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Thursday, April 30

Mmm Jazz

I've always wanted to see a Big Band perform. I say always, that's, of course, an exaggeration. It wasn't something which I wanted when I was a young child. When I was quite young I wanted to be a writer, I even tried to write a joke book, with the opening lines of my introduction to the typed book of jokes proclaiming that laughter is one of the greatest gifts we have. I was, as a child, clearly a chicken-in-a-basket-ken-dodd-style showman. Anyway, I had wanted to see a big band for a while. I think I got my ambition fulfilled at the Blue Note jazz club in New York at some point at the end of 2007, but it's hard to say whether the tribute to the Count Basie Orchestra was quite what I had in my imagination when I thought about seeing a big band.

The thing about a big band, for me, is that it's meant to be, well, big. It should be so loud and uplifting and powerful that it somehow scares your primal brain at the same time as filling your head with its powerful positive energy. I wanted to experience that. It will never be the same from CD, especially when listened to the way I normally listen to music - on headphones while working, or quietly while doing something else, like driving.

Last Friday, while driving to meet my girlfriend, I heard an arts programme describing the following week's "Friday night is music night" show. This would be the Billy Strayhorn story - Billy Strayhorn wrote for and worked closely with Duke Ellington. The preview of the show sounded good, so I went out and bought tickets for the recording the following day. That's sometimes how life goes for me. I'm in so many places around the country, that I can more likely find myself in the right place at the right time.

In this case, the right place was Cheltenham, and the right time was tonight. Not only a Big Band. The was the Guy Barker Big Band AND the BBC Concert Orchestra.

We watched one hell of a show, hosted by Clarke Peters, whom I'd seen when he was in a Nat King Cole biography show, with voices performed by Michael Brandon. I hadn't really put two and two together when I listened to Jerry Springer The Opera, earlier in the day, but I had had Mr Brandon in my ears - in the role of the eponymous Mr Springer.

Fabulous performance. Exciting, enthralling. Great.

We also had some jazz audience, including the man who tapped his lip in time to the music, and the people who proclaimed "Yarr" at the end of every song. Pirates, perhaps. They were eventually hushed by the production crew, after they "Yarred" a little too soon on a few false-endings too many.

It's nice to have a night out where you'll be able to relive it on the radio the following evening.

Post Off.

I know one postal worker who seems very happy to work for the Royal Mail. However, it's possible that what happens in the sorting office is a very different, and hopefully better, world to that which I experienced in the town-centre post office this lunchtime. It was a total emotional journey in its own right, and I'll tell you about it.

Firstly, there was the bit where I joined a queue. A man asked me if I was doing road tax. They had set up a special till where people who wanted road tax could go. The idea was that the road tax would be more quickly dealt with if people went to the dedicated till and also the other tills would move more quickly if there were not people doing road tax at them. Instinctively, this doesn't make sense to me. There were approximately 6 staff present and one of them was the "expediter" in the queue. My view is that they would have benefitted more greatly from an additional 20% of people to process the queue, then from splitting the queue. You might think that the car tax people wouldn't get to slow down everyone else, but the misappropriation of resources into a person to boss you around seemed to slow everyone down by one missing till.

Just a thought.

Anyway, a new experience for me today. I was offered stamps by a ticket tout. Well, a stamps tout. He had a book of 5 first class stamps and he wanted to trade them in for money. They're worth just under £2. It wasn't a complete book of stamps, but his stamp requirements were lower than his desire to buy ciggies. He tried to push his stamps on me and the guy behind me in the queue. This was weird. I was amused by it. The guy behind started to discuss it, but wasn't buying. The stamp-seller dropped the price to £1.40. Then man behind started to buy. I outbid him and bought them at £1.50, the original price that the selling chap had been after.

That was a new experience for me. Mini eBay. In a post office. Stamp touting. It could be the new iPod.

Then there was a depressingly long wait. During this, I observed a member of the post staff explaining how deliveries aren't made on Saturdays. This is, of couse, not true, though I suspect a certain subset of deliveries are not made on Saturdays - the ones you want, probably. I would later visit this member of the staff and pay her more than I liked for a delivery on a Friday.

Then there was Jabba-the-postal worker. She was first working behind the road tax till, where she bullied someone into going for a car insurance quote with the other chap on the floor, who was doing insurance quotes. She basically hard-sold the quote. Then she wobbled from behind the counter to take the role of the expediter so that the guy doing it could swap.

As she prepared people in the car tax queue, she checked their documents to make sure that they had everything. This actually makes sense from a process point of view, excepting the fact that the whole resourcing thing is probably wrong. Anyway, she looked at the next person's insurance and feigned concern - "Oooh. Have you not shopped around for your car insurance. Oooh, you should... oooh, guess what." More hard sell of the post office's car insurance product. I don't think they should abuse their position as the place you HAVE to go for your car insurance to lay on the hard sell with as thick a trowel as she clearly uses to shovel M&Ms down her bloated throat.

Then I got to the person who served me for my package delivery. After she'd told me that I should have no expectations of getting a parcel somewhere in a day (it's only 80 miles away - I could cycle it there before Saturday if I had to!) - and after she'd finally clarified that I could pay less than her first offer, I agreed to a price and she did the necessary paperwork. She was softly spoken to the point of being almost impossible to hear - she also had an accent which made this worse.

Then she started mumbling at me. This is what happens when the hard sell meets someone who hasn't the social skills or the commitment to pull it off. I was trapped - I couldn't just walk away. I needed to be sure that the transaction was complete. I also wanted my change - which she'd given me in five one pound coins, rather than a note - genius. So, I had to guess what she was selling so I could tell her to sod off politely. Awful.

I think I prefer her sotto voce approach to Jabba-the-oscar-winning-oh...my...god...we...can...help...you woman. This latter woman was patronising, smug, grim and annoying all at the same time. She was just doing her job, but that argument didn't work for the Nazis and it doesn't work for her either. If I want to send a parcel, I don't want to be forced into discussing savings, house insurance, or the rising price of pies with anyone, thank you very much.

Rant over.

I just feel it's insulting enough that they work slowly, don't have a proper queue management system (i.e. more tills to move the queue quickly), for them to slow the queue behind you and slow you down by wasting your time with hard sell. If I want travel insurance, I'll buy some of my own volition. I spend long enough in the queue waiting to be served to see which products you have on offer.

Now the rant is definitely over.

One more thing.

I like stripey shirts.

Looking Back (Over My Shoulder)

I've no idea whether people can see what I do on this computer all day. Usually it's fairly boring Microsoft Office based nonsense. However, I did play Name That Beard just now, which is a great example of irreverent nonsense. I'd heartily recommend it. I did, in fact, heartily recommend it. In the past. I recommended it on this very blog in April 2003. In a fit of pondering, I looked back into the past to see what I had to say for myself and this was a highlight of my past self recommending something to my future self - I'm like Doctor Who in a weird time-travel self-communication kind of way.

I also discovered that, unlike Doctor Who, I was excited to have the chance to take a poo with a computer on my lap. April 12th 2003. The first day I LOGged on with my crap-top.

Hmm.

Art Appreciation

For various reasons, I've had cause to explore whether I know my Magritte from my Maigret. I thought I'd do a little art appreciation in the form of this picture here:



It's a piece called "The Lark", which I saw with my girlfriend at the National Gallery in Budapest a few weeks back. I scanned these picture for the bird in question, and it's up there in the top right. So the title, why is it there? Is that really the subject of the picture? I've decided to rename this picture - "Don't look at her arse, look at the bird!".

That explains that, then.

Wednesday, April 29

Adrift

There's been a definite something about my performances of late. I've been way too easily distracted. In some ways, flexing my performance to suit the audience is a good thing. On the other hand, a distracted performance can dilute any energy, craftsmanship or indeed humour.

Tonight was a gig where I was not quite in the right place. I'm not saying I got no laughs. Far from it, there were plenty of laughs. There were also some moments where nothing was happening in the room, I was largely to blame and I was a little spooked. Again, the consumption of too many caffeine-enhanced drinks before the gig can be held partly to blame.

Overall, though, there's a certain sense of the inevitability about my set, and I think that I've temporarily become a little bored with the same old same old. As a result, I'm taking any opportunity to slack off, deviate from the norm, do things I know I shouldn't, and generally muck about.

From the mucking about may come moments of high comedy, or there may come moments of using up the audience's reserves of goodwill. Tonight, we saw both, but it became increasingly difficult to control the audience response as I essentially wore them out.

I won't be beating myself up too much about it. The gig was nice, people had a good time, and I took a fairly modest fee for my 35 minutes on stage. So, no harm done. Also, the other comedians seemed to be capable of looking me in the eye, so no huge amount of stinking the room out, there.

I can't quite put my finger on what's been up today. Call it seasonal adjustment. Call it the side-effect of seeing the 7am hour. Call it my period. I've just been a bit on the wan and anemic side. My eyes felt dry and sore too. Aaah.

I had a bit of a plan for the arrival in Southsea - the area of Portsmouth where I did my gig. I would arrive early (check) and then I would read my book on the sea front. It made sense in my head. In real life it didn't. I was freezing cold. It wasn't going to work.

So I took my book into the pub and tried to read it over a cappuccino. This made things odd, as there was the comedy night set-up going on, and comedian arriving, and a general sense that I was being unsociable - a sense that would not have been created had I simply stayed away and read and not turned up until the allotted time (which had been the plan). Perhaps that contributed to my odd mood.

Or perhaps it was a weird moment in the toilet when I changed out of my jeans. I consider my comedy uniform to be something like "non work trousers and my watch". I had been feeling lethargic, so I thought a costume change might mark the moment when I switch from tired working man to jaunty comedian man. I went to the toilet to do this transformation and a £2 coin dropped out of my pocket and under the door of the stall I was in. I couldn't retrieve it, as it was just under the lip of the door... then I had the notion (as comedians make for themselves in their own mind) that it might look to the outside world of the cubicle, what with the dropping of trousers and the apparent offer of money just under the cubicle door, that I'd gone into there to open up (in whatever sense) for business. Ick.

Pah. No idea. Gig 695 was never meant to run smoothly. I seemed a bit bored of my old material and the new song fell out of my mouth with all the flying power of a dead piglet.

Still, people laughed and I got to go home without feeling too foolish. So a success, then.

Brain Freeze

I'm sure I used to have a functioning brain. I blame the current inability to put myself into gear on the morning meeting I attended. This morning. I don't think even I can look too far into the past to complain about the effect of a meeting on my brain. In general, today hasn't been particularly friendly on my system. I also had some sort of eye test to go along with my general sense of yick. Oh, and I couldn't quite control myself when it came to a "tulip muffin", which is basically a muffin that's baked in a single sheet of paper folded in a way which looks like a tulip. In fairness to me, I cycled 12 miles last night and I only ate the muffin because it reminds me of my girlfriend's favourite flower.

I did buy some new eyedrops - well, not so much drops as a mist that you spray into your own face, for it to permeate into your eyes through the skin of the eyelids. This sounds like something from science fiction, but I've also researched Doctor Who a lot recently and it's not in that.

So, I feel bloated, farty and generally a bit knackered. This is a pre-emptive being-knackered, which is to prepare me for the mental month of May. The merry merry mental month of May. Statistically, this month is only a 12 gig month, and my threshold is 14 gigs. However, there's plenty of rehearsing to do on top of the gigs, and there is one particular week where it's really rather nutty. Conversely, I'm planning a holiday/break in June, so perhaps this will undo the stress of May. I'd like to think I'll have a chance in the next few days to do the ironing that will be necessary to make May a month where I don't end up using "the B-shirts" and walking through the hanging unironed shirts in my bedroom, much like David Attenborough making his way through an untamed jungle.

Tonight's gig is in Portsmouth. The night as a whole is an open-mic competition. I'm down to be the closing act, after the competition bit. This should be fun. In some ways I'm highly amused by new acts, either because of their freshness or their awkward fumbling. It's possible, of course, that there'll be the awful middle ground - polished awfulness - then it can be hard to find it enjoyable. However, I'm passionate enough about the process of comedy to consider this interesting enough to study. A bit like studying a turd stain on a carpet. Awful but fascinating.

In some ways, this analogy, comparing a bad stand-up, before you on the bill, to a hard to remove stain on the carpet is a good one. At some point, you know you're going to have to either remove the mess, or work around it. An audience is a fresh carpet at the start of the gig. Different acts may make the carpet mucky, worn out, tired, threadbare... much like this analogy is becoming... and each act has no way of ignoring precedent. That doesn't mean you have to only reference precedent. You can put a big sofa over a stain and still party on. I've no idea what I'm talking about any more. Still, all I'm saying is... erm... don't be that guy.

Good.

I finally managed to package into a single cardboard missive the posters and A6 flyers for the shows we're doing in Brighton mid-next-month.

Don't be afraid to check out The Great Big Comedy Picnic or The Seven Deadly Jokes. They'll both be brilliant!

And so, like a big glass jar, suddenly being filled with boiling water from the kettle, it's time to split. I'll try to write more later, though I can't accurately define when "later" will be. Sometime.

Tuesday, April 28

An Unconventional Sort of Night In

I had nothing booked for tonight on the old gig schedule. This would be my catch to catch up on laundry, perhaps make a meal, do some paperwork, maybe even alphabetise my CDs.

Bollocks to all that.

I decided I would guilt myself into going on the bike. The easiest way to do that is to book something which pretty much requires me to get on the bike to achieve the booking. Though comedy has been responsible for a lot of the road-side eating which has gotten me in to this unhealthy mess, it can also get me into the cycling frenzy that I enjoyed last summer, and may enjoy again if I keep at it.

So, I looked around for a Tuesday night gig. Then I contacted the organiser and asked if I might use their stage to try out some new material. I, of course, refer to the new songs I'm trying to coerce into some sort of performable shape. Then, once I'd committed to this act, it was simply a case of getting started with the new version of the night. I had, however, been warned that the gig may be low turnout or even a non-starter.

I drove home, got changed, cycled some washing between various stages of the laundry process, and then cycled to the station (one of these involved an actual bike). Then, on the train, I wrote out the latest versions of the new songs. This took the whole train journey. I'm a slow writer. Most of the idea of writing the songs down was to commit them to memory. This often works. Having to re-write something without resorting to the original version is one of the ways I learn stuff. Another way to learn something is with a tune...

Anyway, I arrived in London and headed towards the venue. Now, I know where the venue is from the tube, but I've never cycled there. I know my way around London to a point. A lot of it is knowing where some things are in relation to each other. So, I knew I'd find the way to where I was going. I also knew I'd take an inefficient route... oh, but goal one of the night was exercise. Clever thinking porky!

Best explain some of the other goals of the night. There was the goal to try out the songs and also the goal to work on material, something I knew I wouldn't be in the mood to do if I were sitting at home.

Despite the fact that the gig was cancelled - I'm not going to soft-soap that - I still had a cracking time. I got out of the house and managed to clock up a few miles on the back. I'd like to say that I know how many miles, but I accidentally reset my cycle computer while I was in Tesco, at about 10pm after I'd quit the cancelled.

The train journy was a good chance to read a book. So I read a book. And I also listened to "Beth" a woman who doesn't realise that the phone does the work of conveying your voice so you don't have TO SHOUT!.

Back home for food and emailing. I won't get chance for ironing before bed. There's showering and Doctor Who watching to do instead!

Note: I normally write blog entries a few hours, days, or months after 11:59 on the official day of the post. This entry was posted at the 11:59 time for real. Wow. In-day blogging!

Note2: No, I'm not ready to twitter

Monday, April 27

It's Just Different

Being a musical comedian presents different challenges to being a conventional one. I know this to some extent because I've done gigs without the guitar and I've done gigs with them. Someone who hasn't done both may be in a worse position, though they may be in a better position to comment on how it feels to be a non-musical comedian. I'm waffling...

It comes down, in some ways, to what goes through your head when you're performing or tuning the material. It's never more obvious than when improvising. If you ad-lib material as a spoken act, which is largely what I was doing on stage on Saturday (even though I had a guitar around my neck), then your main concern is over how to phrase the next line to make it have impact. If you improvise as a musical comedian, then here are some of the things which you do, in real time, quickly:
  • Choose a key and strumming pattern to play with
  • Choose the right progression of chords to fit the tune you're making up
  • or choose the right movements in the tune to fit the chords you're moving through
  • Find lines with impact...
  • ...and rhyming options...
  • ...and which rhyme with what's gone before
I remember doing an improvised song at one gig and seriously thinking "I wonder whether moving into the relative minor will truly emphasise the next bit?". It's different. Just different. Not necessarily better.

Tonight I did a gig that was a bit different. Not better, not necessarily worse, just different. To complement the gig, I was doing some new material, which is, in many ways, exactly what I should selfishly be doing at as many of the smaller gigs as I do at the moment. It's time to move forward, and new songs, coupled with the right attitude, can be a good way to achieve that.

While at the gig, I tried to dig a bit deeper and come up with some more valuable lines for the two new songs. Lines in songs take longer to sing than they do to say, so they have to be more worthwhile than the equivalent quantity of filler material in spoken stand-up... not that I use filler lines knowingly. Anyway, sometimes it's a case of throwing away a line and finding something a lot better. Sometimes it's a case of finding a new spin on the whole song.

I got a good reaction to the second of my two new ones and I think it's coming of age. The sad thing is that nobody but me cares about a significant change I've made to it. I play it in a different key. It's better that way. I care.

Such is the difference being a musical stand-up comedian.

Sunday, April 26

Who am I?

I am not such a Doctor Who fan that I would deliberately go out and buy Converse boots just so that I could wear the same footwear as the soon-to-be outgoing 10th Doctor Who. I wouldn't do that.

But I did need some new shoes... which would be suitable for the heat of the summer... and well, they were always popular when I was a younger man, so perhaps I should just try them on, see how they fit?

I'm not a geek.

But if I do get the chance to spend the evening playing Scrabble with my girlfriend and watching Doctor Who on DVD, then why shouldn't I?

Saturday, April 25

Elementary

There are some things about stand-up you can learn, like how to use a microphone stand, or what's the neatest way to write a joke. There are some things in stand-up you can gain, like the confidence behind a microphone. Overall, it comes down to a combination of the things you earn - time served for one - and the attitude to both hold and convey when you're on stage. Oh, and the mood of the audience... and how that interacts with your own mood.

So, tonight, after a rather good day in general, I took to the stage in a good mood, to an audience who were looking for something to top the night, but who had their own way of expressing themselves. On the one hand, very little of what I normally bash out verbatim came out as planned. On the other hand, I was playing heckler tennis - they threw stuff at me, and I chipped it back towards them with a smile. It was very good fun.

The day overall had put me in my element. There had been a few clouds on the horizon, the dodgy DVD player that would not play the disc I offered it, the rather bizarre mood at the CD fair I visited, the slight concern over the results of the most-expensive-machine-in-the-optician's... but then there were the highlights, like buying tickets to go and see some live music at the Cheltenham Jazz festival, or snapping up some bargains at the CD fair (it gives, it takes) and having a lovely lunch in the mid-afternoon.

Sometimes, a smile and a laugh are all you need to bring to a room of people who want to smile and laugh, and the rest is just bog-standard alchemy.

I was in my element.

Wednesday, April 22

Everyone's A Comedian

I was looking forward to my gig tonight. I got a haircut to celebrate. I prepared for the cycle ride to the station. I prepared for the cycle ride from the station to the gig. I even took a book for reading on the train.

What I didn't prepare for was that the room would be full of comedians - a lot of whom turned up on the off chance of getting on the bill - with only 3 genuine audience members among them. By the time I got to the end of the night, 2 of the genuine audience had left. Bar one guy, who wasn't the average audiene person, everyone was a comedian.

It's hard to perform in front of your peers. Especially when they all know how it's done.

I think it went okay enough - I felt confident doing the new bits of material.

After receiving my fee - all of £5 - I went to get my bike. A man stopped me and started telling me jokes. It soon transpired that he was begging. I found it amusing that, after playing to a room full of comedians, I had someone soliciting money from me in return for telling me jokes. I paid him.

I love irony.

I'm Struggling to Get Going

How to kill a blog... don't write anything for ages. I don't know why I can't quite get going again. It's partly because there's loads I would like to have written but then didn't, so there's a sort of inertia to get going again. I also never feel like I have a long enough period to get something written down without being interrupted by the need for sleep or work or... erm... you know... whatnot.

So, I'll just say something now and see what happens, then.

I'm at my desk on lunch. I have a box, provided by Graze, who send me fruit and other snack foods (healthy) three days a week. At the moment, I'm crunching on some Lemon Salted pistachio nuts. Pistachio is a good name for a nut - it sounds like some sort of drunken puppet too. "Gee, daddy [slurp] I wish I were [burp] a reeeel boy. I fuckin' love you!".

I'm overweight. Twas ever thus. I need to lose a couple of stone and then I'll be healthier. I have a gig tonight, which is a step along the road towards sorting that out, since I'll be cycling to the gig, which is in London. In fairness, I won't be cycling all the way to London. I'll be taking a train for the serious section of the distance, but for the light-hearted section, involving small roads and swearing at taxis, I'll be on my trusty velocipede (ah, the humble bicycle, with its silly alternative name that makes it sound like a multi-legged attacking dinosaur).

Yes, not writing on this for a while has affected the way I'm writing. Consider some of the above a bit of the first night nerves and some "trying a bit too hard" syndrome.

I've got a syndrome now. That can't be good.

I'm looking forward to tonight's gig. If all goes to plan, I'll try out one (or both) of the two new songs which I wrote last week. I suddenly feel like I've worked out how to write new material. I always knew how to. However, I rarely get the combination of motivation and opportunity. That's a familiar story. I seem to run between things that keep me busy, but then other things suffer.

I've been stressing over the various shows I'm involved in running. There are two - The Great Big Comedy Picnic and also The Seven Deadly Jokes. These shows have various requirements on me in terms of organisation. Yesterday was stressing over publicity day. I had posters to get printed and flyers to... well... get printed too. I'll be honest, I didn't manage to save 100% of the money I thought I would. Still, the print runs are organised and that's worth a lot of peace of mind.

In other news, peace of mind can be achieved if I organise a cleaner for my house. Having done some of a deep clean on Monday, which I didn't enjoy at all, I realise that I need some reliability in cleaning and I'm simply not reliable enough to do it myself. I have tenants now, but I can't quite expect them to do it to the standard I want. It's simply not going to happen. So I need to organise a cleaner. Cue an argument with my sister about whether an agency can be worthwhile. My view is that someone reducing the hassle factor to me is worth paying as a middle man. I may be wrong. I've been wrong before.

Obsession with Doctor Who is, of course, growing, as is my general spending, though I need to cap that pretty sharpish. The spend is partly on small things like Doctor Who DVDs, but it's also been on a bunch of bits of kit recently. Over the weekend I managed to see my Sat Nav disintegrate to the point where I could justify buying a new one. So, there's a fancy schmansy TomTom on its way from Amazon at the moment. That's quite exciting, but expensive. I even have a new TV for my study... along with the other bits of kit I've been buying for it. It's going to be a great room, but it's been expensive to set up. I'd better spend some time there, using all my kit.

I think there'll be some time in the study tomorrow evening. We'll see.

Work is constantly a challenge. I've done an interesting exercise in roadmapping recently, which has made me think that I should have done it before. I have some idea of the shape of the year ahead. Some idea. So perhaps this will help everyone feel like they know what we're aiming at.

Time, of course, will tell.

Just to confuse matters now, I'll probably write some retrospective updates to the blog. That's the kind of guy I am.

Tuesday, April 21

A Late Date

I've been going out with Lorna, my lovely girlfriend and blog-encourager, for over 9 months. I'd like to declare some of tonight as a date. Why not? I'm allowed to take my girlfriend out on a date, even if the reality was a little less than a pre-ordained anticipated entire evening of laid-on-entertainment. I'd ended up working late, which was not expected. I drove to Cheltenham where I now spend a fair amount of my time. We could have stayed in and made a stir-fry, but we pondered whether going out was an option. It wasn't... until I imposed some conditions on it... and the stir-fry turned out to be some ingredients short - apparently stuff goes off if you leave it in the fridge but too much time passes... so we decided to try going out with my conditions:
  • It's a date
  • I'm allowed to have a beer
  • And risotto
  • and a cappuccino
I'm quite reasonable in my demands.

Sadly, the late-night DVD watching was somewhat squished by a slightly clicky DVD player and the fact that my trip to the room with the most plumbing, turned into a session of writing some ASP on my laptop to enable a rather simplistic website to come into existence. I like to multi-task.

It was still a date. And a nice night in with a temporary night out in it.

Monday, April 20

Another Car Another Night In

I think I get new cars almost as regularly as I get nights in to myself. This is not quite try, but it's not far off. I am rarely at home with nothing to do except do home-type things. I'm almost never at home with no company. I now have two house-mates. I also have a girlfriend who either visits me or invites me round to spend time with her. So time alone with my own agenda at home... it's rare.

Car-wise, the company I work for provides me with a car. This is no secret. Normally, they provide me with a car that's new and I run it until its "turnback mileage" where it then has to be returned. Sadly, owing to a series of changes and things being in flux, I'm being given cars which are already fairly close to their turnback, which means I have to change them relatively quickly. Don't get me wrong. This is not a bad thing. A change is as good as a rest. In February, I was driving "The Space Bus" - a Citroen C4 Grand Picasso. This was broken (and one fo the worst cars I've ever had the misfortune to drive). So I gave it back, borrowed a VW Golf to get to the airport to go to Budapest in March, and then got the loan of a Vauxhall Astra from late March. I drove the Astra to within 100 miles of its absolute top mileage and then swapped it tonight for a VW Golf with a good 40,000 miles between now and the end of its tenure.

It's a good job I rather like the Golf. I've driven a few of them over the years, often as hire cars, and they're good. Straightforward. Stolid. Nippy. Nice car.

It's a shame I couldn't wangle my favourite car of the minute - the Audi A3. I drove one of these while I was on holiday the other week. Lovely lovely lovely. Lovely.

I've harped on about cars for a bit, and this is a distraction. It was similarly a distraction tonight. Even though I left the office a little earlier to get the car side of things sorted out, I wasn't able to avoid it taking up a fair wadge of my evening. I had to drive the old car to Heathrow to pick up the new one (ooh boo hoo pity me... it's a credit crunch and I'm getting a car for nowt... I'm not bemoaning this - just observing it). Then I went to Tesco - that chapel of retail achievement. The goal was to buy cleaning equipment. I bought plenty. I then took it home and, after a little time spent eating, spent a night running up and down stairs with various cleaning tools or materials. In between times I did my best to deep clean the things which needed the most deep cleaning.

It's a load of effort to maintain a house. It's more effort when you only do deep cleans because the place isn't been kept on top of. Or maybe it's less effort in total, but it seems like more, and it's probably degenerative.

So, I got very sweaty, and I got a nose full of cleaning product vapours. Eventually, I was too tired to do anything but get a shower and go to bed to watch Doctor Who. The final two episodes of The Ark In Space were better than the first two. It's not going to be high on my list of favourites, but it passed the time nicely.

And that's how I spend my time when I'm home.

Thursday, April 16

Loving The Bush

I wrote the title of this as "loving the busy" which is certainly a theme for my life. I like to be busy. I like to do so much that someone might remark "good grief - you're busy". That's me. But it's possibly a side-effect of my attention seeking nature as much as it's a general love of being busy. I don't want to live a life unremarkable. I want to have adventures. I'm happy watching Doctor Who because there's a chap who knows how to live, running from crisis to crisis with a big smile on his face and a desire to do the unusual.

That's stand-up comedy in a small way. It's a series of remarkable adventures. Or at least it can be. If you look at it from the wrong point of view, it's a pointless drive into the middle of nowhere to mess around in front of strangers... If you look at it in the right way it's a massive voyage into the unknown where anything could happen. Preparing for this should be important, but it's also impossible. You can only put some ideas together - you never know what can happen.

So, that's why I love driving to Cradley Heath to MC a small open mic night at "The Bush" where the room can be full of obnoxious self-declared Pikeys, or can be full of people who want to laugh and who've turned up to make a merry atmosphere to try stuff out in. I've been there often enough to get to know some of the crowd and to feel like there's real love within those walls. However, if I don't turn up with new material - if I just crank out the same old shite, then I'm doing it for no development in myself - if anything it would make me complacent.

It'll never be a career move to play there, but it can be a wise way to self-improve.

I went out for lunch today and I bought me 3 newspapers. Two tabloid and a broadsheet. I also bought stationery enough to write me something funny. Nothing happened. Well, I had a panini. And a coffee.

Then, a little later, two songs, lyrics only, came. I wrote them out with an amount of crafting, but not too much.

In the car, on the way to the gig, I sang made up tunes for the songs until they started to sound like something consistent. I recorded myself singing these tunes. I sang along with the tunes. I tried to learn the new songs.

At the gig, I frantically tried to work out chords for the songs and remember how to sing the tune while playing the chords. Zero rehearsal time.

I forgot to record the performances I gave of these songs, reading lyrics from the notepad as I went. I think they went well enough for me to use the experience as a chance to develop the songs further. People were nice about it.

I also dug deep into the locker and found huge swathes of stuff I'd not done in a long while on stage. I threw that in front of the audience and they laughed. And that's why I love the bush. They laugh. They're nice to me, I can try stuff out, they ask me back, and they laugh. That's where the art of comedy drags you back in for another helping.

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