Category Archives: Politics

The death of an Italian archaeologist who knew so many 20th century secrets

Maurizio Tosi, highly-regarded archaeologist

My shoulder in 1991 - pulverised in two places

Uncovering the past: my shoulder was pulverised in two places

In 1995 I wrote the autobiography of comedian Malcolm Hardee.

‘Ghosted’ seems such a strange word to use.

In 1997/1998 I almost wrote the autobiography of someone else: an Italian archaeologist.

His opinion was that archaeology and biography were very similar: both involved uncovering the past from fragments and sometimes having to simply guess what had really happened. Sometimes, he suggested, it is even the same with autobiographies.

Yesterday morning, I woke up with a pain in my lower back and hips and upper legs. I was hit by a truck in 1991. One long-term effect it has had on me is that the bottom of my spine is slightly damaged. The bones occasionally go slightly ‘out of alignment. What usually happens is that I get a pain on one or other side of my hips and, as it mends, the pain moves round my waist and ends up at the bottom of the spine – where the real trouble lies – and then it goes away.

Initially, the problem is perceived to be somewhere it is not. Normally it takes about three nights of sleeping on the floor for the pain to go away.

This morning, at around 02.30am, I was lying on my bedroom floor unable to get to sleep because I could find no position to lie in that did not give me an awkward nerve-end-tingling pain.

For no particular reason at all – except that it came into my head – I decided to Google the phrase Maurizio Tosi death and this came up

The obituary of Maurizio Tosi which I Googled

The obituary of Maurizio Tosi which I stumbled on

MAURIZIO TOSI (1944-2017) 

February 26th, 2017 

“A leading figure in Italian archaeology and Co-Director of the Italy Oman international research program studying the beginnings of navigation and long-distance trade in the Indian Ocean died at the age of 72 yesterday in Ravenna, Italy. The cremation ceremony will take place at Ravenna on this next Monday at 3.30 pm. Friend and colleagues are organizing a commemoration in Ravenna on March 5th at 3 pm.”

I had not thought about him for years. Today is Wednesday. It would seem he died on Saturday with his funeral two days ago and I haven’t thought about him for years. Strange that I looked him up.

We were both fascinated by Shelley’s poem Ozymandias which ends:

‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

I never wrote Maurizio Tosi’s autobiography.

I had met him by accident at Ashgabat airport when we were both leaving Turkmenistan in 1995.

In 1997, in London and in Rome, we discussed the background to his autobiography.

In 1998, I travelled to Italy again to chat to him in Rome, Sienna, Bologna, Ravenna, Milan and on the island of Pantelleria.

Eventually, the project fell through because he tried to financially screw a friend of mine. His attitude to honesty was as variable as the wind in the deserts he often professionally frequented. He was a highly troubled man but also highly intelligent. Or, at least, well-read.

A younger Maurizio Tosi in one of the deserts he frequented

A younger Maurizio Tosi in one of the deserts he frequented

There were nine drafts of the book, some in the first person; some in the third; some in a mixture of both.

The book’s title was to have been Traveller.

When we had first discussed the idea of the book, he had e-mailed me:

“In archaeology, in history and in politics, the mistake that’s often made is looking at effects, not at primary causes. If you want to know why something developed, you have to look back in time before it existed: at what caused it to exist and develop in the way it did. It is the same with people and the same with me.”

Since childhood, he told me, the mind inside his skull had always felt it was in a darkened cave, looking out – frightened – at a world it did not understand.

When I had first suggested the title Traveller for his autobiography, he had reacted in a characteristically OTT way.

“Yes! yes!” he had cried dramatically (in an e-mail). “Traveller! It has so much meaning! I travel through time. I travel through different lands. I travel to escape from reality. I travel because the day-to-day details of everyday life are a problem for me. They always have been. It is all the little things that drive me to distraction – bills, banks, mortgages, paperwork, bureaucracy. I can’t live alone, but I can’t stay faithful to any woman with whom I live. I want stability, but I get bored by it when I have it. Traveller is the ideal title! It is so symbolic!”

It was like listening to someone impersonate an Italian.

“And you are also a fellow traveller,” I said.

One key point in his life had been in 1967.

Le Monde 2013 - Maurizio Tosi, archaeologist and ex-spy Advisor to the Sultan of Oman, the Italian palaeoethnologist was also an intelligence officer of the Soviet bloc.

2013 Le Monde article on “Maurizio Tosi, the archaeologist & ex-spy”

He was in communist East Germany when the Cold War between the Soviets and the West was at its height. Most of the people he had worked with in his Soviet-backed Network had already been caught – they had ‘disappeared’ – some had been captured by the West, some had been disposed of by the East. He was the last one left of those he knew.

He told me he had been in West Berlin and had been asked to deliver an envelope to a town in East Germany. He knew the envelope contained microfilm, because he had made the same delivery before. He had no overnight visa for East Germany, so he had to get a train back to East Berlin by 11.00pm and return through the Friedrichstrasse security checkpoint into West Berlin before midnight, otherwise he was in trouble.

He told me: “East German Security was separate from the police. Everything was separate. Everything was chaotic. There were so many different agencies all working separately from each other – sometimes in competition with each other. I didn’t have full coverage. It wasn’t as if I was officially working for the East German secret service. I was working for the Network but the complete implications of that were uncertain. I knew my network was handled by part of a section of East Germany’s security system and was linked to the Soviet Union, but things had changed. Everything had changed that year.

Erich Apel

The East German politician Erich Apel ‘committed suicide’

“When the East German ‘Planning Minister’ Erich Apel ‘committed suicide’ in 1965… when Apel was made to die in 1965… it sent a signal to all marginal people like me. Apel had been one of the masterminds and controllers of our subversion operation and when it was said he ‘shot himself due to depression’ it was clear something was changing very fundamentally.

“Our entire project of undermining and fighting American power in the Third World – and ultimately in Europe – was falling apart. Ché Guevara had already – and very clearly – been abandoned in Bolivia.”

Maurizio Tosi had been part of a network run by the East Germans for the Soviet Union. He had been trained partly in Europe, partly in Cuba, partly in South America. His job as an archaeologist meant that he could legitimately be in ‘fringe’ areas – Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan. He was in Afghanistan when the Soviet tanks rolled in.

When we talked, it was mostly on tape.

“I dislike lies,” I warned him, early on.

“But ambiguity?” he had asked.

“Ah,” I replied slowly. “I’m fascinated by ambiguity. And by…..”

“Me too,” he had interrupted.

“…..and by amoral characters,” I had completed.

Maurizio Tosi in his office in 1998

Maurizio Tosi in his 1998 office was “fascinated by ambiguity”

During one of our chats he told me, as we sat in his book-lined room in Rome: “One of the most famous legends of Central Asia tells of a horseman. The horseman is the standard-bearer of the great Khan. As the Khan’s army are entering a city after a glorious victory, the standard-bearer sees a dark lady looking at him. The dark lady has fearsome eyes, as if she is looking right inside him. He becomes scared that this woman is a witch and she has put the Evil Eye on him, so he goes to the great Khan and tells him his fears and says he wants to go to another city.

Of course! says the great Khan. Give him the finest horse we have! Let him escape!

“So the standard-bearer takes the fastest horse in the Great Khan’s army, rides off across the desert and, in record time, arrives at the other city. Then he sees the dark lady standing by the city gates, waiting for him. She looks at him, smiles and says:

I was so worried. I knew I was due to meet you here today but, when I saw you in that other city so very far away, I was worried that you would not reach here in time for our appointment.

“And the standard-bearer realises that the dark lady with the eyes that look right inside him is Death. I always feel I am running like the standard bearer,  that there is never enough time and I know I will never complete what I should do.”

RIP Maurizio Tosi (1944-2017)

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The £2,500 theft and Copstick in Kenya

Mama Biashara’s Kate Copstick at a happier time in Kenya

Mama Biashara’s Copstick on a previous Kenyan visit

Comedy critic Kate Copstick is currently in Kenya, where her Mama Biashara charity gives sensible sums of money to help locals start sustainable small businesses in the poorer areas of Kenya.

She flew there last Friday.

Last Wednesday, £2,500 destined for the charity’s work in Africa was stolen from the Mama Biashara shop in London. At the time of writing, a donations page for the charity remains open for another 24 days and monies from the first night of promoter Mike Leigh’s new Comedy Happening night in London on 16th March are also being donated to Mama Biashara.

Below is an edited version of Copstick’s latest diary from Kenya. No-one takes any salary from Mama Biashara and Copstick covers 100% of her expenses herself. She takes no money from the charity nor from any donations to the charity. 100% of all money donated is spent on the charity’s projects.

Mama Biashara logo


SATURDAY

Doris at the ferry in Mombassa

Mama Biashara helper Doris at the ferry in Mombassa, Kenya

I am sleep deprived and knackered when I land. But get painlessly through customs and immigration, which is wonderful.

Situation update in Kenya is: there is a serious drought and a State Of Emergency has been announced. However I, although my personal luck is currently waving goodbye as it disappears over the horizon beyond dreadful, have brought the rain with me. Last night and this morning there has been rain – even in Nanyuki (which is impressive). Everyone is happy.

Doris is resplendent in new braids in grey and black (a gift from a friend).

I run through part of my To Do List and Doris says she thinks we should concentrate on things other than business set-ups because business is appalling in Kenya at the moment. Some big companies are relocating, small companies are closing and tiny Mama Biashara type businesses are in a dire state. All food prices have gone up and water has become very expensive.

Also doctors in all government hospitals have been on strike for 77 days and counting. People are lining up outside non-functioning A&E departments to die. Apart from that, everything else is crap too.

SUNDAY

The highlight of my week so far is my new favourite word of all time. Coined by the marvellous Julius, it is ‘grumpling’. Close but subtly different from grumbling. And much friendlier.

We arrange more jiggers treatments (see previous diaries, but it is not pretty), more medical, more shoes and then Julius starts talking about “the well”…

I would love to dig a well. There are 600 people in the community around where Julius lives.

Pro the well: it would bring water to the community and save the women trekking 5 kilometers to get the stuff and, thanks to all the support we have had, if we locate water which is not to deep underground, it is financially doable for us.

Con the well: the cost could be big. If all goes well and the diggers do not hit rock, it would be quite cheap. But rock means big costs. In addition to that, my experience is that, as soon as there is a ‘thing’ here, the heavy mob (there is always a heavy mob in poor areas) appropriate it. My worry is that they would grab the well and start charging the locals. And, when Julius dies, his land goes to his son and his son’s wife who might not be a decent as Julius.

Thoughts, people? Especially those who donated to Mama Biashara.

Without you I would not even be able to consider this.

The alternative is to teach the locals about the Raincatchers I invented for the Maasai.

You create a sort of hammock that you hang from trees, with a hole in the middle which is directly over the opening of a 1,000 litre water tank. The rain is ‘caught’ and collected and pours into the tank AMAZINGLY quickly. Maybe a Raincatcher for every four or five houses would be enough. This can be done at about £50 per raincatcher.

Copstick with Mama Biashara co-worker Felista

Copstick with Mama Biashara worker Felista on previous visit

And now Felista arrives. Her ginormous breasts are in danger of pouring over the edge of the bra (Thank you Sara Mason) she wears and out of her blouse, which is missing a button.

Every time she takes a breath, it is like watching a tsunami of flesh gathering to swamp everything in front of it.

She shows me her skirt, which is similarly missing bits … like quite a lot of material.

“My clothes have all been eaten by a rat,” she announces with hoots of laughter.

As ever, with Felista, there is good news and there is bad news.

She also has been to Nanyuki, (as well as Doris), currently ravaged both by drought and by tribal warfare exacerbated by drought.

“Eh, they are dying like chickens there!” she cries, shaking her head. “Like chickens.”

Back at DECIP (the children’s home she created and runs on a wing, many prayers and a heart the size of a Trump ego), the bus which left in December to take 20 orphans back to their home area in Awendo in December has returned in February with the 20 as well as 49 others. No shoes, hardly any clothes. Forty nine. Because the women in Awendo know Felista will not turn away a child in need. And Awendo and surrounding area is rich in children in need.

So now Felista’s two rooms (bedroom and a sort of sitting room) as well as a store room and the dispensary, are dormitories for the tiny kids while the nursery dorms, as were, house the bigger kids.

Awendo also sent four male teachers, whom Felista has just had to tackle and expel for trying to rape girl pupils. Twelve year olds. When she stopped them and went crazy, they announced:

“But we are teachers. These girls are our meat. This is our culture.”

They have now gone.

The situation is further complicated by the older Luo girls (from Awendo) who are described by a grinning Felista as “crazy for sex”. And so I am going to be teacher for an afternoon at DECIP. Teaching sex education. Oh yes, I know. Dracula in charge of a blood bank and all that, but I will have my sensible hat on.

MONDAY

Some of the Kenyan children helped by Mama Biashara

Some of the Kenyan children helped by Mama Biashara money

I am determined to get some heft behind our campaign to stop teachers and Head Teachers extorting money from the poorest of the poor at government schools by creating illegal charges and then excluding the children when the parents cannot pay them. This is a Big Thing here. And it is the main reason so many of the poorest kids don’t get an education.

Some fat drunk in charge of a school wants an extra wedge so he (or she) creates a ‘sitting on the chairs’ charge or a ‘learning on Mondays’ charge. The parent cannot pay up, so the kid gets sent home.

All these charges are illegal. Including the omnipresent ‘registration fee’.

We spread the word everywhere we can when we are in the slum areas and I have written a leaflet, quoting the relevant bits of the Act and screaming in bold letters: “No child can be sent away from a government school because of money.” 

But the message is not getting out there enough.

Yesterday a lady told me her kids’ school levies a ‘cleaning charge’ twice a week. 200 pupils each pay 50 bob. Twice a week. And the cleaner is paid 200 bob tops. Twice a week. The rest goes in the headmaster’s pocket. Illegal. But kids get sent home if they do not pay it.

So I go to the Education Officer’s office and have a chat. He listens. He nods. And then he says:

“Firstly I must tell you that everything you say is true”.

Marvellous.

Then he says: “…and I must congratulate you on being so bold. These people are volatile.”

“Thieves and those who spend their lives conning money out of orphaned children often are,” I say. He smiles.

They tend to smile a lot, these officer types. Not widely, but a lot.

The upshot was that either the official types are just scared to take on the bastards or the bastards are paying them off so that the larceny might continue.

Whatever, he did say he would support a poster campaign (and have posters all over the Chief’s offices), would encourage me to speak on radio and would help with lists of parents associations to which we could speak.

Probably not me as the whole white thing is not great when push comes to shove.

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The decline of British television comedy. The elitist iceberg of Brexit and Trump.

The Grouchy Club Podcast

Below is a short extract from the 100th Grouchy Club Podcast in which the (yes she certainly is) controversial comedy critic Kate Copstick and I ramble on about anything that takes our fancy, occasionally stumbling into the subject of British comedy. Occasionally, too, we stumble into cyber-trouble.

This may be one such example.


JOHN: There is a sort of bizarre snootiness in comedy where the Oxbridge elite…

COPSTICK: Oh yes…

JOHN: …who, by-and-large, don’t get (big) ratings for their shows – are very snooty about people who do get ratings. For example, Benny Hill.

COPSTICK: Yep…

JOHN: …who at the height – the height – of his fame and his ratings success and his foreign sales for Thames Television – He must have been churning money out like nobody’s business for Thames Television – was dragged into – was it Brian Tesler’s office? Someone’s office… and told they were getting rid of him because he was in bad taste.

COPSTICK: Yes, yes.

JOHN: He was staggeringly popular. I heard that when he died – I dunno if this is an urban myth – Chinese television broke into their broadcasts to announce it as a newsflash.

COPSTICK: I’m sure that’s absolutely true.

JOHN: But I mean he was staggeringly popular. They didn’t like him because they said he was sexist.

COPSTICK: But I think that… I’m going to get a bit political here, John…

JOHN: Oh God! We’re going to be in trouble!

COPSTICK: Only mildly…

JOHN: Oh dear.

COPSTICK: …and fleetingly.

JOHN: Oh dear.

COPSTICK: Just fleetingly.

JOHN: That’s never stopped her before.

COPSTICK: I think that is exactly the same thing – talking about the Oxbridge elite and all that running TV, so they say what gets dumped because they don’t like it – They are the ones whose voices are out there but Benny Hill had gazillions of viewers – I think that’s exactly the same thing we got with Brexit and the Trump vote – because the people at the top…

JOHN: This is Copstick!

COPSTICK: …the people at the top are completely unrepresentative of the mass of the voting iceberg that is underwater. And somehow, when the bottom mass of the iceberg rises up and votes for Brexit or Trump, it’s all Oh! Shock! Horror! How can this have happened? Well, it happened because it was always there. You just weren’t listening to it.

JOHN: Also, I was talking to someone the other day and said that, in my erstwhile youth, when they had sitcoms, they used to have them on at 8 o’clock or 8.30 at night or 7.30 at night. Nowadays, sitcoms are on at 10.30 or 11.00…

COPSTICK: Yes, yes.

JOHN: … because, in my youth, the sitcoms got massive ratings and now the humour, the comedy is not getting big ratings because it’s being scheduled and programmed and decided on by people who don’t like what the public like.

COPSTICK: Which is why Mrs Brown’s Boys is the highest rated…

JOHN: Yes and that’s only on at 10.30 because he keeps saying Feckin’ or something, doesn’t he?

COPSTICK: People are very snotty about it: Ooh! Mrs Brown’s Boys!

JOHN: I saw one episode and thought: Oh, that’s not really for me. But, of its type, it’s well done. I mean, Mrs Brown’s Boys and My Family must be, recently, the biggest sitcoms on…

COPSTICK: Absolutely. And surely somebody somewhere in some television company must see that.

JOHN: There is a lot of Emperor’s New Clothes going around.

COPSTICK: Ooh!

JOHN: I have to say Vic & Bob – sorry – I never ever thought they were funny. There was one pilot for, I think, Granada, which I saw and liked: it never got made into a series because no-one else liked it, but I have never ever ever thought Vic & Bob were funny. They were always in minority slots and, when the BBC I think it was tried them at peak time on a Saturday night they came a phenomenal cropper. With good reason. Because they ain’t funny… (LAUGHS) …in my populist opinion! (LAUGHS) But what do I know?

COPSTICK: I have almost stopped watching comedy on TV because there is very little that appeals to me and makes me laugh.

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Simon Jay on the inauguration thoughts of the OTHER President Donald Trump

Simon Jay - Donald Trump

Simon Jay’s show at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe

Simon was at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe

For about nine months, Simon Jay has been getting noticed for his one-man show Trumpageddon in which he riffs as the esteemed President Elect, who gets inaugurated this Friday.

“Are you doing anything to celebrate?” I asked Simon via Skype this morning.

“I’m going to go on Facebook Live,” he told me, “and, at 5.00pm (UK time), as you watch the inauguration on TV, you’ll be able to hear his thoughts streamed via Facebook Live –  as voiced by me.”

“When you first started doing Trump,” I said, “you must have thought: I want Trump to be elected President because I can get a four-year-long act out of this.”

“I was hoping he would LOSE for two reasons. One, obviously, for the good of the planet. But also because, genuinely, I think he has a very limited shelf-life as effective satire. It will become less effective.”

“Well,” I suggested, “there are three possibilities. One: he will get shot. Two: he will get impeached. Three: he might turn into a good President because you don’t want a nice, principled man as President. Jimmy Carter, apparently nice man: ineffective President. Richard Nixon, a right shit: internationally, a pretty good President.”

“I think that’s a little over-simplistic view of American politics!” laughed Simon.

“That’s my speciality,” I told him. “The trouble is Trump is not a hard, cynical politician. He’s a little schoolboy throwing tantrums and trying to bully people… So do you feel an affinity to him? How do you ‘become’ Trump?”

“Well,” Simon told me, “it’s like drag. You put on the orange make-up, put on the suit and red tie and flop the hair about.”

Simon Jay being made into Donald Trump

“It’s like drag. You put on orange make-up and flop the hair”

“You wear a wig as Trump?” I asked.

“No! It’s my own hair. Unlike him, I actually use my own hair.”

“He wears a wig?” I asked.

“It’s monkey glands,” Simon replied. “Implants, like Elton John. Trump’s hairline goes in two different directions. Half of it grows from one angle and the other half from another angle. It’s like M.C.Escher hair.”

“And his psychology?” I asked.

“He’s so easy to play,” said Simon, “because he thinks everyone loves him. No matter what happens or what I say, I will be loved – so it’s perfect. It’s a wonderful narcissistic power trip.”

“How,” I asked, “do you put yourself inside his mindset?”

“I just go blank,” explained Simon. “It’s a kind of Zen state, because he doesn’t say anything particularly. His verbal mannerisms are just so airy, it’s almost like Beat Poetry – the same couple of phrases and words over and over again. It’s not like thought, is it?”

“He really IS like a school kid stamping his feet,” I said.

“Well,” said Simon, “if you look at his childhood, he used to bite his nannies and attack them. Terrible anger issues.”

“Have you,” I asked, “watched Alec Baldwin do Trump on Saturday Night Live?”

Alec Baldwin as Donald Trump in NBC’s Saturday Night Live

Alec Baldwin in NBC’s Saturday Night Live

“Yes. It is really interesting to see Saturday Night Live go a bit further in its takedown of a politician, but it’s still nowhere near like our satire. We are a lot more horrible to our politicians. Saturday Night Live say: Oh, Trump is obsessed by money and is a bit sexist! On Spitting Image, we had Thatcher as Adolf Hitler, gassing people! They could be a bit tougher. When Tina Fey did Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live, it was still a nod and a wink and the real Sarah Palin actually appeared with her.”

“Trump has gone wrong on the PR,” I suggested, “by attacking Saturday Night Live. Politicians have to be seen to laugh with comedy digs.”

“But maybe Trump is very clever,” Simon replied. “Everyone is reporting: Look at him! He can’t even take a joke! That distracts people from the politics: Look! He’s appointed this cabinet that are going to roll-back so many things. They’re pro-life, anti-gay, racist. People are talking less about that when they’re talking about him and Alec Baldwin.”

“So,” I asked, “how do you differ from Alec Baldwin?”

“I’m nowhere near as famous!” laughed Simon, “and I have nowhere near the same influence.”

“Will you be doing 20-minute spots in comedy clubs as Trump?”

“No, because it’s not an impression; it’s a whole hour-long show. It’s a characterisation in its own surreal world. So seeing it for a few minutes would not work in the same way.”

“Is there a risk,” I asked, “that you get so typed as Trump in the next four years that Simon Jay will lose-out as a performer?”

“Yeah. I’ll do other projects. I want to go to the Edinburgh Fringe and do Trump AND something else. Everyone is advising me against doing two shows again, but I would like to.”

“So your Trump show at this year’s Fringe…?” I prompted.

Orange is the new black in the US Donald Trump Simon Jay

For voters in the USA, it seems orange really is the new black

“The Trump thing has been taken on by a proper producer now – James Seabright – so it will be more packaged and slick though it will still be the same raw, slightly unpalatable truth it was last time.”

“Any reaction so far from the man in the Trump Tower?” I asked.

“No,” said Simon. “Part of the previous show was a bit where I was molesting a rabbit and I got the audience to take pictures of it and said: Can you Tweet the pictures to me? meaning me. But some people sent them to the real Donald Trump. So he maybe has a lot of photos of me looking like him, molesting a rabbit, but I have had no complaint from him yet.”

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Becky Fury, a compassion glut in the Calais migrant jungle and a new award

overview_of_calais_jungle_wikipedia_cut

Becky with her Cunning Stunt Award

Becky with her Cunning Stunt Award at the Edinburgh Fringe

At the Edinburgh Fringe this year, comedian Becky Fury won the Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award. But, then, a couple of weeks ago, she got another award.

Last night, she told me: “I did a gig at the Deptford Bird’s Nest which, I believe, was Malcolm Hardee’s old stomping ground.”

“Never heard of it,” I told her.

“And I arrived,” Becky continued, ignoring me, “and I was greeted with another Malcolm Hardee Award. French Fred and Karen decided…”

“Karen?” I asked.

“Was she not one of Malcolm Hardee’s acolytes?”

“She’s a woman,” I said, “so that will almost certainly be a Yes.”

“A woman in South London…” added Becky.

“So almost family,” I said.

“Anyway,” said Becky, “Karen and French Fred greeted me with what is apparently the REAL Malcolm Hardee Award.”

“Which is?” I asked.

Becky Fury with her ‘new’ Malcolm Hardee award

Becky Fury with her ‘new’ competing Malcolm Hardee award

“A framed photo of him. They told me your Malcolm Hardee Awards are just pretenders.”

“They knew you had won the Edinburgh Award?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“Because it is so increasingly prestigious,” I suggested.

“Precisely,” Becky confirmed.

“Where have you hung this picture of him?” I asked.

“Well, I had to give it back to them…”

“What?”

“French Fred wanted it back to put in his bedroom,” explained Becky.

“I have a photo of Nicholas Parsons in my bedroom,” I told her.

She just looked at me and said nothing.

The well-organised Anarchist Bookfair cabaret

The organised Anarchist Bookfair cabaret

Becky is organising the cabaret part of the Anarchist Bookfair tomorrow.

“I heard,” I told her, “that some people who organised it in previous years were too disorganised for the anarchists.”

Becky looked at me and raised a Roger Moore style eyebrow.

“We are raising money for the ongoing support of people stuck in Calais,” she said.

“Ah,” I said, “you went to the migrant ‘jungle’ in Calais this week, before it got demolished. Why?”

“Because it was interesting. And because a lot of people I know have gone and helped. And a friend of mine was driving there with some stuff. And I’m basically writing stuff for my new show.”

Becky Fury and friend in Calais

Becky Fury by the Hitler bunker with a friend from the jungle

“Which is about…?”

“I dunno if I want to say. But I actually got an amazing story by going there and actually finding out what was going on in the jungle itself.”

“Your friend,” I prompted, “was driving there with stuff. What stuff?”

“Donations. Tents,” said Becky. “Tins of kidney beans. That sort of thing. Also a friend of mine ran the warehouse there. He used to have a sound system – Bedlam Sound System – and he sold it to set up the warehouse.”

“The jungle had a warehouse?” I asked.

Helpers hard at work in one of the jungle warehouses

Helpers hard at work in one of the Calais jungle’s warehouses

“Two warehouses. I worked in the one that was set up by the sound system squatter collective. I went for four days. I got a lift and I nearly didn’t stay, because the people who gave me a lift were all going to go off and do a squat party in Amsterdam.”

“What was the warehouse like?”

“It was a really unbelievably lovely experience.”

“Because?”

“It was like a distribution point for random acts of kindness. Everyone was there because they wanted to be helpful. It had a really good sense of community.

“I helped in the warehouse for three days but I wanted to go to the jungle and another lift turned up – a guy from London who I knew from years ago. A very rich man. He turned up with his World Music Covers choir. For some reason, he thought that was what people in the jungle really needed. Not tins of kidney beans, not tents, but some white man singing Bob Marley covers at them.”

“Can I write that?” I asked. “You’re putting him down a bit.”

“That’s OK,” said Becky. “Because he left me there. He left me in the jungle. So I think it’s fair enough to slag him off. This is going in my show as well.”

“So,” I said. “World music in the jungle…”

Some of the British newspaper headlines about the migrants

Some of the British newspaper headlines about the migrants

“I was listening to it in the warehouse,” explained Becky, “and thinking: This is really beautiful, very accomplished. But also very white. And there was some level of cultural appropriation. They also did covers from The Lion King… As if these people had not suffered enough!

“I was thinking about all those newspaper stories about rape gangs and aggressive men and thinking: God, we are going to go and serenade them with Bob Marley covers. If they don’t kill us, they should.”

“And the reaction was?” I asked.

“A polite smattering of applause.”

“How many people were watching?”

“About 50.”

“Of the 7,000 to 10,000 in the jungle…” I mused.

“Basically,” explained Becky, “some of them couldn’t get away from us because it was set up near the queue for the food. There was no escape. And we also turned up in the Sudanese community where they were all drinking tea and one of the guys there was wearing sportswear with a pair of Nikes and a branded hoodie, looked at this posh white man with an acoustic guitar and asked: Are we gonna make party? Sarcastically.

“This guy who organised it was, I think, trying to impress me with his world music choirs covers band but I had really gone there to find out more information about the place and I started chatting to a guy from Peckham. He had come from Afghanistan when he was 12.”

“So he had suffered,” I said. “First Afghanistan, then Peckham.”

“Yeah. So that’s his home. Peckham. But we (the British) refused to give him a visa so he ended up in the jungle in Calais. He told me: I have fantasies about being stuck on the Central Line. He’s basically a Londoner. He speaks perfect English and even had a South London  twang. But he was stuck in Calais.

Becky thought: "As if these people had not suffered enough!"

Becky thought: “As if these people had not suffered enough!”

“In Calais, there was a glut of compassion. People in the West don’t have the opportunity to be kind and to be compassionate often enough. In a Buddhist country, you’ve got that in your culture. It’s more engrained. What happened in Calais was basically a glut of compassion where everyone was going there because they wanted to be nice. And all the compassion was re-distributed to all the people coming from all these places having a horrible time, coming to receive that compassion.

“But it caused problems, because the people in Calais didn’t want all those refugees to be in their town because the compassion was not being distributed out properly. If everyone in the West were more compassionate on a day-to-day level, it would be more evenly distributed and everyone would feel better about themselves and you wouldn’t get this compassion clot like in Calais.”

calaisjunglecard

 

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Filed under Anarchy, Charity, Comedy, Politics

I am approached by a UK political party

A mug shot with Lord Toby Jug (right)

A real political mug shot – with Lord Toby Jug (right)

It ain’t often that I get a press release from the leader of a British political party.

But, into my Inbox plopped a missive from Lord Toby Jug, leader of the Eccentric Party of Great Britain, who recently launched a bid to take over the leadership of UKIP.

Diane James quit as leader after just 18 days in charge and then there was that unfortunate incident at the European Parliament, where UKIP MEP Steven Woolfe was reportedly floored in fisticuffs by fellow UKIP MEP Mike Hookem. He then subsequently collapsed and was hospitalised with a suspected bleeding brain.

“The post of UKIP leader,” says the official Eccentric Party press release, “was made for a seriously deranged fruitcake like Lord Toby.”

The man himself says: “I’ve got my UKIP membership card now and party posters. I am a fully paid-up UKIP member. I even had the decency to send a personal £100 donation to Nigel Farage to have a good night out on the ale.”

He continues: “I think I am the best qualified for UKIP, since I was a schoolboy boxing champion at West Ham Boxing Club. I am now prepared to take on Nigel Farage’s puppet Paul Nuttall in the leadership contest. Once elected, I will personally dissolve the party before it inevitably implodes.”

Lord Toby founded the Eccentric Party of Great Britain after splitting with the Official Monster Raving Loony Party, has been contesting elections for decades and will be standing in the by-election at former Prime Minister David Cameron’s parliamentary seat. He ran unsuccessfully for the Labour leadership last year.

He says he was “stunned” when he found his application had not been weeded out by UKIP.

He is standing for UKIP leader with the slogan:

DON’T BE A MUG VOTE LORD TOBY JUG

Let’s hope he can bring a bit of sanity back into British politics.

ukipcard_lordtobyjug_cut

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Filed under Eccentrics, Politics

The Brexit vote to leave Europe was a lie. Percentages were more like 10/90.

The pencil is more powerful than the pen?

The pencil is more powerful than the pen or the sword?

Yesterday, I was travelling in an Overground train in London and got chatting to someone who works as a plumber. Let’s call him Peter (not his name).

Peter the Plumber is maybe in his late twenties. I could be way out. He could be in his early thirties but, if I had to guess, I would put him at maybe 29 years old.

We bonded on a lot of things, though not everything.

He thought the police were corrupt from bottom to top. He thought the court system had nothing to do with justice and was a game for lawyers and judges. He thought the drug laws were ridiculous – it is legal to willy-nilly prescribe variations of heroin and cocaine for medical purposes but not marijuana.

He said he did not vote in elections because the whole political and ruling system was corrupt. If he were to vote for anyone, he told me, he supposed it would be Jeremy Corbyn. I suggested maybe the Green Party and he was not averse to that but, as he thought the whole system was unworkable, there was no point.

I suggested, if there were a candidate or a party he thought had the correct policies and beliefs, then, by voting for them and increasing their majority even by one, he was giving them more profile and more visible backing – he should vote for them even if he believed they had no chance of winning.

“Like Jeremy Corbyn,” he suggested.

But he is not going to vote in elections because he believes the whole system is corrupt.

“Why do they give you pencils to mark the ballot paper in voting booths?” he asked me. “The people who mark you down as having voted and the people sitting outside the polling stations have pens. Why do they give you pencils to vote with? Pencils are more expensive than pens.”

I said I thought it odd that, as far as I know, when policemen write down statements, they are required to do it in pencil not pen. (I could be wrong that it is a requirement.)

brexitmapbbcHe said he did not believe the Brexit vote to leave the European Union was correct. The vote was 52% to leave. “I think the real vote,” he told me, “was more like 90% to 10%.”

“In which way?” I asked.

“To leave,” he said. “No-one I know wants to be in Europe. The Scots have it right. They want to leave the UK because they don’t want this other place making decisions for them. They want to make their own decisions.”

Let’s leave aside the fact that a high percentage of Scots voted to remain in the European Union.

Given the fact that many people who voted ‘Remain’ in the Brexit referendum find it unacceptable that there was a ‘Leave’ vote because everyone they know voted ‘Remain’… I thought it was interesting that youngish Peter The Plumber, who shows all the signs of being a true Corbynite and an anti-Establishment Left-Winger could not believe that the ‘Leave’ vote was as low as 52%.

Everyone thinks they are ‘normal’ and average and that their mostly self-chosen circle of friends and acquaintances are the norm. Everyone thinks they know what the majority of ‘normal people’ think.

Everyone is almost always wrong because they see and hear in their own bubble of ’normality’.

And, yes, I know if I write ‘everyone’ I should not write ‘they’ and ’their’ – I should write ‘he or she’.

But let’s not be pedantic. It is normal to use ‘they’ to mean ‘he or she’. Isn’t it?

Well, it seems that way to me.

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Filed under Europe, Politics, UK