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2024 so far... (The Diary of a Travelling Showman)

Big Ben rings out of the Elizabeth Tower, and the midnight skies are filled with exorbitant fireworks and light up drones which dance over the black water of the Thames, reflecting diamonds and sparkles across the river, and hiding the sinister features which may lurk beneath.  It’s clear that we have entered a new year, from the sheer amount of people drinking champagne and locking arms to sing Auld Lang Syne on the riverbank.  Other more cautious revellers, myself included, stay at home and watch Jools Holland plonking out some melodies on a shiny new piano, and roll their eyes as Vic Reeves swings from a nearby chandelier. Tonight is a night for organised anarchy, for us to watch with bemusement and disbelief.

“Happy New Year.” I said to my wife, and gave her a little kiss.  A hangover is a punishment neither me or my wife choose to bestow upon ourselves, and so we finish our glass of apple tizer, and head off to bed for a few hours of sleep.

January is not an entertainer’s dream month, it is not the worst month of the year, but it is up there.  As things settle back down from the Christmas holidays, and our children return to school.  It is time to get back into some sort of routine.  That said November to December is ludicrously busy.  Particularly for myself.  I have a Christmas Show, play the Grinch, and manage Santa Claus, as well as performing close up magic at various events and even have a team of elves, nutcrackers and faries, who work for me at various events, who I call ‘The Santa Squad’.  I have always said that performing is a drug.  It is an addictive force, which sends spikes of adrenaline rushing through your body, there is not a chemical in the world that can equal or surpass it!  Through the first half of winter I am constantly on a high, and then as January hits, my mood hits with it.  If December is a busy month for performing, then January has to be the busiest month for admin, and as a natural entertainer, and an unnatural office worker, I find admin has the opposite effect on me to that of performance, sending me into a downward spiral of depression, misery and unhappiness.  I do not get excited about chasing late payments, and trying to plan for the future year.  And I particularly dislike paying my tax bill, but I do so, much as it grieves me.

There is of course the smattering of light in the darkness of January. My nephew’s birthday party, which I was delighted to perform for this year.  My nephew, Noah is a huge fan of The Cheese Monster, and loves seeing what the fromage fiend will be getting up to.  A smattering of performances fill January in Notting Hill Pizza Express, another in a hotel in Milton Keynes and for myself this year, the brightest light was getting involved in a stand up comedy night at The Magic Circle where, for the first time in around 10 years I put magic and puppetry to one side, and performed 10 minutes of stand up comedy to a group of adults.  It was sort of terrifying, but worked extremely well, and it’s something I feel I could pursue a bit, and sort of have, pushing more stand up into my shows in the past few months, but this I will explain later.  Right now it is January, dark, dismal and depressing, but as I said earlier, this is not my least favourite month, for just around the corner is February.

If January is cold, sad, depressing and miserable, then February is it’s annoying, and overbearing, little brother.  When they were making months there is a reason that they only gave February 28 days, it’s because they knew if you had an extra day in February you’d go insane.  This theory is tested every four years by giving us an extra day.  And because 2024 is a fourth year, we are given the ‘insanity’ day to endure more of this horrible month.

But fear not.  For magicians February marks one of the biggest and most exciting events in our calendar, the world’s biggest magic convention.  Every year thousands of magicians from all over the planet make their way to entertainment capital of the world, the seaside town known for joke shops, kiss me quick hats and it’s three piers, Blackpool.  Despite it’s exotic location, the weather is not what the magicians have come to Blackpool for.  The convention takes place within Blackpool’s Winter Gardens and includes lectures from the most skilled magicians in the known universe, performances from the most entertaining and fabulous conjurors on the planet, shops filled with more magic than a Harry Potter novel and competitions where performers pit their skills against one another to see who is the best of the best.

This year I was a competitor in one of these competitions. ‘The Family Entertainer of the Year Award.’

But the fate that February decided to play out for me said this was not to be.  As the day before the competition. I was stood in the winter gardens chatting to a friend, when I felt a strange, uncomfortable stabbing pain in my left eye.

I made my excuses and made my way to Specsavers, as the pain got exponentially worse.  Within an hour I was in so much pain that I could not open either of my eyes, and I was rushed to hospital by my friend Fay Presto, and kept company with my friend Jay (one of my elves and magicians from December).

My body went into shock and started shaking, and being temporarily blind meant I had to be guided around the hospital.

I rang my wife to explain what had happened, I then rang my parents to ask them to come to Blackpool (they don’t live overly far away) and they met me at the hospital.  By the time they met me I was in a state, my body was shaking, and I was occasionally vomiting, whilst doubled over in pain, and still unable to open my eyes.  It had now been about 3 hours I had been sitting in the hospital waiting room, which sounded fairly busy.  The lady next to me had overdosed on drugs, in an attempt to kill herself (probably because she had worked out there was an extra day in the most depressing month of they year) and an older lady on the other side of the hospital seemed in a right state, and was being looked after by her grand daughter.

Time went on and as the night hurtled towards midnight I realised that I probably wasn’t going to be able to compete in the competition.  I was absolutely gutted, but made the call, apologising and continued my wait into the night.

Following this experience, and missing the entire weekend I had been so looking forward to in Blackpool I was well overdue a holiday, and so my family boarded a plane to Lanzarote for a well needed break.  I can count the amount of gigs I had in February on one hand, and so money was a little sparse, but I had already booked the holiday last November and I always think that us Brits need a summer holiday in the darkest and most miserable months rather than the actual summer.  Summer is easy to deal with, as the sun is out.  But February is horrible, and so a trip to Lanzarote gives us the injection of sunshine, relaxation and delicious food that we need in our lives.

I finish February on a high, despite the fact that it’s been a pretty low month.

As March springs around the corner, with it’s promise of slightly nicer weather, and more work, I couldn’t be happier.  The sun appears to be shining, even if the temperature doesn’t reflect this, and I have multiple repeat clients booking me for their child’s birthday.  There is a fabulous jazz singer for who’s son I have done the past three birthday parties for in North London.  Another in Chelsea, plus it’s Mother’s Day and my son’s birthday too.  But the most exciting thing about March is that at the end of it is the Easter Holidays.  Whilst the excitement of this for many might be about eating enough chocolate to almost give yourself type 2 diabetes, for me it is the start of my Holiday Park season.

I love working the holiday parks.  I know what my audiences want, and I think it’s where my show is best suited, plus I get to travel around the UK and visit places during the day, I might even get an extra gig in here and there.

My first run of the season is across Wales, and for Haven.

On day of my first show I drive across the country, and into Wales.  It’s a long journey, just over five hours, but I enjoy it.  I have a passenger seat full of drinks, treats and a packed lunch (If I can avoid paying for service station prices I will).

I have a fantastic playlist of incredible songs I can belt out at the top of my voice, and repeatedly sing some of the songs over and over again, to learn the lyrics as I drive.  This journey’s lesson is ‘You’ll Be Back’ from Hamilton, which is my latest hyperfixation.

Eventually, now fully knowing the words, I arrive inn Harlech, where my accommodation is.

It’s a pretty town on a hill, with a large castle hanging off the mountains edge. I go in, introduce myself to my hotelier, before having a shower, shave and getting ready for showtime.  I then drive through the picture postcard that is North Wales to Green Acres, one of the smaller Haven Holiday Parks, which is my first venue of this run.

Green Acres is a nice park, and has excellent sound quality (you learn a bit about sound quality when you are visiting various parks). You can see the audience and interact well with them.

Those spikes of adrenaline rush through me, as I try out some new material for 2024, as well as the classics I am most well known for.

The next morning I wake up refreshed and ready for a nice day.  I have a wander through Harlech and learn that it is not just home to it’s castle (this is unremarkable for a Welsh town, as pretty much everywhere you go in Wales has it’s own castle.) but Harlech is also home to the world’s steepest street.

My common sense takes a holiday and I decide, despite my general apathy regarding exercise that I want to try and run up the worlds steepest street.  First I walk down to the bottom, and then try to run up.  I got about halfway before taking a break and hobbling the rest of the way up, out of breath and realising just how unfit I actually am.  Still I reach the top of the street, and I pop into to the local shop to buy myself a souvineer badge to say I managed to walk up the hill, one of the very few purchases I make on these trips, as right now from the dough of gigs in the earliest moths of the year I am broke, as are my family, so I try to spend as little money as possible whilst still managing to live from day to day.

Next up is lunch with Mum and Dad, they’ve come to see me, and we meet at a Garden Centre to talk and they enjoy a welsh rarebit, whilst I opt for the vegan burger.

Time flies by and before I know it I am heading off towards Hafyn Y Mor.  This is a much bigger park.  In fact I am pretty sure it is the second largest Haven park there is, although I am happy to be corrected if I am wrong. What I do know is that it is the most ‘theatre-y’ holiday park.  It has a huge backstage area, again brilliant sound quality, and a much more theatrical vibe to it.  The show goes down really well, and I am on a high before I have to head off towards Tenby.

If Hafyn is the largest and most theatrical park Tenby is a much more modest park.  I spend most of my day travelling through Wales, the views a phenomenal and the sun is shining.  It’s a lovely place to visit, although I can’t imagine the tranquility of being in the middle of nowhere to last long, I think if I were to live here I would get cabin fever.  It’s also worth noticing that I topped up my car with petrol at the start of my journey and I still somehow have a quarter of a tank of petrol left. My Dacia Sandero Stepway is less of a car and more a colleague these days, and an exceptionally efficient one at that too, they should probably get a promotion, or at least a wash, but that would mean spending money at this point.  Perhaps instead I’ll do it on the driveway later today!

Kiln Park is a fun park to work, and I enjoy it.  They’ve got a cracking team, and we get on well.  But I can’t stay around for long.  Time waits for no man, and so I head back to my hotel.  There is a wedding going on, and I made a quick getaway meaning I left haven in my suit, and arrived at this hotel in my suit too, still with a deck of cards, and various magical moments in my pockets, and before I know it I am showing a few tricks for the wedding party, but. Ido want to go to bed, so I make my excuses and pop up to my room.

Final day in Wales takes me to New Quay (not to be confused with Newquay which is my next destination.).

Cardigan Bay is home to the UK’s biggest dolphin pod, and despite my distain at spending money on anything, the temptation of jumping on one of the boats and heading into the bay to see the dolphins is overwhelming.  Perhaps it’s the sun shining on the blue water, that glistens like

The shores of a Carribean island, or maybe my childhood, where holidays would be spent in Portsmouth often jumping on a boat and drifting out to sea, but before I know it I have booked myself on to a dolphin cruise and am heading off to sea.

There are various facts and figures spewed at us on the cruise about the dolphins as we jet off on the tiny catamaran, and I realise that despite the sun shining in the sky, I should’ve probably have worn a hoodie of some sort.  After 90 minutes of satisfying sailing we have seen a total of zero dolphins, but I still loved the boat trip, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

I make my way to Haven, and relax for a couple of hours prior to showtime.

New Quay Haven is nice.  A small venue, where you can really take charge of the audience.  Again it has brilliant sound.  In fact, all the Havens seem to have great sound at the moment, which is really nice, as sometimes things can get a bit disrepaired and not get fixed.

I return home for some quality time with my family, and a couple of local inflatable days with Mega Inflatables. These gigs are really fun.  I perform for 90 minutes a time whilst kids bounce on bouncy castles and parents drink coffee.  Its a really nice gig to do, and I get to do a little bit of mixing, I miss ‘dropping the beat’ sometimes, which is how I spent the the years from 2009-2013 in the Algarve working as a DJ and Karaoke host in Albufeira on the strip in a small bar called Blue Star.  I ended up throwing loads of new songs, and old songs into the mix between shows, including a fun mix I made with Space Jam, Good Feelin’, Bloody Mary, Timber and Shut Up and Dance.

On the evening I was playing in Combe Haven, a favourite venue of mine, and had been given a challenge, that if I was to play in the main room I had to take all the magic out of my act.  Combe Haven has two venues, and the main room is much better as an artiste to play.  They had two acts on this night though, and both of us were magicians, so I striped my show bare of magic, and filled with stand-up comedy, parody songs and more of The Cheese Monster.  I dare say that this format work as well, if not better, than the original format of my show, although I did hastily put magic back into my show for the next day.

I then performed at Magic Dave and Friends in Southend... I like being in shows like this. It was hosted and organised by Dave Taylor, and included Oliver Tabor, Chris Campos and Myself doing little stints of show throughout.

Most recently I have been to Cornwall, a bit of a way to go for me, but armed with a Spotify full of Chris and Rosie Ramseys podcast, and more musical theatre songs the journey flies by, with a pit stop at the world famous Stonehenge along the way.

I arrive in Newquay, and am blown away by the natural beauty of Fistral beach from the cliff edge, as the waves crash upon the shore.

I check into my hotel and make my way straight to Haven for my show.  It’s noticeably quieter, with the kids holidays finishing the day before, but we have a good time.

Day two of Cornwall needs to end with me in Exmouth, around a 90 minute drive from Newquay.

I head into Newquay town which I can best describe as ‘fun’. It’s the sort of place I imagine you can get anything you would ever need from pretty much any of the shops there.

I have a phone call with Fay Presto, before meeting up for lunch with Michael Packman, a magician and author who lives in Cornwall.

Next I make my way to Boscastle.  This quaint little village is home to babbling brooks and a museum I want to visit, the museum of witchcraft and magic.  It is an intriguing place filled with strange objects, and a place that really gets you thinking about the possibilities of other realms.

I spend a bit of time there, enjoying the museum, before heading off to Devon Cliffs for the final leg of my easter tour.

I’m in Capones (Devon Cliffs has two venues and in my opinion Capones is the nicer one) The audience here is somehow full, it always is in Devon Cliffs and the show goes down a storm, leaving me on a high for my trip back home.  It’s nice to be back doing what I really love, and I’ve two more gigs this week, one doing cabaret at an O’Neills Pub in Aylesbury (I have no idea if this is going to work for me or not) and the other on Saturday night in Hastings at a Park Holiday resort.

So far 2024 has been a fairly quiet year as far as work goes, but bubbling under the surface, and just starting the madness which is about to ensue, as Spring and summer hit the UK. It is really only the first three months I struggle with, and then everything is fine. For now it’s time to enjoy my family, do a spot of housework and some gardening, write and relax before the madness all begins again!

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