The Zap - the site the Chinese government is currently using as its home page

Friday, July 25, 2014

Gaza literature

Channel 4 News blog on Hamas use of human shields (dated 24/07/2014):

Confirmation from the UNRWA that Hamas have been placing rockets in UNRWA schools (dated 22/07/2014):

Human Rights Watch report on the Hamas criminal justice system (dated 03/10/2012):

Article by Mudar Zahran – the son of Palestinian refugees in Jordan, now himself exiled to the UK on political grounds – blaming Hamas for conditions in Gaza (dated 15/11/2012, but linked to by Zahran on his Twitter feed as recently as 24/07/2014):

Another article by Zahran, describing the plight of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon (dated 01/08/2010):

Minority Rights Group on Palestinians in Jordan (although technically, Palestinians are the majority):

The latter two articles are included to illustrate that genuine concern for Palestinians from the rest of the Arab world is limited at best. Anything masquerading as such tends to be unrelated anti-Israel sentiment, with the potential to distort how the crisis is perceived in the West.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

On bombing

About six months ago, I began performing stand-up at open mics around London. Things were going well. Each set had represented an improvement on the previous one, with even the first not completely lacking merit. Certainly, I wouldn't consider myself to have ever 'bombed'. That was until Tuesday night.

Several established comedians have talked about their own experiences of bombing. I once heard John Mulaney - a writer for Saturday Night Live and one of my favourite contemporary stand-ups - describe an early break supporting Mike Birbiglia. He approached it with, what he thought was, 20 minutes of rock-solid material. The set was greeted with silence. Others have claimed bombing is an essential part of the development process. I am sceptical. Did Mulaney really perform to silence, or was that simply relative to his expectations? And while bombing may be an essential part of developing, it is also an essential part of failure. I write this, therefore, partly in the hope that it will be therapeutic for me, and partly in the hope that, should I ever find success, people in the position I am currently in will know I once, unequivocally, bombed.

Last week, in a room of 20 or so stand-ups and a handful of impartial observers, I did my fifth gig. Some people believe other comedians make for the toughest crowd, although in truth, this is not a theory I subscribe to. My opener - a kind of surreal practical joke - was received well, and from there, things bubbled under nicely. Eventually I delivered my closing 30 seconds, which - in the words of another comic - "killed". It may not sound like much, but I suppose that's my style: rather than write jokes or even stretch plausible premises to ludicrous extremes, I attempt to gradually unravel the ridiculousness of genuine occurrences, treating the occasional guffaw as an added bonus before I reveal the big pay-off. Performing at Edinburgh and entering the BBC's New Comedy Award suddenly seemed like realistic ambitions.

The next rung on the ladder was trying the material on a larger audience. I knew of a venue that offered, not only this, but 10-minute spots to the best-received acts. I was desperate to get one. Still glowing from my success, I emailed the promoter at the larger venue, asking for a spot. He informed me all the pre-booked spots were taken but I was welcome to try for a 'walk-in'. At 6:45 on Tuesday night, I arrived outside the venue, by which point, I was ambivalent. England were playing Ukraine in a crucial World Cup qualifier, which is something I had not accounted for when I sent the initial email. Usually this would be pivotal, but I convinced myself the benefit of building momentum by performing two gigs in quick succession should take precedent, while I also had a bit on Breaking Bad and was worried future plot developments would necessitate a rewrite. Nonetheless, I hoped the promoter would be unable to find room for me, and the decision between watching the football and taking to the stage would be removed from my hands. It was not to be.

I had performed at this venue twice before. The first time, my set dissecting the fear of appearing racist was enjoyed by a few and fatally misinterpreted by the rest, but the second attempt (you can see a clip below) had gone well enough for me to be optimistic. With regard to the comics, it was a strong night. I was scheduled to perform sixth in the second half, which is a kind of spot I am not familiar with. Newer acts are often placed later in proceedings so they can take advantage of the warming-up done by more experienced performers, as well as the likely inebriation of the crowd. That's the thinking, anyway. Following the midway interval, people began to evacuate the room, taking with them a lot of the energy. The fifth act in the second half - one before me - bombed. Worse than I'd ever seen. She wasn't without flaw, but turning to a friend, I suggested the audience could have been kinder. I believed it - she got a raw deal. That's not to say, though, that I was expecting the same treatment for myself.

I improvised an introduction for my biggest laugh of the night, before struggling to untangle the microphone from its stand. This forced me to twice repeat part of my opening set-up in that way which can be funny, but, on this occasion, apparently was not. I then briefly engaged with the audience, and this provided me with my first indication I was losing them. I don't think I got beyond the front two rows, but in each, I could see only bored faces, gazing around the room. My punchline fell flat. Even the usually guaranteed laugh that follows the performer's acknowledgment his joke hasn't worked was not forthcoming. I continued, shaken enough to mess up the delivery of my next line. That's no excuse though - not for unerring silence. It was almost as if the audience was unwilling to forgive me for the aforementioned 'practical joke', despite its innocuous resolution. This section was a write off.

I ploughed on towards the coda, thinking, if I could just reach it intact, I might be able salvage something from the evening, but much like laughter, silence is contagious. Familiar faces I'd expected to see chuckling along wore expressions as blank as the rest, and opportunities for a positive response faded ever quicker. "BUBBLE HIM" bayed the audience, in reference to the M.C.'s decision to spray acts with a bubble gun once their time was up. They could have just wanted to see bubbles, but it felt more personal. I then, for some reason, turned to the M.C. and asked for the chance to finish my set. I knew it wouldn't get any laughs - the time for laughs had gone - but... well... it killed last time. And what did I have left to lose? Pride? Not enough of it. I blurted out the few remaining words I could remember and left the stage feeling totally ashamed. "Give it up for Adam Benjamin!" the M.C. shouted. "That was only his fifth gig!" The worst kind of condescension. "Fuck you," I thought. And it was my sixth.

The next act managed to eke enough laughs from the crowd to prepare them for the headlining professional, who likewise got as much as could be expected from the evening, and that was that. I hurriedly left the venue, afraid someone would otherwise approach me, and waited a few metres from the entrance while my friend got his stuff together. "The crowd didn't seem to have much of an attention span," he later asserted. "They just wanted one-liners." And maybe he was right. Maybe, though, I just wasn't good enough. Maybe the room of comedians who had enjoyed the same material a week ago had particularly low standards. There's no way to tell.

It was a long journey home, but actually, I didn't feel bad about it for anywhere near as long as I thought I would. A bite to eat and I'd decided, the best thing to do was get back on the horse; return to the warm, comforting cocoon that hosted last week's triumph and let them remind me I can do this. Get it out of my system. Had I learnt anything though? From possessing a set that killed one week and bombed the next? How could I have? The material was either great, terrible or something in between - I knew that before I'd written it. Perhaps, though, next time I bomb, I'll be able to handle it better. I'll be able to hold true and give myself a chance of winning the audience back, instead of fluffing each subsequent line and ending all possibility. Still, it will be while before I'm prepared to show my face around the larger room again.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

I trod on a plug

Last night, while I was lying in bed, a spider came down from the ceiling on a strand of silk (its own silk, not just a piece it had found in a cupboard or something), right in front of my face. Naturally panicked, I jumped out of bed, faster, I would imagine, than anyone has ever jumped out of a bed before, and in doing so, trod on a plug lying upturned on the floor. My foot hurts.

Monday, May 11, 2009

You know what I hate about life?

I hate seeing something I really, really want and knowing I'll never have it, like... like Taylor Swift. Or someone like Taylor Swift. I dunno, I felt like this wasn't as pathetic as just that when I started writing it, but now I'm struggling to move past it, maybe it is. I just hate the idea that there are people out there with incredibly glamorous lifestyles and I'm not one of them; I'll probably never be one of them. Or even just one of the people sitting in the park with a load of friends, always with somewhere to go or someone to call. Is it wrong not being able to handle that? Or is that just ambition? I get so frustrated, like I want to tear the whole fabric of my life apart. Even when I'm feeling relatively contented, some reminder of the life I don't have comes along, and boom, I'm back on the edge and wanting to throw myself off it. Do I need therapy for that? Does anyone want to give me online therapy?

Saturday, January 17, 2009


I like music quite a lot - probably too much - and for a fair few years now, I've lived under the assumption that I'd eventually be able to make a career for myself writing songs and playing songs and doing other associated things. I just finished writing a song. It's definitely not my first song, but it's the first I've managed to see through to completion. It's called 'Love By Any Other Name' and you can listen to it here.

It's about the stupid ways I think love construes itself - "I would get into a fight that I had no chance of winning" is the first line, and the one which I wrote first and ultimately inspired the rest of the song. That line in particular had been floating around in my head even before the song started to take shape, it was just a sentiment I'd always liked and had wanted to get into a song someway or other, so when an appropriate melody for it came to light, I was quite happy.

Anyway, it gets more and more ridiculous until towards the end I'm singing "I'd kill you just so I could be sure that you knew my name", which is supposed to be about killing someone you like so they can then read about it in the newspaper or see it on the news or something, so if they didn't know your name before you killed them, they'll never be able to forget it now. Except they'll be dead, obviously, so it doesn't really make sense, but it's kind of supposed to not make sense, because the whole point of the song is that every action is completely irrational. And then in the chorus I wonder whether those sorts of things are actually what define love or if I'm just MENTAL, before concluding that maybe all love is is being mental. So that's that.

It took much longer to complete than the song deserved - about 3 years, of which probably all but 6 months or so were spent writing the one verse I needed to finish - and now I'm not sure I like it. It's definitely not the sort of song I'd write now. Kind of twee. I don't like twee. But even more likely and even more distressing is that other people don't like it. And I know it's only one song, but to spend so long on it only for people to say it suggests music is something you have no future in - when you've pinned literally all your hopes on having a future in music - is quite depressing. More than quite depressing, actually. I can't separate music from my life. If I can't make music and make a success of myself doing it, my life has no point. So to fall at the first hurdle... well, that's crap.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Sometimes, even when life is going well and you feel good about yourself...

...and you're wondering, "How did I end up in this shitty state that I'm in?", something comes along and makes you think "Oh, I remember..."

I went to see this band called Women the other day, supporting this guy called Chad VanGaalen. I thought Chad VanGaalen was in Women because he was doing electronicy stuff with them, and after their set, since he was the only one at the front of the stage, I said hi and said I enjoyed the album and thought their set was really great, and he said "Thanks, but I'm not really in the band, I just play with them sometimes". So I was like "Do you want me to stop talking to you then? HAHAHAHAHA!" Then one of the guys who was actually in the band came over, so I started talking to him, when it suddenly dawned on me that the other guy was Chad VanGaalen, and I'd committed the BIGGEST INDIE FAUX PAS OF ALL TIME.

Then afterwards, I started talking to the guy from Women again, and we went outside because he wanted a cigarette, and some other people came over and started talking to him, and it turned out one of them spent a year in Canada, so him and Women guy talked about that for ages, and I was left with nothing to say but no clear moment to make my exit either, so I just really awkwardly and embarrassingly forced in jokes ("The Greyhound's a bus? I thought you meant people were travelling around Canada on the backs of dogs!") and dull questions ("What's the music scene like in Calgary?").

Then someone *else* from Women came over, and I started talking to him instead, and I said "The songs are much louder live than on record" (which they ARE), but then one of "Oh I lived in Canada for a year! I'm so cool!" guy's friends said "No way, the album is really loud!", which is when I started to worry I was just massively mis-remembering the album, because it's on my old PC and I only ever got to listen to it 3 times because I broke said PC, so I said this to the Women guy, hastening to add that I'd downloaded the album legally (note - lie), and he said "Oh, I don't care about that - I download albums illegally all the time", so I said "Yeah, so do I, but I don't really want to download stuff from independent bands" (still lie), so he said "I download stuff from independent bands..." and it was like I was chastising him for downloading stuff illegally, even though, in reality, we were actually kindred spirits! And he didn't get angry or anything, it just felt really awkward. Then he was like "But yeah, you're right, the songs are much louder live than on the album", and I was like "WELL WHY DIDN'T YOU JUST SAY THAT IN THE FIRST PLACE AND PREVENT ALL THIS UNNECESSARY AWKWARDNESS". And I went home wanting to die.

Monday, September 22, 2008

I asked out a barmaid

I don't know why I'm just telling you this now; it happened a while ago. It's quite a good story though, and I haven't posted anything for ages, so I thought I might as well. It's my 100th entry too, so enjoy.

So about 4 months ago, I was at a club with my friend. We went up to the bar, he asked me what I was having and I said "The barmaid", because she was quite pretty. I'd kind of fancied her for a while but I'd never considered doing anything about it. Then he asked me if he could borrow some money, so I said only if he told the barmaid I liked her. So he said he would, then I said "Omg, don't! I'll only lend you the money if you promise *not* to tell her I like her!" So he said he wouldn't and I lent him the money (which I think he still owes me, but that's getting away from the point).

The barmaid brought our drinks over, and despite my friend's promise, he said to her "My friend thinks you're really lovely", to which she replied "He's right - I am". I retorted with "Well I'm just glad my assessment of you was correct", before realising how awkward the whole thing was and walking away.

I sat embarrassed for a few minutes before deciding that surely the ice had been broken, the hard part was over and I should ask her out, so I wrote down my number on a flyer. Unfortunately, it took about half an hour for me to get my confidence up, and by the time I had, she'd disappeared. I waited for about half an hour, went and got something to eat, came back but she still was nowhere to be seen. Assuming she'd gone home, I put my number in my pocket and did likewise, with the intention of asking her out the following week.

So the next week, I returned with my friends, as planned, only for her to have apparently been given the week off. "Don't worry," my friends told me. "She'll be back next week". So, not wanting to see this week as a missed chance, I spent the whole of the following week preparing exactly what I was going to say and how I was going to say it. My whole week basically became geared toward asking this girl out. Then on the Thursday, one by one, each of my friends dropped out, until I had no one to go with. Still, I'd been waiting all week for this, so I decided to go alone (free entry before 10 o'clock anyway).

She was there, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it. I needed that voice of reassurance from one of my friends telling me it was the right moment, and I didn't have that, so I moped home after about 45 minutes of indecision, generally hating myself, and spent the rest of the night wondering whether I should go back and try again, until the club closed and it was taken out of my hands.

By the time the *next* week came around, I'd kind of lost all momentum. Previously, I'd had a real determination about it. Now everything just seemed murky in my head. I wasn't even sure I fancied her that much anymore. But my friends rallied round, told me I had to go and I went in for what I'd decided would be my final attempt (I go home from uni next Monday, so if I'd left it any later, there wouldn't have been any point).

Like I said though, I'd lost all momentum by this point, so as I walked there, I just kept asking myself why I was bothering. I really didn't want to do it. But then I saw her face and it all came back. I still lacked that confidence I'd had before though, so it took a good half hour for to even consider asking her out. Then, as the place began to empty, I worried that they were going to let her go home early again. She went over to the door and started talking to the doorman, and I worried that I'd missed my chance. So as soon as I saw her walking back over to the bar, I got up from my seat and - despite the fact that all but one of my friends had gone off for a smoke and I was alone once again - intercepted her.

"Excuse me," I said.
"You talking to me?" She asked.
"Umm... yes? Is that okay?"
"Oh, yes, of course. Sorry, I just thought that maybe I was in your way."
"Oh no, no." We both laugh. "Look, here's the thing," I continue. "You're going to be here every week because you work here, and I'm going to be here every week because I like it here..."
"You like it here?"
"Yeah, you know - the seats and... drinks... and... stuff. Anyway, all that's going to happen is, I'm going to keep looking over to you, thinking "Should I ask her out? Shouldn't I?", and... well, I wrote my number down about a month ago. My friend told you I thought you were love. I don't know if you remember. I didn't actually say you were lovely..." She appears concerned. "I mean, I said complimentary things, but you know... He was paraphrasing." She appears relieved. "So I was going to give you my number then but you went home before I got a chance, so I came back the following week but... you don't want to here about any of that. Basically, this is my number..." I put my hand in my pocket, but she interrupts me before I've even had a chance to grab the flyer with my number scrawled across it.
"That's very sweet, but I already have a boyfriend and I really, really love him."
"Really, *really*?"
"Really, really."
"Well, if that changes at all..."
"...I'll give you a shout. What's your name by the way?" She extends her arm and we shake hands.
"I'm Adam."
"Rachel. Nice to meet you."
"Even your name is nice..." I sigh as I turn away and she returns to the bar. I guess I'll never know if she heard me.