Tag Archives: alcohol

Which makes you a better stand-up comedian? Alcohol, cocaine or heroin?

Andy Zapp - the current man in my bed at Edinburgh Fringe

Andy Zapp stayed in my flat at the Edinburgh Fringe last year

At last year’s Edinburgh Fringe, musician/comedian Andy Zapp performed in a show with comedian Ivor Dembina.

Currently, he performs on Saturdays at Ivor’s Hampstead Comedy Club in London.

He is billed as The Orchestra of Andy Zapp.

“A lot of jazz musicians liked heroin,” I said to him over tea in Soho.

“Yes,” agreed Andy. “Miles Davis, John Coltrane, all those ones.”

“One comedian told me,” I said, “that he might take Red Bull, but he never took cocaine before going on stage because he wouldn’t be able to control his act. I’m not sure I believed him, though.”

“Well,” said Andy, “Lenny Bruce managed to do it quite successfully for a time. I think you can do it if you have that creative spurt. I might be quite good doing that for five or six months, then I’d just be fucked. You’ve got that sort of creative burst because you’ve got the energy and you’re not worried about how you feel when they don’t laugh. Subjectively, you’re cut off. You’re not really connecting with the audience and it doesn’t bother you.”

“I suppose though,” I suggested, “it could make the paranoia even worse.”

“Well, yeah,” said Andy, “you’ve gotta get paranoid first, though. When you take cocaine, you don’t automatically get paranoid; that’s further down the line. The initial part of it’s really nice, but then you start getting paranoid. Heroin would be better. Nice and relaxed.”

“You don’t want to be too relaxed performing comedy, though,” I suggested.

“You wouldn’t have the anxiety, though,” Andy argued. “I don’t know how it would work for comedians. They’re more piss-heads. Drink.”

“I wonder why?” I mused.

“Well,” said Andy, “it’s a different type of buzz. More outward. Music’s a little bit more inward: you don’t really have to ‘perform’.”

“I suppose drink makes people go off more at tangents,” I said.

“Garrolous,” agreed Andy. “Drink dis-inhibits. Heroin stops you feeling. You don’t feel physical pain, you don’t feel emotional pain. Me, I couldn’t use anything, really. I’m never tempted that much.”

“Why are you tempted at all?” I asked.

A ‘selfie’ taken by Andy Zapp in London last week

A ‘selfie’ taken by Andy in London last week

“I think: Oh yeah, I’ll just take a bit of speed and I can just really fly about or some cocaine and it’ll really turn off the internal sensor. But doing comedy clean the way I’ve been doing it – I’ve been doing it two-and-a-half years now – being with Ivor helps. He’s really useful.”

“Why? Because he’s analytical?” I asked. “I saw Ivor put his Palestine show together over a few months and it was like seeing a watchmaker paying attention to every little detail.”

“He’s maybe a bit too careful,” replied Andy, “but I’m all over the place, so he’s very good at getting me back on track. I’m still trying to sort this composure stuff out before I go on stage. If I forget my composure, I forget what I’m doing and get scared when I get up on stage.”

“Where did you and Ivor meet?” I asked.

“At the Red Rose Club about 27 or 30 years ago,” said Andy. “I used to like going to comedy shows. I was a junkie then.”

“How many years?” I asked.

“I’ve been in recovery for 27. I’m 15 years clean now.”

“How does that add up?” I asked.

“I was clean for 7; got a tumour on my spinal cord; the doctors prescribed me pain-killing medication and I sort of lost the plot on that; then I relapsed for 4 years; and I’ve been clean for 15. That’s 26-and-a-bit years. It’s been a great journey. I love being clean; I really do.”

“You recommend it as a career path?”

“I would. What’s your bag?”

“Chocolate,” I explained. “I have a stomach to support.”

“Other people do gambling or sex,” said Andy. “I just do drugs. It’s all addiction.”

“But if you’re clean of drugs now,” I asked, “what’s your addiction?”

“It’s kind of low-grade now,” said Andy. “I kind of understand how I roll. I can do chocolate now. I’ve got a high metabolic rate. I exercise quite a lot.”

“Marihuana is fairly harmless,” I said.

“That’s not true,” said Andy. “It isn’t harmless. It mimics mental health problems. Schizophrenia, paranoia, low self-esteem.”

“Sounds like the basic requirements for becoming a stand-up comedian,” I said.

“Well, it’s a good starting point,” said Andy, “but you can’t tell which way it’s going to go. It’s the way you smoke it, really. Physical damage; throat cancer; stuff like that. Heroin is the most benign of all the drugs.”

“Pure heroin,” I said.

In the 1950s, heroin was a popular medicine prescribed by family doctors

In the 1950s, heroin was still a popular medicine prescribed by family doctors

“Yeah pure heroin,” agreed Andy. “I used to get jacks – 10mg tablets – like little saccharine pills. You got them off doctors. As a drug, heroin progresses through the body really easily. Within seven hours, it’s flushed through your system. It doesn’t damage any of the major organs. The only thing is it’s very addictive and, if you take a wrong amount, you can overdose. The stuff people get now… it depends what it’s cut with.

“It used to be only the middle and upper classes that took it and they were injecting heroin. But, once it became a smokable commodity, then it filtered into the working classes and the criminal classes and then it really took off.”

“It was the fall of the Shah of Iran that made heroin big here, wasn’t it?” I asked. “People couldn’t take their cash out of Iran, so they converted it into heroin and took that out.”

“Yeah,” said Andy. “But it was the marketing, really. People were putting it in joints, smoking it and thinking it was quite benign and, two weeks later, they’d got a heroin habit, a running nose, coughing.”

“What IS the Orchestra of Andy Zapp?” I asked.

“It’s me and a loop machine. Makes it sound like an orchestra of harmonicas.”

“That’s nice,” I said.

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Filed under Comedy, Drink, Drugs

Odd news of enemas, buckets & Bitcoins from Germany, Sweden and Canada

BERLIN, GERMANY

Cabaret performer Matt Roper in Berlin - the home of Cabaret

Cabaret performer Matt Roper in Berlin – the home of Cabaret

Comedian Matt Roper has been forced to sleep in a doorway holding music legend Morrissey in his hands.

Matt is currently staying in a flat in Berlin which belongs to a musician friend of his who is on tour.

As there was a spare room, Matt had asked me if I wanted to stay there too.

It sounds like I was lucky I did not go. I got an e-mail:

“When I arrived here,” Matt told me, “I collected the keys from the neighbours, threw my bags into the hallway, then went out for the night to explore. I was kidnapped by two journalists from the Bild newspaper (the German equivalent of the Sun) who took me to various bars, ending up in a place where an exotic dancer performing onstage finished her act by sitting on a large bottle of Becks beer and opened it by bending over.

“When I got back to the flat at 2.40am, I realised I had been given the wrong set of keys. Well, the keys to the flat were fine, but I had not got one to the main door from the street. I had to spend the night in the doorway until somebody from the building left for work in the morning at 6.45am. I had trouble convincing him I was legitimately staying there. I do not speak much German and, in the intervening four hours, I had been sipping beer from a bottle and reading Morrissey’s autobiography so, by this point, was looking quite dishevelled.

“The next day,” Matt told me, “my card was cloned by some bastard in India who has plundered my current account of all its funds. And now I can smell gas coming from the flat below.”

“Well, gas and Germany tend to go together,” I told Matt when I Skyped him yesterday.

“The neighbours just said to ignore it and it has gone away,” he confirmed, then continued: “Listen. There’s an enema spa in Thailand I know very well. We should go one day next year. After the Edinburgh Fringe. Next September. You fast for ten days straight and take silium husk. I met Hermann Goering‘s niece there. You can have ten days of blogging with interesting characters talking about what they’ve passed that morning into a sieve. How can you resist?”

I told Matt I had put enemas behind me and was not interested.

STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN

Bob Slayer (right) met a man with drink in Sweden

When baldies collide: Bob Slayer (right) met a man on a bus

Shortly after talking to Matt Roper, I got an e-mail from comedian Bob Slayer.

“Yesterday,” it started, “I found an artificial leg in a park in Stockholm… There were signs of a struggle and half a broken step ladder. What can this all mean?”

I could not help Bob with any sensible explanation.

“This morning,” the e-mail coninued, “I was woken up in a closed shopping centre (also in Stockholm) by a security guard called Linus. Neither of us knew how I had got into the closed shopping centre and he complimented me on my sleeping place but – sadly – he told me that he had not seen my artificial leg… So that is now lost again.

“It would be lovely if you could blog about my new book Bob Slayer: The Happy Drunk. I have written it and Rich Rose has illustrated it. The pre-order via Kickstarter closes on Sunday.” (This means tomorrow to rapid readers of this blog.)

Bob’s Kickstarter target was £666 and, at the time of writing, he has raised £1,008, so I think it is likely the book may well appear.

Later, I got another message from Bob.

“I get a ferry to Aland for a gig,” it started. “Aland is an island between Sweden and Finland which is Finnish but they speak Swedish. The two countries argued over it for years and sorted things out with a treaty that made Swedish the main language and gave the island a high degree of autonomy. The first thing they did was get rid of all tax on booze. I love this place. It is a schizophrenic island full of piss heads…

“I have been to Aland several times before with bands. My gig is promoted by a man called Grulle. When I was managing the Japanese rock band Electric Eel Shock, we once took Grulle to the Hultsfred Festival. When we picked him up, all he was carrying was a bucket. It turned out to be his portable toilet complete with a seat. Grulle spent some very happy moments with his potty in the woods that weekend.”

Even later yesterday, I got a text message on my phone from Bob who, bizarrely, is a former racehorse jockey.

“I have met an old man called Björn on the bus to the ferry,” the text said. “He was a race horse trainer but, more importantly, he has wine and vodka. An important feature is that the booze is in bottles of vitamin water.”

I have heard nothing from Bob since.

VANCOUVER, CANADA

Anna Smith ignores the BBC in Canada

Anna Smith has some fishy yet true stories

When I told Anna Smith – this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent – that Bob Slayer was in Stockholm, she unexpectedly suggested I should immediately tell him that Sweden now allows public masturbation.

Sure enough, Time magazine and the UK’s Independent newspaper have both reported that a 65-year-old Swedish man was acquitted of sexual assault after “pleasuring himself” on a beach in Stockholm in June.

The district court of Södertörn tossed out the charge on the grounds that he did not look at anybody while fondling himself. Public prosecutor Olof Vrethammar told the Mitti newspaper that he had no plans to appeal and called the ruling “reasonable.” When asked if masturbating in public was now acceptable in Sweden, Vrethammar said public fondling was “okay” – as long as it was not directed towards a specific individual.”

Anna Smith lives in Vancouver, where the world’s first Bitcoin machine has now been installed in a branch of Waves coffee shop. Anna tells me:

“The coffee shop is opposite the British Columbia Supreme Court. I wonder if it will come in handy for criminals who are about to be sentenced to lengthy terms or ones who have just won their cases and need to convert currency or pay off people. I have noticed that men about to be incarcerated sometimes have absurd amounts of cash in their motel rooms.”

Anna has other things on her mind, too:

“I have started part time work in a used book store,” she tells me. “The place is always good for a laugh. The owners grumble about business, customers come in to rant and the elderly men are funny, trying to outdo one another with anecdotes. One elderly Indian man was crowing from the top of a ladder: I was there when Khrushchev stepped off the train in Bombay!  to which another geezer, who is blind and too unsteady to climb ladders but sings filthy doggerel, replied: My mother was an Irish nurse who marched with Mao across China!

Respected Italian politician La Cicciolina

The respected Italian politician La Cicciolina

“Directly opposite the bookstore is the Marble Arch Hotel, full of mentally-ill drug addicts, who used to fire projectiles at the store windows from their rooms. Fortunately, the City of Vancouver is renovating the hotel, so the whole building is enveloped in scaffolding and blue nets, making it temporarily impossible to shoot ball bearings. In better days, the hotel had a striptease club which featured such famous performers as La Cicciolina, the popular Hungarian-born Italian politician.

“I recently went to a Celebration of Life for Fijian princess and actress Freda Perry, which was held at a Ukrainian Orthodox Church. A banquet including extremely delicious curried lamb was served, Fijians sang prayers and there was a Kava ceremony, though I missed that bit.

“When I saw the Kava bowl I thought it was holy water, so I steered clear and was a little surprised when I saw a man scoop a mug of liquid out and drink it. Fijians are obviously a superior culture as their holy water is drinkable, and mildly intoxicating, whereas our European holy water functions mainly as a transmitter of influenza.

“Big news at the moment, though, is that Vancouver Police are being run ragged in their hunt for rogue dentists who are operating with impunity in secretive subterranean clinics.”

Sure enough, a piece in yesterday’s Globe and Mail newspaper reports that “British Columbia’s College of Dental Surgeons says there’s still no sign of rogue dentist David Wu, though it is proceeding with legal action against two other unlicensed practitioners and investigating even more… Illegal dental clinics tend to be underground and secretive, which the college has said makes them difficult to shut down.”

Vancouver continues to be high on my list of interesting places to be, although Matt Roper continues in his (frankly doomed) attempts to persuade me of the attractions of enema spas in Thailand.

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Filed under Canada, Comedy, Germany, Humor, Humour, Sweden

Comedian Bob Slayer, the gay pub and the relationship with a famous comic

Bob Slayer yesterday with partner Shirley and two lucky cats

Yesterday, with my eternally-un-named friend, I went to comedian Bob Slayer’s home for dinner.

Bob had a bad cough, but regaled us with tales of his early days as a jockey. He broke his back and had to stop riding horses.

It also turned out, not surprisingly, that his mother was born in a pub. Bob, more often than not, downs at least one pint in a single gulp during his stage act.

“My mum was born in the Wheelbarrow Castle pub at Radford in Worcestershire,” he told me, “which my great-grandfather owned and it went out of the family for a long time, but my uncle has recently bought it to bring it back into the family. They lost the farm – my other uncle lost the farm because he pissed it away.”

“Is he alive?” I asked.

“Yes,” Bob replied.

“Then that’s potentially libel,” I said.

“No, I don’t think it’s libel,” said Bob. “Uncle John would say Well, I did piss it away, yeah. My youngest uncle Martin was in short trousers while John was pissing the farm away. Martin is Gemma, my cousin’s, dad – she’s the one you met who helped me run The Hive venue at the Edinburgh Fringe

“My Uncle Martin re-bought the Wheelbarrow Castle but what he didn’t realise at the time was that he had bought a gay pub.”

“Ah,” I said, “so this is the pub where you suggested we go see The Wurzels perform in October.”

“Yes,” said Bob.

“A gay pub with The Wurzels performing?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Bob. “And, in this pub, my mother was born.”

“Was she gay?” I asked.

“I don’t think so,” replied Bob. “but I was at a wedding once…”

“A gay wedding?” I asked.

“No but, at my other cousin’s wedding… He was the first of my cousins to get married… and my uncle came up and said I think it’s about time you heard all about Guzzleguts. And I asked What’s that, Uncle Anthony? And he said When your mum was a teenager, she used to be called Guzzleguts. 

“My mum is one of nine… Well, eight, because Uncle David died last week… but all the brothers would drink in the family pub and they would play pool and people would be travelling through and they’d hustle them and it would get to the stage where they were pissed and they’d lost money and big stakes were going down and they’d say Ah! I bet even our sister could beat you at downing a pint! And these big bets would be put down and then my mother would be brought in and two pints put down on the table and my mum would Phrooom! guzzleguts this pint down. And that’s where I get it from.

“Apparently they also used to interrupt her doing her school work – she was a real swot when she was a teenager – lie her on the bar, put a funnel in her mouth and they would pour three pints into her and they would have had a bet on that – We bet you our sister can down three pints in under so many minutes.”

“And this is where we are going to see The Wurzels?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Bob.

“You told me,” I prompted, “the original Wurzel died in a tragic Marc Bolan style car crash?”

“More tragic than Marc Bolan,” said Bob. “Marc Bolan was a very influential and interesting musician, but he wasn’t really up there with Adge Cutler.

“The band was originally called Adge Cutler and The Wurzels… Adge was driving home from a gig in Hereford in his MGB sports car 1974 and he ran into a tractor and died and I think that’s the most rock ‘n’ roll death ever.”

“No connection with combine harvesters?” I asked.

“Well,” said Bob, “I was originally told he ran into a combine harvester, but that was an exaggeration. It was a tractor. He was full of cider as well, I’d like to say. Cider and acid. That’s a bloody good combination.”

“Lots of drinking in Archers country?” I asked.

“It was very interesting for me to learn about alcoholics,” said Bob, “in a family where they are all pissheads. Their attitude towards alcoholism was Well, you could tell she had a problem, because she hid it. We ain’t got a problem, do we? Cos we don’t hide it. I was taught that when I was growing up: You’re not an alcoholic if you don’t feel the need to hide it.

“So,” I asked, “alcoholism was not so much a warning as an aspiration?”

“I think so,” said Bob, “yeah,” and then he had a coughing fit.

“How many brothers and sisters do you have?” asked my eternally-un-named friend.

“I’ve only got one brother,” said Bob. “But I’ve got fifty cousins… I’ve got nine uncles and aunts and most of them are re-married, so…”

“Not 49 or 51 cousins but 50 exactly?” I asked.

“Well, it might be 51 by now,” said Bob. “We do get the odd extras. But they’re all really ugly….” He turned to my eternally-un-named friend: “Going back to this conversation earlier where you decided that 99% of sex-changers do it for the wrong reasons, based on the ones you knew… John here has met one of my cousins – Gemma – at the Edinburgh Fringe, so he would extrapolate that they’re all gorgeous but she is the only one. She is the exception that proves the rule that all the Fernihoughs are ugly as… I’m also related to Ted Edgar.”

“Who?” I asked.

“A showjumper,” replied Bob. “And I’m related to George Formby.”

“No,” I said.

“Yes.” said Bob. “George Formby was a jockey, from a horse racing family. The Edgar side of the family is related to George Formby’s dad. His sister is like my cousin’s great-grandmother.”

“The frightening thing about living in the 21st century,” I said to my eternally-un-named friend, “is that, before we get home, Bob will have changed the Wikipedia entry on George Formby so that all this is true.”

“Look at it now,” said Bob.

And I did. The Wikipedia entry said:

In 1921, three months after the death of his father, Formby abandoned his career as a jockey and began appearing in music halls using his father’s material. At first he called himself George Hoy, using the name of his maternal grandfather, who came from Newmarket, Suffolk, where the family was engaged in racehorse training.

“George Formby Senior – George Formby’s dad,” said Bob, “was a performer and used his money to set up racing stables. George Formby became a jockey to please his dad and had maybe twenty or thirty 2nds – he had loads of rides – but never rode a winner. He was going to take over the stables but, when his dad died prematurely, his mum persuaded him to go on the stage.

“His sister took over the stables and that’s the side of the family that has relations to my mother. My mother’s grandmother was George Formby’s sister; so my mother’s great-grandfather was George Formby Senior.

“George Formby was born blind or he didn’t open his eyes until, at the age of six months or so, he had a violent coughing fit and opened his eyes for the first time.”

“No,” I said.

“Yes,” said Bob. “Check Wikipedia.

I did.

The entry read:

Formby was born blind because of an obstructive caul. His sight was restored during a violent coughing fit or sneeze when he was a few months old.

“I’ve even got George Formby’s chest at the moment,” said Bob, “with this sore throat and the coughing. Coughing was quite a thing in the Formby family. George Formby stopped being blind after he had a coughing fit. His dad George Formby Senior had been neglected by his parents and left out; he often slept rough and he ended up busking and that’s how he got into performing, so he had a bad chest and later TB and that’s what killed him. He would often cough up a lung on stage but make a joke of it and bet the audience he could out-cough them.”

“So he was an early TB star?” I asked.

“It’s getting late,” said Bob.

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Filed under Comedy, Drink, Horse racing, Music, Theatre

Comedy critic Copstick on the drunken rape victim and the convicted footballer

Kate Copstick thinks the victim was not necessarily innocent

Comedy critic Kate Copstick is out in Nairobi at the moment. She wrote about her work there in this blog a couple of months ago.

She runs a charity – Mama Biashara – which helps HIV positive Kenyan women to set up small businesses, thus making them financially independent. She wants, she says, “to give them a hand up, not just a hand out.”

But she has been keeping in touch with what has been happening back in Britain and has sent me the thoughts below. The thoughts she fearlessly expresses here are hers.

_________________________________________________

Yet again, as I skirt those strange little rivers  with the iridescent  scum and the unmistakable smell that run through most slum areas in the wet season, as I sit with another group of women for whom abuse is as much a part of their day as is hunger, despair and worry for their children, I feel  the rage bubbling up like a serious case of acid indigestion.

Back in Britain, some idiot Welsh twat – 19 or 20 depending on which rag’s clichés you read – went out, got absolutely shit-faced, went to a hotel room with some footballers and shagged. Only she says she can’t remember it. And  they end up in court charged with rape and now one of them is in jail for five years. No violence, no suggestion that anyone poured intoxicating substances down her poor unwilling throat. 

If she had got that drunk and hit someone, then her drunkenness would not be a defence. If she had driven a car and crashed it she would have been committing a crime. But she didn’t. She lay down and got shagged. And suddenly she is the innocent victim. She was too drunk. She doesn’t remember. She couldn’t have consented. If he claimed the same thing … no, can’t see it would establish his ‘innocence’.

I studied law. In Glasgow. Scots Law is based on Principles – like justice, fairness … It comes from the fine heritage of Roman Law. In that law there is something called a Res Nullius. It is something which has been abandoned.  Deliberately or negligently abandoned. It belongs to no-one. Because its erstwhile owner has – deliberately or negligently – abandoned it. It cannot be ‘stolen’. Because it has been abandoned. It cannot be ‘criminally damaged’. Because its owner has given it up. It cannot be raped.

OK, I have had some pretty indiscriminating sex with some pretty indiscriminating people. There is not much fun to be had from shagging a girl who is off her face on something plentiful and probably vodka-based. But surely it does not amount to one of the worst crimes on the statute book?

The women I work with have plenty to complain about. But they don’t. And no-one speaks for them. Maybe some of those who shout so loudly about the rights of stupid girls, well over the age of consent, to incapacitate themselves, make their way into what is blindingly obviously a sexual situation and then be treated like a priceless Dresden china doll should consider that they are not the ones in need of help, rights-wise.

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Filed under Drink, Kenya, Legal system, Sex

Reasons for celebration in the British comedy industry

Yesterday and today have been days of me hearing about travel but not actually going anywhere myself except travelling for tea in Soho via a train in which the stranger opposite me kept farting… and driving from Greenwich to Borehamwood and finding the M25 turn-off I needed was closed.

This is neither glamorous nor very interesting.

But I had tea yesterday with someone who shall be nameless who was celebrating the fact that football manager Harry Redknapp, currently on trial for tax evasion, had opened a bank account in Monaco in the name of his dog.

“It’s comedy gold,” this nameless person enthused. “Writers and comedians all over the country must be celebrating. They say it’s all Rover? It is now.”

The reason this person cannot be named is that he told me a relation of his is an alcoholic who lives in Finland.

“Why does he live in Finland?” I asked.

“Because he is an alcoholic,” came the reply. “So, in Finland, he seems perfectly normal or even sober.”

This rings true. As I have previously blogged, I do not think I have ever met a sober Finn. Very nice people. But mostly drunk most of the time.

You cannot beat a good xenophobic generalisation, I find.

Take the cliché of the drunken Englishman abroad…

From Australia yesterday, I got two e-mails from English comedian Bob Slayer, a would-be Foreign Correspondent for this very So It Goes blog which you are reading.

The first e-mail read:

“I did warn you that the combination of alcohol and an iPad could make some of my reports incomprehensible. I am currently full of drink in a Burger King (they call them Hungry Jack’s out here) where they have free interweb. I will get a bus to the airport and fly to Perth. Where it is hot. I have no more energy to type anything of note. Goodbye Melbourne, you beautiful backward en-trend land of ladies in summery dresses and cowboy boots – I will miss you.”

The second, later, e-mail read:

“I have arrived in Perth and one wheel has fallen off my suitcase (I had already lost a handle in Melbourne). This is somewhat impeding my progress.”

Bob Slayer has always told me that his decision to enter the world of comedy as a stand-up (after ten years behind-the-scenes in the music business) was made after reading godfather-of-British-alternative-comedy Malcolm Hardee’s autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake.

I have always had a suspicion that Bob mis-read Malcolm’s character in the book and got the idea that he was a very loud, constantly-drunk, OTT extrovert anarchist. In fact, like many great characters, Malcolm was a rather shy, occasionally drunk, occasionally OTT introverted extrovert with anarchic tendencies.

Now I fear Bob may be modelling himself on Hunter S. Thompson’s book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. This can only lead to drug-fuelled paranoia, guns and a surprisingly bad film by Johnny Depp and Terry Gilliam.

However, it might well also result in some good blogs. So I shall, in a subtle spirit of amoral comradeship, encourage Bob on his downward spiral of self-destructive excess.

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Filed under Australia, Comedy, Drink, Drugs, Finland

How comedian Janey Godley conned former Prime Minister Gordon Brown

(This was also published in the Huffington Post)

For fourteen years, comedian Janey Godley ran a bar in the Calton area of Glasgow’s East End. These were the Trainspotting years and, at the time, the Calton was as quiet and lawful as modern-day Somalia. You would not want to go there. Beatings, stabbings, even crucifixions. Literally.

Like me, Janey does not drink – well, maybe to toast births and marriages and on other very rare special occasions, but not regularly or even socially.

So it will be interesting to see what stories she tells of bar room characters and drunkenness when she appears on the BBC4 Timeshift documentary The Rules of Drinking this Wednesday.

Her autobiography Handstands in the Dark mentions encounters she had with Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher and James Callaghan. But my favourite story of hers involving a politician is about former Prime Minister Gordon Brown and it is not in the book, because it took place after the book ends and after the Trainspotting years.

It happened in the early 1990s when Gordon Brown was Shadow Chancellor and there was a local Labour Party event.

He came into Janey’s pub to buy drinks for the Party faithful and there was a poster in the bar advertising bottled beer at £1 per bottle.

He looked at the poster and ordered 14 bottles; Janey charged him £25.

He paid the £25 without comment.

She reckoned this meant one of two things.

Either he could not count.

Or he did not have the balls to stand up to a barmaid in Glasgow’s East End.

Either of those, she reckoned, made him unfit to be either Chancellor of the Exchequer or Prime Minister.

Janey is a shrewd judge of character.

Someone has Tweeted me suggesting that the £25 was on expenses and that Gordon Brown did not give a shit. But this would mean he was fraudulently claiming expenses he was not due. Surely a UK MP would not wrongly claim expenses? I cannot believe that could ever happen.

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My encounters with Jesus Christ… and the reason I could say Yes to heroin

In yesterday’s blog – drink.

Today – drugs.

Tomorrow, who knows?

If you are lucky, maybe even sex.

I was 13 when the Beatles hit big; I was 17 in the Summer of Love. Prime druggie material.

I once spent a long time in a kitchen in Clapham with a close friend of mine and the boyfriend of one of her friends who, let’s say, was called Susan. We were trying to persuade him that Susan did not really want to see him and that he should get the train back to his home town in the north of England. The problem was that he knew he was Jesus Christ and this kept getting in the way of the discussion. He kept telling us how he could change anything by deciding it was changed. We eventually persuaded him to go with us to St Pancras station and we did put him on a train north, but he was of the opinion he did not really need to travel on trains as he was the Messiah.

The second time I encountered Jesus Christ was a couple of weeks after a plane had crashed on a crowded rural area in (I think it was) Holland. The person who had done this was prepared to make a plane similarly crash onto the Thames TV building in Euston Road, London. He told me (the person who said he made the plane crash) that he would do this unless Thames TV issued an on-air apology because one of their programmes had offended him and I should pay attention to what he said because his father just happened to be God and he himself, as you will have guessed, was Jesus Christ.

I have never taken any non-medical, so-called ‘recreational’ drugs though, at one time, I would have done.

The only drugs which ever attracted me were heroin and LSD.

Marijuana in any of its forms never attracted me. It just seemed to be an alternative to drink, though less self-destructive than alcohol and spirits.

I lost count of the number of times I sat in a room in the 1960s or 1970s while other people smoked joints and talked utter drivel.

The next day, they would go on and on about what a great, deep and meaningful philosophical discussion they had had the night before and I would think:

“Nope. I was there. You were talking utter drivel, like five year-olds after eight pints of beer.”

Hellfire – forget “I sat in a room in the 1960s or 1970s” – I have sat in rooms throughout my life listening to stoned people talking drivel.

Amiable drivel. But drivel nonetheless.

It is rubbish to say weed has no effect on anyone in the long term. Not if you take it regularly in significant quantities over a long period.

Neil in The Young Ones TV series was not a fantasy character.

That was social realism.

I have worked with real Neils.

I remember a very amiable and well-meaning but totally brain-groggy and decision-incapable head of department at a regional ITV company in the 1990s. His entire brain had been turned into semolina by twenty years or more of weed and pseudo-philosophical befuddlement. If he had been an alcoholic, he would have been dribbling saliva out the sides of his mouth; as it was, his few remaining brain cells were almost visibly dribbling out of his ears.

I might well have tried hash in the 1960s or 1970s but it just seemed to be a milder version of alcohol with less aggressive effects and there was also a seemingly tiny but actually rather large practical problem: I had never smoked nicotine cigarettes, so the whole technique of smoking and inhaling was alien to me. If anyone had offered me hash cakes, I would have eaten them; but no-one ever did.

To me, marijuana in whatever form was and is a mild and uninteresting drug. If you want to be relaxed, then I recommend you just eat a marshmallow, don’t stuff one inside your brain cavity.

A friend of mine told me in the 1970s: “You just don’t understand what weed is like because you have never taken it.”

But, in the 1980s, I vividly remember standing in Soho with a long-term alcoholic I knew as he looked lovingly into the crowded window display of Gerry’s booze shop in Old Compton Street.

You could see the tenderness and nostalgic thoughts in his eyes as they moved from bottle to bottle and from label to label.

I was not an alcoholic, but I could see objectively what the drink had done and was doing to him.

In a sense, to see the real effect of a drug, you have to not take it.

I was always very strongly attracted to LSD.

It held the very major attraction to me of mind-alteration and making surrealism real. But the attraction and alarm bells over-lapped and, in any case, LSD was not available in my circles in my middle class area in Ilford, East London/Essex in the late 1960s.

Yes, I went to events at the Arts Lab in Drury Lane; yes I read International Times and went to Blackhill Enterprises’ free rock concerts in Hyde Park before the sheer scale of the Rolling Stones’ appearance in 1969 ruined them. But life in Ilford at that point was not druggy.

By the time LSD was available to me, I had read enough about people freaking out on it, read of Syd Barrett self-destructing in Pink Floyd, seen other people’s minds gone wrong. And then there were the Manson Murders in 1969. Not acid-induced as such, but not totally unrelated to druggy people’s minds going haywire.

The logic of LSD, as I saw it, was that you could alter the chemical balance inside your mind and, as it were, temporarily re-arrange the inter-connections. But if you felt, as I rightly or wrongly did, that perhaps your mind was potentially ‘near the edge’ to begin with, then there was the obvious danger that LSD would tip you permanently over the edge.

So I would have taken acid during a short window of opportunity but it was not available to me until after that window of acceptance had closed. I never took it. And reading about Beach Boy Brian Wilson’s mind being sent spinning over the edge by one drink spiked with acid did not change my opinion. He spiralled out of control after that first acid trip of course but, the way Rolling Stone told it, the whole spiral began with that one tab of acid.

With heroin: the same thing. When I would have taken it, the stuff was not available to me. When it was available I no longer wanted to take it.

When I was in my late teens, a close friend of mine married someone who was ‘an ex–heroin addict’. But, even then I knew that being an ex-heroin addict is a bit like being an ex-member of the SAS. You can never be too sure.

Years later, when the first anti-heroin ads appeared on TV, a close friend of mine said to me, “They make smack look bloody attractive, don’t they?” and I had to agree with her. If I had been an impressionable young teenager and it had been available, I would almost certainly have taken heroin. The first anti-heroin TV commercials were almost, but not quite, as good a commercial for smack as Trainspotting which felt to me like a positive Jerusalem of an anthemic hymn to the attractions of smack.

That first injection of heroin may, as I have been told, give you the biggest high – the most gigantic orgasmic leap – you have ever had. But it is also a drug for nihilists.

So that’s the one for me.

I think, with heroin, the potential lows can be as attractive as the highs – something the anti-heroin ads never seem to have realised.

Whereas cocaine seems to me to be the drug of self-doubting egotists who want to prove to themselves that they are as special as they hope they might be.

But that is another blog.

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