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Family Friendly Stand Up – tougher than you’d think…

I am hardly the most experienced of stand ups. Before last Saturday I had done three gigs – a total of about 24 minutes standing up in front of strangers trying to make them laugh. Admittedly this is 24 minutes more than most people, but still not really a career.

But I knew the basics.

First, start with a couple of bankers; a couple of lines almost certain to get at least a giggle. This calms everyone down, reassures the audience that they are not going to have to worry about you, and then you can drift off into the more bizarre and log winded stories.

Second, even if inside you are shaking like a new and over enthusiastic belly dancer, make sure you exude confidence and calmness. Otherwise your audience will sense your fear. Like animals, they can smell it.

Thirdly, mock the place you are in, or better still, the place nearby that they will all mock. Doesn’t need to be funny; does need to be geographically accurate.

But last week was different. Bridgwater’s Got Talent. A talent contest which I’d been invited to enter. The only comic on the bill, I was surrounded by ludicrously talented young people. I was, literally (and I am using literally literally here) more than twice the age of anyone else on stage. Including the compere.

And being a family gig I couldn’t use my tried and tested material about bodily fluids and the negative consequences of maleness. I also could not swear. To add to the challenge I was on at 745 in the evening with an audience that wasn’t really drinking.

So judge for yourselves, but given the circumstances I was grateful for the polite laughter and not disappointed that I didn’t get the much sought after wave after wave of laughter as one gag segues beautifully into the next and the crescendo of guffaws gradually hits a high point at exactly the right moment. The nirvana for comics; the moment that banishes the self doubt for at least half an hour, or until the valium and vodka kicks in

So thank you Bridgwater; a fun evening and good lesson for me. But I doubt you’ll be devastated to hear that I probably won’t be back! Or if I do return, it’ll be as a belly dancer.

JCBs in the basement??

This blog post first appeared in the Somerset County Gazette.

We are in the middle of building chaos at Chez Wall. Not that anything has actually started yet…no brick has actually been purchased, no sod literally cut. But I am juggling the demands of planners, building regulators, surveyors, CAD operators, mortgage providers and various craftspeople in an attempt to get it all done at some point before I retire.

The children are being helpful by telling me how they want their new rooms decorated, and planning a time capsule that we can put beneath the extension. This will allow their grandchildren to see what life was like in the early 21st century and marvel at the references to strictly come X factor, 5SOS and the fact that life is, these days, apparently all about that bass.

Much as I complain, I recognise that we are lucky in Somerset to have the options of building stuff.   In London, where I lived for the first 35 years of my life, there is now officially no room. You cannot build up as the planners won’t let you, and you cannot build out as you’d be in your neighbours lounge.

So people have started building down. There is a real trend in building new rooms in the basement. Homeowners (I guess at the wealthier end of the spectrum) who have been refused planning permission for a traditional above ground extension are instead hiring companies to dig out the foundations under their house; creating new vast rooms underground where gyms, swimming pools, granny flats and the like can be safely inserted.

They do this using JCB diggers; they dig down as they go, making the space and kicking out the soil behind them.

But when they’re done, you have a problem. It is very difficult to get a JCB out of what is now in effect a deep hole. In fact, it costs more to do this than actually buy a new JCB. So they don’t bother. The JCB is buried as part of the new foundations and the builder gets a new toy for their trouble.

Dozens of houses across London now have a JCB digger buried beneath their basement.

This fascinates me. In centuries to come archaeologists will dig down and find these magical buried monsters. They will no doubt assume that we worshipped the creatures, or maybe that they were a servile species kept in the cellar until their usefulness was over or perhaps that we were attacked by them and these are the remains of the vanquished.

Either way, it’ll no doubt be the subject of many a TV documentary. And of course presents a significant challenge to me and the girls as we try to make our Taunton based capsule half as interesting…..

The Play’s the thing…

This blog post first appeared in the Somerset County Gazette.

It is play season in my daughters’ school.

I don’t mean that the kids are just playing all day now that SATS are done. Perish the thought.

And I don’t mean that the educational establishment has given up the long battle and finally agreed that Minecraft does in fact count as an exam subject and so can happily fill the school day.

No, it is time for the thespians to emerge; for speech to be enunciated in a slightly forced way as if speaking a new language for the very first time; for makeup and cross dressing to be brought firmly, fairly and non-judgementally into the mainstream.

It is the year 6 play.

We have had months of rehearsing, long evenings of line learning, and the CD on constant repeat so that the same songs rattle round my head as if a careless neurosurgeon had lost his iPad with the setting on “Disney songs”.

Finally, Aladdin was performed this week.

And very good it was too. The jokes were hardly Jimmy Carr (no bad thing) but generated a guffaw or two. The story was well known but still dramatic. The action was fast moving, and performed without a safety net. Everyone remembered their lines, and no one froze. Some songs were genuinely moving, and voices shockingly good. The crowds cheered and clapped and paid their £2.50 without a word of complaint.

A few of the parents got involved too spending happy hours setting up lighting, running long leads, plugging things in and shouting “one two” into mikes as if the whole experience had robbed us of the ability to count any higher.

What did I learn?

Well, the small parts are the ones that really make the play. The principles do a great job, but it is perhaps the actor with one line, or just one action to bring props in at the right moment that impress me. These are the things that make it all professional and slick.

Teachers do give up their time freely to direct, act, sew, paint, coach and support. Not a big surprise to many I guess, but in my day I’m pretty sure they were all down the pub by 4.

And much as I may mock, an ensemble piece of theatre does bring out the community spirit in us all.

What I didn’t learn is how in fact to find a genie. The lamps in our house are all suddenly well-polished, but no puff of smoke and no wish in sight. But I’ll keep trying: the show must go on.

Albert knows best?

This article first appeared in the Somerset County Gazette.

 

I have recently acquired a new car. I can’t really say I bought it as it still belongs to the leasing company. But it feels like mine. We have christened him Albert.

As with all new cars, Albert assumes I am stupid. He automatically controls the lights and the wipers; sorts out my speed, tells me if I am too close to the car in front and actually brakes for me if he feels I am not taking his warnings seriously enough. He decides on my route, and beeps, very annoyed, if I get too close to anything that might hurt me. When I am foolish enough to try to reverse Albert immediately produces a screen giving a clear camera view of what is behind, with red lines on the screen that I mustn’t cross. What he seems to prefer is that I press a series of buttons so he can park without my intervention. It is quite scary to let go of the wheel and hand over control, but to be fair he does a far better job than me.

In a way this sums up many people’s parenting style. Our job is to keep the kids away from harm, to make sure they don’t get too close to danger; to plan out their route; make sure they can see clearly; not let them do anything stupid or too risky; to protect them from the elements and themselves and do as much for them as we can. Because to be blunt, we are better at it, having had far more practice. We’ve got the experience and a techy car; but our kids have no experience and the equivalent of an 8 year old Cortina

And so we very easily become the automated drivers of their lives.

But of course as they get older things change. Our children are now far better at many things than we are. They want to make their own decisions; take their own risks; try new things out; choose their own routes; sort out their own speed; park for themselves. This is tricky stuff and of course they will get some things wrong, but just as we did at their age, they will become better people as they learn from their mistakes.

The clincher is that I am not sure Albert trusts me: there will always be a bit of competition and irritation as he thinks he knows best, whereas I want to practice and become a better driver.

Hmm. I think I’ll turn the auto park off for a bit.