Category Archives: Spain

85-year-old Lynn Ruth Miller tries out her 68-year-old Spanish in Barcelona

And so we continue the globetrotting adventures of 85-year-old London-based American comic and occasional burlesque performer Lynn Ruth Miller


The artful Lynn Ruth Miller in Barcelona

I was in Barcelona again. It is a wonderful place to wander. It has narrow, winding streets filled with art galleries and expensive shops.  

I took Spanish 68 years ago, my freshman year at the University of Michigan, and I was quite good at it.  

All the football players took that class because it was so easy and we had the captain in our class: Señor Perez. I managed to teach him several words because he had trouble reading. (He was a football player; the university did not accept him for his literary abilities.) 

I still remember the vocabulary I drummed into his head but I never got a chance to use those words with real Spaniards until I visited Barcelona. 

When I checked in at my hotel, I said “Hola!” to the surprised young lady at the front desk and it made her smile. 

I explained (in English, of course): “I am a professional comedian and my job is to make people laugh.”  

She laughed.  

“Gracias!” I said.  

“De Nada,” she said (with a very thick accent) and I actually understood her.  

I can tell you I felt very Spanish as I tangoed up to my room in the attic of the hotel.  

It was a small room, just about the size of a telephone booth, but it had an unusual feature. The back wall was actually a skylight. You pushed a button to make the shade come down and block the light.  

When I pushed the button the whole room shook, which helped me get my circulation going. 

I thought that was a nice feature in addition to fresh towels and soap. It made up for the hotel not providing a kettle.

Lynn Ruth and Christine go Catalan

My companion this time was Christine, a superb artist who lived in Barcelona for over two years before she returned to Brighton to remind herself that she was really English. Her Spanish is REALLY good and she said wonderfully melodic things like “Por favor” and “No hablo español”.  She was really a great help to me when I tried to order food at the restaurants while I was in town. 

The first night we were there, we went to a Spanish bodega and I tried to order typical native cuisine. I asked Christine to get me a burger with fries. She smiled at the waiter and said something I couldn’t really decipher but the wine was wonderful.

The next afternoon, we happened into an artist’s studio and gallery. The paintings were huge and reminded me a lot of Picasso during his psychotic period.  

The artist was an elderly man with flowing gray hair and he had tubes of paint scattered everywhere. He offered to show us his technique but I explained that I was very old and my muscles weren’t as supple as they once were.  

Thank goodness he didn’t speak English.

Then Christine and I went to an improv jazz place called JazzSí where musicians rotate on stage and play marvellous, hummable jazz. I sat next to a lovely young man from Brazil who explained that this was the place where students could practice their music. I asked him if he played too. And he said of course he did – but not music.

That night was my show at Craft Barcelona and it was magnifique, as they say somewhere in Europe. Not in Barcelona evidently. I tried it and someone said they didn’t have that kind of tapa.  

On stage at Craft Barcelona after dog food memories

I have performed at Craft Barcelona twice before and each time has been an amazing success. This time, the host was Matthew from Perrysburg, Ohio, which was amazing to me because, during my salad years, I was from that very same place. I shopped at Kazmaier’s, the only supermarket in town. I asked Matthew if he remembered Bro, the son of the owner, and he said actually Bro WAS the owner now which all goes to show that even established grocery stores eventually change management.  

I asked Matthew if they still sold Alpo, the dog food good enough for people to eat. I explained that there had been a man in Perrysburg who used to buy a case of Alpo every week and when Bro said, “You must have a really hungry dog,” the man said, ”It isn’t FOR my dog.”

Matthew said: “That was my father.”

Ohioans have very strange taste. That is why we both left.

In Barcelona, the other comedians and the audience were mostly expats and I was the headliner. I did just short of an hour and everyone stood up and cheered. I was thrilled that they enjoyed my performance so much but Vinnie (the man who booked me) explained that wasn’t why they were cheering.  

They were just amazed that I had stood that long.

I always say you take your accolades any way you can get them.

The next day we ‘did’ Barcelona which is the most do-able city ever. I saw a woman sitting at a sewing machine sewing people’s names into cardboard for souvenirs and a shoe shop where the shoes had slogans like I LOVE TO DANCE and I AM CUTE and TRUTH CAUSES INDIGESTION.  

Christine and I indulged ourselves in very expensive Piña Colada’s and then we hurried over to Spank the Baby which is not what you think it is.  

It is a dance studio and my hero Pablo teaches the Lindy Hop there. It has become a tradition that I go there and Pablo dances with me.  

The long and the short of it for Lynn Ruth Miller in Barcelona

The problem is that, each time we dance, I get a bit shorter and Pablo gets a bit taller. 

This time the poor fellow had to go into traction after we whirled around the floor to Tea for Two 

I was not in very good shape after the dance myself. One of my lungs collapsed at the second chorus and my foot slammed into my ankle at the finale.

I wanted to thank Pablo properly in Spanish so I said, “¿Dónde está el baño?” and he said, “Adios, muchacha.”  

Which I thought was very sexy.

We wandered down some dark alleys on our way to a real Catalan restaurant and stumbled on another artist’s studio.  

This artist was Isabella and she was from Ecuador.  Her husband was an actor and she worked with glass and metal to make interesting goblets and rings. She created whimsical necklaces and earrings as well.  

We chatted about the importance of creativity and the joys of being an artist and I praised her work with one of my Spanish phrases, “Amo a mi perro,” and she smiled and said, “Tengo un gato.”  

“You are so welcome,” I said and we hurried to the restaurant where we met Vinnie and his new wife Dana.  

Vinnie is from Manchester and has a thriving internet business as well as a production company that books musicians and comedians.  

He took us to Los Caracoles, which is an old-established Catalan restaurant. The place was filled with antique paintings and happy people. We loved the food, especially after the fourth glass of wine.  

The next morning we said a sad goodbye to this lovely city.  

A drunk at the hotel front desk asked me if I knew what a homosexual was and I said: “Darling, I lived in Brighton for two years.”  

I thanked the girl at the desk with another of my Spanish phrases: “Hable despacio!” 

She replied: “All you owe is the room tax.” 

Christine and I stopped for a quick coffee and we both got a hug and kiss from an Argentinean who said he lived in London for six months. That was when I realized that you get a lot more than coffee at a Barcelonan coffee shop.  

As we boarded the plane to Gatwick, I shouted ”Muchas Gracias!” and off we disappeared into the bright blue skies.  

As soon as the sky turned dull and gray, we knew we were back home again. 

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Filed under Comedy, Humor, Humour, Spain, Travel

Where do comedians get their ideas from? And are they all mad or do their lives thrust madness upon them?

Towards the end of the recent Edinburgh Fringe, Scots comedian Billy Watson did a handful of unbilled gigs in an out-of-the-way pub.

This is what he explained at the very start of his hour-long show.


Billy Watson at last month’s Edinburgh Fringe

Billy Watson at last month’s Edinburgh Fringe

I was married to a Turkish lady and she, basically, had a series of mental breakdowns over the course of twelve years – because she was married to me, basically. Trying to make that shit funny isn’t easy. How do I turn that into a comedy show? It was a challenge.

I gave her acid.

The relationship wasn’t working too well and I gave her some LSD and then, three days later, she just went completely… I came home from work at 7 o’clock in the morning and she was completely out to lunch.

She started speaking in tongues. She’s going Argwahburgh! Speaking in tongues. So I think: What’s the fuck’s going on here? and I go to the policeman and says: Help me! Help me! The policeman told me to piss off.

Policemen are supposed to help society. He just ignored me.

After two days of this crazy woman – completely out to lunch – I got her to the doctor’s and the doctor was saying: Right, we’d better get an ambulance here – and she jumped out of the doctor’s window. Fortunately, it was on the first floor. But I grabbed her and she was that strong she dragged me out the window too, pulling my trousers down to my ankles.

I fall on the other side of this window. She starts to run. I start chasing after her and the doctor starts chasing. It was like a scene from Benny Hill. He grabs her; I pull her down to the ground. The medical staff turn up and they get this syringe of something, inject it in her leg and it makes her totally zonked. I was trying to get the name of it from the bottles. I thought: I could do with some of that myself.

They put her in a mental ward in Falkirk. She got sectioned for two weeks. That was the first one. Then, every eight months, something would trigger it off and I’d have police at the door.

Basically, we had all these break-ups, right? Because being married to me isn’t easy, right? And we had temporary break-ups. One time she went to Turkey and I thought that was the relationship finished, but she came back and said: I really love ya. God knows why. She wanted us to have a baby to try to save the marriage.

I should have known having a child with a psychotic patient was not the wisest idea.

So, when the baby started to grow inside her, I had to say I thought it would be a good idea to go and be a hotel entertainer in Majorca. I left her and went to Majorca to train as a dancer in Grease – I was 34. For six weeks, I performed in Grease. I was John Travolta at one point. It was awesome.

But she came out there after six weeks. She packed up the house to rent it out to have the baby in Spain but, after a week, she had another mental breakdown.

So I didn’t go in to work that night because I had something to deal with – I got her to hospital.

This is funny, isn’t it? This mental shit was good.

Billy at The Grouchy Club last month

Billy Watson at The Grouchy Club last month

I got her to hospital and then, the next day, when I went in for work, the woman – the boss of the hotel – says: Why didn’t you come in to work last night?

Well, my wife had a mental breakdown. I had something to deal with.

The boss, she says to me: Oh, I think you are finished.

I got a major red eye; tears were pouring down my face. My bottom lip was trembling: My wife’s in hospital.

She said: I’ve got a hotel to run here.

I said: Well thanks for your boundless compassion.

She’s just sacked me. I’ve got red eye. Then she says to me: By the way, for the rest of today, can you take the Killer Darts? This game. The fucking Killer Darts.

I said: Aye. I’ll take the Killer Darts. Here, you hold the fucking board. We’ll start with the eyes closing. Whoever throws the killer dart wins.

Basically, I didn’t go to work for the next six months. I had to hang around Majorca while my wife had the baby there. Then, six weeks after having the child, she had another breakdown, right? I grabbed the baby off her. There’s this guy at the door saying: What’s going on there? I say: Phone an ambulance! Phone an ambulance!

This ambulance comes, takes her to hospital again and I’m left with a six-week old baby in Spain and I know nothing about babies. I’ve got to try and look after that child for a week while she was in mental hospital.

This woman who rented me the apartment got some of her friends and came to see me and I just cried and said Why did I bring my schizophrenic wife to have a baby in Spain?

(At this point, a member of the audience interrupted Billy and asked: “Did you know she was schizophrenic when you dropped her some Acid?”)

No, but…

(“Well, it was the acid,” said the man in the audience.)

That… You would… Maybe, you see…

(“The kind of causation ends with you,” said the man in the audience.)

That’s why I probably stuck with the marriage for fourteen years, to be honest with you. I felt guilty.

Billy Watson at The Grouchy Club last month

Billy Watson at The Grouchy Club last month

But, after that, right, listen to this… She has had the baby. She has had a caesarean. And now I’m looking after the child. Then, after that, she was having a check-up for the caesarean. The pediatrician – or whatever the doctor’s called that deals with that part – he tests her and discovers she has cancer.

She’s got lymphoma, so we had to go back to Turkey, where she had an operation to take out the cancer, but she wanted to go back to Scotland to see what the doctors there said.

So we took her and her mother – who doesn’t speak English – back to Scotland and she got chemotherapy and all her hair fell out and I was working in a call centre and that was pretty bad.

So we decided to go back to Turkey and after about a year there I got a job as an estate agent and, after two weeks of me working, she had another mental breakdown.

At one point, she decided to jump out a fourth floor window. She was going mental, right? Basically, her dad wouldn’t take her to hospital for three nights. One night she had this purse on round her shoulder and she wouldn’t take it off: a very small purse. But then the next day, when the medical people eventually came… Remember, every time she sees the medical people, she runs away… I realise – Fuck! The window of the kitchen is open! She runs past me, heading straight towards the window. I grabbed the strap of the purse she had refused to take off… I grabbed that, pulled it, pulled her to the ground… another injection in the leg.

Afterwards I thought maybe I could have done something differently because, if she had jumped, about 50 of my problems would have disappeared just like that. Though probably it would have created 100 new ones.

The thing was we got her to hospital that day and this big, new, huge hospital said they didn’t have a bed for her. The ambulance people just dropped her off, then the psychologist people wouldn’t take her in and wouldn’t even explain to me what the situation was because she didn’t speak perfect English. Turkish people are a bit embarrassed if they’re not perfect.

The doctor said to me: Ask your father-in-law.

I said: He doesn’t speak English.

Anyway, they refused to take her and made us go to this other hospital out in the sticks.

Billy Watson (left) & Mr Townkey (right) (Photograph by Kate Copstick, courtesy of Billy Watson)

Billy Watson (left) with me and Mr Townkey (right) (Photograph by Kate Copstick, courtesy of Billy Watson)

We get there. I think: Great. I’ve done my job. She’s saved. She’s gonna be locked up.

I get a call two days later. She had escaped from the hospital, jumped into this big thing, broke her back and busted her leg all up, right? She still walks with a limp.

After that, I said: I don’t think this relationship’s doing either of us any good. Moreso you. So that’s why I ended up getting divorced. It wasn’t going too well.

Is this comedy gold??


Two days after this gig in Edinburgh, Billy Watson returned to Turkey where, as I understand it, he intends to stay.

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Filed under Comedy, Marriage, Mental health, Mental illness, Scotland, Spain, Turkey

I don’t care who my dead relatives were, but comedian Charmian Hughes does

My parents after their wedding

My parents after their wedding

My mother was born with only one hand. Her brother died of pneumonia when he was, I think, around 16 and she was around 11. She had no other brothers and sisters.

When he was in his early teens, my father ran away from home to join the Navy. But he was too young and they rejected him.

Eventually, he joined the Royal Navy when he was 16 in 1936, just in time for the Spanish Civil War in which British forces were not involved – although his ship dropped men off the Spanish coast late at night for reasons he was never told.

In the 1950s, he got tuberculosis and had to go into a sanatorium for a while.

My mother’s father, was a joiner and carpenter. He lived with us after he had a stroke.

My father’s father was a Merchant Navy captain

My father’s father was a Merchant Navy captain

My father’s father, was a ship’s captain. He died when my father was aged about three, so I never knew him.

Beyond my parents and grandparents, though, I’m not really interested in who my ancestors were. They’re in the past.

As far as I know, I am not in any way related to either Sir Alexander Fleming or Ian Fleming – therefore I am not due any money from penicillin or the James Bond books – and so I don’t much care what happened to unknown members of my family in the past.

About 20 years ago, some Canadian members of my Fleming family – whose existence we knew nothing about – tracked down my father and his sister in England. These Canadian Fleming’s were creating a family tree which they later sent to us. There was a surprising number of men in the family – about 3 or 4 – who died as a result of falling into the holds of ships – presumably while very drunk.

Arguably, other people have more interesting members of their families.

Charmian inherited her Victorian relative’s chest

Charmian inherited her relative’s chest

Last night, I went to see Charmian Hughes perform a rough run-through to an audience of six in her kitchen of her upcoming Edinburgh Fringe comedy show Raj Rage, about her trip to India to find out what happened to one of her female forbears caught up in the Indian Mutiny.

It’s a cracker of a story and I would not want to give away the twists and turns, but Charmian has more than one bizarre forbear in her family.

On the wall of the stairs at her home is a portrait of a distinguished-looking, uniformed man.

Charmian’s distinguished grandfather

Charmian’s distinguished grandfather

“That’s my grandfather,” Charmian told me. “My father’s father. He was Irish and was Postmaster General of India for about a week. He was supposed to be from Dublin, but you can’t find him anywhere if you try to look up records of his past. I think he re-invented himself. I don’t know why.

“And this oval portrait,” she said, “is either my mother’s great grandfather or her grandfather. My mother told me he was at medical school and, because he wanted to marry a woman his parents didn’t approve of, they refused to finish paying his fees so, my mother told me, he became what she called That other thing when you don’t qualify as a doctor.

Charmian’s less-distinuished relative

Charmian’s rather less-distinuished relative

“I asked my mother: What do you mean? A nurse?

Don’t be stupid! she told me. “Men aren’t nurses!

A physiotherapist? I asked.

No, no, my mother told me. You know… When girls don’t want to have their babies.

“He was a back-street abortionist when abortion was illegal. Women paid him with their jewellery. He lived in Cricklewood. They all lived in Cricklewood. The ten brothers and sisters all lived in neighbouring streets. I think he was the one who drank himself to death and, as a result, my grandparents didn’t have a drop of drink in the house.”

Charmian also pointed out to me an ornate carved hat stand in her hallway.

A hat stand nicked from the Russians?

Hat stand nicked from the Russians by Charmian’s granddad?

“My mother’s father,” she explained, “was a mercenary who went to Russia during the Civil War between the White and Red Russians after the Bolshevik Revolution and he came back with… well… with stuff. I think he was on the White side. Then he lived in Hertfordshire and he was a travelling salesman for a building materials company.”

Interesting.

Even fascinating.

And it is a very nice hat stand.

But I still have no interest in my own family background.

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Filed under Nostalgia, Russia, Spain

UK comedian Sarah Hendrickx setting off on a 800 mile cycle ride having only previously ever cycled for 38 miles

SarahHendrickxBlog

Sarah in Spain 12 years ago, when it all went wrong for her

“So just to check,” I said to comedian Sarah Hendrickx on Skype yesterday. “You’ve gone mad. On Monday, you’re going to start cycling 800 miles to Barcelona and you’ve never done anything like this before. You could go by train but, no, you’re going to cycle.”

“That wouldn’t be quite such an adventure,” Sarah explained. “That’s not so much of a personal, physical and mental challenge.”

“So remind me why you’re going…?”

“It was about the terrible thing that you blogged about,” said Sarah, “when I got stuck up the Sagrada Família in Barcelona and ended up going a bit mental and getting agoraphobia. So this is me going back to sort it all out and become a brave person.”

“And you’ve never done anything like this cycling before?” I asked Sarah.

“Oh, absolutely not,” she said. “I’ve never even slept in a tent before. I put the tent up in my back garden to try it out a few weeks ago, but I was too frightened to sleep in it.”

“This was in your back garden in Worthing?” I checked.

“Yes,” confirmed Sarah. “Ten yards from my own back door. The trip to Barcelona is going to be quite a challenge.”

“Have you been testing your legs,” I asked, “so you’re sure you really can cycle for 800 miles?”

“Noooo!” said Sarah. “I’ve been extraordinarily lazy… The weather’s been crappy and… no… I… erm… I’ve been working away from home a lot and the weather’s been shit and I’ve been lazy and… No…Not in any way or shape or form have I prepared for this. I went out once for a bike ride… Oh! And I also cycled to the beach, about a mile away from my home and had a cup of coffee and a cake.”

“So what’s the furthest you’ve ever ridden?” I asked.

“38 miles,” replied Sarah. “Once. In Oxfordshire. It was very sunny. And flat.”

“How much do you intend to ride every day?” I asked.

“I’ll have to do at least 50 miles a day for at least 16 days,” explained Sarah, “so, by Day Three, there are going to be children in campsites going: Maman! What is zee matter with zat lady? She appears to be paralysed from head to toe and unable to put her tent away!

“The main question,” I said to Sarah. “My main question is: Why? Just Why?

Sarah Hendrickx ponders her cycle of life on Skype yesterday

Sarah Hendrickx ponders her cycle of life on Skype yesterday

“Last year,” explained Sarah, “I went to this thing called The Adventure Travel Film Festival and there were all these absolute nutcases who had canoed down the Congo and suchlike on their own.

“None of yer Bear Grylles support vehicles. Just individual people who had headed off alone to do this mental stuff. And I was inspired by this. But I’m not brave enough to go down the Congo in a boat.

“So my slightly more sedate adventure is to cycle across France back to this place in Barcelona where things all went a bit wrong for me 12 years ago.”

“So the furthest you’ve ever cycled,” I re-checked, “was 38 miles in…”

“In Oxfordshire,” Sarah interrupted. “It was very flat. I’m allergic to hills. I don’t think there are any in France, so I think it’s going to be fine. And it’s all downhill to the Mediterranean, surely?”

“Do the words Pyrenees Mountains mean anything to you?” I asked.

“I think I might go round the edge of them,” Sarah told me.

“Can you?” I asked. “You can out-flank them?”

“I don’t know!” laughed Sarah. “By the time I get that far, I’ll either be dead or I won’t care! “

“When are you back in the UK?” I asked.

“I’ve got a flight booked home from Barcelona on Sunday the 16th of June.”

“So how long are you going to be in hospital in Barcelona?” I asked.

“The food’s gotta be better than it will be on the trip,” laughed Sarah. “Though I have been thinking of just hiding in my house for three weeks and randomly sending Tweets as if from France and Spain.”

“You’ll be doing things on your Twitter @sarah_hendrickx?”

“Possibly. And I’ve been doing a few little blog posts in preparation for it.”

“What’s your blog called?”

A Bird on a Bike.”

“Fair enough,” I said. “Are you raising money on this? You should be doing a charity thing.”

“No,” said Sarah. “If people want to give money to charity, they can just do that anyway without the excuse of me having to go and half-kill myself.”

Sarah preparing for her Edinburgh Fringe show

Sarah preparing for Edinburgh Fringe show Time Traveller

“But,” I asked, “ultimately all this is going to end up in your jaw-dropping and jolly jape-filled Edinburgh Fringe show Time Traveller in August?”

“It will,” said Sarah.

“Does your Edinburgh venue have wheelchair access in case anything goes wrong?” I asked.

“I don’t know.”

“What do your two children think about it?”

“They’re both grown up. They’re not worried about the physical challenge. It’s more my mental well-being: the fear that mother will go even more mad. I think the fact I can’t cycle that far is almost a done deal. They’re more worried by Do you think she’ll be OK out there on her own?

“I’ve never been anywhere for three weeks on my own. I think most people haven’t. Not without anybody. No structure. No plan apart from just to keep going. No-one to talk to. No-one there. That’s something I’ve never experienced for that length of time.”

“Can you speak French or Spanish?” I asked.

“I can speak a bit of French, though probably not the kind of French vocabulary I will need, which involves punctures and mental illness.”

“What happens if you really don’t make it? If you get stuck halfway?”

“I don’t mind. It’s the sense of adventure and what happens along the way that’s the point of it, really. If it becomes completely undo-able – physically or because it pisses with rain – I shall just dump the bike in a hedge and get a train and that will then be part of what the Edinburgh show’s about. It’s not about me finishing. It’s about me going for it and having a crack. People don’t push themselves out of their comfort zone. I want to. What could possibly go wrong?”

“Have the two words Cannibal Frenchmen ever crossed your mind?” I asked.

“A tough old bird like me?” said Sarah, “Anyway, I’ll be road kill by the time I meet any.”

“Are you going to be sending me regular updates?”

“Certainly,” said Sarah.

“You can Skype me,” I said.

“Then you’ll be able to see me crying in real time,” said Sarah. “I have a solar-powered phone charger. I’m hoping for some sunshine.”

“Normally,” I told Sarah, “I would say Break a leg, but that’s probably not a good thing to say. Lots of people do far more adventurous things than this, but they’re probably a bit more prepared. If Ranulph Fiennes were to do this, it would not be very impressive. But, if you do it, it’s bloody impressive because your adventure threshold starting point is lower.”

Sarah Hendrickx is not sad any more

Sarah Hendrickx has a message for you

“I have prepared a little,” said Sarah. “I’ve been reading this morning about how long your pubic hair should be to avoid pulling, chaffing and all sorts of unpleasantness. There’s all sorts of medical things you need to know if your backside is going to be on a saddle for 800 miles over 16 days. There’s all sorts of things you really wouldn’t want to know about, John.”

“The pubic hair detail is already more than I wanted to know,” I told her.

“Well,’ said Sarah proudly, “that’s the sort of preparation I HAVE been doing instead of going cycling.”

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Filed under Bicycles, Comedy, France, Spain, UK