Category Archives: Psychology

Lynn Ruth Miller finds life tough in San Francisco and meets Trump supporters

Lynn Ruth’s view

The last couple of blogs have been by the uniquely multi-talented comic, writer and occasional burlesque performer Lynn Ruth Miller, ruminating on her recent visit back to San Francisco, where she lived for nearly 30 years. Here she rounds off…


I met with Mike Morgin who is my US tax consultant. His stage name is Mike Moto and he was an active part of the American comedy scene.

His heritage is part of his set. He is part Japanese, part Yugoslavian so he always opens with: “I am a Japoslav”.  

The last time I heard him, we were in a tiny theater that holds 20 people and someone in that minute group shouted: “I am, too!” You cannot make these things up.

Six years ago, Mike suffered a severe stroke and the interesting thing about this story is that for six years he has struggled with his rehabilitation and within two years he was managing to go back on stage. His balance is precarious and he walks with a cane. Although his speech is improving, he still is difficult to understand. However, he is determined to master these challenges. He is doing more shows every year. His progress is slow, but he proves the cliché “once a comedian always a comedian”. His set is still solid and, as of just this year, he has been doing longer sets not just for comedy audiences but for people recovering from a stroke.

Since comedy is not the most lucrative profession for those of us that TV has not discovered (yet), Mike is a tax consultant during the day and he has been doing my taxes for about 8 years.

On the Friday, I was booked for Samson Koletar’s room in Oakland.  Samson is from Mumbai and came to Silicon Valley because he got a high-paying job in IT. He moved into a beautiful apartment near San Francisco’s Mission District. He said that, in Mumbai, his parents, his sister and he all lived in a one bedroom flat and the isolation of living alone in his fancy new American home was almost more than he could bear.

Samson started Comedy Oakland several years ago and its growth was very slow; but he persisted.   

The city of San Francisco was the center for sophisticated entertainment. Stand up demands intelligent listening to be enjoyed. Oakland, on the other hand, has a fluctuating population and the income and cultural levels are extremely varied. 

It has some of the most gorgeous and expensive places to live near scenic Lake Merritt. It is also one of the places famous for its drive-by shootings and immense consumption of drugs.

Lynn Ruth Miller alone on stage in Oakland

Sam continued to bring in good comedy to this area because it had no comedy at all and he knew eventually the shows would be accepted and be well attended. He succeeded. This time, Sam scheduled two shows back to back and the place was sold out.

Once again, I am faced with the question of what keeps us at it. Comedy is a thankless, stressful career, at best. At worst, it is the stuff of suicide. It is very stressful to get up on a stage and bare your heart to a bunch of strangers.  

I lived alone with no family and very few friends. Comedy was my lifeline and I hung on to it for dear life. I fed on the laughs no matter how sparse they were when I began.

I went for dinner with my friend, Judy Lawrence. I met her at the Park Movie Theatre when she was the manager there almost 40 years ago. We became fast friends and I saw her through some very difficult times. 

Her favorite nephew got brain cancer and died and Judy was torn apart. She went from one dead-end job to another and, between the ups and downs of her very challenging life, we would meet now and again. At one point when I was in my house in Pacifica, she had dyed her hair a bright green and pierced herself like a pin-cushion with rings everywhere – her tongue, her nose, her eyebrows, her ears. I asked her: “Why do you mutilate yourself like this?”.  

She said: ”Why did you have anorexia?” 

And the penny dropped.

I realized then that the only thing we can control is our bodies and, when life goes off the charts, we turn to our anatomy and force it to do our bidding.  

I starved and stuffed my body because it kept me from facing my many failures and inadequacies. Judy pierced hers trying to come to terms with the unfairness and cruelty of disease and loss.

Owning a house in San Francisco is beyond most of us and to my happy surprise, Judy now has her own little house in a beautiful and safe neighborhood of the city. She has a partner now and her mother lives with her as well and – surprise of all surprises – Judy works for Apple.

Apple in Silicon Valley (Photo: Carles Rabada via UnSplash)

She is now part of that top income level created by the Silicon Valley Greats that people say is destroying the city and erasing the middle class.

These very high-income professionals can pay outrageous prices for what they want and, in America, money is the only power that counts. 

Judy has a brand new car; she dresses in up-to-the-minute fashion. The rings are gone. Her hair is a conventional color. But, underneath, she is the same fun-loving and adventuresome Judy that I bonded with at the Park Theatre.  

Our circumstances change, but those basic impulses: compassion, kindness and adventure… we hang on to them. The difference is that, as we age and as our circumstances change, the way we express those tendencies becomes different, less impulsive and, perhaps, a bit more staid.

That night I had a sleep-over with my long-time friends Alan Schneider and Deidre Laiken. When I met them, they lived in San Francisco’s North Beach. They were originally from New York State and came west as so many of us did because we believed California was a magic place. And indeed it was – over ten years ago – when the two of them became part of that culture: jazz on Sunday afternoons, wild street entertainment every day and idyllic weather, never too hot or too cold.

Gradually, the ambience changed and Deidre tells the story of walking out her front door and being accosted by angry, demanding homeless people who blocked the streets with their sleeping bags and tents. The two decided to do what so many former Californians have done: move away from the city that had originally captured their hearts.  

They chose Folsom, an expanding community nearer to Sacramento than San Francisco. They found a condominium development with every amenity: a gym, a swimming pool, lovely walkways filled with foliage that encouraged birds to nest and a well-equipped clubhouse all at a cost far less than their two-bedroom flat in San Francisco. The weather is more extreme; the culture is just not there; but it is safe to walk outside at any time of the day or night.

To my surprise, both of them are ardent Trump supporters.  Alan explained that, although he has no respect for our president as a person, he believes in the things he has accomplished. Unemployment is down; the economy is up; he says minorities are prospering (?); and Donald Trump is making America greater every day.(???) 

“Donald Trump is making America greater every day (???)” (Image via Pixabay)

“The world is changing,” Alan went on to say. “Families are totally different; we live with our cell phones; we do not eat together; and young people cannot have the same dreams we had. Few of them will be able to buy a home; more of them will have to go to University if they want to earn a living; yet fewer of them can afford tuition; we meet people online instead of face to face. Children are living with their parents longer; they are more concerned about things we never even considered like abusing the environment and the artificial additives we put into food.”

I saw that change he was speaking of when I went out for dinner with another friend, Alan Kahn. This Alan is a teacher and a magician, involved now with a woman ten years his senior, who wants him to move to Oregon, a typical escape haven for people disenchanted with the Bay Area.  

Alan has had custody of his two children since his divorce many years ago. Both are in their twenties and are living at home. They are incensed that their father is charging them rent to live in his home now that they are older.  

He believes he is justified because he says they do nothing to help with the upkeep of the house and are earning enough to pay him for the cost of the utilities and huge taxes that every Californian has to pay. His daughter was so insulted that her father would charge her to live in what she feels is her home, that she has moved out and is paying twice as much rent for the privilege.

Alan is not happy with his job and would like to tour the country in a van performing at magic festivals, but his new partner is not too enthusiastic about that. And he says he cannot even consider such a move until both his son and daughter become self-supporting. Neither of the children have a partner and both of them not only have menial jobs that barely pay enough for food, but also do not have enough education to break into more lucrative professions.

It certainly is a new world. I left home as soon as I graduated from university to take a job my education had prepared me for. After my first divorce, I returned home and it never occurred to me that my parents would charge me to live there. My plan for my future was to marry and have children. The idea that I would not do such a thing – or that I would have to go to work to support myself after I married – would have horrified me.

Today, millennials do not leave home until they have to, marriage is in a steep decline and recreational sex is taken for granted.

Who knew?

… TO BE CONTINUED IN LOS ANGELES …

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Filed under California, Comedy, Poverty, Psychology, Sociology

I mistook someone else for me in comic Janet Bettesworth’s pre-novel ‘doodles’

She studied Fine Art & Photography at Hornsey College of Art.

Everyone inevitably makes instant judgments on people’s characters at first sight: solely on their looks. But we seldom see ourselves as others see us.

Comedian, art connoisseur and Grouchy Club regular Janet Bettesworth recently announced: “I’m going to write a novel by doodling the characters first.” She studied Fine Art and Photography at Hornsey College of Art.

She is currently posting drawings – she calls them ‘doodles’ – on her Facebook page and asks three questions for Facebook Friends to answer about each unknown person sketched. For example:

  • What is his name?
  • The love of his life?
  • His taste in furniture?

I recognised the 25th sketch was of fellow Grouchy Club regular Peter Stanford. Janet’s questions were:

Peter Stanford – airlifted to safety after a farming incident?

  • What’s his name?
  • His most recent airborne experience?
  • Way of organising a picnic?

Answers included:

  • His name is Nils, he was airlifted to safety after a farming incident. Picnics for him are rye bread & herring & fermented ale.
  • He used to get gigs as a Brian Blessed looky-like until he accidentally boarded an EasyJet to Finland, where he found a lot more work playing Santa to tourists, and now he drinks mulled wine all year round.

And, from Peter Stanford himself:

  • Definitely one of the gods in your novel. Cranach looks down at the mortals giving the Deserving pieces of good luck and mugs of tea. He is rarely airborne as he can transport himself between the godly and earthly realms instantaneously. His worshippers organise ‘Picnics’ (feasts held indoors in the colder months and only outside in high summer) for the poor and homeless – and anyone else – in his honour as part of their devotions, instead of building temples. When he was appearing on earth, he drank mugs of tea, which he shared with other people. “Don’t build any temples”, he told them. “Just organise picnics and tea.” The cult is always in danger of dying out.

A few days later, Peter pointed out to me that No 30 in Janet’s series looked a lot like me, though with different-shaped spectacles. I had a look and thought: Well, bugger me, that does look like it’s me!

The three questions Janet asked of her Facebook Friends were:

Is this me? – or Piggott de Pfeffel-Partridge?

  • What is his name?
  • His opinion of Boris Johnson?
  • His chances of winning the Lottery?

The answers seemed to reflect more on the personality of the commentator rather than on me and tended to reflect British people’s somewhat unhealthy continuing obsession with Brexit and Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

  • Glenn Thoresby. What he really thinks of Boris Johnson is unprintable here; enough to say he believes that the British people have been lied to mercilessly by this entitled upper-class toff who doesn’t give a monkey’s: a feckless, narcissistic, utterly irresponsible public school product, a marionette of Dominic-whom-nobody-voted-for-Cummings. Glenn’s chances of winning the Lottery are nil as he doesn’t buy the tickets. He believes they are an exploitative tax on the poor who, (like Brexit voters) think they have a chance to turn their fates around on a million to one statistical odds. This doesn’t stop him from buying raffle tickets occasionally, though, especially when the prize is a good bottle of plonk and/or the beneficiaries’ cause is a good one.
  • This is a cracking picture. I think his name is Peter Egg and he’s a foodie: a London restaurant critic who is zealous about plant-based foods to the extent that the smell of animal products cooking now makes him gag. Restaurants where he dines now have to put him in a separate room and block the doorframe with towels and wet loo paper to stop the offending molecules reaching his nose. He thinks Boris is an execrable pig or walking pork roast. He has no chance of winning the Lottery as he never enters. It only penetrates his consciousness when he goes to the theatre and sees its logo at the bottom of programmes for plays it has funded.

Janet Bettesworth – Edinburgh Fringe, 2012

  • Dimitri Dennis Zabaroski. He won’t win. He doesn’t do Lottery. Hates the foreign man who won up the road… they should fuck off back home. (Both parents immigrated to Luton in the ’50s.) He works at car plant locally and knows a lot of foreign people abuse the system. Likes Prince Andrew and his confidence. Likes Borris and wants to have a flag pole outside his house with Farage and Union flag. Council refused planning application. All foreign.
  • This is Piggott de Pfeffel-Partridge, known to his closest friends as 3Pee. He is a second cousin, once removed to Boris. He is immensely proud and fond of his childhood pal, with whom he roasted chestnuts and netted little jars of frogspawn when the families got together for camping trips. They frequently got their shorts mixed up, being almost identical in size and shape. They still swap Christmas jumpers, particularly the ones gifted by Rachel as she seems to find the ones with the rudest slogans… Piggott has enjoyed a varied career, which includes a brief spell as a fluffer in a Hollywood porn production company (he was sacked for making badly edited and shaky copies on his secret camera which discreetly attached to his paisley patterned cravat). He also worked as a rickshaw driver in Hong Kong, normally stationed outside the Peninsula Hotel in Kowloon but few tourists engaged his services due to his extremely eccentric hats and comedy Chinese moustaches… He eventually made his fortune writing haiku messages predicting the purchasers’ marriage prospects onto extremely dark and gloomy canvases which sell for many dollars all over the USA. In his own way, therefore, he has already won the lottery so has no need to buy tickets on the weekly National Lottery, which he disdains with a passion – matched only by that of his antipathy to the unelected bureaucrats of the European Commission.

I contacted Janet, because I thought it would make an interesting blog to run her drawing of me with strangers’ character assessments of what this unknown person might be like.

But there was a snag…

She told me it was NOT a sketch of me at all: in fact, it was a sketch of her husband! She said he found the comments amusing – He does despise Boris Johnson, but he does do the Lottery.

Now Janet HAS included a sketch of me. Sadly with less interesting comments/suggestions. 

Does this Jewish man appreciate a good, well-shaped calf?

Her questions were:

  • What is his name?
  • His over-riding passion in life?
  • Way of dealing with problems? 

The responses include:

  • Manny Silverman. Loves small investments. Still dining out on making £35,000 on ‘Britcoin’ a couple of years ago. Cigars and coffee are how he copes with life’s complexities. Don’t mention the time he passed on Apple shares, though.
  • Godfrey was a prostate specialist and his hands could reach parts that others… but now volunteers at his local city farm delivering calves – His approach to life? He always gets stuck in and is happy to get his hands dirty
  • This is Howard Silver. He’s a nice East End Jewish boy now living in Southgate. He’s a life-long socialist and lives in a rented housing association flat that he got through Rachel, one of his cousins who works there. He doesn’t own anything, aside from the clothes on his back and a few sticks of furniture, all the books on Communism he’s read were borrowed never bought. He’s lifelong Labour, red through and through but was recently upset by the growing anti-Semitism in the party so he voted green for the first time ever in protest. He’s what Yiddish speakers would term a poor old nebbish.
  • His name is Frank Gibbins. He thinks that the world has become strange, impersonal and unnecessarily complicated… He seeks solace in the simplicity of nature and its instinctive laws, eg. the way that the ducklings follow the mother duck, the unquestioned authority of the silverback gorilla in setting the direction of his troop and keeping it in order… He likes to sit in the park for hours, observing the behaviour of humans as they centre themselves in selfies against the backdrop of the beautiful autumnal leaves or wander around oblivious to the creatures of the forest…Sometimes he’ll draw them in his book and imagine their thoughts.
  • Constantine Gras – because he looks the spit of a friend of mine called Constantine Gras. Well, what he’d look like in about 30 years. He’s tall – maybe 6’2. He’s an artist/filmmaker.
  • Who are these people? (Photograph: Jez Timms via UnSplash)

    Clive Earnshaw. Son of a bookkeeper and an apiarist, he has inherited a calm demeanour in all kinds of crisis situations, which served him well in his job as an emergency medical technician. His overriding passions in life are his sibling’s children, for whom he would do anything. His search for meaning led him to a retreat in the North African desert and he converted to the Sufic branch of Islam. His way of dealing with problems (apart from whirling) is to quote soothing aphorisms such as: This too will pass. He is deeply peaceful.

The trite lesson to be learned from all this?

People see totally different characters and backgrounds in exactly the same faces. Initial assumptions about people can – and very often are – wrong.

Peter Stanford’s view my sketch was:

  • This is Derek Milchman, a friend of No 30: that one which looks like him. They sometimes swap glasses and pretend to be each other. If this is a humorous book, with hilarious results; if a grim book, this leads to a tragedy which ruins everyone’s lives.

Janet replied: “I am not entirely in agreement. For students of phrenology and physiognomy, it may be observed that No. 30 has a receding jawline, whereas No. 39 has a protruding one. I do like the idea of a tragedy which ruins everyone’s lives.”

Comedy critic Kate Copstick, recognised me: “This is John Fleming!!!” And Peter Stanford asked Janet: “So what role are you going to give him in the novel?”

A “slightly caricatured” very loose self-portrait

She replied: “If you’re referring to the author of the Malcolm Hardee biography, the hands are too big and seem to be coated with some kind of white substance.”

Janet also told me that she had included a “slightly caricatured” very loose self-portrait – No 31 in the bunch.

And below are three more of her drawings.

Janet tells me: “I do two types of doodles – one where I’m basing it on a real person, and the other where I do random scribbles with my eyes closed, then a face gradually emerges out of the chaos, like seeing faces in the fire – that way is by far my favourite…”

One final comment and query from one of Janet’s Facebook Friends sums it all up, though: “I keep wondering why you’re writing a novel when you’re so ‘geniusly’ good at drawing – Or are you even better at writing?”

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Filed under Art, Comedy, Psychology, Writing

Comic Njambi McGrath’s autobiography

I had a chat with comedy performer Njambi McGrath at the Museum of Comedy in London. Her autobiographical memoir Through the Leopard’s Gaze is published today in print and as an audio book. The blurb reads:

“Beaten to pulp and left for dead, 13 year old Njambi found the courage to escape, fearing her assailant would return to finish her. She walked all night risking wild animals, robbers and murderers in the Kenyan countryside, before being picked up by two shabbily dressed men. She spent her life burying memories of that fateful day and night…”


JOHN: So you’ve written your autobiography and it’s all about your appalling family life back in Kenya.

NJAMBI: Basically, it’s a journey back into my life, triggered by the death of my father in 2014. A few things had happened before that. My brother was getting married just before, which threw things into chaos.

JOHN: In Kenya.

NJAMBI: Yes. My father and I had been estranged for a very long time. The last time I had seen him was when he beat me and left me to die… Fast forward… My brother was getting married and my father was invited and I went into complete meltdown. All I could think about was everything that happened to me when I was 13 years old.

“…and then it ended up opening a whole Pandora’s Box…”

So I wanted to talk to my father about it before the wedding, because I felt like I was going to explode – and that meeting was disastrous because he brought his entire family and I wasn’t able to speak to him.

Then, after the wedding – It had brought up all the trauma in me – I rang him and we organised a meeting. But he didn’t turn up to that meeting because he died.

I completely lost my mind. So I decided to write a book. It started off as a journey to tell the world what a horrible man my father was and then it ended up opening a whole Pandora’s Box: all the evils of the world.

So it is a journey back into my childhood and into my parents’ childhood, to try and discover why they were so messed up. And it seems like History plays a major role.

JOHN: Blame the British?

NJAMBI: I cannot do a show about my life without mentioning the British. That is an important point, because my parents grew up at a horrible, horrible time: they grew up during the Mau Mau Uprising in the 1950s. 

They were children then. So you can imagine my father, as a young boy, seeing women brutalised every single day of their lives… You would grow up thinking that was normal. They had grown up at a horrible time. But I didn’t know that.

When people are traumatised by a major event, once they are free from it, they tend to want to forget about it. They don’t pass it on to their children but maybe not realising they have been traumatised and can’t face up to it and, if it’s not addressed, their children will be traumatised. It’s called Generational Trauma.

JOHN: Your book is called Through the Leopard’s Gaze. Why that title?

NJAMBI: Because, when I was a child, we lived in a beautiful area called The White Highlands. When the British arrived, they took it for themselves. They kicked out my tribe – the Kikuyu farmers – and took the land for themselves. They put the Kikuyu people in ‘reservations’.

JOHN: When did you come to Britain?

NJAMBI: When I was just coming up to 19.

JOHN: I only spent the first 8 years of my life in Scotland; the rest mostly in London. But I feel Scottish not English. You spent the first 18 years of your life in Kenya…

NJAMBI: We are so confused! My husband is English. My two daughters are British. I have two sisters and two brothers. We all came over, but my brothers moved back to Kenya.

JOHN: And your mother is…

NJAMBI: She died just over a month ago – in December – on Friday the 13th. 

JOHN: Your book will also be your Edinburgh Fringe show in August?

“At least you’re not black black”

NJAMBI: The show will be called Black Black because, the night before I got married, my husband’s mother said: “When I found out that David was marrying a woman from Africa, I was horrified. But at least you’re not black black.”

My mother was very black; my grandmother was very black. So it is a show where I am paying homage to the blackest people I know. It is a comparison between me and my life now and my grandmother. She lived through the Nazi era. She and I were put into institutions. I went to boarding school in Kenya; my grandmother was put in a British ‘concentration’ camp in Kenya. We were both controlled by the British.

JOHN: This is going to be billed as Comedy in Edinburgh?

NJAMBI: (LAUGHING) Yes. You can talk about something serious, but find the funny in it. In a comedy show, I would like to make people think as well as laugh. 

JOHN: Politics as well?

NJAMBI: Like I said, I cannot do a show about my life without mentioning the British. It has led some people to say I’m racist. But how can I be racist if everything is affected by everything that the British did to us? My education. I speak English. Everything. The land that we lived in. The coffee that was introduced by the British. I cannot not talk about the British.

JOHN: Anything else on the horizon?

NJAMBI: I wrote a sitcom – I have a writing partner. We finished writing it just before the Edinburgh Fringe last year. It’s with a production house. Someone once said to me: “Write about what you know.” Well, I’m an immigrant and there are issues surrounding immigration… And we are currently writing a feature film – well, you gotta try! In it, I am a black African woman with an Austrian lesbian and a Jamaican woman.

JOHN: You are busy…

NJAMBI: And I’m writing my first novel. I’m past halfway. And, out of this one, I think I could write a children’s book – using an element of it.

JOHN: Very busy!

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Filed under Africa, Kenya, Psychology, Racism, Writing

Comic Nathan Lang: “Self-loathing is not normal unless you are a comedian”

Nathan Lang is from Melbourne. He used to appear in the Australian TV soap Neighbours. But I know him from the London stand-up comedy circuit.

I got an email from him:

“For better or worse, I’m back in the UK. Yes I managed to have a baby in Perth and survive the existential breakdown that comes with living in the most isolated city in the world and now I’m back. 

“I’m running a Comedy Cabaret in aid of Hackney Winter Night Shelter again this year on Tuesday 3rd December. The line up is fantastic. Last year we sold out and raised much more money than expected, it’s a really wonderful night deep in the heart of artsy Hackney Wick.

“It’s not stand-up. The line-up a beautiful, colourful, lighthearted, crazy, unique acts that don’t do stand-up.”

So we had a chat. About two weeks ago.

And I have only just transcribed it.

I got severely side-tracked.

The charity cabaret is tomorrow. Mea Culpa. But, as with many of my blogs, we went way-off subject anyway…


Nathan, baby Chilli and Shelley Lang in Australia

NATHAN: My wife Shelley and I went to Perth on 25th November 2018 to have a baby. Shelley’s family live there. They emigrated from Scotland.

JOHN: I remember I was terribly impressed by your wife when I met her ages ago. Perhaps because she’s Scottish.

NATHAN: Because she’s Scottish, she is a radiant beauty and just the most exhilarating person. That’s definitely what impresses me about her.

JOHN: How long were you back in Australia?

NATHAN: Eight months. We came back on the 9th September 2019. Our daughter is ten months old now.

JOHN: Shelley must have been well-progressed in pregnancy when you got there.

NATHAN: We just scraped in. We really needed the family support and the health care in Australia is really amazing. 

JOHN: And the comedy?

NATHAN: The comedy scene in Perth is stand-up. A very small scene, but the standard is really high. The quality really pushed me to improve quite a lot. It’s similar to a Brighton crowd. They go out; they want to have a really good evening of laughs. Great audiences and one pro comedy club. Just stand-up. It’s stand-up or cabaret there and their version of cabaret is really highly-skilled circus acts who take their clothes off.

JOHN: I want to go there.

NATHAN: Then it’s probably worth that 30-hour journey. 

JOHN: Australia is a faraway place.

NATHAN: And Perth is the most isolated city in the world and it feels like it too.

JOHN: So what are you doing on 4th December, the day after your Hackney charity gig?

NATHAN: That’s my day with chilli.

JOHN: With what?

NATHAN: That’s my day with Chilli – my daughter – Her name is Chilli Bobcat.

JOHN: She’s going to get hell in school with those names.

NATHAN: I was going to call her Strawberry until a friend said: “Remember she’ll go to school one day.”

JOHN: So Bobcat is better?

NATHAN: My middle name is Luke.

JOHN: Biblical?

NATHAN: No, my father used to work for a company that distributed cutlery and our cutlery drawer was full of knives and forks that had ‘Luke’ printed on them… I am named after kitchen cutlery.

JOHN: But, basically, you think Bobcat is a more feminine name than Strawberry?

NATHAN: No, Strawberry was going to be her first name but Shelley came up with the brilliant idea of calling her Chilli – after the pepper – which is a cool name.

JOHN: So why Bobcat…?

NATHAN: On Christmas Day, Shelley and I were sober. She was heavily pregnant. Her Scottish family, obviously, were steaming and we said they could choose a middle name. We had not told them whether it was going to be a boy or girl, so they chose a unisex middle name – Bobbie. But then, knowing her first name, we obviously couldn’t call her Chilli Bobbie.

JOHN: Why?

NATHAN: The rhythm of that and the two double consonants…

JOHN: So Chilli Bobcat is better than Chilli Bobbie?

NATHAN: We squeezed Cat in because my grandmother’s name was Kathleen.

JOHN: Just to recap… You had thought Strawberry was a good name…

NATHAN: Just for a while… Do you know it’s illegal to call your kid ‘Strawberry’ – ‘Fraise’ – in France?

This would be illegal in France if a child (Photo: Irene Kredenets via UnSplash)

JOHN: Why?

NATHAN: Bullying. There is a list of names you cannot call your kid in France – ‘Hitler’ is one of them.

JOHN: Strawberry is on a level with Hitler in France?

NATHAN: It’s child protection. Social Services. For the welfare of the child. They care about their children’s future in France.

JOHN: They don’t want a future generation of fruits?

NATHAN: Who knows. But Chilli Bobcat Lang: it has a nice ring to it.

JOHN: I think the surname lets it down. It’s a bit ordinary after Chilli Bobcat.

NATHAN: She might just call herself CB. Or she might go by a symbol like Prince did for a while. It might be her first squiggle on a piece of paper. Or she might change her name from Bobcat. She might prefer Caracal.

JOHN: Caracal?

NATHAN: It’s a type of cat that lives in the savannah desert. They jump really high and catch birds in mid-air.

JOHN: Anyway, so what ARE you doing after the Hackney charity gig?

NATHAN: I’m always pursuing my acting career.

JOHN: You seem happy.

NATHAN: It’s the anti-depressants.

JOHN: You’re on them?

Nathan Lang at St Pancras station, London

NATHAN: Yeah. You have obviously never lived in Perth.

After my daughter was born, I had a psychological breakdown and was put on very strong anti-depressants immediately and entered into depth psychotherapy analytic psychotherapy – which was well overdue.

JOHN: Because of Perth?

NATHAN: Well, I can’t blame Perth any more than I can blame my parents, really.

JOHN: Why was it long overdue?

NATHAN: It’s not like I had a psychosis or anything. I had a very sudden intensification of what turned out to be a pre-existing condition of depression and anxiety that I had been living with for so many years I just thought it was normal.

But, after speaking to a GP and a therapist, I was led quite quickly to realise it’s not normal to wake up every day under a huge weight, a huge pressure of knowing that everything you do all day is never going to be good enough and you are going to punish yourself for everything at the end of the day as you run through every single thing you’ve said and done in your mind or just drink yourself to sleep.

It’s not normal to exist in every waking – and sleeping – moment in a state of constant self-loathing and believing you’re a worthless piece of shit… unless you are a comedian, in which case of course (LAUGHS) it IS normal.

So… yes… anti-depressants are wonderful… I feel like I got myself back… and I got my joy back.

JOHN: And you are OK now?

NATHAN: I’m able to be an engaged and joyful father. I was really, really worried about what Chilli would absorb. And it was so hard on Shelley. The first few months of being a new mother AND having me falling apart was… I tried my best to hold together but your most intimates see what’s happening.

JOHN: Men are not supposed to get post-natal depression.

NATHAN: Well, they do, though I have never met one who will admit he has. But I don’t think that’s what I had. It was not a sudden, acute affliction. It was just the exacerbation of a feeling that I was already quite familiar with.

JOHN: I guess women get post-natal depression because they suddenly realise the full enormity of what they’ve let themselves in for.

NATHAN: I heard some interviews with British women who suffered postpartum psychosis and they were sectioned immediately after their children were born and those stories were horrendous.

JOHN: Why did you come back to the UK?

NATHAN: Our careers.

JOHN: What is Shelley?

NATHAN: A trainee psychotherapist.

JOHN: That’s useful.

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Filed under Australia, Comedy, Mental health, Mental illness, Psychology, UK

The greatest hits and the Jungian psychology of a London dominatrix

So I know this dominatrix.

Not professionally.

On Friday, we had a chat in London, at McDonalds in The Strand.

Outside, Extinction Rebellion protesters were blocking traffic in the street.


JOHN: So you are starting an online blog – The Dominatrix Diary. Why?

M.PSYCHE: Because I think it’s a good place to store the information and I want to develop an online presence.

JOHN: What’s your dominatrix name?

M.PSYCHE: BDSM Butterfly: Mistress Psyche.

JOHN: Why Psyche?

M.PSYCHE: It means butterfly in Greek. And I have an interest in the mental side – ‘mental’ as in the mind side, not the crazy side – of BDSM. The stuff that’s most interesting to me is the mental control of people rather than any actual physical domination.

JOHN: You have an urge to mentally control people?

M.PSYCHE: (LAUGHS) It gives people space to relax in a safe way.

JOHN: So being whipped is relaxing?

M.PSYCHE: It is for some people. I had  guy who wanted me to nail his testicles to a board.

JOHN: Not his actual testicles?

M.PSYCHE: No. The scrotum sac. 

JOHN: And he found this relaxing?

M.PSYCHE: He fell asleep while I was doing it.

JOHN: You’re joking.

M.PSYCHE: No.

JOHN: How long did it take?

M.PSYCHE: How many carpet tacks can you fit round a testicle?

JOHN: It’s not an area I have any expertise in.

M.PSYCHE: He found it relaxing. It gave him space where he didn’t have to think… 

JOHN: Surely the thought that one of his testicles might be accidentally nailed to a board might keep him awake?

M.PSYCHE: He trusted me.

JOHN: The impression I get is that a lot of the clients for this sort of thing are men in positions of power – bankers, top executives, the masters of industry and let’s not even mention Cabinet Ministers and judges…

M.PSYCHE: Yes.

JOHN: …and I can’t understand why people who have spent their entire working lives wanting to dominate and actually dominating other people should want to be dominated.

M.PSYCHE: Well, for powerful men who have to be in charge all the time in their jobs, it’s quite mentally intensive so, to go to someone… with the pain, the bondage, the scrotum-nailing… it’s not the actual experience itself, it’s the space it creates in their mind to be able to relax inside yourself and have some time off.

JOHN: You surely can’t relax if you’re expecting the next stroke of the whip on your back or a cane on your buttocks or carpet tacks in your scrotum. You’re anticipating not relaxing.

M.PSYCHE: Not necessarily… SOME people ARE just into pain. They are going to be excitedly expectant and awake and aware that the next stroke of the whip is coming. 

JOHN: Are you telling me they are not the predominant type?

M.PSYCHE: Most of the sessions I do involve relaxing people and putting them into a submissive space where they can relax.

The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in stiletto heels…

JOHN: So you are like the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi?

M.PSYCHE: (LAUGHS) Yes… in stiletto heels and a leather skirt.

JOHN: Getting back to powerful men like politicians and the captains of industry… Is it not that, even though they are tied-up, they are still in control because you are doing to them what they tell you to do? So the person being dominated is actually dominating the dominatrix?

M.PSYCHE: People say that. I don’t think it’s true. I am definitely in charge of all my sessions. Beforehand, they tell me what they want me to do and then I will facilitate it, but I am definitely in charge when it happens.

JOHN: Surely, if I come along to you and say: “Hello, missus, I want you to nail my balls to a plank,” surely I am in charge – You are doing my bidding.

M.PSYCHE: No because, once you enter the ‘play space’, you hand over the power. I have to decide in advance if it’s safe and sane and consensual and then, as soon as the session starts, I’m in charge.

JOHN: Presumably you have ‘safe’ words.

M.PSYCHE: No. You can tell the difference between someone enjoying something – even pain – and not enjoying it… I mean, I’m not a sadist. I’m not interested in moving beyond the point of them enjoying it.

JOHN: The first stories you have posted on your blogsite are… erm… quirky.

M.PSYCHE: I’m picking out the more eccentric fetishes and… Well, to be honest, most of them ARE quite eccentric. There’s the Welsh guy who gets turned-on by inflatable PVC bananas and the optician who wanted to see things. He wanted me to give him some quasi-religious experience in the basement of a famous high street chemist’s shop.

JOHN: I’ve had a bad back for the last three weeks and had to see three osteopaths. One of them has several clients who are dominatrices because they have to do a lot of odd movements – I guess like whipping and caning – so they get what I suppose are repetitive strain injuries.

M.PSYCHE: Well, I don’t do those sort of sessions. I don’t do much whipping and beating and things…

JOHN: There’s scrota-nailing…

M.PSYCHE: …I mostly do transformative stuff. People know what I’m offering and, if they want a hard-core pain session, I’m not really the person to do it. They will go somewhere else.

JOHN: I’ve not seen your online pitch for clients…

M.PSYCHE: It just lists my interests. And there are reviews on the site where I advertise where people leave reviews of the sort of sessions they’ve had from me. I don’t deal with hardcore masochists. The review I have right at the top at the moment says: “She’s a sensitive and very lovely spiritual girl”… which (LAUGHS) isn’t particularly useful. I had to add underneath it: “I do like to give the client the session they request.”

That particular guy wanted me to gag him. I went along to meet him at a hotel in Park Lane and he took me for dinner and told me all about the fact a court had placed a ‘gagging order’ on him. He talked about it and that seemed to be all he needed to do. So I got dinner and a bottle of perfume. He just wanted someone to talk to.

JOHN: You must have turned some people down…?

M.PSYCHE: I only turn people down who want sex.

JOHN: Nothing so bizarre you don’t want to do it?

M.PSYCHE: No. I like interesting, bizarre stuff. Though there was one guy who wanted to be ‘un-gayed’. He wanted me to rape him with a dildo, which he hoped would un-gay him. I told him: “I’m not going to do that, because you’re gay and what you want is dangerous. It could cause internal physical damage.” He wasn’t looking to enjoy being ‘raped’; he was looking to be physically damaged to be put-off being ‘bummed’.

JOHN: So he was encouraging physical damage.

M.PSYCHE: Yes. So I said No.

JOHN: So you are more interested in… what?

M.PSYCHE: What I do is a sort-of renegade form of therapy. I’ve tried to help people but obviously, if you try to help people too much, it stops being sexually exciting. Which is not what they want.

One of Mistress Psyche’s Dominatrix Diary blogs

JOHN: So why am I not interested in BDSM? I’m just a tad too dull? I’ve had enough emotional pain; I don’t need physical pain, thankyou very much.

M.PSYCHE: You might have a different form of masochism. I mean, I’m an emotional masochist. I like being slapped-about emotionally.

JOHN: Being unhappy?

M.PSYCHE: Yes. That’s my type of masochism.

JOHN: So you have analysed yourself.

M.PSYCHE: Yeah. I know absolutely all of my mental illnesses and conditions. I know what they are; I know how they get triggered; I know how to manage them.

JOHN: So you never get over-emotional?

M.PSYCHE: Well, I’ve figured out how to manage that. But is over-emotionality a sign of mental illness? What is considered ‘sane’ and ‘insane” changes over time. Being gay used to be presented as being… It’s all very dubious. I mean, they were still lobotomising people until the 1960s. That’s the nature of mental health: very fluid and also very culturally determined and that’s why it’s all quite dubious. I’m very glad I figured out all my stuff before I went to… I mean, I have never been to an actual doctor.

JOHN: You mean to a psychiatric doctor…

M.PSYCHE: Yes. Or to an actual doctor. Because I would have been prescribed things and I would have been given ‘diagnoses’ that are actually very unhelpful and limiting.

I had a random consultation when I was doing another job and this woman told me that, probably because I was abused, I have borderline personality disorder. Which has become much more mild. But they give you drugs for that. And actually NOT having the drugs has meant that I have been able to manage it myself and get it under control rather than using medication which just suppresses it.

I have a friend who was also abused who went to a psychiatrist after a breakdown and they basically just papered-over it. She’s still really mental. They just gave her drugs and coping strategies whereas, because mine is DIY, I seem to have done it at a deeper level and actually got to the roots of stuff and sorted out the real underlying issues causing problems. It’s about creating balance in yourself. It’s basically the Jungian idea that you’ve got light and dark.

A little bit Jung; a little bit old yin-yang

JOHN: Jungian or yin and yangian?

M.PSYCHE: Jungian AND yin/yang and Zen and all these things that exist on a spectrum inside you and you need to find ways of balancing them and, if you can’t do it in one way, you have to do it in another.

JOHN: I’m not up on Jungian stuff.

M.PSYCHE: Basically, you have a shadow self. You can use these things as an access point to understand your shadow and integrate it because, in the West, we have a very disintegrated sense of identity and this is why you end up with these bizarre fetishes.

JOHN: Why?

M.PSYCHE: Because we are disintegrated as individuals. We have stuff which is acceptable; we have stuff which is unacceptable – all the taboo stuff which you actually need to accept as being an essential part of your human psyche. This is why people don’t function properly: that they can’t just accept these things are actually an aspect of them.

JOHN: Being healthy is balancing the yin and yang…

M.PSYCHE: Yes, exactly. It’s a counterbalance. That’s what I’m interested in. That’s why I’m called Mistress Psyche.

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Filed under Eccentrics, Psychology, Sex

Comic Lynn Ruth Miller is “Ridiculously Old and Getting Better” in a monastery

Here, in the latest of her travelogues, 85-year-old globetrotting American comedienne and burlesque performer Lynn Ruth Miller, based in London, tells us about her latest jaunt…


Lynn Ruth’s passport photo is even worse…

I went to Farfa in Italy.

When we landed in Rome, I apologised to the officer because my passport photo was so bad but he said he could recognise me. I said I had to wait ten years before I got a new one and that one would be even worse than the one I had.

He agreed.

Maddie from Wales was waiting for me. She and Nader Shabahangi – my dearest of friends from San Francisco – are running an Eldership Academy in Farfa and I was an honoured guest.

Nadar’s mother Elizabeth is convinced that I am a burden to her son, taking disgusting advantage of him. I have tired him out; I have incurred huge expenses, what with his having to rent a car and forcing her darling baby to stay awake hours past his bedtime. Nader is 62 years old.

Throughout the ride home she reminded me that, if my plane had not landed so late, Nader could have gotten his much-needed rest. She also pointed out that, because of me, he had to drive at night and it was very difficult for him because the road was dark. She told me repeatedly that they had to leave Farfa early because of my late arrival and now had to drive back on an unfamiliar road, which was a hardship for all of them. She explained several times that both she and Nader desperately needed their rest and I had thoughtlessly and deliberately deprived them both of that requirement.

Nader’s car had a navigating device that spoke to him in Italian. Maddie helped him interpret the route and we only got lost three times. We arrived at the monastery in Farfa at midnight.  

Yes. 

A monastery.

Many people from around the world go to this monastery because it is a well-known B&B.

My beautiful room was on the third floor of the immaculate monastery with a lovely view of the hills. I had a private bathroom, plenty of hot water and a desk for my computer. But NOT a WiFi connection.

“Ridiculously Old and Getting Better” – soon

Nader, who does not share his mother’s opinion of my value (whew),  brought me some yogurt and a galley copy of my brand new book Ridiculously Old and Getting Better, which is my take on living a good, productive and satisfying life. At that point, though, I thought the title should have been: Why the Fuck Am I Still Around Making Everyone Suffer?

I managed to read half the book and then drifted off to sleep in that very quiet peaceful place where the air smells sweet and you can actually hear birds singing without a hearing aid.

I awoke the next morning feeling a bit more like the title of my book and met the first of three of the most charming nuns ever. The first was Citadel (really) originally from the Philippines who fixed the plug on my computer and explained that I could get WiFi in the sitting rooms, but the entire monastery loses its wi-fi when the wind blows. Ordinarily, I would think this is a tragedy but somehow it felt like a blessed relief.  

Gabriella came to clean my room, extolled over the book and Justine made me a special breakfast. They are all three happy, smiling people. The interesting thing is that ALL the nuns there are happy, smiling people. It makes me wonder if a celibate life is the secret to happiness.  

Statistics say that single women without children are the most content and, if the nuns are any indication, the answer to the world‘s malaise is to confine all men in a separate camp where women who want to ruin their lives can get it on and have a baby. The rest of us can just go about our business growing flowers and dancing in the sunlight, as women do. 

Elizabeth came to get me because she is a devout Christian woman who believes in being kind to the vermin of this world. She scampered down four flights of stairs to remind me that she is in better shape than I am. She hugged Justine several times and gave me a triumphant look to remind me that I am scum and she is blessed.

Maddie told me a bit about herself.  She is a potter from Wales. Her husband died three years ago but had vascular dementia for about 20 years. She has two sons both very intelligent and creative and an artistic daughter. She and Nader along with Julia from Australia have been running the workshop at the monastery for three years.  

In the garden, I met two others on the course: Iris whose real name is Ruth and her husband Spider who is really interesting and very well-travelled because his father was in the military. He lived his early years in Paris but cannot speak a word of French. The two met in a cooking school some forty years ago, have one child and are both fun to be with. They are from Sonoma in California. They work with the elderly there and are interested now in coming to terms with their own advancing years.

Another person I met in the garden was from Cape Town, South Africa. His name is Rayne. He has a small company that provides services to care homes in Cape Town and is without doubt the most well-read human being on the planet.  

I am quite a reader but there is not one book I mentioned that he has not only read but can discuss the plot of far more intelligently than I. (I AM American) He is a delight.

Farfa. Lovely but with dodgy WiFi (Photo by Renio Linossi)

We all met in the garden because it was the only place where you could get on the Internet (sometimes). 

The rest of the group had arrived by dinner time: all truly wonderful, innovative, creative people from all over the world.

Joyce and Ed were from Denver, Colorado; Anna from near Brighton, England; and Bernie, a doctor, from Redding, California.  

They were all there (some had returned from previous years) to explore who they are and where they are going in their lives as older people. Of course, they all looked like children to me, but I am guessing most are in their sixties with the exception of Bernie who is 52.  

Ageing is a frightening thing to contemplate in this plastic world that worships muscular, fit bodies, healthy diets, endless plastic surgery and non-surgical techniques to make us all look like teenagers without the angst.

I do not fit into this picture.

That first night, I took a late-night walk with Spider. He said it was his losses that made him strong. His closest friend, the man who married him to Iris whose real name is Ruth, died of multiple sclerosis at 62 and he has never yet come to terms with his own loss. He is making up for the gap in his life with the elderly people he is helping now in Sonoma.

Joyce is 72 and into mysticism and The Kabala. She brought up her daughter alone and managed to travel the world and experiment in a variety of life styles, always supporting herself and her daughter. Ed just retired from a counselling type thing in Berkeley and he has been her best friend for at least forty years.  

Everyone in the group connected with one another. The discussions were hugely interesting and very spirited.

One of the more interesting topics was how we listen to one another. Ed showed us there are three levels of listening. One is about the hearer, one is about the listener and the third when it is about what the speaker is feeling. We listen not just with our ears, but with our eyes and with our body.  

This is why Facebook and Instagram are robbing us of the ability to hear what our friends mean when they type in a remark online.

The finale of my stay was my talk on Optimistic Ageing, which I have already done in the UK for the Brighton Women’s Institute, the retired NHS workers of South Croydon and the Mental Health Unit in Birmingham. 

Seeing the back of  her forthcoming book…

This time though, I was preaching to the choir because every one of the people in this group takes risks and makes waves in an effort to live the fullest, most meaningful life possible. It was an exhilarating experience to be part of their search for meaning and direction.

I am now home in London, practising bowing and saying “Ah! So!” to prepare for my trip to Japan where I am planning to tell jokes and rip off my clothes.

Maybe then they will forgive me for Hiroshima.

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Filed under Age, Humor, Humour, Psychology

Why I don’t trust people who have no wrinkles on their faces…

Are lines on a face necessarily a good thing? (Photo: Pierrick Van-Troost via UnSplash)

Continuing on from yesterday’s blog about how you can seldom learn much from watching perfection but you can learn a lot from other people’s mistakes (and your own)…

I don’t trust people over a certain age who have totally wrinkle-free foreheads and no spidery skin wrinkles at the side of their eyes. This tends to go against the prevailing orthodoxy that everyone should look young and wrinkle-free.

But, if you don’t have any wrinkles, you haven’t experienced bad times. In fact, you haven’t experienced much at all. So you are likely (I am not saying certainly) to be less than averagely sympathetic to or understanding of other people’s problems.

A wrinkle isn’t just a one-off frown or a one-off laugh with the eyes.

It is the result of repeated somethings.

Of course, if you have had a shit time, you may have gone to the other extreme and have turned into a soul-less bastard with no empathy, sympathy or any other form of pathy except possibly psychopathy.

Mass murderers and evil incarnates tend, I think, to have quite lined faces too.

So a wrinkly face ain’t always a guarantee of anything. 

But at least it doesn’t mean the person is a shallow, inexperienced, inward-looking shell of a half-human who sees the world only by looking outward and not by trying to see the world from other people’s viewpoints.

Poet WH Auden – a man famous for his memorable lines…

I think this obsession with wrinkles came about when an English teacher at my school went on-and-on in awe-struck admiration at the look of poet WH Auden’s face, telling us something like: “Just look at all the experience in that face!”

I remember sitting in a tube train after that looking at my reflection in the window opposite and raising my eyebrows to create wrinkles in my forehead… then being disappointed when, lowering my eyebrows, the skin on my forehead returned to its virgin, furrow-free blandness.

Now the top half of my face, given the wrong type of side-lighting, can look like a cross between a furrowed field and the number of lines in Tolstoy’s War & Peace and it will only get worse.

On the other hand – or face – there is only a very thin dividing line between being experienced in a good way that may show admirable humanity and being a wrinkly old fucker, possibly psychopathic, sat in the corner mumbling into his own beard, beer or spittle.

I think I may go and have a lie-down now.

This is what an ageing app thinks I will look like when I am older, though it is pretty-much me now…

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Filed under Age, Psychology