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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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