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85-year-old Lynn Ruth Miller tries out her 68-year-old Spanish in Barcelona

And so we continue the globetrotting adventures of 85-year-old London-based American comic and occasional burlesque performer Lynn Ruth Miller


The artful Lynn Ruth Miller in Barcelona

I was in Barcelona again. It is a wonderful place to wander. It has narrow, winding streets filled with art galleries and expensive shops.  

I took Spanish 68 years ago, my freshman year at the University of Michigan, and I was quite good at it.  

All the football players took that class because it was so easy and we had the captain in our class: Señor Perez. I managed to teach him several words because he had trouble reading. (He was a football player; the university did not accept him for his literary abilities.) 

I still remember the vocabulary I drummed into his head but I never got a chance to use those words with real Spaniards until I visited Barcelona. 

When I checked in at my hotel, I said “Hola!” to the surprised young lady at the front desk and it made her smile. 

I explained (in English, of course): “I am a professional comedian and my job is to make people laugh.”  

She laughed.  

“Gracias!” I said.  

“De Nada,” she said (with a very thick accent) and I actually understood her.  

I can tell you I felt very Spanish as I tangoed up to my room in the attic of the hotel.  

It was a small room, just about the size of a telephone booth, but it had an unusual feature. The back wall was actually a skylight. You pushed a button to make the shade come down and block the light.  

When I pushed the button the whole room shook, which helped me get my circulation going. 

I thought that was a nice feature in addition to fresh towels and soap. It made up for the hotel not providing a kettle.

Lynn Ruth and Christine go Catalan

My companion this time was Christine, a superb artist who lived in Barcelona for over two years before she returned to Brighton to remind herself that she was really English. Her Spanish is REALLY good and she said wonderfully melodic things like “Por favor” and “No hablo español”.  She was really a great help to me when I tried to order food at the restaurants while I was in town. 

The first night we were there, we went to a Spanish bodega and I tried to order typical native cuisine. I asked Christine to get me a burger with fries. She smiled at the waiter and said something I couldn’t really decipher but the wine was wonderful.

The next afternoon, we happened into an artist’s studio and gallery. The paintings were huge and reminded me a lot of Picasso during his psychotic period.  

The artist was an elderly man with flowing gray hair and he had tubes of paint scattered everywhere. He offered to show us his technique but I explained that I was very old and my muscles weren’t as supple as they once were.  

Thank goodness he didn’t speak English.

Then Christine and I went to an improv jazz place called JazzSí where musicians rotate on stage and play marvellous, hummable jazz. I sat next to a lovely young man from Brazil who explained that this was the place where students could practice their music. I asked him if he played too. And he said of course he did – but not music.

That night was my show at Craft Barcelona and it was magnifique, as they say somewhere in Europe. Not in Barcelona evidently. I tried it and someone said they didn’t have that kind of tapa.  

On stage at Craft Barcelona after dog food memories

I have performed at Craft Barcelona twice before and each time has been an amazing success. This time, the host was Matthew from Perrysburg, Ohio, which was amazing to me because, during my salad years, I was from that very same place. I shopped at Kazmaier’s, the only supermarket in town. I asked Matthew if he remembered Bro, the son of the owner, and he said actually Bro WAS the owner now which all goes to show that even established grocery stores eventually change management.  

I asked Matthew if they still sold Alpo, the dog food good enough for people to eat. I explained that there had been a man in Perrysburg who used to buy a case of Alpo every week and when Bro said, “You must have a really hungry dog,” the man said, ”It isn’t FOR my dog.”

Matthew said: “That was my father.”

Ohioans have very strange taste. That is why we both left.

In Barcelona, the other comedians and the audience were mostly expats and I was the headliner. I did just short of an hour and everyone stood up and cheered. I was thrilled that they enjoyed my performance so much but Vinnie (the man who booked me) explained that wasn’t why they were cheering.  

They were just amazed that I had stood that long.

I always say you take your accolades any way you can get them.

The next day we ‘did’ Barcelona which is the most do-able city ever. I saw a woman sitting at a sewing machine sewing people’s names into cardboard for souvenirs and a shoe shop where the shoes had slogans like I LOVE TO DANCE and I AM CUTE and TRUTH CAUSES INDIGESTION.  

Christine and I indulged ourselves in very expensive Piña Colada’s and then we hurried over to Spank the Baby which is not what you think it is.  

It is a dance studio and my hero Pablo teaches the Lindy Hop there. It has become a tradition that I go there and Pablo dances with me.  

The long and the short of it for Lynn Ruth Miller in Barcelona

The problem is that, each time we dance, I get a bit shorter and Pablo gets a bit taller. 

This time the poor fellow had to go into traction after we whirled around the floor to Tea for Two 

I was not in very good shape after the dance myself. One of my lungs collapsed at the second chorus and my foot slammed into my ankle at the finale.

I wanted to thank Pablo properly in Spanish so I said, “¿Dónde está el baño?” and he said, “Adios, muchacha.”  

Which I thought was very sexy.

We wandered down some dark alleys on our way to a real Catalan restaurant and stumbled on another artist’s studio.  

This artist was Isabella and she was from Ecuador.  Her husband was an actor and she worked with glass and metal to make interesting goblets and rings. She created whimsical necklaces and earrings as well.  

We chatted about the importance of creativity and the joys of being an artist and I praised her work with one of my Spanish phrases, “Amo a mi perro,” and she smiled and said, “Tengo un gato.”  

“You are so welcome,” I said and we hurried to the restaurant where we met Vinnie and his new wife Dana.  

Vinnie is from Manchester and has a thriving internet business as well as a production company that books musicians and comedians.  

He took us to Los Caracoles, which is an old-established Catalan restaurant. The place was filled with antique paintings and happy people. We loved the food, especially after the fourth glass of wine.  

The next morning we said a sad goodbye to this lovely city.  

A drunk at the hotel front desk asked me if I knew what a homosexual was and I said: “Darling, I lived in Brighton for two years.”  

I thanked the girl at the desk with another of my Spanish phrases: “Hable despacio!” 

She replied: “All you owe is the room tax.” 

Christine and I stopped for a quick coffee and we both got a hug and kiss from an Argentinean who said he lived in London for six months. That was when I realized that you get a lot more than coffee at a Barcelonan coffee shop.  

As we boarded the plane to Gatwick, I shouted ”Muchas Gracias!” and off we disappeared into the bright blue skies.  

As soon as the sky turned dull and gray, we knew we were back home again. 

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The great showmen and conmen of London: why I am proud to be British

I saw a special screening of Showmen of the Streets tonight – a 45-minute documentary about street performers of the 1930s-1960s and their precursors. People like The Earl of Mustard, The Road Stars, The Amazing BlondiniPrince Monolulu, The Man with X-Ray Eyes, The Happy Wanderers (who I just about remember playing Oxford Street in my erstwhile youth) and Don Partridge aka ‘King of the Buskers’, who actually managed to get into the UK hit parade and who hired the Royal Albert Hall in 1969 to stage a show called The Last of The Buskers with some of the great street performers of that and previous eras.

A couple of characters not in the film whom I remember are Don Crown and ‘Little Legs’.

Don Crown used to perform an act with budgerigars in Leicester Square and various other places. I used him on TV programmes a couple of times but, the last time I met him, he was a broken man: he had become allergic to feathers.

True and sad. Though I see from his website that he seems to have recovered and performs on the South Bank in London.

The other character I remember was a dwarf called Roy ‘Little Legs’ Smith who was a busker himself, but he also used to collect money for street performers. A busker would play the queues in Leicester Square and Little Legs would go along collecting money in, as I remember it, a hat. The theory – which proved true – was that it is almost impossible not to give money to a dwarf collecting for a busker.

Little Legs appeared in the Beatles’ film Magical Mystery Tour. He died in 1989 and, according to his obituaries, he had worked for the Kray Twins as an ‘enforcer’ in the 1960s. Indeed, a book Little Legs: Muscleman of Soho was published in 1989 which traced, among other things, “his long career as a street entertainer and card-player”. In 1999, his nephew stood as a candidate for Mayor of London.

I merely pass this on.

The DVD of the documentary Showmen of the Streets is being released in a couple of weeks time.

Director John Lawrenson – who used to perform the ‘ball and cup’ magic routine in London’s streets – is currently preparing a new film about great hoaxers, including William Donaldson (aka Henry Root) who wrote to prominent public figures with unusual or outlandish questions and requests and published their replies.

Also in the film will be the late but glorious Fleet Street hoaxer Rocky Ryan who, among other career highlights, persuaded major British newspapers to print stories that sex and drug orgies were taking place on Mount Everest and that the Yorkshire Ripper was being let out of Broadmoor to go to the local disco as part of his rehabilitation into society. He also managed to persuade several Israeli newspapers that Adolf Hitler was alive and well and living in Golders Green… a famously Jewish London suburb.

It makes you proud to be British.

Although Rocky Ryan was Irish.

But let’s not get into that.

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