Memories of eccentric real life in 2001

Again, no time to write a blog so, again, some extracts from my e-diary, this time in 2001:


MONDAY 26th MARCH, 2001

An Italian archaeologist told me a true story from the Western Desert in World War Two.

In some battle between the Eighth Army and the Afrika Corps, a British tank got hit by a shell which wrecked the tank and embedded itself in it but did not explode. There was no way out for the crew. The British won the battle and, afterwards, the British (presumably the Royal Engineers) tried to get into the tank to see if any of the crew were still alive. It took time but, when they opened up a hole, the first thing they saw was the tank commander sitting back, relaxed, smoking a pipe and surrounded by high explosive shells and the bodies of his dead crew. He had tried everything to get out but found he couldn’t. So, as he knew there was nothing he could do, he lit up his pipe.

TUESDAY 27th MARCH

I was in a tube train coming home. A mad man started talking in a very sane and reasonable tone of voice to the whole carriage:

“My house,” he said. “It’s so big. It’s worth four and a half million pounds… Do you want some spuds?”

As he continued, in the same very reasonable tone of voice, a blind man came into the carriage and his brow furrowed, confused at the sane-sounding man saying strange things which had – without sight – no context in which he could put them.

WEDNESDAY 28th MARCH

A Bournemouth film student told me:

I used to walk past two women every day who stood on their doorsteps in all weathers and gossiped about the people on the street. Once they told my dad that they liked his new coffee table – despite never having been in our house! 

THURSDAY 29th MARCH

In the evening, BBC1 had paid £280,000 for a one hour interview with gangster Reggie Kray, recorded a few days before his death. Reggie said that he killed Jack The Hat McVitie because the man “was a vexation to the spirit”. Of the killing, he said: “I wanted to do it neater than I did, but I didn’t get round to it.”

FRIDAY 30th MARCH

At lunchtime, I went to see a fan of imprisoned criminal Charles Bronson. Her entire bedroom walls and the walls of her upstairs rooms were covered with immensely detailed pastel-covered drawings and poems by Charlie himself. Downstairs, two massive light brown dogs with squashed black faces slept in the kitchen and the living room walls were covered with pictures of dogs, dog breeding certificates and a framed cartoon drawing of Laurel & Hardy.

A female friend of hers was also there. The friend mentioned that her mother (the friend’s mother) was obsessed by motor racing driver Damon Hill. In her living room, she has a tyre from a Formula One racing car, signed by Damon Hill, which she has made into a coffee table by simply putting a sheet of glass on top of it. She occasionally talks to the wheel and, when the family go out in their car, she has a life-size cut-out of Damon Hill who sits in the front passenger seat (with a seat belt round it) while she drives and her husband and daughter sit in the rear seat.

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The Eccentric Party: is it a surprisingly sensible choice for the General Election?

I proudly wear an Eccentric Party rosette

I very proudly wear an Eccentric Party rosette

When I chatted to comedian Al Murray in this blog last year, he told me he was writing a book about medieval fools.

“Fools were very important,” he told me, “because they spoke the truth. There are examples of them giving the king bad news because no-one else dared. The fool had a licence to speak truth to the powerful.”

And now, of course, Al – and/or his comic creation The Pub Landlord – is standing for Parliament in the General Election next month. The fact Al also has a national tour to publicise is, I am sure, totally coincidental. Al Murray is no fool.

Nor, it seems, are members of the new Eccentric Party.

Yesterday afternoon, I went to see them launch their latest Parliamentary candidate in Uxbridge.

Lord Toby Jug. leader of the Eccentric Party

Lord Toby Jug. leader of the Eccentric Party

The Party leader is Lord Toby Jug.

“I was named Toby Jug,” he told me, “by our late great spiritual leader, Screaming Lord Sutch. I was in his Monster Raving Loony Party for 27 years and contested four General Elections.

“But the Monster Raving Loony Party has been pulled in different directions. I wanted it to stay true to the founder, Screaming Lord Sutch, which was getting a serious message with a bit of fun. Whereas now they’re middle aged men in fancy dress more concerned with standing in a local pub reading the jokes out of the Beano and using them as policies. But I wish them well. That’s life.”

The Eccentric Party’s policies include:

  • putting super glue in lip balm to fight obesity
  • a 10% phone bill discount for people who stutter

The Monster Raving Loony Party says: “the reason for Toby’s dismissal from the party is his continued personal attacks on members of the party and on other groups while claiming to be representing the Loony Party.”

Yesterday, Lord Toby Jug told me: “I left because they didn’t like my stance – as told to national newspapers – on Nigel Farage and UKIP. I said UKIP claimed to be fruitcakes, loonies and crackpots but that’s our area. They tried to nick our Holy Grail of loonies. Another reason I left was because I met Nigel Farage and some of his sick-you-fonts and I thought they were closet racists and decided that should be put in the public domain. UKIP are far too eccentric, far too potty. Extremists.”

Some of the Party in Uxbridge High Street yesterday

Some of the Party parade in Uxbridge High Street yesterday

“You’re standing for Huntingdon,” I said. “Was that (former Prime Minister) John Major’s constituency?”

“It was, yes. Now it’s Jonathan Djanogly’s, a Conservative, a very wealthy man. They live in a different world. The only Tory worth voting for is a lava-tory. These people who live in mansions are nothing to do with the ordinary people.”

“You consider yourself a normal person?” I asked.

“Compared to them, yes,” said Lord Toby Jug. I’ve met many politicians over the years and they’ve asked me to join their so-called sensible parties and I’ve said No because I would lose my whole identity as an independent free thinker and eccentric.”

“Why,” I asked, “did they want you in their party?”

“They wanted some of the publicity I got.”

So why is Chris Dowling standing – the man the Eccentric Party were launching yesterday – the Eccentric Party candidate for Uxbridge & South Ruislip?

Spot The Loony - Chris Dowling and Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls

Play Spot The Loony – Chris Dowling and the Labour Party’s Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls

“I’m standing, basically,” he told me, “because I’m a musician, a singer-songwriter. I’m doing this for publicity. With my £500 deposit, I’m going to get more publicity than you can shake a stick at – just by standing against Boris Johnson. Also, I stood against Boris as a Monster Raving Loony Party candidate for Mayor of London. I played guitar with Screaming Lord Sutch for ten years. Now the Chairman of the Monster Raving Loony party is standing in this constituency so I’ve jumped ship and gone with Lord Toby Jug.”

“Have you any policies?” I asked.

“When I stood last time,” Chris told me, “in Barking, against Nick Griffin of the BNP – I stood with no policies at all. This election, I’m standing on one policy: the virtual Parliament.”

“Eh?” I asked.

“MPs have robbed us for so many years now with their expenses and all that. We should leave them all in their own constituencies and do it all on Skype and online. They can have video conferencing and that would negate all their expenses. Politicians are always saying they want us to make cuts, so let’s start with them.

“I mean it when I talk about a virtual Parliament. It would save millions of pounds each year to have them in their own constituencies – where they should be anyway – instead of coming down to Westminster and sponging off of us.

Didgeridoo Pete, Minister of Didgeridoos

Didgeridoo Pete, Minister of, yes, Didgeridoos

“Almost everything is already online now. Why not have government online as well? You watch. In a few years time, what we’re talking about now is not going to be that far-fetched. We phoned up a video-conferencing firm and asked how much it would cost. There are 650 MPs and we could do it for less than £1,200 a year each. Online in their constituencies, debating everything. They don’t need transport to London and hotel expenses every week.”

“Automatically,” I told him, “I am thinking that’s a ridiculous idea but, of course, in 50 years time, there may not be office blocks – most people may work from home.”

“We’re always ahead,” said Lord Toby Jug.

“I was a Raving Loony for years,” said Chris, “and there are already five Raving Loony policies that have come to fruition:

  • Passports for pets
  • All-day pub-opening
  • Scrapping the 11-plus
  • Votes for 18-year-olds (it was 21 at the time)
  • Commercial radio

I asked: “Doesn’t commercial radio pre-date the Monster Raving Loony Party?”

“No,” said Chris. “The Monster Raving Loony Party has been going 50 years.”

Screaming Lord Sutch (in hat) (Photograph by Colin Dale, Radio Sutch)

Screaming Lord Sutch (in hat) in his heyday (Photograph by Colin Dale, Radio Sutch)

“Since 1963,” said Lord Toby. “It started as the National Teenage Party.”

“Some of the policies,” I said, “don’t sound that loony.”

“The policies ain’t that loony,” said Chris.

“We want more money spent on mental health,” said Lord Toby Jug.

“To have less of it?” I asked.

Lord Toby Jug ignored me. “That’s a very serious subject,” he said. “The same with addiction.”

“Diction?” I asked, genuinely surprised.

“Addiction,” said Lord Toby Jug.

“Even though this is still the greatest democracy in the world,” said Chris, “the political system in this country is outdated and it needs to be revamped. I’m gonna win by a landslide majority here.”

“Against Boris?” I asked.

“Yeah. He’s a bigger loony than I am.”

“I do wonder,” I said, “who is going to be next Mayor of London. Because people voted-in Red Ken, who was a bit eccentric, then Boris, who is more eccentric. They seem to vote for interesting people to be Mayor of London, not for parties.”

Njambi doorsteps London Mayor Boris Johnson at Westfield, Stratford

Boris – a future Prime Minister? (with comic Njambi McGrath)

“Sooner or later,” said Chris, “Boris Johnson will be the Prime Minister of this country.”

“I think so too,” I agreed.

“Everything I’ve seen about Boris Johnson,” said Chris, “he’s just seemed a buffoon and I quite like that about him.”

“Well,” I said, “he’s a buffoon who, at one time, was simultaneously editing The Spectator AND being an apparently quite good constituency MP AND being a TV personality on things like Have I Got News For You. He’s no fool.

“Red Ken – eccentric – Boris Johnson – eccentric – Maybe you should not be standing for Parliament, but as Mayor of London. “

“Well,” said Chris. “I went for that last time, but there’s so much red tape involved and you have to put up £10,000, because they don’t want the likes of me and you there.”

“£10,000?” I said, shocked. “It’s only £500 to stand as an MP! But you’re quite serious about the politics…”

“Not really,” said Chris.

“Well,” I added, “in an anarchist way.”

“Yes, in an anarchist way,” agreed Chris.

“It’s not a case of winning,” said Lord Toby Jug. “It’s a case of standing and putting your policies forward. “

“But a lot of people won’t do it,” said Chris. “It’s like they’re sofa referees: you watch the football and you shout at the TV screen but you don’t play. At least we stand up and do it.

Russell Brand says Don’t vote,” I prompted.

“Yeah,” said Chris. “But Russell Brand is a prick.”

Lord Toby Jug added: “He is to politics what King Herod was to babysitters. Politicians are just actors to get publicity for themselves and will do absolutely anything and lie about anything to get your vote. We ain’t like that. We are an honest political party. Peace and love through the medium of humour. There’s enough hatred in the world. We’re very lucky to live in this democracy.”

“We are,” agreed Lord Toby Jug.

Joshua Francis, Eccentric Party’s Minister for Ovine Philosophy

Joshua Francis, Minister for Ovine Theology

The Eccentric Party are recording a campaign song this Friday – Eccentric Guitars, written by Joshua Francis, their Minister for Ovine Theology. It will be released on iTunes and YouTube, probably next week.

They are also having a fund-raising party this Saturday at their party HQ – the Crown & Treaty pub in Uxbridge.

I have a suspicion that the Eccentric Party knows how to party.

And, lest we forget, to quote Al Murray: “The fool (has) a licence to speak truth to the powerful.”

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This blog: Funny Peculiar, Funny Haha?

Funny Peculiar or Funny HaHa?

Funny Peculiar or Funny HaHa or possibly just criminal?

Normal blogging should be resumed tomorrow.

Today, as yesterday, because of lack of time to actually write a blog, here is a copied-and-pasted extract from my e-diary – another fleeting slice of ordinary, normally un-recorded life, this time from exactly 15 years ago.


THURSDAY 23rd MARCH 2000 – PARIS

I phoned my mother in the UK. Yesterday, she had the injection which was supposed to kill off the nerve. It was VERY painful and had no effect except to give her even more pain for a while. The pain has not stopped at all. She said she would not go back to the doctor, presumably because of the pain of the injections.

I got an email from someone working at the Bloomberg TV station in London. It said: Being here’s one of the weirdest experiences you can ever have in a TV career.  I mean, where else can you be part of a real American cult in action?

He gave no explanation.

Another e-mail arrived from a female friend in London:

Well, egg retrieval was bloody painful, really astonishingly so (apparently I have ‘bouncy’ ovaries and it took quite a bit of stabbing to get follicles out! One ovary had hidden behind the other!) but other than being very period-pain-y afterwards, I felt OK. Great after an afternoon nap – got up & exercised. Do hope I can keep this strength and positivity during chemo.

Jim Morrison’s grave sans cigarettes (Photo by Suzanne GW)

Jim Morrison’s grave sans cigarettes at Père Lachaise (Photograph by Suzanne GW)

FRIDAY 24th MARCH – PARIS

While visiting Père Lachaise cemetery, someone (French) blithely walked up to a sad old lady watering flowers at the front of her husband’s grave and asked where Apollinaire’s grave was. The old woman sadly shook her head and, with Bambi eyes, said she didn’t know. The death date on her husband’s grave was 1984, so she had been mourning him for 16 years.

Jim Morrison’s grave had lots of cigarette butts on it (oddly all filter-tipped) and, standing atop it, an empty bottle of Jack Daniels whisky and some folded papers: presumably poems left by a fan.

The most popular grave – awash with new flowers – was a 19th century spiritualist’s. One mother and teenage daughter came along; the mother touched the side of the grave with both hands then turned and clasped her daughter’s head in the hands, presumably transferring the power or spirituality of the dead man.

On the back of the grave was a notice in French saying this sort of thing was specifically discouraged because, throughout his life, the man had fought against superstition and believed in reincarnation and the transient nature of death.


So It Goes.

As the Tralfamadorians say.

Today is the last day to vote for the UK’s Funniest Blog – This blog has, I think slightly oddly, been shortlisted.

I like to think it is maybe in some Funny Peculiar category rather than a Funny Haha one.

I got an e-mail this morning from a company called Fast Locksmith in Vancouver. They attached an infographic on “the most famous burglars & thieves in history”. They thought “some of (my) website’s visitors might find it an interesting read.”

I can only assume their search engine found the words CRIME, VANCOUVER tagged to my site quite often. The infographic does not display properly. It is probably spam.

I await my nomination for Canada’s Best Crime Blog.

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Six days in March: mafiosi in Prague, war in Serbia, Yanks in Amsterdam and a flying saucer in the Thames Valley

I have no time to transcribe the blog I should be writing today so, as always in such cases, you get a copy-and-paste from my e-diary – in this case, starting today 16 years ago in 1999


MONDAY 22nd MARCH 1999 – AMSTERDAM

Amsterdam (Photo by Massimo Catarinella)

Amsterdam (Photo by Massimo Catarinella)

There are precipitous stairs up to my new hotel. This, as with other houses in Amsterdam, is because there are two storeys below the two-storey hotel and people live vertically because, at one time, house tax was based on the width of your house so everything was built narrow.

The hotel is run by two thin gay men, probably in their late-40s or mid-50s, heavily wrinkled like white prunes.

The room has a brown carpet, pink bedsheets and bedspread; high light green walls with horizontal hanging ivy atop one of them. When trams pass, there is a thunderous rattling through the tall, single-glazed window. I think I may move soon.

TUESDAY 23rd MARCH – AMSTERDAM

Dinner with the Englishman who runs the TV station where I am freelancing. We previously worked together at TV stations in Prague in 1994 and 1995. He says Prague has changed since I was there; the various foreign mafias have taken over large sections of society; it started, he says, with the privatisation of taxis. The TV operation we both worked for in Prague was sold (at a loss) by UIH to Time-Warner last week; but, in return, UIH got Time-Warner cable interests in Hungary and elsewhere in Eastern Europe. Since the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, Eastern Europe has become the new Wild West.

WEDNESDAY 24th MARCH – AMSTERDAM

Dinner with three workmates. One of them observed that the Dutch give a bad time to Germans – shop assistants are coldly difficult to them in shops etc – because of the Second World War. As we ate, NATO planes and cruise missiles were starting to attack Yugoslavia/Serbia/Montenegro/Kosovo.

THURSDAY 25th MARCH – AMSTERDAM

In McDonalds, the assistant was giving a hard, contemptuous time to a well-dressed family of Russians who spoke very bad English.

FRIDAY 26th MARCH – AMSTERDAM

At breakfast in the hotel, there was an American couple: he was wide and tall like some American Football player, she was much smaller and much younger. The TV was tuned to BBC1 News. The American couple had missed the start of the bombing of Serbia, presumably because they were travelling around. Their abbreviated conversation went:

Him: “What’s going on?”

Me: “NATO has started bombing Serbia.”

Her: “What’s NATO?”

Him: “North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. It’s…what is it?…The big six?” (LOOKS AT ME)

Me: (CONFUSED)

Her: “I thought that was just a trade organisation.”

Him: “No, it does some policing, too.”

At Schiphol Airport in the evening, there was a group of very jolly people in their 20s – about a dozen – on the travelator in front of me. It turned out they were going to my Gate. And they were drunk – amiable, jolly and drunk. It came as no surprise they were travelling on Finnair to Helsinki as the only times I had encountered Finns before – in Leningrad in 1985 – they were all amiable, jolly and staggeringly drunk. Something to do with the strict drink laws in Finland: at that time, Finns came across to Leningrad, sold denim jeans and Western goods to Russians and got very charmingly drunk on vodka.

My friend Lynn’s partner Frank had asked me to get him some schnapps at the airport duty free – stuff you can only get in Schiphol. It comes in an opaque brown bottle. I couldn’t see it, so I asked a man who was stacking the drinks shelves: “Do you have any schnapps?”

Inevitably, I was standing right by the schnapps: he pointed to two different brands, both in white bottles.

“I was asked to get some schnapps in a brown bottle,” I said: “Do you have any in a brown bottle?”

He looked at me as if I was mad, almost shrinking backwards, and replied:

“No, we do not have schnapps in a brown bottle.”

The EasyJet plane to Luton took off two hours late because:

a) the incoming plane broke down in Luton and
b) they had to fly a replacement plane into Amsterdam and
c) they said: “Air traffic over Western Europe has been disrupted by NATO”

I suppose squadrons of giant B-52 bombers taking off from Gloucestershire and flying to Serbia would do that.

SATURDAY 27th MARCH – BOREHAMWOOD

John Ward drives home in his Wardmobile

John Ward driving to his home in his self-made Wardmobile

My chum mad inventor John Ward has built a flying saucer. Today, with his son, he was collecting it from a garage in Weybridge then coming round to collect some stuff from me on his way home to Northamptonshire.

On the way to me, he was stopped by a Thames Valley police car with flashing lights and siren. Inside was a Sergeant Whittaker.

“What do you think you are doing?” asked Sergeant Whittaker.

He told John they had looked at their cameras and seen John and his son driving along the road in their car pulling an object brightly painted in fluorescent orange, red, yellow and blue.

“You are a distraction,” Sergeant Whittaker told John.

“Thankyou,” said John.

“Don’t be flippant,” Sergeant Whittaker warned him.

Sergeant Whittaker then appeared to flounder around trying to find something on which to arrest John.

“Have you got a licence for that?” Sergeant Whittaker asked, pointing at the flying saucer.

“It’s a trailer,” John replied.

“It has a seat in it,” observed Sergeant Whittaker.

“Ah,” said John, “But it has no engine in it: so it is legally a trailer.”

John Ward knows about these things.

At this point, an old man on a motorcycle passed by and was so amazed by the flying saucer and the police car with the flashing lights that he lost control of his motorcycle, hit the central barrier and fell off.

“Look!” Sergeant Whittaker told John. “He was distracted by your… your… thing!”

“No,” argued John. “It’s all your flashing red and blue and white lights distracted him.”

Sergeant Whittaker said accusingly: “Why didn’t you tell us you were coming? We could have arranged a police escort.”

“You’re joking,” said John.

“No I’m not…..Where are you going with it?”

“I’m dropping in at a friend’s in Borehamwood to collect some stuff, then taking it home.”

“Oh no you’re not. You’re a distraction. You’re taking it straight home.”

At this point, John phoned me on his mobile.

“Are you phoning the press?” the sergeant asked.

“Not yet,” said John.

“I know you from somewhere,” Sergeant Whittaker said. “Have I seen you on television?”

“No, I’m not him,” said John. “Reg, the bloke with the glasses in Coronation Street. People sometimes confuse me for him. But I’m not him.”

“No, you’re not him,” agreed Sergeant Whittaker, “but I think I’ve seen you somewhere.”

Eventually, Sergeant Whittaker got in John’s car and his policeman mate drove the police car. They set off in convoy, lights flashing and escorted John’s flying saucer to the border of the next police area – where a Buckinghamshire police car took over.

“Is that it?” the Buckinghamshire policeman asked when he saw the flying saucer. He had obviously been expecting something like a vast over-hanging mobile home on a pantechnicon.

When the Buckinghamshire police car reached the borders of Northamptonshire, there was a Northamptonshire police car waiting for them.

“Oh,” the Northamptonshire policeman said on seeing John, “It’s you.”

“Have we met?” John asked him.

“No,” said the Northamptonshire policeman.

When the other car had gone, the Northamptonshire policeman told John: “They’re mad down south. It’s a waste of time. They should be out catching criminals. I’m going back to the station.”

And off he went.

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Filed under Czech Republic, Eccentrics, Holland, Police, Yugoslavia

Frankly, I prefer North Korea to Paris

Afternoon tea with Elf includes interesting conversation

I suspect Elf Lyons can pronounce French better than I can

Yesterday afternoon, I bumped into comedian/actress Elf Lyons at the Soho Theatre Bar. She had only recently returned from Australia and, next week, is off to Paris. I had just been to Shepherd’s Bush. I think I may have annoyed God at some point.

I have been to North Korea twice (in 1986 and 2012) but have only been to Paris once (in 2000). I think this was a good decision, if you can call it a decision.

I was fascinated by North Korea; I can’t say that Paris held the same attraction when I went there, although Montmartre was nice.

I was in Paris on 21st March – exactly 15 years ago.

I was staying with two French sisters.

One of the local schools was called Lycée Lino Ventura, after the Italian actor. This seemed slightly odd to me.

I said to one of the sisters:

“Maybe in Britain, we should name a school after Michael Caine.”

She mis-heard Michael Caine as my cocaine.

Confusion ensued.

I managed to break my denture when I was there (don’t ask). Later, after having my denture repaired, I tried to thank the dental technician by saying: “Merci beaucoup,” but, because of the remnants of my Scots accent which makes me pronounce -oo- sounds idiosyncratically, it apparently sounded like I was saying to her Merci. Beau cul which means “Thankyou. Nice ass.”

It’s only flipping’ Noel Gallagher, ain’t it?

It’s only flippin’ Noel Gallagher, ain’t it?

I am not one of life’s great linguists.

In the evening, we went to see the English band Oasis perform in concert at Le Bataclan Club. The rowdy audience had been indulging in English football chants, a large flag of St George was being waved and there were groups of very obvious Brits. At one point, Noel Gallagher said: “Is there anybody out there who isn’t from flippin’ England?”

That is my main memory of Paris.

That I heard Noel Gallagher unexpectedly use the word “flippin”.

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Things that did not happen – the solar eclipse and John Otway, rock superstar

This morning’s Daily Telegraph touted the solar eclipse

Today’s Daily Telegraph touted the eclipse as very Big News indeed

On 11th August 1999, I was working at HTV, on the outskirts of Cardiff.

At 11.11am, there was a 97-98% eclipse of the sun over Cardiff. Videotape editor Richard got hold of a dentist’s mirror (they are also used by electronic engineers) and stuck it in the ground, reflecting the sun onto a piece of white card. We also saw the eclipse with the naked eye as it passed behind light clouds on the edge of a large dark grey cloud.

I had not expected to be impressed, but seeing the partial eclipse in the sky with my naked eyes was strange, especially with the air slightly and strangely chilly for no reason – there was no breeze, just a chill and, in the far distance, the sound of a car alarm which sounded like the theme music to The Twilight Zone.

On the ground and in the air, there was an eerie light, neither normal daylight nor dusk, as if the light was in the air itself, not coming from any specific direction. Richard said that during a full eclipse there was total darkness in the sky above, with the stars visible, but on the horizon there is a lighter colour – as if there were a 360˚ sunrise.

The streets of Borehamwood were not impressed at 09.31am today

Streets of Borehamwood were not in awe at 09.31am today

This morning, goaded-on by my eternally-un-named friend, I roamed the streets of Borehamwood awaiting the promised 85% solar eclipse at 09.31am.

The skies of Borehamwood were a uniform light grey and the streets of Borehamwood were not thronged with expectant masses.

At 09.31am – the appointed time – nothing was visible.

A llama remained unimpressed even at 10.10am on the Isle of Dogs

A llama remained unimpressed even at 10.10am on the Isle of Dogs (Photograph by M-E-U-N-F)

A teenager later interviewed by BBC TV News at, I think, Leicester racecourse (no, I don’t know why) said she found the eclipse “illuminating”.

My eternally-un-named friend, at an animal farm on the Isle of Dogs in London (no, I don’t know why either), was reduced to sending me a photo of a disgruntled-looking llama.

And a sign in a field saying: PLEASE DO NOT FEED OR THROW FOOD TO THE SHETLAND PONIES – THEY ARE ON A SPECIAL DIET. Why the ponies are on a diet, I do not know.

The BBC obviously have better links with The Almighty than I and my eternally-un-named friend did in Borehamwood and the Isle of Dogs. They reported a “breathtaking” solar eclipse.

But there are better things than succeeding in the conventional sense.

The BBC reporting what I didn’t see

Last night, I went to see cult music act John Otway perform at The Good Ship venue in Kilburn. He holds what must surely be some sort of record – having had one hit song (Cor Baby, That’s Really Free in 1977) and then getting a second hit song a whole 25 years later (Bunsen Burner – 2002).

In a BBC poll in 1999, his song Beware Of The Flowers Cause I’m Sure They’re Going To Get You Yeah was voted the seventh greatest lyric of all time.

John Otway at The Good Ship last night

John Otway was at The Good Ship last night

As John pointed out with flawless logic last night, the BBC vote was for the greatest lyrics written in the 2,000 years since Jesus Christ was born, coming seventh meant he was a “better lyricist than Bob Dylan” and, as Paul McCartney’s Yesterday came sixth in the poll, Cor Baby, That’s Really Free is “almost as good a song as Yesterday”.

John Otway’s 1990 autobiography was titled Cor Baby, That’s Really Me – Rock and Roll’s Greatest Failure and his second autobiography  (2010) is entitled I Did It Otway.

I have to say the self-styled Greatest Failure in Rock ’n’ Roll seems very happy with it: a lesson to us all, perhaps.

There are more interesting things in the world than a partial solar eclipse.

YouTube has a clip of John Otway singing Bunsen Burner on BBC TV’s Top of The Pops

And he is also HERE with Wild Willy Barratt and Cor Baby, That’s Really Free

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Comic Matt Price: hypnotherapy, sperm, Australia and marijuana

Matt Price in Camden Town last night

Matt Price, natural born storyteller, in Camden last night

Last Sunday’s increasingly prestigious Grouchy Club Podcast was supposed to be recorded with Kate Copstick et moi talking to comic Matt Price before the second Best of Natural Born Storytellers shows at the Lost Theatre in Stockwell, London. Alas, Copstick was ill, so it was done from her flat.

Matt Price runs monthly Natural Born Storytellers shows with Michael Kossew in Camden Town and, last night, I went along to see this month’s show. As always, true stories told straight: extraordinary, revealing, cathartic, sometimes funny, sad, empathic. Matt had just returned from performing at the Perth and Adelaide comedy festivals.

“Was it was your first trip to Australia?” I asked.

“Yes,” Matt told me, “My friends were running a book on whether I would get deep vein thrombosis. But I wore the deep vein thrombosis socks and took an aspirin. The other problem was I used to have a phobia about flying. But Martha (his partner, comic Martha McBrier) is a qualified hypnotherapist. She tried to hypnotise me and it kind-of worked.”

“She’s a qualified hypnotherapist?” I asked, surprised.

Martha McBrier

Martha McBrier encountered a major problem as a sperm

“Yes,” said Matt. “As part of her training, she had to be hypnotised herself and she did past-life regression. They regressed her and asked: Who are you? And she said: I’m a sperm.”

“That’s not strictly a past life,” I suggested. “That’s more the beginning of her current life.”

Ignoring this – I thought valid – point, Matt continued: “They asked her: Are you OK?”

“Was it,” I suggested, “a bit crowded in among all the other sperm?”

“No,” said Matt. She told them: Everybody wants to go swimming and I’m not really into swimming and they’re all so competitive – That’s a true story.

“She did encourage me to do hypnotherapy, though, so I got some tapes and listened to them. The first thing I did afterwards was fly over to Hungary and normally I would have been really frightened but I wasn’t. And then I flew to Australia and back again without any bother. I even really enjoyed it.”

“Australia,” I observed, “is just a big desert with bits round the edge.”

“But,” said Matt brightly, “I found that banter and taking-the-piss is a universal thing. And some of the heckles were very helpful. You would ask What’s a bogan? (the equivalent of a chav in England or Ned in Scotland) and they would explain it in depth because they really want you to know about their culture.”

“Their culture?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Matt. “One guy got up and left after I’d been doing my act for about 30 seconds and he came back in about two minutes later saying: Oh sorry, mate, I was thirsty. I got me and me missus a beer and I got one for you as well. Australia must be the only place in the world where you can be heckled with generosity.”

I asked Matt: “What was your show called?”

A British Bloke’s Guide to Being a Man.

“And,” I asked, “your Edinburgh Fringe show this year?”

“I don’t want to tell you the title,” replied Matt. “Not until it is in the Programme. What I do have is story I’m finally able to tell, because the person involved in it is no longer involved in illegal activity. Basically, in December 2005, I received a package through the post and that package was illegal…”

“Not something wrapped in another stab vest?” I asked.

Matt Price demonstrates in a Camden street that the stab vest does not fit

Last year, Matt Price demonstrated in a Camden street that his stab vest did not fit

“No. It was 10 oz of marijuana sent to me by someone very close to me as a present and, because that person had not given me many presents before and because I’m not really involved in that world, I did not really want to… I didn’t know what to do… I didn’t want to give it away. Giving away weed when you’re not involved in that world is very hard. And I didn’t want to throw it away. And I didn’t want to sell it, because that would make me a drug dealer. So it’s all about what I did in order to get rid of this weed and find it a good home. I am going to promote the show as Cornish Breaking Bad meets Only Fools and Horses. It is as ridiculous as it sounds.”

“You have met some dodgy people,” I observed. “I know you know dodgy people in three countries – Scotland, England and Turkey.”

“Yes. Someone I know bought a car at an auction and pretended it was a police car.”

Pretended it was a police car?” I asked.

“Yeah. He wrote POLITE on the side of the car and he and his friend were driving around with a radio, listening to what the police were saying and then following cars. They ended up stopping a police car just for a bet.”

“What happened?” I asked.

“They got arrested,” said Matt.

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Filed under Comedy, Crime, Drugs