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Edinburgh Fringe Archives: 2015

With three days left of August, I still have five more years of Fringes to cover. August this year has actually been pretty busy, not by my usual standards; but busy enough so that I haven’t had enough time to do this. I’ve been getting a fair amount of freelance work, and am also doing a podcast that I’ve also not been able to devote the time that I thought I would. I will continue regardless.

The next five years brought much success, which is boring. So stay tuned for the 2018 one, as that featured some good old fashioned struggles. Anyway, onto Edinburgh Fringe 2015.

As a result of the unwanted promotion in the day job, I was approaching the 2015 Fringe having done very little writing of new material. This is a sad trend that has mostly continued to this day. I had a few scraps of ideas, but the show was essentially a refined version of the 2014 one.

What was different in 2015 was that I had paid the £295 to go in the official Edinburgh Fringe brochure for the first time since 2011. I was convinced that it wouldn’t have any significant effect on my audience numbers. The Kilderkin was too far away from everything else to get a big audience every day. Wasn’t it?

Well, no. I will never forget getting back to the Kilderkin after flyering on that first Saturday and seeing more than double the capacity of the room queuing out of the door to see my show. And it wasn’t just a one off. I was getting full rooms every day. It took a few shows to adjust to. And felt like I was living in a parallel universe. There was only one day out of the 18 shows where it wasn’t standing room only, where I was four people short of filling all the seats.

Not everyone enjoyed my show. A group of disengaged students fled through the fire escape during one performance, with one of them writing on Twitter that it was the worst show he’d ever seen. And who can forget my audience review on the Fringe site from Megan? She said: “This is a tedious hour, peppered with weak jokes that are delivered charmlessly.” I certainly haven’t forgotten. She also said it was clear that the show was going nowhere. Predictions weren’t her strong point – that much is clear.

And aside from a few flat days, the shows were great fun and a sign of things to come. I was getting the most out of my bribe rule, where audience members could win their team a point if they bought me a pint during the show. One Saturday, I was bought three pints within the hour. The drunkenness descended from there, leading to me heckling my friend Pete who was playing some acoustic song in the pub later on. He did open mics every night at the Kilderkin in 2012, but didn’t appreciate my alcohol-fuelled demands for Mrs Robinson and Rocket Man on this particular night. He asked me not to come back. The next morning, I woke up in a corner of my bedroom on a pile of washing.

I was staying in a nice if unconventional flat behind the Meadows. The shower was in a cupboard in the kitchen. I was sleeping in a double bed that I had to climb a fairly high ladder to get in, probably why I opted to sleep on the floor on a particular night. And the key to the front door from the street was temperamental; sometimes, it took what felt like 15 minutes to be able to open it. Alas, it would be my final Fringe sharing a flat with Deech. Jake Baker was also sharing the flat, along with at least three different people sleeping on the sofa bed at various times.

Another thing that felt significant with my show in 2015 was breaking the £100 barrier in the collection bucket at the end. It had eluded me for years, so was thrill to achieve that.

I clearly had something in the show that people not only wanted to see, but were willing to walk a considerable distance for in large numbers. And there was only ever only one paid venue provider that I wanted to perform at.

After my shows, I would count my money at the bar and chat to Les, the Kilderkin chef. He knew people who worked at The Stand, so I asked him to mention my show. I don’t know if he did, but I didn’t know how else to go about approaching them for shows.

As it happened, 2015 would be my final year before moving to the paid fringe. This would also be my last Edinburgh as a London resident, although that may very well change in the not too distant future.

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Edinburgh Fringe Archives: 2014

I originally didn’t want to return to the Kilderkin in 2014. After a tough 2013 and the struggle to get an audience due to it being a fair walk from anywhere, I was planning my next move.

While my show idea was still forming, I’d been looking at other options. This was the same year that Freestival had set itself up as a third free programme of shows in Edinburgh.

I sent them an email and asked if I could do a solo show with them, which at the time was going to be something about trivia and weird facts. I didn’t hear anything back for a while and wanted to start getting things organised, so applied to the Free Fringe. And sure enough, I was offered the same time-slot at the Kilderkin.

By the time I’d accepted the offer and had come up with the concept of How To Win A Pub Quiz, I received an email from Freestival to say that my application had been denied but they would reconsider another application if I applied for a two-hander. And that was fair enough. At the time, I’d not really done enough to justify a solo show for a promotion that really needed their first fringe to be a success. I hold no grudges about it and get on well with all those involved. And everything worked out for the best.

Well, for me that is. The new promotion would only last two Fringes, before vanishing completely after 2015. Fair play to them for giving it a go though; they were like a much more organised and competent version of the Rebel Fringe.

As I’ve no doubt written on here before, the concept of HTWAPQ all came together pretty ‘organically’, so to speak. My giant squid material made me want to do a show about trivia, and a pub quiz would allow me to bring everything together quite nicely.

What helped massively when planning the show was that I knew exactly what the Kilderkin room was like and the technical capabilities.

What also helped me develop the show was living in London. I could try bits out at the numerous open mic gigs, and then also knew the circuit there well enough to book previews. I honestly don’t think I would have been able to develop the show in the same way, if at all, if I’d moved to Manchester a couple of years earlier. London provided me with countless development opportunities that I didn’t have to drive for two hours to try out.

After my first preview I did at the Roadhouse in Birmingham, I knew I had something on my hands. And it wasn’t just my set list. Aah. I thank you.

Not all the material worked and I think I dropped a fair amount of it, but there was definitely something encouraging there.

My main goal of the 2014 Fringe was to just get an audience every day that was in double figures. I hadn’t gone in the Edinburgh Fringe brochure again during this year. Although I’d actually meant to, but hadn’t decided to until quite late; and if I recall correctly, the application system had changed and I didn’t have time to figure it out. This meant that I had to rely on flyering and the Free Fringe booklet for audience.

I was delighted that I achieved my goal of getting at least ten people in to see every show. And at the weekends, I sometimes I even had a full room. Not only that, but having a full room made the show operated on a different level entirely. There was one Sunday when everything seemed to click into place, with the material, the quiz and the riffing off an audience all coming together so amazingly well that it gave me a buzz that lasted for a good few hours afterwards.

But it was the smaller crowds that really gave me a chance to experiment and figure out exactly how everything worked without any pressure.

For accommodation, I was staying on a new build estate about half-way down Leith Walk. The flat was really nice, with two bedrooms with two bathrooms – one was an en suite. I was sharing a flat with Deech for the third year, with Paul Dance maintaining our tradition of having a flatmate called Paul. We were going to take it in turns to spend a week on an inflatable mattress in the living room, only Paul had a back injury; so me and Deech had to split it between us.

The other memory that springs to mind for the 2014 flat, is that Paul had decided to cook an egg after getting back late one night. I was woken up the next day by someone knocking on my door and said there’d been a gas leak in the block of flats. Anyway, it turns out that Paul had left the gas on for a mere seven hours or so. I was feeling a little groggy on my way to the venue, possibly psychologically, with visions of collapsing during my show. But it turned out to be possibly the very best of the run mentioned above.

It was a great Fringe and felt like a significant step in the right direction. I even got a nice review from Copstick at the Scotsman. What did put a dampener on things was in the final HTWAPQ of the run. I’d been battling the lurgy for much of the final week. And in my final show, my brain seemed to fail me, I was a bit all over the place, and it didn’t go so well. But this didn’t take away from all the other positives that the 2014 run had brought.

This was also the year of the seven-hour train delay on the journey home. It still remains one of my favourite train journeys, mainly due to Twitter interactions with all the other comedians also stuck on there.

When I returned to the day job, I received some awful news. My manager told me she was leaving and that I was being promoted to her position. This would consume so much of my time and energy over the next five years. It would also signal the end of this particular care-free era of my life that I’d enjoyed so much. I would be getting more money but with it came more responsibilities that I really could have done without.

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Edinburgh Fringe Archives: 2013

As far as my years performing comedy go, 2013 was quite possibly my favourite. I was doing lots of gigs, writing regularly, and experimenting with ideas. But it was running and often MCing two monthly gigs that really improved everything else.

Knowing that I had those opportunities to try stuff out and mess around, while watching top headliners in small rooms, gave everything else I did a massive boost. Comedy was a lot of fun. I even broke my competition hex and made it through to the final of the biggest competition… in the market town of Droitwich in Worcestershire. It’s Rik Mayall’s hometown, so is therefore the only comedy competition that matters. Or mattered, as I don’t think it runs anymore; thus making it all the more exclusive.

It wasn’t all glory. I had some stinkers too, although they would ricochet off me thanks to all the good stuff that was going on.

However, it was not one of my favourite Edinburghs. In fact, it was one of my toughest. I was adamant about returning to the Kilderkin. I adored the pub and liked the room, plus I’d heard from a reliable source that one of the barmaids had taken a shine to me in 2012. In fact, this latter reason might well have been my main motive for returning there. I’ll skip to the end here: when I arrived, I found out she no longer worked there and pretty much the entire bar staff I knew had gone. And my plans would start to unravel from there.

I’d been offered a shiny 6pm timeslot and the show would be called Love and Langton’s Fear and Loathing. Yet it didn’t quite work out this way.

In possibly February, Langton asked to meet up for a pint and a chat. As he’d recently got engaged, I was all set to tell him: “Yes, I will be your best man.” But he had something else to say: he would not be doing Edinburgh that year.

There was a last hurrah for Love and Langton though. We did two dates at Brighton Fringe that year and it was rubbish.

Anyway, after Langton dropped out, I spent the next couple of weeks trying to convince the Free Fringe organisers that I should be allowed to do a solo show in the same slot, despite the fact that I didn’t really have any ideas for it. This was denied. They obviously had no idea what was at stake.

I was given a few days to find a replacement for the two-hander slot I’d been allocated. And that came in the form of Simon Lilley. I’d done a couple of gigs with him and he was a funny man.

Simon was doing a solo show earlier in the afternoon, which was his main priority and that was totally fair enough. Five years later, I would come to appreciate just how draining it was to do two shows a day.

I’d seen that from the earlier shows at the Kilderkin that it was easier to get a crowd there at that time, as there are still people walking past there in the early evening. If we can get a crowd every night at 11pm, then a 6pm slot should be no problem. I didn’t think I’d even have to do much flyering. How mistaken I was.

It turned out to be a struggle to get people along even after flyering for a couple of hours. And we had to pull a few shows due to having no audience. Simon was having a tough run in his solo show and I could tell he was relieved some days when ours was pulled as it gave him a chance to rest a bit. I can relate to this much better after 2018.

Just as an example of how desperate things had become for wanting an audience, Simon had managed to persuade four Spanish students to come in and watch the show while they waited for their pizza. The one who spoke the best English was whispering translations to our material to bored looking faces. As soon as the pizzas were ready, they were off in a flash. This left a couple on the front row who may very well have been swingers judging from what they were saying. They invited me to one of their parties; but alas, we didn’t exchange contact details.

This is not to say that the run was a total disaster. We had some good shows and I was mostly enjoying performing when we had an audience. Nevertheless, I did find the the stop-startness of it all frustrating. I wanted to perform every day and wasn’t always able to. The bottom line to it all is: the theme of fear and loathing simply wasn’t strong enough. It made me start thinking harder about themes for the next year.

Two things that did feature in my 2013 set were The Darkness and giant squid, which would form the basis of How To Win A Pub Quiz.

For accommodation, I was staying at the same flat as 2011. Only, Moz was out and Deech was in. Probably the highlight was finding a pair of Deech’s in my bag after I left and for the next year, I would play a game where I would take them to various landmarks and Deech would have to guess where his pants where. If you’d like to see this, do a search on Twitter for #whereareDeechspants.

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Edinburgh Fringe Archives: 2012

I very nearly didn’t go to Edinburgh Fringe in 2012. I’d applied in plenty of time for a venue, but didn’t hear anything back until very late in the day. I was offered something ridiculous like two weeks in one room, and a week in another venue with a different timeslot. I replied straight after getting the email, only to be told that the slot had been taken. I think I was offered something else that wasn’t really workable.

For the next few weeks, I was actually looking into running my own Fringe venue. I’d found somewhere, it was sort of confirmed with the manager; I’d set up a Facebook group, recruited various other comedians, started putting together a rough plan for show timeslots, and even had a logo designed. But it didn’t quite work out. Alas, The Rebel Fringe was never meant to be.

By now, it was early April and the early bird deadline for a discount on the brochure fee was long gone. We were faced with the decision to either admit defeat and not do Edinburgh that year, or apply to the Free Fringe and hope that our very brief association with their bitter rivals wouldn’t count against us.

I’d heard from someone that it can help your application if you suggest a venue, so I suggested somewhere I’d done a ten-minute spot the previous year. I was offered a slot at 11pm for the full-run. And the venue was the Kilderkin, which would be my home for five Fringes and see my solo show reach heights that I didn’t think were possible. Plus lows, but more on them in a later entry.

Unlike in 2011, I had a full-time job. I’d planned to leave the company before the festival but was then told that I could work remotely. Unfortunately, as I had already been working on the basis that I was leaving before the festival, I did not have much holiday allowance left. This meant that I had to work full-time for the first two weeks of the Fringe. I’d finish my show just after midnight, take the room apart, have a pint of old man beer McEwan’s and sometimes a pizza. Then I’d walk back to the flat to get some sleep before waking up just before 9am, then commuting by switching on my laptop from my bed.

It was slightly frustrating being in Edinburgh, but being able to see very little of the Fringe until I’d finished work for the day. But having a full-time job is what made it possible to do Edinburgh Fringe every year. Plus I got my full salary at the end of the month. I would get better with my holiday rationing. And it wasn’t until before the Fringe last year that I finally left the company after 7.5 years, which was significantly longer than the original plan.

One of my highlights of the 2012 was going to a recording of Richard Herring’s podcast where he had the wrestler Mick Foley as a guest. It was two of my heroes from when I was a teenager, from totally different performance backgrounds and no obvious links, united on stage. That’s just one example of the weird and wonderful magic that Edinburgh Fringe can provide.

We had a nice flat about half-way down Leith Walk. Moz was meant to be sharing a flat with us, but dropped out a few months before as he decided not to do the festival. His replacement was Deech, who I’d originally met in 2005. Me and him would go on to be flatmates for four Fringes in total, annoying each other frequently and almost always deliberately.

My show this year was Love and Langton’s Dirty Laundry. Our posters and flyers had a picture of us hung on a washing line, which got people’s attention. We weren’t in the main brochure, just having to rely on the Free Fringe guide and flyering for a couple of hours to get an audience. But we got a crowd every night. And our smallest crowd was seven, which I’ve since got far lower in that room. Some nights, we even had a full room. The main lesson: if no-one knows your name, you need a strong theme to get your audience.

I’ve recently recorded a podcast with Langton about our Edinburgh Fringe runs in 2011 and 2012, to be published at an unknown date. Until he reminded me, I’d forgotten just how determined I was to perform to any kind of audience in those days. Whatever size the crowd was, I was resolute in giving them a show. If Paul was reluctant, then that just strengthened my resolve. It was quite a contrast from the jaded diva I’d become when I was doing a solo show in that same room in 2018. Some days, I was strongly hoping no-one to show up as I needed to have some time away from the show in order to work on it.

Dirty Laundry was much better than A Mixed Bag. We were a year more experienced, had figured out how to do shows better and the material was stronger. It wasn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but we were better comics at the end of it and that was always the main aim for both of us.

Sadly, it was the end of the road for Love and Langton. Paul got Yoko’d and that was the last run of shows he would do in Edinburgh, although I still haven’t entirely given up persuading him to do one more.

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Edinburgh Fringe Archives: 2011

Having gone to Edinburgh Fringe got a couple of weeks in 2010 to do various five minute spots, I thought I knew what to expect for when I returned in 2011. Oh, how sorely mistaken I was. It was a brutal experience.

Things got off to a bad start when I ordered 10,000 flyers that were delivered to my address in London, instead of direct to Edinburgh. The most stupid thing though is that was actually intentional. Me and Paul split them between us and each took up 5,000 separately.

I left early in the morning to catch the train, carrying my flyers in an Asda bag for life. Only, the bag split at the end of my road. I was also carrying the rest of my luggage. I somehow managed to just about hold everything together, although I seem to recall needing a luggage trolley for assistance at King’s Cross. Whether or not I used one, I can’t remember.

I boarded the train stressed and sweating profusely, in what would become an annual tradition of getting on the train to Edinburgh.
The show I was doing with Paul was called A Mixed Bag. I thought this would be a good name as a way to deflect criticism and lower expectations. “Well, what did you expect when the show had a title like that?”

I was keen to get the experience of doing a full-run at Edinburgh Fringe without appearing on anyone’s radar. I think it’s fair to say I achieved this, and have done so consistently in my other years at the festival.

We were each going doing around 25 minutes on stage. In fairness, neither of us had a solid ten minutes then. Some would argue that I still don’t after ten years of doing this thing, but then these people haven’t done three official sold-out runs at Edinburgh Fringe. So they can shove it.

My set involved a lot angst about working in a charity call centre, while Paul was ranting about the royal wedding and the Chilean miners.

And our venue was The Three Sisters. I shudder whenever I think of that place. It was stag do and hen do central. It’s loud, busy and often smells of vomit or disinfectant, depending on what time of the day you go there.

We could usually fill the room at weekends, but they wouldn’t always hang around. One particular memory will haunt me forever with this. It was the first Saturday of the Fringe and we had a full room. But they were mainly rugby fans who’d come in to get out of the rain. I was on first and died on my arse. At the 20 minute mark of my set, about half of the audience got up and walked out, leaving me floundering on the stage. There was nowhere to hide. I wrote this entry here where I tried to put a positive spin on it, probably to convince myself that it wasn’t so bad when I was eating biscuits.

And then there’s the small matter of our one-star review from ThreeWeeks. Paul called me up to tell me about it and read it out to me over the phone. I could only laugh. But then I later had my revenge on ThreeWeeks when I started doing paid shows at The Stand. Performers are asked if there are any publications they don’t want to receive comps, and I always say: “Actually, there is one publication…”

Another prominent memory of the 2011 when Paul had been watching the Man United V Arsenal game in the courtyard at The Three Sisters. Paul is an Arsenal fan and they lost 8-2. He’d already had two pints, but a Man United fan bought him another pint for every goal that went in. Ten pints later, he had a show to do. Unsurprisingly, he was a mess and didn’t do very well. And he was performing wearing a kilt made of leftover flyers, complete with a sporran. I had made a waistcoat. I had to go on after him and attempt to salvage our final gig. I think I just mocked Paul for much of it and it seemed to work.

Nevertheless, we learned a lot that year and had some fun. And people occasionally enjoyed the show, said nice things and put some money in our bucket. It also didn’t break us and we went back for more the next year.

Accommodation was pretty good in 2011. I was sharing a flat with Moz that was fairly central. He was great company, but appalling at washing up – as I felt the need to make a note of.

I will be talking with Paul on a forthcoming episode of my podcast Edinburgh Fringe: The Year Off. Moz is so far refusing to appear. I can’t think why.

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Edinburgh Fringe Archives: 2010

It’s August and for the first year since 2009, I won’t be in Edinburgh for the Fringe. What I’m going to write about instead on here is the memories of each year I have been in Auld Reekie.

My first year at the Fringe was in 2010. I was very much aware of the Fringe growing up, as a result of stories from Lee and Herring and reading about it in The Sunday Times Culture magazine.

But I’d never been before. I wasn’t involved in any student comedy at university and my group of friends needed some serious persuasion to go to watch a gig five minutes walk down the road, so my chances of persuading them to go to Scotland weren’t very positive.

When I did some abysmal sketches for Stroud FM in 2006, someone there said me and my mate Edd should go to Edinburgh Fringe; although it would be another four years before I did this.

What was pivotal to me going up there was the friends I met from a comedy workshop in 2009. If you’ve read this blog over the years, you may be familiar with the likes of Moz, Luke, and of course, Langton.

Moz had already been up to do a show at the Fringe in 2009, so was able to be our guide and dispense advice. A group of about ten of us all went up to Edinburgh for the same couple of weeks.

For accommodation, I also had no clue. My mum’s cousin told me that my gran had a cousin who lived in house in Musselburgh with plenty of rooms. I’d never met this lady before, so I got her address from my gran and posted her an old fashioned letter to introduce myself and ask if it would be okay if I could stay. She wrote back and said that it would be fine. And I ended up sleeping on a camp bed in the attic room she used for painting for the two weeks, where I would often wake up hungover. After taking a considerable time to find a bus to Musselburgh, I met my gran’s cousin and it felt like we’d known each other for years. I grabbed a Subway for my tea, before getting a couple of hours’ sleep; because I had my first ever gig in Edinburgh that night.

Moz was running a gang show at the Counting House at about 11.30pm. It was in the ballroom, which seats about 150 people. And I was hosting it. From what I remember, the room wasn’t full but it was a decent turn out.

Things started off pretty well. The first thing I said was: “Hello Edinburgh.” Very original. There was a lot of energy in the room and the acts were doing well. But I soon learned that there’s a moment at almost every late night gig in Edinburgh where the energy dips. And despite my best efforts, I couldn’t get it back.

I spent a lot of time that year in the Counting House bar, drinking pints of Tennent’s until the early hours with Moz and Langton. But I had to make sure I didn’t miss my night bus back to Musselburgh to sleep on the camp bed.

That first night, it was raining really heavily – as it often does in Edinburgh. I put my umbrella up, but my left arm ended up getting soaked as my coat wasn’t waterproof. I clearly hadn’t done my research. I arrived back to the house with a soaking wet arm. I took off my coat, put it on a chair next to the radiator and sat down thinking: “I’ve finally done a gig at Edinburgh Fringe.”

I’d also managed to get regular spots at a daily gang show. There was an afternoon one at Espionage and one in the evening at The Jekyll and Hyde. Some of these shows were really tough and I remember dying on my arse heavily while trying to get the audience to laugh at me pulling stupid faces to Let’s Get Ready to Rumble. I can’t think why.

Doing another late-night showcase for Moz, it was going badly and my throat suddenly got really dry. My overwhelming memory of that gig is just seeing three broad Scottish lads sitting at the front with their arms crossed. They also didn’t go for the PJ and Duncan bit. Some gigs were better though.

It was this year that I learned just how extreme Edinburgh Fringe can be. One night you’re up, the next you’re in the gutter.

I went to go and see Stewart Lee at The Stand. He was handing out flyers to people in the queue as we went in. He was standing right next to me and asked me about my Brutal Legend t-shirt. He wanted to know if it was a band or computer game, as he couldn’t really tell any more. I said: “It’s a computer game, actually written by the same man who did Monkey Island.” He looked blankly at me and just shrugged. And I had to stand there for a few more minutes in awkward silence next to the man who had been my comedy hero since I was 13. He’s a 90s comedian, he’s meant to know about such things.

Aside from learning not to try and impress my comedy heroes with my knowledge of adventure games, what 2010 also taught me was that I would have to do much more writing. I set myself a target of writing 250 words a day about anything just to force me to write more. In less than a year, what started off on Tumblr moved to this site you see before you thanks to my school mate Lar. Who I’ve just remember haven’t paid him for hosting this site in about three years. I’ll have to do a bucket collection.

I’m also working on another Edinburgh Fringe project this year. Stay tuned.

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The taste of a pint

The pubs have opened again and it still doesn’t feel quite right to go in them, what with the looming threat from a certain deadly virus.

Stroud appears to have one of the lower infection rates of coronavirus in the country, at least from the information I can find. It makes sense, what with the relatively small population and all the open spaces and clean air. But make no mistake, the virus is out there and some people living down the road have had it.

So with some caution, I met some friends for some beers. Because when it comes to caution, alcohol is obviously the best thing to have.

This is by far the longest I’ve not been down to the local brewery since I started going down there during visits back home about seven years ago. Travelling to the other side of the world and a global pandemic kind of got in the way a bit.

You have to book a table, which feels a bit weird. But they’ve clearly give everything a great deal of thought, with tables well spaced out and limits to the number of people who can sit at them. And you don’t go to the bar, instead there’s table service.

Those thinking that pubs with social distancing will mean lower takings at the bar have failed to take table service into the account. It is very easy to spend a lot of money without even realising when people keep coming around and asking you if you’d like more. “Why, yes. I would very much like another pint.”

And another. And another. Let’s just say I had more than three. In fact, I kind of lost track.

And while I’ve been drinking bottles and cans from there throughout lockdown, I’d forgotten just how good a pint tastes from a cask. In fact, it tastes a little too good.

But the downside of table service is that you get the bill at the end, instead of previously paying in instalments during rounds. And I was audibly shocked when I received mine. I even forgot I have a discount card.

It was the most I had probably drank since Wellington in early March after one of my shows, when I was also a gigging comedian.

Thankfully, my current accommodation is substantially better than that abysmal hostel I was staying in Wellington, which had no ventilation and there were two toilets between 50 rooms. My competition for the toilet at the moment is dramatically lower. And for that, I’m grateful.

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Clone Wars and Rebels

I think after three entries, it is safe to abandon the lockdown diary facade. I meant to write something in June, but that didn’t happen.

One of the main reasons I’ve not done much writing of late is that I have been binge-watching the Star Wars animated series Clone Wars and Rebels. I’d heard they were good and had wanted to watch them previously, but the lack of a TV or subscription to call my own in the last decade created something of a hindrance.

Despite not being a massive fan of the prequels, I’m surprised by quite how much I enjoyed Clone Wars. They managed to achieve something the prequels were unable to and make Anakin actually likeable, with his inner darkness more nuanced instead of just flicking a switch and turning to the darkside as he had to for plot purposes.

Another impressive feat was that even though you knew the fates of most of the characters, it was still compelling and interesting to watch. And that’s all thanks to the writing. In the episode where the clone trooper called Fives uncovers the truth about the inhibitor chip inside the head of each clone, the story is written in such a way that you at least have a glimmer of hope that he’s going to succeed in revealing the truth – even if you know deep down that he’s ultimately doomed. In places, the series is also very funny when it intends to be in a way that the prequel and sequel trilogies often weren’t.

It doesn’t fix my main gripe with the Clone Wars depicted in the prequels, which is that it never really made sense for the Jedi to be fighting droids when the enemy forces should have been a relentless onslaught of clones. The clue is in the name. But the animated series could only work within the parameters of what had already been established, which Dave Filoni took and improved dramatically.

After Clone Wars, I moved onto Rebels. The first thing that’s immediately noticeable is that the animation is a poorer quality than the Clone Wars, with Ezra looking like someone from a PlayMobil set.

It took at least a season or so to get going and the characters took some time to get used to. As the seasons progressed, I enjoyed it more. But Clone Wars is definitely the stronger series.

I have far more to say on these series and may include it in that longer article I’ve been writing about Star Wars that I may end up pitching to somewhere.

I will just finish by saying that both series delved far deeper into the Star Wars mythos than we’ve seen in any of the films, and proved an important reminder that it is still possible to tell plenty of new and exciting stories in that galaxy far, far away.

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Lockdown diaries – Volume three: Thimbleweed Park

Well, this lockdown diaries thing never really took off, did it? Never mind. I at least managed one entry in May, in the final few hours of stoppage time.

I try and avoid play computer games. This isn’t because I don’t like them, quite the opposite in fact. I have spent possibly hundreds of thousands of hours playing them, ever since I got a Game Gear for Christmas in 1992.

The main reason that I try and avoid games is because I get addicted very easily, to the extent where it becomes all-consuming and I’m unable to concentrate on anything else. I become irritable and distracted, constantly thinking about the game in any time that I’m away from it.

The most effective way of going cold turkey and getting clean was to not take my PS3 with me when I moved to London. I think the last game I played was in 2011 and was Telltale’s Back to the Future games, which were highly enjoyable. I’m still using the same laptop as I write this, which tells you how out of date my computer is. That’s the other thing about computer games: technology moves on so quickly and it can cost a lot of money to keep up with the latest stuff.

I’m not one for online multiplayer games. For me, a game with a good story is what it’s all about. This is for the sake of my own health as much as anything else. With a story, I at least have a way out afterwards instead of continuing playing forever.

The reason I am writing about computer games is that I have recently fallen off the wagon in the best possible way. The other week, I spent around 17 hours playing Thimbleweed Park in about two and a half days.

In case you didn’t know, it’s an adventure game made by Ron Gilbert – creator of Monkey Island – thanks to crowdfunding. It is clearly made by people who want to make adventure games because of a genuine love for them, no other reason.

The MKI influence is for all to see, as well as Day of the Tentacle – where you can switch between different characters to complete the puzzles. There are also references aplenty to the glorious games of the past.

A sweary clown pushing over a mime on stilts and then the mime’s furious reactions are some of the biggest laughs I’ve had from a game in years. It’s well up there with ruining someone’s stamp collection in Day of the Tentacle.

The sheer amount of writing that has gone onto it is impressive, especially in the libraries where titles, blurbs and extracts for what seems like thousands of books have been written despite them playing no real part in the larger game.

If you’re playing the hard version, some of the puzzles can be tough to crack. Thankfully, there’s a handy in-game hotline you can call for hints. It’s just as well it’s not a real hotline, as I dread to think what my phone bill would be.

I think it is safe to put Thimbleweed Park well up there with the very best adventure games. It’s full of off-beat humour, great ideas, mystery and intrigue. You never quite know what a character’s true motives are, or exactly where the story is going. It takes quite a meta twist towards the end, but I’m fine with that kind of thing.

After completing it, I was instantly left wanting more. This was possibly due to my addiction levels being in full swing. Fortunately, Ron Gilbert was bored during lockdown made an expansion pack with some more levels. I’ve not played it yet, but am looking forward to in the not too distant future once I’ve had some time out.

They don’t really make adventure games any more, and it looks all the more inevitable that Disney is just going to sit on its vault of LucasArts magic instead of sharing those timeless characters with the world again. And with Telltale now also fallen, it further reduces the chances of new adventure games being made.

But I’m just glad people like Ron Gilbert are out there who are still making new additions to the adventure game legacy.

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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.