Real Good Times.
Not all portable timing devices are the same. You can get your digital timers and of course little mechanical ones, or you can use the timer on your phone. But timing stuff on your phone can look rude and though digital ones are definitely better, mechanical ones are a lot easier to find when trawling the aisles of bargain shops in Edinburgh.
This information is good to know when you have a chicken in the oven or you're doing a stand-up set.
I know there's a story that stand-up is the hardest job in the world, but anyone who’s stood for even 5 minutes at a microphone telling jokes will tell you that's rubbish. Yes sometimes it can be a bit grueling, or a bit boisterous, sometimes your ego can take a wee bit of bruising, but for the most part it’s like a good stretch.
There's no illusions with stand-up. If people like your work, they laugh. If they don't, they won’t. Maybe more jobs should be like that - it might make tax offices more pleasant, though political debates would be even more miserable.
I gave myself a wee gift this week and went off to do a wee bit of stand-up. I like to do that when I'm out on a run of some other show, as it's the most brilliant way to blow off the cobwebs. So when my good friend Viv messaged me back in June about doing a gig in August, it was no decision at all to say yes.
The Edinburgh Fringe is amazing but it messes with everyone's mental health. With literally thousands of shows going on around you every hour of every day, it's hard not to get caught up in other people's challenges.
As I headed to the gig I was feeling particularly dark. Too many old colleagues of mine are really struggling with proper issues. I hate that though you can wish the very best for someone, Fate can have different ideas.
But as soon as I walked in the door to the gig, my mood lifted. I'm not suggesting it was like coming home, because I don't have fifty punters huddling round a bar in my living room, but it felt so comfortably familiar, I could feel everything relax.
The gig had already started and had just reached the first interval when I arrived. As I went to the bar, two ladies, were giggling and smiling. “You don't remember us do you?” one said.
I smiled trying to register. I hate being rude but I really had no idea.
“Don't be daft,” said the other. “Of course she won't remember” Then she turned to me and smiling sweetly, said, “ We came to a gig of yours 20 years ago and we'd just dropped acid.” “Oh,” I said, not really sure what else I should be saying.
When I headed into the room, I was greeted like an old friend. Though I hadn't met these comics before other than online, there is generally a great camaraderie between stand-ups. Yes, there is the occasional nutter, or some overblown ego with feet, but for the most part, we generally recognize each other as part of the same tribe.
Des the compere told me that a great deal of the audience were Latvians.
“Oh,” I said again.
I maybe wasn't feeling quite as relaxed now. Acid-dropping ladies and Latvians is an unusual mix. But in stand-up, you must go with the flow. I looked over the crowd and saw a face I recognized. A lovely lovely friend I know because she used to be married to my old dentist.
It certainly was shaping up to be a fairly surreal night.
I stood at the back watching two very different acts do brilliantly, then there was another interval and then it would be me.
I was booked to do a 20-minute set - or longer if I wanted to. When you're closing the show, you pretty much have free reign. But too many years of compereing have unwittingly made me an absolute stickler for time. I don't settle with free reign. Hence the timer.
Before I start a set I always start a timer telling the audience I have a chicken in the oven. Or a pie. Or a lasagna. Sometimes a quiche -something that has to be attended to that means I only have a set time. When the timer goes off, I leave, even if I'm in the middle of a punchline. I don't know whether audiences enjoy the audacity or just knowing that I will leave no matter what, but it generally makes the process smooth, and then - unburdened by time constraint - I can open up my set and just play.
But the only timer I could find here was mechanical. And a bit too ticky. I had a negotiation with the audience about the noise of it when I started and most people decided it was just fine apart from one guy near the timer. We agreed he could put his hat over it to cover the ticking. After a couple of minutes he put his jacket over it as well.
And we laughed and I talked. And I talked. And we laughed. And it was lovely. Latvians really are lovely people. As are acid-dropping lesbians. As is my friend who used to be married to my old dentist. But after a while I felt I had been talking for a very long time.
I took my very loud timer out from under the hat and coat and it read 4 minutes. I couldn't believe it. It was still bloody ticking but it was useless. I checked with Des, the compere, and apparently I'd been on 35 minutes. The audience assured me I could stay but I informed them it would be irresponsible to ruin a lovely roast chicken, and I headed offstage into a flurry of cuddles and laughing while Des closed up the show.
But by then we'd all decided we liked each other so lead by the Latvians, a group of us returned to the stage and sang songs celebrating Latvia. It was joyous.
They sang with great passion, while the acid-taking lesbians, and the lovely friend who was married to my old dentist, the comics, Des and me sang with less tuneful enthusiasm .
And at the end I presented the guy with the hat and the jacket with my mechanical timer. He received it like I'd given him the nobel prize.
Later as I headed home, I felt lighter, better. Yes time passes. Of course it does. Sometimes way faster than you think. Sometimes painfully fast. And yes nothing and nobody are forever. And yes, sometimes too easy to yearn for the past.
But joy is to be found in the weirdest of places, with people you might not even have met yet. Memories may be precious and bittersweet, but they shouldn't get in the way of making many new memories.
Life is less predictable than a dodgy digital timer.
When you find joy, seize it. Embrace it. Enjoy it like a warm bath. And maybe make a plan to visit Latvia.
Till next week
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