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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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Gisborne

In many of the entries this year, I’ve complained about how hot it’s been. That all changed in Gisborne.

I had to get a taxi when I arrived because there are no airport buses in Gisborne. The driver said there hadn’t been any rain for two weeks. Well, never fear. Because when I turn up and I’m wearing my shorts, rain usually isn’t too far behind.

And sure enough, it started raining within hours of my arrival and has been doing so a fair amount since. At times, it was torrential.

This week marks the first time since my first day in Perth on 14 January that I’ve not had to apply layers of sun-cream before venturing outside. It also marks the first time in about six weeks that I’ve worn any trousers. I should add that I have been wearing shorts.

If it’s warm enough to wear shorts and not get sunburnt without wearing sun cream, then those are perfect conditions for me.

I’d never been to Gisborne before and I liked it more every day I spent there. When I walked through the town centre on Saturday afternoon, most places were closed and everything looked fairly dead.

I then explored a bit further and there’s a lot of stuff to like there such as the scenery along the coastline and local brewery.

I was hoping to go surfing, but conditions weren’t really suitable for it. The sea was a bit too choppy. And considering I haven’t surfed in almost 24 years, I can hardly claim to be at the the peak of my surfing abilities.

For three out of the last four days in Gisborne, I ate fish and chips. This wae mostly out of convenience as I didn’t have access to a kitchen. As much as I like eating it, I could do with a bit of variety. Fortunately, I was getting all the other necessary dietary nutrients from the hefty breakfast at the B&B I was staying in. It’s back to hostels now, and likely sardines and pasta.

Next week, I’ll be performing again in Wellington. 

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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.

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Sydney

Wherever possible, I try and avoid staying in hostel dorm rooms. This is mainly for the sake of my sanity and to avoid getting woken up at stupid hours by total strangers. Although I found this much less of a problem when I was normally drunk and aged 22.

To save a bit of money in Sydney, I stayed in a capsule/pod hostel. I’ve stayed in them in Singapore and Christchurch and that curtain and three walls provide some much-needed privacy.

It doesn’t necessarily stop you being woken up though. On one night in Sydney, the lady in the pod above mine was shouting several times. I expect she was having a nightmare and it had nothing to do with me being in the bunk below.

Not only this, but my bed was right next to the six lockers, meaning that I was regularly disturbed by the sound of doors closing. Earplugs only get you so far.

Another thing was that the kitchen only had two saucepans and two frying pans. This dramatically limits the number of people that can be cooking at any one time.

And they also had the genius rota of closing both bathrooms for cleaning at around 10pm, at the exact time when many wanting an early night need to use them.

I’ll be honest, I probably won’t return there.

In terms of a city, Sydney is fine. Albeit very touristy. And I added to the tally by doing the standard tourist things of visiting the Sydney Opera House and the Habour Bridge.

My travels so far have has mainly been confined to cities, which is all well and good but are not really the best place for adventures. This is partly due to me having to scrap my drive along the south Australian coast. Although I’m sure I’d find something to moan about wherever I was, especially with a car involved. And these annoyances have a habit of occurring when you’re trying to do it on the cheap.

A perfect example is that I’m now staying in a cheap hotel in Auckland and have a group of noisy twats staying on the same corridor.

I think it’s safe to say that I like the idea of travelling more than the reality. It’s always better in my head. Cheaper too, but still with the gripes. 

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Melbourne

The temperature in Melbourne has been thankfully much cooler than Perth.

I’ve been here for a week as a tourist. As it turns out, there was a comedy club two minutes walk from my hotel. I was planning on turning up on the new material night to see if I could do a spot. Then I decided to go for a curry instead. This pretty much sums up where my head is at with comedy at the moment.

I did the classic tourist things of the zoo and botanic gardens. I also went to the beach at St Kilda’s and went in the sea for slightly longer than Rottnest, but not by much.

I did think about going on the Neighbours tour, having watched it for almost 20 years. During my late teens and early 20s, it was an ambition of mine to live in Australia and write episodes of Neighbours for a living. The show was a huge part of my time at uni, with it sometimes taking priority over lectures. Sadly, once it moved to Channel 5, I stopped watching and the dream died.

This week was also the 20th anniversary of my school production of Return to the Forbidden Planet.

I was happy to let this anniversary pass me by, only to randomly walk into a gift shop in a Melbourne mall and for the song Young Girl by Gary Puckett and the Union Gap to start playing. Although the lyrics to the song are unquestionably dodgy and these days would likely result in Mr Puckett and his union receiving a visit from the police as a precaution, the song is synonymous with Return to the Forbidden Planet. For some reason, it is that one song above all the others in it that transports me back to my fondest time at secondary school as I had never heard it before I did RTTFP. When the unremarkable quiet boy in the corner somehow ended up getting the lead role in a school production, mainly by being one of about four or five boys willing to act.

I’m now on the bus heading to Sydney next for more touristy things. I’m already looking forward to visiting the aquarium, paying close attention to the cephalopods.

In other news, I have now officially dropped out of Dunedin Fringe. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get a replacement venue sorted in time. It’s a shame, but I’m going to make the most of the extra time I have in NZ. I also have another plan to make up for some of the other lost earnings with something journalistic, but it hasn’t been commissioned just yet.

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Rottnest Island

Yesterday, I went to Rottnest Island off the coast of Perth. I probably wouldn’t have gone there if my sister hadn’t have bought me a voucher for the ferry for Christmans. But I’m glad I did as it made a refreshing change from my normal routine. I use the word ‘refreshing’ here in a limited sense as it was about 35°C, with no cloud cover and I was on riding around the island on a bike.

After cycling for about 4km, the heat got too much. I stopped for a rest, only to find a deserted white sands beach. I took off my shorts and my socks and jumped into the sea, still with my cycle helmet on. My t-shirt and pants were soaked, but it was exactly what I needed and cooled my body temperature down instantly. I timed it just right, as a group of eight people arrived just as I was about to set off again, albeit with a prominent damp patch seeping through my shorts.

When I stopped at a cafe for lunch, the 8km of cycling started in the heat to make me feel a bit light-headed. Fortunately, a couple of carbonated drinks and some fish and chips sorted me out.

I’m happy to say that there was no repeat of the debacle in Madeira. And I didn’t fall off my bike or have glares of contempt from the rest of the group who I was holding back with my ineptness at mountain biking.

Rottnest Island is famous for the quokka, which are like tiny kangaroos. They’re about the same size as house cats.

Unfortunately, Tourism Western Australia is actively encouraging visitors to find one and have their picture taken with it. Visitors are not allowed to touch or feed quokkas, but it doesn’t stop people bothering them.

I saw one tourist practically straddling the poor animal to try and take a picture with it. He didn’t touch it, I might add. But it made me feel very uncomfortable. Pictures of animals are always made infinitely worse when a human insists on also having their face in the shot.

I refuse to use the s-word for this practice as it I detest it and it is never appearing in anything I write. I was taking these sorts of pictures with disposable cameras more than 15 years ago. I didn’t take an inane picture, take a look at it, then take another one of exactly the same thing, then repeat this multiple times. Admittedly, my picture may have been inane. But I at least had the decency to not repeat the same thing over and over.

The practice is manufacturing moments in time that used to be captured so much more authentically in one shot. I love photography, but hate how it’s been bastardised by social media for sake of likes. That’s enough of that rant for now.

Another thing from yesterday is that I now know my factor 50 sun-cream definitely works. The only thing is that I didn’t put enough of it on around the base of my neck, where today there is a prominent red line.

Thankfully, this red line is not joined by a cricket ball sized, raw lump of the same colour on my inner thigh from all the cycling that I had the day after my Madeira ride.

Today, it’s 42°C outside. So I’m back to my normal routine of writing in the air-conditioned library. Next, I’ll be going to the supermarket, before returning to the hostel to eat some sardines and pasta. I’ve only got another two days left in Perth, but can’t say I’ll be sad to end this routine.

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Perth Fringe 2020 – Shows eight and nine

Back to the shows, I had about 33 in for the penultimate night. And it was good, even if I didn’t feel entirely on top of my ad-libbing game.

The final show was the busiest by some way, almost doubling my largest audience with 68 people booking tickets in advance in a room that seats 70, although four people didn’t show up. I was expecting to sell at least a few on the door given the previous few days. Alas, it was not to be and that elusive sold-out status was agonisingly just out of reach.

I put the whiteboards and pens for the quiz under the seats before the show, as I do in Edinburgh. It was the first time in the run I’ve done this as I knew where people would be sitting due to the full room. Previously, I’d asked the show runner to hand them out during the show. However, this extra pre-show admin meant I had forgotten to put my essential prop of my facts bell on the stage, meaning I had to go off stage during the show to get it out of my bag.

This was after there was a cock-up with the radio mic, so the audience couldn’t hear my announcement to welcome me to the stage. I decided to go off stage and do it again. Admittedly, I’ve done slicker shows.

The audience were a lively bunch, bordering on rowdy at times. There was a persistent heckler in the second row who I had to take down and also deduct points from.

All in all, it’s been a decent run. The shows have all been fun and the people who came all seemed to enjoy it. But there’s been the nagging frustration of it being quieter than I’ve become used to.

That said, I shouldn’t complain too much. Many other shows have struggled this year and many of these have had to cancel performance due to no audience. I also didn’t really do as much to promote the show as I would normally do at a festival, mainly due to the heat and to avoid getting ill. I think ticket sales should have covered my flights and accommodation and should have a bit left after that.

I was planning on using the shows to come up with some new bits. However, life events got in the way, and I mostly ended up sticking with the tried and tested.

I’ve been asked a couple of times if I’d do the Perth festival again. And at the moment, I’m undecided. It’s a decent festival in a really nice city. If I’d sold-out every night and made a huge profit, I expect I would definitely come back. I’d also consider doing it if I was working through a new show for Edinburgh, so that by the start of February I would already have about ten previews under my belt.

Another factor is that I don’t actually know what I’m going to be doing or where I’m going to be post-Edinburgh. I am still expecting to have to start applying for full-time jobs again then.

I have another four nights in Perth. Tomorrow, I’m getting the ferry over to Rottnest to do some exploring, and possibly even some bike riding. I just hope it’s not as traumatic as what happened in Madeira.

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Au revoir, EU

As I write this, I am no longer an EU citizen.

It is a strange feeling and one I was fairly convinced wouldn’t happen as recently as a couple of months ago. Then when the general election was called at the worst possible time, there was only really one way it was going to go.

My small crumbs of comfort were that due to the time difference, I was still an EU citizen for the first seven hours of 1 February as I’m currently in Western Australia. Then when I woke up, it had all been stripped away.

The thing is, until the Brexit referendum was called, I never felt particularly European.

But then having taken my first steps in Spain when visiting my grandparents, and growing up with family holidays to Normandy most summers, I couldn’t really be anything but. Until now that is.

And if the likes of Iain Duncan Smith, Farage, Michael Gove, and Anne Widdecombe ever think something is a good idea, it’s probably awful and I will always be on the opposite side.

Ultimately, Brexit was a fringe issue in the Tory party that has now engulfed four countries and made them worse places to live.

The referendum was all just a game between privileged politicians who will be insulated from any of the fallout. Leaving has been pushed by many politicians who don’t actually believe in it, but are merely using it as a means for power and attention in order to satisfy narcissistic urges.

The vote was won by lies a toxic combination of lies, electoral fraud, and false offers of hope to people in need of it.

By some strange coincidence, the ‘will of the people’ line that is repeatedly spouted just so happens to be the will of Rupert Murdoch and Vladimir Putin. And call me cynical, but I’m doubtful if they really have the best interests of everyone at heart.

My hope is that the worst predictions don’t come true, but I haven’t heard anything in the past three and a half years that has even started to convince me that it isn’t a terrible idea.

In any case, I will be applying for an Irish passport. That Irish grandfather is going to be useful.

I’m aware that this is a deviation from the kind of stuff I normally write on here. But this is my website and I can do what I like. Don’t worry, normal service will be resumed tomorrow.

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Perth Fringe 2020 – Show seven

At last night’s show, I had my second largest fringe audience of the Perth run so far 33 people in the room and 34 buying tickets. This total includes a couple who’d bought tickets but only turned up just before the end of the first round.

They ended up scoring higher than some people who’d been there since the start of the show. Admittedly, only by one point to the zero that a few others had achieved. The moral of the story is that it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll do worse in the quiz if you skip the bit where you might learn stuff.

Seating arrangements were slightly strange again. There was no repeat of the previous night’s phantom third row. Instead, there were people sitting in the front row, but only at the ends on each side. In the middle was a gap of about six chairs.

As with the previous night, the show took a little while to get going, but they certainly got their by the end. A row of about ten young Irish girls at the back were singing along with gusto to the music questions, which is normally a reliable feature of the show but hasn’t happened much in Perth so far.

Tonight is my penultimate show here. I expect to have a similar number of people to last night.

I’ve hardly done any exploring so far, but intend to once my shows are finished. For Christmas, my sister bought me a ferry ticket to Rottnest Island, so I will be heading there next week. I’m just trying to pick the day with the coolest temperature.

In other festival news, I am currently without a venue for Dunedin Fringe. I’d booked to go at the same place as last year, but received an email last week from the fringe organisers to say that the landlord of the building may be selling it. As a result, I became venue-less. Venues have been somewhat elusive this year, with nothing materialising for either Adelaide or Auckland.

I was offered another few options for Dunedin, but was still negotiating when I was told that I’d need to decide I’d need to decided if I still wanted to go in the main brochure. This was within a matter of hours after waking up on Monday morning.

Without a venue and uncertain as to whether or not I’d do the festival, I thought it made sense to pull out. But then I had second thoughts and may now have something lined up.

Getting an audience if you’re not in the main brochure certainly makes things a lot more difficult. It’s not impossible though.

Dunedin Fringe have a requested embargo where they ask you not to mention you’re doing the festival before the programme is officially launched. As I still don’t know I’m actually going to be performing there, I technically haven’t broken this embargo.

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Perth Fringe 2020 – Show six

Every night in Perth I’m doing a show, I get an automated email at 8.30pm to tell me how many tickets I’ve sold when they’re no longer on sale through the box office.

The more I think about tickets being unavailable through the official box office an hour before the show starts, the less it makes sense. Although tickets can still be bought on the door.

Anyway, I often don’t need this report as I’ve been closely monitoring numbers throughout the day.

Last night, my automated email said that only 11 people had bought tickets for the show. Despite achieving my Edinburgh Fringe 2014 target of double figures, it didn’t feel good for it to be my lowest audience of the run so far.

Shortly after I arrived a the venue, one lad came up and asked if he could buy a ticket on the door and if there were many available. He was in luck, there was plenty.

Ten out of the 11 pre-booked folk were seated. One person bought a ticket in advance but didn’t show up. This doesn’t matter though, because I have their money anyway.

Then a very odd thing happened. Just as the show was due to start, a group of ten people showed up and all paid on the door. So I had thus doubled my audience in an instant.

‘Very odd’ is a fitting phrase to use, as it was my strangest show of the fringe. The pre-booked folk were spread out across the front two rows, but the third row was left entirely empty and the walk-up group were sitting in the fourth row.

I later learned that the walk-up people didn’t know what show it was they were going to see, which explains a lot. They were all in their early 20s and had been drinking, so I had to step in early on to stop them chipping in and whispering to each other.

The show took a while to get going and bits that normally get big laughs received a few sporadic titters. Then I addressed the empty third row, saying that’s what I demand for all my gigs, and it got things nicely back on track.

It had been weird, but I’d enjoyed the challenge of having to adapt the show when it wasn’t going as intended. I now have three shows left of the run.

When I left the venue to get my post show burger and chips, it had been raining outside. How happy I was to get a feeling of home. It cooled everything down nicely.

As I sat on eating on a bench, I never thought that having a wet arse would be so comforting.

Now there’s a sentence I didn’t think I’d ever write.