Thursday, 6 December 2007

The single most simple invention 2: TE-DEE

(originally posted on myspace here)


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"The single most simple invention" actually refers to that lengthy and often mardy tangent I was involved in over at Chris Goode's blog, the one I threatened at some point to try and summarize, the one I printed out yesterday that ran to more than fifty pages of A4, the one where Chris writes about "trying to reinvent" theatre and I get shirty and counter with "but it's the single most simple invention known to man" thinking I'm quoting "Restaurant at the End of the Universe" only it turns out I'm not, because the passage I was actually thinking of goes like this:

""What about this wheel thingy? It sounds a terribly interesting project."
"Ah," said the marketing girl, "Well, we're having a little difficulty there."
"Difficulty?" excalimed Ford? "Difficulty? What do you mean, difficulty? It's the single simplest machine in the entire Universe!"
"Alright, Mr Wiseguy, you're so clever, you tell us what colour it should be."

... and finally after two weeks of fractious debate over the nature and definition of fiction, testimony, irony, God and cats, the tangent ends as I said quite cheerily with me going "this is what comedians do, and it's certainly not candour" and then Chris going "Stand-up comics, yes, YES" and then Chris going "the perfect mix of prepared material, technical facility, responsiveness, interaction, topicality, entertainment, liveness" and finally "All we have to do then is: replace the single figure with a group, preferably; lose the microphone; lose the raised stage; lose the necessity of 'being funny'. But heighten and intensify the sense of entertainment... I can see why you would want a drink in your hand."
So sort of like I said, simple.

And now I'm putting the tangent down and I'm walking away from the tangent. I just thought I'd bung a record of it up here on the blog because it's all stuff I've been thinking about in relation to the now-upcoming Jonah show I'll be doing in January... a show which I've often considered trying to pass off as stand-up, but with longeurs, and hymns. I had a very odd dream about it last night in fact (or rather this morning) where my request to move the audience about and have the run of Shunt's lobby and lift were sniffily rejected on, of all things, ARTISTIC grounds. And then I thought, oh this'll make an interesting post. And then I woke up. They were rejected in my dream by a man called Mischa Twitchin who I've never known be anything other than totally supportive of anything I've ever done... Except maybe the Primo Levi sketch - Maybe that's what the dream was actually about now I come to think of it. That wee fear. Mischa makes a lot of pieces about literature relating to the Holocaust, and I've just written a sketch where Primo Levi goes "Te-dee!" a lot and has his sleeping-pill-powered, imploding gin bagpipes confiscated by the landlady. That's real. I'm back to talking about real life now.

But clearly I've left the writing of these posts long enough for them to start acting like dreams, in other words too long, because: A) They do seem quite confused and boring in hindsight, for which I apologize, but also B) You think you've been concentrating on one thing and then you start writing and it turns out something completely different floats to the surface, like a dead polar bear in a film star's pool where you were expecting William Holden. "Oh Primo!" was finally recorded on Monday night, after I called Nigel to say yes. Apparently the producer recorded himself in the bath for one of the sound effects. Isn't that lovely. It's one of three sketches I have so far got round to writing for Laurence and Gus, and I'm very very pleased with how they've been going. And that's all I'll say for now... I'm not going to complain again about how corridory Broadcasting House is. Although it IS awful. It's awful. Like a check-in desk. You can't take plastic cups in, you've got to pour the BEER BACK INTO THE BOTTLE! And there are only two urinals! That's not liminal! Unless a huge queue of men hanging round the door of the gents - the GENTS! - at half time can be considered liminal because it means "threshold"... So I'll leave it. A friend of mine got married at the weekend. It was lovely. That's what I'll write about next...

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P.S. Anyone whose interest was piqued by yesterday's garbled post about David Rosenberg might find a visit to his website both useful and illuminating (heh-heh-heh).

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

The single most simple invention 1: DOOR

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Is the above a less attractive proposition than the below?

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It's Shunt's new door. I like it. The old one was just a flat grey surface and had to be broken down by the Emergency Services when a reveler got locked in for the night… underground, in the dark, with the rats… imagine. We get a lot of revelers now. "What are they queueing for?" asked Nigel. I know. Closed, the door is the perfect entrance. Opened, everything starts to go a little wrong: a bucket is rattled, names put down if you want to see a show, necks stamped - "Just the write the fucking names down, Simon"… Season at the door "can't stand ditherers" (I had no pen) - But what can we do, ye cannae change the laws of physics...

No-one likes lists. But if they hand people a page of Danielle Steele instead and say that everyone with a page of Danielle Steele will get in to see your show then you're simply left three minutes before curtain running in and out of four-hundred pouting midriffs looking for the one friend you have to hand a page of Danielle Steele to because you couldn't just put their name down on a list...

And you really hope it's worth it... Even though so much fun is clearly being had you really hope something somewhere in the future is being – well – funded by all this. Because if that thing in the future doesn't exist then for two seconds, three seconds, all these beautiful people turn in your head into shiny insects swarming round a corpse. And that's loonythink.

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The shed that stands in the corner of Gary's bar was covered in silver foil to mark a week of Andy Warhol, and it lasted a night. Roland's idea. He was curating for that week, the week of "contains violence". And what did Ned Mond say when he turned up? Something cool about this night being an antidote to the National Lottery ("a tax on the barely affluent") where the wealthy pile in to give artists money for booze and have their photos taken in front of a giant can of soup.

And then he started to tell me about the Nitrate Mining Ghost-towns of South America he'd been looking up on the internet. He'd found one with a theatre. And a population of one. He was thinking of taking a show over.

The audience for our little bit of "contains violence" was limited to the number of headphones. So forty-three, I think. It went well. It's going to be very good when it's finally on at (ie opposite) the Lyric in Hammersmith (there'll be two-hundred headphones by then, and two-hundred sets of opera glasses, and hopefully two-hundred punters standing on the balcony… that's going to look great). In it I had to lip-synch to a speech about "arsehole-bleaching" originally recorded by David (Rosenberg, who made it). The only way to pull it off was to just do it as him, big eyes and arm-span, and so I found that interesting. I've tried lip-synching before, in shows I've made myself, but never come close to getting it right... or rather "never got it right", because it's lip-synching. It's either right or it's wrong. That's also what's so interesting…

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I used to wonder if David always put in these "arsehole" references to weed out the no-fun crowd and stop his work being taken Seriously-For-The-Wrong-Reasons. But then Ned said something about how much easier it is to stage Threat than it is to stage Dread ("because Dread's like… almost the absence of Threat") and how well David pulls it off, and he's right, so now I think it might have something to do with creating that absence of threat, all the bumhole stuff. Like the head-banging to the Dead Kennedys in a neck brace I had to do. Or like the e-mail he sent out requesting the presence of a bank of naked spectators for a photo-shoot to publicize the show. There's a sample of it up there. Except the Lyric aren't going to use this image now. And they didn't like his original title of "Underskirt". And the Lounge is closed now, and with it, that door.

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Nigel who you can just make out backstage, he's going to be curating for three weeks when it re-opens in late January. And yesterday I said: sure I'll do something. I'm going to resurrect something of mine called "Jonah Non Grata". The thing Roland didn't want to do.

The original plan was, well, not to. But before I called Nigel up to say "No" I popped into Christ's Church in Spitalfields for the first time yesterday (I'd just finished milking Money's last money at a corporate voice-over in Moorgate and the door was open) and it was really disappointing. It looked like an enormous, well-lit writing desk. And I thought "Shunt's much better than this rubbish. I should do something there." I looked up the word "liminal" today (Chris Goode's blog very helpfully has a link) and Christ's Church certainly wasn't liminal.

So I might do a late show, close an area off, by the locked front door if I'm allowed. Right down the other end from the shinier revelers. If and when they return. The idea of doing a show about Jonah actually came to me first seven years ago when I was at an audition, playing with a door and thinking about flight and doing something funny. And "Liminal" refers to "the second stage of a ritual". It comes from "limen", which means threshold. So it is the state of not yet passing through a door. So yes, I said "Yes", and we'll see.

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Monty Hall Problem? What Monty Hall Problem?

(originally posted on myspace here)

 Hello again. I haven't been here in ages. Obviously I lack motivation. There is a cure for this though. I will come to it.

I haven't really been writing for Laurence and Gus either which is bad, there's going to be a read-through on Monday... It's just every time I've sat down to write since receiving the commission I've always seemed to end up returning - like Grendel - to a tired squall of my own making on Chris Goode's blog "Thompson's Bank Of Communicable Desire" (all hinted at in my last post - blimey - two weeks back!... It's been going on that long. Well it's over now, and actually it has a happy ending. If you're interested to know more, cut and paste this little honey:
I come in about half-way down and then never shut up. Actually I might try a summing up in my next post. No, come back.)
Anyway, yes, so as I was saying to the producer over a risotto, I am obviously phenomenally unmotivated.

What does Derren Brown suggest? Well now I know because I've finally got round to reading his book (not to motivate myself, no, that was not the idea, no... nor to find out if he uses stooges. He states unequivocally in the book that he doesn't though. I'm a little disappointed by that. I think it's fine if he does. I didn't want to know.) Anyway he suggests "Playing with Pictures". Visualizing the writing of this blog, according to Derren Brown, means that I should picture it from a FIRST-PERSON perspective (ie not looking on at myself writing this, my first clear mistake) and big like IMAX (like the one in Hertfordshire where Miss Meikle and I saw Beowulf - "MONSTAH!" - after driving through the first snow I've seen this winter. Actually, yeah, good thing I didn't stay in London that evening and get some writing done, I'd have missed the snow) I should "make the colours rich and intense", turn up the brightness, bring it in closer, in my face. And finally I should "add sizzle". Thus:

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And it works!

Later on Derren writes about the "Monty Hall Problem", and it's the following episode played out today at lunch (and slightly reminiscent of my conduct in the Thompson's squall) that I am actually here to record:
Me - Jess, do you know about "the Monty Hall Problem"?
Jess (with whom I work, and who is American) - I know about Monty Hall. No.
Me - There's three closed doors, and behind one is car and behind the other two there are goats, and you have to choose a door. Then I open a door behind which I know to be a goat. Okay? Now I ask you if you want to stick with your choice, or change and pick the remaining closed door. What do you do?
Jess - I stick.
Jess - No it's not.
Me - YES! YES! Okay, say there were a HUNDRED doors instead, and you picked one, and then I opened up NINETY-EIGHT doors and they all had goats and there was just now the two doors left again. Yours and mine. Think of the probability. Would you still stick with your first choice?
Jess - Yes.
Me - But that's wrong.
Jess - No it's not.
Me - Wh... why not?
Jess - Because you never asked me how I feel about goats.

Excelsior, Jess! I'll write about Shunt next time. Catch up then.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

(Floor) filler

(originally posted on myspace here)

I think I'm allowed to do this. What follows is some of a response from me to a response posted by Chris Goode in response to responses posted to his response to a Guardian interview with the new head of the Royal Court that name-checked Shunt thus:

"With the formally inventive companies like Punchdrunk or Shunt, I'm always impressed by the exploration of theatrical language. But the challenge is to ally that to rich content. To get those two things working together, you need a writer."

You can maybe guess what followed. Anger, some interesting marking out of artistic territory, and also some depressing and unnecessary marking out of artistic territory - none of the latter, I have to say, from Chris who, I think partly inspired by Sesame Street, appears on paper hearteningly keen on accepting and coordinating the differences between things.

For example: In his response to which this is a response Chris suddenly becomes sidetracked by the idea of "a building that you drop in to pretty much anytime, at least from mid-morning till midnight, and what you're able to do is sit with a rolling theatre event. You can just watch, or you can intervene; you can stay for five minutes or five hours. Like going to a gallery, or the pub, or a church."

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So I responded...
RE: your sidetrack, and churchgoing. The nearest thing to what you seem to be writing about here (and I do indeed pop into a church for the same reason I pop into a gallery, I was thinking about that recently, historically etc.) is the Shunt Lounge, which you don't like, and I'm interested why not. (There was stuff about this between you and Tassos [Stevens] a while back but I found it just very wordy and unclear what either of you were actually ever saying). Is it the public? You see, sometimes there is dancing, but even that relates a bit to what you and Ian are discussing... [The Ian here is Ian Shuttleworth... Shunt's first and greatest critical supporter (sorry that's another Ian, no Ian Shuttleworth hates Shunt) here found sensibly championing the "collective context" of a personal theatrical experience; in other words I suppose, yes your experience is personal, but part of that experience is that you're in a crowd. Even when, as in some promenade work, you choose to leave it.] A lot in fact [You might have to read over that again] Someone please try and untangle dancing's private/communal threads while we're here - and when I saw Bobby Francois [Shunt's first big big show] at the Drome, now I think of it, the audience did at one point start dancing. Just an aside really, not evidence of a project's merit.
And do you know about Nijinsky Karaoke, because your sidetrack has suddenly made that exercise seem very worthwhile?
[Here I post a link to the video up on my homepage. Then I pick up on something Chris says about a work being a testimony, and therefore public, but also necessarily to be presented by the testimonee, which I don't agree with, at ugly length:]
"This is who we are." I couldn't care less. Art need not be self-expression, simply expression... I've read it over again, no you're definitely wrong. And what happened to "the people coming out of my mouth" you discovered doing Hippo World? Any play text that is any good will REQUIRE the performer to implicate him or herself. That's an actor's job. You see this is what aggravated me so much when you kept talking about "asking these people to walk through fire" when working on Speed Death [his last show, a play]. Chris, YOU WERE WORKING WITH PROFESSIONAL FIRE WALKERS. That's their job! They WANT to walk through fire! ...

And I go on and on like that, but end I hope friendlily. Chris's is a great blog. Very funny (for example). Do give it a look:

I've been at Shunt a lot lately, doing work with David on "contains violence". I won't write about it here, I haven't the time. That will come next. Along with some thoughts on "the public" that week. It might just be worth adding though, while cannibalising my own opini-spew, something I found panning through the notebooks for Laurence and Gus which, while a year old now, still rings true:

I am in the business of making people pay attention, and learning how to make people pay attention and keep their attention - NOT because what I have to say is important, but because paying attention is important - and stories are a very good way of keeping people's attention, and so is music - and nor is comedy, which is why the writing of sketches comes so unnaturally to me, and why sketches packed with punchlines are so full of "Hey" & "And Just think..."

Laurence likes stories though. And Gus likes music. So, good. There was also this:

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Thursday, 8 November 2007

Brief (catching the light)

(originally posted on myspace here)

... And when I stumbled home from the party there on the kitchen table was a commission for 12 minutes of material for Laurence and Gus: Hearts and Minds - my first commission! - recording in December. So yes an excellent birthday, but I should probably not be blogging now but focusing instead on that brief: the eternal verities, hopes and fears, an intimate history of humanity, heartfelt knobgags (nobgags? the spelling of "nob", that was also brought up at the brief).

The Dungeon's nice and quiet now. (Perhaps too quiet: our senior actor emerged from his office with a shirt and forehead covered in pink dye just in time for a visit from York, which it turns out is what happens if you squeeze too hard on a stress reliever). I took five year's worth of notebooks onto the floor and, trying to catch the light in Whitechapel, panned for one-liners.

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Meanwhile Shunt had got its hand on the Blackpool illuminations. I spoke to a designer called Phillip who had accrued more than a thousand pieces before being let go. A designer - Blackpool had finally decided - was surplus to requirements, and Phillip spoke darkly of the flashing mess left in his wake as a giant fibreglass tulip very conspicuously bloomed above the bar.

Monday, 5 November 2007


(originally posted on myspace here)

An excellent party and I didn't even have to throw it.

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Ruffians, toffs and catty slags hanging by the gibbet at the Prospect of Whitby, watching the fireworks going off in Blackheath, sporting sparklers and gins, cakes and tails, stage blood and corsets. And Ms. Meikle makes it over with a big bag of watercolours, colouring sheets, pudding mix and "FOUR INTERNATIONAL GAMES" taped to a board for 99p. All for me! And let me here record that she whppped my ass at Chinese Checkers, and immortalize the butterflies coloured in by the stragglers at 4am washing their brushes in pink champagne, irrespective of insignia.

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Saturday, 3 November 2007

Where to Put the Present (with thanks)

(originally posted on myspace here)

 I had my birthday lie-in today, one day early. I was woken up by fireworks in the street so I knew that it must have already turned dark. On one side of the warm bed was my phone telling me it was half-past six in the evening, on the other lay three unread copies of 2000AD and at the foot, blocking my view of the shirts hung drying for a week now - currently from the venetian blinds - stood a large, white gift from my sister and her boyfriend.

Susy and David had warned me that it would be very big, and that it came in two parts currently standing in their corridor, wrapped, and that I might have nowhere to put it, so I went over to their place in Hampstead a couple of nights ago to take it home with me in a people carrier. It was a lovely evening. David was making his television debut in "History of the World Backwards" so we all sat and watched that and I showed them some of my scars from work and spilt the Chinese on the carpet. He was playing a George Harrison tribute act who crash-lands in the Amazon inadvertently inspiring the indigenous peoples' pudding bowl haircuts. (He's in the Bootleg Beatles in real life. Only he's Paul. I didn't know he could do George as well. I'm told he also does an excellent Syd.) On the way home the driver asked me if I'd ever been in prison, and then told me about a fight he'd witnessed the night before where someone had had his ear chewed off in the street. The driver told me, because I asked him, that he worked twelve hours a day six days a week and actually lived in Luton with his family. I think he was Indian. Seeing a man get his ear bitten off had clearly got him thinking about prison. He made about four hundred pounds a week.

Outside my house we unloaded the present, and I saw that on the former-pub-now-boarded-up-hole-in-the-ground on the corner Morgan from next-door had drawn a big picture of Leonardo da Vinci. He had lobster-claws instead of hands and the words "THE WORLD NEEDS A PAINT BRUSH AND A HUG!" coming out of him. It took two trips to get the present upstairs. I set it up in my room as an interim measure and then went online. I'd warned Susy and David that I would probably have to keep it in the attic until I had more space but it was too late now. What they'd given me was a large, white drawing table. A cast-iron cartoonist's drawing table and four pilot pens and a pad of A2. I had set it up as a sort of easel because of space. It looked really good. And hunched over my laptop I began to think about Heather, who when given a pair of boxing gloves for her birthday had decided she might as well learn how to box... I got up and stretched my legs... Outside of painting my face I hadn't held a brush in ages...

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Of course it was a drawing table, not actually an easel, so there was nothing to stop the paper occasionally slipping off, or the paint, but I had a lot of fun that night. I was up until six. As I have been every night since.

Hence the lie-in.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

shit and shithead (and the GURUN observation deck)

(originally posted on myspace here)

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Halloween. A three-day leave from the Dungeon starts today and I can tell it's gotten colder while I was inside because my shirts still aren't dry and it was British Summer Time when I hung them out five days ago. I've not that many work-related scars to show for the half-term push: a slight wonkiness from where I cracked my nose on Bedlam, a black toe from where I dropped the cleaver, some blood in my hair that turned out to be real from where I failed to clear the chain hang on no, okay maybe I have been showing signs of tiredness... A corporate event on Monday evening saw us warming up in Torture with an exercise that required us to evoke through collaborative improvisation a given landscape which the poor schnook who'd just been sent out would then have to guess ("Chess Championship", "The Final Frontier" etc. It's not that easy to evoke Uhura actually if you don't have a chair, very easy to topple). When the final landscape we were given turned out to be "Inside Simon's Head" everyone just started screaming. So yes I must have been showing signs of tiredness. Oh and he guessed it. Meanwhile next door in Shunt, Luke was stuffing my rubber double into a minicab to take to a party.

With my looted corpse the toast of Stoke Newington and the contents of my head a warm-up exercise I went to relax in Gordon's Wine Bar with some churlishly unloaded cheese, a deck of cards, a bottle of red and Ms. Meikle who was down from Potters' Bar, herself fast becoming the toast of the cat-neutering circuit. She taught me Shithead. It was very relaxing...

I'll explain those in a minute, but no I've been fine fine. Just busy. Simultaneously occupied and vacant. None of your business. Been looking forward to a few days off and a chance to kick back and enjoy some perspective.

... So it was very profitable to find myself at 11 o'clock this morning summoned to the twenty-ninth floor of Centre Point and staring out of a sound-proof window at Hyde Park, Wembley Stadium and this evening's weather rolling in over Chiswick. Here was perspective alright.
"Our clients have decided to write their own copy I'm afraid, and it's, um... incredibly repetitive. But what we want is, you know, warm and friendly... " In my booth there was a pint mug of about thirty pencils to the right of the microphone. The engineer, seeing that this was clearly too many as we came in, left me with three for some reason. On the other side of the glass before me was a plate of perfectly arranged biscuits no-one dared touch, an equally untouched dish of fuck-me fruit and two warm and friendly men unwittingly slinging my financial ass out of the fire. And beyond the sound-proof glass to my left: the bigger picture... SHIN! GURUN!

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An hour later and twenty-nine storeys down I happily bumped into David from Shunt outside a coffee shop in Portland Place taking a quick break from his day-job in anaesthetics, writing in a notebook. It's the first time I've seen him in a suit. I told him about the medical modelling. The last time I bumped into him making notes outside a CoffeeSomethingNationBucks he'd told me about the theatrical commission he'd just got from the Lyric Hammersmith which would let him try out the forty-odd remote headphones he'd already bought in bulk: The audience would stand outside on the balcony, watch an actor or actors in the building opposite, and through the cans be able to hear the inside of their heads (not screaming, I'm assuming, other stuff). Today he asked me if I wanted to be in it, and was I free to help him try something out at the Lounge next week. It wasn't even midday yet...

But man it's got late now. I'm meant to be resting. Instead the area beyond my peripheral vision has just switched from black to white.
I'll leave you then with some Manga sound effects from Eiji Otsuka and Housi Yamazaki's excellent "The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service" which I bought because of the cover. All the speech balloons have been translated into English of course, so you have to keep switching between following the action from right to left and following the dialogue from left to right, while the sound effects - the Kapowees, the Screeches etc. - have been left as pictograms and then translated in a big glossary at the back (ie the front). And here, in no particular order, are some examples, verbatim:

baby crying

sound of a refrigerator door popping open

sound of propane stove

body slowly climbing in

sound of flapping mouths

splash of pebble hitting water

spirit being pulled into the bullet

last bit of the spirit being pulled in

sky rumbling

air crackling then loud lightning

sound of music being overheard on someone's headphones

sound of silence

sound of world spinning

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sound of a bolt falling through glasses at terminal velocity into eye socket

Happy Halloweeeen!

Thursday, 25 October 2007

"The only animals filthier than people..."

(originally posted on myspace here)

 said Ian, our rat wrangler, as the flies on the filled bins and bagel papers presumably did everything in their power to lead good lives and 'pfutt' their sorry souls up the Karmic ziggurat... "The only animals filthier than people," said Ian, "are actors."
Here's some dust:

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What possible values - you may ask - must a fly live by to ensure that it doesn't come back as, say, another fly? Likewise a rat? Let us take as our model the Core Values birthed by Top Brass over a weekend cocooned in workshops and playpens as illustrated by this printout accidentally circulated around the staff-room for feedback:

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That's just the one page, but it gives you a taste. So... Chrome jigsaw bridges... "Fairness to our each other"... "Green". Dislikes? Likes? A number of us put on our feedback forms "The Aids Joke" (under either). There wasn't one of course, but the thought of some nit having to pore over this poop again in a cold sweat seemed a lot more entertaining to us than another round of Mutoid Hypothetifucks on the mortuary steps ("What if she had ears instead of breasts? And she had an ear on her elbow? What if she had a newsagent's growing out of her back?" Ideas are clearly running thin...) For we are working Halloween hours now. Getting too busy to see the Bigger Picture. Entertaining the kids - Hello kids -

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Apparently if you try to cull the rats that make their home here, as opposed to those Ian brings in, their Queen simply waives her spawning monopoly and the numbers swell instead of going down. The only solution is sonic cannon, says Ian...

How is the bigger picture though, guys? I hear it's getting mighty cold. Me? After work I just pop next-door to the Shunt Lounge with a copy of Manga or Jarry and fall asleep on the couch. Last week Nigel was asked to lope around naked, mute and covered in shopping - again - but this time he would be driven off by a fleet of diesel-powered leaf-blowers.

Nigel is an actor.

I missed this scheduled intervention unfortunately, but before my nap I managed to catch the old school up-stream torsoes projected across the long corridor, and had a go on the vibrating arse belt (I'm not sure what that machine's actually called. You see them in Bugs Bunny cartoons, clattering in gyms by the steam boxes, lazy people use them to lose weight, you know. And "upstream" is a word I've just been introduced to as a palatable alternative to "experimental". Or, indeed, "alternative". Use it in a sentence today.) I tried to photograph some of this, but the flash just picked up dust. See? Filthy:

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But pretty.

Friday, 19 October 2007

Where was I? (Men In Pants)

(originally posted on myspace here)

Where was I?
Well, a number of places obviously. It's been a while. It's been ages. Rewind to - um, Christ - October 1st: So I took that week off to Write (not this), but then following the giddy brain-wave on Mount Pleasant I don't know, I didn't get as much done as I wanted. Here:

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And then I was rehearsing Glen Neath's play "Superheroes" as part of the Shunt Lounge's first anniversary celebrations, for which Lizzie had constructed a small reptile house to stick in the ladies' toilets and Suze covered the lengths of the long corridor with projections of turning heads and Becky was translucently pregnant with live goldfish and Heather had done something very excellent with the broken chairs and some gravity in the bar:

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And rehearsing "Superheroes" was a mild confusion undertaken in excellent company. It was just never clear to me how much Glen's lines were really being helped by our rehearsing them if you see what I mean. My favourite Glen piece has always been "RomCom" in which two completely unrehearsed performers would simply repeat the lines being fed to them in their headphones. I've never seen that not work... Similarly in "Superheroes" four actors wearing masks and spandex and unfamiliar with their lines would be left in an arena to bellow some text scrolling erratically above the audience's heads. Easy. Fun. Except that by the end of the week, of course, we weren't unfamiliar with our lines at all... by the fourth and final night I was even beginning to make some sense of them. Which I felt a little uncomfortable about. But for those who missed it here's the synopsis:

I was Captain Mint. Captain Mint loves The Wisp. The Wisp is in a passive-aggressive relationship with abusive alpha The Vortex. Captain Mint fears the Vortex. The Storm is a hobbyist. The Vortex gives the Storm some ibuprofen to give to Captain Mint. The Wisp returns with some shopping and The Vortex gives The Storm a bottle of beaujolais. The Wisp walks out on The Vortex. The Storm gives Captain Mint the ibuprofen. Captain Mint no longer fears The Vortex. The Wisp returns to The Vortex. The ibuprofen is ineffectual. Captain Mint contents himself with being a hobbyist.

And there's just the two media ultimately, innit - Doing some stuff and Leaving stuff behind. The Shunt Lounge is the latter and "Superheroes" was the former and that brings us up to... what... a week ago? Monday?... when I found myself once again standing in my pants before strangers from all nations for money. It's called "Medical Modelling". Students of anaesthetics are handed jelly and ultra-sound doodads to prod in your ribs like a heretic's finger while you lie on a rug on a table in a third-storey Edwardian games room in Portland Place and crane round to see on the screen behind you something that's being pointed out to them as your liver. Easy. Painless.

The magazine rack that we'd stationed ourselves by beforehand was full of brochures advertising brightly-coloured plastic clamps, and things like this

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for which it seems quite clear to me that nobody has bothered to read the instructions.
Goodnight for now. I'm back. I'm sorry.

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

I suggest you turn your back now Hercules

(originally posted on myspace here)

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So hopefully Sunday night has seen off that recurring dream where I'm about to go onstage as Henry VI but haven't learnt my lines. It's a dream my Dad used to have as well. (Perhaps he still does.) It's not always Henry VI but it is always a play written in verse: I'm staring down at my second-hand copy in the wings when it hits and the lines are always ten syllables long. Now normally the dream ends with me having to go onstage and fake a few cues, then own up and apologize, clamber down into the auditorium and head out the fire exit... not defeated, just disappointed... but on Sunday night it was different.
On Sunday night I finally decided to take the play onstage with me and pretend I was reading the bible. (Henry VI is very into the bible. And I also started reading it a few nights ago... Never realized before how many men in Genesis wait 500 years before settling down to have kids... Also interesting to see God was good enough to run up a couple of tunics for Adam and Eve to wear in exile. Bless him... Very artistic temperament: "OH IT'S ALL RUBBISH IT'S ALL GONE WRONG... etc.") Of course the theatrical lighting meant it was very difficult to make out the words and I kept tilting my head and losing my place - In fact the whole thing was a joke. But when I walked offstage it was back into the wings, not the fire exit. And the show would carry on. (It was always going to be rubbish anyway.)

And this may or may not have had something to do with the fact that Sunday evening had seen me heading out to Mount Pleasant to miss an Indigo Moss gig at the Apple Tree, which was fine, I mean it's fine that I missed it. Better than fine in fact because it meant I could get some walking done: This is the week I have set aside to write - as I mentioned in the last post - so a lot of that day had been spent attempting to... well face up to this fact basically. I didn't, for example, get round to meeting Benet outside the Burmese Embassy to take some photos (and the protest he was hoping to attend had turned into a march anyway so no-one else was there either). I just paced my room listening to Brian Aldiss on Radio 7 and poring over tray-sized compilations of pulp science fiction illustration, getting nowhere...

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Because in the end I'm a peripatetic. If I'm going to write, I have to get out and walk. And in looking for the Apple Tree I walked a lot. So that was good. And by the time I found the non-Indigo-Moss, Franco-Irish skiffle group launching into "Ooh La La" within before a happy press of excellent old hippies (you know, "Ooh La La": The Faces, Rod Stewart, I-wish-that-I-knew-what-I-know-now, a sentiment as sacred as Christmas... anyway apparently it's called "Ooh La La") the sad knot of transcribed, amnesiac squabbling that had so far been all I could muster in the name of comedy had blossomed in my head into something a good deal more interesting - something stealthy even - something with mood swings and, at the very least, a middle and an end, if not a beginning. And the beginning's just the bit you end up putting first, I'm sure.

Dumas pere said to Dumas fils: All the talent's in the table, if you put some paper down on it and rub long enough, something's bound to come off. And for me it's the streets... Yeah! The streets!


So, yes, how many interviews does it take to turn a writer into a wanker then. We have our answer. And I should be writing now. And not this rubbish. Here's some more salvaged Heracles instead: "The Twelf Labour - Cerbeus of the Underworld." It's very sad at the end. Brace yourselves.

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- Your final task will be to bring back Cerbeus, the 3 headed dog from the underworld where you may not come back.

(At last you can see his face)

- You're a bit heavy for a dead man and if you're not dead I can't take you.

- If you don't take me across you'll be the dead one!


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- Why! I remember you when I with Jason to find the golden fleece.

- I'm hungry & blood's the only thing us ghosts eat.

- I'll kill one of those cattle.

- Hey you want a fight?

- Stop this arguing - I'm Hades - I know why you've come here and you can have Cerbeus if you tame him
(I can't even make him sit!)

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- Righteo then



- I've done it.

- Then keep it.

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- I suggest you turn your back now Hercules.

Back at Thebes:
- I've completed my tasks but where's Megera

- Didn't you see her in the Underworld. I'm afraid she died with a fever sent by Hera

Very Expressive Well Done!

Saturday, 29 September 2007

This is what we do. Part 2

(originally posted on myspace here)

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"Actually what we're really looking for right now is sex."
"Like... What, what do you mean?" I asked.
"A hundred and fifty thousand words. Sex every twenty pages. A Jackie Collins. A Jilly Cooper. So if you know anyone who's done anything like that -"
And I thought: Could I do that? The children's novel is probably going nowhere bowed beneath the weight of my own expectations and I haven't even started on the picture books. What if I just knuckled down to some porn then? No really. How hard can it be? Fnar.

This conversation (with one of a number of women I know who work in publishing and are called Alex) rounded off an audition for a charity pantomime in - I think it was called St Mungo the Martyr's - one of the many darkened churches hanging round the press of the Square Mile obstinately like goats at a book launch. I'd been droplifted into last year's panto with a week's notice and I had loved it. I had loved the short rehearsal period, and I'd loved mucking around with old friends and shark heads and pretending to hide from Frankenstein's Monster in a jungle and to fall in love and dancing with a Pirate Queen. But this... this audition... standing in a thick coat behind a slightly mardy MD at a piano in a stone hall once the sun had set - I didn't like that. It reminded me of choir. Too long ago. And I've been sleeping strangely lately. Catching up with sleep. Catching up in general.

The Dungeon's still pretty quiet. There's time to sit on the mortuary steps and ask each other: "What if she was perfect in every way, but made of chalk? And the bed was made of blackboard?" or: "If you had to go out with a woman-shaped animal, which animal... etc." Someone suggested a chameleon. I thought, yeah she'd be quite fun, turning up to the restaurant late in her boa and beret, loudly. I don't know who I had in mind.

And I finally answered the questions that had been sent to me by Dan who runs the Mitchell and Webb fan log. Far too late, I think. Long after they'd been sent, certainly. Long after the recording of my one sketch for the television series, which went well, which was significant. Long after the wrap party in the brightly lit room at the top of Television Centre with the ceiling that very slowly and joylessly faded from red to green to yellow for no reason where I ended snorted helium with the producer... I print some of it below only because it's unlikely to appear anywhere else, along with a still that James Bachman took of the set, which actually maybe isn't such a hot idea. Unless you are an enormous fan of the show it probably won't always be clear what I'm talking about either so, I don't know, just pretend I'm talking about Sergeant Pepper or Richard E. Grant going "FORK IT":

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Hello. Sorry I took so long. Yes, you had some questions. This is probably far too late to be of any interest to you now but here are my answers. I feel a bit like that guy they accidentally got on the news to talk about Apple.

When did you realise you were funny?

I just assumed. As a baby.
What sticks in the memory are those moments from childhood when you realise you're NOT funny... when a dinner lady tells you that she can't do two things at once and you say "Why not? You've got two hands" which, it turns out, is not funny at all but obnoxious and hurtful... or when your parents are talking about how someone fell from a window and you say "Maybe they jumped."

How did you get the Mitchell & Webb job?

Mark Evans spotted me working in a second-hand bookshop while on the lookout for an Auburn Consultant for Rob - who you may have noticed likes to play a lot of redheads but is a bit method - and Mark knew that David knew me from a touring production of Hamlet I'd done in Seoul (in a part I'd got instead of Rob) so asked if I'd be interested. I said yes but refused payment electing instead to bring along a number of conversations I had transcribed to learn if this was the same thing as "sketches". David explained that it wasn't, I asked James Bachman if I could borrow a pen and some cigarettes, and the rest is history. And I went to Cambridge.

What makes you laugh?

The same as everyone I think, minus catch-phrases, punch-lines and racism (unless it's making fun of accents), plus assonance and obscure references to things I thought only I liked. Actually I'll normally laugh at anything I'm enjoying on any level at all even if it isn't funny, just out of relief. I'll laugh at food, me.

What is your favourite self-penned Mitchell & Webb sketch?

Whatever anyone else's is. I don't care. It's all good. I genuinely don't know what's funny, and I've written stuff I like that nobody else will get but what's the point? A lot of people laughed at "Asbo Zappruder" the baby seal sketch, and that took me no time to write at all (two evenings - for me that's nothing) in fact I almost didn't send it in, so I found the recording of that immensely satisfying because it went down very well. And I think "Padlockigami" will go down well when/if it's broadcast. It's the only thing I've written for telly so far, and seeing that much work put in by other people to televise some ridiculous idea you scribbled down in a note-book back in 2004, and to see that WORK…

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...It won't come much better than that.

Where do your ideas come from?

Walks. Unbearable predicaments. Sounds I find myself making (Both Padlockigami and Asbo are sketches that owe their existence to words I thought sounded good). That question drove Alan Moore mad and now he gets all his ideas from a pretend snake deity. True.

What would you be doing if you weren't doing comedy writing?

Sitting in front of an application form for a grant from the Arts Council.

What's next for you?

Well, since I've taken so pathetically long to answer these questions I can tell you. Not the enormous crippling come-down I was fearing, just bits and pieces for the snowballing oeuvre. Some performances on and under bridges. Actually I'm taking some time off work next week to knuckle down to a couple of things, a sitcom about a deeply scarred wedding planner with a monk sidekick, and also a little idea for a variety show called "Allnighter" which can be very accurately pitched as a cross between "Prairie Home Companion", "Battlestar Galactica" and "Bagpuss". Hopefully a week will give me enough time to work out if either makes any sense.
What's next IDEALLY is that I reach the point where I know the stuff that stormed wasn't a fluke. But I'm nowhere near that point yet, so thank you very much for taking the time to interview me. (Actually it's more of a questionnaire, isn't it.) Bye, Dan. Be well.

Monday, 24 September 2007

tiny memories of the east

(originally posted on myspace here)

of barbican and ethanol that we took out to the desert while the others danced back in
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covering them with black plastic to keep them
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after 2 weeks of awe something back
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(... Fragments prompted by a DVD I received in the post - and out of the blue - from an old colleague, Kammy Darweish, of a Middle-and-Far Eastern tour from 18 months back... and by the little photos from the old phone. Ta, Kammy.)

Friday, 21 September 2007

Qui Make Ispum Makeman (warning: garbled quasi-scientific tuppencey)

(originally posted on myspace here)

In the Dungeon the Summer hours are over, the party thrown, the prize for best costume perched atop my locker and swaddled in the tubigrips that I wore as Milla Jovovich, and when the Germans aren't passing through my shows and blowing on their swatchels I've been tucking into the classics. Two hundred pages into Samuel Butler's "Erewhon" - a book from 1872 that crops up a lot in science fiction histories as the first to discuss Artificial Intelligence - I have finally hit upon those chapters that form "The Book of Machines". The meat. It was received as just a piss-take of Darwin upon its publication, but what The Book of Machines actually does is ask quite sincerely: "What will be the next living thing?"

"Machines" it goes on to suggest. "Not for a while, no... Not for say hundreds of thousands of years... But eventually we will have to consider them as living beings. Already we feed them and help them reproduce as the bees serve the poppies, and we hear them calling out to each other in the street - even though we're currently the ones who sound their horns - but the machines are evolving. And they will develop Consciousness."
And this was back in 1872! He was talking about pipes!

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So no wonder his readers at the time just went: "Hahaha, screwdrivers with souls, vair good." But reading it NOW... in the Dungeons...

Or sitting in a pub off the Essex Road last night waiting for John Finnemore to return with some shopping (I'd arrived half an hour too early for a read-through, despite losing myself in one of the most pleasingly evil and deserted underground stations ever to be burrowed, tiled and filled with cameras).... I sat with my copy of Erewhon and I thought of Battlestar Galactica (the new, good one) where it's only the machines who still believe in God. And I considered the old arguments - Monotheist: There must be a designer. / Atheist: Who designed him then? Eh?... And I don't know how the argument goes after that, or even if it does go on after that - I'd always up to this point assumed that "Eh?" was the last word on the matter... up until this point...

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But now, as I finished my half, I thought: Wait? What if we say that question ISN'T rhetorical, who did make God then?... What if we start singing along to the Pixies: "If man is 5, then the devil is 6, and if the devil is 6 the God is 7!"... which of course still leaves room for an 8, a 9 and a 10... And what in that case is 1? And what's 67,825?

And playing around with that idea I felt a lot closer to an understanding of... of our total lack of understanding (which is the MAIN THING) just as I had at that party full of architects last Saturday night where in a garden over some cake the Uncertainty Principle was finally explained to me NOT as the simultaneous existence of two separate states (at which point I would normally thank whoever was at the quantum desk and head off to look for a night bus) but simply as an illustration of the flaws in our definition of that state (Should I go into this?... ie: we're saying that something can exist simultaneously as both a wave and a particle NOT because we've discovered that reality is on the fritz, but because we've learnt that the multiple choice options we give reality - "wave and particle" - just aren't that useful at a quantum level. We're taking a poll and forcing the facts to choose from A, B or C when really what they would rather be doing is filling in the box at the bottom of the page and going onto a sheet of A4... See also: eleven bloody dimensions.)

So even if you say there is a God who made us he's not the answer, just the next level up... like the family tree at the back of my book of Greek Myths where the father of the gods is the son of Time, and Time is the son of, I think, Uranus, oddly.
And maybe in the end, as with everything else, the chain of command is a loop. I mean we know that if you're given a powerful enough telescope you can see the back of your own head. Hypothetically.

And maybe it's a really small loop.
I mean at CERN they've already got a machine that can recreate the big bang! A bit.

And at Essex Road they've already developed a machine that ignores you, and they've stuck it in a lift.

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Monday, 17 September 2007

Supermale ands the Dancing Puppet of Tradge

(originally posted on myspace here)

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I couldn't face Ken's wedding reception this evening. Not at first. I turned up at the venue round the back of Waterloo in my dark suit, but couldn't see him there so walked out again. I haven't been good with other people's weddings for a few years now. I hadn't been to the service at the temple in Taplow either. I stood still outside EV for a bit, putting things out of my head and then went to see if anything was going on down by the river.

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At Waterloo Bridge there were things in the distance and people up lamp-posts. But nothing was moving. What was about to happen would often halt, it transpired, and I don't know if this was because things were breaking down or blowing up, or because people were in the way, or because they'd lost the music or simply because someone had decided that it was better if, occasionally, everything halted. But after the first three seconds of about twenty different tracks the false starts stopped and things got moving. And most of these things had people inside.

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The Bolivians were the first to pass. Then Donna Summer's "I Feel Love" sounded and teetering puppets of King, Queen and Caesar bore down on us, frowning but friendly with big, flat hands flapping, patting, petting, all that. I followed them down the hill to the viaduct at Butler's Wharf. A lot of people were dancing now and at the brow of the hill you could see smoke.

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Ken is a Buddhist. We'd won medals for acting in Kuwait and when we'd go fishing in the Gulf he would always whisper to his catch before releasing it. And whenever an insect appeared in our room he would always trap it under a glass and then let it go, but only after he'd kept it there for twenty-four hours, during which he might whisper to it. And whenever he chanted it sounded like the washing machine downstairs. We bumped into each other again in the street last month, just outside the Dungeons. I hadn't seen him in four years. A fire alarm had gone off and I was dressed as a corpse. "Simon!" he said, and we hugged, "You're looking well."

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Someone blue was sweeping the road now with a maritime flare to prepare the way for an elephant made of pink light. I've never been to a carnival before. These are details. Chiefly of course the parade was made up of dancers - or rather people dancing - every age and shape of person adorned and bared and providing their own light. And lanterns. And the music that we danced to we'd be dancing to every day if people hadn't got so bloody excited about Britpop. And a very good and very loud argument was being made for the Thames as a conduit for all countries that had ever displayed a talent for making something out of paper and mirrors.

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A cyclist passed dangling lampshades and behind him... Luke! Dressed as a cherub, riding a bike, with two doves perched on his wrists: "Simon! I'm freezing! Do you know where this ends?" Then the final phoneix ducked to get under the viaduct, scraped its beak, and the fireworks started. Along the South Bank and along the Embankment and along every bridge we all watched. And I watched, thinking myself the only one there on their own, as I always do at these things. And I thought "This is great." And it was. I went back to EV and I found Ken this time. He was sitting outside beside his bride, Yuki: "Simon! Y-..." He was smiling so much that he could hardly speak. So we shook hands. For quite a while.

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I was part of the festivities yesterday. Sofas were laid along the apex of Southwark Bridge and I sat in a hairnet and yakuza blue suit clutching a bunch of daisies and a yellow copy of Alfred Jarry's "The Supermale", glancing at my watch for eight hours. It was packed. I left no trace. Just a tiny slick of spirit gum in the apple-bobbing barrel. But what they did tonight was much better.

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Wednesday, 12 September 2007

from: Greek Mythology Class 3 (found in France)

(originally posted on myspace here)

The Ninth Task
Hippolytis' Belt

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- You'r next task is to bring back Hippolyte's Belt for my daughter's wedding present

- But I can't do that!

- Why not?

- Because the only way I can get it is by force and I do not fight women

- If you refuse who knows what the gods will do?

- You Provokers!!!

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At Thermedos

- Why - Hercules - have you and your companions come here?

- I have come to take your belt... but not by force!

- Very well then. If you win the fight I have with you, you will have it.


- Here! she's got grease on her

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- Well done Hercules. If you come to my feast at dusk you shall have the belt

- This will not do. I will go down and tell a bodygaurd lies.

- Mistriss. I have just been told that Hercules has come for the belt... And you! Let me kill him.

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- No!!! Arhh

Back at Mycenea:
- Here's the belt

(No-one less brave than Hippolyte deserves the belt.)

Excellent Again - One House Point for the last 2 tasks