Curing the common cold

Frequent readers of GofaDM (for whom no reward scheme yet exists) will be aware that it likes to operate on the cutting edge of fundamental scientific research.  This post should only enhance that reputation and I am quietly confident of a call from Norway in the not too distant future.

For the past fortnight, I have been suffering from a cold, or a series of colds, or a series of infections with cold-like symptoms.  This has (or these have) been no common cold: it has followed a very odd trajectory of infection and defensive response from my body.  Twice it has vanished entirely for 12-36 hours, only to return with increased virulence once it has lulled my humoral response into a false sense of security.  The general sequence of symptoms has also not been normal: I am starting to suspect that I have been infected by a cold virus which is travelling backwards through time.  This could be massive!  We’ve always assumed that it would be people, or robot killing machines which inexplicably look like people, with a vendetta against one or more grandparents that would herald the future development of time travel.  However, I may hold living proof (assuming you are willing to admit that viruses are alive) that the humble virus has beaten us to it!  Could there be some dire warning from the future coded into the DNA (or RNA: let’s face it, time-travel sounds like the sort of thing a retrovirus would do) of my virus?  I shall attempt to preserve a sample for future scientific study.

Such an unprecedented attack on my body has led me to explore some novel techniques to defeat my assailant and return to rude good health.  I clearly needed to move beyond the basic regimen of regular hot drinks – often involving blackcurrant, lemon and/or honey – and the nightly ministrations of a nurse: in capsule form.  So, on last Saturday last, I attempted to embarrass the virus out of me with a dose of SHOCC and awe.

Saturday was my semi-regular evening of English ceilidh dancing under the auspices of the cryptically named SHOCC: I’m guessing the SH might stand for South Hampshire and one of the Cs is probably ceilidh but the remaining OC is a mystery to me (never having caught the US teen drama). Not only did my unwelcome guest have to endure a whole evening of me dancing, but it had to suffer this experience while I was wearing shorts!  This is my fifth session of English folk dancing in recent months and I think I am finally getting the hang of how to strip the willow: possibly aided by the very clear calling of Fee Lock.  Excitingly, on this occasion I had a chance to disrobe my salix to the Doctor Who theme tune thanks to Tickled Pink, who were providing the music.  They were a rockier band than on previous occasions, but enormous fun and the melodeon player took their name seriously sporting a glitter-coated, shocking pink instrument: please feel free to extemporise your own gag about squeezing the pink box.

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Tickled Pink: with box and snake!  Get thee behind me, Satan…

There is something really glorious about these dances – and, shockingly, it is not just my tripping of the light fantastic.  I would confidently say that there were people from every decade of life from teens to seventies (and could well have been some under 11s and over 80s too – but it seemed rude to ask) all having a good time together and interacting with each other.  It struck me as a shining – and all too rare – example of the civil society which de Toqueville felt was such an importance buttress to any democracy (guess who’s up-to-date with In Our Time).  I had a wonderful time, with my favourite dance being the only one to eschew the usual powers of two and daringly use triplets of people: it was both foolishly energetic and sufficiently simple to be doable.

While I could mostly forget my cold while on the dance floor, when I awoke on Sunday morning it became clear that I had not managed to shame the virus into leaving my body.  If anything, it seemed to have benefited from the exercise…

Last night, rather than sit at home nursing my nose and cough, I decided to take them to the Guide Dog and expose them to some beer, company and fine music courtesy of the monthly acoustic session in the Dog House.  The music, company and three pints of Red Cat’s Mr M’s Porter worked some magic on my diseased body but it was inspiration gained while in the Guide Dog which I shall credit with my excellent night’s sleep and much reduced symptoms this morning.  I decided that what I needed at bedtime, rather than some paracetamol based tablet, was a hot toddy.  A quick internet search revealed that I would need whisky, lemon, honey, a cinnamon stick, cloves and boiling water.  As luck would have it, I possessed all of the necessary ingredients.  The cinnamon stick was a little old, dating back to a purchase in Crouch End in the late 90s, but this was positively youthful compared to the cloves.  I have an almost full jar of cloves (I can’t have used more than a couple) which are so old that they pre-date the concept of Best Before dates.  They come from Madagascar and I think they may have been sourced before it separated from the African continent: or at least from the 1980s!  Yes, a majority of my friends may be younger than my cloves.  Nevertheless, they had not obviously gone off and so in they went.  The only whisky on hand was a rather fine Highland single malt – sourced from that nice Mr Aldi – so that added a touch of class to the act.

This was my first ever attempt to make a hot toddy and it was an absolute triumph.  I think my spices may have matured with age!   So good was my first attempt, that I immediately followed it up with another.  At this rate, I may actually manage to use up my cloves before their component hadrons succumb to inevitable decay.  Let’s just say that tonight another couple will be visiting that country from whose bourn no traveller (or spice) returns.

The scientist in me recognises that both dancing and the consumption of a rather superior hot toddy are going to be tricky to organise as part of a double-blind trial.  For a start, I feel the patient will probably know if she is dancing at a ceilidh and I’m not quite sure what a suitable placebo dance might be.  However, these are mere details which I feel can safely be left to other more plebian minds to resolve: I am an ideas man!  I think I can confidently assert that humanity’s millennia of suffering neath the yoke of the common cold are almost at an end.

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Your mother was right…

Well, obviously I can’t guarantee the title’s sentiment.  I get around a bit, but I am still some way from having met everybody’s mother – not even the much smaller set that represents mothers of readers of GofaDM.  Even for those readers whose mother I have met, I am unable to provide supporting evidence for all of their statements: to this day, very few mothers submit their statements to me for fact-checking before sharing them with their offspring.  In fact, if I’m being honest, all I can really say is that my mother was once right: if I transfer her wisdom from one domain to another.

When I was a callow youth (as opposed to the callow, pretend adult I am today) and was feeling under the weather, my mother would tell me that I’d feel better if I went to school.  I don’t think I was really convinced about the veracity of her statement at the time, and can no longer remember if I did feel better at school.  However, the idea has stuck with me over the more than three decades since I last had any reason to go to school: sick or healthy.

I currently have a cold: on Monday it seemed to be cured but by Tuesday afternoon it had returned.  I am forced to assume that on Monday (and Tuesday morning) I was in the “eye of the cold”: an unexpected parallel twixt virus and hurricane.  By late yesterday afternoon, I was feeling like a less-than-fresh corpse and had the energy for few projects more onerous than lying very still on a cold marble slab.  Recalling my mother’s sage advice (and lacking a marble slab), I decided that I would reject the option of spending an evening of couch-based wallowing in self-pity while watching the idiot box.  This is not the sort of positive mental attitude for which the author likes to imagine he is known in his role as the Norman Vincent Peale de nos jours.  No, I would find a gig and go to it: this virus deserved some fresh lebensraum which it was not going to find trapped in my flat (and flesh).  This is, after all, the only sort of occasion when I have a real chance to “go viral”.

The range of local options was limited, but there were a couple of bands on at the Talking Heads and following a quick listen to Spotify I decided I didn’t definitely hate their output and would take a punt: it was only going to set me back £6.60.  Maybe an evening on electronic synth pop would be good for my immune system…

My decision immediately started to prove its worth, the combination of bumping into friends and the evening’s first pint of Red Runner from Long Dog Brewery seem to work marvels on my cold: my throat was rendered less sore and my nose stopped running.  I cannot guarantee that Basingstoke-brewed beer will always work as an alternative to a Vicks inhaler, but it does have the advantage of being legal in Japan!  Gigs are always good for people-watching opportunities and last night one lad had a dragon on his shoulder (a cuddly, rather than a real one) and some very impressive (if rather heavy looking) boots.  I felt slightly under dressed in my low-rent Robin Ince cosplay (OK, I was in a cardigan and hadn’t made much of an effort, dress-wise).  This impression was magnified when the support band, Curxes, took to the stake.  The lead singer’s dress had something of a bride of dracula about it and her guitarist/percussionist/laptop jockey was wearing a voluminous one-piece poncho-esque item, which looked to have been hand-made from his mum’s curtains, and a massive papier-maché dog’s head (well, I think it was a dog – might have been a bear).  His costume was, I presume, home-made but I was pleased to see that he had properly hemmed his curtains: I may have been ill, but I still like to pay attention to detail.  Their set was really enjoyable with strikingly effective lighting at the beginning of one song.

During the interval, I was able to nip to the Maple Leaf Lounge to catch up with some more friends (and sight some fresh merch in the flesh: I can see the sending of postcards making a comeback!).  I also had a chance to catch Charlie Hole for the second time in less than a week and find I have become slightly obsessed by the shape the his fingers when playing G on the guitar: two of them seem to naturally splay in way which mine really do (and can) not.  Is this a modest superpower?  Or am I very mildly disabled?  Perhaps we will never know…

I then headed back to see the headliners, Empathy Trap.  They put on a really good show, mostly in the dark with the lead singer lit from below with lights which rotated in colour.  It was incredibly atmospheric and was a really good fit with the music.  He was also very mobile – which combined with the low light, made capturing images for this blog a real challenge.  Not only did I enjoy the music and the stage show, but the band made the whole audience (~40 of us) feel part of one big family.  We were introduced to Christy on drums – and her additional gifts with lighting and van driving – and Sam on keys and electronics – and his high tolerance for alcohol.  The leader singer never introduced himself but a quick search reveals he’s called Isaac and was wise to ditch the beard.  I also learned about Adam, who doesn’t tour but has some sort of svengali-like producing role in the band.  Rather sweetly, Isaac dedicated songs to both his mum and his nan – who were in the audience.  I think that most (all, other than me?) of the audience (and not just Isaac’s family) already knew the band, but as a rube I found the evening had a really fun, inclusive vibe.

It is possible that my minimal expectations played their part, but I had a really a great evening: it might even end up being one of my top gigs of the year. For three hours, I completely forgot about my cold and I’m forced to tip my cap to my mother’s advice.  It has withstood both the test of time and the change of activity!  My dilemma tonight is:

  • do I take my virus to Romsey to see friends play, for the second time in a week, which will definitely be fun; or
  • do I take a chance on some less familiar music more locally, but limit my infective scope?

If this virus had any gumption, it would be forcing me to Romsey, but I think I still have free will (assuming it exists at all) so where will I go…

Finding the spirit

There was an exciting festive moment this morning as I drew the first curtains at a little after 10:30.  Would there be snow, as Twitter suggested there might?  No, a far more typical British festive scene greeted my eyes: rain and strong wind attempting to steal the last few leaves that the trees had managed to retain.

Given this opening paragraph, readers might wonder if the author is an avatar of the pre-haunting E Scrooge (I am haunted, as already established, only by sliced white bread).  I like to think not, but that perhaps I do Christmas slightly differently (or perhaps, as so often, I am just deluding myself that I am some counter-cultural maverick).  This post will likely provide some evidence for both the prosecution and the defence – but will serve as a note of my “preparations” to date.

In most respects, any preparation has been purely pyschological in nature – though yesterday I did technically buy a Christmas present.  However, in the interests of full disclosure I must admit this was only because I had no cash and needed to reach the card-minimum spend.  I have also, as I believe is a widely observed tradition, acquired an Advent cold.  I am taking some time to shake this off – I don’t think my sinuses like the combination of viral load and extreme temperature changes – but I have high hopes that one morning I shall open the Advent calendar window of my duvet to find a different treat lurking beneath (so far, just phlegm-filled lungs)!

I have visited not one but two Christmas markets!  Both in November – breaking a general, though weakly enforced rule of not troubling the concept of Christmas until December pits in an apperance.  On both occasions the draw was the prospect of a warming polystyrene beaker of glühwein.  Winchester was perfectly adequate, though I did object to having to queue to enter, but it did give me something to do both before and after seeing Temples of Youth play to a packed (and not easy to find) Elephant Independent Record Shop (and again, while waiting for a train home – you can’t be too careful when trying to avoid contracting a chill).  Belfast though is much better – which I can (and do) visit on my walk from the office back to my hotel.  It is such a joy to buy and then consume patisserie in my very rusty French (I do have order something I can remember the vocab for) and then do the same for glühwein in German.

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A festive City Hall and the Xmas Market, Belfast.

As December began, I started an ill-fated arithmetic series of mince pie consumption.  I did manage one on Dec 1 and two on Dec 2, but then I was struck down with man-flu and my subsequent performance has been much poorer.  Some days, I have failed to consume even a single mince pie – it has been too chilly to take my germs out to hunt and/or gather examples of this festive treat.  I prefer to avoid the industrial, plastic-wrapped, cardboard-boxed variety and go for those made in-house.  Both the Art House and Mettricks in Southampton offer excellent examples – and I hope to try some more venus and examples before the season comes to an end (though today’s weather is reducing the temptation a little).

I have also been to my first Christmas concert of the year, staged at Turner Sims by the students of the music department.  This contained all of the expected treats: an obligatory Oasis cover (nothing says Christmas like the feuding Gallagher brothers), seasonal music and audience participation carols.  I was reminded, once again, that glorious as Hark the Herald Angels Sing is, as a carol (who can fail to enjoy and/or snigger at the line ‘veiled in flesh the Godhead see’: always feels more like a reference to almighty Zeus rather than his Christian counterpart), it is very hard to reproduce with a bass voice.  Or at least I find it very hard, and this was not aided by my cold which moves my voice even deeper into Barry White territory than usual.  My attempts to access sufficient head voice rather oddly left me with a rather severely aching jaw.  Frankly, given the amount of exercise it gets both talking and chewing, I had not expected my jaw to prove the weak link in my performance…

There was a grade one orchestra – a group of people who can read music but playing instruments they have only just started learning – playing Jingle Bells and We Wish You a Merry Christmas (the most aggressive of all the carols).  I am learning three of the instruments being showcased and now feel much better about my own abilities: particularly, my feeble attempts to generate music using the clarinet.  I reckon I could produce a pretty functional rendition of either tune – albeit with some pauses to lie down and take oxygen – if transposed into a suitable key.  Still, it was great fun watching young people flounder – rather than just seeing, hearing and feeling myself do so!

The gig also included two members of the faculty applying their four hands to the piano to bring us jazz versions of a couple of seasonal classics.  Once you’ve heard, Jingle Bells played as a jazz standard or Away in a Manger as a minor key samba you will never want to go back to the original versions.  To be absolutely clear, I am not joking and if Ben Oliver and Andy Fisher are willing to write and record a Christmas jazz album or EP, I would be willing to stump up some cash to make that happen!

The gig was held in conjunction with Mencap, so I manage to leave the concert not only full of Christmas spirit but also with a bag of home-made deep-filled mince pies.  I regret to inform you, dear reader, that these did not survive the afternoon: my jaw recovered pretty swiftly given a suitable incentive!  Still, what a joy to support charity, local musicians and fill my face with festive treats from a single event.  I think this might be my closest approach to the true spirit of Christmas and one which can be enjoyed by those of almost any religion or none!

Despite the bravado of that last statement, in this coming week I shall have to knuckle-down and face the horrors of Christmas shopping, writing Christmas cards and the like.  Then again, I seem to recall that last year the extraordinary shop workers of Southampton – I remember particular snaps are due to those of John Lewis and Game – actually made the shopping experience a pleasure.  How they retain such good humour given what must be an appallingly trying job at this time of year, I do not know – but I doff my cap to them.  I feel that there ought to be a charity that does something special for shop workers once they have survived the horror of Christmas and the January sales: perhaps to send them all on holiday somewhere nice come February.  Lacking that, we should all make an effort to treat them well, however, stressed we may be feeling…

 

 

DOMS

Yes, the title is supposed to be in capitals and an apostrophe is not missing as this post is (almost) entirely unrelated to anyone called Dominic (or Domhnall for any Irish readers).

DOMS as an acronym for Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, something the author finds himself suffering rather acutely this morning.

I have had two (2!) colds during January – the first time I’ve been hit twice in one month by the sniffles since the mid 90s.  I guess a lot of the bands from that era are re-forming, perhaps I’m just tapping into the viral zeitgeist?  This, coupled with my travels across the Irish Sea, have rather interfered with my physical regimen of late and this does leave a chap more at risk of DOMS.  Given some rather severe physical jerks peformed by yours truly on both Thursday afternoon and Friday morning, my current pain is not wholly unexpected: but the process does still retain an air of mystery.

I ceased serious physical activity (if we ignore use of the bike and some brisk walking) at 11am yesterday morn.  I was free of aches and pains when my head hit the pillow just before midnight (some 13 hour later).  When I awoke at 01:30 (not intentionally, I would stress – my obsession with the 1A peak does not stretch that far) I found that everything hurt.  What had happened in those 90 minutes?  Had the concentration of some biochemical clock reached a critial level freeing the pain?   Does being horizontal bring it on?  If so, should I take lessons from a horse in how to sleep standing up?

Whilst I ache in many places – and there is some indirect pleasure to be gained from the feeling of a job well done, or at least an ageing body punished for its failings – the most urgent pain comes from my gluteal area.  This makes sitting down rather less comfortable than one would hope.  In fact, possession of buns if not of steel than perhaps at least of apatite (the tastiest mineral, and several steps below steel on the Mohs scale – never say this blog isn’t educational!) is much less desirable than one is led to believe.  If the buttocks both lack padding and are firm(ish) themselves, there is a lot more pressure on any chosen seat to bring the comfort and all too many fail the test.  I can see the attraction of bringing one’s own “booty” to chair, sofa, bench or pew – though I fear my genetics make this an improbable outcome without surgical intervention.  While I know sitting down is bad for me, I am unable to use a healthier squat for any length of time: I may be relatively fit for a chap of 50, but only in certain limited modes of operation.  I also suspect that squatting, whilst better for the back may well put some strain on my whinging “ass” (to use the American vernacular).

To add insult to injury, when I emerged from beneath my duvet this morning I looked like Tin Tin.  No, I had not (sadly) turned ginger overnight nor acquired a white Wire Fox terrier (an unexpected link to Montmorency – what a literary breed the Wire Terrier is!) but my hair had acquired the Belgian hero’s disinctive, soi-disant quiff (surely more of a DA?).  Let’s just say it is not a look I can pull off with any panache…

Human warmth

I have been living in Southampton for two-and-a-half years now, but have never had cause to use the heating in my flat.  I can usually get by living parasitically off the heat of my neighbours (one of the advantages of flat living: just ask Edwin Abbott) and waste heat from my culinary adventures.

There is now a hint of traditional winter in the air: a nip, if you will.   I’m also finding that visitors to my demesne are starting to arrive wearing ALL of their clothing in a desperate attempt to stay warm.  Offers to share my rather limited body heat have generally been re-buffed as (a) inadequate and (b) wholly inappropriate.  People also seem to take little comfort when informed that shivering is an excellent route to weight loss, though no-one has (yet) tried to deck me.

So, on returning from my last sojourn across the Irish Sea, I resolved to at least test the heating system to ensure that I knew how it worked and could (if suitably motivated) dispel any frost forming within the flat.  In this way, I may narrowly avoid becoming some sort of social pariah in the winter months.  I can move away from being considered ‘cold and unfeeling’ to merely ‘unfeeling’.

My flat does not have central heating but, in a throwback to my childhood, is equipped with night storage heaters: though unlike in the 1970s I believe these can be encouraged to produce heat without 24 hours written notice (if you are willing to eat the cost of the peak electricity consumed).  Yesterday evening, and more importantly last night with its promise of frost, was the time scheduled for the first heating test.

In theory, storage heaters have pretty basic controls: you choose how much heat to store during the night on a scale from 1 to 6 (with no link to a more widely known unit of energy) and the rate at which you would like it released on an apparently similar (but probably rather different) scale from 1 to 6.  However, puzzlingly, my flat has a rather flash looking controller with up to four programmes for when to turn on and off some sort of heating device.  How could this fit into the heating system?  The documentation that came with the flat gave no clues and the device itself gave nothing away, save its manufacturer.  As a result, I was forced to use an internet image search to discover what purpose the controller served.  I now know it to be an RF07T Towel Rail Controller.  Yes, my flat is possessed of a radio-controlled heated towel rail with a more sophisticated control system than the central heating for anywhere I have ever lived.  What the internet is unable to explain is why I need such an exquisitely controllable towel rail.  I would also have to say that in my tests last night, the towel rail seemed to be on regardless of what I did to its controller.  I think I shall have to download the instructions if I wish my towel rail to follow bow to my will: to- date, I have merely hung my bath towel over it while it was entirely quiescent and relied on ambient heat to dry my towels (after they had, in turn, dried me).

Having identified the RF07T as a red herring, my attention turned to the storage heaters themselves and I can confirm that my tests were a success.  When I awoke this morning, the flat was unnaturally warm despite only choosing 4 for storage and 3 for recall.  Unlike my childhood, the first use of the storage heaters for the winter (or in this case last three winters) was not accompanied by the dreadful smell of burning dust: so perhaps the technology has moved on.  Future visitors need only give 24 hours notice of their arrival and I have the option (but not the obligation) to ensure that they are toasty warm throughout their visit (or until the storage bricks run cold).

I think we can all now agree that I am a splendid human being and an excellent host.  The possibility of a warm welcome awaits all who visit and suggestions that I spend my spare time farming cold comfort can now be put to rest.

Getting the boot

Many of us, though by no means all, will find ourselves in a soi disant new year.  Many of you will already be surrounded by the broken shards of your resolutions – a fate I neatly side-step by never making any.

To add to the sense of jollity and mirth which characterises this time of year, kindly Father Janus has brought me a cold in his bulging sack.  The two-faced wretch!  So I find myself writing between sneezes, surrounded by discarded tissues (please try and lift those minds free of the gutter for just a moment).

The weather seems to have paid little attention to the currently fashionable calendar, even one followed by a sizable a portion of humanity.  It has begun 2016 much as it ended 2015, with yet more rain and strong winds and despite shaving a degree or two off the temperature remains unseasonably mild (or so it seems to those of us relying on recent history to form a view as to what is seasonally appropriate).  As my waterproofs are continually put to the test (and not always found sufficient to the task), I like to imagine that if Southampton is copping a load, then perhaps northern England will be spared.  Sadly, the weather doesn’t seem to work in quite that way and there seems to be more than enough sky-borne water to go round.

Despite the south coast having seen less rain than much of the country (and possessing a rather quicker route back to the sea for that which does fall), it is still becoming an increasing challenge to find walking routes around town where the water level does not overtop the protection offered by even the tallest of my shoes.  As a result, I find myself considering the purchase and use of wellington boots for the first time since my childhood.  I recall them as being rather uncomfortable and sweaty back in the 1970s, but surely we have made vast technological strides (and I don’t mean mechanical, antipodean trousers) since then? .  Hopefully, we haven’t devoted too much attention to shaving a tenth of a millimetre off the depth of the next generation of mobile phones and as a consequence neglected the humble wellie.

A little research suggests that there is quite the range of wellies available to suit even the most bloated of pockets, including something described as a ‘surf wellie’ (which I imagine is nearly as practical as an ironing wellie or ballet wellie).  I rather fear I may have to sample some of the Iron Duke’s eponymous footwear to ensure it meets my exacting requirements.  The purchase will be overshadowed by the fear that as soon as I am suitably shod, the rain will cease and be immediately replaced by a hosepipe ban: still, I am willing to ‘take one for the team’.

But now I must leave you and return my head to a bowl of steaming water, to which a few drops of Olbas oil have been added.  This oil, despite an expiry date safely in the last millennium, seems to remain surprisingly potent.  I reckon the bottle contains another seven years worth of contents at the current rate of usage – which made it a surprisingly good buy back in the 1990s.

Self-medicating

It has often been said, mostly by those with no medical training, that laughter is the best medicine.  While I was up in Edinburgh, I developed a cold (OK, as this did not involve a lab and a team of rogue geneticists perhaps I should say a caught one) and I am unconvinced that any over-the-counter ‘medicines’ have any positive impact on the progress of the virus (except – if I’m lucky – for acting as a brief palliative).  However, my location and the time of year did mean that I did extensively self-medicate with comedy.  The cold proved very mild and the worst of the symptoms swiftly passed – could this be down to my frequent laughter?  Or was this purely coincidental?  As I am unwilling to be infected with multiple cold viruses and then ‘treated’ with varying degrees and styles of comedy we will probably never know – sorry folks, my commitment to the advancement of scientific knowledge only stretches so far.

Despite my obviously overweening self-regard, I do realise that the vast majority of the readership of this blog will not be visiting the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.  However, this is also true for significantly more august organs with a much wider readership and the fact doesn’t stop them – and so it won’t stop me.  Plus, I do have an actual reader request for my comedy highlights!  And, you never know, these funny folk may visit a venue near you one day…

So, in no particular order (though I have not properly randomised the list) are my favourite ‘acts’ from those I saw over the last week.

  • Kieran Hodgson (FF): this is the third year I’ve seen Kieran’s one man show, in which he tells a story playing all of the characters.  The bad news (for me) is that his genius has now been recognised by others, including a 5* review in The Guardian, which may make him rather harder to see in future (or it may involve arriving very early to be sure of a seat).
  • John Robins: probably my 5th or 6th visit to his Edinburgh shows.  He really is a very funny performer, mining two-and-half relatively minor incidents for a full hour of laughs.
  • Brett Goldstein: my first time, inspired by seeing SuperBob earlier in the year.  He was a lot of fun, and surprisingly soft-spoken given that when he is invariable cast as a thug when you see him acting.
  • George Egg: almost a speciality act with jokes.  George cooked a full, three course meal using only the equipment you find in a typical hotel room. e.g. iron, kettle, trouser price etc.  At a time when many struggle to microwave an instant meal, the man should be an inspiration to us all – and perhaps placed on the National Curriculum.  His poached sea bass was glorious and you will never look at a wire coat-hanger in quite the same way again.
  • Max and Ivan: incredibly funny, apocalyptic story-telling.
  • Alfie Brown: inspired to see him following his interview on ComComPod.  Very funny and the finest Derby accent you will ever hear (including in Derby!).
  • Stuart Goldsmith (FF): I’ve seen and loved all of his Edinburgh shows.  This was his first time on the Free Fringe and he seemed much more relaxed and the show was excellent.  Arrive early as it tends to fill-up.
  • Nick Doody (FF): effortlessly funny, intelligent comedy.  I think we can all see why I’m not paid as a critic – this is nearly as bad as writing “satisfactory progress” in a school report, but Nick was brilliant and criminally under-attended last Tuesday.

It was great to see some old ‘friends’ doing well, some newer discoveries and some acts entirely new to me this year.  None of the people I saw are massively famous (as far as I know – be aware, this does not preclude massive fame) and it is hard to see the character comedy, in particular, working as well on radio or TV.  As I grow ever more ancient, I become increasingly convinced that comedy works best seen live and preferably in a small, sweaty venue – somehow it loses something important on the television and in larger spaces and even, sometimes, on radio (which is the medium that introduced me to comedy).  In so many parts of the country, it seems so hard to see a broad range of comedy – and, particularly, the full hour scale shows which can be important for more narrative acts.  I usually have to travel to London or Edinburgh to see old friends or expand my comedy horizons – a situation not helped by the fact that the ‘industry’ seems to believe that comedy should start late in the evening with little thought for those who have to catch the last train home (and the rail industry’s view that this last train should be well before 10pm unless it departs from London).

I always suspect that live comedy is missing a substantial, albeit latent, audience who are put off by the difficulty of seeing so many acts and the late nights and/or additional hotel costs which even the keen must endure.  Then again, I am broadly recognised as slightly odd and so generalising from my own experience may be fiscally irresponsible.   Nevertheless, if I had a larger parlour (and owned a few more chairs), I would be tempted to book acts myself and then attempt to defray the costs across an audience of 20 or so friends or acquaintances (or total strangers with cash – though this may cause issues with my lease): I suspect a couple of hundred quid (plus standard-class rail travel) would be enough to tempt many to indulge in a mid-week visit to the south coast.  I suppose I could rent a space – but this increases the costs and so would require improved marketing to boost the audience and keep my costs down.  Then again, how much can a church hall or pub room cost?  I think I shall investigate: if things go well, I could have a whole new career as a live comedy promoter!