Monday, 30 July 2007

Mum and Dad

I just had a really nice lunch with my parents in Oxford.

I like stuff like that.

Arnold

Thanks to Paul for pointing out that one of my heroes turns sixty today.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is an inspiration. A bodybuilding legend, a bone fide movie superstar, and now the man who is turning around the fortunes of California, he has not just succeeded but excelled at everything he has turned his hand to.

There are those who think that high achievers serve only themselves. This is utter folly. In showing the rest of us what can be achieved when talent and hard work combine – and in reminding us that the latter is far more important than the former – they do us a hugely important service.

And that's not to mention the positive impact their endeavours have in a direct sense. Think of the jobs that Arnold created by making bodybuilding popular and through his movies. Marvel at the way he is transforming California.

Have a great day Arnie.

Cellar Vie

I am performing at the Cellar, in Oxford, tonight. The show starts at 9:30pm; doors open at 8:00pm.
Be there or be elsewhere.

Sunday, 29 July 2007

The Lucky One

I still occasionally shudder at the memory of my appalling gig in Newbury last month.

I just stumbled across something. I CANNOT BELIEVE my luck at getting this review. It might be hubristic to infer that maybe I have something that can get me through difficult sets, or that I am want to underestimate myself. But I’m going to do it anyway.

I’m also going to stop making notes in advance of gigs, and writing material down before I’ve used it onstage, and planning the structure of the set. It doesn’t work – for me – and I need to face up to that and get on with it.

Sarah Radford, God bless you.

Thursday, 26 July 2007

Speak Up, Speak Well

There’s a really good article on Conservative Home today, about the dearth of fine orators in politics.

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

Amy Macdonald

In the event of there ever being justice in the music world, this lady will be stratospheric.

As there isn’t, and probably won’t be in the near future, here’s hoping she gets as big a following as not being a boring scrawny drone whore allows her.

OK, so in fairness it is increasingly easy to find musical talent - God bless the Internet. And she is appearing on mainstream shows. Maybe I’m just being cynical.

My Twisty, Twisty Mind

I had a weird dream last night.
I dreamt that two of my old College flatmates had been put on a panel to look at the morality of animal testing for medical purposes. I was there too, and watched as a mouse was injected. I then looked over again, and the person who had injected the mouse was covered in blood.

I said: 'Jesus, I'm pro-cancer if it stops this shit'.

Friday, 20 July 2007

Cultcha

I’m having a cultured week.

On Wednesday I saw The Taming of the Shrew, as performed by the Creation Theatre Company, with my friend Helene. It was a delightful production, and is running for quite some time, in the spectacular surroundings of Oxford Castle.

The pleasure of seeing the play for the first time was topped off by its anti-feminist sentiments. I enjoyed pointing this out to Helene, who is a woman.

Tonight I am seeing a hero of mine, HM Ricky Gervais. I’m going with my sister Becca, and it promises to be a really good night. I’ll always love him for The Office, but he is also one of my favourite stand-ups.

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Streets of London

Ralph McTell

(Made famous by Michael Ancram)

Have you seen the old man
In the closed-down market
Kicking up the paper with his worn out shoes?
In his eyes you see no pride
And held loosely at his side
Yesterday's paper telling yesterday's news
So how can you tell me you're lonely
And say for you that the sun don't shine?
Let me take you by the hand
And lead you through the streets of London
I'll show you something to make you change your mind
Have you seen the old girl
Who walks the streets of London
Dirt in her hair and her clothes in rags?
She's no time for talking
She just keeps right on walking
Carrying her home in two carrier bags
So how can you tell me you're lonely
And say for you that the sun don't shine?
Let me take you by the hand
And lead you through the streets of London
I'll show you something to make you change your mind

In the all night cafe
At a quarter past eleven
Same old man is sitting there on his own
Looking at the world
Over the rim of his tea-cup
Each tea last an hour
Then he wanders home alone
So how can you tell me you're lonely?
Don't say for you that the sun don't shine
Let me take you by the hand
And lead you through the streets of London
I'll show you something to make you change your mind
And have you seen the old man
Outside the seaman's mission
Memory fading with
The medal ribbons that he wears?
In our winter city
The rain cries a little pity
For one more forgotten hero
And a world that doesn't care
So how can you tell me you're lonely
And say for you that the sun don't shine?
Let me take you by the hand
And lead you through the streets of London
I'll show you something to make you change your mind

Monday, 16 July 2007

I’m Convinced

This is awesome.
In our next episode, we explain why God gave us period pain, cancer and unprotected testicles, and the function of earthquakes and floods.
We also explain why some people are allergic to bananas.

Florence Nightingale He Ain't

I've just come back from a successful trip to the dentist.
He's a cheerful Scandanavian cove. He also seems to be highly competent. However, he might want to adjust his bedside manner for those who are more nervous than I am at the dentist.
Before he commenced a big clean of my teeth he breezily asked:
'OK! Are you ready for some torture?'

Saturday, 14 July 2007

More Stand-Up

I will be on stage once again at the Cellar in Oxford on the night of Monday 16th July.
As even those of you who have never been probably know by now, the Cellar is on Frewin Court, off Cornmarket Street, next to the Oxford Union.
Doors open, I think, at 9:00pm.
I've been thining recently about the merits of preparation, and how one can actually take pleasure in it. Moreover, if one has a high turnover of material, one needn't get bored. So I'm still conflicted on the whole issue, but I think all one can do is to keep experimenting.
I saw Greg McHugh and Simon Amstell last night. They were both excellent, and it was heartening that I felt encouraged rather than depressed. They ad libbed splendidly, but also had beautifully crafted material. I think I need to remember that far from there being any shame in that, it's another skill. The trick is to keep working up new ideas.
Oh, I did some weightlifting exercises in the gym today (just with a broomstick and then an empty bar). I was pleasantly surprised at how good they felt.
Update: Thanks to James for pointing out that I had written 'January' rather than 'July' in the post above!

Friday, 13 July 2007

James Sherwood

A message from James Sherwood, stand-up comedian and stand-up fellow:
‘James Sherwood’s Somewhat Premature Review of 2007’ is my new one-man show.
It’s got stand-up and songs, and it debuts at Edinburgh this August.
If you’re not going to Edinburgh, you can catch a preview of the show in July. Here’s the dates:
17 July – Landor Theatre, Clapham North (7.30 show)
18 July – Lee Hurst’s Backyard Club, Bethnal Green (8.30 show)
19 July – Etcetera Theatre, Camden High Street (7.30 show)
20 July – Etcetera Theatre, Camden High Street (7.30 show)
22 July – Komedia, Brighton (8pm show)
23 July – The Reckless Moment, Leamington Spa (9pm show)
24 July – Kings Head, Crouch End (8.30 show)
26 July – Distillers, Fulham Palace Road, Hammersmith (9pm show)
If you’re coming to Camden on 19th or 20th, I recommend booking tickets on www.ticketweb.co.uk. For the others, you can turn up on the night.
Thanks, all.
James
www.sherwoodcomedy.com

Thursday, 12 July 2007

Ethics Man

Here's an interesting question - should intellectual property rights apply in the field of public policy? Should even political parties be allowed to claim for infringements?
(The answer is obviously 'No', but it's moderately thought-provoking. If you went to Oxford or Cambridge.)

Rebecca Harris ...

… is a very great woman on toast.

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

'Are You Going Shirtlifting?' (Dave Robbins)

I sometimes find that when I’m trying to work out one thing in my head, another ongoing problem gets solved. As I’ve been battling with what methodology to use for my stand-up comedy, I am pretty sure I have determined what sport I want to focus on once I’m fitter.

It’s weightlifting.

This is not a wholly welcome realisation. Weightlifting requires specialist equipment, in particular rubber-edged plates that can be dropped between – or if you’re in difficulty, during – lifts. The nearest ones that I am aware of are the other side of town. They are far too expensive to buy, and anyway, I don’t have anything like the space at home.

I tried weightlifting a few years ago, and was RUBBISH at it. The lifts are much harder to execute than those in powerlifting, and I am not at all flexible. This is a major drawback. I will have to spend quite a bit of time getting more flexible before I can hope to exercise my strength at all efficiently in the snatch and the clean and jerk. It could be a frustrating process.

How much easier it would be to go back to powerlifting. I wasn’t any great shakes at that either, but I am good at deadlifting, have good technique and therefore potential in the squat, and could build my bench press up if I dedicated myself. I’ve got friends who powerlift, and a gym five minutes away that has pretty much all the gear. This could satisfy my fascination with strength and weights.

Or I could do something else size-related, such as judo. There are plenty of opportunities to do that in town. Or I could restrict myself to dabbling in a variety of sports like tennis, pool, squash and football, whilst also going to the gym.

The problem is that I’ve realised just how much I’d like to have a proper go at weightlifting. I’ll never forget how much I enjoyed lifting weights overhead as a kid. It is massively more satisfying that the comparatively static powerlifts, which are part of a sport obsessed with absurdly supportive clothing, death metal music and an alphabet soup of competing federations.

Weightlifting has its problems, but it is much purer. Clothing that does some of the lifting for you isn’t allowed. One federation runs the sport in Britain, and it in turn is a member of one European and one world federation. The rules are standard, and body structure advantages are less of an issue. (Good luck winning a bench press competition with long arms and an inability to arch your back.)

I think it is highly unlikely I could get any good at weightlifting. But I’d like to do it anyway. And it being a challenge is not a bad thing.

I can probably get away with only using bumper plates once a week, and doing core exercises like squats in my usual gym. I can work on flexibility there and at home, and the main focus for now is losing weight anyway. But once that’s accomplished, I am very tempted to get into weightlifting. Competitions exist for people of 35 and over, and that might be a realistic goal for the future.

I make no promises – stand-up is the only thing I’ve stuck at, and it’s my main focus in life. But I think that life would be better if some of it was spent with chalk and barbells.

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

Oi Blue Peter, Leave The Kids Alone - And Our Cash

Herewith a scintillating guest post from a friend whom I will call Arthur von Brando (just because that’s a really cool name), unless I hear from him that he wants to go public.


"Crime", observes Governor Ritchie to President Bartlet in The West Wing. "Boy, I don't know". That rather witless observation came to mind when I noticed this today. I read, and then re-read it, just to make sure there was no mistake. Try though I might, I could find none. There it was in black and white: "A spokeswoman confirmed that the fine would be paid out of licence-fee money." The BBC. Boy, I don't know.

Tom has frequently criticised the BBC for many things, but particularly for its jackboot approach to collecting the Danegeld it likes to refer to as "The Licence Fee". He and I do not always agree on things, but on this, I think he has displayed a sagacity which I have only just begun to appreciate.

Norman Tebbit, during a previous incarnation, in typically pungent style described the BBC's outlook as being "the insufferable, smug, sanctimonious, naive, guilt-ridden, wet, pink orthodoxy of that sunset home of the third-rate minds of that third-rate decade, the nineteen-sixties". That particular observation seems in many ways almost inapt to describe the incandescent rage I felt when reading the Blue Peter story, since it would appear that the BBC has lost any ability it may once have possessed to feel any guilt. It does, however, provide some personal catharsis to read it. Over and over again.

The words from Guru Tebbit which seem to ring very true today are "smug", "sanctimonious" and "naive". Like many of my age, I watched Blue Peter as a child, and make no apology for that. It was, when I watched it in the early 1980s, a gentle and pure form of entertainment in which we were encouraged to make almost anything which could be held together with the omnipotent "sticky-backed plastic", and where we could share the thrill as one of the Peters parachuted out of a plane in the name of charity.

I feel sure that, if not in reality, then certainly in my own mind, I entered the competition to name Goldie's puppies (or was it Petra?). Who could forget the awful incident when the Blue Peter garden was so thoughtlessly vandalised? I still remember the sting of Janet Ellis's words as she eloquently described the destruction. Who can forget Percy's pain as he contemplated having to rebuild the garden from scratch? It was, in short, a superb show for young people.

I know it has had a share of problems since then. Richard "Sniffer" Bacon sullied its name, perhaps for good. But for good or for bad, it has always struck me as being something of a gold standard for children's entertainment. A show you could sit children in front of for half an hour and not worry they would come away, even in 2007, wanting you to go out and hire Death Cyborg Killer 4 on DVD for them.

And so you may understand why I was a little upset to see they had decided to rig a quiz show. I do understand that the demands of modern television are not such as permits there to be a glitch in a television show. The MTV generation get bored if there is more than 30 seconds of wasted time.

But the sheer cynicism of dragging some kid off the street to act as a contestant in order for her to "win" the competition does amaze even me. It is, quite simply, breathtaking.

I remember watching Quiz Show – the Ralph Fiennes star vehicle - about 10 years ago, and wondering why it was considered so shocking that a quiz show would be rigged. In fact, I seem to remember wondering why that was even worthy of discussion. Where I think I draw the line, uncontroversially I hope, is that ripping small, hopeful, children off is beyond the pale. Allowing them to ring in, costing their parents a lot of money, for a competition which is not a competition but a fix is a disgusting and disgraceful act. Trying to cover it up is worse. Apologising when you are found out does not really begin to recover the situation.

It is against this background that I find myself amazed (although perhaps I should not) that the BBC accepts the fine imposed upon it for this disgraceful act of calumny with what might be described generously as poor grace. But the ultimate act of smug, sanctimonious treachery is for it to "confirm" that the fine will be met by licence payers' money. In the name of God, why?

I, who pay my licence, have done nothing wrong. I shell out the exorbitant fee every year in order to prop up that "sunset home of the third-rate minds". I do not, however, expect that those who receive my money will misuse and abuse my trust. Most particularly I wish no part in their disgraceful act of child fraud, and do not wish to have to pay to bail them out. However, I am rewarded by my annual contribution by the 'confirmation' that a portion of my fee will be used to pay this entirely justified fine.

I am not entirely sure about how the BBC is financed beyond the contribution it receives from the poor licence payer. However, I know that it has a commercial arm. I am also aware that those who sit on its board, and who govern and manage it are generously rewarded for doing so. It is outrageous that they should be allowed to do as they do. To draw the analogy of those in charge 'confirming' that, in effect, we, the blameless public must pay for this egregious error, with Nero fiddling while Rome burned is perhaps too easy. However, it is perhaps too easy because it is accurate. Those responsible for this should hang their heads in shame.

Then they should meet the fine out of their own pockets. Shame on them. Shame on them.

Friday, 6 July 2007

The World Is Watching

I will be on stage at the Cellar in Oxford on Sunday night. This is the same venue as the Free Beer Show, but Sunday's event is brought to you by The World is Watching. (The Cellar is on Frewin Court, off Cornmarket Street, next to the Oxford Union.)
These shows will be broadcast over the Internet in due course. Check out the link here.
Doors open at 9:00pm.

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Bertrand Russell

I found this interesting.

Lord Above

I’ve realised that my support for bringing outsiders into Government is somewhat undermined by my proposal that peers should be selected at random.

It would be quite wrong for ministers who are not in the Commons to not be in the Lords, as there must be a facility for Parliament to question them.

So I have adapted my proposal to allow party leaders the chance to nominate working peers (as they can under the current system). This would still mean that the bulk of Lords were selected at random (albeit from a pool of people who wanted to be peers).

Move over Vernon Bogdanor.

By the way, your eyes don’t deceive you. I really am writing this at 5:44am. Yucksville.

Monday, 2 July 2007

Seriously, Can I Have A Peerage?

Gordon Brown has impressed me rather a lot since taking over as Premier. Perhaps the thing I've liked most is his willingness to appoint outsiders. Doubtless he has done this partly in a bid to impress, and I don't approve of all his choices, but it is an excellent principle nonetheless.
It has long struck me as an advantage of the American system that the President brings people in from outside to serve in his cabinet, and that this can even be a cross-party phenomenon. Brown has shown real leadership in Britain, and I am pleased that David Cameron has followed suit.
I write as someone who identifies strongly as a conservative and as a Conservative. But I am convinced that the benefits outweigh the negatives on this one.

Baroness Anelay

I have posted a comment on Conservative Home, in light of the Tory reshuffle.

Sunday, 1 July 2007

Oh Look, It's A Hamster On A Unicycle

I deliberately shy away from writing reviews of stand-up comedy, being content to restrict myself to saying when I think an act is good. It's partly a superstitious thing, and also a function of the fact that I'm not terribly interested in things I don't like. But could I just offer one little viewpointette?
Animals are not inherently amusing or surreal.
Thanks.
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