Category Archives: Surreal

A surreal book about a duck army written by a non-existent author

“Mankind has gone. There is now a fierce Duck Army that is determined to take over the world…”

That’s the pitch for a new children’s book Tag Tinsel – A Mission Most Fowl by a non-existent author, Ryan Hasler-Stott.

In fact, Ryan Hasler-Stott is two people – comedy person and Teletubbies insert director John Ryan and Darren Hasler-Stott, of whom more below.

So I talked to them…

John Ryan (left) with Darren Hasler-Stott


ME: Why did you write a children’s book? Because it’s commercial?

JOHN RYAN: No, because we’re both big kids.

ME (TO JOHN RYAN): I talked to you for a blog in July 2021 and you were just about to publish A Mission Most Fowl back then. That was over a year ago.

JOHN RYAN: I think we got a bit distracted. We built an extension. Covid Lockdown happened. My work went. Darren’s work went. He’s an electrician. I wanted to get a new bathroom. Darren is the go-to guy with ideas.

ME: You wanted an electric bathroom?

JOHN RYAN: We got carried away. It started with the bathroom and spiralled. Before we knew it, we were driving diggers round the back garden, digging holes.

ME: Hold on! He’s an electrician; you wanted a bathroom. Electricity and water… Not compatible.

JOHN RYAN: Electricity and water both involve currents.

ME: You have a point.

JOHN RYAN: We wanted to publish a book and build an extension. What I’m saying is we’re not limited by imagination. 

ME: This doesn’t explain the year-long gap in publishing the book.

JOHN RYAN: Darren likes to do things properly. 

Book published with more details HERE

ME: It was just going to be called A Mission Most Fowl. Why is it now called Tag Tinsel: A Mission Most Fowl? What does that even mean?

DARREN: The main character used to have a label attached to him – a tag. Tinsel was the name they gave him. You just put the two together.

ME: The two of you met on a writing course in 1999. Why did you need a writing course? It’s just going to teach you bad rules. There are no rules. 

DARREN: I think it taught us everything we did NOT want to be or do really.

ME: It taught you what you did not want to write?

JOHN RYAN: There were a lot of people there who wrote traditional stories. Boy meets girl; boy loves girl; there’s a misunderstanding; it all comes right in the end. Whereas Darren’s story…

DARREN: I did a short story. Basically about a guy on the run who’s being pursued by a bloke who’s dressed as a magician. A bloke who’s been diagnosed with schizophrenia for hearing voices. But basically he’s house-bound and the neighbour had a dog and, to keep the dog from getting bored, he played the radio all day – talk radio. So he’s driven mad by talk radio in isolation. 

ME: But again: Why did you need a writing course? 

JOHN RYAN: I was working for the Council and I wanted to write and someone said: “No-one’s gonna buy your writing if you work for the Council.” He said: “If you do stand-up comedy, you get to perform on TV. I didn’t want to do stand-up comedy; I just wanted to write for kids. So, literally for my birthday, I signed up to a Writing For Kids course, 

I couldn’t attend the first week because my daughter was going to be born any day. So what did they have next? They had a Creative Writing course. So I did that and met Darren. He supported me getting into stand-up. He came to all my early gigs. He’s got a great sense of humour.

ME: Whose is it?

JOHN RYAN: Terry Pratchett. Very much.

ME: So what’s your own sense of humour?

JOHN RYAN: More Billy Connolly.

ME: So Ryan’s a fantasist and you are an anecdotalist?

JOHN RYAN: Well, I have an observational eye. So, consequently, the Mission Most Fowl story then evolved from a traditional Good v Evil set-up and, along the way, Darren’s kind of Pratchettesque brain came up with ideas that my brain doesn’t even consider. There are a lot of weapons made from unusual objects.

Organic weaponry, exploding fruit… and ducks

DARREN: Organic weaponry. Exploding fruit, an organic supercomputer called MAD – Mission Accessory Device – a MAD computer. 

ME: You and Darren met 22 years ago and it’s taken you this long to decide you wanted to write together? 

JOHN RYAN: Well, no, over the years, when I’ve had ideas for stand-up, I’d run the ideas past him. So we spent a lot of time building an extension, laughing and going: “Here’s an idea!” 

ME: And the plot is…?

JOHN RYAN: Basically, there is a mighty duck army who want to take over the planet. The humans have left Earth. And the only thing between them and all the technology that Man left behind is our team of superheroes who live in a cave. So, to draw them out the cave, the ducks do outrageous things. The team will come out of the cave. And then the ducks will capture them get the technology and all will be well.

But it never quite works out like that. 

ME: They “do outrageous things”?

JOHN RYAN: Yes. So they set up incidents around the forest. They’ve got two brothers who love to dig holes. So they dig holes and set traps. But they can never remember where the holes are. Yeah, they love to dig holes. It’s what they do best. 

ME: When people write books, they’re usually based on their own lives or minds.

JOHN RYAN: I do get worried for him sometimes.

DARREN: (LAUGHS LOUDLY)

JOHN RYAN: We see this very much as a kind of Harry Potter for the 21st century.

ME: …with ducks… 

JOHN RYAN: With ducks, yeah. And, along the way, other animals… There are badgers. 

DARREN: The premise of the story is that The Darkness arrives and changes the world. The Darkness arrives. Humanity goes: “That’s it. We’ve had enough. We’re off.” So they leave the planet and the planet then returns to its default position. 

ME: Its default position?

DARREN: All the continents around the world come back together so you have one big super continent…

ME: Named…?

JOHN RYAN: Pangaea. Some animals perish in The Darkness and others go underground. Once The Darkness clears, the ducks – because there’s more of them than anything else – are gonna be in charge…

ME: You could get sued by The Darkness music group for defamation.

DARREN: We could.

JOHN RYAN: …but, prior to The Darkness, the animals were genetically engineered to work in the military by the humans. So, when the humans went, the animals that had been genetically modified bred and formed their own little cultures.

ME: CIA dolphins with bombs on their backs I can understand. How were the ducks used militarily?

JOHN RYAN: The ducks were a byproduct of it all because some birds were released that had been trained – interbred with other birds – to perform different tasks. So for example, you’d have birds that were hunters or security.

In our superhero team the cat is a psychic cat and she is an empath. The dog is a guard dog but he can breathe underwater so he patrols the rivers. The Aqua Dogs patrol the rivers. The battle chickens were bred for fighting.

ME: And the ducks…

JOHN RYAN: I’ve always had a slight fear of ducks.

ME: Because…?

“They’ve got faces.” – “Frenchmen have got faces.”

JOHN RYAN: They’ve got faces, ain’t they? 

ME: Frenchmen have got faces.

JOHN RYAN: Yeah, but they don’t live near me. You know when you used to go feed the ducks? I never liked ’em come too close to me. Never trusted ‘em. Also sexually they’re very violent. 

ME: Have you had personal experience of this?

JOHN RYAN: I have been to Fairlop Waters. And I’ve seen duck orgies.

ME: There are definitely no CIA dolphins with mines on their backs in the book?

JOHN RYAN: No.They might be in a further book. We have to get past the Yetis first. There’s a whole world of animals that…

ME: Yetis?

DARREN: That’s another book…

ME: Not Yetis…

DARREN: Each book will be a mission that the team go on. A series of missions.

ME: There’s movie potential here. Casting?

JOHN RYAN: Dawn French as a duck. There’s a bee and we see Ardal O’Hanlon playing that part.

ME: Is there a serious point too any of this? Are you sneaking philosophy into a children’s book?

JOHN RYAN: Yes. Heroes may change, but being heroic stays the same…

(… CONTINUED HERE …)

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Filed under Books, Children, Humor, Humour, Surreal

A bit of a chat with Robert Wringham – Part 1 – The Stern Plastic Owl man…

Robert Wringham describes himself as a ‘humorist’… His latest book is 2021’s Stern Plastic Owl.

His first book, in 2012, was You Are Nothing (about Simon Munnery, Stewart Lee et al’s comedy show Cluub Zarathustra).

After that, he wrote A Loose Egg (2014), which was shortlisted for Canada’s 2015 Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour.

His 2016 book Escape Everything! was a spin-off from the New Escapologist, a lifestyle magazine he edited and published 2007-2017 and which continues as a series of online essays. New Escapologist describes itself as “the journal of the art of getting out of things” and suggests that “work has too central a position in Western life”.

Escape Everything! was successful enough to be translated into German and released in Germany, Austria and Switzerland as Ich Bin Raus and then, in 2018, in South Korea as [] 탈출하라. No doubt to further confuse readers, it was also republished in the UK in 2021 in English as I’m Out: How To Make an Exit.

Meanwhile, in 2020, in English, Robert had written The Good Life For Wage Slaves, which was re-published in Germany as Das gute Leben.

He had also written a regular column 2016-2020 in The Idler, a magazine whose declared aim is to “return dignity to the art of loafing” and had written for a variety of other esteemed outlets including Meat, The Skinny, the British Comedy Guide, Playboy etc etc etc.

Obviously, I had to have a chat with Robert.

It would have been churlish not to.

He lives in Glasgow and Montreal (his partner is Canadian), so we talked via FaceTime.


JOHN: You have said: “The highest form of human activity is the shenanigan”…

ROBERT: It makes sense, right? What could be better than a mischievous, spontaneous act?

JOHN: ARE you a mischievous, spontaneous act?

ROBERT: That’s what I aspire to.

JOHN: You describe yourself ‘a humorist’.

ROBERT: There’s a thing on Wikipedia at the moment about the definition of ‘humorist’ which says it’s “an intellectual who uses comedy to get his or her point across”. And that nails it for me. I don’t want to think of myself as an intellectual, but I do like the idea that I’m trying to communicate a ‘point’ packaged nicely with humour, so you can get inside somebody. It’s the sugar pill, right?

“I think it’s to do with anti-pigeon…”

JOHN: Why is your latest book called Stern Plastic Owl?

ROBERT: That’s a theme. My previous similar miscellany book was called A Loose Egg because I got hung up on that phase “a loose egg”. It came about by accident, because there was a loose egg in our fridge back in Canada.

Stern Plastic Owl is a random phrase too. Like all comedians and writers, I have a notebook nearby at all times, including by my bed. There is an idea that sleeping should be when your fertile ideas come up although, really, what I write down in the night is gibberish. But it feels like it’s a resource I should use and one of the phrases that stood out was Stern Plastic Owl. I didn’t know what it meant.

So there is a story in the book where I try to work out what it means. It’s kind of a detective story in the middle of the book.

JOHN: So did you find out what it means?

ROBERT: Not exactly. But I think it’s to do with anti-pigeon, do you know what I mean?

JOHN: No.

ROBERT: An anti-pigeon device. You’ve got an owl and you put it up on your roof to scare pigeons away. There’s one nearby and I think I must have seen that and it came back to me in a dream. So I tried my best to write a piece around one of those stern plastic anti-pigeon owls.

JOHN: I’ve never heard of this before. Are you telling me, if I come up to Glasgow there are fake owls on window sills and roofs all over the place.

ROBERT: They’re everywhere.

JOHN: You were a stand-up comic.

“I never got a horrible heckle ever…”

ROBERT: One of the very brief things from my very brief stand-up period was my come-back to hecklers: “Sir, you cannot count the number of cylinders I’m firing on”. I’m still happy with that. I never got to use it, but it was just there on standby. I never got a horrible heckle ever.

JOHN: You were too loveable?

ROBERT: Probably too young. A lot of audiences are just polite if you look very young.

JOHN: Why did you give up stand-up?

ROBERT: My favourite thing was writing the jokes and fine-tuning them. The hardest part was making it sound good, sound spontaneous. I didn’t enjoy the late nights or the Green Room badinage. I have met a lot of wonderful comedians in Green Rooms but I never felt I was holding my own in those conversations.

JOHN: You wrote that one great climb-down of your life was “pointing your imagination in the direction of writing rather than performance”.

ROBERT: Well, that’s not really true. That’s just what I put in the book. It didn’t really feel like a climb-down. I just didn’t want to tell the story in the other direction which was I was travelling in a favourable direction to the thing I wanted to do. I didn’t think there was any comedy in saying that.

JOHN: Is it a book full of lies? Like comedy routines?

ROBERT: Oh completely. The idea of what is true is something that is always on my mind a lot. For example, my real name is not Wringham. My actual passport name is Westwood. Robert Westwood.

 I wanted to change my name and be a persona. So, when I’m on the page or on the stage, it’s a separate thing. 

JOHN: Why Wringham?

Agraman aka The Human Anagram, John Marshall, c2018

ROBERT: I was always entertained by people like The Human Anagram (aka Agraman aka John Marshall) in the 1980s, but I wanted to do something else. I like horror novels and there’s one called The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner.

 It’s of the age of Frankenstein, but it’s Scottish and I think that’s why no-one has given a shit about it and it’s unjustifiably obscure. The villain in that is called Robert Wringham.

So, when I moved to Scotland, I thought: I’m taking that name! It’s sort of similar to mine and the thing about that book is it’s about doppelgängers. So I thought: My persona is going to be my evil twin. He’s going to do the stuff that I don’t do in real life.

(… CONTINUED HERE … )

Robert’s books have been published in the UK, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and South Korea

 

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Filed under Books, Humor, Humour, Surreal

“See where I got shot in the head? Now I get dizzy when the weather gets cold…”

(Photograph by StockSnap via Pixabay)

A couple of days ago, I posted a second blog about Englishman Mick Deacon’s covid woes in the US. Last night, he sent me an email.

Yesterday, he had been out in a truck with his girlfriend. No idea why. I didn’t ask. He didn’t explain. He wrote…


There is this neighbour across the road from where I am living with my girlfriend. People call him ‘Shorty’.

He is a tiny man in his mid-to-late 70s and he’s way too kind in letting people use his truck. Often he doesn’t have it for days. 

They call 4-wheel drives ‘trucks’ here in the US.

Today I was out with my girlfriend in her truck and I noticed Shorty wobbling down the road on a bicycle. 

Then he disappeared.

I thought he had fallen off. 

I told my girlfriend: “Turn our truck round and make sure Shorty’s not lying in a heap somewhere.”

When we found him; he was pushing his bike. 

“I get dizzy when the weather is cold,” he told us.

He took off his woolly hat and showed us an indentation in his skull.

“See where I got shot in the head? One night, my wife shot me in the head. So now I get dizzy when the weather gets cold. She was younger than I was.”

Sometimes I am so glad to be British! 

It’s a shame really. There are some beautiful houses, parks and the lake round here. Some great eating places.

But the violence and shootings, the car jackings and robberies are really not what you would want to live in… I’m from East Anglia.
 

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The surreal UK Covid-19 self-isolation advice: Franz Kafka meets Catch-22..

(Image by TheDigitalArtist via Pixabay)

On the morning of Christmas Day, I tested positive twice for Covid on a lateral flow test, although I had no symptoms. That same day, I was able to walk in to a PCR test area and get that more definite test. Two days later, that test, too, came back positive. 

I had taken two lateral flow tests (morning and evening) on Christmas Eve which had been negative.

Current UK government guidelines for England said I should isolate for up to ten days from my first positive test. ie until Tuesday 4th January. But, if I took a lateral flow test which was negative on Day 6 and, 24 hours later, on Day 7, the rules said I could stop self-isolating.

On the evening of Christmas Day – the day I first tested positive – I had some internal flu-like shivers overnight; and the next night some lesser internal shivers. And, for the first four or five days of self-isolation, I had a new and persistent hard-edged hacking cough. 

But, by Day 6, I was back to having no real symptoms. 

However, on Days 6 and 7, I still tested positive for Covid.

Positive, too, on Days 8 and 9.

On Day 9 – that’s today – I phoned the government’s 119 Covid advice line because my attention had been drawn to the government’s own online advice, updated on 30th December.

The online advice said (and says):

“You should not take any more LFD tests (ie lateral flow tests) after the 10th day of your isolation period and you may stop self-isolating after this day.”

But presumably only if you test negative?… No. It doesn’t say that.

It continues:

“This is because you are unlikely to be infectious after the 10th day of your self-isolation period and should not take any more LFD tests after this date.

The italics are mine. And there is no time period mentioned.

What is said – and still clearly says – is that you should stop self-isolating after 10 days come what may and, in theory at least, you should never again under any circumstances at any point take any other lateral flow test.

Obviously that cannot be the intended advice – that you should never again take a lateral flow test. 

But the advice is clearly that, whether you test negative or positive on Days 9 and 10, you should stop self-isolating and re-join society.

This sounds mad and, I thought, cannot be the actual advice so, like I said, I phoned the 119 Covid advice line set up by the government.

Their on-the-phone advice was that, as a person triple-jabbed with vaccine, if I test positive on Day 10, I should self-isolate for 10 days although I could un-isolate if I test negative on Days 6 and 7.

“But,” I said, “the government website says I should not take a lateral flow test after Day 10, so I won’t be able to know if I test positive or negative on Day 6 and 7 of the new self-isolation period without taking a lateral flow test which, the advice says, I should not do.”

“That’s right,” I was told. “You should not take a lateral flow test after Day 10.”

“But, if I have to self-isolate after testing positive on Day 10, tomorrow, how can I know on Day 6 or 7 of isolating if I am positive or negative?”

“If you are negative you can stop isolating, otherwise you have to keep isolating until Day 10, at which point you can stop taking the lateral flow tests.”

“But I would not know if I were positive or negative without taking a lateral flow test and the government says, after Day 10, I should not take a lateral flow test.”

“If you do test positive, you have to isolate for another 6 days or until you have done 10 days in isolation and then you can stop isolating and do not have to do the lateral flow tests.”

They say Frank Kafka died on 3rd June 1924. I am not sure. 

I have always been attracted to surreality but there are limits.

I am going to return to daily life after Day 10 while keeping a healthy, well-masked distance from people and will wantonly keep taking daily lateral flow tests even though I have no symptoms. If I have two consecutive days where the tests have negative results, I will feel less wary… though not of bureaucracy.

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Filed under Bureaucracy, Medical, Surreal

I nearly fell down an escalator…

I nearly fell down an escalator in London yesterday.

Why do they have to have down escalators? Why can’t they all go up?

If M.C.Escher can do it, why not the London tube?

Then the Victoria Line tube kept making announcements that Tottenham Hale was a step-free station and that it had no lift service.

And then my Thameslink line trains ran to schedule.

Whoever heard of such a thing?

The world has gone mad.

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Dream ballet children and a politician

(Photograph by Brad Pouncey, via UnSplash)

Yesterday, I posted a blog about a dream I had.

I had muttered onto my iPhone what was in the dream when I woke up, dehydrated.

I vaguely remembered this recording-a-dream thing happening before and have just looked through my iPhone recordings.

I had indeed recorded a muttered description about a previous dream on 5th October. 

This is it below.

I have no idea what any of it means.

Look – I was half asleep when I recorded it.

These are the exact words…


In my dream, I had just arrived in Edinburgh and I went to see a guy I knew who ran hotels and he told me where I was staying.

He took me round to the place where I was staying, which was actually two buildings separated by a street and I said: “Oh, you’re doing very well. They’re both show-ers.” 

He said something about getting money from somewhere and, as we went down the street between the two buildings, there were lots of little girl ballet dancers going into a lesson in one of the big rooms, which was a dancing school.

Just outside, as we passed by, in the street between the two buildings, an Australian girl in her twenties was talking to a man. They were talking about some sort of act. She was saying the audience would not see the stilts they were on when they were on the surfboards. So that would come as a big surprise to the audience: that they were on stilts under the surfboards.

Rishi Sunak, Chancellor of the Exchequer

Meanwhile, going in to the dancing school with the little girls was Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor of the Exchequer,. He was wearing a small pink tutu dress.

I think this was in my dream because, earlier in the day, I had found out he is surprisingly small – around 5ft 6in.

The hotel owner guy was saying to me: “Where’s your stuff at the moment?”

I told him: “Oh, it’s at the BBC Hotel.”

I think that was in my dream because, earlier in the day, comedians Njambi McGrath and Sara Mason had been saying that, at the weekend, they had gone to White City House, part of the Soho House group of clubs. White City House, is a 2-storey club inside what used to be BBC Television Centre in Wood Lane…


The iPhone recording ends there.

Well, I did tell you I have no idea what any of it means.

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Twonkey’s Greatest Twitch, Princess Margaret and the Pub Quiz Mafia…

Paul Vickers with clock sans cuckoo spoke on FaceTime

Twonkey aka Paul Vickers is back at London’s Soho Theatre on Tuesday with a new show. 

Well, sort of.

I talked to him on FaceTime. He lives in Edinburgh.


JOHN: You didn’t play the much-cut-back  Edinburgh Fringe this year.

PAUL: No, because it kept wavering. I was due be doing it at Dragonfly again, but then that got closed for two weeks because of a Covid outbreak.

JOHN: You’re coming down south for your Soho Theatre show: Twonkey’s Greatest Twitch. Didn’t you have a Twitch show before?

PAUL: Yes, there was Twonkey’s Ten Year Twitch. This one is more like a ‘Best of Twonkey’ show.

The difficulty is selecting what the best is. I’ve just chosen what I think the best bits are and hope people will agree with me. I mean, really, Twonkey started as a joke and just got out of hand. 

It was something I did off the cuff. I didn’t think: Oh, I’ll be doing this for over ten years. I just thought: I’ll do one Edinburgh Fringe and see what happens. But then you get addicted; you get on the treadmill of doing it.

I am feeling a bit like James Bond, in the sense that I’ve created a franchise and I feel like I’m getting to the point where I’d like to pass it on to someone else.

JOHN: Who else could do a Twonkey show though?

PAUL: Princess Anne was on the list.

JOHN: Have you asked her? It’s worth asking because you’re likely to get a reply from some official which you could quote… Who else?

PAUL: Peter Crouch, the footballer. John Craven was mentioned.

Twonkey’s greatest latest seen soon in Soho

JOHN: Why would Princess Anne be ideal to do a Twonkey show?

PAUL: It was thought she might give it a bit of dignity. But Princess Margaret was the fun one. She used to get stoned with the Incredible String Band, apparently.

JOHN: And now it’s too late…

PAUL: Yes. But I feel like Roger Moore gearing up for Octopussy. It won’t feel like that once I get going again. At the moment I’m in that nervous period.

It will be like Diamonds Are Forever when I get going.

JOHN: You haven’t performed as Twonkey for a while, because of the lockdowns…

PAUL: Yeah. I’ve been more into band stuff. (More on his band Paul Vickers and The Leg in my blog of February this year)

JOHN: Are you going to do less Twonkey and more music?

PAUL: I think it might be a bit like that, yeah. We were gonna try and incorporate a band thing in the new show, but we’re not really ready: it’s such a long process with the band.

JOHN: Your shows tend to have music in them, but you mean the band could actually be part of a Twonkey show?

PAUL: That could happen. I’ve always wanted to do that. The main thing that stops me is expense and all the Edinburgh Fringe venues are basically just like a plug in the wall. It would have to be a big enough venue to fit six people with equipment on the stage.

JOHN: Anything planned after the Soho Theatre and before next year’s Edinburgh Fringe?

A cultural dessert – the Custard Club

PAUL: Well, I did write another show that I had been going to do in 2020: Twonkey’s Custard Club. I had an elaborate idea involving custard as currency and where desserts had become the main meal.

JOHN: That works for me.

PAUL: I was all geared-up to do it at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2020, but then all the lockdowns happened and I couldn’t do anything for almost two years.

JOHN: So why are you not doing Twonkey’s Custard Club as your Soho Theatre show?

PAUL: Well, I kept opening the Word document and I thought: I don’t know how I feel about that now… There had been enough time for doubts to creep in. Previously, there had never been enough time for doubts to creep in because, every year, I barely had enough time to get a coherent show together for the Fringe.

I think everyone’s gone through this thing where you had a structured life and, during the pandemic, it wasn’t there any more. And then you start thinking: Do I really need to do that any more? Is that important? Do I LIKE doing that? It’s quite stressful.

Paul Vickers and The Leg – all six members of the band…

All those things came into the equation, so I became a bit more serious. The new band album is quite serious. I got quite into that during the pandemic – crafting a really good album.

JOHN: What was Twonkey’s Custard Club like?

PAUL: There was a book that had 100 pages with the same picture on every page. It was a tankard and a sleepy/romantic Alpine scene. There was a whole bit about if that book did exist, how would you interpret it? You would probably automatically think there might be a slight difference between the pictures and start looking for it. But there was no difference.

JOHN: Was any custard involved?

PAUL: In that bit, no. It was not custardy that bit. It wasn’t ALL custardy.

There will be a couple of custard songs in the Soho Theatre show – the ‘Best of’ show – despite the fact they’ve never been heard by anyone before.

JOHN: Seems reasonable.

PAUL: If the gig at the Soho Theatre goes well, that’ll help me make my decision on what to do.

If everyone’s like You can’t stop doing that! That’s great, Paul! that’s one thing. But, if it ends with people booing and asking for refunds, then… (LAUGHS)

Twitch bound… the Wobbly Waiter from Twonkey’s Custard Club…

There are some amazing puppets that Grant’s made for the show. The Wobbly Waiter of the Custard Club has got leg braces and everything. It was going to have custard and wobbly things on the plate. You bomb about and create absolute chaos with him because it’s very heavy and impossible to control. So it’s the perfect foil for comedy activity. 

JOHN: You haven’t done Twonkey at all during the pandemic?

PAUL: Well I did a pub quiz as Twonkey in a little pub called The Hoppy in Edinburgh and that went really well. That was the first time I’d done Twonkey in ages.

JOHN: How does Twonkey do a pub quiz? Surreal questions?

PAUL: Well, there’s a lot of things I do that make it not work.

JOHN: Is that the basis of Twonkey? Making it not work.

PAUL: Essentially. For example, at the pub quiz, I was forgetting to read out all the answers and no-one had any idea who was winning, not even me because I had forgotten to count it up.

JOHN: What happened at the end?

PAUL: My brother tried to make sense of it all and we did crown a winner.

Woodland Creatures bar, home of an unconventional pub quiz

JOHN: You had hosted pub quizzes before?

PAUL: When I did it on Leith Walk, I used to do it at a place called Woodland Creatures. But the trouble with pub quizzes is that people take them very seriously and the Edinburgh Pub Quiz Mafia came round. I was like the new kid on the block.

JOHN: Who are the Edinburgh Pub Quiz Mafia?

PAUL: Well, there’s a few of them that do the pub quiz circuit. Some of them do five or six pubs. I used to think the host for a pub quiz was probably a local schoolteacher with a bit of knowledge and time on his hands but – nah – it’s much more cynical than that.

The Pub Quiz Mafia were like: What’s this guy up to? Because I was going against the conventions of pub quizzes…

JOHN: … like giving the answers…

PAUL: …erm… yes. It was controversial at first. I had one round where I showed a clip from a film and people watched it really carefully, thinking the questions were going to be about that clip… but then I’d ask questions about a completely different film.

Paul Vickers aka Twonkey – unconventional is now standard

At the start, it was quite popular. I had a dominatrix doing the score cards. She was in latex and stuff.

She was like Carol Vorderman from Countdown. She was the brain and the discipline of the quiz and I was like Richard Whiteley, sitting there not having a clue what was going on, but being charming in a way I suppose. If I messed up, the dominatrix would keep me in line.

JOHN: She would whip you into shape?

PAUL: (LAUGHS) There was no whipping involved, but she made it known she was displeased. And she got angry with people who weren’t behaving in the crowd. After she stopped helping out, I was just sort of floating because I forgot I was doing a pub quiz. And it turned out that really frustrates people.

JOHN: What were you thinking if you forgot it was a pub quiz?

PAUL: Well, I start off thinking: Oh, this will be fun. And then I lose interest because it’s a pub quiz. I suppose I’ve made it my own. You could say it’s just a bad pub quiz.

JOHN: You should do a bad pub quiz at the Edinburgh Fringe. People would flock to it.

PAUL: Maybe… I will send you a link to my new video: Everyone Loves Custard. It will be in the Soho show.


And he did…
 

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John Fleming’s Weekly Diary No 42 in a week of fishy things and phishy things

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 41

Posted slightly belatedly, this is the last of these Weekly Diary blogs and proof – if proof were needed – that 42 is not the answer to everything…

SUNDAY 1st NOVEMBER

Since I was hospitalised in May, I normally wake up with a bone dry mouth 8-12 times a night and have to drink water. Last night, although I had hiccups and heartburn shortly after going to bed, I slept through and only woke up once with a dry mouth at around 0600.

Are the Chinese pills I started taking last week having an effect?

Maybe.

MONDAY 2nd NOVEMBER

Something fishy in the US – President Donald Trump

It is the US Presidential Election tomorrow.

In the meantime, Dutch comedy judge and linguist Louisette Stodel sent me a fishy picture of salmon-faced Donald Trump with the message “Lox him up!”

I am much less of a linguist and had to look it up to find out Lox is Yiddish (and North American) for Salmon.

Also today, in the Netherlands, a metro train on raised tracks in Spijkenisse, near Rotterdam, crashed through a barrier at the end of the tracks and did not plummet 32ft onto the water and footpath below but ended up delicately balanced atop a giant polyester sculpture of a whale’s tail.

A ‘fluke’ accident in Holland and one whale of a tale of a tail

Apparently whales’ tails are known as ‘flukes’. Reuters and some excitable UK newspapers reported that, coincidentally, the sculpture’s name was ‘Saved By a Whale’s Tail’. But Dutch sources said it had the rather more mundane title ‘Whales’ Tails’.

What are the odds of a ‘fluke’ accident like this happening? Quite high according to a Fortean Times article I read years ago.

The odds of you being killed by a pig falling on your specific head this year make it massively improbable. The likelihood that someone somewhere in the world this year will be killed by a pig falling on his or her head is quite high. 

The most improbable coincidences and unlikely/impossible events happen every every day.

TUESDAY 3rd NOVEMBER

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. A sequel to Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.

As if to prove this, my eternally un-named friend and I settled down to watch the second Borat movie on Amazon Prime today.

I had seen the first film; she had not. So I helpfully explained that the people in the film were (mostly) ‘real’ people, not actors, as it is not necessarily obvious.

I had been slightly uneasy with the opening scenes of the first film when I saw it. They were set in Kazakhstan and were basically about laughing at people who were poor. I was surprised roughly the same thing happened at the start of the second movie.

But I was able to tell my eternally-un-named friend that, in my opinion, the first movie – which I had seen and she had not – had been better because the scenes were longer and the only bits which really worked in this second one were the sequences with some drunken students and a Christian meeting.

Bizarrely, when we got to the end, the much-reported sequence with Rudy Guliani being put in an allegedly compromising situation with Borat’s (fake) sister – and some separate much-commented-upon sequences with a babysitter – were not in the movie shown on Amazon Prime.

It took a bit of online Googling to see how and why these scenes were missing.

It turned out we had been watching the first movie not the second one and I had remembered not a single second of it.

My memory has never been of the best.

WEDNESDAY 4th NOVEMBER

President Vladimir Putin – a highly successful fisher of men

The US Presidential Election was yesterday. Today, no result.

Well it looks like, whoever gets most votes, Vladimir Putin has won… Either way he wins. Trump re-elected or America divided. All this and a thriving door-handle business. Putin is on a roll.

I got a letter from the NHS saying I am seeing the Calcium Consultant on 27th November.

THURSDAY 5th NOVEMBER

The first day of the second COVID lockdown in England.

The US Election still undecided.

Who knows what the outcome of either will be?

…Agatha Christie kept me guessing beyond the last page…

It reminded me of when, as a teenager, I bought a paperback copy of Agatha Christie’s whodunnit Murder on the Orient Express at the WH Smith bookshop in Ilford.

I got to the end of the book only to discover that someone had torn out the last couple of pages, so I did not know who dunnit.

Smith’s did not have another copy so ordered one for me.

It arrived about two months later, by which time I had forgotten the details of the characters and clues.

I never did know who dunnit until a film was made of it, produced by Lord Brabourne, who was later blown up with Lord Mountbatten by the Provisional IRA, in a boat in Ireland.

Oh what a tangled web life is.

FRIDAY 6th NOVEMBER

Phishing (Photo: Bermix Studio via Unsplash)

In the morning, my landline rang: a rare thing, as most calls are on my mobile phone.

The caller claimed that the insulation in my loft had been found to be dangerous and to cause mould and they would sort it out for free.

He said they were a government advisory group. When I asked twice who financed them, he hung up.

I don’t know what the scam was but, after the pitch, he only got as far as “Can I confirm you are the homeowner…” before it ended.

It makes a change from the normal scam/phishing line: ”I understand you had a car accident in the last six months that wasn’t your fault…”

SATURDAY 7th NOVEMBER

I woke up with a bone dry mouth about ten times last night and had to drink water.

Are the Chinese pills I am taking having an effect?

Clearly not yet.

It’s been that sort of day/year/life, really

The US Election has been called for Joe Biden but Donald Trump has refused to accept the result, claiming with no evidence that there has been voter fraud.

This is perfectly normal in the new world led by social media where, if you say anything, however fanciful, it becomes a fact.

In the afternoon, I received an email headed: demur we had around kinda placement for emergency pecuniary resource 8767178744116284

The message, in a reality beyond the fictional world of Borat, read:


Don’t expend all along you acquire, save and put at least, 10%-20%. This too bad is one after another of the commonsensible principles of personal finance. It is canonic wisdom non compos mentis to pass altogether your wage but to bring through approximately of it for the rainy twenty-four hour period. Unitary of the things you would discover if you scan the record book, “Rich Dad, Poor Dad”, is that rich people spare/place maiden and then pass the left while skint mass pass firstly and then write the odd fellow (if on that point is anything left). I am likewise really shamefaced of this. I sometimes incur myself doing fronting the compensate thing to do, and boast away my every week income on a weekend.


That is one hell of a piece of translation software the scammers are using.

The scammers have been scammed.

Fiction, fantasy and reality have merged.

The world has been spiralling increasingly out of control.

(Photograph by Norma Contreras, via UnSplash)

 

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“The Long Good Friday” sequel… God takes cocaine?… Weekly Diary No 38

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 37

SUNDAY 4th OCTOBER

In this COVID-19 era, the protocol on non-rush hour London trains seems to be that everyone sits on alternate seats, leaving a gap between each person.

MONDAY 5th OCTOBER

Meanwhile, Thameslink trains are dependable for their undependability. When I arrived at Elstree station at 1358 today for the 1401 train, the indicator board proclaimed that the next train was the 0931 tomorrow morning, expected to arrive at 0939.

After travelling by Thameslink, President Trump’s overdramatic exit from hospital in Washington and overdramatic arrival back at the White House after his COVID infection seemed less surreal.

One online reaction to President Trump catching the coronavirus…

TUESDAY 6th OCTOBER

I was talking with someone who used to work in the London Docks who told me that the nickname for the police there used to be “the cabbage”. Neither he nor I could think of any explanation for this.

He also used to know Barrie Keefe, writer of wonderful 1980 gangster movie The Long Good Friday who, sadly, died last December.

Apparently Barrie Keefe wrote a (so-far un-made) sequel to The Long Good Friday, centred on the tiny but essential character played by Pierce Brosnan in the original movie.

Keefe once told someone that Brosnan had no lines in the original film: he never spoke. The other person disagreed. Keefe (who, remember, wrote the movie) watched the film again and, sure enough, Pierce Brosnan (in the swimming pool scene) does say “Hi!”

“That’s actors for you,” Barrie Keefe responded.

I was working at ATV (who commissioned the movie for the ITV Network via their ITC/Black Lion companies) when ATV/ITC boss Lew Grade refused to screen it because he was outraged by the ending. It had been commissioned by Charles Denton, who was both Programme Controller at ATV and Managing Director of Black Lion, presumably without Grade ever reading the script.

I think the scene in which someone is crucified on a wooden floor in London must have been inspired by Arthur Thompson‘s penchant for doing that in Glasgow. My ex-London docker told me that the scene in which a widow steps out of a car to spit at a criminal was based on a real incident though, in reality, the man apparently just legged it sharpish.

If you have seen the movie, there is a clip on YouTube of Pierce Brosnan talking about The Long Good Friday but – BEWARE – there are major, major plot spoilers in it.

WEDNESDAY 7th OCTOBER

I was talking to someone who plays the online game Words With Friends with strangers.

Playing with scammers who have only a loose grasp of English

Apparently this has attracted scammers who bombard her with messages of a romantic nature – usually in broken English – Many of them, for some totally unknown and incomprehensible reason, claim to be estate agents (that’s a realtor or real estate agent if you live in the US).

I can only assume there is a school for scammers which provides a template suggesting would-be scammers masquerade as estate agents.

THURSDAY 8th OCTOBER

Is this the shape of bomb disposal technicians to come in the near future?

The UK Chancellor of the Exchequer has suggested that, because of the COVID-19 crisis and its effects on jobs, people should think of switching careers.

My diminutive writer/composer/comedy chum Ariane Sherine (her physical stature is relevant) took the government’s online Careers Advice Test on a whim and it suggested she should become an army officer, a bodyguard or a bomb disposal technician.

Her reaction: “This is clearly not the perfect career for someone with clinical anxiety and paranoia who gets freaked out by sudden loud noises!”

Inspired by this, I tried the Careers Advice Test myself. It suggested I could or should become a boxer, a jockey, a hairdressing salon manager, a Member of Parliament or a TV/film producer…

The government site, which also handles Track & Trace for the COVID-19 outbreak, may need some urgent attention.

FRIDAY 9th OCTOBER

An odd day.

I went into the Tesco store in Borehamwood where, among the free books, were copies of Rolf HarrisTrue Animal Tales and the violent Mafia memoir I Heard You Paint Houses (filmed by Martin Scorsese as The Irishman). I am not sure what this says about the reading or social habits of Tesco’s customers in Borehamwood.

“I am not sure what this says about the social habits of Tesco’s customers in Borehamwood.”

Later, I went into the Tesco store in Leytonstone and found the stand-up urinals in the Gents toilets each had an orange plastic insert bearing the word P-WAVE. I would like to have been at the branding meeting where they brainstormed ideas for the name and colour of this product. 

SATURDAY 10th OCTOBER

Anthony Irvine, the ever-inventive act formerly known as The Iceman emailed me, without explanation, an image of his latest painting.

I have no explanation. He had no explanation. I am open to offers…

But the sky today hinted that God takes cocaine. This could explain a lot about the last week and the current year.

… CONTINUED HERE

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John Fleming’s Weekly Diary No 36 – COVID conspiracies, tears and comedy

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 35

SUNDAY 20th SEPTEMBER

Donna Daniels-Moss tells me that Paul Eccentric aka The AntiPoet is punting another book The Periwinkle Perspective: The Giant Step, the synopsis of which is:


Is there amateur taxidermy in space…??

June 1897, and as part of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations, her expanding Empire lays claim to another new territory: The Moon!

Space Captain Gordon Periwinkle; the much vaunted Gentleman Adventurer (and amateur taxidermist), becomes the first man to set foot on Earth’s only natural satellite; bravely sacrificing his life on a one way trip into the history books.

The world is changed in an instant; the balance of power shifting in Victoria’s favour. War breaks out between Germany and America: the two world powers that had previously been the closest to achieving such a feat…

This is the story of the good captain’s attempt to get home, dodging an array of government assassins and foreign agents along the way; keen to use him for the own nefarious propaganda purposes.


MONDAY 21st SEPTEMBER

Writer/performer Ariane Sherine who has her latest book How To Live To 100 out next week is, like me, is trying to lose weight. She suggested we should have a competition and the person who loses least weight has to buy both of us a slap-up Christmas dinner. I have been losing weight in the last week or so, but I have a sense of impending doom.

Chris Dangerfield live from Cambodia, home of Colonel Kurtz

Eternal contrarian Chris Dangerfield got in touch from Cambodia to tell me he has a novel coming out “at Christmas”, which turns out to be 15th November. He tells me no more. I feel it may be controversial. Perhaps something along the lines of an autobiographical novel about his time quitting heroin while living in a brothel in Thailand.

Never one to make things easy for himself, a brothel in Thailand is possibly the least likely place I can think of to get rid of his addictions… He now seems to be addicted to posting two-hour interactive YouTube videos from his home in South East Asia.

After reading Chris Dangerfield’s email, I checked my Gmail InBox.

The number of messages it said I had was 666.

This did not fill me with untramelled optimism.

TUESDAY 22nd SEPTEMBER

In my last diary blog, I mentioned a local man – local to where I live – who wears bright clothes, has an over-enthusiastic moustache and, according to the Evening Standard, was once convicted of killing his brother.

(Photograph by Fusion Medical Animation, via UnSplash)

Today, he was in the local Sainsbury’s with two acquaintances, none of them wearing masks (as the government’s COVID regulations decree). They were discussing with theatrical bravado how ridiculous it was to wear masks when (the three of them knew for certain) the virus doesn’t come out and become active until after 8.00pm in the evening and how other, lesser mortals than they – the ones who mindlessly followed the government’s mask-wearing rules – were just ‘sheeple’.

After reaching enlightenment at Sainsbury’s, I went to Elstree station where similar surrealism is standard. The time was 8.39pm. One of the train indicator boards said the next train would arrive in 1,082 minutes, at 1440 tomorrow afternoon, with the second train due at 1446, in 1,087 minutes. True to their eternal incompetence – even if these due times were true – Thameslink’s minutes didn’t add up.

WEDNESDAY 23rd SEPTEMBER

First World problems only seem heavy…

Losing weight is not easy.

My scales told me I had added 8lbs overnight.

But it turned out one corner of the scales was resting on a piece of lino resulting in the scales over the course of the last week telling me I was 8lbs lighter than I actually was.

First world problems.

THURSDAY 24th SEPTEMBER

My cousin Muriel told me she doesn’t enjoy the months of November and December.

I rather like November/December because the weather gets worse. I don’t like hot weather and rather like dreich days – a result I suspect of impressionable childhood days living in a council estate on a hill in Aberdeen. If there ain’t a wind in yer face and rain coming down, it ain’t proper weather.

The best days in Edinburgh, my favourite city, are late winter days just after dusk with a sea mist drifting in and the air feeling wet.

I fear California is not for me.

FRIDAY 25th SEPTEMBER

At lunchtime, I passed the local McDonald’s – local to where I live.

Their cheap ice creams may have influenced my feet.

Crying McTear (Photo by Aliyah Jamous via UnSplash)

Sitting next to each other, outside on a wooden bench, were a young couple – male and female – maybe aged in their early twenties. Both were crying silently.

They sat next to each other, not opposite each other. They both looked ahead, not at each other, their heads tilted slightly downwards.

I will never know why they were crying.

Glimpses of other people’s lives.

SATURDAY 26th SEPTEMBER

I posted a new blog: a chat I had with promoter/constantly inventive ideas man Adam Wilder. As always, I had to cut out chunks to make it a readable length. This bit got chopped and dropped:


“Death of the world if we become humourless.”

ADAM: Comedy is something that unites the audience together, it can help people to relax.

We tend to take ourselves so seriously and it can be really hard to live when we do that.

We are not living in the most easy-going of times and I think it’s important to have a bit of playfulness. It’s the death of the world if we become humourless. And there are some movements to become humourless now.

I think comedians are like modern shamens, weaving a spell with the audience, taking us in with a ritual experience.

… CONTINUED HERE

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