I’m starting a stand-up comedy course in a few weeks. This may surprise you, coming from somebody who rarely shows his extroverted side except when drunk and there’s karaoke in the vicinity. But it’s good to scare the shit out of yourself once in a while, and part of the reason why I want to do it is that the mere idea of performing stand-up is absolutely terrifying. Just this last week I’ve gone through three packs of Imodium, and I haven’t even started the course yet.
I’m not sure I want to forge a career as a stand-up comedian. Plenty of people try, and most of them fail dismally. And the pay is shit - starting out at zero, and staying that way for quite a long time. But it’s a good challenge. If I can make a room full of people laugh - or more likely, bring a slight chuckle to five bored strangers in a room above a dingy pub on a weekday night - I can pretty much do anything. Except fly. Or turn invisible.
The thing is I’ve always enjoyed writing comedy, and I think I could possibly get fairly good at it. Unfortunately I also enjoy lounging around, drinking beer and farting, which is somewhat easier.
What I need is a way of forcing me to write, and hopefully the stand-up course should be a way of doing that. Otherwise there will be a lot of umming, erring, apologies and booing when I take to the stage.
So, by way of warm-up, I’m sort-of resurrecting my old “And Alex Said…” column here on this blog. Many years ago, I used to write this column in Felix, the Imperial College student newspaper. Each week I would write crap on a particular topic. I found it quite difficult at first, but as I continued doing it I found it easier and easier to write crap.
Of course, resurrecting the column in blog format means I won’t be living with the fear of there being a big blank space on page 3 come Friday morning, and there are no arbitrary word limits. This gives me a bit of flexibility, although given that it was the discipline that made me write anything anyway, things may be a bit harder this time round.
The only thing forcing me to write will be the embarrassment of having written this blog post saying I was going to finally write some stuff regularly, and also the dawning realisation that I’ll be trying to do stand-up without having any decent material whatsoever.
But then that never stopped Jim Davidson.
This was my second Glastonbury festival. I first went back in 2005, and having survived the flooding of that year, I really thought we had seen the worst of what the Glastonbury weather could throw at us.
Wednesday 20th June
Me and Rachel set off at about 11am. The others would meet us there, although as the only ones driving we were carrying all of their beer, in the back of Rachel’s Nissan Micra. We were expecting some fairly nasty traffic jams, but apart from some tailbacks around Stonehenge it was a fairly easy journey - despite about 50% of the traffic being clearly festival-bound, laden with rucksacks, sleeping bags and crates of cheap lager. Nobody was travelling in as much style as these people though:
Click the pictures for a bigger version. I’m referring to the Routemaster, not the truck of course. It said “Glastonbury” on the destination board, and had “2007” as the route number. Despite my jealousy, I gave a cheery wave and received one in return.
Eventually the roads got smaller and narrower, and then there were just corrugated iron tracks over open fields, and some places with no tracks at all. It was fairly rough going but we managed to park up, Micra intact. And then we began the long trek to the festival site with our rucksacks, sleeping bags and tent.
Nick, Alan and Katie had trudged around for ages looking for somewhere to camp. In 2005 we were pitched on the hill opposite the Pyramid stage, clearly the best place in the entire site for those who didn’t want flooded tents. Unfortunately everybody else was now wise to this, which is why that campsite was full by noon. We ended up having to camp at the opposite end of the site, in an area that was new this year, near The Park.
There was still plenty of space there, though it did fill up eventually.
We pitched our tents and then went back to pick up the beer from the car. This was about one hour’s trudge away - even longer when you stop off for some pear cider on the way. We had brought along three crates of beer, two boxes of wine, some vodka, some Jack Daniels, some Pimms and 36 cans of Coke. Fortunately Katie had brought along a trolley. Unfortunately it was not really designed for lugging such a huge weight across miles of farmland. Some people had brought wheelbarrows, which seemed like a much better idea.
It was a pleasant, sunny evening, and there were waves of cheers going around the entire festival. And there was no mud around whatsoever - if only it could have stayed that way.
In the evening we went to check out the Stone Circle. Every minute or so, somebody would let off a kind of hot-air-balloon-lantern thing, to a massive cheer. We sat around listening to the drumming for a bit, soaking up the atmosphere. It was still dry. But we knew what the weather forecast said, so we went to bed and waited for the rain to come.
Thursday 21st June
It had rained a bit, but the festival site was still reasonably dry - certainly not muddy. It was my 25th birthday, and things felt much the same as ever, except I was beginning to feel slightly less clean than I had been when I was 24. It was still four days before I could have my next shower.
Although there are a few events taking place on Thursday, the festival doesn’t start properly until Friday, which meant we had a day to explore the site and generally relax. Chris and Kirsty arrived at about lunchtime, and we spent the afternoon wandering around, seeing what curious things we could find.
Here’s the Miniscule of Sound, the world’s smallest nightclub. This was absolutely fabulous in 2005. Unfortunately we missed it this year, although I think it shut prematurely because of the mud. It’s a perfect piss-take of shitty little clubs. Outside a sign says “NO. By order of the management”.
I had a rather tasty burger and then we went to the indoor cinema tent, where we started to watch Serenity. Unfortunately Rachel lost her wallet, and it was impossible to find it in the dark crowded tent where everybody was trying to be quiet. We had a quick look after the film had finished, when people had cleared out and the lights were back on, but we were out of luck.
Rachel went up to Worthy Farm to file a lost property report, while me, Nick and Alan moved to the outside cinema field to watch Ghostbusters. There was a good atmosphere - everyone was singing along to the theme tune and shouting random comments. To the extent that you couldn’t really follow the film. But that would have been a rather foolish expectation really.
Alan got chatting to an incredibly drunk girl who wrote her phone number on his arm. She changed her mind about this three digits from the end though, so she then subtly wrote down a load of random numbers, which meant she appeared to have a 20-digit phone number. We know she changed her mind three digits from the end because she later forgot her reservations and entered her correct phone number in Alan’s phone, and then rang herself.
We dragged Alan away from his very temporary friend, and headed once more to the Stone Circle. Rachel had bought me a trilby as a birthday present from one of the stalls. We sat around a large candle thing, and once again people were letting off the lantern things (they probably have proper names). Much alcohol was consumed. I was very sleepy.
Friday 22nd June
The festival begins properly on Friday, and to set the tone, it was absolutely pouring with rain. It was starting to get muddy. Kirsty’s enormous rainbow golfing umbrella was useful for keeping me and my trilby dry.
We went to the Jazz World stage to see Guilty Pleasures. This is a club night that plays all those records you’re not supposed to admit to liking, and they’d come to Glastonbury to get various acts to perform their own renditions of the guilty pleasures lurking in their record collections. I’ve completely forgotten who performed Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of the Heart, probably because I’d never heard of them and wasn’t paying attention, but it was good fun. Various other acts performed various other songs. It’s a good job I’ve never considered a career in journalism. Finally, Suggs performed Love is in the Air. He was wearing a hat quite a lot like the one I was wearing.
We went to explore a bit more of the festival site, now that more of it was open. There was a maze in the Cabaret field populated by a man in a suit who told you to “get lost”, a fortune teller and some moving topiary. To leave the maze you had to follow a rather scary farmer into a small shed. Truly bizarre and a good example of the kind of weirdness that sets Glastonbury apart from other festivals - I really wonder why people bother taking drugs when there’s this kind of shit going on.
There’s much more crazy stuff in Lost Vagueness, which we had a quick look at. We sat and had a cup of coffee and some apple pie in an American-style diner where the seats were old dodgems.
We headed to the Other Stage and watched Super Furry Animals followed by The Coral. We then went to The Park, where the mud was making walking difficult, to meet up again with Nick and Alan and to catch the end of Martha Wainwright. Then we went back again to the Other Stage to see her outrageously camp brother, Rufus Wainwright.
We had some food. Food at the festival was pretty good, and there was plenty of variety. A giant Yorkshire pudding filled with sausage and mash provided some much-needed stodge to absorb the alcohol:
Despite the mud, people were having a good time, although this young festival-goer didn’t seem to be enjoying himself much:
We saw Arcade Fire. The sky had cleared up a bit:
We saw Bjork, who went way beyond our expectations of sheer mentalness. Again, why people choose to do drugs at Glastonbury when there’s such large levels of real strangeness, I don’t know. And you can always leave Bjork when you’ve had enough, so we did.
It was still early enough to avoid the queues at Silent Disco, so that’s where we headed. There are no large speakers pumping out large beats - instead you get given headphones when you go in. There were two DJs playing, and the headphones are linked to one of them. One of the DJs was playing a good selection of dance music, while the other one was playing some of the worst records I’ve ever heard. Between us we had one set of headphones for the good DJ, and three for the crap one. Things started to look up when he played Stealers Wheel’s Stuck in the Middle With You, but unfortunately he decided to play an amazingly tedious ultra-long version which, for all I know, still hasn’t finished as I type this some two weeks later. Fortunately of course, you could just take off the headphones, and listen to the half of the crowd who had the good DJ singing along to Praise You by Fatboy Slim.
Saturday 23rd June
We got up fairly late and went to see The Bees on the Jazz World stage, who were surprisingly good. Then we headed to the Tipi field in search of a cup of tea (I wondered if there was also a Coffipi field. No-one laughed).
We walked past the mud-wrestling pit and sat down on our camping chairs near the fire. It then rained very hard for about ten minutes and I wished I had a poncho like everybody else - I had a waterproof jacket but my trousers were soaked. The fire was still burning though so I went to dry myself off, and the sight of steam rising from my nether regions was a glory to behold.
We explored a bit more and then headed to the Other Stage to see Maximo Park. Me and Nick then went to the Dance Village to catch Hybrid and a little bit of Mr Scruff.
Then me and Rachel headed to Lost Vagueness, as we’d heard that Madness and Fatboy Slim were doing a semi-secret performance in The Ballroom. It was already full and there was over an hour to go before they came on, but there was a screen outside. We went inside a tent that had old cinema seats inside it and watched a very bizarre performance by three women in nurses’ uniforms. I didn’t really understand what was going on - it involved a recording of David Attenborough and an illuminated womb - but it was nice to have a sit down.
As we left we discovered that Madness had started their performance early. There was a huge crowd both inside the tent and outside, watching the screen. Unfortunately we couldn’t hear anything outside - despite our chants of “turn it up!”. It seemed fairly pointless hanging around, as there was no way we could ever get inside, so we headed back to our tent.
Nick built a fire and I fell asleep in front of it.
Sunday 24th June
I headed up to Worthy Farm with Rachel to see if her wallet had been handed in (it hadn’t), and on the way we caught a bit of the Marley brothers on the Pyramid stage, who were busily making their way through their father’s back catalogue. Then we headed to the Dance Village to catch ex-Orbital member Phil Hartnoll’s new venture, Long Range. I’ve seen them perform a couple of times before, and they weren’t much different this time apart from a lack of live vocalists (except for my least favourite track Your Face).
We went back to the tent to get some more alcohol, and then went to get some food. We missed the first bit of Shirley Bassey on the Pyramid stage, which was unfortunately the only bit to include songs I’d ever heard of. It seemed strange for her not to at least finish on one of the Bond themes, but then she was a strange choice for a strange festival, so I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised.
Me and Nick wandered around the Cabaret and Circus areas for a bit and caught some of Mitch Benn. Then we went back to the Pyramid stage to rejoin the others for the Kaiser Chiefs, stopping off for a tasty falafel on the way.
Kirsty was precariously perched on top of a bin:
Me, Nick, Alan and Chris stayed at the Pyramid stage for The Who, though Alan’s enjoyment was somewhat reduced as he had stumbled at a urinal and was covered in “piss mud”:
The Who finished, but the festival wasn’t over. We went to Trash City where we took a look at the freak show and then went to the 1970s New York gay bar, where entry cost £1 which got you a fake moustache. After three days of Glastonbury I’d lost my ability to find anything particularly strange any more.
I went off to find Rachel, who was playing African drums in a tent in the Cabaret field. Obviously. I joined in for a while and then managed to drag her away, for she could quite happily have stayed there all night. We rejoined the others and we then tried to find some entertainment. It was absolutely pouring with rain and we were all incredibly tired. We decided we’d had enough, and began the slow walk through miles of mud back to our tents.
We sat and had a hot dog in the crappy burger tent near where were camped. It was 4am and it was still pouring with rain. Nick’s face sums up the mood at this point:
Monday 25th June
Me and Rachel were the last to leave, as everybody else was booked on coaches. We had been warned that there would be long queues to get out of the site, so we decided not to leave until quite late. This meant we had the entire day to fill up the car.
We were rather hung over and all around us was a scene of devastation, with countless discarded tents and huge amounts of rubbish:
We made two trips to the car to load up our stuff. It took us all afternoon - it was very slow going with all the mud, and our rucksacks were heavy with all the mud attached to the clothing inside. In the car parks, traffic wasn’t moving very much. Cars were having to get through some big puddles and plenty of vehicles were getting stuck in mud. We decided that we definitely didn’t want to leave the car park on that small track on which we’d driven in on Wednesday.
We were finally ready to leave the car park at 6pm. I started the car and we moved four yards in an attempt to join the queue to one of the exits. The queue was going nowhere. Half an hour later, it still hadn’t moved, but we saw behind us another queue which was slowly but steadily moving. It was that track that we had decided we definitely didn’t want to go down. But we decided to give it a try - if other cars were making it, surely ours could too.
So I started the car again and we went to move to the other queue. But we were stuck. I got out to push and Rachel sat in the driver’s seat. We were helped along by a couple of other guys, and managed to make it to the queue. It took us another hour to finally leave the festival site, and it was pretty tough going - not least when we had to be pushed by a tractor through some particularly thick mud. It was an appropriately surreal and muddy ending to a surreal and muddy festival.
It was a long drive back, and me and Rachel swapped several times as we were both very tired. Every service station on the way back to London was full of Glastonbury traffic - muddy cars and muddy people. We finally arrived home at about 1am, and I was so happy to get the bath I’d been dreaming about for days.
I was pretty sure, as I lay in my bath, that I didn’t want to go to Glastonbury again. At least, not for a very long time. You have to give up so much when you slum it in a field for the best part of a week that you have to wonder whether it’s worth the hassle. I was pretty sure that it was worth the hassle, but maybe only once in a lifetime. It’s definitely a worthwhile experience - pure escapism from the real world - but it’s just such a huge amount of effort.
I’ve been back for two weeks now, and I’ve still got quite a few things to clean the mud from. But in my mind the ordeal of Monday and the irritation I felt at the constant rain has faded a bit, and I’m able to focus more on what a fantastic time I had despite all the hardships. And I find I’m missing it slightly. I probably will return, maybe not next year but quite possibly in 2009.
After all, the weather couldn’t possibly get any worse - could it?
I’ve uploaded some new music to my “The Embryo” MySpace page: http://www.myspace.com/theembryomusic
The four new tracks are called Come On You Bastard, Alarm, Waking Giant and Trump.
They’re all fairly short. I’m always impressed with myself when I manage to write a track that’s over six minutes long, but most of my newer tracks don’t even hit three minutes.
Either I’m running out of musical ideas or I’m becoming less self-indulgent.
I’ve been on a sabbatical for the last six months while I’ve been developing my own software business, Axe Software. It’s been an interesting experience, and I’ve learned the following things:
So, the sabbatical has come to an end. I haven’t quite achieved the dream of being my own boss, but it’s been a worthwhile experience. I can thoroughly recommend it to anyone who’s got a business idea - you’ll never know if it’s viable unless you take the plunge, and if you can get a sabbatical from your employer, that’s a nice and safe way to stick your toe in the water.
If nothing else, you might get a lot fitter, and your house will be tidier than ever before.
It’s only mid-April and already the temperature is 20 degrees Celsius in London. This is quite a pleasant amount of heat for me. I can go outside without bothering to wear a coat, and I’m not likely to get sunburn or spontaneously vapourise.
But, if it’s this hot now, what the hell is it going to be like in London in July? Time to stock up on the aftersun - but it’s worse than that. Because I’m not going to be in London in July. Oh no. I’m going to be in the south of fucking Spain.
I’ll have to stay inside between 6am and 10pm, and even when I do venture out in the fading twilight, I’ll still have to grease myself up with factor 25 lest I singe my epidermis. I’m just too pale to live comfortably in even the British summer these days, and in a few years’ time you won’t be able to recognise me for tumours.
A few years ago, when I had a shaved head, I managed to severely sunburn my scalp. I woke up the next morning and my hotel pillow, which was pristine white when I went to bed, was bright yellow from the pus oozing out of my head.
It looked pretty strange. I wonder what they thought when they came to clean the room. Maybe that somehow, during the night, I had urinated through my eyes.