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Saturday, April 30

We had two gigs to do on the 30th. This was going to be more of a challenge. This is partly because afternoon gigs are tough work - afternoon audiences, especially composed of people who happen to be drinking in a pub in the afternoon (who would do that?) are going to be harder to reach. It was also going to be tricky as doing two gigs takes a lot more energy than one might expect.

I managed to wake up in time for a shower AND breakfast. I had a chat with "the fourth man" over breakfast and we got to know each other a bit better. He's one of the good guys, which is nice. The combination of the 3 acts on the bill for the tour was proving to be successful. In some ways, I felt a lack of response from each audience, compared to the others, in other ways, I was told to acknowledge that it was my job to warm them up and the later spots were simply reaping the benefits of my work as well as their own. Who knows if that's just baloney? It's nice to want to believe. I never actually felt under threat of losing the crowds all tour, so I guess it's worth believing. No gig went downhill after I took to the stage, so that probably means something too.

After breakfast, there was much shilly shallying and dawdling, but we eventually got to Inverness where the next gig was to be launched at a small but cheerful bunch of afternoon drinkers.

I did a reasonable-sized, but relatively tight set. I had to work to keep the half-empty room interested. But they went for my particular brand of shite and I liked them. There were a few opportunities to play off the crowd and I relished them. Weirdly - this has never happened to me before - I found myself out of breath part way through the set. I had been using only the high-octane material, in an attempt to set fire to the room to warm it through. The physical effort of doing that was a bit more than I'd expected and I had to change my delivery of some of my setups to give me a chance to get my breath back. I came off stage very very tired. I wasn't expecting that to happen. However, they'd laughed and the gig went, on the whole, very well.

Then we headed out to Forres. I have little to say about the place as I didn't see it. We went to a neat venue that is part of a farm. The venue is a converted barn which has a great restaurant in its basement and a beautifully well equipped performance space upstairs. The farmer is a polymath who was just as comfortable running the sound desk (like a dream) as he was running his farm or cooking in his own restaurant. It's nice to work among exceptional people.

We had hoped to get food in the restaurant. I think there was a little misunderstanding when we asked about eating - the owner probably assumed we wanted feeding for free and didn't think he could accommodate us in the restaurant. We were expecting to have to pay and would have happily done so. However, we were sent off to his house with instructions to get his fiancee to cook for us. Okay... we can do that. This lady was not unknown to half of our group, so it wasn't quite awkward... but it still felt a bit like imposing. As the lady of the house busied herself making us something to put in tortillas, we sat, chatted and watched a bit of Lord of the Rings - I have neither read nor seen these movies. Perhaps I should do - it looked worth seeing more of.

After food it was pretty much show time. I went on stage and had a reasonable start - it soon developed into a gig where I felt happy enough to do some of my riskier material - it's riskier because an audience may not get it, rather than because it's offensive. I'm talking about "Fluffy", one of my favourite songs, but one which can kill a room who don't know where the laughter points are. I'm learning how to show them.

I did my new "racists" song again - I'd done it at every gig since writing it, and part of the deal is to learn how to make it work. You have to just trust that you can make these things work, or that you can back announce them in a funny way that keeps a confused audience happy that you're still with them and that you're going to start making sense again. I accidentally threw a few insults at the audience during my in-between bits... and they loved it. They were my bitch and I was their pimp. It was fun.

After my bit, I went outside for air and conversation with the girlfriend. The battery on my phone died before the conversation did. The gig went reasonably well in my absence. Once I've done my bit, I can move on.

For sleep we returned to Inverness. There was late night conversation and we drank our host's beers. He'd left us keys to his flat, so we drank them, albeit at his recommendation, in his absence. They were replaced the following morning. Eventually, we went to bed to sleep, perchance not to wake up with a hangover.

Friday, April 29

I left my lodgings later than planned after early morning coffee brought up more discussion on comedy and comedians. However, the promoter who was driving us to the highlands for this tour was also running late. So I didn't feel so bad.

We had coffee, we looked at an ailing computer and welcomed the third member of our travelling party. We were going on a four man tour, but the fourth man (sounds like we were spies... but we weren't) was travelling separately. A taxi ride to a hire car place and then a hire car ride up north was underway. I sat in the front and started out by listening to my recording of the previous evening. I discovered that the microphone only picked up the loudest of noises, which was great. It would act as a censor for the results of a gig. Only very strong performances and reactions would get into its recordings. This recording method may be the most important critic I'll ever work with.

There was a stop for food along the way... a couple of times, in fact. We made the most of the journey and the scenery and talked about comedy. It was laid back and good company. Eventually, we arrived in Thurso. To give you an idea of how far north Thurso is, consider this - I'd never seen the North Sea from the south before. We were on the flat bit at the top of mainland Britain.

We went and checked out the venue. It was a small studio theatre, which was well equipped and had a nice backstage area. One soundcheck later I had two guitars tuned - mine and the promoters. I couldn't help but laugh when I was told not to tune it as it was "in tune with [his] voice" - it turns out that his voice is pretty much in 440Hz pitch, so I got to tune it anyway.

Part of the payment for this gig included hotel accommodation. The hotel was very nice indeed. We comedians took to our rooms and all had the same thought. Time for a poo. Sorry to go on about pooing. It seems that it has a good effect on my comedy, so it seems relevant. How not to be a shit act - write your material while pooing, so you can get the shit out of your system the right way and leave just the good stuff to go on the page. It might work!

We went back to the venue and I did something I rarely do when gigging. I had a couple of beers before going on. I was later to have quite a few more - another benefit of this gig was a couple of boxes of free beer in the dressing room... well, it would be rude not to. I prepared my recording device for the show to come and did the usual pre-gig bantering with the other acts. I say usual... it's always nice to do a bit of one-upmanship (who can be funniest off stage) with your comedic chums... sometimes material can emerge. Indeed, some material did emerge - a little piece about the Bee Gees and the Count from Sesame Street. I seem to recall making the core of this piece and crafting it into a nice thing to play with. It wasn't really what I wanted to do on stage so I said to the other guy that he could use it. He was MCing, so I expected him to use it in the opening section. It's quite important, when material comes out of a comedy discussion, to assign the rights of ownership. I've written punchlines for a few acts and it gives me a sense of pride when I see them used and getting laughs. Conversely, I'd be quite cross if they stole something funny I said in conversation and passed it off as their own, without checking with me first. It's quite important to note this fact. I know a few bits that I do which are similar in their subject or structure to that of other acts; when I find out that we've co-discovered something, I make sure they other act is cool about it, or drop it. The worst experience I had was with a pro act, who was chatting about something in the newspaper in the green room. I made a joke about it and then watched 20 minutes later as he used it. If he'd said "can I have that?" or if I'd said "you can use that" then it would have been fine. Trust is a part of this.

Anyway, as I stood waiting to go on, the MCing was going up and down and I started to feel cheeky. Perhaps it was the beer and a half I'd drunk, perhaps it was just my cheekiness (something which prevailed over the weekend), but I realised that the MC hadn't done this material we'd agreed he could have. So, I went out to the audience, placed my recording device on the floor, picked up my guitar and did my thing. I had a nice jolly woman heckler. I had a hearty man on the front row who was laughing. I made some jokes with them both and then got myself into the Bee Gees material. It worked quite nicely and I had a big grin on my face as I did it. The other acts were able to watch the show from the green room backstage via a video relay.

I closed my set and felt like I'd warmed them through ok. Some bits had gone down better than others, but I'd been relaxed and had imparted by bon homie on them - they were still listening and laughing at the end. I suspect that I had less laughter than I might have hoped for because it can be quite hard to know whether you're allowed to laugh over a song, especially if you're not used to live musical comedy. Of course, if something is really funny, you can't help yourself... but social convention comes with the territory too.

In the interval I was able to enjoy more than just eye contact with the other acts - a sure sign that it wasn't painful to watch. The MC took my stealing back of "our" material in good humour and I agreed that it would be his from then on. Indeed, he used it to good effect later in the tour.

And that's all I really want to say about Thurso. There's not much else to report. I drank more beer, stopped the MC driving us back to the hotel - he'd had two beers, but we didn't need to be driven - it was only a few hundred yards, we found chips and I got to my bed tired and woozy. I spoke to my girlfriend a little and then pretty much had to sleep as I was so blurry.

The tour had begun.

Thursday, April 28

This was an important day at work. We had a number of important things to get on with. As a result, I hit the office before 9. This is not my normal habit and so I was already on the back foot. However, I was committed to getting the job done. There are a few reasons for this. One of them is that I want to keep my job. The other reason is that I am responsible, either directly or indirectly, for the livelihoods of other people in my company. I recently found some criticism of something I wrote on this site about team work and company ethics. This is the benefit and down side of googling for yourself. My "critic" described me as one of the country's hardest working comedians, which is a nice thing to say - I do work hard at that, for some reason... probably because I enjoy it and I enjoy improving. The reviewer then went on to describe my ethics as rubbish and just a way of pandering to the fat-cat company that is exploiting me and my foolish co-workers. This could well be true in some companies, but there's a simple reason why it is not true in the relatively small company I work for.

If our company goes bust, we all lose our jobs. If we nearly go bust, some of my colleagues (or me) will lose our jobs. If we make the right products well and sell them, then we won't go bust. If we make them very very well and sell them very very well, then we'll profit. That's "we", not "them". It doesn't matter whether I have a profit share in the company I work for or not. I'm paid well enough to keep myself in the style to which I have become accustomed, and I know that my level of pay reflects the fortunes of the company at the time when my pay is reviewed (well, in so much as I know there aren't generous pay rises when things aren't looking too strong). So, if we all work hard to make the company successful then we have a lot more stability. Our hard work is recognised - by each other and by management... more importantly, it's recognised by the people who actually use what we make. In other words, my work has an importance. I've known this for some time and, in the same way as I've known for some time that my healthy eating regime, or lack of, will have a significant effect on my quality of life, so I know that giving 100% and getting the job done at work will do so too.

Simple.

Anyway. I had the "day which never stopped" in the office. I didn't have time for lunch, I didn't have time to breathe, it was just event after event. It was very very stressful. I had to be in Edinburgh for a show which started at 9ish, so needed to do a sound-check at 8.45. I had been down as the MC of the show, but was promoted to act by the promoter at the last minute. Since the same promoter had, on a previous occasion, done the exact opposite, there was a nice symmetry to it. I left the office at 6pm and headed North. It had been a very demanding day and I was rather frazzled. I was also hungry, but I had to make do with a can of diet coke for company. This wasn't some attempt to be moderate with the eating, just all I could grab before heading to Edinburgh. Using the 80/20 rule, the critical thing was to get to Edinburgh, if I could stop for food when it was clear that I wasn't going to get delayed by doing that, then I could stop for food.

I like driving. This is a good thing considering how much of it I'm doing at the moment. The journey to Edinburgh passed by in a haze and I was soon at a petrol station on its outskirts. It was a Tesco petrol station. Technically, it was an Esso with a mini Tesco attached. Now, I have a theory about these little petrol stations. They're all the same inside. That's not my theory. That's just a fact. Okay, so they are not all exactly the same inside, but there are many where I've done a double-take going in because the environment is identical to the one where I do a hell of a lot of my shopping on the West Road in Newcastle upon Tyne. The theory - there is only one shop. They simply built a magical portal to take you from the doors of where you are to the central shop. The portal knows how to deliver you back to where you came from and the shop is rigged so you only run into customers who came in from your entrance. That's my theory. It's rubbish. However, I wandered into the mini Tesco and saw a face I knew. He was a member of staff and we both looked at each other, clocked each other and said the same thing - "Shouldn't you be at the West Road branch?". Weird. All of a sudden my theory was proved. There is only one... there was just a bug in the system bringing Dan from the West Road into my world. Actually, he's a roving member of staff and my theory is still rubbish. He served me, for old times' sake.

I got to the gig on time, did my sound check, tuning an extra guitar, and was instructed to do a long time on the stage. I went for a strategic pre-gig poo. Now, while I was in the lavatory, I decided to work on some material. I had two routines that I was interesting in working on. One was basically written, but just needed learning - as spoken material (about medication) it required more learning than just another song. The other bit of material I wanted to work on was a song about racism. I had decided before this gig that I would use the gig and the run of gigs over the weekend as a way of trying out and refining some new piece of material. I assumed that it would be the medication material; I'd not quite managed to find exactly how I wanted the song to go and I didn't think it would really ever take shape.

An old teacher at my school used to have a maxim - "If you want something doing, give it to a busy man". There was no doubt that I had been a busy boy over the last few days and perhaps my mind was still working at the busy rate. In fact, I know it was. I was ready to write my song. Can one write a song on the toilet about 30 minutes before performing it? Yes. Technically I didn't quite write this song on the toilet. I had all of the core material, and the set-up verse already worked out. I had some of the middle bit clear in my head, but I didn't know exactly how to fit it all together into a neat piece of work. Once my arse hit the seat, I knew what to do. It was an epiphany - an epoophany, even.

So, I did my set. It wasn't an easy gig and I played with a heckler a little too much, perhaps. I know this because I recorded the gig using my new toy. I used the brief writing period to put me in a position where I had to improvise how to make my new song funny. It was okay, but needed a bit more work. Largely, it needed work on the delivery - it also lacked a punchline. However, having written a lot of source material for this song before actually distilling it into a couple of verses, I had enough spare to find my punchline, which I inserted for the remainder of the run of gigs.

The gig went well for the other comedians and I headed out of a happy room to meet up with the friend who was putting me up for the night. I would finally get the chance to use my new sleeping bag. Yay. The excitement.

Late night conversation before the sleeping bag was very pleasant - largely about the world of comedy. It's bound to be a colourful world! I slept happy.

Wednesday, April 27

Oh my god, what a hectic day. This has been one long nightmare from the moment I had a weird dream that something was wrong and woke up to realise that it was - I was due into work in 10 seconds. I can't get into work in that short a timeframe. I rang in late - a new idea I invented. It's a bit like ringing in sick, only you then have to go in sheepishly a bit later than expected.

Arriving at 10, which is technically the start of flexi-time core hours and therefore not too late, I set about planning the work for the day with my team. We had a lot to achieve and we needed to keep the pressure up. We made a plan to last until 12pm - we actually beat this deadline. I nipped out to bank a cheque and buy some extra bits from Maplin to complete my grand creation. I wish I had been making a robot, or some sort of Frankenstein's-monster-esque thing. What I've actually made looks like a remote control with a pair of handle bars, a button, a light and a wire coming out of it. Not exactly sexy science. Anyway, I bought the parts and even stopped at Subway for a naughty luncheon-style sandwich.


The circuit diagram of the device - exciting!

Back at the office, things progressed into the urgent. We spent all afternoon in a planning meeting, followed by a meeting to plan some customer visits, followed by a meeting with my boss, who has set me some important challenges. I had to leave the meeting with the boss at 6.45pm as I had a ticket for the amateur production of Jesus Christ Superstar, which was playing at the Theatre Royal at 7pm. It's a short musical, at just over 2 hours, and I didn't see how it needed to start so early. It could have started at 8pm and still been chucking out at a reasonable hour.

I enjoyed the show, despite being distracted by the stress of the day and the tasks I had not yet managed to complete before the important meeting we had tomorrow. The choreography, costumes and performances were, on the whole excellent. The music was well performed, though I was disappointed at the lack of string section. I've seen this show done by amateurs 4 times now. I've seen it with good strings and no brass, good brass and no strings, but never both. It's probably excusable not to have the strings as synthesised strings sound ok, but the ending of the show, a string instrumental, has suffered from this in the past.

I would have to say that the guy playing Jesus wasn't quite up to the task in hand. Acting-wise he had it. Vocally, he just didn't have the top range. Shame. It didn't matter a great deal to the uninitiated. I've seen this show 4 times and have 4 different recordings of it. I really know this show "all too well" and so I'm quite likely to spot details such as which variants of the lyrics they're using and how their performances match others I've seen... oh, I have a 5th recording the form of the movie they made in the 70's - on VHS.

Overall, the production was good. Some of the choreography was well executed and stunning. Most of the music went off without a hitch, with only one song causing the classic-amateur-staggered-start. This song caused a similar problem to the first amateur group I saw do the show. Clearly it's a stumbling block for the cast... which is odd, as it has a reasonably obvious starting cue for them. Some of the stage fighting looked too intended not to hurt and some of the chorus performances were a little lacking in conviction, but the design of the choreography and production managed to minimise the impact of these classic errors. Good work. Really good work.

They also chose, thankfully, to do the sad curtain call. No music. No smiles. They just bowed and filed off. Nice. The closing picture with Mary downstage and Jesus and Judas upstage behind a gauze was very arty and very satisfying.

I liked the show. Good stuff too... seeing it was costing me time I needed for other things.

I'm afraid to say that I returned to the office to complete some stuff. I did a further hour's work in the office to get the work ready for tomorrow. I also spoke on the telephone to my girlfriend. Before I knew it, my hour's work had taken 2 - there was an hour of working among the 2 hours in the office - and I
really needed to get going. It was nearly midnight when I arrived at the petrol station/Tesco that opens until midnight. They open until their version of midnight, which is as soon as they can get home without a queue forming in a closed shop. Bastards. I wanted petrol and I wanted to see if I could sort out my headlight. No luck there. I had to go to the other petrol station. I also hadn't eaten, so I was hoping for food too.

I filled up at the other petrol station on the West Road and then went to see if they sell headlight bulbs. They do. I guessed it was the bulb that had blown. I checked the manual to see what bulb I needed and the garage had that bulb. Result. As a reward for the garage having petrol, bulb and sandwiches, I bought a celebratory air freshener for the car too. It's one of those cute little wooden ones which smells of vanilla.

I spent about 20 minutes in the forecourt trying to sort out my headlight. I reckoned it was better to do it in the well-lit forecourt, than in the near darkness of my street. I plugged in the new bulb and tried it out. Nothing. The other bulb worked. I was testing it without the keys in the ignition - just turning on the headlights until I got the beeping noise to warn me they were on. I started to wonder if it was a fuse that was to blame. A check in the handbook revealed that the two lamps are fused separately. After a lot of mucking around in the fusebox, I had no result. The fuses look blown when they're blown and all mine were intact. D'oh! I decided to give up. As I was driving away from the petrol station, thinking I'd spent £5 on a bulb I didn't need, I noticed that I was now driving with two headlights. Somehow my test had failed me. The new bulb was working great.

At home, a scooted into the garage to complete my masterpiece of a circuit. Most of the time was spent trying to fit everything into the box and complete the soldering of things like a switch and an audio lead - these are not the hard part. My task was made more difficult by my thick solder and over-hot soldering iron. However, I got it all to work, so why worry!? Just as the last screw was home in the unit and it was, supposedly, completely finished, it stopped working. I quickly reopened it, insulated a joint I hadn't felt the urge to insulate, and then it went back together and stayed working. I tested it with the MP3 recorder and it's apparently working.

I'll road test it this weekend.

Other tasks for the evening involved choosing which guitar to take. It's going to be the big one - I have all the spares for it and it's a known quantity for me. Plus, it will work acoustically if, for some reason, we're in a place where I need it to. The other one wouldn't be as good. I had to transfer my paraphenalia across to the big bag from the little one. I also had to remember to stick in a spare battery, since my tuner used my last one up.

Then I had to pack a rucksack for the weekend.

Then I finally got to relax.

This has been a really over-busy day and I'm looking forward to the bank holiday weekend. That's going to be a tough weekend in itself, but tough in a fun way.

All I need to do now is get some sleep and work out how to get into the office bright and early.

Tuesday, April 26

All in all, it's been a funny old day. It certainly didn't pan out as I expected. In general, it's been a day of bonuses.

Firstly, I got some bonus sleep, dropping off after my early alarm clock and totally failing to get up in time for the early meeting I rather hoped to attend. However, as another bonus, I was in work earlier than usual, so I managed to get a head start on the day in other ways.

The morning flew by as I answered a rather dull questionnaire and dealt with issues which I can't quite remember the identities of. Then I went for a regular coffee with a friend, which I followed by a trip to Maplins. I've loved trips to Maplins ever since I was a mid-teen-ager. I think I got my first soldering iron just before my mock GCSEs. The two of them competed for my attentions and the soldering iron got a good result. Before I headed to Maplin, I sketched out a diagram of the circuit I was going to build. No, I'm not an electronics expert. In fact, I had no idea what I was doing. However, I do have an A-Level in Physics and a vague notion of voltages, currents and something to do with capacitors. I also know how to read circuit diagrams off the net and use them. So, I set out a shopping list for parts I needed.

In Maplin I found all the bits I needed and bought them. I made some remark to the guy on the till about having no idea what I was doing. It was going to be around £9 worth of ignorance according to the till receipt. He asked, as indeed you might ask, what I was building. I explained that it was a powering circuit for an electret microphone. Any clearer? Let me explain it in terms of what I want to do with it. I want to record gigs using the toy I bought at Christmas - a recording MP3 player. However, its internal microphone is next to useless for the job - it records at too low a quality and picks up the sound of the machine's mechanism - d'oh! So, if I could use the sort of microphones that are designed for getting a recording from a room and plugging into little portable recorders, I'd be able to get a nice recording of my gigs without the side effects of the internal microphone... why? because the MP3 player also has a neat little input socket for a higher quality recording - plus, the external device wouldn't be able to pick up the minute, but present, vibrations of the machine itself. Cool. The problem is that these microphones expect to be plugged into minidisc players. Minidisc players know that they're going to have such microphones plugged into them and provide the necessary power that the microphone needs. This isn't as simple as just wiring in a battery, there are circuits which improve the sound and which make the connection of the battery actually work... I don't know. As I said to the guy in Maplin, I was just guessing and hoping.

After Maplin, I spent the afternoon back in the office working. Oh, and I also planned out how I was going to fit the components onto my circuit board. Good fun to plan. Pencil and paper is a lot less permanent than a soldering iron.

I worked later than expected because I ended up in a deep conversation with a guy who has just joined the company. We agreed on a lot of things and I picked up much useful information. I ended up leaving the office much nearer to 7pm than I would have expected... but happy. I was keen to get home to try out my circuit and I was also keen to have eaten, played with my wires and everything before 8.30pm, when I wanted to head off to the gig.

Unexpectedly, my wiring proved to be a first-time success. I had only completed enough of the circuit to show me whether it was ever going to work - I had a little power light and half of the double-microphone thing set up. I plugged it into some equipment I had and it responded to sound. Bonus. I was expecting to have to boost the signal for use with my MP3 player, but I didn't have time to do any further testing. I had a gig to go to.

At the gig, one of the acts looked like he wasn't going to turn up, so I was asked to go on. I didn't have my guitar, but was offered the loan of one already in the room. Why not? I thought I might even try some new material I'd started writing that day. The other act turned up in the end - while I was frantically scribbling down what I was planning to do. There's little point in just going up there and doing the usual shit when it's a gig in which you're meant to experiment. However, with the act who was booked actually present, I didn't see the need to go on. But, I was told to do it anyway. Why not? After all, I'd got into gig mode. This was also a good opportunity to see whether my hurt throat was all better. I was feeling in pretty good shape, despite waking up with a fairly gruff voice.

I went onto the stage. It had been a respectfully quiet night. I didn't take the roof off, but the audience laughed along in all the major places. I took some older material out, blew off some dust, and found it to be funnier than I remembered. I bottled out of doing the stuff I'd written this afternoon (and rewritten at the back of the gig). I think this was wise. They were losing their attention and I was running out of time. I closed on a banker and left the stage with my self-confidence intact. I'd also amused a fellow comedian with a snipe at a reviewer who reviews the gigs she watches in her head, rather than the ones which happen on the stage.

Annoyingly, as I turned on the headlights to return home, the righthands light winked out. I realised, braving the fog on the well-lit roads home, that I probably needed a working headlight for my forthcoming trip to Edinburgh (and back). Another things to sort out in the rapidly diminishing time before I set off.

I came home and did some more work on my circuit. Here's me, always working the circuit. As a wee test, I attached it directly to the MP3 player, not expecting to get enough of a signal from it. It's good enough to use. It's not utterly brilliant, but I shall be using it this weekend if I get the chance to put a switch in and screw the box shut. Bonus.

I just saw the initial details for the Fringe show I'll be involved with - the "Great Big Comedy Picnic". It's looking... er... interesting. Quite eclectic. More on this when more details come through.

I am currently sitting at the computer waiting for some towels to finish washing so I can put them into the dryer. It's not long before I go on this mini tour of Scotland. Not long at all! The new material will get an airing on Thursday, probably.

Monday, April 25

I woke up at a number of points over the morning. It started with the "Oh dear, that's too early, I'll just get a bit more sleep". Then I got to "I'll just get up in a minute". Then there was a slightly urgent bit of dreaming, which I punctuated my opening my eyes to view the clock - that was at "oh shit, I'm going to be late" o'clock.

I almost jumped out of bed. I certainly left the bed quickly. After ablutions that were cursory in all respects, except for oral hygiene (the use of mouthwash seems the best way to rid myself of my tonsil infection), I jumped into the car and headed to work.

I always arrive just in time... to be slightly, but not quite too, late. Damn. I wish I could be early. Maybe if I could get out of bed fully dressed - perhaps I should sleep in my clothes.

At lunch I bumped into the girl-at-work-who-has-recently-put-on-a-lot-of-weight. She was buying just a salad. I hope that helps her. She's really putting me off the idea of eating chocolate.

The afternoon was spent tying up loose ends. I nearly wrote some code. Maybe one day I'll actually sit down, concentrate and create something again. I'd like that. In a break during the afternoon, I found out (in much the same way that I'd found out about Lee Evans's departure from The Producers) that Julie Walters is stepping down from Acorn Antiques: The Musical and that the production is likely to resign with her. Yowser. It's only just started. Well, it's been running since February, but it's weeks, barely months. I thought that it might be a nice idea to catch the show before it finishes. Sadly, I don't have very much time available to see it before the 3rd week of May when it closes. Work, gigs, and other commitments are bound to get in the way. Anyway, the ticketing websites all suggest that it's pretty much sold out.

In the evening, after getting home and having some food. I came upstairs to the computer to spend the evening in front of it writing this blog and trying to get it up to date. Just for reference, the last 3 days' worth of this blog were written today. This is quite an up-to-date entry in my mind. It may not be posted for a while as I'm trying to catch up with all the entries I would have made had I not been a lazy-ass bugger over the course of the last few weeks. I'll post the entries in order of when they should be read. However, I think I'll burn the candle at both ends and try to keep the latter days up to date before writing the earlier days. Not important for the narrative, but an indication of how much effort it can be to stay up to date with a blog and get back up to date if you lose a day or two. I shall try to learn my lesson and keep blogging frequently.

This evening, while pottering, I found a website which suggests that it might hold a stock of Acorn Antiques: The Musical tickets. I don't know if they do. If so, then I may find myself the proud owner of some cheap but nice seats to see the show in a couple of weekends' time. If they don't have stock, then I'm no worse off. I'll find out in the next 48 hours.

This week is currently not putting much pressure on me, but things will change soon, no doubt. I'll probably go to a gig tomorrow night, and I would like to see Jesus Christ Superstar, an amateur production of which is on at the Theatre Royal in Newcastle this week. That should be Wednesday. On Thursday, I go to Edinburgh for a brief comedy tour. I'm in Scotland all weekend. We're going to the Highlands for several shows. Should be quite a challenge. On Monday I need to be back in the area as I'm due at a gig in Bridlington - thank goodness for bank holidays. Next Tuesday, I shall be ready for a good rest! The fact that I've had tonsilitis means that I'm not feeling totally fit for performing. I'll have to just rely on the fact that it's naturally getting better and that the Doctor reckons that using my voice won't make my condition deteriorate.

Good luck to me...

A bit of net searching led me to Bill Bailey's website. I had earlier watched a recording of Bill Bailey doing a duet with Billy Bragg at Glastonbury. They were playing Bill's Billy tribute song - "Unisex Chip Shop". On Bill's website, I read his blog - which is very sparse indeed, and discovered the story behind this duet. In fact, the story was related quite similarly on the recording which is online here. Basically, Bill, a Billy Bragg fan, was wandering around, bumped into Billy and was told that Billy was going to sing his song and would he like to join in... Wow. Imagine being in that position. You've written a tribute song to someone and they sing it with you as a tribute to your writing. To put it in my own context (thus showing how unlikely it is to happen to me), it would be a bit like Eric Clapton saying "Hey Ashley. I like what you've done with Layla, please will you duet with me.". I'd have to reply... "Er... okay, Eric, but you'd better play guitar. I'll do the Yoda impression and masturbation gags... thank you..."

I don't expect that to happen. Ever. Well, not this year, anyway.

Sunday, April 24

Highlights of today include getting a "hearty" Sunday lunch at a "hearty" pub. We followed the plentiful supply of roast with a "hearty Sundae" dessert. This is a ludicrous amount of sweet stuff. Seriously. Very very ludicrous. The "hearty" aspect of the meal appears to apply to the very likely risk of cardiac arrest from consuming the quantity of food they provide. The sugar content alone of this immense glass vessel of dessert was enough to make us levitate from our seats. I had found the holy grail and it was filled with ice cream and profiteroles. I asked our waitress to have an ambulance on stand-by for when the sugar high kicked in.

After lunch, which had been taken quite late in the day already, there was a brief excursion to the back room of the pub to play the quiz machine. Sadly this machine didn't yield to our general knowledge and, at a crucial moment, I was struck with the need to visit the cubicle of the gents. This wasn't a result of the obstinacy of the machine... just nature taking its course Possibly encouraged by the sheer power of the dessert. I'll never know.

While in the toilet, I realised that I was not alone. I was alone in the cubicle, but there was footfall in the main body of the loo. Such is life. However, one of the voices of the loo-goers, was not male. I was in the right loo. They had urinals and everything. No. There was a woman in the toilet. This didn't bother me. I was quite happy to continue what I was doing. Playing Scrabble. Well, having a poo. Having and poo AND playing Scrabble on my mobile phone. I'm classy.

Talking of classy, the couple who were copping off in the main thoroughfare of the toilet - including the woman (I would normally refer to women as ladies... as a mark of affected respect... this wasn't no lady, though) I'd heard... this couple were anything but classy as they joked with other pissed up users of the toilets. Phrases like "Get it in her" and "Shall we have a spit roast" were uttered by someone. I had to get out of that toilet, it was offensive. It seemed to defile the spirit of heartiness of the pub. Hearty doesn't mean rutting-like-animals. No, it means eating-like-it's-your-last-meal. Somehow, I managed to wash my hands AND dry them, without actually looking at the couple in question. I was aware of them both by sound and with my peripheral vision. The foot of the woman even knocked into mine as she squirmed against her beau (that's beau, not "bo" or "B.O.") and as I washed my hands at the sink... but I pretended that they weren't there.

Then we left the pub.

In an attempt to find entertainment, we went to Portsmouth. I've not been to Portsmouth. It's not very different to any sort of normal seaside town. You can smell fried food and it's full of chavs and teenage preganancies. We didn't experience any teenage pregnancy while there, so I'm only guessing - well stereotyping. Such is my way.

We went to the arcades and played 2p and 10p games. The little penny-drop machines have certainly advanced since my childhood. We also played a couple of physical games, including a horrid horse racing thing (well, it was quite good fun) and the dance-mat style game which shows you how uncoordinated you really are. I am very uncoordinated and lost my "battle dances" every time. I was playing against someone who was younger and more nimble than I.

Deciding to play the crazy golf, despite the rain, a visit to the cash machine was in order. On the way there we walked past a woman using one of the 2p penny-drop machines. Her technique was amazing. She just threw coin after coin into the machine. The coins went into the machine in two slots next to the trough out of which any winnings dropped. She just scooped coins from the trough into the slots - almost like she was swimming through coins. It was amazing to watch her arms flailing in bursts. Then she'd wait to see what dropped. There was no technique. It was just a blunderbuss technique. I thought that, perhaps, she might have something. Perhaps this is how you beat the machine. Once she'd ploughed through her 50 or so coins, I realised that, in fact, this didn't seem any better than my chosen method of timing the release of each coin. However, her method was more spectacular and it was amazing to see that she'd even chosen her seat carefully so that she was next to the change machine. As her coins ran out, she reached into her breast pocket for a pound coin and got it into the change machine without missing a beat. We could have stayed, mesmerised, but had a round of "adventure golf" to play... the rain wasn't going to stop us.

I may have been a loser on the dance mat, but I managed a respectable trot around the crazy golf course. However, I fell at the final hurdle by not winning a free game for next time at the final trick shot. My companion pulled out a corking shot to win the free game... so we'll have to go back at some point.

We headed back to Southampton as I needed to pack and get on the road. I was hoping to get back home early. After a 5 hour (well, nearer four and half) uninterrupted drive, which was accompanied by, in order, Miss Saigon, The Producers and Pulp's "This is Hardcore" album, I arrived home early. Early in the morning. It was about 3.30am. I had been waylaid in Southampton. Packing had taken longer than expected and I'm quite bad at goodbyes. A trip to the petrol station had also turned into an opportunity to stock up on treats and supplies for the trip back. I had a "hearty" in-car picnic. The heartiness was clearly in the air.

Still, despite the lateness of my arrival home, and the difficulties of saying goodbye, it had been a real corker of a weekend. Weekends like that leave you feeling good. Well, it left me feeling very good. Let's see if next weekend's constant gigging will contrast the weekend of good company and being entertained which was this weekend.

Saturday, April 23

Waking up twice, we eventually managed to get out of the house and we headed, without breakfast, to London. We had some idea of going to see a show. I had read, the previous day, that it was Lee Evans's last day in The Producers and I rather fancied seeing him complete his part in what is a fantastic show.

En route to London, I rang up to activate my new Barclaycard. The old one was broken. It's a chip and PIN card, though I'd never been asked to key in the PIN, but the chip had fallen out. This was giving me some grief when I tried to use it in some places. So, I'd ordered a replacement card, which had arrived but needed to be activated. I rang the number from the passenger seat of the car to London. It's good to be driven around. The woman at the other end of the Barclaycard services line had to verify that I was who I said I was. She asked me a couple of security questions, like the last 3 digits of my home phone number. Then she asked me my star sign. Star sign! It's hard to take someone seriously when they do that. Surely she should ask my date of birth - she could work it out from that!? No, star sign. Pisces. I also offered my favourite colour - Blue. I don't actually have a favourite colour. If I did, it probably wouldn't be blue. Perhaps Cadbury purple - it's a good colour.

We parked in Pimlico and managed to get the tube, which was suffering a delay through the sheer capacity of travellers (and the need not to have so many people on the platform that they knock each other into the rails). We ended up in Leicester Square at about 2pm. I had, as a precaution, brought a reasonable quantity of cash with me, knowing from past experience that some of the cheap ticket booths deal only in cash.

We wandered up to the booth I've used before. It was going to be a toss up between Mary Poppins and The Producers. I would like to see
Mary Poppins, but I wasn't desperate. It doesn't seem to be a show that's going away in the near future. The Producers on the other hand presented more of a limited opportunity. Only two shows left with Lee Evans in it. After a few enquiries, we found out that we could get pretty good seats for the matinee (in half an hour) or balcony for the evening (oooh). Ms Poppins had some matinee availability... but I was starting to have a specific desire - The Producers were calling. This seemed to be a good plan for my companion and so a few seconds were all we required to become proud owners of:
  1. Two tickets for the show
  2. A sudden urge to know where the hell the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane is
  3. A rush to get to the aforementioned theatre, which is actually on Catherine Street (well, both, probably)
I turned on my theatre radar. I've been to the Theatre Royal before. The first time I found it myself. I went to see My Fair Lady there in January 2003. This event probably altered the course of my life quite significantly. However, all events have some effect, some individually, some cumulatively, so let's not get too out of perspective about this. On the first occasion, I'd guided myself by some means or other. The second visit to this theatre, I was taken there by a friend. We were watching The Producers during its preview week. We arrived a little late and I wasn't keen to miss the overture this second time. So, I used the theatre radar and started guessing the route. It's somewhere near Covent Garden... probably.

As it happens, it's really not difficult to get there. I took what I thought was a wrong turning, but I knew the direction of the theatre, so reckoned I might be able to correct it. Just as I thought I was going to have to ask for directions from some passer by or other, I was faced by the theatre. I'd taken us straight there by the most efficient route. I must admit that I felt somewhat smug... even though it was an accident.

Not only were we in plenty of time for the overture, but we also had time to buy a programme and a pre-match drink. I quite like the circularity of seeing a show multiple times, when it's opening, and when, in some ways, it's closing. When I first saw the show, it had both Nathan Lane and Lee Evans in it. I welcomed Lee to this particular West End stage (along with the rest of the audience) and now I was to bid him farewell. I felt much the same way about Jerry Springer: The Opera. I saw it open and then I saw it close. It feels nice and complete. Of course The Producers is due to run a lot longer than Lee Evans's contract. It's a smashing show.

Watching The Producers
A show is never going to be completely as funny the second time... when you know all of the jokes. Equally, as I mentioned back in my March 19th entry, comedy feels funnier when there are lots of people around you laughing. This particular performance of the show was not as much of a quasi-religious experience as the show I witnessed back in October. It was, however, still one of the finest musicals I have ever seen.

A few things contributed to the slight reduction in the energy levels in the room. Nathan Lane is quite simply marvellous in the role of Max and Brad Oscar, who was very good, looked like he had to try hard to be Max, where Nathan just breezed through it. It's not experience, it's the charisma of the stars involved. Brad Oscar has played Max many many times. Nathan Lane is, quite simply, a god. Lee Evans is incredibly funny, but his performance as Leo Bloom was also different to the previous occasion. A couple of things had happened. Firstly, he was playing it a little more like Lee Evans, than Leo Bloom. Secondly, his voice sounded tired. He wasn't giving it a powerful blast. Fair enough, it was his last day and he still had an evening performance to do. I know how he must have felt. Literally. He still gave an outstanding performance that made me laugh very hard. Finally, the reason that the show didn't fly as much as it had done in October was the audience.

I don't believe you can blame an audience for the success or failure of a show. Not as such. However, some audiences are more likely to be entertained than others. In this case, the audience were a slightly sleepy matinee crowd. I don't know that they were out for anything except to get some entertainment in the middle of their day. A nighttime crowd, who have made the show the focus of their entire night out, would probably give more (see later). In addition, a crowd of fans of the show, who are all excited would make more of whatever is placed before them. This audience weren't like that. The audience in October were clearly excited at the early chance to see the show. I know because I was one of them. I'd seen the movie. I knew a load of musicals trivia and Mel Brooks references. I was going to get it all, and I did. This audience weren't so quick. But...

The show turned the audience from a quiet group into a sea of giggles. By the time Springtime for Hitler finished, there was not a person in the room who wasn't hooting. It hadn't been too slow a progression from cold to enraptured and the show really flew along. Performances of the principals had all developed and credit is due to James Dreyfuss's arm for being part of one of the best visual gags of all time.

I would have liked to have grabbed the audience early on and tell them to pay attention and laugh since this is possibly the best thing they'll see all year. By the end, I didn't need to. However, it hadn't been a consistently roof raising performance and I would have to say that I wasn't of a mind to go for a standing ovation. It was interesting watching one or two people on their haunches, ready to join one if one started. It's almost like people want to think that they might have been part of a standing ovation - like it's a bonus for going out. I think you'll know when it's time to applaud on your feet. I also think that the evening show would probably have gotten a well-deserved ovation.

For some reason there were a number of shenanigans going on during this performance. A few items of props were dropped by the chorus and rescued. There was one scene in which the three principals of Brad Oscar, Lee Evans and Leigh Zimmerman ended up giggling and having to regain composure. Leigh Zimmerman even dropped out of character at one stage in the ad-libbing. They were messing about a bit. The audience came with. I'm not sure exactly what happened - I think someone fluffed a line and they all got giggly. Later on, in the courtroom scene, all of the jury had cakes. Brad Oscar commented "Nice spread" when he saw the cakes and Lee Evans, when offered a cake, tried to take one and then bantered with the chorus member who denied it to him - "I'm not allowed a cake?"... before he sang his song, he picked up a spare one and licked the icing off. Don't ask me what the cast were up to. It was funny, so that's good. Perhaps they were toasting his departure, or perhaps it was someone's birthday. In short, the entertainment was not just for the audience's benefit. Whatever, it still worked really well, and I was glad to see it a second time.

We were in the 3rd row of the Upper Circle. Good seats. There are better. I want to see the show again - this time from the middle of the stalls. It will happen. Leo and Max have been replaced now. I think that John Gordon Sinclair, from Gregory's girl, may do a good job. Perhaps I'll go along and see.

After the show
Well, we'd not had breakfast. We'd skipped lunch to go to a show. We'd not passed Go and we'd not collected 200. Hunger had set in. One trip to Pizza Express was in order. It was a good trip and the hunger was laid to rest.

The question is, what can one do in London at 6.30? That was about the time we finished at Pizza Express. What sort of entertainment is on offer? I know... why don't we go and see a musical? I believe that Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is quite good. I know that because I've seen it. I also knew that my companion is quite a fan of the Sherman and Sherman songs. I say that. I think she'd say that she likes the movies of Mary Poppins and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang... it probably matters not one bit to her who wrote them, so long as they're good. I'm the geek. The point is that I thought she might enjoy Chitty, provided that we could get good seats and that she hadn't run out of theatrical patience.

I suggested we wander over to another particular ticket booth in Leicester Square to see what was on offer. Maybe go to the theatre, or maybe do something else. Despite the fact that last time I saw I then went on to see 3, yes THREE, more shows, I wasn't so obsessively compelled to jump straight into another theatre.

They had cheap stalls seats for Chitty at the ticket booth. It was a sign from the Gods of musical theatre. I bought the tickets and it was time for act two of theatre finding.

Chitty Chitty
Now, unlike the Theatre Royal, of which I had a vague idea of its location, I knew exactly where the London Palladium was. I knew sort of exactly how to get there. I knew that if you put me on Regent Street or Oxford Street, I'd be able to get there immediately, and I knew the direction in which it was located. Surely we'd get there in no time. I put my theatre location radar on and we set off.

We went to Piccadilly Circus, took a shortcut through Soho, where some women might call to you - "Hey baby, I just want to talk to you", but you can bet that it's not conversation that they're after. We hit some other streets and then got vaguely lost. I had a special plan, though. If we got a bit lost, I only needed to find Oxford Street or Regent Street, which were straight ahead or to the left if you kept going long enough. We wandered in approximately a good direction and eventually found a map near Carnaby Street. The map suggested that a quick nip down this alley might bring us to somewhere goodish. So, we headed for somewhere goodish and I expected to land on Oxford Street. In fact, I did better than that. I landed us in front of a big sign for the show. We'd found the back of the Palladium. I say that I landed us somewhere - we weren't flying. Let's save the flying for later on.

So, we were at another theatre and taking our seats for another show. There seems to be a trend on the West End at the moment. A show needs a star. When I first saw Chitty we had Michael Ball as Caractacus Potts, Anton Rodgers as Grandpa and the heartiest of hearties, Brian Blessed as Baron Bomburst. This time around, Potts was played by Brian "It's a puppet" Conley, The Child Catcher was Alvin Stardust and there was even Christopher Biggins as Bomburst. One of the baddies was played by the guy who played Mike in The Young Ones and other members of the cast were vaguely knowable. Some audiences like to applaud people they know. When I first saw The Producers pretty much everyone got a round of applause just for getting on stage (though not this time). What was going to happen during the show.

I have to say, I wondered how Brian Conley would fair on the West End stage. Could he follow Michael Ball's insistently sweet voice (which is the voice I think of for those songs, which I've listened to countless times from the cast album). I also wondered whether a second show could follow the one we'd just seen.

Knowing the original production quite well from the CD and from seeing it, I noticed quite a lot of changes to it. It has been nipped and tucked and the baddies have been simplified. They also lost the rather nice ensemble introduction. The show was neater without it, but I missed it. The audience were having a great time. There were children and there were plenty of adults. The adults had come to see three things:

1. The stars
2. Whether the production could recreate the bits that
they remembered from the movie
3. The car

The car is the star of this show. It makes no difference who plays the roles. The car is what people have come to see. Brian Conley got a massive round of applause for being on stage. Someone saw him early and started a single applaud (applause?). He also deserved the applause - eventually - as he turned out a solid and charmin performance. I so wanted to shout out "it's a puppet"... but didn't. The show got laughs and the children in the audience were well behaved. The children on the stage were excellent, accurate and confident (if only children in amateur productions could be consistently as good!). When the car appeared... the audience exploded in joy. Yes, the car got the biggest round of applause. When it floated, they went again. When it flew... well, I think some people nearly flew with it. All this despite the fact that people have bought tickets knowing that the car flies... and despite the fact that you can see how it's done pretty easily. It doesn't matter. People pay to suspend disbelief and enjoy the fantasy. And we enjoyed ourselves.

Again, though, it was messing about night. Chorus members dropped stuff and it had to be rescued. There was a bit of ad-libbing between Christopher Biggins and his opposite number Louise Gold, which started from her broken earring and graduated to full on messing about. Quite where the improvisation and the prepared comedy moments were divided was anyone's guess. Again, the audience went along for the ride and it was great. Possibly my favourite moment in the show, though, was when someone delivered a rather simple pun on the word "bonnet". A small child, sitting somewhere in the stalls, got this relatively unfunny joke and laughed promptly and unreservedly in such a pure and joyful manner that the entire audience followed. The joke might have gotten a titter otherwise, but this child's joy brought a theatre into a big laugh. That's the magic of theatre.

After the second show
No more shows. No way. Time for home. We had a tube to catch and then a late night drive. This is what we did. It was a good ride home and quite a late night. It had been one hell of a day and we needed a good night's sleep to recover. I think we'd fit at least two weekends' worth of entertainment into that one day. Good work!

Friday, April 22

A not-very-exciting day in the office followed a slightly-earlier-than-usual wake-up. Sadly that wake-up did not cause me to get into the office any earlier than I do. I arrive just in time... well, just late, which is probably worse. Why I can't get my arse in any sooner, I have no idea.

I have some idea. I'm a lazy bugger.

Anyway. Some work was completed and I had a bag in the car, packed and ready to come with me on a late night journey. After work, I was headed to Southampton for the weekend. There was no firm plan, except to go to Southampton, stay there and find entertainment to keep us occupied. I intended to leave late evening on the Sunday in order to return home refreshed for the week ahead.

The journey down south was quite pleasant and I was accompanied by, in order, Jerry Springer: The Opera, Titanic and, of course Avenue Q. These musicals make the journeys fly by. I took a few stops and I wasn't in a rush; the person I was going to see was out at the movies and so wouldn't be free until a little after my expected arrival time.

I arrived earlier than expected and decided, since the car was parked for the weekend, to wander over to the pub and get a nice relaxing end-of-week pint. Thus purchased, I whiled away the tail end of the day with John Smith's bitter and Scrabble.

Then I was collected and taken somewhere where I could rest properly.

Thursday, April 21

I started the day at the Doctor's. He inspected my tonsils and said he didn't mind if I were to continue taking Penicillin for 3 more days. I pointed out that I didn't want him to prescribe me pills to please me. He should do what he thought was necessary. This broke the tension in the room and we laughed. I guess he thought I was the sort of patient who says - "I'm not feeling good, must have drugs". I'm not that sort of patient. Once he realised that, he explained that I was going to get better either way, there was nothing I could do to make it worse (including gigging, though I was in too much discomfort to gig at that moment) and that I should just treat the symptoms. He suggested a spray to numb the pain.

That lunchtime I bought the spray (it was great) and some mouthwash - I thought I might make my mouth a cleaner and thus better place. I also made sure I had plenty of soluble aspirin. The tonsilitis was getting better.

I also took a trip to the bank. I had decided to invest in this show at the Fringe and needed to transfer the money. It was the Royal Bank of Scotland and their service was pretty good. The first beneficiary of their service was a pigeon that managed to accidentally get through the automatic doors and then get confused about why it couldn't fly through a pane of glass, which formed the window. A member of the staff calmly strutted up to it, ignored its protests, picked it up and released it into the outside. I felt like singing "Born Free" as he did so. He looked very smug and pleased with himself as he returned to his seat. The next thing I noticed about the place was that their queuing system, which has a fast track for business customers, is managed in such a way that they help the normal customers when business customers aren't around. They don't sit on their arses watching people wait, they help them. Even the pigeon man offered to bank cheques for anyone waiting in the queue - cash not being possible as he was working at a desk with no cash security. It seemed just helpful and friend. Good work RBS.

That evening I went out to see a film - The Machinist - which is all about a man who is really tired. I'm trivialising. It's about a man who is tortured and insomniac and discovering, slowly but surely, why this is. It's an excellent movie and one which is still making me remember how cleverly its details fell together. Watching it a second time would probably make me go "Oooh" and "aaah" as the prescient writer puts tons of clues everywhere. It's would be a similar experience to watching Fight Club for a third time.

There was also pizza to be eaten and enjoyed. This wasn't delivered pizza, but it was still very very good. I spent the rest of the evening talking over the departure from our place of work of a good colleague and friend. We shall keep in touch.

Annoyingly, I got a call from the Comedy Store in Manchester. That was the venue at which I was supposed to be gigging that night. I'd cancelled earlier in the week, owing to my tonsilitis. The message hadn't gotten through. So, for a second, it looked like they'd invited me back to do a gig and then I hadn't bothered to turn up. Grrr. However, the person I spoke to understood what had happened and I should be rescheduled. I hope so.

The late night included a bit of ironing (watching the tail end of the Al Murray DVD), in preparation for the weekend, and some conversation with a girly womanly female feminine dame in Southampton whom I would be joining for that weekend. This weekend couldn't start soon enough for me.

Wednesday, April 20

This was the last day of my pencillin supply and my tonsilitis didn't seem to be going away. I'd had to cancel two gigs for this disorder and it felt like it was here to stay. I took the opportunity to get myself a Doctor's appointment (they had one, conveniently, for the next day) in order to see what further advice I could get on solving my hurty throat.

Somehow, I don't know how, I discovered this curious "there's a new pope" merchandise. It made me laugh. Brilliant.

Over the last few months, I've noticed someone at work who has been steadily gaining weight. They were never slim, but they have become quite-uncomfortably-lookingly fat. I saw this person again today as I was headed to the chocolate machine. Their new-found portliness made me feel slightly put off. Indeed, I gave the machine a miss. I couldn't face it. I wish people would hide their fat asses.

Actually, I wish I could control my own. I accidentally ordered a Domino's pizza tonight. It wasn't my fault. There is, obviously, a rule that states that if you are ill then everything you eat is good for you and you should eat what you want. I rather wanted Domino's. Not only that, but surely it doesn't count if you don't actually ask for it? I went online to www.dominos.co.uk, tapped in my postcode and just happened to click on what I wanted. I put in my credit card details and then a screen said I should relax and that I'd get a pizza delivered. Probably sooner than I'd expect. I immediately listened for the knock of the door, but it wasn't that soon. However, I hadn't spoken to anyone about pizza, so perhaps it wasn't really going to happen. After about 20 minutes further work on the computer, there was a knock at the door and this man just gave me a pizza. He came to my door and gave me a pizza. Just like that. I hadn't spoken to anyone. It was like magic. He gave me a pizza, AND... a garlic bread. Brilliant.

I ate the pizza watching an Al Murray DVD. I only managed to watch the first two-thirds as I ran out of pizza.

Possibly the biggest news of the day involved this year's Fringe. I was asked my a colleague in the comedy fraternity whether I'd be able to help out with setting up their Fringe show. It came down to capital, rather than any creative input on my part. I discussed the mechanics of how to run the budget for a show like this and we agreed a way of calculating profits and such like. I decided to profide a modest investment and a modest loan to help make this show a reality. I'm not a big businessman, but I happened to have the means to make this show possible. It could turn out to be a big hit of the Fringe. If so, then I'll get my money back!

Monday, April 18

I didn't want to do it. I really didn't, but I had to. I'd already cancelled the gig in Ayr I was due to do tomorrow, but I had to face facts: my singing voice was really rough and I was in a lot of pain. I wasn't going to be able to perform the open spot at the Comedy Store in Manchester that they had invited, that's INVITED, me to do. I was rather pissed off to have to cancel it, but there was no point in giving a bad performance and setting myself back longer than if I postponed giving a good one.

I rang the Manchester branch and the guy I needed to speak to wasn't there. So, I rang the London branch. I was put through to someone who is responsible for this sort of thing. I told him who I was and he knew of me. That's kind of cool. He told me that he'd sort out the postponement of the gig on the 20th and we also discussed the possibility of a gig at the Store in London. That's quite a prestigious venue. If I, one day, decide to stop doing stand-up, it would be nice to think that I'd at least given it a fair crack of the whip and gotten to play some good venues. Even an open spot at the Comedy Store in Leicester Square feels like some sort of achievement. I know it's not "hitting the big time", but I'd at least like to enjoy the small time while I'm in it.

As a consolation prize for not having the chance to do my gig, I watched the Bill Bailey "Part Troll" DVD. It was a great gig. The "extras" on the disc included a video diary sort of thing. While my life as a stand-up is motorways and motorway service stations, with issues like "night pay" and the quality of sandwiches, Bill's appears to be motorways, big venues, and the tea and coffee making facilities of hotels. It's sad, but I related to it in a twisted sort of a way.

Sunday, April 17

Still with the tonsils aching, I woke up in my girlfriend's brother's bedroom in Reading. He wasn't there. There's nothing weird about it. I was just in that room; that's all. Perhaps I shouldn't have mentioned it.

We had a mission for the day. We had to go out and find a suitable present for someone's 21st birthday. We'd failed the previous day and we were not going to let this small thing defeat us. How exactly we ended up in a DIY and garden centre, texting pictures of an item back to the house, I don't quite remember... but it seemed to work and the appropriate item was purchased.

Back at the house there was a full-blown roast meal on offer and I'm not one to turn down a hot dinner. Why, I've had as many hot dinners s I've had hot di... you get the idea.

Sadly, the meal was to mark the end of the weekend in Reading for both myself and the lady who had taken me there (well, I'd driven, but you get the idea). It was time to go our separate ways. I had to get back up north for work and the like. With university starting, my girlfriend needed to get back down south to attend. We said our goodbyes and parted company. I drove for 5 or so hours on my own (I probably had musicals for company - Jerry Springer : The Opera and Avenue Q are never too far away) and she who shall not be named to protect her innocence had a friend to accompany her down south.

Being in a long-distance relationship, you have to deal with these things. I'm just happy to be in a relationship and dealing with a bit of driving, or a bit of separation, well, that's not exactly difficult. It's not ideal, but it's character building.

Saturday, April 16

Well, the best laid plans. The cat proved to be quite reliable, checking for mice laying plans, no doubt, but also being not averse to the petting and attention predicted. I did find out a way to make her bite me, though that wasn't quite intentional. I didn't think to myself - "there's a nice cat, I wonder what will rile her" - I just discovered that, unlike most furry mammals, this particular creature had an aversion to having its stomach stroked. I don't think the bites were vicious, just a quick way to say - "er, no thanks, have you tried my head? or perhaps my back?".

Sadly, the other plans were going awry too. You can't get very far without keys and the keys were very much missing over the course of the morning. While the original idea had put us in Southhampton for the day, perhaps taking in a comedy night in the evening, the new plan was to spend the morning wondering where the keys were and then trying not to worry about them. They eventually turned up, just in time for us to go out for lunch and shopping.

Reading is very pleasant. It is home to a bright village-like shopping centre where one can peruse the shops, eat ice-cream for one's sore throat (it's not really a cure, but I like it, so any excuse) and find an M&S for some healthy and not-so-healthy items of food to call lunch. We even took the single free parking space in the whole of the city centre. Not bad, not bad at all.

Back at the house there was a home-cooked meal and then we headed out for an evening at a nearby pub. This gave me an opportunity to try out two of my favourite throat remedies. Guinness and single-malt-whisky. I'll be honest, neither of these worked any better than the ice-cream. Still, it's nice to try these things out.

The evening is a bit of a blur - these sore throat remedies are quite hard on the concentration. I remember getting on well with my girlfriend's friend. I also remember a small moment of amusement for myself when someone came to our table said hello and that he had nothing to say and I remarked - "You've brought your own awkward silence with you". I have to admit that it was funny to me, but slightly naughty to bring up. As an MC that would have been hilarious. Not quite pub conversation, though.

Back home, back to bed... hopefully the alcohol, Aspirin and Penicillin would really get to work as I slept.

Friday, April 15

I think it's a good test of whether someone is genuinely off sick if they take a Thursday off work and then return for the Friday. Admittedly, I'd recently taken both Thursday and Friday off, but I was very sick then. On this occasion, I was ill enough to feel bad, but well enough to go in and look like a martyr as I spend the day gargling with Aspirin and taking occasional doses of Penicillin.

As before, I had another motive for going into work. I knew that I felt well enough to drive my girlfriend back to her folks' place in Reading that night and if I was well enough for that, then surely I would be well enough for work. I couldn't justify missing the one and doing the other. It wouldn't be fair and it would be cheating. So, I did what i could in the office and then it was time to get on the road for down South.

As much as I'd like to say that it was a memorable journey, it appears that it wasn't. I know that I was in good company and that we made not unreasonable time. There was a plan. We were to get to Reading, get a little sleep and then head to Southhampton the following day where my girlfriend was due to go into work. It was a plan to be short on sleep, but big on opportunities to play with the family's pet cat. I can go with that. I may be a dog person, but it's a nice cat.

Anyone who thinks I'm making a euphemism here needs to take a long hard look at their life.

Thursday, April 14

The exertions of the gig in Scarborough had been too much. While the first time they had claimed my soul and given me a comedy death, this time, the casualty was my throat. Or at least that's how it felt. I'd performed my hardest, with Aspirin as my protector against the pain, but when I woke up the following morning, the pain was back and it was a lot worse. My throat felt very bad. I put myself on an Aspirin taking regime and got my ass to work. I was on 8 Aspirin a day and the pain was manageable, but only just.

I booked myself an appointment with the Doctor and soldiered on. I didn't solder on. I would have quite liked that. I like soldering. Wouldn't it indeed be great if the world's problems could be solved with soldering, rather than military action? It might be superb. A small piece of circuit board could feed the starving nations and...

...anyway, I managed to drag myself about the place, but I was not feeling at all good. Come the morning of the 14th, I was glad to get to the Doctor. He told me, by diagnosing with a torch and his eyes, what I already knew. My left tonsil was enflamed and giving me a lot of pain. The pain had spread to my left ear too, though that was probably more of a confusion in my brain, which is not good at receiving pain signals. The Doctor told me that I had tonsilitis and that I should take a course of penicillin. I hilarious renamed these the "silly penis pills". I'm so funny. I should be shot for being that hilarious. Ho de ho.

I left the Doctor's surgery and headed to the chemist. I'd also run out of Aspirin and so it was time to stock up. It was going to be a long haul. The Doctor reckoned that I might be better by the following Thursday for my gig at the Comedy Store (he didn't put it like that, but that was my conclusion). He reckoned that I wouldn't be better by the Tuesday (when I was supposed to be doing a gig in Ayr). So, I realised that I was in for the long-haul. I needed drugs. I needed serving badly. What I mean is that I was in dire need of being served promptly. What actually happened is that I went to a chemist and received poor service. They didn't take cards (fair enough for a small suburban chemists, but irritating nonetheless) so I had to go to the nearby cash machine. Then the girl behind the counter couldn't identify soluble aspirin, despite my pointing them out to her. Equally, the pharmacist took ages to count out 28 penicillin tablets and give them to me. It's not difficult, and it's hardly a rare form of medication. Aaagh. You're supposed to feel better after a visit to the chemists...

I stood at my car. The car was facing town and I really wanted to go to work and get on with the day. Well, at least, I had really intended to get my ass into the office and get on with things. I stood at the car. I thought about going into town and my legs almost gave way. I needed to sleep, I was weak and needed nursing. My nurse was back at the house and I headed back, calling in sick on the way. I then spent the day asleep. It seemed to do the trick as the pain subsided a bit by the following day.

Monday, April 11

Although not totally better, I got up and went to work. I had two reasons. Firstly, I wanted to get back into the saddle and get some work done. Secondly, I do not do gigs on days when I've skipped work through illness - watching or performing. If I'm too ill for work then I spend the whole day recovering. I don't swing the lead that far. On this day I had a gig in Scarborough which I wanted to attend and if I was going to do it, then I had to do my proper job too. Fair enough.

I'd managed, on the weekend, to buy some Aspirin - this seemed to deal with my rough throat well enough. After work, we headed off to Scarborough.

The last time I played the gig in Scarborough I died pretty horribly on my arse. They are not an audience you can afford to rely on. You have to show them who is boss and warm them through hard. They can laugh, but it's not easy. I had been significantly less experienced the last time and I got spooked when they didn't go for my stuff and failed to reach out to them. I had the chance to break that duck this time and I wasn't going to let my run of good gigs get broken by what should have been a good room full of people in a cheery seaside town.

I knew the opening act and he asked me how the gig was. I lied to him. I told him good things about the audience (well, I didn't tell him untrue things, I just omitted the tale of my previous death). He had a tough, but successful opening. Telling him to fear them wouldn't have helped.

In the middle section there were two open spots. I was the second. The first guy had some nice ideas but he ultimately got a similar response to the treatment I'd received on my last visit. I stood on the sidelines not sure of how things would go for me, but not too worried about exceeding the previous performance. As the MC hit the stage between acts, he had a go at some blonde girl who had been chatting to her mates during the dying act. She tried to answer back, but her protestations only made matters worse for her. This banter brought the room back. It also gave me an idea. Should the blonde girl get difficult during my set, I could use my special trick for dealing with hecklers - sing a song about them. The room was going to be mine. I was smiling broadly as I hit the stage. I could tackle the demons of old and Scarborough would be mine.

I didn't need to pull anything special out of the hat. The gig went very well for me. I'm a better act now than I was. I did my usual 10 minute set - 10 minutes of shite... polished shite... but my usual shite, nonetheless. They laughed and I loved them for it.

As I hit the bar, the opening act made some comment about how he wished he could play guitar. As far as I was concerned, he had a point. Guitar comedy (in this case with my new guitar) is pretty much cheating. It's cheapish... but it can entertain an audience and it had done on this occasion. I felt good. The comedian later apologised for his comments and I felt the need to apologise for lying about the crowd. No hard feelings. I don't claim to be a great comedian or have any groundbreaking material. I just want to be as good as I can be.

Some guy in the bar (audience member) approached me and said something like "Nice set, but you've got to admit - the blonde girl helped you". I gave some tightlipped response and he added - "Yeah, but she did help you out, didn't she?". I replied "Well, it was either that or the 220 gigs I've done in my career" - I smiled pointedly at him. He was meant to laugh. If there had been a big audience listening, they would all have laughed and he would have laughed with them. Face to face, he just went all sheepish and turned away. Had he not been such a cock, I might have felt guilty. Still, it was true, the blonde girl had helped me - she tuned my guitar before the show.

Thursday, April 7

The previous day in the office, I had felt slightly weak and light-headed. I felt that I was slightly ill, though it seemed to be hard t rise above the illness. I nicknamed the condition - "Total Gayness Disorder". This flippant nickname is more meant to sound like kid-speak than any act of homophobia on my part. It was "man flu", it felt like hypochondria... I really wasn't planning to take it seriously... until I woke up this morning and felt completely incapable of moving. It wasn't tiredness in itself. I'd been fairly well relaxed since the trip to Reading on the weekend. The gigs leading up to the trip to Reading had been exhausting, but I'd had chance to catch up on sleep. This was something else.

I called in sick. I sounded ill. My throat was sore. I had virtually no energy to move around. I had fever, aches and the occasional bout of the shivers. Luckily I also had a willing nursemaid in house. I spent plenty of time in bed sleeping the bug off. I was off work for two days and spent the weekend trying to recover. I don't like being ill. Who does? I liked less the sense of weakness - had I lived alone (as I normally do) and not had a visiting girlfriend (as I normally don't) what state would I have gotten myself into? Well, I think I would have managed to totter around a bit, but the late night shivers as my body temperature dropped to a point where all I could do was shake uncontrollably, too weak to get some extra clothes on to warm me up, would have been a lot worse.

Tuesday, April 5

I've always been like a kid with a new toy when I get a new toy. I slightly irritated the people in the guitar shop when I dropped by at lunchtime to see whether they happened to have received my guitar from the Warehouse. They thought I was hassling them. I was just asking. I didn't intend to bother them. I just wanted to see if my guitar was there. It wasn't. They don't get deliveries until the afternoon. Fair enough. No need to get one's balls in a bunch over it.

I got a call a couple of hours later. The guitar was in stock. Smashing. I went to pick it up. It came in its own gig back and had a nice big Fender logo on it. I don't believe in designer labels as such, but if you buy a Fender guitar, it's nice to show the world!

Back at home with the guitar, I tuned it up and got it ready for a gig. I had a gig planned that evening at the Chillingham Arms in Newcastle. It's a tryout gig. There was no better place to try out my new guitar. I'd barely played a chord on the thing yet. Admittedly, I'd test driven a few and reckoned it had a great touch. I needed to have a proper go at it, though with an audience.

At the gig, I had a battle plan. I wanted to try out some new bits of material, maybe even do some of my lesser used stuff to see how it really went. That was the plan. I had nothing to prove to anyone, even my girlfriend, so I didn't see the need to do much of my tried and tested stuff. I thought I'd start on my usual starting song. Simple. A nice plan for having fun on stage.

A few things got in the way. Firstly, the audience had been up and down all night and some of the acts had been rather awkward to the room. When I hit the stage, the crowd really needed something solid to show them the funny. I started to sense this before I got up there and once there, I instinctively kept my foot on the gas. Secondly, I dropped my plectrum pretty much the instant I started playing. It landed on the floor off the stage. I couldn't go and get it. As I was standing there, strumming with my thumb, I remembered that I'd been in this situation recently. I tried to remember what had happened. It has been the last ever show of The Musical!. I had picked up a plectrum from the piano and started playing the "If your mum's a prostitute..." song. The plectrum dropped out of my grasp and I'd had to continue by thumb until a suitable hiatus in the song where I'd quickly thrust my hand into my back pocket where a backup plectrum was sitting. So, while on stage at the Chilli, where was the backup plectrum? There wasn't one. I realised this as I was getting to the end of verse one of my opening number.

There's a bit between verses of the opening song where I pretty much talk over the song. I'm just strumming a single chord and I talk over it. I confessed to the audience that my plectrum had landed on the floor. They laughed. The MC came over and fetched it - I gave him a running commentary and spoke to him while keeping this musical moment going - the crowd loved it - the show hadn't come to a stop as much as just paused as the plectrum was sorted. I completed the song with plectrum and they were happy. I then did a bunch of bankers. The audience laughed and I was being a comedian. If they're not laughing then you're not being a comedian - you're just being a guy (or girl) on a stage doing stuff.

People couldn't work out why I was annoyed with myself as I left the stage. I was angry that I'd resorted to "bankers" rather than push myself to do different stuff. However, it was agreed that that was what the room needed at that point. Fair enough. The guitar had gotten an outing and I'd done what was necessary to be funny under those circumstances. The good thing about that gig is that I can go back and, more importantly, I can't just repeat the easy stuff - so I would get more opportunities to do harder stuff.

Overall, it had been a good day. A new guitar, a good audience response and a beautiful young lady to take home after the gig - the one I took to the gig in the first place (I don't collect groupies).

Sunday, April 3

Waking up in Reading, there was much relaxing as we prepared for the trip up North. We had a big farewell from my girlfriend's siblings and other halves (there had been a houseful of 20 somethings... and me), went to Tesco for some supplies, and then realised that we'd forgotten something. We had to return (from Tesco, thankfully) for the missing item.

Eventually, we got on the road and the journey took its time. I tend to drive more responsibly when I have company.

Back in Newcastle, with Weightwatchers on the agenda (not for me), domestic bliss began and prevailed for quite some time to follow.

Saturday, April 2

I woke up with time to get to my gig in Huddersfield, but I don't recall there being a huge amount of time. Just enough.

I'd suggested that some of my schoolfriends (well, I'm not at school, but these guys were at school with me when I was, so let's call them schoolfriends for that reason) come to the gig in Huddersfield. I'd played the venue before, when I was a much less experienced act. It had gone very well for most of the performance and I had much better material this time. I was also closing the show, which should have given me a bit of extra clout. If you're introduced as the main act and you look confident, the audience will go for it... probably.

I drove to the gig, arriving early, but that's fine. It's always good to get time to relax. My friends arrived just in time. The gig got underway. The bill came mainly from the North West open-spot circuit. The audience were very generous and every act got a nice response. I went out there with gay abandon and decided to see if I could blast the audience out of "nice" into "excited". I've got the ability to give a big performance if I want to. I'm a big guy. I'm doing music-based stuff, which can tolerate being "bigged up". I just went for it. The audience joined me. If I was trying to show my friends that I was a good comedian, then I succeeded. As I've pointed out before, it's easy to look good when there's an audience laughing at your stuff. I'm not going to claim all the credit for the laughter in the room. They were a nice audience and I simply pushed their buttons for them. I hadn't planned to do as much as I did, but they were really going for it and I had permission from the MC to go on a bit longer... so I did "Fluffy", which is a good way to show myself that I trust an audience. I also used one of my special lines that I use to "bless" an audience I like. It's not funny, but I only use it when I know that the relation I have with the audience is special and that it will, therefore, get a laugh.

I had a great gig.

After the gig and some goodbyes with my happy-to-see-me-do-well friends, I headed off to the South for a late-night rendezvous with my girlfriend.

It was a late arrival. I was very tired. I slept well.

Friday, April 1

A day so memorable that I cannot remember anything of it. I vaguely recall some half-assed attempt at an April fool prank, which related to a chocolate machine. Not worth getting excited about. As an increasingly professional comedian, sometimes the smaller jokes don't really amuse me anymore. Sometimes, it's only the smaller jokes which amuse. I'm fickle that way.

I'm fairly certain that it was either today or the previous day that I bit the bullet and went to get myself a new guitar. I'd wanted the Telecoustic guitar for about 2 and half years - ever since I bought the guitar I use on stage at the moment. It had been the wrong guitar to buy then, but it would make a nice gigging guitar these days. I'd had a half-hearted attempt at buying a similar guitar, back in April 2004 when I bought lightweight guitar second hand. Having not used this guitar for more than a few bars myself, and having not taken it out of its bag since August, when it was used by my co-performer in Edinburgh as a guitar to play in the flat, I reckoned I may aswell part exchange it for the guitar I wanted. Not only that, but I'd recently received a cheque from Barclaycard for the amount I estimated I'd have to pay on top of the part-ex. Cashback! So, I bought the guitar and awaited delivery the following week. It's a nice candy-apple red. It plays like an acoustic but has a similar feel to an electric and looks pretty cool! I like new guitars. Exciting!

I will have spent some of the evening preparing for the weekend. Having only just bid farewell to the girlfriend, she'd returned home to find that there was little necessity for her to spend too much time there. She decided to come back to Newcastle. She'd also been nearly destroyed by the coach journey, so my plan was to pick her up. I had a gig in Huddersfield on Saturday night - I was closing the show, so I wasn't going to be leaving Huddersfield early, but I would head to Reading, stay over, and then return to the North East on the Sunday with a passenger. So, I had to get things sorted out in the house and I had to get myself packed for a night away.

I'm not sure exactly what I did, but it must have been quite tiring.

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