Simon Jay’s play is not about John Lewis or John Lewis but John Lewis

The things you miss when you do not go to the Edinburgh Fringe…

This year, I missed the extraordinary Simon Jay reprising his highly-praised Trumpageddon show and a new show @JohnLewis: Never Knowingly Undertweeted. The latter is about the American academic and “computer science educator” who owns the @johnlewis Twitter handle and gets mistakenly deluged by enquiries intended for the famed chain of British department stores.

The British store chain’s slogan is Never Knowingly Undersold.

Simon Jay answering my questions

Last night, I went to see@JohnLewis: Never Knowingly Undertweeted – only on at the Drayton Arms Theatre in London until Saturday.

And, this morning, I Skyped Simon Jay for a pre-arranged chat. He overslept  and was barely conscious. 

I always find this is the best way to chat with people for blogs…


JOHN: So what did John Lewis, the American, say when you contacted him?

SIMON: He is very modest and self-deprecating. So he said: “Why would anyone write a play about me?”

JOHN: Modest and self-deprecating? Are you sure he’s an American?

SIMON: Yes. He lives in Blacksburg, Virginia.

JOHN: He was shocked you wanted to write a play about him?

John Lewis, confusing but not confused

SIMON: (LAUGHS) Humbled. Originally, the play was going to be much more like a Jon Ronson investigation, where I tried to get into his life and how it all came about. He gave his blessing but then said he was incredibly busy. So it turned into a sort of Joyce Grenfell character piece.

JOHN: Did he have to approve everything?

SIMON: No. I mean, I wasn’t going to take the piss. I wasn’t going to betray him. He didn’t even see the script. He said he didn’t have time to read anything, so he just took it all on trust, really. I put updates from our rehearsal on Twitter. I don’t know anything about his mother, but I portrayed her as some kind of religious zealot. I Tweeted a picture of me full-crazy and he said: “Oh! It’s uncanny!”

JOHN: When you quote him saying things in the play, are those quotes he gave you?

SIMON: Well, based on things that he said, yeah. When I interviewed him, I was only able to get a couple of lines on each question I asked him. And he did give a few interviews early on to people like the Daily Telegraph.

JOHN: Has the quirky story been picked up in the US or only in the UK?

US Congressman John Lewis

SIMON: Well, John Lewis, the store, isn’t known in America. In the US, he is confused with Congressman John Lewis.

JOHN: Who you also mention in the play.

SIMON: Yes, he gets a lot of racist abuse on Twitter intended for the Congressman, which I was going to explore. But then I thought it might be a dramatic turning point too far – from a light-hearted show about mistaken identity to the racist underbelly of the US.

JOHN: Why racist abuse?

SIMON: Because the Senator he shares a name with is a black Senator from Georgia, a civil rights campaigner who talks a lot about how racist America is. So lots of people take to Twitter to abuse him (LAUGHS) to prove how right he is!

JOHN: You talked to the John Lewis Partnership – the stores – about the play…

SIMON: Yes. They were a bit bewildered at first. But it’s very much a warm, fluffy thing; John Lewis are hardly going to be offended and sue me. And the story is not about them; it’s about mistaken identity. The fact it is about John Lewis is incidental, really.

JOHN: It’s all good, light-hearted publicity for them.

SIMON: Well, some people genuinely think it’s a conspiracy – that John Lewis have employed someone to pretend to be this man with their name!

JOHN: And the store’s reaction?

John Lewis: amused and bemused

SIMON: They just think: Oh! It’s just an amusing thing that has happened and we don’t really get involved, but we are very grateful for the fact he forwards everything on.

JOHN: He does?

SIMON: He always puts the @JLPartners tag when he answers on Twitter. (They are also @jlandpcustserv)

JOHN: In the play, you have some characters who are John Lewis staff reacting to things, sending him presents and so on.

SIMON: Well, they really did send him a hamper at Christmas and even embroidered his @JohnLewis Twitter handle into a cushion. It’s all fact. That’s all true.

JOHN: The staff in the play are slightly bitchy to each other. Did John Lewis, the store, object?

SIMON: Well, their Regional Marketing Manager came to see a preview. I think they were checking to see it wasn’t libellous. She liked it. I think she just accepted we all know characters like that.

JOHN: Any chance you might be in one of the famous traditional John Lewis Christmas ads on TV?

Never knowingly under-represented online

SIMON: Well, apparently the management did talk to the director of this year’s ad and there was some talk about that and they were looking to get the ‘real’ John Lewis involved and the way to do that was to have lots of different John Lewises in the ad and I would be one of the John Lewises. Maybe they would have had archive footage of the Congressman. But, like all these things, it was probably just an idea on a piece of paper and they will have gone with something much more outlandish.

JOHN: So whither the show now? The West End and Vegas?

SIMON: There’s a thought of taking it on tour, but I think I will have a break.

JOHN: Doing what?

SIMON: Sleeping.


The John Lewis Partnership’s 2017 Christmas ad is on YouTube…

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Comic Lynn Ruth Miller at 85: two steel plates, three screws and a secret wish…

Stand-up storyteller, London-based American comedian and late-blossoming burlesque performer Lynn Ruth Miller has recently blogged here about her globe-trotting gigs. 

Later this week, she is performing in Manila and Jakarta then, next week, Beijing and Shanghai, followed by gigs in Singapore. As I post this, she is on her way to Cannes…

And last week she celebrated her 85th birthday with six parties in England. Here she tells what happened.


I made it! I am 85 years old with all my own teeth, both hips, both knees and most of my marbles. I am told that, from this day forward, I can expect my heart to falter, my sense of taste to diminish, my brain to slow and my bladder to empty without notice.  My bones will get thinner, I will get smaller and I will dry out.

But no matter! I can still have sex if I find someone who can still get it up and remember where to put it.

My skin is so loose I look like a brunette Shar Pei. I forgot my name two years ago and have more hair on my chin than on my foo-foo. To celebrate this, I have had a total of six cakes with candles and two pastries suitably decorated – at six birthday parties.  

I received hundreds of Facebook messages from people I swear I have never met who all have fond memories of the time I petted their little poodle or taught them how to survive reality. I received two dozen gorgeous cards and several witty notes telling me to live it up now before it’s too late. And I am grateful.

Time was when I celebrated birthday after birthday all alone.

The first of many 85th birthday cakes for Lynn Ruth Miller

My gala celebration began on Sunday 7th October when a fellow Stanford graduate, Karen, brought over her thirteen-year-old Vietnamese daughter Mae and we painted pretty pictures together. Then, to my surprise, the two of them disappeared into my kitchen and returned with a beautiful cake alit with several candles. I blew them all out (I still can, you know) and made a wish, which I won’t tell because I want it to come true. 

We finished the evening by knocking off a bottle of wine (Karen and I, not her daughter) bemoaning the state of the world.

The next night, after a rehearsal of Schminderella, (a pantomime I am in as the Fair Godbubba, to remind me that I am, after all, Jew-ish even though I have been a hopeless infidel for over 70 years), my very special friend Michael Ward talked his neighbor Barry into picking me up and driving me to Michael’s house for a late dinner.  

Lynn Ruth celebrating her birthday on a night in with the boys

Michael’s partner is Dimitry Devdariani a director, actor and exquisite human being from Georgia. We three have been friends since 2007 when Dimitry discovered me telling stories in C Venue at the Edinburgh Fringe.  

Michael had convinced Barry and his partner Roy to help him create a surprise party for me and, after much wine and even better conversation, I was ushered into the sitting room where there were balloons, sparkling lights and the loveliest orchid waiting for me.  

We enjoyed a gourmet dinner and finished with cheesecake (my favorite dessert) and a few candles which I blew out and I made the same wish that I made the night before. 

Both Michael and Dimitry assured me I looked exactly the same solid little number they first encountered when I was a young chick of 76, eleven years ago.

We see what we want to see don’t we?

I got home at three in the morning and fought off indigestion and a hangover.

Lynn Ruth also celebrated at the Phoenix Club in London…

The next night was The Big One at The Phoenix Artists’ Club. Stuart Saint and Peter Dunbar gave me the 7.00 pm slot to perform my Crazy Cabaret – a potpourri of my favorite songs from my shows.

I wore a glittery dress. I felt very sparkly. And sang my songs to a room filled with very dear friends, some I have known since 2005 when I started to perform at the Edinburgh Fringe. 

At the end of the show, Stuart brought out a glorious cake with lots of candles that I managed to blow out after I made that same secret wish. My lungs stepped up to the plate and I did it all in one giant breath. It was beautiful night.

On Wednesday, my friend Stephen came over for dinner. I saved him some of my cake and some ice cream from Sunday and we celebrated us. No candles this time.  

But Thursday made up for that, because it was my REAL birthday and I celebrated it in Brighton. I gave a small speech at a health fair that hired me to do comedy the next night and then met my friends Liz, Zhanna, William and Jo for a festive dinner at Polpo’s, a late night Italian tapa kind of place.  

Liz presented me with two cream filled pastries in lieu of a cake and I was  showered with flowers, mugs, good books and chocolate. I returned to a private room booked for me at the Brighton Hilton. I was totally out of my element. I am used to hanging out on people’s couches. This was luxury I have always assumed was only for the affluent in this world. And it was mine to enjoy.

The next day I visited my wonderful friend Gail and we discussed the gender hysteria that is sweeping the UK and had lovely pastry and coffee.  We bemoaned the status of women literally going down the toilet in the USA.

Lynn Ruth Miller – stimulated, plated and screwed

Still stimulated and filled with self-righteousness I went over to my friend Annie’s for yet another cake and more conversation about the joys and pitfalls of crossing the 80 mark. Annie is 83 and has had a cochlear implant.

I am kept together with two steel plates, three screws, two hearing aids and a lot of determination. We both gave up logical thinking five years ago and are dealing with unexpected leakage, disappearing waistlines and, in Annie’s case, bright new teeth. I still have my originals.

That night I did a half hour of comedy at Fiddlers Elbow in Brighton to an international audience from the Health Fair who were into new age concepts of the body–mind connections and didn’t understand one word I said.  

Tea bagging, fisting and back doors are not part of that experience.

Saturday night was a special night for me because I went to Wimbledon to do a benefit for the Spear charity: a wonderful group who are trying to combat homelessness. No cake, but lots of wine and laughter, which is really just as effective.   

On Sunday, the magic Zoe Dobson came over with a beautiful jam-and-cream-filled cake and lots of special birthday wishes. 

That night, I also met Mark Allen to celebrate our birthdays together. We chose Ritorno, a new restaurant opened in Holborn that had run out of half their menu but had plenty of wine.  

I met Mark 35 years ago when he was the head usher at Stanford’s Lively Arts concerts and I was one of the ushers. We bonded then because we both love classical music and the two of us went to the San Francisco Opera together.  

Because our birthdays are three days apart (and 26 years… Mark just turned 59) we decided to celebrate together in London this year.

Mark told me I was a funny lady 35 years ago and insists I look exactly the same as when he first met me… Did I mention Mark walks with a white cane and a German Shepherd? 

We finished our meal with a brilliant Happy Birthday sparkler and I thought this was my Grande Finale to the 85 Birthday Bacchanal.

One of many celebratory climaxes for Lynn Ruth on her 85th

I was wrong.  

Yesterday night I took the train to Gravesend for dinner with my dear darling friend Richard Rycroft. He showed me the sight that made Gravesend famous: a statue of Pocahontas.

She actually met her death in a barge outside Richard’s balcony.  

I was stunned and very impressed.  

We went back to Richard’s place to view his modern toilet, one that really flushes (a new experience for Richard) and his spiffy state-of-the-art kitchen which is stocked with enough food to feed the entire town, should Brexit block food deliveries.

There, nestled between the bread-maker and the tea kettle, on top of the dishwasher and under several animal effigies that Richard keeps to remind him that we are all one race was ANOTHER CAKE. This one had a unicorn horn on it.  

We stuffed ourselves with ice cream, berries, cake and conversation. And thus ended eight glorious days to welcome my entering my 86th year.

Now that I am so fucking old, it occurs to me that I should share the conclusions that life has given me after all this living…  

The one thing I now know is how little I know.  

I have finally accepted that the only thing I can control is my own behavior. 

I am what I am… It is too late to bemoan my lack of looks, talent or financial status.  

This person I see in the mirror is what I have made, day by day, month by month and year by year. She is filled with imperfections, but she has survived.  

That, for me is very good news.

And No… I am not telling you my wish.  

I want it to come true.

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Filed under Age, Psychology

In New Orleans, a 76-year-old mixture of James Brown, Ray Charles and Elvis

Samantha, in this shot, clearly not in New Orleans…

My chum from Lancashire, Samantha Hulme, is currently in New Orleans.

She has been staying with a friend who lives there.

She met him on a previous visit.

She sent me a video of him singing in his living room.

In a second message to me, she wrote:


I love it here.

I love to travel

When I found New Orleans and knew I wanted to make a life here.

Whenever I travel I don’t want to be a stereotypical tourist. I want to be safe, but I want to see the real country, the culture, the real people. I was lucky enough to get the offer of accommodation from Mr James Winfield – stage name The Sleeping Giant.

It was an act of kindness stereotypical of this city. In his own words, he never wants another woman again. He was just genuinely trying to help me.

I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to learn so much about music with a man who was recording records in the 1960s before I was even born. I have had the true New Orleans experience.

I couldn’t have done it better. I have laughed so much I cried with laughter on various occasions – the man’s absolute bluntness, his wry sense of humour, alongside his total inability to understand what I am saying in my northern accent most of the time, will be an experience which will keep me laughing for the next year.

It was like s mixture of living with James Brown, Ray Charles and Elvis – His voice has characteristics off all of them at times.

I am a physical & movement therapist and I can’t believe the stark difference in how we age in the UK compared to here.

James is 76 yrs old.

He works full-time as a panel beater and sprays cars. He sings a few nights a week and he goes out there blazing in all his stereotypical New Orleans fancy suits, bright shoes and I have never known a man with so many hats. He appears to have boundless energy.

I know no-one in the UK like this even a decade younger than him. 

Then I look at quite a few of the great musicians and singers here in New Orleans living into their 90s and I can see why.

I love New Orleans.

The video clip I sent you before of James singing in his house was a wonderful spontaneous moment of seeing my new friend jamming with his grandson and what I really saw was his huge love of music that afternoon. When the man talks he sounds like his singing.

But I don’t think it fair to show him only singing to a piece of bread in the afternoon.

So here is a video of him singing at a club as well.

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Filed under Age, Music, Travel

The Jack The Ripper Comedy Tour with Becky Fury on the Day of The Dead…

It was Malcolm Hardee Award winning comedian Becky Fury’s birthday yesterday. I had a celebratory drink with her.

I had tea. She had coffee.

Next month, she is going to lead a Jack The Ripper Comedy Tour around London’s East End.

Rival Jack The Ripper tours roam the streets of London’s East End several times a week…


JOHN: So… It’s in bad taste, some might say.

BECKY: Of course it is in very bad taste.

JOHN: So why do it?

BECKY: It’s Hallowe’en.

JOHN: No it’s not. You’re doing it on the 2nd of November.

BECKY: Well, it’s the Day of the Dead.

JOHN: Is it?

BECKY: Yes. November 2nd – That’s the Day of The Dead.

JOHN: Anyway, why do it?

BECKY: Because serial killers are very popular. People like serial killers.

JOHN: Their victims don’t.

Becky Fury: “Serial killers are very popular”

BECKY: You never hear them complain. But, more generally, serial killers are very popular with the public and I did one on Hallowe’en the year before last. which was very popular. It sold out completely. I think I need more coffee.

JOHN: How many people do you have on a street tour like this?

BECKY: Thirty people; that’s the maximum. More than that and it’s too difficult to shout at them.

JOHN: You have done previous Jack The Ripper tours.

BECKY: Yes, I did a straight one. Then I did a feminist one. And now I’m doing a comedy one.

JOHN: So how are you going to get laughs out of it? There’s a lot of disembowelling involved in Jack The Ripper.

BECKY: Well, there is, but I will just wander round pointing out stupid fake stuff and throw in some real facts and do a quiz about serial killers. 

JOHN: So some real facts intermingled with some made-up facts.

BECKY: Yes. Just like in most good stand-up comedy. People tend not to know where reality ends and bullshit begins. As long as it’s entertaining: I think that’s the most important thing. If we walk down Brick Lane, we can find out where Jack The Ripper’s favourite curry house was.

JOHN: Gullible American tourists may take it all at face value.

Becky outside the Jack The Clipper barber shop

BECKY: That’s fine. I am going to take people to random places like the Jack The Clipper hair barbering salon. And there’s one alleyway that’s covered in street art. It’s an actual original Victorian alleyway – one of the only ones that’s left – though, unfortunately, no-one got murdered there.

JOHN: That’s a pity.

BECKY: Yes, but it’s atmospheric. We might add art to it. There’s some interesting serial-killer-esque graffiti there already.

JOHN: Is there a prize for the serial killer quiz?

BECKY: No.

JOHN: You could give the winner a liver wrapped up in paper. 

BECKY: No. Though the prize could be not having your liver and internal organs cut out and strewn all over the audience.

JOHN: How much does it cost to buy a real liver from a butcher’s?

BECKY: Alright, the prize could be one of Mary Jane Kelly’s severed ear lobes.

JOHN: Or maybe the family kept John Paul Getty III’s ear… They might donate it. No serial killer connection, though.

BECKY: No, John.

JOHN: Ears of corn, perhaps. Cereal killers.

BECKY: No, John.

JOHN: Have some more coffee. What sort of questions will be in the quiz?

BECKY: Gilles de Rais fought alongside Joan of  Arc in the Hundred Years War, but who did he have his servants lure into his castle, where he would torture, sexually assault and kill them?… I think the team deliberation on that will be interesting. There’s a music round as well.

JOHN: Is this Jack The Ripper Comedy Tour going to be a regular thing?

BECKY: Hopefully. We’ll see how this one goes. Hallowe’en is a good time to get people to come along.

JOHN: The Day of the Dead.

BECKY: The Day of the Dead.

JOHN: Are you going to dress up?

BECKY: I think I might dress up as Fenella Fielding.

Becky Fury drank a lot of coffee yesterday

JOHN: Where can your comedy go after this triumph? You will have peaked with your Jack The Ripper Comedy Tour. What plans?

BECKY: Tons of stuff, but I don’t want to talk about them yet.

JOHN: No?

BECKY: No.

JOHN: Oh.

BECKY: Did you put something in my coffee?

JOHN: Too soon?

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Filed under Comedy, Crime

Copstick’s sleeping partners in Kenya

In this blog, I tend to post edited versions of comedy critic Kate Copstick’s diary extracts when she is in Kenya, working for her Mama Biashara charity.

Usually, they make pretty grim reading. I am not sure what category these latest bits come under.

When last we heard from her – last Wednesday – she had lost a whole front tooth, biting into something inadvisable in Nairobi.

Now read on…


FRIDAY

Mombasa. Sharing a tiny room with a cockroach so massive I am sure I have seen it on Game of Thrones.

SATURDAY

I know there is stuff happening right now but I am toothless in Kenya. I have aged with the sheer horror of it all. When I get back to London, I will need a good, kind dentist used to dealing with hysterical and terrified old women who can sort this out. Also I am flat broke so no stupidly expensive ones. Although they are all stupidly expensive now. Right now if Brett Kavanaugh could sort out my tooth I would vote for him. That is how desperate I am.

My giant cockroach roommate is halfway up the wall. Antennae swaying. He does not even twitch when the light goes on. But I prefer that I can see him.

SUNDAY
Still in Mombasa. Another shambles of a day. Kenya’s Vice President is in town so no meeting of any kind allowed anywhere. Except – of course – everyone is cramming into church. I start the day with a Christianity-induced migraine as the telly in the little hotel is blasting out some shouty evangelical preacher.

My giant wavey antlered cockroach friend was found dead this morning on my floor. I am bereft. And once again alone at night.

MONDAY

Last night – still traumatised after the untimely death of cockroach No 1 – I arrived home after a completely FUBAR day to find two replacement roaches. One a bit dark and antlery and omescuttley, the other a delightful chestnut brown and much more charming. I suspect nut brown is a lady roach. Clit rather than cock.

Imagine my horror, after going to bed last night a happy threesome, to wake up this morning and find them dead!!

I am cursed.

I kill cockroaches.

Even nuclear war does not do that.

I am bad.

Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches – NOT Copstick’s cockroaches – It would be too soon to share. (Photograph by Husond at English Wikipedia)

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Filed under Humor, Humour, Kenya

Copstick on real life and death in Kenya

Continuing the diary extract blogs from nine days ago…

Comedy critic and journalist Kate Copstick is currently in Kenya, working with her charity Mama Biashara.

Among other things, it aims to help people out of poverty by giving them start-up money (and advice) to create their own small, self-sustaining businesses. 

These extracts from Copstick’s diary are heavily-edited for length. The uncut originals are on the Mama Biashara Facebook page.

So this is part of what happened, in Kenya, a little over a week ago…


FRIDAY

The coach from Nairobi for Awendo leaves at 8.00am.

After Kisii, in really quite quiet rural areas, suddenly vast swathes of land are being dug up for huge roads. And, by the looks of it, huge highways are being built. No idea why. No-one here has any idea why other than the President’s obsession with his ‘legacy’. 

Yet again, the devastated remains of tiny roadside businesses can be seen along the way. The work means that sometimes the road (as was) disappears altogether into mud and dust. The plans for the road to be built and the destruction of businesses to make way for it give no suggestion as to how long the work will take. Arrival is not important here. This is not even travelling hopefully. It is just booking the ticket and cancelling everything else. 

We get to Awendo at about 5.30pm. Even the Kenyans are pissed off. Jayne is there with a local taxi.

We start seeing business people immediately. 

The evening funding goes pretty well. All individual businesses. Fish, fried fish, bananas, petrol. The last surprises me because of the new petrol tax. But they are selling in half litres to people with sugar cane squishers and there is still wriggle room for profit at that level. 

FYI thanks to the government’s War on the Poor, kerosene – which the very poorest of people use for light – is now more expensive than diesel. So the poorest children can no longer see to do homework or try to read books. But the fattest of Kenyans can drive the biggest of gas guzzlers. Our little old ladies who sell kerosene by the thimbleful so they and their neighbours can see in the hours of darkness are devastated. 

Colonialism and its legacy can be blamed for a lot, but the passing of new taxes that punish and extort only the poor, while destroying the smallest businesses and cutting off the route to starting new small businesses in the way this government is doing requires an active greed, a terrifying selfishness and an overwhelming lack of care for the poorest people. 

The only thing that talks in Kenya now is money. If you have none you are no-one. Maybe that is the legacy of colonialism. But the Kenyans who are now in power sure love and work very hard to keep it alive.

SUNDAY

I get up at 8.00am, marvelling at my ability to do so. The Kenyans are sniggering at how long I sleep. They have been up since 6.00am.

Big news is that a load of houses nearby were set fire to in the night. As a reprisal for the three young men who attacked and killed a male family member with pangas (machetes) in a neighbouring field. There was a ‘dispute’ over family land. This is the local way of settling it. The houses are still smouldering. 

MONDAY

I read a piece in one of the newspapers about how to be a successful stand-up comedian in Kenya. The instructions were: funny accents (make fun of other tribes and other nationalities, Nigerians being particularly fertile ground because they talk funny), make fun of poor people, uneducated people, people from rural areas and old people. Dress up in a parody of whatever group you are having a go at. Basically racism, sexism and punching down.

TUESDAY

We arrive back in Nairobi at 4.45am. It is cold and dark and the centre of town is a strange mix of hustlers and prostitutes at the end of their night’s work, drunk and slightly the worse for wear but really friendly… and market traders at the start of their day. 

We wait in a bunch for a matatu (privately owned minibus) and I end up sharing with four people and five huge sacks of oranges and sweet potatoes. 

Later, we meet Doris for something to eat. We will definitely be going to Mombasa on Friday so we have tickets to buy. 

There are a load of Glam ladies there and Doris wants me to meet with them to discuss the ongoing working relationship between us. Thanks to the government’s War on the Poor, it is incredibly difficult for Mama Biashara to set up tiny businesses the way we used to and turn people’s lives around. 

So Doris has developed this amazing network of businesswomen and women with a reasonable amount of money (many of them from the streets themselves) who need/want workers for all sorts of jobs. They now trust Mama Biashara and the people we get for them. So we are putting hundreds (maybe even thousands) of men and women into employment. 

Good wages, decent treatment, frequently accommodation and food come with the job, so ideal for Phoenix Project people who need to be relocated away from their abuser. 

Our ‘official stamp’ has come from the maker. Load of bollocks, if you ask me, but everyone has one if you are an organisation. And I am giving all the volunteers a certificate to show (a) Mama Biashara is legit and (b) they are legit. So we need The Stamp. 

WEDNESDAY

Vicky meets us at Majengo. Pretty much everywhere has a Majengo. An area on the outskirts where refugees or displaced people live. A slum amongst slums. 

There are three groups. We huddle in a small room and I ask if we can open the door – just because I am a fan of things like seeing what I am doing and breathing. But they are terrified we will be seen and attacked. So the door closes. 

One group is going to sell sweet potatoes and arrowroot (boiled and grilled), one is a cleaning group and the third is a Phoenix Group. They had gone to a Maasai area because they were offered building work there. But the Maasai have turned on them. And the usual weapons of physical and sexual violence have been deployed, as ever, frequently towards children. The group want to go back to their own area. Which is unfortunately far away. But Mama provides fare and money to set up a group business once they are there. I also asked Vicky to keep me in touch with a view to adding coffee selling to the miraa business they are starting with. This leaves me pretty much out of money.

We go to Limuru and meet the lovely Vixen for a make up workshop for a dozen girls. I have brought loads of stuff from the UK. Does anyone fancy donating more make up? Hair straighteners? Decently powerful hairdryers? Brushes? 

Our make up businesses are doing amazingly well. In Kisumu, Mombasa, Kitale … around three hundred girls. 

The girls being trained today are young mums. Which means the babies are in the workshop too. So the small room is a cocktail of smells: cheap make-up, body odour, breast milk and baby poo.

Meanwhile I talk to Joy, who is a refugee from Narok where troubles are reaching a terrible pitch with daily killings, shootings, hospitals full of people with arrows poking out of every body part, house burnings and livestock slaughterings. Joy has no idea where the rest of her family is. They just ran from their burning house. She is staying with a local (Glam) lady for the moment but she needs a way of making a living.

Then we head off. To look for somewhere to eat. 

Two bites into a lump of dead something I lose a front tooth. A whole tooth. A whole front tooth. Gone. Out. All I can think of is NOW I HAVE TO GO TO THE DENTIST and my world collapses in around me like a bubble gum bubble on an upturned face. 

I try not to panic. Or cry. But it is tough. The appalling combination of my greatest fear (dentist) and the hideous prospect of the quite honestly impossible costs involved take my breath away. I freeze. 

To be fair, the missing part is a crown that was put in thirty years ago. But it has broken off right along the gumline. I can feel my hands go numb. I am dizzy. I am in my own, personal hell. Genuinely, I wish my leg had broken and not my tooth.

I am having something of a panic attack just writing this so I am going to stop now.

… CONTINUED HERE … 


Mama Biashara is totally financed by individual donations and from sales in its London charity shop. You can donate here. Copstick receives no money. She covers all her own costs including travel to and accommodation in Kenya. 100% of everything donated goes to the charity’s work.

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Paris, circa 1979, as experienced by young striptease artiste Anna Smith

In the last blog here, occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith, based in Vancouver, wrote about how A Migrant Trans Sex Worker’s Murder Has Set Off Protests Around the World.

The murder took place in Paris and, after reading it, I said to Anna: “You have lived everywhere… You must have lived in Paris at some point…”

This was her reply…


Anna Smith in Ealing, London, circa 1984 (Photograph by Tony Green)

I have not lived everywhere. But I did live in Paris for a couple of months when I was in my early twenties.

My trip there and accommodation was paid for by the Canadian government, because I had organised an exhibition of paintings at the Canadian Cultural Centre in Paris.

I supervised the hanging of the paintings.

The young workmen were very happy and friendly.

Although I was already a striptease artist, I felt lonely in Paris, where the only people I knew were the distinguished administrators at the Cultural Centre.

The Cultural Attaché took me and a couple of Canadian artists to dinner at an expensive restaurant, where I ordered skate because I had never tried it before. The skate arrived covered in white sauce and I didn’t enjoy it much.

I spent most of my days walking for miles across the city and visiting art galleries. It was November and the walking and the galleries were very enjoyable.

I visited a small theatre on the Left Bank, whose name I forget, which specialised in erotic performance. I did not see the show but inquired of the staff whether it was possible to work there. I was told yes, indeed I would be very welcome to work with them. As usual in those days, there was no mention of work permits.

Anna Smith, striptease artist. (Photograph circa 1979.)

They showed me inside the theatre. It had a nicely sized stage which could hold about a hundred people and everything was painted black. It was daytime and there were no performances until night time. There were strong nets high above the rows of seats and I was made to understand that the actors would be performing in the nets as well as on stage. It looked like fun. 

I asked when could I start. 

They said I could start right away. 

But then they asked: I did understand that I would be doing a live sex act show, didn’t I? 

Ooops….

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m only a striptease artist…”

They looked at me sympathetically and kindly told me that I was very welcome to come back if I changed my mind.

The only other job I could possibly have done at the time was jello wresting (defined by the Urban Dictionary as “When women wrestle in a pit of jello – UK jelly – in their bikinis while a bunch of horny men sit by and watch.”)

But I was pretty snobby at the time and thought that was beneath my level of artistic excellence…

I would not mind trying it now though.. haha. 

I wonder if Lynn Ruth Miller would consider joining me….or maybe I could rent a sex robot, if she isn’t available…

Woman versus machine…hmmmm…

Josephine Baker, banana costume, 1927

When I was in Paris, I also visited The Folies Bergère – the haunt of one of my idols, Josephine Baker – and The Crazy Horse. 

The Folies Bergère were a disappointment, more like a light show than a human performance. The dancers’ costumes were illuminated with thousands of tiny lights which glowed in the dark when the lights on stage went out. I have seen more interesting displays of Christmas lights on houses in suburban Minneapolis. 

The Crazy Horse was slightly better. Although I had bought the least expensive ticket possible, the hostess seated me in the front row, likely because I was the only single woman in the house, young and dressed sexily.

The show was highly choreographed (as it still is) and I later wrote a critique for Canada’s national newspaper (the Globe and Mail), that “not one spontaneous wink” escaped from the performers.

I visited Paris a couple of times after that, when I was living in London. One time I went there with Sir Gideon Vein (Tony Green).

Sir Gideon Vein (Tony Green) & Anna Smith in London, 1984

We stayed at The Hotel Lima and in the daytime we performed in the plaza of The Pompidou Centre. We did a sort of burlesque style performance art piece. 

I was dressed in a black outfit, wrapped in flecked hat netting, my skirts trimmed with silver and violet spangles, like a nineteenth century ‘dame perdue’ and Sir Gideon Vein resembled Jack the Ripper, with his frock coat and usual blood-stained cravat. 

We played Death and the Maiden on a ghetto blaster and had a rubber knife with which we eventually stabbed each other to death. I remember slowly sprinkling corn flakes over Sir Gideon’s dying body…

We did not make very much money doing this, a small crowd gathered to watch and afterwards a kind man bought each of us a vanilla ice cream cone.

I remembered being mystified that a fat, dowdy middle aged French woman wearing ordinary clothes and playing a penny whistle badly was pulling in a small fortune in coins at the same time.

But now I realise that people must have felt sorry for her.

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