Category Archives: London

Three racial insights into the UK at Christmas 2019/New Year 2019/20

I think the first time it happened I was on a Victoria Line train on the London Underground.

I was feeling quite mellow and relaxed, standing by the exit doors of the train when he talked to me.

He was a young black bloke, maybe around 19. The shrewd observer of life in London might have guessed he was a black troublemaker and/or mugger.

He got up, looked me in the eye and offered me his seat. This was maybe two years ago. It was a first.

I had got to that point in life where I look so old (and presumably appear to be so frail) that people offer me their seats in trains. And one thing always strikes me. This is, I think, a fairly accurate guesstimate of the numbers…

Around 90% or maybe even 95% of the people who offer their seats to me in trains are non-white.

It is very rare for a white person to offer me their seat.

Young men; young women; even, the other day, an older Indian guy who was maybe 50.

I think: What the fuck? How old do I look? How geriatric must I look?

But it’s almost always the same. They are non-white and (I think; I guess) are British residents. I don’t think tourists would offer their seat to me unless I looked REALLY frail and looked like I was about to drop down at any moment. Tourists would not be absolutely sure about the local protocol. 

I don’t know what the social or ethnical or upbringing reason is; but it is non-white-skinned people who offer their seats to me.

And, just before Christmas, there was a more unsettling incident.

I was with a friend’s 8-year-old daughter.

An unsettling encounter on a fairly crowded London bus…

We got on a fairly crowded bus. But there was a double seat occupied by a young woman in her twenties of Chinese origin. I say that because I don’t think she was Chinese. She may have been Malaysian or similar. Mostly Chinese ethnically but not by birth.

She had a small child – presumably her daughter – standing in front of her; they were interacting. They were using one seat; the seat beside them was completely empty.

The young woman looked up and saw me approaching. I was going to let my 8-year old sit on the empty seat and stand beside her.

The Chinese woman, looking me in the eye, made to move so that I and my 8-year-old could sit down in the two seats and she and her daughter would stand, giving up their one seat. There was a look in her eye that made me think she felt I presumed I, as a white man with a white chlld, had a right to the two seats and she – a young Chinese woman with a Chinese daughter – had to defer to me. 

With a look, I communicated she did not have to get up.

They had been quite reasonably and very politely only using one seat, so my 8-year-old was able to sit down in the empty seat without affecting them and I stood by the eight-year-old; there was no other empty seat nearby.

But the look in the young woman’s eye – that she had to defer to a white man – unsettled and still unsettles me.

Another incident happened just after Christmas.

I had arranged a meal with a chum in a Japanese restaurant in Soho. My chum is of Polynesian/Chinese descent. There was a queue of about four other people, mostly Japanese, outside the restaurant, including my chum; she had arrived before me.

“Did you see that man with the zimmer frame?” she asked me.

I had passed him. He had just turned round the corner.

“He told us all to get off the street and get out of the way,” she told me, “and to get back to where we came from.”

The queue was not blocking the pavement.

I went back to the corner but he was no longer there.

I can think of one reason why he had to use a zimmer frame.

The Christmas/New Year period roughly coincides with the 9-day Jewish Hanukkah holiday.

The confusing menorah at Hanukkah in  Borehamwood…

I live in Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, just on the NW edge of London. For reasons unknown, there is a fairly high Jewish population; and a fairly high Romanian population. We have two Romanian grocers… one generic Balkan grocer also catering for Romanians… and now a triple-fronted Romanian restaurant in the high street.

This year, in the shopping centre, to celebrate Hanukkah, there was a large menorah installed – made out of balloons – and a few tressle tables. The gents supervising it all wore skullcaps/kippahs and long beards. They looked Jewish. There were DJ disco tracks playing on a loudspeaker. The music was a mixture of Jewish music and what sounded confusingly like black Caribbean music.

When I listened to the music properly, I realised it was Rasta music and the song lyrics referred to “the Lion of Judah” (ie Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia) and “have a happy Hanukkah”.

As I was loitering around listening to all this with some bemusement – OK, to be honest, the scene looked like a Jewish celebration, with West Indian music playing, manned by black-bearded members of ISIS – I realised quite a lot of the passers-by were speaking to each other in an Eastern European language that was not Russian. (I sort-of learned Russian at school.) I surmised the language was Romanian.

So there was this scenario where fairly recent immigrants from Romania were walking through a typically English shopping centre at Christmastime where some Jewish festival was being celebrated (there was the large menorah made from balloons) while West Indian music was playing. 

I suspect this was culturally beyond confusing to them but, somehow, I also find it very reassuring.

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Filed under London, Racism, UK

Lynn Ruth Miller on comedy in Singapore, London and Edinburgh

In immediately preceding blogs, she wrote about performing comedy in Cambodia, then in Bangkok, Saigon, Hanoi and Jakarta. Now London-based American Lynn Ruth Miller continues in Part 3 of a 4-part blog…


My next stop was Singapore.

The comedy scene there is not a good one in which to polish your craft. The open mike opportunities are sparse and, unlike London or even San Francisco, the only audiences at these events are other comedians and that is no way to judge if your comedy has a broad appeal.  

When I had been doing comedy for seven years I had already been elevated to paying gigs and could improve by listening to the reaction I got from larger more diverse audiences  

In Singapore, they have only two outlets.  

Umar Rana runs Masala and he always has international headliners. He is very good at employing locals, but his shows are only once a week and he cannot have the same person week after week. That means there is little opportunity to practice your craft with a real audience. There are too many comedians and too few slots to fill.  

The Merry Lion began two years ago and is not as established. I was very interested to see if it had improved. It had been a very basic room with few comforts or amenities when I last performed there. 

The result of this paucity of opportunity – only two outlets – is that the ‘big’ names here are not that effective in the larger international scene. 

Here they are local headliners; in European venues throughout the world they are mediocre at best.  

Comedians in Singapore who feel they have an edge want to go to the Edinburgh Fringe to get reviews and make an international name for themselves.  

I find that appalling because they do not understand the true nature of what the Edinburgh Fringe has become.  

It will cost them an inordinate amount of money. The cost of getting a show listed and advertising it – even if they are part of the Free Fringe or Free Festival – is very high. 

They will be paying twice as much for food and three times as much for lodging as they would anywhere else in the world. The reviews they receive for the most part will be by amateur reviewers hired for no pay by the reviewing outlets who do not understand the challenges of doing comedy in your second language. 

They may very well fill the house in Edinburgh (although I have my doubts about that) but, when they launch their career internationally, it founders because they are simply not sharp  or experienced enough.  

And that is not because they are not funny.

It is because, despite what people think, it takes years and years to polish a set so it has universal appeal.  

I have been doing this for 16 years and I have a natural talent for comedy. Yet, I am still far from there… and I have had plenty of opportunities to practice and to work on my delivery.

People in this part of Asia do not have those outlets. 

Furthermore, standup comedy has become a business. You have to have a name that people recognize if you are to be booked at the major clubs who make a profit from their shows.  

That becomes a Catch-22 situation because you cannot get that name unless you have the opportunity to perform and those chances are given to people who are already established.  

I always tell comedians that they have to truly love doing what we do for its own sake. This is easy enough for me to say because I am on a pension and only have myself to support. If you have a family and expensive tastes, I do not know what to advise. It is true that money can get you pretty far in the field but then even kids with rich daddies (and I see far too many of them on the scene) grind to a halt.   

Stand up comedy has changed my own life for the better. I am not sure even now if this is an individual thing because my previous life was such an unflushed toilet or something I can say will happen to anyone who devotes himself to it. 

…CONTINUED HERE
IN SINGAPORE and KUALA LUMPUR

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Filed under Comedy, Edinburgh, London, Singapore, Travel

Martin Besserman brings Alternative Variety to the London comedy circuit

It’s Camden Cabaret and the man behind it…

Martin Besserman, host of the long-established London comedy club Monkey Business is starting another night on Friday this week at his regular venue – the Pembroke Castle in Primrose Hill/Chalk Farm… It is not altogether comedy, though there will be some.

So we had a chat about it in his car, because it was raining. Well, you would, wouldn’t you? It was bloody wet.


JOHN: So, your new Camden Cabaret night. It involves burlesque. Will you be getting your kit off?

MARTIN: (LAUGHS) The most I’m likely to do is show a nipple. Those days of me showing a bit of my body – which I used to do at Speaker’s Corner – are long gone.

JOHN: You’re a long-time comedy venue runner. So why are you starting it? Bottom fallen out of comedy?

MARTIN: Well, all businesses are challenging. I was once a market trader. Before that, I was in a band and this is part of my journey in life. I’ve always been attracted to providing entertainment.

JOHN: So from band to street market to comedy to stripping.

MARTIN: I think stripping is an exaggeration. These days, stripping completely naked is rare. The emphasis is more on the creative aspect. I have gone through something like 150 different clips to identify the more creative and funny burlesque performers.

JOHN: How you suffer for your art…

MARTIN: (LAUGHS) But the shows are not just burlesque. It’s a real variety show.

“I was in a band” – Martin was performing in the mid-1980s…

JOHN: You know I have this obsession that, when Alternative Comedy first started in the mid-1980s, you would see a magician, a juggler, a comedian, all sorts of bizarre acts on the bill. Now you go to a comedy club and it’s six 24-year-old white blokes talking about wanking and how they watch porn.

MARTIN: And variety was on the bill before the 1980s as well. Bruce Forsyth and Ken Dodd and all those people. Our shows will have burlesque and drag artists and comedians and magicians. The character of the night will be one of unpredictability.

JOHN: Ironically, a lot of those old-school comics learnt their trade dying terrible on-stage deaths to apathetic audiences in between strippers at The Windmill.

MARTIN: Well, the new type of burlesque has really taken off in a big way. It is huge. Once there was an awareness that I was going to host this kind of night, a lot of performers – more than I had ever envisaged – were sending me their clips and wanting to get on the night. Perhaps in recognition that Monkey Business has been hugely successful over many, many years.

JOHN: Will you be having comics like (I NAMED A SPECIFIC COMIC) on the Camden Cabaret bill?

MARTIN: Well, we are living in a completely different political environment and it’s a dilemma for me to allow people to be a little bit rebellious on stage without offending customers who you want to return.

JOHN: So the punters won’t be offended by tits and bums, but they might be offended by (THE SPECIFIC COMIC I NAMED).

MARTIN: And you know why also? Because the burlesque performers are primarily feminists.

JOHN: Really?

Martin starts to prepare for the big night on Friday

MARTIN: Well, you gotta understand there would certainly be feminists opposed to the idea of women taking their clothes off and potentially turning men on. But – again – I have to say this is not about women taking their clothes off. This is about Art and we have some really, really creative performers. There’s a marvellous hula-hoop girl. Not all of the burlesque performers take their clothes off. 

On the night that Stephen Bailey is hosting – because I’m taking a back seat on some of these – he has an act on called Soul Illusion, a wonderful magic dance act.

What I’m trying to bring to this night is unpredictability. And it’s all about costumes as well. I’m trying to create a combination of old fashioned AND new entertainment. By doing that, we will hopefully cater for all.

It’s a cabaret night that happens to have a bit of burlesque in it. And comedy. And drag. But not always drag and not necessarily always burlesque.

It will cater for the straight AND the gay community. I should point out that The Black Cap in Camden closed about five years ago. It was a gay pub before homosexuality was even legal. (Homosexuality was decriminalised in the UK in 1967) It did temporarily relocate to another venue in Camden, but it was very very short-lived.

I am not saying that Camden Cabaret will be a replacement for The Black Cap, but I hope Camden Cabaret will cater for that community as well.

JOHN: A bit like the late lamented Madame Jojo’s in Soho, then…?

MARTIN: Yes.

JOHN: And Camden Cabaret is not replacing Monkey Business but is running in tandem…

“I’m trying to create a combination of old fashioned AND new entertainment…”

MARTIN: Yes. Monkey Business is at the Pembroke Castle on Thursdays and Saturdays… and Camden Cabaret is on Fridays.

JOHN: You have President Obonjo appearing on your second Camden Cabaret show – presumably not stripping – and the wonderful Malcolm Hardee Award winning Candy Gigi compering your third and fourth nights.

MARTIN: Yes. For what I want to achieve with this kind of night – unpredictability – she will be fantastic. I want it to be a crazy kinda night.

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Filed under Burlesque, Cabaret, Comedy, Drag, Gay, London

Noel Faulkner, outspoken comedy club owner, quits London after 40 years

Outspoken Noel Faulkner, the veteran (he will hate me using that word) club-owner is leaving London after about 40 years  (though with an interlude of about 18 years of that in the US). He started and ran London’s Comedy Cafe venue and, through his management agency, helped establish acts including Jimmy Carr. Last night, I met up with him to ask why he is leaving.

I had been seeing a comedy show and we met outside the venue after the show finished. That was his choice.


Noel Faulkner in London yesterday

JOHN: So you’re leaving in around 9-10 days. Do you have a set date for departure?

NOEL: No. I’m out of my house in London in about a week, then I’m going back to Galway. I’m from Galway. I’ve got a house there; I’m buying a boat – 40 or 45ft – and I’m going to sail six months of the year in the Mediterranean.

JOHN: I thought you were from Killarney.

NOEL: My parents moved a village in Connemara when I was a teenager. I was only there for a few years. Galway’s my home town.

JOHN: So why are you going back?

NOEL: Mainly because everybody I know in London is working. I never see anybody. All my friends are comics and I don’t want to hang round in comedy clubs. There is nothing more boring. I’d rather watch a proctologist operate.

JOHN: But you ran comedy clubs for…

NOEL: It’s all gone. After the Comedy Cafe closed, we tried it in a hotel but the people there were fucking idiots; they kept wanting to change the opening times. It’s done.

JOHN: Aren’t you going to feel pangs of nostalgia?

NOEL: I never want to see another comedian perform. I could have gone to this show you went to today. But I thought: I’m not going to sit in that. I just can’t be around comedy. You know the punchline and then the fuckers don’t hit it and you go: Oh! Fucking hell! I have no interest in comedy now. None.

JOHN: But you have an active mind. Galway is lovely. But you will get bored after six months, just sitting around.

NOEL: I’ll have a sail boat: you are permanently fixing something on a sail boat. I can fuck off anywhere I wanna go.

JOHN: And you are going to finish your autobiography in Ireland?

NOEL: Yeah. When I started writing it, there was only one Panama Canal. Since then, they’ve built a second one.

JOHN: Is it basically your 2005 Edinburgh Fringe show Shake, Rattle & Noel?

“…a Tourette-fuelled Helter Skelter ride through three decades” (New York Times)

NOEL: Yeah. But longer. More facts and craziness.

JOHN: What’s the last page? Leaving the Comedy Cafe?

NOEL: It doesn’t matter. Who’s going to buy it?

JOHN: You have amazing stories – Robin Williams, the drug cartels, being on the FBI’s Most Wanted list, the…

NOEL: Yeah, it’s a great book but I’m nobody, so I won’t get a publisher. I just wanna finish it for me. I have no ego any more about anything. I don’t give a fuck. 

JOHN: That’s age.

NOEL: Yeah. My mates are dying all around me. My brother’s girlfriend just died. I just want to get up every day and for it to be a good day and joyful.

JOHN: Paul Sinha has Parkinson’s Disease.

NOEL: Yeah. He’s a sweet man… Ian Cognito just died last month. I knew Paul (Cognito’s real name). He was a lovely man. Very sad.

JOHN: His death must have had an effect on you.

NOEL: Scary.  That’s why I realised… Just get the fucking boat… I might be dead in five years time.

JOHN: He was 60. But he had lived a fair old bit…

NOEL: A brilliant singer. I saw him sing with Peter Graham’s orchestra at the Hackney Empire… white tuxedo… beautiful. Highly talented but totally self-destructive. Permanently on self-destruct.

JOHN: I’m amazed Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones is still alive.

NOEL: It’s in the genes.

JOHN: Do you have long-living relatives?

NOEL: I have a great-great-great-grandfather who lived to be 125.

JOHN: Was he fairly compos mentis?

NOEL: I don’t know. I wasn’t born then.

JOHN: Comedy moves on. Jo Brand got into trouble. People in the UK have been throwing milk shakes at politicians. She joked on a BBC Radio show: “Why bother with a milkshake when you could get some battery acid?” Nigel Farage complained; the police investigated but decided it was not an incitement to violence.

“We can’t start censoring. You’ll have Dialogue Police.”

NOEL: It was just a fucking joke. Listen, we can’t start censoring. You’ll have Dialogue Police. When I had the Comedy Cafe in Shoreditch, they were doing a test attaching microphones to lampposts. If someone was murdered, they would hear it and the CCTV guys could start looking at the… That’s how fucking… So we could be sitting here outside a cafe having a conversation and you swear 12 times and say this word and… We are right up to that!

JOHN: 1984.

NOEL: We can’t have it! If I was doing stuff on stage now, I would fucking tear into everybody and go: Fuck you all! It’s like “Good evening ladies and gentlemen and everyone with a sexual preference from A to fucking Z”… Now I haven’t offended anybody, ya cunts. It’s fucking ridiculous. I don’t even know what the initials LGBTQ… Does ANYbody fucking know what they stand for? NO. But some guy’s got a penis transplant to his forehead and a vagina in his ear… For fuck’s sake!

JOHN: You should seriously think about doing an Edinburgh Fringe show where you just go up and rant.

NOEL: I don’t want to spend a month up there. It’s depressing. Really depressing.

JOHN: But, if you don’t give a shit, it’s OK.

NOEL: You’re still depressed. I’ve been up there with money in my pocket. Hated it.

JOHN: When you did your show in 2005? But you probably cared then. The trick is not to care.

NOEL: Yeah, but you’re spending fucking £10,000. Edinburgh, for a comic, is the greatest illusion ever.

JOHN: In what way?

NOEL: That you’re gonna make it.

JOHN: Are you gonna have a farewell ‘do’?

NOEL: No.

JOHN: Oh go on… A farewell rant.

NOEL: No, I’m not. I don’t want to stand round in a bar having to talk to people. They can fuck off. I’m gone.

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Filed under Comedy, Ireland, London, political correctness

David McGillivray’s autobiography: if you are in it, be afraid… be very afraid

David McGillivray has been described as “the Truffaut of smut” and (by Jonathan Ross) as “a comedy legend”.

He has appeared in this blog at various times – in 2015 touting Trouser Bar, his film of an allegedly hard-core alleged script by the late Sir John Gielgud… alleged, that is, by everyone except the worried guardians of the estate of Sir John Gielgud.

Lawyers’ letters, threats and phrases ensued.

In 2017, he was in this blog touting Doing Rude Things, a reissue of his book on dodgy soft-core porn films.

He has a bit of previous in touting.

When not anguished, people enjoyed the book launch party

When I arrived for this week’s launch of his autobiography Little Did You Know: The Confessions of David McGillivray, people who had already bought copies were feverishly skimming through the index to see if they were mentioned. 

“A huge amount of those people,” David told me, “will have wanted to check for libel. Some sighing with relief when they found they weren’t included.”

Comedian Julian Clary’s approved cover quote for the book is that it is “a meticulous account of a life so sordid I think each copy should come with a complimentary sanitary wipe”.

The book’s press-release says David McG’s autobiography was “eagerly-awaited”. I think it might equally be said its publication was “desperately feared”. I can do no better than quote from the possibly understated PR blurb:

McGillivray (left) and Clary in Chase Me Up Farndale Avenue, s’il vous plait in 1982 (Photograph from Little Did You Know)

“The grandson of an acrobat and briefly the UK’s youngest film critic, McGillivray wrote his first film when he was 23, then moved on to a succession of cheap shockers and skin flicks. After Prime Minister Thatcher dealt killer blows to the UK’s independent film industry, McGillivray found alternative employment in radio, TV and theatre, becoming Julian Clary’s long-serving scriptwriter. Around the year 2000 he put these careers temporarily on hold to dabble in another form of exploitation, but one closely associated with the more secretive side of show business.

“In this sensational memoir, McGillivray takes us through the cocaine-lined world of London’s media industry, the tragic heights of the AIDS epidemic and the sinful celluloid backstreets of Soho… McGillivray hosted London’s wildest parties at his home. They were attended by some of the biggest names of stage, screen, music and fashion. The revelations of what went on under the figurative noses of law enforcement agencies and the literal noses of McG and his high-flying guests are not for the faint-hearted.”

Julian Clary introduced David at the book launch thus:

“It makes my love life seem like an afternoon at the W.I…”

“I thought I put it about a bit in my youth, but this makes my love life seem like an afternoon at the Women’s Institute… McG has said on several occasions that he will never work again once this book has been published, but I don’t think we should get our hopes up. I suspect some seedy project will catch his eye soon…. (maybe) a long-lost lesbian porn script allegedly written by Mother Teresa… You will know and understand David better after you have read this book, but you may cross the road when you see him coming.”

The next day, David and I had a chat in the sinful celluloid backstreets of Soho – well, in the pleasant environs of the Soho Theatre Bar in Dean Street.


McGillivray talked in the sinful celluloid backstreets of Soho

JOHN: You had trouble getting this book published.

DAVID: Oh yes. 

JOHN: When did you start it?

DAVID: 2000. So many re-writes; so many lawyers. Libel was a huge problem in the early editions. It was very stressful. I got very fed up with the process and put the idea on the shelf in 2015, but then I met the publisher Harvey Fenton of FAB Press and I thought maybe it was his cup of tea, because he is the man who gave us Cinema Sewer and Satanic Panic.

It has taken another 2 or 3 years. Now the book comes out officially in the shops on 1st August but, if you pre-order, you will get signed copies sent to you from 1st June. After so many versions and God knows how many lawyers, apparently it will now leave me legally in the clear. There is a disclaimer at the front to tidy up any loose ends:

DISCLAIMER

The inclusion of a person’s name or likeness in this book does not imply that the person has at any time bought, traded or accepted as a gift an illegal drug from the author or has used an illegal drug from any source. Some names and identifying features have been changed.

“It will leave me legally in the clear…”

JOHN: People in the film business? The theatrical business?

DAVID: (LAUGHS) Oh yes… all media. It’s been a colourful life and I’ve indulged in all manner of things in my 71 years.

JOHN: Knowing a lot of it was unrepeatable for legal reasons, why did you start it?

DAVID: I thought there was a story about what was going on at the turn of the century and, while everyone seemed almost supernaturally obsessed with the end of 1000 years and convinced that planes were going to fall out of the sky, I thought there was something else going on. I knew there was something else going on, because it was going on in my living room every Friday night for five years. So I wrote about my own life, particularly around that period, 1998-2003. But the lifestyle I was indulging in those five years stretched back to my teenage years, so I thought I might as well write about my entire life.

JOHN: You said: “…going on in my living room”.

DAVID: That is the essence of what the book is about.

JOHN: Your living room?

DAVID: Yes… Well, it was mostly in my basement. It was a four-storey house in a very charming crescent in Kings Cross.

JOHN: At the time when it was gentrifying…

McGillivray: a life of unbridled glamour

DAVID: When I moved there in 1995, it was still very rough indeed. By the time I left two years ago, it was completely unrecognisable. The old community I knew had completely gone and the rest of the street was virtually rented out for Airbnb. I didn’t like that.

JOHN: So, parties in your basement on Friday nights for five years… Details?

DAVID: I don’t know where to begin… I was a party animal and all that that entails.

JOHN: What does it entail?

DAVID: An enormous amount of activity every Friday night.

JOHN: Activity? Only Fridays? What happened on Thursdays in your basement?

DAVID: Nothing.

JOHN: You are a tease.

DAVID: I’m a wicked tease. Well, I used to be in the exploitation movie business. I want people to buy the book and be surprised.

JOHN: “Used to be”?

DAVID: Well, I haven’t done any of those sort of films since 1977.

David McGillivray & Nigel Havers at the Trouser Bar location

JOHN: What about Trouser Bar – the one allegedly – ooh, err – definitely not written by John Gielgud?

DAVID: I think it is a work of ar…

JOHN: Arse?

DAVID: Art. It’s not an exploitation film.

JOHN: What happened in your house on Saturday mornings?

DAVID: Hangovers and Oh God! Why did I do it? conversations.

JOHN: You are being reticent, but the book is over the top.

DAVID: It’s excessive, yes.

JOHN: But detailed and true. You kept diaries.

DAVID: From the age of 12. I have diaries from 1960 to today and haven’t missed a day.

JOHN: Can worried participants in your life expect a sequel?

DAVID: Almost certainly, yes, because a lot has happened since 2015 and you have blogged about some of those incidents. 

“…and the film WILL be made.”

JOHN: Regrets?

DAVID: I don’t regret anything I’ve done at all. One should only regret the things one hasn’t done.

JOHN: Any other films on the horizon?

DAVID: I’m still trying to find a director for The Wrong People – based on the novel by Robin Maugham. It’s a quite expensive feature film; one I can’t finance myself. I bought the film rights. More controversy: “It’s unfilmable” and all that. At the moment, nobody will touch it with a bargepole. But I WILL get a director for it and the film WILL be made.

JOHN: That sounds like a threat.

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Filed under Drugs, London, Movies, showbiz

Lynn Ruth Miller on being stalked in Glasgow and the homeless in London

Lynn Ruth Miller in Glasgow last week

In yesterday’s blog, I was talking to a man who had decided to see what it was like to be homeless for one day on the streets of Manchester.

Now 85-year-old London-based American comic Lynn Ruth Miller gives her own views on homelessness and being stalked in Glasgow…

Here she goes…


I was so successful using my college Spanish in Barcelona (blogged about here) that I decided to give myself the acid test and go someplace where I REALLY could not understand anything anyone said.

Last week I went to Glasgow.

The Markee de Saw (left) and Miss Innocence Bliss in Glasgow

I headlined at the Allsorts Cabaret in Katie’s Bar. This is a burlesque cabaret hosted by the Markee de Saw and Innocence Bliss, both regulars on the burlesque circuit.  

And that was when I got stalked…

It was really very thrilling.

A very young man came into the club while I was waiting to go on stage. He sat very close to me and smiled significantly.

I smiled significantly back.  

What else could I do?  

I couldn’t SAY anything because there was a show going on.

At the interval, I left to put on my costume and his eyes followed me right into the dressing room. This was a brand new experience for me. I found it very awkward to get down to my undies knowing his eyes were right there in the room. After all, we had not even been introduced.

I returned to my table and there he was looking more significant than ever!!!!! 

I managed to haul myself on stage and he was right there with a hand up (to the stage, not my costume). I finished my song about being old just in case no-one noticed (but I think they all did). I sat down next to my stalker and he spoke his first words to me.

I think he said: “Would you like a drink?” 

But it was hard to catch what he said because, by this time, he had had several shots himself and the music was very loud and he was having a difficult time forming a coherent sentence.  

I think that’s a Glasgow thing.

In seconds, a large glass of white wine appeared as if by magic and the young man fastened his eyes on my bodice. I think he was trying to find my cleavage, which resembles an elongated pleat these days. But his brain couldn’t process what that was.  

I finished my wine and I think he said: ”Would you like another?”

So I nodded (significantly, of course).

I was obviously right because another glass of wine appeared before me.  

And then my stalker took my hand in his and looked even more significantly into what was left of my eyes. 

He tried to stand and failed.  

I was having a bit of trouble focusing myself, but I took his arm to help him up and that was when the bartender threw him out of the bar.

I was still glowing from this romantic encounter when I boarded the train the next morning to return to London Euston.  

My hosts and I walked to the station. It was supposed to be a 30-minute stroll but, partly because my legs are now approximately the size of a chihuahua’s and partly because my thoughts were still locked into memories of the sexiest night of life, it took us an hour to get to the station.  

We only had ten minutes to get to the train.  

My host said he would dash to Sainsbury’s and buy me lunch: a banana, a tangerine, a croissant and a small yogurt.  

As I toddled to my coach, he galloped toward me with a huge bag and thrust it in my arms. When I opened it, I realized he must have thought I wanted to feed the entire coach. I discovered a quart of water, a bag of tangerines, a large bunch of bananas, two croissants and a tub of yogurt ample enough to feed 400 starving Armenians during their revolution.

I managed to eat one of each thing and a few spoonfuls of the yogurt and then pondered on what the hell I would do with all this food because I am Jewish and we do not throw out food.

Meanwhile, the discussion in the coach drifted from Brexit to the homeless problem. 

The woman sitting across from me waxed eloquent on the outrageous way people were pretending to be homeless and fooling us by wearing tattered clothing when, as soon as their day was over, they ran around the corner and jumped into their Mercedes to motor to their luxury flat in Kensington.

I pointed out that some of them really do need our help and she said: “Really? I know for a fact that most of them earn at least £300 a day and they spend it all on heroin or cocaine.”

“Perhaps,” I said, “it would be best to give them food instead of money so they do not spend that 20p we thrust in their empty cup on drugs.”

“Absolutely not,” she said. “They won’t take food anyway. They just want to finance their disgusting habits.”

As she waxed eloquent on the sins of the charlatans sitting on our street corners, I remembered my friend Kevin who reminded me that, if I give money to someone, I have no right to tell him what to spend it on.  

“Did you ever think,” he said, “that drugs might be their only escape from a life too horrible for us to contemplate in our warm comfortable homes with our tables laden with food?”

The train pulled into Euston station and I took my huge bag of food and water along with my suitcase and my backpack with me on my way to Kings Cross to catch the Piccadilly line to go to Covent Garden.  

As I trudged to the station, I saw one of these very homeless people we were analyzing on the train.  

He was a young man in his twenties, shivering in the cold, with an empty cup sitting forlornly at his feet.  

I stopped and handed him the bananas, the bag of tangerines and the water but, before I could manage to throw a few coins in that empty cup, he was halfway through the first banana.

I thought of that woman sitting in a comfortable coach sipping her wine and nibbling at her gourmet salad.  

I thought of the comfortable place I go home to every night and the refrigerator stuffed with more food than I need and I wept.  

I wept for that poor man sitting before me so desperately hungry. He could not wait to eat that banana.  

I wept for that woman and all those like her who cannot see the hunger and the extreme need of people forced to subsist on the paltry coins we throw at them as we hurry from our warm homes to our comfortable offices or to the theatre or to a posh dinner that costs more than they will get in a year in that paper cup that sits at their feet.  

One missed paycheck, one lost job, one debilitating illness… that is all it takes to put every one of us on the street, begging strangers for help.

I do not have answers for how we can stop this growing homeless situation.  

I do know that my giving that boy a bit of fruit did nothing to solve the bigger problem.  

But what else could I do?

So I hurried on to Covent Garden to judge an LBGTQ heat in a club.  

I laughed a lot and drank some wine, but I couldn’t get the memory of that hungry boy out of my mind.

When I got home that night, all I could think of was the people I walk past every day on the street and how little we all do to help those who are not as lucky as we are.

And then I ate my dinner and began to plan for my trip to Amsterdam.

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Filed under Glasgow, Humor, Humour, London, Poverty, UK

Malcolm Hardee, the squatters and the upcoming Cunning Stunt in Edinburgh

The Wibbley Wobbley in its original berth at Greenland Dock in February 2014

The Wibbley Wobbley in its original berth at Greenland Dock

In November and December last year, I posted a series of blogs about the late comic Malcolm Hardee’s former floating pub/comedy club The Wibbley Wobbley.

There were squatters living on board in November.

In December, the boat was towed away from Greenland Dock, Rotherhithe to nearby South Dock Marina and, a few days later, towed away to be scrapped.

This week, I had a chat with Darryl, one of the squatters.

“So you got ousted from the Wibbley Wobbley,” I said. “Where are you squatting now?”

“In a building. An ex-restaurant.”

“Any leftovers?”

“No. Only mice.”

“You could eat the mice,” I suggested.

“We could, but we have standards.”

“So,” I said, “The Wibbley Wobbley got moved from Greenland Dock to South Dock Marina. Were the squatters still on board at the time?”

The Wibbley Wobbley was temporarily berthed in South Dock Marina, Rotherhithe(Photograph by Jody VandenBurg)

The Wibbley Wobbley was temporarily berthed in South Dock Marina, Rotherhithe (Photograph by Jody VandenBurg)

“I wasn’t on board,” replied Darryl, “but other people were. There was no notice and it was a dawn raid. They just cut off the supports, attached a boat with a power motor and towed the Wibbley Wobbley around the corner.”

“What happened,” I asked, “when it got taken away from South Dock Marina?”

“No idea. It’s a mystery. We had all got off by then.”

“Because you had decided it was not a good place to stay?”

“No, the people were quite aggressive. They booted us off.”

“Physically?”

“Pretty much, yeah. We couldn’t put up a resistance, so…”

“There was some verbal aggression and you left?”

“Well,” said Darryl, “there was some physical violence to one of our crew. But we realised the boat was going to be sailed away and dismantled or whatever, so we…”

“What sort of physical violence?” I asked.

“A punch to the head,” said Darryl. “It was not very nice.”

“How had you originally started squatting there?” I asked.

“We went on board in late May last year – Pirata Mala Pata…”

“What?” I asked.

“Pirata Mala Pata,” Darryl repeated.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“The name of the man who went on board to start off with. He’s my friend. Pirata Mala Pata. It’s Spanish.”

“What does it mean?”

Darryl the Squatter talked to me at the Soho Theatre Bar

Darryl the Saintly Squatter talked to me at the Soho Theatre

“No idea. We have pirate names. Pirata Mala Pata. He went on board first, with Back from the Dead Red.”

“What?”

“Back from the Dead Red – That’s his name.

“Then I went on – Darryl Kia Kaha – and then Conrad the Cut-Throat Lipstick Killer. Then, after that, quickly, there were Bristima Long Wave, Diabolito, Deptford Drake, Slayer Crow, Belly Bones Beerhead and Bluebeard Barbarossa. They are all very interesting characters.”

“I don’t doubt it,” I said. “When you started squatting on the Wibbley Wobbley, you told me no-one was clear who owned it.”

“When we went on board,” Darryl explained, “the power was still all activated, the fridge had been running for I don’t know how many years and there was a lot of alcohol left on board which was good for about a week.”

“What was in the fridge?” I asked.

“Nothing, but there was lots of electrical equipment still on board. The water supply was still on. It was a great environment.

“We contacted the Harbour Master to find out who the owner was so we could maybe make a deal with him and say we would look after the boat. The person we met at that time – we could not confirm if he actually was the owner – said we would have about three weeks.

“So we said: OK. That’s fine. Three weeks is great. And those three weeks came and went and we were there for about six months. But the Harbour Master didn’t want us on board. He turned off the power pretty quickly, so we got a generator and a lot of battery stuff. After another couple of months, he removed the water supply, which was a bit contentious. You’re not supposed to remove a water supply. But there was not much recourse for us, so we just bought big bottles. And then there was the sewerage problem.

“That was part of why the whole boat closed down in the first place. There is a big sewage tank at the back of the boat and, when it gets filled up, it starts to sink the boat.”

Malcolm Hardee, man of the River Thames, had contacts (photograph by Vincent Lewis)

“Malcolm would have approved of what you are doing.” (Photograph by Vincent Lewis)

“Ah yes,” I said. “I was at Malcolm’s birthday party in 2002 when the boat started to sink with the weight of its own shit.”

“We actually sorted it out,” said Darryl. “The Harbour Master disconnected the sewerage. We didn’t like that. So we re-connected it, got a pump and our generator and managed to send the shit back up the pipe and around the harbour to his tank. He didn’t know. But it worked and we were pretty much self-sufficient.”

“Did he ever find out?” I asked.

“No… In the squatting network, people are very resourceful. A lot of people have a lot of knowledge. As you can imagine, with a disparate group of people, everyone has their own agendas. My agenda was to run creative events. My background is film-making and music. We made little films on the boat, which was cool. And we had events, which was really cool.”

“When did you find out about Malcolm Hardee?” I asked.

“As soon as we got on, we started researching. We found lots of articles inside the boat and really quickly found out about him. We thought: Wow! This is exciting! This is obviously a kindred spirit. And, amongst many people who came by the boat, were a couple of people who said: Malcolm would have approved of what you guys are doing.”

“I think they are probably right,” I told Darryl.

“But,” he continued, “along with that, we also endured quite a lot of hostility.”

“From…?” I asked.

The interior of the Wibbley Wobbley during the occupation by squatters

Interior of Wibbley Wobbley during the squatter occupation.

“Oh, as soon as we got on the boat, word spread around. It had been the pub for some of the old locals, so it was understandable they would feel jilted that we had taken over what used to be their bar. So we suffered quite a lot of verbal abuse, threats of violence. We recorded a lot of it on camera to protect ourselves. Also there were drunk people trying to come on board. There was also a mad woman who would throw huge rocks at us. We had to get the police around to her.”

“She lived in a nearby flat?”

“Yeah.”

“And threw rocks?”

“Yeah. Big rocks. She was mentally not well. Also, towards the end of summer, we had a gang of marauding 10-year-olds on bicycles throwing rocks at us.”

“What,” I asked, “did the police say?”

“They came round in the early days and said: You guys are fine. You’ve got occupancy, so you have the right to be here.

“Once, we had an open painting day and put large canvasses up on the pier and invited people to come and paint. We had lots of kids come along. The Harbour Master came along and said: You can’t do this! You’re trespassing! He called the police. He told them: Look! These guys are trespassing and disturbing the peace!

“And,” I asked, “the police reaction was…?”

“They said: No, no. They’re not. Sorry. There’s nothing you can do about it. Bugger off.” 

“Not in those exact words?”

“No, not in those exact words, but it was a bit humiliating for the poor guy.”

“And the future…?” I asked.

“We have been inspired by Malcolm and an anonymous group has decided to take on the concept of the Cunning Stunt at the Edinburgh Fringe this year.”

“Ooh,” I said. “Are they actually staging a show at the Fringe?”

“Yes. the group intends to put on a comedy piece.”

Christian Talbot’s increasingly prestigious Cunning Stunt Award

One of the increasingly prestigious Cunning Stunt Awards

“And the stunt is…?” I asked.

“Something is going to happen,” said Darryl.

“Always good,” I said. “Is it legal or illegal?”

“Legal, I think.”

“How disappointing,” I said.

“Well,” said Darryl, “the hologram might infringe some boundaries. You’ve got maritime law, terrestrial law and then you have aerospace. They are going to attempt a hologram between the dimensions.”

“Between time and space?” I asked.

“Yes. Totally shred the space-time continuum,” said Darryl.

“What,” I asked, “is the stage show they might be putting on at the Edinburgh Fringe?”

“Apparently it’s going to be inside a four-walled venue for one day only – because, once you have burnt down a building, you can’t do it again…”

“Malcolm did,” I told him. “And when might this show happen in Edinburgh?”

“No idea,” said Darryl. “But they have said they will release information. They have got birds: pigeons. They will be sending them out to various addresses at the right time.”

“Including my address?” I asked. “I hope so.”

“Maybe…” said Darryl. “Maybe leave some crumbs outside the front door to your house so the pigeons will know where to land.”

“Except,” I said, “I suppose I should not tell you my address in case I wake up tomorrow and find you are squatting in my back bedroom.”

“Absolutely,” said Darryl.

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“Anonymous group has decided to take on the concept of the Cunning Stunt at the Edinburgh Fringe”

 

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Filed under Anarchy, Comedy, London