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What sort of creative creature is comic Dominic Holland, father of Spider-man?

What is Dominic Holland? 

A writer of books? A stand-up comedian? The father of Spider-man?

Yes to all three.

In 2003, he contributed to Sit-Down Comedy, an anthology of original writing by comedians which I compiled and edited with Malcolm Hardee. That’s the self-promotion over.

I thought I would talk to Dominic about his latest novel without ever mentioning his son Tom Holland – the current Marvel (soon to be Sony) movies’ Spider-man.

I failed.



“You encounter a homeless person and…”

JOHN: So, you have written five novels… and the latest, I, Gabriel, published a month ago, is about what?

DOMINIC: I have always been very exercised by homelessness. I have lived in London all my life. I used to do the Comedy Store and walk down Charing Cross Road and down The Strand and see homeless people and would give them money.

But I have a thing about hygiene. If I shake a homeless person’s hand, I start to panic. I would rather not touch them. I’m not ashamed of that. That’s just how I am. If you have no washing facilities, you’ve probably got excrement and all sorts of detritus all over your hands.

I thought: What happens if you encounter a homeless person, you shake their hand and they insist on sharing a meal with you. You don’t want to eat their sandwich, but you have to and you contract a food poisoning and it keeps you off a doomed air flight. Wouldn’t that be a great starting point for a drama? That idea has been in my head for 20 years and that’s the kernel of the story. Then I designed a character who had everything and I wanted him to have an epiphany.

The epiphany for Gabriel is that he is a man of vast success and vast wealth but actually has nothing.

It’s a 3-act book. The First Act is fleshing out his character. He is an unpleasant man. He is a very highly-paid, successful surgeon. A very rarified man, very bright. But he is lost to greed. Then he has this epiphany. He realises his life has been a sham, really. And then something rather extraordinary happens in the Third Act.

Where I am most happy abiout is that nobody – but nobody – has seen the ending coming.

JOHN: You are a Christian.

DOMINIC: Habitually. All my life I’ve been a Catholic. Big Catholic family. I have four aunts who are nuns, two uncles who are priests. My whole tradition growing up was going to mass. My boys were brought up Catholic and I like belonging to a Church. I like a feeling of belonging. I belong to the comedy circuit; I belong to the Catholic Church. But my faith, I’m afraid, is not terribly… erm… vivid. I like the punctuation of mass. I go to mass two Sundays in four. I use it as a chance to just sit there and reflect on my good fortune and what I hope to do for the rest of my little time on this mortal coil.

JOHN: Your boys were brought up Catholic…

DOMINIC: Yes. Four boys.

JOHN: What does your wife do?

DOMINIC: She’s a photographer, but she’s now giving that up to run a charity we started: The Brothers Trust. 

It has been going about 18 months/two years. We didn’t want to call it The Tom Holland Foundation. He has the platform to attract money, but we thought it might seem a little bit narcissistic and narrow because Tom’s brothers are involved.

The Brothers Trust family – The brothers Holland (left-right) Sam, Tom, Paddy and Harry with parents Dominic & Nikki

Using Tom’s cachet, we put events on and all the money we get in – less the transactional costs and the charitable costs in America – you have to employ American firms to administer them – all the money WE get, we then distribute to various charities. Our own remit is to give money to charities that struggle to be heard. Not to the big charities. To small charities and charities without the big administrative costs. We don’t personally want to support charities that have got vast numbers of people flying all over the world.

For example, we have built a hostel in India through The John Foundation, who basically take off the streets girls who have been trafficked and this very virtuous doctor and his wife house the girls and train them to become beauticians or overlockers. They get security and a skill and they’re also now making our Brothers Trust T-shirts which we are planning to sell and money from that will go to other causes we want to support.

We also support a charity in Kibera, Kenya, called Lunchbowl – they feed kids every day; we have bought them two 40-seater buses to take kids from the slums to-and-from school.

We support a charity in Britain called Debra which looks after kids with EB (Epidermolysis Bullosa), a pernicious disease where your skin is effectively like tissue paper – there’s 5,000 people in the UK with it. It’s the same number of people with cystic fibrosis, but no-one’s ever heard of it

JOHN: You have also written a book about Tom: EclipsedWhat’s the elevator pitch for that?

“For me, the story was perfectly-formed…”

DOMINIC: It’s the story of how a young boy is spotted inadvertently, finds himself dancing on the West End stage whilst his dad is doing comedy gigs in village halls… That kid goes on to become a movie star and his old man is still playing the same clubs he was 20 years ago.

JOHN: “Spotted inadvertently”? 

DOMINIC: Tom was spotted at a local YMCA disco dancing class and he ended up playing the lead in Billy Eliot in the West End… As I say in Eclipsed, it’s a fluke. The whole thing has been a fluke. A happy fluke.

JOHN: You say ‘village halls’, but you did play places like the Comedy Store in London.

DOMINIC: Yes but, John, you know and I know that, back in the day, I was mooted as one of the ‘Next Big Things’ – and it didn’t happen. And there’s no rancour on my part. I performed at the Comedy Store last weekend and I’m proud to be on that stage because a lot of my mates from my generation aren’t doing it any more. The fact that I’m still being booked to go on last at The Comedy Store means you’ve got chops. I would love to have made it. I didn’t. But, for the book, it’s a perfect juxtaposition. For me, the story was perfectly-formed.

My first novel Only in America was spawned from selling a screenplay. I did a gig in 1995 in Cleethorpes. Didn’t get paid. Long way. I was on the train coming home to London, cold. I had already won the Perrier Award as Best Newcomer at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1993, I had been on television, I was becoming well-known. So I thought: This is rubbish! I can’t keep going to Cleethorpes for no money. I’m going to write a film.

So I wrote a film and sold it to Norma Heyman, who is the mother of David Heyman – He produced all the Harry Potter films. Norma Heyman’s husband John was a big-shot producer. 

Norma Hayman said to me: “You are the new Frank Capra.”

JOHN: Wow!

DOMINIC: I didn’t even know who Frank Capra was. I had to look him up. But I had these very exciting meetings in Soho and, over the next two or two-and-a-half years, I sold that script two or three times and then it fell over. But that story inspired my first novel Only in America.

Dominic Holland in Soho, London, last week

I then sold Only in America to the BBC and to Hollywood film producers. I went to Los Angeles and had meetings with Big Time agents who said: “This is great! We’re gonna make your movie! Frank Oz was going to direct; Bette Midler was going to be in it… And then it fell over.

So, when Tom started on his journey in the West End, it was a funny story in my head… When he was cast in his first movie (The Impossible, 2012) and was long-listed for an Oscar… THAT for me was a perfect story, because I had tried and failed and Tom was succeeding.

So I end the story on a Los Angeles red carpet with Tom being long-listed for an Oscar and I thought: Well, that’s a hilarious story. I had been spending all this energy trying to make it as a writer and become a new Richard Curtis and, with no problem at all, my boy was going: Dad! Watch! Over here! and making it…!

I finished the book when he was 16 and, since then, he has become a proper movie star.

I didn’t get films made. It’s a small nut to crack and most people don’t crack it and I am one of that ‘most’. But, being one of the ‘most’ and having failed, I was then presented with a beautiful piece of storytelling. Here’s my failed efforts to make it in Hollywood and then here’s my bloody son, with no efforts, BOOM!… and I’m thrilled.

People say to me: “Are you jealous?” and I think: Well, if you think that, you don’t know who I am.”

JOHN: Fuck me, well I’m jealous but, then, he’s not my son…

(BELOW, TOM HOLLAND, PROMOTING SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME IN BALI, AS VIDEOED BY HIS BROTHER HARRY HOLLAND)

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Praising the Lord in Kenya, as dirt is shovelled over a dead 12 year old boy…

Copstick is in Kenya

Journalist, comedy critic and charity-founder Kate Copstick is currently in Kenya.

She is, once again, working there with her charity Mama Biashara.

Here are the latest extracts from her journal.

Fuller versions are posted on the Mama Biashara Facebook page.


Moses (left) enjoying his favourite nyama choma (roast meat)

Friday 26th April

We head for Mutalia, near Ruai, to visit the family of Moses who died of meningitis last Monday, aged 12. Mama Biashara buys him a coffin. And coffins are important in Kenya. 

We were with Moses in 2010, when he arrived at Felista’s suffering from extreme malnutrition. His baby brother had a serious chest infection, his sisters had infections in liver and spleen and his big brother had a growth on his back. 

Their ‘father’ had abandoned them after their mother died. That was 2010. Their great uncle took them in when they left Felista and Mama Biashara paid school fees and bills. Now the children are with their great aunt. ‘Great’ both in the sense of being their great uncle’s wife and ‘great’ in looking after them when she herself has very little and four children of her own. They call her mum.

All the children flourished. But Moses was the little academic star. He was always No 1 or No 2 in his class. He wanted to be an engineer. He was so much fun. Lively and lovely. And now he is dead. Science tells us we are all stardust, but Moses, more than most. I hope that wherever he is, whatever he is, he is shining brightly.

President Uhuru Kenyatta was seeking a loan from China

Saturday 27th

The market is full of people worrying about the Chinese invasion, new taxes and getting angrier by the second at a government that borrows vast fortunes to build roads while people starve. Everyone – even the Kikkuyu – is finding some happiness in the fact that the president has just come from a trip to China without the extra extra extra loan he went asking for. 

“The Chinas say No. I am very happy,” says one of my pals and we all nod vigorously. 

The personal debt of each individual Kenyan is calculated to be just over £1,000. Much more than a huge percentage of them see in a year. 

Now, do not get me wrong. I am a HUGE fan of their cuisine, the noodle is my staple food. I am in awe of their State Circus and their religion seems lovely. I personally do not have a phone made there, but many of my best friends do. However, the Chinese have all but destroyed the Kenyan fishing people in Lake Victoria. 

Our ladies (and men) who were doing SO well for many years have now returned to prostitution, Doris says.

What happened was this. 

The Chinese came, at the invitation of the Kenyan Government, they saw, they liked the tilapia and the tilapia business. They bought entire boatloads of fish, removed the eggs, shipped them back to China and now China farms Lake Victoria tilapia and sells it back to Kenya where it is bought, frozen, sold in supermarkets, because it is much cheaper than the fresh stuff which comes from Lake Victoria. And the Kenyan Government allows this to happen. The Kenyan fishing people of Lake Victoria are collateral damage. 

Moses: “He was so much fun. Lively and lovely. And now he is dead. Meningitis”

Tuesday 30th April

Today is Moses’ burial. 

Langata Cemetary is huge and we are over at the back amongst what Felista tells me are temporary graves for those who cannot afford permanent resting places. 

There is a huge crowd. People from the school, people from churches and I have no idea who else. Also a couple renting out chairs, a bloke selling peanuts and someone setting up a little stall selling soft drinks and snacks just behind the seating area. 

We take our places and, as a tiny, shiny little man in a shiny suit welcomes us, there is much clanking as scaffolding for a gazebo tent is erected and the coffin placed underneath. 

I am invited to sit with the family which is very touching and a great honour. Dinah has pretty much arranged everything and I think it is due to her that so many have come. 

The proceedings start with the tiny, shiny man explaining that we should all be rejoicing because this was God’s plan for Moses. I am thinking that, if it was, it was a rubbish plan. 

We then sing for around ten minutes about how great the Lord is and how wonderful/excellent/glorious/powerful/great/amazing/fabulous is his name, clapping and doing that step-dig step so beloved of the Four Tops. 

Then there is a lovely, lovely bit where people come up and talk a little about Moses (including, in an unexpected turn of events, me). 

Dinah spoke wonderfully and some kids from the school sang. But, apart from that, it was like an extended episode of Nairobi’s Got Pastors. 

There were about six or seven of them, welcomed to the microphone by the tiny, shiny man who has missed his vocation as a comedy club MC because he really whipped up the applause for each pastor. And the pastors’ wives. And every church elder who was with us. And anyone who ran a youth group, church choir or had at any time had anything to do with any church. 

I understood about 60% of what each of the suited and booted septet was saying but no one really mentioned Moses.

They name-checked their churches and I wish I had counted the number of times the words Bwana Sifiwe (Praise be to God) were uttered because I think a record must have been broken. 

I am invited to view the body. I say goodbye and wipe dust off the window covering him. Then there is a scramble for others to see him. 

I have no idea who these people are. 

There is more extended praising of Jesus’ name in song.

The family (and I) are surrounded by the suited and booted ones and prayed over with still no mention of Moses. And then we go to the graveside, marching, as we do, over dozens of unmarked graves. 

Now things rachet up a notch with much howling. 

As Moses goes into the grave, a brightly-dressed woman flings herself to the ground and threshes around shrieking. Most ignore her, but she upsets the small children. 

It turns out that she is an aunt. The mother’s sister. It turns out there is actually a family who have ignored these kids for the nine years they have been with Mama Biashara. The shrieking one is a little late in her feelings for her nephew. 

We stand as the grave is filled-in, which is horrible.

It is made even more horrible by a weeny woman with a bad weave who bursts into enthusiastic song about rejoicing. 

She really goes for it. 

For a long long time. 

Praising the Lord, as dirt is shovelled over a dead twelve year old boy.


Mama Biashara works with the poorest and most marginalised people in Kenya. It gives grants to set up small, sustainable businesses that bring financial independence and security. It offers training and employment in everything from phone repairs to manicures. It has built a children’s home, which it still supports. It has created water-harvesting solutions for drought-devastated areas. And it helps those fleeing female genital mutilation, forced marriage, sex slavery and child rape. It receives no grants and survives totally on personal donations (and sales at its shop in Shepherds Bush, London), 100% of which go to its work, none of which goes to Kate Copstick. She herself covers all her own personal expenses, including her accommodation costs and her travel costs.
www.mamabiashara.com

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How illegal detentions of the poor are continuing in Kenyan hospitals…

Last week’s meeting of the monthly Grouchy Club in London

British journalist Kate Copstick’s charity Mama Biashara was set up to give small start-up grants to disadvantaged people in Kenya to fund small self-sustaining businesses.

But it also gets involved in other social problems it encounters.

During her most recent visit to Kenya, I posted extracts from Copstick’s diary.

When last posted, there was an unresolved story about a penniless 14-year-old girl called Faith who had been raped by her father, recently given birth to his child and was being illegally held in an overcrowded ward (2 to a bed) at Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi.

Copstick has now returned to the UK.

During last week’s meeting of Copstick’s Grouchy Club, held at Mama Biashara’s charity shop in London, I asked what had happened to Faith…


The administration block of Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi

COPSTICK: I spent many days in Kenyatta trying to organise her release. It’s horrific. Kafka could never write anything to compare.

A couple of days before I was leaving Kenya I thought we had done it and then we just lost grip. I had been about to go to the press…

JOHN: I thought you had already gone to the press.

COPSTICK: Well, the Standard ran an article. But I think that was just because they picked up on all the stuff I’d been venting and then what they had were stories of the same thing happening in other hospitals.

But Faith is out of Kenyatta now and so is the baby. We got the Children’s Services involved and they went to court and they got a court order for Faith to be released… Imagine having to get a court order to get a little girl out of hospital…!

I left Kenya on the Sunday. She was released with the court order on the Tuesday.

She’s out but, unfortunately, because she had been detained illegally in the hospital for so long, by the time she was released her newborn baby had got an infection. So the baby is not well and now Faith has developed an infection and they are too terrified to let her go back to Kenyatta in case it all starts again. 

JOHN: Do they know what the infection is?

COPSTICK: Well, just one of those ghastly I’ve been kicking around in a hospital for too long infections.

JOHN: At least Mama Biashara got her out, though.

COPSTICK: She is out but now we… There is a new problem with a girl who was gang raped by three men. Everyone is too terrified to take her to Kenyatta Hospital, because it will just all be a nightmare. So she has gone to Nairobi Women’s Hospital. She is going to have to have a full hysterectomy because… well, when you are 11 years old and you are gang raped by three men double-teaming you, your insides end up pretty much mush. 

That was about four weeks ago. And because there’s been no money, she’s just been there. She has to sleep on her front because there is too much pain and there is basically vast amounts of pus. There is no morphine; there is no anything. You might get paracetamol if you are lucky.

So she is now at Nairobi Women’s Hospital where they will do a full hysterectomy they’ve said… That will cost – by the time she has had the operation – probably £1,500.

JOHN: Presumably there is no equivalent to Britain’s National Health Service.

COPSTICK: There is no health service as such. There is a government hospital. But all they are really interested in is getting any money that they possibly can off of anyone. And nobody is prepared to take responsibility for anything at all ever.

What happens all the time in Kenya is that you go in, you have your operation or whatever you want and then they don’t let you out because you can’t pay your bill. And every day that you are kept in they charge you. So your bill goes up and up and up and up. 

What happens is that you get people living rough in the grounds of the big hospitals. So when you go there, people are being kept within the hospital grounds. They live rough within the hospital grounds sometimes with their children. In places like Kenyatta, there is actually a small like a kindergarten school which has grown up because there are children who spend so much of their young lives there that they go to school there forever.

JOHN: And because they are living in the grounds, they have to pay more…?

COPSTICK:  They are charged for everything and they are detaining people because they can’t pay their bill, so the bill just keeps rising. It’s pretty-much standard. Private hospitals, government hospitals, everything hospitals.

Last year, a guy brought a case against Nairobi Women’s Hospital because his father had gone in, had an operation, couldn’t pay the bill and they were detaining him and the bill just escalated and escalated and it was a like a million shillings which is about £10,000. And the guy took the hospital to court saying that it was an infringement of his father’s rights. In the Kenyan constitution as well as some of the U.N. rulings, you have the right to ‘freedom of person’ – freedom of movement. 

And he argued quite cleverly that detaining his father in the hospital was an infringement of his right to freedom of movement and freedom of person. And the judge agreed and this is massive –  humongous. It was all over the newspapers. 

But it doesn’t make that much difference because, in Kenya, nobody tells the little people about any of these things so they didn’t get to know about any of that which is why the leaflets that Mama Biashara sends out – showing what their rights are – are so important. We give everybody the knowledge. 

When I was in Kenyatta I said to one of the heads of one of the departments who don’t give a shit: “You know there is a High Court ruling…”

Kenya has a common law system because it’s based on the English legal system and that means that the last highest decision in a court is the law. 

I said: “So in this case, this is the decision and this is now the law.” 

And the woman turned around and said to me: “Not here.” 

Inside some place like Kenyatta Hospital, they are just a law unto themselves.


Copstick takes no money of any kind for herself from the Mama Biashara charity and covers none of her own costs in running the charity nor for travelling to and from and living in Kenya.

Mama Biashara itself gets no official funding of any kind and relies solely on donations and from sales of goods in its shop at Shepherds Bush, London. The website is HERE.

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What Kate Copstick and her charity has to deal with on a daily basis in Kenya

Feared comedy critic,  outspoken journalist and former on-screen sidekick of the Chuckle Brothers, Kate Copstick has been in Kenya for the last two-and-a-half weeks. It is where her Mama Biashara charity works.  

She keeps a diary while she is there. Here are a few recent, brief, very, very highly edited excerpts which give a slight hint at some of what she has to face on a daily basis.


Sunday 27th January

I sleep in. I took my methotrexate injection yesterday evening and am beset by mild nausea and dizzy headachiness.

Tuesday 29th January

It promises to be a packed day. I have to go back to Kenyatta Hospital, this time to help the Mary Faith Home get a girl – Faith – who is being detained there (ILLEGALLY) because her bill has not been paid. She is 14 years old. 

She was raped by her father. She gave birth two weeks ago, since when she has been held there – in a ward where expectant or postpartum mothers sleep two to a single bed (or on the floor) with their newborns. A victim of incestuous rape, she is now sharing a bed with a stranger. 

I meet the matron of the maternity ward. 

The matron (if, indeed, this stone-faced, acrylic-haired person IS the matron) is completely disinterested in the fact that what they are doing is illegal. The girl, she intones, should have got medical insurance. 

The first thought, of course, of any 14 year old raped by her father, would be: Note To Self, get medical insurance just in case I am pregnant by my rapist father.

I can feel an unhelpful outburst bubbling and I stomp out. 

We go and see another lady who is Kenyatta’s One Good Person. She is not happy. She phones around. She speaks to the right people. And NHIF (Kenya’s fairly new National Insurance scheme) will pay the bill. And she will ‘have a word’ with the supposed matron of the maternity ward.

“I am very much like you,” she says to me. “Perhaps we are sisters.”

I am very flattered.

We go and deliver a pair of crutches (thank you Age UK (Hammersmith & Fulham)) to Kibe, who is delighted to be home from Kenyatta.

We hear more horror stories from inside Kenyatta. The number of people who go there and simply rot away is terrifying. And, once they have you in your 1,500 Kenyan Shillings per day bed, they will put every obstacle in the way of a transfer out. 

“It is hell,” says Kibe. “Hell”. 

I get back to Corner and get a call. The girl Faith is still in “hell”. 

I did not get the details but, when push came to shove, the hospital refused to let her go.

Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

Thursday 31 January

We had another bomb in Nairobi earlier in the week. But it was hardly in the news at all. I think a couple of people were killed and about twenty injured. 

However, it was in quite a skanky part of town: Odeon Roundabout. The people around there are mainly hawkers and other people who are: 

  1. not rich 
  2. not involved in international politics 
  3. not white.

And so the rather big explosion was not reported. 

It worries me much more than the big internationally covered bomb at Westlands.

I spend quite a bit of time near the Odeon Roundabout and loads of people I know/have funded have workshops there. No idea what might be in it for Al-Shabaab to attack.

I have been feeling a bit odd – utterly exhausted (for no reason) to the point of not being able to get up stairs and bad headaches – and this morning is not a great morning.

We make for Jamibora. It is the weirdest of places. A sort of gated community of stone houses which was apparently funded by a white bloke so people from the slums could get a better life and a new home. 

People started saving with Jamibora Bank, very little by very little, to buy their new home. And then the houses were sold over their heads to people with ready cash. 

It took, says my friend Mwangi, years for them to get any money back. Oddly, most of the houses are empty but one is owned by another Mama Biashara lady who made the most of her grant and is yet another of our network of ‘safe houses’. 

Today’s groups looking for funding from Mama Biashara have come from Loitoktok and elsewhere in Kajiado County. Far away, basically. They did not feel safe meeting in Kitenhela or Sultan Hamud (our original plan) so we are out here in a safe house. 

The people’s problems are the same. These are all groups of other tribes living in Maasai communities. Now the Maasai want them out. They are physically and sexually assaulted. I get a list of attacks with spears, knives, rungus (big heavy stick with a knuckle on the end) and pangas (machetes). 

It is very hard for them to use the word rape. They will say “They hold the children” or “They take the children” or describe it as “bad behaviour” or “unsuitable behaviour” and I have to push and push to find out what any of this means. It means rape. 

I apologise to them and explain that it is important to know. And to use the words that tell the truth. I tell them (last resort) that Jesus said, “The truth will set you free”. They are very impressed and mutter “Amen”. I feel slightly dirty. However we do get some more details. 

In one group the main problem is that the Maasai men want to marry the daughters of the group. And this means enforcing female genital mutilation. They are becoming quite insistent and the mothers are terrified.

A call to the Mary Faith Home confirms that Faith is still being illegally detained by Kenyatta Hospital. With her newborn child. Mary herself was so stressed today that she had a bit of a moment and fainted. Her blood pressure is, she says, worryingly high. Mine is generally low but if anything could turn me hypertensive, the goings on in Kenyatta Hospital can.

Friday 1st February

I go to Milimani Law Courts. This is where Lady Justice Wilfreda Okwany sits. She is the judge who made the game changing ruling in October last year. That ruling states that it is illegal for a Kenyan hospital to detain a patient for non-payment of fees. Illegal. But the law of Kenya “does not apply here” according to the staff at Kenyatta. 

I am thinking the good Lady Justice might be able to help me help them see the error of their ways. A tailored jacket and an authoritative manner go a long way. As does a document file under the arm and a grasp of legalese. But people are very helpful and very quickly I get to meet her clerk. The Lady Justice is on holiday (confirmed by a couple of people and a quick look at the register) but I have her clerk’s email and I am putting together a document which I hope she might read. Fingers crossed, anyway.

On the way back, Facebook tells me the British comedian Jeremy Hardy is dead. This is just another example of the world being too unfair to be the project of any kind of thinking deity. Jeremy was a wholly, honestly, hilariously brilliant political comedian. And a totally decent human being. 

Just in case he is listening from The Place Where The Good Guys Go, he might be amused by the conversation I had with David as we reach Corner. 

“You are very silent,” says David. 

“I am sad,” I say. “A very good man has died.” 

There is a pause. 

“Cancer,” I say. 

David nods. 

“Which cancer was it ?” he asks. “Was it the prostitute cancer?”

I smile all the way the Mary Faith home to drop off the beads for more Happy Bags. 

Faith is still not out of Kenyatta Hospital. Still illegally detained. But now she has locked herself in a toilet because the court (The hearing was today but she could not go to identify her father as the man who raped her because Kenyatta will not release her) told her father she was in Kenyatta Hospital and he sent one of his goons (who have already tried to get rid of her once) round to the hospital. Luckily, Faith saw him before he saw her and locked herself in the loo. A 14 year old rape victim. 

I am going to try and find someone in the media who will help. And talk (if I can get a contact) to the BBC who have a MASSIVE place here. 

The monsters are among us. 

I think it is time we got among the monsters.

I can feel my old documentary making roots tingling.

… CONTINUED HERE


Mama Biashara exists totally on donations and from sales of goods in its shop at Shepherds Bush, London. The website is HERE.

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Kate Copstick on Kenyan problems in a country changing fast for good or bad

Copstick at Mama Biashara’s shop in London

Comedy critic and journalist Kate Copstick is currently in Kenya, working with her charity Mama Biashara.

The charity, among other things, aims to help people out of poverty by giving them start-up money (and advice) to create their own small, self-sustaining businesses. 

But changes in Kenya are currently causing major problems for Mama Biashara and the people it helps, as these latest extracts from Copstick’s diaries show.

The extracts have been edited by me for length. The uncut originals are on the Mama Biashara Facebook page.


Hawkers at Mwariro Market, in Kariokor, Nairobi

MONDAY 

David arrives and we go off to Kariokor to get bag shells and beads so that the Mary Faith girls can start making the Happy Bags to sell in the Mama Biashara charity shop in London.

En route David helpfully points out buildings that have been demolished in the new wave of destruction. We also pass endless stretches of roadside where there used to be little kiosks and small Mama Biashara level businesses. Now there is nothing. I have absolutely no idea in what way this could be seen as an improvement. 

Kariokor is baking under the sun. David drops me at the British High Commission for my meeting with Geraint Double-Barrelled (not his real name). 

We sit in the High Commission’s garden and talk about: 

  1. the ‘Fast Track’ grant he had suggested I apply for but the application form for which absolutely defeated me with its demands for a log matrix and committees for every step of the way. Geraint is hugely sympathetic. He says that the guys who put these forms together have more or less lost the ability to speak ‘human being’. By the time we have gone through a few things, he has me convinced to try again, wade through the ghastly jargon and go for it for The Phoenix Project.
  2. my idea to bring a group of the Mama Biashara suppliers – the real artisans – over to the UK and do a sort of cultural/Mama Biashara business showcase is not feasible, he says. Apparently not with something so small. Although if we can find a sponsor… 
  3.  the ongoing problem of the sexual assaults being carried out by members of the British Army in Kenya on the young women of Nanyuki. We were alerted to this about a year ago. I could find no-one who would speak to me. This is nowhere near Geraint’s remit but he listened sympathetically and says he will flag it up to the Deputy High Commissioner. He is a genuinely decent bloke. 

We go back into town. Doris wants to eat at the Pork Place and, over delicious chunks of pork and a bottle of beer, I discover why she is feeling so ‘overwhelmed’. 

It is not only in Nairobi town that the City Councils have turned on the small businesses. Out in Kenol, where Doris lives, the bulldozers are sent in at night to destroy small kiosks and roadside stalls. She was awoken by the screaming and crying of the business people as they saw their livelihoods wiped out. 

She has been fielding calls from hysterical Mama Biashara people from Rongai where the same thing is happening. Anything and anyone not doing business inside private property is bulldozed, arrested and/or has their goods confiscated. Hundreds of small businesses have been ground into the dust in just a couple of days. Many are businesses that Mama Biashara started. 

All the ladies who used to sell in the huge traffic jams for which Rongai is famous have been arrested and beaten up or lost their stock when running away. 

Then Purity called from Limuru to say that it is happening there too. All Mama Biashara’s second hand book businesses have been demolished; there is now not a single small business to be seen. It is like a ghost town, says Purity. 

All of this on the orders of Kiambu Governor Waitoto in Limuru (who actually started out as a hawker himself) and Governor Mike Sonko in Nairobi. It is an absolute disaster. And utterly overwhelming. 

The same is, according to Vicky, happening in Mombasa and along the coast. It is as if the rich in Kenya have declared out-and-out war on the poor. There is no option for people at these levels. No social security, no benefits of any kind at all. Once the business is wiped out as comprehensively as is happening now, they have, literally, nothing. So desperate men turn to crime, women turn to prostitution and a lot of people just die. It may well be that this is the plan. 

In terms of what Mama Biashara does, we can no longer set up these tiny seed businesses that have grown so well over the years. No-one, it seems, can do any kind of anything on public land. 

TUESDAY

The Mama Biashara peeps I had told about the meeting with Mr Double-Barrelled are disappointed that I am not off buying their tickets to London but, I reassure them, I am not giving up. 

Land Securities – our longtime benefactors and landlords in London – might just be interested in sponsoring a sort of cultural thingy – to tour their many shopping malls maybe. We shall see.

They have been extraordinarily good to us.

We meet up with Doris and Purity and discuss the awfulness of the social cleansing pogrom the cities and towns are perpetrating.

The Powers That Be have the following reasons for these Clearances…

The President is obsessed with his ‘legacy’ (standing at 221 billion debt to the Chinese at the mo) of infrastructure. Roads are being built, forced through, widened and, in many cases, yes, massively improved all over the cities. 

But this has only a negative effect on the poorest of people. You can die by the side of a beautifully constructed superhighway going somewhere you will never see. 

There is a huge black economy here in Kenya and the hawkers are part of it. Pretty much all the starter Mama Biashara businesses are.

In Nairobi – and here I sympathise with the Powers That Be – you could walk along, say, River Road, and hawkers are elbow to elbow. 

But there are also shops there, frequently selling the same stuff as the hawkers, except paying massive rents and taxes and whatnot. So it seems fair that you cannot hawk outside a shop selling the same as you, or block its entrance. 

But, in true Mama Biashara fashion, Purity is already finding a way through the destruction for our ladies. FYI Purity got her starter grant about seven years ago and her businesses are doing really well, have expanded, moved and, wherever she is, she is our eyes and ears on the ground and she is SO helpful to the women. 

Most roadside shops are built on a concrete platform with a wee bit that pokes out the front. If our people are there, they are safe. So Purity has been going around asking shopkeepers – and frequently being asked by them because bodies on the stoop are good security – if our people can do their business on the stoop (no sniggering at the back, you know what I mean). 

This is our way forward. Our ladies who work inside buildings doing food etc are all OK and another way we are going forward is simply to make our stuff that is so popular (like the samosas) and the clients have to send a bike to the village to collect.

Nairobi – It is changing fast, but is it always for the better?

WEDNESDAY

The road building is evident everywhere. Massive structures have gone up in Kenol where, at some point, there will be a flyover. Miles of roadside are now just rubble, waiting for a road extension.

If they had any sense they would bang on an emissions tax and every lorry and matatu that belches out thick – bordering on solid – black gunk would either pay up, clean up, or get off the road. Revenue, ecology and easing traffic… But, of course, the lorries and matatus are owned by Big People so nothing bad happens to them. 

Suswa has become HUGE since last I was there. And all the way along the road across the Rift Valley there are huge new developments. Mainly Chinese, once you get close enough to read the writing. Or Somali. But the landscape is no longer flat. Suswa now has a big hotel, a hot springs spa thing and a tourist centre where you can go and watch the Parliament of Monkeys.

… CONTINUED HERE


Mama Biashara is totally financed from sales in its London charity shop and by individual donations. You can donate here.

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Copstick and the abused Kenyan girls

Kate Copstick is Mama Biashara

The UK’s most influential comedy critic, Kate Copstick, is currently working with Mama Biashara, the charity she started in Kenya.

This is the (edited) second series of extracts from her diary. The first was posted a couple of days ago.

The full version is on the Mama Biashara Facebook page.


SATURDAY

The government has closed the forests and so there is pretty much no (legal) charcoal or firewood.unless it comes in from Tanzania at exorbitant cost. Fine for the rich but very unfine for the poor who cannot afford gas, much less electricity to cook with. 

We have had huge success with recycled fuel briquettes using a variety of biowaste according to region. Unfortunately our success drew the attention of the charcoal cartels (oh yes there are such things) and our groups were either physically attacked or threatened into submission. So our groups have split up into smaller, less threatening-looking chunks and spread out. We are teaching people how to make the briquettes so they can use them themselves and save money.

Two of the Mama Biashara Mary Faith children (posed so as to obscure their identities)

SUNDAY

I go to see Mary Faith.

New girls have been rescued and five of the older girls have been turned away from school because there is no money for school fees.

Firstly Lucy, who is paralysed and a little bit intellectually challenged. Ideal, then, for the men around her to have some fun with.

She was brought to Mary Faith pregnant and she refused to have a termination because she says she wants someone to love her and she thinks the baby will be that someone. Because of the paralysis she needs a Caesarean Section. Two hundred quid.

Then there is Diana, who is four years old and an absolute joy. She stares at me and asks me what I am. I tell her I am a shosho (an old lady). She grabs my arm and scratches gently. She looks at me and asks if my legs are the same as my arms. I roll up my leggings and she shrieks with laughter. She makes me pull them up further. We further inspect my tummy, my back and my bottom, all to hoots of amusement and amazement. Then she inspects my hair – to see if it is real. 

Mary Faith and I tell her that there are lots of people like me. She is wide eyed. She is a little odd and has a stammer, but then she saw her mother beaten and running for her life and then she herself was raped and then abandoned, outside their locked house, by her father. 

So that would tend to make you a bit stammery. At four. But we do counting and singing and she thinks my name is funny, so she is doing really well. 

And then there are the girls who have been sent away from school because there is no money for fees. The fees are about one hundred pounds per girl per term. They are all working really hard at their studies 

Jane is 16 and has a three year old son. She was abused by a family friend and abandoned.

Teresia is 17 and has a daughter aged 3. She was married off at age 14 in order to use the dowry to pay a debt that her grandfather had managed to incur.

Doris is also 17 and was also married off at age 14 by her uncle after both her parents died. The uncle sent Doris’s three siblings with her from West Pokot to her new marital home in Nairobi so she could look after them. Obviously, he wanted nothing to do with them once he had her dowry. She got pregnant, miscarried and was bleeding heavily for six months after her husband abandoned her because she was obviously no good at having children. All four of the family are with Mary Faith. Doris still has appalling gynaecological issues.

Rafina is 16 and is the mother of a two and a half year old boy. She was raped by her paternal uncle in the family home and then, when the pregnancy was apparent, taken to the centre of Nairobi and abandoned. She was sleeping rough when some of the street boys who knew about Mary Faith brought her to the home.

Margaret is 16 and was abused by neighbours when her parents died and she was left alone looking after her siblings. All are now with Mary Faith.

Finally there is Berine, another new girl, aged 16. She was sent by family (after her parents died) to Dandora as a house girl. Sold, basically. There she was abused and impregnated by her employer. As soon as this Prince Charming saw she was pregnant, he threw her out. She found occasional shelter with street sex workers but when she gave birth they also threw her out. 

She was living rough for weeks when the street boys rescued her and brought her to Mary Faith.

So there you have it. I am really hoping Mama Biashara People can come up with the school fees. Even the money for the Caesarean Section. I do not know how you choose who to help. (Donations can be made HERE.)

In other, other news, inspired by Janey Godley, I am working with a group of young guys here who do art and ceramics and all sorts of stuff to see if we can come up with a Mama Biashara T-shirt design and they will handpaint them. Watch this space.

… CONTINUED HERE

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Critic Kate Copstick needs money and is offering to provide feel-good pampering

Kate Copstick at the Mama Biashara shop in Shepherds Bush, London

Kate Copstickdoyenne of British comedy critics, founded and runs the Mama Biashara charity which, in Kenya, gives small grants and advice to impoverished individuals, mostly women, to start self-sustaining small businesses which may help them get out of poverty. The charity’s slogan is A Hand Up, Not a Hand Out.

It survives solely on donations and on money raised at the Mama Biashara shop in Shepherds Bush, London. The shop is also the venue for the free, monthly, open-to-all meetings of the comedy industry’s Grouchy Club.

Mama Biashara, in search of more funds for its charity work, is holding a special event in a fortnight (Saturday 7th April, from 2.00pm). I talked to Copstick about it at the shop.


JOHN: So Mama Biashara’s philosophy is…?

COPSTICK: Well, an awful lot of charities are about infrastructure and about ‘things’ – an office or a school or a this or a that. I have always thought you should invest in people and then people can build the things.

JOHN: And neither you nor the volunteers in London nor the volunteers in Kenya get paid any money from the charity.

COPSTICK: No. They’re volunteers. That’s why I am looking for someone to help build a shed in my back garden in London. I am going to Airbnb my flat and move into a shed in my garden, to try and keep afloat financially.

JOHN: So what’s this Saturday thing in a fortnight?

COPSTICK: You know what it is, for ’twas at the Grouchy Club that this idea was born.

JOHN: What idea would that be?

COPSTICK: To be fair, John, I only have a vague recollection, because quite a lot of Jura had been drunk – a delicious single malt whisky brought to the table by the even more delicious Martha McBrier.

Maybe 75% of the money we spend in Kenya is made here in the Mama Biashara emporium of loveliness in Shepherds Bush. However, of late, the emporium of loveliness has not been attracting as many people as it should.

Footfall at Mama Biashara’s shop is affected by supermarkets

JOHN: Why?

COPSTICK: For the last year-and-a-half because the Morrisons supermarket opposite closed, which decimated the footfall. We are now starting to get it back because a Lidl has opened opposite.

At this month’s Grouchy Club, the lovely Samantha Pressdee brought some gorgeous Neal’s Yard stuff and she came up with the idea of a sort of pamper day in aid of Mama Biashara and Martha McBrier revealed herself to be a tarot card reader.

JOHN: As is Samantha…

COPSTICK: Indeed so. She has a done it at the Grouchy Club. And here at Mama Biashara, we have a lovely lady who comes in once or twice a week who sells and uses medicinal grade aromatherapy oil. In fact, the morning after the Grouchy Club at which this plan was hatched I came in, unsurprisingly, with a fairly highly-developed hangover.

I said to her: Headache.

She said: Try peppermint oil.

I said: I don’t like peppermint. I’m a big spearmint fan. But don’t like peppermint.

The Mama Biashara afternoon event will also involve raffle prizes like this one donated by Samantha Ruth Pressdee

She put a tiny little drop of medicinal grade essential peppermint oil, grown in Washington State, on the back of my hand and said: Lick that.

As you lick it, you have to breathe in. And, well, it is like somebody has taken the top off your head. Suddenly everything becomes clear, your tubes are clear, your chest feels clear… Hangover… gone! Extraordinary.

So she is going to be coming along on the Saturday afternoon. And there will be people doing foot massage and whatnot. I am going to try and get some live drumming music and it may well be that we have a comedy show in the evening.

JOHN: So people will come into Mama Biashara for free and can look around the shop as normal…

COPSTICK: Yes. It’s sort of an open day. And there will be these added extras they can pay to have – the pampering and tarot reading and foot massage and so on. You can come in and have a tarot reading to see what the future holds. For example: Will your show be a massive hit at the Edinburgh Fringe?

JOHN: And the money raised goes to the Mama Biashara charity.

COPSTICK: Yes.

Hatching the idea were (L-R) Samantha Pressdee, Kate Copstick, Martha McBrier and Siân Doughty

JOHN: This will be in the back bit of the Mama Biashara shop.

COPSTICK: Yes. In the bit where we hold the Grouchy Club and occasionally do comedy shows. When Ngambi McGrath lost the long-time venue for her Heavenly Comedy nights recently, she moved it here until she found a new venue and it was absolutely rammed – I was running around trying to find extra seats.

JOHN: Mama Biashara is a good place if what you are road-testing a show…

COPSTICK: Yes. It’s intimate. There’s no microphone, no proper performance lights but, if what you want to do is get your content tightened, then this is a great place for workshopping. One of the guys who was doing 10 minutes at Heavenly Comedy runs a comedy course and asked if he could do it here which would have been fine except I’m in the throes of a volunteer crisis so I don’t have the manpower or womanpower to keep the shop open on a Tuesday until 8.30pm, except the second Tuesday of every month which is the Grouchy Club.

JOHN: Any other shows coming up here?

COPSTICK: I also offered the space to Alfie Noakes of the We Are Funny project.

An article by Alfie Noakes, as published on chortle.co.uk (Photograph by Steve Best)

He came to see me because he has this Challenge thing going – a topic for an hour-long comedy show. And this topic was initially: Is Radical Feminism Killing Comedy? which was going to be put on at Farr’s School of Dancing in East London. But there were objections from… I don’t know what we should call them. The Ladies of the Left? The Sisters? They objected to the… I suppose to the mere idea that anyone might even debate let alone think such a transgressive idea.

… CONTINUED HERE

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