Category Archives: Travel

Adham Fisher, record-breaking Extreme Commuter. Why? “No reason”

Adham Fisher in the Soho Theatre Bar, London

“So what are you?” I asked Adham Fisher in London’s Soho Theatre Bar.

“I’m not a comedian,” he told me. “Not a proper one, anyway. I have held a Guinness World Record but I have never been in the Guinness Book of Records. It wasn’t considered for the book because there are thousands of records and they can only put a select few in the book.”

“What is your world record for?” I asked.

“The fastest time to go to every New York subway station.”

“How long did that take?”

“22 hours, 26 minutes and 2 seconds… I must stress that I no longer hold the record, but I did hold it for 14 months. The current record is 21 hours, 49 minutes. There were 468 stations at the time I attempted it; there are now 472.”

“And why did you want to hold that record?” I asked.

“It stemmed from my attempts at the corresponding record here in London: the fastest time to go to every tube station. There are 270. I have been attempting that for 13 years. I have been a dismal failure at that and everything else.”

“Do other people do similar things?” I asked.

“There are a lot of people who have attempted the tube record or the various other unofficial challenges and races. There is a yearly one for Zone One stations only.”

“Why have you been a dismal failure at the tube record for 13 years?” I asked. “Is there a trick to it?”

“The trick,” Adham told me, “is the tube running as it should. Every single day there is a delay or suspension or a trespasser on the line or whatever.”

“You should go to Germany,” I suggested. “I imagine their trains run on time.”

“I did go to every station in Berlin – 8 hours, 2 minutes and 56 seconds. There are only 173 stations.”

“Have you met any of the other people trying to visit stations?”

“Yes I have.”

“Do you find they are kindred spirits?”

“Not really.”

“Why,” I asked, “do you want to do this at all? Just to get into the Guinness Book of Records?”

“Not necessarily,” Adham replied. “I have no reason.”

“Well,” I told him, “that is a very good reason in my book. But it must cost an absolute fortune going round the world doing this.”

“I have only done it in Europe and North America.”

“What is the ultimate?”

“Just to go on every rapid transit system in the world.”

“Do you have a full-time job?”

“Everyone thinks I don’t, so I will let them carry on thinking that. It makes for some very interesting comedy. If, for example, I happen to court some media attention, people will comment online, saying: Well, obviously he doesn’t have a job. And these are people who are able to spend tens of thousands of pounds following football teams.”

“Have you had media attention?” I asked.

“Yes. My moment of fame was appearing in the Guardian.”

Adham took the cutting out and showed it to me.

Adham’s own copy of The Guardian, 28.11.16.

“You carry it around with you?”

“Yes.”

“How did all this start?”

“When I started trying to ride every single bus in Leicester and Leicestershire. I was 16. When I first attempted to travel to every London tube station, I was 19.”

“How old are you now?”

Adham did not answer.

“What did your parents say when you were 16 and went off to ride buses?”

“Well, I had to leave the house at about 4.00am.”

“Did you tell them why you were leaving that early?”

“No… Well… I said: I am just going to ride buses all day. See you later.”

“And they said: Fair enough…?”

“They might have done. I shut the door before they could answer.”

“Do you live with your parents now?”

“Maybe.”

“Are they in any bizarre way related to transport?” I asked.

“No. In fact, I don’t think my parents have ever liked me being interested in transport and so that has led to me just not talking to them.”

“What did they want you to become?”

“I don’t know and I never cared. I never really talked to them about that sort of stuff.”

“16 is an age,” I suggested, “when people start thinking about future careers. What did you want to be?”

“I have never had a career plan.”

“Are you,” I asked, “trying to make order out of disorder?”

“I suppose.”

Adham still always plays the revered Human League on vinyl

“I have all my LPs in alphabetical order,” I confessed. “I am so old I have LPs… Before your time.”

“I was,” said Adham, “the only person at my school who liked the Human League and I was the only person at my school who knew what vinyl was. I sometimes DJ at Leicester railway station… with vinyl.”

“They employ you to do this?” I asked.

“Oh no no no. I just ask them once in a while if I can turn up and play.”

“You sit in a corner of the station and play vinyl LPs?”

“Pretty much.”

“Inside or outside?”

“On the station front. Not in the foyer: that would interfere with the announcements. There is a nice bit outside by a coffee bar.”

“You have two turntables and loudspeakers?”

“Yes. A little busking amp.”

Adam Fisher - The MMs Bar Recordings

“The greatest record ever made”

“What sort of music?”

“Anything. There is a record I almost always play, called the MMs Bar Recordings – a compilation of buffet car announcements from the old Midland Mainline trains before they became East Midlands Trains. It consists of various staff saying things like: Good morning and welcome to the 1054 service from London St Pancras. The MMs bar is now open and clear for service with a wide selection of sandwiches, savouries, sweets, hot and cold drinks and complimentary Midland Mainline tea and coffee.”

“This was released commercially as a record?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“To acclaim?”

“Yes. I actually think it’s the greatest record ever made because it’s so stupid it’s great.”

“Who released it?”

“An artist named Sandra Cross. I have met her.”

“Is it,” I asked, “edited in a creative way so it has rhythm?”

“No. It’s just as the announcements were recorded.”

“Do passers-by get confused by this as they enter the station?”

“One or two have. Very few of them stop. About 99% turn their heads with either smiles or bemused looks.”

“You only play announcements?”

“No. Absolutely anything from Peter Gabriel to…”

“How long,” I interrupted, “do you do this for?”

“The longest stint has been about 13 hours.”

“Is there a record for this?”

“Not yet.”

“You know the Rule of Three?” I asked. “So far, we have had the Guinness Book of Records and you playing vinyl records. Is there a third type of record in here?”

“There is the Public Records Office.”

“Have you been there?”

“Not yet.”

Adham’s publicity for a 2016 MOvember record attempt

“You have been doing this since you were 16,” I said. “How are you going to develop it? You could play your records on every station platform. You could play Midland Mainline announcements on the New York subway system. Do you think you will still be doing it in ten years time?”

“I would like to.”

“Are you married?”

“Not last time I checked. I am the least likely person I know to be married.”

“Why?”

“Marriage just isn’t really my thing.”

“Your main passions are transport and music?”

“I describe myself as a very unpassionate person. I don’t consider myself very passionate about or an advocate for anything. I have just somehow wound up doing certain things. I never wanted to be a DJ. Public transport and comedy and music are just things I have happened to do. I would not describe myself as being any good at any of them. Or anything.”

“You should,” I suggested, “be working for some transit system somewhere.”

“I think if I worked in the transport industry, I would end up hating it. Rolling stock track gauge, infrastructure; I know nothing about that; I don’t particularly care for that sort of thing. So far, it has always been a novelty for me, especially in London because I have never lived here. So taking the tube, the bus, any commuter rail or the tram or the cable car is always a novelty for me.”

“You did a comedy show at last year’s Leicester Comedy Festival.”

“Yes.”

“What was it called?”

Extreme Commuter.”

“And this year’s show was called…?”

Publicity for this year’s Leicester Comedy Festival show

“Extreme Commuter 7.”

“Because?”

“The Comedy Festival gig this year was my seventh. I have done one since, which was the 8th and the next one will be in Sheffield. My ninth.”

“Have you got Asperger’s?”

“I have no idea. I have never been diagnosed with it, but… I don’t even know what I would have to do to request a diagnosis.”

“These comedy shows you do are anecdotes about you riding the rails?”

“Exactly. Rails, buses, trams, whatever.”

“Do you want to do the Edinburgh Fringe?”

“To have a successful show in Edinburgh is the Holy Grail of all fledgling comedians but, because I don’t consider myself very good at this comedy thing, I am not actually bothered if I go to Edinburgh or not. If it happens, great; if it doesn’t happen, great. It would be nice, but I don’t expect ever to be a success there.”

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Filed under Eccentrics, Trains, Travel

Thameslink – the Third World railway company giving a second rate service

Thameslink phone app

The Thameslink phone app today

If you have a blog, you can whine. Yippee!

Occasionally, this has meant I write a blog whining about the disaster that is Thameslink – franchise-holders for the Bedford-Brighton railway line on which I live. Though I have not burdened blog-readers with the daily chaos.

Suffice it to say that, in the evening at West Hampstead station, those in the know do not go to the platform the indicators say the train will be arriving at. Because it is often – or even usually – changed to another platform about 30-60 seconds before the train arrives. One evening, there were 31 people on the bridge, ready to run to whichever platform the train actually arrived on. A Dunkirk spirit of camaraderie broke out.

Which brings me to today’s whine.

So, today I went to see comic Martin Soan at home in Nunhead, South London. No problem there, you might think, because it is on a direct line from my home in Borehamwood and, although today is Boxing Day, the trains are running. I checked on the Thameslink app yesterday. And this morning.

So there could be no problem except a late or cancelled train. This is Thameslink we are talking about.

Last night, I checked on the Thameslink app and chose which train to get. And double checked this morning.

I arrived at my local Elstree station which, of course, was open. Well, the main ticket office was closed but that is not uncommon and the side entrance was open. The platform indicators just displayed a generic notice, but I knew there was a train at 11.12am because I had double-checked the Thameslink app yesterday AND this morning.

Although the platform indicators showed no train times, they did say: For train information please listen to Announcement. And, reassuringly, an occasional loudspeaker announcement usefully told us the Overground was not running; the Waterloo & City Line was not running; and there were some sections of the Underground were closed.

The Thameslink indicator said Listen. I listened. First mistake.

The Thameslink indicator said Listen. I listened. First mistake.

I say We. I had got there early, as had about eight other people, all reassured that the 11.12 was going to arrive. That included two Italians who could speak no English and a Bulgarian who lived in Borehamwood.

My Thameslink app reassured me there was definitely at train due at 11.12 – although another app (presumably using information supplied by Thameslink) said the train was due at 11.38 and yet another app said the train was at 11.48.

It was the Bulgarian who spotted the poster in among other posters halfway along the platform at Elstree which said, about halfway down in among other details that there were no trains running today. No information about this, of course, at the entrance to the station.

The platform indicators remained on. Occasionally, there was the reassuring tannoy announcement that the Overground and Waterloo and City Line were closed – plus helpful details about the Underground, A useful announcement by Thameslink which made no mention of the fact that, in fact, Thameslink itself was not running any trains.

It was the Bulgarian who realised that a scheduled bus (totally unconnected to the Thameslink situation) left Elstree station for Edgware tube station at 11.13.

So we waited (there were about ten of us) until the train did not arrive but the bus did and off we went to Edgware tube station. Well, not all of us.

The Italians who could not speak English had no Oyster travel card and there was nowhere to buy one and the bus driver refused to let them on because, apparently, buses will not accept cash (all they had) any more.

A traditionally Peckham Rye totem pole

A traditionally Peckham Rye totem pole

As the rest of us left, six more people were arriving at the station.

The day went on like that.

I won’t burden you with the details.

I just had to get it off my chest.

Eventually, I got to Martin Soan’s home in Nunhead/Peckham Rye by bus and tube and bus.

He has a nearby totem pole.

No surprise there.

 

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Govia Thameslink – ISIS duck-billed platypus of UK rail franchise holders

A few of the experienced travellers on the bridge

A few of the more experienced travellers waited on the bridge

I blogged about Govia Thameslink – London’s comedy railway company – a fortnight ago and a week ago. I fear this may turn into a new running thread.

Thameslink is to efficiency and customer service what ISIS is to easy-going agnosticism and strawberries are to wildebeests.

Others waited on the platform but close to the stairs

Some waited on the platform but made sure they were close to the escape stairs

Govia Thameslink have now honed their management style to perfection – if you consider style and perfection to look like a duck-billed platypus wearing a kilt. And I have realised there is mileage in taking notes by sending Tweets.

Tonight I got on the very efficient TfL-run Overground to West Hampstead and then switched over to the Thameslink station. The indicator said the 2255 train would leave from Platform 2 although it almost always switches to Platform 4 with no warning about 10-20 seconds before its due time.

A collection of more experienced passengers (aka past victims) waited on both of the bridges between platforms 2 and 4 to hedge their bets. More passengers huddled at the foot of the stairs on Platform 2, ready to run. Foolish people actually stood on Platform 2.

Some waited on and at the foot of the stairs

Some just awaited their fate on and at the foot of the stairs

A perhaps even more foolhardy Japanese man asked that rarest of all beasts – a visible Thameslink employee – which platform the next train to Elstree would come in on.

“Platform 2,” the equally foolhardy employee said with calm authority, pointing at the indicator board.

30 seconds later, as the train appeared, the Thameslink employee yelled in panic: “It’s coming in on 4! It’s coming in on 4!”

TWEET: Thameslink chaos @TLRailUK – W Hampstead platform changed 15 secs before train arrived. No warnings on signs or tannoys. Daily chaos.

I managed to squeeze into one of the overcrowded carriages because I was the first person onto the platform. Others were not so lucky.

But, as I say, Thameslink have refined their comedy act.

TWEET: Thameslink chaos @TLRailUK – W Hampstead train fails to stop at next 5 scheduled stations and ends up at St Albans. Daily chaos.

People piled out of the train at St Albans, many trekking over to another platform to return from whence they had passed through but had not stopped.

TWEET: Thameslink chaos @TLRailUK – One of around 30 passengers trying to return from St Albans says: “We can only pray”. Daily chaos.

TWEET:  Thameslink chaos @TLRailUK – One passenger says: “They couldn’t organise a piss up in a brewery”. Daily chaos…

TWEET:  Thameslink chaos @TLRailUK – Second passenger says: “They wouldn’t find the brewery”. Daily chaos…

TWEET:  Thameslink chaos @TLRailUK – Southbound service from St Albans stops as scheduled at Elstree. Some mistake, surely? Daily chaos…

The train from St Albans to Elstree ran on time.  I receive a Tweet from Trainslate @TLRailGB which said:

How is anyone supposed to know where they stand with trains turning up on time?!

I look up the Twitter account for Thameslink. It says: Currently we are running a good service.

I look up the Trainslate account on Twitter. It says:

Thameslink – a not-fit-for-purpose ‘service’ from Govia. Treating customers with contempt whilst lining shareholder pockets (Go-Ahead/Keolis) #BrokenFranchise

At last. Sanity!

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Why comic Trevor Lock thinks some Third World aid is a holocaust of lies

Trevor Lock is Not Joking... again

Honest… Trevor Lock is Not Joking… again

The Proud Archivist venue in London’s Haggerston is suddenly, definitely trendy. I went to see Trevor Lock’s Not Joking show there last month. And he is performing it there again this Friday.

So I thought we should have a blog chat about it.

We did not.

“What else are you doing?” I asked him.

“Next Wednesday,” he told me, “I’m doing Paul B Edwards’ Crock of Mould at the Backyard Comedy Club in Bethnal Green. It used to be regular, with Al Murray, Harry Hill and…”

Trevor is compering a Crock of Mould soon

Trevor is compering a Crock of Mould soon

“Was this last century?” I asked.

“Yes. And now he’s revamping it with me as host, Miles Lloyd, Joz Norris and various people.”

“A regular team?” I asked

“I guess so. We’re doing it up at the Edinburgh Fringe next year.”

“And,” I asked, “after Crock of Mould?”

“I’m flying to the South Americas at the beginning of December.”

“Ah,” I said, “I suspect there are many stories to be told about the South Americas and you have never told me any of them.”

“And I never shall,” said Trevor.

“Why are you flying to the South Americas?” I asked.

“Ah… erm… I don’t know my purpose, but… erm…”

“But you know your destination?”

“Exactly.”

“Colombia?”

“I may go to Colombia.”

“Bolivia?”

“I may go to Bolivia. I’m definitely going to end up in Rio.”

“Rio?” I asked. “It’s full of people with knives who want to rob you.”

“My ex-wife has landed up there.”

“Ah,” I said. “How long are you going for?”

“I don’t know. I will be back in the UK in the summer.”

“You lived in South America, didn’t you?” I asked.

“Yes. Not for very long. I told you the last time you blogged about me.”

“I only write it,” I said. “I don’t read it.”

Trevor Lock aka Mr Terrier in 2009 - now released

Trevor Lock was Mr Terrier in this 2009 film

“If you did read your own blog, “ said Trevor, “you would know that I made a movie. It was finally released in Peru in August. It was very well received and may come to the London Film Festival next year.”

“Lima was a tad unsafe when I was there in the 1983,” I said. “though not as dangerous as Bogota.”

“I feel safer in Lima than I do at Loughborough Junction in London,” said Trevor.

“But,” I said, “Lima’s a pisshole.”

“I love Lima,” said Trevor.

Children living in mud homes outside Puno in 1983

Children living alone in their mud homes outside Puno, 1983

“Puno was almost as bad,” I said. “Terribly poor. But I was there in 1983. It could now be the richest, most wonderful place on earth. I am feeling very old. When my grandfather was young, he went to Canada and he used to tell me as a kid what Canada was like with its raised wooden sidewalks instead of stone pavements. It wasn’t for ages that I realised what he was describing was not modern cities in the 1960s but 19th century Wild West style towns in the 1910s or whenever he went there. Because he was that old. So I tell people knowledgeably about what Peru and South America are like, but I am actually talking about what they were like when I saw them a third of a century ago in 1983.”

“Yeah,” said Trevor, “and that was before things got really bad. That was just before (the excesses of the Maoist guerrilla group) Sendero Luminoso. Peru was clearly suffering in the 1980s.”

Comrade Artemio and Shining Path guerrillas

Comrade Artemio and Sendero Luminoso Maorist guerrillas

“If ever anywhere deserved Sendero Luminoso,” I said, “it was Peru. There was no middle class. The poor were never ever going to get out of the shit. There was nothing to aspire to. Miraflores in Lima was all private tennis courts and Mercedes Benz cars and everywhere else was a shambolic nightmare of abject poverty.”

“Yes,” said Trevor, “that was basically my experience when I went there for the first time. I saw the poorest people I had ever seen and I met the richest people I had ever met. It was just absurd. Utterly absurd.”

“In the countryside,” I said, “you could see the way the Incas used to successfully farm the hills in terraces and yet, when I was there, people were starving at the bottom of the hills with cows with ribs which stuck out. Lima was absolute shit. It deserved to be nuked. But you like it.”

“I love it,” said Trevor. “What I like is the overlap of different classes and cultures.”

“But there is no overlap is there?” I asked.

“Well, there is,” said Trevor.

These are the rich. Those are the poor,” I said. “Ne’er the twain shall meet.”

An ordinary street in Lima in 1983

Street in 1983 Lima – either earthquake-hit or just run down

“They are completely intertwined,” argued Trevor. “You can’t have rich without poor. You can’t have poor without rich. And, being an alien, being a gringo, I can pass between these worlds. In a sense, you are right that they can’t mix. But the most obscenely richest people in Peru are all nursed and brought up by the poor. You go into the parks of the rich neighbourhoods and you see all these little white babies being pushed around by their much darker mothers. But, of course, they’re not their mothers – they are indiginous employees – wet-nurses, maids, household staff. The parents have played a very little role in the upbringing of their children.”

“Much like the English upper classes,” I said.

“It’s incredible,” said Trevor. “Amazing. It is really, really fascinating to see even quite old children who are not with their parents. My friend is from Spain – he’s got a little kid. He drops his kid off at school every morning and he is the only parent – the only blood relative – dropping a child off at school in the morning. Everyone else is being dropped off by their nannies.”

“It would have been like that when I was there,” I said.

Trevor Lock may go to a variety of counties in South America

Trevor Lock surely knows more about modern Peru than I do

“It’s changed since the 1980s, though,” said Trevor. “For a while, it was the fastest-growing economy in the world, though it’s slowed-down considerably now. They called it the Abu Dhabi of South America.”

“And you like it,” I said.

“You see the industrial, Western civilisation stripped naked,” said Trevor. “Like most of South America and much of Africa, compulsory schooling has destroyed the culture. The poor in the countryside have been sold the bullshit that, if you have a better education, you can have a better life in the cities. The subsistence farming that worked for centuries has been destroyed.”

“So,” I said, “good news and bad news for Peru.”

“Well,” said Trevor, “up in the remote places there are still communities that do live from the land, but most of the places are mono-cultural agriculture growing one crop for some money and then they have to buy shitty food from a shop. Their children now have to go to school and they have to be sent off at the beginning of term and travel three days to the nearest school and come home at the end. It’s horrific. But that’s progress. And some pricks over here go over there and facilitate it.

“I’m regularly asked to perform at benefit gigs to raise money to build schools in Third World countries.”

“And what,” I asked, “do you say?”

“Well,” said Trevor, “if it feels like they might have an open mind, I will explain and, if not, I will just politely decline.”

“Because?” I asked.

“Because it’s a holocaust. It’s holocaust of lies. You’ve seen the slums of the major towns. You’ve seen it.”

“What’s the way round it?” I asked.

TrevorLock_Soho_Flowers

Trevor Lock: “I think a  lot of people have a religious instinct”

“There is no way round it,” said Trevor. “I don’t know what the answer is… I dunno… I think a lot of people have a religious instinct and, when you don’t have a church to go to – as many people now don’t – you have to get into something else. So you get into ‘helping’ developing countries and ‘saving’ the poor. You can’t export your religion any more, because you don’t have one. But you can export your values and your politics. You can export your world view.

“So you tell them: Stop growing all these different kind of vegetables, just grow this one kind of vegetable and I will give you all this money and then you can send your children to school and, in 20 years time, they can be lawyers and estate agents in the city. Brilliant.”

“When,” I said, “Japan managed to have a nuclear disaster AND a tidal wave, I was amazed people were donating money to them. Japan is one of the richest countries in the world.”

“It’s a religion,” said Trevor.

… CONTINUED HERE

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Filed under Charity, Peru, Poverty, Third World, Travel

Why the Greatest Show on Legs started their infamous Naked Balloon Dance

This afternoon, I am driving to Totnes in Devon with comedian Matt Roper, who has started to describe himself as a homeless vagabond, though I prefer to think of him as an itinerant purveyor of comedic entertainment.

Being a ‘vagabond’ might imply dubious liaisons with women and goats… Of which more later.

Matt Roper claims I will like Totnes, because it is full of interesting creative people.

Martin and Vivienne Soan at home last night

Martin & Vivienne at home  last night

Coincidentally, last night, my eternally-un-named friend and I had dinner at Vivienne & Martin Soan’s home in South East London. Martin created comedy group The Greatest Show on Legs, famed for their naked balloon dance which included late godfather of UK alternative comedy Malcolm Hardee.

“Totnes is where we created the balloon dance,” Martin told me over dinner.

“I’ve never been there,” I said.

“It’s like a little model village,” explained Martin. “Perfect in every way. But full scale. Divorced rock ‘n’ roll wives in the 1970s decided that it was a good place to live.

“Malcolm had a liaison with one of these ex wives – I think she was an ex-wife of one of The Small Faces – and all these rock chicks had moved down there and just three miles up the road was Dartington College, which was the very first ‘free’ school which was very liberal and encouraged dramatic arts.

Totnes - like a model village but real... or maybe it is surreal

Totnes – like a model village but real… or is it maybe surreal?

“Totnes is like The Village in The Prisoner. It is perfect in every way. Not too many people. You have your drunks and you have your council house people. But, basically, all the locals have had four generations of acid-taking liberalism. Even the council-house crack-addict coke-head element has been gentrified and you get amazing sights.

“There used to be this one guy with a great big Afghan hound, an Edwardian suit and a waxed moustache who walked up and down like some latter-day rake.

“In the church, where Malcolm got off with a girl called Lucy The Goat Lady… That sounds very demeaning, but nicknames are easier to remember than real names… Her name was Lucy…

Aleister Crowley - "the wickedest man in the world"

Crowley “the wickedest man in the world”

“She said we could stay at her place, a big rambling farmhouse which belonged to Dick Heckstall-Smith, the English jazz saxophonist and in the grounds was this de-consecrated church. It had been de-consecrated because the occultist Aleister Crowley had bought the house years before and done secret ceremonies late at night. When the locals found out, they had the church de-consecrated.

“And, in the kitchen of the house,” Martin continued, “the Greatest Show on Legs reacted to the local extreme, over-the-top feminists who were living in this land of privilege and having weekly meetings about how they could wipe out Chinese foot-binding in Devon. Shit. They were all living in a bubble, really. It was our reaction to that. We thought up the balloon dance in the kitchen and we went to the Dartmouth Inn that night and premiered it.”

My eternally-un-named friend was a bit surprised.

“It was a reaction to feminists wanting to ban foot-binding in Devon?” she asked.

“The Greatest Show on Legs were feminists,” said Martin. “We weren’t sexist in any way.”

“That’s what I thought – sort of,” said my eternally-un-named friend, who knew Malcolm and Martin before I did.

“Though,” said Martin’s wife Vivienne, “they antagonised feminists all over the place.”

“Yes,” said Martin, “but they were feminists who weren’t really thinking. In actual fact, we were rather gallant as a group of performers.”

“You just went round fucking everybody in sight,” said Vivienne.

(From left) Malcolm Hardee, Paul Wiseman, Martin Soan (Photograph by Steve Taylor)

(From left) Malcolm Hardee, Paul Wiseman, Martin Soan possibly/probably in the 1980s (Photograph by Steve Taylor)

“I was trying,” said Martin, “to think of a rather more poetic or lyrical way of putting it… We were young men and we enjoyed ourselves, but we did it in a rather gallant way.”

After you, Malcolm…,” suggested Vivienne. “No, after you, Martin… Oops, sorry Malcolm… After you…

“But, getting back to the balloon dance,” said my eternally-un-named friend. “What year was that?”

“I can’t remember,” said Martin.

“It would have been the 1970s, early 1980s,” suggested Vivienne.

“It’s like writing Malcolm’s autobiography,” I said. “He never knew which decade things happened in either.”

“Anyway,” said my eternally-un-named friend, “in this kitchen, you suddenly thought Ooh! Let’s do a strip with balloons!

“Because,” explained Vivienne, “they were reacting against the ultra-feminists who were trying to create a storm about Chinese foot-binding.”

“I don’t quite see the connection,” said my eternally-un-named friend.

“We arrived there,” said Martin, “and just thought This is sick. They’re living in their own world. Everything’s perfect. What right have they got to complain? They’ve got nothing to complain about. To start being over-the-top feminists in such a rarified atmosphere… It just antagonised us….

“So we thought: I know! We’ll fucking take our kit off! And we were laughing. We were not thinking about it as creating a routine. It was as much a joke for ourselves. A stunt. Let’s take our kit off! But it went down such a storm that night, Malcolm and I thought Right. Let’s keep it in the show.

Martin Soan enters his living room last night in SE London

Martin Soan enters his living room last night in SE London

“So,” said Vivienne, “Totnes is now full of creative people who are probably all the children of these feminists.”

“And this goat woman…” asked my eternally-un-named friend. “She would be about 60 now?”

“Probably,” mused Martin. “Older. She was older than us.”

“She had a goat?” asked my eternally-un-named friend.

“She did have a goat,” replied Martin.

“Is that why she was called Goat Woman?”

“Goat Lady,” corrected Martin. “Not Goat Woman.”

“The Greatest Show on Legs were always very gallant,” I said. “What was the goat called?”

“John,” said Martin reprovingly, “I don’t know what the fucking goat was called. It didn’t have a name. I would have loved it if the goat had been introduced to me, but it was just there as the goat.”

“But goats have names, too,” I protested. “Bob Slayer went round Australia with Gary The Goat.”

“That’s slightly different,” said Martin.

“You’re the one who calls women ‘ladies’,” I argued. “Goats deserve respect too.”

“Eat your pudding,” said Vivienne.

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Comedians, coincidences, cocaine and yet another Edinburgh Fringe accident

It's around the corner in Soho, where other broken people go.

It’s around the corner in Soho, where other broken people go

It’s a small world in oh so many ways – a small world with lots of coincidences – Prague, television, Bar Italia and the Edinburgh Fringe.

“Hey, John!” Wingman said to me yesterday. “What are you doing here?”

I had accidentally sat down next to him at Bar Italia in London’s Soho.

Bar Italia has been there for what seems like ever – actually since 1949. In I guess the 1960s and 1970s it became legendary among music and film/TV people because, back then, it was the only place open in the wee small hours in the middle of the night when dawn was approaching and people staggered out of recording studios and editing suites in Soho. Jarvis Cocker of Pulp even wrote a song called Bar Italia:

There’s only one place we can go.
It’s around the corner in Soho,
Where other broken people go.

Yesterday lunchtime, I was waiting at Bar Italia for itinerant comedian Matt Roper, back from his travels in the Far East and South Africa.

Wingman and I worked together at Granada TV years ago. Now he is a TV executive, though I don’t suppose he thinks of himself as that. He had been chatting to a colleague called John who had just come back from shooting promos in Prague.

“You worked there, didn’t you?” Wingman asked me.

“Yes,” I said, “for UPC in the mid-1990s.”

Then Matt arrived and Wingman & John left.

Earlier in the year, I blogged about Matt having deep vein thrombosis in Vietnam, Burma and Thailand.

In South Africa, Desmond Tutu (third from left) and Matt Roper as 'Wilfredo’ (second from right)

In South Africa, Desmond Tutu (third from left) and Matt Roper as his character ‘Wilfredo’ (second from right)

Now he had just returned from a month in South Africa at the comedy festival and looked very healthy.

While in Saigon, he had had to cancel his Edinburgh Fringe show this year, because the Vietnamese hospital could not tell him when he would be able to fly again. He could have come back to Britain by train via Beijing and Moscow. But, at the time, he had to have weekly blood tests and, he told me yesterday, “I didn’t want to be messing around trying to find Mongolian and Russian hospitals. It was a challenge, but it’s my health.”

“It’s not a challenge,” I told him. “It’s a 2014 Fringe show and you look healthy now. Did you like South Africa?”

“Very much,” said Matt, “though, I only went to Cape Town. We went to a game reserve and to vineyards, sat on an ostrich and then ate an ostrich.”

“The same one?” I asked.

“No. We met the smallest ostrich in the world. He’s there. He’s a Guinness record holder.”

“I’ve never met a nice white South African,” I said.

“I have,” said Matt.

Like the song says, they really are all a bunch of arrogant bastards,” I said.

“I like them,” said Matt.

He is just about to go off on his travels again – to help a friend research a book – Poland, Ukraine, Moldova, back through the Ukraine, the Czech Republic – Prague – and then fly back to Britain from Austria.

The reason he was in Soho, though, was because he was going to Totnes in Devon.

Frank Zappa or a crapper

Frank Zappa on the crapper in 1967

Robert Davidson lives there,” he told me. “You should meet him. He’s a photographer. He photographed Frank Zappa on the toilet in a hotel room in 1967.”

“He shot that for International Times,” I said. “I saw it when it was published. I wrote for IT a few years later.”

At this point, comedian Chris Dangerfield – oft blogged about here – walked into Bar Italia.

“I was thrown out of Totnes,” said Chris. “I was literally taken up an alleyway by the police and told to leave town.”

“Totnes,” said Matt, “is sometimes like an open hospital ward. It’s full of bizarre people. So to actually have been asked to leave is…”

I was distracted by a group of people clustered outside Ronnie Scott’s jazz club opposite Bar Italia.

Tourists crowded round bricks in London

Tourists crowd round Ronnie Scott’s club’s bricks in Frith St

“What are they doing?” I asked.

They were just standing outside, looking up at the building.

“It’s a tour,” said Chris Dangerfield. “It’s on the tourist trail. They’re taken to places like that and told: Oh, Mick Jagger once looked at that.”

“They come and look at Bar Italia too,” said Matt, “because John Logie Baird invented television in a room above here.”

“Although he didn’t,” I said. “He invented the wrong system.”

“Who did invent TV, then?” asked Matt.

“I think it was EMI and maybe some Germans,” I said. “But back to Chris getting thrown out of Totnes…”

Matt Roper (left) and Chris Dangerfield yesterday

Matt Roper (left) & Chris Dangerfield in Bar Italia yesterday

“I was the second time,” said Chris. “It was my return to Totnes, because I done a degree down there, so when I went back to sell crack, all the pubs were empty because everyone was spending all their money on crack. And that was essentially what the police said: The local economy has taken a dent because of you. Take your cocaine back to London. So I did.”

Chris then got on his black bicycle and rode off quickly.

“Drive safe!” Matt shouted after him, then turned to me and said: “We’ve never properly met, him and me. We just keep bumping into each other. Coincidences. Life’s all coincidences.”

“I was once,” I said, “sitting outside Bar Italia talking to your chum Grace Gelder and Chris Dangerfield walked by and said Hello and walked on. A couple of weeks ago, I was walking through Soho with someone and I got a text message saying You just walked past me – Chris Dangerfield.”

“Well,” said Matt, “I yelled out of a car window at you once, but it wasn’t you.”

“It’s an easy mistake to make,” I said.

Bob Slayer with Miss Behave before she broke her heel

Miss Behave with her heel in London

On my trip home, I picked up a voice message on my mobile phone from comedian Bob Slayer. He told me that  Miss Behave – who is allegedly compering the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show on 23rd August – has broken her heel in Ireland and doctors have told her she should put no weight on it for six weeks.

“She keeps doing this,” I said when I talked to Bob. “She nearly died a couple of years ago just before the Fringe. Now a lame excuse like this. Let’s hope she can do it in a wheelchair or in plaster. Where are you?”

“Leith,” he told me.

“Is there sunshine on Leith?” I asked. “It’s horrible, hot and sticky here in London today. 30 Centigrade. I think that’s about 90 in Fahrenheit. Would-be SAS men are dying on the Brecon Beacons.”

“There is sunshine on Leith,” Bob confirmed.

“Send me a picture,” I told him. “Why are you there?”

While the Chief puts Bob Slayer in Leith

Meanwhile the Chief puts sunset and Bob Slayer in Leith… (photograph by Keara Murphy)

“I’ve been buying fridges for my new venue Bob’s Bookshop,” explained Bob. “For all the beer. I have a licence and people can buy beer there. I went into the British Heart Foundation’s charity shop in Edinburgh – they have one for electronics and I bought lots of their stuff. I told them I would give it all back at the end of the Fringe and they  could sell everything a second time.

“I have found Miss Behave a great flat. It’s right next to the venue so it’s very convenient and right in the middle of town, but I’m not sure which storey it’s on. Not good if you have a broken heel and it’s on the third storey up. With luck, she’ll be on the first.”

“That’s another storey,” I said.

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Exclusive! – Mr Methane reports from World Fart Championships in Finland

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

Mr Methane (left) and Championships presenter Phartman

Mr Methane (left) & Championships’ presenter Phartman

This morning, dramatic news from Finland via my professional farting chum Mr Methane.

Yesterday, at the first ever World Fart Championships in Utajärvi, Finland. the single and team events were won by two Russian friends, Vlad & Alex who had flown to Helsinki from Moscow and then made a five hour train journey to Utajärvi.

They had heard of the farting festival earlier this year on Mr Methane’s website and Vlad said to Alex: “There is a farting contest this summer in Finland. Shall we go ?”

Alex replied: “Yes we should.”

Vlad said: “There is more. Mr Methane is performing there.”

Alex is said to have replied: “Wow! I have already packed.”

Not unreasonably, they decided that the double whammy lure of a farting competition AND possibly meeting Mr Methane, their hero, was too good to miss.

“So,” Mr Methane told me this morning from Finland, “they came and won both prizes for Russia yesterday, establishing a new festival volume record in the bargain.”

Japanese fart battles of the 17th century

Documented air battles raged in Japan between 1603-1868

Admittedly, this was not difficult, as it was the first World Fart Championships, although the tradition of farting competitions goes back at least to 17th century Japan where, between 1603-1868 there were “He-gassens” – fart battles.

In the 199os, a collection of scrolls showing some of these bitterly-fought air battles was sold at Christie’s in London for $1,200.

At yesterday’s World Fart Championships in Finland, Mr Methane was not competing. He had been invited by the organisers as a farting icon and the inspiration to a generation of Finnish flatulists.

Before the event, presented by local entertainer Phartman, both Mr Methane and I had been a bit vague about how the organisers were going to make farting into a competition and how they were going to decide winners. All was revealed yesterday.

Winning Russian duo in the team event

Winning Russians Vlad (left) & Alex in the team event

“Contestants had to drop their trousers,” Mr Methane reported, “but they kept underpants on. There was a large egg timer and they had 30 seconds in which to fart. There was a decibel meter and a microphone in a pipe below the seat on which they sat. For team events, there was a double seat.

“Contestants had two attempts – not one after other – they went to the back of the queue. It was all about the volume.”

“How loud were the Russian winners?” I asked.

Mr Methane performed with backing from the local Utajärvi brass band

Mr Methane performed The Blue Danube to hushed crowds in Finland yesterday with backing from the Utajärvi brass band

“Sorry,” Mr Methane told me, “I can’t remember the exact decibel meter reading, but it was just under 90.”

“And the audience?” I asked.

“They were polite, enthusiastic and appreciative of my show which was the matinée intro to the Fart Championships themselves. I also closed the Championships with a long fart at the end.”

The Russians’ secret weapon

Russians’ secret weapon

“Did the Russians have any particular technique?” I asked.

“They told me they thought a particular Russian drink had helped them win the contest,” said Mr Methane. “It is non alcoholic but fizzy.”

It is called квас оцаковскии – kvass otsakovskii. Kvass is a fermented drink made from rye bread and is marketed in Russia as a patriotic alternative to cola.

Coca-Cola launched its own brand of kvass in Russia in 2008 and Pepsi has signed an agreement with a Russian kvass manufacturer to act as a distribution agent. So the kvass wars cannot be far off.

You read it first here.

Mr Methane tells me: “It tastes like fizzy Marmite. Vlad and Alex presented me with a bottle as a gift and then sang a couple of verses of my song Cut The Cheese (available to view on YouTube)”

“Did they get a prize?” I asked him.

The Russian winners and their prize

The Russian winners with part of their prize

“Yes,” said Mr Methane. “52 cans of nuclear pea soup, the fuel that Phartman uses. Their two straight event wins mean that they went back to Russia with 104 tins which could be a problem at the airport baggage drop. But the organisers put their prize in a wheelbarrow and gave them a lift to the station for the 11.00pm overnight train back to the south.

“The weather had looked a bit dodgy before the Championships – overcast and showers – but it brightened up once the farting started and the sun eventually shone.

“I stayed overnight in a disused mental asylum in middle of a forest with Phartman who turns out to be a psychiatric nurse. It is very Soviet Union. The mosquitoes in the woods around the mental hospital have bitten me nearly to death. I am now off to catch a plane. There are strong winds here at the moment.”

Mr Methane will be talking about his life farting around the world in his own full-length show at the Edinburgh Fringe in August and, unless discovered by Hollywood, will be performing at the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Awards Show on 23rd August.

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Filed under Comedy, Eccentrics, Finland, Japan, Russia, Travel