Seagulls at New Brighton, Liverpool

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“You shouldn’t have said that, Geoff.”

I took these photographs recently at New Brighton, Liverpool, England.

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I Can’t Think

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I had to do a very short presentation type thing at work recently. Above are some of the notes I made. As I was preparing for it the night before… (I always prepare for things the night before so as to create the maximum amount of anxiety)… I realised that my capacity to learn stuff has dropped off a cliff. It’s about five years since I last did any kind of formal studying but it feels like, since then, my brain has evaporated. You know when you leave something in the microwave too long and it shrivels up into a dry, crumbly, useless piece of shit? That’s my brain.

Actually I don’t think it’s anything to do with a reduction in brain cells. I still have the same number of brain cells that I had five years ago (about nine). It’s more to do with an increase in anxiety. I’m even more anxious now than I was then about getting it right!! How can that be?! Surely I’m supposed to be getting more confident as I get older not less!! Well, basically… nope! This time next year I fully expect to be drooling and slumped in a chair clutching a puzzle compendium. The question is… why?!

Doing Stand-Up is No Joke

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My daughter Hannah was recently part of a stand-up comedy show and I went to see it. I think that stand-up comedy is probably the most scary thing in the world to do. Acting is scary but at least you have a character and script written by someone else behind which to hide. With stand-up there is nowhere to hide and nowhere to run. Part of this show was done as various characters such as the three Nana’s shown above (Hannah first on left) but for the rest, each person involved had to do their own routine, as themselves, performing their own material!

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I can’t imagine anything scarier. I admire all stand-up comedians as probably the bravest people in the world. Why it is so terrifying to stand up in front of an audience and try to make them laugh? I’m not sure. The worst that can happen is that nobody laughs. You’re not going to die (unless it’s from fright), you’re not going to get your head chopped off (unless the audience really really hate you), you’re not going to get chained to a car and dragged across nettles (some people pay good money for that). So why is the prospect so mind-numbingly, butt-achingly terrifying?

I suppose it’s to do with our powerful need for approval. The relationship between a stand-up comic and the audience is completely raw, naked and immediate. You say something; they laugh (or not). You expose yourself (not literally unless you really have to); they give their approval (or not). If you don’t get a laugh, you’re not getting approval. And if you’re not approved of, your whole identity could be at stake. You may be forced to face the fact that you’re rubbish at this, you failed, you’re not the person you thought you were.

Ironically, the thing which is most likely to make you fail, not only in stand-up comedy but in many areas of life, is your fear of failure. The only way you can be a good comedian is if you get laughs and the audience must be relaxed before it can laugh. If those people watching you sense that you’re not confident then they won’t relax and they won’t laugh, no matter how good your material. So really, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you can genuinely convince yourself that you will succeed then there’s every chance that you will. Generally I don’t tend to believe in things unless I have evidence (no, not big on religion as you can imagine). So I could never make the leap of faith required to get up on stage and do stand-up for the first time. The only evidence I have to go on would be the fact that I was rubbish enough reading out in class at school so I’m probably going to be super-rubbish as a performer. If I could take it on faith that I’d be able to cope, whatever happens; that my whole identity wouldn’t be threatened if it didn’t go well, then I might stand a chance.

Luckily it wasn’t me up on stage for this show, it was Hannah. But when you have kids, you feel their pain as though it is your pain. I was in agony before the show started, writhing in the shadows in sympathy with my daughter. When she came on stage my agony reached a horrific crescendo of empathetic fear mixed with pride. It was about ten minutes before I breathed again.

Hannah did well. She did a good routine and got laughs. It was going to be OK. Then, of course, I realised that it was always going to be OK. She was always going to do well because she’s good but even if she hadn’t done well, that would have been OK too. She would have come off and laughed about it and either said how she’d never try that again or maybe said how she would try it a bit differently next time and gradually build up her skill. Her identity was never at stake. My problem is I’m so terrified of pain, however fleeting. I can’t accept that pain is good, pain is there for a reason; to keep us safe, to teach us how to be in the future. I spend most of my life avoiding pain and so I never learn.

The show went really well and everyone seemed to enjoy it. Even me, once I’d been treated for hyperventilating by two paramedics named Janice and Darren. Maybe next time I’ll realise that, whatever happens, it’ll be OK. Or maybe I’ll just remain an enormous wuss. See you soon Janice and Darren.

Me with a Liver Bird

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Those iconic birds on top of the Liver Building on Liverpool’s waterfront look quite small from ground level. I climbed onto the roof to find out exactly what size they really are. It was a tricky climb; my suction boots were certainly put to the test. So now we all know how big the Liver Birds are compared to me. Wait, though…. You don’t know how big I am!

Do New Years Resolutions Ever Work?

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In previous years I’ve made New Year resolutions and they’ve not even lasted a week. Each time it has happened though I’ve used the experience to hone my resolution-making skills for the following year. For example, the first resolutions I ever made included 1. Irrigate the desert, 2 Solve the Middle East problem and 3.Moisturise every morning. I now realise that those resolutions were far too ambitious; there’s no way I was ever going to moisturise, for God’s sake!

The next year I tried to make my resolutions more achievable; 1. Eat a bit healthier, 2. Get a bit fitter, 3. Moisturise once a month. By February, I had plummeted into a deep pit of stinking, vomit-inducing, shit-smearing depression. I sat in front of the TV from March until November; didn’t even switch it on till August. This had happened because the resolutions had been too vague, mundane and uninspiring this time round.

Year 3; I deliberately made my resolutions much more lofty and inspiring. 1. Say one nice thing to everyone you meet every day, 2. Smiling makes you feel better and everyone around you feel better so smile, smile, smile, 3. Moisturise!  I still struggled however. Saying something nice to everyone I met proved to be tricky as I regularly associate with daleks, Dracula Prince of Darkness and Nigel Farage. Also, I found it a strain to have to smile whilst unconscious (ie- while asleep or at work).

Consequently, the year after, I tried to be a lot more realistic and down to earth when setting resolutions. My list read; 1. Use cockney rhyming slang whilst simultaneously replicating the voice of Ray Winstone, 2. Pronounce ‘th..’ as ‘ff..’ as in ‘I ffort you ffort I was ffinking I ffort you was ffick!’ 3. Ffarcking moisturise you ffarking nonce!

None of these resolutions worked and maybe we have to face the notion that the whole idea of just deciding to change something about yourself on some arbitrary day of the year is always going to be doomed to failure. Changing habits is one of the hardest things we can ever aspire to do. It takes planning, persistence, repetition and support. Even the simplest of habits can be so ingrained that it takes a lot of shifting. You can’t just decide to change it and then expect it to automatically change overnight. The real danger in making New Year resolutions is that the inevitable failure to stick to them can make you feel inadequate, hopeless and depressed. Then, change is even less likely than ever. So what should we do instead of making resolutions? Ah… well… haven’t figured that out yet. Definitely going to figure it out this year though. It’s one of my resolutions.

The Evil of Nudity

nude suit-front-1This blog got 6000 hits in two days recently. It was on the day when all those nude celebrity photos got leaked. Apparently, I posted a film review years ago which mentioned Jennifer Lawrence and nudity in the same breath. There was also a picture of her in the nude. This post had evidently appeared on Google whenever anyone searched for ‘nude celeb pics’ or similar (the post is still up if you can be bothered searching through the archives of this blog).

All this excitement got me thinking about nudity. And nudity creates excitement like nothing else. It’s hard to talk about this without feeling a bit sleazy. I thought about posting a few shots of celebrities with their kit off but it just felt wrong. So to make myself feel a bit less like an exploitative slime ball, I will post a photo of myself in the nude; just to show even-handedness (and show some other things too). Some of you may not be ready to face the sight of me with my clothes off so I’ll post it on the ABOUT ME part of this blog so that you at least have a choice about whether to go there. It will be the first photo at the top of the page so… brace yourself.

To be honest, I’m not completely naked on the photo; I do have a minimum of clothing on. And that’s the interesting thing because Jennifer Lawrence wasn’t nude in the picture I posted, not technically. She was wearing an alien suit which simulated nudity; alien nudity. In fact, there was hardly any of her actual naked skin visible at all. But the photo makes it feel like we’re seeing her naked. Does it matter that we’re actually seeing less skin than would normally be on display if she had just been wearing regular T-shirt and jeans?

Come to think of it, what’s the big deal about nakedness? After all. we’re all naked under our clothes. Why are certain parts of our bodies deemed to be unsuitable for general viewing? Who decided which of our body parts should be rated 18? Why don’t we get upset when someone puts a photo of a celebrity’s bare elbows online? Why don’t bikinis have special pieces of fabric to cover belly buttons on the beach? You might think it was the bodily parts which have a sexual function that cause us to get all embarrassed but what is the sexual function of female breasts? You might think that it’s the male/female bodily differences that we want to cover with clothes but males and females both have buttocks so why are we all so reluctant to show off our arses? (except students and football fans of course). Even more puzzling, the specific body parts needing to be covered change from culture to culture and from time to time. In Victorian England it was deemed shocking to reveal a female ankle, for example. Another one; when I was a kid I went on holiday to Malta and no-one was allowed into any religious building without first covering up their arms. So why do certain parts of our bodies need to be covered for reasons other than keeping them warm or protecting them from the elements and Hessian sofas?

I don’t know the answer except to say that it seems to be a peculiar quirk of human nature that if we are forbidden from seeing something, our curiosity is automatically triggered. It’s what drives us on in all spheres even space travel and scientific advancement. Like everyone, I looked at those scientific diagrams of the human form in school text books and felt curiosity, yes. But when real live girls told me that I could see this much but no further… I felt that the purpose of my entire life was to get to the forbidden fruit. Nudity itself isn’t really that arousing (visit any nudist club or naturist beach and see how unsexy, not to mention nauseating, nudity can be)

The whole thing is ludicrous given that we all have, pretty much, the same bodily bits and pieces hidden away. Why are we so curious about how celebrities look naked when we already know that they’re going to look roughly the same as any other person of the same sex that we’ve ever seen? It’s not like we’re going to see, instead of the usual breasts and vagina combo, two ice sculptures and a Toblerone.

I suppose it’s all part of the enigma we call human sexuality. We’re hard wired to find the opposite, and sometimes the same, sex attractive so that we will think it’s worth mating and thereby continuing the survival of our species. This is done in a variety of ways but the specifics are not that important so long as we keep finding other people interesting. This means that, regardless of continuing the species, we’re driven to come together (ha), to socialise, to live side-by-side with each other, to not kill each other (not all the time anyway), to make contacts, to find life rewarding enough to carry on at all.

So I didn’t post any photos of nude celebrities because I’m a hero. Instead, I posted a couple of pictures of people wearing nude suits. Weird though, some readers will probably object to those and find them offensive in the full knowledge that they are complaining about what are essentially pink duffel coats with dangly bits. The only true nudity you will see posted here today features me on the ABOUT ME page. Like I said, I’m a hero. Brace yourself.

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Frisked at the Flicks

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“What great food they offer at this cinema! And so reasonably priced!”

Has anyone ever uttered those words ever? Of course not. These days, if you buy a packet of M&Ms from the cinema shop you could find yourself in debtors’ prison by the end of the film. Not to mention the Pick & Mix; you can’t get a sugar dummy for less than £5. No-one ever goes in that section more than once. You occasionally see some poor fool wander in and fill a paper cone with a few liquorice allsorts, a handful of chocolate raisins and a sherbert dipdap. They saunter over to the counter and you see the sales assistant mouth the words ‘eleven pounds ninety four please’. You then see the customer stiffen into a semi-comatose state; mouth hanging open, eyes staring madly. They pay up of course because they can hardly put the sweets back into their individual plastic boxes. Their hands are often trembling as they hand over the cash.

I’ve started calling at the supermarket before I go to the cinema now. You can get family packs of most of that stuff for a quarter of the price. The cinema authorities forbid this of course. They would dearly love to strip search you as you go in; you can see it in their eyes. They’d love to discover a packet of Minstrels tucked down your skirt or a can of Coke in your handbag. But they’re not allowed to frisk you. Instead they glare at you as you shuffle past. It’s more of a shuffle than a walk because you’ve got a 6-pack of lager and a cooked chicken down the back of your jeans. Carrying that kind of weight it’s hard to portray nonchalance.