Saturday, August 16, 2014

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

We have returned from the Edinburgh Fringe - after four idyllic days reviewing shows. 

Edinburgh in August is one of my favourite places on earth. It is four years since I last went, for various reasons. I had almost forgotten how much I love it.

I believe it has been my 14th visit to the Fringe.

I first went in 1997 for The Stage and Mail on Sunday newspapers and fell in love with it, particularly the comedy festival.

After that I visited and reviewed every year until 2009, when I took a break, and then took the three years off from 2011-13.

I would usually go up for a week and review for The Stage and my own entertainment magazine, Standup Comedy Magazine, now known as S-C-Magazine.

Sadly, work for The Stage has gone by the by, so I had to resurrect my own publication, which went down with my marriage in 2011 (my ex and I shared a server where the site resided).

Luckily, I managed to find a copy of all the reviews on the former site on an Internet Archive and, over a couple of nights, recreated the S-C-Magazine site on Blogger.

Doing it reminded me of all the fabulous stand-up comedians that the team had seen and reviewed over the years: Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer, Al Murray, Jerry Sadowitz, Johnny Vegas, Micky Flanagan, Simon Munnery to name but a few.

After the stress and effort of looking for work, the excitement of getting away for a few days hit me the day before we were due to fly to Edinburgh.

To save money, I draw up a schedule and phoned round the venues and PR people to try to get review tickets (plus-one) for all the shows. 

Despite not having got myself accredited as a journalist, which I could have done, I managed to get free entry for around a dozen shows, having to buy a ticket for three others. Being a jobless, even those came at concessionary rate.

Laura and I flew from Gatwick to Edinburgh, having left Mr Cheeky in the capable hands of our friend Agnes, who moved into the flat to look after him.

We had rented a room in a flat in Castle Terrace owned by a very pleasant lady.

By early afternoon on the Friday (8 August), we were watching our first show, a crazy harpist in Get Divorced and Join The Circus, at The Stand.  It was great to be back in town.

The four days went by at tremendous speed. It did not seem long at all till it was Monday night and we were back at the airport.

Edinburgh has changed. While I was away, a tram system has been installed, no doubt at vast cost.

Looks good though. It also now has its own big wheel, like almost every other major city in the UK.

Where the Gilded Balloon once was, now a nasty modern building stands.

And, horror of horrors, the artistes' bar at the Assembly Rooms has been turned into a Jamie Oliver restaurant. Sacrilege!

I am also older and more decrepit. At the age of 52, I cannot race around the city like I used to in my late thirties and early forties. My knees are too painful for that.

We still walked everywhere, covering at least 30 miles over the four days, sometimes in heavy rain. However, it was a slower process than back in the day.

The shows we liked most were my old chum Andrew O'Neill in Mindspiders, Paul Ricketts' West End Story, the lecture Edinburgh Medical Detectives, Al Donegan's The Five Worst Things I Ever Did, and Lizzie Bates: Reprobates.

We were not so sure about Nicole Harvey's Delicious and Dateless, Rob Rouse's Through The Looking Ass, or Sameena Zehra's Homicidal Pacifist. Not quite our cuppa cha.

Overall, the standard was high. We did not see any comedians whose performances really stank.

There were still mad acts, too. Candy Gigi was one of the craziest acts I have seen for a long time. She would have been perfect for Joe's Comedy Madhouse.

It would be wrong to say the Fringe has not changed since I started going. It has changed a lot. But it is still as wonderful. Just in a different way.

I used to know a lot of comedians who I would meet in Edinburgh. This year I bumped into just a handful, mainly from the shows: Spencer Brown, Rob Rouse, Andrew O'Neill, Paul Ricketts, Verity Welch.

We had a drink with my priest friend, Father Peter Scally SJ, parish priest of the Sacred Heart Church, Edinburgh. It was great to see him and to catch up. He was on great form.

We also visited an art exhibition and an international photography show.

Edinburgh is such a cultural Mecca in August! There is no point thinking of even trying to see everything. You can only relax, enjoy the atmosphere and whatever shows and events come your way.

Despite some very heavy rain and it being early in the festival, the streets were very busy. I expect that by the final week, most of the shows - free or not - will be full to capacity.

The Fringe's free comedy festivals are now much more professional than a few years back. Far more full-time pros are turning to free comedy - simply to reduce their venue costs and risk.

With the bucket collection, they probably end up making more money than they would do in the Pleasance!

I managed to keep up my moderate drinking regime - now in its 32nd week - which meant I did not have a hangover at any point, another Edinburgh first. It also meant I got to bed a lot earlier than I used to. All to the good!

Back at home, Mr Cheeky was having a wild time with Agnes and her sister.

Laura found a picture of one of Mr Cheeky's forebears, Wing
Commander Charlie 'Cheeky' Cheekington, who served courageously at the Battle of Britain. (It is now displayed at my bedside beside a Byron poem handwritten by my elder daughter.)

By the end of the four days in Edinburgh, I was exhausted. . . but I can't wait to go back next year. 


Returning from my short break to the work-search has been tough.

I was invited to an interview with an alleged headhunter in central London. But when I got there, he seemed as wide as The Thames and asked for £1,500 to put me in touch with "three-and-a-half million businesses in the UK".

The promise to find me job vacancies before they existed (based on intelligence from the newswires) did not quite ring true, so I kicked him into touch. I felt I was being conned.

Still, it is something to tell my friendly JobCentre Plus coach on Tuesday when I next sign on.


A-Level results have been on my mind. I was wondering if my younger estranged daughter, F, has made her grades.

I had heard from Twitter that her college in Brighton had achieved its "best-ever" AS and A-Level results but that did not really help me as far as F was concerned.

So, I was absolutely delighted when I went to the gym today and picked up a local paper with her smiling picture on the front page and page 19.

Although there was no caption or further information about her (what has happened to standards in regional newspaper journalism?), I can only assume she has made her grades and is going to her varsity of choice.

If you're reading this, very well done, tiger! I am proud of you!

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Saturday, August 02, 2014

Brighton Pride 2014

Our Brighton Pride 2014 experience was rather different from in previous years.

My hopes of watching the Parade were dashed, in no small part by the naughty Mr Cheeky, more of which later.

By the time we set off, a river of people were coming back.

All the same, we mingled with the crowd and walked up to St James's Street for a Pride cocktail.

We have never been to the Preston Park event (too expensive and, I suspect, not really my cup of Assam).

But I love to take part in Pride.

Usually, we join the procession. One of the great things about Brighton Pride is that it has become so much more than a celebration of the LGBT communities of the city.

It is a party for everyone and straights enjoy it as much as anyone.

It's an incredibly friendly event.

I see it as a thumbs-up by the entire community to freedom of expression, to people being themselves without fear of prejudice or discrimination.

It is also remarkably entertaining.

We like to kick off Pride at the Bedford Tavern on the Friday night. 

There is always a drag act, a packed house and a great atmosphere.

The Bedford is a 200-year-old "country pub in the town" which welcomes everyone while being a gay venue.

We got to bed quite late and the next morning Mr Cheeky wanted to go out early and did not return.

Just as we were about to go out, we received a call from a resident of Brunswick Square to say that Mr Cheeky had just jumped off the roof and landed on some scaffolding where he was now stuck.

They had climbed up to see him and undone the capsure around his neck to find our phone number.

After his recent accident, we were shocked the Cheekster had got himself in trouble again.

My flat backs on to Brunswick Square - the grandest address in Hove.

The houses are enormous and at least 100 foot tall. It takes about 10 minutes to walk round to the front.

I grabbed the cat basket and dashed round to try to rescue Mr Cheeky.

On Brunswick Square, I was called in a huge basement apartment and led by Ed to their courtyard at the back.

Mr Cheeky was some 20 foot up, standing on a scaffolding plank.

As soon as he saw me, he moved forward as if he intended to jump off!

Ed's partner Caroline held him back.

I climbed up the ladder and managed to get Mr Cheeky into his basket fairly easily. I think he was quite frightened.

Caroline explained that their little daughter, Parker, had first spotted Mr Cheeky coming off the roof onto a top window ledge.

Then he tried to climb down a builders' ladder and had fallen off, miraculously not going through the hole below, but landing on the plank.

They climbed up and had been feeding him ham and trying to lure into a wicker basket.

The big mystery to me was how Mr Cheeky had come to be on the roof of Brunswick Square. It is not an easy place to reach.

Our flat has no access to the back of Brunswick Square and, even if he found his way through from a neighbouring house, Mr Cheeky would have had to climb around 100 feet.

Even if he found a fire escape to climb up, he would still have to jump from the top of it onto the roof and then jump from roof to roof to start to get down the other side. A very precarious business!

Now,  for his malfeasance, Mr Cheeky is grounded - literally!

Back to Pride, after our foray out, we returned and I had a nap (I have not been sleeping well recently) and then we walked back to St James's Street in the early evening.

Pride is becoming increasingly ticketed.

I believe the Preston Park used to be free. Now it costs a lot to get in.

The St James's Street party has always been a free, albeit crazy, alternative
This year you had to buy a ticket for that, too.

Laura is not terribly keen on standing in crowds and, as I currently have zero income, we decided to give the party a miss this year.

We sat around the gardens opposite which had turned into a kind of Pride picnic. The flowers were wonderful - very fragrant.

It seems to me that Pride is gradually and
stealthily taking over all of the centre of Brighton.

In 20 years' time it will be one of the biggest outside parties in Britain.

Already, you see Pride shindigs all over the city. It is a great excuse for a knees-up.

And long may it continue!


What to do about the Holy Land?

If you had God-like powers, you would redraw the boundaries to give Israel and Palestine each a fair share of this arid and inhospitable part of the world - including Jerusalem.

Then you would brainwash all the people into forgetting the past, loving each other and living in harmony.

Without God-like powers, it is not so simple.

The Palestinians fighters are hugely outgunned by the Israelis but carry on attacking their foes because of the historic injustices foisted on them.

The Israelis indiscriminately slaughter the Palestinians, mainly civilians, with the hearty support of most of their citizens.

It appears to be another problem without a solution.


My allotment is doing well.

I try to fit in a visit a week, to weed and water, to break up the tedium of applying for jobs and generally looking for work.

On Tuesday I have my first interview with my "coach" at the Labour Exchange (Job Centre Plus).

I am not sure what to wear: pin-striped suit and tie, jeans and open collar shirt, or allotment shorts and T-shirt.

Do they expect me to look like I am still working and instantly ready to attend any job interview?

Or would a more laid-back, resigned-to-one's-fate look suffice?

Questions, questions. Why is life so complicated?


I am thinking of writing a will.

It is not that I have any plans of dying - although with my luck since 2010, nothing seems impossible - but it is good to have your affairs in order.

It is also an excellent time to do it because I have very little left to bequest.

Therefore, it is unlikely to take me long.

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