A few months ago a mate of mine called Lee Sycamore asked me if I fancied doing a couple of nights down in Devon, one at his hotel in Holsworthy and the other (the night before) in a hotel in South Molton that he had linked up with so as to offer a "Weekend" for comics.
As agreeable as the financial package was, I was most taken by the offers of "An evening meal", "Free Accommodation" and "Hospitality". Having stayed at Lee's "Old Market Inn" (Camra regional real ale pub of the year 2010) and having only a vague recollection of the last time I had been in the townage (My word for a town that is barely more than a big village) I deduced that "Hospitality" equated free booze.
I also thought that a couple of lazy days in the South West would be the perfect antidote to the previous couple of week's madness in Bedlamburgh. How wrong I was.
My first mistake was to invite David Whitney and Robbie Bonham to come down with me, thus allowing Lee to sell the show as "An Englishman, Irishman and Scotsman...". The former has already renounced his Scottish heritage in protest at being told off by Scotsman for not sounding Scottish. The latter renounced his Irish heritage eight years ago when he stopped drinking. My second mistake was to tell them that I would drive them both there and back. Other mistakes would follow over the weekend but would not detract from its overall joy.
Robbie and I set off about midday on Friday (He was staying locally in some sort of internet caffy) and hit both horrendous and pointless traffic on the M25. We had agreed to pick up Whitney in Fleet (Where his mother lives) and I estimated a 1.30pm rendezvous. No chance. It took two hours to get around the M25 (About thirty miles) and then I managed to miss the turning for Fleet and had to come off at Hook and retrace my steps somewhat. This added on a further twenty minutes.
Twenty crucial minutes.
Oh by the way, if you are reading this from overseas, yes - I know - but Fleet and Hook are real places.
We drove straight past Dave and parked up at the station, despite the fact he had been standing in the middle of a roundabout waving at us. I was too busy looking out for David Whitney to pay any particular attention to a rather stout simpleton waving at people from the middle of a roundabout. I'm not a complete idiot.
Anyway, Dave located us and Robbie demonstrated no shortage of enthusiasm when we told him we would drive past Stonehenge. We then pondered over an old Eddie Izzard routine involving "Strawhenge" and Woodhenge" that had been destroyed by a fictitious Big Bad Wolf. This routine was obviously pre- the discovery of an actual woodhenge. That we then saw some hay bales stacked in a Stonehenge style was surely pure coincidence but it did lead to me remarking that it was now only a matter of time before we wasted thirty years on archeologists looking in vain for the remains of a giant wolf in the Hampshire/Wiltshire area.
The rest of the journey was terrible. My twenty minute mistake left us lagging behind two crashes and roadworks down the A303 where we spent long periods not moving at all. We stopped off at services between Yeovil and Taunton and were subjected to a wasp attack that looked like something out of a cartoon. Dave got possibly the worst cheese and bacon pastry anyone has ever seen. smelt or tasted. The weather was uncomfortably hot and sticky, the drive tiring and the music patchy (A 5-CD "Alternative" collection that wasn't very alternative at all). Dave was also annoying me with his blackberry (I didn't need directions) but we all put that down to the heat.
The George Hotel in South Molton is lovely. We were checked into our rooms by the lovely Kathy and sat in the restaurant awaiting our evening meal within minutes. We had three lamb shanks. Dave and I had a couple of pints and then shared a bottle of red, despite his "Pre-show" protestations. It was robust. The following couple of hours saw a not particularly easy (but not unenjoyable) gig in front of fifty rather well-to-do and slightly more mature than average Devonians. I missed the majority of the second half because I nipped across the road to "The Coaching Inn" for a whiskey and a surprising conversation with a couple from Mansfield who ran it. After the show we spent a couple of hours signing posters and getting bought pints of Tribute by South Motlon's great and good. Needless to say, I missed breakfast.
A slightly fractious forty minute drive further west to Holsworthy (Blackberry versus Eyesight - we'll call it a draw) was lightened by our arrival at The Old Market Inn. Lee had got the (excellent) rooms ready, bags were unloaded and I got stuck in to a pint of "Proper 'Ansome", a truly wonderful local brew that would become my companion for the day. Lee brought back a few memories of my last visit - apparently I was remembered in the town for being rather drunk at the end of the show and being far the funnier for it. To celebrate he had very kindly got a bottle of the very same "Walter Hicks" 70% rum that had so immobilised me on my previous visit and placed it on a table on the stage on a tray with two shot glasses. I swore at him.
A steak & ale pie later and the comedy caravan headed out to Holsworthy's very own factory outlet store. Dave was expecting a TK Maxx, Robbie was on the lookout for more ties. We split up on entry and after several minutes perusing the CDs I wandered over to the hammers from where I spied the shoe section - my gaze had been drawn to a tan pair of doc-souled, brogue-patterned chelsea boots that said only one thing to me.
If there has ever been a shoe more suited to the man then I'm yet to see it. I searched the store in vain looking for him before finally going over to the shoes in question. Of course he was standing by them the whole time, agonising only over how many pairs to buy. I christened them "The Whitneys". I bought a polo shirt with "Kooga" written on the sleeve, a union jack mug and two blues compilation CDs. Whitney bought the Whitneys and a shirt, Robbie was left perusing ties. A brisk stroll around the town insulting local shop keepers and flirting with their male staff (turns out one pint of "Proper 'Ansome" and I'm anybodies) before a return to the Inn for a Siesta. I watched The Time Machine then went down to sound check, my mind buzzing with Morlocks and Eloi. There were a lot more of them in the front bar. This gig was going to be fun.
It was. Flirty women on the front row, a heckly old Welsh bloke towards the back and half a dozen people from Stevenage stage left. Everyone had a very good gig indeed. The room is perfect for comedy. Whitney christened his Whitneys by tripping up on the way on to the stage. Everyone (Except Robbie) got ridiculously drunk. At the end of the night I dragged Lee on stage to down a Walter Hicks with me, seeing as he'd bought the bottle just to wind me up. Dave took this as an opportunity to rejoin the end-of-show wrap party taking place on stage by pouring a shot for himself (And me) so I had to do another. It tastes like gone-off diesel. He then kept pouring, handing shots to the front row (I can't help thinking he may have had an ulterior motive) before I pointed out that Walter Hicks retails at over £30 a bottle and we had done half of it. Robbie sat, bemused and no doubt thanking his lucky stars that he stopped drinking all those years ago. We made everyone salute the Whitneys and wrapped it all up.
The unofficial post-show party mainly involved drunk women walking up to us and telling us we were brilliant before having arguments with their (rightly) put-out boyfriends/husbands/chaperones who clearly wanted to drag them away from us.
Then Lee brought out the Walter Hicks again.
He would like my mate Steve.
Steve likes nothing more than to get me drunk on things I've never heard of/know I shouldn't have/are generally bad for me. It turns out Lee has a similar fetish. By 1.30am I was getting those all-too-familiar Hicks-induced wobbles and staggered up to Room Two (the same room I had stayed in before - Lee figured (rightly) that I stood a fighting chance of finding it having been there before). Dave headed for room one where he may or may not have enjoyed some additional Devonshire hospitality. Robbie retired to room three to (no doubt) go on facebook until 6am.
Obviously I missed breakfast.
We set off way before twelve into the drizzle of a return journey. There were some minor Blackberry v Road sign skirmishes (Which I this time won) and we got hungry all the way to Ottery St. Mary. I've always wanted to visit Ottery St. Mary. I always felt it should be twinned with "Ferrety St. Germain" or "Weasly St. Louis". It's not. It does however offer an Otter sanctuary and a pub called "The Otter Inn" which has an "Otter Carvery". Sadly not the meat in question, just the name of it. Dave and I had carveries piled high like the mashed potato mountain in Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. Robbie had got up for breakfast so wasn't hungry. I did my otter dance in the car park (I didn't know I had one until then) and we got back on the road, not stopping again until way after Stonehenge (Which we did a detour off the A303 to both avoid a traffic jam and so Robbie could see it close up). When we did stop I enjoyed a "Bounty" drink (A taste of liquid paradise) that refreshed in the short term but over time sat uncomfortably on top of my vast carvery. Dave was dropped off around 4.15pm, Robbie just after 5.30pm and I was home before six. My calves hurt, my stomach ached but everything else was miraculously fine.
Oh and one last thing. Lee did one of the funniest posters I have ever featured on as promotion for his gig, all three of us wanted a copy and we all forgot to take one. Never mind. Despite outward appearances and inward habits, we are all adults.