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Archive for June, 2021

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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.

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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.

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Back on the road

This week, it felt like I was heading to a gig. And by that, I mean that I had to get to the motorway during rush hour.

But it wasn’t to a gig. I was on a rescue mission. My sister’s partner had been up in the Lake District with his parents for the weekend and their car had broken down on the M5, so I had to go and pick him up while to take him back to his house in Bristol while his parents waited to be towed home to Plymouth.

To mark the occasion, there were delays; albeit nowhere near on the scale of getting out of Manchester or on the M6. And it got me thinking.

When I was in London, I always envied comics with cars. Or as they’re known in the trade: “a London driver”. If you have a car, live in London and are a half-decent comic, then you instantly get more gigs because you can drive other comedians to gigs – usually the headliner.

But when I moved to Manchester, and was thus a Manchester driver, I found that I actually really hated driving to gigs. I’ve been thinking about how many different stresses were involved with the drive before I even got to a gig. The first stress was getting back to my flat from the city centre. There weren’t normally any delays on the trams, unless I had a gig to get to.

Stress number two was getting my car out of the driveway on one of the tightest imaginable roads, with cars often parked on both sides. What made this worse was if the arse bag who lived next door was blocking me in and was out when knocked on his door to ask him to move it. Thankfully, this only happened once. But even without that, it was often a really tight road if enough people had got back from work.

The third stress was getting out of Manchester, with delays and congestion on seemingly all routes out of the city. Then there was the myriad 50 mile an hour limits, reduced lane sizes and speeding lorries.

Stress number four was motorway driving during rush hour, or the winding roads of the Peak District. Snake’s Pass is one of the most terrifying places to drive in the world at night, and is even worse during bad weather.

Stress number five was finding somewhere to park when I got to the gig. And stress number six was the general race against the clock to get there on time.

So by the time I’d endured all these stresses, it was time to go on stage. It’s not surprising that many of the gigs I did during this time didn’t go as well as I’d hoped.

But that wasn’t the end of the stresses. The seventh stress was getting home again, battling motorway lane closures, diversions along one-track back roads, and just trying to stay awake.

Then the eighth stress was parking when I got back to my flat. There was enough room in the driveway outside my flat for two cars out of the three flats. And there was also technically enough room for the arse bag next door to park on the driveway outside his house. Unfortunately, he almost always strayed over to our driveway, thus depriving one of the people of their parking space – because he was an arse bag. Then getting back and finding there was nowhere to park meant trying to turn the car around in the ridiculously tight road, with mere millimetres to play with to avoid scratching one of the parked cars.

With all these stresses encountered regularly, it’s little wonder that in the summer of 2018 that there was what felt like an apocalypse raging on in my bowels.

Anyway, that went on a bit. I didn’t have to worry about most of these stresses for my rescue mission, where I was rewarded with beer for my troubles. And it just so happened to give me a chance to visit the highly regarded Gloucester Services for the first time. Service stations are a big part of the travelling comedian’s life and Gloucester Services is a firm favourite for many comics. But as I only need to come off at pretty much the next junction, I never had a reason to visit before.

I have now, and I can confirm that they’re really good. Although my heart will always be with Tebay Services, which always felt like a post-Edinburgh treat just before returning to the real world.

Visiting services stations for the sake of it isn’t something I intend on doing, although I may consider it if I need a new hobby if I ever permanently turn my back on comedy and feel there’s a lack of overpriced food and petrol in my life.

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Much-needed structure

This week involved some much-needed structure. And by that, I mean putting together something for my hops to climb.

For some time, they’ve been climbing bamboo canes without anywhere to go once they reach the top. Fortunately, they’ve only grown just over a foot and have another three feet or so of bamboo before they run out of room. So it was hardly an urgent race against time.

I ordered an obelisk online, having previously never even been aware of the word. Essentially, it’s a four-sided, free-standing trellis thing. I thought it would arrive fully formed, but it turned out to be
in pieces and with limited instructions.

Previously, the extent of my assembly skills was largely limited to a Meccano set I got for Christmas when I was about 11. I made things for a few months, before packing everything away to gather dust forevermore.

Assembling the obelisk was not without its complications, by which I mean that it kept falling. But after about two hours and a lot of swearing under my breath, it was finished and stands at about 1.8 metres. And it is still standing to this day, albeit four days later.

I’m now trying and encourage some of the hops to climb onto the obelisk. The plan is to use this as a base and then build and a taller network of bamboo canes and twine, possibly even branching out using actual branches of the nearby sycamore tree.

In other news, gigs are running again but I’m not actively pursuing them at the moment. I need to get a steady run of them together to avoid the stop-start situation that always ends up being frustrating. And that won’t be for a while. But by the time I am doing gigs again, my hops will be a lot taller and may even be ready to harvest.