Week 35: I Dislike Students Who Act…. And Those Who Don’t

Friday 31st August 2018

Reading time 02 minutes 28 seconds

The harder you fall, the heavier your heart; the heavier your heart, the stronger you climb; the stronger you climb, the higher your pedestal. – Criss Jami

On the last day of this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival I climbed* a mountain. I had 4 weeks to complete this task but left it to the last minute so it would get done.

It was a typical Summers morning in Edinburgh, grey, windy with some light drizzle.

The mountain overlooks the city and is named Arthurs Seat. I like to think it earned this moniker after the brilliant Comedian Arthur Smith although if that was the case he may have wanted it called Daphne Fairfax.

The climb seemed steeper than previous years either that or my legs were older. As I stopped to catch my breath I thought I heard a party. Talking, singing and music flowed off the mountainside and sounded exciting, probably because I wasn’t that close to it yet. 
It was 6am. Who would have a party at this hour? I initially thought how fun a soirée overlooking this gorgeous city would be.

I continued my ascent. The sound increased with my altitude.

Upon reaching the summit, I realised to my horror that the uproar of noise I’d heard were Students partying. These were the worst kind of students. Drama Students. Lots of them. 

They had been drinking from night before and most of them were drunk. The songs being sung were from what I can only assume was their musical production. It sounded excellent and I love a musical but it was missing a few key ingredients, lighting, stage, seating, good acoustics and a paying audience who wanted to be there.

I desired tranquillity, which was sadly denied. I was becoming angry but then reminded myself of the wise words of Mr. Constanza – “We are living in a society”, which meant the acceptance of others beliefs, values and ways.

OK, I’ll keep out their way. How much noise can drama students make? 

The answer is enough to be very very annoying. I relocated to find my little piece of seclusion 

And then the shout went out of “Photo Time!”

Three of them came over and stood almost on top of me to have their photos taken. Why had they followed me? The Pet Shop Boys song popped into my head. What had I done to deserve this?

The ring leader was named Giles and his friend was named Sebastian. The working class chip on my shoulder was screaming at me to try to scare them away with some false bravado. I’m 5 foot tall. Anything I said would be ridiculed and even though I hadn’t moved I found myself in the way of their photo. 

Giles then said it was “that time” and started to undress. Sebastian followed. They said this was the done thing in Durham. Damm they were from THAT university. I’d heard the population of that particular house of people avoiding work were the most annoying of all students. 

From a Football language viewpoint Durham students are like Arsenal Supporters. Nice enough but believe they are better than everyone else. I’d never experienced the Durham effect but Giles and co. were starting to live up to a reputation. 

The wind was blowing, Giles had his top off. It sounded like Daddy wouldn’t be pleased with this so Giles reiterated his “Don’t post these on Facebook” request. Oh please do and make sure it’s mentioned at every family Christmas dinner when Giles had bought shame on the family name. My working class shoulder chip had grown a lot recently. His clipped tones didn’t meant he was posh, it just meant he spoke proper like what I don’t.

I was working myself up into a frenzy of frustration and anger. Had these people no thought for others? Of course they didn’t. They were young, happy and carefree. 

I then had a moment of clarity. I wasn’t angry. I was envious. I wanted to be a drama student and these people were living the life I wished for myself. I longed to be naked on a mountain with a troop of actors. To be in a gang of drama students. The best kind of students.

And then another moment of clarity.

I had been in Edinburgh for a month. I’d performed comedy in front of thousands of people. I’d improvised stories in a children’s show and had a great time entertaining them. We’d had positive feedback from audience members and people stopped me on the street to tell me how much fun they had. I even earnt money and would probably break even. Everything I had ever wanted from this Fringe experience I had achieved. 

So I started to unzip my top as I was going to be in the picture with the Giles and Sebastian. Sure I wasn’t in Durham University or their musical but they would understand the desire of a fellow performer. I was one of them. This was my tribe. 

In that moment I learnt you can’t just be a member of a gang. You need to be invited. I left the mountain and schlepped back down a little shame faced while putting some of my clothes back on.

* When I used the word climb I actually meant walk. Climb makes me sound dashing

Picture: Me on that mountain

Week 34: What? I Don’t Know how to Breathe?

Friday 24th August 2018

Reading time 03 minutes 18 seconds 

Scuba Diving Lesson One: Don’t forget to breathe.

Performance Anxiety. Who hasn’t had that? Am I right? 

I’m a cynic, who is willing to be proved wrong, which could mean I may not understand the true meaning of the word cynic. However I was over the moon to see a talk this week at the Edinburgh Fringe discussing this issue so I signed up immediately.

It was a free talk. I’m always wary of free stuff as I believe there is a catch, generally because there is. For example my “Free Festival” Edinburgh occasionally show becomes a hostage situation when I ask for money as the audience are leaving. 

I arrived at the discussion and I clearly didn’t read the information as there were yoga mats and cushions in a circle on the floor. What was this? Another intervention? Had I enrolled in a Buddhist trap again? Wasn’t that meant to happen in my next life?

I had to sign a disclaimer. What had I got myself into this time? I must start paying attention beyond the headlines.

There were 10 of us in the class and the instructor listed her credentials as being qualified in medicine and even more qualified in being anxious. She was here to teach how not to be. 

She was also a performer so she ticked every box. 

I liked her immediately because of her friendly manner and her hairstyle. No person who has a Bob haircut is unlikeable and it’s statements like these that start discussion threads.

I have a desire in a classroom to be better than everyone else which is ridiculous and as I grow older, or idler according to spell check, I’m learning how competitive I really am. Even more so in non-competitive situations as that’s when you can really clean up because the others won’t be expecting it. Suckers!

No one was making notes apart from me. At the end session when they ask questions I was certain to be top of the class.

Having been alive for over 47 years I believed I understood this breathing malarkey plus I’d been meditating for 6 months, so I was, from an internet viewpoint an expert.

I put my hand up immediately to answer a question just like the annoying kid in class. I’d peaked too early as it was one of those silly metaphorical ones. What’s the point of those?

Still I had beaten my class mates in getting my hand up so ner ner ner ner ner.

Humans have a tendency to tense up and hold our breath when scenarios cause us to be anxious. The tutor then explained the importance of breathing in stressful situations.

Have we ever seen a baby breathe? Everyone nodded. Bloody liars. Most of these people were babies. 

Apparently a baby breathes very differently because they have not been conditioned by society. Having never visited a maternity ward I hadn’t experienced this and apparently you can’t visit a one just to watch babies breathe because you are studying anxiety. It’s frowned upon.

We then did a breathing exercise and as I had socks older than most of my classmates I felt I could nail it. After this warm up we then went into the main exercise. Transformational breathing.

The idea is that you breathe in and out very hard through your mouth. While laying down listening to inspirational music.

I had to choose an issue that I’d like to fix and then we started the exercise. Breathing in and out rapidly whilst laying down reduces (or increases) the Carbon Dioxide (or monoxide) but I wasn’t really listening and didn’t follow as when people get all medical I tend to tune out. 

I then had what I can only describe as a life changing experience. 

Firstly while breathing the tutor came over and told me to relax my jaw. What the jaw I’ve been tensing for the last few years? Yes, just open your mouth wider and breathe. I’d been hanging out with some playful comedians for a few weeks and was waiting for a banana or something to be shoved in there. This didn’t happen and I again started to relax even more.

While in this state we than had to act like a child having a temper tantrum. I was really embarrassed by this but I was there so did what I was told. I heard my 9 classmates screaming like children. I joined in just as they all stopped.

My problem is performance anxiety on stage and after a few minutes my brain went into solution mode and the problems I’d been worrying about appeared as did their resolutions. I had about 5 of these over the space of about 7 minutes.

We were then bought out of our relaxed breathing state. I asked how long we’d been under which I guessed to be about 7-10 minutes. Nope it was 45 minutes. Everyone was shocked. Time had warped.

It was a bit like a LSD experience but without surrealism or needing Orange Juice.

We had all gained from it. You could feel the energy amongst us and we seemed to be united as one even though we all had separate experiences. The smiles were contagious. 

One woman who seemed uptight in the beginning was so talkative and relaxed it was lovely to see her being so free while talking. 

Another man had started crying and said he felt so much better. 

I went on stage two hours later and was calm and relaxed until one of my jokes didn’t work. I then repeated the exercises of having a tantrum like a child and breathing. The audience accepted this as weird things happen at the Edinburgh fringe and you never know what’s really going on in any performance.

I learnt a lot from breathing differently and will be investigating this more. If you’re interested the website is below. It’s already made a difference and as happy clappy hippy dippy as it sounds it kind of worked. 

Cynic no more or am I? 

Later that night, while demonstrating to some comedian friends, a banana did find its way into my mouth.


Picture: While at the world’s biggest arts festival I hang out in Maison De Moggy Edinburgh’s Cat Café because there is a fine balance between the Arts and Feline contact.

Week 33: Get Me Out Of This Hospital

Friday 17th August 2018

Reading time 3 minutes 07 seconds 

They say laughter is the best medicine. That’s a lie, it’s Morphine

My friend’s mother was about to go in for a hip operation. Having been through this myself I offered to speak to her to try and alleviate her fears about the upcoming procedure and whilst planning the key points to tell her I wondered how to explain that you need to lie to escape hospital.

My main memory before my own operation was that I was going to die. I’ve experienced that on stage many times, but I thought my actual death could be a whole lot worse. A hip replacement is a common operation in Britain and I was given a checklist of what to expect. It seemed straightforward but crucial items on the list were conveniently ‘forgotten’ namely that I would have stuff inserted into my bottom. It’s not that I’m against that, it’s just there is a time and a place. 

Day three Post Operation. I had survived. Bonus.

I was lapping up the pain medication and was so high that I had a conversation with a giant cat’s head that was coming out of the wall. The cat informed me that I wouldn’t remember the conversation and she was right, I didn’t. A nurse arrived and said they wanted to ‘ship me home’. The term seemed appropriate as I felt like a brave little soldier who had been in the wars.

Before I could leave however I had to answer one question correctly. Great, I love Quizzes.

“Had my Bowels moved?”

If this was a Quiz it felt like University Challenge as I didn’t understand the question. The nurse then rephrased and said “Had I experienced a Bowel Movement?” I still didn’t have a clue what she was saying and if this had been Uni Chally [that’ll catch on] then Paxman would have berated me but the nurse just looked flabbergasted as she was here to help people in need not to teach them rudimentary English.

She dumbed it down to my level. “Have you had a poo love?”

What on earth did she mean? Did she mean ever? Why was she asking me this? Is nothing sacred? I looked down at the bed in embarrassment. Phew I hadn’t. Now she was getting a little irate. Had I gone since my operation? You mean the operation where they snapped my leg and cut my bottom? The answer was No I hadn’t been to the toilet as I didn’t want to assume that position just yet.

She explained they needed the bed and promised to help with the bowels as I couldn’t leave until I’d been.

It was then I realised I should have lied.

Due to my hip agony I’d been on morphine for over a year and the amount I was on now was Trainspotting worthy. The thing about Morphine is that it does slow and stop your bowel movements and Dr. Wills was now learning the medical lingo. The nurse pulled out some bits and pieces from her toolkit. I enquired as to the nature of these implements and she explained that she was going to insert a device into my rectum (aka my bum) and would squeeze the contents of this one litre bag of “stuff” and let nature do the rest.

Nature and the rest sounded lovely, the beginnings of the procedure sounded somewhat troublesome. I enquired if they could give me a pill but the Nurse said no, and she held in her hand what I can only describe as a Nerf gun which was about to go into the place where the sun doesn’t shine. She pulled the curtain around my bed to give me a semblance of privacy then, without a smile or even a look in my eye, she inserted the tip of the world’s biggest water pistol inside little old me. I’d like to tell you it was horrible, but I’d be lying.

She then squeezed the trigger and I squealed possibly in delight as the “stuff” went up me. I felt like the old lady who swallowed a Spider as it wriggled and jiggled and tickled inside her. Quickly she whipped out the ‘gun’ and told me to wait, for what she didn’t say but she said she’d be back in 20 minutes.

Hang on. Where are you going? “Well”, she said, “it’s a busy hospital and we do have other patients.”

Moments later my insides started to do the Lambada and I was beginning to freak a little. The orderly arrived with my lunch and whipped the curtain back from around my bed. I tried to hold onto my dignity but with the curtain pulled back the other patients, and their visitors, were looking at me in my naked state. Not only was I naked but I also had an erection because of the Nerf gun. My embarrassment was complete.

He left my food on the side and as he left he didn’t completely close the curtain, so I managed to tell a few of my fellow patients to lie about the Bowel question. The nurse reappeared and enquired as to my well-being so I told her about my disco dancing insides, my erection shame and asked if she’d mind closing the curtain. 

It all went wrong as she went to lift me up.

My Bowels did what they were supposed to do and evacuated with the force of the red sea returning to its pre-Moses state. The nurse had clearly overdone the bum medicine but it meant the hospital could now have the bed, albeit not in the state they would have preferred.

My friend Jonny pointed out that metaphorically speaking you could say I had just done what Jeremy Hunt was doing to the NHS at the time.

It took me a while to get to cleaned up physically. Mentally my dignity still hasn’t returned, the brave little soldier returned a changed person and I guess the other day, when those children called me Mr Poopy Bum Head (week 30), there was an element of truth to it, for me and the nurse.

Picture: Me on stage at the Fringe. I’m probably required by GDPR to protect the guys identity so I had to Blur his face.

Week 32: Never Meet Your Heroes

Friday 10th August 2018

Reading time 3 minutes 27 seconds 

Never Meet your heroes

I’m currently performing at the world’s largest arts festival, the Edinburgh Fringe. The scale is enormous as there are 3000+ performances that run each day, throughout August, and you can immerse yourself in the talent between 9am until 2am should you desire. I adore this festival but worryingly I have spent the first 5 days hunched over a laptop in my rented bedroom.

The reason. CrossFit. 

CrossFit is an American exercise phenomenon. Not a reaction to crucifixion. You will find numerous documentaries on Netflix and you won’t find a bigger fan than me. 

I don’t partake in the actual exercise, the so called CrossFitting, but I do like to watch those that do, and I also like to eat chocolate whilst doing it. Both are my guilty pleasure. The CrossFit games, the sports equivalent of the World Cup, is a yearly event that takes place at the beginning of August and last Sunday when I’d finished performing my Comedy show I was rushing home to my bedroom, and chocolate, as the final day of the games was on.

As I was set to leave one of all my all-time heroes walked into the venue, the comedian Mark Thomas.

I’ve seen him live more than any other performer and I’ve been a fan of his since his show ‘The Mark Thomas comedy product’ was on TV in the 90’s. I used to watch it with my girlfriend (at the time) but regrettably we inevitably split up but I’ve never left Mark.

I made a bold leap and nodded in his direction as he walked past me. When he nodded back I had to steady myself on a nearby chair as I think I may have swooned. As I’d been on stage 10 minutes before hand (it went well) I was still feeling that sweet adrenalin rush and when he walked past again I decided to be bold once more and I said “Hello Mark”.

The most amazing thing then happened, Mark Thomas spoke to me. The chair stopped my legs from buckling as I felt another swoon coming on.

He came over, formerly introduced himself and asked me my name. My mouth said “Mat” although my eyes said “I love you” but Mark was not fazed by this and as he stood there looking cool with the most amazing shirt, I may have let out a little bit of wee. 

We conversed about creativity, the festival, his loves (sadly one of which wasn’t me), what he was up to and what shows he should take the time to see (Spring Day’s Strong Independent Woman @ City Café 21:15 every day). I even took the mickey out of him and his crazy South London ways. We really were having a conversation. Me and Mark Thomas. THE Mark Thomas. The performer, activist, snappy dresser and most brilliant man I’d admired for over 30 years and the person I dreamed of emulating.

Whilst my brain was processing this amazing experience it suddenly screamed at me “CROSSFIT!” My brain knew I was mid conversation with my hero but it also knew the CrossFit Games final would be starting in 20 minutes. However I was 30 minutes away from my rented bedroom and chocolate. Dilemma.

Damn that Mark Thomas. Of all the bars in all of Edinburgh why did he have to walk into mine? This festival goes on for a month, couldn’t he have waited until tomorrow once the CrossFit games had finished? There was only one choice to make. I had to remove myself from the conversation immediately. Mark knew this as he could tell my brain had disengaged from the conversation. I then became a bit weird and needed to get away from him. He must have thought me strange because as I ran away he shouted out to me that he was going to take me up on my recommendations of shows to watch.

It was shameful. I had turned into Road Runner and had left Mark Thomas standing helplessly like Wiley E. Coyote with an Acme bag. Beep Beep.

Mark Thomas my hero. I should have never have met him and he most certainly should never have met me.

I now believe the leading quote was probably created by a hero who met a fan rather than the other way round.

Picture: My first 5 days in Edinburgh looked like this

Week 31: I Started Drinking In Bangkok & Woke Up In Australia

Friday 3rd  August 2018

Reading time 3 minutes 07 seconds 

To alcohol, the Cause of and solution to all of life’s problems – Homer J. Simpson.

Me: “Where am I?”

Stranger: “We’re just landing into Sydney airport….”

20 hours previously.

Bangkok. A busy, beautiful and vibrant city. It was the year 2000 and I had been in south east Asia for a few months, but it was time to move on. 

I had time to kill before getting a flight to Australia to see my sister and when walking down Bangkok’s backpacker’s high road someone shouted my name. It was Giles. We had kicked around Laos together and he invited me to join him and some friends for a beer. I’m not a one beer kind of guy but I thought I’d give it a go. Error.

We started to drink, talk and share memories. We also met a few people. One of our fellow travellers was a chap making a living as a body piercer. Ordinarily I’m a conservative person but this travelling lark broadens the horizons and before you know it one thing led to another and I was in a hostel with another guy, not Giles, who decided to get his septum pierced. Within minutes he had a ring through the middle bit of his nose. The blood was everywhere. Thoughts of hepatitis or infections were the last thing from my mind as me and my new piercing buddy were live by the seat of our pants heroes.

It was now my turn. What did I want pierced? Weirdly I hadn’t worked this out. My eyebrow had already been done as had my ears. He suggested my nipples but when he examined me he said that I didn’t have nipples big enough. I’m unsure to this day if that’s masculine or not. Undeterred he pulled out an extremely long, fat needle and proceeded to put a hole under where my tiny nipple was. Ask Alexa and she will tell you this is called an areola. I wish Alexa had told me at the time it would be the worst pain I would ever experience as it was evident that big holes do not exist in that part of your body for a reason.

I was screaming in agony and my septum pierced friend had to hold me down. Mr Piercer surveyed his work. He looked so pleased he suggested he do the other one and promptly repeated the exercise and doubled my pain.

My alcohol intake had made my blood thinner than a super model which meant it was like a scene from an X-rated version of Holby City. When I looked down it was as if a chicken had been slaughtered over me as I was messy and bloody and had two rings through holes below my tiny nipples.

Wicked. Cool right?

Mr Piercer was on a roll and asked if I fancied a Prince Albert? I naively didn’t know what this was and whilst travel may broaden the horizons if you don’t know something you don’t know. He explained the history of Queen Victoria’s favourite piercing and not being blessed in that department I decided to Tesco it, because every little helps….

I’m unsure of what happened next. I have flashbacks to being on a coach to the airport and showing people my new body work. I also remember the police in the airport looking at me. 

I then woke up on a plane and I was strapped in laying across four seats. A stewardess appeared and filled in the blanks. The Thai police had put me on the plane and although I was very drunk apparently I was also very charming so the pilot agreed to let me fly. 

On arrival in Australia I was searched thoroughly as I guessed the captain had radioed ahead and explained about the Thai police and that I may be a drugs mule.

Now when I run or cycle after a while my nipples hurt. I keep the piercings as a reminder not to be so stupid.

And as for Prince Albert. It never happened. This was not due to a small nipple type scenario, I was about 90 pence short….Honest.

Picture: I get stage fright…………