Tag Archives: Borehamwood

Trying to find a woman for comic Lewis Schaffer after the Hare Krishna temple

LewisSchaffer (Photograph by my eternally-un-named friend)

Lewis Schaffer at the Hare Krishna temple

Comedian Lewis Schaffer spent yesterday – New Year’s Day – at my home.

In the afternoon, we went to the nearby Hare Krishna temple.

“Women are finding me increasingly attractive the older I get,” Lewis Schaffer said soon afterwards.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because they think, if I’m on stage, I must be somebody saying something important.”

“Like a cult,” suggested my eternally-un-named friend.

“People think” continued Lewis Schaffer, “I’m going to pay attention to that person because other people are paying attention to that person.”

“I once asked (the late comedian) Malcolm Hardee why he was a babe magnet,” I said, “because he didn’t exactly look like a Greek God. And he told me Because I’m famous… but only in Greenwich. So they only find me attractive in Greenwich.

“Yes,” agreed my eternally-un-named friend, “if he was in Scarborough or somewhere people didn’t know him, people would just see Malcolm as a weird man who was a bit rude. But, when you got to know him better… his actual persona… when I worked with him… there was something very relaxing about him.”

“When women met him, “ I said, “they thought Ugh! Never! Not with a barge-pole! but then, when they got to know him, I think they felt he was somehow sweet and loveable and I think they wanted to mother him… and went to bed with him.”

“Mmmm…” said Lewis Schaffer. “Am I likeable? Am I kind?”

“You do have a bit of kindness,” said my eternally-un-named friend.

“I’m not interested in other people,” said Lewis Schaffer. “But I used to bring framed pictures of myself to people’s houses when I visited. I would give them as a gift.”

“Were they surprised?” I asked.

“Yeah,” said Lewis Schaffer. “They thought it was funny, but they would keep the framed picture of me. Adam Bloom kept one standing on the top of his refrigerator for years and other people have kept them in their houses.”

“You didn’t bring a framed picture with you when you arrived yesterday,” I said.

Holy cow (left) with Lewis Schaffer yesterday

Hare Krishna holy cow (left) with Lewis Schaffer yesterday

“That’s because Borehamwood is bleak,” said Lewis Schaffer. “There’s nothing to do here on New Year’s Day except go to a Hare Krishna temple. Anyway, I can’t find framed pictures here in London the way I could find them in New York, where they were dirt cheap.

“Here, they’re expensive,” he added. “I need to make money. This is the year I’m going to make money. This is the year. Nobody can do what I do. I can go to a place, do a show and be on stage for three or four hours.”

Fidel Castro could do that,” I said.

“He could,” admitted Lewis Schaffer, “but I’m a Jew and Jews need to make money.”

“Can’t you meet a rich woman who’s got a house?” asked my eternally-un-named friend. “You could move into her place, then you rent out your flat and that’s your income.”

“Don’t think I haven’t thought about that,” replied Lewis Schaffer.

“The dating sites look really good for men,” said my eternally-un-named friend.

“Do they show rich women?” asked Lewis Schaffer.

“You just figure out which ones are rich and have a good wage and a good house,” explained my eternally-un-named friend. “Obviously, you’ve got to like them. But you could be quite happy, maybe.”

“That’s a terrible idea,” I said, “If he’s happy, it will screw-up his act.”

Lewis Schaffer and I discuss attracting women

Lewis Schaffer and I discuss attracting women (Photo by my eternally-un-named friend)

“The thing about women,” said Lewis Schaffer, “is they’re reticent about giving away their money to loser men. And a bigger problem is I would have to show affection for these women and I don’t feel affection for anyone.”

“Except Lewis Schaffer,” I said.

“Especially not for Lewis Schaffer,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“My osteopath is gay,” said my eternally-un-named friend, “and his partner has a horse and he says the best place to meet women – thousands of them – is to join a horse club.”

“Yeah,” said Lewis Schaffer, “but then they fall off their horse and their neck is broken…”

“Ideal,” I said. “Insurance.”

“…and then you gotta take care of them,” concluded Lewis Schaffer.

“Look on the bright side,” I said. “You might fall off the horse, break your neck, be paralysed and then they’d have to look after you.”

“Anyway, I don’t need to hang out with horses to meet women,” said Lewis Schaffer. “I know lots of women in my local area.”

“But aren’t they a bit nutty?” asked my eternally-un-named friend.

“All women are nutty,” replied Lewis Schaffer.

“I mean in South East London,” said my eternally-un-named friend.

“Are they better in North London?” asked Lewis Schaffer.

“There are more Jews in North London,” I said.

“In your blog,” said Lewis Schaffer, “don’t mention me being Jewish.”

“Can I mention you’re Lewis Schaffer?” I asked.

“I think there’s something in the water in South East London,” said my eternally-un-named friend.

“I just need money,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“They might have a house with two bathrooms in North London,” added my eternally-un-named friend.

“But I do feel,” said Lewis Schaffer, “like I need to do something new this year. Like actually make an effort.”

“You were doing four shows a week last year!” I said.

“Five if you include the radio show,” Lewis Schaffer corrected me.

Happy punters with Lewis Schaffer at the Bloomsbury Theare

Happy punters with Lewis Schaffer at the Bloomsbury Theatre

“They say you’re a comedian’s comedian,” my eternally-un-named friend pointed out, trying to cheer him up.

“Yeah,” said Lewis Schaffer, “there’s only one person who likes me and it happens to be a comedian. You know what they say… If you can make just one person laugh… you won’t be invited back… Am I comedian’s comedian? I look at some of these comedy bills with three comics on them and they’re all the same sameness. Every single show is the same type of comedian telling the same type of joke. Why wouldn’t someone want to put me on a show just to fuck-up the show for a little change of pace?”

“I’ve written about it in my blog,” I said. “You should read it; people do.”

“I read that blog,” said Lewis Schaffer, “about the samey sameness of comedy bills. You were right. And there are two ways to go. One is the alternative type of comedy which you champion. And the other way is me, who comes from another planet.”

“Well,” I argued, “you are alternative.”

“I’m gaining confidence,” said Lewis Schaffer, “because now I feel I can ask a booker to put me on a show in spite of any comedy limitations I have – and I’m pretty sure I have much fewer than I used to have. And when I come on a show, it adds variation: it’s What the fuck has just happened? Do you agree with that?”

“I think you’re the definitive alternative comedian,” I said, “because, when audiences see you, they think Is there an alternative to this? Can we go somewhere else?

“Stop trying to be funny, John,” said Lewis Schaffer. “Do you agree with me?”

“Alternative comedy – as I’ve written,” I said, “used to mean you had jugglers, magicians, stand-up comedians and mad people. You’re not mad, but you come under that last category: you’re not a traditional stand-up. You are not eccentric or mad, but you’re… different.”

“I’m different? What does that mean?”

“I have no idea,” I said. “Maybe you could rent a horse. Do you want a cup of tea?”

“OK,” said Lewis Schaffer.

Here is a video on YouTube of Lewis Schaffer performing at the Bloomsbury Theatre three months ago…

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If everything in the world were made of edible plastic, you would not have the problems caused by these green things

My eternally-un-named friend hunting for hedgehogs yesterday

Eternally-un-named friend hedgehog hunting

Yesterday afternoon, I was sitting having tea in a garden centre near St Albans – not my natural habitat.

My eternally-un-named friend had gone off to the Information Desk to ask about buying a hedgehog.

It is a long back story.

I have mentioned it in my blog before.

She is waging a war of attrition against slugs in my back garden.

“What did they say at the Information Desk?” I asked her on her return.

“There was this oldish guy there,” she said, “and I asked him Can you tell me where I can get hedgehogs? and he started looking at me slightly frowning.

“He said: Do you mean ornamental ones or real ones? and he was sort of frowning a bit more.

Real ones, I said.

“And he told me: There’s a place you can get them in Notcutts, but we can’t get them – and he’s still looking a bit oddly at me. They’re wild animals, you know, he says. You might be able to get them in Notcutts in Smallford. They have animals there. But I don’t think they’ll have them, because they do pets and a hedgehog is a wild animal.

“By this point, he was scowling even more at me, as if I’m a bad person who wants to buy a wild animal and you’re not allowed to. But, I said, you’re selling hedgehog homes, so I thought people must be able to buy hedgehogs.

Oh yes,” he said, “that’s to encourage any hedgehogs you already have to stay there. And all this time, he’s looking at me as if I’m a bit…”

“That you want to bake and cook hedgehogs?” I suggested.

“No,” said my eternally-un-named friend, “I think he thought it was like when you tie up a swan in your back garden.”

“They sell hedgehog homes?” I asked.

“Yes,” said my eternally-un-named friend. So we went over to look at them.

Hedgehog houses will encourage residency

Slate roofed hedgehog house (right) may encourage residency

There was one with a slate roof for £29.99, and one made wholly of wood for £44.99

“The other thing I’m thinking,” my eternally-un-named friend told me, “is that you have a massive ant problem in your garden.

“They’re all around. Scurrying. You can see them as you come up the road from Elstree station. They’re rife.”

“What happened to the ladybirds?” I asked. “You said you’d found a ready supply of ladybirds to kill the aphids.”

“I can’t get the ladybirds to kill the aphids until I’ve killed the ants,” said my eternally-un-named friend, “because the ants would kill the ladybirds.”

“How are you going to kill the ants?” I asked.

“I’ve got a load of white powder,” she explained, “and I’ve got sprays and I’ve been pouring boiling water on the ant nests. One day when you were away in Edinburgh I went out into the garden to pull out the dandelions – at least they’re not actually going round killing other things – and there were ant nests everywhere.

“The aphids are out the front on one of the plants. And every other day, I would take off the branches that had the aphids on and bin them, because the aphids sap the plant and there was always a little ant walking up the stalk trying to do something to an aphid.

“Those millions of invisible bugs that I put in the ground to kill the ants… Unfortunately they have to be kept wet and we had that dry patch for some time. They cost £11. I know that’s cheap per million, but they didn’t seem to be pulling their weight, so I put down the £3 white powder as well.”

“What if the hedgehog eats the white powder?” I asked. “It will die.”

“I have no idea,” said my eternally-un-named friend. “I’m dealing with ants at the moment. I haven’t found a hedgehog. Who else eats ants?”

“The French,” I suggested.

Anteater - the alternative to a hedgehog

Buying an anteater could be a viable alternative to a hedgehog

My eternally-un-named friend thought for a moment and then said, perking up: “We could get an anteater! It might be easier in the long run just to get an anteater. The problem is there are the ants AND there are the slugs. There’s a double enemy situation.”

“Or we could just get a Frenchman,” I persisted. “They’ll eat anything.”

“When you break open these ant nests,” said my eternally-un-named friend, “you see half of them have got wings, half of them are eggs about to develop and the other half are the ones running around doing things to aphids. That’s the problem. We have 150% of ants trotting backwards and forwards everywhere. it really is hell.”

“You see?” I told her, “Nature is a nightmare. That’s why I try to have nothing to do with it. Anything green is a nightmare. New cheese, old meat, anything with leaves or stalks. Nightmare. I try to have nothing to do with anything green. If everything in the world were made of edible plastic, you wouldn’t have these problems. It must be possible in the 21st century. Natural things are bad things.”

“Well,” said my eternally-un-named friend, “if part of Nature and wildlife is that hedgehogs eat slugs, it’s certainly not happening round Elstree and Borehamwood and I don’t see how hedgehogs are going to come to your rescue when you have main roads.”

“Tunnels,” I suggested. “We will have to build hedgehog tunnels.”

“I got a reply from Bob Slayer,” said my eternally-un-named friend.

A few days ago, she asked comedian Bob Slayer where she could get a hedgehog, on the basis he was brought up in the West Country and would know about such Nature-related things. Yesterday, he replied:

The British Hedgehog Preservation Society is based in Clee Hill near Ludlow where I grew up. I went to a local pony club with the daughter of the man who set it up in 1982 – Major Adrian Harcourt Coles. I thought he was dead, but I have checked and he is not.

“I remember he raised a load of money to put ramps in all the cattle grids on Clee Hill so that, if hedgehogs fell in, they could climb out. Then someone proved that hedgehogs don’t live over a certain height above sea level and that there are no hedgehogs on Clee Hill.

Hedgehog flavoured crisps

Hedgehog flavoured crisps were trendy

“In 1981, Hedgehog Foods Ltd decided, as a joke, to produce hedgehog flavoured crisps. To everyone’s surprise, the crisps were a huge success. But they were actually flavoured with pork fat and no hedgehogs were used in the manufacturing process.

“As a result, the Office of Fair Trading took them to court (in 1982) on a charge of false advertising. A settlement was finally reached when Mr Lewis of Hedgehog Foods interviewed gypsies – who actually did eat baked hedgehogs – to ascertain the flavour of hedgehogs. He then commissioned a flavourings firm to duplicate the flavour as closely as possible and changed the labels from ‘hedgehog flavoured’ to ‘hedgehog flavour’ and the Office of Fair Trading was satisfied.”

My eternally-un-named friend showed me Bob Slayer’s e-mail, then suggested: “If a hedgehog did get to your garden, it could have the run of the area. Your garden and other people’s gardens. There’s probably a good living for a hedgehog there.”

“And, if it ran out of slugs to eat, it could drink milk,” I suggested.

“No,” said my eternally-un-named friend. “They can’t drink milk. There’s an advert on television that says they’re lactose-intolerant. It’s an advert for lactose-free milk and they’re telling hedgehogs Yes, it’s OK to have this milk. I’m sure a hedgehog would like to live in your garden, although there is that fox around.”

“I saw it last night by the garages when I was parking the car,” I said. “We may have to set up a fox hunt. Where can we get horses and hounds? Can they be rented or do you have to set up a permanent hunt?”

“I think we should just get an anteater,” said my eternally-un-named friend.

“Or a Frenchman,” I said.

The debate continues.

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Filed under Gardening, Hedgehogs, Humor, Humour, Nature

“My name is Jason and I am on the hunt for the Golden Fleece of film investment”

Jason Cook with camera this week

That title is a good opening line, especially from someone with dyslexia.

I first blogged about the indefatigable criminal-turned-author-turned-film-producer Jason Cook (not to be confused with the comedian Jason Cook) in December 2010.

We got chatting again this week at the Broadcast Video Expo at Earl’s Court in London.

Jason currently has eight film projects at various stages of pre-production: all different genres ranging from animation to sci-fi and a true-life story based on his three autobiographical novels… and he is still looking for finance in the current bleak economic climate.

The Devil’s Dandruff, based on the first of his three novels There’s No Room For Jugglers in My Circus, has always sounded highly commercial to me, especially given that there is a potential film trilogy there.

He has managed to keep the budget down to £2 million, which seems remarkably thrifty, given the plot but, despite having an enthusiastic letter from an ‘A’ list actor (my jaw dropped when I saw this name) he is still having problems raising the finance.

“There’s been lots of talk about David Cameron bringing finance to British independent films,” Jason told me, “but yet we’re still waiting for that to trickle down to people on the creative side. There are people out there with great ideas and great dreams, but the thing that’s lacking is the investment.

“I’m a working class lad from Borehamwood; I think if I was an Oxbridge graduate I would be more acceptable and respectable for investors. It is difficult coming from where I’ve come from. I have not mixed in the ‘right’ circles.

“I was a genuine lad who got involved in drugs, gun crime and gangsters from the age of twelve and was put in prison for my crimes – the first time for nine months. The second time I got four years and one day and I served two years and seven months.

“At that time, if the judge gave you four years, you would only serve half. This particular judge thought my crime was bad enough that I should serve longer. So he sentenced me to four years and one day, which meant I would have to serve two thirds. That’s fair enough. I did the crime, so I gotta pay the time.

“After coming out of prison twelve years ago, I got myself clean of drugs – because I was also an addict at that time – and I got away from all the crime people surrounding me and I went clean.

“I started to write about my experiences, which turned into my first book There’s No Room For Jugglers in My Circus, about where I grew up and how I got involved.

“I self-published the first book and self-publicised it because I was just a normal guy off the street who’d written a book. I had no backing. I wasn’t a sportsman. I wasn’t a glamour model who could get her boobs out. So I self-published that first one so I could start building recognition.

“I then wrote the second one The Gangster’s Runner because of the good reviews. It’s about the people I was involved with and how I was used in the underworld as a drug runner and a drug enforcer and money collector. Ecstasy, coke and hash.

“And the third novel A Nice Little Earner is how everything ties up and we all go our own ways and it elaborates on the range of characters, from politicians to judges, solicitors, barristers to every level of society. All the way from the street-seller to the user. The up-market characters are based around real people. The details have been changed to protect everyone – to protect them and to protect myself from reprisals. But the books are a big insight into the underworld in London and across the world.

“I’m not glamorising crime; I’m not making it seem good; I’m showing the bare elements of drug addicts, a young lad being blinded by the lights and peer pressure, fast cars, fast money and I’m showing the real gritty parts of real life. All real.

“I’ve always been interested in films. From an early age, I was in Elstree Youth Theatre. I started working on film sets as an extra and became a runner. I want to create films people want to see. Partly for the money but a lot of it for the creative side. I think I can tell a good story.

“The irony is I’ve been clean from drugs and crime for twelve years now but, while everyone else is falling out of pubs, I can’t get into them because I’m still on PubWatch. I was arrested for drugs and put in prison. That’s OK. That’s fair. But, when I came out, I went into my local pubs and they told me I had been put on PubWatch so I was not allowed into any pubs any more for life. I never did drugs or did any crime in any pub and I had never had any trouble with any landlord, but I was put on PubWatch for life because I was involved in drugs in the local area and around London.

“I’m still being punished for my crimes twelve years later, after being rehabilitated…

“Perhaps I should jump on the bandwagon,” Jason laughs. “I should sue the Metropolitan Police and go to the European Court of Human Rights and claim my human rights have been infringed. Everyone else seems to be doing it.”

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Filed under Books, Crime, Drink, Drugs, Legal system, Movies

The Elstree Studios project uncovers what Sophia Loren was like in bed

Over the years, for magazines, I have interviewed quite a few film and television production people. I was never much interested in talking to stars and actors: the people behind-the-cameras were much more interesting.

If you interview a star or even a not-yet-famous actor about a movie or TV show they were in, you get a performance. If you interview the set designer or the producer or director, especially a few years later, you get golden anecdotes.

I moved to Borehamwood in Hertfordshire, on the edge of London, after the massive MGM studios had been knocked down and replaced with office blocks and houses. For several years, a full-sized medieval castle had stood by the main road out of town, left over from the movies Ivanhoe (1952), Knights of the Round Table (1953) and The Adventures of Quentin Durward (1955)

It was replaced by a Chinese village for Inn of the Sixth Happiness (1958) and, later, The Dirty DozenWhere Eagles Dare and 2001: A Space Odyssey were shot there.

At one time, there were six separate film studios in the small Hertfordshire town. Only two remain now.

As someone said last night, it is odd to think that this very ordinary high street in Borehamwood – Shenley Road – has seen filming for the three Hammer Pictures’ versions of On The Buses and that, literally, you are walking down the same street Clark Gable, Bette Davis and Simon Cowell have walked and driven down. If you stand on the station platform, you know Gary Cooper and James Mason stood there, waiting for a train back into London.

The studios where Alfred Hitchcock filmed his first ‘talkie’ Blackmail, later became the ATV Elstree Studios (despite the fact they are in Borehamwood, not Elstree) where major US stars like Barbra Streisand and Sammy Davis Jnr were brought in to shoot TV spectaculars because they did not want to be dragged up to ATV’s Birmingham studios. By the time I moved to Borehamwood, ATV’s Elstree Studios had become the BBC’s Elstree Studios.

One of the first things the BBC did – alas – was to paint over the eccentric and ornate Muppet cartoons in the canteen which bored members of the Muppet Show production team had done in secret one night. They thought the canteen was dull so they painted Muppets on the walls; ATV, to give it credit, kept them. As far as I can remember, they were painted round an archway.

I once walked round an outdoor set of Will Shakespeare’s London on the backlot at ATV Elstree. Shortly after I moved to Borehamwood, the BBC built their Albert Square set for EastEnders on the same spot. It was originally only a three-sided square and, from my back bedroom, I could look into it. As I never watched the show and, somehow, I was never in my back bedroom when they were filming exteriors, it was not until after they later built the fourth side of the square that I realised what it was. I could have rented my back bedroom out to fans if I had known.

The BBC studios’ modest entrance is surreally between two ordinary suburban houses up a very ordinary-looking suburban side street. When I first moved to Borehamwood, excited teenyboppers and older, fatter people used to sit on garden walls by the entrance on Wednesday afternoons and evenings waiting to spot pop stars because, at that time, Top of The Pops was recorded there. For the first year of EastEnders, much the same people – young fans and overweight older people – sat outside trying to spot the soap’s stars as they went in and out.

But the two big film studios in Borehamwood in its heyday were the former MGM Studios (screen credits always said ‘filmed in Borehamwood’) and, a three-minute walk away, the Elstree film studios (screen credits always said ‘filmed in Elstree’ which were/are actually also in Borehamwood). The Elstree films included the first three Star Wars movies and the Indiana Jones movies; now they shoot Big Brother and Who Wants To Be a Millionaire there.

Last night, I went to the launch of ‘The Elstree Project’ at the University of Hertfordshire, which apparently has 2,800 students in its School of Creative Arts.

Where are they all going to work?

The project, jointly started and run by Howard Berry of the School of Creative Arts and Elstree Screen Heritage, aims to create an oral history of Elstree Studios by interviewing the people who worked in the Borehamwood studios (I suspect it’s called The Elstree Project because ‘Elstree’ sounds more glamorous than ‘Borehamwood’). They aim to interview not the megastars who worked at the studios but the actual technicians and behind-the-camera production people.

The ‘launch’ of the Elstree Project is perhaps an odd phrase given that, over the last year, they have already shot 30 hours of material – interviews with 22 people.

People like the man who painted Darth Vader’s costume in Star Wars as well as legendary ATV/ITC production supervisor Johnny Goodman and Stanley Kubrick’s producer and brother-in-law Jan Harlan,

Paul Welsh of Elstree Film Heritage got an MBE for saving the studios when the rapacious company Brent Walker tried to destroy them – half were turned into a large Tesco superstore, but the other half were saved after a campaign in which the local government authority eventually took over the studios.

Paul says: “I’m hard-pressed to think of a major film star who has not worked at Elstree. I’m hard-pressed to think of a famous pop star who hasn’t filmed there, be it David Bowie, Paul McCartney or Take That. You could go to the pub across the road from the Studios, before it became a McDonalds, and see Tony Hancock or Errol Flynn, Robert Mitchum or Trevor Howard drinking in there.

Over the years, the studios in Borehamwood have produced TV and movie productions like Danger Man, The Saint, The Prisoner, Star Wars, Grange Hill, EastEnders, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Dambusters, The Muppet Show, The Shining, The Railway Children, Murder on the Orient Express, The Avengers and Inspector Morse – although set in Oxford, the production office for Inspector Morse was in Borehamwood and the local Barclays Bank would sometimes crop up in scenes set in Oxford.

The Elstree Project sounds like it will come up with some colourful anecdotes of life at the studios.

“I couldn’t see anybody today doing the jokes that we used to do with Roger Moore on The Saint,” says one of the interviewees. “I mean, to throw a bucket of water over the star – you wouldn’t get away with it.”

“The only thing I remember about Sophia Loren,” says another interviewee, “was her nose. I couldn’t believe it. She was a beautiful woman but, when she lay down in bed and I was at the end of the bed, I looked at her and thought to myself Oh she’s nice! and all that stuff – like you do – but her nose – Oh my Gawd – it looked like the Blackwall Tunnel. She was so beautiful standing up but, laying down…”

This is what people want to hear.

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An ordinary day in Borehamwood: I become trapped in my rubberwear

I live in Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, which can occasionally have its moments.

Last night, there was the weekly ritual of spotlights on the skyline and distant roars as an eviction went ahead in the Big Brother house. The house is built in the former water tank at Elstree Studios, which is why contestants entering or leaving the house have to climb up steps, go through a door, then go down steps again – they are going over the side of the water tank.

Sadly, I moved here a few years after the late night fire at Elstree Studios when Stanley Kubrick was filming The ShIning – the heat from the fire caused his polystyrene snow to rise and float, causing polystyrene snowfall over part of Borehamwood.

But yesterday was an ordinary day in Borehamwood.

I went for my annual check-up at the optician. Every year, I think my eyesight has deteriorated badly and I may be going blind. Every year, they tell me:

“No, there’s not much change: it’s just your age.”

Next week, I am going to South West Ireland and a friend, who has been trying to persuade me for almost a year that my rarely-worn Wellington boots are two sizes too small (in fact, they are a little tight but perfectly OK) got me to go into a shop to try on some new, larger, Wellingtons.

“Your old ones scrunch your toes up,” she insisted.

My friend can be very insistent.

“It was bad for Chinese women,” she told me. “And it is bad for you.”

I went into the shop for a quieter life, though I was slightly torn between that and wanting to go home and go to the toilet.

I tried on a pair of grey Wellington boots two sizes bigger than my current ones.

“Too big,” I said, relieved, thinking this would free me for the toilet trip home.

“We will try them one size smaller,” my friend insisted. “That will still be one size bigger than the ones you have now.”

“They don’t seem to be in green,” I said weakly. “They are only in grey. I think they should be in green because we are going to Ireland. It will cheer the Irish up.”

My friend was insistent: “I will go get an assistant and see if they have a green pair.”

Unfortunately, they had a pair. I put the right one on. It was a little tight to get on but, once on, it was very comfortable.

“That’s OK,” I said, grudgingly.

I put the left one on.

“They’re just the right size,” I said, grudgingly.

I took right one off. A bit of a struggle.

I tried to take the left one off.

It would not come off.

My friend tried.

I tried again. My friend tried again.

It would not come off.

I tried again. And again. And again.

It would not come off.

My friend tried, pulling the toes and heel.

“Careful of the toes,” I said.

It was a bit sore on the toes.

A shop assistant tried.

The green rubber Wellington boot would not come off.

At this point I realised I still wanted to pee.

Rather a lot.

A second shop assistant arrived, pulling me nearly off seat when he yanked the boot at the heel and toe.

“Careful of the toes,” I said.

“We may have to cut it off,” the second shop assistant said.

“Well, it might not be necessary,” I said. “I had a circumcision a couple of years ago. I didn’t think it was necessary; the doctors did. I eventually agreed to it because the doctors told me it would be no skin off my nose.”

I looked at the shop assistant. He did not laugh.

“We may have to cut it off,” he repeated.

My friend nodded.

My toes were feeling sore.

“I have a high instep,” I explained.

“Do you want to buy them?” the shop assistant asked.

My friend and I looked at him.

“The boots,” he said. “Do you want to buy them?”

He was not joking.

“No,” my friend replied patiently. “He would have to sleep in them because he can’t get them off.”

A third shop assistant arrived and tried and failed to pull them off. My toes were getting sore; there was what felt like a bit of a sprain on the ankle; and, every time someone pulled, I was having to hold onto the sides of the seat to avoid being pulled off onto the floor.

I was now desperate to go to the loo and all that rubbing and sliding of my bottom backwards and forwards on the seat had now aroused the back-up of shit building-up on my colon or intestines or wherever-the-hell it builds up. It was getting quite insistent about heading for the exit in both retail shop and bodily terms.

“Are the Wellingtons waterproof?” I asked.

“Of course,” the shop assistant replied, surprised. He looked at me: “They’re rubber Wellingtons.”

The three shop assistants went away to get the manager. My friend tried again.

“Careful of the toes,” I said, holding on tightly to the sides of my seat,

By now, a nearby middle-aged couple had stopped trying on new shoes and were just sitting back watching our floor show with considerable interest.

“I have a high instep,” I explained to them.

“If the assistants can’t do anything,” my friend said, “I’m calling the fire brigade.”

I smiled, though I was thinking more of a warm toilet seat and sausages.

“I’m not joking,” my friend insisted – and I knew she was not. My friend can be very insistent. She took out her mobile phone. “You have your leg and your foot stuck in a Wellington. The fire brigade can cut you out. That’s what they’re there for.”

About eight seconds later, the manager and third assistant arrived with a pair of scissors.

I thought of toilet seats and the movie Murder on the Orient Express.

The train remains trapped in a snowdrift as detective Hercule Poirot tries to figure out whodunnit. When the case is finally unravelled, the snowdrift is cleared and the train is free to continue onwards. I have always thought the symbolism was wonderful. I wondered if, as they finally released my foot and leg from my rubber prison, I would piss down my leg and shit would explode out of my bottom.

I will spare you further details.

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Has Tesco got so big that it does not care about PR or charging one price?

There was a report on the Guardian website a couple of days ago about someone who was almost thrown out of a Tesco store for attempting to compare prices on the shelves. He had noticed a bizarre piece of pricing in which it was more expensive (per bottle) to buy Highland Spring water in 4-packs than in lesser quantities: the opposite of what a casual shopper would assume.

This is something I had noticed myself. There was a surreal period where, at my local Tesco, it was significantly cheaper to buy four individual cans of Red Bull than to buy a 4-pack of Red Bull – the opposite of what you would expect. No special offers were involved; this was the normal, everyday price.

In the case of the Guardian reporter, when he was seen on the Tesco security cameras to be standing by shelves writing down something on a piece of paper, the store’s deputy manager approached him and, when told he was “writing down prices”, responded:

“You’re not allowed to do that. It’s illegal… It’s illegal to write things down and you can’t take any photographs, either. If you want to check the prices, take the item to the till and pay for it there. The price will be on the receipt.”

The store manager told him the same thing.

I thought this might be a quirk. But, when I posted a link to the Guardian article on my Google+ account, someone responded:

“I got escorted from Tesco for taking a snap of price tag on my phone. The same thing – item packed in bulk was 100% more expensive than buying four separate items.”

Someone posted on the Guardian website:

I saw a splendid offer there the other day, some revolting looking snack, 20p each or 4 for a £1.00…

And someone else posted:

Recent gems include:
Fruit squash: £1.35 a bottle or 2 for £2.75
NCG soups: £1 or 2 for £3.00
Bread: £1 a loaf or 2 for £2.00.

There are two things here.

What on earth are Tesco doing with their pricing policy? Occasionally you see TV ads claiming Tesco prices are cheaper than their competitors; and they put prices online. But the company has no actual single price throughout the country – or even in the same neighbourhood. Smaller Tesco Metro stores already routinely charge more for items than larger Tesco stores.

I live in Borehamwood in Hertfordshire. The Tesco store there charges lower prices on everyday items than the Tesco Metro in Radlett, three miles away in the next small town.

Tesco has no uniform pricing. Although it buys in bulk at a set price, it does not sell at a set price and is taking different profit margins from customers in different areas and even at different stores within the same area.

Its TV ads, which quote specific prices for specific products, wrongly imply that there is a single standard price for all items at Tesco. There is not. You go into a Tesco store, you take pot luck on what you pay.

And what’s with this surreal leaping on anyone who dares to attempt to write down the prices in their stores?

Tesco has got so big it appears to have lost control of itself.

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Advice on how to spot a conman in the movie industry (and elsewhere)

I popped along to Elstree Film Studios for a chat with the indefatigable Jason Cook (not to be confused with the comedian of the same name, though I am sure he is also dynamic).

The Jason Cook I know is a former gangster’s runner turned author and film producer with more energy than the National Grid.

His production company The Way Forward Productions, based at Elstree Studios, has a slate of seven feature films in various stages of preparation. His sales agent says the first picked up quite a bit of interest at the recent Cannes Film Festival. It is The Devil’s Dandruff, based on Jason’s autobiographical novel There’s No Room For Jugglers in My Circus (the first in his autobiographical trilogy of books).

My favourite Jason Cook project, though, is the animated Rats in Space.

It’s a great title and it’s currently looking for finance.

We found we were both equally bemused and amused by the fact that, with potential movie investors, a person’s sartorial impressiveness is often in inverse proportion to their financial ability. People who turn up to meetings unshaven in scruffy shirts and torn jeans often have shedloads of money to burn. People who arrive looking well-heeled in neat Armani suits and spotless shirts are often bullshitting.

Maybe it’s because people with a lot of money don’t need to impress anyone, so don’t care what people think of them.

Whereas conmen and shysters are meticulous in their clothing and manners because they need to impress people for the hustle to work.

Of course, some shabbily-dressed men are just shabbily-dressed men.

I have been told I am living proof of this.

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