Category Archives: London

I am lazy. Comedy club crowdfunding continues. Comic will change his name.

(L-R) Barry Ferns, Dec Munro, Rachel Warnes and Sarah Pearce

(L-R) The founding four for Angel Comedy 2.0  – Barry Ferns (horizontal), Dec Munro, Rachel Warnes and Sarah Pearce

Oh Jesus.

Mea culpa.

Today is 21st July.

On 3rd June, I had a chat with Barry Ferns and Dec Munro about the Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign they had just started to help finance the new Angel Comedy 2.0 comedy club in London’s Islington. The idea was that I could give their campaign a boost with a blog. What could go wrong?

Well, my laziness and tortuous Things I Am Doing for a start.

I mean, if I am going to bullshit, they didn’t really need me anyway.

Their target was to raise a whopping £20,000.

They did this within a week.

At the time of writing, they have now raised over £45,000 and there are only a five hours left.

But – hey! – at least I will have posted a blog of some kind at some point. The Kickstarter page is at:
https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/angel-comedy/angel-comedy-club
and Angel Comedy supremo Barry Ferns (an increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award winner) has posted a very fine video on YouTube about the Angel 2.0 project.

As an incentive to pledge money, donors will be given various limited-edition Angel Comedy goodies. If you donate more than £30, you can name a random object in the building. So there might be a John Fleming knob (on a door). If you pledge £75 or more, there will be a tankard with your engraved name on it above the bar. For £200, you can name the glitter ball. For £500 you can name a toilet. And – recently added to the incentives – you can also re-name Barry Ferns.

“All of our backers get a vote,” Barry told me last week. “Even just a £1 pledge gets a vote. We will be having a proper naming ceremony as part of the official club opening in September – where I will sign the deed poll form and one of our winning backers will get to counter-sign and witness the name change.”

“Why?” I asked. “Just simply, why?”

“To show how grateful we are,” said Barry. “Anyone can suggest a name for me – even a vengeful ex-girlfriend or a maniac like Adam Larter – who is trying to create a name that will get me into as much trouble at passport control as possible. Suggestions so far include: Mr Terrorist, VOID NAME, 000000000 and First Name, Surname. The stakes are quite high…

The new Angel Comedy 2.0 - the whole building

The new Angel Comedy 2.0 – Yes, it’s the whole building

Way back on 3rd June, when I originally talked to Barry and Dec and they only had around £21,000, Barry told me: “The money so far has mostly just come from people who have been to our shows and know we are good people and are not gonna spunk their money on things. We want to do something good and they’ve seen us do something good over the last six years.”

“Why,” I asked, “did you decide to start the second club in Islington when you already have the 7-days-a-week  original Angel Comedy club still running?”

“Most clubs,” explained Barry, “are run out of upstairs rooms in pubs – like Angel Comedy. Malcolm Hardee started Up The Creek, but he bought the building. So the four of us put money in to buy this building but with the realisation that, once we owned the building, it would take more money to make it right.”

“You have the building on a seven-year lease?” I asked.

“Seven to eight,” said Barry. “Between the two.”

“That gives you great security,” I said.

“Security is one word,” said Dec Munro. “Millstone is also a word.”

“What do you need the Kickstarter money for?” I asked.

“When it rained two days ago,” said Barry, “we had buckets and things.”

“So,” I said, “you are doing a ‘soft’ opening with various things happening in July and August, but a ‘hard’ opening in September, after the Edinburgh Fringe is done and dusted. What does a ‘hard opening’ mean?”

Dec said: “Consistent opening hours, some resident acts, regular format nights like improv, mixed variety, musical comedy, different weird stuff.”

“There are so many comedians out there,” added Barry, “who are not really supported, because there’s nowhere they can get free preview space or a place that will let them perform absolutely bat-shit crazy stuff or if they are going to take a risk. The reason Angel Comedy has worked is because the new comedians are brilliant. That’s why it works. Not because it’s free; but because the shows are good.”

“Why are you keeping the original Angel Comedy club open?” I asked again.

“Because that is not this,” replied Barry. “That is an open mic club. It is the top of the open mic circuit. Angel Comedy 2.0 is not the open mic circuit.”

“How will the charging here work?” I asked.

“It’s whatever the performers want to do,” explained Barry. “If they want to put on a free night, they can collect in a bucket at the end. If they want to run Bob Slayer’s model, they can do that. If they want to charge £15 for a ticket, they can do that. Our cuts will be cost-only cuts. We won’t take a 60/40 split.”

“So how can you calculate covering costs?” I asked.

Angel Comedy club 2.0

“A permanent home for London’s loveliest comedy night.”

“What we can say,” replied Dec, “is we hope from September not to charge more than a 20% split of any tickets. And that money would go into a magazine or similar to be distributed in the local area to let them know about us.”

“And there is no rental fee for the room?” I asked.

“We,” said Barry, “will not charge a fee that we will make any profit on from renting it out. If we charge any money, it will just go to the publicity costs.

“Here at Angel Comedy 2.0 it’s not always going to be free, but we want it to be a place where people can take risks. We also have space where people can come in at low cost or no cost and record a podcast. And we can teach people how to make films or sketches.

“If you’re an art or theatre student, you can go to university and get access to a lot of other things but, in comedy, there is not that. I have gone bankrupt. I have done the craziest things just to be able to perform. And there is no support unless you have wealthy parents who own a house in London. You have to work at least five days a week to make your rent and then you have two hours to perform comedy when you’re exhausted and you have no resources.”

Thus said Barry Ferns.

But he may not be Barry Ferns for much longer. He explains more about his re-naming in a video on YouTube:

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Chaos on Thameslink rail line continues

Cattle never had it this bad, courtesy of Thameslink

A typical late-night carriage, courtesy of Govia’s Thameslink

I have blogged about the daily chaos on the Thameslink rail line through London before.

I have not mentioned it for a while because the cancellations, overcrowding, chaos and delays simply continue daily

Tonight was no different.

Only two platforms were open at Hendon station: one going north; one going south.

I had a 26 minute wait for the 2301 northbound train. At 2300, it disappeared from the indicator board to be replaced by a 2334 train.

At 2305, I suddenly realised the train which had just arrived on the southbound platform had arrived heading north and I legged-it up the steps, across the bridge, down the steps and (with luck) got onto the train literally 4 seconds before the doors closed.

Of course, this being Thameslink, there had been no visual sign or audio announcement of the platform change, just the visual display changing the next train’s time to 2334.

This has been going on for around a year and started about one month after Govia took over the contract to run the line from a previously perfectly-OK company.

It makes me long to live in North Korea.

You can get people shot there.

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Linked: the Krays, the Blind Beggar shooting and the Queen of England

Micky Fawcett (right) with Ronnie Kray (left) & boxer Sonny Liston,

(L-R) Ronnie Kray, boxer Sonny Liston and Micky Fawcett

So I was talking to Micky Fawcett. He used to work for 1960s London gangsters the Kray Twins.

“The Krays went up to Scotland, didn’t they?” I asked.

“I don’t think so,” replied Micky. “The Scots came down here to London.”

Arthur Thompson?” I asked.

“I don’t think he was there, but there was a guy called Richie Anderson. He was on the firm (the Krays’ gang) for a while; I got on very well with Richie. He was a bit scornful of… You know the two Scotsmen who were with Ronnie when he shot George Cornell in the Blind Beggar? One fired the gun up in the roof. They hadn’t been round for long; they were newcomers, but Richie Anderson was very scornful of them:. You know why?”

“Why?”

“Because they came from Edinburgh and he came from Glasgow.”

“That would do it,” I laughed. “Glasgow chaps think chaps from Edinburgh are ponces and wankers, not proper hard men.”

“I was friendly with quite a few Jocks in the Army,” said Micky. “In the five minutes I was there. There was John McDowell. To look at him, you would imagine he’d been brought up on deep-fried Mars Bars. He came from Maryhill…”

“Ooh,” I said. “Buffalo Bill from Maryhill. There are supposed to be lots of descendants of Red Indians around Maryhill.”

“… and there was a bloke who came from Govan,” Micky continued.

“You know all the best people,” I said.

“I like Scotland,” Micky told me. “In the Army, Scotsmen, Cockneys and Scousers all kind of had more in common. There was a good experience I had in Scotland. Me and another guy sold a feller a distillery.”

“Legitimately?” I asked. “Did you actually own it?”

“Anyway…,” said Micky. “We sold him the distillery. We had never seen a distillery. So we thought we’d better go and see one. We jumped on a plane and went to one of these little towns near Glasgow. All done. So we thought we’d go and have a drink in the Gorbals.”

“Oh good grief!” I said.

“I wanted to see it,” said Mickey. “I’m fascinated by that sort of thing. All the windows were bricked up.”

“Which year was this?”

“The early 1960s.”

“You’re lucky to have got out alive,” I told him. “An English accent in the Gorbals.”

“I’ve been up there since and the Gorbals has gone.”

“They’ve blown up the tower blocks,” I said.

“And I’ve been up Ben Nevis and around Loch Lomond,” said Micky. “I saw the Queen up there… On my first visit to Scotland in the 1950s, around 1958, I went to the Braemar Gathering and she was there in the distance.

Princess Margaret, 1965 (Photograph by Eric Koch/Anefo

Princess Margaret in 1965 (Photograph by Eric Koch/Anefo)

“I can’t remember where I stayed; I might have slept in the car in them days – I had a wooden shooting-brake. But, the next day, I’m driving around and I recognise Princess Margaret’s car, because it had been on the television – she had a Vauxhall Victor.

“I saw a couple of soldiers in their uniforms with rifles, just standing around talking and there was the Royal Family sitting on big blankets out on the grass. Just sitting around drinking out of vacuum flasks and eating sandwiches.”

“It was not,” I asked, “Princess Margaret you sold a distillery to?”

“No,” laughed Micky. “I can’t remember the details of the distillery. But we also sold La Discotheque in London.

“I was in the Kentucky Club (owned by the Kray Twins) and there was a feller who had run dance halls. Do you remember Lennie Peters?”

“The blind pop singer in Peters & Lee?”

“Yeah. and because this feller was in the dance hall business, the Twins thought that was exactly the same as being in the music business. It was confused in their minds. So Reggie asked this feller: Can you do anything for Lennie Peters? The feller said: No, I can’t do anything.

“So the feller came over to us – me and another guy who were standing around just having a drink – and said: Make you fucking laugh, don’t they? He’s just asked me if I can do anything for Lennie Peters? How am I going to do anything for a fucking blind man?”

“Later, I said to Reggie: You asked him, did you? And Reggie says: Yeah. The usual thing. I’ll chin him.

“I said: No, no, hold it a minute. We can do something with him.

“We?” I asked.

“Me and the guy I was working with. I had a partner for a long, long time. We worked well together. So we talked to this guy and found out how his dance halls worked and how they didn’t work and said: We can do something for you. Would you like to run La Discotheque? It was the first discotheque in the West End. A feller called Raymond Nash owned it, a Lebanese…”

“Nash?” I asked.

“Yeah. Not the Nash family. He was a Lebanese guy, a top criminal.”

“Lebanese criminal?” I asked.

“Yeah. But in England. He died not long ago and there were big articles in the papers about him. His daughter got caught by Japanese and – oh – if someone wanted to make a good story, that really would be a good story.”

Raymond Nash had also been an associate of slum landlord Peter Rachman.

“So,” Micky continued, “we approached Raymond Nash and said: Listen, we got a feller we wanna do a bit of business with, if you could make all your staff just salute us and give us the run of the place for a night… 

“He said: Alright, you got it.

“He got cut-in for a percentage?” I asked.

“No. No money for him. He just wanted to be friendly with The Twins…

Krayzy Days – remembered as they were

Krayzy Days – Micky Fawcett’s memoir

“So we went back to this feller – Ron Kingsnorth his name was – he had a dance hall in Romford – and we said to him: Listen, we can do something here. We’ve put the frighteners on that Raymond Nash and we can take over La Discotheque. We’ll take you up there, have a look round, see if you fancy it.

“And I forget the figure we got out of him – but it was a few grand.”

“So he bought it?” I asked.

“He bought the running of it from us and then Raymond Nash came along and said to him: What are you doing here? Fuck off!

“We used to do it all the time. That was my job.”

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Filed under 1960s, Crime, London, Scotland

Another two gay nights out in London

Sandra Smith (extreme right) with new friends on way to Muse

Sandra Smith (extreme right) next to Shakondda with LoUis CYfer (foreground) on the way to Muse nightclub last week

Back in April, this blog’s South Coast correspondent Sandra Smith shared a meeting in London’s Soho with the UK’s only ‘drag king’ LoUis CYfer.

Last week, Sandra went back with her friend to the Admiral Duncan pub in Soho to see LoUis perform again.

The result was three nights of emails from Sandra. Here are two.


DAY ONE

Two other acts were on as well.

One was Shakondda, a Brazilian girl with a body that could move as only a Brazilian can – and big, big hair, made up of two wigs and a couple of smaller pieces. She wore a banana as an earring, and sang a few numbers.

The other was somebody called Sugar Lump – a guy in drag – who sang and it was left to the audience to decide whether he was to get paid or not. We voted Yes.

Louis_and_Kayleigh

LoUis (right) with her girlfriend Kayleigh (Photograph by Sandra Smith)

After the pub closed, LoUis invited us to Muse, a nearby nightclub, to meet her girlfriend Kayleigh, a dancer who works there. LoUis is very smitten by Kayleigh and they are moving in together very soon.

So we all arrived at Muse – LoUis, Shakondda, Sugar Lump, the manager of the Admiral Duncan, Psychic Sadie (who works behind the bar) and another guy. The Muse manager and one of the girls there work with fire, which they demonstrated. They set fire to the bar every so often just for the hell of it.

LoUis is busier than ever. Filming for her documentary – out next year – is ongoing. She is going to be filmed at home very soon. Then she is going back to Texas to do some workshops and a mini tour, possibly ending up in Las Vegas. She is also rehearsing for a one woman musical in Derby called Joan, based on Joan of Arc. She will be performing it in Derby on 17th and 18th July, then it’s coming to Camden’s People’s Theatre, possibly in August… and to the Edinburgh Fringe next year.

LoUis looks upon herself as gender fluid and intends to have a double mastectomy in the future. I think that has as much to do with having large breasts, which give her backache and she has to bind for her act. She wants to be seen just for herself and not identified by her gender.

She was born in Germany to a mother in the Royal Signals and a father who was a PE instructor. She came to England aged six. Her auntie, Marie Myers, was the first woman CID officer in Yorkshire and was attacked with a hypodermic syringe and contracted meningitis. But I can’t remember the outcome of that, as it was getting late.

LoUis went to Brunel University in London and has an MA in Contemporary Theatre Performance. She also studied Gender and Art in Relationship to That of Identity. At least I think that was what she said. It was getting very late.

Shakondda as she likes to be seen on Facebook

Brazilian act Shakondda as she likes to be seen on Facebook

Shakondda and I chatted about things racial in Brazil. She told me she chose her rather over-the-top wigs because of her family’s attitude to race and her mother’s refusal to acknowledge that they may have black blood. That is as far as I can remember. My memory is hazy in parts.

I told her that I would have loved hair like that when I was younger, as I was desperate not to be English. I used to get called Chink (so non-PC) as a kid, which delighted me enormously.

We left them at around 3.30am and all I had to do then was persuade the friend I was with that I would rather go back to where we were staying and not on to another club till 5.00am.

DAY THREE

Have got my top on inside out at the moment, having had two hours sleep. Went to bed at 5.00am. No doubt I will perk up later.

As well as my top being inside out, I am drinking coffee – instant – out of a cafetière that I found under the sink. Not a cup to be found.

We spent a fairly sedate afternoon yesterday up at Middle Temple.

Admiral Duncan pub  in Soho (Photo by Ewan Munro)

Admiral Duncan pub in Soho (Photograph by Ewan Munro)

I then headed to Soho and the Admiral Duncan pub again, as they have an act on every night.

I went alone, as my friend had fallen by the wayside after too many late nights.

The entertainment came in the form of the very glamorous Mary Mac – a Scottish lad from Glasgow – with tartan ribbons in his hair and a belter of a voice. There was a real party atmosphere and Psychic Sadie was behind the bar.

I spent the evening with a couple of boys who work together in Shaftesbury Avenue. They were great fun to be with, as were the rest of the crowd.

Mary Mac asked me where I was from and how I had spent my time in London, then asked me my age.

Sandra Smith wearing Shakondda’s hair felt less Scarlet O’Hara, more Whatever Happened to Baby Jane.

Sandra Smith wearing Shakondda’s hair

My answer elicited a huge cheer from the crowd and Mary Mac proposed a toast to me. My glass was clinked many times, and the evening continued apace. The show finished around 11.30pm and Mary Mac asked us collectively to join him at Heaven, the nightclub just off the Strand.

I decided not to go and said goodbye to the boys, after exchanging e-mail addresses with them. I headed off for something to eat in an Italian restaurant, which was on the point of closing. They insisted that it was no trouble at all to prepare something for me, after which I headed back to Bloomsbury at around 1.30am.


Sandra sent me a photograph of herself wearing Shakondda’s hair. She told me she felt less like Scarlet O’Hara, more like Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

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Govia Thameslink – ISIS duck-billed platypus of UK rail franchise holders

A few of the experienced travellers on the bridge

A few of the more experienced travellers waited on the bridge

I blogged about Govia Thameslink – London’s comedy railway company – a fortnight ago and a week ago. I fear this may turn into a new running thread.

Thameslink is to efficiency and customer service what ISIS is to easy-going agnosticism and strawberries are to wildebeests.

Others waited on the platform but close to the stairs

Some waited on the platform but made sure they were close to the escape stairs

Govia Thameslink have now honed their management style to perfection – if you consider style and perfection to look like a duck-billed platypus wearing a kilt. And I have realised there is mileage in taking notes by sending Tweets.

Tonight I got on the very efficient TfL-run Overground to West Hampstead and then switched over to the Thameslink station. The indicator said the 2255 train would leave from Platform 2 although it almost always switches to Platform 4 with no warning about 10-20 seconds before its due time.

A collection of more experienced passengers (aka past victims) waited on both of the bridges between platforms 2 and 4 to hedge their bets. More passengers huddled at the foot of the stairs on Platform 2, ready to run. Foolish people actually stood on Platform 2.

Some waited on and at the foot of the stairs

Some just awaited their fate on and at the foot of the stairs

A perhaps even more foolhardy Japanese man asked that rarest of all beasts – a visible Thameslink employee – which platform the next train to Elstree would come in on.

“Platform 2,” the equally foolhardy employee said with calm authority, pointing at the indicator board.

30 seconds later, as the train appeared, the Thameslink employee yelled in panic: “It’s coming in on 4! It’s coming in on 4!”

TWEET: Thameslink chaos @TLRailUK – W Hampstead platform changed 15 secs before train arrived. No warnings on signs or tannoys. Daily chaos.

I managed to squeeze into one of the overcrowded carriages because I was the first person onto the platform. Others were not so lucky.

But, as I say, Thameslink have refined their comedy act.

TWEET: Thameslink chaos @TLRailUK – W Hampstead train fails to stop at next 5 scheduled stations and ends up at St Albans. Daily chaos.

People piled out of the train at St Albans, many trekking over to another platform to return from whence they had passed through but had not stopped.

TWEET: Thameslink chaos @TLRailUK – One of around 30 passengers trying to return from St Albans says: “We can only pray”. Daily chaos.

TWEET:  Thameslink chaos @TLRailUK – One passenger says: “They couldn’t organise a piss up in a brewery”. Daily chaos…

TWEET:  Thameslink chaos @TLRailUK – Second passenger says: “They wouldn’t find the brewery”. Daily chaos…

TWEET:  Thameslink chaos @TLRailUK – Southbound service from St Albans stops as scheduled at Elstree. Some mistake, surely? Daily chaos…

The train from St Albans to Elstree ran on time.  I receive a Tweet from Trainslate @TLRailGB which said:

How is anyone supposed to know where they stand with trains turning up on time?!

I look up the Twitter account for Thameslink. It says: Currently we are running a good service.

I look up the Trainslate account on Twitter. It says:

Thameslink – a not-fit-for-purpose ‘service’ from Govia. Treating customers with contempt whilst lining shareholder pockets (Go-Ahead/Keolis) #BrokenFranchise

At last. Sanity!

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An update, 2 un-named comedy shows & a monthly comic piss-up in a brewery

AN UPDATE

Rare sight - shy Copstick - at Mama Biashara

Kate Copstick, London’s Mama Biashara shop

A couple of days ago, I blogged about comedy critic Kate Copstick and her Mama Biashara charity’s work in Kenya. It ended with a part-description of one Somali woman’s very gruesome medical condition.

Recently, Copstick has been staging some comedians’ Edinburgh Fringe preview shows at her Mama Biashara shop in London, with all proceeds going to the charity. She has now posted an update on the case I blogged about:

The good news is that a chunk of the money raised at Sara Mason‘s lovely preview at the Mama Biashara Emporium has paid for medication and stuff that I sent down to Lamu – triple header antibiotics, topical antibiotics, cleaning hooha and a big diagram explaining it all. Gloves and swabs and stuff. Now just a few days into treatment, the sores are drying up, the swelling and the fever and the sickness are disappearing and the pus has stopped. She is really getting much better very quickly! The maggots are diminishing but, as I feared, are coming from inside. I am heading to Kenya on Sunday and hope to get to the lady and start to sort that out with more meds also paid for by Mama Biashara previews at the Emporium.


ONE COMEDY SHOW WITH AN UNCERTAIN NAME

Yesterday, I blogged about character comic turned author Lindsay Sharman.

Lindsay Sharman is at the Edinburgh Fringe in a show of some title

Lindsay is at the Edinburgh Fringe in a show called something

Yesterday afternoon I realised, when I transcribed our chat, that I had not asked the actual title of her upcoming Edinburgh Fringe show. I texted her a message:

I can’t find you in the Fringe programme. What’s the show title? One might have thought I would know this!

In the absence of an answer, I posted the blog. Several hours later, this little flurry of texts ensued:

LINDSAY
I’m not in it. Probably a mistake. But the whole show is potentially a mistake.

JOHN
I should, of course, have checked all this  before posting the bleedin’ blog, shouldn’t I? But I think professionalism is over-rated. So wot’s your show called? Where is it? Indeed, wot time? I might even come and see it.

LINDSAY
It has many different names. The preview is called Lindsay Sharman Gives Us The Willies – Comedy Museum, 30th July. In the PBH Free Fringe Programme, it’s The Madame Magenta Big Live Podcast Show Extravaganza, 2.40pm at the Voodoo Rooms. It’s not a podcast btw. And I sent it to Chortle, who might list it as Magenta Is The Warmest Colour. It is an exercise in ensuring low audience numbers and a miserable month. I am going to hire a flyerer.


A MONTHLY COMIC PISS-UP IN A BREWERY

Comedy accessed through a secret door

A secret comedy world suitably accessed through a secret door

After that little flurry of texts, I went to Al Cowie’s extraordinary and un-advertised monthly comedy show staged under his LLaugh! banner (yes, that’s LLaugh) in Wandsworth, which has been running for the last three years. It takes place in a brewery where the beer is free – they are not allowed to sell it and the show is advertised nowhere, therefore it is, in itself an interesting gig.

I had to follow e-mailed instructions to find the venue. This included going to a station, walking for about 10 minutes, crossing a 4-lane highway, doubling back on myself to reach a building site, finding a white door in an orange wall and waiting for a man in a white coat called John (the man, not the coat) to come and escort me to the venue inside The Old Ram Brewery.

It was worth the trip. It was Al Cowie’’s 40th birthday, the acts were Alexander Bennett, Josh Howie, Joz Norris and Stu Turner and the room was completely full.

The man in the white coat turned out to be John Hatch.

“What is this monthly comedy evening called?” I asked Al Cowie.

“The LLaugh ComedyThe Piss-up in The Brewery… I dunno… Whatever… It’s not called anything, because we’re not allowed to advertise it.”

“Why?” I asked.

Al Cowie drinks his own Laughing Juice brerw

Al Cowie drinks his own Laughing Juice brew

“Because… um… Well, we… We… We can’t advertise it bec… I… I don’t actually know why we can’t advertise it. We can say that we run comedy here monthly, but we can’t advertise… “

“We’ve survived for nine years without advertising,” said John Hatch.

“So,” explained Al Cowie, “in order for people to find out about it, people have to e-mail John – john.hatch@rambrewery.co.uk.”

“This is,” John Hatch explained, still wearing his white coat, “the longest continuously brewing site in the UK. We can trace it back to at least 1533 when a family called Ridon or Roydon owned it. There are two different spellings because, in those days, people just spelt things the way they wanted to. There is a record of there being a brewery in Wandsworth in 1512 which we assume might be the same one, but we can’t say it was continuous between 1512 and 1533. The Young family owned it from 1831 until 2006. I was with Youngs for the last 18 years.”

“What,” I asked John Hatch, “did this room the performances now happen in used to be?”

“The Tack Room,” he told me, “which was part of the stable building, built in 1896. There were 18 horses here when Youngs closed in 2006; I’m told there were at least 40 at its peak.”

“They must have been very popular with local gardeners,” I said.

Painting of John Young inside stables urinal

Painting of John Young inside a stables urinal

“John Young was a bit of an extrovert,” explained John Hatch. “The horses were kept here right to the end because he liked animals. He also had goats here, hens, a Dorset horned ram, peacocks, ducks and 17 guard geese.”

“Why?” I asked.

”Because he could,” explained John. “He was the chairman and he got his way. The geese were brought in to ‘protect the site from hostile takeovers’. The hens laid eggs for the stable staff. The goats were fire marshalls. He said they were a calming influence on horses during a fire and were more intelligent than horses. So, in the event of a brewery fire, they would direct the horses to the fire assembly points, set off the fire alarms, phone the fire brigade and do what goats do best.

“He had peacocks and hens and geese but, one day he decided he wanted an ostrich. Then he did research and found that ostriches can jump very high and, to raise the perimeter wall around the entire site would be very expensive. So he decided not to get an ostrich and thought: What can’t jump? I know! An elephant!

“So he ordered a baby elephant to go in the stables to keep the horses company. After a few weeks, he got a bit impatient when the elephant didn’t arrive. After a few months, he got very, very impatient and phoned up the suppliers of the elephant and shouted: Where’s my elephant! 

Joz Norris discovered the brewery’s royal connections

In a dark corner of the brewery, Joz Norris discovered the Queen Mother pulling pints

“They were surprised and told him: Oh, Mr Young, the order was cancelled months ago.

“What? he said. Who by?

“By your brother, they told him. Didn’t you know?

“So he didn’t talk to his brother for over a year. He was very, very angry about the lack of an elephant.”

“Did he,” I asked, “ever get an elephant?”

“Sadly not.”

“Was there,” I asked, “a practical reason for wanting either an ostrich or an elephant? I would not have thought they could serve the same function.”

“Most breweries need an ostrich or an elephant sometimes,” said John Hatch, without explanation.

“In later years,” said Al Cowie, “the company’s shareholders wanted to sell this place because the land was valuable. But John Young didn’t want to. So, at one company AGM, he turned up in a beekeeper’s outfit just to ‘keep the pests away’. Another year he had boxing gloves around his neck and said he’d fight anyone who wanted to sell the place.”

John Hatch reads the fire regulations to the audience amid birthday balloons

John Hatch reads the fire regulations to the audience last night, amid birthday balloons

John Hatch told me: “We do birthday parties, stag parties, quiz nights, any excuse for a party and, because I can produce 70 pints at a time, we can brew whatever you want.

“I need to brew the stuff and it has to condition for a couple of weeks but, if people want me to brew a funny beer with a funny colour or a funny flavour, I can do that. whereas a bigger brewery can’t afford to produce 1,000 barrels of specially-commissioned beer.”

The next comedy night will be on 5th August. The beer will be free. There will be no elephant in the brewery.

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Filed under Comedy, Kenya, London

Why the attractive Romanian girl was amazed by British train incompetence

Comedian Janet Bettesworth left Mama Biashara last night after Il Puma Londinese show, buying the chair she sat on

Comedian Janet Bettesworth leaves Mama Biashara last night after buying the chair she sat on at Il Puma Londinese show

Not so much a blog, more a footnote to a blog I wrote a week ago about chaos on Thameslink trains. For myself and future historians of bureaucratic incompetence.

So last night I went to see Il Puma Londinese’s Italian language Edinburgh Fringe preview at Mama Biashara in London, where I found out that, if a woman is feeling a bit lethargic, one cure is for her to take part of a Viagra tablet, which starts the blood rushing around and perks you (the lady) up. Who knew?

Afterwards, I got a civilised Overground train to West Hampstead where I changed stations. There are three stations at West Hampstead – all called West Hampstead – all in different locations about 2-minutes walk from each other. As usual at night, chaos reigned at West Hampstead’s Thameslink station.

As I arrived, just before 2310 and went down the steps to the platform for my 2325 train, people on the crowded platform suddenly started to run en masse up the stairs towards me. Without warning, the train was coming in on another platform. This is normal.

20 seconds later, the train arrived on the other platform. Unusually, as far as I could see, only two passengers did not get over in time and were left stranded when the train left. This is an abnormally low number.

I realised it was going to be worth Tweeting, because Thameslink trains are like a man juggling spaghetti blindfold.

TWEET: W Hampstead chaos @TLRailUK – 2310 train platform changed at 20 secs notice. Unusually tannoy warning (but on wrong platform) Daily chaos.

TWEET: W Hampstead chaos @TLRailUK – Good news. Only 2 people missed train cos platform changed at 20 secs notice. Daily chaos.

Normal daily service via Thameslink

Normal daily service via Govia’s Thameslink. Trains either cancelled or overcrowded.

Obviously, as always, I waited at the foot of the steps for my 2325 train, so I could make a quick dash across the bridge to the other platform and, sure enough…

TWEET: W Hampstead chaos @TLRailUK – 2325 train platform changed at 30 secs notice. No one able to get on 4-carriage train. Daily chaos.

Thameslink have what seems to be a policy that fast trains (stopping at fewer stations with fewer passengers) are 8-carriages and slow trains (stopping at more stations with more passengers) are 4-carriages.

The previous train (8 carriages) had left relatively empty (and leaving two punters stranded).

Passengers went back & forth along platform, unable to get on

Passengers went back & forth along platform, unable to get on

This 4-carriage train I tried to get on was packed to the extent that, when the doors opened, bottoms, arms, bags and heads spilled out. As far as I could see, as about 40-60 would-be passengers like me ran from carriage to carriage, no-one could get on anywhere. The train left, leaving all the would-be 40-60 passengers behind.

No room on train for crowded paying passengers

No room on train for crowded paying passengers

TWEET: W Hampstead chaos @TLRailUK – No room on slow 4-carriage train. Fast 8-carriage train coming. No slow trains known.

There was a half-heard tannoy announcement (on the wrong platform) that the next train would be a fast train of 8 carriages.

TWEET – W Hampstead chaos @TLRailUK – Passengers still arriving on wrong platform as that’s what signs say. Daily chaos. Hope of any train fading.

Passenger watches train he could not get on leave without him

Passenger watches train he could not get on leave without him

The indicator board on our platform – the one where trains were leaving from – showed the next (fast) train. The indicator board on the wrong platform, from which trains were probably not leaving, indicated that my next (slow) train, due at 2355, would leave from there. New passengers continued to stream onto that wrong platform. We, the orphans of the previous slow train, stayed on our platform, taking bets our train would come in here.

A Dunkirk spirit broke out. People started talking to each other.

An attractive Romanian girl with a backpack told me she was amazed at the chaotic railway system in Britain.

I said: “Things are probably better in Romania.”

She told me: “No,” but not with much conviction.

The (fast) 8-carriage train came and left, half empty.

TWEET: W Hampstead chaos @TLRailUK – 2355 train platform changed at 2354. Although still signed on wrong platform. Daily chaos.

Cattle never had it this bad, courtesy of Thameslink

Cattle never had it this bad, courtesy of Govia’s Thameslink

Our 4-carriage train, full to overflowing, arrived with passengers still legging it across from the wrong platform. Miraculously, some people got out and some of us squeezed into the train. Most were left behind on the platform.

TWEET: Thameslink chaos @TLRailUK – I got on cattle truck train at W Hampstead. Many did not. Daily chaos.

Squeezed into my carriage were three small-ish children aged about 8 or 9, coming back from some special day out with their parents. The family had been separated from the other people they had been with because they had been unable to get on a previous train. The children were clinging on to their parents (they did not have much choice) and had scared eyes. Their parents were trying to calm them.

TWEET: Result of 8-carriage fast trains & 4-carriage slow trains on Thameslink @TLRailUK – Daily chaos & scared children.

TWEET: Thameslink chaos @TLRailUK – Just took 70 minutes to do a 14 minute journey. Daily chaos.

It has been like this since Govia took over the Thameslink rail franchise towards the end of last year. It is now June. I imagine the Govia directors have chauffeur-driven cars.

Perhaps Govia should take corporate Viagra.

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Filed under London, Trains