Wednesday, 30 March 2011

The Gherkin, Caviar and a man playing snooker in his socks

It's been a funny old last seven days, that I think is probably best to recount as a "Dear Diary", if only so I do it in the right order. Prepare for a rollercoaster of extreme ups and downs, albeit in a rather typically provincial manner...

Wednesday March 23rd
Today was one of no little excitement. I was walking to the station in bright sunshine by 12.30pm as I was on my way to that bloody London. I had a 2pm appointment with a guy called Paul who organises events at The Relentless garage at Highbury Corner. I was there by 1.45pm. Train from Letchworth to Finsbury Park, tube one stop to Highbury & Islington and a quick half in "The Famous Cock" (A pub I hoped could have been named after me) was followed by an interesting chat in the small front bar of the venue. Paul and I agreed that it was a lovely little comedy room and I could envisage running a monthly Monday show there which may or may not begin in September - I'll let you know as soon as I do myself. Then I nipped over to Camden in search of some new Engineers Boots. My search was in vain - I did find one pair but the assistant said they only had them in a "Seven". Requiring a "Nine", I prevented myself from saying out loud that yes I would just take them and cut my toes off. I eventually setlled on a pair of bike boots (with free dubbin) that I wore in over the rest of the day, at all times feeling like I was in high heels. I met up briefly with punk rockers Johnny and Helen at their printing place and the former told me a story about losing a van that made my own recent car trouble seem a minor irritation. Then it was a case of getting to Liverpool Street for 6pm as I had arranged to be shown around The Gherkin by my friend who works there. It's amazing.

I have now been to the top of this and it's ace
We then headed off for a quick pint and then a meal in "L'entrecote" - a London offshoot of a famous French restaurant that only offers one menu - green sald with walnuts in a mustard sauce followed by two lots of steak and chips. It was delicious, the wine was terrific and on the journey home I mused on having had a far more expensive day than I could really afford in a city I know so little about, despite my proximity to it. I had a couple of drinks in La Concha (A funny little tapas place at Letchworth Station) when I got off the train and (after walking home) slept heavily.

Thursday March 24th
Today was more like the kind of day I normally have. My car wouldn't start so I dropped the keys down to the garage and asked them to fix it asap. They said they couldn't do anything before Monday. That is not asap. I walked back in resignation, noticing in the process that my feet hurt, obviously from the new bike boots. I don't know how you girls do it... I got the train later on to Hitchin to nip and see Felix the hairdresser before heading down to The Vic for "Pie Night" around 7pm. I sat at a table alone, ordered a pint of IPA and a steak & ale pie. It came to under a tenner all-in and was delicious. This is the kind of budget I can afford. Chats with a couple of mates were followed by a short walk to Club 85 where I was down to watch the "Rhythms Of The World" battle of the bands. A young beat combo called "Monaco Bears" won it, deservedly. Their competition was a load of middle-aged men doing "World Music" and a young guy rapping over backing tapes. The result came as little surprise to anyone, really. I had a quick chat with Nick (Father of The 'Bears bass player) about how Rhythms Of The World had never asked me to put any comedy on for them and decided it was because they never had any budget for "Local People" and that I quite clearly wouldn't work for nothing. I was on the train back to Letchworth and back in La Concha by 10.30pm, had another drink by myself and then hit The Tavern, where I bumped into the owner of La Concha (Who fancied a change of scenery) and we got battered on red wine in a remarkably short space of time. I wobbled home, collapsed in to bed and slept heavily.

Friday March 25th
All I had to do today was get to a gig in Bedford by 8pm. I'd had to borrow my mum's car for the weekend and unlike my own, it started first time. The gig was fine, I suppose. All the acts had OK times, the audience appeared to enjoy themselves and everything went without a hitch, really. It just wasn't memorable. I was in the car again by half eleven and on my way to Steve's pub in Luton for a few "late ones". I had pilfered several fondant fancies

Ria Lina (one of the acts) bit into one of these at the gig and put it down again , refusing to have it anywhere near her ever again. It was her first. It will be her last. "My God!" she said, "That's sweet". I pointed out to her that fondant fancies have more sugar in them than sugar.
And planned to give them out to the assorted ne'erdowells in the pub. There were only two, who left shortly after I arrived, one of whom curiously refused to eat his there, preferring to take it home, still wrapped up in the toilet roll I had brought it in. The wrapping of mini chocolate swiss rolls in toilet paper (there was nothing else to hand) was a mistake as unwrapping them did appear to be akin to handing over fresh poos to people. Down to three (Steve, myself and Lisa the bar queen), we drank socially and listened to music. I reminded them that I had been promised food. Lisa disappeared into the kitchen, emerging around hald an hour later with a delicious and simple pasta with garlic, parsley, chillies and... caviar! Not only was there caviar, there was also a little dollop of concentrated salmon roe placed delicately on top that looked a bit like marmalade. Washed down with raspberry shots and Guinness, this was possibly the most decadent thing occurring in a residential area of the rather run-down town at that time of the morning. The galoots in the street fighting over half-dropped kebabs would not have understood. I slept heavily, as did the cat on my chest.

Salmon roe - after exclaiming "Blimey that's salty!" through rapidly vanishing lips I was informed by Steve and Lisa that salmon roe has more salt in it than salt.

Saturday March 26th
I woke up around 1pm thinking my lungs had caved in, startling the cat in the process. I had a quick coffee with Steve and then was back on the road, this time an altogether longer journey to Lancaster via Blackpool as I was picking up my friend Mia in Cleveleys, a rather bizarre town between the latter and Fleetwood. I listened to England beat Wales in a European Championship qualifier on the way up in what I can only describe as a rather boring formality. Wales were rubbish, quite frankly, but England lost interest after half time and just cantered to an easy 2-0 win. My own journey was equally smooth until I reached Cleveleys and expertly overshot it, only realising what I had done when I saw the sign saying "Welcome To Lancashire" as I entered Fleetwood. When I did finally get to Mia's I asked her why the sign was there as I had been in Lancs for miles before that. She said simply "People in Fleetwood are simple - it reminds them where they are".

Mia has inherited two massive black dogs since I last saw her. One barks constantly at the slightest noise. The other tries to mount anything that moves and if it doesn't let it, has a go at the sofa instead. There is a third deadly assassin in this triumvirate in the shape of a little black cat called "Minicat". I made a mental note to keep my door shut later. I didn't want another near-death experience. We took the back road up to Lancaster, well, the A588, which has no right to be called an A road. It's older name is "Head Dyke Lane" and it goes through a place called "Scronkey". Why anyone could ever have named these two things in such a way is beyond me but if I lived there I fear I would be in a permanent state of chuckles. Fortunately so were the audience at the gig who laughed heartily throughout the most enjoyable set I've done in a while.

We drove back via everywhere in search of food, eventually setlling on a KFC back in Cleveleys, which we took home. Mia's flat mate Michelle was up when we got in, as were the three ninjas. They all took particular interest in my food and as the two dogs sat patiently with their heads inches from my plate and their eyes pleading "But we've never eaten before!", minicat came over my shoulder for a surprise assault and nicked a chip. I was impressed. Michelle dressed and drove us to The Royal. Now I've been in there before. It is a brilliantly unlikely pub full of mad people dancing to loud music, friendly (if rather hard looking) bar staff and on this occasion, a man playing snooker in his socks. Michelle asked me to go and find out why he was playing snooker in his socks. I explained that IF YOU WALK INTO A PUB LATE AT NIGHT AND THERE IS A FIGHT THREATENING TO BREAK OUT BY THE FRONT DOOR, A COUPLE PRACTICALLY HAVING SEX ON THE BAR AND A BAND WEARING BLACK MAKE UP DOING OASIS NUMBERS YOU DO NOT APPROACH A MAN PLAYING SNOOKER AND ASK HIM WHY HE IS NOT WEARING ANY SHOES. Reprimanded, she bit her lip and we carried on drinking. The animals were quiet when we got in, we drank a little more and then I went to bed, being careful to close the door behind me. I slept soundly.

Sunday March 27th
Census Day. I didn't get up until 2pm since the clocks had gone forward an hour in the night without telling me. Mia made me one of her famous BLTs for lunch which I ate with two dogs inches from it and a cat over my shoulder waiting to strike. It was nervy, but enjoyable. We set out for the real reason I was in the area about 3.30pm but you'll have to look here for that as I'm trying not to confuse my new "Unofficial Openings" blog with this one. It won't take long and is a lot shorter than what I get into on here. I got back to Letchworth around 8.30pm and did something I can't remember before dropping the car back at mum's. I went to bed early and read a book until I fell asleep in the early hours. I slept far more soundly than I intended to.

Monday March 28th
I didn't get around to going to the garage about my car until 4pm by which time they had fitted a new battery at my request. I picked up the keys, went to start it and it wouldn't. Clearly not the battery then. I left it with them and walked  back to the flat utterly demoralised and very stubbornly still demotorised. The news that I had got two Edinburgh shows this August had been compounded in that I needed to get their details into the Fringe Programme by Wednesday night to qualify for discount (the discounted price for two shows is £590 just to be listed which gives you some idea of how expensive Edinburgh can get). I gave myself Wednesday night to do it as I was still hoping to go to the Hampshire & Wiltshire Jesters, street entertainers and comedians late late Christmas Dinner at a golf centre between Southampton and Salisbury called Sandy Balls. I was sold on the name. I prayed for the car to be ready by Tuesday lunchtime. Tony and I made the latest edition of Punky! Radio and went to bed early to finish a particularly gory book I was reading called "Death's Head". I slept terribly and had dreams about former England Fly Half  Stuart Barnes taking the piss out of my guitar playing and Justin Lee Collins being assassinated by Libyan terrorists. Analyse that.

Tuesday March 29th
The garage called to say I wouldn't have my car back until Thursday. This put a right spanner in the works and also cancelled my Sandy Balls, more's the pity. I apologised to all concerned and remembered to do The Census form. I walked to the station, posted it and got the train to Hitchin to get a beard trim and do a bit of shopping. Fun with Felix ensued, as did a meeting up with The Rochforts who are continuing to produce stylish and excellent bags for the world's fashionistas.

These are the bags that have made Helen Rochfort famous in the fashion world. She is now doing a giant version of them. I asked her if it was for giant ladies to wear as they were photographed from a distance so they would look like normal sized people. She said "No it's so you can get more stuff in" 
I nipped in The Vic for a pint of some new excellent real ale they're hawking that I can't remember the name of, walked directly onto a train back home and was in by six to begin the Edinburgh Fringe applications that only took about 137 goes to get right. I don't expect this week to be any less eventful, but I'll try and keep it down to bite-sized pieces!

PS. Today (Wednesday) I can report that England v Ghana was great last night and Rhythms Of The World phoned me up this morning to ask me to put some comedy on for them this July for a total budget of 0p. I told them I would be in Spain that weekend.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Blackwood - Bath - Bristol - Bath - Brrrrmmmmmm!

Very few comedians can say they've played Blackwood in South Wales three times. Even fewer of them can say that in addition to that, they have drunk vodka out of a bush. I think if you totted up all the comedians who had ever played Blackwood in South Wales three times and ticked them off against all the comedians who have ever drunk vodka out of a bush you would be left with a list of one. I would be on it.

My return trip to the gig at the Maes Manor Hotel was a joy. The albeit long drive there was relatively painless and I arrived in under four hours (including a lengthy stop at Leigh Delamere services). It also included two separate phone calls asking me to do additional gigs to the ones I had planned (I was in Bath the next night) to the effect that I would now be doubling the Bath gig with one in Bristol and also hanging around an extra day to do the other gig in Bath on the Sunday. I was happy with the extra work and more importantly, the extra cash.

My fun began on check in. The receptionist simply handed me a key and said "Up the stairs - it is room ten it is" in that peculiar way of talking the people of the valleys have (I love it by the way). I was refreshed, downstairs and on the Caffreys by 7.30pm, sound checked and awaiting the arrival of the other comics. I told Steve the DJ of my plans to visit Caerphilly Castle the following day and he gave me a painstaking and detailed map, roundabout by roundabout, of how to get there, which I was very thankful for. All the acts did well and I befriended an all girl 30th birthday party (My favourite kind) who were effectively my drinking buddies for the night.

At the end of the show a young drunkard approached me outside and said to me "Right - be a man and come and drink some vodka with me" before dragging me over to a bush opposite the hotel entrance. He dropped to his knees and began ferreting around the foliage rather clumsily in front of a number of amused onlookers. He pulled out a bottle of spirit from its depths and said

"Aha! Here we go! Ah - no - wrong bottle"

and returned said flagon to its leafy depths. Further probing revealed the bottle he was after (Christ knows how many other people had secreted their illicit booze in the privet) and he withdrew a half bottle of Smirnoff that was quickly drawn into a couple of glasses, one of which was handed to me with the simple demand "neck it". Not one to turn down a free drink, even if it had come out of a bush, I did just that.

I awoke the next morning relatively early and vaguely aware of where I was (No small relief after recent wakings-up) and was out of the hotel by half eleven, map in hand and with an appointment with Blackwood Asda as the extra day in the area meant I would have to buy pants and socks (i'm not a complete animal). Pants and socks procured I set off for Caerphilly with the map by my side. On arrival in Pontypool I began to doubt Steve the DJ's abilities as a cartographer. I stopped in a pub called The Unicorn where lo and behold there was a girl from the birthday party the night before who agreed to be my guide (She had a couple of hours to kill) and so we back tracked through Blackwood and completely the other way to reach Caerphilly not much before 2pm. For what I got up to there, have a look at this. I cannot emphasise enough how completely terrible DJ Steve's directions had been.

Then it was just the small matter of an hour's drive to Bath (Stopping only to take a photo of some balloonists or whatever they're called)

Ballooning is the pastime of the rich and celebratory. Taking photos of it is the pastime of people driving along the A4 between Bristol & Bath who have got time on their hands and a flagrant disregard for their own safety or that of other motorists
To get parked up in The Charlotte Street (long stay) car park and drop down the short walk to Komedia (Best comedy venue in the West & Wales, 2010). I was a little nervous about running times as I knew things would be tight getting to Bristol but everything went to plan, the gig was again lovely and I was in the car by just after half nine, getting to Jesters (One of my favourite gigs in the world) by just before ten. they had started at nine and there had already been a lengthy break. Dave the boss wanted me to sound check quickly but I couldn't as I needed to go to the toilet. He said he couldn't wait (well neither could I) and sound checked my guitar himself as I went about my (much needed) business. I'd had a lamb & squash curry in Bath and. well, it had gone straight through me.

The gig was horrible.

I walked on stage to muted applause, the audience angry that the break had been so long and blaming me for it. The guitar didn't work at first, then when it did, it sounded terrible (dave had unwittingly changed every single available setting on it). Those who were paying attention winced, those who weren't carried on their loud conversations almost oblivious to my presence. A horrible old man at a stag do on the front table told me that I "wasn't funny". I had been on stage less than sixty seconds. I somehow got through the best part of twenty minutes before walking off to the similar muted applause I had walked on to. I got my money and got out of there, shame faced, abashed, broken and feeling very alone - particularly as when I walked out a bloke from another stag do at the back told me to "f*** off". Most of the time comedy is a joy but every once in a while you get a show like that and it makes you think about going back on the bins.

It could have been me.
 I got in the car and looked to the heavens. The moon was HUGE. I know a lot of people hold no truck with the concept of "Full moon fever" but trust me - the people of Bristol were clearly buying into it big style.

I headed back to the unexpected safety of Bath, knocked a couple of drinks back and retired to the flat the other comedians were staying in, except they weren't. They had all got last trains home to London so I finished my book about Corsican international drug smuggglers and fell into a fitful sleep.

Sunday arrived and I enjoyed a late lunch in River Cottage Canteen - Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's Bath outlet and a damn fine place for roast lamb with vegetables I've never heard of  (I know I had lamb the night before but hey - I'm a mutton for punishment). The Bristol nightmare the previous evening had left me drenched in sweat and I couldn't really justify wearing my shirt again so I went in search of another one, eventually tracking down a rather garish yellow Hawaiian number in a sale in BHS for four quid. I also bought a winter hat with ear flaps in the same sale for £3. Add this to the five pairs of socks and three pairs of pants I had got the day before (for a total of £13) and twenty quid had got me a pretty nifty new outfit. I strolled around the city centre enjoying the wonderful architecture and bizarre street entertainment and returned to RCC to kidnap a couple of the bar/waiting staff as I had another "unofficial opening" to do. That idea is really proving to have legs and I'll have more about it in future weeks as plans are afoot for some pretty ridiculous things...

This is a photograph of people in Bath watching an old man on a tightrope play violin. At one point he did it on one leg but got a bit shaky so went back to two - bloody amateur.

Ah Bath - the home of delightful ancient architecture... And the hot sausage company!
I killed time until 7pm, listened to England get thrashed by The Irish at Rugby (yet still win the Six Nations championship because everyone else had been more dreadful more often) and headed up to Porter's Cellar bar for the evening gig. What can I say? Lovely audience, nice bill, lovely acts, lovely atmosphere and I was out of there just after 11pm, home and hosed by 1.30am and in bed half an hour later. My car had been returned to me by the garage I'd put it in to last Wednesday (There was something wrong with it again) and they had very kindly parked it in the wrong allocated space and left me without any keys. That'll come back to bite me.

And finally, one for the ladies...

My twenty quid outfit. Pants & socks of Asda. Shirt and hat of BHS. Baseball boots bought today for £8 in LIDL (They were between the guavas and the unicycles)

Monday, 14 March 2011

A re-opening, an unofficial opening and a Karaoke thing

I was woken up at about ten to ten this morning by the landlord of a pub in Biggleswade. I'd had less than four hours sleep, my eyes hurt and I was a good fifteen miles from home. I'd better fill you in...

Last Friday was the eighteenth anniversary of my comedy club in Hitchin. That I have managed to keep anything going for that long is astounding. Of particular interest is that a man was in the crowd who had been at the very first show. His seventeen year old son was also there. He had also been at the first show, although at the time he was in his mother's womb. She was also present. This means that the first live comedian he ever heard was me. It also means that I have been singing "Breachwood Green" with my audience every month for his entire life. I plan to remind him of that should I ever hear him say "I'm bored". It was a fantastic show and I steadily consumed IPA throughout. Afterwards Steve the friendly landlord very kindly gave Dave the opening act a lift back to mine as he was staying over but had to get up at 5.30am to drive to meet his wife in Stroud. Of course he did. That's what any sane man would do. Steve got confused by a diversion and took Dave via Ickleford, Narnia and Hades. I was in The Vic before he'd got the key in the ignition. There was a joint re-opening and 5th anniversary party in there for invited guests only. I had arranged for me, Tim (The home brewing video editor) and the comedians to go down there. Dave we've already mentioned, Dominic (the last act) had driven home straight after the gig and Tim had never materialised, so I took three gorgeous women who had been at the gig instead. As I walked out of Woodside car park with them a chap at the head of a gang of seven men said "Bloody hell mate - you've done well for yourself - you've got three women with you". I replied "So have you mate - you've got six blokes behind you". Fortunately they all laughed. We got in the pub and within minutes DJ Roch (Hired for the night) abandoned what he was playing and put on "Scorpios" by Adam & The Ants. We have a shared love of its preposterous and grandiose flavour and agree that is just about the campest song there has ever been. Camp song of course means camp dancing! I minced up to him busting some fragrant shapes and a girl leaned over to me and said "He told me you'd do that". I blew her a kiss and prepared for its flourishing denouement, which on this occasion involved me "Vogue-ing" to its brassy ending and getting a minor smattering of disbelieving applause from half a dozen (frankly stunned) regulars. I acknowledged the reception walked up to the bar and was handed a glass of champagne. It was a perfect moment and there was nothing remotely odd about it, all right? They called "Last Orders at around midnight, then again around 12.30am and no-one appeared to take any notice whatsoever. I very rarely appear to go to pubs that don't stay open ridiculously late. I wobbled out of there with blurred vision and a desire for chips.

Saturday night saw me celebrate the fourth anniversary of my Letchworth comedy show. Dave returned from his 310 mile round trip to see the missus around 5pm, we watched football and I made carbonara. We walked down to the gig and began drinking in earnest (He had a missed Friday night to make up for, after all). Dominic was replaced by Markus and the show was again fabulous, marred only by a drunken bloody school teacher who refused to be quiet, shush, put fingers on her lips, stop texting, stop kicking her own bottles over or getting up and disrupting all around her. Of course she did - she's a school teacher and I have noticed that a percentage of them are unable to follow the basic rules that they bark at their pupils each and every day. If one of her students had behaved the way she had in her classroom she'd have sent them to the head master.I was very tempted to cut out that line of engagement and just throw her out the 2nd story window onto the cobbles below. I'd rather perform to a room full of lifers than teachers, quite frankly. After the show a decent percentage of the crowd followed us round to The Tavern where I finally found out why Gus was called Gus, drank fine ale and observed inappropriate hand-holding. One of the talking points of the night was that Mick  was sober and he wasn't very happy about it. My friends Sam & Maria accompanied Dave and I back to the flat where she ate me out of house and home and cheese & beetroot sandwiches. Sam knocked back a stiff "Dark & Stormy" and then remembered he was playing football in the morning. As he left I had visions of him retching in the 18 yard box. Lights out was a reasonable 3.40am and I slept soundly.

Last night was the first heat in my "Lastminutecomedy Club New Comedian Of The Year" competition. it was an absolute joy and normally I would have driven home a very happy man, satisfied that the weekend had been a success, except that I didn't drive home. The Landlord & Landlady had invited me to stay over in their spare room so for a third night running I was on the ale, beginning with London Pride but then graduating to Doom Bar as the evening progressed. Seven of Nine comedians went well, the audience's partial resistance proving futile. I had the previous night devised a new game to keep myself entertained. I plan to occasionally go into town with a big pair of scissors and some ribbon and unofficially open things that are already open. My first spot is WH Smiths in Letchworth on Wednesday at 1.30pm. The beautiful thing about unofficial openings is that you can do them to anything. When I recounted this tale to the audience I pointed to a woman in the crowd and said "Even your legs" and suggested a particularly poor-taste idea that involved her attaching each end of the ribbon to her toes and, well, I 'm sure you get the idea. She laughed, as did the audience and we all moved on. Then in the break she came up to me, partially undid her jeans and pulled up a pair of lacy knickers to reveal that they actually already had red ribbons on them already and wasn't that funny? I said

"Not as funny as when I mention what you've just shown me in a pub beer garden when I go on stage again in a few minutes".

When the show finished I expected the room to empty. It didn't. They had Karaoke and some very mad people sang some very unusual songs. A larger number of drunks were also practically frog marched to the mic to become reluctant three-minute heroes. I was no exception, murdering both "Should I Stay Or Should I Go?" and Bobby Darin's "Mack The Knife". Most people buggered off as in turn they remembered they had work in the morning, The landlord retired to bed and myself and the landlady stayed up until around 5.30am by which point I didn't need to be told one single more time that I ought to go out with her friend. I collapsed in the spare room and we're up to date. feel free to meet me outside Smiths around 1.30pm on Wednesday. I'll be posting photos, I'm sure.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Expensive? Yes. Worthwhile? Yes. Did you get "Eggboar"? YES.

Just a quicky (By my standards) here. Yesterday I met up with my friend Vic in The Vic but not in The Vic, well, yes, in The Vic but only to then go somewhere else. I got to the pub (Which is being refurbished) just before 3pm (As arranged), climbed over an assortment of dusty brickies, sparkies and chippies and fair lolloped upstairs, shouting as I went to say I was there (Things between us being suitably informal - I wasn't hoping to catch her in her knickers). That I nearly caught her in her knickers, however, there is no doubt. The poor girl was clearly not ready so I went in to the lounge and called my agent while she did the unfathomable things women do in bathrooms and at dressing tables. Twenty five minutes later I discovered her sat her office desk "Doing things". It was now twenty past three and hunger overtook reason. She fortunately recognised the hollow look of near starvation in my eyes, put her coat and gloves on (It was a bit parky) and we set off to I knew not where. Obviously Vic knew exactly where we were going but feigned the same lackadaisical approach to the choice of eatery that I had professed. I was merely hungry. She was making a beeline for "La Strada" down Sun Street saying simply "Oh let's just go here - it's just been refurbished".

We ordered a bottle of the house red, some rather green olives and bruschetta with goats cheese and peppers. It all showed up disconcertingly quickly, our waiter appearing to have magicked the olives out of thin air in front of our very eyes. I panicked at his apparent sorcery - this wasn't in the remit of a business lunch, for crying out loud! Vic pointed to the "Bread and olives" counter that was about a yard from us and I relaxed. For our main course she had some sort of gorgonzola pasta bacon thing that was beautifully presented and I took something off the specials board that I couldn't pronounce but was described as "Boar meat wrapped in egg pasta". That's exactly what it was. No trimmings. no sauce to speak of. Nothing. Just furry angry pig mince ravioli. It was eleven quid. There were eleven bits. THAT'S A QUID A FUCKING SQUARE. I know I try not to swear in this blog (unlike in real life) but that was a liberty. It was relatively tasty, but it wasn't eleven quid tasty. I couldn't have justified it if I had thought the chef had raised his own chickens, collected their eggs and then rode out into the forests of Hertfordshire to hunt and capture the boar.

I digress -  we finished the mains and ordered a tiramisu to share for dessert. It appeared almost as quickly as the olives but Vic failed to point out a "Tiramisu island" so I could at least put the arrival of the pudding down to witchcraft, if not the starter. It was bloody lovely and we made it disappear even quicker than it had arrived. We paid up and left. I suggested going for a drink in a number of different establishments that Vic rejected out of hand for one reason or another and so we went where she wanted to go, which was (in my opinion) the over-priced and boring Cafe Rouge. It was overpriced and boring. We finally got around to (briefly) talking about what we had met up to talk about - namely, the possibility of me putting on a burlesque and cabaret night in her (newly refurbished) barn extension thingy in June. Basically, I can. We stayed until 6pm and I dropped her off at Halsey's for some sort of a fund raising meeting and spent the next hour wishing they had been having a fund raising meeting for me as I very quickly dispatched over £50 in the fruit machines of The Hart and The Cock as I idled an hour waiting for my mate Tim to show up for part two of my day. I haven't played a fruit machine for years (I used to be a little addicted to say the least). What appears to have happened in that time is that they've gone up in price and I don't know what I'm doing on them any more. Fortunately Tim arrived before I handed the barman my shirt.

We sped away in his (rather preposterous) white VW Scirocco and headed up to the sink estate where he currently resides, known locally as "Beirut". A curious place to park a sports car but (touch wood) it's come to no harm so far. He had said he couldn't really drink so I had bought a bottle of wine and eight cans of Boddingtons. When we got in to the flat the first thing he offered me was home brew. He clearly was able to drink. The Home Brew was gorgeous (if a little lively) and we got down to the real reason I was in Hitchin - he had been agreeing to edit down some live clips of a gig I did in Southampton before Christmas for at least a month and we had finally got round to being free the same night. We had a right laugh going through them and also talked about a lot of things that I suspect we shouldn't really have talked to each other about.

The booze had clearly loosened our tongues and then the takeaway curry we ordered did the same to our bowels. I normally eat (relatively healthily) at home. The last seven days have been a whirlwind of take aways and restaurants as I have bon viveur ed up to the max like some sort of bearded Lord Byron. At the end of the night I decided to finally save a bit of money and rather than get a cab home I opted to take the twenty minute walk through disused waste ground past burnt out lorries, needles and the homeless to the station to get the customary late night (free) train home. I did - and then got a cab from the station but it was cold, I was tired... and I was going to need the loo very very quickly.

(if you'd like to have a look at any of my youtube videos, they're here: Some clips of me being a bit funny )

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

A curry to die for, a nightclub to die in, a cinema and a distinct lack of receptionists.

If I needed my comedy "career" encapsulated in the space of a long weekend then the one one just gone really did have it all.

On Thursday I drove down to Southend to meet up with my mate Ant at 6pm with a view to having a couple of pints and then going down to the gig (that I was closing the show at) for around 9.30pm. He was an hour and a half late so I met him in a pub called The Trading Rooms where staff and punters alike stared at me unabashed until his arrival. We had a quick drink  (I'd already had a couple of Guinnesses) and went back to his to drop some of my stuff off and for him to get changed. About twenty past eight I got a very concerned (and rather irate) promoter asking me where the bloody hell I was. I said I was down the road and would be there in plenty of time to go on last. He said he had moved the bill and I was now opening. We booked a cab and were there by 8.30pm, by which time the promoter had decided I was closing again and had started the show without me so I had to hang around until the end anyway. The fee was less than I got the first time I ever did a gig in Southend over fifteen years ago. It still left me with more money in my pocket than Ant had so I offered to buy him (And our mate Ben) a curry back at Ben's. Ant was feeling quite hard and ordered a chicken madras. I was feeling harder and ordered a chicken ceylon. Ben was feeling like the hardest man in the world and ordered a vegetable phall. The curry house must have been wetting themselves - add a pilau rice, a garlic naan and some bombay aloo (with popadoms and a pickle tray) and this was clearly a drunk-dialled take away par excellence. It arrived promptly, as did the sweats, a burning sensation in my tongue and throat and the inevitable necessity to knock a can of lager back with it to dull the pain. Ben then suggested we tried his vegetable phall. We did. I felt the inside of my mouth and my neck almost immediately melt, went dizzy and lost a certain amount of mobility as it stung my insides from lip to chest like hellfire. Ashamed, Ant and I headed back to his flat where I spent a fitful few hours not sleeping on his impossibly uncomfortable sofa and then he left at 6am to go to work so I watched Breakfast TV and then "Lorraine", before driving back in something of a daze and about eight quid up on the ordeal.

I dossed about for most of the afternoon and then readied myself for a surprisingly easy and pleasant trip to Ayelesbury where I was headlining in a nightclub. Nightclubs are generally my least favourite places to perform (After Derby) and this would almost prove to be no exception. THE PROMOTER SWORE BLIND THAT WE HAD TO BE THERE BY 7.45pm AS THE SHOW STARTED AT 8.30pm. I got there at 7.45pm and sat there hopelessly until 9.35pm when the show started. We were, however, relatively well looked after, the sound and lighting were OK and all things considered, it went all right. Andrew Roper was the support act. He was the guy I saw last weekend in Lutterworth. Clearly he's my new Saturday buddy. You can go years without seeing comics you know and then just bump into them every week for a while. I remarked that when Andrew used to have short hair and wear a suit he reminded me of an old friend I hadn't seen for ages called Anthony King. Andrew saw the resemblance, to be fair.

Not Anthony King

I drove back via Leighton Buzzard, Dunstable and Steve's pub. He had been hosting a Karaoke night. I got there just before midnight. Various people came in after me and clearly licensing laws had (ahem) gone out of the window again. I lobbed a Guinness or two down me and then went to the toilet. When I returned a brute of a man had taken my seat next to Steve. He made no attempt to stand up when I returned so I simply stood in front of him at the bar until he asked me what my problem was. I told him that he had sat in my chair (in my defence, this wasn't as childish as it appears -  my jacket was on it, my pint was by it and my mate was watching it for me). He decided to take no notice. I continues to talk to Steve with my back to him. He got up and walked over to his mate. I retook the seat. He came back and attempted a bit of menace. I ignored him. He pulled up a chair alongside me and told me I was handsome but didn't know how to talk to women. At the time I was not feeling particularly handsome and talking to Lisa (senior bar leader). Puzzled I again did my best to ignore him. He bought Steve and myself a pint. God only knows why. Then he told me that I should listen to him and he would teach me how to talk to women. I declined his offer. He said to me "You just don't get it do you?". I replied that no, I in fact didn't. He pointed at a woman and said

"See that? I've been going out with it for six years".

She turned around to face us and grimaced. I saw a look in her eyes that suggested all hope had died. I knew how she felt. he walked off and I had a short, pleasant conversation with her. When the evening eventually thinned out (about 3am) we had a few games of spoof, some random chat but for once no arguments. I hit the sofa about  5am. The cat hit it about 5.02am. I hit the cat about 5.04am. It was an accident. Honest.

...And so to Saturday and my third headlining slot in a row, this time at The Showcase Cinema in Coventry. I'd done the gig thrice before with varying results. The acts were myself, Yianni Agisilou, compere Elis James and one act TBC. On arrival I discovered that one act to (of course) be Anthony King. I didn't tell him that Andrew Roper used to look like him but didn't any more.

Not Andrew Roper

We were moaning about sound crews. Anthony recounted a story of a gig he had done in a £61m refurbished theatre where the microphone was so useless he had to shout. I baulked and said "Sixty one million? SIXTY ONE MILLION? If you gave me sixty one million quid I could give you the best comedy club forever and still have change out of SIXTY AND A HALF MILLION". It is astounding that venues don't normally ask performers for their input. They go for diamond-encrusted mahogany inlaid bar surfaces with unicorn-horn trim and forget to run out of cash for the lighting desk. It happens all the time, sadly. Anyway, this was the third gig in a row that went fine (but no more) and it only left me with my own show in Chigwell.

I am now told in no uncertain terms that my own show in Chigwell is in fact in Woodford Bridge. Well, I was told it just after quarter to nine on Sunday night when for the fourth show I was astounded when I said "Is there anyone here from Chigwell?" and got the usual silence. Someone shouted out "Try saying Woodford Bridge" so I did and everyone cheered. No-one tells me anything in Essex. There was a glaring lack of hot receptionists (They've all been at the previous shows) and I was a little aggrieved to discover that Stuart the manager had barred them for being "naughty". That's precisely the reason I wanted them in there. Anyway, the gig just wasn't the same without them although we did have our usual battle over pre-show tunes. He once again persevered with awful dance music that makes an audience's temples throb until they are ready to kill. While he was in the toilet the in-house DJ came over and asked me if I would prefer some 70s & 80s stuff. The next thing I knew everyone was singing along to "Stand And Deliver" and Stuart had a face like thunder. Magic.

During the sound check I looked up to see a couple of guys wearing Punky! Radio T-shirts and was very pleased to finally meet my namesake Paul B (A now retired senior police officer and punk rock fan) and his brother who had found out last minute that I was on and shown up as they only lived a few miles away.

Paulyb, Paulyb & Paulyb's brother...

There was a drunk in the room who at half time they offered to "Sort out". I had visions of a subsequent police report saying he had "Fallen down the stairs" and declined their offer. In the second half he was so offensive the rest of the audience spontaneously booed him. Towards the end of Craig Murray's (headlining) act he fell asleep in his chair. The rest of the gig was one of those "You had to be there" moments. I'd tell you about it, but, well, you had to be there.

PS. I have now finally caved in and joined Twitter. If the thousands of characters I waste on here are not to your taste, why not see how I get on sporadically over 140.