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Archive for February, 2021

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Mulleted

With the evenings getting lighter and phase one of vaccine roll-out gathering pace, we may be slowly moving out of the worst of this Covid nightmare. But there’s still some way to go and I’m not booking a haircut just yet.

It’s now one year since my last haircut, which happened when I was in Napier. I wasn’t intentionally growing my hair long, I just didn’t fancy going to a hairdressers early on in the pandemic.

As time has time passed, I made the decision to not get a haircut until the Covid-19 outbreak is officially over. So that could be 22 June, but likely possibly even further away. In any event, never has a haircut been more symbolic. Samson may disagree with that, but he loses the argument instantly for being fictional.

When I was going to Perth last year, I was told to expect mullets and counted about a disappointingly low tally of 30. Little did I know that I would be joining their ranks and boosting the tally less than a year later. The longer I spent in Australia, the more I became won over by the practical benefits of the mullet. For one thing, there was no need to apply layers of suncream to the neck if most of it is covered by hair.

I last tried growing my hair long when I was 17, inspired by the wrestlers that I watched far too much of on TV. But it kind of stopped at the awkward Hobbit phase. I think that was after about nine or ten months.

For probably the better part of a decade, I was regularly having it cut short and had the clippers on grade one or two every couple of months. When I lived in Walthamstow, I would regularly visit barbers who only charged a fiver and many spoke very little English. There were times when I had real concerns about how much damage they were going to do to my head, especially those barbers who were pretty forceful and used actual razor blades around the edges.

Then I shaved it off completely when I was in the Highlands after Edinburgh in 2019. And despite the best efforts of my genetics, it has grown back to density probably not seen since I was at least 15. Maybe all those vitamin B tablets and hemp shampoo have worked finally wonders, or perhaps it’s some other form of magic entirely.

I may also need the long hair for a potentially playing an extra in a medieval drama that’s filming near where I live next month. This is a real thing that’s happening. I’ve registered with an extras agency, but I’m just not sure if I’ll be involved yet. And writing about it on here probably isn’t going to help matters.

But my hair will all be shaved off again when I start performing Ross Kemp: The Musical. I’m currently in a bit of a narrative cul-der-sac with that project, which hasn’t been helped with not being pemitted to go around Rich’s house for more writing sessions. Or perhaps my writers block is being imposed by my follicles.

In any case, with my beard, I will have the Jesus look nailed on this Easter.

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Shaped like a pear

I returned to performing this week, sort of.

One of my favourite ever comedy nights, Pear Shaped, has recently moved online. It was an institution of the London circuit and really helped me to discover the joy that can be gained from dying on my arse. The clue’s in the name, it was a night where it was fine for everything to go wrong; and it frequently did, in the best possible way.

The audience often wasn’t that big and it wasn’t uncommon for there to be no audience at all. Or if there was a crowd, you were never quite sure how long they would stick around for. But sometimes, just sometimes, downstairs at that pub in Fitzrovia in that weird wooden room that smelt a bit of toilets, it would be a full of paying punters and it could be a lovely gig.

And after saying nice things about the gig on Alison’s podcast recently, I received a message from Brian asking if I’d like to perform. Now, I have a rule that I only do online gigs if I’m asked. So it was nice to do my first one.

I decided to pre-tape my bit, just to avoid any technical difficulties in a live broadcast. Plus if I know there’s not going to be much chance of hearing laughter anyway, I might as well do my set at a convenient time and relax later on when the show was being broadcast. And is it weird to perform a stand-up set without a crowd? No, at Pear Shaped it certainly isn’t. In fact, it feels the most appropriate gig to do online.

Another reason I’m glad I pretaped it is because it took me about seven or eight attempts to get it right without fluffing my lines. I’ll claim it’s because I’m out of practice, but then I know really that I am prone to fluffing lines on stage.

After a couple of run throughs, a weird thing started happen to my throat. It is a condition I like to call ‘weird quivery sheep throat thing’, where it’s difficult to talk without being interrupted by my faltering vocal cords. It started happening in 2019 and then returned when I was trying to talk on stage in October. I normally have a throat lozenge before I
perform, so perhaps my throat muscles aren’t used to it after such a long absence. Anyway, I gargled with some mouthwash and pushed through.

I enjoyed doing it and it was good to see catch up with some old faces again. Plus the journey home after the gig was really quick and I didn’t have to worry about getting delayed by motorway lane closures.

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Expanding the menu

When I was living away from home, I had a few meals I would cook routinely.

In my first house in London, I would often eat pasta covered in butter and poured on some toast, sometimes with honey or at other times with cheese-on-toast. Despite the fact that I could cook to a decent level, I lived off this mainly to avoid spending too long in the kitchen of a very dodgy shared house.

This was also the time when my evening meal was a frozen pizza from Asda after finishing an evening shift at the call centre. I shouldn’t need to state here that there were consequences in the bowel region from this diet.

In later years and in less dodgy houses, I got into cooking in bulk and freezing a load. And I have three main staple meals for this.

My chilli con carne remains my signature dish. It was initially made with turkey mince, but then switched the lentils when I stopped buying meat; and it has recently changed again to vegan mince. So it should be chilli sin carne – that’s a Spanish joke right there.

My second dish is a fish stew, which evolved into this. Initially, as a quick meal in a shared house, I’d fry an entire bulb of garlic, then pour in a tin of mackerel and some soy sauce. This would be served on some rice and was actually pretty tasty. Over the years, I added more things such as chopped tomatoes, onions and other ingredients. And thus the fish stew was born.

My third dish is a lentil dhal. It’s a fairly new addition to the repertoire and is really tasty, albeit a bit of a faff to scoop all the lentil foam off when they’re boiling.

And after tonight, I might well have a fourth dish. It isn’t the mushroom katsu curry I made a couple of times, then forgot how I made it. I made a vegetable curry with cauliflower, potato, carrot, peas and ground almonds; plus a variety of spices. Considering I wasn’t planning on making it until lunchtime and hadn’t bought specific ingredients for it, it turned out rather well and I should be able to get about eight meals out of it.

My menu has come a long way since the days of buttery pasta on toast.

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Council meetings

With Handforth Parish Council making the headlines all over the place this week, I just want to say that I was covering parish council meetings before they got too mainstream.

In my reporter days from 2008-2009, I had to cover at least three – sometimes even four – town or parish council meetings every month. I’d be lying if I said I enjoyed them. They would often go on for at least two hours, sometimes even more than three. And very often, I would struggle to get too many lengthily news stories from what was discussed.

There were frequently factions and feuds among councillors that stretched back decades, as well as accusations of bullying. But there were also some decent people serving as councillors who wanted to do their bit to help their local community, instead of those being on a power trip to arrange planting of flowers and village fetes.

Often during these meetings, I would look around the room and often be the youngest in there by about 30 years and think: “I’m 24 and this is what I’m doing with my life.”

In fact, being asked to cover a council meeting on a Friday night just as I was about to leave the office for the weekend gave me the final push I needed to hand in my notice.

Nevertheless, parish councils have their place in the great circle of democracy. Even if it rarely felt like it at the time.

And just as a claim to fame, one of the places I attended every month ended up being used as the location of the vicar’s office on This Country.

Probably my most interesting meeting was at a council I didn’t normally report on, but was sent specifically to cover the contentious issue of a pedestrian crossing in the village. I was told I didn’t need to stay for the entirety. So I left with the campaigners after getting some explosive quotes.

It felt amazing to walk out of a council meeting after about 30 minutes, instead of being in there for the usual near two hours. I hopped into my car to drive the 14 miles home, for an early-ish night. And here comes the ‘however’.

However, upon turning into my road and two minutes from home, I realised I’d left my bag in the council meeting. So for a couple of seconds I weighed up going back to get it immediately, or just ring around the next day to try and find the right person who may have picked it up. Either scenario wasn’t going to make me look too good. I opted for the first option.

By now, an hour had passed since I left the meeting. It was still going on, because of course it was. It’s one of the few times I was grateful that they like to talk for a very long time at parish council meetings.

I awkwardly crept back into the room, rolled my eyes and shook my head in a comical fashion to the councillors who were looking at me. I then picked up my bag and left the meeting for a second time.

I got a good story out of it, which is actually in my portfolio. I would have just preferred I could have covered meetings by watching Zoom all those years ago.