Tag Archives: Borehamwood

“The Long Good Friday” sequel… God takes cocaine?… Weekly Diary No 38

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 37

SUNDAY 4th OCTOBER

In this COVID-19 era, the protocol on non-rush hour London trains seems to be that everyone sits on alternate seats, leaving a gap between each person.

MONDAY 5th OCTOBER

Meanwhile, Thameslink trains are dependable for their undependability. When I arrived at Elstree station at 1358 today for the 1401 train, the indicator board proclaimed that the next train was the 0931 tomorrow morning, expected to arrive at 0939.

After travelling by Thameslink, President Trump’s overdramatic exit from hospital in Washington and overdramatic arrival back at the White House after his COVID infection seemed less surreal.

One online reaction to President Trump catching the coronavirus…

TUESDAY 6th OCTOBER

I was talking with someone who used to work in the London Docks who told me that the nickname for the police there used to be “the cabbage”. Neither he nor I could think of any explanation for this.

He also used to know Barrie Keefe, writer of wonderful 1980 gangster movie The Long Good Friday who, sadly, died last December.

Apparently Barrie Keefe wrote a (so-far un-made) sequel to The Long Good Friday, centred on the tiny but essential character played by Pierce Brosnan in the original movie.

Keefe once told someone that Brosnan had no lines in the original film: he never spoke. The other person disagreed. Keefe (who, remember, wrote the movie) watched the film again and, sure enough, Pierce Brosnan (in the swimming pool scene) does say “Hi!”

“That’s actors for you,” Barrie Keefe responded.

I was working at ATV (who commissioned the movie for the ITV Network via their ITC/Black Lion companies) when ATV/ITC boss Lew Grade refused to screen it because he was outraged by the ending. It had been commissioned by Charles Denton, who was both Programme Controller at ATV and Managing Director of Black Lion, presumably without Grade ever reading the script.

I think the scene in which someone is crucified on a wooden floor in London must have been inspired by Arthur Thompson‘s penchant for doing that in Glasgow. My ex-London docker told me that the scene in which a widow steps out of a car to spit at a criminal was based on a real incident though, in reality, the man apparently just legged it sharpish.

If you have seen the movie, there is a clip on YouTube of Pierce Brosnan talking about The Long Good Friday but – BEWARE – there are major, major plot spoilers in it.

WEDNESDAY 7th OCTOBER

I was talking to someone who plays the online game Words With Friends with strangers.

Playing with scammers who have only a loose grasp of English

Apparently this has attracted scammers who bombard her with messages of a romantic nature – usually in broken English – Many of them, for some totally unknown and incomprehensible reason, claim to be estate agents (that’s a realtor or real estate agent if you live in the US).

I can only assume there is a school for scammers which provides a template suggesting would-be scammers masquerade as estate agents.

THURSDAY 8th OCTOBER

Is this the shape of bomb disposal technicians to come in the near future?

The UK Chancellor of the Exchequer has suggested that, because of the COVID-19 crisis and its effects on jobs, people should think of switching careers.

My diminutive writer/composer/comedy chum Ariane Sherine (her physical stature is relevant) took the government’s online Careers Advice Test on a whim and it suggested she should become an army officer, a bodyguard or a bomb disposal technician.

Her reaction: “This is clearly not the perfect career for someone with clinical anxiety and paranoia who gets freaked out by sudden loud noises!”

Inspired by this, I tried the Careers Advice Test myself. It suggested I could or should become a boxer, a jockey, a hairdressing salon manager, a Member of Parliament or a TV/film producer…

The government site, which also handles Track & Trace for the COVID-19 outbreak, may need some urgent attention.

FRIDAY 9th OCTOBER

An odd day.

I went into the Tesco store in Borehamwood where, among the free books, were copies of Rolf HarrisTrue Animal Tales and the violent Mafia memoir I Heard You Paint Houses (filmed by Martin Scorsese as The Irishman). I am not sure what this says about the reading or social habits of Tesco’s customers in Borehamwood.

“I am not sure what this says about the social habits of Tesco’s customers in Borehamwood.”

Later, I went into the Tesco store in Leytonstone and found the stand-up urinals in the Gents toilets each had an orange plastic insert bearing the word P-WAVE. I would like to have been at the branding meeting where they brainstormed ideas for the name and colour of this product. 

SATURDAY 10th OCTOBER

Anthony Irvine, the ever-inventive act formerly known as The Iceman emailed me, without explanation, an image of his latest painting.

I have no explanation. He had no explanation. I am open to offers…

But the sky today hinted that God takes cocaine. This could explain a lot about the last week and the current year.

… CONTINUED HERE

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John Fleming’s Weekly Diary – No 26 – on Times Radio and pagan fertility rites

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 25

Despite Lockdown slowly lifting, many train carriages into London are still empty due to COVID-19

SUNDAY 12th JULY

In my last Diary blog I mentioned that the government had announced Christian churches can open for private prayer but there can be no singing for fear of spreading the coronavirus.

Yea, Holy Water hath become hand sanitiser (Photo by Peter Stanford)

I expressed some doubt that this was true. But today angel-voiced singer and Henry VIII impersonator Peter Stanford confirmed:


It is quite true about singing in the Church of England. In my church, the lockdown service on Facebook (originally from the vicar’s front room, latterly from the church itself), the service lasts half an hour.
The choir are singing on Zoom but it is not the same. Where the Holy Water was is now a hand sanitiser dispenser.


Also continuing from my last Diary blog, I asked Andy Dunlop, President of the World Egg-Throwing Federation, how my canine twin Rigby was progressing. If you are a new reader, it is complicated but involves calcium and kidney damage.

Andy replied with a mute video, saying: “Your twin is virtually skipping. Vast improvement and doing very nicely. He is one happy dog.”

MONDAY 13th JULY

(Relevant academic name changed below to prevent blushes)

Today I met up with someone I have not seen since the coronavirus started months ago. She suggested we meet in Brompton Cemetery in London, next to Chelsea’s football stadium.

Grade I listed Brompton Cemetery, London, is the resting place of Suffragette Emeline Pankhurst.

She told me that it (the cemetery, not Chelsea’s football pitch) is a well-known pick-up spot for gay men and, sure enough, there were occasional lone men sitting around looking at their mobile phones or enjoying the reasonably warm weather.

“How did you find out this is a gay pick-up spot?” I asked.

In Brompton Cemetery: “Hello, Mr Wallace

“When my son was small and was learning to ride a bicycle,” she told me, “we used to come down so he could practise. And, one day, Mr Wallace his art master and another man came out from behind a bush by a gravestone.”

“What happened?” I asked.

“My son said: Hello, Mr Wallace and Mr Wallace said Hello to my son…”

“Did your son ask you about this afterwards?”

“No. My son didn’t think it was strange that Mr Wallace suddenly came out from behind a bush in a graveyard, but I was surprised.”

TUESDAY 14th JULY

…Interviewing me is always a mistake because I witter…

Today, I was asked to contribute to a Times Radio piece on late lamented Douglas Gray of The Alberts. It was a section of Mariella Frostrup’s show in which journalist Nigel Williamson highlights particularly interesting recent Times obituaries.

I had been asked how I wanted to be introduced and I suggested “comedy blogger” but, presumably because that sounds a bit like the ne-er-do-well I am, they introduced me, harking back to an earlier century, as a “TV producer”.

Interviewing me is always a mistake because I witter and burble, not helped if I hear my own voice coming back at me. Mariella Frostrop and Nigel Williamson know how to do it.

WEDNESDAY 15th JULY

Spellcheck: I am invited to take a swan test

It looks like I’ve been randomly chosen to have another self-administered COVID-19 swab test.

I received a letter today from the Department of Health & Social Care, the NHS, Imperial College London and market research company Ipsos-Mori.

It will be interesting to see if, this time, I can avoid almost choking to death when shoving the swabs down the back of my throat.

Interestingly, Spellcheck is quite insistent it should really be a swan test.

That would not be easier, but it might be more interesting.

Coronavirus designer masks have now started appearing…

THURSDAY 16th JULY

Coronavirus face-masks are becoming such an item of occasional clothing that designer masks have now started appearing.

My local shop in the high street has a fine collection.

There are even masks for children, although people under ten years old are not required to wear them at all.

FRIDAY 17th JULY

Prime Minister Boris Johnson wants to encourage live performances to re-start from 1st August

Today, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that live performances can re-start from 1st August provided social distancing and other COVID-related precautions are taken.

This will be quite difficult for theatres and I can’t see it really happening with ordinary comedy clubs which largely (perhaps that is not the right word here) take place in small, stuffy rooms above or below pubs. Also, comedy works best if the audience (if you can get one) is packed tightly in.

I hope to be proved wrong, but I can’t see the general comedy ‘circuit’ re-starting until next Spring – if then.

There is also the looming threat of a ‘second wave’ COVID outbreak.

Someone I know reckons she knows a statistical person in Whitehall who is involved in the UK Government’s preparations for worst case scenarios and they are planning fallback positons for a second wave in October lasting to Christmas.

Separately, someone I know who has dealings with Intensive Care nurses in Wales tells me that the NHS there is contracting specialist nurses from September (presumably to anticipate an October resurgence).

With luck, none of this will be necessary though, in his briefing, Boris Johnson mentioned that the Nightingale Hospitals (including the 4,000-bed one at ExCel in London) will be kept available until next March.

SATURDAY 18th JULY

A pagan fertility pole stands ready and waiting for potential human sacrifices in Borehamwood…

In more fantastical news, the tall fertility pole in front of my house has not yet been used for human sacrifices.

But, with each May Day that passes, my hopes increase.

“He and his family dance, naked, on balmy summer nights.”

In addition, as part of (I suspect) the ongoing and rising cult of Wicca witchcraft in suburban Borehamwood, my neighbour has erected a phallic pole behind his house around which he and his family dance, naked, in the balmy summer nights.

There is much wailing and thrashing of arms as the midnight hour approaches.

I feel certain that human sacrifice cannot be far off.

… CONTINUED HERE

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John’s UK Coronavirus Diary – No 3 – What it feels like to have the virus…

We are advised to wash our hands for at least 20 seconds (Photo by Nathan Dumlao via UnSplash)

SUNDAY 29th MARCH

I woke at around 0530 this morning. I live with my grandfather. He had been out late last night and upstairs, from my bed, I could hear him opening the front door downstairs, then coming up the creaking wooden stairs. Then I woke up. There was a strong wind outside making creepy noises. My grandfather died in the 1970s.

Most supermarkets now have an hour at the beginning or end of the day set aside for older people and/or people in vulnerable categories and/or NHS staff. I was in the local Iceland store this afternoon and got talking to a man at a safe distance across a frozen food cabinet. He told me he lives in Pimlico and, last week, someone was mugged in Pimlico and their NHS pass was stolen. Apparently true. Just the NHS pass.

MONDAY 30th MARCH

Yesterday afternoon, I had a FaceTime chat with a friend’s 8-year-old daughter. It lasted 1 hour 19 minutes and she is the most sensible person I have talked to since the coronavirus crisis started. Facebook and Twitter are awash with self-pity and paranoia.

The number of known UK deaths from COVID-19 was announced today as 1,408.

Things perked up later when the extraordinarily talented Romanian entertainer Dragos Mostenescu posted the first in a series of videos about his family and being self-isolated by the coronavirus crisis.

TUESDAY 31st MARCH

In the current coronavirus crisis, we are told only to contact our GP (local doctor) in a real emergency.

Most things in life depend on your viewpoint. Take this online posting from an Online COVID-19 Mutual Aid Group in an expensive area of London:


Hello, my wife and I have been asked by our GP to self-isolate as we are showing symptoms of a viral infection. Our problem is we do not know any neighbours being newish to the zone who can shop for us and we require dog food. Our dog has IBS – Irritable Bowel Syndrome – so she can only eat pasta and veg (broccoli, cauliflower & sprouts). If anybody can help with this plea we would welcome your contact. Many thanks.


The reaction of the person who told me was: “Honestly! People!  So well connected they’ve actually seen their GP! Human beings can’t get pasta to eat let alone dogs! Middle Class entitled First World problems! Give the dog some bloody dog food, not vegan muck and it’ll soon feel better…”

A website satire not too far from reality

That reaction seems pretty reasonable to me. But, seen from the point of view of the isolated couple in a new neighbourhood, caring about their dog, their plea is not unreasonable either.

The NewsThump satire site reported a fictional outbreak of people sticking things up their bottoms from boredom.

This might not be a total fantasy. Many years ago, a friend with a friend who worked in the A&E Department of a hospital told me Saturday nights had a high incidence of this type of thing including people misunderstanding the physical nature of fish… 

Fish can only go one way…

You can stick a (small) fish head-first up your bottom but – remember they have scales – you cannot pull it out… Result… a visit to the local hospital’s A&E Department… And people think coronavirus is bad…

WEDNESDAY 1st APRIL

Back to reality today. A Junior Doctor in the NHS Tweeted: “Last night I certified far more deaths than I can ever remember doing in a single shift. The little things hit you: a book with a bookmark in, a watch still ticking, an unread text message from family. Pandemic medicine is hard.”

The number of daily coronavirus deaths in the UK in the last 24 hours has increased by 563.to 2,352.

A friend who lives in central London, who was ill for a week or more and is just-about getting over it emailed me:


I have definitely had it, John. Without a doubt. All the symptoms – fever for the first week, complete loss of taste/smell, dry cough, aching all over. The GP more or less confirmed it on the phone. The fever comes back sporadically. But the worst thing is not having a working nose.

I’m sure I got it on March 8th when I went to an event with my two girlfriends who also got ill at the same time as me. One is now in hospital.

There is no guarantee that one can’t get it again but the hope is that, like with other viral illnesses, I will have immunity. If there were an antibody test, I would take it.

No masking the truth… (Photograph by Ashkan Forouzani via UnSplash)

The medical people are definitely mentioning the effect on taste and smell, certainly in the things I read and my and my friend’s GPs both said that’s the clincher. It is quite different from losing your sense of smell with a cold. It is just total. If you gave me two slices of bread, one spread with Marmite and the other with Nutella, I could not taste the difference.

Smell is a useful sense – I am only now realising how much I rely on it. I can’t smell whether food has gone off, whether something is burning in the oven, whether a tee-shirt needs washing. With food I never used to throw things out on the Best By or Use By date – if it smelled OK, I would eat it. Now, not so confident.

I am fine now except nose and the odd night fever. I think once over it, one is over it. It takes a couple of weeks. If you get lung complications like my friend (and another friend who is so weak he can’t get from bed to loo and hasn’t eaten for ten days) it’s fucking horrible, but I didn’t thankfully.

My cousin only has loss of smell but the two people who work for him also got it (at the same trade fair) – both young. One got a light dose like me; the other (53 years old and a fit runner) floored by it.

One can see that if one is old or infirm, this would see you off. Some friends who are Junior Doctors are very frightened of it as they’ve seen so many people with it.

Martin Soan practises his planned ascent of Mount Everest

THURSDAY 2nd APRIL

I am desolate.

Comic Martin Soan had planned an ascent of Mount Everest tomorrow. Now he has called it off. Only a week after he called off a concert at the Albert Hall.

Possibly just as well, because a recent article in The Smithsonian Magazine reported that there are over 2,000 bodies on Mount Everest – so many that they are now used as landmarks for climbers.

These are the facts you pick up when you are isolated in your home and only allowed out very occasionally.

“I am quite happy it’s low, but have no idea why”

FRIDAY 3rd APRIL

There are 3,605 confirmed coronavirus deaths in the UK now: 684 in the last 24 hours.

The normal resting heart rate for adults over the age of 10 years, including older adults, is between 60 and 100 beats per minute (bpm). Highly trained athletes may have a resting heart rate below 60 bpm, sometimes reaching 40 bpm.

My resting heart rate (according to my Apple Watch) is in the low 50s – around 53/53/54. I am no athlete.

I am quite happy it is low but have no idea why.

SATURDAY 4th APRIL

On Wednesday, my friend in Central London had mentioned another friend who was so weak “he can’t get from bed to loo and hasn’t eaten for ten days”. He was admitted to hospital last night, diagnosed with COVID-19 related double viral pneumonia.

Another friend who lives in rural tranquillity in Sussex tells me she has heard tales (by telephone) in the village about joggers hassling walkers, spitting and coughing near people etc etc.

I had to tell her that Borehamwood, where I live – administratively in Hertfordshire but really on the edge of London – has always seemed to me to be surprisingly not anti-social.

Borehamwood – “It is really culturally an Essex town”

It is awash with secondary schools and Yoofs and it is really culturally an Essex town, but there is almost no graffiti. I think the aspiring anarchists must go somewhere else to be anti-social… Not something they can do at the moment, so I dunno where they are. There is no particular sign of Yoofs on the streets.

All I can imagine is that they are staying at home snorting cocaine or shooting-up heroin – both allegedly normally available in town – but this lockdown must surely have screwed the coke, crack and smack distribution system and it sure as hell must have put burglars out of work – everyone is always at home now…

These are grim times for the crime biz…

But the good news is my friend who had lost her sense of taste and smell reports back: “I had smoked salmon for lunch today. And it tasted fishy!!!!!!

… CONTINUED HERE

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Three racial insights into the UK at Christmas 2019/New Year 2019/20

I think the first time it happened I was on a Victoria Line train on the London Underground.

I was feeling quite mellow and relaxed, standing by the exit doors of the train when he talked to me.

He was a young black bloke, maybe around 19. The shrewd observer of life in London might have guessed he was a black troublemaker and/or mugger.

He got up, looked me in the eye and offered me his seat. This was maybe two years ago. It was a first.

I had got to that point in life where I look so old (and presumably appear to be so frail) that people offer me their seats in trains. And one thing always strikes me. This is, I think, a fairly accurate guesstimate of the numbers…

Around 90% or maybe even 95% of the people who offer their seats to me in trains are non-white.

It is very rare for a white person to offer me their seat.

Young men; young women; even, the other day, an older Indian guy who was maybe 50.

I think: What the fuck? How old do I look? How geriatric must I look?

But it’s almost always the same. They are non-white and (I think; I guess) are British residents. I don’t think tourists would offer their seat to me unless I looked REALLY frail and looked like I was about to drop down at any moment. Tourists would not be absolutely sure about the local protocol. 

I don’t know what the social or ethnical or upbringing reason is; but it is non-white-skinned people who offer their seats to me.

And, just before Christmas, there was a more unsettling incident.

I was with a friend’s 8-year-old daughter.

An unsettling encounter on a fairly crowded London bus…

We got on a fairly crowded bus. But there was a double seat occupied by a young woman in her twenties of Chinese origin. I say that because I don’t think she was Chinese. She may have been Malaysian or similar. Mostly Chinese ethnically but not by birth.

She had a small child – presumably her daughter – standing in front of her; they were interacting. They were using one seat; the seat beside them was completely empty.

The young woman looked up and saw me approaching. I was going to let my 8-year old sit on the empty seat and stand beside her.

The Chinese woman, looking me in the eye, made to move so that I and my 8-year-old could sit down in the two seats and she and her daughter would stand, giving up their one seat. There was a look in her eye that made me think she felt I presumed I, as a white man with a white chlld, had a right to the two seats and she – a young Chinese woman with a Chinese daughter – had to defer to me. 

With a look, I communicated she did not have to get up.

They had been quite reasonably and very politely only using one seat, so my 8-year-old was able to sit down in the empty seat without affecting them and I stood by the eight-year-old; there was no other empty seat nearby.

But the look in the young woman’s eye – that she had to defer to a white man – unsettled and still unsettles me.

Another incident happened just after Christmas.

I had arranged a meal with a chum in a Japanese restaurant in Soho. My chum is of Polynesian/Chinese descent. There was a queue of about four other people, mostly Japanese, outside the restaurant, including my chum; she had arrived before me.

“Did you see that man with the zimmer frame?” she asked me.

I had passed him. He had just turned round the corner.

“He told us all to get off the street and get out of the way,” she told me, “and to get back to where we came from.”

The queue was not blocking the pavement.

I went back to the corner but he was no longer there.

I can think of one reason why he had to use a zimmer frame.

The Christmas/New Year period roughly coincides with the 9-day Jewish Hanukkah holiday.

The confusing menorah at Hanukkah in  Borehamwood…

I live in Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, just on the NW edge of London. For reasons unknown, there is a fairly high Jewish population; and a fairly high Romanian population. We have two Romanian grocers… one generic Balkan grocer also catering for Romanians… and now a triple-fronted Romanian restaurant in the high street.

This year, in the shopping centre, to celebrate Hanukkah, there was a large menorah installed – made out of balloons – and a few tressle tables. The gents supervising it all wore skullcaps/kippahs and long beards. They looked Jewish. There were DJ disco tracks playing on a loudspeaker. The music was a mixture of Jewish music and what sounded confusingly like black Caribbean music.

When I listened to the music properly, I realised it was Rasta music and the song lyrics referred to “the Lion of Judah” (ie Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia) and “have a happy Hanukkah”.

As I was loitering around listening to all this with some bemusement – OK, to be honest, the scene looked like a Jewish celebration, with West Indian music playing, manned by black-bearded members of ISIS – I realised quite a lot of the passers-by were speaking to each other in an Eastern European language that was not Russian. (I sort-of learned Russian at school.) I surmised the language was Romanian.

So there was this scenario where fairly recent immigrants from Romania were walking through a typically English shopping centre at Christmastime where some Jewish festival was being celebrated (there was the large menorah made from balloons) while West Indian music was playing. 

I suspect this was culturally beyond confusing to them but, somehow, I also find it very reassuring.

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Listening to my own death rattle and the circling black bats of Borehamwood

Dark thoughts and dark deeds amid the shopping paradise that is Borehamwood in Hertfordshire

I buggered my back two Mondays ago. Well, it’s an old, unrepaired spine injury, I blogged about it.

After osteopathic attention, it was sort-of mending this week.

Lying on the floor and walking a lot both help – not simultaneously.

But I also have a bad cough. And, yesterday afternoon, a coughing fit must have dislodged something and I was in agony again.

The bad cough thing involves mucus in the nose and throat which may explain what happened in my mind at around 5.00am this morning, in that strange semi-consciousness time between sleeping and waking and dreaming.

I couldn’t move much because it resulted in multiple phantom scimitars being sharply shoved into the base of my spine and I was lying there listening to myself breathe through light mucus muck in my throat. A hoarse, throaty, liquidy, breathy, inhaling-through-water sound like listening to my own death rattle.

In 2001, I sat in a dimly-lit room for 45 minutes – or it might have been 90 minutes, I can’t remember – listening to my father’s breathing as he died. Just the two of us. His death rattle went on for the whole time. 

So listening to my watery/throaty breathing this morning, pretty much unable to move, was like lying there listening to my own death rattle.

Which is something I would like to do twice…

Well, the first time would be interesting… just a flash forward to what it would be like to die…

The second time, I would not really care whether I heard it or not.

It seems such a pity to miss experiencing your own death with all your senses which, I guess, many or most people do. I think the doctors pump you full of morphine to kill you off if they are certain you are going to die fairly soon… Better, they think, to have ‘a quiet death’ than all that throaty rattling sound.

Anyway, I did not die, of course, and my eternally un-named friend came up to Borehamwood this afternoon to see me, bringing stewed apples.

As dusk set in, she asked: “Are the bats still here?”

“Bats?” I asked.

My eternally-un-named friend and bat bush

“There used to be bats in that big hedge/tree thing…”

“Were there?” I asked. “I don’t remember.”

“You seldom do,” she told me.

This is true. I have always had a shit memory.

A few days ago, my friend Lynn (not to be confused with Lynn Ruth Miller) told me that she and I had gone to some sort of premiere screening of Terry Gilliam’s movie Brazil.

According to Wikipedia – always correct on factual detail – this must have been in 1985. 

I have absolutely zero memory of this.

But, then, once I mentioned to Lynn that, although I had worked on the children’s TV programme Tiswas when Sylvester McCoy had been semi-regularly appearing on it, I had never seen him perform live on stage.

“Yes you have,” she said. “You’ve seen him perform in West End plays at least twice. You went with me.”

…or she might have said “three times”… I can’t remember…

Anyway, when she said it, I then did vaguely remember having seen him on stage in Dario Fo’s Accidental Death of an Anarchist. This seems to have been in 1981.

That was a long time ago.

Anyway, back to bats…

As my eternally-un-named friend and I stood in my kitchen tonight, with dusk setting in, she said to me: “Unlock the back door.”

The aforementioned bush/tree is close to my back door.

“Give me two 5p pieces,” said my eternally-un-named friend. “They have ribbed edges.”

“The bats?” I asked.

“The coins,” she said. “If you rub the edges of the coins against each other, the bats can hear it… It summons them.”

“Rubbing two 5p coins together?”

“Any coins with ribbed edges.”

She rubbed the two coins together.

My eternally-un-named friend summons the bats by rubbing together two 5p coins

A bat shot out of the bush/tree and swooped round in a circle.

“Does this mean bat shit on the grass tomorrow?” I asked.

“They usually go a lot faster…” said my eternally-un-named friend.

“That was pretty fast,” I said.

“…and they do a figure-of-eight,” she continued.

“Why do they do a figure-of-eight?” I asked.

“Well,” she conceded, “maybe they don’t do a figure-of-eight, but it looks like a figure of eight. They go really fast. That wasn’t. That was just a circle.”

“Surely,” I suggested, “if it looks like a figure-of-eight, then it IS a figure-of-eight.”

“You are just being difficult,” she said. “It’s going so fast that, if you try to take a photo, then it looks like a figure-of-eight in the photo. But I’m not really sure. Alright, I am now guessing… You are so annoying.”

When we shut the back door, we found there was a daddy-long-legs in the kitchen. 

That is another story. 

I won’t tell it.

But the daddy-long-legs survived.

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Candy Gigi – Ethel Merman meets Lionel Bart in a 5-Stars-of-David show

Candy Gigi in London last night with composer and musical accompanist Jordan Clarke

I almost never do reviews in this blog but – hey! – if it involves a bit of self-publicity too…

The late Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards had a halfway-decent hit rate, including spotting future US successes Trevor Noah, Bo Burnham and Reggie Watts.

In 2014, we gave the main award for Comic Originality to Candy Gigi.

Last night I saw a beyond-barnstorming London preview of her Edinburgh Fringe show this year: Friday Night Sinner.

It is an astounding abso-fucking-lutely gross-out musical about a frustrated young, wildly psychopathic Jewish girl’s life and marriage in Borehamwood.  

The poster bills it (and this rather understates the case) as:

and the blurb listing says: “This deluded, narcissistic, unsatisfied occasionally violent woman has delusions of grandeur and wants to become the biggest star in the universe – or at least in Borehamwood.”

Far too OTT to be staged by any mainstream West End Theatre, but with superbly tuneful songs by Jordan Clarke performed by Candy Gigi with belting all-stops-out passion, including Borehamwood!, Finishing What Hitler Started and the hopefully/possibly prophetic She Will Be a Star. 

This (certainly in the preview last night) is a 5-Stars-of David show.

There is a clever line in one of the songs about wanting to be “a Jewish Barbra Streisand“.

But it felt more to me like Ethel Merman Meets Lionel Bart in some unholy, foul-mouthed, foul-imaged, sweet-tuned union.

It will be a bloody miracle if Candy Gigi’s voice lasts out for the whole 3½ weeks of the Edinburgh Fringe.

I always thought she had immense potential though what on earth she could do with it I was never quite sure. Now I know. Candy Gigi should be on the West End and Broadway stage in a musical (with words and images that don’t make your aged aunt or Miss Marmelstein blush).

One warning:

As with all Candy Gigi shows, do not sit in the front rows unless you enjoy imminent physical peril.

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With other comedy clubs closing, a new one opens in maybe an ideal location…

Borehamwood view by Google with 96 pretty-much centred

I live in Borehamwood which is on the north west edge of London, just inside the M25, London’s outer orbital road. This is relevant.

I moved here because of the easy access. It is close to and betwixt three motorways – the M1, the A1(M) and the M25.

It is also on the Thameslink railway line (appallingly managed by the incompetent Govia franchise but extremely convenient). Trains run direct from Luton and Bedford (north of London) to Brighton (on England’s South Coast), connecting Luton Airport with Gatwick Airport and running through the middle of London, across Blackfriars Bridge, interchanging, I think, with every Underground line in London. And the trains run throughout the night.

Borehamwood (just to confuse visiting Americans) is home to Elstree Film Studios (which also hosts TV shows like Big Brother) and to the BBC’s Elstree Studios (home of the TV soap EastEnders).

What is strange is that it has had no permanent comedy club.

Until now.

Philip Simon outside Borehamwood’s 96 venue

This Saturday, comic Philip Simon is opening the Borehamwood Comedy Club in the local Council-owned 96 venue, right slap-bang in the middle of the high street.

The Jongleurs comedy chain has staged a few sporadic ‘On The Road’ gigs at the venue. But, last month, Jongleurs went bust.

“I have always thought that Borehamwood is the perfect place for comedy,” Philip told me. “It was just a case of finding the right venue. When Jongleurs ended, the Council was approached by every comedy booker you can imagine, including some that have no links whatever in London or even in the South. But I think the Council were more interested in working with a local one-man-band than a big company, so here I am.”

“It’s a great location for a comedy club,“ I said.

“Transport is really important,” agreed Philip. “Elstree & Borehamwood station is the last stop on the Oyster (cheap travel) card and it’s very easy to get to. I did a gig last night in Brixton (in South London) and I got back to Borehamwood in 45 minutes – and that was three trains. Acts can double-up very easily.

“I genuinely think you can get top-level acts who would have opened at maybe the Comedy Store in Central London and be looking for a second show to close and think: Oh! I can get to Borehamwood in half an hour! Because of the transport links, there’s no reason we couldn’t get Brighton acts. It’s a direct train. The venue is a 5-minute – if that! – walk from the station…”

“And the trains run all night,” I said.

Philip has written for TV’s Mock the Week and Taskmaster

Philip was involved in setting up the Comedians’ Network within the actors’ union Equity.

“I’ve heard a lot of complaints,” he told me, “about the way acts have been treated by promoters on the comedy circuit in general – not specifically related to Jongleurs. About how replaceable we comedians are and how irrelevant we are to the bigger picture. So when I found Jongleurs had booked acts here already, the first thing I said was: Those are the acts I want to replace themselves, if they’re still available.

There was already a date booked in here by Jongleurs – this Saturday 25th November – so I took that and went back to the acts who were previously booked by Jongleurs and had been let down. I wanted to honour the bookings so the people who had potentially lost money were given first refusal on the new gig. There had been three acts booked. Two of them signed back up and one was busy elsewhere.”

“And the two are?” I asked.

“Lateef Lovejoy and Trevor Crook. I added in Geoff Boyz to close and I am going to compere it. In future, it will be that same format – One act / a break / another act / a break / headline act. And I will compere it.”

“How much per act?” I asked.

He told me.

“That sounds quite high,” I said. “How much are the tickets?”

“£12. The venue decided that. I have no control over it. The thing I am guaranteeing is that I will pay all of the acts on the day.”

“Unlike Jongleurs,” I laughed.

Are royal portraits all that comedy promoters care about?

“Well,” said Philip, “speaking as an act… the thing that really frustrates me is that I have done gigs where I have seen promoters walk off with a wad of cash and then refuse to pay you for 30 days after the event. I don’t have an agent and I don’t want to spend all my time chasing payment when the money is in the hands of the promoter. Whatever happens, the acts here will get their money on the day of the gig provided the gig goes ahead and they turn up. If, for some totally unforeseen reason, the venue cancels the gig, then the act will be paid a cancellation fee.”

“You don’t have a gig here in December,” I said, “because, obviously, 25th December is not an ideal date. But will you try to go weekly next year?”

“No. I don’t think there’s enough interest for a weekly comedy club of this level. When we re-launch in 2018, I am hoping we will take it monthly. What I might do is a monthly comedy show of this level and, in between, maybe another monthly new act/new material night. £12 a ticket is a lot of money to spend weekly and I’m not convinced that, by spreading myself so thin, I can give enough attention to the gig. Especially if I resident compere it.”

“You said of this level,” I pointed out.

“Yes. I would like it to be a high-end type of show. with faces that people will recognise and will represent the demographic of this area.”

“You could,” I suggested, “do a monthly Jewish gig here?”

“Well,” said Philip, “I did a show at Camden Fringe last year with Aaron Levene called Jew-O-Rama and maybe in this venue here we could do a once-a-quarter Jew-O-Rama. We were intrigued that it did not appeal as much to the Jewish audience as it did to the non-Jewish audience. The nights we sold out, there was a predominantly non-Jewish audience.

Philip aims to heighten the glamorous world of Borehamwood

“As well as the main monthly show, there are two things I want to do – one is the Jewish gig; one is a local gig. To find a way of supporting local acts. If the venue is investing in me as a local act, then there is a benefit in extending that.

“I could do the main show monthly, here. And then, in between those main shows, on alternate months, I could do the Jewish gig and the local gig. There are loads of comedians in the Borehamwood/St Albans/Radlett/Barnet/Shenley/Watford area – comedians of all levels. Newcomers and pro-level comedians.

“What I probably cannot do in the main show is to give stage time as many local acts as I’d like. Because they are all at different levels. The level of the main show at this venue has to be at a high level. But, if I can find a way of supporting local comedians with maybe a lower-level gig that is going to involve less cost and less administration… And there are other projects I would like to do such as maybe a quarterly charity gig and a Christmas show.”

“To be totally PC,” I suggested, “you would need a white male… a female… gay… black… and Jewish… You would need to have five acts per show.”

“I want funny,” said Philip. “The diversity will come with finding the right funny people.”

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David Beckham and a kinky sex party

A bunch of bananas photographed by Augustus Binu

Bunch of beautiful bananas photographed by Augustus Binu

… and still my post-Edinburgh Fringe vagueness continues…

I was walking along the high street in Borehamwood at lunchtime yesterday when I saw two little boys pointing bananas at each other like they were guns. As I passed by, all I heard was one saying to the other:

“…and your mother’s poo smells like David Beckham.”

I have no explanation for this.

Jason Cook, yesterday. In the case were £50 bookmarks

Jason Cook, yesterday. In the case were personalised £50 bookmarks on sale for £2

I was on my way to the local Tesco supermarket to see Jason Cook signing copies of A Nice Little Earner, the third mostly-autobiographical gangster book in his quadrilogy. Jason has cropped-up in this blog a few times before. He is seriously dyslexic but has written three of these books. A fourth is out soon. His first book There’s No Room For Jugglers in My Circus has sold out and is being reprinted on the back of a re-order from WH Smiths. And that’s not even to mention his children’s book Rats in Space. He is a sign that anyone can turn their life round.

Meanwhile, from near Vancouver, this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith reports:

Anna Smith ignores the BBC in Canada

Anna Smith – an everyday story of Canada

I found a thin, paperback-sized piece of yellow plywood floating in the river, with the message ‘E15′ painted on it. I do not think it is a reference to an area of London, but is a marker from a log boom. It has two nails through it, so I might attach it to something.

My phone is still not working despite being inside a bag of red rice. I put the rice bag inside my favorite red hat, but that has not helped.

I also saw a sign today which said: SWORDS INTO PRUNING HOOKS. It was loosely pasted on top of a larger poster advertising a kinky sex party for 400 people to be held on a yacht (location to be announced the day before sailing). It has playpens and cages apparently…. I don’t think I would like to be in a cage at sea with all that going on around me. I could not take a photograph of the poster, because my phone was in the bag of red rice back home.

The streets are awash with pretty, fashionable young women tonight, roaming in packs. It must be something to do with school starting in a couple of days.

Jason Cook’s personalised £50 banknotes - yours for £2

Jason Cook’s personalised £50 banknote bookmakers on sale yesterday – yours for only £2 in cash

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Govia Thameslink train incompetence makes me doubt Margaret Thatcher

Fear stalked the bus yesterday

Fear stalked the replacement bus yesterday

I am old enough to remember pre-Thatcherite stand-up comedy routines and the regular cliché butt of jokes was the inefficiency of the Gas Board and of British Railways.

British Gas remains incompetent but now has less incompetent competitors and British Rail was privatised into a whole series of regional franchises and rather bizarre subdivisions, so it is a less easy target for jokes on national TV because rail incompetence has been localised and there is no one organisation to blame.

I have always been fairly happy with rail privatisation. British Railways was so big and everyone had jobs for life, so they did not much care about any service standards or innovation.

I have lived in Borehamwood, using the Thameslink line (under various franchise holders) since 1986. The station here is slightly oddly called Elstree & Borehamwood. The station is not actually in Elstree. This becomes relevant later.

Until late last year, the Thameslink franchise was run by First Capital Connect and I never had any ongoing problems. I rarely travel in the rush hour. Daytime and late night trains were OK under First Capital Connect.

Then, late last year, Govia took over the Thameslink franchise. They also run Southern trains – officially recognised as the most inefficient train system in the UK. Within a month, utter chaos descended on Thameslink with trains cancelled willy nilly all over the place and late night trains a catastrophe of late-running and cancellations, often with the explanation “because no driver is available”.

Govia’s main apparent innovation has been, during crowded periods, to run 8-carriage fast trains (which stop at fewer stations, therefore have fewer passengers) and 4-carriage slow trains (which stop at more stations with more passengers). You cannot fault them for original thinking.

From Thameslink website - journeys include the unexpected

From Thameslink website – journeys + the added unexpected

Since January, every Sunday when I have arrived at St Pancras, the indicator boards have displayed the words BUS SERVICE. There are no directions to this bus service, because there is no bus service. In fact, the trains are still running as normal, but from a totally different, upper, level of the station accessed round a corner and up escalators.  No signs. Seldom any staff to ask.

Last night (Friday) I arrived at West Hampstead station to get my slow 4-carriage train to Elstree. A fast 8-carriage train was due to arrive first on my platform. One minute before it was due, the train disappeared from the indicator board. It had been switched to another platform. There was, of course, no announcement. Those with experience of Thameslink’s ways and of the station legged it up and over the bridge just in time to get on the train. Five people failed to make it.

20 seconds before my own train was due to arrive (I noted the time) the train disappeared from the indicator board. We all – maybe 30 of us – successfully raced up and over to the other platform. There had, of course, been no announcement.

Somewhere in NW London on my unguided tour yesterday

Somewhere in NW London on my unguided tour yesterday

This weekend, both Saturday and Sunday, there are no trains between Elstree and St Pancras, only a replacement bus service. Imagine my joy.

I allowed two hours to make the normally 15-20 minute journey to West Hampstead station this afternoon. It was not enough. You should know that Elstree &  Borehamwood station is on the edge of NW London. West Hampstead is to the south of this.


The Thameslink iPhone app said a bus would leave Elstree station at 1612.

When I asked the bus driver and his supervisor, they told me it would be leaving at 1609.

At 1605, the supervisor told the driver: “You might as well leave now. They haven’t had a bus for a while.”

I was happy enough. Presumably people arriving just before the announced time were not.

Replacement bus

Replacement bus: every turn was an unknowable adventure

The bus, I think, was due to stop at Mill Hill, Hendon, Cricklewood, West Hampstead and St Pancras (although the sign on the front of the bus said King’s Cross, which is not on the Thameslink line). We never went to Mill Hill, just straight down south to Hendon… sort of.

After a while, I started Tweeting, because I smelled a saga.

TWEET – Bus replacement driver had to ask direction to Hendon station from man in street. We arrived at wrong Hendon station.

TWEET – Bus replacement driver has just yelled out “Fuck!” – not good news.

TWEET – Heading north on M1 motorway (away from Hendon)

TWEET – Now north of Elstree, which we left over an hour ago.

TWEET – Bus replacement driver now apparently heading NW to Watford. London is SE.

TWEET – Bus replacement driver now complaining to passenger: “It’s ridiculous”.

TWEET – Bus now in open countryside outside London.

TWEET – Passenger now giving bus replacement driver directions.

TWEET – Bus replacement driver now apparently heading south to Elstree.

TWEET – Bus now heading to Edgware.

TWEET – At last! Houses! We are somewhere near Elstree.

TWEET – Soon we will be back where we started around 70 minutes ago.

TWEET – Phew! Back on route, about half mile off where we started 73 minutes ago.

TWEET – Bus replacement driver now taking route advised by passenger standing beside him at all times.

TWEET – Bus now at Hendon Central station. Wrong station. Attempting to get to Hendon Thameslink station.

TWEET – Apparently now not attempting to get to Hendon Thameslink as passenger doesn’t know way.

TWEET – Bus replacement driver attempting to find Cricklewood. This seems unwise.

TWEET – I think I spotted Edinburgh Castle. May be getting delirious.

TWEET – First traffic jam. Pretty good after 90 mins but then we have mostly been in countryside.

TWEET – Passenger points out Cricklewood station to driver as we pass by without stopping.

TWEET – Bus replacement driver asks passenger: “Where do we go next?” Passenger suggests “West Hampstead”.

TWEET – Now my stomach and head are feeling queasy.

TWEET – Bus replacement driver asks passenger: “How far is railway station?” Passenger (looking at his own mobile phone) says “Under half a mile.”

TWEET – In Kilburn High Road.

TWEET – Have arrived W Hampstead station after 1 hr 46 min trip. Well, 1’50” exactly, as bus left 4 mins early. (It was actually 7 mins early but, by this point, I had lost touch with reality.)

TWEET – Thameslink @TLRailUK have just tweeted “SERVICE UPDATE: Good service.” (I was not the only one who had lost touch with reality.)

The indicator board inside the closed station

The indicator board inside the closed station

The bus dropped us right outside the main entrance to West Hampstead station.

As you might imagine, I was interested to see what the trip back from West Hampstead would be like. Several hours later, I went and stood at the point, outside the main entrance to the station, where the bus had dropped us.

Inside the closed station, barely visible, was a train indicator showing the bus departure times.

TWEET – At West Hampstead station. Replacement bus to Elstree due 2144. I got here 2136. Do I feel lucky?

TWEET – Now 2150. Neither 2142 bus nor my 2144 bus arrived. Maybe, as before, drivers can’t find London?

TWEET – Have discovered buses stop not at large glass-fronted main station but at small alleyway back exit round corner. No signs.

TWEET – I am on bus which left at 2156. Man in yellow jacket was supervising from pavement.

TWEET – I suggested he might tell anyone waiting at main ticket office building. He smiled inanely at me and did nothing.

TWEET – We drove off from the back alleyway entrance presumably leaving people at the main station/ticket office.

TWEET – Driver said this bus goes to Elstree. I neglected to ask “Via where?”. I shall phone ahead to friends in Aberdeen.

TWEET – Bus driver has found Hendon Thameslink station. Maybe a lucky mistake. No Thameslink person outside, of course.

TWEET – So near and yet so far. Was about half mile from Elstree station. Bus has now veered off to take longer route.

TWEET – Now arrived at Elstree village, which is not where Elstree station is – It’s at Borehamwood.

TWEET – Phew! Arrived at Elstree station in Borehamwood. 2242 (46 minute journey) I may take up religion.

West Hampstead Thameslink station

West Hampstead station is the large grey-roofed building, centre bottom, with entrance on Iverson Road. The bus stopped top right of picture, near the blue square at end of ‘Black Path’ alleyway.


Thameslink man ignore main station

Thameslink man ignores main station – a bit of roof visible behind him on far left behind wall

I included the Thameslink Twitter account in the Tweets I sent because – for comic reasons – I was interested to see if there was any reaction. There was not, of course.

Being a PR for Thameslink must be a bit like being a PR for Saddam Hussein’s human rights record. Their response (if they ever bothered) would be to blame other (dis)organisations. But it is part of an ongoing pattern of Govia incompetence and don’t-give-a-flying-shit-ness. I thought the new Thameslink (dis)service had reached its twin peak of Govia surreality when:

– I got on a train a couple of weeks ago which both the indicator board and tannoy announcement said stopped at Elstree… It, in fact, whizzed though Elstree station and an on-train information board said the next stop was Harpenden, three stations further on. In fact, it stopped at St Albans (two stations further on). I thought I must have mis-read the indicator board and mis-heard the tannoy announcement until half the train disembarked to get back to a whole host of stations the train had failed to stop at… and another passenger told me this was the third time it had happened to him.

Wrong Thameslink sign

With St Pancras 11 miles behind us, this suddenly appeared…

– (As I mentioned in a blog on 30th May) after a series of catastrophes – as we approached Crystal Palace and arrived in East Croydon heading south, the on-train information board displayed the words “approaching St Pancras”. We were travelling south. St Pancras was around 11 miles behind us to the north, as the pig flies.

Clearly I underestimated Govia Thameslink’s capacity for incompetence and lack of any discernible professionalism or customer care.

Flying pig - suggested new Govia logo

Flying pig – suggested new logo for the Govia Thameslink line

I still do not think a return to a give-even-less-of-a-shit national British Railways is a good idea.

But, at West Hampstead yesterday, I got on the Overground, now very efficiently run (compared to what it was before) by the Mayor of London.

Apparently Boris has had his eyes on taking over the Thameslink route. I can only hope his successor does.

I do like a bit of surreality and have a high threshold of chaos. But there are limits.

I suppose the company name Govia – Go-via – should give a hint at their lack of any specific direction.

(MORE TALES OF THAMESLINK CHAOS HERE)

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Things that did not happen – the solar eclipse and John Otway, rock superstar

This morning’s Daily Telegraph touted the solar eclipse

Today’s Daily Telegraph touted the eclipse as very Big News indeed

On 11th August 1999, I was working at HTV, on the outskirts of Cardiff.

At 11.11am, there was a 97-98% eclipse of the sun over Cardiff. Videotape editor Richard got hold of a dentist’s mirror (they are also used by electronic engineers) and stuck it in the ground, reflecting the sun onto a piece of white card. We also saw the eclipse with the naked eye as it passed behind light clouds on the edge of a large dark grey cloud.

I had not expected to be impressed, but seeing the partial eclipse in the sky with my naked eyes was strange, especially with the air slightly and strangely chilly for no reason – there was no breeze, just a chill and, in the far distance, the sound of a car alarm which sounded like the theme music to The Twilight Zone.

On the ground and in the air, there was an eerie light, neither normal daylight nor dusk, as if the light was in the air itself, not coming from any specific direction. Richard said that during a full eclipse there was total darkness in the sky above, with the stars visible, but on the horizon there is a lighter colour – as if there were a 360˚ sunrise.

The streets of Borehamwood were not impressed at 09.31am today

Streets of Borehamwood were not in awe at 09.31am today

This morning, goaded-on by my eternally-un-named friend, I roamed the streets of Borehamwood awaiting the promised 85% solar eclipse at 09.31am.

The skies of Borehamwood were a uniform light grey and the streets of Borehamwood were not thronged with expectant masses.

At 09.31am – the appointed time – nothing was visible.

A llama remained unimpressed even at 10.10am on the Isle of Dogs

A llama remained unimpressed even at 10.10am on the Isle of Dogs (Photograph by M-E-U-N-F)

A teenager later interviewed by BBC TV News at, I think, Leicester racecourse (no, I don’t know why) said she found the eclipse “illuminating”.

My eternally-un-named friend, at an animal farm on the Isle of Dogs in London (no, I don’t know why either), was reduced to sending me a photo of a disgruntled-looking llama.

And a sign in a field saying: PLEASE DO NOT FEED OR THROW FOOD TO THE SHETLAND PONIES – THEY ARE ON A SPECIAL DIET. Why the ponies are on a diet, I do not know.

The BBC obviously have better links with The Almighty than I and my eternally-un-named friend did in Borehamwood and the Isle of Dogs. They reported a “breathtaking” solar eclipse.

But there are better things than succeeding in the conventional sense.

The BBC reporting what I didn’t see

Last night, I went to see cult music act John Otway perform at The Good Ship venue in Kilburn. He holds what must surely be some sort of record – having had one hit song (Cor Baby, That’s Really Free in 1977) and then getting a second hit song a whole 25 years later (Bunsen Burner – 2002).

In a BBC poll in 1999, his song Beware Of The Flowers Cause I’m Sure They’re Going To Get You Yeah was voted the seventh greatest lyric of all time.

John Otway at The Good Ship last night

John Otway was at The Good Ship last night

As John pointed out with flawless logic last night, the BBC vote was for the greatest lyrics written in the 2,000 years since Jesus Christ was born, coming seventh meant he was a “better lyricist than Bob Dylan” and, as Paul McCartney’s Yesterday came sixth in the poll, Cor Baby, That’s Really Free is “almost as good a song as Yesterday”.

John Otway’s 1990 autobiography was titled Cor Baby, That’s Really Me – Rock and Roll’s Greatest Failure and his second autobiography  (2010) is entitled I Did It Otway.

I have to say the self-styled Greatest Failure in Rock ’n’ Roll seems very happy with it: a lesson to us all, perhaps.

There are more interesting things in the world than a partial solar eclipse.

YouTube has a clip of John Otway singing Bunsen Burner on BBC TV’s Top of The Pops

And he is also HERE with Wild Willy Barratt and Cor Baby, That’s Really Free

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