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Music festivals

This week, I added another gig booking to my diary and I will be performing at a music festival in July. The best part is that I get a free weekend ticket for doing so, and it’s only about a 30-minute drive from my house.

I have been to see many bands over the years, particularly when I was at uni. But I have never actually been to a music festival. I’ve always liked the idea of going to one, just never got around to it. There have been a few near-misses over the years.

When I was 15, I’d been planning to go to Glastonbury with my best friend for months. We had it all planned out and it wasn’t going to cost us a penny. It was a couple of years before the organisers erected those massive fences and back in the days when you could get to the site by walking through a few fields and stepping over the odd bit of wire. And that’s exactly what happened.

Only, I didn’t end up going. My friend had managed to get a lift down there a day earlier than we’d originally planned and tried to call me to let me know, but I was taking my dog for a walk at the time and missed my chance. I’ve always quite fancied going there at some point and told myself how I’d just wait until I’d get invited to perform in the comedy tent and I could go free. Let’s just say, I’m still waiting on that. Still, that plan has come to fruition for another music festival. The rest will now surely fall like dominoes.

I did buy a day ticket to Reading Festival in 2004, but didn’t end up going as I’d been to Paris to see The Darkness (who else?) a couple of days before decided I was too tired. Rock n Roll. Getting home again would have been difficult without a car, as I seem to remember planning on getting a train to Swindon around midnight, and then just hanging around at the station for about six hours to wait for the first train of the day.

I did get a press pass to Radio 1’s One Big Weekend I was a reporter, which I only went to as my colleague who arranged it couldn’t go. The highlight of that was finding a tenner on the floor and going out of my way to blank Vernon Kay in the VIP area. Regardless, the event wasn’t technically a music festival as there was no camping.

Of course, one of the main reasons I haven’t been to a music festival is the lack of access to a decent toilet for a few days, especially given my unfortunate history in that department. And because the festival is so close to my home, I am planning to make full use of the facilities and come and go between both locations throughout the weekend. It may not be an authentic festival experience, but I can live with that.

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The admin secret

This past week, I finally stumbled on the most successful and effective approach for comedy admin. And by comedy admin, I mean emailing or messaging promoters to book gigs.

It has nothing to do with being persistent yet polite. And it’s also not about being organised.

This is starting to sound like one of those YouTube ads that hooks you in with a subject you’re half-interested in and spends five minutes explaining how you won’t believe what the secret is, before getting you to click on a link to an external site. And then the same ad will follow you around forever.

Well, I won’t be doing that here. Because it turns out that the secret of comedy admin is to drink four pints beforehand. And the evidence is in the fact that I sent two messages after this level of alcohol consumption and got two gigs, thus proving a 100% success rate. That’s what I’ve been doing wrong for the past few years. I haven’t tested the levels of pints yet to see if three or five pints are more effective. I am quite content to believe I stumbled across the perfect formula immediately.

Although it could quickly become a problem if I’m trying to do admin during my lunch hour at work.

Things are starting to pick up, albeit incredibly slowly. To be truly successful at comedy admin, you need to keep doing it over the long term, but my liver may not be so appreciative of this. Still, you can’t argue with the results.

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Gigging again

On Thursday, I performed a stand-up set for the first time in six months.

In these Covid times, I have had a few long gaps between gigs. So, I almost know by now where the issues will arise in my performance. I may say a few lines in the wrong place and may also end up doing some freewheeling that borders on rambling. And my throat may also give out at some point. These first two points were correct on Thursday, but the third was thwarted by a throat lozenge. Yet despite these imprecisions, it went rather well. I’m not going to claim I “smashed it”, but it was fun.

I was on first and they were a really nice audience. In fact, a board game bar and cafe are pretty much my ideal crowd, even if many in there were a good 40 years younger than the punters I attract in Edinburgh.

Going so long between gigs, I find that much of my material is still in the muscle memory banks, but the rhythm is a little disrupted. I tried out a couple of new lines that went okay. I even bought back a line from 2011’s Mixed Bag, which served me well for several years before I dropped it when I realised how long I’d been doing it. But you’ve got to take the laughs where you can, especially if you’re not gigging regularly.

The gig was in Cheltenham, which I still get easily lost driving around despite having visited there numerous times in the past 30 years. For a few years, I was even going there every week.

And with the Cheltenham location, I continued with what I claim is low carbon comedy of only doing gigs fairly close to home, when in reality it is laziness. Then there’s also my unwillingness to pay more for petrol than I’m being paid for the gig. Also, I really hate driving to gigs when working full-time. Admittedly, I can now hop straight into my car at the end of the working day, instead of taking public transport for four miles and then having to queue to get out of the city.

But still, the combination of a race against the clock to get to the venue and then finding somewhere to park are two of my least favourite things about performing comedy. I am still traumatised by the horrendous drive to Newcastle in 2017, with two full hours of delays.

These factors kind of limit the number of gigs I can do, but then I’m not looking to go back into gigging at full-throttle until I’m back in London.

That said, the gigs are starting to increase in numbers. When I was at the gig on Thursday, I received an email asking if I’d like to do a spot in Cirencester in June. And one of the acts from Thursday has booked me for a gig in the Forest of Dean in July. If I can do a gig in May, I might even record one gig a month. Considering I used to do four gigs a week, this isn’t exactly impressive. But it is an improvement.

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A gig. An actual gig

I actually have a gig this week, making it my first gig of the year.

Since I finished my run at NZ Fringe at the start of March 2020, my gigging numbers still haven’t even broken double figures during the pandemic. As tallies go, it’s not that impressive. Still, it does make my run of five gigs between August and November last year look especially prolific.

I’m opening the show on Thursday, which always carries the extra responsibility of getting the night off to a good start. I am expecting some rust to be evident, although not built up quite so heavily as August’s comeback gig.

And while I’m being paid, I’ve been told that I can slip in some new material in the middle part of my set. Normally, I would appreciate such an offer. The problem with this is that I don’t know if I have any new material that’s ready. The new stuff I’d been trying out at gigs last year had been going pretty well, which you might say is no longer new material as it was first tried six months ago. Well, you’d be wrong. A handy definition is that new material is stuff you keep trying out until people laugh when you want them to.

Some new material can be ready to be dropped into a paid set with near immediate effect after one or two outings. Yet other new material can take several outings of honing and refining before it’s where it needs to be. Ultimately, the deciding factor is whether or not people laugh loudly enough for where you intend them to. However, there are occassions when the material just needs to be consigned to the scrap heap for all eternity.

And while the stuff I was trialling between August and November last year was getting laughs, the material definitely needed refining. And three gigs over three months wasn’t really enough to be certain that it works. This is just another reason why gigging regularly is so important. I mean, I won’t be doing so regularly after Thursday. And I don’t know when my next gig will be after that, but I do know the processes to follow even if I choose not to follow them at this exact moment in time.

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To not to Fringe

The Edinburgh Fringe early bird deadline has passed and I have not put in a show application or even made any provisional enquiries. For those not in the know, the early bird deadline means you can get your listing in the main Fringe brochure for a discounted rate. But even that still costs about £300.

I’ve been looking at some of the shows that are on sale on the EdFringe site, mainly my venues of Fringes past out of curiosity. Even looking at the website evokes feelings of terror that were an annual occurrence during the entire 2010s decade.

But it is fair to say that Edinburgh Fringe is what kept me doing comedy for as long as I have. Particularly after I moved to Manchester, I would be ready to quit out of the frustration caused by not doing enough gigs, or not doing well enough at the gigs I was doing. I could be on a poor run of gigs when living in London, but the efforts to get to and from gigs were significantly less and I never had to worry about keeping my eyes open on the trip home afterwards. I also wouldn’t have to worry about what time I got back and if I would get enough sleep to function effectively at work the next day. The tube took away a lot of stress from gigging, even if it did have its downsides.

Anyway, in my hour of need, August would roll around and remind me of exactly why I did comedy. This is largely due to the intense daily release of endorphins and dopamine caused by performing. And if I did have a bad gig, then I just get back up the next day and aim to do better. And it almost always was.

So, the odds are now that I won’t be up performing there in August this year. I am refusing to formally use the phrase “never say never”, which is flawed as it includes two mentions of the word you’re saying you won’t say. I may yet receive an offer that is hard to refuse, but I probably won’t. I am not expecting one to come through. And that’s fine. I was toying with going up for a week to try out some new material, but I would then need to do gigs to prepare for that.

I actually do have a comedy gig booked in a few weeks. So far, it is the only one I have booked for the year. I don’t have any urge to leap back into it, although if my gig goes well then those endorphins and dopamine may cause a rethink.

I probably won’t get back into gigging regularly until I’m back in London and a September move remains on the cards. Although don’t ever say a word that sounds like ever but starts with an N.

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More about hops

I missed an entry last week, mainly because I forgot. It’s commitment like that that gets me all the traffic here. So much traffic.

I may as well talk about hops again, as there’s quite been a considerable amount of growth in that department. One vine is now higher than a metre.

The man who helps my mum with the garden theorised that the reason behind the rapid growth is that the hops are right underneath the wall vent for the oven. So, heat comes out of the vent straight onto where the hop roots are, causing them to grow rapidly. It’s an interesting theory and might be correct, especially as the vine nearest the vent is way out in front of the others. While about a metre away, another hop plant is barely only a shoot.

I haven’t seen my neighbour recently who’s also growing hops. Last year, his first year saw masses of flowers compared with my 1.5 and I could easily see them when I walked past his garden. But this year, I can’t see anything yet and my attempts at peering through his hedge are proving unsuccessful. At the moment, I think my hops are more advanced.

How tall will mine actually grow? That, I do not know. But at some point in the next few months, I’m going to need to get on a ladder and balance precariously as I rig up some sort of structure involving bamboo canes and garden twine on the front of my house. So, I have that to look forward to.

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The two-year mark

This week marked two years since I arrived back from New Zealand. I had been travelling for more than 30 hours, then passed through through an eerily quiet Paddington Station in country now in lockdown.

Seeing the train arrive at Stroud was a sight to behold for a weary, blurry-eyed traveller. I walked the two-ish miles home with this sun shining in a clear blue sky. Then I got home and received an amazing welcome from my dog, keen to make up for ten weeks we’d spent apart. I think the past two years have probably done that. Spending time with her has definitely been the best thing about living back home in times of Covid.

But obviously, the main reason I’m writing about the passing of a point in time is that not a lot else is going on at the moment, other than hops. And there has been a lot of growth in that area, but I have to ration these moderately interesting things by week.

Two years on, I’m much better off financially while being much worse off comedically. I’ve lost the drive to want to do gigs at the moment. And I don’t mean the car. Yep, I’ve still got it. The car, I mean.

At the moment, I am opting to not Fringe this year. Until I’m back in London, I probably won’t do many gigs. It’s partly due to laziness, and partly due to the petrol prices really not increasing the appeal of driving 30 miles to do ten minutes for no money. I mean, I obviously get offered loads of paid gigs but turn them down in favour of the prospect of being left out of pocket.

In a year’s time, I hope I’ll have something more interesting to write about than passing the three-year mark from getting back from my last trip to NZ.

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Hop to it

A few months ago, I moved my hops from the unexpectedly shady veg patch to the border at the front of the house.

They say that the first year for hops is normally pretty quiet, with better results in the subsequent years. And it’s looking like they might well be right, whoever ‘they’ are. They’re – as in the hops – already showing impressive signs of growth. In fact, they seem to have grown each time I check on them.

When I replanted them, I wasn’t sure if it would work. And when something started sprouting this past week, I thought it may be a stray sycamore sapling. It turns out that it was a hop.

I’ve been checking the dates. Last year, I only planted the hops on 12 March and nothing really happened for quite a few weeks. So, the hops are already doing much better.

Last year, it became a bit disheartening to see a neighbour’s flourishing hops spilling out over the top of his custom-built, three-metre-high wooden climbing frame. I’d ordered a two metre-tall metal obelisk that I had to assemble, then extended the height using bamboo canes, with garden twine deployed at various points.

Hops like to climb vertically immediately, whereas I spent a large amount of time and effort trying to encourage them to climb horizontally to get onto the make-shift climbing frame I’d assembled. Last year, the highest vine did reach almost three in the end, but it took a long time.

This year, things are much simpler and I’m using garden twine with then nails that are conveniently already in the wall. I can add more nails and twine as the growth progresses.

I am quietly confident that this year’s harvest will be better than last. I mean, I only had one and a half hops last year, so I should certainly hope so.

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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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Unmasked

For the first time in almost two years, I ventured out of the house without my trusty face mask.

Actually, this is not strictly true. I don’t take it on my dog walks. And there was another time I went to the local brewery last year when I fogot my mask, so had to pull my t-shirt up over my face. Looking like one of the Bash Street Kids is not a sustainable look for prolonged periods.

Anyway, the simple reason is that I forgot it today. But the pack of three sanding masks I bought from a DIY shop in Christchurch, NZ, has served me well. I’ve had to replace the small elastic straps with two socks on either side, providing important levels of comfort and adjustability.

And the mask with the socks straps has attracted some recognition. At the dentist’s the other week, the dental nurse kept laughing at my practical genius and said the sock straps had made her day. In fairness, I don’t know how bad her day had been up until that point. And my appointment was over by 11am, so here day may yet had improved further.

I quite like wearing a mask. I never subscribed to the idea that wearing a face mask infringes on my civil liberties, or is even like trying to keep a fart in your trousers.

In fact, I always wanted to wear one on the tube when I lived in London and had to commute every day, squashed up next to dozens of sweaty strangers. But until a little thing called Covid-19 happened, it was considered socially unacceptable to wear a mask in public on any day that wasn’t 31 October.

But this is not the end for me and my sock-strapped masked. I will continue to wear one in particularly crowded places, or if it’s cold outside. Face masks are the most effective face warmers.

If I used £20 notes instead of socks, then I’d be cash-strapped. Thank you very much. I’ve still got it – comedic abilities, that is, not Covid. Although time will tell for both.