Betrayal

September 1, 2016

It’s a terrible feeling when you realise just how much you’ve let yourself down. When you know how an earlier version of you (from younger days, when the world was at your feet and anything was possible) would despise what you have become, and would disown you, want nothing to do with you, would spit at you in the street.

I have reached that point, and I stand here ashamed.

We need to go back in time. Back to February 1984. I was 21 and just out of university. I was sharing a house with  some people who are still very close to me and will be extremely disappointed in what I have become; Trev Neal, my comedy partner, and Clare Eden, my manager. Both like family, and both (well, Trev at least; I can’t answer for Clare) about to disown me.

In February 1984 I was a recent graduate from Manchester University. Me and Trev had decided by then that we were going to be a double-act. Trev had another year to go at university, so I got myself a job at a college in Manchester;  Cornbrook Library, close to the bridge that Joy division stood on.

joy_division_kevin_cummins_bridge

Photo by Kevin Cummins

I had this photo, and many others like it, Blu-tacked to woodchip wallpapered walls.

I would cycle to the library every day. I was the only one who worked there. I opened it, I closed it. I built it! I stocked the shelves and labelled all the books on their spines according to the Dewey Decimal System. No one ever visited the library. It was a small room full of business books. I say no one; occasionally a member of staff would look in to say hello, which would lead to “Oh, you’re a comedian are you?”, which would lead to “tell us a joke then”, which would lead to “I’m not really that sort of a comedian?”

At least I was earning money. Every Friday, as a treat, I would cycle through town and stop off at a fancy outdoor beer at the bottom of Peter Street, next to The Gallery, and buy a bottle of whisky. I once bought a bottle of Pig’s Nose just for the name of it.

Pig's Nose whisky

Over the weekend it would get drunk by me and Trev and any passing friends. So, just me and Trev.

Then Monday the bike ride would begin again. 7am, sometimes in snow that Joy Division could have created.

And sometime that February I bought my first ever The Smiths single, What Difference Does it Make?

The chart for the 12th February 1984 was a crazy mix of music. Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Relax was no.1, and then Queen with Radio Ga Ga was at no.2.

As a 21 year old I didn’t know much. But I did know that Relax was good (even though I hadn’t a clue what it was about – the joys of pop music, and why we should never get too hung up about what the kids are listening to these days), and that Radio Ga Ga was shit.

Compare and contrast:

And everything I had to know, I heard it on my radio – Queen

Hang the blessed DJ, because the music that they constantly play, it says nothing to me about my life – The Smiths

The charts were at war, and we had to choose sides.

That week alone we saw these momentous battles:

The Style Council with their Ever Changing Moods taking on Joe Fagin and his Livin’ Alright!

Madness’ Michael Caine beating up Billy Joel’s Innocent Man. (with Madness it’s a full time job!)

And even Duran Duran’s one day only New Moon managing to kill off the Love theme from The Thorn Birds!

You had to know where you were with your music. And on that day, the 12th February 1984, I sided with Frankie, the Style Council, The Smiths, Madness, Swans Way, Big Country, and Echo and the Bunnymen.

I’ve always said that The Killing Moon is the greatest song ever written, Ian McCulloch

In the charts that week were also some of those songs that were tricky to a boy like me. I hadn’t yet figured out what I thought of Holiday, and Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, and 99 red Balloons. I think I was just too shy when it came to girls.

And so to the point. That I’ve been putting off. The betrayal by a 54 year old man of his 21 year old self.

I’ve been running a lot recently. it started when I decided to run 10k in May to raise money for The British Heart Foundation*. And I haven’t stopped. This last month, August, I have run the most I have ever run, managing 210km.

and I run to music.

I’ve been running to all my old faves… though Joy Division is a hard sell to my legs.

And I’ve been getting a bit fed up of the same old song. So I went and bought one of those 80s 12″ compilation CDs (A 12″ mix, in general, is perfect for measuring 1km of running).

And… oh, I’m so sorry Simon. I’m so sorry young me. I’ve let you down. No wonder the old you is running. Don’t stop. And pray that the 21 year old doesn’t take up running. Coming after you. catching up. Ripping those earphones out of your bloody ears…

All men have secrets and here is mine
So let it be known

On the 12th February 1984 this song was no.5 in the charts. And now I’m running to it.

 

(* If you’d like to donate to The British Heart Foundation I have a Just Giving page here.)

Yesterday I headed back to London on the National Express coach. The benefits, at £11 return, are obvious. The downside is that I could have run back quicker.

Not really. On Sunday I ran in the Great Manchester Run and, thanks to the immense generosity and support of over 100 of you, we collectively raised (at current standing) £2379.83 For the British Heart Foundation. Thank you all… and if you haven’t had a thank you from me; either through Facebook, Twitter, email, or the frighteningly impersonal templated email sent through the Just Giving page; then please accept my apologies. I have tried to keep track of you all, but who knew so many of you would so kindly support me!

I picked this charity in honour and memory of my dad, Alec Hickson, who died at the age of 54 in 1983 from a heart attack. You can read more on this, including our shared passion for snooker, here. I’ll be 54 this year and so it seemed appropriate to both remember him and also, through the process of running, try and care for my own heart a little.

 

I’d like to tell you the run was great fun. But running isn’t an enjoyment for me. I can only think of three benefits from it; it raises money for good causes, it possibly keeps me healthy, and it’s the acceptable face of self-harm. When I was at university we would play a game where we’d sit in a circle and take it in turns to drop a baseball bat onto our hands. Each player in turn would drop the baseball bat from a greater height. It was good fun, more fun than running, but you can see the connection. We also used to chew tobacco and spit into spittoons. I do hope student life is the same these days.

Then there would be the time Simon Bligh would teach me how to break roof tiles when we shared a house together in the mid 80s and would return home late after our respective gigs, a little drunk maybe. He taught me to think beyond the tiles, to hit through them, and I did. And smashed my hand to bits. Simon tried to push my finger back into place but I nearly passed out. I went to bed, slept a little, and then at 6am dragged myself off to the hospital where a completely redundant X-ray was taken. I don’t think my body is quite like Tom Mix’s, but I can claim two broken ribs, two broken fingers, a broken nose, and a broken pelvis.

tom mix

pelvis-x-ray

my broken pelvis

My ambition, beyond raising £1929 for The BHF, was to do the run in under an hour. I’ve only just started running again in the last six weeks, and the last time I ran a 10k was when I was in my 20s (I can’t remember the time but it was either 47 minutes or 53). Now, my first attempt at 10k took 70 minutes. I’ve slowly reduced that, but even so my last go was just over 63 minutes. To manage it in under an hour would take a bit of luck on the day.

I was in the Blue Wave of runners, with a start time of approx. 12.25.

sdr

The organisers encouraged us to take in the sites as we ran. I did my best, in the first two kms, to high-five as many kids as I could and to grimace a smile at those who applauded and cheered us on, but to take in the sites as well? The bloody sites! Old Trafford!? Is this a joke? To make matters worse, they contrived a route that took me past the damned place twice! Why not rub it in organisers, why not really take the piss! (If this has no meaning to you- Old Trafford is NOT the stadium of the team I support.)

I managed the first km in 5.01, my best speed yet; though this caused some panic. What if I’d started off too keen, too fast? What if, 3km in, I was done? The second came in at 5.18, so still ok. After the third (5.43) my £10 bluetooth headphones gave up the ghost. I was on my own; no voice telling me my speed, no playlist made up solely of songs from the 80s and the nowties (an odd combo playlist of Sparks, Lloyd Cole, Grimes, The Jam, Haim, Hot Chip, Morrissey, Alvvays, 10cc, Gemma Ray, Everything But the Girl, Paul Heaton, John Grant, La Roux, and Christie- how the hell did a 70s tune slip in there at the end? Yellow River, if you know it. And, should you wish, you can click on the above artists to hear the tunes I should have been running to).

It was hard work, running. And, even at 3km, some folk in the best of gear (lycrad and lithe and looking the part) had slowed to a walk. I tried to keep nimble, hopping and skipping on and off the pavement to avoid the slowcoaches. I tried, but I know, to an outsider, I would have looked like their grandpa, on day release, celebrating one last gasp at freedom.

Two friends had come along to support me, and so I’d suggested to them the 6km mark where the BHF had a stall of sorts. At 5km I was struggling, so this became something to look forward to. I would say the 4-6km part is the hardest; you’ve barely got going and you feel leaden and dragging, and yet you know that this is only the half of it. Jackie and Mo had made Swing Your Pants banners. What can I say? Thank you. There is no doubt it helped spur me on.Mo and Jackie

And then you can feel like you are heading home. Around about 6-7km I knew I would finish it. But I needed to keep my pace up to do it within the hour. At 8km I tried to maintain a speed; not to go faster, but to make sure I didn’t start slowing down. The last km I trudged on, and picked up the pace at the 400m mark, and then the last 200m mark. I like to think I really ran that last 200m, fast; but the chances are I looked like the slow-motion bits from Chariots of Fire.

I only had my watch to go off. I thought I had done it in an hour. As I went through the finishing arch the time above, for the Blue Wave runners, was 1 hour 3 mins.

bty

As I sat in the BHF tent the rains came down. Miserable Manchester rain, nothing new.

sdr

And then this tweet came through from my friend Cheryl. I had run it in 57.44. This was the official time from the website (we all have chips placed behind our numbers that know our every step).

And it made me cry. Just a bit. No one noticed. It was raining.

cheryl

I’ve had another run today. 7.45km in 47.55. Slow. It’s amazing what you can do with a little support and a good cause.

Thank you to Sam H, Darren K, Su H, Dave K, PM anon, John S, Sarah F, Paul K, Rik KM, Andrea and Frank, Jonny C, Robert N, Jenny S, Jackie H, Hazel D, Phil M, Ted B, Cheryl and Eric, Stephen B and family, Simon B and family, Clare and Bruce and Charlotte and Issy, Hannah J, Matt and Jill, Lynne B, Sarah L, Stephen K, Lee S, the Williams family, Chris S, Keith R, Gail E, Jamie D, Helen S, Douglas S, Stephen B, Chris W, Lucy and David and family, Linda and Alexei, Sue W and her mum Rose H, Mick H, Simon B, Anne-Marie, Pixie45, Michelle F, Vince R, Margo M, Andrea M, Neil P, Toby W, Dana N, Caroline S, Pia A, Alwyn A, David and Deb and family, Johnathan O, Mo O, Janey E, Sean U, Lianne E, Sharon R, Paul H, Hannah V, Suzanne O, Scott R, Paul C, Jennifer S, Dave K, Ensign Deb, Colin D, Janine K, Paola N, Alexander T, Sarah B, Amanda D, Steve P, Craig H, Tony J, Lynsey S, Luke W, Robert R, Barnaby E, Helen R, Justin E, Julian B, Brian M, Peter E, Ben and Sarah and Eve Lola and Dylan, Emma R, Stephen B, Neil G, Dave F, a different Neil G, Chris W, David C, Paul and Alison D, Sharon and Andy and Kate and William, Charley and Simon and Pete and Georgie and Jack, Jamie A, Gerald P, Kirsty R, Mandy M, Alison J, Gill and Jake, Steven M, Lisa and Toby and Connie.

You all raised £2,379.83. Then there’s the Gift Aid of £517.78. That’s a fantastic total of… oh, I can be bothered adding it up. Nearly £2900! I only was aiming for £1929 (the year of my dad’s birth). And no! That doesn’t mean some of you can have your money back.

Indeed, if anyone reading this feel’s they’ve missed out, it’s still not too late. Just click on this link.

But thank you. From someone who doesn’t enjoy running, you’ve made me feel it all was incredibly worthwhile. xxx

sdr

In my last blog post I wrote about my dad, about snooker, and about why I am going to run the Great Manchester Run in his memory. Thank you all for your kind comments, and thank you so much for sponsoring me and donating to the British Heart Foundation.

My plan is to run the 10k in less than an hour. That should be easy; after all, I ran 10k in 47 minutes, 30 years ago. Oh, and I haven’t run 10k since then. And I only started running with any kid of idea of a plan a few weeks ago. Still. I WILL do it in less than an hour.

So far I have managed 10k in 70 minutes. Yesterday I ran just under 5 miles in 50 minutes (I swallowed a fly during my third mile, which led to at least a minute and a half of trying to sick it up). So, I have some kind of self-imposed battle on my hands.

I run to music, when the earphones aren’t falling out of my ears… adding precious seconds to mph. My music choices aren’t particularly conducive to good running speeds: Joy Division slow the pace, Sparks make me fly. But here’s one that came up unexpectedly the other day, and it helped me think about the long haul.

 I was thinking of doing a ‘Hearts’ song countdown for my blog posts in the lead up to the run on the 23rd. But (of course) as soon as you look into the world of ‘heart’ songs you realise they’re not really on the side of running and health and looking after the damned thing (even Young Hearts Run Free, the only song to combine the Great Manchester Run and the BHF, excludes someone old like me). Instead, they’re about hearts being broken, eclipsed, or (in the case of Phil Collins) “two hearts, believing in just one mind”. (Note to Phil: No one has any idea what that means).

Here’s a heart song that works. A healthy heart is, no doubt, a good heart. Here’s Feargal Sharkey, with his shockingly powerful hair. If you don’t like this, you’re an idiot.

Oh, and please, if you can, sponsor me. Just click on this highlighted link.

Snooker Legends

May 4, 2016

As I sat watching the 2016 Snooker World Championship Final (congratulations to Mark Selby – and Leicester City Football Club – what a time to be a Leicesterunian!), I thought back to my first visit to the World Championships with my dad, Alec Hickson, in 1973 (when I was 10 and my dad was 43 and the final was the best of 75 frames, played out over five days: Ray Reardon beat Eddie Charlton 38-32). In 1973 the tournament was sponsored by Park Drive, and it took place at the City Exhibition Hall in Manchester.IMAG2448

It was a crazy affair. No one was told to turn off their mobile phone (possibly because they hadn’t been invented) and only a few frames of the final were televised. My dad took me along in the early days of the tournament, Round 1, when there were loads of tables on the go, separated by partitions, and you could wander freely from table to table, just hanging around and watching before moving on to wherever the most shouts were coming from. And if you wanted a player’s autograph you just went up and asked; not at the end of the match, not even at the end of a frame as the referee re-racked, but as a player sat glumly sipping a pint and sucking a Park Drive, whilst his opponent did all the work at the table. Here’s the autographs I got in 1973.

IMAG2445

There’s Jackie Rea and Pat Houlihan (Pat won 9-2, but went on to lose 16-3  in the second round to Alex Higgins), Dennis Taylor and Cliff Thorburn (Thorburn won 9-8), John Dunning and David Taylor (Taylor – known as the Silver Fox many years before Phillip Schofield claimed the title – won 9-4), Jim Meadowcroft (who had a walkover since his opponent Kingsley Kennerley withdrew), Maurice Parkin and Warren Simpson (Simpson won 9-3), Bernard Bennett and David Greaves (Greaves won 9-8, before losing 16-1 to 59 year old Fred Davis), and Geoff Thompson and Graham Miles (Miles won 9-5). I collected autographs from 14 of the 16 players in the first round. The only ones I missed out on were Perrie Mans and Ron Gross. Maybe next year.

In 1974 the tournament was held at Belle Vue in Manchester. How lucky was I, at the ages of 10 and 11, to have the World Championship so close to home two years in a row! (In 1976 it went to Australia). More autograph pestering was in order.

IMAG2453

 And this time Perrie Mans was there. Also some of the big hitters; Fred Davis, Rex Williams, John Pulman, Eddie Charlton, John Spencer, Ray Reardon!

And, down at the bottom, another Charlton (not Eddie) was there as a spectator: Bobby Charlton!

But here, in close-up, is the star autograph:

IMAG2454

“Best wishes & good luck, to Simon Hickson from Alex Higgins”.

Well!

I was only 11. I blew it really, my once in a lifetime meeting with The Hurricane. He took time to talk to me. I remember him asking my name, and then I remember him saying “Hickson, it’s a bit like Higgins isn’t it”. And all I said back was “No”.

Things changed once it moved to Sheffield. We’d still go, me and my dad. I’d race home from school, he’d race home from Trafford Park where he worked at GEC, and we’d do the drive over Snake Pass to The Crucible. But you couldn’t get to the players anymore. The Crucible wasn’t some vast exhibition centre where you could come and go. The Crucible was a Theatre! But still, in the earlier sessions, there was a partition, and two tables in action. My dad (phoning to book tickets? Or applying by post? or Pigeon? This is a long time before computers) would always try and get us seats that straddled the partition, giving us the chance to watch two matches at once.

A little aside on the business of getting tickets: My dad once went to see a round robin match; six players taking it in turn to play each other. He got tickets for a match featuring John Spencer (three times World Champion; 69,71, and the first to win at The Crucible in 1977). He phoned up for the tickets and was told to pick them up at an address in Radcliffe. He drove out to the address and found himself at John Spencer’s house.

As I got older I started to play snooker more, and by the time I was at university, between 1980 and 1983, I was on a snooker team captained by my dad; Potters ‘B’, named after Potters Snooker Club above the Rialto in Salford, and ‘B’ for not being the ‘A’ team. I was away at Manchester University, but I’d see my dad once a week for our match. My dad was a strict but fair captain; three losses in a row and you’d lose your place, until the next team member lost three in a row. I spent a lot of time on the bench.

potters-001

Along with the Salford District Snooker League weekly games were the individual handicap tournaments and the doubles tournaments (in which I’d team up with my dad). In the 1982/83 season my dad made it to the semi-finals of the Individuals tournament, and for this he got a trophy. The trophies were presented at an end of season bash, where there’d be a bit of entertainment hosted by the unusually haired Mick Miller.

Mick Miller The Comedians

And the trophies would be presented by… well, this was a special year. A young lad turned up to present the trophies, same age as me. 21 years old, a year on from losing 15-16 to Alex Higgins in the 1982 World Championship semi-final.

IMAG2550-001

Yes. Jimmy White.IMAG2547

Jimmy White with my dad.

This was May 1983. Three months later, in early August 1983, at the age of 54, my dad died of a heart attack.

I’ll be 54 this August and, in memory of my dad, I’m going to run the 10k Great Manchester Run, raising money for the British Heart Foundation.

If you can, please sponsor me. In memory of a snooker legend.

Our favourite Comedian

June 10, 2014

In the early 80’s me and Trev met at Manchester University. We were doing degrees in Drama (one each). I can’t speak for Trev, but I was hardly the most academic of students. Nor was Trev. As our friendship developed, so did our interest in comedy, more commonly known then as mucking around a bit and getting up late.

We were blessed with having tutors who not only indulged our experiments in comedy but also actively encouraged it. (Every Monday night students would perform their latest experimental pieces at the department’s Stephen Joseph Studio, a converted church where we once tried an ‘alternative comedy’ take on Chekhov).

One of our tutors was Dr David Mayer (later to become Professor David Mayer). David’s daughter, Lise, was the girlfriend of a former student, Rik Mayall. The two of them, along with another former Manchester student, Ben Elton, had just written a new sitcom for the BBC called The Young Ones.

We had no TV. We were students; we had no money. Any money we did have had to be spent on beer. And tins of Goblin Dumplings (50p at Oobidoo. Everything at Oobidoo was 50p. That’s why their slogan was –Don’t ask the price. We always did.)

The Drama Department had a TV. And a video player! Every week David Mayer would video The Young Ones for us. And I do mean us, the two of us. Others may have come along too, but David, gently pushing us in all the right directions, knew it was important for us to see this show.

There’d been nothing like it. And it was made by students from Manchester! Not Oxford, not Cambridge. Manchester! It was the most ground-breaking Mancunion contribution to comedy since Frank Randle (and, if you have four minutes to spare to watch this clip from Somewhere On Leave, 1943, you’ll see that Frank would have fitted very nicely into the world of The Young Ones).

Sometime shortly after this, in 1983, David said; “Lise, Rik, and Ben are going to be at my house over the weekend. Would you like to come and meet them on Saturday night.”

Ok… stop. Take a big long break in reading. I’d like to leave a big long gap on the page but that’d be daft. Just imagine the time it’s taking me, even now, for this to sink in. Would we, two stupid students, barely out of our teens, like to meet the creators of The Young Ones? At our tutor’s house?

Let’s deal with David Mayer’s house first.

It was a Mansion of Myths. We’d never been there, but we’d heard the rumours. Apparently he had a shower with three heads! And a Picasso! And we were being invited there! To meet The Young Ones! (I know exclamation marks should be used sparingly, but… come on!!!)

Now, the meeting. Of course we went. We even prepared: We spent Saturday afternoon scooting around Oobidoo, looking for fun items and generally asking the price. We settled on a wind-up spider. 50p.

And so we headed off on Saturday night to our tutor’s home in the posh part of Manchester armed only with a wind-up spider. (I don’t know at what age we learn to take wine, but whatever age, we hadn’t reached it yet).

We arrived at the house. And whatever you read from this point onwards, I assure you, did happen. David greeted us and showed us into a huge half kitchen, half dining room, with a small dividing wall about three feet high in the middle. In the dining room half there was a circular table. And there was Rik, Lise, Ben… and possibly someone else (sorry someone else). David didn’t introduce us… oh, he may have said something like “this is Trev and Simon”… but he didn’t explain who we were or why we were there. The one other thing he did do was to ask us to keep an eye on some steaks he was grilling in the far half of the kitchen.

This of two idiots whose diet consisted of tinned Goblin products.

And David disappeared! Where did he go? To this day no one can answer that. But the best bets are ‘to have a look at his Picasso’ or ‘to have a shower’.

So… we kind of stood around. The others, at the table, carried on talking to each other. At one point we wound up the wind-up spider and let it have a little walk. It didn’t get much of a reaction. But then, why should it? These fellows had demolished a house in their first episode.

We hadn’t been asked to do much by our tutor. Just keep an eye on some steaks. But that wasn’t our forte. We did our best. We wandered over to the cooker. We looked at them. And then they burst into flames.

How can a steak catch fire? I’m sure it’s easy to burn a steak, to ruin it; but for it to catch fire?

Trev struggled to get the grill out. He did, eventually, but not before the fire alarm went off.

The rest is a blur.

***********************************************************************************************
On Monday night we did a daft bit of comedy at The Stephen Joseph Studio. It ended with us dropping some kind of large object off a balcony onto our wind-up walking spider. The spider was smashed to bits. And Rik, and Lise, and Ben were there.

Afterwards we talked about Saturday night. They had no idea why we were there or who we were. They said they hadn’t realised we were ‘comedians’. Which could have been a compliment or not, but either way we had a long chat with our comedy heroes. And for the next few days they were around and about. One night I played cards with Ben and Rik (Ben insisted on giving me money for a taxi home. I insisted on refusing it. I walked the three miles home in the rain. What an idiot student.) Another night we sat chatting with Rik in the bar at The Contact Theatre (the theatre connected to the drama department). He gave us lots of advice and he even gave us his phone number (before mobiles… this was Rik’s home phone number!) and told us to phone him whenever we wanted. He also gave us a quote to use on our publicity for our first Edinburgh show. He told us to use, “My favourite act!”

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Up in Edinburgh, doing our first ever show in 1984, we walked past a poster for a band. I can’t remember the band, but I can remember the quote: “My favourite band”, Rik Mayall.

RIP Rik. Thank you. x

Following on from yesterday’s no. 6, Eddie Izzard, we move straight on to no.5. And, to quote Winston The Wolf from Pulp Fiction, “If I’m curt with you it’s because time is a factor”.

See, the thing is, I’ve been out all day and now I have to eat and then get to my choir’s social, where karaoke is king, and that starts at eight.

So… Number 5.

Sean Lock

Sean Lock- Purple Van Man

It’s Sean Lock! We hope. The tricky thing is to try and figure out what letter his head is. But since his name is actually Sean Lock I’m going to plump for an ‘O’. His head is a big ‘O’. He’s the Roy Orbison of comedy.

He’s a two 15 certificate comedian man, making him ideal for any thirty year olds.

He may have his hands down his pants.

Talking of pants, his cover with its swirly fonts makes me think a little of this:

Bob corner cardigan

purple haze, fa la la la la

Despite his down-turned mouth and the description of him as “punchy”, I doubt he is a violent man. Unlike Eddie Izzard’s DVD, he is not selling an Ultraviolent version of his act.

He is also “inventive, superb… undeniably brilliant.”

Well… do you dare deny it? I thought not. You can’t. It’s undeniable.

If you’re wondering what Sean’s Purple Van looks like, here’s a pic:

purple van

Sean’s Purple Van

I am off to do my yearly sing of First Of The Gang To Die and Manchester. Bye.

Tomorrow, number 4.

Oh, and if you’ve never seen this video, give it a watch. It’s “punchy, inventive, superb… and undeniably brilliant.”

Specialist Subject

March 2, 2013

Last Wednesday I did Specialist Subject at The Black Heart in Camden. Specialist Subject is the brainchild of @NoJokeTooNiche (itself the brainchild of Steve Cross and Marc Burrows). It’s the chance for comedians to come along and do ten minutes on their specialist subject.

11 comedians did their thing. They were all excellent (well, at least 10). Here’s a Twitter list of them – “Tonight’s niche geniuses include @20thcenturymarc @simonmhickson @JozNorris @HeyJackDeAth @Angela_Barnesy @IvoGraham @helenarney @natluurtsema @IChrisBoyd @PhilNWang @steve_x” 

I’d like to tell you more about them but my memory has gone. Before I went on I was not myself and after I went on I needed a drink.

Yes, I’ve done comedy before, but almost always in a double act, almost almost always on TV, and, when live, almost always to people who have paid to come and see Trev and Simon.

Stand up comedy is a different beast (most definitely a beast) and I had no reason to think I could deal with it, but hey, 40 quid is 40 quid and a man has to eat.

So, preparing for my (effectively) first ever stand up gig, I picked my specialist subject and wrote my 10 minute routine. I went over it a few times in my head in the bath but that was tricky:

In the guardian’s G2 a week or so ago there was an interview with Dinos Chapman (one half of Jake and Dinos Chapman). He’s done a solo project, an LP, Luftbobler, and in the interview he says “I can’t figure out why people don’t work with other people – because on your own, you have this kind of weird conversation with this person in your head who agrees with everything you say.”:

I wish! On my own the person in my head disagrees with me constantly. In the bath, I was heckled from the opening. And the heckles would be harsh. And the responses in my head stretched from getting involved in a long-winded argument over the meaning of the word synecdoche, to punching members of the audience, to giving them Chupa Chups to shut them up.

In absolute truth, I never got to the end of my routine in the bath, and, before performing it on stage that night, not a word of it was said out loud.

Here’s the routine. This is the written version. On the night I forgot bits, I added bits, I rushed bits, I messed up bits. But I got through it and I wasn’t heckled.

SPECIALIST SUBJECT

Hello. My specialist subject was going to be “The catchphrases of Trev and Simon from Going Live! and Live and Kicking, 1987 to 1997” but Trev… (a pause and a sigh)… sorry, the artist formerly known as Trev, has taken out an injunction against me. And so I am not allowed to come within 100 words of one of our catchphrases.

So, no swinging of my pants… Oh shit.

My specialist subject is mugging.

Sorry, no, not mugging, not the act of mugging someone, which is… well… that would be a horrible specialist subject wouldn’t it? Physically assaulting people and robbing them?

And I’d be no good at it… I wish I could be good at it. (to audience member) Give me your money. (audience member says no) See?

No. My specialist subject isn’t mugging. My speciality is being mugged. Being a muggee.

It’s a double act, you’ve got to work together to have a successful mugging. A mugger without a muggee is like Robson without Jerome. Or cigarettes without alcohol. Or Seth McFarlane without hate.

I’ve been mugged five times in my life. For a 50 year old that’s, on average, once every ten years. The last time was in 2010 so… I’m pretty relaxed at the moment. i should get home safely tonight.

I’ve been mugged through the decades too. in the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, noughties, and whatever this is called.

The first type of mugging, and the most pedestrian, the most boring, the most mundane of mugging styles, is the rush and push mug. You feel the gust of a teenager behind you (ideally, as in my case, from Crumpsall in Manchester… Crumpsall… the only suburb of Manchester that, like Michelle Pfeiffer, has a silent P)… you feel, you sense, the gust of a teenager behind you and the next thing is your hands bleeding from crashing into the asphalt as some child, some opalescent ghost boy, fades into the distance with your bag, or your hat, or your sweets.

It’s a feeble mugging. It lacks flair. It lacks style. it lacks innovation. It’s the Daniel O’Donnell of mugging. If there was an X factor for muggers they just about manage to wheeze a Snow Patrol ‘B’ side before Louis Walsh would say ‘you remind of a young Daniel O’Donnell’.

That’s just how feeble they are; that I’ve had to resort to comparing them to Daniel O’Donnell, twice.

You can’t even go to the police. They laugh at you. “Ooh, I was pushed over. I hurt my hands. He took my Curly Wurly.”

Don’t become a muggee to a rush and pusher. You can do better than that.

Guns and knives. That’s what’s needed to gain kudos as a muggee.

I was mugged at knifepoint in 1981, Manchester, again. It’s fun up North. I was a useless 19 year old drama student. My mugger got away with a one pound note and a copy of The Uses of Enchantment by Bruno Bettelheim. Well done mugger. Good work. I like to think that now, 30 odd years on, he’s comfortable with the symbolism of a glass slipper.

Guns are better. I became a gun muggee in San Francisco in 1994. having a gun, some kind of semi-automatic handgun, pushed into your belly is fun. It’s good for the adrenaline. I remember looking down and going “oh”.

He did well. He was a good mugger and I was a good muggee. He got my sunglasses, my passport, my wallet. As he and his partner… a mugger’s apprentice? The Andrew Ridgeley of the mugging world?… as they ran away I shouted after him to chuck my passport away. That’s the word I used; chuck. Something that meant no more to him than the last Chuck Norris film he didn’t watch. Chuck my passport away. Charles my passport away young man.

He was a kind mugger. We worked together. I gave him my things, and, in return, he didn’t shoot me.

There is though, a form of mugging that transcends the rush and push, that makes the knife, and the gun, redundant.

Has anyone ever been mugged by the piccolo nomadi?

Rome, 1991. I’m a well-travelled muggee at least.

Piccollo nomadi. It’s Italian. Nomadi as in no fixed abode, and piccolo as in a small flute. Or as in child. The piccolo nomadi are small street urchins, about this high. They work in gangs of about five or six. Maybe seven. I didn’t count.

They don’t have guns. They don’t have knives. They don’t rush and push.

Their weapon of choice is newspapers. Or rather, crumpled up pages from the newspapers. They run up to you proffering sheets from La Repubblica, and they’re crying, weeping, sobbing. And the first thing you think is; they’ve lost their chips.*

I search for my phrase book to look up “have you lost your chips?” but before you know it, they’re gone. And so is your wallet. Your passport. Your camera.

The piccolo nomadi.

They sound sweet. They’re not. they’re just weeping little fuckers.

No wonder the Catholic Church hates children. No sorry, I’ve got that wrong haven’t I? the Catholic Church loves children, just not in the right way. **

I hope my experiences can help you to become a better, more proficient, muggee. Just remember, give it all you’ve got. Or rather, give the mugger all you’ve got. Who knows, perhaps we can make it from this Black Heart tonight without being stabbed in Camden. Or down in the tube.

I’d like to end on a piece of poetry. This comes from someone whom I’m sure must have been influenced by my all true stories of being a muggee.

I say all true… I told one lie. The lad in Manchester didn’t take my copy of Bruno Bettelheim’s The Uses of Enchantment. I just wish he had. ***

A poem to end:

The last thing that I saw As I lay there on the floor
Was “Jesus Saves” painted by an atheist nutter
And a British Rail poster read “Have an Awayday – a cheap holiday –
Do it today!”
I glanced back on my life
And thought about my wife
’cause they took the keys and she’ll think it’s me

And I’m down in the tube station at midnight

The wine will be flat and the curry’s gone cold

Yes. I am Paul Weller’s muse.

What was he thinking?… Sparkling wine with curry?

Take care. Goodnight.

* Thanks to Ben Norris for the chips joke.

** I forgot to say this bit. And thanks to Ben again for pointing out the mistake in saying that the Catholic Church hates children (hence the extra loves ‘joke’). This was also the point, in my inner head rehearsals in the bath, where I would get heckled by an imagined Catholic in the audience. They would, quite rightly and properly, make the point that it’s not everyone in the Catholic Church that abuses children. And I would get all arsey pointing out that the phrase is a synedcdoche, where the whole is used to represent a part (or vice versa). Then I’d give them a Chupa Chup.

*** I forgot to say this too. For those who went away thinking the lad took the book, I’m sorry for misleading you. I just wanted to make sure I mentioned the symbolism of a glass slipper in my first ever stand up routine. He did take a pound though. And my mate, Joe, who ran, returned about a minute too late, armed with a baseball bat.

Now it’s glasses

March 6, 2012

A couple of blog posts ago I wrote about a certain pastor’s/prophet’s/wizard’s watch. look! Here it is again if you missed it, and you can read about it here.

It’s a poster in one of those electric light hoardings, somewhere between Morley’s chicken hut and Babur’s tiger palace, in a place that could be Honor Oak Park, or, perhaps, Forest Hill. Maybe, but not quite, Crofton Park? Bromley? Brockley? Narnia anyone?

I don’t know. All I know, it’s not a place to advertise. It’s doomed to failure. It’s a cursed electric light advert zone. First it was the watch. Now, it’s the glasses. What gives, Paddick?

This man wants to be mayor. Of London. Of course, he won’t be. That’s not me being mean. It’s just the truth. And look! He knows it! He’s taken an advert out in the ‘This Watch’ zone. And he’s swapped the watch for glasses. Let’s look closer at those glasses.

What, on Earth, does he want this poster to say to us? Other than, ‘I’ve given up’? Is he hoping, somewhere in a dark place where he hasn’t even realised it yet, for a ‘we all love our patios, don’t we’ John Stalker style ad campaign? For glasses? One day, when he is still not mayor, will he drive a saloon, with a personalised number plate? SPEC5AVERS?

And what of the slogan, You break it. You fix it? It’s a bit much, isn’t it. For someone who’s naturally clumsy like me. I’m always breaking things. I do my best, for sure, but really Brian ‘Specsavers’ Paddick, I can do without further pressure.

I know. I’m being silly. He’s talking about the criminals. As the poster says; ‘I will make criminals repair the damage they’ve done’.

It doesn’t really comfort me. When I was 15 I was attacked by some lads. I had my nose badly broken and spent five days in hospital. I’m still grateful that a qualified surgeon operated on me and not some crack-crazed scobber out for watch related kicks (‘ave yer got the time mate? Looks at my watch. That’s not the time. Whomp! Blackout. I come round, three lads hovering over me. That’s not ‘im, that’s not ‘im. They run and I swim home in a pool of blood.)

I’m glad someone who’s reshaped noses before sawed and hacked and pushed back into place my gristly conk. Brian ‘Specsavers’ Paddick may mean well. This mayor hopeless may well say to the anti- semitic thug; come on lad, you broke it, you fix it. But honestly, no thanks. You’ve done enough damage. Please keep away from me. Please, don’t even enter the operating theatre.

 (The attack was anti-semitic, though I am not Jewish. I was mistaken for being Jewish as I walked through the grounds of King David School in Crumpsall whistling the current no.1, I Will Survive).

But again, I’m being silly. He doesn’t mean that, does he? He means he’ll make them mend doors and locks and glasses (the drinking types) and jewelry and fences and bites from vicious dogs and… Oh, Lord alone knows what he means.

He won’t get to mayor. Look! There’s Red Ken peeking over his shoulder, thanks to some crafty framing by me. And look! Here’s ‘Blue Cock’ Boris giving you a chicken run for your money.

He hasn’t got a hope.

Though all is not lost. The money for this useless campaign with its truly rubbishy slogan may not have been spent in vain. The hundreds, maybe thousands, of pounds will have been used wisely if Brian carries the slogan forward for when he gets his Specsavers job. It’s a cheap insurance policy isn’t it; you sit on your glasses and hey… You break it. You fix it.  And if you can’t, just use your second BOGOF pair.

Who will be mayor? You decide:

This is my first blog post of 2012. I made a resolution (under duress from those kind of folks who insist on such things – you know the types; eager beavers, do-gooders, fatties and priests)… a resolution to pick up the blogging thing and get back into it.

I’ve neglected it because I’ve had nothing to say. Or do. I’ve just sat for a long time, like those guys who sit for a long time and end up in Ripley’s Believe It Or Not!, flaunting their emaciated buttocks and fingernails longer than cheese sticks.

Jumping around a bit, who knew Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! is used in the context of “would you credit it?” or “Who’d have thought?” rather than this could, or could not, be true; you choose.

So, here I am. Idealess.

I asked Twitter to give me something to write about, and Tim Wedlake (aka @timwed) came up trumps with football. Oh, I know he was teasing me, being cruel, because earlier today City were robbed of a win in the FA Cup Third Round by their close rivals (the lesser Manchester United). But I’m over that now.

So,football it is. And here, for those who missed it, is my review of today’s match.

Manchester City v Manchester United – Sunday 8th January 2012 – FA Cup Third Round.

The match took place at City’s ground, Maine Road. Roberto Mancini, in a pre-match interview, declared that if City were to go on and win the FA Cup and the Premiership he would officially change his name by deed poll to Roberto ManCiti.

Sadly, within minutes, City were reduced to ten men when Asa Hartford was shown a red card. By half time United were 3-0 up thanks to a hat trick from Denis Law and two goals from Nobby Stiles.

City fought back in the second half, with Dennis Tueart and Francis Lee both scoring goals by kicking a ball into a net. But it was too little too late, with the 2-3 final score representing two goals for City and three goals for United. In view of the final statistics United were declared the winners.

I don’t know much about football. My dad was a fan and I guess he hoped I’d follow suit. But I was useless at playing it, and anyone who is useless at football at school is routinely spat at, kicked, pushed and abused. My favourite team sport is snooker.

When I was young I was given a load of football posters by a relative who worked in an Esso garage. I put them up in my bedroom. Manchester United took pride of place, above my bed. My father, rightly, made me take it down. I cried. The truth is, I only put it up because I liked the colours.

Come on City!

Oh bloody Tesco!

April 16, 2011

When will I learn? Bloody Tesco! Is it their aim to give middle-aged pedants like me heart attacks? Are they wilfully immoral? Are they crooks?

They are most certainly disingenuous.

After paying and then seeing (yet again) that I had been conned, I queued at the queuing place; an area, perhaps unsurprisingly, where there is always a queue.

My gripe? I’m shopping in Manchester for my mum and I’d taken up the Tesco’s current stir fry offers. So far, so good. I also bought some meat; pork and beef. Each pack with a large sticker on it declaring “any two for £6”. Individually they were £3.50 each. I was charged £7, not £6.

At the counter I have to empty my bags, like being stopped by Customs and Excise. Even Tesco; especially Tesco; should realise that after the ordeal of going around one of their stores we all feel like we do after a long haul flight; please, don’t make us empty our bags, just let us get home to sleep.

Tesco lag.

The customer person explains that I didn’t get my meats for £6 because I bought two different meats. To get two for £6 you have to buy two the same. So… they’re not “any two for £6”? Yes, she explains, they are, as long as they’re the same two. So that’s not any? Is it? Am I mad? Shouldn’t the sticker say “two for £6”?

I sigh like a man desperate for death, and tell the poor woman that Tesco is at best “disingenuous”. I then walk away.

Out in the car park I feel bad; bad for being a bit narked with a member of staff who can’t be compared to the cheap old line of ‘just following orders’ and bad because yet again Tesco have made me feel worthless in not standing up for myself. I go back, queue, and then apologise to her for being a bit grumpy. Then, nicely, I ask her if she’ll pass my thoughts on, because I do feel that Tesco creates deliberately ambiguous policies when it comes to their special offers. She agrees and tells me that they often have to deal with these kind of complaints.

DO YOU HEAR THAT TESCO? YOUR STAFF AGREE THAT YOU SET OUT TO TRICK CUSTOMERS AND THAT YOUR PHRASING ON SPECIAL OFFERS IS, AT BEST, DISINGENUOUS.

Although, to be fair, the member of the staff didn’t use the D word.

Tesco, you are crooks.

Any: one or more without specification or identification.

It would be nice for any member of Tesco’s staff to respond to this. Of course, when I say any, I mean David Reid.