Cast Iron X is done. What’s next?

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Me, performing a new monologue – Pick Up – for Cast Iron X. This was a late replacement for another play, and in no way indicative of my desire to play all the parts, all evening.

It was a lovely weekend, what with latest instalment of Cast Iron Theatre and a series of new plays. One of them was Killer Ladybugs, of which you can read more about here, by one of the authors. There were a couple of ‘rapid response’ plays, and a piece from me – Dick Joke – discussing what is and isn’t acceptable in comedy. Sam Chittenden wrote The Two Of Us, exploring understandings and misunderstandings, and One Touch by Steven Lancefield was a creepy little tale that may – or may not – have had a disturbing twist. As ever, it was a pleasure to work with a brilliant bunch of people, some of whom were acting or writing for the very first time. Amongst other things, this is what Cast Iron Theatre is all about.

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Yes, the play is called Dick Joke, but get your mind out of the gutter. He’s checking his nails.

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One of the great things about the ‘rapid response’ plays is that the actors don’t even have to hide it when they don’t know what their next line is.

 

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This might look like a political cartoon about how we’re treating the NHS, but it’s actually a shot from One Touch.

 

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Killer Ladybugs sees Esme Bird make her debut at Cast Iron Theatre.

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As many times as we tell the actors that they can’t drink before the bows, some just won’t listen.

 

NB: all the photos of Cast Iron X were taken by Peter Williams

Also at Cast Iron X, we were pleased to take collections (of tins, packets, and toiletries, as well as biscuits and nice things) for Brighton Food Bank. Thanks to all those audience members who brought something in, and we’re glad to continue the collections for the rest of our shows in 2017.

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Let’s take a moment to tell you what’s coming up next month. Cacophony, our award nominated Edinburgh fringe show, returns to the DukeBox for one night only. A few of you have told us how much you’re keen to catch this show since you missed it the first time around, or you simply want to see it again. This, then, is your chance!

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Yes, we’ve pushed this photo at you quite a few times this year. We’re not sorry.

Additionally, we have our third annual Cast Iron Selection Box, in which a gang of brave performers picks up a Christmas themed play, unwraps it in front of the audience – and performs it, with no prep, no rehearsal, no safety net! If you want to write one of the plays that get performed, you still have a week or so to send them to us. They should be around five to eight minutes long (no longer), have a seasonal flavour, and be for two actors. Make them age and gender blind, so it doesn’t matter who gets to play what part. Send your submissions to cast_iron@outlook.com – and we’ll see you on the night of the 18th to see how our actors cope!

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‘”Bernie,” I said, “Bernie, you can’t make it a ‘Christmas’ picture just by sticking some tinsel and fairy lights on it”, but did he listen?’

And finally (but actually first in the month) there’s the Christmas edition of the Cast Iron Theatre Podcast: Live! on December 5th. There will be mince pies (probably), Christmas jumpers (almost certainly), and board games (absolutely). This month, our guests are Jenny Rowe of the Maydays, and Paul Stapleton, creator of Brighton based board games BN1 and ZOMBN1. We’ve been getting great audience feedback for our previous live shows, and we look forward to having you join the party!

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Yes, this will be our Christmas card from now on. Why do you ask?

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Monday 20th November 2017

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So, we have a busy week here at Cast Iron Theatre. Well, more so than usual. First up on the 21st (Tuesday), we have our next live edition of the Cast Iron Theatre Podcast. We have studio recordings of this quite regularly, where we talk to creatives working, living, or just gigging for one night only in Brighton, but each month, we also have a live show recorded in front of a happy audience (I can’t make any guarantee that the entire audience will be totally happy; I just don’t have the data on that). This month, our guests are stand up Aidan Goatley, and theatre maker Paul Macauley.

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None of these people are Aidan Goatley or Paul Macauley. We just don’t have the budget to take photographs from the future.

It’s a sharp, happy hour for just £5, at the DukeBox Theatre – situated at the back of the Southern Belle pub at the bottom of Waterloo Street. Tickets are available here.

At the end of the week (Friday and Saturday), we present Cast Iron X, which is the next in our series of short plays. These have been sell out shows from our first production just about four years ago, and we continue to be very proud of the new work that we’ve been able to give a platform to. As well as the plays that have been rehearsed over the last few weeks, there’s also a chance for you to get a piece of work performed on the DukeBox stage this weekend: if you write a ‘rapid response’ play – perhaps inspired by current news events – of about 4/5 minutes, a two-hander (age blind and gender blind), and email it to cast_iron@outlook.com, then it might (might) be performed on stage that night! (deadline is 5pm on the afternoon of each performance: you won’t receive notification if you are not successful, but we will email you back if your piece has been selected). There’s space for two rapid response plays on each night. Tickets for Cast Iron X itself can be booked here.

Oh, while I’ve got you here, I’d like to give  a shout out to our friends at PopHeart Productions, who are having a busy week themselves – also at the DukeBox. On Wednesday and Thursday, they present their latest piece – Shop Play, asking the question: is retail where dreams go to die? Exploring the highs and lows of the high street, booking for Shop Play can be done via this link.

Obviously, don’t feel compelled to come along to EVERY SINGLE THING, but just remember that so many small theatre companies are making so little money. I mean, obviously that’s not your problem, we’ve chosen this way of life for ourselves, there’s probably no way that we can persuade you to support the arts more than you already are

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In closing, let’s draw your attention to the regular podcast, which you can download and subscribe to via iTunes, or SoundCloud, if apples ain’t your thing. There’s now 33 different interviews there, and we’re looking forward to the next 33 …

Sunday 2nd July 2017

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So, we’re all caught up on the final episode of the current series of Doctor Who – which is what’s important, right? And while I probably do have some things to say about the most recent season, and by extension, all of the Moffat era (most specifically about the characters of Bill Potts and Missy) – either here or over on a Cultbox article, we have a lot of other stuff to get through first.

Most importantly, I’m co-creating and directing a show for the Edinburgh Fringe. It’s called Cacophony – and you can book tickets here (and you’d better believe I’ll be sharing that link at least a couple of times in the next few weeks). The sharp-eyed amongst you might spot that our first date – Thursday 3rd August – is actually the day before the ‘first’ day proper of the Edinburgh Fringe, so if you’re up in town around that time, that may be a real good date to pop by and say hi.

Cacophony is a solo show, and the solo performer is the wonderful Heather Rose Andrews, who has, as well as performing in a number of Cast Iron Theatre short plays over the past year or so, has been a marvellous member of the Brighton based ensemble, The Fannytasticals. We’re very excited and proud to be working with her on this show (AND SOMETHING ELSE LATER YES THAT’S YOUR FIRST HINT ABOUT OCTOBER), and we’re deep into rehearsals creating something truly special and memorable.

Right. We’re four paragraphs in. That’s enough isn’t it? (looks around. Looks up. Looks left. Looks right). OK. Look, you can jump ahead to the next paragraph if you wish. This paragraph is mainly going to be asking for money. Because, you see, it’s not easy getting a show to Edinburgh. In fact, it’s reasonably often a loss-maker (THEN WHY DO IT, is an obvious question, and one that does deserve an answer – and we’ll give you that in another blog entry). But we believe in the show, we believe in Heather, we believe in Sweet Venues (our hosts for Edinburgh), and just as important, we believe in ourselves. We’ve got a pretty nifty show here that deserves to be seen by as many people as possible. So in that modern way, we’re looking to crowdfund our production. This covers such unavoidable costs as accommodation, travel and set, even as we seek to keep all those costs down to as low as possible. I know that this blog gets read by people who know me, but also by people who have never met me (and are unlikely to do so). I’m speaking to you both. (Both groups, I mean. Not both people. I’m not suggesting that there are only two people who read this blog. Although, now you mention it ..) We’ve set up an indiegogo account to try and raise funds for the show. We launched it on Friday, and it’s already raised £77. Now, that may not seem much to you (indeed, it’s merely a tantalising 3% of our desired total), but it means the world to us. And if we can raise 3% of what we need in essentially three days .. that means this is ridiculously, hilariously, within our reach. So, what we’re asking, (c’mon, you’ve stuck with all of the rest of this paragraph, you knew this is where we were heading) is if you are able to spare us £5, or $5, then please consider doing so. Even if you can’t, if you can share the link on the social media platforms of your choice, then that’s going to help us out a hell of a lot. Anyway, here’s the link, so you can decide for yourself what the show is.

Last bit of news, and again it’s Doctor Who related. Back in 1968, there was a Patrick Troughton adventure called The Web Of Fear. It featured robotic monsters called The Yeti, and introduced Lethbridge-Stewart, later to appear with almost every Doctor of the classic series as The Brigadier. It also featured Anne Travers (who gets one of my favourite rejoinders in the series when she gives her response to the ‘what’s a nice girl like you ..’ style chat up line).

Anyway, CandyJar Books recently had a open window for submissions for an upcoming short story collection, to which I offered up an idea about a very slow alien invasion (in fact, actually titled The Slow Invasion). Well, I’m pleased and overwhelmed to be able to tell you that mine is one of the stories that has been accepted, and will be published later in the year. There’ll be more details as we go along, but in the meantime, here’s what we know so far ..

Speak soon,

A

Sending Another Script Off

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Spent the last couple of days reediting and polishing off an old script. Normally, this is a major sign of NOT BEING ABLE TO LEAVE THE DAMN THING ALONE (and who’s to say that it isn’t this time, too?) but at least time there’s a purpose to it: I had a deadline to meet. The BBC Writer’s Room has an occasional (actually twice a year) submissions open window – one for drama, one for comedy, and I decided to send something in. This time round, it’s the Drama window. I’ve only just remembered in the writing of this that I had already submitted something to the Comedy window last year, which utterly failed to get anywhere. This time, I’d spent a while doing some tightening up of the Mary Shelley script that I’d written last year (interesting, since the script has actually been produced at least once already in front of an actual audience), and the original intention was to change it slightly from a stage script to a radio script, which would’ve brought a certain set of challenges as, although all the characters are somewhat verbose (bloody poets, to coin a phrase), the play itself is reasonably visual, and plays with the chemistry (or otherwise) between the characters. I think, on some muted level, I was going to change the play from stage to radio before I submitted it to the BBC Writers Room because I probably felt – if they accepted it, it was more likely to be produced as a radio play rather than a TV film (particularly as the narrative is continuous and in one room, as opposed to several scenes all over the place). But then I told myself to get over myself: even if this submission were to be accepted (and that’s cheerfully unlikely, even if it’s any good, just down to the sheer volume of applicants), it’s reasonable to assume that successful scripts will serve only as ‘calling cards’, and never actually get produced, in lieu of whatever else the writer can cope with. This reminds me of one of my only clear memories of school (I remember bizarrely little of school, which suggests that it was an absolutely horrifying time, and I’ve repressed it all): a teacher saying that people aren’t actually scared of failure, as much as they’re afraid of success. You know the sort of thing: you’re good at a thing, people see that you’re good at the thing, they say well done for being good at the thing, and then they say the terrifying: ‘what else have you got?’. I remember at the age of eleven, or however old I was, that this was a genuinely new concept for me: the pressure of success. The weight of expectation.

And even so, I was surprised by how I felt when I hit the ‘submit’ button to send my script to BBC towers. Particularly as  I’d already done it with a different script last year (although, as I’ve mentioned, I managed to forget doing that). This time around, however, I felt oddly anxious. I have genuinely no idea if that’s because my subconscious thinks the script is awful (‘THEY’LL HATE IT’), or conversely, if it knows it to be pretty good (‘THEY’LL ASK FOR MORE AND THAT’S ALL I’VE GOT DAMMIT’). It’s sent off now, however, and it’s out there, free of my interference and meddling re-editing. It is (as all you established writers out there know already) a good habit to get into: find deadlines, competitions, festivals – reasons to finish the work, and get it out there.

And now on to the next one.

Smile Love, It Might Never Happen

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So there’s this advert at the moment for a chewing gum where a cute boy sees a cute girl on public transport. This seems to be a bit of a recurring theme, since there was also an advert in 1991 where two blonde kids were delayed by a combine harvester (yes, seriously) and shared a stick of spearmint gum, all to the soundtrack of Alright Now by Paul Rogers. Here’s what the advert looked like: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=02FlYl3sLWs. It’s all very burnished nineties, and as such has a standard rock anthem in the background, lots of beach-bleached hair, and is a prime example of that decade’s minor obsession with Let’s-Put-A-Hick-On-A-Porch-Into-Every-Advert.

This being 2017, even the adverts get remakes, and as usual, the new version isn’t nearly as great as the original. For a start, this one looks like it’s set in South London rather than the deep South, and the commentary – dreaming about knights in shining armour seems a bit retrograde. But the basic premise: make sure your breath doesn’t smell just in case you bump into a really hot guy on the bus is basically sound, considering it’s a chewing gum advert. There is a fundamental problem with the advert, however, which might be invisible to the casual viewer. Or maybe not. See what you think: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jf4TwInnsSk.

It’s not just me, is it? It’s an almost completely empty bus, and the dude sits down RIGHT NEXT TO HER. In an empty bus. What the hell is he doing? I mean, I’m aware that they’ve directed the advert to make it totally clear that the woman is genuinely attracted to the guy, which softens it slightly, but still. The point of the advert, clear even without dialogue, is that they don’t know one another. And even if she is instantly attracted to him: he’s still the sort of guy who interprets a smile from a cute woman as an invitation to sit right next to her in an otherwise empty bus.

I’m acutely aware that I might be coming across as slightly sensitive (snowflakes and all), but I don’t think so. It’s an invisible culture that leads to commercials like this, largely created by middle-aged white men, and I can’t believe that anyone who has had to deal with some random dude sitting next to them could have come up with this advert, and certainly nobody who’s ever been told to ‘smile, love, it might never happen.’ It’s certainly the sort of culture that allows a guy to interpret a sixteen year old’s friendly smiling service at a coffee bar as flirting, and apparently not understand  that your behaviour is so disturbing that a police officer is required to stop you at the door the next day.  When we’re still in a world where dudes on twitter can with equal ferocity tell you YOU LOST GET OVER IT with the same passion they can scream THE WIMMIN DESTROYED GHOSTBUSTERS, we clearly have a long way to go.

Obviously this advert is very far from the most offensive we’ve had to endure. But the fact that this is our baseline of mundanity means that we’re still not paying enough attention.

Twelfth Night

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Scene from 'Twelfth Night' ('Malvolio and the Countess') exhibited 1840 by Daniel Maclise 1806-1870

Today is Twelfth Night, which apparently is the exact day that you’re meant take the decorations down (although I believe I’m yet to find anyone who’s managed to adhere to that curiously dictatorial tradition). It’s also the name of a play by William Shakespeare – also called ‘What You Will’, and if you’re only vaguely familiar with the works of Shakespeare, you just need to know that this is the one where a girl dresses up as a boy. And there’s a shipwreck. And a long lost brother. Plus, there’s an argument / swordfight in the middle of the town.

No, not that play; the other one.

No, the other one.

No, the other other one.

There you go.

Anyway. When it comes to youth theatre and schools, Twelfth Night doesn’t get much of a mention, which as far as I’m concerned, is missing several boxes of tricks. Since we can already accepted that Shakespeare – particularly when it comes to kids – generally works better watched as a performance, or actually acted in , as opposed to having to read the scripts, which – to a significant number of teenagers, is going to be in a irrelevant and archaic language. Many kids – and then consequently, the adults they become – find Shakespeare boring and irrelevant.

This is why, I imagine, many youth productions or the school curriculum decide to put some glitter on the chore, and sell the kids one of the ‘exciting’ Shakespeares. Problem is, they often make a really fundamental mistake on what is going to be a relevant or interesting Shakespeare to young people today. Listen, the kids know that we’re trying to get them to eat their vegetables, they won’t care/listen if we claim we’ve sexed it up with bits of streaky bacon: the main meal is still cabbage.

One of the most popular choices is to try and make Shakespeare interesting  is A Midsummer Night’s Dream, mainly because it’s got a magical world of fairies in it, and partially because there’s a fair amount of knockabout comedy with a couple of cute couples. Problem is, it’s a deceptively complex plot which many adult casts get badly wrong – there is many a production that manages to make all the interludes with Bottom’s company of actors pretty tedious, which is a neat trick. The problem is that it’s easy to think that, because MND has all the fairies, silly actors, and fighting lovers lost in a forest in it, that there’s no need to do anything else. But fairies, silly actors, and fighting lovers lost in a forest are not things that happen in the day to day life of a teenager.

Another choice is Macbeth, which in theory isn’t a bad idea at all: it’s one of Will’s tightest scripts (it’s certainly his shortest), it feels the most cinematic, it’s got a ghost in it, and some good fights, along with a murder or two. And most importantly (and this is the gateway drug) it’s got three fun witches in it. But again, there’s not much there that’s relevant to kids today. The royal linage of a Scottish king isn’t something that many children care about.  

The other choice is Romeo And Juliet, which does have the advantage of being about kids being in love with someone that the parents don’t approve of. But Doing Exactly What Your Parents Tell you is something that started going out of fashion ever since James Dean whined about being torn about. And anyway, Romeo And Juliet is usually foisted on the kids by way of a hot young Leonardo DiCaprio. For kids who snapchat their relationship status in between

Which leaves us with Twelfth Night, which after everything else I’ve been talking about, may not sound like a good choice to bolster my argument since it mainly involves dukes and ladies, and men with titles over their names, all of which are not exactly going to feature in the average thirteen year olds life. But what it is about is this: getting drunk, being noisy, dressing up in stupid clothes, fancying someone who’s probably never going to fancy them back, and above all, an immature kid who keeps on listening to music when rejected by a loved one like a kid who’s just discovered his dad’s vinyl collection of Smiths albums. Which, to my mind, is very relevant to the life of most teenagers. The action is very snappy, as well, switching rapidly through a variety of quick-paced scenes that are confusing for the characters, but won’t lose the audience. Plus, there’s a subplot (which admittedly doesn’t always get interpreted this way in many productions) where the zany, silly gang of kids bully someone and take it too far. The fact that Malvolio is evidently something of a humourless prig doesn’t excuse the behaviour of Belch, Aguecheek and the rest: he doesn’t deserve the card he has been dealt. He, like many of the characters is very lonely, and so makes the wrong choices, which again is something that people are prone to do when they’re young. Being a teenager, Tori Amos tells us, is the loneliest place on earth, and for all its bawdiness, noise, and rude jokes, Twelfth Night is exactly that. Give it a chance above Romeo And Juliet and the horrifically overdone Midsummer Nights Dream. It might bring you good luck.

Keeping Stationary

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I had a work meeting last night, which overran slightly, as such meetings are wont to do. I wasn’t too worried, however, because I had temporarily forgotten about the trains. Until about this time last year, I was a regular commuter on the coastal route on the trains. I generally didn’t suffer too badly with the service, even though it was obviously bad: often overpacked with customers, almost never blessed with functioning toilets, often late, and occasionally cancelled altogether.

There are people reading this who can hardly dare imagine that the service was once that good.

I had occasion to change jobs around this time last year, which means that around this time last year, I no longer had to take the train every day. Also what happened around this time year was that the train service switched from merely bad to quite breathtakingly awful. There are a myriad of reasons for this, and you can choose which side you support another time, but it’s enough to say that I managed – via sheer dumb luck as well as anything else – to avoid the real misery of travelling by train in 2016. It simply didn’t affect me, even though I was reading enough news reports (and friend’s tweets) to understand that things had got really quite terrible.

So when my train home last night was delayed by an hour and a half, while it was annoying, I was reasonably nonchalant about it: after all, it wasn’t the sort of thing that had happened to me EVERY GODDAMN DAY. And anyway, it’s rare that I have an hour of enforced relaxation, so it would probably end up being quite healthy for me. Alright, yes, the first thing that occurred to me was that I should find a seat in a pub and catch up on edits on the current script, but that’s about as relaxed as I get, so I consider that a win.

There was a pub directly opposite the train station, which I stepped into, and then out again in about three minutes. There was a nice relaxed snug bit to the pub, but that section was closed. The open section was the bit with about five pool tables, three one armed bandits, one very loud jukebox, and at least ten people who certainly would have had to carry their proof of age with them at all times in order to continue drinking there. It wasn’t for me.

I knew that the next train station, the main train station for this town, was only a couple of minutes walk away, and that that train station also had a pub directly opposite it, so I thought I may as well give that one a go (I did have over a hour to fill, after all). Before too long, I got to the second pub. It’s a proper old style Opposite-A-Train-Station pub: huge, clearly doubled as a hotel back in the day, lots of gleaming brass and polished wood. It’s a genuinely beautiful pub. And it was pretty much empty.

I ordered my drink, and the landlord got the price wrong about three times, almost as if he wasn’t used to serving drinks all that often. Turns out, that may actually be the case: with a grim ghost of a smile, he asked ‘Waiting for a train then, are you?’ I admitted that I was, and he nodded with the air of a man for whom a single customer waiting for a single (delayed) train buying a single drink was going to dramatically improve his sales tonight. Which, bluntly, well may have been true.

The main problem for this pub was that it was directly next to the train station, which is a very bad location. This may seem somewhat counterintuitive, but think about it: train stations are generally on edges of towns or cities. Even if it feels like they’re slap dead in the centre of town, they’re not really: all the businesses, shops, cafes and pubs are normally – for the sake of argument – in front of the station, and then everything else – houses, smaller shops, etc – are tucked away behind. And there is very often a pub sitting next to the station, but since you generally only go to the station to go somewhere else, the pub is a place that you are literally passing on your way somewhere else. It’s not often that you’ll stop for a drink at the station pub unless you’re waiting for a delayed train (see also: buying anything from WHSmiths), and if you’re on your way out of the station – in other words, if you’ve just arrived – you kind of want to get your journey done, finished. And even if you do intend to go for a drink, that usually does mean getting as far away from the station as possible.

Over in Brighton, there’s a pub next to the station that has just closed down its upstairs theatre space and replaced it with a cocktail bar, mainly because the landlord apparently doesn’t understand this fundamental truth, universally acknowledged: those in want of a good cocktail will either travel a fair bit or not at all for it. Which is a clumsy way of saying that if you stick your cocktail bar next to the train station, almost nobody is going to come along to it: if they’re going to make the effort to go all the way to the train station (on the edge of town, remember), and they’re in a cocktaily kinda mood, they might well just jump on a train to London (as long as it’s not delayed, of course), and if they’re arriving in town, they want to actually visit the town, not stay at the pub that signifies as the city walls.

This has happened before: I remember a vegan café in Brighton a couple of years back that held regular comedy and spoken word nights. It wasn’t exactly in the middle of nowhere, but it was literally just off the beaten track: it didn’t get a lot of passing trade – you either knew about it because it was about the only café in Brighton that was entirely vegan (yes, I’m as surprised as you are), or if you’d made the trip to see one of the performers. And of course what happened was that audience members – occasionally ones that lived only a few minutes away – would declare that they’d never heard of this place. But then they’d become regular customers. One hand washes the other, etc. 

A new owner came in, and decided what the place really needed to be was a champagne bar. Despite the fact that nobody walked past this place without already knowing what it was. The vegan café was shut down, the comedy nights and spoken word events ceased. Now, I’m not saying that there isn’t a place for cocktail bars and champagne bars in Brighton, obviously there is (West Street needs a bit of a sprucing up, for instance). But you can probably see where this story ends: the champagne bar lasted less than six months (possibly a hell of a lot less). It’s perplexing watching it happen from the outside, when one is avowedly not a business person, watching a business make a fundamentally poor decision, thinking, ‘well, even I know what’s not gonna work ..’

Anyway, I got my train. And I managed to relax for a hour. I mean, I wrote this blog entry, but apart from that …