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Friday, February 29

Moth Eaten

I made it through the day. I even worked after 6pm, though my last act before leaving the office was to have a bit of a chat with the new departmental manager and get her to ban me from the office until Monday morning. I needed it doing for my own good. The temptation to keep working was apparently there, which is sort of good, but rather not good if my obsessive personality is allowed to go on unchecked and drive my body into the ground.

I drove home and sat down. My head spun slightly. I had two choices. I could go to bed or I could organise a night out. Why did I organise a night out? I have no idea. It's that inability to stop. I guess it's like getting to the end of a massive endurance race on your bike and then freewheeling a few more yards, rather than stopping dead. I don't know. My bike was still in the repair shop.

Anyway, a comedy friend of mine, the excellent Toby Hadoke was doing his one-man show Moths Ate My Doctor Who Scarf in Reading tonight. When I first found out the date, I planned to go. I didn't get tickets. I just planned to go. As the date drew nearer, I still intended to go, but still didn't quite get around to buying tickets. I rang the box office to find that they were sold out. This didn't bode well. However, I could go down there and see if there was a standby ticket.

I rang Toby to see if he would like to meet for a drink after the show. I also mentioned my predicament, not expecting anything other than him to acknowledge that I might not be able to make it after all... or maybe getting him to talk the box office into releasing a "house seat" - there's always one or two extras. He said he'd have a word.

I got into town on foot - surprisingly well. I was on the phone for much of the journey, which helped. I spoke to the box office, who hadn't heard of me, nor had they got any tickets. I found out the stand-by system and went for a drink. I had a Red Bull. I needed one. A phone call from Toby made it clear I would be getting into the show somehow. In the end, that somehow was "as a guest", which was very generous.

The show was superb, as always, with a good mix of genuine passion, deep thought and emotion... and laughs along the way - a good way to end the week. After its conclusion, we headed to a local pub with a couple of the attendees of the performance and drank a celebratory pint. After closing time, we headed back towards Toby's lodgings, which were pretty much on my direct route home.

It was midnight when I got back, tired and happy. On my second double-day of the week, I got to bed at about 39 hours awake. I faded out pretty quickly.

I like the world of comedy, and though it might be said that my all-nighters were a partial result of being unable to do a working-late and then going-home because I had a gig to go to, it's the gigs and shows which give me some of the cheerful energy that makes it possible for me to function. Seeing "Moths" tonight was a sort of a coincidence. After a certain amount of delaying, I'd managed to send a copy of the CD of the Radio version of this show to a friend of mine. He'd emailed me today to say that he was going to listen to it on the way home as something of a pick me up. I don't have the monopoly on hard weeks. I thought it would be encouraging to tell Toby that a friend of mine would be listening to his show. You know, as a way of saying, before he went on, that I'm really a big fan of the show and that I get my friends to enjoy it too. I think that, pre performance, a bit of positive reinforcement is always worth sharing. The problem was that I couldn't find a way of expressing "I sent him a copy" in a way which didn't sound like "I burned it for him and stole your performing rights royalty payment from you".

Later on, I managed to slip into the conversation that I'd bought it from Play.com just to be clear that I wouldn't be so cheap as to deny him his Royalty for less than the price of a couple of pints.

Well This Is Weird

I don't really know how to categorise this post. I don't know which day to put it into. I do know that this week has been truly weird and I've been working under what can only be described as unrealistic pressures. I would also say that the chief instigator has been myself. I've been cranking the wheel harder than ever, hungry for success and afraid of failure.

I'll do my best to explain how I got from the pleasures of turning 34 on Sunday to this weird and wonderful 7.47am on a Friday morning where I'm sitting in a towel, desperately trying to keep my brain from coming to a total halt.

On Tuesday, there was work. I had a gig in the evening, only an hour or so from the office. The project was running beyond my comfort zone. I went and did the gig, leaving later than originally planned, but being there in time to do the gig and enjoy a good laugh. Then I came back to the office and worked through the night. The record shows that I entered the building at 23.55 and I didn't leave until after 7am on Wednesday morning when I went home for a shower.

Though it's Friday, all of that still feels a bit like it happened only yesterday. The story continues.

After Wednesday morning's shower, which was really an extension of Tuesday's day, I went back to work, did a good 11 hours of work and then came back home. I met my housemate at the house and we went out to a comedy night. I thought the first pint would floor me. In fact, it didn't. I managed a few before my body started to go into the danger zone. Luckily there was the deeply unhealthy food option to soak up the alcohol before I collapsed into my bed to go into a deep coma...

...sadly, I was risen from this coma on Thursday morning - which is genuinely yesterday - by my housemate who threw my jeans at me to wake me up. This worked. I got up and went to work.

A day of work followed, after which I headed to my gig in Cradley Heath, near Birmingham. I headed to this gig at 7.20, which was about an hour later than planned. The gig was going to run late and I was going to be going on whenever. So I didn't need to rush. I had time to ring people. I even had a long chat with my mother. Such things are possible on long car journeys with wireless headsets.

Then I arrived at the gig. I did my turn, overran, flirted ridiculously with a pretty audience-member, then left the building before anyone had a chance to challenge me. I think I had a good gig. I was left, again, with a feeling that my spoken comedy is starting to upstage my songs, even though most of the spoken stuff I do is ad-libs. Interesting. Probably just insecurity, rather than any actual valuable analysis of my comedic prowess.

After all these late nights, I needed an early night to catch up on lost sleep.

Instead I returned to the office to whack another 6 hours in on the project.

I've just had my shower and I need to go back to the office for the day. I don't know how to bring this project back on track. I do know that working myself to death is not the answer. I'm not sure I want to work the weekend on it. I have gigs this weekend. Technically, that's not proving to be a blocker for work.

I'd like to do some DIY this weekend.

So far, I suspect that there's going to be a lot of sleeping to do and not much else.

Monday, February 25

I Wouldn't...

There's an old Irish joke I rather like. The fact that it's basically racist against Irish people is not so good. But maybe it's not. Maybe it reveals a distinctly Irish perspicacious philosophy, since I like the joke for the wisdom it reveals, and not the "aren't the Irish a bit stupid" sentiment. The joke goes like this:

A man stops his car at the side of a road in Ireland and asks a passerby for directions. "How do you get to the Church?" he asks. The old man on the pavement thinks for a moment and then says "Oooh, if you're going to the church, I wouldn't start from here."

It's something I can relate to. I am mid-way through a number of things I'd like to finish. If I could give myself directions, I'd definitely advise not to be in the place I find myself trying to complete the task from. I wouldn't necessarily start from here.

Today, however, has been a relative success in terms of moving in the right sort of direction from here. I'm not 100% happy that one of my co-workers is taking a huge amount of pressure on his shoulders regarding this work, though I know he's hungry for success and I know that he'll do his best to deliver. He's going to do it at his own expense, though, if I let him.

Anyway, today we had a new person start. I requisitioned this particular worker to take on a role which I believe needs to be filled with someone effective. He seems to have hit the ground running and seems to be pulling together a lot of data which will basically give us some sense of where the "there" and the "here" are, so we can get from "here" to "there". That's probably a pre-requisite to completion, but it's nice to have managed to get this sort of thing going before we discover that we thought we were "there" in the nick of time, but we're actually "over there" and way off target.

Is this even a metaphor?

When the new guy had gotten up to speed, and after I'd managed to purge my email box of all the stuff I'd wished I had someone to look after for me, I headed over to Heathrow airport to see whether things were about to go wrong. I've been responsible for a tool which can be used to update software. We want to make the software update, but early experiments with this tool, seemed to have resulted in not so much an update as a seek-and-destroy on the software. On Friday, having had some good thinking time on a car journey, I knew the problem and solved it. However, I didn't trust it to work (despite all of my tests) without being watched closely.

So, I went to Heathrow backed up a device, set it off and watched it succeed enough to call it done. Then I watched the users of the machines demonstrate why they go wrong. Having seen myself the effects of the problem and having had a chance to do some experiments on a recently failed machine, I was able to give a detailed report of what I felt the problem was to my hard-working colleague back in the office. Then I sailed off to my next location.

I didn't sail. I drove.

I arrived around 5ish and got a smoothie to take in with me. At the next location I managed to get another one of these new devices up and running and also helped the guys there to get their old device working. What's the device? Just some handheld computer that does stuff. So, since leaving my desk, I'd managed to get 4 devices (two in two locations) up and running and troubleshoot some problems. Neat.

I got back to my desk after 7pm. I worked another couple of hours, including making a couple of changes to the system to incorporate the fixes that my colleague had thought up since I'd reported the problem to him. These fixes are now ready to roll and should be on the Heathrow devices shortly, owing to the now-functional software updater.

At 9pm, I headed home, got changed and got down to some serious painting with my housemate. The kitchen ceiling and walls now have their second coat of the proper thick kitchen paint stuff. This means that the only painting left to do in their is wood-work. Door frames, architraves and skirting boards abound in there. The fridge is still not allowed in. Soon, though. Soon.

It was 12.30 when we stopped work and I managed to get the time to get something to eat. Rice pudding, fruit and some of yesterday's birthday cake. Nice cake.

It's a way of leading one's life.

Sunday, February 24

Had I Been Watching...

Sometimes I think I lead bits of my life as though there is an audience watching me. You know, I make to-camera quips, or conduct myself in my own private affairs as though I am being seen. I suppose this is the performance instinct in me. I can easily cure myself of feelings of lack of attention by standing on a stage with everyone looking at me, as I did tonight. I wonder how I would have judged my own performance, over the course of the day, had I been the "viewer at home" watching my day unfold.

On the one hand, I think I would have approved of my own impromptu lie-in. I had gone to sleep rather late, having had a session where I read my blog out-loud to myself to see how it sounded (particularly with some of the more angst-ridden entries from last year). I had also spent time on the phone with a slightly-disillusioned friend and then read my book. Bed time was late last night. So I think I would have understood my lie-in. It did reduce my capacity to get much done in the house, which is clearly in need of a lot of things doing.

I wouldn't have watched myself eating breakfast. It was hurried and tinged with a certain sense of pathos as I went mid-breakfast to the porch, which I'd ignored the previous day, to see whether the mail contained any birthday cards at all. The answer was that it did.

Following breakfast was a DIY session. There was the hanging of a shelf which went wrong in every conceivable way it could, but which I eventually sorted out. The shelf is higher than I wanted it, but it should sit there fairly level and looking good enough to stick my recipe books on. I hope it will hold them! I would have noticed myself returning to the adoption of the "not giving a shit" system, as I started sanding and priming various bits of wood which need another 3 coats of paint before they're finished. In the end, there's just not the time to fanny on trying to make perfection. Perfection isn't necessary. It'll look good when it's done. Honest.

I would have approved of my quick jaunt to the piano to write out some music for a friend. I'd failed to teach this friend how to play a little something I can play from memory, so I thought I'd write a few bars of it out. It's easier to do with a piano than from trying to hear it in my head and play air-piano. Laptop and piano were brought together and the transcription was relatively painless.

Car journeys and picking friends up would have been fast-forwarded in the DVD of my life. The dinner party which followed would have been scrutinised. I would have watched my behaviour and wondered if I was gracious enough at the efforts which had been put into making it a joyous occasion for me. There was company and cake - two of the finest of the three top c-words I know.

To be honest, I would probably have looked away for most of the duration of the gig I did. I wouldn't have found a large quantity of what I did and said very funny. There were flashes, highlights as it were, where things were worth watching, but a fair bit of me posturing around the stage with no particular plan. Stuff happened and laughs came. I made one joke which I spoiled by enjoying it too much. The joke wasn't bad under the circumstances. Someone in the audience had said something about a woman with a wood fetish. I commented that you shouldn't have sex with a wooden condom, you might get a veneer-ial disease. This impressed me so much that I spoiled it. That's truly sad!

Overall, though, tonight's 500th gig in my stand-up comedy career, and my first night out as a 34 year old were worthy of looking back on fondly. Sure, I may have milked every last drop out of the evening, and chatted to people who made me feel rather old - why do 22 year old girls have to be so young!? - but why not, eh? I can't complain about the wealth I had in friendship today. Being able to see, for what it is, the value of friendship is something that's far more relevant than being able to see what's missing from one's life.

So, speaking as a more mature person. Let's go back to a glass-half-full view of the world. Hell, maybe get a smaller glass, then it will look more full!

Bizarrely, I totally failed to identify one of the acts, with whom I'd had the classic "so, how long have you been doing comedy" chat in a non-comedy social about 5 days ago. How sad is that!? Context. Context.

Who Reads This Shit?

I do have to wonder why I write as much as I do. I've written well over 10,000 words this month already. Last month was about 15,000 words. The bizarre thing is that I don't even remember writing any of it. The last few weeks have been a blur. I used to write my blog as I woke up in the morning in the office. I'd have my morning coffee, check my email, write a bit of a blog, get ready for the day ahead and then get going on the work. Now, I'm too busy. I'm too busy to do it at lunchtime, I'm too busy for lunch sometimes. I'm too busy even to play my Facebook Scrabble moves at lunchtime, so I play them at home at night... provided I'm not too busy. The blog has become relegated.

So where are all these words coming from? Surely I'm writing them? I did once write the "auto-blogger", which came up with some bizarre thoughts, based on my blog, but in computer generated stylee. However, I didn't ever deploy that because it somewhat misses the point.

Anyway, it's all very well having all of these words, but who would read them? I don't think I can be bothered to at the moment. I think I'm trying to write up most of the days I'm experiencing this year, with as much detail as I can remember at the time of writing to give me something to look back to when I eventually have the nervous breakdown to see what caused it.

According to the logs which I set up a while ago, feeling somewhat self-interested, there are about 100 readers of something from this blog each day. However, some of my pages are really high Google hits for really bizarre stuff, so the number of genuine readers is probably nearer 10. 10 people a day read this crap. Really?

Whoever you are: thanks!

I should probably set about reading the whole thing. There have been some amusing moments along the way, some of which might make good stand-up fodder. There have been some downs and some very downs. Bizarrely, when I'm at a very low ebb, the blog is a lot funnier. I take failure in high-comic-spirits.

However, some of this stuff is just self-indulgent moaning. I've been quite neurotic this year. I don't feel it now, particularly, but I know I've been remarkably flimsy.

Thanks for reading. Keep going. Who knows - this may be the time when my luck changes and the blog turns into the heart-warming story of someone finding true happiness and putting his life back in order.

And So It Is

I'll admit that I often post my posts after the day in question and then time-stamp them at 11:59 for the day they relate to. This works for me. As it happens, the last post on this site (not the bugle call, but the last "diary" entry) was actually written close on 11:59 on the day in question. This one comes to you from the early minutes of the 24th.

So, I don't always lie on this blog.

Today is my birthday. I am 34 years old. If I look back over the last 12 months at my 34th year, it's not really been my favourite. I did vow to stop the self-pitying at New Year, so I'm not going to bemoan things too much, but I think I started my 34th year badly and it really kept on in that vein.

Last year's birthday day was largely spent trying to get a toilet to work. This failed miserably, leaving me in a house with no toilets at all and no washing facilities (save for the kitchen sink - no good for showers). Having sunk deeply into disappointment, I then went to see Bill Bailey, performing live with an orchestra. That picked me up from the disappointment somewhat. I then joined a friend at his leaving-London-party. He would be moving to Leeds soon after.

If I look back over the last 12 months, it's pretty much followed a similar pattern. I should point out that this is an easy way of retrospectively fitting the pattern of that birthday day on a year which was much more complex than this metaphor will truly allow for, but what the hell - it's my birthday and I'll make crap comparisons if I want to.

The year has had its ups and downs. There were euphoric moments, like when I was swinging round lampposts in Edinburgh, having amazing gigs or watching Madness play at Glastonbury. There were some heart-warming moments, like sharing good company with good friends, or seeing what good could be done over Christmas. There were some buddy moments - like visiting my Leeds friend and doing some serious hard-core DIY. There were some personal triumphs, like completing DIY tasks (well, some).

Then there were the heart crushing feelings involving loss of hope professionally, loss of confidence, loss of belief in my future, dying on my arse at key gigs (in front of people I kind of didn't want to die on my arse in front of - be they pretty girls or not so pretty comedy bookers), fear of religion, fear of losing my driving licence, grief over lost love... there's a long list of stuff I allowed to get to me.

Along the way I've been one of three "modes". I've either been totally submerged in the moment, unable to do anything about it except feel it. I've been sitting on the sidelines, amazed at how life has gotten to this point, but not actually feeling affected by it. Then there have been times when I've plotted a way forward. Plotting is the key to success, I think. If you can plan your way forward, then you can change stuff - somehow - and maybe life can be better. Some things can't be changed - you have to steer round them. You can't go back and make an audience who hated you love you. In fact, you can't make anyone love you - it's one of those things which is possibly even an illusion in the first place, so it can't be forged or reasoned into existence. It's either there or it's not.

I've made some decisions and changes to my life over the past year. Some have worked out better than others. I changed my job - following the good advice of "change your job or change your job" the idea that if you can't improve your job itself, then you should find a different one. Changing jobs has proved the right thing to do, but it hasn't been easy. The previous job was easier in many respects and provided a "safe" environment, but one which I was dying in. This new job is killing me in a different way, but has potential and a recent history of delivering stimulation and job satisfaction. There's a cost, but I'd rather be like this than bored out of my mind. Who knows whether I can take this environment for long, though.

I've steered my DIY hell of a house onto track here and there and I've let it wander too. This is no way to renovate a house, it must be said.

I've tried to be optimistic and I've tried to make the most of the last year. It's not gotten me as far as I'd like and time doesn't go on forever.

However, today's celebrations should be genuine. I made it through the year and I've got a 35th year ahead of me. I should fill the year with laughter, work, success and song. If I can do that then maybe I'll be a lot happier this time next year.

Though it's a bit of a risk, I've decided to do a gig on my birthday tonight. It will be my 34th birthday gig and my 500th gig. My 30th birthday was a gig too, and I've pre-booked my 35th birthday as a gig at my favourite club. I like birthday gigs. MCing tonight should be a nice way to close this day and a lot more productive than the self-pity which seemed like the default option instead.

A friend, who lives near the gig, has insisted on making a small dinner gathering before show time in my honour. There will be 4 of us and I shall be with 3 people I quite like... and the person whose house it is too. Tee hee.

Some jokes just have to be made.

Saturday, February 23

A Sight Worth Seeing

It's nice having friends. It's nice when they're new friends and you still have plenty of stuff to find out about them. It's even nicer when one of the things they've never shared with you before is the picturesque town in which they were brought up.

And so it was that I headed 90 minutes away from my home to see a small town near Bath where a friend of mine had invited me to see a play. There was an opportunity to meet the folks, who have a fair working knowledge of musical theatre, proved by the fact that "mum" sang a line from South Pacific almost absent mindedly over dinner, when a comment at the table came close to a lyric in the show, and a quick burst of West Side Story in the living room, caused "dad" to continue the song, whistling from across the house. I put the inverted commas around their two names since they're not my parents, though they were the parents of the family in that situation.

Then we were off to see the play which was directed by the master of the house. The play was very well staged and directed, with some outstanding individual performances, and some scenes that were truly dramatic. Despite having been put together on a small budget, the show looked and felt very very professional and had so many brilliant staging devices that the school hall around us disappeared, leaving only the world of the show.

I drove home impressed. It had been a good day in good company, with a lovely walking tour, closed by a very creditable tribute to the talent around me.

Friday, February 22

Doing The Do

More work today. There is a lot of pressure to deliver. We can't deliver thing D until we've delivered things A through C, and we can't deliver them if we're worrying about D and doing stuff that's going to distract us. This amounts to a lot of worrying when A is currently running a bit wonky. I'd like to say that I'm certain everything will be fine. I'd really like to say that.

I worked late tonight. I eventually got out of the office around 8.30 for a night in. I could have chilled out after a tiring week. In my view I did. I also did three loads of laundry and ironed a dozen shirts or so, half of which were in the washing basket when I arrived home, but managed to make it through the ironing before the night was over.

It was also a chance to watch a comedy DVD, which I did while I was busy. This proved highly entertaining and highly recommendable. Some bloggers would cite the DVD at this point, but I'm not going to. Don't worry. It wasn't anything bad. I'm just keeping an air of mystery. Woooooo!

As I'm unable to get to sleep at a reasonable hour, I didn't.

Thursday, February 21

Down and Up

Today had some positives and some negatives. I don't know which way the score card ended up, but I'll hint at some sort of an answer in the next few words. Things were going great when I achieved consciousness at a reasonable hour of the morning. They were not going so well when I reachieved consciousness a few long minutes later to realise that I should really have set off for work already. Normally, I would not mind, but today was to be a long day anyway, and I had a gig to get to in Wolverhampton after work, so making up a huge amount of time wasn't an option.

I didn't really mind. I just grabbed a smoothie and got into my car to arrive at the office when it was possible to arrive there. The traffic en route didn't help, but I got there in the end, which was the main thing.

Quite how a series of bugs in the software I've been writing managed to surprise me is anyone's guess. Software has bugs in it. That's the nature of software. I should really get used to the idea. I had a lot of last-minute fixes to apply to the code and then we had to install this stuff on 8 machines for shipping out to 4 different countries in Europe. A quick chat with the guy working on the other 2 machines, currently located at Heathrow Airport, revealed that some serious flaw needed a visit on site from yours truly. So I went on site.

Going to the place where the users use the system is stressful. Anything that works predictably in the office will work unpredictably on site. And so it was that my working day ended with me sitting in my car at Heathrow Airport, reporting back everything I'd discovered, the things I'd managed to fix and the things I'd failed to manage to fix. The day had been long already and though I had planned to work later than that particular time, there was no point in going back to the office, since I'd only have to turn around and come back. The process of setting the machines up had been fun, working in parallel, 2 machines at a time, racing each other to the first printout. The problems dogging the day hadn't been fun, and I managed the most harried/hurried of luncheons in a spare 5 minutes of racing down to the café for a pre-made sandwich.

Then came the gig.

Before the actual gig, there was the journey to the gig. I used this to talk to people. I spoke to friends and family members. Well, I spoke to one family member and two friends. It's still basically what I just wrote. I could have gone back and corrected the first sentence, but I tend not to. I realised, as I was talking in the various conversations, that my spirits were plunging, my body was on a down and my heart was sinking. I wasn't feeling happy. As a joke, over the course of the day, I'd been talking to my work-colleague, referring to myself in the third person. So, to continue that joke for a few more phrases - "Ashley wasn't happy". I couldn't tell you exactly why I wasn't up. I think it's probably obvious enough if you put it in joke form, though:

Q. What do you get if you add a lack of sleep, overwork, stressful situations, a demanding plan and a demanding social calendar to the last few days of a man's 34th year when he doesn't really rate his own achievements, and had a lot of big downers over the year?
A. Ashley isn't happy.

Yet, I resolved to make 2008 a good year and it has been a whole lot better. I'm not 100% convinced that I'm behaving healthily, what with my loss of dieting zeal, and my inability to stop. I would have to say that I'm driving myself to wreck and ruin (wrack and ruin? - I could Google it, but I can't be bothered). I'm aware that I'm doing it, and I'm trying to blog a bit more at the moment, so there's at least a record of this bizarre decline in my control over my existence. At the very least, I can do some forensic reading in the future to fathom it all out retrospectively. Anyway, the point is that this year has had its moments, but I'm not quite on top of it. In the weaker periods, where my exhaustion and stress collide, things that should really not matter a great deal can hurt just a little. The sad thing is when some of those things are wrapped in a package of goodness. To take an inaccurate example (in that this particular example isn't true as presented), imagine that I was chuffed about how nice my tiling in the kitchen looks, but then felt that it only went to illustrate how much work there still remained to do in that kitchen. I'd want to enjoy the nice tiles, but couldn't always block out the sense of failure. You get the idea.

I arrived in Wolverhampton a bit on the low side. I thought that getting some food might help perk me up. I decided that there wasn't time. Instead I went into the venue of the gig I was booked to close. It had been a bit of a bizarre one to get booked for and I didn't want to mess the organiser about. At first, he had been suggesting that I could do a shorter spot in the show. I was a little bristly about this. I put forward my case. I've been a stand-up comedian for about 5 years and I am reasonably good at it. I don't mind doing a gig for free or a tiny contribution to "expenses", but I don't really want to pursue short spots unless they're for big clubs. Perhaps, I could do a longer spot to close the show? That was my request. It was accepted. So, effectively, I've declared myself the headliner. That's a risky maneouvre.

But I am experienced. Tonight's gig was my 499th. That's a lot of gigs. It's no longer something I can claim I'm just doing by accident. It's clearly intentional.

I watched the show unfold and a lot of acts went before the audience. I read the audience. They seemed nice, but they could tire. They were young, they might not relate to me. They were in a large cold echoey room with air conditioning on, not heating. My set was in the third section of the show. Perhaps this audience would leave before I went on. All these thoughts went through my head. I watched the acts that went before, some of whom did stuff that made me question which stuff of mine I should do. Would the audience be affected by any similarities? Which way would they go? Would the act before me do badly and kill the atmosphere, or too well and make it hard to follow him?

As it happens, I don't get scared by gigs. In fact, I don't recall any adrenaline rush before tonight's show, though I do tend to pace the floor a bit while the show progresses. When it came time to go on, I went on. I did my stuff, I made the audience laugh. I made myself amused with the ad-libs. I had plenty of chances for interaction with the audience and I took them with alacrity. I can't rate my own performance objectively. I can only say that I was alive and happy. The stresses of the day were forgotten. 30 or so cheerful people in a room in Wolverhampton were enough to make me forget my troubles give me the energy that I had been lacking. This is why I do stand-up comedy. I know that it's a false love, the love of strangers. I know that you can flirt with pretty 19 year old girls from the safety (yes, safety) of the stage, but you don't get to take one home after the show... and if you do, then you want to question that in depth... I know that people see you as you portray yourself, and the secret is to pretend to be what you'd like to be seen to be for 30 minutes or so every so often, so you can enjoy the illusion with the audience.

I was saying to a friend, the previous night, how I thought that some of my material is lame and yet I still do it. I said that I hate it and yet love it. This is the truth. My opening bit is something I almost cringe at, yet it can make a room full of people laugh and cheer and applaud and... well... it's only jokes. Who cares?! Other stuff in life can hurt you. A cheery song can only fall on deaf ears. That's not particularly hurtful. Not after the 300th time you've sung it!

The next question is: when's gig 500?

Soon.

Wednesday, February 20

All Together

Oh the king is in the altogether, the altogether...

No, not that sort of "all together", though I'm sure that that song, which, if I'm not mistaken, was written by Mr Guys and Dolls (musical at least) Frank Loesser, is well worth remembering on this day, of all days.

This has been a day to end all days. What a day this has been, what a rare mood I'm in. Now, I'm quoting Brigadoon, the lyrics of Alan J Lerner. What I'm trying to say is that I've had one hell of a day and it's been the best of times and it's also been the worst of times. This latter quote, from the great non-bard, Charles Dickens (and not Darles Chickens) is more close to the mark, or indeed the marquee, as I went to see a Dickens-based show this evening.

But first things first. How did I spend my day? Well:
  • Job interview
  • Conference call
  • Job interview again
  • Wrting a job specification
  • Another job interview
  • Deciding on who to hire and for how long
  • Writing up a job-test answer-sheet, having long-since written the job test questions and forgotten to provide definitive answers
  • Writing some code
  • Fixing my laptop
  • Being so busy I could have missed lunch
  • Forcing myself to enjoy a nice vegetable madras for lunch
  • Leaving work later than planned, but not quite late enough to deserve a medal
The evening was more sane with a visit to this Charles Dickens show - Dickens Unplugged, which was a fun ensemble piece with some good moments, some well-executed music, though perhaps very little in the way of memorable numbers, and a hell of a lot of Dickens knowledge summarised in a couple of hours.

That's how to spend a day...

...having said that I didn't mention the late night supermarket trip I managed to cram in after the round-trip to Guildford for the play. I can't be idle. It's not what I do.

I also didn't mention laughing heartily at Radio 4's museum of curiosities, nor laughing even more heartily at Alan Carr, who suggested that he could snog Sir Paul MacCartney at the Brits and "become the new Yoko". Brilliant!

In other news, I keep forgetting to mention what a prat I was. It was day on of the grouting and we discovered a "lost" CD behind the oven. No problem. It's on mp3 anyway, but it's nice to have it back - it must have rolled behind the oven when I dropped a bag of stuff I was moving between car and my room via the kitchen. As a joke, I popped the CD into the toaster, which was unplugged and being moved out of the way of the grout.

Well, I found the CD again when I was next making toast. It's somewhat smaller now than the average disc. Oopsie!

Tuesday, February 19

A Full and Hearty Day

I spent today working on software. That is what I do. It's a good thing to do. It can also be stressful. No matter how hard you try to make something bullet proof, something will always come along and get you. Testing is the key. Lots of testing. Somehow, though, it's easy to forget this. The classic example of how "what can go wrong will go wrong" truly applies to software came about today when my very clever software for updating the system on startup, which has always done a perfect job when I've tested it, managed, on its maiden voyage in front of a real user, to destroy the very system it was intended to update - irrevocably - while appearing to make everything work perfectly. It seems that it had hit a problem and then it was the recovery from that problem which made matters worse. Typical.

However, I'm back in the land of the coders, so I was quickly able to make my already robust system (apart from the bit where it deleted the program) even more robust. It's going to be a beauty.

The stress of the day got me to about 3.30 without sustenance. I'd managed to have a rather disappointing cup of Costa coffee first thing in the morning. Well, my definition of first thing is nearer to the 9.30 mark, but it had already been a big week, and it hadn't really started yet. I think the system is this: if I'm going to work my arse off for the office, then I can be forgiven for starting the day a couple of minutes after other people who also work their arses off, but are often out of the office before I am. That's a fair old system. The coffee, which I bought alongside petrol, but which was my sole reason for visiting a petrol station at all, was Costa in name, but not in quality or taste. Shame. I have high hopes of finding a better coffee to get of a morning than I've been "enjoying" so far. I don't know what plan to adopt. Perhaps I need to visit a station and find a real Costa coffee shop there.

At 3.30, with the final release of the software raring to go - some code, only barely checked in (geeks will get me on that) - we loaded it up onto a couple of the Windows Mobile devices and headed to Heathrow airport where it was due to be piloted - no pun intended. The pilot of this software is crucial to its deployment. It needed to go well. No pressure then. My team mate celebrated our journey by buying us both confectionary. I wouldn't normally have confection... well, I say that, but I've been eating a lot of crap recently, and confectionary is definitely among it. I had planned to go straight today, but I guess I picked the wrong week. This week is quite a busy one, no doubt about that. I wonder about the link between journeying and eating. It's not a surprise that railway stations have food places in them - anything to get some money out of people who will probably buy stuff while waiting - but is there more to it than that. Do we humans have a tendency to prepare for long trips by eating? In fact, do we have a tendency to prepare ourselves with eating in general? I'm not sure of this, but I'm starting to thing we may do. A bit like dogs, before they go out on a hunt (or, domestically speaking, just going for a walk) kind of psyching themselves up for it, maybe there's a sort of instinct to feed up before embarking on a voyage. I think there may also be an instinct to load up on nutrients before beginning something stressful or important. I don't know. I'm not an anthropologist, nor am I an arthropod, anteater or antipodean. Glad to have sorted that out.

So, we headed to see some users in order to go Here. Look what we made. What do you mean it doesn't work!? Shit! That's how I would sum up the rather stressful situation of putting real software in front of real users for the first time. It's just different. It's different when you have to watch them use it. Like the bit earlier where I proudly saw my auto-update programme destroy the system it was updating (don't worry - I fixed it) - it's different when it's real.

I won't divulge the results of today's trip to Heathrow. It's not important to give away company secrets to that extent. I will say that we were there a fair while, but we didn't leave under a cloud. We did leave, however, rather later than I'd hoped. I had an evening engagement that I didn't want to miss or be late for. Something would have to give.

Ashley Fact: I've worked in software for approximately "an amount of time". In truth, that amount of time is about twelve and a half years. In that time I've written lots of code, and I've gotten much much better at it. In the job I held the longest, a lot of what I wrote really did end up in front of end-users and I found that very rewarding, especially when I then had to help them make it work. It was even more rewarding when I didn't have to help them. In the tail end of this main job, I worked on a system which hadn't been allowed to be released for ages. I can't actually remember if we ever managed to get it properly released, with all of the sense of achievement and completeness that would come with that. I'd been working on it, in various states of engagement for about 18 months. Towards the tail end, I was one of "the dudes" on that project. I knew the system, I knew the code, I could make it work, they booted me off the project. That hurt. It was the singularly worst thing they could have done and it changed the coure of my life. I quit that job. I was put back onto something which I knew would "go into production". This particular system had a very appreciative main user, and was an internally used system. I could release every few hours and generally I did. It was more rewarding - it was also not the thing I'd been revving up for many months to complete. Shame. Since leaving that job, December 2005, I have not worked on a project that has been released to production. In other words, I am not sure that more than a few hours' worth of the coding I've done in the last 2 years has ever made it in front of a real user. Since quitting my last job, in which I wrote nothing which seemed to go to release, I have not been writing any "production code" at all. Until last week. This week, I went to production. I shall be writing more code. I love releasing code. It's simply what computer programming is meant to be about. This is a good time.

With my colleague dropped back at the office, I sped home to rescue what was left of my evening of Scrabble. I needed to get to London. I needed food. I needed a shower - well, it was an option - and I needed to rearrange the meeting time.

All of these things were achieved with a little cheating - I got a lift to the station, which took the duration of a shower to arrive at my house (thanks to a housemate who was just leaving work when I spoke with him). So, I showered, got to the station, got a sandwich and a late-running train and then found myself at the venue at exactly the time I said I expected to be my delayed arrival time.

Scrabble, chat and time passed with great joy.

Then back on the rail system and back home. I would definitely have a day like today again, though if it could have more hours, I could have less replanning and more time for Scrabble, rather than being chucked out of pubs because they're "closing". Why do they bother chucking you out? If they let you wait, the pub would soon be open again.

I bumped into a "Fringe Friend" at Camden station, which was weird. I saw one of her shows in Edinburgh last August, but I didn't actually recognise her at first when I saw her in camden. Context means a lot. I sort of thought I might recognise her, then she looked like she knew me, so then I worked out who she was. I exclaimed "Good grief", or "Crikey" or something equally The Beano. We then had a quick chat on the tube home. It felt good being me tonight.

Monday, February 18

Too Much

This day carried on from the previous one, owing to my stupidity in pulling an all-nighter. Second all-nighter in the same job. I've never done one in any other job, though I once went to my Newcastle job after about 30 minutes' sleep, after flirting in a post-gig haze in Edinburgh (September 2004) and finding myself on the street with an Australian girl a little closer than I expected at about 5 in the morning. Blimey.

I spent the morning feeling light headed in the other office where I sometimes go. We sorted some stuff out. Then I headed to the main office and my head grew clearer. I hadn't planned to work too late, hoping to get an early night. The day ploughed on, though, and there was lots to do. I wrote some code. Then it was suddenly after 6 and I was weary.

I headed home. The day had nearly beaten me. I had time to do some washing up and then fall into a near comatose sleep, which lasted a good 11 hours. I like sleeping. I don't get it as much as I'd like to, though.

Sunday, February 17

A Chip Off The Old Block

The story of the day:

Woke up.
Had some breakfast.
Worked on the floor.
Worked on it some more.
Made some silly jokes.
Had some silly in-phrases for the work in question.
Made lots of saw-dust.
Used the "not giving a shit" system and it worked.
Did some excellent work.
Had some issues with hanging a door.
Got some lunch in a Polish deli.
Did more work.
Used saw, stanley knife, jigsaw and circular saw.
Gave up on masks and other protective gear.
Did more "not giving a shit".
Lied about how much time I had remaining so that I could present an extra hour's effort as a present.
Did the extra hour and then headed back down south.

Then I decided it would be fun to go to work and work more on the things which were on my mind regarding the code. This proved to be a curious strategy. I arrived at the office at 2.14am and did about 4 hours. I threw away about 3 hours of the work when it was apparent that I was writing some excellent code, but it was fundamentally flawed and it would be foolish to invest another 6 hours to get forwards from that particular point. It's a hard and numbing decision to make.

I went home around 6.30 to get a shower and chill out before continuing the work. Doing an all-nighter, eh? Why!? Because I could, I think.

Saturday, February 16

Travel and DIY - some of my favourite things

I woke up late enough to feel guilty about it, got ready, headed up North. I was worried that the plan to arrive at lunchtime would be thwarted. I didn't arrive anywhere near lunchtime. In fact, I sauntered up the M1 at legal speed, stopped off for a Costa - my new preferred coffee - and bought a little widget to transmit my mp3 player via radio to my car stereo. I was surprised when this worked acceptably well. Then I continued up the road, arriving in Leeds at my friend's house before he did.

I used the time waiting profitably. I say that, what I actually did was configure the little iPaq I use for my sat nav so that it could access the internet via my mobile phone. I've tried such a thing before, but it didn't work and I really don't need it to. At the moment, though, I'm working all day on windows portable software and so I'm much more familiar with the operating system and experimenting with it. So, I got it to work. Then the battery ran out. I know it was pointless. Curiously, though, I think I may be suffering from some work-related phenomenon where I can't actually unwind and stop doing stuff. So, I think I just had to work on something while I waited for my friend to arrive at his house, back from his week away in Wales. (Week away in Wales - sounds Welsh just to say it, doesn't it!?)

We prepared for the DIY. We did this by playing his new piano a little. Then we prepared further by buying a car load of materials. Then we prepared by buying some "Benefit Flakes" from Aldi - an apparently joke-named item that proved to really exist and taste ok.

Back at the house we got going on the DIY which proved to be more work than we anticipated, and also took us to midnight. There would be much work to continue the following day.

Thursday, February 14

Valentines My Arse

Didn't get a card.

I did work until a time and then go home, get dressed, walk into town and go to see a show at JOngleurs. I saw it from the point of view of a comedian, though I wasn't performing. I was guested in by one of the acts, and enjoyed the corporate hospitality and the atmosphere of the gig. I saw a legendary headline performance and then went home happy. Job done.

Wednesday, February 13

Oceans Of Work

I woke up early this morning. I then went back to sleep, the effort of the previous night somewhat reducing my already low capacity for early morning wakery.

Never mind. The car wasn't too iced up, and I was on the road in time to be in the office "fashionably late". Effectively, this is about 20 past nine, and if anyone's really going to get up tight about that in an environment where many people work ridiculously long hours and I work myself more than a healthy number, then I think those people should take a good hard long look at themselves in a mirror. Who knows, they might like what they see. Alternatively, they might wonder where their youth was, where life has escaped and when it managed to ebb so cheekily from their worn out soul.

I got on with various tasks this morning. The main task was being angry at the reluctance of the coffee machine to deliver a coffee. Then there was the being angry at the plethora of meetings that littered the day, threatening to take me away from the coding. The lovely coding. Turning ideas into working theoretical machinery - it's what I do best of the things that I do. I have done more coding this week than I have in my entire time in this job. Sickening. But... well, perhaps this is the start of something new. I'm feeling it. I'm really feeling it.

As the day progressed, my time with the code was brief but rewarding. It makes me have a sort of sore-headedness when I have to go away and deal with something else. I was especially bothered by the other things I had to deal with since I know I need to get something completed this week, so it follows that time stolen from the code during the working day becomes my own time used after working hours to make it up. This is, of course, not good.

However, I want success. I want to achieve something which I write and then goes into production. This hasn't happened for years. It's going to happen. Some of my code will be used by an end user next week. Oh yeah!

At about 8.30, with a bug having cropped up on my screen, I had to rush out of the office. I needed to get to B&Q before it shut. Monday's grouting needed finishing off.

To my surprise, I arrived home with six kilos of grout at about 9.30, had some food and then proceeded to finish the grouting. I applied just under 3kg of the stuff, which gives me a bag to return and a sense of having achieved something. It really makes the kitchen look a whole lot better. I'm pleased with it.

I can't really stop. With gigs, DIY and other stuff, I don't really get the chance to slow down. Sadly, I can't stop myself eating shit too, so the weight feels to be creeping back on. This is not good. I can't do everything at once. I need to get a grip, though.

Next week, perhaps.

Tuesday, February 12

Cantering To Canterbury

More work on the coding today. Not quite as much work on it as I'd have liked, as various meetings got in the way. However, I ripped through many albums through my headphones, taking a very quick lunch at my desk and generally celebrating my new found life as a computer programmer. Why it's almost as if I should have taken a job in computer programming if I enjoy it so much. Oh yes. I did.

The tail end of the day involved a planning meeting which came to a close just in time for me to hot foot it toward the evening's activities. We had a gig in Canterbury. By "we", I mean myself and a comedy friend. We had been told that we would be closing a night of comedy, then we were told that we'd be opening it, so could we be there early. 7.30? No. No way. I had to pick my friend up from Woking station at 6.30 and there was no way that the laws of physics, and, more importantly, the national speed limits, would permit us to get from there to the gig in one hour. I reckoned about an hour and a half, plus time for traffic. This is exactly the time we made.

We arrived, a little flustered, to find out that we were back on at the end. Sigh. Still, plenty of time to relax and enjoy the improv show at the start of the night. Isn't it hard to follow an improv show with three scripted stand-up comedians? Yes, it is, thank you for asking. It's especially hard when it's a student audience who aren't quite sure what to find funny, and who are tired. Excuses over with, the gig was interesting. I did my half hour out of sheer tenacity, rather than because I was having so much fun. I could have done a cheeky ten, but I'm just doing what I do for my own purposes, now, so who knows.

After the gig we drove back to Southampton. By "we", I mean "I". I drove my friend there to drop her off and then came back to Reading, arriving at an ungodly/unseemly and unsensible (is that a word) hour. However, on the way to Southampton, stops were partaken of. The Clackett Lane services were particularly good, where we made the Costa man laugh with the power of our enthusiasm for his chocolate sprinkles in the form of a heart on the top of the froth.

Monday, February 11

Going For It

The start of a whole new world of my job. The morning was in someone else's office, which was fun. Then I went into the office. I set my computer up to do some coding. I started work on the coding. I knew exactly what I was going to make and the "how" sort of emerged. The day flew by. My lunchtime, inserted between office trips, came and went in a quick flurry too, during which I managed to get a surprise haircut - it was something of an impulse buy on the way to get lunch and some washing powder from Sainsbury's.

Then I did some more coding. When I was done, I headed back home - after 8pm. It was DIY time.

My housemate and I started work on the grouting. We grouted until we could grout no more - this was owing to the fact that we'd used the 1kg of grout and had no more to use. So, I went onto some paint stripping.

You can't do DIY all night, so I went back to doing some coding. I did it on my home PC. Luckily, I still had some software development tools on there from the time when I was job seeking and trying to get my skills up to date again. I coded until about 1.30am. I was doing something for my own benefit. If any old my old work colleagues were to hear that I re-wrote my legendary progress bar library in .NET they'd probably laugh. This version is better. Really it is! Simpler.

I slept happy.

Sunday, February 10

An Afternoon and Evening in my Home Town

I woke at lunchtime, having failed to get up any sooner. I had been quite tired out from the weekend so far, so fair enough. I did my usual trick of going to B&Q. I bought various things I would need for my forthcoming DIY. I bought some fence spray so I could do my Reading fencing. This proved to be quite a messy job. I also bought some timber, including a bit of architrave to replace the bit I'd put up and didn't really like. I also returned some items that were either surplus or non-functioning, and I came back with some replacements for the naughty kitchen lights. Naughty lights. They'll go up when the kitchen has been repainted, which should be soon.

The various DIY tasks that followed took me to about the right time to head off for my gig. I headed off. I got some beers. I met a friend. We got some beers and watched the gig. The gig was pretty awful. The beers weren't really helping. Then I went on and had a pretty awful gig too, in terms of scripted material at least. The "ad libs" were quite effective. Such is life. Sexually harrassing my audience, apparently, is funny.

Home was via the chip shop. I'm a cheeky so and so with food right now and I'm sure I'll pay for it.

When I got home, my energy vapourised and I lay on the bed, unable to do anything more.

Saturday, February 9

A Whistle Stop Tour

Today is best explained as a list:

Newcastle - woke, B&Q, bought fence post spikey thing, fence preservative and a spray gun - used them, then left.
Leeds - arrived there, had a shower a coffee, some apple crumble, a chat with my mum, then left.
Chester - arrived, hung out with the comedians, performed, watched the gig, had a good time, then left for Reading
Reading - arrived rather late. Went to bed.

Not a short day.

Friday, February 8

The Pre Journey Gig

I arrived at the gig with my car full of tools. This proved handy as there was something wrong with the PA system. I soon diagnosed and fixed the problem. The audience of 7 were not that impressed when I told them about it, though I made them laugh, opening the show with alacrity before getting in my car for a long long long drive to Newcastle where I arrived at about 3am. That was my night. Any questions?

Some Me Time

It's after 6pm and I'm still in the office. I'm just taking a few moments to myself before I start on the weekend. It's been one hell of a week and there's been very little time to catch up on the sorts of back-burner leisure activities like blogging. That's not entirely true, but I would say that my bloggage and facebookage for this week have been at a low ebb.

On the up-side today, I got some news about how I'll be working, which is nice, and I also took my team out for a nice lunch. Lunch is always good.

Tonight should be a big one. I've got a gig at 8pm tonight in Reigate, Surrey. After that, I'm driving to my house in Newcastle. The plan is to get some sleep, then I need to go to B&Q in the morning and get the necessary stuff to sort out the fence in the back garden that I didn't get the chance to sort out last weekend. I just want it done. Also, I'm increasingly of the opinion that I should get some use out of the Newcastle house, just to make the most of the huge amount of money I spend on it.

Saturday night I've a gig in Chester, followed by the drive home to Reading. On Sunday I wake up in Reading, maybe I'll do some DIY, or maybe I'll not. Then Sunday night I've got a gig in Reading. That's my weekend sorted.

Oh, and I forgot to bring a towel with me from home, so I'm due to drop into my parents' place between Newcastle and Chester for a quick shower on Saturday afternoon. The Newcastle trip will indeed be brief.

I've got that Friday feeling, for sure! It's been a very challenging week professionally and next week is the beginning of a whole new world for me... or at least I hope it is. We'll see.

Thursday, February 7

A Country Pub

After a busy day at work in which my stress levels got to an uncomfortable level, I had a trip to meet a friend at a pub in Surrey. I had managed to deal with the sort of stress that made me want to curl up and hide under the desk. I dealt with it by changing the location of my next meeting to somewhere away from the desk, so I didn't get a place to hide. I, instead, drove to another office, having a conference call, and then had a "bull session" in that office, followed by the continuation of that session over the phone as the other person I was sessioning with drove home and I drove to the pub in Surrey.

I arrived somewhat frazzled, unable to think especially straight. However, an evening of silly conversation and plenty of coffee sorted that out. I enjoy a nice evening out in good company.

I arrived home to find a car parked directly on the entrance of my drive. It was also parked further off the road, so the cunning system for driving up the pavement wasn't an option. However, there was a space opposite my house - this space wasn't the length of my car, but it was wide enough to accommodate the nose of my car, enabling me to use it to maneouvre my car so I could reverse onto the bit of pavement in front of my garage - there was a car's width between this annoying car and the next one along. So, the roadside was then car, car, nose of my car, annoying car, car, car, car. I realised that I'd pretty much locked all the cars nose-to-tail with my move.

Then I realised that the car which was in my way was for sale, so I rang the mobile number on the for-sale note and left a silly message.

I packed the car for my weekend's jaunt and then got some food and went to bed. Sleeping on a full stomach is not a good idea.

Wednesday, February 6

I Just Can't Stop

In the middle of the day I rang a friend and suggested we go out for something to eat after work. What would have been a trip to Nandos turned into a trip to a country pub. This is a place I've eaten at before and thought was good. We've never been together, though and it was nice. My friend drove and I navigated. Without Sat Nav. I guessed a bit. It worked. Yay!

My friend is a post-office worker, so she had to be home by 9pm. This left me with an evening free. I know. Some people might go to bed. Not me. I started the DIY.

One of my kitchen lights is not working. That was soon down, replaced temporarily by a hanging pendant bulb on a wire sort of a thing. Then there was the bit of wood above my kitchen door which I've been fantasising about replacing with a proper architrave. Architrave applied! Then there was the bit of architrave with a gap in. Bit of architrave of same basic style was applied to the gap with filler. Job done.

There was the awful gap in the paintwork on the door frame where the "door stop" was replaced. I had considered sanding. In the end, I spent an hour or so removing the paint with a paint stripper. That wasn't bad, considering I didn't have a suitable scraper.

Then the challenge. Could I maybe sand all the woodwork in the kitchen that needs painting? Could I? Well, I'll have a go. Oh, yes I could... ok. I know it's late, but I bet my housemate, who left the room at about 9.30pm, would be really impressed in the morning if all the woodwork in the kitchen were primed. I'll just...

At 2.30am, I'd finished my marathon DIY session. I can't actually stop working at the moment. I'm quite productive too. I quite like that.

Tuesday, February 5

High Turnover

I got some CDs and a DVD in the post today. My plan was to go home, watch the DVD and get an early night.

In reality, I got home, did some tidying, some laundry, my ironing, and the watching of the DVD. I was busy throughout the night. In the end it was late and I was sleeping. It wasn't the perfect preparation for an early meeting the next morning...

Monday, February 4

Last Minute

I got a text this morning while I was in a meeting. It offered me a gig. I like being offered gigs. I accepted. This meant that I had to rush home to get changed and get my guitar. Not a problem. I can do that. And so it was that I found myself heading out to a gig in London to be the closing act. I like this particular gig, though on this occasion the audience seemed tired and not very responsive. A friend of mine came along, last minute, to watch the gig and we had a weird conversation about quantum physics as I dropped her home. I say "we" - the bi-product of being on stage is a bit of a self-interest in conversations. I may have been lecturing. It was a big start to the week, though. I like starting big.

Sunday, February 3

Back Down

I got the fence finished. It took some doing, and it's awfully wonky, but I got it up. The fence on the other side, however, wasn't so straightforward. The simple fact is that I didn't have the right materials to do the job, nor the right tools. Realising that my 4pm B&Q dash was fruitless, I went back to the house, packed the car and then drove to my friend's place in Leeds, where I was fed and we listened to MP3s until it was far too late.

Then I headed back to Reading. I arrived late and tired. This is the story of my life.

Saturday, February 2

Gardening Leave

I woke up today planning to do the quick sort out required to get the fence sorted out. I also woke up today about 2 hours later than I planned to. Overall, not a great start to the day. Now, I'm about to tell you of my escapades in the garden and what I managed to pack into the day. I'm going to make it sound like it was hard. I've already mentioned that things didn't go to plan with the waking up, and many other expectations were not met... but don't worry. I am in a good mood. Today has, in many twisted ways, been good.

I dressed and went outside, having had my morning smoothie. It soon became apparent that I'd have to take away some fence panels and replace them. Then it became apparent that the panels were the sort which I can't buy because they're too big for my car. Then it became apparent that the neighbours' second fence was also completely rotten. I should quickly point out about the neighbours' second fence. At some point there was a pleasant fence between the two properties. This fell into disrepair a bit, and my house's previous owner solved the problem by sticking up a new fence on my side. This was, I think, also a measure of increasing their privacy.

I've always had a good relationship with the neighbours with this particular fence, and it was one of them that alerted me to the fact that I'd be needing to spend some quality fencing time on it this visit. To cut a dull story shorter, I ended up stripping a lot of very old fencing wood from both my collapsed fence and theirs. In the end I had a load of wood, a number of lacerations from prickly weeds, and the necessity of a trip to B&Q. I was cold and I still had the downed fence from last year to sort out. When I'd just bought my Reading house there were some fence panels down on the other side of the garden and my tenants hadn't managed to put the replacement ones up as I'd requested.

Before I headed to B&Q, I dug the necessary holes for the new fence, which would be one with vertical slats, rather than big panels, and I worked out what to do with the other side. It was going to be a busy day!

I succumbed to the burger van at B&Q. Why!? But I did.

I bought a load of stuff and filled the car, tying the boot down with the bag they gave me.

Back at the house, I did my trick of maximising my journeys between the back garden where there was all the detritus from the fence (and other gardening mishaps of the past) and the car, where there was a car full of things from B&Q. So, I walked into the back garden with fenceposts in my hands and back out with bags of crap to bin or big bits of fence to leave out the front.

So, a productive 20 or 30 minutes I suppose.

Then I set to on building the fence. I did about 3 hours of labouring in the garden before the absence of light and any heat in my body brought me back inside. My new section of fence is 8 metres in length. It has 3 new fence posts, requires 8 cross pieces and about 50-60 verticals. I managed to erect the posts and three quarters of the cross pieces were also attached. It's hard work when you really need someone to hold the other end. Still, I used some Spax screws, so I'm happy.

Back inside, I had a hurried meal, a hurried shower - not necessarily in that order, and listened to the second half of the radio programme I'd heard on the way to B&Q - the very entertaining Jammin'. Then I discovered that the evening's entertainment - a musical in Durham, called Mack and Mabel, which was being performed by the group I used to be in, started at 7.15, rather than my previous estimate of 7.30. I wasn't running late, but I decided to head out of the house as though I were. I didn't want to be rushed or stressed.

I have been quite excited about seeing this show, since I set aside the date to come and see it ages ago, and have since heard rave reviews from someone who went to see it earlier this week. I parked in Durham centre, and the excitement of being about to see a show containing people I know, that was likely to be good, made me do a nice jaunty jump in the street.

As I was waiting for the show to start, some members of the group, not in this particular show, turned up and we had our pre-show drink together. That was nice. It was good to catch up. I'd been reading the programme and grinning from ear to ear about the sheer familiarity of it all. It's nice to see that, 3 years since I last did a show with this group, that the same people are still involved, by and large, and that they're using the same modus operani, and that they're going from strength to strength.

The show itself was stunning. Tons of chorus work, tons of set pieces, tap dancing here and there, and it just got bigger and better as it zoomed along. I was either grinning or cackling with laughter - in some cases, I was cackling at the sheer scale of the production along with the fact that I could tell how much work they'd had to put in, and I was kind of glad I hadn't had to do that work - though I know it would have been a total hoot.

After the show I got to catch up with those myriad people from the group whom I've had the pleasure of working with and calling friends in the past.

I'll be honest. If I could snap my fingers and move back up North, and have the security and future that I'm trying to cultivate down South, it would be almost worth doing it just for the chance to get back involved with this musical theatre society. Almost. I think I'm in a position where I can idealise, and I am doing. I've spent the weekend in my house, which is different from when I lived here, but is presently empty save for myself. As a result, I've almost been a tourist in my own past. You always see a place differently as a tourist, because it's all about the temporary nature of the visit and the entertainment you get from it.

Okay, so working my arse off on a garden fence is probably harder graft than most people do on holiday, but you get the point. I don't wash my pants in Newcastle, so I'm not really living here for this weekend. I haven't had to worry about learning tap steps, lines, songs or anything else, so I can idealise the fun of doing shows (it is fun, mind). In truth, I'm not sure I could come back and make a realistic go of things in Newcastle.

Some readers of this blog will want to insert some comments on this, proving me wrong.

I'll put it differently. I can't do it now.

I will be thinking about it over the course of the year, mind.

Friday, February 1

Working From Home?

I woke up in Newcaste with about 10 minutes before I was due to start work. I was remote working today. The secret to remote working is to be present electronically - make sure you're in touch with your work colleagues, so they don't get the sense that you're swinging the lead. With a company provided mobile phone and the ability to tap into the company network from anyway, it's not easy to be present. The morning started with a chat with the manager of the project I'm working on, preparing for the presentation we were doing at 10. During this chat, I had to let in the plumber who was going to do the gas safety inspection on my boiler.

After the chat I spoke to the gas guy who basically told me that my boiler should be in a museum and that it's a miracle it's still working. I know. It will be a miracle if I ever have the money to pay for its replacement. Sigh.

Then, the plumber continued as the actual conference call occurred. We did the presentation to lots of people in different countries, all working through a set of powerpoint slides that I'd written earlier in the week. This is important stuff. I managed to sign my gas safety inspection paperwork and pay for the inspection during the call by a series of mimes. Job done.

I spent the rest of the day sorting things out, with an hour's break for lunch. I was still working at late o'clock - around 7pm English time.

I went to the supermarket for some supplies, came home and ate some of these supplies, and then it was time for the painting.

On my previous trip, I'd managed to repaint all of the dining room except the woodwork. There were a lot of windows to do and I didn't have the time last time. So, I spent all night, and I'm not exaggerating, painting the windows. It took effort, but I think I did a reasonable job. Sadly I can only do one coat of paint on such trips and tomorrow's fence-repair requirements were likely to guarantee that I'd not have the chance to come back for a sneaky second coat.

I went to bed after a shower, having really exerted myself, both professionally and also DIYingly.

Newcastle isn't my home any more, but it's somewhere I seem to be comfortable sleeping in my sleeping bag in.

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