Sunday, 31 August 2014

"To shreds, you say?"

Today, I bought a cross-cut shredder. Today is as good as life gets.

I skipped towards Argos with unadulterated glee. Every step brought me closer to paper-mincing bliss. I’d soon be able to get rid of all of my sensitive documents. Those foreboding, yet settled bills from my past could be destroyed, making satisfying spaghetti in the process.

Is this what happens when you reach adulthood? You get excited by the prospect of a cross-cut shredder? If you set your sights low by not longing for anything ambitious, you won’t be disappointed. Unless Argos were out-of-stock, that is.

Thankfully, they weren’t. I’m now the proud owner of a ProAction 10 Sheet 21 Litre Cross-Cut Shredder. It has a throat width of 220mm which is not to be sniffed at. You can even shred CDs. I can finally destroy my copy of All Saints’ eponymously titled debut album and know that it will never come back.

As I walked to the car clutching my new toy, my wife asked me what we’d shred first.

“Our wedding certificate”, I replied. I was joking, of course. 

Saturday, 30 August 2014

"I'm a Cock-er-ney."

I used to think I spoke with an English accent, until I heard Daphne’s brother Simon in Frasier. Now, I question my own voice, nationality and basic knowledge of British dialects.

What confuses me most is that Jane Leeves’ character is meant to be from up North, yet Simon speaks with a broad, inaccurate Cockney accent. He sounds like Dick Van Dyke’s Bert on acid. Stephen Hawking’s speech synthesiser emits a more convincing British twang than Anthony LaPaglia in Frasier, and it’s not even trying to. Even Speak & Spell did it better.

LaPaglia isn’t the only brother guilty of a pronunciation-based crime. Robbie Coltrane and Richard E Grant are just as inconsistent. Everyone seems to be aiming for a different region, which suggests Daphne’s parents moved up and down the country with alarming frequency. It can’t have been good for the children’s schooling.

I guess it’s just a reflection on its intended audience. A lot of Americans probably wouldn’t notice the difference. This is often the case when the US depicts the UK. Take Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. At one point, Costner and Freeman travel from Nottingham to Dover via Hadrian’s Wall. Either they wanted to take the scenic route, or they were awful map-readers.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Have You Heard the One About...?

For someone who professes to be in comedy, I’ve only written three jokes in my life.

That’s not an impressive statistic. I should up my game. My current gag productivity averages out at one every eleven years of my life. I’ll be long dead before I’ve built up enough to fill a joke book. I’ll be lucky to work up a pamphlet.

I’m just not a set-up-and-punchline person. It’s all right occasionally, but isn’t really to my taste. I prefer comedy based around a situation or an observation to simple wordplay. That's why I’m a big fan of Hancock’s Half Hour. While there’s plenty of funny dialogue, it’s mostly character-driven. The roles of Tony and Sid are so well defined that the humour comes from knowing how they think.

The same applies to stand-up. I prefer the storytelling of, say, Phil Kay, to the scattergun one-liners of Tim Vine. Knob gags are my only weakness.

That said, a simple joke does have its place. Here are three Ephgrave originals. Two of them I quite like. One I came up with earlier this week. All three are best read out loud.

1)    What’s do you call a video of some toads having sex? Frogspawn.

2)    What do you get if you contract HIV through your ears? Hearing AIDS.

3)    Henry VIII’s second wife would never rush into a room. She’d just amble in.

I’m aware that the first two need work. The last one is my nest egg. If only I’d been born five hundred years earlier, I'd be quids-in. That, or in the Tower of London.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Watching The Night Watch.

Today, I return to Blighty.

I got up early this morning, showered and dressed in the usual order, then headed for the same Rembrandtplein café I've had breakfast in for the past three days. There's an impressive statue representing The Night Watch in the Square, which I admired over a cup of coffee, before being joined by the rest of the Stag Do team. 

We then caught a tram to the station, a train to the airport - and we're now twenty minutes into our plane journey, already starting our descent towards Luton airport. It's less of a flight and more of a jump. 

While I've had a lovely time, I'm looking forward to getting home. I'm sure I'll return to the Netherlands before long, though; maybe for another stag do before wedding number two. 

I'll close this blog with a picture of me inside a lower case D. It doesn't warrant an explanation.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Travellin' Man

So begins Day Two of my Amsterdam stag do experience.

It's a lovely sunny morning. I'm sitting outside a cafe in Rembrandtsplein, with a cup of coffee and an orange juice (call me Two Drinks Ephgrave), waiting for the others to join me for breakfast.

Yesterday was lovely. It was also very long. It's one of the few times in my life when I'd been up for twenty-four hours straight. I don't want to create the impression that I'm with a bunch of party animals - we've all quite restrained - but it's fair to say that we've been getting about. 

Thankfully, this isn't a typical stag do. There's been no excessive drinking or any pot smoking, I haven't been chained to the railings or dressed as a penis. It's just a nice short break with pleasant company. The fact that we're in the sex and weed capital of world is merely a coincidence, whatever you might think.

We started yesterday with a canal cruise, taking in the waterbased sights. We attempted to get into the Anne Frank Haus, but unfortunately the queue snaked far into the next street (who would think this would be the case, nearly seventy years since the end of the war? There's hope for humanity yet). We had nice food in a few different pubs and restaurants, with the odd beer in my case, though they were suitably spread throughout the day to not have a bad effect. More than anything, we've been having a good, long chat.

 I've learnt how much I've changed. I'm not ashamed to admit that I've been an occasional marijuana toker in the past. When I first came here in the late Nineties, I was with a group of smokers who took things to excess. These days, it doesn't hold much appeal. I'm nearly fifteen years older (Christ) and my priorities are different. I don't need to chase the dragon (or the 'drag on': smoking reference). I'm careering towards my mid-thirties and happily married (even if it's only been for a few weeks). I have a different emphasis.   

Later this morning, we'll visit the Van Gogh Museum, to see the work of my favourite artist (Van Gogh, in case you can't guess). I recently finished reading a collection of his letters to his brother Theo, which was a fascinating yet saddening experience. It will interesting to see the paintings and sketches again, with more of an understanding of what he went through while he did them. He was hugely commited to his art, but racked with self-doubt about his ability. If only could see how much is work is celebrated today. Would it have made a difference?

Uncle Travelling Matt signing off.  

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Dutch David

This is my second blog in so many months to be written in the air. 

I'm currently en route to Amsterdam, for my post-wedding stag do. I like to do things backwards. By rights, I'll be engaged in a fortnight, then single a few weeks after that. 

As far as I'm concerned, today is still yesterday, if that's not too confusing a concept. Our flight departed at 6am, which meant I had to be up at 3am. Setting my alarm was depressing, to be cheerfully told by my phone that I had less than three hours sleep ahead. 

(You can tell how little I've had from that cumbersome sentence.) 

That said, I'm looking forward to the trip. I love Amsterdam. It's one of my favourite cities in Europe. I must have been there seven or eight times now, either on holiday or with work. Each time, it's been great. I've always fancied the idea of moving there for a year or so, if finances allowed. I'd like to live on a houseboat - knowing I was far enough away from the UK to avoid the downsides, but could return quickly if I needed to. 

I'm now back on terra firma, on a train to Amsterdam Centraal. I've yet to see a single windmill, pair of clogs or field of tulips. This is all set to change. I'll keep you informed of my progress. Now, I must sleep. 

Monday, 25 August 2014

Dog's Dinner Plate.

Minutes later, the baby crawled into the dog’s gullet, never to be seen again.

It seems a strange scene to immortalize on a commemorative plate. Who'd want it on their wall? Not many, judging from the fact I found it in a charity shop. I bet the original owner couldn’t wait to get rid of it.

How did the artist manage to convince his subjects to sit still for long enough to paint them? It’s a nightmare scenario. No sooner would the baby settle than the dog would move and vice versa. They must have got through a lot of plates.

Imagine the length of the walk the dog went on to provoke an extended yawn. Think of the lockjaw. Did he have tetanus?

Maybe the kid was a canine dentist. Perhaps the dog crawled down the baby’s gullet. I could be over-thinking it.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

The Trials of a Comedy Promoter.

We've spent the last few days dotting the Is and cross the Ts for our forthcoming Leicester Square Theatre Mostly Comedy line-ups.

It’s a tricky business. You spend ages juggling names about, trying to put together interesting bills that will sell. It’s particularly difficult with the London shows, which have more competition and less budget. We have a great pool of acts to choose from, but it’s still hard to get it right.

It’s a problem we’re getting to grips with. Our London dates earlier this year were all split-bills between us and a high-profile headliner, both doing an hour each. This didn’t really work, as the gig was possibly a little too expensive for a two-act bill where one of the acts was us. We know our place on the comedy food chain. We’re now trying to strike a balance by presenting four acts including us, each doing shorter sets, all for a slightly reduced ticket price.

Offering more acts for less money may sound like a risk. Hopefully, it’s a calculated one. If we pull in more punters with a more varied line-up, we should still make our money back. It will also serve our live act better. We can still invite industry people, knowing they’ll see us in shorter, stronger bursts, rather than an extended (and possibly weaker) set.

Fingers crossed, we’ve got it right. We have excellent headliners, including Kevin Eldon, Norman Lovett and Phil Kay. We’ll should also be able to cover any shortfall from the proceeds from our Hitchin gigs, which pull in more money with less outlay. It will never make a fortune - but if it covers the cost of itself, is a good show and gives us more exposure, we will have got what we want from it. I’m also going to use the London gigs to try a little solo stand-up, with Glyn’s blessing. That should be useful. Not funny, but useful.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Zoned Out.

Too much of my life is taken up with trying (and failing) to connect to BT Openzone.

It’s very frustrating. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Most times seem to fall in the latter category. Take today for instance. I’ve come into my office with the express purpose of tinkering with my stand-up, but can’t get my computer online. Suddenly, everything becomes difficult. It’s harder to research, or to cross-reference my blog. I can’t distract myself with Twitter, YouTube or the Paul McCartney forum. How am I supposed to keep up-to-speed with Wings trivia?

I’ve tried every trick in the book to convince it to connect. Finally, it’s worked. I suppose I shouldn’t complain. It only took an hour and a half. Nobody move. Please.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Peculiar Phrases.

Being pleased to see someone and having a gun in your pocket aren’t mutually exclusive. I don't care what Mae West thought. There’s nothing stopping you from being an ecstatic gun-toter. Take Charlton Heston. He bloody loved it.

(Two classic film stars in the first four sentences. Watch me go, Mum. Watch me go.)

Who's to say you can only have one or the other? That’s not how life works. Human beings are complicated creatures. We can feel a myriad of emotions while carrying a variety of implements. A man could be armed, delighted and aroused all at once if he wanted, though preferably not in public. He'd also need a gun licence.

Idioms, by their nature, don’t stand up to scrutiny. What’s wrong with having a cake and eating it? It's better than scoffing someone else’s.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

The Bells.

I left this morning's chiropractor appointment with a strange sensation, which wouldn't abate as I went down the street. I felt like my innards had been replaced with half-set jelly, or like a newborn foal taking its first tentative steps. I was at least ten minutes into my journey before I realised there was nothing wrong. This was how walking was meant to feel.

That’s the thing with bad backs. Sometimes, you don’t know the knot you’re in. There was me thinking I moved like a panther, when my gait resembled a limping, stumbling, foot-dragging zombie. I wouldn’t be out of place living in one of Notre Dame's bell towers.

This is partly my own fault. I’ve become lapse with my back exercises. The time has come to sort this out. Either that, or have a complete structural refit. Call me Bionic Ephgrave.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014


Today has been another of my ‘waiting for the phone to ring’ days.

This is par for the course with being an actor. You’re often dangling on a line, wondering when you’ll hear whether you’ve got the job or not. Each time you pretend you’re not thinking about it. You keep yourself busy, while your silent mobile phone burns a hole in your pocket. It’s a tiring, frustrating and soul-destroying experience.

It’s not all bad, mind. There are lots of good bits. If I could give up one aspect of what I do, though, it would be this.

Today has been measured out in cups of coffee. Too many, in fact. It’s now 14:45. Time to move on. It's not worth worrying about. Something will come along eventually, and it won’t come quicker by thinking about it.

I’ll check my phone one more time, though.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

"Johnny Five is Alive!"

Most people think the robot in Short Circuit was fictional, but I know different.

The date was Friday 14th September 2001. My band Big Day Out were supporting Slade at Plinston Hall in Letchworth. Well, technically they were Slade, though the fact Noddy Holder was no longer a member called the whole thing into question.

I got a lift to the gig from our drummer, Chris Hollis. We pulled into town to find the area surrounding the venue had been cordoned off by the police. We couldn’t get anywhere near it.

After circling a few times to no avail, we were flagged down by a policeman.

“What’s the problem?” I asked.
“There’s been a bomb scare, We can’t let anyone through.” 
It was just a few days after 9/11, so things were undeniably tense.
“We’re playing Plinston tonight and are due there for a sound check. Is there any chance we could be let into their car-park?”

At first, he was unconvinced. Then Chris mentioned that his dad was in the force and his mood lightened. He waved us past.

We pulled up to the venue to see an army van parked outside, with its back doors open and a ramp leading into it. The vehicle was surrounded by a gang of shifty-looking men in uniform who were ushering something inside. The device they were guiding up the ramp looked exactly like Johnny Five.

Within seconds the doors slammed shut. It was a fleeting glimpse, but a glimpse nevertheless. It was like we’d stumbled across an international secret. Johnny Five was real. The film franchise had been an exercise in keeping him hidden in plain sight. He wasn’t painted gold like at the end of Short Circuit 2, but he existed. Steve Guttenberg was nowhere to be seen.

It’s fair to say, we both laughed about it for hours.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Bye, Bye Burlington.

It must have been a while since my last casting, as the café I usually go into before them today appeared to be a long time closed down.

It was very disappointing. I bounded confidently up to the door only to stop in my tracks. The café resembled a building site, with stepladders sprinkled liberally around the premises and light fittings hanging precariously from the ceiling. A sign in the window announced that a new restaurant was imminent. There would be no cup of tea and a Kit Kat for me.

I’m surprised that no one in the area seems to have kicked up a fuss. The café was a Soho institution, which, judging from the amount of photos above the till, was proud to boast Colin Jackson as a celebrity client. A sportsman of his calibre would have been the perfect face to front a campaign to keep the place alive.

Jackson wasn’t the only famous person to have supped in the Burlington Café. Their Wall of Fame also boasted a grumpy-looking Paul Weller, a nonplussed Louis Walsh and a smiley Ian Waite. Think of the publicity they could have garnered if they’d all joined forces. Weller could have written a song for the cause, with Walsh producing and Waite choreographing the video. Then the three of them could have laid end to end while Jackson leapt over them. They would have raised a fortune.

I’ll now have to find a new haunt to frequent while summoning up the courage to walk into an audition. Today, it was a Starbucks. There wasn’t a single picture of a hurdler in sight.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Veel Geluk.

Next week, I go to Amsterdam on a post-wedding stag do with my Best Men Steve and Glyn. Perhaps the most unlikely tourist attraction I hope to see is a fast food restaurant by Centraal Station.

I first spotted this establishment in 2004, whilst on a three-month tour of the Netherlands. Our itinerary took in Amsterdam, with a day off either side, so Steve came over to visit. It was towards the end of a long day walking the city streets that we found it.

At first glance, it seemed pretty nondescript. It sold all the standard fast food fare. What stood out was the name.

To me, that sounded ominous. It read like a warning. By calling it Good Luck, the proprietor had waived all responsibility. They may as well have said, “If you choose to eat in my establishment, then good luck with that”. They'd even written their disclaimer in three different languages to cover their back.

This reminds me of the Irish take away chain AbraKebabra. Their tagline is “The Food’s Only magic”. God knows what goes into their kebabs, but it doesn't sound like meat.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Early Birthdays.

Today, I went to my comedy partner Glyn's son's first birthday party.

While we were there, my wife asked me when my last first birthday party was. I told her I couldn’t remember, but it was probably in the early 1980s. I just don’t have many one-year-old friends.

Most of the parties from my childhood revolved around fast food. It seemed more glamorous then. Many took place at the Wimpy in Stevenage. It looked like an unstoppable chain. How wrong could we be?

They were simple and innocent times. Back then, I didn’t find their Bender in a Bun even remotely amusing.

The highlight was an appearance from Mr Wimpy himself: a terrifying Beefeater-alike with a head that took up at least fifty percent of his body. Thankfully, these weren’t his real features. It was someone in a skin suit. Presumably whichever staff member drew the short straw that day.

Maybe it was the company’s CEO? Whoever it was, they left an indelible mark on my memory. Eating in Wimpy was my ‘Nam. You should’ve been there, man. You should have been there.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Window of Inspiration.

For the first time in ages, I’m fired up with new ideas. This feeling comes and goes. I fact, most of the time, it has packed up and left the building. So I’m trying to make the best of it while it lasts.

I’m slowly, carefully putting together some stand-up material. Writing my blog helps, as it gives me an enforced daily deadline to work something up. That said, it can also go against me: the fact I write every day means I very quickly forget the subjects discussed. I have to keep flicking through it to remind myself.

I’m just a few weeks away from completing my first year of writing daily. Sometimes I love it, sometimes I don't. Either way, I’m proud I've stuck with it. Now, I want to see if it’s possible to use more of the content in a live context.

This will take a lot of editing. The written and spoken word are very different beasts. In live performance you need to be concise, whereas in prose you can waffle on a bit. Hopefully I can whittle out (or in) the best bits.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Der Radfahrer.

The other day I saw a cyclist signal he was going straight over a roundabout by doing a Nazi salute.

This wasn’t a move I remembered learning in Cycling Proficiency. Racist gestures were generally frowned upon. We should be grateful he didn’t mime a Hitler moustache too, as then he would have taken both hands off the handlebars at once.

Was he telling us which way he was going, or expressing a deep-seated political allegiance? The former, I guess. I would have been more concerned if he'd saluted then travelled a different way.

I was surprised he went straight ahead. If anything, I would have expected him to take the far right. There’s nothing worse than a fascist cyclist. Or as I call them, a fascyclist.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Heckler in Transit.

My genuine response when someone once shouted “Sideburns” at me from a passing car was “You should have seen me a couple of years ago”.

Questioning their time frame was, admittedly, an unusual approach. Few victims offer their tormentor additional fodder. By sharing this I became complicit in their insult. I may as well have been sat in the car too, shouting abuse through the window at myself on the street - and even I couldn’t do that.

It’s unlikely that my barbed comment hit home. It’s hard to think of a witty retort that takes into consideration the speed of sound and the velocity of a passing vehicle. To do this, you'd need to preempt it, which would make you the aggressor. The physics to delivering a zinger are confusing. 

Next time, a simple "Fuck off" will suffice.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Where Do I Go?

As I sat on my bed this morning, waiting for the man to finish fixing my bedroom window, I tried hard to make my choice of seat not seem like a come-on.

I didn't want it to be misconstrued as an invitation. I had nowhere else to go. I’d already tried standing with my arms folded, but this didn’t work out. I'd wandered into the bathroom to appear busy, while still being in earshot, but only ended up looking in the mirror. The one chair in the room was right next to him, so sitting there would be weird. The bed seemed to be the best option.

The window man was blissfully unaware of my awkwardness. He was too focused on the job in hand. Thank God. If the situation had been filmed by a time-lapse camera, my constant flitting around would look ridiculous. Trust me to feel uncomfortable in my own house.

Monday, 11 August 2014

She Came in Through the Bedroom Window.

I’d like to leave the house, but I can’t, as one of my windows is being held shut by a coat hanger.

Thankfully, this is a temporary situation. It'll be fixed in the morning. Until then, I’m trapped. I daren’t go out, for fear that someone will break in, steal my guitars and kidnap my cat.

It’s been locked ajar for the past few weeks. It was open for the duration of my honeymoon, which wasn’t ideal, as I live in a ground floor flat. This morning, one of my mum’s window-fitting friends (she has a lot of glazing contacts) came to have a look at it. He forced it open with a hammer and a chisel (I should have given him the key) then said he’d need to order some replacement parts. Hence the improvised coat-hanger-based security system.

You may think announcing a broken window on a public blog is irresponsible. That’s where you’re wrong. I wouldn’t tell you if I wasn’t (1) indoors, and (2) very good with my fists. I’ll defend my property if I have to. I haven't just fashioned a temporary lock for my window, I’ve also used a broom handle, a plug chain, a cricket ball and some nails to build a makeshift mace. 

Enter without permission and suffer the consequences. My house, my rules.