Kevin McGeary on Chinese melodies, WH Auden and life after coronavirus

In yesterday’s blog, I chatted with Northern Irish born musical performer Kevin McGeary about how and why he started writing Chinese-language songs. This is Part 2 of that conversation…


JOHN: Are you worried one night there is going to be a knock on your door and a Chinese man will be saying: “We have been reading and listening to your work in Beijing…”?

KEVIN: If it happens, it happens. Isn’t there an old expression: If you’re gonna tell the truth to people, you’d damn well make ‘em laugh, otherwise they will kill you? Fortunately most people find my lyrics funny, so they don’t get that offended.

JOHN: You have a following in China?

KEVIN: I have fans, because the vast majority of pop songs there are just love songs or patriotic songs. My style is so different: just a massive slap in the face to the idea of being populist; so some people really dig it… You know the theory of The Second Dancer?

JOHN: No.

KEVIN: When you just start dancing in the middle of the street, people think you’re a madman. But, if someone joins you, then you’re a bit of a flash mob.

I had been writing songs in Chinese for over three years by the time I got my Second Dancer – Jennie Li who was an opera singer, a Mandarin-teacher and an academic. When the China Daily were researching their article about me, they interviewed her.

Another person who really liked my songs was a literary translator called Bruce Humes, who loved the satire.

I don’t often get a chance to perform my Chinese songs in public now, because I live in Manchester and there aren’t many Chinese people who come to English-language comedy club nights.

JOHN: You sing your English language songs at the clubs?

KEVIN: Yes – and occasional covers of Kunt & The Gang songs.

JOHN: Have you tried doing covers of his songs in Chinese?

KEVIN: I did a Chinese version of Women Love a Bastard. The Chinese title is the Chinese expression ‘Men aren’t bad. Women don’t love’ and it’s just too catchy not to write a song.

JOHN: So, you have released two albums in the last two weeks: one English-language, one Chinese-language. What next?

KEVIN: I’m going to dust off, revisit and rewrite some old songs from the back catalogue to provide the backbone for a new album. In the meantime, with all this coronavirus solitude, I’m going to step aside from comedy music for a bit and record an album of film soundtracks… The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, The Magnificent Seven, Once Upon a Time in The West, Rocky, The Great Escape.

JOHN: In one music video, you seem to be wearing a cowboy shirt.

KEVIN: The song was called I Hate Hunan The Least. When a foreigner wants to become famous for writing Chinese songs, they will usually cover a Chinese love song or sing a Red song – something glorifying China or the Communist Pary. So I thought I would turn the idea on its head… I Hate Hunan The Least mentions every province and then the chorus is I Hate Hunan The Least – just to subvert all those suck-ups who try to endear themselves to the Chinese people.

JOHN: I seem to remember the Chinese, when I was there, had a rather worrying love of Country & Western songs.

KEVIN: Yeah, John Denver is huge there… Patsy Cline…

JOHN: Dolly Parton?

KEVIN: Yes, Dolly. She’s big.

JOHN: Yes… but there seems to be something about the Chinese accent that makes it good for Country & Western.

Are you regionally popular in China – popular in one bit but not another?

KEVIN: I don’t know.

JOHN: You are still persona grata? You could still go back to China?

KEVIN: Oh definitely.

JOHN: You should do a tour.

KEVIN: Well, to get a visa to tour is… In the mid-2000s, Björk ruined it for a lot of people because she gave a concert in Shanghai and, at the end of one of her songs, she shouted: “Free Tibet!”… So now they are very strict about who they will allow to perform.

JOHN: I was at a concert in Chongqing in the 1980s which had lots of musical acts and, if they liked the act, the audience clapped. If not, total silence. Did you ever perform to large audiences in China?

KEVIN: Yes, but not my comedy songs. I was invited to play Chinese-language songs in large halls to a family audience as a sort-of token Westerner – the sheer novelty of having a foreigner sing in their language. I would play whatever was in the Chinese charts at the time.

JOHN: And the clapping?

KEVIN: Yes. I think they were genuinely enthusiastic – and they would throw flowers as well.

JOHN: How did you get your head round the different tone structures of Chinese songs?

KEVIN: As a teenager, most of my musical heroes were the 1990s Britpop acts like Pulp and Blur, so it took a while to grasp… the Chinese put a really strong emphasis on melody. The melodic steps are qi-cheng-zhuan-he (起承转合)- wise-step-spin-unite.

So bands like Radiohead or the Manic Street Preachers would never be that popular in China because they don’t follow this strict melodic structure. But something like The Carpenters – they are really good with this melodic structure.

It’s very important to gain mastery of that four-step melody before you write songs in Chinese.

“It’s very important to gain mastery of that four-step melody”

JOHN: So is Country & Western structured in a Chinese way?

KEVIN: It is, because the melodies tend not to be very subversive.

JOHN: What is a subversive melody?

KEVIN: Most things by Radiohead. A lot of Leonard Cohen stuff. Bob Dylan isn’t popular there at all because, well, he can’t really sing, for a start.

JOHN: I suppose Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan and Radiohead share a drone sound. But why is Country & Western more attuned to their tastes?

KEVIN: I think it’s just the simplicity, the universality. I would not say Country & Western is particularly Chinese-friendly; it just has that universality to it. A purity.

JOHN: Who were the big Western musical heroes when you were there?

KEVIN: Kenny G, the saxophonist, is massive. Boy bands like the Backstreet Boys are really popular, even among 20-something guys. Justin Bieber.

JOHN: You must have this schizophrenic creativity to do a Western album AND a Chinese musical album…

KEVIN: There’s one song where the lyric is basically Tell Me The Truth About Love by WH Auden, slightly changed, and there is an English version and a Chinese version of that.

Some of my Chinese songs are melodies that have been kicking around in my head since I was a teenager – ones I never quite found the right English lyric for.

I have been writing songs in English since I was 14 and I’m very aware of the figures whose footsteps I’m trying to follow in – Paul Simon and Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. But I think one of my big strengths as a Chinese-language songwriter is that, aside from going to karaoke, I was largely pretty ignorant of whose footsteps I was following in. So I had that freedom to explore and generally be unaware of what rules I might be breaking.

JOHN: Might you go back to China?

KEVIN: I was seventeen when 9/11 happened, and twenty-four when the Global Financial Crisis toppled the economic superiority of the West, but this is the first time – the coronavirus pandemic – I have been so directly affected by an international upheaval.

The virus originated in China, but that country appears to be over the worst of it while Europe and North America could be six months away from starting to revive their industry. During the inevitable recession, I may consider returning to East Asia to ride out the lean years.


THERE IS A TRAILER ON YOUTUBE FOR KEVIN’S ENGLISH-LANGUAGE ALBUM …

AND THERE IS A TOTALLY UNEDITED AUDIO VERSION OF MY CHAT WITH KEVIN ON THE PODBEAN WEBSITE HERE.
IT RUNS 42 MINUTES.

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Kevin McGeary on writing satiric Chinese-language comedy songs

I talked to musical performer and writer Kevin McGeary about how and why he came to “write controversial songs in the world’s largest authoritarian state” (his own turn-of-phrase). 

He got in touch with me because he had read my blog chat last November with Kunt & The Gang.

Coronavirus conversations via Skype are becoming the norm. He was self-isolated in his flat in Manchester while I was self-isolated at my home in Borehamwood.

Kevin McGeary talked to me from Manchester via Skype


JOHN: In the last two weeks, you’ve  released an English-language album TMItastic and a  Chinese language album 失败博物馆 (Museum of Failure), both humorous. How are they different?

KEVIN: My English comedy songs are often foul-mouthed and use a lot of swear words, though not to the extent of Kunt & The Gang. My Chinese songs tend to be offensive in a different way: they satirise Chinese culture and society. The Chinese ones are PG-friendly. They are not sweary; they are more satirical. They satirise aspects of society like wealthy men who keep mistresses. There are entire villages in China where pretty-much everybody is a ‘kept’ woman.

JOHN: Presumably you could not sing these Chinese songs in China… The authorities would take exception to them.

KEVIN: Well, my initial wave of creativity in writing Chinese songs came just before Xi Jinping took over as President. Under him, censorship of the media and the blocking of websites has got a lot stricter. But I used to busk in China; I used to perform on the streets singing my songs in Mandarin and people were very friendly.

JOHN: Are there loads of buskers in China?

KEVIN: No, not at all.

JOHN: So you must have been stopped, surely. They have Party people on every block, don’t they?

KEVIN: Urban administrators, yes. But they’re not really very powerful and they’re only there to stop violence or actual crime. I wasn’t committing a crime and I got away with it because my stuff was so off the wall. 

Kevin McGeary busking in Shenzhen (Photograph by Jesse Warren for China Daily)

JOHN: You were in China for…

KEVIN: …for eleven years. The first 3½  years, I was teaching English. I studied the language very hard, so I was conversant within a year and could read a newspaper within two years. 

The second year, I lived in a small city in the middle of the country in Hunan Province – the equivalent of living in Arkansas or Oklahoma.

The only form of entertainment, really, was karaoke: I went almost every night and that’s where my Chinese songwriting grew.

JOHN: And, after you finished teaching English…

KEVIN: I worked on a  newspaper for two years – the Shenzhen Daily. Then I left China, but I missed it, so I went back 2014-2018, working for a massive Chinese company Midea who make home appliances.

Kevin McGeary on GuangdongTelevision

JOHN: Not a creative, artistic job, then…?

KEVIN: Same as Kunt & The Gang, I don’t expect to monetise my creative work, so I need a steady job that gives me the material basis to be creative. You can’t be creative if you don’t have a roof over your head and clothes on your back.

I started writing Chinese-language songs in November 2008 and, in February 2012, it just suddenly struck me to start writing comedy songs.

When I started writing songs in Chinese, I had only been learning the language for 18 months, so my pronunciation was not perfect and also the novelty of having a white person singing in Chinese meant most people were just laughing at my attempts. After a while, I realised I had to turn this weakness into a strength. If people are laughing at my attempts, I might as well try to make people laugh. That’s how it started.

JOHN: Is satire a good idea in China?

KEVIN: Well, people are more open-minded than you would imagine. There was a feature in China Daily about my songwriting; I also performed and was interviewed on Chinese television.

JOHN: So being offensive is OK?

KEVIN: A lot of my stuff is beyond bad taste. It’s too silly to even be offensive.

JOHN: You don’t have any problem getting your music heard online in China?

KEVIN: I didn’t originally but, within a year of the Beijing Olympics – which was supposed to be China’s ‘coming out’ party – they blocked YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.

Back when blogging was big in the early 2010s I had quite a popular blog with a decent audience – tens of thousands of hits for a video – but now, with the internet being more heavily censored and pretty much all Western websites blocked in China – the New York Times, the BBC – it’s harder now to get my stuff heard. 

JOHN: So how do you get it heard? What sites do you put it on?

KEVIN: Youku and Tencent and QQ – Chinese-owned video-sharing sites which are the equivalents of YouTube. Youku is owned by Alibaba; QQ is owned by Tencent. They are not as censorious as some people might imagine. You can get almost anything on there unless it’s sexually explicit or violent.

JOHN: The Chinese love Yes Minister, don’t they? And that satirises bureaucracy. So there must be a liking for taking the piss out of your own system – though keeping low-key about it!

KEVIN: Definitely. I think Yes Minister was a vastly superior show to The Thick of It because, for a start, the characters are a lot more likeable… and there’s a lot more subtlety. When the Chinese criticise the regime, they tend to be very subtle about it.

For example, when the #MeToo movement broke in 2017, all internet posts with the Mandarin phrase for ‘Me too’ – ‘I also am’ – were censored. So the way to get any subversive message across was to use the image of a bowl of rice and the image of a rabbit. Because (in Chinese) ‘mee’ is the word for rice and ‘to’ is the word for rabbit. So ‘mee-to’ sounds very similar to the English expression. If you do that, you are not breaking the law.

JOHN: Very subtle.

KEVIN: Yes, images of Winnie the Pooh were banned because there was this paranoia he looked like Xi Jinping.

JOHN: In a sense, you must have had to change your ‘self’ to live in China. What terrible Western habits did you have to drop?

KEVIN: There is a lot more subtlety to the way people communicate in China. In a country like America or Australia, where people came from different parts of the world and they grew as a nation state in a very short time, the only way to get by was to be very direct. But, in China, a much larger percentage of communication is unspoken. So much is about context and reading between the lines. Criticising people as individuals is generally very taboo in China.

JOHN: Are you worried one night there is going to be a knock on your door and a Chinese man will be saying: “We have been reading and listening to your work in Beijing…”?

… CONTINUED HERE

… There is a taster for Kevin’s Chinese-language album 失败博物馆 (Museum of Failure) online…

… There is a YouTube playlist for the album HERE

… AND THERE IS A TOTALLY UNEDITED AUDIO VERSION OF MY CHAT WITH KEVIN ON THE PODBEAN WEBSITE HERE.
IT RUNS 42 MINUTES.

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John’s UK Coronavirus Diary – No 2 – Paranoia and “eat colourful vegetables”

(CONTINUED FROM YESTERDAY)

Teddy bears now think humans are a dangerous virus… (Photograph by Daniele Levis Pelusi via UnSplash)

MONDAY 23rd MARCH

I woke up with the same very slightly hard-edged cough I had last night but it was, again, difficult to know if this was real or a slight variation on my normal lifelong dry cough… 

I emailed a comedian to see if they were OK and got this reply:


“Yes I am OK, John. But it’s a war crime against humanity. It’s phycological warfare. 

to distance humans from each other

the fear is a virus

isolate them

take away the self-employed sector of society and devalue them in one fell swoop

force everyone on to Universal Credit

the scrap heap of society

using war language like front line

next up forced vaccines and 5g

It does feel like we’re fucked.

This is crime against humanity.


Someone else (not a comedian) told me that her spiritual advisor had told her the whole coronavirus thing had been a purge by the spirits. They had decided to wipe out Mankind but had changed their collective mind. Now it is pretty-much over because the spaceships which were seen over Goa at the weekend and over Peru the previous week have gone away.

In the evening I went out for a one-hour walk – the government says we are allowed out once a day for exercise. When I got back home, I was a bit light-headed and had – I think – the tiniest hint of little headaches, but I could have just been imagining it.

TUESDAY 24th MARCH

We are supposed to keep 6 feet or 2 metres apart, unless we are living together. Thank heavens UK social distancing rules do not apply if you share a household…

A comedy performer has posted on his Facebook page: 

I called it yesterday: Pandemic Panic gonna be over by April 6th. Only 28 people died in the UK yesterday.

Around teatime, again, I went out for a one-hour walk. And, when I got back home, I was very slightly light-headed and ever-so-slightly woozy but, again, I could have just been imagining it.

WEDNESDAY 25th MARCH

I feel back to normal today.

The comedy performer who posted on his Facebook page yesterday that the coronavirus outbreak and ‘panic’ would all be over by April 6th today posted:

“The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary.” (HL Mencken)

Conspiracy theories are sometimes – for some people – easier to understand than reality. And so they are strangely comforting. Because we have all seen the twists in Hollywood movies where the government turns out to be the ultimate ‘baddie’. The devil and plot explanation you know is better than the devil and plot development you don’t know and can’t predict.

Prince Charles has announced he has tested positive for COVID-19 and will self-isolate for 7 days.

My chum Janey Godley, the much-lauded Queen of Scottish Comedy and nemesis of faux President Donald Trump, posted this on her Instagram, headed: Day four of self-isolation.

The bad news (for them) may be that her husband, daughter and dog all have to self-isolate with her

When I do my daily walk to get exercise in Borehamwood, everyone is very polite and keeps their distance. If you see someone coming towards you on the pavement, one of you moves to one edge of the pavement – or sometimes into the road (which is mostly devoid of traffic) and the other person moves to the other side of the pavement. Sometimes, the two people acknowledge each other with a smile or a nod of the head to say Thankyou. It feels like I have been transported back to an Agatha Christie novel set in a 1930s English village… and the killer is still on the loose.

Other views are available. Someone I know of Indian origin posted:

Walking down the street and having old white people cross the road when they see me… Now I know how my dad felt when he came to the UK in the 1960s. No Blacks, no dogs, no virus.

Two metres is the distance we are supposed to stay away from strangers during this coronavirus outbreak… I only understand feet and inches, so I have no idea what 2 metres is.

But I heard a useful explanation on BBC News today. If you imagine the body of an average-sized dead man lying between you and the other person… that is about it.

That I can imagine.

THURSDAY 26th MARCH

Who knew communes still existed? (Photo by Elias Arias via UnSplash)

Someone I know lives in a commune in North London. Who knew such things still existed? He tells me:


There was a minor drama in my house yesterday… The conspiracy theorists who live here actually went to the local hospital to prove that there was no such thing as coronavirus. They went to the chest unit!

When they got back, they talked loudly about it in the garden – about how the doctors weren’t wearing masks. They talked very loudly so everyone could hear because they thought then everyone would realise it wasn’t happening and it is just a conspiracy.

You can imagine the response. Everyone else started freaking out… I’m surprised they weren’t lynched.

I am going to have to try to talk to them again. But it’s really stressing me out because I’ve tried before and now they hate me because I don’t agree with them because that’s how groups work.


A little later, I got an update:


I feel better. I started shouting at the conspiracy theorists about fuck knows what and now I feel better. I had kinda let them chat before because I don’t want to be right about everything, but I had to say something now they’re running around hospitals and are trying to organise a flash mob of young people to meet outside Parliament to defy the ban (and no doubt give each other corona that will kill their grandparents).

I spilt oats on the floor during the row in the kitchen, but not milk – and there’s no use crying over spilt oats.

FRIDAY 27th MARCH

Yesterday, 181 people with coronavirus died in the UK.

Boris Johnson made his health announcement via Twitter

Today, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced they had tested positive for coronavirus and each would self-isolate for seven days.

And I found a message in the spam folder of my email account. It started:


Dear John,

Here is Great News. The UK Government website has downgraded the seriousness of Corona Virus. The Advisory Committee on Dangerous Pathogens (ACDP) is also of the opinion that COVID-19 should no longer be classified as an HCID.

However, We Still Have a PRISON PLANET No Matter what The Honest Scientists Say.

Why? Most European and World economies are now at a standstill. Virtually all European car manufacturing has come to a halt. I have talked about the coming collapse of the world economy since 2008 and I have done my best to tell people to protect themselves by getting healthy.

The Pharma/Medical Cartel have been concerned for a while that the public were realising that vaccinations may not be as safe and effective as claimed. This followed CDC researcher Dr Bill Thompson’s revelations who published 10,000 documents exposing a cover-up of side effects and failure of vaccines and autism. The Pharma/Medical Cartel quickly realised that Covid-19 that originated in China was an opportunity to terrorise the population by exaggerating its effects. Vaccines could be shown to be our saviour.

I strongly recommend getting healthy rather than any drug route. Eat more colourful vegetables.

Really healthy people don’t die of Flu or Corona Virus. Read and follow the plan in my eBooks, even if you can’t afford everything.

Like Hippocrates, my books help you to practice health care and follow his famous teaching, “Let Food be thy Medicine, and Medicine be thy Food”.

My bestselling book is now available on a download for all of my readers. Quite simply, this book could change your life!

SATURDAY 28th MARCH

Nick Adderley of the very under-pressure Northants Police

We are allowed to go out only once a day to exercise and you are allowed to travel in to work if your job is deemed essential, but anarchy appears to have broken out in Northamptonshire.

The BBC reports Nick Adderley of Northamptonshire Police saying that the force’s control room has had “dozens and dozens” of calls about people ignoring the order to ‘self-isolate’.

“We are getting calls,” Nick Adderley says, “from people who say ‘I think my neighbour is going out on a second run – I want you to come and arrest them’. We would not want to discourage people from making us aware, but we have to set expectations. We won’t have police officers crashing through garden fences to check the ID of everyone who is there to see whether they live at the house or whether they should be self-isolating… If people think we will be descending on these houses with blue lights, then we won’t.”

Superintendent Ash Tuckley, who leads the control room, says other queries have included someone asking if it was illegal NOT to cough into a tissue and a man who asked: “My wife doesn’t think her job is essential but I do and she’s working from home. Is there anything I can do?”

260 people with coronavirus died yesterday in the UK. The victims were aged 33 to 100 with at least 13 of them being healthy adults with no other underlying health problems.

Echoing what was said around a couple of weeks ago, at the beginning of the outbreak, the medical director of NHS England, today said if the number of deaths can be kept below 20,000 the government will have done well.

… TO BE CONTINUED …

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John’s UK Coronavirus Diary – No 1 – Panic buying, leeches and facemasks

SATURDAY 14th MARCH

I thought stockpiling toilet rolls was bizarre enough… But now my local Lidl supermarket has had an outbreak of what appears to be panic buying of bread and eggs… I can only assume this is caused by people who were unable to join in the earlier mass panic buying of toilet rolls trying to bring on constipation by over-eating bread and eggs, thus negating the short-term requirement for the toilet rolls they do not have.

SUNDAY 15th MARCH

Someone has shared a story about a Hindu cow urine drinking party – “Dozens of Hindu activists in India hosted a cow urine-drinking party. Some members of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist party have claimed that cow urine and dung can prevent and cure COVID-19”.

This is a new twist on an old story.

Moraji Desai, the Indian Prime Minister 1977-1979 used to drink his own urine. He said ‘urine therapy’ was the perfect medical solution for the millions of Indians who could not afford medical treatment. He also attributed his longevity to drinking his own urine – which he called “the water of life”.

I remember English actress Sarah Miles, who was on The Last Resort With Jonathan Ross TV chat show when I was a researcher, likewise drank her own urine, though thankfully or sadly (depending on your viewpoint) not on the show. She seemed a lovely, gentle, very vulnerable person. From memory, I think she used to drink a pint of urine every morning.

MONDAY 16th MARCH

What is it with the lack of eggs in Lidl? Is there panic buying of eggs or have the hens gone into self-isolation?

Is a plague of frogs next? (Photo by Gary Tresize via UnSplash)

The coronavirus is killing off the oldest people… in other words, the first-born… On past documented evidence, I suspect self-isolation may trigger an outbreak of boils, then there will be a plague of frogs and then the locusts will arrive…

In the US, President Trump urges Americans to avoid gatherings of more than 10 people… Is it merely coincidence that this is less than the number required to form a jury…?

TUESDAY 17th MARCH

I have had a dry, irritating-to-others, cough throughout my life. My father had a similar cough throughout his life and he died at 82 (not from the cough). The benefit of this now is that, if I clear my throat in a supermarket aisle, people part before me like the Red Sea before the Israelites. 

Facebook has gone mad. I posted a jokey post from the New Yorker about wrestling without an audience being like avant-garde theatre. This apparently breaches Facebook’s community standards and, as such, it has been removed and flagged as fraud… The explanation, apparently is that this is a result of the coronavirus because Facebook is starting to rely on machines, not humans, to check posts.

Not even a single grain of sugar was left in Lidl

WEDNESDAY 18th MARCH

Mystifyingly, there has now been panic buying in the Lidl sugar section in Borehamwood. The Lidl middle aisle still has plenty of grass seed, children’s socks and post-war Russian rocket launchers, but there is not a grain of sugar anywhere…

Sugar??? Why???

McDonald’s at Highbury Corner in London is serving only take-aways, no eat-in meals; and my local Costa, from tomorrow, is not accepting their plastic loyalty cards – only via the app – because staff are not allowed to touch strangers’ plastic cards.

Last night, I saw what may have been one of the last comedy shows in London – performed flawlessly by the staggeringly-multi-talented Dragos Mostenescu. I would not normally quote from shows directly, but he started with… “I used to cover the sound of my farts by coughing, but now I am covering the sound of my coughs with farts…”

“Not the arse!” (Photo by Erik Mclean via UnSplash)

THURSDAY 19th MARCH

I have just come back from the local shopping centre where a little old lady was tottering along. As she passed, she glared at me and said unnecessarily loudly in a voice straight out of the EastEnders TV soap: “It’s the face that matters, not the arse! Why are they buying toilet rolls?” 

I had not bought and was not going to buy toilet rolls, but I had to admit she had a point…

It turns out that, nowadays, Lincolnshire is the new Wild West even though it is in East England – Mad inventor John Ward told me that thieves had broken into Gosberton Baptist Church, Spalding, and succeeded in stealing toilet rolls.

FRIDAY 20th MARCH

Normally a very rare sight (Photograph by Alex Nevin-Tylee)

In good news, Thameslink are running regular trains. This is odd as they were not doing that before the coronavirus outbreak…

A friend explains the strange lack of sugar on the shelves in Lidl and elsewhere. She says there is also a shortage of flour. Presumably people, she says, are doing home baking. There is not, of course, an ACTUAL shortage of sugar and flour… people are just buying it faster than the supermarkets can re-stock and re-fill the shelves.

An arts journalist (not a news journalist) emailed me: “Well, I still think that it is all being blown out of all proportion, I DO NOT trust anyone in power anywhere to do stuff that is not VERY BAD while we are all locked in our houses quivering. This IS political. Make no mistake. It is political.”

SATURDAY 21st MARCH

Someone told me I am old fashioned… but I think all avenues should be explored in this crisis.

Leeches have long been used (Photo by GlebK via Wikipedia)

I already have paracetamol tablets but, for safety, I looked for leeches in Lidl today. Nothing. Panic buying has emptied random shelves. No bread, eggs or leeches. The world has gone mad. I have had to go online where, it transpires, medical leeches are available.

The John Lewis department stores are temporarily closing from Monday. We are entering a new Dark Ages. John Lewis closing? This is like the fall of Constantinople…

SUNDAY 22nd MARCH

My English friend Sandy, who lives in Milan with her husband, has had some admirable lateral coronavirus thinking…

“My job today,” she says, “is to try and make some face-masks using filter material meant for vacuum cleaners (same principle and we have a box of them). Ready for next time we have to go out.”

Unfortunately, a Facebook Friend then told me: “Some vacuum cleaners’ filters contain fibreglass… something you do not want in your lungs, especially now.”

I had tiny, almost imperceptible headaches in the afternoon. I was not sure if I might be imagining them. In the evening, I had a very slightly hard-edged cough but it was, again, difficult to know if this was real or only a slight variation on my normal lifelong dry cough…

… CONTINUED HERE

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Filed under coronavirus, Humor, Humour, Medical

Freelance journalist desperately seeks story during the coronavirus lockdown

John Ward with some of the Malcolm Hardee Awards for Comedy which he designed and made

I got an email today from John Ward – mad inventor of eccentricities and designer of the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards.

He is a former member of the Monster Raving Loony Party and is the former Minister for Inventions in The Eccentric Party.

In November last year, he told me about an encounter with a less-then-well-researched journalist. Now history has repeated itself.

He writes:


I had no idea yesterday would be one of those days…

The phone burbled.

An ashen-faced John Ward recalls the phone call yesterday

It was from a (NAME CENSORED) who explained he was a freelance journalist and wanted to speak to “a John Ward” – I pointed out that he was in luck as my name was John Ward but with no ‘a’ in front, so would I do?

He explained he had got my number via “a friend of a friend” – I think it was somebody who covered the Reliant Robin Fire Engine saga a few years back.

The gist of his call was “the current coronavirus matter”.

He wondered if I could give him an idea of The Eccentric Party’s political view on the matter and some idea of precautions or measures that might be of help to the present government.

He said he had tried contacting “your leader Lord Toby Jug” via email but with no response and so decided to contact me as he gathered I was “good for quotes and background ideas”.

A mug shot with Eccentric Party leader Lord Toby Jug (right)

I pointed out that Lord Toby Jug was no more as he was dead… no longer with us… only on the website.

“Was it caused by coronavirus?” he asked.

“Not unless,” I replied, “it kicked off a year last May and, if so, he was the very first, unannounced victim.”

“So,” he said, “he was one of the first victims…”

I pointed out it was he who had just suggested coronavirus to start with, not me.

There was a short bit of silence and then…

HIM: So there is not much likelihood of being able to speak to Lord Toby Jug…

(MORE SILENCE)

HIM: I suppose his death was real?

ME: Well, yes, I think it’s perhaps right to suggest that.

HIM: I mean, him being, well, eccentric… it could have been some sort of stunt thing…

ME: Well, if it was, he may well qualify for the Guinness Book of Records for holding his breath the longest, without toilet or tea breaks being involved and without checking his social media for updates during the performance.

HIM: I am saying, if it is a stunt…

ME: Well, might I say you just suggested it…

HIM: I was just hoping to clarify the situation as I don’t want to interrupt an on-going stunt as there may be a bigger story here…

ME: Like rising from the dead? – Well, with Easter approaching it would be topical

HIM: So there IS something planned for Easter then?

It is now Spring, a Leap Year and it will soon be Easter. (Photograph by NeONBRAND via UnSplash)

At this late stage in the proceedings, I asked if he was for real.

He explained he had got into journalism through assorted ‘family friends’ after leaving college but had chosen the freelance line – He said he was named after his grandfather, who was not a writer, and, in so doing, bypassed his father whose name was not the same, who owned his own business based in Plymouth and who also was not a writer.

I did not like to ask what sort of business his father had as there were concerns he would tell me.

The bottom line was… I was unable to help him. 

ME: Lord Toby Jug is no more. Deceased 

HIM: There was no mention on the Eccentric Party web site about this.

ME: His demise came without prior warning. He had no time to update it on this minor point.

HIM: So, as an eccentric inventor, which you are… and you are still alive of course… what are you working on at the moment as there could be some copy here?

ME: I am trying my best to appease freelance journalists, but I am having trouble getting the wood.


John Ward has now designed and made a Plank Award. 

The prestigious Plank Award for Journalists

It stands just over one foot in height, made from a sustainable material, and he says this newly prestigious award will be presented annually “as soon as the coronavirus thing is over”. 

It will, he says, be presented “to the journalist/writer who shows the greatest ineptitude in their research into the subject matter before contacting people with regard to possible stories or ‘it seemed like a good idea at the time’ moments”.

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Simon Munnery on his first exhibition, buying vegetables and a new form of art

Simon Munnery with Tazzy, his over-large lap dog, out shopping for vegetables in Bedford…

It’s Tuesday today.

Last Wednesday, I went to Bedford for a chat with ever-original comedy performer Simon Munnery. He travels about 11 miles to Bedford every Wednesday to buy his vegetables.

Since then, I’ve either been busy or lazy or I’ve been waiting for the coronavirus panic to settle in some way to find an angle. Take your pick.

But there is no angle. Simon’s first solo art exhibition What Am I? has opened in Bedford at Andy Holden‘s suitably quirky Ex-Baldessarre Gallery. It runs from noon to 6.00pm every Saturday until 9th May, coronavirus allowing.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson suggested everyone in the UK should avoid pubs, clubs, theatres and cinemas and that people who did not absolutely have to go out should stay at home – an end to “all unnecessary social contact.”

London theatres have already started to close. Who knows if smaller, intimate exhibitions like Simon’s will close? As of this morning, the art exhibition continues but his Alan Parker Urban Warrior ‘Farewell Tour’ comedy show is pausing, with luck recommencing in April, perhaps later. Just a week is a long time in a virus pandemic. This is what happened last week…

Simon’s first solo art exhibition is taking place in the character-filled Queen’s Park area of Bedford


JOHN: You live in a village in the countryside. I thought you were a city boy.

SIMON: Born in Edgware, raised in Watford, died all over the place.

JOHN: So why are you living in a village?

SIMON: It’s cheap. 

JOHN: This is billed as your first art exhibition? Surely not.

SIMON: I had stuff in Arthur Smith’s art gallery at the Edinburgh Fringe one year. He turned a house into an art gallery. That was it. 

JOHN: So this is your first solo exhibition.

SIMON: Yes. 

JOHN: I’m surprised you haven’t been approached by a major London gallery before this. I mean, you’re a ‘Name’. The Scotsman described you as “The closest that comedy gets to modern art.”

SIMON: Well, a jacket of mine is in the Museum of Comedy in London: the jacket with cider cans all over it. And this art exhibition is booked to go to Edinburgh.

JOHN: During the Fringe?

SIMON: Yup.

JOHN: If there IS a Fringe this year because of the coronavirus…

SIMON: Well, we don’t know at this stage. If there is, I’m doing a show called Trials & Tribulations.

JOHN: Because…

SIMON: Because you have to think of a title. I think the art exhibition may also be going to Stroud. Maybe it might go to London after that… The idea of a show that can tour without you is good.

JOHN: This sounds like a rounding-off-your-career type of exhibition.

Simon Munnery, in his youth, billed as “The Next Shakespeare”… though with an interest in science

SIMON: Not really. It was Andy Holden’s idea. He’s an artist; he uses some of the space he has in his studio for a tiny gallery and he said: “I shall do you.” So I said: “Alright.” And that was it.

JOHN: There’s something in the exhibition which you did when you were nine years old.

SIMON: There’s a poem. Something about The Fog.

JOHN: The Fog?

SIMON: I can’t remember it. I got a text from a neighbour that Mrs Nunn, my primary school teacher – there was some dispute at the time – says: “I still think you cheated on that poem.”

JOHN: How?

SIMON: I don’t know how. I didn’t. But it’s been following me round for 40 years.

JOHN: What’s in it?

SIMON:
Just things that rhyme with fog, I think. The fog lingers… I can’t remember.

JOHN: I can’t remember what you studied at university.

SIMON: Science. Well, “Not much,” is the real answer. In the last year, I ended up doing ‘The History and Philosophy of Science’.

JOHN: Is that actually Science? Or is it History and Philosophy?

SIMON: I don’t know. I didn’t go to any lectures, so I have no idea what the course was like. I just slipped through the net and no-one noticed, really.

JOHN: This was at Cambridge.

SIMON: Yes. I met my Supervisor a week before the exam. Because I had never been to anything, he hadn’t written any reports about me saying how well or badly I was doing and I said to him: “Can you recommend one book?” and he recommended Against Method: Outline of an Anarchistic Theory of Knowledge by Paul K Feyerabend.

So I read that and regurgitated all his arguments – which was basically saying there’s no such thing as the philosophy of science, along with some really good examples about Galileo… And I passed on the strength of reading one book.

JOHN: Did you get a good degree?

Simon leaves no stone unturned in his Bedford-based search for originality in Art… soon to tour

SIMON: A third. It goes First, Second, Third, so Third is the best.

JOHN: It’s the best because…?

SIMON: Because it’s the highest number. If you are utterly brilliant, you can get a Fourth.

JOHN: Why did you do science? You’re very arty.

SIMON: Am I? To be honest, in school subjects, I was quite good at everything. But when you got to ‘A’ Levels, at that time, you had to choose one or the other.

JOHN: You must surely have wanted to be an artist as a kid. You’re not usually doing straight stand-up in your shows. You’re always trying to work out some new, original, unique angle.

SIMON: It’s just to keep myself busy, really…

JOHN: But you could keep busy by doing the same old stuff over and over again.

SIMON: Well, I AM touring Alan Parker: Urban Warrior again. It’s billed as a ‘Farewell Tour’. But it has resurrected very nicely. I think it’s funnier played by someone in their mid-50s rather than their mid-20s, when I first did it. He’s still anti-Thatcher. The fact she’s dead now doesn’t make any difference to him. It’s like a bedrock. But there are new bits. Climate change. Extinction Rebellion and all that.

Reflections on a much younger Alan Parker, Urban Warrior, in one of the art exhibition’s videos…

JOHN: You performed for Extinction Rebellion…

SIMON: I played Piccadilly Circus, Waterloo Bridge and Brockwell Park in South London.

JOHN: Anyway, to get back to the exhibition… Andy Holden decided you were going to have an exhibition. So how did you choose what to include in it?

SIMON: I didn’t. I submitted things and he chose what to put up… I did have this massive canvas in my shed, which had been there for years… When I was spray-painting buckets, they rested on the canvas, so there were strange patterns on it. I tried to get that in the exhibition, just to get rid of it out of the shed, but he REALLY objected to that.

JOHN: Couldn’t you claim it was post-modern…?

SIMON:  That’s what I tried. But no, he wouldn’t have it.

JOHN: There must be phrases. ‘Post-modern’ is usually a good one. ‘Meme’ is a good one now. I suppose ‘Zeitgeist’ is a bit old-fashioned.

SIMON: I might have got away with just ‘Abstract’, but I feel it’s destined to stay in the shed.

JOHN: Couldn’t you have claimed it was about the Iraq War or something?

SIMON: A good title might have saved it. But no. He gave me some canvases and asked me to fill them and I printed out some stuff and he selected what he wanted. I did make an Alan Parker from an Action Man doll.

JOHN: That’s the mobile.

Simon addresses Extinction Rebellion in a video while his Alan Parker doll takes flight in the gallery

SIMON: Yes. Did you notice how padded its tummy was?

JOHN: Was it pregnant?

SIMON: No, but your standard Action Man isn’t the same shape as me.

JOHN: But you’re slim…

SIMON: Less so now…

JOHN: There was the wall with lots of quotes on.

A wall of quotes from Simon’s AGM show surround one of his always inventive television videos…

SIMON: That is only two-thirds of one year of my AGM show. I have sacks of those.

JOHN: So you were just trying to empty your house. What’s next?

SIMON: I came up with a format for a new form of Art… Roadside placards.

JOHN: Discuss…

SIMON: You often see an advert at the side of the road but you could put a sentence… then another sentence… and another sentence… and it would build up into a paragraph. Or maybe not even a sentence or a paragraph; just an image and then another image that replies to the previous image. You could prove Pythagoras’ Theorem entirely in images. People could learn as they drove past. Your experience would alter depending on the speed you were travelling at. You could design it for cyclists or car drivers or something to make people slow down. I dunno.

I was imagining green-on-brown so you would have to know it was there, maybe. Secret Art.

JOHN: Pythagoras?

SIMON: Pictorial proof of Pythagoras’ Theorem. It could be done. The format of roadside placards has not been fully exploited.

JOHN: More immediately, what next for you?

SIMON: I’ve bought eggs from the egg lady. She’s not shaped like an egg; she sells eggs. I’ve got my fruit and veg. I was supposed to be getting toilet rolls. We are running out at home. I went to the supermarket – none. Other people’s houses must be full of toilet rolls.

Simon Munnery’s exhibition What Am I? runs in Bedford every Saturday until May 9th, probably.

…Simon about to catch a wreath at a funeral staged in his back garden…

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Paul Vickers aka Twonkey fails to explain next week’s comedy show…

Paul Vickers aka Twonkey performs his latest show Twonkey’s Ten Year Twitch at the Soho Theatre in London next Monday night. He lives in Edinburgh. I live in London (ish). We talked via Apple FaceTime… We both got sidetracked in cyberspace…


JOHN: So your new show is…

PAUL: Last year’s Edinburgh Fringe show. But it’s not been seen in London before… Well, no, that’s not true. The very first early version of it I did at the Bill Murray comedy club in London. But that was a disaster. All over the place. It was the first time I’d ever done a show where I had misjudged it so badly.

JOHN: Yet it was successful at the Fringe last August. What had you got so wrong in the first version?

PAUL: The right bits in the wrong order. I had sussed-out a formula for how to do my shows. The best way to do a Twonkey show is to have loads of short, fast, fun bits to (LAUGHS) lure people into a false sense of security and then, about halfway through the show start telling a longer narrative right through to the end.

For some reason, I decided in that first version to do it in reverse to see what would happen. I started with the story and then went to short, fast bits at the end and it didn’t work because people said: “You were telling a story and then you just completely abandoned it.”

JOHN: So, like Eric Morecambe, you did all the right bits, but not necessarily in the right order… in that first London try-out.

PAUL: Exactly. So I did major surgery on it overnight and, the next day, I did it in Leicester in a completely different way and it worked. Can you hear the dog?

JOHN: What?

PAUL: There’s a dog here. He’s going tomorrow. He’s going to live on a farm, which offers him a more rewarding life than we can… Eric.

JOHN: Eric?

Eric is Paul’s dog, but is not Paul

PAUL: That’s his name. Eric.ou

JOHN: After Eric Morecambe?

PAUL: I don’t know. It was my friend Mary who named him. I suppose it’s a strong name. I’ve written a song about him.

JOHN: How does it go – the song?

PAUL: I remember! The name! It’s because of Lynn Ruth Miller… That’s why he’s called Eric. Because Lynn Ruth always calls me Eric. Whenever she sees me, she yells out (in an American accent): “Oh, my God! It’s Eric!”

JOHN: She has always thought you are named Eric?

PAUL: Yes.

JOHN: When I worked at Granada TV, there was a man who called me ‘Peter’ for two years. I never had it in my heart to tell him I was not Peter. But he was happy and I was happy, so no problem. It’s only a name.

PAUL: Yeah, well, that’s how it goes, isn’t it? After a while, I stopped correcting Lynn Ruth because it seemed pointless.

JOHN: What does she say when she sees the dog? Does she call it Paul?

PAUL: She’s never seen the dog.

Mr Twonkey is cleaning up (Photo by Steve Ullathorne)

JOHN: Just as well, The dog might have developed an identity crisis… You were talking about the narrative story in Twonkey’s Ten Year Twitch? What’s the narrative?

PAUL: It’s about the fact that all the weather in the world has been replaced by fake weather in 1982. 

JOHN: Why?

PAUL: Because the old weather was being repaired and so there is a factory in the Dordogne where the weather is being stored. I travel to the Dordogne and find out who invented the weather originally… That kind of thing.

JOHN: Oh, the old ‘weather factory in the Dordogne’ meme…

PAUL: The previous year’s show Night Train to Liechtenstein had been about inherited wealth. It was a bit like Jack & The Beanstalk because, when I went to collect the inheritance, all there was were some beans but, when I grew the beans, inside there was a pumpkin and inside the pumpkin were diamonds. 

JOHN: But that is not what Twonkey’s Ten Year Twitch is about…

Paul’s head is full of Twonkey ideas (Photograph by Steve Ullathorne)

PAUL: No. But the bit of music I was working on at the time of Night Train to Liechtenstein was like a choral thing and I realised the key it was in was exactly the same as Somewhere Over The Rainbow. So the end of the show had me holding up this pumpkin with diamonds in it and suddenly there was this weird choral music and out of it came Somewhere Over The Rainbow and it almost felt like I was floating out of the room. It was very odd, especially when I got tired.

JOHN: But that’s not the ending of Twonkey’s Ten Year Twitch.

PAUL: No. It’s probably going to end with an advertisement for my next show, which will feature an interview with Maradona, the Argentinian football player. He will be played by Simon Jay, who is also in Twonkey’s Ten Year Twitch. He plays ‘the old hag’ – and he’s also the technician as well. I thought: Well, it’s daft him just sitting there pressing buttons. If he came on and acted a little part, it would be cool as well.

JOHN: So he is going to do a trailer as Maradona for your next show at the end of this show in which he is ‘the old hag’.

PAUL: Yes. He was Leonardo da Vinci’s landlady in Night Train to Liechtenstein.

JOHN: And in your next show he will be Maradona.

PAUL: Yes. My next show is going to be called Twonkey’s Custard Club.

JOHN: It’s about custard?

“I misjudged what a physical mess…”

PAUL: It’s about rival custard shops. I’m still writing it. I’m hoping ‘the custard chef’ will be built in time, but he has very long arms and is difficult to pack. I’ve done one dry run of it, but I misjudged what a physical mess it creates, because there is a bit where I get covered in custard pies and I can’t actually see anything. It was difficult to see my laptop computer and it was not actually good for my laptop computer to be covered in shaving foam.

But it was good in terms of working out the parameters of what I need to do. I realised I will need a couple of towels close-by. And I now know how many custard pies you can get out of one tin of shaving foam. And I have a good Django Reinhardt kind-of jazzy song called The Custard Club, so it seemed like a good idea.

JOHN: But that’s not what happens in Twonkey’s Ten Year Twitch…

PAUL: No. Sometimes you don’t know what a show is about until like five years later and then you sort-of think: Ah! That show was about me! I think it’s impossible to create work without it being about yourself. But you can’t necessarily see it immediately… I had quite a difficult year last year. I had a lot going on in my personal life. Just a lot going on.

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