Anna Smith, this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent, lives on a boat in Vancouver. She has an exotic past.
And, indeed, present.
Exotic dancing is what we are talking about here.
This week, she told me about Finland.
I mentioned that the first Finns I ever met were an uproarious and paralytically drunk group of tourists in Leningrad.
Very very amiable but (literally) staggeringly drunk.
Almost every Finn I have ever met since then has been very very amiable but amazingly drunk.
This is what Anna remembered of Finland.
Trees and snow. Trees and Snow. Trees and snow.
Finland was the most civilised place I ever worked. There were saunas everywhere and sculptures of naked women, even in the post office.
I danced at La Scala in Helsinki for a week (which gave me the silly distinction of being able to add La Scala, Helsinki to my CV) and I toured the rest of the country for three weeks. It was the coldest February in decades.
La Scala was an ornate cinema on Esplanadi, the main esplanade on the Helsinki waterfront near the controversial mermaid fountain called Havis Amanda. When I danced at La Scala, the entire audience was composed of men wearing wolfskin hats.
The brochure produced by La Scala featured a photo of me baring my comely bottom and claimed that I was a “Upea Lumoojatar” (Gorgeous Enchantress). I danced to James Bond theme songs and emerged from masks and a cape, as the sea was frozen.
After years of poverty in England, I was enchanted especially by the food, which was included in my contract. I had shrimp cocktails daily and tried unsuccessfully to make myself sick of salmon, which I washed down with large glasses of thick piimä (buttermilk). Clusters of drunken men lurched towards me when I left the stage, pleading with me to drink with them. I cut a path through them by explaining: “Sorry, but I only drink piimä,” which sent them into convulsions and they echoed: “She only drinks piimä! She drinks only piimä!!!
I was followed out of the theatres several times by men – once by a beaming eighty year old who told me that I was very, very good at my work and that he knew what he was talking about because, as he said, “I am connasieur”.
In Tampere, an industrial town in the north, I was charmed to see the earmuff-wearing police. I performed in a vast hall that had no stage, so I had to dance on the floor in front of tables of pulp and paper workers. One of them was a woman who stuck her tongue out at me, but seemed to be enjoying my show. The sound system was terrible at that place. I could barely hear my music so I had to fake it as best I could, which was awful for me but the audience didn’t mind.
As I was putting my clothes back on in the washroom which served as my dressing room, the door suddenly burst open and a big drunk man came through it. He knelt at my feet and began howling out a stream of words in Finnish. I was standing by the sink wondering what to do next when four more drunk men crashed into the room. They were laughing but also apologetic.
“He wants to marry you,” they explained, looking back at me as they dragged him out of the room.
He was leaving a comedy show at 11.15pm on 4th July with about fifty other people when a man ran into the crowd. Shumka wrote: “He then walked up to me and my friend and said: Hey how’s it going? He pulled out a handgun, lifted it up to my head and fired point blank… I didn’t realize what was happening at the time, but I ducked. I ran away and heard him fire two more times.”
Blog photo of Dave Shumka’s head last week
Shumka was grazed on the head and has posted a photo of the injury on his blog. He said he still has ringing in his ears from the shot.
Meanwhile, a sidewalk chalk illustrator grew tired of drawing gigantic Mona Lisas on Robson Street, (the main shopping street downtown) and instead created an incredibly lurid reproduction of Judith decapitating Holfernes – a bad copy of the version by Caravaggio. There was a wishing well drawn beside it to throw coins at. I can’t imagine what terrible wishes people might make after looking at such a thing….
On Denman Street, a photo of Oscar Wilde has been turned into wallpaper for the back wall of a telephone shop, where he appears to be imprisoned….
And a frustrated librarian at the Vancouver Public Library binding a new edition of Philip Roth’s novels applied the library bar code to the book’s cover in such a way that the author appears to be muzzled….
Philip Roth’s Complaint – gagged by librarian’s barcode
It has not been a good time for authors, comedy or art in Vancouver…
As if all this isn’t enough, the bears have been acting-up again in the outlying cities…
In Mission, a man was knocked to the ground after dropping his children off at daycare…Local residents said they are used to being lunged at by bears, but that it is unusual to be knocked over. The bear was reported to be after junk food… specifically a burger.
The bears have been unusually troublesome this year…
I try to send you news of quaint things that are probably not happening in Borehamwood, yet are not horrific enough to appear in the international news…
I was about to go to sleep several hours ago but, as an exercise, I decided to look up another, perhaps forgotten, British performer – Captain Keano, the Covent Garden busker…
Captain Keano (Paul Keane) used to print his own money – headed The Bank of Entertainment – and give away the pound note sized currency instead of business cards. The notes had on them his phone number, a drawing of himself and the promise printed thereon: I WILL DO IT ALL – ALL YOU NEED TO DO IS CALL. How innocent.
My father was on an airplane, departing from Helsinki, last week. Thanks to your blog, he knew that Mr Methane was due to arrive in the country at any moment….
Finland is a good place to perform, as the audiences are eager for outside stimuli that does not emanate from Sweden or Russia. Also their interior design is excellent, making it possible for road-weary performers to get from the bed to the toilet without injury. And the food is good.
This morning, dramatic news from Finland via my professional farting chum Mr Methane.
Yesterday, at the first ever World Fart Championships in Utajärvi, Finland. the single and team events were won by two Russian friends, Vlad & Alex who had flown to Helsinki from Moscow and then made a five hour train journey to Utajärvi.
They had heard of the farting festival earlier this year on Mr Methane’s website and Vlad said to Alex: “There is a farting contest this summer in Finland. Shall we go ?”
Alex replied: “Yes we should.”
Vlad said: “There is more. Mr Methane is performing there.”
Alex is said to have replied: “Wow! I have already packed.”
Not unreasonably, they decided that the double whammy lure of a farting competition AND possibly meeting Mr Methane, their hero, was too good to miss.
“So,” Mr Methane told me this morning from Finland, “they came and won both prizes for Russia yesterday, establishing a new festival volume record in the bargain.”
Documented air battles raged in Japan between 1603-1868
Admittedly, this was not difficult, as it was the first World Fart Championships, although the tradition of farting competitions goes back at least to 17th century Japan where, between 1603-1868 there were “He-gassens” – fart battles.
In the 199os, a collection of scrolls showing some of these bitterly-fought air battles was sold at Christie’s in London for $1,200.
At yesterday’s World Fart Championships in Finland, Mr Methane was not competing. He had been invited by the organisers as a farting icon and the inspiration to a generation of Finnish flatulists.
Before the event, presented by local entertainer Phartman, both Mr Methane and I had been a bit vague about how the organisers were going to make farting into a competition and how they were going to decide winners. All was revealed yesterday.
Winning Russians Vlad (left) & Alex in the team event
“Contestants had to drop their trousers,” Mr Methane reported, “but they kept underpants on. There was a large egg timer and they had 30 seconds in which to fart. There was a decibel meter and a microphone in a pipe below the seat on which they sat. For team events, there was a double seat.
“Contestants had two attempts – not one after other – they went to the back of the queue. It was all about the volume.”
“How loud were the Russian winners?” I asked.
Mr Methane performed The Blue Danube to hushed crowds in Finland yesterday with backing from the Utajärvi brass band
“Sorry,” Mr Methane told me, “I can’t remember the exact decibel meter reading, but it was just under 90.”
“And the audience?” I asked.
“They were polite, enthusiastic and appreciative of my show which was the matinée intro to the Fart Championships themselves. I also closed the Championships with a long fart at the end.”
Russians’ secret weapon
“Did the Russians have any particular technique?” I asked.
“They told me they thought a particular Russian drink had helped them win the contest,” said Mr Methane. “It is non alcoholic but fizzy.”
It is called квас оцаковскии – kvass otsakovskii. Kvass is a fermented drink made from rye bread and is marketed in Russia as a patriotic alternative to cola.
Coca-Cola launched its own brand of kvass in Russia in 2008 and Pepsi has signed an agreement with a Russian kvass manufacturer to act as a distribution agent. So the kvass wars cannot be far off.
You read it first here.
Mr Methane tells me: “It tastes like fizzy Marmite. Vlad and Alex presented me with a bottle as a gift and then sang a couple of verses of my song Cut The Cheese (available to view on YouTube)”
“Did they get a prize?” I asked him.
The Russian winners with part of their prize
“Yes,” said Mr Methane. “52 cans of nuclear pea soup, the fuel that Phartman uses. Their two straight event wins mean that they went back to Russia with 104 tins which could be a problem at the airport baggage drop. But the organisers put their prize in a wheelbarrow and gave them a lift to the station for the 11.00pm overnight train back to the south.
“The weather had looked a bit dodgy before the Championships – overcast and showers – but it brightened up once the farting started and the sun eventually shone.
“I stayed overnight in a disused mental asylum in middle of a forest with Phartman who turns out to be a psychiatric nurse. It is very Soviet Union. The mosquitoes in the woods around the mental hospital have bitten me nearly to death. I am now off to catch a plane. There are strong winds here at the moment.”
Martin Soan (right) chats on Lewis Schaffer’s radio show
“I thought I was going to get away without building a sexual organ prop this year,” Martin Soan told me yesterday. “But the first order for a cock has come in today. It’s for a comedian going up to the Edinburgh Fringe.”
“Your FIRST order?” I asked. “How many do you normally get?”
“What happened to your vagina part in the play?” I asked him this morning.
“The woman sent me the script, I read it and I politely told her I was not an actor.”
Martin was once asked to build a prop for a comedian which, he said, was an “all-singing-and-dancing talking vagina. I used silk. It had hair and eyes. It was really scary.”
He may not be an actor in the traditional sense, but he walks an ever-moving dividing line between being a comedian and a performance artist, a prop maker and a creator of stage fantasies.
Mr Methane flying off to fart in Finland
And, talking of unlikely career paths and fantasies, we have the case of my chum Mr Methane, the world’s only professionally-performing farter who is attending the first ever World Fart Championships in Utajärvi, Finland. They are being held this Saturday.
He flies off at noon today, but may arrive in Finland earlier than scheduled if there is a following wind.
“I’m surprised they’re having championships,” I said to him yesterday. “Surely it’s a talent rather than a sport?”
“I would say it could be both,” he told me. “It’s a sport in terms of my kind of farting – petomania – because performing a full show like mine is quite strenuous and it requires one to be farting fit. I think the talent is being able to control one’s emission.”
“That is always a bonus when in polite society,” I suggested.
“Sometimes,” said Mr Methane, “when I am introduced as a professional farter, the ladies do not fully take into consideration the fact that a pro can control his emissions. That is a positive over your average male, surely?”
“I certainly consider it thus,” I said. “But do foreigners really understand the joke? Indeed, is it a joke?”
Mr Methane performed in front of guests including the country’s Foreign Minister.
“Things were apparently never the same again,” Mr Methane told me yesterday. “Or so I found out when I was invited as a guest on a Swedish style This Is Your Life TV show for Robert. The show’s producer wrote to Barrie, my manager:
“When Mr. Methane visited Robert’s show Ikväll in the early 1990s he stunned a whole country. Some was amused and some were appalled by Mr. Methane’s talent however – it was television history. None in Sweden had before seen this kind of a show. Robert’s show was a predecessor and Mr Methane was the one guest that made it happen.”
“When Martin Soan and Malcolm Hardee and the Greatest Show on Legs took The Naked Balloon Dance to Sweden in the early 1980s,” I said. “it was very popular there, but Malcolm told me he didn’t think the Swedes actually understood why it was funny.”
“I think Malcolm is partially correct but not entirely,” said Mr Methane. “If you watch the clip of Robert Aschberg crying with laughter and tears running down his face as I perform, it’s hard to believe that Swedes have no sense of humour. I think they tend to conduct themselves in a reserved fashion and this gives off that impression.
“Robert’s mate Gert Fylking, who held the microphone, could give the Greatest Show On Legs a run for their money. He was mental and did some really crazy things. But, then, he did attend a boarding school in Uttoxeter… His parents felt that an English education would be good for him and it obviously paid dividends.”
“Crazy things?” I asked.
“He had an enema-shitting contest,” said Mr Methane, “but his real party piece is jumping up and down on one leg, naked, until his cock spins round like a propeller. Both were performed on TV3 after they’d tested the limits with my act. He is a Christian Democrat politician now.”
Little House on The Prairie was a fine TV show
“I used to work for TV3 in the UK,” I said. “It is a fine TV company. I think they screened Little House on The Prairieundubbed. Do you think any one nation more attuned to the true appreciation of your farts?”
“I guess my show is best received in Australia,” mused Mr Methane, “though some Australians are touchy about it because they feel that the world sees them as crude and rude when they are, in fact, a highly cultured nation.
“My 1997 appearance on the Channel 9 Footy Show apparently holds the record for the most complaints about an Australian TV show. People were calling in to complain from remote places out in the bush that weren’t even meant to get Channel 9’s signal. The switchboard apparently melted. The Sydney Morning Herald wrote:
“The Footy Show panel turned to rubble, the studio audience was a mix of Animal House delight and gob smacked incredulity and the phones ran hotter than a Kate Fischer calendar.”
“So what are you doing at the World Fart Championship in Finland?” I asked.
“At 47,” said Mr Methane, I’m past my competitive age, so I’m there as a The Godfather of Flatulence – an inspiration to those who follow in my footsteps – or wherever – A bit like you get the retired footballers on Match of the Day.
Johann Strauss II was a fine composer
“I will be doing a fully-blown show there, but I will be pacing myself. I will be going at my own speed, not sprinting to a finishing line in the shortest time and I will be accompanied by the Utajärvi Brass Band in a special rendition of The Blue Danube by Johann Strauss. I see my show as a mature wine that should be savoured and not rushed so one can experience the true aroma.”
“How can they judge farts at the Championships?” I asked.
“I’m not sure,” admitted Mr Methane. “You could have The Longest, The Shortest, The Fattest, The Thinest… Hang on, this is beginning to sound like the theme tune to Record Breakers.”
“Whither farting contests?” I asked.
“I think it is an event that could run and run,” said Mr Methane.
“Any helpful advice for actual contestants?”
“Relax… But not too much.”
“And after your visit to Finland?”
Bob’s Bookshop (left) is a fine venue at the Edinburgh Fringe
“As you know,” said Mr Methane, “ I am appearing at the Edinburgh Fringe, with My Life In Farting at Bob Slayer’s Bookshop venue at 3.30 every afternoon, 13th – 17th August… Ring-side seats are still available.”
“And you are staying in my Edinburgh flat for that week?” I asked.
“Yes,” said Mr Methane.
“Oh dear,” I said.
As I was about to post this blog, I got a mobile phone text from Mr Methane. It read:
“I’m hearing reports of a fart on The Archers. Not sure if true but, if so, you’d think they would have brought me in to do it. We both missed some publicity there.”
(This was also published by the Indian news site WSN)
Last night, I dreamt that Scots comedienne Janey Godley had asked me to find a lorry with a platform which rose, concertina-like, high enough to reach the tall street lights on the scene dock road at BBC Television Centre in London, although there were/are no tall street lights there.
I could not find the platform/lorry.
There was also something about being on a barge in the middle of England with surrealist comedian Martin Soan and seeing a pub levitating above the grass on the bank of a canal.
Those were dreams.
But what I remember my chum Mr Methane telling me last night was not. He is the world’s only performing professionally flatulist.
He farts for a living.
Last night, he told me rather excitedly that he will be appearing as a guest performer (though not competing) in the first ever World Fart Championships on 13th July in Utajärvi, Finland.
The World Fart Championships are being held on the fringe of the fifth Open Mudsoccer Finnish Championship Tournament.
According to the official publicity, perhaps losing some clarity in translation, this event last year “was quite a success. It was noticed as well in newspapers as on TV-channels, also outside of Finland. An international betting company even offered odds for the winning fart decibels. As it’s a well known fact, that Finnish madness has no limits what so ever, we decided to expand this happening to World Fart Championships. Basically it’s all about fart sound volume: competitor who produces the loudest fart, wins!”
The competition rules, released yesterday and perhaps also losing some clarity in the translation, are:
Individual Competition Rules:
Series: one, “free-for-all”.
Execution time: 30 seconds.
Referee has the right to accept or reject the performance.
Doping is permitted.
Pants or trousers are mandatory.
Participants are responsible for their own insurances.
There is no entry fee.
With decibelmeter measured loudest fart sound volume wins.
Team Competition Rules:
There are three members in each team.
Two members are on the fartpipe at a time, third one is a substitute.
Each team has two efforts.
Execution time: 30 seconds per effort.
Referee has the right to accept or reject performance.
Doping is permitted.
Pants or trousers are mandatory.
Each participant is responsible for their own insurances.
There is no entry fee.
With decibelmeter measured loudest fart sound volume wins.
In small print, at the bottom, it states:
NOTE! Changes to the rules are possible.
A rogue website claims that “the World Farting Championship was first sponsored in 1911 by The Jonsun Fine Matches Corporation. The competition has been held every year since its inception, although the location has frequently changed”… but this is a hoax. It states that “apparently no city wants its name too closely associated with the event.” But this is clearly no problem in the case of Utajärvi which positively courts the association.
Yesterday and today have been days of me hearing about travel but not actually going anywhere myself except travelling for tea in Soho via a train in which the stranger opposite me kept farting… and driving from Greenwich to Borehamwood and finding the M25 turn-off I needed was closed.
“It’s comedy gold,” this nameless person enthused. “Writers and comedians all over the country must be celebrating. They say it’s all Rover? It is now.”
The reason this person cannot be named is that he told me a relation of his is an alcoholic who lives in Finland.
“Why does he live in Finland?” I asked.
“Because he is an alcoholic,” came the reply. “So, in Finland, he seems perfectly normal or even sober.”
This rings true. As I have previously blogged, I do not think I have ever met a sober Finn. Very nice people. But mostly drunk most of the time.
You cannot beat a good xenophobic generalisation, I find.
Take the cliché of the drunken Englishman abroad…
From Australia yesterday, I got two e-mails from English comedian Bob Slayer, a would-be Foreign Correspondent for this very So It Goes blog which you are reading.
The first e-mail read:
“I did warn you that the combination of alcohol and an iPad could make some of my reports incomprehensible. I am currently full of drink in a Burger King (they call them Hungry Jack’s out here) where they have free interweb. I will get a bus to the airport and fly to Perth. Where it is hot. I have no more energy to type anything of note. Goodbye Melbourne, you beautiful backward en-trend land of ladies in summery dresses and cowboy boots – I will miss you.”
The second, later, e-mail read:
“I have arrived in Perth and one wheel has fallen off my suitcase (I had already lost a handle in Melbourne). This is somewhat impeding my progress.”
Bob Slayer has always told me that his decision to enter the world of comedy as a stand-up (after ten years behind-the-scenes in the music business) was made after reading godfather-of-British-alternative-comedy Malcolm Hardee’s autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake.
I have always had a suspicion that Bob mis-read Malcolm’s character in the book and got the idea that he was a very loud, constantly-drunk, OTT extrovert anarchist. In fact, like many great characters, Malcolm was a rather shy, occasionally drunk, occasionally OTT introverted extrovert with anarchic tendencies.
In 1985, I was in the Soviet Union – firstly Russia and then what was, at that time, called Soviet Central Asia. On the trip, I kept encountering a group of holidaying Finns. This is the shortened version of my diary entries about what happened…
Saturday 27 April – Moscow
In the evening, at the hotel, we encountered a group – about 20 or 25 of them – of absolutely roaring-drunk but very amiable Finns. They were swaying around in the foyer greeting each other loudly and embracing complete strangers randomly in a language which sounded like a tape-recorder playing speech at twice its normal speed. They were staggering, almost rolling, around trying to strike up conversations with all and sundry. Apparently Finns get cheap boats or planes to Leningrad, laden down with denim jeans which they sell for gallons of vodka and which they then have to drink before returning to Finland. The drinking laws are very strict in Finland.
Sunday 28 April – Moscow
Over breakfast, the amiable Finns are still paralytically drunk. Later, in a corridor, I hear people talking in broken English about belly-dancers. Yes, it is a couple of Finns talking to a complete stranger who is utterly bemused, slightly frightened and is looking round asking for help with his eyes. Suddenly another grossly-fat, drunken Finn staggers out of a doorway, naked from the waist up, his stomach bouncing and gyrating dramatically as he laughs:
“Belly dancer!” he shouts at the top of his voice. “Belly dancer!”
Tuesday 30 April – Samarkand
When we return to our hotel in Samarkand, we find a drunken lone Finn wandering sadly around the foyer holding his head and plaintively saying to no-one in particular:
A hotel employee directs him to his coach outside.
At 1.40am at night, we get a train from Samarkand to Bukhara. The Finns are nowhere to be seen but then, a few minutes before the train sets off, we see two drunken Finns from the hotel being helped along the platform by four equally drunken friends.
“Bukhara!” they shout. “Bukhara!”
And then the others appear in one large singing, swaying mass.
The guard on the train looks at me and raises his eyes to heaven – an unusually expressive thing for a Russian to do in the presence of a Westerner.
Wednesday 1 May – Bukhara
In the train, two of our group – including a very strait-laced West German doctor, share a sleeper carriage with two of the Finnish men who enter and strip off immediately, moving the good doctor’s belongings whenever he isn’t looking in what appears to be a rehearsal for some slapstick routine. Meanwhile, in the other half of the coach, about twelve Finnish women strip off completely in their three 4-berth compartments and leave their doors wide open while they sing loud folk songs very loudly and slightly off-key.
When we eventually get to our hotel rooms in Bukhara just after 7.30 in the morning, we discover the Finns have somehow managed to reach the hotel first and there is a rowdy Finnish party in full swing in the room next to mine with riotous singing blasting through the wall. You can’t complain: they are just enjoying themselves so much.
Thursday 2 May – Bukhara
We are to be taken for an Uzbek folk song evening. My heart sinks. I come down to the hotel foyer from my room, the lift door opens and I am confronted by two Finnish men stripped to the waist, wearing very short, very bright red shorts. They have big grins on their faces. They have clearly just come back into the hotel from the outside world and I assume they have been out jogging, terrifying the locals.
“Bukhara!” they shout. “Bukhara!” and one plants a large wet kiss on my cheek.
Friday 3 May – Tashkent
We arrive at our hotel where a lone Finn stands by the lift, looking startled, with glazed eyes, clutching his bottle of Black & White whisky and swaying ever-so-slightly.
They must have drunk the Soviet Union dry of vodka and have moved on to whisky.