Don’t cry because it’s over, smile that it happened.

This time, two weeks ago, I was stood on an overcrowded London tube with an overweight backpack on, which had a tent, a sleeping bag and a pair of wellies dangling from it. I had two other bags with me, both containing crates of Strongbow. No, I wasn’t kicked out of home, I was on my way to V Festival. The half an hour spent on the tube was immensely hot, crowded and all in all, pretty unenjoyable. But once we got onto the train into rural Essex(!), we all started to relax, cracking open the first cans of cider. An hour further down the line, I was a considerable amount of cider and a welly lighter. The long walk to find somewhere to camp was painful and agonising, especially as we had to walk past everyone elses tantalising BBQs.
Travelling aside, V Festival was fantastic fun. The mood was set when Nic and Mary went in search of my lost/stolen welly and returned, not with mine, but another random welly. It looked nothing like mine, but quite perfectly it was the right size and the correct foot! How much more serendipity can one find in a field? Each day began (at the crack of lunch) with a nutritious breakfast bar and a cider. We would then meander into the arena and see some of the most appalling acts on offer. The one that springs to mind is Peter Andre. Yes, Peter Andre. Not only did he sing what seemed like a tissue load of drivel about Jordan, he made one of the most fantastically appalling pop faux pas when he dressed up as Michael Jackson and attempted the moonwalk.
As the day warmed up and the scent of stale cider lifted, the music got better and after a lovely nap listening to the Magic Numbers, we set about seeing some of the best bands across the weekend. I saw some bands that I hated, some that I expected to hate but really enjoyed and some of my favourites, but to be honest, it didn’t matter who we were watching because it was all great fun. I don’t know which was my favourite moment. Watching the man stripping and dancing in sick to Baggy Trousers? Singing to any old Scouting for Girls song in a ludicrously posh and tuneless way? Having someone snort something suspicious off my shoulder during Prodigy? Or perhaps it was meeting the lovely guys who got us all the way to the front of Kings of Leon? There were so many amazing moments and most of them were punctuated with one word; “Alan”. Alan was the catchphrase of the weekend. Why? No one knows and to be honest, it’s not worth explaining. But, if anyone says they went to Hylands Park V Festival, just shout Alan and they will smile knowingly.
Quite appropriately it rained like a dog all of Sunday night and my tiny tent wasn’t really big enough for two of us, which meant that we were very wet by Monday morning. Monday morning provided me with my first chance to wear my mismatched wellies in the muddy trudge back to the train station. It is one thing having manky hair and smelling of cider and beer at V Festival, where everyone else looks the same, but going on the tube across London and on the 4 hour train to Edinburgh was somrthing else.
Despite a liberal spraying of dry shampoo over my head and an even more liberal dose of deodorant, I still felt so sorry for the people sitting on the table with me on the train. Thankfully, the person next to me was even stranger; he had a thick Glaswegian accent and 6 IRN BRU lined up for the journey. He also insisted on filming his fellow passengers every ten or fifteen minutes. I tell you what. My first shower in Edinburgh was just lovely – it was bliss. My time at Edinburgh festival was a real whistle-stop tour, but we saw some brilliant shows; Kevin Eldon was as wonderful as his reviews made out. Joey Page was a freebie, but turned out to be really good, despite the fact that he made me wear a veil for the majority of the show. The Impro Chums were as sharp as ever and we really enjoyed the long sketch about Terry and Julian. I’m sure that 99% of the audience were lost, but I applaud the person who suggested that. Oh and how could I forget our evening with Jim Bowen watching Bullseye? That was a truly wonderful time, but I am still a little scared that someone suggested we were fangirls of Jim. Concerning.
The next leg of my journey took me a couple of hours north into the Scottish highlands. The people of Perthshire, or more specifically the villages of Killiecrankie, Blair and Pitlochry, seem to be posher than those who hail from Surrey. I was working at Blair Horse Trials and it was as much fun as V and Edinburgh. The week started off well when we had to chase DHL through the village to get them to drop our machines off. Quite surprisingly, I got my first ride in a police car whilst I was up there. Don’t worry, I wasn’t doing anything wrong, we just convinced them to give us a lift home after we had too much to drink. That is how the people of Scotland roll; they are so friendly and willing to help. I love them.
As always, we stayed at the delightful Killiecrankie House and the food was divine. Whilst I lived on a diet of surprisingly little food and a lot of drink for the first week, I think I must have put at least 6 pounds on whilst at Blair. I had a grapefruit for breakfast and a healthy lunch, but the dinner was too much to resist. Their sticky toffee pudding was immense. I even managed to ask for sticky toffee pudding and not stiffy cocky pudding.
So now I’m home. I’ve got tonnes of great memories and I’ve laughed more in the last fortnight than I have in ages. Now I just have to cling on to those memories and look forward to the next adventure.


An ode to a Newspaper Journalist

About six weeks ago, I saw an advert in my local paper looking for someone to write reviews of shows at the Theatre Royal in Windsor and the Wycombe Swan. As it was an unpaid, voluntary position, I duly applied and said how very interested I would be in such a job. Of course, a few days later I received the uniform email thanking me very much for my time, but unfortunately they had found someone with more experience. It’s the same old story and as I have a paid job anyway, so I brushed it aside and carried on with my life.

On Monday night, I had the great pleasure of seeing a handful of the Comedy Store Players in the touring show, Paul Merton’s Impro Chums. It only seems fair that after all this time, they travel to me once in a while. Now imagine my horror when two days later, I find a review in the Bucks Free Press, written by the very same person who rejected me for the job. The review incidentally, can be found here ->

As you can see, it is a little lacking in inspiration or personality, but for a local newspaper journalist, this is probably no great crime. However, the slight lack of grammar and flowing sentences is. The final straw was the quote “The last scene saw a Case from the Files of Sherlock Home and the audience came up with Mr Spock Meets the Queen.” Now, I may be a bit of a pedant, but even if you aren’t the most well read, intellectual individual, I should hope that you realise that his name is Sherlock bloody Holmes. Well, not bloody, that’s just a nickname. But, Sherlock Home? There was even a massive Hollywood film splashing his name far and wide earlier in the year, so she really has no excuse.

As my ego has taken a bit of a battering and I’m a little let down by her lacklustre reviewing, I decided that I would write what I would have written to show that an unpaid monkey could do a better job than a paid journalist. I’m not claiming that my writing is anything special, but at least I didn’t just write an inaccurate linear, year three-esque retelling of the evening.

I hope you enjoy my version of the review, but I would like to hold a straw poll, so please let me know who you think the winner is.

Paul Merton’s Impro Chums

Wycombe Swan, Monday 17th May.

An evening with Paul Merton’s Impro Chums is a refreshing change for those used to seeing theatre and/or stand up comedy; there is no air of pretension or self-importance, the Chums are as laid back as you like and seem to have as much fun during the gig as the audience. As they corpse, break the fourth wall, laugh and ridicule each other, the audience has the privilege of watching five friends having a laugh and they even get to join in, after all, audience suggestions can make or break an evening like this.

The premise? The five comics play a series of games all based on the audience’s suggestions. To some, the idea of creating a musical in a crematorium or a Sherlock Holmes story about Spock meeting the Queen is simply mindboggling, but not for these Comedy Store stalwarts. Paul Merton, Mike McShane, Lee Simpson, Richard Vranch and Suki Webster provide an improvisation masterclass for the audience.

It may be Paul Merton’s name on the tickets and his face on the posters, but there is no hierarchy in a show such as this; everyone shares an equal billing and is instrumental in making it a good evening. Paul acts as the host for the evening and starts warming the crowd up by asking for some examples, such as household objects (a spatula), location (a pub) and our favourite, a historical figure (Gordon Brown). These sorts of suggestions were immediately called upon for the games; the first required the Chums to tell the story of Oliver Cromwell and the Iron without stumbling over their words. The story covered the meeting of Mr Morphy and Mr Richards and skipped from history to the present and back again within a heartbeat. The audience acted as the referee shouting “Die!” as they tripped up until one of them was crowned the winner.

The troupe’s quick wit and gloriously silly gags shone throughout the evening, especially in the more freeform games that allow the comics to come on and off stage changing the scene and making fresh jokes. The audience watch in wonder as they change characters and accents as frequently as you or I would blink. There is rarely a dull moment in the fast paced and exhilarating show.

Although the evening may be based around silly jokes and quick gags, there were other games that demonstrate just how clever and lateral minded the players are. At one point in the evening, the audience had to invent a job for Paul to guess, with a little help from his chums. When Paul left the theatre, it was decided that he would be the person who used his moustache to hand paint the marmite onto twiglets in an igloo for the British Army. It was then left up to the other Chums to distort the words and use puns to help Paul guess his job. Lee was particularly sharp, telling Paul that his family all had different opinions about going on holiday. His uncle definitely wanted to go, his Pa really didn’t and his Ma was undecided. His Ma-might want to. Another clue that utterly bamboozled Paul was that Lee had created a shower out of a bra, thus using a bra-to-shower-me. As Paul said, “the audience knows the job and even they can’t work out the clue!”

During the interval, two buckets were left onstage for the audience to place their suggestions in for the next games. Everything is based on audience suggestion and by that token, the comedy is very inclusive. The group I was with were delighted to hear a number of their suggestions acted out; when Russell Crowe met Robin Hood, naming the next big epidemic and weighing the mayor were all suggestions we had deliberated over. It was particularly exciting to see five strangers to the area attempting to act out our long-held tradition of weighing the mayor. Other suggestions included “four peas in a pod”, where Richard improvised music as the players crouched together and sung about breaking free from the pod. Immediately after this, Suki hid behind Paul to create a wig for him to go downhill skiing in and when he started to move forward, Richard and Mike carried Suki forward behind him. They only fell about laughing when Paul started to complain that his wig was strangling him.

As I write about Suki acting as Paul’s wig or David Cameron kidnapping Spock on the way to visiting Queen Victoria, I feel that anyone who wasn’t there might struggle to visualize it, but fear not, Paul and his chums still perform where they sharpened their teeth 25 years ago at London’s Comedy Store under their other hat as the Comedy Store Players every Wednesday and Sunday.