Category Archives: London

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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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

Govia Thameslink train incompetence makes me doubt Margaret Thatcher

Fear stalked the bus yesterday

Fear stalked the replacement bus yesterday

I am old enough to remember pre-Thatcherite stand-up comedy routines and the regular cliché butt of jokes was the inefficiency of the Gas Board and of British Railways.

British Gas remains incompetent but now has less incompetent competitors and British Rail was privatised into a whole series of regional franchises and rather bizarre subdivisions, so it is a less easy target for jokes on national TV because rail incompetence has been localised and there is no one organisation to blame.

I have always been fairly happy with rail privatisation. British Railways was so big and everyone had jobs for life, so they did not much care about any service standards or innovation.

I have lived in Borehamwood, using the Thameslink line (under various franchise holders) since 1986. The station here is slightly oddly called Elstree & Borehamwood. The station is not actually in Elstree. This becomes relevant later.

Until late last year, the Thameslink franchise was run by First Capital Connect and I never had any ongoing problems. I rarely travel in the rush hour. Daytime and late night trains were OK under First Capital Connect.

Then, late last year, Govia took over the Thameslink franchise. They also run Southern trains – officially recognised as the most inefficient train system in the UK. Within a month, utter chaos descended on Thameslink with trains cancelled willy nilly all over the place and late night trains a catastrophe of late-running and cancellations, often with the explanation “because no driver is available”.

Govia’s main apparent innovation has been, during crowded periods, to run 8-carriage fast trains (which stop at fewer stations, therefore have fewer passengers) and 4-carriage slow trains (which stop at more stations with more passengers). You cannot fault them for original thinking.

From Thameslink website - journeys include the unexpected

From Thameslink website – journeys + the added unexpected

Since January, every Sunday when I have arrived at St Pancras, the indicator boards have displayed the words BUS SERVICE. There are no directions to this bus service, because there is no bus service. In fact, the trains are still running as normal, but from a totally different, upper, level of the station accessed round a corner and up escalators.  No signs. Seldom any staff to ask.

Last night (Friday) I arrived at West Hampstead station to get my slow 4-carriage train to Elstree. A fast 8-carriage train was due to arrive first on my platform. One minute before it was due, the train disappeared from the indicator board. It had been switched to another platform. There was, of course, no announcement. Those with experience of Thameslink’s ways and of the station legged it up and over the bridge just in time to get on the train. Five people failed to make it.

20 seconds before my own train was due to arrive (I noted the time) the train disappeared from the indicator board. We all – maybe 30 of us – successfully raced up and over to the other platform. There had, of course, been no announcement.

Somewhere in NW London on my unguided tour yesterday

Somewhere in NW London on my unguided tour yesterday

This weekend, both Saturday and Sunday, there are no trains between Elstree and St Pancras, only a replacement bus service. Imagine my joy.

I allowed two hours to make the normally 15-20 minute journey to West Hampstead station this afternoon. It was not enough. You should know that Elstree &  Borehamwood station is on the edge of NW London. West Hampstead is to the south of this.


The Thameslink iPhone app said a bus would leave Elstree station at 1612.

When I asked the bus driver and his supervisor, they told me it would be leaving at 1609.

At 1605, the supervisor told the driver: “You might as well leave now. They haven’t had a bus for a while.”

I was happy enough. Presumably people arriving just before the announced time were not.

Replacement bus

Replacement bus: every turn was an unknowable adventure

The bus, I think, was due to stop at Mill Hill, Hendon, Cricklewood, West Hampstead and St Pancras (although the sign on the front of the bus said King’s Cross, which is not on the Thameslink line). We never went to Mill Hill, just straight down south to Hendon… sort of.

After a while, I started Tweeting, because I smelled a saga.

TWEET – Bus replacement driver had to ask direction to Hendon station from man in street. We arrived at wrong Hendon station.

TWEET – Bus replacement driver has just yelled out “Fuck!” – not good news.

TWEET – Heading north on M1 motorway (away from Hendon)

TWEET – Now north of Elstree, which we left over an hour ago.

TWEET – Bus replacement driver now apparently heading NW to Watford. London is SE.

TWEET – Bus replacement driver now complaining to passenger: “It’s ridiculous”.

TWEET – Bus now in open countryside outside London.

TWEET – Passenger now giving bus replacement driver directions.

TWEET – Bus replacement driver now apparently heading south to Elstree.

TWEET – Bus now heading to Edgware.

TWEET – At last! Houses! We are somewhere near Elstree.

TWEET – Soon we will be back where we started around 70 minutes ago.

TWEET – Phew! Back on route, about half mile off where we started 73 minutes ago.

TWEET – Bus replacement driver now taking route advised by passenger standing beside him at all times.

TWEET – Bus now at Hendon Central station. Wrong station. Attempting to get to Hendon Thameslink station.

TWEET – Apparently now not attempting to get to Hendon Thameslink as passenger doesn’t know way.

TWEET – Bus replacement driver attempting to find Cricklewood. This seems unwise.

TWEET – I think I spotted Edinburgh Castle. May be getting delirious.

TWEET – First traffic jam. Pretty good after 90 mins but then we have mostly been in countryside.

TWEET – Passenger points out Cricklewood station to driver as we pass by without stopping.

TWEET – Bus replacement driver asks passenger: “Where do we go next?” Passenger suggests “West Hampstead”.

TWEET – Now my stomach and head are feeling queasy.

TWEET – Bus replacement driver asks passenger: “How far is railway station?” Passenger (looking at his own mobile phone) says “Under half a mile.”

TWEET – In Kilburn High Road.

TWEET – Have arrived W Hampstead station after 1 hr 46 min trip. Well, 1’50” exactly, as bus left 4 mins early. (It was actually 7 mins early but, by this point, I had lost touch with reality.)

TWEET – Thameslink @TLRailUK have just tweeted “SERVICE UPDATE: Good service.” (I was not the only one who had lost touch with reality.)

The indicator board inside the closed station

The indicator board inside the closed station

The bus dropped us right outside the main entrance to West Hampstead station.

As you might imagine, I was interested to see what the trip back from West Hampstead would be like. Several hours later, I went and stood at the point, outside the main entrance to the station, where the bus had dropped us.

Inside the closed station, barely visible, was a train indicator showing the bus departure times.

TWEET – At West Hampstead station. Replacement bus to Elstree due 2144. I got here 2136. Do I feel lucky?

TWEET – Now 2150. Neither 2142 bus nor my 2144 bus arrived. Maybe, as before, drivers can’t find London?

TWEET – Have discovered buses stop not at large glass-fronted main station but at small alleyway back exit round corner. No signs.

TWEET – I am on bus which left at 2156. Man in yellow jacket was supervising from pavement.

TWEET – I suggested he might tell anyone waiting at main ticket office building. He smiled inanely at me and did nothing.

TWEET – We drove off from the back alleyway entrance presumably leaving people at the main station/ticket office.

TWEET – Driver said this bus goes to Elstree. I neglected to ask “Via where?”. I shall phone ahead to friends in Aberdeen.

TWEET – Bus driver has found Hendon Thameslink station. Maybe a lucky mistake. No Thameslink person outside, of course.

TWEET – So near and yet so far. Was about half mile from Elstree station. Bus has now veered off to take longer route.

TWEET – Now arrived at Elstree village, which is not where Elstree station is – It’s at Borehamwood.

TWEET – Phew! Arrived at Elstree station in Borehamwood. 2242 (46 minute journey) I may take up religion.

West Hampstead Thameslink station

West Hampstead station is the large grey-roofed building, centre bottom, with entrance on Iverson Road. The bus stopped top right of picture, near the blue square at end of ‘Black Path’ alleyway.


Thameslink man ignore main station

Thameslink man ignores main station – a bit of roof visible behind him on far left behind wall

I included the Thameslink Twitter account in the Tweets I sent because – for comic reasons – I was interested to see if there was any reaction. There was not, of course.

Being a PR for Thameslink must be a bit like being a PR for Saddam Hussein’s human rights record. Their response (if they ever bothered) would be to blame other (dis)organisations. But it is part of an ongoing pattern of Govia incompetence and don’t-give-a-flying-shit-ness. I thought the new Thameslink (dis)service had reached its twin peak of Govia surreality when:

– I got on a train a couple of weeks ago which both the indicator board and tannoy announcement said stopped at Elstree… It, in fact, whizzed though Elstree station and an on-train information board said the next stop was Harpenden, three stations further on. In fact, it stopped at St Albans (two stations further on). I thought I must have mis-read the indicator board and mis-heard the tannoy announcement until half the train disembarked to get back to a whole host of stations the train had failed to stop at… and another passenger told me this was the third time it had happened to him.

Wrong Thameslink sign

With St Pancras 11 miles behind us, this suddenly appeared…

– (As I mentioned in a blog on 30th May) after a series of catastrophes – as we approached Crystal Palace and arrived in East Croydon heading south, the on-train information board displayed the words “approaching St Pancras”. We were travelling south. St Pancras was around 11 miles behind us to the north, as the pig flies.

Clearly I underestimated Govia Thameslink’s capacity for incompetence and lack of any discernible professionalism or customer care.

Flying pig - suggested new Govia logo

Flying pig – suggested new logo for the Govia Thameslink line

I still do not think a return to a give-even-less-of-a-shit national British Railways is a good idea.

But, at West Hampstead yesterday, I got on the Overground, now very efficiently run (compared to what it was before) by the Mayor of London.

Apparently Boris has had his eyes on taking over the Thameslink route. I can only hope his successor does.

I do like a bit of surreality and have a high threshold of chaos. But there are limits.

I suppose the company name Govia – Go-via – should give a hint at their lack of any specific direction.

(MORE TALES OF THAMESLINK CHAOS HERE)

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The Kray Twins book review, setting fire to a politician and saving dirty nappies

Micky Fawcett, with son Michael, talked to me at the May Fair hotel

Micky Fawcett (left), with son Michael, at the May Fair Hotel

“There’s been a bit of a coincidence,” former Kray Twins associate Micky Fawcett told me at London’s May Fair Hotel yesterday.

In this blog a couple of days ago, Micky was talking about Nipper Read – the policeman who arrested the Kray Twins.

Micky said Nipper “was straight. But he weren’t straight with me”. He also mentioned James Morton, whom he called the “mouthpiece of Nipper Read.” James Morton was a lawyer, who later wrote books with gangster Mad Frank Fraser and about gangland in general.

Back in September last year, a mutual acquaintance of Micky Fawcett and James Morton gave Morton a copy of Micky’s book Krayzy Days. Morton asked the acquaintance: “Do you know how I can contact him?” But he never did.

Three weeks ago, the acquaintance told Micky what had happened back in September and gave him James Morton’s phone number.

Micky’s Krayzy Days remembered

Micky’s own Krayzy Days remembered

“So,” Micky told me yesterday, “I phoned James Morton and it was on answerphone. That’s typical, I thought. You can’t get through to them so they’ve got the upper hand straight away. But I left a message: I’ve been told you’d like to have a meeting with me. If you wanna give me a ring back, it can be arranged… A few hours later, the phone rang and it was him. He said: I’d like to ask you a couple of questions, and he then asked: Are we alright? Are we OK?.

“I said: Yeah, we’re OK. So he asked me a couple of questions and I said: Shall we have a meeting? He said: Nothing I’d like better.

“So, a couple of Fridays ago, we met at the Churchill Hotel in London. Most of the people we talked about were dead. It was that sort of conversation. There were a couple of things I couldn’t tell him, because people were still alive.

“One of the things I asked him was: How’s Nipper Read? I heard he had a blood pressure problem.

Well, he said, he’s 90. He’s had blood pressure problems and this and that.

“I asked him: Have you read my book? because, when I had walked into the Churchill Hotel, he had been reading it.

I was reading it, he said, but I put it down because you slagged me off in it and I’m not going to read it if you’re slagging me off in it.

“I didn’t know if he was being serious. He is very deadpan. But, he said, if you give me your e-mail address, I’ll finish reading it and tell you what I think of it. I’ll do a review. And now he’s sent me a paragraph.”

Micky showed me the paragraph that Andrew Morton had written:

Teddy Machin (Photograph from the book Krayzy Days)

’Terrible’ Teddy Machin’s death explained (Photograph from the book Krayzy Days)

Micky Fawcett and I have not always seen eye to eye (page 210) so this is not a review of a mate’s efforts. His book, Krayzy Days, however, is one of the best books on the Krays around. It is not one of those ‘I spent a night on the same wing as one of the Twins’. Fawcett was a genuine player. A former Long Firm fraudsman he had the sense to step away from the Krays after they invited him to kill a member of the Richardson gang following the Mr Smith’s Club shooting in 1966. But it is not just about the Krays. Fawcett knew the rest of the East End underworld intimately and he tells of the feuds behind such deaths as that of the hardman Teddy Machin. And then there are his experiences in the worlds of boxing promotions, counterfeiting and his time in Belgian prisons. A cracking good read.

“That’s a great review,” I told Micky yesterday. “Basically, he’s saying: I have no reason to like this man, but he’s written a bloody good book.

I was typing all that out this morning when I got an e-mail from this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith, based in Vancouver. The e-mail was headed:

The granite mountain towering over Squamish

The Stawamus Chief at Squamish

A one thousand cubic meter slab of granite fell off this local mountain on Sunday, the afternoon I took this photo 

and, indeed, there was a photo of the Stawamus Chief mountain attached. The text of Anna’s e-mail said:

I didn’t go downtown on Monday, but 25,000 people celebrating marijuana did. There was a lot of smoke, traffic gridlock all afternoon and 75 people were taken to hospital, mostly for ‘dizzyness ‘. 

There was a gigantic banner hanging from the art gallery shaped like a packet of rolling papers.

Instead of going downtown, I stayed home. I carried a bucket of water across the road to the vacant lot where transport lorries park containers. Beside the drying remains of a vast mud puddle, I built a small campfire from the twigs of a nearby dead pine tree and I placed a piece of plumbing hose and its fitting onto the fire.

Vancouver stag painting

What Anna missed on Vancouver’s weedy day

It was a bright sunny afternoon. The fire was cheerfully popping and gradually burning the piece of hose. Up on the road, cars and trucks rumbled over the speed hump. A man walked along the road. I wondered if anyone would see me and wonder why I was sitting beside a mud puddle and a fire, but nobody stopped or called the fire department. 

The rusted hose clamp which had given me so much trouble fell away when the hose was done burning. When the clamp cooled down I threw it into the bushes. I put out the fire with the water and put the two bronze fittings into the bucket. Then I went home and fixed my shower.

Your mad inventor friend John Ward was on the radio talking about his bra.

John Ward demonstrating his bra-warming device

John Ward demonstrating his original bra-warming device

The photo of the granite mountain which Anna attached was one which, she says, “towers above the town of Squamish”. The mountain does; not the photo. She added: “Ten people were climbing the rock face meters away from the chunk that broke off.”

She previously mentioned Squamish in this blog last November, when a local politician said he would set himself on fire. This week, when Anna was in Squamish again, she tells me:

“I asked a local if their politician had set himself on fire yet. The local looked at me as if I was stupid and said: Oh he did that months ago“.

And, sure enough, there is a video on YouTube of him, this February, setting himself on fire to the delighted whoops of local voters. Perhaps some British politicians might consider doing this during the current General Election.

As I finished typing the above, yet another e-mail arrived. It was from my local council. It said:

It’s Real Nappy Week! Hertsmere residents can claim up to £50 if they choose to use real nappies instead of disposable ones. 

Babies and toddlers go through lots of nappies – eight million of them in the UK every day. On average, a baby will need a staggering 4,500 nappy changes before they are potty trained. That’s 4,500 disposable nappies sent to landfill, or just 20 real nappies washed and used again.   

Councils across the county, in partnership with Hertfordshire County Council, offer a real nappy reward scheme to discourage the use of disposable nappies. People using real nappies or a nappy laundering service need to complete an application form in order to claim any money back through the scheme. Alternatively, we have free starter kits available for anyone who is interested and would like to give real nappies a go. 

This week we’re running a competition to win real nappy goodies.  Simply watch the new ‘Real Nappies Rock’ video and tell us what colour nappy the boy doing the roly poly is wearing! 

Hertsmere Council do not specify what their ‘free starter kits’ include.

The moral to this blog is that Life is full of shit, but it is also an occasionally interesting rollercoaster of variables.

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The stabbing in Frith Street, Soho, and Ronnie Kray’s one and only robbery

Krayzy Days by Micky Fawcett

Micky Fawcett’s first-hand memories

I was talking to Micky Fawcett, author of the book Krayzy Days about his times with iconic London gangsters the Krays Twins.

I mentioned 1950s London Jewish criminal Jack Spot. There was an infamous knife fight in Soho involving Jack Spot.

Micky Fawcett is probably the only person who personally knew Jack Spot, the Kray Twins and Billy Hill.

“When I was 16,” Micky told me, “I was working on fruit stalls in Upton Park. The stall that I worked on got shut down, because they decided it was an obstruction and a feller said to me: If you’re looking for a job, I can get you one in Aldgate. A pal of mine has opened an auction room there. Aldgate was completely Jewish at that time.

“So he took me up to No 2, The Minories in Aldgate. They used to have fortnightly auctions there – confectionary and food and textiles and haberdashery all alternating. It was a ‘long firm’ but I had never heard the phrase then.

“The long firm was run by these two fellers named Jack and Maurice Sohn and a feller called Leon Kaiser – crooks, gangsters  – I didn’t know. I was quite naive at 16. I had just left school.

“They introduced me to this feller called Sonny The Yank – his real name was Bernard Schack. He was introduced to me as: This is Sonny – He’s Jack Spot’s right-hand man. But I didn’t even know who Jack Spot was.

Jack Spot! they said. He’s the boss! You’ve never heard of him? He’s the king of the underworld! Sonny is Jack Spot’s right-hand man. You know when you see a man with the wage bag chained to his hand? They don’t do it when Sonny’s around. He cuts their hand off. 

“I got very friendly with Sonny, so then he introduced me to Jack Spot. I was 16, so I was honoured to meet him. Then my National Service papers came through for the Army. And, right at that time was that fight you were talking about on the corner of Frith Street. I saw it on the newspaper placards.”

Billy Hill at home - from the book Krayzy Days

Billy Hill at home – pic from Krayzy Days

The fight took place in a Soho greengrocer’s shop between Jack Spot and Albert Dimes, one of Billy Hill’s bodyguards. According to reports, the fight was stopped when Mrs Sophie Hyams, the greengrocer’s 13-stone wife, picked up a large metal scoop and started beating the two men about the head with it.

At the subsequent trial – according to, of all newspapers, The Spokane Daily Chronicle in a 1955 article headlined British Thugs Shun Guns But They Can Be Tough – Jack Spot got off after evidence from “a venerable clerk in holy orders – the Reverend Basil Claude Hudson Andrews – 88, who came forth solemnly and swore the bookmaker had not wielded the knife. Spot was acquitted on this impressive testimony, but it then developed the star witness had a most curious background for a minister. He finally admitted he had committed perjury.”

The reverend, it seemed, had a taste for whisky and women, did not pay his gambling debts and had been found wandering about the Cumberland Hotel in London, living on nothing but continental breakfasts. He had been persuaded to perjure himself for £63 by Sonny the Yank and Moishe Bluebell (whose actual nickname ‘Blueball’ was not printed by embarrassed newspapers because it referred to the fact he had one discoloured testicle).

According to The Spokane Daily Chronicle, as a result of the trial: “Britons found to their chagrin that they had their own colorful collection of Damon Runyon characters – Sonny The Yank, Moishe Blue Boy, Benny The Kid, Flash Harry, Erny The Gent, Monkey Johnny, Joey Kings Cross.”

Micky Fawcett told me: “Aldgate and Soho in 1955 were the best places I had ever been.”

The knife fight in Frith Street marked the start of a slow decline for Jack Spot’s criminal reign and, later, the Kray Twins and The Richardsons became the ‘top dogs’ in London crime.

“The Krays,” I said to Micky, “were Bethnal Green, but that’s pretty much the same as…”

“Oh no,” he said, “they lived practically in Aldgate. And they were born in 1933, so they would have been in their early twenties when the knife fight happened.”

“Did they want to be criminals?” I asked.

“Well, people wouldn’t believe it now,” said Micky, “but they always disdained criminals even right to the end. They didn’t like criminals. They used to call them ‘jailbirds’. The image they had of themselves was that they were celebrities. That was how they saw the world.”

“So they thought they were above the law?” I asked.

Jailbirds? they’d say. We don’t want jailbirds. The Twins never stole anything. Well, once… I am the only man who has ever been on a robbery with Ronnie Kray.

‘We were in the Twins’ Regency Club and there was a big cellar in the basement, which they had let out to a firm of carpet suppliers – Gannon & Hamish – they supplied all these expensive Indian carpets.

“One of Ronnie’s friends – Dickie Morgan – said: Ron, what we’ll do… We’ll get locked in here tonight, then we’ll nick all them carpets: they’re worth a fortune.

“So Ronnie asked me: Can you get someone with a van? We’re gonna rob downstairs in our own place.

Micky Fawcett (left) with Reggie Kray and Frances

Micky Fawcett (left) with Reggie Kray and Frances Kray

“So we got a van, stayed behind, got locked in and, at about six o’clock the next morning – so as not to arouse suspicion moving things late at night – we loaded all the carpets into the van and took them over to a feller in Chingford to sell them to him.

“He looked at them and said: They’re a load of fucking rubbish! They’re just Belgian rubbish! They’re not worth anything!

“So then Ronnie turned and wanted to strangle Dickie Morgan. That’s the only robbery Ronnie ever did.”

“What did he do with the carpets?” I asked.

“That’s a good question,” said Micky. “I don’t know. He threw them away, probably.”

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Changing worlds: Drugs confusion in Canada. Amazing gay night in London.

Anna Smith last night, "after three days of sleeping on a psychiatrist’s couch"

Anna Smith, woman with her finger on pulse of Vancouver

Two days ago, I got a message from this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith, who lives on a river in Vancouver. The message said:

Having an oil spill in Vancouver right now!

Everybody here is furious about it. The oil is on the beaches. I am too disgusted to even look at it. It hasn’t arrived in the river yet but it will. Vancouver likes to call itself The World’s Greenest City. Now there is an oil spill in our water. We are dirtier than we think.

In New Westminster, the movies have been replaced by strippers. Cinemas that once screened Cleopatra and Cecil B. DeMille movies have been supplanted by 2 FOR 1 DANCES SUNDAY ALL NIGHT.

Anna also sent me a photo of what she described as “a bear dressed as a rabbit standing very close to a chicken laying marijuana eggs across the street from a 24 hour drugstore, which is not to be confused with the ubiquitous weed dispensaries which have been popping up like mushrooms all over town,” and added:

Bear dressed as rabbit standing by a chicken laying marijuana eggs

Bear dressed as rabbit standing by a chicken laying some marijuana eggs

There are now at least eighty storefront dope dispensaries in Vancouver and new ones are opening every week. None of them have business licences because the city council can’t make up their minds what to license them as.

The laws about dope are so complicated that most people are totally confused and have to smoke a joint to relax and get over the confusion. Different provinces deal with it differently. I think the Federal government has tried to keep it illegal but grows it for people who require it during chemotherapy. This is known as chemo weed.

A pizzeria in Vancouver is now serving slices with marijuana in them for $10 extra – provided you are over 18 and have been prescribed marijuana by a doctor.

A former British Columbia Solicitor General has predicted that Canada will make marijuana totally legal within five years.

And 24 Hours has a picture of a pregnant woman smoking a joint with the headline: Is Pot Safe For Pregnant Women? The article inside says that pot advocates claim it helps reduce nausea and morning sickness.

Neon marijuana leaf advertising a " clinic " on Granville Street

Neon marijuana leaf advertising a ‘clinic’ on Granville St, Vancouver

This morning on the radio I heard a man saying that women should be put on a pedestal because they have to endure things such as childbirth and morning sickness and I thought WHAT? The worst morning sickness experience I ever had was having to throw up out of the window of a bus.

Nauseating, yes. But it’s not as if morning sickness is an actual illness. It’s not a reason to take drugs when pregnant.

There will be more weed news from here on the 20th of this month when the pot heads have a huge festival at the art gallery and there will be a plaza of official booths where helpful young people selling it will suggest which strain is most suitable for you.

Gareth (left in sunglasses) outside shop with tourist & confectionary materials and Thai Sauna

Ellis (left in sunglasses) outside shop mixing tourist and confectionary merchandise and a Thai massage

Meanwhile, back in London, I met comedy performer and stuntmeister

Ellis at Soho Theatre for a blog about a stunt which I posted two days ago. As we walked along Oxford Street towards Tottenham Court Road station, two new confectionary shops appeared to have opened up, both offering massage parlours in their basements. This seems a new development in retail on Oxford Street.

Also, in England this week, I was sent the first of what I hope will be an ongoing series of communiqués from this blog’s new South Coast correspondent Sandra Smith. (No relation to Anna Smith). She too had paid a visit to Soho in London:

Sandy Mac - So It Goes’ new South Coast woman of mystery

Sandra Smith – So It Goes’ new Englishwoman of mystery

I have just seen LoUis CYfer, the only ‘drag king’ in the UK, at the Admiral Duncan pub. She won the title in June. I thought she was male. But she is, in fact, female. I thought she was fabulous. She used to work behind the bar at the Admiral Duncan.

There was also an Elvis, in a cardigan and a dreadful wig, who even at my advanced age seemed very old indeed. He had quite a powerful voice though – so much so that I thought he was miming. But I was told he wasn’t.

There was also a girl. Well, looked like a girl – could’ve been a fella – who knows? Did a number and a duet with Louis.

There is a clip on YouTube of LoUis CYfer performing at the Admiral Duncan.

And I met a man with an amazing quiff, who was in the Admiral Duncan at the time of the nail bomb in 1999.

He pointed to where he was sitting at the time, which was along the right wall at the very back of the bar. Unusually for me, I did not ask him more about it. It would have been interesting to have heard his experience of the event. I must have been distracted by something else. The front of his white blond hair was pointing skywards, so less of a quiff, but amazing hair nonetheless.

There were a nice bunch in last night, though I did have to try and persuade a couple of them that dancing with me was not a good idea.

LoUis CYfer as she wants to be seen: Facebook profile picture

LoUis CYfer as she wants to be seen: Facebook profile picture

They were filming for a documentary called Queens & Kings, due for release in 2016. (Well, there was a man with a camera anyway). They are following LoUis CYfer in the lead-up to her visit to the International Drag Festival in Austin, Texas, at the beginning of May. I should have asked her more, but didn’t, as I was just enjoying the experience. It was an interesting evening.

LoUis CYfer asked if me and the lady sitting next to me were together.

“Oh yes,” I replied, “we’ve known each other since we were fourteen.” 

There was a collective Aaaah… from the room, and even Paulo the barman from Brazil, stretched across the bar, beaming encouragingly.

I thought to myself: That’s not what I meant at all.

Returning to Canadian drug affairs, there is a clip on YouTube of a Russian newsreader failing several times to keep a straight face while reporting a particularly detailed story from Canada.

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Filed under Canada, Drugs, Eccentrics, Gay, London