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Monday, January 31

The grass is always greener
In an attempt to work out whether the grass is greener the other side of the fence, I checked out my neighbour's lawn from the perspective of my garden. There was no doubt - the neighbour's lawn appeared a lot greener. I then shinned over the fence and had a look at my own lawn. My lawn still looked the worse. What does this prove? It proves that I don't do enough gardening... or maybe that the particular strain of grass that was planted in my garden is not as suitable - or maybe I don't have the right sort of drainage. Maybe it proves that my attempt to debunk an old saying is not going to work if I take it too literally.

There is no such thing as the perfect life. You might hanker after one sort of lifestyle, not realising that it comes with its own drawbacks. The happy family man is burdened with responsibilities that make him wish he were the carefree single man. The carefree single man may well wonder what there is of worth in his life and hanker after a better job. The guy with the great job may well work all the hours he possibly can and still feel unsatisfied, looking for some spare time... and so on. You can't compare your life to someone else's. Everyone would change their lot somehow.

So, perhaps it's necessary to compare your own life against itself. Am I better off now than I was a year ago? Am I going in the right direction? Is this what I expected for myself?

Looking at these questions personally, I would have to say that I couldn't possibly have expected my life to turn out the way it's going. I like what I'm doing. There's a great deal of stuff to keep me busy and I like talking about the things that I'm doing. Perhaps there's a sense of self-aggrandisement when I do, but I think I'm more passionate about the things that I'm up to than I am about what they say about me. If that makes sense. Sure, I may be a stand-up comedian, but it's stand-up that's good, not me. As a friend recently suggested, and I agreed totally, it's being one of the good guys that's important, not making yourself look good.

I had a look back at the Ashley of 3 years ago. I read the blog entries of January 2002. I was pretty dull, moaning on about Pop Idol results and computery things. Now, I moan about Musicals and comedy... no more dull, you might say... and you'd be right... um... well, I still prefer the me of now.

I wouldn't mind being a bit younger.

A week of rehearsing
I ran out of steam last night, which is odd, because I don't run on steam. I should have been continuing my one-man whirlwind of sorting-out-the-house, but I couldn't be bothered and so took an early night. I then slept quite late into this morning (late for a work-day), though I was in work earlier than I needed to be nonetheless.

This week will be taken up with rehearsals... except Friday night where I've got a costume call and Saturday where I have either a day at home or a day's labour in Leeds.

Tonight is my last rehearsal for South Pacific until after Guys and Dolls. I will need to pay attention, then.

Show weeks can really take it out of you. Two in close succession could well do me in. However, as I hit 30 mph this morning on the way into work, I didn't feel like a man about to be beaten by a few days' performing. As I walked up the hill from the Barber's at lunchtime, I felt slightly more breathless. I don't think the chocolate muffin that followed my lunch did my fitness any good. There should be a word for the feelings of pleasure caused by being in the process of eating a good muffin. As the dough melts in the mouth and spreads the flavour and taste into the head... aaaaah.

Time travelling barbershop
I asked my barber for a time-travelling haircut today and he obliged. I want my hair to be "grade 2" in 7 days' time. He had a go - I don't think he sent his clippers into the future, but he did his best. He cut my hair at 88mph if that's any help to the geeks out there.

Right. The roads and the bike are beckoning.

Sunday, January 30

South Pacific in North Shields
After work on Friday, I cycled home. This was a triumph. It was successful because I managed to get out of the office in the first place - I'd gotten into one of those conversations which could last forever. I think I'm beginning to understand where I might be able to do something useful for my employers, and, indirectly, for the people I work with. If what we're working on is as successful as it can possibly be, then we'll have a much stronger position. If, however, we fail to be on the ball about what needs doing... then we'll just be serving our time, rather than achieving something useful. Sounds like pretty heady stuff... indeed it could have given us a conversation that lasted all night. Friday afternoon meetings are not a good idea... not if they include me.

Anyway, having successfully left the office, I then set out on the bike. Earlier in the day, I'd found it an easier ride from the bike shop. Now it was time to head for home - the uphill slog. Since I'd been rather keen to enjoy the more calorie-laden of the available lunch items from the sandwich shop, it was necessary for me to take the high road, rather than the low road home. In other words, I was going to tackle Westgate Hill. It is a total fallacy to assume that a bit of a harder hill home gives one the licence to eat the more unhealthy items on the menu. That sort of attitude cost me a potential improvement in my fitness during Edinburgh. I was doing so much during the day in Edinburgh that I allowed myself two (not one, two) meals comprising fried food... nearly every day - this is why I came back from Edinburgh in some sort of shock. My body had become cholesterol and fat dependent. Anyway, though the secret to getting the benefit of the bike is to eat more healthily alongside using it, if one has overdone it at lunchtime, it makes sense to tackle the tough route home. So I did.

The triumph? After all, I've done Westgate Hill on many occasions (well, a few) since the bike was bought. The triumph, dear friends, is that I didn't drop below 3rd gear. Not second. Third. I realise that there are some 18 more difficult gears that I could have used, but I'm more accustomed to slogging up the hill in 1st. Therefore, I have improved leg power. I'm pleased for myself.

My right leg did lock a bit on the journey, which was painful. It was cold and wet - perhaps the light rain contributed to my speed; I didn't really want to stay in the rain too long. I got on with it and got home. As I dismounted, my leg clicked properly back into its socket (I don't really know anatomy, but something sorted itself out and I feel no side-effects). No harm done.

I was due at a rehearsal in North Shields at 7.30. At least, I thought I was. It might have been 7pm. I couldn't be sure. I spent long enough in the house to change shirt and coat (the other two being too wet to use - one from the outside and one from the inside) and headed to North Shields. I arrived before 7 and, predictably, nobody was there. So I played a game of Scrabble on the mobile phone. See, it's like I've got a new little friend to keep my occupied. I beat the computer. Woof! Then I went into the rehearsal, which didn't get underway until long after the allotted time. I have the moral highground for turning up with time to spare. I also could have relaxed at home before setting off. Never mind.

The rehearsal went well. I feel a bit more confident about the show now, though the week before is going to seem a bit busy, and I was given a few lines in the penultimate scene, so I'm going to have to take some time to learn them. I am not, however, going to do that until Guys and Dolls is over. My memory is a precious thing, and I'd rather get the first show right before I worry too much about the second.

I find the process of getting into a show quite fasincating. You start off consciously recalling what you need to do. At some point, however, the lines, the movements and the notes just come. You're in a world where things are pretty predictable. You know what's going to happen around you and your own next move is a part of that world. It's a kind of magic, really. It's odd watching the video of the show in Edinburgh for that reason. I know the world so completely, because we created it and rehearsed it. Seeing it as an outsider, while also knowing it from the inside is weird. It's like the multiple-angle feature on a DVD... except I can feel the angle from being inside the set, while watching the external view. Maybe this is what multiple-personality-disorder feels like. Cool!

A day off
I arrived home after the rehearsal and took some food up to this room, where the computers live. I played a bit of Scrabble and then headed to bed. Such is the exciting existence I lead! I had planned to grab a few hours' sleep and then head to Leeds in the morning. The plan was, as I'd done on previous Saturdays, to help my friend with the labour-intensive work on his newly-bought house. This is an act of friendship on my part, but is also an opportunity to talk nonsense for an entire day with a couple of people I know pretty well and have known for years. The home-owner and I have known each other for the better part of 25 years. Even though the house itself is a rather alien world - especially since we stripped it of virtually everything inside - there's a really familiar atmosphere in there as we labour and take black dust into our lungs. "The Black Snot" (as it is aptly named) lasts for a few days after a session of labour. The effects of the camaraderie, espirit de corps and bonhomie (these are all French terms - see, the French are a friendly bunch) last a lot longer.

As an office worker, I spend a lot of time on my backside. As a lazy-ass fat bloke, I do not see any thrill in doing anything particularly physical. Cycling is an exception, though it's mainly restricted to essential journeys. Working on a house can be physically demanding and, again, comes with the built-in motivation that it's a means to a rather useful end.

It is very important, in order to reduce stress and make one's body last just that bit longer, that one gets some exercise that makes the heart pump. It's also a real natural high to complete some sort of physical challenge. I'm not planning to do any running, or compete in sports for their own sake. I do expect to see some benefit from the effort of running around theatres for 2 weeks next month. In particular, completing the tap dance routine will fill me with a sense of achievement - even if I get it wrong! So, physical stuff is good... even if I'm not really a particularly physical person by nature.

So, working on the house. It's a good thing. However, as I was settling down for the night (I think my mind was on Scrabble), I received a phone call telling me that my services were not needed for this week. The caller was concerned that I'd be offended at the fact that my services were not required. I wasn't offended in the slightest. My initial thought was - "Great, I can turn off that damned alarm clock". I was slightly disappointed at the loss of a day's entertainment/effort, but I had to admit that I needed a full day in my own home, and the opportunity for this day had just presented itself. I turned off the alarm clock and went to sleep.

Perchance to dream
So I'm quoting Shakespeare. Perhaps that's because I've heard talk of an amateur production of Kiss Me Kate coming up on the horizon, and I quite fancy doing it - I've not done a Cole Porter show yet. It would be a year from now. In the meantime I've a chance to go and see the show in Newcastle in March - that will give me a chance to "Brush Up [My] Shakespeare" (I'm sure you've guessed that "Kate" is an adaptation of Shakespeare and includes a song called "Brush up..." etc etc etc). Anyhoo...

I slept a long time. In fact, turning my alarm clock off proved to be a bit pointless since a power cut at some point in the early hours of the morning, managed to blow a few lightbulbs, fuses and disable my alarm clock. I woke up a few times over the course of the morning, got confused by the flashing weird times on my clock, checked my mobile phone, forgot the significance of the increasing hours it showed, slept a bit longer and repeated this process until well after lunchtime. During the fitful sleep, I had a dream.

Martin Luther King had a pretty important dream. When he told people they respected him and then had him killed. I, on the other hand, have either completely surreal dreams, or those filled with either quite obvious dream symbols, or, as with last night's dream, pretty obvious actual things from my life. Obviously all the talk (which I've been putting on this site) of my dissatisfaction with myself has been getting to me. Conversely, I'm dissatisfied with my lot and my outlets for it are both in these warblings, ramblings and verbal outpourings and also my dreams. I'm not going into the details of my dreams, there are some secrets which I disclose on this site, there are some that I do not. For instance, I'll admit that I get ever-so-slightly scared that someone (or something) will creep up from behind and "get me" every time I go out to the tumble dryer in the dark - I think I've been watching too many horror movies. I won't describe what little I remember of last night's dream. However, I gave it a quick dream interpretation - I've been really good at deciphering dreams every since I got that coat of many colours - and worked out quickly that the dream was a summary of everything that's wrong in my life. It did relationships, loneliness, performance anxiety (I think) and may even have had a touch of Scrabble in it. Frustratingly, one aspect of the dream appeared to be a hankering for restoration of parts of the past. I'll be damned if I'm going to let myself want any part of the past back. I'm a big monster truck and it's a lot healthier to continue with my forward-momentum.

Lunchtime, but no lunch
I wandered from the bedroom to the computer. Starting it up, I had a game of Scrabble. Unlike the one of the previous evening, which was a closed game that I eventually left victorious, this was a closed game which pretty much stumped me. I also spent a fair amount of time on instant messenger with a friend. The instant messenger session was significantly more enjoyable. During this computer time, the doorbell rang, along with a knock. I struggled down the stairs while putting on a pair of trousers (answer the door in my PJs might not have been particularly sensible) but the person had left. I suspected that it may have been the next door neighbour. They sorted out the fence between our properties, which blew down in the wind. When they told me that they were offering to sort it out (and asked me if I'd chip in for half the cost) my answer was "Has it?". I don't spend much time in my back garden at the moment.

Anyway, they dropped a note through the door a few days back saying "It will cost X - ok?". I scribbled on this note the words "Go for it." and posted it back. Then I got a note saying it was done. I've taken their word for it! Then I started to think that perhaps they'd want the money, but I don't carry much cash and I didn't think they'd want a cheque... I'm also too forgetful to get myself into gear and go to a cashpoint. On Thursday evening I found a note saying - "Can we have the money?" (or words to that effect - it wasn't impolite, nor was it particularly friendly, just factual). I got the money for them on Friday night and planned to put it in an envelope with a note during the day on Saturday. I assumed that they tried the door and went away dissatisfied. A bit later on, I got a phone call. Perhaps it sounded like one of those classic reactions-to-a-prompt things, when I replied - "I was going to drop it round anyway, in just a few minutes". Perhaps it did, perhaps it didn't. I don't know. It was the truth. I wasn't going to rush myself out of the house to do it right away, but their money was in my pocket ready to give to them.

Looking at it slightly more objectively, perhaps the few tens of pounds meant a bit more to them than it did to me. I have a rather privileged existence and don't need to worry too much about the cost of a couple of fence panels. Not everyone is so relaxed about cash. However, I dropped the money round in person, made pleasantries and skedaddled - I wasn't planning to hand the money over face to face, but it seemed the right thing to do after the increasingly assertive actions of the neighbours. All is well now, I think. If the neighbours read this blog (which they may do) then they may be totally unimpressed with this account. Such is life. At least I can now forget about the fence problems - not that I really lost any sleep about them in the first place; as I've said, I lose sleep over other things.

Shoe shopping again!
I need a pair of brogues for the show in a few days. I don't like brogues, but they're a requirement for the costume and we're expected to provide them. So, off I went to look for a pair. I went into the first shoe-shop I saw at Royal Quays, a shop which never has anything at all to take my fancy. This shop had a pair which fit me enough to go on my feet without a huge amount of pain. However, I wasn't going to be fooled. I wasn't going to buy the first pair that fit - I've done that before. So, I went to the other shoe shop, the one which normally has shoes that fit me. This second shop even had a sale on. (Not a chicken Ceylon - that's a curry!) Ha! I bought a pair of shoes from there for only £15. However, the shoes from the second shop were trainers. They didn't have brogues. D'oh!

Back to the first shop where I was served by the manager who was, perhaps, the least communicative person by which I've ever been dealt in a shop. Example:

Customer: Do you have these shoes in white?
Manager: (not looking up from the till) Uhhn

Still, he sold me my shoes and a long shoe-horn (I reckoned it might come in handy) and I was on my way.

The big-ass jeans department of the Wrangler shop didn't have any big-ass jeans in my specific size, so I didn't buy any. The CD shop didn't manage to lure any cash out of my pocket (actually, it's all plastic with me, but you know what I mean). I got into the car and left the place having bought only shoes. I hate shoes. However, I now have more pairs of shoes than I have ever owned at any one stage in my life. Weird!

Supermarket
I went to the supermarket on the way home. This doesn't warrant its own paragraph in the account of the last day... but it just got one!

Loose ends
My house is a mess. A real tip of a place. It needs some time spending on it. It needs things putting away and tidying. I decided to give it some of my time. After having an evening meal in the company of The Simpsons, I realised that Saturday night TV is totally terrible. I've known this for quite a while, but I'd forgotten it, having not been at home on a Saturday night for quite some time. Okay, so I managed to make it home for the Jerry Springer night on BBC2, 3 Saturdays ago, but that was later in the evening and was something I specifically sought out. Generally, early evening TV seems to be aimed at people who want TV to act as some sort of mind-control... to make their lives dull and lifeless. I should know, I used to either submit to it, or moan incessantly about it... while still watching it!

So, off went the TV and I hit the kitchen. This involved doing the washing up AND putting it away - not just leaving it to drain. As an encore, I cleaned the sink. As an encore to that, I decided to clean the bathroom. I do not remember when I last did that. Certain aspects of the bathroom were notably in need of attention. However, as an aperitif, I looked around the utility room, a room in which I keep the cleaning equipment, and realised that that had not been given a clean in quite some time. So, I cleaned it. I also started cranking the handle on the laundry. I'm talking figuratively. You feed stuff into the big white machine in the utility room, then you either hang it up in the kitchen (if it's a shirt) or go outside to the white machine in the tool shed (if it's a sheet or jeans or something). Several loads have been through the machine, over the last few hours. It's quite satisfying.

Having cleaned the utility room, the bathroom came next. I put on the soundtrack to Jerry Springer The Opera to accompany my endeavour. This was entertaining. I only received the discs on Friday night, collecting them from the Post Office, on the way home from work. The bathroom now sparkles. It's a bad idea to mix white bathroom fittings with an irregular cleaning regime. However, it doesn't look like it's been neglected right now, so I can forget about it for a bit.

As my home suddenly started to feel more like it cared for me as much as I had cared for it, I decided to sit down and watch a movie.

Dreamcatcher
Over Christmas and a little way into the New Year, I'd been reading Stephen King's novel "Dreamcatcher". I was really gripped by the story and characters. In random conversation over Christmas, I discovered that the novel had been made into a movie. Last Saturday, while browsing through a random second-hand DVD shop in Edinburgh, I found the movie - £4. Worth a shot.

I watched the film tonight. It's 2 hours long. In places this is a really good movie. There are some amazing cinematographic moments - mainly involving trees and snow - and some of the realisation of Stephen King's words into pictures looks very much as I had imagined it. This was a familiar world on my screen. However, while they made the first 2/3rds of the movie pretty much as it had been written, the last third of the movie covered the last 2/3rds of the novel, with very little of the suspense. It's almost like they ran out of budget for ideas and just cut to the chase. In some ways, I can see why you'd do that. As soon as the audience is sucked into the world, speed up the action and get the movie over and done with. In other ways, perhaps they over did the set-up and didn't get that much from the pay off. I don't know. It was a good use of time to watch the movie. I doubt I'll watch it again. Perhaps I'll sell it on ebay or something.

Jerry
I have, over the years, rushed home to watch something on TV on many occasions. Setting a video is easier, but if you haven't done that, the rush and watching it as broadcast works pretty well. However, the only time I can recall having done this recently was to see the Jerry Springer night on BBC2. Perhaps my relationship with TV has changed. There's no perhaps about it. It has. I watch a lot less TV now than I used to. I also watch less broadcast TV and even less terrestrial TV. This is simply because I'm too busy. This is not a problem (unless you're an accountant, which would make you query my ownership of a nice TV and cable-subscription).

Anyway, Jerry Springer the Opera was worth rushing home for. It was also worth seeing at the Fringe in 2002. It was also worth seeing in its opening few weeks at the Cambridge Theatre in London's West End. Having done all of those things, I'm now inclined to go and see the show close. It's touring in October, but its last performance is in London in February. I wonder whether it's a geeky thing to do to go along and then be able to say - "Oh, JS the opera... ah yes, I was there on its closing night at the West End" - but maybe I AM that geek. It would be quite a difficult task to achieve. I'm due at a dress rehearsal the following day in North Shields... but I reckon it can be done! It might add a bit more excitement to an already action-packed February.

Coming up
It's a bit late at night now and there's a lot of stuff due to happen to me over the next week. Having had the Saturday at home, I have actually gotten something of a weekend's worth of home-stuff done already. There's still Sunday to spend in the home. I have a full run through of Guys and Dolls to be at in the afternoon and then perhaps I can devote some time to some ironing. When February comes, I think I'll be ready for it.

All this talk of things missing in one's life, feelings of inadequacy etc etc etc. Well, we all have this, don't we? We can all point to something and say, "I would, in an ideal world, have X or Y". We can all look at ourselves and see room for improvement. In some ways, I'm lucky having such a self-serving existence. I have nobody to answer to except myself (and the occasional dream interpretation) and I can devote plenty of time to making entertainment for myself. Nothing is forever, be it a good thing or a bad thing. So long as I don't look back on what I'm doing at the moment and see it as a waste of time, then I'll have cracked it.

Friday, January 28

Blanuary Jews
January is meant to be a depressing month. The new year is getting into full swing, but everyone's overdone it at Christmas (I didn't - I even lost weight, weird) and it's cold and bills come in and people have their most miserable day on 24th January (apparently). No wonder, then, that I'm seeing folks on a bit of a downer around me, and it's also no wonder that people can see the down-ness in me (now it sounds like I'm claiming a disability).

I just crossed town to pick up my newly fixed bike. They appear to have removed a naughty plastic component that was probably part of my ratchet-cog-based-problem and the bike cycled beautifully on the journey back. Somehow, I discovered a system of getting to the bike shop and back into town where it ALL seemed to be downhill. That's slightly odd, but it felt great. I now feel invigorated and rather sweaty... but in a not-exhausted-at-all sort of way (I mean it - sarcasm doesn't usually work online anyway!).

Baby dream your dream
In the musical Sweet Charity, which I helped out with backstage in June 2003, there are few really great songs. There's "Hey Big Spender", which is okay and lived outside of the show. My favourite, was a song called "Baby dream your dream". I liked it for a number of reasons. Musically, it had a nice flavour - indeed, the song "Teamwork" from The Musical! was in a similar vein for its verses. Lyrically, the song had plenty of neat rhyming and wordplay. In the show I was working on, the cast members who performed it (it's a duet) were singing sisters and their voices rang together brilliantly - it was a highlight. However, perhaps the sentiment is one of the most important aspects of the song. You've got to dream. You have to have hopes and wishes. If you don't have a dream, how you gonna have... WHOAH! I nearly completed a quote of Oscar Hammerstein. I may be about to perform in South Pacific from which the song "Happy Talk" originates, but... well, really! Oscar Hammerstein II (the second - I can't imagine how bad the first one was!). It goes against all my principles!

Converting this blether into a point, I want to reiterate that we should spend time hankering and yearning for things we cannot, as yet, have. Maybe we can never have them, but so long as there's hope, it's worth the effort. I'm perfectly willing to put it on record that I'd happily step out with a beautiful, lively, soprano, given the chance. I don't see any likelihood of it at the moment, but it's worth wanting. I know... pitiful isn't it. My ideal qualities in a woman extend to her singing voice... it's just that I tend to have a similar natural singing pitch to sopranoes... well, okay, an alto would do... or she can be mute, communicating entirely through mime... you start with the dream and then throw it away when a tangible offer comes along. That's life!

Tempus fugit
Sadly those are latin words, so I'm not sure I could use them in a Scrabble game. Yes. I'm playing Scrabble more and more at the moment. It's not a terrible thing to be addicted to. Some people are addicted to alcohol, cigarettes, smack... I play Scrabble a few times a day. If I get up to more than a few times a day, I've no time to sleep, which impairs my performance, so it's self-regulating. Given that I'll be waiting about 60 minutes between getting into make-up and getting on stage during Guys and Dolls next month, it's no bad thing that I'll have something to keep me company in the dressing room? Will I be playing internet Scrabble on my laptop in a theatre? Of course not. I wouldn't be that sad... no, I've downloaded a version of it for my mobile phone - you play against an online computer.

I creamed someone last night in a game where I luckily found the word "Maverick" (using an existing K), getting a nice bonus score, and also managed to play a few high-scoring triple-word-scores... I nearly hit a score of 400. My opponent sent me words of encouragement, which was sporting. I sent back the message - "It's just luck", which it is. I'm not destined to be any good at Scrabble... just mediocre. However, I've had a bit of fun with it and I've learned some new words - "Zin" and "Pe" for example. I only know that they exist - not what they mean. Today I finally managed to beat the computer opponent on the mobile phone Scrabble game. I played it twice. Once was a draw and then my first win. In fairness, I only got the mobile phone version yesterday, but I took a severe beating a few times, so it was nice to reciprocate.

Is this boring yet?

Probably.

I'll soon tire of the wordplay. My nights on the tiles will come to an end in the near future. It's not a bad thing in itself. There are people out there who touch kids for goodness' sake. I just play a bit of Scrabble. The playing of the aforementioned game has filled in most of my time at home this week, which means that I've not put time into Blogging...

So what have I been up to?
Well, since Monday, I have been desperately trying not to write a sequel to The Musical! and I've been failing. This means that I have about 22 minutes of dialogue written. There are several scenes planned, but not yet written. Then there would be the musical numbers, which on first draft should be about 30 or so minutes' worth. Then you take out the dross... hopefully there's a 50-60 minute show left at the end... assuming one is writing a sequel, which I'm not. It would be terrible presumptuous to put a sequel together, given the absence of guarantee that my collaborator is available or even keen on the idea that I'm NOT currently developing - there is no show without him.

Even if I throw the whole thing away, it's made me laugh. It's a perversion of Dickens and everything that's holy.

I have to put more effort into selling tickets for the March run of The Musical!. That is a lot more important at the moment. We're definitely doing that. I've no idea if the Glasgow audience will seek out our tickets or whether I need to start pulling every possible string that I can in order to beg people who know people who know glaswegians to turn out and support the show. If you're reading this blog and can help get an audience to either the Newcastle or Glasgow shows then please sort it out. Click here for details.

Hanging off the end of a rope
A few people read my "mediocrity" rant of a couple of posts ago and got in touch to argue against it, or were worried that I was being harsh on myself and, thus, terribly down in the dumps. I'm not terribly down in the dumps. I've been more optimistic about stuff in the past, but I'm certainly a long way off feeling miserable. The post-Edinburgh-blues last year was a month of angst and agony. I bounced back wonderfully in October and I've not fallen anywhere below "moderately cheerful" since. I am not exceedingly content at the moment, but that's all the more reason to continue with my one-man-quest to make my world a better place. That's my world, not THE world - I have no heady notions of being able to do any significant good. The good news, though, is that my personal relationship with the world tends to be proportional to how much fun is happening around me, and I seek opportunities to create fun, or at least go places where the fun is happening. (I'm the guy who was on stage on my birthday last year and will be on a different stage on my birthday this year... entertainment suits me.)

It's a horrible fact of life that you cannot truly expect all of your desires to be possible. I suppose this is why I like computers so much. Once you've discarded the ludicrous notions that computers could do magical things, and set your sights on realistic things you want to make the machine do, you CAN make it happen - it's just a matter of time and ingenuity. Conversely, in life, in interactions with people, you cannot engineer things as you want them. Social engineering is possible, and it seems that there are some really easily swayed people out there, but every triumph of social engineering is a shallow one. You can't truly win the hearts and minds of folks by faking it. There's a game (and it's not Scrabble) and you have to play it and be satisfied with the participation, regardless of the outcome.

So, as I'm starting to feel my age, some of the time at least (ok, so I'll be 30 for a few more days and it's hardly old), I realise that I still have very high expectations of life and I should not intentionally compromise them, nor should I hold too much hope of achieving them. That's bound to make one feel a bit small. Humility is essential, as is the drive to make more of oneself. Knowing the way I think, which is that every success is worth sitting on admiring for a while, it's quite essential to spend time observing the gulf between my aims and my current position. That's how I drive myself to do better.

This isn't just about superficial triumphs like a good gig, a job well done in the office, or whatever. What counts is being one of the good guys. I'm a foolish, overweight, selfish oaf... and I'm a cheerful, altruistic, creative brain too. These two extremes need balancing. Writing honestly about it helps. Maybe it looks harder in black and white. As I've said, I work better when I can see the challenge clearly.

Gigging
I'm missing the stand-up. It's a hard life to work a 40 hour week and do more than a couple of gigs in that same week. Beyond 3 gigs in such a week it becomes very very difficult. However, I want to be in tip-top comedic form for the next Edinburgh festival, so I shall be aiming to fill the gig diary from when I become released from the responsibilities of musicals - sometime in March.

The North East comedy scene is undergoing a large shift. We have an experienced Scottish comedian joining our ranks, but we're losing/have lost, half a dozen or so of our major talents recently. It's a pretty poor show when I become one of the more experienced local acts (at least at the non-professional end of the spectrum - there are still some guys whose comedic boots I'm barely worthy of licking - AS, GW etc - I think they might let me lick their boots if I asked... I don't know if it would help).

January sails
The first month of this year is virtually over and I've packed a lot into it. I've been rehearsing a lot. The month's rehearsal count is at 21. I'll have done 3 days' hard labour in the world of DIY as well as my trip to Scotland. Plus I've been trying to work harder in the office. As far as I can see it from this point, January is the calm before the storm that will be February. I think I can spare about 4 hours on Sunday night to prepare for February. I hope it's enough.

I'm really looking forward to the rest of this year. It poses a lot of opportunities. I have a trip to the U.S. in March which will be the nearest I'm expecting to get to a holiday, though I have some notion of having a few days in the West End watching musicals... I also have doubts that I'll manage it. Being busy is definitely for me. If I can get some cycling in to boot, I will be a happy, healthy chap.

Tuesday, January 25

Under the knife
Actually, I've no idea whether they use knives for it, but my bike is now with the repairers. It was due its one month service,so they can extend that servicing to include the sorting out of its drive system and its rear wheel bearings. Overall, having the bike has been a great thing, so I'm looking forward to going along to pick it up and getting the chance to ride it to work some more.

Yesterday's lunchtime was taken up with the trip to the bike shop. I cycled 3 or 4 miles from the office to the bike shop. This was made all the more challenging by the problems with the bike. Essentially, the rear cogs of the bike should be attached to the rear wheel by a ratchet system which allows the cog to be motionless or even go backwards, but which causes the cog, when it's moving forwards faster than the wheel, to engage the wheel and turn it. My cog doesn't go backwards or stay still, except under force. This means that when I pick up the pedal of the bike with my foot in order to get it to the right height for a push-off, it just drops back to where it was. It also means that if I don't pedal to keep up with the rear wheel, the tension goes out of the chain and I have to do some fast pedalling to get the chain to engage properly. This makes traffic lights and down hills a bit of an issue. So the journey to the bike shop had a few hairy moments. It also had a section where I hit nearly 30mph on a long sweeping downhill. Nice!

Sadly, I managed to just miss the metro from the metro station near the bike shop. I had a ten minute wait on the platform, which was a bit dull. So the lunchtime trip took a bit longer than planned. It was a nice thing to get out of the office and do some cycling in the middle of the day, even if I was feeling rather flaccid, having had virtually no sleep yesterday.

Under the influence
Were I a high-powered city type, perhaps my life would be just as intense as it is now, only different. I have a vision of some of London's highly-paid highly-stressed workforce as working these crazy-ass days that involve getting up early, working ridiculous hours in their office and then, in order to blast away the stress of the day just gone, partying long into the night, squandering much of their earnings, only to sneak home for a couple of hours' rest and start again the next morning. My view of life in our capital certain suggests to me that there's a lot more happening between work and home than happens in the cosy lives of the people who work office jobs in a city like Newcastle, and then go home to their suburban bliss.

I have, of course, totally imagined the lives of everyone I just generalised above. Having said that, I have seen the revelry that goes on in city bars in London, and I've heard stories... oh yes... stories - and that's as close as I need to hard evidence. In addition, I often find it odd talking to some of my workmates about what they've done between leaving the office and returning the following morning. I generally pack a lot into my time outside of the office (the secret to being a good employee, mind, is to pack a fair amount of stuff into one's time INSIDE the office) and yet a lot of people I work with have simply gone home, eaten a meal and had some sleep. Perhaps they've also had some hot lovin' - I don't know. Nor do I want to.

Where's this going? Ah yes...

So, last night, bike in the bike mending shop, I walked up the hill at around 6pm, thinking that I would get the bus home, eat something, and have an early night. An early night... I'll just phone A to see if he wants a drink. I rang him:

Me: Hi A- how are you?
Him: I'm in the Trent House.
Me: I'll be there shortly.

He didn't even tell me how he was. I was simply summoned to the pub. This was a good idea. We've not had chance to meet up since the middle of December (actually it may even have been November). Within a few minutes, we were catching up on stories and alcohol. The last time I had anything alcoholic to drink was 10 days ago, but I wasn't drinking toward intoxication - it was a beer alongside a curry. The last time I was under the influence was last year - okay, 25 days ago, but it's been a long year so far. I'm not a drinker, though I occasionally drink. It's nice for there to be a time for alcohol and a time for sobriety and not specifically needing to worry about either.

So, we had a few pints. We left the pub long before closing time and got the bus home. Very civilised. In the pub we managed to slightly scare the bar staff - I could see them putting up that "patronising the drunk people" face - that's fine. We didn't need their friendship, just their attention would do. We managed to hijack an adjacent table and sell them tickets for The Musical! - well, we sold them the ticket in principle, rather than actually swapping tickets for money. Maybe they'll show up, maybe not.

The bus driver ignored my timely button pushing and drove past my stop. We got off the bus down the street from the ideal location, made many loud disparaging remarks about the driver and then stumbled to our respective homes. I couldn't be bothered to cook and so I had some microwaved porridge and some low-fat chocolate mousse. I then went upstairs to play online scrabble. Playing online scrabble when slightly drunk should be a disadvantage. However, I'd sobered up to a reasonable level with the porridge eating, and I creamed my opponent, scoring over 300 (better than my average). I got a 7 letter word and I could even have put my last letter down, though the opponent had an "I" to dispense with. He did nothing for a while, so I sent him a tip - "top right" - in the top right there was a gap between an "h" and an "m" - there may even have been a spare "t" underneath the gap - it was a good play... The player disconnected. Maybe he was storming out of the game. Maybe he just resigned. Either way, I got the points. Wooo.

I'd say that I should go out drinking more, but I shouldn't. I really need a sleep now. I feel quite light headed. Although I was in bed before midnight, drinking on a school night is not a good idea.

Trisha?
I've just updated myself to the latest version of Trillian, the multiple service instant messenger client. This newer version looks really nice. It's well worth the upgrade.

Monday, January 24

A few loose ends
This blog is about the details, rather than the bigger picture. As such, here are some random details that haven't found their way online.

A few days ago (it feels like longer... though let's not go into perceptions of size here) I mentioned someone I was trying to help with a computer problem. This particular person had become a virulent boil on the arse of the planet with her stupid attitude towards getting help. She didn't want to give us any information, insistent, instead, that we were wasting her time and should just solve her undefined problem. I believe I called her the dumb-ass bitch. I didn't call her that to her face (well, to her email program). This proved to be both a job-keeping move and also a good diplomatic stance. I slagged her off on this site, vented my frustrations and was, comparatively, exceedingly polite and positive to her by email. The situation changed. I must have charmed her since she changed from a poisonous cobra into quite a reasonable person. In one email she was calling me pompous, in the next it was all - "Hi. Thanks for your help... I promise to be more cooperative in future.". Weird. Is this that bi-polar disorder I've heard about? Or am I simply a charmer? Probably not the charmer. As usual, for every action there is an equal and opposite. Despite the fact that I've done one gig this year, the usual miscreants on the comedians' website have chosen to purge some of their self-loathing by publicly attempting to put me down. After 30 odd years of being treated as the bullied victim by similar schoolboys (usually of a similar age - I don't get my head flushed down the toilet by a bunch of 12 year olds anymore), I'm both accustomed to this sort of thing and a bit weary of it. Apparently, I'm a know-all cock of the highest order, but then I knew that already, since I know all. My omniscience is ace. I went on the website and debunked the people who pooh-poohed me. I can see their point. As with the customer who decided I was being pompous, so some other people are able to take an instant dislike to the sort of jolly, wordy, mo' fo' what I am. Luckily, I'm growing increasingly comfortable in my skin (and believe me, I have a lot of skin, so that's a good value-ratio) so these bullies are not going to get too far under my skin - they're a little like eczema, though: totally harmless, but rather irritating - and it doesn't look too good.

I have indulged in a long online discussion recently about the subject of my self-image. I'm generally quite self-deprecating. I think that some of this borders on the false-modesty designed to make one look good and I know it's a cheap trick. As a general rule, I don't think that I'm particularly pleasant when I'm singing my own praises, so I tend to play things down, or speak highly of what I'm enthusiastic about. I also like to set people's expectations low so I can exceed them. Under promise, over deliver... that sort of thing. A good example of the karma, relating to me and self image, happened yesterday. After the rehearsal of the first act of the show, the director gave everyone notes. His notes to me were quite positive - he told me that he'd not had the chance prior to now to tell me that I was delivering a good and consistent characterisation and that I should keep on doing it. This was great. I then proceeded to sod-up my part in act two. I got lines wrong which I'd learnt before Christmas, knowing that the scene in question is really the only scene in which I get to be a significant part of the action. It was just a hiccup... and it was desperately cold in that room (excuses are to be sought and used wherever possible). Anyway, it's no surprise that I reacted to praise by becoming rubbish. I fully believe that pride comes before a fall. This is why I go for self-deprecation (which I don't do very well, by the way... do you see what I did there!?).

Knowing faces
I mentioned how odd it is for me to know my way around little parts of the country which are unfamiliar. It's also quite odd to have familiar faces in cities I spend little time in. I have friends in Edinburgh and that's not weird. People have friends all over the place (I hope so... well, I guess some people don't). However, it's the people you recognise, but don't know hugely well that I'm talking about here. When I was doing a lot of overnight stays in Edinburgh and using the train, the lady at the cookie stand at Waverley station became very familiar. It seems a bit odd to think that I might walk past her in a city in which I'm a guest, and recognise her. It's odd to think how many people you are incidentally connected to. It's one thing when it's in your home town, but it feels a bit like it's cheating when the random people live over 100 miles from your home.

In Edinburgh on Saturday I noticed someone at a table of the pub in which we had lunch. She works for a different pub in Edinburgh, where I've done a couple of gigs. We did the smiling/waving thing as I walked past. This was preferable to a conversation which would have been fairly empty, since we don't know each other. Our shared history is "Can I have a pint?" and her listening to me do my act. Though we were instantly recognisable to each other. Later on in the same day, I was walking along Princes Street and I spotted someone else I know. This person spoke to us almost daily as we were flyering our show during the fringe and eventually came along to see it (for free). We have actually been in touch since the fringe - the occasional text message - and have met intentionally on a couple of occasions. However, meeting at random was a bit awkward. As we're not bosom buddies, there was no "Why didn't you tell me you were coming up?" and very little of the substance to the "How are you?" conversation. We stood, exchanging pleasantries on a small traffic Island, with two onlookers, in the form of the other members of this person's original group of walking-along-the-street-ers. At some random point, one of them piped up - "I'm not being rude, but we were going to get some food because I'm starving and we really have to get along." She was being rude. However, she did buy us an end to the conversation. Some conversations can sort of peter out awkwardly, rather than reach a climax, and we were standing on a traffic island in the cold with nothing much to say except hi. I pointed out that I'd felt that a smile and wave was inadequate for the situation since I was thrilled to randomly bump into someone I knew, but that a conversation was not really appropriate for the moment - this person had bought us a neat little exit door. So we parted company. I later received a text of apology for the rudeness of the party pooper. No apology necessary.

I'm happy when I'm biking
I hadn't ridden the bike since early last week, but I was spurred on by my efforts to put loads of music into my MP3 player walkman. I reckoned that the hours of filing the albums into a sensible order deserved a bit of listening, so I hopped on the bike this morning. Ulterior motives abound. I also wanted to get the thing serviced, which I'm about to organise (I'll cycle it to the shop where I bought it in a minute). This is not a happy bike. The rear wheel's bearings seem not to have beared up to the stress of my weight on the saddle. In addition, the ratchet system for the rear cogs seems to be seized - the cogs want to continue going forwards, all the time, so you can't backpedal or even hold the pedals motionless while moving without the chain going saggy and then requiring some pedalling back into alignment... it's a bit weird. I had worried that this was caused by a lack of oiling of the chain (which had gone rusty for a bit). However, I've done a fair bit of strategic oiling and I've come to the conclusion that it's more likely to be a result of the bearings and other stuff coming out of alignment.

So, hopefully the nice people at the bike shop will sort this stuff out. Unlike a car which has the potential to cost hundreds, I can't see how this bill can be too outrageous - my last car service cost over half the value of the bike, so I'm price conditioned to feel happy paying good money for transport. Some of the stuff that's wrong should be fixable under warranty. I guess I'll be reporting back on this one soon.

The Beach Boys and their Pet Sounds album saw me into work this morning and, despite having had virtually, no sleep (owing to being very very cold in the night and not being able to settle at all), the cycle ride invigorated and refreshed me. I am a bit droopy of the eye. I should imagine that I would be terrible for keeping awake in a dull room. Say an exam room. Particularly if the exam was about something dull, like a discussion about the reasons not to do IVF treatment (bear with me on this one). If I had to do that now, I'd need the offer to include a cold shower... thus reviving me... thus it would be an invitation for an invigoration before invigilating the in vitro fertilisation inversion exam. I really need to get a girlfriend.

Friday night
After the exhilaration of setting up a Newcastle show and then booking airline tickets, Friday surely couldn't have gone uphill in the evening? Well, actually it went pretty well. I went to a rehearsal for South Pacific - first one of the year. Where Guys and Dolls rehearsals are about setting wee bits and running long sections, this rehearsal was still very much in the planning stages (in fairness, the show is 2 weeks earlier in its development) and people still had scripts. Somehow I'd managed to luck out and turn up for the rehearsal where they set a couple of big chorus numbers. I discovered that I still have a few lines in "There is nothing like a dame", including the bass solo. I'm happy. We also managed to make the song look pretty good in the short session we had setting it. Compared with the totally didactic setting I've received from some directors, the inductive setting works in a suprisingly effective way. I enjoyed the rehearsal.

Lest we should get too tired rehearsing, the proceedings were ended at 9.30pm, meaning that I got the chance to turn up at the gig down the road.

Funny Bones
Funny Bones is the name of the promotion company that organises the gig at The Cornerhouse in Heaton. It's a good name. Comedy is about moments of hilarity. You can't just expect them to happen. The audience have to be taken to the right mood for laughter. As a performer, it's not just about saying or doing funny things, it's about being funny while you're up there. In other words, you need to have a funny script AND funny bones.

Having said that, it helps if the audience are in the right mood, though if they're not, the job is to put them in the right mood. On Friday night, the audience were in a great frame of mind... this was a bit weird. I'll explain. First, though, let me set the scene. I arrived in the pub at about 10pm. The second section (often known as the easy-middle-section) was coming to a close and a scottish comedian, who is also a friend of mine, was on the stage. I didn't know he was playing - I guess we're not really close friends, though we've gone through enough gigs together to have a mutual respect. So, my initial reaction was surprise to see a friend on the stage... this surprise was coupled with amazement at how full the gig was. The gig is a popular one, but this was its first show of the year and, thus, likely to be a bit undersold (as people forgot exactly when it was etc). No. This place was full. That's great and the atmosphere was electric. This is what made it a bit weird.

The act on the stage is very funny and the other comedians (and there were loads of people from "The Business" kicking about and that also contributed to my sense of wonder about what I was watching) were whispering bits of his set to each other in the hushed tones of awe reserved for well written material. So, I can't take away from the performance the fellow was giving. What was odd, though, was the audience's reaction. It was like they were going through a religious experience of comedy, rather than just having a good laugh. These guys were acting like a group of people you might hire to be extras for a TV show where you showed a mocked-up comedy night and had them laugh in the right places. They seemed to be really going over the top on every laugh. The act surfed them like a pro, but I've never seen an audience react this way to his stuff.

This could look like I'm doing an act down, which I'm most certainly not. The headline act got a similar worshipping (similar, but more intense) and the rest of the night had gone well too. This was an audience who wanted to have a good time and did. Brilliant. It was still a bit odd. Perhaps it was made more odd by the fact that I came in after a busy day doing other things and hadn't been warmed up alongside the audience.

The headliner, Duncan Oakley, is a lovely guy and really made the audience laugh. Their mood was very receptive, though not quite right for getting the most out of the guy. During his encore, they clapped along with one of his songs and gave him a massive cheer at the end... sadly they'd not heard a word he'd sang during the song, as they were clapping along so hard! Very silly. Still, the atmosphere was great. So, it was worth going along.

I went home and tried to get some sleep, as I was gigging the following day in Scotland.

A day out
I'd arranged to meet a friend of mine at between 10 and 10.30 in the morning in order to include her in the day's trip to Edinburgh and beyond. I think that making a full day trip out of a gig is a very good thing to do - if one's going to hop around the place for gigs, you may as well take time to enjoy the scenery.

Sadly, the scenery enjoyment was somewhat diminished by my running late. Only a bit late, though. We had a leisurely drive up the A1, followed by a wander around Edinburgh, its shops and streets. During this wandering, I managed to buy some cheap bagpipes from a shop called "Thistle do nicely" - I know... it's a crap name for a shop, and fellow comedian Keir McAllister would be proud of me for shopping there - or disgusted (he mentions the shop in his act). I also bought a DVD and an hilarious burberry-tie which will be in the stand-up act from here on in.

We met up with some Edinburgh-based friends of mine for a late lunch and then things got a bit confused as my passenger went for a bit of shopping while I hung out with the Edinburgh folks... then we nearly didn't collect everyone back together in time to go to the gig... but we just made it. Despite my leaving Edinburgh city centre in slightly the wrong direction (I headed at the 9 o'clock, rather than 10 o'clock angle if that makes sense), we got to the gig without much confusion, my familiarity with Glenrothes itself meaning that I drove us straight there. It never ceases to amaze me that my knowledge of this country's geography is, in general, very poor, yet I still know small locales of totally random places that most people haven't heard of.

The gig
The gig itself went very very well. However, it started quite badly. I didn't mention that I got to bed on Friday night quite late because I chose to rehearse my stand-up. I'm mentioning it now. I rarely rehearse the stand-up as a whole, having a wee practice of new bits when I write them. However, given that I hadn't gigged in about 5 weeks, I thought I ought to go through everything. I was going to do a long-ish set and mix old and new material. I had pretty much crammed my plan into my head and just needed to write out the running order a couple of times to cement it. This whole thing was thrown into chaos the moment I arrived at the gig.

I had two passengers by the time we got to the gig. One of them - C - was the Newcastle contingent, another - L - was the Edinburgh friend. We also had a third person - E - on their way to meet us, travelling separately. With these people to organise complimentary tickets for, I was already a bit worried about getting the special "me time" to sort out my head for the forthcoming performance. In addition, I needed to soundcheck the guitar and prepare the sound man for the CD-backing-track thing I wa planning to do. Basically, I'd been really calm about this gig... but that was about to change.

When I was originally booked, it was as MC/gig manager. The organiser wasn't going to be able to turn up in person, so I was going to be his locum (not locust... actually the word locum probably doesn't work here). Anyway, that changed. I was swapped to the opening 20-25 minute bit. That was what I had prepared for. When I arrived, though, I was told that I was now MCing. Given that I'd rather intended to try out some new material, sandwiched between some of the tried and tested stuff, in a continuous block of entertainment, this change of plan put me on the spot. I needed a poo.

The soundcheck, guitar tuning and CD stuff was simple, but my heart rate was up and I was nervous. The needing of a poo was a genuine physical thing, not a nervous thing, but it facilitated a session with my notepad. I always think best when I'm sitting on the toilet. Some of my best material has been written there. That's why my act is shit (boom tish). Anyway, I managed to work some stuff out (boom tish again) on the loo and got my head together for the gig. The problem with MCing is that you have to have control of the audience - or a mutual respect with them... well, some sort of functional relationship with them for the course of the whole night. I was linking together 5 acts in 3 sections and the pressure was extra on since there was a larger-than-normal-audience, some of whom were a bit older, and the promoter wanted to be certain that this gig would lead to repeat business.

We put on a good show in total. I was pleased with a lot of things that happened. I had a good time, and while I'm enjoying it, the audience frequently come along. Some of the new bits worked pretty well out of the box. Sadly, the bit which I was most excited about bringing out, totally died on its arse. It was a real dead duck. I have a few ideas about why and I'm going to try it again, but it nearly silenced the room first time around. Yikes! And this is the routine for which I've been making backing tracks and doing intensive rehearsals. It will work, I think. It just needs me to be funnier and look more comfortable in the genre. I've not done anything like this before and it's starting to be apparent that I'll have to play with it to discover how to do it.

Despite the early disappointment of that routine failing, I had warmed the audience up sufficiently and they stayed very warm throughout. They were, quite simply, a good crowd. I often think that if a night goes well, it's down to the crowd and if it goes badly, then it's down to the performers. This gig is one of those good gigs. To make it even better, there is a table of regulars, they're students and they always sit in the front centre... and like being used as comedy foils. I wish I'd bantered more with them and the rest of the crowd since some of my better moments were when we were riffing.

I like stand-up and I'm looking forward to getting back into it when all the musicals and other things are complete. I showed how rusty I was at that gig, but I haven't "lost it". So, it gave me some confidence too. The fact that I enjoyed it and got to work with some people I love working with... that was the icing on the cake.

Going home
Well, I went home, via the flat where I used to live, which is where my passenger now lives. She doesn't live in the exact flat I lived in during my first year at university - that would be weird. No, she lives in the one that is one number higher (it's not next door, because it's on the floor above).

Arriving home late at night, what did I do? I played online Scrabble of course. What else would you do? I didn't get to bed until very late. Such is my life.

Sunday
I slept in very late. Went to a rehearsal, did a bit of shopping and then messed around on the computer. I've been messing around on the computer for hours now. I've played some Scrabble. Tried to tame my MP3 player some more. Did some accounts. Chatted on instant messenger. Basically, I've watched the few waking hours I did get after a lunchtime rise out of bed, go down the toilet. It's been superb.

Friday, January 21

What an eventful day. First I set up a show and now I've planned a trip to New York. Whatever next?

The Show!
It's time to start bleating on about The Musical! again. I know I'll start to sound like a scratched record, but it's my responsibility to get things sorted out. Between May and August of last year, all I could reasonably think about was bums on seats and wires. The thoughts are returning to my head. It's all about filling the auditorium and making sure that the show is technically feasible and able to go ahead. In the 27 shows we did last year, very few serious technical glitches occurred - even when the lighting rack died, we were able to get on with the show in London. There's no room for complacency now, though. So I'll worry about these things if I may.

I have paid the deposit for Newcastle Arts Centre and I have had tickets beautifully printed and chopped up, so I'm back in business for the Newcastle show. Mail tickets@the-musical.co.uk if you want some - £6 face value, £5 to Incredible readers.

I write the songs...
I've commented before on the responsibility of writing a song. Songs are designed to get imprinted in someone's mind. Tunes, especially repetitive ones, are intended to lock with the lyrics and make the song memorable. Lyrics are often intended to rhyme - the value of a rhyme being something else that I've harped on about on this site. Rhymes serve two purposes. Firstly, they are an aide memoire - if you know one line of the verse, you have a sound-alike to help you link across to the second line. Rhymes were used by the ancient storytellers to help them remember huge tales. The second purpose of a rhyme (and now we're into my opinion about what makes lyric-writing quite magical) is to act a bit like a pun does in comedy. Rhyming is clearly wordplay, and wordplay does a funny thing to our heads (it's got me playing scrabble in the middle of the night). If two words are linked in some way, then the brain tries to link the concepts too. This can sometimes lead to a surprise. The surprise in comedy, from a pun, creates a laugh as the brain rejects the nonsensical idea that the concepts are linked. In rhyming lyrics, the wordplay can create delight as the brain tries to keep up with the way the words sit together and still make sense, or it can create emphasis of the idea you are trying to convey. I will cite an example of both of these in some lyrics I've written for a new project I've been pecking at:

So gents please don't delay
bring out your dead today


There's alliteration, there's rhyming and there are probably a few too many "s"es. The net result is something which makes the point and does it in a way which affects the listener. This is why writing songs is a bigger responsibility than it might, at first, seem.

Over Christmas, working in a homeless shelter, there was a rather touching moment which resonated with this idea of songwriting. We had the radio on late into the night, which was a good idea as it provided a comforting backdrop to the nocturnal activities in the place, and was not a good idea since people could use it as an opportunity to wind each other up by playing with the volume. By far the biggest risk of having a radio on was that you had no idea what songs they were going to play. They played Lemar a bit, inspiring me to go out and buy his album (all for one song) which is in a style I would not normally touch, but that's not the story I'm aiming to tell here. At some point, the radio DJ decided, around Christmas time, to play the Beatles song "Yesterday". One of the guys started repeating something over and over - he was saying "Lennon and McCartney" - he wanted us to know that he knew the song was a Beatles song. I acknowledged this, refusing my urge to suggest that, to the best of my knowledge, the song was actually written by Paul McCartney alone. In fact, I believe he heard the tune in a dream... dreams like that I wouldn't mind - it's possibly one of the most recorded songs ever written. Anyway, the guy was agitated enough and I didn't want to interfere with him. He was captivated while the song was playing and then, when it finished playing. Sitting alone, he sang the whole song through again. With passion. With more passion than I have ever heard that song sung. I suppose that a song of how things were better at some previous time makes a lot of sense to the disenfranchised folks that find themselves in a homeless shelter over Christmas. It was quite touching. I realised that whichever of Lennon, McCartney or Lennon and McCartney had actually penned the song, they'd managed to sum up something which meant a lot to someone. That is one hell of a privilege and responsibility when you set out to write a song. It's not just about craftsmanship and pedantically perfect rhymes.

So, for every clunky phrase, or placeholder line, that's a commitment into the memories of the people who singalong with the song. For every magical lick of the pen, though, there is the opportunity to give people a gift. It's both flattering and worrying when people tell me that they know some of my songs. They could be the songs from The Musical! or ones I've done in stand-up, either way it's a surprise. Sometimes I change the words of the stand-up songs to make them more effective, hoping that nobody remembers the bad previous incarnations. Sometimes I hear someone sing one of my songs back at me and, for every inaccuracy in their repetition, it's an indication that I didn't write a totally memorable bit of the lyric... of course for every bit that comes back intact, I've created something. I'll state for the record that I've not created anything even close to the meaning behind "Yesterday", but I have, apparently, planted some tunes and words into people's heads and have even heard talk of flatmates ceremonially lighting their lighters while listening to the slow number. Aaaah

Thursday, January 20

...is my life
While I'm currently having a stab at becoming the owner of an ebay sales empire (I sold a couple of excess CDs), I'm also still using the service to buy things that I consider either cheaper or easier to source via the online auction. The upshot of this is that I'm buying second hand goods from amateur entrepreneurs across the world. I recently dealt with a seller called MetalIsMyLife. Given that it appears that "musicals are my life", it's only fitting that I should by a musical from such a zealously named guy. The musical I bought was Titanic which is a proposed show for a society I'm involved with - it would be months and months away, but I've not heard the score, so I thought I'd do some research.

I was impressed that the U.S. based seller had only sent me the inlay, booklet and CD for this purchase, thus minimising shipping costs of the CD Jewel case. I was impressed, that is, until the disc proved to be cleanly snapped in half during its shipping. It won't play. I was devastated in much the same way that a small child might be on Christmas day when he opens a box to find a new puppy... and then finds that it's dead.

It's only a CD and a cheap one at that. Replacements can be sought.

I continue to consider musicals my life. I rehearsed for Guys and Dolls tonight, which was fun. I've nearly got all the tap moves now. I can't do them at the speed that we're performing the routine, but I could demonstrate each one slowly in isolation if asked. That's a start, I suppose.

I often wondered what happens to the songs that don't make it into musicals. Our first attempt at writing a show - The Time Machine from my collaborator and I - needs a bit of a rewrite. In some of the rewrite, we're probably advised to drop some songs and put some new ones in their place. In The Musical! there were two songs that didn't make it into the final cut. Those songs were dropped because we didn't like them, we couldn't pull them off live and they caused the show to drag on. For similar reasons, probably, the score of Little Shop of Horrors (still high up among the paint cards as my candidate for favourite musical) originally had a few more songs than made it to the stage (considerably more than made it to the film, which had fewer songs in it - right?). What happened to these songs? Well, they were once recorded as demo versions by composer Alan Menken. Then they were packaged on the CD of the Broadway Cast that I saw perform the show nearly a year ago. Of all the aspects of this recording, the extra songs is my most cherished. I can sing you the songs that got away. I sometimes get a catchy tune going round my head from something that was cut from the show.

It doesn't necessarily follow that the songs were cut because they were no good. Perhaps they were good, but not right for the scene, or perhaps they wanted to change the style of the music and the words didn't come with. Or perhaps they had too many songs. It looks to me like some of these songs would simply slow down the pace of the narrative if included. So the songs were dropped... or were they? I've listened to the Little Shop of Horrors soundtrack countless times and only recently have I noticed a couple of sneaky one-liners that hint at the missing songs. In the scene where Seymour allows the dentist to asphyxiate on his own laughing gas, there's a tiny instrumental break before the dentist's first line. This instrumental break is a two bar reprise of the first line of a song called "I found a hobby", which basically expresses the dentist's love of causing things pain. Perhaps this song was to go alongside the main song of the dentist, or maybe it was replaced. Either way, there's a little of its soul left in the show. Similarly, at the end of the finale number - "Don't feed the plants" - Seymour and Audrey sing the worlds "We'll have tomorrow" before the final line of the song. There was also a song called "We'll have tomorrow" in the show at some point, though I can't work out exactly where it happens in the action.

This is, of course, of no great significance. However, writing about it has helped me put these observations behind me. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, January 19

Time to post
Now I appear to have time to post, but not all that much to say. The irony. It's like rain on your wedding day isn't it? (Don't even think about starting that argument Steve!)

Anyway, since last I posted, I've done very little of note, but somehow I'll find something to say about it all. Let's see...

Sleeping
The sleeping wasn't all that notable, but there was a curious incident around about getting up time. I had to be up earlier than normal since we had an early meeting in the office. It was undoubtedly a combination of my anxiety to awaken and the morning news on my alarm clock which caused me to have a really odd dream. Here's the bit I remember...

I'd decided to go to witness the Iraqui elections, which were being held in a big white tent on the Iraq-German border. I'd flown for a couple of hours on an economy airline - it had been a whim of mine and I wasn't certain that I'd be allowed in to see the elections, not having a visa for Iraq and landing in Germany (near the apparently logical Iraq-Germany border); it was up to the passport control at the border to decide whether I'd be allowed in. They asked the guy in front of me the purpose of his visit and he was rejected. Then it was my turn. I knew, as I realised that my passport was still in my bag and I'd have to search for it, thus slowing the queue down, that things didn't look good for me. The passport guy asked me for the purpose of my visit - I indicated the white tent just across the border where I was going and he said something which I knew meant "no, you can't go across". I insisted that he answer me again with a straight yes or no to the question of whether I'd be allowed across the border. The answer was no. I was gutted. I was tired. My whim had turned to nothing. The expense and the drain of a flight for nothing. I was plotting a way to have another go at the border control - perhaps with a different guard - maybe they hadn't recorded my passport details into their system as a definite no-entry when I asked this guy - when I heard a noise which told me to wake up...

I was early for my meeting so I got some more sleep. I left the house 20 minutes before I was due into the office.

Don't know what the dream means. I think it means that I was asleep.

Travelling into work
To cycle into town takes less than 15 minutes and I cannot go any faster than 28 miles per hour on that particular journey. I wouldn't bother. The car, on the other hand, easily reaches 80 miles per hour. So leaving 20 minutes to get to the office didn't seem a bad move. However, I'm accustomed to the traffic of 9.50am, not that of 8am. I was, therefore, rather peeved to find myself obstructed by the selfish morning-lings who insisted on blocking what is otherwise a lovely drive into town.

I had taken the car to give my legs a rest. My legs, shins especially, and also my hips were aching a bit from the combination of pedalling and tap dancing that has become my life at the moment. I think a day off has helped.

Office working
We had a frustrating day of work today. I say "we" because I worked in pairs with other members of my team. I say frustrating, but in truth it was possibly one of the more enjoyable days. The frustration was more the confusion associated with the tasks in hand, rather than being prevented from achieving them. Sure the code we're working on is a bit awkward, but the challenge is what we're paid to meet and is also what makes the fight worth the fighting. I'm worried about the possible knock-on effects of what I've been working on. It rapidly grew beyond reasonable proportions, but I've done a lot of checking and... well, it doesn't really matter... what matters is that I got absorbed by a problem at work and enjoyed myself. That's not bad.

I also found time to go into town for coffee.

Rehearsing
Cancelled. I only had a small part to play in tonight's rehearsal and it was decided that I wasn't needed, nor did I need the extra rehearsing. So I got a night off. I immediately attempted to seek other activities for the night:
  • A rehearsal for the other show
  • A drink with a friend
  • A comedy gig to go to watch
Nothing came up. So I went home. I've spent the evening in my own company recharging the batteries.

Not quite my own company
Ok. I did have a game of online scrabble and I may have even gotten myself a rating. I think I beat a rated player, which means that I get rated. Not sure. I achieved my own personal best score of 365, which was probably a fluke. The other guy only got 149...

Now I'm rested and relaxed. Maybe I'll play a bit more scrabble.

A pause
Not applause. A pause. I've been hearing a bit of applause recently, but that's been faked for the purposes of practicing the bows at the end of Guys and Dolls. Many apologies for the lack of update. It has been a busy time and some of what has constituted the busy-ness may well have made for an interesting read had I rendered it in the form of a diary at the time. It may still make for an interesting read if I get beyond this first paragraph and start writing about it. The point is that my activities have been so exhausting that I've not managed to get to writing about them... and I've discovered internet scrabble... and that I'm not really very good at it. In fact today's post will have a definite theme, and that theme is mediocrity. I realise that this theme is sometimes the subject of words by a certain Richard Herring, whose website I read regularly. However, just because he's got issues with his mediocrity, it doesn't mean that I'm any less mediocre or in need of sharing my thoughts on my life. I've said it before (whether on here or not I can't remember) and I'll say it again. Were I to write an autobiography, it would be entitled "Living With Mediocrity". It doesn't sound very good. Equally, it doesn't sound too bad. It just sounds mediocre. D'oh! I don't think I'll write it (yet). I had toyed with the idea of writing a book about our experiences (essentially MY experiences) with The Musical! - I would have called that "Writing 'The Musical!'". Maybe one day I will. It's a story of a dream come true. Talking of which, we're staging the show again in March - Newcastle, Glasgow and maybe Manchester. Check out www.the-musical.co.uk

Anyways. Back to the last week or so's activities.

Re-hoy-sal

It's been a big bag of rehearsals (or as one of my correspondents puts it - rehearsles). At the moment it's 6 days a week. Sunday - Friday. Given that I did something else related to Guys and Dolls this Saturday just gone and will be rehearsing uninterrupted until Friday, that will make 13 consecutive days that I've been doing something related to this show. For some reason, this connects in my mind with the predicament of a couple of the guys in the office where I work. For reasons best known to themselves, three of my work colleagues appear to have chosen pretty much the same weekend to knock their other halves up so that they are "with child". All these three couples have been expecting a baby at the same time. One of the wee little blighters is out. The other two ladies are getting larger with no current sign of birthing. I think I feel the same way as these doting fathers to be feel about their offspring. I've been living with the increasing burden of the show for months and it feels like it's long overdue to get it out there. In fairness, I have been rehearsing since September, so it's been a long gestation period. With 19 rehearsals of the show this month (in total, not done that many so far), we'll be long prepared if not well prepared when the first night comes.

Rehearsals have been varied. Some have been purely tap-dance based. Others have been the scenes with dialogue in. We've done rehearsals of just the big production numbers. Tonight we managed to do nearly every scene that my character appears in. It seems that it's not all that many. I know that it's not quantity, but quality that counts, and I'm enjoying breathing life into the ridiculous character that is Big Jule, but I've almost reduced my role in the show by going for a principal character. I'm not in a couple of the big chorus numbers, so I only sing in a couple of songs... but hopefully I'll get a chance to make a few good laughs on the night. I can get a laugh or two (from the onlookers in the rehearsal room) from some of the lines. My favourite line is "I'm really sorry" - if I can make that into a laugh then I've cracked it. So far so good. It reminds me of one of the things I used to do when I first brought the guitar into my act. I used to make laughter out of a song that wasn't in the least bit funny. It taught me how to "be funny", rather than to think of funny things to say.

Talking of "being funny". I've become aware that my antics are being observed during our full-cast tap routine for the end of the show. Last night's rehearsal put me in a more exposed position (our line was at the front - normally, we're 5th back of the 6). I decided to distract the onlookers from the mess going on below the level of my neck by adopted a cheesy grin. As I've explained to my colleagues in Durham's Musical Theatre Company. Dancing - it's all in the eyes. If you look confident and happy then it's working... even if it ain't. On the up side, I have mastered tapping the ground with my foot as I hop along it or whatever. I'm surely nearly there?

Friday's rehearsal was for the production number - "Sit Down You're Rockin' The Boat". This number is sung by Nicely Nicely Johnson - a part I auditioned for. The guy playing Nicely wasn't present. We did the dialogue before the song without him and then the pianist starting playing the tune that he would have sung. The director realised that the crowd weren't going to react to words they couldn't hear. I watched him go through his options as a second or two ticked by. He started mouthing the words, I almost thought I saw him about to speak them or sing them out loud. This is not a man who I would ever expect to perform in public. He's excellent at working a crowd, giving a speech or teaching/training/disciplining, but I don't think he's an eye on being the centre of attention. He decided that he didn't want to show off his singing voice to the group and so quickly prompted me to step in. It was a bit like the scene in Phantom of the Opera when the soprano bows out and they need someone to sing the song - a voice pipes up (it's Madame Giry's daughter, played well in the movie by Jennifer Ellison) - "Christine can sing it". So, the voice popped up on Friday night - "Ashley can sing the part" and I was quickly drafted. Like every good Hollywood movie where the chorus girl is promoted to leading lady, I got the hang of it pretty quickly. I had learned the song for the audition, but read the words from the script, having forgotten many of them in the intervening months.

At the end of the song, there's a very long note and it's quite high for a Bass/Baritone to sing. It's not the highest note in the song, but it's high and long. I didn't need to sing it, given that I was only acting as a session singer to keep time and it's the last note, so the chorus were reacting to the accompaniment, not the note... but I gave it my all every time. As I said when I didn't get the part at audition. For the short performance during the audition, I had the role I wanted. Likewise in that rehearsal, understudying someone who is much more experienced and fits the role very well, I had the part. I made the most of it. But it's only acting... it doesn't count for much.

People came up to me afterwards to commend me on filling in capably. I stopped short of thanking them, pointing out that - "my performance may have been whatever you said it was, but it wasn't good enough to get the role" - though I said that without rancour and in good humour. I'm not good at taking compliments and I'm ever keen to put my achievements, or lack of, into some sort of perspective. For every person telling me that I'm great, there's something reminding me that I'm not. It's depressing. Some people would choose not to notice. Some people would not be able to notice. I know how to keep optimistic - it's what I do - but I dare not lose what perspective I have. This is where we come back to my mediocrity.

Living with Mediocrity
Oh dear. We're onto this subject again. I have a bit of a problem with my lot in life. I think I was brought up, through a combination of schooling, parenting and my own fantasies, to believe that I was in some way special. Outstanding. Remarkable. The best. I'm certainly not the best. That's fair enough, though someone has to be the best and it always seems a goal worth achieving, but it's not something I can even slightly lay a claim to. It's frustrating. I look at the myriad things that I do, and I would love to be truly declared a polymath, in that I take a great interest in such a variety of things, from writing to music, to performing (singing, acting, comedY) to computers, electrical things, mechanical things, physical, abstract... I consider myself a bit of an all-rounder... and I'm certainly all round (that particular weight-problem gag was first used by me at a student conference in 1995 - I thank you). Yet, for every thing that I try to do, before I've even gone a few steps, I can see a massive bundle of people in front of me, whom I'll never equal, let alone beat in a competition for being the best. Not that one should only do something to be the best, but I want to believe that I could be inately smashing at something.

I'm not saying that I think I'm rubbish. I do a great deal of things I really enjoy and I think I do a few of them reasonably capably, or at least competent enough to stop at the border where I would show my inability if I crossed it. I played piano on stage several times during the Edinburgh Festival and nobody clocked that I was playing a remarkably simplistic arrangement - if you look good at what little you can do, people want to believe you could do everything else. There are people who are very nice to me and tell me things I want to believe about myself. "Oh, you were good at this." - "Oh, I liked that." - "You're a lovely guy." etc etc... except, I don't just want to believe that I'm ok, I want to believe I'm outstanding. I want to think that I'm the funniest, the best, the loveliest, the best lover (despite my singing songs to suggest the opposite), in short, a must-have man... I guess I just want to be loved. Put as plainly as that it reads pretty pathetically. "Oh but you are loved..." might be the first reaction of some, or "don't be such a pansy" may say others. I know that there are people out there who actually hate me. For one reason or another, I can inspire utter bile in some specific people - you only have to look in the right places on the internet (try the comedy forums) to see that. There are also people who are very nice to me and see me as I try to portray myself - a likeable self-deprecating good guy. I suppose these people balance each other out. For everyone who comes up to me unprompted in a bar and tells me that "I just want to tell you that you're lovely." - it happened (albeit only once and I was so gobsmacked, that I didn't know what to do, so thanked the person graciously and got the hell out of there) - there's someone looking for a way to put me down. I think I'm big enough and bad enough to let both reactions slide off me like liquid off a ducks behind. Either way, it's not important. My biggest fear is of accepting my mediocrity and living up to it. I have to push myself, or I will become useless.

Yet I can't see myself rising above the line of mediocrity. In some ways, I think that life and art mirror each other well. I'm the guy who took the musical of writing a musical, in fact the exact musical that was being written about itself, to Edinburgh having written and rehearsed it in the room in which it was set and which was lovingly recreated on a set in that very room for rehearsals. It just got weird after that. So, yeah. Life and art mirror each other. Let's say that my life is a musical. I can't really audition for the role of the romantic lead. He's good looking, graceful and elegant - I'm just not hideous and a disgraceful elephant. I can't audition for the role of the fast talking wheeler-dealer - I don't work hard enough and I'm not especially streetwise. I can't go for the comic lead - there's someone else ahead of me to take that role instead. I'm a bit part player. A bit of this and a bit of that. For everyone complimenting me on the performance I give in my bit part role, there's a memory that I failed the audition for something more challenging. If the expectation is lower then you appear to be better. That's why I can get away with playing guitar on the stand-up stage, where I might be laughed out of an acoustic night. My basic playing in the lower echelons is good enough to jump over people's expectations.

This general sense of dissatisfaction is not getting me down a great deal at the moment, though I suppose it's keeping me from being on a massive high. I like what I'm up to at the moment. I'm very busy and I'm getting on with things more. The year is going well so far. I suppose that I'm still dissatisfied with the solitude I have to live with, and I can't see myself having the opportunity to find a special someone to break that solitude in the near future. Having once been engaged and then seen that relationship end over someone else, I realise that I'm seeing myself as something of a failure in the romance department - I went for the romantic lead and failed the audition. Plus I'm quite uncompromising when it comes to romance. The leading lady has got to be really special. It would be a pretty weird cast, though, where the leading lady was stupendous and the leading man was mediocre... grrr... I may not be going through a depression at the moment, but I've been a little more optimistic about things before now.


There are some words of comfort. Something an old friend of mine said to me a while ago. He said I needn't necessarily be the best at any of the individual disciplines I do, but how many people could do that mix of different things? In other words, I'm the best at being me. Given that we're all individuals and unique, perhaps the competitive instinct to be the best is misleading. We are charged with being the best we can be at being ourselves. I want to be the best version of Ashley I can be. So, okay. I have had my failures in the past, but who I am now is possibly the pinnacle of Ashley-ness that there has ever been. I'm driven to fulfil the character that I naturally have (these theatrical metaphors are starting to get out of hand) and I shall continue to turn my thoughts into reality to achieve that. Hopefully, there'll be fun doing it. If the company I work for does well (with my help) there may even be a cash reward. If the performances I give go well, then there will be applause or laughter - an indication of people made happy with my help. That's not a bad aim and if I can do that from my position between "the pits" and "the best" then I should be thankful I've had the opportunity.

There is one thing I'm really good at. Putting on weight. I put on tons after Edinburgh in only a short space of time. If ever there was an occasion where Britain's survival depended on the most rapidly weight-gaining people, like some sort of fat olympics, then I would step forward with the words - "Pamela, hand me my dessert spoon - this one's for Britain!" (I don't know who Pamela is, except that she controls my dessert spoon in this weird fantasy).

Anyway, enough naval gazing. The weight's come off a bit (not enough) and there are other things to write about.

Homewrecking
As well as going for a costume fitting in Leeds on Saturday (and to be perfectly honest I was disgusted at my measurements!), I also went along to the newly bought house of a friend of mine. We spent the day wallpaper stripping. In truth, this got pretty extreme. We realised that a wall with the paper on it, was hollow, so decided to bust through it to see what was behind. This involved lots of grappling and rubble. It got hairy. We did manage to reclaim at least an extra inch's width in the room.

In addition, after a discussion about extending the kitchen into the utility room, we arbitrarily decided to rip down the brick wall dividing the two rooms. By hand. Well, we had a chisel and a hammer and masks... and a crow bar. The last section of the wall was pushed over by a pair of us. It was also videoed. It was very funny to watch... that and the wrecking of the plasterboard wall upstairs.

Other wallpaper was also stripped. I think I worked for about 11 hours of the 12 hour period we were in the house. Maybe some of that working was discussion. Then we went for a curry, having already taken a smashing lunch, mid-afternoon. The masks didn't prevent "the black snot", which took a couple of days to stop after the event. The entirety of the day was punctuated by silly songs and attempts at comedy from me (working with friends is a great way to get ideas for material and there's one thing I'm keen to try out on stage from the stuff I came out with), and also a huge amount of Yiddish vocabulary from one of the other guys. He's recently discovered that his maternal line is a Jewish one and that some phrases he never quite understood from his grandmother were in fact Yiddish. This has led him to seek out a Yiddish glossary online and he's now throwing Yiddish words and phrases into the conversation and insisting that his friends learn words too... just "for the lads" as it were. The video of us pushing over a brick wall in a kitchen and then standing on its remains, job done, is completed by him grabbing my hand, shaking it and declaring - "Rachmanos" - respect. It's funny.

Biking
If being a builder's mate and a tap-dancer isn't enough (I can now do the tap-step, tap-step, tap-spring-tap-spring-tap-spring-tap-spring-tap-spring toe-hop) I'm also using the bike still. I think I've racked up 230ish miles since I got a bike, which is virtually Edinburgh and back. I've not been to Edinburgh and back on it. I have, however, been cycling to work. The bike is now due its one month service and it looks like it needs it. Rust developed on the chain. Oiling it has brought that under control, but it's not a happy gearing system and I really haven't the time to play with it. Not that I want to play with it. I like tinkering with mechanical and electrical things, but not if I don't have to. If I have an expert to just do it, then they should.

The big achievement of the last couple of days is that I tackled Westgate Hill - a hill I once laughed at the prospect of tackling (long before I set eyes on Highgate Hill) - without dropping to my lowest gear. I was on my second lowest gear. That's still some sort of achievement. Maybe when the bike has been sorted there will be less friction from the chain and gears and I may be able to do it in 3rd!

Gig of the month
I'm looking forward to my only stand-up gig of this month. I'm playing Rothes Halls in Glenrothes. I enjoyed this gig the last time I played it - it was superb and I MCed it. I have also played this gig on its opening night (albeit to 6 people). I'm going to regale them with some of the newer (some of it so new it hasn't ever been performed) stuff and see how they take to it. I'm tempted to bust into a tap-dance... it might have comic potential. How many other comedians wear tap-shoes (other than FO)?

Why does it have to be so complex?
A final thought before I put this overblown post to bed. I went to help my next-door-neighbour with his new video. This is the next-door neighbour who sorts out my alarm when I'm away and it goes off. These folks also pay the window cleaner for me (though I try to pay them a payment in advance, I usually end up a couple in arrears) and don't chase me for the money. These are the folks whom I've not really said two words to in the last 6 months or so since I've been so self-absorbed and busy. They're good people and even though the lady of the house saw fit to update me on the news from my now non-communicative ex-fiancee (we said we'd remain friends, but I guess we got to the stage beyond that - people who don't communicate at all because they can't see any reason to - though attendance of my show in Edinburgh would have been nice...) yes, even though I got an update on the person who shall remain nameless, which rather played on my mind for no good reason, I was still very keen to help out with the setup of the video. I think the fact that I had a couple of hours of potato baking to do on Sunday evening after my rehearsal and before bedtime, gave me a window of time in which the video player and being neighbourly in return for services received became the highest priority.

The video was in fact a DVD recorder. The problem was that this machine was quite tricky to use if you're not accustomed to playing with computer interfaces. In addition, it didn't seem to be playing on the usual video channel (or indeed any channel I could tune the TV into). It was, however, working lovely if you watched it through the scart lead. I had to explain to the householder how to turn the TV onto AV channel 2, which is where the video was outputting its signal. All the other aspects of the machine he'd be able to master if he followed the potted instructions he had written down about how to navigate through the on screen user interface. So, getting the video onto the screen was his only concern. He simply wanted to press channel 8 on his TV remote control. But he couldn't. This made no sense to him and I started to see why. Why should there be a different way of choosing your channel if the device you want to watch is plugged into a different wire? What difference should it make. Surely the numbers for the channels are just convenient symbols to help you choose between them. If I want my TV to come onto channel 1 when it's off, I just press 1. If I want it to come on to channel 2, I press 2. However, I end up having to go through a whole series of buttons to get my channels. This is partly because I watch all TV through the cable box, but also complicated by the fact that my DVD player and cable box are both plugged in through scart. So, I have to turn the TV on by pressing a number (albeit for a channel I know I don't want to watch) then press the TV/AV button to go to the scart circuits, then press either red or green for DVD or Cable. Then on the cable box I have to choose the channel I want. This is a faff on. At least the TV makers should allow the AV channels to drop behind the regular channel buttons. That might simplify things a bit.

The neighbour summed up the problem, as I was doing my best to find the solution, with the words - "Why does have it have to be so complicated?". He's right. The answer is because we're creating solutions to problems that are, in some way, a product of the complexities of the problem, rather than encapsulating those complexities and hiding them from the user. There's no reason why a TV watcher (rather than the person who sets your TV up) needs to care how something is connected. They just need to know which channel they should choose. Equally, computer software users don't really care about how many options there are to make something work, they just want it to work out of the box. I should learn this lesson well... I've got some software to fix tomorrow and it needs to just make sense when I'm done!

That's me for now.

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