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Previous Posts

An Open Letter To HSBC
Pay What Now?
Hearing the music
When to quit
I am not as other men
Tonight I was funny
Attack of the Drones
Notes on your set
Why Pissing off a Fellow Comedian was Fun

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Monday, January 15

An Open Letter To HSBC

I'm truly sick of the antiquated services offered by HSBC. They recently reskinned their online banking experience and attempting to use it has cemented how truly out of touch the organisation is with the modern information age.

Here's a letter to them which I can't send by email as they don't provide email support, having opted for "Live Chat" or Twitter. While you might applaud such a modern idiom for support, I can't help but think that it's probably motivated by cost-saving, rather than forward thinking.

Dear HSBC,

I've had the misfortune to be a customer of yours for the last five or so years. Given that you still own much of my house, and your mortgage rates aren't too extortionate, I don't see that I can escape this relationship anytime soon.

While nothing has gone wrong with any of my accounts or security, nothing you have provided can be described as excellent in any way. There were a few moments when one of your live chat representatives explained how I could pay a lump sum off my mortgage, which was helpful. Apart from that, banking with you has been a massive inconvenience.

I've complained about this before, but let's start gently with your insistence that I should pay money in at a branch using your automated machines. I'm all for automation. Especially when you try to prevent me from seeing a cashier - hiding them in hard to reach corners of some of your branches. The thing is I'm expected to fill in a form to pay money in via a machine. Then input that same data into the machine. A form!? In 2018! If your automated machine just a front for a 1970s paying in slip?

That would be fine, but the machines tend to be very fussy about paper that may one have slightly bent, rejecting attempts to use them.

My solution to this these days is to go across the road to the Lloyds branch where I still have a minor account, paying in the money via their machine which just works and doesn't require me to use a pen and then transferring the money across to my HSBC account if I need to.

Look what you made me do!

That's just my warm-up complaint. The real problem is with your online banking. I don't know where you got usability experts from, but you need to replace them. Allow me to describe the annoyance you put me through last night while I tried to pull some figures together for a tax return.

In order to calculate the expenses that are allowable for tax, I need to read historic transactions from 18 months ago. I can't search for them by name as the search is limited to 12 months. To read transactions for certain dates I need to work out which statement they would be on. This involves setting the statement year, looking through the list of statement documents, which are dated for the last day of the statement, trying to augur which documents I've read so far, and which one covers the right date range, clicking into it to review transactions and then, when done, clicking on a button to return to the list of statements which adds a few seconds of delay as the whole user-interface re-loads.

That "Loading..." box is the thing which destroys my concentration, makes me lose my place, makes it harder to remember which statement I now need to drill into and slows down an already clunky workflow. Did I mention that the choice of on-screen layout, which seems optimised for giant square screens that don't exist, reducing the likelihood that anything I want to see is on the screen without scrolling?

I should point out that I work in IT, so I'm immediately aware of some of the reasons this is the way it is. Your underlying data model involves documents, not keeping the transactions kicking around, hence the date limited search and the document-centric browsing of historic data.

I can't believe, however, that in a world where people can scroll comfortably through terrabytes of news feed data on the likes of Twitter or Facebook, that a bank can't provide me with a timeline of every transaction that's ever occurred on my account in a way that's seemlessly usable. Any excuse you might come up with about what's technically possible is eclipsed by the fact that there are countless examples of ease of use online proving you wrong.

Talking of ease of use, it's time that you got rid of that annoying secure key. The idea may justify some security expert's sense of self-worth, but you can't honestly expect your customers to either carry around a losable flimsy bit of plastic, or wait until they're near it to conduct their transaction. Yes, I know you can do a lot without it, but not everything. It honestly beats me why on earth you think that my mobile phone, with more compute power than a moon launch, and dedicated encryption hardware, is less secure than your silly little random number generator.

To conclude I'm trapped in this abusive relationship with your inadequate information technologists. To move bank would be problematic, to remain leaves me banging my head against the desk in despair.

Yours, a disgruntled customer.

Monday, August 14

Pay What Now?

I’ve charged for shows at the Fringe in the classic paid-venue model. I’ve run free shows, which are horribly named after the venue cost to the performer, rather than the expectation on the audience. There’s nothing Free about the Free Fringe. The recent Pay What You Want model seems to be the most confusing of all, though.

If a pay what you want show is being charged the usual guarantee on box office sales that a paid show is being charged, with similar commissions and ticket printing costs, etc, then the pay what you want element is really a way to give out additional comps in the hope of receiving tips in a manner pretty damaging to business. Surely the point of the non paid venue route is that you reduce your risk as a producer?

The pay what you want model offered by “Heroes of Comedy”, at venues like Monkey Barrel, is a lot fairer. The venue takes a modest registration fee and a small cut of any box office sales. The show gets the rest, including anything that goes into the bucket. Great, right?

I reckon not.

A quick overview of the model, first. The performances are ticketed. The tickets are not 100% of the seating allocation, but probably close to that. Tickets are maybe £5. If the show sells out, you have to wait outside in the hope of getting in, but you’re also effectively told the show is full, so you may not. If the show is not sold out, you can show up without a ticket and get in. At the end of the show, the bucket speech is there to ask non ticket holders for a voluntary contribution.

This seems to make sense. It’s confusing when there’s a sell out, since you feel like you can’t get in, and might decide to leave on that basis, except in both shows I chanced my arm at waiting for, I got in.

I think it’s actually wrong… if your show is good.

Let’s take Phil Nichol’s show as an example. Most people had paid £5. I was in for free. He did the bucket speech, including asking for a tenner for a USB stick of cool stuff. I gave him a tenner. Most of his audience would have given him £5 a head for that show, and some of those would have given him the tenner, but since they’d all already paid, most people walked away from his bucket.

My view is that the model limits the audience members to a minimum payment and limits the size of the audience to the ticket allocation… by default.

In other words, to prevent the risk of being underpaid, or having lack of commitment from audience planning to see your show, you forego the opportunity to be paid nearly twice as much.

When we saw Stuart Goldsmith in 2015, his free show bucket speech put a clear price on the ticket, way above the average for a free show. The show was good and he got paid its worth. More than you’d dare put on a ticket price for a “reservation against a pay what you want price”.

Pay what you want bucket speeches are generally more awkward than free venue speeches, because you have to accept that ticket holders are already under no obligation to pay and probably shouldn’t.

I think the model doesn’t work. I also think it doesn’t NOT work. It’s more of a Five Pound Fringe with a Free Fringe stand-by queue… confusing for punters.

That said, the venues are very nice!


Here I am, fighting the Blogger app on the iPad on the train back from the Fringe. It’s time like this that I remember why I don’t like travelling with other people. I’m surrounded by some squawking tossers who don’t seem to know how to find their seats, how to carry their luggage, how to keep their children occupied, and some of them smell mysteriously of carrot and coriander soup.

I guess the obvious answer is that some people eat soup before they travel and it takes away most of their common sense.

Ignoring a possible trip to a Fringe show as a child, I’ve been to a lot of Fringes. I came twice when I was a student (94 and 95, I think). Since then, I started coming again in 2002, performing from 2003. My daughter was born at the end of 2012, so we missed 2013 and 2014 and then picked up again in 2015. No, you’re right, this isn’t that interesting a collection of raw data. What’s the final answer? Well, this year is my 16th visit to the Fringe.

A lot has changed in the course of the Fringe in the time I’ve known it, but some constants remain:

You can’t see it all.

There’ll always be some tosser spoiling something or other.

The city is full of naive young people.

Some oddly posh person is examining their fellow man as though specimens.

Some people are learning the craft in a most embarrassing way.

There are examples of utter genius lurking around the corner.

Genuine true-blue performers are always going to be appreciated…

… except the unlucky ones who accidentally land somewhere obscure.

Edinburgh’s geography will take its toll.

Time will temporarily cease to function correctly.

Emotions fluctuate.

Money is an abstract concept.

Keeping score is pointless.

All of which means that commenting on a Fringe visit is pretty tricky to get right, so I won’t try to capture the essence of this one.

We saw 16 shows in the time between arriving at 3ish on Friday and our last show on Sunday night - 11.30pm. That’s not a personal record, nor is it a bad showing.

I delightedly bumped into various folks I know from the stand-up circuit, and wished to have said hello to even more old friends and colleagues, some of whom I spotted, and many of whom clearly had better things to do than stand on street corners in the hope of bumping into me.

These visits are not long enough to fill the Fringe shaped hole in my year, but they are the best we can do, and they’re great.

Wednesday, July 20

Hearing the music

Creativity is a funny old beast. There are some people who make a living from generating ideas and writing high quality drafts of things. There are some of those who can make the magic happen to order a little each day. Then there are those who go through a boom and bust cycle where either inspiration or motivation are lacking, and then suddenly the tap is full flow and won't switch off. The latter can be caused by a looming deadline.

Professionally in my non creative side, which I'm quite creative with in my own way, I can just about force the little each day approach, or indeed a lot each day. In general though, I'm the boom or bust sort. Either I'm in the zone or I'm not.

I've a lot to get a handle on in the next week or so. Some decisions to make, some events to prepare for... Much to do!

I couldn't muster the inspiration. I've used my trick of making it happen to me by attack of the diary. This works to a point, but it doesn't quite turn on the tap.

Then, this evening, as time was running out, ideas started coming to me. Silly nuggets of stuff, edits, fresh takes on things. Even a shopping list of old things to revisit...

It's a bit like the radio was turned on and I could hear the music coming from it.

It's nice when your thought processes kick in.

Perhaps I had made it happen too. Yesterday I went swimming to find inspiration. I found water and cool water at that. I also found aching muscles that had been hiding, dormant. Novelty breeds novelty, I guess.

If I were a better writer, I'd know how to end thi....

Saturday, July 9

When to quit

If you're in a situation where:

  • You have to beg to get the slightest of things done
  • Your contribution is undervalued
  • Efforts around you go into things of arguably less importance/urgency than your work
  • The default answer to your any suggestion is no
  • You feel like you're doing all the work
  • When you go the extra mile to reach out to the others, they act as normal

Then get out of that situation.

It's a case of change your circumstances or change your circumstances. Maybe you can make things better, or maybe making things better means giving up.

On balance, a recent decision I made to stop doing a project has proved to be the perfect outcome for me.

Tuesday, July 5

I am not as other men

I think I self sabotage is most conversations. There is a part of my brain asking what the most inappropriate or daft thing to say is. I then choose to say something from the list of options.

I would rather make a joke at the detriment of getting respect or trust, than stay silent or say the obvious.

I would rather fill the air with blether than sit bored with the usual run of the mill talk.

I talk in emotive terms and exaggerate to make myself understood.

This is not an illness, it's just a way of thinking that I seem to have cultivated. The down side is that I'm a bit of a dick. The up side is that I really try to hold the community of people I work with together with a fun way of expressing ourselves. When it works it's fun. I realise that a few people who are accustomed to presenting their ideas to me will have some adjusting to do when they come to work with others.

The downside is when I can't get the message across. When the communication style is not working, when the common language isn't there, when I can't get what I expect... Then I'm useless.

That's the next frontier. Either learn to appeal more broadly, or accept a broader range of contributions from other, or filter whom I work with more carefully.

Right now, everything's working just fine.

Friday, July 1

Tonight I was funny

Part of the drug of standup is that the gig can go either way. In fact the more you seek to guarantee the outcome the less the outcome will meet your expectations. To be successful on stage you have to be live, which means clearly open to the chance of failure.

This is opinion, and what does my opinion count for, eh?

I've not enjoyed a lot of things about the last two weeks. I took to the stage tonight with some difficult decisions on my mind. (Note: to anyone worried about my wellbeing, these decisions are not life changing or especially important.) I didn't have a plan, but you don't when you are MCing.

Tonight I was funny. Laughter happened, I made it. No idea how... Not entirely sure what I said. Nobody will care by tomorrow morning.

That's ok. Standup is my thing for me. I do it because it's part of what I do. I'm me because it is a part of what I do.

My daughter gets it. She knows that Daddy has a job where he goes out to make people laugh, and that is called a gig. It's simple for her. She thinks I probably wobble my face and blow raspberries to do it, but you can't know everything at just three.

I like what I do.

The central delight for me in standup is this. You have a thought and it makes someone laugh. The time from having the thought to getting the laugh is the potency of the delight. The shorter the time, the better.

Improvising some Brexit jokes without an agenda was fun tonight. Riffing on audience comments was lovely. I really should get out more!

Tuesday, May 31

Attack of the Drones

An Army Of Crawlers

Here's an example of a recent comment on a recent WordPress article (yes, I do both WordPress and Blogger).

I want to to thank you fօr thks great read!!
I certaіnly enjoyed every bit of it. I've got you bookmarked to loоk
at new things you

Now. It turns out that this is just a robot. I call it the sycophantic robot, since it seems to come along to many of my posts, say something lovely, yet vapid, and have no apparent agenda. I don't know what it's trying to do. Perhaps:

  • See whether its posts hit the site right away, and if so, then post adverts for viagra
  • See whether it can get generic praise to be approved and then, subsequently, edit the post to advertise viagra
  • See whether it can strike up a friendship with me and sell me viagra directly
  • See whether it can improve hits on some other site for some odd reason
I suspect that some sort of global SEO strategy is to blame for this. Fascinating.


Telephone call today:

Her: Hello this is Susan Parker. I've heard you were in an accident that was not your fault.
Me: I'm sorry. What's this about.
Her:  You might be able to claim compensation.
Me: Sorry, who are you?
Her:  Susan Parker.
Me: Are you human?
Her: Yes.
Me: Well if that's the case, why is there a long pause when you speak to me?

Line drops

This was a robot. A chat bot. No idea how it worked or why they've got robots doing ambulance chasing. The number was 02079461848 and it's definitely a robot.


Saturday, April 30

Notes on your set

I've been helping some non-comedians make stand-up sets recently. Here are some random notes that came up. They are probably good advice to anyone doing a stand-up set:
  • Show us how you feel about it
  • Are you telling us the punchline before you then explain it?
  • Can you make that bigger?
  • We've all heard a joke shaped like that, can you find another angle on it?
  • If that really happened, what would it be like?
  • Make a more detailed comparison between this subject and the other one
  • Choose the words more carefully to avoid appearing to punch down
  • You've drawn us a big picture there - what else would fit those details? Compare it to that.
  • Why are you taking the time to tell us this bit?
  • What's the narrative arc? Can you bring it together?
  • Why don't you wrap it up by referring back to that previous joke?
  • That's a pregnant phrase - try coming up with several punchlines for it and choosing your favourite.
  • There's a bit of a song that goes like that phrase
  • Just take a moment to reflect on what you just said and give us a reality check
  • Very technical, why don't you make a joke around how the technical term is "something vulgar"
  • That might be funny if you accuse someone in the audience of thinking it
There may be wisdom lurking in the above. Maybe not.

Friday, March 4

Why Pissing off a Fellow Comedian was Fun

A couple of weeks back, I got a notification via Facebook that there was a reply to a comment I'd made on someone's post. When I went to read that reply, I didn't have the right to see the post. It turned out that I also didn't have the right to see the comedian in question's profile anymore. BLOCKED! Wow!

This is not a big deal. It's really not important to be connected with every comedian under the sun, whether we've gigged together or not. I can't say that the individual is someone I particularly like or respect; I'd been finding him intolerably brash on Facebook, and he probably felt it, even though I kept my comments fairly jovial, and I'm glad not to be reading of his constant dick-swinging any more.

It's interesting, though. It turns out that some folks, who see themselves as deeply righteous and good people, cannot take a tiny bit of gentle piss-taking without their egos exploding. In the case of certain individuals, I kind of get that. I known one comedian who is so out there and outspoken, that the majority of things she reads about herself are from embittered anti-feminists or anti-atheists attacking her because it helps them deal with their own inadequacy. In this case, though, a white alpha-male sort, I would have expected a little more capability to take some light ribbing.

I'll not name the comedian, except to say he's an Australian with a grand sense of self.

The two episodes which provoked me to poke a tiny pin in his bubble were thus.

He'd done a show somewhere and someone came up to him after the show and told him an insensitive, racist joke. The right way to deal with this, in my opinion, is either to ignore it, or to say "that sucks" and then move on. According to this person's own post, he gave the fellow a 40 minute tirade, worthy of the closing act on an outrageous bill, tearing so many strips off him, that he would have won a medal in strip tearing offing.

My comment to this post:

"You're no shrinking violet"

I thought that was rather amusing, given the brash dickish behaviour this guy was boasting of.

Latterly he posted about how he was sick of being taken advantage off and that he felt the more he did for people the less he was respected for it. This from someone who dealt with a pay dispute with a club by bitching about it on Facebook, rather than negotiating pay terms with the club directly - a club who are trying to negotiate. I won't say the club's in the right or wrong, but perhaps someone who uses Facebook to air their contractual stuff is hardly a meek hard-done-to trying-to-please-everyone type.

My comment:

"You're like a modern day Jesus"

His response was something like

"Go suck my dick you fucktard"

My response

"Sorry, you're not Jesus. You're much too sweary"

It's really childish banter. It got me blocked.

I hope it's amusing to read about. It sort of still tickles me. Especially since other social media platforms are trying to get us to connect. I can't connect with him - he'll only see it as an attack on his huge, yet fragile, ego.

If you can guess who this bellend is, please get in touch. Ten points to anyone else who can take more piss out of him. I suspect he's actually a bully who justifies his behaviour because he claims to uphold socially just viewpoints.

Monday, February 8

Can I Just Say That iPads are Lame

That's not really the theme of this post, which I'm writing on the iPad I bought about a year ago. I'm also sorry to admit that we are now a two iPad family, having switched the Windows tablet for one a few days back too...

... They're great until you try to do something off the beaten track with them. I wanted to use a cheap bit of sound cue software. I wanted it to appear in the new side panel, but you can't do that with many apps. I wanted to get the sounds onto it from my Dropbox: I can play those sounds on the iPad, so surely I can save them in its memory and get them to be importable by the sound cue software? Not on your nelly.

iOS seems to sandbox every application so you can't really share files between them. There may be workarounds, but they involve using the computer to move things between apps using the godawful iTunes software. This is basically retarded. Computer file systems have been around since the 60s... Why can't my iPad have one? 

On my android phone, a free equivalent piece of software was able to do the job in no time, having access to the random download folder that my files happen to have wandered into. Easy!

I digress before I've started, though. I guess these sorts of minor trials and tribulations are the theme of today, but this particular challenge was resolved on Friday.

Today's news is that I'm home having performed at my second Leicester comedy festival. The first was 2009's with mine and Hannah's show the Seven Deadly Jokes. Today I was at the same venue, which was really different to how I remember it. I don't think it has moved, I just thing I remember it wrong.

Putting this show together has been the wake up call my set and material needed, but it has been at a significant cost to my stress and sanity levels. And those of those around me.

Last night I did two run throughs of the final edited script. I was going to perform with notes on the stage, but those notes were more of a diagram of the order of the material with a few clues about its internal contents, which I didn't need to look at in the end, since writing the map basically committed a lot of the detail to memory.

Doing two hour long performances back to back is quite exhausting, especially with a tech setup before and after. Given I've been running on fumes anyway, this was even more draining. However, I was able to get through the show without mishap both times and got a good recording down, which I could use for passive rehearsal - i.e. listening to it back and giving myself notes.

This morning went wrong. My daughter's swimming lesson was threatened by the fact that I realised I had left the house without a swim nappy for her. I should have turned back. I realise that now. I took the double or quits strategy of trying to get one at the other end. I went to three shops, with my little girl running round after me like a micro challenge Anneka, and eventually got her the appropriate swim protection. She then had a third of a swimming lesson before it was time to get back out, so late were we running. Some might have aborted the whole mission, but she was so committed to the swim nappy search, and I was telling her about how to cope with a problem, which is either ignore it, live with it, or fix it... Basically we'd decided to fix the problem, so we were committed.

A quick lunch at home and it was time for me to go to Leicester. This resulted in:

Watching 2 shows before mine. Very good.
Doing my show... Hmmm...
Getting the student radio crew who had come to interview me to help me back to the car... Clever!
Doing the interview... Me blethering long answers to familiar questions.
Going off to watch my favourite Fringe act do a greatest hits show... I would have laughed harder, but was too tired and sore.

Not a bad score for a nearly 42 year old on a Sunday afternoon and evening. The comedy festival even tried to banjax things by taking tickets off sale the evening before the show... This somewhat invalidated the two for one offer they then promoted today. Despite this some people came and some of them even laughed.

I will watch the video later on. For now, I can say that I did a new show. I don't know what I think of it, but it went better than the swimming, and worked well with sound cues courtesy of Android.

The iPad's invite was revoked. It was replaced by a side of A5.

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