Category Archives: Scotland

The most feared comedy critic at the Edinburgh Fringe and her links to crime

Could this wordsmith have saved you from a prison sentence?

At this month’s Grouchy Club meeting in London, I talked to comedy critic Kate Copstick, one of the judges of the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards.

“So,” I started, “you were trained as a lawyer in Scotland…”

“Yes, I did a law degree at Glasgow University because I watched Margaret Lockwood in the TV series Justice at a very impressionable age and I saw the original Witness For The Prosecution with Charles Laughton when my whole brain was malleable. I got this idea that lawyers were there to help people… I pause for laughter.

“I really just wanted to be an actress, but then my mum died very suddenly and my dad went to pieces and I thought: We must do something to cheer up my dad. What I had always done to cheer up my dad, my gran, my mum – anybody – was do something clever – win a prize, be first in the class, something.

“So I thought: Great! I will make him magically forget the love of his life to whom he has been married for 17 years has just died overnight of a brain haemorrhage… by announcing that I am going to do a law degree.”

“Very sensible,” I said. “How long was the course?”

“Four years for an Honours degree. And then, in Scotland, you do an apprenticeship and then, if you want to go to the Bar, you do devilling.”

“Devilling?”

“They call it pupilage in England.”

“You enjoyed your law course?”

“It was great. I was drunk through most of the degree.”

“And you were bonking…”

“Endlessly. I fucked people for the same reason people climb mountains. Because they’re there.”

On his death in 2015, the Telegraph called Joe a man of “integrity and passion”

“And you wanted to be…?”

“A criminal lawyer and the really, really famous guy who all the criminals in Glasgow went to was Joe Beltrami. He was a phenomenal lawyer who judged nobody and absolutely gave everybody the best defence they could get. They had never had any women working for them other than as secretaries but I persuaded Joe Beltrami and did my apprenticeship with them and it was – fucking hell! – a bit of an eye-opener.”

“You were not doing motoring offences…”

“No. They only did the biggies – murder, armed robbery, rape. So I spent most of my time interviewing witnesses, talking to the police, collecting bits-and-bobs of evidence at prisons or in the High Court. It was a TOTAL eye-opener.”

“At what point,” I asked, “did you discover there was no justice?”

“Fairly early on. It completely turned the way I thought about… the way I thought about everything. I had just come out of university. What the fuck did I know? Nothing.”

“Why did you stop being involved in the legal system?”

“One reason was that I was just getting so angry. Because of the unfairness of the system. You see an actual policeman standing there just lying. Not being mistaken, but telling a direct lie and then two of his friends stepping up and saying: Yes, I can corroborate what DC So-and-so was saying. Seeing that and knowing there is nothing you can do about it because the jury are thinking: It’s the police. So it’s true…

The Scottish media called Walter Norval Glasgow’s Godfather & “first crime boss”

“I learned more and more that you can be found guilty because your accent is wrong, because you look wrong, because you don’t know the right words. You can be found innocent because you have a posh fucking Eton accent and you can see the jury thinking: He’s such a nice chap; how can he have possibly done that? And there is nothing legally you can do about it, because the law is just a big boys’ game. If you try and go up against that, you’re not going to get anywhere.”

“I only know the English system,” I said, “not the Scottish system, but isn’t the whole basis of the court system that you are not judging whether someone is innocent or guilty, you are judging which of two legal eagles is putting forward a better case and which is the more credible liar?”

“It’s all shite, John,” said Copstick. “I was at the point where I was thinking: Well, if the police are going to lie, then I will lie. And, that way, absolute madness lies.”

“I once,” I said, “talked to (a former Conservative Prime Minister)’s personal solicitor. He was a top city solicitor. And he told me he would never put a Metropolitan Police officer into the witness box without corroboration because you could never guarantee they were telling the truth.”

“The scariest people I ever met in Glasgow,” said Copstick, “were members of the Serious Crimes Squad.”

“Joe Beltrami,” I said, “was Arthur Thompson’s lawyer, wasn’t he? So that is very serious stuff.”

“I never met Arthur Thompson,” Copstick replied. “But one of the clients I worked with was a guy called Walter Norval, who was known as The Glasgow Godfather. That would be at the end of the 1970s or the early 1980s, I guess. His speciality was armed robbery. He was another nail in the coffin of my legal career.

“This was a man who had stood like a colossus over the criminal world of Glasgow… allegedly… for many years with many armed bank robberies. Nobody particularly got hurt. But there were a load of sawn-off shotguns going around and a load of banks robbed. Generally speaking he was never at the robberies. He was the mastermind. You don’t get Mr Marks and Mr Spencer on the shop floor offering 2-for-1 on knickers.

Daily Record reported Norval’s 2014 funeral.

“Walter Norval was arrested. The big evidence the police had was that he had gone from the site of an armed bank robbery, driven home and parked his brown Ford Granada car outside his house with four sawn-off shotguns in the boot – like yer average criminal mastermind does. And that was what he got convicted on.

“I went in and saw him afterwards and asked him: Is this not driving you absolutely mental? It was all a lie! 

“He said: Well, to be honest, there’s a lot of things I’ve done that I’ve got away with and this I did not do but it sort of evens-out.

“And I thought: But that doesn’t excuse it! This is criminal policing at the highest level. And they’re fucking liars. I was just too angry. I was getting too angry. And angry gets you nowhere in law. Especially as a female. Emotion gets you nowhere.

“You have to know when you’re beaten. I would have ended up being found out to have fiddled something. It just made me so angry.”

“If a crime is committed in England,” I said, “the police investigate the crime and find the person they believe committed the crime. Then they go to the Crown Prosecution Service who decide if, on a balance of probability, they will get a Guilty verdict in court. In court, it’s nothing to do with finding out the facts because the facts have already been investigated and the accused is presumed to be guilty unless ‘proven’ innocent. In court, it’s about two trained liars in a competition to see which performs better.”

“Up to a point,” said Copstick. “It’s a game. It’s like chess. I think what you’re struggling to say is that there is a massive dichotomy between law and justice.”

“I went to a grammar school,” I said, “which was a bit up itself. So it had a ‘debating society’ and the most admirable thing you could do there was argue on and win a proposition you did not believe in yourself. To me, that’s dishonesty. But that’s the basis of the legal system. You are very argumentative.”

“Yes,” agreed Copstick.

“Once you decide to take one side,” I suggested, “you will argue that case come what may.”

“Now I can be Devil’s Advocate,” said Copstick. “Back then, I was completely incapable of doing that.”

The argumentative side of Copstick will be on show next month when she and I host the daily Grouchy Club at the Edinburgh Fringe 14th-27th August, as part of the Laughing Horse Free Festival. The Grouchy Club has been labelled by The Scotsman as “a talking shop for comics riding the emotional rollercoaster of the Edinburgh Fringe” and by me as “a rolling Copstick diatribe”.

After the Fringe finishes, the Grouchy Club continues monthly in London.

For anyone on the receiving end of one of her comedy reviews in Edinburgh – Best of luck.

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Filed under Crime, Glasgow, Legal system, Scotland

Scottish comedy – Getting mature?

Is Ben Verth pulling out his hair with his new venture?

Ben Verth lives in London and runs the new Monkey Barrel comedy club in Edinburgh.

“What is your real day job?” I asked him.

“This is,” he replied.

“What?” I asked. “Running a comedy club in Edinburgh while living in London?”

“Yes.”

“You make money from it?”

“Enough. I’ve never been massively rich, but I’ve never been uncomfortable. It used to be just two of us running a fairly profitable gig in a pub on Fridays and Saturdays. Now it’s five of us and our new 7-night-a-week venue. The club is not just me – it’s a collective.”

The Monkey Barrel comedy club opened in Edinburgh two weekends ago. It is a two-level theatre, café and bar space with a 100 capacity main room and a 60 seater basement theatre called The Banana Skin.

Ben told me: “My two big comedy club inspirations are Peter Cook’s The Establishment and The Comedy Store in London. But what John Millar – my business partner – and I most want Monkey Barrel to be is more akin to a National Comedy Theatre of Scotland. Or like the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh – a home for new and exciting writing and performance. We are not just going to be night after night of stand-up.

Monkey Barrel opening night

The opening night of Monkey Barrel

“We want it to be a great home to sketch and improv and comedy theatre too – and, with new media really guiding the development modern entertainment, we want it to be a studio for podcasting and online video content and production. Just a great house for ideas. John and I want to create a great comedy lab and see what happens.”

“Isn’t Scottish comedy,” I asked, trying my best to be provocative, “just second rate London comedy?”

“It’s not shit,” replied Ben. “It’s just young. Scotland doesn’t really have a strong gig infrastructure outside of rowdy weekend shows, so the sort of opportunities to perform are largely harsh and combative and local. It is not really a place for nuance and experimentation – not if you want to start earning money.

“Because I live in London, I can see first hand what the differences are between the two comedy scenes and honestly I think there is as much interesting and exciting comic work going on in corners of Scotland as there is in London. But, in London, you are just much more free to develop on long-established stages. Though things are certainly changing and even over the last few years comedy and comedians’ attitudes in Scotland have begun to mature and acts and like-minded audiences are beginning to find each other.”

“You used to be a performer,” I said. “Have you stopped?”

Ben taking a break from his Sabbatical

Ben taking a break from his Sabbatical

“I think ‘Sabbatical’ might be the right word,” Ben suggested. “I can’t run and market the club and feel like I’ve earned the right to perform there. I started off doing sketch comedy, but there’s no network for that in Scotland, so you find yourself having to become a stand-up. I was not terrible at that, but it didn’t suit me.”

“Why,” I asked, “is the new venue called the Monkey Barrel?”

“We were running comedy nights in a pub in Edinburgh called The Beehive on the Grassmarket and we just generically called ourselves The Beehive Comedy Club. But we knew we were gonna move and thought: What the fuck do we call the new club? How do you even come up with the correct name for something? So we knew ABBA had come about by putting all their initials together and so we put ours into a word randomizer. It was me (Ben Verth) and John Millar – and one of the things the word randomizer came up with was MERLIN’S HERNIA.

“For a brief moment, after a whole day of this bullshit, going absolutely insane trying to think of a name, we thought it would be a great comic name and we could see the figure of old Merlin all bent over with a wizard sign on the door. But then my missus said: That is an awful name! For God’s sake don’t call it that. Why don’t you call it…I dunno… Monkey… Barrel… So we said: Oh, OK.”

“Merlin’s Hernia,” I pointed out, “does not have a V in it.”

“It was right down the list,” said Ben. “It had been a long day.”

“How long,” I asked, “had you been running the Beehive comedy club in Edinburgh?”

“About five years. We had our 5-year birthday last January, but I mis-counted. It should actually have been our 6-year birthday. We were just doing it Fridays and Saturdays and the occasional New Act night as well. But, when there was a bit of economic uncertainty, people stopped coming to the New Act stuff.

Monkey Barrel, Edinburgh

Monkey Barrel is the new comedy contender in Edinburgh

“Now the Monkey Barrel is me and John and our regular host Rick Molland. Chris Griffin is the organisational manager. And a guy called David Bleese, a comedy fan, got on board for the move to the new venue. He used to work with John at the Royal Bank of Scotland.”

“Oh dear,” I said, “There is another club in Edinburgh doing comedy seven days a week. They might be rather vicious if there’s competition? I think there used to be five or six clubs in Edinburgh; then really there was just them… and now you… as competition.”

Ben seems to think the other club is amiable.

“After a rocky first year or so,” he told me, “the old Beehive club started consistently selling out and turning people away, while they (the other club) were also packing out their regular seven nights a week – something which has continued since August when we started our beta-test preview shows in the new venue. So, basically, Edinburgh definitely seems like it has an appetite for weekend comedy. We didn’t go into this with our eyes closed. So I don’t know if the city needs another club, but everything I’ve encountered over the last few years shows it certainly wants one.

“I’ve always been a promoter of some sort and, I think, a decent one – founding and producing The Edinburgh Revue at university, running my own nights at various venues around the city, building up comedy at The Beehive, creating the Scottish Comedy Festival. The real Yes, I can do this! moment came when I met cartoonist and writer John Millar who wanted to do exactly the same thing.  I had the contacts and the know-how; he had the business expertise and the cool head and same ideals and, it must be said, the most remarkable drive I’ve ever encountered,”

“And the new venue is where?” I asked.

“We bought the 17-year lease of a place on Blair Street, just beside the City Cafe.”

“Near the infamous sauna?” I asked.

Google StreetView’s take on Blair Street, Edinburgh

Blair Street seen from the Royal Mile on Google Streetview

“Ah, well, yes…” Ben laughed. “Saunas! We found out very quickly that the landline telephone number we had been given by our phone provider – the one we had started using as our booking line – was originally the phone number of a sauna (not in Blair Street) and it was still listed as their number all over Google. So 50% of the time the phone goes it’s people looking to book tickets.The other 50% it’s seedy-sounding men asking if they can stop by to see Mei Ling (she must be the best one, she’s the most popularly asked for), or can we send her round ‘with some oils’.

“My favourite incident was when a someone rang up asking who was on that night and I said Former Scottish Comedian of the Year Larry Dean… and we’ve got Michael Redmond and… and the voice on the other end of the phone cut me short and asked: Big Jessica not working the night, naw?

“We have been waiting six months to have the number changed. I feel like Mei Ling is the unsung sixth member of staff.  We should maybe start a MeiLing list.”

“Although,” I prompted, “the other organisers of the club are up in Edinburgh, you are doing all this while living in Ealing, London, because of your wife’s job?”

“I am up and down on the train all the time,” Ben said.

“You were born and bred in Edinburgh,” I said. “Do you enjoy living in London?”

Ooh no, missus! - Carry On Constable!

Ooh no, missus! – It’s Charles Hawtry & Kenneth Williams!

“When we first moved to London, we lived in Drayton Grove and, at the end of the road, is the school that was used in Carry On Teacher and the whole surrounding area is where they filmed Carry On Constable. Charles Hawtry’s trousers fell down at the postal depot round the corner.”

“You have a populist taste in movie comedy, then?” I asked.

“I think the greatest four films ever made were the first four Police Academy films. I also love Jon Pertwee’s Doctor Who”.

“So why not,” I asked, “go off yourself and make some comedy B-Movie with cheap special effects?”

“Maybe I will,” Ben laughed.

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Filed under Comedy, Scotland

Linked: the Krays, the Blind Beggar shooting and the Queen of England

Micky Fawcett (right) with Ronnie Kray (left) & boxer Sonny Liston,

(L-R) Ronnie Kray, boxer Sonny Liston and Micky Fawcett

So I was talking to Micky Fawcett. He used to work for 1960s London gangsters the Kray Twins.

“The Krays went up to Scotland, didn’t they?” I asked.

“I don’t think so,” replied Micky. “The Scots came down here to London.”

Arthur Thompson?” I asked.

“I don’t think he was there, but there was a guy called Richie Anderson. He was on the firm (the Krays’ gang) for a while; I got on very well with Richie. He was a bit scornful of… You know the two Scotsmen who were with Ronnie when he shot George Cornell in the Blind Beggar? One fired the gun up in the roof. They hadn’t been round for long; they were newcomers, but Richie Anderson was very scornful of them:. You know why?”

“Why?”

“Because they came from Edinburgh and he came from Glasgow.”

“That would do it,” I laughed. “Glasgow chaps think chaps from Edinburgh are ponces and wankers, not proper hard men.”

“I was friendly with quite a few Jocks in the Army,” said Micky. “In the five minutes I was there. There was John McDowell. To look at him, you would imagine he’d been brought up on deep-fried Mars Bars. He came from Maryhill…”

“Ooh,” I said. “Buffalo Bill from Maryhill. There are supposed to be lots of descendants of Red Indians around Maryhill.”

“… and there was a bloke who came from Govan,” Micky continued.

“You know all the best people,” I said.

“I like Scotland,” Micky told me. “In the Army, Scotsmen, Cockneys and Scousers all kind of had more in common. There was a good experience I had in Scotland. Me and another guy sold a feller a distillery.”

“Legitimately?” I asked. “Did you actually own it?”

“Anyway…,” said Micky. “We sold him the distillery. We had never seen a distillery. So we thought we’d better go and see one. We jumped on a plane and went to one of these little towns near Glasgow. All done. So we thought we’d go and have a drink in the Gorbals.”

“Oh good grief!” I said.

“I wanted to see it,” said Mickey. “I’m fascinated by that sort of thing. All the windows were bricked up.”

“Which year was this?”

“The early 1960s.”

“You’re lucky to have got out alive,” I told him. “An English accent in the Gorbals.”

“I’ve been up there since and the Gorbals has gone.”

“They’ve blown up the tower blocks,” I said.

“And I’ve been up Ben Nevis and around Loch Lomond,” said Micky. “I saw the Queen up there… On my first visit to Scotland in the 1950s, around 1958, I went to the Braemar Gathering and she was there in the distance.

Princess Margaret, 1965 (Photograph by Eric Koch/Anefo

Princess Margaret in 1965 (Photograph by Eric Koch/Anefo)

“I can’t remember where I stayed; I might have slept in the car in them days – I had a wooden shooting-brake. But, the next day, I’m driving around and I recognise Princess Margaret’s car, because it had been on the television – she had a Vauxhall Victor.

“I saw a couple of soldiers in their uniforms with rifles, just standing around talking and there was the Royal Family sitting on big blankets out on the grass. Just sitting around drinking out of vacuum flasks and eating sandwiches.”

“It was not,” I asked, “Princess Margaret you sold a distillery to?”

“No,” laughed Micky. “I can’t remember the details of the distillery. But we also sold La Discotheque in London.

“I was in the Kentucky Club (owned by the Kray Twins) and there was a feller who had run dance halls. Do you remember Lennie Peters?”

“The blind pop singer in Peters & Lee?”

“Yeah. and because this feller was in the dance hall business, the Twins thought that was exactly the same as being in the music business. It was confused in their minds. So Reggie asked this feller: Can you do anything for Lennie Peters? The feller said: No, I can’t do anything.

“So the feller came over to us – me and another guy who were standing around just having a drink – and said: Make you fucking laugh, don’t they? He’s just asked me if I can do anything for Lennie Peters? How am I going to do anything for a fucking blind man?”

“Later, I said to Reggie: You asked him, did you? And Reggie says: Yeah. The usual thing. I’ll chin him.

“I said: No, no, hold it a minute. We can do something with him.

“We?” I asked.

“Me and the guy I was working with. I had a partner for a long, long time. We worked well together. So we talked to this guy and found out how his dance halls worked and how they didn’t work and said: We can do something for you. Would you like to run La Discotheque? It was the first discotheque in the West End. A feller called Raymond Nash owned it, a Lebanese…”

“Nash?” I asked.

“Yeah. Not the Nash family. He was a Lebanese guy, a top criminal.”

“Lebanese criminal?” I asked.

“Yeah. But in England. He died not long ago and there were big articles in the papers about him. His daughter got caught by Japanese and – oh – if someone wanted to make a good story, that really would be a good story.”

Raymond Nash had also been an associate of slum landlord Peter Rachman.

“So,” Micky continued, “we approached Raymond Nash and said: Listen, we got a feller we wanna do a bit of business with, if you could make all your staff just salute us and give us the run of the place for a night… 

“He said: Alright, you got it.

“He got cut-in for a percentage?” I asked.

“No. No money for him. He just wanted to be friendly with The Twins…

Krayzy Days – remembered as they were

Krayzy Days – Micky Fawcett’s memoir

“So we went back to this feller – Ron Kingsnorth his name was – he had a dance hall in Romford – and we said to him: Listen, we can do something here. We’ve put the frighteners on that Raymond Nash and we can take over La Discotheque. We’ll take you up there, have a look round, see if you fancy it.

“And I forget the figure we got out of him – but it was a few grand.”

“So he bought it?” I asked.

“He bought the running of it from us and then Raymond Nash came along and said to him: What are you doing here? Fuck off!

“We used to do it all the time. That was my job.”

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Filed under 1960s, Crime, London, Scotland

Maybe the Scottish Nationalists should move the border south into England?

Nicola Sturgeon: the most trusted party leader in England

Nicola Sturgeon: the UK party leader who is most trusted by English voters

There is a General Election in the UK today.

Last night, I overheard a conversation at St Pancras station.

“Why do you vote for the Conservative Party?” one man said.

“I could never vote for the Labour Party,” said the other man, “because socialism isn’t a political philosophy; it’s a religion. You have to believe that, if you follow the true path and all the rules of the religion, then all the wrongs of the world will be solved like the wave of a magic wand.”

“But,” said the first man, “Labour is not a socialist party any more.”

Who knows what the result of the Election will be?

The polls say a hung Parliament.

Personally, I suspect there will have to be a second Election this year.

I have jokingly said to people in the last week that, if the SNP had put up candidates in England, there would have been a landslide for them, given that the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon is (according to polls) by far the most trusted party leader among English voters.

Welcome to Scotland - but maybe the border might move?

Welcome to Scotland – but maybe the border might move?

But, in all seriousness, I do idly wonder what would have happened if the SNP had put up candidates in Berwick-upon-Tweed, Carlisle and Newcastle.

In 2008, an apparently very well conducted ITV poll showed that a large majority of people living in Berwick-upon-Tweed wanted the town to be in Scotland not England.

When I was there a few years ago, the streets had Scottish banks, Scottish gas, Scottish electricity and the predominant currency used in shops seemed to be Scottish not English bank notes.

Admittedly there is ‘a bit of previous’ with Berwick see-sawing between the two countries in the past.

The Danelaw and Northumberland held power in 878

Danelaw and Northumberland held power in 878

But my local optician, a clear-sighted man, comes from Carlisle and he told me there was quite strong support – even if only theoretical – for Carlisle too being in Scotland not England.

With Newcastle and Geordieland in general, it would be more interesting. That area is almost defiantly proud of its separateness from the English South and it could be argued it is far closer culturally to Scotland than to Anglo-Saxon England.

Historically, in Britain, the north was Scandinavian; the south was Anglo-Saxon German. Although the Normans too, of course, were Scandinavian.

Northumberland originally stretched from Edinburgh down through Newcastle and south of Durham. The Danelaw took in a very large swathe of what is now England.

King Canute's domains in 1016_1035

King Canute’s watery domains in 1016-1035 included England

There has been an awful lot of talk about how the Labour Party could come second in this election and still gain power – with SNP support. There has been almost nothing about what would happen if you removed Scotland from the figures entirely.

As I understand it, if Scotland gained independence, the Labour Party would never again be likely to get power in what was left of the UK because, by removing Scotland’s 59 seats, Labour’s voting numbers would be scuppered.

There is an interesting scenario that the Labour Party would have to woo the SNP to gain and maintain power but, in thus gaining power, it would destroy itself.

Meanwhile, for no particular reason, here on YouTube is the result of the 1992 General Election vote in Greenwich. Comedian Malcolm Hardee stood in the election solely to get a free mailout publicising himself and his Up The Creek Club to 10,000 people which would normally have cost him over £3,000 in postage alone. All he did was lose his £500 deposit.

He is standing behind the right shoulder of the Electoral Officer who announces the result.

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Filed under Politics, Scotland, UK

Is this why the British government does not like amiable Scots comic Del Strain?

I managed to photograph Del Strain by Royalty Mews yesterday

I managed to photograph Del Strain by Royalty Mews in Soho yesterday. I felt some elation at this triumph.

“Are you a Scottish National Party supporter now, or still Labour?” I asked Del Strain yesterday.

“I’m at the stage now,” he told me immediately, “where the rotted corpse of the three or four party system has gone.”

“Well,” I suggested, “there’s only going to be one party in Scotland after the General Election.”

“The SNP is part of the problem, not the solution,” Del told me. “How about we have a society where, before you become an MP, you have to wear a lie detector to take public decisions? I don’t care if, at the weekend, you’re into dominatrixes or crystal meth or taking ecstacy… I don’t care so long as, when you come to work at 9.00am on a Monday morning, you’re all biscuits and gravy and non-corruptible.

“We need revolution, we need change, we need radical men to form this country into the next generation. We need to be world leaders, we need to make stuff, not just people who work for minimum bloody wage and Tescos, watching The Great British Bake Off while our children won’t have a National Health Service and will be aspiring to have teeth in a few years.”

“So it’s you and Tommy Sheridan against the world?” I asked.

“I would let Tommy run the country.”

“Free crystal meth for everyone?” I suggested.

“No. Don’t do meth,” said Del. “Meth’s a bad drug. It was invented by the US military so they could kill for longer in Vietnam. It’s a very horrible drug.”

“Everything was invented by the US military,” I said. “LSD was invented by the US military, wasn’t it?”

“That’s right. And the internet and false flag attacks.”

John Lewis store in Oxford Street, London (Photograph by Martin Addison)

John Lewis store in Oxford Street, London (Photograph by Martin Addison)

“But you surely can’t want Communism?” I asked. “The only place where Communism has ever worked is John Lewis and Israel – and Israel’s been at war since 1948, so that doesn’t really count.”

“Well,” said Del, “we live in a world now where neo-liberals have actually become Fascists. They’re the Thought Police. See me? If it’s 1936 in Spain, I’d be fighting Franco. If I was in Warsaw in 1943, I’d have stood tooth & nail with those brave Jewish people against the Nazis. But, at the same time, right now I understand the plight of the Palestinians. And I can say Muslim extremists blah blah blah and that’s OK, but the minute I say anything about Netanyahu or Israel, I’m ‘anti-Semitic’. There seems to be a whole lot of double standards and people trying to censor stuff that shouldn’t be censored. There’s dark forces at work here, John.”

“But,” I said, “there’s a difference between being anti-Israeli and ant-Jewish.”

“It’s not being anti-Israeli,” replied Del. “It’s being anti-Zionist, cos they’re extremists… Jew, Arab, Catholic, Protestant, black, white, it’s all bogus. It’s all just labels to have us all at each others throats and divide and conquer. There’s only one battle and that’s the battle between good and evil and rich and poor and that’s all over the world. The rest is just semantics.”

“Have you met Naom Chomsky?” I asked.

“No. I’ve met (punk rockers) Mick Jones and Joe Strummer, but I’ve never met Chomsky. There must be something to commemorate Joe Strummer better than an underpass at Paddington where people urinate. I would have him on Nelson’s Column. I would have Clash lyrics in the national curriculum for all children to liven them up.”

“So when are you becoming an MP?” I asked. “Comedians are standing in elections now.”

“I wouldn’t like to be an MP,” said Del. “Apparently I’m undesirable. They wouldn’t even let me in the Houses of Parliament during the War on Welfare or into a Select Committee on Palestine with George Galloway. I was invited to both and I got to the gate and I was told I was ‘an undesirable’.”

Del Strain in Trafalgar Square yesterday

Del Strain in Trafalgar Square with Parliament behind him

“Did George Galloway invite you there?”

“Yes. He wanted me to speak, man.”

“So why did they stop you going in?”

“I dunno. I presume it was because of my criminal convictions. They had a list of people who had been invited, but they must go and do a police records check before you arrive and it just had ‘Undesirable’ next to my name.”

“But terrorists are being invited to the Commons to speak all the time,” I said.

“Yes,” said Del. “You’ve got Gerry Adams. Martin McGuinness for godsake! But I’m telling you it happened to me twice – ‘Undesirable’. Twice. Last year. And I was one of the main set-ups: me, Francesca Martinez and Rick and Caro from War on Welfare; we were the ones who got the ball rolling. That got 120,000 signatures to the Select Committee.”

“Your criminal record is not for anything political, though,” I said.

“Not at all,” agreed Del. “And there’s no extreme violence on it either.”

“There isn’t?” I asked.

“The trick with extreme violence,” laughed Del, “is Don’t get caught.”

“It’s just drugs, then,” I said.

“Well, intent to supply, concerning supply, importation…”

“That’s surely OK,” I said. “It’s perfectly politically clean.”

“But I was, for a couple of weeks, every day, sending Tweets to the Conservative Party and David Cameron and George Osborne telling them a few facts about the nest of paedophiles that was running the country. So maybe it was something to do with that. Free speech, John! We gotta use it while it’s still here!

“They wouldn’t let me in. ‘Undesirable’. I couldn’t even go to Disneyworld with my kid, because of felonies. The Americans are shit hot on stuff like that. They’re just paranoid. It’s not even the drugs. They just see the words ‘felony’ and ‘British passport holder’ and, because of that guy with the shoe bomb, they just changed everything. It’s a paranoid world we live in.”

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Filed under Comedy, Politics, Scotland, UK

Why Jesus was not born in Scotland

Today, more news from this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith. She writes from Vancouver:


In Vancouver, Ben from Glasgow.(Photograph by Anna Smith)

Ben from Glasgow, making a living in Vancouver (Photograph by Anna Smith)

Ben from Glasgow tells me the reason Jesus was not born in Scotland was because they couldn’t find a wise man there.

Ben says he did stand up comedy in Toronto and was a jockey… I believe him… He has one joke after the next, is five foot one and knows about horses.

He told me he used to train race horses at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto, then he worked his way out west exercising horses or swamping out stables, asking for temp work at racetracks. At one racetrack in Winnipeg, they asked him what he could do. He said: “Fuck, fight and fiddle.”

He was hired right away.

Scots boxer Benny Lynch (1913-1946)

Scottish boxer Benny Lynch (1913-1946)

He says he is the grandson of Scottish boxer Benny Lynch and, as soon as I looked up Benny Lynch, I could see it. He looks just like him and has the same mannerisms. He told me it was no picnic for his father – or any of them at that time, by the sounds of it.

But he still is laughing. A very cheerful guy… mostly.

For some reason he likes me. He let me know how to find him. It might be funny to do a rigged boxing match with him. They say I have a good left hook.

Meanwhile, Mark Steck, the bearded  motorcycling novelist from Missouri who sold me his book Artless not long ago, emailed me from California. He is in a redwood forest, reading your blog, on his way to Mexico.

I am moving back to my boat. A doctor named Derek Human (Head of Cardiology at the University of British Columbia) told me last week that my heart looks fine.

Anna Smith is no stranger to the hospitals of Vancouver

Anna Smith is no stranger to the hospitals of Vancouver

He said that my hose is definitely not coming loose – if anything it is stronger, as the scar tissue is holding everything so well in place that it will never fall apart.

They did almost a week of various scans, including four hours in an MRI where I was played Baroque concertos, which made me cry a bit.

All my neighbours on the river are happy that I am coming back and are talking about how great it is to live where you can throw potato peels out of the window. I agreed. I told them how horrible it is to live in an apartment and put all the food scraps in a bucket.

Are they using the term ‘lumbersexual’ in the UK? I noticed that a friend of mine who is a civil servant has been looking more like a lumberjack every day.

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Filed under Boxing, Canada, Medical, Scotland

A desperate blog with Matt Roper about Lewis Schaffer and Marianne Faithfull

Matt Roper - a man barely alive after a bad night’s sleep

Matt Roper – a comedian barely alive after a bad night’s sleep

“I am a desperate man,” I told comedian Matt Roper, who has been living in my spare room for the last few weeks (with my knowledge).

“I need a blog. You said you have a sore back. What has happened to it?”

“I dunno,” Matt said. “It’s just the way I’ve been sleeping.”

“Or is it the fact you’ve got the weight of the world’s troubles on your shoulders?” I suggested.

“I’m glad you said that,” replied Matt, “because Lewis Schaffer needs to realise he’s not carrying them all on his own.”

“We’ve barely seen each other since you’ve been here,” I said. “Where have you been these last few weeks?”

“John,” said Matt. “This is not an interesting blog. Let’s get Wilfredo out.”

On stage, Matt plays the part of Hispanic singer Wilfredo.

“Nah,” I said.

Matt had been trying to persuade me I should interview him for this blog in character as Wilfredo in my back garden.

“My blog’s about real people,” I had told him. “It would be like Chortle (the comedy industry website) interviewing Alan Partridge instead of Steve Coogan.”

Lewis Schaffer (lefty) exercising in the park yesterday with Martin Soan

Lewis Schaffer, here talking to Martin Soan about ping pong

“Does Lewis Schaffer work at Greggs The Baker?” Matt asked me.

“Yes,” I said.

“Does he?” asked Matt. “What does he do there?”

“Of course he doesn’t work in Greggs The Baker,” I said. “Why on earth would he?”

His Wikipedia entry said he did last time I looked.”

We looked at Lewis Schaffer’s Wikipedia entry.

It had been changed.

“Don’t mention Greggs The Baker in your blog,” said Matt. “Lewis Schaffer will be upset by that.”

“No he won’t,” I said. “He probably wrote it.”

“I’m going to go out for a ciggie,” said Matt.

“Is there’s a picture in it?” I asked.

“John, this isn’t interesting,” said Matt. “We could invent a fake person specifically for your blog,”

“Lewis Schaffer is enough,” I said. “I’ll take a picture of you.”

“Get your garlic grotto in the background,” said Matt.

I have a Dalek grotto in my back garden

I have a Dalek grotto in my back garden & two weeping angels

“Garlic grotto?”

“Dalek grotto,” said Matt, correcting either me or himself.

I have a Dalek grotto in my back garden.

“How about publicising Wilfredo’s Christmas single?” asked Matt.

“Nah,” I said.

It started to drizzle rain.

“John, I can’t live in this country,” said Matt.

“Why?”

The British attitude to life - A glass half empty

The normal British attitude to life exemplified

“It’s just so painful. Everything’s expensive. The people are miserable. Everyone’s got this glass-half-empty approach to life.”

“But you’re from the North of England!” I laughed.

“Not as far north as you,” said Matt.

“Scotland isn’t the North of England,” I said.

“Maybe I should move back up North,” mused Matt.

“But,” I pointed out, “if you go too far north, you hit Glasgow, which is never a good idea. Talk about misery.”

“I’ve never been to Glasgow,” said Matt.

Glasgow - a fine and refined city of culture

Glasgow – a fine and refined city of culture

“Misery and violence,” I said. “It’s a heady mix. Have you really never been to Glasgow?”

“I was once in a cafe called Leopold’s in Bombay,” replied Matt.

“It’s not the same,” I said.

“I used to spend a lot of winters out there,” said Matt.

“The cafe?”

“India. I used to sing in clubs in the summer down in Devon. There was good money in it.”

“What sort of stuff?”

“Swing and jazz, all sorts of stuff.”

“Why have you never been to Glasgow?” I asked.

The show Matt saw on London’s South Bank last Friday

The show Matt saw on London’s South Bank last Friday night

“I did go,” said Matt, “to see Marianne Faithfull in London last Friday night.”

“Oh yes,” I said, “you told me you thought she should be a comedian.”

“She was very very funny,” said Matt. “She had a stick because she had shattered her hip bone. So she sits in a chair on stage with this stick, yelling at all the techies because the lights are too bright. Then she counts – One – Two – Three – and unseats herself grandly from this chair and all the audience applaud and she shouts Imagine! Getting a round of applause just for standing up! I feel  like Tommy Cooper! and all the audience applauded.

Tommy Cooper

The late great Tommy Cooper

I love Tommy Cooper! she says. I AM Tommy Cooper! My kinda guy!”

“So there’s a scoop for your blog,” said Matt. “Marianne Faithfull is a huge Tommy Cooper fan.”

I left Matt outside, smoking in the drizzle.

Inside, there was a message on my computer from someone I know who had better remain nameless.

“I am listening to Lewis Schaffer attempting to interview Stewart Lee on Nunhead American Radio,” it said. “Worth a listen. Total chaos.”

Sometimes I think: Should I continue to write this blog? Does anyone really believe Lewis Schaffer exists?

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