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Lockdown diaries – Volume two

I feel it’s time to write something else on here, as it at least gives me something to do.

Since I last wrote, I haven’t done a massive amount. My main activities have been dog walking and watching things on streaming services. And before yesterday, I’d not ventured out of my village other than to the nearby woods with my dog.

My Google Maps Timeline for the month is going to be pretty short. I finally managed to stop it tracking my movements by not doing much moving around.

A lot of comedy folk are currently doing things online. I’ve been thinking about doing something with HTWAPQ online for a while, possibly in the form of a podcast. However, the pandemic has caught me by surprise and my main barriers are technological. My laptop is a decade old and is unreliable in both connecting to the internet and to microphones. And the PC in my house is about 13 years old. In theory, I could do the quiz on my phone. But then I wouldn’t be able to respond as easily to heckles, and interactivity is where the most fun is had. I will continue to think up ways to work something out, even if I know full well that I probably won’t get anything sorted until the pandemic is over.

The most exciting thing was going to the supermarket yesterday in Stroud for the first time since before I went to Australia in January. I wore my face mask and some gloves, which no one else there really felt the need for. I had to queue outside for about 15 minutes and then stick to the up and down lanes in the aisles. I successfully did the shop, which is where the excitement ends.

And I’ve written a couple of freelance journalism articles. If you’re looking for someone to write words for money, do get in touch. I have actual journalist training and experience, even if I don’t have the qualifications.

I’ve also written about 1,000 words on my thoughts on the latest Star Wars trilogy. Because if there’s one thing that the world needs right now, it’s more opinions on Star Wars published on the internet. It’s not quite finished yet and needs work before being ready for public consumption. Still, that didn’t stop The Rise of Skywalker being released.

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Lockdown diaries – Volume one

I am ten days into my quarantine after returning to the UK. So far, I don’t seem to have any noticeable symptoms of Covid-19. But I’m not counting my chickens just yet, mainly because I don’t have any to count.

Although I at least count myself as very lucky, to have not only made it back just before everything went into lockdown, but to also have been able to visit Australia and New Zealand. I don’t know how much longer it’ll be before anyone is able to do that again so freely.

Other than a sore throat that comes and goes, as well as a slight cold, I’m feeling pretty much fine. One key test is walking my dog up a steep and long hill every day. If I can get to the top of it without collapsing with breathing difficulties, then I’ll take that as a positive sign.

My flights home went without a hitch. The most uncomfortable thing was wearing a face mask for pretty much the entirety of my journey. It felt slightly eerie getting to Paddington Station around 7.30am on a weekday and finding it to be pretty much empty.

After almost 36 hours of travelling I made it back to Stroud. The outskirts of the town are probably one of the best places to be in such a time. It’s full of open space, fresh air and countryside, and crucially, not that many people.

So far, my days have mainly revolved around long dog walks and watching things on Netflix and Disney+. I would be lying if I tried to pretend that this is drastically different from my life back home in normal circumstances. The only thing I’m really missing is being able to meet friends down at Stroud Brewery for a pint.

I’m going to try and write often on here for however long this pandemic lasts for, to preserve my own sanity as much as anything else. Or at least what’s left of it.

I’m also going to use this time to write things that I’ve been meaning to for years. One of them is for a script of of Doctor Who that has been in my head since 2007, which is also a brief description of the story as it involves things tunnelling inside peoples’ heads.

At the moment, I don’t have the ending sorted. But then this detail hasn’t stopped many Doctor Who scripts being written over the years. It’s difficult to see it ever making it into production in the foreseeable future, but in order to succeed or fail you have to try first.

The other thing I feel I should mention is the cancelling of Edinburgh Fringe. I am disappointed, as it has been a firm fixture on my calendar now for the past decade and the source of so much euphoria, plus a hefty chunk of despair. If it wasn’t for the Fringe, I probably would have quit comedy a few years ago. It is the one thing that has kept me going in recent years when indifference from some audiences, combined with a lack of gigs, has made me question whether it’s worth persisting with.

Nevertheless, I understand the reasons for cancelling and definitely think it’s for the best. The city of Edinburgh could do with a year off as much as anything else. The Fringe has become too bloated and hopefully the break will give organisers enough time for a rethink.

At the moment, it’s unclear how long the lockdown is going to last for. The longer it goes on, the more difficult it will be for things to return to how they were before. I don’t know how the comedy circuit will look after all of this, or even if I’ll be part of it. But times like this remind me just how there are things much more important things in life.

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Christchurch and lockdown

I’ve spent the last five nights in Christchurch due to my replanned itinerary after my Dunedin Fringe show being cancelled.

As it turns out, the entire Dunedin Fringe festival has been cancelled in the past week due to the coronavirus.

Despite my petulance and moaning about ticket sales at my other shows, I’m lucky I did get to perform any of them and that the festivals even went ahead in the first place. At the moment, the 2020  Edinburgh Fringe hangs in the balance. The organisers are still insisting that it’s going ahead, mainly so they don’t have to give refunds for registration fees to thousands of performers.

In other places I’ve visited on this trip, I’ve made an effort to get out and see things. But the mood has changed pretty dramatically within the last week due to that pesky virus. As a result, I’ve mainly tried to avoid contact with people. Although this isn’t the easiest thing to do when staying in hostels.

I also tracked down one of the last remaining face masks in Christchurch.

And I’ve been desperately hoping that the sniffles and sore throat I’ve got isn’t anything more serious. The sniffle started on Stewart Island after the colder temperatures there, so there.

Originally, I’d booked to fly home on 25 March. But the airline I’m flying with changed my flights early last month due to the coronavirus. In another strange coincidence, the end of the day tomorrow is when New Zealand closes its borders, stops flights, and goes into lockdown.

I’m going via Hong Kong, which will close its borders with NZ minutes after my flight arrives there. It’s all feeling a lot of like Indiana Jones rolling underneath a closing door. I’ll make sure none of my hats get left behind.

Being caught in the midst of a global pandemic isn’t quite how I saw my trip ending. Still, it’s certainly a new experience – just not one I’d choose.

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Wellington

I checked out of my horrendous hostel on Monday and don’t think I’ve ever felt the same level of euphoria when I’ve left other places.

I booked into somewhere around the corner with similarly bad reviews. The main reason is that I have an ensuite and don’t have to share it with 30 other people.

It could easily pass for decent student digs. While it’s not exactly perfect and the kitchen between eight rooms doesn’t have any saucepans, it’s pretty much five-star compared with the last place.

Also on Monday, I went to a place called Zealandia. It’s a nature reserve covering 225 hectare of forest, all on the outskirts of Wellington.

They’re using it to increase populations of endangered birds and native trees. So it’s surrounded by a high perimeter fence to keep out rats, ferrets, cats and other mammals brought here from overseas that might be partial to eating a bird or two.

As a result of this high fence and all the greenery, it has a Jurassic Park feel to it. Thankfully, there’s nothing in there that eats people or anything that will spawn mediocre sequels.

I really enjoyed walking around there for most of the day and discovering stuff.

It was established in the early 1990s and despite this being my third visit to Wellington, I don’t know how I wasn’t aware of it previously. I’ve explored a lot more of Wellington than I have before this time. Staying in a horrible hostel was certainly motivation enough to get out and about, and it also helped that I’ve not been hungover all the time.

Bagpiper update. In my fifth separate city on this trip, I heard the bagpipes. This time, I tracked down the bagpiper. He claims he hasn’t been following me around on my trip, but I’m not sure I believe him.

I’m writing this on my phone as I hear his music. There is a something I find oddly soothing in bagpipes.

I suspect the Fringe Gods dispatched him here after I got my show application sorted for another Edinburgh. I did it in an internet cafe, using a customised version of Word that had been set up for Chinese speakers. Editing wasn’t the easiest thing to do when the computer kept wanting to add Chinese characters. But I eventually got it done.

Tomorrow I head to Invercargill for a night, then over to Stewart Island. It will be the furthest it’s possible to get from home, excluding Antarctica. 

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NZ Fringe 2020 – Show four

Audience numbers for last night’s show thankfully picked up a bit. And while hundreds of people were lining the streets with the Wellington Pride parade, I managed to get around 30 people in.

The audience were great again. Although I would have liked a few more people in through the door, I’ve been very lucky with the people who have come through said door this run.

As it worked out, I actually ended up selling fewer tickets with each succesive show. This is a handy parallel with my last four Edinburgh runs, where each year’s tally is lower than the last. If the coronavirus is still widespread by August, then this record will almost certainly continue.

I would say that I’m not over here for the money, but it’s simply not true. Based on two shows last year, I thought I would make double the amount from four shows this time. Now I no longer have a full-time job, I need all the money I can get. Expectations ruin everything.

Unfortunately, I only made marginally more than last year.

Nevertheless, all the shows went well and it’s given me an excuse to come back to New Zealand again. Smaller audiences also meant I could have more fun riffing and dicking about with less admin to worry about. That’s very much how the show was forged and it is ultimately where I feel most comfortable.

As I have said many times over the years, I’ve always found failure easier to handle than success. Mainly because I’ve experienced more failure than success. But there’s no pressure or expectation that comes with failure. You just pick yourself up, dust yourself off and carry on without worrying about sustaining anything.

It’s just as well I’m putting together a new show then.

It’s actually a relief that I won’t be doing Dunedin Fringe. I don’t think it’s healthy to compulsively check sales figures multiple times a day and then getting frustrated that the numbers haven’t increased.

And on another positive note, I have one night left in the worst hostel I’ve ever stayed in.

I won’t miss being woken up by my next door neighbour having lengthily phone calls with his partner on loud speaker, who sounds much like one of those garbling adults in Charlie Brown.

Tomorrow morning, I checkout of this dump and will never return. I may even steal a knife and fork out of spite.

They say a week is a long time in politics. It turns out its also true when staying in horrendous accommodation.

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NZ Fringe 2020 – Show three

I’m writing this while I’m waiting for my washing in a laundrette.

My hostel does have a washing machine, but I wouldn’t trust it based on everything else in that place.

Although it’s probably going to cost me twice as much at this laundrette, it at means that I can avoid spending time in that awful hostel and my clothes hopefully won’t come out smelling like rotten flesh. Actually, mouldy peanut butter is a far worse smell. So I will go with that instead. Just two more nights, just two more nights…

Onto show-related matters, I think I had about 36 people in last night. So, just over half full. I’ve never known an instance where the Wednesday and Thursday shows are busier than the ones on Friday and Saturday. But this is the situation I find myself in.

Attendances have been down across all my shows. I’m obviously not going to blame my lack or promo when I can blame other factors.

They were another good audience who all seemed to really enjoy it, with many saying nice things afterwards.

It’s my final show of the run tonight. At the moment, it’s looking like it’ll be the quietest. But it is a Saturday and people are around. And as I often say on here, you never truly know how something is going to go until it actually begins. 

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NZ Fringe 2020 – Show two

It is definitely quieter this year in Wellington as far as audiences go. I think that there are a few reasons for this.

There are meant to be more shows on this year, meaning potential audience reserves are spread further. And the coronavirus could also be making people stay in slightly more, probably to guard their mountains of toilet roll they’ve panic-bought.

And there is another reason that a lot of people who would have wanted to see my show already saw it last year.

It is a new quiz apart from two questions, even if I am using some of the same material to set things up for later. But for the most part, it’s a different set. So one mistake I probably made was not giving the show a secondary title.

I was called out on using a few of the same jokes by a reviewer from Art Murmurs. She gave me a glowing review last year and it’s nice she enjoyed it so much that she wanted to see what I was doing for it this year. But she also said she was disappointed I’d rehashed some of the content from last year.

I’m fully aware of how complacent and lazy the show has made me in terms of writing material. And this is why I’ve made the decision to write a totally new hour for Edinburgh next year and am likely to put HTWAPQ into storage. After six years, I could do with a new challenge. So I expect this year’s Edinburgh Fringe to be my last full run with HTWAPQ.

Nevertheless, the reviewer gave me some amazing quotes. Such as this pearl:

“Love appears to be the epitome of those times you are in the shower thinking, ‘Oh, it would have been really cool if I had said THAT’, the Armando Iannucci-ian repartee a skill I greatly admire.” 

Being likened in any capacity to Armando Iannucci is perhaps one of the biggest compliments anyone could pay me. I’m not quite sure what she means here though. If it’s Armando himself, or the shows that he writes. Because Alan Partridge is certainly an influence on my quiz host twat persona.

The second show last night was also a good one, even if I could feel it dip slightly somewhere in the middle of my set. I had about 40 in, which is 20 tickets from being sold-out.

Afterwards, I met up with my friend Chloe for a drink. And I managed to magically turn one pint into five. It was the most I’ve drank in one evening on my trip. My 22 year old self would be horrified, and likely suffering from a much worse hangover.

There, I can make it through an entry on here without moaning about my accommodation. Although I did have to resort to my other token subject of Edinburgh Fringe. 

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NZ Fringe 2020 – Show one, plus more accommodation gripes

Having completely sold-out both my shows at last year’s NZ Fringe, it was an simple decision to come back this year.

Only this time, ticket sales are much slower and I can say fairly confidentially that I am unlikely to match last year. Bizarrely, the first show on Wednesday night had the most presales, when it’s usually the weekends that are busiest.

There were 46 people in out of 60 for my first show, which is a decent number for midweek. And they were a great audience, so I cannot complain about the people who were there.

Tonight and tomorrow are looking about half full, which should pick up a bit nearer showtime.

My main concern is for Saturday. I don’t think it’s unrealistic to expect to sell more tickets at the weekend. Only at the moment, I’m barely scraping double figures. I’ve since learned that this is probably because it clashes with Wellington Pride.

Hopefully it’ll pick up, but you never really can tell. In any case, I will try to put on the best show for whoever does buy a ticket.

Now it’s time for a moan about my accommodation. If I thought it couldn’t get any worse then I was very much mistaken.

The hostel I’m staying in is appalling. It actually feels more like a prison. There’s no ventilation in the rooms and the windows don’t open, so there’s no fresh air. There is a fan contraption thing in my room, which I have going on all the time to avoid suffocating.

My room also has a musty smell to it, much like the long-abandoned attic of an elderly relative.

There are three male toilets between 50 rooms.

The showers have has their tap outside the shower curtain. And I’m fairly sure the nozzle on the shower I used on my first night is from an actual garden hose.

The kitchen has flies buzzing everywhere, and this evening there was a mountain of washing up in the sink that had been abandoned, topped with a bowl that contained some watery tinned spaghetti.

There is a cleaner I see every day. But I have no idea exactly what he does, as the same stains and grey clumps of hair and miscellaneous other matter remain fixed. I’m starting to think he could also be a figment of my imagination.

It is completely my fault for booking the cheapest option on Expedia before doing any research into it.

There is a plus side to all of this. Before I arrived, I had been trying to extend my stay here by email. Fortunately, I wasn’t able to do so.

Within two minutes of arrival, I knew there was no way I’d be extending my stay. I booked somewhere else for the extra nights, but I’ve since found out that this new place also has a similarly poor reputation.

I’m now counting down the days I have left in this toilet bowl, before I’ll have somewhere else to complain about. Just four more nights, just four more nights…

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Napier

From having my own room and bathroom, I am now back to the world of hostels. Around me, I can see paint peeling off the ceilings, and tears in the wallpaper covered up with gaffer tape.

And it’s also back to questionable hygiene, with clumps of miscellaneous food clogging the kitchen sinks and dried poo smeared on the wall of toilet cubicles. In fairness, I’m glad it’s not the other way around.

Still, at least the owner doesn’t sit about four feet away to my right and talk at me as I’m trying eat the breakfast he’s cooked.

This is my first visit to Napier and it is now one of my favourite places in New Zealand.

The weather has been good and it’s right next to the beach, even if the currents are too dangerous to swim in most places. There are a couple of points where it is safe. Although Napier has pebble beaches, which I normally prefer to sand. But some of these pebbles are small and coarse and the rocks can be very sharp. I tried to go for a swim, cut my toe on a jagged rock, then had second thoughts.

It’s famous for its 1930s art deco architecture. But for me, there’s very much a 1950s feel about the place, with some cars from that era also driving around town.

If they wanted to remake Back to the Future, Napier would a make perfect Hill Valley. It’s even got two town squares to choose from.

Although they can’t remake Back to the Future as Bob Gale will stop anyone from doing so, and I think this is ultimately a good thing. That said, if Taika Waititi directed it and set it in Napier, I would certainly want to see it.

As for what I’ve been doing, I hired a bike on two occasions. One involved a 30km round trip down the coast to a couple of vineyards to try some red wine. As I was cycling, I handily sweat off the alcohol, so there were no safety issues with that at all.

The second bike ride involved going up the other side of the coast. I went through some wetlands, got slightly lost, then the chain on my bike fell off three times. I preferred the vineyard ride.

I have ridden a bike more in the last month than in the previous 15 years combined. I never intended to boycott bikes, let alone for this long. It wasn’t a case of forgetting how to ride one, more that I may have forgotten to ride one.

As I write this, I can also hear bagpipes being played. Because if they weren’t being played then I wouldn’t be able to hear them.

This is the fouth separate location on my trip I’ve heard the distinctive Scottish instrument. First in Perth then in Melbourne, next in Auckland, and now Napier. I’ve never managed to track down who’s playing them. I’m fairly sure they’re being played by different people, although it would both be funny and quite sinister if I was being stalked by a phantom bagpiper. Then there is also the possibility that – by doing Edinburgh Fringe so many times – when I’m tired, my brain makes me hear bagpipes. Sort of like a more pleasant form of tinnitus.

I’m getting a bus to Wellington in a couple of hours and my shows start again on Wednesday. 

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Auckland

When I arrived in Auckland in 2007, life felt full of fun, adventure and possibilities.

It was my first time on my own in another country, thousands of miles away from home.

I can’t remember exactly how I spent my days then. I do recall that there was a lot of walking around looking for places to get a fry-up from cafes recommended in Lonely Planet.

I do remember going to the backpacker bar in the basement of my hostel most nights, so a good chunk of my days were likely taken up with hangovers. This also explains the meed for fry-ups. Sadly, the backpacker bar has now closed. But I’ll always have the memories, or lack of them.

In February 2007, I even managed to do three standup gigs in Auckland. A tally I have thus far been unable to top in this city as it’s now pretty much impossible to get a response to emails. But maybe after that poor third gig I’ve been forever blacklisted.

One thing I have been able to do after 13 years was the jump off Auckland Sky Tower.

The Sky Jump is not really a bungee.  You’re just lowered really quickly to the ground with a harness. It is 192 metres though.

In 2007, this was the first thing like this I’d ever done. I have a vivid memory of stepping off the platform with nothing beneath my feet, which is a good metaphor for a couple of decisions I’ve made in life.

Thirteen years later, it was still fun but a little tame compared with the Nevis bungee out of a cable car in Queenstown.

I was originally hoping to bring my show to Auckland Fringe, but was unable to get one of those pesky venues sorted by the registration deadline.

Other than the Sky Jump, I haven’t done a massive amount in my four days here. Although yesterday, I found a craft ale bar and had to sample three pints with my fish and chips. And today, I walked up to Mt Eden today to see the volcano and views of the city.

Tomorrow, I head to Gisborne. I’ve not been there before, so can tick off another part of NZ I’ve been to. Hopefully, I’ll be able to do some surfing for the first time since 1996.