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I'm A Cilla Black Fan On Bike

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Monday, July 31

Long Time

The weekend seemed to take a long time. That's not a bad thing. I think I mean that we crammed quite a lot into the weekend and so the gap between Friday and Monday was a big one, otherwise how could so much action have been achieved?

Saturday was a day for sorting things out. I'd packed my car with the remainder of the items from my room in Farnborough on Friday lunchtime. I had this stuff to unpack and run to the upstairs of the house in Reading - there's now a big pile with my name on it. Following this, there was further work to be done, sorting out other things in the house.

At some point, I cut thirty pieces of wood from 6 pieces of MDF. I'm not sure why, but I did as I was asked.

At another point, I wiped a computer and then wrestled with it to make its video driver work. For what it's worth the HP Pavilion 423 comes with onboard VGA supplied in the form of an Intel 815 chip.

The day went by at its own pace and at some point I got Chinese food. Woohoo.

We woke up on Sunday and decided to go to Longleat. This is the stately home of Lord Bath, who has a collection of wild animals in a Safari Park attached to his big house. We went round the Safari Park, having bought tickets entitling us to enjoy all of the estate's attractions. The safari park was fun, especially the bit where the monkeys climb on people's cars and vandalise them.

My car wasn't vandalised, but we laughed heartily as others were... one car got a poo on it. Brilliant!

Sadly, the rain started as soon as we attempted to leave the car, so we went home instead. We can go back to the estate any time this season and use the rest of the ticket, though I suspect we'll be buying another ticket to go around the safari park.

Friday, July 28

Bye, Then

The company I work for has been bought out and our CEO has just left the building with his truck of money. Retirement beckons. The company is successful and the CEO has presided over its growth into such a position.

Perhaps the blowing of a sports whistle and the shouted goodbye from the corner of the room was a bit... well... twattish. People were too shocked to laugh. I tried to start a slow hand-clap...

It was funny.


Yesterday I attended a graduation ceremony. For various reasons, I have been at a few of these over the years, and my year spent as secretary of the student union in Newcastle gave me a certain over familiarity with the ways of university practice. Deep down they all aspire to being pseudo medieval houses of elitism and donnish wit.

The ceremony marked the ascension from graduand to graduate of my girlfriend. She worked very hard to get there, and it was a suitable way to gain closure on her student life. It was also a turgid ceremony with lots of names and dutiful applause. Before it started, I asked the woman next to me who she was there for. Later on she returned the compliment by asking me whether I had managed to spot my daughter among the graduates. Daughter! I'm only 32, and although I was wearing a suit and looking reasonably mature, surely I don't look old enough to have sired even a 21 year old, though my girlfriend is older than that. I suppose that some folks in council estates somewhere may give life at the younger ages, as indeed do some wretched toffs, who undoubtedly do a better job of hiding their shame, but this was a fairly middle class ceremony at a self-important uni. I am not someone's dad!

Later on I changed into younger looking clothes. Then I felt old and knackered when I did more of the house moving which is nearly finished. Doing it in one big go would have been easier.

Wednesday, July 26

No Titchy Reception

My evening's gig was in Titchfield, which is near Southampton. Out of the goodness of my heart, I had offered to pick up one of the acts from Farnborough station, take him to the gig and then return him to the outskirts of London when the gig was done. This latter part of the offer - the taking him to London - was an offer of some 60 miles or so of going out of my way.

As it happened, the act got a lift with someone else, who was based in London, which basically got me out of the extra effort.

I left the office sometime after 6 and headed to the venue. As might be expected, I arrived in plenty of time and had the chance to wave my gig radar over things. I reckoned that it would be a fairly small audience. Not many people about, and not a busy area in general. I also had the time to do an extensive sound check.

In fact, the upstairs room of this pub was a permanent gig-waiting-to-happen. The landlord, apparently, is a big fan of music and often spends hours in his pub's upstairs room playing on his electric piano. Perhaps with drummers and guitarists around him. There were all of these instruments around waiting to be played. I spent very little time getting my own guitar sound-checked, and quite a lot of time disposing of the work day's troubles, by playing the piano and chattering away.

I was there a good hour and a half before things started. I got the chance to meet the opening act - Dark Horse - a duo comprising a bearded man, who looks more like a fisherman than a drummer, on bongo, and a non-bearded man on acoustic guitar. Their energetic renditions of cover versions was amusing, so they got on these comic-themed night. The night wants to be funny and include music - that's my act summarised.

The middle two acts were both from the London area and were doing stand-up. One was a straightforward stand-up act and the other was a character act.

To be honest, the very small audience (gig radar was right) and the nature of the room and the reception of the opening act, all put me on edge. I wasn't sure it was going to be possible to raise a laugh in that room. I was also not sure that the rather mature audience (couples of the 40+ age group, mainly) would get my stuff. I was mentally crossing things off my list... until the middle acts did their thing. The audience were friendly, giving and good humoured. I decided that I'd just go for it.

Foolishly, I didn't memorise a set list, instead just putting my notepad-with-everything-titled-on-it somewhere where I could read it. This lead to random orderings and pauses in my set. However, the set went down well enough and I felt really relaxed and comfortable on the stage. I had a good time. I think the audience did too.

I got off stage after about 35 minutes, drove my bookings agent home (he'd attended the gig and lived nearby) and that was that. Some moments dropped from my memory, but there's hopefully a recording on its way to me. One or two laughs that came were surprises, so I'd like to know how I made them.

On the way back

More as-it-happens blogging then. I'm now on the London to Oxford train, standing in the middle of a carriage and waiting for the arrival at Reading. I am slightly drunk, though I have been more drunk than this even tonight. Only a few cheeky brews were consumed, and though they reach my head quickly, they soon get overpowered by my efficient processing system, which can quite easily turn all forms of calorie into something else: energy, fat or poo mainly.

There's not a huge deal to report about tonight. We were in the area of Farringdon, which is about where my training course was back in February, though tonight was more fun. Odd, I suppose, that the two lots of training I receive from on employer should have this place in common. . . Albeit only vaguely.

Time spent talking, taking the mickey, sharing irritations, remembering a shared past or shared background, or even eating good food in good company: this time is never to be undervalued.

As I travel back to the place I call home, I should remember my plans and make sure they happen. I want a place to call my/our own. I want to be comfortable, but not complacent. I want to keep myself full of fresh ideas. Though it sometimes feels a bit of a waste of the money my parents spent on my education for me to be touting my crowd pleasing filthy songs around the country, sometimes I have moments of clarity where I realise that I am just daring to go for it, whatever it may be. I still entertain the prospect that I might write something which has enough of a life of its own that I may get to go and see it performed by others. Maybe I will yet crack the magic formula to make a good radio comedy. Or maybe I will write a musical that people want to stage. I can never know if I don't give it a go.

Long term vision is a good thing. Without it you're a child on a roundabout - occupied but getting nowhere. However, short term plans cannot be neglected. I finally managed to sort out a gig this week which threatened to get in the way of my attending my girlfriend's graduation. I should never have put myself forward for it, and there were plenty of reasons why it might have been possible, even though it looked dodgy from quite early on. I took a wait and see approach, and didn't mention it to my girlfriend. It was never a choice of gig or graduation. To suggest that attending her graduation would mean me having to miss a gig would have been to misrepresent the situation. It was me who foolishly allowed the possible clash, and it would only have been possible to do the gig if there was no room for me at nor interest in my attendance at the graduation. I wanted to go. I should have cancelled the gig the moment I realised the dates clashed. I have now replaced myself with someone else.

Next week will have enough stage time to satisfy any desire to perform I may have. All I need to do this week is my gig tomorrow in the Southampton area and move out of Farnborough, perhaps sorting out my mail redirection and getting a haircut too. Posting an ebay item and finalising my new mortgage would be good too. It sounds so easy.

Tuesday, July 25

Hot Train

There is an email address to which I could email from my phone and the text would automatically land on this blog. Not just from my phone either. I could do it from anywhere, though from most places it would be easier to use the regular web page through which I normally edit this stuff.

Anyway, I have forgotten the special email address, so this particular entry, being written on a hot train on the mobile, will be emailed to myself and then transferred. To save a bit of time in future, as I've been sending a lot of things from my phone of late, I added my email address under 'me' in my contacts book. Strangely, the telephone number I'd stored under that alias was one I didn't recognise. Weird.

Why am I on a hot train at just after 6 on a Tuesday evening after a day's accountancy basic training? One answer is that the First Great Western rail company cannot provide either a reliable service or effective air conditioning in their London route. Another answer is that I decided to take the smaller, stopping train to London as the direct train, though larger, was running late, and I have a theory that a late train only gets later.

The real reason that I'm even attempting to get to our nation's capital in the middle of a got July is friendship. Friendship is many things, and one of them is meeting up, catching up, and enjoying fine food and drink. This shall be done.

Boy is it hot in here, though. Yes. Yes it is. The rhetorical question is pointless in this context.

The week started amiably enough, but as yesterday drew on, I got a sense that, much like the rather short shorts on the tattooed legs of the quiz master at last night's pub quiz at which my girlfriend and I assisted her father and his friends into a narrow third place, something wasn't quite right.

To translate this metaphor, and indeed the meaning lost behind that last composite sentence, the bare legs which reviled me at work were in fact a combination of seemingly intertwined and frustratingly near but far solutions.

There's something in my personality which reacts to a challenge. If you give me a difficult puzzle, like getting to dundee for an evening, or playing comedy to a tent sparsely under filled with children, I'll rise to it and defeat the impossible with simple tricks. If, however, you give me something which looks easy, and hides complexity, which shouldn't be there, I have a bit of a mental block. If several problems converge at the same time, if there's a time pressure, and if I have a sense of righteous indignation that the problems shouldn't even need to exist. . . Well, I am afraid that I see red.

And so it came to pass that from 3pm until I left work at 7pm last night, everything that could get in my way did. I started several things only to abort them rather than have them snowball and lead me into shaving a yak. I was not a happy bunny when I drove home.

Today was easier, though I must confess to a few losses of patience. Most notably, during a brief design review over lunch, I turned on my more idealistic and patronising voice and plodded on with displeasure. During the rest of the day I expressed any boredom by making a measured number of wisecracks. I managed to stay calm and not needful of the laugh while doing so, which allowed me to get away with more. The time passed more quickly for me at least, and my suggestion that the receptionists were in fact part of an art installation called 'the three disinterested women' was a hell of a lot kinder than what was actually running through my head at the time.

Since the training session had started at 9.30, I had had to be awake earlier than I prefer, which I suppose I had better get used to, since I will need to do the same next week to have a chance of getting work commitments and performing commitments to balance. Despite it not being totally unreasonable to be in the office for 9, I was a bit woozy and like the proverbial sore headed bear.

I think I got enough sleep. Some of it was at 9 minute intervals as I accurately and instinctively balanced my sleep pattern with the last possible minute I could get up and still be on time. I wish I could just wake up, and trust myself to respond to an alarm at exactly the right time. No luck.

As well at the pub quiz, last night saw us watching a dvd. It was a Mel Gibson movie. I sort of forgot that he did the comic but violent action movie thing. In this film, Payback, he is a tough guy taking revenge on the guy who left him for dead and his mob associates. It's fairly unbelievable, but I found it watchable.

So. Despite having sat hear tapping away enough to fill 10k of text, that's one 36th of an old floppy disk, I'm still stuck on this hot train. My legs feel clammy. Perhaps I should have put on some light weight crop trousers, rather than these jeans. I decided to go with the jeans to avoid being too under dressed. The temperature of my body is rising as a result. At least I don't smell though. At least, I think I don't smell. I might. Sometimes people do. Some folks just got on the train, and they smell mighty bad. Pooey!

I will probably never find out whether this plan to beat the late train worked. As a non stopping train, this ought to be slower, but it's less crowded, and it doesn't appear to have been delayed at all. I shall assume that I made the right decision. I like to think I'm right. Don't we all.

One thing I have failed to get right is the run up to next week's show in Camden. There simply hasn't been the time to sort much out. . . I have done some stuff, but it may be too little too late. We'll see. The others should also have done some work, as should the venue. Of course if everyone thought that way. . .

Life is slowly running itself off the rails. The mortgage needs a kick start too. Note to self. Get life back on rails while it's still teetering rather than totally derailed.

Definitely possible.

Monday, July 24

Saturday's Challenge

The plan for Saturday was to get to Southampton in time to do the two gigs I had scheduled. To be precise, I needed to get there in time for the first one, which was at 2pm. I reckoned that I should arrive for 1pm to be certain of sound-checks running orders, getting my head into gear etc etc.

Fo some reason, my girlfriend, who hasn't seen me perform in about 10 months, decided to come with me. We hoped to get some time together to get lunch and relax between the 2pm show and the 6pm show which was to follow it. I am always glad to invite her to gigs, but realise that it's not always a good thing for her to see me clowning about on stage, or for her to be stuck in a back-stage area, outside of the show... or on her own watching a show with me in it. We gave it a try anyway.

2pm is very early for a comedy gig, and this one was bound to be tricky. The odds were stacked unfavourably when I agreed to do it. However, my already low expectations turned out to be way too high.

As we got towards Southampton, the rain started to pour. It was so heavy that some cars just gave up, pulled over and put their hazard lights on. My wipers weren't fast enough to clear it. However, I won't let a bit of water stand in my way, so I kept going, my shorts and shirt feeling cooler than they had when I put them on in a hot Reading a couple of hours previously.

We got to the parking area and an unhelpful youth disinterestedly indicated where I could park. Then he pointed vaguely at the area where we might find the tents with organisers of this event in.

Checking in
I found the organiser's tent and my booking agent, who had gotten me the gig, and had himself booked the other acts, was waiting. I was the first of the three acts to arrive for the afternoon show. The plan was for me to MC and bring the other acts on. We had an hour between us. So I'd expect to do 20 minutes with their acts becoming 20 minute interludes in my ramblings. Not bad.

We knew that the show couldn't be offensive, but it didn't have to be "family friendly" - there would, apparently, be warning signs.

Warning Signs
Warning sign number one, folks, is when you're back stage with 20 minutes to go before the show and there are no acts other than yourself.

Warning sign number minus one, though, is when you see a standing-only tent, with a few families in it, sheltering from the rain. Yep. It was going to be family friendly, whether I liked it or not.

Going on alone
MCs don't like to go on stage without any acts present - you can't introduce someone who isn't there. As it came time to start the show, it became clear that one act wasn't coming at all, and another was heavily delayed. My girlfriend and I racked our brains for any material I could use to bring laughter to the crowd. I wrote a note at the start of the list of pieces to do which read "Be a street performer" - I'd have to work the crowd. We reckoned that the other act might turn up halfway through the show, but if he didn't then I had up to an hour to fill - maybe nearer 40 minutes, as we started a bit late and would have to finish dead on time - a little sooner than would have given us the full hour anyway.

So, I took to the stage, uncertain of what would happen, how to clean up my material, or whether the crowd would reward my efforts by leaving. I could take stony faces, but a walk-out would be fairly destructive. Of course the rain was on my side in this instance. Provided I was cheerful and inoffensive, people wouldn't have too much reason to walk out.

The Ashley Frieze Show
I did about 40 minutes for these people. Overall, I cleaned up my material enough to get away with it, and I dropped a few favourites. I managed to change the word "bastard" to "idiot" in one song, but forgot about the "shit" which followed... D'oh!

In one song, the line "They found her vagina on the roof of a morris minor" was changed to "I'm sorry, this bit is unsuitable for children".

People didn't walk out and I felt relaxed and happy up there, even when the laughs didn't quite come as reliably as I might have liked. The time passed quickly enough.

The Harshest Review
A young girl stopped me as I was picking up my guitar - she said "You were funnily bad". I said that that sounded ok. After all, it meant I was funny, perhaps embodying a spirit of being the underdog, suffering at the expense of the joke. Then she corrected herself. She said, "No, you were badly funny. You were bad. At being funny."

Everyone's a critic.

I had a good time.

Cutting my losses
Rather than stay for the 6pm show, which I was also down to do, I decided to go home. They had less time than originally planned, and the act who didn't make it to the 2pm show was going to stay for the later show and do that instead. So, I left them to it.

It turned out that the later show had loads of people in it and was a lot more rip-roaring, though one of the acts died... and there really wasn't enough time for two acts, let alone three. I think I made the right decision leaving. We got to go to the cinema instead. Result!


Sunday was a great day. I woke late and liked it. Then I got some rare peace and quiet to finish my article. I don't have any complaints about living in a busy house hold, but sometimes the silence of one's own company is really nice. I had the tv on, so perhaps I missed the point.

I had managed, the previous day, to flesh out more than half of the article, leaving the tricky bit, which required me to neatly summarise some blogs, and the polishing. It was a pleasant experience.

I considered this weekend to be the easy bit before the slog, so some time to relax was appreciated. Some tv was watched, including the incomprehensible Lost. That was that. A good Sunday.

Friday Fun

The weekend went well. I had been thinking of it as the calm before the storm that I expect to be gripping my life in the next couple of months. Thing is, though, I still don't feel like I am anywhere near a tempest. Time will tell.

Anyway, this weekend had it all. Gig. Diy. Movies. Sleep. All that I might have added would have been a barbecue, but you can't have everything.

Leaving work on Friday, I celebrated the end of the airshow. No longer would I have to set off early and still expect huge delays. . . Well, until next year at least. I stopped off at my rented accommodation, and filled my car with more of my stuff. Overall, I'm virtually moved out, but I need to be totally moved out to get my deposit back. I reckon it won't be much work.

The complement to moving my stuff yet again is that I'm getting to do another small scale life laundry. I gave away a lot of clothes when I moved out of Newcastle. Since then, I have bought more clothes and lost some weight. I also have less hanging space than can accommodate everything, so it's time to get rid. That's sort of fun, though a part of me is still a relentless hoarder.

Those guinea pigs needed more of my DIY time on Friday and I worked quickly and efficiently to complete the Berlin wall style division in their run and overhead hutch with ramps. I impressed my girlfriend and myself by modifying an old pair of jeans, used for DIY, to make them into trendy crop trousers. I simply snipped off the bottoms of the legs. Haute Couture here I come.

Once the woodwork was complete, it was possible for both guinea pigs to occupy it without any chance of them actually tearing into each other's flesh. The big white one - responsible for my poorly thumb - had already been living in the hutch and had mastered the ramp. The small black one had remained in the house. So, we had to go through the process of teaching him how to use the ramp. This involved basically chasing him and cajoling him up and down the ramp a couple of times until he realised that it was something he could do. I'm sure that he would have worked it out anyway, but a bit of "tough love" seemed to get the job done quicker.

Now complete, both of the creatures make short work of getting about their new home and it has been moved to a more permanent position at the back of the garden. I'm quite proud of it. We're even considering getting another guinea pig to join the gang, though it would be horrendous if this one also turned out to be territorial... then we'd have to make another divide.

At some point we took a trip to the pet store and bought various supplies including some corn-on-the-cob for rodents. It's like normal corn on the cob, but it has been sundried. They seem to like it and it looks delicious. I'm a sucker for corn at the moment, consuming much in the way of both the pop-corn and the cobbed variety.

That was Friday's fun.

Saturday, July 22

Joining Technorati

My Technorati Profile is here. Now I just need to claim my blog.

Thursday, July 20

Illiterate Bastards

Notwithstanding the fact that some people are lexically disabled in a way which means they can't do this, in which case I'd recommend that they steer clear of jobs in which it's important, in much the way that paraplegics don't often do Window Cleaning jobs, I am sick to death of being surrounded by examples of our language being abused. I know that I'm responsible for a number of typographic errors. I know that my own sentence structure, often festooned with pointless asides, sometimes prevents, rather than encourages understand. Fair enough, this is my blog for people who want to hear it my way to read.

The problem, my friends, is that there are people out there writing signs and instructions for Joe Public without the ability to form correct sentences or spell words correctly. Don't even start me on punctuation.

I don't know why I like words so much, but I do. I like to read them. I like to make sense of them. I love to make double-meanings from them - hence the comedy stuff. I like, at the very least, to make a single meaning of them. I am not the best proof reader that I know, but I have a natural ability to spot a lexical error. There, I think, lies my problem.

Much like the bum note sung by the amateur singer, the typographical error, especially in something which has been printed, or elevated to a customer-facing role, stands out and spoils the experience. It lessens my opinion of the writer, the company involved, and the overall quality of whatever it is attached to.

Last night saw two examples:
  • - after a bit of clunky wrangling with their website, they said that "We can't find the holiday you WHERE looking for" (my capitalisation). Some computer programmer, somewhere, who has probably got to use the SQL "WHERE" clause in code, has probably accidentally put this on the screen... but do people not proof read. If their website is clunky and their spelling is unchecked, how shit are their holidays going to be? I stopped using their site. They may have lost several hundred pounds' worth of business for me. Don't even think to question my use of the apostrophe in that last sentence!
  • Tesco's Paint - Tesco is not the best punctuated of people. Still, every little helps, right? In the case of their paint, which should not be used on "bear wood", perhaps a bit of spelling might also have helped? Unless there is a tree, made out of bears, I think they probably mean "bare wood".
Sorry to rant about this, but it winds me up. I think that they should reintroduce corporal punishment in schools for bad spelling, except in certified cases of dyslexia, which I can hardly expect to spell any more than I could expect the fat kids to be able to run the 4 minute mile.

An Experiment

If I were to post that John Prescott is a big fan of speleology, how quickly do you think that this page would become a significant hit on Google?

It's a good question, and one which challenges the nature of modern journalism.

If this makes no sense, then worry not. It's just an experiment.

Thursday already

Despite being hampered by the air-show traffic, the week has still managed to progress rapidly to Thursday and I'm still concerned about being behind. As next Monday arrives, my life will hit a ridiculous pace, heading towards the lunacy of the Fringe, then beyond into the post-Fringe blues, the holiday planning, the holiday, the post-holiday blues and, before you know it, I'll have bought a house and be doing Crisis at Christmas... at least that's the plan for the end of the year.

I'm glad that I've been shedding the weight, since I don't think I'll be able to survive the next few months if I don't keep myself to less-than-lumbering-monster proportions.

Yesterday's plans for a post-work evening's recreation went slightly awry. If you text FILM to 241 on Orange, you get a code which entitles you to buy two tickets for the price of one at a cinema. If you then take those cinema tickets to Nando's, they give you two meals for the price of one. That, to me, sounded like a good night out. Half price on movies and flame-grilled Peri Peri chicken - two things I like a lot.

Sadly, the plans fell over. Some things in life are not as you imagine. For example, I imagined that the cousin I referred to a couple of posts ago was my mother's first cousin, but he is, in fact, the son of my mother's first cousin. Where does that leave us? Probably nowhere interesting. So, indeed, it's probably not interesting to make a big deal of why the plans failed. It was something to do with the combination of it being the hottest day of the year so far (I measured temperatures of 37 in my car on the way home, though the official highest temperature was 36.3 at Gatwick) and the fact that there were no movies on at the cinema which we jointly wanted to see.

Standing outside a cinema, near a Nando's, we questioned the whole trip. Why were we in Reading town centre at a complex with the facility to give us movies and chicken if we didn't want movies and chicken? Did we want food? Yes. It was late and we were hungry. Did we want chicken? We thought so. So what should we do.

We just had the chicken. It wasn't difficult. We eat a lot of this sort of thing and I think it's pretty good for you. We took a table outside, so we could see the people go by and get a nice breeze. In reality what this actually meant was that we got a wonky table and smoke from the neighbouring cancer-addicts. However, the food was characteristically good, so it was worth staying around for it.

Our neighbours at the next table were replaced by what I can only describe as a bunch of marketing wankers. There's no other way to describe them. Total utter wankers. Men and women alike. I don't know if they were ad-agency types, or perhaps in a marketing department. Maybe they were just the sort of people who think that marketing is the only real thing in the world. They were clearly a group of "special people" with received opinions and a low threshold for amazement. They were mulling over an acronym "TV", standing for "Terrific Vibes" - if you hear it in some marketing campaign somewhere, you'll know that it came from a bunch of air-headed twenty somethings who eat chicken. Personally, I thought it was nonsense. Just as I'd commented to my girlfriend that these people were winding me up and were total dicks (I think it was the conversation one started with another which I interpreted as "please can you give me advice on how to make the best use of my drugs"), one of the girls launched quasi-religiously into a rendition of Peter Kays "hilarious" garlic bread routine.

For those people who don't know Peter Kay's routine. Here it is.

"Garlic bread? Garlic? and bread?"

That's it. It's in the category of taking the perfectly normal and questioning it. It's funny because you take garlic bread for granted until someone points out how odd it sounds. It's funny because he delivers it so incredulously, and in his cute Boltonian accent... it's funny because...

...actually, it's not that funny at all. Mildly amusing at first and then remarkably annoying - especially when repeated by airheads who think that they're clever by liking the lowest-common-denominator style of comedy.

I'm not a Peter Kay fan.

After food we went to Tesco - one of our chapels of sin... there we bought some TCP (also the name of a networking protocol) to replace the 9-years-out-of-date TCP we found in the cupboard, along with some cotton wool - I wanted to redress my Guinea Pig bite and clean it up again.

Some clothes shopping was also performed and we bought some lettuce for the wee piggies.

Guinea Pig Fun
The last couple of days have been quite guinea pig oriented. Assembling the giant hutch/run was a task for an evening, as was being bitten in the thumb by the warring white fluffy one. It sounds like such a thing would be minor, but after being shoved around a lot, and put back in the same space as the other male, Wilfred was in a big fighting mood and he was not taking prisoners. As a result, I have thumb which spent some of yesterday swelling up and hurting. My writing, never the best, has been hampered by restrictions to my right hand's opposable appendage... basically, the day was spent remembering why it hurts to be attacked by a small rodent.

Yet there's more to do with the piggies. We are going to have to set up a Berlin-wall style divide in both the hutch and also the run. So, we'll probably have to do that tonight. We still have to feed these creatures, which don't, individually, mean any harm - except to each other. Hell, we may even get another one.

There is a certain satisfaction to be gained from watching Wilfred climb the ramp which I modified to have more rungs for his little feet... even though his is responsible for much pain and throbbing.

Taking off the steri-strips last night, I discovered that my wound had some weeping to do and I bathed it in hot water and TCP... it feels a bit better today. I know I'm being a drama queen about this, but I don't want an infection, especially on the thing I use to write, drive, play the piano and guitar, and type (well, to hit the space bar). Now is not a time to have my body go out of action for any reason.

Wednesday, July 19

The Young Ones

We were watching a documentary last night on The Young Ones. This programme was a fairly cutting edge comedic offering that achieved first cult and then mainstream following on BBC in the 80's. In some ways it was very anti-mainstream. The comedians involved were obviously a part of the alternative comedy scene.

It struck me as interesting with hindsight to see how sold out to the mainstream each of the team became. By sold out to the mainstream I'm going to use the West End musical as the yardstick. In general a musical is a populist form of entertainment, deeply rooted in the cash-generation strategies of modern entertainment. I happen to like musicals, and not just the twee pleasing-to-everybody sort. I like the off-beat ones which subvert the genre, or show incredible prowess which transcends the fact that it happens to be a musical... but to an alternative comedian, appearing in a musical should still look like selling out.

Ben Elton - writer and occasional appearances. Clearly now a West End bitch, having co-written a musical The Beautiful Game with Andrew Lloyd-Webber and also having buggered with Queen for We Will Rock You. Any street-cred Elton had is successfully destroyed.

Ade Edmonson - Vivian. I have a recording of him in The Rocky Horror Show. Since this was, itself, a cult musical, perhaps it's not a sell-out for him to appear in it. Richard O'Brien is a quirky soul and his masterpiece is probably the sort of thing you'd think was away from the mainstream... but it's very widely popular, the sort of thing that young people who want to be wacky like. O'Brien himself was the original West End childcatcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and the current run of the Rocky Horror Show stars Roger Lloyd-Pack of Only Fools and Horses fame... a mainstream offering of immense proportions.

Rik Mayall - Rik. I nearly forgot that he was in the 90's cast of Jesus Christ Superstar as King Herod.

Christopher Ryan - Mike. Easily a forgotten part of the cast, as he's not had the same sort of profile as the others, perhaps a result of being short. However, it was my girlfriend who successfully identified him on stage in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang when we saw it last year at Andrew Lloyd-Webber's theatre on the West End.

Nigel Planer - Neil. Perhaps an exception to the rest, Nigel is not so much an alternative comedian as he is a character actor. However, character actors sometimes do musicals, and I have a recording on my computer (a few clicks away) of the London Cast of Chicago in which Nigel played Amos, the cuckolded husband of Roxy Hart.

Alexei Sayle - various bit parts. This is the one member of the crew who appears not to have been involved in musicals. There was a 1985 TV movie, which included Sting in its cast, called Ligmalion, but that looks like a satire, rather than a straight bit of musical theatre.

There... I got that off my chest.

Injury Time

Last night I was injured. It happened in a way that I might not have predicted. In order to avoid creating a sense of suspense over whether I'm in hospital, I'll reveal that I lost a small amount of blood, I wasn't the only person to be injured, no hospital visit or medical help was sought and four steri-strips were applied as the overall solution to the problem.

However, the story is about the telling, not just the result.

Here's a question to consider when I tell the story: is this a DIY accident?

I got back to Reading last night via the Tesco where I discovered I'd only lost a pound this week, which was a bit of a disappointment. The combination hutch and run, which my girlfriend had bought for her guinea pigs, had arrived. It comprised a number of wooden panels, some with a mesh, some screws and some really badly written instructions, including a request to "faten" some panels. I tried feeding them mashed potatoes, but ended up just fastening them to each other.

The run was assembled first. Then it came time to assemble the hutch, which sits on the run and has a ramp/ladder which leads from a hole in its floor to the ground where the guinea pigs (or rabbits, as the run was intended for bunnies mainly) can run around.

The hutch was harder to assemble and lead to a discussion over how the hinged roof should be attached. The hinges didn't seem to be an obvious fit for anywhere. I eventually sussed out the mechanism, but still managed to attach the hinges so that some screws were poking out somewhere. Not good. Still, I moved the hinges to the corners and the hinged roof did its job.

Final job, put the guinea pigs into their new home.

We quickly discovered that the rungs on the ramp/ladder were too far apart for the little piggies to use. We shoved them up and down the ladder a few times and they couldn't go up without help, and slid down between rungs. So, out came the saw and some scrap wood. I'm not as careful as I should be with the saw, but somehow managed to cut extra rungs, which I then nailed to the ramp. More guinea piggy shoving and it was clear that the bigger of the guinea pigs would master the ladder. We seemed to have it set up ok.

Despite the cat slinking about the place, this run looked like a good home for the two creatures, who have been confined to a small cage until now. Worse than that, they've had only half the cage each - a divider having been set up to stop them fighting. The bigger one is very territorial and had been injuring the smaller one. Indeed, even in the expanse of the new run, they were still squaring up to each other and the bigger one attacked the smaller one a couple of times.

In a foolish attempt to shove the cute white fluffy guinea pig away from the cute small black one, I suddenly found my thumb bleeding and in a lot of pain. The little bastard had given me something bigger than a nip. Ouch and a half. My girlfriend stepped in to shove him away and got a hole in her finger. Holding my bleeding thumb, I put a bit of board in front of the nasty white animal and rescued the small guinea pig.

Then, like extras from a Monty Python movie, with one of the two warring animals in tow, we escaped into the kitchen to clean wounds.

My thumb hurts a lot.

Here's the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the musical of which will hit the West End stage in October:

That's the one that got me, officer.

It's a good job that I'm not gigging heavily this week - the thumb is used for guitar picking and plectrum holding. I think it should be healed enough by the weekend when my next gig is.

Tuesday, July 18

Damn This Airshow

When I was a kid, my dad brought me to Farnborough to see the air show. It was an exciting trip and I only vaguely remember it. I have two key components to the memory. I remember having a good day out with my father and a sort of cousin of ours. I say "sort of", not because he wasn't a cousin, but more because he wasn't exactly the straightforward cousin people usually class as cousin. If I have a baby, then my sister's baby and my baby will be first cousins. Simple. However, this cousin was my mother's first cousin and, therefore, some sort of cousin to me. I'm not sure what.

That's not really important. It is sort of important, in that it has a certain type of importance, but it's not helping the narrative here, so I'll quit the whole cousin bit of the story.

No, dammit. I can't. My cousin is an important part of this tale. Thinking about it, he's someone who was a key comedic influence in my life. When I was born I was jaundiced - as in the yellow Simpsons-like skin, rather than a general sense of cynicism about the world. As my family sat around miserable, it was this cousin whose jokes cheered them up. Perhaps he set the ball rolling, as I recall being put on a step at some point in my early years and encouraged to do some sort of party piece which involved creating laughs. In those days, I don't think I necessarily understood the reason why the combination of words and music was funny, but I knew that it was funny and I used to experiment with the art and craft of combining things in unusual ways which made more laughs than sense.

So, to the down side of the original Farnborough trip. Bear in mind that I was with the funny cousin who I tended to feel like I wanted to be funny around. As we dropped him off at his house, I think I had to remove a jacket from the back seat of the car. Unbeknownst to me, the jacket had his camera on it. So, as I removed it from the car, the camera fell on the floor and maybe broke, or maybe threatened to break. I was obviously going to be feeling guilty about this. Nobody wants to break someone's camera... at least not someone they like's camera. So, in the moment and trying to distract attention away from my embarrassment, I cracked a joke:

"Oh dear, you'd better send us the bill for that. When we get it we can have a good laugh at it."

Not the most sympathetic of lines to come out of the mouth of a child. I thought it would be funny. I was wrong.

A bad memory of the Farnborough Air Show.

Now, I work in Farnborough and the memories are different.

Over last week, while we were trying to have meetings to discuss the forthcoming work, we had regular interruptions by the jet-engines of pilots practicing for displays of flying which are, apparently, going to happen this week. The interruptions tended to coincide with the key word of a sentence or the moment where things really needed a bit of clear thinking. Annoying.

That's nothing.

This week, it's all about traffic. Farnborough is, basically, a tiny little backwater. It hasn't got immense roads and, although near the M3, it's not that well connected to the rest of the country. There are lots of little roads to nearby places and a few dual carriageways. As a result, I'm spending this week pondering the various alternative methods of getting into the office to avoid the key traffic jam in which I spent about 30 minutes on Monday, over the distance which usually represents the last 5 minutes of my route into work. Given that the roads in this part of the world are already fairly busy of a morning, this is not a welcome development.

Annoyingly, in order to get up earlier, I set the alarm for a very early time and then I wake up about 20 minutes before it goes off, panicked that I may have missed it. Even more annoyingly, rather than set off for work at 6-something, when I could go any way I like and face no traffic, I go into lazy-mode and snooze my way through an hour or so. So, I'm getting the worst of all worlds.

Having said that, I have been experimenting with the art of using the local roads inventively. Some of this has involved guesswork, some sat-nav, and some local knowledge. I've learned a bit this week.

Other Sat Nav News
On two occasions in the last week I've been stopped and asked for directions - once in Farnborough and once in Reading. On both occasions my answer has been - "I've no idea, but I've got a sat-nav, hold on a couple of minutes". Am I becoming a sat-nav junkie? or has the sat-nav allowed me to be the friend of any lost person in any part of the country, whether I know it or not?

Who cares!?

Monday, July 17

Infernal Unreliability

I tend to feel more sane in the present than I ever remember myself being in the past. I think it's an age thing. I think that it's also a self-delusion. We need to convince ourselves that we're making the most of our lives in order to avoid feeling depressed and fearful of impending death (geologically speaking, we're all about to die... soon!). So, it makes sense to think that now is our wisest and sanest hour, and that any events in the past are indicative of a lunatic spirit now purged by today's clear-thinking.

In truth, I've often looked back and felt this, which probably means that, in a year's time, I'll look back on this day and consider myself to be woefully deluded. Which, probably, means that I've been absolutely barking mad all along.


However, looking back to some sort of in-the-moment account of how I see life, is a luxury I'm allowed as a result of my frequent (but not necessarily regular enough) additions to this blog/journal/diary/brain-dump/whatever. The annoyance is that I don't always write in it. When life gets very busy, and when my grip on sanity becomes the most tenuous, I tend to fail to write down what's going on.

As an example, there's a great big hole in the blog for October 2005 - don't look in the archives, it's not there. October last year was probably one of the most significant times in my life. My relationship with my job was completely changed and my life in Newcastle suddenly looked optional, rather than an essential part of my future. Not a dickie bird (which, when you think about it, must be rhyming slang for "not a word").


As a result of this, I have decided to retrospectively blog last week's antics. I'll try to keep it brief and interesting. I'll fail. The posts will also appear before this, so if you read things in order, it will look like I'm saying that I'm going to do something which you've already read. That's not my problem.

Friday, July 14

The Lead-in

Life is all about events and the things which lead to them. When I'm gigging, the few hours of driving are an easily identified lead-in to an event. But looking back on a week where I can remember only the gigs as highlights, the days between gigs also lead between them.

I remember watching King Kong at some point over the weekend just gone. King Kong was a few hours of my life that are now forever invested in watching the over-blown underwritten special-effects festival which Peter Jackson was able to thrust upon the world because he is who he is. It was alright. It didn't drag that much and Jack Black was very watchable (as always). However, if I had the choice of King Kong or School of Rock, then I'd watch the latter again.

Some tidying up of my girlfriend's room was performed, in anticipation of the impending move-in which I'm going to do when all my Farnborough-based possessions are transported across to Reading.

The photos, taken on Monday, were reviewed as was the poster for the show in Edinburgh:

oooh - brooding!

The dog was a lot of work.

The gig
It's amazing how much blurs into non-memory. However, at some point in the melee of activity which is my life, I got into a car and started driving to Huddersfield.

Getting 211 miles into the North West is not an easy exercise from this part of the world. There are a lot of counties to traverse (I'm always impressed that I can cross from Berkshire through Surrey into Hampshire on my usual trip to work) and there are lots of nasty roads. If I could cite any roads that I would like to avoid, they would be the M3, the M25 and the M6. Listen to traffic reports, you know I'm right. My route to Huddersfield seemed to have two options.
  1. Take the M3, M25 and M1
  2. Take the M3 for a little bit, then work through the M40, M42, M6 and M62 and go an extra 30 or 40 miles into the bargain
The horns of a dilemma. The M1 route seemed the straight route to Huddersfield, but the M25 was not a nice section. However, the M6 could be useful with the M6 Toll road providing a neat shortcut (in time, not distance) but could also be a big risk, being further AND also coming up on traffic reports as a hot spot.

So, I took the shortest route.

It was not an easy journey. I had to be at the venue for 8ish and it was getting tighter as I went along. The overturned truck on the M3 was on the opposite carriageway - that could have been a stop for my whole route. The M25 was horrible, the M1 had roadworks at regular intervals, killing the road. Then the country lanes from the M1 into Huddersfield were blocked with some Sunday-driver types who couldn't drive even close to the speed limit. These weren't even country windy lanes, just non-dual carriageway A roads, which happen to go through green bits.

I was unimpressed with the whole process.

Though the sat-nav guided me directly to the venue (bar some complicated one-way system renegotiation which was easy enough with my common sense and its maps), I couldn't park there directly. I got slightly disoriented when I found a nearby carpark (free!) and then tried to find my way back to the venue on foot. Local people hadn't heard of the venue or the road. In fact, when I found the road and asked some people on a bench if they knew which way the venue was, even they hadn't heard of the road, despite being on it.

Getting to the venue, I found a few problems.
  • Very few audience
  • More acts than the bill could support
  • Nowhere obvious to plug my guitar in
Slightly frazzled from the journey, I wasn't in a mood to worry about it. I wasn't in a mood to bow out of the gig either. A couple of guys decided to take one for the team and step down. One had only come because he wasn't certain that his cancellation had been processed - he went. Another was fairly local and wasn't in the mood for a gig. I wasn't exactly on top form, but I had invested over 4 hours in my journey and wasn't going to make it a waste of the effort.

The guitar problems were solved with a couple of bits and bobs from my bag of tricks. Nothing clever - just enough lead extension to get me a line from the stage to the DJ desk, which had the right connection in it. The sound-check I did was cursory and good enough... though sound wasn't that good.

I was on in the middle.

The compere turned a small audience into a good crowd for comedy, though not the easiest of crowds. The first act did a good job and I really enjoyed him. However, this audience weren't able to laugh very loudly unless they were worked.

I went on and did my thing. My mp3 player had run out of power, so I don't have a recording. I'm not that keen to remember what went on, though. It wasn't my finest hour, nor was it my worst... just somewhere in between. At a couple of points I remember racking my brain for something to do which would be bigger than what I was doing. It felt like the difference between the material I needed and the material I had in my arsenal was obvious to me as I stood in front of an audience that needed firebombing with Ashley to get any laughs to explode from them.

Still, they stuck with me and the other acts spoke to me after I'd been on.

Not doubling up
When I planned the gig, I was told I'd be on in the first section and that the show would start 8.30. I envisaged being offstage by 9.30. Another gig in Liverpool that night was being organised and I'd suggested doubling-up and hot-footing it to Liverpool to close it after the Huddersfield performance. That would be fun to do and would make more of the journey.

As it happened, the Liverpool gig didn't need me and so I wasn't planning that hotfootage. I had, instead, told my girlfriend that I'd head back when I had finished performing, so it wouldn't be as late a night. This I did. However, the delays in the show's start and the messing with the running order meant that I didn't leave Huddersfield until 11. It's good that I didn't have a double-up planned. Someone would have been let down and I would have been very pissed off.

Some things kind of just work out... like the fact that I've no gigs next week, when there's an airshow on and I'm not going to be able to travel easily.

Monday, July 10

Designs and Pictures

Design week
This week at work is called "Design Week". It's a week where we don't make any new code and, instead, prepare for a four week period of coding by spending a week investigating the requirements, writing designs, working out interdependencies between tasks and working out how to order the work in the following week. In my previous company, some of this was done by a small group of people, "analysing" the problems and "writing stories", and the rest of this was done in a 2 hour meeting, part of which was spent showing what we'd done last time, and part of which was called "the planning game" which involved "guessing" what the hell we might be able to achieve while management guessed what the hell they might want.

I don't think it worked at my last company.

I think the design week can work quite well. The only negative I can see is the old "work expands to fill the available time" thing. Because we have a week to do these designs, we take a week to do it. We're also doing "BUFD" - "Big Up Front Design", which seems to go against the idea of making a snug to-order solution that is based on immediate requirements, rather than some stuff that appeared in the mist of someone's crystal ball. However, we're only designing for four weeks' worth of requirements, and I think the process of going through the design tends to reveal the things which would otherwise hurt us badly during coding.

So, comparing this week to the last two weeks, which I spent "always on the brink" while coding on the critical path, with what felt like the entire success of the project resting on my shoulders (felt like, not necessarily exactly like that), starting this design week felt like a breeze of fresh air.

Off To Manchester
The slightly lighter weight week (try saying that quickly) was complemented by a couple of gigs. Today's gig was a preview of the Great Big Comedy Picnic - the show I'm a part of in August at the Fringe. We were performing at Bar XS in Fallowfield - one of my all time favourite venues. I headed out of the office at 4ish with the aim of getting to the venue by about 7.30. The show was due to start at 8.30, and I wanted an hour to try out some new material.

Part of the idea of going to Edinburgh to do stand-up is to push myself into doing something newer or better. Part of the idea of a preview is to try out material which is going to be used as part of the show in Edinburgh. Therefore, it followed that I should try out something new. How new? Well, I had been rolling an idea round in my head for a bit and I've been trying out introductory bits which seem to get me there at other gigs. So, I tried to complete the writing bit and some of the rehearsing in the car on the way to the gig. In this case, it was a song, so part of the rehearsing involved working out the chords and how to play it. I took a wild guess at what the chords would be, based on my knowledge of music, my ear for music, some experiments I'd done with an earlier draft of the song, and pure guesswork. I would have an hour when I arrived at the venue to try it all out and commit it to memory.

One of the problems I have with this sort of thing - trying out a new song in front of an audience - is that I tend to go into the song a bit quick and not necessarily have each line on the tip of my tongue. This means I have to actively remember it and, also do so at a pace while trying to convey what I think is funny to the audience. This is easily gotten wrong and I have, on more than one occasion, found myself stopping a song midway through as I can't remember the next bloody line! I wanted to avoid that happening.

There were a couple of things in the song which I thought were a bit weak and a couple I thought would work quite well. The song was based on the repeated phrase "Weekend Dad" and was a McFly-esque "trying to be sensitive, but being inappropriately jaunty" ditty. I was aware that the "Weekend Dad" bit had exactly the same tune as "Absent Friends" by The Divine Comedy. However, since it's only two notes, and since I was also going somewhere else with the chords, I didn't think that mattered. As a tribute to McFly's tribute to The Beatles, I had a Beatles ending on the end... also derivative, then... and finally, there was a line in there from a Squeeze song (I think) about being "up the junction". Quite a lot of influences, then. However, the acidic phrases about a divorcee dad and his access to his kids, felt like it might be interesting.

The gig
I arrived in plenty of time. I had the chance to rehearse and see other people arriving. The MC of the gig was also previewing his show and was unusually nervous.

Amazingly, a fairly substantial audience turned out, despite this not being the regular night for the gig. The show got underway late, and I'd paced around playing the same 5 chords over and over until I reckoned I'd got it all sussed. The atmosphere in the "green room" (which is actually not green or even a room) was quite tense and I was starting to feel affected by it myself.

The first act on was part of our show. We had only 45 minutes for our three acts, so that was 15 minutes each. Ideally we'd have had 20 minutes each, as that's what we're doing in Edinburgh, but it's still worth coming all the way to Manchester to do 15 minutes in front of the particular audience who attend Bar XS. So, on with the show. Unfortunately, the first 15 turned into nearly 18. Given the tension of the MC, who was worried about his own show (in part two of the night) overrunning and not working, an overrun in our bit was turned into some backstage tension. We replanned. The middle act and I were told to cut down our time more. Whatever. Just make the show work.

When the middle act went on, I was then told what time we needed to be done by. So, essentially, my role was just to bridge from when she finished to when our slot was up. This could be 10 minutes, it could even be 20. It would depend... ideally, I should keep it shorter, rather than pad it out. However, from my own point of view I had three missions:
  1. Make the trip worthwhile
  2. Do something new
  3. Leave the audience warmed up and laughing
The first is my primary objective whenever I travel more than 100 miles for a gig. The second was "preview" objective. The third was my contribution to the night itself. The first two acts had taken the brunt of a cold audience and they were both fairly low-key acts. I'm a barn-stormer of a high-energy cheery-mo'fo' and I wanted to leave a big cheer in the room... the ice should be broken.

Overall, my set went well enough. Some bits failed slightly (even bits which I'd tried a few times and thought worked). I wasn't incredibly confident when I ploughed into my new bit, but I ploughed into it nonetheless. I forgot it, of course, but kept the song going, which dragged it out a bit, and got a big laugh in the middle and a big applause at the end. I felt, however, that it hadn't worked. I ended strongly enough and met my three main objectives (enough).

Just before leaving, another act had a quiet word with me, along the lines of "some of your gags in that song are nicked from my set". He wasn't being horrible, or suggesting I'd necessarily nicked it. He'd been shocked to find something he considered as his material suddenly sung at him by me. I was surprised he'd taken it that way too and wasn't sure whether I'd ever heard this particular bit of his material. On balance, I probably have. On balance too, the things he pointed out are not jokes, they're just observations of fact, which he makes jokes of, and I rhyme into a song.

If anything would guarantee the demise of version 1 of "Weekend Dad", it would be the combination of one comedian's discomfort with the similarities between the lyrics and his material, and my discomfort with the first performance.

I think there may be a version 2 waiting in the wings, but I don't know.

Of all the known plagiarisms in the song, the actual breaking point was elsewhere.

As I was leaving the venue, I was simultaneously collared by another act and a member of the audience. The other act is a smashing fellow and I always enjoy talking to him. There's a certain amount of admiration which means that when he speaks to me, I'm chuffed. So, he got my attention for the few seconds of the conversation. I'd almost completely blanked the audience member. However, something flagged inside my head to make sure I spoke to the audience member - without the audience I'm nothing, and I felt it would be rude not to be respectful of the unknown person who had accosted me. I turned to him and was gracious. It turned out he'd seen me a few times and still didn't hate me. Good times!

Photo Shoot
I hurried from the gig before the second half of the show as I was to have my photos taken. We needed two sets. One was for the poster for the show in Edinburgh (I was the last to be snapped), the second was for my own self-promotion (as a stand-up comedian).

It took a couple of hours and was accompanied by gig stories and amusement as I pulled a multitude of faces and posed in a suit, or with my guitar slung over my shoulder. The results were impressive. More on that when they're delivered further.

Late Night Drive
A late night drive home was accompanied with the gig recording. The gig had gone better than I thought, but that's the sort of audience where anything vaguely cheery can sound amazing.

Sunday, July 9

Bright Saturday

My girlfriend's grandmother is in town. She has her dog with her. It's a West Highland terrier called Ella. We got up Saturday morning to take this dog for a walk. I was distracted by the barber's shop and so dropped in to have my head trimmed. The barber wasn't completely accurate, nor was he tender, but he still did a reasonable job.

After I rejoined the dog-walking, we came back to the house where I discovered a comment from "Tarrant", a 15 year old nerd, on my World's Worst 100 Websites blog. I have, since, left a comment of my own. In essence, the kid's comment was something like "I think your list sucks". My response was "I think your spelling sucks". I reckon we're even.

To Brighton
After some sitting around on Saturday, we headed to Brighton to see Jerry Springer The Opera. This show has been edited slightly since we saw it on the West End. Knowing the show as much as I appear to, I noticed the edits. The biggest edit was in "God"'s song, which had a whole new verse added. Very nice.

As we entered the venue, we were flyered by some Christians. I respect their right to hand out flyers and hold their opinions. I even read their flyer - also full of spelling errors. It's strange. In some ways I see their opinion - they consider the religious figures so holy and important that the apparent mockery of them in the show is taken as personally as if Stewart Lee and Richard Thomas had written a musical about one of them's mother and then tried to explain that it wasn't meant to cause offence or harm. However, the real reason that they Christian's took offence is probably the same as the reason that some of the people left the auditorium during the show. As one couple walked out about 10 minutes before the end, I heard the reason vocalised - the over-primped girl said to her boyfriend, in protestation as they left, "I just don't understand it."

The flyer about JSTO claims to have been written by an anonymous person who has seen the show. I doubt he or she understood it. Had they understood it, they would have realised that the second act raises some important moral and theological questions. Does religion adequately explain the depraved nature of society? Is the garden of Eden story fair? To quote the libretto - "For one little apple on a little tree, we get a life of grief and misery" to which Jesus replies "You had your chance and you blew it". The net result of original sin, apparently, is the sort of depravity which is so glamourised by the Jerry Springer Show and the false idols that are the likes of Springer himself - a man who cannot solve your problems for you. The best he can ever muster is a sort of laissez faire amorality, which appeases everyone and noone. And that's the message of JSTO. Christianity doesn't like to see its religious icons used to illustrate this point, but sod them, JSTO is funny and good.

Friday, July 7


I came into work on Friday after a week in which I'd been up and down with my belief over whether I would complete the work. I'd also tried my hardest to play out my distractions. However, when in the office (either during normal working hours, or "extra time") I'd done my best to get the job done. As a result, I was close on Friday morning and ever closer as the day drew on.

Around the middle of the day an end was in sight. I scheduled a demonstration for 3.45pm. With the help of my colleagues, who sorted out some problems that I wasn't directly responsible for, we got there. I felt like I was under a fair amount of pressure. I had a wee break from it at lunchtime, when I grabbed a sandwich and some soup, but for the rest of the time, I was hard at work. I hadn't demonstrated any of my work in weeks, and I was being referred to as being solely "on the critical path". I wanted off the critical path and I wanted results.

I gave my demo. It worked. I was happy. I left the office to go home.

That's how a week should end.

Thursday, July 6

Back to Blackpool

All Play and No Work...
I don't get to play all the time. Gigs are play, obviously, but to make a gig possible, there needs to be work. There's the day job, which I need to do to pay for the myriad things I need/enjoy in life. There's also the driving to gigs, which is a sort of working, since it requires effort and I can't gig without the journey.

I should point out that I like car journeys. I like my mp3 player and the road for company. But... well, sometimes it can feel like a long-haul to get to the next gig. That fact that I'd only just driven this 500 mile round trip a couple of days ago (when I mistakenly went to the gig on the wrong day) meant that I was slightly weary of the road ahead.

First, though, there was the working day. This passed by very quickly, with a series of problems either solved, or chewed over. By the time I left the office, my initial overconfidence about whether I'd be able to deliver the results we needed, had been replaced by concern. We were close, but I had to consider how close. Sometimes you can work on a detail that's not all that important. Sometimes, a bit of distance can be useful to help you evaluate what you might do to deliver the equivalent of what's required in a way which wasn't obvious when you started.

A long car journey can really help focus the mind on such things. Owing to the fact that I'd left the office nearer to 4.30 than 4, I was due a long car journey - longer than Monday's, which had brought me to the gig for 8pm. Despite using the exact same route of the previous day, I was an hour later. This was caused by increased traffic and a small amount of rain. Basically, there's a fog of traffic around Hampshire, Surrey and Berkshire, which occurs at about 4.15 - the longer you spend in it, the worse it gets. I would still suggest that we have wider roads and better driver training to make the most of our limited geography, but what would I know. I just spend lots of my life in traffic jams, working out why the behaviour of everyone in this country contributes to them.

With a head full of thoughts, and a throat that felt too tight for performing musical comedy, I ploughed on. I kept the promoter aware of my anticipated arrival time and made it to the venue before the show started. I'd had time for a brief break where I bought ice-cream and changed my trousers.

Sound Check
Last time I'd played this particular gig, we'd had a horrible job connecting the guitar. It had to be plugged into the same line as the mic, so it could not be controlled separately. However, since then I'd bought the contents of my bag of electronic tricks. This bag was brought with and quickly attached into the system. It worked a bloomin' treat. I was very pleased.

Once the sound check was done, I had time to relax with the other acts, tune my guitar, and get into the right frame of mind to perform my bit. I was on last, so what better way to rev up for it, than to enjoy a comedy night's worth of comedy.

The show
A friend of mine was on first. Most of his material was new. It went well and he's really changed his approach. I enjoyed his set immensely.

The compere was resoundingly good throughout the show too, telling some great stories and showing a natural flair with the crowd.

In the middle there was a new act, who was very up and down with his material and the audience's reaction. However, he did better than I did on my 5th gig, so fair play to him. Beforehand he'd warned me about doing sick material, I told him that sometimes with sick material you have to know to back off, and sometimes you have to know to brazen it out. He chose the latter option when perhaps the former would have been better. He mocked Christopher Reeve, the audience went deadly quiet - his response "Ah come on, if we can't mock the dead, who can we mock?"... nice try. I thought it was funny.

My spot
After a rather long raffle, I was brought onto the stage. I've listened to my performance now, so I know that it was itself quite up and down. Overall, the audience played along, and I was able to make them laugh without only resorting to material. I was frequently "in the moment", rather than just trotting out the script. This is the sort of thing I want to be doing. The compere had given me between 30 and 45 minutes as the target. As it happened, I performed for 35 and plenty of that wasn't just material... which makes me wonder how long I can actually do. If I feel like I've done it all in 35 minutes, when I've also gone off the beaten track a few times... then how long would it ALL take if I didn't go off the beaten track? I don't know.

I stopped when I did because the audience were still responding, but it was 11.40pm and I didn't think they'd have the energy to do so for much longer. In my case, I also didn't think I had the comedic power to break through any exhaustion for much longer either.

So, some highlights, some lowlights. It was a good gig. However, there was one highlight for me and probably everyone else there. It's nice to have such a thing on record.

The random incident
A woman had been talking quite loudly at a number of points during the show. I was about to do a particular bit of my routine when her talking was clearly a distraction to the room. Not a huge one. She was over at the bar having her necklace adjusted by the barman. She had her back to him. She was talking loudly as he sorted this necklace out for her. I commented that she was talking. She didn't notice the eyes of everyone in the room pointed at her. I started singing a song about her with the line "take me from behind". As this progressed, the audience were amused and she was oblivious of the fact that she was the focus of attention. No matter how hard I pressed, she seemed unaware that I was taking the piss.

My song was getting a bit of a laugh, but I was fluffing words and the chords were incoherent, and the tune was not really there either. I had a choice. Cut my losses, or go for a solid verse two. I went for the verse two option. Now I had a coherent, rhyming, musical number about this woman, describing her behaviour. As the song neared the end of verse 2, she returned to her seat. As though it was scripted, I just sang about it. The audience loved it. I realised I'd hit a peak and so tacked on a "take it home" ending, which I then used to end the song to big applause.

As they were applauding, I tried to think of something funny to say. It's all very well showing off that you can write songs off the cuff, but comedians tell jokes... so I cracked a joke.

Yes, you had to be there.

You can listen to the recording though:

    Take Me From Behind

The compere commented that it was the first time he'd ever seen a heckler put down in song. It's not the first time I've ever done that, but it's certainly the best I've ever managed to end it.

Only an idiot would try to repeat that trick a couple more times during his set... I'm the sort of person who travels 1000 miles for a 500 mile gig... so I am that idiot.

It was worth putting the effort in to do that gig. I'm glad I did it.

The drive back
I spent the return journey listening to the recording of the show. It made me laugh. I then listened to some songs I wrote back before I set about writing comic songs. They didn't make me laugh. For the most part they made me cringe. I enjoyed some moments, but in terms of writing and performance, they were wholly unimpressive.

I took a brief stop at a motorway services where I bought petrol and some milk (a text from my girlfriend had requested the latter). I withdrew the envelope of cash I'd been paid with and handed money to the petrol station man out of it. I commented "I do have a wallet" when I was using the envelope. I thought it looked weird to be paying from one. I then transferred the money into my wallet and, regarding the empty envelope thought it would be funny to offer it to the petrol station man - "Do you have a wallet?" I asked him, the follow-up gag intending to be "Cos you can have my envelope if you want". However, the petrol station man acted as though I'd just converted my role from customer to armed-robber... so I backed off... I told him that I'm the sort of idiot who drives to the same gig twice in the same week. He seemed not so much amused as relieved and disdainful. That's good enough for me.

More of my own recorded caterwauling and I was back home. I had a shower at about 3.15am and was asleep by 4. I woke about 9 the following morning.

Wednesday, July 5

Oooh that's Early

Had I written a blog entry while waiting for the next plane, it would have looked a bit like this. As it happens, I'm writing a blog entry a few days later after a long and busy week has kept me away from my as-they-happen-memoirs.

Late to bed, early to rise
I awoke, this Wednesday morning at 4.30am. I don't normally manage to get up before 9am most mornings and it usually takes a lot of very loud alarm clocking to help me achieve even this meagre feat. However, when I went to sleep at about 1.30am, I was so worried about missing my correct wake up, that I pretty much programmed my body to wake up at the right time... which only goes to show that part of the reason I don't manage to get up during the week is that, deep down, I just don't want to.

Anyway, the plane to Edinburgh, which had been delayed, had only set my journey back by about 20 minutes. These 20 minutes would not, as it happened, have done very much for my ultimate itinerary, though they may have affected my stress levels a bit. Blogging on my phone, which was a fairly tricky thing to do, kept me sitting in my seat as everyone else in the airport lounge got up to join a queue. EasyJet have a booking priority system - you get a letter on your boarding pass indicating your position. I was a "D", so couldn't really expect to rush.

I got onto the plane and found an aisle seat near the back. This would later afford a sharp exit. I spend the entire flight talking bollocks to an Irish girl. We discovered that we were linked via at most 2 degrees of separation, maybe just one. We'd both been to see a play last year in which a friend of mine played the lead. The Irish lass knew the director - so, unless I've met the director, which I think I have, that's a separation of 2 people.

Landing and moving on
I blethered until the point that she was bored and the plane had landed, then I buggered off. I headed for the Europcar desk and was given keys to a VW Golf. They gave me the opportunity to pay them more money to reduce the excess on the insurance of the car. I'm increasingly given to believing that insurance is largely a gambling opportunity and a mug's one at that. I decided to simply avoid having an accident (admittedly, the excess is actually mine to pay even if someone hits me, but I decided to give the "try to steer away from nutters" thing a go too).

Afterwards, I had to take a bus to the car lot. So far, my day had been:
  • Car to work
  • Car from work to airport
  • Bus from car park to terminal
  • Plane to Edinburgh
  • Bus to car lot
I would soon follow this up with:
  • Car to Edinburgh centre to pick up a friend
  • Car to Dundee to watch a play
  • Car back to Edinburgh centre to get 3 hours' sleep
Lots of traveling.

I have skipped around too much now. In the start of this blog entry, I pretended to write about what I would have said had I felt up to the job in the airport on the way back down south. I then described the plane journey to Edinburgh, which is where the previous blog entry left off, and the picking up of the car at Edinburgh airport. Before you know it, I've already gotten back to sleep and I haven't described any of the things which happened while I was in Scotland, which was, after all, the purpose for the trip.

Fun in the land of the Scots
Originally, I'd expected to arrive at a point where time was tight and I wouldn't have the opportunity to pick up the friend who was providing me with somewhere to stay and was accompanying me to the play in Dundee. I reckoned that Edinburgh rush hour traffic would keep me away from the centre, or imprison me in it. I thought that my friend could catch a bus out west which is where the airport is and also where the route to Dundee pretty much starts.

The delay of the flight had made things seem more urgent, but in reality we'd only lost about 20 minutes, and I'm fairly certain that some time was made up in flight.

So when I contacted my friend to see how close she was to being able to leave work, it seemed that I had time to get into Edinburgh centre to pick her up. This I did. I love Edinburgh, so even the opportunity to get stuck in its traffic was something I relished. As luck would have it, she works in a part of town I know very well, and I also know the back routes to. So, I had quite a few minutes sitting parked outside a cafe where my friend, my girlfriend and another friend all met for coffee once, many months ago, when I first introduced my girlfriend to the Edinburgh crowd. This was not a stressful thing at all. In fact, I was now in the journey comfort zone. Plenty of time to get to Dundee, and the only risk factor was the slightly-underinsured car which I was using. It could break down, or perhaps we could encounter hideously randomly awful traffic. I didn't expect it.

I relaxed. I had my sat nav with me and I programmed it for the venue in Dundee. Then I waited. After a brief time, my friend arrived and got into the car. For a fleeting moment, she looked like a teenage girl might when picked up by her dad. It was the way the seat dwarfed her, and the pleasant and demur attitude she adopted. We laughed at that. Then we set off into the traffic.

Meandering our way around some random Edinburgh streets, with the sat nav making suggestions, some of which were possible, and some of which were nonsense, we eventually ended up on a road heading to Dundee (well, all roads, as they're interconnected, might as well meet that description - in this case, the road was not itself a straight-line to Dundee, but it was part of a sequence of roads that represented an efficient route).

The journey passed by with stories which allowed us to catch up on each other's recent histories and also that of mutual friends. Rumours, hi-jinx and other news were all met with insane giggling on my part. I was in a good mood and I like to giggle. The meat of my half-day off work was now being discovered in the sandwich of long-distance traveling.

We arrived in Dundee in plenty of time for the play. Contemplating getting food or something to drink before kick off, we discovered members of the cast and crew, got talking, and ended up in the bar of the venue. Soon it was time to watch the actual play, so we did just that.

I won't include a review of the play here. Go and see it - Falling For Grace - in Edinburgh during the festival if you're interested.

Overall, I think the play got a good first public run. There were moments which worked really well and, considering how underprepared they all felt, it came across as an assured and slick performance. It's a hard play to perform in. There's a lot of "telling" and a lot of times when a character has to remain silent while the other person on stage is doing it. Playing those silencesm, and avoiding the thing turning into a race to the end, is a challenge that was ably met.

One of the cast is a comedian and I would definitely have traveled a long way to see him perform anything. He is a naturally gifted and charismatic performer and it was a pleasure to see him.

Among all the joy of seeing people I'd not seen for quite some time, there was a tinge of disappointment in the fact that I'm now so far away from Scotland. I honestly believe that I made the right decision in changing job and moving down south, but that doesn't stop my from missing the friends and locations which used to feel so nearby.

We headed back to Edinburgh after the show and the post-show-post-mortem and had a cup of tea while my friend's flatmate finished watching the really crap movie (well, I found it turgid) she was watching in the sitting which would become my short-stay bedroom.

Returning to work
I woke up on time at 4.30, got dressed, into the car, to the airport, via a petrol station, and returned the car and keys. No crashes or damage, vindicated my decision not to spend more on insurance. Then I checked in and bought a big Costa coffee and a sandwich. I'd not had the time the previous day to eat much - just some Pret a Manger sushi - so I needed a pick me up.

Now this is the bit of blog I would have written if I hadn't been too busy around the time it all happened

The plane ran to time and I spent the flight in conversation with a French girl, who was just as jaunty as I was, which meant that the conversation never dropped and we bored each other in equal measure. That was fair. Then we landed and I ran for my car. I was in the mid-stay car park and I knew exactly where my car was, since I'd had to return to it once already - just before the bus left in fact - as I had originally left my passport on the front seat during the mad dash for the check-in desk the previous day. Indeed, the previous day had been fairly stressful - getting the airport and everything, and the only moment when I tried to relax, which involved eating my sushi, and buying a relaxing smoothie, resulted in me being told my the security desk people that I wasn't allowed to bring a drink through security. So my relaxing smoothie ended up being wolfed down, as I was fearful of not getting to the gate in time. I wasn't to know about the delay.

Anyway, the next stress was about to start. I got to my car, rigged up the sat nav and then headed out to work. It was about 8. I had 2 hours to get to the office.

The roads in this country suck. It should not take 2 hours to drive 80 miles on our major major roads. However, we have a bad combination of a poor integrated transport policy, poorly maintained roads, poorly thought out combinations of road works (i.e. they shouldn't be doing too many roadworks in adjoining roads as that causes extra traffic) and bloody idiots behind the wheels of cars, hogging lanes, and driving too slowly for the already limited road conditions. I ran a little later than I planned, though I was able to contact work and warn them and everything was fine.

A day's work
Just before I'd left the office the previous day, I'd managed to get the program, which I'd so amazingly broken (on purpose - I was transplanting something new into it) to work again. Some of its data was even being stored out to a real database. Some of it was still pretending to be. The fact that I could use the program was excellent. It meant that I could proceed with the details, rather than continue to worry about whether it would ever work.

So, continuing from the previous midday's work, I set about putting in the things which were still missing. I made slow but assured progress. I left the office about 7pm, grabbed a quick sandwich and headed back.

My transport day had been pretty hard going, but not as hard going as that of one of my colleagues, who spent about 2 hours stuck in his brand new car on the M25, clockwise (I'd used the anticlockwise route myself, so it could have been me). The M25 had been closed. Simple as that. Closed. A major road and there's nothing you can do. An accident, undoubtedly caused by a combination of stress, bad luck and stupidity, and a major leg of hundreds of people's journey becomes a car park.

My drive back to Reading was the least stressful trip I'd taken all day.

The fallout
It turns out that all this gadding about being an arse can sometimes put the back up of one's girlfriend. Following an exchange of views, I was recommended to return to Farnborough to both be near the office for the following day's work and jaunt off to the next gig, and also to be out of the way of the person I had pissed off.

I returned to Farnborough and did what I thought would be most productive.

A night's work
I arrived back at the office at about 10.45pm. I signed in, went to my desk and spent about 2 hours swearing at the computer and typing exceedingly loudly. This had the result of keeping me awake - I'd been up since 4.30am - purging me of any negative feelings, and getting some important progress on the task in hand. In addition, it meant that I wouldn't be struggling to make sure I'd done my required hours that week. Jaunting around, even with time taken off, can be hard on the working hours - especially with commuting time to and from work to take into account. My working day is definitely longer than it used to be.

A night's sleep
I dropped off to sleep exhausted and raring to go the following day. Having a lot of stuff to sort out tends to put me in a hyperproductive mode where I can do even more. It's short-lived, but what the hell. I want to feel like I can achieve more than average. I want to push myself above my own average and out of my own comfort zone. Admittedly, I don't want to drive to non-existent gigs and piss off my girlfriend, but I didn't want to take these failures to heart and lose my purpose.

Tuesday, July 4

In The Airport

Well, this is a new one for me. I have blogged from various locations before now, but this is my first attempt to write something coherent using predictive text on my mobile.

I would just like to say that I am an idiot. Taking a half day off in the middle of a very very stressful work week in order to fly up and down the country is not the best idea I ever had. Ok, it wasn't quite that clear to me when I booked it, but I still knew it would be tight, but I went for it anyway. That's me folks.

However. Today's shenanigans are only half of it. As I sit here, following a hurried journey here, waiting to board my delayed flight in an every second counts sort of a mood, I must think back to the extreme stupidity of yesterday.

I was due to close a gig in a place near Blackpool that I can't be bothered to hammer the name of with this predictive text (Poulton-le-Fylde - added later). I set off from work at a moment where I knew that my code was about to work, but I couldn't stay around to prove it, kept it didn't. It was about ten past four.

I carefully primed my sat-nav and filled my ears with the radio and cd player. I grinned inanely from ear to ear during "Just a Minute", and ramped my car up to ludicrous speeds on the M6 toll road. It was a 250 mile journey and I had to be there by 8.30. I could have arrived later, but I wanted to have time for my sound check, and I like to watch the whole show. I was to be closing. So far, the only silly bit is the contrast of this fun on a school night with the busy workload, or perhaps the proximity of the trip to my flying around being an arse.

Well, folks, I arrived early. Approximately 30 minutes and 3 days earlier than required. I had copied the date incorrectly into my diary. The first time in 42 months of gigging that this had happened, and it chose to happen this week.

I like to think that things in life happen for a reason. I think in this case, the reason is that I'm an idiot!

Faced with the poster showing me that the closed venue would be reopening on Thursday for the gig, I did the only thing that could be expected under the circumstances. I pissed myself. It was pretty funny. Then I went for a walk to stretch my legs and buy something reasonably healthy to eat. I ate my apples on the way back to the car.

News just in, the flight is further delayed. Oh dear.

So, back in the car I was able to return whence I had come with my mp3 player for company. I don't use this on the way to gigs in order to preserve its battery for recording the gig. While returning unperformed, I listened to Queen, The Divine Comedy and a Bill Bailey gig. I enjoyed the listening time. Shame I had to waste all that petrol, and the time.

However, returning home before midnight had the fringe benefit of allowing me to get to sleep in time to get to work earlier than usual this morning. My colleague had been left instructions to send the work I'd finished to the integration computer this morning when he came in. If it integrated without errors, then over a week's work was a success and we could move on. If not, I'd get the monkey. I didn't want the monkey.

I didn't get it.

Sunday, July 2

Oh how the pressure escalates

It's a side effect of working hard and not estimating the effort involved in completing the task and caring about the outcome. In short, I feel like there's not enough time and that I'm under an extreme load of pressure at the moment. As a result of this, my usual impulse to blog about the previous day's gig was suppressed on Friday as I simply didn't have any time. From the moment I arrived in the office until the moment I left, I was trying to work through the myriad of difficulties, some inherent, some self-caused. The most break I had was for an occasional visit to the drinks machine, or for enough time at lunchtime to buy a sandwich and then eat it before returning to my desk for more of the same.

So, I've explained why my otherwise regularly updated blog has been left a couple of days. What has been happening in those days?

Thursday - work
I left the office around 4pm on Thursday after a fairly busy day's work. I'd completed enough working hours by Thursday (largely through working late on Tuesday and Wednesday) to be at the breaking point that meant that any more effort put in would probably not help. So, doing a gig, which I'd only done once previously this month, seemed like a good idea. I would be able to get away from things, let my hair down (metaphorically, rather than actually) and have some pointless fun. That's what stand-up is in many ways, and the fact that it's pointless is, in fact, the actual point.

I was on the various roads heading for Birmingham at 4ish. Since I'd not done a gig recently, I wanted to get my head back into the sort of thing I've been doing. So, rather self-absorbedly, I listening to three gig recordings. They were three very different gigs, and the idea was to show myself how I behaved in those circumstances. In each case there were good and bad points about my performance, and in each case, I felt like I'd come out of things looking like a strong version of the comedian that I have been of late.

Firstly, I listened to the Lowestoft gig where the audience acted like I couldn't put a foot wrong. They were so up for it, that they forced me to have a good gig, whether I was going to or not. Then I followed it with the recording of the gig I did in Brighton to a bunch of disinterested people, nearly all of whom were performers or "crew" and I'd met before the show started, thus ruining any chance I had of mystique. During this show I also lost a guitar string and was ever-aware of the real guitarist sitting in the front row watching my fingers. Finally, I listened to the Wolverhampton gig, where the audience knew how to laugh big, but where I had a shaky start and couldn't get as much out of the audience when I wasn't being the high-energy version of myself. I think this was partly down to the fact that I was closing a long show, and also because the darling act of the night, the compere who brought me on, was a high energy amusement-out-of-personality sort of an act, which made the low-key version of me look like the dull, introspective, blogging about the minutiae of life, sort of a person that I probably am.

So, with my successes and failures in my mind, I drove through various bits of traffic and various radio broadcasts and pondered what material I was going to use in the show. I reckoned that it would be a fairly low-key gig and I couldn't remember whether I was going to be paid. As it happens, I was, but still lost about £1 on the petrol expenses in the process (not too bad). I decided that it would make a lot of sense to try out some new ideas, or at least re-explore some stuff which I don't yet consider bankable. In Brighton, under pressure to do something less set-piecey, and more aimed at an audience of musicians/performers, I'd brough out some stuff about boy bands which I've never managed to fully work into a routine. I wanted to try something in that vein.

In addition, I have been driving a lot and listening to The Beatles Anthology and also Mitch Benn's CD. It seems that the two were conspiring me to have a go at the more standard musical comedian's fayre of doing more in the way of crap impressions of musicians. As always, I wanted to be different, and my "Elvis sings The Beatles" bit had mee hooting during one car journey, so I felt it was worth sharing it. I also quickly wrote a more ludicrous follow-up "Morrissey sings Elvis". In other words, I may be prepared to go down the middle line and play at being a hack, but I'll do it with my tongue pressed firmly in my cheek... though to ridicule it like that I still end up doing it, pushing the buttons and mocking myself for doing it.

So, I had some new bits to try out and an enthusiasm to escape the work stuff for a bit in order to do it. Not a bad setup for a night.

Entering Birmingham
Arriving in Brummie-land with the sat-nav confidently, but slightly inaccurately, leading me round the one-way system, I soon spotted the venue. It even had a car park signposted near it, so I turned off "Janet" and finished the journey myself. The car park was a pay and display affair and it had, in the spirit of the arts-centric area of town in which it was resident, some sort of modern-arty fence, made out of crushed cars, stacked up in cubes. At first glance, it looked pretty nice. A sort of way of saying "cars here" and "art here" all in one go. Then, when you think about it, it would be the equivalent of finding a bunch of severed children's heads stacked up on the fence of a creche.

Still, I was prepared to park my car there, assuming that nothing bad would befall it. I was even prepared to pay for the privilege. I had more change in my pocket than I remembered having, so I was particularly keen when I went to the pay and display machine. A voice called over to me. "You don't need to pay after seven.". Good message, especially since it was after 7. The owner of the voice was washing a car in front of the car washing shed which was inventively located in the car park. I thanked him for his advice, considered my car's state - unwashed - considered the cheapest price of car wash (less than I had in change in my pocket) and asked him whether he needed access to the inside of my car in order to wash it. He seemed bemused. He explained that he wasn't the car washing guy - the evidence wasn't in his favour, given that he was washing a car in front of a car washing shed. It turned out that it was his own car and that he was the car park security guard, simply using the washing shed man's stuff to do himself a favour. Fine. So I got away without even employing his services out of a combination of gratitude, guilt, and unwashed-car-edness.


Gigward Bound
I grabbed my guitar and left the car park. I returned about 1 minute later to pick up my mp3 player, which I both needed to record the gig, and didn't want to have left sitting on the front seat of my car.

The venue is a converted factory, perhaps. I'm not sure. It seemed to be set in an industrial type of estate, but once I'd gotten into the courtyardy area, there was a big pool (pond is the wrong word, though this wasn't a swimming pool either), surrounded by various venues. Some of the venues had modern art in front of them. In one glass sided part of the precinct, I found a white baby grand piano that I wanted to play. I wanted to try out what I believe to be the final chord of "A day in the life" by The Beatles, but I didn't have the nerve. Plus, I had a guitar with me and I was looking for the place where the gig was.

The gig is called Custard Balti which is supposed to represent the fact that it is held in the venue called The Custard Factory and that it is promoted from within Birmingham's Asian community. To me, a lover of both Custard and Balti, these are good words, but their combination seems less palatable than the components.

To cut the waffle a bit shorter than it will otherwise extend if I don't, I was told where the actual gig was being held - a 100 seat studio theatre - and I wandered in. I found the MC and one of the acts posturing at the non-existant audience while making no sound. Rehearsal. Fair enough. I asked about plugging my guitar in, things were a bit hazy.

We quickly found out the extent of the situation. There were XLR sockets on the floor, but no DI box to convert my guitar into their particular flavour of wiring. There was a mixing desk in the sound booth and these sockets led to it.

I had come prepared, though. Well, sort of. I had to take another trip back to the car to get "Ashley's special satchel" a bag containing various bits and bobs I've been buying on eBay or other places where I waste my income. In this case, the long XLR lead and XLR to guitar converting plug were not a waste. I was plugged in in no time. This led to the levels being wrong and me having to turn my guitar right the way down, but frankly that didn't matter a great deal. It came out sounding good and I was a happy chappy... especially since I'd justified one of the purchases I made a few weeks ago.

Good work. I discovered that I was on in the first section - closing it - which, to me, felt a lot easier than opening the show and, as such, felt like the ideal opportunity to try out the crap I was going to try out.

Doing the gig
Before the gig, there was rehearsal time, including trying out some of my new bits on fellow acts, which is a cheap thing to do, but was my only way of building up my confidence in myself to do it... and they laughed... but more importantly, I still thought it was funny when I was doing it with witnesses. I tried to write a set list, which was basically - LONG OLD BIT, NEW BIT, LITTLE OLD BIT, NEW BIT, TRIED AND TESTED ENDING. Writing it was easy. I wasn't too sure about remembering it. Actually, I tend to remember my set lists quite easily - something to do with the fact that intentionally put themed things together, thus making it easy to get between them. However, I decided to take a crib sheet on stage with me, which I could consult in the gaps between large bits to see whether I had planned on going somewhere unusual after them. I used the sheet once and I think I would have worked it out had I not taken it. Still, we all need a security blanket of some sort, right?

Once the first act had done his thing, which went well - his first gig too - I was called onto the stage. Things were fine at the start, the first song ended well, but I took my D string out with the ending. So, I had nearly 20 minutes on stage with a 5 string guitar. I much prefer the 6 string. Still, I ploughed on, improvised bits here and there, threw in some ancient material that I wasn't expecting to throw in, and generally had a good time. There were some nice laughs - it was a lovely audience - all 20 of them.

I can't complain. I was paid for my time, I enjoyed myself, I enjoyed the audience and the other acts were very good too. Why complain? I didn't.

One complaint came in the interval when my sweaty parched self went in search of the necessary pint of diet coke to quench the thirst. I was sent by the bar (across the pool) to the cafe (our side of the pool). The bar don't do pints. What a crap bar. The cafe weren't having any of my... er... business. They sent me right back to the bar. Apparently, they were closed for a function - the function which had been and gone... I went without my drink.

Getting back to reality
After the fun in Brummie-land, I had to face facts. I had my busy job-life to get back to the following morning. So, off I sped back home. I hadn't eaten - a trick I used to keep my monastic-style dieting (which is working well, by the way) on track. I can eat certain things, but not what is usually on offer on the road. So, by the time I'd been to a late garage near my girlfriend's place and bought the sort of thing I do permit myself to eat (a sandwich with about 300 calories and some side orders of low-fat treats) it was about 12.45am.

I have no delusions of stardom. I might make an audience laugh, but I return to the room in the cramped bed where my girlfriend is convinced that I try too hard and I'm not as funny as I think I am. She is, of course, partly right. I do try too hard, though tonight I'd not been as needy as normal on stage, even when things weren't going perfectly. In fact, in my new Elvis sings The Beatles routine, the laugh didn't come right away and I thought "what the hell, I think this is funny, relax, do it at its own pace and it will either work or die all by itself". The not-giving-a-toss worked a treat. But I do still try too hard sometimes.

And I did have a job to do.

And the cramped bed was soon to be a thing of the past.

Friday in the office
The day whistled by and was punctuated by a quick (I mean belly achingly rapid) bite of lunch, a request for a progress report - "Er... it's gonna be tight. Especially with my half day on Tuesday next." a couple of coffees and a call from Ikea letting me know that they were outside my girlfriend's house - cue lots of calling her to get her to open the door, and then a later call from my girlfriend letting me know that the Ikea furniture was missing a screw and had been slightly damaged by an accident.

In fairness to her, excited at the prospect of living the Swedish flat-pack dream, she'd started assembling a bed-shelf, which is like a bedside table, but goes behind the bed. She'd done so competently, but a screw was missing and accidents will happen. When such accidents are on the side that faces the wall and is never seen, and when her efforts have saved me the bother of assembling that item on my return home, then I can't complain. She even had let me off the hook in advance in case I made an error with any of my assembling.

When the time to leave the office came, with various things not quite working and some things kinda roped together (in a software sense), I headed back to the house with the intention of getting stuck into some serious flat-pack assembly.

With my trusty drill ready to go, with a hex bit on the end, we made short work of disassembling the cramped metal-framed bed. Then it was removed from the room and the huge components of the bed were brought up.

Assembly was long and occasionally tricky. Generally the hard part was trying to attach things together with a combination of dowels, bolts and slapping big pieces of wood into their joints using the heel of my hand. Still we got there in the end. The bed was assembled, the room reshuffled (a bit) and the Swedish dream could begin.

I slept well that night.

Woke late. Did nothing. Watched the football match. Did nothing again. Went to see The Lake House at the cinema. It was middling, but I liked it. Went to sleep.

Saturday's recharging complete, this was a day of more action. It still started late, and I still had my article to finish - an exposé of computer viruses or something like that. But, we headed out to Homebase and bought an open-plan shelving unit, the likes of which I left in Newcastle, and also like the one which came with my room in Farnborough and will be staying there too. I like that sort of shelf. We also went to Tesco where I bought an ironing board cover; I had 14 shirts to iron and the present cover of the ironing board is too small and keeps coming off and annoying me.

Returning to the house there was much in the way of assembling shelves and moving the room around. My girlfriend didn't want to damage her DVD player by dumping her TV on top of it, so I quickly assembled a plinth to allow the TV to go on top with the DVD slotted underneath - this impressed us both.

After further reshuffling, I started the ironing. Then I was told to complete my article while the ironing was continued by she-who-must-be-thanked-for-the-ironing. I finished the article and swapped places with her, asking her to read it. After a couple of pages she was bored, so I think the article is a success.

With ironing complete, and a certain space in the room vacated by me for a special purpose, I brough that special purpose up - the piano. Any room with my piano in is a good room.

Not bad for one day
So, quite a domestic day, then. Various bits of assembly and sorting out were achieved. I've still got heaps to bring from Farnborough, but I feel like there may be a place for some of it here, whic is nice. Although it's now late o'clock, I feel ready for the week ahead.

The week ahead
Well, who knows. Here are some key moments:
  • Monday morning - try to get somewhere with the work - try to make it possible for me not to be alone on the critical path
  • Monday evening - headline a gig in Blackpool... BLACKPOOL MILES AWAY!
  • Tuesday morning - back to work
  • Tuesday lunchtime - head to Stansted airport and fly to Edinburgh
  • Tuesday evening - watch a friend's play in Dundee
  • Wednesday morning at 4.30 - get up in the flat in Edinburgh where I'm staying and return to the airport... in fact, earlier if possible.
  • Wednesday later on - try to stay alive and get the project working with flying colours
  • Saturday night - see Jerry Springer The Opera.
If I can survive all of this, and I think I can, then I will be a better person this time next week. I also hope to continue losing the weight.

I couldn't get weight last Tuesday - the machine was out of order. I can't get weighed this coming Tuesday because I'm in Dundee. So, I got weighed today. 4 pounds lost since the previous weigh in. That's about on target for my losing two pounds a week thing. People are starting to notice. The acid test will be Tuesday when I see people I've not seen since last year. If they think I've lost weight, then I won't have just reversed the effects of this year's binge eating alone.

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