Once Upon a Time – Terry Stone, Terry Turbo, Princess Margaret & Mad Frank

In yesterday’s blog, former ‘rave’ organiser Terry Turbo – now film producer Terry Stone – was talking about his new film Once Upon a Time in London (released in the UK yesterday).

He has also produced the three (soon to be four) Rise of The Footsoldier movies, Bonded By Blood and other true crime films.


Terry Stone played Tony Tucker in Rise of the Footsoldier

JOHN: You were saying you are interested in true crime.

TERRY: Yes. In Rise of the Footsoldier, although there’s a lot in there that was made up, all the Essex Boys stuff was true. I’ve got a friend who’s on the Murder Squad so I know for a fact what stuff happened.

The conspiracy theories at the end are open to interpretation, but I know for a fact that all the Essex Boys stuff is 100% true. I look at that film and I’m proud of it.

JOHN: The title Once Upon a Time in London… It’s presumably intentionally reminiscent of Sergio Leone – Once Upon a Time in the West, Once Upon a Time… The Revolution, Once Upon a Time in America.

TERRY: Once Upon a Time in America was one of my favourite movies. If you were to ask me what film Once Upon a Time in London is most like, it would be the British version of that. We were not trying to copy it, but we went: What stories haven’t been told in this country?

JOHN: And Once Upon a Time in America was vaguely based on the truth – the early days of organised crime in the US.

TERRY: In Once Upon a Time in London, everything in that happened. There’s nothing made up. The only scene that may have been changed slightly was the darts scene. That may not have happened. But the guy was getting tortured and, instead of having darts thrown at him, he might have had bits of his ear being cut off. But we thought: That’s too much like Reservoir Dogs, so why don’t we just do the darts cos it’s funny and no-one’s ever done it. It’s just fucking terrifying.

JOHN: It is. And it’s in character. ‘Mad Frank’ Fraser would do that.

The real Jack Spot (played by Terry in Once Upon a Time in London) after being attacked by ‘Mad Frank’ Fraser in 1956

TERRY: He would. He’d be pulling your teeth out with pliers or he’d be cutting bits off you. He was a fucking lunatic. That’s why I liked him as a character. He’s so fucking off-key. He spent possibly 60% of his life in jail. He just liked violence. He didn’t care about money; he just wanted to hurt people. Maybe he wasn’t wired-up right; I dunno. If you said to him “Go and kill that guy” he would just do it and then worry about it when he was in jail and then kill someone else and think: Oh well, I might as well kill him as well because I’ll be in jail anyway. That was how his thought process worked.

JOHN: He once offered to do free dental work for me if I ever needed it done. I wasn’t quite sure how to take that. I presume he meant dental work on other people; not on me. I think he was just trying to live up to his legend.

TERRY: When I met him, I was shocked. What shocked me about all of the people from that era was how fucking small they were. You meet them all now and they’re these tiny little fellers. Maybe we’ve just become bigger through genetics or food or whatever

JOHN: How tall are the Adamses?

TERRY: I dunno. All the people that I’ve met now all seem bigger. When you meet someone who is part of a firm or someone who’s heavy-duty nowadays, they look the part. They don’t have to be six foot high and twenty stone, but they look the part. With the old ones, because they’re now in their 70s and 80s, they’re lovely little old men and you think: Did he really go round pulling people’s teeth out? He seems such a nice guy.

JOHN: All the really violent people I’ve met have been very quiet and polite. The SAS men I’ve met have been terribly polite and quiet. I guess, if you move in certain circles – certainly criminal circles – it’s best to be polite to strangers in case they turn out to be homicidal maniacs living on a hair-trigger.

The real Billy Hill, subject of Once Upon a Time in London (Photo from Krayzy Days)

TERRY: There’s a old saying: Walk softly but carry a big stick.

JOHN: Well, if you really are dangerous, you don’t have to ‘big it up’ to prove it to yourself… Anyway… There are obvious sequels to Once Upon a Time in London. The continuation of the Billy Hill story and the whole of the ‘Mad Frank’ Fraser story.

TERRY: We’ll see what happens with this one and if it goes the way we think it’s gonna go – worldwide with someone like Netflix or Amazon – then, if they think they want some spin-offs or more films – then happy days.

A lot of people from that era have now retired or are dead. But we have access to Frank’s surviving family, access to the Sabinis – all of the people. So we have access to all the stories.

JOHN: The Godfather had real criminals in small parts. Was Once Upon a Time in London the same?

TERRY: There’s a few. And we used a few fighters. There’s a few people in there, if you’re into fighters or underworld figures. But we didn’t cast any villains in big parts.

JOHN: Real dodgy people often don’t look dodgy. I always thought Johnny Bindon looked a bit wimpish on screen. Though I wouldn’t have said that to his face.

TERRY: That’s a good story, that is. John Bindon. The only problem is, when I’ve talked to people about it, they’ve all gone: “Well, he was sort of an actor/villain. But he didn’t really do anything.” His selling point was shagging Princess Margaret and smoking weed with her. He was in the Sixties set, but with all the people I’ve mentioned it to, no-one really bit on it and I don’t know why.

JOHN: It’s psychologically fascinating. The end is a bit of a downer, but that could be handled.

TERRY: I would fucking love to play John Bindon. That would be a great part.

JOHN: That’s what they all said he had.

Poster for Once Upon a Time in London at Leytonstone tube station, East London

TERRY: The problem, being a working class London lad with my sort of build is you get regularly asked to be the henchman or the murderer. Do you wanna clump someone? I don’t mind doing that, but I actually want some substance to it. 

The part I play in Once Upon a Time in London was interesting because it had range – there was a family involved. I hope when people see the film, people will react: Oh! Actually, he can be more than just the guy who says “I’m gonna do you in” and all that shit.

If you haven’t got the material to show what you can do, nobody will give you the chance as an actor. Sometimes people are lucky: they get a part and shine.

JOHN: Sylvester Stallone held out and wouldn’t sell the Rocky script to anyone unless he was cast as Rocky.

TERRY: And he was absolutely on his arse. He was waiting on tables, doing anything, living in a fucking bedsit and they were offering “Here’s a million dollars for your script” – which is probably $5 million now – and he was unknown. And then he went and won a fucking Oscar and the rest is history. But a film about John Bindon… Everyone I talked to about it said: “There’s not really a story.”

JOHN: A massive rise and fall. Fleeing to Ireland at the climax; all that.

TERRY: But think about the kids now, right? They go and watch Legend because it’s Tom Hardy. They watch Footsoldier because it’s people getting bashed-up and carved-up and thrown through windows and girls with their tits out. If you say there’s a film about John Bindon, they’d say: “Who’s that?”

JOHN: But people don’t know about Jack Spot and Billy Hill.

TERRY: They know it’s the ones before the Krays. That’s the hook.

JOHN: And the Krays are in the trailer, which is great.

TERRY: But you look at John Bindon, what would you say?

An uncompromising photograph of John Bindon and Princess Margaret on the island of Mustique.

JOHN: They made The Bank Job about robbing the bank to get the compromising photos of Princess Margaret, though she was never named. Do you think that story is true?

TERRY: Well, if you were the government or the Queen, you’d be going: “I wanna get them fucking pictures!” And you would probably reach out to… 

I know a friend of mine who is… y’know… a villain. 

And the government have actually said to him: “If you do this, then…” … just like they went to the Mob and asked them to kill Castro. There are things the government can’t do and, if a gangster does it for them, they’ll do him some favours or they’ll overlook things. That’s how the world works.

JOHN: Wasn’t it Lucky Luciano who helped the Americans invade Sicily in the Second World War? Local knowledge and local contacts. Anyway… So what’s next for you?

Terry in his previous incarnation

TERRY: I wrote a book about the club scene (King of Clubs – Sex, Drugs & Thugs) and we have just-about signed a deal with a big TV company to turn it into a TV series. And I’ve just done two documentaries about the birth of drum & bass and the birth of garage music. It’s me and the DJs and the MCs talking about it and how big the brands were. 

I’ve also got a feminist horror film. I’ve got a couple of business partners – Richard Turner and Chris Howard. 

We’re always trying to do something new. We’re developing a lot of TV stuff and animated stuff.

… TOMORROW – BILLY HILL AND KRAY TWINS ASSOCIATE
MICKY FAWCETT ON ONCE UPON A TIME IN LONDON

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How ‘rave’ organiser Terry Turbo became film producer Terry Stone

Once Upon a Time in London there was organised crime: Terry Stone as Jack Spot (3rd from left)

The British gangster movie Once Upon a Time in London is released today. The star, co-producer and co-writer is Terry Stone.

 Once upon a time, in the 1990s, he used to organise raves under the name Terry Turbo.

How did that career change happen?

Last week, I asked him.

With rave organising now behind him, actor, producer, writer Terry Stone in sunny Soho last week.


JOHN: Your first appearance as an actor was in ‘celebrity gangster’  Dave Courtney’s 2003 movie Hell To Pay (released in 2005). That must have been an interesting experience…

TERRY: I turned up on set. There was no script and I was told “You stand there” and I said “Well, what am I going to be doing?” and they said “Just stand there” and I said “Well, I’m not going to be in the fucking film, then. I’m not going to stand there and be an extra. You said: Do you wanna be in the film? I wanna be in the film.” 

So the director gave me some lines.

Basically, the whole film was improvised with no script which, at the time, I thought was cool. But then, afterwards, I realised it was insane.

I said to the other actors: “I’ve really enjoyed being on this film. It’s been a lark. How do you go about getting into the business?” 

They told me: “Do a showreel off this work, get some pictures done, send ‘em out and see if you can get an agent.”

I thought: Sounds really simple. 

So I did that, got an agent, did a bit of EastEnders, The Bill, some theatre, My Family, the usual stuff that jobbing actors do. But, after a year… Well, anybody who’s a professional actor will tell you it’s a fucking hard life. There’s no money; there’s no work; any work you get is peanuts. You have to sweep floors, wait on tables, drive taxis – anything to just keep the lights on.

I thought: Y’know what? I’ve made a mistake here.

Because, before I got into acting, I used to run clubs all round the world.

A few of my friends who I’d told “I’ve sold my business; I’m gonna to become an actor” all asked me “How’s the acting going?”

I said to ‘em: “Not bad, but not great. I’m not earning enough money.” 

At the time, I had a mortgage, a wife, a child. 

I thought: I’ve made a massive mistake here.

A friend said: “What do you really wanna do?”

I said: “I actually wanna be in films.”

Terry Turbo – “The Rave Scene Richard Branson” said Vice

He said: You used to put on big events for 20,000, 30,000 people. How hard can it be to make a film?”

So I said: ”You got me thinking now. If I get a script, would you put some money in it?”

And he went: “I’ll put some money in.”

So I went round to all my mates and told ‘em: “Let’s all put some money in and make a film. It’ll be a laugh.”

That’s how I raised the money for my first film One Man and His Dog – and it was a dog, that film. But it was my film school. It was released and it went out in Holland, Germany. We got it out, which was an achievement, and we got 25% of our money back on it, which I thought was a disaster but, considering we didn’t know what we were doing, it was an achievement.

JOHN: How much did it cost?

TERRY: £140,000.

Then a friend of mine in the club scene contacted me and said: “Have you ever thought about doing a movie on the black-on-black gun crime in London?” It was a kinda Boyz n the Hood kinda film: Rollin’ with the Nines.

It won the Jury Prize at the Raindance Film Festival in 2005 and the director Julian Gilbey was nominated for the Carl Foreman Award at the BAFTAs. We made that for £250,000.

And that gave us a stepping stone to do Rise of the Footsoldier, which was a £1.3 million budget.

JOHN: Based on Carlton Leach’s book.

TERRY: Yes, which I hadn’t read when he suggested to me it would make a good movie. I knew Carlton from club days and I thought: Who’s gonna wanna watch a film about a doorman? At the time, I didn’t know about his involvement in the Inter City Firm or The Essex Boys.

I read his book and thought: Fucking hell! It’s really interesting! And I thought: If I was to pitch the idea, it’s The Football Factorymeets Goodfellas.

So I paid someone to write the script and I developed and created the Rise of The Footsoldier franchise. I got the money together, made it and, since then, there’s been four of them. They’re just making the fourth one now; almost finished. It comes out in October.

After that, I did a film called Doghouse but what Rise of The Footsoldier did was allow me to be an actor AND a producer and the reason I’m glad I made that decision was because, when you’re not developing something, you’re raising money. When you’re not raising money, you’re making something. When you’re not making something, you’re acting in something. There’s always something to do.

At the moment, I’m still a jobbing actor. If a role comes along and I like it and it’s well-paid, I’ll do it. You need to pay the bills.

I suppose because I’ve got a low boredom threshold, I need to be entertained… constantly.

So what I’ve done is create a load of work for myself. But I enjoy it and now it’s my 17th year in the business. I’m an old boy now. (LAUGHS LOUDLY)

JOHN: When you were doing the raves, you blew up a police car on stage at Wembley.

Terry as Tony Tucker, one of the Footsoldier’s ‘Essex Boys’

TERRY: It was all about doing something different and making it fun. Let’s do some mad shit. Blowing up a police car on stage at Wembley was funny. Having Prince William and Prince Charles and the Queen lookalikes coming to the raves was funny.

JOHN: Once Upon a Time in London is about the pre-Krays era in crime – about Jack Spot and Billy Hill who most people have not heard of…

TERRY: I think the thing about the Krays was they were ‘celebrity gangsters’. They wanted people to know who they were which, obviously, was their downfall. Whereas, if you spoke to any other criminals, they’d always be like: No publicity; no pictures. We don’t want anybody to know what we’re doing.

JOHN: What’s interesting is that, in the 1920s, they were making films about Billy The Kid and Jesse James who were active in the 1870s and 1880s – which was 40 to 50 years before. Today, the Krays’ era was around 50 years ago. There comes a point where villains become acceptable anti-heroes or even heroes.

TERRY: All the films I’ve made have been based on true crime, but they don’t glamorise it. I’m not interested in doing pretend-gangster films about a load of wallies that don’t exist. I have always had an interest in true crime. I thought about making a film about Jack Spot and Billy Hill in 2010. But, back then, nobody was doing period crime films.

JOHN: The Kray era is period crime…

TERRY: But that was the 1960s. The Jack Spot story is 1930s, 1940s, 1950s. Back in 2010, there was no Peaky Blinders, there was no Boardwalk Empire and I thought it was a bit of a risk. But then I heard Ray Winstone was gonna play both of the Krays in Legend  (it was eventually made with Tom Hardy) and Peaky Blinders came on and I thought: Now’s the time to get this going

As Jack Spot in Once Upon a Time in London: “It took a couple of years to get the money together”

It took a couple of years to get the money together and stuff but what fascinates me is that Once Upon a Time in London is about the birth of organised crime here. There’s always been crime in this country since probably the Stone Age. But actual organised crime where people have protection rackets, prostitutes working for them, they had bookmakers, they had spielers, they had restaurants, they had clubs. And you had the backdrop of the Second World War – rationing stamps, people didn’t have any money, people had lost their homes – we were fucked – So these criminals thought: There’s an opportunity here, boys! Let’s make some money!

JOHN: I don’t remember any other British gangster film focusing on the Jewish angle. Once Upon a Time in London starts with Oswald Mosley’s plans to march his blackshirts through the East End in 1936, which resulted in the Battle of Cable Street

TERRY: I think Once Upon a Time in London is the first British Jewish gangster film. 

JOHN: Now there a marketing opportunity.

TERRY: I was on page 3 of the Jewish Chronicle (LAUGHS) fully-clothed!.. The woman who interviewed me asked: “Why are you making a film to glamorize Jewish gangsters? It’s something that, really, we want to forget about.”

I said: “Listen, there’s nothing glamorous about what happened to Jack Spot…”

…  CONTINUED HERE

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Eric (Just Eric) pays tribute to the OTT comedian Ian Cognito, who has died

Ian Cognito’s Facebook photo – presumably how he would like to be remembered

In the previous blog here, Becky Fury remembered Ian Cognito, who died while performing on stage last week.

Now fellow comedian Eric (Just Eric) adds his own tribute…


When I saw the headline BRITISH COMEDIAN DIES ONSTAGE, I thought: Oh, that will be Cogs…

Then, when I saw the full story, I was devastated to see that, tragically, my instinct was correct.

Like Malcolm Hardee before him, probably no-one ever expected to read the words “After a long battle with illness, he passed away peacefully in his sleep.”

Cogs just wasn’t that kind of guy.

He died as he lived, in the spotlight, commanding full attention, with no-one quite believing what they were witnessing.

We all have our own memories of Cogs and bizarrely I have enjoyed reading the stories that others have shared of this marvellous mischievous maverick.

I first met Ian Cognito at Malcolm Hardee’s Up the Creek comedy club when, as he passed my table en route to the stage, he scooped up my pint and drank it while headlining the night.

The Greenwich club was a renowned bear pit and it wasn’t long before he got his first heckle. Whenever this happens, it is the stock-in-trade of the comedian to deliver smart-put downs in response and the more cutting they are the better; and Cogs could cut anyone to the quick. But Cogs didn’t just embarrass his detractors: he went further, much further. He would intimidate them.

So, climbing across the seats in the direction of the hapless heckler and standing astride the back of the chairs either side of him, Cogs delivered his withering repost, while towering over the now cowering heckler. Not surprisingly, it was the only heckle that he received that night.

Given what I had just witnessed from his awesome onstage persona, I did consider saying nothing and just getting myself another beer. But, with what I now realise was a somewhat foolhardy and reckless regard for the ‘perceived’ risk to my personal safety, I summoned up all my courage and, after the show, I challenged him about drinking my pint.

I was then astonished to find him most apologetic. He had just made an honest mistake, confusing my Guinness for his own, which he then realised he had absent-mindedly left on the bar.

So he bought me a replacement and, with a mutual love of the black stuff and comedy in common, it was the start of a friendship I could never have expected. Over the next few years, I did numerous gigs with this comedic whirlwind, who would proudly announce to audiences that he had been banned from more comedy clubs than any other comic.

But that brash onstage (and sometimes offstage) persona belied the sensitive, caring, supportive soul which lay beneath.

I should imagine that anyone who ever had the privilege of being invited to his home will have the memory of that visit etched on their memory forever.

I certainly remember my first visit. Pulling up in a layby in the middle of nowhere, thinking: Why on earth would he want me to meet him here? Only to find Cogs suddenly emerging from a bush and extending an invitation to climb over a crash barrier and down a bank. Where, only a few yards from the busy highway, a boat is moored on a slow-flowing river in an unfeasibly serene spot.

In my experience the standard invitation would include a meal, which Cogs would cook in his galley while his guests sat on the bank enjoying the unexpected calm after the long drive from London.

Then, over lunch, we were treated to a side of this quiet, reflective, thoughtful man that his audiences would probably never get to see.

Then, it seems, no-one would be allowed to leave, without first choosing a book from his shed to take with them. I remember choosing The Book of Shit Towns.

Then it would be back into the car and on to the gig, where it was sometimes difficult to reconcile that the astonishing and aggressive performance the audience and fellow performers alike were treated to that evening was delivered by the same man who had humbly dished-up the pasta a shortly before, while sharing stories about his children.

When I first visited Paul (his real name was Paul Barbieri) and discovered that he lived on a boat, he said: “It’s the most interesting thing about me.”

Which is patently untrue.

No, it isn’t, Cogs, YOU are the most interesting thing about you!

Some things I know. Some things I will never know.

One thing I do know is that the world of comedy has just become a far less interesting place without you…

We have lost another shining light from our world.

What is it that is said about the flame that burns brightly…?

RIP mate.

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RIP Ian Cognito, dangerous comedian and great opera singer

“Even when I walked on stage and touched his arm I was expecting him to say Boo!”

Comedian Ian Cognito died on stage on Thursday night at the Lone Wolf Comedy Club in Bicester, Oxfordshire.

So it goes.

He reportedly “sat down on a stool while breathing heavily, before falling silent for five minutes during his show” and the audience thought it was part of his routine. He had earlier joked: “Imagine if I died in front of you lot here”.

In the US, Variety quoted audience member Ryan Mold: “He sat down, put his head and arms back; his shoulders were twitching… His behavior didn’t come off as unusual to those used to his flamboyant character.”

Compere Andrew Bird told the BBC: “Everyone in the crowd, me included, thought he was joking. Even when I walked on stage and touched his arm I was expecting him to say Boo!” 

The BBC quoted audience member John Ostojak as saying: “Only ten minutes before he sat down, he joked about having a stroke. He said: Imagine having a stroke and waking up speaking Welsh… We came out feeling really sick, we just sat there for five minutes watching him, laughing at him.”

Andrew Bird said dying on stage would have been the way Cognito “would have wanted to go… except he’d want more money and a bigger venue.”

The comedy website Chortle rather understated the case when it wrote he was “known for his outrageous and unpredictable stage act and would often boast of the number of clubs he was banned from”.

At one time, he used to start his act by walking on stage with a hammer, banging a nail into the wall and then hanging up his hat. “This lets you know two things about me,” he would shout. “Firstly, I really don’t give a shit. Secondly, I’ve got a hammer.”

Over the course of a 30-year career, no British TV company ever took the risk of putting him on screen. Yet today The Times, reported his death and called him a “cult comedian”. The Daily Mail today called him “a proper comic”.

The lesson to other comics seeking media coverage is clear: literally die on stage.

In comedian Malcolm Hardee’s 1996 autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake, there is an anecdote which starts: “An excellent performer called Ian Cognito was there and he was very drunk, as is his wont. When he’s drunk, he gets aggressive.”

I always found him very amiable and intelligent though with a slightly insecure glint in his eye. Well, he WAS a comedian.

In 2005, I shared a funeral car with him and Jenny Eclair at Malcolm Hardee’s funeral in Greenwich. Malcolm had drowned by falling in a dock while drunk… So it goes. 

Ian Cognito and Pam Ford at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2013

In a 2013 blog from the Edinburgh Fringe, I wrote: “Last night, Cognito told comic Pam Ford and me a very funny series of stories about his own dad’s funeral and what happened to the ashes afterwards. Alas, I don’t think I can repeat them, because I was harassing Cognito that he should do death stories as an Edinburgh Fringe show in 2014.”

He didn’t, but no matter.

And, alas, I have now forgotten the stories.

I also wrote in that blog: “He was wearing a hat. He said he had a song about the late Malcolm Hardee. I invited him to perform it at the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Awards Show on the final Friday of the Fringe. He said Yes.”

He didn’t.

But no matter.

Today his son, Will Barbieri, shared a quote from his father: “I hope when I am gone, that you will remember me for all the things I didn’t do, but could have done so easily.”

In 2014, I quoted the comedian Matt Price in a blog. He said:

“I mentioned to Ian Cognito: There’s a rumour going round you used to be an opera singer and he said: Oooh! Keep that one going, dahlin’ I do like that one!

So I will remember Ian Cognito as an interesting human being, a fascinatingly dangerous performer and a great opera singer.

But I did not really know Ian Cognito.

Malcolm Hardee Award winner Becky Fury did know him better. She sent me what follows under trying circumstances this morning.

She wrote: “I am a bit distracted by a total freak show in the kitchen and a man naked in the kitchen. Just a standard day in Deptford.”

Here is what she sent me…


‘Cogs’… in one of his quieter, more reflective moments…

I’m sad about – but also keep laughing hysterically about – Cogs.  

He actually died on stage, the mad bastard, and people thought he was pretending but he was actually dead. The compere came on and went to prod him as he thought he was joking but he was actually dead. Fuck me, that’s hilarious.

The man was a crazy, beautiful diamond and, like all diamonds, it’s the darkness that give them their brilliance.

Last night I went on stage and told the story of Cognito’s last prank. I’m still hoping he jumps out of the coffin at the funeral and shouts: “Gotcha, you cunts!” and then dies again – because that will be really funny.

It is interesting giving people permission to laugh at death.

It’s a taboo and Cogs liked smashing those. 

It’s the essence of liberation. 

It is nice to be given permission to continue to erode those taboos and it is an honour to explain to an audience your friend died like Tommy Cooper but he did it better. Dying on stage is a very naughty thing to do and the person was very naughty to do that but you can and should laugh because the person was a great comedian and it’s what he would have wanted.

I also explained I would be doing my Ian Cognito tribute act later and I had already taken the capsules of cyanide which was the grand finale after the crowd surfing just to put my own spin on it.

I’d known Cogs since I was 19. He ‘pulled’ me after a gig I was running with my we’ll call him ‘ex’ boyfriend as he was after that happened and who also happened to be the promoter. 

My relationship status with the promoter was unknown to Cogsy but was in hindsight a classic Cogsy as he had an almost supernatural knack of pissing off promoters

We were friends after that. Me and Cogs.

Me and the ex-boyfriend never recovered.

The Cogs I knew was a lovely, fascinating guy and I had a load of really interesting times with him, like a lot of people did. 

After our initial encounter, we met again in the backstage area of Reading Festival and spent the weekend getting drunk and talking and not seeing any bands. Why would you go and see Blur when you have Ian Cognito to talk to?

He even surfaced a few months after that and helped me get rid of another unsuitable ex-boyfriend and helped end another relationship for me. Like a sexy, crazy, cool dad that you can shag.

He had an uncanny knack of appearing when he was needed like a swaggering Cockney genie that lived in a bottle of Jameson’s.

And then a few more times after that.

When I started comedy, I did a few gigs with him at the Edinburgh Fringe where he was kind enough to offer me to share a spot he had in a show at the Pleasance. I was unfortunately too pissed to take him up on the offer. I could blame the fact I was keeping up with his drinking habits but that wouldn’t be true and truth was something that was very important to Cogsy in his life and his art – not that he would have said anything that pretentious.

I never knew him to be anything other than a lovely, wise, bright, shiny, gem of a person. An authentic soul and genius comic. 

There are very few of those and now one less. 

I’m still kinda hoping he kicks his way out of the coffin, does that song about his dog farting and then makes use of some of PR his death generated. But it was never about that.

It’s about living your truth to the full and making your life and death a work of art.

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Comic Lynn Ruth Miller in Amsterdam meets a man she stimulated 12 years ago

The unstoppable 85-year-old London-based US comedian Lynn Ruth Miller continues her travels. Last time it was Glasgow. Next time, it is New York. This time it was to perform for a week in Amsterdam… where she met a man from her past… Here she tells all…


Amsterdam is a fun city and this trip was even more rollicking than ever.

The local food is execrable which makes it more amazing that all of the natives are tall, blonde and exceptionally healthy.  When I walk down the street dodging between the bikes, I feel like all of them are Snow Whites and I am the dwarf.

The typical foods are things like deep-fried meatballs with a mustard dip, gooey pancake sandwiches and thick greasy Dutch fries. The Dutch actually hunger for raw herring and deep-fried sweet dumplings. Their comfort food is stewed mashed potatoes, cabbage and kale topped with a fat greasy pork sausage. I cannot believe any of them have a waistline much less any teeth. Evidently their metabolism considers these delicacies to be the equivalent of sprouts on whole grain toast.

In addition, Dutch people are very reserved.  When they hear a joke they nod approvingly and say: “That is funny” (in Dutch of course). But they do not laugh. That type of uncontrolled reaction is reserved for the tourists.

As is getting stoned.

Dutch people do not do marijuana.

They are very smart business people. Pot is good money. Their motto is: “Let the tourists get high. We need to keep our wits about us so we can make a profit.”

“It was a beautiful experience, but quite a challenge…”

On my first night in Amsterdam, I headlined at The Comedy Cafe. I have worked there before and it was a beautiful experience, but quite a challenge. The audiences were at least 70% native Dutch which means that English was their second language. They got the jokes all right, but they needed time to process the punch lines. This meant that I was two jokes ahead of them. I had to adjust my pace so they could absorb what I said.  

It was a huge challenge and an exciting one because, when you succeed in making them get the humor, you have overcome a huge hurdle in your presentation. The last time I managed three times out of five and the truth is that it is those two failures that have haunted me ever since. I guess that is why I call comedy an art instead of a craft. You have to have that instinct that knows the pace, the emphasis and the time to pause for each individual audience.

I was very, very worried about this new performance because of the mixed reactions I got the last time, but this was a very different crowd. The show was run by Tim van’t Hul who has joined several other comedians to form a troupe called The Comedy Embassy. They put on English shows at comedy venues on their empty nights.

And the Comedy Cafe has become an all-English club. It was founded by Bob Maclaren who is a magnificent comedian. When I was there two years ago, he presented both English and Dutch language shows. Thursday night was his only all-English show. Now, Tim and his group fill in the extra nights with their own comedians. They are all young, upcoming performers and, although the quality varies, the enthusiasm is wonderful and the shows are always a delight.

Because all the shows are now in English, tourists make up most of the audience. On the first night, there was a group of about 20 men in the audience who were there on a training weekend to learn internet marketing techniques. They had evidently decided to take in some comedy after their dinner. They were from all over Europe, but most were from England. 

When I saw them, I was terrified. My comedy makes fun of men and there were hardly any women in the audience. Those I saw were obviously on a date and were unlikely to encourage emasculating humor. It destroys any hope of a happy ending (so I am told, of course).

But I had forgotten that there is nothing the British like better than to excoriate themselves. The more you insult them, the more they love you. I think it is a male thing. You cannot get a British man to admit he has one good quality. To do that is in bad taste. And this self-flagellation seeps into the rest of their lives. 

They celebrate the people who defeat them like Guy Fawkes. They gobble up fish and chips and complain that they have horrid teeth and bulging bellies. They do not know how to express disapproval. They shrug their shoulders and roll their eyes when you do something they think is gauche, like laugh out loud or rattle a newspaper. They are the prototype of up-tight. And this audience was very British.

I got on stage with the help of a pulley and a rope and discussed my views on male inadequacy, blaming men for the state of society and all my personal failures in life. I was greeted with thunderous applause so loud I actually heard it.

The man who didn’t want to be a comic at one point…

After the set. I went to the bar for a drink. A man named Kees van Amstel said: “I have something to show you.”  

Naturally, my first reaction was to explain I wasn’t interested in seeing his, but then he bought me a drink and explained that, back in 2007, he was in Edinburgh at the Fringe, having a terrible time getting audiences for his comedy show. (And who among us cannot relate to that?)

He was terribly discouraged and ready to give up the whole project when a friend of his took him to see a late night show to take his mind off his troubles. I was in the line up for that late night show.  

He said: “I watched you having so much fun up there on stage and I thought If that old woman (I was a young chick of 74 at the time) can have so much fun AT HER ADVANCED AGE and be that funny, why am I complaining about low attendance and huge monetary losses?  I have plenty of time to create my dream.

So, that night, he went back to his Edinburgh flat and wrote a blog (HERE it is, in Dutch) about the ancient hag who inspired him to continue has career and not give up too soon.

(BLOG EXTRACT: “Old School kicks ass! Ze sluit af met een liedje over hoe sex is als je man net een niertransplantatie heeft gehad en krijgt het grootste applaus van het festival. Ik sta perplex. Lynn Ruth Miller. Om 2 uur ‘s nachts. Fucking hell, ik ben eigenlijk helemaal niet oud. Find of the Festival.”)

That incident was twelve years ago.

Now, he has his own shows and is on the board of directors of Toomler, the other major comedy club in Amsterdam. He decided to take a night out to see what the competition was doing. He did not know I was on the bill.   

“When you got on that stage,” he told me, “I said to myself I KNOW that woman. And then I remembered that time so many years ago when you changed my life.”

When you are at the Edinburgh Fringe, slogging from one open mike to another, you never think that you are accomplishing anything more than getting a couple of bums on a few seats for the show you are doing. It certainly never occurs to you that someone might actually remember you twelve years after they hear you perform.  

I cannot even remember something that happened twelve minutes ago much less twelve years ago. I assure you both my husbands instantly forgot everything I ever said within seconds of their departure from my life.  

And here I was talking to a man who remembered everything I said twelve YEARS ago.

I have always believed that I do comedy because I love it and that is all the reward I really need. But that man gave me something far more valuable than 20 Oscars and 50 Nobel prizes. He made me feel that I was actually part of a bigger picture, one that tells the world they can do whatever they want to do if they just get out there and do it.

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Lynn Ruth Miller on being stalked in Glasgow and the homeless in London

Lynn Ruth Miller in Glasgow last week

In yesterday’s blog, I was talking to a man who had decided to see what it was like to be homeless for one day on the streets of Manchester.

Now 85-year-old London-based American comic Lynn Ruth Miller gives her own views on homelessness and being stalked in Glasgow…

Here she goes…


I was so successful using my college Spanish in Barcelona (blogged about here) that I decided to give myself the acid test and go someplace where I REALLY could not understand anything anyone said.

Last week I went to Glasgow.

The Markee de Saw (left) and Miss Innocence Bliss in Glasgow

I headlined at the Allsorts Cabaret in Katie’s Bar. This is a burlesque cabaret hosted by the Markee de Saw and Innocence Bliss, both regulars on the burlesque circuit.  

And that was when I got stalked…

It was really very thrilling.

A very young man came into the club while I was waiting to go on stage. He sat very close to me and smiled significantly.

I smiled significantly back.  

What else could I do?  

I couldn’t SAY anything because there was a show going on.

At the interval, I left to put on my costume and his eyes followed me right into the dressing room. This was a brand new experience for me. I found it very awkward to get down to my undies knowing his eyes were right there in the room. After all, we had not even been introduced.

I returned to my table and there he was looking more significant than ever!!!!! 

I managed to haul myself on stage and he was right there with a hand up (to the stage, not my costume). I finished my song about being old just in case no-one noticed (but I think they all did). I sat down next to my stalker and he spoke his first words to me.

I think he said: “Would you like a drink?” 

But it was hard to catch what he said because, by this time, he had had several shots himself and the music was very loud and he was having a difficult time forming a coherent sentence.  

I think that’s a Glasgow thing.

In seconds, a large glass of white wine appeared as if by magic and the young man fastened his eyes on my bodice. I think he was trying to find my cleavage, which resembles an elongated pleat these days. But his brain couldn’t process what that was.  

I finished my wine and I think he said: ”Would you like another?”

So I nodded (significantly, of course).

I was obviously right because another glass of wine appeared before me.  

And then my stalker took my hand in his and looked even more significantly into what was left of my eyes. 

He tried to stand and failed.  

I was having a bit of trouble focusing myself, but I took his arm to help him up and that was when the bartender threw him out of the bar.

I was still glowing from this romantic encounter when I boarded the train the next morning to return to London Euston.  

My hosts and I walked to the station. It was supposed to be a 30-minute stroll but, partly because my legs are now approximately the size of a chihuahua’s and partly because my thoughts were still locked into memories of the sexiest night of life, it took us an hour to get to the station.  

We only had ten minutes to get to the train.  

My host said he would dash to Sainsbury’s and buy me lunch: a banana, a tangerine, a croissant and a small yogurt.  

As I toddled to my coach, he galloped toward me with a huge bag and thrust it in my arms. When I opened it, I realized he must have thought I wanted to feed the entire coach. I discovered a quart of water, a bag of tangerines, a large bunch of bananas, two croissants and a tub of yogurt ample enough to feed 400 starving Armenians during their revolution.

I managed to eat one of each thing and a few spoonfuls of the yogurt and then pondered on what the hell I would do with all this food because I am Jewish and we do not throw out food.

Meanwhile, the discussion in the coach drifted from Brexit to the homeless problem. 

The woman sitting across from me waxed eloquent on the outrageous way people were pretending to be homeless and fooling us by wearing tattered clothing when, as soon as their day was over, they ran around the corner and jumped into their Mercedes to motor to their luxury flat in Kensington.

I pointed out that some of them really do need our help and she said: “Really? I know for a fact that most of them earn at least £300 a day and they spend it all on heroin or cocaine.”

“Perhaps,” I said, “it would be best to give them food instead of money so they do not spend that 20p we thrust in their empty cup on drugs.”

“Absolutely not,” she said. “They won’t take food anyway. They just want to finance their disgusting habits.”

As she waxed eloquent on the sins of the charlatans sitting on our street corners, I remembered my friend Kevin who reminded me that, if I give money to someone, I have no right to tell him what to spend it on.  

“Did you ever think,” he said, “that drugs might be their only escape from a life too horrible for us to contemplate in our warm comfortable homes with our tables laden with food?”

The train pulled into Euston station and I took my huge bag of food and water along with my suitcase and my backpack with me on my way to Kings Cross to catch the Piccadilly line to go to Covent Garden.  

As I trudged to the station, I saw one of these very homeless people we were analyzing on the train.  

He was a young man in his twenties, shivering in the cold, with an empty cup sitting forlornly at his feet.  

I stopped and handed him the bananas, the bag of tangerines and the water but, before I could manage to throw a few coins in that empty cup, he was halfway through the first banana.

I thought of that woman sitting in a comfortable coach sipping her wine and nibbling at her gourmet salad.  

I thought of the comfortable place I go home to every night and the refrigerator stuffed with more food than I need and I wept.  

I wept for that poor man sitting before me so desperately hungry. He could not wait to eat that banana.  

I wept for that woman and all those like her who cannot see the hunger and the extreme need of people forced to subsist on the paltry coins we throw at them as we hurry from our warm homes to our comfortable offices or to the theatre or to a posh dinner that costs more than they will get in a year in that paper cup that sits at their feet.  

One missed paycheck, one lost job, one debilitating illness… that is all it takes to put every one of us on the street, begging strangers for help.

I do not have answers for how we can stop this growing homeless situation.  

I do know that my giving that boy a bit of fruit did nothing to solve the bigger problem.  

But what else could I do?

So I hurried on to Covent Garden to judge an LBGTQ heat in a club.  

I laughed a lot and drank some wine, but I couldn’t get the memory of that hungry boy out of my mind.

When I got home that night, all I could think of was the people I walk past every day on the street and how little we all do to help those who are not as lucky as we are.

And then I ate my dinner and began to plan for my trip to Amsterdam.

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Filed under Glasgow, Humor, Humour, London, Poverty, UK

I met a man with a family. He left home to see what it feels like to be homeless…

Manchester – Piccadilly station

When I was at college, one exercise we did was to record a normal conversation, then transcribe it exactly, word-for-word. When you do that, you realise the chaos of conversations. No sentences. Thoughts and sentences bounce around randomly, half-finished and intermingled. That interests me.

In my online blogs, I tend to ‘clean-up’ what is quoted, so it reads – I hope – more smoothly. And I cut for length. But below is a full and exact, un-cut transcription of a conversation I had at the weekend.

I was in Manchester on Sunday, at Amanda Fleming’s horror short film festival.

On Sunday night, I was sitting in Manchester’s Piccadilly station and was approached by a man asking for money. I almost never give money to beggars because I am always dubious what they will spend it on. 

But I had just bought a pack of two tiramisus from a nearby Sainsbury’s Local. So I gave him one and we ate them together on the bench.

He told me he had decided to live on the streets for a day to see what being homeless was like. He told me his very small daughter had died a few months ago. And (although this was Sunday) he had left home on Friday to see for a day what being homeless was like.

I obviously never necessarily believe what I am told by people asking for money. So I cannot guarantee anything he told me is true. 

But I switched on my iPhone during the conversation. Obviously, a vast invasion of his privacy. I will no doubt rot in hell. But I have obscured any details which could identify the man who may or may not be who he said he was. I have called him David. That is not the name he gave me. Everything else he said is quoted exactly.

BEWARE: This is quite long but, with luck, progresses interestingly!


JOHN: When did you leave home? Friday?

DAVID: We’ve really been depressed. All the family’s been depressed because of the loss. Me wife said: “You need a night out with your friends.” So every weekend she’s dressing me up well: “You’ll look nice tonight.”

Anyway, I got wrong train. I got there 15 minutes. They were only 15 minutes behind me. So… But they were on the next train. They were only 15 minutes.

JOHN: You decided you wanted to be a homeless man for a day?

DAVID: Yeah. I want to go home now. I want your advice on how to get to (ANOTHER NORTHERN CITY) from here. Can you tell me how to get to (ANOTHER NORTHERN CITY) or (ANOTHER NORTHERN CITY) or…

JOHN: Best to phone your wife. I’m only up here for the day. Why did you want to be homeless for a day? Are you a sociology professor or something?

DAVID: I just wanted to see what they went through and I couldn’t do it. I could not do it. I am here, going home now.

JOHN: You started on Friday? Or this morning?

DAVID: Friday, I got the fuck beat out of me before my friends got there. I smoked.

JOHN: What? Weed?

DAVID: No. I train (PUBLIC SERVICE WORKERS) believe it or not. I train them how to be safe when (THEY DO THEIR JOB), hopefully. And they call me a chicken coward, because I’m the one that can’t do it, so I teach it. There’s a slightly higher grade that I am on, but we don’t live very well.

JOHN: So you’re a (PUBLIC SERVICE) person.

DAVID: I’m a (PUBLIC SERVICE WORKER) trainer, I would say. Trainer, supervisor, yeah, yeah. I do training courses: gotta pass it. I’ve got a company. A few people work for me as well.

JOHN: So you decided you wanted to be homeless…

DAVID: I’m coming out of the hospital. I’m in Manchester. I discharged meself cos I’m pissed-off and I didn’t want to be near anyone. I’m not staying in that bed no longer. I’m not doing this. But there was a man and I said: “Could I have half of your cigarette?” 

And he said: “No.”

I said: “I’m not without money. I would give you a pound.”

(AT THIS POINT, A HOMELESS MAN CAME UP TO US) 

HOMELESS MAN: “I’m sorry for asking…Can you spare a…”

JOHN: I’m sorry. I’m sorry.

DAVID: Ay. Ay-up, ay-up, ay-up. I’ve just been like this all day.

(THE HOMELESS MAN WALKED AWAY)

I’ve got five people in me family. Well, four people in my family now. Because of me wages… Because of me dad’s business, me dad says: “You’ll never ever, ever, ever raise £60,000.”

I said: “If you’d sell it me for 60,000… 60,000?” 

He says: “60,000? It’s worth ten times that,” he says. “If you ever raise £60,000 on yer own” he’ll sell a share of it to us. Anyway, I bought an ice cream van. I bought an ice cream van… Tell me when you’re bored.”

JOHN: No,no. You’re keeping me warm inside the station. This is good.

DAVID: It were very very hard with the ice cream van, as I found out and I had to go begging back to me dad, saying: “It’s winter time. I’m going out and I’m taking £15 and using £10 diesel, I’m using £3 stock; I’m making £2, £3, £4 a day, dad. Please bail me out. 

He said: “I told you this. I told you that.” Blah blah blah.

JOHN: I’ve always wondered what ice cream van men do in the winter.

DAVID: What they do in the winter is what I didn’t know. They save a lot of fucking money through the summer.

JOHN: Anyway… Back in the day and being homeless…

DAVID: Yeah. I tried it. What time is it now?

JOHN: When’s your train?

DAVID: I’ve no idea. I haven’t even booked to get. What time is it? Is it half past? It might not come.

JOHN: Almost half past ten. Where are you going to? (ANOTHER NORTHERN CITY)? There’s one at 10.47.

DAVID: Where? Where to? Where to?

JOHN: To (ANOTHER NORTHERN CITY). Platform 1. 10.47. That’s in 20 minutes time.

DAVID: How do I get to get from (ANOTHER NORTHERN CITY) then to get to (ANOTHER NORTHERN CITY) or (ANOTHER NORTHERN CITY)?

JOHN: I have no idea. God knows.

DAVID: Is there one for (ANOTHER NORTHERN CITY) or is there owt?

JOHN: No. There’s just Crewe, Leeds, Buxton, Chester… and Blackpool, for some reason. If you can get to (ANOTHER NORTHERN CITY), you can get your wife to collect you.

DAVID: Yeah. You’re right. You’re right. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. But I haven’t got a penny to ring.

JOHN: (LAUGHS) Was this a very long-winded Can I have some money for the telephone routine?

DAVID: No. I’m sorry, mate. No. I will not accept. Please do not do that. Do not do that. No. I didn’t mean it like that. There’s free phones. There’s free phones. I didn’t believe it. I dialled my dad on his mobile. I dialled him on his landline. I dialled me wife. Are there any of me kids there I can talk to? I broke down in tears. I said: “Daddy’s staying out here another night if he possibly can… just to see what it’s like to be homeless. I’ll be home tomorrow”.

I don’t think I need any money to get a ticket. Are people still working in that little hole?

JOHN: The information booth? Looks like it.

DAVID: What time’s that train to (ANOTHER NORTHERN CITY)?

JOHN: 10.47 – 17 minutes time.

DAVID: Something happened and I went absolutely berserk and I absolutely lost the plot completely, tried a few drugs, really dangerous stuff.

JOHN: Today? Or after the ice cream van?

DAVID: No. (LAUGHS) After the death of me daughter.

JOHN: Oh, yes. Sorry.

DAVID: You’re not following this right, are you… We’ll get there. We’ve a long time, haven’t we?… No, it were me daughter. At least I could laugh then. It were the first time I could actually laugh and say: “No, me daughter; not the ice cream man.” That’s first time I’ve laughed and said her name. Me daughter.

(PAUSE)

JOHN: That might be the last train to (ANOTHER NORTHERN CITY). There isn’t another one on the board. You’ve got 17 minutes. That might be the last one.

DAVID: What, now?

JOHN: In 16 minutes.

DAVID: I’m gonna go there first (the information booth) and see if there’s one gonna take me to (ANOTHER NORTHERN CITY). That there (the tiramisu) were absolutely beautiful and I’ve had absolutely nowt to eat all day. I got a slice of pizza. 

Some dear said: “I haven’t got any money for you, sweetheart, but, if you want something to eat, you can have something.” 

It’s fucking dangerous out there; it’s shit; I’ve never seen anything like it. That spice – just with phtum phtum-phtum. You can see in street with… we buy each other… and there’s police there and… It’s in front of them. They can’t do anything about it. There’s nothing about it.

JOHN: Is spice the big thing now?

DAVID: Not where I live. I’ve never noticed it. That’s why I… “Can I have a drag of your ciggie?” and he said: “No!” –  Because he paid for it, obviously. A lot of money. £5. I says: “I’ll give you a pound for a drag.” He says: “Yes. But only two drags or three drags. Do you want three drags?”

I thought: He’ll charge me £1 for two or three drags? A roll-up, not a cig. A fuckin’ roll-up. But I got nowt. So I took it. 

I had two drags and I started having third drag and I started feeling funny. So I were walking about, didn’t really know where I was, very disorientated. Couldn’t find train station, bus station, nothing, slept where I thought I oughta sleep, got absolutely annihilated – me wallet has got money in, me phone, me credit cards got took off me; it’s cost me nearly £700 so far. 

It’s not too bad. I’ll get most of it back on insurance. I’ve got quite a good job. I’m not rich. I am not rich. But I have a good job as you can imagine – who trains the (PUBLIC SERVICE WORKERS). 

JOHN: Is the drug problem in Manchester now spice not smack?

DAVID: No, it’s not smack. No, no. It’s… No, no. Spice. Spice. But I got…

JOHN: What effect does spice have? Is it like cocaine? Kapow!!

DAVID: Have you had cocaine?

JOHN: No.

DAVID: No. So you don’t know. Cocaine goes be-weugh! But, no, I’m fairly good be-weugh, but that first one we was talking about, the… the… eh… the heroin. That’s BANG! That goes straight in. But no, the one that you said…

JOHN: Spice or cocaine?

DAVID: That is the most subtle one. That is the one you will have a sniff of and not know what it’s done to you, whatsoever, cos it’s so subtle, yeah?

JOHN: I think coke is really dangerous.

DAVID: It’s not very dangerous. I’ve sniffed thousands of…

(A MAN COMES UP AND ASKS US FOR MONEY)

DAVID (TO BEGGAR): Mate, I’m the same as you.

BEGGAR: I know you, man.

DAVID: I know you as well. I’m the same as you do. I’m just trying to get ten bob out of him (POINTING AT ME) me’sen. I’ve got another 13/14 minutes yet.

(THE MAN WALKS AWAY)

I hope them things (information booths) are open. If, for any reason, I can’t, can you lend me some money for phone? You can come with me to see that I phone me wife to pick me up.

JOHN: I’m past caring. Here, you can have £2. It’s a story. It’s a story. It’s a good story.

DAVID: Can you put my details in your phone so I can give you the £2 back for being so kind to me.

JOHN: How about £60,000? If you ARE going to make a phone call – I don’t think you are – you’ve got 11 minutes to the train leaving.

DAVID: How far is it to the fucking thing?

JOHN: I don’t know. Platform 1.

DAVID: Platform 1. Do you buy your ticket and then get on the train and they come and inspect it?

JOHN: I guess so. Platform 1.

DAVID: Platform 1?

(A YOUNG WOMAN IN HER 20s APPROACHES US)

YOUNG WOMAN: Guys, I’m really sorry to ask, but is there any chance you can spare a little bit of change for…?

DAVID: Darling, I’m in the same position as you.

YOUNG WOMAN: Are ya?

DAVID: This is me dad. He’s just come out to give me some money.

YOUNG WOMAN: Alright. No worries.

DAVID: I’m sorry, sweetheart.

YOUNG WOMAN: I’m shitting it. I’m just trying to get home.

DAVID: I’m the same. Me dad’s good to me. He feeds me chocolate.

YOUNG WOMAN: At least you’ve got a dad. 

DAVID: I wish I’d got a mum and I wish I’d got a baby. They both died.

LOUDSPEAKER ANNOUNCEMENT: The train approaching Platform 1 is the…

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