Monthly Archives: June 2012

Hey, mellow out, man

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Richard Herring/Stephen Carlin – The Cellar, Oxford – 4th June, 2012

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Pixie had bought the tickets a while back. It was tough to believe the gig was here. I nearly forgot about it a couple of times.

Richard Herring, in case you’ve not heard of him, is a stand-up comedian who started out on his own, in Oxford, in the early 90s. He was then part of a double-act with the excellent Stewart Lee for a while. They decided to split the act up and he (and Stewart) has been performing in solo shows since.

Herring has titled the show we saw “Talking Cock”, a sort-of male answer to the Vagina Monologues. The title makes it sound crude, but Herring throws in enough history and male inadequacy asides to make the show almost educational in spots.

He was perfoming the show at The Cellar in Oxford, as a preview/warm-up for the Edinburgh Festival – so it was a treat to see it in an unpolished (mind the pun?) form. Herring had the second half of the show, which started with Scottish comic Stephen Carlin.

Carlin was also previewing his latest Edinburgh show, called “Pandas and Penguins”. The main gist was the difference between the two species, and how to classify English and Scottish people according to their similarities to either pandas or penguins. Carlin has a laid-back delivery style and his observations seemed pretty spot-on. The funniest bits were the anecdote about having to get his parents drunk to let them know he was quitting drinking (his imitations of his parents’ voices reminded me a lot of Rab C. Nesbitt), and him talking about his girlfriend leaving him for no-one. At one point, the amplifier over-heated and the mic cut out. Carlin had been talking about paranoia and it was almost a perfect synchronicity with his act. A few times he tried to remember where in the act he was, but he played the delays off smoothly. It’d be cool to see the finished show sometime.

Richard Herring’s act had more flow – but he’s also performed bits of this show before. The joke about the loo graffiti, which still cracked me up –  I’d seen him tell it on one of his television appearances. Same for the joke about how to tell the size of a man’s penis. Most of the set-ups come from answers to an online questionnaire that Herring has on his website. As the cliched phrase goes, “most of this stuff writes itself”, but Herring deftly weaves the goofy answers, as well as the more personal, almost confessional ones, into the act as a whole. Along with adding in various slang terms for the male member: “meat thermometer”, “flesh silo”, etc.

It all winds down with Herring exhorting the men in the audience to shout “I love my cock!” He then tries to get the crowd saying “I love my cock and your cock!”, with a lessened result. I really enjoyed the show and it reinforces the idea that sexuality seems to have a very wide spectrum, even when just discussing one physical part of it.

“Sod the jubilee” (The Clash, ‘1977’)

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When I’m asked, as I often am, ‘What did you do in the Queen’s silver jubilee, daddy?’ I proudly reply that I, and the rest of my hardline republican family, watched in disdain from our living room window as our neighbours cavorted under shimmering rows of Union Jack bunting in their feeble attempt to feel part of the nation’s family. I also add that at one stage I ran upstairs to blast the recently released Sex Pistols single, ‘God Save the Queen’, from my bedroom with the window wide open. On hearing this, many people look at me pityingly, as if to suggest that it is who am the fool in my pathetic inability to celebrate and have fun thanks to our noble monarch. I do often quickly add that I did, in fact,  turn out to see the dear old fruit in the flesh that year, as she visited Bristol on her Jubilee tour, hoping this fact will not make me look like such a curmudgeon. I then have to go on to admit that I only did so because I was working for the council at the time (my first job of work at the age of 16) and they gave us an extra hour off to pop down the road and see her and Philip bob along in their open top carriage from Temple Meads Station to the City Centre. It was a free hour, so thought it churlish to not take a look. As it turned out, we got pretty close but ‘Her Majesty’ looked about miserable as you might expect someone forced to flounce around a town they have no interest in to look. We laughed and trudged back to our meaningless desk jobs and an afternoon of rubber band flicking, no doubt.

That’s the way the Silver Jubilee in 1977 was for me. I do hasten to add, in defence of my dear family, that my Dad did serve in the army as a Grenadier Guard for twelve years, having signed on for twenty one but being forced to cut short his service due to ill health, so it’s not as if we were an unpatriotic lot. Blimey, Dad, on top of guarding the monarch at places like Buck House and Windsor, even went abroad a few times and spent a number of years shooting at foreigners for the Queen and country. So, I’d say our anti-Royalist feeling was based on a fair bit of knowledge and experience.

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Our pals, the Windsors

I mention all of this because, as you may have noticed, the Queen is now celebrating sixty years on the throne – which, apparently, is a Diamond Jubilee. Credit where credit is due, it’s a bloody long time and I’ve no doubt she hasn’t enjoyed it all, having to undertake tasks she’d rather not, such as bestowing knighthoods on the likes of Tom Jones and Mick Jagger or attending yet another Royal Command Performance at the Palladium. You have to feel for her. Still, I did imagine that the country may have grown up a little since ’77 and decline to indulge in mass hysteria and self-delusion on behalf of Mrs. Windsor. Sadly, it is I, dear reader, who is deluded. How could I have expected a nation which, in recent history, has shown a frightening level of emotional incontinence on behalf of people we don’t even know (see Diana Spencer and the Queen Mother for example, let alone the death of Amy Winehouse), to have matured at all? No, we’ve regressed even further into babbling infancy as we rush to pay our tributes to a family who have inherited untold wealth and prestige at our expense. ‘But she works so hard!’ I hear you retort. Really? I’m not denying she is asked to be bored frequently on our behalf or do things she’s no interest in but if you want to pay tribute to hard work with little thanks I’d suggest you turn your attention elsewhere. Do you really need a list?

No, nothing much has changed in thirty five years: us British are still embarrassingly dependent on those we are taught are our ‘betters’ and have no clue on how to gain control of our own lives. Still, what with all this Jubilee stuff and the Olympics, at least we can fiddle while Rome burns. We have no bread? Let’s all eat shit or, as bad, watch it on TV.

Hols In The Highlands

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Bear’s been handling the posting duties lately, so I thought I’d get with the programme. Pixie and I finished our annual long holiday last week–we got away for two whole weeks this time. The original plan was to take the Swansea to Cork ferry and cruise around Ireland. Unfortunately, the ferry company looks as if it’s not taking any bookings for quite a while.

With that in mind, I mentioned that I’d never been to fair Caledonia. Pixie was up for a trip there, as she hadn’t been in ages. The new plan was to spend a week on the Isle Of Mull, then drift through the Highlands, stopping in Fort William, Pitlochry and Perth.

We made our way up ‘norf’ and stayed in Moffatt, one of the half-English/half-Scot border towns. It’s a nice little place, but the birthday party raging right below our hotel room made it a bit difficult to grab some sleep. The next day, it was off to Oban to catch the Caledonian-MacBrayne ferry to Mull. It was quite a pleasant jot and I snapped a photo of a seagull that would fly parallel to the ferry, then land for a bit. I loved the way it looked motionless, keeping speed with the boat, almost hovering in the air.

We made to Tobermory, the main village on Mull. We were pretty lucky with the weather, though on the first Sunday we were there, torrential rains prevented us from doing much but walk around the village and get drenched. Ulva is a small island off the coast of Mull, so we visited there one day. Quite a fascinating place and very, very peaceful. It’s too big to traverse in an afternoon, but we did make it to the south coast. On the way back, Pixie spotted something in the water to the right of us. I thought it was an otter at first…but it turns out there were four Atlantic seals swimming just away from the beach. I tried to get closer to them to get a good photo, but they would swim farther from shore. I got a couple of decent photos before we had to set off back to the ferry jetty.

We also went to Iona, the place where St. Columba founded an abbey way back in the Celtic golden age. The ruins of the abbey are still there now. Iona is a fraction smaller than Ulva, but you’ll still need a couple of hours to see most of the good sights.

The rest of the week was spent checking out Calgary Bay, going on a whale-watch cruise and getting more acquainted with Tobermory. We did see the ‘famous’ Tobermory Cat a couple of times, but he evaded my attempts to get a photo. We also missed King Creosote and Jon Hopkins by a week, as they played the Arts Centre after we had left. D’oh!

After arriving back on the mainland, we headed off to Fort William. It’s a nice place–but a bit strange in that it’s almost one looooong high street, with residential areas branching off of that. I chilled out in the hotel room, while Pixie had a recon. She found a funky little place called The Grog & Gruel, which had quite a few veggie items on the menu, so that was our dinner spot. I had the quesadillas and Pixie had the same, after trying the veggie haggis–you read that correctly. That’s right, the place serves a mixture of Tex-Mex and trad. Scots fare. I had a brill crannachan ice cream for pudding. Deee-lish!

The next day it was off to Pitlochry, but on the way we stopped at the Monessie Gorge. It takes a bit of patience to find – we drove up and down the road a bit, until we finally stopped at a campsite and asked exactly where it is. You need to cross a very rickety wooden bridge to see the gorge and waterfall–which can be somewhat harrowing, as it sways when you’re about halfway across. The river just before the falls is quite calm and the water has cut various curved shapes into the rocks on the banks. It looks eerie, like an alien landscape, or something Roger Dean would imagine. I couldn’t believe how clear the water was, either. Really lovely place!

Pitlochry’s another small-ish town with a long high street and the residential areas spiralling off of that. There’s loads of shops selling tat to the tourists, along with cafes and pubs. I admit to buying a T-shirt and shortbread for my fellow wage-slaves back in Oxford, but hey, I was on holiday, yeah? We found a good hotel on one of the side streets–complete with pool, jacuzzi, sauna & steam room. Ahhhh…that was a brill treat after the self-catering and cold winds of Mull.

Our final day in Scotland was spent in Perth. Remembering the episode of “Coast”-geek Nicholas Crane‘s spin-off show “Town“, featuring Perth–we thought it would be interesting to actually visit. We were blessed with another sunny day as we made our way around the shopping district. I found an Oxfam music shop and picked up a couple of Mike Oldfield LPs and a few 7″ singles (Oldfield’s “Portsmouth” among them). We also stopped by the art gallery/museum, which proved to be a lot more fascinating than it sounds. My fave bits were the stone with the Celtic cross on one side and some Pictish carvings on the back, the 30-foot Iron Age ‘log-boat’ (made from the hollowed-out trunk of an enormous tree), and the photos of winters gone by in Perth.

We ate dinner at a French-themed place, called Cafe Breizh. The weather was nice enough to eat outside, which was fortunate, as all the indoor tables were booked. I had a “Popeye” galette (a kind of square-folded crepe), minus the spinach and Pixie had a “Chevre” galette. Mine was very tasty and quite filling, for something that looked a tiny bit insubstantial when it arrived.

The next morning found us going back to England, with a stop-over in the Lake District. We stopped in Keswick, for a quick go-round of the shops. Again, there’s an Oxfam shop with a decent vinyl selection. I bought Tomita‘s “Pictures At An Exhibition” LP. Grasmere was next on the list, to pick up some of the world-famous Sarah Nelson gingerbread–then on to Ambleside, where we stayed last year. Dinner was at the superb Zefferelli’s, where we witnessed a very strange and demanding customer making life difficult for the poor waitcritter. We chatted with her afterwards and found out she’s a transplant from South Wales–nice lady and we gave her a big tip, for her troubles with the other customer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The holiday came to an end as we shot a few more photos of Ambleside, then made the trip back to Oxford. We picked up the cats at the cattery and un-packed. I had a super-groovy time and I definitely would like to visit Scotland again. Maybe visit Edinburgh next time!