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Is this an average Canadian family? Stripper, conservator, Reverend, shrink.

My occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith with two policemen in Toronto. I’ve no idea why

Anna Smith lives in Vancouver.

She is this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent.

Yesterday, I got an email from her. It read:


My Dad has started a blog and my sister the priest got arrested… again!


“Tell me more…” I asked.

Instead, I got this message from her father, Jaime Smith:


Hullo John Fleming –

I am the father of three daughters all born in Argentina where I was stateless, having renounced US nationality before we emigrated to Canada.

I was born in the US, but left because of conscription in the interval of ‘peace’  between the Korean & Vietnam wars. I renounced my US citizenship, changed my name, became a naturalized Argentine citizen, travelled back to university in the US as a ‘native-born foreign student’ then left a second time for Canada to teach astronomy & physics, became naturalized again as Canadian (but kept the Argentine passport just in case…). Then I went to medical school and specialty training in psychiatry. Some say I had a colourful life and encouraged me to write about it, hence the autobiography and bloggery.

I went to Argentina because I had a job offer there photographing faint blue stars at the Córdoba Astronomical Observatory. This was paid by a grant from the Office of Naval Research, so my emigration to Argentina was actually sponsored by the US military.

Anna, my eldest daughter, you know as she occasionally contributes to your blog. A retired stripper (London, Belgium, Finland, Malaysia) she lives on a boat on the Fraser River and does volunteer public health work with street ladies in Vancoocoo. That’s Vancouver.

I had a patient when I was working as a shrink in Vancouver who told me that he met Richard Bonynge (ex-impresario of Vancouver Opera) in Rome, who used the term Vancoocoo, being displeased with his being terminated there for mounting experimental and rare operas that didn’t bring in the punters and their money. After they fired him, the next season they went back to full house productions of La Traviata, La Bohème and Carmen – guaranteed old warhorses. I thought the term Vancoocoo appropriate.  That’s where I trained in psychiatry after medical school.

Kjerstin, my middle daughter, is a textile conservator at the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria. She has a PhD in mending from London – Hampton Court Palace etc. She is going to a conference on mummies in Tenerife later this month, where she will give talk on gopher hide robes covering frozen corpses.

In Canada, the New West Record reported Rev. Emilie Smith’s arrest earlier this week. She had joined other religious leaders to block a company’s gates in solidarity with Indigenous Peoples who object to the Kinder Morgan Pipeline Expansion

Emilie, my youngest daughter, is the vicar of St. Barnabas Anglican Church in New Westminster, a Vancoocoo suburb. She is socially conscious to the extreme, gets arrested at demonstrations, went through three unsatisfactory husbands and is now getting married to her lesbian partner in July.

I also have 6.5 grandsons (the 0.5 is biologically female but currently growing a moustache and transitioning to male. Plays rugby football.)  I also have two great-grandchildren – one male and the other female.

Well, they are at this time anyway.

My daughters’ mum died in 2011 – we had been married 55 years. Now I have a gay younger Chinese boyfriend who inspired me to learn about his language.

I first trained in philosophy (BA), then astronomy (MS), then medicine (MD) and finally psychiatry (FRSM). I studied languages (Mandarin and Finnish) at the University of Victoria in British Columbia after I retired from practice.

I have become interested in non Indo-European languages and translated a Finnish detective story into English.

I studied Finnish because my maternal grandparents were from there in the late 19th century before it became an independent country in 1917. It had previously been known as the Grand Duchy of Finland and belonged to Russia. I already knew Latin and the Romance, Germanic, Scandinavian and a bit of Slavic languages and wanted to try something completely different. 

When I awaken early and desire to go back to sleep, I usually do mental arithmetic in a language other than English – like Spanish, German, Finnish or Mandarin Chinese. Should that not work I may get up and have a cup of hot chocolate and a cookie or just reflect on some activity or idea of particular interest to me.

The 2013 Gay Pride march in Helsinki (Image by Yle Uutiset)

They have great trams in Helsinki – I carried a Canadian flag in the gay pride parade there in 2013. I was leaving Helsinki the same day in July once as Mr Methane, the UK farteur you occasionally write about, but I smelled nothing in the airport.

I wrote a 68 page autobiography earlier this year – only the bare bones of 1933-2017, no more than one page per year and a few even more compressed. After that, I decided to continue writing and settled on the blogosphere after reading your postings. 

So this is your fault, but I am having fun with it. During my 30 year career as a clinical psychiatrist I wrote and published professional articles and book reviews in medical and other journals.

When in stateless exile in Argentina, in the mid 1950s, I worked as a journalist for United Press. I wrote articles on diverse issues such as international commerce and the quality of the race track as seen by Formula One driver Stirling Moss.

I have been churning out 500 words daily since I started my blog 10 days ago. The focus is loosely on books and other literary topics.

You can read my daily drivel, if you are interested, at https://karhunluola.com.

Karhu means bear in Finnish; ‘luola’ means cave, ‘karhunluola’ means ‘bear’s cave’.  Name of my flat.

Strictly speaking, the grammatically correct expression would  be ‘karhunluolasta’,  literally meaning ‘from the cave of the bear’.

Watch out for woozles.

 

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My surprising top ten blogs of last year

(Photograph by Ariane Sherine)

I started this blog in 2010 and it is usually referred-to as a “comedy blog” but, just out of quirky interest, here is a list of what were my Top Ten blogs in terms of hits last year.

This list is obviously more a reflection of who my readers are than anything else…

1) Where the Kray Twins gangster film “Legend” got it all so very badly wrong

2) The practicalities of putting your head in a gas oven: my 2nd suicide attempt

3) Krayzy Days – Why London gangster Ronnie Kray really shot George Cornell inside the Blind Beggar pub in 1966

4) What the REAL Swinging Sixties were like – gangsters and police corruption

5) Hello to the Bye Bye Girls – Ruby Wax’s offspring – two Siblings on the Fringe

6) Creating a Legend – The Krays and the killing of ‘Mad Axeman’ Frank Mitchell

7) What it is like to be on the jury of a murder case at the Old Bailey in London

8) Why Chris Tarrant’s TV show OTT was taken off air – a naked Malcolm Hardee

9) Edinburgh Fringe, Day 12: How to destroy a comedy career & other news

10) The death of an Italian archaeologist who knew so many 20th century secrets

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The continuing fascination with suicide

suicideblogI have written this blog since May 2010 and I have a rough idea how the hits on it work.

On the day I post a blog, it gets big hits.

Slightly less hits the next day.

By the third day, the hits have pretty much stopped.

After that, pretty much – nothing.

Only rare, sporadic hits.

So I find it interesting that, almost every day, one particular blog I wrote pretty much two years ago – on 15th January 2015 – is still getting daily hits.

Not big hits in any way. Small numbers. But steady hits.

The blog was headlined:

THE PRACTICALITIES OF PUTTING YOUR HEAD IN A GAS OVEN: MY 2nd SUICIDE ATTEMPT

These are the figures for hits over the last fortnight. They seem fairly steady. The fact there are any at all for a two-year-old blog is extraordinary. The fact that they are regular and fairly steady is interesting.

Sunday 20th – 38
Monday 21st – 23
Tuesday 22nd – 22
Wednesday 23rd – 12
Thursday 24th – 15
Friday 25th – 26
Saturday 26th – 29
Sunday 27th – 38
Monday 28th – 46
Tuesday 29th – 28
Wednesday 30th – 34
Thursday 1st – 68
Friday 2nd – 59
Yesterday – 39

I have no idea what this means sociologically, but it must mean something.

The blog is HERE.

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I am very grateful to be even belatedly appreciated in Peru and Milton Keynes

Since I stopped writing a daily blog at New Year, surrealism has taken over.

Yesterday, rather belatedly, an online paper based in Puno, Peru, posted a link in their Adult section to my December 2010 blog Killer Bitch and the ‘F’ word and the ‘C’ word.

PunoPeru_paper.li

Today, slightly closer to home but still more than a little surreal, an online page called Hello Milton Keynes, Here’s Your Daily News published by Atkinson Forestry (“the premier specialists in providing a wide range of quality tree surgery services, at highly competitive prices) has picked up on another December 2010 blog I wrote titled: Spending Christmas 1998 with Malcolm Hardee in Sarf Eest London.

MiltonKeynes_paper.li

It is good to be appreciated in both Puno, Peru and in Milton Keynes, England.

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Unexpected? My blog’s top twenty hits

This blog is usually described as a ‘comedy’ blog.

Since I stopped writing it as a daily blog on 31st December, the number of hits it receives has remained fairly stable. In fact, it has increased slightly.

I thought it might be interesting to list the top twenty hits since I started the blog.

These are the top twenty hits from highest downwards, excluding hits on the homepage.

Remember that it is usually perceived as a blog about the comedy industry…


1 Jimmy Savile: The birth of a paedophile hoax on “Have I Got News For You”

2 Feminist female comedians agree there are different types of rape in Edinburgh

3 Krayzy Days – Why London gangster Ronnie Kray really shot George Cornell inside the Blind Beggar pub in 1966

4 How the Edinburgh Fringe is financed: the article which you cannot read in this morning’s edition of The Scotsman

5 What the taxi driver told me about the prostitutes and the criminal families

6 Jimmy Savile: the infamous “Have I Got News For You” transcript from 1999

7 The story two-faced Tony Blair/Bliar successfully hid from the British public

8 The quiet men: ‘Mad’ Frank Fraser, Malcolm Hardee and John McVicar

9 What the REAL Swinging Sixties were like – gangsters and police corruption

10 Why Chris Tarrant’s TV show OTT was taken off air – a naked Malcolm Hardee

11 The night comedian Julian Clary joked that he had “fisted” politician Norman Lamont at the British Comedy Awards

12 Asking a Glasgow gangster for revenge after an attack on a female comedian

13 The death of a UK boxer linked to the sadistic murders of prostitutes by serial killer ‘Jack the Stripper’

14 “I was there in the theatre that night” – The death of Tommy Cooper, live on TV

15 Two men ‘killed’ by the Kray Twins who were never killed and are still alive

16 Glasgow gangland enforcer William Lobban experienced The Glasgow Curse

17 Cabinet minister Chris Huhne and the convent-raised comedian

18 Krayzy Days – the Kray Twins, bombs, Monty Python and police corruption

19 Revealed – gay sex scandals of the rich and famous – and the Royal Family?

20 The death and life of comic Chris Luby

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Comics Lewis Schaffer & Will Franken. Name-calling and some missing money

Lewis Schaffer videos Will Franken by a Big Mac toilet

Lewis Schaffer videos Will Franken outside a Big Mac toilet

Yesterday’s blog was the first part of a chat I had with UK-based American comics Lewis Schaffer and Will Franken. A few months ago, Will decided that he would wear women’s clothes on stage and off stage and would be called Sarah Franken. Now read on…


“You got mad at me,” Lewis Schaffer said to Will, “because I called you Will all that time.”

“You were the only one,” replied Will, “that did not call me Sarah throughout the whole seven months – not just at the Edinburgh Fringe – all the months leading up to it.”

“I don’t care about other people,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“So,” I said to Will, “you are not going to be appearing as Sarah after you finish with this show?”

“I dunno,” said Will.

“What are the alternatives?” I asked. “Are you going to be the ‘real’ Will Franken?

“I have no idea,” he told me.

“It might be difficult to backtrack,” I suggested.

“Yes,” agreed Will. “Are people going to think I took the piss? There was this outpouring of love when I came out as Sarah. But, at the end of the day, they don’t have to live this life. I do and I’ve personally found it a fucker. I had no interest in taking hormones or having the operation. I wanted to keep my wing-wang.”

“Yes,” I said. “People thought: He’s so brave for doing it. And, if you backtrack, they might say: He was just doing it for publicity.

“Of course I wasn’t!” said Will.

“I know,” I said, “but that’s what they might think.”

Lewis Schaffer (left) and will Franken check video shot

Mr Schaffer (left) & Mr Franken watch a video

Lewis Schaffer said: “We always think: What effect will it have on my career?” When I moved to England, I got an offer to appear on the TV series Wife Swap. My wife at the time did not want to do it and I didn’t want to do it either.”

“Did they tell you who you would swap with?” I asked.

“No.”

“A celebrity?” I asked.

“No. It wasn’t a Celebrity Wife Swap. But the first thing I thought was: How will this help my career? Not the money.”

Will said: “The first thing that goes though my head now is: Is there money? I don’t think about exposure any more.”

“Would you lend him money?” I asked Lewis Schaffer.

“I did,” he said.

“I needed a guest on my radio show,” Lewis Schaffer explained, “because I’m very last minute. I was desperate for a guest. I said to Will: Come down. I’ll loan you £50.

“I thought,” said Will, “that you told me: I’ll give you £50.”

“I’m not gonna GIVE you £50,” said Lewis. “So since then, he’s given me a total of £8 back.”

“Anyway,” I said. “Career advancement…”

“You don’t write funny,” Lewis Schaffer told Will. “You should write funny.”

“What ya talkin’ about?” Will asked.

“You CAN write funny,” said Lewis Schaffer. “You do write funny.”

“I do write funny,” said Will.

“But often,” said Lewis Schaffer, “you write very seriously in the middle of the night.”

“Well, surely that is good,” I said.

“It’s not good,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“What do you mean it’s not good?” asked WIll.

Lewis Schaffer (left and Will Franken sharing fast food

Lewis Schaffer (left) and Will Franken share a love of fast food

“Because,” said Lewis Schaffer, “in real life, you are never not funny. When you talk to people, you are never serious for more than a minute.”

“I played Hate ’n’ Live,” said Will and the subject for me was Islam. I thought it was tailor-made for me. I deal with jihad and radical, y’know… I mean, any type of hypocrisy, I’ve got to go after it. I see something so hypocritical with I personally hate Christians, but…The hypocrisy to me is just astounding. I’ve been obsessed with this for about ten years.

“At a show, this girl said to me: I was just in the Middle East and I found Islam really interesting. So I asked: What was your favourite part? The homophobia? And it turns into this, like, tense… She said nobody questioned her her whole life. She said she went to Cambridge… I said: Mohammed; six-year-old brides… She said: nine-year-old… I said: Oh, nine years old. I do apologise… She got tense and she walked out and I was angry and I said: You fucking Maoist!

“Her boyfriend came back in and said: Why did you call my girlfriend a bitch? I said: I didn’t call her a bitch; I called her a Maoist, which is actually worse. But then I hated myself, because I don’t want to be that person.”

“You mean confrontational?” I asked.

“Yeah but then, at the same time, I feel there’s so much brainwashing…”

“That’s my point,” said Lewis Schaffer. “He’s made my point for me. My point is that, when you’re with people, you are rarely serious to the point of not being funny.”

“I’m getting confused,” I said.

“That’s your default position,” said Lewis Schaffer, still talking to Will. “When you’re with people, that’s your default position. But I’ve seen what you write and sometimes what you write is serious because you’re in the privacy of your own home and you don’t feel the need to be funny as you would when you actually see someone’s face.”

“True,” said Will.

“The reason I notice that,” continued Lewis Schaffer, “is that is like me when I wrote my blog for those three months. I was writing in the privacy of my home and it was just bitterness-bitterness-bitterness-bitterness-bitterness. But, when I’m out with people, it’s bitterness-joke-bitterness-joke-joke-bitterness and they don’t really notice the bitterness.”

One of Will Franken’s blogs

An old Will Franken blog

“I used to write really funny blogs,” said Will. “Back when I smoked a lot of weed, I was constantly on the blog. Some of them were really, really weird. Some of them were long libertarian treatises that were serious and academic. Some would be like fake obituaries for a woman names Dolores Oatmeal.”

“What about the serious blogs?” asked Lewis Schaffer.

“Some,” replied Will, “I just went through and deleted. Sometimes I get serious. I think I have that kind of…”

“Yes,” said Lewis Schaffer. “I know you do. But, when you are actually with people, if you see somebody not being happy with what you’re saying, it’s not that you backtrack, but you know, deep down inside, you want to make a joke about everything when you look at their face. You see somebody’s face and you say to yourself: I’m going to make them laugh.

“Or sometimes I wanna run away,” said Will. “I wanna be like Christopher Hitchens. I would love to be that detached emotionally,”

“You can’t do that,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“I can’t do that,” Will agreed, “because I’m too passionate.”


After our chat finished, Lewis Schaffer recorded a 2-minute chat with Will/Sarah Franken and me inside a Big Mac toilet… It is on YouTube.

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How a spoken conversation exactly quoted can mislead the reader of a blog

Another thing unseen in a transcription is what Copstick was wearing

Also unseen in both transcription and podcast is what Copstick actually wore on the day

This blog is a verbatim transcription of a section of the weekly Grouchy Club Podcast.

In this week’s 44-minute podcast, writer Kate Copstick and I mostly talked about techniques for interviewing people. But, at one point, the subject of the print transcription of oral interviews came up.

Below is what we said… printed as a transcription. But you might also want to simultaneously listen to what the exact words sounded like when they were originally spoken.

There is link to a recording on SoundCloud HERE. the link is is also posted at the end of this blog.


COPSTICK
Is is interesting – especially when you quote verbatim. When, for example, you put down a transcription…

JOHN
You mean me or when ‘one’ does it?

COPSTICK
No, no, no. I mean you, John – you. Like when (you quote) a chunk of the Grouchy Club or whatever… Even… Not that I’m one for taking back anything that I say particularly, no matter how stupid it might be… But there is a big difference in feel to a live conversation and then suddenly seeing it written down and you go: Actually, that sounds a bit bad. Only when you see it written down. Because the other thing is that you can’t hear someone’s tone of voice when you just transcribe.

You can say: “Yeah. well I think they should all be hanged.” and (when you hear it) you can think: Oh! That’s a little bit sarcastic or ironic. But if you just (write down) COPSTICK: I THINK THEY SHOULD ALL BE HANGED, then the pitchfork brigade come out.

I think sometimes pure transcriptions can be dangerous, because you take away the aural context.

JOHN
Yeah. You are right. It is slightly different and I try to get round that. Obviously, there is one thing we are not going to talk about, where…

COPSTICK
No no no, let’s not.

JOHN
Let’s not talk about that one. But, on any other occasion, do you think it badly misrepresented you?

COPSTICK
Oh, I mean I’m not… I suppose I am talking about me, but it’s just… Of course I’m talking about me – I’m always talking about me. What else would I want to talk about? But…

JOHN
It’s interesting, though…

COPSTICK
It’s sometimes when I read – I remember the conversation and then you read it and you go: “Errr. That sounds a little bit bald.” And, of course it is. But, when you’re talking live, you can kind of get away with more because, in an ideal world, people see your face and, when your eyebrows bounce or whatever or you’re smiling, you go: Mmmm, she’s having a bit of a laugh here.

Even if it is sound only, the inflection is there. But when you write it down, all of that is taken away and you just get I THINK THEY SHOULD ALL BE HANGED.

Then the people that know you better go: Oh! She was having a laugh and people who don’t know you or know you and dislike you go: Well, of course she wasn’t! She thinks they should all be hanged. Appalling!


The 3-minute section of this week’s blog quoted above can be listened-to here:

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