Njambi McGrath: “I’ve discovered I can do things I never thought I could do…”

Njambi’s book Through The Leopard’s Gaze

JOHN: So, Njambi McGrath, you are very busy at the moment. 

NJAMBI:  Well, lockdown gave me the space to write.

Before that, I was travelling loads to do comedy gigs but all the way through lockdown I didn’t have to travel anywhere so I could literally write all day.

When my first book Through the Leopard’s Gaze was published I had done so much research I didn’t want the richness of what I discovered to be wasted.

So I decided to write my second book last year as fiction and use the research in that. 

I wrote that new book last year and I’m writing another one this year.

Both novels are set in Kenya. I wanted both of them to reflect everything.  The chaos and how people tried to make sense of life before independence and everything.

Njambi at a book signing, with many more still to come…

Last year’s novel is called The Residence of the Ministry of Works. It’s about people living in a compound in Kenya. No-one even knows how they found their way there. Is it a Ministry? No. It was something the British created and, when they left, it… it is like a slum.

When they arrived, the British found systems that were intact and it’s like Lego. If you kick it, then it goes in all directions. The British kicked the existing system and caused chaos.

JOHN: And the new book this year is…?

NJAMBI: Rinsing Mukami’s Soul – it’s more focussed. I think I’m on the final draft now. The ‘Rinsing’ is because of all the things she does and encounters; her soul needs rinsing.

JOHN: So, with the long-drawn-out lockdown, the enforced isolation and the book-writing, have you lost your urge to go on stage and do live stand-up?

NJAMBI: No. It’s like a drug. Every time I’m on stage I am: Oooh! I wanna do this again! I performed at The Comedy Store a couple of weeks ago and a couple of other venues this week. I’ve done enough gigs since lockdown finished to forget how many I’ve done.

JOHN: And you went up to the whittled-down Edinburgh Fringe in August…

NJAMBI: Yes, I was invited to Edinburgh and offered a 98-seater at the Pleasance to do a 3-day run of my show Accidental Coconut, the show I did in 2019. 

JOHN: What was Edinburgh like this year?

NJAMBI: I had very good, full-house audiences. People were hungry to laugh after the lockdown.

The week before that, I had been up to Edinburgh to record my radio show over two nights. The audiences were the same then – amazing. What a way to come out of lockdown hibernation!

The Sunday Times loved Njambi’s new radio show.

JOHN: Your radio show… That’s your BBC Radio 4 series of four, which starts this week?

NJAMBI: Yes, it’s based on Accidental Coconut but it’s called Njambi McGrath: Becoming Njambi. It starts this Wednesday, the 22nd of September, for four weeks at 11.00pm on Wednesdays.

JOHN: Why is it not called Accidental Coconut?

NJAMBI: Because Radio 4 said: “If you use that term on radio, referring to yourself, other people may think it’s OK to use that derogatory term.”

JOHN: Why was it called Accidental Coconut in the first place?

NJAMBI: Because when I had been doing an Edinburgh show in a previous year – African in New York – I said that, when I got to America, I hadn’t been aware of the Black issues there because I was an ‘accidental coconut’ – because, obviously, we don’t learn that history in Kenya.

And then I thought: Oh my God! That’s a really great title! – It reflects exactly what we are. We are not taught about our history.

JOHN: How did black New Yorkers react when you opened your mouth and they realised you were British?

NJAMBI: The first time I was in a lecture hall, I put my hand up and spoke and everybody went: Whooaaaa! How come you’re not speaking with the black people’s accent in America?

JOHN: Did they think either (a) she’s just a foreigner or (b) she’s English so she must be posh? She must know the Queen?

NJAMBI: Well, they were even more confused because I said: “I’m British and I’m also Kenyan”.

JOHN: And their reaction was…?

NJAMBI: Well, after my university days, when Barack Obama was still President, I was in Florida and said, “I’m British and I’m also Kenyan,” and their reaction was “Where is Kenya?”

JOHN: Whaaat?

“I hadn’t been aware of the Black issues there because…”

NJAMBI: I said: “That is where your President is from. And one woman asked: “George W Bush?” 

Everyone around the world was talking about this new American President and she hadn’t even noticed they had got a new president and he was black. If she hadn’t looked so confused, I would have thought it was a joke.

JOHN: You are also performing Accidental Coconut at Soho Theatre in London next month. (4th-9th October) 

NJAMBI: Yes, it actually overlaps with the radio series.

JOHN: And what comes after your Soho Theatre run?

NJAMBI: I’ll be finishing my new book Rinsing Mukami’s Soul and I have a new stage show as well. I was working on a draft of it in early 2020 and was going to take it to Edinburgh that August, but then the pandemic happened and the Fringe didn’t. So it will now be my 2022 show.

JOHN: Titled…?

NJAMBI: Black Black.

JOHN: Why?

NJAMBI: Because, the night before I got married, my mother-in-law came to me and I thought she was going to say something like: “Welcome to my family”. But she whispered to me: “The day I found out that David was marrying a woman from Africa, I was horrified. But at least you’re not black black…”

JOHN: So books, live stage stuff, radio… and a TV series of your first book Through the Leopard’s Gaze…?

NJAMBI: Well, we are waiting on that. You know how long these things take. It was optioned during lockdown.

Njambi and I chatted at London’s Soho Theatre

I have got to a point in my life where I’ve discovered I can do things I never thought I could do.

For a long time, I didn’t think I had the skill. 

I was working in IT; I didn’t think I was good at it. I couldn’t sing. There were so many things I couldn’t do, so I thought I was useless.

Then I discovered I can make people laugh.

Then I discovered I could write.

Oh my God!

Now I’m like a ferret on a treadmill because I want to write as many shows as possible because I discovered I can actually do something when I thought I could do nothing. So I have been doing all these things as well as co-writing a TV sitcom and I’ve been writing some drama as well…

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R.I.P. author/comic Lynn Ruth Miller…

Regular readers will know of the unique, seemingly indefatigable and gloriously multi-talented US comic Lynn Ruth Miller, an occasional and much-admired contributor to this blog.

If not, type her name in this blog’s Search. 

Multi-award-winning Lynn Ruth died of cancer yesterday afternoon in London. So it goes.

In 2019, she explained that she didn’t plan on being a stand-up comic.

She had a Masters degree in Journalism from Stanford University and said she had considered herself a writer, a newspaper columnist and ‘a TV lady’ (she had her own TV show on the US West Coast) but never in her wildest dreams thought she would become a comedian. She said: “I always came up with smart remarks that got me into trouble”.

At the age of 67, she published Starving Hearts, her first book – an autobiographical novel about her struggle with her overwhelming mother and her battle with bulimia. She then released two compilations of her essays – Thoughts While Walking the Dog and More Thoughts While Walking the Dog – which had previously been published in US newspapers. She turned to stand-up comedy aged 71.

Her friend Sarah-Louise Young has today posted this on Lynn Ruth’s Facebook page:


 
Our beloved Lynn Ruth passed away yesterday afternoon at St Joseph’s Hospice in London. She spent the last few weeks of her life there being wonderfully cared for, enjoying the garden and making new friends.
 
For those of us who knew she was ill, we had all hoped she would begin radiotherapy at Barts Hospital  for her oesophageal cancer this week but in the end, sadly she was not well enough for treatment.
 
She was and will continue to be loved by hundreds of people and my heart goes out to each and every one of her friends and family. The outpouring of love online has been immense.
 
Whilst in the hospice she was only allowed six visitors and I know it pained her to have to turn people away. Her phone was never silent and she was busy making plans to gig, sing, write, paint, laugh, tell stories, drink Pinot Grigio, buy a puppy and travel the world right up to the end.
 
I had the great privilege of being with her in the last few days. Even though she was not fully conscious, I held her hand, told her how much she was loved and dabbed a little of her Miss Dior perfume behind her ears as I know she always liked to be sweet-scented. I also played her some music: Only A Paper Moon, Deep Purple (by jazz pianist Peter DeRose) and the songs she loved to sing from her own shows. Occasionally she would move her shoulder in time to the music and I like to think she could hear it and was dancing.
 
Any cards which had arrived in the last few days I read to her and I described the beautiful bouquet of flowers which arrived on Monday. They were put in a vase next to her bed.
 
One of her final requests was that her friends didn’t know she was dying. This was a very hard request to honour so I hope you will understand and respect why news of her reaching the end of her life was not made public.
 
She wanted to leave this world in privacy and with dignity. She knew that she was loved but she was tired and ready to go.
 
She had many, many offers of practical and emotional support from friends during her stay at Homerton hospital, when she was back home afterwards and in the final weeks in hospice, for which she was eternally grateful. Thank you to all of you.
 
She didn’t want a funeral and although she asked for her body to be left to science, in the end that was not possible. She will be cremated instead as per her instructions.
 
There will be a private memorial for close friends for which she made specific plans.
 
We will also be holding a public celebration on what would’ve been her 88th birthday in her honour. It will take place in the West End of London with the ticket proceeds going to charity. This will be live-streamed so all her international friends and family can attend.
 
I will post more information on both of these soon.
 
She had specific charitable causes she wanted to support: domestic abuse, hunger, education for marginalised groups and homelessness. I feel sure she would also be happy with people donating money to the hospice who could not have been more kind and caring in looking after our dear friend.
 
The world is a richer, more beautiful, mischievous and loving place because of Lynn Ruth. Her legacy lives on in each and every one of us whose life she touched.
 
With love, Sarah-Louise Young
8th September 2021
 

An early proof copy of Lynn Ruth’s recently-published autobiography

Some of Lynn Ruth’s many books…


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Can you be taught how to be a stand-up comedian?… Are you mad or a misfit?

Is there any point studying comedy for an academic qualification?

Someone asked that in an online comedy forum for comedians and wannabe comedians last week. It wasn’t and won’t be the first or last time the question is asked.

My reaction is – admittedly as a non-performer – absolutely not.

You are either capable of being funny or you are not. You learn from doing, not from listening to someone else telling you how to do something you either have or do not have in your psychological make-up.

Those who can… do.

Those who can’t… don’t. 

They may try but they don’t. 

Spend the time you would have spent getting an academic qualification or buying books written by academic wannabes by going out and seeing as many BAD comedians as you can and learn from their mistakes.

If you can’t see what bad comedians are doing wrong or where good comedians occasionally fail, then you are never going to be a successful comic. 

You are not going to learn as much from watching a good comedian as you will by watching a bad comedian.

You learn from mistakes – yours and others – not by watching perfection. And, in any case, you don’t want to copy another person’s version of perfection. You want to create your own perfect stage version of yourself.

Comedy cannot be taught because teaching implies rules and there are no rules if you want to be original.

If you follow the alleged ‘rules’, you will – by definition – be unoriginal.

But there is a major downside in wanting to be an original comedian.

Performing comedy is not a job for sane, well-rounded people.

It is a vocation for misfits.

If you don’t have something missing in your life – a great, gaping psychological hole eating away inside you – you won’t be an original comic.

You may be watchable, but you will not be great.

Comedians are masochists with a vocation.

If they are about to play a gig, they fear the audience may hate them. Yet they must play it.

If they have a great gig, they ‘know’ their next gig is unlikely to be as good. Yet they must play it.

If they play a bad gig, then they are confirmed in their suspicion that they are as shit as they feared they might be. Yet they have an emotional need to play the next gig. 

Comedians are spurred on by their own insecurity rather than by their own self-confidence.

They want to get an ongoing objective reassurance from the audience that they are ‘good’ – likeable, loveable, creative.

They are insecure inside.

To overcome this, they want to control the audience to such an extent that each and every member of the audience will be unable to control his or her emotions. 

That is the whole core of successful comedy.

Each and every member of the audience will be unable not to laugh.

Their bodies and souls and nervous system – their reactions – will be controlled by the performer.

To be successful as a comic, you have to feel incomplete and be lacking in self-confidence inside and, as a result, want to demonstrate to yourself your own ability to control others.

This has not necessarily any connection with financial success.

Comedy is a series of paradoxes.

If you follow the so-called rules, you will – by definition – be unoriginal and will not stand out from the crowd.

Yet, if you are too wildly original, you will not be accepted by the general middle-of-the-road crowd.

But what do I know?

I genuinely don’t care what people think of me. So I don’t have the soul or psychology of a performer.

All I know is…

There are no rules.

Though, of course, by saying that, I am stating an opinion as a certain fact.

So you should ignore that and everything else I have written, because there are no rules. 

A true comedian’s mind is a collection of extra-ordinary paradoxes.

A series of interlinked, extra-ordinary paradoxes.

In that respect, they are just like an ‘ordinary’ person.

But with talent.

Maybe.

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Last night, I stole a large iron safe…

I had a dream last night and woke up at around half past two.

I had stolen a large iron safe, shaped like a cube.

It was heavy and large and made of thick iron and had rounded corners.

I stole it from China and I was dragging it behind me, attached by a heavy, thick rope.

I was dragging it along outside Euston Station in London.

It was night.

But the safe was taken from me by three men working for a woman whom I had worked with at Granada TV in Manchester.

At five o’clock, I woke again. 

I was in the air, flying round and round, doing loop-the-loops.

I could feel myself doing them because, obviously, I was inside my body. 

But I was also watching myself objectively from about twenty or thirty feet away.

I watched myself going round and round in large vertical loops in the sky.

Going down towards the ground… up to the sky… Down to the ground… up towards the sky…

Large vertical loops in the blue sky.

Subjectively, inside myself, as I was flying, I could feel that the large iron safe was still attached to me and I was dragging it round behind me as I flew in loops.

But, as I watched myself objectively, from twenty or thirty feet away, I could only see myself.

I was dragging nothing behind me; there was nothing attached.

It was just me turning circles in the sky.

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My difficulty in self-isolating before a minor hospital operation during Covid

(Photograph: National Cancer Institute via Unsplash)

I am probably going to have a minor operation at a local hospital next Friday.

I say ‘probably’ because, when I was phoned-up at around 8.30pm last Thursday night (three days ago), I was told the operation could not be 100% confirmed until Tuesday (two days from now).

I say the ‘probable’ operation is at a ‘local’ hospital though, to get there, I have to travel on two trains.

Anyway, because I am probably having this minor operation on Friday, on Tuesday afternoon I have to go to the same hospital and have a Covid test – just for safety. The result will be known two days later.

After having the Covid test on Tuesday afternoon, I will need to self-isolate for the rest of that day and for the whole of Wednesday/Thursday before turning up for the operation on Friday morning.

This is, of course, to avoid my being infected by anyone between having the presumably negative Covid test and the operation.

Which is fine…

Except, of course, that, after the Covid test on Tuesday afternoon, I will be taking two trains to get back home.

And, on Friday morning, I have to turn up at the hospital by 08.00, which will involve me travelling on two fairly-crowded early-rush-hour trains to get there.

So I will be potentially exposing myself to infection.

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My eternally-un-named friend had an idea to get me to keep my mouth shut…

Those who have read my appropriate blogs will know I was hospitalised for seven days last May and seven days this July because my body suddenly developed very high calcium levels and a dangerously low kidney function. 

As a result, I have not had a full night’s sleep since June 2020. I wake up every hour throughout the night, dehydrated – my tongue and the inside of my mouth as dry as the Sahara Desert.

The doctors still do not know the cause of my calcium and kidney problems.

Inevitably, my eternally-un-named friend has recently been looking on the internet for explanations about dry mouths and has decided, with little evidence, that the problem is that I sleep with an open mouth.

The passages inside my nose were severely buggered in my teens by an overindulgence in Vicks Sinex Nasal Spray.

“In your bathroom cupboard,” my eternally-un-named friend told me yesterday, “there is one of my black hairbands. Put it round your head when you go to bed at night. It will keep your mouth shut.”

I tried to persuade her that a hairband is impractical for me because I have no hair on my head, but she would not be swayed.

She got an old photo she took of me and sent me a visual representation of how I should wear the hairband as a medical aid…

She helpfully added: “My hairband does not have a bow.”

I found the hairband in my bathroom cupboard. I tried her suggestion. It is not a good look. Life is a trial.

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The Iceman offers himself to the Taliban and remembers Charlie Watts

Entrepreneurial Iceman – a self portrait

Yesterday, I got an email from the uniquely entrepreneurial Anthony Irvine aka performance artist The Iceman aka fine artist AIM.

He told me about GIANT – “a new prestigious art gallery in the ex-Debenham’s department store in central Bournemouth” on England’s south coast.

At 15,000 square feet, it is claimed to be the UK’s largest artist-run gallery space outside London. The Iceman told me:”There’s a giant  polar bear in there which I thought was a good omen for me.”

“He has heard back from neither them nor the polar bear”

So he left his business card but, so far, has heard back from neither the organisers nor the polar bear.

Forever entrepreneurial, he has also written an open letter to the Taliban, who surged back into power in Afghanistan this week… in the hope of getting a performance booking from them.

In 1975 he travelled overland via Turkey, Iran (where the Shah was still in power), Afghanistan and Pakistan to India and Nepal, with appropriately long hair, pretending to be a hippy. 

The giant Buddhas of Bamiyan (Photograph from Wikipedia)

In Afghanistan, he stopped in the Bamiyan Valley and, he says, “climbed the rough steps up one of the tall Buddhas carved out of the sandstone rock. At the top, one could actually get into the head. I’m not sure if I experienced immediate enlightenment; more a slow burn…”

The Buddhas were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001.

His open letter to the Taliban this week is worth a read in its original form on his website.

But, for the lazy, I translate it here:


Dear Taliban Team,

I’m not sure if it’s appropriate for me to send Congratulations, but I hope you do better than the last time. 

In 1975, I was in Afghanistan. I went up to the beautiful lakes in Band-e-Amir on horseback. I went to see and enter the incredibly still Buddhas in the Bamiyan Valley. 

Why did you blow them up? You thought them idolatrous? Or is it because you understand the concept of emptiness? Probably not.

The Iceman’s image of Block 223 as submitted to the Taliban

Anyway, if it would help, I am happy to come and melt an ice-block somewhere in your rugged country. But, if I make a mistake, please don’t amputate any of my limbs – I need them for my art work. Give me a Community Care Order instead?

I attach a Polaroid of a previous Block [223] to give you a sense of my performance art work.

Do you think it would be popular in Afghanistan?

I also attach a photo of myself for ID purposes.

Yours sincerely,

Anthony Irvine [aim]


Because Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts died this week, The Iceman also shared with me these two memories:

“I remember seeing him getting a taxi in Hammersmith… also at Knebworth in 1976 when I was meant to be on stage with him but was overwhelmed by other factors…”

“WHAT?” I asked. “Knebworth? Other factors? Tell me more…”

And he sort-of did. 

The Stones at Knebworth, as portrayed by the Iceman/AIM

“The Stones,” The Iceman told me, “had insisted that the promoter should attempt to try to instill a carnival atmosphere at the show by hiring a large number of clowns, buskers and other circus acts, who were supposed to entertain the crowd between sets. I guess I was part of this. 

Chris Lynam booked us. I was in a street theatre group from Penge called Shoestring. I played a character called Private Parts. But I think on this occasion we were less performers and more atmosphere creators, interacting with festival goers. I had designed my own clown costume. I think I also wore a chef’s hat.

“I remember Chris Lynam shouting at me to get on stage but I had challenged myself with an alternative form of stimulus and couldn’t get off the ground. I think my colleagues all assembled on the main stage, but I missed my biggest audience.”

On his website, partly as his 1976 self, partly as The Iceman, partly as AIM, his artist persona, he remembers:


I didn’t make it onto stage, man, but I was booked, man – I let the Stones down, man. Not good to let the Stones down, man, but, like, man, they understood, man. Icespecaimlly Mice Jaimgger, man. Things happen at open air concerts, man, and there’s a lot of stuff going on, man. Things happenin’, man, all the taim, man – all kinds of stuff, man, around everywhere, man. It’s craimzy, man – raimlly cricy, man…


We can but wait with bated breath to see if the Taliban reply and sensibly give him a booking in their new (or do I mean old?) Afghanistan…

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This year’s Edinburgh Fringe in the very personal opinion of ex-Sir Gideon Vein

The Edinburgh Fringe – or what passes for the Fringe in this let’s-hope-it’s-almost-over-Covid-pandemic netherworld – finishes this coming weekend. It started on 6th August.

The former Sir Gideon Vein with a very personal look…

I have not been up there but, when I chatted to performer Tony Green aka Sir Gideon Vein for a blog posted a fortnight ago, I mentioned that he might like to give his view of what it is like this year. He lives in Edinburgh for a lot of the year.

I have just received his highly-personal account…

I say ‘highly-personal’… That is exactly what I asked him for but, in other words, if you are an act who is mentioned, don’t send the hit-men to shoot ME…


The Duke of Wellington had developed a pointed head

A couple of weeks ago, ‘The Duke of Wellington’ had a cone placed upon his head. It seemed to herald the beginning of The Fringe (albeit a severely pared-down version). Although Queen Victoria’s statue at the top end of Leith Walk where the down and outs invariably assemble is frequently treated to a cone.

Anyway, as I mentioned to you, there has been practically no-one flyering up here – only the occasional one around the St Giles area giving out flyers for their own shows. 

I went to see Walshy’s (formerly a homeless geezer whose face tells the story) show (A Number of Stand-Ups) in Niddry Street.

It turned out to be in the back annexe of a basement. No distancing and about sixty people (a capacity audience) crammed into one small oblong room about 20ft by 9ft with some wearing masks, some not. 

There was no way I felt I could go in especially with a partner (not actually with me) who is totally vulnerable as regards this bloody virus. 

So I walked along to The Canons’ Gait in the Canongate to see PBH’s Show (I’ve known him for years)… It turned out to be his night off. The compere was a woman called Kate Smurthwaite who opened with a stream of extraneous expletives.

I see the objective here but personally don’t feel it is necessary. 

Kate Smurthswaite’s own one-woman show

Not that she actually said this but it could just as well have been something like:  “Right, so Jack and Jill went up the fucking hill to fetch a fucking pail of water…” 

I certainly have no objection to so-called ‘bad language’ – far from it – just the way it is used… e.g. When Malcolm Hardee used the ‘Fuck’ it was necessary AND funny in a lighthearted way – but this is a different arena. 

Then there was a bit about about her ‘bush’ and pubic hair removal, then onto asking the audience intrusive questions (par for the course these days it would seem) e.g. “And what do you do for a living…?” 

I was not asked – a pity perhaps. 

Although the Oxbridge-educated Kate, who was formerly an investment banker in London and Japan, is a deeply politically-motivated comic as well as an activist and teacher, she didn’t touch on politics in her opener. Perhaps she was saving the political stuff for her midnight chat show. 

I later saw her on the internet clashing with Laurence Fox – this was a TV link-up. 

So the Chat Show would indeed have the potential for an explosive midnight hour and it is, by the way, the only midnight show at the Fringe.  

The first comic on was a very young Norwegian bloke called Thor. He was alright, I suppose, and not unlikeable but nothing there really for someone like me  – also asking the audience personal questions and explaining the problems he’d encountered regarding his ethnicity. 

His English was actually better than many English people’s. Early days for him though. 

It started to look a bit packed and there were no precautions or any distancing so I left early which may have been a pity. 

Critic Kate Copstick went there last week and gave the night she went a 5-star review and later I believe Kate Smurthwaite’s own show was also highly commended. 

A couple of days ago I saw a bloke – ‘Edinburgh Fringe Favourite’ Robert Inston – doing a one-man show about Jack the Ripper – a subject I know a fair bit about. 

He attempted to portray five characters all of whom were closely associated with the Whitechapel Murders. This was in the large basement (so it was possible to sit far back) called Maggie’s Chamber at The Three Sisters in the Cowgate. 

I appreciated his effort but, as he said, he is used to performing as women. 

The trouble was (for me) ALL of the characters were portrayed in an overtly camp manner (fair enough with Queen Victoria) and his depiction of Walter Sickert (about whom crime writer Patricia Cornwell has a definite bee in her bonnet) as a nasty homosexual bitch hardly tied up with what is actually known about the man who was allegedly born with a malformed penis but who was married a couple of times (to women).

‘Leather Apron’ (John Pizer) was depicted as a fey gay (or that was the impression given).

An opportunity missed I thought. 

Some people put as little as a penny in the collection bucket. The audience nevertheless were very well behaved throughout. My partner fell asleep (a large area and we were able to sit at the back). 

Few posters at the Fringe in 2021

It sort of reminded me of a production of Dorian Gray (merit-wise) that I saw up here a few years ago. Oscar Wilde would have taken out a lawsuit – to call it lacking in subtlety would be a gross understatement. 

The board with the posters at the end of the Cowgate is virtually the same board ALL over town. I haven’t seen Daniel Sloss or Craig Hill and somehow can’t imagine I ever will. The former I know got good reviews up here a few years ago.

In Hill Square (Hill Place), off Nicholson Street, there is a marquee with a raised platform. The venue is called The Space. On stage there were about six or seven young English girls by the sound of them singing pop songs a cappella, often with interpolation. It was Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive I heard. No disrespect to them, but hardly my bag. They had a reasonable audience.

It is a pity I couldn’t have said something nice about a show. The Free Fringe is hit and miss as expected. And this year there was not exactly a great deal to choose from…

The a cappella girls got a reasonable audience in Hill Square…

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Medical stuff, a fairground ride in my head and my normal abnormal…

After my recent jolly week in hospital, I seem to be back to my normal abnormal.

I try to go to sleep at night but it takes a bit of time. Then I wake up after two hours, go back to sleep and then wake up again every hour all the way through the night.

My normal abnormal.

Fortunately, I have not had serious vertigo (which I first had in January) since 1st June…

…until a couple of days ago.

In the afternoon I was feeling a bit unsteady. It was as if my brain were padded with suffocating cotton wool but I was also lightly swirly inside my head. So I went upstairs to my bedroom to lie down. 

When I did lie down on the bed, it was as if the soft brain tissue inside my head started whizzing round-and-round in a circle, faster and faster, parallel with the pillows… like a bicycle wheel or a fairground ride whizzing round and round, faster and faster, parallel with the ground but with centrifugal force trying to spin it off out of control and out of my head. 

I was able to stop this by lying on my left side not my right side, with my left ear on the pillow instead of my right ear; and by sitting up.

Around teatime, I was standing vertically again, so OK and went out thinking fresh air might help, but was a little wobbly inside my head, as if my brain were telling me it was not altogether in total control of how my feet worked nor safe controlling my overall balance.

I went to bed around 8.30pm and got to sleep around 12.50am, then woke up around 2.50am with my tongue, the roof of my mouth, the insides of my cheeks and my throat all parched totally dry – no lubrication, no liquid of any type anywhere. And I woke up once every hour through the night with the same thing, having to drink water to stop the parched mouth.

So, as I say, back to my normal abnormal.

Going to the toilet, I was a little unsteady on my feet. Going from my bedroom door to the toilet door, I pass the top of the stairs and, for safety, made sure the ends of my fingers touched both the edge of my bedroom’s door frame and my toilet’s doorframe, just in case I toppled into the gap between and fell down the stairs.

Swings and roundabouts, though.

There are the dreams.

For most of my life I went to sleep very fast at night and slept soundly, waking very slowly in the morning. What this seemed to mean in practice was that I was never aware of having dreams. Perhaps once every six or nine months if I was awoken in mid-dream by something like a noise or whatever.

So I think back then, because I went into deep sleep quickly at the start of the night and took a long non-deep-sleep time to wake in the morning, I never remembered dreams.

I always wished I could remember my dreams, because I like surreality.

Now, waking up virtually every hour throughout the night, I sometimes do remember the dreams. But they are not surreal. They are realistic, narrative and linear.

Swings and roundabouts.

Perhaps now, when I’m awake, it feels surreal. And, when I’m dreaming, it seems real.

The kidney doctor is phoning me tomorrow.

Their latest guess is it might be renal sarcoidosis but, as this has been going on for around fourteen months – since at least June last year – that’s just another guesstimate to explore.

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Filed under Medical, Psychology

The birth of the movie industry’s admirable Toad of Shame award…

Certain bursts of original thinking should be celebrated.

One such is ‘The Toad of Shame’.

There is a private Facebook group called Crew Stories for members of film & TV crews. 

Someone posted on it the question: “What ‘traditions’ have you started or taken part in??”

Prop person Manuel John Baca replied a propos the TV series True Blood:


Until Covid hit, I was in charge of The Toad of Shame. An actual toad (but probably a frog) that I found flattened and dried while in the Santa Monica mountains filming. 

Rutger Hauer with his Toad and Manuel Baca…

I laminated and attached a lanyard to it. 

If anyone did anything to impede the filming process such as phone ringing, being late, breaking something, snoring while rolling etc…, that person would have to wear the Toad for the day, or until someone else did something wrong that day. 

It has its own Instagram page with lots of cast and crew wearing it. Rutger Hauer wore it!!… 

I believe his phone rang while we were rolling.


Actor Stephen Moyer, who played a vampire on the True Blood series, confirmed:


Our assistant property master @Truebloodhbo Manuel Baca found a flattened toad up at Greer Ranch in Malibu. (This is where we shoot most of our exteriors.) 

The three of them “did what any self respecting ‘toad finder’ would do in the circumstances….”

The poor little toad had all the air and blood and gubbins squashed out of him. So Manuel, Mike Horn (on set dressing) and Greg Manke (first assistant property master) did what any self respecting ‘toad finder’ would do in the circumstances. They laminated it. Within a few days it had a lanyard on it.

And before long… When any member of the cast or crew were late, or broke something, or their phone went off… They would be awarded with the ‘Toad’. 

At the end of the season, the crew member with the most ‘Toads’ throughout the season would be awarded a rather hideous trophy adorned with golden toads and be forced to make a speech.

The aim is for our fabulous toad to become an industry standard.


Digital Spy, reporting on a True Blood panel at Comic Con 2014, wrote:


Kristin Bauer van Straten got the Toad of Shame twice in her last week, once when her phone alarm went off because she was trying to bid on some plates on eBay! 

Deborah Ann Woll believed she committed a toad offence…

Deborah Ann Woll says she asked for the toad – she believed she committed a toad-worthy offence when she knocked over a prop beer barrel and got the floor all sticky. 

Everyone said it was okay, but she replied: “I’m not made of glass, give me the f**king toad!”


On Instagram, Rachel Bloom, co-creator and star of the TV series Crazy Ex-Girlfriend added:


This tradition continued when Manuel joined #crazyexgirlfriend. In our final season, the whole show went a little toad crazy, with numerous people getting the toad every day and friend turning on friend to throw someone under the toad bus.


Let us hope the Toad can survive Covid and be revived…

Some of the proud former winners of the Toad of Shame award on Instagram…

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Filed under Humor, Humour, Movies