Category Archives: Politics

Jonathan Pie, Spiked magazine and why the Guardian and Daily Mail are similar

Andrew Doyle co-writes the satirical Jonathan Pie character with actor Tom Walker. In yesterday’s blogAndrew talked about free speech.

I had not originally intended to ask him about that.

Now read on…


Andrew Doyle ponders existential question

JOHN: What I was originally going to ask you, before you started on free speech was What are you?

ANDREW: That is an existential question.

JOHN: Well, you write theatre performance, Jonathan Pie, musicals, run comedy nights, do stand-up comedy, write radio plays. What are you?

ANDREW: I suppose I am a writer, comedian and I write political articles for Spiked and I do literary research.

JOHN: Spiked is thought-of as being right wing, isn’t it?

ANDREW: Yeah. By people who don’t read it. But its origins are Marxist. It used to be called Living Marxism until the ITN libel case in 2000. Then it lost all its money and rebranded as Spiked. (It had been launched in 1988 as the journal of the British Revolutionary Communist Party until re-branded as Living Marxism in 1992.)

JOHN: Doesn’t this go with my idea that politics is a circle not a line? Extreme left-wing and extreme right-wing eventually meet in the same place.

ANDREW: I get this a lot. Comedians hate Spiked and people who self-identify as Left hate Spiked. I say “self-identify” because I don’t believe they ARE Left. Unless you care about class consciousness and the redistribution of wealth, you are not left-wing.

JOHN: And you care about them.

ANDREW: Yes.

JOHN: So you ARE left-wing.

Spiked – “believes in Brexit and sustaining the Brexit vote”

ANDREW: Of course. Everything I write is left-wing. Everything. Spiked is pro-freedom of speech, no ifs and buts as an indivisible liberty; pro democracy; believes in Brexit and sustaining the Brexit vote, because the European Union is essentially undemocratic and pro-corporate. Spiked is pro-migration with no such thing as borders; it does not believe in any form of borders whatsoever. It is anti-Trump, anti-New Labour, anti the Tories. It is anti-racism; anti the alt-right; anti men’s rights activists. It is pro-freedom, pro individual liberty, sceptical about climate change.

JOHN: Sceptical about climate change?

ANDREW: Yes. I am not. But, with Spiked, I agree with more than I disagree.

JOHN: The one thing you did not mention there about Spiked views was the current Jeremy Corbyn Labour Party.

ANDREW: It is very anti-Corbynistas. Hugely. Hugely.

JOHN: It seems very anti everything. What is it pro?

ANDREW: It is pro-freedom, pro-liberty, pro-democracy, pro the human race.

JOHN: Who else is supporting liberty that Spiked likes?

ANDREW: Well, there are so few people doing that.

JOHN: Is it pro any other organisations?

ANDREW: You mean party political affiliations? I don’t think it is pro any of them. There is not a political party it supports, which is sort of where I am at the moment.

JOHN: But, as a Marxist…

ANDREW: I never said I was a Marxist. I don’t think of myself as a Marxist.

JOHN: So what are you?

Living Marxism in its heyday…

ANDREW: I would say I am… I dunno… a Socialist? Somewhere between Socialism and Social Liberalism. Do you really want an answer?

JOHN: Yes.

ANDREW: I dunno. I think that’s where I am. I don’t trust any ideology. Why should you just choose  an ideology and stick to every point that ideology represents? Why can’t you say This element of Socialism is good and This element of Conservatism is good? Ultimately, I oppose identity politics in whatever form it takes.

JOHN: What is identity politics?

ANDREW: That the way you perceive people is through their particular demographic or group. Seeing people collectively rather than as individuals.

JOHN: Isn’t that inevitable? There’s a man over there in a T-shirt and another one is wearing a tie. I am going to have immediate pre-conceptions about them.

ANDREW: You are talking about prejudice. I am talking about self-identification. What I resist is that, just because I am in a particular demographic, then I should identify myself with that demographic. Everyone is an individual.

JOHN: So you think certain things are wrong. Why are you not into active politics? You are very, very bright, very thought-filled, very fluent.

ANDREW: You are very kind. No. I don’t want to be a politician.

JOHN: But all these people you disagree with are in control of the world and you think they are making wrong decisions.

ANDREW: I would rather just complain about it on the fringes. Every time you write any polemical piece, you are trying to effect some kind of change or, at least, trying to persuade people of the validity of your point of view. That is a valuable exercise, but I am not naive enough to think I have any type of clout.

JOHN: Is being a writer more influential than being a politician?

ANDREW: Maybe. I would not want to be a politician because, for a start, you have to adhere to the Whip and you sort of surrender your integrity to an extent. You have to compromise to get anything done and I am not a compromiser. I am not suggesting compromise is a bad thing, just that I am not very good at it.

JOHN: You studied English at Aberystwyth University. Why Aberystwyth?

Aberystwyth University – accidentally alphabetically lucky

ANDREW: Because it was first alphabetically in the list. I went to a shitty comprehensive school where we didn’t really have any guidance about where to go. Had Aberdeen University been there, I would have applied there. It wasn’t in the list.

So I went to Aberystwyth and, after that, I wanted to do a Masters in Renaissance Literature but they didn’t do one, so I went to York and then I wanted to do a doctorate in Renaissance Poetry and work with manuscripts so then I went to Oxford University and I became a part-time lecturer at Oxford, teaching the Shakespeare module to undergraduates. At that point, I was going to be an academic.

JOHN: Why the specific interest in manuscripts?

ANDREW: Because I was very interested in early modern literature – Renaissance. I developed a particular interest in a poet called Richard Barnfield. My thesis was on Richard Barnfield, Shakespeare and Philip Sydney. Shakespeare and Richard Barnfield are the only two poets of that era in England who wrote love sonnets from one man to another.

JOHN: Are you just interested in Elizabethans?

ANDREW: I’ve written introductions of republished versions of a novelist called Forrest Reid, who died in 1947. I’m writing a biography of him. Up until the 1970s, it would have been accepted he was the best novelist to emerge from Northern Ireland but, because of the fickle nature of literary trends, he was forgotten. They are a very specific type of novel. He was a pagan; he worshipped spirit gods; he was an animist. All of his novels are set in Belfast, but infused with this sense of another world lurking beneath the surface, centred on male adolescence.

JOHN: Why are you not still lecturing?

ANDREW: It’s quite lonely.

JOHN: I saw one of the Jonathan Pie live stage shows at the Apollo Hammersmith and the first third or more of it took pot-shots at what I thought was the easy target of the Conservative government, but then you turned it on the audience.

“…Pie’s targets are his fanbase’s beliefs…”

ANDREW: That’s why we have to have the first third in that way. So many of Pie’s targets are his fanbase’s beliefs. The fanbase is predominantly the liberal Left – Guardian readers – so, in order to have a show that essentially attacks the fundamental principles that they represent, you need to get them on-side. It’s a strategy. The first third of the show is exactly what you would expect.

JOHN: Is that the ultimate idea? To attack the liberal Left?

ANDREW: No. It’s not as confrontational as that. As with all satire, it is exposing the excesses and deflating the pretensions of those in control.

JOHN: Equal offence to everyone?

ANDREW: The character does not just scatter-shot attack everyone. The character believes certain things.

JOHN: What IS the character? A left winger who hates the Right but has doubts about the Left?

ANDREW: Yes. Basically he is an old school Bennite Leftie who is pro-Corbyn, Socialist, hates the Right, hates the Tories, hates what they are doing to the NHS, but also thinks the Left need to do a whole lot better in order to beat them… and that the Left keep losing because of their own shortcomings. And that’s where the frustration comes.

JOHN: Sometimes the phrase ‘Guardian readers’ is used as a put-down.

 ANDREW: Well, the Guardian and Daily Mail are very similar.

JOHN: Really?

ANDREW: They are both explicitly partisan and misrepresentative; they push an agenda relentlessly; and they are not to be trusted.

JOHN: Is Jonathan Pie risking his fanbase – the liberal Left – by attacking them?

Jonathan Pie’s 2017 book Off The Record

ANDREW: Sometimes. And sometimes you get your ideological opponents supporting what you say, which is a bit weird. But I think we have retained the sensible people who can stand having fun being poked at them. The people who think.

JOHN: So where do you go with the character?

ANDREW: That’s up to Tom. I just go along with it.

JOHN: Do you feel overshadowed by the fame of Jonathan Pie? No-one knows who you are.

ANDREW: No-one knows who I am, but that doesn’t matter, does it? I’m not hungry for fame.

JOHN: Not doing anything new?

ANDREW: I am working on a couple of musicals at the moment. One is about Archibald McIndoe, a pioneering plastic surgeon in World War II for airmen who were surviving their terrible burns and had to reconstruct them.

JOHN: The Guinea Pigs. And the other musical?

“…but it’s really a coming-of-age story…”

ANDREW: Paperboy. It was recently staged at the Lyric, Belfast, based on Tony Macaulay’s memoir of being a paperboy on the Shankill Road at the height of The Troubles. But it’s really a coming-of-age story. Another musical I wrote is an adaptation of Terry Pratchett’s book Soul Music. He specifically asked us to do that book. Youth Music Theatre UK put it on in Kingston with 40 kids – but it has not yet got a producer to take it forward.


The last Jonathan Pie live stage show has just been released to download.

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Jonathan Pie co-writer says: “A lot of comics are not in favour of free speech”

Jonathan Pie is a fictional UK TV news reporter, played by Tom Walker, in satirical political videos posted online and in stage shows. The scripts are written by Tom Walker and Andrew Doyle.

Andrew Doyle on his return from Scotland

Andrew Doyle and I met in London just after he had come back from Scotland, where he had filmed a half hour TV documentary about a man who had been prosecuted and found guilty of training a pug dog to give a Nazi salute. The man – calling himself ‘Count Dankula’  – then posted a video of the dog on YouTube; he said he had done it as a joke for his girlfriend. 

Probably all my blogs should come with the warning that I do not necessarily agree with all the interviewee’s opinions. And, equally, I do not necessarily disagree with all of them.

Make of that what you will.

Just saying…


JOHN: Why the interest in the pug dog?

ANDREW: Because it is such a landmark case in terms of free speech. Lots of people have been found guilty of telling jokes in this country, but we don’t hear about them very often: they’re mostly just unemployed teenagers on Facebook. It’s the first case of its kind that has got widespread attention and it has caused a real division within the comedy community, which I think is fascinating.

JOHN: And that division is?

ANDREW: Well, when I wrote a Jonathan Pie video about it with Tom Walker, we fully expected comedians to be up in arms about the case. There were a few who were annoyed about it – Shappi Khorsandi, Ricky Gervais, David Baddiel – but most comedians were silent about it and quite a few sided with the court’s decision. It was the opposite reaction to what I would have expected.

It has really illuminated the fact that actually a lot of comics are not in favour of free speech at all. And that fascinates me.

JOHN: Any particular type of comedian? Left wing or right wing?

ANDREW: Well, virtually all comedians are left wing.

JOHN: But the words ‘left’ and ‘right’ wing are just a quirk of French history, aren’t they? If you take both to extremes, they end up in the same place. It’s a circle not a straight line.

ANDREW: Well, most comedians are middle class Blairites who call themselves ‘left wing’ but they don’t really know what ‘left wing’ means. I think because they identify as left wing and because the Left is often so hostile to free speech and has not done a very good job defending it, you now see people like Tommy Robinson and Katie Hopkins defending free speech and that makes the Left even more suspicious of free speech. It’s a really dangerous situation.

The Left needs to reclaim free speech – I am passionate about that, although I have been called a misogynist homophobe neo-Nazi.

A misogynist homophobe neo-Nazi??

JOHN: But you are gay. Why are you allegedly a homophobe?

ANDREW: Some of the jokes I make, apparently.

JOHN: So the Left are not very good on free speech?

ANDREW: No. They used to be. If you go back to the New Left in the 1960s and 1970s, they understood that free speech was at the heart of any…

JOHN: So you’re saying the New Left and the Blairites were OK but the Corbynistas are a bit Fascistic?

ANDREW: I wouldn’t go so far as to say Fascistic. And I don’t think the Blairites were particularly strong on free speech. There have been increasing attempts at press regulations and Hate Speech laws are now enshrined in our way of life. That is not a free speech position.

JOHN: But it’s not opinion, only incitement to violence, that is criminal.

ANDREW: No. The 2003 Communications Act deems that anything you send online that could be ‘grossly offensive’ is a criminal offence.

JOHN: Virtually anything Jerry Sadowitz says is offensive to someone.

ANDREW: Yes. That’s his schtick. If some of that were to go online, then theoretically he could be arrested.

JOHN: Do you think PC has gone too far?

ANDREW: I don’t use the term PC. I associate political correctness with a different thing. To me it is a good thing. It is about a general, shared, agreed discourse that we have in public, in work, where we basically agree to be polite to each other and agree not to say certain things. It’s a social contract.

Andrew writes regular articles for Spiked magazine

Obviously I am not in favour of enforcing any type of speech law but, say, if you agree to work in an office, part of that is an obligation not to use the word “faggot”. That’s not a free speech issue. You can say it elsewhere but not in the office you have chosen to work in. I don’t think the idea of society encouraging people to be polite is a bad thing – and that is all I see political correctness as being.

What is happening now is not political correctness. It is a transformed, perverted version of political correctness, creeping into authoritarianism.

JOHN: You seem to be saying you are not in favour of any restriction of speech laws.

ANDREW: That’s right. I am not.

JOHN: But someone should not be allowed to say: “I think you should go out and kill all black people…”

ANDREW: Yes, that is a terrible thing to say.

JOHN: Surely saying that should be illegal?

ANDREW: No.

JOHN: Is it not an encouragement to commit a crime?

ANDREW: No, because whoever commits the crime should be held responsible for the crime. I am really uncomfortable with the idea of diminishing the responsibility of someone who breaks the law.

JOHN: But, by that logic, Hitler was not responsible for the Holocaust because other people did the killing.

ANDREW: He explicitly ordered and orchestrated it so, yes, he is responsible. He was not trying to persuade the SS to do it for him, he was ordering the SS to do it. They are responsible too – the people who did it – but he is too, because that is part of a military chain of command. That is not the same as someone standing at Speaker’s Corner shouting out that gay people should be castrated.

Just because he shouts that out, does not mean that people are going to go out and castrate gay people and, if they did, they would be responsible. It is not the same thing.

JOHN: But, if someone goes out and does something criminal as the result of hearing a speech, that speech was incitement to commit a crime, isn’t it? Which is illegal.

Andrew’s stand-up comedy show at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2017

ANDREW: Yes, but the problem I have with this is that, on balance, I do not think it is safe to allow the state to have the power to criminalise speech – even if that means some really horrible people are going to try to persuade people to do horrible things. On balance, I think that is deeply unpleasant but it is not as frightening to me as the state having the right to lock people up for what they say and what they think.

We cannot trust the state. We know that now. They have convicted in a court of law a man for making a joke video about a pug dog giving a Nazi salute. And they call that Hate Speech. We cannot trust them to distinguish between a joke and some psychopath in a park shouting and inciting murder.

JOHN: The pug dog video case was in Scotland. Would it have been illegal in England?

ANDREW: Yes, The Communications Act applies to all of the UK.

JOHN: This is all a bit serious.

ANDREW: Do you want to talk about something flippant?

(… CONTINUED HERE …)

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Filed under Comedy, political correctness, Politics, satire

Mr Trump and Mr Putin blowing hot air at the Fart Championships in Finland

(Photograph: MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/AFP/Getty Images)

President Trump of the US and President Putin of Russia are due to hold a summit meeting in Finland next Monday. It will, no doubt, be full of hot air.

So, as a follow-up to my blog of last Friday about the World Fart Championships which were held in Finland last Saturday, here is a video of part of the entertainment surrounding the highly prestigious Championships, which included Mr Trump and Mr Putin, introduced by Finland’s own Phartman (in blue) and observed by the UK’s Mr Methane (in green).

On YouTube, the explanatory description of the video is in Finnish:

Herra Trumbet ja Herra Putitin tapasivat Utajärvellä pieremisen merkeissä. Suurmiehet ottivat toisistaan mittaa töräyttäen omat tyylinäytteensä pieruputkeen ennen virallisia Pierun MM-kisoja. Kuuntele miltä herrojen peräpäät kuulostavat ja kumpi voitti kisan?

I think the Google Translate English-language version of the explanation below, though, should make everything clear and will also serve as a description of the real Trump/Putin meeting next Monday:


Lord Trumbet and Lord Putin met at Utajärvi for pieremis. The Grandmothers took each other to measure their own style samples in the pier pipe before the official Pieru World Championships. Do you hear what the backs of masters sound like and who won the race?


 

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Filed under farting, Finland, Humor, Humour, Politics

Stuff the British media seldom – and UK TV News almost never – report on

The British tend to be very sniffy about US TV’s  international coverage, because the Americans supposedly report little and know less of the world outside.

But British TV is just as bad.

Major events in China, the Far East and India, in Africa and South America go totally unreported and unknown on UK TV, where the same parochial 5 or 6 stories get repeated in each half hour or quarter hour of our news bulletins.

My friend Lynn, with her husband Frank, has been travelling in West Africa.

A couple of weeks ago, I posted her blogs from the Ivory Coast and, delayed for safety reasons, from pirate-infested waters in the Gulf of Guinea.

Whoever hears anything in the UK about the Ivory Coast or the ongoing pirate problem in the Gulf of Guinea?

This missive from Lynn is from Morocco… or maybe it is from Western Sahara. It depends on your political viewpoint.


The SADR (Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic) flag

We have maintained email silence whilst travelling through Western Sahara and Morocco. All the maps were taken down and information removed as they showed Western Sahara and we were told not to carry anything with a mention of it and especially not a photo of the SADR (Sahrawi Arab Democratic Front) flag and to only refer to the country as Morocco.

I was told that, on 29th March this year, following a UN report, the Polisario (recognised by the UN as the official body for the Sahrawi) withdrew their road blocks on the Mauritanian border and agreed a ceasefire and that Morocco had offered semi-autonomy to the region but not sovereignty.  

Disputed ‘Western Sahara’ with Mauritania and Algeria to the east; Morocco to the north and the islands of Tenerife/Gran Canaria to the west

Morocco has the support of France and the USA, whereas Algeria supports the Polisario/Sahrawi arabs.

I was also told that the Moroccans have built a 1,700 mile wall north to south and there are varying accounts of 5-10 million landmines.

Last October, the International Court of Justice’s verdict was to hold a referendum.

Referenda have been mooted several times but never held, with Mauritania withdrawing decades ago and abandoning their claim. Moroccans are being resettled in the south to increase numbers and the building projects are prolific but eerie as there are so few people or evidence of habitation in all the new parks, playgrounds, office blocks, government buildings, airport and railway stations. Even the enormous barracks and gendarmerie seemed deserted. It all has the feel of a vacant film set.

We drove to the largest city, Laayoune, literally a city in the desert, 10 miles from the Atlantic Ocean with nothing else around it for 1,000 miles. Perhaps everyone was told to stay indoors until we left, much as we were told to behave until we had avoided the pirates in the Gulf of Guinea.

TV crew interview ’someone’ in Laayoune, Western Sahara

In fact, it appears that we were the news in Laayoune.

To add to our armed police escort, there were armed traffic police to close roads on the route as we travelled in convoy, the army to guard our lunch stop at a nomadic Sahrawi Arab camp, armed tourist police, plain clothes police and, to add to the circus, a TV crew was with us all day.

A TV interviewer appeared at the Sahrawi camp but I didn’t get an answer on who he or his interviewee were. 

There were also photographers (one of whom was plain clothes police determined to get a head shot of everyone and unamused by Frank’s gurning and back-turning).

All were seriously twitchy about cameras so no usable photos.

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Filed under Africa, Morocco, Politics

Political comic Joe Wells doesn’t know what he thinks, but The End is Nigh…

Comedian Joe Wells has just released two CDs – of his two latest Edinburgh Fringe shows – 10 Things I Hate about UKIP and I Hope I Die Before I Start Voting Conservative.

When I met him at the Soho Theatre Bar in London, he showed me his arm.

Tattooed on it were the words SO IT GOES.

This, alas, was not because he is an obsessive fan of this blog but because, like me, he is an admirer of Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Slaughterhouse-Five in which the repeated refrain So it goes appears 106 times, usually linked to death, dying and mortality.

“Why Vonnegut?” I asked.

“I sort of,” Joe replied, “fell into doing a literature degree at Portsmouth University and, when you read people like Vonnegut and James Joyce, you think: Oh! I didn’t realise you could do that.”

“Are you an aspiring novelist?”

“Well, I wrote a book when I was basically a child. I wrote a book about OCD when I was 15.”

“A non-fiction book?”

“Yes, about growing up with OCD.”

“You went to Portsmouth University, but you addressed the Cambridge Union last year,” I said, “proposing a motion that The end is nigh.”

“They just saw something on YouTube and asked me,” said Joe.

“So when are you going to become Prime Minister?” I asked.

“I don’t think I’m going to be Prime Minister,” said Joe, “because I don’t think I know what I’m doing and I don’t think I know what I believe.”

“Surely that is a pre-requisite for the job?” I suggested.

“If you listen to the CDs,” said Joe, “a lot of it is about me not really knowing what I’m talking about. But, even though I don’t know what I think, the shows themselves have a viewpoint. Those two shows have quite clear messages.”

“Which are?” I asked.

“The 2016 show 10 Things I Hate about UKIP was not really about UKIP. It was saying that the only hope for the world is the political Left but the political Left are useless, so there is no hope. For a long time, I felt like a good person because I was Left Wing and that is one way to make yourself feel good about yourself. It was about having a crisis of belief.

“And the show this year – I Hope I Die Before I Start Voting Conservative – is spelled out quite explicitly at the end. It is about how we sneer at young people for being naive but what we need in the world is naive hopefulness and what is holding us back is older people thinking: We should just give up. It doesn’t matter. It really was about me feeling completely… It kind of came about when I was writing lots of bits of material that contradicted themselves politically and had very different tones.

“Some were saying: I think we should change things and make a better world. And other stuff was: Everything is fucked and it’s awful and we should give up. And then other bits were… not Right Wing but I suppose more critical of the Left. The premise of the show is it starts as a children’s story, getting older as I go through. So I can put the more hopeful bits at the beginning and, as I get older, I can more and more sell out and become more Right Wing.”

“You imply,” I said to Joe, “that you are deeply cynical and say you don’t know what you are talking about. So you really should be in politics proper.”

“I’m from a relatively middle class background. My father was a Probation Officer. I wasn’t growing up in poverty. But you go to the Cambridge Union and I’m aware of every bit of my accent and aware of everything I say differently and it’s a very elitist thing there; a kind of feeling you get: Oh, I don’t belong here at all.

“Why are you doing political shows if you’re not really that interested in being a politician?”

“I think my aims in comedy when I started were very different to what they are now. When I started, I was very much someone who wanted to bring about a Socialist world and I saw comedy as way to rally the troops.

“Now I don’t know. I feel very uncertain about where I stand on things. I suppose I want to make people feel less entrenched and make them question things. Often people say that and what they are actually saying is Be more sympathetic to very very Right Wing racists or whatever. I am NOT saying that. I don’t think that. I just don’t understand how people are not as confused and uncertain as I am. I think people can’t really be as sure about things.

“I think it is all about values. The reason why I’m still broadly on the Left is because my core values are that I think we should be nice to people, we should share things, forgive people if they make mistakes. But I think often the Left doesn’t value competence.”

“This is going to be quoted,” I said. “Is that OK?”

“Yeah. Yeah. The values of what the Left are trying to achieve I really support. I want a world where people share things and we don’t have people who are homeless. But often the Left doesn’t seem to think through how these things are going to work. The practicalities of how to bring it about.”

“So are you,” I asked, “now stuck in a comedic cul-de-sac where you have to ‘do’ politics? You can’t suddenly start doing surreal comedy routines about giraffes mating with albatrosses.”

“I think my next show may be going away from politics completely.”

“Towards?” I asked.

“I found out recently that, when I was a teenager, there was talk about me being autistic and I’m looking into that more. I didn’t know about it. So I’m doing a show about that in 2019. I am going to take a year off from the Edinburgh Fringe so I can be lazy about writing it. I want to write a good show about being an outsider.

Touch and Go Joe, about OCD, written by Joe when he was 15

“As a teenager, I loved Marilyn Manson in a very obsessive way. I think I saw him as an outsider and that’s what I felt like at school. Growing up, I had OCD and I was a very big music fan but the OCD made it very difficult for me to go to CD shops and flick through all the CDs.”

“Why?” I asked.

“My OCD was around tapping things in sequence. So, if I touched a new thing, I had to tap it in a long sequence. It’s hard to flip through CDs because you touch loads of things. There is a complicated thought process behind it, but it made sense to the OCD.”

“Have you embraced MP4s?” I asked.

“I have got Spotify because it makes train journeys go easier, but I just like CDs. I like having the sleeve notes and the pictures…”

“Have you had interest in your comedy work from TV and radio?”

“I’ve done bits and pieces. I did some writing for Have I Got News For You. A producer came to see my show last year. and liked it But I find writing jokey-jokes for other people sometimes a bit tricky. My own stuff I always start with an opinion on something and work up from that and that doesn’t always lead on to neat jokes.”

“And you opened for Frankie Boyle,” I said.

“Yes, he contacted me through Twitter. I think he heard me on a podcast. I did a couple of shows with him at Leicester Square two years ago and then last year a longer run at the Pleasance in Islington and a few dates in the Spring. It means a lot when it’s a comic that you like.”

“Have you a 5-year game plan?” I asked.

“No,” said Joe. “Not at all.”

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Filed under Books, Comedy, Politics

Death and burnt-out areas after the re-run elections: Kate Copstick in Nairobi

Following on from my last blog, a further (edited) diary entry from Kate Copstick in Kenya, where she is working with her Mama Biashara charity.


Friday 4th November

It is interesting that, because there are no crowds of angry young men burning tyres in the streets, there is no great media interest in the Kenya re-election. But everywhere there are people of the ‘wrong’ tribe in the ‘wrong’ place being killed, beaten, thrown out and having their homes, businesses and personal property burned. All over.

But because they are just ridiculously poor, black people, no-one really bothers. It is as if none of that is happening.

President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya, during a dinner at the White House in 2014. (Official White House Photograph by Amanda Lucidon)

President Uhuru smiles fatly from the front of newspapers here, claiming that, having won a goodly percentage of the votes from the laughably low percentage of the population who turned out, it proves he won ‘fair and square’ in August. He seems to have an excellent command of English, but his grasp of the correct usage of ‘fair and square’ is – how can I put this – wrong.

But as of today, he is safe.

Because today, a bill he put in the works has become law.

It effectively renders the Supreme Court helpless to do anything in the face of an obviously corrupt election. It was the Supreme Court who annulled the August vote for obvious corruption. That will never be able to happen again. The Jubilee Party can buy and corrupt their way to eternal power. Uhuru is above the law. Kenya is more or less a dictatorship now.

David and I make a fruitless trip to Toi Market to buy blankets for the refugees in Kisii, via the Forex Bureau where, it seems, the pound sterling briefly rose, like Violetta in the last act of Traviata, from its financial sickbed only to crumple again. My lovely Somali ladies give me an extra 50p in the pound. We have to be grateful for small mercies. It definitely seems we will be better buying new blankets than haggling with bad tempered stall holders for old ones. I remember an old Indian bloke who sells in the crazy, torrid maze of wholesalers around River Road. We will go there.

No longer crispy but black and soggy although still smoking.

It is raining heavily as we reach the crispy bits of Kawangware 56. Or, to be more precise, Congo West. No – no longer crispy but black and soggy although, amazingly, still smoking.

Here were 20 businesses and 33 houses. But they were set on fire by an angry mob. Several of the people who had homes and businesses here are wandering around forlornly, picking at the charred rubble.

I ask if they are the ex-tenants and they say Yes. They show me the tiny pile of things rescued from the fire. Some of the people are staying with friends, some are sleeping at the police station. I collect the ladies together and we repair to drink tea and talk about what I can do to help. They are very suspicious. White people taking photos they understand. Actually helping is something new for them.

I talk and try to explain what I can do to help. There is the usual great excitement as people envisage opening supermarkets and bowling alleys. I explain again about starting small. They are markedly less enthusiastic.

There is one woman called Lillian with whom I mainly chat. She understands about starting small. She will get everyone together for a chat and we will meet again on Monday. I get some bar soap and sanitary products for the Kisii refugee community at the supermarket and we set off to get me some functional WiFi.

Life has to continue in Nairobi amid the post-election reality

Doris has been in a queue to collect her sons’ report cards since silly o’clock this morning. Now she calls.

According to her, the head teacher of her boys’ school has told parents that, starting in January, no more hard copy books will be bought for students. Set texts, notes etc must all be downloaded from the government website. I cannot believe this. It would effectively exclude all slum and rural kids from education.

Lovely Jayne in Awendo teaches her abandoned and orphaned kids in a mud hut. There is no electricity, much less internet at downloadable speeds.

I tell Doris not to panic. She sends me a link to the government website. It is bubbling with twatspeak about bollocks couched in jargon. It is (given the state of Kenyan education for the poor) rearranging the fleas on the deckchairs on the Titanic. And certainly looks to be trying to get more and more power (and power is money) in the hands of the government.

She calls again asking if I have read about the NHIF cards. This is a pseudo National Insurance card. Pay to join the scheme, pay a fiver each month and you get doctor’s consultations free. You still have to pay for your meds, most tests and whatnot, but you get to go to A&E free of charge.

Today’s newspapers reveal (in a small column) that the government have decided that too many people are using the service and they are restricting each cardholder to four visits per year. So you can get sick once every three months. “Uhuru has eaten the money” says David, gloomily.

Doris eventually gets her report cards and we meet at the Mali cafe to discuss:

a) NHIF and the way forward.

b) the downloadable syllabus.

c) the latest updates on the Kisii refugees. It seems that someone has told the local people that help is coming for the refugees and the local people have made it known that, if help comes, all hell will break loose.

Time for plan D. Which I have not thought of yet.

No Supercharged Rennies tonight… maybe beer is the cure…

… CONTINUED HERE

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Filed under Kenya, Politics

Kate Copstick in Kenya: elections, violence and disappearing people

On Monday, Kate Copstick flew to Kenya, where her Mama Biashara charity is based. She keeps a diary which she posts on her Facebook page. Below are edited extracts, starting with Copstick ill in the U.K.

Monday 30th October

Kate Copstick in London – as seen by Joanne Fagan

Things are not looking good. I have felt like Death Has A Bad Headache for most of the last week. Spent yesterday in bed.

I am leaving behind an Emporium – the Mama Biashara shop in Shepherd’s Bush – on an emotional knife edge and a more or less empty bank account. My wad is slimmer than it has been for many years. I am practising saying: “No, I am sorry, small, gnarled, starving person, I cannot help you as I have insufficient funds”.

BA have changed the aircraft to one of those ones that carry a ‘We are not really for the poor’ message. The plane is almost entirely First and Club Class which you trail through before reaching the 25 rows of ‘cheap seats’, way back in the tail. I console myself with the fact that survivors of a catastrophic air crash are almost always found in the tail section. Staff are lovely, food is dire.

Customs in Nairobi want to know if I have anything to declare. I decide that shouting “Your election was a sham and your so-called President an insult to the starving poor of your country” is not what is being called for, so I mention I have cheese and English beer for my friend Alan. They want to know if I have more than $10,000.

Hah!! If only. If only.

Wildebeest, where I stay in Nairobi, is calm and dark and my flaps open to admit me and my bags. I sleep, waking only to munch yet another handful of Rennies Extra. My attempt to come off Omeprazole has not been a success.


Kate Copstick (left) working for Mama Biashara in Kenya

Tuesday 31st October

I am, to my surprise, up at 8.30am. My tiny tent is like a sauna. Which is quite lovely. I open my flaps and head to have coffee and do some admin.

The market in Kijabe Street is an emaciated shell of its usual self. Many traders have simply not come; most have only half the stuff they usually bring. Everyone is downbeat about the lack of business and the paucity of tourists. I am welcomed like a cow carcass in a bearpit.

I talk a LOT of politics on my rounds, get essential travel information (“Do not go to Awendo it is crazy there, you will be killed!”), buy some great stuff and attempt to pack the car.

This is a different car. This one has a big bash in the front, the doors don’t really open from the inside and the boot is fused shut. The windows do open but only when David rubs the bare wires on his door together. Then we get a shower of sparks and a window opens; you rarely know which one it is going to be. We cram everything into the back seat and go to Kawangware (one of the unburnt bits) to meet Doris.

And now some good news!

The Pork Place in Kawangware has re-opened. We celebrate with some of their finest dry fry with greens. We then do shopping for Doris and David. I have to give them a strict limit because funds are so very short this trip. Doris heads to a matatu and David drops me and my many bits and bobs at Wildebeest.

I cram everything I have bought between my flaps and into the tiny tent in complete darkness. I forgot to buy a torch. And my phone is dead. I attempt to identify my five different meds by touch. And neck the assortment.

I sleep.


Wednesday 1st November

Mama Biashara’s rain catcher – very simple but very effective

I am hailed by a thin American with a tweedy cap and a non-hipster moustache. Brian is with another charity – Mama Maji – and he tells me about the manual brick presses his peeps are giving to communities in need of a way to get, store and sell water to make water tanks. The bricks are waterproof and made from soil plus 1% cement. NO need for firing. The brick press sounds amazing. And costs about £800 a pop. Which is something someone could fundraise for. Couldn’t you?

In exchange, I tell Brian about Mama Biashara’s Raincatchers and Mama Biashara’s Special Condiment (white vinegar laced generously with birdseye chillies and matured till the fumes it gives off would knock down an angry hippo).

We bottle it in little sprays and advise women to apply vigorously to the eyes and, if bared, genital area of an attacker. It has worked incredibly well in all the areas we have taken it to. Stopped attacks in Mombasa, Nairobi… even when the British Army was concerned. Guaranteed to reduce a wannabe rapist to a pink, puffy and streaming-eyed, sobbing ball of blind pain at your feet. And discourage others. It is also delicious on rice or chips if you like things spicy.

Brian wants to send it to Homa Bay, where violently sexual attacks on women on the way to the lake to fetch water are on the increase.

Vicky comes to tell me about the results of para-election(s) violence in Kisii and Homa Bay. My sources have already regaled me with tales of rioting and arson, shooting and general violence all over the area. So I am expecting the worst.

Her story takes me one step away from shrieking “Screw the lot of you!” and flouncing out for an early flight home. However, there are 60 people in Kisii County (plus countless children) who need Mama Biashara very badly.

Since the ‘election’ in August, in many areas, things have been bad and getting worse. Already, 63 men that Vicky herself knows about have disappeared. Just disappeared. No bodies, nothing. Just, suddenly, no husband, no father…

More recently, around the election rerun, tribalism in the areas not held by the party in power has been getting desperate as anyone who looks slightly like a voter floating the wrong way is hunted down.

The sixty that Vicky has come to me about are absolute outcasts. Forty women and twenty men who committed the unforgivable crime of marrying outside their tribe.

Kisii people who married a Luo faced terrible treatment. They had been working across the county border in Homa Bay. There they were beaten, their houses set on fire, their businesses set on fire and the people forced to run in the night or be killed. They ran back across the border into Kisii County – “Home”.

But there the women are paraded through any town they go to, being publicly whipped. No-one will give them shelter, much less food or a way to earn a living. So they are currently sleeping in fields, open air, in the rain and the cold. Starving and desperate. Vicky went to visit them. Vicky is also a sort of outcast. An outsider who married a Kisii. But they do not attack her (any more) because she has two children who have been brought up Kisii.

Now, believe it or not, it gets worse.

I am planning my trip to take them plastic to make shelters, cooking pots, the wherewithal to start small businesses, clothes, food, medicine etc. But I cannot.

Because, if the local Kisiis see a mzungu (or, indeed ANYONE) helping the outcasts or giving them things, then all hell will break loose. Nothing particularly bad would happen to me, probably, but the outcast community would be attacked and all donations taken from them.

So we will have to drip feed them our help. Starting with some plastic and old sacking to make shelters… then tools… cooking pots (everything must look old and worn)… food… etc etc.

We will take the stuff as far as Kisii where Vicky can get safe storage. Then a couple of the drivers of the farm lorries that go down to the county border will take the things. Vicky knows them. We will pay them a little. Every day, every trip, a little more. So hopefully these people and their children won’t die out there in the fields.

The Rennies get a hammering through the night… must be my churning bile.

Mama Biashara survives solely on donations and money from its shop in London. 100% of all monies collected go to the charity’s work. Copstick covers all her own expenses herself, including travel and accommodation. She takes nothing from the charity. You can donate HERE.

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Filed under Charity, Kenya, Politics, Poverty