Did a Chinaman, an American and a Russian cause all this Brexit chaos?

Am I being totally paranoid about what is happening in UK and US politics?

The Walt Disney company famously used to give copies of Chinese strategist Sun Tzu’s 5th century BC military treatise The Art of War to its executives as a guide on how to survive and triumph in the corporate environment. As a result, the book became almost essential reading in Hollywood.

One of the central points made in The Art of War – which, admittedly, I have not read for a good few years – is that the object of war is not to destroy your enemy.

It is to either take control of your enemy’s assets or to undermine your enemy internally to such an extent that they are no longer able to threaten or compete with you.

I do wonder if Russia’s Vladimir Putin has read The Art of War.

In the US, we have a country divided by the election of Donald Trump, where large sections of the population vehemently disagree with the result of that public election, with trust in political leaders diminished and democracy undermined.

In the U.K, we have a country divided by the Brexit vote, where large sections of the population vehemently disagree with the result of that public vote, with trust in political leaders diminished and democracy undermined.

I feel a bout of paranoia drifting over me, tinged with some political admiration. Divide and conquer?

Perhaps I should not even mention the Scottish Referendum result and reactions to it within Scotland. Russia’s Sputnik News Agency, strangely based in Edinburgh, already has the slogan: Telling The Untold.

Am I being totally paranoid?

May you live in interesting times” is, of course, not an encouraging, aspirational quote but a Chinese curse.

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How illegal detentions of the poor are continuing in Kenyan hospitals…

Last week’s meeting of the monthly Grouchy Club in London

British journalist Kate Copstick’s charity Mama Biashara was set up to give small start-up grants to disadvantaged people in Kenya to fund small self-sustaining businesses.

But it also gets involved in other social problems it encounters.

During her most recent visit to Kenya, I posted extracts from Copstick’s diary.

When last posted, there was an unresolved story about a penniless 14-year-old girl called Faith who had been raped by her father, recently given birth to his child and was being illegally held in an overcrowded ward (2 to a bed) at Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi.

Copstick has now returned to the UK.

During last week’s meeting of Copstick’s Grouchy Club, held at Mama Biashara’s charity shop in London, I asked what had happened to Faith…


The administration block of Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi

COPSTICK: I spent many days in Kenyatta trying to organise her release. It’s horrific. Kafka could never write anything to compare.

A couple of days before I was leaving Kenya I thought we had done it and then we just lost grip. I had been about to go to the press…

JOHN: I thought you had already gone to the press.

COPSTICK: Well, the Standard ran an article. But I think that was just because they picked up on all the stuff I’d been venting and then what they had were stories of the same thing happening in other hospitals.

But Faith is out of Kenyatta now and so is the baby. We got the Children’s Services involved and they went to court and they got a court order for Faith to be released… Imagine having to get a court order to get a little girl out of hospital…!

I left Kenya on the Sunday. She was released with the court order on the Tuesday.

She’s out but, unfortunately, because she had been detained illegally in the hospital for so long, by the time she was released her newborn baby had got an infection. So the baby is not well and now Faith has developed an infection and they are too terrified to let her go back to Kenyatta in case it all starts again. 

JOHN: Do they know what the infection is?

COPSTICK: Well, just one of those ghastly I’ve been kicking around in a hospital for too long infections.

JOHN: At least Mama Biashara got her out, though.

COPSTICK: She is out but now we… There is a new problem with a girl who was gang raped by three men. Everyone is too terrified to take her to Kenyatta Hospital, because it will just all be a nightmare. So she has gone to Nairobi Women’s Hospital. She is going to have to have a full hysterectomy because… well, when you are 11 years old and you are gang raped by three men double-teaming you, your insides end up pretty much mush. 

That was about four weeks ago. And because there’s been no money, she’s just been there. She has to sleep on her front because there is too much pain and there is basically vast amounts of pus. There is no morphine; there is no anything. You might get paracetamol if you are lucky.

So she is now at Nairobi Women’s Hospital where they will do a full hysterectomy they’ve said… That will cost – by the time she has had the operation – probably £1,500.

JOHN: Presumably there is no equivalent to Britain’s National Health Service.

COPSTICK: There is no health service as such. There is a government hospital. But all they are really interested in is getting any money that they possibly can off of anyone. And nobody is prepared to take responsibility for anything at all ever.

What happens all the time in Kenya is that you go in, you have your operation or whatever you want and then they don’t let you out because you can’t pay your bill. And every day that you are kept in they charge you. So your bill goes up and up and up and up. 

What happens is that you get people living rough in the grounds of the big hospitals. So when you go there, people are being kept within the hospital grounds. They live rough within the hospital grounds sometimes with their children. In places like Kenyatta, there is actually a small like a kindergarten school which has grown up because there are children who spend so much of their young lives there that they go to school there forever.

JOHN: And because they are living in the grounds, they have to pay more…?

COPSTICK:  They are charged for everything and they are detaining people because they can’t pay their bill, so the bill just keeps rising. It’s pretty-much standard. Private hospitals, government hospitals, everything hospitals.

Last year, a guy brought a case against Nairobi Women’s Hospital because his father had gone in, had an operation, couldn’t pay the bill and they were detaining him and the bill just escalated and escalated and it was a like a million shillings which is about £10,000. And the guy took the hospital to court saying that it was an infringement of his father’s rights. In the Kenyan constitution as well as some of the U.N. rulings, you have the right to ‘freedom of person’ – freedom of movement. 

And he argued quite cleverly that detaining his father in the hospital was an infringement of his right to freedom of movement and freedom of person. And the judge agreed and this is massive –  humongous. It was all over the newspapers. 

But it doesn’t make that much difference because, in Kenya, nobody tells the little people about any of these things so they didn’t get to know about any of that which is why the leaflets that Mama Biashara sends out – showing what their rights are – are so important. We give everybody the knowledge. 

When I was in Kenyatta I said to one of the heads of one of the departments who don’t give a shit: “You know there is a High Court ruling…”

Kenya has a common law system because it’s based on the English legal system and that means that the last highest decision in a court is the law. 

I said: “So in this case, this is the decision and this is now the law.” 

And the woman turned around and said to me: “Not here.” 

Inside some place like Kenyatta Hospital, they are just a law unto themselves.


Copstick takes no money of any kind for herself from the Mama Biashara charity and covers none of her own costs in running the charity nor for travelling to and from and living in Kenya.

Mama Biashara itself gets no official funding of any kind and relies solely on donations and from sales of goods in its shop at Shepherds Bush, London. The website is HERE.

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Becky Fury in Morocco with the Tantra teacher & the boy with the magic penis

Late last night, I received this from from Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award winning Becky Fury…


I am travelling in Morocco.

John said there was probably a blog in it. 

I told him I wasn’t sure where.

He said: “Find someone interesting to interview.” 

I am travelling with Jade Lotus, who is a Tantra educator and her boyfriend who has a magic penis. 

So I asked her about that.


(L-R) Becky Fury, Jade Lotus and the boy with the magic penis

BECKY: When we first met, you had just graduated from Kings College, London, with a law degree and now you are a globetrotting Tantra educator on a mission to give yourself and the world better orgasms… What happened?

JADE: By the time I finished my law degree, I realised law was really boring and I wanted to do something more fun with my life. But I  still wanted to help people and realised if people got more help with their sexuality than maybe they would need less help with their divorce papers. So being a Tantra educator was a win-win situation for everyone.

BECKY: Whilst we were flying to Morocco you were making a GIF for your website that involved an image of your boyfriend’s penis. As the person in the seat next to me exclaimed: “Have you no shame?”

JADE: I think people should only feel ashamed if they hurt other people. Shame and guilt is a mechanism of social control that is used to stop people blossoming. We are in Morocco which is a country ridden with shame and guilt: sexual shame in particular. You would be hard-pressed to find someone here who isn’t deeply ashamed of their body and their desires – and unfortunately people pay for this in many ways, not just sexual enjoyment.

In terms of sex. we should not feel ashamed unless what we do doesn’t involve consent. 

We are sexual beings and shame is a psychological barrier that stops us from fulfilling our potential.

As I mentioned before, we are in Morocco.

The Gare Evil – “hell on earth”

The dirt on the streets, the tatty buildings and the broken sign at the railway station that reads ‘Gare Evil’ or ‘Evil Station’ is a reflection of the manifestation of hell on earth that sexual shame creates.

BECKY: So is good sex a revolutionary act?

JADE: Yes. When a person is stuck in a cycle of sex as tension-release instead of getting the full experience of sex, they are stuck in a low-grade experience and this will be reflected in their life.

We are in Morocco. People earn tiny wages, there are no workers rights and therefore people are treated badly as employees. This is a projection of the sexual repression.

If we can dispose of the shame and guilt associated with sex, then we open ourselves as people and as a society and we can start to evolve. The more pleasure we find in sex, the more value we find in ourselves as individuals and in each other.

Good sex is a beautiful, peaceful revolutionary act that has the power to overhaul ourselves and eventually the world.

BECKY: In your GIF, the boy has a magic penis. Just the boy in the GIF? Or all boys?

JADE: All boys have magic penises. All penises are magic and all vaginas are magic. (LAUGHS)  All sexual organs hold energy. 

Most men think sex is about ejaculation. Imagine if we channeled that energy, that life force, into healing ourselves. If we used that energy to feed our intelligence, our creativity, our projects, to get what we want in life rather than throwing it away. That’s a big part of Tantra.

BECKY: So how do you know that that’s not just hippy bollocks?

JADE: ’The hippy’ is a recent phenomenon. This is old knowledge and people have been using these practices for thousands of years. They’ve been passed on despite the efforts of governments to repress and destroy them and they are gathering in popularity again because they work.

Telling men to have sex and not ejaculate sounds crazy but…

Telling men to have sex and not ejaculate sounds crazy but, with some effort, men have found they can have full body orgasms, find more energy, focus… and that their lives have been changed in amazing positive ways. 

Misdirected male sexual energy is a dangerous force, even within Tantra. 

There have been lots of scandals recently and all of the scandals have involved male teachers who just use it to try to get laid. 

That is one of the reasons Tantra is traditionally taught by women.

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Stand-up comic Lynn Ruth Miller looks forward to Viagra and back to Leicester

In recent blogs, 85-year-old London-based American comic Lynn Ruth Miller has been sharing her experience of performing in exotic places like Hanoi. Recently, she was closer to home…


I really love the Leicester Comedy Festival because it does not cost an arm and a leg for me to participate. I have already lost a hip and a knee and I am in no mood to barter with any more body parts. 

Before Leicester, I had to convince a promoter or a venue that, if I pay lots of money, they will give me space to perform for an hour.  

Not any more. No sir.  

Now, I have a venue that wants ME.

OK, so it’s not a fancy one. It doesn’t even have a stage. There are no bright lights and no-one ever reviews shows that appear there. But it is my little venue and I love it just as much as the big showy ones that make the headlines and get the reviews.  

Bike shop: “a wonderful place for me to shine.”

It is a bike shop.

Things could be worse. I could be crammed into a refuse shelter among all the flotsam and jetsam which people recycle. I could even stand on top of an automobile in a showroom or fight my way to the top of a chest of drawers in an antique shop.

But my bike shop is a wonderful place for me to shine. 

Bicycle people are not judgmental. They all love to laugh. It was bike enthusiast and promoter Andy Salkeld who figured that out. He got the idea of transforming a commercial establishment into a comedy performance space several years ago because he wanted to amuse a healthy, outdoorsy type of audience. 

Though, sadly, that is not me.  

I am so uncoordinated that, the last time I tried to pedal my way to the grocery store, I mistook the hand brake for a horn and somersaulted into an intersection.

Andy is the Cycling Co-ordinator for Leicester City Council. (Yes. They really have someone like that, right up there with Public Safety, Public Health and Emergency Planning.)

Andy has created a bicycle comedy show – The Red Light Comedy Club – that has been part of the festival for several years. The challenge for Andy was to find someone who had nothing better to do than host his unusual shows. Any performer already creating his own production at that festival would never risk dampening his reputation by standing among a lot of axles, chains and rubber tyres.

Andy Salkeld “has a unique taste in comedy”

I was that someone.

What else do I have to do but take my medication, attend my dialysis and locate my dentures?

Andy has booked me to host his Red Light events for the past three years. And I love every ego-boosting moment.  

He has a unique taste in comedy. In the years I have hosted these shows, there have been comedians who sing wild, improbable songs, those who throw things at the audience and those who insist the audience throw things back at them. The events are unique and don’t involve deep thought, but there are all those different bicycles to look at if the person at the microphone does not appeal.

This year, I met some very unusual people who revealed things about themselves on stage that I would not even tell my proctologist, much less my mother.  

For example, Kevin Hudson, an accountant by day and observer of the idiosyncrasies of life by night, went into great detail about his prostate examination. His account was so graphic I thought we might get a hands-on demonstration but, sadly for me, he kept his trousers on. It has been a long time since I have viewed that area of the male anatomy and I kept hoping…

The most interesting part of that evening was meeting an accomplished comedian who is 75 years younger than I am. Ian Hall who introduced us to the real star of the show: his daughter, Niamh Hall. She is ten years old. She manned the audio for her father and stole the show.  

Niamh Hall (left) was “the real star of the show”

But that is what happens when you let a real woman take over, isn’t it?

I realized then how limited my own upbringing was.  

When I was ten, my main activity was bouncing a ball (rubber… not what you are thinking;  that didn’t happen until I was sixteen) and stroking furry creatures (FOUR legged ones).  

I certainly did not have the courage to stand on a stage with a bunch of strangers staring at me, while I took charge of my father.

It is a new world and Niamh is a shining example.  

I see her, when she is my age, appearing  at the O2, her tattoos crumbled into a kaleidoscope of unidentifiable colors, her confidence mesmerizing an audience amazed at her ability to balance on one leg while she operates ten turntables filling the room with musical cacophony.  

She will be able to do a thing like that until she is 100.  Unfortunately, all I can do is talk dirty to young people.

I was sorry to see the festival end. It was an education for me this year and I cannot wait to return to the bike shop again next year to find out why Viagra is such a success. I have always avoided it because it squanders four hours of your day. I don’t have that much time left to waste. Not anymore.

Next stop, Sweden.

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A cautionary tale of UK hairdressing… and what a difference a day makes…

On the left, a photograph taken yesterday… On the right, a photograph taken today.,,

Alarm bells should have rung when the hairdresser lady had trouble understanding what I said.

“How you want it?” she asked.

English is not her first language.

Not her fault.

Indeed, not a fault at all.

But not ideal when you are having your hair cut.

“Just clear of the ears,” I told her. “Just a little off.”

Then I joked: “Can you do anything about my face?… Maybe some plastic surgery?”

“No problem,” she replied, smiling reassuringly.

That is the point at which I should have realised there could be a linguistically triggered potential problem.

Now I have no hair and my ears have dropped.

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Ricky Gervais – “I haven’t really watched comedy for two years”

“Live long enough to punish the world…”

A couple of nights ago, I went to a preview of the first two episodes of After Life, Ricky Gervais’ new series for Netflix – available from next Friday (March 8th). He created, wrote, directed, executive produced and stars in it,

I have never really followed his career with that much interest – mea culpa – so I was taken aback by just how a good a writer – and director – he is.

The screenings were at BAFTA and there were loud, genuine laughs aplenty: sometimes because of tiny little subtleties in the scripts. A terrifically well-made six-part series. The premise is:

“Tony (Ricky Gervais) had a perfect life. But after his wife Lisa dies, Tony changes. After contemplating taking his own life, he decides instead to live long enough to punish the world by saying and doing whatever he likes from now on. He thinks it’s like a Super Power — not caring about himself or anyone else — but it turns out to be tricky when everyone is trying to save the nice guy they used to know.”

The ending of Episode 2 was very very dark indeed and I can’t see a terrestrial broadcaster having the confidence – well, the bollocks – to commission it. Whether it is better described as a dark sitcom or a drama with comic elements is a matter of opinion. The cast is full of comedians and comedy actors – Kerry Godliman, Penelope Wilton, Roisin Conaty, Paul Kaye, Joe Wilkinson etc etc and a dog

In a Q&A after the screening, Ricky Gervais talked about the series, including why he chose that cast:


“It’s easier to tell someone to be dramatic than to teach someone to be funny”

It’s easier to tell someone to be dramatic than to teach someone to be funny. If you’ve got people who haven’t got a funny bone and you are trying to make them funny, forget it.

But, if you’ve got a comedians and you tell them, “Just do that,” they get it.

It’s not really just a sitcom; it’s a drama. 

I haven’t really watched comedy for two years. I’ve watched ‘Scandi Noir’ – The Bridge, The Killing, Before We Die, Black Lake, Greyzone. They’re amazing. The pacing’s different. Uncompromised. It’s for grown-ups.

That’s where HBO made their mark. When HBO came out, people said: “Why would I pay for stuff?” – “Well, because you can’t get The Sopranos.” on ABC. You won’t get The Wire anywhere.

Now Netflix have done that even better. They drop it all at once.

Everyone who’s interviewed me, I say they have to watch all six episodes. It’s better to watch them all at once or two or three a night. It does matter. (Each episode) does start where it left off. There is a story. It’s like a novelisation: one long story. If you don’t watch one, you’ll be a bit confused. You can’t watch them out-of-order or miss one, because everything comes back. So it’s perfect for binge watching and Netflix are the perfect broadcaster. They tick every box slightly better than anyone else.

To get final edit (in the past), I’ve had to compromise a bit. So it was BBC2 instead of BBC1 or Channel 4 instead of ITV or HBO instead of NBC.

Then Netflix come along and there are no restrictions – less than anyone – the sky’s the limit – 140 million subscribers – and they’re very generous. They even have the ‘C word’ in the trailer. That’s never been done.

I think when you get older, you just want to be more honest.

It’s about someone struggling. He doesn’t want to feel anything. He’s trying to make himself a psychopath so it doesn’t feel so terrible every day. He used to be a nice guy. He had the perfect life and that was taken from him.

Imagine if a man lost everything and he had nothing left to lose. Ooh! That’s interesting! He can do anything he wants. We are constrained, restrained every day about consequences. But, if there wasn’t any… or you didn’t care that the worst consequence was being dead… you’ve got nothing to fear. 

So that’s the journey for him though, obviously, it’s not going to be as simple as that.

The worst thing is your partner dying. He had a perfect life, didn’t care about anything else. That goes and you’ve got nothing… in his mind.

That’s why he’s saying awful things. In the split second where you think: Shall I say something? – Oh, I’d better not… He doesn’t have the ‘better not’ now. He thinks: Why the fuck not?

He’s experimenting. You know how a toddler pushes the boundaries? He’s a bit spoiled. And he’s not well. He’s in the second phase of grief. He’s depressed and he’s angry and he’s just trying to lash out to make himself feel better for a split second. He’s an owl in a trap.

The overall message is Life is amazing and you are definitely going to die so things have got to be really bad for you to blow that little gift. Is it worth living another ten years? It just might be. And I think that. That is me. I’m an atheist. We didn’t exist for 13½ billion years; then we get 80 or 90 years, if we’re lucky, of this amazing experience. And we’ll never exist again. So you don’t want to go too early but, when the really bad days outweigh the good, then I’m all for it – let’s knock it on the head.

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Filed under Comedy, Drama, Movies, Television

A long-ago photo of a future mother…

This is a photo of my mother – she is the one on the left – standing in front of an aeroplane on the beach at St Andrews in Scotland in, I guess, the very early 1930s.

In the middle of the photo is her brother. He died when he was 16 years old.

I think, she was around 11 when he died.

Her parents adored their son.

Obviously, they never got over his death.

My mother is holding her left arm slightly behind her back.

She was born without a left hand.

She died in 2007, aged 87.

On the right is their cousin. She was older than my mother.

She, too, is now dead.

So it goes.

 

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Filed under Death, Nostalgia