Friday, 31 January 2014

Hanging on the Telephone.


Today, I’m pretending to not be waiting for my phone to ring.

It’s surprising how much energy is taken up with keeping this lie going; a fib that’s solely aimed at myself. I’m keeping busy; purposely putting my mobile out of sight, yet still checking it every few minutes.

Parkinson’s Law states that work will expand to fill the time available. Michael Parkinson’s Law suggests Billy Connolly will always be a great interviewee. Ephgrave’s Law, however, dictates that a watched mobile phone will never ring.

(I might patent that.)

The reason for the pretense is I’m waiting to hear about a job. Every time my agent says I’m down to the last few for something, I tell myself not to think about it – and every time I fail.

If there was an award for thinking about something I shouldn’t be thinking about, I think I’d probably win it.

I wonder if switching it off and on again might help.

Thursday, 30 January 2014

At the Car Wash.


When you wash your car, it's advisable to use your best hand.



This ensures you have your sponge in the best possible grip; you don’t want to make it all dirty by dropping it. You’re also more likely to apply the appropriate pressure, thus increasing the chance of a much deeper clean.

Remember: cleanliness is next to Godliness - and Godliness is next to stronghandedness. That's a fact.

(The Family Ness don’t even come into it.)

Using your weak hand suggests loneliness. You’re just trying to trick your mind into thinking someone else is doing it. Don’t fall into this trap; you’ll end up catching your eye in the reflection of the car windscreen and making yourself feel depressed.

If the worst comes to the worst, you can always pay someone else to do it for you. Make sure they use their best hand, though; no-one wants to bankroll a shoddy service.

If they do use their weaker hand, make sure you get a discount.

(Sorry for the silliness. Normal service will be resumed tomorrow. Perhaps.)

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Back on my Feet.


Today, I bought a pair of emergency shoes.

I don’t mean they would be appropriate footwear in a crisis; more that they were bought out of necessity. I’ve had a hole in my left shoe for the last few days - which, like the Traffic song, was letting in water.

After a day of trudging about in damp socks, I decided that enough was enough. I walked into Shoe Zone with twenty quid in my pocket, knowing that all of their stock was mine for the taking (up to a limit of twenty quid).

I spotted a pair I liked as soon as I walked through the door. Within minutes, I’d slipped out of my Swiss-cheese-like boots (in terms of holes, not smell) and was strutting around the shop like a Saturday Night Fever-era John Travolta.

The transaction was over with quicker than you could say "Scientology". Before long, I was back on the street: new pair of shoes on my feet; old pair of shoes in my hand.

The sight that greeted me as I leant over the bin outside the shop's front door was telling; nestled at the top was another pair of unwanted footwear.

Looks like I’m not the only one that was forced to take action.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Music Was My First Love.


It suddenly hit me this morning that for the past decade I've completely neglected my music. 

The problem is I've mixed things up in my head. I said to myself recently that I wouldn't play any more, as I no longer really enjoyed it. I've since realised that it's not music as a whole that’s the issue; more the type of music that I’ve been playing.

All the tours I've done as an actor / musician have lifted my musical ability, but stagnated my writing. 

Part of the reason is I always used to be in a band. Even when I was the main writer, I still disguised my input by being surrounded by other musicians. This gave me more confidence in my material, as well as the motivation to see a song through. 

I've always worked best to a deadline. The minute the band finished, I no longer had the reason to write. The fact that I was always working also gave me less time to even consider doing it. 

I got out my acoustic this morning on a whim and played through a few of my old songs. Admittedly, my voice is a little out of shape, but it was nice to stretch a few muscles that have been untouched for so long. Bizarrely, it no longer seems as if I wrote them. I start to see them from the outside looking in; some aren’t so great, but others I’m quite proud of.

Perhaps I should give myself a metaphorical kick up the arse and get back to my first love. I've got to do it sooner or later.

After all, I'm not getting any younger. If I was, that would just be weird.

Monday, 27 January 2014

Car Stickler.


I’m of the opinion that people who have a sticker in their car’s rear window that says ‘Powered by Fairy Dust’, shouldn’t be allowed to join the AA.

This isn’t my only caveat. My ruling also applies if you display it in any other window, or anywhere else on the bodywork. It’s also not just the AA that you should be banned from, but the RAC, Green Flag or any other company that supplies car insurance.

Basically, you shouldn’t be allowed on the road.

I understand that people sometimes want their vehicles to reflect a little of their personality. They’d like their Astra, Micra, Corsa or Polo to stand out from the rest. They also want to show their fellow road users that they have a sense of humour; that they’re ‘crazy’, ‘quirky’ and ‘FUN’.

By displaying the words ‘Powered by Fairy Dust’, or some other inane slogan, you only end up achieving the opposite. It’s like writing an email in comic sans or wearing a novelty tie; it’s almost never funny and just smacks of desperation.

It’s also suggests that you have no sense of humour of your own – and can only express yourself by latching onto somebody else’s half-baked joke. You might as well have just scrawled the words ‘NO PERSONALITY’ across your face with a permanent marker.

 (It's probably best that you don't do this.)

The day that fairy dust becomes a genuinely viable alternative to fossil fuel, is the day that I'll revise my opinion.

Also, don’t get me started on ‘Baby on Board'.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Break the Bank.


I’ve spent much of the day getting together my records for the last financial year, then submitting my Tax Return.

It felt good to have completed it, particularly after my initial false start (which I've already covered here). What didn’t feel so good was seeing how little I’d actually earnt.

It had seemed a reasonably good year, until I'd totted up the figures; not my best, but by no means my worst. I did a fair few Buddy shows and function gigs, as well as a play and six Glad All Over dates (the Sixties show I devised with Glyn). I’d co-produced a play at the Brighton Festival, written and staged a sitcom pilot - and taken mine and Glyn’s stand-up show to the Camden Festival.

On top of this I did a lot of teaching; working for five different companies over twelve months, covering singing, drama, poetry and prose, plus running a god-awful after-school club for a term of which I despised every single minute.

The club essentially consisted of a couple of months' worth of crowd control, with my level of control being a subject of debate.

Somehow none of this was reflected in my bank statement. The content was barely worth the cost of the paper it was printed on. Perhaps after twelve years of self-employment, the time has come to choose a different career. 

I wonder how much cash I could raise if I sold my internal organs. Would that be tax deductible?

Super, Smashing, LATE.


I often watch reruns of Bullseye on Challenge - and it will no doubt offer an insight into my pessimistic nature, if I tell what I think when they cut to the studio audience.

The crowd is always awash with the elderly. When the camera swings around to reveal a sea of geriatric faces, I think to myself of how they must now be long dead.

Maybe I’m being overly presumptuous. The odds are certainly stacked in my favour. The show originally aired between 1981-1995; anyone in their twilight years during that fourteen year period will almost certainly have gone to that great big game show in the sky.

In a way, these repeats stand as a small tribute. One thing's for certain: I bet that everyone concerned had a lovely day.




Friday, 24 January 2014

Out for the Count.


For much of today I have been wearing my post-Mostly Comedy thousand-yard stare.

It didn't help that we finished packing up quite late, then sat down to record the links for the next episode of our More Than Mostly Comedy Podcast, plus some off-the-cuff answers to a few questions sent to us by BBC Radio Leicester, to help promote our show at next month’s Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival.

That sentence went on forever. For me, tiredness and rambling go hand in hand (and not in a countryside walking sense.) 

I then came back home to write my blog, so didn’t get into to bed until about 4:30am. I've only got myself to blame. 

Still, it was nice to be able to fit so much in. I also had a casting in the morning, so it was a busy day all round.

I don't mind. Busy = GOOD.

Jupitus and Us.


Tonight’s Mostly Comedy was easily one of the best.

I normally wouldn't say this so unreservedly, but it really, really was. Running a comedy night can sometimes feel like wading your way through endless admin, but tonight things really fell into place.

It helped that Phill Jupitus was lovely. Glyn and I have have been to a few of his gigs in the past, but never had much direct contact. It turns out that he's incredibly easy to talk to. We sat down to interview him for our podcast during the interval and ended up so engrossed in our conversation that we nearly forgot to start the second half.

I don’t think anyone in the audience really minded. They were all just delighted to see him.

Barry From Watford also played a blinder. It’s fair to say that Alex - the man behind the prosthetics - has the same love / hate relationship with performing stand-up as us; he also knows first-hand how your attention can be split when you also run the night.

You wouldn’t know this when you watch him. I’ve never once seen him not have complete control of the audience; and of all the times we’ve had him on the bill, tonight was definitely one of his best.

I was also pleased with how tonight’s gig went for us. Sometimes our multitasking can leave us looking like a pair of rabbits caught in the headlights. Thankfully, tonight that wasn’t the case. We managed to hold our own and not be too fazed by performing alongside such illustrious company.

(If you squinted, you might even be forgiven for thinking we were real stand-ups. Almost.)

Anyway, that’s enough praise for one night; it’s clearly past my bedtime. Thanks to Phill and Barry for being great and thanks to everyone who helped out.

As Barry From Watford would no doubt say himself: “Nn-night.”


Wednesday, 22 January 2014

A Wren's Work.


Today I had a casting in which I had to be a 'shy, nervous introvert'; something that was right up my street. 

(The bit in inverted commas is taken directly from the casting breakdown; it's a bonus when you barely have to act.)

I had to improvise an interview in character, while the casting director took the part of the interviewee. The concept of improv can provoke fear and trepidation in many actors (myself included) - but on this occasion I quite enjoyed it. 

I also got a few laughs, which always helps; provided you're in on the joke.

Before my appointment I had a quick wander around the outskirts of St Paul's Cathedral, as the casting was just a few minutes down the road. It's the first time I've been past in a quite a few years. My last trip was on the same day an official visit from Princess Diana, which should give you some idea of the timescale.
 
I arrived just as the clock struck eleven. It provided an ominous soundtrack to my wander through the churchyard. Perhaps the tolling bell will prove a portentous omen for today's job prospects. Either that, or it was just something to set my watch by. 

We shall see.  


Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Tax Idiocy.


Yesterday afternoon, I started getting my records together for my tax return.

Well, I thought I did, but I was wrong. Very wrong. Despite spending a couple of hours at it: printing out my invoices and bank statements; methodically working through my accounts, cross-referencing everything against my diary – it gradually dawned on me that every second had been wasted.

Why? Because I was working on the wrong tax year, that's why; I was collating my records for 2011-12, when I should have been working on 2012-13. 

(A subtle but important difference.)

Up to that point I was enjoying myself. I don’t mind doing my tax return because I find it quite interesting; I like looking through my receipts and remembering what I did and when. I was pleased to be making steady progress; happily singing along to the Paul McCartney album ‘Tug of War’ as I worked.

As soon as I realised my mistake, Macca was switched off (probably for the best, as I was nearly at Ebony and Ivory). I sat in silence, clutching a brand new copy of the selfsame records I’d already compiled a year earlier.

It’s fair to say that if either Moira Stuart or Adam Hart-Davis had knocked on my door at that moment, I wouldn’t have been responsible for my actions.

Who says tax doesn't have to be taxing?

Monday, 20 January 2014

Rising Damp.


I’m a little bit obsessed with using my Window Vac.

In the winter my windows collect condensation. It’s frustrating and unsightly. I live on the ground floor and have a housebound cat, so it can be difficult to leave them open for an extended period. After a while it starts to feel like I’m living in a hermetically sealed environment.

It’s particularly bad after I’ve done my washing. The combination of damp clothing and warm, sealed windows leads to the creation of my own, self-sufficient weather system, with the wettest conditions to be found on the inside of the glass.

(This is gripping stuff.)

The best way to combat this is with a Window Vac, which does exactly as its name suggests. The only problem is that once you start, you never stop; you find yourself trapped in a never-ending cycle, akin to the painting of the Forth Bridge.

Before long it starts to take you over. You become addicted, counting down the minutes to your next window-cleaning fix. You start to willfully create the optimum conditions; leaving the hot tap running for hours whilst you do an intensive workout on the spot.

Thankfully, I haven’t quite reached that point. That said, I do spend more time thinking about it than I should. When I walked into town this morning, for example, I noticed a couple of shop windows that had completely misted up.

“I’d love to get at that with the Window Vac”, I thought, without a hint of irony.

It’s when you start fantasizing about removing damp from other people’s windows that you know you’ve got a problem.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

...Master of None.


Some days I look over the stuff I’ve written and think that it’s all crap.

It depends on the mood I’m in. It’s particularly bad when I’m tired; I’ll read over an old blog entry and find it clunky and overwritten.

I am my own worst critic. Part of the problem is I see myself as a bit of a blagger. I never really specialised in anything; I trained as an actor, but plowed more of my energy into my music at the time. In recent years, I’ve put more emphasis on my comedy, but never felt that I’ve given it enough attention.

It’s frustrating to think that if I’d focused on one career path, I might have got a little closer to a more satisfying end result. I could be a better actor, musician, comedian or writer if I hadn’t attempted any of the others options on the list. It’s harder to be satisfied in an achievement if you neglect your other passions in the process.

My problem is I get bored too easily. I prefer to keep moving; if I do too much of one thing, I soon get fed up with it.

If nothing else, I’m pleased that I’ve kept writing. It’s felt good to see something through. If nothing else, I should get top marks for effort. It’s also getting easier the more I do it.

It's also been good to keep my brain cells ticking over

(That’s right: my brain is made of clockwork.)

Saturday, 18 January 2014

'ELO 'ELO.


One song that never fails to get me in a good mood is ELO’s Mr Blue Sky.

It evokes very specific memories of mine and Glyn’s first Edinburgh Festival in 2008. We wrote a comedy three-hander play set in the basket of a hot-air balloon, titled ‘The Balloon Debate’ – and every night we used Mr Blue Sky as our playout.

We had a very tight get-in and get-out for the show, in which we had to build and then dismantle our faux-wicker basket. The technician would leave the song playing while we packed up; all of us singing along as we did it.

The show was well-received by our audiences, but less so by critics. We also lost a lot of money. Despite overwhelming odds, the song still brings back happy memories.

It is written in the style of the late-Sixties Beatles, ‘Peppered’ with references in more ways than one. The “everybody’s in a play” lyric of the first verse gently paraphrases Penny Lane, as does the fire bell a few bars later.

The song is irresistibly upbeat; little wonder that Paul McCartney earmarked it as one of his personal favourites. Every bar is concisely written and immaculately produced. It’s clever without being overworked and positively reeks of the summer.

I may not be a driver, but if I was, this would be the first track I’d play on my car stereo (this has nothing to do with the outro being used in a car advert.)

So, click the link below and crank up your computer speakers: today's forecast calls for blue skies. 

 

Friday, 17 January 2014

Carry That Gait.


When walking into town this morning, I spotted a lorry for a removal company called 'Delicate Movements'. On the side were two of the campest removal men I've ever seen. 


Not only is this duo clearly comfortable with their more feminine side, they also display a degree of nonchalance for their work that's entirely at odds with their company name. The guy on the right is barely even touching the box he's carrying, though he does at least appear to be steadying it with his nose. 

What makes it worse: neither of them are looking where they're going. 

There’s obviously nothing wrong with their innate campness, more with their blatant negligence. With their logo, Delicate Movements seem to be sending out mixed messages. Surely you'd sooner opt for someone who takes a confident and forthright approach to carrying furniture, not a company who approaches it so lackadaisically.
 
The name Delicate Movements also sounds a little too bowel-centric for my liking. 
 

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Old Haunts


Today, Glyn and I went to have a look at the room upstairs at The George in Hitchin, where we originally launched Mostly Comedy; the first time we’ve been back since our last gig there in July of 2010.

It was strange to return. The venue holds a lot of happy memories, except for the constant heavy-lifting we would do up the precariously slippery fire escape around the back.

We would often climb this in complete darkness. I remember once carrying a full-scale electric piano up there; being watched and mocked all the way up by a gang of underage drinkers sat at the bottom.

“Tell us a joke”, one shouted as we mounted the stairs; every ounce of strength leaving our bodies as we wrestled with the unwieldy instrument.

I think we may have told them to fuck off. Actually, knowing us, we probably didn’t.

(The piano didn’t make us any funnier.)

The George was responsible for a lot of good things. If it hadn’t been for the screen rigged at the back of the stage, we would never have started using a projector

The screen has since been removed. It's a good job we're not starting out there now; if we did, we'd have absolutely no material.

It was a shame that our parting with the venue was so abrupt. The room upstairs had to be gutted of asbestos (which was nice to learn after we’d both spent so much time there). The then-manager dealt with it really badly; opting to phone down to us from her flat upstairs whilst we stood in the bar, rather than giving the news face to face.

She said we could eventually come back but wouldn’t offer a time scale; if we had waited, we would have been out of a venue for over a year.
 
It's nice to now see the place is in such good shape. The pub has a new owner, who’s cleaned it up brilliantly and has lots of great plans for it. This is what the venue needed; I wish him the best of luck.

I’m sure we’ll be climbing those stairs again in the not to distant future. This time, someone else can carry the piano.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Bag For Life.


I’ve finally done the decent thing and donated my unwanted clothing to the Salvation Army.

It's something that I've meant to do for ages. They regularly put a bag through my door. Every time I make a mental note of the collection date, then promptly forget all about it. 

This always makes me feel guilty. I imagine them driving past, all hopeful, only to have their optimism quashed by a sea of empty doorsteps.

I see myself as the tipping point: the moment the Salvation Army decide to call it a day. If this happened it would be catastrophic; not just for the impact it would have on the homeless, but for the knock-on effect on the brass industry.

Today, I finally did my bit. I ruthlessly plundered my wardrobe; by the end of it, my bag was full to bursting. Literally: it ripped as I picked it up.

After leaving it on my doorstep, I walked into town. On my way, I spotted that one of my neighbours had also put a bag out. This inspired conflicting emotions: both solidarity with my co-benefactor and pride for leaving out a bigger bagful.

I know this doesn’t really make me more generous. It could be a case of quality, not quantity: their bag might have been full of cashmere; mine full of shell suits.

Either way, I hope the clothing comes to good use. If I don’t spot people out on the street modelling a few of my old outfits, I’ll be very disappointed.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Poser.


This morning I refrained from using a public toilet, because a professional photographer stood outside taking pictures made me feel too self-conscious. 

I’m aware that this isn’t a standard problem. Unless you’re me; this sort of thing tends to follow me about.

I assumed he was professional because he had a tripod. He seemed too well-equipped to be a pervy opportunist. It also wasn’t very subtle; unless he was relying on the premise of being hidden in plain sight.

The subject of his attention was a flat-capped man on a mobility scooter, who looked suitably nonplussed. He kept coming out of the disabled toilet while the faux-David-Bailey snapped away; it was like a modern day ‘Blow-Up’, recast for restricted access.

I couldn’t work out why the man kept going in and out. Surely his movement wouldn’t show up in the picture; unless they planning to make some sort of GIF.

Despite the urgent call of nature, I walked on by. The resulting picture would probably crop up in the local paper; this was the sort of coverage I could do without.

I don’t want to get a reputation for hanging around public toilets.

Monday, 13 January 2014

A Whiter Shade of Pale.


I sometimes wonder what goes through a paint manufacturer’s mind when they name their products.  

There was a time when just a simple black, white or blue would do. Not any more; these days, no shade name is complete without a spoonful of pretentiousness.

Take this one, for example:


Seldom has a title been more vague. When did it become acceptable to market something on the strength of what it isn’t? Imagine doing that with food; no-one would want to tuck into an almost chicken sandwich.

They may as well have referred to it as 'Not Pink'.

Some of Dulux’s other products are just as nonspecific:


That one’s less of a colour, more a concept. It’s a brave move defining paint not by its tone, but emotional state.

In a similar vein, there's this:



There are many things that have made me feel uptight. None of them were teal. If anything, I’ve always found it pretty nondescript.

Or this:


I suspect that someone at Dulux Head Office got a little carried away with their alliteration.

There are plenty more that I could cover, but I won't; there's only so many paint pot pictures that a person can put up with (now who's alliterating?). Of all the obscure monikers spotted on the paint aisle, my favourite has to be this:



I can understand admiring a flower for its petals, but when would you remark on the freshness of its stem? Different strokes for different folks, I guess.