Thursday, 8 October 2015

Travels - Snape to Switzerland



This week I have been very much the travelling man, with a return to performing and teaching. And partying, come to think of it.


Thursday saw the first Socks performance for a month, with the start of their mini tour in the Granary Theatre in Wells Next The Sea in Norfolk. Yes, it is a long drive from Clevedon, thanks for asking. 5 hours there, then 2 and a half hours to Kibworth where I stayed with Mum. Then home the next day. I'm happy to report that the audience loved the 90 minute show which now includes Minging Detectives. I was missing hearing things like "I haven't cried so much - in a good way".


Then Saturday was Stephen Parker's birthday party in Brighton. A fabulous affair, with 1960s fancy dress, bingo, and performances by Anita Harris and a great band called The Fliks. Quite the most lavish birthday party I can remember going to (Stephen & Nick know how to throw a good party, it was their wedding that The Socks played in Saddell Castle a few years ago).


Hev & I stayed in a sweet B&B a few miles out of Brighton, which had neither wifi, nor a TV, nor a phone signal to speak of, so we left the party early to a silent room, which is weird. We get so used to creature comforts, especially background noise. As it transpires, these were sensations I was to encounter again on my travels.

Sunday morning saw us rising at stupid o'clock in order to drive from Brighton to Snape in Suffolk for me to do a pair of Comic Art Masterclasses at the Flipside Festival at Snape Maltings.


A lovely affair, at the home of the Aldeburgh Festival, in a strange bubble of Hampstead-on-the-marshes, marred only by me getting really frustrated in the middle of the day when my class had to move out of its tent prematurely, then I got annoyed that too many tickets had been sold for the afternoon session (37) which makes it harder to do, and in danger of over-running. Now that I say those words out loud, I can see how petty and pernickety it sounds to anyone else, but the running of my classes has become such a thing that, unless they're set up right, I'm worried things will go wrong and I'll end up looking bad.

It all went well in the end, but I felt very bad at how annoyed I'd got and how arsey I'd been with everyone. Hev and I realised on the long drive home that I was going through one of my very rare depressions. I suffer these in October, around the time of my birthday, and most years I'm spared. I remember suffering them as far back as my 17th and 18th birthdays, and famously I went through a bad one in 2004 when my London Comic Festival was going very badly. I spent my birthday that year at Jonathan Ross's house, filming a segment to show at the festival, which should have been the most exciting treat, but I was so filled with anger and resentment that I was nothing but miserable for a lot of that week. These depressions pass, and I'm happy to say mine had gone by the time I got to Switzerland.

Oh yes, as if driving from Clevedon to Norfolk to Clevedon to Brighton to Suffolk and back to Clevedon in a weekend wasn't travel enough, on Monday morning I caught the Easyjet to Geneva to begin two days teaching at schools in Switzerland, organised by a company called Authors Abroad with whom I'm working for the first time.

I will confess that, this being my first visit to Switzerland, I was genuinely surprised to see so much Swiss chalet architecture. Especially once I'd reached Villars Sur Ollon, which is high up a hillside in the Alps, with a breathtaking view that no pictures can quite capture, it's all wooden buildings with balconies and long pitched roofs. The whole place looks like a collection of souvenir cuckoo clocks. In a good way.

Here we see me posing, appropriately cheesily, in front of the flipchart in the classroom where I did Tuesday's classes. As always, I stipulate that I can only do two Comic Art Masterclasses in a day, with a maximum of 30 pupils in each. And as always, either when I'm going through a third party to set things up, those details had gone aglae. I found myself doing three classes in the day, one of which had an unprecedented 44 pupils in it. But, ever the professional, I did them in style, with patience and aplomb. Which, if you've ever tried to teach 44 rowdy 13 year olds, you will know is... what am I saying? Who else ever has to teach 44 teenage pupils at a time?

After Sunday's Snape experience, when I got angry and flustered and let it show too much, this time I was keen to make sure I kept my cool, and I think I did. Everyone was very helpful, especially the marvellous librarian Renchan, and they were all so lovely and appreciative, they're even talking about having me back in the future.

My guest room at Beau Soleil, an exclusive private school that costs €100,000 a year, had a TV set, but one that had not been updated since Switzerland went digital, meaning that it showed no pictures. Or sound. The wifi didn't work (nobody seemed to know the code) and I struggled to get a 3G signal, so I ended up going into the village and sitting in a small bar doing my emails. Somehow, either through making a Skype call to Heather from my room, or using Apple Maps en route, I'd managed to run up a bill of £41 outside of my usual EE bill in call or data charges in less than 12 hours. Oops. Having bought data packages I was able to avoid this happening over the rest of the trip.

On Wednesday morning I had to get up early to catch the 5.39 tram down the hill to Bex and from there the train to Geneva, and finally one to Pont-Ceard where I was whisked off to my next school, College Du Leman, where two Comic Art Masterclasses and a talk to 150 Grade 8s (yr 9) in the hall just flew by. Again they were marvellous, especially Jane who had helped organise the day and assisted me throughout, and there was more talk of having me back again. It certainly would be good to return.


So to the Lake Geneva Hotel where I'm typing this, watching the sun rise over Lake Geneva (it's coming up later than I expected, with it being pitch black at 6.30 and still not very high in the sky now at 7.15). It's been quite the week of travels, and in 7 days I've managed one Socks show, 7 Comic Art Masterclasses, one party, and - let me just add it up -  21 hours driving, and another day of travelling by every means except for boat. It'll be good to settle down when I get back.

What's the you say? I'm doing what? Where? (Coming up from Saturday: Leamington, Harrogate, Belfast and the Isle of Wight)

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