Other people’s lives – encountering pirates and witches in West Africa

My friend Lynn is currently in West Africa.

A couple of days ago, I posted a blog based on something she encountered in Côte d’Ivoire – aka the Ivory Coast.

In fact, she had sent me a previous message last week, but I did not want to post it while she was in a particular area. The message she sent from a ship read:


“…renowned for their ill-treatment and torture of victims”

They are seriously worried about pirates. I kid you not. Security burst into our room last night as they thought we had left a window open.

Open deck areas are all closed off and all curtains drawn so no lights are showing. 

The Gulf of Guinea is where the pirates operate.

They took nearly a hundred hostages last year that are known of (many ransoms being paid secretly) and are renowned for their ill-treatment and torture of victims. They largely target oil tankers by capturing workers sailing with supplies for the tankers.

The instructions if there is an attack are mainly to go into a corridor and lie on the floor as the ship will perform “a zig-zag navigation… if the pirates succeed to board the vessel, do not panic and do as they say.” 

In fact, the instructions for Military Forces boarding are panic-inducing: “Stay low to the floor and cover heads with both hands. On no account should anybody make movements which could be misinterpreted as being aggressive.”


Lynn and her husband Frank are currently in Côte d’Ivoire – the Ivory Coast… She writes:


How to spot Ivory Coast witch

I may regard political correctness as an evil perpetrated by my generation but… I was just making conversation with a well-spoken, fashionably-dressed young guide after seeing witch costumes and getting a history lesson:

“So how do you deal with witches now?” I asked.

His immediate reply in a matter-of-fact tone was: “We kill them.”

“What happens,” I asked, “if you hand them over to the authorities instead?”

“They kill them.”

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Other people’s lives – Boat-based Anna Smith’s bus stops in Vancouver, Canada

Anna Smith, this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent, lives on a boat in Vancouver. I have just received this missive from her…


Aquatic dweller Anna Smith travels on buses

I have finally arrived home just now and my boat is bouncing and rocking in a stormlet.

Yesterday, I was on a downtown bus. An insane young man was in conversation with a dog barking in the street.

I stepped off the bus at Main and Hastings, to go to music practice at The Carnegie Center.

Outside The Carnegie Center, individuals sell ‘hard’ drugs like heroin, fentanyl, cocaine etc.

Across the street, against a building, the pavement was lined with lawnchairs (some with umbrellas) and native people, mostly selling ‘Indian Cigarettes’ which are in similar packets to regular cigarettes, but they are a third of the price.

They sell other stuff too, like cannabis, but not so much as there is a ‘compassion club’ (free cannabis distribution center) in the same block.

Whenever I get off at that stop, I have to walk past the crowd and say “No” to the various vendors shouting “Smokes! Smokes!” or saying a bit more quietly “Weed” or almost inaudibly – by nondescript men walking quickly – “Cheese… Cheese”. 

Then I walk to the corner and, while waiting for the lights to change, I scan the lamp post which is always blanketed in posters of missing young people and memorial notices for locals who have died suddenly.

Yesterday, as I stepped off the bus, a large native guy seated amongst the tobacco sellers called out to me: “Are you from Bountiful?”

Only people in British Columbia would get the meaning.

It has to do with a perverted Mormon cult who lived in a secret mountain enclave near the small town of Creston, B.C.

The name of their community is Bountiful.

B.C’s slogan is ‘Beautiful British Columbia‘ but maybe it ought to be Bountiful British Columbia.

For years, Bountiful has been in the headlines here, because the residents practised polygamy. The ‘wives’ of the religious leaders were usually young teenage girls – underage girls. It went on for decades and somehow the police investigators were not able to make arrests, due to the isolated location and claims that marrying underage girls was part of the cult’s religious practice.

Polygamous Mormons in British Columbia shock

Finally the head of the cult was arrested, on charges of transporting the girls across the US/Canada border, in co-operation with similar cults in the United States.

So a stranger asking me, as I stepped off a city bus, whether I was from Bountiful was completely preposterous.

Do I look like a Mormon?

Sure, I was wearing a fake tweed hat, my black military surplus coat, a short skirt and grey leggings…

Most women in that area near the bus stop are a bit more garish, their hair streaked in vivid primary colours, wearing tight bodices, flashing earings, rings on every finger and tattoos abundant; in lace pantyhose and sexy-looking flat black boots. And many have Narcan kits attached to their belts. (Narcan blocks the brain receptors that heroin activates, instantly reversing an overdose.)

Sometimes they just wander around in pyjamas and sandals, with their wigs falling off, even in this blustery storm…

So maybe, at a stretch, I do look like a Mormon in comparison to the locals.

Still I was a bit thrown, being asked that.

I ignored the comment and ploughed ahead and began crossing at the intersection. But, as I crossed the street, I began to laugh, because it was so ridiculous. I looked over at the man who had said it. Who would say such a thing? He was laughing his head off and, when he saw that I was laughing too, he gave me the thumbs up.

The man who had been going around uttering “Cheese… Cheese” was nothing exceptional.

Other people there call out “Steak!… Steak!”

One time, I saw a lady sitting on the sidewalk with an enormous amount of pickled olives for sale, spread out on a piece a plastic.

Surprisingly, the men around there are often well dressed in the latest brand name sportswear because, being freshly stolen, it is sold for next to nothing on the street.

Because I have a new phone and forgot to switch off my location, Google has now asked me to write a review of my bus stop, which is called ‘Highway 91 Offramp’. 

It really is nothing exceptional and it strains the imagination to think why it needs to be reviewed.

The Highway 91 Offramp bus stop has nothing exceptional and it strains Anna Smith’s imagination

Bus drivers often ask me: ”Are you sure you want to get off HERE?”

How would I describe Highway 91 Offramp? 

It is a forlorn stretch of highway where much of the traffic is composed of lorries roaring past.

The bus stop didn’t even have a bench until very recently. One time, some builders working nearby built a bench out of stones and boards.

The people who use it are mainly Chinese workers, (ladies from a nearby orange juice factory) and me and the occasional worker at the shipyard whose vehicle is under repair. There is rubbish strewn about – beer cans, candy wrappers and things that fall from garbage trucks.

One day, a chain link fence was put up. The orange juice workers cut a hole in it so we could still use the path to the Highway 91 Offramp bus stop.

A few years ago somebody, most likely a lorry driver, threw a large milk jug with an unknown yellow liquid in it from the offramp and it landed and balanced on top of the chainlink fence near, but not quite on top of, the hole we walk through.

Everybody felt a bit uneasy, walking under the perilously-positioned jug.

For several months it languished there and the yellow liquid changed colour gradually to green and brown. After six months, somebody wrote on it with black marker: JUG O’ PISS.

I told my neighbours about and some of them walked down to see it and take photos. 

One lady, whose husband drives a lorry, marvelled: “Holy shit! That piss could have come all the way from Alabama!”

Nearby, along the path, are a few boulders and some pine trees.

A few weeks ago, a couple of guys set up a tent and were camping there. Within days, piles of junk started appearing around the tent. It was annoying because then I was afraid to use that path at night and I thought it must also be worrisome for the orange juice people.

Accommodation near Highway 91 Offramp: “I thought it must be worrisome for orange juice people”

Public art by Patrick Wong at Anna’s Aberdeen bus stop

I thought I could add that to my review of Highway 91 Offramp… Camping available, sandy soil easily hollowed into sleeping area, near two bus routes, shade, river view, no toilets.

One morning when I was on my way to the Highway 91 Offramp I saw a man standing near the tent. He called out: “Are you looking for Mike?”

What the fuck, I thought, and I answered crossly: “NO. I am NOT looking for Mike. I am going to the bus stop.” 

My other bus stop is called Aberdeen. It is in central Richmond and has two benches, a bus shelter, a pizza parlour and community art. The current art is by Patrick Wong and I like it. It is about migration and the migrants seem to be depicted as aliens.

Rain drops transform the view from the Aberdeen bus stop in Richmond into something glamorous.

 

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Other people’s lives – in the Ivory Coast

I was in Leytonstone, East London, yesterday.

It is not one of the most glamorous parts of London.

My friend Lynn and her husband Frank were in Côte d’Ivoire – the Ivory Coast as was.

A tad more glamorous.

Both Lynn and the Ivory Coast.

I have just received this from her:


“My highlight was our police escort…”

As a fan of film car chases you would have enjoyed yesterday, as my highlight was our police escort. 

What does it tell you about a country when the traffic ploughs off the motorway instantly as this cop gesticulates madly and has us following him the wrong way down the motorway?

Only one vehicle challenged him – a white van man flashed his lights as the mad  biker drove at him and zigzagged towards him to prove he wasn’t kidding. The van gave way.  

“We approached a traffic jam at a major crossroads in Abidjan…”

We approached a traffic jam at a major crossroads in Abidjan and he careered across the central reservation into the oncoming traffic and disappeared.

It was only when our three lanes of traffic magically started speeding through the crossroads that we found he had stopped three lanes of traffic in each of the other roads so that we could get through.

When he got back to us he stood up on the footrests and punched the air  as we cheered (whilst admittedly worrying about the chaos left behind us). 

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Martin Soan sells bits of comedy history – and The Greatest Show on Legs’ origin

The poster for the latest Pull The Other One

Martin Soan’s comedy club Pull The Other One has been running for eleven years in South East London but is closing in June this year. Currently, there are shows twice a month. Recent acts have included Alan Davies, Omid Djalili, Boothby Graffoe, Robin Ince, Tony Law and Stewart Lee. The next one is this Friday with top-of-the-bill Nina Conti. After that, there are only five more shows including one headlining Simon Munnery. The final Pull The Other One is on Friday 29th June with Oram & Meeten. 

Martin Soan is also a prolific prop maker both for himself and others. Almost every Edinburgh Fringe, it seems, he gets asked to make a giant vagina by different acts: on one occasion, a singing one.

I did not ask him about the giant vaginas when we met.


Martin – legendary performance artist with a sense of humour

JOHN: So you are selling your props… Why?

MARTIN: To get a bit of cash and fund me doing something else. And I don’t have a van any more and some of these props are quite large. That’s the main reason.

JOHN: Doing something else? 

MARTIN: I’m reinventing myself, John.

JOHN: As what? A woman?

MARTIN: A performance artist with a sense of humour.

JOHN: But you’ve always been a performance artist.

MARTIN: I haven’t done a show for ages.

JOHN: You’re doing a show every two weeks!

MARTIN: Well, with that, I’m a comedy producer or a gig owner or whatever. But there’s another show inside me.

JOHN: Which is?

MARTIN: I don’t know yet. It won’t be themed. It won’t be like…

JOHN: Hamlet?

MARTIN: No.

JOHN: So?

MARTIN: Stupid, surreal.

JOHN: What are you going to do with this show? Take it up to the Edinburgh Fringe next year?

MARTIN: No. 

JOHN: Why?”

MARTIN: Because Edinburgh is a black hole of financial… deadlines and… Edinburgh is rich enough now. The breweries, the University. They’re rich enough. Move on… To another city. A depressed city.

JOHN: Where?

Could Scarborough be the new Edinburgh for Fringe comedy?

MARTIN: Scarborough. Let’s create a Fringe at Scarborough.

JOHN: Why?

MARTIN: The last time I went to Scarborough, it looked a bit like Brighton – a gorgeous town – but it was completely and utterly depressed.

JOHN: Isn’t it where Alan Ayckbourn does his plays?

MARTIN: I’m not sure. I’m saying Scarborough, but it could be any town. Scarborough is ideal because it has all these large premises. Loads and loads of rooms out the back of pubs.

JOHN: How about Leipzig? You have staged Pull The Other One shows there.

MARTIN: Well, yeah, but it’s getting popular now. Probably moving out of Leipzig is the thing to do. Grünau is probably the place. I’m desperate to go somewhere like Leipzig.

JOHN: You mean move there?

MARTIN: Yeah, for a time. That’s the desire. I’ve gotta get some funding. Pull The Other One in Nunhead was fantastic, but I don’t make money. I cover my expenses. It’s an enormous amount of work. I dress the room, which takes a day and then another day taking it down. I would carry on, but it does occupy all my time, really, and it’s tense leading up to the gigs. If I don’t sell tickets, I’m losing big-time because I have to pay everyone. The Nun’s Head pub are very, very good to me, but I want to do two or three pop-up shows a year.

JOHN: So what props are you selling?

MARTIN: The Gates of Hell.

JOHN: Eh?

MARTIN: That rack of 24 singing Billy The Bass fish… And  I have an anvil made out of foam… I’m selling The Red Sparrows with written choreography…

…and I’m selling Mr Punch, who is 49 years old. 

JOHN: And the relevance of Mr Punch is…?

MARTIN: He was the very first member of The Greatest Show on Legs. I was the second. Basically, the Greatest Show on Legs started out as a Punch & Judy show and it was me and Malcolm Hardee. That was where me and Malcolm met. He became my ‘interpreter’.

JOHN: Why is it called The Greatest Show on Legs?

MARTIN: Because, rather than being a free-standing booth, the booth cloth came down halfway and was all strapped to my back so my legs came out the bottom and I could walk around with it. In fact, the original one had four legs coming out of it, because I did the old Rolf Harris Jake The Peg thing.

JOHN: Malcolm told me the other reason for building it that way was that, if the show went badly, you could just do a runner…

MARTIN: Well…

JOHN: …or was that just one of Malcolm’s fantasies?

MARTIN: Well, yeah, Malcolm just made that up. I mean, I wouldn’t be able to see where I was running, would I? There was one time at the Ferry Inn at Salcolme when I had had rather too much to drink and, inside the booth you have no horizon so I was falling over and didn’t even know it. Suddenly, it was like a sledgehammer coming up and hitting me on the back of the head and I was knocked out. Malcolm looked at the audience and said: “Ladies and gentlemen, there will now be an interval of fifteen minutes.”

JOHN: But you had done the Greatest Show on Legs on your own before you met Malcolm.

MARTIN: Oh yeah. I was 16 when I started. I think me and Malcolm met when we were about 24 or 25. When I first started at 16, obviously, I was shit. I had no formal training in any performing art or anything. I didn’t know what I was doing. I always remember the first show I gave where I thought: Aaah! I think I might have the hang of this! It was at University College, London. Outside one of their buildings, at some event. Something clicked on that one.

JOHN: You got around a bit.

MARTIN: I used to do Portobello Road and only two people used to come and see me regularly. This large black lady and a little boy. They came and saw me every time; I don’t know why. I  used to shit bricks before I got into the booth and started.

JOHN: Why did you start doing it if you had no natural aptitude at 16?

MARTIN: When you’re young, you are desperate to make friends and at least be recognised in some sort of way. Plus it fed my creative ‘making’ side – making props and things. I used to like all the problem solving. 

JOHN: Such as?

MARTIN: Thinking it would be brilliant if Mr Punch got so angry that smoke would come out of his ears. So he has two tubes to blow smoke out.

JOHN: And this is the one you are auctioning off?

MARTIN: Yeah. He is 49 years of age.

JOHN: That must be a bit of an emotional trauma for you.

Martin Soan’s 24 Billy The Bass which will sing in unison

MARTIN: Well, so far, people have not taken it seriously. Boothby Graffoe started mucking around and saying he would bid half a monkey. Otiz Cannelloni bid £500 for the crate of Billy The Bass singing fish which I think… Well, they are £25-£35 each and you could flog ‘em for £25 each so, in singing fish alone it’s worth £500. But it’s a concept and they’re all wired up to one button so they all sing together.

JOHN: How do you know when the auction has ended? 

MARTIN: I will decide when it gets to the reserve price or more.

JOHN: Have you got reserve prices in mind?

Martin says: “Mr Punch is 49 years of age and his skin is really good to look at”

MARTIN: No. Mr Punch is 49 years of age and his skin is really good to look at. He looks aged. He looks 49, but not in a bad way.

JOHN: What does “Not in a bad way” mean?

MARTIN: Look, I’m talking bollocks now. You have tricked me into talking bollocks.

JOHN: It’s a natural aptitude.

MARTIN: I obviously would not let Mr Punch go for for £25.

JOHN: If people want to bid or buy or ask questions, what is the ‘handle’ as I think young people say or used to say.

MARTIN: @PTOOcomedy on Twitter and Facebook is Pull The Other One.

JOHN: Not Martin Soan?

MARTIN: Well, you could. And I have other interesting stuff.

JOHN: Such as?

MARTIN: Miss Haversham.

JOHN: From Great Expectations.

Martin Soan on stage as Miss Haversham

MARTIN: She’s sitting down in an armchair and she has arms and legs – which are false. 

JOHN: And Miss Haversham IS the armchair.

MARTIN: Yeah. You put it on like a costume. You can be dressed normally, You go in from the back and come up and, as you come up, you are putting on the whole costume; there’s even a wig built-in. It’s like a quick-change thing.

JOHN: I seem to remember it involved a 3-minute build-up for one visual gag.

MARTIN: Well, you’ve never seen the whole sketch. It was all about alliteration. There’s Pip and Miss Haversham is doing embroidery and she gives the needle to Pip then she moves away from him to create the tautness of the thread and comes back. Instead of him moving, she moves.

JOHN: You should do a show demonstrating all the props you’re selling ‘as originally used’.

MARTIN: I suppose so. They’re lovely props, but they are big props for a big show. You need a van. To get even the fish in AND Miss Haversham, you need a big van.

JOHN: You’re not going to retire.

MARTIN: No.

JOHN: That’s a relief.

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Critic Kate Copstick on radical feminists and small dogs making Nazi salutes

Copstick at Mama Biashara shop

In yesterday’s blog, I talked to comedy critic Kate Copstick about a fundraiser for her charity Mama Biashara

The back of the Mama Biashara shop in London has a performance space. It has been used for comedy shows and, monthly, is the venue for the comedy industry’s Grouchy Club.

Recently, Copstick was approached by Alfie Noakes of the We Are Funny project to stage an event titled Is Radical Feminism Killing Comedy? which had been scheduled at another venue but that venue cancelled the show because of objections by what Copstick yesterday called ‘The Ladies of the Left’… ‘The Sisters’.

“They objected I suppose,” she said, “to the mere idea that anyone might even debate let alone think such a transgressive idea…”

Now read on.


COPSTICK: Somehow they persuaded the owners of the venue to refuse to put it on. The gig was shot down in flames by, I assume, the radical feminists about whom it was going to be debated.

I don’t know how not allowing people to talk about something helps any situation. The only reason you would not want people to talk about something would be if you thought: Shit! We’re on a bit of a sticky wicket here and, if they talk about it, they will expose the fact that WE are talking shit.

Alfie Noakes defended himself in a Chortle.co.uk article

The ‘feminist sisterhood’, generally speaking, are smart, smart, smart women. They are some of the smartest women on the circuit. So I don’t see what they have to be afraid of in allowing other people – who are arguably considerably less smart than them – just to voice differing opinions. If you ARE going to sit on other people’s opinions like that, then where do you stop?

I am a person of strong opinions myself, but I would be up for anyone challenging or debating my strong opinions and saying: “Your strong opinions are rubbish!” We are ostensively living in a free state. We don’t have a Bill of Rights but it’s kind of a given that we have the right of free speech.

JOHN: Within the law.

COPSTICK: Yes.

JOHN: Although the British legal system is not the same as justice.

COPSTICK: Anyway, Alfie contacted me and I said: “This is dreadful… Free speech… Free speech… Blah blah blah…” and I said: “Look, if you need a space, you can have the space at the back of Mama Biashara. It’s not ideal but, if content is king, then have my throne room.

So he came down, saw the space and was obviously crushingly disappointed and I was knocked-back – not for the first time – and now the gig is going elsewhere – The Star of Kings at King’s Cross next Tuesday. It’s no longer called Is Radical Feminism Killing Comedy? It’s now called the Feminist Talking Points Comedy Show Fundraiser with Janet Bettesworth, Nathan Cassidy, Samantha Ruth Pressdee, Tony Marese and other people. But it is still kind of debating censorship and comedy with a variety of opinion.

JOHN: When it was going held at the back of the shop, all the money was going to be donated to Mama Biashara, wasn’t it?

The Louise Reay benefit show in London

COPSTICK: Yes. Half of it still is. The other half is going to Index on Censorship.

JOHN: Censorship is a hot topic at the moment. There’s the Louise Reay gig…

COPSTICK: Yes. With comics coming together to cover some of her legal costs, which is lovely.

But all censorship is basically the same thing. With Louise, it’s her husband saying she wasn’t allowed to say various things that he claims she said during her show. I saw the show and can’t remember anything horrible being said about her husband.

JOHN: And what do we think about the dog giving the Hitler salute?

COPSTICK: Oh! For God’s sake!

JOHN: The owner of the dog was found guilty in a Scottish court. I think he supposedly put the video on YouTube to amuse his girlfriend and for some reason left it online.

COPSTICK: He was found guilty and he could go to prison.

JOHN: I’m not quite sure what the crime is. There is a law in Scotland, isn’t there, which bans sectarian singing in football matches?

COPSTICK: But that IS an incitement to hatred.

JOHN: You were trained in Scottish law and you worked as a lawyer in Scotland…

COPSTICK: Yes. There are a lot of people saying online: “Well, the guy is a horrible guy.” That is as may be, but you can’t just think people are right because they’re nice people and wrong because they’re horrible guys. You have to be able to separate the singer from the song. You can’t be found guilty in a court of law of being a horrible guy.

JOHN: Oh, I think you can.

Defamed pug dog engrossed in watching film of a Nazi rally

COPSTICK: But this specific thing. Teaching a pug dog a Nazi salute. Surely it’s making fun of the Nazi salute? I can’t believe that, if Hitler and Goebbels are looking up from the Hell where they obviously are, that they are going: “Oh vot a marvellous idea! Ziss is ver good! Vy did ve not think of zis in ze Second World Var? If vee had had small pug dogs doing the Nazi salute, perhaps ve would have vun der Var!”

JOHN: It could be said to be defamation of the dog’s character.

COPSTICK: There are terrible things happening. There are hate crimes abounding. There are people beating up people from immigrant communities. All of that we should be getting angry about. We should all be focussing on getting these people behind bars. Not being outraged by a small cuddly animal making a Nazi salute.

JOHN: It’s a case of over-reaction.

EuroNews reports on criminalising wolf-whistling

COPSTICK: Yeah. To my horror… I nearly choked on my own tonsils… There is a female MP who is bringing forward a bill to make wolf-whistling ‘hate speech’. And my reaction is: “Fuck off, you stupid, blinkered woman!”. But, on the basis of free speech, she has got a perfect right to do that just as I should have a perfect right to say: “What the actual fuck are you thinking about?”

A wolf-whistle is a compliment. It’s not necessarily the kind of compliment everyone would want, though I would be THRILLED if anyone wolf-whistled at me now.

Terrible things are happening in the world. Terrible things are happening in Kenya beyond the imaginings of the feminist community here, I think. But terrible things are happening in this country. Wolf-whistling, quite simply, is not one of them.

Something appalling like eight people have been stabbed in London in the past two weeks. There are horrendous things happening: domestic violence. Awful, awful things. Female genital mutilation is happening in THIS country and, really, why waste the possible power you have as an MP to try and criminalise wolf-whistling? And don’t witter on about “it’s part of a continuum.” It is not part of a continuum from wolf-whistling to a young girl being held down and having her nether regions sliced to bits. No. It is NOT a continuum.

JOHN: Getting back to the Nazis – always a good subject – pug dogs have got little legs. They surely can’t do a proper Nazi salute. They can only do one of those little flappy-hand half-hearted salutes that Hitler himself did.

COPSTICK: Yes, that sort of limp-wristed… Oh, you probably can’t say limp-wristed now.

JOHN: Hitler? He was a brownshirt-lifter. We will get complaints.

COPSTICK: We’ve been very jolly about it, John, but it’s a serious subject.

JOHN: Oh dear.


Jonathan Pie made a YouTube video about the Nazi-saluting dog…

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Critic Kate Copstick needs money and is offering to provide feel-good pampering

Kate Copstick at the Mama Biashara shop in Shepherds Bush, London

Kate Copstickdoyenne of British comedy critics, founded and runs the Mama Biashara charity which, in Kenya, gives small grants and advice to impoverished individuals, mostly women, to start self-sustaining small businesses which may help them get out of poverty. The charity’s slogan is A Hand Up, Not a Hand Out.

It survives solely on donations and on money raised at the Mama Biashara shop in Shepherds Bush, London. The shop is also the venue for the free, monthly, open-to-all meetings of the comedy industry’s Grouchy Club.

Mama Biashara, in search of more funds for its charity work, is holding a special event in a fortnight (Saturday 7th April, from 2.00pm). I talked to Copstick about it at the shop.


JOHN: So Mama Biashara’s philosophy is…?

COPSTICK: Well, an awful lot of charities are about infrastructure and about ‘things’ – an office or a school or a this or a that. I have always thought you should invest in people and then people can build the things.

JOHN: And neither you nor the volunteers in London nor the volunteers in Kenya get paid any money from the charity.

COPSTICK: No. They’re volunteers. That’s why I am looking for someone to help build a shed in my back garden in London. I am going to Airbnb my flat and move into a shed in my garden, to try and keep afloat financially.

JOHN: So what’s this Saturday thing in a fortnight?

COPSTICK: You know what it is, for ’twas at the Grouchy Club that this idea was born.

JOHN: What idea would that be?

COPSTICK: To be fair, John, I only have a vague recollection, because quite a lot of Jura had been drunk – a delicious single malt whisky brought to the table by the even more delicious Martha McBrier.

Maybe 75% of the money we spend in Kenya is made here in the Mama Biashara emporium of loveliness in Shepherds Bush. However, of late, the emporium of loveliness has not been attracting as many people as it should.

Footfall at Mama Biashara’s shop is affected by supermarkets

JOHN: Why?

COPSTICK: For the last year-and-a-half because the Morrisons supermarket opposite closed, which decimated the footfall. We are now starting to get it back because a Lidl has opened opposite.

At this month’s Grouchy Club, the lovely Samantha Pressdee brought some gorgeous Neal’s Yard stuff and she came up with the idea of a sort of pamper day in aid of Mama Biashara and Martha McBrier revealed herself to be a tarot card reader.

JOHN: As is Samantha…

COPSTICK: Indeed so. She has a done it at the Grouchy Club. And here at Mama Biashara, we have a lovely lady who comes in once or twice a week who sells and uses medicinal grade aromatherapy oil. In fact, the morning after the Grouchy Club at which this plan was hatched I came in, unsurprisingly, with a fairly highly-developed hangover.

I said to her: Headache.

She said: Try peppermint oil.

I said: I don’t like peppermint. I’m a big spearmint fan. But don’t like peppermint.

The Mama Biashara afternoon event will also involve raffle prizes like this one donated by Samantha Ruth Pressdee

She put a tiny little drop of medicinal grade essential peppermint oil, grown in Washington State, on the back of my hand and said: Lick that.

As you lick it, you have to breathe in. And, well, it is like somebody has taken the top off your head. Suddenly everything becomes clear, your tubes are clear, your chest feels clear… Hangover… gone! Extraordinary.

So she is going to be coming along on the Saturday afternoon. And there will be people doing foot massage and whatnot. I am going to try and get some live drumming music and it may well be that we have a comedy show in the evening.

JOHN: So people will come into Mama Biashara for free and can look around the shop as normal…

COPSTICK: Yes. It’s sort of an open day. And there will be these added extras they can pay to have – the pampering and tarot reading and foot massage and so on. You can come in and have a tarot reading to see what the future holds. For example: Will your show be a massive hit at the Edinburgh Fringe?

JOHN: And the money raised goes to the Mama Biashara charity.

COPSTICK: Yes.

Hatching the idea were (L-R) Samantha Pressdee, Kate Copstick, Martha McBrier and Siân Doughty

JOHN: This will be in the back bit of the Mama Biashara shop.

COPSTICK: Yes. In the bit where we hold the Grouchy Club and occasionally do comedy shows. When Ngambi McGrath lost the long-time venue for her Heavenly Comedy nights recently, she moved it here until she found a new venue and it was absolutely rammed – I was running around trying to find extra seats.

JOHN: Mama Biashara is a good place if what you are road-testing a show…

COPSTICK: Yes. It’s intimate. There’s no microphone, no proper performance lights but, if what you want to do is get your content tightened, then this is a great place for workshopping. One of the guys who was doing 10 minutes at Heavenly Comedy runs a comedy course and asked if he could do it here which would have been fine except I’m in the throes of a volunteer crisis so I don’t have the manpower or womanpower to keep the shop open on a Tuesday until 8.30pm, except the second Tuesday of every month which is the Grouchy Club.

JOHN: Any other shows coming up here?

COPSTICK: I also offered the space to Alfie Noakes of the We Are Funny project.

An article by Alfie Noakes, as published on chortle.co.uk (Photograph by Steve Best)

He came to see me because he has this Challenge thing going – a topic for an hour-long comedy show. And this topic was initially: Is Radical Feminism Killing Comedy? which was going to be put on at Farr’s School of Dancing in East London. But there were objections from… I don’t know what we should call them. The Ladies of the Left? The Sisters? They objected to the… I suppose to the mere idea that anyone might even debate let alone think such a transgressive idea.

… CONTINUED HERE

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Sohemian Society: lateral thinking and how to steal a book in 1960s London

Last night, I went to one of the Sohemian Society’s increasingly prestigious and increasingly jam-packed meetings.

It was a talk by Barry Miles, there to plug his book In The Sixties. I remember him for his column in hippy newspaper International Times. Not a man who should be forgotten.

I blogged about him (also at the Sohemian Society) back in 2011.

The Sohemian Society billed last night’s event thus:


At the beginning of the sixties Barry Miles was at art school in Cheltenham; at the end he was running the Beatles’ Zapple label and living in New York’s legendary Chelsea Hotel. This is the story of what happened in between.

In the Sixties is a memoir by one of the key figures of the British counterculture. A friend of Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs, Miles helped to organise the 1965 Albert Hall poetry reading. He co-founded and ran the Indica Bookshop, the command centre for the London underground scene, and he published Europe’s first underground newspaper, International Times (IT), from Indica’s basement.

Miles’s partners in Indica were John Dunbar, then married to Marianne Faithfull, and Peter Asher (brother of Jane Asher). Through Asher, Miles became closely involved with the Beatles, particularly Paul McCartney, and In the Sixties is full of intimate glimpses of the Beatles at work and play. Other musicians who appear  include the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Leonard Cohen and Frank Zappa. This is the real story of the 1960s, from the inside.


The old Foyles building at 111-119 Charing Cross Road, London (Photograph by Tarquin Binary)

One of Miles’ more inconsequential yet fascinating memories was of Foyles Bookshop in London and an enterprising person he knew.

The old Foyles building in Charing Cross Road was a labyrinthine collection of books, arranged not logically by subject but confusingly by publisher and there was a Byzantine system of buying a book (if you could find it) involving two, possibly three, separate members of staff in different locations, so punters were meandering all over the place, books in hand, with no check on what, where or why.

In addition to the bizarrely arranged publisher sections, there was a Second Hand Books section and a Rare Books section.

If you were enterprising, as Miles’ acquaintance was, you could pick up several books from the Second Hand section and take them to the Rare Books section and sell Foyles’ own books back to them, all without leaving the shop.

It is lateral thinking and enterprising amorality like this that built us an Empire and makes me proud to be British.

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