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This is a question Performance

Have you ever - voluntarily or otherwise - appeared in front of an audience? How badly did it go?

(, Fri 19 Aug 2011, 9:26)
Pages: Popular, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1

This question is now closed.

Attracting an Audience
On a night out with a few work colleagues, I ended up a bit worse for wear quite early on in the evening. This resulted in me losing my phone in a crowded bar in the centre of town. I should mention that normally, without the influence of drink, I’m always aware of where my phone, wallet and keys are, but the more I drink, the less concerned I get about them.

Being as drunk as I was, I began scrambling around on the small dance floor, hoping to find my precious phone. I think at one point, a small circle of people formed round me, thinking I was doing some sort of funky-worm dance. One girl called me a pervert as she thought I was trying to peer up her skirt. To be honest, I probably was.

The search for my phone proved to be fruitless and there was only one thing left for me to try; an announcement to the whole of the bar.

I made my way up a flight of stairs to where the DJ was playing. He was positioned on a sort of balcony, looking over the top of the dancefloor.

“Yes mate, what song do you want?”

“No. I don’t want to make a request. I want to make an announcement”

“Sorry, you can’t do that”

“Please, I’ll be quick I promise, this is really important”.

Surprisingly, he handed me a microphone. I leant across and turned the volume on his equipment right down which pissed him off immensely. Everyone on the dance floor turned to look up at us, and were greeted with the sight of me, microphone in hand, swaying slightly. I began to speak.

“Sssshhhhh. Sssshhhhhh. Everyone, listen. I have an announcement to make. Shhhh! SHHHH! You over there, be quiet a minute.”

By now you could have heard a mouse fart. I was doing well. Then a couple of blokes over by a fruit machine started talking to one another.

“Oi. You two. You as well, I need everyone silent. Right, now I have your attention, I need you all to do something. I have lost my phone. What I’m going to do is ring my number and I want everyone to listen out for it. Whoever finds my phone will be treated to drinks for the rest of the night. First I need a volunteer”

The DJ then tried to grab the mic from my hand.

“I won’t be a minute mate. Nearly done”

I looked down at the people below me and realised that everyone single person in the place was looking at me and it made me very nervous. A few of them had their hands in the air. ‘Why the fuck do they have their hands in the air’ I wondered to myself…’Ahh, yes, I needed a volunteer’.

“You in the blue top. Have you got a phone?”

The girl I was pointing at nodded.

“Ok, come up here”

She came up and I asked for her phone.

“Right everyone, here we go. Drinks for the rest of the night remember, should you find my phone. Here goes, I’m ringing it”.

The place was absolutely silent. The DJ was fucking fuming, but I had a crowd on my side now so there was nothing he could do. We were all stood, waiting. I imagined a mass bundle breaking out once we heard my phone, as the people below me jostled to get to it first.

Then I heard ringing.

The ringing was loud; my phone was definitely in the building. The ringing was very loud in fact. I felt inside my jacket pocket; there was something in there. My hand reached in, and I pulled out my phone. I started laughing.

I was escorted off the premises within a couple of minutes.
(, Fri 19 Aug 2011, 12:21, 12 replies)
The day I became a book-thumping evangelist...
I'm not one for confrontation. I hate it. I prefer to be left alone. It's much nicer. But sometimes people say things which are so monumentally stupid, one HAS to stand up and be counted. This was one of those days...

I was walking through my town centre just going from shop to shop seeing whether there was anything worth buying. There wasn't. But as I criss-crossed through the town centre I kept walking past a crowd of people who were intently listening to a family (a rather extended one) spouting off about the Bible. Although I eschew religion, I've no right to impose my views on anyone else, so I just carried on. Anyway, as I walked away from them I heard the head of the family shout out these words:

"People. Do not let others brainwash you. Evolution is a myth! There is no scientific evidence behind it. It is a plot to discredit the one, true God!"

I stopped in my tracks and stared at the crowd. They'd hit my button. If you believe in an invisible man in the sky, fair play to you. If you try to discredit evolution with your creationist nonsense. Then we have a problem. A major one.

I burrowed my way into the crowd to listen further. I didn't like what I heard. Then, I reached my breaking point.

"Even the heretic, Charles Darwin, didn't believe in his theory. He said 'To suppose that the eye could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree..'"

"Bollocks!" came a squeaky voice from the crowd (my voice is rather squeaky) "You lying sack of shits!" That was probably not the best thing to say. I stormed up onto the stage.

"Are you calling us liars?"
"Yes, I bloody am! Charles Darwin DID say that, but what did he say right after that sentence...?"
"We don't know but the Bible says..."
"Well I'll tell you, shall I?! Charles Darwin did say 'To suppose that the eye could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree' but, and I'm paraphrasing here, he went on to say that 'when it was first proposed that the Earth went around the sun, common sense dictated that the theory couldn't be true because we could see the sun moving. We now know that is not the case.'. So, in essence, he's saying that although I can't fathom how the human eye evolved, that's not to say that it didn't. It could be counter-intuitive."

The bible bashers looked very rattled at this stage. More accurately, the LEAD bible basher looked rattled, but I'll come to that later. I carried on my diatribe.

"So, these people tried to mislead you with that quote. If they tried to be disingenuous with that, what else have they said which could be a half-truth? Also, you lot have broken one of the ten commandments. 'Thou shall not bear false witness'."

The leader hit back, "But shouldn't people be given both sides of the debate???" They hit another button with me

"Other side of the debate? OTHER SIDE OF THE DEBATE??? There IS no 'other side of the debate'! Creationism is not a equally balanced but opposing view. It's a bunch of half-baked, logic skewing hypotheses with no evidence to back it up! And furthermore, where did you get the impression that science is a democratic process? If you mix hydrochloric acid with sodium hyroxide you end up with sodium chloride (salt) and water. But if we had a referendum and 100% of the vote said 'we believe if you mix hydrochloric acid and sodium hydroxide you'll end up with sliver nitrate and hydrofluoric acid', does that mean if you mix hydrochloric acid and sodium hydroxide again, you'll get different end products?! NO! You don't change the laws of the chemistry by a vote! Likewise, all the evidence we have, and we have a lot of it, points towards evolution, and until someone has enough evidence to point to another theory, then, AND ONLY THEN, will we entertain the theory. We need evidence, not a vote!"

I, then, walked off the stage. I tried to resist the urge to stage dive. Misrepresenting science by a bunch of ill-educated religiosos in a bid to add credence to "the one, true God", was something I was not permitting while I was around.

As I walked away from the crowd, I felt a rush of adrenaline. I normally avoid public speaking as I don't like being the centre of attention, it makes me uncomfortable. I suppose that's why I like the internet and the anonymity it brings. But I learnt that day, if it's something you feel passionately about, you won't worry about the fear.

I looked back at the crowd and saw that the lead bible thumper was trying to rally his troops after being exposed as a bunch of half-truth tellers. But what was really interesting was the rest of his flock starting to doubt their leader. After all, if he was equivocating about science and evolution, what else has he been equivocating about? I never saw them again, but I hope they didn't lose their faith but were a bit more respectful toward science. I hope they heed the words a famous person:

"Don't take my word for it. Think for yourself..."
(, Fri 19 Aug 2011, 13:28, 9 replies)
Stage fright
In the modern symphony orchestra, the guys at the back, the winds, get lots of nice tunes to play, but actually spend most of their time counting bars. The stress can be considerable; a combination of coming in at the right place, and then playing your bit faultlessly.

The bass clarinet doesn't get much to play, being a rather obscure instrument, and thus spends 99% of its time counting bars.

One particular bass clarinet player had a watch which could measure your heartbeat over a period of time, and he thought it would be interesting to do so in his next concert, printing out the subsequent results on a graph for all to see.

The following week he showed his colleagues the results: as expected, a steady heartbeat for a long period followed by a large, short peak, gradually returning to normal.

"So that's where your solo was?" asked someone, pointing at the peak.

"Erm, not quite. That's when I realised I'd missed it"
(, Fri 19 Aug 2011, 13:31, 6 replies)
Evil dwarf, neutral
I've got a few stories. But not because I'm an actor, but due to the fact my job involves stages and speakers, though I've done a fair bit of proper theatre too.

But my favourite stage appearance was:

I'd got a colleague to call a speaker prior to the event to check their name spelling. But as they had a gender-neutral name, it was also to find out Bird or Bloke. My colleague got off the phone and went 'um, I still don't know'.

So I rang the client, who was a colleague of said speaker, and they, quite revealingly with hindsight, said 'um, we don't know'. To be safe, we left off the Mr/Miss/Mrs etc on their welcome pack.

So the speaker arrives on the day, led in by my colleague who, wide eyed and suppressing hysterics, steps aside to reveal It.

It is small - about 5'1" - grey-haired, feminine face, grey goatee, kind of shrivelled but not in a 'oh, it must be genetic' way but just sort of cramped, wearing a suit three sizes too big, doesn't understand personal space and speaks in what can only be described as a Terry Jones old lady squeal. I still do not know if it is male of female. I shake the hand, show them the podium, and remind, er, it, as I do all speakers, to relax and speak upright - do not lean into the microphone, we can just turn you up etc... I'm getting a bit worried because not only is this creature a bit weird, when practicing it seems to be doing the exact opposite of what I'm saying. I demonstrate it, describe again, and hope for the best.

The show starts. The gender-neutral goes up, and immediately starts speaking into the podium mic like it's a sports mic. Despite having playback speakers, and the entire audience gasping and holding their ears, the penny does not drop that the loud bangs and crunches and whistles being created are its own fault. The thing carries on.

I rush to sound, who shrug. I need to get him/her to lean back. I sneak up with a note that says 'PLEASE STAND BACK FROM MICROPHONE, AUDIENCE CANNOT MAKE OUT SPEECH' and place it by the mic. And the little f***er just waves it away and carries on.

The client is giving me pleading faces with their fingers in their ears, so I break a cardinal rule and get onto the stage. I try to look confident but respectful as I tap the entity on the shoulder, who responds with an evil glance and carries on breaking the sound system. I have to be firmer, and this time I gently but firmly turn the speaker around and lean them back, and politely, with bowed head, ask them to please stand a pace back and upright, as their speaking into the mic has prevented the audience from hearing any of their speech. I say it firmly but kindly. I also, because I'm not getting in trouble for this crap, say it loudly enough for the mic to pick it up so the audience can nod in approval and my break of etiquette can be forgiven.

You know what the little arse does? Pushes me AWAY. HARD. I actually stumble backwards - I'm only a tiny thing myself but it's the sort of push that would make bouncers smash your face in if you tried it with them.

THEN. Leans INTO the mic. Speaks EXTRA LOUDLY. And leaves me, dumbfounded, standing on the stage giving the audience a look of WTF before theatrically shrugging at the client and walking off.

We turned the mic down to near silence and let the audience talk amongst themselves.

W*nker/a

And that is the one time I ever got onto stage during one of my own shows.
(, Fri 19 Aug 2011, 11:35, 7 replies)
Performing in a toilet
I'm heading for the toilets in a mexican restaurant. As I enter, I can't fail to notice a tall black guy at the sinks combing his hair, wearing an electric pink zoot suit*, complete with 70s-pimp-style pink fedora. He looked like the Cat from Red Dwarf, to be honest; I guess he was on his way to perform somewhere.

I head for the cubicle, and am innocently minding my own business when I hear the pink dude starting to sing "Boogie Nights" to himself. A couple of lines in, the unseen occupant in the next cubicle starts to harmonise, singing the high parts.

Now, I'm not particularly musical, but I do know this song and can hit low notes, so when the appropriate moments came I chimed in with the "Got to keep on dancing, keep on dancing".

After the song ended I heard him say "Oh man, I can't believe nobody heard that!"


* any similarity with the Rufus Thomas post is entirely coincidental
(, Mon 22 Aug 2011, 17:11, 3 replies)
Oh my gosh a question that feels like it's JUST FOR ME!
(This will seem long winded like it's going no-where but it does become relevant I promise) I'd had singing lessons and been in loads of performances when I was younger and loved it. It fizzled out when I was about 17 and didn't even consider continuing it after I left school. Life went on, I had a child, got married, had another and was fortunate enough to be able to stay at home for 5 years doing housewifey things. I volunteered for everything I could but being quite ambitious about everything I do I usually ended up getting too involved in my voluntary stuff and ended up running the groups and joining governing bodies of the places I helped out at. The catch to this is you stop being everyone's friend and become the person in charge and you don't get to join in the social side of stuff because you're so busy organising it. Eventually I gained employment with one of these places but having 5 years at home had knocked my confidence greatly. I was incredibly low, I was desperate for validation and was very paranoid about peoples opinions of me. Because of this I found it hard to feel like I fit in, despite my colleages being wonderful and kind and patient and very reassuring, I never felt comfortable with who I was. My temporary contract came to an end and I realised how unhappy I was there, not with the people or the work, but with myself, so I chose not to accept their offer of permanent work. Before I could allow myself fully back into normal society I had to banish my own demons.

I spent my days sat at home feeling very sorry for myself, I could feel real depression creeping up on me (I was probably already there but not willing to accept it) and I didn't know what I could do to drag myself out of this pit of self hatred and despair. I was invited to a 60th birthday party and it was to be my first night out in about 4 years. I only managed an hour of it before I felt dizzy and sick at the thought of being around so many people and having to come home crying the whole way in the taxi because I was positive everyone was looking at me and saying bad things, I don't know what I thought they were saying and in hindsight it's completely ridiculous to have felt like that.

One day not long after all this I was flicking through the channels on the telly and one channel had a performing arts program on it and as I was watching it I suddenly felt incredibly jealous of the people on stage, I could do that, I I wanted to do that! I grabbed the laptop and googled for local societies and by chance found the exact one I used to be a member of on facebook. I sent an inbox message asking about joining, thinking it was one of these whims I often have where I start a ball rolling and then leave it.

An hour later I got a reply from the group owner saying they were auditioning for a pantomime that weekend, I thanked him and didn't think much more of it until that Sunday. I woke up and oddly the auditions were the first thing that popped into my mind. They were at 2pm, but I wasn't going. No way, I didn't know anyone and the thought of walking into a room where I didn't know a soul and singing and dancing filled me with dread and horror and made me feel sick. I spent the entire morning feeling sick to be honest, even though I wasn't going I was still really nervous right up until 1.45pm when I was sat on my bed in my pyjamas and my husband walked in and said "Why aren't you going, you'll spend the next few months kicking yourself and wondering 'what if' if you don't" and he sort of hustled me out of the door throwing clothes at me on the way telling me to get dressed.

I began to feel a little excited in the car and felt much better right up until the moment I walked through the door where I introduced myself and began shaking like leaf. I was handed some forms and a sticker with my name and number on it and wobbled off to find a corner to hide in. I looked at the form asking me what I was auditioning for and desperately searched for the "chorus" box and ticked it, when a hand touched my shoulder and said "Hi, (she looked at my sticker) Sp@m, don't sit on your own here come over here" I grabbed all my things and went and sat with a group of people in the middle of the room, all of a sudden there were a million questions thrown at me. "have you done this before, do you know anyone here, can you sing, can you dance" I answered that I'd had singing lessons and could also dance, but I ONLY WANT CHORUS!

After a little warm up group sing and dance the characters names were being called out for audition and when it came to the principal roles (Jack and Jill) only one person stood up for the role of principal boy, after some encouragement from the director a few girls stood for principal girl and suddenly I felt a hand on my back shoving me out of my chair and someone shouting "Sp@m's done this before she'll audition" I had a choice, look scared and sit back down and end up with nothing or just bite the bullet and go for it. So I did, I did OK and met some really nice people that day and was looking forward to hearing if I was villager number 1,2 or 3. I wanted 3 because they had the least lines to learn.

That evening I went to check my e-mails and after wading through african princes wanting my money I saw one from the Director. It simply read.. "Hi Sp@m, thanks for auditioning today, we would like offer you the Principal girl, Jill". I couldn't believe I'd bagged the lead role on my first audition, I was happy, scared, gob-smacked - every emotion all at once.

September came and the auditions started, I made friends slowly with the other members and when Christmas arrived I'd learned all my lines, songs and dances and had the best time ever. Show week came and I stood on that stage and didn't drop a single line, I felt awesome, I felt like I was in the place I was meant to be. I sang "I dreamed a dream" all on my own with 200 people watching and was shaking so much the principal boy had to actually hold me up in the next scene as my legs were like jelly, but apparently, no-one in the audience could tell. Seeing my kids faces light up watching their mum on stage was the best moment of my entire life.

Since then I've returned to work, I work at the same company as the girl who played principal boy. I lost 2 stone in the 6 months from auditions to performance (it's creeping up again now we're "out of season though" and I no longer wonder what people's opinions of me are, I don't need validating (as much ;) and I am possibly the happiest I've ever been.

I auditioned for this years panto a few weeks ago, I will be playing the role of Principal boy this year. I've nearly learnt all my lines already and now I'm thinking of dance moves for my duet with the princess.

Sorry this is so long but I wanted to let people know how much it changed my life and if anyone has ever had a fleeting moment where they've thought "I wouldn't mind doing that" then just go for it and do it, it's fantastic and awesome and brilliant!
(, Fri 19 Aug 2011, 10:42, 3 replies)
My best show ever..
I am a dancer.I have been on stage literally thousands of times.I have danced with Jennifer Lopez,Janet Jackson and a few other famous-esque people.But my best show ever was when I had to go and pay a visit to an elderly,almost dead relative in a hospice.My mother (bloody woman),piped up "OOOOOOHHHHHH,I bet they´d all love to see you dance".......Cue a red-faced Shirleytemplesarse doing a Justin Timberlake in a manky "Games Room" in front of a group of bemused,dribbling octogenarians with no music and accompanied by arhythmical clapping courtesy of Mother,and random squeaks and groans from my captive audience.

However,despite this not being the kind of thing you want people to see on youtube,I have never been more proud and moved by the reaction.The reason is,that after my little recital,my elderly relative boomed "NOW THAT´S DANCING,NOT THAT FUCKING JIGGING ABOUT THEY MAKE US DO IN HERE,FOR CHRIST´S SAKE"...and another old lady with no hair said she felt like she´d just seen an angel.

Mother burst into tears,bless.

Sorry it´s not funny,but I like it.So ner.
(, Wed 24 Aug 2011, 16:59, Reply)
Humbug!
I was nine years old and the school was bucking the trend of awful nativity plays with an ambitious stab at Dickens' A Christmas Carol instead. What made this so much better was that there were proper characters for nearly everyone in the class to play. No more being palmed off with "second sheep", "person at Inn" (no line) or "Yonder Star"; all of which were on my acting CV from previous years.

Furthermore I landed a decent part. Okay, I'd really wanted Scrooge or one of the ghosts but playing Bob Cratchett knocked wearing a bed-sheet and shining a torch at three shepherds into a cocked hat.

The opening scene was beautifully simple. Two desks on stage, Scrooge's front and centre with Bob's slightly behind and to the side. Each, in turn, illuminated by a single spotlight as the characters introduced themselves; Scrooge saying how he believed in hard work and that Christmas was a nonsense before moving on to Bob extolling the joys that Christmas can bring.

I'd expected to be nervous but, sat behind Bob's desk in the dark as the audience slowly quietened, waiting for Claire Williams to do her Scrooge bit before I blew them away with my monologue, I was *buzzing* with excitement. This was real theatre!

Claire's light comes on, she stands up, and is away; "My name is Ebeneezer Scrooge and I run a tight ship. I have no time for joy or frivolity and detest Christmas. It's a poor excuse to rob a man's pocket every December 25th and a humbug! HUMBUG!"

Her light goes off and she sits down. The audience are silent, you could hear a pin drop. This is actually pretty damn good. I clear my throat ready for my moment to shine.

My light comes on. This is it. I stand up and, addressing the audience in my finest theatre voice, loudly proclaim: "My name is Bob Catshit."

I was a tree the next year.
(, Tue 23 Aug 2011, 18:56, 2 replies)
I'm certain
I've mentioned this before but, once, when Terry Pratchett was doing a Q&A thing at a signing for 'The Last Continent' (At Liverpool's, then named Lomax 2 if you're interested) there were about 50-100 people present. There was time for one more question, I raised my hand. "You, with the glasses at the back." said Sir Terry. "Fuck", thinks I, "I didn't expect to have a question answerd and all the good ones pertinant to the book/his previous writings have been asked...ah I know, he keeps carnivorous plants, I'll ask him how they're doing."

Ssilence greeted the question. Followed by "...They're doing well, thanks."

And that's why I asked him to sign my copy "To the idiot with the question about plants." As a constant reminder that I shouldn't talk, ever.
(, Fri 19 Aug 2011, 10:00, Reply)
I have been lucky enough
Not to have to perform in front of an audience as me, for a very long time. Any time I have to even introduce myself to a group, the adrenaline kicks in and I start shaking like a shitting dog, even when I don’t really think I feel nervous.

I do however have to appear as someone else almost every day.
I work as a sign language interpreter so I am usually up in front of people, such as groups of teenagers at college, arty farty types at festival talks and events, information events, wedding speeches, suited and booted serious types at work meetings or training or conferences, anything you can imagine doing in your life, I could be there sat in front of you. Being someone else. It doesn’t bother me in the slightest, the only important thing is that I understand what is being signed/said or that my clients understands me.

Most people are interested enough to watch for a bit to see what is going on with that lady flapping her hands around at the front, then generally lose interest and concentrate on the speaker.

All audiences have one thing in common though, no matter who they are.

You can 100% guarantee that the second, THE VERY SECOND any one utters the words, shit, fuck, bollocks, erectile dysfunction, vagina, marijuana, cocaine, fuck, sex, breasts, balls, penis, nipples, semen, cock, wanker, thrush, bullshit, masturbation, poo, wee, diarrhea or any other 'rude' word you can think of, every single eye in the house will turn to me, and look to see ‘Ooooooooooo how do you sign THAT!’

Even after 10 years of doing it, I still sometimes find myself blushing.
(, Tue 23 Aug 2011, 21:15, 21 replies)
Stephen Hawking you ain't
I was an undergraduate, giving a talk at another college on observations I'd done on X-ray binary stars. This was the first time I'd ever spoken to an audience outside of class, of people I already knew, and my social anxiety was kicking in big time. I hadn't slept at all the night before, and by the time my advisor and I drove into the parking lot, I was running on fumes and sheer terror.

Other students presented their talks. I applauded politely, not listening to a word. It seemed the others had invested in arcane presentation aids like "slides" and "posters". I had planned to do it the old-fashioned way, just talking and occasionally waving my arm to emphasize what I was saying. If a chalkboard were available, I would draw on that.

There was no chalkboard.

My turn. I stumbled up to the stage, and proceeded to give the worst presentation on chromospherically-active binary stars in the history of astronomy. Anxiety tightened my vocal cords, driving my voice into dog-hearing range. As I was immensely fat at the time, the audience must have wondered why my college had hired a eunuch to present the material. I sweated through my clothes in seconds, leaving dark patches like a fake Shroud of Turin across my shirt. Every other word was jumbled or stumbled over, and I could only console myself with the thought that the row of professors in the back were too old to hear my high-pitched squeak.

To focus myself, I looked around for a friendly face, and found something like it to one side. She was a fellow undergraduate, slumped in a wheelchair and hanging on my every word. I started to direct my presentation to her, glancing over every time I lost my nerve. This didn't seem to please her. After a few minutes, she whispered to her friend, who rolled her out of the lecture hall--and I realized that she had thought I was staring at her because of her disability.

Well, that killed me. I muttered my conclusion and was treated to a round of--well, I couldn't even call it a golf clap. It was the sort of reception an artist at the Royal Variety Performance might have received for dropping his trousers onstage and farting God Save the Queen--no lack of sentiment, but a horrific misjudgement of presentation.

I can't even remember what my advisor said to me on the way back, but it sure as hell wasn't "don't worry, we've all been there". As far as I can tell, no one's ever been there.
(, Sat 20 Aug 2011, 15:53, 13 replies)
Originally told to /OT while I was still on a bit of a high - Ain't Nothin' But The Blues
This happened to me shortly after New Year. As most of my fellow /offtopic dwellers will know (due to me banging on about it at great length), I'm a bass guitarist and have played in quite a few different bands around London. The following is my "Surely this sort of thing only happens in films?" story:

As my friend's Sunday afternoon jam was not running as normal, I decided to head up to the blues bar just off Regent Street - I do love the place, even despite how crowded it gets, and the idea of getting a chance to play at their jam did excite me somewhat. So I turned up, got myself a pint, put my name down and enjoyed some music.

Initially, the afternoon took a turn for the worse: I got a text message after about half an hour from a drummer in my one of my bands. I had a sneaking suspicion that the singer and guitarist had decided to replace him, and from his text I got the impression he'd only just found out. I gritted my teeth and resolved to give him a call after the jam.

Things picked up: I got up and played bass for a couple of sets, and then BrianHequator turned up and we indulged in that popular pastime of drinking beer.

After the jam, the venue had a band booked to go on. I thought, I won't overdo it tonight. I'll nip outside and call this drummer, then maybe I'll have another pint with Brian...possibly two...and see what the band are like.

Made the phonecall. Turned out my suspicions were correct: the singer or guitarist didn't have the decency to tell him he was being replaced until he phoned them up that day to ask what the plan was for the gig this weekend. Thankfully he wasn't angry with me; I resolved to have words with the rest of the band about their manners - were they not British?

The pint that Brian pushed into my hand as I wandered back in was very welcome. It was then that I noticed a few of the guys from the jam, including the guy who ran it, and word eventually got round to me that the band who were booked had completely forgotten to turn up. I tutted and mentioned to Brian that someone like me would have given their right arm to play this place, and this guy can't even remember to turn up?

The contingency plan dawned on me when one of them pointed at me and said,
"Well, he can play bass."
Suddenly I was at great pains to retract any statements I had made pertaining to the sacrifice of my limbs.

Half an hour later, I was back on the stage, tuning up my cheap P-bass copy and knowing that I was actually here to play a gig. Not just the jam. A gig. It was difficult to try and keep a slightly bewildered grin under control.

It was great. I could barely hear what I was playing, but people told me I did well. And they kept bringing booze over to the stage for us. After the singer announced it would be his birthday at midnight, they even bought up a bottle of champagne.

I had a quiet drink with them after the punters had all been thrown out and even got paid for my troubles. Possibly the most peculiar gig I've ever played. Certainly the shortest notice, emphasised by the singer occasionally saying,
"Can we hear it for the band? These guys have never actually played together as a band before," and pointing over to me,
"...and I only just met this guy."
And possibly the longest wait I've had for a night bus in quite some time, but I won't let that put a damper on things. I shall take my croissant in the drawing room now.
(, Fri 19 Aug 2011, 18:19, 2 replies)
Important lessons
I’d been a best man before, and it was a doddle I thought. So when a friend approached me many years ago and asked me to perform the same duties at his wedding, I jumped at the chance.

There were a couple of issues that should have put the brakes on this idea. Primarily, the fact that I’d only known this guy for two years, and had only spent about a third of that time living anywhere near him. Our knowledge of one another – as friends go – was pretty limited.

BUT but but … it was an odd time in my life. Everything was ok. I had a house, a good job, a partner. No problems anywhere. And unfortunately for the groom, my self-worth was inflated to ridiculously smug proportions. In short, I was a comfortable twat, and felt I’d been asked to be best man because, in short, I was the best fucking man. Oh yeah. It didn’t matter that I had a mere handful of anecdotes about our time together, that I’d never shared a single secret with him, that our acquaintance was based purely on getting pissed in pubs. I’m a fuuuuuunny guy. A hoot. Everybody in the bar wants to know this crazy giggle-machine. I’m Norm out of Cheers, for fucks sake. NORM! That’s right.

I began writing the speech a week before the wedding. Two bottles of wine in, I was like Bob goddamn Monkhouse. All my joke cylinders were firing. The pen could barely keep up with my diamond-mining brain. “Oh man,” I chortled, “I’m going to kill this crowd!” This speech had everything: mum-pleasers, dad-pleasers, some edginess, some classics, heartfelt sentiment … it couldn’t fail. I folded it up and resolved not to look at again until the morning of the ceremony. “Shouldn’t you practice it, maybe try it out on me first?” asked my ever-helpful, pragmatic girlfriend.
I smiled pityingly “Oh, you poor thing. Don’t you understand? There’s magic on these pages. And magic, my dear, the magic of comedy, is a fragile thing. You’ve only to whisper it and POOF, it’s away in the wind, gone forever, never to be laughed at by those for whom it was meant.”

Stupid, stupid boy.

The day of the wedding came. All was smiles and love, as is usually the case with weddings. At dinner I sat with the bride and groom, accepting all compliments with good grace, about how handsome we looked, how gentlemanly. “Ah, enough about me!” I’d laugh as I gulped another glass of wine, “how about the groom eh? He’s trying too!” Then the distinct ring of a spoon on a crystal glass – it was time for the speeches!

First up was the bride’s brother, who had given her away. “No probs about being upstaged here” I thought confidently. This fresh-faced whippersnapper is so nervous he looks like he’s about to take a shit in those hired slacks.
He started with an obvious gag. Everyone laughed. “Internet” I muttered under my breath. Then he fired off another – more laughs, this time with real gusto. Shit, he’s actually funny. And they kept coming. Joke, joke, joke, compliment, joke. The crowd loved him. Then he switched gears and gave some family history, and, no way, holy shit, the fucker is actually crying … the bride’s getting up to hug him! He’s choking back the tears and BANG, a final joke that slays the room and leaves them cheering. Down he sits, wet-faced and grinning shyly. Everyone’s slapping his shoulders and telling him what a damn fine job he’s done, a damn fine job. Then quiet slowly descends on the room again, and it’s my turn.

To this day, I’m not sure exactly what happened over the next twenty-five minutes. I’ve refused all offers to watch the video, although I’m assured it makes for uncomfortable viewing. My memories of it are fragmented – brief bursts of nauseating shame that make me physically curl forward, as if to protect myself from my own failings.

I opened with the line “How the fuck do you follow THAT?”, pointing a burdened finger at the teary-eyed youth beside me, before hurling my script across the room. Silence. My memory got me through the opening lines, which were met with the laughter of gratitude – at least he’s trying to make a conventional speech. Then the doubt crept in. Every time I was about to yell “cunt” I’d look down and see a small child staring up at me with confusion in her eyes. My head swam. The comedy I’d so brilliantly crafted started falling away from me … a snatch of it would occasionally wave and I’d grab it, thrust it forward for these bastards’ delight, and get … nothing. Come on grandma! I’m suggesting the groom caught bad AIDS off a hooker! Isn’t that funny? Aren’t I funny?”

It turns out I’m not. Over the course of the speech I realised that. And for the final ten minutes, I brokenly rambled about the previous couple I’d been best man to, and how they were now in the middle of a particularly bitter and angry divorce. “It’s the kids I feel for, those poor poor kids.” I glanced to the groom and saw him drawing his finger menacingly across his throat.

“To the bride and groom!” I whimpered.
I sat down, and everyone clapped.
(, Fri 19 Aug 2011, 12:44, 7 replies)
Plenty to tell here - no lies; no puns
I was born into an amateur dramatic family, so have spent a great deal of time on-stage in productions of assorted quality. From my first performance as Herod, aged 4 (I was aged 4, not Herod), I've tended to be typecast as a villain or psycho of some sort, which surprises me being the well-adjusted normal type of person that I am. Quiet at the back, there...

Act I, Scene I

Anyway, after an apprenticeship of playing heralds and walk-ons, I was finally ready for my first 'proper' part: a young and upcoming barrister in a courtroom scene. It was there I watched a master demonstrate what to do when you forget your lines.

Let me set the scene for you: my opposing barrister was a veteran of the stage, having appeared in umpteen amateur productions every year for about twenty years. Nothing pretentious or sniffy about him: he was just a good bloke with lots of free time who knew how to handle himself well on stage: he never succumbed to nerves. I'll call him Steve - that was his name, after all.

In the dock is Jim, a bluff old Yorkshireman who relied on a lot of shouting and gumption to cover up the fact that he was crap at learning lines. A big-hearted, charismatic fella, he got cast regularly because he was a proper presence on stage. More on Jim later.

Our judge is Derek, a proper old typecast. A doddery, ancient member of the society (actually, at the time he was probably only in his mid-fifties, but you'd have been forgiven for thinking he was at least seventy). He never remembered ANY lines whatsoever, and the judge's role was a blessing for him, because he could sit at a desk high up on the stage, with the entire script of Act I photocopied and sellotaped in front of him where the audience couldn't see it. On such things is amateur theatre run.

Anyway, we were drawing to the end of Act I; I'd performed my prosecuting lawyer with a bit of contempt and sneer (told you I was always a bad guy), and was looking forward to a couple of pints because I wasn't in Act II. Steve, the counsel for the defence, was trawling through about a page of monologue which was his summing-up speech; most of it was delivered straight to the audience with the little nods and winks that most good actors use when breaking the fourth wall.

In the middle of summing up, he sneezed. Not usually a problem on-stage, just cover up the sneeze and carry on. But for some reason, Steve stopped completely. I realised that he'd 'dried', a rarity in itself, because I couldn't ever recall Steve needing to take his prompt. It was as if he'd sneezed all the lines out of his head.

Most amateur actors, when drying-up on stage, turn into a rabbit in the headlights. Their mouth works furiously with nothing coming out and they stare into the lighting box as if that will grant them inspiration. They hope fervently that the prompt is awake and following the play (they often aren't; more on that later). You have to remember that this was a particularly bad juncture to forget what you were saying, because there was nothing happening onstage; Steve was the focus of 180 people who were hanging on his every word.

He probably paused for a maximum of two seconds, but I saw the plan develop there and then: probably the most guileful and brave thing I have ever seen on stage. He did not wait for a dozy prompt; instead he whirled round to face the judge, barrister's gown flourished, and delivered the line, in perfect legal-ese: "M'lud, may I approach the bench on a point of technicality?" My eyes met Jim's in the dock: this was not in the script, and amateur actors do NOT ad-lib. Derek must have been completely baffled, but to his credit managed a strangled nod and "you may". Steve climbed the long steps to the judge's table, and carried out a completely phony under-the-breath 'inquiry', while looking at some 'legal documents' that the judge had in his position. Legal documents, you'll remember, that were in fact the script for the first half of the play. Inquiries concluded, he swept back down the steps and carried on with his summing up as if nothing had happened. I'm willing to bet that three-quarters of the audience didn't even realise that it wasn't part of the play. Genius, I tell you.

Act I, Scene II

OK, so let's fast-forward a couple of years. I had just finished Uni, and had returned home, at which point I immediately get cast in plays again, because am-dram societies NEVER have enough men. So, this time, I was a cheating husband, and spent a lot of time playing opposite my 'wife', played by Deb, a long-time actress and a very good one. She was about twenty years older than me, but on the am-dram stage everyone is 'about mid-thirties' regardless.

Anyway, this play (a not-terribly-good comedy, as I recall) culminated in my wife leaving me and my 'big speech', a realisation that I'd been a horrible man and thrown my life away. I wasn't used to doing such emotional and heart-rending stuff (my varied roles at University had included Abanazer, Sergeant Colon and the plant in Little Shop Of Horrors), so really put my all into this speech, making sure I slowed right down and putting long heartfelt pauses into all the right places. It was, if I saw so myself, quite moving.

Or so I thought.

This production ran from Tuesday to Saturday, as did all our plays, and it was widely agreed that Thursday was always the 'dead' night. This is when the cast got too over-confident and the audience filled with deadbeats from the old folk's home and the local Scout groups because it was the last night of concession tickets.

This particular Thursday hadn't gone too badly though, no obvious disasters, and the audience were quiet. I'd assumed they were dramatically hanging on every word as I entered my final tear-jerker. The speech was nearly two pages and took over five minutes to deliver, which is an eternity in any stage production. There was no worries about learning lines - I am proud of the fact that I've never had to take a prompt - so all I had to do was make a connection with the audience.

This, I miserably failed to do.

I still remember the last lines of my monologue now: "...but I see, now...it's all gone...it's all gone." There followed perhaps a dozen more lines between me and Deb before the end of the scene and a graceful blackout. Naturally, I'd taken to leaving big dramatic pauses between the "it's all gone"s, and I was proud that I could deliver the last one bursting into uncontrollable tears (crying on stage ain't easy, folks).

Tonight, the pause was about to be defiled.

Me: "But I see now...it's all gone..." long dramatic pause, prepares for hysterics

Old Lady in Back of Audience: "YAahhhOhhhhYAhhhOhhhhYAhhh" the MOST theatrical and drawn out yawn I have EVER heard

Talk about breaking the tension. There were giggles around the auditorium. Deb made the involuntary snort that you make when you're trying really, REALLY hard not to laugh. My big line, ruined. I was also in difficulties, because normally I'd be in fake tears by this point, but I was just staring aghast at the back-left of the auditorium where this horrendous noise had come from. I declined to finish the last three words of my monologue.

This wasn't the end of it. Deb was by now puce in the fact and gnawing on her bottom lip in an effort not to laugh. And it was her line! After a few seconds of silence, I realised nothing was going to happen, so I did the only thing that sprang to mind at the time. I picked up my water glass, threw the contents all over Deb's spluttering face and stalked off. Thankfully, the lighting man had the common sense to plunge the stage into darkness at that point, but the entire audience were still treated to Deb's roar of laughter disappearing into the wings.

Act I, Scene III,

My favourite story, for now, doesn't involve me at all, but my father. I was in the lighting box for this particular episode, but the way my Dad tells it is marvellous.

So, we're about halfway through Act I of Season's Greetings, a venerable old Alan Ayckbourn comedy much loved to amateur dramaticians over the length of the country. My father is on stage and, like me, prides himself on never taking prompts. He has just finished a bit of dialogue with another actor who has just exited, and his next direction is to wander upstage (towards the back) and examine the bookshelves with his back towards the audience.

One of the female cast members comes on, dusts around a side-table for a while. Jim (you remember Jim from Scene I, yes? He's one of my father's best friends) passes by the french windows and enters Stage Right. Nothing is said for quite a long time. Jim goes to make a gin at the conveniently-placed drinks table in order to cover the silence.

My father, safely with his back to the audience, thinks: "Oh goody, someone has forgotten a line. I can probably blackmail them for a pint of Boddingtons afterwards, such is the custom"

As the silence grows ever longer and more tortuous, my father carries on thinking: "The audience must have noticed by now. There hasn't half been a lot of silence, hasn't there? I wonder if the prompt is paying attention. I bet she isn't, the dozy cow."

But he is proved wrong. The prompt suddenly splutters into life and hisses out: "Charles!"

My father thinks: "Well, that's a shitty prompt, isn't it? You're supposed to give the line, not the character who's about to speak it. Charles is being played by my mate Jim, so he's going to have to cough up a couple of pints at least"

Still more silence. Jim swigs his gin in deep contemplation; the lady dusts the side table until it gleams...

The prompt hisses across the stage again: "Charles!"

Still nothing happens. My father thinks: "Hoo hoo hoo! Jim's had a major aberration here. He knows it's his line, and he still can't remember it. The prompt's incompetent and just shouts out his name rather than feeding him the correct line. He'll be having kittens right now, and as soon as he speaks every single person in the audience will know that he's the one that's ground this play to a halt. Ha ha ha!

The silence is now extending into its second minute. Remember when I said that five minutes of monologue is an achingly long time on stage? That's NOTHING compared to two minutes of awkward silence. The audience are growing restless now and waiting to blame whoever delivers the next line.

The next line, in fact, being what the prompt now does deliver. In a hysterical whisper, she shrills out: "Charles!... has been showing me round his shed."

My father thinks: "Oh...FUCK"

Yes, it was his line all along. Turns out he does need a prompt occasionally.

Now, rather than deliver the line straight, he concocts a plan to get him away from two other actors and an audience, all of whom think he's incompetent. He simply delivers the fourteen lines of dialogue that he needs to get offstage. All at once, very quickly, without allowing anyone else to speak...

"Charles has been showing me round his shed yes it's delightful the begonias yes yes great well I'm going to check dinner do you want me to call on Joan yes she's a lot better now thanks mother no I have no idea after dinner that'd be great"

...and just walks off. You might as well go out in style.

Apologies for length. I may well work myself up to Act II later.
(, Fri 19 Aug 2011, 10:51, 3 replies)
I was a clown once, for about a minute.
'd been very excited when I heard there was a circus coming to town. I'd seen them on telly, and there were lions and elephants daring young men on the flying trapeze and all sorts. Before internet pornography, circusses were just the best fucking things in the world. On telly. Provincial northern touring circuses, on the other hand, were basically a magician and a clown.

So we're watching these two clowns being about as funny as getting chewing gum stuck in your arse hair, when they ask for a volunteer from the audience to help them with their next bit. This was my chance for fame! Maybe I'd be a big hit, and they'd take me on the road with them, and turn me into an elephant so no one would ever bully me again and they'd finally have an act worth watching! This is it! I raised my hand, as did eveyone else because raising their hand was probably the most fun they were going to have all day. But they picked me! Yes, me! I think I must have been wearing my magic Dick Turpin T-shirt that day.

I walked up onto the stage and Clown Boss told me I'd be helping with a simple trick. I liked Clown Boss – he smelled a bit like my dad did when he came home from the snooker club. Except stronger. Clown Boss must have loved snooker. All I had to do, he whisp-slurred in my ear, was sit on this dining chair, and wait for him to hit me on the back of the head with a rolled-up newspaper. When that happened, all I had to do was perform a forward roll head-first off the chair, onto the stage and over to Underclown, who would help me up. That was all.

Reader, I shat myself. I was 7, on stage in front of a load of people, I'd never been to a circus before and I was terrible at normal ground-level forward rolls, let alone diving off dining chairs and THWACK! The impact of the newspaper practically did the forward roll for me, propelling my head towards the ground. I rolled, probably as a survival instinct, and Underclown pulled me onto my feet. The whole routine went off without a hitch, and the audience applauded no more half-heartedly than they'd clapped anything else that afternoon. As a reward for not having my stupid neck broken by child abusing clowns, I was given a goodie bag of crap non-brand sweets and a colouring book with pictures of polar bears chasing ghosts around an ivory tower. It remains the best day off my life.
(, Tue 23 Aug 2011, 19:01, 4 replies)
I'll Just roast this pea right here:
About 15 years ago I work I worked in theatre. One thing I had to do as part of a production was operate a smoke machine.
During one scene I had to be sat on a piece of scenery as it was wheeled on. I then had to stay sat their for the whole scene, about 10 minutes, and operate the smoke machine on cue.
I was sat behind the scenery and and couldn't be seen by either the actor or the audience only people backstage. It was very dull as I couldn't move for the whole scene. Other people back stage would come past and try to make me laugh.
This was a panto and believe me doing the exact same thing twice a day gets very dull and many jokes are played backstage to relieve the boredom.

One day during the show as this smoke machine scene was about to take place one of the lads said 'I bet you wouldn't do that with your top off'.
'I bloody would' came my reply.
'Nar, you're too chicken'
'Fucking watch me'
So of comes my top and bra and off I go to sit completely still in full view of everyone back stage.

I have only just (really about 5 minutes ago) realised that this was so everyone backstage could sit and look at some 21 year old boobies for 10 minutes.
(, Sat 20 Aug 2011, 23:01, 5 replies)
I joined the school male voice choir, as it meant that every month we got to meet girls doing the mirror, to "rehearse" for a ... concert, or something.
The day of the concert finally arrived six months later. It was a Sunday, and I'd spent the Saturday at a punk gig, getting drunk, doing speed, and over-enthusiastically headbanging in the way that speeding 16 year olds do.

Thus the next morning I was feeling quite rough, and not a little stiff in the lumbar and neck regions. Very bleeding stiff. Dear-Christ-I-hope-I-haven't-done-myself-any-serious-damage stiff.

The time for the concert came, and we all got dressed up and prepared.

Being 6' tall and a baritone, I was pretty well bang in the middle of the assembly, standing on a riser about 4' high.

The lights went down, the curtains drew back, and off we went.

Those lights are hot. Damned hot. When strapped into a tux, they're bloody boiling. When strapped into a tux, under theatre lights, having been headbanging on speed, they're a killer. A killer. A killer.

Dear Christ.

They're a killer.

I could hear the singing. My neck was hurting so badly. They were a killer.

My neck.

This is not good - they're a killer.

I had to get out I had to get out get out they're a killer I have to get out get out get out and so

in front of an absolutely packed theatre, I did what anyone in the same frame of mind would do:

I fainted, falling forwards, knocking everyone in front of me to spew out like so many skittles; tuxs, ballgowns, hair and shoes flying everywhere, as I loudly faceplanted onto the front of the stage.

Sadly, this was in the days before video cameras were so readily available, as from the stories I've been told, it was absolutely awesome.
(, Fri 19 Aug 2011, 10:21, 1 reply)
In which grandmasterfluffles is presented with an unexpected challenge at a wedding gig
I’m a professional musician, and have probably played live in front of literally millions of people over the last few years. It’s just like any other job really - you just turn up and do it, and things very rarely go horribly wrong. However, I came across quite a challenge last Friday. Nobody tells you when you’re at music college that as a working musician, your powers of keeping a straight face under trying circumstances may be tested to the limit.

During the summer months, I spend an inordinate amount of time playing in string quartets at weddings. Weddings are very easy gigs. Everybody's always really happy with what you do, the music is pretty much always the same whatever quartet you're working with so there's very little sight reading involved once you know the repertoire, and it’s amazing how much free champagne you can get if you make friends with the waiters. They all tend to sort of merge into one when you work at them a lot. All the venues look exactly the same, they all want bloody Pachelbel's Canon when they walk down the aisle, the guests usually totally ignore us to the point of getting bows poked in their backsides from standing too close, and by the end of the day everyone’s too pissed to notice that the quartet is also pissed.

Friday was looking to be just another identikit wedding. Former stately home in Surrey? Check. Lots of fake tan amongst the guests? Check. Pachelbel? Check. The bride turned up on time, Pachelbel was dispatched as she walked down the aisle, the best man hadn’t lost the rings - everything was fine until we got to the vows. The couple had written their own vows - in rhyming couplets. Oh yes, they were in rhyming couplets! Rhyming couplets that didn't even scan properly! It was worse than Vogon poetry - at least with Vogon poetry, the victims were given ample warning. This moving work of poetic genius just came out of the blue.

BLERGH!

All of the fake-tanned wedding guests were sniffing into their hankies and I was just struggling to retain composure by hiding behind my cello and thinking very hard about dead babies.
(, Wed 24 Aug 2011, 12:43, 15 replies)
The princess and the pearoast
With thanks to Rachelswipe and Nunnerfly for reminding me of this...

Age 14 and our school decides to branch out a little by inviting in a local ‘modern dance’ choreographer to work with us during PE lessons for the next 8 weeks, the idea being that the workshops would end in a dance performance at the local theatre, choreographed and performed by us and videoed and edited by the year above’s media studies class.

So this effete knit-your-own-bloody-yogurt type turns up, trailing scarves and trying to get us in touch with our inner core through the medium of mime. Every PE lesson for 8 weeks, we have to pretend to be a tree or other such pretentious wank in order to build a dance production that truly represented our deepest longings and desires. Which mine were to rip this fuckwit’s arm off and beat him to death with the wet end.

The week before the performance we discuss costumes. Now, given my obvious physical failings (the extra six inches of height, the coordination of a stunned ox, together with the flat chest, poodle perm and NHS specs) and I’m hoping for a costume resembling a burkha. And what did we get?

Catsuits. With *takes breath and holds back the pricking of tears* tie-dyed tights over both the legs and with a hole cut in a second pair to be worn over the head, like a sweater. Mother of God.

The day of the performance and we’re handed our tights to put on. And some stupid, stupid fucker has bought them all in one size. Small. Which meant on me that the bottom half came up to roughly mid thigh and the top stopped somewhere round my collar bones. I begged and pleaded not to be humiliated in front of everyone like this but no, according to Wayne fucking Sleep the show was more important than the drink problem this was going to subsequently give me.

A good friend of mine who was videoing the performance said, and I quote “I actually wept in pity when I saw you. Then I stopped and pissed myself laughing.”

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go and take a valium and have a lie down.
(, Mon 22 Aug 2011, 9:08, 7 replies)
FUNNY YOU SHOULD ASK!
I'VE DONE QUITE A LOT OF PERFORMING AS IT HAPPENS! BECAUSE I'M ACTUALLY BRIAN BLESSED!
(, Sun 21 Aug 2011, 23:56, 6 replies)
The hardest thing I've ever done, and the one I'm most proud of
What an amazing woman she was. Born in Yorkshire, her parents gave her the foundations of a remarkable personality. By far the brightest of us, her early teaching career showed the intelligence and strength of character she would bring to the raising of her sons. As a young woman she travelled widely, and Robert Graves raised his hat to her on Deja beach. She was working in Malta when she met Dad, and their six week courtship was continued by letter until she joined him in Rhodesia. They married there in 1958, and began 42 years together until Dad’s death in 2000. They will lie together in the shade of Holton church, near the house they both loved.

After she married, Mum put all her energy into raising her family. She took enormous pride in our achievements, and never berated us for our failures, even when these involved gross stupidity and blue flashing lights. Bringing up 4 boys, born in less than 4 years would have broken a weaker woman, and a less loving one would have terrorised us. You didn’t use the word “No” to her from less than three counties away, I can tell you. She took Dad’s postings in the RAF in her stride, even to Hong Kong, where the youngest was born. Four children under 4, in tropical heat and drought was no picnic. Later, she would teach cookery, how to clean, wash and iron, and in my case how to punch from the shoulder. “I’m not bringing up burdens for unfortunate women” was how she put it. As a wife she was utterly loyal to Dad. The best way to put it is that when dad joined the Air force, they asked the “family question”: Will your beloved be alright with moving about? Dad’s reply was “She was born in Yorkshire, met me in Malta and married me in Rhodesia” “Next question!”. She loved all her daughters - in – law, especially as they provided much needed female solidarity against the excesses of the men in her life. She was very proud of her 5 grandchildren, and was very pleased the first 2 were girls.

After we could be trusted to make the dinner and not put the whites in with the colours, she joined the Samaritans, first in King’s Lynn and then in Lowestoft. This was the expression of her faith in action, to help those in dire need. With Dad’s encouragement, she also began to study for a degree with the Open University. She made such progress that in 1999 she was awarded a BA with first class honours. I have seen her final degree paper, and I can assure you I could not understand a word of it. She was very pleased when my brother's own First meant there were 2 of us “summa cum laude” as the Americans would say, even if it was just a matter of weeks. In fact, summa cum laude, wholly with honour would sum her up. Thank you.


Given at the funeral of the Scarsmother on 8th August 2008, in front of a packed church.
(, Sat 20 Aug 2011, 21:31, 1 reply)
Universally Challenged
I've been selected for University Challenge twice: once when I was a fresher - we didn't get as far as the televised rounds - and then about four years later, when I was a postgrad. The second time, we were invited to the filming; and, because everyone else refused, I was nominated as captain.

We pootled off to Manchester, found the Granada studios, sat around for a few hours, and then it was our turn to compete.

There was a couple of warmup questions before the filming started in earnest, and we did well. Then the cameras went on... and we got thumped. We just about got into a three-digit score, but the other team won comprehensively. There's a website that records all the scores, and I've just looked at it. The margin of victory is chasmic. I could offer consoling reasons for that. But knowing the answer isn't enough: you have to be first to the buzzer, too. And knowing the answer to the bonus questions is of no use at all if you haven't got the starter.

I'd taken the precaution of not telling anyone I was going to be on, in the hope of minimising possible shame. Sadly, University Challenge is - unsurprisingly - watched by rather a lot of university types; and even though my edition was broadcast before the semester started, which meant that there were fewer people around, there were still plenty of staff and research students knocking about the place. People whom I knew. People like my Head of Department.

"I saw you on telly the other night," he said, cheerily, when we met shortly after the broadcast. "You were crap."
(, Fri 19 Aug 2011, 14:45, 2 replies)
West Side Filthy Story
As I attended a very small 6th form college at the age of 16, I was roped into performing the part of Diesel in the school production of West Side Story, particularly as the cast required 20 males to play the parts of the opposing gangs.

Much prancing around and singing ensued as the rehearsals continued without error. As the first live performance in front of over 200 local parents and governers approached, I felt fairly confident that I knew my lines and that the night would go smoothly.

What I hadnt accounted for was that my friend Alex, who was playing the part of A-rab was holding an ace up his sleeve.

In one particular scene, dubbed the 'rape scene' the jets have to simulate a rape by lowering 'Baby John' onto Anita, the head girl of the sharks.

As we lowered Ryan (Baby John) onto Suzanna (Anita), Alex whispered inaudibly to the crowd but very much in ear shot of the entire cast in the scene "go on, slip her the finger". The rest of the scene was one of the most excruciating 5 minutes of my life as I and the other 10 lads on stage tried to stiffle the giggles.

Whats more, on the second night of the performance, Alex did the same thing, instead choosing his words more carefully "go on, get your dick wet".

The funny thing is, Ryan and Suzanna are now engaged. It's amazing how a bit of smut can bring 2 people together.
(, Fri 19 Aug 2011, 15:22, Reply)
A year six performance of Bugsy Malone.
I played Fat Sam, back when I was young and thin and it was ironic. As a lead character, I got to have a splurge gun instead of custard pies. You know splurge guns? Basically a gun-shaped plastic shell for a can of party foam.

At the end of the show, we all had to line up on stage for photos as the head teacher walked in front of us, saying the usual thankyous.
I had a gun. I had half a can of splurge left. He was just...standing there.

So, in front of the entire school I shot him, execution style.

Fortunately, he took it very well, and the next night arranged to be hit with a custard pie. Good man.
(, Mon 22 Aug 2011, 8:53, 2 replies)
this event happened more than 20 years ago, but it still makes me go red
i was 8 years old and it was the school christmas play. for some reason - which must have been other than to haunt me for the rest of my life, but i have no idea what it was - the school abandoned the usual nativity play in favour of some futuristic thing. i was one of 4 children who together formed "The Computer". we had neon orange cardboard tunics, made by our loving teacher, and underneath them we had to wear vests and black tights. anyone who remembers "wordy" from those bbc school programmes can get the look that we were going for.

the night before the performance, i remembered the black tights. our school uniform necessitated long white socks, so in despair at the lateness of the request, my mother dug out a pair of her old tights. the next day, i put them on, all looked well. time for the performance, we waited for the first act to be over. the second act, set on the spaceship, was due to start. the 4 of us climbed solemnly up the blocks and onto the stage. there was a gasp from the audience and then a massive roar of laughter. we were bemused but happy. our star quality had been recognised, and we hadn't even said a word.

star quality? brown-star quality more like. my mother told me later that she had given me a pair of tights with a hole in them because i said "tunic" so she assumed it would be longer than my arse. it wasn't. i had basically climbed up the blocks and flashed my arse at the entire school/parents in total blissful ignorance. apparently the mother next to her leaned over and said, "oof, wouldn't you just die if you were that child's mother?" to which my mother shamelessly replied, "god, i know..."

the easter afterwards we returned to religious plays. i was judas and my best mate was jesus. jesus was a big athletic girl for the age of 9, and her big horned feet pushed the blocks apart as she walked over them. i fell in the gap with a wail of despair and clutched at my saviour's robe to save myself. jesus promptly tumbled backwards and followed me down the crack of doom. the audience was treated to some rather unsaintly language before we were finally hauled out.

if i ever have kids - unlikely - they will never be allowed on any school stage, i don't think i could take the humiliation.
(, Sun 21 Aug 2011, 18:27, Reply)
I think I've told this one before...
Here are some pratfalls from my orchestra's tour.

Basically, one of the venues didn't have a raised stage, and instead had some portable platforms which they built under each section. The woodwind (being behind the strings) ended up wobbling on a rather precarious structure held together with duct tape and fear.

Halfway through the dress rehearsal, rather nervous of falling, the wind sit and play like statues as the conductor falls with the grace of an ice-skating hippo into the viola section. Rather than break the music off, he continues frantically waving his baton from the midst of terrified string players.

The piccolo player, confronted with a solo lead by a baton that is slapping a second violin's ear with every upbeat, has a fit of the giggles. This makes the platform wobble.

While playing his solo, concentrating so hard on not laughing and playing properly that gravity is no longer a concern, the piccolo player slowly keeled sideways- still sitting on his chair- off the platform. He was almost at a right-angle before he realised, and instictively rolled himself into a defensive position.

At the crash (which was out of time) the orchestra grinds to a halt. The conductor re-emerges from the strings, looking slightly the worse for his unexpected freefall, and says in a terrified voice,

"Oh my god, is your picc okay?"
(, Sat 20 Aug 2011, 20:59, 1 reply)
Performance Recital
For A-level music you have to do a public performance in front of an audience, an examiner and a camera, so that it can be invigilated. I shared my recital exam with a chap who played a rather energetic piece of Vivaldi on his violin. Halfway through a phrase he caught his bow on the tuning pegs and ripped out half of the hairs.

He stops playing, shouts "Fuck it!" at the top of his voice, and then resumes playing as if nothing had happened.

The rest of the recording was accompanied by half the audience trying to muffle their sniggering.
(, Sat 20 Aug 2011, 12:30, 2 replies)
Performance art: annoying as many people as possible, simultaneously.
When I was in engineering school I took a class in Electromechanical Devices, which was in truth a joint project between the School of Engineering and the School of the Arts to see what odd things artists and engineers could create when working together. There were actually some really cool things that resulted from that- and some utter flops.

The first project was to make something involving a crank that you turned that would cause something to happen. We were not teamed up with anyone yet, so it was art students versus engineers. We had one guy who made wire gears and linkages to simulate the valve train on an engine (yes, he was an engineering student), another who made a clock tower with a Harold Lloyd figure dangling from the hand while a pair of wings flapped... the results were all over the place, and really pretty impressive. We had them all set up for critique, each of us explaining our pieces and demonstrating them.

Then it was Tim's turn.

He led us into a room where there was a cylinder standing with a block stuck to the top edge and a plastic stag sitting on top. On the floor next to it was a fashion ad with some model simpering with glossed lips. He switched off all the lights except for one that shone down on the cylinder.

Tim then took off his shirt to reveal a white tank shirt, then sprayed cologne over himself. He knelt by the cylinder and moved the stag to the edge of the block, then turned a crank to unwind some string and lower the stag toward the photo. It stopped a couple of inches short. He cranked it up and then down a couple of times, then began biting chunks out of the block and spitting them on the floor, working with manic intensity to gouge a deep groove in the styrofoam block until when he turned the crank the nose of the deer kissed the photo. Then he arose and left the room.

The silence was broken by someone asking, "Can we lock the door before he comes back?"
(, Fri 19 Aug 2011, 14:53, Reply)
sharks, germans and e.t
about 15 years ago, i was in the habit of spending my weekends getting pissed with my mate debbie an her then-boyfriend,glyn. the pub we went to wasn't the greatest, but it was friendly and the booze was cheap.
one friday night, debbie phoned to tell me there was a hypnotist at the pub that night. thinking it'd be a good laugh, we decided to go.
i had no intention of getting up on stage, until debbie dared me to. childish, i know. i said no, so she threw down a challenge: if she could down her pint faster than i could drink mine, i'd get up on stage. if i won, she'd stop asking me. i thought i was safe, she'd never managed to beat me at the pint-drinking before. unfortunately for me, she'd obviously been practicing. having already given my word, i had no choice. i got up.
now, before this, i'd always believed hypnosis to be utter bollocks, so i wasn't really worried. as i sat there with my eyes closed, the hypnotist told me(and everyone else on the stage, i wasn't the only saddo up there) to put my arms out in front of me. he then did his hypno-stuff. weirdly, i don't remember exactly what that was. i didn't feel any different, no drowsiness or anything.
then, he says i'm swimming. "yeah, right," i thinks to myself. "what a load of...wait, why are my arms moving? my arms won't stop moving! I CAN'T STOP MY ARMS MOVING!"
and that was it, he'd bloody done it. it's lucky that i can't remember a lot of what i did that night but, among the highlights are:
swimming one-armed away from a shark, which had eaten my other arm.
crying and screaming at an imaginary telly for the bad men to "let poor E.T go!"
crawling along under tables and chairs with a water pistol, looking for german spies
breaking up a party i believed was happening at my parents' house while they were out. i gave debbie a bollocking for that one, i thought she'd invited everyone to my folks' house for this party.
throwing a drink in a man's face for reasons i can't recall
getting "married" to a similarly hypnotised bloke on stage.
it felt like i was up there for about ten minutes, when in fact it was more than 2 hours. it was a very weird feeling, but not half as weird as seeing photos behind the bar a week later of my hypnotic wedding!
2 years those pictures were there, 2 fucking years. i've never gone near a hypnotist again and i don't intend to.
(, Fri 19 Aug 2011, 13:28, 4 replies)
And with a swing of her hips... (pearoast)
Every year the one-horse town in which I was raised has a carnival week that culminates in a hugely popular float parade on the Friday evening. As a shy (honestly), quiet (I've changed over the years) 18 year old fresh from her first year at Uni I went home to help out with painting a trailer or two. While doing so, people kept buying me very large gins. This pleased me. I was obviously doing a great job. A few hours later as I drunkenly slapped some emulsion on some hardboard, I was approached by the float coordinator- would I wear bikini and a grass skirt and dance my way behind the float? Seven gins said of course I fecking would, though I'd never worn a bikini in my life before, so self-conscious and shy was I. It was hardly the weather for it either- a Norn Ireland fishing village in June tends to be differentiated from the Arctic only because the Artic isn't as damp.

Fake tan - which was actually a Bisto and water paste - was duly applied, a bikini was borrowed, and I was handed a sellotaped bit of shredded brown paper which represented my grass skirt, and at 7pm the parade set off. We'd gone half a mile when, in a particularly energetic bout of hula-ing, my grass skirt fell off in front of 2000 spectators. I couldn't even pretend that no one had noticed - it made the local paper.
(, Fri 19 Aug 2011, 10:57, 4 replies)

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