04 November 2007

Meanwhile, back at the ranch

Okay, so it's been eight weeks since my expedition to America – so has anything happened back in the real world since then?

Well, I did move flats, that's one thing. After seeing a rather suspect residence in Clapham, I decided that I didn't really want to share an ex-council flat without a living room with two Romanian truckdrivers. But a few days later I found the advert for a flat in Southfields (yes, sarf of the river) and I soon ended up moving into the spare room in a 2-bedroom flat belonging to Debbie, a nice South African lady around my own age. The flat's modern inside, and while the building and the estate it's on couldn't be described as aesthetically pleasing, the place gets plenty of sunshine and there's a bus-stop to Putney right outside. In the mornings I’m generally up and out of the house before Debbie gets up, so there's no problem with bathroom queueing. The commute to work involves a quick bus ride down to Putney station – the buses come thick and fast – then a train to Waterloo, followed by a bus over Waterloo Bridge and past the theatres and BBC Bush House in Aldwych, straight to work at Bloomsbury Square near Holborn. And at the weekend the super shops of Wimbledon are close at hand too.

Another good thing about the flat is that now I can use my Hauppauge USB Freeview TV card to watch about 35 TV channels on my laptop – the reception was no good out in Sanderstead. I particularly enjoy watching Flight of the Conchords on BBC4, and the new Peter Serafinowicz Show on BBC2 is funny too (click on the link for 'Bang! Bang! Bang!', and have a look at this clip for the Butterfield Karaoke Bar). Now all they need to do is put new series of Mock The Week and That Mitchell & Webb Look back on and then everything will be hunky dory.

I'm becoming a bit of an unlikely clothes-horse lately, what with all the tempting gear on sale around town. It's not as if I'm going mad in a credit fuelled frenzy or anything, but it's a long way from my New Zealand aversion to clothes shopping anywhere other than Dressmart Onehunga, and even then only when pressed. A particular favourite is the TK Maxx outlet amongst the megastores on Purley Way near Croydon, where I scored my lovely Penguin jacket, which will hopefully see me through many winters to come. Now all I need is to set myself up with a snappy suit for work, and I’ll be sorted.

At the end of September I finally saw my mate Emma in person for the first time since my last visit to London in 2002. She was paying a quick visit to the UK after moving back to Auckland with her English husband, and we caught up (along with her pal Nick) in a pub off Oxford Street, sheltering from the teeming rain outside.

I've been to a few comedy programme recordings lately too. The first was a Radio 4 panel game pilot episode called Shuttleworth Pops The Question – a ramshackle attempt at a celeb panel game hosted by a Northern comedy character playing a cheesy Yamaha organ intentionally poorly. Rent-a-guests Toyah (Willcox) and Paul Gambaccini tried their utmost to make it work, but it was telling that what was meant to be a 30 minute pilot took 100 minutes to record. Fun, but a bit too amateurish to have broad appeal. Then a few nights later I went with Raewyn and Mike to BBC TV Centre in White City (which is on the market if you’re interested) for the recording of the TV sitcom Lab Rats. It turned out to be a bit of a mission, as the recording dragged on until 11pm, and we’d not had a chance to eat beforehand! The comedy itself was enjoyable, with a good youthful cast of misfits, but it proved to be a buggy performance, with a great many re-takes required. The big bonus of the evening was the comedian hired to keep the audience entertained during the recording. Lucy Porter, the beatific butter-supposedly-wouldn’t-melt pint-sized comedy nymph put on a great show, including her fond reminiscences of overheard conversations between white middle-class teenagers talking ‘Jafaican’ i.e. faux Jamaican: “ah caught me breddren smoken me erb in me conservatory”. Most recently, on Friday night I went out with Felix and Gavin to Teddington studios in deepest suburbia to watch the recording of Adrian Edmondson’s new sitcom Teenage Kicks, about a newly-divorced dad who moves in with his student children. I hadn’t realised it was an ITV comedy, which is normally the kiss of death – but while the material was edgeless middle of the road fare, it was still entertaining to watch. And the cast was considerably more rehearsed than the BBC Lab Rats folk. The ITV continuity comedian, a silver-haired old school comedian, was appealing too, if only because the well-worn gags he peddled were so harmless that they eventually became amusing despite themselves. (His one good joke was that he’d asked his long-suffering wife to dress up as a nurse for his birthday treat, to which she replied, “I’m a bit old for that now. But I will dress up as a Health Visitor”)

There’s also been a few day-trips to keep me busy. One day I went out to Windsor and Eton for a first look, strolling around the college amidst the suited-up junior toffs and checking out the castle. I decided to return another day, because the castle’s St George’s Chapel is closed on Sundays, and that’s where Charles I is buried. A week later I visited Kew Gardens near Richmond with Steve and Fiona to amble through the kempt surrounds and steamy hothouses, and admire several dozen Henry Moore sculptures on display. The next day I took a train to Colchester in Essex where I met up with former Top Shelf netball team mate Fiona Macnab, who moved to live with her brother in Norwich a few months ago. We had a pub lunch and explored both the town and the impressive castle, which had excellent exhibits on the town’s pre-historic, Roman and medieval history.

Autumn leaves at Kew Gardens

Colchester Castle, Essex

Next on the agenda: a trip on the Eurostar this Friday morning with Steve and Fiona plus their pal Helen, for a three day visit to Ypres and surrounds. It will be one of the last Eurostar services to depart from Waterloo, as a day or two after we return all services will shift to the faster (but less convenient for me, how rude!) St Pancras route, which will cut the travel time to Paris to 2 ¼ hours. Now that’s what I call civilised.