Tag Archives: ageing

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

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Nathan Cassidy goes forward to the past with Back to the Future & sucked a bong

Nathan Cassidy - Back to the Future in a jacket

Nathan Cassidy – Back to Birmingham

“If you really wanted to live dangerously,” I told Malcolm Hardee Award nominated comedian Nathan Cassidy, “you should have booked your Edinburgh Fringe show into the Cowgatehead venue.”

“There’s only one thing you can’t make jokes about,” said Nathan, “and that’s Cowgatehead. Those comedians have got thousands of pounds and, in their minds, maybe their whole careers riding on it.”

As well as being a comedian, Nathan runs a company which offers tourist trips round the ‘real’ London and ‘real’ New York. But, he complains, everything  is getting too safe and gentrified in London.

“Are you a Londoner?” I asked.

“I was born in Birmingham. Even Birmingham’s nicer now. There’s no rough places  for me any more.”

“Certainly not Brownhills,” I said, attempting a North Birmingham accent.

“That,” said Nathan, “is exactly the Brummie accent I am going to use in Back To the Future III.”

Back To The Future shows I, II and III

Back To The Future stage shows I, II & III

Nathan is performing three comedy shows this year – Back to the Future I, II and III.

“I’m doing all three on the same day at the Camden Fringe and on Back to the Future Day, which is Wednesday 21st October. That’s the day in Back to the Future II – 21st October 2015 – they go forward to and that’s when you see the flying cars.”

“Why did you do the first Back to the Future?” I asked.

“I guess I’m at that part in my life where I’m looking back 30 years and looking forward 30 years. I went to see Back to the Future at Secret Cinema at Westfield in East London and that’s what triggered my thought. Secret Cinema fuses theatre and film. They had bought a great plot of land but they had to cancel the first week of shows. 3,000 people were turning up every day and they cancelled the first day only about half an hour before the start time.

“They didn’t allow you to take your mobile phones because they didn’t want the location revealed. So everyone, including me, had left their house dressed in 1950s gear – some people had travelled from the Isle of Wight – 3,000 people all getting to the door and these ten security guards having to turn everyone away and getting abuse.

Secret Cinema’s Back To The Future set at the Olympic Park (Photograph by Nathan Cassidy)

Secret Cinema’s Back To The Future set at the Olympic Park (Photograph by Nathan Cassidy)

“There was a guy dressed as Doc Brown shouting at this security guard saying that he had ruined everything and it was unforgivable. Then he turned to me and says: Do you want to come for dinner? I had no excuse not to, because he knew I was supposed to be there for the next six or seven hours and I didn’t have my phone on me. And he turns out to be the grumpiest cunt I’ve ever met and it got me thinking: I’m in the middle of my life and I’m turning into this grumpy guy. I feel my life is falling away.

“I was told by my step-dad when I was about 15: As soon as you hit 30, your life will start to accelerate. And he was absolutely right. I’ve got two kids now – 5 and 7. My 7-year-old is doing stuff I did about 30 years ago and I’m thinking about my own death in maybe 30 years time.

“So Back to the Future II is about living again. I’m not religious, but I’ve recently got into the idea of reincarnation. Maybe it’s because I’m hoping for something that may not exist.”

“And now you’re up to show three,” I said.

“Yes, Back to the Future III is about some regrets I’ve had from the past. My whole school was not very nice to this one particular person.”

“Not you?” I asked.

Nathan showed me his very real BTTF jacket

Nathan showed me his very real BTTF jacket

“No, not me. I was not a bully as such, but you’ve always got these kids at school who are bullied and your excuse to yourself is you weren’t old enough to stop it because you were 12.

“Then you think: Maybe I WAS old enough. So it’s about wanting to go back in time to stop that happening.

“I’ve written a few novels too and one of my books is about this – about bullying at school and wondering what happens to those kids you haven’t seen for 30 years.

“I think your life is pretty much set in stone in those years and there’s nothing you can do about it unless there’s massive serious intervention.”

At this point, Nathan had a coughing fit. When he recovered, he told me:

“I did this show last night with Trevor Lock and I’ve never taken drugs in my whole life and I did this bit on stage about not taking drugs and then somebody from the audience handed me something and said: It’s bong.”

“Bong?” I asked.

“Bong. I have no idea. I don’t do drugs, don’t hang around with anyone who does drugs even as a comedian. But this person handed me this thing and I took a suck and then thought: What am I doing?

“You sucked a bong?” I asked.

“It was like a fake cigarette thing and lit up at the end. It didn’t look like a cigarette: it looked like a…”

“Bong?” I suggested.

“A big bong, yes. And I’ve got this thing at the back of my throat now and I’m thinking: Why have I resisted drugs for 40 years?

“You are going to turn on to drugs?” I asked.

“If I’m going to live again – as I do – why don’t I just get fucked-up now?"

“If I’m going to live again – as I do – why don’t I just get fucked-up now?”

“That’s partly what Back to the Future II is about,” explained Nathan. “If I believe I am going to live again – as I do – why don’t I just get fucked-up now? Why don’t I start living like Chris Dangerfield? None of my favourite musicians or comedians have never done drugs. So, if I’m going to become who I want to be, I’ve gotta start…”

“But who do you want to be?” I asked.

“I don’t feel like I’ve truly seen the dark side of life.”

“I never took drugs,” I explained, “because I worried it might push me over an edge I thought I might be too close to already.”

“Exactly,” said Nathan. “But, if it pushes you over the edge, then you’re going to find something that… I’m not saying just drugs…”

“You must have done something in your life?” I asked.

“I’ve done loads. I’ve travelled the world – New Zealand, Australia, all across Asia, Siberia, Russia. I’ve had kids.”

“And,” I pointed out, “you’re running an international business that takes people to ‘real’ places. What on earth IS the real New York? Probably horrible.”

“That’s it,” said Nathan. “To see the dirty side of it. The guy I started the business with has been on heroin, come off heroin, is covered in tattoos, has done crime, come out of that and he ends up this beautiful man. He’s done all that and now he can talk from a perspective of having done that. I’m not advocating this bad way of living, but Back to the Future II is about What do I do in the next 20 years? Do I take things a new way in my life?”

“You can’t,” I suggested. “You’ve got two small children and a wife.”

“What do you mean Can’t?” Nathan asked.

“You don’t,” I suggested, “want to support the Colombian drug cartels or the Mexican gangs. There were 43 people killed in some shoot-out in Mexico this morning. If you take heroin…”

Nathan reckons he is just too clean-living

Nathan reckons he has just been too clean-living

“I’m not going to take heroin,” Nathan interrupted. “I’m not talking about just drugs. I’m talking about the dark side of life.”

“Define the dark side of life.”

“I dunno. But I have been too clean-living.”

“What are these other things that life has to offer?” I asked.

“Everything.”

“Paedophilia?” I asked.

“Of course not,” said Nathan. “But my interesting stories are about what my kids are doing or my mum warning me of the danger of parked cars. All my comedian friends have more interesting stories.”

“Maybe your Unique Selling Proposition is that you’re Mr Clean.”

“I want to be scum.”

“You can’t wear a leather jacket and be clean,” I said.

“I’m wearing a Back to the Future jacket just for you. I’ll do anything to publicise the show.”

“I still,” I said, “want to know what all these dark things are that aren’t paedophilia or heroin.”

“Trevor Lock was telling me a story about severed heads on crosses in South America. Being alone with that and being scared. Life over-and-above the mundane. You can get a sense from older comedians that they’ve seen everything.  If you’re a 20-year-old comic, it’s all about wanking, living with your parents and thinking you might be gay.

“I was on the circuit when I was 23 or 24 and I had nothing to talk about and that’s why I gave up for nine years. I came back in about 2009.”

“If you want the ultimate dark side,” I suggested, “the ultimate thing is to go along and join ISIS.”

Nathan Cassidy: “I came back in about 2009"

Nathan Cassidy: “I came back in about 2009″

“I think that’s maybe a step too far.”

“But you keep implying there are no steps too far. You could be a thrill killer like Leopold & Loeb in America or Mary Bell in this country.”

“Maybe I won’t go that far.”

”Why?”

“My own two children, maybe.”

“Good choice,” I said.

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Filed under Comedy, Drugs, Psychology

Age. So it goes.

An extract from my e-diary in April 2000:

At my parents’ home, in the afternoon, the clock chimed once for 4.30pm.

My mother asked my father: “Why did that clock stop last night?”

“Half past twelve,” he replied, mis-hearing her.

“It’s only Tuesday,” my mother continued, not really hearing him.

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Ten years ago this month in my life

Some backward-looking Pepys into life ten years ago

I am feeling both lazy and in a bit of a rush this morning.

So, instead of transcribing one of several chats I have had with people which would make for a more relevant blog today, I looked at pre-written stuff – what was happening ten years ago.

I kept a diary on my computer.

These are brief extracts from 2002.

My mother died in Clacton in 2007. Comedian Malcolm Hardee drowned in Rotherhithe in 2005.

Sunday 1st September – Borehamwood

I have a rather snotty, flu-y thing which, together with exhaustion, made me even dozier for most of last week after getting back from the Edinburgh Fringe.

My mother had her plaster off on Friday but is in agony when she puts any weight on the foot. She is seeing the doctor again in a fortnight. She has a sort-of bandage-stocking thing she has to put on and remove daily, doubled, which is a bit of a problem if you only have one hand, as she has.

Monday 2nd September – Clacton

My mother’s 82nd birthday. Although together, it felt when we sat together that we were both cold and solitary.

Tuesday 3rd September – Kensington

At 4.20pm, on the platform at High Street Kensington tube, the tips of the middle and third finger on my left hand started vibrating – tingling – from within.

Thursday 5th September – Fleckney/Higham Ferrers

I went to see comedian Charlie Chuck in Leicestershire; he seemed internally sad. And mad inventor John Ward in Northamptonshire; he seemed internally frustrated.

Friday 6th September – Borehamwood

Very depressed. I slept through until 1430.

Saturday 7th September – Clacton

My mother’s cousin Sheena has got glaucoma.

Sunday 8th September – North London

The woman who runs criminal AAAA BBBB’s website e-mailed me:
I am off to the hospital now, my ma is having a brain scan tomorrow to see if she is brain stem dead. If she is I guess it’s not good.

I went round to comedian CCCC DDDD ‘s home. He told me he believes in God, is a Christian and prays every day. He has a 3ft high brass Buddha in his fireplace.

Monday 9th September – Soho

I had a chat with someone who told me about EEEE FFFF, whom I used to work with at a TV station. She says that, after I left, he was bullied by his boss. As a result, he took a drugs overdose and was found by police just about to jump into a canal. The police talked to him and found out why he was going to jump – they can investigate and press charges without a complaint being made. It was assumed they were going to prosecute. The boss resigned from the company before being sacked. There were also tales of him allegedly drugging teenage boys for homosexual acts, but she did not know the details.

The woman who runs criminal AAAA BBBB’s website e-mailed me:
Been at the hospital. I have popped home to get changed. Ma had the brain scan and we do have brain activity, although the seizures could be confusing the issue. She is having a seizure about every 45 mins. They are going to lighten her sedation and try to remove the breathing tube to see what happens, which is what they did last week and we had to have her resuscitated which scared the shit out of me and my dad.

Tuesday 10th September – Ealing

Had tea with comedian GGGG HHHH at a health club in Ealing. His eyes were emotionless. Malcolm Hardee had told me GGGG HHHH’s marriage was rocky because GGGG HHHH had been sleeping with other women on an epic scale, although you could not call him handsome. He has always seemed – and still does – a quiet, rather shy and insecure man.

Wednesday 11th September – Clacton

I am heavily depressed at the moment and have been for two or three years – especially since watching (and listening to) my father die last year and looking at his eyes at the instant of death. Now, when I come to see my mother, I have more depressive layers poured on top of the existing ones.

Thursday 12th September – Southwark/Pimlico

I went to the Old Kent Road to talk to comedian IIII JJJJ about the Sit-Down Comedy book. As soon as I came out of the station at Elephant & Castle, there were posters about guns in Southwark. Turn the gunmen in. Guns are no way to live.

IIII JJJJ is 50, clearly not wanting to live long. He says the guns are used by the Nigerians who run the local drug trade.

Then I went to meet Malcolm Hardee and the editor at Random House for a meeting about the book. There were various marketing/PR people there. Difficult to know what they made of Malcolm, fairly quiet and ramshackle.

Friday 13th September – Clacton

I took my mother to Clacton Hospital for a check-up. There were lots of people sitting on chairs in corridors throughout the hospital, just waiting to be seen.

Saturday 14th September – Enfield/Rotherhithe

Malcolm wanted to buy a second duck as a mate for the one he already has (as a surprise for his partner Andree). Charlie Chuck and I went and bought the second duck for him at an animal ‘hyper’ shop in Enfield. While waiting, there was much alarmed quacking when a cockerel decided to mate with a startled mallard duck. The cockerel gave up eventually, which was a relief both to us and to the mallard. Back in Rotherhithe, Malcolm’s female Indian Runner duck was even more startled to see a male Indian Runner emerge from our cardboard box.

Sunday 15th September – Borehamwood

Immensely depressed and despairing. Maybe men aged over a certain age don’t care about anything any more because they know nothing matters – they have a clear sight of mortality. All that really matters in life is pleasure, relationships and the money that allows both to function freely. I realised this too late.

Monday 16th September – Borehamwood

This evening, Malcolm’s female duck jumped over the side of his ship in what he said was an assumed suicide bid – possibly alarmed at the new male’s attentions – and Malcolm spent about 45 minutes trying to retrieve her with a fishing net.

Thursday 19th September – Rotherhithe

I went to Malcolm’s Wibbley Wobbley pub. His two ducks Crispy (the original) and Charlie (named after Charlie Chuck) had been let out and he successfully tried to catch them again – running along a wooden pontoon, a single long-poled fishing net in his hand. Andree has not been able to eat duck since the first arrival.

Comedian KKKK LLLL arrived, looking relaxed and confident but I know he is in big money trouble.

Friday 20th September – Borehamwood

Back to the depression.

Saturday 21st September – Borehamwood

The tips of the middle and third finger on my left hand were vibrating – tingling – from within.

Sunday 22nd September – Borehamwood

I went to bed at 0200 and got up at 1510. I didn’t want to get up even then, just to stay in bed. Late at night, there was a 4.8 Richter Scale earthquake in Dudley (on the outskirts of Birmingham)… I felt it in Borehamwood (in Hertfordshire).

Monday 23rd September – Clacton

On ITV,  Anglia News reported that a woman from Peterborough had phoned in to say that, during last night’s earthquake, her pet bird was thrown off its perch.

I got an e-mail from someone I went to school with; he is now in Israel:

Are you now, or have you ever been…… the John Fleming who joined Ilford County High School for Boys in 1961, and left considerably earlier than the rest of us, in what I have always viewed as a blaze of glory? I have found myself, at odd moments over the intervening 35 years, wondering, not a little enviously, whether the John Fleming I knew continued to live by his high principles of artistic freedom. As for your splendid website, that is how I found you, and I must say that what I read there did not disappoint. It sounds as though you are doing what you want to do,

In fact, I took an overdose of paracetamol, aspirin and codeine and, slightly later, ran away from home. All over a girl. Hardly a blaze of glory. Hardly anything to do with artistic freedom. How strange how others view our lives.

My mother’s stomach was more painful than normal today She took 2 paracetamol at teatime and was holding her stomach while sitting in her chair during the evening.

Tuesday 24th September – Borehamwood

My friend Sandy in Italy e-mailed me:
Earthquakes of course were a monthly occurrence in Japan. I survived a 6.9 one… Oh, the tales I shall tell…

I replied:
Earthquakes are not such a threat to the Japanese as they are very small and thus don’t have so far to fall if they get knocked over.

I felt a circa 5.8 one in Manchester in the early 1980s (its epicentre was in North Wales); at first I had thought it was a couple having sex in the next room… And there was a distinct shaking in a hotel in Las Vegas when I was there in 1979. We at first thought this was an earthquake then realised it might be an underground atomic bomb going off in the Nevada test area.

Wednesday 25th September – Borehamwood

Extract from an e-mail from my friend Lys (who lives in Oxfordshire):
I forgot to say but, yes, the earthquake woke me up too.

I had a meal with comedian MMMM NNNN and a long-time male friend of hers at the Groucho Club. She says she feels more secure there because people don’t look at her.

Thursday 26th September – Borehamwood

I slept from 6.10pm-8.50pm and I don’t know what or how to describe it, But something seemed to snap when I was asleep. My ability to cope with reality. My ability to cope with anything. When I woke up and got up, I felt even more adrift and separated from Life.

The woman who runs criminal AAAA BBBB’s website e-mailed me:
My mother has had a total of about 18-20 strokes and she is due to come home into community care Friday as there is nothing else a hospital can do. They might try and find her a private rehab centre but places are few and far between so I am thinking it over. Private rehab is £1,800 per week which is a very expensive. We will see.

Saturday 28th September – Clacton

My mother and I sit mostly in silence. My mother’s wrist is very thin, very boney.

Sunday 29th September – Borehamwood

My friend Lynn (who is also the executrix of my will) told me that, last night, she dreamt about my death. It was not my body lying on the floor yet she knew it was me.

I met my friend OOOO PPPP in London. She was puffy-faced, yet with no lines on her forehead. Maybe the anti-cancer drugs have puffed her face up.

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Filed under Comedy, Death, Psychology

I think my body may be starting to fall apart. Perhaps leeches are the answer.

Yesterday was a hotchpotch of a day, starting with the unsettling news that North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il had died. There may be more about this in my blog in four or five months time.

I have been hobbling a bit every since a humorous incident last month in which my left foot got stuck in a Wellington boot in a shoe shop and the Wellington had to be cut off me with a large pair of scissors. Before that, there had been much pulling by various people of my toes and heel with the result that the outside edge of my left heel has, ever since, been painful when I stand on it in my bare feet, though not when I wear shoes. But it has now started to occasionally be painful in shoes, too, so I guess I will have to go to my GP and maybe try to get it X-rayed. Two visits to my osteopath have not cured the problem, which he thinks is caused by problems in my toes, not my heel.

The humorous Wellington boot incident happened on 10th November; it is now 20th December. I have had problems ever since.

When you are younger, you think old people move slower because it is in their nature. As you get older, you realise it is often because of pain or the anticipation of pain.

Now there is something for me to look forward to.

Well, it seems I don’t even have to look forward. It is here.

My left shoulder is also giving me occasional pain after a visit to an osteopath (not my own) who was going cheap in a Daily Telegraph offer. She poked and prodded the flat stretch between my left shoulder and neck, which was damaged when I was hit by a large truck while standing on the pavement in 1991 – or was it 1990?- I can’t be bothered to check – and it has been more painful since then.

I think I was born too early.

The 19th century was all about mechanical inventions. The 20th century was electrical and electronic advances. The 21st century looks set to be an era of biological discoveries and advancement.

I was born too early.

John Ward with some Malcolm Hardee Awards for Comedy

I was thinking this yesterday lunchtime and then mad John Ward, designer of the three annual Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards and eccentric inventor of bizarre contraptions, e-mailed to tell me he had designed the ultimate bird table and I could see it on YouTube.

I think it has some echo of the villain’s lair in The Spy Who Loved Me crossed with the Martian tripods in War of The Worlds – someone else who saw it just thought it might attract foxes.

Perhaps the 21st century will not be all biology.

Perhaps eccentricity will proliferate.

I then had to go to hospital to have a minor operation: the surgical removal of two growths – well, OK, two little bobbly things were cut off my skin by a highly-trained and I presume highly-paid consultant with a scalpel. He is, in all seriousness, professionally called a ‘Lumps & Bumps’ consultant and, like 50% of doctors, has a good sense of humour.

One of the lumps – well, as I said, it was more like a little bobbly thing of soft flesh – has been growing on the side of my neck for a couple of years or so; the other has been growing, mini-mushroom-like, on the inside of my upper left leg like my body was trying to grow a second, more impressive penis (not difficult) beside the original one.

I don’t know which was more embarrassing: having the two bobbly things sliced off or having the consultant comment unfavourably on my bright yellow socks.

As this happened in a private hospital, we (my accompanying friend and I) were given tea and two Quality Street chocolates afterwards by the very amiable Irish nurse who told me that, if you give blood in Edgware, they give you cup of tea, a sandwich of your choice and crisps. As I have shamefully not given blood for about three years, this is tempting.

Blood transfusion centres used to just give you a cup of tea and a selection of biscuits. Things are looking up, though my friend opined she has never fully understood why doctors stopped using leeches and ‘bleeding’ patients on a regular basis.

For hundreds of years, people seemed to think that it was an effective and positively healthy thing to do. Can they really all have been wrong?

She may have a point, but where can one get leeches nowadays?

On a more 21st century subject, she discovered her O2 dongle does not work with Apple’s new Lion operating system because O2 have not pulled their finger out and updated their system. The Lion OS has been in use for months and O2 has sold customers dongles that no longer work. There may be biological advances in the 21st century but one thing seems likely to remain the same – all British telecom companies are equal.

‘Incompetent wankers’ seems to be the suitable phrase which covers this.

When I got home after the (admittedly not what anyone could call major) operation and the major trauma of realising O2 is selling products which do not work, I was almost immediately phoned by Adrian ‘Nosey’ Wigley: always a cheerily uplifting experience. I do not think we have talked this century, though I did mention him at the end of a blog a couple of months ago.

I booked him on a few TV programmes in the 1980s and/or the 1990s to showcase his impressive talent for playing Spanish Eyes on an electric organ with his nose.

His nose has not lost its musical ability and I am surprised he has not popped up on Britain’s Got Talent.

He lives in Brownhills in the West Midlands which, when last I heard, was home to several Guinness world record holders.

I think it’s the tedium that gets to them.

I hope, in the 21st century, it is eccentricity which proliferates.

Life can be so uneventful.

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The unnecessarily old Lewis Schaffer, his secret sex scandal and his apparently never-ending comedy show

American comedian Lewis Schaffer, trapped in London because he has two children here, has let his hair go boldly grey. I’m not sure if it’s a good idea or not. I think I prefer the previous black. People have been telling him it looks distinguished. I think it just makes him look unnecessarily old. Perhaps he should alternate it – one week grey, the next week dyed black – then it would be as varied as his ever-changing show.

Last night I went to see his apparently never-ending and constantly changing Free Until Famous show at The Source Below in Soho and, afterwards, we had a frustrating chat while eating falafels.

The second reason it was frustrating was he kept talking for so long that the ice-cream shop next door had closed by the time we left.

The primary reason for my frustration, though, was because he told me an absolute humdinger of an unpublished true sexual scandal about another comedian… but (given what the story is) I can’t print it.

Deep frustration.

For you and me both.

But no falafel with Lewis is ever a wasted falafel and there was a moment when I was reminded of writing Malcolm Hardee’s constantly-promoted* autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake (* constantly-promoted by me, here)

It is still available at surprisingly outrageous prices on Amazon

Anyway… Malcolm’s book is full of incredible stories – literally incredible because, although I think only two small details of two stories in the book are untrue (for comic effect), the main stories themselves are so extraordinary that people assume they must have been made up. It’s a bit like comedians’ stage acts: the likely-sounding true stories are usually made up and the more ludicrous unlikely stories are very often true.

The frustrating thing with Malcolm Hardee writing his autobiography was that he could seldom remember in which order the bizarre facts of his life happened and, in some cases, he could not even remember which decade they happened in; I had to work out the timeline by talking to other people or linking the stories to other dated events.

Lewis, it transpired last night, couldn’t remember whether he started performing his Free Until Famous show in London in October 2009 or in 2008.

He has recently taken to saying in his publicity that Free Until Famous is the longest-running solo comedy show ever performed in London. I took this as hyperbole until we started talking. Then I thought about it and I reckon it might actually (almost accidentally) be true.

The show has been running every Tuesday and Wednesday since at least October 2009 (or maybe 2008) with gaps for the Edinburgh Fringe and, in its early days, Lewis was sometimes performing Free Until Famous twice on Tuesday nights and twice on Wednesday nights. From this week, for at least three weeks, he is also performing it on Mondays.

This is quite a run and, as anyone who has ever seen a Lewis Schaffer show knows, it is either:

a) constantly evolving or

b) just never the same twice

…depending on your viewpoint.

I reckon he must have about four or five hours of good material and, with each individual show, he simply plucks out and rearranges the material according to the audience and his whim on the night. So, if you have seen Free Until Famous once and go back, it is the same show but totally different. Few shows are so real-character-based.

He deserves credit for bringing the Free Fringe concept wholesale (he is, after all, Jewish) from Edinburgh to London, with free entry to his shows and a metal bucket at the end for contributions. The bucket is metal, as he points out to audience members, because notes make no sound but he is able to tell if people only put coins in.

With a Wikipedian knowledge of trivial facts retrieved from his brain at the drop of a punter’s birthplace or biographical detail, why Lewis has not been picked up by TV or radio as a comic social commentator on Britain in the Bill Bryson style, I don’t know.

He is Bill Bryson with attitude.

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I am surrounded by people with newly-born pigs’ arses for faces

At school, my English teacher once talked to our class about the poet W.H. Auden.

“Just look at the lines on his face!” he told us in awe. “All that character! All that experience!”

Sometimes, for a while after that – still in my early teens – I would sit in a tube train on my way home after school and look at my reflection in the window opposite and raise my eyebrows to try to create wrinkles on my forehead… to absolutely no effect at all. I could not insert lasting wrinkles in my forehead.

I was very disappointed.

Of course, back then, I was too young to realise most lines are caused by emotional strain or pain and one single incident of strain or pain doth not a single line cause – it’s pain and strain repeated and repeated in various incidents in your life at different times that cause a single line and multiple lines are the result of… well, you know what I mean.

I was and am a great admirer of the writer Mary Anne Evans aka George Eliot.

That godawful writer Virginia Woolf once said she thought George Eliot’s Middlemarch was “one of the few English novels written for grown-up people.”

In my opinion, it’s the greatest novel ever written in the English language.

So at least Virginia Woolf wrote something sensible on that one occasion.

George Eliot had a brilliant mind and somewhere along the way, I think in Middlemarch, she said something to the effect that suffering was never wasted because it led to sympathy for other people’s suffering. That’s not altogether true, as it can also lead to extreme callousness, of course.

Hitler, Stalin, Saddam Hussein and Colonel Gaddafi had lines on their forehead and they were perhaps just a wee bit unsympathetic to others’ suffering. I’m not sure whether to talk of Colonel Gaddafi in the present tense or the past tense. He’s present at the moment but this blog may soon be over-taken by events.

Anyway… we are talking in generalities here and, as always, I may be talking bollocks.

But I have always been wary of women over a certain age – basically over their mid-twenties – with no lines at all on their forehead, because it means they have had little experience of the shittyness that is life and therefore no understanding of or sympathy with other people’s problems. So they are even more dangerous than other women. (Men, as we know, are all shits without exception, so that distinction does not exist in the male of the species.)

A friend of mine has had lines on her forehead for as long as I have known her. I met her when she was 21; she is now 56. Some time, I guess when she was in her thirties, she told me she wished she hadn’t got them. I told her, perfectly truthfully, that I had always found them attractive because they showed she had a genuine, real, likable character; she wasn’t some mindless bimbo with a face like a newly-born pig’s arse.

Perhaps I could have chosen my words better. She didn’t take this compliment well.

But we are still friends.

Now I have lines on my forehead, my face and around my eyes – I even have old man clefts at the sides of my mouth so sometimes I leak spittle out onto the pillow when I sleep. It is not the most endearing of traits. I can’t get rid of the lines nor the old man clefts. But I don’t want to.

Well, maybe oozing spittle is not really ideal. Maybe I wish I didn’t do that.

But it’s an age thing.

When I was younger, the Carry On actor Sid James seemed to have an incredibly lined face. Now when I see his face on TV or in movies, I see personality engraved in his face, not lines.

To me, schoolchildren, who are all character-filled individuals to each other, now look like Invasion of The Body Snatchers type pod clones. They all look the same to me – like babies with newly-born pig’s arse faces.

A friend of mine (not the one previously mentioned) tells me that, in her teens and early twenties, she used to stick strips of Sellotape onto her forehead overnight to stop wrinkles forming.

“Once, I forgot to take them off,” she told me yesterday. “I was opening the front door before i remembered. I don’t know what people would have thought.”

A couple of days ago, a comedian’s wife told me that, in her teens, she used to sleep with a clothes peg on the bridge of her nose because she thought it was too wide. She too told me: “I cared what people thought about the way I looked.”

There’s not a lot I can do about the way I look and, about ten years ago, I gave up caring what people think of me in general. Not that I much cared what people thought about me before then anyway.

It was not and is not a positive character trait and it never proved to be any help in career advancement.

But scum always rises and the people with no lines on their forehead – the shallow bullshit artists – very often triumph.

The comic Martin Soan – admittedly drunk at the time – told me last week that my blogs sometimes show a cynical streak.

Streak? Streak? I would have said it was a six-lane super-highway.

I am surrounded by people with newly-born pigs’ arses for faces!

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