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.