My Stand-up & gigs
The Coding Craftsman
Hi, we’re calling from Some Criminals.com
An Open Letter To HSBC
Pay What Now?
Hearing the music
When to quit
I am not as other men
Tonight I was funny
Attack of the Drones
Notes on your set
It's All Talk
I listened to Radio 4's Down The Line
on the way home yesterday. This programme said anything I could possibly say about Radio 2's Jeremy Vine show in beautifully crafted pastiche. Coming from the Paul Whitehouse/Charlie Higson stable, it's unsurprising that this show is very funny, and its accuracy is probably the reason why some people complained about its first broadcast, assuming they were listening to a genuine phone-in programme on BBC Radio.
With a presenter who is intentionally trying to provoke discussion while simultaneously trying to ignore the person he's got on the line by talking over them with "active listening", and with callers more interested in the price of parking than important issues like racial discrimination, parts of this comedy were so painfully accurate that you didn't know whether to laugh or despair.
I have the misfortune to listen to the real thing on lunchtimes, and it's usually the callers that make me despair for real. Usually. We have a bunch of Daily Mail reading bigots in our nation, full of demands to get everything for free from an increasingly nannying state. A lot of these morons ring in, and it usually makes my blood boil.
It was odd, then, today, just after hearing the spoof version, to hear an unusually touching and genuine moment occur. The subject of the day was Cystic Fibrosis, and we'd had the usual campaigner complaining about why every man woman and child in the country hadn't been screened for carrying the recessive gene which can cause a 25% chance of a Cystic Fibrosis condition in one's offspring if both partners are carriers. When I came back to the car, though, having filled with petrol, the caller had been replaced by a mother whose child had the condition. She had to be strong and supportive of her child, but was worried about the long-term prospects and was, quite naturally, devastated when she confronted her fears about what may happen and how difficult it was to explain to the child why she had to go through her various treatments.
Motherhood and fear make for extreme emotion, and all credit to Jeremy Vine, he was not even slightly brash with this caller as he talked through her points with her. Cue another caller, to join the conversation, who was a 36 year old Cystic Fibrosis sufferer (I'm struggling for the words to describe someone with Cystic Fibrosis). Given that the life expectancy for the condition is not necessarily that long, the someone who had lived through the condition and its treatment into their mid thirties could offer more than just shallow reassurances to the upset mother. Although there are no guarantees, and there's a lot of hardship to go through with such a fundamentally threatening condition, it was a good bit of human kindness that unfolded as one woman supported the other.
As I was listening, I was wondering exactly how such a moment on radio could naturally end. There's no "Well, very well done to you. Next caller." in this situation. Jeremy could hardly just stick a record on - "Here's Shania Twain". I pondered exactly how he could get out of this situation. I think it was sensitively handled, but it was also getting difficult to do much with - some things simply don't belong on a radio programme. Luckily, the woman with the condition offered to swap numbers with the upset mother and Jeremy had an out "You two can talk about this together then." - it was simple, but he was at least able to go to a Take That record.
Talk radio doesn't have to be a load of bigoted nonsense. Jeremy Vine is probably a talented presenter. I still think his programme is a load of rubbish, though.
There used to be a load of nonsense at the bottom of my blog. I got bored of it and so moved it here
to keep it away from the front page and to save the huge amount of space that it was wasting.
The bottom of this page looks a bit empty now.
A Pot Pourri Of A Day
By pot pourri
I mean that today has comprised a wide variety of ingredients and that, in some respects, it has stunk... and in other respects, it has improved the atmosphere surrounding my life.
A quick run down of the major components of this bizarrely described day would be.Late Wake Up
Unable to get to sleep until late last night, I was, unsurprisingly, unable to wake up early enough this morning, which, coupled with traffic, got me into work later than I consider acceptable (certainly later than the officially posted arrival time). Annoying. I hit the ground running, but I still hit the ground!The Beavering
The morning flew by with work, which is always a good thing. I got this and that done. I can't remember what those things are, but they sure seemed useful at the time, and we're in the interesting stage of a project where everything feels new. It is new. It's also small and compact, so adding something doesn't require a great deal of searching for where to add it. Things are also fresh and quite close to an ideal design. This makes the tasks all seem easier and, since even the smallest of additions represents a tangible percentage of what's complete so far, you feel like you're really contributing.Pursuing The Costs
Yesterday I had a good read of the damp and timber report that was carried out on the house I intend to buy. I have costs for that work. Today I rang up and looked for information on additional costings to bring the house into both a reasonable state of repair, and the state it needs to be in in order to make the most of the opportunity to buy it. The mortgage offer is contingent on some of the work being done, and there's no point in buying a 100 year old house with period floorboards and replacing them with chipboard.
So, I found the grand total for the exterior/major works.Other Financial Shit
Despite trying to sort out some old savings plan a couple of months back, I was in a position where it didn't seem to have been sorted, so I chased it up today. Within a couple of days I should be able to stop paying into that plan and, thus, add its contents to the pot of cash I will probably need to spend on this house, which now seems to be the principal strut of my current wealthiness scheme.Making The Offer
With a resolve to get the house purchase moving, provided the price is right, I spoke to the Estate Agent. There's no point in blithely accepting that the house SHOULD be in the poor state of repair that it definitely is in. I have a lot of work to do on it and the cash will burn very quickly. If I can take some of the cost out of the initial purchase, then at least I'm compensating for that... a bit. To be honest, I'll have to throw much more cash into this than I originally planned to and, when it's complete, I'm going to be in a bit of a spot as far as finding somewhere to live is concerned. However, "a bit of a spot" is not too bad when traded off against having something to look forward to in the mid-to-long-term.More Beavering
After telling the estate agent what I thought (and getting the sense that I was doing things by the book, rather than having a go), I got on with an afternoon's work. In actual fact, I needed more of an afternoon's help, but it was the sort of help where I get to contribute and learn what the hell I'm doing as I go along, so I'm happy.
The time has, indeed, flown by today.Exhausted and Ill
But I don't feel so good. My chest and throat have a tightness to them - I don't quite feel ill, but I feel like I'm about to be. With a busy weekend ahead and a gig tomorrow night, this is not the best of situations to be in. Still, I'll soldier on, there's nothing like a bit of adversity to keep you on your toes.Long-term Plan
I'm in need of one. I feel like there are too many variable possibilities stretching ahead. I could do so many things at the moment and I'm doing none of them. If the house deal gets back on track, then it also becomes a long term plan. If it falls through - wasting me a great deal of time and money (more the latter than the former) then I'll be seriously in need of a long sit-down with myself.Gigging
I successfully managed to piss off a promoter... actually, I don't think she was angry so much as gracious, and simultaneously disappointed in me. Whinging about my comedic failures doesn't go unnoticed. Hello noticing type people. Tomorrow night I'm travelling to Manchester to perform for free. There's another musical act on the bill and I'm increasingly uncomfortable about what I think of musical acts. On the one hand I like a good musical act - Bill Bailey, Tim Minchin etc etc. On the other, I think that I'm increasingly worried about the view of musical acts that is evident when I see a poor musical comedian; it feels like someone is holding up a hall-of-mirrors-mirror to me. In fact, I fear that, when I look down on the lack of inspiration and content evident in a poor musical comedian, that I might actually be looking at something which other people judge to be exactly equivalent to what I do. In other words, I may be hating myself by proxy. I don't know the act that's on the bill tomorrow night. He may be great. I hope he's not - it will make me look shit. On the other hand, he may be terrible, which could make me look good, or put the audience off that sort of thing altogether. There's a possibility that he'll be mediocre, which I think I'd prefer, though I think I'd prefer to be funnier and just talk.
I'm a raft of insecurities at the moment, and I think I'm sinking.
Still, on the up side, I'm still full of ideas and my standards have risen. What I consider now to be a terrible performance and reception would once have been considered my best ever gig. So, it's not all bad.
Here is the email I just sent:
Here is the text of the review that was published about your website, www.innergeek.us
. To be honest, you're not going to like it, and, reading it again, I can see that I put my editorial "angle" above being particularly fair about your site. If you review the World's Worst Websites lists, you'll realise that any site listed on there is actually in good company. I intentionally picked on sites which I thought people would enjoy visiting, even though they were probably not the most useful, world-changing, or beautiful. As some of your own members pointed out, it's hardly like I have any room to criticise website design (my own site stinks) or geeks (I write computer software for a living).
Sadly, I think some of the humour got edited out of this (by me as I reduced it to fit the word count) and it comes across as a bit more nasty than tongue-in-cheek. Still, I promised you the chance to see it, and I've finally motivated myself to type it up for you. Owing to some brilliantly poor file administration, I failed to keep a copy of it after I sent it off.
Here it is. Happy reading.
***This claims to be a site for geeks. Isn't that the whole internet? In fact, isn't being a geek something to be ashamed of, rather than proud enough of to celebrate [Er, no! - Ed]? Among the features are the geek test, where you can find out how geeky you are, and the geek of the week spot.
This has a poor layout reminiscent of an old monochrome VDU, and in places it is cringeworthy. I don't even think that real geeks would enjoy it. Steer clear.
Foot. In. Mouth.
And Another Thing
Sometimes it really is worth keeping one's opinions to oneself. I'm cringeing here for what could be read into what I've written. If I were some bastion of perfection, then perhaps I'd have the right to criticise, but I simply enjoy the luxury of criticising... the difference is vast.
I'm an idealist at heart and whinge when I think that for want of very little difference something could be much closer to the ideal, but ideals are subjective, so anything I write should be considered as total nonsense, just to be on the safe side.
I'll apologise to anyone who feels misrepresented or unfairly treated by this blog... with the exception of the internet spammers who attacked my website after something I wrote - I simply told the complete truth about them in printed form, thus evading Google. Still, that's a whole different kettle of ball game.
Now, in an unprecedented move, I will apologise to someone who doesn't even know that I owe them an apology.
To Blog or Not To Blog
Note to self: some people actually read this shit and might be offended if they recognise something of themselves in what is criticised on here.
Note to self: how much is one's opinion actually worth?
Note to self: is a rhetorical question a note to one's self?
What's The Point?
Seriously, if leaving the house 20 minutes earlier than usual can only gain me 5 minutes on my arrival time, why bother waking up before 9? Pure shit!
I just received this mail. Look at how many different addresses she's used to try to get hold of me:
Date: 11:49 28th Nov 2006
Cc: firstname.lastname@example.org , email@example.com , firstname.lastname@example.org , email@example.com
Subject: Re: Pos.sibl.e .meeting
Hello my dear friend
I was looking through the web few weeks ago abnd found
your profile. Now I decided to email you to get to know
you better. I am coming to your country in few weeks
and thought may be we can meet each othaer. I am pretty
looking girl.a I am 25. Do not reply to this address
directly. Email me back at firstname.lastname@example.org
Surely, it would be rude not to reply:
From: Ashley Frieze
Subject: Th.an.k yo.u for ge.ttin.g ain tou.ch
Hello to you my dearest fiend
Thank you for getting in touch with me at what must be a busy time for you. I assume that you are in the process of packing and getting ready to relocate to my country from... er... wherever it is that you're from. Somewhere exotic I suppose. Perhaps you're from the Eastern Bloc? or did that go with the cold war? Or maybe the cold war is back? Did you hear about that spy fellow who died? Wow. What a way to promote a Bond movie, eh? Have you got James Bond in your country?
No matter. I'm glad that you're a pretty looking girl, aged 25. There are so many girls who are not pretty looking and so many more who are not 25. Plus, there are even lots of people who aren't girls. As you probably realise, men like a pretty 25 year old girl, especially one who is from a deprived country and may have more motivation to "do stuff" to keep their man happy. Is that why you emailed me?
I feel embarrassed. I don't know your name. Your email address is XJ - are those your initials? I don't know any girl's name beginning with an X - perhaps "Xoe", an exotic version of "Zoe", though you'd have to go a long way to beat the name "Zooey", which is the name of an actress I saw in a movie once.
I like the way you've already started giving me instructions. I mustn't email you at the address you emailed me from. Righto. I'm nothing if not obedient.
So, may be and per haps we can meet each othaer. Or may be not. I reckon that your email, like the one from that nice Nigerian Prince, is probably a load of hokum. Do you have hokum in your country? I doubt it, since you clearly don't exist.
Listen, Svetlana (for that's the name I shall use for you from now on), I don't need this shit. There you are doing your best to taunt me, using every email address you can think of to get in touch, and for what? You want me to fall for some sort of scam. You're the femme fatale in the movie of my life, and nobody's even fucking watching. It's like the X-Men sequel that they can't even be bothered to make.
Well, I've had it up to here with your crap Svetlana. You can take your pretty looks and your attempts to snag a gullible UK husband, and you can shove them up your pretty white-skinned Eastern European arsehole.
Do not reply to this address directly.
Lots of love
To Be Or Not To Be Funny
A debate is currently raging over on Chortle, the comedians' website, regarding what constitutes a night of comedy you can charge people for, or at least can bill as a top quality night of comedy. This interests me greatly, since I've recently performed at three very different gigs, where the audience has paid a fiver to get in, where I've been the headliner and where I've left the evening with a sum of money and a sense of disquiet.
I should probably put aside a little of the disquiet, since I'm going through a comedy crisis at the moment. I am not finding myself all that funny, which explains why it takes me all my energy to convince an audience. Where to go from this place, I am not too sure. I'm working on it.
Anyway. What does is take to make there five quid comedy nights so difficult? I think that I can provide a set of tips for making the night into a bastard without insulting any individual club and without necessarily biting the hand that has been so generous in feeding my ego with another chance to appear in front of a live audience.
So, the tips are.
- Don't book good acts - the less capable and experienced the acts are, the more the night will spiral out of control.
- Book too many acts. The average comedy night can sustain four acts plus a compere, so try booking 8 or so acts if you want it to go wrong.
- Compere it badly. This is a perfect way to make a room in downhill. Avoid telling the audience that they heckle at their peril. Avoid telling them about the beer breaks that avoid them having to go to the bar during the show. Avoid telling them that talking will disrupt the show. The perfectly bad compere will have such a poor relationship with the audience that they will be talked over and cheered off stage. Also, try announcing administrative things like mailing lists before bringing an act on: that will focus the crowd. . . Not!
- Pay as little as possible. This is the natural result of having a small audience in a hired venue where you have too many acts, most of which you pay something to. Where a comedian might reasonably charge 120 to headline a small club, aim to pay around 20. This will cover petrol.
With the above tips, an audience could enjoy themselves, and an act could be forgiven for questioning themselves as they pour their evening's taking back into the petrol tank, exhausted after working a difficult room that couldn't be bothered with them.
If I'm sounding like a prima donna, then I'm not making myself clear. I don't expect to be paid more. I would prefer an easier job on stage, and I'm very dissatisfied with my capabilities at the moment. I know I could do better and I know that the above is more a list of excuses for why I've found aspects of recent gigs so tough. The above are needless barriers, though. Without them, I'd have no excuse for "fail[ing] to shine" - Three Weeks.
What To Say
Today is the first day in a while that I've not been boiling up with something to write here. I can attest to the fact that it's hard to write when you haven't got something to say. Last night I tried adding to the script I'm writing and realised that I only had one idea, and that was gone in a single stage direction. As a result I wrote nothing that made me think I'd keep it. Shame.
Today I've simply had more important things on my mind. This is excellent. I'm busy at work writing something which I feel I fully understand. This is excellent. Things are starting to turn a corner and I'm looking forward to more of the same. That's worth saying. I don't want to give the impression that I'm quivering with bliss, but I'm not chewing my fingers off either. So a definite improvement.
I even managed a 10 minute head start on my morning's trip to work, woken up partly by the arrival of a Cd I bought on ebay: 4 episodes of Just A Minute. This proved ample company in the car as I headed to work, losing my head start to the traffic, but not caring too much.
Tonight I have a gig in Redhill. This is not excessively far from my office and promises to be a sell out crowd. Hopefully it will go well, though I have some fears about the party of 23 that have booked in advance. It could go to a bad place as they will form about half the audience, and if one misbehaves, they all might follow suit. Not brilliant. Still I'll be optimistic. Following alterations to my new song, I've decided not to risk the one I've never performed, and just go with this one that I've done the once. Undoubtedly a report will follow for the small percentage of people who can pretend to give a toss.
I must remember to add some more recommended blogs to this site. I read quite a few blogs regularly, thanks mainly to the program I use to track them all and alert me of updates. I don't know exactly what makes a good post, which is probably for the best, since it might make me self conscious about what I write, but I do know that I find some blogs riveting and some posts more interesting than others.
I read blogs by a handful of comedians, some of which are more accomplished than I, some less so. I think that the experience of being a comedian transcends how good you are at it. There are ideas you must tell people about. There are things you agonise over. There are doubts in your abilities. There are times when you say 'I can do this' and are either right or necessarily self deluding. Reading that it's not just me on that is very reassuring.
But I read other blogs too. I identify with people who are not like me. I think that honest writing is always going to be compelling, especially if it's kept away from those evil marketing types who replace substance with hype.
So, though the most exciting event in the last day was probably the buying of a book in Tesco last night, I enter this weekend in a positive frame of mind. . . Easily spoiled by a bad gig, no doubt.
Guys And Dolls
Tuesday night we went to see Guys and Dolls at the Picadilly Theatre in London's West End. Where else? The show starred Patrick Swayze. Our seats were up in the top circle, which made them half the price of the stalls, but which removed us a bit from the action. At least that's the excuse I'm offering for why the show seemed at times totally uninspiring.
Don't get me wrong. Some of the set pieces were good. Some were absolutely well executed, but when it came to the scenes of dialogue which string the show together and create the characters that we should care about when the songs happen, it felt like the director either didn't understand the script, or didn't care about realising what was written. I speak, of course, as someone who has performed in a version of this show, so I have a very particular director's vision in mind. However, biased though I clearly am, I can't believe how much of the script was rushed through without care for why it was written that way. In my opinion you either make something of the line or change/remove it if it doesn't fit the tone of the production. This latter approach should be used sparingly to tidy up things which have dated since the show was written - 1950.
So much of it turned out to be a disappointment for me, and an exact justification for anyone who says that musicals are rubbish. Though the full cast song and dance routines were barn storming, and with that set, it often felt like there was a barn in use, the thread of the show was inconsistently woven. I put the blame squarely on the shoulders of the director.
Big name casting doesn't help much. Swayze was okay, but almost distracted from the show as he wasn't really playing his character as much as playing Patrick Swayze, older than you remember him, in front of a crowd of people who had come to see him. Up in the cheap seats, where the manners are less refined, and every song is an excuse to talk or open sweets, the sight of a hollywood star on a stage in the middle distance was a matter of great excitement.
I went to see Guys and Dolls. I saw something like it, but I wish it had been done better. As big Jule might say 'I'm really sorry'.
A Night In
After a night out, it's only reasonable to go for a night in, so that's what we did. I had arrived back home a little later than normal, owing in equal measure to traffic and a slightly later departure time from the office. I was fairly relaxed. Following some comments I'd received concerning a new song that I'd played to a friend, I had decided to mess around with an alternative ending and see what I could do to make the song bigger and better. This involved singing along to myself in the car on the journey home. I played the recording of the song, stopped the player before the ending, and then continued on with my new ideas until I had invented and polished something that had grown to a proportion I wouldn't necessarily have thought to write, cold, on a piece of paper.
Returning home, there was a brief opportunity to try it out on the piano to see what it was really about. It turns out that my "natural key" for singing it is the key of C major. This is just typical. I get annoyed with myself for singing and playing in C, as I think it's boring for the audience. I've no evidence of this. I just thing that I'd be bored hearing the same key over and over. So, I originally wrote this song deliberately in F. I've never performed in F, so I thought that it would be a nice departure. F provided me with some interesting opportunities for modulating the chords. I was pleased. But I can't sing in F. I sing in C. So back to C for me. D'oh! The quick play on the piano was not conclusive and we had an appointment with a video recording of Lost, recorded for me on Sunday when I was out at a gig.
Lost was suitably mysterious, as usual. It feels a lot like the start of a series, which is good. It's quite lightweight, the new characters are interesting, it doesn't rely too heavily on the previous stuff and it's watchable. You could probably start watching Lost from the start of Series 3 and pretty much get the hang of what's going on. Nothing. Nothing at all. It's all a mystery! Don't read Lostpedia
, though. Apart from it being quite able to spoil all the surprises in each episode, it also fills your head with so many contradictory and spurious theories, that it's hard to know what to make of each surprise... what happens is that you suddenly have a pang of belief in a totally nonsensical idea that some mentalist, with nothing better to do with their time than analyse Lost, frame by frame, has spent their time writing on the web for other people with far too much time on their hands to read.
After Lost, I did a bit of writing. Not on Lostpedia, I hasten to add. My new writing project is maybe halfway through its first episode and I still don't know what it's about, whether it's interesting, funny, or worth spending time on. Still, I'm chucking ideas into it and I'll see whether I like the result when it's done.
Then I sat at the piano and discovered that I'd totally forgotten half of what I'd been improvising in the car for my song. No problem. I'd recorded myself singing it into my mobile phone while en route. That's weird to listen to. It's not weird to do, but out of the context of the car it sounds pretty horrible. With the new tune and lyrics back in my head, I spent quite a bit of time figuring out what, musically speaking, I'd done to get those sounds. What seems like perfectly tuneful intonations, unaccompanied sitting in the driver's seat, can prove to be lacking in any of the rules that govern music, or can prove to rely on incredibly complex chord progressions which you wouldn't expect the likes of me to think up. In fact, I probably just lifted them from a combination of Swing classics and Beatles songs.
In the end, after a lot of wrong attempts, I worked out what I'd been doing. It was simple but reassuringly not simplistic.
I'm now worried. There is wit and humour in this new ending, but not a huge amount of gags. Instead, there's a fair amount of showmanship, swing music being the inspiration. I think the last line is good enough to make it worthwhile, but I may have turned a simple song into a self-indulgent bit of showmanship. As I typed that I mistyped "showman" and put "sham". This is most apposite. I'm not Frank Sinatra (he's dead - sorry if you didn't realise). I'm not even Robbie Williams. Hell, I'm not even Jason Orange. Point is that I'll really have to SING this ending to make it work, and I've no idea whether it will.
But I'm prepared to give it a shot.
It may be one of the first times I've put a real hardcore ending on a song and if I can do, on the guitar, the Duke Ellington-style ending I want, it will be even better. If it proves good enough, I could even try it with a backing track...
... which brings me back to the core concern I have. It's common for me to find that the more I spend on making a bit of my material, the less funny it turns out to be. I still remember my failed Bond Theme parody. Hours of preparation and it wasn't worth it. Comparing that with my jaunty little ditty, which I wrote on a train once, tweaked in my head, practiced a few times during guitar tune ups and then premiered to great amusement. Well, all I'm saying is that there's a difference between an instant classic and a polished turd.
Sunday's gig, probably coupled with respite from some of the stresses that have been bugging me, has really given me an increased feeling of positivity about comedy things. I've got a gig on Friday that I'm looking forward to, and I'll be doing the new song which seemed to work really well on Sunday again. I may also do another new bit, which I've written the second draft of today. It's always risky to do something new, so I'll have to gauge whether I think the audience will be supportive, but if I make them supportive first...
I've broken my own rules twice in the last day. Here are the two rules:
- Don't sell yourself short doing weird gigs
- Comedy songs are bad - there has to be a good core joke
I'll explain how I've broken these rules.Weird Gig
I've signed myself up for what promises to be an odd gig in December. It's something that's just above an open spot and yet also has a competitive element to it. It looks like a showcase, but there'll be judging. There's also a high chance that there'll be no real outcome to the showcase. I've heard weird things about the people running it and I don't know whether the best I can achieve from this gig is something I'd aim to achieve at all.
However, I have had to pull a few gigs here and there, so sticking another one in the diary to replace those pulled gigs is no bad thing. It's not far to travel, and if it gets weird, then I think it will make a good story. If it goes well, that's great. I can't see how badly it can go if it goes wrong, therefore. Plus, what I've heard about this endeavour is mixed and I feel like I'd like to see what my own opinion is, rather than rely on others'.
So, off I'll trek and see what will happen. It's strange. There are few gigs I regret, but of those I regret the most, it's rarely been the weird and wonderful ones - it's usually been ones where my own confidence has been misplaced, or ones where simple stupidity has made a potentially good gig go bad.Comedy Songs
I'm not a fan of the whole comedian-with-guitar genre. I lie. I like musical comedy. Listening to "I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue", I'm always praying for a musical round, especially the wonderful "Just a Minim". Likewise, during a Bill Bailey show, a part of me always wants him to get on with the music. I like it when it's done well. I actually can't abide "quirky songs". A song that is more of a song, than a musical absurdity or collection of punchlines set to music, bothers me.
Another rule in comedy songs is to get to the point and then stop. Quickly.
I don't really like a comedy song where it's all a long set-up to a single cheap punchline. (A quick setup to a cheap punchline is ok - it's the musical equivalent of a one-liner... provided that that one liner NEEDS music to make it work.)
However, I have written a quirky comedy song, which revolves around a cheap punchline.
It came about when I wrote a list of what I consider to be potential song titles for an album I've joked about writing, but maybe should attempt to write. If I'm going to be away from the stage for a bit while doing up a house, maybe I should use some spare time within the house to make a studio album of songs. So why not try to list what they might be called and then see what songs come out of that?
If Friday's gig goes well, I may (or may not) try this newest of songs, which appears to have a bit of a Gospel feel to it. It probably wants playing on the piano, but that's a separate issue altogether. Piano is still too unwieldy for a stand-up stage... maybe my one man show, though...
Not Mildy Racist
Seinfeld star Michael Richards is something of a stand-up comedian. The sort of stand-up comedian I think I don't like. I'm basing this on very little evidence, so I'm prepared to change my opinion a bit. However, there is a brand of comedian I've never really enjoyed - the sort who strut around the stage being deliberately arrogant and provocative without any sense of the absurd. The use of hateful comedy without that steam-release valve that says "Look, I'm a vulnerable individual, just like you" or "Actually, I'm just illustrating a point like this", but which instead says "Aaaaaaagh, look at the stuff I hate, isn't it shit and aren't I amazing for pointing it out", rather annoys me. I've seen American acts do this and it can border on the racist/homophobic anyway - because you can't use hate as comedy without branding archetypes as hateworthy.
So, it isn't entirely surprising to see this comedian's rant go horribly wrong
. At some point, the switch which controls which part of thoughts go to the mouth, got bust here and in his anger, the comedian becomes a bile spewing racist. Was he pretending and did it get out of hand? Did he accidentally out his darkest hatred of black people? or was it just black people talking in comedy clubs he hates? What was he trying to say with his repeated use of the "N-word" and his point about how 50 years ago, "you'd have been hanging upside down from a tree"?
At the very very best, this moron completely misread an audience and pushed on deeper into a hole for a good minute or two (which feels a hell of a lot longer when on stage). At worst, he's a racist prick who's been caught out. Somewhere in the middle is that awkwardness of context and desperation which makes the improvising comedian either look like a genius or a fool when they're saying whatever it is that comes into their head to try to make their point.
I've dug myself into some holes before and managed to dig myself out. I've said stuff on stage which could easily be taken out of context as racist - if it has been by anyone then that is a failing in the person who took it out of context, but also a failing in myself for not making the meaning more blindingly obvious. I'm a relatively inexperienced rookie, compered to the so-called professional involved in the above debacle, yet I've never managed to get myself into anything like that sort of trouble. That's because I don't want there to be a victim of my humour, so much as I want there to be good humour and laughter at the ridiculous or the cleverly twisted.
If Michael Richards never works again, then it will be the penalty of that unique combination of stardom, opening your mouth and saying THE WRONG THING, and the fact that CAMERA-PHONE + THE INTERNET + A STAR = HUGE INTERNATIONAL INCIDENT! If this had happened 20 years ago, it wouldn't have even happened.
What a plonker!
Well Well Well
This week is a lot more promising than last week. I'm still not sleeping well and not waking up well either. such is my lot as an aspiring insomniac/caffeine addict. However, that's not a reason for a week to be considered as "going well".
Tonight we're going out to see a musical, which is nice. Last night we went to Tesco and bought coats, which was also nice. Not quite the material for a good week, though.
Work is looking a lot more interesting than it has been, which is a massive leg-up to my sense of purpose.
However, the big news of the last 24 hours is probably the 3 hour session we had last night at a local Ceroc meeting. For those people who know what Ceroc is, there is probably a knowing smile crossing your face as you read this. For those who don't know what Ceroc is, I'll explain. It's a cross between Salsa and Jive. So it's dancing. However, more than that, Ceroc is a sort of cult. Once you're a member of the group, you can attend Ceroc anywhere in the country. You need never miss a Ceroc session in any given week - it's all over. It's a bit like a religion. Everyone's really nice and welcoming into the church of Ceroc. They're keen to get you started, involved and as passionate as they are about the whole thing.
The classes are set up very well, with a system which makes the beginners feel no sense of stigma for being beginners. Dance partners are switched frequently and everyone has to just do their best... and you do. Though I could wax lyrical to the point of boring about this, or I could cynically point out that it's just dancing, I'll stop. We're hoping to do more of this activity in future, and it will, hopefully provide entertainment and exercise on a regular basis. We may even be able to dance too! Ceroc is evidence that nice people exist and that they want a reason to gather together and do someting fun with similarly nice people.
Okay, so I'm sure that there are some mentalists who also attend, but let's put them to one side.
I'm still waiting for a few things:
- My weight to drop - I've hit not so much a plateau as a brick wall (this may have something to do with the lack of resolve I have to eat healthily 100% of the time)
- The aches and pains that cycling or cerocing would normally bring
- The discovery of the true extent of my new-found lung capacity - at the gig on Sunday I seemed to be able to breathe forever - what's going on with that then? Has the removal of some body fat left a space for my lungs to fill?
That's all for now, I think. On with the fun.
Weekends Are Funny Things
I've had a strange state of mind over the last few weeks and the weekend is an opportunity to either purge yourself of a state of mind, or suffer from it. Work stress has definitely been mounting, though why it's stressful is difficult to explain. As a result, last week was a very moody week for me. On Saturday morning, it felt like that mood wasn't going to be broken. I woke earlier than I would have like to, and had varying degrees of irritability which I managed to largely supress, but not entirely hide. I can't say why I was irritable. But I was.
However, some shopping occurred and successfully too. We even managed to take time to sit down with smoothies. I like a smoothie and this didn't make me feel irritable at all. Mine had muesli in. That rocks! It also sticks in the teeth, but you can't break and egg without making an omelette.Think Bike
Following the shopping trip I went to collect my bike from the repair shop. They have most definitely done some sort of servicing, since there's a red residue on various joints where things move and I can only assume that this residue is intended to make those things move better. The tyres go a bit limp under my weight, but that's probably a product of my weight being tyre-limp-making, rather than the tyres not being able to hold pressure. They had replaced both sets of brake-pads, which on a car would be expensive, and on a bike costs a few quid. Bikes are ace in that regard.
It was only as I got the bike back to the house that I realised that the repair shop had severed the cable leading from the handlebars to the wheel to make my cycle computer work. I looks like it's just been wantonly cut for no reason. Was I being punished for waiting a week to collect my bike? Did something fall on it and snap it by accident and they were too ashamed to admit it? The remains of the cable have been cable-tied to the handlebars, so they were clearly aware of this snappage. It feels a bit unfair, given that I'd paid them to service the bike, not knacker my cycle computer. I ought to do something about that. Current options are to either fix the break in the cable - a simple job with soldering iron and sticky tape, or to go and give them a stern talking to on the subject of cycle-maintenance.
Once I had the bike on the road, I went for a 45 minute ride around the Reading area. I don't know Reading all that well, but I cycled where I knew and discovered the presence of hills. It didn't feel like a huge effort, so maybe I wasn't doing it properly, or maybe I'm fitter than I expect myself to be. Two days later I'm still not suffering any muscular pain, so I shall have to try harder on my next bike ride. No pain, no gain... though arguably, I can gain weight without that hurting, so maybe that aphorism is another phallacy. Also, it really hurt when I got bit by that guinea pig, and I gained nothing, so it's not looking good for this so-called "truism".Happy Returns
Saturday night was a night out to celebrate my girlfriend's brother's birthday. I was the designated driver and managed to convey us to Bath and back without anyone criticising my driving. I'll take that as an endorsement of my capability behind the wheel.Sunday Funday
Sunday was a day of rest. Much sleeping. It was definitely afternoon when I was out of bed and dressed. The day sauntered on by and then I was off to my gig in Southampton. I was closing the show and had decided to do two things to perk me up and knock me out of the lack-of-confidence trough I've been in. The solution was to do things I've never done before. These were:
- The song I've never had the nerve to finish and perform
- A set-up improvised song
In some way each of these worked, though I'd already done almost a set's worth of material by the time I started doing them. I had to do that to be sure I could trust the audience, though I equally could have gotten away with it sooner... confidence is not something you can just assume, though. I had to make myself certain that I'd get away with things. The audience were on my side when I started the new song.The New Song
I'm a bit shy when it comes to new material. Often the stuff I've the most confidence in will die on its arse. Some of the most throwaway stuff becomes a perennial favourite, and some of the stuff which I rehearse and rehearse and never dare show to an audience turns out to be a hidden gem. The thing is that I really can't tell if something is funny until I try it. Often I have an idea of where something is funny, but I'm not sure how to package it.
In this case, I'd written a song a few weeks ago on the subject of one's choice of bed-fellow (and I mean that in the most base of senses). It was inspired by something I knew about a friend of mine's behaviour and had a set-up gag which I remain proud of. The song itself had a definite progression, some cynical truths and then a last verse which I wasn't sure about. I'd written a tune for it, but for some reason I'd written it in the key of F, which is hard to play on the guitar and hard for me to sing. It just wanted to be in that key. As a result of being in that key, there are some neat variations I can make to accompaniment to make it sound quite jazzy... so it really wants to be in that key, despite requiring me to sing in a high register and play quite poorly.
I had decided that this gig was to be the one where I tried the song. I forced myself to rewrite the ending to have a relentless bunch of rhymes that push the point and some sort of punchline. I think it needs more, but it'll do for the time being. So, I rehearsed it a few times, but never quite managed to get through it without making a mistake. Usually, the first time I play a song live, I screw it up anyway, so there's only so much I could do. I don't mind looking an arse in a random pub in Southampton, so there wasn't too much to lose.
Actually, I think that the song worked ok. I don't know if it will work again, but I think the audience laughed. I've a recording of them laughing. It's strange, though. The closer I get to the mechanics of a song, the harder it is for me to see anything funny in it. I only write what I think is funny, but there's always a tendency to write for what you think will push the audience's buttons. So maybe some of what I write doesn't make me laugh as much as pleased with myself for using the right button-pushes. Maybe. Maybe I am using my sense of absurdity and amusement at these words in this combination. I don't know.
At the very worst, I think my comedic performance could just turn into a series of incantations which mean nothing to me, but which engender a laughter-response from an audience. Like some truly twisted form of Catholic mass where the guy at the front says "do the hokey cokey
" and everyone puts their left leg in. Yet I want the performance to be at its best where I'm trying to stop myself from laughing at the things I'm saying. At a few moments yesterday evening, I had to remind myself of the very simple advice I was given by a comedian this August. I asked him how he made things seem funny even when the audience weren't laughing and he replied that he focuses on why he finds them funny when he's delivering them. It's simple.
Anyway, the new song, for which I haven't got a title (since titling it would spoil the first punchline), was delivered with gusto and I made one mistake, which was in a spoken bit between verses 1 and 2. Such is life. I do think it's funny at the moment. I also feel like I've actually added something to my repertoire too.The Set-up Improvised Song
I had suggested this to the MC during the week and decided that it was going to be "in for a penny, in for a pound" on this gig. Basically, the improvised song is a low-cost crowd pleaser. It takes very little comedy craftsmanship to make an improvised song funny, because it's the absurdity of the situation that makes it seem magical. It does, however, require the right staging. In this instance, I'd staged the whole thing via the joke competition. My suggested joke competition title was "In one sentence, what would you say to Tony Blair if you met him?". The audience submitted various suggestions. Then, during my act, I brought the MC onto the stage and had him feed me random submissions from the pile as I worked them all into a love song. Simple. All I had to do was sing these suggestions, occasionally rhyming them into a song, occasionally setting a love-song feeder line for the forthcoming disappointment of the audience-provided "quip".
This doesn't sound altogether very funny when described as a technique, but given that the audience provided lines were intended to be funny in themselves, and given that some of them were just random things, it was quite an amusing thing to do. In addition, I used a few musical tricks to make some of these phrases sound funny when sung. It was quite entertaining and people sometimes cheered their own lines when they heard them. I might do it again. It's quite straightforward and a bit of harmless fun. Again, it raised my level of comic performance, because you can't fake the spontaneity involved.Sleep
Well, following all that excitement and silliness I had to get back home and get some sleep. That was the plan at least. The car journey was entirely spent listening to the recording and analysing what I thought of myself. I thought that I took a long time to break the crowd, and this was due, largely, to taking a long time to get myself loosened up and performing big without it being a gigantic effort on my part. I'm falling out of practice with the comedy, which is the root cause of most of my anxiety on and off stage, I should imagine.
Anyway, I got home later than I wanted to, got to bed, did some fussing around my girlfriend and her headache, made a fuss of the cat. Tried to sleep, failed, and then did that thing where you see the clock every hour or so and come to believe that you're not sleeping at all. In fact, I must have slept, because time doesn't go by that quickly. However, it wasn't very refreshing sleep, and I had deep trouble getting up this morning.
I arrived at work on time, though, so it wasn't all bad.
I can't think of anything to write about today, so I had a look back at the archives. I found a maths problem
which I'd answered on Janice Long's radio show coming back from a gig one night.
Oh, the excitement.
So What's Funny Then?
I've heard comedians occasionally say something like the above while searching for their next bit of material in their set. 'What else do I want to talk about?' It's a tough question. As someone who has more failed attempts at starting a bit of material than succesfully completed AND funny bits, I can sympathise. It's hard to make something funny when you can see why it should be, so to sit down with either a blank piece of paper, or a topic that you want to be funny with, is a tricky sticky situation, much like the second poo of the day after a strong curry the night before.
The secret is in the extremes, I think. If you start with something exceedingly contrived, its contrivance can make big patterns of amusement. If you start with something totally uncontrived and find its naturally funny side then that too works. It's the uncomfortable middle ground where one's trying to force the humour out which can result in all sorts of crap. I've written two songs this year which fall into that category. Neither has been performed to an audience, because I don't find them funny enough. If I think it's not funny, I don't expect an audience to. This is not quite true of all my material. Some things I do, I no longer find that amusing personally, but I know that they will make the audience laugh if I do them in a certain way. They've become a bit like a magical incantation. Do this. Do that. Then the laughter happens here and then there. Such pieces are useful for getting a barometer reading from a room. . . But. . . I think I'd rather do things that I find hilarious and which I'm genuinely amused to be doing.
One of the best sounds from I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue is the sound of Barry Cryer laughing. He'll laugh at everyone's jokes, not just his own, and the secret to a good programme is when the panel members are making each other laugh either with some damned clever jokes, or the audacity of some really bad ones. So it's the spontaneity of the humour which gives it its power. We're back to my first rule of comedy: be funny!
I listened to my Colchester gig the other day and I know where I was going wrong. For much of the performance, I wasn't feeling especially funny nor enjoying myself. As it happened I had a reasonable with about me and kept crowd control for much of it, but there's a difference between charisma and a motor mouth. Normally I feed off the audience's reaction, and my best gigs have been when a happy audience make me feel so happy that my funny gets turned on to the max. So the secret to being funny is probably to bring the funny with you whatever the mood of the room.
That's harder than it sounds.
hasn't reviewed me or my act (well, my act isn't me, is it!?). However, they have published a review
I wrote of the Tim Minchin performance I saw on Sunday. I felt that it was important to point out the negative aspects of the show, which were down to the confidence of the performer and the clunky composition of the material, before going into my effusive admiration of what the man is capable of. Hopefully it comes across as balanced.
A Night On The Tiles
It was raining a bit last night, so a night on the tiles could have proved hazardous. Luckily it's just a metaphor. I was out last night with a friend. As is customary, we drank some, ate some, and giggled much about stuff which only we find funny. We occasionally swore in order to prove we were comfortable swearing, and we were.
The technique we employed at the restaurant was great. We said to the waiter that we wanted to eat. He came back with food of his own choosing and we ate it. Simple. No messing about with choices. Just have whatever the waiter thinks is good. I'm paying for it now, mind. Since the end of the meal my stomach felt full and bloated, and the spicy nature of the food will undoubtedly work its way through my system in a most pungent and rear end painful fashion. Still that's the price you pay for these things.
Another cost of taking an evening out in London is the transport system and how it can steal your time. They say procrastination is the thief of time, but I think the rail and road network are being unfairly missed out of that aphorism. I think that the chronicles of the century should read that man invented various machines to make it possible to travel cheaply and efficiently from one town to another, often crossing huge distances in minutes, but through a series of short sighted mis managements and selfish stupidities, these machines were hampered and slowed to the speed of a bicycle.
Having been delayed on the road in my return to Reading, I was then subject to a rail delay to London and then a tube delay involving a change in station, and then a whopping 30 minute delay at Paddington before getting back. This latter delay was a sort of blessing as earlier delays would have made me miss the train I eventually got, though it left far too late really.
The upshot of the evening's travelling was that I was eventually ready to be picked up from the station back in Reading at far too near to 2 in the morning. Despite waking a 830 this morning, I still managed to lose some time to snoozing and get into work late. I don't feel particularly ill, which is something, though my system is still in spice shock.
Had I felt ill, I might have used the text technique I was advised of yesterday evening. This is a low impacte way of calling in sick, but has been trumped by what I heard in the coffee shop this morning. The guy who used to serve me coffee, and whom I quite liked out of all the coffee shop staff, texted in his resignation. He hadn't turned up for work for a couple of days and then last night texted his boss to say he'd got another job. Not a very professional or responsible thing to do, but pretty funny. I'll miss him.
Ignore This If You're Not A Programmer
A recent post
on an Agilogma site led me to write this comment:
Agreed. Refactoring is for a purpose, and there are many possible forms you might refactor into.
I disagree with your suggestion that there are an infinite number of forms you could refactor into. For there to be an infinity of forms, it would require an infinite memory space within the computer in which to store some of the more long-winded versions. With a finite computer memory, there will always be a (large) finite number of possibles. But this isn't about your misunderstanding of the extent of infinity.
The old adage "Red-green-refactor" - for write failing test, make it pass, and refactor later - doesn't quite do it for me. I often add a refactoring step up front too. The way I see it, the refactoring you do at the end is the equivalent of reviewing how straightforward the code is, once the tests are passing. Is it self-explanatory? Does it violate the Principle of Least Surprise? Are there any nasty surprises in there? If there are, then you fix them. If there's unnecessary complexity left in from a previously more complex form, then you reduce it. If you've increased complexity by bolting onto an inappropriate pattern, then you change the pattern to better accommodate what you've done. Then you stop before you waste more time.
For me, the opportunity to refactor BEFORE a particular enhancement provides the ability to switch something to a pattern which better accommodates the forthcoming change - provided it can be predicted that the change requires it. The extent of refactoring you do before or after a change will vary.
I was unable to post it to that site for some reason. Still, I've had my say now.
Last year this blog fell into a horrible state of disrepair. I just didn't bother updating it. At the moment, I seem to be making the time once or more a day, with the exception of weekends when I, quite reasonably, have better things to do, or at least can't be bothered to sit down and write about the fact that I have time to spend more profitably than to blog with it.
The fact that I'm now aware, through the blog log site, that people read or at least stumble upon this blog, has had an effect on my behaviour. I reason that the only way to keep people coming back is to add to the blog. This makes a lot of sense, except for those people who use RSS, who will wait until the next entry pops up on their screen.
The point is, I think, that it's good to have something that you maintain. Looking after something - cultivating and nurturing it - it's good for you. In some ways, I miss my big plant from Newcastle, which started life as a little pot plant and grew until it was, quite literally, filling the big bay window in my front room. I doubt that it will be in anything like the condition it was a year ago when I left. To be honest, I was barely looking after it properly at times, but that plant was huge. I'd repotted it a couple of times and it could drink a lot of water, and it was mine. I even gave it a name.
So, I maintain this blog as a catalogue of words. You will find many words here. I keep looking for a useful tool to tell me exactly how many, but I haven't found one. I have even considered making tools for analysing this blog and its words in order to impress myself with the sheer number of permutations I have manually generated (or expressed, depending on your point of view). If ever I retire, then my auto-blogger will help with nonsense like this:
Good, because I was told me that I'd previously been moving slowly towards their roundabout, I'd suddenly turned my car for 30 minutes or self- deprecating, but it's meant affectionately. I sat in my opinion. I think it's probably one of the real matrix that's holding back then was in Bishop's Castle, which is on country roads, so I can lift them up with the best gigs of my life for several years, now I've accidentally been to the Rhythm Of a smug person. Losing some weight has given me more off stage than anything else. Of those over- written abstracts to be funny how cool is that!
It was a few inches of it led me straight to the very same barber's shop as I've been self- aware enough to please person, I'll admit that was absolutely funny how cool is that I had gigs. org. Then they did the glasses- wobbling Eric Morecambe Room" It was a suitable hole in plenty of Farnborough near both my office who has a few times a lot. I suspect that it's important for a wannabee comedian, with a raft of insecurities joining him in her parents' kitchen the obvious association between Eric Morecambe and Wise movies and TV shows. As a sense that the garage told me that the brakes were in that with. what I just said/ did my best to protect you interact with nobody in Lowestoft was a giggle I had the same TV shows.
With my cappuccino and a notepad, I set my improvised asides misfire slightly though I'll admit that this blog probably contains 50, 000 words of self- admiration. A trainee. This is a nicer place again. or maybe the rules were a while. I did my gig those are map inches, so there . All I need to do is all the way to set my thoughts straight for a whale of a time.
Yes, it's nonsense... but strangely familiar nonsense - almost as though I wrote it. This was generated by a computeer program fed nothing but my blog and asked to produce what I was most statistically likely to have produced, against a random factor. It's artificial and marginally more interesting than the real thing, but it's not the real thing.
Actually doing some maintaining yourself is important, then. This argument wouldn't stand up in court, but I'm using it here.Computer Maintenance
Last night I spent some quality time with the computer. I wanted to see if I could turn one of the BBC Radio listen-again recordings into something I could listen to in the car, away from the internet. I tried downloading a special recording bit of software, some shareware or other which listens to what your computer is playing and records it on your computer. This was ok. Then an article alerted me to the fact that I already had the software for recording live webcasts currently being played through a computer. It's a program called Audacity and it's available here
. Audacity is a general purpose recording program and it's not exceedingly easy to use. However, it can record what is currently being played from anywhere in Windows (albeit, not direct Audio CD output through wires). This was just the ticket and I recorded something to listen to. Good work.
More important than the recording-off-the-radio was organising the various gig recordings I've made over the last year. I like to cut off the extraneous guff around my set and have a recording which starts with the compere calling out my name and ends with the final applause (or silence, whichever I've caused). So, while the film of Bewitched
was on TV, and with headphones to avoid disturbing it, I filed and renamed various of these gig recordings, doing some topping and tailing, though not all of it. It's a lengthy process.
Later, I archived some of it to CD and made some space on my computer. I then looked into defragmenting its hard disk. This was one fragmented laptop hard disk and I hope that the various things I did to wipe space, defragment and generally put things right, will come with a performance benefit from the machine, which has been known to waste a lot of time apparently pointlessly playing with its hard drive. Had I done some of this maintenance earlier, perhaps the computer would have been less frustrating in some of its more thrashy moments.
It wasn't a scintillating evening, but it was quite calming and, after the stresses of recent weeks, this was what I needed.Random Connections
David Bedella, of Jerry Springer The Opera, was in Batman Begins with Katie Holmes, married to Tom Cruise, who was in Mission Impossible with Rolf Saxon, who played Jerry Springer in Jerry Springer The Opera.
Martin Freeman of The Office, was in This Life, which had one Ricky Gervais as its music consultant in one episode.
A Year Later
It was about a year ago that my life changed beyond all recognition. There were various key events which triggered the change. The catalyst was the long-distance relationship that I was conducting with my girlfriend. I was driving some 700 miles or so each weekend to see her, often leaving at 3am on Monday morning to get back to work for the week ahead, rather than leave late Sunday night and feel like the evening had a goodbye in it. This was making me tired, but it wasn't my tiredness which set the ball rolling.
A year ago to the day I did a gig in Edinburgh which went very well - I later discovered that I wasn't going to be booked properly by that club DESPITE the gig going well, because they just don't think my act gels with their style of booking. Bitterly speaking, I would like to tell them where to shove that opinion, but realistically, I always knew that I'd need to expand my comic horizons to get somewhere beyond where I am, and I will have to do so if I ever want their support. I now live so far away from them, that it's almost not important anymore that they don't like the way I make their audience laugh. It's a shame, because their audience was always a good one.
I was doing the gig with a friend who was closing. She did very well, and I shared with her my current work problems during the journey. Work was being very silly and frustrating and I didn't see why we were wasting time at the same time as being put under pressure to deliver results for the long-term good of the company. I wasn't in charge of the team I was on, when once I had been. While I originally had believed that I would be in a better position as someone on the team who just got things done, it soon became clear that the controlling philosophy of those in charge was a hell of a lot more difficult to deal with when you had to do the work and they were pulling in every direction and no direction simultaneously. I had occasional "power struggles" with the younger fellow who was in charge of the team - letting go is difficult, I suppose - and the style of management they were trying to use involved not so much making demands as trying to get people to buy in. The problem is that if you're doing that and people don't buy in, then you have to settle with a compromise. I was quick to spot the compromises and always tried to rally consensus, which was, despite how it looked to me, exceedingly undermining.
The upshot was that, despite being the longest serving programmer on the rapidly reducing team, and the only programmer with reasonable domain-knowledge (i.e. understanding of what the problem was and how our software solved it and how the software was put together) I was starting to look like a problem, not a part of achieving success for the team. I was a problem to management because I wanted to get stuff done, and they wanted to do things of their own devising. The goal was not to do things, it was to achieve things, but I couldn't get myself heard.
In the end they found a way to deal with me. It was to allow a hole to emerge and to allow me to fall in it. It was not as much underhanded as just lucky for them, unlucky for me, and exceedingly wasteful of what years of good service I'd invested in the company. The irony, for me, was that I had never had the urge to work as hard as in the months leading up to my undoing. I had really tried to take the bull by the horns and make the most of my job, but it wasn't enough. There were a few people who made this impossible.
- The self-deluding boss - he wanted to believe that his company would succeed and so took the opinion of those people who agreed with his vision, regardless of whether they would help him achieve it... he saw anyone who stood against the flow as someone who opposed the vision, rather than someone who wanted the end goal, but by a different or more effective route - he was also vague on what the vision was, or how he expected it to be achieved
- The rat/snake - this was a man in senior management who didn't deserve to breathe, in my opinion, let alone draw his salary. A slimy individual, he's one of the few people I've genuinely felt hate for. He knew how to spot a bandwagon and how to jump on it. Despite being in charge of many strategic things, his strategy was to want everything and nothing simultaneously and to make himself look good whatever the weather.
- The power-crazed junior manager - elevated to a status where he had lots of responsibility and no actual power, but the threat of wielding power by proxy, this guy probably thought he was doing his best for the future of everything, but pretty much held everything he touched by a strangle hold. If you didn't see it his way, he'd unleash his anger on you. So people took the line of least resistance, or became a thorn in his side - it polarised an intelligent workforce and tried to turn them into zombies. Probably not intentional, but just as annoying as if it were.
- The optimistic junior team leader - a nice guy who just wanted to do his best and believed that the text books were right... he never really got to doing much, just a lot of organising. Tried hard, but failed to see the walls crashing down around.
I was caught in the crossfire of all of these things and managed, through my own self-destructive arrogance and belligerence to make matters no easier for myself. What was weird was that my ultimate undoing, which hurt me deeply, was not even done intentionally.
The exact order of events is now slightly messed up by the passage of an eventful year. It started after a week of frustration making charts in Excel - which might have been fine if it were a one-man job, but it became a ten men job because of some deluded sense of teamwork and sharing. My opinion - if someone needs a team to help them learn Excel, they probably want to work in something other than software engineering... anyway, the making-a-mountain-out-of-a-molehill work was getting me down, so I offered to do a few changes to an in-house system which I'd developed a couple of years previously. I reckoned I could fit that work in around any other work the team would do. I suddenly found myself on it full time, until further notice. This sort of made sense, but I didn't see that it would be necessary to spend long on it, so I assumed that I would soon get it done and return to the project I'd been on for 18 months or so without the satisfaction of "The Release" - as in the one where we do all the things we originally set out to - things we were being told that the absence of which were "killing the company"!
A short while later, I was asked by my team leader whether I could move my stuff as the desks were going to be moved around and my desk no longer had a place in the part of the office where my team lived. Since I had assumed that I was a part of the team, finding out that I wasn't in this way was quite a shock. I was shocked and upset. I kept my temper and took the middle manager aside to find out what was going on. Nobody knew exactly.
Quick to jump on the case, I had my stuff moved to somewhere I decided that I would like to sit, rather than be dumped in just a random space. I also took my personal possessions home. I'd essentially moved myself out of the office.
In that same week I did a gig in Glasgow. On the way to Glasgow I spotted a hitchhiker on a roundabout near Carlisle and gave him a lift to Glasgow. We were chatting and he turned out to be university educated in the subject my job related to. Given that this job was in a really niche field, this was a surprise. He told me that he'd been travelling round Europe and I bemoaned, as I've done before, that the trappings of a well-off life in Newcastle, with a house and a job and other responsibilities meant that I could't just up sticks and leave. I compared myself to a friend who had been able to just quit her job and change cities, doing some traveling in between. I felt like I simply didn't have that freedom anymore.
That occurred on a Tuesday. On the Wednesday evening, having felt a huge weight on my chest throughout the day - so angered was I about the way that I'd had any status, responsibility or sense of belonging, ripped from me so offhandedly - I drafted my letter of resignation. That day there had been a meeting scheduled. The meeting hadn't happened. I had tried to get together the top boss, the team leader and the middle manager. I had tried to get them to sit down and talk with me over what had happened to my job, my life, my self-esteem and everything. My aim was to get some sort of plan of action and some acknowledgement that something was going wrong and that you can't just treat an employee this way. The fact that the meeting just didn't happen because something was more important, was enough to fuel my anger and need for escape from this situation. I'd reviewed my life in an instant. Not too many gigs in the diary, not too much reason to stay in Newcastle, a notice period which could have me out of the office by the end of the year. I saw a gap and I went for it.
I wrote my letter of resignation angrily. I held it for a day. I didn't cool off. I wrote a CV and started posting it on jobs boards. I was getting calls. People were interested in seeing me for interviews etc. By the Friday I had a few job seeking prospects and the rescheduled meeting. I went to the meeting. I showed a PowerPoint presentation explaining my question and then asked for answers. They told me that they'd get back to me next week. I said that I couldn't wait. They had everyone they needed in the room. They had the answer between them. They asked me to leave the room so that they could discuss it. I left them to it.
When I returned, expecting answers to a series of "why" and "what" questions, the best they had managed was "Well, you're definitely off the team." - no why, how, or what next... I tried to keep my cool and handed my letter of resignation to the boss. I was going to do it anyway, I think. I was really looking for a good reason to justify it, or, at a vague outside chance, some ray of hope that might stop me. I tried to explain that I didn't want to be treated with such lack of respect. I tried to explain that, since another member of the team had left for reasons similar to my own feelings, that I had expected management to try to do more to keep everyone happy. For my explanation, I got a shouting at by the middle manager. I left him shouting and closed the door. I didn't need shouting at.
People want reward from their work. They want to be given something to achieve and to be thanked for achieving it. I was in a dysfunctional environment - undoubtedly made worse by my own reaction to it. I had to get out. And I did.One year on
Where I used to have a job that I'd been in for years, using technologies that I knew, and where I used to have a house that I'd lived in for years, with all the silly traveling coming from trips to the girlfriend or gigs, things are now quite different.
I have somewhere I live, but it's not really my home.
I have a job with people who treat me well and whom I respect, though I'm in at the deep end with the technology and, after a period where I was really going for it, I'm sort of milling about a bit until I find my niche in the new world that started when our company was bought out and reshuffled.
I drive far too much for the benefit I get from the driving. The 30-40 minute commute will never make me happy, though I am used to it.
It's been a difficult year and, though I've definitely moved on from where I was, I feel like I'm finding my feet still.
Still, I was wrong when I told the hitchhiker that I could never leave Newcastle.
Piling On The Stress
Is this some kind of test? (I know it's not, because that would suggest that a: there's a grand plan, and b: it revolves around me in some way.) Everything is stressful at the moment. Work is in enough of a state of flux for me not to yet be on top of things. My house-buying plans have hit stumbling blocks and are still held back by them. My stand-up is faltering a bit. I have hit a weight-loss plateau (which is a euphemism for "I can't be bothered to work off any more weight at the moment"). To top it all off, when I decided to leave work early yesterday in order to get home in time to pick my bike up, I ended up with a two hour - TWO HOUR - journey. It usually takes 45 minutes (often less).
There are consolations. I still have plenty of episodes of "I'm sorry I haven't a clue"
to listen to. I've also just discovered how amusing it is to listen to a James Bond soundtrack while the maintenance man in the office climbs a ladder: there's all this exciting music and he's gingerly climbing his step ladder - looking inside the roof space with a torch - it's like any minute some ninjas are going to jump out!
It would go without saying, but if I didn't write it, then there would be a hole, that I got home last night with frayed nerves. I don't want to waste my time in the office or in the traffic. I don't want to be in a constant state of anticipation of some sort of positive development. I just want to get on with things and have some sense of forward motion and ownership of something or other. This is difficult for me at the moment.
I should probably do some ironing. That would be ironic. No. Ironing!
After eating last night, we went out to see The Prestige
this is a film all about a pressure cooker. No it isn't that's just a really bad joke about pans. In fact the movie, another collaboration between director Christopher Nolan and actor Christian Bale, was excellent. I kept asking whether I'd been suckered into it, and whether it wasn't, in fact, a load of crap, but there were no moments that made me go "oh come on". In fact, the more you think about it, the more you realise how neatly put together it is as how all the clues to the secrets of the film were really laid before your eyes from the first scene. Excellent work.
Still feeling listless after returning home, we did no listing and, instead, went to Asda for some late night clothes perusal. We came back with two new shirts, one of which I'm wearing today, and the other of which is too fancy to wear.
Then, in a shock move of effort on my part, I connected up my CD writer and burned a CD that I've been meaning to burn for a while. Result! I thought I was too apathetic to achieve even that much.
Not a bad end to yesterday, but I look forward to having the motivation I need to be more me and less flat. Flat in terms of ironed shirts and reduced waist and bust is acceptable.
Walking It Off
There are a few good reasons for going for a long walk, which is probably why I spent about 45 minutes of this lunchtime on my feet, moving. Here are three reasons.An Interview
Occasionally, when I do a gig in a club small enough that they'll use me as a headliner, and when I do a gig in a town small enough that a comedy club is some sort of news for the newspaper, I get a call from the local paper, running a story on the event, and wanting to know what they can write about me. The simple truth is that nothing you can say or write about comedy is inherently amusing. Still, I whittered on at the journalist who rang and I'm sure she'll make something out of what was said.
The only thing I said which amused me was an answer to her final question "Do you have anything to add?". I replied "I should probably say something like 'Buy my new album' but I haven't got one. So I'd say 'Don't buy my new album: it doesn't exist.'". This is not altogether very funny. Still, it amused me to say it.
So while I was being interviewed, and with the aim of getting out of the way of people who might wonder what on earth their office-colleague was posing to the press about, I walked into the nearby shopping district.Frustrations
I think it's probably fair to say that my days are largely filled with frustrations at the moment. I'm working with a set of technologies that I don't yet feel familiar with, nor am I actually getting anywhere with them. It's just a catalogue of failed attempts at some non-specific goal, and it drives me round the bend. In addition, the house-buying process has hit a brick wall - one with damp in, probably. In order to quantify the risk of buying the house that I'm in-process with, I need to get an estimate from a roofer. Every time I get through to a roofer, I'm either told that they're not taking on any jobs, or I'm told that they'll call me back when they're off the roof they're on, or at the end of their car journey. I'm sick of waiting for the calls that never come. If people want to get work, then they need to keep in touch with their prospective customers. Apparently, this is what you have to expect from roofers. Well, it boils my piss... and my blood.
So, a walk can be a good way to get some frustration and tension out of one's system.
The down side of this is that every time I leave the main bit of the office, I have to wait outside the door until someone comes by - this is because, although I've done an excellent job of remembering various tickets to various gigs recently, I managed to leave the house today without my work ID card/door opening device. So, I want to go to the toilet, but I'm postponing it because it will undoubtedly cause me some hanging-around-the-door once I'm done. Very annoying. I'd ask for a temporary card to borrow from reception, but I can't be bothered to be told to sod off.Health
A good reason to go for a walk is that it comes with many positive health benefits. It's exercise, which is probably good for you, and it's quite a relaxing thing to do. I don't walk enough. I don't really exercise enough, and with the current stress levels I'm encountering, a bit of exercise would probably help. On Saturday I took my bicycle into the shop for them to give it a service. I'm hoping that I'll feel motivated enough to get on it and do some cycling. This will, at least, give me something in the way of exercise without it necessarily feeling like I'm exercising for its own sake. Of course I would be, not having anywhere to go on the bike specifically - work is too far for me to cycle, and I don't really have anything I do in Reading which needs traveling to. In fact, I don't really do much in Reading, except go to the cinema.
However, if I were cycling somewhere then I would feel like it was a journey, even if I returned to the place I'd started before getting off the bike. I like cycling. Or at least I've told myself that I do, and I choose to believe myself. I'm sure that with an MP3 player in my bag and a few minutes to spare, I could easily work off some calories.
The bike is stored in a locked shed around the back of the house. This would, probably, be quite a discouragement for me. Even when I was in Newcastle with my bike in the easily-opened garage, I was fairly quick to feel like it was too much effort to open the think - there was a mini in the way, but that's hardly the reason. I'm just lazy. However, as I reasoned when I first bought the bike, spending money on something gives me a bit of impetus to actually do it. So, when I bought the bike and my first mp3 player (to listen to on it) I was shamed into using them, much like I shamed myself into vacuuming by buying my Dyson. The bike shop will be charging me for the "service" they're carrying out on my bike, so I hope to use that as a reason to use it.
We'll see.Stop press
Since starting the writing of this, a roofer has been in touch. He will be doing a quote for me and then I'll find out whether I want to risk buying a house which needs that amount of weatherproofing/fixing.
A Weekend Of Mirth
I have reserved the phrase 'Weekend of Joy', so have had to title this joyous weekend differently. Though not a great deal was achieved in terms of work or movement forwards in my life, there were several diversions which served to make this weekend a lot of fun.
On Saturday, we went to see Mrs Barbara Nice at a local arts centre. Though the house wasn't as full as deserved, and though the seats had been allocated sparsely, Barbara did a wonderful job of uniting a crowd in much laughter. This wasn't a traditional comedy club audience either, but they were in hysterics. It was fun to watch and a pleasure to be a part of. She involved the audience with both pass the parcel and also a raffle. It was simply magic.
Over the course of the weekend, I did a bit more writing of a sort of comedy drama thing which I'm working on. If I'm honest, I'm not that impressed with it, though it is coming together as I might have expected it to. I can't see what's good about it yet. Maybe it's shit.
On Sunday we went to London and played some games at the London Trocadero and then went to see Tim Minchin at the Duchess Theatre. He was, as expected, very good. We were sitting close enough for me to see how well his fingers just live on the keys. . . And how mine just don't behave that way.
I could write more, but less is more, so I'll write less. Next time, I'll write more, which, since less is more, will be less. So it will all balance out in the end.
There's a muslim fellow in the office here that always takes the time to say hello when we pass each other. He's one of the nicest guys you could ever meet. As a result I would like to infer that no muslim could possibly be a terrorist. If you agree with my logic then you are going to leave this moment with a positive outlook on muslim people. If you disagree with my logic, choosing to believe that you can't categorise everyone's potential threat on the basis of a small sample, then you have just acknowledged the core problem within the racist doctrines espoused by the BNP and the tabloids. Either way I think I made a point.
What a Bloody Week
Ennui Related Disaster
This should have been a good week, what with performances and gigs and such to enjoy. Overall, though, it's been bloody awful. To give you an idea of the sort of mood I'm in, at the tail end of this week, I've just received my second email to do with this year's Christmas party. The first email, with a huge distribution list, invited everyone to the Christmas party. The second one, a reply to the first, with a similarly huge email list was from someone RSVPing to say that they couldn't go. As soon as reading this I thought how ridiculous it was that someone should tell everyone that they couldn't attend because they were on holiday - no need to tell everyone, though: what a waste of everyone's time. So I had to jump on that. I replied "Going anywhere nice?" - to everyone... subtly (more subtly than I originally might have intended, but I censored myself) suggesting that the person should have perhaps hit "reply" rather than "reply to all".
The problem with this is that, although it amused me, and appeared to amuse those people around me, it has started a rather unpleasant ball rolling. Some people have replied to my mail asking follow up questions - it's hard to tell whether their intent was as sarcastic as mine. Some people have been sending mails to all asking people to stop sending mails to all. It's been pretty silly for the last few minutes, and all because some wag couldn't keep their mouth shut - or at least their fingers still. I made my comment and ran - job done. To be the first is funny, to keep the "joke" going is plain pointless. It's like someone's started the "I'm Spartacus" scene out there and I feel a bit embarrassed. Truth is that I can be inventively funny in a way that's above average, because I've had practice. The other bit of the truth is that I'm not that far above the average and I don't ALWAYS judge the moment correctly. In fact, I seldom judge the moment correctly. This is why a stand-up stage is the best place to exorcise the comic demons, at least there I'm expected to be acting in an odd way. In the office, it just feels plain wrong. Where in my previous company there were few enough people for this sort of thing to be over in a moment and have limited impact, I've accidentally started an email chain among a few hundred people in different offices. The managers around me, of varying degrees of seniority, seem unphased, but who knows what someone else could have made of it?
I'm not worried.
It seems to have caused a well-needed distraction.
I'm slightly disapproving of myself though.
It's a sign of the ennui that has set in this week and my general levels of tiredness and misery. It could be that I've had an understimulating week, with too little sleep and the onset of some sort of cold - my nose is a bit runny and my throat is tight. Or I could just be going through my male-time-of-the-month (some sort of mood cycle which I'm sure affects me and which I should probably chart numerically, though I can't be bothered). Alternatively, I could be undernourished, having tried to really step on my food consumption this week. I've tried, but I've probably failed. The scales were looking favourable this morning, but I haven't outlawed eating as much as I ought. I have had a few too many salad lunches, though.Colchester
It was my first gig after a couple of weeks' "resting" and I was due to close the show in Colchester. The journey was long, but my reasonably relaxed style of driving, coupled with singing along to Jerry Springer The Opera
meant that I was able to wear the long tailbacks on the M25 without too much apparent stress. As I was nearing Colchester itself, I put on a recording of one of my more recent performances, where things had gone pretty well, and reminded myself of my current set structure and the timings that I'm using. If I hadn't listened to the gig, I would still have been able to muddle through, but I like to listen to a gig after a longer break in order to retune my mind to my comic persona.
That's the theory.
I arrived at the venue in plenty of time and set up the guitar etc. The sound equipment wasn't set up perfectly, but it seemed to be ok. The room had a number of sight-line issues, but seemed friendly enough. My gig radar was suggesting that it could either way. The other acts turned up and we got ourselves in the mood for doing whatever it is we do on stage.
I seldom get incredibly nervous, but I was getting twinges in my back, which I sometimes get during my first song while performing. I mentioned that to one of the other guys and he suggested that that might be a sympton of pre-gig stress. It makes perfect sense when you think about it. Apparently, my lower back gets nervous for me. Doing a gig after a while off can exacerbate things. In addition, worried about my vocal warm up, I'd been singing lustily along to the music, while in the car and had managed to strain my voice, rather than warm it up. In fairness, I think that it was pre-destined to be knackered.
So, I was tense with a tight voice and the gig hadn't started. When it did start, the audience weren't in their seats yet. So, the first act, on after nothing more than an introduction, had to fight with a very busy room to keep focus. He did very well and made me laugh, which was excellent. It turns out that the room is pretty good when full (44) and focused (often, but not often enough). However, there was a competition on between the comedy, in a separate upstairs room, and the bar downstairs, which was audible through some neat holes in the floor near the window, providing both balconies for looking down at the bar-crowd, and neat sound holes for receiving any noise they cared to make. Not good.
The middle act was my favourite act of the night. He delivered his set in an "I can't believe I'm saying this shit" sort of way and then went into "The Postcard Routine".
At this stage I should point out that some jokes are funny to comedians only. This is because either the joke is about how difficult it is to be a comedian, or because the joke is based on the art of comedy, combined with the unsayable. In this case, we'd found a rack of free postcards and one of them was a picture of some Jews in Auschwitz. The immediate question arose - "who would send this as a postcard and why?". Now, there's no reason to demean the plight of Jews in the Holocaust and there was nothing amusing about the otherwise moving image on the postcard. However, there was something absurd about the very existence of this image on a postcard, so we started firing jokes at each other - we three comedy types - on the theme of "Things that would be written on a postcard sent from a concentration camp". This was funny to us. Make up some of your own. Thing is, it would take a lot of trust between the audience and performer for it to be funny to share such observations with the crowd. It can be done, but there's a tightrope and it's scary to see someone get on it.
So, when the middle act, who makes a perfectly reasonable joke based on the play on words of "concentration" and "camp", decided to bring out the postcard, the result was absolutely hilarious. To three people in the room. Me, the first act, and another comedian who was in the audience, watching the show. As the middle act hit the wall of silence that bringing up the Holocaust commands, he worked hard to demonstrate that he wasn't about to cross the bad taste barrier and that he just found the existence of the card to be absurd. He struggled to ask the question, "Who would want a card with a picture of... some... (sotto voce) jews?". Nothing he said was offensive, but his struggle to get through the moment was brain-crushingly-hilarious. We were bent double with giggles.
This act did very well, and redeemed himself when someone on the front row said they were Jewish, and he gave them the postcard. He got the applause he deserved for that moment of gaining mastery of the situation.
When it came to be my turn, I delivered something. To be honest, I had a flat part and a few moments where the overall hubbub got the better of me. A couple of humourless heckles wrong footed me and, though I managed to keep going and even did ok in the "go on, say what you like, I'll have an answer for it" competition that I somehow started, I lost a lot of momentum and in a few places I was tongue-tied (not because I didn't know what to say, but more because I couldn't get it said). On top of this, my voice was straining, I couldn't hear myself in the PA and the guitar didn't sound too good either. My playing was out of whack, the guitar was going out of tune, the noise from downstairs was a bother, some of the crowd were getting restless and I was running out of energy. On a few occasions, my heckle handling got a lot more apparently aggressive than I would have liked and, with an audience of Squaddies (largely Squaddies) that was not a situation I wanted to stir up. I kept it reasonably good natured and used the old "you're going to gang up on me and stab me outside" routine, which I'm not a fan of. It suggests that I'm placing myself as the non-threatening weakling in the situation and basically defuses any apparent aggression... moreover, I found myself apologising for how bad I was sounding and how difficult the gig was getting.
On the one hand I was breaching my rule that if you tell an audience that they're hard or that you're doing badly, then it will come true. On the other hand, I was, through reverse psychology, challenging them to like me. I could tell, however, that the set was falling to pieces and that I should pretty much get it over with. I was contracted for 30 minutes and at about 30 minutes into the proceedings, I finished my last song and left the stage. A lot of stuff had worked.
The compere asked me if I'd be prepared to do an encore (he asked this as I passed him returning off stage). I foolhardily said yes. This was foolhardy because I was knackered and because it wasn't really necessary to do more. I'd felt like it was time to go, and so I'd left. Why do more?
The compere then basically told the crowd that they should ask me back on and I was duly summoned. This was stupid. However...
In the 5 or so minutes I did at the tail end of the show, I had a grim determination to end on a bigger high than I'd previously achieved. I did a couple of songs that I "never do", I say never because I actually did both at the gig I did two weeks previously, but I never do these songs normally. One of the songs was the one which got a lot of people complaining that I was stealing Duncan Oakley's act a while ago. Duncan didn't agree with those people, but it was still more trouble than it was worth. After completing my encore. I left the stage to larger applause than before with the words "I've been Duncan Oakley, goodnight". It amused me.
I hit a huge post-gig hollowness. I've felt this before. It's the result of using all my good feelings and all my energy on a crowd and it's a very unpleasant feeling. I hadn't eaten an evening meal yet, so my energy levels were low anyway (having eaten not a great deal for the rest of the day either). Though I was paid enough to cover the petrol, and though the gig had been a success (for all except the most critical i.e. me), I was on a real downer as I drove home.
I was perked up a bit by the I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue
recordings, though I felt quite moved when I listened to the one broadcast after Willie Rushton's death - the last he'd ever recorded.This Morning
Knackered, down in the mouth, feeling a bit ill, I was shoved out of bed early enough to be in the car a good 30 minutes before I normally get there. Since I was setting off a half hour earlier and usually arrive within 5 minutes of "the nick of time", I would have expected to have arrived about 25-30 minutes before the aformentioned nick. It's amazing how a broken down vehicle in your exact exit of the M3 can destroy your morning's commute. This breakdown caused at least a 4 mile tailback to where I join the M3 and totally wrecked any chance of my using my normal exit. I ended up at work 15 minutes late... having set off early. That's not fair!
It's clearly silly season on the roads again. There was a massive 4 hour traffic jam on the M1 last night (thankfully I wasn't in it). This involved the authorities having to cut the central reservation in order to allow cars to turn around at midnight (some of whom had been stranded since 8pm). There was also a huge accident on the Dartford tunnel a few days ago. It's pandemonium on the roads.
I'm still driving in a more relaxed style. I can't be dealing with the stress.
Though people in the wrong lane still depress me.
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