Category Archives: Religion

Pit bull dog attacks Calvin Wynter, theatre producer, in New York City

Calvin Wynter wearing a yellow rubber glove this morning

Calvin Wynter wearing a yellow rubber glove this morning

This morning, I Skyped theatre producer Calvin Wynter in New York City. He used to be an equity trader on Wall Street. We had not chatted for a while. I thought it would be interesting to hear how the comedy business is going in New York.

As is often the case, the conversation got sidetracked.

He had suggested I Skype him at 11.30am, UK time, so I did.

“It’s 6.30am in the morning in New York,” I said.

“I’m up at 6.00am five days of the week,” he told me, “and 4.00am on two days.”

“Why?” I asked.

“This time last year, I went to Vipassana, a Buddhist retreat. We don’t burn incense, we don’t wear flowers, we don’t wear diapers; we just sit in our regular clothes. If you can do the lotus position, fantastic. If you can’t, you sit in a chair.”

“You’re wearing a yellow rubber glove and a sling round your neck,” I observed.

“This is me after wrist and arm surgery.”

“Why?”

“Between Wall Street and now, I spent way too much time on the computer and so I didn’t get carpal tunnel syndrome but I got some sort of pinched nerves. I ended up in hospital last year and a neurosurgeon noticed something, asked me to do a few things and said: Do you need an orthopaed referral? I said: No, as it happens, when I was attacked by the pit-bull, I got a… because, when you get your hands chewed on, they either call in a plastic surgeon or an orth and when you have your hands and leg and thigh bit away – like a 3 or 4 inch piece of my thigh was bitten away, the fat and skin…

“So I told him this and he then brought in a specialist. They did the test and then they ordered me a brace for a month but I went back and said: Look, you give the brace to most people because most people are afraid to go into surgery. You do it for them, they get a little better, it gives you time for them to get to trust you and then you do the surgery. He said: Yes. So I said: Just do the fucking surgery. And, in less than a week, he did the surgery.”

“I think,” I said. “I missed a link there. It was the bit where you said: when I was attacked by the pit-bull.”

“You didn’t know about that?”

“No. I have a shit memory, but even I would have remembered that.”

“OK. Well, this time last year – end of August, beginning of September – at the Vipassana retreat, I decided: Let’s lose a little weight. They feed you three meals a day. You got a choice of vegan and/or vegetarian and they’re delicious. You’re not starving. But I decided, because I was 245 lbs… I went through the three meals and measured out what was the amount of food you’re supposed to eat at the size I wanted to be. And I did hours and hours of walking. You’re in the country: streams, lakes, trees, all that stuff. And you’re doing chores when you’re not doing ten hours a day of meditation. After ten days, I lost 10 lbs. Then I lost another 10 lbs.

“So I lose all this weight, I’m dehydrated and I get the equivalent of the worst migraine I’ve ever had and I’ve never had a migraine – or maybe I’ve got a brain aneurism. So I’m rushed to the hospital. They perform every test possible and send me home thinking it’s a migraine and give me a strong Tylenol.

“When I call my doctor, she says: No, no. I want you to get some Aceterin. The next day, it gets really bad. So I think: If two pills are good, I’m gonna take four. Then six. I overdose. I start hallucinating. I mean, you know like Fantasia? I see a musical that I will create one day that will become the gold standard of musicals.

“But, in New York City, you never tell the doctors in the emergency room that you are hallucinating because they will put you on the psych ward and hold you for 72 hours. And, if they don’t have a psych ward, they will transfer you to one and the No 1 psych ward they like to transfer you to is Bellevue which is essentially like Bedlam in the UK.

“I remember a comedian I knew who won the big award in Edinburgh – he went to the British equivalent because he wrote his name in faeces on his wall. You know who I’m talking about.

“Anyway, I’m back in hospital again. They admit me. For six hours I tell them: I will NOT take any opiates. I was in so much pain they wanted to give me morphine and codeine. Not oxy cotton. No, they were going for like the strongest friggin’ pain pills they could give me. Finally, after six hours, I am told: We will have you committed if you don’t take it, because – you don’t know this, but – you are curled up in a ball in the corner of the bed. You are sweating profusely, you’re shaking, you’re mumbling and, every once in a while, you scream out so loud we can hear you down the hall.”

“And so…?” I asked.

“So I take the damned opiates,” Calvin told me. “And, after three days of taking them, it did lower the pain, but there was still excruciating pain. In the interim, they find my kidneys are now in renal failure and I had a macro pituitary adenoma. In other words, I had a tumour that was 1 centimetre in diameter at the centre of my head, right about where all the nerve endings are for your eyes, pushing back on my pituitary.

“Day Three of all this, I say: Fuck it! I get consciousness for a moment and I meditate solidly for an hour. You just observe and, for some reason, I kept observing one of my teeth up top and I remembered I was told to have the tooth removed but my insurance would not do an implant. Somewhere along the line, I forgot about that.

“So they remove the tooth and the headache is gone. So now they are working on my kidneys. They changed the meds. After ten days, I lose 10 lbs and I go out. So I had lost 10 lbs there and 20 lbs at the Vipassana retreat.

“Fast forward to May. I walk out of my door, I see a 98 lb woman who I later find out is a 28-year-old from Hawaii, half-Japanese, had never owned a dog before, was in New York City for the first time ever and had rescued this dog which was going to be killed the next day because it was too dangerous. She agreed to have a trainer, spent a lot of time with it before she took it home.

“I see that the dog is acting like an idiot. I make a sharp right turn. I meditate to calm my body so the dog doesn’t sense anything. It’s a pit bull. The dog leaps up. I shoot my left hand to block it.

“My cousin had been the national karate champion before Chuck Norris. My cousin was bodyguard to David Bowie, Mick Jagger right around the time hijackings were happening and celebrities were not able to bring their licensed gun-carrying bodyguards on planes with them.

“So I had lived with my cousin for a month. He had told me: If someone threatens you, you can talk to them for a while – you’re good at that – then you can run like the wind and very few people can catch you. The only time you need to fight is if the son-of-a-bitch catches you, which means he has nothing but ill-intent. Which means you have to kill him. One fast fell swoop. I’m going to teach you to kill people and, in the last week, I’m going to teach you how to kill dogs. With dogs, you break their nose; you jam it into their head; it’s a matter of seconds: they’re dead on the floor.

“Thirty years ago, pit bulls were not a problem. People owned German Shepherds, Doberman Pinschers. They didn’t have pit bulls. A pit bull’s entire skull is like a biker’s helmet. You can’t break its nose and shove it into its skull.  The one thing you’re supposed to do with pit bulls is you grab them by the balls and you swing them in the air and neuter them. You bang ‘em in the eye, go straight for their balls, lift them and fucking castrate them right then and there. They will be in so much pain, bleeding profusely and you can get away.

“But I had a bitch… a female dog, right? I get a young female dog. So she gets my arm. Thank god I remember: Use the middle finger and the pointer finger of your hand. So I hit her in the eyeballs. She releases. The other thing my cousin had told me was: Run into traffic when you’re attacked by a dog. You will be able to dodge the cars; the dog will get hit.

“I get one lane out into six lanes of traffic and I, for some reason, take a second to look back. The traffic stops. The dog is coming after me. I get to the other side of the boulevard. As I’m putting my left leg onto the kerb, the dog leaps up, was going for my balls but grabs my upper thigh and was about to clamp in for the arteries, the bones and the muscles. Now I’ve got both hands bleeding, several major lacerations on my left hand, which is my dominant hand though I write with my right hand. I use both hands because both hands are free because she’s on my thigh. I blind her in the right eye, I partially blind her in the left.”

“Literally blind her?” I ask.

“Literally. I crack the right eyeball and there’s ooze coming out. I bang the left one, so it’s partially damaged. I break her right leg. And I take all of my body weight, holding my left arm with my right hand so it has maximum power, and I lunge dead-centre at her spine. I damage the spine. She falls to the ground. She has my blood all over her.”

“Now,” I said, “it’s almost 7.30am in New York. Where are you off to now?”

Calvin Wynter: no hair, but a big Fringe

Calvin Wynter: no hair, but big on the Fringe theatre scene

“I’m headed off right now,” Calvin told me, “to have my teeth cleaned and also they did a biopsy on my jawbone. They performed dental surgery, removed the lesion and put it in for biopsy research. They called me on Friday which means I think I may have cancer. I don’t know. So far, everything that’s thought to have been cancerous was not – like the polyps I got from my colonoscopy. I had three polyps. No cancer. So who knows? Maybe the third time isn’t so good but, y’know look – I’ve had a shaved head before. I can have a shaved head again. I’m still Episcopalian, which is like your Church of England, but my philosophy is Buddhist which is essentially: What do we seek? Happiness. What is pain and sorrow? The route to happiness.”

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Filed under Dogs, Health, Medical, Religion

One woman’s epiphany in Edinburgh

Edinburgh from Blackford Hill

Yesterday’s blog had a reaction from Sue Blackwell in Edinburgh, who occasionally crops up in these blogs.

I have no idea idea why she had this reaction. Perhaps it was because I mentioned my ‘inherent nihilism’.

For whatever reason, this is what she wrote:


Your blog triggered a memory of something that occurred many years ago now, when I was in my late thirties. I was drying some cutlery at the time.

Possibly I was over-tired, overstressed, I don’t have any explanation for it.

It was a state of mind that is sometimes reached – so I understand – by taking mind-altering drugs, which I had not done.

I don’t have a belief in God or any sort of higher being although, in my earlier years, there was an urge to question the reason for our existence – which took me down many avenues of exploration.

Not so today nor for many, many years now.

But in that moment or moments – I have no recall of how long it lasted – it was as though thought had stopped and this other state of consciousness came into play. I was aware of overwhelming joy, love and an awareness of order in our existence.

This order was incredibly beautiful, and it was as though a curtain had been drawn back and I understood all things. It was an Aaah! Now I understand! moment.

I have no recall of what I understood or experienced, because thought was not there.

As thought returned, this other state receded until it was no more.

I didn’t tell anyone about what had occurred because, certainly for the next three weeks or so, I found it too overwhelming to speak about.

What a lot of old bollocks this sounds now, but there is no denying that it happened.

I was not depressed at the time and have no explanation for it.

Words could not capture what had happened, so there was no way of communicating it with anyone else.

When I eventually did talk about it with one or two people it moved me to tears each time.

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Filed under Psychology, Religion

Nick Revell has found the purpose of comedy and it could be very painful

Nick Revell talked to me at Soho Theatre

Nick Revell – could this man ever become a UK politician?

Comedian Nick Revell is working on his next hour-long show. We had tea together in Soho.

“What is the new show called?” I asked him.

Feminist Porno Jihadi.”

“So you are not mellowing?” I asked.

“There’s quite a lot of religion in it,” Nick told me. “But not all anti-religious.”

“No knob gags?” I asked.

“There were a couple, but I took them out – largely for pace and placement rather than on grounds of principle.”

“You can’t,” I suggested, “do this sort of comedy now, can you? It’s like going back to the serious political comedy of the 1980s. You’re supposed to do The Mighty Boosh nowadays.”

“I would not say much of it is polemical,” argued Nick. “There’s quite a strong surreal element to this show in terms of the nature of the narrative.”

“You could be a politician,” I said.

“I could be a politician,” he agreed.

“Oh,” I said. “Your tone sounded surprisingly positive.”

“I could be,” Nick repeated. “But I’m not interested in being one.”

“Why not?”

“Well, I’m quite interested and reasonably literate in that field but, on stage, there’s something about having the licence and freedom from the constraint of responsibility. I think one is probably just as practically useful offering some kind of argument from the stage and engaging with extra-Parliamentary politics in some way as you are trying to work within the system as a whole. I can foresee the Labour Party just collapsing now. What’s the point of them?

“Going back to religion, though, it’s just a convenient panacea to ascribe all bad human behaviour to organised religion. I think we are quite capable of finding reasons to hate and assault each other based on differences that need have no spiritual or escatological background… Football clubs, colour of hair, different supermarket carrier bags.”

“Are you worried about annoying people and their reactions?” I asked. “Death threats, even?”

“I’ve had threats of violence and death from various different people over the years. And, over the years, I’ve been interested in exploring the reasons and impulses for social and political violence.

“People will look at lunatic psychopaths and just put them into a separate category of lunatic psychopaths, but I think it’s really a continuum between that and the ‘ordinary’ human condition with fantasies of whatever kind which we never put into practice – whether it’s violence or sex or whatever it might be. There are always different ways that the id is messing us around and mud-wresting with the super-ego.”

“So what sort of people have threatened you?’ I asked.

“Members of the British armed forces, Irish Republicans, Zionist Jews, fundamentalist Moslems, various bruisers, hen parties…

“The purpose of comedy is not about challenging authority or satirising institutions or bringing truth to power or bearing witness to injustice. We are the only creatures who laugh. Comedy is about helping people find their common humanity. And I have succeeded in that. Yes, it may be the desire to kick the shit out of me, but that’s a start.”

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Filed under Comedy, Psychology, Religion

Lindsay Sharman, baptised with a head hunter, is writing a play for Edinburgh

Lindsay Sharman, ex-Christian

Lindsay Sharman, ex-Christian, remembered headhunter this week

“I got religious when I was in Brunei,” comedy performer Lindsay Sharman told me a couple of days ago. “I went to a Chinese Baptist church and they were very nice people.”

“How,” I asked, “do the Chinese Baptists differ from the British Baptists?”

“They speak Chinese,” Lindsay replied. “Though they also spoke English, which helped. I got baptised at the same time as a head-hunter in his nineties. Well, he was an ex-head-hunter. He didn’t hunt heads any more, because he was now a Christian and ancient.”

“What turned you on to Christianity?” I asked.

“Jesus seemed like a nice chap and I thought the world lacked a bit of mystery and magic and I was looking for that.”

“Your father worked for the Shell oil company?” I asked.

“Yes. My parents were agnostic, though my mum suddenly got religious about ten years ago. I stopped believing when I was about 14.”

“Why?”

“I was kind of going off it for a while, In fact, as soon as I got baptised, it was kind of like TICK! Done that! – I think I expected some kind of change and nothing happened and then my father died when I was 14 and I think that tested me a bit more as I was getting no comfort from the idea that he had gone to heaven because I found the whole idea faintly ludicrous.”

“What age did you go to Brunei?”

Lindsay Sharman

Lindsay Sharman was once younger

“We went out when I was 8 and returned to England when I was 14. At that time, it was Moslem in the same way England is supposedly Christian. Although not any more, because the Sultan’s now gotten Islamic. He’s turned super-Moslem. Women are getting stoned for adultery out there now. There was none of that in my time. No-one covered up when I was there: it was all shorts and T-shirts and vests. Although, two years into us being there, the country did go ‘dry’ and they banned karaoke. I was very upset because I had been going to have a karaoke birthday party. I was 9; it was a big thing to me.”

“And now,” I said, “you’re writing a play about religion for the Edinburgh Fringe in August. What’s it called?”

Lindsay Sharman Gives Us The Willies. It’s not really a play. It’s one of those weird Edinburgh things that can only exist in Edinburgh. It’s a play insomuch that it’s not going to be stand-up comedy and it’s going to have a narrative. But don’t ask me details. Everything might change by August.”

“What,” I asked, “was the original, basic idea?”

Mel Brooks once told me to open my mouth when being photographed

Mel Brooks once told me to always open mouth in photos

“The Gospel according to Mary Magdalene, done as a New York Jew: a bit Joan Rivers-esque. I thought I would link the fact they were all Jewish to comedic Jews and the immediate thought for me was Mel Brooks style fast-talking.

“I tried that out and it did go quite well, but then I thought it could be a play-within-a-play. What I don’t like about the Edinburgh Fringe – or what I feel I have to be flexible about in Edinburgh – is that the audience comes into a room which is not actually that suited to performance and you don’t necessarily acknowledge it. I don’t like that. I don’t like watching a show where they haven’t acknowledged they’re in a room in Edinburgh at 2 o’clock in the afternoon.

“So I wanted to fit it into something which allowed her not to be at The Jerusalem Head tavern in wherever. I wanted to acknowledge the fact it was a show in Edinburgh. So then I had the idea of a play-within-a-play about Mary Magdalene but everyone’s buggered-off because it’s the most offensive play there has ever been. All the actors have fucked-off, so it is an audition for new actors and all the audience are potential actors and I am going to audition them. This is my current idea. But it might change out of all recognition in the next few months.”

“So it has continuity of time and place…” I said.

“Yes,” Lindsay replied. “But, at the same time it will be dipping in-and-out of this ‘most offensive’ play about religion.”

“And it’s called Lindsay Sharman Gives Us The Willies…?”

“Yes. Though it might bear no relation to… Well, it might do… There’s going to be stuff about circumcision in there.”

“Cutting edge…” I said.

A Penitent Mary Magdalene by Nicolas Régnier,

Jewish Mary Magdalene by Nicolas Régnier

“Because it’s a play-within-a-play,” Lindsay continued, “it’s going to look at all the issues in the world at the moment. So, for once, I’m going to do something topical. Usually I don’t do anything topical.”

“Burning Moslems?” I asked.

“I might tip-toe around that a bit.”

“Is there a serious kernel to it?”

“Maybe. Who knows? Don’t ask me details. Maybe. I don’t know if there is a way of avoiding the seriousness of the topic. Though you can take any serious topic and give it a light treatment. It will still be totally absurd. And the play is partly going to be about social control and how religion forms part of that. If one person has a beard, everyone has to have a beard. Except the women, of course.”

“Why of course?” I asked. “Will it have multiple characters?”

“It will have… Maybe. Who knows?… Don’t ask me too many details at this point, because it could all change.  I’ve got other things to think about: I’m trying to write a book at the moment.”

Lindsay Sharman last night, as Madame Magenta

Lindsay Sharman performs as Madame Magenta

“Another one?”

“Yes. I’m almost there. I’ve got about four more chapters and then I’m finished.”

“What’s the pitch?”

“It’s a whodunnit, a murder mystery. It’s really complicated, whereas the first one was just ridiculous, so I could vomit that out in no time. “

“A whodunnit in the traditional drawing room sense?”

“Sort of. Yeah. I guess so.”

“Featuring Madame Magenta?”

“Yes.”

“Written in the first person…”

“No. It’s got different perspectives. It switches perspective every couple of chapters.”

“When is this being unleashed on the nation?”

“In about a week and a half.”

“But you haven’t finished it yet!”

The cover of Lindsay Sharman’s novel

Lindsay Sharman’s first Magenta novel

“I’ve got about 10,000 words to do. I can do that in a week and a half. I did the first book in about three and a half weeks.”

“What’s the new book called?”

Magenta 2: The Reckoning.”

“It’s not, is it?” I asked.

“Why not?” I think titles are over-rated.”

“What about My Night of Sex With Tom Cruise and an Armadillo?”

“That’s probably my third book,” said Lindsay.

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Filed under Books, Comedy, Religion

The continuing story of Satan in a park in Vancouver – Hell Fights Back

The CTV News Channel’s censored pic of Satan

CTV News Channel’s slightly censored picture of the Satan

Yesterday, this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith mentioned a nine-foot sculpture of Satan with an erect penis which had mysteriously appeared on Tuesday in a Vancouver park and was visible to people in passing commuter trains. No-one knew who ‘erected’ the statue and no-one claimed responsibility for creating it. The local authorities removed the statue on Wednesday because it was not officially commissioned by them.

Two hours after I posted my blog, I received this comment from someone with a Yahoo Canada e-mail address:

I’m glad it is gone… the continuing moral malaise the world finds itself in is demonstrated in this statue. Let us not forget that the representation of what is deemed as evil is now being exalted as a refreshing thing. Worshiping that which is the root cause of all corruption will only lead to our collective demise, see the fall of the Roman Empire.

Our system is completely corrupt, all of it lies. Promoting the idea to people to love the devil is akin to instructing people to live completely selfish lives devoid of any humanity, compassion, understanding, good will and love. You want a statue of the devil… go ahead, but please how about you openly place it in a more conducive venue for this type of expression. I have children also. Call me a prude ! You fucker.

This morning, I awoke to another e-mail from Anna Smith, telling me that over 1,500 people have signed an online petition to the Mayor of Vancouver  headed:

BRING THE GIANT SATAN-WITH-AN ERECTION STATUE BACK TO EAST VANCOUVER

The petition was started by a Darryl Greer who, apparently, plays bass in a local Vancouver band called Revenger. It reads:


The City of Vancouver has long been a leader in investing in public art to beautify its legendary and illustrious landscapes. For example, its near $100,000 expenditure on a statue of a porcelain dog on Main Street in the recent past served as a reminder that the merit of art is subjective and the value of public art can’t be qauntified simply in a dollar figure.

The Giant Satan-With-an-Erection statue, unlike the porcelain dog, cost the city nothing and was far more visible and likely to stir public debate than the barely visible cartoonish canine on a pole. Just as some were offended by the price tag and substance of the porcelain dog, others may have been offended at the sight of Lucifer’s Plastic Love Pump, but none would be offended at its price tag.

It simply cost its creator(s?) time and energy to construct and install with no thought of monetary gain, especially from the public purse. Just like the beloved “Dude Chilling Park” sign that was clandestinely installed and later allowed due to public pressure and support, the Giant Beelzebub-With-a-Boner statue should be reinstalled as a piece of public art and serve as a reminder that art is in the eye of the beholder and nothing more.


Apparently a sign saying DUDE CHILLING PARK appeared in Vancouver’s Guelph Park. Officials removed the sign, but it proved to be so popular that the city eventually relented and allowed a permanent sign to be installed in the park… although it was quickly stolen.

Comments on Darryl Greer’s Satan statue petition include:

This was the only public art piece in Vancouver in recent memory to even capture my attention. Most public art elicits little or no response from me or others. Art is meant to provoke thought and opinion. By this logic, the Satan statue holds artistic value and deserves to be reinstated.
Jordan Fehr (Vancouver)

To send a message to the politicians that art does not have to be pricey to be valuable to the taxpayers. We don’t want our money spent irrationally when someone is willing to display their work for free.
Shauna Johnson (Coquitlam, Canada)

Censoring art is a slippery slope, if we let even this one incident slide for fear of offending somebody, who knows what will be covered up next? Perhaps the Mona Lisa will be considered offensive to Muslims for showing too much skin.
Sean Idzenga (Hartington, Canada)

If we have to succumb to people standing directly outside of Skytrain stations (on public property) with megaphones, screeching Bible passages at us, I think a silent Satan statue is more than fair.
Daylya Ruyg (Vancouver)

Jesus this, Jesus that. What about Satan?
Melissa Athina (Ottawa, Canada)

We all need some devil dick in our lives.
Makayla Bailey (Vancouver)

Dude. Did you see the boner on that thing? That makes a statement, man. That puts Vancouver on the map.
Desmond Leflufy (Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam)

It’s a human right to see Satan with a boner close to where you live.
Linus Sundstrom (Gothenburg, Sweden)

There is still some hope for the statue.

Canada’s National Post reports of the Satan-With-An-Erection sculpture:

Apparently a number of people have expressed interest in acquiring the devil statue for themselves. You have to admit, it would be a great conversation piece at parties. Plus, it would make a great hat rack.

Meanwhile, in other e-mail news flooding to my InBox, my friend Lynn (who knows about such things) draws my attention to the fact that this week sees the first World Nomad Games in Kyrgyzstan (a country to which, embarrassingly, she has been and I have not).

Among other things, Kyrgyz and Tajikistan horsemen yesterday took part in the traditional Central Asian sport of Kok-Boru (goat dragging).

How dull Vancouver seems by comparison.

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Filed under Art, Canada, Religion

Today I reveal THE MEANING OF LIFE and I don’t mean the Monty Python one

God, depicted on the Sistine Chapel ceiling

God, depicted on the Sistine Chapel ceiling

I have never taken recreational drugs. The only drugs which ever attracted me were heroin and LSD.

They were not available to me when I might have taken them.

By the time they were available, I had seen and read too much about people damaged by them.

But, when I was in my late teens, I remember there was a day when – for maybe ten minutes – maybe five minutes – I felt I could feel my position within the air around me, could feel my physical position in 3D or 4D within the room I was in… and that room’s physical existence within the house, within the street on the surface of the earth and that I was standing on the surface of a planet floating and rotating in space and its place within the solar system and the universe. I could mentally comprehend and feel my relationship within all those inter-related elements.

And I also simultaneously felt I comprehended my position in time – how time only exists as a ‘moment’ that, in a sense, does not exist because, as soon as it happens it is over and it becomes an infinity of time stretching backwards while the next not-yet-existing moment is part of an infinity of time stretching forward and, as you can narrow the existence of the exact moment of ‘nowness’ more and more and more down to the non-existent point of infinity, time exists as an over-all concept but the exact moment of ‘now’ never exists. I felt how, at the instant I felt this I could understand where I was in infinity with the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 and a woman scratching her nose in 1171 and an insect crawling on the sand in 5,000 BC and something that had not yet happened in the year 2373.

In the 1960s or 1970s I was told a probably apocryphal story about the rock guitarist Eric Clapton. Those of advanced years will remember common graffiti around that time proclaiming:

CLAPTON IS GOD!

The story was that Eric Clapton had taken LSD and seen God who told him the Meaning of Life, but he (Clapton, not God) then forgot the details.

The next time Eric went on an acid trip, he had a pen and paper by him. This time, he wrote down what God told him.

When he came down from the trip, Eric looked at the piece of paper. On it were the words:

“THE SMELL OF METHYLATED SPIRITS PERMEATES THE AIR”

That, as told by God to Eric Clapton, was the Meaning of Life.

The reason I think this 1960s story might be apocryphal is that there are other versions of it.

In his 1945 book A History of Western Philosophy, the British philosopher Bertrand Russell (very trendy in the 1960s) wrote:

William James describes a man who got the experience from laughing-gas; whenever he was under its influence, he knew the secret of the universe, but when he came to, he had forgotten it. At last, with immense effort, he wrote down the secret before the vision had faded. When completely recovered, he rushed to see what he had written. It was

“A SMELL OF PETROLEUM PREVAILS THROUGHOUT”

Before that, on June 29, 1870, the American physician and author Oliver Wendell Holmes delivered an address to the Phi Beta Kappa Society of Harvard University. An extended excerpt from the lecture was published in 1879. He said:

I once inhaled a pretty full dose of ether, with the determination to put on record, at the earliest moment of regaining consciousness, the thought I should find uppermost in my mind. 

The mighty music of the triumphal march into nothingness reverberated through my brain, and filled me with a sense of infinite possibilities, which made me an archangel for the moment. The veil of eternity was lifted. The one great truth which underlies all human experience, and is the key to all the mysteries that philosophy has sought in vain to solve, flashed upon me in a sudden revelation. 

Henceforth all was clear: a few words had lifted my intelligence to the level of the knowledge of the cherubim. As my natural condition returned, I remembered my resolution; and, staggering to my desk, I wrote, in ill-shaped, straggling characters, the all-embracing truth still glimmering in my consciousness. The words were these: 

“A STRONG SMELL OF TURPENTINE PREVAILS THROUGHOUT”

The other day, I was talking to someone about LSD.

He told me that, years ago, a girl he knew took LSD and, after the trip, she told her friends (who had also been tripping) that she had, during the trip, understood the nature of existence, the Meaning of Life and all the rest. But she could not remember what it was.

So they decided that, next time they went on an acid trip together, she would write down what she saw and felt. The next time they tripped out, there was a pen and a piece of paper. And, sure enough, again, she saw and understood the purpose and meaning of life.

She wrote it down.

When they came down from the trip, to keep it safe, they put the piece of paper in an envelope which they pinned to the ceiling for safety. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

And, of course, they forgot the envelope was there. They had been tripping.

A few hours or a few days later, someone spotted the envelope pinned to the ceiling and they remembered that the Meaning of Life was in the envelope.

They took the envelope off the ceiling and opened it.

The piece of paper said:

“IF YOU STAND ON THE CEILING, YOU CAN SEE THE FLOOR”

So there you are.

Life may mostly be methylated spirits, petroleum and turpentine but that could depend on your viewpoint.

And I would argue that taking LSD might be a confusing factor in thinking clearly.

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A twatface in Edinburgh, God’s message in Vancouver & a first enema in London

Leanne McKie

Leanne McKie, from Twatface to chic & bendy clown

This is another day when I barely have time to write a blog.

Fortunately, when I woke up this morning, there were three messages for me.

The Edinburgh Fringe Programme is published today.

So I received a text from comedy performer Leanne McKie. It read:

“Here is the Leanne unofficial Fringe official brochure launch day text, cos I’m not in it…

“My show is from 2nd till 15th August at Suruchi’s on Nicolson Street at 14.45 and it is called This Peggy Twatface Is Toast. It feels like full circle from when I got inspired way back when coming to London and thinking: Well, if this lot can do comedy, so can I. I’ve come a long way from being a fat, drunken, fake-tanned gobshite to being a chic bendy clown :)”

“You have,” I texted back, “admirably not lost that essential you.”

“Just made myself more shaggable,” she replied.

I have requested photographic and video examples of the result.

I also woke up to an overnight e-mail from this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith. It simply said:

“My little sister, the Anglican priest, has hits the headlines again. I awoke to the sound of her voice, on the radio. The CBC was interviewing her. She sounded buoyant, even though she had not been arrested.”

Anna’s sister is the Reverend Emilie Smith of St. Barnabas Church in the Brow of the Hill neighbourhood of the City of New Westminster, near Vancouver.

The Reverennd Emilie with her message from God

The Reverend Emilie pictured with her message from God

The Vancouver Sun reported that unknown people have been dumping trash – rubbish to we Brits – at the church in the middle of the night.

According to Rev Emilie Smith in her interview on CBC Radio One’s The Early Edition: “It breaks my heart that we have this garbage problem.”

She said items people had dumped over the years included a kitchen sink, a 25-year-old fax machine, a car seat (“not the child’s kind, just a seat from a car”), a huge old china cabinet with broken doors and – just last week – six mattresses dumped together.

The church has tried threatening to video record the dumpers and, in the past, one priest tracked down a culprit and returned a bag full of garbage to the culprit’s home.

But now the Rev Emilie has threatened the mystery dumpers with the ultimate threat and has erected a sign which dissociates her church (possibly for legal reasons) from any resultant divine retribution. It reads:

“AHEM!!! ATTENTION. THIS IS HOLY GROUND. DO NOT DROP YOUR CRAP HERE…”

The message is signed GOD and adds:

“MANAGEMENT OF ST BARNABAS’ CHURCH NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR LIGHTENING BOLTS.”

Bob Slayer yesterday in Leicester - not changing his spots

Bob Slayer relaxes during the 2013 Leicester Comedy Festival

The third message I got this morning was a text on my mobile phone from comedian Matt Roper, sent at 00.25am last night. It read:

“You ought to be here. I am with Bob Slayer. He has given himself his first enema today.”

Usually, as with Leanne – especially with Leanne – I encourage people to send me photos or even videos for this blog.

In this case I have not.

I am also not clear if Bob Slayer, at 00.25am, gave himself his first ever enema… or if it was his first in a planned series today.

There are some details that only God and your urologist should know.

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Comedian Jenny Eclair, born in Kuala Lumpur, gets annoyed about Christians

Jenny Eclair, as she wants to be seen on her website

Jenny Eclair, as she wants to be seen, on her website www.jennyeclair.com

I chatted to Jenny Eclair at her home last week. In the first blog that came out of that, she talked about parts of her very varied career. In the second blog, she talked about iconic comedian Malcolm Hardee and that led on, obviously and easily, to his drinking.

“Towards the end, the last couple of years before he died,” I said, “I thought all those years of drinking were taking their toll and were showing.”

“But,” said Jenny, “brains do dry out as well. I have a friend who basically flooded his brain with alcohol but, because he now doesn’t live in London, he’s drying out. It’s like an old carpet. It’s gone a bit but it is repairing.”

“I have a smoker’s cough, but I don’t smoke,” I said. “I have a beer gut but I don’t drink. Sometimes I think I would be in better condition if I had taken heroin. Keith Richards can fall out of a tree with no problem and Dennis Hopper was perfectly lucid in his latter years.”

“Heroin’s better for your skin and it doesn’t make you fat,” suggested Jenny. “But the trouble with coming off heroin is you normally go to something else. Once an addict, always an addict.”

“I suppose someone could come off heroin and get addicted to the Salvation Army or something worse,” I mused.

“They’re just at the bottom of the road,” said Jenny. “The most beautiful building.”

“Yes,” I said, “I saw it coming out of Denmark Hill station.”

The Salvation Army building at Denmark Hill, South London

The Salvation Army building at Denmark Hill, South London

“The Salvation Army are actually quite good,” Jenny added, “because once Geoff (Jenny’s partner) was choking – he had been greedy over a sausage – and I was trying to give him the Heimlich manoeuvre but, because he was too fat, I couldn’t get both my arms round him. I was really struggling and he was about to die and there were two Salvation Army people walking past and they came in and they Heimliched him between them and saved his life. They also come and play Christmas carols round the corner, which is nice.”

“Well,” I said, “Christians, by and large, are OK.”

“They get a lot of stick these days,” said Jenny. “You’re not allowed to slag off any other religion. But you can slag off Christians. That pisses me off. There are too many smart-alecky people around in the media who wouldn’t dare slag off Moslems, who wouldn’t dream of slagging off Jews, but they give Christians a right old kicking and you just think: Hold on! Hold on here!

“I can’t bear the hypocrisy. It really does piss me off. Those people who do all the science stuff and find Christianity an easy target. They show an intolerance about Christians that isn’t allowed about anything else.”

“There’s nothing wrong with religion,” I suggested. “Just organised religion.”

“Or people talking about it to you,” said Jenny. “On the bus.”

“That’s people trying to convert you,” I said.

Jenny with her back to bad weather last week

Jenny with her back to bad weather last week

“No. That’s because I live too close to the Maudsley Hospital. Nutters. A lot of religious nutters… Ooh, look at the weather. It’s horrible…” The rain had started battering on her back windows.

“I’ve got to go to Greenwich to deliver some Ladybird books to my eternally-un-named friend,” I said.

“I love Ladybird books,” said Jenny.

“My eternally-un-named friend,” I said, “was brought up in the RAF and you were an Army child, so you have that in common. You were in…?”

“Kuala Lumpur and Berlin and then Barnard Castle in County Durham,” Jenny replied. “Barnard Castle was tough. I went to a very tough school there.”

“People whose parents wear uniforms – police or armed forces or whatever – sometimes rebel, don’t they?” I asked. “You became a punk poet and comedian. Was that rebelling?”

Jenny Eclair performing at The Tunnel club, London, in 1986 (Photograph by Bill Alford)

Jenny performing at Malcolm Hardee’s Tunnel club in 1986 (Photograph by Bill Alford)

“No. My dad was an Army major, but he wasn’t ‘an army major’, if you see what I mean. He’s very funny. And my mum didn’t work – she was an Army wife – but she was very, very clever. In fact, she should have worked. She was a wasted opportunity.”

“I suppose,” I said, “all that generation of women were wasted.”

“Yeah,” said Jenny. “also, she was a cripple in an old-fashioned sense of the word. She had polio.”

“My mother was born without a left hand,” I said.

“Did she have a hook?” asked Jenny, perking up.

“Just a rounded stump at the end,” I said. “Why did you perk up at the thought of a hook?”

“I do love a hook,” said Jenny. “A hook and a glass eye.”

“You could get them if you wanted,” I suggested, “through the wonders of modern surgery.”

“I don’t want my own,” said Jenny, “but I am very drawn to that sort of thing.”

“Have you done Peter Pan in panto?” I asked.

Robb Harwood as Captain Hook in Peter Pan c 1906

Robb Harwood as Captain Hook in a production of  Peter Pan c 1906

“No,” Jenny replied, “but I do like the look of a pirate.”

“What’s the glass eye got to do with it?” I asked.

“Anything that’s a bit wrong,” Jenny explained, “I’m quite attracted to anything that’s a bit wrong.”

“Was your mother in a wheelchair?” I asked.

“No, Full-length calliper. It’s only one leg. She is really magnificent.”

“My mother only had one hand,” I said, “but she didn’t let it affect her. She seemed to be knitting all the time in my childhood. She used to play tennis when she was younger, which is actually quite difficult – You have to hold the racquet in one hand and have to throw the ball up in the air.”

“My mother was a tennis player,” said Jenny.

“My mother,” I said, “mostly hid the end of her left arm – because her parents had told her she shouldn’t show it.”

“Yes,” said Jenny. “It was slightly shameful. My mother told me that, after she got polio, her father assumed she would never marry.”

“I don’t think my mother expected to marry,” I said, “because she thought Who would marry a one-handed woman?

“And with my mother,” said Jenny, “it was Who would marry somebody with a great big leg iron?

“A pirate, perhaps?” I suggested.

“My dad,” said Jenny. “It was the only romantic thing he ever did. He was abroad when he heard it had happened. He got Compassionate Leave and hitch-hiked his way back from Aden or somewhere like that. She had been his girlfriend and then they’d fallen out. He was in the Army and went off to Aden. She went to a cinema in Blackpool and caught polio there. He heard about it and made his way back to Britain and to Blackpool Infirmary.

“My grandmother was there and said: Derek, you can’t go in and he said Yes, I must and he saw my mother. She said I’ll never walk again and he said Yes you will – when you walk down the aisle to marry me.

“Aaaaaahhhhh…..” I said.

An example of a modern egg poacher

Example of a modern egg poacher, seldom seen as romantic

“I know,” said Jenny. “But he’d used all his romance up in that one sentence. In terms of romance, never anything again. He once bought her an egg-poaching pan for her birthday and said: Go on, June. I’d love some eggs…” They’re both very gung-ho and Northern and good fun. Both from Blackpool.”

“So you feel Blackpudlian?” I asked.

“Not really,” said Jenny.

“The place I feel most at home,” I said, “is Edinburgh, but I’ve never had a home there. I always had relatives there until recently, so I was visiting there every year as a child, probably since I was an embryo.”

“I feel Northern,” said Jenny, “I think it’s more to do with the sense of humour than anything else, I understand that quite graphic, broad, seaside postcardy humour.”

“Blackpool is seasidey,” I said. “Not like Manchester.”

“No,” agreed Jenny. “I went to drama school in Manchester. And Liverpool’s different again. But I wouldn’t leave London now.”

“I met your daughter with you,” I said, “at Glastonbury about… It must have been…”

“Nine years ago,” Jenny told me. “When she was 15. She’s 24 now. She’s a playwright. She’s got the writing gene. She’s working at the Royal Court Theatre at the moment. Then she’s got a play on at Theatre 503 on Monday (that’s tomorrow if you read this blog on the day it’s posted) in a thing of new writing, then she’s got a residency at the old BBC building in Maida Vale… or it might be in Marylebone. It starts with an M anyway.”

“And you?” I asked.

Jenny helped develop the concept of Grumpy Old Women

Grumpy Old Women – touring the UK April to June 2014

Grumpy Old Women on stage,” said Jenny. “We go into rehearsal in March; we tour in April, May, June. And I’m writing a Radio 4 series at the moment for broadcast later this year: six 15-minute monologues. They’re all set in real time.”

“Will you be starring?”

“No. The producer thought we should get better actresses and she’s right, because I’m quite limited and I always sound like me.”

“That’s the sign of star,” I said.

“I wouldn’t live anywhere other than London now” Jenny said again.

“It’s where everything happens,” I said.

“It is,” said Jenny. “I like it when things happen.”

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Organised religion usually all ends in tears, discrimination and beheadings…

(A version of this piece was also published on the Indian news site WSN)

A Siberian shaman, circa 1692

What a well-dressed Siberian shaman looked like, circa 1692

I have no problem with religions. They mostly boil down to the advice: Be nice to other people.

This is good.

But organised religion tends to eventually turn sour and it usually all ends in tears, discrimination and beheadings.

Yesterday, I went to a lecture at Gresham College in London.

Gresham College was founded in 1597. That was a year when 26 people were killed in Nagasaki because they were Catholics.

So it goes.

Yesterday’s Gresham College lecture was titled The KGB’s Bête Noire.

The bête noire of the KGB, allegedly, was the Keston Institute, founded in 1969 to study religions in Communist, and now formerly Communist, countries.

Xenia Dennen, Chairman of the Keston Institute, talked about how religions had been repressed in the Soviet Union, then come into the open again with the collapse of the Soviet Union but were now facing problems again.

Russia’s 1997 Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations recognises four religions: the Russian Orthodox Church, Buddhism, Islam and Judaism. Note that it recognises only one branch of Christianity.

More interesting to me, though, was that, last summer, Xenia Dennen visited Buryatia, a traditionally Buddhist part of Siberia.

“In Buryatia,” she said last night, “I met some shamans. They weren’t exactly what I had expected. They wore shirts and ties and had mobiles going off during our interview. The chief sat at the head of a table in a splendid wooden chair with a high back with carved eagle and other creatures adorning its back.

The interesting Buryatia countryside just south of Ulan-Ude

The interesting Buryatia countryside just south of Ulan-Ude

“We sat in what was a small wooden hut on a hillside overlooking Ulan-Ude. This was the headquarters of the Religious Organisation of Tengeri Shamans – Tengeri, I gather, are gods of sun, moon and mother earth – to which 67 shamans belonged.

“They told us that altogether there were 3,000 shamans in Buryatia who were resurrecting ancient forms of Buryat shamanism which had survived during the Soviet period in Mongolia.

“They said: We are returning to our ancient roots.

“They said the sky was their main god with a large hierarchy beneath it, but they reassured us that they didn’t dabble in black magic, which never worked. They only wanted to ‘do good’.

Today, they said,  demands the resurrection of these ancient rituals as many current illnesses are incurable… We can influence the elements… We could put out the fires in California, in Chita, in Krasnoyarsk… We can deal with global warming, tornadoes, floods… We worship the gods which the West has forgotten… If the West does not recognise these gods, then these problems will continue… How many people will die if shamanism is not accepted?

“Despite the grimness of these warnings,” said Xenia Dennen last night, “I found them a very friendly lot. But, of course, I think they might have appeared rather different in their shaman robes and in a trance. Not at all cosy, I suspect.”

But I find it somehow reassuring that there are still people out there who believe in the sky.

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England beat India in egg roulette + paranoia, killing baby girls, massacres

Egg smashes on forehead in Amritsar Test Match

Egg smashes on forehead in First Test Match at Amritsar

Almost a fortnight ago, I blogged about Andy Dunlop, president of the World Egg Throwing Federation, heading a team of top English egg throwers  bound for India for an acclimatisation period before Team England (surreally including a Scotsman) faced the might of India in a historic First Indian Test Match in the Russian Egg Roulette Series.

They cracked it.

Andy and the team have now returned to Britain in triumph.

You can see the BBC TV report here.

Yesterday, constantly interrupted by calls from the BBC and other media outlets desperate for puns about sporting eggsellence, he told me what had happened in India…

____________________________________________________________

We went to India for a couple of reasons.

To teach 1.2 billion people how to play Russian Egg Roulette.

And to assist/promote the campaign to end polio.

The former we excelled at, though we may not have quite reached our target figure.

The latter… we are getting there.

This is likely to be the 3rd year with no new polio cases in India, but there is still work to be done in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria. Over 20 innoculators have been killed this year in those countries due to religious-based fear, so they are going to be difficult to crack.

Our Indian trip took us Delhi, Lucknow and then to Amritsar. In the course of 10 days, we see-sawed from Upper Class opulence to the depths of destitution. You have to see and smell it to really experience it but, even then, you can’t with your full belly and the knowledge that, soon afterwards, you will be back in a 5 star hotel supping a beer which would cost the locals a week’s wages.

In Dehli we took part in pre-event publicity for the polio National Immunisation Day, when 172 million children under the age of five would receive 2 drops of vaccine in their mouths.

Then on to Lucknow, where we did more press and then went out into the Muslim community to assist the local teams. We were clad in bright yellow polo shirts adorned in Polio symbols, getting people into the booths, stopping traffic and explained that we weren’t there as part of a US-led conspiracy to sterilise the kids but to rid their community of polio. Suspicion, though, was deep and was openly displayed.

On our second day there, we did mop-ups: going from house to house, knocking on doors, child catching anyone who couldn’t reach over their heads to touch their opposite ear (a sign that they are under five) and didn’t have the little fingernail on the left hand painted purple.

When that process finished, we were whisked off to a Rotary-sponsored orphanage to see how they look after the abandoned children. Two of the youngest babies there had been brought in the week before after being found deposited on a rubbish dump.

A hundred or so tiny kids were being looked after and were looking after each other. The blind and autistic were being led by the able-bodied.  Great work was being done, but we noticed there were only three girl children.

It seems that girls are usually killed before being dumped… but the papers report that female infanticide is reducing.

Amritsar plays host to the First Egg Test Match next week

The Golden Temple in Amritsar: 45,000 are fed free each day

In Amritsar, we marvelled at the Golden Temple and the volunteer teams who run the kitchens which enable 45,000 visitors to be fed for free each day.

We learnt about the massacre in Amritsar in 1919, about Udham Singh, freedom fighters, revenge and modern day terrorism.

They didn’t mention the last, but the armed guards in the streets, the arrests and  recent events told us we were in  place of potential danger.

They didn’t mention the anti-Sikh riots which killed 3,000-4,000  in recent times, nor the fact that the 1919 massacre was carried out by local Sepoys and Gurkhas under the command of the Brits.

We visited the memorial to the 1919 massacre but we were not shown any memorial to the 1984 massacres.

________________________________________________________________________________________

Wikipedia currently has a page listing some of the massacres in India. So it goes.

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