Category Archives: Politics

Christine Keeler’s son remembers mum

Yesterday was Mother’s Day in the UK and Seymour Platt wrote: 

“This Mother’s Day, I am working to get my Mum the best gift I can – a pardon.

“Abused as a child, Mum fled her home at 15 and, over the following years, powerful men took advantage of her. From the age of 19, she spent 18 months being stalked and frequently raped by a violent man, who eventually attacked her in the street. When the case went to trial, Mum would be jailed for perjury while her attacker would walk free. 

“She lived the rest of her life branded a liar, powerless to challenge the lies that were told about her.

“My Mum is Christine Keeler and I want to set the record straight…”

His ​​christine-keeler.co.uk website says:

​Christine Keeler was an icon of the 20th century.

But what you think you know about her isn’t true.

Behind the glamorous image was a woman who was abused throughout her life.

​A woman whose traumatic experiences affected her until her death in 2017.

​It’s now time to re-evaluate Christine’s life.

It’s time to #PardonChristineKeeler

Christine Keeler and her son Seymour, c 1975 (from Christine’s private collection)

Yesterday, Seymour wrote:


I was struggling to remember a Mother’s Day with my Mum. Did I get her a card and make her breakfast? I just can’t remember.

I do remember the first cup of tea I ever made her. I was probably about six years old and had seen tea made a hundred times. I felt very grown up when she said yes and I went off to the kitchen. We used a tea strainer to make tea – it was the 1970s – add a teaspoon of tea leaves in the strainer and pour the boiling water over into the cup then add the milk and two sugars. That was how she took her tea. As it was the first cup of tea I had ever made, I wanted to make it special, so I added a pinch of salt for extra flavour.

She took a few sips and asked, “What is that strange taste?” 

I told her how I had added a pinch of salt for extra flavour and she just started to laugh. 

“Oh god! That’s why it tastes awful!” and she was laughing so hard, tears were rolling down her face.

It’s not a Mother’s Day story, it is a tea story and there was a lot of tea in the 1970s. At about the same time, my mother had some toilet water and, after going to the loo, I would go and find that bottle of toilet water and then pour some into the basin before flushing.

My mother asked me, “Why do I keep finding my perfume in the toilet?” 

“That’s your perfume? I thought it was for the toilet.”

“You’ve been putting my perfume down the toilet?” 

She was laughing again and I learned that Eau de Toilette is another name for perfume and not, in fact, toilet water. 

The perfume wasn’t a Mother’s Day gift from me. In fact I don’t remember ever buying a Mother’s Day gift. 

A few years later, when I was about 17, just after the film Scandal hit the screens, my mother was taken to a fancy restaurant, for an interview. When she got back it was late and she was a little bit tipsy but, always thinking of her son, she had brought me back a ‘doggy bag’, some of the food wrapped up in a napkin. 

“It was delicious,” she said. “I had to save you a bit.” 

At 17, I was always hungry so I was delighted – that is until she opened the napkin. 

“It was some of my starter,” she said, “a beautiful steak tartare.”

If you don’t know, steak tartare is raw steak with chopped onions, all covered in a raw egg – one of the worst meals you could put to one side and save for later. After several hours in her handbag, it looked and smelled like dog food.

“Go on, have some, it’s delicious.”

The look and smell of the steak tartare made me never want to eat food again but, because Chris was a little tipsy, not wanting to eat this ‘dog food’ wrapped in a napkin was insulting to her. She had gone to all the trouble to bring me back a little doggy bag. She told me, “I had to get the journalist to distract the waiter while I put the napkin in my bag.”

She told me I was ungrateful for not eating the food: “If you’re not going to eat it, then I will!” and off she went to get a fork. 

After one bite, she said, “Don’t eat that, it’s gone off, yuk!” and she ran off to spit it out. We laughed so hard she started coughing that deep smoker’s cough.

The fancy restaurant meal that night wasn’t a Mother’s Day treat from me.

It seems every day more people are stepping forward and offering to help with the campaign to get her pardoned posthumously, which is wonderful; and any help is gratefully accepted. 

I am finding myself getting a little nervous now and thinking what would happen if her pardon is rejected or why it could be rejected. I guess these are all understandable fears, but I also realise it’s because the story of getting my mother a pardon is not just my story. In fact it hasn’t been for a while, as more and more people get involved, more people become invested. 

I sometimes sense the same nervousness in the people around me, the people who are working on this so hard to get her pardoned. I’m sure that is a good thing because sometimes being nervous reminds us when things are important.

On Mother’s Day, we do something in recognition of the women who brought us into the world and this week I wanted to tell you stories about my mother that could equally have been stories about any mother, stories that show a mother’s love.

If you are lucky enough to be with your mother today, why don’t you tell her that you love her and maybe make her a cup of tea? But don’t put any salt in the tea, it makes it taste yuk. 

Happy Mother’s Day, Mum.


Details of Seymour’s campaign to obtain a pardon for his mum are online at christine-keeler.co.uk


 

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My name is Donald Ozymandias…

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘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.

(First published by Percy Bysshe Shelley, 11th January 1818)

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Filed under Poetry, Politics

North Korea, President Obonjo and me on “If Comedians Ruled The World…”

Here’s a chat I had last night with Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award winning performer President Obonjo aka Benjamin Bankole Bello for his podcast If Comedians Ruled The World.

In the chat, I mention the Zircon satellite, which is incorrect. I think the satellite I should have mentioned was probably an ECHELON one.

I also mention the Pakistan Ambassador in Pyongyang and I think I mean the Indian Ambassador. It was a long time ago and I have a legendarily shit memory.

Anyway, we got through comedy, North Korea, Donald Trump, politics, dictators, propaganda, the US electoral system, the media and the Edinburgh Fringe, all in 45 minutes of fun, frivolity and totalitarian talk.

After viewing it, Sandra Smith – comedy industry uber-fan and observer of such details – commented: “Very active head action while speaking to the President.” She listed…

14 ear touches

9 spectacles

4 mouth

9 head

2 forehead

1 neck

3 eyes

2 nose

I wish she hadn’t mentioned all those. I’m a bit touchy…

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Filed under Comedy, North Korea, Podcasts, Politics

John Fleming’s Weekly Diary No 42 in a week of fishy things and phishy things

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 41

Posted slightly belatedly, this is the last of these Weekly Diary blogs and proof – if proof were needed – that 42 is not the answer to everything…

SUNDAY 1st NOVEMBER

Since I was hospitalised in May, I normally wake up with a bone dry mouth 8-12 times a night and have to drink water. Last night, although I had hiccups and heartburn shortly after going to bed, I slept through and only woke up once with a dry mouth at around 0600.

Are the Chinese pills I started taking last week having an effect?

Maybe.

MONDAY 2nd NOVEMBER

Something fishy in the US – President Donald Trump

It is the US Presidential Election tomorrow.

In the meantime, Dutch comedy judge and linguist Louisette Stodel sent me a fishy picture of salmon-faced Donald Trump with the message “Lox him up!”

I am much less of a linguist and had to look it up to find out Lox is Yiddish (and North American) for Salmon.

Also today, in the Netherlands, a metro train on raised tracks in Spijkenisse, near Rotterdam, crashed through a barrier at the end of the tracks and did not plummet 32ft onto the water and footpath below but ended up delicately balanced atop a giant polyester sculpture of a whale’s tail.

A ‘fluke’ accident in Holland and one whale of a tale of a tail

Apparently whales’ tails are known as ‘flukes’. Reuters and some excitable UK newspapers reported that, coincidentally, the sculpture’s name was ‘Saved By a Whale’s Tail’. But Dutch sources said it had the rather more mundane title ‘Whales’ Tails’.

What are the odds of a ‘fluke’ accident like this happening? Quite high according to a Fortean Times article I read years ago.

The odds of you being killed by a pig falling on your specific head this year make it massively improbable. The likelihood that someone somewhere in the world this year will be killed by a pig falling on his or her head is quite high. 

The most improbable coincidences and unlikely/impossible events happen every every day.

TUESDAY 3rd NOVEMBER

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. A sequel to Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.

As if to prove this, my eternally un-named friend and I settled down to watch the second Borat movie on Amazon Prime today.

I had seen the first film; she had not. So I helpfully explained that the people in the film were (mostly) ‘real’ people, not actors, as it is not necessarily obvious.

I had been slightly uneasy with the opening scenes of the first film when I saw it. They were set in Kazakhstan and were basically about laughing at people who were poor. I was surprised roughly the same thing happened at the start of the second movie.

But I was able to tell my eternally-un-named friend that, in my opinion, the first movie – which I had seen and she had not – had been better because the scenes were longer and the only bits which really worked in this second one were the sequences with some drunken students and a Christian meeting.

Bizarrely, when we got to the end, the much-reported sequence with Rudy Guliani being put in an allegedly compromising situation with Borat’s (fake) sister – and some separate much-commented-upon sequences with a babysitter – were not in the movie shown on Amazon Prime.

It took a bit of online Googling to see how and why these scenes were missing.

It turned out we had been watching the first movie not the second one and I had remembered not a single second of it.

My memory has never been of the best.

WEDNESDAY 4th NOVEMBER

President Vladimir Putin – a highly successful fisher of men

The US Presidential Election was yesterday. Today, no result.

Well it looks like, whoever gets most votes, Vladimir Putin has won… Either way he wins. Trump re-elected or America divided. All this and a thriving door-handle business. Putin is on a roll.

I got a letter from the NHS saying I am seeing the Calcium Consultant on 27th November.

THURSDAY 5th NOVEMBER

The first day of the second COVID lockdown in England.

The US Election still undecided.

Who knows what the outcome of either will be?

…Agatha Christie kept me guessing beyond the last page…

It reminded me of when, as a teenager, I bought a paperback copy of Agatha Christie’s whodunnit Murder on the Orient Express at the WH Smith bookshop in Ilford.

I got to the end of the book only to discover that someone had torn out the last couple of pages, so I did not know who dunnit.

Smith’s did not have another copy so ordered one for me.

It arrived about two months later, by which time I had forgotten the details of the characters and clues.

I never did know who dunnit until a film was made of it, produced by Lord Brabourne, who was later blown up with Lord Mountbatten by the Provisional IRA, in a boat in Ireland.

Oh what a tangled web life is.

FRIDAY 6th NOVEMBER

Phishing (Photo: Bermix Studio via Unsplash)

In the morning, my landline rang: a rare thing, as most calls are on my mobile phone.

The caller claimed that the insulation in my loft had been found to be dangerous and to cause mould and they would sort it out for free.

He said they were a government advisory group. When I asked twice who financed them, he hung up.

I don’t know what the scam was but, after the pitch, he only got as far as “Can I confirm you are the homeowner…” before it ended.

It makes a change from the normal scam/phishing line: ”I understand you had a car accident in the last six months that wasn’t your fault…”

SATURDAY 7th NOVEMBER

I woke up with a bone dry mouth about ten times last night and had to drink water.

Are the Chinese pills I am taking having an effect?

Clearly not yet.

It’s been that sort of day/year/life, really

The US Election has been called for Joe Biden but Donald Trump has refused to accept the result, claiming with no evidence that there has been voter fraud.

This is perfectly normal in the new world led by social media where, if you say anything, however fanciful, it becomes a fact.

In the afternoon, I received an email headed: demur we had around kinda placement for emergency pecuniary resource 8767178744116284

The message, in a reality beyond the fictional world of Borat, read:


Don’t expend all along you acquire, save and put at least, 10%-20%. This too bad is one after another of the commonsensible principles of personal finance. It is canonic wisdom non compos mentis to pass altogether your wage but to bring through approximately of it for the rainy twenty-four hour period. Unitary of the things you would discover if you scan the record book, “Rich Dad, Poor Dad”, is that rich people spare/place maiden and then pass the left while skint mass pass firstly and then write the odd fellow (if on that point is anything left). I am likewise really shamefaced of this. I sometimes incur myself doing fronting the compensate thing to do, and boast away my every week income on a weekend.


That is one hell of a piece of translation software the scammers are using.

The scammers have been scammed.

Fiction, fantasy and reality have merged.

The world has been spiralling increasingly out of control.

(Photograph by Norma Contreras, via UnSplash)

 

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Filed under Holland, Medical, Movies, Politics, Surreal

Andrew Doyle Part 2: “It’s no longer about Left and Right. That’s obsolete.”

In yesterday’s blog, writer/performer Andrew Doyle – who, for three years, co-wrote for the parody TV reporter character Jonathan Pie – talked about his new satire My First Little Book of Intersectional Activism, a faux children’s publication written in character by ‘Titania McGrath’ the ‘woke’ Feminist activist Andrew created for a parody Twitter account. He has described her as “a militant vegan who thinks she is a better poet than William Shakespeare”.

She is named after Titania, queen of the fairies in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Andrew has said “it’s quite appropriate that she is named after the queen of the fairies” because “the people who promote this hyper inclusive culture are fantasists… all of this ‘woke culture’ is an utter fantasy world”.

Andrew Doyle and Titania McGrath – No Left or Right.


JOHN: So Titania McGrath is “an intersectional warrior queen”. I am a simple soul who can’t keep up. What does “intersectional” mean?

ANDREW: Intersectionality is a branch of Feminism that originated last century with a woman called Kimberlé Crenshaw who is a legal scholar.

There was a dispute in court between General Motors and some black female employees… General Motors’ defence in court was “We are not racist, because we can point to our black male employees. And, look, we’re not sexist because we’ve got all these white women employees.”

But, of course, black women fell through the gap. 

So Kimberlé Crenshaw created this analogy of being in the middle of an intersection – a crossroads – where you can be hit by the traffic from more than one direction – in terms of race AND in terms of gender. So a black woman can be subject to racism AND sexism whereas a white woman is only subject to sexism not racism.

As a visual image and an analogy, it is very helpful. But it has now morphed into this kind of religion – a theoretical religion that effectively ends up pitting minority groups against each other – and formulating a kind of hierarchy of grievance. 

And that’s not helpful for anyone.

When I talk about intersectionality, I’m talking about the current manifestation of it, not how it was originally intended.

JOHN: Is it another word for ‘woke’?

Andrew/TitaniaMcGrath’s 2019 book

ANDREW: The evolution of Woke is really interesting. In the various Black Civil Rights struggles of the 20th century, it had a very positive meaning which was simply to be alert to injustice, especially racialism. Then it was hijacked around 2010/2011 by certain types of very intolerant, illiberal, totalitarian type of Social Justice activists and it started to mean ALL of their causes: LGBT, women, trans, everything… and opposition to freedom of speech.

So to be ‘Woke’ became something completely different.

Then, what happened was that people like me started taking the piss out of the word Woke and I (as Titania McGrath) wrote a book Woke: A Guide to Social Justice and, through Jonathan Pie, we did a live tour where there was a whole section on Woke. So you had people ridiculing Woke.

And then the next evolution was when Guardian columnists and people on the Left who had always used the word to describe themselves started pretending they never had. They did this weird revisionist thing. They started saying “Woke is just a Right Wing fantasy. It’s a word that Right Wing people and conservatives have invented to mock Social Justice and to mock Equality.”

Afua Hirsch wrote a Guardian piece saying the word Woke is only used by Right Wing people. I remember replying on Twitter with some screenshots of lots of Guardian articles where they used Woke to describe themselves.

But because Woke has been ridiculed so much, they have moved away from the word and now what you are left with is just people on the Right and conservatives who use the word as a slur.

In a sense, that’s why the new Titania book doesn’t mention Woke in the title – It’s about ‘Intersectional Activism’.

JOHN: The Contents page of the book is very interesting. It’s very rare to see Torquemada and Nelson Mandela next to Hillary Clinton and Joseph Stalin.

ANDREW: The whole point of the book is that Titania is going through the Woke icons of history: all the people she respects. Not just the obvious Woke people – like Sam Smith, Brie Larson, Greta Thunberg – alongside historical figures like Emeline Pankhurst and Joseph Stalin.

I find it incredible when Leftists do these very contorted leaps of logic in order to try to justify Stalinism.

She also has Mary Whitehouse in there because I believe the Woke movement is the obvious intellectual heir to Mary Whitehouse in terms of their belief that popular culture needs to be censored otherwise the masses will be corrupted. It’s an identical view.

Torquemada, right-on trail-blazer of Cancel Culture?

Torquemada also makes sense, because he would burn heretics at the stake if they had the wrong ideas about the world. That is Cancel Culture. He is the pre-cursor to Cancel Culture. In particular, the Inquisition targeted scientists and people who were trying to make points that didn’t ally with their world view. Nowadays, of course, activists are trying to ‘de-colonise’ science because they believe science is a Western patriarchal, heterosexist construction and the phrase they use is “New ways of knowing”.

We talk about this ‘Post Truth’ Society. If you think about the way Donald Trump will deny something he said last week, when anyone can just go to YouTube and SEE and HEAR that he said it… It’s incredible. And that is exactly what is happening among the Leftist Identitarians.

A few weeks ago, CNN did a report from Kenosha, Wisconsin, saying “These are largely peaceful protests” and, in the background were burning buildings and burning cars.

JOHN: You identify as Left Wing…

ANDREW: I don’t identify as anything, really. Objectively speaking, a lot of my views particularly when it comes to the economy and the Welfare State are on the Left. I suppose I have more culturally conservative ideas about education and the Arts, but then so did George Orwell and no-one accused him of being a rabid Right Winger.

There are some good ideas on the Left, some good ideas on the Right. As long as you’re not enslaved to an ideology, you’ll be able to recognise them. If you ARE enslaved to an ideology, then you are not thinking for yourself. You’re taking your cues from an existing set of rules and I don’t trust that.

JOHN: I blame the French for Left and Right and making it seem like it’s about opposites. I always think of it as a circle.

ANDREW: A lot of my friends on the Left see the Woke movement as a bourgeois luxury. It’s no longer about Left and Right. That argument is obsolete. But people are stuck in this mindset of what Left and Right used to mean about 40 or 50 years ago.

Titania’s latest book… Coming next year will be Andrew’s own Culture War book

JOHN: Why did you stop co-writing Jonathan Pie? An argument?

ANDREW: No. I did it for three years. I don’t believe in doing things for too long. I don’t anticipate Titania McGrath going on for much longer. If it does, it’ll have to develop into something else.

JOHN: So what next that will be intellectually stimulating for you?

ANDREW: Well, at the moment, I’m writing a book about the Culture War. It will be out in Spring 2021. That’s a non-fiction book and it’s my big focus at the moment. Trying to encapsulate what I’ve been writing about for the last five years, really. But where we are now and where we go from here.

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Filed under political correctness, Politics, satire

Andrew Doyle on Titania McGrath’s new book, satire and annoying people

Andrew talked to me via Skype

Andrew Doyle is an interesting and controversial writer/performer.

He’s a stand-up comic in his own right. He co-wrote the Jonathan Pie character for three years. He currently writes political columns for Spiked internet magazine et al. And he writes and Tweets as the character Titania McGrath.

Until the coronavirus struck down live comedy, he also co-ran monthly Comedy Unleashed shows in London’s East End. They were billed as “The Home of Free-Thinking Comedy”.

For the last three nights, Comedy Unleashed has returned to the Backyard Comedy Club in Bethnal Green. They were restricted under COVID rules to only having one-third of the venue’s capacity audience, so they ran a show on two consecutive nights. Both shows sold out well in advance – within a day of tickets being on sale – and they added a third night.

But I really wanted to talk to him about his recent Titania McGrath work: a faux children’s publication My First Little Book of Intersectional Activism.

I had seen the non-existent Titania McGrath (played by actress Alice Marshall) perform at Comedy Unleashed last year. A live tour was planned for March this year but, because of COVID, it has now been postponed until next March. Coronavirus allowing.

This is the first of a two-part blog…


JOHN: So My First Little Book of Intersectional Activism says its target audience is six month old to six-year-old females… They are going to have trouble reading it.

ANDREW: It points out in the opening chapter that Titania doesn’t believe in talking down to children. So she will use words like “intersectional” because she thinks here is an innate wisdom in childhood, which is why she’s such a great fan of Greta Thunberg. She says that, when she was a baby, her first words were: “Seize the means of production”. She believes babies have this innate politicised wisdom.

Of course, what it means is that kids can’t read the book. Although a copy was sent to a friend of mine recently and her husband assumed, from the design of the book, that it was for their 4-year-old daughter and gave it to her. She was delighted.

But then her mother had to explain to her that it wasn’t for her and, of course, it’s full of swearing, so… It’s marketed to look like a children’s book. It has all the accoutrements of children’s literature. But I hope in a way kids don’t get hold of it.

JOHN: Might bookshops put it on the wrong shelves?

“I thought they were in on the joke…”

ANDREW: A couple of weeks ago, an American bookstore posted a display of all their favourite books about diversity and inclusion and Titania McGrath’s first book Woke: A Guide to Social Justice was there, next to Ibram X. Kendi and Robin DiAngelo and all the rest of them. At first, I thought they were in on the joke. But no. When they found out it was a satirical book, they took the Tweet down and presumably the display down and also took the book off their website so you can’t even buy it from that bookstore any more. They were obviously very angry about it

JOHN: One of the drawbacks of very sophisticated satire is that people may actually take it for real.

ANDREW: Even today, some people think Titania is real. There are all sorts of people out there who haven’t heard of her, which is great: the joke can keep going. I like getting into arguments as her with people who don’t know.

JOHN: You like getting into arguments generally?

ANDREW: Actually, I don’t, because I’m a very non-confrontational person. It’s something I avoid as much as possible in my life. But, through Titania, I’m not getting into an argument. I’m enacting a character. So that’s fine.

JOHN: Does that mean Jonathan Pie and Titania McGrath are ways to be aggressive and argumentative without putting yourself personally under pressure?

ANDREW: I suppose you’re really asking does that explain my attraction to the satirical genre? But I don’t think it does. I don’t think I’m looking for an outlet to be confrontational. It’s just a corollary of satire; you can’t avoid it. 

When you’re writing satire you are exposing what you perceive to be the follies of Society and, by doing so, you’re bound to make enemies – particularly because you tend to be having a go at people with some sort of cultural or political power.

I don’t think satire can exist without offending people. Unfortunately, it’s a by-product of what I do, but that does not equate to having a confrontational personality. I go out of my way to avoid conflict in real life.

JOHN: Your work isn’t a way of getting something out of your system?

ANDREW: Probably my stand-up does that more. Because you get to embody a version of yourself that doesn’t exist. Often I can exaggerate my worst features. My onstage persona is a lot more waspish and – yes – more confrontational. Maybe – possibly – that’s me enacting the type of person I wish I could be.

JOHN: How does Alice Marshall cope with this? She must get hassle for saying things as Titania McGrath that she didn’t write and maybe doesn’t believe.

ANDREW: I spoke to Alice about this a couple of days ago and what was interesting was that she told me she did NOT get any hassle. I get a lot of abuse online but I think she doesn’t because people recognise she’s an actor.

JOHN: Is what Titania says going to change anybody’s opinions?

ANDREW: It depends what you mean. I had one woman who claimed I had effectively de-radicalised her. That kind of thing is very gratifying.

Satire does believe it can make a difference, otherwise you wouldn’t do it. But does it make a difference or just annoy people more? That has always been a conflict in my head.

When I get emails from people thanking me for standing up to this current creeping authoritarianism, that’s really gratifying and a good way to offset the anger that Titania generates.

JOHN: If you can’t change people’s minds, would you be just as happy simply annoying people?

ANDREW: No. I DO try to change people’s minds. That’s why I write political articles and articles about culture. I’m not doing that just to get it off my chest. More than anything, I’m interested in discussion and persuading people of my view – and also refining my own view.

By putting my argument out there in the most persuasive way I can, people will come back at me with counter-arguments that either refine what I believe or make me realise where I’ve gone wrong. And that is a really positive thing.

… CONTINUED HERE

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Filed under Comedy, political correctness, Politics, satire

The backward-walking man is dead. Long live the backward-walking man!

The late Michael Dickinson, circa 2014, as he appeared in the Camden New Journal this week…

Yesterday, I picked up a copy of the Camden New Journal and was sad to read about the death of Michael Dickinson.

You’ve never heard of him? Neither had I until May last year, when I was in Camden Town and saw a man walking backwards. Not just for a couple of seconds or a minute. He walked backwards the whole time.

I posted two videos of him on YouTube. This was the first:

Obviously, I looked him up online and found out he had been doing this for years and was former actor Michael Dickinson.

He had been born in either Durham or Yorkshire, depending on which legend you believe, and he studied at the Manchester School of Theatre from 1969 alongside future actors Julie Walters and Richard Griffiths.

Michael Dickinson (right) with Simon Callow in Passing By – Gay Sweatshop production at the Almost Free Theatre, 1975.

In the 1970s, he became an actor himself. In 1975, he kissed Simon Callow in Passing By, a ‘groundbreaking’ two-man show about a gay romance.

Rather miscast as Jesus in another play, he eventually mostly gave up acting and took up collage art.

In 1982, he held an exhibition in Primrose Hill and a review in esteemed local paper the Hampstead & Highgate Express (the Ham & High), said he was “wickedly adept at exposing the two-faced tendencies and follies of our leaders”.

In an interview in the Camden New Journal on 25th May 2017, he claimed that he could no longer walk forwards and had self-diagnosed his condition as ‘retropulsion’.

He said: “It could be psychological, or I heard somebody say it could be a disease, but I don’t feel unwell apart from that. If I didn’t feel this retropulsion I would much prefer to be walking forwards. When it first started happening it was bewildering, to say the least.

“Occasionally people in cars blow horns at me, which is dangerous because I turn to look at them rather than where I’m going. 

“I don’t really want to see a doctor, I feel they’ll just put me on some sort of medication and I would rather not be. I can deal with it and there is no law against it. I’m careful that I had never hurt anybody, although I did hurt myself the other day when I tripped over a branch as I walked through the woods.”

From the mid-1980s for almost three decades – before he started walking backwards – he had lived in Turkey, working as a teacher and artist, sometimes telling fortunes to pay his rent.

…with one of his less insulting Turkish collages in 2014… (Photograph by Polly Hancock for the Ham & High)

He somewhat annoyed the Turkish authorities in 2006 by creating a collage which depicted leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan as a dog receiving a rosette from American President George W. Bush in a pet show. The resultant court case stretched over four years.

In 2008, he was prosecuted for insulting Erdogan by creating the collage. He was initially cleared, but the verdict was overturned in 2010 and then, after shouting a political slogan at police in a separate incident in 2013, he was deported.

Back in London between the two incidents, in 2011, he was arrested in Parliament Square (where he was living in a tent) after shouting “No more war!” during a Remembrance Day silence. He was charged with a public order offence, but the case was eventually dropped.

Permanently in London after his deportation from Turkey, he slept in the streets around Camden Town. While living in a cardboard box next to the Sainsbury’s supermarket there, some people who were squatting in the former police station in Hampstead met him at a soup kitchen and invited him to join their squat.

While there, he ate food discarded by shops and cafés and chucked-away in recycling bins. He made some money by telling fortunes on the street.

It was possibly not too rough an existence as it was a Grade II listed building and they had a wide-screen television set.

He was very grateful to the squatters.

He told the Ham & High: “I would still be in that box were it not for them.”

Squatters are evicted from the former Hampstead police station in 2014 with their belongings, including wide screen TV

Eventually, on the afternoon of 2nd May 2014, the police evicted the squatters in the former Hampstead police station and he took to sleeping in a tent in a Hampstead cementery, though he eventually ended up in a legitimate Highgate flat by 2017.

When and why exactly did he start to walk backwards? 

Leonie Scott-Matthews of Pentameters Theatre in Hampstead told the Camden New Journal this week: “I remember when he started walking backwards. He was in a play here; he got off the stage and just started walking back­wards. It was just after he had got back from Turkey.”

His friend Charles Thomson says: “It was clearly symbolic I felt. He enjoyed be­ing in Turkey and he couldn’t go back. He was walking back­wards when I last saw him.”

His friend Kay Bayliss added: “He emailed me around Christmas saying he was having phlegm problems that persisted. He was still suffering this when he emailed me on April 11 and now had serious-sounding gut problems… Michael had a very interesting life. At school all the girls loved him. He was so good looking and very complimentary even in more recent times.”

Michael Dickinson died “from peritonitis resulting from a gut obstruction”, in his Highgate bedsit, aged 70, on 2nd July 2020. 

So it goes.

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John Fleming’s Weekly Diary – No 25 – COVID in Glasgow, Indians in Moscow

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 24

My natural rhythm was Go to sleep quickly, Wake up slowly…

SUNDAY 5th JULY

All the way through my life I have only very very rarely been able to remember any dreams I had at night – maybe once every six or eight months if I got woken in mid-dream. My natural rhythm was to go to sleep quickly and wake up slowly, so I guess I rarely woke up during the dreamy bit.

Now – I guess because of the kidney/calcium problems which landed me in hospital a few weeks ago – I wake up at least once an hour during the night; sometimes I wake 11 times, my throat parched dry, having to drink water.

And I am aware of my dreams.

I never realised dreams were so visually detailed and, certainly in my case, have an ongoing narrative. Sometimes I have a detailed scenario which picks up one night where it left off the previous night. I know that because I am aware of it happening during the night and realise it is happening.

What the dream/dreams is/was/are about, on the other hand, I can’t remember when I wake up… because I have a shit memory. I am just – now – aware I have them.

Now the boring bit… You may want to skip on to Tuesday, which is more interesting…

MONDAY 6th JULY

I had a telephone appointment with the Kidney Man from my local hospital at 1240. He eventually rang at 1437.

“Sorry,” he said. “IT problems earlier.”

My calcium level when I went into hospital was 3.2 instead of 2.6 which it had been last October. And 2.6 is the high end of ‘normal’ – Normal is 2.2-2.6. It is now 2.4 (as of 22nd June).

My kidney function, which had been an OK 62 last October and a very-much-not-OK 19 when I went into hospital, was 34 when I left hospital.

It is now (as at 22 June when I had a blood test) 44.

Which doesn’t worry the Kidney Man: “The calcium level can affect the kidney function, but the kidney function can’t affect the calcium level.”

The calcium level is now fine and the kidney function should return to normal. Last time, I was told a kidney function of over 60 was OK for a man of my age. So 19… 34… 44 is going in the right direction.

The blood test on 22nd June, like the Petscan before it, was OK.

The parathyroid glands (which create calcium and are tested via the blood test) are normal.

The Kidney Man does not know why I am waking up 8 or 10 or 11 times a night with a dry mouth. But he is not worrying. When I asked him, he said: “I don’t know”.

This genuinely reassured me. No bullshit waffle.

“You are,” he added, “a mystery.”

If only I were a performer, I could use that as a strapline on a poster.

He is going to arrange a face-to-face with me at the start of August which will include another blood test. Doctors love blood tests.

Beautifully-written, word-perfect vignette of current reality

TUESDAY 7th JULY

The UK is slowly, tentatively, opening-up bit-by-bit after the coronavirus lockdown.

Scottish comedian Scott Agnew is, like all other stand-ups in the UK, unable to perform because no venues are open. This morning, on Facebook, he posted a beautifully-written – I think word-perfect – vignette of current reality – in Glasgow, anyway.

With his permission, here it is:


Popped out to pick up a spot of breakfast at the wee roll shop at the end of my street – first time since March…

Wee roll shop wummin: “Oh a fucking stranger returns I see! Where the fuck have you been?”

Me: “Eh, I’ve been in lockdown like everyone else.”

RSW: “I’ve been here four fucking weeks. No’ fucking hide nor hare aff you?”

Me: “Well when I looked along you never looked open.”

RSW: “Well I wouldnae have looked open if I was shut cause you never move yer fat arse oot the hoose in the mornings anyway unless you’re coming tae me. Was it Tesco ye were getting yer sausages? Aye. So where the fuck have you been? First week I was open I’m thinking I’ll see that big fella – nothing – I’m just thinking he’s an ignorant basturt.

“Second week I’m thinking, this cunt must be deid cause I minded you’d been on that flight back fae Australia – and that was the last I seen ye. There’d be all sorts fae all parts with fuck knows whit oan that flight. And I thought, that’s him had that virus and now he’s deid. Then I thought ye cannae be deid cause yer a comedian – ye’d have heard about that in the papers. Then I thought, well he’s no’ a famous comedian so the papers probably wouldn’t bother their fucking arse about ye.

“So I says to my daughter cause she’s got you oan that internet to check if you were deid. So I says – see if that big fat comedian fella is deid. And here ye wurnae deid.

“Do you know I stood in here wan Friday and had wan customer! Six pounds I took – it cost me more to turn the fucking lights oan.

“So here we are four weeks later and ye turn up noo, turns oot ye ur nothing but an ignorant basturt.

“Two roll and square son?”

© copyright Scott Agnew 2020


Keith Martin being very itinerant…

WEDNESDAY 8th JULY

I mentioned to itinerant TV voice-over artist and one-time choirboy Keith Martin that the post-lockdown openings are (understandably) slightly eccentric.

As I understand it, Christian churches can open for private prayer provided you maintain social distancing but synagogues and mosques cannot open yet because they are more sociable in their celebrations. And, although Christian churches can open, there can be no singing for fear of spreading the coronavirus.

“You can’t sing,” Keith told me, “but you can hum the hymns, provided you keep social distancing.”

“You are joking,” I said.

“No,” he replied. “That’s true.”

And, while I haven’t been able to find out definitively, I think he might be right.

THURSDAY 9th JULY

Continuing the musical theme, today I stumbled on a video of the great and much-lamented (certainly by me) 1980s band Indians in Moscow.

I posted this on my Facebook page and the highly-esteemed Andy Dunlop, President of the World Egg-Throwing Federation but a man with wide-ranging knowledge well beyond the aerodynamic properties of farmyard products, pointed out to me that Adele Nozedar – the vocally talented lead singer of Indians in Moscow – was now an author, food writer and forager, whose books include The Hedgerow Handbook, The Garden Forager and her most recent book Foraging with Kids.

She has come a long way since singing about Jack Pelter and His Sex-Change Chicken, a classic track in my vinyl collection.

Readers of previous blogs may recognise Andy Dunlop not just as the esteemed World Egg-Throwing supremo but as the man who has a friend with a dog called Rigby whose calcium problems mirrored my own. I feel my own fate is intertwined with Rigby’s.

“How is the dog?” I asked Andy today.

“He is fine,” Andy replied. “Doing well. Very happy.”

I am reassured, if only temporarily.

A US man unfairly maligned by a UK woman?

FRIDAY 10th JULY

My historic certainties are being undermined week-by-week.

First, there was the fact that Chou En Lai, did NOT say in 1989 that it was too soon to know if the French Revolution of 1789 had been a success. (See a previous blog).

And, today, I discovered that George W Bush did NOT tell Tony Blair that “the trouble with the French is they have no word for entrepreneur”.

It seems that Blair’s spin-doctor Alastair Campbell denies it ever happened and suggests that MP Shirley Williams might have put it in a speech as a joke and the idea snowballed.

“This book will probably save your life. Unfortunately,” says Charlie Brooker

SATURDAY 11th JULY.

My multi-talented chum Ariane Sherine chose today to mention she has not one but two projects coming out soon.

Her new book How to Live to 100 is published on 1st October this year…

And – under the name Ariane X – her first solo music album is being released on 12th February 2021. Why that date? Because it’s a palindrome date:

12.02.2021

… unless you are an American and get your dates back-to-front for no sensible reason – For you it is February 12, 2021.

Duran Duran were an early musical influence

Ariane describes the new album as “pop/electric/dance” with influences “including Duran Duran, Depeche Mode, Pet Shop Boys, St Etienne, Massive Attack and loads more.”

There are five early, rough instrumental demo tracks on her new ArianeX website. “Vocals, harmonies, guitar, hooks and fills to be added…”

The songs, she says, “are all about my violent childhood, mental illness, suicidal ideation, but also happiness that my life is so beautiful now…”

An extract from the lyrics show they ain’t gonna be no normal trite Moon-in-June songs:

I believe in Russell’s teapot, I believe in Occam’s Razor
And I believe that vaccines are humanity’s saviour
I always look to science to provide me with my answers
And I don’t believe that prayers can ever cure any cancers

As far as I know, there will be no horns on Ariane’s upcoming album…

… CONTINUED HERE

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A blog written by predictive text

I thought I would see what a 7-paragraph blog would be like if I let predictive text take over and only start it off… So, with absolutely no editing by me…


The number of unknown unknowns is unknown

What I want to tell you today is gonna be a great night.

The first thing you did there is to be in the bed. The first time is a bit harsh.

The only way you could do that this app was for the iPad and it is very good for you and the free was a great way too.

The only way was a way to make it happen to you.

The first time is a bit harsh but it was the best.

You can never use Facebook for chat or later chat with a few people.

You have been an awesome person for me and you are both in a way of telling the story about the two days you were going through the door to the answer.


Having read that – written entirely by predictive text… It could almost be a Presidential statement.

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Comic Scott Capurro on comedians who lie and Gordon Brown’s hot handshake

29 days ago – yes, 29 days ago – I chatted to American comedian Scott Capurro in London, after one of the Museum of Comedy’s Monday Club ‘new material’ nights. Then I got busy and/or distracted and/or just plain lazy. I have no excuse. But here it is, 29 days later…


SCOTT: It’s great to write new material. It’s really, really exciting. And I think the audience enjoys seeing us crush and then being crushed. They like to see us fail. It’s fun. And we enjoy watching each other fail on stage because the process of what we do – creating comedy – has to have an element of failure in it, otherwise it’s never going to work.

You will never find the joke in it unless you are able to tell it five or ten or twenty times on stage in front of somebody to find out where the humour is. We will famously rehearse something for days and think: This is perfect now; I’ll bring it in… and it doesn’t get a laugh. Not a whisper. Because to us it’s funny but, to a roomful of strangers who don’t know us, they don’t get it.  So you gotta make it accessible to a roomful of people who don’t know you – again and again and again.

It’s tough for comedians, because it’s hard to remember that what you do is difficult. Even though you know it’s a speciality and a very specific talent to take something like the stabbings on London Bridge and turn that into what has gotta be a joke. The only place where you can deal with it immediately after is on the comedy stage.

JOHN: So the relationship between the stand-up comic and the audience is…?

Scott Capurro (left) in London with his husband Edson

SCOTT: There has to be a moment where the audience remembers that the lights are pointed not at them, but at that solitary figure on that piece of the wood. And the problem I think with the current way we discourse through phones and iPads and so on is we don’t make eye contact.

I find myself now, when I’m talking to people in an audience, if they’re under the age of 25 and I make eye-contact with them, they are a little bit wary of me. And that can be difficult because, to them, a punchline sounds old-fashioned – something their bigoted uncle tells at a wedding when he’s drunk.

The focus of comedy has shifted a bit and my job now is to find a way to make what I do accessible to those people as well. There is no point blocking them out or saying they don’t get it or they’re ‘too woke’ or they’re ‘too PC’ or too ANYthing.

People are in a comedy club for a reason: they want to laugh. So you have to allow them the chance to do that.

JOHN: But that is, as you say, difficult…

SCOTT: And it SHOULD be a difficult struggle or else the audience is gonna know what’s gonna happen next. When I go see a comedian, what I find cynical is when I find them predictable or they seem lazy on stage and the audience knows where it’s going. What I think is great about live performance or really any performance I like is that I don’t want to know what’s round the corner.

Now, in this country and especially in comedy for some reason, it has become difficult sometimes to deal with certain subjects.

I was in Stoke at the weekend and told some jokes about Stoke terrorism.

JOHN: Stoke terrorism?

SCOTT: Well that guy who stabbed those people on London Bridge. I told some jokes and they got quiet, but it’s my job. I would not be doing my job if I didn’t do that.

JOHN: You started a podcast recently…

SCOTT: Scott Capurro Probes – I just talk to writers, comics, politicians – people that present their work publicly.

JOHN: Politicians? Like…?

“I got a real tingle from his handshake.” (Copyright: World Economic Forum)

SCOTT: I really want to interview Gordon Brown. I met him backstage at the Hay Festival. I had just met my (future) husband the year before and we were thinking of getting married. I think it was around 2009; Gordon Brown was Prime Minister at the time. He had some really handsome bodyguards.

I shook hands with him. He’s a really big guy. He’s very attractive in person. I found him extremely attractive to talk to. Just five minutes, but really funny, charming and affable and very self-deprecating. On camera, I don’t think his warmth comes across as much as it does in life.

We had shared a stage but not at the same time. A lot of the audience who had seen him in the afternoon stayed to watch me in the evening.

On stage in the afternoon, he had praised Tony Blair and I found out later the audience had not responded very well to that.

Not having seen that afternoon performance, I spoke about what a hero Tony Blair was to me. And the audience… I don’t think they turned on me, but they were not as receptive as I normally find an audience of Guardian readers to be. I was quite surprised by their response and then a woman who still writes for the Guardian wrote a SCATHING review of my performance. It upset me for years.

But people forget that, to gay men – even now – Tony Blair is a hugely iconic supportive figure, because he introduced marriage equality. That was a big deal for us. Huge. And he says it is still a shining moment of his legacy and he still thinks very proudly of it.

People also forget that, at a lot of Gay Pride functions, Tony Blair showed up as Prime Minister. That was a big deal to us. That had not happened before.

So, however smug or supercilious or middle class you want to be, watching me, thinking that you can judge me because I happen to be a supporter of Tony Blair, you can fuck off. That’s kind of what I told them that night.

I really admired Gordon Brown. I got a real tingle from his handshake. He held it for a while. I thought: This guy’s really hot. He’s gonna win! He’s gonna win!… And then it all went sour and here we are now.

JOHN: Are you doing a podcast because it allows you to be more serious? So you don’t have to do gag-gag-gag?

SCOTT: No. I just like chat. In comedy, I am very gag oriented. I am very jokey.

JOHN: You are very fast.

SCOTT: I don’t write set-ups. I tend to just tell punchlines for 25 or 30 minutes. When I first came over from the US and was playing the UK, I was very much nicer and, when I started breaking the mainstream, I felt I had to buffer. But I don’t buffer jokes now. I don’t at all. 

JOHN: Define ‘buffer’.

SCOTT: A set-up.

There’s a traditional joke set-up. You set the joke up. You do an example. And then you tell a punch.

My mother is tough. When I was a kid, she did this to me. And… PUNCH.

I understand that structure and it’s something audiences are very comfortable with. It’s familiar. But now I skip the first two parts. I just tell the punches.

Joan Rivers – Life in Progress at the 2008 Edinburgh Fringe

I learned about ten years ago how to do it, watching Joan Rivers at the Edinburgh Fringe. And then I read an interview with her where she said: “I only pay comics for the punchlines; I never ask for the set-ups.”

I thought: That’s interesting. If you only told the punchlines in a set, I wonder how many you could squeeze in. That’s what the audience is here to hear. I mean, I don’t think they give a shit about my politics or my personal response to things.

JOHN: Don’t they?

SCOTT: I think, in Edinburgh, you can break that mould and do more personal stuff. It’s actually expected of you now in Edinburgh. They want a journey. They want you to be fingered or some sort of lie.

JOHN: Lie?

SCOTT: Yeah. 

JOHN: Explain?

SCOTT: Well, at least two shows that have done very well recently, I’ve been told by the premise-creators that they weren’t true… But, oh well. It’s a show anyway. Just a show.

JOHN: So they were telling a…

SCOTT: That’s all I’ll say about it.

JOHN: Comedians are paid to go on stage and tell lies…

SCOTT: They are. But if the show is based round something and you then talk about that thing seriously in public… (PAUSE) but it’s still just a story… I find that… (PAUSE) You know what, though? You are giving people what they want.

I mean, I saw a show in preview last year and, when the artist came off stage, the artist’s management said: “You didn’t put that thing in about your father dying…” And this artist said: “I didn’t think it was necessary.” And they said: “You need to put it back in if you want to get nominated.”

And I thought: That’s fine. Why not put it in? Why not write jokes about it? That’s our job… But then I thought: But you need to let the artist do their progression. I don’t want administrative staff stepping in and telling me what creativity is.

So that’s all.

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