Oh Fuck, I'm 45. I have to accept that in all probability almost a third of my life is now over. I am really going to have to make the next 90 years count.
We had planned to take the whole day off in celebration of me staying alive for so very long, but I had got a TV offer that I couldn't afford to turn down, but also really wanted to do, the terrifying Set List. But things worked out well as late last week we got notification that a cancellation at the Fat Duck meant we could go there for lunch. So we were going to do something special before going to a night time party where I had to humiliate myself in a room full of strangers, trying to adlib routines from oblique suggestions on a screen.
It's over six years since I first went to the Fat Duck
and in that time the cost of lunch has almost doubled (it's now a staggering £180 each). But it's still such a full on experience that it's probably worth that outlay, as long as you only go there once every six years.
And you do get 15 (admittedly tiny) courses for that money and a whole lot of theatre too.
As with last time it did feel like this might be a sophisticated satire of the rich. Showing how much they will pay out to eat ridiculous food like snail porridge and strange lamb flavoured jellies. But again it felt like being in an art gallery where the sense you were stimulating was taste (though smell and sight got some good stimulation too). My wife found the experience (she guessed) similar to being on drugs and did indeed seem to get high on the sensory overload. Art and drugs do work in some ways by making us look at the world in a different way by over stimulating specific parts of our cortex and I certainly spend a lot of my life eating without really tasting. At the Fat Duck you get a chance to experience this sense that we take for granted. As well as to be reminded that eating can be fun. We used to realise that as kids, something acknowledged with courses dedicated to the Mad Hatter's Tea Party and to sweetshops. I was laying off the booze (having just one glass of very expensive, but not most champagne) because of tonight's work commitments, but the food was bewildering enough. My wife didn't want to go back to eating ordinary food again, but if we only ate here we'd be bankrupt by the end of the month. For once course they brought out a box of moss and poured on some liquid from a teapot and the table was flooded with billowing mist to add atmosphere as we ate woodland food. Most of the food was different than the last time I came here, but I think I enjoyed it even more overall. It's definitely worth experiencing, though do save up your pennies. If you do the tasting menu along with the expensive suggested wines with each course, plus a glass of the expensive champagne, you're going to be spending in the region of £500 each for lunch.
That would buy you a lot of Nandos.
Then we got the train back into town to head to the Electric in Brixton for Set List. I've done this four times before in clubs with varying degrees of success, but it's always going to be varying because it's genuinely horribly, horribly difficult. A lot of TV and radio and panel shows give you the chance to prepare a bit (or a lot) but this is genuinely the real deal. You go on stage, they give you a set list, one item at a time and you have to make up a routine about it, as if this is your genuine set. For experienced comedians it allows us to feel what it is to fail horribly again. And when it goes wrong it's like the dream I often have of being on stage with no idea what to say, just babbling nonsense. Except this isn't a dream.
We recorded two sets in the night, which will be edited down to one, so some of my awful bits will hopefully be expunged. I felt pretty unhappy with the early set on the whole, though there were some nice bits, but then decided to have a couple of beers in the hope that that would calm my nerves and the second set did go better, with some notable exceptions. It's amazing where a stream of conscious can take you and both sets went to some dark and unpleasant places, but as I was discussing having sex with the eye socket of a sheep's head (the vagina of which I was keeping in my glovebox) I did step back and talk about how this was going on Sky Atlantic, home of classy shows like Madmen and how someone might stumble across it and be appalled and what would that do to Rupert Murdoch's spotless reputation. When this thing works you hit a patch of white light and stuff comes out effortlessly and jokes and ideas tumble out of you as if from nowhere. When it doesn't it's like driving your car repeatedly over a broken Clerkenwell pavement.
Before and after I could see comedians looking nervous and then crushed that it had gone badly. After the second show people's moods seemed to have reversed - the ones who had been happy with the first show were disappointed with the second and vice versa. But this is what makes it a remarkable show. However good you are, if the wrong thing comes up or if nothing comes to you, you're fucked. My first thoughts are never as good as my second thoughts, which are never as good as the many, many thoughts that you have the minute you're offstage. You're like a rabbit caught in the headlights or a sheep's head being occularly invaded by a disgusting comedian.
After I'd finished I drank more beer and celebrated my birthday and discussed disasters and failures with the other shell-shocked comedians. Not sure when it's on Sky Atlantic. But I just hope you don't tune in accidentally when looking for Madmen. Nearly everything I said was more offensive than anything that appeared in my Metro column this week. It's a bewildering and magical and unreal experience. And one probably not best attempted with a stomach full of truffle toast and whiskey gums and meringues frozen in liquid nitrogen. Though tonight's work paid for this afternoon's indulgence. And there's maybe something oddly apt in the way these two strange and seemingly unpalatable worlds collided.