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Posts tagged ‘Wellington’

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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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Wellington

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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NZ Fringe 2020 – Show four

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

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

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

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

Unfortunately, I only made marginally more than last year.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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NZ Fringe 2020 – Show three

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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NZ Fringe 2020 – Show two

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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NZ Fringe 2020 – Show one, plus more accommodation gripes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are three male toilets between 50 rooms.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Napier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Perth Fringe 2020 – Show four

I thought last night was going to be quiet, but the discounts I set up for a certain number tickets have worked magically.

I ended up with 36 people, which is my largest crowd in Australia to date. It’s just under half of the largest audience the show has ever had, mind, but it is at least some progress in Perth.

The show was enjoyable and I am increasingly turning into more of an arsehole quizmaster with every show. It has always been a fun persona to play with, but seems to be amplified in Australia.

Tonight, I currently have ten people with tickets booked. When I first started doing the show in 2014, my main aim was to get at least double figure audiences every day during Edinburgh that year. So this is at least a success by those modest standards.

Another factor at play here is likely due to it begin Australia Day. So I expect that potential punters already have other plans. Probably something barbecue and beach-related if Aussie stereotypes are to be believed.

As always, it’s just a matter of waiting and seeing. I’m reluctant to spend too long out in the heat flyering, as it’ll just make me ill. And there’s me reverting to my national stereotype of being a whinging Pom. I make no apologies.

In itinerary news, I’ve now booked a five night trip to Sydney after Melbourne. Then, I’ll be heading to New Zealand slightly earlier than I originally planned. I’ve just booked a few nights stay in Auckland, which by some strange coincidence also coincides with the dates I arrived in 2007 as a clean shaven, 22-year-old idiot.

I’m also planning to get a bus to travel around the country. But unlike the bus I took in 2007, this one isn’t green and full of 18 year olds. I’m going to spend a few nights in places I haven’t been before as I make my way down to Wellington. The itinerary is all coming together.

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How To Win A Pub Quiz Mini International Tour. Stop two: Wellington, NZ

I am writing this entry from an environment that was highly familiar to me in 2007, but where I’ve not been since. I’m not referring to New Zealand, I am talking about internet cafes.

When I was in New Zealand last time, I would regularly frequent these places to keep in touch with people back home, write my travel blog, and generally use them as an escape from the backpacking experience or repeatedly watching the trailer for Spider-Man 3.

There were lots more internet cafes back then. This time, I had to hunt around pretty hard for one, as there don’t tend to be as many around these days. But I’m not here for nostalgia purposes, I’m in here as I needed to print something for my domestic flights and I figured I would make the most of the half-hour I’ve paid for by writing something.

Anyway, as you’re probably not reading this for information on internet cafes, I will move onto other things.

I have now finished my shows at NZ Fringe and I am pleased to report that they both sold-out, thus covering my flight costs. Friday’s was one of the liveliest I have done. They were up for it from the start and I had to use all the tools in my arsenal to keep them in line. Mainly deducting points. Friday’s show must have been the most times the ‘take one off’ chant has been used.

Saturday’s show was a little more sedate, but still good fun. Although all the tickets had been sold, nine people didn’t show up. But it doesn’t matter, because I still have their money.

I was gifted with a front-row of older people who were left confused by much of the show. These are usually the audience members I have most fun with as they have few inhibitions and will usually come out with an odd heckle or two. They didn’t disappoint.

The Cavern is a great room for comedy. It has low ceilings, is dark and has just the right amount of dinginess.

It’s nice being back in NZ. It’s a country I have a lot of affection for.

In 2007, I didn’t really enjoy Wellington that much. Mainly because the weather was bad and I was staying in hostels, living off a diet of pasta with flavoured  tuna.

But the combination of sun and not staying in hostels changes everything. Wellington is a city I could quite happily  live in. And who knows, perhaps one day I will do.

I fly to Christchurch tomorrow as I’m doing HTWAPQ there on Thursday.

Also, if you’re reading this and are in Dunedin, I am doing How To Win A Pub Quiz there on 30-31 March at Dee’s Cafe. Please buy a ticket.