Thursday, August 30, 2007

Flip-flops don't look so practical upside-down

As the night train from Scotland pulled into Euston at 7.01 I got a text message. It was from the nurse. "Sooo hungover. Fancy 3sum. Can you arrange?"

Kate had wisely told me that your first day after the Festival would be depressing, and that I should try and take my mind off it. I had just been planning a long bath and catching up with Vanity Fair, but this seemed better.

I texted a couple of likely suspects. The Affair regretted that he was at a Burberry launch party, and my ex was working. So that's how the nurse and I ended up in a sauna, providing sightseeing tips to a wide variety of delighted holiday makers.

"This," said the nurse, "Is great. When we hunt together, we can just walk up to them and ask. And how can they say no? How brilliant! We're like those dinosaurs in that film. Only with towels!"

Partly because we're old friends, and partly because we've sneaked in a bottle of tramp scotch, we're not taking it terribly seriously. A Dutchman catches us hi-fiving over his back, and we give a German Doctor a round of applause afterwards.

Truth to tell, we're both a bit smitten with the German Doctor, who is called Ralph and is very keen we visit him in Berlin. He has a constant humourless smile, a lot of muscles, and is wearing lime green flip flops. The nurse is impressed. “So practical and cold! Oh, I wish I could take him home to mum. A rich doctor. She'd be so proud!”

Afterwards, the nurse and I sit in McDonalds. We both try and buy salad, but they've run out (you always suspect McDonalds have just run out of salad since 1954). We sit, picking away at burgers. A strangely dressed mad lady shuffles past. “Have you got my food?” she demands of each of us. She makes a grab for our chips, but the nurse swats her off. She shuffles off round the restaurant, doing the chip grab.

The nurse follows her, his eyes caustic. “How odd,” he says. “For a mad bag lady she's got very expensive highlights.”

He's right. We ponder this.

We eat the last of our chips. Not because we like them, but because we don't want the bag lady getting them.

“How are you?” asks the nurse. “I was chatting to a psychotherapist at work, and she told me she doesn't think anyone in London is really happy. I'd never really felt unhappy until she said that. And since then i've wondered.”

We watch the people walking through Waterloo station. The nurse adjusts his shoulder strap, and heads for the tube. “You know, we should definitely do this again. And sometime, you could even come over and i'll cook for you. Group sex followed by Spaghetti Bolognese.”

He smiles and waves, and is gone.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Mad About The Borg

Bless you HMV and your £20 Borg box set. Containing all of the Star Trek Borg episodes, it's a strangely compulsive masterclass in how to ruin a villain.

When first introduced, the Borg were enigmatic nightmares. Ten years later, and they're almost cuddly.

The terrifying soulless cyborgs start out well enough, with their indifference and their body horror and their killer move of "oh my god, Captain Picard's a Borg!". It's THE moment of The Next Generation (which, when you think about it, doesn't have all that many not involving Dr Crusher's hair or Deanna's camel toe). It's so brilliant they immediately feel guilty about it, and give that story a rubbish ending (Captain Picard tells the Borg to go into standby mode, and then leaves the gas on).

But it all starts to go wrong when they introduce a pocket gay Borg called Hugh. Hugh doesn't feel like the other Borg, and when he has the courage to say so, the Borg go all wobbly. Cue a gobsmackingly awful two parter called Descent, in which the Borg have fist fights with each other, and say things like "Grr!".

Just when you're thinking "How can they make them more rubbish?" along comes Star Trek Voyager. It all starts out crackingly enough, with Janeway bullying the Borg into an alliance and stealing Seven of Nine, a fiesty LesBorg. The Borg are back to being cunning and creepy and genuinely alien...

And then they bring back the Borg Queen from the feature films, only this time played by a waxwork. It turns out the Borg Queen is as lesbotically obsessed by Seven of Nine as Janeway is, leading to what's basically a six-part robot lesbian love triangle, which must be unique in American Network Television.

It's all helped by the crew of Voyager being so blah that I was rooting for the Borg. The Borg actually have more character than the crew of Voyager, especially in a long flashback where we see that Seven of Nine grew up around the Borg before being assimilated, and sweetly gave them pet names. Creepy.

Unfortunately, we then get Unimatrix Zero which does for the Borg what pot pourri did for Newport Pagnell Service Station. We discover the Borg have a dream world where they go when they recharge, full of pastels and patio heaters. It's where they get to express their true selves.

Perturbed to discover that they're running art classes and pilates workshops, the Borg Queen decides to put a stop to it. She's also well jealous as Seven of Nine's ex boyfriend's in there, living in a tent. In dream land, Seven has floppy hair and the dress sense of a charity shop. Who knew?

In a shock cliffhanger, we discover the only way to save dream land is for Janeway and some of her boring crew to sacrifice themselves and become Borg. Gasp!

But cancel that gasp, as in part 2, we find that they've not been Borg for months as we thought, but merely 17 minutes, and have magic implants that let them retain their characters. Uniquely, the Borg have decided not to rip out any of their eyes and replace them with implants. Phew, that's lucky.

Now, if it was me, and I'd just been cybernised without anaesthetic and fully conscious, I'd be curled up on the floor screaming and screaming and screaming. At the very least I'd be wondering whether masturbation is either possible or advisable if your hands have been replaced with a drill and an electic sander. But not the crew of Voyager. They just behave as if nothing's happened. Apart from Janeway, who looks fabulous as a Borg, and knows it.

Part 2 takes some watching. It's startling that something this clunky was made at the same time as Farscape and Buffy. There's a great lesbo stand off between Janeway and the Borg Queen (the Borg Queen temporarily restores Janeway to her normal appearance as she prefers her hair that way. No, really). For very confusing reasons, Janeway convinces the rebel Borg to switch off Dreamland, and to remain fully conscious of their horrible post-mutilation lives but unable to do anything about it, for fear of giving themselves away. Result!

A ship of rebel Borg Klingons escape (don't worry, we never hear from them again), and Seven promises to find her boyfriend. "I'll never forget you," she vows, before marrying Chakotay.

Janeway is rescued, and surgically restored to her former appearance (even the hair). Within minutes she's sat up in bed, drinking coffee and joking about her implants. Rather than screaming and screaming and screaming.

We've gone from "The Borg are pure evil. You cannot understand them, only fear them" to "Being a Borg isn't that bad, really."

Luckily, in Endgame Voyager makes up for this folly. They bring back the proper Borg Queen actress (she had to pee in that suit, you know, which probably explains why the cheap stand-in always looked so uncomfortable). With nutty Alice Krige as the Queen, they wisely decide that one Janeway isn't enough, so bring in iron-haired Future Janeway, who's just fabulous.

Frankly, at this point, you could stick the Queen in a room with Seven, the Janeways and Twister. Surprisingly, however, Voyager instead delivers two hours of well-plotted, character-driven drama. *I know* - it's like they could make proper television all along, but decided not to (probably out of respect for Gene Roddenberry).

You could, at this point, go out on a high. Or you could bring them back in an ill-advised episode of Enterprise.

This episode was knocked-out in 2002. After 5 years of Buffy, and 9 of the X-Files. By this point, we even had CSI making drama without real people work. And yet - this. The entire cast look bored. In a commentary, the writers actually admit the characters are underwritten, and that they had no idea how to end the episode other than with some running around and an explosion "but sometimes, that's all you need".

Star Trek fans hate this episode, but merely for crimes against continuity (check the online reviews - they refuse to actually assess it as an hour of television). In fairness to the writers, they neatly explain away all of the continuity errors. Although, had they spent less time doing this, they might have made a better television show.

Clearly, the fans were always going to hate it. Why not say fuck it, and do something interesting?

Anyway, that's a whole lot of words about Star Trek. You can tell I'm back in London, sat on my sofa, and not doing any proper writing work. Ah well. Resistance is, you know...

Thursday, August 23, 2007


BIG ISSUE SELLER: It's you off the telly, isn't it?

Awkward is the wrong ballet dancer 2

"Hi! Do you remember me? Have you got a show on? I'd love to see it."

And so, feeling like the toad I am, I hand him a flyer and watch him happily bound off to see Chav, the Musical.

Of course I remember you, I think sadly. Last time I saw you I was having sex with your ballet dancer boyfriend while you slept next to us in the bed.

Hmm. If he comes and sees the show, I'm going to feel really guilty. But if he brings his boyfriend with him...

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

English Bards and Scots Reviewers

Our show's had a curious relationship with reviewers. We had The Scotsman in on our second night. He laughed a lot. The review never appeared.

We had another reviewer who sat down in the front row, opened their notepad, clicked their pen ominously, and, glaring grimly at our actor, made occasional notes with weighty significance. "Like a fucking driving test," sighed Paul afterwards.

Another reviewer sneezed throughout the play, managing a final explosion all over her notebook. We think she was from "Three Weeks" a daily sheet that, from the sheer number of contributors, manages to publish both the best and worse reviews ever written. One opened with the word "Eliding".

But so far the reviews that we have had have been positive. Even the one in The Stage. When we'd read it three times, and discounted the weird factual innacuracies.

Our audiences have been peculiar. We built up over the first week to where 20 people was a low crowd. And then, all those lovely people went home, and we were suddenly playing to six people. Six nice people who laughed loudly, but six people night after night. Apart from one night when we had twelve and thought we'd gone to heaven. By the end of the week, we'd built it up to nearly 36. And then that batch of people went home and we started all over again. Seven people on Monday, twelve on Tuesday, forty-six last night. Including the James Bond fanclub and a camera crew.

Of course, our actor's completely unaffected by it all. But that's because he's taken his contact lenses out and is performing to a blurry haze.

Monday, August 20, 2007

The loneliness of the long-distance Polish Footballer

I have a surprise new flatmate. Readers will be surprised to learn it's the Polish footballing microbiologist.

He texts me out of the blue to explain he's split up from his boyfriend and has to move out in a hurry. Do I have a spare room for a couple of weeks?

I explain that, um, yes I do have a spare room at the moment. But I'm in Scotland and it's full of Lego trainset. How urgent is it?

Pretty urgent it turns out. So, I post him a set of keys, and he texts back, "Hey babe, is it okay if I share a bed with you while we sort out the spare room? I give you big kiss ;)"

This is either going to go really well, or really badly. But, and I know you're shaking your heads sadly at this, I should point out, the footballer looks like this:

It's like my gay duty. Plus he taught himself English by watching Family Guy.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Blogging elsewhere

I'm sporadically writing for the Guardian Edinburgh blog. Comments so far include some Italian poetry and the word "nonce". So, no change there.

My Scottish Gym

While I'm up here, I've joined a gym that's so gay you can chew the sexual tension. And Scottish sexual tension is very chewy indeed.

It used to be a Holmes Place and was famous on the scene as "Homo Place". It's just been renamed Virgin Active, which isn't helping.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Tug of Love

Last night, two men fought over me. Or, more accurately, sulked.

I finally went out for a bit of Edinburgh gaying. Wherever I went, there were these two guys sat together. I got talking to them, and they turned out to be old friends, rather than boyfriends, and we got to talking, and drinking and talking.

Mike was an archivist from the Lake District. Peter, the more Irish one, said he'd been sucked off on Calton Hill by Gerry, the Big Brother gay. But nearly everyone I meet in Scotland's had him. There was a guy stood next to us, dancing in only a pair of tasselled leather trousers. He had a lot of muscles and no expression. He's out every night apparently, off his tits. He works in a store selling bodybuilding powder, and likes himself as much as he hates everyone else.

I forgot about Scotland's relaxed licensing laws, and suddenly it was half past four. Mike announced that he was annoyed. "We both fancy you," he said, despondently.

I pointed out that this wasn't necessarily a problem, but Pete was horrified. "Oh god no! We're just mates. We've never done... that - not even in Gran Canaria."

This was not perhaps the best time to start asking about the difference between circuit diagrams in series and in parallel, but I was very drunk and trying to make a point. Eventually, they started sketching out a rota at a cab rank, and I started to laugh.

Mike didn't think it was funny, at all. They were still rowing when they got in the cab. I always like it when men call. But never before have two men argued over who's going to call me first. And yet, at the same time, I'm sweetly convinced I'll never hear from either of them.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The sound of no hands clapping

Audiences are funny things - our play's been ticking along quite nicely, with audiences building gently towards 30 (which ain't shabby for the fringe), and then suddenly on Saturday night... six.

Luckily, they were a nice six and laughed loads, but still... six. This isn't the worst - everyone in our venue's still talking about the cast who played their hearts out to an audience of one... until halfway through, when he stood up and walked out. In dark moments, I try and imagine the looks on everyone's faces - did he meet their eyes as he left? Did they plead silently for him to stay? Did they carry on the play after he left? Or did they wait till he was out of earshot and then quietly peter out?

Last night, we had 36, which was enormously reassuring. Including, wonderfully, the staff of James Bond magazine (which, rather marvellously appears to be called Kiss Kiss Bang Bang). I now possess a picture of the magazine's editor standing outside the Pinewood water tank, and, more valuably, the reassurance that my show is factually accurate.

I'm falling in love with our audiences. If I had my way, I'd invite my favourite audience members back at the end - I rather think they'd like each other. They'd include the sweet lesbian couple who laughed like drains, the giggling film students, and the drunk girl with pink hair who suddenly shouted out "Fucking hell! I'd forgotten about the bagpipes!".

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Token Gay Play

"Morning, sugar!" smirked Jesus in an LA drawl. Christ was wearing only a pair of tight jeans, and was rather lounging on the cross in a way that showed off his six pack. But that's the fringe this year - get your top off and you'll get the gays.

You see, it ain't the fringe unless you go and see a token gay play. They're invariably mediocre, but packed - cos all the marys turn up dutifully to anything with a hunk on the flyer.

This is open to abuse - I was most tempted by a flyer which showed four naked studs up against a wall. "It's called Borstal Boy!" I glowed, excited by the prospect of bad boy japery in naughty school.

"Borstal Boy?" my friend Helen narrowed her eyes. "But that's Brendan Behan's play about his agonised youth and the IRA." And thus, not much bumming.

This year's must-see gay play is called Butch, and is the story of a pocket gay who wants to be a muscle mary. It's almost charming, but it misjudged the audience's sympathy badly. We've got a certain amount of time for a muscly man walking around with his top off, but not if he's constantly whining, "Oh, I'm so scrawny... I wish I could put on weight... Why am I so thin?"


Giant robot cars go smashy smashy. Clearly, the most entertaining film ever made, and I was on the point of tears throughout.

Perhaps I should explain my curious emotional reaction. Years ago, I was taking my finals, and suddenly stopped having emotions. People react to finals differently, but everyone goes a little potty. So, I became a weirdly serene being.

Except that, there was this one car advert on at the time. A car with really good brakes would come round a hill and not run over a deer. Every time I saw it, I'd be in floods and floods of tears.

To this day, there's nothing like a nicely filmed bit of ABS and decent suspension to make my lip quiver.

So, you can imagine the effect Transformers had on me. Yeah.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Flyering God

It's no longer good enough to just hand out a flyer in Edinburgh – suddenly, you've got to really BELIEVE in the show. It's like there's suddenly 15,000 new religions in town.

Wherever you go, a wide-eyed student pounces on you – and delivers a sermon to go with his flyer. To you, it may just be another flyer with a picture of a scowling comedian, but to them he's the comedy messiah.

With a shining zeal you'll be asked about your kind of comedy and assured, “Great – he's just like Josie Long and Robin Ince, but really cutting edge and aggressive. Especially for a Canadian.” And he probably has a big gold calf too.

It can take minutes to get away from each chugging limpet, and the cumulative effect is draining. I watched a couple sat at the Pleasance bar having a row – constantly having to break off and smile politely as the latest show was flogged to them.

Of course, I'm shit at flyering - I just end up yelping at tourists, and the other day I told someone our show was a musical. Faced with another afternoon of torment, I invented "horizontal flyering". I went and hid in a gay sauna. It wasn't a complete waste - I took some flyers with me, so maybe I've convinced a couple of charming strangers to come.

Sunday, August 05, 2007


There's a heatwave in London. None of that in Edinburgh, thank you very much. While people in London strip down and complain about air conditioning, festival goers are frantically buying coats and venue staff have donned cagouls. Of course, the locals are unaffected, pottering happily around in t-shirt and shorts, sparing the occasional pitying glance for bedraggled actresses, sniffing miserably at bus stops in their sodden ponchos.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

More play stuff

.... And the Festival's finally started. Even we've got an audience.

We've got past the grimness of the second night - we started with an audience of two, but had reached double figures ten minutes in - and last night we had a crowd of 27, and our first walk outs.

We actually adored our walk-outs. Ten minutes in they shook their heads sadly, nodded grimly, and slipped away so quietly no-one noticed. Bless 'em.

Of course, ten minutes later we had our first drunk stumble-in. Somehow he slipped past the venue staff to stagger in, wheezing and tottering, before collapsing uncertainly across the back row, where he lay panting like a trapped whale for a few minutes before waking up, blinking, belching softly and leaving.

The Festival suddenly has people – rather than just performers flyering each other hysterically. It's been a whole day since I've had a free ticket shoved at me by an old man clad in a feather boa.

Now that there are people, a venue's character really emerges. The Stand, for instance, is a small comedy club that's made itself the home of amiable late night comedy on the fringe. It's always crowded, but has a friendly, pubby atmosphere. People don't mind standing – especially not if it's next to someone famous.

The Assembly's a different beast entirely. It's got an excellent programme, but the venue has an airport-like love of tedious queues, eagerly policed by students with searchlights and attack dogs. The other day we were trying to find the end of the queue for the excellent Robin Ince (through the main hall, along the corridor, round the corner, second left, up the stairs). Rick went the wrong way and ended up in the theatre itself. Which was completely empty.

The Pleasance is the funkiest – this year they've decorated their courtyard with thousands of plastic windmills.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Second Day Slump

Actually, it didn't go so bad last night. Our audience just about scraped into double figures, and seemed to like it.

But then, as we valiantly tramped out of our venue, we got stampeded by the crowd desperate to see "Chav! It's a musical innit" and I suddenly felt rather depressed.

Apparently the morning after the first night is always the worst, and god, it's been grim. I've spent it on the sofa, wrapped in a blanket, reading a biography of Edward VIIth, and have decided I'm just too low to see a play about lesbian ballroom dancing.

Actually, I just don't want to see anything, in case it has a bigger audience than we get, and I get plunged into more misery and trying to solve the question of whether King Edward really did undertake remarkable social reforms under the cunning disguise of boozing and dames.

I'm also faced with having to be a pretend audience member for the next few nights until the Festival properly starts. It's not only slightly dishonest, it's very boring. Is there anything worse than having to pretend to laugh at your own jokes?

We're all treading around each other a little quietly today. Lots of brave smiles and "it could be worse". Rick points out that we could be doing Huis Clos in Polish. "Bet it gets more people than us," I sigh.

It is Kate who cheers me up. "Oh. We've been invited to a venue party. It's a student theatre, so there'll be lots of vulnerable young student actors."

Thursday, August 02, 2007


BAD FLYERING STORY: A softly spoken Canadian comedian tried giving a flyer to a drunk Scotsman. Who stood up, started shouting, "You call that selling? That's rubbish..." and then continued shouting until the Canadian walked away in quiet tears.

GOOD FLYERING STORY: The Student Theatre group who have sent all their boys out flyering only in kilts. Thank you. I actually went up and asked them for a flyer.


Well, in the last week I've

- helped my folks fit a staircase
- shagged a management trainer (insert filthy joke about 360 degree feedback)
- started reading Perry Mason again (never trust the caretaker!)
- caught a sleeper train to Edinburgh
- spent more time flyering than is strictly amusing
- while wearing a Dinner Jacket
- and I haven't got a Scottish husband yet
- but hey, it's my annual fix of Vodka and Diet IrnBru
- and this year, i'm staying in a proper flat, rather than above a gay sauna. I miss the disco, the smell of chlorine, and the towels.

In good news, I'm about to see the first night of my Edinburgh show. We've sold four tickets. If any of the four of you are reading this - laugh, really, really loudly.