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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.

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Teeth

I actually did something different this week, I went to the dentist.

Admittedly, this isn’t the punchiest intro I’ve ever written. But I can only work with what I’ve got; and life under Covid is neatly summed up by the fact that a visit to the dentist felt like a refreshing break from the norm.

If you don’t like teeth, this probably isn’t the entry for you. And I mean specifically human teeth in a human mouth. Not like those fish you get in North America with human teeth. Or even the condition hyperdontia, where sometimes hundreds of teeth grow in a person’s mouth. Personally, I would rather be reading about those things. So I may write something about them in future. This is just about standard human teeth in the correct position and numbers. And specifically mine. I’m not even trying to boost the word count here, I’m just on a roll.

Anyway, I don’t go to the dentist very often. The last time I went was in April 2017, which was the morning after I’d driven back from a gig in Newcastle. As I had work the next day, the appointment was cunningly booked to give me extra time to sleep.

My teeth have always been in good condition and I only tend to go to the dentist if I think something’s wrong. And the most recent visit was booked as I was convinced that my gums were receding after I did some online diagnosis.

But I’ve learnt that it’s always better to get advice from an actual trained professional. I discovered this after I spent pretty much all of my teenage years genuinely convinced that I was dying of various terminal illnesses as a direct result of my own research and online diagnoses. Turns out, that was all a complete waste of time and worry.

Anyway, I learned from my latest dentist visit that there’s nothing much wrong with my teeth and I don’t need to go back for a year; thus vindicating my stance on dental appointments.

I am aware that this is something of an anti-climatic story and not particularly interesting. So never fear, I’ve got some more teeth history as a back-up. This is definitely the worst thing that has happened to my teeth. And no fish are involved.

In 2012, it was the Tuesday back to work after Easter Monday. I was living in Walthamstow at the time and about to begin the morning commute. I was about 20 metres away from the busy road I had to cross to get to the train station. I was still on the pedestrianised bit, when I saw the green man was on the traffic lights. So I decided to run before it changed. I stepped off the pavement to cross the road at pace and the next thing I know is I’m on the ground in front of a bus and have smashed my jaw on the road.

The traffic lights hadn’t changed. And I’m fairly convinced that I was hit by a cyclist who jumped the red light. But then logic would suggest that he would also have fallen off in the collision, or at least shouted something and I don’t remember any of this.

A couple of people helped me to my feet and I staggered back onto the pavement, leaning on a lamppost for support. I was feeling a little dazed and remember a lady telling me that I should go to the hospital. It felt as though something was wrong with my mouth and I could taste blood, but I told the lady that I was actually fine and would be going to work regardless. So I crossed the road and hopped on the next train to Liverpool Street.

Shortly into the journey, I started to feel dizzy and noticed something was wrong with my teeth and thought: “Actually, maybe I should go the hospital…”

I was working in Farringdon at the time, so went to St Bart’s Hospital. A nurse checked me over and I had some X-rays. I’d sheared off about a third of two front teeth and had minor chips to about eight others.

I couldn’t get a dentist appointment on the day, so went a day or so later. He did a quick repair job and booked a reconstructive procedure a couple of weeks later, which then made my mouth look close to normal again.

But a few months after this procedure, I woke up to find one of the caps he’d put on had come off and was resting on my tongue. I went back for another repair job. And all was fine until a couple of years later and the same cap was ripped off by some Soreen I was eating. I didn’t go back for a fourth repair job and dentists I’ve seen since have said it’s nothing to really worry about.

The dental work cost me about £50 and it was also meant that I no longer eat the destructive dental goodness that is Soreen.

The moral of the story: don’t ever run to be on time for work.

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Edinburgh Fringe 2021?

Is Edinburgh Fringe going to happen this year? Well, the short answer is that I don’t know. Thank you for your traffic, I appreciate you stopping by.

I will give some further thoughts now. I should add that I am not privy to any inside information and have no scientific qualifications relating to disease, or indeed any scientific qualifications whatsoever. Thus making me the perfect person to give an opinion on the matter.

I am also aware that I mention Edinburgh Fringe more than anything else on this site. I don’t even have to look that up either. Since I first visited the festival in 2010, it is what I have planned my years and entire comedic focus around. So while I don’t know what is being discussed with organisers at the moment, I do have enough knowledge and experience of the festival to give me an idea of the practicalities of running things in the post-Covid world.

Firstly, I should add that I hope Edinburgh Fringe does happen this year. And here comes the ‘however’. However, it is difficult to see it happening this year even with the vaccination roll-out.

As far as I can tell, about half a million people come to Edinburgh every year during August. And they come from all around the world, from counties all with varying infection rates and different action by respective governments.

Were the Fringe to go ahead, it is likely that there would be some social distancing measures still in place. And this is where everything falls down. Many rooms in Edinburgh are small, cramped and sweaty. If one of these rooms had a pre-Covid capacity of 50; then for post-Covid with social distancing this could easily reduced by ten times. And being in one of these tiny rooms will hardly be appealing to an increasingly health-conscious population. On the plus side, it would be easier to sell-out and I have also performed to audiences lower than five during my time up there.

Post-Covid, having hundreds of thousands of people all mixing in cramped conditions is a recipe for disaster.

The other factor is financial. The majority of performers in the UK have hardly been able to perform within the last 12 months, thus depriving them of money. And Edinburgh Fringe is an expensive endeavour, to say the least, meaning that a lot of performers will be unable to afford it through lack of revenue.

And this financial factor also includes audiences. While the fortunate have been able to save a load of money on commuting, not everyone currently has a job and unemployment is soaring. People may end up choosing to save what money they have, or choose to spend it to go somewhere else on holiday instead.

Therefore, Ross Kemp: The Musical may not be making its debut in August. Although there is always a possibility that it could be performed towards the end of the year. As with everything at the moment, it’s just a matter of wait and see.

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Screen time

For the next month, I have set myself the challenge of switching off
mobile data every day from 10am to 3pm. The reason I am doing so is
that my phone has become a chronic distraction and mostly a means to
waste time.

Although I have permitted myself to use the internet on a computer for work-related stuff, I am also banning myself from using social media during these hours. And I’m also stopping myself from procrastination searches that may be, for example, what Jason the original red Power Ranger is doing these days, what happened to Zach from Saved by the Bell, and of course, the latest news reports of giant squid.

On the first day I tried it, I was getting a little itchy at not being able to instantly check the latest meaningless nonsense. But after a day or so, I was amazed at how much clearer my head has been due to the dramatic decrease in distractions. I also continue to be amazed at how much worse my focus gets when I switch my phone’s internet back on after 3pm.

I was thinking how much worse I would have been at school if I’d had a
smartphone. Then I remembered that I did barely any work at school and
even with technology as limited as it was then, I still found enough to get distracted. The only explanation is that I have a superpower of being able to get distracted by very little.

If you’re wondering why this post hasn’t tailed off, you have no idea how long it’s taken me to get to this point thanks to my phone.

Anyway, I didn’t just come up my phone ban of my own accord. A few weeks ago, I received an email out of the blue from someone who’d been binge-reading the archive on here. I was then asked if I’d like to be interviewed to appear on a podcast about my experiences performing stand-up and the way I’ve dealt with all the extremes of emotions it brings.

The email came as something of a surprise, as I was fairly convinced that no one reads anything on here. So as with all the emails I receive through my site, I did some background checks to check it was genuine. And it was. You can listen to it here, in fact. Listen to the other episodes while you’re there too. By the way, hello Alison.

And part of Alison’s podcast is to get guests to set some sustainability goals. My suggestion of phone usage was something of a joke, but then I learned that browsing and watching videos results in far more carbon emissions than I ever realised.

While emissions from this might be miniscule for one person, they all stack up considerably if the majority of people in the world are doing the same thing.

But first and foremost, cutting down on my phone usage means I won’t get… something or other. Anyway, onto giant squid matters.

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2021…

This year, I’m going to try and write something at least once a week and have Sunday as the designated day. I’m calling it a pledge at the start of a new year. There might be a better, more concise way of saying that.

Given that I’m not doing a massive amount at the moment due to Covid
restrictions, I’m not entirely sure what I’m going to write about
without it becoming repetitive. But that is where the challenge lies.

That said, this entire website began after a friend from school had spotted that I was writing 250 words a day on Tumblr, so offered to host it on his server. So writing a minimum of 250 words a week should be doable. Also, I hope you like reading details of dog walks.

It is a year filled with uncertainty and unknowns. I don’t know when
I’ll do another gig, I don’t know if Edinburgh Fringe will happen this
year, and I don’t know where I’ll be living at the end of the year.

It would be helpful to read some of the entries for later on the year now so I have an idea of what to expect. They all exist on this laptop, just not at this particular time.

But the future posts are not written yet, so I’d better make them good ones; or at least mildly entertaining.

The only thing I can say for certain is that I’m going to be doing a considerable amount of dog walking.

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2020 then…

It is fair to say that this year has been filled with things that I never envisaged 365 days ago. And I write this with a full-blown mullet, having today seen my credit in the local paper I last worked for in June 2009.

I will now attempt to summarise what has easily been the most ridiculous year in living memory. I have never known a year like it and hope I will never encounter such a year ever again.

For me, it started like almost any other with me waking up in my parents’ house with no hangover. My New Years Eves now consist entirely of staying in, comforting my dog who’s scared by the fireworks and desperately trying to avoid watching Jools Holland’s Hootananny.

In just under two weeks, I would be travelling to Australia to perform
shows in Perth for a couple of weeks. This was when the country was already besieged by bush fires, with the apocalyptic scenes very much
setting the tone for 2020.

Australia has always been on my list of places to travel to. But when I stopped watching Neighbours after a uni, a large part of the appeal for visiting the country had disappeared. I’d almost bypassed the country completely on my previous two trips to Australasia and gone straight to New Zealand. Anyway, 2020 would be the year I would finally go there.

I don’t know if I mentioned it much on here at the time, but it was really hot in Perth and I am unable to handle temperatures higher than about 30°C. A lot of people spend their time on the beach in Australia, whereas I was spending most of my time in the air-conditioned public library and the freezer aisle at the supermarkets.

I was also there to do shows and they weren’t quite as busy as I’d envisaged. My show was on at 9.30pm and I quickly learned that the centre of Perth pretty much empties of people before 9pm. Still, I managed to get an audience of at least 20 people every day and had larger audiences too. The shows were fun and covered the costs of my flights and accommodation.

The highlight of my time in Perth was a day trip to Rottnest Island. The sun was shining, the sands were white and the sea was clear. I rode it around on a bike probably would have got heat stroke had I not jumped fully clothed into the sea to cool off.

Next up, I went to Melbourne, which is a really cool city and somewhere I’d like to go back to at some point – probably in the Australian winter. From then, it was onto Sydney. I wasn’t a massive fan of the place. It was a bit too much of a generic city for me.

Then it was over to NZ. I did the Sky Jump off in Auckland again, 13 years after I did it the first time. When I did it in 2007, I’d never done anything like it before and got a massive buzz out of it. But having done several bungee jumps since then, being lowered from a platform 192m above the streets doesn’t get the blood pumping so much. Afterwards, I found a pub with numerous craft ales and proceeded to sample a number of them.

The main aim of my time in NZ was to visit places I’d not been to before. I went to Gisborne, which was okay but a bit boring apart from the local brewery. Next up, it was Napier. Apart from staying in a pretty horrible hostel, I really liked Napier. It’s got a totally different feel to any other place I’ve visited in NZ. The highlight was hiring a bike to ride to some vineyards.

Then it was off to Wellington to do shows at NZ Fringe. My hostel in
Wellington was horrendous. It stank, had no ventilation, and only three toilets for 30 rooms. Being hungover there was particularly torturous.

I had a great time at NZ Fringe with my two shows in 2019, so was back
for more of the same but doing four shows. They were great fun, but not quite as good as the previous year. I think people were starting to worry about the coronavirus, which ended up in the end of the festival being cancelled entirely.

I was also meant to be doing Dunedin Fringe, but my venue had fallen through in January and I couldn’t get a replacement sorted. As it turned out, the festival also ended up being pulled. Instead, I went down to Stewart Island and saw some kiwis in the wild.

By this point, the threat of Covid-19 was increasing by each day. Something that started out as a bit of a joke ended up turning into something that would take over the world. Amazingly, it didn’t really alter my trip. I would just fly home a day earlier than originally planned. But when I was in Christchurch, the flight board in my hostel just had multiple flights listed as cancelled. My flight went ahead and I got home without any problems or catching any viruses.

Since I arrived back home, my days have mostly been based around dog walking. I’ve watched all of Star Wars animation series Clone Wars and Rebels, as well as Umbrella Academy, Dark, The Boys, Watchmen, Better Call Saul, and most recently The Mandalorian.

For years, I had wanting to get into podcasting. Not because I really listened to many podcasts, but mainly as a potential revenue stream.

Anyway, I did it when I would have been performing in Edinburgh. I soon realised I didn’t like it. It was a lot of work for very little in return. I may do it again at some point, but only if I have a strong enough idea that excites me.

I’ve only done one gig since I finished my run in NZ. It was in October, I felt off the pace and didn’t really enjoy it as much as I thought I would.

Surprisingly, I haven’t really missed performing. It’s been a huge part of my life for ten years, yet I’ve actually enjoyed having a break from the stress of it all. I know the circuit will return at some point next year and I expect I’ll be performing again before too long, but some downtime has been welcome.

And next year, Ross Kemp: The Musical is coming. This has been the calm, that will be the the storm.

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Old stomping grounds

Of all the utterly bizarre things to happen in 2020, I would have said that a global pandemic was far more likely to happen than me helping to cover a news story for my old local paper.

As it turned out, both ended up happening this year. And for the first time since June 2009, I was reporting on a news story in the Cotswolds for the very same publication where I was once a trainee reporter.

It all happened on Sunday afternoon after I received a message from a mate who still works for the newsgroup. There had been some severe flooding in and around Cirencester and the paper needed some pictures from one of the villages badly hit.

With me being a freelance journalist, I can’t really afford to turn work down. And with them being a cash-strapped local paper, they don’t really have resources to employ more people to cover everything they need to.

So I jumped into action, via the supermarket as I’d run out of dog biscuits. It was a race against time to firstly get to the supermarket before it closed due to Sunday opening hours; and secondly to get to the village before the sun went down.

When I worked at the paper, I was often deployed as a deputy photographer when the actual photographer had another job on. I always much preferred taking pictures to writing stories, mainly because it was more fun and a lot easier.

But 11.5 years on, I was a little rusty with the practicalities of the job. I arrived on the scene to take some pictures of flooding, but was wearing trainers. I had to do some nifty hopping about to avoid getting too wet and managed to get some decent shots on my phone.

I got talking to village residents and found out more information that would make a great story. I passed on the details to the news desk, so hopefully something will come of it.

Despite the unfortunate circumstances of my deployment to cover the flooding, it reminded me how much I really used to enjoy getting out and reporting back in the day. There was just unfortunately a lot of other stuff that came with the job that I needed to leave behind.

Still, it’s always nice to remember the positive experiences instead of the negative ones.

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Standing up and locking down

The other week, I had my first comedy gig since 7 March. They say the secret to comedy is good timing. And I suppose it was, as England would be back in lockdown less than a week later.

It was the same venue in Bristol I performed at in May 2018, when I was in rich vein of form and had one of my best gigs from that year.

What a difference two and a bit years make. This time, the audience was socially distanced and there were no intervals, which is not ideal for a comedy gig due to the bladder needs of audiences. But such measures are necessary all the same.

The audience got very heckley towards the end of the opening act who had done 20 minutes. Not nasty heckles, just a bit weird and persistent. As a result, I arrived on stage and they were a little restless. I had to try and get things back on track and manage the people who were having their own private conversations.

I felt rusty and so did my throat, with it threatening to stop working at certain points due to the number of muscles I’ve neglected in the last eight months.

With so much going on, I wasn’t entirely happy with how my set went down. Certifiable gold fell flat in places. But the second half of my set went much better than the first half, which is always the better than the reverse.

It’s never a great feeling to return to the scene of a great gig and not doing as well the next time. Nevertheless, it was nice to be back on stage and it takes several gigs in over a number of weeks or months to return to form. I was expecting to feel the adrenaline again that you can get immune to if gigging regularly, although it never really kicked in.

I certainly hadn’t missed driving to gigs. In fact, the experience reminded me just how much I hate the driving side of things and the multiple stresses involved, not to mention motorway lane closures on the way home. And in all honesty, I haven’t missed the regular grind of the circuit in the slightest.

I don’t have anything else booked up and with the way things are going, it seems wise not to. As things stand, I have no idea when I’ll do another gig.

At the moment, my main priority in comedy is writing my Ross Kemp musical. That may seem like an absurd sentence because it is. The entire project is absurd, but I believe in the idea and have a good feeling about just where it might lead. The last show I had a similar feeling about ended up doing pretty well indeed.

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A year, and a half

An entire year has now passed since I moved out of my flat and away from Manchester. And as I walked to my loaded up car, getting one final soaking from the Mancunian rain, I didn’t have any idea where I’d be a year later.

The only firm plans I had at that point were to go to Australia and NZ, which seems like another world away now. Then I was eyeing up a move to either Bristol or back to London after Edinburgh 2020, but a certain pandemic derailed things.

Instead, I have been living back home in Stroud for the past six months and will likely be here for at least another six months until things settle down a bit. I’ve been taking my dog for three mile walks pretty much every day since then, which has helped keep me sane.

I’ve been lucky to get a fair amount of freelance writing work, which isn’t paying loads but enough to pay the bills.

I haven’t done a gig since March when I was in NZ, and haven’t performed in the UK since the 1 November last year. I haven’t really missed it, mainly because the circuit isn’t really operating at the moment. But I do have my first post-Covid gig lined up for the end of this month. I’m looking forward to it, but don’t have a lot else in my diary.

One thing I have been working on is a ridiculous musical about Ross Kemp that’s been in my head since Edinburgh Fringe 2018. I’d not made much progress on it as I wasn’t entirely sure how I’d get it all together with the normal time constraints. But fortunately, the coronavirus has created a lot more time for such things. The other main thing holding me back was that I couldn’t think of a story; although it is now all coming together.

I’d been sending ideas for songs to one of my best mates from school, Rich Shillitoe. He’s an accomplished musician, so was the first person I thought of to work on the show after I had the idea. As it would turn out, he’s now also back living in this part of the world. And now after 20 years of living in totally different parts of the country, we’re in close proximity again. He’s been putting together some music for it and it is genuinely sounding amazing. I went around his house last weekend and all sorts of idea started flowing freely. It is all rather ridiculous, but I am very excited by this project. We’re hoping it will run at Edinburgh Fringe next year.

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Edinburgh Fringe Archives: 2019

And now, our final stop in this series is 2019.

Last year was my first Fringe since 2011 where I was without a full-time job, as I left that at the end of July. Despite taking my Fringe runs as holiday for the three years preceding – and revelling in the freedom that brought – I still had to kind of be ‘on call’ if anything went wrong and couldn’t properly switch off. I didn’t miss that, but I did definitely miss the pay slip at the end of the month.

For accommodation, I was staying with a local down in Newhaven. It was right on the coast, so I would regularly go out and sit on the edge of the harbour and gaze out across the water to escape the Fringe madness. I paid £600 for the month and was only sharing with one other person. The website I used proved a great source for bargains. One of the things I am most disappointed in missing out on this year is that I’d already booked a room for about the same amount and it had an en suite. That would be an unheard of luxury.

After a turbulent Fringe in 2018, I just wanted to have some fun in 2019. My other aim was to get through the Fringe without any persistent bowel issues. I wasn’t going to be doing a new show, just HTWAPQ; although I would have a new theme and writing new material for it.

My original plan was to make it the European Edition, but I semi-bottled it. I thought people would be sick of hearing about Brexit after three years, plus I tried writing some material about Europe and it turned out that there was far too much to cover in an hour. But then far better educated people than me have also struggled to come up with anything on Europe in four years.

I also considered making it the Space Edition, but didn’t know if there was enough I could do with that – despite space being infinite. So I picked another option and went for the British Edition. It wasn’t the most inspiring choice, but most of the new material worked and it did give me a chance to finally use Queen in my music round.

This was for the midday show at Stand 2. I was also doing a late-night show at Stand 1. Nine years after first visiting The Stand to see Stewart Lee and thinking how much I’d love to do a show there one day, that’s just what I was doing. I may have used a cheat code with my gimmick, but it was still happening.

I initially asked if I could do one show in Stand 1, but was then offered seven shows there for the first week and a bit. I was in two minds about accepting, because I was concerned it could split my audience. In the end, I decided that it was an opportunity I couldn’t turn down. Very few get such an opportunity, especially with as low a profile as I have.

So for the first week and a bit, I was doing HTWAPQ shows at midday, then again at 11.40pm and finishing just after 1am. It was a ridiculous routine, but I’m definitely glad I did it as it was a totally new Edinburgh experience.

I wanted to test myself and see if I could scale the show up for a bigger room. And on the couple of nights when I was approaching 80, it was a wonderful thing. In fact, there was only one night that was a struggle with a few arseholes in attendance who kept chatting amongst themselves, but I got through it.

Unfortunately, my hunch about ticket sales was right. The midday show sold much stronger than the late night one.

For the late-night show, I didn’t go any lower than 20 people, which I would have been delighted with in the 2014 run. But when the room can seat 140, I really needed a few dozen more. I ended up losing about £100 from doing these late shows, which is still not a bad loss at a festival where many the losses made by many acts run comfortably into the thousands. And I made up for it with ticket sales from midday. Nevertheless, it still stings.

On the days I did double shows, there was a noticeable split in ticket sales. I had my lowest ever HTWAPQ midday audience in Edinburgh one day with 28. But if you added the 20 people who attended the late-night show, then I would have been close to selling out the 50 seater.

Once I’d finish the late-night run, ticket sales picked up noticeably for the remainder of the run. But that first week meant that I would miss out on another official sold-out Jpeg by 4%. It seems ridiculous to think of selling 91% of tickets as being a less successful Fringe, so I will now make a point of slapping myself in the face whenever I do this.

Apart from the odd flat day and arsey audience review (singular), the shows were good fun. I even managed to keep the show going during a power cut.

For me, Edinburgh Fringe was never meant to be about ticket sales. But I’ve just realised that it’s become that way. It was meant to be about trying out different ideas, experimenting, and creating something that’s hopefully fun and interesting. Success, and trying to cling onto that, kind of got in the way. Still, I consider myself incredibly lucky all the same.

If I was to never do another Edinburgh Fringe again, I could retire pretty satisfied with what I’ve achieved there. Three official sold-out runs isn’t a bad accomplishment at all.

I will return there, hopefully next year with a totally new show. I just need to write it first. And preview it multiple times. Oh, and the festival will need to be running too.