New Scots comic Machete Hettie on she gangs, Bulgarians & the big black wave

Machete Hettie at The Grouchy Club in Edinburgh

Machete Hettie at The Grouchy Club in Edinburgh last month

When I was at the Edinburgh Fringe last month, I occasionally posted blogs about what had happened at the increasingly prestigious Grouchy Club which I co-hosted with comedy critic Kate Copstick. But the shows were an hour long and what I mentioned in the blogs were only 5 or 10 minute excerpts.

One character who never turned up in the blogs was someone I did blog about last year – newbie comic Machete Hettie.

She lives in the Leith area of Edinburgh – or ‘Leithiopia’ as she calls it.

When she called in to The Grouchy Club, she had just come back from a holiday.

“Where did you go?” I asked.

“I went to Sunny Beach in Bulgaria,” she told us, “and the place was mental. The taxi drivers are really fucking crazy. They drive aboot wi’ a bottle of beer in one hand and a phone in the other and nae hands on the wheel. They charge what they want. They’re the dearest part o’ yer night oot.

“Everything over there’s fake, from yer handbag to yer fake lighters. They even sell ye fake lighters wi’ nae gas! Look!” she said, rummaging in her handbag, “I’ve got twelve bloody lighters! They’ll give ye one light and that’s it! Everything’s fake-it-an-bake-it.”

“How long were you there?” Copstick asked her.

Machette Hettie in Sunny Beach, Bulgaria

Machete Hettie in Sunny Beach, Bulgaria

“A week,” Machete Hettie replied. “Ma liver is in pain. Seven days of shots. I managed to get steamin’ drunk for like £2 a night. They give you great big tubes with a half bottle o’ vodka in them. It’s meant to dae ye from midnight to 6 o’clock in the morning. Great big tubes. But they’re that heavy you can hardly carry them. You end up using them as a dancing partner, ken? They’re that big.

“Till 6 o’clock in the mornin’ ye can get steamin’ in Sunny Beach an’ I’m sure there’s loads o’ people that must come back pregnant an’ call their baby Sunny cos that’s no very hard cos they’re all at it in the streets an’ that..”

“How do you know?” I asked.

“Cos I seen it,” said Machete Hettie. “Cos I was there. It happens oot in the street. It happens everywhere.

“I didnae have any shenanigans wi’ them myself, like for sex or anything like that, no matter how much they were nice-lookin. I had it in my mind that, if you done anything wi’ those Bulgarians, you’d end up wi’ no flip-flops. But I ended up getting robbed o’ my flip-flips and my phone anyway. There was a great big fuckin wave came and took it all away. It took ma handbag, ma shoes, the fuckin lot.

“I was sunbathing a bit too close to the sea and a great big wave came and snatched ma bag and the whole shebang, then it threw it back at me wi’ a broken phone and ma money all tae fuck.”

“You’re used nicking things,” I said. “Surely.”

Kate Copstick & Machete Hetty after Grouchy Club show

Kate Copstick and Machete Hettie after Grouchy Club show at Edinburgh Fringe

“But I’m no used to stuff getting fuckin robbed offa me,” replied Machete Hettie. “Especially by a Bulgarian Black Sea wave. I thought it was gonna be from some sort of Bulgarian/Romanian/Russian gypsy. I didn’t think some black wave was gonna come along and tax us.”

“Why did you decide on Bulgaria?” I asked. “Because it was cheap?”

“Aye. Cheap and nasty,” replied Machete Hettie. “It was a last minute deal.”

“Was the nasty bit good as well?” I asked.

“Nasty was very good. That good that I’m going back.”

“How did they manage with your accent?” I asked.

“Extremely hard. They were asking me which part o’ Bulgaria I was frae.”

“I’ve known you about a year,” I said, “and you’ve never ever told me why you’re called Machete Hettie.”

“Well, how do I explain that?” she replied. “It was basically shit that happened when I was younger. Let’s say I was up to nae good in the neighbourhood. Dysfunctional shenanigans. I was in my twenties.”

“What sort of no good?” I asked.

“Well…”

“Remembering,” I told her, “that this is being recorded.”

“I probably just hung aboot in she gangs and things like that. It was gang related.”

“They’re called She Gangs?” I asked.

“Aye. I’m originally frae Dundee. I’m a Dundonian/Leithiopian.”

“That’s scary,” said Copstick.

“That’s scary,” agreed Machete Hettie. “Now you can maybe understand ma nature.”

“So you were in teenage she gangs in Dundee?” I asked.

“Yes. They were called the Hull Toon Huns.”

“Why Hull Toon?” I asked.

“Cos I was frae an area called Hull Toon – the Hull Town – which was quite a rough area. I done some shit years ago and I got the nickname Machete Hettie. I’m using it as a comedy name now because it’s catchy, but the balaclava and the whip, well… I’ve dropped them now; they was causing too much trouble… where airports and that were concerned. I’ve been accused of everything.

Machete Hettie celebrates in a Clerkenwell street last night

Machete Hettie in a London street last year

“They’d say: A gimp mask? They’d ask: Did you knit that yourself?… I wouldn’t like to be your neighbour if that’s what you go about doing to your neighbours. A lot of men thought it was quite kinky, ken. But I was fuckin sweating. I couldn’t handle it nae mare underneath them lights.”

“Have you ever in your life,” I asked, “held a machete?”

“Aye, of course I have. When you were allowed to bring them back frae Spain – and big Samurai swords an’ that.”

“The fact you were allowed to bring them back,” I suggested, “didn’t mean you HAD to bring them back.”

“Oh,” she said, thinking about it, “maybe you weren’t allowed to.”

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Data protection/big company stupidity & a late word from comic Lewis Schaffer

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I have my gas and electricity supplied by E.ON Energy. I have never had any trouble with them and this is about the generality of stupidity, not about them.

I got a new boiler installed in my Borehamwood home a few months ago via E.ON. They arranged it. It was actually installed by a sub-contractor based in Northampton.

I then got a cold call a few weeks ago allegedly from E.ON Energy trying to pressure sell me into buying ‘free’ solar panels which – of course – I would have to pay for. I think it was actually from the sub-contractor. I could be wrong.

Last week, on Friday morning in Edinburgh, I got a voice message on my mobile.

It was from a lady Laura “calling from E.ON Energy” about my boiler replacement.

She said E.ON Energy wanted me to send them an E.ON Energy utility bill to “update” their records.

It seemed a bit odd that E.ON was asking me to send them a utility bill their own computer had sent me… so they could update information presumably on the E.ON Energy computer system.

The message said to phone 0808 168 6424

Despite assuming this was a scam, I phoned the number. A recorded message said I had to phone that number during their opening hours of 8.00am-4.00pm, Monday to Friday despite the fact I was phoning around 11.40am on a Friday.

I presumed it was a scam, so filled in an online form to E.ON’s help people. It asked: Did I want to be replied-to by email or phone?

I said e-mail.

So, when they phoned back this morning, of course, the first thing the E.ON Energy person wanted “for security reasons under the Data Protection Act” were details companies always tell you never to give out to people you don’t know who phone you.

When we got round this eternal problem, the lovely lady told me she had phoned 0808 168 6424 and this was, indeed, part of E.ON Energy. She told me that the other department of E.ON Energy had “lost some of the paperwork they had” – apparently a bill issued by E.ON Energy to me – and so they need a replacement.

“I have talked to them…” she started.

Ah! I foolishly thought. She has sent a copy of one of my utility bills from her computer to their computer.

But no, of course she had not.

She had talked to the other department and given them my e-mail address so they can e-mail to tell me they are going to phone me and then they will phone me to ask me to send E.ON a copy of an energy bill which E.ON sent to me.

By computer.

Presumably any other company would have done the same.

It is the stupidity of the world.

I await the next phone call with interest.

When I got woken up by the E.ON phone call this morning, it was at 11.55am. I was still fast asleep.

My eight hour drive last night, back from Edinburgh to Borehamwood, was fine.

Thanks for asking.

Meanwhile, on the Chortle website, I read an article by comedian Tom Rhodes about the Late ’n’ Live show at the Edinburgh Fringe in August 2000. He writes:

“The show that night was an all-American line up of comedians, hosted by Lewis Schaffer. A lot of people had gone there specifically to heckle Lewis. It was vicious and it was mean and, I admit, I found it amusing.”

I asked Lewis Schaffer if he remembered this gig.

Lewis Schaffer at the Edinburgh Fringe last month

Lewis Schaffer at Edinburgh Fringe last month

“I was decidedly ill-equipped to compere the old Late and Live show,” he told me, “let alone do a full spot. I didn’t understand the British attitude to America – which at the time was pure jealously – and I wasn’t good at the time. I just looked like I should be good. Also I was only adept at dealing with New York audiences and hadn’t worked with Brits. I’ve not been invited back to Late and Live.

“I don’t remember a gig like the one Tom Rhodes describes. I do remember one gig where Rich Hall followed me and sang a song about how shit I was. And another gig where an audience member tried to get on my stage and I pushed him back down. He said he was only coming on to help. I thought he was trying to take over. Now I know British people and know they have the propensity for mob action and also that other comics can be cruel for a laugh.”

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Let me tell you an Ashley Storrie…

Ashley Storriw

Ashley Storrie wrote Conundrums My Dad Says

Ashley Storrie has a sitcom pilot Conundrums My Dad Says transmitted on BBC Radio Scotland at lunchtime tomorrow.

She has a bit of previous.

She got her first acting part at the age of three as ‘the wee girl in the metal tea urn’ in the movie Alabama.

At five, she was playing the lead child in a TV ad for Fairy Liquid soap powder – directed by Ken Loach.

By 1996, aged ten, she was cast in the lead role of the independent film Wednesday’s Child, which screened in the British pavilion at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival.

She was a stand-up comedian from the age of 11 to 14. She performed her first ever stand up comedy routine at the International Women’s Day celebrations in Glasgow and went on to perform stand-up in London supporting the likes of Omid Djalili and Donna McPhail

Ashley's Edinburgh Fringe show when she was 13

Ashley’s Edinburgh Fringe show, aged 13

In 1999, still only thirteen, she wrote, produced and performed her own show What Were You Doing When You Were 13? at the Edinburgh Fringe, becoming the youngest ever stand up in the history of the Festival. She was guest presenter on the Disney Channel that same year.

She was offered a chance to appear on the Jay Leno TV chat show in the US, but decided she preferred to go on a school trip to the Lake District.

Then she decided she did not want to do stand-up any more.

But, just under two years ago, she returned to stand-up and, just before that, started writing for radio and TV.

“Why,” I asked, “did you call the sitcom Conundrums My Dad Says?”

“Everything I ever write,” she explained, “has a hidden reference to William Shatner in it.”

Ashley considering William Shatner as a bra rack

On Facebook, Ashley considered using famed and admired actor Shatner as a bra rack

“William Shatner?” I asked. “Conundrums?”

“He had a show called Shit My Dad Says.”

“Ah!” I said.

“It’s not meant to be a blatant, shout-out William Shatner reference,” said Ashley.

“No other references to William Shatner in it?” I asked.

“No. It’s about a man and his son and the dad has got Asperger’s. It’s about their relationship and his relationship with other people.”

“Your dad,” I said, “has got Asperger’s.”

“Yes.”

“How did the pilot happen?” I asked.

“The BBC had a commissioning round,” said Ashley. “I put in two pitches and I tried to make one of them tick every box I thought they wanted. I knew the demographic for Radio Scotland was mainly older men, so I wrote a comedy about fishermen, about a small fishing village in Scotland and a woman turns up to take over a boat and, you know, they don’t believe women should be on boats because it’s bad luck. So I submitted that, but I also had this thing I had kind of worked on when I was younger – I probably wrote the original treatment about six years ago – it was about a man with Asperger’s. And that was the one they picked. No-one really liked the proposal about fishermen, apart from me.”

“Why did you write about fishermen?” I asked.

“I really like programmes about fishermen. I watch a lot of Deadliest Catch and Wicked Tuna.”

Fishermen with oilskin jacket (left) and high trousers (right).

Fishermen with oilskin jacket (left) and high trousers (right).

“Didn’t you get the hots at the Edinburgh Fringe a few years ago,” I asked, “for some group of young men dressed as fishermen, roaming round the streets singing sea shanties?”

“That was in Adelaide,” said Ashley.

“Wasn’t it Edinburgh?”

“They might have been in Edinburgh as well… Bound. They were called Bound. There was a woman with a squint eye who really liked them and she kept going: I looov Bound! Me and Bound have been owt! She didn’t refer to them individually; they were just Bound.”

“But,” I said, “Conundrums My Dad Says is not about fishermen but about a father with Asperger’s Syndrome.”

“The whole point,” said Ashley, “is that the father is the one with a syndrome but he is probably the most normal person in his circle, even though he’s the one with autism. He sees the world more clearly and that’s important to me and I think it’s important especially in this day and age where so many people – because Asperger’s is such a ‘new’ thing – so many people who for years thought they were strange or socially abnormal or couldn’t make friends – they’re all just autistic.”

The cast of Conundrums My Dad Says (Ashley 3rd from left)

The cast of Conundrums My Dad Says (Ashley 3rd from left)

“You’re in it but not in a major role,” I said.

“I’m in a supporting role.”

“Why’s that?”

“Because I wrote it about a man and his son. I thought it would be more interesting to see the dynamics between a man and his son rather than a man and his daughter. I think that would have been a completely different story.”

“Would that have been too autobiographical?” I asked.

“A wee bit. I didn’t want it to be This Is Your Life in a radio show. When I handed in the first draft, that was questioned a lot.”

“That you had not done it as a man and his daughter?”

“Yes. I genuinely just thought the dynamics between two men would be funnier. As a female, there is a certain amount of… especially on screen and in the media… women are always more understanding and have a little bit more compassion… and it’s harder. When you see women on TV and in films who are less compassionate and colder, they’re less well-received. I wanted there to be that friction of somebody not quite being able to deal with their dad and I think that comes better off a man. I just think it’s funnier. Especially as that man is his role model.”

“So,” I said, “it’s more of a comedy drama than a traditional sitcom which is there simply for the laughs.”

“It is not gag-gag-gag,” said Ashley, “but I don’t think it could be. I don’t think you would do Asperger’s any service by just being gag-gag-gag. It’s warm and its loving and it’s funny. It’s not dark. It’s the least dark thing I’ve ever written.”

“If it were a traditional sitcom,” I suggested, “you would be laughing at them rather than with them.”

“Yes,” said Ashley. “And this is more subtle. I want people to feel warm. You remember old sitcoms? They had a warmth to them, especially in British sitcoms. They weren’t like The Big Bang Theory which is joke-joke-joke. I wanted that warmth to be evident in mine. A lot of people have Asperger’s and it should be discussed and it should be accepted. We should be able to laugh about it. But not at it.”

“Have you 15 other sitcom ideas lined up?” I asked.

Janey Godley Ashley Storrie

Ashley Storrie with her mother, comedienne Janey Godley

“I’m always jotting shite down and telling mum, then watching her stare blankly at me as I tell her my idea of a sitcom set in space or for a drama about people who make clothes for animals.”

“Is that a real one?”

“Yeah.”

“Are you going to have your own solo show at the Fringe next year?”

“Yeah.”

“On the Free Festival?”

“Yeah.”

“Do you have a title for the show yet?”

“Well, it’s easy with my name. I’m spoiled for choice. I could have Never Ending Storrie…or The Storrie of My Life Featuring One Direction.”

“You own a toy action figure of William Shatner,” I said.

“I do.”

The Storrie of William Shatner?” I suggested.

“No,” said Ashley.

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Other people’s lives and why Monica Lewinsky caused the 9/11 attacks

My parents in Edinburgh, perhaps in the 1970s. Who knows?

My parents in Edinburgh, maybe in the 1970s. Time can warp.

I have talked to a few novelists in my time.

They mostly admit that much of the fiction they write is actually the truth, but toned-down because the actual truth would be too far-fetched to believe. Especially where coincidences are concerned.

Yesterday, I bumped into Scottish comedian Jojo Sutherland.

I mentioned to her that today, bright and early, I have to go see my second cousin near Perth. At least he might be my second cousin. He is my mother’s cousin’s son. I think that might be a second cousin, but who knows?

Somehow I mentioned to Jojo that my mother had been born in the small village of Dunning near Perth.

JoJo said that, the day before, she had been in Dunning. Several comedians met there to leave cars and congregate on their way up to Elgin.

Dunning does not seem far from Perth. It does not seem far off the main road. But it takes forever to drive there, because the road to the village is in some sort of 1920s Einsteinian time warp. In the time it takes to drive there, you could raise families and empires could rise and fall.

There is no reason to go to Dunning (admittedly a very nice village) except for very specific reasons. Few people go to Dunning.

The fact that Jojo went there the day before I accidentally met her in Edinburgh would be laughably impossible in a novel.

The reason I am telling you this is because, yet again, I have no time to write a ‘proper’ blog before I drive off to Perth.

So here are some copy-and-pasted extracts from my electronic diary in – for no particular reason – 2001, the year Arthur C Clarke and Stanley Kubrick chose for their depiction of a futuristic science fiction world.

My father died in the early hours of Wednesday 27th June 2001. So it goes.

Russ Conway in 1962. He died in 2000

Russ Conway in 1962. He died in 2000, aged 75

On Saturday 1st September, my mother asked me if pianist Russ Conway had died. I said, “Yes. Last year or at the beginning of this year.”

She told me: “I always said I was OK provided he was OK. Because he had his strokes just after I had mine.”

Sunday 2nd September was my mother’s 81st birthday. She was breaking down in tears all day.

Meanwhile, other people lived their own, separate, lives.

I had a chum who was working for a PhD at an English university. She was having problems.

She had access to unused unique research material which NASA was willing to supply to her for her English PhD, which she was working on at NASA’s Goddard Space Center facility in Maryland. Her English university told her it would not allow her to continue nor give her a PhD unless the research work she produced was first published in scientific journals under the name of her supervisor at the university.

NASA said they wanted her to publish her own research under her own name thus getting credit for what she had done and that it was outrageous for the English university and its professor to take and get credit for research they had not done.

But that is the standard method of people getting PhDs in the UK – the university publishes students’ research as their own. The university staff get credit and perhaps a knighthood; the students get a PhD. But not in America, where the people who do the research publish their own work under their own name.

NASA was refusing to release the research material unless my chum got the credit; the English university was refusing to allow her to continue unless it was agreed up-front that their man got his name on the research.

On Tuesday 11th September, the World Trade Center was destroyed in New York.

On Wednesday 12th September, I wrote:

The mural on the side of Dave Courtney’s house

Two-storey mural on the side of Dave Courtney’s family home

Went to Plumstead to watch an interview being filmed with gangster Dave Courtney. He lives in an ordinary late Victorian road, his house mostly white and blue on the exterior: battlements on the white walls with large blue and grey Camelot scenes. On the side of the house, there is a 30-ft high brightly-coloured painting of him as a knight, seated with his wife on a stallion.

Above the door, there is a painting of a shield with a white fist on which is a knuckle-duster; beside it, a royal crest. Beside that, on the patio, is a 20ft high white flagpole with a tattered Union Flag. Invisible on the ground but visible to police helicopters, two eyes are painted on the roof. His motorbike has a painting of him brandishing a knuckle-duster, aiming a gun etc. In front of the front bay window stands a miniature 3-ft high sculpture of King Arthur’s sword Excalibur stuck in a white stone.

Inside the house, his living room has a wooden ceiling. On one wall, there is a large painting of him; on other walls, three giant swords. His girlfriend is thin, black and bald except for a black velcro-like band of black hair on her head. Their daughter Courtney Courtney is 3 years old, small, golden brown and sweet. Two young men in black suits, white shirts, black ties and highly-polished black leather shoes sat on two grey sofas watching television coverage of the aftermath of the World Trade Center attack. 

Later, outside, I watched a bespectacled Sikh walking past in a white turban with red dots pushing a bright yellow bicycle.

On Thursday 13th September, I got an e-mail from the director of the Dave Courtney interview:

The World Trade Center attack on 11 September 2001

The World Trade Center attack on 11 September 2001

My friend in New York tells me the entire reason for the New York atrocity is down to Monica Lewinsky – President Clinton a few years ago tried to bomb Bin Ladin to distract attention from the Monica Lewinsky affair. So apparently Bin Ladin has never forgotten it. So this is payback apparently. All over a blowjob!

On Friday 14th September, I got this message from a chum about her new boyfriend, who had just come over to the UK:

He is not used to people en masse. He has been living a solitary existence in the rainforest for ten years and is fairly knackered after the stresses of trying to decamp to the UK. He has a condition we call ME – good days and bad days – so needs a bit of a rest before meeting people.

On Monday 17th September, I got this message from a friend in England whose mother lived in New York and was there during the attack on the World Trade Center and the attack on the Pentagon in Washington:

Thankfully all my friends and family are accounted for but it took until late on Friday/early hours of Saturday morning to get the OK from everyone I know and care about in New York and Washington. 

My Aunt is a medic and has been working flat out to cope with the casualties and fatalities that arrive at the medical centres/ hospitals around New York. She will need post traumatic stress counselling, as will all the rescue workers and medical staff. 

I did hope that the events of last week would prompt my sisters who haven’t been speaking to one another for the past 15 months to make their peace – they haven’t.

On Thursday 4th October; I wrote:

When clearing lots of my father’s spare bits of wood out of my mother’s side shed with neighbour Jenny and husband Albert, Jenny said – quite shocked –  “She’s getting rid of all trace of him.” I agreed.

My father and mother in Clacton, Essex. Ars long vita brevis.

My father and mother in Clacton, Essex. Ars longa vita brevis.

After my father’s death, I found my mother going through all their old photographs and tearing them up after looking at each of them. She thought it was better. She had her memories but felt she had to make a new start and that this was the best way of doing it.

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How the English court system works (?)

The figure of Justice - blindfolded to avoid seeing any truths

The figure of Justice – blindfolded to avoid seeing any untruths – and truths

To save myself from having to write a blog today when all I want to do is sleep – the result of over three weeks at the Edinburgh Fringe – here is a blog about something which happened this week over ten years ago in England.

Someone I know was starting two weeks of Jury Service in a court somewhere in England. He told me:

Day One

None of us got picked today…. There was a lot of waiting around then they sent us all home… I ended up chatting with a right demographic mix, including… a 40-year-old grammar schoolboy self-made Tory-voting string-em-up merchant web designer; a local councillor very lefty with bleeding heart and social conscience (great arguments between those two!); an oldie female retired teacher; a young (22) ‘lad’ carpenter of some type; a young single mum from a council estate (“I dunno nuffink about politix”) and me…. And that was just the smokers!

The fault of the system is this… Most self-employed people don’t want to be there (big loss of earnings – it’s costing me a grand!!!). Most middle class with good jobs don’t want to be there. (They were all the ones moaning they had tried to get out of it )… So you are left with the unemployed, retired and immigrants whose first language definitely ain’t English…. But hey …That’s democracy! or is it?

Day Two

I got picked today…. Going into the court room was awe-inspiring… I had to remind myself this wasn’t telly…. Half my jury could barely read the affirmation. Then it was my turn, so I gave my best performance… and everyone after me then gave it a bit of welly too!

It is a nasty little case – GBH/drugs… Quite complicated too. We were sent home early – 3.30pm – as the two barristers needed to do a bit of thrashing things out. It is by no means cut and dried. My brain hurt at the end of the day.

Day Three

I went to see the trial myself.

A 20 year-old Bengali is accused of cutting the throat of another 20 year-old Bengali, exposing his windpipe. He is accused not of attempted murder but of GBH (Grievous Bodily Harm). His defence is that he was at home all evening. On the evening of the offence, the police came and broke down his door to find him on the phone (he was calling the police because someone was breaking down his door). There was blood on the stairs, the floor, his bedspread and his hand. He said he had cut his finger at college that afternoon.

Forensic DNA tests showed it was, indeed, all his blood and that none of his blood was at the murder scene, nor was any of the victim’s blood on the accused’s clothes. The victim said the accused man was a drug dealer and that he (the victim) hated drugs and drug dealers. Unfortunately for him, the defence knew he had been addicted to crack and heroin, was on methadone and had been convicted of manslaughter.

The prosecution produced two diaries found at the accused’s address which they claimed showed the accused was a drug dealer. Unfortunately, the defence pointed out one of the diaries was not in his handwriting and was partially in Bengali, a language he can neither read or write. The other diary, they contested, was the diary of a drug taker not a dealer – and the accused admitted he took drugs.

While the jury was out, the prosecutor told a detective there to give evidence: “If this guy gets off, it will seriously prejudice the whole case” and “The evidence fitted in better in the other trial”. The accused is related to a criminal Bengali family.

The jury comprised six blacks, one Asian Moslem and five whites. Three of the blacks, strangely, were Nigerians. My friend on the jury told me that one of the black women had arrived 20 minutes late that morning saying, quite unconcerned: “Oh, you could have started without me”.

Day Four

I went to the court again.

The judge gave a rambling colloquial summing up which non-native English speakers would have found unclear. After about two hours (around 4.30pm) the jury gave their verdict – partly because it was a Friday afternoon and, if they had not decided, then they would have had to continue on Monday and some of them were ‘second weekers’ – you are called to Jury Service for two weeks. If the final case runs over the two weeks, then you have to stay until it is concluded.

My friend told me that, when they went into the jury room, there were an initial six for Guilty, five were undecided and one wanted Not Guilty. My friend was the jury foreman. He went round the jury asking initially whether they thought the accused man was guilty. One woman asked: “Which one?” She had not been clear who had been on trial and thought perhaps he was the victim.

I am not going to say whether the jury found the accused man Guilty or Not Guilty.

You can toss your own coin.

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How do you reform yourself if you have been a gangland enforcer in Glasgow?

William Lobban with his car and his book yesterday

William Lobban with car and book yesterday

William Lobban is selling his car tomorrow. A man is coming up to the Highlands from Glasgow to buy the car. That is quite a long way to travel to buy a car, but he thinks it is worth it. Then William will buy an even better one.

I blogged about William last November when his book The Glasgow Curse was published. It was a No 1 Amazon bestseller pre-publication.

That was last November. In June this year, The Glasgow Curse went back up to No 1 in Amazon’s ‘true crime’ sales chart. It is still hovering around the Top 20 in various lists of crime books. And it was his publisher’s second best-selling e-book (after Alexander McCall Smith).

None of this is normal.

So, as I am still in Edinburgh, I drove up to the Highlands yesterday to ask him why the book had gone back up to No 1 in the summer. It seemed like a good idea at the time. It seemed a shorter distance on the map.

He had no idea why the book had gone back up to No 1 in June, so I asked him: “Why did you move up here from Glasgow?”

It was a sunny day in the Highlands yesterday

It was a lovely sunny day to meet in the Highlands yesterday

“There’s a big pal of mine lives up here,” said William. “He’s about 79 now. One of the old school. Done a life sentence. Two of them got life back in the early 1960s for killing a butcher. Robbed him in his shop; killed him. They both got caught and got a lifer. It was just after they stopped hanging people, so he was quite lucky.

“He was a big man in his day. I came up to see him initially and quite liked the place. There was no really great connection. You know the cops are carrying guns up here now?”

“I read that in The Scotsman,” I said. “They’re carrying guns on regular call-outs. They were photographed just going into a McDonalds with guns for no reason.”

“You remember,” said William, “that Paul Ferris was (allegedly) threatening me online and on Twitter and stuff. Veiled threats like: Your time’s coming soon.”

Yesterday’s Daily Record report on Ferris (left) and Lobban

Daily Record reports on feud between Ferris (left) & Lobban

“He was allegedly posting your postcode online,” I said.

“That’s right,” said William. “Although that’s an open secret. People have known I’m here since I’ve been here. But I sought advice on what to do and I was advised I should report it to the cops, which I did – cos I want to be seen as a reformed character doing the right thing. Right after that, the local police started carrying guns up here. It does make you wonder if they decided to do that just in case they do get any trouble. It just makes you wonder. Who knows?”

William is usually referred-to in the press as “a notorious underworld enforcer”. He was once the ‘Most Wanted’ criminal in the UK.

“But I’m trying to create a different image for myself,” he told me yesterday. “I’m a different person. I want to be accepted for who I am and what I’m trying to do now, not for what I did 20-odd years ago. I’m on the e-fags now. I’ve not smoked a cigarette in about two months.”

“Much cheaper,” I said.

“A lot cheaper,” agreed William, “but it’s the health aspect. I was a smoker all my life. I’ve changed my ways, John. I take tablets to lower my cholesterol. I’m on 40 milligrams of simvastatin.”

“And I see you’re drinking orange juice,” I said.

William Lobban, aged 19

William when he was aged 19

“When I first came up here (he lives just outside a Highland town) back in 2006 or 2007, I had a bad problem with drink. It lasted for about a year. I went off the rails a bit. Now I have not touched a drink in over four years.

“I first got done in Stornoway for drink driving. I got a two-year ban there and then I got done just outside Perth. I was out of order. I really was. They gave me another four-year ban and that ran concurrent. So I ended up losing my licence for about five years in total. I got it back two years ago.

“It’s all behind me now, but it was at that time the police came and lifted me. I was in one of the local nightclubs here and I had a suit and a big coat and all that on. I was drunk and I must have been standing and swaying about and the bouncers have come up and they says: Can you take yer coat off, because people are starting to get a bit paranoid? Can you just take yer coat off and put it in the cloakroom? And I says: F off. I was out of order. So the next thing is they’ve all jumped on me and the police have come.

“So they’ve got me in the back of the police car and I can’t remember doing this – that shows you how drunk I was – but apparently I head-butted one of the cops while I was cuffed. I can only remember waking up in the morning and I was sore everywhere and black-and-blue because the cops had beat the shit out of me. But they dropped the charge of me assaulting the police because I had such a list of injuries myself. I guess they must have thought Well, if we take this any further, then he is going to bring all that out. It ended up as a breach of the peace.”

Even before publication, a No 1 Amazon bestseller

Even before publication, a No 1 bestseller

William is currently writing a sequel to The Glasgow Curse. “Spain is going to be a big part of the second book.” he told me. “But not just Spain: all over Europe. France, Holland; I’ve got lots of great stories to tell.”

The Glasgow Curse included the killing outside the family home of the son of Glasgow’s godfather Arthur Thompson and the revenge killings of Bobby Glover and Joe ‘Bananas’ Hanlon, who were suspected of being involved.

Gangster Paul Ferris was arrested for the shooting of Thompson’s son and later found not guilty after a £4 million trial. He accused William Lobban of luring Glover and Hanlon to their deaths, which William denies. A 2013 film – The Wee Man – was made about Ferris’ life. There is a trailer on YouTube.

“You know that Ferris film The Wee Man?” William said to me yesterday.

“I was trying not to mention that,” I said. “I was reading recently that the producer felt it had been pirated out of existence. He appeared not to have seen the irony of being ripped-off by criminals. I have to say I thought it was a very good film. Bits of it might not be true, but it was a good film.”

“You enjoyed it?” asked William.

“Yeah,” I said.

“Did you?” William asked again.

The Wee Man movie

The Wee Man movie: not always correct

“Yeah,” I replied again. “You know what the real people in the movie were really like and what really happened, but I don’t. Once I’ve accepted the main actor as Paul Ferris, I can go along with it. Because you knew him, you never can.”

“I suppose so,” said William. “But the explosion in the Jaguar, for instance – when Arthur Thompson’s mother-in-law gets killed. Ferris was only two or three years old when that happened, so to put that in the film wasn’t right because it wasn’t part of his story.”

“I think,” I said, “if you know the truth about something, then you can’t watch films about it. I mean, Arthur Thompson, for some bizarre reason, seemed to be played by an actor with an Irish accent. What was that all about? But maybe someone will make a film of The Glasgow Curse. You seem to be successfully changing yourself from a ‘hard man’ gangster into an author.”

“Well,” said William, “turning the corner and living legitimately can be very difficult. It does throw up challenges all the time.

“A couple of months ago, I was in Tesco’s car park. I was coming out of the shop with the trolley and someone says to me: Oh, he’s just spat on your car.

“I’d just had it all polished.

“I said: Who?

That man there.

Time to set matters straight

Not a man to mess with in Tesco’s

“So I left the trolley and, sure as hell, on the driver’s window was – och – he’d brought all this up and I… I thought: How disgusting. So I ran after him and got hold of him. I never put my hands on him, but I says: You’ve just spat on my car there. He tried to deny it and, to cut a long story short, I ended up saying: Now, look, you’d better get back and clean that or I don’t know what I’m gonna do here. 

“And he did. He must have known by my… you know… by the way I was… And my reaction was – to me – it was a good thing, because normally I’d have just head-butted him… because I felt like doing that… But I managed to hold myself back – and that is a good thing.”

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Just for a change, a little bit about me, my father, cold Scotland & the Cold War

Me (aged 1) with father near home in Campbeltown, Scotland

Me (aged 1) with father near home in Campbeltown, Scotland

Of course, my recent blogs from the Edinburgh Fringe just skimmed the surface. I was seeing around 6-8 shows per day for three-and-a-half weeks. I realised halfway through that I should, perhaps, have included a list of the shows I had seen with, perhaps, at least three adjectives on each.

Perhaps next year.

I had been going to blog today about Machete Hettie, one of the comedy acts who turned up at The Grouchy Club and who I went to see perform in Leith on Sunday. I wrote about her last year .

But I do not have the time today.

I have to go up to the Highlands and meet a man at a post code.

He – under the circumstances, quite reasonably – has not suggested a specific meeting place. Just a time and a post code which covers an area. And then we will find each other by chatting on mobile phones. I can see he might not want to say he will be at a specific place at a certain time, under the circumstances.

I am leaving Edinburgh around 8.15am (just before the draconian parking restrictions start at 8.30am).

This is earlier than I need to, which will leave me spare time.

I might go to Lossiemouth on the way up or the way back.

Lossiemouth in the north east of Scotland

Lossiemouth in NE Scotland – the beaches are better than this

My eternally-un-named friend partly grew up in Lossiemouth… as well as Malta, Cyprus, West Germany, Northern Ireland etc. Her father was in the RAF. Lossiemouth was/is an RAF base. She remembers the idyllic sandy beaches at Lossiemouth – and also clothes freezing on the washing line in winter.

I grew up partly in Aberdeen, not too far away. I remember the idyllic sandy beaches and sand dunes when I was a child. We lived in Mastrick, a council estate on a hill where, in winter, my mother used to wear an overcoat when she made the beds on cold winter mornings.

My father ran away from his home in Wigtownshire to join the Royal Navy in 1936, just in time for the Spanish Civil War in which we allegedly took no official part, though he remembered his ship dropping off individual men near the coast of Spain who made their own solitary way to land.

He was a radio operator on Navy ships. He was based in Malta in World War Two and, after the War, he got a job with a company which supplied marine radar to fishing boats. The radar bounced off the sea bed and showed up any shoals of fish. He was originally based in Campbeltown, on the Kintyre Peninsula, where I was born.

My father in 1976 on the beach at Clacton

My father in 1976 in retirement in Clacton, England

When I was three, he was moved to a bigger part of the same company, based in Aberdeen, where I went to school. My father serviced marine radar on the fishing boats in Aberdeen and along the coast to the west – including Lossiemouth – and further north up to Wick and Thurso.

At least, I think he serviced the fishing boats in Lossiemouth. He might have gone there later.

Because, later, he moved down to his company’s headquarters in London and he used to occasionally go out ‘on site’ to inspect the company’s on-shore radar and equipment on ‘sites’. This was during the Cold War. The sites were military bases and mostly defence bunkers. He had to have security clearance – ‘positive vetting’ – for that. I think he mentioned that they had gone way back to his childhood and had talked to his schoolteachers. He knew where the entrances to the bunkers were and their layout. It was a long time ago in another world.

Machete Hettie celebrates in a Clerkenwell street last night

Machete Hettie in a London street last year

Maybe he went to Lossiemouth in that incarnation of himself rather than the fishing boat incarnation.

I have never been to Lossiemouth. So I thought I might go today.

I might take photos of where my eternally-un-named friend used to live as a teenager. But she says she can see it on Google Streetview anyway.

The world changes every day.

And the story of Machete Hettie’s adventures in Bulgaria will have to wait for another day.

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