Six Months Off

28 October 2006

I’m now officially on a six-month sabbatical, during which I’m going to try and grow my software business, Axe Software. I also think it would be interesting to take up blogging properly so I’ll be talking about my progress, maybe a bit on this blog but more officially on the Axe Software blog which I’ve just set up.

If it works out I’ll be able to follow the dream of being my own boss, keeping my own hours and doing exactly what I want to do. I’ll be able to pour more time into my other interests, writing comedy and music (for which I’ve just set up a MySpace page, thereby missing the bandwagon by perhaps 12 months).

If it doesn’t work out, I’ll end up in quite a lot of debt, but at least I can go back to a normal day job and hopefully have an increased level of sales over the following months and years, which should repay it.

And if it doesn’t? Well, I won’t know unless I have a go. And it’s got to be more fun than working for somebody else for six months.


Quest 4.0 - Beta Testers Wanted!

28 October 2006

I am planning to release the first beta of Quest 4.0 in the next week or so.If you would like to help beta test the new version, please email me at [email protected] asking to sign up as a beta tester.

Once signed up, I’ll send you an email with download instructions when each beta version is released.

I’ll be giving away free copies or upgrades to those people who submit useful bug reports and suggestions, so sign up now!


Edinburgh Festival 2006

22 August 2006

I’ve just got back from a week at the Edinburgh Festival. I hadn’t been to Edinburgh before - I’ve been thinking about going for a few years but somehow I always just kind of forgot about it. Anyway, this year I remembered the festival’s existence in plenty of time to book accommodation and cheap train tickets.

Rachel & I stayed at the Palmerston Lodge hostel which is about 10 minutes’ walk from Princes Street. At one time it must have been a magnificent huge town house, but nowadays it offers reasonably priced if somewhat skanky accommodation. In general it wasn’t too bad, although it reminded me of my student halls of residence a bit too much - the whole place needs a damn good scrubbing, and if they could fix the toilet seats and make the showers work properly that would be nice too.

Although not too far from Princes Street, and although the Fringe features acts in a total of 261 different venues across the city, we found that a lot of the acts we wanted to see were concentrated in just a small number of large venues - mainly the Pleasance and the Underbelly, both of which are on the other side of town. The buses are fairly frequent and the walk is good for you, though I think next year we might try to find somewhere a bit closer to the action.

One thing I quite enjoyed was spotting comedians as we were walking about. We must have seen Arthur Smith three or four times in various places. We also saw Paul Merton, Steve Frost and Richard Vranch in the Library bar in the Gilded Balloon, and we saw Jeff Green, Marcus Brigstocke and Richard Herring variously about the place. How exciting.

Anyway, here are some reviews of the shows we saw:

Lizzie Roper in "Peccadillo Circus"

Lizzie Roper interviewed a number of people about their sex lives. On stage, she plays back these interviews to herself using an MP3 player, and then re-enacts what she hears - every voice, every stutter, every pause. It’s very entertaining - not always laugh-out-loud funny, but brilliantly performed and somewhat disturbing at times. Some people are really screwed up.

4/5

The Stand Late Show

This is on every Friday and Saturday night and features different acts each time. A great way to warm up and get into the festival spirit in a poky little venue with the tiniest toilets you’ll ever see.

The show we saw was compered by Bruce Devlin, who is very quick and rather camp. I found him amusing at first, but when he introduced the later acts he was reduced to bitching about people one might read about in Heat magazine.

1/5

Reginald D. Hunter wasn’t too bad but there were a few too many jokes about being black and American for my tastes.

3/5

Sarah Millican jokes about being a bitter divorcee, which is probably only amusing if you are one too.

1/5

Rhod Gilbert is a very funny and amiable Welsh bloke.

4/5

Mike Wilmot was headlining. He’s a fat Canadian who drank a lot of beer and told filthy jokes and was absolutely hilarious. He could have gone on forever, and he almost did.

5/5

Luke Wright in "Luke Wright - Poet Laureate"

Luke Wright is part of “poetry boyband” Aisle16 and looks as though he has recently celebrated his twelfth birthday. There was plenty of silly poetry, accompanied by some excellent drawings and animations. The poetry was mostly good, although the hour would have been better filled if some of the flab was lost and a bit more time taken over the good stuff.

3/5

Will Smith in "How to be Cool"

I really enjoyed the warm-up show I saw for Will Smith’s show last year which was entirely devoted to his obsession with Marillion’s “Misplaced Childhood” album, in which he intermingled stand-up comedy with video clips of him hassling Fish himself. This year, Smith again uses PowerPoint slides and video as he tries to figure out what coolness is. The result wasn’t quite as brilliant as last year’s show, and at times was more cringeworthy than funny, leaving the audience awkwardly quiet. Nonetheless it is still an excellent show and well worth seeing.

4/5

Russell Howard

Russell Howard is a very quick and likeable comic who just seems to be having a chat rather than actually performing. This is what makes him an excellent compere, and even though when he does his own stand-up there’s no real theme or substance, he is still very entertaining to watch.

4/5

John Hegley in "Elevenses"

This show is on at 11 in the morning and we only just made it. As usual there was plenty of silly poetry and songs, together with more serious and poignant material that makes everybody say “aah”. Thoroughly entertaining for all ages - this was the only Fringe show I saw where parents had brought along their kids - and there was tea and biscuits too (alas for only one member of the audience).

5/5

Justin Edwards in "Unaccompanied as I am"

Justin Edwards is the creator of Jeremy Lion which is one of the funniest things I’ve seen in a very long time. This year however he appears as himself and performs a number of comedy songs. He’s a surprisingly good singer, although he did appear to have trouble keeping in time with his backing tape when used it. The song about Paul Shane from Hi-De-Hi really is shit, even if he admits it himself. Even though a few songs fail to hit the mark there’s some excellent material here.

4/5

Stewart Lee

Stewart Lee did a one-off performance, a repeat of last year’s show. Even though I’d seen the show before I still found it incredibly funny, maybe because I have a bad memory.

5/5

Paul Kerensa in "Back to the Futon"

When I heard somebody was doing a show entirely based on the “Back to the Future” films, I booked tickets immediately. At last - a show with a lot of film references that I would definitely get. Unfortunately the show veered between the pretty good and the decidedly lame. He’s not as clever as he seems to think he is, and just because your jokes are geeky doesn’t make you anywhere near as good as Dave Gorman.

3/5

Daniel Kitson in "C-90"

Wow. Daniel Kitson’s show is a story about a man who catalogues compilation tapes. The audience sits on three sides while Kitson walks about a sparse set, introducing us to the other characters who live in the same village. It’s absolutely spellbinding stuff as their stories intertwine. Beautifully written, it’s also exceptionally funny and Kitson brings the characters to life in intricate detail. When the story ends, he leaves, not even returning for a bow, and the audience can take a look at the huge shelves of tapes on the stage. For me it was definitely the highlight of this year’s festival.

5/5

Richard Herring in "Menage à un"

I like Richard Herring’s writing, particularly his “Warming Up” blog, yet oddly I was less sympathetic to his on-stage presence where he came across a bit more twattish than I imagined he would. Nonetheless he was still very entertaining and the show improved for me after a few crap jokes at the beginning.

4/5

Overall I can thoroughly recommend going to Edinburgh. There is so much going on it’s mind-blowing - by my calculations, if you were to see eight shows a day, and stay there for the whole month, you’d still miss out on 90% of everything that’s happening. I’ll definitely be going up again next year, and the year after that, and the year after that… maybe at some point with a show of my own. Better get writing.


Glastonbury 2005

29 June 2005

I’ve tried to piece together as much as I can remember about Glastonbury in some kind of photo-blog format, so here it is.

Wednesday 22nd June

Our journey began, lugging rucksacks to Victoria to catch a coach at 1pm, due to arrive a Glastonbury at around 4.30pm.

Nick eagerly awaits the next District line train.

I also await the next Disrict line train eagerly, but do my best to hide it.

We arrived at Victoria. We bought some sandwiches. We then ate them. But this isn’t the time for annoying little details. The important thing is that we got on the coach.

A couple of hours later, we stopped at a service station on the M4. For 50 minutes. I’ve no idea why we needed that long - maybe the driver needed to do a really big shit.

Nick used the time to catch some sun, while I hid in the shade as I burn really easily. As you will soon see.

Anyway, we eventually arrived at Glastonbury despite heavy traffic and the coach driver being told to go down the wrong road. I was really quite impressed with his three-point turn though.

After all the warnings about the increased security - all the tickets were marked with the holder’s name and address, and you had to bring a driving licence or a “Citizen Card” - I was somewha disappointed when they didn’t even seem to bother paying much attention to the details on my ticket or driving licence. We had arrived well before the big rush on Thursday - I can imagine I could probably have blagged my way in with a Tesco ClubCard.

Wristband securely attached, the next step was to find where to camp. We had arranged to meet up with some people from the Orbital website forums, who I was told were camped on the hill opposite the Pyramid stage. This probably would have made sense if I’d been there before, and it took several phone calls before we were even looking in the correct field. Eventually we found the right place and pitched our tent.

Quite a lot of people had arrived before us.

View towards the Pyramid Stage. The power lines were a handy landmark, even though they did crackle annoyingly, and cause us to wonder - can you get leukaemia in five days?

After pitching the tent, we set off to explore.

There’s plenty of hippy stuff around, of course.

About as hippy as it gets is the Stone Circle. Though you can’t really see the stones in this picture.

This is the area opposite the Jazz World stage. You can clearly see the best bar on site here - it sells pear cider. Fantastic stuff - crisp, tasty and refreshing. You can also get strawberry and lemon flavours, but it’s the base pear product that can’t be beaten. Later in the festival I had a pint of Blackthorn and it tasted like mud in comparison.

There are plenty of toilets around, and I don’t recall seeing anybody actually pissing in any streams or hedges so I suppose these signs work well.

Another sculpture. There was another sculpture nearby made entirely of wellies, of two people trying to pull a third out of the ground. I didn’t take a picture of that though. It wasn’t as aesthetically pleasing as these cows - in fact it was rather horrible.

As sunset approached, we went back to the Stone Circle, which was full of hippies cheering the sunset and playing the drums.

I set this picture up very carefully, so as to avoid the naked man who was sitting on one of the stones.

As you can see, night mode on my phone really is crap. We stayed around the stone circle for a while, watching people playing with fire.

When all that fire juggling got boring, we went to a hippy cinema thing where we watched a rather eclectic selection of short films, which included Willo the Wisp and coverage of last year’s Circle Line Party.

And then we returned to the tent, passing this sculpture by the Leftfield stage on the way.

Thursday 23rd June

Thursday was incredibly sunny. Nick sought flipflops. I sought shade. The only shelter from the sun I could find was behind one of those flags by the Jazz World stage. Unfortunately the wind changed direction and I got bad sunburn.

They would have provided great shelter, if they didn’t flap about so much.

Still, most people were enjoying the sun.

Sitting around with a pint of pear cider in your hand, everything was pretty sweet - and the festival hadn’t even started properly yet.

Even I was smiling.

Yep, life was good.

I had even managed to get myself into some shade for a while.

This is a poo truck, though it’s actually collecting wee. In the foreground are some recycling bins. Apparently they turn all those paper plates and forks that get used during the festival into compost. Compost that I imagine tastes of ketchup.

Here’s the Pyramid Stage. Not much happening.

Back by the Jazz World stage where they were doing a sound check. They were actually playing some pretty good tunes - until they started playing Mike and the Mechanics.

Drugs are illegal at Glastonbury of course - like that stops anybody. But if you wanted to get mashed on nothing but oregano and sage, you could probably do worse than go to this “Herbal Highs” store. Though why the hell you would want to is anybody’s guess.

Back at the tent, I realised the full extent of my sunburn.

That evening, the Dance Lounge kicked off with a set by, err, somebody. It wasn’t particularly good. But the decorations outside were.

We returned to the tent, lit a camp fire, then sat around drinking and eating pretzels and Haribo.

In the distance, we could see back to the Stone Circle at the other end of the site, where once again people had gathered and lit fires. It looked like a sky full of yellow twinkling stars. It had been a gloriously sunny day and everybody was looking forward to the start of the festival. If the weather was going to stay like this, we couldn’t really ask for more - though maybe a small amount of rain to cool off our sunburn would be nice.

With a small amount of drizzle our prayers were answered. The lightning was pretty cool as well. Over at the Stone Circle, the flickering specks were becoming more sparse. It was time to go to bed…

Friday 24th June

It was the early hours of Friday morning and I was trying to sleep. Rain was really pounding down on our tent. It was very loud - where were my earplugs? Oh. They were already in my ears. Thunder crashed throughout the night. It sounded like we were getting rather more rain than we had asked for.

Getting out of the tent that morning, the ground was a little soggy. We heard on a neighbour’s radio that there was going to be a delay to most of the stages kicking off. It seemed a bit extreme - surely they could have been prepared for a little bit of rain..?

We went down the hill to find some breakfast - and quickly found out just how much rain there had actually been.

Ah. If I wanted breakfast, I was going to have to wade - or wait in the long queues for those stalls which had put wooden pallets out. Nick braved the water and went to get some paella. The chef was frowning - where was that Glastonbury spirit? Then Nick saw he was standing in a foot of water - just like everybody else.

Here is a video showing what we had to put up with if we wanted to get anywhere.

Apparently somebody got stuck in a portaloo. Wonder if it’s that one in the third row?

Walking around the site, it was clear how lucky we were to be camping with festival veterans who knew the best places to camp. I’m glad we didn’t camp here.

Here is a video of the scene of devastation above - and the two chaps who were canoeing through it, picking up cans of beer.

There was mud. Absolutely everywhere.

Nick had bought some flipflops the previous day. It really wasn’t the weather for them now. As his boots were uncomfortable, for some reason he thought the best option would be to go around barefoot. This is what a foot looks like when you do that at Glastonbury after it has flooded.

On the other hand, my feet were mostly dry, even if my boots had turned the same colour as absolutely everything else.

But nobody was going to let a little bit of mud spoil the fun.

Even if everybody does look really grumpy in these pictures.

Apart from me and Nick of course - and that cheeky bastard in the middle there.

Wellies were apparently selling for £45. Fights were breaking out in the queues. It does smack of poor planning though - I mean, I’d never been to Glastonbury before, but I knew Glastonbury was famous for mud. Leaving the boots at home and just packing the sandals would surely have been foolhardy.

It had been overcast all day. There was no sign of that mud drying up any time soon.

Walking near the Other Stage was difficult. No wonder nobody was dancing much.

The toilets were actually mostly pretty clean. But here’s an example of one that wasn’t. I’m hopeful that the brown stuff is in fact mud. There was, after all, plenty to go round.

These kids were queuing for a tap. I wonder if they successfully avoided a stern telling-off from their mothers?

We had some tea in the tipi field, and went off to see comedian Stewart Lee - safely sheltered in the Cabaret tent, though the floor was soggy and I got a wet arse. Lee put in a fantastic performance as always, though it was pretty much exactly the same material as when I saw him about nine months previously. But then it’s a good job I have a poor memory for jokes, as it was still bloody funny.

Back to the Other Stage for Royksopp, who were excellent. It was definitely the best music for these girls to go mud wrestling (video).

Fatboy Slim followed, and was absolutely fantastic, despite expectations.

They gave out some glasses, and when you put them on, the bright lights made smiley faces appear. Which was odd.

We went to the Dance area for a bit to see if anything interesting was happening. Somehow Nick managed to lose the bag that contained my suncream and aftersun. I was rather annoyed and sent him off to find it, while I trudged back to the tent. Back at base camp, I moaned at him on the phone for a while and then lay down to sleep outside my tent. Fortunately this was spotted by everybody else sitting round the camp fire and I was sent to bed. Apparently while I was doing this, Nick had somehow left the festival entirely. Fortunately he took his ticket with him and was allowed back in again.

By this point the batteries on my phone were running out. I queued twice over the weekend for the Orange “Chill & Charge” tent but I was only able to get limited juice into my phone. Hence there are somewhat fewer pics for the remainder of the festival.

Saturday 25th June

At least it didn’t rain overnight. But then it hadn’t been sunny on Friday, and so everything was still pretty much as wet and muddy as it had been. There was plenty of stuff to see to take our minds off it though. Unfortunately I don’t have many pictures of it.

We sat at the tent for a while, watching a few of the early acts on the Pyramid Stage which was conveniently visible, as you can see in this picture. That morning featured belly dancers and Goldie Lookin Chain.

I went to the loo and managed to lose Nick entirely for the duration of the Kaiser Chiefs. By some fluke I managed to bump into him just after they finished, and so our adventure continued.

We saw the Steve Frost Improv All-Stars, which had been rescheduled from Friday. We had to sit through the rantings of an annoyingly unfunny old hippy to get a seat, but it was well worth it.

I thought New Order were fantastic, although I hear the telly coverage looked a bit poo so maybe you just had to be there. My only complaint would be that, bizarrely, they didn’t play Blue Monday. Criminal.

After the main acts had finished there was still entertainment to be had, including a queue for the “world’s smallest nightclub”, the Miniscule of Sound. It was apparently Fisherman’s Hour - anyone in the fishing industry “gets free and direct access to the club”. A bouncer in a Nazi costume barked “are you in ze fishing industry!?” while we waited to get in. Eventually we did, and as the name suggested, it really was very small. The music was pretty good as well.

Another camp fire finished the night. The shouts of “bollocks!” going round the camp site, which seems to be something of a Glastonbury tradition, somehow mutated into shouts of “Fuck Coldplay”, “Fuck Keane as well” and “Stephen Hawking fucking Coldplay up the ass”. I presume there had to be some kind of logic behind it all.

Sunday 26th June

Sunday was a much sunnier day.

Oooh arrr.

This is the Tipi field, with me and Nick in it.

In the John Peel tent, we saw the Dresden Dolls. They are quite bizarre to watch - no fancy visuals or anything, just a singer/pianist and a drummer, who somehow manages to combine an over-the-top performance with very intricate rhythms which somehow sometimes stutter in an oddly mechanical way. It’s kind of hard to explain really.

Kevin Eldon performed as a spoof poet and was very funny indeed.

We also saw Tori Amos in the Acoustic tent, and Garbage on the Pyramid stage from the comfort our own tent.

The final main act we saw was 2 Many DJs. I was expecting good things, as Nick’s been raving about them since… well, pretty much ever since I first met him, I think. He is a big fan of the way they can combine songs which have no right to be combined, so you never know what’s going to come next. Tragically they were completely rubbish, turning in an utterly bog standard dance set.

We left the Dance tent slightly disappointed, but even with the main acts over there was still entertainment available. We managed to catch a bit more comedy, and something called the “Alien Circus”, which was just a fairly boring dance performance hidden by sci-fi costumes.

We headed for the Lost Vagueness area, and the Chapel of Love and Hate, where we saw a peculiar piece of ballet called Rumpled Foreskin - basically an adaptation of Beauty and the Beast. And then we saw an act that I don’t think I could have prepared myself for - Gobsausage. I think the only way to describe it is a shambolic, pornographic, futuristic punk act. A man in a gimp mask shouted while topless girls spat on crucifixes. I think a lot of the audience didn’t really seem to get it. Mine and Nick’s interpretation was that it was some kind of comment on the kind of shock tactics used by the music industry, but in reality I think we only stuck around because we were far too scared to leave.

When it was over, we headed outside to see what else Lost Vagueness had to offer. Tea & Sympathy: “Tea 50p. Shoulder to cry on is free”. And Sweeney Todd’s, where apparently you could get a shot and a shave. There were some actors singing, although they didn’t seem to have much of an idea about who would be singing what at what time.

We headed to the Stone Circle. Here is a video of some communal bongo-ing in the run-up to sunrise.

Nick was in full hippy mode.

Here is a video showing the full 360°. It was a rather odd experience actually - the whole scene was completely indistinguishable from 1971. In the video you can see and hear Nick using pedal power to play us a song. I don’t know who was responsible for the contraption. Apparently they go around schools with it, to teach kids about renewable energy sources. It was all too bizarre to take in.

Monday 27th June

We staggered back to the tent, got a few hours’ sleep, and then packed up everything. Said goodbye to everybody, got on a bus at about 1pm, and got back home around 6.30pm. I was completely knackered, greasy, muddy and sunburnt. But it was bloody worth it.


And Alex Said: Exams

14 March 2003

Column 19: Exams, 14th March 2003

I wrote about revision last week, so the obvious follow-up is the exams themselves. I’m not a betting man, but I bet you’ve done a fair few exams before, and you should be used to them now. But they’re still a pain, both mentally and physically, due to the wonderfully unergonomic design of exam hall furniture – sitting on a chair which was obviously designed by somebody with a penchant for sadism, and a desk that has its legs placed precisely where you’d like your legs to be, thereby ensuring there is absolutely no physically comfortable position possible. It is also inevitable that you will choose a table that wobbles with every slight movement of your pen.

So, everything is perfectly arranged for the whole exam experience to be as stressful as possible. You should try to relax. However, your options for doing this in the exam hall are somewhat limited – you can’t run a hot bubble bath or light scented candles, the invigilators would probably want a word with you if you lit a joint, and presumably masturbation is well off-limits.

You don’t want to be tired in an exam, so make sure you get a good night’s rest. If you have trouble sleeping, you could try knocking yourself out with either a bottle of vodka or a large mallet, but why not try self-hypnosis? All you need is a pocket watch, or failing that a £2 coin on a piece of string, and there are guides on the internet telling you exactly what to do – though be careful which one you pick. I tried one a few years ago, which seemed to work quite well, but every time somebody coughed I would get up onto the desk and sing “If You’re Happy And You Know It Clap Your Hands”. Several others had obviously read similarly poor hypnosis guides, because every time I clapped my hands while singing, they got up and danced around their desks and pretended to be cream cakes. It all got rather chaotic and messy, particularly when they started eating themselves, and it was shortly after this event that they abolished the 11-plus – I always said it was wrong for kids to sit exams at such a young age.

Not only do exams drive children insane, but constant exams means you hear the same advice over and over again, such as making sure you read the question properly before answering – I once spent ages writing out a detailed derivation of the fundamental equations of Quantum Mechanics, only to realise that what I’d actually been asked was only to sign a credit card slip in the supermarket. I’d like to think that the 16 year-old cashier learned something from it, but she just put it straight in the till. I don’t think she even compared it with the signature on my card – which is a detailed derivation of the main equations of General Relativity. Maybe my writing is just too small.

Time has a habit of running out all too quickly in some exams. The same is true of this column’s word count – my word limit approaches rapidly, so that’s it from me this year I think. This is the last Felix of this term, and my final column, for a while at least. You can find all nineteen of them which I’ve written this year on my website – plus a whole plethora of other things. Kinky Mark, Channel 23 and The Fish of Knowledge are eagerly awaiting your visit. Thanks for reading and goodbye – my time is up, so I shall now stop writing.


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