A slightly lost week this week, being ill, waiting to see if I have Covid. I suspect I just have a (“the?”) flu, but one might as well be sure and there’s a walk in centre just down the road. Once I was able to get out of bed, I went and stuck the stick in the various orifices.
“We weren’t able to read your PCR test,” came the slightly cryptic text the following morning. So off I went to do it all again, to the NHS site amid rubble behind the doomed Blagdon Road multi-storey car park.
So it’s been illness and isolation, left alone with all my worst thoughts and the many things I need to sort out when I’m feeling better.
Tonight, though, was better. I had some phone calls and I sang some covers. The one below is from Monkey Swallows The Universe, Sheffield legends who released two albums before disappearing into the ether. Nat, the singer, was a indiepop acquaintance, and I remember interviewing her once and her having interesting things to say about science, faith and magic.
They re-emerged, briefly, a few years back for some belated farewell shows , playing both albums in their entirety. I found out about the shows late and only made it up for their debut; the latter, upon which this song appeared, was a beautiful, confident and sad work. Nat went on to do lovely solo records, but this is how I remember them best, all glockenspiels and unapologetic recorders. Neither of which appear on this very fragile cover.
Oh, Archway. So much to answer for. We emerged, blinking, into the unexpected sunshine from the tube, and were greeted by the greasy stench of a nearby McDonald’s and the sight of a cyclist bravely heading up the hill to Highgate.
There are, broadly, three types of modernist architecture walk in London.
One: Marvel at bold public buildings. Two: envy private dwellings. Three: admire ambitious public housing projects. One and three both come with a side order of existential despair, for the obvious reason that we shall never see their like again.
Today’s walk was a (3). Camden council, back when they had money and socialism, built loads of impressive and innovative housing estates. We had sun, occasional showers, and a map. Let’s do this.
We start at the Whittington Estate, initially known as Highgate New Town Stage One, a famous one for Those Who Like This Kind Of Thing.
Designed by Peter Tabori and Kenneth Adie, the estate shows Camden’s fun experimentation with long, low-rise, high-density blocks, with gorgeous south-facing balconies and generous, landscaped grounds.
It feels like a fortress, and as with a lot of postwar housing estates, you have that moment of sadness and understanding when you remember that they kind of are, and the hoardes they are defending their people from are private motor vehicles.
There’s also a fun contrast with Highgate New Town Stage 2, where you can pinpoint the exact moment (1978) when the council lost faith with modernism and started building blocks not wholly dissimilar to the Victorian buildings this Brave New World was designed to improve upon.
Onwards and downwards. Haddo House Estate actually predates Camden, designed for the borough of St Pancras by Richard Bailie. Built in 1963, it features some gorgeous glazed staircase towers.
Neighbouring it, from 1971, is Clanfield, a block of sloping maisonettes which look like the matte painting of every Star Trek: TNG federation colony ever.
Walking past Gospel Oak station, we come to Mansfield Road and its beautiful lines; in the unseasonal sun the white block seems to stretch on forever.
Another Camden council affair, this has been well maintained, unlike the maisonettes above, and the raised access deck, safe from the busy road below, is a place of calm, the red quarry brick walls and flooring a hint of what lies inside.
This next building wasn’t too interesting architecturally speaking, but we liked the dog.
Next up is Dunboyne Road Estate, Neave Brown’s first commission for Camden back in 1967. Another good example of the council’s philosophy of low rise, high density blocks, the architect lived on the estate until his death.
Unfortunately we weren’t able to get in and have a proper look, as the entire estate is now gated; a decision perhaps popular with residents, but irritating for nerdy architecture tourists in particular and against the ethos of the estate in general.
After pausing, briefly, to gawp at the beautiful 1930s Isokon, Mecca for north London Bauhaus types, we headed up a wooded path to Russell Nurseries Estate.
While I can’t pretend the architecture is exactly to my tastes, this is a well designed, well maintained collection of houses and flats, with kids enjoying what is a low traffic neighbourhood before the phrase “low traffic neighbourhoods” became a thing, playing football below the inevitable “no ball games” sign.
This estate is peaceful, welcoming, and bittersweet; constructed between 1987 and 1990, it was the last project by Camden’s architecture department. Will we ever see councils in England with the money, power, will and ideological inclination to produce housing worthy of the people?
The evidence of the past thirty years suggests not; but, contradicting my earlier despair, as we must try to fight and dare to hope. Though with flaws and missteps, Camden’s postwar architecture still holds up well, and offers a blueprint for a more hopeful future.
Hello! I’m gonna try and make more cycling videos because, in the words of Dr Zoidberg, why not already.
There is a quieter route between these two places but it’s a meandering backstreet one. If we’re serious about encouraging modal shift – and we should be, in a climate emergency – it’s routes along main roads we absolutely have to get right.
And what worries me about some of the halfhearted and flawed stuff I saw up Kingston road is that a lot of it is new but already not fit for purpose. And yet probably is being trumpeted as “doing something for cyclists” by some executive or councillor.
Lads, we appreciate you at least have noticed that not everyone can or wants to get around by car. But you really, really need to do a lot better and be a lot braver if you want to make the borough a pleasant, welcoming, and sustainable place to live.
I’ve started asking random audience members who also happen to be my friends to draw our sketches, citing some arcane law about sketch comedy events being illegal unless someone is sketching them at all times. Below are some Next Level Sketch sketches.
It was an excellent show, with great performances from our cast and super silly and fun guest spots from Legs Comedy and Cry Babies. But today I’m mainly feeling angry about a drunk idiot who hassled, harassed, and verbally abused our door staff and one of our cast members.
We got rid of him at the interval but I’m still super sorry our lovely humans had to deal with this, and we will do all we can to Stop Men from impacting the overall enjoyment of our nights in future.
Last night in New Malden I witnessed a failed hate crime. A bunch of idiot young white men drove past a popular Korean BBQ restaurant and shouted “Napalm!” at the people queuing outside.
Now, these morons didn’t even have the confidence of their racism; they didn’t shout it particularly loudly. No one heard it except me, as I happened to be walking past.
They drove off quickly up the hill, and I was so shocked and discombobulated by what I’d heard, I didn’t even manage to catch their license number.
And of course, as a racist attack it was at best confused. Sure, napalm was used in the Korean War, but not to the same level or indeed infamy of later wars.
Were they true racism scholars, aware of the historical context of this horrendous weapon and its traumatic impact on the peoples who suffered the West’s assorted imperialist interventions? Or were they just thick cunts who had confused Koreans with Vietnamese people?
The answer is obviously the latter. But the whole incident, over in seconds and noticed only by me, left me feeling depressed and frustrated.
I wanted to challenge these people, but they were gone. Who knows what else they shouted as they drove around suburban London on a Saturday night. Racists are cowards, and a car is a shield of armour and a getaway vehicle all in one.
A hiatus! A palpable hiatus! It has been ten months since my last Wimpy visit, before Lockdown III came along and made burger restaurant-based geographical sagas tricky.
It’s been ages since the government’s specific ban on travelling up and down the country reviewing Wimpys was lifted, but I’ve been busy running comedy nights, walking dogs and having the occasional existential crisis. From now on, you should expect a new Wimpy post every week, and if there’s a branch near you, and would like me to visit it with you, get in touch and I’ll see what I can do.
So why Worthing for Wimpy #4? No rhyme or squiggly psychogeographic justification here: I am buffeted by the winds of fate.
This particular fate was my friend Kelly, who was desperate to get out of London and remembered Worthing had a Wimpy.
We didn’t go straight there, though. When visiting a new Wimpy, you have to approach it carefully, like an injured hedgehog or unexploded WWII bomb. Blessed with unexpectedly amazing weather, on arrival off the train we threw ourselves into the sea next to the fabulously Art Deco Worthing Pier, its shoreside end resplendent with classy theatre advertising talks by Suggs and comedy from Reginald D Hunter.
The water was as calm as a millpond, and from the pier’s head we could see boats twinkling in the hazy offing. 
Worthing is just up the coast from Brighton, and similarly shares its existence to a 19th century fad for sea bathing and being seen at the same places as the royals, if you can imagine it being trendy to hang out in the same place as such people (these days you’d have to just go to Woking Pizza Express).
Before that it was merely a fishy hamlet, stinking mainly of mackrel.
As a seaside resort with its best days behind it, Worthing is a very typical place to find a surviving Wimpy.
But we are still in East Sussex. There may be some seediness, and there may be a higher than average proportion of quiet desperation. But this is a more affluent than usual spot for a Bender in a Bun.
Refreshed and salty after our swim, we plotted our next move in the cafe of the Dome cinema, one of Britain’s oldest. And it was agreed: we were to flee the town by deregulated bus up to the Downs.
Ah, you were not expecting this. But there is a certain logic to our actions. The first humans of to inhabit this area, approximately 6000 years before the Wimpy opened, were those mining for flint a few miles inland and upland from the town.
More recently, if still a fairly long time before burger restaurants, an Iron Age Hill Fort  was constructed at Cissbury Ring. And it was to here that we were headed, for magnificent views of the Downs and the coast.
It’s an idyllic place, with more tree cover than one is used to on the exposed ridge of chalk that constitutes the South Downs. But there are absolutely zero franchise burger restaurants, so it was time for us to head back towards the sea.
Our bus was operated by Stagecoach, owned by a notorious homophobe. So it was with much amusement that the bus’ automated announcements introduced us to the phrase “tap off”; definitely a euphemism for wanking. Don’t forget to tap off before leaving the bus! We’ll mop up the resulting spunk later on!
Finally, to Wimpy. Opposite, a workman was hitting paving stones with a hammer, for no discernible reason. This made the obligatory “outside the Wimpy” photo more awkward than usual. I never look my best when being angrily gawped at by men in high vis.
The Wimpy was your classic design: long and thin, seemingly stretching on forever, like a matte painting in Star Trek. To the right, the usual island of tills and burger cooking paraphernalia. To the left, booths! Booths with post-Covid plastic screens, but still, booths. We had come home.
Our server was a trainee, called Nick. He was Canadian. This was unexpected, despite Worthing being filled with Canadian soldiers and even hosting Canada’s military headquarters during World War Two. Nick was simply too young to have anything to do with his country’s wartime presence. He was great-grandson at very best; the accent would have melted away generations ago, like a Brown Derby left out in the sun.
Nick carried the weight of the world on his young shoulders. Kelly suggested I ask him to recommend a local pub for a pint; Nick was both too young and too old for drinking. His body was young but his mind was very old. He had seen too much, already, via obese regulars and furious geezers demanding to know where in America he was from. “Ontario”, he would answer, hoping ignorance would reduce banter to silence.
You’ll notice I’m making many assumptions about Nick. And that’s because we barely talked, other than agreeing it was very hot. And this is because he was already too perfect, a 16 year old Canadian inexplicably working at Worthing Wimpy. Any explanation would have ruined the magic. I prefer to imagine ludicrous scenarios, and wish him well wherever he ends up, or indeed if he decided to live and love in Worthing forever.
We ordered. Bit of a bombshell, and a complication for this entire project: I am supposed to be vegan now. I’ve read too many articles about the consequences of industrial meat production on the environment. How does Wimpy abide in an era of climate change? This is not a question I was expecting to seriously posit when giggling about benders in 1996.
Kelly ordered the vegan burger. Hoisted by my own psychological petard. In a kind of brazen mockery, i ordered the half pounder. I needed the protein, I claimed, pathetically, convincing no one.
Our food arrived. It’s time for the ratings.
Childish Wimpy Rankings
GREASINESS OF CHEF: 3/10
BUSY-NESS OF RESTAURANT: 8/10
PROXIMITY TO MY HOUSE: 7/10
There’s always a certain melancholy to the proximity to my house ranking. Ground zero is New Malden, where – conveniently – I am writing from right now. But my family’s link to this place is coming to an end; my grandma died in spring, and this house will be sold in late autumn. I thought I’d visit every Wimpy before my geographic association with this place ended, but I was naive. Time keeps rolling on.
Grown-Up Wimpy Rankings
FRIENDLINESS OF STAFF: 9/10
QUALITY OF MEAL: 7/10
VALUE OF MEAL: 5/10
There’s no getting away from it. This was a pricey Wimpy. Yes: I plumped for the performative arrogance of the Halfpounder meal. Yet I was still surprised at the bill, which was approximately 1.2 Wagamamas. And their vegan menu is considerably more comprehensive.
A word, though, for this Wimpy’s notable strengths. The original salt and pepper pots were in situ. There was a mighty Wimpy logo adorning the wall, in silver, between assorted awards for its food, service, and champion status amid Wimpys. The toilets, upstairs, were extremely classy and well served by local radio. The service, though raising more questions than I care to answer, was kind and warm.
This was, in short, a classy Wimpy.
Stuffed with meat or meat substitute, we lumbered back towards the sea, irritating local drivers by using the pier front roundabout as a photography spot.
But the light was perfect and Kelly clocked a murmuration in progress. I’m sure she won’t mind my mentioning she once dated a birdwatcher; but it goes beyond that. She berates herself for not having memories all our indigenous butterflies; without her spotting and explaining, there’s no way I would have appreciated the magnificence of this sunset display. Imagine iron filings in GCSE experiments, but infinitely more beautiful. We were in Worthing but the seafront belonged to the starlings.
There isn’t much else to add. We briefly visited Sussex’s answer to the Peckham multi-storey, the prettified concrete making me think of a Brutalism-appreciating ex.
And we tried to visit a micro pub, with local ales and a distinctly Whovian theme. But we had been lead astray by the lies of google: of course this perfect slice of eccentricity was closed on a Monday.
I know I caught it on a perfect day, but I was pleasantly surprised by Worthing. From ancient fort to the eternal vagaries of the sea, there was more going on than I gave the place credit for.
And amid everything, open until 9pm, and with booths and chips available to all, stands the Wimpy, as hopefully shall ever be.
 Today I learned this is a nautical term to refer to a boat that’s within sight of land.
My understanding of London’s Open House began with a vision of queues: hoardes at the gates of the Foreign Office or some other shining city on the hill grudgingly opening up for the hoi polloi for one weekend a year; to reveal where all those tax dollars go.
The social media moans about the wait outside City Hall would seem to confirm those prejudices, but Open House is HUGE. If you want to go see the starchitect erections, by all means go. But there are as many treats further out as further in.
You don’t have to wait til Open House to go to South Norwood library. It’s open, as a library, though for how much longer is uncertain. Croydon council went bust, and even before then, a decade of austerity had stretched non-essential services  to the limit.
Our guide, part of the Brutalist Library campaign, wasn’t even a fan of postwar architecture to begin with. The building grew on him, as these tend to, while he spent time campaigning to save services.
The council plan is for the library to be demolished, and to be sold to developers. Campaigners plan to make this as difficult for them as possible, through raising awareness, and hopefully acquiring Grade II listing status.
Our next visit was a bit of a gamble. We hadn’t booked St Barnards Estate, a private, Swiss-influenced modernist housing project, but assumed not many people go to Croydon for this kind of thing.
This was a good guess. And the humans who lived there were extremely welcoming, as we were given a comprehensive history of the place and the chance to tour three of the houses.
There is something a bit weird about exploring such beautiful and well designed homes when you’re housing insecure yourself. It feels like visiting a reservoir in a drought; but at least we were out of towners. The Croydonites on the tour had a wistful aspect, knowing they could look but never realistically own. I shared it.
At the other end of the class spectrum, I was mistaken for an architecture student by one wealthy, older local, who couldn’t understand why we’d come so far to see these buildings, and why we didn’t simply live in modernist homes ourselves.
Still, this was at least another good reminder that modernism, if maintained, can provide gorgeous and still oddly futuristic living spaces. I would happy have lived in any of the places I saw today; even the library.
 Aka statutory. Any society that doesn’t consider libraries to be essential have gone very wrong, and we have gone very wrong…
 It was initially supposed to be much bigger but the developers panicked! The estate it’s based on has spectacular views of the Alps, here you can see the Surrey Hills!
I had the idea of getting someone to draw our show on Tuesday, justifying it via some spurious tale of Victorian era sketch comedy legislation. Euan very gamely did so, even coming on stage after the interval to talk us through his drawings.
“Jesus, Euan. I wasn’t expecting you to attempt every single one”.
After our July show was wiped out by the pingdemic – one of those neologisms you feel dirty for using – it was lovely to be back at Hoopla at The Miller with my fellow Next Level humans for some preposterous, funny nonsense.
I wasn’t able to attend the meeting in which the sketches and performers were selected for this particular show , but my fellow producers did a fantastic job balancing the talents available with the stupid roles we needed them to perform.
So Sarit Wilson Chen was absolutely the correct person to be a lunatic housewife spewing nonsensical pseudo-cockney; Paul Creasy exuded the deadpan authority to be a CEO trying to shoehorn his own screenplay into a corporate meeting; and Jenna Cole was hilariously believable as a superhero furious that her local multiplex is only showing movies from the extended Ken Loach universe.
Manisha Patel, making her Next Level debut, was dryly amused to play a bunch of service roles (even if one of them was technically Wonderwoman); Madeleine Kasson was an actress playing an actress, taught us all how to stage fight and unleashed her full mime skills; and Roderick Millar committed, absolutely, to every role he played, no matter how palpably absurd. And we often make Roderick do palpably absurd things.
And me? Well, it would be wrong of me to judge my own performance, but I was amazing.
Joking aside, I was really happy to be MCing again, and think I wrote a funny intro and came up with a fun conceit to keep Euan busy sketching every single sketch, and getting him on after the interval to show the audience what he had come up with. Look out for those in a future post, they’re worth waiting for.
Way back in January 2020, when we started this venture, with wild optimism and no idea a global pandemic was lurking in our collective near future, we had a full year of second half acts booked for our shows. Part of the reason we wanted to do this in the first place was to give a regular space for sketch acts often stuck on bills with stand-up comedians – we wanted ours to be THE place to come and watch sketch comedy in London.
So obviously, next up we had Luke Rollason, a clown. Got to keep the audience guessing.
We’ve had Luke perform at Factually Inaccurate and it was a joy to welcome him back for our other venue, despite his stretching of the remit. I don’t think I’m actually qualified to review the mad, repetition-based, physical and even existential comedy that spews out of Rollason’s mind, so I shall simply say: go see him. You will laugh a lot.
Rounding things off for us were The Awkward Silence, who definitely are a sketch act. There are two of them, they are well but contrastingly attired, and their sketches all jump out of each other, like a Russian Doll but with jokes.
This was their first gig in a long while, but there were no specks of rust here. Vivyan Almond can get a laugh with an eyebrow or a semi-gurn; Ralph Jones is never funnier than when channeling his inner camp into a femme fatale from the pulp noir novel of your dreams.
It was so glorious to be back, three days later and the buzz has not disappeared. Thanks so much to everyone who wrote, produced, and otherwise helped out with this show.
And a special mention, because I forgot to do so on stage, for Jamie Clarke, who did tech for us with such incredible precision and talent, despite only having a single run through and a million last minute instructions. Jamie: you are an absolute star.
We will be back with Next Level Sketch on 28th September, with special guests Egg. Come along!?
Next Level Sketch’s August show was written by Muireann Kelly, James Walsh, Paul Creasy, Rob Smyth, Jenna Cole, John Dredge, Dan Smith, Roderick Millar, Sarit Wilson Chen, Jonas Jamarik, and Charles Hutchence.
It was performed by Sarit Wilson Chen, Jenna Cole, Manisha Patel, Paul Creasy, Roderick Millar, Madeleine Kasson and James Walsh.
Tech was by Jamie Clarke and the door was personed by Maddi Sainsbury.
Poster by Madeleine Horsley.
Next Level Sketch is produced by James Walsh, Muireann Kelly, Nadine Bailey, Euan Brown and Paul Creasy.
Cor this is a late show! 9:30pm on a Sunday is when I’m usually cowering in existential terror of the week ahead. So it was nice, instead, to be at the Water Rats – historically, one of Kings Cross’ most “anything can happen” venues – to enjoy Vix Leyton and her Comedy Arcade.
The Comedy Arcade exists primarily as a podcast, but here three guests (Rich Wilson, Robin Morgan, and Robin Ince) have been lured out of the audio ether to chat in front of some drunk people in north London.
It’s essentially a panel show, and I have a deep prejudice against panel shows, due to the impending televisual Event Horizon towards all of them being hosted by Jimmy Carr’s head in a jar by 2077 .
But live, I love a conceit, and Leyton’s is a fun one, whereby topics emerge from a glued-up tombola (somehow) and comedians compete, in an extremely arbitrary fashion, to tell the best anecdotes.
To be honest, with such a great line-up we don’t even need the questions: for example, we learn Ince’s views on Toby Young (“He thinks he looks clever if he looks like he’s shitting out his ideas”) without him even being asked “who do you think pretends they need to wear glasses just to look clever?”
The eagle-eyed readers will have noticed the show had exceeded its EU quota of Robins (one per panel show).
But thank Brexit for Robin Morgan. He warmed the cockles of my non-Starsailor heart by revealing his deep, possibly ironic hatred of Ince for being the comedian people kept thought they were booking when they were, in fact, booking him.
Fortunately Vix was sat between them, so fisticuffs were narrowly avoided.
On the same theme, I enjoyed Rich Wilson’s tale of initially gigging as Richard Wilson, and the Father Ted-esque “I don’t believe it!” hilarity that inevitably followed him. Rich, you did well to part with the ‘ard.
Over an enjoyably frenetic, free-ranging 45 minutes, we learn important life hacks (skip the middle hour of Midsomer Murders and always get the first round in); tragic tales (has there ever been a choose your own adventure book for stealing choose your own adventure books?); and about the majesty of doing a musical with midlands legend Sue Pollard, who sounds exactly as fabulous as I always hoped she would be.
My favourite moment of the night was probably Robin Ince’s newest fact, about the orb spider dying at the point of ejaculation. “I know a lot of women who would go for that,” quips Vix.
Actually, this show could do with a bit more Vix. I know she’s the host and the facilitator, but with three – admittedly lovely – men, two of them both following the diurnal and eternal path of being a Robin, it would have been good to get a bit more Welsh, female variety.
But this is a minor quibble. These are not lads (though I bet Rich is often mistaken for one). They are nerds. And only nerds would proudly end a show, as the younger Robin does tonight, with the fact that David Attenborough is older than sliced bread.
And this, as a way to spend a Sunday evening, is the greatest thing since it.