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Wednesday, November 30

Fair play
After about 3 years of asking for it, my employer has now finally started buying Fair Trade coffee. In fact, the person who was charged with making it available was so keen on the brand that they put it in a special container, labelled FREE TRADE COFFEE, which is a bit of exaggeration, since I'm sure that nobody is doing anything for free to provide Asda with its own-brand freeze dried granules.

So far, all you might have noticed in this story is that I've criticised a label. Let's rewind and look at what the label was on: a special container for the fair trade coffee. Hang on a minute... does that mean that they're also providing non fair trade coffee? Yes. They most certainly are. The person who has accepted my moral stance on coffee - that it should be fair trade - has decided that it should be an option for the coffee drinkers. Given that the other option is Nescafe, this is a bit weird.

There are two possible reasons this may have happened. It may be that there are some people in the company who demand to have a Nestle-branded freeze-dried coffee, preferably brewed in the hot tears of the mothers whose children died under Nestle's aggressive baby-formula campaign; there may even be people who like the plastic taste of their nasty coffee. Or, alternatively, perhaps the person who bought the coffee missed the point of getting it. The point is that our company could choose not to put money into the pockets of evil Nestle (Kit Kats excepted) and could also have a nicer cup of coffee for everyone. Apparently, that point was missed.

Missing the point is part of the human condition. People often do things out of habit and duty in the hope that everything will be alright. The best example of this is cargo cults. Read the link and you'll see natural human behaviour exaggerated. We're all doing these sorts of things all the time. Many of our habits come from singular experiences where we put two and two together and got a pair of parallel swan-shaped things.

In some ways, playing on human conditioning is something I'm keen on. When I'm at full strength on the stand-up stage, I use a variety of tricks to keep the audience fooled into thinking that they're having a good time, and that I'm a good entertainer. In other ways, though, it's rather sad. We humans may have minds, but we'd much rather degenerate into a selfish instinctive superstitious rabble.

So, I'm drinking the fair trade coffee with a clear conscience. In a few days I will be so far out of my comfort zone, that I won't have time to rely on my habits - maybe it will be the making of me.

Tuesday, November 29

2048, a webspace odyssey
As my last post was my 210th, this one, a non-integer power of two, doesn't seem to be as impressive. Indeed, the next power of two post is some 1023 posts away from this. Given that it's taken since October 2001 to get this far, there's gonna be a whole load of waitin' goin' on.

Ah ah ah ah stayin' alive
Yesterday seemed to have a keeping my life sort of a theme. As I'm now over one week into a four week notice period for quitting my job, which means that I'm soon to be a) free, and b) not paid any money any more, I devoted some time yesterday to attempting to find a job to provide me with the sort of life I want to lead. While, I'd happily spend all day in bed and the rest of the time driving around, perhaps performing the occasional gig, it's simply not an option: my expensive habits - CDs, pies and petrol - cost money. So, the job seeking continues and there are some very interesting prospects out there.

I had been awake since 2.45am yesterday, so perhaps it wasn't the best idea to be gigging that night. Especially not in the somewhat difficult comedic landscape of Scarborough. It's difficult because it's not a nice drive to get there - there are some bloody awful roads to use. It's also difficult because the folks in Scarborough are hard to please. I'd died on that stage quite horribly earlier on in my career. It was also made difficult because I'd had little sleep and the weather was rubbish. Still, we survived the journey there and even arrived in time to watch the audience arrive.

I survived my 10 minutes on the stage. I wasn't really at full comic pelt. The audience weren't particularly responsive, but I relaxed into the set anyway and got them in the end. It wasn't a ripper. They were polite. I was too tired to let it worry me too much. Looking back, I felt like I was going through the motions more than I was connecting with the audience. I listened to a recording and I wasn't too bad, but laughter-wise, it was not my finest hour.

Then it was time to try to survive the journey home. With snowy and icy roads, horrible rain, a car I'm not used to driving in the snow, which also seemed to have a problem with its brake-system (I'm not kidding), and the dulled senses of someone who had not slept in the last 20 hours... this journey had more of a risk of dying than the mild and figurative risk of dying normally associated with the stand-up comedian. Quite simply, we could have ended up running through a crash barrier and into a ravine. Not good.

My passenger was calmed by my reassuring voice over as the car started to skid out of control (albeit mildly) in the snow, while I got a much greater high than I did on stage as my body injected adrenaline into itself (or whatever it does when it thinks you might be about to die). I talked us through the difficult drive through the moors. The snow, the fog, the absence of grip and, in some ways, brakes, were all calmly managed and we emerged unscathed.

Then I was pulled over by the police. They didn't like the fact that I had my front fog lights on. They also didn't like the missing headlight on the left of the car. I decided not to say "why do you think I had the fog lights on - I can't see", or "you think that's bad, you should try the brakes". I kept calm I was polite. I told the officer that the car was going in to be serviced this morning (which it was), she said that that was convenient. As it was true and as I was too in control of myself and tired, to notice the sarcasm in her voice, I didn't flinch or try to defend it. I was sent on my way with nothing other than a 5 minute delay in my journey.

I got home alive. That's the main thing.

This morning, the car went in for service. I've had it 2 months and put over 10,000 miles on it. I wonder how many of my CDs I'll need to sell on ebay in order to be able to afford to pay for everything that's wrong with it...

Monday, November 28

Post 1024 - that's 210
I still have a general disdain for someone cutting my food up for me. I've just become an uncle and my niece has been duly visited and her head was wetted. She is only a few days old. She's got more hair than I have and she seems even to have a more even temper than me. She has, however, no teeth. She doesn't just need her food cutting up for her, she needs it providing in purely liquid form. This is done via the magic of my sister, motherhood and some things I'd rather not consider at this stage. The point is that preparing food for my niece is a necessity (niecessity?) and that's fair enough.

I realise that the above paragraph suggested some sort of uncle/niece competitiveness going on. I assure you, that I have no intention of attempting to win "the battle of the hair" or any other battle for that matter with the latest addition to the family. I'm sure I'd lose. More importantly, contests are arbitrary.

We're going off topic. I have already written about the how the sandwich shop in this building (a shop I'm not likely to use more than 15 more times in my life - weird) can sometimes arbitrarily start cutting things up for you. I am perfectly capable of eating a sausage that has not been cut into sub-bite-sized pieces. So, this morning, I rather bluntly asked for breakfast and instructed them not to cut anything up and to just shove it in a roll. I made out that I was keeping it simple for everyone (rather than accusing them of cosseting me by cutting up my food). So, the roll was prepared, exactly as a wanted it, even with the brown sauce already inserted... and then she cut it in half before it went into the bag. Why!!!?

I was too gobsmacked to say anything. That's probably for the best. After all, what could I say that wasn't, essentially, petty and offensive.

I was probably in a more sensitive mood, since I did my, now semi-regular, Monday morning trek from Southampton this morning. I awoke at around 2.45 and then, after a bit of effort to actually get out of the bed and get dressed, found myself behind the wheel of a car at 3.30. It was a 5 hour drive, which is not bad. I probably used some high speeds in the early stages to gain back the time I'd lose in the morning rush hour towards the end. The snow started at 7.45. Still, I had a collection of MP3s and a heated car.

Tonight there's a gig in Scarborough and then I shall get some sleep. Probably not a huge amount. I really must pack my entire house into boxes, ready for my relocation to the south. I just don't know when I'll have the time.

Wednesday, November 23

Dawn of the deed
Well, I just did a gig and did some of my hilarious new material about quitting my job. Because I have done just that. On Friday of last week, I resigned from Nonlinear. I did this without another job lined up. This is quite a surprising thing to find myself doing. It will change my life immeasurably and I'm not sure I've completely grasped how much effort will be needed in the next few months to adapt to the change.

However, I am a man of action and decisiveness. I saw the opportunity to move on and start 2006 with a bang, or at least a thud. I'll be moving down south to the big smoke. I'll start small, with a light steam, work my way through a thick fog and then be ready for the aforementioned smoke (you know, that joke was funnier off the cuff earlier). It will be the making of me.

I feel like every gig is a farewell gig from now, which is odd. Still, I am going to have to learn a whole new comedy network, provided the job gives me the scope to do comedy.

In an hilarious punchline, my manager, who has faced criticism that he makes decisions that affect people's jobs without first consulting them, has organised my leaving drinks. He didn't mention the date to me before announcing it. I can't actually make the do myself... the irony is ironic. I think I shall have to devise a plan of my own. I've been making a lot of plans recently, and some of them appear to involve quitting my job; others involve recruitment agents. You get the idea.

Thursday, November 17

Wouldn't it be loverly?
All this talk of being nice is an excuse for me to dig out the words of My Fair Lady. The show has been on my mind recently, not because of the lyric "Lots of chocolate for me to eat" which has echoes of my, just-recently-attempted-to-stop-it-again addiction for junk food, but because I went to see the show a couple of weekends ago.

I was gigging all over the place, one extended weekend. I'd had a Thursday night in London, at The Comedy Store, no less (the guy who runs it made it clear what he thought of 5 minutes' worth of guitar act - despite a good audience reaction, it was clear that he wanted to see more than just two songs "Tell some jokes!"). I followed the gig with a trip to my girlfriend's place for an overnight stay, then just as I was waking up, I had to scoot to Manchester for a Friday night gig. I played to some miserable bastards in a small bar in the centre of Manchester for very little laughter or money. Then I stayed in a cheap hotel in Salford. Not very salubrious. I was to follow this up with a Saturday night in Blackburn and a Sunday in Irvine. Wow.

Anyway, the day of this story is Saturday. I had nothing to do between waking up and going to my gig in Blackburn. I'd noticed, on the way to the hotel the previous evening, that My Fair Lady was playing at the Palace theatre in Manchester. Actually, I'd noticed this fact before. I'd noticed it back in July, but it wasn't actually on then, and I don't actually live in Manchester, so I wouldn't normally be able to go to the theatre there. However, I discovered that the show would be ending on the very day that I had an afternoon to kill in the North West. So, I popped along to the box office and bought a stalls seat.

I was quite excited as the cast included Russ Abbott and Stephen Moore. As it happens, I wasn't really that fussed for Russ, though he was excellent. However, given that I'm a big fan of the Hitch-hiker's Guide to The Galaxy radio series, and given that a certain Marvin the Paranoid Android is played by a certain Stephen Moore, it was nice to go and see him in the role of Colonel Pickering in a musical which is still in my top ten favourite musicals of all time.

Of course, once I watch a musical, I start to ponder how it links with other shows, actors etc etc. Well, there's one nice cooincidence of this particular production. Pickering was played by Stephen Moore in this production. Stephen Moore appeared in the last episode of the Hitchhiker's Guide, as did Jonathan Pryce. Jonathan Pryce was the Higgins in the original version of this production (the Cameron Mackintosh, Trevor Nunn production). Spooky!?

Wednesday, November 16

Remember to be nice
My life is sometimes a mass of minor irritations, which constant repetition has exaggerated beyond reasonable proportion. My training as a stand-up comedian, where a quick mind and a quick tongue are key to keeping a room under control, means that I sometimes express my annoyance straight away, in a pointed jokey form. Maybe this is an outlet for me, maybe it's a pain in the arse for people who are on the receiving end. Sometimes I get away with it. Something joke-shaped, said with a smile, may in fact conceal the bile beneath. Sometimes, the opposite effect can occur. I'm not all that bothered, but I make a joke and people feel like the butt of it. I'm not sure I give a damn in all cases, but I do consider myself to be a nice person, so perhaps I should ensure that I don't allow my mouth to go round creating disharmony when i don't mean it to.

The case in point for this particular thought comes from the sandwich shop in the building where I work. I make sandwiches myself, and would happily make my own, to my own specification. But, going behind the counter and doing it for them is considered taboo in the catering industry. So, I must tell them what I want, usually twice, in order to get the sandwich of my choice. Over years of making sandwiches, I know the tricks and I also know that I can't specify exactly how I want them to make my sandwich... well, I could, but it would take so long and just depress everyone. So, I leave them to it.

I don't like a sandwich, that's in a big roll (rather than between slices of bread) to be cut up. There's no need for it. That's the point of a roll. It's an individual-portion mini loaf of bread. It's not meant to be messed around with. I've been frustrated when my sandwich has been given to me in pieces, in much the same way as the parents of a kidnapped child might have preferred to receive their entire child back from the captors, rather than the severed limbs and torso. Still, I've bitten my tongue. If they offer to cut the sandwich, which is, at least, preferable to doing it without asking, I politely decline, rather than pointing out the whole hostage example. However, it still bothers me. I am, of course, a very petty and trivial individual (maybe that's tautology, I don't know).

Yesterday, I lost my temper a little. I'd asked for a sliced meat to be included in my sandwich. The person making the sandwich had set about adding these two slices, but decided to cut them up further, into little strips. Like you might for a child, or old person. I stood there silently fuming and then, when she was about to start on the second piece, I stopped her. "Don't worry about cutting it up.", I said, in as friendly a tone as I could muster. "Are you sure?" she replied, concerned. I tried to make a joke of it - "Yes, it's okay. I've got teeth.". I don't think anyone took offence. I hope not.

Group delusion
You know, people will say any old shit is good if they want to believe it. I was recently at a gig with very little merit. An eclectic collection of ill-fitting, often ill-conceived, junk. There were people messing around, or doing stuff that was simply self-absorbed nonsense (don't worry, I'm fairly aware that what I do on stage comes within the boundaries of that description too). An audience sat through this shit and politely, sometimes even enthusiastically applauded. Those people will have gone home trying to tell themselves that they didn't waste their time or ticket money and that there was gold within them hills.

It's this mass hysteria which I can use to whip certain crowds up into a frenzy. The majority of people in a comedy audience don't know enough about comedy to know whether I'm any good. If I appear to be enthusiastic and appear to be confident, then they'll often come along from the ride. If some other people in the audience get a bit too excited, the whole audience assumes that what I'm doing must be, itself, worthy of excitement and they jump on the bandwagon. As a result, I can sometimes do a lot better than an act of my ilk deserves... group delusion works a treat.

Tuesday, November 15

Months with silence
How can I possibly have spent so long updating the blog to cover about 3 months of stuff that happened, and then, just as I was getting back into the swing of thing, suddenly forget to update it again? How? Well, I've been pretty busy, so maybe that had something to do with it.

I don't know. The effort of blogging is not all that great, but once the habit goes, it can be quite hard to get going again. Over the next few posts, I'll try to mention anything that seems mention-worthy from the point when I paused the blog. I will not be trying to recap the last few months in a big splurge. In fact, a friend has requested that I don't suddenly go mad with essay-sized posts that tell the overblown story of my recent history, as he has to give up huge wads of time to read them. Arguably, he could either not read them, or learn to speed read. According to the boss, you'll read faster with your finger. Especially if you're Mork from Mork and Mindy.

Tone of the blog?
My girlfriend has pointed out that I'm a comedian and yet I manage to make this blog frequently unfunny in its construction. Why am I missing out a golden opportunity to paint comic landscapes in words and enthrall my readers (if there are any left) with my witty approach to life? I don't know. Perhaps a lack of talent on my part? Perhaps my "write it quickly and hit the post button" approach doesn't leave room for jokes. Perhaps my obsession with the minute details for their own sake, rather than for what they contribute to the story has something to do with it.

I will have a go at improving matters. We'll see what happens.

Out with the old and in with the new
I had to say goodbye to a trust friend in the time I wasn't blogging. My trust Volvo is no longer in my care. I had driven it about 95,000 miles since I bought it. Here it is:

In late September I bought a newer car (R registered, so still 8 years old). I have, in the last 6 weeks or so, put some 8,000 miles on it. This is a combination of gigging and having a girlfriend who lives a 660 mile round trip from my home. However, the new car has a lot of toys in it, so it's a nice home-from-home as I scoot up and down the country.

I have a cute Sat-nav, which tells me where to go. I have an MP3 player (which I accidentally filled already) and a neat car stereo (which sounds bloody awful, but that might be the speakers, or the fact that it's a generic make). With all the flashing lights in my car, there's barely time to operate the main controls.

I've done my 300th performance as a stand-up comedian. In fact, I've done my 310th as well. October was a busy month and November is actually busier. Somehow, there is still room for a few days at home this week, which is good. On the whole, my 15+ gig months are hard work and I've been known to lose my mind. I'm feeling on top of it at the moment.

Last night, I had one of my best ever heckles (well, audience participations). In my opening song, I hold a note for quite a few seconds. Some wags in audiences sometimes join in with the note. That usually amuses me, but I can usually hold my own when it happens. Sometimes someone will join in a major-third above, which harmonises with what I'm singing and usually amuses me. Last night, I noticed both of those happening, which was nice, but I decided that I could keep my head and not giggle... then someone came in with the 5th. There felt like about 6 voices, in addition to mine, one one or other of the 3 notes that make a major chord. I was very amused. I burst out laughing (partly spontaneous and partly exaggerated for comic effect) and came out with the line "I'm being heckled by a choir!". Great fun. While the audience seemed to be trying to outdo me, or entertain me, I had the chance to throw a wee line at the room to claim the moment back.

The Stand in Edinburgh is a lovely club to play and I had a really nice gig there last night. Tonight I'm going to Glasgow. Then I'm going to head down to Ayr for another gig. Doubling up in a night is something I rarely do outside of London or the Edinburgh Festival. In faireness, I've only ever done it in London once, but it's quite doable. I've definitely done it in Edinburgh. In fact, I've done about 5 on the same day in Edinburgh. Not a surprise. It's the sort of thing I do.

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