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Friday, October 31

Friday in Summary

Well, I did half a day's work in the Budapest office. Everything got a bit hectic. Then I got a taxi to the airport, and tipped the man generously.

I checked in for my flight and then went to look around the duty free shops. Sorry. Shop. Still, why complain when you're in an airport? No point. I bought some duty free stuff - gifts for people back home. I got a coffee too.

Then I considered picking up my laptop. I considered it and gave up. I was wrung out. I'd been working from early to late for many days (notwithstanding some non-work time) and so I decided to stop. I picked up my book and started reading my way towards the ending.

This book took me from waiting area to gate, from gate to plane, from Budapest to London, from Terminal 5 to where my car was waiting, and then there was a short trip home to where I would receive a good welcome and a good sleep.

It was good to be back.

Thursday, October 30

Infinity

This will be the last of my blog posts from the hotel room here in Budapest. My stay over here has been very clearly bounded and I think that I will be happy to go home while at the same time I feel like I have not been here long enough. This is a definite conflict in my mind and it bounces repetitively in much the same way that the mirrors on either side of the hotel lift (I have photographs) bounce my image from side to side, creating an infinity of me's all in Budapest for a finite time.

The reasons I want to go home are that I rather like being at home, with all the people and places I have to enjoy while I'm there. The reason that I wish I could be here longer is that I have plenty of work I would like to have achieved while I was here and not all of it. Scratch that. None of it is anything like as complete as I wish it could be. I have not even had much time to enjoy the pleasures of Budapest itself, and I feel like there is little more than a bunch of meetings and frustrations between me and my flight tomorrow. There will, of course, be time for some sort of working on the flight, so at least I will have some special time reserved for interesting solutions to interesting problems.

This has been a trip of apparently unbounded things, though. Ok. There have been two. There was the magic tram ticket to go with the infinity of me in the lift. The magic tram ticket is a tram ticket that I was given. I then got on a tram and nobody checked this ticket. So I got to use the ticket again (I'm aware, by the way, that some of the way I am phrasing this sentence is the way I would explain the story to a non-English speaker, which is a bit weird). Then I used the ticket again. And again. Finally, I found out today how to validate the ticket and it stopped being magic. This, of course, reminded me of a bad joke:

A man rubs a lamp, a genie pops out (of course) and offers him two wishes. "I would like a glass of beer which is always full", he asked for his first wish. The genie provided a glass. The man drank from it. It filled up again. The man pour a glass full into another glass. The glass filled up again. The glass would always refill itself with beer when the man poured or drank from it. The man was happy. So the genie asked him for his second wish. The man said "Same again".

That was my tram ticket. I got another one today. I didn't use it on the tram, though. We walked. Best 66 pence ever.

Also, we went to a coffee shop where I spent about £11. However, this £11 was enough to buy a coke, an espresso, a latte, a cappuccino, an apple pie cake, a chocolate cake, a cherry and poppy seed cake and some other slice of cake. Now if Starbuck were that cheap, I'd live there.

But I can't live in the coffee shop. There's trouble afoot and I think I need to spend some time dealing with the information that is worrying me.

It's not easy being in software. The world is going a bit wonky today.

Wednesday, October 29

Mid Week

This is now the third day of my trip to Budapest. I am making the mistakes I always make when I am immersed in another culture. Firstly, I have stopped talking in natural English speech patterns, and I am, instead, using repetitive simplified phrases (occasionally with more complicated vocabulary in) with pauses between the phrases for thought processing. Secondly, I have stopped even imagining that I need to know anything about the language and culture of the place I am in, assuming that either I'll get by, or go without any form of understanding of what's going on.

This is English arrogance at its best/worst. It's also about delegation. Where I am immersed in non-English-speaking culture, I appear to have a friendly native to help me, in the form of one of my work colleagues. In addition to the help, I think the immersion is also giving me an appreciation of the qualities (good) of the people I am working with and I am having a nice time, albeit one which is far from home.

Perhaps I should be a fish out of water, but I've decided to pretty much ignore the definition of water in this metaphoric case. And fish.

I have been trying, at least, to avoid mistake number 3 that English people make when they go abroad, which is to try to recreate the home culture in a foreign country. What's the point of trying to eat English as well as act and speak it? At breakfast today, I'll admit it, I had something vaguely resembling a continental breakfast - this is more desirable for breakfast than a Continental tyre, which was not on offer and I only mention it because it has a similar name and I'm drunk as I write this. However, at lunch, we had the set menu at a small and fairly inexpensive Hungarian cafe. Additionally, over dinner tonight, I asked my colleagues to help me choose that on the menu that was the most typically Hungarian.

I can't tell you the name of what I ate, but it was very nice and I am confused about the people who have reported to me that they found Hungarian food to be bland. It has been very pleasant indeed. Very pleasant.

An interesting side effect of the current climate is that the food I've eaten is actually rising in value (in pound terms) at the same time (and possibly same rate) as I am digesting it. As far as I can tell, the choice of converting some of my pounds to Hungarian Forints has been a sound business investment, and I will be richer when I convert it back. Or something like that.

In non work related news, I'm still working on selling my house and managed something of a decision with the aid of the estate agent. This is a tricky climate in which to be trading anything, except, perhaps, charm. I should imagine that the start of November will be somewhat tricky as I have myriad objectives to complete and increasingly less (is that even possible) time in which to achieve it. The end of the year is racing towards us, and I'm not sure if I'm ready for it.

Time will tell.

It is now almost exactly ten years since I first bought the house in Newcastle that I'm trying to sell. I think I moved in on October 25th or some such. There have been a lot of changes in my life. I suppose I could look back on the last ten years, but now is not the time. Perhaps I should schedule some sort of major 2008 retrospective for the mid-end of December. This has certainly been one hell of a year and so much better than last year for me. So much better. I am a lot happier and I feel like my life, home, and job all have some sort of purpose. It has certainly been stimulating for me, and I am at the stage, at the moment, where an increase in pressure seems to be motivating me step by step, rather than sinking me.

We shall see. In this climate, anything could happen. Anything at all.

I liked telling the story, in yesterday's blog entry, of the little software demonstration I gave, with my arms trapped in a lab coat. This was a story that I had forgotten. I have been sharing various battle stories with people recently, and it is these stories which give life a certain shape. Whether it's the tale of making a broomstick into a microphone stand, or the tale of going back to the office late at night to save the the world, or a story of sitting in the middle of nowhere waiting for a breakdown man while two of my friends, who were not driving (obviously) shared beers and bonded, having never met before. All of these tales are part of what makes each person's life and history a unique and fascinating entity, even if only fascinating for the presence of detail if not for the nature of the details themselves.

Who cares, other than me and maybe one or two others, if the best opening line for a comedy set could be "Does anyone have a distributor cap for a 1990 Volvo 440?". Who even knows how to punctuate the last sentence? Do the questions inside the quotation marks, when the whole sentence is also a question, require a second question mark? It's a mystery. Ask me about apostrophes, I'm good with them.

Life is what you make it, but I don't mean that you have control over what external factors change the course of your life, only that you have control over how you choose to view your journey through the few years you're on the planet. Perhaps there's no such thing as free will and we all actually react in a way which is chaotic, but predictable mathematically, should you be able to model the entire universe in a computer. Who knows, maybe this world is nothing more than just that - a computer simulation of a universe. How would any entities in such a simulation ever know otherwise? How would anyone outside the simulator ever observe behaviour inside of it? It's nonsense and the subject for science fiction, not this blog. However, there are some immutably human experiences which we can enjoy if we choose to expose ourselves to the enjoyment of them. It does not matter whether we are here for a reason, or whether you attribute a description to these experiences that is spiritual, logical, or just circumstantial. Life is what you make of it.

I like the current experiences I'm having. I can take bad news on the chin (today's house sale news wasn't exactly brimming with good fortune). I can take good news in good spirits too. I can enjoy the process of having a tricky meeting, or the process of home development, or the feelings of being far removed from what I consider to be home. I can do all of this because I am either lucky to have a basically cushy existence, or because I have developed the skills to make my existence feel pretty cushy. I don' t know. It doesn't matter. I am having a good time here.

This is how an October ought to end.

Screw you 2007! 2008 rocks!

Yes. This is definitely a Wednesday night after a great big meal and a few too many cheeky beers and Palinkas.

Tuesday, October 28

Hanging Out In Hungary

The purpose of my trip to Budapest is to work alongside my team here and see how life works. I want to breathe the air they breathe, drink the same coffee, see how the office environment actually feels and gain a good understanding of what life is like for them here. There appears to be a curious side effect of being away from the UK office, though. I seem to have a real opportunity to get my head down and write some handy computer software. In this case, I'm trying to create some "eyes" through which we can see what our computer system is actually getting up to. It would appear that there are some surprises.

Unfortunately, if I get too preoccupied with challenges like this, I can miss some of the vital things I need to keep an eye on while on this visit. In particular, I'm worried about how quickly the day seems to pass when my clocks say the UK time zone and we're actually an hour later. Although perhaps I should adjust my clocks, the advantage of being in Hungary from an English time point of view is that I actually get to see how badly our days overlap - that hour counts for quite a lot. Plus, as I'll have said in other communications, another nice side-effect of having a clock on UK time is that I have an idea of what the people back home are doing.

So, today seemed to fritter itself away. I worked as hard as I might be expected to. In fact, I worked harder. I also realised, despite being away from apparent distractions in the UK office, that my working day is overshadowed by a lot of meetings. When you coordinate two timezones' lunch hours, this creates a lot of dead time where either you can't be sure people will be in touch, or there are meetings happening. There's a sweet spot for about 2 hours each afternoon. This seems like not enough.

Unfortunately, my concurrency factor went through the roof this afternoon and I didn't get what I wanted to do done. However, I did manage to achieve my goal of being immersed and seeing what life is like. I've watched the local computer systems fail. I've seen how slow the remote systems are. I've heard the regular beepings of people's mobile phones and seen a bored team have a bit of a fight to perk themselves up. All of this is what my team will be encountering from now on when they go into their office. Interesting and useful.

Plus, a bit of time on foreign turf and I've been able to learn more about how my team actually think. We did a retrospective, which is a way of looking back over things done in the past and trying to identify how things felt, vs what happened, vs what we can learn from the whole experience. The hard part, especially when the "facilitator" of the session is also the manager, is to be honest about what you think. Can you say that something was shit? Can you say that you think we're doing it all wrong? I don't know if the result was perfect, but I think we got some useful sharing of ideas across the team and I think it will serve us well going forwards. I did rather pointedly rephrase some of what I was told in order to meet with my own world view, but nobody seemed to object, and I did it for benevolent reasons.

This side of running a software team is interesting. In fact, it is all interesting at the moment. I should probably get away from the computer screen and into Budapest while I still can (my impromptu goal of going to see Queen tonight was totally forgotten). I also want to just treat my hotel room as an artist's garret and just compose my sonnets of computery magic from here instead. It's something of a dilemma. I'll try to make the most of my stay.

However, some of what I've been doing, as I've run into some of the other UK colleagues (it's come to Budapest week), and have shared battle stories with them and the team, is to look back on my history in this company and also my history on programming work for other companies. The bit about programming in hotel room reminds me of another of my stories, which happened just over ten years ago. Queue wobbles on the screen and a harp playing the flashback sound effect.

About 10 years ago, I was in the process of trying to buy the house in Newcastle that I'm currently trying to sell. I had a fiancée at home running round helping sort out the finances, and I was under two demands from work. I had an urgent "oh my god the world is broken" problem with a database application that I had just become the lead programmer on, as the main programmer had just moved to Birmingham in order to have a new life. I also had been sent to demonstrate some software at a lab somewhere.

Picture the scene of today. I'm in a hotel room in Budapest, in plush surroundings with a nice laptop and no distractions. Back then, though, for various reasons, some of which may have been genuine cost constraints, and some of which might have been computer performance, but a lot of which was probably beligerance that I caused, we didn't have laptops. The computer I was using was a desktop computer with a big fat 17" monitor. Back then the hotel room wasn't a plush affair, it was a dingey corner of a Travelodge with catering in the form of a Little Chef across the road and a big ugly A-road running alongside it.

So, away from the home I was trying to create, I hulked and lugged the big computer into the dingey hotel room, crammed it onto a small desk and set about writing some code. It was part of a two week (or so) exercise to fix the problem in the database. I wrote some good code in the end. The technique I was using is the technique that, had I bothered to learn it in my 3rd year at university, would probably have caused me to get the extra mark or so that might have tipped me into a better degree. Instead, I paid off that debt of laziness in the end by learning it off the internet and putting it into commercially sold software.

I had a good session in that remote hotel with the TV on, some distance and mind and machine in harmony.

Then I went to do the demo, which for some reason was in a "wet lab" - where they do chemical stuff. As a lab, the rule was that you needed to have a white coat on to be allowed in. So I had to borrow one. As I was both wearing a suit and about 7 more stones in weight than I'm wearing now (maybe 6), it was a bit awkward. I could not get both my arms forwards. Only one arm at a time could be forward in the tight tight coat. Imagine now, a man taking what looks like a fencing stance - balanced, both arms out to his sides. This was my position as I used the mouse, and then turned so I could use the keyboard with the other hand. What an overweight divvy I must have looked.

I believe that the exact code I wrote then is still for sale, it was certainly around last time I asked about it a year ago. Admittedly, some of what surrounds it has changed, but that hotel-room coding effort lives on. The demo may or may not have resulted in a software sale. The happy customer I most remember is a nice man from Glasgow whom I sent the software to, once I'd fixed it. It had been taking 120 minutes to do a particular operation, and my code made it take about 90 seconds. I remember being on the phone to him as it tried it out for the first time, the promise of a lot of frustration being removed was in the air. He pressed the button, expecting to wait ages, and then the indicator started creeping rapidly across his screen (so I imagine) and I heard him go "ooooooh". That was a good feeling.

Back in the present, I've done some coding that makes me impressed with myself and that'll do for now. I'm creating testing and monitoring software and I think it's changing the face of what we're working with, which is nice.

Back in the non-coding side of the present, I did my day's work, was taken across town to near the Budapest railway station, designed by Eiffel, no less, to go to a shopping centre to buy an adapter for my team to use on some devices with UK plugs. Then I came back on the tram, came to the hotel to check my mail and get ready and then joined a couple of the UK people for dinner. Dinner was very nouvelle cuisine - i.e. nice presentation, small portions. It was enjoyable, but perhaps not as filling as a busy day might make one wish it to be.

This was in stark contrast to lunch, which came with quantity but a totally different service. We ordered from hot buffet - I say "we", in fact my team member ordered and I told him what I wanted - and then took it to the till. My team mate was offering to buy me lunch and so told the man on the till to put it together. I insisted that I could buy it for myself, as I am on subsistence, being away from home. Unfortunately, the man had already rung it through the till and when he was asked if he could take mine off, his answer was, effectively "sod off and sort it out yourselves". So I bought lunch for both of us. Simple answer to the problem. We had a good chat over lunch.

My lunch comprised some battered cheese - huh? Yeah. There you go. Also there was "Rizzy Bizzy" - best way to spell what that sounds like. The "Rizzy" means rice and the "Bizzy" could mean "busy" but just means "sound that rhymes with Rizzy". This was quite busy rice. It had vegetables - peas, spring onion, carrot - and then it also had meat... well, chicken... white and dark pieces... and offal. Chicken livers too. I was going to get all precious about it when I remembered that I have had quite a lot of chicken livers over the years and rather enjoyed them - albeit in paté form.

So, it has been a day of memories, bizarre catering, coding, distractions, and learning about life for a new team. Not a bad result.

Monday, October 27

Hungry in Budapest

I could have been the told pun-meister and said I was hungry in Hungary, which I was. After leaving the plane, I took a taxi directly to the hotel. I had been given the number of a local taxi firm and I called them from the baggage collection - they sent car 582, I'll never forget him - to pick me up and the two of us shared a particular boring journey from the airport to the centre of Budapest. There was one moment that we shared, when a driver did a spectacular u-turn across a lane of oncoming traffic to join the opposite carriageway. Though I'm not sure exactly how much of a common language me and the taxi-driver shared, we certainly knew how to express ourselves in response to that particular move. We did some general manly chuffing, chuckling and expressing a sense of self-righteous responsibility to cover a general sense of "wow, that was a pretty cool move".

At the hotel, I checked in, got to my room and discovered that I would have to behave confusingly. I had a huge bag with me, obviously my suitcase, and a small bag. Most people would leave the big bag in their room and wander off with the small one. Oh no, not me. Life can't be that simple. I removed a few clothes from my big bag, leaving the huge payload of electronic stuff I'd brought with me, and then transferred my laptop into it and headed back out. That's how I do it buddy. I'm like the u-turning driver. I'm a maverick. I'm also the sort of guy who doesn't know where the cash point is. I had to ask at reception. While I was there I also confirmed my orientation for the route to the office where I would be spending the rest of the day and also the rest of the week.

Well, lucky me, the ATM is in the opposite direction to the office. So I headed off in search of it. I found one, but it was out of order. I foolishly continued lugging a great big bag down the road for a further 10 or so minutes. Then I decided that I'd had enough, retraced my steps, sweated a lot and got myself over to the office. It was, of course, after lunchtime when I arrived. It was about 1.45 uk time. Oh how the time flies.

The Starbucks based breakfast and food on the flight had been a long time ago, and since then there'd been the taxi ride, a couple of hours of rather concentrated working on the plane (I know! apparently I can go through my to-do list and my notes and create a single sheet of A4 that could change the world). No more food, though. That hadn't happened.

A few not-quite-contented hours were spent in the office trying to get work done, getting some work done, and generally sharing my world view with the team. I think they humoured me suitably. Then I headed back to the hotel. The hotel is actually only a few minutes from the office, even fewer minutes when your case has been emptied of the boxes of circuit boards that you've been schlepping around with you.

Some people, having not eaten in a while, would go straight for the food, I was programmius interruptus, though. I'd been working on a bit of code for a few programming hours and I hadn't quite reached the completion of this code. Looking back, if I may, I'd have to admit that I overcooked it a bit. Still, I didn't overcook it all that much, and the code I wrote has the potential to be reused further... ah... famous last words. The potential. Will it ever be? Well, maybe not, but it illustrates quite a good separation of concerns... at this point, all non-programmers reading this should have switched off. I'll go back to stuff about food.

I did some work. That's the point I was trying to make. Then I, tired and ready to collapse, headed out looking for food. I had a certain sense of trepidation about going to look for food. Not only did I not know what food I wanted, I didn't really have any strong idea of whether I would be able to communicate with the people serving it. In the end, I wandered about 3 minutes until I saw something which in the UK would be called a Pizza Express. I went in, ordered some tepid soup and a concise portion of chicken (or at least you'd think I did from what they delivered) and ate it in silence, occasionally texting on my phone.

That was that, apart from a minor trip to the garage to see if I could get diet coke and some naughty crisps and the answer was yes.

The thing about being in a strange land is that you really have to guess even the most simple of things. Nothing seems quite familiar. Do you buy the coke inside the garage, even though it's in the fridge outside? Or is the fridge outside the domain of one of the men who stand on the forecourt? - are they going to demand the money, which is in a currency that's 340 to the pound which makes all conversations a bit brain melting? It's a bit of a muddler.

I heard somewhere about depression and stress. The theory that was espoused was this. If something is hard or bad, there are two coping strategies you can use: problem solving and learning to live with it. The problem and dysfunction can arise when you either always favour one strategy, or cannot choose the correct strategy for the situation. So, tonight, I was feeling a bit tired and fish-out-of-water-ish (which is a nice expression, much like the "I've got a bee in my bonnet" expression, which I tried to explain to my hungarian colleagues) and hungry. I could have coped with the hunger and stayed in. I could, alternatively, have tried to work out a way of getting food into my stomach. Given that I was in a hotel with a restaurant, and in a capital city where an international customer is catered for, I think learning to live with the hunger would have been a dysfunctional approach. Conversely, if I were a prisoner of war in a mongolian death camp (do such things exist? I doubt it), then perhaps going out to search for food would be equally dysfunctional.

All I'm saying is that I got some food, even though I felt a bit lonely and tired while I was doing it. It all bodes well for trying to go to see the Queen concert tomorrow night (joke, though they are playing here and I saw one of their posters just as I was pondering whether there might be a show I could see... then the poster went - Queen, tomorrow, here - and I was like "oooooh").

I'm not hungry now.

Concentrate

Is it possible that I can concentrate anywhere except my desk in the office? If that's so, then I should probably be looking forward to the upcoming desk move. Or perhaps it's possible that I need novelty in which to function. In other words, my desk at work is so familiar that it's a hotbed of bad habits and noticeable distractions, such that I can't get anything done, where the desk at home, or the makeshift workspaces I've made for myself in Newcastle or, in this case, Terminal 5 at Heathrow, are a fresh canvas a place where I can't be drawn by habits which I've had here, because I don't normally work here.

Perhaps I should try safari-working, a term I've just invented, which is where you would spend your working day concentrating, but moving around the office space at different locations to suit the mood of what you're doing, forever hunting the elusive cheetah that is concentration. Perhaps it's 7.20 in the morning, I've been up since 4.30, got about 3 hours sleep and I'm waxing lyrical about nothing in a strong reaction to the strong coffee I just had. That's probably the most likely scenario.

I'm on my way to Budapest this morning, with a little laptop time in the airport, and hopefully on the plane, to do, well, laptopy things. I shall try to write some software. I shall also try to plan my week in Hungary, for I'll be there until Friday evening. It's quite a big trip for me. Owing to my just-in-time delivery of planning and organisation, I've not got the strongest of ideas about what I'm supposed to be doing when I get off the plane. I've had a lot of things to sort out on my mind and practically before I got to the point of sitting in Heathrow, and now my mind is clear of everything that's gone, I can try to focus on a clear week ahead.

It's fair to say that I have been stressed, but I don't feel stressed right now. I feel fairly motivated and ready for a good week. And my head has some interesting ideas about software in it too, which is nice.

Perhaps novelty is a good way to get the brain ready for action.

Sunday, October 26

Teamwork

I have got to admit that I was feeling the pressure today. I wanted to be able to finish the job that we started yesterday. I wanted to be able to go to my gig without feeling I was leaving something incomplete behind. I wanted to be able to get packing for my trip tomorrow and do so without having to keep any details of what had been started in my head. I have so many irons in the fire in life and I think I was at the elastic limit of what I could keep spinning, platewise.

Just to give you a quick idea of what I mean. Here are the things running round my head on the average sunday:
  • Personal matters - mind your business
  • How to secure the wooden frame into the fireplace and the skirting board to it
  • What time do I have to go to my gig and where is it?
  • Where is my passport
  • Where are the travel details for tomorrow's trip?
  • What about the food that might go off when I go away for a week?
  • What are the details for the gig I'm supposed to do when I return?
  • Will I be able to book the plasterer?
  • How off track is my house anyway and how will I cope with another five days of not making progress with it
  • Does my bum look big in this?
  • Don't forget your guitar
  • Don't forget the things to take with to Budapest tomorrow
  • Will I have time for a shower?
  • How am I going to get the team motivated tomorrow?
  • When will I get time to complete that program I'm writing?
  • What's the best way to do the particular bit of the program I'm at at the moment?
  • "I love toast" - why is this tune I wrote running round my head so much?

In short, I was deeply deeply pre-occupied with everything and really wanted to get going on the day. However, I also don't want to be an uncompromising companion and I was asked for a trip to town, so a trip to town was made. I should point out that the person asking for a trip to town needed to go, offered to buy me coffee, and had devoted plenty of time to working on my house the previous day, which deserves more than a trip to town. I should say all of this because it's fair and also because I think it illustrates that the trip to town wasn't a concession as much as a pleasure.

I digress. Of course.

So, to town we dideth go, and many shops were perused, and then there was some general wandering. I even went into a gallery and almost talked myself into buying a painting. That was a surprise. Then after a bit more bimbling, there was a return to the house for some focussed completion of things.

I would have to say that I was impressed with the results of the labouring. I was less impressed when the skirting board cutting circular saw missed a beat and ended up having to be adjusted. It cost me a few millimetres off the end of the skirting board, but that can and will be covered up with filler. The results of the efforts, which included:
  • Skirting board chopping
  • Drilling and frame fixing
  • Battening
  • Plasterboard attaching
  • Screwing into battens
  • Cinching corners of skirting board together with artful screwing
well, the results were simply splendid. There's a room waiting to be plastered now (once I'd removed the light fittings) and it feels like a bit piece of progress.

As a side effect of the process of removing this fireplace, a lot of soot had been harvested from the chimney and into my nostrils - mmm the black snot - and a lot of my most favourite tools had to be used. This is what DIY is all about. The job was actually completed and then I got to go to my gig. I wasn't planning on staying for the whole gig. I thought I would just do my bit and leave.

When I told you what I wasn't planning on doing you probably got the impression that the plan went awry, and you'd be right and also wrong. Plans aren't always there to be followed, they're a basic guide for life. You have to wing it sometimes. I had planned to park somewhere in Brixton, ideally in the pub car park, but that wasn't hard and fast, in the end I parked on Electric Avenue, which immediately put a song in my head. That wasn't the end of the world. In fact, it was amusing. Then I discovered a friend in the audience of the gig, so decided not to leave before the end - that's hardly cricket. Then I lent my guitar stand to the closing act, and decided that that had clinched the deal - I'd be staying until the end.

So I did.

I didn't do the best of performances of my stuff, feeling again the limitations of the shorter spot. In fairness to me, mind, at least I actually observed the length of spot I had... even though I overran it a touch. Not everyone understands how to do this. No names.

Anyway, the closing act made me howl with laughter - they're great - Pappy's Fun Club, always a treat. I think I bellowed out some of the remnant stress, making me ready for the forthcoming trip. This was probably a good thing. All I had to do was go home and pack!

Packing, interrupted by some late night hot food, was fairly straightforward, with most of my bag space going to the things I needed to bring with. Still, my needs are simple and so am I. I then lost my passport.

I then found my passport, the only bit of paperwork to fall down the back of the drawers under my desk. Typical. Then I found it hard to transfer the travel documentation from work computer to home computer in order to be able to print it. Nothing is ever easy.

With a 4.30 alarm time and 1.30 on its way onto the front of the alarm, I got to sleep, hugging a pillow.

Saturday, October 25

There's No Place For The Fireplace

A big project like a house can be a series of bizarre and apparently nonsensical critical paths. I can't get the top floor of my house painted or carpeted until the fireplace in the downstairs room is out. Huh!? Well, maybe I could, but maybe I don't want to. The removal of the fireplace is the last big job in the house - the last one which can cause rubble, at least. I could leave it there, but then there would continue to be a plague of soot, which would ultimately make the new carpet a mess. I could block the soot bits up and stop, but then there would be a nasty fireplace in the room, taking up space. Really, it wants to be removed, blocked up and forgotten about. Not only that, but the skirting board needs to go on at the same time as blocking it up, otherwise there's a potential for a huge critical chain to go wrong.

The skirting board question comes to this. When the fireplace is gone, there needs to be a skirting on the front. This should match up with the new skirting board I put on nearly 2 years ago when I first got the house. However, if I want it to match up, then I need to attach the skirting before the plasterer comes along, or he'll plaster the whole of the wall, leaving me no choice but to remove the stub of skirting and do it again. But that stub I have already got matches the rest of the skirting board at its far end. If I remove it, won't I have to keep going, round the room, as the plastering will constantly make everything a different size?

So, skirting board first.

Before that, the fireplace needs to come out. It's a job I didn't want to do when I first saw it. I thought it would be a lot of effort and a lot of money to replaster. Given that I ended up accepting the replastering as necessary and given that it's cheaper than I thought and that I can do reasonable plasterboarding myself, I changed my mind. Given that I now have a big hardcore drill with chiseling attachment, I reckoned I could also make short work of the whole removal process.

I started out with the best of intentions, power-chiseling away at the fire-surround, watching tiles drop off and thinking I was getting somewhere. There wasn't a lot of cracking of concrete, more some remodelling, and all-in-all, it was enough noise to send my companion up to the opposite end of the house to paint a door. Thank you.

After lots of power chiseling, I had little thought - what if I just hit this with a big sledgehammer?

I did.

Then I got a big crow bar.

Then I did prying, smashing, power chiselling and manly bellowing. All in all, the fireplace was smashed into tiny piece.

I even did a responsible thing and bagged all of the pieces into rubble sacks.

When I was left with just the hearth, I considered what it might be made of, smashed it with the sledgehammer and discovered that it didn't matter. Smashing rocks up - that's where it's at.

In the end, there was a car-chassis-creaking-quantity of rubble sacks to take to the tip, and that's exactly what I did, avoiding the mistake of the past where I ended up accumulating much rubble and other shite outside my house for nearly a year (over a year, in some minor cases).

After the tip action there was a B&Q trip which delivered both the joy of skirting board and general purpose timber, and the unexpected misery of a closed cafe. Such is life. Luckily, the dithering over feeding ourselves that followed, eventually resulted in what can only be described as the second bonza curry of the week, same place as last time, different company, this time it was a takeaway. Brilliant. Curry really got the juices flowing and the mid-to-late evening comprised making a wooden frame to fit into the fireplace hole, contemplating its position, attaching it a bit more loosely than I expected, despairing of the lack of frame fixings, attaching some freshly cut plasterboard to the front, finding that it wobbled a bit, and then rejoicing at the unexpected arrival of more frame fixings - surely something worth putting into action the following day.

It had been a very labour intensive day in the house, but progress had been made and we reviewed the project graph to be sure that we liked the way the progress looked.

The fireplace was seriously removed, all that remained was a lot of soot. Mainly on the bedclothes.

Friday, October 24

Pre-Meditated

I did some cooking today. People do this all the time, but planning had gone into this cooking. Not only that, but I had also made a series of choices about working in order to fit around the various things that were going to happen today, some in the kitchen and some not. It was another work-from-home day, which should, perhaps, be a euphemism for pissing about, but can't have been since I was on duty from about an hour earlier than even early for me, and I worked quite solidly producing plenty of results, some of which actually shocked me.

The reason for the work at home started with the workmen who were coming to fit three radiators back on. This is no coincidence, each radiator required a lot of preparing and painting and, having never painted a radiator ever before, I'm really rather pleased with the way these ones had turned out. I even devised a special system for doing it. Given that I would have to be up to look after these workmen, I brought my laptop home ready to start the day at home. Given that the rest of the team were either on holiday or working out of the office for much of the day, it struck me that I didn't really need to be in the office and would benefit from working at home, which would also afford me the chance to run some laundry through the machine and prepare for the meal tonight - small tasks.

Of course, things are never quite that simple. I still needed to make a trip to the office to pick up some computer equipment, but it's the thought that counts. Most of my thoughts were deep in a rather interesting computer program which was coming out rather well.

However, I did also chance to make some garlic bread. I'd been asked not to make a high-fat garlic bread for the evening meal, and I also didn't want to use a lot of butter for the cooking. So, it occurred to me that one could simply bake a lot of garlic into a ciabatta mix and create some garlic bread that would meet all the criteria. Had I had some parsley, I'd have added that too. All of this added together raised a question in my mind. What is pre-meditated? Can you, for instance, make bread on a whim? In this case, I hadn't. I'd thought about the sort of bread I wanted, really mused, come up with a variation on the standard approach, whacked it in a breadmachine, set for 4 hour hence, and walked away feeling like I'd created something. So is that pre-meditated? Would that always be pre-meditated? Can you make bread on a whim?

Well, I've thought about it some more, and I think I've come up with a definition. Though, you could decide to make bread on a whim, it's never going to come out the moment you put it on. Bread takes hours. Revenge is a dish best served cold, but fresh bread is a dish that, whether served cold or hot, is going to come out when your temper has had time to cool off, should you, in a fit of pique, taken it out on the dough. So, bread, in my view, has always to be pre-meditated. Or pre-breaditated if you wish. So, what's the definition of pre-meditated? I think it's this. Anything you could come home from the pub and just do, is probably not pre-meditated. You're just doing it. Bread is not in this category. By the time it's ready, you'd be asleep and the kebab meat you intended to put in the bread would have congealed.

All this talk of bread and congealed kebab is somewhat detracting from the wonders of the coq au vin which I con-coq-ted (oh dear, it's pun central here) starting as soon as my work had finished. I did all manner of sautéeing, followed by some flambéing and then some pouring in of cheap french table wine (so cheap it came in a plastic bottle in which you'd normally get squash). I had previously prepared some vegetables and attacked a whole free-range-chicken with a cleaver, creating pieces of chicken.

All of the above went into the newly bought casserole dish and simmered on the stove until it was time to consume them.

And this is the beauty of pre-meditation. After a lot of conversation about the best way to create this particular dish, the creation occurred and the result was, after some seasoning and a small mishape with the bouquet garni (I was distracted), well worth the wait. Revenge is a dish best served cold, coq au vin is a dish best served hot, with the bouquet garni removed.

Red wine on the other hand: room temperature.

Note: if you are a judge and there's been a murder, please ignore my definition of pre-meditation.

Thursday, October 23

Not Early, Earls Court

There is a time for going to gigs and that time should not be "a bit late". However, work will demand its share of my time, and I always put the gig second. I had a deadline to arrive at the gig by 7.30, though, and things were cutting rather fine.

Snarled up in traffic, way off the intended location of Stockwell, where I might pick up the Northern Line to go to Charing Cross, I gave up and discovered some miraculous free parking in Earl's Court. I hot-footed it to the tube, having had a relatively pleasant, though not entirely unstressful journey thus far. The stress was from the lateness, the pleasantness was from catching up with a friend in Edinburgh while doing it - the wonders of the handsfree kit.

But, as is often the case, the timeline at the actual gig is running in a different way to the one on the journey there. I arrived all harried and feeling late to find I was in plenty of time and could relax and get set up. The audience were a private party - a bunch of bankers, solicitors and real-estate agents (all that made up estate is so passé), all of whom wanted some comedians to cheer them while they tried to forget about the total collapse of the western money markets. Cheery cheery cheeryness.

It was actually an okay gig if you ignore the bizarre sound problems and the slightly awkward way the audience sometimes held back and sometimes tried to push a laugh out. Such is the nature of polite company. I felt a bit foolish doing my usual brand of shite in front of a room full of people in suits. However, there were some nice moments, and there's one of my new lines which I'm very proud of... even in intelligent company.

I left the gig fairly early and returned to Earl's Court. I temporarily forgot the way back to the car, but good old Google Maps, along with a vaguely GPS aware phone (I'm told you can upgrade it so it is totally GPS aware) meant it didn't take long to find the car again. Then I headed back to Reading.

With such an early night return, you'd think I'd maybe go to bed early, or even get some extra painting done. No, not me. I went to Tesco - the beacon of consumerism in a dark economical climate. I had a massive shopping list in my head of things to get for the cooking I planned for the weekend. In fact, on the way to the Tesco, a friend called and, after I'd guessed the solution to his broadband problem - a very accurate series of guesses, involving going to the exact options that were wrong and fixing them - he and I then guessed a recipe together. Though I don't normally cook, or even buy the sort of food that could be classed as ingredients, I like the occasional forays into home economics and this weekend had a particularly important recipe to be tried, one which I've made twice before, one as the principal chef. Last time I made it it was singularly not appreciated, but I decided to try it again, as I concluded that it wasn't appreciated owing to the tastes of the other person, rather than the quality of my catering.

And this is how a Thursday night can pan out. Running a full trolley's worth of goods through the self-service while people tut behind you and the woman has to intervene every so often. Whatever happened to the teamwork where she beeps it and I pack it? Not at the late-night Tesco, apparently? It's self-service or die.

Wednesday, October 22

Currying Favour

I could say more about tonight than is necessary. In many ways that's my modus operandi. However, I'll summarise. I did a bit of light sorting out in the house. I had planned to do some DIY task or other, but made do with some vital cleansing instead.. My sister was due to visit, so I prepared the room I'd be offering her to sleep in. I had also threatened her with a curry at the local curry house. She is something of a novice to the world of curry, so we'd get a good chance to eat new (to her food) and shoot the breeze.

The loan of a table and some folding chairs, which I could put with the cheap vinyl tablecloth I'd bought ironically, was a fair swap for the lodgings, and the evening passed by pleasantly.

My favourite is still the coconut chutney. Yum.

Tuesday, October 21

At The End Of The Day

I'm thirsty. I shall have to drink some water in a minute. That's a good cure for thirst. Beer would also be good. I might check to see if I have any in the fridge. That would be a nice way to celebrate a busy night.

Work took me across Berkshire (well, from one office to another 10 miles away) and into discussions on how to use inspiration to solve a problem we just don't get. Here is an important fact: if you keep an open mind and look at a lot of things before drawing any firm conclusions, your conclusions may well prove better. Also, if you involve a lot of people in thinking over a problem, you may get a better overall view. Bear in mind, though, that people come with pre-conceptions and if they are arguing their theory, it may just be a way of arguing some personal grand-theory-of-everything, rather than something which relate to the matter in hand.

I'm not suggesting that I suffered the potential problem I highlighted above, more than the above is a thing and that tonight, before coming home, I did a related thing for which the above is interesting side-commentary.

Anyhoo, back-pedalling aside, I came home, had some pasta and then, after a few minutes around 8pm where settling down on my sofa in the living room in front of the TV would have been bliss (but I don't have sofa, living room or TV in it), I stopped messing about on the computer and went to start work on the decorating.

I started with something easy - I knocked some excess plaster out of the radiator I painted yesterday after work. It's hard to believe from this vantage point, a mere 30 or so hours after the fact, that I actually did a gig AND got an hour's DIY done yesterday. I'm clearly shitting it about never finishing this house. I have graphs and they tell me that I could do 9 hours more work this week and then I'd be back on track for today. By the time those 9 hours have been done, I'll be behind even more. But I digress.

After the easy job, I decided to do some electrical work. I put up a new light fitting. It was straightforward enough and it worked first time. In fact, it was probably the easiest bit of electrical work I've done in the house. Nothing was tricky or awkward, it just went up.

Then I got down to some sanding. I'm not a fan of sanding, but it needs to be done. The results after sanding are always a lot better, and the first coat I'd put down had a number of flaws in it that I really didn't like. More importantly, sanding is the way to get the paint to look right and last longer, so I did the necessary.

I then continued where I'd left off with yesterday's painting. Following this there was a hell of a lot more painting. I'd started with a door frame. Then I did a skirting board with lots of corners, then I did both sides of a door. The result, a lot of paint all over the necessary places, and a fair bit over me.

Since I'd now reached the last of my clean brushes, the rest of them sitting in a jar of white spirit waiting for cleaning, I went and spent some time cleaning my brushes. Then, with the dregs of my hot water, I had a shower. This is as rock and roll as DIY gets. However, the process of doing these tasks has moved me onwards towards my target and I'm feeling optimistic that a bit of DIY push this weekend will see things moving even more forwards.

Not Allowed

When I was a student we had a comedy night at the university. This was held in March 1995 and was at a time when I was performing stand-up comedy as a younger, fatter and less original-writing sort of a man. A lot has happened since then. Oh yes. Anyway, one of the things we did was we played the song Misty and had a bunch of props gags to make it amusing. When the singer sang "I feel like I'm clinging to a cloud I can't understand", someone handed him a big hardboard cloud, on the back of which was a question mark. It seemed funny at the time.

The cloud lived on and stayed in my room for a few years to be replaced with a better cloud when it was time to make my study in Newcastle. Last week's trip caused me to notice this cloud and bring it back to Reading with me.

Is it allowed? No. It's a cloud.

Monday, October 20

Doing It All

I tried to be good today and stick to the plan. I think I sometimes have trouble with priorities. The interesting and important have a struggle on their hands with me. I tried to balance them today and I think I had a qualified success, but only just.

At work there was the choice between pressing on and completing some task of my own, or interfering with the work of other people. I chose the first. As a result, I am going to need to do some major course correction tomorrow to bring everything back onto track. Then there was also the choice between the urgent presentation and the matter in hand. The urgent presentation could maybe be avoided if I found a way to delegate it... in truth, it couldn't wait. I also had a very vague brief, so I just put something together that I thought should be interesting in the hope that it fit the bill.

Then there was the prioritisation of DIY versus gig. I was quite good. I saw the gig advertised on Chortle and I said to myself "No. I said I'd do DIY tonight, I'm not going to go and look for something to do instead." I'm paraphrasing and I'm also putting it this way to explain why what happened next happened next.

I got a phone call, I got a couple today, one of which was from the credit crunch to tell me that I am not immune (don't sell a house in a recession!). Anyway, the other call offered me a gig in Oxford, the gig I'd decided not to apply for. I don't, generally, like to say no. I like to be asked and I like to be asked back. You don't get asked back unless you've done the gig in the first place. So I went to do the gig.

I also broke another rule, which is that I don't mix work and pleasure. In this case, I decided to invite a member of my team to join me. This was a chance to get to know each other a bit better, and also a way to acknowledge the hard work of the other person without having to be all formal about it.

I'm not sure I can be bothered with yet another gig story that ends with me telling how I did well on the stage and won the auidence over. Essentially, I had a nice time on there and not much happened that couldn't be described as performing in some way or another.

I tried to explain a lot of the process of going to a gig to my workmate. I described the car as my equivalent of Superman's phonebox. He goes into a phonebox to swap from one identity to the other, so I go on a long car journey and do much the same.

In this case, the long car journey was fairly local. Of course, there's bound to be something that uses up the free time that that should give you. In this case, the gig started late, ran late and was, overall, late. Thus, I'm on the outside of some soup and toast and ready for bed, rather late in the day.

What of the DIY? Well, I didn't do none. I'm quite behind on the plan at the moment, but plans are afoot to do a fair bit more. I'm ready for my radiators to go back on, which is nice. I painted two radiators and a door frame before running out to the gig tonight. Not a bad use of an hour or so's work.

So, I managed to get work done, pet projects and stuff I'm meant to be doing. I even managed to turn a gig on a school night into a mini-team outing. The perfect crime.

Sunday, October 19

Early Night

I think the expression "gather ye roses while ye may" is probably quite apt for me. I tend to live very much in the present and do as much as I can possibly do in the time I have available. Having said that, I also know that I live a frenetic existence with little sleep, so sometimes there has to be a day for mooching about.

Today's wake up was vaguely relaxed - a bit like slowing passing in (the opposite of out) from a big fluffy cloud. Breakfast was a fancy version of the full English, with toast to die for (it was poisoned - just a joke). Then there was morning coffee and the long drive home. Except, I didn't go home. I dropped people off and then went out for dinner. It was the sort of dinner where you can have a relaxed quiet chat. This is my kind of dinner. It even had balsamic vinegar in it somewhere. Lovely.

After I arrived home at a reasonable hour, I lay on my bed and read some of my book. Relaxing weekends, like this one had been from about 2.30am on Friday night, don't come along very often and it's important to enjoy them while ye may.

Saturday, October 18

Shot

Part of today's agenda was to go out shooting. I had made the small error of not having a shooting jacket. Everyone needs a shooting jacket. In truth, I didn't have any sort of jacket. I'd used the logic that I always have my jacket in the boot of my car, so I must, since I had my car with me, have my jacket. This is logically sound. The logic fails when the initial assertion of "always" turns out to be "mostly, unless it was removed a day or so ago as part of a boot clear-out". Oops.

Still, I found a quick tour of the high street useful and M&S delivered the goods at knock down prices.

So we went shooting and I didn't freeze. It was clay pigeon shooting. I'd have to say that I've never found the murder of so much pottery to be so enjoyable. I definitely killed some plates. We didn't have them stuffed and mounted and stuck on the mantlepiece though. That would have been ghoulish.

I made a mistake. Not shooting - I'll say no more of that now (except to mention that if a job's worth doing, it's worth doing 24% of) - I made the mistake of believing that the big relaxing bath I had this afternoon was the first bath I'd had in 2 years. It was the first I'd had in one. However, it was definitely the first deep relaxing soak I'd had in at least 2 years, if not longer.

I even read my book. This was most excellent.

Then the evening comprised a big banquet-style meal, which was exceedingly posh and was served on some tiles and some pottery that you weren't allowed to shoot.

Great day.

Friday, October 17

Amusement Is A Big Thing

I spent the morning at home. I was working. In fact, the week had been all the more productive for the fact that I'm allowed to work from wherever I need to, with the proviso that the work gets done. As I didn't need to be working face to face with anyone else, I worked from my house. I got plenty done, but I needed to get into the office for the afternoon. In fact, the beauty of the day was that it seemed to be in neat 3 or 4 hour activities. I knew I wasn't due to bed until after 2am, so to wake up around 8ish and then have a huge wait until bedtime would have been difficult. Thus, I was pleased to have lots of different tasks to break it up.

Why was bedtime so important? Don't be cheeky. I was due to spend the weekend away in a nice hotel in Canterbury. I had a gig in what many might call the entirely opposite direction, in Birmingham, so my weekend couldn't start until after the gig and after I'd arrived in Canterbury. Simple, really.

Short bursts of activity was the order of the day. The tool I was creating was progressed in the morning. Then I got lunch and fuel and did a conference call, which got me as far as the office. I was cheekily dressed in jeans, which is not office dress code, but it was a Friday, so I had my own dress-down day. I say day, it was 2 hours.

There was going to be a meeting, which is one of the reasons I'd planned to have someone meet me at the office at 4.30, so I could take him to the airport. In the end, the meeting didn't happen, so I got some more work done before heading to Heathrow with passenger in tow. Then I headed to Birmingham to the comedy club for my sound check.

I had a fair old wait before the gig started, but all was nice and relaxed and the audience were large in number and seemed to be nice.

This is where I'd normally tell a story of storming a gig. If it's a nice audience, surely I can do well. To be honest, I can't really judge how well the gig went. I know this: it went better than last time, but it also felt unfamiliar. I could liken it to the driver of a regular car, like an Astra, going to drive a massive lorry, full of concrete. Big audiences don't work the same way that small audiences do.

As it happens, I got some laughs, but I knew I was playing at a totally different level to normal. My internal director, the voice that sits on my right shoulder, trying to make the performance work by spotting my behaviour and correcting it, was barking orders left right and centre. I retreated into the tried and tested of the act and didn't really dare reach out to the audience beyond just delivering the set piece stuff. All in all, it was a clunky performance.

But the problem wasn't the audience or the material. Even the performance wasn't desperately poor. It simple came down to confidence and comfort. I'm not used to a room that size, packed so neatly with people, all staring at me. I'm not used to the noises to work with and the ones to ignore in that situation. I'm usually a much bigger fish in a much smaller pond.

This is the level I have to be able to play at to be serious about comedy. I await the feedback from the gig organisers.

Anyway, I came off stage with a fairly bad post-gig come-down, packed up my stuff and got rushing to my car for the long haul to Canterbury. It's 3 hours 20 minutes of driving, but I'd not eaten, it was nearly 10.30 and I was feeling tired. A bit.

I made the journey pass by with lots of chewing gum and a fairly awful musical - Blitz! - by Lionel (Oliver!) Bart. Songs about Hitler were amusing, but not quite enough to keep me chipper. As usual, Tescos that close before they're meant to, and garages that treat you like a criminal who cannot be allowed into the place after dark, made me irritable. So, indeed, did the parking machine in Canterbury (ooh, we fast forwarded) which took cards, but not my sort of card (more their own special cards - oooeee, whoopie doo!).

I regained some control of my temper, drove to a nearby Kebab house that smelled of sick, with some slightly chubby new-Mini-driving wreck of a woman ordering chips with extra salt (she may as well sell the car, she won't need it next year when she's dead) standing at the counter. I bought a diet coke, thus yielding change enough for the meter.

I paid and displayed.

I checked into the hotel.

I got into the room and straight into bed.

One of the busiest and most stressful weeks of late was over and the weekend had begun.

I was very happy and warm.

Thursday, October 16

Unnecessary Ironing

Isn't it ironic? No, it's ironing. Ah yes. I have often found that my work life and home life can follow similar patterns. For instance, if I clear my desk at work, I'll come home and clear my desk at home. Given that, on Monday night, I destroyed the last nice desk I owned (from my Newcastle house), I'm feeling a bit tender on the whole desk subject, so let's drop that one for a moment.

Today had a much closer home/work connection, since I ditched the office at 11am and, after an early lunch in which I bought a casual blazer, came home to do a day's work. In fact, for some reason, I did more than just the working day's work. I kept going until much later than planned. I got into it.

A reshuffle of the evening's activities ended up occurring to cancel the painting and dig deeply into the laundry pile to discover all those garments I thought I'd lost, and which turned out to be simply hibernating in the big basket I'd wondered what I'd put in.

I ironed for a long time. In the end, I took on some ironing tasks I never take on. I ploughed through some bed linen. This is nice bed linen, which I've only recently bought, so why not make it look nice - it will, hopefully, go on the bed very well next time. But it was unnecessary. But it was a nice-to-have.

Perhaps nice-to-haves are best described by the term unnecessary ironing. You can see why a nice-to-have is nice-to-have. That's how it got its name, but is it absolutely essential? Is it worth the time?

It occurs to me, as I weigh up what I made on my computer today, that the end result was ok, but not much more than just that. Ok. I made something that I didn't think I could get anywhere else, and which I reckoned would save a bunch of time to have. Thing is, there's a reason why people haven't made it, and there's also a question in my mind over whether we'll ever "earn back" the time I've theoretically saved by making this thing.

From my position right now, I can see how the method I was going to use for another thing, which seemed to justify the "need" for this particular tool, might be better off changed to something else, which I know doesn't need it at all.

D'oh!

Still, I got to flex my muscles as a programmer and I like being a programmer. I've said it before and I'll say it again. It's what I do. In particular, the use of unit tests (not enough of them, mind) and TDD was a very useful way to solve this particular problem.

I have "hero" tendencies. This means that I want it to be my line of code which saves the day. I also have blustering as a character trait. I was more determined to do this particular thing because it was suggested that it wouldn't work. Again, in the cold light of day (or in this case, the soporific miasma of late night contemplation) maybe there are reasons why it's not all that good, but it's also pretty good. Do you care what it is? Oh well, if you don't, then ignore the next bit and stop reading.


Imagine an XML file:

<Configuration>
<name>Ashley</name>
<point><x>12</x><y>34</y></point>
<pets>
<Dog name="rover" />
<Cat livesRemaining="8" />
</pets>
</Configuration>


It's a simple configuration file. There is a property of the configuration called "name", which is a string, another called "point", which is some sort of tuple of "x" and "y", then there is a list called pets, of which there is a Dog and a Cat. Sometimes properties are expressed in attributes, sometimes they're in sub-elements. It's an anything-goes kind of a file.

You could write a mapping from this to some appropriate class structure, along with schema validation. You could. Or, you could create some classes:


class Configuration
{
String name;
Point point;
List pets;
}

class Point
{
int x;
int y;
}

class Dog
{
String name;
}

class Cat
{
int livesRemaining;
}


Then you could use the code-generation facility of most IDEs to generate the getters and setters for all of these values, giving you a series of POJOs/DTOs/VOs, whatever you want to call them. My code will just let you point your XML at the starting class. It can tell that the xml element "point" has a counterpart in the "Configuration" class and can, therefore, infer what object to create to go in there, and, thus, how to populate its Xs and Ys. For the list, it creates a simple list and guesses at where to find the classes (same package as the owning class) that are mentioned in the xml.

It's mapping-free XML to object mapping - it's unnecessary ironing:


// load the object from the file
Configuration config = (Configuration)HlxUnmarshaller.loadFrom(file, Configuration.class);


I called it HlxParser, which is short for "handy little xml parser" or, more likely "hateful little xml parser". It's sure to piss people off. It works, though... as far as it goes! It'll be a bitch to debug!

Wednesday, October 15

Oh What A Feeling

Some gigs work and some gigs don't. This is the nature of the beast. A good gig is the drug that keeps you coming back for more. It's the reward for the challenge. It's the reason you do all the other gigs, and the vindication that the whole thing is not just a big fat waste of everyone's time. A good gig has good cheer pouring out of everyone involved and it's a joy to behold. Good gigs can come for free, with an up-for-it audience, or they can be bought at considerable expense by ploughing on with an audience that aren't quite sure, and then reaping the rewards when they fall in on your side.

In short. Good gigs are great. Of course they are. That's why they call them good gigs. They would call them something else if they were awful.

Bad gigs on the other hand are a strange thing. While you can be inspired by a good gig, a bad gig is a lesson of sorts. It can also be the losing bet that makes the gambler double the stakes for next time. This is a bad simile, but I worry that it's also accurate. Generally speaking, you learn from a bad gig. You also, usually, get some sort of pain from doing one. Every joke that falls flat takes some of your credibility with it. Since stand-up is really about duelling egos, this is not necessarily a good thing - no, it's bad. So the result is that you feel your cheerful energy getting drained and you feel like you've died, except in body.

After bad gigs you can feel like writing something as soporific as this, which is no good thing. But it's a learning experience.

Tonight's gig was weird. Of course it was. We're on the start of the rainy season after a bright bit. Nobody knows how they feel when the weather's like this. The football's on. The crowds weren't in force. The night was fairly low on features with just an opening act, the MC (me) and a closing act. There was the distinct absence of the Sketch show, for which many of the audience had been accustomed to coming month in, month out. Generally speaking, something was bound to be afoot.

Note: this already reads like the self-exonerating excuses list that I bemoan other stand-ups producing when a gig goes wrong for them. Let me add some chest beating to this.

I had drunk too much coffee, so I was wired. My energy levels weren't in the right place. I didn't really prepare for the gig so much as talk crap at the back of the room with the first act. I didn't really engage with the audience and let them know that stuff wasn't quite working as it failed. As a result, I found all manner of awkward moments, which I sometimes managed to wring laughs out of, and sometimes managed to amplify by being genuinely knocked back by them. Some of my "quips" were worthy of the across-the-desks-office-banter, which I've always pointed out is awful. In short, I wasn't feeling it as the show started.

When the first act was eventually allowed a go, it turned out that it wasn't just me. I'd done my best to give him a fair audience, including distancing him from my poor performance. It was hard. He asked me to time him and provide the light when he reached his time. I did and I wondered how much he'd be hoping for the light to go. The time really creaked by.

I red-lighted him at 20 minutes, but got a laugh from the audience, as I back-announced him, by telling them that I'd make him run to 25 because it wasn't going well.

This is the thing. I got laughs after his set. I actually snapped out of my bizarre frame of mind, relaxed, found the funny and made the show work. From that point onwards, it wasn't a bad show. This is where the curse of the MC didn't hit me. If you die on stage as an MC, then it can become increasingly uncomfortable to return to the stage. Tonight, I was really after another crack at the audience, and though they could never have been described as "mine" or in the palm of my hand, they were enjoying me towards the end of the night, so I feel like I somehow redeemed myself.

I didn't take a fee or expenses for the gig. I reckoned that, as my expenses were zero, I could walk away from charging, as I would prefer not to have to have charging for my first half's performance on my conscience.

I have a conscience? Apparently so, but it can be assuaged with money.

In other me-news, I continued to write computer software today. It's what I do. It won't last. Someone will make me do "organising" again!

Tuesday, October 14

Not The Best Start

Today I woke up to the start of something new. It wasn't the best of starts, though. Although a phone call was how I initially grabbed myself from my slumbers, and though that was more than just a little pleasant, I didn't actually manage to rise from the dead until later than planned. I had successfully woken up yesterday, in time to be "at work" plenty early. The "commute" involved walking from my ex-dining room (in which I was sleeping) to my soon-to-be-ex-study in which I had a desk and chair to work.

After yesterday's "throwing everything into the skip", which included the office furniture, I had worried that I'd have nowhere to work, but was saved from a day of sitting on the floor by the presence and hasty re-assembly of the dining table, which provided ample location for late-night-post-skip-filling curry.

So my morning commute was actually 2 feet. That not a figure of speech, it's a fairly accurate approximation, yet it took me an age to get into my chair.

I'll admit it. I worked for much of the day in my jimjams.

However, it wasn't the late start which somewhat spoiled the day, it was the doorbell ringing and a neighbour telling me that my skip was on fire. I went out to discover smoke rising from one of the bags. Had I been throwing out bombs? Incendiary devices? Chemicals that spontaneously combust?

More likely, someone had tossed a fag end into the skip.

I rushed into action - my buckets now also in the skip and out of action - and emptied 3 cafetieres of water on the offending bag, which I then removed from the skip to smoulder away from the rest of the now-promoted-to-tinder skip-contents.

Drama over.

Later skip news involved finding a couple of men scavenging in the skip as I went to lunch. They seemed unashamed. Really.

The only reason I was staying in Newcastle today was to do a day's work before coming home. Had I had a van, it would also have been to pack everything up before bringing it. This didn't prove necessary.

In the end, I had a long 5-hour drive home, which I did without stopping, passing go or collecting 200 pounds. Dull.

So the day ended with me tired, after starting with the skip on fire. Rock and roll!

Monday, October 13

I Should Be Asleep

It's 1.09 on a Monday night and it's been one hell of a day. I should really be in bed. I can't get to sleep, though. There are a few reasons for this. One of them is the strong coffee which was made to follow dinner earlier. Another is that I've got Flight of the Conchords playing a live gig in the window right next to the one I'm typing this into. This is the benefit of the internet and the way it replaces TV with stuff you can watch on demand alongside the other virtual worlds you inhabit.



Sorry, I'm waxing lyrical on the benefits of the internet. I think this is pretty pointless, since these are quite obvious benefits these days.

Interestingly enough for me at least, the Conchords gig started with a raft of technical problems. None of these problems are as stupid as my gig problems from the other night, but it's nice to see that even big name acts have occasional problems. It's part of gigging live.

Today has been quite a day. I've been in Newcastle all day. I managed to be reasonably productive in my work, even writing some software. At lunch, I skipped out to give away some of my stuff to a charity shop. After work, though, the real sorting began. Oooh, and I nearly forgot to mention that a skip appeared at my house at 9.45. This skip is now completely full. Some of the stuff in the skip probably has intrinsic value, but there's just no point in trying to rescue it or sort it out for giving away. I say there's no point. More importantly, there's no time. Time is not on my side.

However, as I was starting to despair of the sheer workload ahead of me, a couple of friends arrived from Leeds to help out. Suddenly, the items were disappearing into the skip almost of their own accord. Rooms were emptying. Things were racing along.

I got a little bit emotional as I disassembled my office furniture, which I'd built when I lived here. I discovered how keenly engineered it was and how hard it was to take to pieces afterwards. It would have stayed sturdy for many many years to come. I also threw out the old fishbowl and had to relive the fact that the fish died. We gave him a burial at sea in the river Tyne.

It was a strange experienced throwing the remaining possessions away. I hadn't realised how much I left behind last time. I've already filled one skip from the contents of this house.

But this is progress. My life is not here any more and I need to move on. I will, tomorrow. But I'll be back. I have to come back another time with a van to pick up the crap that remains (unless, for some bizarre reason, all the stuff I've decided to bring back should happen to fit in my boot).

Oh, and I shouldn't forget the thanks to the lads who helped make this possible. We had late night curry and laughter and some of the stuff was diverted from skip to their houses, which is only fair. Though nobody wanted to lay a claim on the tin of tuna chunks, empty but still dirty, that we found.

Sunday, October 12

It's A Mystery

For reasons which are anyone's guess, I work on a product which is called Merlin. Bear that in mind. Bear also in mind that my day started with an early wake up so that I could cycle over to collect a van to keep it at my house before doing a team outing to Stonehenge (the team are responsible for Merlin) before coming back to pick up the van to drive to Newcastle with it to collect my worldly goods and throw out my unwanted goods.

In short. I was stressed about the week ahead. The weekend was being stolen by imperatives.

It started to go wrong when my driving licence plus a van hire plus a sunday morning added up to a no-can-do. They needed to get extra approval for my extra points and the insurers weren't open. That was that plan stuffed. I went through plenty of crazy contingency plans before deciding to make the van-pick-up a second trip at some later juncture. Sigh. It's never easy.

Stonehenge was fun. The audio-commentary made me laugh. "Why is it here? We don't know. Maybe Merlin spirited the stones here." Good old Merlin.

We followed the trip up with lunch in a nearby pub and then parted company in good spirits. I loaded a car up with some essentials and headed to Newcastle. I arrived late enough to want nothing more than the company of my bed. Why is life so tricky? It's a mystery.

Saturday, October 11

The Day of the Contingency Plan

I got angry at my gig tonight. It doesn't happen often, and I knew I was having a prima donna hissy fit. I couldn't help it. I had rushed around to be there and it wasn't what I thought I'd signed up for.

Quick aside - I ended up having a good gig and, though I felt like blaming the person who booked me for this gig for the conditions I found the room in when I arrived, I also can't truly hold it against him. He's a good fellow and it was just one of those things.

I'll rewind to the start of the day. I'd planned a morning of DIY with the gig in the evening. This ended up turning into a day out shopping, followed by dinner. Dinner I would have to rush away from to do a gig. So, already things were moving away from the plan before the gig brought its own spanners to throw in some works or other.

Onto the gig then. I arrived in a pub and wondered where the gig was. It was in the main body of the pub, on a Saturday night, with a general Saturday night crowd - not in there for the comedy, nor had they paid to be there. Not a good start.

Stage? No, but there's a raised seating area with a ballustrade in front. Microphone? Yes. Stand? No. Can I shout it at the audience with no stand/mic combo? No.

Oh dear.

I nervously watched the room, trying to fathom out how they might or might not work. I couldn't see it. The question was wrong "How do you make this gig work?" the answer was "Why do you keep calling this a gig?".

However, never prejudge the room 100%. After a bit of help from the bar staff, we turned a regular common or garden sweeping brush into a mic stand. I've dreamed of doing this. In this case, it was gaffer taped to the ballustrade and then the mic was taped to the top. I found that by leaning forward, with one elbow on the ballustrade, I could use the mic, appear to be leaning into the crowd and still have enough energy and voice left, after the trials of my cold, to whack out 30 minutes of Ashley bing bang bong.

There were laughs. Even I thought the mike stand was funny. It's what turned my mood a bit.

I did the job and left. With £15. Wow. I must be so lucky to do what I love and be so rewarded for it...

Friday, October 10

Addicted to Work

I came home. I bashed out some code on my computer. In fact, I discovered the oasis of calm that is my home and bashed out some good code. I was pleased with it.

I ended up working later than planned.

Then it was time for DIY. I started sanding some radiators and moved on to painting them and then the skirting board in my upstairs room. I had Bleak Expectations series 2 playing - first time I'd heard it - it was my latest CD delivery. Very good.

When I came to dispose of my brush, it turned out to be after 2. The night had just flown by. Progress was made.

Thursday, October 9

Darting Hither

The gig tonight was in Dartford. This is in Kent. I was to take the PA system and meet up with the rest of the acts. This should not be a big thing to do. A gig is a gig.

In the end, the night was a bit of a rollercoaster. Some of it worked, some of it didn't. I surprised myself with aiming my "old lady" song at an actual older woman. I was also surprised, since it's quiet and slow, and the pub seemed to surge with noise when I was being most quiet. In the end, though, it captured a moment, and I found it funnier than ever to sing, knowing ahead of each line what I was about to say and being socked myself at saying it with a specific recipient sitting in the room...

...it's nice to have something in a gig which makes you, the performer, laugh, especially if the gig was a bit more heavy going than average.

Wednesday, October 8

It's Not Always Gigs

I had had a gig booked for tonight. However, with the cold and my general exhaustion, I pulled it. Instead, I had a night at home with company and a stir fry. It was the first time I've made a stir fry in a long time. The chinese beer went down well.

In the end, an attempt to watch Airplane was cancelled and sleep came. Next time, perhaps.

Tuesday, October 7

I Can Do This

That has to be my mantra for today. I can do this. I can type on a keyboard that has a dodgy letter "t". I can get myself out of bed and go to work when I'm feeling like a microwaved poo. I can write a sarcastic song about the credit crunch. I can go and do a gig in London and get home at a reasonable hour. I can reschedule my October calendar around trips away and feeling ill, so that I survive it to November.

It's got to be a can-do, because the cost of not being able to do these things is considerable. It's my way to do what I do and make it all work. I like to achieve the surprising, the unusual and the bizarre. It's the way I operate. I certainly hate something that's marked as impossible... I don't hate it, actually; I see it as a hill I must attempt to climb.

It's a good job that the hills I see are metaphoric, or I'd be halfway up Everest by now, giggling something about "because it's there" and whistling. I'd also be singing the song that's now stuck in my head. This is the song that goes "Bing bong, bing bang bong. Bing bong bing bong bong." Don't ask me why it's stuck in my head, or even when I wrote it. It's rubbish. Eek.

Anyway, I'm not mountaineering at the moment, I'm just surviving one of my regularly silly months: October. I never set out to make it silly - it just does it all by itself.

In bizarre synchronicity news: I nearly hit a rabbit on the way to Tesco tonight. This matches a similar incident last night where I swerved to miss what may have been nothing, or may have been a deer on a different road. It's clearly swerving season. I was fine, the rabbit survived, and I only got a small hit of lovely lovely adrenaline. Whoopsie do.

A fair amount of patience was required journeying tonight. There is always traffic into London, but there was a staggering amount on the M4 coming out of the place. Some roadworks in the middle of the London -> Reading route basically meant that three lanes were merging into one. I watched a small minded woman in a small car, make her way from the outer lane into the lefthand lane and then speak very angrily (judging by her hand movements) with her passenger, while closing any gap between her car and the car in front by accelerating up to a high speed and then braking hard. This is no so much driving as lurching forwards. I think she was trying to avoid anyone sneaking into the gap in front.

Perhaps driving isn't a competition, race or indeed challenge of any sort. It's just about getting from one place to another in conjunction with all the other people just trying to do the same.

Of course, if anyone pithers around in front of me, I will shoot them with my front mounted laser-powered rocket-based flamethrower, but that's only to be expected: they deserve it!

The gig tonight? Well, I had a nice time. I did that because the audience had a nice time. I don't just go out there and have my own little exclusive world of fun in front of them. And it's not a case of saying "Well I had a nice time" as if to suggest that others didn't. That would be a reflection of one of my favourite off-stage "compliments" which involved a pushy woman coming up to me and saying "Well I thought you were funny". I may as well have said "thanks mum", though this was in Birmingham and my mother was nowhere near at the time. The implication that the woman knew she was in the minority didn't make me feel any better as a performer. Still, if you can make one person laugh... in a larger audience that's not really enough!

So in tonight's gig, I did a bit of messing about. I blethered. It was fun. I got laughs and I came home.

Had things run a little tighter for time, I'd probably be doing DIY now, but I'll save that for tomorrow night and also Friday night. I have plenty of DIY to do, but I can't really set about it so late of an evening. Instead, there was beetroot salad and there will be a shower before I contemplate reading myself to sleep.

I can do many things in a day.

A Convenient Truth

Newcastle based recycling sites. A reminder of how to give random stuff away in the Toon.

Monday, October 6

A Night Of Escapades

Tonight had a sense of adventure about it. I covered quite a few miles and did a few things. Primarily, I visited Northampton to do my gig there. I say my gig. I should point out that it was someone else's gig and I was simply an ac. It was a new acts' night and I was down to close the gig as an established comedian. This suits me. I get to play with an audience and have a gig on a night which would otherwise be gigless. Though perhaps I should be putting my efforts into becoming a small fish in a big pond, playing the big fish in a smaller pond is ok too.

The venue was the labour club in Northampton, which threatened to have no nearby parking, which was mental. However, a bit of trailing around the streets which seemed to fit the word "North" in the name of the place, though it's fairly southern to my "born in Yorkshire" viewpoint, and I found a parking space and went into the venue.

I went through the usual routine. It's pretty much the same thing every time. There's a change of trousers. There's a diet coke to be bought. A guitar is either tuned, or left at "probably sounds ok". There's some faffing with a jack lead. Basically, the ritual unfolds in some sort of order.

Before I go on (and sometimes after) some people go onto the stage and try to interact with the group mind. I stand around, try to enjoy the entertainment, and get a feel for who the group is and what I'm going to have to do to entertain them. Then I go onto the stage and wing it. That's the thing. I wing it. Yet, I also pretty much do the same old hoohah each time. Somehow, though, I try to convince myself that I'm making it up as I go along. This is especially believable with some of the routines where I can't actually remember the words and so have to think about what I'm saying. I know what I'm meant to be saying, but getting the words out accurately is demanding and so, and this is the good bit, it keeps me in the moment.

I had a nice time tonight. There was a guy filming it, so there may be some clips I can use on the net. There was a spirited audience, and that always helps. Then there was me.

I'm not 100% well. At the moment, my cold has blocked my nose and reduced my lung capacity a little. The singing is just about ok, but my voice is getting more tender. I have a nice throat thing going on, which sounds gruff and sexy, but it's not really how I'm meant to sound. I need to recover a bit. Another late night is probably not the cure...

But I can't help it. Even if I'd gotten home at 11, I'd still be up now. This is where my body clock is adjusted and I can't stop myself from doing stuff at night. Plus, I rather like driving about the place being a silly ass. I rather like the bizarre life I lead. So, I'll take my Berocca and Echinacea - despite a recent barrage of articles suggesting that they're just placebos (I know they're placebos, that's why I'm taking them) and I'll plough on through. Ploughing on through is what I'm good at. I should have been a plough-on-through-man. I could have invented a special sort of lunch with chutney, cheese, and a lot of wasted diesel.

This is how my life ticks on by, and it's not a bad life.

But there are darker moments. I was convinced that I was about to hit a deer or some such on the road. I was looking at my sat nav - momentarily - and when I returned my eyes to the road, where they really do live while I'm driving, I saw a yellowy beige object wibbly wobbling itself around the right of my car. I instinctively swerved to the left, but simultaneously, my instinct not to run out of road kicked in, and I started to track my road position and be prepared to take the hit on the right if I had to steer back.

Nothing hit anything.

I got a shot of adrenaline and a sense of wondering what it was that I dodged, but I have no idea and no evidence of what it could have been. In fairness to me, I doubt I would have had any notice of whatever it was since I think my eyes returned to the road before the headlights of my car picked out this figure... which might have been a bit of cloth blowing down the road. Who knows?

It's a good journey if you can safely walk out of the car at its end. I'm fine and I've had a good night. That's the result of all my post-work behaviour. I reckon I'm getting good value out of life at the moment.

Monday Morning Randomness

Some thoughts:

I got a pint of pineapple juice last night. For free. I know! What a boon. It was the perfect combination of vitamins and throat curing tinctures.

I won £8 on the quiz machine last night. Woo. Well, actually, I won £10, but I'd put two pounds in. That cheered me up.

The humanists are posting interesting YouTube clips. This one is Richard Dawkins reading out some of the emails that appear to suggest that religious fundamentalism is synonymous with illiteracy and bigotry:


Sunday, October 5

Where Does The Time Go?

It's late Sunday night and I'm wondering exactly how I got here, how the day flew by so quickly and how bizarre the variety of activities completed now seems in the relaxing time before sleep overtakes me and lays me out.

This morning had a pleasant wake up, followed by a quick wander to the shops for emergency supplies. Then breakfast of "green butter" on toast, pineapple and toasted pancakes, was simply a perfect start to any Sunday. If only I had furniture and a room to sit in and eat these things?

Well, that was where the afternoon Ikea trip came in. A good chance to determine exactly which furniture will be making itself a permanent home in my place when the decorating and carpeting has been completed. It was also a chance to buy various items of lighting and window blinds, which could be put up any day soon. Any day. Seriously.

Back home, there was some wiring and some pasta to be made, but then the evening's trip was due to start. Off to Portsmouth to perform at a comedy club. I was the driver and had a home visit from one of my drivees, and a railway station pick up of the other. Everything seemed to be running late, but actually came about 10 minutes after schedule. As it was, the club didn't start until a bit later anyway, as the punters were not rushing to be there.

Perhaps I should take offence at this, since I was the posted headline act of this club, and perhaps the lack of punters was something of a vote of no confidence. Or perhaps it was just a quiet Sunday night in South Sea. We'll never know.

What we did know is that you play the audience you've got, despite their mood, and some of them were particularly unpleasantly disposed towards the MC - I think it was because he's good looking and quite cocky (in a good way for comedy) and someone had "issues". Just a theory, but then theories can rule the world. Look at Hitler's theories - awful. Bong. I lose. I used Hitler in an example.

Anyway, you play the audience you have and the circumstances you have. My circumstances were a bit wrong footed. I have the makings of a good cold, hence adding Berocca and Echinacea to my breakfast this morning. I also have a bit of a bushy beard thing going on. Perhaps it's ideal for winter. Perhaps it needs to come off, though it's worryingly getting beyond the itchy stage. Finally, I felt a bit lumpy looking tonight.

No problemo. Doctor Theatre took over and I wandered onto the stage and felt good. I remember giving myself the green light to walk on, and then giving myself a minute to go when I wanted to. This helped me focus myself on playing the room I had. In general, though I fluffed a few words here and there - the audience responded well and I had a joke for every occasion, even using one which doesn't work and getting a laugh from it. I knew that it would fit the moment. I was definitely in the moment.

It's odd. I remember doing the George and Zippy sing Britney Spears bit tonight and really enjoying it. I put real love and craftsmanship into something which I've had a love-hate relationship with over the years. Tonight, as with a few gigs recently, I was thrilled to bring it to the audience - I knew they'd enjoy it. I knew I'd enjoy it too. Just let the material out in as good a form as possible and it will do the work with the audience. Well, something like that. Actually, it's not the material, it's the conviction that you deliver it with and the way you signpost that it's funny.

We had quite a gig tonight, include a rather effete older gentleman, who overran his 5 minute spot by quite some way (let's say 200%), using material that was as funny as it was believable - based largely around "the thing about women". It was a window on another world.

I had a nice time tonight. It was a shame to interrupt the domestic bliss of the weekend with a gig, but the gigs are a part of the scales that keep my life in balance. At least, I believe that to be true.

You can measure the success of the gig by the look on the promoter's face when he or she pays you. You can also measure it by audience reaction. I would like to measure tonight's gig by how I felt on stage with my audience. I felt relaxed and largely in control - some songs occasionally run away with me, but I saw that happen to Bill Bailey last night, so I don't feel too bad about it. It happens, and so long as you're largely centred, I think you can declare it a good gig.

Now it's time for the mental crazy week ahead.

Yay.

Yikes.

Must sleep.

Saturday, October 4

Trying It Out

I would normally expect myself to sleep quite intensively on a Saturday morning. I had a visitor due over to my house and so should have woken up when they first called me to let me know when they were expecting to arrive. But I required more sleep. So I slept. Then I fielded a call from last night's promoter. Then I slept some more. Then another call from my visitor. Yet, I slept again afterwards.

Before I knew it, it was lunchtime and the visitor was imminent and the day was half gone and there was no time for DIY.

Oh dear.

However, there was time to get dressed up and go to see Bill Bailey in Brighton. I like Bill Bailey a lot. Some have said I love him. I don't think I have love for him. I also don't think I've been as close to him as I was, sitting in a good spot in row M of the stalls of Brighton Dome last night.

To put the gulf between my burgeoning comedy career as a musical comedian and that of Mr Bailey's in perspective, he had more people in his orchestra on stage tonight than I get in my usual audiences. He has fans. I have a mailing list - with a few people on it. He had the ability to do a show with a big orchestra. That's the main thing. He can play silly games with a bunch of serious musicians all dressed in tuxedos and everything.

I think one of the percussionists was George Washington.

The show was fun. It was quite close in many ways to the one I saw on my birthday in 2007. That show, Cosmic Shindig, was a first attempt at stand-up about and including an orchestra. Tonight's gig felt like a version two, with a lot more material about music in it, more cockney jokes and a general sense of development since last time.

Knowing Cosmic Shindig rather well from seeing it and having a hookey recording of it from the radio 3 broadcast they made, I spotted the changes. Many were for the better. I laughed a lot, though the onset of a cold also started to slow me down a bit.

An interesting element of the show was that this was clearly the run they were doing to get things working before the Albert Hall gigs in the middle of the month. Some of Bill's songs have had to change for their orchestral arrangement, and he sort of stammered his way through his encore song, clearly uncomfortable with how it felt. But how do you rehearse doing comedy with an orchestra to an audience? You can't turn up for a 5 minute spot at the Camden Tup with 40 musicians in tow!

All in all it was a great night out and I really enjoyed the show. Shame that the best catering I could manage was motorway service station food, with an additional late night M&S trip. I'm a rubbish host.

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