day 4: ppp

The first thing I heard yesterday morning was the alarm ringing on a digital casio wristwatch. BIPBIPBIPBIPBIPBIPBIP, it went. An awful grating sound that made me instantly conscious of what had happened the night before.

I’m not expecting very much sympathy, of course, when I write about the horror of having an iphone taken – it does make me look a bit of an idiot. But it really does feel like a bit of my brain has been removed and I’m having to re-grow it. Particularly at the Edinburgh Festival, where everything moves at such a breakneck pace that not being able to call anyone leaves you completely impotent, not having a phone is a bit of a disaster. Still, after spending a fair chunk of the morning calling police, mobile phone companies, insurance people etc. on Fraser’s phone, I had to resign myself to the fact that I would have to spend a few days as a phoneless man.

Theoretically, The Carphone Warehouse have quite a good policy that if your phone is insured, you can go into a branch and get a replacement immediately. Annoyingly, my Iphone is now 14 months old, which means that in order to replace it, the Carphone Warehouse have to order in that especially old model that they don’t stock any more, and which will take at least another day to arrive.

“It might be more than a day,” said the assistant in the shop, “So we’ll call you to let you know when it’s here.”

“Okay,” I said. “How?”

“Good point,” she said.

The details of how the phone actually went missing are still pretty unclear. What I definitely do know is that before the show, I had put my phone into my jacket pocket, and that after the show, when I realised it was gone, somebody must have taken it out of the venue because there is absolutely no signal in the cave at all, and when Rik tried calling my phone it rang and rang and wasn’t answered.

I had to conclude it had almost certainly been stolen. But who could have done it? It obviously wasn’t a comedian because I also had my notebook of material in that jacket, and what comedy thief wouldn’t want that treasure-trove?

(Either that, or it was a very very subtle heckle – ‘I wouldn’t want your new material even if you left a book of it unattended’ – but I’ll console myself with the belief that they just didn’t realise the value of the notebook.)

To be honest, I didn’t realise the value of that notebook until yesterday, either. It’s a little brown leather-bound thing that my friends Natalie and Matt gave me for my birthday; it’s beautiful to write in, it has a soft leatheriness that feels comforting, and it smells nice too. But it made yesterday into the kind of day that I would have had in Edinburgh back before everyone had mobile phones; I had to wander round, unable to contact people, having to arrange to meet people in set times and places, making notes in my notebook of things I’d otherwise forget.

In some ways, of course, it was actually quite nice. Arthur Smith used to do a brilliant bit about how he uses an operating system which he calls PPP – it stands for ‘Pen and Paper Protocol’ – and it has a number of advantages against other operating systems, like how the batteries never run out, it’s incredibly portable, etc. I always thought that was quite funny, if a little smug, but spending a day trying to negotiate the Edinburgh festival with no more than a little notebook, I can see the merits of it.

There were two major downsides: Firstly, we found out at lunchtime that the Awards judges were going to be watching the 80s Movie Flashback that night, and I wasn’t able to call people I would have liked to come along and support us. I had a few brief moments of internet access in the afternoon, but that wasn’t really enough.

Secondly, I hadn’t been able to book a really good headliner for the showcase show, so that wasn’t as good as it could have been; Sarah Campbell and Patch Hyde were both excellent, but Rik, who I was hoping might headline the showcase, quite rightly pulled out to work on a new Flashback sketch that we were going to insert that night. I ended up having to get Manos and another act from the show next door, and not only did they both have fairly crap gigs, they both massively overran so I got in trouble with the venue manager.

Then, ironically, in the Flashback show the new sketch went all wrong anyway.

Still, the show was good – the cast are able to pick up the pace now when things start to drag, and it felt like a funny show. There’s still room to get funnier – but then, there always is.

As we left the venue, though, I felt in my pocket for my notebook.

And it wasn’t there.

I wondered for a brief, glorious moment if perhaps somebody did want to steal my new material after all; but then I went back to into the venue and there it was, leather-bound and unstolen, on the mixing desk where I’d left it.

As I came back out to meet the others, Rik and the others pointed out that that terrible moment of déjà vu had basically been like a very lo-tech version of what had happened the night before; the next night, was I maybe going to be losing a quill and some papyrus? Would it be distracting to have me spending the night after that chiselling out notes on a stone tablet? We’re already in a cave; at least if I paint on the walls then it can’t go missing…

And I laughed, and I didn’t stop laughing until we got back to the flat and fell asleep.

Showcase: audience 34 (felt half-full); performance 3

Flashback: pretty good…


day 3: when you put all your eggs in a little black oblong basket

The first thing I heard yesterday morning was my alarm ringing on my iphone. I am a little bit ashamed to be an apple junkie because I have a nagging feeling that neo-marxists are supposed to be above commodity fetishism; but I still love my iphone more than I love, well, quite a lot of my friends. Particularly because I always struggle with waking up (particularly in Edinburgh when I’ve been up till after four analysing the problems of a bad performance), and I have an app which can tell exactly what state of sleep I’m in and wake me up gently with a really lovely sound. So I woke up, enjoyed the sound and then went back to sleep.

I was woken a little bit later by the equally lovely sound of Nan calling to say good morning, which even at 11am was still a little bit later than I was ready for, but it got me awake at least.

My phone came in handy again (sorry if this is sounding like an advert) for timing a flashback rehearsal. I got them to run the show at double-speed with massively exaggerated gestures, which was incredibly useful: the pace and energy of the show were instantly improved, and it also gave us more opportunities to spot and trim a few of the flabbier lines. Everything felt better when we’d trimmed it to forty minutes, and after the disappointment of the night before, it was good to feel excited about the show again.

Then I got a call from Luke Graves, to remind me about a gig I was booked for at the White Horse at four. I wheeled out my old ‘erotic story’ material, and that did okay even if it’s still too long. That’s okay, I thought – I’ll re-edit it on my phone.

Also in the gig were Nick Hodder and Mark Simmons, who are both very funny, so I pulled out the phone again, found some empty slots for them in my showcase gig, and booked them. Just as I was doing that, my phone rang again: it was Mark Restuccia, calling to check the location of the showcase gig which I’d booked him to open that night.

The gig itself was absolutely lovely – I hardly had to do any compering at all, just kept getting the acts on (who were all brilliant and James Sherwood closed with I Would Do Anyone But You which is a great show closer), and everyone had a good time – by the time the crowd were leaving to the sound of the Primitives song ‘Crash’ (again, straight out of my phone and through the PA) I was full of hope and excitement for the rest of the run. So, after a quick chat and a drink with the other acts, I got down to the Just The Tonic caves, where I got my phone out again, opened wordpress, checked a few emails and facebook messages and wrote yesterday’s blog.

Rik called me when the others arrived, and I told them about the showcase gig and they all touched me. ‘Touch the luck’, they said – and I felt like I was having a lucky evening. After another quick phonecall, I went to tech the show. I had my phone with me still, ready to flash at the stage if the energy dropped again; but it wasn’t a problem. The energy was so high throughout that it wasn’t necessary – and not a single person walked out.

After the show, we all sighed a huge sigh of relief. It felt like it had been a good day, a lucky day. As I left Just The Tonic, I decided to grab my phone one more time, and post a facebook message to say what a great day it had been.

So for one last time, I put my hand in my pocket and reached for my phone.

But it was gone.

Showcase: Audience 48, Performance: 7

Flashback: Much improved

Overall: would be a win; but with the phone thing it’s a LOSE

on the surface of the water

I’m still on my Dad’s narrowboat, somewhere north of Oxford.

When I mention to people that my father has a boat, the usual reaction seems to be to assume that he must be very wealthy. In fact, it’s the opposite: he got the thing – the Lady Elizabeth, it’s called – for about five or six thousand pounds in 1983 and lived on it for a big chunk of my childhood, because he was on a science teacher’s salary with a divorce and two kids to pay for, and it was cheaper than living in a house.

But when he finally moved back onto land again, he kept it; not just as a frivolous luxury status item, but because for him not to have a boat would mean he would not be the man he is.

The Elizabeth, her travels and her upkeep, are a lifetime’s project for him. It’s a 63-foot extension of his personality. When I arrived at the boat yesterday morning, and I asked how he was, he said, “Well, I’ve had diesel bugs in the tank.”

(Diesel bugs, he explained, are tiny little bugs that live in diesel tanks, and breed at the kind of terrifying rate that pandas don’t. You don’t see them in diesel cars because they are burned up quickly, but in a vehicles with large tanks that sometimes doesn’t go anywhere for a few weeks – like narrowboats – millions of them reproduce and then die and leave a black sludge of diesel bug corpses that clogs up the engine. Fortunately, if there’s one thing that canal-folk know about, it’s how to dispose of corpses).

Anyway, boating is who my father is, boating of any and all varieties; he has been spending most of his free time on water since he went a boy, canoing and sailing dinghys and yachts as a student. I once sat with him and a map, trying to figure out if there was anywhere on the south coast of England that he hadn’t been to on some sailing expedition or other. There wasn’t.

But the most remarkable thing is the kind of feeling he has for the water itself. He says he’s always found it difficult trying to explain to people how to steer a boat, because he does it without thinking.

We were at a lock yesterday, waiting for another boat coming through the lock the other way. He seemed to be letting the Lady Elizabeth drift backwards, with the back end floating slowly towards the bank, to let the other boat pass. It looked like we were going to crash into the bank. Aren’t we going backwards a bit too fast, I asked?

“No,” he said, “the undercurrent from the lock will pull us forward in a minute.”

And slowly, almost magically, the boat stopped drifting back and came to a stop just before the edge. Then he gently nudged the reverse again to keep us from being pulled into the drag from the other boat as it passed us, and then forwards to glide us into the lock.

It might be that he’s got a physics degree and so he always knows what energies are pulling which way and why; but I think it’s more that he can just instinctively feel the water moving beneath the boat. The thing about boating is that even on canals there are so many deep channels and currents that you don’t see but that you have to feel, because you need to make the right slow, subtle movements, at the right time, to keep the boat steady and on course.

And it’s not easy to keep the boat steady like that when the water is moving all around and beneath you. I can’t do it; I always make too many rash motions, always overreact to every sideways drift. (My mother’s son.)

But my Dad always knows just which motions to make with the tiller and when, how much momentum is needed in every direction, to keep a 63-foot hulk of steel chugging steadily along.

It’s a strange family that my father comes from. Full of doctorates, political activists, intellectuals, transexual jazz musicians, you name it. When I was younger, I naturally compared my father – a teacher who likes boating and tea and biscuits – with the rest of his family. And I have to admit I wondered if maybe he was a little bit ordinary, a bit superficial.

I know now, of course, that’s not true – only a man with an acute awareness of what ferocious churning is happening in the depths could stay so steady; calmly and peacefully moving across the surface of the water…


I’ve got a kind of routine for this time of year, nowadays.

The school year ends and then, just before I go to Edinburgh, I spend two weeks sleeping in different parts of the world.

There’s a few reasons for this. The most obvious one is that I only have these few weeks to spend any time at all with my friends and family, so I have to fit trips into Northampton, Wales, and whichever part of the UK waterways network my Dad has taken his canal boat to, as well as any other trips, abroad or otherwise, that I might have planned. But I’m also exhausted. And so I go to a place, and spend most of the time in a kind of dozy haze, get on a train to the next place, snooze all the way, and then sleep again when I arrive.

The sleeping’s not a problem, though, compared with how good it is to be moving. Partly because it’s good to get out of London at this time of year – it’s hot and sticky and it stinks (any Londoner who tells you London doesn’t stink in the summer should probably move to a less boring part of London).

But mainly, just moving around is good. Some people are itinerants by nature, and I get edgy staying in one place too long. There’s no way I’d have lived in London for this long if it weren’t for the fact that a) London has whole worlds to explore in it, b) doing stand-up quite frequently gets me all over the country in the evenings, and c) teachers get these kind of holidays where it’s actually possible to go places sometimes.

I’m also taking a kind of perverse joy in the fact that I suppose I’m technically homeless at the moment. I moved out of my house and I’ve been staying this week in my sister and brother-in-law’s flat in Stoke Newington. Which is very nice of them; plus I like Stoke Newington; plus it’s saving me some rent money…

That’s money that I need for other things, after all: tonight I went down to King’s Cross station and picked up so many pre-booked train tickets that I couldn’t close my wallet again afterwards. That was good.

Tomorrow I’m getting an early train up to Banbury, where my Dad’s boat is. It’s not far to travel but it will do for now. Then we travel down the canal, southwards.

Perhaps it’s genetic…

on karl edrik

So now Karl Edrik is dead. Apparently they found his body out in Goa. I don’t know exactly how he died and I’m not prepared to speculate.

I don’t want to say too much about it because I don’t want to get a reputation for just writing about dead or dying comedians. But I’m quite sad about it. So I will say this about Karl:

1) We started out in comedy at the same time. We did our first ever stand-up course and our first few gigs together. His material back then was terrible (as was mine), but something about his style made the material almost irrelevant. He was just ridiculously confident and ballsy.

2) His ballsiness wasn’t a stage act; in fact, I think he was borderline crazy. But he went full throttle at life, he was amazing to go drinking with, and he had stories that made me blush. I like to think he was also outgoing enough to make sure plenty of those stories are still out there knocking around. It would be a tragedy if they go to the grave with him.

3) I haven’t seen him since Edinburgh last year. We were doing shows in the same venue, and in the first few days he said, give me a call and we’ll go for a beer. But because it was Edinburgh, and everything gets in the way of normal planning, I never did. I’m sad about that. And I’m sad that I won’t get to make up for it.

Sorry, Karl.

not breaking the jinx

I got knocked out of the Laughing Horse competition tonight, at the quarter-final stage.

Which brings us back to where this blog started a year ago.

It’s annoying because I’m so much better at this now than I was then.

Still. It’s my own fault; I started well, then took a risk on a bit of new-ish material that did really well on Thursday; but it turns out that it’s one of those bits of material that either kills or, if it doesn’t fly, just leaves me standing there shouting. And, for whatever reason (partly because I rushed it to try and fit a seven-minute story into four minutes) it just didn’t fly tonight. So I ended weak. And so the three guys who did good, solid sets went through.

Still. This is how it goes. If you gamble, sometimes you lose.

well, that was brilliant

So having arrived back in London again, I can safely say that this weekend was pretty much perfect.

I woke up this morning feeling massively hungover, which is probably a good sign that yesterday was fun; not only did the show go really well – if anything, even better than the night before – but the whole day had been pretty nice. Fraser persuaded me to try out going to a Tanning Salon (which I never thought I’d do but which was AWESOME. It’s like being out in the sunshine for a few minutes and then you come out feeling really happy!); I had one of the nicest cappuccinos I’ve ever had in the Crumblin’ Cookie, (the venue where the show is, and which is run by some properly lovely people); we had dinner in Nando’s… And then the show had such an enthusiastic audience that it was impossible not to feel good after that.

And then we all went out and got trolleyed again.

If anything now, though, it makes it a little strange and sad being back home. Comedy festivals take you so far out of normal reality that suddenly being back at home in in my little room in Finsbury Park, on a Sunday night, thinking about going to work tomorrow and trying to book some more gigs for later in the week, is a little weird.

It’s been especially weird not speaking to Nan since she flew out on Friday – she is, more than anything else, my closest friend and the idea of not being able to really call her or talk to her for the next few months is a sobering thought.

It’s going to be a sobering week, perhaps.