. I asked one or two pertinent questions. As we approached the handover moment, I realised that both the manager and the lad who had sold me the bike were actually treating me like a complete moron. I'm not sure why. Perhaps it's the way I look. Perhaps they just assume all their customers are morons. Perhaps I was asking dumb questions. I really don't know. It was probably the moment when the lad explained how to use a bicycle pump that I most noticed this. Ok. So, I'm not really a cyclist. I used to be, though. I used to be a master of the engineering requirements of the velocipede. It's not a complicated bit of kit. I have fixed punctures in the most unusual of places (that's locations for the bike to be in, not the location of the puncture - they're always in the inner tube!). I am not a moron. Still, I was treated like I was a bit special.

Well, special I may be, but I'm capable of buying a shed-load of cycling equipment (don't forget the helmet). I fended off the manager's suggestion that I buy a yellow glow-in-the-dark waistcoat with luminous strips.

The test drive
So, I drove the bike home in the back of the car. I went inside, adjusted the cycle helmet so that it fit me, and then went to get the bike out of the car. Before too long I was headed down the street on the bike. I've not ridden a bicycle in years. I hadn't forgotten the principles involved, though. Well, it's like... (yeah yeah yeah)

During the first excursion on the bike, I hit a top speed of over 20mph. I travelled around 4 miles (the underside of). I probably coasted quite a lot. I stopped, either to adjust the saddle or to catch my breath, quite a few times, and I was away from home no more than 20-30 minutes.

I then spent the next hour and a half totally unable to move or breath deeply.

I'm not a cyclist. Oh dear me, no.

I'm also not deterred. Some of what I need to learn is technique. Some of what I need to learn is the optimal manipulation of the gears. A lot of what I need is strength and stamina.

I shall be back on the roads again. And soon.

The idea behind spending a fair amount of cash on this was the same as the idea which caused me to go and buy a Dyson vaccuum cleaner two Januarys ago. I reckoned that a neglected area of my life, in that case, the vaccuuming, would seem more important to me if I'd parted with a noticeable bundle of cash for some sort of equipment related to it. So, hopefully, the thought of the bicycle, now resident in my garage, will spur me on and make me use it.

Maybe I should have shopped around and found a bike which didn't reduce me to an airless ball of sweat. Maybe I shouldn't be such an airless ball of sweat.

I'm quite looking forward to seeing how quickly I can get to the office by bike. It may be faster than going by car! It's all downhill. I'm not looking forward to working out how to get from the lowest point in the city (the quayside area) to the highest (where I live). But, if you're on a bike, what goes down must come back up. D'oh!

Maybe I should have bought a motorbike!

Friday, December 3

Late Friday afternoon and I'm feeling stressed. This is a combination of things. I think it's primarily having felt like I was not being listened to and was having something which I found meaningless imposed upon me. I felt a bit like I did in a lecture we used to have back at uni. The lecturer would draw lots of stuff on the board which had pockets of sense in it. Then he'd wave his hands a lot and just kind of expect us to "get" it. He finished his syllabus in the middle of the course and was thrilled. We'd got through so much. He looked at us confidently and said:

Lecturer "We've finished half-way through the course. Anyone got anything you'd like me to go through again."
A student "Er, yes... all of it"
Everyone else (relieved) "Yes... all of it."

So. Yes. All of it.

Never mind. It's the weekend. Wooot!

The Car
The faithful vehicle has been through its 154,500 mile service... and it didn't even demand more than the basic service fee. Surely something big is due to go wrong? Cripes!

Causing controversy
Today was not the first time that I've found myself on the receiving end of a chiding email about this article, which summarises in a fairly comical way, what I consider to be many of the fallacious and foul attitudes underpinning the behaviour of a small but potent and poisonous sector of society. Still, I usually find that the people who object to the article have a value system which naturally sets them apart from the behaviour I'm criticising. Those people who know me purely through that article form a ridiculous opinion of me through it. They're prejudiced on account of my prejudice... what a silly state of affairs!

All you can eat/Eat as much as you like
Accidentally went to a buffet-style restaurant last-night. These places are one of the rare examples of communism in our society. To each according to his needs... well, according to his gluttony.

It's fair to say that I over-ate in spades and woke up this morning with a full and uncomfortable belly. It's also fair to say that the diet really isn't something that I'm committed to. However, I live in hope that I'll pull my finger out and do something before the year is out. Perhaps I shall buy that bike.

There was a brief debate on the whole "all you can eat" vs "as much as you like" question. In some respects, the "all you can eat" is more of a challenge. You shall sit and eat so much food that you're nearly sick. Clearly if you are sick, you've eaten more than you can eat. If you are not nearly sick, then you've the ability to eat more. This is quite a responsibility and I don't think it's worth paying money to put that much stress on your body. If, however, the place is an "eat as much as you like", then you can be more relaxed about things. You might like a bit of this and a bit of that and then to just stop. That's fine. It's about choice. So those people who cram the food in, perhaps out of some maverick urge to get their money's worth, might be going about it incorrectly. Eat while you're still enjoying it. If you stop enjoying the chewing and swallowing, then you're no longer eating what you like. You're eating what's on your plate. It's more than you like. You have disobeyed the laws of the buffet restaurant and must be punished.

Either way, I think that these buffet places may be an excuse to go home and make oneself deliberately sick to lighten the load. If you do that once, it needn't be an eating disorder. If you do it after every meal, I think it's time to seek help... or stop eating every meal at a buffet restaurant.

The weekend ahead...
Now I'm hungry and I'm not likely to get much to eat until much later on tonight. I've a rehearsal for South Pacific in 90 minutes' time and then I'm going to go and see some comedy.

Tomorrow is a day for doing stuff. Perhaps I'll get some lyrics from Blaized to set to music. Perhaps I'll write my Bond Theme for Postman Pat. Perhaps I'll do more work on the musical I'm supposed to be writing (which is really not getting as far as I'd hoped). Maybe I'll get some sodding exercise or buy a bike and expend the same energy trying to put it together. I should probably do some houseworky things. If I end up on the sofa eating Pizza, then I've been most bad (unless it's home-made, in which case DOUBLE POINTS!).

Sunday I have a gig in the evening in Hartlepool. Lovely Hartlepool. I've been there far more times in the past year than I expected.

If I get all excitable about something during the course of the weekend, I'm sure I'll post more.

Wednesday, December 1

I spend a fair amount of my time waiting for machines. You wonder who is in charge. Is it me controlling the machine? or does the machine control me? I suspect that it's the former.

Doin' stuff
Well, it's about to get hellishly busy in my life. Having said that, there always seems to be a bit of time here and there for me to use for my own purposes. I was rehearsing the other night, but still found time to come home from work before the rehearsal and play piano for a bit - god I'm rusty - and then, after the rehearsal, have some food, watch some TV, mess around on the internet and write a curious wee song about President Mugabe. I've no idea why I wrote it or if it's funny, but it's mine!

I've been listening to some Beatles music. I'm still very much in awe of Howard Goodall's documentary (which I saw on Saturday evening) about how the Beatles influenced western music, while simultaneously being influenced by a wide variety of existing musical styles. The documentary made me want to rush to the piano and try out what I learned. This is a common side effect of watching TV shows about composition. Last time such a thing occurred, I ended up entering the Eurovision Song Contest. The show was Tony Hawks' One Hit Wonderland. My Eurovision Song Contest Entry - The Words To Sing - was not really very good.

The reason I brought up the whole Beatles/documentary was in response to the line I wrote about my President Mugabe song. I wrote "but it's mine". There's a line in "With a little help from my friends" which I always used to find slightly dirty. "What do you see when you turn out the light? I can't tell you but I know that it's mine".

I did a gig last night at the Chillingham Arms. This was pretty good fun. The audience had a lovely loud voice. Not every line I threw at them worked, but I was in the mood to workshop it with them, so I got 11 minutes of fun with them. There was no PA, so I was working unplugged. This has a weird effect on some of my material and performance. It also makes it more intimate with the audience. I had fun. I also got a copy of Gavin Webster's fantastic CD. Check out his site for details. Gavin is definitely one of my favourite acts on the circuit. I had a long chuckle at some of his material during my lunch break today.

Time Machine
I'm currently reading the authorised sequel to The Time Machine, the book upon which C and I created an 80 minute musical. I'm having a wee listen to said musical at the moment. There are some good bits, some not so good. I'd still like to revisit this work and do it better. I think we've learned a lot about musical construction. In some respects, the songs from The Musical! are superior - more concise and wittier. In some respects, the first work we produced more deserves to see an appreciative audience than the horse (albeit not dead) that we're flogging in T'Moosicul. I have ideas. The time will come.

I'm sure that the above line will be used at some point to describe the new Phantom of the Opera movie, which is due for release in a mere 9 days. I'm quite excited. I've seen Phantom on stage a couple of times. The first time was in New York where I was persuaded by my, then, fiancee to choose Mr Lloyd Webber's work over Les Miserables, which was my first choice. I've never regretted this decision. We both really enjoyed Phantom and I think Les Mis sounds better with English accents than it does with American ones. I've now seen both Phantom and Les Mis twice on stage, so it all averaged out in the end.

Non-violent direct action works
I was pissed off at the Coke machine. It had 4 slots for Coke and 3 for Diet Coke, yet the Diet Coke always sold out first and the Coke only ever had 2 of its 4 slots at "sold out". I left a note for "Mr Coke Machine Man", explaining my opinion. Joy of joys, there are now 5 Diet Coke slots and 2 Coke slots. The system works.

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