Archive for September, 2011

The Ghost of Kirkstone Pass

Back in the early 90′s I spent a mad night at The Kirkstone Pass Inn with an ex bo of mine, a bass-player called Jocky.  You approached on a road called The Struggle, but since Jocky lived three miles from John O’Groats - where people died on the hairbends daily just nipping to the shop for milk - The Struggle seemed a veritable glide in comparison.

I was reminded of this night when I turned on my telly box to see Richard Wilson struggling up The Struggle in a vintage car (a blue Morris 1000) for his show, Britain’s Best Drives.

The building was the highest Inn in Europe; no running water, no electricity and you had to shower between 7.05 and 7.07 before they needed the water from the generator for breakfast.  So, Jocky and me and the other four guests all crowded round the small coal fire smoking cheap rollies, drinking whisky, singing mad songs and periodically taking shots at Pool in a bid to stay warm.  But, as a child of the seventies who ‘enjoyed’ caravaning holidays on County Donegal, this Inn was The Ritz to me.

We also enjoyed a haunted 4-poster bed in a room with No Smoking signs and beamed ceilings (both as rare).  And, although it was no more haunted than Grayfriars’ Kirkyard, there were moments when I felt there were three of us in that bed (Princess Diana thought she had problems) but I blame the Glenmorangie – or that weird night porter?  An atmospheric place, nonetheless, and one of the loveliest nights of my life and I always vowed to go back – but never did.

Jocky, the relationship ‘struggle’ having separated us long years ago, if I knew where you were today, I’d tell you that Meldrew’s just been up The Struggle. :-) http://www.kirkstonepassinn.com/about.htm

It’s The Year of The Dragon – But I Am A Sheep

Last week, in a flush of self-assurance, I said to a comedy friend, “I think next year is my year!”

He paused, smiled, looked over my shoulder to another male comedian and said, “Well, it IS the year of the dragon!”

They both burst into laddish guffaws then high-fived each other as I sat smiling, mildly laughing and thinking that if I WAS a dragon I would not be sitting here but rather soaring above the rain clouds and flying into to the sun.  And occasionally singing a song about frolicking in the Autumn mist.

“I’m not a dragon!” I protested “That’s my trouble; I’m too soft.”

A cynical eyebrow was raised as the lads exchanged knowing looks.  I thought, Christ, these guys really don’t know me.

If they did they would know that I am so far removed from the personality of a dragon that if I tried to breathe fire on them they would be gently cooled in a soothing spray of scented lavender.

So I said, “Actually, I do need to toughen up.”

More cynical smiling glances were exchanged and as my under-inflated ego was adopting the brace position I suddenly thought, actually, perhaps I do need to be a dragon to succeed in this industry.


So, what is a dragon then? And how can I become one?

According to Chinese Horoscope, ‘The Dragon is a creature of myth and legend’ Okay, then, I can pretend to be one.  After all, this industry is full of artifice.  The dragon is ‘a symbol of good fortune, a sign of intense power and a master of authority.’

Sounds pretty cool, huh?

‘The Oriental Dragon is regarded as a divine beast – the reverse of the malicious monster that Westerners feel necessary to find and slay.’

Ahah!  So my friends were inadvertently complimenting me? I cannot wait to thank them.  Furthermore ‘Those people born in Dragon years are to be honored and respected.’  So there!  Read it and weep fat boys - and kiss my sweet smelling feet.

Except, I wasn’t born in the year of the Dragon, I was born in the year of the Sheep.

I know this because my sister lived in Hong Kong for ten years and she once bought me a beautifully framed litho print of a sheep for one of my birthdays.  The sheep is ‘obedient and kind’ according to the notes on the back of this print – which sounds much more like me.

However, the sheep does tend to have negative connotations in this country involving being a follower, being dependent on others and em, being treated as a ‘companion’ in remote areas, my trusty Chinese Horoscope tells me that ‘The sheep simply wants a bit of peace.  They enjoy carrying on with life in their own quiet way, content to be in the middle of it all rather than to be leading it. Sheep are quiet and calm people. They enjoy cultural things and focus much of their energy on artistic hobbies. Sheep are easygoing and relaxed, kind, smart and happy to be going with the flow.’

Now this does more accurately describe me.  And the next time you pass a field of sheep have a closer look.  You will see them behind easels painting the landscape, doing a little yoga in the afternoon sun, then later enjoying a cheese-board and a fine vintage Port.

‘Sheep people are nurturers, they are reserved and soothing and will generally do well because they are so good at keeping the peace and accomplishing the tasks at hand.’  Not too shabby – or, em, woolly even.

Except, perhaps being too much of a sheep has held me back in the comedy industry? Sheep are also ‘dependent and insecure’ which isn’t so great.  Mind you, I do not know any comedian, artist, actor or performer of any kind who isn’t at least a little insecure.  And aren’t we all on some level dependent on others?

I’m not sure I mind too much being a sheep – which is, in fact, just like a sheep.

However, what can I learn from the dragon?  What characteristics does the dragon have, clearly lacking in the sheep, that I can nurture to help me be a more successful comedian?

People tell me to be a successful stand-up comedian one has to be ruthless, determined, single-minded, unsentimental, eager, sociable, hard-working, adaptable, available, manipulative, Machiavellian, smart, fucked-up in some way and I think ‘funny’ comes into it somewhere.

My trusty horoscope tells me ‘Dragons are free spirits’.  They dislike rules and regulations because restrictions blow out the ‘creative spark that is ready to flame into life.’

Well, I am a free-spirited and I hate rules but I have found, to my cost, that sometimes breaking the rules can get you into a lot of trouble so you do need to know what rules to break and which to observe. ‘The dragon is a beautiful creature, colourful and flamboyant.’  Uhuh, keep talking!  ‘The dragon is an extroverted bundle of energy, gifted and utterly irrepressible.’

Hmmm, sometimes I feel like this but only on my birthday and maybe on the first day of Spring and possibly for a few moments after I’ve had a Grand Marnier - longer if I’m sitting in front of a roaring peat fire.   ‘Everything the dragon does is on a grand scale.  They are full of big ideas, ornate gestures and extreme ambitions.’

Okay, I’m feeling a little overwhelmed about being a dragon now.

‘However this behaviour is natural and isn’t meant for show.’  Okay, I would never expend all that energy unless it was for show.  Otherwise, I see no point in not sticking the kettle on and watching my laundry dry whilst licking a chocolate ginger.

Okay, tea-break over, back to the dragon:  ‘Because they are confident and fearless in the face of challenge…’ of course they are ‘…they are almost inevitably successful.’  Well, that’s nice!  Well done that Dragon.

Can I take a nap now, please?

No, okay… ‘Dragons usually make it to the top.’  Yes, but do they have any friends?  ‘Dragons’ generous personalities give them the ability to attract friends, but they can be rather solitary people at heart.’  Ah, so the Dragon is a lonely beast?

‘A dragon’s self-sufficiency can mean that he or she has no need for close bonds with other people.’  Okay, so, not lonely, just psychopathic.

I guess I already have some of the ‘Dragon’ elements in me.  I am generous and do attract friends, I can turn on the gregarious personality when I want to.  But, like the sheep, I often do want to stay at home in my pyjamas with a cup of Green tea watching a documentary about the slow, painstaking process of restoring a grand old building.  And I shout at the TV people sometimes.

Yes, I am currently single – and I’m okay with that too.

Much more of a sheep than a dragon I think we all agree.

‘Dragon people must be aware of their nature.  Too much enthusiasm can leave them tired and unfulfilled’ – Ah, there we have it, finally: an admission that being a dragon is exhausting and unfulfilling.

Baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa to that! (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

So, I am happy to be a sheep.  The art is its own reward for me and all that – and the time to do that and to do it well is more important to me than money (which is just as well what with me being a sheep and all).

Is the dragon ever content in the efforts of the busy-busy life?  Does she not tire of always charging forward?  Does she not get fed up with all that success and all those parties and the fun and fire and brimstone of it all? Does she ever take time to enjoy the process or to sit still in the joy of being?  Has she ever trully enjoyed a dark chocolate ginger?

And it’s just silly to think you can throw out all of the rules!  You would be inundated with parking tickets and spend half your life in the jail – I’ve been there (well, not the jail, yet!)  and you would NEVER make it in show-business, so may have to content yourself with being a successful entrepreneur or something.

I do observe the important rules and ignore the ridiculous ones.  I now enjoy a slower-paced life where I get to enjoy the sunsets and the finer details of evolution.  And people are important to me - my friends and my family.  Without them I cannot hear the sound of laughter.  And, in my own way, I am already a success:  I can change a tire, bake a lazy loaf and can sometimes even set my flamin’ hard-to-set vibrating watch to actually vibrate.

So, to my cynical chums, as you can see, if horrorscopes are to be believed, I am not a dragon but a sheep.  Neither label is uncomplimentary.

A sheep actually painted this whilst I was slaying that dragon. Unbelievable!

www.usbridalguide.com/special/chinesehoroscopes/Dragon.htm

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