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Wednesday, April 30

Ill

Aaaagh.

I had two job interviews to conduct today. I croaked my way through them. The team was also trying to resolve an evil problem. We diagnosed things through and got very little in the way of eureka moments. The cold was getting all the more overpowering by the minute and at just after 4pm, I gave up and went home.

I had a plan. I would watch some TV and then try to sleep as long as possible. I was successful. I watched two episodes of Garth Marenghi's Dark Place and then the exhaustion and illness overcame me and I passed out. I had some moments of near consciousness where I perceived myself as a combination of a temperature and a heart beat. I also had some being-awake time at around 9pm where I managed to go and get some home made soup and listen to a documentary on Humphrey Lyttelton, after which I watched my third episode of Dark Place and then passed out again for nearly a further 12 hours.

I'm rubbish when I'm ill.

In reality, I haven't time to be ill. There's a gig tomorrow night, which I guess will have to be cancelled if I'm not well enough to do it. Then there's the weekend in which I'm supposed to be doing a gig on the Friday night and then driving up to Scotland in order to do a long weekend's hard landscaping. It's when I'm a little physically weakened and I look at the stuff I get up to in life that I realise how much I actually do.

Still, recovery time is worth taking if I'm ill and I'm sure things will improve.

Tuesday, April 29

Leaving

A friend of mine has been working with us for the last few weeks. We agreed to do a little leaving celebration for him tonight, and so I ended up on the inside of the ex-Millennium Dome at a music gig. This is now the O2 Dome and it has two Starbucks and a Nandos in it. I think it's very selfish of them to have two Starbucks when Bracknell has none. It has a Nero, but that's not quite the point.

Anyway, the gig was interesting. It was enjoyable, but possibly for the wrong reasons... at least until the act we were there to see took to the stage. The wonderful Dawn Kinnard was just amazing. Her voice seemed equally as croaky as my cold-induced voice had been all day, yet it seemed perfectly tuneful and oozing charisma. Some of what she played made me feel musically inspired, as I realised anew how many patterns of music there can be and how soul just is soul.

The other parts of the gig, before the closing act, were in many ways ludicrous. I could have stuck it out, though my friend was keen in some sections, to get out of the room. Where I was sticking it out, my head was filling with tons of ideas about lampooning the music on display. There's no two ways about it - if watching a band being serious can make you laugh, then that band is probably not bringing anything world-enriching to the gig. As a musical comedian, though, I don't mind finding the funny in other people's music - especially if I can then turn that music to my own evil purposes and make my audiences laugh.

I should probably write some new material.

On the way to and from the gig I had my mp3 player on and various episodes of I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue playing. I was listening more to Humph than I was to the rest of the cast. I had the chance to appreciate him again. That's something to be thankful for too.

Monday, April 28

Candles And Friends

Afer work today, feeling a bit under the weather with the start of a cold, I headed to Southampton. It had been my original plan to perform at an open mic night in the city, but I decided that my voice was rough enough, having performed 9 gigs over 8 days last week, and that I could just as easily watch the gig and enjoy it, as I could be a part of it.

So I picked up a friend of mine, due to play at the gig, and we went along. It was a lot of fun. It has to be said that you see the venue differently when you know you're not going to take to the stage. As it was, I got to see a range of music and other performance-type acts. My friend sang one song, which spoke to me on various levels.

I sat at a table of people I know, or was about to get to know better. It was a good night, though it ended in tears for some. I think that there was a moment when it could have ended in something other than tears, as I offered to take one person on a road trip to Guildford to satisfy the emotions evoked by a rather wonderful jazz combo. As it happened, though, this was not meant to be. So I got to go directly home instead.

Evenings can change direction in an instant.

Sunday, April 27

Going Spare

I had expected this weekend to be harder work. I had expected to wake up in Newcastle, do some more work on the kitchen or garden, and then have to head back to Reading late and tired.

As it was, I woke up at my friend's place in Leeds. I wasn't particuarly tired, nor was I full of beans. There was time to go out to buy a tool to unblock the recently blocked toilet (not my fault... okay a little my fault) and then use it. His protestations that it was being used incorrectly were converted to general disgust about the pumping of waste water, but the effectiveness of this procedure was not disputed. Blockage gone.

I drove back to Reading and managed to spend some time in the house clearing stuff away. I totally emptied the sitting room, which would be the subject of some plastering in only a few hours. I filled the garage with my tools and then I was done.

Surely, I thought, I'd be prepared for the week ahead. I hadn't quite figured on the onset of cold, signalled already by the tender throat, which can sometimes be voice strain, or can sometimes be my body's first sign that the immune system is under attack.

Saturday, April 26

Better Than Could Be Expected

We woke up. There's an achievement. Last time we tried this, it went wrong through lack of waking up. This time, however, the waking was achieved. Then we drove (and by we, I mean me) to Newcastle to see what to do about the ceiling that was falling down. As it happened, my memory of the broken ceiling was more grotesque than the reality. After a little pulling down of debris and some attaching of plasterboard, it turned out that the gaping hole was just a replastering job. I'm not a plasterer, but I could do something approaching a patch here.

A trip to B&Q enabled us to buy less than £20 worth of bits and bobs to sort out the ceiling and also reseal the bath. Having worried about the expense of the leak in the first place, it's amazing to think that it came down to about £20 overall.

I patched the ceiling with my amateur artexing skills. There will be some repainting at some point soon, but I'd done all I needed to. There was time left over to do some work on the garden, throw a whole bunch of crap out, and even discover the holly that was growing up through the skirting board - note to self: the trees want in!

That was that. Less than 6 hours and we were done. I dropped my friend back in Leeds and headed to my gig. I arrived in plenty of time and watched the first two acts. This proved to be a pretty tricky room for about three reasons. I'm not going to say what they were, though. Ha!

Anyway, I went on and had a nice gig, using my special system of loving the audience to a point where they assume that they must, at least, like me. One particular audience member was very easy to love and I asked her if she could turn down how hot she was being for a bit... it was hard to concentrate. Tee hee. Who's the alpha male now? Not me.

After the gig, a girl approached me with what seemed like some sort of a come-on. Floored though I was at first, I soon spotted the signs. The giggling friends in the background, the rather odd level of conversation. This was a put-up job. I switched back-foots and started to engage her in more meaningful conversation. Her friends arrived and then we had a change in dynamic. One intensive woman in conversation - a bit weird. Five women gathered around you - an audience.

The job was, as they say, a good'un.

I left Manchester with a spring in my step and returned to my friend's house in Leeds. The day had had a number of bonuses and I felt in good spirits.

Friday, April 25

No!!!

I left work in plenty of time to get to my gig. The requested arrival time was way earlier than necessary. Still, I managed to get some warm-up time and messed about with a piano that would be used later on.

When it came time to do my thing, I think I managed to amuse and offend the audience in equal measure. They weren't keen on the ruder aspects of my work, but I think I got away with it by attempting to be genuinely charming and using phrases like "even doing this one in a Noel Coward voice doesn't appear to ameliorate the experience".

Ameliorate.

What a tosser.

I scooted pretty sharpish, having pushed enough boundaries for one evening. I had to get to Leeds in order to continue my weekend as intended.

I was in the car, listening to Radio 2. It was about 20 minutes to 11. They interrupted the program to bring some breaking news. Jazz player and broadcaster...

No!!!

When they start an announcement like this you try to guess, from the description who they mean. Jazz player and broadcaster... it had to be Humph. If they were announcing it like this... then... he had to be... please be a knighthood. Please be some sort of celebration of the still living legend.

Nope.

We lost Humphrey Lyttelton.

Sitting on the freshly laid carpet at my friend's house in Leeds, on the outside of one or two mini barrels of lager, we mused that there would be a great celebration of his life and works over the next few weeks and months and that we could appreciate him all the more... but... I'd rather he were still with us.

Can you grieve over someone you never really knew?

Thursday, April 24

A Bit Of Balance

There's a guy who organises gigs for me sometimes. He's running a club in Ealing and hasn't asked me to do it yet. Odd. You'd think he'd prioritise someone he books.

Having said that, tonight he had me booked to do a gig in London, not too far from Ealing.

During the meanwhile, my life isn't just about doing gigs. It's not just about work. There are other things to it too. I'm not always sure what they are, but sometimes I'll commit to being a part of something and if I commit, then I'll do it. That's what being committed is all about. So, let me tell you a story.

Some time ago, on Facebook, I noticed that there was someone trying to get people to pose with a photo of the Allo Allo actor Arthur Bostrom. I'm not going to claim to be a huge fan of the guy, but I've enjoyed his hilarious mispronunciations and I did once see him in the Merry Widow, in which he hilariously mis...

Anyway, I said that I'd join the facebook group or whatever and have my photo taken. Occasionally, I'd notice someone else having theirs taken and be reminded of my commitment. Tonight, realising that I'd be in London, the last exchange with the photographer/organiser having lain dormant a while, I contacted her to offer a chance to meet up. She suggested that, since my gig was not too far from her home, I might drop in for coffee before I did the gig. Job's a good un.

What I expected was to help someone out with a bit of silliness. What I got was something much more edifying. Please join in yourself if you can. See www.thesignedphotograph.com for more info on this. Anna is a woman on a mission. This mission has importance beyond the apparent goal (to collect photos) and if you're one of the people who gets involved, then you're going to be a part of something special. So I got my boost for the week then and there.

For every boost, there's a flop. The gig was cancelled.

Then for every flop, there's a plan B - I'd go to the other gig to see how it was faring. I'd been asked by its organiser to post a bulletin looking for acts, so perhaps there would be someone good on - or maybe I could sneak on.

As I arrived the organiser looked relieved. "There's an Ashley-shaped hole in the bill" he proclaimed. "I'll get me guitar" I retorted.

So, I did a gig. I lost and gained and offered and received all in one bizarrely karmacally balanced evening of joy.

Wednesday, April 23

Time To Wipe My Arse

It has been said that I must be too busy to do some of the basic things in life like wipe my arse. It's been said recently. In truth, there are some things I don't do well. I don't dust, and I really need to spend some quality time with a brush and a mop at some point soon. I wish my teeth were cleaner also. However, in general, I seem to find time for botty cleansing.

Today has been a busy one. I have had to harness the power of multi-tasking in order to make the day work out. In general, though, it's just a matter of ignoring some limitations, like the average human's need to sleep.

I seem to be finding time to write a lot on this blog this month, despite the huge amount of time I feel like I spend forgetting to write it. I also worry that I might, as a result of a series of fires and data losses, accidentally be the Samulel Pepys of the future. What if my blog is the only thing which survives? It recounts the day to day life of a person, but I'm not the average person in the 21st century. Far from it. I'm a freak. I'd hate some future reader to think that what I do is normal. What would the casual reader say about the human race, if they only had my blog to go on?

"In the early 2000's, many men of around 34 were single and stand-up comedians, working a day job, doing lots of DIY, talking about girls they'd never even meet, let alone form a bond with, and driving around the country."

Somehow, I don't want to be responsible for that false view of the average male of my era.

As I, myself, look back on this blog occasionally, maybe I can offer a view of what I did today in the context of a man on the edge:

8.45 - warned my 9 o'clock meeting attendees that I was running late
9.15 - commenced a job interview, video conferenced with Hungary
10.20 - started answering emails
12.30 - started thinking about lunch
1.30 - managed to get lunch with a friend
2.30 - prepared for a meeting
3.00 - had the meeting, audio-conferenced across 5 countries
3.45 - started solving the problems arising from the meeting
4.45 - headed out of the door, on the phone continuing to solve the problems
4.46 - 6.45 - drove to Birmingham, on various conference calls
6.45 - 10.15 - sat in a pub in Birmingham getting ready for a gig that was also going to be recorded for a small digital TV channel.
10.15 - 10.30 - rushed across Birmingham to another gig
10.31 - discovered that the other gig had descended into madness
10.39 - got onto the stage and started dealing with the insanity
10.50 - got off the stage and watched the other act, who had come from the other gig
11.10 - started heading homewards, stopping off for a sandwich and a couple of camping chairs along the route
01.25 - reheated some soup

A perfectly normal two-gig day with serious conference call action in it. What could be more normal?

Tuesday, April 22

The Price of Success

Every success has a price. Even if it's not as obvious as selling your soul to the devil in return for some minor legs up in the physical world, there's always a reaction to the action of success. In the case of me, I'll refer to my success in the rather tight context of how well I'm doing as a stand-up comedian at the moment, and I'll define success in two dimensions - reaction from audience and number of gigs I get to do.

This is already starting to sound a bit like a software specification in that it has dimensions of definition, but I'll try to focus on time in a moment. For now, I'll have a quick look at the price of success in terms of audience reaction.

They laugh - I feel great and become more hooked by this drug called stand-up. They laugh and I am encouraged to do more to goad laughs from them. The gigs go well and I'm given positive reinforcement of the sort of thing I do - which is much the same every time. The advantage - I feel great and really enjoy this second life I'm leading. The price - I feel under pressure to write new material, but tend to resort back to stuff I know works, under the impression that changing the formula too much may lead to it not working. I have a lack of time within which I might think of new stuff too. I'm overdoing the stand-up. I'm becoming cockier about what I can do, which is undoubtedly setting me up for some sort of fall with an audience I can't handle, or inuring me to my own failings when that happens, which might prevent me developing better.

So there's a cost of the success when it goes well.

The biggest success to cost consideration at the moment is that of the number of gigs.

Ashley's factoid: if you're working a day job, then 2 to 3 gigs a week, on average, is about the limit before you lose your mind. With that in mind, the 13 gig month is the upper limit. I've always claimed a threshold of 14 gigs a month, which I guess allows for weekends and occasional busy weeks that don't affect the average too much.

Ashley's admission: I'm way way over my 14 gig a month limit at the moment. I'm far too busy outside of work, which is coupled with being pretty darned busy within work. A good example of how busy I am within work is that I went into the office after my gig on Sunday night, just to ensure that I had balanced the work-life thing a bit more in the favour of the work, even though I'd worked way over a 40 hour week in the preceeding 7 days.

Busy. And the gigs are presently coming in faster than I can do 'em... even when I do more than one in a night.

I'd really like to be looking after myself better, but I'm tired a lot. I would probably be up late anyway, and I was home this evening at 10.30pm, which is perfectly reasonable an hour to be able to get a shower and go to bed. The problem is that I've got too many fish to fry and so I get tired, then I want to eat crap, and I can't really control what I'm eating at the moment. I say that knowing that I could, but seem not to be. I don't seem to be growing huge in size at the moment, but I don't feel like I'm getting the benefits of the weight loss that I enjoyed back in the tail end of summer. I need to get fitter.

In an attempt to try to convince myself to be healthier, I have decided to make use of the kitchen and cook for myself. I have a bread maker, which can knock out a healthyish loaf of something wholemealy, and I've bought a hand blender from Tesco (£4) which means I can easily knock up a soup from some genuine vegetables. That's not a deeply wrong thing to be having in concert for an evening meal. It's probably getting too warm for soup, but what the hell, I'll sweat out some of the other crap I've been eating.

So, there's a new thing to set against the cost of success, the cost of getting soup and freshmade bread. Ingredients - cheap. Opportunity to do it, not so cheap. Tonight, after work and before my gig, I came home, which was largely in the opposite direction of the gig, and I put my bread into the bread maker. I didn't make the soup, as I already had some soup for eating on my return (drinking, I suppose) and so I could make the next batch while eating the last later on.

I set off for my gig with the promise of a fresh loaf of bread on my return. The price of this bread - 70p... plus a 30 mile round trip that wasn't necessary... and the time to do it... mainly the time and the environmental cost. I could have just bought a loaf from Tesco on the way home, but that's not the system.

Then to the gig. The success of being booked. Yay. Except it was an open mic night. Anyone could be booked. It was also an under-populated open mic and I could easily expect my stuff to fail. I cheated. I put together a set of B-sides which I felt didn't push too many boundaries, or buttons to be honest, and I performed them up and left the audience feeling vaguely apathetic. I could ask why I bothered.

As I quipped when I got up to do the gig - "I reckon you learn something from every gig. In this case I've learned the way to Croydon." - they didn't realise the ingrained insult. Tee hee.

The cost of tonight - apart from losing four and half hours that I could have spent doing DIY in the home? I got a parking ticket, about 5 minutes before I left the gig to return to my car. The woman was still writing it on my bonnet. I was remarkably nonplussed and nonchalant about it. "Oooh, are you giving me a ticket?" I asked in a big gay bear way. She said she was. "How much will that cost me?" I asked, as though in passing. She didn't know. She had a guess. You'd have thought she could at least bother to know how much she was taxing me for stopping a car of an evening in Croydon. My fault, I suppose. I didn't check the sign, reasoning that pay and display after 8pm would be free. Not in Croydon. Midnight's the deadline. Bastard Nazis.

Still, I feel strangely disinterested in the whole thing. A few quid for parking, when the gig alone didn't cost me any real money - except £2 for a drink. What the hell. It's a night out. I've had worse than a parking ticket. When you've been to a courtroom, fearful of losing your right to drive a car, a few quid for leaving it in the wrong place really doesn't seem to hurt.

So, what price this stand-up success? I'm trying to capture my descent into insanity this week, as I'm really expecting to lose it. I had my first gig on Saturday of the run. By Saturday next, I'll have done 9 gigs in a run, in 8 days. This is a tour, alongside a day job. If I'm sane, and if I've also managed to replace a section of my kitchen ceiling in Newcastle, before next Monday, on which I plan to do an open mic in Southampton, but may just sit on a floor gibbering, then I'll award myself a prize.

This is also an important week in the lifecycle of the project I'm working on. For some reason all of that seems remarkably calm and under control - at least the arm of it that I'm dealing with does. I believe that there are other fires burning which will start to consume me next week... by then, it will be too late to save my brain.

Looking Forward To Edinburgh

Just a quick note. Slowly I'm drawing my plans up for Edinburgh (excuse the italics - quoting War of the Worlds). So far I know where I'm living, I'm thinking of taking a bike, I'm MCing a gig on even nights, and I might like a backpacker's guitar. Any questions?

Monday, April 21

Two Minus One Plus Two

Gigging is often a lonely experience. It is, therefore, quite nice to have company. I've had a bit of company at gigs recently, from a particular local act, to whom I've been giving lifts. He's newer than I am and is, therefore, doing some gigs that perhaps I shouldn't. In general, I don't do gigs I shouldn't do, but sometimes I get bored and sign up for them.

Tonight, after I'd successfully completed my handover of some work to someone else, I headed into London to do a gig that I had various bits of trepidation about. I had first applied for it when I was not so busy and wanted to keep my diary full - it's a good trick to fill the diary, so that you know you've gigs to keep yourself ticking over. I also had gotten the impression that I'd be closing a busy night... I hadn't realised how busy, though, until the email confirming the running order came through. I say email, it was more of telephone directory.

Chatting with my friend, on various journeys last week, we shared our reservations about the logistics of having 20 acts on the same bill, but we also shared a morbid fascination in how such a night might turn out. I decided not to pull, which might have been the best option, and to turn up and see what would happen. Arguably, with so many acts, the room would be full of both acts and their well wishers, before you even tried to recruit an audience. So it shouldn't be a quiet night... though you'd be best to go on earlier while they were still present and in the mood for laughing - unworn down by a tirade of acts each doing "as long as you like, really".

Arriving in London earlier than expected - seriously, where was everyone? - I tried to meet my friend at his first gig of the evening. He was doubling up. Wooo! I thought maybe I'd double up too, sneak onto the bill of the first gig too. After a lot of walking, guided by my new phone's much nicer implementation of Google Maps, towards the given post code, I rang the people at the gig to get directions that involved reversing my steps and going to the actual pub, rather than a nearby, but unrelated postal area.

At the pub, having been nearly charged entry in the vain hope that I might be audience, it became clear that the first gig wasn't going to run. We bailed. One gig down, unperformed. No doubling up for either of us (like I'm short of gigs to add to my total - is that it? is that why I'm doing it? am I trying to hit 1000 before I die?) and we headed toward The Blue Posts pub in Piccadilly.

I've played this pub before, I think. Checks gig list...

...22nd March 2004. I'm actually shocked. That was 15 months into my stand-up career, and I remember how crap I did then. I didn't realise that I was still that crap that far in... yuck. I actually doubled up that night, as the Blue Posts gig was so crap, that I went to the other bar of the same name, across town, and did their gig as well.

Anyhoo. We got to the gig and the room was rammed. As predicted, though, the succession of acts caused an audience to bail in breaks and wither to what we thought would be nobody by the end. Our two gigs might have become none, but that would not have made the Spice Girls rich as much as "Two become one" did. And so, we did our gig to a compact version of the audience. Oh yeah.

Quick aside - "Two become one" by the Spice Girls has a safe sex message in it "Get a little bit wiser baby - put it on, put it on" - yep it's a condom.

Anyway, back to the night, I closed a show to about 8 people, but they were nice, I was feeling funny, I did a short set, suggested that I'd be willing to do an encore, got the encore (it doesn't count, honest, nor does the applause after each song), did the encore and then headed out of London.

The title of this post - two minus one plus two. Well. We had two gigs, that got reduced to one. Then there was the drive home, normally just one person - me - but I had two comedians to share the journey back with. Both the guy I'd done the gig with and also another local act who had also been gigging in London, who joined us for the road trip. I got to know this guy a bit better, which is good, since I'll be doing a gig with him in Scotland later in the year, and it would be a long 16 hours in the car if we'd turned out not to get on.

Overall, it was a cracking night and one where I got to do a good gig in a room where once I'd been bad.

Sunday, April 20

Back To Southampton

After a day's DIY in the home - well, half a day, since I slept until 12ish - I tootled off to one of the gigs I've MCed the most - the Nuffield Theatre in Southampton. One of the acts from last night was also on the bill and we shared again the stories of the horror of the night before, I complained that he'd driven "the hot girl" away, as his set cleared one particular table.

A friend of mine, who also helps run the gig, questioned whether I'd be the sort of person who would actually talk to a gig after a gig. She had a point, I suggested that while I might not actually talk to the girl in question, I could at least have worked myself up into wanting to talk to her and then I could have gone home and written about it on my blog in the vain hope that she might one day Google me and read it. Oh, how we laughed. Really, we laughed until the tears of laughter dampened the floor.

I've been to Southampton way too much over the last few years.

For some reason, two things happened simultaneously. One - nobody seemed able to be really worked up. The acts/green room members were all really chilled out. It wasn't like "Oh my god - the show the show" it was "Shall we, erm... you know... er, start in a bit?" "Mnyeh". Similarly, the audience hadn't arrived in droves and weren't really champing at the bit. Yet, the bizarre flip side of this is that it was a really really nice gig. Sure, it was laid back, but the room was comfortable to perform in, silences were filled with laughter, and I felt generally happy on stage.

I wasn't at my sharpest. Some material simply didn't work, but the audience tolerated me well and I had fun with it. That's what I like to do when I'm MCing. Have some fun.

The acts did well and the closing act was worth my taking a trip to the back of the room to watch alongside the audience.

All in, a cracking end to the week.

Oh... then I took my flask of ready prepared coffee into the office and did 90 minutes' work on something I'd not managed to finish on friday. Obsessive...!

Saturday, April 19

We Didn't Click

Me and today didn't click at all, not as expected at least. The original plan, which had been to spend the day doing DIY with a friend, and then head out for about an hour to do a short set at a small gig, just didn't happen. The friend has postponed, I woke up late, so didn't even do my share of the DIY, and the gig... well... for a pub called the Dolphin arms, you might expect something like those smiley sea-faring mammals. What I got was the experience that made me glad I hadn't brought a friend along to witness it.

But, back to the beginning of the day, the alarm went off in time to wake me up to see morning, but my tired body - aware of the challenges ahead, and worn out by the challenges behind - decided that it would be best to go into hibernation until early afternoon, by which I mean that post-lunchtime period of regret, where there's still time to do some stuff, but you know you've pissed most of the day away.

I started on the DIY trail in my home and managed to do a couple of things here and there. Then the urge to tackle the boxing in of my boiler overtook me. I have been thinking about this particular task for months and months. I've drawn diagrams on my computer. I've taken measurements. I've bought tools and screws, all in readiness for a massive carpentry undertaking. I have higher priority things to do in the house, but this task wanted me to do it (that's my story and I'm sticking to it) and so do it was what I would do.. it...

I had a certain amount of timber in my house and garage, with which to start this task. The aim is to create a frame around my boiler and hot water cylinder, upon which panels can be hung, to obscure this ugly edifice. The aim is further complicated by the presence of a skylight in the scaling ceiling, which I do not want to lose the light from. In the end, the approach I took was to build bits of frame in-place, taking ad-hoc measurements and trying to make the whole thing look ok.

I didn't finish the framing as I ran out of timber. I'd need to go to B&Q the following day. However, things were timed to perfection, as I'd the gig to attend and my first attempt at bread making in the bread maker was pretty much ready.

Then things started to go wrong.

The bread had come out remarkably odd, with a concavity in it. Somehow, the combination of the fresh, slightly damp and yeasty, bread and some fizzy water made me feel a bit on the intoxicated side. I wasn't drunk, but I felt funny. Feeling funny could be a good idea when going to a comedy night. So, maybe this would help.

Then there was the comedy night. Oy ya yoy. That's how bad it was. I have to exclaim it pseudo-yiddish to give the full effect. As it happens, it was quite good fun to do, but this was not the night we'd hoped for. The promoter had warned the landlord that the gig would be better in its own room with a paying audience, the landlord felt that he knew better. In the end, we battled with an audience that clearly weren't there for comedy and didn't want it. They were awful to the first two acts - or at least, they were ambivalent with a shade of heckling.

Then the second section came and the guy on before me actually broke the room. This made the job a lot easier for me in the closing section. All I had to do was give bags of confidence and be as offensive as I could to everyone on the basis that, if I was having a go at them, they'd probably not have time to have a go at me back, and I would at least strike a comic goal in the name of those comedians before me. This sort of gig is fun for comedians to watch because it's like a parody of what gigs can turn into. As a result, you can't judge your performance on what you get back from the crowd. So it's actually a win-win situation, since any laughter or amusement you create is a bonus, and any mis-fires are genuinely the fault of the audience.

I think I made the bar staff laugh. I think I made the comedians laugh. I showed the heckler a little of what he'd get if he heckled someone who knew what they were doing on stage, and I think I suitably made a monkey out of him... though the real monkeys were probably the people who agreed to go on stage under circumstances that were not correct for doing comedy. Never mind. If the landlord agrees to have more comedy on the correct terms, then perhaps this venue could host an excellent comedy night. Last night was hardly the inaugural night on which to build on, though.

All this aside, I felt funny and confident. I am glad my friend didn't have to witness that, but I am sort of glad that I did it, rather than going to B&Q for more timber and doing more woodwork late into the night.

On the way back, having ferried two of my fellow comedians to their front doors, I stopped off at the M&S simply food that's inside a local BP garage. There was only one space to park in (I wasn't getting fuel) and it was being stood in by some lads. I approached the space, and one of the lads, in a jokey fashion, started to see me into it, waving to indicate how much further forward I should go. I decided to trust his judgement and did as indicated. Then, he rushed to the door of my car to let me out. Again, I acted as though this was particularly normal. He made some comment like "There you go sir". The pressure was on, though. I had to make this next bit work. I casually reached into my pocket, withdrew whatever coin his my hand, and without, missing a beat, tiped him.

This was, in my view, the correct answer. It might have worked perfectly, if it had been 20p or a pound coin. As it was, I stuck him a two pound coin and he refused to take it, saying it was too much. I accepted it back and rather lamely said - "well, I had to tip you".

It's hard being a comedian. At no stage in that encounter was I worried about the lads mugging me or that they were in my way. I was more concerned with doing the funniest thing for the moment. You have to admit, it rather pisses on someone who thinks they're taking the piss out of you with their faux-ushering if you then go and tip them, as though it were perfectly normal. The audience in my head were applauding. Two pounds? would it have been worth that to achieve a joke? In my view, yes. I've driven much further at much greater cost in order to get fewer effective jokes out to an audience, so two pounds is nothing.

I'm still rather amused at my calmness and presence of mind.

Shopping in M&S was intended to buy ingredients for some soup. I arrived home and made this soup, the second attempt of my bread-maker to make bread (I'd put another mix in immediately after the first), was due to be ready about a soup's cooking time later.

I ate neither the bread that was freshly out of the breadmaker nor the soup. I would leave them for the morrow. My brocolli, carrot, potato and tomato soup would, undoubtedly, be lovely, but it could wait.

Unfortunately for my sleep patterns, what couldn't wait was disc 2 of the Flight of the Conchords two disc set. It's interesting to see how they've rehashed their old material into the sit-com sort of format. If it wasn't being done so well, it would be lame. However, it's not lame. It's bloody marvellous.

Actually, though I couldn't have planned the day to work out like this, I think it went as well as it could have gone under the circumstances. It's a day I may look back on fondly.

Friday, April 18

Oh... You know... Stuff

I write some of these entries retrospectively. So sometimes it's a case of answering the question "What did you do last friday?". The answer may as well be the title of this post.

I did a solid day's work, which stretched into the evening. We got a load of stuff done. There was a last minute problem to solve. I offered my colleague the chance to solve it, because it looked like fun. He declined - sensibly taking his weekend instead. I grabbed the problem for myself in his place. It would be a chance to do some coding and also a chance to do it properly. A sensible design plopped into my head instantly and I set about making it. I was gripped.

An end of day meeting threatened to take the time away, so I worked late. The meeting was a chance to positively air thoughts and reflect on how to collaborate better. So it would have been churlish not to spend the time on that. So I worked late. I would have worked later, but there was curry to get and it was to arrive about the same time as I would, at the moment when I was summoned to "come now".

So I got curry.

I resolved to finish the coding before the weekend was out, but decided not to go back to the office that evening. That would have been too extreme.

Thursday, April 17

Busman's Holiday

I didn't have a gig tonight, so I went to watch one.

In Brighton.

I got to give my friend, who was performing in the gig, a lift home after too. She lives 50 miles from my house.

I don't know. You give a man a fuel allowance and he thinks he's a bus driver... you give a comedian a night off and he thinks he's an audience member...

It was a fun gig to watch - the funny women competition. My friend did well. She used a joke that I wrote. I was amused in a manner perpendicular to the audience.

Wednesday, April 16

Valve Day

After a rather intense day at work, in which an important meeting was held and a lot of trust was placed in some code (and in which I managed to take an enjoyable but 4-hours-late lunch), I headed home.

My plan changed quite drastically. I originally scheduled tonight as a valve day. This is my trick for planning nothing in the expectation that I'll have to sort my life out and do something useful. I was really expecting to have my laundry to do and a bunch of preparatory tasks for my weekend house guest. As the guest has cancelled, and as I did my laundry on Sunday night, I thought I might do some DIY instead tonight.

As I was leaving the office, the urge to cook came over me. I think it was actually an urge to buy fruit, but it morphed.

So I drove to Tesco, bought some ingredients, mindful of the various ingredients gathering age in my fridge, and then I returned to the house to make stuff. It was a week since my last cooking escapade, in which I made some generally well received dishes.

I stood in my kitchen, listening to a CD that I'd finally gotten the time to listen to at a point where the nearest CD player could play it, and I cooked. I made a soup. I made a lasagne. I made a mess. I cleared it up.

There's not much more to say on it than that.

Then I came upstairs and did some admin-type things, listening again to a programme I missed on the radio last night on the art of the arranger. Not a bad night in - quite restorative.

Tuesday, April 15

Sent to Coventry

I didn't mind the fact that I had to leave the office at 6 tonight. There's a time and a place for working late and it will come. It will come. I had a last-minute-arranged gig in Coventry to go to. I was taking another comedian.

As it was, this gig didn't happen to be that well attended, but it really didn't matter. The company was good, both there and back. The return leg included a chance to enjoy my Jim Jeffries CD, which is always good company and always good to share with people who've never heard the man. He's very very good.

The gig itself was probably one of the most fun gigs I've been to in a while. I pretty much threw the gig as far as my own performance was concerned, roping together bits and bobs and reading them from a sheet... losing my nerve for a bit before throwing in some stuff which actually worked. However, as far as watching a gig was concerned, I was in a room with some people I like, some people I don't know, but enjoy the performances of, and a small-but-perfectly formed audience.

As a result, stuff happened. When stuff happens, it's a pleasure to be anywhere, especially the upstairs room of a pub in Coventry where a mate has decided to MC the gig from inside his tent. How camp is that!?

Brilliant. I laughed so hard that my sides hurt. They've not hurt like that in ages. Ages, I tell you. It doesn't translate well into words, so don't worry. I didn't lose my mind - just a lot of hot air. Story of my life.

Monday, April 14

Row Row Ho Ho

Tonight's gig was Roehampton. I first did this gig last year when my resolve to sort out my life and my house before returning to stand-up waned, stuttered and then stopped. I was asked to return after that gig and returned to a room that didn't want me or comedy. This time, however, it was to be a smallish audience who had all turned up to see the comedy. This sort of audience needs telling that it's funny and then they'll do the work.

A local act had asked me if I could get him the chance to come and watch the gig, and a lift to it. As it happened, this was graduated into a spot for him, and I videoed both of our performances. I'm glad I recorded them. For him, he got a useful bit of feedback on how his performance went - from his own observation of his own performance. For me, I got a record of what the hell transpired from the moment I took to the stage until I left, about to burst into giggles, some 28 minutes later.

I'll be honest, I've been more focused and a lot less weird at gigs. This gig set me off into sillysville. The first 3 minutes involved me not really starting as much as just talking crap. Then I got into my stuff and found myself easily distracted, the audience providing much inspiration for any sort of distraction I might follow.

As the set progressed, I continued this nonsense, spliced with material, even treating a fridge as a heckler. To be honest, it would have been funnier if I hadn't have been clearly impressed with how funny I was finding myself. What a prat!

I had a really really good time at this gig. I got to see the headliner, too, who is a great comedian and showed me how some of the stuff I was snickering my way through could be done properly. Bizarrely, though, the gig was called to a halt by a security man who just threw us all out. Before I got to chat up the really hot girls... students, though - it would never work.

A great start to what will be a tricky week.

Sunday, April 13

For the Record

A friend came over to Reading today. I picked her up at the station, buying some provisions to enable luncheon to be made. We came back to my house and spent the day making, coffee, comedy and a side order of toad in the hole with parmesan mashed potatoes.

We recorded a radio sit-com, the core of which we'd been working on earlier in the year. I set up my studio in the spare room and we had microphones, instruments, scripts - the works. We did read-throughs, editing as we went along, practicing, perfecting and generally trying to make something good.

The process of creating a 15 minute pilot episode of a bizarre sit-com, with music, is not short. I estimate an average studio time (in my world, at least) of about an hour per minute you need to make. In truth, we spent about 10 hours together, and worked for a lot of it (if not on the music/comedy, then at least on the catering). The result is something I'm very proud to have been associated with. We have a theme tune, a collection of silly jokes, some neat bits of stand-up double-actery, and then some horseplay.

What to do with this piece is anyone's guess. My friend will be using it as part of her university degree. I shall be graduating with her in spirit at least.

Saturday, April 12

Today's The Day

Though the weather somewhat prevented an outdoor picnic, causing something akin to a daytime sleep over indoors, the picnic proceeded as planned. My vegetarian Scotch Eggs were not universally derided nor reviled, though they were clearly never going to win any prizes for most delicious treat of the day. The pasta bake I'd put together and refrigerated, weird though it was as a choice, was renamed "pasta cake" and eaten with gusto alongside the actual cake - "Chocolate Mistake Cake".

I felt like I hadn't poisoned anyone.

I could have stayed overnight in Southampton, but it seemed like the best thing to do was not be drunk and get home, ready for the following day's recording. However, first there had to be some script editing and some pizza (my eating is officially a problem now).

It was a very rich and long day, with much company, much fun, and far too many eggs.

Friday, April 11

Din Dins

Work has had me out and about this week. I've been to Heathrow airport for various reasons on various occasions. Today I wanted the week to end on a note of success. So I headed out to Heathrow to see if we'd cracked it.

I met the other two members of my team who had set off a few minutes before I did. They went off testing the system we're running at Heathrow while I set up a command post in the office there. This is starting to sound a bit like a military operation or something. Essentially, I was there to see whether my growing suspicion that the problem had gone away was as accurate as the growing suspicion from Monday that we had a huge problem. It turned out that we were really doing well.

What a good way to end a bloody difficult week, in which I'd missed a night's sleep and travelled a long way to prove a point. I was even nearer the better roads I could use for getting to my sister's house for dinner, which was exactly what I planned to do.

I arrived at my sister's in time to climb a ladder and install a lightbulb, as well as in time to have a chat with my now talkative niece. She's learning small-talk and heckling. Good times.

Thursday, April 10

Ey Ey, Calm Down

After the intense week I'd been having, the idea of driving 500 miles round trip to Liverpool should have filled me with the good sense to cancel the trip. However, I will not let work get me down. I will work hard enough to get the job done, and done well. I will also ensure that I do all or most of my gigs, which is my way of saying that I'm balancing work and life well. Theoretically, there should be more sleeping, but I've time for them when I'm too old to wee unaccompanied.

This was the first night of my new company car. I took the old one to the man and got a new one. It's identical in colour, model, everything. The only main differences are that it looks cleaner, smells fresher, has a different number plate, about 19000 fewer miles on the clock, and the little buttons for the cruise control click with a slightly different feel.

This was also a time when we were doing some critical testing of a system at Heathrow. This put me in a good vantage point to tackle the various roads leading to Liverpool.

As it happens, I made pretty good time, arriving near the start of the gig. It was to be a hard gig to play. A few people in a very large room. However, it was a student gig, which means that if you played it right you could use their energy. I set up my strategy. I would hit the stage hard - loads of energy - and make myself as amused as possible. Stupidly, I didn't record the gig, assuming that I'd crash and burn before my allotted 25-40 minutes were up. I was given quite a good range of times to fill.

As it happens, though there were occasional haiatuses in the amusement, and though I played the gig disgustingly self-indulgently, I breezed through nearly 40 minutes without really losing the room - they were getting tired and I got off the stage before they were totally sick of me. It was a closing set, so I think I gave them something akin to an end to the show.

I did some silly things, mind. I did "the emergency jaunty jump", which, after setting up, caused me to deliver a very high kicking heel click, which must have been fueled partly by adrenaline as well as my recently discovered (taught) stepping-over technique.

As gigs go, I had a good time and people were nice to me after. That's really what it's all about.

Wednesday, April 9

Yoweee

Intense day. Started work at about 9.30 and left about 11 hours later. Lunch was still unavailable when I wanted it.

Battle plans were made. We worked hard. There was a last-minute breakthrough. I don't know whether we're on the brink of success or placebo.

I do know that something has to give.

Then home, via Tesco, to do various bits of cooking. Chocolate mistake cake went reliably wrong. Pasta bakes and vegetarian scotch eggs went variously wrong. All in, I would wonder whether I know what I'm doing if I didn't already know that I didn't.

It's been a hard day at work today and I'm not sure why I want to work this hard. I know that there's fun to be had under these circumstances and a massive last-minute success would really do us some favours here.

Bit of advice, though, when you're leading people, you have to listen as much as you speak. Best to let them complete their sentence before chipping in with something patronising and irrelevant. I've learned that to my cost.

Tuesday, April 8

Plane Sailing

You find me on a plane. I can't actually post this blog entry right now, because I'm on plane. By a plane, I mean an aeroplane. I'm not on a two-dimensional surface. That would be ridiculous. As far as I know, I exist in at least 4 dimensions, and I would have trouble in pinning down a moment when at least one of my spatial dimensions became irrelevant enough to discount from my...

...sorry. I'm boring myself here.

It's 6.10am and I'm on an aeroplane that is bound for Rome. Fiumicino airport to be precise. It sounds nice, doesn't it? It sounds even nicer when I say that, though my ticket has been temporarily placed on my credit card, my employer will be paying for this trip. However, there are three twists. One, I shall be working for entire duration of my visit. Two, I will be in the area for approximately 8 hours only. Three, and really this is the clincher, when I said I'm headed for Fiumicino, I really meant it. I'm not actually going to leave the airport campus. Oh no. I shall be here to go to a site within the airport and then, when I'm done, get back on the plane.

I may be a three dimensional person, but this is a two dimensional visit.

About 10 years ago, I was engaged. I was invited to a wedding with my fianceé and we went. You do. It's rude not to. The wedding was in Italy and we were encouraged by the groom to make a good solid trip of it. It coincided with Easter Sunday, so it really was around this sort of time. If I had the internet working right now (which I haven't, being up in the sky and being fearful of trying to connect via mobile, lest the aircraft decides to go a plummeting) I would check and might even be able to find out. I've been blethering about my life for long enough that the data is up there.

I'm now starting to doubt that it was 1998 that I was at the wedding. I can't check.

Let's pretend that it was in 1998. It's about right. I was very fat.

Anyway, part of the trip included some time spent in Rome. When you go to Rome, you're supposed to visit the Trevi fountain. You're supposed to turn your back and throw a coin over your shoulder at the fountain. This will ensure that you pay Rome another visit sometime. Mmmm.

"What's the purpose of this trip?", I don't hear you cry, because you are, in fact, a figment of my imagination, and even if you're a real person, denying your figmenthood right this minute, this minute to you is undoubtedly several hours after the minute now in which I'm writing this and, unless there are wormholes in the space-time-continuum (and you can tell I'm a sci-fi geek) then I ain't gonna hear ya! But, to answer my rhetorical question, the purpose of this trip has changed. When it was mooted, the idea was to race over to Italy to look over the shoulder of the people saying that the system didn't work and go "ahhh - but look - it does really, doesn't it?". That would be quite cool. A quick phone call back to the office to say "I talked them into it, they really think it's great". That was the idea on Friday. That was the idea on Monday morning when I was told "Congratulations, you're going to Rome".

Things have gone aglay. They aft do. At around 4pm yesterday, a series of small facts congealed. The word congeal is appropriate, since it felt like a hardening of something gooey into something deeply unpleasant. The reports from Italy matched a report that came in from France and further data from Heathrow. This, in turn, matched some evidence I'd seen first hand. Something was up and the conclusion is not good. So, my "oh, come on, look, it's perfect" session has been recast into an "aye, that's well knackered" session.

"Why travel all the way to Rome to do that?" I hear you cry, metaphorically, and illogically.

At first, I think it was necessary. Now it's sort of an expectation, the flight got booked, may as well use it.

There's a certain fatalism to the way I lead my life. Sometimes I just give myself to the plans. Like the gig that was cancelled on me. I didn't mind it being cancelled... then I found out it wasn't cancelled, so I had to go and do it. Why? Well, it was a demand on me, and I don't say no. So now you get the idea. I did a gig after work, I had a first thing flight. What's a girl to do? More importantly, since I'm not a girl, what's an IT Technical Lead supposed to do?

Well, you have to know a little bit about what motivates me. I have two work-related objectives, three if you include general wellwishing to all people I like. My objectives are to avoid utter disasters, and to prove, once and for all, that I'm a rock hard computer dude. Let's compare these objectives with the situation I found myself in at 5.30pm yesterday evening. I knew I was heading to a gig. I knew that I was in my rights to do so, but that I was also risking time on the project and potentially making myself miss the flight through over-sleeping. I also knew that I was heading to Italy to look a total loser in front of some stylish Italian types who aren't wrong. It's the software that's wrong.

I mitigated my selfish "doing something in my own time" by having an hour or so on the phone with various management types discussing contingency plans and technical solutions. I knew I'd have to communicate the action points from this to my team so that there would be immediate action. We are at a stage in the project that I've described in gambling terms as double or quits. I've also described it, perhaps more accurately, as playing Roulette and sticking all the money on number 34... with the added bonus that the other numbers are in some ways blocked, and the number 0 appears a few extra times on the wheel. The bad news is that the results are in, and it's not looking good. It's time to start thinking outside of the box.

It may not be as bad as it looks. It certainly needs more scrutiny. I needed to push the big red button and get things focused on bringing the project back in line. The gig should, perhaps, have taken a lower priority than the one I gave it. Namely going to it.

However, I do gigs to keep me sane, and the rest of my life is presently deeply insane. I have a special trick up my sleeve - the extra 6 hours trick. You don't sleep, you get more out of the day. It's worth pointing out that I only use this totally mad trick on gig nights, which means that perhaps the thing which is keeping me sane is driving me insane. Let's not go down that route, you can't handle the truth, and by "you", I mean "I".

Anyway, I had a plan to solve three problems in one go. How could I brief the team, not miss the flight, and have something up my sleeve for my Italy visit? The answer was simple. I would go home for a shower after my gig, pick up my passport and rucksack, and then return to the office. At the office, I would implement step one of the action plan and send the email to brief the team. I would even send it a bit later than 2am, so that they'd get the sense that it had been written just before going to the flight, rather than mid-way through a panic-stricken all nighter.

In truth, I'm not panicking. I don't like panic and I try to avoid it wherever possible. I'm just driven. I went into the office for just under 3 hours. I did what I wanted to do. I have an arrow in my quiver. I have a team that has been given enough to keep things moving while I'm up in the air. I hope they won't panic with the "Don't Panic" email I sent them. In many ways, I'm having my cake and eating it. Note: I am eating airline cake while I type this.

Going back to the Trevi fountain moment, some ten or so years ago, then. If you'd told me back then that throwing my coin into the fountain would cause me to return to Rome to demonstrate that I'm a dickhead, in software terms at least, on no sleep, having left my familiar settings in Newcastle to live down South to do a highly stressful job that sends me around the world to look stupid on a project which seems to have bad luck every time that there's room for it, I might have kept my coin in my pocket. On the other side, though, if you'd told me this time last year, as I was stewing in a job which wasn't engaging, that there was a challenging, crazy job, which sent me around the world and gave me 2 hours here and there to turn myself into hero or villain, I might have jumped at the lifeline from a world of boredom.

So, perhaps all of this nonsense, which is driving me mad, is, in fact, the very thing which I might come to look back on with some sort of fondness. It's certainly a talking point of a thing. I lead just the sort of crazy messed up life I like to lead. It's doing me in, but there are occasional weeks, or mornings, when the pressure is off and that's when I catch up on the sleep.

Come May, of course, if there's no success from the pot of failure that this project has been, I may have to reconsider my position. I may have no choice.

I described this problem earlier as a "wicked problem". I read this in a book once. The example they gave in the book related to suspension bridges. Until they'd built the first suspension bridge and had it blown down, they had no idea how suspension bridges could be blown down. You have to fail to succeed.

I'm very successful, then.

Monday, April 7

Outburst

It's perhaps worth noting separately that I had another outburst today. I'm a bit pissed off with the way that certain things in my office building are done. Maybe I'm wrong, but I like to think that when I produce a system, I do it with the user's needs in mind. Now, I do make compromises and even ignore what I consider to be unlikely or low-value demands from the user. So, maybe I make people the victim of my system, as well as provide them with a service. However, I try not to optimise the system for my own convenience.

Perhaps people don't believe that they have optimised a system for their own convenience, but when a system fails me, quite frankly, it's easy to believe that it has been set up for someone other than me, its user.

What am I talking about in this case? Well, as always, it's something apparently trivial. The work café. Let's quickly look at it from their point of view. Then, I'll look at it from mine. Before you know it, this will be a balanced view, though I'll probably admit that I had an outburst earlier. Ooops, already admitted it.

So, I'm the canteen manager. Let's see. I want to serve breakfast, so we'll get the staff in nice and early - before 7.30 - they'll make a cooked breakfast and serve it and coffee around the 8am mark. They'll also be responsible for preparing buffets, in order not to have them sitting around. Then from 12 until 2, there will be a cooked lunch, and you can have sandwiches. We'll pack this all away when lunch ends, so that the food doesn't go off and the staff can then prepare for the last couple of hours of the day when we lock the fridges to keep them out of the way, and everything is clean for a nice sharp exit, some 8 hours after we open, at about 4ish.

Sounds great.

Now, let's look at my view.

I'm a person who wants breakfast, but I don't want a fry up, nor cereal. How about a sandwich? Oh they provide a selection of one, sometimes two pre-made sandwiches. How about a sandwich from the selection of bread and fillings? No? Too busy to make one? Ah? Too busy to take my money at the till too? Right? So the service is where? Why do I care? Well, if I were at a shop in town, they'd want my money and they'd provide service. Plus, I'm at the work canteen because I've a busy day ahead and I kind of haven't got the time to hang around to wait for you to become free.

I'm a person who works very hard under a lot of pressure. I don't get to take my lunch when I want to. Lunchtime isn't "all tools down at 12.30 for an hour". I do what I have to do to get the job done and I'm released for a few minutes to get some food in. If I'm lucky, I get to take a shit sometimes. Oh, the canteen is not going to provide me with any food and the staff will get shirty with me if I ask if they are still making sandwiches.

Today's outburst, then:

Me: Are you still making sandwiches?
Her: No, this is all going away now.
Me: (under breath) Sorry.
Another her at lift: Oooh, going out for lunch are you?
Me: (heading into town as quickly as possible) It looks like I have to, since I've clearly inconvenienced the cafe staff by needing to eat in the few split seconds I get between meetings, like I have a choice when I get my lunchtime.

I don't really blame the staff member in the canteen for being, for the second time this year, a bloody bitch about not making me a sandwich when I'm hungry for one. She has responsibilities that are simply utterly opposed to my needs as a customer. If my own works canteen cannot provide for my needs in a company which is making my needs bloody difficult... like the fact that a good coffee (as opposed to a vending coffee) wouldn't go amiss after 4.30... though I guess they should probably be able to provide good coffee before I demand that they stay open long enough to do it... then what's the point. Am I the only person who works like this?

I wonder.

Maybe there are a lot of people in the company who are time-servers. Arrive just before 9, take lunch at 12.30 - 1.30 and then leave dead on 5.30. Perhaps I'm the misfit. I'm a get-the-job-done. I don't want to arrive at one time. I don't want to hear people muttering, audibly, "but that's 15 minutes early" if I choose to leave at 5.15 one day. I'm working longer hours each week than I know is sensible to do. I'm packing in extra hours in the middle of the night to make ends meet. I'm being put under stress, running between meetings, trying to write good code after someone hired the code-amateur to produce a series of amazing WTFs that I should probably submit to various websites dedicated to this sort of thing. In a nutshell, I feel like a bit of support from the people who provide the services to make my job comfortable wouldn't go amiss.

But they squeeze the support services down to "save money", thus disenfranchising some staff and making it harder to do a 150% job, because you're impeded. I could have had 10 minutes more at my desk if I hadn't had to run into town this lunchtime. It might have helped.

In the sea of inadequacies, surrounding noisy, crowded office space, loud an unworkable air conditioning, and buildings that are left too long in the cold over bank holidays that you lose a morning to hypothermia, there are some genuinely try-hard helpful people about. I try to thank people who help me and I recognise that I can just ask people for stuff and it will generally be provided, unless they're working to a system at loggerheads with my needs.

Again, I'll just say that it makes sense to optimise the system for the customer, not for the provider.

I should stop this outburst, I'm sure it stopped being interesting a lot of words ago. Maybe about one or two sentences in. As a provider of this blog, I am, however, optimising it for the user - me. Not you. It's all for my own sanity. If I write it down, it becomes manageable.

No more raging now.

Spot The Difference

I woke up late today. I had no idea what sort of a day was coming and if I'd have known, I would have probably stayed in bed. It's been a cheeky one, that's for sure.

Arriving in the office, we got ready to put out the latest version of our software. I had a handful of tasks that I'd written down on Friday. We got the lion's share of these done and I squeezed in a risk-management/contingency planning meeting. This was a chance to think about radical solutions to problems. It was a good session and one where I was suddenly free of the boundaries of expectation and allowed to suggest things which, had I suggested them earlier, might have been a damned good idea to find out more about. I never thought to. Blinkers on. Is that my fault? Or is it that if you're asked "What does one plus one make?" that you struggle to explain "two" rather than discuss whether the answer could be achieved musically (this metaphor may not being working for either the reader or the writer here).

Anyway, the time came to send my colleagues off to Heathrow with a mission. I had a machine to fix and we were awaiting the results of the next round of testing.

At about 4pm, reports coming in told me that the time had come to bring the contingency plans into action. Trouble was brewing. In addition, I'd been told that I would be going to Rome tomorrow. Last minute flight bookings were arranged by our new and highly effective (no I'm not being sarcastic - she's ace) administrator, and my life was about to re-enter the jet-setting.

During the meanwhilst, the gig which had been apparently cancelled last night, for which I'd sent the promoter an email, illustrating that my misconception about being booked was not a misconception, turned out not to be cancelled. While ill, he'd mistaken my texts for someone else's and thought he was fobbing someone else off. I was back on the bill. Oooh. And I can't resist applying for other gigs, so I put myself forward for a closing spot on Thursday - in Liverpool.

I think the 5.30 dash from the office was the hard one. I knew the project was in trouble. I could continue to talk about it, on my drive to Corby, but I might have preferred to be in the office. However, I do gigs and I will only cancel one for work if I'm given fair notice. That's only slightly true. I suspect I would cancel one for work if there was the right reason, but I reckoned I could do it. I had conference calls for 60 miles or so and explained problems and contemplated possible solutions.

Arriving at the venue, I did something which is becoming quite commonplace for me. I changed from work clothes into jeans in a dingey toilet. Yay. Showbiz. Then I grabbed my guitar and went into the gig room. I've played this venue before. It's a nice crowd. Worth taking a night away from the office for.

As I was waiting to go on, a text arrived. I was booked for Thursday. Could I be in Liverpool for 7? No. I couldn't. However, I rang the promoter and agreed a time when I could be there. For a 9.45 closing spot, a 7pm arrival is a bit unfair. So, given that I apparently have an 8am video-conference/job interview to preside over in Hungary (yes, I'm interviewing Hungarians by remote control), I reckon I can be allowed to slope off a little early on Thursday for a gig. Not that I'm sure exactly how I'll deal with the pressure on my body from all this no-sleep stuff, but at least I've got the weekend to recover... sort of... I'm busy on Friday night, Saturday day and all of Sunday. The DIY is out of the window at the moment, and I need to cook for the picnic I'm attending on Saturday - time will flex. It will.

Oh, and I just counted up. I've said before that 14 gigs is my breaking point - I lose my mind around then. March was a busy month, with a week off, which made it feel like a greater than 14 gig month. April has 16 gigs in it. Yikes. If I can do April, I can do anything. Spring is here. The sap is rising and so am I.

On 26th March I watched a gig after my speed dating. That was a Wednesday. Since then, my gig nights were Thu, Fri, Sat, Sun, Mon, 2 days off, Thu, Fri, Sat, Sun and then Monday again. That's about what a pro comedian would get done in a two week stint - all that AND a day job. More importantly, after so many consecutive gigs, I'm kind of in the zone right now. The audience in Corby need a firm hand. The compere gave them one. The first two acts gave them laughs, but didn't really break the fourth wall too much - which is more a genre thing than anything else - not every act is a big bouncy fucker like me. I went out there to make myself have a good night and bring the audience with me. I just want my gigs to be fun. I'm doing it for the hell of it, right? I'm giving up my rest and driving ridiculous distances to have laughs.

Before I describe how I won the audience over, I'd like to observe how people seem to be treating me. Reviews seem positive. People seem respectful that I'm putting the effort in. I'm described as hard working. Maybe I'm not described as funny, but you can't have it all. It was even remarked tonight that I'm a gig attender, when I'm not performing myself - this was from an act who saw me take an evening out on the Isle of Wight, on a whim, just because there was a gig on. In fairness, it was my friend's first ever MCing slot and I wanted to surprise her, but I guess it still counts.

So I took my can-do attitude onto stage with me. I made some jokes. I said some stuff that was wrong. I looked at some boobies - well, it was a cleavage, but it invaded my eye-space. I commented on boobies. The women didn't hate me. It was a bit like speed dating without the anxiety of not getting a text for a few days and then realising that you come across a bit mental by text. (Note: as I'm writing this on no sleep after a few days of gigging, I'm likely to put the truth across rather bluntly in utter self-destructive acerbic insight.)

Lovely gig. The laughter gave me a boost. I told them how nice they were. I was genuinely appreciative of them and this caused them to believe that they were genuinely appreciative of me. At least I wasn't faking it.

Then the drive back.

This week has barely started and it's already too tough to keep everything in my brain simultaneously. After the office crisis, I've abandoned the idea of going to sleep tonight. It can't be done. There's work to do. There's a flight not to miss. There are 6 spare hours every night that nobody is using. I've taken my 6 hours to do a gig - in and out, get the gig done and leave before the second half - and now I get to replace what would have been 4 hours' sleep with 4 hours' work. Then I get to go on my one-day long holiday.

It's times like this when I should really try to update the blog as I go along. I will not remember much about this month by the time it reaches its end. Too much is happening. I won't be able to live life at this pace in a few years' time, so best enjoy it while I can, eh?

Sunday, April 6

The Early Bird

Up around 7am this morning. It's definite case of yin and yang this weekend. I slept in so late yesterday that I had to be forcibly woken up so very early this morning. But there was a good reason. This morning was Glastonbury ticket buying morning. We were ready on the computers and there were several (having calculated that the more computers, the better the chances of getting through), with the atomic clock telling us when to expect 9am to arise.

Then the trying began. We tried to get through to the website that sold the tickets. There were my two laptops and then the shitty computer that doesn't work well. Yes, the shitty computer was the one that got through, leading to some rather careful pressing of buttons, so as to try to avoid setting it off to being-shittysville again.

At 9.22am, we had our tickets bought. Let down. Where's the panicking at 11am that we'd still not been allowed in?

I think people were able to buy them around lunchtime, if not even later.

Still, the rest of the day was then free. I did some fixing of the slow shitty computer (maybe that will help), followed by a big shop, followed by taking out some of my Glastonbury tent-mates for sushi. Then a trip to Primark (I bought bathmats, but I didn't try them on). Before I knew it, it was after 5, and I was due to meet some people for dinner at 6.

Then, in another yin and yang sort of a thing, I did an extra gig tonight, and discovered that tomorrow's gig is a mistaken booking. Something's gone wrong in the system, so I'm not gigging tomorrow. My run of Thu, Fri, Sat, Sun has stopped. Not a problem. I probably need a wee break.

The gig tonight will not go down as my best ever performance, or best ever response, but I had a laugh and made some amusement. I felt calm and centred, so it didn't really matter too much.

I really need some rest now.

Saturday, April 5

Confusions around the weekend

Oh dear, my plans went "aglay". I was supposed to wake up, bright and early, wake up my genial host (not my genital host - that's a different gig) and take him to Newcastle to do the first stage of fixing my kitchen ceiling. I managed, instead, to lie in bed, listening to the alarm, occasionally calculating how late we'd be, and then, amazingly, turning it off and sleeping some more.

Eventually, lunchtime came and it was too late. I'd calculated that I should leave Newcastle around 4pm to get to my gig in Nottingham. At lunchtime, there wasn't even time to get to Newcastle for much before 4pm. No point at all. A bit of the planet could be saved today as my 200 mile roundtrip was not going to happen.

So, we had a late lunch, some coffee, a visit from my friend's brother and nephew, who pretended to be disgusted that we were freshly awoken, despite the fact that it was a clear sign that we'd had a good night the night before and that we were catching up on a hefty week of something or other. Then we did some re-attaching of doors, doors that needed some trimming.

Then, joy of joys, as I was getting showered, ready for the night ahead, we discovered we could just get to the Screwfix shop before it closed. We raced over there. Items were bought. It was joyous. Their computers were down, so they had to do it all manually. This went fairly well until we started to hurry things and then they forgot the sanding discs for my new random orbital sander, and then we discovered that we only needed one size of hinge cutter. Essentially, we were now 10 minutes after their closing time and asking them if they could exchange a £10 item for two £3 items. They did it for us with aplomb.

I said that I wanted to buy a pint for the people who were helping us. The guy helping said that this wouldn't be any good to someone who didn't drink. He was probably a muslim. I pointed out that pints don't have to be of alcohol. It was more about the volume for me, than the boozing. A pint of diet coke. Or milk.

It didn't ring his bell.

Ding dong dang.

Anyway, I rushed my friend back to his house, dropped him off and returned to the road to get to my gig in Nottingham. I had a pleasant journey there, and the miles fell away as miles often do.

As I arrived, I took stock of the area. Sneinton. Not very nice looking. The pub looked like it might be deserted. I had to ring the promoter to ensure I was in the right place. He assured me that I was. Ok.

Getting inside, there was a largely deserted pub with some sort of stage and no easy way to plug a guitar in. Out came the guitar amp - I arrived prepared (I also had a car full of tools) - and then we were ready to rock... in comedic terms.

I wasn't sure what would happen. There was a suggestion that the landlord had somehow pre-sold 60 tickets, but we could see no sign of this. There was the promoter, who would be the first act, an MC, me as a middle act and then a headliner. We had to wait for the show to start. A show of a mixed-aged-range audience in a rough pub in Nottingham. How would that go?

Somehow some people materialised. Then some laughs erupted. The show was a goer. There were some heckly types, but they were more muttering than interrupting during the first act.

When I took to the stage, things were different. I actually had a lot of fun with the audience, riffing off the heckles and just messing about with them. I even managed to video this gig, which I really want to see, since there are some moments when I almost lost control of the jabbering crowd, and there were some moments when I was totally in control of channelling the filth pouring from my mind into my body and mouth to create some truly awful, but entertaining (apparently) moments of cheekiness.

Gigs like this don't happen every day.

Still, you have to pack your bags and move on. I did just that and headed back to Reading to stay at a friend's house, ready for Glastonbury ticket buying the next morning. I was joined in bed by the cat. She was definitely trying to spoon with me at one point. Sweet creature.

Quite a mixed day, with many surprises along the way.

Friday, April 4

Mixing

I am one to believe that you can, sometimes, have your cake and eat it. Last time I made a cake it came out a bit weird, but I fixed it and it was delicious. In the case of this metaphoric cake, I reckoned I could do a gig in Bradford, and include my friends in watching it, and do a day's solid work beforehand, without compromising the patience of the friends, the quality of the performance or the amount of work I could achieve.

And so I found myself waking up in my friend's house in Leeds, going downstairs to his kitchen to have coffee as I started up the work laptop and got ready for a hard day in the remote-working office. It was a pretty intensive day. I did a lot of conference calls. Having to do those from my desk in the office would have been hard. In maybe one case, there might have been a physical meeting, but actually, I concentrated better on the phone.

I was still talking battle plans after 6.30pm. Long day.

Then we got ready to go to the gig. There was a little food, very nice, and then the taxi to the gig, via the friends.

At the gig, things weren't quite as expected. The turnout was looking low, the promoter was ill, and the room wasn't as I remembered it. They'd kitted it out with sound equipment for a start. I did my sound check with the opening act operating my guitar while I was on the desk. If I didn't adore the very ground he walked on, I'd choose to hate him for being more talented than I am on the guitar AND choosing not to use that talent to do the sort of thing that I do. That's a double whammy. However, he was an excellent sound-check roadie, and I got the levels somewhere vaguely useful.

The gig went ahead late, but the opening act was just perfectly in tune with the room and indeed, in tune with his music-related performances. I sound-teched for the gig, in the absence of anyone better equipped to do it. My friends enjoyed his performance, which made me pleased, since I had specifically told them how much I liked his stuff. He didn't put a foot wrong. It was lovely to watch.

When it was time to do my stuff, I went out and did it. Some moments occurred, I can't remember exactly which bits I made up, but there were some made up bits. I played with the crowd and it was a lot of fun. I can't be dissatisfied with my performance that night. I did the best I could - even if one of my notes did drop off key slightly. I should have recorded it, but sadly the room was too dark to video and the sound-only recorder was back in Leeds, the other side of the taxi ride.

We stayed until the end of the gig and then went upstairs to the bar. Up there there was a very beautiful girl. She was maybe 21 years old. She was gorgeous and one of my friends and I both remarked on how lovely she was. I was a few pints into the evening, as were we all (drinking and gigging is a rarely pleasure). Emboldened by the success on stage and the alcohol, I leaned over as this young lady passed by to leave the pub, coat on, probably to go home, and I said this:

"Excuse me. This might sound a bit weird, but... you're really beautiful. Now go away and enjoy it."

Her face lit up with the combined knowledge that this was a compliment that was meant and that it had a "don't worry, I'm not trying to get anything" element to it. I felt perhaps a bit patronising with the "run along now" aspect of it, but why not, eh? I'm 34, she's young enough to be my chav daughter or some-such.

We taxied it back to Leeds to get food and then sleep.

At the fast-food place in Leeds, we discovered the other end of the young-girl spectrum, two overweight pudges in the pizza shop in a conversation entitled "Pizzas I've eaten". They were truly awful to talk with and look at, though we had a go. One had quite a vantage point over the flesh on display and it was simply not worth it. Yuck. Still, we had food to wait for so we engaged these beasts in conversation.

I tried my favourite tactic - "guess our ages". I'm pleased to say that I came out older in both their estimations. Both estimations put both of us a few years (up to 10) below our actual ages. The irony was that these girls were still treating us like we were over the hill when they thought were were 28! For a laugh, I tried to pretend that I was older and the same age as right-hand-girl's dad, and that I'd been to school with him. This act of cold-reading started to work. I started sentences and she ended them, as though I'd got it right. I got as far as the rugby playing, and even suggested he'd given me a scar... but then I blew it, trying the name "John" as one of his mates.

Should've gone with Pete.

Back at the house, we ate cheap curry and even more cheap and surreal naan bread. It was enough to stink the house out - for many many hours to come. Curried bottom.

So it was a day of mixing. I mixed work with pleasure. I mixed the sound at the gig. We mixed food with drink and a pretty girl (and you can talk to the prettiest girl in the pub) with the somewhat unpretty urban-talking pizza-lovers that blight the fast food places at night.

A good mix. Balance restored.

Thursday, April 3

Not Sour

This proved to be a quite a good day all in. I went to work, having packed my car full of the tools I would be taking to Newcastle to fix the ceiling. Then I drove to Stourbridge to do a gig. The gig was bloody lovely, brilliant fun. Then I drove to Leeds and hung out with my friend there.

It's a simple story.

There were moments at the gig, captured on video for posterity.

I'm telling this tale on Sunday night, now, retrospectively, and, quite frankly, I remember no more detail than I've said.

One amusing story was that the show was started before the compere was in the room. We were all having coffee and the promoter ran in to shout to the compere that he was on. We had to scuttle into the room sharpish, with our coffees in our hands. As it happens, it was a nice relaxed start, since we'd just been chatting and drinking coffee. That's how gigs should begin.

I know I had fun on the stage, so that's my justification for going to Stourbridge all sorted.

Wednesday, April 2

Some Additional Data

I get a new car next week. That should be fun. I've never really felt like my car is my car, and I've taken to keeping my "car crap" in a box, so it's easy to move around without finding official places to store it.

Still, just as the car is showing signs of sawdust, plaster dust and crumbs - many crumbs, it's going to be replaced with an identical model, only about 20000 miles younger.

In other good news, my Newcastle tenant is staying on. I celebrated by advertising the house for other people to join him. He's only staying on a little extra, but enough to make me feel less poor for the next few days.

My Life Isn't Very Well Planned

My life is an odd mix of contradiction. On the one hand I have a relentless diary, telling me to do this, that and the other across the months and I damned well do these thing. On the other hand, I feel like I'm constantly winging it.

At work, I have the combination of setting plans down on paper, only to find that reality is never quite as I hoped it would be.

Then there's the work-life balance problem. I find that my busiest out of work weeks can easily coincide with the biggest work stresses. Interestingly enough, leaving the office on time, rather than leaving hugely late, seems to have no significant effect on how much can really be achieved. Having said that, I know that the occasional all-nighter can achieve some sort of massive leap forward in progress, if there's a following wind.

To plan or not to plan? I certainly wouldn't make things as hectic as they apparently have been in the last couple of weeks on purpose. I wouldn't intentionally plan for some constant runs of gigs around the time when I also need to do a lot of DIY and work things. However, if I were to plan, I would probably end up underestimating the reality, and things might turn out worse. And I do plan. I put things down and then do them. More so out of work than in work. And then I think... perhaps some planning of fixed events is good, and you have to wing the rest... And perhaps sentences don't start with "And".

Today I gave some training. It was a session that someone asked for. I gave myself half an hour to prepare. In the end, my instinct was to put together a session that I could wing that was along the lines of a session I wanted to run last year but never got the chance. I started preparing for that one back last year and spent a couple of hours on it, only to be distracted.

So my half-hour preparation today, really off the cuff, yielded an hour-long "training session" attended by 5 people. It was a way of showing off the rubric - doing things by the book. I have the particular book on my desk, though I've not read all of it. I really enjoyed the session and I think it went ok. So, I couldn't have planned it better.

This is turning waffly a bit.

In a nutshell, the next few days will be tricky. Plans have collided with reality, but not too badly. In fact, the last couple of nights - valve nights, shall we call them - have proved convenient for making the work-life-plan-madness work out. Last night I got to do cooking and relaxing. Tonight I got to do some DIY and prepare for the future challenges. You see, the problem is that I'm away for the weekend. I'm doing DIY in Newcastle on Saturday after a gig in Bradford on Friday after a day working remotely in Leeds on Friday, after a gig on Thursday night on the way up North. This puts the pressure onto Wednesday night for me to prepare a car full of tools and a bag full of clothes in order to make all of this work.

Had I been gigging Tuesday and Wednesday, then I would have needed to magic some time up from somewhere to make tomorrow and the weekend work out. The only other thing I have to try to remember is to be conscious enough on Sunday to buy the Glastonbury tickets.

So, a bit of winging it, a lot of lucky just-in-time preparation and I am simultaneously planned and unplanned. Like Schrodinger's Gantt chart.

Tuesday, April 1

Retrospective posting

I've just retro-posted a bunch of stuff to try to make some sense of March. I did way too much in March and it shows.

The detail gets lost in retro posts. Even the cursory post about today missed all sorts of minor concerns which steal my time, like the arrival of the Mighty Boosh on CD - the original radio series, or the fact that my mobile phone now has a broken power switch, so if it runs out of battery or crashes, I can't get it to work ever again.

Luckily, I ripped the Boosh CD, listened to it while cooking and have established that there are 12 days before I can replace my piece of shit of a phone.

I also established that I need new shoes but haven't the time to buy them.

This is a busy time coming up for me. I have another night of no gig tomorrow, which is nice. Then I have gigs on Thursday to Saturday, with a gig on Sunday that I'm attending. I may start running gigs in Reading and the surrounding areas, which is a bit of a big deal. A lot of a big deal.

My house in Newcastle, which had a leaky ceiling when I visited it a few days ago, had its leaky pipe replaced but now needs the ceiling replacing. There'll be some guerilla DIY going on on Saturday, as I'm in the North for the weekend. I have a midlands gig on Thursday night, taking me to Leeds for Friday - working remotely during the day - for the Bradford gig on Friday night... then a quick jaunt to Newcastle on Saturday to sort the house out a bit, then back to Nottingham for the Saturday night gig which will then get me back to Reading in time for Sunday's gig watching and promotion discussion stufferooney.

Busy? Me? Nah.

Oh, and the project at work is hardly "just ticking over". Plenty to do.

I like being busy. If I could couple it with exercise and healthy eating, I'd be turning into a superhero. As it is, I'm rounding a bit, but hopefully, I'll fix that with a healthy summer. Between now and summer there'll be a lot of grafting and I hope that I may have time to do a bit more George Foreman fat-free grilling, which I've just started with and enjoyed already.

I might go and put my name on something now.

Cook Off

Today I came home from work and slaved over a hot stove and a hot sink of washing up. I had a good time. I made various things. I invented a recipe, which may or may not be rubbish. I got a cake wrong, but fixed it with some chocolate.

Lunchtime was shopping and I discovered that there's only 12 days until I get to change my phone.

I wish I'd done some DIY in some respects, but I'm also glad I didn't.

Today was a busy day at work. There's a lot to do tomorrow.

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