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The mysterious Iceman’s birth, baptism, Westminster connections and dribbles.

The Iceman crops up in this blog erractically and eccentrically.

He used to be a humorous performance artist, destroying blocks of ice – sometimes by just letting them melt, sometimes using a blowtorch, sometimes blowing them up with explosives. Nowadays, though, he is a painter.

He paints pictures of blocks of ice.

Recently, he did a Zoom call with pupils at the highly prestigious Westminster School in London. I Skyped him to ask why…


JOHN: Why?

ICEMAN: A young sixth former became aware of my work and approached me on behalf of the Westminster Literary Society, which sounded very prestigious.

JOHN: But you’re not a literary creator; you’re an artistic performer and performance artist and now artist.

ICEMAN: Yes but, as you know, I use words, often with “aim” or “ice” in them.

JOHN: Errr… “aim”?

Portrait of the Artist as a mystery man

ICEMAN: That’s the n-ice name I have adopted as a painter. AIM = Anthony, Ice Man. But it always has a deeper meaning…

JOHN: Ooooooh!

ICEMAN: That is the correct response. Ooooooh! Deep. Deep. What are we AIMing for? I’m aiming for something very particular.

JOHN: What?

ICEMAN: Nirvanaima.

JOHN: Yer wot?

ICEMAN: Some people call it Nirvana. I call it NirvanAIMa… The Westminster Literary Society liked the wordplay… I am now a cult figure in the sixth form at Westminster School… I was baptised in Westminster Hall.

Westminster Hall is the oldest surviving part of the Palace of Westminster – ie the UK Parliament building (Photograph by Jwslubbock via Wikipedia)

JOHN: Westminster HALL???

That’s in the Houses of Parliament!

ICEMAN: Yes. The old hall where Charles I was tried. 

JOHN: You were baptised there???

ICEMAN: I had good contacts in those days.

JOHN: Bloody good contacts. Tell all!… 

ICEMAN: Anyway…

JOHN: Forget the Anyway. Why did you get baptised in Westminster Hall and where did you get the water from? There’s no font. You must have brought your own water. What was the font? Times Roman? What connections did you have? Political or Lordly?

ICEMAN: I’m a commoner.

JOHN: So you had a relation who was in the House of Commons?

ICEMAN: As a baby, I was good at networking. I have a little block of ice here…

JOHN: I don’t want to know about your little block of ice. I want to know about the water in your font and how and why you got baptised in Westminster Hall. Does this mean, bizarrely, you have a connection with Westminster School?

ICEMAN: One wonders, with all this synchronicity going around… You have an unhealthy interest in this… I think the person who invited me – at Westminster School – unbeknown to me, took my work very seriously, thought it was deep and funny and the initial subject I was talking to them about was Can Stand-Up Comedy Be an Art Form?… but I turned it, really, into a promotion of my paintings.

JOHN: Your paintings not your ice-melting performance art?

ICEMAN: I am a man of two parts.

JOHN: You’re a man of three parts. One is in Westminster Hall as a baby.

ICEMAN: There was ice in the font. It was February… No, it was April, actually.

JOHN: You remember ice in the font?

ICEMAN: I sensed it… Anyway… One of my audience at Westminster School was called Cecilia. She said she laughed so much at my Zoom meeting that her eyeliner ran.

JOHN: Where did it run to?

Iceman and duck talk to Westminster scholars

ICEMAN: My duck was there. You remember my duck? You blogged about it.

JOHN: How could I not?

ICEMAN: But the thing that I appreciated was that my art – seemingly genuinely – was being appreciated by a new generation. Now they can’t stop sending me emails. And even their English teacher said how deeply moving and funny it was at the same time. They had a block of their own. They called it Alice.

JOHN: Alice?

ICEMAN: – Al-ice.

JOHN: Aah! So you’ve inspired new ice artists?

ICEMAN: Well, they say I have inspired them. They are painting lots of pictures and they are going to send me a booklet of all their pictures. It has been a stimulus for their writing and art.

JOHN: But will they cough-up to buy a painting from you? How much would it cost?

ICEMAN: I dunno. If they gave a fiver each, how big is the Sixth Form?… £500?

JOHN: That’s quite cheap for your ice blocks.

ICEMAN: They haven’t replied to that e-mail.

JOHN: This would be you selling them not a block of ice but a…

ICEMAN: …a painting of a block. Yes. I know you met me when I was a performance artist, but my main creative activity now is painting, though still using the motif of blocks of ice. Every painting has a block of ice. I told the Literary Society that, when I look back, I see the blocks as stepping stones to my later career as a painter.

JOHN: But if the past blocks are stepping stones, they will melt, so your future career is uncertain.

ICEMAN: Yes, but I’ve got there now. A painter called Alfred Wallis reminds me of myself. He was part of the St Ives Group in Cornwall, but he was really a Cornish fisherman and he painted on cardboard, using ship’s paint. Very simple and child-like, which reminds me of me because I tend to paint on mounting board. He was taken up by Ben Nicholson. He was a genuinely naïve painter.

I’m not saying I’m emulating him. I came across him later and realised he’s like me in some ways. He only started painting in his Sixties.

The Iceman in full flow… His art is not easily accomplished… It is a combination of art and art-if-ice

JOHN: Back to your birth. Where was your father born?

ICEMAN: In Aberdeen. But I was born off the King’s Road in Chelsea. I think there might be a plaque there. It was a bit more bohemian in those days. I broke free and became The Iceman.

JOHN: Did you go to university?

ICEMAN: I can’t give too much information about myself without demystifying myself.

JOHN: When you were 19, what did you want to be?

ICEMAN: I think I wanted to join the Royal Navy.

JOHN: Why?

ICEMAN: To do ice patrols…

JOHN: Of course you did. But, at 19, did you decide you wanted to be a creative person of some kind?

ICEMAN: I think I had an idea of being some kind of actor. But then I recognised the limitations of that field.

JOHN: What are the limitations?

ICEMAN: Spouting forth other people’s words. I guess I became a performance artist but not one of your heavy Marina Abramović types. More of a slightly humorous performance artist. When I played comedy clubs, they said I should do art galleries; and art galleries said I should go and do comedy clubs. That’s the story of my life.

I ran into Arthur Smith. I said to him: “I never had success.” He said: “You had your moments”.

JOHN: Well, you’ve done better than Van Gogh did in his lifetime.

ICEMAN: That was one of your greatest blogs – The Iceman out-sells Van Gogh… You don’t remember! You don’t know your own blogs!

JOHN: I send the recordings off to some bloke in China and he transcribes them and puts them online. I seldom read them. But I remember the duck.

ICEMAN: You have a sort-of tabloid journalist’s eye for a good headline.

JOHN: Yeah: The Iceman was Lord So-and-So’s Son

ICEMAN: No.

“a bit of blue tarpaulin attached to it that looked like a fish.”

JOHN: You sent me an image of a new painting of a block yesterday.

ICEMAN: Yes, it is called The Tombstone Block. It has a lateral flow test thing block and The Iceman was in PPE outfit and it had a bit of blue tarpaulin attached to it that looked like a fish.

JOHN: Anything seems reasonable. Has the pandemic lockdown inspired you to create more things than you would otherwise have done?

ICEMAN: At one stage I created  a regular routine of painting more or less every day. Recently it’s more like one a fortnight.

JOHN: They take about a week to complete?

The Iceman amid his recent art, holding an old Polaroid

ICEMAN: About five minutes. (LAUGHS) But the build-up… I do think about it prior to the event.

I used to take Polaroids and, when I started painting, I was painting my interpretation of those photographs. But, when I ran out of photographs, I started painting more from memory.

And, more recently, I’ve painted more from a concept.

The block I did with Stewart Lee at the Royal Festival Hall – I imagined it going to Gravesend, Richmond Bridge, the North Sea, lift-off into space, then to a neighbouring universe. I’m getting more away from the basic literal block portrayal.

JOHN: How are sales of your paintings going?

Shrewd buyer (left) of a second Iceman painting – thaims 16

ICEMAN: I’ve just had an order from a previous buyer. He’s the Head of Music at Monkton Combe School. Many years after buying the original one – LidO –  based on Tooting Lido where I did a block, he became interested in a painting called thaims 16, which is basically a boat with an ice block on it… and the other one he likes is more abstract. I tried to get him into three figures, but he’s whittled me down to £50.

I like the fact I’m now painting. That has given me a completely different experience from performing. When you perform, you’re interacting in rough and ready ways. But when you’re painting you’ve usually alone. They are both intense, but completely different experiences.

When I paint, I think it’s the one time I forget about… well… For all my limitations as a painter – because I’ve had no training – I think what I bring to it is a spontaneous feeling. In one way, that relates back to the performance art work, which was always rough and ready.

I like using oils because, on canvas, they can emulate the ice block effects… I like dribbles.


The Iceman’s Zoom chat with the boys and girls of the Westminster Literary Society is on YouTube… The video lasts 29 minutes…

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Comic Malcolm Hardee stole Freddie Mercury’s birthday cake. His version 2

On 5th August 1996 (timed to coincide with that year’s Edinburgh Fringe) Fourth Estate published I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake, the autobiography of comedian, club-owner and anarchic bon viveur Malcolm Hardee.

Malcolm: never one to under-anecdote

In it, among many other scarcely credible (but actually true) tales, he tells of the time he did, indeed, steal Freddie Mercury’s birthday cake.

Never one to under-anecdote, in 1995 Malcolm also told the same story in Funny Talk, an anthology of new writing (edited by Jim Driver) about and around the world of comedy and showbiz.

Other contributors included Max Bygraves, Jeremy Hardy, Hattie Hayridge, John Hegley, Ralph McTell, Michael Palin, Jon Ronson and Mark Steel.

Here, courtesy of Jim Driver, is Malcolm’s contribution…


MALCOLM HARDEE ATTENDS
FREDDIE MERCURY’S BIRTHDAY PARTY

7th October 1986, 10.30am

The phone rings.

I pick it up and answer with the usual “Oy! Oy!”

“Hello, it’s Louis here.” An agent. “Are The Greatest Show on Legs still working?”

“Yup.”

“How do you fancy doing a show for Freddie Mercury’s fortieth birthday?”

“How much? How long? Where?”

“£600.Three-and-a-half minutes’ Balloon Dance, Club Xenon, Piccadilly.”

“Okay. When?”

“Tomorrow night.”

So, we’re booked to perform our infamous Balloon Dance for the lead singer of Queen’s fortieth. (This is a routine I do with two other guys, consisting of us dancing stark naked – apart from strategically-placed balloons – to the tune of Tea For Two (cha cha cha!) I ring the other two and they are as keen as mustard. Big Freddie Mercury fans both and, after all, a hundred quid is a hundred quid!


8th October 1986, 8.00pm

We arrive at Club Xenon, 171 Piccadilly, and are ushered to the ‘dressing room’ which in reality is a cupboard behind the stage. There is, however, a small window in the door through which we can peer out across the stage at the celebrity party-goers. The Management inform us that we must remain in the cupboard until we have finished our set. There are four or five other acts, including a Russian acrobat and a midget.

The show begins. Freddie’s in, so’s Elton John, Princess Margaret and Rod Stewart. The party-goers ignore the first three acts, but the Russian acrobat goes down well. It’s the midget’s turn next. We’d been holding him up to the window to see what’s going on and, fuelled by our recently-acquired camaraderie, we watch while he goes through his midget routine.

Freddie’s Management – six blokes in funny suits and ties – come in to the cupboard and inform us that we can’t go on. I’m naked and ready to go. Quite reasonably, I ask why. The Management tell us that our act might be considered ‘gay’. The press are in and Freddie doesn’t want to be considered ‘gay’.

Obviously disappointed, I try to reason with them by pointing out that (1) it’s obvious to anyone that Freddie Mercury is gay, (2) the band’s name is Queen for fuck’s sake and (3) what’s the big deal anyway? I peer through the window and notice Freddie with his tongue down Elton’s throat. The Management will have none of it and insist on paying me off in full. I would have put the £600 into my pocket but, as I was only wearing a sock at the time…

I’m disappointed and disillusioned but, what the hell, there’s a party to go to. I ask the Management if we can get dressed and join in. “After he’s cut the cake,” they reply. Off they go, locking the door behind them. We then suffer the indignity of peering through a 10” x 8” window, waiting for the cake to arrive.

After about 15 minutes, it appears. It’s huge: a great pink cake in the shape of a Rolls-Royce, complete with the number plates FM1. Three burly carriers lay it on three tables for Freddie to cut. He stands behind the cake, the paparazzi stand in front. Freddie grasps a 12” knife in both hands and poses for pictures. He stabs the cake and strides off. The dressing-room door is finally unlocked and I ask the Management if we could please come out and join the party. One of them points and says we can go into ‘that bit’ (the room in front of the stage), but not into ‘that bit’ (an ante room containing Freddie, Rod, Princess, Elton etc). We go into ‘that bit’ (in front of the stage).

‘Our bit’ is full of liggers and hangers-on paying £5 for pints of piss water, in the vain hope of meeting somebody famous. By now I am doubly disappointed. Not only have we not been allowed to perform, but we’re not even allowed to meet anyone we were supposed to perform in front of. By this time it’s 2.00am and I suggest to the others that we fuck off home, especially as I’ve got to get up early with the kids. We head for a side door.

In the corridor by the exit – untouched except for a single stab wound – is Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake. I look at my companions, they look at me and I utter the words I know they want to hear:

“We’ll have that,” I say.

You would never think a cake could weigh so much. We certainly don’t, until we drag it out of the door and to our Ford Transit, (which, as luck would have it) is parked a mere 20 yards away. We open the back and in it goes… well, not quite. There are still three or four feet sticking out the back. And so we drive the eight miles back to my house in south-east London with the back end of Freddie Mercury’s pink Roller sticking out of the back of our battered Transit.

We arrive back at my place only to discover that we can’t get the thing up the stairs. Martin – the sensible Balloon Dancer – suggests we take it to his house, seeing as how he lives on the ground floor. By this time it is 3.00am, but we think, “Fuck it, it’s got to be done.”

We get to Martin’s place and try to take the cake in. Slight mishap: it won’t fit throught his door. By this time, we’re getting good at solving cake conundrums. No problem, we take out the window.

Mission accomplished. We clear the only two tables in the house and there it lies, in pride of place. Drive home. It’s 4.30am.


9th October 1986, 9.30am

The phone rings.

I pick it up and answer with an only slightly subdued “Oy! Oy!”

“It’s Louis…” The agent. “You bastards! You’ve stolen Freddie Mercury’s birthday cake!”

Me (quick as a flash): “No we haven’t. It must have been some teenagers we saw when we were leaving.”

Louis: “Well, the Management have called in the police. That cake cost £4,000.” Click.

I can admit to being slightly worried. A past indiscretion (theft of Cabinet Minister Peter Walker’s Rolls-Royce, fraud, burglary, etc) meant that I spent much of the 1970s in prison.

I ring Martin: “Mart, they’re on to us. I’m coming round.”

I go round.

Martin has a bright idea. “We can’t eat it – it’s too big – let’s give it to an old people’s home. Old folks like cake.”

Brilliant. We phone the local old people’s home which snaps up the offer of free cake for the foreseeable future.

Window frame out. Cake back in Transit.

As we drive away from Martin’s house, I notice a police car coming from the opposite direction. They stop at Martin’s, but luckily don’t think to look in their rear-view mirror. If they had, they would have seen three feet of cake sticking out of the back of our van.

We deliver the cake to the Reynard Memorial Nursing Home. Breathe a sigh of relief and drive home.


9th October, 1986 – 4.30pm

Asleep. The doorbell rings.

Answer door.

Two detectives from West End Central Police Station are standing on my doorstep.

Detective Number 1: “You’ve stolen Freddie Mercury’s birthday cake.”

Me: “No I haven’t.”

Detective Number 2: “Oh yes you have.”

Me: “This is a pantomime.”

Detective Number 1: “Oh no it’s not.”

Me: “Behind you.”

They barge in, produce a search warrant and – believe it or not – two magnifying glasses with which they search for cake crumbs. Needless to say they don’t find any and they leave, vowing to return.

That was almost ten years ago and I’ve not heard a thing since.

Hang on, is that the door?


Inspirational in all the wrong ways…

Malcolm’s extensive and outrageous autobiography, titled I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake, is now out of print but is available on Amazon and elsewhere.

On amazon.co.uk it currently has a completely incorrect synopsis – the result of some uncorrected cock-up in the Amazon system. It’s been like that for at least five years, but Malcolm would probably have enjoyed the anarchy. 

The synopsis currently starts: “For successful classroom teaching, your students need to be engaged and active learners. In this book, there is practical advice that is grounded in the realities of teaching in today’s classrooms on how to be an inspirational teacher and produce highly motivated students…”

Malcolm’s autobiography is indeed inspirational, but in all the wrong ways…

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Depression is a funny thing…

(Photograph by Kat Love via UnSplash)

I’ve been through – before the pandemic – in fact, last century – I’ve been through that odd phase of not leaving the house and leaving my curtains closed all day.

I also went through a phase of not opening mail for a week or so. This was strangely like the English comedian Malcolm Hardee – a man never visibly depressed. He once told me that he would randomly throw some mail away, unopened, not knowing who had sent it nor how important it was. 

At least I opened mine eventually.

Now I open my mail as soon as it arrives and I keep my curtains open during the day.

I don’t open my windows, of course.

I was partly brought up at a very impressionable age in a council flat on a hill in Aberdeen, Scotland.

If you opened the window fully there, you would have frozen to death.

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ECCENTRIVIA – Political correctness, Facebook hoes, midgets and the NHS

Yesterday, my Yorkshire-born friend Lynn stumbled on this story in The Week from last month, which both of us had missed. She says: “I had to read it three times and I’m still not sure I get it. Whoever the morons are, they surely can’t be Yorkshire folk.

To be clear, the concept of the three wise monkeys became popular in 17th century Japan, before spreading to the West. It is associated with the Tendai school of Buddhism where monkeys are considered sacred and perceived as helpers for divine figures. They are “vehicles of delight”.

I always think people who censor monkeys for being racist should look at themselves in the mirror. Far be it from me to say “political correctness gone mad”… but I will.

That was yesterday.

Today, Lynn spotted this piece in Computer Active magazine about Facebook’s algorithm getting similarly censorious.

I told her: “Eat your heart out for any publican trying to make a living by running the Cock Inn, Scunthorpe.”

Afterwards, I Googled to see if there actually IS a Cock Inn, Scunthorpe.

Sadly there is not, but Google told me there is a Blythe Black Cock Inn. Arguably worse in Facebook terms, but un-censored by them.

I feel the good people of Plymouth Hoe have cause to be aggrieved about being picked-on by a US algorithm.

********

Meanwhile, in other perhaps equally dodgy news, I got an email telling me that the admirable Vaudevisuals Press, whose slogan is “Celebrating the Eccentric Performing Arts”, have published a book on Rose’s Royal Midgets and Other Little People of Vaudeville.

“…both the Dark and the Dazzling sides”

It covers the period from 1890 when Ike Rose “started living the legendary life of a top vaudeville & burlesque producer” to 1957, when Billy Barty founded his “advocacy group” the Little People of America.

Ike Rose, apparently, was “one of show biz history’s great impresarios, now forgotten but once in a league with names like Barnum and Ziegfeld as men who delivered full value for the price of a ticket.”

He seems to have rivalled Barnum is hype.

The book admits: “each component of the troupe’s name crumbles into dust by light of day.

“‘Rose’ was a pseudonym; the company held no Royal seal of approval; and the word ‘midget’ has passed out of use in polite society.”

The selling line for the book claims: ”Without pandering nor passing judgment, this book documents in detail the performers, producers, the stage routines themselves and the various venues from those straight up and upscale to others shameful and shady. This book probes both the Dark and the Dazzling sides of the American Imagination. Only rare books like this seriously confront our more bizarre past and allow the new generations of show folk to revise, to re-invent, to reform American Theater.”

Rare indeed – apparently only 50 copies of the book are being published.

Tomorrow – well, tonight at 8.00pm in New York; tomorrow 1.00am in London – there is a free online Zoom conversation between author Trav S.D. (Donald Travis Stewart) and Vaudevisuals’ own Jim R.Moore.

As I haven’t had a full night’s sleep since May last year (medical conditions) and am currently sleeping on the floor at night because my back is buggered, the possibility of my listening in on this Zoom call is iffy. But it sounds interesting.

********

I have also, this morning, just received a letter from the NHS saying that I should ignore the other letter they enclose in the same envelope cancelling  a future appointment.

Obviously, in this main letter, they don’t mention when or with whom the appointment is because that is mentioned in the letter which they are telling me to ignore.
 
They say, in the first letter telling me to ignore the second letter, that they will send me a third letter rescheduling the appointment.
 
Regular readers of this blog will know we have been here before (see my blog of a fortnight ag0).
 
Life is but a surreal dream, a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing….

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Queen Mab hath been with me…

The late Marion Morrison appeared to me in a dream…

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.

No I didn’t.

That was someone else.

I have never been to Manderley and never dreamt I went there.

But, last night, I dreamt I was at school with John Wayne.

Both of us were adults, not children.

We were sitting at the back of the class, in different rows, on small wooden chairs. He was dressed as a cowboy.

Well, he would be, wouldn’t he?

He was John Wayne.

What was that all about?

Dreams are full of surprises.

Much like Life in that respect.

And equally unfathomable.

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Home of 20 years destroyed… She’s now homeless during the COVID pandemic…

“The contents of my boat are less and less as they float out of holes torn in the hull…”

On Christmas Day, I posted a blog with bad news from Vancouver… 

This blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith’s 33-foot boat had sunk. It had been her home for 20 years. She is now homeless.

I heard back from her today:


I need to go to sleep soon as was down at the boat watching the never-ending shitshow till 0400am as they alternately try to tow, float or ransack the contents of my boat, which are less and less as they float one-at-a-time out of holes torn in the hull. 

The first book to emerge from the wreckage, not surprisingly, was Madame Sarah, the biography of Sarah Bernhardt. She was adventurous, driven, ahead of her times and maybe one of the original ‘goths’, with a habit of sleeping in her coffin. I’m surprised that Sir Gideon Vein, or at least a photo of him, did not accompany her on her voyage towards the sea.

Then a plastic red-pronged Hallowe’en pitchfork emerged gingerly from a hole in the boat’s backside (well, transom), prongs first, and floated away in the direction of the book.

I knew I was something of a performance artist, but hadn’t realised that boat is too.


Anna’s friend and colleague Geetha Subramaniam has started a fundraiser for her at GoFundMe.

Geetha gives more details:


“She has nowhere to safely go in the midst of this pandemic…”

Anna has lost almost everything, leaving her in an extremely vulnerable position. As a high-risk senior with a serious heart condition (aortic dissection) she has nowhere to safely go in the midst of this COVID pandemic.

The sinking occurred in the early hours. Extremely dangerous conditions forced her to evacuate, leaving almost everything – even her shoes – behind. 

She lost most of her personal and sentimental belongings, household effects, supplies and boating tools on board – everything from her kitchen to her bedroom and underwater.

Devastatingly, almost all the professional and artistic equipment  that she acquired over the decades – computers, musical and photographic equipment, hand-made costumes, sewing and art supplies, artwork and even her favorite hats – are gone.

She needs to find safe housing immediately while she deals with the aftermath, salvaging and proper disposal of the wreck. Due to the extremely hazardous conditions of the site, this could require towing, cranes, heavy machinery and labor. 

She has three disabled family members who depend on her for support., which she has since been unable to give.

You might be also able to help Annie in other ways, such as temporary housing (even aboard a boat!), 

Annie is a valued front-line peer-support worker at WISH Drop In Centre , and has been actively involved in community-building and advocacy for numerous organizations and causes including LGBTQ+, feminist and human rights, environmental issues, AIDS awareness and public health education initiatives since her teenaged years in the 1970s. 

She is a first director of XXX Workers Solidarity Association, which organizes Vancouver’s annual Red Umbrella March in support of sex-workers’ rights.

She has been involved in theatre, comedy, and performance art all her life.

Anna says – “My boat after being stuck in the clay riverbank and soaked in gasoline!”

… CONTINUED HERE

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Christmas Day – and a sinking feeling

A Christmas message from Anna Smith

Over several years, I have posted messages from Anna Smith, this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent.

She lives on a boat in Vancouver, Canada. At least…

…she USED to live on a boat in Vancouver.

Today is Christmas Day.

I received a new message from her this morning:


HAPPY CHRISTMAS JOHN (and assorted friends and family there).

I am on the bus right now, on my way to deliver a frozen turkey to friends and family for Xmas.

For the moment, I am staying at the ‘historic Queens Hotel’ (a former strip club which evolved into a ’boutique hotel’) It is a few blocks from the boat.

I never wanted my obituary to read: “She died on her beloved boat”.

Instead my beloved boat has died on me.

The reason it sank is, because after I spurned the aggressive advances of the marina owner, he towed my boat to a dangerous spot above a sand bar on the river bank and moved onto harrassing the next single woman there.

The river levels get low in the winter, especially during extreme tides. At low tide, my ‘antique’ wooden boat weighing three tons was resting at a 45 degree angle and, with all that weight on the transom, propeller shafts, the most vulnerable part, it was more than the vessel could stand.

The whole boat is still rearing up at low tide. The inside looks like it was ravaged by Hurricane Katrina. 

Some people are trying to start a crowdfunder page for me, but they are having some tech glitches with it at the moment.

The curious thing is…

The day before boat sank, documentary film director Ruggero Romano took me out for coffee to discuss his next feature film. I told him a year ago that, if he wanted some interesting material, he should come out and take a look at how people live on the river.

He went to Italy last year and told me that all summer he was thinking of doing ‘the river’ film.

I tried to disuade him then, because most of the people living on the river were curmudgeonly old men who don’t want to talk to anyone, fearful of losing their moorage. But…

To be continued, with photos…

Anna

CONTINUED HERE

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Why not all pubs are closed during the current English COVID-19 lockdown

(Photo by Eugene Ptashnik via UnSplash)

England is in a coronavirus total shutdown at the moment. It started on 5th November and continues until at least 2nd December.

This means all non-essential shops and retail premises are closed. So food shops remain open but all pubs are closed because large numbers of people congregating inside a pub, breathing on each other and getting drunk is clearly a bad idea.

But not all pubs are closed…

The last lockdown has encouraged some commendable creative thinking during this one.

My local pub in Hertfordshire has invested in polystyrene food containers and has reinvented itself as a hot meal takeaway.

A wine bar I know in East London has erected a tent outside and is doing – I think – takeaway hot dogs, burgers etc. At any rate, there’s a lot of sizzling and smoke going on there.

And a pub in trendy NW London has re-invented itself as rentable office space – You can rent a table and work from your local pub round the corner in a socially-distanced setting with WiFi and all the benefits of an office (but without any drinks being served).

Entrepreneurial thinking at its best in extremis.

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John Fleming’s Weekly Diary No 32 – My dreams, con-men and COVID footie

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 31

SUNDAY 23rd AUGUST

I was recently talking (well, emailing) with a well-known comedian. The interchange went:


The Glum family, with Jimmy Edwards second from the left

HIM: In an extraordinary – sorry ‘unprecedented’ – turn of events I have become busy! How you coping? I’ve been quite glum….

ME: Sorry to hear you have been Glum, presumably in the Jimmy Edwards pater familias role. I am a nihilist, so the world this year seems just ticketyboo and SNAFU, surely those last three words deserving of a lovable Noel Gay type London knees-up song.

HIM: Your nihilism has cheered me up and my excessive laziness reduced such that I have sent 3 emails today.


We are, truly, living in the time of coronavirus.

MONDAY 24th AUGUST

I am back to waking up 10 or 12 times every night with a bone dry mouth and have to drink water. Sometimes, this means I wake up in mid-dream.

Political problems in Belarus… I woke up too soon to help

Last night, I woke up and, for some reason, I had been talking in my dream to an Egyptian general who was working for a female Russian President who was having a television programme made about her. Lurking in the background watching all this was a rather aged Melina Mercouri – the Greek actress of the 1950s and 1960s – with staring eyes. I was talking to the Egyptian general about the escalating political problems in Belarus…

…and then I woke up.

Belarus will, unfortunately, have to do without my input.

Jo Burke – now a wiser woman after interviewing me

TUESDAY 25th AUGUST

Last Thursday, I was interviewed in the back garden of a Blackheath pub by performer Jo Burke for her upcoming series of online podcasts. She kindly said there had been ‘a technical problem’ last Thursday, rather than a case of interviewee incoherence.

So we had a second attempt this evening, via Zoom. It should be more physically editable but was no less incoherent. I should perhaps have warned her I am a terrible interviewee and should definitely have researched my own life before we started… I could not really remember the order in which things happened in my life nor how they came to happen.

Comedian Malcolm Hardee had the same problem when he wrote his autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake. Perhaps his problem was even worse. He could not remember in which DECADE things had happened let alone in which year.

Immediately before his book went to press, he remembered he had once been arrested by the Special Branch when he was found on a high window ledge outside prominent Cabinet Minister Michael Heseltine’s hotel room. He (Malcolm) was naked apart from a raincoat with nothing in its pockets but a pack of pornographic playing cards. He had mistaken Heseltine’s room for a chum’s.

Until then, Malcolm had forgotten all about this incident. It was just another normal day in his life. We managed to squeeze it into his autobiography at the last moment.

Someone else who was in the hotel at the same time (Yes, it really DID happen) told me the eyes of the Special Branch men who interviewed Malcolm looked stunned and mystified.

WEDNESDAY 26th AUGUST

I must have woken up six or eight times last night. Bone dry

I must have woken up six or eight times last night, my mouth bone dry and needing to drink water.

Also, about halfway through the night, I woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep with hiccups and heartburn, which sounds like the title of an Oasis song from the 1990s.

It was “painful and distracting” – a phrase which sounds like an extract from a review of an Oasis song from the 1990s.

I ended up sucking on a Gaviscon, which sounds like a mumbled lyric from some Bob Dylan song in the 1960s.

The above paragraphs are what I thought when I was having the hiccups, heartburn and Gaviscon. I wrote them down.

For some reason, the heartburn made me overdose on musical similes.

THURSDAY 27th AUGUST

We are living through the end of a historic period. Facebook Friend Matthew Wilkes spotted a newspaper item which said linguist Dr Lauren Fonteyn had Tweeted that teenagers and those in their 20s, who grew up using short messages to communicate, can see the full stop (that’s a ‘period’ to any American reading this) “as a symbol of curt passive-aggression”.

I re-posted this on Facebook and comments included one from Georgina Dick:


It’s not that we’re offended and need to grow up, it’s more of an understanding of the tone you’re trying to put across. There’s a big difference between saying “OK” “OK.” and “OK .”


Promoter Alex Petty of Laughing Horse Comedy suggested:


We need to put a full stop to this!


Period punctuation unsourced.

…and the quoted Dr Lauren Fonteyn aka Lauren Bliksem Tweeted:


Apparently this is based on a Tweet I never sent or something I said to the Telegraph which I haven’t spoken to.


We are now well and truly fully into the 21st Century.

FRIDAY 28th AUGUST

Argh! Got to sleep around 8.00pm last night. Woke multiple times during the night including once with hiccups and heartburn (again). Gaviscon was chewed. Just woke up again – 10.30am – and still want to go to sleep but have to get train at 12.31 for lunch with performer Lynn Ruth Miller so about to get up, sleepy. Argh! Why did Einstein not work a bit harder and invent time travel?

That was written after 14½ hours of sleep.

I went to catch the aforementioned train. There was no barrier to go through as the main area at Elstree station was closed after rain brought down part of the roof. So it was not until I arrived at St Pancras station that I realised I had left my travel pass behind at home. I had to pay £13.50 for a one-day travel card.

Lynn Ruth  – an innocent in English plumbing

Lynn Ruth Miller – an American and therefore a novice in the English language – told me she had only just discovered that a ‘tap’ in Britain is a ‘faucet’ in the US.

Coming back from our lunch, it was not until I arrived at Seven Sisters station that I realised had left my thin case and iPad in the ticket hall at Stoke Newington station.

Fortunately, alert Overground staff at Stoke Newington had spotted the case and kept it for me. Including the iPad.

SATURDAY 29th AUGUST

I was standing in the front room of my house with a female friend. We were half-watching a feature film from the 1950s on my television, which was sitting on the floor atop a low wooden frame base.

A man dressed as a spiv (Photograph via Wikipedia, Chafford Hundred, England)

Through my front window, I saw a man who was dressed like a 1940s/1950s ‘spiv’ coming to my front door. I said to my friend: “There’s a spiv coming to the door”.

She looked surprised by my use of the word. She looked out the window but couldn’t see him because he was already at the door.

I went into my front porch and he had just shoved some leaflet through the letter box.

My friend and I went back to watching the movie. She was holding a doll about eight inches high with pink hair. Not an unusual hair colour in dolls. My friend decided she wanted me to hold the top of the doll’s hair down while she coiffured it.

She moved a blue pouffe over to near the wall. This entailed turning the television round so she could still see it, But she was sitting so close to the wall by the front window that I could not get in and hold the doll’s hair.

So I got a red pouffe and put it in the middle of the room, away from the window and wall where it was more accessible – and I had to turn the TV set round again, so we could both see it. I had to lift it up and put it down because it was on its low wooden frame base.

I was about to start holding the doll’s hair down when some more people arrived at the front door. There were three of them and they tried to tell me the turf in my front garden was in a mess and I needed to buy some turf care liquid. They were obviously some sort of con artists.

Turf love – Could be better but I’ve seen worse

I said: “Oh, no no no, I like the more natural, rough look, not a highly-manicured lawn.”

One of the guys started lifting up the turf with his right foot.

Another of them was standing in the middle of my front lawn with six large – maybe six feet high – green pole-shaped things – maybe rolled turf – the girth of a small tree.

I thought I will confuse them by being surreal (something I occasionally try with cold-callers on the telephone).

“I might use some of those,” I said, “but I’m thinking of painting them. Three could be red, white and blue for Britain. Three could be red, white and blue for France. And there might be some way of working the German flag in there somehow… If I paint one black, it would be very effective. It would look very good.”

This succeeded in confusing the man who was holding the earthen post-like things.

Just before this, my friend has come out from the front room and was looking at the three men with a hint of bemusement on her face. By now it was dusk, getting quite dark, so the garden con-men went away, quite confused.

My friend and I went back into the living room.

I looked out the window and there was a man at the bottom of the garden – a supervisor who was obviously allowing salesman to come in and profer their services to people living in our square.

“…I looked at my bedside alarm clock… It was 6.49am…”

I thought this was very strange.

Then I sort-of vaguely woke up and looked at my bedside alarm clock. It was 6.49am.

I turned over and went back to sleep.

I woke up a few more times after that. On the second occasion, half awake, I drawled the details of the dream into my iPhone before I forgot it altogether which, obviously, I would have.

Possibly even more surreal was the video my friend Lynn (not to be confused with Lynn Ruth Miller) and husband Frank sent me this evening.

This afternoon, they went to watch the Brighton & Hove Albion vs Chelsea football match. It was the first UK match since the COVID-19 outbreak started that had been played with supporters present rather than being played ‘behind closed doors’. Only home supporters in Brighton.

It is certainly a weird video, ending with what sounds to me like traditional gypsy or Turkish music and then the teams ‘take the knee’ to honour the increasing number of unarmed black men being shot by the police in Donald Trump’s USA. The last one was shot in the back seven times at close range, while bending over to get in a car door.

Strange times indeed.

… CONTINUED HERE

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John Fleming’s Weekly Diary No 31 – Edinburgh cuts, digs, hugs and teeth

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 30

Machete Hetty demonstrates a fascinating narrative in her kitchen with her useful household utensils

SUNDAY 16th AUGUST

In the afternoon, I had tea with Machete Hetty in Leith. She had been going to stage her first Edinburgh Fringe show this year, but was outmanoeuvred by the coronavirus.

“You have never told me how you got your nickname ‘Machete’,” I said.

She told me.

I have told her to forget the show she had intended to stage this year and instead to stage this story at the Edinburgh Fringe next year – if the coronavirus allows.

It is a cracker of a narrative; she is a mesmeric natural storyteller; and, with the correct title, it would have them queueing round the block.

If I may be allowed to review the show before it has even been written, let alone staged, let me say: “Jesus Christ!”

Back in the old routine: Leith Walk dug up again, August 2020

Leith Walk is being dug up yet again for the tram extension. Clearly aiming to get commissioned as a long-running sitcom.

Edinburgh without the Fringe, not surprisingly, feels like Edinburgh off-season with just a few tourists (because of the coronavirus).

Just normal Edinburgh, in other words. There are always some tourists any time of year.

I have been coming to Edinburgh almost every single year since I was (literally) an embryo.

No overly-busy pavements this August; no Fringe show posters. So visually different.

Theatres have not had time to open. Cinemas, as in London, are open but look dead.

Bristo Square with the Teviot building across the emptiness

No Fringe events that I can see. (And I bought an Evening News yesterday – nothing.)

The Potterrow student shop and Dome in Bristo Square are closed (no students). The Teviot (the Gilded Balloon during the Fringe) was open but I didn’t go in. Bristo Square was empty save for a few skateboarders.

George Square was looking rural, green and tranquil.

Lots of people were sitting outside pubs and eateries last night, but they were locals or a dribble of tourists.

Lost Fringe advertising opportunities on the North Bridge…

The rebuilding of what was the St James Centre at the top of Leith Walk is STILL going on – this must have been going on for at least the last 3, maybe 4, years!

And the nearby North Bridge is being repaired. Apparently it fell down around 100 years and killed five people. I only repeat what I have been told. It has temporary wooden and plastic walls on both sides of the bridge ideal for Fringe posters (probably intentionally intended by the Council to get money in).

Because of COVID-19, I can hide missing teeth

MONDAY 17th AUGUST

I got home at 0130 after the flight from Edinburgh into London Gatwick. Very tired.

In the morning, I got a dental appointment – a cap had come off a dead tooth in Edinburgh on Saturday.

Rather than re-cap it, the dentist cut off the top and kept my plate (which I first got when I was about 16) until Wednesday. So I am now toothless at the front on the top.

It could be worse.

But, because of the coronavirus, I can justifiably wear a mask whenever I am out.

TUESDAY 18th AUGUST

In my local paper, the Borehamwood Times, columnist Paul Welsh wrote:


I was sad to read the death of 1960s pop star Wayne Fontana, who I saw in concert several times and who in later life was a character. I especially liked his 1967 hit Pamela Pamela.


Pamela Pamela was a hit in the Sixties. There is an online video of him performing it in 1985.

The phrase “who in later life was a character” drew my attention. I wanted to know more.

Apparently, according to Wikipedia, in 2005, he fought off bankruptcy but was arrested after police were called by bailiffs who went to his home in Glossop, Derbyshire. He poured petrol onto the bonnet of a bailiff’s car and set it alight with the bailiff still inside.

Wayne Fontana as Lady Justice (Photo: Rui Vieira/PA Wire)

He was remanded in custody on 25 May 2007. He later appeared at Derby Crown Court dressed as Lady Justice, complete with a sword, scales, crown, cape and dark glasses, and claiming “justice is blind”. He dismissed his lawyers.

On 10 November 2007, he was sentenced to 11 months for setting fire to the car but was released because he had already served the equivalent of the term, having been held under the Mental Health Act 1983.

Now THERE is a man I would have liked to meet.

Also the judge.

11 months sounds rather a light sentence for setting fire to a car with a person inside it… English justice at its most random.

Wayne Fontana’s group was called The Mindbenders.

Oh! The joy of having a full set of gnashers!

WEDNESDAY 19th AUGUST

I got my plate back from the dentist with the extra tooth on it. It fitted perfectly but was slightly uncomfortable. Well, my gums were not used to it.

I got a 49p McFlurry (ice cream) at the local McDonald’s. This is part of Chancellor ‘Dishy Rishi’ Sunak’s half price meals scheme Monday-Friday, to re-stimulate the UK economy after the economic shock of the coronavirus.

At Euston station, there was a loudspeaker announcement:

“Will Inspector Sands please go to the Control Room.”

I was sitting by an exit and looked around. None of the station staff seemed to be panicking. Nor running fast. I am still alive.

“Will Inspector Sands please go to the Control Room” means that there is a major incident in the building. They want to alert staff, but they don’t want to panic members of the public.

It comes, originally, from theatres, where sand was used to put out fires. It meant the building was on fire. But now it is used more generally in public buildings. Nowadays it is perhaps more likely to be a terrorist attack than a fire.

The announcement went round on a tape loop for about 2 minutes – a long time – then stopped. The only other time I have heard it was on a platform at Stratford station for maybe 20 seconds where, at the end, without explanation, it was followed by: “The test is now over”.

Adam Wilder, entrepreneurial big hitter and hugger

THURSDAY 20th AUGUST

At lunchtime, I chatted to Adam Wilder (formerly Adam Taffler) for a future blog.

He greeted me with a large hug.

A big hug.

A big, big hug.

Honestly! Theatrical types versus coronavirus distancing!

What on earth is one to do?

But NHS bureaucracy is even worse.

Bits of a terribly confusing time-travelling letter from the NHS

I got a letter today (20th August) from the Kidney Man sent to my GP with a cc to me.

It was a bit confusing at first until I realised it was written on 7th July, allegedly signed (no signature) and verified by the Kidney Man on 12th August and printed-out & sent to me on 17th August.

It referred to my medical symptoms and mentioned future treatment which is now in the past. I have received at least three  letters written after this one but sent before this one.

There is nothing like keeping up-to-date and this was etc etc etc…

The NHS is staffed by well-meaning, hard-working people, but all bureaucracies are incompetent and the larger the bureaucracy the larger the incompetence.

What would Archimedes have made of all this?

FRIDAY 21st AUGUST

It is a good thing Greece is known for its mathematical geniuses.

A local Greek restaurant is offering 15% off all food and drink Monday-Wednesday.

‘Dishy’ Rishi’s deal is 50% off food (but not alcoholic drink or spirits) Monday-Wednesday during August.

It would take Archimedes, Euclid and Pythagoras to figure out which offer is better value, taking alcoholic imbibement into account. As I don’t drink alcohol or spirits, the 15% deal would be worse than ‘Dishy’ Rishi’s deal.

A visual equivalent of trying to edit my words

SATURDAY 22nd AUGUST

On Thursday, I had a chat with performer Jo Burke for her upcoming series of online podcasts. I should perhaps have warned her that, although I am quite good interviewing people, I am appalling as an interviewee. I witter and wander off the subject. It sounds not too bad if you are talking to me but, combined with a speech pattern that elides words leaving no gaps, it is a nightmare – sometimes an impossibility – to edit. She discovered this today.

… CONTINUED HERE

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