If you're a regular reader of this blog, you may have gathered that I have a slight interest in records. As I was listening to one last week, I realised that I'd never actually replaced the stylus of that particular record player. I'm all for authenticity, but that had been there since 1979.
Obviously I'm not going to start advocating tapes, they were naturally a bedfellow of vinyl, but their perfect union can be personified by two terms; 'The Mixtape' and 'Home taping is killing music.'
Let's look at the Mixtape. I know you remember them and no doubt a myriad of memories have started flooding back, and it was exactly the same for me. It was the personal touch, only your choice of tune, the perfect place for that song to sit and what it should follow. Whether you taped them off the radio or put your favourites together, it was the soundtrack of your choosing, and every one of those C90s embedded memories deep into your core. Everyone hears a song, and is then perplexed that the song they're expecting next doesn't come on. As that confusion builds, you're immersed in that time when you had played DJ with that song, and it's only when reality bumps into you, do you realise how much time has passed between you playing or making that tape and hearing that song again.
Whatever your viewpoint, these cassettes contained ninety glorious minutes of music that was either your choice, or lovingly made for you. The picture should tell you this, and I deem myself one of the luckiest man in the world to have these in my possession. Not only because I still own it seventeen years after it was recorded, but the time and effort put in by my best friend instantly highlights how much a person actually cares for you. I still have this over the countless birthday cards I have recycled.
Which brings me to the reason of why this blog was late. I have been playing tapes. But not just playing tapes.
I wrote about a good deed I did for someone else last week, so it's only fair if I write about a good deed that was done for me. Plus it stops me from sounding big headed, and I wrote about what happened to me last week because it happened and indeed got in the way of me being able to write about records or books or other things that make me say 'oh a bit of wee has come out.'
So the year is 2011, and I was at the Edinburgh Festival with my show, Stuff and Nonsense, a celebration of my love of charity shop discoveries. I had been there just over a week and it had been treating me immensely well as the diary I kept at the time told me. What follows next is inspired from that diary, with little flurries of context as I only hope you wouldn't have read the previous entries. It is still true.
It is around 1am on a Saturday night, relatively still early early for the Festival goers with shows still going strong and the exuberance of a weekend showing no signs of fading fast. I had just left the marvellous company of Shazia Mirza (We had just seen a show) and as she walked in the direction of her flat, I reached into my pocket only to find I had lost my keys. I did the obligatory tap every pocket known to man, before the sad realisation kicked in that they really were misplaced.
So, I was technically homeless. The friend who's flat I was staying in wouldn't want a phone call at this time of day (especially as she was in Bristol) and so any chance of a spare key would have to wait for a postbox. Only knowing comedians, I frantically searched my phone and desperately texted hopeful kind souls. I pondered popping in to the nearby venues with the chance of seeing anyone I know, and then resorted to frantic phone calls of comedians who I knew would still be up.
It was at that moment that Joe Wilkinson appeared and became my knight in shining armour. The answer to that simple question 'are you alright?' was rather lengthy than usual, and thanks to this splendidly kind soul (and equally his girlfriend) I managed to have somewhere to sleep that night.
The three of us went to the flat they were staying in via the chip shop (It was around half one after all) and Joe kept asking me if I wanted anything. I wasn't hungry, yet Joe was incredibly insistent he got me something to eat. I did try to explain that while I didn't have a flat, I did have money on me. I compromised by saying he could make me cup of coffee when we got in, which he was obviously true to his word.
The next morning I had got up as early as possible and headed into town. Joe had secured my homeless status further by buying me a can of shandy bass. I reluctantly wandered towards my venue and told them the news. As the key hadn't been handed in where I thought it could be, I had to try and accept that there would be no show.
To kill time, I met up with some friends who were visiting Edinburgh, ambled through some charity shops, but it just wouldn't lift my spirit. We went for something to eat and while on the surface I appeared OK, I was deeply saddened by my state of limbo. I left them to go to my second roof over my head, in the form of fine friends, Margot and David. I had stayed with them on my previous visits, plus I had an address for the spare key to be delivered.
The next morning I got up at 8, of which there was no need as the postman didn't come till 12. In rapid time, I made it to my flat, had a quick change, and raced back into town (in a taxi that played Bowie's Five Years) to carry on regardless. It turned out to be a splendid show, despite the natural panic I had tried to suppress through the whole experience.
Looking back, it was a weird experience to feel homeless, as it was without the poverty and lack of choices it has associated with it. I had just been locked out of the flat I was staying in, yet it did suddenly affect my whole world. It was then a delight to be taken in by a kind soul, have the marvel of being looked after, and a great pleasure that I was in the right place at the right time to indeed be rescued.
Life Imitating Art
On a break from thinking about rapiers, I was heading to the shops when I spotted something odd on the pavement, which on closer inspection turned out to be an elderly woman who had suffered a fall. By luck, I wasn't alone and thankfully my girlfriend had done some nursing so expertly leapt into action, ensuring her head had some rest from a folded coat and comfortable enough on the kindly donated blanket that she now lay on. I had dashed back to the flat to secure a coat to drape over the slightly frustrated maiden.
I can't speak for you, but the age in my head doesn't reflect the physical age that everyone sees. It was exactly the same for our stumbled granny, disgruntled at the pensioner legs that wouldn't line up with her independent thinking. She aired more puzzled frustration at the now sadly regular examples of will and body not working in harmony as we waited for the ambulance. If I was to be sensible, she shouldn't have left her flat, but then again, who are we to question or dampen someone's thoughts? No doubt she'd pulled this caper off countless times before, returning unscathed to the oblivious sleeping cat.
Imagine reader that you are reading this story in real time and there was still no sign of those sirens, despite several queries as to its arrival. This was the case and so with the maiden having stumbled no more than 500 yards from her flat and stating that she wasn't going to lie on the pavement any longer, the only humane thing was to help her walk back to her flat. It was a slow, methodical walk, steady steps, a little slower than when someone is drunk.
So with the good deed done and the formerly crumpled maiden now secured on her comfy sofa, all that was left to do was for her to wait for the ambulance and the heroic duo to take their leave.
One of the main things I learnt from this is that people are either incredibly kind or incredibly selfish. The latter was sadly highlighted by what can only be described as a moronic dad. I use this word (and would sadly use a nastier one) as he freely let his toddler cycle near to us as we tried to walk our maiden back to her flat.
Obviously I wouldn't want to spoil this tale by focusing on him, nobody can factor in a gene pool oddity, but it just goes to show that this life is really all about perspective.
Even if you've never been to the Edinburgh Festival, you'd have to be a bit of a numpty not to think that any show you see there, from Theatre to Stand Up, has not been pondered, written and rehearsed to within an inch of its life. Obviously my shows are, but then again, I'm a Virgo. That said, with all the prep and sweat I put into every single sentence, it's real life that triggers the laughter and you have to be ready to accept it, just like when a kid plays with the box over the toy, or an album is only affordable as a reissue. I've given you a couple of these moments below, things that genuinely did happen to me whilst offstage, and I hope they make you realise that sometimes, you can't write stuff like this.
I think I had only been there a couple of days when I bumped into a panicked comedian I knew. She was doing her show in forty minutes and with a reviewer in, could do with a friendly face, so would naturally sort me a ticket. As I didn't have enough time to sit down to eat, I hurried to the chippy and with fish and chips in my hand, promptly sought out a bench on The Meadows to satisfy my appetite.
The Meadows is a green stretch of Edinburgh, equally populated with performers, tourists and drunks. As I enjoyed my grub, a couple of minutes passed before a man sat next to me and pulled out a guitar. I glanced towards him, was informed that I wasn't in his way, so went back to my munching and left him to his tuning. He then launched into a song, singing and everything, which was when I realised I was now sat next to a Busker. I remember thinking, if anyone stops to watch, they're going to want to know what the fella with the chips is gonna' do. How long before he sings? Let's just say, they were the fastest fish and chips I have ever eaten and I have only just stopped taking the Rennies.
Earlier on, I had been in the pound shop (as you know, most comedians are doing well) to furnish my temporary accommodation with such delights as coathangers, mug, plate and emergency toilet roll. As I was in a queue, I saw an elderly gentlemen stop at a display and pick something from it. He ambled over to an assistant and asked “Is this a chocolate bar?” to which he was told “No, that's a DVD.”
As I said, those were just a couple of things that happened to me whilst I was there; I haven't even mentioned becoming briefly homeless, but maybe that's for another time...