Category Archives: Nostalgia

The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band – soft anarchy & a concrete-floored ambulance

The flu, technology and utter laziness… Three recent enemies of this blog.

As my computer wiped photos, Michael Livesley (right) kindly recreated our meeting with Rod Slater (left) at a Soho pub.

As my computer wiped photos, Michael Livesley (right) kindly recreated our meeting with Rod Slater (left) at a Soho pub.

On 15th April, I had a chat with former Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band member Rod Slater and Michael Livesley, reviver of Viv Stanshall’s eccentric epic Sir Henry at Rawlinson End. I was going to post a blog the following week. Three days later, the hard drive on my laptop computer corrupted, taking with it the photos I had transferred (and erased from) my phone though, fortunately, I still had the audio recording on my phone.

The new version of Viv Stanshall’s classic album

The newly-released version of Viv Stanshall’s classic album

So I thought the release of the new version of Sir Henry at Rawlinson End CD on 13th May would be a good excuse to write a blog. Then lethargy and flu set in.

The flu just-about cleared for a 20th May press launch publicising the new Bonzo tribute CD (not the same as the Sir Henry at Rawlinson End one) and their upcoming appearance at the London Palladium on 19th November.

Then flu and lethargy returned until now, dear reader, when mention of the Bonzo Dogs has reappeared here.

New Bonzo Dog album (not to be confused with Sir Henry)

The new Bonzo album (not the Sir Henry one)

“It’s not live,” Michael Livesley told me about the Sir Henry at Rawlinson End CD (not to be confused with the Bonzo Dog one). We did it in the studio. It’s got Rick Wakeman on it and Neil Innes has done a bit on it. It took bloody ages to do because, when you’re recording a complicated concept album… Well, it’s a really complicated album.

“It’s strange that something which started as an album that I turned into a stage show is now an album again. It’s the first release on Rick Wakeman’s record label Rraw. The whole idea of the album was Rick’s. It comes with a 16-page booklet with all the photos.”

“The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band have really lasted,” I said to Rod Slater.

“Yes,” he told me, “the Bonzo Dog finished in 1970, but it’s just gone on. It started in 1962, for Godsake. I don’t remember all of it that well now.”

I said: “They probably thought Beethoven would be forgotten after 50 years.”

“That’s totally different,” said Rod.

“You,” said Michael to me, “were at the Bonzo’s last London gig, weren’t you?”

The Bonzo’s last London performance

Poster for the Bonzo’s last London performance

“At the Regent Street Poly?” I asked. “No, I didn’t go. I just kept the poster.”

“I remember the very last show,” said Rod. “It was at Loughborough University. It was like a way of life had come to an end. I didn’t want to stop entirely, but some of the others were pissed-off and felt they could do with a break.”

“Pissed-off with what?” I asked. “The travelling and everything?”

“Yeah,” Rod replied. “Just the intensity, I suppose. We’d been doing it for about six years without a break, so it was getting a bit… Well… But, fuck me, I didn’t half miss it when it was over.”

“Was it getting a bit samey for you?” I asked.

“No, it went on developing. I think it came to a premature end, really, but, at the same time, it couldn’t have gone on really, because things were cracking up.”

“It’s usually better,” I suggested, “for things to end too early rather than too late.”

“I think so, yes,” said Rod.

(L-R) Michael Livesley, Stephen Fry & Rod Slater re-create Sir Henry at Rawlinson End

(L-R) Michael Livesley, Stephen Fry & Rod Slater recreate the former glories of Viv Stanshall’s Sir Henry at Rawlinson End

“That’s why it’s great to be doing all this stuff now,” said Michael. “Because it’s worth continuing. It’s good quality stuff. I think we’ve lost sight of what we do best in this country from an entertainment point of view. You can’t blame the influence of America or the rise of dance music or any of that stuff. It’s nowt to do with that. We now live in a world – never mind a country – where it’s cool to be thick and it’s cool not to think too much about things and it’s cool not to question authority. We live in an age of conformity. What Viv and the Bonzos did was as far from conformity as you could get. But it was done with such whimsy and so gently. There was no kicking. It was like a soft anarchy with loads of humour.”

Michael Livesley with Rod Slater at the album launch

Michael Livesley (left) with Rod Slater at the album launch

“I think now,” mused Rod, “I would be far more vicious. I am a contrarist by nature, so nothing would ever be right for me. I’m not a confrontationist. There’s no point in getting your bloody head kicked in. But to confront things with humour and present them in a ridiculous way with the very definite clear message You should think about this! underneath. That’s the best thing anyone’s ever said about my work: It’s silly, but there’s something underneath it. I’m very much more like that now. I don’t think I was sophisticated enough in the 1960s to actually…”

The original Sir Henry at Rawlinson End LP

Viv Stanshall’s original Sir Henry at Rawlinson End LP

“Especially with Viv,” suggested Michael. “Sir Henry at Rawlinson End is the biggest examination of our class system and the Empire and everything coming to a screeching halt into psychedelia that you could wish for.”

“What were the other serious issues?” I asked.

“What?” asked Rod. “When? Then?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Well,” said Rod, “we were all likely to be bloody fried, weren’t we? The Bomb. And there was misogyny unlimited. Still is. All manner of… For Godsake, it was a totally different world. You couldn’t get away with a lot of it now, but no-one questioned it.”

“The next thing up,” said Michael, “is Glastonbury. We are doing Sir Henry at Rawlinson End at Glastonbury, which I think is the perfect setting for it.”

“How many people will be performing it?” I asked.

“Seven of us. Six days under canvas. It’s not for the faint-hearted. We are on at 8 o’clock every night in the Astrolabe Theatre.”

“When I went to Glastonbury before,” said Rod, “I couldn’t stand the shit on the shovel.”

“There are different toilets in the artistes’ area now,” said Michael.

“The best place to hang around then,” Rod continued, “was the BBC area. That was where the phrase ‘the remains of the Bonzo Dog Band’ was coined by some girl presenter.”

“After Glastonbury,” said Michael, “we will be gearing up for the Bonzo tour in November.”

A previous Bonzo reincarnation in December 2015

A previous Bonzo Dog reincarnation back in December 2015

“Who are the Bonzos now? I asked.

“Me, Rod, Sam Spoons, Legs Larry, Vernon (Vernon Dudley Bohay-Nowell).”

“What does the tour involve?” I asked.

“One of the most exciting parts,” said Michael, “is playing the London Palladium on 19th November. That should be fun.”

“And the Sir Henry at Rawlinson End CD is already out,” I prompted.

“Yes,” said Michael,  “a good culmination of six years of working with different people. My brief for it was always: Just think of it as a Radio 4 play. The way to really get subversive comedy listened to is to have it masquerade as something else and I think there’s no more innocuous thing than a Radio 4 play. You think you’re going to hear croquet on the lawn with cucumber sandwiches.”

“That’s where the Rawlinsons came from,” said Rod. “We listened to those bloody plays when we were in the ambulance. Viv latched onto that. Those terrible plays and Mrs Dale’s Diary, which you can see in the early Bonzos’ stuff.”

“Ambulance?” I asked.

“Vernon,” said Rod, “bought this ambulance with a concrete floor and it had chairs in the back. Armchairs and all our equipment.”

“Why did it have a concrete floor?” I asked.

The Bonzo Dogs’ ambulance had a concrete floor

Bonzo Dogs’ ambulance had a concrete floor and a hand brake

“I don’t know,” said Rod. “but it did. There was a Dinky toy made of it.”

“It had reinforced concrete for the floor,” agreed Michael.

“One day,” mused Rod, “its brakes failed going down Shooters Hill and Vernon, with great presence of mind, pulled on the hand brake, which pulled his shoulder out and he was hospitalised. But he managed to stop the ambulance.”

“It was fortunate,” I said, “that he was in an ambulance.”

“Someone,” mused Michael, “sent me an article from the Fortean Times the other week about the Sitwell family. Dame Edith Sitwell was this early 20th century poetess.”

“Oh, they were all bonkers,” I said.

“They were like the Rawlinsons,” Michael continued. “This George Rersby Sitwell owned a 16th century castle in Spain that he ended up retiring to, because had had enough of the modern world. He made this place like the 16th century. He was even more bonkers than Sir Henry Rawlinson. So these people did exist and they were ripe for the picking in the 1970s.”

Major-General Sir Henry Creswicke Rawlinson.jpg

Major-General Sir Henry Creswicke Rawlinson

“The day Viv died,” said Rod, “there was actually a real Sir Henry Rawlinson who…”

“Yes,” said Michael, “who had died on the same day 100 years earlier. He died 5th March 1895 and Viv died 5th March 1995.”

“It was 5th or 6th March,” said Rod. “They don’t know whether he died before midnight or after.”

So it goes.

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Filed under Comedy, Music, Nostalgia

Comedy legend John Dowie: changed by Spike Milligan’s Bed-Sitting Room

John Dowie talked to me near Euston, London

John Dowie talked to me near Euston, London

John Dowie is difficult to describe. Wikipedia’s current attempt is: “a British comedian, musician and writer. He began performing stand-up comedy in 1969.”

His own website describes him as: “Not working. Not writing. Not performing. Not Twittering. Not on Facebook. Not on Radio. Not on TV. Not doing game shows, chat shows, list shows, grumpy-old whatever shows. Not doing quiz shows. Not doing adverts. Not doing voice-overs for insurance companies/banks/supermarkets/dodgy yogurts.”

The synopsis of his up-coming autobiography starts: “If you’re thinking of becoming a stand-up comedian (and who isn’t?) then here’s some advice: don’t start doing it in 1972. I did, and it was a mistake.”

I know John Dowie because he contributed to Sit-Down Comedy, the 2003 anthology of comedians’ (often dark) short stories which I edited with the late Malcolm Hardee.

The book that was not suspended

A foul mouth, a foul mind and a bomb

John’s was the story of a Northern comedian who has a foul mouth, a foul mind and a bomb. The Daily Mirror called it: “a wrist-slashingly brutal account of a Bernard Manning-esque comic who plans blood-thirsty revenge. Disturbing? Very.” The Chortle website called it a “breathlessly entertaining yarn”.

Now he is crowdfunding his new book The Freewheeling John Dowie.

“How long are you crowdfunding for?” I asked him.

“They reckon the average book takes about six weeks or two months.”

“Have you started writing it?”

“I’ve already written it!”

“So the crowdfunding is just for the physical creation of it?”

“Yes, you have to reach a funding target for the printing process to begin.”

“So what have you been doing,” I asked, “since the triumph that was Sit-Down Comedy?”

“I have been riding my bicycle.”

“Where?”

“France, Holland, Spain, Italy, Ireland which is horrible, Wales, up and down England.”

“I like Ireland,” I said.

“Bad roads,” said John Dowie.

“And you are publishing your autobiography by crowdfunding…?”

The Freewheeling John Dowie, crowdfunder

The Freewheeling John Dowie, crowdfunding and bicycling

“Well, it’s not actually an autobiography,” John corrected me. “It’s like an autobiography, but with the boring bits cut out. There is no stuff like Birmingham is an industrial town in the heart of the Midlands. It’s got autobiographical elements. But, if you are a nobody such as I, then the only way you can tell a story about yourself is if it is a story that stands in its own right.”

“So how do you want The Freewheeling John Dowie described?” I asked. “A bicycling autobiography?”

“Yeah,” said John. “Well, if you ride a bike and you’re in a quiet piece of the world, what do you do? Your mind is free to wander and, as it wanders, you find yourself going from place to place in your mind that you were not expecting to go.”

“So why,” I asked, “did you decide to write your autobiography now?”

“I’m 65 and I’ve been retired for 15 years,” explained John. “And, if you’re 65, you’re fucked. So I thought: If I’m fucked, I’d better spend my time working because I’m of more use as a fucked-up performer than I am as a fucked-up retiree.”

“You were born in 1950?” I asked.

“Yes. Just in time to miss Elvis Presley and just in time to get the Beatles.”

“Did you approach a ‘proper’ publisher for the book?” I asked.

“No… Well, I think Unbound are more proper than publishers, because they care about the things they make. A friend of mine has a client who’s a comedian who went to a voice-over studio to record her book and was regaled by the engineers with all the comedians who came in to read the books they ‘wrote’ but had never even read yet – and finding mistakes in their own books – Ooh! My mother isn’t called Dorothy! Those are books done by ‘proper’ publishers.”

John Dowie - a living legend from the early alternate days

John Dowie – a living legend from the early alternate days

“Is there what they call a ‘narrative arc’ in your cycling autobiography?” I asked.

“Well, it begins and ends with a Spike Milligan story.”

“I met him once,” I said. “I think he must have got out of the wrong side of the bed that day.”

“I think,” John said, “that he got more crotchety as he got older. When I met him, he was very decent to me. I was hanging around backstage after one of his shows. He was touring a play which he wrote with John AntrobusThe Bed-Sitting Room. People talk about taking LSD for the first time and how it changed their life. Watching The Bed-Sitting Room changed my life. It was like a door had opened.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because I had not experienced anything like it before. Live comedy. I was 15 or 16.”

“So you didn’t know what you wanted to be?”

“No.”

“And you decided to be Spike Milligan?”

“Yeah. That’s more or less it, yeah. I became Spike Milligan for a period. Apart from the talented bits, obviously.”

“What happened when you stopped being Spike Milligan?”

“I got my friends back.”

“Why? Because you were rude as Spike Milligan?”

“No. Just not funny.”

An early John Dowie album by the young tearaway

Naked Noolies and I Don’t Want To Be Your Amputee

“And then, I said, “you became one of the living legends of the original Alternative Comedy circuit.”

“Well,” said John, “I’m living. That’s halfway there.”

“But you are,” I said, “one of the originators of Alternative Comedy.”

“I don’t think so,” said John. “I don’t think I’m one of them and it’s not as if it wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t been there. I was coincidental more than anything. It wasn’t as if anybody saw me and thought: Oh, let’s start a movement. I considered myself to be in the same field as Ivor Cutler and Ron Geesin.”

“Wow!” I said. “Ron Geesin! I had forgotten him!”

“Yes,” said John. “He was great. He was a John Peel discovery. Ron played Mother’s Club in Birmingham where John Peel’s Birmingham audience used to go religiously to see the acts John Peel played on the radio. Ron Geesin came on and did his first number on the piano and the place went fucking barmy and Ron Geesin said to the audience: Listen, nobody is THAT good.”

Factory Records’ first release: FAC-2

AOK Factory Records’ first release: FAC-2

At this point, farteur Mr Methane, who was sitting with us, piped up: “Weren’t you involved with Tony Wilson years ago?” he asked. “On Factory Records.”

“Yeah,” said John. “The first one. The first Factory Records release. FAC- 2… FAC- 1 was the poster. I was on the same record as Joy Division, Cabaret Voltaire and the Durutti Column. It was a double EP.”

“Ah!” I said.

Then he said to me: “It’s all very good if you know everything about comedy, John, but, if you don’t know about pop music…”

“Why should people crowdfund your autobiography?” I asked.

“Because I’m fuckin’ fantastic,” he replied.

I tend to agree.

If you want to crowd fund the book: https://unbound.co.uk/books/the-freewheeling-john-dowie

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Memories of being a table dancer, a war between strippers and a Yiddish theatre

This morning, I received an e-mail from this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith.

She lives on a boat in Vancouver. She used to be a stripper. Her sister is a priest.

This is what her e-mail said…


The ever interesting Anna Smith

The ever interesting Anna Smith

GOD… It’s taking me forever to get Skype.

I tried to install it myself.

Maybe I have already… It says it’s not working at the moment or something equally annoying.

My priestly sister said she could help me. She is super competent. She can Skype, do funerals and drive like a Mexican. She said it would take two seconds, but sometimes it takes me two weeks to find her. She is going to Colombia next week on a three week pilgrimage walking uphill following some nun around the jungle.

I go on a pilgrimage every second day, to get off of my boat. Yesterday, I went to the drop-in center for street girls to get some technical support from a young lady named Kay.

But Kay was busy leading a tarot card session for a small group of older women who needed cheering up. Kay retrieved the main fortune-telling card and read aloud the message: “You will go somewhere you have never been before, somewhere no-one else has been either.”

“Well,” I said, “that’s gonna be a hard place to find.” They laughed.

I had a coffee and chatted with the receptionist who was a French lady from Quebec. Somehow we got on the subject of strippers. I told her that the only club I worked at in Quebec was Le Folichon, which was the best strip club in Canada. She gasped and said: “I don’t believe it! – I used to work there too!”

Le Folichon club in Quebec

Some shared memories of Le Folichon club in Quebec, Canada

I told her: “Wow! – That was a good club…  It was so good that they fired me on the third day because I wasn’t fancy enough… It was the only time I was ever sent home… It was at Hallowe’en and they had some great acts. The star was a guy who entered the stage like a wicked witch, a drag witch. He had a broom and a cauldron with dry ice. He made all these scary gestures and explosions till the stage was blanketed in fog. When the fog cleared there was a four poster bed and Sleeping Beauty was in it. And he was Sleeping Beauty and he woke up!”

Chantelle, the French lady, sighed: “Yes, that was a nice club all right – all pink and white… and it had lace curtains. That place had class. I was a house girl there for years. I was the owner’s girlfriend.”

“Wow!” I said. ” That’s incredible.”

“Not really,” Chantelle told me. “He dated all the girls who worked there.”

“Oh,” I said, “maybe that’s why he sent me home…”

“He was a nice guy though,” she told me. “When he went to Europe he used to send me jewelry and roses every day. He was like that. His father used to be the mayor of Quebec a long time ago. His dad had wanted him to be a lawyer, but he had wanted something different… And then I was one of the first table dancers to work in Ontario. They sent a group of us out.”

“Oh! We hated the French girls,” I told her. “They ruined the business. Undercutting everyone.”

“For sure,” Chantelle agreed. “The English dancers didn’t like it. There was a war on.”

“I know,” I said. “I was in it!”

Anna Smith, Chicago Virgin

Anna Smith remembers when girls kicked out the light bulbs

“The English girls didn’t know how to table dance,” she continued. “They just ripped their clothes off on the first song. You have to drag it out to make your money.”

“Table dancing destroyed stripping,” I said. “I hated it.”

“You did it then?”

“Only when there was no choice. When it first started, before they started doing blow jobs in the corners. Then the girls used to kick out the light bulbs.”

I waited around the reception area, sipping my coffee and, when the place closed, I walked with Chantelle for  a few blocks.

“I can’t believe you were at the Folichon,” she told me. “You really made my day.”

Then I went into a community cafeteria where it is pretty rough but they serve really good food. My tray was loaded with what seemed like an impossibly huge pile of vegan stuff. I found a small round table to sit at. A volunteer helped an elderly lady to get from her walker to a chair, asking: “Is it OK if she sits here?”

Anna in the dressing room at The Flamingo Motor Inn on August 3 2014 Ian Breslin generously allowed me to dance to his music in order to raise money for children of dancers orphaned by cancer

Anna in the dressing room at The Flamingo Motor Inn, Vancouver, on 3rd August 2014

“Sure,” I said, putting away my phone and rearranging my bags a bit.

The other lady only had a soup and a cookie.

I started into my meal and, after a while, we started talking. She looked elderly and odd, with frizzy black hair and theatrically painted eyeliner. She started talking about her walker. She had only started using it recently. She had had a fall in September and another before Christmas.

“It’s strange that I fell,” she told me. “I’m normally pretty limber.”

She gave a little laugh, which made her pretty for a moment.

I don’t remember what I said next but, somehow, it came up that she too had been a dancer.

“What kind of a dancer?” I asked.

“A stripper,” she said quietly.

“Really?”

“Well, I was a ballet dancer and I learned jazz.”

“That’s crazy,” I said. “You’re the second stripper I’ve met in the last hour. Did you work in Toronto?”

“Yes. At Starvin’ Marvin’s,” she said.

Starving’ Marvin’s club in Toronto

“Places she’d danced & girls she knew. She was 72 years old.”

“That’s unbelievable,” I told her. “I was just writing about that place.”

I grilled her about the places she’d danced and the girls she knew.

She was 72 years old, so she had worked at some famous theaters that had closed just before I started.

She had worked at the Zanzibar, Le Strip and The Victory, a theater which had been North America’s first purpose-built Yiddish Theater – before it became a burlesque palace.

She knew some of the dancers I had worked with. It was hit and miss. Her name was Nina and she had to apologise because she sometimes forgot what she was talking about.

“Did you know Fantasia?” I asked.

“She was beautiful,” said Nina. “But then she couldn’t work. Her boyfriend.”

“What about Mary Lou?” I asked.

“She was a go-getter. She opened a store.”

“I used to do a nurse show,” I told her. “Nurse Annie.”

“Nurse Annie!” said Nina. “She had a good act.”

She smiled at the memory, forgetting it was me who had said it.

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Filed under Canada, Nostalgia, Sex

The repeated re-invention of Tom Jones

Martin Soan in the O2 before the show started

Martin Soan discovers butterflies in stomach before the show

Last night, with comedy performer Martin Soan, I went to the O2 Arena in London to see a gig by Tom Jones and Van Morrison.

Both Martin and I are frightened of heights. Well, he is frightened of heights. I am frightened of overbalancing. So I cannot walk across the new Hungerford foot bridge over the Thames, which has no visible supports when you are on it – I can only get about 40% of the way across and then I want to throw myself down on the tarmac and hold onto the surface for dear life.

Tom Jones - the original Henry Fielding film one

Tom Jones – the original movie one

It dates back to a childhood incident.

You had to be there.

Suffice it to say that the O2 Arena is so steeply tiered that only abseilers or bungee-jumpers can feel 100% safe.

The only previous time I was there, my eternally-un-named friend tied herself to the armrest with a scarf.

But I am glad I went last night.

Tom Jones is an example to all performers of all kinds that perpetual re-invention is a good, indeed necessary, thing.

I am old enough to remember seeing his first few appearances on British TV when he tended to wear a white flowing shirt and have his hair tied into what was almost a pony tail at the back. The image was almost of a novelty act because…

… of course, he took his stage name from Tony Richardson’s film of Henry Fielding’s bawdy romp Tom Jones which had made the hairstyle trendy.

That initial surge of success took him to Las Vegas.

But, by 1987, his star – in the UK at least – was slightly fading. Then he appeared on Channel 4’s The Last Resort With Jonathan Ross. The programme’s researcher Graham K Smith (later Commissioner for Comedy & Entertainment at both Channel 4 and Five) used to handle music on the show and refused to let artists perform their latest release or songs they were famous for. He insisted on something the audience would not expect and persuaded Tom to sing Prince’s Kiss which, as far as I remember, created another surge in his career.

And now, of course, Tom Jones is seen in the UK as one of the judges on BBC1’s The Voice – although he lives in Los Angeles.

It is all a matter of perception.

I tried to persuade Martin Soan to explore the possibility of going to China to expand his career.

“You’re ideal,” I told him. “Your act is not language-based. It’s visual. It’s surreal. It’s performance art. There are bits of mime-like things in there. Puppets. Strange characters. Bright colours. Strange props. Experimental. The Chinese would love it. You could even take Punch & Judy there.”

But I think Martin’s mind was on butterflies.

My mind was on Hungerford Bridge.

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A newspaper mystery & Britain in 1950

The mysterious smudged Guardian

The mysterious smudged copy of he Guardian

I was passing through Kings Cross St Pancras tube station a couple of days ago when I saw. in the Evening Standard bins, some newspapers which were not Evening Standards.

Several were an odd, blurred-print, 40-page edition of, apparently, The Guardian. Except everything was artistically smudged and it was some edition covering the overthrow of Colonel Gaddafi in Libya.

Maybe it was some bit of agitprop, but there seemed to be no message.

Maybe it was some offbeat advert for some product, but there was no visible plug anywhere.

The other paper in the Evening Standard bin was a copy of the long-deceased Daily Graphic newspaper dated Friday March 24, 1950. The headline was:

STOP THE CRIME WAVE

and that story ran beside a photograph of Queen Mary doing needlework in the garden of Marlborough House. The caption inexplicably said: Picture released, yesterday, as New York hailed her million-stitch carpet.

The Crime Wave story said, in part:

The viewpoint on crime in 1950

A viewpoint on law and a crime wave in 1950

Lord Goddard, Lord Chief Justice, warned the Government in the House of Lords last night that the wave of violence must be stopped. A way of ending it had got to be found.

“If the crime wave goes on,” he said gravely, “the demand that it be stopped will be overwhelming.

“Strength must be applied. I hope to goodness it will not be applied too late.”

But Lord Goddard, who was speaking in the second day’s debate on a motion calling attention to the crime wave, made it clear that he was not asking for corporal punishment to be brought back.

“It is one thing,” he explained, “to deplore – as I do – abolition of all forms of corporal punishment, and another to demand their reimposition.

“My reluctance to do so is because I think there is nothing worse than continually altering penalties….

“It is true I suggested the abolition of the ‘cat’ and the retaining of other forms – not merely the birch, but the cane, so that boys could have been caned…

“When a prisoner comes out after having the ‘cat’,” he said, “he is treated as a martyr or hero.

“But when he gets the birch he knows he will come out the object of ridicule – and nothing kills so quickly as ridicule.”

A double-page Guardian spread

Double-page Guardian spread in a 40-page enigmatic paper

The 1950 copy of the Daily Graphic was maybe an insight into another world 65 years ago.

But why it was in a modern-day Evening Standard bin and what the purpose was/is of the multiple smudged copies of The Guardian remains an utterly unexplained mystery.

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Filed under Crime, Legal system, Newspapers, Nostalgia

Other people’s lives and why Monica Lewinsky caused the 9/11 attacks

My parents in Edinburgh, perhaps in the 1970s. Who knows?

My parents in Edinburgh, maybe in the 1970s. Time can warp.

I have talked to a few novelists in my time.

They mostly admit that much of the fiction they write is actually the truth, but toned-down because the actual truth would be too far-fetched to believe. Especially where coincidences are concerned.

Yesterday, I bumped into Scottish comedian Jojo Sutherland.

I mentioned to her that today, bright and early, I have to go see my second cousin near Perth. At least he might be my second cousin. He is my mother’s cousin’s son. I think that might be a second cousin, but who knows?

Somehow I mentioned to Jojo that my mother had been born in the small village of Dunning near Perth.

JoJo said that, the day before, she had been in Dunning. Several comedians met there to leave cars and congregate on their way up to Elgin.

Dunning does not seem far from Perth. It does not seem far off the main road. But it takes forever to drive there, because the road to the village is in some sort of 1920s Einsteinian time warp. In the time it takes to drive there, you could raise families and empires could rise and fall.

There is no reason to go to Dunning (admittedly a very nice village) except for very specific reasons. Few people go to Dunning.

The fact that Jojo went there the day before I accidentally met her in Edinburgh would be laughably impossible in a novel.

The reason I am telling you this is because, yet again, I have no time to write a ‘proper’ blog before I drive off to Perth.

So here are some copy-and-pasted extracts from my electronic diary in – for no particular reason – 2001, the year Arthur C Clarke and Stanley Kubrick chose for their depiction of a futuristic science fiction world.

My father died in the early hours of Wednesday 27th June 2001. So it goes.

Russ Conway in 1962. He died in 2000

Russ Conway in 1962. He died in 2000, aged 75

On Saturday 1st September, my mother asked me if pianist Russ Conway had died. I said, “Yes. Last year or at the beginning of this year.”

She told me: “I always said I was OK provided he was OK. Because he had his strokes just after I had mine.”

Sunday 2nd September was my mother’s 81st birthday. She was breaking down in tears all day.

Meanwhile, other people lived their own, separate, lives.

I had a chum who was working for a PhD at an English university. She was having problems.

She had access to unused unique research material which NASA was willing to supply to her for her English PhD, which she was working on at NASA’s Goddard Space Center facility in Maryland. Her English university told her it would not allow her to continue nor give her a PhD unless the research work she produced was first published in scientific journals under the name of her supervisor at the university.

NASA said they wanted her to publish her own research under her own name thus getting credit for what she had done and that it was outrageous for the English university and its professor to take and get credit for research they had not done.

But that is the standard method of people getting PhDs in the UK – the university publishes students’ research as their own. The university staff get credit and perhaps a knighthood; the students get a PhD. But not in America, where the people who do the research publish their own work under their own name.

NASA was refusing to release the research material unless my chum got the credit; the English university was refusing to allow her to continue unless it was agreed up-front that their man got his name on the research.

On Tuesday 11th September, the World Trade Center was destroyed in New York.

On Wednesday 12th September, I wrote:

The mural on the side of Dave Courtney’s house

Two-storey mural on the side of Dave Courtney’s family home

Went to Plumstead to watch an interview being filmed with gangster Dave Courtney. He lives in an ordinary late Victorian road, his house mostly white and blue on the exterior: battlements on the white walls with large blue and grey Camelot scenes. On the side of the house, there is a 30-ft high brightly-coloured painting of him as a knight, seated with his wife on a stallion.

Above the door, there is a painting of a shield with a white fist on which is a knuckle-duster; beside it, a royal crest. Beside that, on the patio, is a 20ft high white flagpole with a tattered Union Flag. Invisible on the ground but visible to police helicopters, two eyes are painted on the roof. His motorbike has a painting of him brandishing a knuckle-duster, aiming a gun etc. In front of the front bay window stands a miniature 3-ft high sculpture of King Arthur’s sword Excalibur stuck in a white stone.

Inside the house, his living room has a wooden ceiling. On one wall, there is a large painting of him; on other walls, three giant swords. His girlfriend is thin, black and bald except for a black velcro-like band of black hair on her head. Their daughter Courtney Courtney is 3 years old, small, golden brown and sweet. Two young men in black suits, white shirts, black ties and highly-polished black leather shoes sat on two grey sofas watching television coverage of the aftermath of the World Trade Center attack. 

Later, outside, I watched a bespectacled Sikh walking past in a white turban with red dots pushing a bright yellow bicycle.

On Thursday 13th September, I got an e-mail from the director of the Dave Courtney interview:

The World Trade Center attack on 11 September 2001

The World Trade Center attack on 11 September 2001

My friend in New York tells me the entire reason for the New York atrocity is down to Monica Lewinsky – President Clinton a few years ago tried to bomb Bin Ladin to distract attention from the Monica Lewinsky affair. So apparently Bin Ladin has never forgotten it. So this is payback apparently. All over a blowjob!

On Friday 14th September, I got this message from a chum about her new boyfriend, who had just come over to the UK:

He is not used to people en masse. He has been living a solitary existence in the rainforest for ten years and is fairly knackered after the stresses of trying to decamp to the UK. He has a condition we call ME – good days and bad days – so needs a bit of a rest before meeting people.

On Monday 17th September, I got this message from a friend in England whose mother lived in New York and was there during the attack on the World Trade Center and the attack on the Pentagon in Washington:

Thankfully all my friends and family are accounted for but it took until late on Friday/early hours of Saturday morning to get the OK from everyone I know and care about in New York and Washington. 

My Aunt is a medic and has been working flat out to cope with the casualties and fatalities that arrive at the medical centres/ hospitals around New York. She will need post traumatic stress counselling, as will all the rescue workers and medical staff. 

I did hope that the events of last week would prompt my sisters who haven’t been speaking to one another for the past 15 months to make their peace – they haven’t.

On Thursday 4th October; I wrote:

When clearing lots of my father’s spare bits of wood out of my mother’s side shed with neighbour Jenny and husband Albert, Jenny said – quite shocked –  “She’s getting rid of all trace of him.” I agreed.

My father and mother in Clacton, Essex. Ars long vita brevis.

My father and mother in Clacton, Essex. Ars longa vita brevis.

After my father’s death, I found my mother going through all their old photographs and tearing them up after looking at each of them. She thought it was better. She had her memories but felt she had to make a new start and that this was the best way of doing it.

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I don’t care who my dead relatives were, but comedian Charmian Hughes does

My parents after their wedding

My parents after their wedding

My mother was born with only one hand. Her brother died of pneumonia when he was, I think, around 16 and she was around 11. She had no other brothers and sisters.

When he was in his early teens, my father ran away from home to join the Navy. But he was too young and they rejected him.

Eventually, he joined the Royal Navy when he was 16 in 1936, just in time for the Spanish Civil War in which British forces were not involved – although his ship dropped men off the Spanish coast late at night for reasons he was never told.

In the 1950s, he got tuberculosis and had to go into a sanatorium for a while.

My mother’s father, was a joiner and carpenter. He lived with us after he had a stroke.

My father’s father was a Merchant Navy captain

My father’s father was a Merchant Navy captain

My father’s father, was a ship’s captain. He died when my father was aged about three, so I never knew him.

Beyond my parents and grandparents, though, I’m not really interested in who my ancestors were. They’re in the past.

As far as I know, I am not in any way related to either Sir Alexander Fleming or Ian Fleming – therefore I am not due any money from penicillin or the James Bond books – and so I don’t much care what happened to unknown members of my family in the past.

About 20 years ago, some Canadian members of my Fleming family – whose existence we knew nothing about – tracked down my father and his sister in England. These Canadian Fleming’s were creating a family tree which they later sent to us. There was a surprising number of men in the family – about 3 or 4 – who died as a result of falling into the holds of ships – presumably while very drunk.

Arguably, other people have more interesting members of their families.

Charmian inherited her Victorian relative’s chest

Charmian inherited her relative’s chest

Last night, I went to see Charmian Hughes perform a rough run-through to an audience of six in her kitchen of her upcoming Edinburgh Fringe comedy show Raj Rage, about her trip to India to find out what happened to one of her female forbears caught up in the Indian Mutiny.

It’s a cracker of a story and I would not want to give away the twists and turns, but Charmian has more than one bizarre forbear in her family.

On the wall of the stairs at her home is a portrait of a distinguished-looking, uniformed man.

Charmian’s distinguished grandfather

Charmian’s distinguished grandfather

“That’s my grandfather,” Charmian told me. “My father’s father. He was Irish and was Postmaster General of India for about a week. He was supposed to be from Dublin, but you can’t find him anywhere if you try to look up records of his past. I think he re-invented himself. I don’t know why.

“And this oval portrait,” she said, “is either my mother’s great grandfather or her grandfather. My mother told me he was at medical school and, because he wanted to marry a woman his parents didn’t approve of, they refused to finish paying his fees so, my mother told me, he became what she called That other thing when you don’t qualify as a doctor.

Charmian’s less-distinuished relative

Charmian’s rather less-distinuished relative

“I asked my mother: What do you mean? A nurse?

Don’t be stupid! she told me. “Men aren’t nurses!

A physiotherapist? I asked.

No, no, my mother told me. You know… When girls don’t want to have their babies.

“He was a back-street abortionist when abortion was illegal. Women paid him with their jewellery. He lived in Cricklewood. They all lived in Cricklewood. The ten brothers and sisters all lived in neighbouring streets. I think he was the one who drank himself to death and, as a result, my grandparents didn’t have a drop of drink in the house.”

Charmian also pointed out to me an ornate carved hat stand in her hallway.

A hat stand nicked from the Russians?

Hat stand nicked from the Russians by Charmian’s granddad?

“My mother’s father,” she explained, “was a mercenary who went to Russia during the Civil War between the White and Red Russians after the Bolshevik Revolution and he came back with… well… with stuff. I think he was on the White side. Then he lived in Hertfordshire and he was a travelling salesman for a building materials company.”

Interesting.

Even fascinating.

And it is a very nice hat stand.

But I still have no interest in my own family background.

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Filed under Nostalgia, Russia, Spain