Uncensored: What two Brits thought while watching the Royal Wedding…

Yesterday, Britain’s Prince Harry married US actress Meghan Markle at Windsor Castle.

This is a genuine SMS text message exchange between two Brits who were watching the BBC’s live wedding coverage. One was watching on a TV set; the other had an iPad. There was a delay of about 40 seconds between pictures appearing on the iPad.


BRIT 1: 

The mother of the bride looks sweet. Classy outfit

BRIT 2: 

I was about to text about and use exactly the same word – sweet. What on earth must be going through the woman’s head?

BRIT 1:

I am now slightly worried for her feeling like needing the loo with the stress and excitement.

BRIT 2:

Good point! And she seems to be alone. You would think they would have given her someone to sit with.

BRIT 1:

Nah that would be a drag if you didn’t know them and they wanted to talk etc. She’s into yoga so should be OK.

BRIT 2:

Let’s hope she doesn’t fart.

BRIT 1:

Grace Kelly style?

BRIT 2:

Two of Harry’s ex-girlfriends are there… gulp. A pity his dad can’t be there! The mum has a black woman sitting next to her so maybe she DOES have a chum with her…

BRIT 1:

Not on my screen yet.

BRIT 2:

There’s been a couple of side shots. There’s a gap between them as they sit. Presumably to give the cameras a clear shot of mum. 

BRIT 1:

Oh.

BRIT 2:

In the vows, neither Harry nor Meghan has agreed to ‘obey’ the other.

BRIT 1:

Harry’s ears are very different from the wotsisname army affair guy

BRIT 2:

Ooh. You’re right. He has Charlie’s ears.

BRIT 1:

What was the bit in their vows where everyone laughed?

BRIT 2:

I don’t know. I didn’t understand the laugh bit.

BRIT 1:

You said sommat about not obeying. I’m making lunch.

BRIT 2:

They said they would love and cherish but neither said they would obey.

BRIT 1:

Solomon features a lot. FGS, now Martin Luther King.

BRIT 2:

God this Black Yank preacher is a bit OTT. Meghan loves him. Harry looks rightly bored. And her mum is looking bored. I like her mum. Haha Harry’s expression…

BRIT 1:

Yup a load of daggers in everyone’s head.

BRIT 2:

Camilla is hiding a titter with her hat and Kate is slightly smirking. 

BRIT 1:

Who is responsible for booking this preacher guy?

BRIT 2:

Meghan wanted him. I think Charlie is masking a smirk. I blame George III for this.

BRIT 1:

Are you sure it’s her idea? If so, first strike.

BRIT 2:

Fuck me. He’s got onto slavery now. Yup. She wanted him and an upcoming gospel choir. Prince Philip looks like he is thinking bad thoughts.

BRIT 1: The preacher is narrow minded. Let’s sacrifice him. I’m losing the will to live.

BRIT 2:

If Martin Luther King was like this, no wonder they shot him.

BRIT 1:

Just think of the meal after.

BRIT 2:

Harry must be reconsidering the marriage now. 

BRIT 1:

Hmmm…

BRIT 2:

Ah! One of the Fergie daughters was openly smirking. This preacher must surely be over-running. Jesus! On he goes! About love.

BRIT 1:

I am feeling hate.

BRIT 2:

Ha ha.

BRIT 1:

Solomon has been mentioned again. He must be winding up.

BRIT 2:

Take me to Syria.

BRIT 1:

Er no. This is a laugh.

BRIT 2:

Meghan is lapping it up.

BRIT 1:

OK. I’ve stopped laughing. Are you sure she’s not just acting about liking the preacher?

BRIT 2:

Naw. She wanted him. He’s gone mad now.

BRIT 1:

He’s mentioned the invention of fire. Next, the wheel? This could be even longer.

BRIT 2:

Where is an assassin when you need one?

BRIT 1:

Someone has got to cart him off. Men in white coats.

BRIT 2:

He paused and waited for applause at the end!! Now it’s the Gospel choir.

BRIT 1:

This rendition is too slow

BRIT 2:

Yes. Nothing special.

BRIT 1:

Haven’t we done this bit? They are getting married again.

BRIT 2:

Yes. I thought they had already got married. What was all that “I will” bit earlier where they were not going to obey each other? Maybe they are giving Harry the chance to change his mind after that awful preacher.

BRIT 1:

That preacher stuff really fucked up. 

BRIT 2:

The Yanks will be confused she is a Duchess not a Princess. Harry is very sweet. She’s on another planet.

BRIT 1:

She’s 36. Still time to realise different opinions.

BRIT 2:

Elton John has let himself go!

BRIT 1:

Your pictures are 40 seconds ahead of mine.

BRIT 2:

They have just got divorced.

BRIT 1:

Ha ha

BRIT 2:

Harry is running away down the aisle. Prince Philip is yelling racial obscenities. 

BRIT 1:

Now it’s like a Christmas type song.

BRIT 2:

Elton is having a heart attack.

BRIT 1:

Where is something more upbeat? It’s gone funereal.

BRIT 2:

Harry’s two ex-girlfriends are beating up Meghan. Charles is doing a Goons impression.

BRIT 1:

Has the preacher been burnt in a wicker man?

BRIT 2:

I like the way you think. They are going to have to suffer that preacher at the Reception. Now there is some decent black woman chaplain to the Queen. They could have had her instead of the Yank.

BRIT 1:

They should have jumped over a broom and stamped on a glass in a handkerchief. Yes woman chaplain much better.

BRIT 2:

There’s some Jewish bloke on now! What is that on his head?

BRIT 1:

Hello? He is Greek Orthodox!

BRIT 2:

Ah!!! That’s it. Confused the hell out of me. Where is the black preacher now? On his way to the Tower?

BRIT 1:

I like Christmas carols.

BRIT 2:

Yup, Awww. Prince Charles and Meghan’s mum smiled nicely at each other. Serena Williams appears to have  a yacht on her head. Do weddings always have a musical interlude?

BRIT 1:

Somehow I missed the “I now pronounce you man and wife” bit.

BRIT 2:

That was in the bit where they got married a second time. Remember it happened twice?

BRIT 1:

I was thinking I haven’t been to enough weddings to know. That preacher really addled it.

BRIT 2:

Posh Spice’s marriage is looking grim! On your screen now?

BRIT 1:

I’m missing screen by texting.

BRIT 2:

Harry and Meghan got married. Posh and Becks were looking grim-faced.

BRIT 1:

Ah.

BRIT 2:

This poor sod is cello-playing away and everyone is chatting through it.

BRIT 1:

Give her time to recover from crying at knowing she made a mistake with the preacher.

BRIT 2:

She lurved him.

BRIT 1:

I think this is the Young Musician of the Year on the cello.

BRIT 2:

Oh dear. Mum has been having a cry. At least the 2 year old bridesmaid didn’t cause chaos. Probably sedated!

BRIT 1:

No need to. It must be exhausting. The carriage procession won’t be interesting.

BRIT 2:

The Long Walk will look good. Kiss coming up!

BRIT 1:

Nah. I can return to jealousy of wealth. Wait to see how crazy she is. I had thought she was going to be more women’s lib.

BRIT 2:

I think she will wear the trousers.

BRIT 1:

Dress was a bit dull.

BRIT 2:

He has the benefit of a peaked cap to protect his eyes from the sun. She doesn’t. I wonder if she has to do that question test to become a British citizen. The one Brits can never answer correctly. Is Windsor a real medieval castle or some fake? It always looks too neat to be real.

BRIT 1

I like Prince Philip. He said he wants to come back as a deadly virus as too many people ruining planet. Might have mentioned that before. Nice weather for procession; nice for people who were waiting there. Horses aren’t used to being so close to crowd.

BRIT 2:

Presumably they have done something to avoid mass horse shitting in the streets of Windsor. Maybe corks in the royal horses’ bottoms. I am going to wander off now.

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Filed under Royal Family, Weddings

This $15 million woman can teach you to punctuate English sentences correctly

Susan Feehan has written a book about punctuation.

Called Make Punctuation Your Bitch: Punctuation Wrangling Without The Fuss.

The paperback is already on Amazon and the e-book comes out on Friday.

I talked to her. This is what happened.

Any punctuation mistakes are mine, not her’s… erm… hers.


JOHN: So you won’t be a fan of Molly Bloom’s soliloquy in Ulysses… Does punctuation matter? I don’t think spelling was uniform until Dr Johnson published his dictionary, was it? Before that, all that mattered was that other people understood what you meant. Same with punctuation, isn’t it?

“Not a book for GrammerNazis. They would take offence”

SUSAN: It’s not a book for GrammarNazis. They would take offence at the levity. I’ve done a couple of opening sections about Tribe 1 and Tribe 2. Tribe 1 are the GrammarNazis and Tribe 2 are the rest of us.

JOHN: So who is going to buy the book? The GrammarNazis are not going to buy it because they think they know everything and the illiterates won’t buy it because they can’t read.

SUSAN: It’s for people who just need a quick answer. I wrote it because, as a tutor, doing training courses, I have always wanted to look for examples.

JOHN: Examples of… ?

SUSAN: Say, for instance, brackets. You don’t want to wade through a whole load which has everything you DON’T want to know about brackets but one thing you do. So I have split everything into sections. It is quick and easy.

If it takes two minutes to look something up, you will do it.

If it takes ten minutes, you will blag your way through.

JOHN: You are a tutor. Whom do you tute?

SUSAN: I did have a stint at university mentoring students in newspaper production and, well, there’s publishers’ staff. People who just need a bit of a refresher. When they’re editing. Grammar, punctuation, whatever.

JOHN: Surely sub-editors should not need tutoring? If they don’t know it, they shouldn’t be employed.

SUSAN: Well, the thing is, sub-editing is now an entry job. When I was first training on newspapers, you started as an editorial assistant or a junior reporter – you started as a junior writer in any form, served your time – your apprenticeship, so to speak, of about three years – and then they considered you expert enough to be paid full wage. After that, you could segue into subbing.

But, once it all became digital, the software became the prerequisite – It became Must be Quark friendly or, now, it’s Must be InDesign friendly. The software became the reason you were getting employed and the language skills became secondary.

Often, now, people are taking or are given a job as a sub-editor so they can do a hop-over into the writing side. It doesn’t make any sense to me – or anyone else I know. You’ve got juniors put in the position of changing the work of writers who are presumably more experienced. And they now do need to know more than they once would have done. In the past, the sub-editors would have been much more experienced.

JOHN: So we have all these illiterate sub-editors?

SUSAN: I wouldn’t call them illiterate.

JOHN: Different publications have different house styles, so punctuation rules don’t really mean anything, do they? For example… Single quotation marks or double quotation marks?

SUSAN: Well, some of that is house style but often, in the UK, we would generally use single quotes first, then doubles within singles. The Americans would do singles within doubles.

JOHN: Oh… I always do the American way, alas.

SUSAN: And how do you introduce a quote? With a colon or a comma? A colon is very journalistic.

JOHN: I do whatever looks better in a particular sentence.

SUSAN: Ah…

JOHN: You started off as a…?

SUSAN: A lowly junior reporter on a magazine called Display International and another one called Do It Yourself Retailing.

JOHN: You did that because you wanted to be a great writer?

SUSAN: Well, I found out very quickly that I wanted to be a sub-editor. On a newspaper or magazine, if you find a subject you are prepared to write about for the next 30 years – medical, cinema, crime, whatever – then you are fixed. If you can’t find that subject, then you are better off being a sub-editor, because there your joy is in the process and the language not the subject. You can do your job on any subject and still love the process of writing.

JOHN: You wanted to be a sub for the rest of your life?

SUSAN: I certainly did for a hefty while. Then I thought: Aaah! Perhaps I should write something myself. And that’s when I started doing the screenplay thing. There was The Kiss, a romantic comedy.

JOHN: Was that filmed?

SUSAN: We raised the money for it about four years ago – all $15 million of it – but the trouble was it all came from one investor and the trouble comes when one investor thinks he’s been hanging around too long and he takes the money elsewhere.

JOHN: You have written five screenplays.

SUSAN: I have, but I am turning them into novels. One I am going to do as a play.

JOHN: Three are already award-winning and they have not even been made.

SUSAN: You can win lots of screenplay awards without them getting made.

JOHN: Make Punctuation Your Bitch is not your first book.

“Canadians in particular loved it…”

SUSAN: No. There was How To Write Well When You Don’t Know Where To Start. That was three years ago. For some reason the Canadians in particular loved it. It was in the Top Ten in the entire Kindle Store in Canada, not just in its niche.

JOHN: Is it on Amazon?

SUSAN: It was, but I’ve taken it down because I’m going to update it.

JOHN: Are there punctuation differences between the British and Americans?

SUSAN: Yes. And there are Canadian and Australian differences as well. Sometimes they side with the Americans and sometimes they follow us. I have some in the book. The Americans put time at 3:30 with a colon and we do 3.30 with a dot; but now we are starting to take on the colon.

JOHN: In lists, I was always taught that, if you have A, B, C and D, you should never have a comma between the last two – A, B, C, and D – because the commas are standing-in for the word ‘and’. So, by adding a comma, you are actually saying “A and B and C and and D”

SUSAN: That’s not quite true, because it’s ‘The Oxford Comma’… Called that because it was created by Oxford University Press.

The example given in my book is: “Tom dedicated the book to his parents, the Dalai Lama and Nelson Mandela”. That actually means – without the second comma – that his parents are the Dalai Lama and Nelson Mandela.

But, if you put a comma after the Dalai Lama – “Tom dedicated the book to his parents, the Dalai Lama, and Nelson Mandela” – you have differentiated between them.

JOHN: But one comma isn’t worth losing sleep over, is it?

SUSAN: I have a story at the front of my book about the Five Million Dollar Oxford Comma.

There was a dairy in Maine where they had a contract that did not have an Oxford Comma in it. Their drivers sued them about what the contract actually meant and the drivers won $5 million in back-overtime.

There was another case between two telephone companies where there was a comma in dispute and, again it cost one company $2 million.

JOHN: So correct punctuation is here to stay.

SUSAN: I think, in 30 years time, apostrophes won’t exist.

JOHN: Oooh!

SUSAN: But I think the smart money is on semi-colons dying out first.

JOHN: You will have to constantly update your books. Your next one is…?

SUSAN: There might be a Make Structure Your Bitch book.

JOHN: What is structure?

SUSAN: Structure in writing. So the inverted pyramid thing will come in there. And structuring sentences and paragraphs and how to keep the reader hooked.

JOHN: What is the worst crime in punctuation?

SUSAN: Ultimately, it is inconsistency.

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Filed under Books, Journalism, Writing

Globetrotting 84-year old US comedian Lynn Ruth is part of a ‘British Invasion’

Last week, I had a chat with 84-year-old, London-based, American comedian Lynn Ruth Miller – the thinking senior citizen’s crumpet – whose upcoming schedule of gigs includes Prague, Dublin, Berlin, Paris, various cities in the US, Manila, Jakarta, Shanghai, Singapore, Hong Kong, Hanoi, Bangkok and, she says, “probably somewhere in Cambodia”.

Lynn Ruth in London’s Pall Mall last week

That’s an interesting itinerary for an 84-year-old American living in London, I thought.

I was going to write a blog about the chat this week but, then, blow me, I got this email from her two days ago…


I am in CANNES, where the sun is shining!  

At first, I was alarmed because I did not know why I didn’t have to turn on all the lights to see my hand in front of my face.

Then I realised I WAS NOT IN LONDON.

When you are out of the UK, people actually see the sun.  

My hotel here is called The Hotel Bellevue and it is adorable.

My room is the size of a disabled public toilet but somehow it is very complete. I feel like I have just entered Jonathan Swift’s Lilliputian village. It is a good thing I am 4’10” tall and weigh under 100 pounds or I would never fit into the place.

I must say the world does dote on the elderly. At Gatwick Airport, a lovely Englishman from Birmingham stood behind me in line to board Ryanair and carried my case down the stairs without my even asking and the woman in the seat next to mine chatted with me the entire two hours we were on the flight.  Not that I WANTED her to chat for so long but she was from Essex. What can you expect?

Vanessa Marcié met me at the airport. Her mother is a wild, adventurous driver. She drove us to Vanessa’s flat.  As we darted from one lane to the tree on the side of the road into the highway and across four lanes and a traffic bump, I stifled an impulse to call my friends and say good-bye but we got to the flat intact.

Her mother had made me a homemade pizza which I devoured with champagne as Vanessa and I discussed the profession of comedy and the insensitivity and stupidity of her university students.  

Vanessa is a very educated woman with a PHD and two masters degrees and it made me wonder why she is so devoted to talking dirty on stage to crowds.  

I know MY reason: it is that it brings back memories of my youth.

Boulevard de la Croisette in Cannes (Photo by Joseph Plotz)

I called Uber to get me from Nice where Vanessa lives to Cannes and my driver was Charlotte who took me INTO the hotel and opened the door to my room.  The world does dote on the elderly.

She told me driving a cab is her living because it is the only thing she can do besides eat. Looking at her squeezed between the steering wheel and the seat I saw that she was right about the food and, when she got me to the hotel safely, I realised she did indeed know her stuff.

As I said, the whole fucking world just loves the elderly… EXCEPT when they are doing business with them.  

I decided to take a walk to find a place for lunch in Cannes. It abounds in many, many eateries with menus in French. I do not speak French.

If it isn’t a crepe or an omelette, I have no idea what it is.  

I finally found La Civett Carnot which had a sign saying it was a brasserie. I knew what that was. The food there was all right and the service very fast. However, if you speak only English or you are older or a woman, beware.  

I ordered a weak coffee and got charged for a double espresso which looked like one shot to me. Naturally, being Jewish, I complained that I was overcharged. Two very large imposing men insisted that that is what they thought I asked for and what they gave me and I better damn well pay for it. I did.

I feel certain had I been able to speak French or had I not been a single ancient hag they would have adjusted the bill. Life does have its hurdles.

Lynn Ruth, part of the ‘British Invasion’ (she is from Ohio)

My gig was called THE BRITISH INVASION (Lynn Ruth was born in Ohio, living most of her life in San Francisco) and was in an Irish Bar, just 6 minutes from my hotel.  

However, I get confused by the little blue dot on Google Maps and the 6 minutes expanded to 30, as I wandered the streets of Cannes.

The comedy show was interesting and well attended. The comedians were very inexperienced but the audience was very thirsty for a laugh and the show was a success. I headlined for them and the response was gorgeous. I even got a Caesar Salad, two drinks and a bit of cash.

I managed to find my way home with the help of two escorts and it did indeed take me 6 minutes to get to my hotel. Which all goes to show Google does not lie.

The next morning I took a bus to the airport, got a flight to Gatwick, came home to grab my burlesque costume and took my clothes off to a standing ovation in Islington.

As we all know, a girl has to do what she has to do.


 I think we may hear more of Lynn Ruth’s travels…

 

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Filed under France, Humor, Humour

Stuff the British media seldom – and UK TV News almost never – report on

The British tend to be very sniffy about US TV’s  international coverage, because the Americans supposedly report little and know less of the world outside.

But British TV is just as bad.

Major events in China, the Far East and India, in Africa and South America go totally unreported and unknown on UK TV, where the same parochial 5 or 6 stories get repeated in each half hour or quarter hour of our news bulletins.

My friend Lynn, with her husband Frank, has been travelling in West Africa.

A couple of weeks ago, I posted her blogs from the Ivory Coast and, delayed for safety reasons, from pirate-infested waters in the Gulf of Guinea.

Whoever hears anything in the UK about the Ivory Coast or the ongoing pirate problem in the Gulf of Guinea?

This missive from Lynn is from Morocco… or maybe it is from Western Sahara. It depends on your political viewpoint.


The SADR (Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic) flag

We have maintained email silence whilst travelling through Western Sahara and Morocco. All the maps were taken down and information removed as they showed Western Sahara and we were told not to carry anything with a mention of it and especially not a photo of the SADR (Sahrawi Arab Democratic Front) flag and to only refer to the country as Morocco.

I was told that, on 29th March this year, following a UN report, the Polisario (recognised by the UN as the official body for the Sahrawi) withdrew their road blocks on the Mauritanian border and agreed a ceasefire and that Morocco had offered semi-autonomy to the region but not sovereignty.  

Disputed ‘Western Sahara’ with Mauritania and Algeria to the east; Morocco to the north and the islands of Tenerife/Gran Canaria to the west

Morocco has the support of France and the USA, whereas Algeria supports the Polisario/Sahrawi arabs.

I was also told that the Moroccans have built a 1,700 mile wall north to south and there are varying accounts of 5-10 million landmines.

Last October, the International Court of Justice’s verdict was to hold a referendum.

Referenda have been mooted several times but never held, with Mauritania withdrawing decades ago and abandoning their claim. Moroccans are being resettled in the south to increase numbers and the building projects are prolific but eerie as there are so few people or evidence of habitation in all the new parks, playgrounds, office blocks, government buildings, airport and railway stations. Even the enormous barracks and gendarmerie seemed deserted. It all has the feel of a vacant film set.

We drove to the largest city, Laayoune, literally a city in the desert, 10 miles from the Atlantic Ocean with nothing else around it for 1,000 miles. Perhaps everyone was told to stay indoors until we left, much as we were told to behave until we had avoided the pirates in the Gulf of Guinea.

TV crew interview ’someone’ in Laayoune, Western Sahara

In fact, it appears that we were the news in Laayoune.

To add to our armed police escort, there were armed traffic police to close roads on the route as we travelled in convoy, the army to guard our lunch stop at a nomadic Sahrawi Arab camp, armed tourist police, plain clothes police and, to add to the circus, a TV crew was with us all day.

A TV interviewer appeared at the Sahrawi camp but I didn’t get an answer on who he or his interviewee were. 

There were also photographers (one of whom was plain clothes police determined to get a head shot of everyone and unamused by Frank’s gurning and back-turning).

All were seriously twitchy about cameras so no usable photos.

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Filed under Africa, Morocco, Politics

The Kray Twins and why violence is more effective when it is unexpected

So I was having a chat with Micky Fawcett at Westfield in Stratford, East London.

Micky wrote Krayzy Days – arguably the definitive book about his sometime close associates the Kray Twins.


(L-R) Micky Fawcett, Reggie Kray & Reggie’s wife Frances

JOHN: A few weeks ago, you were telling me about a director who was writing a film script from your book, but there were disagreements over the script.

MICKY: Yeah. 

JOHN: One was the incident where, instead of sudden, unexpected violence, he wanted to build up the tension.

MICKY: Yeah. There was a feller I was friendly with – Ronnie Curtis – and his wife was having an affair with his best friend – Albert Lovett.

JOHN: Are these people still alive?

MICKY: No.

JOHN: Thank God for that. Carry on, then…

MICKY: Ronnie said to me: “Albert’s been seeing Sheila. I’m going to…” You know. And a couple of days went on and he never did anything and I thought to myself: Oh, well, nothing much is going to happen here.

But there was three of us all working together and we had a meeting at 10 o’clock one morning in Joe’s caff in Upton Park, just off Green Street. We had our meeting and coffee or whatever we had and, as we walked out of the caff, Ronnie Curtis said to me: “Oh, I got a letter from a pal of ours. The heading is in red ink. I wonder if that means anything?”

So I got the letter and I’m looking at it and – BOOM! as quick as that – the blade has gone right through down Albert’s cheek and into this mouth… Cut all his gums. And Albert has turned round and he’s got his overcoat on and Ronnie is slashing at his arse and it’s all being shredded and there’s blood everywhere. And two policemen were walking along in plain clothes on the other side of the road and they ran across and there was chaos but I was gone and so was Ronnie Curtis gone.

JOHN: And the argument with the film director writing the script was…?

MICKY: He said: “What we do in a film is, in the cafe, we build up the tension – We will have Ronnie fiddling around with his dinner and we can see something is wrong and something is going to happen.”

And I said, “No. No. No. The whole thing about it was the surprise. The shock.” We really argued about that. He’s not doing the script now. I don’t see him any more.

JOHN: Well, I think you’re right. Ultra-violence happening without warning is much more shocking than seeing people’s foreheads sweating and the audience knowing something is about to happen.

MICKY: Yeah. That’s what it’s all about.

JOHN: If anyone ever says: “The way it is normally done in the movies is…” that is a very good reason NOT to do it that way. It is usually better to tell the truth. Though the only problem about the truth is that it’s often so OTT it is unbelievable. The truth is often just so Over The Top you have to tone it down.

MICKEY: That thing that happened at Joe’s caff is just something that has always stuck in my mind. Second only to when I was out having a glass of beer with Reggie (Kray) and he shot a feller in the toilet.

JOHN: What had the other guy done?

MICKEY: Well, we went to a drinking club in Islington. We went downstairs to the toilet and BAAAAAAAAAAAANNNGG!!!! and Reggie has shot the feller standing at the next urinal in the leg. The echo!!! It was deafening!

JOHN: Why did he shoot him?

MICKY: He never explained it and I didn’t ask. We went back upstairs and we left as casually as I could muster.

JOHN: Who was the guy?

MICKY: Soppy Cooper was his name. All I know about him is he came from Hoxton. That was probably enough for Reggie. Neither of them – the Twins – liked people from Hoxton.

JOHN: Because…?

MICKY: I dunno. They had come from Hoxton. It was before they had got their own way with the world. They were ordinary people once, weren’t they… Frances, Reggie’s wife, came from Hoxton.

JOHN: But Reggie never said why he shot the bloke?

MICKY: No. He said: “I think I shot him in the head.”

And I said: “No, it was definitely the leg.”

“But as I shot him,” Reggie told me, “the gun jumped and he put his hands up to his head.”

“That was because it was so loud,” I said. “He was putting his hands up to his ears. It was deafening.”

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Filed under Crime, Movies

Why Robert White went on Britain’s Got Talent and what comedy has taught him

Robert White won the Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2010 (beating Bo Burnham and Dr Brown). He claims to be – and I think no-one is going to dispute this – the only gay, dyslexic, quarter-Welsh, Aspergic, web-toed comedian working on the UK comedy circuit.


JOHN: So why did you do Britain’s Got Talent?

Robert White, aspiring primary school teacher

ROBERT: Because I had given up comedy.

In August last year, the Edinburgh Fringe financially destroyed me so much that I decided I was going to go full-time into teaching music in primary schools.

JOHN: I genuinely thought it was a wonderful Fringe show.

ROBERT: Well, doing an opera like that was artistically spectacular but the only thing it did for my career is that, now, if I die in poverty, at least I’ve got a chance of being recognised 200 years after I’m dead as a composer.

JOHN: Why primary school children? Because they are not as stroppy as teenagers?

ROBERT: Yes. There is an element of discipline. But, being dyslexic yet very creative, I’m very good at taking things and translating them in a very innovative and creative way. Obviously, I have done a degree and highly academic work, but, rather than engaging with HUGE amounts of written material and expressing it in an academic, written way, I would much prefer engaging with limited written material and expressing it in a creative way

In secondary schools, there is a lot of This Date… That Date. I can and have done all of that but, because of the nature of me, I would not choose to do so much of it; there is just so much more writing and so much more reading. With primary school, you are taking things like scale or high and low and the basic elements of music and conveying them in various different interesting creative ways.

I looked into it and, because I had not used it for so long, the PGCE (teaching qualification) I had from 20 years ago was no longer valid. So I would have to re-train. When I decided to go into teaching full-time, it was literally a week after the training course had stopped. There is a thing, though, whereby you can teach primary school music if you have a degree and some teaching experience: which I have.

So I thought: If I do some primary school teaching, that will give me some income. And, if I do the gigs I have, that will give me some other income. And the primary school teaching I do will give me enough experience so that, at the end of the year, instead of having to re-train, I can get a position in a private school where you don’t actually need to have the teaching qualifications.

So that was going to be my career path. A year of finishing-off comedy and building-up teaching then, at the end of it, I would be teaching full-time.

The reason for Britain’s Got Talent was I thought: Well, I’ve done 12 or 13 years of comedy. I may as well cash in what I’ve done and at least that way I can prove to my mum that I’ve done the most I can.

“At least that way I can prove to my mum that I’ve done the most I can.”

I told my mum: “Look, I just don’t want to struggle any more.” I don’t mind whether comedy works or teaching works or if I move home and just start a job in a shop and work my way up to be a supervisor. I just don’t want to struggle any more.

The last 20 years, it has felt as if I’ve been trying to pay off the same £1,000 overdraft and never succeeding…

JOHN: You’ve been doing comedy for a while now…

ROBERT: I have Asperger’s Syndrome and comedy through the last 13 years has been like CBT – Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.

I have been putting myself in difficult situations, night after night after night, and it has helped so much. Comedy has not just brought me a comedy career, it has actually helped my Asperger’s enough that I can now do a normal job. It has got me to a point now where I can teach.

Comedy has taught me about people and Asperger’s and the way I think. Every year, I’ve become more free. Even walking on stage, I now don’t think I have to do A-B-C-D in a certain order. I’m more relaxed.

JOHN: Whereas before…?

ROBERT: Because I have Asperger’s, I find it very difficult to connect with people in the real world and all of my social processes are thought-through processes. Now, with what I’ve learnt from years of doing comedy, some have become more intuitive. But they are not naturally intuitive.

You don’t have Asperger’s so, to you, reading facial expressions is intuitive. To me, it is not. Literally thinking-through and analysing: What is this other person thinking? How do I act in this situation? Which becomes very very very very tiring.

The thing that comedy has done for me is it taught me about social skills and gave me an understanding of people. If you think of the audience as a macro-person, then that translates into how one person acts to the individual micro-person. It has helped me understand about people.

But conversely what that has meant is that, sort of like horse whispering, I’ve got an almost unusually natural understanding of audiences that other people wouldn’t have – because I analyse them in a certain way. If there’s any way my autistic mind does work well in the overly-analytical way, it’s basically an understanding of the audience and what’s going on.

I’m the only person I know who, before he goes on, fills up his hand and his whole arm not with jokes but with social cues. That’s because, when I first started – and now – I needed to reinforce myself with certain things. I still do that.

JOHN: Writing on your arm such things as…?

ROBERT: Be nice. No rudes. Time equals money. There is an understanding that there is a right sort of groan and a wrong sort of groan. That has now come to inform me on a level other people don’t have. Which is why standing on stage now and being able to say whatever I want is an amazingly freeing thing. 

The judges’ reaction to Robert White on Britain’s Got Talent

When it got to Britain’s Got Talent and the audition, I looked at my act…

If you take away the crudeness and swearing – there is so much still left. I had not considered that before. There is quirkiness, jokes, puns, silliness, music. I have got many more strings to my bow than I originally considered.

JOHN: You are playing 20-minute spots at the Comedy Store now.

ROBERT: I did the Gong Show at the Comedy Store about two years ago and it was a really rough gig. There was this woman shouting me at the front and I had to go off-piste and really properly play the gig. So, in an absolute, utter bear-pit gig, I won the night.  Eleven years earlier, I did the Gong Show, walked onto the stage; same response; but I ripped my tee-shirt and started crying.

That is what comedy has done for me.

The whole process of doing comedy and then Edinburgh making me give up comedy led to Britain’s Got Talent and rising like a phoenix from the ashes.

But we don’t know what tomorrow holds.

All I want is to not struggle.

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Is this an average Canadian family? Stripper, conservator, Reverend, shrink.

My occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith with two policemen in Toronto. I’ve no idea why

Anna Smith lives in Vancouver.

She is this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent.

Yesterday, I got an email from her. It read:


My Dad has started a blog and my sister the priest got arrested… again!


“Tell me more…” I asked.

Instead, I got this message from her father, Jaime Smith:


Hullo John Fleming –

I am the father of three daughters all born in Argentina where I was stateless, having renounced US nationality before we emigrated to Canada.

I was born in the US, but left because of conscription in the interval of ‘peace’  between the Korean & Vietnam wars. I renounced my US citizenship, changed my name, became a naturalized Argentine citizen, travelled back to university in the US as a ‘native-born foreign student’ then left a second time for Canada to teach astronomy & physics, became naturalized again as Canadian (but kept the Argentine passport just in case…). Then I went to medical school and specialty training in psychiatry. Some say I had a colourful life and encouraged me to write about it, hence the autobiography and bloggery.

I went to Argentina because I had a job offer there photographing faint blue stars at the Córdoba Astronomical Observatory. This was paid by a grant from the Office of Naval Research, so my emigration to Argentina was actually sponsored by the US military.

Anna, my eldest daughter, you know as she occasionally contributes to your blog. A retired stripper (London, Belgium, Finland, Malaysia) she lives on a boat on the Fraser River and does volunteer public health work with street ladies in Vancoocoo. That’s Vancouver.

I had a patient when I was working as a shrink in Vancouver who told me that he met Richard Bonynge (ex-impresario of Vancouver Opera) in Rome, who used the term Vancoocoo, being displeased with his being terminated there for mounting experimental and rare operas that didn’t bring in the punters and their money. After they fired him, the next season they went back to full house productions of La Traviata, La Bohème and Carmen – guaranteed old warhorses. I thought the term Vancoocoo appropriate.  That’s where I trained in psychiatry after medical school.

Kjerstin, my middle daughter, is a textile conservator at the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria. She has a PhD in mending from London – Hampton Court Palace etc. She is going to a conference on mummies in Tenerife later this month, where she will give talk on gopher hide robes covering frozen corpses.

In Canada, the New West Record reported Rev. Emilie Smith’s arrest earlier this week. She had joined other religious leaders to block a company’s gates in solidarity with Indigenous Peoples who object to the Kinder Morgan Pipeline Expansion

Emilie, my youngest daughter, is the vicar of St. Barnabas Anglican Church in New Westminster, a Vancoocoo suburb. She is socially conscious to the extreme, gets arrested at demonstrations, went through three unsatisfactory husbands and is now getting married to her lesbian partner in July.

I also have 6.5 grandsons (the 0.5 is biologically female but currently growing a moustache and transitioning to male. Plays rugby football.)  I also have two great-grandchildren – one male and the other female.

Well, they are at this time anyway.

My daughters’ mum died in 2011 – we had been married 55 years. Now I have a gay younger Chinese boyfriend who inspired me to learn about his language.

I first trained in philosophy (BA), then astronomy (MS), then medicine (MD) and finally psychiatry (FRSM). I studied languages (Mandarin and Finnish) at the University of Victoria in British Columbia after I retired from practice.

I have become interested in non Indo-European languages and translated a Finnish detective story into English.

I studied Finnish because my maternal grandparents were from there in the late 19th century before it became an independent country in 1917. It had previously been known as the Grand Duchy of Finland and belonged to Russia. I already knew Latin and the Romance, Germanic, Scandinavian and a bit of Slavic languages and wanted to try something completely different. 

When I awaken early and desire to go back to sleep, I usually do mental arithmetic in a language other than English – like Spanish, German, Finnish or Mandarin Chinese. Should that not work I may get up and have a cup of hot chocolate and a cookie or just reflect on some activity or idea of particular interest to me.

The 2013 Gay Pride march in Helsinki (Image by Yle Uutiset)

They have great trams in Helsinki – I carried a Canadian flag in the gay pride parade there in 2013. I was leaving Helsinki the same day in July once as Mr Methane, the UK farteur you occasionally write about, but I smelled nothing in the airport.

I wrote a 68 page autobiography earlier this year – only the bare bones of 1933-2017, no more than one page per year and a few even more compressed. After that, I decided to continue writing and settled on the blogosphere after reading your postings. 

So this is your fault, but I am having fun with it. During my 30 year career as a clinical psychiatrist I wrote and published professional articles and book reviews in medical and other journals.

When in stateless exile in Argentina, in the mid 1950s, I worked as a journalist for United Press. I wrote articles on diverse issues such as international commerce and the quality of the race track as seen by Formula One driver Stirling Moss.

I have been churning out 500 words daily since I started my blog 10 days ago. The focus is loosely on books and other literary topics.

You can read my daily drivel, if you are interested, at https://karhunluola.com.

Karhu means bear in Finnish; ‘luola’ means cave, ‘karhunluola’ means ‘bear’s cave’.  Name of my flat.

Strictly speaking, the grammatically correct expression would  be ‘karhunluolasta’,  literally meaning ‘from the cave of the bear’.

Watch out for woozles.

 

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