Hump Day

“Ah well. Back to the world of dreams…”

Basil Fawlty

Well you’ll be bored by now. So let’s just say it’s Wednesday. Day 3 of my 2 week vacation. It’s just after 2pm. And I am, once more, in the Surbiton Grind with my latte and Bacon sarnie.

Feels llike my holiday starts now. Today is my first day with no commitments or planning or tasks or chores or expectations. I have literally NOTHING to do today. I mean, I could sit here all afternoon, sipping coffee, typing this, listening to an audio book. Until dinner time tonight – when Claire and I have promised ourselves a treat (I hope) in watching Tom Hardy in Venom on Disney Plus over supper – I am a free man. Seems weird. Not a situation I’m used to. There is normally something hovering at my shoulder as a “don’t forget you have to…” But today, nada. Which is lovely.

Sun is out, glinting on the passing traffic of Surbiton. Opposite the café is a rather incongruous piano shop. Not that the pianos themselves are incongruous. It’s more…piano shop? Seems such an odd thing to have in a suburban high street. More fitting Bond Street or Charing Cross Road. Well it’s been there forever. And presumably managed to keep a trade going. Until now, it seems. Despite lockdown – which you would have thought would have been very good for “let’s buy a little electric piano for the spare room and Matilda and Josh can learn” middle class investment, it has now closed. Yesterday in fact. It is now an empty shell of a building. The reason I mention this is that it has taken less than 24 hrs for the appearance of those fucking creepy, never changing, permanently out of date, depressing “circus” posters to be slathered all over the front glass.

Circus posters refuse to change. No matter how modern or exotic. They ALWAYS look exactly the same. Very little money changes hands with graphic design consultants I fear. I wonder if there is a simple computer programme that generates the garish, gurning clown faced rainbow big top eye-sores automatically? I hate them. They depress me. I don’t know why. Something about a grim, drizzly british car-park, clanking poles, a whiff of manure and a sense of heart ache and neon desperation. Perhaps I’ve been listening to that Smiths song too much. “last night of the fair…By the speedway, generators…” etc. Can’t remember what it’s called. (Teenage me would have a fucking fit). It’s off Meat Is Murder I think. Rusholme Ruffians? Possibly. Here it is:

Yep that’s the one.

So I;ve packed my gym bag. (Actually Claire’s very useful backpack. Lots of compartments for such and such). So the intention today is a lazy afternoon until I am bored of this or my battery/latte funds run out. Then it’s off back to The Gym.

I’ll probably have more to say on this sudden “gym and activity and hobbies” tip that I’m currently surfing. Wave, actually. You don’t surf a “tip.” I don’t know what a “tip” is.

It’s all part of this change of heart I’m having about things. Was pondering it last night when I ambled, happy and tired, back from a STORMING pub quiz at the Grey Horse. It was a great one. 8 teams, which is ideal. Some lively back-chat and heckling. Some good improv’ and gags between questions. And the right team won. Not that that matters. But it’s nice sometimes.

The gym links into the comedy course. And the quiz. And the health kick notion of sobriety and clean living. I am finally, FINALLY, tired of the life I am living. The endless waste of good money on beer, leaving me headachey and woozy and in-bed-by-9.30pm three nights a week. No energy, no effort and a dragging heavy feeling of just lurching woozily from one day to the next with nothing but a Saturday nap and a Kermode Mayo podcast as an incentive to keep breathing.

Smoking is out of hand and the horrendous raspy phlemy cough and the constant “achem-hEM!” throat clearing that speckles the first 2 hours of each morning. I sound like my dad used to. And that was always painful to listen to. Loose dentures, ratty dressing-gown, coughing into his weak tea in the kitchen.

Plus the fatigue of listless sedentariness. That’s not a word. But just the lack of gumption and get-up-and-go that meant I was never really “in the mood” to do anything that wasn’t sitting on my arse. The days and days spent drowsy on the bed with calming ASMR nature-sounds in my earphones as afternoons melted into each other. Lockdown didn’t help, of course. When there is nowhere to go, the act of staying in, slumped infront of The Big Bang Theory night after night is hardly a conflict of interests.

And of course the podgy, bin-bag-full-of-yoghurt (copywrite Stephen Fry) silhouette that paley plops back at me, spilling over loose elastic pyjama bottoms in the humming glare of the bathroom mirror. A face with no jawline that goes from ears to nipples without any discernable detours. It’s all just piling up on me. Regrets about bad habits, wasted evenings, tired mornings and a grey feeling of “well it’s just 20 more years of this and then I’m gone,” is worrying my like a loose tooth.

I know I know. Classic male panicky midlife crises nonsense of course. I claim no insight or originality. But as I paced home up the hill to the flat last night, it did occur to me, not for the first time, that to CHANGE all these thing? It requires nothing but a shift of mind. No relocation, no retraining, no huge investment, no disruption. Just a simple decision to do things differently.

The rings were the first step. I wear rings now. Yes. Rings. Four of them. Chunky silver things. I never ever used to wear any jewellery. Ever. It just wasn’t something I did. I never even thought about it. But in the last 6 months or so, I would catch myself admiring a photo of an old rocker, a teddy-boy, a rockabilly, Jeff Goldblum, Johnny Depp, that sort of thing. And they would have chunky silver across their knuckles. And a lot of it. And I was suddenly gripped with an idea that this would make me happy. Or happier. Another midlife crises thing I guess. I suppose in another universe, I would be growing a pony-tail. Or buying leather trousers. Christ.

But I went all out, online, browsed the cheaper end of the scale (as I was very aware this would turn into a short lived fad. I wouldn’t mind bundling them embrassed, into a drawer if they’d only cost be a tenner). And I ordered 5 of them. Just like that.

Claire is not a fan. I see something in them that she doesn’t. I think, in honesty, it’s the student goth “try hard” cheapness of them. Like they’re cracker novelties. The equivalent of buying a string of candy sweets on some elastic, putting around your neck and then going to a job interview. All just a bit “daft.” Especially for a man who owns £450 handmade Church’s brogues, 2 tailored suits, silver cufflinks and vintage tie-clips. It’s a bit like James Bond having a Claire’s Accessories voucher.

But I have them. And I wear them. And I love them. And I receive enough remarks and compliments (mainly from idiot teenagers who don’t know better) to be happy with them.

You remember Ducky from Pretty In Pink? The final scene at the prom? When he’s all tuxedo and bollo tie? THAT’s the look I like.

So the rings were the first thing. Just deciding there was the type of person I wanted to be, and realising there was NOTHING stopping me being that person. Visa card, Amazon, jiffy bag and BOOM. I am a man in jewellery.

The rest of the changes? Gym visits, a jawline, less (or no) beers. No fags. A writing project. A stand-up career/hobby/night out. All that? Just a matter of will. Will, sadly, comes and goes of course. What seems like a great idea for tomorrow morning can easily collapse into a “why bother?” when the alarm clock comes around. There’s always another tomorrow…

Well, its brought me here. 2 weeks off to “do some things” and change some habits and experiment with being a person I can face in the mirror.

So where were we?

Right. Monday night. I got a huge round of applause, feat. whoops and cheers as I climbed back off the stage and stumbled humbly back through the smiling crowd to the rear of the comedy club where I could at last relax. I knew it had gone well. I knew it. Better than expected? Not sure. Perhaps. But I suffer from appalling narcissism so maybe in my head “smashing it” was just what I’d expected? This not being my first rodeo, as no one ever says. But the buzz was there. Other acts (Iman, Sarah, Mike) were effusive and high-fiving. Because I’d nailed it, sure. But I’m certain also that I’d shown it could be done, that I’d kept the crowd laughing and relaxed them into knowing it wasn’t impossible.

The rest of the night, as is typical in such memoirs, is a little blurry. I had another drink, of course. I felt I deserved that one. Pulled up a stool at the back and settled in to enjoy Mike, Sarah and Iman get up and do their “fives.”

And in the words of the turns-out-not-immortal Bruce “Brucie” Forsyth, didn’t they do well. Sarah’s grinning energy and charm won the audience over immediately. Mike’s “biker wizard hippy schtick” got a great response. He is such a larger than life character (Love child of Dumbldore and Hagrid, as he brilliantly put it) the audience ate it all up. Iman got huge recognition for her fish-out-of-water ethnic-middle class bits that went down a storm. We all felt jolly smug and proud of ourselves.

Erich and Dinesh both did a “shout out” to us four with the crowd, which might have been good manners or might have been “genuinely impressed” but either way, the four of us, like leaping blonde A-Level students in the Daily Telegraph, whooped and back-slapped. It goes without saying that Dinesh got up to close the night and did a storming 20mins on the pains of aging and family life that the crowd lapped up with big laughs and cheers.

Night closed and Erich got us all up for a group photo. I then, inevitably, had another drink and sort of prowled around with nervous energy, like an eager puppy, sort of hoping for “well done’s” and “you were greats” from the departing room. I got a few. So that was that.

In the calm of recollection I can now think clearly about the experience. I enjoyed every second of it. The whole thing. The course, the camaraderie, the video watching, the writing, the editing, the practise. There was a HUGE sense of teamwork about the process. All of us gee-ing each other on. Like doubles players at Wimbledon with their high-fives after each winning point.

I NEVER would have done this, or done it half as well, without the course. Hearing one’s material  out loud, week after week, from an actual stage with an actual microphone, with real people giving real feedback. It’s the only way to learn. I think the otherwise terrifying act of “watching yourself back on video” – while stomach churning as a concept – did more for the delivery and polish of the act than all the bedroom pacing and Dictaphone playback n the world.

But now? Here I sit. Was that it? Can I finally put the ghost of the Rich Hall heckler to bed? Right now, I don’t know. The right thing to do would be to now go onto the Facebook Page of the Open Spot nights. Start emailing the promoters with my short “5 min spot” YouTube link and see what happens.

The idea of this is terrifying of course. As it was back in 1993. I mean I’d take an email and a video-clip over a dreaded phone-call any day of the week. So perhaps technology and Covid have helped remove the gut-twisting fear of the “hello? Do you have an open spot?” quivering telephone enquiry. That would be the right thing to do. Sitting here however, at 3.06pm on a Wednesday afternoon in the overcast grey of a Surbiton café? My bottom has other ideas. (That may however be just as much to do with the hastily bolted Cheese/Bacon/Tommy-toe white-bread toastie. I could do with a poo, if I’m honest).

And another latte wouldn’t hurt. I have the £75 from last night’s quiz tucked in cash in the wallet, which was an unexpected bonus. I could also, now I have my Monday’s free again, make a call to the pub in Hampton that is looking for a quiz master. I have let that contact whither on the vine a little. Mainly because it would have meant being out 3 nights a week. But also because it’s a phone call. And I HATE phone calls. Perhaps tomorrow I might take a walk to the pub in question, sniff it out, and speak to the manager. 2 Quizzes a week could work out a tidy £600p/m cash-in-hand income. Which believe me, if energy prices are going to do what they’re promising to do, will be a necessary investment in my heating bills.

There are now about 8 huge buggies and about 15 women in Sweaty-Betty active wear in the café. I think hoping a staff member will come out so I can order another coffee is futile. Plus I can’t just wander in without leaving the laptop on the street. Arses.

Okay. Plan of action. I will have another coffee now. I will close the laptop and catch up with a podcast or audio book. (I am trying “The Naked Mind” which is a self-helpy audio thing about controlling alcohol consumption. I will then head to the gym. Tonight will be shower and dinner and Venom. Tomorrow I will skip the gym and – if Erich has uploaded the videos – make a real and genuine effort to try and get another booking or two, while the struck iron is still warmish. And I may take a walk into Hampton to see if that pub is genuine about wanting their own Quiz night. Friday I am off-line as I am decending on the lovely Alex, an old pal who has upped sticks to Bath. So that’s a bit of a weekend-away thing. Okay.

That’s the plan. Been nice talking to you.   

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