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Some progress

I returned to the script for my musical project yesterday for the first time in several weeks. I’d become stuck. I knew where I wanted to get to; I just wasn’t quite sure how to get there.

As with most writing challenges, they often start to become easier when you actually sit down and try to do something about it. I’ve now made much more progress than I have in a few months. But when the progress in those few months was nothing, it doesn’t set a high bar. Still, it’s good to have done something with it.

The original plan was to take the show to Edinburgh Fringe this year. Then a certain straw-headed twat cocked everything up for a second and third time, then the pandemic soared out of control. Not only did this pretty much end my plans for performing the run of shows in August 2021, but it also meant I couldn’t go to Rich’s house for more musical collaborations.

Admittedly, in the grander scheme of things in the pandemic, I’ve gotten off pretty lightly if it’s only caused me inconvenience and irritation.

The plan is to now take the show up to Edinburgh in 2022. Everything
should have gotten back to somewhere close to normal by then.

And I’ll be going around Rich’s house again for another studio session. As Rich now only lives about ten minutes drive up the road, I’m now wondering if it’s best to make sure I get the project written and polished before I move back to London. And that now might not be for at least another year.

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Freelancing

It has been said that if you’re a freelance journalist then you’re either worrying that you don’t have enough work, or you’re worrying that you have taken on too much.

I can say that this summary is definitely accurate. Freelance journalism has now been my main source of income for more than a year. And fortunately, I’m getting just enough to get by. When I got back from New Zealand, I thought the work would dry up and was fully prepared for my third stint at a supermarket.

Despite spending years wishing I could do comedy full-time, the pandemic has made me grateful that I do have a backup. I’ve been working as a journalist in some capacity – written or editing – for more than 13 years, but there are times when I still question if I know what I’m doing and ask myself: “Hang on, is this actually any good?”

However, the commissions keep coming – albeit mostly from people I’ve worked with in previous companies. Although I have recently also been commissioned to write something for someone I don’t know and have been offered other work since. So it would appear that I do know what I’m doing. And it must be good – or at least passable.

Freelancing is far from a secure income and I’m earning much less than when I was working full-time. But I’m enjoying the variety and the flexibility. It’s not enough income to allow me to move back to London, but it’ll do until things start to get back to something resembling normality. And freelancing is certainly a more stable income than comedy.

Plus, freelancing means I can continue to take my dog for long walks every day without anyone wondering why I’m taking so long to respond to emails and start suspecting I may not be at my desk. I couldn’t possibly say if I also used to do this when I did have a full-time job and was working from home. And no one can prove otherwise.

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The Falcon and The Winter Soldier

As I have already been writing about TV shows I’ve been watching, I may as well continue. I finished watching the latest MCU show Disney+, The Falcon and The Winter Soldier.

Of all the Marvel Disney+ series announced, this is the one I was looking forward to the most. And it was very much as I expected. It was solid, actiony stuff with plenty of quips and character development for Bucky and Sam. And I enjoyed it.

Unlike WandaVision, there weren’t as many surprises and twists. And I didn’t feel the need to each week to call a friend afterwards to try and get our heads around what the hell was going on, but then I was hardly expecting to have to do that for WandaVision.

Anthony Mackie was great. And by the end, it felt like he had well and truly earned his place as the new Captain America. I really liked his suit, but would have liked a bit more a Wakanda-style look considering that’s where it was made. Also, get this man a helmet. Otherwise, he’s going to get a serious head injury.

I’m now not quite sure where Bucky’s meant to go now. By the end of the series, everything had pretty much been wrapped up for the character. He’s 104 years old, so perhaps he’s going to enjoy some retirement, or do the Steve Rogers things of going back in time to have a normal life.

Baron Zemo’s return was a lot of fun and definitely elevated the character from Civil War.

The new Cap, John Walker, was a great character. He wasn’t a total villain, but also certainly wasn’t a hero. I’m really looking forward to seeing what they do with the character in future. And I would also very much be up for a film focusing on Isaiah Bradley.

What didn’t quite work was the show’s villains, bringing back a traditional from the MCU Phase 1.

Many people have commented on how the Flagsmashers weren’t the best and I agree with this. They never really felt like much of a threat, Super Soldier serum and all. There are rumours that there was a pandemic storyline central to them was cut as it was a little too close to home, but I don’t know.

The Flagsmashers being led by someone considerably younger than everyone else in the group was never really explained and there was nothing we saw in the show that justified it. Presumably, the older actors were chosen for martial arts skills more than anything else. So it was a bit like veterans from Power Rangers being led by someone from Byker Grove. Everything just felt a bit off, which is very rare for Marvel.

What would have been better was if the whole group was much younger. Say, 17 and 18 year olds who were aged about 12-13 when Thanos snapped his fingers and had 50% of everything taken away from them. The age of the leader would have made more sense this way, and it would have also been more shocking when John Walker caved in the chest of a teenager than a fully grown man.

And then there was the Power Broker, and it was pretty easy to predict their identity. Although who is she working with? There is still some intrigue left there, so that’s a good thing.

Regardless, I enjoyed the series. Even if it didn’t get everything right, there was enough good stuff in there to enjoy. It’s always a good sign when a series ends that you want to see what happens next with the characters and I am looking forward to seeing where their adventures take them.

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Edinburgh Fringe is happening?

The organisers of Edinburgh Fringe have announced this week that they’re cracking on with proceedings. I can understand why they’re doing it, as it is kind of their thing and all.

The fact that they’re not printing a paper programme suggests that they’re not exactly confident that it will go ahead as planned. They’re planning on running online shows, as well as performances in the actual physical realm.

Whatever does go ahead in the real world will almost recently require some form of social distancing, which as I’ve said before on here will wipe out large swathes of venues. And the shows being planned outdoors are entirely dependent on the Scottish weather. And let’s just say Scottish rain doesn’t exactly hold back when it gets going.

I also don’t think the organisers have given enough thought on whether punters will feel comfortable going and mixing in and around with thousands of strangers from all over the place, especially with mutant variants of Covid appearing frequently.

Even if the entire country is vaccinated by that point, there will almost inevitably still be outbreaks of the virus one way or another.

Then another factor is that if performers are up there for the full month, they will be suffering from weakened immune systems. By the final week comes around, I am almost always running on empty. Edinburgh Lurgy is a very real thing. Combine that with Covid and you have a massive problem on your hands.

There are a couple of indicators for how a festival in the time of Covid could look.

In Perth this year, the fringe festival there had to shut down completely for a few days when there was an outbreak of Covid recorded in the city. Shows did restart again when they managed to track down and isolated whoever it was and who they’d been in contact with. It’s easy to see something similar happening during Edinburgh, albeit on a far more problematic scale.

And at NZ Fringe in Wellington, venues were running with reduced capacities. And Australia and New Zealand are countries with significantly better records on controlling the diseases.

We will just have to wait and see what unfolds.

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Joke writing

—- This was originally written on Sunday to keep up with my sort-of New Year’s Resolution of putting something on here every week. —-

Since the pandemic began, I have written very little stand-up material. There’s a certain musical I’m working on, or at least I’m meant to be working on, but that’s not quite the same thing.

I’ve tried sitting down and writing jokes, but very little ever materialises. This is partly because there are currently no gigs where I can perform at. And without having an hour’s show to work on, or even 20 minutes followed by a quiz, I find it difficult to write anything. And my progress on that particular musical is also being stunted by not having any performances on the horizon.

Then a couple of weeks ago when I was taking my dog for a walk, I started thinking of one-liners as a character. Very soon, I had a dozen or so. And I think some might actually be pretty good. The character is called Dave Plums and he’s an unemployed weirdo, so totally different from me. I’ve found that having a distinctive voice in my head when thinking up mateiral is really helpful. Writing as a character also takes the pressure off, as Dave Plums hasn’t desperately been trying to cling onto the success quiz-based comedy show. But then I already knew this, I’d just forgotten.

A more established comedian told me five years ago that I needed to decide what type of comedian I wanted to be, either just do one-liners or stories instead of mixing the two. It made a lot of sense, but I did nothing about it and persisted doing what I always did. I’ve always thought of myself as closer to being a one-liner comic than a storyteller. I find one-liners far easier to write and it feels more comfortable to perform them. But just to confuse matters further, a promoter of an established comedy night in London said to me in September 2019 that I was a natural storyteller. And I also sort of agree with this.

So I now will be splitting my material into two groups. Dave Plums will take all the one-liners, and stories will be left to me – unless I choose to give those to another persona. I’m not ruling this out.

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Exhausting

When I was driving home from the supermarket the other day, the exhaust on my car fell off.

And by “the other day”, I mean last week. As I had something to write about last week, I made a conscious decision to save the exhaust incident for another week. This gives you an idea of how action-packed my life is during the pandemic.

When it happened, I was thankfully only about 20 seconds away from the garage my family has been going to cars fixed for more than 30 years. I’ve driven this particular car all over the country, all around Yorkshire, up to the north of Scotland, and the west coast of Wales. So if something like this was going to happen anywhere, it’s incredibly fortunate that it happened where it did.

I thought that the repairs would cost me a lot, especially after I saw the mechanic removing a long piece of metal from underneath the vehicle. But I was amazed when they only charged £20.

In August, it will be 20 years since I first got behind the wheel of a car when I began my driving lessons. Yet two decades later, I still know very little about cars other than how to drive them.

It’s only really been in the last five years that I’ve learned how to check the levels inside the engine and what the correct tyre pressure should be. They really should teach this sort of thing in driving lessons. It was only when I bought a car that I realised I really should know a bit more about how to maintain it.

On the whole, it’s been a good car and this is only time when anything’s gone wrong on the road since I bought it five years ago. Admittedly, it does have a lot more sctatches and dents these days.

If I am moving back to London later in the year, I’m thinking I probably won’t take my car with me. For one thing, parking will likely be a lot of hassle. For another, it almost certainly won’t fit on the train.

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Stroud

This past week, my hometown has been in the news. And it’s actually for something positive. In case you were unaware, The Sunday Times has named Stroud as the best place to live in the country.

While it’s nice to have something positive written about the place, mainstream attention always makes things worse. And by worse, I mean more crowded and expensive.

This week marked exactly a year since I got off the plane from New Zealand into a dramatically different home country to the one I left ten weeks earlier. And the global pandemic has meant I’ve now spent the longest stretch of time living in Stroud since I moved to London at the start of 2010.

Except it’s not really quite been the same as actually living here during normal times, as I like to think I would have spent more time seeing friends. I like to think that anyway, even if I know there’s a distinct chance that it could well have been almost exactly the same.

It was a great place to grow up, spending countless hours in my childhood climbing trees, running about in green fields, and filling my lungs with clean air. And during some summers, my group of friends would pick elderflower for money. Mainly from other peoples’ gardens and run off when we were caught. It was then taken to the company to weigh to determine how much they’d pay us.

In 1994, I remember a friend handing me an envelope for about £3.50 for several hours of work and I thought it was a substantial amount of cash. The company that paid people to collect elderflower is now selling its product in supermarkets nationwide. It doesn’t pay members of the public to collect for them any more, but its success is inadvertedly built on child labour. Albeit children who were highly enthusiastic about being overworked and underpaid.

What followed were some frustrating teenage years when I often had very little to do, and I saw uni more as a chance to escape than anything else. But the town has a lot more going for it these days. And while I may have moved away for almost a decade from 2010, I was usually back once or twice a month, and longer over Christmas.

Stroud Brewery is one of the finest places in the world there is to get a pint of ale. I might have a vested interest here as I am a bond holder, but I speak the truth. I am looking forward to going back there in a few weeks when things start to open up again.

And Stroud’s Farmers’ Market is also great, even if I do very rarely go to it. It has some really nice stuff on the stalls. But as with most busy things, I have to be tactical to get what I want from stalls and get out again without getting trapped within people mooching about.

It’s disappointing in any of the coverage that there was no mention of Stroud outdoor pool in the write up. I always enjoyed going there to its freezing waters, notably in the summer of 1995. I later found out that the water comes from a natural spring, which would explain why it was so cold and why I saw a live frog in there once.

And while Stroud is certainly one of my favourite places in the world, I would not rank it as the best place to live in the country for the simple reason that it currently has a Tory MP. It didn’t have one from 1997 until 2010, or from 2017 until 2019. So it was certainly a contender for the title then.

Regardless, it’s been a good spot to spend the pandemic. I’ve been walking my dog for about three miles every day for the past year and rarely see anyone out and about. While I wouldn’t consider it as the best place to live in the country, I would definitely rate it as the best place to live during a pandemic.

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Peep Show

I have just started rewatching Peep Show. And it reminded me just how much I bloody love Peep Show. It is packed full of endlessly quotable lines and hilariously uncomfortable moments. I genuinely place it up there with the very best of TV comedy.

Well, series one to three that is. For me, it kind of went off the boil from series four onwards. While it continued for another six series after what I consider to be its peak, these episodes lacked the magic of the first three series.

It has definite parallels with The Simpsons in that the earlier series are amazing. Whereas in the later episodes, the storylines become more contrived and the humour often feels forced. And they both keep characters together who would have gone their separate ways years ago in normal circumstances.

In terms of rewatching so far, I’ve seen one episode from each of the first three series and laughed out loud numerous times. I’ve also watched an episode from the later series and didn’t laugh anywhere near as much.

There’s probably an element of nostalgia at work, as I watched the earlier series multiple times with my housemates in my student house. But I’m going to persist with the later series anyway, in the hope that I haven’t judged them too harshly.

Anyway, because I didn’t enjoy series four when it first aired in 2007 and there were rumours that series five would be the last, I took it upon myself to write an entire script for an episode. The naïve 23 year old that I was then sent it off to the production company in the hope it would somehow get made. It didn’t.

A simple sort-of copyright trick I learnt on my degree was to post a copy of the script to yourself at the same time as you send it elsewhere. That way, you have a sealed and dated record of your work if anyone steals it. That sealed script sat in a drawer for almost 14 years, until today.

As Peep Show finished almost five years ago, I think any potential opportunities for plagiarism have safely passed now. My storyline was that Mark gets promoted to Johnson’s position and is running things at JLB Credit. Mark also hires a cleaner, who is a sweet old lady that becomes Jeremy’s nemesis and he starts plotting ways to get her sacked. Then the episode ends with Sophie having an awkward meeting at work with Mark where she’s asking for maternity leave. Mark thinks the baby is his, but it turns out that Jeff is the dad.

Reading it through now, there are a few things I would have done differently. But I don’t think it’s a bad effort for a 23 year old novice. And that awkward work meeting between Sophie and Mark did happen in a later series, as well as her pregnancy. Although I don’t think I really have grounds to pursue any legal action.

What hasn’t changed 14 years on is that I still have very little idea about how to get scripts commissioned. Then again, I don’t think many professional writers do either. And I’ve no doubt that there are thousands of other scripts around the world just sitting in drawers, although they’re probably not all for Peep Show.

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Ale

This week, I planted some ale hops. I received them from Stroud Brewery as a reward I paid for in their recent crowdfunder to survive the turmoil the pandemic has sent its way.

Admittedly, my track record with plants isn’t that impressive. A few years ago, at least two new cacti I bought for my flat died fairly quickly. One was called a Magic Cactus. The magical powers weren’t specified and it is possible that they consisted of the ability to die significantly easier than other cacti.

But I’m hoping these hops will have better luck. Provided everything goes according to plan, the grown hops will be sent back to the brewery in September as part of the community ale that they brew every year.

Fortunately, there are load more people around Stroud who also have them growing in their gardens and the pressure isn’t solely on me. I’ll also receive nine pints of the stuff as another part of the crowdfunder reward.

It’s going to be fascinating to watch them grow, as the hop plant is something of a mystery to me. In fact, ale is still largely a mystery to me. I love a good pint of the stuff, but wouldn’t be able to tell you what was in it or how it was made. Though I should know more later on this year, as another reward I paid for in the crowdfunder is for me and a group of friends to have a brewing lesson at Stroud Brewery, where we’ll make our own ale.

I may have spent far too much money on rewards in the brewery crowdfunder, but I’m glad I can help a really worthwhile business survive these difficult times. Plus, I get beer in return for my philanthropy. I’m just glad that my tastes have evolved from that rancid snakebite and black that I drank far too much of in my first year of uni.

Fortunately, the brewery hit its target quite comfortably. I’ve spent countless hours there with friends in the last decade, drinking some fine ales and eating amazing pizza. And I look forward to doing so again once the Covid madness has run its course.

And on the subject of Stroud Brewery, I can announce that I will be performing How To Win A Pub Quiz there in September. Half of the ticket price will go to the brewery, with the other half helping me to recoup some of the funds I spent on the crowdfunder. I’m fairly sure that Edinburgh Fringe isn’t happening this year, so it’s nice to have something in the diary. The hypothetical diary that is, I haven’t bought a physical diary since 2019.

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WandaVision thoughts

This entry is going to be about my thoughts on WandaVision and features spoilers, so continue at your peril. As with the Mandalorian, it’s been really handy to have a new episode to look forward to each week in these odd times that are mostly spent at home.

When WandaVision was first announced, I wasn’t particularly bothered. I didn’t have much interest in Wanda or Vision based on their MCU appearances. This this is more due to the fact that the characters didn’t have a massive amount to do with their limited screen time. And I didn’t know a lot about their characters from the comics, other than a few things I’ve read online. Then again, you’re much more likely to enjoy things if you go in with low expectations.

But by the end, I had become emotionally invested in a relationship between an omnipotent being and a robot. Yes, I know Vision is a synthezoid, but ‘robot’ makes that sentence read funnier.

The series could have been a massive failure, but it succeeded due to the writing and commitment of the actors involved. This series really showed what a talent Elizabeth Olsen is when given the opportunity and the right material. It was such a nuanced performance, effortlessly flitting between victim and villain. And I really hope she receives all the awards going.

Paul Bettany also gave a great performance. Vision was just as confused about everything that was happening as the viewer. And Kathryn Hahn simply stole every scene she was in, plus she has the best theme tune of any Marvel villain.

The show took a couple of episodes to get going and the 1950s-60s sitcom setting was fun and I was trying to figure out just what the hell was going on. My theory proved correct that Wanda had basically created a pocket reality like Center Parcs where she could control everything, known as the Hex.

I’ve never seen a TV show quite like it and it constantly surprised me. In the sitcoms setting, there was something creepy and more sinister just below the surface. I used to love The Outer Limits in the 1990s and this certainly had a similar feel in places.

Jumping a decade with each instalment didn’t work at all for the most recent X-Men films in terms of continuity, but here it made much more sense. The decades progress in parallel with Wanda losing control over everything as it gets closed to present day (in the MCU, ‘present day’ means 2023). Then there’s the meta-level of those outside the Hex watching what’s happening on TV screens, theorising and trying to figure everything out just as the viewers were. In fact, I would have weekly calls with Marvel expert and former comedy partner Langton to do just that.

And on the subject of the X-Men, there was that certain appearance from Evan Peters as Pietro. He was the best thing about the most recent X-Men films and a much better character than the MCU’s version of Quicksilver, which was a rare misstep by Marvel. When he first appeared at the end of a WandaVision episode, I thought they’d brought him through the multi-verse from the Fox universe.

Yet the more time we spent with this character in WandaVision, the more it became clear what something wasn’t quite right. I’d predicted in conversations with Langton that it either was the Fox Quicksilver, or it was actually the actor Evan Peters. As it turned out, I was closer with the latter guess. Although I would be lying if I said I had guessed the Ralph Bohner swerve.

This Bohner decision has provoked some backlash from some fans online, which seems to be pretty easy to do these days. Yes, it could have been better. But it’s not worth getting angry because a theory you’ve thought up and can intricately explain doesn’t turn out to materialise. Then again, this anger normally means you have a successful YouTube channel and don’t need a regular job.

I didn’t hate the reveal and the MCU has been known to pull similar stunts before, see The Mandarin/Trevor Slattery. But I have a sneaking suspicion that we will see Evan Peters again in Doctor Strange 2, which the end of WandaVision set-up.

Minor MCU characters Darcy and Jimmy Woo reprised their roles to great effect, and the series introduced Monica Rambeau – as an adult anyway. This introduction was really well done, as it was fascinating to see the immediate aftermath of rematerialising after the Hulk Snap. I’m looking forward to seeing where they go with this character next, especially one with such cool powers.

The finale was also been criticised online, particularly the fight in the skies between Agnes and Wanda throwing magic at each other from a distance. But I enjoyed the episode and didn’t have any real problem with the magic chucking.

It’s since crossed my mind that it was possibly shot in this way because of social distancing, as the makers said that about a third of the series was filmed after Covid had forced it to stop for a few weeks. That’s my theory. Franky, we’re lucky to even have such a show during a global pandemic.

Ultimately, it is a show about grief and trying to find a way through it. And it is utterly mad, in the best possible way. But then sometimes grief can have this effect, albeit without all the superpowers, creating a pocket reality, and taking an entire town hostage.