Yesterday, my Yorkshire-born friend Lynn stumbled on this story in The Week from last month, which both of us had missed. She says: “I had to read it three times and I’m still not sure I get it. Whoever the morons are, they surely can’t be Yorkshire folk.
To be clear, the concept of the three wise monkeys became popular in 17th century Japan, before spreading to the West. It is associated with the Tendai school of Buddhism where monkeys are considered sacred and perceived as helpers for divine figures. They are “vehicles of delight”.
I always think people who censor monkeys for being racist should look at themselves in the mirror. Far be it from me to say “political correctness gone mad”… but I will.
That was yesterday.
Today, Lynn spotted this piece in Computer Active magazine about Facebook’s algorithm getting similarly censorious.
I told her: “Eat your heart out for any publican trying to make a living by running the Cock Inn, Scunthorpe.”
Afterwards, I Googled to see if there actually IS a Cock Inn, Scunthorpe.
Sadly there is not, but Google told me there is a Blythe Black Cock Inn. Arguably worse in Facebook terms, but un-censored by them.
I feel the good people of Plymouth Hoe have cause to be aggrieved about being picked-on by a US algorithm.
It covers the period from 1890 when Ike Rose “started living the legendary life of a top vaudeville & burlesque producer” to 1957, when Billy Barty founded his “advocacy group” the Little People of America.
Ike Rose, apparently, was “one of show biz history’s great impresarios, now forgotten but once in a league with names like Barnum and Ziegfeld as men who delivered full value for the price of a ticket.”
He seems to have rivalled Barnum is hype.
The book admits: “each component of the troupe’s name crumbles into dust by light of day.
“‘Rose’ was a pseudonym; the company held no Royal seal of approval; and the word ‘midget’ has passed out of use in polite society.”
The selling line for the book claims: ”Without pandering nor passing judgment, this book documents in detail the performers, producers, the stage routines themselves and the various venues from those straight up and upscale to others shameful and shady. This book probes both the Dark and the Dazzling sides of the American Imagination. Only rare books like this seriously confront our more bizarre past and allow the new generations of show folk to revise, to re-invent, to reform American Theater.”
Rare indeed – apparently only 50 copies of the book are being published.
Tomorrow – well, tonight at 8.00pm in New York; tomorrow 1.00am in London – there is a free online Zoom conversation between author Trav S.D. (Donald Travis Stewart) and Vaudevisuals’ own Jim R.Moore.
As I haven’t had a full night’s sleep since May last year (medical conditions) and am currently sleeping on the floor at night because my back is buggered, the possibility of my listening in on this Zoom call is iffy. But it sounds interesting.
I have also, this morning, just received a letter from the NHS saying that I should ignore the other letter they enclose in the same envelope cancelling a future appointment.
Obviously, in this main letter, they don’t mention when or with whom the appointment is because that is mentioned in the letter which they are telling me to ignore.
They say, in the first letter telling me to ignore the second letter, that they will send me a third letter rescheduling the appointment.
They had performing animals – elephants, lions, tigers, bears and sundry others.
My memory has always been that one of the circuses – Bertram Mills – had a famous bear trainer. I think he may have been a relative of Adolph Cossmy. Adolph was a famous trainer of performing bears; he died in 1930.
Perhaps the man in my childhood memories was only famous because he was related to Adolph or because the circus had a very good publicist. Or, in my mind, because my parents mentioned him to me. But he was said to be unusual in that his act involved mixing brown bears with polar bears.
If a brown bear is about to attack you, the publicity went, it gives you some warning – it will snarl and/or contort its face and/or aggressively move its body so you knew something is about to happen. You know where you are with a brown bear.
But polar bears give you no warning.
At least, that was what I was told.
They seem perfectly placid. You would not know they were about to do anything. Then suddenly, without warning, they will turn on you and lash out and rip your throat out or figuratively – perhaps literally – bite your head off.
Adolph Cossmy loved not wisely, but too well
I have always remembered that from my boyhood days, growing up in Aberdeen. Same with people. Don’t mess with polar bears and be wary of people.
Bear-trainer Adolph Cossmy was killed in 1930 at Bertram Mills Circus in Hastings. He was inside what was called The Beastwagon, washing the polar bears, and slipped over on the wet floor, kicking one of the bears accidentally. The bear killed him. Not so accidentally. Adolph had locked The Beastwagon’s door from the inside and had the key in his pocket, so no-one was able to save him. A lesson to us all.
Becky Fury, Geoff Steel and Johnathan Richardson are Waiting For Guido at the Cockpit Theatre
On Monday night, Malcolm Hardee Award winner Becky Fury is presenting a show called Waiting For Guido at the Cockpit Theatre in London. It is billed as:
“Fusing comic improvisation from world class performers, a little sprinkling of circus performance and an improvised musical score. This is Jesus and the Easter bunny waiting for the return of the enigmatic and insurrectionary battery chicken, Guido. In a basic story structure inspired by Waiting for Godot, Dada and Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta, we present an evening of entertainment, theatrical innovation and carefully curated chaos.”
Johnathan Richardson, Becky Fury, Geoff Steel in rehearsal
As well as comics Trevor Lock, Johnathan Richardson, Geoff Steel and Becky, there is music by a house band featuring Bang Crosby and aerial acts from “contortionist and rope and hoop expert” Avital Hannah.
Aerial acts? I thought. Aerial acts? So I went to the National Centre for Circus Arts in London to see Becky and Avital talk through and swing through what might be happening on Monday.
JOHN: So what is Waiting For Guido?
BECKY: It’s basically a cabaret show with some theatrical comedy vignettes. A contemporary freakshow inspired by Principa Discordia and the Dogme manifesto. This one’s more Catme but I always have to be so extra. Everything’s not so much falling into place but descending in beautiful yet bizarre shapes and landing elegantly in place.
JOHN: What’s the narrative?
JOHN: What is Avi doing? Just hanging around?
AVI: Hanging from the rafters.
BECKY: She will be mirroring some of the characters in the show. Everyone has a character. It’s a hybrid cabaret comedy circus show.
Avi at the National Centre for Circus Arts
JOHN: Why did you decide being an aerial artist was a good career choice?
AVI: I kind of decided on a whim… I had gone to college to study law, psychology, philosophy and critical thinking. I thought: There’s a future for me as an aerial artist because I’m highly-strung and not very good at letting go. And I thought: If I go to circus school then I can do what I want but I still get a qualification.
JOHN: Did the glamour of circus attract you?
JOHN: So what was the attraction?
AVI: The ownership of my own body.
JOHN: Define that.
AVI: It was really positive for reclaiming my body as a woman. I had often felt it was ‘owned’ by other people. I’m definitely in control of it now. It will always be more useful to me than anyone else. Before circus, that had not necessarily always been apparent.
JOHN: ‘Being in control of your own body’ sounds like it might overlap into hatred of men.
AVI: Well, to some extent I think it’s a feminist answer but I think it’s just as a human I have my right to own my own body and this has enabled me to do so.
JOHN: Where is the career in being an aerial artist outside a circus? You can’t play the upstairs room of a suburban pub.
Waiting For Guido in rehearsal
AVI: No, but there’s corporate gigs, the corporate circuit at Christmas time, charity gigs, Council things and it’s more integrated into theatre and dance than it used to be. There are circus shows in the West End. There’s TV and film stuff. It’s quite broad; you’ve just gotta know where to look.
JOHN: Corporate gigs?
AVI: Making posh people’s parties look cooler. If you can get someone to hang off the ceiling, it looks good.
JOHN: Is there a career path?
AVI: I’m interested in the production side. I’m really interested in production management and directing, producing.
JOHN: How do you two know each other?
BECKY: From festivals. The DIY culture. The Unfairground stage at the Glastonbury Festival.
JOHN: There is a lot of twirling involved in what you do.
AVI: I find it easier to learn things on the left. It’s generally easier to rotate one way. I generally spin to the right but there are certain tricks that require me to spin to the left and that’s fine; it’s just a different type of training.
JOHN: Is that something to do with the left side of your brain controlling the right side of the body and vice versa?
AVI: I don’t know, but there are certain things you can do to make them talk to each other a bit better.
JOHN: Such as?”
Becky shoots Avi at the National Centre for Circus Arts
AVI: Stand up and stand on one leg with your eyes closed and then try standing on the other leg. You will be better doing it on one side than the other. Then open your eyes and bring your thumb towards them until it’s uncomfortable to see it and do that three times. Keep your thumb really steady while doing it. Then try standing on one leg again. It should be way more even between left and right. It tricks your brain somehow.
BECKY: It must realign everything into a balance because you have to focus on the thumb straight-on rather than left and right sides and one of your eyes being lazy.
AVI: I don’t know. It seems to work.
JOHN: Have you got public liability insurance if you fall on someone?
AVI: Only if I’m performing. Not in normal life.
BECKY: Everyone should have it. A friend of mine was performing at a Secret Policeman’s Ball show. He threw rice during the show and someone slipped on a grain of rice in their stiletto shoe and broke their ankle. Luckily he had public liability insurance, because they sued him.
JOHN: Why are your powdering your ear?
AVI: I always put make-up on my ear lobes before a show. You don’t want red ears when you go upside down. Blood goes to them when you are upside down.
JOHN: Ah… Why are you in Becky’s show? It’s basically a comedy show.
Iceman holds a Christmas card inside the Royal Festival Hall. (And why shouldn’t he?)
At the beginning of December last year, I received 10 e-mails and 22 JPEGs of paintings of blocks of ice from my speciality act chum The Iceman. His stage act involves melting blocks of ice. That is his entire act. I blogged about it.
He said he was now calling himself AIM – Anthony Irvine Man – and suggested I should write a new blog entitled:
THE PAINTER FORMERLY KNOWN AS THE ICEMAN BREAKS/DOUBLES VINCENT VAN GOGH’S RECORD, SELLING 2 PAINTINGS IN HIS LIFETIME.
Since then, we have had a chat about it. We met in the Topolski Gallery/Bar under Waterloo Bridge in London.
“You told me the man who bought your painting,” I said, “was going to explain why.”
“Yes. He wrote to me,” said The Iceman, taking out a piece of paper. “He says: The paintings of The Iceman are honest, charming and…”
“Cheap?” I suggested.
“Honest, charming and fascinating” – his faux-naïf paintings
“No,” said the Iceman. “I got him into three figures…The paintings of The Iceman are honest, charming and fascinating. He is an artist whose practice has developed at a glacial rate over a lifetime and each act seems considered but not over-thought. His fixation on ice, the melting process and how that relates to him – his life experience – in a symbolic way – is intriguing and perhaps even deep…
“He wants to buy a second picture. He says: The faux-naïf handling of paint is suggestive of Basquiator perhaps Dubuffetand art brut. In any case, it is defiantly anti-slick or perhaps anti-consumerist. It is refreshingly populist work, like a kind of ascetically-charged graffiti, piquant piracy, shades of Nolan’s Ned Kelly series.”
“So you are at last being properly considered as a serious artist?” I asked.
“Yes. I feel it’s time to do a proper exhibition. I’ve done about 137 paintings now. They need to be displayed en masse. I have finally found my métier. I think I am just going to keep producing. My subject matter is rather consistent.”
“Blocks of ice,” I said.
“Yes,” said The Iceman.
“So are you not going to do live performances any more?” I asked.
“I don’t think so. I never realised I was a painter until this late in life.”
“If Hitler had realised his destiny was to be a painter,” I suggested, “we wouldn’t have had all that trouble.”
The Iceman hard at work in his outdoor English studio in 2014
“I am thinking,” said The Iceman, “of increasing production: doing one in the morning, one in the afternoon and one in the evening.”
“Won’t that devalue your unit retail cost?” I asked.
“You are right,” mused the Iceman. “Maybe I should slow production down instead.”
“All your paintings are based on photographs?” I asked.
“Yes. Stills of my blocks of ice. Or stills of moving pictures of my blocks of ice. I could not paint without the photo.”
“Actually,” he said thoughtfully, “that might be my next series of paintings. The imagination series. I think I have developed my own style.” There was a long pause. “I don’t know what my style is, but it is recognisable. On my website, I’ve got every painting I’ve ever done. I sold one photo off my website – Block 183 – so, technically, I have sold two pictures: one was an oil painting and one was a photograph.”
“You are on a roll,” I said encouragingly. “How have you survived financially?”
“I work with teenagers,” said The Iceman. “It’s educational work. Helping them realise their potential. But I don’t play football.”
“Ah,” I said.
“I have done some odd things,” The Iceman continued. “I did a boxing kangaroo act. I was the referee in a duo with a live kangaroo. Circo Moira Orfei in Italy. She was a fading film star. I had to go round saying Cugino! Cugino! Her cousin was called Filippo.”
“Did you live in a tent or in a caravan?” I asked.
“I lived in a truck with the kangaroo – there was a partition. We had a kangaroo and then collected a younger one from the airport, so I ended up living in the truck with two kangaroos. The poor young one got a lot of rollicking from the older one.”
“How long were you with the kangaroos?” I asked.
“A couple of months. I had to run away on Christmas Day.”
“I had a fracas in the audience and the acrobats were angry because it was at the moment of their ‘death-defying balance’ and so they were all out to get me because I caused them to stumble. I ran away and they ran after me running away, but they didn’t catch me.”
“It’s not their area of expertise,” I suggested.
“I suppose not,” said The Iceman.
“Tell me more about the boxing kangaroo,” I prompted.
A proud tradition – a poster from the 1890s
“We did the routine in a proper boxing ring and we knocked each other out – the other guy, Filippo, and me – quite a slick physical banging routine. Then I had to get the kangaroo by its tail and drag it into the ring. The first day, one of the roustabouts from Morocco tripped me up and I fell on the kangaroo’s bottom, which got a big laugh. Once the kangaroo was in the ring, I was supposed to give him his mating call and irritate him and dig him in the ribs. Then he gets angry and tries to get hold of Filippo.”
“Why didn’t he try to get hold of you?”
“Because Filippo was teasing him as well and he was more experienced in annoying the kangaroo. Filippo told me I was too kind to the kangaroo in the ring. The poor thing had boxing gloves on, so it looked like he was boxing but he was trying to grab Filippo round the neck. Sometimes, he would get him round the neck and one of my jobs was to release the forepaws if the kangaroo was really angry. If the kangaroo was really, really angry, he might hold onto Filippo with his forepaws and kick him to death with his hind legs. Kangaroos have very strong hind legs but their forepaws are less strong.”
“You did this job just for kicks?” I asked.
“There was a lot of comedy,” said The Iceman, “because he would kick Filippo and I, as referee, had to tell the kangaroo off.”
“You never got kicked?” I asked.
“Not seriously. His irritation was more directed at Filippo… I have slightly mixed feelings talking about all this. It is quite sad when you think about it. But I was young. The animals I felt sorriest for were the tigers. The circus had elephants who killed some of the people.”
Death defying circus stunts were common
“In the audience?”
“No, the people looking after them. But the tigers just went round and round. Terrible conditions, really. I’m not really very pro-circus, animal-wise. Looking back, it was all a bit sad, really. That image of the tigers is the one that haunts me most. They had gone mad and were going round and round and round.”
“You toured with this circus?” I asked.
“Not for very long, because I had to run away from the acrobats.”
“When was this?”
“When circuses were circuses.”
“Yes. So many animals. Birds, vultures and incredible trapeze artists. There was a clown who played the saw. Every cliché.”
“Why were you working in this circus?” I asked.
“I used to go to clown workshops at the Oval House in London. To me, to be a proper clown in a big circus was my apotheosis. Is that the right word?”
“I have no idea,” I said. “Why an Italian circus?”
“Because I met the mother of a clown. His father had died in the ring.”
“Killed by an elephant?”
“I have no idea. It seems unlikely.”
“That was your only circus experience?”
“Yes. I moved on…”
“Experimental theatre. In those days, there were a lot of small-scale touring theatres.”
“I have never painted anything without quite a strong feeling.”
“You should paint kangaroos,” I suggested.
“No. Only ice blocks. That’s my genre. To depart from that would spell doom. Each picture I have done is unique.”
“They are all blocks of ice,” I pointed out.
“But they are each unique,” said The Iceman. “I have never painted anything without quite a strong feeling.”
“Quite a strong feeling of…?” I asked.
There was a pause. “I’m not sure,” he replied. “That is a very good question…. Maybe a feeling of bringing something alive long after the event when it existed.”