Monday, 27 December 2010

A Big Yule Blog

Christmas is a time for giving, for reflecting on the year and for bringing people closer together. Not for me though - The Yuletide tends to be a period of booze, remorse, gambling, frustration and loneliness. Don't feel bad for me - I wouldn't have it any other way.

Thursday 23rd December;
This was an occasion to go round to my mate Limburn and Genie's house for dinner and she had even gone as far as to ask me what I would like to eat and I had suggested a lovely roast dinner as she really does do fantastic ones. Sadly however she had gone out on the 22nd and got properly leathered, spent the day in bed and he called me at 5pm to say would it be all right if he took me out for a curry instead? I have absolutely no problem with people taking me out for dinner, male or female and he met me in Bar 85 across the road for our restaurant of choice, Paprika. The only woman in Bar 85 was the barmaid Ami, who also works in the hair salon "Dubhe" where I get my hair cut 50% of the time. She is Lesbian at the moment but there are a few of us trying to talk her out of it as she is really quite gorgeous. We had a couple of pints of Guinness, before transferring to Molly Malones as we weren't really hungry yet. Someone always walks up to me in Molly Malones and says something odd to me. On this occasion though we just sat there and had a couple more pints of Guinness and listened to some quite attrocious turns on their desperate open mic night. Finally we were angry enough for curry so nipped back over the road to Paprika. I've never been there before. It was ace. We got a decent array of dishes, rice, naan etc and a couple of pints of Cobra lager for well under forty quid. I bumped into Stewart Dinsey (lead guitarist with legendary local band "Eastside Jimmy") who was really drunk. It was his birthday and he was out with his ridiculously fit wife. A more evil Paulyb may have tried to separate them in a past life but the ghost of Christmas present was very definitely in the room and we all had a thoroughly nice time. Obviously we paid up and went back to Molly's, working on the basis that it was on the way to the station (for me),two minutes from home (for Limburn) and no-one had said anything odd to me yet. I needn't have worried. This time round a Welsh bloke with whom I am barely acquainted kindly came over to tell me a joke to "use in your act", Trotsky the landlord approached with a series of bizarre quips that made no sense whatsoever and a girlfriend form around fifteen years ago who appears to have gone through a number of addictions and breakdowns came over to tell me I was mad. Limburn's eyes were starting to narrow, I was full of beer and the wish to wrap that f***ing folk singer's guitar round his f***ing neck was overwhelming so we said our goodbyes and I made the short walk to the station on the understanding that I could take the midnight train to Letchworth and walk from there (Well there isn't one to Georgia from Hitchin). The noticeboard said the next train was not until 00.39am so I grumpily walked towards the taxi rank. As I got in to a cab and resignedly said "Letchworth please", the midnight train showed up and then departed before I could jump out again. Curses.

"Molly Malones", Hitchin. The pub of the bizarre.
Friday 24th December (Christmas Eve)
A quirky little tradition in my sister-in-law's family has led to me joining them each year on Christmas Eve for a full Turkey dinner with all the trimmings. She's an excellent cook and it really is no chore. A couple of things to take note of though. My eleven year old niece has a homosexual school teacher and during our prawn cocktail starter she unleashed an unexpected homophobic tirade against said teacher that left myself, my mum and my dad speechless. I don't believe for one second she believed what she was saying and suspect she has been a victim of peer pressure at school but it was nevertheless vicious in its intent and a major surprise. Fortunately my eight year old nephew was there to come to our aid and after she had finished her diatribe he put down his knife and fork and said the following:

"Well maybe he's just the wife in the partnership".

...Before promptly going back to his parsnips. The atmosphere was removed, the niece chastened and the dinner the success it should always have been. I left about 8pm, came back to the flat and got myself a little present in the shape of online car tax, before heading to La Concha (ironically by the station I never got to the night before).

"La Concha" - fine wines and tapas attached to Letchworth Garden City Railway station. They have Burger king attached to Welwyn Garden City Railway Station. 1-0 Letchworth.
They had a duo on who were brilliant and specialised in 60s Kinks & Beatles classics. They also had a bloke in there who was eventually thrown out for "goose-ing" various women (that he didn't know) at intervals that were not long enough for him to avoid both detection and eventual eviction. The police were called and he was arrested after shouting at them for insulting police officers and not for the rather more serious charge of "common sexual assault" which I think they were going to let him off with in "The spirit of Christmas". I was in the company (first) of old friend Terry Cox and his current squeeze, (second) my friends Sulu and G (And her parents from Raddang*) and finally Pete (the owner), his daughter Sammie and a couple of bar staff. We saw Christmas in and hit the cognacs until we couldn't focus any more and I wandered home through the snow. It was bitterly cold.

Saturday 25th December (Christmas Day)
I'll keep this brief. Lunch at the folk's (Lamb - terrific) an afternoon/evening of telly and then a listen to The Ashes which is approaching its climax. We bowled the Aussies out for 98. BONZA!

Sunday 26th December (Boxing Day)
I woke up late, ate spaghetti, nipped over to my friend Jo's (The chicken lady - she had given me a jar of pickled eggs for Christmas and I wanted to thank her) and headed over to Steve's pub for promised goose sandwiches and the usual boozy over-indulgence. I've never had goose before (bizarrely for someone so interested in traditional British fare) and by the end of the night I still hadn't. I had however enjoyed an excellent ale called "Rudolph" that has similar magical properties to the mythical red nosed reindeer, two sorts of Baileys, Guinness, a huge argument with Steve and his young Rugby-playing Padowan who skilfully came at me from two different angles so I had to fend them off as if defending a two-pronged attack (They were both wrong of course on the subject of English sport), a variety of Tesco's "Finest" oriental snacks and half the English innings of 444 - 5 (At close) combating the Australians pathetic sub-ton from the night before. Lisa (Steve's other half - her words, not mine) revealed that she had a large amount of goose in the fridge for me, wrapped up in silver foil. As I write this blog, I am enjoying goose & mayo toasted sandwiches and they are lush. Finally, I've never been very good at festive best wishes but I can go as far as to say I hope you got what you deserved the Christmas.

*"Raddang" is how the locals pronounce the town of"Reading" in Berkshire. They don't believe they do but get them on the subject of marriage and at least one of them will eventually tell you about a "Waddang" they once went to.

Monday, 20 December 2010

The Highliners, mulled wine and some particularly unpleasant South African women

It has often been said that we make our own luck. I make my own colds. It has been below freezing all week and the snow has been horrendous but I refuse to let little things like the weather alter my plans. Hence I found myself last Thursday night on the (delayed) 6.05pm from Luton to St. Pancras International with my regular compadre Steve as we embarked on another drinkathon also known as The Highliners at The Gaff on Holloway Road. The Highliners are one of the most entertaining live acts out there and had a minor hit in the late 80s with a song called Henry The Wasp. Steve and I also have a personal relationship with a couple of the guys out of the band as we got them out of an (ahem) tricky situation involving mistaken nationality at last year's Psychobilly Meeting in Pineda De Mar. Anyway, the reason we were on a train this early was because we didn't want to miss the support band, Pussycat And The Dirty Johnsons who are also excellent. They were, on this occasion, also excellent at cancelling with less than a day's notice so, with time on our hands, We headed off to my favourite pub in North London, "Big Red" for a couple of pre-show ales.

There were loads of barmaids. Steve and I love barmaids. There was also a barmaid on her first ever shift. Steve and I love barmaids on their first ever shift. We drank Guinness and chased it off with shots, various shots, an unknown number of shots - my argument being that it was cold outside and we needed warming up. We left around 8.30pm, walked the two minutes over the road to The Gaff. ignored it, walked for another five minutes in arctic air and then realised that we had drunkenly missed an entire venue within ninety minutes of arriving in London. Oh well - in for a penny.

It was actually in for (the very reasonable) £7 and a further quid for the cloakroom. Overcoats dispatched, we again hit the Guinness, now joined by the 100% Psychobilly Darren AKA Burt Blood who will quite happily "Wreck 'em on the news so the whole world can see". I went up to the dressing room to interview Luke (Highliners Lead Singer) and somehow managed to accuse his lovely girlfriend Morag of looking like Cliff Richard in the process.

Myself, Luke and Sir Cliff
It was a good interview, actually and will feature on Punky! Radio in a couple of week's. By the time I got down again Darren appeared to be feeling the effects of the extended company of Steve. That he would (later on) prevent Steve from entering the wrecking pit at the front of the stage because he was convinced that Peter Andre was in there is neither here nor there.

Darren holds Steve back from a potential confrontation with a (typically enthusiastic) Peter Andre

The gig was brilliant, we all left extremely drunk and then walked back (in the freezing cold) to Holloway tube station. By the time we were at the bottom of the lift I had developed a serious bout of man flu, which remains as I write. We missed the train we wanted so had to hang about in the cold (Which didn't help) and then got to his South Bedfordshire pub in blizzard conditions that left us with no alternative but to get the ashes on and drink until 4am with the ever-understanding Lisa pouring the alcohol.

The real snow didn't land until Saturday. This (At least) meant that my Friday night comedy show in Hitchin wasn't decimated as it had been this time last year and we held on to a decent sized audience that greatly enjoyed the respective merits of Paddy Lennox and Brian Higgins in what was to be a trilogy of identical-line up gigs over the weekend. I headed for the safety of The Vic after the gig and enjoyed a couple of (medicinal) mulled wines before finally coming home with a kebab and falling asleep listening to a rapidly souring ashes test in far sunnier climes.

I spent most of Saturday afternoon sniffling through updates of the Forest v Palace clash at The City Ground (one of the few games to survive the weather) where the mighty reds won 3 - 0 and moved up to eighth in the table in the process. I was a little late to Letchworth Arts Centre for the gig that evening but not as late as the sound man, who didn't show up at all. Fortunately a member of the audience was something of a dab hand with a PA system and we got there in the end. Lighting was another matter and all I succeeded in doing in the first half was bathing the back half of the audience in glorious strip lighting whilst leaving myself and Paddy (the first act) in near-darkness. Brian (headlining) suggested turning the lights over the audience off and switching the lights over the stage on. He is a luminary genius. After the show we went to The Arena Tavern where I sneezed my way through a couple of "Rocking Rudolph" ales before cheekily hitting a few shots with my mate Sam as we pretended (to his preoccupied missus) that we were having difficulty getting served. Half an hour it took us - nearly as long as it took me to walk home through the deepening snow. We'd had about a foot. My mother had texted me to tell me she had got "Fourteen inches". That's not something you want to hear from your mother.

...And so to Sunday for the second show in Chigwell and a third night with the boys. For the first show, read here - it will give some background information. I set off ridiculously early - just after 4pm to make the (normally hour long) journey around the M25. I got there about a quarter to six which wasn't too bad considering the appalling driving conditions. These I additionally hindered by letting my screen wash thingy ice over so when I applied the wipers all they did was smear the grit and slush over the windscreen and reduce visibility to a matter of feet. Despite the weather, Stu and Matt at the hotel had done a great job of getting in a decent sized audience and the show was great...

Brian Higgins goes walkabout in Chigwell - It is every bit as daunting as anything Aboriginal adolescents have to contend with.
...There were no fights over chicken dippers and everyone left happy. I have a feeling I'm never going to just have a normal night at this gig though. On this occasion I:

Was accused of having small hands shortly after shaking the hand of an audience member with very small hands.

Was told I didn't have a manly handshake by a female member of staff who didn't have one either.

Was force-fed pints of Worthington throughout the gig.

Was told by one punter that I reminded him of Jean Reno in Leon.

Was dragged from the gig at the end of the night into a Christmas party disco by Matt who then left me with four of his beautiful receptionists who were having their own festive knees-up. Drinks were on the house and I kept being handed shots of Archers schnapps by these increasingly dizzy young women, one of which I obviously took the liberty of falling hopelessly in love with for at least three quarters of an hour.

Oooh Katie Gibson...

Then two of the receptionists had an argument with the DJ about I-know-not-what which led to him barking "You're immature - grow up!" at them before dashing back to his booth and putting on the Whigfield classic "Saturday Night" and jumping about like a toddler.

I really was having a good time and could finally relax after four nights of travelling, boozing and organising. That's when I caught the eye of the South African women. They had been tipped off that I was a comedian. Their opening gambit was (in those such lovely clipped tones of theirs) "Oh you are a comedian. Tell us a joke or you are not funny". They continued to badger and irritate me for a further half hour with other cliched idiot remarks until the (now less angry) DJ called time on what had been a nearly great night. By the end of it I wanted to punch them both clean out and retire to bed in the welcoming arms of a hotel receptionist, half my age and probably very adept with precisely the modern gadgets that drive me to distraction. I settled myself with finding my room (So far away from the reception where I belatedly picked up my key that it could barely have still been in Essex) and collapsing into snot-interrupted but badly-needed sleep.

In the morning I remembered to ask the hotel for a container of warm water to pour on my windscreen. Two of the lovely receptionists from the night before were miraculously working, the only tell tale sign that all was possibly not entirely well with them was the two enormous glasses of orange juice secreted just out of view of the general public. Finally, my annual festive wish: I hope you get what you deserve this Christmas.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Smoke machines, friendly Croydon traffic wardens and a sad demise

On Friday I drove to Southampton to headline a brand new gig called Comedy Boom Boom at Archers Bar on the outskirts of the city in the middle of student land. I had a bad feeling about it from the start - new gigs are generally problematic and the hell of Friday afternoon/evening driving in The South East is not to be under estimated. I got to Rickmansworth to pick up fellow performer Paul Ricketts at 3pm, as arranged. Paul arrived at 3.30pm, as expected. We hit the M25 at 3.45pm on a Friday, as dreaded. There was no traffic and we arrived in Southampton around 5.30pm. These bare facts are in themselves astounding. The gig itself looked to be another example of a pudding being over-egged. There were professional cameramen, a sold-out audience that looked particularly non-student, TV screens everywhere and an hilariously massive Ibanez amp for my guitar. Our dressing room was (of course) a cupboard and the organiser (James) had additionally arranged  a backlit smoke machine in another cupboard for the acts to walk out of, "Stars In Their Eyes" style, which the compere and first two acts (including Paul) had turned down. James and Rob (The smoke machine operator) looked downcast at this as they had spent all afternoon rigging it up. I, like the excited child I am over such things, agreed whole-heartedly that I would absolutely love the opportunity to be introduced onstage from a cupboard full of backlit smoke and what a decision! The show went ridiculously well, all things considered and I was introduced with the instruction "Look over at that cupboard - it's Paul B. Edwards! Loud rock music began, the door was flung open, smoke billowed out and I emerged like some alien statesmen travelling through time to enthrall the Hampshire throngs. I did. It was great. The whole thing was filmed in Hi-Def and I'm hoping to have some clips soon. Paul asked for a lift back to London Bridge. I reluctantly agreed. It took us an hour and three quarters to get there, it took me three and a half hours to get home.

Burger & chips, guitar, two chicks by my knees - it was the dressing room of dreams...
Saturday saw me heading back to South London to compere a Christmas party at Jongleurs Croydon. Saturday early evening driving through London is normally a pleasure. It wasn't. I was expected at 8.15pm. I left at 5.15pm. I got there at 8.30pm. A ninety minute drive took over three hours. I queued up at Staples Corner, sat in a traffic jam down to Mill Hill, got in a queue at Archway and another at Kings Cross. It took me an hour and a half to get over the river, then I queued up to Elephant & Castle, all the way through Brixton and hit a massive jam on Streatham High Road. Finally, I got lost in Croydon until I stumbled upon the venue and parked hurriedly in a loading bay. A telling off awaited and a parking ticket loomed. I walked in to the packed venue to find they were going to be late starting, no-one minded me being a trifle tardy and the excellent bill looked ready for a great gig. The sound man checked my guitar in double-quick time and I remarked that he was the best I had ever dealt with.




The show started at about quarter past nine, the mic fed back terribly, the audience strained and winced in turn and I got the first act on. The whole of the first half was dogged by mic trouble and was, to say the least, a bit flat. The interval was great, though.

By the second half most of the audience were leathered and difficult to control. We did however, and the headliner worked his socks off to make a show of it. Despite everything, everyone, acts and audience alike, left satisfied and I returned to my car to find the windscreen blessedly ticket free. I drove home in an hour and a half....

...and who should be waiting on my doorstep when I got back than the little tomcat who shat behind my telly. Now I'm a soft touch with animals and he appears to have been abandoned by the former occupants of the downstairs flat so I let him in anyway. I put a fleece on a beanbag thinking it would be a perfect cat bed for the little fella. I also vowed to keep an all night vigil if necessary so he could have a proper sleep but at the first sign of potential stool arrival I could kick him out. He jumped straight on the makeshift cat bed and had a fit, chasing his tail, biting himself and jumping about like a Mogwai in the verge of Gremlinhood. I stared, panic stricken. Then he jumped off, calmly strolled over to my sofa and jumped onto four silk cushions, spread out and passed out. He is clearly very middle class.

There he remained until around 4.30am when the cover fell off the extractor fan in the kitchen, clattered on the floor and scared the bejesus out of the pair of us. He jumped up, ran round the back of the sofa and jumped on my head. Petrified, I jumped up, sending him flying. We both ran to the front door, I opened it and he ran out in a blind panic. As I closed it behind him he looked round, realising that he was out for the duration and he gave me a look that I can olny translate as "ohhhhhh..... B***ocks".

On Sunday I drove to Mansfield to go to the last night of its premier venue, The Town Mill, which has now closed, much to the chagrin of the local music-loving population. As a grand hoorah they had amassed an all-day gig featuring some of the area's best bands, most of which seem to feature the same guitar player, Ellis. I hadn't been able to track anyone down to stay with so had to book a B&B, the Clifton Hotel, a stone's throw from the gig but a lot further back in time than its surroundings. It was run by a fantastic guy who called me en route to check what I time I would be arriving as he was going out to dinner. I said "About quarter past five" and got there at quarter past five. He was waiting in the hallway bedecked in cravat and 70s lounge suit. He was great, He also said there was no rush for me to leave in the morning. We bade each other well and I went up to my single room. It was a double. Nice. It also had a terrific state of the art music system attached to the wall. Check out THIS bad boy:

Sadly, I didn't even have time to switch it on because I wanted to get to The Town Mill as quickly as possible. It was exactly what I wanted, more so in fact. An evening of old friends reminiscing to great music. Highlights were Flying Blind On A Rocket Cycle, Resistance 77...

Resistance 77 featuring the multi-banded Ellis in incredibly silly hat

...and throwing bottles at the back wall with the departing curator, Kev, at the end of the night (A tradition developed in a previous life). I went back to my friends Sam and April's house afterwards where we drank cherry brandy until she said "Oh f**k! I've just remembered! I've got work in the morning!". She tottered off to bed and Sam and I had one last smoke on his front porch. It had been emotional. I woke up at 7am the next morning (entirely ridiculous), watched telly until about 10am, had a cup of tea and went to finally say goodbye to my two former grandmas-in-law as I never got the chance when my wife and I split up four years ago. I'd built it up into quite a big deal over time and viewed it with a little trepidation. Would they welcome me, slap me, abuse me, ignore me, refuse to answer the door? I needn't have worried -  Neither of them were in.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Fuzzy faces, fuzzier heads and The Fuzztones

In (I think) 1987 I went to see The Fuzztones at Bowes Lyon House in Stevenage. It was a good gig made memorable by the scenes of bare chested Psychobillies in the wrecking pit at the front lacerating themselves on the studded belted Goths that were hanging around the edge of it. I was only seventeen but did manage to get served in the bar and several pints of snakebite and black (my gig drink of choice) left me remembering little else, save them doing "Psychotic Reaction", which was brilliant, lead singer Rudi Protrudi asking for his "Air guitar... I must have my air guitar" in similar fashion to Chuck Berry saying "We must do our Alma Mata" at the start of "My Ding-A-Ling" and some amazing sideburns.

Fuzztones early publicity shoot. Please note bone necklaces...
...Cut to 23 years or so later and I noticed they were touring to mark their thirtieth anniversary and PRAISE THE LORD they were playing The 100 Club in London as part of the tour and it was on a Sunday which meant I could go! I contacted a few different people who I knew for one reason or another had been (or were) fans but only procured the buddy services of Mr. Felix (Who had been at the gig at Bowes but we didn't know each other then) and the trusty (and new convert to Garage Punk) Steve. It did occur to me that I had not seen The Fuzztones for longer than some of my more recent acquaintances had been alive but hey - stuff like that is not to be dwelt upon.

No Sunday Garage Punk frenzy is complete without three days of comedy in increasingly random circumstances in Bedfordshire however: I'll try and be concise...

Thursday: Ashcroft Arms, Luton. Steve's pub. Acts present: Rick Hulse, Paul B. Edwards, J.T. Taylor, Rayguns Look Real Enough. Audience number: 43 (ish). Everyone did well. Rick, Steve, myself and several members of the audience drank from 6pm (ish) to 5am (ish), including the latest random element to come in to the bar - Lisa's lodger Penny, who fared slightly better at "Spoof" than Tasha from the previous week. Ray Gun was resplendent in a tiger-striped wrestler-style one piece catsuit that left little to the imagination. 

Ray Gun, resplendent, as always and serenading a reluctant Holly...
Friday: ivy Leaf Club, Langford. Acts present: Rick Hulse, Paul B. Edwards, Craig Murray. Audience number 70 (ish). Rick had a tough gig. I did OK, Craig was marvellous. When we got home to Herts we went immediately to the pub where we drank heavily until it shut around 2am. We walked out into a blizzard so bad we had to get a cab the 400 yards back to Chateau Moi. When we got in, Rick introduced me to white port. It is my new friend.

Saturday: The Pad, Bedford. Acts present: Rick Hulse, Paul B. Edwards, J. T. Taylor, Craig Murray, DJ Roch. Audience number 20 (ish). At twenty past eight I was going to pull the show as we had only sold one ticket. Then nineteen people showed up at once and made the gig busy enough to do. We didn't regret it. Everyone had a great time and Roch dropped us off back down the pub after the show. Rick and I drank varying combinations of wine, Black Sambuca, Jaegermeister, lager and ale. When we came back I put The Ashes on. It really is too funny what's happening Down Under at present but I'm not one to gloat - I mean - if the shoe was on the other foot I doubt very much my Australian counterpart would get involved in even the gentlest of ribbing, now would he?

...And so it was Sunday. Rick left early and (happily for me) forgot to take his white port home with him. I cooked Lancashire Hotpot (I was already missing the big oaf) and generally pondered stuff for a few hours.I arranged to meet Felix on the 5pm train from Hitchin. He had to run to catch it. I had had to run to catch it from the station before at 4.54pm. We got our breath back around about Knebworth. We are not getting any younger. At Kings Cross my day travelcard wouldn't work at the barrier. I offered it to an inspector who said "November 10th" very slowly as his brain began to whirr. It was December 5th and I had tried to use a previous ticket that I had not only somehow not discarded but also managed to put in exactly the same place I had the correct one. I got the valid ticket out, successfully traversed the machinery and left the inspector to his own (whirring) devices. We got the Northern Line to Holborn and then the Central Line to Tottenham Court Road before walking to Cambridge Circus and one of my favourite London pubs, "The Spice Of Life". I offered to buy our barmaid a drink. She accepted on the basis that "It had been a long day". I asked her how long she had been working. She said "Two hours". The youth of today clearly don't know what hard work is. I lobbed back a pint of McMullen AK (which should probably be pronounce "Ay Kay" but I pronounce with a loud "Ack!") and waited for Steve, who showed up just before half past six. We enjoyed More "Ack!" - and little Jaeger shots as liveners. Then we walked (in a roundabout way) to The French House for red wine and halves of Guinness (they don't do pints - they are very civilised). As we left the barmaid was incredibly over-friendly in her farewell as if saying goodbye to old friends.

Where everybody knows your nom.
From there we went to another pub that I don't remember the name of. We were lulled in by the smell of mulled wine. Steve asked the barman if we could order three mulled wines. He said "yes you can - well you could except that we've just run out". The bar staff of Soho are quirky. We had interestingly titled beer that was delicious. 

Oh by the way - I was wearing a black suit, faux leopard skin brothel creepers, a black shirt, black jeans and a rather fetching costume necklace made of large black beads and plastic dinosaur bones. I am forty.

A brisk stroll up to Oxford Street (Steve was directing - if it had been me we would certainly have gone in the wrong direction because I tried to do exactly that before Steve turned me round) and we were in. The 100 Club is threatened with closure and it will be a complete bitch if it does lock its doors for a final time because it's a really great place to see bands and has a huge and unique history spanning jazz, punk, rock, ska, 60s garage, you name it, really and an A to Z of alternative music royalty. The first band were crap. We were drinking Guinness. I bumped into my beautiful friend Janine who informed me that she reads this very blog. Hence her being my beautiful friend Janine. I also bumped into the tall bloke who had been dressed as an Austrian scoutmaster last New Year's Eve at The Boston Arms who is friendly with my mate Johnny Codger but whose name escapes me. I also bumped into the Norwegian bass player from the Priscillas who pinched my bottom once (Also at The Boston Arms, actually) but she didn't want to talk to me. I must not have been looking pert enough.

Then out came The Fuzztones and they didn't muck about. They roared straight in to "1-2-5", then "Bad News Travels Fast", then "Actions Speak Louder Than Words" which was a bit of a bugger as they are my three favourite Fuzztones numbers. As time went on Steve and I agreed that their keyboard player was the sexiest woman we had ever seen. She is called Lana Loveland. Of course she is. As the gig wore on and the capacity crowd got ever-more frenzied the obvious thing for me to do was to go to the front. Curiously, the slightly less obvious thing for Felix to do was to leave early. 

Rudi Protrudi, Lana Loveland, Fez Wrecker et al rock out in extreme fashion, largely bedecked in paisley.
This left me in a marginal quandary that was easily worked out: I would travel home with Steve. After all - who wouldn't want to spend the night in a pub after the preceding three days I'd had. The band encored spectacularly well and inevitably finished with their classic cover "Cinderella". The audience went crazy and I became the monitor monitor, gallantly holding the thing on the stage as various punters threatened to send it flying in to the crowd. Nobody thanked me, but Steve noticed me doing it and he at least knew that without me the whole thing would have been blown apart and that ultimately I was responsible for everyone's well being.

When we got back to the tube station it had shut - they all had - early, so we had to get a cab back to Kings Cross/St. Pancras where we ordered egg sandwiches and then waited for the train back to Luton. It made a laborious hour-long job of a thirty mile journey that should have left us shattered but we still managed a couple of hours drinking and chatting with the (increasingly saintly) Lisa who had been looking after the pub in his absence. I fell asleep in his lounge listening to England continue to dominate the Aussies in the Ashes. I stank of beer, fags and ROCK AND ROLL and had a large black and white cat on my legs. 

Monday, 29 November 2010

Aaron Ramsey, the A49 and the Ashes

I went over to my mate Steve's pub on Tuesday night after I made Punky! for no other reason than we hadn't seen each other in a while. On the way over I had Radio 2 on and subjected myself to Mark Radcliffe and Stuart Maconie. I share my ire with my father where they are concerned but we have different reasons. dad despairs at Maconie being a professional Northerner. I can't handle Radcliffe for his habit of prefacing every sentence (and mid-sentence) with "errrrrarrrrerrrrr" like some cross between Jimmy Saville and a vacuum cleaner. Anyway by the time I got to Steve's I was apoplectic.

"errrrrarrrrrerrrrr","ee bah gum do you remember spangles?"
No matter - he's got some new ales on - namely, a fabulous brew called "Pure Ubu" and the deadly "Old Rosie" cider. I took the former for a little while until the one or two other fellas left and only Steve, barmaid (and confidante) Lisa and I remained. Old Rosie began and so (obviously) did the arguing. There was the inevitable row about the future of the England football team and more particularly the strikers. From what I remember I nobly suggested that there was nothing wrong with W. Rooney and A. Tallboke. Steve went with some nonsense along the lines of Morecambe & Wise, Peters & Lee or Noddy & Big Ears. The revelation that he thought not only that Mark Radcliffe was OK but also that he sounded like John Peel took things to another level though as I danced around the pub like a Native American doing a raindance and chanting by way of how said Mancunian DJ sounded as opposed to the lugubrious Wirral tones of my audio hero. It could only be settled by the new argument-destroying phrase "Google It!". I found clips of them both sounding entirely different, played them to Lisa and she agreed... with Steve. Bloody Southerners.

England's new no. 9
He brought me up a cup of tea the next day so was instantly forgiven.

Friday saw me delight in driving to Maidenhead  in rush hour traffic and freezing conditions for over two hours. It's an hour's drive. No matter - the gig was sweet and the drive home so effortless that I found myself calling Steve again because I was early. He welcomed a return drinkathon having had little to do in the pub all night. This time when I got there he had regular stalwart Matt, Lisa (again) and her daughter Tasha, visiting the pub for a couple of nights to escape the horrors of her home town, Kettering. Matt left after an argument about Australia. I believed England would skittle them out in similar fashion to how they had ruthlessly dispatched us for around 260. He thought they would get at least a 150 lead. "Preposterous" I declared.

That left the four of us - a perfect number for "Spoof", a game which requires each player to bet on how many coins are in their collective clenched hands (with a maximum of three coins per person). Each time a player gets it right they are removed from the game. The last one drinks the shot of the previous loser's choice. Lose three games in a row and things can start to get hazy (normal drinking obviously continues during gameplay). Tasha had never played before. A couple of hours later, Tasha wished she hadn't. Australia took a 150 lead and we retired to bed, one after the other. Tasha mounted the wooden hill to Bedfordshire first. I was not far behind and passed her, bent over the toilet reacquainting the contents of her stomach with the outside world, bless her. I got a cat for company in the night which was nice because it was bloody freezing. We snuggled together for warmth. Cats are not stupid.

I woke up around 1pm with mischief on my mind, got dressed and left without anyone knowing. An hour or so later I got a text from Steve saying "Where are you? I made a cup of tea!". I answered simply (And giggling to myself as I did so) that I didn't like long goodbyes.

Saturday afternoon came and went and I was on my way to Wigan. This involved the M1, M6 and my newly-beloved A49 into the centre of town and its famous pier. I had received an email on Friday to say that the Mayor would be there and could I keep the "language" down. I had nothing to worry about - I was on last and by the time I took the stage the three previous acts had all been nothing short of disgusting, the audience were leathered and the Mayor of Wigan was clearly having a whale of a time. The gig was at The Orwell. It was my first ever trip to the town and I sincerely hope it won't be my last. It was really good fun and the assembled throng were delightful. The drive back was even better though. England began exacting revenge on the Aussies for their cheek in amassing a first innings total of 481 and by the time I got home were already rocking along nicely. When the Antipodean day's play eventually ended (about 7am) we had only lost one wicket and were coasting along beautifully and already about 80 ahead of them, our opening batsmen had both got centuries and we had only lost one wicket.

despite their first innings score of 481, Australia's captain Ricky Ponting was responsible for only nine of them. Ha.
Sunday saw lunch with the folks and a brief discussion with my Dad about Aaron Ramsey. The Arsenal and Wales starlet has come on "Emergency Loan" to my beloved Nottingham Forest. I had no idea how we had managed to procure him for a month and suspected naively that Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger recognised our excellent footballing record and the fact we played the game the way it should be played. I was wrong - it turns out he's mates with our full back, Chris Gunter. All I need now is to discover that centre back Wes Morgan is bezzy buddies with Christiano Ronaldo.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Wem will you be mine?

On Friday lunchtime I received an email informing me that I was one "Subway" purchase away from a free 6" sandwich. On Friday afternoon I drove to Hereford. Nothing particular to write about? NO. Something very significant to write about - I drove through what appeared to be the set of a horror film. It's also called East Warwickshire, abbreviated, in this instant, to E. Warks. There was a low mist over the fields but then nothing above it. It looked like the countryside had been set alight by some ethereal fire and recovered in an instant. As the sun set over the horizon I imagined headless horsemen, zombies, werewolves, vampires, Widdecombes - all manner of horrors just waiting to jump the Mondeo and stop me in my tracks.

They didn't, obviously. No that luxury was reserved for the A465, known locally as Aylestone Hill (I discovered later). There had been an accident somewhere. I certainly never saw it - but it meant it took me the best part of an hour to go the last four miles to get to my B&B. This left me only minutes to get to the gig round the corner at The Courtyard Theatre, opposite Edgar Street, the home of Hereford United F.C. They used to parade a bull around the ground before kick off, but then Mad Cow Disease came along and the Health & Safety brigade put paid to that little vagary. The gig was great fun although I did too long and the audience flagged towards the end. No matter - I went out into the bar and was surrounded by a gang of thirty-something women who asked to have their photo taken with me. I obliged. Then they invited me out with them afterwards. Both the other comics were going home so I was going to be left to my own devices - why not? I met up with them in The Litten Tree on a Friday night in Hereford. I had consumed alcohol. They all left at five to midnight to go home to their assorted husbands and boyfriends. It hadn't occurred to me to ask if any of them were single. I drank up and walked back to the B&B in entirely the right direction until thirty yards from it when I convinced myself I was going in the wrong direction and then I walked in the wrong direction for twenty minutes before hailing a cab out of sheer frustration. The driver chuckled as I paid him the best part of a tenner and got out yards from where I had originally achieved on foot.

The lady in the B&B had very kindly let me sleep in until midday but this still gave me seven hours before I had to be in Lancaster for my Saturday night gig at The Dalston Rooms. What was a girl to do?

Simple! Take the scenic route up the A49, traversing Herefordshire, Shropshire and Cheshire, stopping off at places with silly names and wishing at all times that I had my camera. Within a few of miles I had seen signs for Stretton Sugwas, Moreton On Lugg, Woofferton and Ashford Carbonell (Not to be confused with Ashford Carbonel, which is down the road). Somewhere just before Ludlow a shop offered by way of an 'A' board on the pavement "Half a lamb £38". I made a left fork onto the A5 at Shrewsbury and headed for Oswestry. Depending on where you live in the country, Shrewsbury is either pronounced "Shroozberry" or "Shrowzburry". The locals call it "Shoes". It is the county town of Shropshire. Shropshire is abbreviated to "Salop". Never mind that - I've always wanted to go to Oswestry. It was second on the list to Ross On Wye until I went to Ross On Wye when it became the number one destination. I was not let down. It's a lovely old place bang on the Welsh border with a couple of thousand years of history, some fabulous old buildings and a load of fat people getting in my way. Some things are meant to be, though. I walked in to the square and saw a pub called The George. They had a sign on the window saying "New comedy show starting - local comics apply within". I went in and told them I wasn't a local comic. They booked me anyway. On the way back to the car I saw a "Subway", got a footlong and crashed through the 500 point mark. One free sub coming my way. Nice. I also saw a pub called The Fox offering real ale. I fancied trying a half of the local poison but it was off. I left, disappointed. Oswestry is the home of the bloke who established Yale University in Connecticut, USA. I think he would be very proud of his home town. It has successfully repelled The Welsh Hordes for centuries.

Back on the road - surely no more fun to be had. WRONG. A few miles out of Oswestry I picked up a sign for Wem. How can you not want to go to Wem? obviously this detour wast justified. I got a bit excited. I took a hump back bridge a little too fast and all four wheels left the tarmac. I WAS FLYING TO WEM. No matter - I had time on my side and just as Forest went a goal up against Cardiff City on their way to their first win in the Welsh capital since 1976, I drove past a sign saying "Welcome to Wem - home of the Eckford Sweet Pea" and spotted another pub called The Fox. Surely they would have a local Shropshire ale? Wrong again. They did have the friendliest Landlord and lady in History though and within five minutes of talking to them they'd offered me a gig! This was silly. I'd got two gigs in two towns without bloody trying. "By the end of this journey" (I said to them) "I'll probably have a tour of Shropshire". They offered to help plan it, I called my (equally random) comedy mate Silky and within minutes we had devised a plan to gig in places with silly names in Shropshire next Spring, titling the tour "Pauly & Silky are all about Salop". It;'s going to be beautiful.

It was a shame to leave Salop but I inevitably had to traverse Cheshire and the Vale Royale before hitting the M6 Northbound and stopping at Charnock Richard services (My favourite services, not least for its name) just long enough to take a call from a guy called Alex Mulholland who runs The Soho Comedy Club in Leicester Square, London. He was calling to confirm me for that evening. I was in Lancaster. I had, how you say? screwed up massively. He was pretty good about it and said he would get a replacement. I'll let you know if I ever get a gig there again. It'll be my own stupid fault if I don't. I don't remember this ever happening before. Anyway I didn't have time to stew on it so I hot footed up to Lancaster, arriving dead on seven, parking up, entering the Dalton Rooms, being horrified by the front bar, being ushered into the back bar... and loving the place. Great room, great crowd, great sound - could use better lighting but I'm not complaining. The staff were nice, the gig was great and I was looking at a good return for the weekend. Two headlining shows, two good gigs. Driving home was a pleasure - all three and a half hours of it - other than the usual disgusting trick on the M6 at the weekend which involves closing junctions 10 to 8 so everyone has to spend £3.50 to take the M6 toll road or face a traffic jam at 1am. I took the former. I collapsed into my sack around 3am.

My phone rang at 1pm the next day. It was my mother reminding me that she was cooking lunch. Now I might have messed up a gig in London's prestigious Leicester Square but I was not about to bugger up roast pork round the corner, so I got up.

Lunch dealt with and an afternoon largely spent recovering from what had ended up being almost ten hours in and out of the car the day before and I was ready to embark on my last gig of the weekend - a new show that I was organising myself in Biggleswade. Biggleswade is a curiously-named enough place to be more at home in Salop. It's also the home of The Rose pub. This is the residence of Landlord & Landlady Eammon and Sarah. They are two of the most laid back people I have ever met. They were frantic with worry when I got there, Eammon particularly. I found it all hilarious, we did the show, they packed it out, the audience were great, both the acts did great sets and I drove the short distance home with a real spring in my accelerator.

I checked Facebook when I got in. Eammon's nerves had been steadied with extreme beer consumption. This translated into him falling backwards out of an upstairs window on to a flat roof shortly after the pub shut. This translated into Sarah having to sort him out and patch him up before he fell asleep on a dog bed with a dachshund for a pillow. The rest of the night was spent vomiting and talking bollocks to the poor girl. In the morning he remembered nothing. He's a man after my own heart. I'm staying over next time. I'm not missing that.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Is everyone in Cambridge an idiot?

Comedians around the world dream of performing in London. That's because they've never played it. There are obviously exceptions to the rule but most shows in the big smoke are badly organised, insufficiently publicised, poorly attended, terribly paid and something odd normally happens on the way to them, from them or at them to leave you wishing you'd never left the house in the first place.

Last night I made a rare sojourn to The Capital at the behest of my friends Verity and Harriet. London Bridge to be precise and a pub just around the corner from the tube station. It's in a beautiful old Victorian yard full of piss, drunk yuppies, ne'erdo-wells and labourers who filled the bar downstairs. The gig however, was upstairs and was largely empty other than the acts performing (all of whom seemed to have musical instruments of some sort), the aforementioned organisers, a few "Friends of..." and three drunk thugs who had been dragged up there thinking it was a burlesque night. I was booked to headline.

I went on first.

None of the other acts fancied going on first because it looked hard. I saw an opportunity to leave very early so took it. Harriet (compering) opened up with a show tune from Chicago. I really wasn't expecting that. Then she had a chat with the thugs and to be fair to them, they were all rather jolly. At one point she said "The reason there aren't many people here is we haven't promoted it". A startling admission but this kind of honesty is quite endearing and she did a good job of warming the crowd up (in her own special way) and put me on to general confusion by telling them they had to give me a big cheer because I had come "All the way from Hertfordshire".

Anyway they did, it went all right (All things considering) and I sat back down expecting a break so I could pack my stuff up and go. No chance. the next act wanted to go on straight away while they were "warmed up" so I had to wait another twenty minutes. Harriet then called the break but told me I couldn't leave because I had to stay to watch her "short film". I acquiesced (I had my eye on the 11.15pm from Kings Cross (first stop Letchworth) as I had time. Well it's quite a good film but was utterly inappropriate for a comedy show and the laptop it was on shut itself down as she was about to start it so she put on another couple of acts instead: A guy called Al who sings odd songs on a banjo and then two generously proportioned ladies who got up and did five minutes of punk rock Pam Ayres-style poetry that was largely disregarded by the flagging (and tiny) audience. The laptop got re-booted, the film aired and Harriet did a Q&A afterwards that I thought she might have regretted as the jolly thugs said to her that it had really freaked them out and they didn't like it.

No-one was expecting that.

She then told a fantastically dirty joke about The Queen & Princess Margaret and then I buggered off. A short trip back to Kings Cross was followed by a fifteen minute wait for the "fast" train back to Letchworth which then crawled to Alexandra Palace before finally building up the proverbial head of steam and taking the expected twenty five minutes about half an hour after it should have done. This was the Cambridge train I thought I was getting the other morning. This meant I was surrounded by people returning to Cambridge after a night out. This included The Cambridge University Squash Racquets Club (Or at least members of) - an amalgam of English, Scottish, Southern Irish and Americans (Are they offering sports scholarships at the expense of intelligence? Surely not). The entire carriage was regaled with their opinions on the world, government, sport, America, the British Class System, class-less Ireland, the "You can be anything you want to be" United States (Shame you wanted to be a dickhead, mate) with a mind-boggling lack of thought or appreciation for the people around them. The tit next to me kept standing up to make his point. His point was always dreadful. He would then sit down again when even his moronic mates disagreed with him. Then he would stand up again, gesticulating to anyone in his line of vision and telling them repeatedly that he "really should be in the first team and he only lost 3 - 0 to Phil because he'd spent most of the summer travelling and hadn't played for three months and anyway Phil may well be an excellent player in Cambridge but outside of Cambridge he's nothing more than average and can't operate against a slow game - that's how Claire beat him: I mean - I know she's the captain of the ladies first'-s but she's still, well, a girl".

The train stopped in Letchworth just as he was telling people that Britain was also, like the US, becoming a meritocracy. He had one of those God-awful Cambridge college scarves on, was wearing his C.U.S.R.C. shirt with no shortage of pride (it had taken me a while to realise what the "R" was), talked with an appalling plum in his voice, shook his head a lot and had those "I'm right" eyes that only belong to the landed classes. I got off and let the doors close behind me as the train chugged away to return these fools to their illustrious seat of learning.

Oh and I got a cab home and it was the same very odd driver who had taken me the other day. Enormously fat, enormously angry, enormously polite and this time told me a truly fascinating story about how he had gone down "the club" with two quid and amassed a small fortune of nearly nine pounds in 10p pieces by the end of the night. Then he was overcome with a £20 win on a fruit machine, to such an extent that he let his mate have the fare to Enfield because he had "Already had a great night". If he had been on the train with me he would have murdered the Cambrige University Squash Racquets Club and then he would have eaten them raw and called it "Fine Dining".

Monday, 15 November 2010

Three more reasons why I shouldn't be allowed near cats, trains or Essex.

Here are three vignettes to make you feel better about yourself because you are not me:

1. I flew home from Bermuda last Tuesday night and got in to Gatwick about 6am on Wednesday morning. I had a return ticket to Luton but it was off-peak so I was faced with waiting until 10am to use it or to upgrade it. The guy in the ticket office told me it would cost £24.50 to make it valid. My original (return) ticket was only £19.50 so I refused, on principle, particularly as once I got to Luton I would probably have to get a cab home to Letchworth anyway which would be another £20 in all likelihood. I declined the offer and sauntered over to the ticket machine where I formulated a cunning plan. An "any  time" single to St. Pancras was only £8.50. This was a curious variant I was not expecting, but an appealing one. I could walk the short distance from St. Pancras to Kings Cross and hop on a train to Letchworth. I procured a ticket for £12.40 and jumped onto the 8.15am Cambridge Train, congratulating myself on saving about four quid on tickets and remove the necessity for a twenty quid cab. It was even a fast train to Cambridge - very fast, as it turns out. It didn't stop anywhere, let alone Letchworth - it just went straight to Cambridge.

2. My comedy shows in Hitchin & Letchworth were this weekend and on Friday night I went to the trouble of getting my excellent friend Tim to come down and film me singing Breachwood Green with the audience so we could finally get a clip of it on to Youtube. Obviously the audience were ridiculously excited about this and sang their little hearts out throughout. Sadly, however, the sound man had lost the decent mic so it sounded really muffly and I forgot an entire verse. We're going to put it up on there anyway and try again next month. On Saturday night I repeated the feat in Letchworth, again in the excellent company of Dan Evans and Simon Munnery, who were both terrific.

Simon Munnery in action on Saturday night...
After the show we had the usual drinks in the Arena tavern and then me and this bloke Sam came back to mine to talk about his dubious parentage and get drunk on "Dark & Stormy"s, Paul-style. The downstairs' cat had been locked out again and (as usual) was very pleased to see me. We let him in and he settled on the couch, seemingly for the night. Sam left at Godknowsoclock and I couldn't bear to throw the cat out into the cold so I got him a little ramekin of milk (they're so much more civilised than saucers) and even (in my drunken state) attempted to fashion him a litter tray out of the tray I normally eat my TV dinners off and some cornflakes (I didn't have any muesli). I went to bed and woke up several hours later with a cat on my face. Once I had realised where I was, I let him out onto the landing and fell back to sleep. I rose at midday and strolled into the lounge where I was hit by a vomit-inducing smell the like of which I have never even created myself. The cat had repaid my generosity by doing a huge shit behind my telly and pissing all over my bank statements.

Here's the little bastard trying to grab my camera strap as I kneel down to take his photo
3. Last night I started a new comedy show at a hotel in Chigwell. I hope to soon also be starting gigs in Camberwick Green and Trumpton. It was ridiculously over-prepared by the rather anal manager (Who is a good mate of mine) and I had little to do before the show. I got a mite concerned about the trouble they were going to for their customers though - they insisted on everyone sitting at tables (I prefer theatre style seating at my events), provided them with pre-show nibbles and the catering manager had even arranged for a half-time supper of chicken dippers and chips. I told him that was a favour too far and was worried that if you give an audience something one month, they then expect it every month. I took pains to tell him the ticket price was for the comedy show but the crowd would subconsciously include everything they had had, thus cheapening the comedy itself. Then if anything was missing at future shows they would complain. Trust me - this is not ridiculous - I've seen it happen before and particularly in Essex. Anyway they were brilliant, the show was masterfully carried out by the terrific John Mann and Ninia Benjamin, I had a great time compering and everyone enjoyed themselves thoroughly. Everyone except the two members of staff who had a fist fight over the chicken dippers in the interval, were dismissed on the spot and ejected from the area behind the bar where the blood from one of their noses was rapidly staining the flooring. I heard one bloke say it had made up for the Haye v Harrison fight he'd paid fourteen quid for the night before. The catering manager confessed afterwards that I quite clearly had been right about the chips but all I kept thinking to myself was that I'd started a gig in a hotel in Essex: Of course there was a fist fight over chicken dippers. 

danger food.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Classic Lions, Scottish birds and whistling tree frogs

“All Inclusive” happily also involves free bus and ferry travel on Bermuda which is a good job because the taxis aren’t cheap and we were staying in the very North Eastern corner of the island, close to the airport. The bus stop was right by our hotel and getting on the number 11 was clearly meant to be as it showed up straight away and we were quickly careering down to the capital, Hamilton, for a bit of a shufty round. The American was feeling decidedly woozy and it was sweet relief when we reached the bus station. I didn’t fancy a lap full of technicolour yawn, particularly as she had only been pan exploring the day before. A short walk down to Front Road later and we were already considering drinks because frankly it was a bit quiet and we needed a livener. A brief touristy walk followed (incorporating photographs of several seemingly important buildings) and we were in The Hogpenny, one of Bermuda’s oldest bars. It is the pub that “Cheers” in Boston was based on (allegedly)

The Hogpenny - where seemingly nobody knows your name...
but I am sad to inform that absolutely nobody knew our names. An uninteresting pint later and we were back on the streets  in search of gifts. Every time I go away I buy my mum a spoon* with the name of the place I’ve been to on it and I had failed to find a single item before we descended on gift shop number five thousand and I clocked a porcelain one at exactly the same time that an old Bermudian man clocked my short-brimmed pork pie hat (Made of 85% bamboo). What happened next is a bit of a blur but he gave me an incredibly high pitched squawk and said something incomprehensible to the effect that he couldn’t believe it was back in fashion. Bemused, I left the shop, spoon in hand, only to run into two more old men on the street who said something similar and in a similarly incomprehensible manner.

Freaked out by the sudden attention, we hot-footed it back to the bus station and got on a number 10 back to Grotto Bay (Where we were staying). The American was feeling much better so after a brief discussion we ended up staying on to St. Georges (The town at the very tip of the island). At one point the bus driver went the wrong way and some of the passengers guffawed. He did not take it well. When we went past Grotto Bay he made a point of looking at us and saying “Grotto Bay”. He hadn’t done that to anyone else. We stayed on to St George’s anyway. It was barely worth it as we didn’t get there until 5pm and everything was closing. It’s a nice enough place though and has an awful lot of signs saying “No Loitering” which would suggest to me that Bermudians are a right bunch of loiterers. We loitered by the bus stop for a bit and then came back to the resort. There’s pretty much only one bus in and out of St Georges and we went back the way we came, missed our stop (No-one said “Grotto Bay”) and got off at The Swizzle Inn, Bermuda’s oldest pub and a right bobby dazzler. There were Canadian flags all over the front of it for no apparent reason but we went in anyway. Canadians don’t perturb US!

We had been in The Swizzle Inn before but this time we got a really cool Glaswegian waitress who informed us that the reason for the flags was the impending arrival of the “Classic Canadian” rugby team, who were playing in the Bermuda Rugby World Classic on Sunday. They were to be playing a Veteran British Lions team called “The Classic Lions”. Nobody tells me anything on this island.Well that was Sunday sorted then. That we had accidentally come to Bermuda the same week as its annual international rugby tournament is of no surprise to me. A few years back a last minute holiday alteration from Fuerteventura to Tunisia, a decision to take a two-day trip into the desert to see Troglodytes (Real ones! They made me bread! I have had Troglodyte bread!), a near civil war in Algeria and a bus driver in cahoots with a cafe/shack on a salt flat at the very edge of The Sahara desert had led to me sipping a cup of mint tea as The Paris-Dakar rally zoomed past me without me realising until it had passed in a cloud of dust. The American lobbed a couple of Pina Coladas down herself and I scooped up a couple of watery Guinnesses, the like of which you only get in and around the American sub-continent, to be sure, to be sure. Then it was back to the hotel for another four-courser, before a return to The Swizzle Inn to meet Dennis the friendly barman. We sat outside because there was an entertainer described as “Crazy” performing comedy songs and gurning in there. I know! That’ll never catch on! The fool! The American drank pina coladas at a quite alarming rate and I sipped amber ale in disgust. I have never approved of heavy drinking...

Sunday showed up and so did the sunshine. This was a relief as we’d had a few cloudy days and my mission to “finally come back from a holiday with a bit of colour this year” had been looking increasingly unlikely. We were by the pool by eleven, I was burnt to a crisp by one and we had consumed lunch and a couple of rum & cokes by two, when we got the bus to Hamilton. I’d seen the Rugby signposted on the route in before so assumed we would get to the same spot.

Quack Quack Oops.

The bus we got on took us on a tour of the South coast of the island and brought us in to Hamilton by the back door so we had to get a cab out to the rugby which was about the same price as it would have been to have got a cab from the hotel and we missed most of the first half of The Classic Lions v The Classic Canadians. We got beers and stood on the front row. An angry old Welsh bloke told me to move as I was “In his line of sight” and I gave him a Paddington stare (Well I’d just had a can of Stella so I was in the mood for a scrap). The second half was great and The Classic Lions romped home 52 – 5. It was an annihilation and to add to the Canadians chagrin the Lions were in particularly fetching pink shirts so they appeared to have been destroyed by a team full of fat, balding old fairies. I tried in vain to explain the rules to The American and eventually settled on just saying “Look, NFL is essentially Rugby for girls”. She then reminded me of the pink shirts and I shut up for a bit. The next game was USA Eagles v South Africa Legends. The Yanks made a surprisingly good account for themselves in the first half and when they went into a 14 – 7 lead she started chanting “U – S – A , U – S – A” under her breath, because she couldn’t stop herself. 

The Classic Lions, skipping to victory
In the second half the Springboks remembered how to play Rugby, however and won by thirty points. Everything was exorbitantly expensive so we left, I said “The bus stop is this way” and we marched headlong into what appeared to be Bermuda’s biggest ghetto. A very friendly young man standing on a bridge told us (Without prompting) that we were walking the wrong way and there wouldn’t be another bus for an hour anyway so we went back to the ground and got a cab. “All Inclusive” had turned into “Very Expensive” incredibly quickly. The taxi driver solved a mystery for us. There is an incredible noise in Bermuda at night. It’s a very distinct and high pitched warble with an odd echo to it and a strangely metallic ring and it scared the bejesus out of us the first time we heard it, particularly as it went on for so long. Anyway – it turns out (Our driver told us) that it’s the noise of tiny little male tree frogs whistling to their women. The little fellas can fit on your thumbnail but by God can those amphibians squeal.

We decided against the opportunity to go and laugh at The Canadians in The Swizzle Inn and instead retired to the safety of our own (free, well, it felt like it was free) bar where we got stuck in to all manner of drinks (including a Baileys coffee, of all things) and saw the bus driver from the day before (Who apparently I had got drunk with on Thursday night and we had both forgotten all about it). He explained that he had gone wrong because his ex-wife (He left her after she stabbed his hands in a kitchen fight) had texted him to say she was on her way to his house. He also said we really freaked him out because he thought we were the people he had got drunk with on Thursday night but when we got out at St. Georges rather than Grotto Bay (Despite his reminder) he decided we just had doppelgangers and then when we had shown up again, well, you get the idea.

The plan on Monday (The last full day of the trip) was to do some proper sightseeing and visit the huge swathes of the island we had until then successfully avoided. The weather was however completely pants and Bermuda had turned into Brrrr-muda so we stayed around the hotel all day and I read a book that’s a comedic re-working of King Lear with an awful amount of lewd Olde Englishe sayings that I absolutely love. I have never before read so many different euphemisms for semen in such a short space of time, my particular favourite being “Git Fluid”. Well done Christopher Moore for your excellent book "The Fool". We had lunch at the poolside bar (As usual) despite the rain and actually drank tea with it. This was the first time on the trip that the first meal of the day hadn’t been riotously boozy but we just weren’t in the mood.

I rather childishly decided that my last meal in “The Hib” should involve everything that was most expensive on the menu. The justification for this was that I had failed to make breakfast even once and so felt I was “owed” on the all-inclusive deal. Hence I had a Caesar Salad with shrimp for starters, some crab cakes for an appetiser and then an artisan loin of lamb with potato rosti, wild mushrooms and asparagus tips for my entree. This was washed down with a decent Cabernet Sauvignon and followed by chocolate layer cake,  a Remy Martin and an espresso. Then we piled into the bar and got near-mortally leathered with some of the local rowdies from Thursday night. They included: Mackie the sliced up bus-driver, old Petey who insisted on calling the American “Mary” because she was with Peter and Paul (And was old enough to tell me my hat was back in fashion), Dennis who refused to let my drink ever be empty, The Glaswegian waitress from The Swizzle who had showed up “For a late one” and her Russian co-worker, Oxy, who spoke little English really but was very good at smiling. The Glaswegian (Caroline) and I discovered we had mutual friends in the comedy business as a result of her formerly running Blackfriars Comedy Club in the city for five years. Blackfriars was my first ever gig in Scotland (Almost two decades ago). She made a point of reminding me that she was only eight then. Even seemingly-friendly Glaswegian waitresses can turn, it would seem. The only absentee from Thursday had been Rick (Not Nick, Doh!) the opinionated and revolutionary lawyer of significant proportions whose feet were so big he appeared to be wearing clown shoes). I don’t remember going to bed.

*My dad also tried in vain to jump on the spoon buying train but was comically removed after he came back from a golf trip to Northern Ireland with a spoon headed by a “Red Hand Of Ulster” Motif. Every time Mum asked him if he wanted sugar in his tea I would shout “Ulster says NO!” before he had time to reply.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

What am I doing in Bermuda?

It was all so painless. The car journey to Luton railway station was traffic-free, the train to Gatwick was on time, clean and mercifully empty, the transit to the North terminal was immediate, the check-in desk was clear, an extra machine opened up as I approached X-ray and I sailed straight through it. I had time to eat a roast pork dinner (with crackling) in a giant Yorkshire pudding, pick up copies of both The Spectator and The New Statesman and was relaxed enough to not even need my ritualistic Bloody Mary before I got on the aircraft, which was on time. During the flight I enjoyed a small bottle of red wine, a chicken curry, “Inception” (I now understand why every time someone mentions it, someone else will say “It’s all just levels” and snigger to themselves), another glass of red, a roast beef and horseradish mayo sandwich, “Toy Story 3” (I cried at the end – proper tears and no small amount of sobbing – must have weirded out the couple next to me), a consoling cuppa and a smooth landing. It had quite literally flown by. We were even early (about 7pm) which had me thinking I would be at the hotel by half past.

Wrong. So very, very wrong.

They only get about five flights per day into Bermuda’s international airport and this gives their passport control, baggage handling and customs officials plenty of time to kill. They do this by pulling (seemingly) every other passenger to one side and checking their passports, hand luggage, hold baggage, shoe size, temperature, inside leg and wallet. They ask unnecessary questions for no-one possibly other than themselves, enjoy a cup of tea with you, read the leaves, tell you your future, do a 500 piece jigsaw of the sea with you (The trick’s to get the corners first and to belay the temptation to exclaim “But all the pieces are blue!”) go through the first term of GCSE combined science with you and generally do everything but let you into their bloody country. The confusion for me was the customs card I had filled in. I hadn’t declared the tobacco I had bought at duty free in the UK before I left and when the (particularly officious) officer asked if I had any I told him. He made me write it on the card, in kilograms. Well I had bought five 50g pouches, thus a total of 250g or a quarter of a kilogram. Thus, I printed “1/4” in the correct space. He then asked me if I was travelling alone. I replied to the affirmative but then (needlessly) went on to explain that I was meeting my American friend on the island and my vacation was very straightforward but this led him to directly lob me in to the queue of people waiting to be searched. My heart dropped. I’d already been faffing about for an hour and now THIS? As much as anything else, I knew damn well I was well within my entitlements but had managed to suggest to the little Hitler that I was a particularly petty drugs trafficker. I watched the “woman in charge of screwing up packing” going through this guy’s stuff with a fine toothed comb and they were laughing and joking and just taking an age. When he finally got repacked and  left I was ushered forward, scowling.

This was a masterstroke and I would recommend it to anybody planning to visit this beautiful island. Scowl at the officials. They’re not stopping you and going through all your private things to see if you are a criminal, oh no – they’re insanely bored and  just want a chat. She looked at the card and said in a bizarre creole “What dis quarta?” (She had previously been talking normally) and I removed the tobacco from the bag myself. I said “it’s this, THIS!” and shook it at her. I explained that there were five 50g bags adding up to 250gs which made a quarter of a kilo. She replied “I don’t know dat’s a quarta”. I sighed and resigned myself to getting a full and intrusive examination, possibly with rubber gloves, but no – she just dismissed me and effectively told me to piss off. As I walked away she was still muttering to herself about “No quarta” until the next mug reached her and made the mistake of smiling at her. She said with a beautiful, syrupy Bermudian lilt “Hello sir! How are you this evening” and started unzipping his luggage. He was going to be there a while.

I, on the other hand, was already outside and being told off for smoking by the taxis. A cabbie got out of his car to tell me this. I think he just wanted someone to talk to but I was in no mood for an idle natter so moved down the line to where a giant ashtray was. Sated, I returned to the head of the line and got in the front cab. I told the driver my destination. He asked me how my flight had been. I said “Fine until I got here!” and then he told me off for not caring about guns and drug crime and didn’t I know that Bermuda had major problems with trafficking? We set off on the correct side of the road and I took great comfort in that. Bermuda is, after all, technically still a part of The Empire.

It also has major problems checking a guy into a room that already contains his mate who arrived several hours previously from Chicago (This was why I was in Bermuda. My friend had received a huge bonus at work and fancied a vacation, had no-one to go with as all her friends were working so asked me along for the ride. It was all paid for and was an all-inclusive resort so all I had to do was get there. I wouldn’t even need much spending money – perfect for a rather tight traveller who has already been abroad twice this year, after all).

The desk dollies ummed and ahhed about absolutely knack all and I said “Look – just call the room and she’ll explain everything”. They tried. The phone in the room was broken. I called her mobile and everything was eventually resolved. I collapsed on to my side of the (enormous) bed (“No funny stuff”) around 9.30pm. It was Tuesday night.

All inclusive.

Mmm... Say it again... All inclusive.

“All inclusive” equates to “Paul is going to eat and drink like a gibbon for the duration of his stay”.
I had a quick wash, got changed and hit the bar. The next thing I knew it was Friday morning, The American was being sick in the bathroom and I was allegedly new best friends with our bartender, Dennis but was on shakier ground with a (rather corpulent, in fact massive) lawyer called Nick. As my head cleared I also remembered no small amount of sunbathing, Pina Coladas at mid day, a lot of TV watching and a huge amount of food in the ridiculously over-the-top “Hibiscus Lounge” which was the resort’s premier eaterie. Myself and The American had enjoyed nightly four-course meals with the correct wines before retiring to the bar to have this Dennis bloke stuff rum & cokes down our gizzards until either he wanted to go home or we were too drunk to walk uphill. We were always the last to leave. Always.

Entrance to the Hibiscus (I would, by the weekend, shorten it to simply “The Hib”) required relatively formal dress. To this end I had actually brought a pair of sensible shoes my dad had given me when I showed up to go to Nottingham Forest v Grimsby Town in a pair of chucks (As we were going to be in corporate hospitality). He had made a point of telling me they were expensive Italian shoes and had barely been worn. I felt tremendously uncomfortable in them and, being Italian, had re-christened them “Surrender shoes”...

...And where do surrender shoes get worn..?

...On defeat...

This particular little joke-ette had led The American to tell me she would take my words off me and lock them in the cupboard if I didn’t stop messing about with them.
The daily regime of booze, food and glorious intransigence wasn’t broken until Saturday when the weather cracked and we decided to venture out of the encampment and get the bus to Hamilton, the island’s capital. I’ll deal with that (And the rest of the trip) in the next blog, as I think this one’s long enough. I'll leave you with a photo of me waiting for the bus to Hamilton - that way we're both waiting, aren't we?

Monday, 1 November 2010

old men climbing gates, a significant amount of booze and a parking ticket

Ultimately it's all about the parking ticket but I've got the last few days to get through, first.

Last Wednesday I got the train down to Brixton Hill to go for dinner with my comedian friend Alex Marion and his freelance-photographer wife, Monika. The plan was for him to cook dinner while she did a promotional photo shoot with me. Happy accident led me to also be able to meet up with Mike Belgrave beforehand in the Half Moon Pub in Herne Hill so he could interview me for his excellent new video podcast about outsider music. He wanted me to talk about two bands - Alien Sex Fiend and The Cramps.

British Rail was unusually efficient and I got to the Half Moon ridiculously early so there was no option but to sit, wait and drink. By the time Mike arrived I'd already had a pint of Guinness and he had a sufficient thirst on for us to embark on a miniature session. Alex called to say he fancied a pint as well and within half an hour we were all sat outside said boozer quaffing Ale and recording. The whole business bit of the day took twenty minutes and the results will be posted soon, I'm sure. Mike buggered off up to Camden to carry on his video activities, Alex and I downed another pint each and then we walked through Brockwell park to get to his house. It was 7pm.


Brockwell park is locked up on the Brixton side around 7pm.

Hence within three hours of arriving in London I found myself and another forty year old man comically attempting, semi-pissed to straddle eight foot railings in full view of late commuter traffic, pedestrians and a full (stationary) bus of people trying desperately hard not to stare at us. Alex got over all right but I additionally had to semi-strip to do it as I was worried about my long coat snagging and suspending me in mid air. He stifled his guffaws as I dragged myself over them and jumped down. I could have sworn I heard applause from the bus.

Monika had already hit the booze as well and so we joined her in getting stuck in to pre-purchased Tanglefoots and Bishops Fingers before transferring to white wine when they ran out. Their friend John arrived, Alex finished cooking and we ate about 9pm. Monika said there was no way the photoshoot was happening. I think I might have said "What photoshoot?". She put her head on the table about half past nine and fell soundly asleep. We left her there for about fifteen minutes (We were in a heated discussion at that point) before Alex put her to bed. He checked on her about three quarters of an hour later and never re-emerged. This left John and I talking and drinking until around midnight before he left in a cab. I sat in the kitchen grumbling to myself for about twenty minutes and then collapsed into my room (the lounge). There was no duvet. It was cold. I cursed my hosts and tried in vain to go to sleep under my coat. Alex came in during the night and put a duvet on me (they had forgotten before). I didn't notice but did manage to kick it off. I woke up (freezing) about 6.30am and saw it in the corner of the room. I then cursed myself repeatedly. How could I have missed that when I walked in? I finally got a couple of hours restful kip and then they woke me up about eleven with a breakfast of egg, chips and salad.

Monika had what I can only describe as a considerable case of the shakes and made it quite clear that she would be unable to hold a camera for the foreseeable future. We decided to reconvene at a later date but I think we maybe ought to try and take the pictures before we drink the pitchers.

On Friday I was back down that way as I was performing at Banana Cabaret in Balham and it seemed only correct to place Alex and Monika on the guest list. The gig went great, the booze was again flowing and rather than go home (As planned) I ended up in Bar 61 with them in Streatham Hill until a. it had shut and b. we had sunk three bottles of white wine (Well they went so well with the olives) and a couple of "Knob Creeks". I slept on the couch, under a duvet. Progress.

The show had been a great relief as it was the first time I had performed since the previous Saturday when I had enjoyed a quite disastrous time in (D)unstable. Over the week I had actually suffered a minor crisis of confidence and really had needed "A good one" to blow the cobwebs away. It was worth celebrating. Here is the Bedford (Which plays host to Banana Cabaret) lit up in all its glory

The celebrations continued into Saturday as well, albeit in yesterday's clothes. I sat in my own dirt and watched Nottingham Forest lose to Portsmouth via "Final Score" before scoffing fish and chips and heading off back down to The Bedford. On a Saturday they have two shows in two different rooms that run concurrently. I opened the upstairs room and had another beautiful gig before heading downstairs to go on second. The first act was struggling with the audience and actually turned on them a bit, which didn't really warm them to him. He came off to weak applause and minor derision and I was sent out to face the middle-class lions myself. Situations like this go one of two ways - you either follow the previous performer down the chute or you rescue the gig and become a hero. Fortunately, I achieved the latter. Paul 3 Banana Cabaret 0 (The other comedian went straight upstairs and had a tremendous show - he is an excellent comic and must have just misjudged the downstairs room).

The sensible thing was obviously to go home, but no - I had to (nearly) get a third gig (in Clapham junction) to replace an act who was running late but he showed up in the nick of time so I wasn't required but the compere still made a point of calling me from onstage and getting the audience to cheer my offer to step in. This really was the icing on my performing cake and my ego was going through the roof. I'd managed to get a cheer (And applause) at a club I wasn't even at. (D)unstable's memory faded into obscurity and I visited the bars of Balham, got an extra-hour's drinking in when the clocks went back and woke up on the sofa again, relatively early on Sunday morning. Hallowe'en.

A rather more painstaking journey home via British Rail and a very slow train from Kings Cross that the driver kept switching the engine on and off at every station for no reason I could see was followed by a curious taxi back to mine. The driver was outrageously grumpy, very rude, terribly unhappy but principled and extremely generous. He refuses to charge the recognised "Time and a half" on a Sunday as he sees it unfair and chastises other drivers who don't opt to take this same course. This meant the trip came to less than four pounds but I'd have gladly paid the extra to SHUT HIM UP.

A short trip to the Supermarket became a long one as everyone in the entire world had decided to go at the same time and there were actually queues into the car park. I'm not used to going that early on a Sunday (Just after midday) but fancied a roast chicken. I also had to get my mate Limburn a birthday card as we were going out later to celebrate it a day early at the Hallowe'en party at The Victoria pub in Hitchin. To accompany the chicken I bought a carrot, a leek, a head of broccoli and... PURPLE MAJESTY potatoes. To say I was excited would be an understatement. I read about them a couple of weeks ago. They are the latest developed "Superspud" from Scotland and are, indeed, very purple. They also make a delicious fluffy and velvety mash that I made sure I made enough of to cover at least two dinners. I liked them so much I took a photo - here's lunch

After that glory I had a bit of a ponce about, lost another million poker chips on facebook (I'm on the verge of giving up, what with the luck I've been having) and then at 4.30pm made the Hallowe'en Punky! radio which was (I think) really good. It's posted now - have a listen for yourself if you have time. A quick shower and shave later and I was off down to Mr. Limburn's with a minimal fancy dress outfit of a black suit, black shirt, white tie worn backwards to suggest a dog collar, comedy teeth and a quite disturbing plastic mask. We drank some wine and walked down to The Vic.

What a marvelllous night! It was a little quieter than expected because of the phrase I hate more than any other ("It's a school night") but DJ Roch did a glorious job of adding a suitable soundtrack to our fun and it was nice to see another old friend, Buff who stayed the course with us as we quaffed Guinness, then Jack Daniels and diet coke and then, when the randoms had all departed and we were in to "Lock In" mode, a quite huge amount of Cava. Vic the landlady was on great form, quite a few of the regulars were dressed in astonishingly good outfits that led to us not recognising half of them (Limburn's girlfriend Georgie was particularly incognito) and by the time we got home (after 1am) everything was a little wobbly. I retired to an actual bed for the first time in a couple of days with the passing words of Limburn ringing in my ears;

"Get the car moved before 10am or you might get a parking ticket".

He woke me up at 10.34am to let me know that a warden hadn't arrived yet. We had a cup of tea and then the next thing I knew he was screaming out the window at a traffic warden who was putting a ticket on HIS car. This gave me time to say "Keep him talking" leg it downstairs, run past the warden (Who was now shouting back at Limburn that he was only doing his job and that as a resident, Limburn should have been aware of the parking restrictions on his own street), jump in my own car and drive off, shouting "Happy Birthday, mate" out of the window and also swearing at the traffic warden.

There is a bit more to this story but that's the gist of it. Limburn has already called North Herts County Council to inform them that there is a medical emergency and he has had to leave his car on the street outside his house and he hopes he doesn't get a ticket. They have assured him that should it get a ticket it will be noted and he won't have to pay a fine. That this phone call was made approximately 30 minutes after the ticket was issued has not apparently been logged. It is unlikely the two events would be linked by the authorities anyway, as Mr. Limburn is very well spoken on the telephone but for some reason when confronting traffic wardens in his dressing gown and slippers he screams obscenities in a bizarre cockney accent which I have never heard him use before.

Parking ticket (if paid within 14 days) £30.
Limburn's reaction to parking tickets being issued? priceless.

...And finally - more purple majesty, this time enjoyed with fried eggs, toast and a mug of tea a little bit before I wrote this. Please also note brown sauce and the comedy teeth I wore on Hallowe'en:

I'm away for a week now. Enjoy Guy Fawkes Night this Friday - a curious English tradition in which we celebrate the burning of Catholics with bonfire toffee, mini rockets and apple bobbing.