Private Cloud

Here’s where I’m at with my local backup solution:

I have my 4Tb drive, bought in May 2019 at £82:

and my 6Tb drive which I bought in July 2020 at £88 quid:

I can’t remember why upgraded so quickly to the 6. Possibly because my 3Tb drive, bought in 2016, was running out:

The way I manage things is this. I have a mini NAS server on my network. It used to be the GoFlex:

I added the 3Tb expansion drive to that while it was still a going concern, but at some point in 2019, Windows started to threaten not to support the GoFlex OS anymore. So, I bought the Raspberry PI that I now use as a NAS and DLNA server. I put the 3 & 4 Tb drives on that with one as master and the other as backup. Then, when the 3Tb drive threatened to become full or old or whatever, I upgraded to a 6Tb slave drive, with the 4Tb as the master. This is where we still are, and it looks like I’ve got a good 1Tb of headroom on it.

The next upgrade would be to an 8Gb slave drive – this would presently cost £175, but by the time I need it, it will be under £100 in today’s prices at least:

And so the circle of life would continue.

Actual cloud storage would be hard to get at this scale. Maybe Google would charge £240 a year for it:

But… managing the online/offline element of this would be a pain. As it is, the occasional outlay of £80 ish, plus running a Raspberry Pi that cost £50 or so… this is a small, controlled cost.

The net result of this technology is that I can keep my Mac Hard Drive clear of big files I don’t want to lose long-term, and know I have two copies of them (thanks to a nightly rsync job) and I can watch all my old DVDs and videos on my iPad wherever in the house I happen to be.

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Not Having an Affair

You know that old conversational trap “have you stopped beating your wife?”, to which either “yes” or “no” is a bad answer?

Well, the same sort of awkwardness descends over the question of “are you having an affair”. Short answer: no, not even slightly, never, no way, no thank you.

However, if we turn the camera round a little and look at how my behaviour might look to a suspicious outside, I could have a lot of disproving to do if the question was asked.

I’m away from the family home several times a month. I’m often tired and distant. I’m distracted and irritable. I’m constantly on my phone doing who knows what (looking for gigs, a lot of the time). I frequently stay away from home in hotels, doing who knows what (sleeping and occasionally sneaking a pizza).

Essentially, it would be easy to imagine that I’m using stand-up as a cover-up for something more sordid.

The fact that my phone has hours of recordings of the gigs I’ve done doesn’t enter into it.

I might be doing things when I’m NOT on stage.

For example, I’m picking up a woman at Bristol airport in a few days, what’s all that about? (It’s about transporting a fellow act to the gig)

There are three important truths at the heart of my behaviour.

  • I’m a stand-up comedian and this means I have to stand-up comede… it’s a big driver of doing things
  • I’m a loyal husband, father and partner… the only thing I’m going to cheat on is a diet
  • I’m just way too tired to fit anything hanky-panky like in… it looks like way too much complexity for no real pay off

So, although a less morally sincere person might try to leverage ulterior motives into the opportunity of being away from home, I’m just driving to gigs, listening to podcasts, showing off to audiences and then coming home having been relatively lonely in the gaps between.

I mean… I spend gig weekend Saturdays in the library. That’s hardly the behaviour of a casanova.

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Bookings Come and Go

I use a system called Open Comedy to apply for some gigs. It doesn’t offer many gigs and I don’t really know why a system like this isn’t used more widely. Finding and applying for gigs is a complex process that is spread out among lots of people’s different variations on posts, emails, forms and other stuff.

Anyway, a new world record was achieved yesterday. I was offered a gig and before I saw the offer, it was withdrawn.

Was it something I said?

Was it a 4 minute limited-time offer?

An admin error? (Though they asked quite a specific question of me in the invite, which means they knew who I am).

Easy come, easy go. Not a biggie.

I was probably in the middle of planning transport help to a fellow act for a gig in Plymouth at the end of the month. For reasons I can’t fathom, I’m accustomed to going down well in Plymouth… even though it’s really rather far away!

I was sitting on a diary problem this week in that my gig for Saturday had been cancelled, but I still wanted to ensure that I was working. Comedy is a business as well as an occupation, and one must keep one’s utilisation up. Around the time that I was looking into my options for picking up a last minute cancellation, my membership of a certain Facebook group, in which such gigs are posted, disappeared. I had to reapply to be a member, and I was worried about why I had stopped being a member after all these years.

It just goes to show the insecurity of being a performer. On Wednesday night you’re doing new material in a club, which seems to go down well… the very next day you’ve been booted out of the Facebook comedians’ club… was it something someone said about my show? Did I get found out as not a “Live at The Apollo” level comic? Am I on the way down?

Anyway, the admins let me back in…. no idea what happened. Not going to question it.

Over the course of a few hours yesterday, I picked up 5 gigs. Two of them are tonight. The other three came from a promoter who had said they’d get back to me with dates… and then did. Bless him and all who sail in him.

Am I on the way up then?

Nope.

It’s just random factors. We have to take the slings and arrows of performing stand-up as they come to us. Keep trying, keep being funny… let the rest take its course.

It’s exhausting.

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Touring Not Boring

NCF Comedy New Material Night

It’s been quite a week of stuff. I tried some new material out on Wednesday, including this bit of daftness:

Available on other platforms too…

I had a gig on Sunday last where I got to meet and perform with Jonny Awsum. He’s brilliant. Lovely chap.

But we came close to breaking the golden rule of stand-up comedy – two musical comedians on the same bill.

So, I had to play the gig using the piano. This was surprisingly good fun, but a bit of a mental challenge. I’m not accustomed to playing my usual stand-up material on a completely different instrument. On top of that I wanted to be prepared for the new material gig on Wednesday, so I had a lot of preparation to do. There was technology to sort out – to ensure that I had the right tools for the job at my disposal:

The pedal board before I fixed some bugs by removing/replacing bits of it

It’s odd to be preparing for a gig by having to build a footswitch for a looping pedal… But that’s showbiz kid.

All in all, though, the challenge of mixing things up is good.

At the new material night, though I did a certain amount of my regular material to open and close the set, I did jump off the ski slope and do a fairly large swathe of either untested or unfamiliar stuff. I’m not really that accustomed to doing new material these days, and being able to bang my way through it, largely from memory/improvisation, and on full performance was a good outcome of having spent some time preparing.

I can, and have, write material on the way to the gig and first perform it out loud on the stage… but being prepared is better.

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The Glamour of Touring

Woolley Edge Services, M1 Northbound

So… Sheffield last night…

Didn’t happen.

Whaaaat!?

In fairness, having done two nights of Sheffield last weekend (as well as two Derbys), I was feeling kind of funny about doing two more the following week… but that’s how a gig diary can be.

However, I got an email yesterday morning changing my 2 gig schedule this weekend into a 3 gig schedule. I was at the lovely ROFL Newcastle under Lyme gig last night, opening, and then tonight I’m in Derby for an opening set, and then in Newcastle to close.

More gigs is always more fun and a greater chance to develop the craft and make interesting things happen.

One small problem.

My plans for the weekend include accommodation. On the basis that I was in Sheffield, I booked a meet up with a showbiz pal in Wakefield, preceded by an inglorious night’s stay at a bleak Travelodge at Woolley Edge Services on the M1 (Northbound, the good side). This led to a 1hr 45minute drive from gig to hotel room, which is almost as far as it would have been to drive home!

However, as I’m on approximately the good side of Derby from here, and as these sorts of weekend have their own strange parallel universe into which I step, I’m only seeing the positives. The plans changed, but overall, it’s better and I prevailed.

Last night’s gig was great fun. The day before it wasn’t much fun. We had something of a rehearsal schedule bombshell dropped on us from my daughter’s show, and this has messed up some plans for a short holiday in half term. I’ve just spend an hour or so at the Costa in the services trying to unpick that particular issue. Half term in October has been moved back to Easter! Apparently.

So, with a rather tense day, in which various things went wrong, I bumbled off to Newcastle under Lyme, with a car that was running out of fuel. I took a detour into Solihull to refuel it (good idea), listened to some podcasts and arrived in plenty of time for the gig.

What interested me about the performance was that I delivered a slightly faulty version of my set pieces, but also added some nuances to it that I’m not used to adding.

This was fuelled by two very important things:

  • This is a venue I’ve played enough times to feel very at home with
  • The sound was loud and GOOD

So, I’m on a stage where I remembered that you have to move the mic stand a little off centre to stop it wobbling about… and where I know the room intimately, and everything I’m doing is bouncing back to me with clarity. I can hear what’s going on, and I’ve no particular insecurity about being on that stage… and sure, I fluff a few lines here and there, and I have a bit of business with some disruption in the room… but…

It turns out that the more frequently you do your stuff, the more you’re able to spot places to add extra zing to it. Maybe the audience were particularly nice, thus inspiring me… maybe I was bored of the conventional way of delivering that material, it being my 5 gig of the last 7 days… who knows… but I noticed a few places where I unconsciously happened to do the material better.

I need to watch the recording, since these directorial tweaks are probably worth doing some more.

I’m not really surprised to find myself developing my act through doing it lots. That’s fundamentally how acts develop… but I’m feeling lucky to have the opportunity to be in this position. It’s been a long road out of the pandemic’s impact on my comedy life, and while I’ve done plenty of great gigs since things opened back up, this recent run has been a real boost.

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About Last Night

The disruptions from one corner of a room can be ignored if the rest of the room makes more noise… but in a relatively small audience, not addressing the disruption can be more of an issue.

The above is the highlights reel of a gig where I decided to deal with what was going on. There’s one-off comedy to be found in those situations… there were some stock lines in there, but most of what’s in the above video is stuff I needed to come up with in the moment. I think it’s quite interesting.

A couple of moments stand out for me.

I started delivering the punchline to my second “song title” joke too soon. I had to back up a little bit to get the joke teed up. It shows the rate at which punchlines can come to you when you’re in flow.

The think you can’t quite see in this video is what I was thinking as I started to address the song the room needed to hear at the end of the gig. I’d decided to play that song, while I was doing the one before it. My brain was multitasking like hell (you don’t see me playing the song in question) and I had to stop myself from trying to write a song while I was performing another… All I knew when I started speaking before the last song shown is that I was going to sing the song… but I had no idea what I was going to play.

I start playing a chord… then I stop a moment. What I’m thinking is “Why the hell am I playing this A chord?” and then “How does the key of A work for improvised songs?” and then “Oh sod it, just play a chord related to it, and follow yourself”.

What we end up with is musically confused, but in the same way, it’s also in the moment… mercifully brief too.

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The Saturday in the Middle

Weekend gigs are a mixed blessing. On the one hand, the focus of doing consecutive nights at the same club, and the sense of being on tour are both very useful to the craft of stand-up. On the other hand, between kicking out time at the hotel on the Saturday and opening time of the club on Saturday night, there’s a strange sense of being displaced, homeless, and time filling.

I have coffee, so it’s fine.

This weekend is an even more extreme version of the above, because I’m doubling up. I’m simultaneously playing both Derby and Sheffield this weekend. The clubs are just over an hour away from each other, so while the middle section of the show is happening at each, the act that’s doubling (or sometimes both acts, swapping places) has to rush between them, hoping to arrive in time and the right frame of mind to perform the second show of the night.

In terms of tuning in the performer brain, this is all very useful stuff. The more gigs you do in a small period of time, the more match fit you are, and the less self-consciously you’re executing the performance. This leaves more space in your head for developing the material and craft. However, the more gigs you do in a small period, the more exhausted you can get, leading to the opposite.

I never said this was easy.

If it were easy, I’m not sure I’d bother doing it.

So, I’m hiding out in the East Midlands Designer Outlet. I’m somewhere near Mansfield, and I’ve half a mind to visit Chesterfield, just because I can. Maybe I’ll do that shortly. To most of the people here, the Designer Outlet is a place to spend the hard earned cash on cheap products from well-known brands. To me, it’s free parking and a place to get coffee.

Last Night

I’ve had a number of recent experiences where I’ve become inured to things about my life. I no longer enjoy hearing my name mentioned… not that I particularly did, but I particularly don’t these days. I don’t have a huge concern about what I look like on screen, having edited videos of myself to the point that I see the on-screen me as just some pixels. I also don’t feel the stakes of any individual gig are so high in terms of what it says about me as a comic.

To a degree, you’re supposed to use each gig you do as a chance to get better or get more gigs. The trick to that is to do that retrospectively, rather than load it as pressure on yourself.

In particular, with a mad dash to gig 2 in Sheffield last night, I was keen to make sure that Derby wasn’t thrown away. It’s easy when doing a double to ruin the first gig because your head’s at the second, or worrying about the journey.

If I did two things right in terms of opening Derby last night, they were:

  • Arriving early – avoiding at least one of my trips to a comedy club to be in any way a rush
  • Keeping tight to timings and not worrying about which exact material I packed into the set

It’s easy to see one’s set as a rule book, when in fact it’s just a set of guidelines and some useful scaffolding. With an opening set, it’s easy to think you need to deliver your precise set in order and take no chances. In fact I did something different last night. I did as much as possible to make myself present and in the moment in the room I was in. I followed what the audience needed, what subject had come up in the MC’s opening, and I wove in the bits of my set which I had time to fit in.

If I wrote down the set list from last night’s opening, then it would look pretty normal, with just a few asides here and there. I’m not suggesting it was in any way freewheeling. However, it was also not pre-ordained. I did, at each moment, what I felt was the next right thing to do, following and abandoning the recipe in whatever measure I wanted to.

Being in the moment is important. It went ok… but the big challenge is doing a second set, after the adrenlaine of doing the first one has worn off, without making it seem like a do over of the first set.

And I really needed a poo.

Hot Footing it to Sheffield

There’s no drama to report about my journey from one venue to the other. I ended up having about 15 minutes or so to set up the guitar, grab a drink, meet the other acts, and be ready to go on.

No time for a poo.

What I found when I hit the stage was a room divided into different groups. There was a slightly tired group in 2/3rds of the room whom I needed to work. There was a disruptive group in the corner.

Stuff happened, some of which fell flat because of the disruption. However, I’ll call it a qualified win.

Which brings me to the last thing I’m inured to.

When you perform two gigs on the night, you learn to become inured to audience reactions. It’s the same you. It’s the same night. In Edinburgh Fringe gigs, it can even be the same postcode, but the reaction you get from one room to the next can be quite different. While I’d never blame an audience for their reaction, because there’s always a different way it might have been played, which might have been better, the big lesson about getting a different response in different situations is to take it on the chin. Because it’s short lived.

Apres Gig

After a nice chat with the MC, Phil, I headed to my luxury (not) Premier Inn in Mansfield for the sweet embrace of sleep. I didn’t manage to grab a meal along the way, so I went to bed technically hungry, though not especially feeling it.

I did watch an episode of Toby Hadoke’s Doctor Who podcast:

I’d recommend watching this series. This episode is the first I’ve watched, but I’ll be seeing more. There’s something very intimate and homely about Toby sitting back on his sofa talking about a subject of which he’s truly enthusiastic and expert. It has no pretensions and it feels homemade, but that’s entirely its charm. What a lovely man Toby is, the perfect partner to wind down with.

What’s Next?

I’m going to try to edit highlights from last night’s show into a youtube clip, if indeed that’s possible. Some stuff happened, but I don’t know whether I can tell the story with an edited version of the gig… we’ll find out.

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Make ‘Em Laugh

The worst thing you can do in comedy is deliver, consistently, what you think is expected of you.

This is something of a dilemma, since when you court bookings from comedy clubs, the thing you want to advertise is that you’ve provably made audiences laugh a lot in the past, and you plan to do exactly that at any gig they offer you. You’re offering to meet an expectation. Indeed, the more you try to progress in comedy, the more you want to subscribe to some sort of career path where you’re doing the sort of things that would be expected of someone with the capabilities that you hope you actually have.

In other words, in order to gain recognition, we probably try to dance to someone else’s tune… but to be genuinely funny and develop the art and craft of it, that’s the wrong formula.

Today I did some geeking out and released Haikulator.com. It’s something I intended to do ages ago. I registered the website address and then forgot about it. All because someone discovered the original and tweeted about it.

However, for reasons unrelated to marketing haikus, or progressing my art on a specific career path, I dropped Haikulator.com into “production” today. I then showed it to my kids.

My son wanted to find something amusing in it, but couldn’t… so I started reading the Haikus to him in an artistic way. He laughed a lot. So did it. It was fun. We followed it up with the Bibulator and Nth Commandment, each of which is a silly computer program I wrote 20 years ago to amuse me, probably while sitting in a towel after a late night shower.

Why do these things?

Because they amuse,

For the hell of it.

There’s no other secret to comedy other than create stuff you find amusing and share it with like-minded people.

All career paths are only important in themselves, and are a way to open doors to certain creative opportunities… but they come after the creativity itself has dictated what’s worthwhile.

I’ll leave you with an excellent poem from Alexis Dubus about being a comic.

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What Does This Picture Say?

A picture like this can tell you a few things.

It probably says that I should dust my car more.

Those of you in the know would say I drive a VW, and I do. It’s a Passat, well recognised.

It says that I was playing a Fatboy Slim track… but why?

This picture was taken last Sunday in Aldi car park… because I’m living my best life. What it really says to me is that it’s August, I’m not in Edinburgh, I’m looking for ways to share something of personal cultural relevance with my daughter (not pictured), and that I’m feeling nostalgic.

This was a track that Ian Fox chose to be part of the run in that we used before The Great Big Comedy Picnic. I don’t recall a time when we didn’t use this track, so it may have been used every year I was part of the Picnic, a tenure which I think ran from 2005 through to my last Picnic in 2012. My daughter probably heard this song while in utero, with my wife often sleeping behind the curtain of the venue while I was doing the Picnic.

She liked the song.

It explained why I said, at the checkout in Aldi, that we had to check out now, like a Funk Soul Brother.

She didn’t realise that was a good joke, and reply with “Nice one. I like to praise you”, which is the correct response to anyone saying “Funk soul brother” near the phrase “check out”.

Edinburgh is slightly nearer to this house than the old house, but still seems remarkably far away. We had some chairs to ship to Dunfermline, and I’d offered to make the trip up there… just for a few minutes. Sadly, I’m still down here in Warwickshire, and the Fringe is happening 100% without me.

Booo!

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The Turbulence of Change

It’s been about 11 months since we moved into this house, and I think we’re finally getting life into a stable position. That said, there are still a few big changes still bedding in.

Day job wise, I’ve just moved to a new client, the third client I’ll have worked with from this house. It was good that the house move came while deeply within the contract I started last April. It eased the process of changing my home life to have the continuity of the same team to work with professionally. What a team they were, and what excellent work we did together.

Back in May I switched to a new organisation and client, and learned a lot. However, I also learned that I was acting like a bit of a square peg in a round hole. We sought a solution to this a few weeks back, and since Tuesday, I’m now an unknown shaped peg in an unknown shaped hole in a new contract. So far, so good.

When we moved, my wife’s workshop was in Witney. This was a bit of a commute, and we made the decision, around the same time as I switched contract in May, to move her business to Shipston on Stour. This we did, putting in a decent amount of work to execute the move.

10 weeks later, we moved her again.

She’s now in a shop in Shipston, and this time we intend to stay put for the year.

I think it’s fair to say that these changes come because they’re a good idea, but they’re not necessarily always part of a grand master plan. Opportunity, lessons learned, ideas formed, all play a part… then you find yourself in a position that you can build upon.

We’ve got a few village shows to take her business to, in the next weeks. We already completed the local show in Brailes, and we’re in Tysoe in a couple of days. This is a chance to get word of the Upholstery Business out to the locals, as well as to sell some cushions. Cos why not.

Stand-up has been a little quite in the last couple of weeks, as the Fringe shuts down most of the comedy industry, and as I’ve had other fish to fry… but it’s about to hot up again. This will run me ragged, but hopefully in a good way.

It’s unavoidable that I’m still a cranky overweight man heading rapidly towards 50. However, I’m trying to remain self aware.

I get the medical profession to take it in turns to tell me I’m overweight. I’m doing something intended to reverse the direction of my size changes at the moment, and I have lost something… possibly tension in the belt.

As for being grumpy… well, it’s been a tough few months, and I’ve not always been as sunny as I like to present myself. Stage Ashley, when things start to really work, is kind of the person I’d prefer to be. He annoys my wife (and me sometimes), but he’s also positive, cheerful and giving.

Professional Ashley is harder work. Grumpy Professional Ashley is the worst. Having the knowledge and experience to see through something that’s professionally lacklustre, and then also being ground down by it, can only lead to a grimness of disposition that I don’t like to have. I’m delighted to be getting myself out of this rut, though there has been some collateral damage along the way.

I was a little mean to an author with an article I was editing the other day. They had taken on board something I’d suggested, but really missed a couple of vital points. I think, in truth, they had approached the process with the wrong attitude, and the grumpy nature of my feedback set us completely in opposition. I think it’s possible for these relationships to tolerate one side being grumpy, or incorrectly intentioned, but not both.

In this instance, I think the author had decided that they alone would decide how things should be, and the editor must simply agree or fine tune. I had decided, from their second draft, that they’d failed to address a couple of major issues already raised on their first draft. The way I pointed this out was the exact way to antagonise them. My bad.

In this instance, the author had already abandoned a previous article with me for similar reasons of them feeling that they couldn’t satisfy my feedback (probably because they thought I was wrong, or that they were more right). I finished that article for them. I’d forgotten that this had happened, though. I freshly provided them with the same sort of blunt feedback that they really can’t handle.

My bad.

Their bad too.

What we learn from this is that Grumpy Professional Ashley is not the guy I want to be.

I also don’t want to be the person who at review says “stop giving me feedback and let me just have this my way”, which maybe I have also become in some ways recently.

So… with changes settling down, there’s room to develop a nicer me…

But I probably won’t.

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