August 1st 2016
Last time out, I wrote about six things that I don't like. To redress the balance - and who doesn't love a nicely redressed balance? - here are some things I really do like. I've gone for things that, mostly, might come as a bit of a surprise, so these are not necessarily my favourite things (some of which can be seen on the rarely updated favourites page of this site). If you didn't know that I like crosswords, polar bears & the Beatles then you weren't paying attention before, and this isn't really that kind of list. Some of it might be surprising; for much of it, you might not be a fan. But, if you are... let's talk about it sometime. That'll be fun.
The word 'ossify'
My favourite word, as it goes (overtaking the previous number one, 'equatorial'). Not only does 'ossify' sound lovely, but I'm also a big fan of the fact that we have a word that means 'to turn something into bone'. Who thought that was necessary? I love it. The English language is a beautiful thing, cobbled together from a vast number of roots and influences, but I haven't yet come across another word I enjoy as much as 'ossify'. It is, if you will, the anti-sliver.
Bovril in a cheese sandwich
When I was a child, I thought as a child, and I had marmite with my cheese. Then, one auspicious day, I discovered that my cousin instead had Bovril in cheese sandwiches, and I never looked back. While I can't stand Bovril as a drink (the more commonly accepted form, I admit), it is a rare day indeed that I have a cheese sandwich without spreading a bit of Bovril in there with it. Mmm... beefy. Try it out, thank me later. (As an aside, I can never, ever remember where Bovril is stored in a supermarket. I have to wander the whole place twice pretty much every time I buy it).
I don't do a lot of maths in my day-to-day life, sadly, but whenever I come across a reasonably big number, I try to work out the prime factorisation (if the number is too big, I'll stick simply to trying to work out if it's a prime or not). So, if you tell me that you've accidentally bought 1,456 bags of rice, my first thought won't be to commiserate or to barter some pasta; it will be: "2 x 728... 2^2 x 364... 2^3 x 182... 2^4 x 91... 2^4 x 7 x 13... nailed it." This is fun to me.
Writing on bananas
To be honest, I don't do this much. Partly because I don't really like bananas. But I once read somewhere that writing on a banana (unpeeled) with a ballpoint pen was one of life's great pleasures, and having tried it out I have to agree. Others who have done this, at my behest, have reported no great excitement from the activity, so I guess it's an acquired taste. But, if I could, I'd write everything on bananas.
Toad in the hole
Since I wrote - at length - about the evils of the parsnip last time, let me tell you now about my favourite meal: toad in the hole. A peculiarly British dish, I think, it takes the humble sausage - already a wonderful thing, beloved of dogs and me alike - and surrounds it in batter, to magnificent effect. Add a bit of gravy (making sure to leave some batter ungravied, so that it remains crisp), potatoes and vegetables to taste, and there you have it. Delicious. Also, a fun housemate bonding activity, the one and only time Matt & I attempted to cook together.
Games that you play as a team
Speaking of housemate bonding activities, whenever Dave and I used to play Fifa, we'd play on the same team as each other. Some people I've played - Matt & Rob among them - aren't fans of this at all, preferring the element of competition that head-to-head battles bring; while I enjoy that too, there's something about teaming up against the computer that I really like. Us against the machine. It was at the root of my friendship with Tom at Uni ("Team Thomas!"), and the basis of many fun evenings with Dave. The principle can be extended to board games - e.g. Pandemic and Shadows Over Camelot - and, so long as there isn't one person telling everyone else what to do, it's every bit as good.
Films where a couple fall in love over the course of a long night wandering round together
I couldn't think of a quicker way of writing that. Anyways, I've recently discovered that this is a - very specific - subgenre of film that I love. One of the earliest examples was the much-garlanded It Happened One Night (one of only three films to win Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress & Best Writing at the Oscars), although I have to say that that one isn't really one of my favourites. A much better example, in my view, is Before Sunrise: starring Ethan Hawke & Julie Delpy as a couple who fall in love over a night in Vienna, it is quite beautiful.
Before We Go (Chris Evans & Alice Eve) has a similar dynamic; I can also highly recommend Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist (Michael Cera & Kat Dennings) and Roman Holiday (Gregory Peck & Audrey Hepburn) - although, in fairness, that one is mostly daytime. Also, see the opening act of Three to Tango (Matthew Perry & Neve Campbell).
I have a large shrub/bush thing in front of my house, and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed cutting it back with shears. I know that some people would want to be plugging in some kind of electrical hedge-trimmer, but I'm not really a power tool kinda guy, so shears - a gift from my parents - were clearly the answer to my problem with overgrown foliage. And, as I began cutting the thing into some kind of round shape, it felt awesome. Chop. Chop. Can't really explain it. Chop. Lovely.
OK, this one might not be so much of a surprise, as it's not the first time I've banged on about it. Usually it's been in the form of some kind of joke, as if I'm being ironic about this, but I really can't fight it any more. While my music taste mainly revolves around acts from the 60s & 70s - the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Eagles - I have to admit that I like Taylor Swift's songs. And, as if to prove it, here are my favourite 20, as of today:
1. Dear John
2. Better than Revenge
3. Blank Space
5. Back to December
6. We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together
7. You Belong With Me
8. The Story of Us
9. I Knew You Were Trouble
10. Sparks Fly
14. Love Story
15. You're Not Sorry
17. Last Kiss
18. Begin Again
19. Shake It Off
20. Wildest Dreams
August 13th 2016
So far this year I have been to five weddings, which may be my personal best for a year (it's difficult to say for sure, because when I was a choirboy I used to attend wedding ceremonies in an official capacity - for the princely sum of £1 a time). This includes two weddings of university friends, one of a cousin, and two of girls I know from church. There was one wedding where, for about half an hour, I was as depressed as I've been in years; one which was a genuinely - and very positively - a life-changing experience for me; one where I was about as happy for the bride and (particularly) groom as I've ever been for anyone; one where I went away kicking myself; one where I acted as driver for the happy couple when they left; one where I don't think I'd ever spoken to the bride or groom before; one where the bride and groom already had the same surname; and one where the congregation faced the central aisle throughout. Those of you with a handy abacus will have noticed that this adds up to more than five - don't worry, I can still count; some weddings appear more than once.
One thing that all these weddings had in common was that we were encouraged to throw confetti afterwards, something that I've hardly ever come across before but which seems to have come back into fashion of late (my throwing leaves something to be desired, particularly at Steve & Laura's wedding where I basically just dropped the confetti onto the head of the boy in front of me). Another thing that these weddings had in common was that I didn't dance at any of them.
In fairness, for two of them I didn't go to the reception, so dancing would have been weird. But that's not the point.
I don't dance. Actually, that's not true, I dance a fair bit - but exclusively in my kitchen, when I'm sure that no one can see me; or, more recently, and only from the waist up, if something good comes on the radio when I'm driving. This is probably frowned upon in the Highway Code, now I come to think about it. But I have a strict no-dancing policy in public.
This is not, is had to be said, a significant loss to the public.
I do not begrudge people their dancing; lots of people enjoy it, and while I had long assumed that this had something to do with alcohol (which, Simon assures me, does help the situation), I have witnessed enough people dancing while sober, seemingly willingly, that I have had to abandon this hypothesis. I realise that this last sentence makes me sound rather like the robot sidekick from a particulary poorly-scripted TV show ("But why do humans enjoy making these rhythmic gyrations?"), so I'll abandon that train of thought.
My point - inasmuch as I have one, which I'm beginning to think I don't - is that, while I love weddings, my least favourite part of them is when the dancing kicks off. As friends and relations eagerly leap to the dance floor, occasionally trying to persuade me to join them (although, thankfully, not trying very hard), I sidle off to the side of the room with whoever else is of the non-dancing camp. We have what conversation we can, depending on how far away we can get from the music, but I can't help but feeling that I'm not giving off as much of a Mr Darcy vibe as I'd like. I mean, he decided that he didn't want to dance, and Lizzy fell in love with him (I may have missed some steps). If anyone has any ideas as to how I can make that work - and I should mention that my sideburns, if and when I grow them, are much worse than his - then please get in touch.
As I say, I'm very happy for those people who do enjoy a bit of dancing - and the celebrations around me when it turned out that, contrary to rumour, there would be dancing at Steve & Laura's reception suggest that their feeling is stronger than mine - but I would humbly propose that an alternative be laid on at future weddings. My immediate thought is that a giant Connect 4 would work best. Just a thought.
In other news, I'm off on a trip to Edinburgh next week, journeying with Ant and seeing such wonderful Warwick alumni as Guy, David, Christine & Rich (plus sundry partners and offspring thereof). I will keep you posted - possibly on my Instagram page. Man, I'm hip.
August 26th 2016
In July 2006, Anthony and I hitchhiked to Scotland - you may have read about it. In the intervening years we half-devised a plan to repeat the feat on the tenth anniversary of our trip, and as the date drew near we revised the plan to be, instead of a hitchhike, a road trip. This had the advantage of (i) not requiring us to stand haplessly by a road for hours; and (ii) well, that was enough, really. Add to this the fact that, unlike ten years ago, we actually had a car or two between us, and it all made sense.
While we didn't hit the tenth anniversary exactly - we were about a month late, what with diary clashes and what have you - our planned trip had a lot of similarities to the 2006 version. On that occasion we journeyed from Leicestershire to Gretna via Yorkshire & Maghull, spending some time in the Lake District on the way back; this time round we were going to visit Yorkshire, Maghull & the Lake District all on the way up, before dropping into Gretna and journeying onward to Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival (where our good friend Rich was performing).
Certain things have changed since 2006. For example, I can drive. Also, Anthony has a family - Becca kindly agreeing to be a single parent to their two kids for the time we spent gallavanting around (I wasn't party to these discussions. I can only assume that Ant committed to changing all future nappies, or something). As photos would bear testament, another thing that had changed in the intervening ten years is that neither of us have us much hair as we used to (on the top of our heads, at least) - but I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's do things in order.
The plan was to share driving throughout the trip, in my trusty Hyundai, but with a few days to go I realised that the MOT was due to run out around the time we were scheduled to arrive in Edinburgh. And so it was that, on the morning of the Monday that I was due to set off, I took my car into the local garage in the fervent hope that it would be road-worthy by the evening. A couple of hours later I got confirmation that it had indeed passed its MOT with flying colours - well, without anything needing doing; they tend not to provide a grade - so we were good to go. I took a picture to celebrate. I guess now is as good a time as any to tell you that all my photos from the trip are on Facebook, and I'll be linking to them sporadically throughout this post - hopefully they should be viewable by all, Facebook-user or not.
The drive to Bingham - near Nottingham and, excitingly, a little place called Gotham; also, home to Anthony & family - passed without much excitement, other than the customary detour as I got lost around the relatively new Nottingham road system (I even got to give way to a tram at one point). Having arrived in Bingham, I was greeted by the Clohesy family in full flow, preparing and/or eating food (Asher was the only one in a fetching hat / apron outfit proclaiming him to be the chef), and we passed a pleasant evening. At one point Anthony used a laptop.
We set off bright and early on the Tuesday morning, with me in the driving seat and navigational responsibilities delegated to the good old Tom Tom (Ant was in charge of, I dunno, entertainment), and the Cooke residence our first destination. Guy & Shona Cooke live in Bradley, near Huddersfield, and I had the pleasure of their company earlier in the year when I drove up there for a Huddersfield vs. Wolves clash (which sadly ended in defeat for the mighty Wolves), the first time I'd seen either since their wedding [Edit: That's not true, I was getting my dates mixed up: I saw Guy last November].; Ant similarly had not seen them since that day. We arrived earlier than expected, so I took Ant on a guided tour of Bradley - this was soon rumbled as just being a walk to the newsagents so that I could buy the Times - and on the way we saw a pair of sofas. That was a tale of two settees. (This has long been my favourite pun).
Guy and Shona were expecting twins when we saw them, an expectation that has since come true - welcome to the world, Zoe & Reuben, even if I didn't quite persuade your parents to call at least one of you Colin - so, many congratulations to them. Bradley was experiencing some beautiful sunshine while we there (very different to the last time I visited, when rain & wind was the order of the day), so we sat outside on the patio. After a few hours we bid the Cookes farewell and hit the road again, this time going across the country to Maghull in Merseyside, repeating a branch of our hitchhiking route from ten years ago... ah, the good old M62. Of course, back then we were given a lift by two guys who asked us how much money we had on us and if anyone was expecting us; not for the first time that trip, we mused that journeying was a lot easier when you had a car.
On the aforementioned Cooke trip I took earlier in the year, I had decided - while in the north, you know - to drop in on Dave & Christine, the first time I had seen them in about six years. Showing the imagination for which I am famed, I had suggested to Ant that we call in on Dave & Christine on this trip as well, something he was very willing to do, having not seen them for a similar (albeit slightly lower) length of time. Despite my continual attempts to make all aspects of this trip as vague as possible - "we'll arrive sometime on Tuesday, maybe the afternoon/evening" - I had been pressed as far as suggesting we'd turn up hungry somewhere between 4-6pm, and the traffic was surprisingly good so we were there well before 5pm. We were greeted by Christine, and since the weather in Maghull was at least as nice as it was in Bradley, we sat out on the patio there as well. Shortly we saw young Matthew (Dave & Christine's son) and his burgeoning collection of underpants (I'm not sure what the rules are about discussing the underwear of small children, so I'll leave it there), before Dave arrived home from work. We ate well and played games, just like the old times.
The main event of the Merseyside leg of the trip - apart from me eating breakfast, and Phil & Ant also eating breakfast - was a trip to Freshfield on the Wednesday. I hadn't been there since I was about six years old and still spoke with a significant Merseyside twang, so I was excited to return and see their famous red squirrels; Dave & Chris had warned me, though, that the red squirrel population had been severely diminished by 'squirrel pox', a disease which I must admit sounded rather made up (but, having said that, I never really believed Dave when he said that there was a place called Fazakerley. Why would he lie?). Still, even if we didn't find any squirrels, we would still have the excitement of the Asparagus Route.
As it turns out, the only asparagus we found was the carved sort, as it was no longer asparagus season. There were no doubt lots of exciting asparagus facts around, some of which I probably read, but rather than fill you in on them - I'm sure asparagus has got its own Wikipedia page, if you're really interested - I took a photo of an amusing, and highly misleading, signpost.
Having failed in our attempts to see asparagus, we moved on to squirrels - and we saw two of 'em, which apparently is pretty good going these days. My photos weren't exactly conclusive proof, but if you're happy to believe there are squirrels in the background here and here, then you have my gratitude. As well as spotting these squirrels, we also came across some dens and a dying tree that I thought I should really pull down, in order to prevent it from later falling onto a small child (OK, I'll admit that my feelings were about 20% "let's protect the children" and 80% "wouldn't it be cool to pull down a tree"). It took more doing than I'd expected, and just before it came down I did ask Ant for assistance - meaning that his video of the event looks suspiciously like it was doctored. I'm not sure where that video is, but it might come to light some day. One unfortunate side effect of this feat was that Matthew was keen to try pushing trees down as well, and had to be told by his mother that "we don't push down trees". Oops.
From tree-felling to the beach, which was covered in bricks (the "pick up a brick" activity was scheduled for 1.30pm - sadly we missed it), and where I created a perfect replica of Teddy Roosevelt as seen on Mount Rushmore, using only sand, stones and twisted bits of metal. Anthony and I also found time to dig two holes and join them in a tunnel, much to the delight of Dave & Chris - it was even big enough to fit someone's foot through. Finally, in a call-back to previous photographic efforts, I kinda flew a kite (OK, I'll let you into a secret - it was just the string from a kite, which I found on the beach. There's quite a lot of litter on that beach).
Returning to the Lakes after a pleasant pub lunch, Dave was a bit tired but Ant had energy enough to build a tower (with some help from Matthew), and later we played some games, including Settlers of Catan which, amazingly, I don't think I've ever played before. It took a while to get used to, as a first-time player, but I recommend it - even if the ongoing battle between me and Christine did rather leave the way clear for Anthony's victory. We also played Code Names, a game which I'd brought with me which can be quite taxing when you are as tired as we got towards the end of the evening, but which I enjoy a lot. It's something of a test of how much you are on each other's wavelength, and since we all drew, I guess that we must be all really good at that. Or really bad. Or anywhere in between. Inconclusive.
The next morning, I had one of those moments where I tried to think what my mother would want me to do, and suspected that she would want me to leave a thank you card for David's parents, since they'd let us sleep in their house. More in hope than expectation I checked to see if the local garage stocked cards, and since they didn't (and they wouldn't even accept my Times voucher), the Lakes would have to make do with my hastily scrawled note on a piece of A4 paper. Better than nothing. Perhaps.
Anyways, I had done all the driving so far on the trip, and it was time for Mr Clohesy to take over. Actually, he'd already done a small amount of driving, reversing my car onto Dave & Christine's drive because, basically, I can't reverse - but this was going to be the real deal. On learning that he'd had to move the seat forward a bit in order to reach the pedals, I celebrated my superior height for a short while, before getting on to the more important business of taking a selfie from the passenger seat. If nothing else, this was going to be the trip where I mastered the selfie - or, at least, became king of Instragram. Which reminds me, I forgot to put these photos on Instagram. Ah well.
When I asked Ant what he might want to do on the way to Scotland, he suggested visiting the Lakes - a confusing choice, since we were already planning to visit the Lakes, but it turned out that he was referring to the Lake District, and so it was that we stopped off at Ullswater. Not the same lake that we stopped off at on our way back from Scotland 10 years ago - that was Derwent water - but similarly lakeish, which afforded Ant the chance to go for a swim (a shot that reminds me of what I expect Reginald Perrin looked like; I've not seen Reginald Perrin) and allowed me to crack on with the Times crossword from the shore. When we'd finished our respective activities, Ant challenged me to climb a nearby tree: I tried, and very much failed (I fear that he might also have caught this on camera), before he clambered up himself and can just about be seen in this photo.... actually, he's so concealed by leaves that I didn't remember he was up there when I first uploaded the picture. That's good camera-work.
We hadn't really planned much of what to do between Merseyside and Scotland - even the choice of lake was fairly impromptu, based on what was closest to the motorway - so, as we cast around for something to do next, we came across a National Trust sign telling us that a waterfall called Aira Force was nearby. A waterfall? If that doesn't promise fun then I don't know what does, even if its main claim to fame was a clearly concocted story about a knight accidentally pushing a sleepwalking maiden to her death. Apparently he did this while he was trying to stop her from falling to her death. Story sounds full of holes to me. Anyways, it didn't disappoint - unlike Ant's posing skills - as the water did indeed fall, even if I'm not sure it fell hard enough to warrant chucking the word 'Force' into the name of the place. Either way, a waterfall was a perfect opportunity for me to hone my selfie skills, and while our first attempt suffered from the slight drawback that we were standing in the way of the waterfall, I don't think anyone can question the accuracy (and beauty) of our second try. We clambered round the rocks, chucked sticks at each other (missing every time, I believe) and managed the whole thing without accidentally pushing each other to our deaths. Say what you like about Fred Goodwin and Philip Green, but knights these days are at least fairly careful around water.
So far I've been linking to pretty much every photo in my Facebook album, but it's getting tiring so I've skipped a bunch of pictures of water and rocks and suchlike. You can see them all in the album if you want.
Back to the story, and it was time to head to Gretna, the spot where our hitchhiking expedition had successfully concluded ten years ago. On that momentous day we had walked from Carlisle, about 12 miles if you go down side roads and through fields like we did, but this time (unsurprisingly) it was a simple drive down the motorway. Neither of us had returned to Gretna in the last decade, but remembered our way around from the last visit - helped by the iconic photographs we took at the time, and which we aimed to replicate this time round. Take, for example, this 'Scotland welcomes you' sign: in 2006 we stumbled past it at 10pm in the dark; ten years later it was mid-afternoon, so we didn't get the haunting silhouettes (I've always thought I look best in haunting silhouette) but you can see what we were going for. Well, once we'd checked which way round we were standing in the original... ahem.
Next, just on the English side of the sign - but before you get to the 'welcome to England' version - was the site where we'd spent the night in 2006, me on a bench and Anthony next to the bench. It is still about the coldest I ever remember being - I didn't get much sleep that night - but the next morning I took a photo of Ant in his sleeping bag, my shadow alongside him; sometime in the intervening years the bench has been removed (maybe English people kept sleeping on and/or near it) but we did our best. I even put my finger in shot, er, deliberately, um, in place of my shadow. Or something.
Why did we sleep there, ten years ago, you ask? Well, because we got told - via tannoy, from the Gretna outlet mall - that we couldn't sleep in a bus shelter. It was time for our sweet, sweet revenge, so first we got an approximation of the photo of me in a bus shelter (we thought that the bus shelter had been moved, but I'm now wondering if it's actually that the shops have been extended); the woman waiting for a bus looked at me like what we were doing was stupid. Fortunately I have enough experience of such things - posing by animal names in Bristol, for example - to let such disapprobation wash over me. Anyways, stage two of our revenge was to enter the outlet mall and purchase things there. That'll show 'em. We bought an ice cream each, and after much deliberation I purchased some 'mega sours' ("Have you had mega sours before, sir?" / "No." / "They're very sour."), which turned out to be absolutely inedible. A little while later I wondered if it was just the yellow ones that were horrible; I can confirm that this is not the case. Gretna, you win again.
We didn't have any Chinese food this time - our sole source of sustenance when we'd arrived ten years ago - but instead took some money out of the bank and headed towards Annan, the town where we'd spent some time back in 2006. On that occasion we'd actually intended to go a bit further - Dumfries, if memory serves - but had to get off the bus early; this time Annan drew us like a magnet, but the kind of magnet that lets you go slightly off course on the way when you see an interesting sign. In this case the sign said "The Devil's Porridge Museum", which I think you'll have to agree is intriguing enough to make anyone pull over, which questions like: "What is the devil's porridge?"; and "Will we have to pay to get in?". The answer to the first question was: "Er, cordite, I think"; the answer to the second was: "Yes, £5 each. And the place closes in 15 minutes". Needless to say we didn't go in, but we did peer through the window for a bit, and found a photo opportunity that you may view as a bonus for reading this far - this photo has never appeared on Facebook. NEVER. Exciting stuff, I know.
So, what does Annan hold for the casual visitor? Mostly boats, if truth be told. Plenty of boats. Personally I could barely remember much of Annan, even though we must have walked many of the same streets in 2006, so it clearly didn't make as significant an impact on me as Gretna had. One thing I certainly remember, though, was getting haggis and chips from the local chippy, and eating them on the lawn outside a church, before falling asleep on that same lawn in the sunshine. We replicated these activities (with the exception of falling asleep), even going to the same chippy, where - then as now - the idea of anyone actually buying the haggis that was on the menu seemed a little unexpected. I don't remember it crossing my mind last time that, perhaps, the people from the church wouldn't want people eating chips on their lawn; I did consider it this time - look at me, I'm growing - but I'm sure they would have understood, if we'd explained that it was a regular tradition now. Although it seems that we switch sides every ten years.
Annan is also very proud of its links to Robert Burns, a poet beloved of Scotsmen and baffling to anyone else. There are plaques, murals and (my personal favourite) unexpected conflation with Mr Guevara. Unfortunately no one had left any copies of "The Deil's Awa' Wi' Th'Exciseman" lying around, so I can't pay testament to its qualities, which are no doubt many. Although, given that he's only spelled one of those words correctly, it doesn't say much for Burns' editor.
Having reminisced sufficiently, it was time for us to move on to our next and final destination: Edinburgh. You may have heard of it. At this time of year it's very busy, what with the Fringe Festival going on (it took me a very long time to figure out that the fringe and the festival happen at the same time and are, basically, the same thing now), but that's why we'd chosen this time of year to visit - our good friend Rich was performing in two separate plays, and we had tickets. Well, we had reservations, and would have to pick up tickets from a collection booth. That's the kind of precise detail that makes this stuff interesting, right?
We'd decided to camp for the two nights we were in Scotland's capital, because everywhere gets booked up at festival time, and because it sounded cheap. I had done some detailed research (I googled 'Edinburgh festival camping' and clicked on the top link), and although our first attempt at getting there with the Sat Nav ended up with us in a remote field, our second attempt was a winner and we were soon accepting free beers from the campsite organisers (that'll be two beers for Ant) and trying to put up our tent. We were relatively successful in this endeavour, even if - like every campsite, ever - there seemed to be a layer of rocks about half a peg's length underground. Having got ourselves sorted by about 8.30pm, we thought we might as well mosey on in to Edinburgh itself, about a 25 minute bus ride away: apart from Rich's shows and a stand-up comedian on Friday we hadn't got anything booked, so on arrival we just had a bit of a wander.
This was not entirely successful at first, as my dying phone battery - and Ant's revolving stock of phone batteries - were not quite enough for us to find our way to the first free event we tried to get to, but following a text recommendation from Rich we were more successful on our second attempt, watching a couple of musical comedians called 'Flo & Joan'. Well, when I say 'watching', the only seats we could find were just behind a pillar - so, for the first twenty minutes or so I was able to see most of one of the girls (Flo?), before switching places with Ant so that he could do likewise. The pair - whose names are not actually Flo or Joan - were pretty funny, although some of their songs (particularly one that ended up being about human trafficking) veered a little too far from good taste for my liking. Still, it was free, and our Fringe experience was properly underway.
We slept surprisingly well that night, given that the campsite turned out to be right next to a minor airport (the kind of thing that some cursory research might have unearthed, I guess), and that I'd forgotten to bring a pillow. Still, pro tip: just fill your sleeping bag holder with dirty laundry and wrap it in a towel, and you have yourself a pillow fit for a king. Well, not a king. But fit for a particularly tired actuary. Anyways, we didn't rise from our slumbers until 9.40am the next day, leaving us a choice between showering and breakfast that never looked like going down to the wire - we had free breakfast vouchers, after all - before heading back into Edinburgh, this time via tram. I like a tram. Bring back the Bristol tram, I say.
I didn't say it to the Edinburgh tram driver, though. I'm not sure he has that kind of power.
Our first stop was The Elephant House, the cafe where JK Rowling famously scrawled Harry Potter books on discarded napkins, or something, but more importantly the place where we'd agreed to meet Rich and Michelle. While searching for the cafe, Ant had suggested we should keep an eye out for a picture of an elephant; my suggestion that the cafe might instead be advertised by way of a fish symbol was, I admit, taking a long shot. As it turned out, the owners of The Elephant House regard a square inch wasted if it is not filled with a model elephant. Anyways, it was grand to catch up with these fine people, even if the pot of tea that Ant & I shared was about a third full of tea leaves. Weird.
With some time to go before Rich's first play kicked off, Ant and I went in search of the nearest free event - there's a lot more of such things, on the Free Fringe, than I had imagined - and found ourselves at an Irish pub called Dropkick Murphy's, awaiting "Aaaaargh! 101 Clean Jokes" by Masai Graham. Presumably he chucked in the 'Aaaaargh' in order to get towards the top of the alphabetical list, but it seems a strange choice given that it actually knocked him down lower than he would have been if he'd just stuck with '101 Clean Jokes'. Anyway, we arrived about five minutes before it was due to start, so I was a little surprised to see rows of empty seats and discover that we were the third and fourth people there: it did get a bit busier before Masai took to the stage, but not so busy that he wasn't prepared to wait (unasked) for one guy to get back from the toilet before starting. I thought he had some decent jokes - one of my favourites was "I'm from West Bromwich but I'm a Newcastle fan, because of my parents. They're not Newcastle fans, but one of them's white and the other's black" - but I wasn't terribly impressed by his delivery. A lot of his schtick was based on the fact that there weren't many of us there and we weren't laughing much; I don't know if that was part of the act or if he was genuinely annoyed. Either way, he had some decent jokes - and, indeed, it turned out that he'd won the best joke of the fringe with: "My dad has suggested that I register for a donor card. He's a man after my own heart."
This was the point where I stopped taking photos, because my phone's battery gave up the ghost again. There will be one more - you can look forward to that - thanks to Michelle's camera work.
From stand-up comedy to Shakespearean comedy, as it was time to go and see Rich's first play: Much Ado About Nothing. He was playing a clergyman in both his plays - much as I did, in my theatrical debut this summer; thanks for asking - and did a fine job, even if I'm biased. If I had one complaint to make about Much Ado, it was that it was pouring with rain throughout - although I guess that Rich et al can't really be blamed for that. We were provided with ponchos, which just about did the job (for reasons I still don't understand, Ant decided not to wear his), even if I immediately tore mine down most of the right hand side, and only thought to cover my bag as well as myself about forty minutes in. Having enjoyed Much Ado, Ant & I went in search of food and alighted on the nearest place, an Italian where I had a burger - rendered Italian by being named after Robert De Niro - and Ant had a lasagne. Which actually is Italian. We ate rather faster than we should have, given that it was still tipping it down, so our next journey was into John Lewis to shelter from the rain and not buy anything.
Before long it was time to see Rich's second play, 'Felix Holt: Radical', based on the novel by George Eliot. I hadn't heard of that one of his (ho ho ho) but we were supplied with copies of the book, so maybe one day I'll read it. Since my only previous engagement with Eliot was struggling through the first two paragraphs of The Mill on the Floss, though, I wouldn't bank on it. Still, it was a fine play with an intriguing political backdrop and the kind of story of unexpected inheritance that I associated with 19th century literature despite not being to name any other examples.
Next up were noodles - yummy - then a couple more free stand-up comedians in a poky attic (both surprisingly good, especially the first, who basically just conversed with members of the audience in a far more friendly manner than I'd expected from a stand-up; my only regret being that, under self-imposed pressure to say something, I told him that Bristol's houses were made of water). By the by, Rich reckons that Dustin Hoffman is the coolest person in the world.
The last act of the day was an Australian stand-up comedian called Nick Cody, whom I'd suggested after he'd been recommended by Nick Mason from the Weekly Planet. As we waited to go in, Michelle took that photo I told you about before. Since I'd not seen any of his stuff before, I wasn't sure what to expect - but at least this meant that, if he was rubbish (and at £12.50 a ticket I hoped he wouldn't be) I couldn't be blamed, right? Fortunately he was excellent: there's something about the Australian personality that is a good fit with stand-up, I reckon, and his delivery & material were first rate. There was very little deviation from script, it seemed, but on the rare occasions he did interact with the audience I thought he did it very well. I might go so far as to say that he was the best stand-up I've ever seen. Although that might be me trying to grab some reflected glory - after all (ahem) it was me who suggested him, you know.
A quick drink and missed tram later - the leaflet from the campsite, which blithely said that trams run until midnight, was entirely lying - and we bid farewell to Rich & Michelle, making our way back to the campsite and a rather more curtailed night's sleep than we'd previously had. I was up and out of the tent at 7am, with Ant not far behind, and after electing for a shower instead of breakfast (I don't think the campsite was enforcing my either/or policy, but on the other hand our vouchers didn't cover a second day's breakfast) we set off for home.
The drive south was rather less involved than the drive north, since our only stops were for food and petrol. We were entertained by the audio book of Eye of the World as we journeyed - except where I fell asleep; fortunately, it was during Ant's driving stint - and, having arrived in Bingham, I bid farewell to Ant and family before pushing on to Bristol. I slept for 12 hours that night.
All in all it was a great trip: lovely to see so many old friends, and I would definitely like to go back to the Fringe again some day. We have already pencilled in another expedition for 2026, so leave a blog-reading window open then, will you?
|what was I listening to?
Speak Now - Taylor Swift
|what was I reading?
The Versions of Us - Laura Barnett
|what was I watching?