Tag Archives: Canada

If you see a ginger dwarf lying on the ground, would you think: “That’s odd!”

Tanyalee Davis: a big comedy talent from Canada

Last night, comedy critic Kate Copstick and I were in Covent Garden to see the Maple Leaf Trust’s annual Hilarity For Charity gig with profits going to the Canadian Centennial Scholarship Fund.

On the bill were Canadian comics Ryan Cull, Tanyalee Davis and Tom Stade.

Afterwards, we had a drink with Tanyalee.

“I am hopefully getting new hips in the next two years,” she told us: “I have the hips of a 90-year-old with the mentality of a 19-year-old.”

“So what’s next for you now?” I asked.

“Starting on Monday,” she told me, “for the next couple of weeks, I’m going to be FaceTiming and Skyping with some disabled performers in Vancouver who are going to be doing stand-up pretty much for the first time at a three-night event in Vancouver at the end of May. On May 4th, I’m going to Vancouver and working with them in a rehearsal space.”

“May the fourth be with you,” I said.

No-one laughed.

“Why do these people wanna be stand-ups?” I asked. “All stand-ups are mad.”

“I dunno,” Tanyalee replied. “Who knows? Everybody wants to give it a go.”

“What,” Copstick asked, “is your advice going to be?”

“They have sent me some of their material,” replied Tanyalee, “and… there are no jokes… But maybe that’s the problem of seeing stuff as written words. I’m not the best writer by any means but I sell it with my performance. So I’m hoping, once I meet these people on Skype and I see them doing it, I will have advice on their writing and how they perform it. I have just seen the bare bones so far. I’ve been in the business 27 years, so I have some experience.”

“Who has chosen these people?” I asked. “Are they self-chosen?”

“They’re part of a non-profit-making theatre company called Realwheels. They got a government grant to fly over an international performer to mentor.”

“You are Canadian,” I said, “but you live in the UK in Norwich. I have lived in Norwich. For heaven’s sake, why are you living in Norwich?”

“Because I’m part of an anti-bullying campaign,” Tanyalee told me. “A self-empowerment campaign called Great As You Are. I go into schools and work with little snot-nosed kids, but I absolutely love it. It is really rewarding.”

Copstick and Tanyalee in London last night

“Are we talking children-children?” Copstick asked.

“4-7 year olds. Our programme was for a three-year pilot but we’ve already accomplished everything in two years. We’ve now done 4-11 year-olds and maybe 1,000 more kids than was intended. We are putting in another funding application with the Big Lottery Foundation. We want to expand. There are 400 schools in Norfolk and we are only doing 16.”

“Were you ever bullied?” Copstick asked.

“Absolutely. I still get bullied. Oh my God! It’s constant. The other night, some girl came up and just started pushing my (electric mobility) scooter. People yell at me in the streets: Fucking midget! Chase me. Stop dead in front of me going Ahahahaha! and laugh and point at me. And I’m like: What the fuck is your problem?”

“Is that,” I asked, “just in London?”

“In the UK.”

“Moreso than in Canada?” I asked.

“God yes. Nobody’s ever done that to me in Canada.”

“Why is that?” I asked.

“I dunno. I think it is more the drink here. It’s just weird. But that’s why with me doing comedy and hopefully getting on more shows I really want to bring to light how fucking horrible people can be…”

“Yes,” Copstick agreed.

Tanyalee continued: “… and the fact I still get bullied. I’m an adult, a 46-year-old and I still get bullied. I tell the kids that and they’re shocked. I give them an example of when I was by the London Eye a couple of years ago – a tourist area, hundreds of people – I was looking up, wasn’t paying attention and I drove over the kerb and I tipped over and the scooter fell on top of me. There were hundreds of people and not one person stopped to ask me if I was OK. People are so stuck to themselves with blinders on, especially in big cities like London. Everybody’s on their phones: Oh! Ooh! That didn’t happen!

“Even what happened on Westminster Bridge last week (when a terrorist mowed-down pedestrians with a car), there are pictures of people walking past on their mobile phones and there is blood and a person lying on the ground.”

“Nobody ever looks at anybody,” said Copstick.

Kate Copstick and Tanyalee Davis – surely a future double act?

“It’s a Big City mentality,” said Tanyalee. “It’s in Vancouver and Los Angeles and New York and here. We have just gotta get to where we’re going. Get the fuck out of my way! But, I mean, if you see a fucking ginger dwarf lying on the ground with a scooter on top of her, you would surely think: That’s odd!”

Copstick said: “There is probably some kind of police code: Dwarf down!

“Like Black Hawk Down!“ agreed Tanyalee. “Yeah.”

“Maybe,” I suggested, “it is because you are ginger.”

“Yeah,” said Tanyalee. “Maybe that’s the problem. There was this kid (in Norfolk). He was 14 but super-tall for his age and his headmaster told me the boy had had to move school four times because he had been bullied because he had ginger hair. In Australia, they don’t call them ginger; they call them ‘rangas’.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Orangutans,” said Tanyalee.

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Wish you were here: Memories of the Canadian stripper who met a Norse God

Continuing the memories of this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith…

She writes:

The Coronet Motor Hotel in its prime

A postcard from the Coronet Motor Hotel in its heyday

The only person whose tyres I ever wanted to slash was my agent Jules Rabkin, because he overbooked girls all the time. He would send eight girls to a bar in the middle of nowhere that needed only six and the last two to arrive would get bumped and be out of work for a week.

He ripped off my friend Tiffany for $300 and she did something better than slashing his tyres. She marched into his office and set his desk on fire.

“How did he react?” I asked her, full of admiration.

“He handed over my money through the flames,” she said. “After that, he never dared fuck me over again.”

But we also knew how to be discrete back then …yes we were so discrete.

I can’t  imagine why all those motels had to give us all those ridiculous lists of the rules… like we weren’t supposed to walk through the lobbies naked or tie up the switchboard phoning each other’s rooms and we weren’t supposed to lie down inside the club either. And there was a $20 fine if you got caught ‘taking a man in the ladies room’ at one club. So, obviously, it must have been a terrible problem there. And we weren’t allowed to smoke or drink on stage. One really terrible place said that ‘horseplay’ wasn’t allowed. Anyone would have thought it was a building site.

We were in motels for the same reason rock bands were in motels. Touring.

Did I mention the time I met Thor at the Coronet Motor Inn, in Ontario?

Nothing happened between me and Thor. I don’t really go for the God type. I just crossed paths with him in the hallway and felt a bit sorry for him that he had to dress like that. It seemed like even more work than dressing up as a stripper.

We were often in motels. We were often on the road. We could make more money out of town (Toronto).

The furthest north I went was Elliott Lake, a uranium mining town. I was scared travelling alone to such an isolated place. At the time, the ratio of males to females was 10 to 1, so that in itself was scary, plus I was afraid to drink the water so I only drank juice.

The bustling centre of Elliot Lake seen from the Fire Tower Lookout

The centre of Elliot Lake seen from the Fire Tower Lookout

The motel was on the outskirts of town – strip clubs usually were.

The owner was a really nice woman so I didn’t have to deal with the usual come on we always got from the male managers. And there was a nice painting over the front desk .

It was a landscape, done locally and given to the owner’s father by the artist.

There was another dancer working there the same week as me: a friendly young Jewish guitarist and songwriter from Ottawa. So we spent time in each other’s rooms, watching television in bed, sharing our plans for the future. She wanted to be a famous singer and I wanted to be a famous comedienne in movies. This was in about 1980.

We went for meals together. I remember she was the first person to introduce me to Caesar salad, prepared by the chef at our table in the traditional manner.

The audience was made up of uranium miners who were very rowdy, enthusiastic but not obnoxious. I had so much fun doing my show that I flew off the stage and landed in the audience and broke my foot – luckily it was a Saturday so I only missed one show. I think I was spinning around semi-blindfolded when I went off the stage… I used to often break my feet in those days, but that was the first time I did it while performing.

I met one of the uranium miners years later. He was a little guy from Chile known as ‘Loco Misissauga’. I was surprised he would be in Elliott Lake which is such a remote place, but then he had been a miner in Chile.

Missisauga today

Missisauga today – once a godforsaken suburb of Toronto.

Missisauga was a godforsaken suburb of Toronto. It was one of the places I went to for work. It was where Jules Rabkin, my agent, would send us. I worked there in 1977 when I was just starting out. As I became more experienced I worked in better, more central clubs

The bars in Missisauga were awful, usually run by Greeks. I remember one club called The Oasis which was anything but an Oasis. The small stage was covered in orange shag carpet, with the ceiling done the same. Can you imagine trying to dance in stilettos on that?  Another club out there used to ask the dancers for a $50 deposit to rent a locker for the week. There was no dressing room, just a narrow hallway. So most of the dancers went to sit with the customers between shows and the waitress would take their keys off the table so they would lose their key deposit. Eventually the owner was shot dead, which was hardly surprising.

I don’t have any photos of that time, though I was one of the first adapters of the selfie with my Olympus OM 10 which I bought from a hunky Italian boy stripper I met in a Belgian porno cinema. We had to do a show together because his girlfriend was ill. I became quite close to them and bought the camera and we stayed in touch.

Anna Smith impersonates an Englishwoman in London in 1984. She borrowed the cat

Anna Smith impersonates an Englishwoman in London in 1984. She borrowed the cat

The last time I ever saw them was in about 1985. They were doing a sex show in Soho, London. They invited me upstairs. They were living above a sex shop, with its lights flashing LIVE SHOW. I went upstairs, and was surprised to see the mother of the Italian boy was up there too.

She was tiny and dressed like a stereotypical Sicilian old lady: all in black, with the headscarf and the gold earings.

I asked the boy: “But your mother? Doesn’t she mind that you are doing a sex show?”

He introduced us and the mother was all smiles.

“She doesn’t have a clue,” he told me. “She never leaves the flat. She’s actually a complete moron.”

The mother kept nodding, smiling away cheerfully, thrilled to meet me, but I must have looked worried, because her son then reassured me: “Don’t worry, she doesn’t speak English.”

I thought about my mother. I didn’t tell her everything I did but no way could I have deposited her above a sex shop in Soho for a couple of weeks.

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More drug news on deaths in Vancouver

Another busy day outside the Balmoral Hotel on Hastings Street

Another busy trading day outside the Balmoral Hotel on Hastings Street in Vancouver

Last weekend, I posted a piece from Anna Smith, this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent, about the increasing drug deaths in Vancouver, especially from “the latest drug to hit the scene” – carfentanyl.

Today, Anna has sent me an update:


A man signing a sympathy card for another fentanyl overdose victim

A man signing a sympathy card for another fentanyl overdose victim

When I arrived at my music class on Monday, there was a small memorial out on the pavement in front of the community centre for a man who had died that morning from an overdose, while in the public toilets below.

There were candles, a teddy bear, several cards that people were signing and lots of cigarettes. Tobacco is a traditional offering for indigenous people.

Nearby a tall man, who said he was a friend of the deceased, was selling Tylenol 3s.

“T3s,” he was calling out quietly. “T3s,.. T3s…”

Other people walked past calling out a chorus of other drug names:

“Oxy, Oxy, Oxy,..”

“Methadone… Methadone…”

Empty prescription bottles at the entrance of the community center

Empty prescription bottles at the entrance of the community center

A pile of empty pill bottles stood at the bottom of a column of the community centre, the names scratched out.

The soaring overdose deaths have been declared a public health crisis in British Columbia. Even though the Downtown Eastside is saturated with ambulances, the rates that people are overdosing keeps climbing.

And it is now happening not just among the regular addicts but among casual users of cocaine and heroin. A dead teenager was found in a suburban Starbucks washroom.

Staff at downtown hotels are overwhelmed by the deaths of their residents and emergency services are training because pure fentanyl is fatal to the touch.

At the weekend, I saw my nephew who works at a hotel downtown. I asked him how he has been affected and he said he has had to deal with three deaths recently. The latest was a 23 year woman old whom he injected with the antidote… but she was already dead and could not be revived.

Amazingly, the people on the streets have not lost their sense of humour.

Hotel lobby on Hastings Street

A hotel lobby on Hastings Street

You see people having a laugh, making jokes about their friends. On cheque day – the day when people get their benefit cheques – many are especially cheerful.

I heard a ragged couple – a man and woman about my age – walking nearby. They may have had a drink.

“Look at that guy,” said the man. “Do you think when I get old I’ll look like him?”

“You ALREADY look like him,” his wife replied immediately.

They are dicussing fentanyl on the radio now. A documentary film maker is talking about a film he shot about a fentanyl maker: a character called Beeker.

Beeker shows on film how he can procure fentanyl online from Asia in five minutes.

The film by Robert Osborne airs on CBC television tonight: Unstoppable: The Fentanyl Epidemic.

I should add that the people here are not just roaming the streets looking to buy elephant tranquilizer (and fentanyl).

Heroin, cocaine and amphetamines are being adulterated with carfentanyl and fentanyl so people don’t know they are ingesting it.

Ambulances waiting for overdose patients on Hastings Street

Ambulances waiting hopefully for overdose patients on Hastings Street

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Being in a video and talking tits on TV

Anna Smith hospital 2013 - CUT!

Anna Smithspent many years in very rude health

Anna Smith spent many years as a fake nurse

In yesterday’s blog, Vancouver-based occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith mentioned: “An HIV researcher has been given a $75,000 grant from the Elton John AIDS Foundation in support of his work to prevent HIV infection among Canadian sex workers. The money is going to facilitate the consultation (and possibly record a pop video of it).”

She is flying to Toronto tomorrow to take part in a discussion at the University of Toronto.

In a further email, she says:


As a long term fake nurse, I am thrilled to be involved in a real public health consultation at a university.

When in Toronto I will be collecting a copy of a short safe sex film I made in 1986. It is not online anywhere. It is  in the private collection of Martin Heath, an ex Londoner and friend of the late (eccentric comedy performer) Ian Hinchliffe. Martin is one of the founders of The Toronto International Film Festival. He is equally devoted to film and bicycles and he owns a private cinema and bicycle repair facility in downtown Toronto called Cinecycle.

In London, he worked as a film librarian for a totally eccentric wealthy left wing film collector who ordered him to destroy with an axe any film in his collection which was not in impeccable condition. Martin was supposed to document these ‘executions’ with photos. He could not bear to destroy all the imperfect films so he became adept at faking the executions and fabricating evidence of their destruction. Thus began his extraordinary collection.

I have not seen my film for over 25 years and I wasn’t even sure where it was until a year ago, so I’m looking forward to seeing it again. The last place I had seen it was at Cinecycle.

I hired a fantastic young cinematographer just out of school called Gerald Packer to do the camerawork. He is now one of the top cinematographers in Canada. He is currently doing a television comedy series called Schitts Creek.

I used the film as part of my comedy stage act which I performed dressed as a nurse at the second AIDS benefit in Toronto.

The film shows me in my World War Two nurse outfit (complete with navy blue cape) making a home visit to demonstrate the proper use of condoms. I use a gigantic plasticine penis for the demonstration. It also demonstrates why penises should not be made of plasticine. I showed the film to 200 gay men who were very excited and then gave a collective shout of No-ooooooh… when the giant penis broke in half.

I had had ten seconds of fame in a previous video in London for an Al Jarreau music video, Raging Waters.

I am the big girl, centre frame, eight seconds in,  giving the big wave, then on the left of frame, stepping towards the ship. I have vanished by 19 seconds in. The barely recognisable Sir Gideon Vein (Tony Green) is disembarking directly behind Al Jarreau. Shooting the video took hours of being on a freezing dock, for a fee of a few pounds and the opportunity to wear a snood for the first and last time ever.

I was in one other pop video in London in 1984. It was for some rock band I had never heard of. I still have no idea who they were and no idea of the song. I don’t think it was David Bowie unless he was having a really bad day.

They had rented the most amazing derelict ballroom – possibly in Bromley – that had three kinds of ceiling lights all combined on its low ceiling: mini chandeliers, those ones the mini pink lampshades and one other style, maybe fake Japanese.

I always took my own stripper costumes to any audition because invariably they were better than anything provided. At the ballroom I was immediately cast as ‘The Cigarette Girl’ and given a cheap, ill-fitting costume which I discarded and put on my much nicer outfit. The costume they gave me to put on was a corset that was ten sizes too large and some frayed fishnet tights. I had the same things in my bag but the corset fit and my tights were new.

The rock band was significantly older than us healthy young extras and they looked horribly dated to us, with their big blond hair, shiny pink or blue lamé 1970s clothing and their songs were old too, like they’d been disinterred.

But they weren’t as old as the venue, which looked like it hadn’t been used since the 1920s. We wondered how such an out-of-date band could afford to make a video.

The ever interesting Anna Smith

The ever interesting Anna Smith

I was also in a couple of the first pop videos in Canada but that was because my boyfriend was a Canadian rock star who will remain nameless until further notice. He is now a recluse and lives in a forest.

I recently saw him described as a legendary blues singer. I used to strip to his recorded music. All the other strippers thought I was so cool for that reason and he recorded some songs  especially for my act… Lady Strips the Blues was one… I was on one of his albums making loon calls.

I let CBC (the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) know that, if they ever needed a stripper to appear on TV – or radio – I was available.

One day they called me up because they were doing a talk show about breasts. This was instigated by a middle aged couple from New York who were in Toronto to promote a very serious coffee table book called Breasts. It was a very boring book. Each page had a large black and white photograph of a pair of breasts on it and none of the sets of breasts were spectacular in any way.

It was meant to show the variety of shapes and sizes breasts come in.

Being a stripper, I was used to seeing all kinds of them anyway, but it was a lot nicer to be laughing with your topless coworkers and seeing your friends laugh or bitch about their breasts. The way they were presented in the book seemed terribly clinical – in black and white, all photographed at the same angle, head-on and without the faces or anything. It was like seeing a series of mugshots of breasts.

As well as the CBC lady host and the couple, there were three guests on the TV show. One was a woman who had had her breasts made larger; one was a woman who had hers made smaller; and there was me.

First, the couple were interviewed; then the other two ladies were interviewed about why they had changed their breasts; and then the hostess turned to me.

Anna Smith as her alter ego ‘Nurse Annie'

Anna Smith as her stage alter ego ‘Nurse Annie’

Now Anna, she said, You are a stripper. Why is it, do you think, that men want see your breasts?

Well, I said, lots of the men who visit strip clubs don’t get to see them that often…

The hostess nodded: Yes. And…? 

And also, I added helpfully, I think they want to suck them.

The hostess’ reaction was just to say: Thankyou Anna.

At that time, it was risqué just to say the word ‘breast’ on television. I think she was trying to be ‘modern’ and ‘with it’.

It was broadcast live across Canada.

I was pleased with being on the show, as it had seemed a very easy way to make $100. The couple said they were thinking of doing a sequel book and asked if I was interested, so I said Sure and gave them my phone number. I thought it might be good for my career. Soon I was going to be a page three girl. In the meantime, though, I went to work back at the same old strip club.

One night, not long afterwards, I got home from work and my boyfriend – who was older and normally placid – was in an extremely agitated state. He told me: Some asshole phoned up and wanted to talk to you about your tits so I told him to Fuck Off.

I had to calm him down and tell him it was just the guy from the CBC show, and then I got upset because he had wrecked my opportunity to be in Breasts: Volume Two.

Anna Smith, Chicago Virgin

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“Dear God, sorry I haven’t written to you in a while…” it said in the guestbook

Logs_FraserRiver_VancouverAs a follow-on to yesterday’s piece from this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith, who lives on a boat near Vancouver… overnight, she sent me this.


In a Catholic Chapel at an institution that I visited recently, there was a notebook, like a guestbook, where people had written letters directly to God.

So I leafed through it.

Most were short and unhappy requests for help with medical problems, but I was struck by one friendly letter which began:

Dear God, sorry I haven’t written to you in a while…

I felt the vague urge to write something in it too – any kind of book with individual entries is tempting – but I stopped myself.

Right now, I am sitting in a chair on a deck at the tip of Lulu Island, where the Fraser River splits into three channels. I can see powerboats racing around and the river is strewn with logs from the freshet.

This is the worst time of year for drownings,

Last week one man was found dead after he crashed a jet-ski and another man vanished while swimming with a group around the foundation of a bridge.

The north arm of the Fraser River is the skinniest and maybe the spookiest. In the background is Tree Island, a burial ground.

A few nights ago in the dark, near my boat, I found a life ring (a lifebuoy, in British English) in the water, with something unidentifiable stuck in the middle. I noticed it was attached by a rope to something. I lifted it out of the water and then quickly dropped it back with a splash. I thought: It can wait until morning.

The next day I saw what it was.

One of my neighbours had put a potted lavender plant in the middle of the life ring.

“It will never grow,” said another neighbour. “Salt water.”

The best-known person I heard of dying in the Fraser River was the famed Manx landscape painter Toni Onley, who crashed his amphibious plane into it in 2004.

I was on my boat when I heard the news. I like his work.

His body was found three months after his plane crashed and I had kept wondering if it might float past. I was rather hoping it might, just so he would not be lost forever. They found him when a small boat operator noticed his body floating in a log boom, about four kilometres downstream from where his plane crashed.

He had crashed another plane on top of a glacier a few years earlier, landing on top of a crevasse and he had written an interesting description of that experience.

Just before he died, he had been practising takeoffs and landings on the river, east of Vancouver.

He had been born in Douglas, on the Isle of Man, in 1928. He moved to Canada in 1948.

In 1955, he won an award at the Western Ontario annual show of young artists. Later, he exhibited at the Royal Canadian Academy and the Canadian Society of Painters in Water Colours. His collage paintings won critical recognition and he used a Royal Canadian Academy award to fund further study in England. His award-winning painting Polar No. 1 was presented to the Tate Gallery in London for a 1963 exhibition.

When I first went to England, the thing I thought was the most fascinating was not the music or fashion or comedy. It was the plastic pudding or jello molds (jelly moulds, in British English) shaped like a sort of realistic rabbit that you could buy at Woolworths. I made crème caramel in them and red raspberry jelly rabbits.

One time, I went on a picnic in Epping Forest with John Hegley and some other comedians. I brought one of the jelly rabbits with me but we were chased out of our picnic spot by an aggressive herd of cattle.

I have a Victorian book about the regulations in Epping Forest. At that time, both photography and  dancing were not allowed in the park.

I used the jelly rabbits in my comedy act and mailed the molds to my friends in Canada. I could not understand how something so beautiful, fun and inexpensive wasn’t all over the world. I think my English friends were puzzled that I liked those molds so much.

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A naked woman is surrounded and a child reveals the secret of immortality

Copstick Fleming - Photoshop by Fred Fletch

After a week or a couple of weeks of flu (it is difficult to know exactly) everything has returned to normal for me.

Probably.

Possibly.

Well, actually, I am not too sure.

My Grouchy Club co-host – comedy critic Kate Copstick – posted on her Facebook page: “I had a strange dream about John Fleming last night. He had a head of hair like Boris Johnson and we won a trophy which was made of glass and I filled it with water and it fell over and shattered … thoughts ?

One Fred Fletch visualised the concept (above) and I think caught the essential me.

Meanwhile, Anna Smith, this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent, kept me up-to-date with happenings in our North American Dominion. She sent me an email headed: NAKED FEMALE FOOT FOUND IN SHOP.

“It was attached,” Anna added rather disappointingly, “to a naked woman… A customer walked into a Wind (mobile phone sales company) shop in downtown Vancouver and spotted a naked woman’s foot on the floor sticking out from behind a counter. She called the police who sealed the Robson Street shop and, on further investigation, they found two men with the naked woman.”

Vancouver Naked Woman story

In Vancouver, armed police surrounded a naked woman…

Sergeant Brian Montague of the Vancouver Police said that, when his men arrived, they found the door locked but spotted a naked woman and a clothed man walking around inside. Neither of the individuals, he said, were co-operative and they refused to open the door for police.

The good sergeant said negotiators and an emergency response team were then brought in and officers were stationed outside the store’s front door, with guns drawn, while more officers were located in the alley by the building’s back entrance with rams, ready to force a rear entry.

Fortunately, after about an hour, the two men opened a back door of the building and they were arrested. Police then asked the woman to come out of the building, but she was “reluctant”. After some time, police were able to enter the building and escorted the naked woman out wrapped in a white sheet.

Why the police were wrapped in a white sheet remains unclear to me.

“She was unco-operative,” said Sgt Montague, “but she also appeared to be under the influence (of drugs) at this time.”

“As you know, John,” Anna further added – a little mystifyingly – in her e-mail, “this was an unusual case, as most of the feet found on this coast are neither alive, naked or female.”

Which brings me to Philosophy.

A couple of days ago, I went to Hay-on-Wye in Wales with musical comic Ariane Sherine, a woman for whom the term ‘multi-talented’ seems an extreme understatement.

Ariane Sherine in The Spectator

Ariane Sherine sniffed for The Spectator…

That morning, The Spectator had published a piece commissioned by them from her and, on the train from London to Hereford, a magazine asked her to do another piece for them within the next week which she sent to them within two hours. They were suitably impressed.

Ariane is an education. We were in Hay-on-Wye because she had been invited to be a panellist in the big opening debate of the 11-day How The Light Gets In “philosophy and music” festival.

I had never before heard the phrase “God of the Gaps” – in which gaps in scientific knowledge are taken to be evidence or proof of God’s existence. She brought it up in the debate, which was titled The Weird and The Wonderful and discussed how, in Europe, belief in organised religion continues to decline as science advances; yet, strangely, interest in everything from ley lines to solstice rituals is increasing.

But it is not just Ariane who is an education. So is her 5-year daughter, whom I occasionally look after when Ariane is at gigs. I am now an expert on My Little Pony and the land of Equestria. But, more relevantly, I also watched an episode of cartoon series The Octonauts with her. It was about jellyfish.

The Octonauts

The Octonauts revealed the possible secret of eternal life…

As part of this particular episode, the Octonaut team was fascinated by an adult jellyfish which spontaneously turned into a baby jellyfish when (in this case) a sea turtle was chasing it… No wonder they were fucking fascinated!

It was said to be an ‘immortal jellyfish’ because, when it gets old, it can revert to being a baby again and thus, indeed, is immortal.

I was so amazed by this concept in the middle of a children’s programme filled with what appeared to be legitimate educational jellyfish information, that I looked up Wikipedia (always a place to check if something is true!)

I was astonished to find that there really IS an immortal jellyfish (Turritopsis dohrnii) which can, indeed, continue to live by reverting to an earlier stage of its existence and by repeating this process can continue indefinitely.

The immortal jellyfish

Immortal jellyfish may be fast taking over the human world…

According to Wikipedia, the immortal jellyfish is believed to have originated in the Pacific Ocean, “but has spread all over the world through trans-Arctic migrations… Turritopsis is believed to be spreading across the world as ships are discharging ballast water in ports. Since the species is immortal, the number of individuals could be rising fast. We are looking at a worldwide silent invasion, said Smithsonian Tropical Marine Institute scientist Dr Maria Miglietta.”

Apart from the risk of our entire world being over-run by a rapidly-increasing population of immortal jellyfish, why is this not an ongoing major news story on the immortality and medical fronts? The billionaire bosses of the Silicon Valley cyber companies all seem to be turning their ageing eyes to slowing down or stopping the ageing process. Is there already some Google Jellyfish program in existence that I am unaware of?

Or am I still delirious from the flu?

Or has surreality become the new reality?

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The golden age of exotic dancers remembered in a new documentary

The legendary Judith Stein

The legendary Judith Stein in the Golden Age

Two weekends ago, I came down with a very nasty flu.

When I eventually got better, I opened an email from this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith. She was raving in glowing terms about a documentary she had seen called League of Exotique Dancers.

It was a documentary about burlesque dancers in what is described as ‘the Golden Age’.

“The film,” Anna told me, “includes much never-before-seen footage of exotic dancers (much of it from a private collection of over 300 rare early black and white films of exotic dancers), photos from the private collections of the dancers themselves and interviews with the dancers today.

“And Kitten Natividad is in the movie!!!” she added. “She is hilarious! AND Russ Meyer!”

“Ah,” I replied. “The beloved Russ…”

“Russ, Russ…” agreed Anna. “Very funny indeed. He is wearing a snazzy jacket. Maybe it could inspire David McGillivray to make a jacket film. I wasn’t cultured enough to appreciate Russ Meyer movies when I was young. I preferred porn films with exotic locales and bad translations.”

Anna is not someone without knowledge of the world of exotic dancing. She told me:

“When Beneath The Valley of The Ultravixens (starring Kitten) was released, I was dancing at The Metro Cinema in Toronto. We did shows between the films. It was a vast, echoey, run-down place, but the owner was a nice foreign man who paid us really well.

“He hired me to do voice recordings on the answering machine to announce the coming attractions. I would make up exciting announcements: Chesty Morgan has just arrived from New York and will be here until Friday, four shows a day, starting at noon! Next week, Nurse Annie is flying in from Argentina to attend to your needs….

Anna as her alter ego ‘Nurse Annie'

Anna’s alter ego ‘Nurse Annie’ caused problems

“That one didn’t work out so well because a reporter from the local Spanish paper showed up wanting to interview Nurse Annie (who was me).

“The cashier was an old lady who was practically blind and often she would accidentally let small groups of twelve year old boys into the cinema. I would get out on stage and the twelve year olds would be sitting in the front row like idiots and I would storm off the stage and call the projectionist on the intercom to get them out of there.

“The League of Exotique Dancers also depicts how the dancers coped with the dramatic industry changes over the years, the hardships they overcame and then how they reacted when they were asked to return to the stage… after absences of thirty years!

“It also showed how we used to dance to live bands. And there were comedians too ! And funny strippers…

Camille in 2000 from the League of Exotique Dancers

Camille 2000 from the League of Exotique Dancers

“I was laughing through most of the movie, and crying… The film was BRILLIANT… Plus I was at a writers’ workshop for hookers all afternoon…There were eleven of us…

“On opening night in Vancouver, 66 year old Judith Stein performed a comic striptease before the movie started…

“After seeing the film (and making myself known to all in the following Q&A session) I went out with a group of directors and editors including Exotique‘s amazingly intelligent (some might say wily) young female director Rama Rau,  producer Ed Barreveld and Judith Stein.

Judith Stein (left) with Anna Smith at the documentary's Vancouver premiere

Judith Stein (left) with Anna Smith at the documentary’s Vancouver premiere

“When I asked Judith how to get into The Burlesque Hall of Fame show in Las Vegas, she asked me how old I was. I told her my age and she said: “You’re too young. You’re not allowed in until you’re sixty.“

“Don’t quote me on this, unless you can’t help it, but I have never seen a contemporary burlesque stripper move as well as the older ex-professional ones, (such as myself haha). One of the dancers in the movie noted that although she admires the efforts of contemporary burlesque dancers the fact is that, for most of them it is a hobby rather than a profession. She also admired the working strippers of today, lap dancers and pole dancers who make a lot of money and see glamorous, travel, etc. She said they work really hard for it though..

“When I see contemporary burlesque I find it usually looks a bit too contrived. Obviously, when we did the shows six and seven days a week for years on end, that experience became part of our stage presence and we became good at adapting and improvising according to the club and audience.

Anna Smith lives a quiet life near Vancouver

Anna Smith lives quietly in Canada

“Since I didn’t know anyone, but had been kindly invited along by Ed and Judith, I didn’t speak much, but sat there fascinated, listening to their astonishing and articulate discussion about film making,

Editors are fuckers…they have to be… etc.

“Somehow, toward the end of the night, I found myself hearing two men (I have no idea who they were) talking very seriously about Mr Methane.

Mr Methane?” I cried out. “I know Mr Methane!

“The two men looked at me with surprise. One of them was Irish and he said in disbelief:

You know Mr. Methane?

Well,” I said. “I mean I know who he IS… We appear in the same blog, sometimes even on the same page… Sometimes it is a bit embarrassing.

Mr Methane

Mr Methane – not a known exotic dancer

“I asked the Irishman who had shown an interest: “How do you know Mr Methane?

Oh,” he told me, a bit exhaustedly, “I have been trying to make a film about him for years… about eight years… What blog?

John Fleming’s blog,” I said.

“The man scrambled for a pen. After all, he was Irish.

Just look for TheJohnFleming,” I said.

Is he on Facebook?

He is on Facebook. He is on Twitter. He is on everything.

“I promise to Skype you when I get a phone again. I keep hoping my old (lost) phone will appear and been trying to revive several old ones without success.

“My sister on Vancouver Island has a WordPress blog about dolls… “

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