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.

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