Tag Archives: travel

A comedy fan on a musical trip to Chattanooga gets very, very, very cold

Samantha Hulme works with horses (they are not pictured)

This week, I got an email from comedy fan Samantha Hulme. She works with horses in Lancashire.

“I have got a two week job in Chattanooga,” she told me, “and, when I finish there, I am going to have a road trip for ten days.

“I am going to go to Nashville, Tuscon, Memphis and New Orleans. I am going to have a total and utter music fest…”

I suggested she might want to share her experiences for this blog.

On her arrival, she sent me a photo of the luggage belt at Chattanooga Airport.

Yesterday, I got a message saying that, on her first day in Chattanooga, she had been in a cryogenic chamber.

She told me:


The relevant cryogenic chamber on Day One in Chattanooga.

It was approximately minus 264 degrees in that chamber. Shall I repeat that? Minus 264 degrees.

At that temperature, there is no moisture in the air, so it does not penetrate the skin.

The correct clothing for this is not a huge North Face jacket or salopettes. It is sports wear: shorts, sports bra, special woollen socks and slippers and special mittens plus a nose mask and wool wraparound hat.

I felt slightly concerned when my very lovely teacher uttered the words: Don’t forget to breathe. 

An unrelated sign at a church with a very hot pastor in Chattanooga

The first chamber is the holding chamber to prepare you for the temperatures in the second chamber. This was not in any way, shape of form a warm-up.

The thought Holy crap! did go through my mind as I entered the first chamber… then I am an ex-postal worker. I can do this!

When I hit the second chamber, my trachea appeared to close.

I went from repeatedly saying in my head Breathe!… to thinking This is the weirdest cold feeling I have ever experienced… to laughter.

After I leapt out, I felt energised.

It was terror and fun mixed together


Exactly how this fits into the concept of “a total and utter music fest” for a comedy fan, I do not yet know. But further missives will, with luck, follow.

The last message I received from Samantha said: “Off to see a comedian now.”

I know no more than you, dear reader.

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Adham Fisher, record-breaking Extreme Commuter. Why? “No reason”

Adham Fisher in the Soho Theatre Bar, London

“So what are you?” I asked Adham Fisher in London’s Soho Theatre Bar.

“I’m not a comedian,” he told me. “Not a proper one, anyway. I have held a Guinness World Record but I have never been in the Guinness Book of Records. It wasn’t considered for the book because there are thousands of records and they can only put a select few in the book.”

“What is your world record for?” I asked.

“The fastest time to go to every New York subway station.”

“How long did that take?”

“22 hours, 26 minutes and 2 seconds… I must stress that I no longer hold the record, but I did hold it for 14 months. The current record is 21 hours, 49 minutes. There were 468 stations at the time I attempted it; there are now 472.”

“And why did you want to hold that record?” I asked.

“It stemmed from my attempts at the corresponding record here in London: the fastest time to go to every tube station. There are 270. I have been attempting that for 13 years. I have been a dismal failure at that and everything else.”

“Do other people do similar things?” I asked.

“There are a lot of people who have attempted the tube record or the various other unofficial challenges and races. There is a yearly one for Zone One stations only.”

“Why have you been a dismal failure at the tube record for 13 years?” I asked. “Is there a trick to it?”

“The trick,” Adham told me, “is the tube running as it should. Every single day there is a delay or suspension or a trespasser on the line or whatever.”

“You should go to Germany,” I suggested. “I imagine their trains run on time.”

“I did go to every station in Berlin – 8 hours, 2 minutes and 56 seconds. There are only 173 stations.”

“Have you met any of the other people trying to visit stations?”

“Yes I have.”

“Do you find they are kindred spirits?”

“Not really.”

“Why,” I asked, “do you want to do this at all? Just to get into the Guinness Book of Records?”

“Not necessarily,” Adham replied. “I have no reason.”

“Well,” I told him, “that is a very good reason in my book. But it must cost an absolute fortune going round the world doing this.”

“I have only done it in Europe and North America.”

“What is the ultimate?”

“Just to go on every rapid transit system in the world.”

“Do you have a full-time job?”

“Everyone thinks I don’t, so I will let them carry on thinking that. It makes for some very interesting comedy. If, for example, I happen to court some media attention, people will comment online, saying: Well, obviously he doesn’t have a job. And these are people who are able to spend tens of thousands of pounds following football teams.”

“Have you had media attention?” I asked.

“Yes. My moment of fame was appearing in the Guardian.”

Adham took the cutting out and showed it to me.

Adham’s own copy of The Guardian, 28.11.16.

“You carry it around with you?”

“Yes.”

“How did all this start?”

“When I started trying to ride every single bus in Leicester and Leicestershire. I was 16. When I first attempted to travel to every London tube station, I was 19.”

“How old are you now?”

Adham did not answer.

“What did your parents say when you were 16 and went off to ride buses?”

“Well, I had to leave the house at about 4.00am.”

“Did you tell them why you were leaving that early?”

“No… Well… I said: I am just going to ride buses all day. See you later.”

“And they said: Fair enough…?”

“They might have done. I shut the door before they could answer.”

“Do you live with your parents now?”

“Maybe.”

“Are they in any bizarre way related to transport?” I asked.

“No. In fact, I don’t think my parents have ever liked me being interested in transport and so that has led to me just not talking to them.”

“What did they want you to become?”

“I don’t know and I never cared. I never really talked to them about that sort of stuff.”

“16 is an age,” I suggested, “when people start thinking about future careers. What did you want to be?”

“I have never had a career plan.”

“Are you,” I asked, “trying to make order out of disorder?”

“I suppose.”

Adham still always plays the revered Human League on vinyl

“I have all my LPs in alphabetical order,” I confessed. “I am so old I have LPs… Before your time.”

“I was,” said Adham, “the only person at my school who liked the Human League and I was the only person at my school who knew what vinyl was. I sometimes DJ at Leicester railway station… with vinyl.”

“They employ you to do this?” I asked.

“Oh no no no. I just ask them once in a while if I can turn up and play.”

“You sit in a corner of the station and play vinyl LPs?”

“Pretty much.”

“Inside or outside?”

“On the station front. Not in the foyer: that would interfere with the announcements. There is a nice bit outside by a coffee bar.”

“You have two turntables and loudspeakers?”

“Yes. A little busking amp.”

Adam Fisher - The MMs Bar Recordings

“The greatest record ever made”

“What sort of music?”

“Anything. There is a record I almost always play, called the MMs Bar Recordings – a compilation of buffet car announcements from the old Midland Mainline trains before they became East Midlands Trains. It consists of various staff saying things like: Good morning and welcome to the 1054 service from London St Pancras. The MMs bar is now open and clear for service with a wide selection of sandwiches, savouries, sweets, hot and cold drinks and complimentary Midland Mainline tea and coffee.”

“This was released commercially as a record?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“To acclaim?”

“Yes. I actually think it’s the greatest record ever made because it’s so stupid it’s great.”

“Who released it?”

“An artist named Sandra Cross. I have met her.”

“Is it,” I asked, “edited in a creative way so it has rhythm?”

“No. It’s just as the announcements were recorded.”

“Do passers-by get confused by this as they enter the station?”

“One or two have. Very few of them stop. About 99% turn their heads with either smiles or bemused looks.”

“You only play announcements?”

“No. Absolutely anything from Peter Gabriel to…”

“How long,” I interrupted, “do you do this for?”

“The longest stint has been about 13 hours.”

“Is there a record for this?”

“Not yet.”

“You know the Rule of Three?” I asked. “So far, we have had the Guinness Book of Records and you playing vinyl records. Is there a third type of record in here?”

“There is the Public Records Office.”

“Have you been there?”

“Not yet.”

Adham’s publicity for a 2016 MOvember record attempt

“You have been doing this since you were 16,” I said. “How are you going to develop it? You could play your records on every station platform. You could play Midland Mainline announcements on the New York subway system. Do you think you will still be doing it in ten years time?”

“I would like to.”

“Are you married?”

“Not last time I checked. I am the least likely person I know to be married.”

“Why?”

“Marriage just isn’t really my thing.”

“Your main passions are transport and music?”

“I describe myself as a very unpassionate person. I don’t consider myself very passionate about or an advocate for anything. I have just somehow wound up doing certain things. I never wanted to be a DJ. Public transport and comedy and music are just things I have happened to do. I would not describe myself as being any good at any of them. Or anything.”

“You should,” I suggested, “be working for some transit system somewhere.”

“I think if I worked in the transport industry, I would end up hating it. Rolling stock track gauge, infrastructure; I know nothing about that; I don’t particularly care for that sort of thing. So far, it has always been a novelty for me, especially in London because I have never lived here. So taking the tube, the bus, any commuter rail or the tram or the cable car is always a novelty for me.”

“You did a comedy show at last year’s Leicester Comedy Festival.”

“Yes.”

“What was it called?”

Extreme Commuter.”

“And this year’s show was called…?”

Publicity for this year’s Leicester Comedy Festival show

“Extreme Commuter 7.”

“Because?”

“The Comedy Festival gig this year was my seventh. I have done one since, which was the 8th and the next one will be in Sheffield. My ninth.”

“Have you got Asperger’s?”

“I have no idea. I have never been diagnosed with it, but… I don’t even know what I would have to do to request a diagnosis.”

“These comedy shows you do are anecdotes about you riding the rails?”

“Exactly. Rails, buses, trams, whatever.”

“Do you want to do the Edinburgh Fringe?”

“To have a successful show in Edinburgh is the Holy Grail of all fledgling comedians but, because I don’t consider myself very good at this comedy thing, I am not actually bothered if I go to Edinburgh or not. If it happens, great; if it doesn’t happen, great. It would be nice, but I don’t expect ever to be a success there.”

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Filed under Eccentrics, Trains, Travel

Govia Thameslink – ISIS duck-billed platypus of UK rail franchise holders

A few of the experienced travellers on the bridge

A few of the more experienced travellers waited on the bridge

I blogged about Govia Thameslink – London’s comedy railway company – a fortnight ago and a week ago. I fear this may turn into a new running thread.

Thameslink is to efficiency and customer service what ISIS is to easy-going agnosticism and strawberries are to wildebeests.

Others waited on the platform but close to the stairs

Some waited on the platform but made sure they were close to the escape stairs

Govia Thameslink have now honed their management style to perfection – if you consider style and perfection to look like a duck-billed platypus wearing a kilt. And I have realised there is mileage in taking notes by sending Tweets.

Tonight I got on the very efficient TfL-run Overground to West Hampstead and then switched over to the Thameslink station. The indicator said the 2255 train would leave from Platform 2 although it almost always switches to Platform 4 with no warning about 10-20 seconds before its due time.

A collection of more experienced passengers (aka past victims) waited on both of the bridges between platforms 2 and 4 to hedge their bets. More passengers huddled at the foot of the stairs on Platform 2, ready to run. Foolish people actually stood on Platform 2.

Some waited on and at the foot of the stairs

Some just awaited their fate on and at the foot of the stairs

A perhaps even more foolhardy Japanese man asked that rarest of all beasts – a visible Thameslink employee – which platform the next train to Elstree would come in on.

“Platform 2,” the equally foolhardy employee said with calm authority, pointing at the indicator board.

30 seconds later, as the train appeared, the Thameslink employee yelled in panic: “It’s coming in on 4! It’s coming in on 4!”

TWEET: Thameslink chaos @TLRailUK – W Hampstead platform changed 15 secs before train arrived. No warnings on signs or tannoys. Daily chaos.

I managed to squeeze into one of the overcrowded carriages because I was the first person onto the platform. Others were not so lucky.

But, as I say, Thameslink have refined their comedy act.

TWEET: Thameslink chaos @TLRailUK – W Hampstead train fails to stop at next 5 scheduled stations and ends up at St Albans. Daily chaos.

People piled out of the train at St Albans, many trekking over to another platform to return from whence they had passed through but had not stopped.

TWEET: Thameslink chaos @TLRailUK – One of around 30 passengers trying to return from St Albans says: “We can only pray”. Daily chaos.

TWEET:  Thameslink chaos @TLRailUK – One passenger says: “They couldn’t organise a piss up in a brewery”. Daily chaos…

TWEET:  Thameslink chaos @TLRailUK – Second passenger says: “They wouldn’t find the brewery”. Daily chaos…

TWEET:  Thameslink chaos @TLRailUK – Southbound service from St Albans stops as scheduled at Elstree. Some mistake, surely? Daily chaos…

The train from St Albans to Elstree ran on time.  I receive a Tweet from Trainslate @TLRailGB which said:

How is anyone supposed to know where they stand with trains turning up on time?!

I look up the Twitter account for Thameslink. It says: Currently we are running a good service.

I look up the Trainslate account on Twitter. It says:

Thameslink – a not-fit-for-purpose ‘service’ from Govia. Treating customers with contempt whilst lining shareholder pockets (Go-Ahead/Keolis) #BrokenFranchise

At last. Sanity!

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Is it still illegal to celebrate Christmas in England? + Eating sloths in Guatemala

Phoenix, Arizona, the perfect place to fry an egg

Phoenix, Arizona: a perfect place to fry an egg on the sidewalk

Yesterday I had lunch with someone who has just come back from Phoenix, Arizona.

“I read a while ago that it was the fastest-growing city in the US,” I told her, “but that it is a hell-hole and you can’t go outside comfortably because of the heat.”

“It was very hot,” she agreed. “They have a new law on the statute books which makes it illegal to fry eggs on the sidewalk any more.”

She swore this was true.

What fascinated me was the phrase “any more” and the fact that such a law might be necessary: that it had become so prevalent it was a problem.

In the 1980s, as far as I am aware, it was still illegal under the law of England and Wales for young adult males NOT to practice archery every Sunday (presumably in case the French invaded or the English monarch decided to invade France)… and it was illegal to celebrate Christmas (under an un-repealed Cromwellian law). As far as I know, it still is.

The mis-named English justice system is constantly fascinating.

Last week, I read in the London edition of Metro newspaper that Westminster Magistrates’ Court had given a 20-year-old man a £745 fine and imposed a curfew on him because he had been staying in a hotel and had “emerged from a cupboard naked, with a fire hose up his bottom”.

A fire hose with (it says here) a Finnish coupler

Fire hose with (it says here) a Finnish coupler

The 20-year-old man was said by his lawyer to be “truly ashamed of himself”. This sounds unlikely. He will presumably be bought free drinks by his friends for the next ten years.

The Metro report did not specify the exact law under which the man had been prosecuted. Can there really be a specific law prohibiting people being naked with a fire hose up their bottom?

Life is a constant mystery.

But one mystery has been cleared up.

Yesterday, I wrote that this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith had told me that her sister’s visit to Guatemala had resulted in three children and her (the sister) becoming an Anglican priest.

I wanted – I think not unreasonably – to know more details.

These have been forthcoming.

Anna tells me:

“Twenty five years ago, my sister met a cute Guatemalan refugee at Saigon Palace – a Vietnamese restaurant on Spadina Avenue in Toronto. They married and soon had three children. My Guatemalan in-laws were very happy when they found out I had been involved with British comedy – In particular, they were desperate to know if I had met ‘Benny Eel’.

“My new Guatemalan extended family also enjoyed visiting the Natural History Museum in Toronto. When we walked past the taxidermied displays of jungle animals, they said: Yummy Yummy… Remember when we ate that anteater in Rio Bravo?  and  Look – a sloth! Remember when Auntie cooked us some sloth stew?…

A sloth - highly regarded in Guatemala

A sloth – they are highly regarded by gourmets in Guatemala

“Then suddenly (well, after eight years at the UBC Theology School), my sister became an Anglican priest.

“She moved to a village high in the Guatemalan mountains. After years of being shot at during anti-mining demonstrations, she decided to return to Canada and has been installed in a church in New Westminster, close to where the recent Godzilla movie was filmed. She has recently completed a book about the evils of the Canadian mining industry in Guatemala and sat as a judge in some genocide trials.”

“Good heavens!” I said. “Genocide trials in Canada?”

“In Mexico City, I think,” replied Anna.”I will have to ask… She was a witness of a lot of exhumed bodies…”

Some answers just create more questions.

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Filed under Humor, Humour, Legal system

Comedians, coincidences, cocaine and yet another Edinburgh Fringe accident

It's around the corner in Soho, where other broken people go.

It’s around the corner in Soho, where other broken people go

It’s a small world in oh so many ways – a small world with lots of coincidences – Prague, television, Bar Italia and the Edinburgh Fringe.

“Hey, John!” Wingman said to me yesterday. “What are you doing here?”

I had accidentally sat down next to him at Bar Italia in London’s Soho.

Bar Italia has been there for what seems like ever – actually since 1949. In I guess the 1960s and 1970s it became legendary among music and film/TV people because, back then, it was the only place open in the wee small hours in the middle of the night when dawn was approaching and people staggered out of recording studios and editing suites in Soho. Jarvis Cocker of Pulp even wrote a song called Bar Italia:

There’s only one place we can go.
It’s around the corner in Soho,
Where other broken people go.

Yesterday lunchtime, I was waiting at Bar Italia for itinerant comedian Matt Roper, back from his travels in the Far East and South Africa.

Wingman and I worked together at Granada TV years ago. Now he is a TV executive, though I don’t suppose he thinks of himself as that. He had been chatting to a colleague called John who had just come back from shooting promos in Prague.

“You worked there, didn’t you?” Wingman asked me.

“Yes,” I said, “for UPC in the mid-1990s.”

Then Matt arrived and Wingman & John left.

Earlier in the year, I blogged about Matt having deep vein thrombosis in Vietnam, Burma and Thailand.

In South Africa, Desmond Tutu (third from left) and Matt Roper as 'Wilfredo’ (second from right)

In South Africa, Desmond Tutu (third from left) and Matt Roper as his character ‘Wilfredo’ (second from right)

Now he had just returned from a month in South Africa at the comedy festival and looked very healthy.

While in Saigon, he had had to cancel his Edinburgh Fringe show this year, because the Vietnamese hospital could not tell him when he would be able to fly again. He could have come back to Britain by train via Beijing and Moscow. But, at the time, he had to have weekly blood tests and, he told me yesterday, “I didn’t want to be messing around trying to find Mongolian and Russian hospitals. It was a challenge, but it’s my health.”

“It’s not a challenge,” I told him. “It’s a 2014 Fringe show and you look healthy now. Did you like South Africa?”

“Very much,” said Matt, “though, I only went to Cape Town. We went to a game reserve and to vineyards, sat on an ostrich and then ate an ostrich.”

“The same one?” I asked.

“No. We met the smallest ostrich in the world. He’s there. He’s a Guinness record holder.”

“I’ve never met a nice white South African,” I said.

“I have,” said Matt.

Like the song says, they really are all a bunch of arrogant bastards,” I said.

“I like them,” said Matt.

He is just about to go off on his travels again – to help a friend research a book – Poland, Ukraine, Moldova, back through the Ukraine, the Czech Republic – Prague – and then fly back to Britain from Austria.

The reason he was in Soho, though, was because he was going to Totnes in Devon.

Frank Zappa or a crapper

Frank Zappa on the crapper in 1967

Robert Davidson lives there,” he told me. “You should meet him. He’s a photographer. He photographed Frank Zappa on the toilet in a hotel room in 1967.”

“He shot that for International Times,” I said. “I saw it when it was published. I wrote for IT a few years later.”

At this point, comedian Chris Dangerfield – oft blogged about here – walked into Bar Italia.

“I was thrown out of Totnes,” said Chris. “I was literally taken up an alleyway by the police and told to leave town.”

“Totnes,” said Matt, “is sometimes like an open hospital ward. It’s full of bizarre people. So to actually have been asked to leave is…”

I was distracted by a group of people clustered outside Ronnie Scott’s jazz club opposite Bar Italia.

Tourists crowded round bricks in London

Tourists crowd round Ronnie Scott’s club’s bricks in Frith St

“What are they doing?” I asked.

They were just standing outside, looking up at the building.

“It’s a tour,” said Chris Dangerfield. “It’s on the tourist trail. They’re taken to places like that and told: Oh, Mick Jagger once looked at that.”

“They come and look at Bar Italia too,” said Matt, “because John Logie Baird invented television in a room above here.”

“Although he didn’t,” I said. “He invented the wrong system.”

“Who did invent TV, then?” asked Matt.

“I think it was EMI and maybe some Germans,” I said. “But back to Chris getting thrown out of Totnes…”

Matt Roper (left) and Chris Dangerfield yesterday

Matt Roper (left) & Chris Dangerfield in Bar Italia yesterday

“I was the second time,” said Chris. “It was my return to Totnes, because I done a degree down there, so when I went back to sell crack, all the pubs were empty because everyone was spending all their money on crack. And that was essentially what the police said: The local economy has taken a dent because of you. Take your cocaine back to London. So I did.”

Chris then got on his black bicycle and rode off quickly.

“Drive safe!” Matt shouted after him, then turned to me and said: “We’ve never properly met, him and me. We just keep bumping into each other. Coincidences. Life’s all coincidences.”

“I was once,” I said, “sitting outside Bar Italia talking to your chum Grace Gelder and Chris Dangerfield walked by and said Hello and walked on. A couple of weeks ago, I was walking through Soho with someone and I got a text message saying You just walked past me – Chris Dangerfield.”

“Well,” said Matt, “I yelled out of a car window at you once, but it wasn’t you.”

“It’s an easy mistake to make,” I said.

Bob Slayer with Miss Behave before she broke her heel

Miss Behave with her heel in London

On my trip home, I picked up a voice message on my mobile phone from comedian Bob Slayer. He told me that  Miss Behave – who is allegedly compering the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show on 23rd August – has broken her heel in Ireland and doctors have told her she should put no weight on it for six weeks.

“She keeps doing this,” I said when I talked to Bob. “She nearly died a couple of years ago just before the Fringe. Now a lame excuse like this. Let’s hope she can do it in a wheelchair or in plaster. Where are you?”

“Leith,” he told me.

“Is there sunshine on Leith?” I asked. “It’s horrible, hot and sticky here in London today. 30 Centigrade. I think that’s about 90 in Fahrenheit. Would-be SAS men are dying on the Brecon Beacons.”

“There is sunshine on Leith,” Bob confirmed.

“Send me a picture,” I told him. “Why are you there?”

While the Chief puts Bob Slayer in Leith

Meanwhile the Chief puts sunset and Bob Slayer in Leith… (photograph by Keara Murphy)

“I’ve been buying fridges for my new venue Bob’s Bookshop,” explained Bob. “For all the beer. I have a licence and people can buy beer there. I went into the British Heart Foundation’s charity shop in Edinburgh – they have one for electronics and I bought lots of their stuff. I told them I would give it all back at the end of the Fringe and they  could sell everything a second time.

“I have found Miss Behave a great flat. It’s right next to the venue so it’s very convenient and right in the middle of town, but I’m not sure which storey it’s on. Not good if you have a broken heel and it’s on the third storey up. With luck, she’ll be on the first.”

“That’s another storey,” I said.

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Comic Sarah Hendrickx on cycling 520 miles, burning 6,000-7,000 calories a day and eating 75 pain au chocolats

Suntanned Sarah Hendrickx yesterday on Skype

A sun-tanned Sarah Hendrickx yesterday on Skype

“I’ve got a terrible cold, so I’m going to cough and splutter and sniffle through this” I said when I started talking to Sarah Hendrickx on Skype last night. “But now you’ve cycled all those hundreds of miles, you must be very healthy.”

“Oh, not healthy,” replied Sarah. “My knees. They were bad before I went and they’re no better.”

“And your bum?”

“My bum’s recovered now,” said Sarah. “Thanks for asking.”

“You bicycled back yesterday evening?” I said.

“No,” said Sarah. “A British Airways flight from Barcelona.”

“How many miles did you do eventually?”

“I cycled 520 and I caught a train for 200 or so in the middle, because I wouldn’t have had time to finish.”

The last time comedian Sarah Hendrickx was heard of in this blog, she was on an 800 mile cycle ride to Barcelona having only previously ever cycled for 38 miles. For her, the journey was “a personal, physical and mental challenge” because, years ago, she “got stuck up the Sagrada Família in Barcelona and ended up going a bit mental and getting agoraphobia. So this is me going back to sort it all out and become a brave person.”

It was also research for her upcoming Edinburgh Fringe show Time Traveller.

“You triumphantly cycled into Barcelona?” I asked her yesterday.

The second victim of bike-killer Sarah Hendrickx

The second sad victim of the European bike-killing comedian

“No,” admitted Sarah. “I conked out 60 miles outside… Eleven spokes broke on my wheel, due to weight and general abuse, just treating it really badly. I was going off-road; I was trolling around like a lunatic. I just busted it, basically. I probably had about 120 kilos on it what with my weight and the tools and the clothes and camping gear. I had racks on the back with saddlebags over the top like an old donkey.”

“But you enjoyed it?” I asked.

“I did,” enthused Sarah. “I absolutely loved it. The cycling and being out on your own day after day in the sun was fantastic.”

“You said before you went,” I reminded her, “that you’d never really been on your own for three weeks. Didn’t the loneliness drive you up the wall?”

“During the day when I was biking it was fine,” Sarah explained. “In the evenings, I didn’t know what to do with myself really. But I was exhausted, so I mostly slept early. Sitting in too many restaurants on your own is a little bit bleak.”

“Last time we talked,” I said, “you had encountered a Norman Bates type psycho hotelier. Did you meet any others en route?”

“No, but I met a couple of very keen Belgian cyclists. I was older than them and cycling faster than them. A lot of the road cyclists in France and Spain were wearing all their gear – the Lycra and stuff – and they would clap and cheer me when I went past. There were a few other people touring round on holidays on bikes, but no other women on their own.”

“You were really going to Barcelona to exorcise your personal demons, weren’t you?” I asked.

Sarah outside Sagrada Familia in Barcelona

Sarah outside Sagrada Família in Barcelona, where she was exorcising personal demons

“That was the point. Absolutely.”

“So what happened?” I asked.

“That’s in my show,” laughed Sarah, “so you can piss off. Come and see the show.”

“Is it going to have an uplifting ending?” I asked.

“Of course it’s going to be uplifting,” replied Sarah. “It’s going to be fabulous! There’s going to be singing. It’s gonna be great!”

“You’re going to be singing?”

“Yeah. Yeah. I’ve got lots of good things to talk about, but I’d have done the trip without the show. In your life, you end up thinking this sort of ‘different stuff’ is difficult to do, but you just have to take that one first small step. Once you’re in it, it’s easy: you’re just getting on with it. But it’s that’s the first transition bit people struggle with.”

“So what are you doing next year?” I asked. “Cycling up Everest?”

“I thought Afghanistan might be a nice little cycle route,” laughed Sarah. “There’s nothing like a few landmines to keep you on your toes.”

“Could you write a book about this last trip?” I asked.

“I don’t think there’s anything interesting enough for me to fill a whole book, but there might be something about the concept of having little adventures. Anybody can have an adventure, regardless of their budget or physicality. There are things that anybody can do.”

“So no concrete plans for next year?” I persisted.

“Well,” said Sarah, “I’ve been talking to my other half about cycling from the Spanish border to the Italian border right across France… or across the Pyrenees.”

“Is your other half proud of you?” I asked.

“Very proud of me,” said Sarah. “I think most people thought I wouldn’t do it. They were surprised I stuck it out, didn’t get fed up, didn’t just sit in a corner and cry. They were like: Bloody hell… She’s still going! Her bike’s broke and it’s pissing with rain and she’s still going.

“You managed to destroy two bikes, didn’t you?” I asked.

“I did,” said Sarah. “I got caught in a number of thunderstorms. I got stuck up a mountain in a thunderstorm with a broken bike that I had to push up the mountain. That was fairly bleak. But it was all character-building stuff.”

“So you’ve undergone a sea change?” I asked.

“No,” laughed Sarah. “I’m still an anxiety-ridden, panic-attacked person. That hasn’t changed in the slightest. I’m just a bit browner-skinned and capable of riding 500 miles I didn’t know I could do before. And I don’t want to go to work ever again. Cycling round France for a living would be absolutely marvellous. I think you should go somewhere yourself, John, and have a little adventure.”

“It smacks of doing healthy things,” I said. “If I eat healthy food, I come out in a rash.”

PainAuChocolat_LucViatour_Wikipedia

She didn’t just have a sweet roll, she ate her own body weight

“Well,” Sarah said, “despite cycling for six or seven hours every day and burning 6,000 or 7,000 calories a day, I did manage to put on weight. I have eaten my own body weight in pain au chocolat and Orangina on the basis of thinking: I’m burning calories – I need to eat! I need to eat!

“I was eating eight pain au chocolats a day for snacks. I think I was mainlining pain au chocolats. It was an excuse to eat as much as I liked and not get markedly fatter. So the Hendrickx Diet you mentioned last time we talked is not a goer or, if it is, I’m not the poster girl for it.

“But it was fantastic. You could pretty much eat what you liked and nothing really atrocious would happen because you were exercising so hard.”

“And now,” I said, “you have to get back to doing boring administrative things for your Edinburgh Fringe show?”

“I think it’s mostly there,” said Sarah. “It’s in the Programme. I’m one above Sarah Millican, so I’m hoping for some of her cast-offs or people who get confused by the whole bulk of the Fringe brochure.”

The two Sarahs vie for attention in the Fringe Programme

The two Sarahs vie for attention in the Fringe Programme

“You wrote your blurb for the show several months ago,” I said. “So what are the selling points you only now know you have?”

“At the moment,” replied Sarah, “I’m trying to write a sub-line for the poster, which will be something like One Woman – 800 Miles – Two Bicycles – 75 Pain Au Chocolats. I suppose it’s about looking for your lost courage, looking for your nerve because we all get a bit safe and dull in our lives and want to know Have I still got it?”

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I fleetingly half-understand how to use Twitter, but East Coast Trains in the UK are still a technological disaster area

Random visual plug for my Fringe show

Random visual plug for my chat show at Bob’s Bookshop

I have just about got the hang of using Facebook, but I have not yet got the hang of using Twitter. It seems to work on the basis of short, inconsequential conversations with people who wander into the Twittersphere.

But yesterday, for a very brief time, I think I half understood it.

I made a day trip from London to Edinburgh and back, to see what will become Bob’s Bookshop – the venue my Edinburgh Fringe chat show is being held in.

I think intimate is the word.

Rather than drive up, taking about 16 hours (return) when I would be able to do nothing else, I got a train up, taking around 10 hours at around half the cost of the petrol. This meant (I thought) I could use my computer.

But the techno-anarchy on the currently government-run East Coast Trains became distracting. These are some of a series of Tweets:

– I am currently travelling in an East Coast train from London to Edinburgh which has two carriages where the heating can’t be turned off…
…‘Luckily’ I am in a carriage where the only problem is the power sockets don’t work and the internet connection is as fast as…
…three dead dodos floating in syrup. Welcome to 21st century rail travel on Britain’s East Coast…

This elicited a reply from Aaron Weight of Xtreme Productions:

– Wow, as fast as that? You obviously don’t frequent train services by Greater Anglia!

To which, as someone who has lived and worked in Norwich, I had to reply:

– They have trains in East Anglia now???

and Aaron replied:

–  Apparently, though I’m still waiting for them to turn up

Comedian Del Strain then cheered me up with:

– Oh dont worry you will be freezing in a few hours.

which developed into this exchange:

JF – I feel I have stumbled into a below-par episode of Doctor Who

DEL – Tom Baker not in it, I’d say – More McCoy then  🙂

JF – Dr McCoy from Star Trek, yes… It’s life, but not as we know it…

There was then a loudspeaker announcement telling us that our carriage had no power in the electricity sockets. Then there was another loudspeaker announcement and I Tweeted …

– They appear to be now evacuating one of the coaches

After a minute or so, something else happened and I Tweeted:

– A loudspeaker announcement throughout the train has now said: “Is it just me, or is it odd?” That was whole announcement.

After a minute or so and another burst of sound from the loudspeaker, I then Tweeted:

– We have now had 20 second burst of loud disco music and a voice in panic saying: “Carriage C is not working!”

The wheels turn but the electricity and WiFi stall

Wheels turn on the East Coast but the electricity & WiFi stall

At this point, Bex Lindsay Tweeted:

– I use East Coast all the time, so your tweets are sadly ringing many bells. Hope you get to Ed soon!

I replied:

– 3rd time I’ve travelled on @eastcoastuk in last 3 months and 3rd time power sockets don’t work
… Two young Japanese opposite me can’t understand concept of sockets with no power and look as if they think it’s a joke by Brits

Bex responded:

– Ah, the British. Well known for the royal family, red buses, and pointless electricity sockets.

I Tweeted:

– I feel a blog coming on. I just need a naked man to run through the carriage with balloons…
… I fear East Coast are developing a sitcom pitch for Sky and are trialing it on us…
… Still needs a naked man with balloons to run through carriage, but we’re only at Durham, so…

In lieu of any streakers, I gave up Tweeting at this point but, about 15 minutes later, five slightly drunk women with spray-on tans and Liverpudlian accents, dressed as if for a hen party (and one wearing a short bridal veil), glided into our carriage – refugees from one of the over-heated carriages. Each of them had a glass of champagne in her hand.

“Sorry, luv,” one said, sitting down opposite me, ”it’s hotter than a fire fight in Syria in the next carriage.”

By now I had reverted to one-to-one text messaging, which I understand more than Tweeting.

MacBook near dead, I texted ahead to Edinburgh. iPhone 35%. iPad OK. Train sockets all dead. Woe is me.

Later, I discovered I had a new Twitter follower, one Caroline Hicks.

Who is she? I thought.

I looked her up and she is a “Wireless Networks & VSAT Researcher” – I found these Tweets from her yesterday…

– On train to Newcastle in carriage with broken air con. @eastcoastuk Giving away tiny bottles of free H2O does not make this okay, FYI…
… Am also trying to buy WiFi from @eastcoastuk. 25 mins later, still can’t pay as only country option avail for my address is Afghanistan.
@eastcoastuk Given that I could fly to Spain return 4 the £ you charge to get to Newcastle, unimpressed.
… Have paid £9.95 for a service that doesn’t work.

It sounds like I was comparatively lucky on my trip yesterday.

When I arrived in Edinburgh, I had a drink with comedian Juliette Burton. Her first question was: “Were there any hen or stag parties on the train?”

She often travels on the route and tells me hen and stag groups often join the train at Peterborough, getting off at Newcastle, presumably to go wild. Then other hen and stag parties get on at Newcastle to go to Edinburgh. She gave me the impression she thought the hen and stag parties heading from Newcastle to Edinburgh are slightly classier.

As we crossed the Royal Mile, I saw the group of Liverpudlian women from the train buying what appeared to be sausages from a stall. One was still wearing her short bridal veil. I was mystified by the fact sausages were being sold in the Royal Mile from a stall.

“Princess Anne is visiting Edinburgh today,” Juliette told me.

“If you spot her,” I said, “ask her if she’ll do a chat for my blog.”

I have heard nothing back yet.

Miraculously, both the power sockets and the very slow WiFi worked on the return trip to London. It must have been an error.

I have a feeling the two young Japanese men who had sat opposite me on the journey up to Edinburgh probably still think it was a joke on them by the wacky Brits.

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Filed under Railway, Twitter, UK