Sunday, 31 December 2017

"Can't Someone Else Do it?"


Day thirty-one in the Ephgrave household and Recycling Mountain has reached crisis point.

What was once a non-threatening testament to the gluttony of Christmas is now structurally unsound, with no word as to when the bin men will take it away. Contributing to it is like a cross between dry-stone-walling and an outsized game of Jenga: every piece of packaging that’s added must surely be the last, and yet it never is, as there’s always something else to be slotted into a fortuitous gap or carefully balanced at the summit.

It’s daunting to be confronted by how much a two-person, two-budgie and one-cat household can consume in just a week; I don’t know whether to be proud of or depressed by it. On one hand, it feels good to be giving something back to the planet, and yet I can’t help but be reminded of just how much other people will throw away; God forbid anyone should be expected to put in a little effort.

It wouldn’t be so bad if I knew when this bank holiday-induced madness will be over and I’ll be able to dismantle my debris monstrosity and fit it in our communal recycling bin. When the day comes, I’ll be catapulted into a secret Mexican stand-off with the whole estate; move it or lose it, sister.


Return to Sender.


I derive endless amusement from the Elvis Quotes Twitter account.

It’s probably unlikely you’ve happened to stumble across it, but if you haven’t, you’re probably familiar with its sort. It’s one of those accounts that’s presumably posting predominantly scheduled tweets proportedly related to Elvis, but most of them are hugely incongruous.

The last few days are is a case in point. I can’t imagine the King would have had a lot to say about the ageing process of Lindsay Lohan, least of all when she achieved fame a good twenty years after he died; nor would be that interested in the perceived attractiveness of the Female Olympians of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics; that’s unless he had some alarmingly specific (and useless) prophecies. What amuses me most is the account name suggests the tweets are words of wisdom taken verbatim from the great man himself, when in truth they’re just scarcely concealed clickbait.



I’d love to know who was behind it, if only to congratulate them for their slipshod attention to detail, which borders on flagrant. They’re not even written in a consistent tense. Some are in first-person, presumably with the intention of stoking up conversation, which just makes Elvis sound needy…



…or like a middle-aged parent trying to sound down-with-the-kids.

Maybe I’ve got it wrong, and he did say all these things. One of these days, I’ll do some research. If nothing else, I’ll compile a comprehensive anthology, which may make for an amusing book; it’s something to do, anyway.

(Er, Elvis?)

 

Friday, 29 December 2017

Are You Proud of Yourself?

This week I'm cat-sitting for a friend, and judging from the cat's expression, I'm not sure I'm getting it right. 

To be fair, her face sends mixed messages; while she appears to be grumpiest cat to stalk the planet (to then pretend she isn't stalking it at all, to stop to wash nonchalantly), in reality, she's a little sweetie and stupidly affectionate. I've always been a sucker for felines, so I'm easily won over, but it's nice to have her welcome me when I arrive, even if this does mean being coated liberally in a layer of fur before leaving; I'm sure she's trying to smuggle her way out of her flat on my clothing, bit by bit. 


Today hasn't been just about looking in on a neighbour's pet; it generally been a low-key, below-the-radar day of watching of films with my wife. Hopefully the rest of the weekend will be more of the same, as I'm feeling the need to recharge my batteries a little bit (though this could be due to my nerves being shot by the constantly judgemental face of this Garfield-like mog; though it's not as if my cat's any better). 

Think For Yourself.


I've started to think you care less about how others may judge the things you like with age.

(Says the world-weary 36-year-old.)

I’ve discussed this subject here before, so forgive me for repeating myself (though I’m not sure who I’m apologising to, or why, as if you’ve read my blog that extensively, you brought this on yourself), but it’s one of life’s lessons I’m still getting to grips with, hence me returning to it. I was reminded of it this morning, as I listened to the Nineties-era McCartney album Off the Ground while washing up; this isn’t exactly one of Macca’s most highly regarded works, but it was the first CD I bought, so I think of it fondly, though I know this isn’t the general consensus.

I found myself particularly getting into the song Biker Like an Icon - a track I've seen described online as pretty much his songwriting nadir - and while on an average day, it wouldn’t figure highly enough in my eyes to be even classed an album highlight, something about it fell pleasantly on this occasion and I appreciated it for what it is.

My point is that when you’re a teenager, you'll often frame what you like by what your peers might think, instead of accepting you’re entitled to be a fan of whatever you want (provided it’s legal). For example, I clearly remember the time a guy in my year at school took the piss out of me for wearing a Paul McCartney t-shirt on non-uniform day. Even at the age of twelve I knew there was nothing wrong with my choice of outfit, but I still backed down for fear of reprisals. I don’t know why I worried in retrospect: this kid was nicknamed Peanut because of his abnormally shaped head, and I've since learnt you needn’t covet the opinion of a person whose only notable feature is the their bonce-circumference; I've never been one for phrenology.

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

The Regeneration Game.


I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to Peter Capaldi in last Monday’s Doctor Who.

I have a soft spot for him anyway (which is probably a strange thing to say about an actor with a resting face of pure fury) and thought his casting was inspired, but despite this, it wasn’t until the most recent series that I felt everything fell into place; this was nothing to do with Capaldi’s performance, but more due to the fact that when he joined the show, the programme maybe needed a second reboot.

It probably didn’t help that I watched this week’s special in a post-Christmas-induced emotional state, so couldn’t deal with the inevitable tugged heartstrings of a departing Doctor; that said, I found Capaldi’s last few episodes hard to watch too, so the time of year’s no excuse: I’m just a vulnerable audience member.

The reason I didn’t want him to go yet is simple: it may be childish to have bought into what’s essentially a kids’ sci-fi series so completely, but Capaldi embodies what The Doctor should be for me: he’s strong, yet with a soft heart; kind, yet cutting. He’s the man the kid inside me wants to be.

(That kid's called Jake.)

That said, I’m completely down with the idea of a woman in the role, as this could be just the kick-start the programme needs; but while I'm a fan of Jodie Whittaker, I can't imagine her eyes will ever match Capaldi's for menace; I look forward to eating my words when I watch the next series.

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Happy Dogmas.


The world would be a better place if more people reacted to their presents like this.




(Though putting them in your mouth before rolling about on the floor isn’t strictly advisable.)

Today ended up being a quiet, yet pleasant Christmas for me, spent with my parents at my mum’s house. While the three of us hadn’t shared many Christmases all together for years until relatively recently, it’s become a bit of a latter-day tradition, which is nice. We tend to meet for lunch pretty regularly, but for some reason the Big Festive One alluded us for a while, so it’s good to be able to do it.

We didn’t get up to a great deal, other than consuming the customary dinner (which ended up making no other meals necessary), opening our presents and having a chat, but that was enough. I also took my mum’s dog out for a Christmas walk, which was a pleasant way to work my dinner off. All in all, it was lovely day - and the best bit of all was I managed to avoid watching Mrs Brown’s Boys, which is always a bonus.

Sunday, 24 December 2017

Don't Pass HIm By.


If the rumours are true and Ringo Starr is about to be knighted, will he now be known to Americans as Sir Topham Hatt?

(The answer’s no.)

Ringo’s a complex character to consider, as it’s hard to settle on an opinion about him. For one, I would argue - going completely against the tired old cliché - that he’s a vastly underrated drummer and, as such, the most disrespected Beatle; wherever you stand on John, Paul or George either musically or personally, it would be very hard to deny their impact on popular culture, yet for some reason, Ringo’s often seen as the Beatles’ running joke; the lucky guy who entered the movie seconds before the band got famous, to be dragged along for the ride.

Anyone who knows more than the Beatle-basics would tell you that’s nonsense; Paul regularly states in interviews that it wasn’t until Ringo sat behind the kit that their sound was complete and he knew they were onto something special. He’s one of rock’s most distinctive players who’s instantly identifiable with an incredible groove and innate understanding of how to complement a song without overtaking it; like McCartney, it’s hard to think of a single moment in the Beatles recording career where Starr put a foot wrong instrumentally, from the manic flamboyant tom fills of 'She Said, She Said' and 'Rain' to latin break in 'I Want You (She’s So Heavy)'; it’s the sound of a musician working on instinct, and is wonderful to listen to.

The other hugely important thing he brought to the table was his sense of humour, which fitted the band with perfect sync. He also seemed the most approachable member retrospectively; it’s no wonder he all but took the lead in their films 'A Hard Day’s Night', 'Help!' and 'Magical Mystery Tour', as he was the perhaps the only one truly equipped to do it, plus his natural gentle charm put him at the heart of the group.

The flip-side to this, however, is the hard-to-ignore fact that these days, he’s a bit of a dick. Somewhere down the line he lost that natural warmth; as if he felt the need to replace Lennon as the band(and more directly McCartney)’s iconoclast, keeping any self-importance in check, yet somehow doing this self-importantly; the whole thing about not wanting to sign any more autographs being a perfect example of taking a stance he had every right to, but implementing it in the worst fashion.

So when it comes to him receiving a knighthood, I’m a little nonplussed. I may be biased in Paul’s favour, but it's hard to ignore that the man has never stopped - tirelessly contributing to music (and to human and animal rights charities) in the twenty years since he was knighted alone - while Ringo has pretty much stayed out of the way, save the odd ill-judged moan. Is that worth one of the highest honours the UK can bestow? And why does he say "and" like an American? Answers on a postcard, marking the left-hand corner ‘TANK ENGINE’.

Friday, 22 December 2017

Top of the Charts.


It was with a feeling of optimism that I put up a new wall planner for next year in my office yesterday.

Proof.
While I’m not a fan of Christmas particularly and find it a hard time of year to enjoy, I genuinely like New Year. It may be arbitrary, but I like the fresh start. Somehow, sticking an empty calendar up underlines the potential for a change of approach, casting aside the shackles of the past twelve months to look ahead with positivity.

My only problem is I find it hard to stay this buoyant for long (I'm the same at sea); life is challenging. But as I sit in my office writing this, the nearly blank wall chart in front of me goes some way toward flushing out the cynicism and self-doubt that’s often just a few short mental steps away; perhaps keeping an empty diary is the only way to maintain it.

All in all, 2017 hasn’t been a bad year, but I wouldn’t say it’s been easy; I don’t suppose it ever is. That said, I’m looking forward to the promise of a new beginning that January will bring; I know this sounds like an empty cliché, but it’s true; I’d like to thank the people at Staples for the annual reminder.

Thursday, 21 December 2017

Strumtimes.


Yesterday, in an attempt to break the tedium while waiting for a parcel to be delivered, I decided to treat myself to a little musical interlude by pulling out my acoustic to play through a couple of songs before having a jam on the piano too.

The last time I’d played the guitar was almost a month ago, when I took it to the Sun Hotel for that night’s Mostly Comedy, after receiving a text from Phil Kay asking if he could borrow it for his set. Knowing how manic Phil can be, my impromptu busk after tuning it up for him felt like saying goodbye before it was sent to battle, perhaps never to return, at least not in one piece; I prayed to the God of Contents Insurance for a little mercy, before sticking it in a guitar stand on-stage to await its final destiny.

For someone who’s earned a living (of sorts) from music in the past, I felt guilty for how long I hadn’t even taken my acoustic out of its case. Like my other guitars, it has remained untouched at home, gathering dust, only to be used one other time that year to record a few songs for Edinburgh; a ten-second ditty about the length of John Snow’s socks hardly being a fitting epitaph for an instrument I’ve had since I was fourteen.

What was nice was it all came flooding back with little effort, save the inevitable sore fingers you get from such a long hiatus and the fact it hasn’t been restrung in an aeon; I guess there are some things you never forget, no matter how much time has passed.

Playing the piano yesterday, however, was slightly different. It felt like I was exercising muscles that hadn’t been used for ages, both literally and metaphorically. I’m sure it wouldn’t take much to get back up-to-speed; this may be something to consider for the New Year, though I might need a comedian to ask if they can borrow it for me to have the motivation.

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

The Non-Obscure Obscure.


I know I’ve written about the survey results on the game show Pointless with incredulity on more than one occasion in the past, but it keeps presenting me with ridiculous new material.

Today, on a round about the NHS, a total of twelve people out of the hundred surveyed didn’t know what those three initials stand for, because we now apparently live on a planet where, if someone doesn’t know the answer to a question, they can’t possibly attempt to employ a little lateral thought.

What's worrying about these questions is the amount of people who don’t know the answer is often staggering. Without wishing to sound like an old man (which is clearly about to happen) I sometimes wonder where education began to fall short; there are some things you should just know without remembering where you picked the information up from. I’m pretty sure I always knew NHS stood for the National Health Service - and even if I didn’t, I’d be able to work it out; where would these people turn if they suddenly fell ill?

This wasn’t the only shocking result for me in tonight’s episode: they also ran a round in which you had to identify the names of famous people who’d been expelled from school from their photograph. One of the pictures that popped up was this, or as near as damn it:


Only thirty-two people knew it was Salvador Dali; oh, humanity, when did things go so wrong?

Monday, 18 December 2017

'University Challenged: Week Twenty-One' (18.12.17)

 I’d hate to speak too soon, but I think Parr-Reid has Monkman potential.

I of course know he’ll never quite meet those dizzy heights, but there’s definitely something about him. It’s the sly look he gives the other contestants when they speak, or the emotionless face he wears every time he gets an answer right; it’s like his victory is par-for-the-course, and means nothing in the wider picture (as my tweets below suggest).


Bristol Vs Trinity Oxford 919.222.


8:33PM: To my mind, Roger Tilling is the voice of God.

8:35PM: Hosegood, Hosegood...he's Sam Hosegood.


8:35PM: "Stone 'enge".


8:37PM: Pubey beard, Slicked-back hair, Curly tache. Bowes needs to decide on his look.

8:39PM: Parr-Reid has the shiftiness of a man with a terrible secret.

8:40PM: Parr-Reid has Monkman potential.

8:44PM: Parr-Reid has the air of a Chancellor-era Hitler, secretly planning his dictatorship.

8:48PM: Coker. Nonchalant.

8:52PM: Well, I got Holst.

8:54PM: ...I got Hammer too.

8:56PM: It's Mel Brooks, for Christ's sake.

8:56PM: (And I'm not going to pass comment on Steven Spielberg.)

8:57PM: PAXMAN: "What a coun..." (and CUT).

9:00PM: Parr-Reid didn't care how his team scored, as he'd be MURDERING EVERYONE LATER.

Saturday, 16 December 2017

'Strictly Come Tweeting: Week Fourteen' (16.07.17)



So, that’s a line finally drawn under or through this year’s Strictly Come Dancing, now tonight’s Final has come and gone, and for once, I don’t feel disappointed by the result.

Joe was one of the most strong and steady contenders the series has seen since it began, having never appeared in the dance-off or ever having looked even vaguely out of his depth. He’s also effortlessly likeable and genuine, and consequently looked more flummoxed than anyone to be picking up the admittedly shitty Glitter Ball at the end of tonight’s show.

He’s not the only contestant I would have been more than happy to see win the show (Debbie McGee is my obvious other choice), but I have to admit to being genuinely pleased when Tess Daly announced his name (which is probably the only time she’s ever made me pleased ever). Finally, we have some conclusive proof that nice guys don’t always finish last. But what am I supposed to do now with my Saturday evenings?

See below for tonight's Tweets:


6:33PM: Five seconds in and Alexandra's already been over-earnest.
6:34PM: The #Strictly Glitter Ball was made by an extremely untalented child.
6:39PM: Tess Daly's earrings are a touching Blockbusters tribute.
6:41PM: Bruno was out of plastic.
6:45PM: Idea for a chat show hosted by Alexandra and Tess that I'll never watch.
6:45PM: Note how Alexandra won't stop acting when the number finishes.
6:47PM: By the way, the official hashtag is #Strictly and not #StrictlyFinal, so you know. These things matter.
6:49PM: ...there's a surprise.
6:53PM: Craig Revill Horwood's gradually morphing into Loyd Grossman.
6:54PM: The projections during Debbie's salsa were a touching tribute to the Two Ronnies.
6:55PM: The projections during Debbie's salsa were a touching tribute to the Two Ronnies.
6:57PM: Picture Debbie McGee backstage at @MtHitchin #MostlyComedy, because it happened.
7:03PM: Aljaž's waistcoat was originally warn by Abu. 
7:06PM: Lovely, lovely Joe.
7:07PM: JOE: "I'll show the judges how far I've come". ...from Scotland.
7:16PM: The Tess Daly School of Comedy: never pull a single face when another forty-eight are possible.
7:23PM: I bet Vernon Kay's savouring every moment of his last Saturday evening of peace.
7:31pm; ...though they should have put her in the box at the end and sawed her in half.
7:39PM: Replace Tess Daly with a dictaphone and no-one would notice.
7:44PM: Don't sniff it, Joe. Don't sniff it.
7:47PM: Joe's on-screen personality is the polar opposite of Alexandra's: charming, warm, genuine and a lot of lot of fun. He's a bloody good performer who's clearly having a lovely time. I hope he wins for these reasons and more.
8:00PM: They should ban the J-word.
8:04PM: Still sounds like Fawlty Towers though.
8:06PM: One thing this series of #Strictly has shown is just how much talent Debbie has in her own right.
8:15PM: I doubt that bus would pass its MOT.
8:25PM: For the mix of acting and dance ability, Joe's got to be one of the best guys to have been on #Strictly. So much fun.
7:48PM: I'd forgotten about Anton's outfit reveal. HOW COULD I FORGET THAT?
8:41PM: When's Ed Sheeran on so I can make a cup of tea?
8:57PM; Good work, Joe. GOOD WORK.
8:59PM:  The downside is you've got to take that bloody trophy back. What do you do? Put it in a rucksack?




Poxy Foxy Bingo.


I find myself getting repeatedly bothered by all the adverts for online Bingo and gambling apps, which seem to be framed by the idea taking part in these games is a big social event, when in reality you’re most likely to either be sitting in a room on your own, frittering money away for no good reason, or at the least doing the opposite of what those adverts portray.

I can completely get on board with the idea of going to play real Bingo partly for the camaraderie that goes with competing with friends for fun. I can also understand how people can get sucked in to playing the online version, without considering the money they’re putting into it; it’s almost not real if it only takes a few taps of your mobile screen to place another bet. What I can’t grasp is how the advertising campaigns so blatantly play on the idea this sort of gambling is a way of getting out of the house to meet new people when the truth is actually the opposite; by all means go out the Bingo from time to time with your friends partly to enjoy the company, but don’t try to suggest the online versions are just as fun and glamorous.

There was a time in my life when I got into the habit of phoning one of those late night money-making quiz shows where you have to guess a missing word or some-such and hopefully get through in time to say it and potentially win the money. Except I never got through to the presenter, so I would press speed-dial repeatedly, in the hope I would get through this time, to fail again and again. Then, in the end, I had an idea: “How about I stop doing this, as I’m not getting anywhere” - and I’ve kept with this maxim ever since.

The reality is habitual gambling is a big problem for a lot of people that it’s very hard to get out of, and posing the way the models in these adverts to make it look so glamorous is instrumental in this negative outcome: I mean, no-one even mentioned the fact you can still get Bingo wings...

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Numberwang.


Tonight’s Mostly Comedy at the Sun Hotel with Arthur Smith and Phil Wang was a great way to draw a line under what's been a truly exceptional year for the club.

Arthur Smith, on-stage at The Sun Hotel, Hitchin (13.12.17)

We’re all too aware of how lucky we are to be running an event with such ardent and consistent support. Just the last few months have been a case in point, with Jack Dee, Phill Jupitus and Henning Wehn’s dates all selling out in a matter of minutes; a few years ago we would never have dreamt this possible and yet here it is; we always hoped the club would become a hot ticket that stayed in a smallish room and didn't lose it roots and that’s exactly what’s happened; it’s extraordinary really.

Doggett & Ephgrave being weird, pre-show.

It shows how much we’ve grown to accept the calibre of line-ups we host to have an act of Arthur Smith’s stature play the club again for us to barely bat an eyelid. It helps that he’s such a nice guy who’s the epitome of being down-to-earth and easy going, but there’s still that frisson of excitement when he steps onto the stage for the first time: it’s nice to have maintain that little bit of theatre to proceedings and build momentum.

Ephgrave at the window.
The only thing that would have helped tonight’s gig would have been to switch the bill so Phil Wang was in the first half and Arthur Smith was in the second, as having Arthur at the top meant we’d metaphorically shot our load early (this was absolutely no reflection on Phil who was great, but Arthur’s obviously the bigger name). Phil had to close though as he was doubling up with a gig at the Bear Club in Luton, and perhaps our gig wouldn’t have been so appealing if he hadn’t already been in the area, so that’s the way things go.

Arthur Smith plays a sold out room at the last Hitchin Mostly Comedy of 2017.
So, in summary, 2017 saw thirteen shows with an impressive roster of acts, many of whom hadn’t played the club before - and 2018 already looks set to follow suit. Not bad going for something we set up on a whim.

"You have been watching..."

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

#SitcomTheBeatles


I’ve never one to pass up a hashtag word game on Twitter, least of all when it involves my specialist subject: The Beatles.

So tonight, in the interest of having an early night as I’ve got Mostly Comedy to contend with tomorrow, I thought I’d share a few tweets I just dashed off for the trending game #SitcomTheBeatles; there aren’t many of them and they aren’t that special, but at least they keep me off the streets:

10:42PM: 2point4 No One.

10:43PM: Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except for Me and My Raymond.

10:43PM: Frasier Blues.

10:44PM: Mrs Brown's Boys.

10:45PM: Rising Damp (with Eleanor Rigsby)

10:46PM: Only Fools on the Hill and Horses.

10:47PM: Wait(ing for God)

10:49PM: Goodnight (Sweetheart).

10:50PM: Yes it (Min)is(ter).

10:54PM: Steptoe and Sun King.

10:55PM: Are You Being For the Benefit of Mr Kite?

11:00PM: Baby's in Blackadder.

(Please note: all of those tweets were posted within eighteen minutes; is that something to be proud of or not?)