Edinburgh Fringe Festival

My show Chris Cook: Charlatan

My show Chris Cook: Charlatan

For the past six months I’ve been working on a new magic show to take to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. This has been a dream of mine for years and this August I finally made it come true. The day before the first show I was absolutely terrified. I was petrified that no one would turn up, the show would be a flop and I would have to return home saddled with a massive debt.

Oh how wrong I was.

I was blessed with huge audiences every day

I was blessed with huge audiences every day

Every single show, on every single day, filled every single seat. Over the twenty performances I did at the festival, around 1,500 people saw my show. The reviewers that came to see my show wrote wonderful things about it. Really wonderful things. Also, the audience reviews and feedback was just brilliant! You can read what some had to say about it on the EdFringe website here.

pbhI have many thank you’s to say, firstly my huge gratitude to the PBH Free Fringe. PBH was set up 19 years ago and has been providing free, alternative comedy shows at the Edinburgh festival every year. It is one of the only companies at the Fringe that seeks to help performers earn money and not leave them crippled with debt for trying to bring a show to the worlds largest arts festival. Check out their programme of events. Every year they have the best free shows (as proven this year by hosting John Kearns, the winner of the Edinburgh Comedy Award).

It has been a pleasure to hang out with another comicbook fan...

It has been a pleasure to hang out with another comicbook fan…

Another HUGE thank you has to go out to my good friend Rhys Williamson. Rhys is a student, an aspiring writer and failed stand-up comedian. We met when we both studied at Leeds University and Rhys helped motivate me to take my own show to the Fringe (and perform stand-up comedy myself). Most importantly, Rhys was instrumental in helping the show take form. Although not a magician himself, Rhys helped bounce ideas around with me. Without Rhys’s input, so many of the jokes, tricks and lines wouldn’t be the way they were. Scripting, inventing tricks and rehearsing the show passed from being a drag to an absolute pleasure by having Rhys involved. He is currently in the process of publishing a children’s book, writing a screenplay, having a previous screenplay turned into a short film and writing a show for next years Edinburgh Festival. Watch this space, I expect at least one of these things might happen…

My show was at the Voodoo Rooms on West Register Street, two minutes walk from the train station. It is a beautiful venue with lovely staff and an incredible programme of shows. You really couldn’t ask for a better place to spend a month. I need to say a huge thank you to all the other performers and all the staff that were really helpful. I couldn’t have done it without you.

Only real cool kids wear their own merch

Only real cool kids wear their own merch

More gratitude is also owed to my friend Adam Simpson. He is a graphic and web designer from my home town. I’ve been amazed by his work for years but he truly astounded me when he did the design work for my show. He created the flyers and posters seen all over Edinburgh and also the t-shirts and badges that I gave away to those who really deserved them. You can check out Adam’s design portfolio here.

I also owe so much to everyone who leant me their home, bed, sofa or floorspace over the month and allowed me to live in Edinburgh rent free for the whole of August. Also another huge thanks to the people who volunteered to help manage the queue and help pack up the props at the end of the show. Particular thanks go to Maddy Lister who was the queen of organisation for the whole run.

I’m sure there are many more people to thank and it is certainly fatigue not malice if there is anyone I’ve missed out.

Finally the most important people to thank are the wonderful audience that turned up, came on stage and packed out the venue every single day. I couldn’t have done it at all without you.

Until next year Edinburgh, farewell.

Thanks Edinburgh

Thanks Edinburgh

To read more about the Edinburgh Fringe show, check out this post on my website.

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Lemons

SONY DSC

“When life gives you lemons rub them in the open wounds of your enemies” – Franz Nicolay

It has now been over ten weeks since I tore my ACL. I had an MRI scan at the hospital yesterday (which I fell asleep through) and will be speaking to another surgeon soon. Hopefully I will be having reconstructive knee surgery within the next month. Afterwards I will have to undergo physiotherapy for a year. I’m not going to lie, that’s a metric fuck-tonne of lemons I just got saddled with.

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I try to remind myself that I have done cool things whilst injured in the past

I’m not going to be able to do anything fun for a long time and I’ve been struggling to cope with this. Fortunately I’ve found strength through friends and support groups that have kept me a little more able to function. Even though the future is looking very uncertain, I’m reminded of the motto of one of my favourite bands: ‘Stay Positive’. I’m coming up with creative entertainment solutions and trying to excite myself with plans of reading, writing, drawing and designing things.

One of the main things that has helped keep me going has been my bike. The surgeon said the only active thing I can currently do is gentle cycling. So I’ve been aggressively “gentle-cycling” my way absolutely everywhere I go. It’s actually much more comfortable than walking and it’s definitely been helping me get the buzz I need. I am now so grateful that I bought a road-bike to get around on. I never thought it would take precedent over my mountain bike but it’s presence in my life right now is greatly appreciated.

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Me and my bike atop Ilkley Moor

By far the best thing has been cycling to Ilkley and back from Leeds. It’s only a 30 mile round trip but when I first got there it felt like such an emotional achievement I ended up bursting into tears when I managed to cycle all the way up the hill without having to stop.

I’ve since managed to make the journey again and hope to keep up riding the bike as much as I can.

I feel really pissed off about this injury but I’m determined not to let it define me. I really want to use it to motivate me to achieve other things in my life and try further myself as a person. I hope that when I heal I will come out of this a better, stronger, more rounded person.

I suppose the real lesson here is: when life gives you lemons, you now have one of the ingredients for lemonade…

I guess you have to depend on yourself for the sugar and water.

 

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Hurdles

I am 24 years old.

In that time I’ve picked up my fair share of injuries. I’d broken both my wrists independently by 13, struggled with damaged ligaments and scar tissue in my ankle as a young adult and peppered my body with scars from mountain biking, skateboarding and ambitiously attempting drunken handstands in slippery floored nightclubs.

ImageIn 2012 I blew my knee out jumping off a ski-hut roof in Austria on my snowboard. I saw a physiotherapist afterwards who said “You were lucky, I think you got away with it”. After a few sessions and a months worth of taking it easy I was back on my feet again. I said at the time that the injury was worth how awesome this photo I got is. I distinctly remember saying “The injury will heal, but this photo will last forever”.

Fast forward a year and I have damaged my knee again. Only this time, I didn’t get away with it.

It was a Wednesday afternoon, I’d just got back from running a lovely magic workshop in a school in Bolton and decided to spend the rest of the day in the park slacklining. If you’re not familiar with what that means, it’s essentially tightrope walking a thin rope between two trees. Several friends joined me throughout the afternoon and we tried various different lengths and heights of lines to walk. I even managed to learn some new tricks. As the sun started to settle, I decided it was time to go. One last go on the line then I’d take it down and head for home.

One last go.

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This time, the photo wasn’t worth the injury

As a teenager I remember I used to hit dirt-jumps on my mountain bike with friends. We had only one rule. No last go’s. Whenever someone said “One last go then I’m going to go home” they always hurt themselves. If you said you were lining up for the last run of the day everyone else would simply say “No. Go home now”.

I don’t know what happened this time, but my one-last-go involved me jumping on the line, my leg hyper-extending, a loud popping sound and a lot of screams.

Trips to the hospital, a physiotherapist and my doctor have now told me that I have most probably ruptured my Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) and will likely need an operation. A month and a half later and I’m waiting for an MRI scan to confirm whether they will be able to operate. I have been in constant pain every day. I can’t walk long distances. Most importantly, now that the sun has come out, I can’t do any of the things I enjoy.

Backflip

I miss being able to do this

I had to cancel a snowboarding trip to the alps. I’ve had to turn down circus work as I can’t walk on stilts. I can’t continue my acrobatics training just as I’d hit a breakthrough point. I can’t continue working as an outdoors instructor at the climbing centre and ropes course I work at. I can’t run, jump, climb, skate, cycle or slackline. Understandably, I have been going insane.

I’m finding it hard to see the silver-lining to all of this but I suppose one is that I have decided to start writing this blog again. It has been exactly a year since my last post and I feel like a lot has happened in that year and I have collected a wealth of worthwhile things to say. So I’m going to give it a shot and try. It would be lovely to have you along for the ride.

In the meantime, I’m getting really into juggling, board games and playing my housemates Xbox so if you want to do any of these things with me, just let me know.

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Breaking up.

We travelled all over the world on bikes, planes, trains and (much to my distaste) occasionally buses.

We travelled all over the world on bikes, planes, trains and (much to my clear lack of enthusiasm) occasionally buses.

Last week my girlfriend and I broke up. We’d been together for around two and a half years. We’ve had an incredible time together, travelling around the world making memories as we went. Sadly, the past few months have been difficult and we haven’t really worked. I made some bad mistakes and lost sight of what was important on the way.

Because we’ve been together for so long and we’ve moved cities together, we have lots of mutual friends. One thing that we said was important was not to alienate anyone. Megan and I would really like to be good friends again and we both think that can happen. It’s going to take time, but in the meantime, we don’t want any of our friends to feel like they have to pick sides. We love you all and don’t want to lose any of you.

Understandably, we’re both pretty upset right now and I think we’d both like to know that we have the support of our friends if we need it. In times like this, it’s important to know that people care about you.

Thanks for taking the time to read this.

“Sometimes when you leave someone
it feels like you’re leaving everyone
because everyone’s getting further and further away.
When you lose her
it feels like you’re on nicorette
after smoking twenty beautiful cigarettes a day”
 
– Luke Concannon
 
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Chris Cook Magician

“It’s just not possible!”

Since returning to university after Christmas, I have been filming a short magic show with Leeds Student TV (LSTV). LSTV is an award-winning student run station that produces incredible, original content on a weekly basis. We’ve been wanting to make a magic show for over a year now and after many meetings and discussions about content we managed to come up with this. I’m really pleased with the finished piece which has a lot to do with director, editor and producer Freddie Cook (no relation, despite coming from the same place in the country).

The video is only ten minutes long but we filmed a good few hours footage. I did tricks on the streets of Leeds, in bars, venues and even to the Leeds Cheerleaders club. Sadly… not all of this could make the final cut.

This was the set-up for the final trick in the show...

This was the set-up for the final trick in the show…

I’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone involved in the project. Fred Cook who directed and edited the final piece did an amazing job of putting the whole piece together. James Burford, Simon Cardey and Johnny Marshall were brilliant cameramen who came to every shoot and managed to get great footage whilst never getting in the way once. Roz Gillman was great as a test subject for the nail trick (sorry about the hand Roz) and spot-on as a camera operator for the final shoot. James Fenn also needs a huge thank you, not just for operating cameras for the finale but also for helping kick my arse into gear and getting the whole project started.

It was brilliant to work with such a great team and I look forward to making more videos soon…

To read more about this video check out this post on my website

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Hitch-hiking: 10,000 miles on the road

A collection of us who had all hitch-hiked to Africa together convene in the Sahara desert for a photo.

A couple of days ago I was invited to speak on BBC Radio Cumbria about hitch-hiking. You can listen to the discussion for at least the next few days here on the BBC iPlayer. I sat in their Kendal studio which, for a reason I never discovered, had a huge map of Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina on the wall and I whispered to myself “I’ve hitched there”.

As the presenter points out, I’ve been hitch-hiking since the “tender young age of 15”. Hitch-hiking has been a huge part of my life and in the past seven years I have hitch-hiked over 10,000 miles. I’d like to share with you why I think it is the best way to travel.

Not the most conventional of lifts I've ever thumbed

Not the most conventional of lifts I’ve ever thumbed

When I started thumbing rides it was because there really was no alternative. I live in Kendal in the South Lake District. It’s a great town with a lot going on but if you want to get out every now and again it’s not easy as a kid. Public transport is pretty useless so if you can’t walk or cycle where you want to be then it seems like there’s no way to get there. When I caught my first couple of lifts I was actually waiting at bus stops for a bus that may or may not turn up any time within the following month. I soon realised that hitch-hiking was much quicker, and often a more reliable, way of getting around. Over the following years I hitch-hiked all over the Lakes and occasionally caught the odd ride a little further afield.

When I was 19 I went to work in America for a few months. I was constantly told hitch-hiking horror stories whilst I was there and people reiterated that “you just don’t do that sort of thing in ‘Murica anymore”. As a result, I only hitched once or twice whilst I was there and it remains one of very few regrets I have about that place.

When I returned from the states I got a job in Ambleside around 14 miles away from my home. Without the money to afford a car I hitched to work every day for the year I spent working there. Admittedly I was hugely helped out by the great team of staff who would frequently ferry me back and forth from work but the rest of the time I travelled by thumb. Hitching never once made me late to work.

This smile made sure we never waited more than 20 minutes for a lift.

Other than the odd hitch down to London or up to Scotland my thumbing days quietened down again until, in 2011, my girlfriend and I hitch-hiked all the way to Africa. The trip from Kendal to Morocco took us through three countries, two continents and over 2,000 miles – all of them travelled for free, by thumb. We raised about £750.00 for Link Community Development, a charity working with children in Africa. Unbelievably we did the whole trip in just 18 rides! It took us ten days to get there but when you take out the leisurely weekend we spent in Barcelona and the time spent detouring to a friends house on the way, our actual time on the road was probably only about five days. We met a Spanish truck driver who introduced us to his entire extended family; a Hungarian delivery man who drove us over 1,000km; an Italian chef with a passion for disco; a man who grew up less than 30 miles from our home who gave us food, wine and a bed in his French cottage; and a man who thought nanobots were going to take over the world (which, unless he also runs this website, turns out is correct). The journey there and all of the exploits we got up to in Morocco made this easily the best month of my entire life.

Since then I have hitch-hiked to and from University and also used my thumb to get to work every day over summer. As a driver, I never miss the opportunity to pick up a hitch-hiker and will take them wherever they want to go. If you are interested in hitch-hiking yourself, check out my Top Ten Tips to Thumb a Ride where I also tell you how to stay safe and answer some frequently asked questions.

See you out there on the road!

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Top Ten Tips for Hitch-hikers

Megan trying desperately to get us out of Barcelona

Megan trying desperately to get us out of Barcelona

Hopefully my earlier article about my life as a hitch-hiker has inspired you to get out on the open road and stick your thumb out. However hitch-hiking is not quite as easy as that… To help you out on your quest to success I’ve compiled a list of the top ten ways to get a ride. Check them out below!

How to get a ride

  1. Look the part – if you look like you haven’t washed, people will avoid you like socks and sandals. Also, lose big hats and sunglasses, you’ll look a lot more trustworthy if people can see your face
  2. Make eye contact and give a friendly wave to any driver who signals that they can’t pick you up. They might have a full car or not be going your way so give them a “thanks anyway”
  3. How-to-stay-safeLimit the luggage – just a simple outdoors rucksack makes you look like a traveller but also allows you to squeeze into most vehicles
  4. Pick your spot – you want to be seen by cars from as far away as possible and drivers will need somewhere they can pull over. The faster the road, the bigger lay-by you need
  5. Know the road – Get out the city and find rural roads where drivers will be going the distance, not just running local errands. Always take the most used route, not necessarily the shortest one. TAKE A MAP!
  6. Make a sign – your sign should say where you want to go. Don’t be too specific: “M6 north” will get you more rides than “Penrith” will. I have also seen hitchers go down the comedy route, holding signs upside down or writing “I don’t smell”. I’ll leave this bit up to you.
  7. Pick the right time of day – Commuter traffic can be good as the road is busy but people may be less likely to stop and more desperate to get home.
  8. Take waterproofs, prepare not to use them – Never underestimate the British weather though you may get a pity ride if you are soaked to the bone in shorts and t-shirts
  9. Dance – just trust me on this one, it will cheer you up after a long wait and people WILL stop
  10. Smile – this is the hardest rule; trying to smile like you’re a nice guy without looking like a serial killer…

I always get asked lots of questions about my hitch-hiking adventures so I’ve included my answers to some of the most commonly asked questions below.

FAQ’s

Is it dangerous? Are you not worried someone will murder/rape/mug you?

Adopting the sign on a stick above your head technique. I'm not going to lie, this didn't work...

Adopting the sign on a stick above your head technique. I’m not going to lie, this didn’t work…

No. This fear of hitch-hiking really interests me. Lots of people think hitching is dangerous and they are right, but for the wrong reasons. The perceived danger and the actual danger are two very different things. The biggest danger with hitch-hiking is getting hit by a car. The reason is simple, you are spending a lot of time purposefully stood by the side of busy roads. The second biggest danger is being in a car that has an accident. Considering that only 26% of sexual assaults and 12% of murder cases involve strangers, your odds of getting into serious trouble are far less than 0.0000089%. To put this into perspective you are more likely to get hit by lightning and over three times more likely to be killed by a snake-bite than be the victim of violence or sexual harassment related to hitch-hiking.

Yeah, but what about girls?

When hitching, it’s good to have a prop. Some people opt for army camouflage in the hope ex-military people will pick them up, others go for a bike wheel in the hope fellow cyclists will think they’ve just got a puncture. If there is one thing all hitchers agree on it is that the best prop is a girl. Having a girl with you lessens the likelihood that you appear threatening and increases the chances of being picked up by female drivers. Hitching alone as a female is perhaps a little different. My girlfriend does it and so do other female travellers I know but it’s not for everyone. Stay safe and if you feel at risk, don’t travel alone.

Four of us in a trailer being pulled by a motorbike. Yep, this happened.

Four of us in a trailer being pulled by a motorbike.
Yep, this happened.

What’s the longest you’ve ever waited?

Probably about 6 hours trying to head south just outside of Barcelona. I moved to a different spot and got picked up in two minutes, begging the question why I hadn’t moved earlier?

Have you ever had an unfriendly or threatening lift?

Put simply, no.

Can you do it even if you don’t know the native language?

Yep. You end up pretty good at sign language and pointing.

___________

Have you got a question I didn’t answer? Ask me below in the comments box…

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