Where everybody knows my name
Are you staying in a hotel? Do me a favour. Go round the room and check all the plug sockets for chargers - phone chargers, computer power packs, anything that can be plugged into a wall. Then rummage through the cupboards and see if you turn up any clothes. Then investigate the bathroom for electric razors, toothbrushes, towels and so on. Then package up everything you find and send it to me. Because the chances are, it will all have been left there by me.
You see, I'm on tour. And although the main purpose of a stand-up tour is for me to go around entertaining the populace with jokes and observations, that's only a cover. It's mostly an exercise in losing your belongings, one by one, in hotel rooms. When the figures are totted up at the end of the tour, I hope to have earned enough at the box office to repurchase all the things I've lost in transit.
It should be so easy. All you have to do, people say, is count each thing back into your suitcase before you leave the room. Those who say this, however, aren't staying in hotels for 26 nights out of 30. If they were, they'd realise that there are only so many consecutive mornings you can begin by saying, out loud to yourself, "Toothbrush . . . pants . . . charger . . . laptop computer . . . other things which hold my life together." After about three or four of these, you begin to be overwhelmed by the mundane repetitiveness of your life, or resentful that you can no longer leave a room without enumerating the things you brought into it, like some sort of OCD sufferer. Either way, there will come a point where you crack. You don't take the register. You trust yourself to organise your possessions without having to list them out loud. And that - in my experience - is the day you leave the charger in the wall, your phone runs out of battery somewhere on the motorway, you spend the rest of the day in technological isolation, miss a major news event, and wonder why, no matter which station you tune the radio to, they're playing nothing but Michael Jackson.
Last week I went up to Preston, down to Bristol, up to Glasgow, in that order; this week, it's up to Derby, down to Brighton and up to Manchester. Looking at my schedule, you might imagine that, rather than deriving my income from the actual shows, I'm being paid by the mile. In an average week, I travel the sort of distances that other people would cover as part of a sponsored challenge for charity. I'm single-handedly propping up the motorway service-station industry and its various dependants: the almost-entirely-meat-free-pie-in-a-packet industry, the machines-that-make-something-vaguely-resembling-coffee industry.
I sometimes feel like the sole audience for depressing late-night radio phone-ins, the ones where the DJ says, "If you're listening, we want to hear from you," in a slightly too needy way, and the calls sound suspiciously like they're all being done by one person putting on different voices. Pretty soon, my routine will make me entirely nocturnal, and then it's only a matter of time before I move out of my flat into a more convenient burrow and start living off saucers of milk left out by sympathetic locals.
Room at the inn
But there are consolations, one being that I'm now among Britain's foremost hotel experts. My level of discernment is rising all the time. Where once I would cheerfully pay the £78-per-minute tariff that some hotels have the cheek to charge for internet access, now I'll dig my heels in and mutter phrases like "unconscionable scam" until I get it for free. When I first get into the room, I examine it as diligently as the people in CSI arriving at a crime scene. Has the bed been made? Is anyone dead in the wardrobe? Not much gets past me, these days.
Naturally, the more I travel around, the less likely I am to have these problems, because increasingly I'm returning to establishments. There's nothing so simultaneously cosy and lonely as being such a regular visitor to one set of lodgings that "Welcome to the Grand Hotel, sir" becomes "Welcome back to the Grand Hotel, Mr Watson".
Which does mean that I've got a chance of being reunited with some of those old favourites - the red Woody Allen T-shirt at the Holiday Inn Birmingham (left during the 2007 tour), the Gillette razor at the Malmaison Newcastle (left in 2008, the beginning of a pretty hairy period) and, who knows, maybe even the copy of Moby-Dick I parted ways with in Dundee last year. It's been a long wait to find out whether he catches that whale in the end.