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Archive for October, 2021

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Metacrisis

Facebook has this week revealed a corporate name change to Meta, which I am sure is going to solve all its problems. A creepy video was released, where Mark Zuckerberg tried to convince the world that he’s just a normal guy and his organisation definitely doesn’t have any sinister intentions about new ways to manipulate people. I mean, a site that was reportedly invented with the sole purpose to stalk girls at American colleges could never do anything weird or disturbing.

I joined Facebook in December 2006. Admittedly, it was reluctantly. I was quite happy on MySpace, for the most part. But while Tom’s and his Space quickly vanished beneath the waves of time, Facebook flourished and became the go-to site to stay in touch with people and also get comedy gigs.

The reason I am writing about Facebook is that I had my account locked just over a week ago, for what it described as “unusual activity”. This is coming from an organisation where investigations have found that data bought from Facebook was used for targeted ads intended to suppress the votes of African American citizens who had been profiled as being less likely to vote for Trump in 2016. Facebook ads have also been used to pump falsehoods during the Brexit campaign in favour of leaving the EU, as well as the sit being used to spread anti-vax content and conspiracy theories.

Oh, and the site was allegedly founded specifically to stalk girls at colleges. I don’t know if I’ve already mentioned that. Presumably, that sort of behaviour is perfectly acceptable though.

You never had these sorts of problems on MySpace, it was mainly just full of emo kids who spent hours adding mods to their profiles.

The site asked me to confirm that I am really me by uploading some official form of ID such as a passport or driver’s licence, or at least something with my address on it. There was no way in hell, or anywhere else for that matter, that I was going to share this with Zuckerberg’s dodgy data farm, so I opted to leave it locked.

As things turned out, my account was locked immediately after I got back from the supermarket. While doing my shopping I bumped into a girl who was in the year below. She suggested that a group of us old-schoolers living in the area should meet up to reminisce about the olden days. Then just over an hour later, my profile disappeared in what looked like I’d rather shut down my Facebook account of 14 years rather than attend a meetup.

But for about 48 hours, I was free from Zuckerberg’s creepy tendrils, save for WhatsApp. Facebook was out of my life and it felt amazing. No longer would I waste hours of my time scrolling through the inane ramblings of people I sort of used to know but haven’t seen in years. No longer would I see someone pop up on my news feed and have honestly no idea who they were or why we were apparently friends. No longer would I think less of a casual acquaintance for expressing questionable views on social or political issues.

There was also the fact that I would lose touch with large swathes of people from various points in my life, not to mention losing all those hundreds of pictures – many of me drunk. But it was a price I was prepared to pay.

Then I realised the sad truth. Without Facebook, I would find it almost impossible to get any comedy gigs. I mean, I am finding it difficult enough as it is without losing my sole source of leads. With the exception of one or two long-established gigs, probably about 97% of all comedy gigs looking for acts are posted on Facebook groups.

So I set up a new account. It’s smaller and with far fewer ‘friends’, but it will be used for exactly what I need it for. Not sharing personal information to allow any sort of data profile to be built, or engaging in political debates with people I barely know, but purely for booking comedy gigs and making the occasional stupid comment.

My old account is now consigned to a server archive either somewhere in Silicon Valley, or somewhere in the world far less expensive. All those memories and stupid conversations are locked away, never to see the light of day or the light from a computer screen ever again. And that’s fine. It’s the past. It’s gone, no longer matters, and does not define me.

There is no question that social media and particularly Facebook has made the world a far worse and more divided place.

Everything that rises eventually falls. I can only hope that Facebook’s ultimate demise isn’t far away, provided I can find another way to get comedy gigs. But the damage it has done to the world may well last for far longer – from Facebook, not necessarily from my comedy gigs. And I maintain my view that MySpace was always better.

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On the road again

On Friday night, I drove 100 miles down to Swansea to actually perform a comedy gig. It was fraught with delays, taking an hour longer than it should have done. And a further reminder of just how much I hate driving to gigs.

But still, I had plenty of time. And I’m pleased to report that there was no repeat of that horrific five-hour drive to Newcastle that should have taken just under three. For one thing, it would have taken me to completely the wrong place. More on this later.

I was in town to perform at Swansea Fringe, having previously performed there just over two years ago. Before the dark times, before Covid.

I was in a different venue this year and arrived to find the stage area right next to the front door, which isn’t ideal. But with fringes, venues can be a bit like that. The room was long with a bar on one side and the room becoming a corridor further at the back. The sound system was a considerable upgrade from my previous show in September, which certainly helps when performing in a room not designed for comedy.

The show itself went well. Despite not having had a gig since 9 September, performing felt good. People laughed when they were supposed to. And some newer ideas and jokes I have added to the show relatively recently now look like they’re here to stay.

Bizarrely for a Friday night in Swansea, the majority of the disruption came from the two front-of-house volunteers sitting on the desk by the door, regularly chatting to each other and oblivious to my references to it. Fortunately, they didn’t stay for the entire show. And if anything, it brought the audience together more. Regardless, it was a decent show and the audience seemed to enjoy themselves.

Now, back to the subject of going to the wrong place, there was the drive home the next day. Compared with the drive down, there were hardly any delays. But what stopped me from getting home earlier was a stupid and inexplicable detour from Google Maps. For some reason, Stroud has about four or five different sets of temporary traffic lights at the moment. So when Google suggested taking another route, I thought that made sense. Only this route ended up taking me off the motorway two exits past my normal junction, which is where I used to get on the motorway to go north. So it sort of made sense. But then when I was nearing the middle of Cheltenham town centre and it said I was about a mile away from where I needed to be, I finally twigged that something was up and stopped the car.

Despite setting Google Maps to take me to my home address, it was instead trying to take me to Cheltenham Racecourse. This is somewhere I have never been, have no interest in going, and have never even looked at on Google Maps. So why this happened is a mystery. I can only assume that Google had detected that I was doing a comedy gig and wanted to keep the tradition of frustrating gig driving alive.

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Returning of returns

I have returned from a most excellent week in North Devon. It was sunny every day, but that nice autumn heat that is a pleasant one and never gets too sweaty. I also had a Hocking’s ice cream every day, which is a habit I could certainly get used to a little too easily.

I managed to avoid taking my dog to the beach, opting to take her on the rural back roads where there was much less chance of meeting another dog and experiencing any canine confrontations.

And I swam in the sea. It was rather cold and I didn’t stay in for long, but I did it. And that’s the main thing. All in all, it was a successful trip to a part of the world that is full of fond childhood memories.

But this week is going to be a busy one where I am plunged back into the real world as a reluctant grown up. I’m heading back to London this afternoon for the first time since the end of March 2020. This could well be my longest gap between visits to the capital since possibly the late-1990s. This evening, I’m meeting my old comedy muckers Langton and Moz for a pint. It will be the first time the three of us have been together in four years.

Then tomorrow morning, I have to do HR stuff at my new-old place of work. So I’m hoping those old dogs won’t lead me astray like they did circa 2010. Then I’ll be back in full-time work again after a two-year hiatus disguised as freelancing. But I will be working from home, so spared of the ordeal that is the commute. I am already looking forward to that first full month of pay.

And on Friday, there’s going to be some more comedy. I’ll be going back to Swansea for what is set to be the second and final performance of How To Win A Pub Quiz for 2021. As things currently stand, anyway, I am always open to bookings – and also money. I’ve not had a gig since my last performance in Stroud just over a month ago, with admin still proving the main stumbling block. I doubt I’ll feel quite as rusty as my first gig back in August and should be able to slip right back into the rhythm of things. I mean, I’ve done the show enough times by now that I find it far easier to perform than a stand-up set at a comedy gig.

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Out of office

I have timed this entry to go up because I am currently without a computer for the next five days or so. I am looking forward to some time away from the keyboard. I have already been without one for a couple of days and am sure I’m having a great time.

I am going on a sort of holiday down to North Devon for a week. I’m looking forward to a Hocking’s ice cream and some time by the sea, which I may even go in for a swim.

I’ve not been to this particular part of North Devon since 2013 when I stayed over for a night at a family friend’s house on my way down to a friend’s wedding in Cornwall. After the wedding, I slept in my Nissan Micra and was the sick out of the door the next day. To sober up, I submerged my head in the sea. On the plus side, accommodation didn’t cost me a penny. It’s just as well I didn’t get caught, as I’m fairly sure some of this was illegal. Allegedly.

My accommodation this time is a lot more expensive, but will hopefully be a little classier. I don’t expect to vomit out of any doors, but you never know how things are going to go.

My main concern is taking my dog somewhere we’re unlikely to meet any other dogs. While she loves people, she had an unfortunate incident when she was young with some dogs off the lead. And now she gets scared when dogs come bounding up to her, even if their intentions are friendly. I hope that the next time I write on here, I will be able to report that it was a nice break without any dog nastiness. And also that there’s been no sleeping in cars or vomiting out of doors.

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Winding up the freelancing

This week was my final full week as a freelance journalist, at least for the time being. That is if it’s possible to have a full week as a freelance journalist when not working full-time hours.

Anyway, I had three deadlines for features and managed to meet them all. Working to freelance deadlines certainly took a bit of getting used to. Initially, I barely did any work until about four days before the article was due.

I would often wonder why it always felt like such a rush and why I never seemed to have enough time. Then I remembered that I often had three or four weeks after receiving the brief to get the article written.

Occasionally when I get into bad habits, I hear the voices of my old editor and news editor in my head from my reporter days for corrective action. In this case, it was my news editor who used to say: “Always put your calls in first.”

As if by magic, when I was more organised with putting articles together, the deadlines became a lot easier to hit.

I have enjoyed a lot about the life of a freelancer. There has been the variety in workload in writing about various subjects and freedom to choose what hours I work, plus ample time for dog walking.

What I haven’t enjoyed is the uncertainty of it, never knowing whether or not I’ll manage to get any work from one month to the next. I read something on Twitter that freelancing was a constant balance between either taking on too much work or not having enough.

Then there is the matter of invoicing and chasing unpaid invoices. Some publishers are really good at paying within a month of receiving the invoice, but others can take the better part of two months to pay up. There have been others that have taken even longer, and the chasing up can get rather tiresome.

But I know it can work, I know how to put together features, and will probably continue writing the occasional freelance article here and there for stuff that interests me. I also know roughly how much I can realistically earn from it a year. I will save this information for future reference if another viable income stream materialises. Say, one that might involve saying words into a microphone in the hope of receiving laughter.

Based on current statistics, this could take a while. Things are still sluggish in that department, even if this is currently half intended. I did have one gig booked this week, but I didn’t actually end up performing. The gig was an unpaid 10 minutes and 30 miles away. I have no problem with either of these facts ordinarily, as I was going to use it for testing new material. But then came the madness with petrol supplies and I thought it was best to conserve what fuel I did have left in my tank. This is not a metaphor.