I'm in a strange place right now. Home life is good, so let's put that out of the equation for the purposes of this discussion. Life with kittens and domestic bliss is just that, homely happiness. However, in the other worlds I inhabit, office and comedy, I'm in a waiting pattern.
Office - WHY!? I do an office job because it's an essential way for me to earn a living and make all the other things I do, and want to do in my life, possible. Simple as. I'm not motivated by the money - it's a life I've subscribed to. I feel a sense of loyalty to the commitments I've taken on, and the people I work with. The office is a sort of a community, and it's one of whose outcome I am invested in.
That said, the office is in a strange shape at the moment, figuratively and literally. I've just moved desk. As such I'm feeling a bit displaced. It's been a growing sense of displacement, really. The world was simpler back in November. Back in November, there were three of us sitting in the UK, backed up by a further six in Budapest. We set in a group in the UK and kept closely in touch with the Budapest people. Then things changed. The work didn't, but the responsibilities moved around. One of our UK three stopped working on our specific stuff, and we all stopped sitting together.
Desk move one had me sitting with some people who do something similar to me, but aren't working on the same stuff as I am. I'm still in touch with the other people in the team working on things, but we're not co-located. This breaks community. It's just one of those things.
I've just gone through desk move two. I'm only a few feet away from where I was. But now, I'm surrounded either by empty desks, or people doing stuff that's quite unrelated to what I'm doing. There are still similarities and areas of overlap. I will work with these people from time to time. What's the problem? There are two problems.
Firstly, I can't help but feel like I'm as far away from my community of like-minded people as I could possibly be. Secondly, I can't help but feel like the people in this part of the office consider talking loudly to be a higher priority than working. There's a lot of chatter and playing music loudly through headphones will not obscure it. I'm probably going to end up quite angry. I'm already rather pissed off, and I've only been at this desk for a few minutes today so far.
So, these will be interesting times. I've half a mind to invite the more loud-mouthed of the people to meetings in remote parts of the office, and then not turn up to those meetings myself, to at least buy myself occasional 10 minutes-es of quiet. Grrrr.
Comedically I'm in a real down at the moment relating to my show. It's periods like this which sap your confidence. A part of me knows that I'll not improve any flaws in the show by using excuses to take away from the fact that the end hasn't worked for the last couple of performances. By the end, I mean the last 15 minutes. That's not good.
The official excuses are that I've done an hour-long set in a comedy club not used to such a length of performance, starting after 10.15pm in both cases, with a relatively small audience. However, why am I expecting the show to suddenly start working again just because the time may be earlier? Should I be guaranteed a larger audience in Edinburgh? Will I possibly be able to drum up a large audience if I'm currently worrying about the quality of the show?
Well, of course, there's plenty of time to fix things and rehearse it all a bit better and generally tighten it up. I'll be making running repairs to the show in Edinburgh too. Plus, it's really brimming over with ideas and invention, so why shouldn't I consider it good.
Tomorrow night's my next gig. A local MCing role in Cirencester. It should be a great night of comedy and I should aim to get some enthusiasm out of it. That should fix that.
So, if I recharge my comedy batteries and stick some batteries into the loudmouths I'm now lumbered with sitting with, then life should be back up to over 75% joyous in next to no time.
Here's the quick version of this tale. I had a stressful day on Saturday. It involved a certain amount of driving around more than I had expected/required and I wasn't in the best of moods. Stressed and feeling like time was a weight on my shoulders, I decided to take a stop for a coffee/tea break in the Esso garage on the local dual carriageway; it has a Costa "in-shop", a licenced version of the popular coffee chain, run by the Esso people.
My girlfriend wanted tea and I wanted coffee.
Me: May I have a medium sized tea... Her: We only do small. We're a coffee company, so we only do one size of tea. Me: Can you give me it in a medium sized cup with a bit of extra water. Her: No. Sorry. It's company policy. Me: How about you give me a small tea in a small cup and give me a medium cup separately, with a little extra water in the bottom. Her: No. It's not allowed. Company policy.
At this stage our "Hero" starts to lose his temper.
Me: Which company? Her: Costa. Me: But I've been into Costa and bought tea of this size before without ever being refused. Her: They're the shops, though. We're just a licence. They won't let us do it.
Then I had a tantrum. I bellowed at her to stuff her fucking tea up her arse and get her jobsworth face up there with it. I screamed that she was being belligerent. I didn't need this sort of shit added to my day. There was no logical reason for this restriction and it sounded like a pile of bullshit that was either there to piss people off, or to avoid litigation that would never happen. That was my tantrum. It lasted about 8 seconds. The member of staff didn't experience any of the things I just described. This is because I just my eyes and my mouth and waited carefully until all of these thoughts and visualisations of unnecessary rage had abated. I'm not an angry person. I get crabby and irritable, but I don't perform acts of violent abusive behaviour on a Saturday evening in a roadside services. When I opened my eyes again, in a calm and measured voice...
Me: I'll have a SMALL TEA please.
I also had to explain to my girlfriend why she was getting a small tea. She, quite reasonably, next to me in the queue, described all the same "workarounds" I'd just asked for and I calmly, in a voice which warned her not to push because we'd both end up savaging the little old lady serving us, used sarcasm to explain to her why it was obviously NOT POSSIBLE.
After the aftermath So, we got on with our lives for the rest of the weekend and I vowed to exact some sort of revenge on the people who had so smited us with their irritating behaviour. This morning I decided I was calm emough (and bored enough) to give it a shot. Here follows a description of the chain of calls I made in order to solve the problem. I should point out that there was something bugging me about this "policy". It seemed like a myth. It seemed very unlikely that Costa or Esso stood to gain anything from this belligerence - it seem more like a "cult of the no". So, perhaps I could actually fix it.
Call 1 - Costa Customer Services Me: Excuse me, is there a policy which stops the licensee from providing me with tea in a medium sized cup? Them: We just sell the Esso garage the cups and the tea and the coffee and the equipment and they can do what they like.
Call 2 - The Garage in Question Me: Why can't you sell me a medium tea? Lady: We're not allowed to. By Costa. Me: Costa say that they don't prevent this. Where's this policy actually come from? Lady: Not me. You'll have to write to head office. Me: Can I have their number. Lady: No. You can have their address, and this is it...
Call 3 - The Head Office Google is quite good at giving telephone numbers for head offices Me: Can I talk to the person responsible for coffee shops in Esso stations? Reception: We don't give out names and numbers. Me: I don't want their name or number, you can transfer me. Reception: Are you a sales rep? Me: No. I'm a customer. I need to talk to the person who made the policy where... Reception: You should call customer services.
Call 4 - Esso Customer Services Me: I was in a garage, I wanted tea. They were mean to me. They said there was a policy, where did it originate? Her: I'll have to contact the area manager for you. Give me your name and number.
Call 5 - Area Manager Rang Me Him: Hello, my name is something you can't hear because I didn't say it clearly. What seems to be the problem. Me: You wouldn't sell me a medium tea, which isn't pragmatic. Him: I wish it wasn't the policy, but it's not our choice. Costa dictated it. You're not the first to complain. Me: But I spoke to Costa and they said they didn't care. Him: They provide us with menu boards and brand guidelines. We can't deviate from those guidelines. We get audited, so can't put a foot wrong. We can't sell you a larger tea than small. It's not allowed. Me: Your staff could just be helpful and provide a larger cup on the sly when requested. Why be so obstructive? Him: We're not allowed, by Costa. Me: Who at Costa? They said they were happy. Give me a name and number.
Call 6 - Costa Sales Manager Me: Hello, I'm a customer, tea, medium, why can't I have one? Him: But you can. Me: What that's what I would have thought. Him: You can have your drink however you like. The brand requirements are a minimum standard. If the customer wants their drink their way, it should be ok. Me: Sounds like a myth about what they can't do then. Can you tell them that they're allowed to do it, please. I'll also ring the manager I spoke to and tell him. Him: Sure thing.
This guy was a really laid back pragmatic fellow. I'd buy him a coffee any day.
Call 7 - The Area Manager Again Me: Great news. I've solved the problem. Costa say that you can sell me a medium tea. It's a misunderstanding. Him: Well, I'll have to hear it from them. Me: Got it covered. The chap will be in touch to tell you. Isn't this brilliant, though. We solved the problem. Him: ... general sounds I can't remember ...
Conclusion If you ring enough people in the two organisations I managed to ring, you may get an answer. In general, though, people should use their fucking common sense and make me a fucking drink when I ask for it.
I have decided to do a psychic reading for you. Please read it carefully and feel free to email me on ashley at ashleyfrieze.co.uk with a description of how well it applies to you.
You are looking forward to an event in the next 14 days which has been a long time coming. It's been a bit tense recently, and you deserve a break from the tension. There are a few things on your mind that you wish the people around you could understand a bit better. You will find it easier to communicate about at least one of these things over the next few days as things develop.
The colour green has been significant to you over the last week.
You have been worried about money in the past, but things are looking a bit better right now, and you will be making plans for the future soon.
Someone whom you've not seen in a long while will be making contact soon, or may have just made contact.
Though you sometimes feel sad about the past, you will be able to bury it and move on.
I'm listening to an album I bought. It's by an artist called Duke Special. Heard of him? No? Me neither. Well, obvious I have heard of him at some point, but how? Well, I was in a shop and I heard a track that sounded a bit like a Divine Comedy track - I was sure I could hear vocals by Neil Hannon. I'd never heard the track before and I didn't know what it was.
Shazam. That's the answer to that question - you point your mobile phone at the shop's speaker and capture a clip of the song. Then it's submitted to the internet and you get the title and artist of the track on your screen. This is almost a miracle. I've got theories about how you make a computer program like that. Only theories, mind. It's a brilliant tool to have. As a result, I've discovered a new artist. I bought the album which had that track on - it's actually a collection of B-sides and rarities. Subsequently, I bought the album I'm listening to, and I'm now able to enjoy something a bit different from the average music I find.
Strangely, in a world where I listen to my iPod more than the radio, I think the music played in shops, coupled with Shazam, may be more influential on the bands I discover than the charts. I don't even know what's in the charts. In fact, let's have a look:
As of 27th June - the official uk chart:
Katy Perry - California Girls - I've heard of this Russell Brand-infected buffoon, but not of the track
K'naan - Wavin' Flag - Football song? curry tribute act?
Shout - Shout (with James Corden) - I've not heard the track, I'm guessing it's a football song, with the ubiquitous-as-chlamydia Corden
Example - Kickstarts - huh?
Eminem - Not Afraid - used to enjoy some of Eminem's stuff, not heard this
Kylie Minogue - All The Lovers - so she's still making music then? Oh.
Eminem - Love The Way You Like (feat. Rihanna) - Not heard this. Heard of Rihanna, whose name annoys me. I think it's the spelling
Lady Gaga - Alejandro - sounds pretentious. I don't think I could sing or even name a Lady Gaga track I'd heard. Is she a man? Does anyone care?
Tinie Tempah - Frisky (feat. Labrinth) - there's a lot of people featuring other people, have all artists decided to form ad-hoc combination acts to sell more records these days? No idea who or what any of this is!
David Guetta - Gattin' Over You (feat. Chris Willis) - nope... you've lost me
I realise it makes me sound like someone's fuddy duddy dad. Actually, I'm quite happy with there being new music, but I'm clearly not being exposed to it. By the looks of it, I'm not missing out.
A very sad news story turned into something else today. I am proud to have been involved, even though I can't claim any credit. The comedian Chris Sievey, who played Frank Sidebottom, died this week and was destined for a pauper's funeral, as there was literally no money to pay for his funeral arrangements.
Dying penniless is a tragic end to a life which involved providing entertainment to many people. It's not how I'd like to go.
The internet proves that you don't need to be a church to be a community. Some stuff happened on twitter and facebook this morning. Then someone, a writer called Jon Ronson, set up a PayPal account, and then people put a couple of quid in.
Apparently, £6000 was raised in a couple of hours. That's how to treat the departed with a bit of respect in the modern age.
The comedy website Chortle had to keep updating their article and its headline changed from "Pauper's Funeral" to "Fans Save The Day". It's like historical revisionism happening in the moment. This is what the internet revolution can do, and I'm proud to know I can be a part of it.
Ok. A quick rant. I don't like iTunes. I don't mean that I hate the idea of downloading digitally protected software from an online store; that's actually perfectly reasonable, and iTunes.com does a reasonable job of selling stuff to me when I want it (though why they pander to AOL users is anyone's guess).
I'm not even going to bleat on too much about Apple's deliberately proprietry approach to what is a generic sort of a problem - the management of mp3's. The fact that the iTunes program is a portal for buying music and managing your iPhone, iPad, iPod, iPoo or whatever, is a fact of life and one which I am not going to get too hot under the collar about. Thinking about it differently, they also provide iTunes, the program, for free for several platforms for all people to manage any form of music collection for listening on the PC/Mac/Whatnot.
So why do I hate the iTunes software? because I do!
A quick list of reasons:
I don't want my PC to look like a Mac - why give me the Mac user interface on my PC, comply to the desktop standards I expect, like where to grab to resize a window, and what title bars look like!
It's sloooooooooooooooooooooooooooooow! - I mean really really slow, it can take forever to start playing when I click on something - ultimately, there's a little mp3 file to play, why the delay?
You can't configure it to connect to the internet properly - it'll pick up the system defaults and that's the best it can manage, so if those defaults are a bit dodgy, you're screwed
It is HARD TO USE - I know! It's a Mac application and it has usability issues. Why hard? Because you never quite know what mode you're in. What will actually play next? It's hard to switch around from one context to the other, because it's not clear.
It's all things to all men and nothing specific - the fact that it manages devices, playlists, libraries, a store and a whole bunch of other stuff - it means you don't really know what it's doing at any given moment
Did I mention it's slow?
It's not that flexible when it comes to managing a CD collection - things like consolidating multi-CD albums into a single virtual album are just not there
It's also slow.
What makes all of these things worse is the simple fact that there are millions of users of it out there. Reports vary between 10 and 200 million users. I'll go for 10 million as a start. That's 10 million victims of Apple's quirky obscure software engineering mistakes. A bad problem, made worse through "popularity".
"No, you're not what I expected, either." It's one of my favourite opening lines when the comedian hits the stage and the audience applause dies down. A nice ice breaker. Sometimes an audience's perception of what they're going to get and what is laid in front of them are at loggerheads.
I did a show last night.
Let me quickly point out that I owe a big debt of gratitude to all who came, gave of their time, money and laughter, and that it was really really appreciated that people got each other to come along and generally filled a room in a way that other publicity and my name alone simply couldn't have done.
Now I'll give you a list of the sorts of audience members that any comedian would find difficult to play to. The reason behind this comes down to the lack of the audience-performer tension that needs to exist for the comedian to be funny. This doesn't mean that there's anything wrong with these people, it's more a transactional analysis of the situation. For the roles to work, the following archetypes can make things harder.
So, the comedian's perfect tough crowd:
Any individual who is two generations older
People who aren't sure what they've come to see
Those who are unaware of the cultural references
People for whom the language of the show is not their first language
Anyone who has seen the comedian naked
Anyone who has looked after this comedian when they were a child
This tough crowd would be magnified to unplayable if the audience were small in number, say under 10, and made up exclusively of the above.
I'm not describing last night's audience in every detail. However, it's fair to say that it was a most unusual crowd, with more of the above elements present than I'm used to playing. It was in a large arts centre, with a high raked seating. This also takes some playing - you need to lean backwards to play to the whole room. It was a big challenge.
And we got through it.
I've got plenty of editing to do of the show before Edinburgh, and last night showed me some of the strengths and weaknesses of the piece. This can only be considered a good thing.
The last few weeks of show-obsessed warbling have come at a cost, to my levels of energy, sanity, and stability. It's proving harder than I expected to do this. I think my ambition to really milk this opportunity to make the most of it isn't making my life any easier. It's the right thing to do. Doing it by halves, or treating it as a done deal, is too complacent a way to make something of a sufficient quality. But to quote Coldplay - "nobody said it was easy".
Why did I just quote Coldplay? Nobody knows.
Last year's show seemed easier. This may be because it was simply aiming at a lower standard, or that it was a less sophisticated show, or maybe it was that we had twice as many people in the writing and editing process, so it ended up being stronger. Maybe it was even the case that the other person was the strength behind the script and I can't do it alone...? Actually, I've no idea.
My instincts tell me that I'm close to a core show that I can be proud of. My instincts are also telling me to ditch various things which were originally what the show was built on... while other instincts are shouting "noooooo... not thaaaat biiiiit". It's an inner turmoil, for sure.
If I don't change some things quite drastically, Edinburgh won't work for this show, so there's work to be done. Last night's show overran because I waffled my way through it, trying to customise it to the audience and soft-soap them through the tricky bits. Tonight's show will have to be tight and polished, like Mr Sheen's wooden arsehole.
So many things rattle through my brain and would be ideal candidates for sharing on this very screen. There is a lot of stuff happening at the moment and I could use a chance to put my thoughts into some sort of an order. A quick bullet list of events from the last week or so will get the juices flowing, so to speak.
I've been an awfully absent nursemaid to an ill girlfriend
I did various other gigs, including a Jongleus spot
There's enough there for a much longer discussion. On top of that, the day job still manages to challenge and befuddle. So, in some sort of structure, here are some thoughts on some of those things.
Poorly Girlfriend, Poor Service As is quite apparent from the way I run myself ragged, I'm not the best of people to rely on if you need time from me at short notice. The gigging has me committed to doing stuff all over the place all of the time. I have limits in place to avoid overbooking myself and making it impossible to spend any time at home with loved ones. Sometimes I overcommit. In a normal circumstance, the overcommitting isn't the worst issue - it can be overlooked.
My girlfriend has had tonsilitis for the last 2 weeks (well, various illness and then being made better while still week) and I've been trotting all over the place, with a heavy heart, unable to do the right thing - either stay at home with her, cancelling a gig I feel I can't cancel, or go to the gig and neglect someone who's ill in bed.
I need to review the way I conduct myself. If this is the normal way I go about my life, then it's not victimless.
Luring Friends To See Shows I feel a bit bad about it. I don't want all the people who've ever known me to think that I only see them as "potential audience". However, when you've got shows to do, you have to push your social network. So I've been pimping myself on various channels. Hopefully it comes across as reaching out across the years, distances, and whatnot. In short, I'll like these people if they don't come to my shows...