poor and happy

Contrary to popular belief, London is a great place to be skint.

I mean, I’m only temporarily skint because I thought I was going to get paid on Friday and wasn’t, which left me with £6 to last me almost a week. And I think London is a very difficult place to be permanently poor.

But there’s SO much to do here for little or no money that I sometimes wonder why I bother spending money at all.

Yesterday I made a packed lunch (total cost: £1.20), got a bendybus (obviously) from my house to Trafalgar Square, and walked over the river to the National Theatre bookshop where I spent an hour quite happily sitting around reading Aristophanes’ Clouds and a bunch of books about comic performance.

Then I walked back up to Trafalgar Square to the National Gallery where I spent ages with the Velasquez paintings;

and also this incredible painting by Philips Koninck (it’s just called ‘Extensive Landscape with a Road by a River’). It’s a fairly ordinary landscape but the canvas is huge – and just look at all that sky! It takes up almost two-thirds of the picture! It’s incredible, there is so much openness in it…

Anyway, then I got another bendybus to the house in Finsbury Park where I used to live, where my friends gave me tea and nuts and tolerated my ill-qualified relationship advice; and then home to listen to the Manic Street Preachers’ new LP (which is, incidentally, outstanding) on spotify. Which, to be fair, I pay £10 a month for so I don’t have to get advertised at, but that’s still ridiculously cheap considering that a few years ago I’d have paid more than that for the Manics album alone.

And that’s just scratching the surface. Today I’m thinking I might go for a walk around Regent’s Park, or go to a free comedy gig, or treat myself to a £1.50 film at the Prince Charles Cinema, or go to the Tate Modern, or the British Museum, or the library…

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in case you were worried

As an addendum to that last post, it’s worth pointing out that I wrote it about a week and a half ago, on a day when I was not in an especially good mood.

Since then, I’ve found somewhere quite good to live, done some really fun gigs, done some work on fixing personal relationship-type things that are unbloggable but really did need fixing, and more or less stopped drinking alcohol at all.

Just so you don’t worry or anything.

the wisdom of silenus

There’s a reason why comedians shouldn’t be allowed near alcohol. I think we’re fairly well-disposed to misery anyway, but people prone to annual post-Edinburgh anticlimactic mood slumps shouldn’t drink at all.

Not everyone gets the post-festival depression, of course – some comics I’ve spoken to just came back exhausted.

But there seems to be a fair bit of depression about. And it doesn’t seem to matter whether you stop drinking (as is most sensible, despite the alcohol-withdrawal period) or carry on and just accept that you’ve become an alcoholic.

I know so many stand-ups who don’t drink at all; they don’t need naming here, but if you know any then just ask around and you’ll find a higher than normal percentage of teetotallers. Meanwhile, the ones who do drink probably drink too much.

This is possibly because, Edinburgh aside, drinking – like comedy – is both a relaxant and a downer. They are both mechanisms for those who know just what a bleak and shitty thing life is, and understand that the only alternative to nihilism and suicide is to embrace it anyway, to make something joyful out of it, to create laughter out of pain.

Which is what comedians and alcoholics generally tend to be addicted to.

If you’re fully committed to one mechanism, it’s likely that you’ll either have to forgo the other – or embrace it just as completely.

I think the Greeks were probably onto something with their myths about Silenus. He was the closest companion – often, it’s said, even the tutor – of Dionysus, the god of wine and orgies and music and loss of control.

Basically, Silenus was the guy who taught fun to the god of fun.

In art, he’s pretty much always depicted drunk. Old, bald, and drunk. Sometimes he also has the ears and legs of a horse, but I think that’s probably irrelevant.

Anyway, for those of you who are not familiar with it from The Birth of Tragedy or whatever, the story goes that one day, King Midas – yes, that one – was trying to find the secret of happiness, the thing that is most desirable for humans to have. Midas did that kind of thing, and it tended to get him into trouble. You remember the gold-touching thing.

On one occasion he went to speak to Silenus. Silenus repeatedly refused to tell him, so Midas did what any smart king would do and got Silenus drunk. Eventually, Silenus laughed and burst out,

“Oh wretched ephemeral race, children of chance and misery, why do you compel me to tell you what it would be better for you not to hear? What is best for you is utterly beyond your reach: it is not to have been born, not to be, to be nothing! But the second best for you is – to die soon.”

Remember – this was Mr. Fun. This is what Mr. Funny Funtimes, the man who taught fun to the god of fun, can only admit when he’s drunk.

Most alcoholics and most good comedians understand the bleak pointlessness of existence all the time, and never more than in the weeks after an Edinburgh run. The laughter stops and we get left with – what?

Overdrafts; insomnia; distraction; collapsing relationships, homelessness (if, like me, you were dumb enough to leave your house to go to Edinburgh)…

And then we come back to London and we make stupid judgements.

And nobody stops us.

We shouldn’t be allowed.

ramblin’ man

I woke up yesterday morning in a backpacker hostel in King’s Cross. It was the fifth bed I’d woken up in since the previous Monday.

To be honest, it’s been a challenging week. The first week back from Edinburgh always is, but I don’t usually try to do it homeless. Also I don’t usually drink so much and make so many bad judgments.

Unlike the weeks before Edinburgh, when I quite enjoyed the whole travelling thing, I’d quite like to go home now, if only I had one to go to. Since I woke up – massively hungover – in the empty Edinburgh flat last Monday, I’ve slept in my sister and brother-in-laws’ spare room, my mother’s house in Northampton, Loz’s house in Stoke Newington, and last night’s hostel bed.

The hostel was quite nice, in fact; and perversely, the nights you’d expect to be the alcoholic ones (the backpacker hostel and the night I met Loz in the pub and stayed at his house) have been the most civilized. It was pretty great to see Loz because I missed him in Edinburgh – he was busy getting engaged instead, which is kind of beautiful and also kind of terrifying because he and his girlfriend have always been glowing beacons of successful cohabitation. It means there’s more steps to settling than I’m anywhere near.

Hell, I don’t even have a house.

More importantly, I don’t really have a home. My mother’s flat in Northampton feels kind of homely and very loving, but I’ve never lived there and I can’t seem to relate to Northampton at all any more. I know I was born there, but my parents weren’t and I might as well have been born in Leicester or Salisbury or Tewkesbury for all the ancestral attachments I’ve got to the place. Getting off the train into the sunlight and the familiar smell of hops from the Carlsberg factory was nice, but people do often feel strange genetic links to places (whether it’s from unique climates or from generations of their ancestors eating from the soil or whatever) and I don’t feel it with Northampton. It’s just a big, weird suburban sprawl in the middle of England, and to cope with being there on Saturday I had to get stupendously drunk in the kind of bar where everyone drinks cocktails out of coconut shells and pretends that their lives aren’t being wasted.

In fact, the only really fulfilling thing that I’ve got out of Northampton this week was finding out from my mum that its greatest ever MP Charlie Bradlaugh (who is one of my all-time political heroes) supposedly once had an affair with Ellen Terry, (who – as well as being a distant relative of mine – was also supposedly the greatest actress of the Victorian age). It just seems like the perfect Politics/Showbiz match-up and I like that there’s some of my genetics in it.

But neither Terry nor Bradlaugh ever stayed put either, partly because both had dangerous habits of getting involved in both foreign and domestic politics. And Northampton’s such a dodgy Middle England swing town now that it would never return someone as ballsy as Bradlaugh even once, let alone four times. That town can’t be my home.

The closest place I have to a home is London. Well, specifically Crouch End. But the only evening I’ve spent there this week, I accidentally crashed a party, missed my train and ended up learning things that maybe would have made me act differently a long time ago if only I’d realized them when it wasn’t all too late. Then I shot myself in the foot again the next day via email.

Ah, well. Things appear and things disappear.

Anyway, the point is that I do love moving around all the time, but I’ve done it for a few months now and I think I need to stop somewhere. I never thought I’d be a settling-down-white-picket-fence-kinda-guy. But I’m homeless and tired right now, and perhaps I could be persuaded.

postscript: songs of edinburgh 2010

So there’s always a soundtrack.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, most of the songs that I’ll remember from this year’s festival have all come from the shows I was in (or in the same room as). There are a few songs that are highlight moments of the 80’s Movie Flashback, a few that I often used as warmup music for the Showcase, three from Doctor Brown’s show (because I will always remember standing in a hot dark cupboard with Rik and Fraser every night listening to Enya and the laughs from Doctor Brown’s audience).

There’s also a few songs that I just kept hearing everywhere and that stuck with me: ‘The Cave’ in particular. Partly because it’s a wonderful song. And partly because I spent so much time in caves.

Anyway, here’s the songs – if you want to hear them, I also made a Spotify Playlist! It is right here

  • The Power of Love by Huey Lewis and The News
  • The Cave by Mumford and Sons
  • My Sharona by The Knack
  • In My Secret Life by Leonard Cohen
  • Danger Zone by Kenny Loggins
  • Everybody Wants To Rule The World by Tears For Fears
  • Only Time by Enya
  • Pata Pata by Miriam Makeba
  • Jessie’s Girl by Rick Springfield
  • Sexy Bitch by David Guetta feat. Akon
  • Banana Boat Song (Day-O) by Harry Belafonte
  • Cruel To Be Kind by Spacehog

I’d also like to include the song that Rachel closes her stand-up set with. But if it has a title, it’s probably unpublishable. and it’s not on Spotify (yet). But if you know it…well, then you know it.