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Friday, May 30

A Cat Video - Simple as That


Thursday, May 29

Some Thoughts on Bullying

I was bullied at school. Wait, is that a violin I hear playing? Great. Strap in.

I guess a lot of people find themselves the subject of someone else's power games. There's often a complementary relationship between the bully and the bullied. The bully needs to assert power over someone who won't win. The bullied ought to be someone who feels the need to be liked and who draws their own strength from the support of others to some extent. I say "ought" in as much as it works for the bully when their victim is like this.

I don't think people ought to bully each other. It's horrible. It's also easy for one's actions to escalate into outright oppression of others, especially online. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

At school, I carried around the knowledge that I was the butt of other people's jokes. I was a little fat kid who just wanted to be liked and couldn't stand up for himself. In the end I developed the ridiculous outgoing side that I've latterly converted into the stand-up comedy side of my personality. By getting the jokes in first, I distracted attention away from the victimisation that I felt would appear sometime soon.

And some people at school were pricks to me. I probably forgive them all. I remember when some people I generally got on with had a "be a bastard to Ashley day". Tossers. I kind of remember it fondly because it was probably funny if you weren't on the receiving end. It wasn't a great day for me. And these guys were pretty much my mates.

I stood up for myself once. There was one kid who enjoyed showing his status at my expense. Let's call him JR, though that wasn't his name (it's his initials in reverse). I don't know what it was about the power relationship between us, and it's probably quite trivial if seen in the cold light of my 40 year old man's day. However, at the time he was my tormentor. On one occasion I'd had enough. I grabbed him by the hand and shook his arm up and down until he started to cry.

We were maybe 6 or 7.

Standing up to bullies is a good thing. Right? Well, I think it probably is, but not getting embroiled in their games in the first place is even better. However, in this case, the dice fell strangely. I was heavily rebuked by the teacher. She looked at the sizes of the two children, looked at the crying one and the slightly jubilant one. She told ME off for being a bully.

As a young lad who was scared of authority and wanted to be doing the right thing (even when I'm pretty sure looking back that they were inconsistent, puritanical and draconian), this was one of the worst feelings I recall. I felt too many conflicting emotions - the guilt of having been in trouble, the deflating triumph having had my dreams of winning against my victim status stolen, the fury that this really wasn't fair, and the renewed feeling of being a small easily trodden on person - even those people who should help and protect me were adding to the problem.

If anyone ever makes my beloved darling daughter feel this way, at any age, I'll probably fly into a blind rage. What that means in my case, is a dark brooding staring and that gnarling fight or flight instinct fighting for control in my body. I'm not given to violent or angry outbursts.

Why bring any of this up?

It's been a week where I've been constantly checking my online communications to see what's happening next. There have been two versions of this. I've been foolishly engaging in political disagreements on Twitter. This generally goes nowhere good and escalates into a slanging match, with the followers of the most obnoxious retweeting and favouriting things in the background, almost like a rabble of school bullies grunting. I'm stupid for entering these debates, and not exactly being unconfrontational myself. Usually, I'm polite and enquiring, and I get derision, abuse and attack for my troubles. Note to self: stop doing this, it's annoying and unproductive.

The most odd event of the week was definitely the culmination of a rather curious online conversation. I have said all I'm going to say for now on the intercourse between myself and the other person - you can see the full transcript, and I've deliberately not put a director's commentary on it so people can make up their own minds.

Today someone, who had requested my Facebook friendship, decided to use this connection to have a go at me about the above online conversation. They accused me of bullying. They deliberately crossed as many boundaries as they could. They may have been fictional. This person had the ability to send me a photo of the other person - who was probably in the room with them. I've half a mind to wonder whether the person getting in touch was simply a pseudonym of the comedian whose conversation I published.

In short, as a 40 year old man, sitting in his family home, I was drawn back to the scenario where someone is poking and prodding at me. The fact that I can probably brush it off and walk away is the benefit of my age. The fact that I have to, is the oddest experience. If you're being bulled, stalked, or generally interfered with, perhaps here are some of the feelings you experience, as I've been doing.

  • Why me?
  • What did I do?
  • Will this lead to actual harm?
  • Why are they criticising me this way?
  • Is their criticism right? Should I be trying to make something up to them?
  • Who's on my side?
  • Who's on their side?
  • What's behind all this?
  • How do I make it stop?
  • Can I emerge from this the victor?
  • Will I remain the loser in this situation no matter what I do?
What would be horrible for me is to imagine that my own rather brusque tone can make other people feel this way. I'm probably going to end up a grumpy old man and perhaps the chemistry I have with some people puts them into exactly the above pattern of thoughts/feelings. I'm certainly a hard person to please.

I'm deeply suspicious of people who use and practice comedy. I've been the subject of various wind-ups and prank calls over the years (this isn't quite fictional) and I refuse to be the kidder that could be kidded. I know when something smells funny and I won't play along. This competitive nature sucks me into some situations deeper... it could make those situations weirder for the other parties too. So be it.

I'll say one little thing about the subject of approaching near strangers on the internet and having discourse with them. Being able to turn an online/passing acquaintance into a "let's be in the same place together" one, or turning it into "I know where you live" or "here's some thoughts about your personality" or "here's what I know about your family/job/aspirations..." - all of that takes trust. If it's just grabbed at, rather than earned, then the person on the receiving end is going to feel like their boundaries have been crossed.

Writing all of this down makes me feel a bit better about the last few days. I'll continue to block people on Facebook who can't show respect for these fairly obvious boundaries. I'll have a good think about how I want to treat people I contact myself.

We're laughing and learning, but mainly learning and not laughing.

Seeing it my way

We all see the world through our own eyes.

Well done. What an astute observation. Post ends. Applause.

Ah, there's more. Clearly we all see the world through our eyes, which means that we're inclined to relate to things which we could see ourselves doing more than things which we wouldn't normally do. Similarly, we're inclined to perceive our own types of motivations in the actions of others, which can cause a lot of confusion.

It's important not to project too much. It's also probably important to attempt to emphathise. Sometimes, though, one empathises without intending to and it can be odd.

Yesterday's news about Rolf Harris singing Jake the Peg from the witness box and making the courtroom laugh is something which struck a chord (no pun intended) with me. I can quite imagine how Rolf must have felt.

A quick aside. I've found the scenes of the aging Rolf grimly hobbling his way into court to be upsetting. There's no winner of this situation. If he's truly guilty of what he's accused of, then it's horrible. If he's not guilty, but is being held to account in the winter of his years, for the borderline he clearly at least approached if not crossed, then it's truly awful. A secular de-frocking of everyone's whacky uncle. I don't want to remember Rolf this way.

Back to him in the witness box. How he segued into doing his Jake the Peg routine, I've no idea. How does such a thing come up? Either way, he clearly decided to go for it. There he is, eighty-something, doing a routine from his heyday, getting laughs. I know how he must have felt, despite the fact that the very bedrock of his life and reputation is in tatters around him. As the first laughs trickled from the room, he'll have thought:

"Yep. Still got it. Work the room. Work every corner of the room."

Oh Rolf. What did you do?

Wednesday, May 28

A Bit Random

It's a common criticism of those people who claim they have a friend who's a bit random that they neither understand what the word random means, nor do they probably have a friend.

I'm going to declare the following. A lot of things today would have been more fun if I'd simply interacted with a random friend. I'll define my terms. I have, on more than one occasion, built random sentence generators. I was explaining to someone on Facebook today, my most recent idea for a random sentence generator in practice.

I think if I'd spent more time today conversing with this software, I'd probably have achieved more.

So many things have wasted my time and diverted me. It seems like there's a phalanx of tosspottery to put to rights tomorrow as well.

Still, my old simple Nth Commandment made me chuckle a few times. You really ought to love fortifications. Good and apposite advice.

As Promised - The Online Chat I Can't Explain

I considered posting a long commentary to explain this, but I've decided to provide the content of this online chat, that was started by fellow comedian Luke McQueen, unedited and unfettered. Make up your own mind on what's going on here. I'm mystified. It was a fascinating experience, and one which was intriguing enough to keep me rooting around for answers, stupid enough to bring out my silly side, and a little bit too close to stalking, which brought out my paternal protective instincts for my home and family.

28th April

Hi Ashley, do you mind if you stay at your place for 12 days. From the 8th May until the 20th? We gigged together once in Derby
If I can stay at your place. Not you at your place
Haha
Let me know mate
Hi Luke. I'm afraid that won't be possible.
Okay mate. Is that because of the dates because I could probably stay in June If it's easier?

29th April

Why are you asking to stay at mine? Where do you think I live? Given how little we know each other, don't you think your request is a bit of a big ask?
No I completely I understand. I wouldn't ask if I didn't think you had the space. Im just looking to get away for a few days that's all.
Are you asking lots of people? Or are you particularly interested in my home for some reason?
No I just asked you and my Uncle. If you let me know which dates are easiest then im sure we can sort something out
I don't understand why you've chosen me for the privilege of putting you up for 12 days. Perhaps there's a misunderstanding and you think I normally have relative strangers occupying space in my home. Perhaps this is a social experiment where you find out how people react to this sort of request. Or perhaps you lack the understanding of why this request is basically unreasonable. Either way, I'm going to have to politely decline the opportunity to accommodate you. It's not a question of whether I have space or a slot in my diary. Perhaps your uncle will be a better bet. Good luck.
No worries. Honestly I completely understand where you're coming from.
To be honest, I don't understand where you're coming from. What prompted this request?
I don't we know eachother well enough for me to tell you exactly why I needed to stay. It's just a shame, that's all

I don’t think...
You misunderstand. I don't need to know why you want to get away. I am just curious as to why you thought to ask me of all people to put you up. I should be flattered I guess, but I am more bewildered.
Because we gigged together in Derby
And..? Is there something about that experience which made me the perfect host for you? This is not conventional human behaviour. I feel that either there's a misunderstanding or you're deliberately acting this way to provoke some sort of reaction. You are, after all a comedian. Are you using this as a source of material for an Edinburgh show? Is this a psychological experiment? Are you bored? Are you in love with me? Is Derby the place where it all went wrong for you?
Do you have Spikey Mikes phone number?
I usually ask Spiky Mike for numbers. Do you think he would put you up for 12 days in May?
Im not sure as I don't know him that well
Then you should definitely go and live with him.
I don’t want to live with him. Just looking for a favour really. Need to get away.
hotels.com?
Im going to Turkey for a week now. Shall I send you a message when I get back?
Best not. I think we're done here.

7th May

I managed to sort somewhere to stay from Sunday

8th May

That's brilliant. Where are you going to be staying? How do you know your host?

9th May

In Greenwich. My friends mate is a fitness instructor and he is going to put me on a course and a diet so that's positive. Have to sleep on the couch
Good luck with it. I hope life picks up.
Thanks mate. When are you in London next?
In London now.
Ah that's so annoying. How long for? I wouldn't be able to meet until Monday really
Only the evening. We are two ships.
What do you mean?
That pass in the night

10th May

Give me a bit of notice next time and I will come meet you. You can crash at mine if you need to
That's very kind. I generally like to get home to the wife and baby.

26th May

I saw your comment on the article about the open mic comedians trying to do 40 gigs in a week
And?
It seemed a bit mean. A bit of a cheap shot. They're only new open mic comedians. I was just curious to hear if you have been equally as catty to professional comedians or comedy promoters? I would hate to discover that you're a bully after becoming so close to you in the last month or so
1. How close do you think we are. 2. It was a wry look at comedians' behaviour from the inside. I'd tar myself with the same brush.
Oh sorry Ashley I mis understood. Im so pleased it was a misunderstanding and you weren't being mean
I have to ask, though, Luke. What is going on between you and me? I'll preface it with this: you've suggested that you're facing a hard time at the moment, and I wouldn't wish that on anyone. If times are tough, then fellow humans should treat each other with kindness and respect. Ok? But... a few weeks ago you turn up out of the blue asking for me to provide you with somewhere to stay. At the same time, you "like" a bunch of my facebook posts. You give me a bunch of circular logic about wanting me to look out for you because we once did a gig together, which makes little sense, and now you're on my case about some remark I made on a Chortle post. If you weren't a comedian, I'd consider this a sign that you were having real troubles with the world as a whole. Since you are a comedian, I can't help but feel like I'm the subject of a social experiment. In short, what is going on? If we've met more than 3 times I'd be surprised. Why all the attention?
People in glass houses Ashley
I need more than that. Are you calling me on some behaviour of mine that you have a problem with? I'm happy to discuss it if you want to make it clear what's bothering you.
I have no problem with you Ashley. That's just leave it at that. There's no point arguing
I find your attention to be bizarre. I'm not arguing. Far from it. I'm trying to get to the bottom of where all this began. Why did you choose to approach me at all?
Im going to sleep. Let's speak in the morning
My guess is that one of two things is happening. One is that you're suffering from a mental health issue and having a really hard time - if that's the case, then I hope you get the help you need. The other, and more likely, thing is that you've decided to play a silly game of "let's act really oddly towards someone to see how they behave". Now, there are two possible reasons you might choose to do this - "I'm writing a show", or "I'm being a wacky funster for its own sake", and there are two possible reasons you chose me - "Random" and "Something bugs me about him". Either way, it's kind of weird and irritating and totally uncalled for. I love the way you side-step any direct questions, by the way. For what it's worth, I hope you get any help you need, and I hope you've enjoyed this silly game. However, I also hope you stop this now. You can't kid a kidder and I'm too old for this shit. If you've got a genuine issue, please bring it up for reasonable discussion like a mature adult. Alternatively, please stop messaging me.

27th May

How old are you exactly?

Morning
Good morning. I'm 40. How about some answers to my questions?

I think I'll make this whole thread public. That's probably the best way to flush out the root cause.
Maybe you shouldn't be so suspicious of people and just trust people a little better

I think you're a nice guy. Let's just leave it at that
None of this makes sense. Why?
Huh?
What is your motivation?
I don’t know why you keep saying things don't make sense
I have never encountered this behaviour before. Nobody acts like this. What inspired you to begin acting like this?
Nobody asks to be friends with someone and then asks that friend for a few favours. I said if you come to London and you need to stay somewhere then you can stay at mine. It's no big deal
I wouldn't see that as strange behaviour. I don't know why you're being this way towards me
Interesting. So when we connected on facebook, you assumed that meant it was ok to ask to come and stay at my house for a few days?
We have been friends on Facebook for years Ashley
Yes... but I'm friends with hundreds of people on Facebook, none of whom ever expect a "come and stay at mine" relationship.
I appreciate you offering me accommodation, unbidden, but it's not the sort of thing people generally do from a Facebook connection.

It's more the sort of thing people do from a "good mates in real life" connection, Are you making a comment about the value of Facebook friendship?
If so, why target me?
Send me a picture back
Did you get my pic?
Because im bored of all the pictures you have on your Facebook

I want new ones
Is there anyone else there I can speak to?
No
Are you sexually attracted to me?
No
Why not?
Sorry

Im not looking for that kind of relationship right now
Are you currently suffering from any mental health issues??
Why do you ask so many questions?
Please answer this last one. Are you currently suffering from depression, anxiety etc?
I don't believe you're a Doctor
Im fine
I feel fine
Good. I'm glad you feel fine. Why do you want to see photos of me? What's in it for you?
Relax Ashley. Im not desperate to see photos. I just thought it would be nice.
Are you currently masturbating?
Have you ever been to a harvester before?
How many roads must a man walk down before they call him a man?
Is this the way to Amarillo?
Take your pick.
Yes
Are you devoting this type of attention to any of your other facebook friends?

I think I'm definitely going to take everything we've said to each other in this thread and post it online for everyone to see. Perhaps other people can then comment on what the hell's going on. It's a total mystery to me.
I very much doubt you would do that
Is that a challenge?
No
Good. I think I will. Are you doing this to anyone else?

Bubble experiment two

To the unitiated, the following looks like some speech bubbles.
Do you know the way to San Jose?
No but I do know the way to Amarillo.
To me it represents the somewhat quixotic search for a way of best representing an online chat I then went on to post. If you want to know how it was done go to http://jsfiddle.net/FbHVk/73/

Wednesday, May 14

Not an identity crisis

There's a hell of a lot going on in my life at the moment. Apart from the dire need to lose weight, pretty much all of it is good. A fair amount of it is also remarkably intensive and hard work. To be honest, when immersed in hard work, I also hit the calories instinctively, which is why the dieting is a pain. I don't mind the hard work, though... well, I don't mind the right kind of hard work - I'm an awful procrastinator when it comes to the wrong kind of hard work. I thought it might be worth taking stock of what this work is and why I've thrown myself into it so much.

Before I continue, it's worth warning the potential readers of this that this is a fairly self-indulgent "what I did on my summer holidays" kind of a write up, and is probably not of huge interest to read. All I can say is that if I had something more useful to say I'd definitely be saying it instead of this. I can only write about what's in my head.

As an aside of more value than my own thoughts, perhaps it's worth pointing out that the internet has pretty much shifted us away from this sort of "read it in deep detail" article and more towards the Buzzfeed or Upworthy type of rubbish which is mainly pictures, has few words of interest, and is usually advertised with a teaser headline which promises the world and fails to deliver. I should advertise my own thoughts thusly - A man thought his past in computer programming was behind him, what happened next will blow your mind, warm your heart and give you an instant mind-gasm. There. That's overpromised it enough.

As another aside, is it just me, or is Upworthy basically better described as "preaching-to-the-converted-worthy"? Dreadful. Anyway, on with my own turgid drivel.

I guess I already gave a clue in my digression. I'm doing more software development now than at any stage in the last 5 years or so. I have rapidly learned to make use of technologies that were previously either a mystery to me, or "some stuff that someone else did". I'm enjoying software developing thoroughly, though it drives me totally crazy. When I'm mid-development, all I can think of is the suite of problems I'm solving/am yet to solve. In my job the software development that I'm playing with feels like a distraction from things I should also be doing. It's a hard balance to strike. I'm succeeding at some of it and failing at some of it.

As a software developer I need to be told I'm a genius a lot.

I've also got a second job as a software developer - it's something I also do by night. The night job is teaching me tricks to use in the day job, and I'm bringing various bits of my experience and expertise to it too. It's been a very absorbing few months; I didn't expect it to be this big an undertaking.

In other development news, I'm also building a deck for the garden. We're past the point where I could reasonably get out of completing the project. The partially constructed deck is something of a hazard and my wife and daughter would probably like to go outside and play at some point in the near future. Again, the unresolved bits of this project weight on my mind while they're not done. It's going well, but there's loads more to do.

I'm also a father of a lovely daughter who is learning to put two words together, and of a baby that's still a work in progress - due out in September.

I'd quite like to do some cycling too!

It's a complex life. I am enjoying it though.

Sunday, May 11

A new idea for a show?

Perhaps I've now found the perfect idea for a show and the means of writing it. Perhaps not. I've used this sort of method of writing before, though, and it works. Essentially, I can write and record a demo of a 2 minute song in about 90 minutes. More on that in a moment. Here's the outcome of today's inspiration - it's a song about Take That's tax problems:


Writing under pressure is something which works best for me. Left to mull things over with nothing to deliver if I don't want to, I produce very little. When I was writing Discograffiti and trialing material, I forced myself to write by booking myself into try out gigs and writing the material on the day of the gig, or even in the car an hour before the doors opened. I'll be honest, very little of that material survived, but it was a useful way to get me to break out of any possible writer's block.

When I was to appear on a podcast one week, I forced myself to write a 1 minute song in a lunchbreak a couple of days before. It came out ok.

At several of the Edinburgh shows we've done, I've been given a song challenge during the show - the audience were aware of it some of the time, and sometimes they thought I was going to come back after 20 minutes with a couple of one-liners based on their suggestions and I, in fact, came back with a 4 verse song.. and the one-liners. The pressure is a great way to knock something together quickly.

So, maybe there's an Edinburgh hour-long show called "Lunchbreak songs" - songs written in a lunchbreak. Or maybe not.

Today, my daughter had a nap and I used that nap time to write the lyrics of the above song, work out how to imitate a Take That track and miss, and then put it all together into a single recording. I did the "video" later, and quite frankly it all sounds and looks rushed and a bit crap, but there's a germ of something in there which was worth the time spent. I think. It certainly entertained me to do it.

To explain what you're hearing in the audio track, I recorded this using my mobile phone, sat on a music stand. The piano was playing out of some really cheap and crap portable speakers which barely reproduce the right sounds. As a result, it all sounds suitably mushy.

Mushy works for me. You can't hear how badly I'm playing, though you can hear me thumping the piano keys.

That's how I spend a lunch break. I bet Gary Barlow doesn't spend his lunchbreaks that way at all - perhaps he spends them writing jokes, or computer software!

Tuesday, May 6

As an exterior carpenter...

As a carpenter, landscape gardener and all round expert in construction I make a very good computer programmer.

Having helped build two decks in the past and sick of a rear that looks like this:

That's the rear of the house, not my own rear. 
it was decided to construct a deck to link it all together. This is a work in progress. Step was was to smash stuff up:

Smashed, dug up and generally mangled.
Step two was to build some sort of framework that has to slope in two directions:

I hope there are more joists, and what of the noggins?
At this stage, the diary was thus:

  • Saturday - smash everything to bits. Hit things hard with hammers. Discover concrete. Smash concrete.
  • Sunday - design the exact deck to fit what's left after smashing. Visit screwfix. Visit DIY center. Visit screwfix again. Then spend 3pm - 9pm attaching things to other things.
  • Monday - a hard day's assembly
Here are more photos from the above work.

  







After a few hours heavy grafting this saturday, several noggins and joists took their place in the deck:

Some nice green boxes of screws; the noggined sections provide a great place to hide spare rocks.



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