I didn't really mind. I just grabbed a smoothie and got into my car to arrive at the office when it was possible to arrive there. The traffic en route didn't help, but I got there in the end, which was the main thing.
Quite how a series of bugs in the software I've been writing managed to surprise me is anyone's guess. Software has bugs in it. That's the nature of software. I should really get used to the idea. I had a lot of last-minute fixes to apply to the code and then we had to install this stuff on 8 machines for shipping out to 4 different countries in Europe. A quick chat with the guy working on the other 2 machines, currently located at Heathrow Airport, revealed that some serious flaw needed a visit on site from yours truly. So I went on site.
Going to the place where the users use the system is stressful. Anything that works predictably in the office will work unpredictably on site. And so it was that my working day ended with me sitting in my car at Heathrow Airport, reporting back everything I'd discovered, the things I'd managed to fix and the things I'd failed to manage to fix. The day had been long already and though I had planned to work later than that particular time, there was no point in going back to the office, since I'd only have to turn around and come back. The process of setting the machines up had been fun, working in parallel, 2 machines at a time, racing each other to the first printout. The problems dogging the day hadn't been fun, and I managed the most harried/hurried of luncheons in a spare 5 minutes of racing down to the café for a pre-made sandwich.
Then came the gig.
Before the actual gig, there was the journey to the gig. I used this to talk to people. I spoke to friends and family members. Well, I spoke to one family member and two friends. It's still basically what I just wrote. I could have gone back and corrected the first sentence, but I tend not to. I realised, as I was talking in the various conversations, that my spirits were plunging, my body was on a down and my heart was sinking. I wasn't feeling happy. As a joke, over the course of the day, I'd been talking to my work-colleague, referring to myself in the third person. So, to continue that joke for a few more phrases - "Ashley wasn't happy". I couldn't tell you exactly why I wasn't up. I think it's probably obvious enough if you put it in joke form, though:
Q. What do you get if you add a lack of sleep, overwork, stressful situations, a demanding plan and a demanding social calendar to the last few days of a man's 34th year when he doesn't really rate his own achievements, and had a lot of big downers over the year?
A. Ashley isn't happy.
Yet, I resolved to make 2008 a good year and it has been a whole lot better. I'm not 100% convinced that I'm behaving healthily, what with my loss of dieting zeal, and my inability to stop. I would have to say that I'm driving myself to wreck and ruin (wrack and ruin? - I could Google it, but I can't be bothered). I'm aware that I'm doing it, and I'm trying to blog a bit more at the moment, so there's at least a record of this bizarre decline in my control over my existence. At the very least, I can do some forensic reading in the future to fathom it all out retrospectively. Anyway, the point is that this year has had its moments, but I'm not quite on top of it. In the weaker periods, where my exhaustion and stress collide, things that should really not matter a great deal can hurt just a little. The sad thing is when some of those things are wrapped in a package of goodness. To take an inaccurate example (in that this particular example isn't true as presented), imagine that I was chuffed about how nice my tiling in the kitchen looks, but then felt that it only went to illustrate how much work there still remained to do in that kitchen. I'd want to enjoy the nice tiles, but couldn't always block out the sense of failure. You get the idea.
I arrived in Wolverhampton a bit on the low side. I thought that getting some food might help perk me up. I decided that there wasn't time. Instead I went into the venue of the gig I was booked to close. It had been a bit of a bizarre one to get booked for and I didn't want to mess the organiser about. At first, he had been suggesting that I could do a shorter spot in the show. I was a little bristly about this. I put forward my case. I've been a stand-up comedian for about 5 years and I am reasonably good at it. I don't mind doing a gig for free or a tiny contribution to "expenses", but I don't really want to pursue short spots unless they're for big clubs. Perhaps, I could do a longer spot to close the show? That was my request. It was accepted. So, effectively, I've declared myself the headliner. That's a risky maneouvre.
But I am experienced. Tonight's gig was my 499th. That's a lot of gigs. It's no longer something I can claim I'm just doing by accident. It's clearly intentional.
I watched the show unfold and a lot of acts went before the audience. I read the audience. They seemed nice, but they could tire. They were young, they might not relate to me. They were in a large cold echoey room with air conditioning on, not heating. My set was in the third section of the show. Perhaps this audience would leave before I went on. All these thoughts went through my head. I watched the acts that went before, some of whom did stuff that made me question which stuff of mine I should do. Would the audience be affected by any similarities? Which way would they go? Would the act before me do badly and kill the atmosphere, or too well and make it hard to follow him?
As it happens, I don't get scared by gigs. In fact, I don't recall any adrenaline rush before tonight's show, though I do tend to pace the floor a bit while the show progresses. When it came time to go on, I went on. I did my stuff, I made the audience laugh. I made myself amused with the ad-libs. I had plenty of chances for interaction with the audience and I took them with alacrity. I can't rate my own performance objectively. I can only say that I was alive and happy. The stresses of the day were forgotten. 30 or so cheerful people in a room in Wolverhampton were enough to make me forget my troubles give me the energy that I had been lacking. This is why I do stand-up comedy. I know that it's a false love, the love of strangers. I know that you can flirt with pretty 19 year old girls from the safety (yes, safety) of the stage, but you don't get to take one home after the show... and if you do, then you want to question that in depth... I know that people see you as you portray yourself, and the secret is to pretend to be what you'd like to be seen to be for 30 minutes or so every so often, so you can enjoy the illusion with the audience.
I was saying to a friend, the previous night, how I thought that some of my material is lame and yet I still do it. I said that I hate it and yet love it. This is the truth. My opening bit is something I almost cringe at, yet it can make a room full of people laugh and cheer and applaud and... well... it's only jokes. Who cares?! Other stuff in life can hurt you. A cheery song can only fall on deaf ears. That's not particularly hurtful. Not after the 300th time you've sung it!
The next question is: when's gig 500?