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A gig and travel plans

I had a gig last night near the Forest of Dean, sticking with my unintentional policy of only doing gigs this year in Gloucestershire. The only exception to this so far has been Bristol, which was part of Gloucestershire once upon a time.

I hadn’t heard from the promoter in about two months since the booking. So, I thought I’d better message him to find out if the gig was still on. It turns out, the gig was still on. But he’d forgotten I was booked. Fortunately, he still agreed to let me on.

It was a nice room and a really good turnout for late-ish July with about 20 in. In a small room, certainly felt much fuller. Probably at least half of my set was taken up with reading out extracts from Ross Kemp’s A-Z of Hell. As it worked pretty well at 2000 Trees the other week, I wanted to see how it went down in a comedy gig setting. The answer is mixed. The first half of it works pretty nicely, but I could feel the interest wane as I went on. I need to figure out where I want to go with it and how to end it. That said, the tried and tested stuff I opened with wasn’t quite as well received as normal.

On the plus side, a joke I wrote a few years ago – about a terrible gig I did in the West Yorkshire home town of a certain bearded serial killer – got some big laughs. I’d wanted to try it out for ages but would forget to do it when I had it written in my set. It’s always nice to get something positive out of a negative experience, even if the joke is rather morbid. But the night in question was my birthday, so I’m giving myself a free pass.

In other news, I am going to Edinburgh Fringe after all this year. But it will only be for five nights. I decided to book something last weekend. As I have zero tolerance for hostels after staying in too many in recent years, I thought I would try renting a room in student accommodation. For five nights, it came to £590. I thought I may as well go with it, as options would be limited and only more expensive.

Then I realised the dates I’d booked clashed with one of the train strikes, so I tried to rebook. The site then wanted to up the price to over £600, which was how much I paid to stay in Edinburgh for the entire month when I was last up in 2019. I tried entering my card details, but the site didn’t accept my card. So, then I just decided to cancel the whole thing. Instead of not going up at all, I looked on the same site I used in 2019 and found an en suite room in Leith for half the price of the other place.

And that’s where I’ll be staying for five nights in August. It’ll be nice to visit Edinburgh without the pressure of doing a show. But I know that after walking around there for five minutes, I know full well I’m going to be filled with feelings of envy and wish I was doing a show there for the month.

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To fringe or not to fringe?

A friend posted a picture of the proof for her Edinburgh show this week and it got me thinking about it. Do I want to go there? If I do, then I’m leaving it pretty late.

One thing many people don’t realise about Edinburgh Fringe is the sheer quantity of admin performers have to do before they’ve even arrived. There’s accommodation, travel, venues, brochure listings, posters and flyers. Oh, then there’s also the small matter of writing a show and doing enough previews before you get to the Scottish capital.

As things stand – no pun intended – I am not going up to Edinburgh Fringe to do the full run this year. Or even half a run, for that matter. This could change if I get an email asking me to. I’m kind of like a vampire in that I need to be invited. And some days, there is a possibility that I may also suck.

When I was doing my short-lived podcast in 2020, I wondered whether having a year or two off from doing Edinburgh Fringe is like stepping off a treadmill that you’ve just about managed to keep pace with despite the ridiculous speed setting. This is all while feeling physically and emotionally exhausted, with the only thing keeping you going some days is the thought of eating a macaroni pie.

Anyway, I stepped off the treadmill for 2020 and didn’t fancy getting back on in 2021. And now in 2022, the prospect seems even less appealing. Do I need to put myself through potential emotional turmoil for all of August?

I think the answer this year may well be a ‘no’. Maybe I just really don’t want to do all that admin. I do still quite fancy going up for a week or so, maybe as a tourist, or maybe just throwing some ideas at a wall and seeing what sticks. But what I really want is a macaroni pie.

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Aussie immigration rules

Australia’s strict immigration laws have been in the news this week. No one who’s ever been there should be surprised, as the authorities certainly make you put in the work to get in there. And by work, I mean filling in various forms. Admin is work.

I was actually in Australia exactly two years ago, no doubt complaining about how darn hot it was. Before the dark times, before Covid. And unlike a famous tennis player, I successfully avoided any issues with immigration. I achieved this by firstly filling in the forms myself; and secondly, by providing the correct information.

The Aussies don’t mess about when it comes to immigration, apart from seemingly this week when one or two balls have been dropped. The list of what you can’t take into the country is worded so strongly that it made me paranoid about whether I was actually breaching biosecurity laws without knowing it.

In 2007, I was staying in Australia for a total of one night on my way to an ill-thought-out trip to New Zealand. One of the rules said something about not taking footwear into the country that is contaminated with soil from farmland. Because the trainers I was wearing had some very small traces of mud on and I live near farms, I decided that I needed to declare it. So I spent probably the better part of an hour queuing. I got to the front of the queue and explained to the official there about my shoes.

I was expecting half-expecting him to call in the heavies, an alarm would go off, there would be red lights flashing and I’d be taken into detention. Or at the very least, my shoes would be taken away from me. But the official just nonchalantly shook his head and waved me through. The moral of the story is if you’re going to Australia then maybe plan the trip a bit better and don’t be a dick about it when you’ve cocked up.

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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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A brew day

I spent Friday in a brewery making ale. Unfortunately, this is not the start of a new career path. It was all part of a crowdfunder in March that saw me spend more than £1,000 on various rewards to help Stroud Brewery survive the pandemic, with all of these rewards being beer-related. And the most expensive reward I paid for was to brew an ale with a group of friends, and us each getting to keep about 30 pints each of the finished brew.

It was an early start, with us needing to be down there for 8.30am. We began by emptying sacks of wheat and malt into the tun for what is known as the mash in. This would form the base of our ale. We got to taste the very early brew that can be best described as tasting like Ovaltine.

Then we started weighing the hops and other ingredients for a process known as sparging the wort. That is not a euphemism. All the liquid from the first tank would then be filtered into a second tank, where it would then be heated to high temperatures. Once the liquid had all transferred, it was time to get a shovel and clear the first tank of the leftover malt in what is known as the mash out. I learned a lot of new terms.

I also learned that brewing is much more scientific than I thought, with measurements and temperatures having to be accurate, otherwise everything becomes messed up. I don’t know quite what I was expecting. In fairness, I hadn’t given it a huge amount of thought, preferring to focus on what goes in a pint glass instead of how it got there.

Anyway, it was a really fun day. Also, it was certainly the most talking and socialising I had done in about 18 months. And the ale that we brewed should actually be drinkable and go on sale within the next month or so.

We finished the day having several pints and talking nonsense, thus proving once and for all that I can organise a piss-up in a brewery.

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Something about football

I think there’s something to do with football happening today, so I thought I would write about my relationship with the game.

Growing up in Stroud, I’m not from a football part of the world. We have Forest Green Rovers now – and did then – but I was barely even aware of them until they got to the FA Trophy final at Wembley in 1999. I planned to go to the final but would end up being in Northern Ireland visiting family at the time.

Anyway, the location is important here – also note the past tense for the next several paragraphs – because although I’m not from a football part of the world, I grew up loving the sport.

I collected cards at primary school and also stickers for my Merlin Premier League album, which I very nearly completed in 1995 – albeit having to use Warren Barton twice and also a picture of Michael Jackson, years before his statue appeared at Fulham. I even tried Panini for the 1994 World Cup, but it didn’t feel right. And it’s much easier to fill up a sticker album over a whole season, as opposed to a month-long tournament.

And my club was Manchester United, predictably as a 90s child. West Ham were my second team after my dad’s aunt gave me an old kit from the 1960s that once belonged to her son. My support was that easy to gain.

But it was always England that got me the most excited, possibly as they didn’t play every week and it felt like more of an occasion. There was something special about watching them playing at the old Wembley. The white shirts with the dark blue shorts and white socks, plus a strange-looking big badge. I couldn’t quite work out what was on it, but it certainly didn’t look like lions to me.

Tournaments were my favourite part, before the inevitable exit. As a six-year-old, I remember crying when Italia 90 finished. Not when England went out, just when the coverage ended. I didn’t enjoy Euro 92 so much, other than getting bought an England home shirt pyjamas set. Still, Euro 92 failed to diminish my excitement for England, even after the failure to qualify for USA 94 – that possibly remains my favourite World Cup as it was the first one I properly remember.

Things went up another notch with Euro 96. After a lacklustre start, England suddenly became really good. The game against The Netherlands was my highlight. I remember running around the living room and jumping onto and off the chairs and sofa. England were really good.

They won the penalty shoot-out against Spain. Although quite how much they owe to Uri Gellar, we will never truly know. At the time, I was down in North Devon at a farm park called The Milky Way, where I milked a goat – thus living up to the hype. The penalty shoot-out was on in one of the rooms there and I kept running to watch it and would then run back to tell my dad what was happening.

Then came the ill-fated semi-final against Germany and it really felt like England could do it, especially when they scored first. I wasn’t allowed to stay up to watch it the whole of extra time and the infamous penalty kick, but saw it on GMTV the next morning. I often wonder what became of the poor man who had his kick saved. Anyway, it made me so upset that I defaced my German exercise book with swastikas. Yeah. That’ll teach them. Looking back on it, I was quite nationalistic for much of my pre-teens and teens – and football was almost solely responsible – mainly as I didn’t know any better and lacked vital life experience.

I may have even thought Brexit was a good idea when I was 12 years old. As much as I love the song, there is even an argument that the essence of the anthem Three Lions laid the foundations for that horrendous political event 20 years later. i.e. “We used to be good. Now we’re not, but we might be good again based on historical events we had nothing to do with.” MEGA, anyone? The Leave campaign even recorded an appalling cover. It is abysmal and you’re better off not watching it.

Anyway, the excitement (and nationalism) continued at France 98, with a new generation of England players that included Michael Owen, who I thought I looked a bit like if I ran fast enough and people squinted. Inevitably, England went out on penalties to Argentina after Beckham got sent off. But I was convinced that the real reason they lost was that I sat on the wrong side of the bus to school on the day after I sat on the other side for previous victories. The next day at home, I printed out something I made on Word with a picture of the World Cup and the words “English and proud” on it, or something similar. As it was on A4 and my upstairs bedroom window, I doubt anyone would have actually been to read it outside.

After Glenn Hoddle lost the England job for saying some horrendous things about disabled people, it was the turn of Kevin Keegan and the end of my fanaticism would soon come crashing down. It wasn’t immediate, I continued to closely follow all things England throughout 1999 and into 2000.

Then came Euro 2000. I was perhaps more hyped than any other tournament, as it was the summer I was doing my GCSEs and I had more time to follow the coverage – mainly as I wasn’t doing any work. I even sent my tactical suggestions through to Teletext. My suggestion was 4-4-2 but with a diamond midfield with Nick Barmby on the left and Gareth Barry at left-back for balance, as he was that formerly rare beast of a left-footed Englishman.

Anyway, Kevin Keegan clearly can’t have been reading Teletext for ideas on tactics – or arguably from anywhere else, for that matter. And England went out to at the group stages after Phil Neville gave away a late penalty against Romania.

I was genuinely distraught and spent the following couple of hours with my head in my hands. Then I realised that I’d had enough of the torment and severed my emotional ties with football. I didn’t think it was worth it as England will always let you down.

Not being from a football part of the world, this detachment was actually pretty easy. There are some cities and towns where you step out of your door and there’s a flow of people walking to the stadium on match day. I didn’t have that. And there are some families where football is a big event that everyone goes to together. I also didn’t have that.

Rugby was now officially my only sport, where I had also achieved more success on the pitch at school. And by “more success”, I mean that I was a permanent starter in the school team for a few years. We didn’t win that often, but it far exceeded my record in the school football team of being a substitute twice and only getting on the pitch on one of those occasions. Still, I did get a medal for a final I didn’t play in. The very early 2000s was also around that magical time in rugby when England were well on their way to becoming the best team in the world, something that seemed forever out of reach in football.

That’s not to say I stopped watching football entirely. When England were on, I pretended I wasn’t really watching and didn’t really care. But somehow, the games always seemed to be on in my house by some strange coincidence.

Sven Goran Eriksson’s era started off brightly enough before that sense of entitlement from the underachieving “Golden Generation” kicked in. They became a petulant bunch who grew more unlikeable with each year that passed – and didn’t seem to like each other very much either. Then there was playing Fifa at uni, which became an integral part of everyday life.

I continued to follow the team on the sly throughout the brief Steve McClaren tenure, and into Capello’s, but still didn’t like a lot of the players. Along with a lack of likeability, underachievement was the other recurring theme. I followed it a bit when Roy Hodgson was in charge, but not that intently.

And then 2018 happened. There were no expectations, which is always the best way. And somehow, the team managed to get through to the World Cup semi-finals, which I had never witnessed before as in 1990, I was six years old and asleep at the time. I got into it and my heart was beating fast during that game. To alleviate this, I had to go out and buy a bottle of red wine from the Co-op on Burton Road and proceeded to drink it all. I even managed to fit into the England shirt I got for my 14th birthday, which was the same colour as my wine.

But the team didn’t seem arrogant and entitled like the previous bunch. In fact, a lot of this may well be down to the current team having to go through the lower leagues. A few were also released from clubs when they were teenagers and had to find their own way, away from the security of an academy. The 2018 campaign was built on set pieces and they looked shaky at the back. But that’s all changed in 2021. They look much better prepared and can now even score in open play.

I hope England win tonight. If anyone has earned his success, it’s Gareth Southgate. Regardless of what happens tonight, he’s certainly put some of those penalty demons from 1996 to rest and England are in a major tournament final for the first time in 55 long years.

I also hope England win tonight for the 12-year-old me, whose hopes and expectations won’t end up being for nothing permanently. But he has a long wait ahead of him and will first have to get over his nationalism. And if they don’t, then it won’t break my heart this time. One way or another, life will go on.

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Joke writing

—- This was originally written on Sunday to keep up with my sort-of New Year’s Resolution of putting something on here every week. —-

Since the pandemic began, I have written very little stand-up material. There’s a certain musical I’m working on, or at least I’m meant to be working on, but that’s not quite the same thing.

I’ve tried sitting down and writing jokes, but very little ever materialises. This is partly because there are currently no gigs where I can perform at. And without having an hour’s show to work on, or even 20 minutes followed by a quiz, I find it difficult to write anything. And my progress on that particular musical is also being stunted by not having any performances on the horizon.

Then a couple of weeks ago when I was taking my dog for a walk, I started thinking of one-liners as a character. Very soon, I had a dozen or so. And I think some might actually be pretty good. The character is called Dave Plums and he’s an unemployed weirdo, so totally different from me. I’ve found that having a distinctive voice in my head when thinking up mateiral is really helpful. Writing as a character also takes the pressure off, as Dave Plums hasn’t desperately been trying to cling onto the success quiz-based comedy show. But then I already knew this, I’d just forgotten.

A more established comedian told me five years ago that I needed to decide what type of comedian I wanted to be, either just do one-liners or stories instead of mixing the two. It made a lot of sense, but I did nothing about it and persisted doing what I always did. I’ve always thought of myself as closer to being a one-liner comic than a storyteller. I find one-liners far easier to write and it feels more comfortable to perform them. But just to confuse matters further, a promoter of an established comedy night in London said to me in September 2019 that I was a natural storyteller. And I also sort of agree with this.

So I now will be splitting my material into two groups. Dave Plums will take all the one-liners, and stories will be left to me – unless I choose to give those to another persona. I’m not ruling this out.

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Screen time

For the next month, I have set myself the challenge of switching off
mobile data every day from 10am to 3pm. The reason I am doing so is
that my phone has become a chronic distraction and mostly a means to
waste time.

Although I have permitted myself to use the internet on a computer for work-related stuff, I am also banning myself from using social media during these hours. And I’m also stopping myself from procrastination searches that may be, for example, what Jason the original red Power Ranger is doing these days, what happened to Zach from Saved by the Bell, and of course, the latest news reports of giant squid.

On the first day I tried it, I was getting a little itchy at not being able to instantly check the latest meaningless nonsense. But after a day or so, I was amazed at how much clearer my head has been due to the dramatic decrease in distractions. I also continue to be amazed at how much worse my focus gets when I switch my phone’s internet back on after 3pm.

I was thinking how much worse I would have been at school if I’d had a
smartphone. Then I remembered that I did barely any work at school and
even with technology as limited as it was then, I still found enough to get distracted. The only explanation is that I have a superpower of being able to get distracted by very little.

If you’re wondering why this post hasn’t tailed off, you have no idea how long it’s taken me to get to this point thanks to my phone.

Anyway, I didn’t just come up my phone ban of my own accord. A few weeks ago, I received an email out of the blue from someone who’d been binge-reading the archive on here. I was then asked if I’d like to be interviewed to appear on a podcast about my experiences performing stand-up and the way I’ve dealt with all the extremes of emotions it brings.

The email came as something of a surprise, as I was fairly convinced that no one reads anything on here. So as with all the emails I receive through my site, I did some background checks to check it was genuine. And it was. You can listen to it here, in fact. Listen to the other episodes while you’re there too. By the way, hello Alison.

And part of Alison’s podcast is to get guests to set some sustainability goals. My suggestion of phone usage was something of a joke, but then I learned that browsing and watching videos results in far more carbon emissions than I ever realised.

While emissions from this might be miniscule for one person, they all stack up considerably if the majority of people in the world are doing the same thing.

But first and foremost, cutting down on my phone usage means I won’t get… something or other. Anyway, onto giant squid matters.

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2021…

This year, I’m going to try and write something at least once a week and have Sunday as the designated day. I’m calling it a pledge at the start of a new year. There might be a better, more concise way of saying that.

Given that I’m not doing a massive amount at the moment due to Covid
restrictions, I’m not entirely sure what I’m going to write about
without it becoming repetitive. But that is where the challenge lies.

That said, this entire website began after a friend from school had spotted that I was writing 250 words a day on Tumblr, so offered to host it on his server. So writing a minimum of 250 words a week should be doable. Also, I hope you like reading details of dog walks.

It is a year filled with uncertainty and unknowns. I don’t know when
I’ll do another gig, I don’t know if Edinburgh Fringe will happen this
year, and I don’t know where I’ll be living at the end of the year.

It would be helpful to read some of the entries for later on the year now so I have an idea of what to expect. They all exist on this laptop, just not at this particular time.

But the future posts are not written yet, so I’d better make them good ones; or at least mildly entertaining.

The only thing I can say for certain is that I’m going to be doing a considerable amount of dog walking.

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Edinburgh Fringe 2015 – Day 21

My final show ensured I ended my Fringe on a high in what has been one hell of a run.

The room was packed and about 20 people were turned away. Some of them were interested in coming back for the 8.45pm show.

The crowd wanted to get involved from the start. It has turned into a show where heckling is not only encouraged, but also feels lacking without it. I managed to atone for my implosion in my final show last year and sustained my energy throughout. I even set a new collection record with £108.

I was happy to leave it there and hoping I wouldn’t have to do it all again at 8.45pm. Fortunately, only two people showed up for the second show and were also ten minutes late. I was being a bit overoptimistic with the four people I was expecting.

Since the show finished, I have felt as a great sense of relief. This Fringe has been amazing and gone far better than I ever thought possible at this stage in my comedy life, but I have had to work really hard for it and it has been exhausting.

In other news, I have managed to avoid the Edinblurghy for the first time ever. Even taunting it didn’t make it appear. If it wants to strike now, it is welcome to but should know that it will just be ordinary lurgy.

I will write a post-Fringe analysis of the ridiculousness that this August has been when I am a bit more with it. For now, it is time to have a rest and return to the real-world where I am not a full-time comic. This Fringe may have just given me a glimpse into a possible future, it’s certainly felt like another reality.