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Posts tagged ‘Stroud’

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Stroud

This past week, my hometown has been in the news. And it’s actually for something positive. In case you were unaware, The Sunday Times has named Stroud as the best place to live in the country.

While it’s nice to have something positive written about the place, mainstream attention always makes things worse. And by worse, I mean more crowded and expensive.

This week marked exactly a year since I got off the plane from New Zealand into a dramatically different home country to the one I left ten weeks earlier. And the global pandemic has meant I’ve now spent the longest stretch of time living in Stroud since I moved to London at the start of 2010.

Except it’s not really quite been the same as actually living here during normal times, as I like to think I would have spent more time seeing friends. I like to think that anyway, even if I know there’s a distinct chance that it could well have been almost exactly the same.

It was a great place to grow up, spending countless hours in my childhood climbing trees, running about in green fields, and filling my lungs with clean air. And during some summers, my group of friends would pick elderflower for money. Mainly from other peoples’ gardens and run off when we were caught. It was then taken to the company to weigh to determine how much they’d pay us.

In 1994, I remember a friend handing me an envelope for about £3.50 for several hours of work and I thought it was a substantial amount of cash. The company that paid people to collect elderflower is now selling its product in supermarkets nationwide. It doesn’t pay members of the public to collect for them any more, but its success is inadvertedly built on child labour. Albeit children who were highly enthusiastic about being overworked and underpaid.

What followed were some frustrating teenage years when I often had very little to do, and I saw uni more as a chance to escape than anything else. But the town has a lot more going for it these days. And while I may have moved away for almost a decade from 2010, I was usually back once or twice a month, and longer over Christmas.

Stroud Brewery is one of the finest places in the world there is to get a pint of ale. I might have a vested interest here as I am a bond holder, but I speak the truth. I am looking forward to going back there in a few weeks when things start to open up again.

And Stroud’s Farmers’ Market is also great, even if I do very rarely go to it. It has some really nice stuff on the stalls. But as with most busy things, I have to be tactical to get what I want from stalls and get out again without getting trapped within people mooching about.

It’s disappointing in any of the coverage that there was no mention of Stroud outdoor pool in the write up. I always enjoyed going there to its freezing waters, notably in the summer of 1995. I later found out that the water comes from a natural spring, which would explain why it was so cold and why I saw a live frog in there once.

And while Stroud is certainly one of my favourite places in the world, I would not rank it as the best place to live in the country for the simple reason that it currently has a Tory MP. It didn’t have one from 1997 until 2010, or from 2017 until 2019. So it was certainly a contender for the title then.

Regardless, it’s been a good spot to spend the pandemic. I’ve been walking my dog for about three miles every day for the past year and rarely see anyone out and about. While I wouldn’t consider it as the best place to live in the country, I would definitely rate it as the best place to live during a pandemic.

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Ale

This week, I planted some ale hops. I received them from Stroud Brewery as a reward I paid for in their recent crowdfunder to survive the turmoil the pandemic has sent its way.

Admittedly, my track record with plants isn’t that impressive. A few years ago, at least two new cacti I bought for my flat died fairly quickly. One was called a Magic Cactus. The magical powers weren’t specified and it is possible that they consisted of the ability to die significantly easier than other cacti.

But I’m hoping these hops will have better luck. Provided everything goes according to plan, the grown hops will be sent back to the brewery in September as part of the community ale that they brew every year.

Fortunately, there are load more people around Stroud who also have them growing in their gardens and the pressure isn’t solely on me. I’ll also receive nine pints of the stuff as another part of the crowdfunder reward.

It’s going to be fascinating to watch them grow, as the hop plant is something of a mystery to me. In fact, ale is still largely a mystery to me. I love a good pint of the stuff, but wouldn’t be able to tell you what was in it or how it was made. Though I should know more later on this year, as another reward I paid for in the crowdfunder is for me and a group of friends to have a brewing lesson at Stroud Brewery, where we’ll make our own ale.

I may have spent far too much money on rewards in the brewery crowdfunder, but I’m glad I can help a really worthwhile business survive these difficult times. Plus, I get beer in return for my philanthropy. I’m just glad that my tastes have evolved from that rancid snakebite and black that I drank far too much of in my first year of uni.

Fortunately, the brewery hit its target quite comfortably. I’ve spent countless hours there with friends in the last decade, drinking some fine ales and eating amazing pizza. And I look forward to doing so again once the Covid madness has run its course.

And on the subject of Stroud Brewery, I can announce that I will be performing How To Win A Pub Quiz there in September. Half of the ticket price will go to the brewery, with the other half helping me to recoup some of the funds I spent on the crowdfunder. I’m fairly sure that Edinburgh Fringe isn’t happening this year, so it’s nice to have something in the diary. The hypothetical diary that is, I haven’t bought a physical diary since 2019.

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A year, and a half

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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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.