I also happen to know now the most important five spices you should have in your kitchen. Happily, they are all ones I know how to use, rather than the myriad of exotic ones my husband has bought – Sumac anyone?
And why was I speaking to these two incredible people? They’re going to be panellists at the next Smart Works Reading Smart Talks: Wellness event. You can get a flavour of what these events are like from the picture at the top of this post – they’re focused whilst also being frank and funny.
From what I know about the Smart Talks: Wellness event so far, it’s going to be awesome. Want to come along? Buy a ticket!
Want a compere who knows what she’s doing, is a safe pair of hands and can bring great energy to your event? Get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I have been trying for some time to figure out where I might be able to pitch content that talked about my experiences as a stand up performer. I can’t believe it took me so long to consider Chortle. Having thought that they only focused on reviews, I had that preconception completely challenged when they published a report about the care home performance.
So I put fingers to keyboard and dropped the news desk at Chortle a line and ta-da! Last week they agreed to run my piece about performing at Sue Ryder. It feels like a fitting tribute to Bel and Paula.
The decision to do so was inspired by the care that the hospice services in Berkshire showed my brother-in-law’s wife, Paula (pictured left with her daughter, Alice), and my beautiful friend, Bel (pictured right with one of her trademark mischief-making faces), throughout their illnesses.
Witnessing first hand how the Sue Ryder team focus on making you feel like a person, not a patient, is a testament to how important these services are. We joked about living in the bubble that is rural West Berkshire, the challenge of disguising the contents of your recycling ‘bin of shame‘ and the terror of men in extremely tight Lycra.
If you like the idea of stand up as part of diversion therapy, please consider sharing this post or, even better, make a donation to the Sue Ryder team. I’d like to thank Alison, Lucy, Rachel, Chrissie and the rest of the team for the incredible service they provide, and for trusting me with their audience 🙂
“What we’re going to do”, said Bel, “is put the FUN in fundraising!” Corny, yet memorable words from a friend who coupled living with an incurable form of cancer with raising money for the charities that were caring for her. It is something I have never forgotten and her legacy lives on not just in the smile of her son and her husband’s stories, but also in the way her attitude to life impacted everyone who met her.
She prompted people not to shy away from what is most painful and to face difficult circumstances head on. She encouraged me to make the leap from corporate life (and to sing a Rod Stewart number in public, but that’s another story). She also made me think differently about fundraising; as I have no business going near a mountain or a triathlon, I instead put on comedy & curry nights and an indie disco which led to fantastic results without the need for Lycra or medical attention.
And so, it is in that spirit that I am going to perform a stand-up & poetry set for staff and patients at the Sue Ryder Day Hospice in Newbury’s Rosemary Unit on October 15th. Part of the Duchess of Kent Hospice family, it offers people living with cancer the opportunity to remain in their home for longer by providing specialist services on an outpatient basis. This extends to a wide variety of complementary therapies, as well as emotional and practical support. If you live in or around the #Newbury, #Reading or #Wokingham area, chances are someone you know has benefitted from the services of the Sue Ryder team.
But where’s the fundraising in all this? Well, that’s where you can help. Typically, the cost of a ticket to a comedy show is in the region of £15 (I’m talking Jongleurs here, not Jimmy Carr 😉) so if you support the idea of taking a comedy performance to a place of palliative care, why not make a donation of around that size to the fantastic Sue Ryder team. Like Bel said, let’s put a little ‘fun’ into fundraising – simply head to https://www.sueryder.org/donate, decide how much you want to donate and select ‘Duchess of Kent Hospice’.
What story would you tell if you only had one minute? This was the challenge last week when I participated in the regional heats for BBC Radio’s New Voices. The temptation was to go for something funny but this time I went with my heart, telling the story of my beautiful friend and a memorable walk to school.
If you’d like to hear the longer version – here’s the original:
Oh, and if you’re wondering, the judging panel said ‘yes’! Round two beckons but so far, no-one knows what it will entail….
On moving to the Newbury countryside fourteen years ago, and being a staunch advocate of punishing classes at large gyms, I wondered how I was going to stay fit now that I lived miles from a David Lloyd facility.
For the first six months, I thought the smart thing to do would be to leave the house at 6am to get to a 7am class. This meant missing breakfast with my husband (and the opportunity to use a decent hairdryer) in favour of an instructor shouting at me to, “Hit the boxing pads harder, you wuss!”.
Eventually I came to realise that this was quite frankly a mad way to keep fit. The tipping point was when I managed to forget my work clothes and had to drive into Reading to buy replacements – by 8.45am I was pressed up against the doors of M&S like a shopper waiting for the Harrods sale. Despite smiling nicely at the shop assistant as I tried to explain what had happened, she became very pre-occupied with getting as far away from me as possible. Understandable given the circumstances.
After the expense of that workout, I cancelled the membership and looked for an alternative way to keep fit. My husband and I often rode our bikes along the Ridgeway at weekends and it struck me that, with a bit of diary reorganisation, I could swap the gym for the countryside. Since then, I’ve found outdoor exercise comes with some unexpected benefits:
There is never anyone else’s sweat on your seat.
You might smell manure but you won’t smell someone else’s B.O.
People say, “Hello”, not, “How much longer are you going to be on that bike?”
You never have to exercise in front of a screen showing music videos of rappers in gigantic t-shirts surrounded by greased up women in bikinis shaking their ‘jelly’.
You don’t have to listen to people roaring / huffing / dropping their guts through the effort of lifting weights the size of a family car.
Your kids can get involved (even if they don’t want to 😉 ).
It’s free and always open.
Exercising outdoors has become part of my life. Something I can simply step out the door and do. Thanks to the addition of a dog, it’s also something I can’t get out of… Alongside improving my physical health, my mental health gets a huge boost from watching the seasons change and connecting with nature (and when the nettles are high, we really do connect – ouch!).
There is the challenge of being out in all weathers but I have found that even if I come back boiling hot, soaking wet or stinging with cold, there has always been something to lift my spirits. There is definitely a case to be made for exercising outside.
I was inspired to re-visit this post (you can find the original here) by Sport in Mind, an organisation that uses sport and exercise to help aid the recovery of people experiencing mental health problems. To find out what sessions are available near you, check out their activity map.
One of the things I get great pleasure out of when performing is to ask the audience how their recycling gets done. You may not be surprised to know that in Henley, the recycling bins have lids so that you can discretely hide your alcohol intake or cover up the fact that you have not washed your coleslaw packets. Some areas let you chuck it all in one big wheelie, others make you meticulously sort things into a whole variety of boxes and bags.
The West Berkshire Way
In West Berkshire (where I live) there is the following system:
A plastic box for glass
A plastic box for paper / cardboard
A bag to put your plastic and cans in (but only certain plastic, and if it’s not the right plastic, someone may post on the village Facebook page that they “couldn’t help but notice…..” which could be viewed as petty but makes a change from the usual tirades about dog poo)
A green bin with the sole purpose of making people apoplectic with rage that they have to pay to put their garden waste in it.
A Judging Opportunity
Collection dates and time vary too – with some areas enjoying a weekly pick up of their waste and others having to wait for a fortnight. In my village, the collection is fortnightly and crucially it takes place after the school run. Which provides an excellent opportunity for the nosey among us to have a good old look. I’d love to pretend I’ve never done this, but that would be a lie. And it is reciprocated too – one friend asked me if I’d started drinking wine ‘from a box’ because she didn’t see enough empties in my bin.
At Christmas, it almost becomes a competition. People seek out additional receptacles to showcase their wild abandon and some even go in for a “Look what I got from Santa” – placing enormous boxes next to the bins telling everyone that they got a 55inch TV, a bread maker or an abdominal cruncher – and signalling to burglars that their house is ripe for the picking.
What to do…
Some people don’t like the whole ‘putting your empties on display’ culture of roadside recycling and prefer to take their empties to a bottle bank. Some people drink their Fosters in the morning and deposit the cans in an alleyway next to the local shop. Some people put bottles on the bottom and jars on the top. Me? Well I put a picture on LinkedIn of mine for all the world to see – and I wrote a poem about it too. You can read it below and watch me perform it for the wonderful ladies of Charlton WI in Wantage.
I’ve done some difficult gigs in my time – one in a pub with three punters, one in a boiling hot hall with terrible acoustics and one where choosing to take the stage from a place in the audience set completely the wrong tone. (Top Tip: stride from anywhere except the middle of the audience to the stage like you belong there, not like you’re just ‘having a go’).
Having a difficult gig is a great test to find out whether you want to continue doing stand up and a great example of why comedians put themselves through the wringer time and again. We just can’t help it. Our desire to perform, to be liked, to raise a laugh goes way beyond most people’s comfort zones.
A: With the same level of difficulty for any crowd but with perhaps a little more consideration and thought. Whether you can be heard or not is important regardless of audience, as is whether your material will be understood – Alex did a maths joke about Tan lines that completely went over my head.
I decided to go with what I know and deliver a typical set that covers marriage and kids. However, because there was the possibility that some audience members would have dementia, my plan B was to use a song. It’s one I’ve written about dog ownership and is sung to the tune of “If you’re happy and you know it”. My thinking being that if all else failed we could have a singalong.
Belly laughs, a heckle and a stage invasion
I can’t speak for the other acts but my view was that the performance overall was a success. One of the gentlemen had a filthy laugh, one produced a fantastic heckle and during my set there was a ‘stage invasion’ as one lady asked to be led out. We also had audience participation in the form of Audrey in the front row who took part in a magic trick and (by my reckoning at least) had managed to gain access to the bar before it officially opened as she seemed to have half a pint of lager on the go. And yes, I did use the song.
Performing at Gracewell care home was a real learning experience on a number of levels – from seeing the other acts to flexing my performing style on the fly. Best of all was the fact that everyone involved was completely up for taking their set to an audience that might not strike you as classic Comedy Club but are no less entitled to have access to comedy. They were a tough crowd but they were a great crowd too.
Thanks to BBC Radio Berkshire I had the very exciting experience that was performing on stage at the After Dark Club in Reading (previously graced by the likes of Supergrass and Manic Street Preachers and leapt off by me in a bout of drunken excitement decades before). The event was the War of the Words competition – part of the Reading Fringe Festival and open to poets, rappers, spoken word artists and comedians.
The brief? Three minutes to impress the assembled crowd and judges on the topic of ‘My Environment’.
The prize? A GOLDEN MICROPHONE THAT ACTUALLY WORKED!
Three minute life stories
I used my three minutes to take the audience on a whistle-stop tour of my life from sitting at the breakfast table with a copy of The Sun open at Page 3, to the death of my father which prompted some pretty off-the-rails behaviour and the eventual settling into what is essentially a rural bubble. This I topped off with a shortened performance of Middle Class Gangsta. If you want to watch the full performance, it’s below!
Others used their three minutes to talk of life in a hostel, the threat to our environment, marginalised communities and how Wokingham really isn’t “going to the dogs” when compared with life in Syria.
My destiny wasn’t to win (that was for the excellent Sarah Smith) but what I have received the benefit of is a concerted effort by BBC Radio Berks to support local performers. Some of us have been invited to perform by phone-in and in the studio which gave me the pleasure of reciting some poems for Bill Buckley’s listeners. Serendipitously the studio is less than a mile from the Microsoft building where I used to work – it was good to return to Thames Valley Park for creative rather than commercial reasons.
Bank Holiday Special
But that’s not all – oh no! There’s been plenty of support on social media and today I learned that on Bank Holiday Monday, BBC Radio Berks will be broadcasting a special on the event including extracts from all of the performances – something that will be a real boost for everyone who participated. One of the big challenges that performers face is capturing their work – having BBC-quality audio and production is a big deal when what you’re used to is mobile phone captures.
Turn on, tune in
So thank you to the entire BBC Radio Berkshire team – and everyone at the Reading Fringe Festival who made the event happen – I love what they’re doing for local performers. If you want to listen in to the special, it will be broadcast on Monday 25th August at 9am and available here shortly afterwards: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p07jz9l4
Want to find out more about my upcoming performances? Click here.
If you’re writing a speech to be delivered ‘sans slides’ (as I’m currently doing for a client – thanks TED Talks for striking fear into everyone who’s not a professional speaker) I find the following works:
1. Create some stepping stones (it could be a classic ‘start middle, end’ of a story or a five point process).
2. Find a visual for each one and put it in a PowerPoint (even if you’re not allowed to use one, it works as a visual aid when writing).
3. Write the whole lot out verbatim.
4. Read it aloud all the way through and time how long it takes.
5. Compare how long it’s taken with the time you have allotted. Try not to panic 😀
6. Step back and view your stepping stones objectively – could they work in a better order? Is there another theme that’s coming through that’s stronger than your initial idea?
7. Repeat steps 3 & 4
8. And again. And again for good measure.
9. Start chopping out the bits that you don’t need written down – part of the rehearsal process is establishing the points you know off-pat so any speaker notes you need will be prompts – not a script.
10. Keep the rehearsal process going – use time in the car / when the house is quiet. And finally….try to relax!
Want a hand writing a speech? I’ve written them for fathers of the bride, sales directors, marketing VPs and even a best man! As a writer I’ll help you capture and project your voice in a way that makes you look great and feel comfortable – whether you’re delivering a TED Talk-style speech, a corporate presentation or something for friends and family.
And if you want to check out my delivery style, hop over to my YouTube channel. *Warning – the language in some of my pieces is a little bit fruity!*