#33 On the Rowing Machine
I get it now. I get what it is I’ve been missing while under house arrest. It isn’t people, certainly not that, it’s not even interaction really. It’s more specific than that. I miss a right good row, that’s it. A good old-fashioned ding-dong, a proper barney; a rumpus, quarrel or brouhaha. I miss forcing my opinions and feelings on other people, that’s all stand-up comedy is when you boil it down, and the withdrawal symptoms are beginning to show. A twitch here, a broody moment there and the general stalking about the place, Heathcliff-like, desperately in search of a difference of opinion.
It’s quite something to reach middle age and the sudden epiphany that you are nothing, an empty shell, a husk even, without some narking antagonism to keep you ticking along. I can pinpoint exactly when this eureka-moment occurred as well and like Archimedes, it happened in the bath. Years ago my wife, Natalie, bought a beautiful, antique bath for the upstairs bathroom, and very handsome it looks too. Only, Victorian people were obviously quite tiny, probably all those whalebone pregnancy corsets, so I can’t fit in the damn thing without recourse to an advanced yoga position and it’s always niggled me. I like a bath. When I stay away I always ask for a room with a bath. A bath is human comfort at its most basic, the warm enveloping water, the decadence of bubbles, a tipple on the side… bliss. So when we came to designing our B&B I insisted that at least one room would have a bath, a luxury roll-top bath with a view over the paddock and into the Loire Valley beyond. And, to add that touch of outright me-time, I sourced a bath tray that could hold two champagne glasses and had an angled shelf for a kindle or tablet.
I lowered myself in gently, the tableau set to perfection; a glass of rosé and my favourite feel-good movie playing on my Kindle. ‘Ah…’ I breathed, as I slid down into the bubbles. Which was then quickly followed by ‘argh, what the fu..?’ The rest of the sentence literally drowned out as I slid under the surface, upsetting the bath tray and sending my kindle into the heated depths of the bathtub. I didn’t spill the wine though, which was just as well as I’d be needing that. And then some. I realised then that the only way I could possibly get over this disaster was to take it out on someone else, to project my understandable disappointment on to some poor unfortunate, to spread the anger.
That’s where an audience has always come in, or some poor sod in a dressing room. Or I could go out and engineer some kind of kerfuffle with officialdom, a traffic warden or a train ticket inspector. Well, that’s all denied to me now. There’s social media of course and I occasionally try to ruffle feathers there, but it’s all very unsatisfying. You can’t shout on social media, and just putting CAPS LOCK on makes you look like a feeble-minded moron to say the least. Besides which, the tense, beautiful privacy of a one on one contratemps is virtually impossible on social media as somebody else will usually try and stick their oar in at some point, and then it becomes just like the chimpanzee house at the zoo. What starts off as relative calm, descends into a cacophony of screaming self-righteousness and sabre-rattling before people slope off into preening masturbation. I can’t even argue with shop assistants anymore, a perennial favourite, as they’re cowed behind virus protecting perspex like a late night cab company and utterly terrified, quite rightly, of any kind of interaction at all. There’s the boulangerie of course, but no-one, I repeat no-one, argues with their boulangiste.
Also, it’s important not to take out your frustrations on your close family. We’re all cooped up together and festering resentment and backbiting should be left to the major religious holidays in my opinion, Christmas and Easter specifically, and not become a daily ritual. Anyway, the result of all this seething internalising was that I withdrew even further, not just from society, which is banned anyway, but from family too. In a way I was trying to protect them, worried that I might explode at the slightest thing. I’ve said it before but mental health is like the game Buckaroo, there’s only so much you can take before you can take no more and though they hadn’t quite reached the stage of leaving meals for me outside of my office door, we weren’t far off. Then help comes along, and in the same form that it always does.
We’ve not been together for 30 years by sheer luck you know, she knows me better than I know myself. She could see, after a few days of me swiping at stuff like King Kong at the top of the Empire State building, that I needed to let rip. She engineered the most niggly, futile, pointlessly shouty confrontation we’ve had in years. And only a woman capable of the kind of bathroom furniture torture and menagerie lunacy as she, could successfully feed the argument addict just enough so that lasting damage wouldn’t be done, and that instead the fog, the spell, would be lifted. The thirst for conflict sated. She truly is one in a million and we had the required ‘right old ding-dong’ that I needed. The clouds parted, order was restored.
There is the hope of course that a prolonged period of lockdown and confinement might produce a more stable human being, a more zen-like me. The virus seems certainly to be doing its best to rid the world of the kind of things I like to moan and pontificate about, sports for instance, the Edinburgh Festival and, well, people, to name but three. Nevertheless, if that were the result of COVID_19, then by the time restrictions are lifted and comedy once again raises its cynical head, I’d be out of a job. Happiness and contentment have their place in comedy of course, but they’re hardly sustainable in the long run and certainly not what the punter wants to see or hear. I’ve been a stand-up for nearly twenty-five years and if there’s one thing I know how to do, the comedy seam that I mine most successfully, it is to mirror the frustrations and disappointments of the paying public; to fail as grandly as they do, to aim high and fall short. I’m very good at near miss comedy, it’s my thing. And by the way, if you disagree with any of that, you know exactly where to find me.
Monsieur So British is a weekly blog and carries on from my two best-selling books ‘À la Mod…’ and ‘C’est Modnifique…’, both are available here. It is also a fortnightly podcast, sometimes with extra bits thrown in and all the major podcast platforms.
Browse the rest of the website for gig news and other stuff like ‘Playing the Martyr’, my first crime novel, and set in the Loire Valley which is also available on Amazon.
I’ve just finished my new novel, a humorous mystery caper and have signed with a literary agent, so hopefully there’ll be news soon.
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