An inconsequential and pointless blog… on an itchy nose and a pigeon’s hiccups

I remember thinking once that, perhaps – on one morning in the Middle Ages – perhaps in the middle of the 14th century – perhaps just before lunch on a Monday – a man in a field in England – or some other country in Britain – got an itch on the side of his nose. And the itch was so insistent that he, automatically, without thinking about it, scratched the itch – perhaps it took less than two seconds – and then he carried on with his life.

Later – perhaps only 10 minutes later in his life – he would have totally forgotten that the itch ever existed.

But, at the time – for those few seconds – perhaps less than two seconds – it was the overwhelming physical fact in his life.

No-one now – perhaps six centuries later – remembers that the man himself even existed, let alone knows about the itch.

Those two seconds – when the itch was the most overwhelmingly insistent thing in his life – were infinitely less than the tip of a needle in eternity.

But they existed for that lost pin tip in eternity.

A pigeon eating a crisp… well, part of a crisp… today

I was sitting on the platform at Cricklewood station in London this afternoon, when a pigeon walked up to my feet and started eating a discarded crisp (not mine) on the ground.

The pigeon had five pecks then got hiccups.

It had 16 little hiccups (I counted), looked as startled as I was and then recovered its composure.

I think they were hiccups.

A pigeon having hiccups… or perhaps coughing… today

They may have been little coughs.

It is difficult to tell with pigeons and I had never before heard nor seen a pigeon with hiccups – nor coughing.

Then the pigeon walked away, looking for other discarded or random foodstuffs.

I do not know how long pigeons remember things.

Probably not very long.

But this incident did happen…

…for infinitely less than the tip of a needle in eternity

… like everything else I blog about here.

Tempus fugit et nunquam redit

…as long-dead people used to say

… or maybe Tempus fugit et nunquam reddit

… or Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana.

It has all been said before

…by those who said it better.

It doesn’t matter.

Best forgotten.

Leave a comment

Filed under Philosophy, time

The joys of Glasgow when you are an 85-year-old burlesque performer

Ever-seductive Lynn Ruth Miller

Recently back from performing comedy in the Far East (as per various recent blogs here) 85 year-old American comic and late-starting burlesque performer Lynn Ruth Miller was stripping in Glasgow last week; she lives in London; she used to live in Brighton. Here she tells you what happened.


Glasgow is a unique city; much like Brighton but, in Brighton, they speak English.

People in Glasgow are positively avuncular when they see an old lady.

It started when the train pulled into Central Station. Instantly, one man took my case from the luggage rack and another hauled it off the train. As soon as I got into the station I asked a cleaner (no-one at the Information Desk) how to get to my hotel and he had a great deal to say. Sadly I could not understand one word, although I made him repeat it three times.  

I walked over to three girls in blonde wigs and asked them if they knew where Virginia Street was and they knew but insisted I take a cab because the weather was horrid. It was windy and raining. It was, after all Glasgow.

The three informed me that they were Swedish tonight because they were going to an Abba party. Did I want to go with them? I explained that I am Jewish and needed a toilet and they understood.  

They took me to the cab-stand and put me in a cab. The driver took me to the hotel, took my bag into the lobby and asked me to tell him a joke.

I did.

He laughed.

The hotel was charming. All thick, grey stone walls, dim lighting and forbidding paintings of knights on horses with spears on the walls. There was no lift and my room was on the third floor up an endless circular staircase. I felt a bit like Rapunzel and had I let my hair grow, I would have dropped it out the window and climbed down to the street. It would have been far less arduous than climbing those stairs.

One look at the size of my room and I immediately understood how it would feel to live in Japan. The good thing was I could reach EVERYTHING standing at the foot of the bed. I am 58 inches tall and the room was exactly 60 inches square.

I went out of the hotel in search of dinner and discovered that, in Glasgow, everything is open until midnight and beyond TO DRINK. Eating must be finished by ten.  

Glasgow – It is not all windy and raining

Back in the hotel, I practised my songs for the Burlesque Festival in my tiny little room at the top of the stairs. I was up so high that several birds peered in the glass to check out the caterwauling sounds coming from my open window.

The next afternoon, I lunched at Breakfast at Tiffany’s (really) and was taken by how many old couples (seventy or older) go out for lunch there. They sit at the table and never say one word to one another, eating careful and slowly lest they drop a bit of egg on their jumpers.   

I always thought I had missed so much because I don’t have a partner… no-one to share ideas with; no-one to tell my troubles to; no-one to cuddle. But, when I look at these couples who have been together for umpteen years and don’t even register the other’s presence, I wonder if I missed anything at all.  

I held my comedy class at The Riding Room for three wonderful women and talked about what makes funny.

There was one accomplished woman from New Zealand who had just come from London where she had played the Royal Vauxhall Theatre and it occurred to me that I could learn from HER not the other way around; a single mother from Glasgow who said that people consider single mothers the result of a broken relationship but the truth is they are just broke; and a wonderful young lady from Aberdeen who wants to start a burlesque venue there.

I said to them all: “Why not?”

Aberdeen could use some twirling tits to take their minds off the horny sheep; New Zealand must be thrilled to have a stripper who tells them that menopause means men are paused… and single parents really do have a lot more fun when they manage to find a baby sitter.

My big one was that night: The Saturday Evening Spectacular at The Glasgow Burlesque Festival and I was the headliner.  

Audiences in Glasgow are particularly supportive and they go wild just because you are performing. I did my song and got a huge standing ovation, which thrilled me.  

I do not think I will ever take audience appreciation for granted. It is a gift that means far more to a true performer than the money we earn. It validates us. But the sweetest thing is how very many people came up to me afterwards and THANKED ME for doing my performance.

There is a joy and a sense that humans are important and to be cherished in Glasgow. It is the underlying quality I love about all of the UK but in Glasgow (and in Brighton) it is far more apparent.  

Age, sex, sexuality, income… no-one cares. They only get upset if you are cruel to someone else or kick a puppy (and in Brighton, of course, if you forget to recycle).

Viv Gee and Lynn Ruth are kind to puppies

My Sunday in Glasgow was spectacular. I went to lunch with Viv Gee, a superb comedian and a teacher of comedy. She met me at Singl-end, a New Age restaurant so up-to-the-minute that there were no deep-fried Mars Bars on the menu. Not even fish and chips. Just blood pudding and things like seared Kale and Spirulina fritters.  

I left to meet Frodo McDaniel and spoiled the entire nutritional effect of my lunch with Costa’s hot chocolate covered with mountains of whipped cream. We discussed the problem of achieving fame and fortune when you do cabaret… evidently no-one loves a cabaret artist.  

The burlesque scene is burgeoning however and the range of talent that we see on stage goes from mediocre and expected to wild and original. It is becoming very like comedy in that more and more people are doing it and you can actually choose how sophisticated and polished a show you prefer.

Roxy Stardust created the Glasgow Burlesque Festival. This is her fourth year of bringing artists from all over the world to Glasgow to rip off their clothes, swallow swords and climb ropes. She does not discriminate between men and women, colour or genre and it is Roxy’s patter that holds each show together. She sings, she jokes, she chats to an audience who cannot help but get her… and she fills the house every night. She has figured the whole thing out just right.

At the early show, I recreated my prize-winning cabaret AGEING IS AMAZING (the one where I throw diapers at the audience, give them condoms and put wigs on their heads). I got my second standing ovation for that one.

In the late show, we had our finale for the four-day festival and I gave them ZIP, where I zip up and zip down but never strip. The audience response was gorgeous.

The next day I dragged my case down three flights of narrow stairs and walked to the station (not ten minutes away).

As always in Glasgow, someone walked me to the entrance, someone else helped me haul my case onto the train and someone ELSE stored it in the luggage rack and promised to retrieve it when we got to Euston.

And he did.

1 Comment

Filed under Scotland, showbiz

Comic Sara Mason is being paid NOT to perform her hit Fringe show in Leicester

This show is not happening – at least, not in this venue, not on that date, possibly not in Leicester…

JOHN: So you no longer have a venue for your show at the Leicester Comedy Festival in February.

SARA: That’s right.

JOHN: Because?

SARA: Because the CEO of the venue I was booked in suddenly flatly refused to have me perform.

JOHN: Because?

SARA: He or she didn’t say. But he or she did say he or she would not be persuaded and he or she was obviously horrified by the subject matter.

JOHN: So he or she accepted your show and then changed his or her mind?

SARA: Well, the wonderful Big Difference Company had programmed it in the venue as a Valentine’s Day show – which I thought was a brilliant idea – and the CEO then looked at the line-up after the brochure had been printed – and absolutely, categorically would not allow me to perform.

JOHN: You had already paid to go in the brochure…

SARA: Yes. The CEO totally, categorically agreed to pay me a figure I won’t divulge NOT to perform the show at the venue.

JOHN: Can you perform it somewhere else in Leicester?

Sara, surprised by the sudden cancellation

SARA: At this point, most venues are full – the brochure has been printed. I started discussing a venue for this show back in August – before my run at the Edinburgh Fringe had finished – and the brochure deadline was mid-October. 

JOHN: What’s the title of the show?

SARA: A Beginner’s Guide to Bondage.

JOHN: One might think the CEO could have got a hint of the subject from the title.

SARA: Possibly. But I suppose it could have been about a housewife ‘chained’ to the kitchen sink.

JOHN: Or someone who just liked James Bond films.

SARA: Indeed… I am sure we would have sold out on Valentine’s Day night. People are interested in the subject. That’s the thing about this show. Audiences are interested. But the critics don’t want to know. The press don’t want to know. The publicists at the Edinburgh Fringe didn’t want to represent me. I tried to get a publicist. Couldn’t get one. Yet, at the end of the day, I was sold out every single performance.

JOHN: I’m never totally convinced about the value of publicists at the Fringe.

SARA: I felt I would never get reviewed at the Fringe if I didn’t have a publicist. And I wasn’t. And that was – is – the reality. To book a tour for this show is possibly impossible.

JOHN: Though your show got audiences in in Edinburgh – which is no mean feat.

SARA: My show is a feminist and funny look at all the weird and wonderful kinks that people can have. It’s not judgmental and it’s not for the raincoat brigade. One chap from the raincoat brigade came to see it in Edinburgh. He came in his raincoat with a plastic bag and sat by himself in the crowded back row. He walked out after about ten minutes and complained to the manager that he thought the show was very sexist and anti-male – particularly, I assume, anti white, middle class men. I felt I should put that quote on my programme! He was the only person who has ever been offended, apart from a Tory lady who was offended by what I said about Boris Johnson.

JOHN: Which was?

SARA: I said that I would like to use my massive strap-on on him. Usually, that gets rounds of applause and shrieks of laughter, particularly in Scotland, where they are not very fond of Boris or Brexit. But there happened to be a party of Tory voters in who – although they liked the show… Well, one lady felt morally upset that I was bringing politics into my show. 

But a dominatrix is a human being with a political opinion and it’s my show and I can say what I like. Without a doubt, all of the dominatrices I have ever met were Left Wing and all of their security guards were Right Wing.

JOHN: Security guards?

Sara’s show CAN be seen in London on 14th and 16th December in a Kentish Town venue

SARA: They all have security. Someone to answer the door and security at night. Sometimes they are ex-Army and usually they are Right Wing. I think dominatrices tend to be Left Wing.

JOHN: Why?

SARA: (LAUGHS) Maybe because they like beating rich toffs for money.

JOHN: So the Tory lady who went to your show did not object to the title or subject of the show.

SARA: No. Just me dissing Boris Johnson.

JOHN: Did you have the ‘dead dad’ bit that all successful Edinburgh shows are supposed to have?

SARA: I included a sad story, yes. But the Tory lady who didn’t like my Boris Johnson references said she didn’t understand why there was a deeply-upsetting, sad moment. My reaction was: Well, you don’t understand how you write a play or a comedy show. There is always a climax and then a resolution.

JOHN: Indeed.

SARA: If you are writing a play, you call it the climax. In comedy, it’s the ‘dead dad’ moment and then you get them back laughing again.

JOHN: The show was a success in Edinburgh…

SARA: It sold out. There were queues down the street. Hardly any of my friends could get in to see it – Only if they told me when they were coming and I physically reserved them a seat.

JOHN: Who were the audience in Edinburgh?

SARA: In the main, young – under 26 – and more women than men. On the few nights when there was a bit of a geezerish crowd – a chav crowd – the sort of guys who sat in the front row hopin’ I’d get me tits out – they didn’t laugh half as much and I didn’t enjoy performing to that crowd at all. 

Sara in costume at the Edinburgh Fringe

I had one night when it was a predominately male audience with a few of these geezers sitting in the front – they were quite big and made me feel quite threatened. After that, in every performance, I would pick either couples or a group of girls who didn’t look too frightening and ask them to sit in the front row. So I couldn’t be heckled by people who had come to the show for the wrong reasons.

The thing is it’s a Fem-Dom show. Which part of Fem-Dom didn’t audience members understand? Did they not know I would be taking the piss out of certain men? Not in a horrible way, because my show does not judge even the slightly yuck fetishes. We live in a free society. 

Nowadays, we have transgender, transvestite, gay shows. We have all types of things. But it seems like ‘kink’ and bondage is still an unpronounceable thing. Why should that be so? Let people do what they like in the bedroom. We can laugh and giggle. I show my delight at people’s eccentricity. Everyone has a right to express themselves.

JOHN: Did you aim your show at a particular type of person?

SARA: I have a friend who is a theatre director and he told me: In your show, reach out to the ‘vanilla’ couples in the audience and let them know it’s OK to experiment. It’s not abnormal. So I end my show with a little speech to the vanillas, offering them a little role-play exercise they can do with each other to discover if they are sub or dom or neither or vanilla or double vanilla. 

JOHN: Or strawberry whip.

SARA: Exactly. I give them that speech and they seem to enjoy that.

Three years in the making, the design for the publicity flyer went through some changes when it was a Work in Progress

JOHN: How do you know so much about the subject of bondage?

SARA: I take the Fifth Amendment, but I spent three years writing this show. Everything in it is true. Even ‘the nose man’.

JOHN: The nose man?

SARA: The nose man needs his nose to be stimulated in order to achieve any sort of gratification. Now – look – that is quite amusing, you have to admit.

JOHN: Does he think it’s amusing?

SARA: No. But it is a known fetish. It’s called nasophilia.

JOHN: Well, people sometimes like their ears fiddled with – that’s aural sex.

SARA: There is a fetish for everything.

JOHN: You mentioned rubbish.

SARA: ‘Rubbish Boy’ likes you to put him in a wheelie bin and cover him with rubbish.

JOHN: Smelly rubbish?

SARA: Any kind of rubbish. So my character in the show – Mistress Venetia, the ‘dotty dominatrix’ – one time she put him in the bath tub and covered him with all the rubbish from the flat and he wanked himself to completion. Of course, I made him clean it up afterwards – half a bottle of bleach – he loves that. 

Another time, Mistress Venetia put him in a pair of ballet tights and taught him some ballet moves. Bend-down-stretch… bend-down-stretch. She taught him a pas de chat and he was leaping all over the dungeon. That is a true story. He said it was the best day of his life. The real man is quite chubby and had never been asked to do ballet before.

JOHN: So the good people of Leicester are not going to hear any of this.

SARA: Not without a venue, they aren’t.

(… THIS STORY HAD A HAPPY OUTCOME… READ MORE HERE )

1 Comment

Filed under Censorship, Comedy, Sex

How to write almost anything – The basic story structure of the classic plot.

Painting of The Damsel of The Holy Grail by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1874)

Yesterday, I went to a talk by Robert Thirkell at Elstree Film Studios. He describes himself as “a TV repair man”.

He is said to be the first ‘go-to’ person if your TV script or factual TV series is not working and needs re-structuring – “arguably the world’s leading story consultant for television and factual features”.

He is worth listening to and part of his basic structural theory is the same as in Joseph Campbell’s 1949 book The Hero With a Thousand Faces.

Campbell’s book (which I have not read) famously analyses the structure of fairy tales and myths to come up with ‘the one’ universal story structure to rule them all; the one story structure to find them, the one universal story to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.

It is much-lauded in Hollywood and, as well as being the basis of Star Wars et al, has influenced the whole Movie Brat generation of film-makers.

Campbell’s story structure is for works of fiction, but Thirkell uses it as a structure to grab and hold the attention of the viewers of factual TV shows.

The Campbell structure is basically this:

A hero leaves his castle on a quest… overcomes obstacles along the way… and, at the end, succeeds in his quest. That quest may be to find an object – the Lord of the Rings or the Holy Grail or the Rabbit’s Foot in Mission Impossible III – or to rescue a damsel in distress as in John Ford’s The Searchers.

But The Quest it is basically the same, it is said, in any classic and effective work of fiction… and can be used in factual narratives.

You set up an unresolved problem at the very start of the story – the classic movie ‘hook’ to grab the audience’s attention. The development of the plot involves a series of attempts to uncover a way to resolve the problem and overcome the multiple obstacles encountered. And the climax involves the resolution of the problem.

That holds for books, movies, plays, even narrative comedy routines.

Any successful American movie or TV show has traditionally had a tendency to set up the ‘problem’ – the ‘hook’ – and to introduce the main characters within the first 2-5 minutes of the narrative. To hook the audience from the very outset.

I have sat through endless dull movies which do NOT do this. They are endless because they are startless.

They start by setting up atmosphere, place and time and even characters aplenty, but no plot. My internal reaction is always: “What the fuck is this story actually going to be about?” Watching atmosphere bereft of plot is like watching weatherproof paint dry. You have to have it, but you need to build the bloody shed first.

Another of the classic structural underpinnings of the universal story is that the hero starts a boy and ends a man because, under pressure of the problems surmounted in the course of the plot, there is a transformation in his character. He ends a wiser, braver and transformed character.

(NB ‘he’ can be ‘she’…! But, in traditional fairy tales and myths it tends to have been ‘he’ and the Campbell book is about Heroes. I did not invent the English language. Don’t give me unnecessary PC grief.)

Robert Thirkell has a theory that the hero has to lose some of his battles in the middle, retreat, re-think, try again and then win on the re-attempt. Because that makes the character more sympathetic and more admirable. If the hero constantly surmounts problems effortlessly, the reader/viewer finds it difficult to empathise with him.

Personally, the best opening to a movie I have ever seen – and all the better because it is not noticeable – is the opening credit sequence of the first Die Hard movie because all the central characters, their backgrounds, relationships and the basic starting ‘hooks’ of the plot are set up before the film actually starts for real. 

(I should, at this point, mention that I wrote a similar but different blog about story structure in January 2011, titled How to write the perfect film script: “Die Hard” meets Pixar animated feature “The Incredibles”. But – hey – if something is worth saying…)

Rule 2 of writing anything…

Don’t be silly. Nothing is truly 100% original.

2 Comments

Filed under Books, Movies, Writing

One Brit’s eye view of living in the US on the day of the Mid-Term Elections

I know a man called Mick Deacon. Well, I don’t. That is not his real name. But he does come from East Anglia in the UK. At the moment, he is living in the working class heartland of Donald Trump’s America. On the day when the Democrats won back control of the House of Representatives, this what he told me in an email…


The decent people I know here are really afraid at what is going to happen to their country.

Trump is stirring up racism in such a huge way.

It is not just what he says that is so shocking. 

He is stirring up a subconscious OK for Racism trend here. 

The crime rate in this city, away from the tourist areas, is quite shocking. And the mental health problems are huge. Two days ago, I was on a bus which was a bit like a Beirut scenario. There was a woman going crazy at a man.

Coupled with easy access to guns, this is not a good mix. 

It is so easy to buy guns here it is ridiculous. There was a gun fair on last weekend. As casual as a church tea party.

I have never seen such noticeable mental health conditions as I’ve seen here. 

The people with mental health problems on the bus from hell I travel out to the sticks on are usually poor and female although I do see quite a few older white males in the same way. I feel afraid when trapped on a bus with them. Daily.

It’s the outward spontaneous loudness of their attacks that shocks me as an British person. You would very rarely see sudden outbursts like these in UK. I really have learned a lot about my culture: how tough we are, the whole stiff upper lip part of us.

With the poverty here, added to lack of help and easy access to guns, it is no surprise that people just get randomly shot for barely doing anything.

Apparently in this city, there are a lot of young, uneducated people with a family history of no moral values and that results in a high level of shootings – even in tourist areas. Recently, a gang of 8-17 year olds beat up a receptionist in what is thought to have been a gay hate crime started by an 8 year old. The guy ended up with a fractured orbital bone – that’s the bone of the eye socket – and loss of front teeth.

I knew it might be a challenge living here, but I was almost defeated last night. 

I did not sleep until 2.30am as my lovely new pal here was up until then coaching me what to do to keep myself safe in the house. It is a far cry from the market square in Norwich on a Saturday night – the nearest I got toviolence at home.

My new pal’s first bit of advice was to get some mace spray. In my lovely little British bubble world, I thought it was for cooking. No. It is to spray in someone’s face when they attack me!

These bus trips daily from the neighbourhood are a challenge. The guy I am renting my room off is a retired policeman and he tries to educate me/terrify me in how to – in his rather intimidating words – KEEP SAFE. 

His advice is: “Don’t speak to anyone… Be constantly vigilant… Don’t let anyone get to close to you… When you are in the house, don’t ever answer door without looking through window first to see who it is… If you don’t know them, say firmly WHAT DO YOU WANT? very hard… Any noise at night, call 911… Wherever you are, just be vigilant!” 

I am not really sure what that does to the brain – being on alert constantly.

The stark contrast to how the tourist and mid city is to my new suburban palace is immeasurable. It is like being on a Quentin Tarantino episode of The Jeremy Kyle Show.

I like to experience life to the full but this, however, is over even my bar!

At least I am currently still alive – despite the fact a car hit another car yesterday and I have no idea how they actually ended up where they did.

One ended up squashed alongside a parked vehicle in a side street and the other one ended up going down the pavement and getting embedded in someone’s stone staircase outside their house. 

I was in a cafe and the guy who was sat on the patio in front of the cafe suddenly ran for cover and there were two really large bangs. I thought they were gunshots.

Apparently the government make so much money from the sale of guns it will never stop. 

It is a bit like smoking in the UK but that is a much slower death.

Here, BANG! No warning. No panic. Dead.

In the UK, I am led to believe someone with a gun would wave it about for quite a period of time, instil fear in everyone for at least ten minutes, then not always do anything.

And here, in my experience, black people are way friendlier than white. I am not saying that I have not met some very nice white people, but they are usually younger than me or a lot older.

People around my age – early middle age – seem to have masses of anxiety and talk really loud about their needs and how tough a life they have if they can’t quite afford zillion dollar alterations to their house or haven’t got expensive clothes, meals etc.

Americans are aspirational.

Maybe they have to be to survive.

1 Comment

Filed under Politics, US

Lynn Ruth Miller – performing comedy in Singapore and burlesque in London

Lynn Ruth Miller on the menu at Comedy Masala, Singapore

In her last blog here, posted yesterday, 85-year-old London-based US comic Lynn Ruth Miller was in Beijing. Now she is back in the UK after the first half of, pretty much, a world tour. She writes:


On the train from Gatwick Airport to Victoria, I looked so dead that the woman opposite gave me a bottle of red wine to pep me up.  It didn’t.

I am about to collapse. I just lost 13 hours. Let me know if you find them.

I am so jet lagged I cannot think; but this just might be an improvement

After Beijing, I flew to Singapore. It was my third time in that magic, clean and well-organized city and it amazes and saddens me that it is such a beautiful place to live… because it is run by a dictatorial government.  

I have not talked to one person there who does not love the life, the safety on the streets, the lack of homelessness, the superior health care. But it is a city that will execute you if you deal in drugs and will cane you publicly if you are naughty.  

If you litter the streets, you are publicly shamed and, if you chew gum or cross in the middle of a road, you will be arrested. No-one seems to mind that his or her vote is meaningless. They approve of these laws and believe it makes for a better quality of life for them all.   

When I look at the poverty, homelessness, squalor and anger under our so-called democratic regimes, I wonder if the Singapore people do not have it right.

In Singapore, I was hosted by a great friend, Umar Rana, the producer of Comedy Masala, and his Czechoslovakian wife Silvie. I knew his phone number and someone at Singapore Airport Immigration called him for me to get the address. Then they had the problem of trying to locate my fingerprints. Over the years, my thumb has worn smooth and it took two powerful machines to figure out that my thumb was me.

When I got through Customs and out, the hot, damp Singapore air hit me like a damp sponge after the relatively cool, invigorating air in Beijing.

(L-R) Umar Rana, comic Ben Quinlan and wife Tiffany, Lynn Ruth and Silvie Kneblova-Rana out on the town in Singapore

Umar and Silvie live in a large condo and I had a quiet room of my own so it was like a hotel but much nicer because both Ranas were anxious to keep me comfortable and well fed.

They have a cat named Tangie who had a room of her own as well.

Umar kept reminding me that his was a fully equipped home. The two of them do not drive because keeping a car in Singapore is grossly expensive and the public transportation is excellent.

I am struck by what Renaissance Men become comedy producers. Dilip in Manila deals in property development and affordable housing; Eamonn in Jakarta is into energy conservation, magazine publishing, public service and so  many more projects I cannot believe he finds time to produce the entertaining and very popular show that he does at the American Club;  Umar in Singapore is a Pakistani and has been a banker and lived and worked in many different cultures.  

He went to school in Amherst, one of America’s finest Universities, then went from America to the Far East to work. After several other locales, he moved to Singapore about twelve years ago.    

People who live and work internationally seem to have a wider, less restrictive view of what it is to be human. Differences of philosophy or behaviour interest them rather than putting them off. It has been an education to know and talk to these men.

I was in Singapore to perform for two nights at Comedy Masala.

I did not have to do an entire hour although I was headlining. I only needed to do 30 minutes. Audiences in Singapore are very diverse and very open-minded and, with performers there, I never feel the competitiveness that I do with comedians in other cultures. In Singapore, they all seem to support one another and encourage each other.

With many of the shows I do in Southeast Asia, I always feel the line-ups are mediocre or inexperienced comedians but, in Singapore, Umar runs a tight show: three comedians and a headliner and his comedians are always very good.  

The audience was very mixed: French, Italian, Australian, American and Singaporean but more local than international.

The opener was a boy named Matthew Chalmers from Glasgow and he was superb. His jokes were sharp and fast and clever. His jokes were about being Glaswegian and I felt they were not getting the laughs they deserved. It could be because what he said resonated with me but not to people who cannot imagine a place like Glasgow where Jack Daniels is the local nectar and deep-fried Mars Bars are considered health food.

The second comedian was Ben Quinlan. Truly professional. He won a very prestigious competition not long ago in Hong Kong. He looks Caucasian but is half Chinese, born and raised in Hong Kong. His forte is accents and he is wonderful imitating Thai speech and Indian speech.  

The last comedian before me was Adrian Saw, a magician who works in finance during the day. I thought he was really good, though doing magic in a dimly-lit room where people cannot see you clearly is a huge challenge.

I did straight stand-up instead of my hour-long show which is a combination of stories and jokes and it seemed to go over OK but, as it often is with Asian audiences, they were not very loud in their approval or their laughter. So, although I got many compliments and much praise, I am not certain of the impact.   

However, one couple was getting every joke. They were originally from Melbourne but had spent the last several years in New Guinea and this was their last night in Singapore before moving to France.

Lynn Ruth also performed on Ladies Night at the 360 Bar…

You often find that expats in Asia are people with excellent high-paying jobs whose companies move them from one country to another so they become very international in their perspective and in their outlook on what life is about. There is a realism to them that I find very refreshing and often they are able to separate themselves from the culture they are in and see it clearly.  

The people I have met are uniformly liberal even though they work for companies that are certainly more to the right on the political spectrum. These people observe cultures rather than participate in them because, no matter how long they live in one place, they are still outsiders.

Singapore is really lovely at night, with tall modern buildings and a sense of constant activity. Something is always happening.

Silvie says it is a very expensive city but it takes good care of its residents with housing, medical and education benefits. It does not have a homeless problem and its residents are very proud of its cleanliness and its safety. You can walk down any street in Singapore at any hour of the day or night and feel safe.

I arrived back at Gatwick Airport at 3:45pm, having lost 13 hours of daylight and was hit with a 42F degree chill.  

Sultry Lynn Ruth in her “sexy silk pyjamas”

The minute I got to the train station, someone helped me on with my case before I even asked. Another person helped organize my case so it didn’t obstruct the other passengers. Someone carried my case down Victoria Station’s steps to the tube. Someone else helped me get that case on the train. To make me feel even more wanted and loved, the bus driver waited for me to round the corner to get on the bus. I was so thrilled I forgot to shiver.

British people help one another because it is the right thing to do.  

It felt very good to be home, back in London. Tomorrow, I am off to perform in a burlesque show.

1 Comment

Filed under Singapore, Travel

Lynn Ruth Miller meets her idealistic, optimistic, innocent 21 yo self in Beijing

In her last missive from China, comedienne Lynn Ruth Miller was in Shanghai. Then she progressed to Beijing…


There are definite pluses to being small and old in China. I have survived because of the kindness of strangers just like Blanche did in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, but I did not have to sell what she did. Actually, mine is not worth selling these days, not even on eBay. Don’t tell ME it is never too late.

It is too late.

You would be amazed how confusing things are when you cannot ask directions or read the signs.

The road from Beijing airport into the city was lined with trees and it felt almost as if we were going through a forest to get to my hotel. The driver walked me into the lobby and left me there. No-one spoke English and I was thinking I might just have to unpack there and set up shop when, to my utter delight, a little angel appeared in a fuchsia hat that proclaimed: “Here to BREAK your heart”.  

A carbon copy of idealistic 21 y.o. Lynn Ruth

But she didn’t. Instead, she helped me find my room and figured out the lights and the internet. Her name was Diane and she was a carbon copy of the idealistic, optimistic innocent I was at 21, eager to learn more, do more and see more but afraid of all the unknowns in the universe. I discovered she also had challenges with relationships and food.

I had thought the only nervous, insecure wrecks were Jewish girls like me from Toledo, Ohio.

That evening, I sat and talked to this lovely human being who cares so much about life and thinks she can do so little. We talked about writing and the arts. We talked about philosophy and we talked about the ways society tries to limit us.

Then we walked to see my venue, The Bookworm.

I was struck with the way the main street looked like any street in Central London, filled with recognizable shops. I was told this was a very up market part of town and, indeed, it felt very Fifth Avenue but with a difference. Motor bikes go up on the sidewalks and weave through pedestrians and cars block the entrance to shops. I am absolutely certain there are no traffic laws whatsoever in Beijing.

Crossing the street is a challenge. Even when you have the green light, cars and motorbikes turn into the street and swerve around pedestrians. As I crossed on a green light, several cars turned into the intersection and just steered around me avoiding the ten bicycles coming the other way and motorbikes weaving through the entire mess trying to avoid severing toes and bruising hips. There is no such thing as right of way.

I did not get the sense that people feel repressed or unhappy even though we are told that they have a very repressive and controlling government that limits people’s freedom. Instead I got the same feeling I get walking the streets in London or New York of busy people living productive, secure lives.

Not all traffic – in the Soho area of Beijing

I was struck by how fashionable the women were and how beautifully they dressed. I was also taken by couples with children and the way they hover over their little ones.

Until just lately, China only permitted couples to have one child and that child was hopefully a son. From what I hear, girl babies were often aborted or drowned.

Now the law has changed and you can have two children. Furthermore, amniocentesis is banned. You cannot try to find out the sex of your unborn child.

These parents are totally devoted to their babies and the children are all dressed adorably with cute tee shirts and adorable little jackets and shoes. The place felt like a fashion show. Perhaps that’s why I saw so few dogs. You only have so much love you can give.

When we got there, I loved The Bookworm. It is one of those all-in-one places where you can go to an event, eat food, drink wine and have good conversations. Very reminiscent of Shakespeare and Company in Paris.

In the hutong area, I saw a very different side of Beijing: very Chinese, very traditional, with narrow streets, shops jammed next to one another and people crowding each other on the street. Chinese people push and shove their way to where they want to go. There is no sense of courtesy to strangers as there is in Britain and yet, face-to-face, they are unfailingly kind. I had numerous people guide me across streets and one guy hugged me afterwards as if I were his best friend. Yet, if you are in their way, watch out.

My friend Jesse Appel runs a venue in Beijing: the US-China Comedy Center. He comes from the richest community in the United States, Newton, Massachusetts, and went to Brandeis University, an exclusive Jewish university that, despite its origins, is very diverse. Only half the student body is Jewish.  

Jesse explained to me that standup comedy as an art form is very new in China, but growing. He was part of a small team that initiated Chinese standup with Des Bishop, an Irish comedian from Flushing, New York, who is famous for doing comedy in the Chinese language.

That night, I performed at The Bookworm. It was an add-on show following the Chinese Comedy that Jesse was in.

I listened to the Chinese show and was astounded and encouraged at how eager the audience was to laugh. However, after the group of 125 chuckling Asians at that show dispersed, I was left with about 30 people, most of them from Beijing with English as their second language. There were about 5 people who were from the US and UK – one from Leeds, one from Newcastle and one man from Michigan where I went to University. He was the only one who got all the jokes.  

Lynn Ruth performed in English at The Bookworm in Beijing

The rest of my audience were polite; they listened; they chuckled. But they were not like Jakarta or Manila. The host was a man from Orlando named Mac who was very good. The opener was his brother who informed us that he was very famous in Orlando, Florida. He was supposed to do 10 minutes but he rambled on for 30.  

The show began on Chinese time (always late) and, by the time I got on stage 45 minutes later, the audience was half asleep. But the guy from Michigan laughed; the man from Leeds chuckled and drank gin and tonics; and the rest of the audience smiled, nodded and tried to figure out what “a suppository” and “a cellar door” was.

You cannot win them all.

That said, I got a tremendous amount of praise for the show from the very audience members I thought I had confused. So maybe they did get some of it after all.

When it was time for me to go home (about 1.00am) Justin from Leeds offered to walk me to the hotel.

As we walked, chatting about life and love and the high cost of sex in China, we missed the sign for my hotel. We ended up in another hotel about half a mile from where I was staying, where no-one could speak English to help us.  Justin has been here for 6 years. He understands a bit of Chinese but, unlike Jesse who has mastered the language to the point where he has no accent, Justin communicates only in English.  

We wandered around asking people who had no idea what we were asking until one wonderful human caught on. He WALKED us to our destination. By this time, I had a raging headache from having only eaten those soggy noodles and nothing else all day. Justin, being an English Gentleman, was determined to find me something to eat. That is why I love British men. They do what their mothers taught them and their mothers got it right.

We went into a bar adjacent to the hotel but, by this time, it was almost 2.00am and no food was being served. A man from Los Angeles named Eddie saw our plight, argued with the manager about the necessity of bending rules and regulations to no avail, then disappeared to go to a convenience store to get me a bit of bread. Eddie informed me that I had very young eyes but my hearing aid didn’t quite get what he said, so I responded: “Yes, it never turned grey.”

I staggered upstairs at 2.30am, still worrying about audience reaction to my show. I wrote Eamonn in Jakarta and said that it was not like the show I did for him and, being the modest, non-assuming Brit that he is, he said: “Nothing is.”

Beijing – “Everyone has the same fears, the same wants…”

And he is right.  Each place is different and that is what is so exciting about doing an international tour.

Everyone has the same fears, the same wants and the same needs but they express them in totally different ways.

And that explains why Chinese people love that horrid tea that tastes like soaked dirt and the English love fish encased in so much batter you cannot find the cod.

There is no accounting for taste.

The next evening, I went to The Bookworm to hear Ian McEwan discuss his new book Machines Like Me. It examines what makes us human. Our outward deeds or our inner lives? He pointed out that the novel is the one place where you can get inside another person. 

When I returned to my hotel, I received two follow-up e-mails from people who had seen me at the book talk and heard that I had published books of my own.

I think it is safe to generalize that Chinese people are very anxious to enlarge their scope and increase their understanding. There is a tremendous amount of intellectual curiosity that I find very refreshing.  

Once you decide you know it all, you know nothing.

… CONTINUED HERE

Leave a comment

Filed under China, Travel