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Saturday, February 25

Picking up la voiture
I woke up early enough to pick up my car. After agonising over whether to get it fixed, I gave it the benefit of the considerable doubt and handed over the better part of £400 to the repair people. Vital work had been carried out on the brakes, some of which had been cooked by the fault which gave me burning smells and "some sort of mist" (my favourite description of the smoke-like emission from the front of my car - it was a burning brake pad).

The up side of the work that they carried out is that my car now runs pretty smoothly. They replaced a headlight (which I know is user-serviceable, but they might as well do it for me). The accelerator pedal was sticking first thing in the morning and now it doesn't stick. Overall, the car is a lot happier. I celebrated by filling it with petrol. Champagne doesn't make it run as well.

Box office blues
In search of something to do for the day/evening, I happened upon a listing for Stewart Lee, who was performing at The Arts Depot in Finchley. I had planned to try to get along to see Tim Vine perform his show a couple of days previously (13th Feb) but my luck was out then - though they'd had a few single tickets, they sold the show out completely.

I didn't want to be disappointed again, but feared that I would be. Stewart Lee is a superb comedian, and his show was bound to be sold out. I perservered through countless telephone messages saying that the box office was receiving outrageous traffic and couldn't answer my call - could I leave a message? I reasoned that that was a bad idea, given that they'd be too busy with calls to check the messages. So, I re-rang and re-rang. I'd have preferred an engaged tone to the message. Anyway, I eventually got through. I checked availability - they had plenty of tickets left and were not likely to sell out. I reckoned that I could chance a quick discussion with the girlfriend before booking.

That lack of being decisive on my part cost me another 30 minutes of ringing and re-ringing. Idiot! Anyway, I got my tickets booked and we were due in London by the evening to see the show.

Finding the venue
We set off to park near the venue. We would be due there near lunchtime and could have a day out in London before going to the show. It seemed like a good plan. The venue was tricky to find. We had to ring the venue again for directions. The problem arose as the sat nav processed the address and put us at the end of the street where that address can be found. However, the address has another meaning - go to the other end of the street and find a huge block of flats and go into it. Weird. From observations we made when we saw him hurrying to the venue and what he said on stage, Stewart Lee found himself in a similar position.

Anyway, spotting the act rushing to the venue was still a few hours ahead. We had an afternoon out to enjoy.

House of Ignoramuses
After a tube ride into town, we had a wander along Oxford Street. Lunch seemed a wise thing to try to get. I suggested we go to the cafe inside House of Fraser. I regret this suggestion. It introduced us to a world of hurt. After a lot of time ascending between the traditional department store floors on the escalator (I only mention the traditional aspect of it as I got a sense that that building has looked that that for a very long time), we found a cafe where you wait to be seating. We waited. Other people were not waiting - they seated themselves. After waiting and being ignored (and I'm not unnoticeable), we decided to join the throng of self-seaters. We were halted by a member of staff - now they see us! Then we were seated at a table in the corner.

Then we were ignored for about 10 minutes.

At one stage I summoned a waiter over. He explained that it was not his section and that somene would be along shortly. I asked how long it might take to get lunch. He assured me that there was no problem.

Indeed, there may have been no problem in a world where you can be ignored by staff for the better part of 15 minutes when you want food. The service industry is impoverished enough as it is without this happening in premium-rate cafes. I was prepared to buy us lunch at a premium price for what it was (a couple of sandwiches).

As it was, we left without paying. Don't worry. To put it more clearly, we left without paying, eating, being served or ever wanting to go back to that bunch of slackers. We even took the lift down to avoid the repeated escalator changing.

After getting lunch from Boots, we sat in a corner of the Trocadero where people don't normally sit and ate our sandwiches, bought at a fraction of the price of the cafe we'd left.

Then we went and played on the machines. There's a quiz game which we mastered and won enough tokens on to enable us to "purchase" something of vague value.

Mr Lee
Returning to the arts depot, we picked up tickets, had a pre-show coffee/coke, and then sat down to enjoy the low-key but powerful rhetoric of one of my comedy heroes. It was a lesson. I learned that even the sorts of things that countless comedians can say to a flagging audience can sound fresh. I learned that to be shocking, you don't have to be in-your-face. I learned that to be intelligent, you don't have to be obscure and unapproachable. Overall, I learned that I was right to like Stewart Lee before most people in the audience had heard of him.

Having enjoyed the show, there was a trip home, via a Nandos for some take-out chicken. Nandos gets a lot of my food budget these days.


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