Tag Archives: Christmas

Increasingly confusing times for Christmas but not for Paul Kerensa

I was in Oxford Street in London last week. The Christmas street lights are already up and shops have special Christmas sections already open.

It is early October.

A couple of weeks ago, my TV went up the spout and I am thinking I might wait until the January sales to buy a new one. The January sales now start in mid or early December.

I blame Christians for this. They started it.

This mucking-around with dates.

I was saying to comic-and-now-author Paul Kerensa that I have never understood the Christian festivals. I know, obviously, that the reason Christmas and Easter were positioned where they are was to smother the pre-existing pagan end-of-year and Spring festivals. But what on earth were the early Christians thinking about?

Father Christmas before the Coca Cola marketing colours finally took over

The end of the year is all about endings and the death of the old.

Spring is all about re-birth and new starts.

So what’s with this ridiculous back-to-front symbolism of Jesus being born at the end of Nature’s annual life-cycle and dying in the Springtime?

It’s not as if it even makes any Biblical sense.

According to the Bible, Jesus was born in the Spring – the shepherds were tending their new-born lambs in the fields; and there is no hint of what time of year he was crucified.

So that would have been perfect. The lamb of God was born in the Spring with the real lambs at the symbolic re-birth of the natural annual cycle of life. And it would make perfect sense and have no Biblical complications to have him die at the same time as the death of the old year and the end of Nature’s annual life/death cycle.

So celebrate Jesus’ birth at Easter and his death at Christmas.

And you could still smother the pagan festivals.

What were they thinking of?

The ever-interested & interesting Paul Kerensa

I was droning on about this to Paul Kerensa – who managed to retain a mask of interest – because he was having his book launch. He has just written Hark! The Biography of Christmas.

I think the Christmas book-buying season starts in October and runs to the middle of December. Obviously, people don’t actually buy books as Christmas presents AT Christmas. That would be silly.

Paul tells me that “the original print run has already completely sold out, and the book is on its 2nd reprint already” – It was published in September – so October is the perfect time to launch it.

For all that the British comedy club business is said to be in decline, the British appetite for comedy and comedians seems to continue unabated.

At the time of writing, Sarah Millican’s book How To Be Champion tops the Sunday Times bestseller list and all four top places are books written by comics – the others are Russell Brand’s Recovery, Adam Kay’s This Is Going To Hurt and David Jason’s Only Fools and Stories.

Paul Kerensa’s new book is, as the title suggests – Hark! The Biography of Christmas – all about Yuletide facts and fictions – answers to all the festive questions you might ask and some you would never have thought to ask, like…

Paul Kerensa – the man with all the answers

– Was St Nicholas the first to use an automatic door?

– Which classic Christmas crooners were inspired by a Hollywood heatwave?

– Did King Herod really have a wife called Doris?

Jeremy Vine says: “I didn’t know how much I didn’t know about Christmas until I read this brilliant book”.

Me too. And Paul was able to set my mind at rest. He told me it is unlikely I will get arrested for celebrating Christmas.

When I last heard, there was still a Cromwellian law on the statute books banning the celebration of Christmas.

Although he was less reassuring about the legality of eating mince pies.

And, as if hedging his bets, half the mince pies supplied for the book launch were actually apple pies.

Intentionally.

DJ/presenter Chris Evans says Paul is: “A brilliant writer, fantastic communicator, deep thinker and extremely decent bloke”. I agree.

And, with plugs on the back cover from Miranda Hart and Noddy Holder of Slade, no wonder the book was on its 2nd reprint before it was launched.

Here’s Noddy…

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Christmas with young Malcolm Hardee

In this extract from the late Malcolm Hardee’s autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake, he explains how he used to make money as a schoolboy.


Extracted from Malcolm Hardee’s autobiography

Extracted from Malcolm’s autobiography…

When I was in the choir at St Stephen’s, I had a surplice and I used to wear it to go carol singing and earn some money at Christmas. I used to take a whole gang round with me.

We’d go round the posh houses in Blackheath carrying candles and everything. People would invite us in and put us on tape recorders to send to their relatives. They thought it was for the church, of course.

I used to make money all the year round.

From early October until November 5th it would be the ‘Penny for the Guy’ routine. Then, once November had gone, I got the carol singing going.

The rest of the year, we went round in Boy Scout uniforms and did Bob-a-Job. No-one knows when Bob-a-Job Week actually is, so you can do it any time.

We almost got caught out once because we accidentally went to a Scout Master’s house and he knew it wasn’t Bob-a-Job Week. But I explained to him I was in a different branch of the Scouts and it was our Bob-a-Job Week.

The Scouts I was in were not the Baden-Powell Scouts. This guy had set up a splinter-group called BBS (British Brotherhood of Scouts).

The Baden-Powell Scouts’ motto is “Be Prepared”. The BBS one was  “Always Ready”. So everything was almost the same but not quite. We still wore the uniforms and had the scout oath and ran flags up the pole and all that. When I saw my BBS Scoutmaster years later, it was so obvious that he was gay but at the time he was just a Scoutmaster to me. People weren’t so aware of gayness in those days.

I’ve never had any homosexual experiences and yet they must have been going on around me. That Scoutmaster didn’t fancy me, he just used to hit me with ropes every now and again. He used to like hitting people with ropes. I think he must have got chucked out of the Baden-Powell lot for some sort of sexual scandal. He also had another church he took us to called St Magnus the Martyr up by London Bridge which was another High Church. His real name was Charlie Brown, but we called him ‘Bosun’. We had three Scoutmasters: Bosun, Beaky and Kim.

I eventually got thrown out of the BBS for writing fake notes from my mother to avoid going to a Camp.

I was no angel.

I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake

Malcolm’s out-of-print autobiography

I got thrown out of the choir.

I got thrown out of everything, really.

I got expelled from primary school apparently – I don’t remember it  –  I was too concussed. We used to have these stairs at the school and I used to dive up to hold on to a ledge and swing. I swung up and my feet touched the bottom and my hands let go and I fell on my head and ended up in Lewisham Hospital. I had to stay in three or four days. They discharged me early because I was going a bit berserk – racing about in the wheelchairs in the ward and stuff.  So I got thrown out of hospital too.


The last Increasingly Prestigious Malcolm Hardee Awards Show will be staged at the Edinburgh Fringe on Friday 25th August 2017.

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Something to do together on Thursdays

A 19th century Christmas card by Louis Prang, showing a group of anthropmorphized frogs parading with banner and band

19th century Christmas card by Louis Prang, showing some anthropomorphised frogs celebrating

With one of the Christmas cards I received from the US this year was one of those A4 printed “update” sheets on “what we did this year”.

I seldom care.

But I thought I would share this brief extract as a useful tip for what to do on Thursdays:


Every Thursday, we rise early in the morning, check the newspaper for estate sales and head out.

In the middle of the day, we get home and congratulate ourselves for buying nothing.

We have checked out every room of a stranger’s house, as well as a lifetime of their quirky collections.


With equal irrelevance, here is a 92-second song from Oh What a Lovely War! – arguably a simile for life in general.

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Tis the season to be jolly – now comic Lewis Schaffer converts to Christianity?

Steve Frost caught in flagrante delicto with capitalist caviar

Frost caught in flagrante delicious with capitalist caviar

Yesterday, I went to the annual Christmas party thrown by comic Charmian Hughes and husband David Don’t. On reflection, ‘annual Christmas party’ might be tautology. Anyway, a good time was, as always, had by all the tight-packed throng including writer and troublemaker Mark Kelly who insisted I take a photo of esteemed thespian Stephen Frost eating caviar and thus demonstrating he had given up his youthful ambitions to change the world and abolish elitism.

I should point out that the caviar was from Lidl, apparently retails for less than the cost of a Big Mac and comes not from sturgeon but from capelin, a small forage fish found in the Arctic.

I have no idea what a forage fish is, but its slimy bits can apparently legitimately be classed as caviar.

Charmian Hughes offers me her bras

Charmian Hughes shows me her bras last night

As I left the party, Charmian Hughes gave me a plastic bag filled with bras which, I was told, I had to give to comedy critic Kate Copstick for her Mama Biashara charity. I asked no questions, but I can only assume they are destined for some bemused and heavily bosomed Kenyan women.

Tomorrow, with Kate Copstick chairing, the last live Grouchy Club meeting of this year (all welcome) involves comedy industry chat + some OTTness from Ada Campe + mulled cider + nibbles provided by the aforementioned Copstick. Usually, she bites.

There is an oft-used but admittedly here irrelevant Scots saying: “Many a mickle maks a muckle”.

“Many people make mulled wine,” Copstick tells me, “but I’m Scottish, therefore I’m cheap, therefore I make mulled cider, but it’s lovely and it’s still alcoholic and it is absolutely delicious. There will be nibbles and chocolate in almost every conceivable form, plus crispy things, possibly dippy things and cakey things.”

Lewis Schaffer’s flyer image for his Leicester Square shows

Lewis Schaffer in erstwhile  youth. Once seen, never forgotten

Tonight, I am off to see Lewis Schaffer’s final 2015 performance of a show at the Museum of Comedy – a show that was billed as Lewis Schaffer is Free until Famous, £10… until about five hours before the first performance when, with cavalier disregard for any rules of publicity – like what name is actually on the posters, flyers and listings – he changed it to Lewis Schaffer: You Are Beautiful… a title which could arguably see him in court charged with breach of the Trade Descriptions Act 1968.

Lewis Schaffer says there will be an after-show party and, as he does not care what is written about him provided the words ‘Lewis Schaffer’ are inserted at regular intervals, I can exclusively reveal that Lewis Schaffer will be at the party naked, draped in nothing but a Stars & Stripes flag and he will be singing Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, having last week converted to Christianity.

LewisSchaffer_PinkHair

A Goy or a Doll? – Which is worse?

To consolidate this, in the New Year, Lewis Schaffer will be appearing in a stage production at the National Theatre of Goys and Dolls. He may be playing one of the female leads, judging by a photo of him in publicity for Martin Besserman’s Jewish Xmas Eve Matzo Ball Special in which he (Lewis Schaffer) sports pink hair.

We live in a time of flux and this morning I got a Christmas e-card from Arthur Smith comprising a giant picture of himself either as Scrooge or a mullah. If the latter, he – like Lewis Schaffer with his conversion to Christianity – may be hedging his New Year bets.

ArthurSmithChristmasCard

Arthur Smith – the ghost of Christmas Bahs?

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Festive greetings from Farter Christmas

In yesterday’s blog about Mr Methane, I mentioned the Lancashire town of Poulton-le-Fylde and eccentrics.

Mick (right) on Mr Methane’s Let It Rip DVD

Mick Cookson (extreme right) in Mr Methane’s Let It Rip

Mr M has now told me that esteemed ventriloquist Keith Harris and his best friends Orville & Chuckles live in Poulton-le-Fylde – “Or,” says Mr Methane, “at least they were still living there in 2006 when we did BBC TV show The Slammer together.

“Keith had a nightclub which he sold to a guy called Elliot. Elliot was a DJ who had made a load of money by building up a nightclub in Workington and then selling it for a tidy profit. He then came south and worked for Mick Cookson at Panama Joes/Meancat Daddies in Burnley as a DJ. Mick is the guy who interviews people in the Butt Pipe Shocker segments on my Let’s Rip DVD

“Elliot once booked me for a gig at Keith’s club which he had re-named Elliot’s – I did not go down well as it wasn’t my crowd. You could say I died on my arse.

The outstanding Mr Methane with some of his fans

Even Mr Methane strikes low notes amid glamour

“It was a lowpoint in my career. But then I’ve had many low points. Live entertainers tend to have more low points than high points or at least an equal amount – it’s just part of the game. If they’re not your crowd, they’re not your crowd.

“I can remember working with ‘Sir Bernard Cholmondeley’ (Matt Lucas) at Southampton Guild Hall – New Year 1996, I think it was – The crowd just threw things at him and shouted him off. All they wanted was tit-and-arse jokes with a bit of farting thrown in.

“But, as history shows, a bad gig for Sir Bernard and a good gig for Mr Methane are not a good indicator of future commercial success, so you just draw a line and move on. Good gigs happen. Bad gigs happen. And occasionally people throw dangerous objects like Brown Ale bottles and pint glasses at you. Merry Christmas.”

I have also received Christmas greetings and news from the Colonies.

Last week, this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith sent me a piece which I posted about ‘Ben from Glasgow’. Last night, she found Ben at his usual workplace on the pavement. Or, depending on your use of English, on the sidewalk.

In Vancouver, Ben from Glasgow.(Photograph by Anna Smith)

Ben from Glasgow in his Vancouver workplace. (Photograph by Anna Smith)

“As it was Christmas Eve,” Anna says, “people were lining up outside the liquor store. I told Ben:

“You’re in a blog in London. Let me show you. Your grandad is in it too.

My grandad’s in it?

“Yes,” I told him. “You’re both in it – together on the same page.

“Ben was overjoyed to see the pictures. In the meantime, people were throwing money into his cap – loonies ($1 coins), toonies ($2 coins) and bills.

“I stood out of the way, leaning against the wall beside him, reading bits of the blog to him. A lot of the people on the sidewalk knew him by his first name and were happy to have an excuse to give him a bit more money than usual. A man darted past and dropped a toonie into Ben ‘s cap and held another toonie up for me. I grabbed it

I can make money just by standing beside you! I told Ben and slid the toonie into his cap. We both laughed.

An LED umbrella and a painting in a Denman Street window display

An LED umbrella and a painting in a Denman Street window display

“A bus driver jumped off his bus, ran towards us and handed Ben a new LED umbrella.

A passenger gave it to me, Benny, he said breathlessly. I thought you could use it.

“Ben got a couple of young men to stop and give him a beer. Then a drunken rodeo clown came up.

I’m on the internet! cried Ben. Look! My grandad was a world champion!

Yeah, right, said the drunken clown.

It’s true! I told him. Ben and his grandad look exactly the same! 

“Then the drunken clown started talking about all his own accomplishments, which were very boring. Then he tried to start a fight with Benny who grabbed his bag and disappeared down an alley.

Merry Christmas, I said to the clown and then walked quickly away.”

This morning, Anna also sent me a photo of a lady.

“This is Janey from Alberta,” the message said.

Janey from Alberta (Photograph by Anna Smith)

Janey from the Alberta tar sands (Photograph by Anna Smith)

“Janey always drops by the shop when she visits Vancouver. She works cleaning trailers in the tar sands (oil patch) in Northern British Columbia and Alberta.

“They are isolated camps in the bush and she says it’s hell up there. It is dangerous and violent. She hires a taxi if she has to cross the street at night. But the cost of a house is as high as it is in Vancouver.

“The work is lucrative but, as the price of oil slumps, people can’t afford to live. Crack cocaine and methamphetamine are rampant.

“There are miles of tunnels and sludge-filled lakes, leaching into the rivers. There are gigantic mechanical bats on poles creaking away in the darkness to frighten away the birds.

“She said no-one gives a shit about anyone there. She showed me lines of scars on her stomach from being run over by a truck.”

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Merry Christmas greetings from the late Malcolm Hardee, Mr Methane and me…

Malcolm Hardee (left) at Christmas

The late Malcolm Hardee (left) at Christmas

The late comedian Malcolm Hardee legendarily had about six jokes which lasted him around 25 years. But occasionally, perhaps especially at Christmas, he would throw in a new one.

His friend Alexandra Mendel tells me of a couple she heard him tell at Christmas.

She says:

“I remember he came on stage just before Christmas to warm his audience up at the Tunnel club and asked: What did the little deaf, dumb and blind boy get for Christmas?…. Answer… Cancer!

“There was another one to go with it too: What’s red and slimy and slides across the chip shop floor?… Answer… Abortion of chips…

Here is Malcolm Hardee’s Christmas card to his friends in December 2001, three months after the 9/11 attack on New York. It features the view from his floating pub The Wibbley Wobbley of the Canary Wharf towers in London’s Docklands.

Happy 25/12 Christmas card 2001

Malcolm Hardee’s 2001 Christmas card

Mr Methane, the world’s only professionally performing flatulist, has also drawn my attention to a festive 2001 E! video of his (Mr Methane’s) 22-minute appearance on Howard Stern’s US radio show in which he farts Christmas Songs.

For those who are too busy eating, drinking and toasting the Queen to spend that amount of time watching a video, Mr Methane has also thoughtfully provided a festive 2min 25sec audio version of Rocking Around The Christmas Tree.

And finally, from me, for anyone I have forgotten, here is a limited edition Christmas card from last century which never got the distribution I felt it deserved…

.

A Merry Christmas to you

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Is it still illegal to celebrate Christmas in England? + Eating sloths in Guatemala

Phoenix, Arizona, the perfect place to fry an egg

Phoenix, Arizona: a perfect place to fry an egg on the sidewalk

Yesterday I had lunch with someone who has just come back from Phoenix, Arizona.

“I read a while ago that it was the fastest-growing city in the US,” I told her, “but that it is a hell-hole and you can’t go outside comfortably because of the heat.”

“It was very hot,” she agreed. “They have a new law on the statute books which makes it illegal to fry eggs on the sidewalk any more.”

She swore this was true.

What fascinated me was the phrase “any more” and the fact that such a law might be necessary: that it had become so prevalent it was a problem.

In the 1980s, as far as I am aware, it was still illegal under the law of England and Wales for young adult males NOT to practice archery every Sunday (presumably in case the French invaded or the English monarch decided to invade France)… and it was illegal to celebrate Christmas (under an un-repealed Cromwellian law). As far as I know, it still is.

The mis-named English justice system is constantly fascinating.

Last week, I read in the London edition of Metro newspaper that Westminster Magistrates’ Court had given a 20-year-old man a £745 fine and imposed a curfew on him because he had been staying in a hotel and had “emerged from a cupboard naked, with a fire hose up his bottom”.

A fire hose with (it says here) a Finnish coupler

Fire hose with (it says here) a Finnish coupler

The 20-year-old man was said by his lawyer to be “truly ashamed of himself”. This sounds unlikely. He will presumably be bought free drinks by his friends for the next ten years.

The Metro report did not specify the exact law under which the man had been prosecuted. Can there really be a specific law prohibiting people being naked with a fire hose up their bottom?

Life is a constant mystery.

But one mystery has been cleared up.

Yesterday, I wrote that this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith had told me that her sister’s visit to Guatemala had resulted in three children and her (the sister) becoming an Anglican priest.

I wanted – I think not unreasonably – to know more details.

These have been forthcoming.

Anna tells me:

“Twenty five years ago, my sister met a cute Guatemalan refugee at Saigon Palace – a Vietnamese restaurant on Spadina Avenue in Toronto. They married and soon had three children. My Guatemalan in-laws were very happy when they found out I had been involved with British comedy – In particular, they were desperate to know if I had met ‘Benny Eel’.

“My new Guatemalan extended family also enjoyed visiting the Natural History Museum in Toronto. When we walked past the taxidermied displays of jungle animals, they said: Yummy Yummy… Remember when we ate that anteater in Rio Bravo?  and  Look – a sloth! Remember when Auntie cooked us some sloth stew?…

A sloth - highly regarded in Guatemala

A sloth – they are highly regarded by gourmets in Guatemala

“Then suddenly (well, after eight years at the UBC Theology School), my sister became an Anglican priest.

“She moved to a village high in the Guatemalan mountains. After years of being shot at during anti-mining demonstrations, she decided to return to Canada and has been installed in a church in New Westminster, close to where the recent Godzilla movie was filmed. She has recently completed a book about the evils of the Canadian mining industry in Guatemala and sat as a judge in some genocide trials.”

“Good heavens!” I said. “Genocide trials in Canada?”

“In Mexico City, I think,” replied Anna.”I will have to ask… She was a witness of a lot of exhumed bodies…”

Some answers just create more questions.

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