45 minutes ago, someone asked me if all my blog readers were in the UK, which is an interesting question and the answer is No.
This is often called a “comedy blog” but not by me. I see it as just whatever takes my fancy. I have, in the past, called it a blog mostly but not exclusively “about interesting people doing interesting (often creative) things”.
I am sometimes approached by performers who want a specific comedy show mentioned/plugged… for example at the Edinburgh Fringe or in London.
And I sometimes (not always!) point out that the blogs may be read way after the show has finished and certainly not exclusively in London or Edinburgh or any-pinpoint-where.
If an interview is involved, I record it so that I cannot misquote people. I do make some edits to what people tell me, mostly to clarify what is being said. I take out the umms and erms and general linguistic ramblings which everyone does. Including, very much so, me.
And I try to clarify details for non-UK residents. For example, when “Soho” is mentioned, I usually expand this to “Soho, London” to avoid confusion with Soho in New York.
Most of my readers are in the UK, followed by the USA, then by the native English-speaking countries. There is also a TRANSLATE button on the blog. Who knows what gibberish that may create?
But, as a public service – and as a crass piece of self-promotion – here are four graphics showing where my blogs are read.
The first shows the hits on the blog today… up to 3.00pm… so there are still another nine hours to go in the day.
As you can see, most of the hits ARE in the UK, with a strong secondary following in the USA.
The next image shows the hits received in the last seven days:
I find it a tad unsettling that I appear to be read in Russia.
By whom I dare not guess.
The next graphic shows the hits in the last 30 days:
This one is even more worrying because it shows people reading me in China and, as far as I know, all Western blogs are blocked (to ordinary people) in China.
The good news is that I appear not to be read in North Korea.
Finally, a map showing the origin of hits on my blog in the last 12 months.
Clearly I have much work to do in the Faroe Islands, Iran, Yemen, Tajikistan, Honduras, Madagascar and chunks of Africa. I will continue to try to avoid drawing the attention of anyone or, rather, any organisation in North Korea.
A bit of glamour, showbiz and crime… always popular in blogs
This blog is usually described as a “comedy blog” but perhaps oddly – perhaps not, given the eclectic bunches of readers and followers I have – the blogs which consistently get big hits are ones about crime and subjects other than comedy.
In fact, the two which have consistently, steadily got hits are:
Clearly, I must have been doing something right in 2015. Which is possibly confirmed by the fact that, in the last two or three months, the above two have been joined as consistently hit blogs by another May 2015 one:
Someone suggested to me that renewed interest in this one might have been stoked by the spate of pulling down statues linked to the Black Lives Matter movement. But it seems to have lasted beyond that.
THURSDAY 10th SEPTEMBER
My sleeping pattern seems to have returned to weirdness…
My sleeping pattern seems to have returned to my New Normal.
Waking up 10 or 12 times a night with my mouth and tongue parched totally dry.
Today, I managed to get on two wrong trains because my mind was not paying attention.
Intending to get on a train to Greenwich at Blackfriars, I managed to get on what I feared might be an express train to Brighton. Fortunately, it stopped at East Croydon and I was able to get back to Blackfriars.
All these names mean nothing if you don’t live in the UK so, suffice to say, later in the day, I got on another wrong train. Very confusing.
In the evening, I saw the movie TENET, which continued the confusion. I wrote about it HERE.
The UK law (or is it only the English law? Everything is confusing) now requires cinemagoers to wear COVID masks throughout all movie screenings even when social distancing is adhered to.
The reality was that, once inside the cinema and seeing that everyone was socially distanced, Most people lowered their masks.
This made no scheduling, audience or any sense (Photo by Levi Stute via UnSplash)
FRIDAY 11th SEPTEMBER
I had a dream in which I was attending the rehearsals for a live 2-hour peaktime TV variety show.
The rehearsals for the show were being screened live at 8.00pm on broadcast television and later, the actual show itself would be transmitted live.
This made no scheduling, audience or any sense of any kind. And the live broadcast rehearsals were going badly.
I have no idea what this was about but, then, for the last few weeks, every day feels like it is a Thursday.
And I don’t even know what specific feelings define a Thursday.
SATURDAY 12th SEPTEMBER
I was walking along a street in North West London with the 9-year-old daughter of a friend of mine when an old lady who looked a bit the worse for wear approached us.
“I don’t want anything from you,” she said. And then started telling us what she had been doing that day.
She got as far as a couple of sentences and “My daughter was supposed to transfer money into my bank account today, but…” when I felt it was better to move on. The whole incident took maybe 45 seconds.
The 9-year-old seemed slightly unsettled and I thought she was going to say I should have given the old lady some money (though she hadn’t actually got to the point of asking)…
But, in fact, the 9-year-old had been very unsettled by the incident.
“That is the third time I have seen that lady,” she explained. “The first time was near here (in North West London) about three weeks ago… Then I saw her a couple of days later in East London… and now I have seen her again here… She looks like a witch.”
I tried to reassure her but a new weirdness has become the New Norm.
Anything is possible.
“I tried to reassure her but a new weirdness has become the New Norm. Anything is possible.”
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 Vancoocooappropriate. 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.
I 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.
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.”
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.
“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 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.”
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.
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.
Is is interesting – especially when you quote verbatim. When, for example, you put down a transcription…
You mean me or when ‘one’ does it?
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.
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…
No no no, let’s not.
Let’s not talk about that one. But, on any other occasion, do you think it badly misrepresented you?
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…
It’s interesting, though…
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:
My daily blog has not appeared for a couple of days because WordPress, which hosts it, had some technical problem which meant it was impossible for me to save or post anything. And, even if you pay them, they do not provide Support – you have to post on user forums with no guarantee of any response from anyone.
Giving them grief on Twitter seemed to have some slight effect – eventually. To a partial extent. I got this message:
Let us know if we can help with anything! Here’s how to export your content and take it with you.
It might have been useful if WordPress could have sorted out the technical problem which means I cannot post any blogs. I might have thought WordPress would be more concerned with their software not working rather than helping people to leave.
After WordPress getting more Twitter and Reddit grief orchestrated by this blog’s South Coast correspondent, Sandra Smith, I got some reaction from a WordPress ‘staff’ member (whom you apparently can’t contact normally) – which was minimal and apparently transient, as I have heard no more from him.
But, about three hours later, when I tried again, the problem had disappeared. I had changed and done nothing. So I can only assume WordPress corrected the fault and never bothered to tell me.
As Facebook Friend Alias Robert Cummins succinctly put it: WordPress is amazingly shit, in all sorts of tiresome and complex ways, which I’d really rather not go into this late in the evening.
That is his real name, by the way – the one he was given at birth – Alias Robert Cummins. It is a bizarre story and one probably worth a blog at some point.
John Ward’s toilet accessory has a gun, silencer and loo roll
In the two days of missing blogs and navel-gazing, the world still turned, with John Ward, designer of the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards getting some publicity in Lincolnshire of all places because today the James Bond film SPECTRE is released and, a couple of years ago, John designed a combined gun-rack and toilet paper holder.
He used to own a gun licence himself: something that never made me sleep easy in bed.
When no new blogs were being posted the last couple of days, the old one getting most hits was last Wednesday’s blog, about David McGillivray’s new short film of a previously un-produced gay porn script Trouser Bar written in 1976 by Sir John Gielgud.
David McGillivray (left) during the filming with Nigel Havers
The film (still in post-production) includes performances by Julian Clary, Barry Cryer and Nigel Havers. One blog reader user-named ‘Ludoicah’ commented:
I’d say with a cast that includes Nigel Havers and Barry Cryer that there is zero chance of this being any sort of a porn film, gay or otherwise, and it is probably, at most, a mildly risqué sketch.
To which David McGillivray replied:
Incorrect. It’s utter filth, liable to deprave and corrupt. I was blindfolded while I was producing it.
Sir John Gielgud’s script was inspired, it seems, by his love of men in tight trousers, particularly trousers made from corduroy.
Last Thursday, the day after my blog on the film appeared, the following was posted (with photo) on Trouser Bar’s Facebook page:
Trouser Bar still – corduroy trousers un-creamed by Sir John
I’ve just seen the rough cut. Sir John would have creamed his corduroy jeans at this close-up.
It also quoted Sir John’s letter to Paul Anstee of 19th October, 1958:
“The students at the schools and universities [in Pennsylvania] are a wonderful audience, and a good deal of needle cord manch is worn (very badly cut, and usually only partly zipped!) so my eyes occasionally wander.”
Also posted on the Trouser Bar Facebook page was this quote from a Galton and Simpson comedy script for Hancock’s Half Hourin 1958:
Sid: “Hilary St Clair.”
Tony: “Hilary St Clair? I bet he’s all corduroys and blow waves”
with the comment:
Even in the 1950s it seems that corduroy was associated with homosexuality.
All this, plus a photo on my blog of Sir John Gielgud with Sir Ralph Richardson in Harold Pinter’s No Man’s Land, made Anna Smith – this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent – ask::
I wonder what kind of porn Ralph Richardson wrote?
and to mention:
Comedian Tony Hancock – Is this the face of a 1950s criminal?
I bought a Tony Hancock album last week at a junk shop. A woman wondered to me whether he was a criminal.
“He wasn’t a criminal,” I said, a bit annoyed. ”He was a comedian!”
“He looks like a criminal,” the woman countered, doubting my certainty.
“It was the 1950s,” I said, exasperated. “Everyone looked like a criminal back then.”