The nightmare effect of travelling on too many Thameslink trains – beetroot

I very rarely remember my dreams but I woke up during one this morning.

I was working, freelance, for a TV company and, during the lunch hour, I had to go to hospital where one of the treatments was to put beetroot on my stomach.

Next, I was scheduled to see the oncologist, but I could not remember the name of the person I was working for to phone and tell them I would not be back after lunch and someone had, as a joke, tattooed the bottom half of both my legs while I was asleep during the beetroot treatment.

This is what happens when you have to travel four times on a Sunday during a Bank Holiday weekend on the anarchic rail service Govia Thameslink – as I did yesterday – it turns your head into a gooey mess.

The beetroot was not even edible.

It was a nightmare.

The journeys not the dream.

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‪Happy Thameslink passengers enjoying the relaxed holiday atmosphere on one of the tranquil platforms at St Pancras station in London, untroubled by trains.‬

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Movie asks: Is the brutalist new town of Basildon an architectural/social utopia?

It is a fact universally acknowledged that film documentaries do not get audiences. That is not true.

Tonight’s screening of director Christopher Smith’s New Town Utopia at the Curzon Bloomsbury in London was sold out.

It is about the much-derided Essex new town of Basildon, just outside London. 

Why? 

I asked Christopher Smith.


JOHN: A documentary film about Basildon as an architectural utopia? Are you mad?

CHRISTOPHER: Well, that’s the reason I made it, really. That is what everyone said to me when I mooted the idea four years ago.

JOHN: Were you unfortunate enough to be brought up there?

CHRISTOPHER: I’m from Benfleet, next to Basildon.

JOHN: And the film is now released in cinemas.

CHRISTOPHER: It played at the Barbican for a week and got good reviews. One of the less good reviews was in Time Out – “It’s as far away as you can get from Avengers: Infinity War” – I might actually put that on the poster. It’s also available on Curzon Online at the moment.

JOHN: Why did you think anyone would be interested in a film about Basildon?

CHRISTOPHER: I was always convinced there was an audience for it. There are a lot of people interested in post-War British architecture and social history. There’s a real fetishisation and love of brutalist architecture and modernism. I like modernist art – the geometric stuff like Malevich and I think I like the architecture for that reason: it’s kind of ordered.

“You have all these people who love brutalist architecture…”

What interested me was that you have all these people who love brutalist architecture – most of whom are probably middle class and live in London – and then you have all the people who live in it. And they generally are not the same people.

Initially, the film was about exploring that and seeing where there was a cross-over in opinion or experience. But then it turned into someone more. It became a social history of the town, told through the memories, words and performances of artists and creatives from the town.

In doing that, it touches on the impact of globalisation, the impact of ‘Right To Buy’ and the loss of social housing, the impact of Margaret Thatcher and her influence on individualism v community, the importance of facilities for the arts – and art as a route to wellbeing, rather than just something you do.

It touches on all those things.

JOHN: Did you make the film for a political reason? As soon as I hear ‘Basildon’, I think ‘Basildon Man’ – a variation on ‘Essex Man’.

CHRISTOPHER: That was not the reason but it is definitely teased-out a lot in the film. My parents were not political, but my uncle was a Tory councillor.

JOHN: The phrases ‘Basildon Man’ and ‘Essex Man’ basically meant working class men with aspirations.

CHRISTOPHER: Yes. East End Boy made good. And my parents were both from working class backgrounds. My dad started his own business, which became pretty successful.

JOHN: In?

CHRISTOPHER: Electronic office equipment. I guess my parents voted Tory, but they never brought politics into the home. I suppose I am a bit more of a tub-thumping liberal Leftie.

The film is definitely political. The people in it actively talk about the impact of Right To Buy, the loss of all the factories, the lack of investment in arts facilities. I guess, because most of them are artists and creatives, there is a kind of Leftie bent but I hope there is a balance.

One of the people in it – he’s an actor – says: “I’m from a Labour family. I am a Labour voter. But, actually, some of the incentives that Thatcher’s government brought out for small businesses in the 1980s are what helped me set up my theatre company.”

JOHN: And your background is…?

CHRISTOPHER: I used to do a lot of weird, dance music based films in my early-twenties for nightclubs and I used to perform with another guy at music festivals and arts festivals. I did the music; he did the visuals. 

JOHN: What was your band called?

CHRISTOPHER: Addictive TV. I used to play vinyl records as well as CDs and other stuff. 

JOHN: You were not a guitar combo?

CHRISTOPHER: No. We were all electronics.

I did that for a few years, then fell out with him and moved into advertising for over ten years. I ended up as a creative director at various ad agencies but got frustrated because I was not making things myself. You come up with the ideas for your client – for a terrible bank or a breakfast cereal – you can’t choose – but you don’t actually make things yourself. About five or six years ago, I was working 60 or 70 hour weeks and not enjoying it – fun at times but stressful and I jacked it all in to start making films.

JOHN: Risky…

CHRISTOPHER: To pay the bills, I now do direct. I have done a few ads – for some reason, a lot of healthcare ads – and videos for Facebook and things like that. 

Are the streets of filmic Basildon paved with potential gold?

JOHN: But this film is not going to make you vast amounts of money…?

CHRISTOPHER: No money.

JOHN: So what is it going to lead on to?

CHRISTOPHER: I’m not sure. There’s a writer I am possibly going to collaborate with on a new project.

I am not a writer. I have tried and I can. But I know there are a lot of other people out there better than me. I think I’m quite good at structuring things and I know where I want the audience’s emotions to be at certain times in a film, but dialogue is what I struggle with.

JOHN: And this new project is…?

CHRISTOPHER: The one that’s crystallising at the moment is about… Well, it’s about Epping Forest, but it’s also about a lot of other things. In the same way I used Basildon to explore issues that affect a lot of aspects of British society, I quite like the idea of using Epping Forest to give me a broader canvas. Basildon was set over a 70-year period. Epping Forest would be over tens of thousands of years.

Can Chris replicate Basildon Man as Epping Forest Man?

It would be factual. There are some very interesting existing real people now and back in history whose lives have crossed. There may be a really interesting way of looking at sanity and mental stability and the idea of the internal and the external with the forest and the outer spaces.

There is a building that used to be a big asylum sitting on one edge of Epping Forest. John Clare the poet was there and there were protest movements about the M11 motorway and forest conservation activism and anarchism.

Outside the mind is possibly where things are clearer and inside is where anything can happen.

The forest is an enclosure and I think there could be a way of looking on it as the mind.

I think there are interesting themes that can be explored, but it’s still quite early days.

JOHN: There’s still no money to be made from documentaries, though…

CHRISTOPHER: That’s not true. There’s no money to be made in MY documentaries. But Netflix has really opened the doors. HBO are doing quite ‘high end’ documentaries like the OJ Simpson trial and they’re getting people like Martin Scorsese to direct documentary series. So there IS money in documentaries at the moment… though not in arthouse documentaries.

If I had the right idea for them and they were interested, I would work with Netflix.

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Uncensored: What two Brits thought while watching the Royal Wedding…

Yesterday, Britain’s Prince Harry married US actress Meghan Markle at Windsor Castle.

This is a genuine SMS text message exchange between two Brits who were watching the BBC’s live wedding coverage. One was watching on a TV set; the other had an iPad. There was a delay of about 40 seconds between pictures appearing on the iPad.


BRIT 1: 

The mother of the bride looks sweet. Classy outfit

BRIT 2: 

I was about to text about and use exactly the same word – sweet. What on earth must be going through the woman’s head?

BRIT 1:

I am now slightly worried for her feeling like needing the loo with the stress and excitement.

BRIT 2:

Good point! And she seems to be alone. You would think they would have given her someone to sit with.

BRIT 1:

Nah that would be a drag if you didn’t know them and they wanted to talk etc. She’s into yoga so should be OK.

BRIT 2:

Let’s hope she doesn’t fart.

BRIT 1:

Grace Kelly style?

BRIT 2:

Two of Harry’s ex-girlfriends are there… gulp. A pity his dad can’t be there! The mum has a black woman sitting next to her so maybe she DOES have a chum with her…

BRIT 1:

Not on my screen yet.

BRIT 2:

There’s been a couple of side shots. There’s a gap between them as they sit. Presumably to give the cameras a clear shot of mum. 

BRIT 1:

Oh.

BRIT 2:

In the vows, neither Harry nor Meghan has agreed to ‘obey’ the other.

BRIT 1:

Harry’s ears are very different from the wotsisname army affair guy

BRIT 2:

Ooh. You’re right. He has Charlie’s ears.

BRIT 1:

What was the bit in their vows where everyone laughed?

BRIT 2:

I don’t know. I didn’t understand the laugh bit.

BRIT 1:

You said sommat about not obeying. I’m making lunch.

BRIT 2:

They said they would love and cherish but neither said they would obey.

BRIT 1:

Solomon features a lot. FGS, now Martin Luther King.

BRIT 2:

God this Black Yank preacher is a bit OTT. Meghan loves him. Harry looks rightly bored. And her mum is looking bored. I like her mum. Haha Harry’s expression…

BRIT 1:

Yup a load of daggers in everyone’s head.

BRIT 2:

Camilla is hiding a titter with her hat and Kate is slightly smirking. 

BRIT 1:

Who is responsible for booking this preacher guy?

BRIT 2:

Meghan wanted him. I think Charlie is masking a smirk. I blame George III for this.

BRIT 1:

Are you sure it’s her idea? If so, first strike.

BRIT 2:

Fuck me. He’s got onto slavery now. Yup. She wanted him and an upcoming gospel choir. Prince Philip looks like he is thinking bad thoughts.

BRIT 1: The preacher is narrow minded. Let’s sacrifice him. I’m losing the will to live.

BRIT 2:

If Martin Luther King was like this, no wonder they shot him.

BRIT 1:

Just think of the meal after.

BRIT 2:

Harry must be reconsidering the marriage now. 

BRIT 1:

Hmmm…

BRIT 2:

Ah! One of the Fergie daughters was openly smirking. This preacher must surely be over-running. Jesus! On he goes! About love.

BRIT 1:

I am feeling hate.

BRIT 2:

Ha ha.

BRIT 1:

Solomon has been mentioned again. He must be winding up.

BRIT 2:

Take me to Syria.

BRIT 1:

Er no. This is a laugh.

BRIT 2:

Meghan is lapping it up.

BRIT 1:

OK. I’ve stopped laughing. Are you sure she’s not just acting about liking the preacher?

BRIT 2:

Naw. She wanted him. He’s gone mad now.

BRIT 1:

He’s mentioned the invention of fire. Next, the wheel? This could be even longer.

BRIT 2:

Where is an assassin when you need one?

BRIT 1:

Someone has got to cart him off. Men in white coats.

BRIT 2:

He paused and waited for applause at the end!! Now it’s the Gospel choir.

BRIT 1:

This rendition is too slow

BRIT 2:

Yes. Nothing special.

BRIT 1:

Haven’t we done this bit? They are getting married again.

BRIT 2:

Yes. I thought they had already got married. What was all that “I will” bit earlier where they were not going to obey each other? Maybe they are giving Harry the chance to change his mind after that awful preacher.

BRIT 1:

That preacher stuff really fucked up. 

BRIT 2:

The Yanks will be confused she is a Duchess not a Princess. Harry is very sweet. She’s on another planet.

BRIT 1:

She’s 36. Still time to realise different opinions.

BRIT 2:

Elton John has let himself go!

BRIT 1:

Your pictures are 40 seconds ahead of mine.

BRIT 2:

They have just got divorced.

BRIT 1:

Ha ha

BRIT 2:

Harry is running away down the aisle. Prince Philip is yelling racial obscenities. 

BRIT 1:

Now it’s like a Christmas type song.

BRIT 2:

Elton is having a heart attack.

BRIT 1:

Where is something more upbeat? It’s gone funereal.

BRIT 2:

Harry’s two ex-girlfriends are beating up Meghan. Charles is doing a Goons impression.

BRIT 1:

Has the preacher been burnt in a wicker man?

BRIT 2:

I like the way you think. They are going to have to suffer that preacher at the Reception. Now there is some decent black woman chaplain to the Queen. They could have had her instead of the Yank.

BRIT 1:

They should have jumped over a broom and stamped on a glass in a handkerchief. Yes woman chaplain much better.

BRIT 2:

There’s some Jewish bloke on now! What is that on his head?

BRIT 1:

Hello? He is Greek Orthodox!

BRIT 2:

Ah!!! That’s it. Confused the hell out of me. Where is the black preacher now? On his way to the Tower?

BRIT 1:

I like Christmas carols.

BRIT 2:

Yup, Awww. Prince Charles and Meghan’s mum smiled nicely at each other. Serena Williams appears to have  a yacht on her head. Do weddings always have a musical interlude?

BRIT 1:

Somehow I missed the “I now pronounce you man and wife” bit.

BRIT 2:

That was in the bit where they got married a second time. Remember it happened twice?

BRIT 1:

I was thinking I haven’t been to enough weddings to know. That preacher really addled it.

BRIT 2:

Posh Spice’s marriage is looking grim! On your screen now?

BRIT 1:

I’m missing screen by texting.

BRIT 2:

Harry and Meghan got married. Posh and Becks were looking grim-faced.

BRIT 1:

Ah.

BRIT 2:

This poor sod is cello-playing away and everyone is chatting through it.

BRIT 1:

Give her time to recover from crying at knowing she made a mistake with the preacher.

BRIT 2:

She lurved him.

BRIT 1:

I think this is the Young Musician of the Year on the cello.

BRIT 2:

Oh dear. Mum has been having a cry. At least the 2 year old bridesmaid didn’t cause chaos. Probably sedated!

BRIT 1:

No need to. It must be exhausting. The carriage procession won’t be interesting.

BRIT 2:

The Long Walk will look good. Kiss coming up!

BRIT 1:

Nah. I can return to jealousy of wealth. Wait to see how crazy she is. I had thought she was going to be more women’s lib.

BRIT 2:

I think she will wear the trousers.

BRIT 1:

Dress was a bit dull.

BRIT 2:

He has the benefit of a peaked cap to protect his eyes from the sun. She doesn’t. I wonder if she has to do that question test to become a British citizen. The one Brits can never answer correctly. Is Windsor a real medieval castle or some fake? It always looks too neat to be real.

BRIT 1

I like Prince Philip. He said he wants to come back as a deadly virus as too many people ruining planet. Might have mentioned that before. Nice weather for procession; nice for people who were waiting there. Horses aren’t used to being so close to crowd.

BRIT 2:

Presumably they have done something to avoid mass horse shitting in the streets of Windsor. Maybe corks in the royal horses’ bottoms. I am going to wander off now.

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This $15 million woman can teach you to punctuate English sentences correctly

Susan Feehan has written a book about punctuation.

Called Make Punctuation Your Bitch: Punctuation Wrangling Without The Fuss.

The paperback is already on Amazon and the e-book comes out on Friday.

I talked to her. This is what happened.

Any punctuation mistakes are mine, not her’s… erm… hers.


JOHN: So you won’t be a fan of Molly Bloom’s soliloquy in Ulysses… Does punctuation matter? I don’t think spelling was uniform until Dr Johnson published his dictionary, was it? Before that, all that mattered was that other people understood what you meant. Same with punctuation, isn’t it?

“Not a book for GrammerNazis. They would take offence”

SUSAN: It’s not a book for GrammarNazis. They would take offence at the levity. I’ve done a couple of opening sections about Tribe 1 and Tribe 2. Tribe 1 are the GrammarNazis and Tribe 2 are the rest of us.

JOHN: So who is going to buy the book? The GrammarNazis are not going to buy it because they think they know everything and the illiterates won’t buy it because they can’t read.

SUSAN: It’s for people who just need a quick answer. I wrote it because, as a tutor, doing training courses, I have always wanted to look for examples.

JOHN: Examples of… ?

SUSAN: Say, for instance, brackets. You don’t want to wade through a whole load which has everything you DON’T want to know about brackets but one thing you do. So I have split everything into sections. It is quick and easy.

If it takes two minutes to look something up, you will do it.

If it takes ten minutes, you will blag your way through.

JOHN: You are a tutor. Whom do you tute?

SUSAN: I did have a stint at university mentoring students in newspaper production and, well, there’s publishers’ staff. People who just need a bit of a refresher. When they’re editing. Grammar, punctuation, whatever.

JOHN: Surely sub-editors should not need tutoring? If they don’t know it, they shouldn’t be employed.

SUSAN: Well, the thing is, sub-editing is now an entry job. When I was first training on newspapers, you started as an editorial assistant or a junior reporter – you started as a junior writer in any form, served your time – your apprenticeship, so to speak, of about three years – and then they considered you expert enough to be paid full wage. After that, you could segue into subbing.

But, once it all became digital, the software became the prerequisite – It became Must be Quark friendly or, now, it’s Must be InDesign friendly. The software became the reason you were getting employed and the language skills became secondary.

Often, now, people are taking or are given a job as a sub-editor so they can do a hop-over into the writing side. It doesn’t make any sense to me – or anyone else I know. You’ve got juniors put in the position of changing the work of writers who are presumably more experienced. And they now do need to know more than they once would have done. In the past, the sub-editors would have been much more experienced.

JOHN: So we have all these illiterate sub-editors?

SUSAN: I wouldn’t call them illiterate.

JOHN: Different publications have different house styles, so punctuation rules don’t really mean anything, do they? For example… Single quotation marks or double quotation marks?

SUSAN: Well, some of that is house style but often, in the UK, we would generally use single quotes first, then doubles within singles. The Americans would do singles within doubles.

JOHN: Oh… I always do the American way, alas.

SUSAN: And how do you introduce a quote? With a colon or a comma? A colon is very journalistic.

JOHN: I do whatever looks better in a particular sentence.

SUSAN: Ah…

JOHN: You started off as a…?

SUSAN: A lowly junior reporter on a magazine called Display International and another one called Do It Yourself Retailing.

JOHN: You did that because you wanted to be a great writer?

SUSAN: Well, I found out very quickly that I wanted to be a sub-editor. On a newspaper or magazine, if you find a subject you are prepared to write about for the next 30 years – medical, cinema, crime, whatever – then you are fixed. If you can’t find that subject, then you are better off being a sub-editor, because there your joy is in the process and the language not the subject. You can do your job on any subject and still love the process of writing.

JOHN: You wanted to be a sub for the rest of your life?

SUSAN: I certainly did for a hefty while. Then I thought: Aaah! Perhaps I should write something myself. And that’s when I started doing the screenplay thing. There was The Kiss, a romantic comedy.

JOHN: Was that filmed?

SUSAN: We raised the money for it about four years ago – all $15 million of it – but the trouble was it all came from one investor and the trouble comes when one investor thinks he’s been hanging around too long and he takes the money elsewhere.

JOHN: You have written five screenplays.

SUSAN: I have, but I am turning them into novels. One I am going to do as a play.

JOHN: Three are already award-winning and they have not even been made.

SUSAN: You can win lots of screenplay awards without them getting made.

JOHN: Make Punctuation Your Bitch is not your first book.

“Canadians in particular loved it…”

SUSAN: No. There was How To Write Well When You Don’t Know Where To Start. That was three years ago. For some reason the Canadians in particular loved it. It was in the Top Ten in the entire Kindle Store in Canada, not just in its niche.

JOHN: Is it on Amazon?

SUSAN: It was, but I’ve taken it down because I’m going to update it.

JOHN: Are there punctuation differences between the British and Americans?

SUSAN: Yes. And there are Canadian and Australian differences as well. Sometimes they side with the Americans and sometimes they follow us. I have some in the book. The Americans put time at 3:30 with a colon and we do 3.30 with a dot; but now we are starting to take on the colon.

JOHN: In lists, I was always taught that, if you have A, B, C and D, you should never have a comma between the last two – A, B, C, and D – because the commas are standing-in for the word ‘and’. So, by adding a comma, you are actually saying “A and B and C and and D”

SUSAN: That’s not quite true, because it’s ‘The Oxford Comma’… Called that because it was created by Oxford University Press.

The example given in my book is: “Tom dedicated the book to his parents, the Dalai Lama and Nelson Mandela”. That actually means – without the second comma – that his parents are the Dalai Lama and Nelson Mandela.

But, if you put a comma after the Dalai Lama – “Tom dedicated the book to his parents, the Dalai Lama, and Nelson Mandela” – you have differentiated between them.

JOHN: But one comma isn’t worth losing sleep over, is it?

SUSAN: I have a story at the front of my book about the Five Million Dollar Oxford Comma.

There was a dairy in Maine where they had a contract that did not have an Oxford Comma in it. Their drivers sued them about what the contract actually meant and the drivers won $5 million in back-overtime.

There was another case between two telephone companies where there was a comma in dispute and, again it cost one company $2 million.

JOHN: So correct punctuation is here to stay.

SUSAN: I think, in 30 years time, apostrophes won’t exist.

JOHN: Oooh!

SUSAN: But I think the smart money is on semi-colons dying out first.

JOHN: You will have to constantly update your books. Your next one is…?

SUSAN: There might be a Make Structure Your Bitch book.

JOHN: What is structure?

SUSAN: Structure in writing. So the inverted pyramid thing will come in there. And structuring sentences and paragraphs and how to keep the reader hooked.

JOHN: What is the worst crime in punctuation?

SUSAN: Ultimately, it is inconsistency.

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Globetrotting 84-year old US comedian Lynn Ruth is part of a ‘British Invasion’

Last week, I had a chat with 84-year-old, London-based, American comedian Lynn Ruth Miller – the thinking senior citizen’s crumpet – whose upcoming schedule of gigs includes Prague, Dublin, Berlin, Paris, various cities in the US, Manila, Jakarta, Shanghai, Singapore, Hong Kong, Hanoi, Bangkok and, she says, “probably somewhere in Cambodia”.

Lynn Ruth in London’s Pall Mall last week

That’s an interesting itinerary for an 84-year-old American living in London, I thought.

I was going to write a blog about the chat this week but, then, blow me, I got this email from her two days ago…


I am in CANNES, where the sun is shining!  

At first, I was alarmed because I did not know why I didn’t have to turn on all the lights to see my hand in front of my face.

Then I realised I WAS NOT IN LONDON.

When you are out of the UK, people actually see the sun.  

My hotel here is called The Hotel Bellevue and it is adorable.

My room is the size of a disabled public toilet but somehow it is very complete. I feel like I have just entered Jonathan Swift’s Lilliputian village. It is a good thing I am 4’10” tall and weigh under 100 pounds or I would never fit into the place.

I must say the world does dote on the elderly. At Gatwick Airport, a lovely Englishman from Birmingham stood behind me in line to board Ryanair and carried my case down the stairs without my even asking and the woman in the seat next to mine chatted with me the entire two hours we were on the flight.  Not that I WANTED her to chat for so long but she was from Essex. What can you expect?

Vanessa Marcié met me at the airport. Her mother is a wild, adventurous driver. She drove us to Vanessa’s flat.  As we darted from one lane to the tree on the side of the road into the highway and across four lanes and a traffic bump, I stifled an impulse to call my friends and say good-bye but we got to the flat intact.

Her mother had made me a homemade pizza which I devoured with champagne as Vanessa and I discussed the profession of comedy and the insensitivity and stupidity of her university students.  

Vanessa is a very educated woman with a PHD and two masters degrees and it made me wonder why she is so devoted to talking dirty on stage to crowds.  

I know MY reason: it is that it brings back memories of my youth.

Boulevard de la Croisette in Cannes (Photo by Joseph Plotz)

I called Uber to get me from Nice where Vanessa lives to Cannes and my driver was Charlotte who took me INTO the hotel and opened the door to my room.  The world does dote on the elderly.

She told me driving a cab is her living because it is the only thing she can do besides eat. Looking at her squeezed between the steering wheel and the seat I saw that she was right about the food and, when she got me to the hotel safely, I realised she did indeed know her stuff.

As I said, the whole fucking world just loves the elderly… EXCEPT when they are doing business with them.  

I decided to take a walk to find a place for lunch in Cannes. It abounds in many, many eateries with menus in French. I do not speak French.

If it isn’t a crepe or an omelette, I have no idea what it is.  

I finally found La Civett Carnot which had a sign saying it was a brasserie. I knew what that was. The food there was all right and the service very fast. However, if you speak only English or you are older or a woman, beware.  

I ordered a weak coffee and got charged for a double espresso which looked like one shot to me. Naturally, being Jewish, I complained that I was overcharged. Two very large imposing men insisted that that is what they thought I asked for and what they gave me and I better damn well pay for it. I did.

I feel certain had I been able to speak French or had I not been a single ancient hag they would have adjusted the bill. Life does have its hurdles.

Lynn Ruth, part of the ‘British Invasion’ (she is from Ohio)

My gig was called THE BRITISH INVASION (Lynn Ruth was born in Ohio, living most of her life in San Francisco) and was in an Irish Bar, just 6 minutes from my hotel.  

However, I get confused by the little blue dot on Google Maps and the 6 minutes expanded to 30, as I wandered the streets of Cannes.

The comedy show was interesting and well attended. The audience was very thirsty for a laugh and the show was a success. I headlined for them and the response was gorgeous. I even got a Caesar Salad, two drinks and a bit of cash.

I managed to find my way home with the help of two escorts and it did indeed take me 6 minutes to get to my hotel. Which all goes to show Google does not lie.

The next morning I took a bus to the airport, got a flight to Gatwick, came home to grab my burlesque costume and took my clothes off to a standing ovation in Islington.

As we all know, a girl has to do what she has to do.


 I think we may hear more of Lynn Ruth’s travels…

 

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Stuff the British media seldom – and UK TV News almost never – report on

The British tend to be very sniffy about US TV’s  international coverage, because the Americans supposedly report little and know less of the world outside.

But British TV is just as bad.

Major events in China, the Far East and India, in Africa and South America go totally unreported and unknown on UK TV, where the same parochial 5 or 6 stories get repeated in each half hour or quarter hour of our news bulletins.

My friend Lynn, with her husband Frank, has been travelling in West Africa.

A couple of weeks ago, I posted her blogs from the Ivory Coast and, delayed for safety reasons, from pirate-infested waters in the Gulf of Guinea.

Whoever hears anything in the UK about the Ivory Coast or the ongoing pirate problem in the Gulf of Guinea?

This missive from Lynn is from Morocco… or maybe it is from Western Sahara. It depends on your political viewpoint.


The SADR (Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic) flag

We have maintained email silence whilst travelling through Western Sahara and Morocco. All the maps were taken down and information removed as they showed Western Sahara and we were told not to carry anything with a mention of it and especially not a photo of the SADR (Sahrawi Arab Democratic Front) flag and to only refer to the country as Morocco.

I was told that, on 29th March this year, following a UN report, the Polisario (recognised by the UN as the official body for the Sahrawi) withdrew their road blocks on the Mauritanian border and agreed a ceasefire and that Morocco had offered semi-autonomy to the region but not sovereignty.  

Disputed ‘Western Sahara’ with Mauritania and Algeria to the east; Morocco to the north and the islands of Tenerife/Gran Canaria to the west

Morocco has the support of France and the USA, whereas Algeria supports the Polisario/Sahrawi arabs.

I was also told that the Moroccans have built a 1,700 mile wall north to south and there are varying accounts of 5-10 million landmines.

Last October, the International Court of Justice’s verdict was to hold a referendum.

Referenda have been mooted several times but never held, with Mauritania withdrawing decades ago and abandoning their claim. Moroccans are being resettled in the south to increase numbers and the building projects are prolific but eerie as there are so few people or evidence of habitation in all the new parks, playgrounds, office blocks, government buildings, airport and railway stations. Even the enormous barracks and gendarmerie seemed deserted. It all has the feel of a vacant film set.

We drove to the largest city, Laayoune, literally a city in the desert, 10 miles from the Atlantic Ocean with nothing else around it for 1,000 miles. Perhaps everyone was told to stay indoors until we left, much as we were told to behave until we had avoided the pirates in the Gulf of Guinea.

TV crew interview ’someone’ in Laayoune, Western Sahara

In fact, it appears that we were the news in Laayoune.

To add to our armed police escort, there were armed traffic police to close roads on the route as we travelled in convoy, the army to guard our lunch stop at a nomadic Sahrawi Arab camp, armed tourist police, plain clothes police and, to add to the circus, a TV crew was with us all day.

A TV interviewer appeared at the Sahrawi camp but I didn’t get an answer on who he or his interviewee were. 

There were also photographers (one of whom was plain clothes police determined to get a head shot of everyone and unamused by Frank’s gurning and back-turning).

All were seriously twitchy about cameras so no usable photos.

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The Kray Twins and why violence is more effective when it is unexpected

So I was having a chat with Micky Fawcett at Westfield in Stratford, East London.

Micky wrote Krayzy Days – arguably the definitive book about his sometime close associates the Kray Twins.


(L-R) Micky Fawcett, Reggie Kray & Reggie’s wife Frances

JOHN: A few weeks ago, you were telling me about a director who was writing a film script from your book, but there were disagreements over the script.

MICKY: Yeah. 

JOHN: One was the incident where, instead of sudden, unexpected violence, he wanted to build up the tension.

MICKY: Yeah. There was a feller I was friendly with – Ronnie Curtis – and his wife was having an affair with his best friend – Albert Lovett.

JOHN: Are these people still alive?

MICKY: No.

JOHN: Thank God for that. Carry on, then…

MICKY: Ronnie said to me: “Albert’s been seeing Sheila. I’m going to…” You know. And a couple of days went on and he never did anything and I thought to myself: Oh, well, nothing much is going to happen here.

But there was three of us all working together and we had a meeting at 10 o’clock one morning in Joe’s caff in Upton Park, just off Green Street. We had our meeting and coffee or whatever we had and, as we walked out of the caff, Ronnie Curtis said to me: “Oh, I got a letter from a pal of ours. The heading is in red ink. I wonder if that means anything?”

So I got the letter and I’m looking at it and – BOOM! as quick as that – the blade has gone right through down Albert’s cheek and into this mouth… Cut all his gums. And Albert has turned round and he’s got his overcoat on and Ronnie is slashing at his arse and it’s all being shredded and there’s blood everywhere. And two policemen were walking along in plain clothes on the other side of the road and they ran across and there was chaos but I was gone and so was Ronnie Curtis gone.

JOHN: And the argument with the film director writing the script was…?

MICKY: He said: “What we do in a film is, in the cafe, we build up the tension – We will have Ronnie fiddling around with his dinner and we can see something is wrong and something is going to happen.”

And I said, “No. No. No. The whole thing about it was the surprise. The shock.” We really argued about that. He’s not doing the script now. I don’t see him any more.

JOHN: Well, I think you’re right. Ultra-violence happening without warning is much more shocking than seeing people’s foreheads sweating and the audience knowing something is about to happen.

MICKY: Yeah. That’s what it’s all about.

JOHN: If anyone ever says: “The way it is normally done in the movies is…” that is a very good reason NOT to do it that way. It is usually better to tell the truth. Though the only problem about the truth is that it’s often so OTT it is unbelievable. The truth is often just so Over The Top you have to tone it down.

MICKEY: That thing that happened at Joe’s caff is just something that has always stuck in my mind. Second only to when I was out having a glass of beer with Reggie (Kray) and he shot a feller in the toilet.

JOHN: What had the other guy done?

MICKEY: Well, we went to a drinking club in Islington. We went downstairs to the toilet and BAAAAAAAAAAAANNNGG!!!! and Reggie has shot the feller standing at the next urinal in the leg. The echo!!! It was deafening!

JOHN: Why did he shoot him?

MICKY: He never explained it and I didn’t ask. We went back upstairs and we left as casually as I could muster.

JOHN: Who was the guy?

MICKY: Soppy Cooper was his name. All I know about him is he came from Hoxton. That was probably enough for Reggie. Neither of them – the Twins – liked people from Hoxton.

JOHN: Because…?

MICKY: I dunno. They had come from Hoxton. It was before they had got their own way with the world. They were ordinary people once, weren’t they… Frances, Reggie’s wife, came from Hoxton.

JOHN: But Reggie never said why he shot the bloke?

MICKY: No. He said: “I think I shot him in the head.”

And I said: “No, it was definitely the leg.”

“But as I shot him,” Reggie told me, “the gun jumped and he put his hands up to his head.”

“That was because it was so loud,” I said. “He was putting his hands up to his ears. It was deafening.”

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Filed under Crime, Movies