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Another gig

I had my second gig on the Covid comedy comeback trail on Monday. It was in Swindon, so only 40 minutes drive away. This is considered local in comedy.

Despite being about twice the distance away as the Cirencester gig, it was much less hassle to get there. The roadworks that Highways were doing on my route had ended and I’m pleased to report that there were no issues – other than trying to work out how Swindon’s famous Magic Roundabout actually functions. The trick is to not think too much about it. The more thought you give it, the more confused you’ll get.

As a result of no delays or diversion, I arrived at the venue much less stressed. And I was on first after the first break instead of opening the show, giving me a bit more time to relax and get my set and thoughts together instead.

Pre-Covid, arriving at a venue stressed and going pretty much straight on wouldn’t phase me too much – see Newcastle gig in October 2017 with the five-hour journey and two solid hours of delays. But after ten months without a gig, I could definitely feel the rust.

Monday’s gig had much less rust. They were a great crowd and it was nice to see another full room. I did a lot of riffing around the material, which is always when I have the most fun. I tried the two new bits I’d first aired in Cirencester the previous week.

Some bits went better, some bits didn’t. But it felt much better on the whole, and not quite so much of a shock to the system as my absence from the stage had been four days, as opposed to ten months.

It still feels a little odd to be around crowds and I think I was the only person in the venue wearing a mask. I was convinced that I had picked up Covid after the gig, so went and got a test. And it turned out to be negative. So suck on that, you respiratory illness with a pretentious spiky crown.

After some uncertainty about whether I want to continue with stand-up, I want to do much more of it. I just need to get more gigs in the diary and get back into the habit of booking admin. In fairness, it has been about three years since I have done much of that, and that was after getting incredibly lazy with it for a few years preceding it. I’m still trying to figure out exactly where the gigs are and how to get a spot, but I’ll get there.

Now, my attention goes to Thursday when I perform HTWAPQ for the first time in 18 months. It will be at Stroud Brewery, so nice and local. I had no idea how many tickets I’d sold, as I’m thankfully unable to access the link. I found out a few days ago that have sold 41. This is a good number for the show and I have about 19 left to sell, so reckon I should get a few more in. Now I just need to see how much of it I can remember.


Gigging again

On Thursday, I performed a stand-up set at an actual physical comedy gig for the first time in ten months. And it was also back in Cirencester, where I had my vaccine and don’t know if I’ve mentioned it a lot on here, but it’s where I used to work as a reporter for the local paper.

It was only ten miles away, which is a real luxury for a comedy gig. Now, one of the things I detest about performing comedy is driving to the gigs. And there’s nothing that makes my heart sink more than road closures and diversions, which are especially stressful if you’re on your way to the gig. But it’s also infuriating on the drive back afterwards late at night, where you just want to get home as quickly as is physically possible.

Given that my gig on Thursday was only ten miles away, I never thought there would be any difficulties with this. But Highways England managed to find a way, by closing the main road I take into Cirencester. I would expect Tom Tom to be deceived, but I was surprised that Google Maps didn’t pick it up.

I had to take a detour through the narrow back roads, where there’s often only enough room for one car to pass. This meant waiting for what seemed like 20 cars all coming the other way.

I arrived at the gig way more stressed than I should have. But I thought I may be on later in the night as I lived so close by. However, I found out that I would be opening the show in 20 minutes. Cue one trip to the toilet. Then three minutes before the show began, I felt the need for a second visit. Or number two number two.

I felt a little rusty and my cursed throat also threatened to sabotage one or two punchlines at the vital moment. I’d planned to try out some new material in the middle of my set, which didn’t all work. But there was I could feel the new bits clicking into place on stage and even ad-libbed some callbacks to the new stuff later on. And the tried and tested stuff was well received.

It was a great gig. The lads at Barking Toad had packed the room out, with people resorting to watching the gig from outside of the room as there was no space inside.

For the drive home, I was at least prepared for the diversion. Then the next day, I woke up at just after 5am to let my dog in the garden. But I struggled to go back to sleep again. My brain was going over the gig and figuring out what worked, what didn’t, and what would work better.

Stand-up comedy is sort of like a cross between a drug, depression, and a life of crime. You can never truly leave it behind. It’s always there, gnawing away at you somewhere. And just when you think you’ve got out of it and are clean, it drags you back in again. While I was giving some serious consideration to quitting during the past year, I now want to do more gigs. Stand-up comedy has taken its grip on me again, but just for how long remains to be seen.


In the diary

I have an actual comedy gig booked in this next week. Although after a ten-month absence from the stage, my admin skills are a little rusty. I was convinced it was on Tuesday, but it turns out that it’s on Thursday.

The extra couple of days will prove useful, as it gives me more time to turn my half-formed ideas into hopefully functional jokes. Then again, as I’ve written on here many times over, you never truly know if a joke works until you try it out on an audience at a comedy gig or two.

It remains to be seen how many of these half-formed ideas will turn into successful jokes, but that’s part of the excitement and I’m looking forward to getting back on the comedy stage that was the one constant in my life for ten years; before the dark times, before Covid-19.

These past couple of weeks marks the first in a while I have started missing being on stage. This is partly due to seeing crowds at the scaled-down version of Edinburgh Fringe that is taking place this year; particularly seeing that back room at the Kilderkin full with people standing at the back. It brought back fond memories of that phenomenal run I had there in 2015 when I didn’t realise how much possibility lay before me. It didn’t bring back fond memories of the 2018 stint I did there, as I don’t have any of that run – just pain and sadness.

Edinburgh Fringe has always been the one thing that has kept me doing comedy, throughout the tough times – even bizarrely enough through the tough times at the Fringe as there is nowhere to run and demons must be confronted.

When you take Edinburgh Fringe away, it takes away a lot of my focus and incentive for doing comedy. I am now looking forward to returning there next year in whatever form that may be, possibly even with some of the new jokes I may try on Thursday.


So long, farewell

After 18 months, it was time to bid farewell to my Covid mullet that had been keeping me company throughout the lockdowns. I never planned to grow it this long, it just sort of happened. Then I planned to get a haircut once the pandemic ended, but this doesn’t look like it’ll happen any time soon. As I’ve had my two doses of the vaccine, I thought this would have to suffice.

I doubt I will ever grow my hair as long again because long hair is actually really annoying. It was getting trapped and pulled in various places, sticking to the wax earplugs I wear to sleep, and taking ages to dry after having a shower before bedtime.

To do the chopping honours, I thought I’d track down someone who cut my hair several times between 15 and 12 years ago. In fact, she has also cut the hair of various members of my family. The last time she cut my hair, I had not long finished working as a reporter for the local paper. And as quite a lot has changed in the past 12 years, I thought she may like to know what has happened. I mean, not enough to actively stay in touch; just to be sort of casually informed.

I didn’t know the hairdresser’s full name but remembered her first name and the name of her business. A quick Google later and I found her website, then sent her a message and booked an appointment.

As it would turn out, it wasn’t the same person at all. She just so happened to share the same first name, be based in Cheltenham, and have the same business name – which was actually just an extension of her first name and adding the word ‘hair’ somewhere in the mix.

I came out of the salon looking unexpectedly like a 37-year-old Jack Grealish, with some stray longer bits at the side that I had to remove myself back home. Other than that, it’s a solid haircut.

From my last haircut in Napier, New Zealand, to the most recent in Cheltenham. It’s goodbye, Covid mullet. Hello, cold neck central.


A 12 year wait

I love the British and Irish Lions more than any other form of international rugby. There is something magical about bringing together often rival players from four nations and trying to turn them into a functioning team against southern hemisphere opposition within a matter of weeks. It shouldn’t work, but it does. And a Lions tour almost always feels special, unless Clive Woodward is in charge.

While there is a rugby World Cup every four years when the same teams compete against each other, the Lions only play each country every 12 years. So if they don’t win a series, then they will have to wait 12 years to redeem themselves.

The last time the Lions played South Africa was in 2009, I watched the first test back home. But when the second test came around the following week, I was following the game on the Guardian live blog on my phone while in the relatives’ room at Frenchay hospital after my dad had been taken ill and was in intensive care.

This time around, I had to get a Now TV sports pass for a month after I cancelled the Sky package a couple of years ago.

As a series, the 2021 tests were some of the slowest and tedious rugby matches I have ever seen. Almost every few minutes, the match would stop and the referee would want to check a potential infringement from several angles. Video replays certainly have their place in refereeing, but they really shouldn’t keep getting in the way of just letting them play rugby.

The third test was the most frustrating of the lot. The Lions really had the win there for the taking and blew at least 16 points that were there on the table. But they did look so much better going forward with Finn Russell at 10. He really should have been involved in one of the earlier tests.

And there was something cruel about the kick that won the game being scored by Morne Steyn, who kicked also kicked the winning goal in 2009. A lot was made about him getting on and approaching retirement. But I’ve just checked, and I’m a week older than him.

A crazy amount of things have happened within the last 12 years. But after everything that’s gone on, I almost dread to think what’s going to happen in the next 12 years. And the ridiculous thing is that the next time the Lions tour South Africa, I will be 49 years old. That still doesn’t seem physically possible.


Edinburgh sensations

A few things this week have made me think of Edinburgh Fringe. One thing, strangely enough, was the EdFringe website itself. Odd, that. I had a look to see what shows were going ahead this year and seeing that website layout brought about rumbles of terror in the bowel area, along with a compulsion to check ticket sales and panic I’ve not done enough previews.

Despite my adamant predictions that Ed Fringe wouldn’t be going ahead this year due to Covid, it is proceeding all the same. I’m still convinced it’s not a good idea. But I have a few friends who are going up and I hope they have good runs. I’m just glad to be sitting this one out. Saying that, I said to Langton that I’m convinced that the versions of us from 2011 would insist on going up and nothing would stop them from doing so, not even a global pandemic. Audience apathy is much more potent and they could take that all day long.

The second thing that made me think of the Fringe was the weather today. After the heatwave, the temperature cooled dramatically today. And that combination of a cold wind blowing in warm air and a few specs of rain instantly take me back to the Scottish capital. It is a much cheaper way of doing it.

Then the third thing was also today. I had some posters printed for my show at Stroud Brewery on 9 September (tickets are available on their website, here endeth the plug) and took them to the venue to get some put up around the place. That was it. Nothing poetic or evocative, just posters.

In other news, I had my second jab of the Covid vaccine this week. Originally, it was booked for mid-August in Cirencester. No doubt I would then reminisce about my awful time as a reporter there. But I got an email from the NHS saying I could book an earlier appointment. And it turns out that there was a walk-in place two miles away in Stroud. So that’s what I did. From arrival to injection to exit, it only took barely 20 minutes. There wasn’t even much of a queue. Just one of many reasons why Stroud is better than Cirencester.

Anyway, I’ve not had any real side effects, other than it hurting when I raise my arm and the area around where the needle went in is a bit red. This also means I can now finally get a haircut. I had planned to not get one until the pandemic was over, but that doesn’t look like that’s going to happen any time soon. I can’t control how long Covid will last, but I can control how long my long hair will – sort of.



I will continue with my series in writing about MCU shows on Disney+. It’s not a review though, as I would then be a reviewer and thus everything I oppose when it comes to the creative industries.

Anyway, the first season Loki has just finished and it was great. It involved time travel and I’m almost always a sucker for anything that involves time travel. Just for the record, the mid-90s show Crime Traveller starring Chloe Annett was really good and deserved a second series.

But much of my time travel fix comes from Doctor Who. And there was a fair amount about Loki that reminded me of this, but more if the central character was The Master instead. The final few episodes of the Capaldi run also features male and female versions of the same character as they also did in Loki.

Also, meeting a character at the end of their life, when we’re going to see more of their past in future stories, is right out of the River Song playbook. That particular character in Loki reminded me of John Simm’s Master. i.e. just trying a bit too hard to be wacky and insane, with the writing jarring just a little. But these are small gripes.

My favourite MCU Disney+ series is still WandaVision, mainly because it was so unexpected and refreshingly unconventional. What Loki and Wandavision also share is keeping the audience guessing, letting them try to figure things out at the same time as the characters are. I always find this fun.

But when it came to the multiverse, Loki went full in with what WandaVision so cruelly and brilliantly teased us with. Come to think of it, Spider-Man: Far From Home also teased the multiverse, but WandaVision did it better.

And we’re now getting a multiverse. The way Loki ended also set up infinite possibilities for the future of the MCU, and that is very exciting indeed.



This past month, I have been reinstalling apps like it’s 2016. This post has nothing to do about certain public votes that year.

I am talking specifically about two apps on my phone that I first started using in 2016, then uninstalled at various points between then and now. The reason I’ve reinstalled both is largely down to Covid-related boredom, which I am well aware may also result in a boring post. But it’s my birthday and I can post a boring post if I want to. Admittedly, that’s not the best birthday perk.

Anyway, the first app is Duolingo. I originally installed it in about December 2016, when I was in Gran Canaria and quickly realised how it was much more Spanish than I originally thought. Unable to speak a word when I arrived and feeling stupid for not knowing any basic phrases, I started learning Spanish in my hotel room. And within no time, I could order a glass of wine, a beer, and a table for one.

I used the app daily for the next year before having actual Spanish lessons and realising that the language was far harder than Duolingo led me to believe. Due to subsequent travels, I’ve used the app to learn basic Portuguese, where I achieved 7% fluency. And I also tried to rekindle my aptitude from school for German – before I stopped doing any work in Years 10 and 11 – when I went on a work trip to Cologne and again, found myself unable to say much other than: “Ich habe schlect durchfall.” Google translate that.

I actually continued using the app regularly until 2020, when I decided one day that I’d had enough of the constant threats of relegation from the leagues and the passive-aggressive emails from “Duo” trying to persuade me to use it more.

This time, I’ve opted out of the pressures of the leagues and have started learning French. I already know quite a few words and phrases from a combination of two years of lessons at school and going to France on family holidays for about 15 years pretty much straight between the ages of four and 19.

The other app I’ve reinstalled is Pokemon Go. I originally installed it when it launched in 2016 and would use it on the commute when I was working in Manchester and built up quite the Pokedex (collection).

I’ve written on here before about why I no longer play computer games due to how easily I get addicted. And it’s true again in this case. This game used to be a lot easier to switch off when you’re not moving about. But now, there’s loads of stuff you can do when staying in one place and those signs of addiction are kicking in, with battles being the main cause. Not the ones with the most powerful Pokemon though. There’s a new one where power the limit is very low. I think it’s actually a lot more fun this way, similar to how I always enjoyed being put in the bottom groups for sports at school as it made me feel like I was more skilful than I actually was. So far, my growing addiction has resulted in me spending £1.58 on additional pokeballs. If I can just get a Charizard, then I will quit again for another year or so. Definitely appropriate behaviour for a now 37 year old.

Appy birthday to me. Ahem…


More structure

My hop structure is now complete. I think it stands about three metres in total now, which should be tall enough for the hops to climb up and do whatever it is they need to do that results in producing things to make beer out of. That’s a highly technical description of the scientific process there.

In the end, I opted to strap some bamboo canes together with some garden twine. I’ve used that obelisk I put together as a base, with three canes tied near the top of it. I also have another cane strapped horizontally toward the top of those three canes. Then I’ve tied some garden twine from the high up horizontal cane down to the other bamboo cans that have hops growing around them. It looks a bit like a ceremonial structure they would use as part of a sacrifice in a Wickerman-style event.

But considering that my DIY skills are seriously lacking and I’ve never attempted anything like it before, I’m pretty pleased with my efforts. It’s almost exactly as I’d sketched out, albeit a little wonkier. I’ll be more pleased if the hops actually grow onto it. I’ve also cut away from branches from the sycamore tree above so the hops get more sunlight.

A neighbour is mine is doing the same thing and has built a much more technically impressive structure out of wood that looks a lot more professional and robust than my efforts. It is also three metres tall and one of the hops has almost reached the top already.

I’m thinking next year of moving the hops to the front of the house, where they’ll get a lot more sunlight and be able to grow much higher. But I’ll worry about that once this year’s crop is done and I’ve drunk the nine pints of communal ale that will be heading my way.


Back in the studio

Yesterday, I met up with my old mate Rich Shillitoe for the first time in month to work on the much-anticipated Ross Kemp: The Musical. And by “much-anticipated”, I mean by me.

Since our last session in October, I have listened to our opening number countless times. And I really fancied having a crack at recording my own version after what I considered to be several successful attempts while driving.

Aside from in my car, I haven’t done a massive amount of singing in public before. I did attend choir practice at church on one occasion when I was about eight. I was actually thinking up ways I could get away with miming and my main motive was money. But I got scared when one of the elderly ladies tried to measure me up for a cassock and never returned.

At primary school, I accidentally sang a brief solo over the instrumental part in a song during a summer concert and made sure to finish the chorus. Then about 13 years later in the first year of uni, I grabbed the microphone and sang the chorus of We Are the Champions during karaoke in our campus bar when I felt the group I was up there with weren’t putting in enough effort. And of course, after a few pints in 2010, I sang Bohemian Rhapsody with a live backing band at a rockaoke party and people genuinely enjoyed it.

Also at uni, I was the lead singer in a hypothetical band with two mates. We never wrote any songs, or even played together. But the band existed in theory.

My teenage years were when I wanted to be the frontman of a band. This was despite not being able to really play any instruments to any particular level of skill. Then again, this has hardly stopped many well-known frontmen from making their fortunes. I actually thought about forming a band with Rich when I was 17 or 18. We would have been called Contrasting Souls. He’d be dressed in black and I’d be dressed in white. I never actually told him of these plans and think it’s probably for the best.

Yesterday, it turns out that Rich wasn’t impressed with my vocal efforts. What soon became apparent is how much work I’m going to have to do on my vocals if there’s any chance of me landing the leading role in my own musical. As ridiculous sentences that I’ve written over the years on here go, that one is well up there.

At present, my breathing technique is non-existent. If I were to sing about eight songs a day for three and a half weeks at Edinburgh Fringe, there would be a good chance I’d lose my voice within a matter of days. Then there’s my history of mild throat issues that are caused by sinus problems. Perhaps I wasn’t cut out to be a rock star after all.

But then after yesterday, I thought I could direct and produce the musical and have a smaller role. It would also allow me to oversee the production to make sure everything’s running properly, which I couldn’t do it I was on stage for most of it. There’s also less chance of me burning out within the first week. Another plus side is that I will no longer have to shave my head. And maybe, just maybe, it would also give me enough time to also do a certain quiz-based show.