I am currently in Chester. I know, didn't expect that either. I had planned to go to Brighton over Christmas with a friend I met at Sussex. That fell through, so I put out a status on facebook about not having anywhere to go for the holidays. I got an invitation from my friend Gareth, so on a whim I booked a coach to Chester on the 24th. Now I'm here. You haven't had a blog in nearly a month, so this is going to be a lengthy one again. It's going to be story in two parts. Firstly, how I spent the last 5 days. Secondly, what I intend to do in 2014.
I arrived here on Christmas eve. Luckily, the coaches weren't affected by the previous day's bad weather as the trains and air travel were. This meant that I got on my coach with 10 minutes to spare. Obviously I had been in a Pret near Victoria station for HOURS before, because I know myself now, and if I CAN somehow get lost somewhere, trust me that I will.
I had planned to entertain myself by tweeting about the journey in the voice of an 18th Century gentleman. I know, the fun I have with myself. The lack of functioning wifi kept me from doing so.
As I arrived in Chester, nearly an hour before we were scheduled to arrive (there was NO-ONE on the road), I was picked up by Gareth and his dad. They chauffeured me to their bungalow, on the edge of Chester and the known world.
The next day and a half, we spent in a cloud of Christmas, great food, bad TV and passive aggression. Very English.
On Boxing Day, as we managed to move away from the sofa, Gareth showed me Chester. What was there was thousands of people shopping incessantly to get away from their lives. Which is the same everywhere I guess. We walked the Roman walls all along the city and I saw the horse racing track. Betting is a weird thing I've never been able to understand. My mother always warned me about how dangerous betting can be, that you'll get swept up in the excitement. Gareth's father used to run a betting shop. Gareth told me which horses I should bet on, because the guy who raised them does quality work and they were nearly always good. I told him that I would never do that. My loss.
The dilapidated church was beautiful. In its walls, a medieval sarcophagus was built into the masonry. It said something close to 'memento mori'. More than that, the person that would have been in there would have been positively tiny. It may have been a child, or an incredibly small person. I do know that people were smaller in the early middle ages but christ, was this one small.
Chester doesn't have a fulltime comedy club (anymore) nor does it have a home grown theatre company. It's a weird place. There's culture everywhere but it's not as consistently presented as it is in, say, Brighton - a city of similar size and population.
We had a great night out in Chester with Gareth's friend Mel. Not drinking alcohol, I got quite unpleasant looks from people for drinking Cranberry juice. I may have been imagining those looks. In the end, we ended up doing a pub crawl with Mel and especially Gareth getting progressively drunk. He went from full Patrick Monahan cuddling to pretending to stab me over and over, and then getting faux angry at me for dirtying his knife- back to cuddles again. But I got more cuddles than stabbings. That will have to be my epitaph. We ended up meeting Gareth's old drama teacher, who is moving to Lagos to teach drama there. We ended up having a protracted discussion about theatre and artistic control. Then we went dancing in a pub where there was karaoke in a corner. The dancing was vigorous. That will sometimes happen. If I get a little sugar into my system and I don't take my night meds until later, I suddenly feel OK about dancing. I know how to do it, I have limbs, I have ok motor skills (I do now) and I'm a good mover. But the awkwardness never really leaves me. What I used to do was dance 'ironically', which seems to be a thing young, Middle Class English men do. They don't dance, they comment on the act of dancing, which is beneath them anyway. I was always scared I would be inevitably found out and escorted out of the building. Now, no more.
Gareth was belting out Crazy Little Thing Called Love and Mel and I danced like Uma Thurman and John Travolta in Pulp Fiction. We ended up singing Kate Bush songs in the cab and, when we got in, dancing vigorously to Janelle Monae. We went to bed VERY late.
The day after was one of being fed and sleeping. I was exhausted. I didn't even log any memories worthy of note. But I did do some admin. I did, happily, do some vital admin for a couple of hours every day I've been in Chester. I will be locking myself up in the UCL library from tomorrow though.
On Saturday, we went to Liverpool. We did 3 museums in 2 hours, which is an achievement in itself. I wasn't really engaged for much of it, my brain having settled into TV mode. TV is weird. Especially on ITV, there are SO MANY ADVERTS. Since I haven't owned a tv for 3 and a half years, I had forgotten how pernicious adverts are. I only use iPlayer for things on BBC four, so even now I don't really engage. I was surprised by the way adverts in England try very hard to be funny. In the same way that Boris Johnson hides behind a clown's mask, adverts are opium for the people and it made me think that I'd much rather live in a benign communist dictatorship, that doesn't make a secret of what Golden Calf we're supposed to pray to. I'd rather have that than the pernicious Chinese Water Torture that is advertising nowadays. I bought Naomi Klein's No Logo. Let's see what she has to say.
Anyway, we did the touristy things in Liverpool. I now have a picture of myself and John Lennon. We had a seriously good lunch at 'spoons. We went up 138 metres in the Liverpool radio tower. Like in Pokémon Gold and Silver, the radio programmes are actually made at the top of that tower. Liverpool from above was beautiful, the sun slowly setting behind the Welsh mountains. We had a coffee there and were mostly silent, unless I saw a child's balloon floating over the city.
Liverpool is a city that knows how to sell itself. We went into the law courts, which were dark, so we felt like we were trespassing. We ended up looking at some kind of ball room with a massive, beautiful organ. It didn't take much imagination to impose a nineteenth century ball, a 1920s party with everyone radiant.
We ended our tour in the library. The main hall didn't look too imposing, v British 2000s architecture, wood panelling, carpets, whitewashed and green. But the reading room was incredible. It was a smaller version of the Library of Congress. In the round. Amazing.
In the end, I did what I probably wouldn't have done if I'd stayed in London: I got to chill the fuck out. Which is important too. Very important, in all honesty. It's what people keep on saying to me. And I know. I'm a disgusting workaholic who needs to chill the fuck out. But I'm in Britain NOW, so I want to get stuff done. That means I can never just have a sit down or get a big old Catholic guilt trip. It takes other people to kick me out of that self-imposed crap.
So today (30th) I am finishing this blog in a traffic jam on the way to Stoke-on-Trent. My laptop is wedged between my tummy, my thighs and the chair in front of me. I am listening to The National and pondering the passing of time and, oddly, the childhood I left behind. A conversation I had with Gareth's father reminded me of the childhood I had. I was actually quite quick in identifying as different from the other boys and was picked on because of that. I liked books, not cars. I will never own a car, because I know I am an idiot. I am like my granddad, I'm not supposed to drive. He had 17 goes at his license and failed, badly, every single time.
I'm reminded of all the lonely car journeys where I followed the paths of raindrops on the windows. Sometimes they would melt together and travel at about double the speed it had been travelling so far. I now know that my childhood is dead. Many of the people who worked in the library in Waalre will now be retired or dead. I used to do painting and activities in what was called 'the monastery', in the attic room, which my brain chose as the setting for when I was reading the school chapter in Thomas Mann's Buddenbrooks.
I think all 26 year-olds will have to go through something like that. Most of the people my age will have been presented with the inevitable possibly of dying a number of times. It hits you like a tonne of bricks. Having had the childhood I've had, I've always thought about death. I used to listen to 'Memory' from Cats over and over because I knew it was about death. Memories of a life lived and inevitably over sting like that. I am not saying that Andrew Lloyd Webber is good or anything, just that Tim Rice and T.S. Eliot are. Just remember that death IS the end. I, then, won't really get that 26-27 year old moment of mortality hitting me across the mouth, I assume. I will be as obsessed with death as I ever was. Most of my friends in the UK are younger than me anyway (I've got a lot of friends who were born in 1990, interestingly), so I've got a couple of years until we'll have those conversations and I can come across all grown up and shit. Or just listen to Vampire Weekend's new record. Do it. It's a good one.
So the second part will be a blog about the past three months and my plans for the next twelve.
In the past 3 months my life has changed beyond recognition. Despite all of my moaning, I am currently living the life that I have worked for these past five years. I am reminded of the final days of 2010, where I felt I had only 8 months to make my mark after 3 months of fighting to establish myself, after which waited the dark emptiness of Holland. I'll write about those months when the time is right.
The past 3 months have been about trying to establish myself on the London scene, putting myself out there. I've tried to do everything at the same time. Some things paid off, some did not. I am still disappointed that the tutoring has not worked out yet. There seem to be even less jobs than there were in 2010-11. Apart from the ever-present market research callcentres, which suicidally depressing.
2014 will be different. Very different. I feel that the past 3 months, intense as they were, were only warming up to the kind of life I will be leading starting in January.
On the level of Academia: within the first week of 2014 I will have finished 2 essays and applied for a PhD spot at UCL and, hopefully, other universities as well. I will be auditing several courses (such as Novel and Therapy and Literary Responses to the First World War) and following courses in Cultural Studies, Science, Art and Philosophy and the History of Science. I will still be working with the Theatre Translation Forum (http://www.ucl.ac.uk/translation-studies/theatre-translation-forum) and I will be working with Bright Club at UCL, the comedy night that mixes Academia and stand-up.
Also, I will be working with Arts Emergency (http://www.arts-emergency.org/), a charity that fights the current political turn against arts and humanities subjects in favour of subjects with a more clearly delineated career paths, if you're Tory and entrepreneurship is a fundamentally benign concept. Let's keep on fighting these dickheads. If enough of us join together, we'll be able to do things about them. I also intend to join Mind and inform more people about mental health.
Additionally, I am also still looking for paid teaching/tutoring work. Because money is also important, unfortunately.
On the level of stand-up: I will be keeping on gigging 3-5 times a week. Hopefully the work I have been doing will be paying off and I will be getting more alternative-y gigs and -fingers crossed- paid spots. That would be nice. I will also be doing competitions. Even though they are fundamentally vile. I will be working with UCLU Comedy Club doing Stand-up Workshops and Compèring gigs for them.
Edinburgh plans are currently in the works. More news as and when.
Also, I will be (co-) running a night in Shoreditch called The Comedian's Bookshelf. It's comedians talking about their favourite authors and books. If there ever was a comedy night designed for me, it's this one. And I'm going to compère at least the first one. More news on facebook http://www.facebook.com/tcbookshelf twitter: @TCBookshelf and tumblr: http://www.tumblr.com/tcbookshelf .
I have several writing projects on the go, I will let you know about those when they get anywhere beyond the stage of sketches.
I would also like to get back to the gym. Even though I hate it with a passion, it's a place to listen to podcasts, isn't it? I will be trying yoga. Until I get a panic attack, that is. For longtime fans: as long as awkwardness is a thing, Gym Stories WILL BE BACK!
As many have said, I am insane for doing so many things. But I only have this one chance, where I am quite secure in where I live and I have the safety of postgraduate studies to work on things I care about. The best possible outcome will be that I: will get the PhD spot, with teaching work, which will mean I will have a secure income for 5-6 years. Which would be nice. Secondly, that I'll get somewhere in competitions. Getting representation will mean a lot less comedy admin and a regular income for doing what I am now doing for free. Thirdly, that I will get teaching and tutoring work. Fourthly: that I will be able to do awesome workshops through Arts Emergency for people and kids who care. Fifthly: that I keep on getting better at the things I'm doing. Sixthly: I hope to get a distinction or higher in my MA. I also hope to get to 90 kg, incl. muscle weight. But that, realistically, probably won't happen. To be honest, realistically, none of these things are likely to happen, apart from numbers 5 and maybe 6. I'll do my best to see to that.
Thank you very much for keeping on keeping on with me. We'll speak in the new year. Peace out!
P.S. My top eleven for 2013:
1. Laura Marling - Once I Was An Eagle
2. James Blake - Overgrown
3. The National - Trouble Will Find Me
4. Kanyé West - Yeezus
5. Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires of the City
6. Arctic Monkeys - AM
7. Arcade Fire - Reflektor
8. Lorde - Pure Heroine
9. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - Push the Sky Away
10. Boards of Canada - Tomorrow's Harvest
11. Janelle Monae - The Electric Lady