Tuesday, 31 May 2011

The Croatia Epilogue

Rudely awakened at 7.30am, we were on the road an hour later. How Filip managed it is beyond me but anyway - he did and we arrived at Zagreb airport just over three hours later in lovely bright warm sunshine. I tried to get on the net but there appeared to be something wrong with my T-mobile dongle. I received a text but then couldn't respond to it for some reason - I put it down to some international variable or other and thought no more about it. My voice was very croaky indeed and I had a gig to do when I got back to England at Big Night Out on Shaftesbury Avenue. We made the short flight to Split where we had a "let's have a look at what you could have won" moment when we espied the Dalmatian coastline from the aircraft windows. It looks spectacular. The second flight was fine and when we got off the plane at Gatwick Sully and I ran past the assembled crowd of returning pensioners to get first in line for customs. A rare treat. I was through and on a train to London by 4pm. I took out my laptop. My T-mobile dongle remained useless. I tried to make a phone call. Still nothing.

I didn't try again until St. Pancras International and the phone would still not work. I called T-mobile to discover that my account had been blocked by their fraud squad, alerted to a suspicious amount of internet usage in four different Croatian cities over four consecutive days. I was told I would have to wait seven working days to get my account unblocked. As much as I don't mind this rule (it safeguards my account, after all) I do get rather pissed off when I am chastised by my phone company for not telling them I was going abroad. It is not a jealous lover trying to watch my every mood and it surely should not be that hard to just send a text or make a quick call themselves to find out who is using my phone (me).

The gig was fine (fortunately) and I eventually got home around 11pm, exhausted. T-mobile called the next day to apologise and unblocked my phone (So thus cannot really be faulted in any way, shape or form, really). I also went around to see my mother to show off my partial suntan and left promptly to go down to Portsmouth to perform at their (relatively) new Jongleurs show. I drank about eight litres of water and scoffed a whole packet of Menthol Eucalyptus, did the gig and then staggered bent-double to the gents where I thought I was going to collapse under the strain of my terribly stretched bladder. No visit to the toilet has ever gone so well. This really was number one.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Newspaper interviews, land mines and Big Ben

The morning of our last gig in Croatia saw me attempting to check out of the hotel in English with a receptionist who was rather indignantly concentrating on talking in Croatian. How dare he? it's only Zagreb! We eventually agreed that we would wait for Nino to get there. He was due at 11am and I settled myself in possibly the comfiest chair I have ever sat in and waited for the hairy former war correspondent, who was his usual punctual self and arrived thirty five minutes late. Check out completed, we made the ten minute walk to the other hotel where we (the comedians) were to be interviewed by someone from the country's premier national newspaper. Settling down with mineral water and espresso I was immediately enchanted by our interviewer and probably over-exerted myself in the interview. Nick and Sully seemed content to take a bit of a back seat and it did feel a bit like it was my day in the (very bright) sunshine. To be honest I was on a bit of a high after the Varasdin gig anyway and hadn't had anyone to talk to since being isolated in my own private hote hell (It wasn't that bad but I am something of a drama queen) so it was no surprise I was a right old chatterbox. Interview finished, her accomplice sprang to life, pulled his camera out of a bag and began motioning and waving a little too frantically for my liking. We then had an enforced photo shoot on a wall, by some bushes and eventually half way up a tree. It went on for what seemed like an age and eventually he was dragged off us by Luca and Nino who needed to get moving. Osijek (Our final gig) was a long way off and nobody wanted to be late. It had sold out within four hours of tickets going on sale, the locals loved the English and the theatre was, by all accounts, the closest thing to an English comedy club on the tour so far.

We said our goodbyes, our interviewer shook hands with Sully and Nick but I abandoned formalities and gave her a kiss on both cheeks, Croatian style. She smiled at me and said "You charmer". I like Croatia.

Filip picked us up roughly where he was supposed to and we set off, heading off on the long drive to the young Nation's  most Easterly city. We were this time accompanied by a Zagreb comedian responsible for setting up a nascent circuit in the city. He's already doing OK for himself and was a mine of useful information about the areas we were travelling through, pointing out battle grounds and land marks but also explaining how the younger generation of Croatians bore little or no ill feeling to their Serbian neighbours and he envisaged a future only of peace. The way these nations have recovered from the "Civil" war of the late 80s and early 90s is staggering, really, but testament to a fine proud nation and I am all the better from having seen it at first hand.

We stopped for gas and a toilet break. I walked to the bathrooms where an old man said "That will be two Kunas". I toyed with the idea of just walking into the fields for a piss but then remembered my guide's words. Most of them were still full of land mines. I paid the two Kunas gladly.

On arrival in Osijek we went directly to the City's oldest restaurant where we were treated to the most famous dish in Slavonia. Not sure what to expect, I should have been ready for meat in bread.

The Osijek shop of meat. Really great place, actually. I recommend it should you be that way.

They love their meat and they love it in bread. We had beef noodle soup to start. I never witnessed a vegetable but there was a piece of lettuce on the meat plate which I cannot think was anything more than a token gesture, or had indeed been put there by mistake. We got driven to the hotel we were staying in and told we had an hour to relax. 

I spent my time quickly surfing the net with my excellent T-mobile dongle, checking my emails and facebook via the T-Mobile Croatia network. We were then driven to the theatre, sound checked and settled down to a beer. The young audience seemed to all appear at once, the gig filled to capacity and before I knew it I was on stage. It was my worse gig of the four. I had hoped for a big finish, to get better as the tour went on but I was just a bit flat. The audience were great (Of course) but I forgot a couple of bits and could also feel my voice going a little towards the end - undoubtedly a bi-product of one too many late nights drinking and shouting. I'm over-dramatising though. The gig was fine. I just wished I could have done a little better. We went into the break and I settled in to a conversation with Nino's friends from Belgrade (One of which has now also, rather like Nino, relocated to London). I am now more informed for talking to them. The Zagrebbian (I'm not sure that is actually a word but I'm having it) went on in the middle and had a fantastic gig. Nick went on last and also had his best night of thr whole tour. Sully had also had a great night and it had been another brilliant show. We hung around until they through us out and then we went eating and drinking in the town's main drag. First we went to "Surfin' Fries" and then everything got a bit ridiculously English. We toyed with the idea fo going in The Old Bridge Inn but settled instead for drinks down the road in "Big Ben". I liked Big Ben. A lot. Here are a few reasons why.

It is called "Big Ben".
There was a guy acoustically rocking out Croatian style.
Shots were only 8 Kunas each (a pound)
There were a number of TV screens dotted around the bar showing ads for soft porn on a loop.
People kept smiling at me.
It was packed but no-one was getting angry over "you spilt my pint" incidents, even though they were clearly occurring.

We toasted the end of the tour in fine style, I reflected on a great few days, got to the point where I was telling Filip he was "Like a brother to me"...

Filip & I indulging in awkward man love.
...and then we went home to get a few hours kip before the awful prospect of a 7.30am departure. I had a feeling that Friday would be 25 hours long.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Madmen, muppets and a Macdonalds drive-thru.

We were told we were getting on the road at half past midday but knew better than to expect that to be accurate. I woke up fairly early, showered, shaved (with soap) and spent a few last minutes on my balcony before going down to reception to check out. Checking out is the easiest part of this trip - you just hand them your key, they hand you your passport (That you forgot they had) and you walk off. I spied Sully out the window as I walked down the stairs so gave him the classic English two-fingered salute. He responded with a classic Kiwi crotch-grab and the latest bonding session was complete. We assembled with Nick and Filip and awaited further instructions.

The view from my balcony window, ruined by my odd head.
Nino called Filip to say he would be late. Fortunately Sully had found a bar (like a good Kiwi) so suggested we walked down to it and wait there. We descended a lot of steps down to the marina and I thought to myself that I didn't fancy the walk back up. We got settled in a bar (After climbing unceremoniously over a Croatian MILF who was parked right up against the path) and were served by an absolutely gorgeous waitress who Filip was instructed to talk to as his Croatian was better than ours. He ordered a coke, a diet coke, a red bull, a mineral water and three coffees. She brought us two cokes, two expressos and a drink called "Burn". I decided to tell her the order was wrong in fluent English. She blushed, apologised and scurried off, returning moments later with the correct beverages, smiling and looking lovingly into my eyes in the process. Look it's my blog and I'll write what I like.

view from the cafe, ruined by Nick's head.
Nino arrived and sat opposite us with the organiser of the gig the night before. They talked money for an hour. We sat impatiently until they pointed us up to a restaurant a few steps up from the bar. We moved en masse and ordered pizzas and burgers for lunch, washed down with dark beer (Of course) and more water, eventually getting back on the road about 2.30pm. This journey didn't drag. We were supposed to be in Varasdin by 6pm and had to go via Zagreb so we could check back into the hotel from Monday night. I however had to be put in another one as there was a shortage of rooms. It was, ahem, effectively downgrading. They left me there and told me they would be back in an hour. They got back just before 6pm, by which time I had quickly checked my emails via my T-mobile dongle for no more than a quarter of an hour. The drive to Varasdin was about an hour, the last fifteen minutes of which were spent with the windows open. Luca wanted to show off about the lack of pollution in the Northern town. Our jaws dropped as we parked at the theatre. It was beautiful. Peter the (English) organiser was waiting for us. He had wanted to give us a full tour of the place and his obvious pride in the theatre was dented a little by our late arrival. The Slovenian guy from the Zagreb gig was again performing with us and had already sound checked. This made the job easier for the rest of us. I headed out into the courtyard to begin exploiting the beer tokens Peter had thoughtfully provided and we sat waiting for the latest sell-out show to start. Sully did another great intro and I dived into what was to prove to be my favourite gig of the tour. The theatre was a baroque fin de siecle masterpiece with a pit and three tiers and resembled The Muppet Theatre to the extent there was even a box with two people leaning over it judging us. There was also another twelve year old boy in the crowd, this time with his dad. This made the experience brilliant - the kid was made up that his father had taken him to the show, his English was brilliant and he loved the attention.

On stage in The Muppet Theatre, Varasdin
I left to great applause and headed back out into the courtyard (pausing only to "Unofficially Open" the theatre from the roadside) to reacquaint myself with barmaids Tina and Carmen who were (unsuccessfully) trying to teach me Croatian bar etiquette. By the end of the night I had successfully learnt to say "Thank you, beautiful bar lady" but hadn't spoken to the men. Filip called me a charmer.

On the way home we stopped at a drive-thru Macdonalds but walked through it as the people carrier was too wide for it. I ordered (And consumed) three Big Macs and it got a bit like the US show "Man vs Food" which I have previously abhorred as the last nail in the decadent coffin of The Western World. Hypocritical? Moi? I returned to the hotel and was told to meet Nino at 11am the next morning for an interview with the biggest publication in Croatia. I got up to my simple and totalitarian room, surfed the net with my T-mobile dongle for half an hour or so and dropped into fitful sleep. What could possibly go wrong?

Monday, 23 May 2011

Missionary work in a Catholic country...

It took a couple of minutes to realise where I was when I woke up on Tuesday, but as the fog lifted from my eyes (and at least a couple of sections of my brain) It dawned on me that I was in Zagreb. There are worse places to wake up. Filip was coming to pick up the London Calling gang at 12.30pm to take us to Rijeka, Croatia's premier port to the North and West of the Dalmatian coast, which everyone kept telling me was beautiful and it was a shame we weren't going anywhere near it. I scoffed a mineral water and we got in the people carrier. My left hand was a little calloused and memories of the night before came ambling back. I had carried my guitar case for what seemed like miles through the Croatian capital's suburbs as we followed our twenty year old guides to possible places for beer and recreation. They were now distant memories but the callouses remained. I've got that sort of injury before as a result of twenty year old girls, but I don't particularly want to go into how.

We plodded out of Zagreb through dense traffic until we eventually hit the highway and headed west. Filip appeared to be dawdling and explained in flawless English that we were waiting for Nino who was driving separately and would "catch us up". The region became more mountainous with every kilometre (it's 154km from Z to R) and we eventually began to travel through an impressive chain of tunnels, one of which was the best part of a mile long. Emerging from it I half expected to have either gone back in time or destroyed The Death Star. We stopped at services with about half an hour to go and Filip bought us coffee (We STILL had no money). He asked me if it would be OK if I went out for a drink after the show with his girlfriend as she was excited about meeting me...

...Well what do you think I said to that?

Nino arrived and we made the last leg of the journey in convoy, not hitting the city centre until around 4pm. We emerged blinking from the people carrier into warm Croatian sunshine. We still hadn't eaten but Nino directed us to a really terrific fish restaurant and I enjoyed ray wings with blitva, washed down with another dark Slovenian beer. Then it was another stroll through the town to get the cars to drive to the theatre. If yesterday's had appeared a little totalitarian, today's took the piss. It was massive, soulless and there were once again five guys for every job, which led to a lot of jabbering and not a lot of action before everything suddenly came together and things were looking good. Nino was clearly nervous about this one. I asked him why?

It turned out the gig had only been finalised three days previously so the publicity had been, to say the least, negligible. We drove out to our hotel which was way past the port and out into a wooded area overlooking a marina. It also looked very Eastern European

My hotel block. There was a Western one, but I had the Eastern one.

This was probably modeled on Tito's weekend retreat. I never saw it open.
I only had an hour to kill (Again) so showered and hooked up my dongle for a quick check of emails, facebook etc. As usual I got the message "You are connecting to another network and may be charged roaming fees". It was only a quick surf so no major financial harm could be done and anyway - it said I had connected to T-mobile Croatia so same firm - nominal charges, surely? Filip took us back to the venue and parked up. We discovered that they had sold 460 tickets in 48 hours. I felt like a rock star. We ordered beer. Backstage was similar to the night before with a similar amount of detritus, including a grand piano with a sign on it. I put my guitar case on it.

Apparently the sign says "Do not put your guitar case on the grand piano"

The show started. Sully bounded on to the stage and set our stall out beautifully, explaining how comedy shows worked and how the audience were expected to behave. There was a twelve year old on the front row accompanied by his mother. Sully spotted him immediately and fun ensued. When introduced, I also saw him and tore into his mother for bringing him to an adult show, before teaching him some "new" words, much to her disgust. By the end of my act she was looking disgustedly into her handbag trying desperately hard not to make eye contact with me. Fortunately the rest of the audience disagreed with her and the show was great fun. in the intermission I went to get my stuff and was accosted by a lady who said "Hello! I would like to have sex with you". I forgot I had offered myself to anyone in the crowd whilst on stage and was initially quite impressed. We settled on a photograph. The evening's's middle act was a local guy called Elvis doing his fourth ever gig. I must confess I didn't see his act, as Filip had hooked me up with the previously mentioned "girlfriend". by then and we were drinking beer in the foyer. We left in the next interval and I carried my guitar to the car before the three of us went to the bar where the organiser of the event was the proprietor. It is called The Jazz Tunnel. I'm not entirely sure why I find this so comical.

It is a great bar. A really great bar. I felt a little guilty about not watching Nick (the headliner) again but when he showed up with the rest of the gang afterwards he didn't seem to mind. Soon the beer was flowing again and Sara (Filip's enchanting friend) was proving to be exceptional company.

This is Sara. She is the latest in a long line of women I intend to ask to marry me  if I ever get sober enough to pose the question
Her boyfriend was at the bar but they didn't seen to be paying each other a lot of attention and I was more than happy to be the entertaining old Englishman for a while. The Jazz Tunnel was heaving. I like a heaving jazz tunnel.

Nick, Sara, Nino, Filip, Sully - the acceptable faces of London Calling

At the end of it all we went in search of late-night snacks, eventually falling on a fast food concession in another part of the city. As we queued up for hot sandwiches a drunk Croatian youth staggered over and started calling me "Mate" and quoting "Only Fools And Horses". Wary of the recent punch in the head I tolerated him. We said a reluctant goodbye to Sara, dropped off Nino somewhere or other and then thought we had got lost. Only Sully kept the faith with our route - mightily impressive considering how much he booze had consumed. I don't know what time we got back but we enjoyed a drink on the balcony and I retired to bed, nestling my laptop on my knees, going online, falling asleep and waking up an hour later, emitting a line I have never before emitted:

"Ohhhhh... roaming fees".

Sunday, 22 May 2011

An early start, a late finish and a suggestion from the Zagreb constabulary

Prologue: Whenever I go abroad my mother gets a long-term forecast for my benefit which normally involves the fact that it is going to be better weather in England for the duration of my trip. Her long term forecast for where I was going to this time was "A significant drop in temperature and rain every day"...

...Getting up earlier than you occasionally go to bed is never easy and a 4.30am start last Monday was particularly fractious for this dedicated night owl but there I was pottering around the flat, washing up late-night pots, tidying up and packing for an overseas jaunt the like of which I've never been on before. Don't get me wrong - I've done gigs abroad in Holland, Singapore, the U.S. and South Africa amongst others but the four-night trip to Croatia that I had somehow managed to get booked for was something I was viewing with a certain amount of trepidation, not least because I would be performing to audiences that had English as their second language, rather than the usual gangs of drunken ex-pats that fill most international rooms. The cab was prompt and I was at Letchworth railway station before 6am, cup of tea in hand, bleary-eyed and a little nervous about the day ahead.

I actually got to Gatwick early, checked in immediately and made my way through to X-ray, where a lack of foresight left me held up and being scanned for explosives. I had checked my guitar into the hold and crammed all my clothes, electronic equipment and toiletries into my hand luggage. Failure to put the toiletries into a clear plastic bag led to me getting everything out to be re-scanned, my shaving gel removed (over 100ml of skin-softener clearly poses a significant terrorist threat) and a once-over with what appeared to be a geiger counter. I started to question whether I was in fact an Interpol suspect but it became apparent that I was just, in fact, a bit of an idiot.

I then went for my customary Bloody Mary. It was, after all, 8.45am. Approaching the bar I said to the (very smiley) barmaid "Hello, I'd like the finest Bloody Mary you've ever made". She moved two steps to her left and asked her fellow barman how to make a Bloody Mary. I then corrected myself and said "I'd like the first Bloody Mary you've ever made". He then made it for me and she observed. I corrected myself again saying "Sorry, I'd like the finest Bloody Mary you've ever watched be made". It was a Wetherspoons. I shouldn't have expected any different and to be honest at £5.75 it was approximately half the price of the one I had (previously) had at Luton. I met up with Nick & Sully (The other two comedians I was travelling with) and we boarded a half-full Croatian Airlines flight to Zagreb which was utterly painless and we arrived on time. Small international airports are terrific - hardly any queues, straight through customs and out into the warm Zagreb sunshine. For information of what happened next look here

Our driver Filip arrived in a huge people-carrier and took us to our hotel in the city centre, where I got to reception first and landed room 101, which was handily by reception. It was a beautiful suite with a large lounge/reception area, beautiful (and huge) bedroom and a nicely appointed bathroom. I don't think George Orwell had this in mind when he wrote 1984 but I wasn't going to dwell on it. Sadly I couldn't work out turning on the TV or getting online via the hotel internet so with only an hour to kill I switched to my T-mobile dongle just to check hotmail and facebook etc. Our tour organiser, Nino took us for a traditional Croatian meal and I had Dalmation steak with this potato/garlic/chard combination that was delicious and (I beleive) called Blitva. Here's a photo of it anyway

Blitva - It's the shitva

There was a brief discussion as to whether my Dalmation steak was indeed made out of spotted dog or indeed if I would get 101 courses. 101 was clearly the number of my day...

6pm and we got a taxi to the venue - a large-ish and very communist-looking theatre about a ten minute drive from the city. Obviously we had no money on us (I hadn't even realised we had travelled outside the EU at this point) but luckily the bosses assistant, Luca was there to pay the fair in Kunas - a currency I admit I had never heard of, let alone used. It's roughly eight Kuna to the pound currently and judging by the fare it had cost him about £1.50. I figured he could afford it. The theatre was lovely and despite procrastination about the sound and lighting (there appeared to be four different men to go through for every decision we were all set up and ready to go in plenty of time to nip out for a cheeky beer before the show. I got stuck into some dark Slovenian stuff that really did hit the spot. By the time I had gone back in there were 300 people in the theatre waiting eagerly for the start of the show, Sully went out to MC and... they understood everything he was saying, laughed (mostly) where appropriate and were generous with their applause. The monthly tour is called "London Calling", he walked on to the Clash song of the same name, did about 15 minutes and put me on and do you know what? I did all right. Upwards of three hundred Croats thought I was pretty good. It was a bit of a voyage of discover in terms of what material worked and what didn't but overall I was pleased with the outcome. I had written one joke for Croatia which I had tried out three times in the UK with no luck at all but it was a triumph in the young nation's capital.

I left the stage to a decent amount of applause and headed back out to the bar for another drink, came back in to sit backstage while a Slovenian act called Tin wiped the floor with the audience (there was a "local" guest each night) and then returned to the bar where a couple of guys who had just watched me bought me a drink. The barman said "Same again?" to me and I was impressed, to say the least. The guys went back in to watch Nick (The last act) but I didn't get any further than the bar. As I approached it the barman said "You do like Psychobilly music, don't you?". I said YES and for the next few hours Marco and myself were keen friends. He gave me beer and forgot to charge me whilst I told him stories of various episodes with members of King Kurt, Guana Batz, Restless, et al. Until, show over, we carried on to a bar where "You can smoke inside". On our arrival we were joined by several members of the crowd, including two young students called Ena and Mirta who were clearly happy to hang around with the London Calling mob. More dark beer was consumed and I have a feeling shots were had. I convinced myself I had lost my guitar, Nino very sensibly said "Tonight is on me" which avoided any embarrassment and the next thing I knew it was 3am and we were sat in the park with said students drinking lager out of a four litre bottle that Sully and Nick had procured with some Euros they had on them. I didn't ask questions.

We stayed in the park until we were moved on by the police.

The girls walked us back to the hotel where we carried on trying to get through the lager in room 101. At 5am I said "Look I really ought to go to bed, guys - it's light". Mirta said "Me too - I have a French test at eight". Now THAT is how students should behave.

Mirta (left) had an exam three hours after she left. Ena (right) was delighted to tell us that she was often mistaken for a porn star. I (centre) was oblivious to both of these facts.
I was hoping to get this whole trip into one blog but clearly it's going to take a little longer. Tomorrow: The first EVER comedy gig in Rijeka!

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

A Photo shoot, a punch in the head and the funniest comedian in Devon

Friday the Sixth of May is not traditionally, as far as I know, unlucky and mine certainly started off well enough with a photoshoot at the home of the fabulous photographer Sharon Cooper. I'd spent the day before buying an assortment of props and borrowing wigs and hats for it and had even gone as far as to get my hair and beard dyed again as I didn't want to look like a ninety year old prostitute on the flyer for the Edinburgh Festival show I am currently writing, which is going to involve a small amount of cross-dressing.

Sharon had also gone to the trouble to dig out a couple of vintage mobile phones (They looked Russian, Delboy!) and was more than happy to lend me not only one of her husband's shirts (it looks better on me) but also a rather fetching summer frock that she claimed to have no further use of. Not being a particularly shy and retiring type, I'm quite happy to show you the fruits of her labour in composite form:
The photo on the right has had a number of effects on people. Sharon herself  has vowed never to wear the frock again and my mate Simon begged me to take it off facebook as it was hurting his eyes.
It being a lovely spring day, we also took advantage of her neighbour's goodwill and ventured into his enormous back garden (with permission) to frolic in the bluebells and cow parsley in the glade at the end of it. Should I ever bring out an album of love songs, I am inclined to make this the cover

Since the closest I've come to writing a love song is the little known "It Takes Two To Tango (But Only One To Masturbate)", I wouldn't hold your breath on seeing this in your local record store any time soon

Anyway, that all done and the woman paid, I came home for a couple of hours, ate some dinner and then journeyed back to Hitchin to again visit Club 85 to see yet more bands and what a great night I had. All three bands that I saw had members that were mates of mine in some capacity or other and I managed to (somehow) get myself organised enough to interview them all for the best music/comedy podcast in the world, with differing levels of difficulty. Badhead (featuring good mate and fine musician/producer/desk op Andy Davies) rocked out Husker Du style, The New Town Centres (made up entirely of ne'erdowells that at some point or other I've scoffed beer with) did a mixed set of old classics and new floor fillers with their usual lack of genuine success but ungainly brilliance and finally The Metatrons, (50% of which were at my birthday do a couple of months back) who delighted the smallish crowd with some bubblegum indie not dissimilar from The Primitives, not that they'd particularly thank you for pointing out the similarities.

Obviously all of this was washed down with a significant amount of a real ale that began being called "Reverend James" but ended up being called "That one!" and pointed at with a wobbly finger. There were a load of blasts from the past there and it was really great to catch up with all of them, especially my friends Sean & Sara who I see all-too infrequently. I was tempted to stick around for the hints of after-show parties but instead sensibly decided to wobble up the road to the station to catch the 12.50am back to Letchworth and a relatively early night as I had a big day on Saturday. When I got to the station I got in a conversation with five young guys, one of whom gave me a cigarette and we carried the conversation onto the train, chatting about music and clothes and girls and the things young guys talk about. We got off at Letchworth, walked up the steps, across the forecourt and towards the Arena Tavern where there was the outside chance of a nightcap on the way home. I'd had a really brilliant day, a great night and was looking forward to a fantastic weekend. Then the biggest of the five young guys dropped a yard behind me, jumped into the air and punched me hard in the back of the head.

Stunned, I just stood dead still. He punched me again, harder it felt, but I couldn't be sure. I turned to face him and as I did he punched me again in the side of the face, my lip split wide open, blood spurted into the air and they all ran off. I took a few seconds to assess the situation but remained utterly shocked. There had been no warning, there was no raising of voices, no altercation, no hint that anything bad was going to happen. They didn't try to mug me, the rest of the gang didn't join in, it was just pre-meditated, unmotivated, sociopathic assault. I collected myself, walked round the corner to the pub and saw Fat Paul and Vicky the Psycholezza who bunged me straight into a cab home and I was telling the police all about it (over the phone) within fifteen minutes of the assault occurring. Paul stayed for a cider and left. Vicky passed out on the couch, I left her to it, applied fresh tissue to the open wound on my face and buggered off to bed, still not quite believing what had happened.

I woke up naked on Saturday morning to find Vicky the Psycholezza asleep next to me (fully clothed), felt a pain in the head and a pain in my mouth and instantly thought the worse. She assured me that nothing had happened - she'd just woken up in the night on the couch and been cold so got in with me. She also reminded me that she was very lesbian and then chuckled as she realised she was still even wearing her flip flops. She departed in her usual state of general confusion and I got up, showered, shaved and waited for a comedian to arrive at 12.30pm.

I didn't really have any time to dwell on the attack from the previous night and forced myself to get sorted as I had to drive to Holsworthy in Devon to compere the final of the new comedian competition I have run throughout April. I was also giving four of the acts a lift down there. Chris was arriving at mine then we were picking the other three up at 1.30pm from Rickmansworth tube station. He was prompt. We drove down there for 1.30pm and sure enough there was one of the acts, Wouter, but not the other two. Luke was about forty minutes late, having had a bit of a mare on the rail network. By the time he arrived we were on the other side of the dual carriageway in a pub car park. When we saw him we motioned for him to stay where he was so we could make our way over. By the time we had driven there he had walked under the underpass and was now by the pub, looking a little helpless. First laugh of the day then. Last to arrive was Kate, who had made the short journey from Enfield via two wrong tube lines in the wrong direction and a taxi. We didn't leave Ricky until about ten past three and I was grumpy because I was now going to miss Doctor Who.

The journey was fairly uneventful and we got to The Old Market Inn for around half six, checked into the rooms and were lined up with beer and food within half an hour. Steph & Ignacio (The other two acts) were already there and Lee (The excellent hotel manager/owner/general good bloke) was in a particuarly generous mood. Free booze was clearly on the cards and if my last trip to the gig was anything to go by I could reasonably expect a bottle of Walter Hicks 9000% rum on the stage with a couple of shot glasses. I wasn't to be disappointed.

Over the next few hours the (sold out) audience were treated to six of the finest new comedians on the circuit and rounds of shots between each one, dished out by an increasingly inebriated compere (Me) who was picking someone at random after each act to slug back a shooter with. Couple this with the 5.8% porter I was drinking (delicious and potent) and by the time it came to announcing the winners I had already, effectively, blacked out. All I can remember thinking was "My face doesn't hurt any more!". I managed to get the order of winners wrong and then insisted on all of them doing a shot with me, some of the audience left, some apparently hung around and I finally gave up the will to speak around 2am, retired to bed and left Chris (who had been riding shotgun) the most incredibly incomprehensible voicemail I think I have ever left anyone. Apparently they all stayed up until 4am. On the one hand I was disappointed I hadn't stayed up with them. On the other hand, it was definitely a good thing.

I was woken up at 11am the next morning by two cleaners walking in to my room who thought I had already checked out. A simple "Good morning, ladies!" was enough to send them retreating and shrieking back into the corridor. I washed, had a coffee and rounded up the gang for a decent Sunday lunch in the hotel before we left. The day dragged as the miles were slowly devoured and we didn't get back until about 7.30pm at night. I went to my friend's house for dinner and told her the story of the attack. She was surprised that my assailant was unknown to me, working on the basis that there are enough people I know who are queuing up to punch me in the head as it is.

Monday came and went and then this morning a very nice policeman came to get my official statement. We talked for a bit, recognised each other from school/the old days/pubs/something like that and he assured me that they would do everything they could to catch the smiling teenage ninjas that had so calculatingly assaulted me. He then told me his name. He is called Michael Bolton. It's a curse, but it certainly cheers up victims of ABH.

This Friday is the 13th. Traditionally this is perceived to be an unlucky day. I hope it's a little easier on the back of my head and the side of my face than the 6th was.

PS. I have in the past been accused of being "particularly English". This has become no more apparent to me than last Friday night. I only said one thing during the attack, between the two punches to the head and the one to the face. When people get hit they shout "Ow!" or "Jesus!" or "Help!". I turned to my juvenile assailant and said quite sternly (for a person being hit repeatedly) "What on Earth do you think you're doing?".

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

It's not every day you stand in for Sid Vicious

I was inundated with offers for what to do on Saturday night and had turned a couple down earlier in the week because I thought I might get a gig last minute but none was forthcoming. This also meant I missed out on going to see Nottingham Forest thrash Scunthorpe United 5-1 in the last home game of the season with my Dad and brother, who hugely enjoyed the day but did both say that seeing as every time we all watch Forest together they lose, it was a good thing I wasn't there. Should we make the play-off final this season I'm going to have a tough decision to make.

All week I'd figured that the invite I was most likely to accept was to go to "Lord Muck's Nasty Grind" in Stockwell. A really brilliant line up of bands (including The Ten O Sevens, Pussycat & The Dirty Johnsons and The Electric Cocks, but its 5am finish and South London location left me thinking it might be better to get less messy by going down to Club 85 in Hitchin to see The Pistols (My mates' Sex Pistols tribute band), Ministers Dead (featuring ex-members of Flaccid, The Kramers) and lead singer Matt who also sings with The Bleach Boys), Strontium Dog (Punk/Rock covers) and another band I didn't know. Since this doubled with my mate Tim's birthday downstairs in the bar meant I could rather neatly kill two birds with one stone and still be home for not much after midnight.

Who was I trying to kid?

I left for the station in plenty of time to catch the 7.54pm train to Hitchin. My journey was remarkably scream-free. Unfortunately there was a queue of idiots in front of me at the only operational ticket machine who farted about with money, cards, match sticks, cheque books, bits of string, failed attempts, sausage fingers and expletives until we all missed it and I grumpily walked next door to La Concha to lob a cold one down me while I waited for the 8.29pm. This turned out to be suitably civilised and I had a nice chat with the bar staff before walking back to the platform and successfully making the six minute train journey. A little walk up to the club was followed by the briefest of conversations with the door staff, the exchange of six quid for a stamped hand and real ale pint one procured. It was to be the first of many. Strontium Dog were already on and were all dressed as members of The Royal Family (This was an anti-wedding punk rock party in true tradition). The bass player looked remarkably like The Queen and the lead singer was on crutches. This left his act rather restrained but they still managed to romp through Dead Kennedy's "Police Truck" quite brilliantly and towards the end of the set when he wanted everyone to clap their hands but had no way of doing it himself (His hands were holding him up) he simply waved his crutches above his head and clapped those instead. It's this kind of can-do attitude that has put Britain at the forefront of disability activism and it it to be applauded, with crutches if necessary.

Strontium Dog with Lady Di on lead guitar
In the all-too-brief interval I nipped into the downstairs bat to let Tim (The birthday boy) know I was there. He looked inquisitively at the lack of 80s alternative vinyl under my arm and I remembered I had agreed to do a DJ set for him. Oops. Embarrassed, I offered to buy him a drink later and disappeared back upstairs to see the next band. They were an acoustic duo who sang songs I hated and wore matching T-shirts, told  jokes to their friends who couldn't hear them and looked a bit like  feisty Dutch international midfielders. I was joined by several members of The Pistols and Molly, the daughter of their guitar player who was a friend of mine at school. She is clearly old enough to both drink and smoke in public but it was the first time I've ever met her. We had a right laugh - she's a lot more fun than her dad...

Up next? More pints and the arrival of Ministers Dead. This is only a brief review and I'll keep it simple. Go and see them - they're fabulous. I've watched them develop through first Flaccid, then The Kramers and this latest manifestation is far and away their best yet. The songs are strong, politicised, catchy and there's a clarity to the sound that was missing previously. That I have managed to remember all that is testament to how good a show they put on. Afterwards I told the lead singer how good I thought they were and he gave me a copy of their new EP, a track of which is played on this week's Punky! Radio. That left one more interval and the arrival of the headline band, The Pistols. You can read about the last time I saw them here should you feel the need.

Well they blasted into "Holidays In The Sun" and we were on our way. Classic after classic was belted out and someone near me remarked that "Actually they're a lot better than The Pistols ever were". Serious praise indeed. Then something odd happened. About half way through the set they stopped, the bass player (Sid Vicious) took his guitar off, whispered into the lead singer's (Johnny Rotten) ear and walked off. "Johnny" started laughing and said "Sidney's gone for a piss and we're going to have to wait for him and I have no idea what to do!" Toby the drummer (Paul Cook) shouted "Get Paul B. Edwards up - he's in the crowd" and enough people agreed it was a good enough idea for me to take the stage (several pints in to the evening) and begin a rather long shaggy dog story (and very old joke) about a vicar and a rabbit. The whole thing took about five minutes, Sidney returned as I hit the punchline, I jumped off the stage and they carried on as if nothing had happened.

Johnny Rotten tribute singer

The Paul B. Edwards tribute act
Gig over we ventured back downstairs where a surprising number of people said I'd "Saved the gig". I hadn't - "Sid" just really needed to go to the toilet, but it was nice to be thanked. Nagi from Ministers Dead went as far as to say I had "Smashed it". All I could think was that anyone walking upstairs late might have thought that a Paul B. Edwards tribute act had jumped up halfway through the gig and through drunken paranoia (And an innate sense of mischief) I wondered whether anyone would have been drunk enough to walk up to me and tell me that I had been better than Paul B. Edwards ever was. Shots replaced pints and whimsy replaced reason.

Quite frankly it all gets a bit hazy now but by the end of the night I had managed to procure a gang of three completely out-of-control women who thought it was a spectacularly good idea for me to go back with them to carry on drinking. Not likely to disagree, I hopped in a cab with them and none of them seemed to know where they lived. We eventually got back at around 3am (I think). Within thirty minutes one of them was passed out on the kitchen floor, one of them was asleep upstairs and the last one had sworn about there being no tonic so brought me a new "tall" drink she had invented called "Gin & Cider". It's quite a potent pint and enough (certainly with the large percentage of gin contained within) to finish any night off with delirium, confusion and an entirely missed mouth on the last gulp that left something of a mess on the kitchen floor. We failed completely to find anything to eat other than ahuge amount of frozen peas and I think I went to bed about 5am - precisely, coincidentally, the exact time I had tried to avoid in South London. I awoke on the couch the next morning to a large dog licking my face. Makes a change from a cat on my legs, I suppose. None of the girls could remember me coming back with them (or why) and we sat in the garden drinking black coffee until it started coming back to us, a little. Apparently they're known collectively as "The Three Ms" because all their names start with "M". If I see them out again in public the last thing I'm likely to say, however, is"Mmm". These girls are dangerous.

...And here they are! No doubt asking for autographs with The Paul B. Edwards Tribute Act. Photos courtesy of Phil Powell  who somehow managed to keep everything in focus throughout the night. No mean feat.
The next night I did it all again in Bedford at my comedy show at The Pad. After the gig I DJ-ed. Well, what I actually did was stand next to the DJ for an hour telling him what to play and jumped on to the dance floor every time I heard one I liked. I'd like you to think about that.