Two days ago, the London Evening Standard ran a double-page spread about someone they called THE NAKED COMMUTER.
In fact, the story was less spectacular: the pictures showed a man in perfectly-respectable boxer shorts and the sub-heading said: When he stripped off in protest at the sweltering Tube, he was hailed as a hero.
Today’s blog is not about the semi-naked man nor about his exploits, but keep them in mind.
Yesterday, I went to Rivington Street in Shoreditch to chat to Comedy Cafe Theatre owner Noel Faulkner about his future plans. Noel is always outspoken and, at the Chortle Comedy Conference last Friday, launched into a spectacular verbal attack on Jongleurs’ boss Marios Lourides for not paying several comedians for months – Marios claimed the apparently financially frail Jongleurs chain paid £2.5 million yearly to comedians and the backlog owed to comedians was “only” £60,000.
But this blog is not about that.
After our chat, Noel and I went to the Red Gallery (also in Rivington Street) for a screening to a very full venue of what is claimed to be the final version of The Tunnel documentary about the late Malcolm Hardee’s iconic and infamous comedy club. It was screened as part of the East End Film Festival.
Following the screening, there was what turned out to be a humdinger of a live comedy show but, in the interval between the two events, I went outside for a chat because I bumped into Miss Behave who had, earlier in the day, lost her appointments diary. I share her pain. It once happened to me and I virtually needed psychological counselling until a man found it in a gutter outside a Chinese takeaway, phoned me and I got it back.
But we never managed to do that.
Stick with me, dear reader.
“So you lost your diary today…” I started.
“It’s like I’ve lost my brain,” said Miss Behave.
“I have to take a photo of this man,” I said.
There was a man standing on the other side of the road, naked apart from a pair of underpants, putting on a leather vest. It was the man mentioned in the Evening Standard.
“He looks like one of your acts,” I told Miss Behave.
At this point, Noel Faulkner emerged from the Red Gallery.
“This is why the comedy clubs are in a mess,” I told Noel, “because people are doing their acts out on the streets.”
“He’s a local lad,” said Noel. “He may be on Ecstasy.”
The man came across to talk to us.
“Have you seen a pair of glasses lying on the floor anywhere?” he mumbled at us.
“They’re on top of your head,” Miss Behave and I said simultaneously, like a Greek chorus.
“The reason I couldn’t find them is because I never put them there,” said the man.
“Someone else put them there?” I asked.
At this point, Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award winner Gareth Ellis emerged from the Red Gallery.
He looked at the man with spectacles on his head and said to me: “You always make the best friends.”
I raised my camera. “Don’t take a picture of me right now,” said Gareth. “I’ve got hay fever and my eyes are all puffy.”
“Do you remember pounds, shillings and pence?” the semi-naked man no longer with spectacles on his head but on his nose asked Noel Faulkner.
“Of course I can,” Noel told him.
“Did you hear what he said?” the man said to me in a throaty voice. “He said he can remember pounds, shillings and pence with confidence.”
“I think you’ve taken some,” said Noel.
The man looked at him.
“LSD,” said Noel.
“You can remember pounds, shillings and pence?” the man persisted.
“Yes,” said Noel. LSD. Where are your fucking trousers?”
“In 1963,” said the man, “someone walks into a bank and says: Here’s a pound note. Kindly change it into twenty pieces of silver. And the bank teller says: Certainly, Mr Jones, because she knew him. And the man says: But I want those twenty pieces of silver to be made up of half crowns, sixpences and two bob bits. What quantity of each coin did the bank teller give him that equals twenty pieces of silver and adds up to a pound?”
“Our chat is going well,” I told Miss Behave.
“Absolutely,” she agreed.
As Noel and the man discussed the mathematics of 1963 coinage, Miss Behave and I arranged to meet again at the Pull The Other One comedy club on Saturday.
“We could try not talking to each other there as well,” suggested Miss Behave.
At this point, American comic David Mills came out of the Red Gallery.
“Great to see you,” he said to Miss Behave and kissed her on the cheek.
“Are you on the turn?” I asked him.
“I’ve got to run,” said Miss Behave. “I wasn’t supposed to have to run, but all this happened.”
I took a photo of David and Gareth.
“I’ll take another one,” I said. “Gareth had his eyes closed.”
“I’m keeping them closed,” he said, “because they’re all red from the hay fever.”
“Not on a computer! Not on a mobile phone!” Mungo 2 was saying.
“Listen,” said Miss Behave. “I’m doing something new, but I haven’t figured it out yet.”
“It’s probably in your diary,” I said, trying to be helpful.
“You didn’t listen,” the semi-naked man told me.
“I didn’t listen,” I admitted. “What was the answer?”
“Oh,” said the semi-naked man, “I couldn’t give you the answer. I’d have to give you the challenge.”
“I’m not a challenge sort of man,” I said.
“But you are challenged,” said Miss Behave.
“I am Scottish,” I tried. “I don’t care about your English money.”
“See,” said the semi-naked man, “this is where you walk into a pile of computers. I’m a Border Reiver.”
“You are?” I asked. “Cows? You’ve stolen cows?”
“Carlisle,” he said.
“Oh,” I said. “Carlisle and Berwick-upon-Tweed should clearly be in Scotland. Clearly Scottish cities.”
“Is your history between Scotland and England any good?” asked the semi-naked man.
“I’ll see you on Saturday,” said Miss Behave, wisely deciding to leave.
“I’ll leave you two to…” said the semi-naked man, starting to say something, then turning away and leaving himself.
“Play your cards right and you’re in there tonight,” I told Miss Behave.
She set off towards Old Street station, following the semi-naked man at a distance.
“He’s been round here for about a year,” an unknown and unseen voice said, like unto the Voice of God in the wilderness.
“I used to work down the road. I came out of work one night at eleven o’clock at night and he had a deckchair. You know those deckchairs that have got a beer holder in the arm? He was just in his pants in a deckchair, just berating people as they passed by.”
“It seemed strange,” Gareth told me, “that he could afford hair dye but not trousers.”