Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Not Premeditated.

Yesterday, I started a short course on meditation.

It’s something I’ve been meaning to do for ages. I’ve finally bitten the bullet. This isn’t my first meditative experience; I dabbled a little in the past, when I was going through a long and frustrating bout of insomnia.

I watched an excellent documentary series on BBC2 at the time called The Monastery, in which a handful of men – mostly non-religious - gave up the trappings of society for a few weeks to move into a Benedictine Monastery, to attempt the monastic way of life.

The programme had a surprisingly profound effect on me. I was stuck by how calm - and above all, happy - the monks were. The Abbot in charge of the monastery had a very switched-on and modernistic approach. I discovered that he’d written a book called Finding Sanctuary, which tackled the subject of applying some non-religious monastic principles to everyday life. I decided to track down a copy.

Ordering the book was my guilty secret. It felt like buying porn. Not that I know what that feels like, of course; I’m just very good at empathy.

I needn’t have worried. The book was a revelation. It taught me some simple meditation techniques that I started doing daily and my insomnia improved straight away.  

Then, like all things that are good for you, I didn’t keep it up. I’ll still do it when I’m nervous, or to focus my mind before a gig or audition, but that’s about it.

Signing up for the course was an attempt to put this right. The first class was great. I was surprised at how easy it was to get back on the horse; figuratively, not literally, speaking. The session was relaxed and pressure-free.

Don’t worry, though. I won’t shave my head just yet.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

After the Bleep.

'Sport'. No word instils more fear and trepidation in me than seemingly innocent collection of letters. Except for ‘De Burgh’, when it closely follows ‘Chris’.

I was awful at all sport as a kid. Just passing the school field would result in a football in the face and subsequent winding. My games teachers grew to expect the twice-weekly note from my mum, excusing me from taking part. We'd use every excuse over time, save paralysis or death. Eventually, we settled for the suitably vague 'personal medical problem'. God knows what they thought the problem was; presumably, that I didn't have a penis.

I’m not sure why this would prevent me from participating. Perhaps the cock acts as a rudder.

A lowlight of the few Games lessons I partook in was the Bleep Test. For those unfamiliar with this evil practice, it works as follows: the unlucky participants run from one side of the sports hall to the other in-between two bleeps, which get gradually closer together. As the bleeps speed up, so do you, until you can’t take any more and give up.

It always ended identically. The same man would still be running, long after the rest dropped out through either tiredness or boredom. He’d always look so smug at having beaten everybody else.

I don’t suppose this helped him get a job; there’s not much call for sprinting between bleeps in adult life. 

People died doing the Bleep Test. I know: I was one of them.

Monday, 28 April 2014

UKIP Crap.

How often will UKIP dismiss a comment as "not reflecting the view of the party" before they've run out of members who could have a different view?

The latest blunder is Enfield UKIP candidate William Henwood’s ignorant and thinly-veiled racist tweet about Lenny Henry. Prior to that, we had Oxfordshire councilor David Silvester blaming the recent flooding in the UK on the Government’s decision to legalise gay marriage. Then there was Geoffrey Bloom’s awful comments on "Bongo-Bongo Land" and the apparent inferiority of women in the workplace. The list keeps growing.

Thankfully, UKIP saw sense and had both Bloom and Silvester suspended. Unfortunately, not from a great height.

UKIP's mistakes have become frequent enough for future generations of the party to be born with their head in their hands. Give a UKIP member enough rope and they’ll hang themselves, provided the rope was sourced in Britain and didn’t come into contact with any ethnic minorities.

Despite all this embarrassment, they still score alarmingly high in the polls. Not with the Poles, though; UKIP wouldn’t like that. It’s worrying how many can’t see the unpleasantness that lurks behind Nigel Farage’s jokey personality and media savvy.

The point is we need Europe, possibly more than they need us. We couldn’t survive without EU trade. Britain is isolated geographically; let’s not ostracize ourselves politically as well.

(Bernie Clifton ostracized himself once, incidentally, with terrifying results.)

This morning, I received a UKIP pamphlet through my door. I couldn't help but make some subtle alterations.

It was childish, but very, very satisfying.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Forward Thinking.

I find the name of this bus company a little bit aggressive.

It's certainly very blunt. I think the exclamation mark was meant to take the sting off. It doesn't; they may as well have called themselves ‘GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY FACE’. 

(Though they’d need a bigger bus.)

I can't understand why so many businesses don't take their own names out of context. Doing this could save a lot of embarrassment (not to mention the cost of signage.)

It’s also worth considering how your brand will read in situ. My favourite example of this is the Hungry Horse in Letchworth. 

If I ran a pub next to a crematorium, I’d call it the Two Chimneys too. Now, that’s inspired.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Transport Top Trumps.

While on the bus yesterday, I spotted this sign – and wondered who in the picture would be the most entitled to sit down.

It’s like Top Trumps. But who gets the best score: the child, the parent, or the man with the stick?

I think it's the man with the stick. He's the only one with an obvious disability. I can't see why the parent and child would take precedence, unless they've got some other physical restriction that isn't visible in the graphic.

If the person in the seat was heavily pregnant, it would be a much closer call.  This doesn’t seem to be the case, judging from the position of the child on their lap. That's assuming that they're related. If not, their tactility rings alarm bells.

Also, notice the parent's body language. That's the look of someone who isn't going to budge. They're not even acknowledging the presence of the man with the stick, which is pretty selfish.

I spent so much time trying to work out this brain teaser, that I very nearly missed my stop. I also didn't see the backlog of elderly passengers that were clogging up the aisle. 

That sign was more trouble than it was worth.

Friday, 25 April 2014

Red, Gold & Green.

How did the lyric “Karma, karma, karma, karma, karma chameleon” make it past the first draft?

It’s one of those things that you accept without analysis; like Yellow Submarine, or Anne Robinson’s career. Then suddenly, without warning, you see it with fresh eyes - and think to yourself, “what the hell is that all about?”

(With Anne Robinson this happens almost instantly.)

I'd always assumed it was “come-a, come-a, come-a, come-a, come-a chameleon” as a kid. How wrong could I be? God, I was a dick. Karma chameleon makes much more sense.

Except it doesn’t scan well. Try singing the chorus out loud, pronouncing the word ‘karma’ correctly. It sounds about as convincing as a Christian rock song.

Karma Chameleon's genesis* intrigues me. Did they start with the title and then pad the rest out? If not, which word came first: karma or chameleon? I know that pop songs don't need to make sense, but at what point did something so abstract seem marketable?

But marketable it was. Boy George’s mystically-tinged reptilian anthem reached Number One in the UK, USA and just about every other major country on the planet. This goes to show what I know about writing hit singles.

Still: bloody catchy, wasn’t it?

*Not Genesis. Boy George.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

False Stops.

A misplaced full stop can sometimes give a sentence an unintended meaning. Take this example, which I spotted in my local petrol station.

I can’t imagine what a toy to avoid the danger of suffocation would look like, or why you’d feel the need to warn people about it. Surely it would be better to tell them it was there.

Did nobody proof-read this? If there was sufficient risk to warrant a warning, you think you'd take the time to get that warning right.

Anyone who doesn’t know that it’s inadvisable to pull a polythene bag over their head is beyond help anyway. Why not use a paper bag, like everybody else?

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Sotto Voce.

I have a casting this afternoon, despite having almost completely lost my voice.

Thankfully, this shouldn’t be a problem, as the part doesn’t have any dialogue. At least, that’s what the breakdown implies. You can never be certain about what they'll throw at you; I may arrive to find they expect me to give my King Lear.

(Not that I have a King Lear to give in the first place. I learnt one of Edmund’s speeches at college, but that’s about it.)

Even if I don’t have to speak in the casting, it’ll still be awkward. Just giving my name on the door will provoke confusion. I baffle people at the best of times; imagine what it will be like now my voice resembles a cross between Phyllis from Coronation Street and Linda Blair in The Exorcist.

I promise not to do anything inappropriate with a crucifix.


I’m pleased to report that the casting went well, despite my aural similarity to Rod Stewart. There weren’t any lines, which was a relief. I also somehow managed to find enough voice to say my name and agent without sounding like a sexual deviant.

Perhaps I can make a living as a silent performer. It worked for the cast of The Artist. Either that, or I'll find someone to dub all my future work.

Bagsy Brian Blessed.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Hospitable Hospitals.

Today, a close member of my family has gone into hospital for surgery.

It’s been hanging over our heads for the past few months. We first became aware of the problem towards the end of last year. Doctors initially suggested that it could be fixed without an operation, then changed their minds a few months back.

Thankfully, the prognosis is good; the course of action being taken is largely preventative and definitely the best route to take in the long term. It is, however, major surgery – which does have risks – and recovery could be a relatively slow process.

The NHS has been fantastic throughout. I don’t know why they get such a bad press. Though to be fair, most of this comes from the bad press: the Daily Mail, et al.

The lead-up to today will hopefully be the worst bit. Every step after this will be a step closer to recovery. My immediate family have rallied around, but are starting to feel the strain.

I look forward to a few months from now, when today will be a dim, distant memory.

Monday, 21 April 2014


Today is the second day running that I've woken up feeling like something has died inside my body. I feel worse than I did yesterday. If this continues, someone will have to paint a big red cross on my front door. 

Last night's sleep was broken by a stream of surreal dreams. One of them had a slightly Easter-tinged significance. I dreamt that the prophet of a fictional religion was discovered inside an Egyptian-style Sarcophagus sitting in the midst of a crop circle. He was still alive on discovery, but by the time his followers rushed to greet him, he'd been murdered.

I was one of the people who went to see him.  I've no idea where the tomb was supposed to be, though I did travel to the site by Tube, so I'm guessing it was in Zone 6. 

(West Ruislip?) 

I must stop dropping acid before bed.   

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Pet Sematary.

If anyone in the North Hertfordshire area has lost a pet, I might be able to solve its disappearance. I think it may have crawled down my throat to die last night.

I’m not sure why an animal would choose my epiglottis for its final resting place. I guess it’s quiet, warm and private. Whatever the reason, the scratchiness inside suggests it died putting up a fight. Little furry bastard. 

(Presuming that it was (1) furry, and (2) born out of wedlock.)

Either I've got a cold, or something used my gullet as a tomb. I'm not sure which. 

Saturday, 19 April 2014

The Procrastinator.

Today, a computer-generated page stares back at me, blankly, taunting me to fill it.

“Go on then", it screams. “Find something of interest to say and quick.” 

Damn this blank page; damn it to Hell. It’s not being very supportive of my plight.

This afternoon was productive. I edited the latest episode of mine and Glyn’s More Than Mostly Comedy Podcast, then did the washing up. I also went to the shop to buy eggs, tomatoes and biscuits. Not bad going for a Saturday. 

(Is it a Saturday?)

Now, I’m at a bit of a loss. I think I’ll make a cup of tea and settle down to watch a bit of Tony Hancock. Primarily his face. I might also work my way through that packet of biscuits.

It’s all go in the Ephgrave household.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Egg on my Face (Shirt)

To mark the Easter holiday, I just spilt egg on my shirt. 

It was a particularly pungent one at that. It smelt before I even took it out of the packet.  It started the day in a sandwich and wound up as a fashion accessory; it was one hell of a journey. 

Eating the sandwich on the train made me very self-conscious. As dinners go, it was pretty antisocial. The stench made me hate myself. 

Now, I have a stain on my shirt to act as a small reminder. I'm currently sitting in the bar of a theatre in Vauxhall, waiting to see a friend in a play; I'm hoping my little eggy mark will be a post-show talking point.

I might even let someone lick it.  

Eldon by the Skin of our Teeth.

I really enjoyed tonight’s Mostly Comedy.

Me, at April's Hitchin Mostly. Photo by Gemma Poole.

We had Kevin Eldon on the bill for the first time, which we were both very excited about. His CV is exceptional; it’s harder to think of the programmes he hasn’t been in than the ones that he has. I’d hazard a guess that wasn’t in Bergerac, but wouldn’t want to be quoted on it.

Kevin Eldon. Photo by Gemma Poole.

I’ve been a fan of Kevin since his Fist of Fun days. He’s someone I always noticed and enjoyed. Tonight was no different; his performance was rammed with energy, confidence and commitment. He was also lovely; we had a nice chat with him for our podcast before kick-off.

It was a lovely line-up all round. The gig was closed excellently by Bec Hill. We first met Bec back in 2008, when she manned – or womaned? - the front door of the Gilded Balloon during our first Edinburgh Festival. She’d enthusiastically announce our show through her megaphone every night, though the audiences still stayed away from us in droves.

(We know our place on the comedy food chain.)

Bec and her dinosaurs. Photo by Gemma Poole.

She's a great comic. I particularly love her Terry Gilliam-styled flipchart animations (check them out on YouTube). Eldon was tough act to follow, but she was definitely the one to do it.

Mr P(eter) B(roughton) R(ates) completed the line-up. He’s a friend and comedy promoter we first met at a gig at the Canal Café Theatre, then kept in contact with through the years. He came to try some new stuff out, which went well.

Mr PBR. You can guess who the photo was by.

He's always been supportive of our work. He also once witnessed me fall arse-first into the inner workings of a pouffe and get stuck inside it, though the less said about that, the better.

(Call me Mr Slapstick.)

We also tried out a bit of new material on the books of Jeremy Clarkson, which was loosely based on one of my blogs. It needs a little tightening but has promise.

Not a bad night, all-in-all.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Mostly Blogedy.

I’m thinking about trying an experiment at tomorrow’s Mostly Comedy. Don't worry: there won't be a Bunsen burner involved.

With Monday’s Soho Theatre show and various other commitments, I've had no time to meet with Glyn to discuss any new material. We’d usually do something tried and tested when that's the case. You can’t do something new every month; well, we can’t anyway.

This wouldn’t usually be a problem, except for the fact that we’re doing our hour-long show at the club in a couple of months – and are trying to avoid doing much from it in Hitchin in the interim, to keep it fresh for the audience. As a result, I was thinking about us pretty much reading one of my blogs verbatim tomorrow night.

It won’t be the first occasion we’ve used my blog as a source for material. This is to be expected, particularly when I’m writing one a day; most of my ideas will wind up in it in some form or other. It will, however, be the first instance of us using one in such a raw state.

It will still be projector-based, as the idea involves a visual element.  I already ran a rough slideshow past Glyn a few months’ back, who liked the idea, so it won’t be completely unfamiliar. We’ll also put our usual double act stamp on it when we talk it through tomorrow morning.

Reading it out rather than having it learnt shouldn’t be a problem. Everyone else that previews material at our club does it, so why can’t we?

(Don't respond.)

My only issue will be logistical; I don’t like leaving my mic in its stand, and will also have to hold my remote. I guess I’ll just have to resort to the usual many-paged crib sheet at my feet.

That’s if we decide to go through with it. We’ll see how it goes. I may lose faith in it entirely over the next twenty-four hours.

If so, it wouldn’t be the first time.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Stop! In the Name of Bus.

I’d forgotten how awkward flagging down a bus makes me feel until today.

I always worry that they won't see me. I’m the sort of person who is likely to be missed. My eyes flit between the driver and the indicator, hoping for the best.

I sometimes think they might be playing chicken; seeing how long they can leave it before looking my way. Perhaps they see stopping as an inconvenience - and any would-be passenger as a potential barrier to getting to their destination on time. Either that, or they had a bad experience in a bus stop and don't want to be reminded about it.

I should try to flag them down more confidently. Holding out a limp and non-committal arm just makes me look like a bit of a dick.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Listen to Brian's Heartbeat.

This morning, when I was getting ready, I treated myself by listening to the Beach Boys album Pet Sounds.

I haven’t listened to it in its entirety for ages. These days, listening to a whole album is something I do less and less. Today, I made an exception and was glad that I did.

It took me a little while to get into Pet Sounds originally. I’d heard so much about it that I had built up unreasonable expectations. I think part of the reason it didn’t grab me instantly was due to it being originally mixed in mono (because Brian Wilson is deaf in one ear) and therefore didn't have the same bite as Revolver, say, which was also released in 1966.

I now realise that I was missing the point. Pet Sounds is a gentler, more personal album, with production that matches its introspection perfectly. The arrangements are beautiful. The fact the album was masterminded by a twenty-three-year-old blows my mind.

Sadly, the experience was pretty mind-blowing for Wilson too. He succumbed to the pressure of following it up. What an awful price to pay for such wonderful and searingly honest music.

While God Only Knows is my favourite song on the album (and possibly ever), the other highlights are numerous. Here is one that is more often forgotten.

Don’t talk. Listen.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Cheery Blossom.

The cherry blossom tree outside my flat is currently in bloom.

I love that tree. It’s beautiful. The blossom only lasts for a couple of weeks, but those few weeks are worth it. It doesn't bear fruit; it’s less cherry, more cheery.

Seeing the blossom always lifts my mood.

A family of wood pigeons once nested in it. They made for an unattractive, yet welcome, addition. I watched their progress from day to day until they eventually fledged the nest.

Sometimes, the simplest things in life are the best.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

King of Objet D'art.

Yesterday, I saw the world’s most confident statue on sale in Garden House Hospice.

Look at him standing proud amongst the bric-a-brac. It’s like he owns the shelf. He wears the expression of an ornament that thinks he won’t be without a home for long.

He is the master of all he surveys; the dead men’s shoes, the non-prescription glasses, the VHS; everything. He is the King of Objet D’art. You could buy him, but you’d never, ever own him.

The staff probably didn’t even put him on display; he scaled that cabinet by himself.

Despite his obvious bravado, I’m suspicious. Surely he can't be that self-confident. He wound up in a charity shop. He may once have had pride of place on somebody’s mantelpiece, but he doesn’t anymore.

Perhaps he made a personal bid for freedom. He probably felt infinitely superior to everything in the household.  

Arrogant little tit.