Tag Archives: Cold War

Did a Chinaman, an American and a Russian cause all this Brexit chaos?

Am I being totally paranoid about what is happening in UK and US politics?

The Walt Disney company famously used to give copies of Chinese strategist Sun Tzu’s 5th century BC military treatise The Art of War to its executives as a guide on how to survive and triumph in the corporate environment. As a result, the book became almost essential reading in Hollywood.

One of the central points made in The Art of War – which, admittedly, I have not read for a good few years – is that the object of war is not to destroy your enemy.

It is to either take control of your enemy’s assets or to undermine your enemy internally to such an extent that they are no longer able to threaten or compete with you.

I do wonder if Russia’s Vladimir Putin has read The Art of War.

In the US, we have a country divided by the election of Donald Trump, where large sections of the population vehemently disagree with the result of that public election, with trust in political leaders diminished and democracy undermined.

In the U.K, we have a country divided by the Brexit vote, where large sections of the population vehemently disagree with the result of that public vote, with trust in political leaders diminished and democracy undermined.

I feel a bout of paranoia drifting over me, tinged with some political admiration. Divide and conquer?

Perhaps I should not even mention the Scottish Referendum result and reactions to it within Scotland. Russia’s Sputnik News Agency, strangely based in Edinburgh, already has the slogan: Telling The Untold.

Am I being totally paranoid?

May you live in interesting times” is, of course, not an encouraging, aspirational quote but a Chinese curse.

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The death of an Italian archaeologist who knew so many 20th century secrets

Maurizio Tosi, highly-regarded archaeologist

My shoulder in 1991 - pulverised in two places

Uncovering the past: my shoulder was pulverised in two places

In 1995 I wrote the autobiography of comedian Malcolm Hardee.

‘Ghosted’ seems such a strange word to use.

In 1997/1998 I almost wrote the autobiography of someone else: an Italian archaeologist.

His opinion was that archaeology and biography were very similar: both involved uncovering the past from fragments and sometimes having to simply guess what had really happened. Sometimes, he suggested, it is even the same with autobiographies.

Yesterday morning, I woke up with a pain in my lower back and hips and upper legs. I was hit by a truck in 1991. One long-term effect it has had on me is that the bottom of my spine is slightly damaged. The bones occasionally go slightly ‘out of alignment. What usually happens is that I get a pain on one or other side of my hips and, as it mends, the pain moves round my waist and ends up at the bottom of the spine – where the real trouble lies – and then it goes away.

Initially, the problem is perceived to be somewhere it is not. Normally it takes about three nights of sleeping on the floor for the pain to go away.

This morning, at around 02.30am, I was lying on my bedroom floor unable to get to sleep because I could find no position to lie in that did not give me an awkward nerve-end-tingling pain.

For no particular reason at all – except that it came into my head – I decided to Google the phrase Maurizio Tosi death and this came up

The obituary of Maurizio Tosi which I Googled

The obituary of Maurizio Tosi which I stumbled on

MAURIZIO TOSI (1944-2017) 

February 26th, 2017 

“A leading figure in Italian archaeology and Co-Director of the Italy Oman international research program studying the beginnings of navigation and long-distance trade in the Indian Ocean died at the age of 72 yesterday in Ravenna, Italy. The cremation ceremony will take place at Ravenna on this next Monday at 3.30 pm. Friend and colleagues are organizing a commemoration in Ravenna on March 5th at 3 pm.”

I had not thought about him for years. Today is Wednesday. It would seem he died on Saturday with his funeral two days ago and I haven’t thought about him for years. Strange that I looked him up.

We were both fascinated by Shelley’s poem Ozymandias which ends:

‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

I never wrote Maurizio Tosi’s autobiography.

I had met him by accident at Ashgabat airport when we were both leaving Turkmenistan in 1995.

In 1997, in London and in Rome, we discussed the background to his autobiography.

In 1998, I travelled to Italy again to chat to him in Rome, Sienna, Bologna, Ravenna, Milan and on the island of Pantelleria.

Eventually, the project fell through because he tried to financially screw a friend of mine. His attitude to honesty was as variable as the wind in the deserts he often professionally frequented. He was a highly troubled man but also highly intelligent. Or, at least, well-read.

A younger Maurizio Tosi in one of the deserts he frequented

A younger Maurizio Tosi in one of the deserts he frequented

There were nine drafts of the book, some in the first person; some in the third; some in a mixture of both.

The book’s title was to have been Traveller.

When we had first discussed the idea of the book, he had e-mailed me:

“In archaeology, in history and in politics, the mistake that’s often made is looking at effects, not at primary causes. If you want to know why something developed, you have to look back in time before it existed: at what caused it to exist and develop in the way it did. It is the same with people and the same with me.”

Since childhood, he told me, the mind inside his skull had always felt it was in a darkened cave, looking out – frightened – at a world it did not understand.

When I had first suggested the title Traveller for his autobiography, he had reacted in a characteristically OTT way.

“Yes! yes!” he had cried dramatically (in an e-mail). “Traveller! It has so much meaning! I travel through time. I travel through different lands. I travel to escape from reality. I travel because the day-to-day details of everyday life are a problem for me. They always have been. It is all the little things that drive me to distraction – bills, banks, mortgages, paperwork, bureaucracy. I can’t live alone, but I can’t stay faithful to any woman with whom I live. I want stability, but I get bored by it when I have it. Traveller is the ideal title! It is so symbolic!”

It was like listening to someone impersonate an Italian.

“And you are also a fellow traveller,” I said.

One key point in his life had been in 1967.

Le Monde 2013 - Maurizio Tosi, archaeologist and ex-spy Advisor to the Sultan of Oman, the Italian palaeoethnologist was also an intelligence officer of the Soviet bloc.

2013 Le Monde article on “Maurizio Tosi, the archaeologist & ex-spy”

He was in communist East Germany when the Cold War between the Soviets and the West was at its height. Most of the people he had worked with in his Soviet-backed Network had already been caught – they had ‘disappeared’ – some had been captured by the West, some had been disposed of by the East. He was the last one left of those he knew.

He told me he had been in West Berlin and had been asked to deliver an envelope to a town in East Germany. He knew the envelope contained microfilm, because he had made the same delivery before. He had no overnight visa for East Germany, so he had to get a train back to East Berlin by 11.00pm and return through the Friedrichstrasse security checkpoint into West Berlin before midnight, otherwise he was in trouble.

He told me: “East German Security was separate from the police. Everything was separate. Everything was chaotic. There were so many different agencies all working separately from each other – sometimes in competition with each other. I didn’t have full coverage. It wasn’t as if I was officially working for the East German secret service. I was working for the Network but the complete implications of that were uncertain. I knew my network was handled by part of a section of East Germany’s security system and was linked to the Soviet Union, but things had changed. Everything had changed that year.

Erich Apel

The East German politician Erich Apel ‘committed suicide’

“When the East German ‘Planning Minister’ Erich Apel ‘committed suicide’ in 1965… when Apel was made to die in 1965… it sent a signal to all marginal people like me. Apel had been one of the masterminds and controllers of our subversion operation and when it was said he ‘shot himself due to depression’ it was clear something was changing very fundamentally.

“Our entire project of undermining and fighting American power in the Third World – and ultimately in Europe – was falling apart. Ché Guevara had already – and very clearly – been abandoned in Bolivia.”

Maurizio Tosi had been part of a network run by the East Germans for the Soviet Union. He had been trained partly in Europe, partly in Cuba, partly in South America. His job as an archaeologist meant that he could legitimately be in ‘fringe’ areas – Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan. He was in Afghanistan when the Soviet tanks rolled in.

When we talked, it was mostly on tape.

“I dislike lies,” I warned him, early on.

“But ambiguity?” he had asked.

“Ah,” I replied slowly. “I’m fascinated by ambiguity. And by…..”

“Me too,” he had interrupted.

“…..and by amoral characters,” I had completed.

Maurizio Tosi in his office in 1998

Maurizio Tosi in his 1998 office was “fascinated by ambiguity”

During one of our chats he told me, as we sat in his book-lined room in Rome: “One of the most famous legends of Central Asia tells of a horseman. The horseman is the standard-bearer of the great Khan. As the Khan’s army are entering a city after a glorious victory, the standard-bearer sees a dark lady looking at him. The dark lady has fearsome eyes, as if she is looking right inside him. He becomes scared that this woman is a witch and she has put the Evil Eye on him, so he goes to the great Khan and tells him his fears and says he wants to go to another city.

Of course! says the great Khan. Give him the finest horse we have! Let him escape!

“So the standard-bearer takes the fastest horse in the Great Khan’s army, rides off across the desert and, in record time, arrives at the other city. Then he sees the dark lady standing by the city gates, waiting for him. She looks at him, smiles and says:

I was so worried. I knew I was due to meet you here today but, when I saw you in that other city so very far away, I was worried that you would not reach here in time for our appointment.

“And the standard-bearer realises that the dark lady with the eyes that look right inside him is Death. I always feel I am running like the standard bearer,  that there is never enough time and I know I will never complete what I should do.”

RIP Maurizio Tosi (1944-2017)

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Just for a change, a little bit about me, my father, cold Scotland & the Cold War

Me (aged 1) with father near home in Campbeltown, Scotland

Me (aged 1) with father near home in Campbeltown, Scotland

Of course, my recent blogs from the Edinburgh Fringe just skimmed the surface. I was seeing around 6-8 shows per day for three-and-a-half weeks. I realised halfway through that I should, perhaps, have included a list of the shows I had seen with, perhaps, at least three adjectives on each.

Perhaps next year.

I had been going to blog today about Machete Hettie, one of the comedy acts who turned up at The Grouchy Club and who I went to see perform in Leith on Sunday. I wrote about her last year .

But I do not have the time today.

I have to go up to the Highlands and meet a man at a post code.

He – under the circumstances, quite reasonably – has not suggested a specific meeting place. Just a time and a post code which covers an area. And then we will find each other by chatting on mobile phones. I can see he might not want to say he will be at a specific place at a certain time, under the circumstances.

I am leaving Edinburgh around 8.15am (just before the draconian parking restrictions start at 8.30am).

This is earlier than I need to, which will leave me spare time.

I might go to Lossiemouth on the way up or the way back.

Lossiemouth in the north east of Scotland

Lossiemouth in NE Scotland – the beaches are better than this

My eternally-un-named friend partly grew up in Lossiemouth… as well as Malta, Cyprus, West Germany, Northern Ireland etc. Her father was in the RAF. Lossiemouth was/is an RAF base. She remembers the idyllic sandy beaches at Lossiemouth – and also clothes freezing on the washing line in winter.

I grew up partly in Aberdeen, not too far away. I remember the idyllic sandy beaches and sand dunes when I was a child. We lived in Mastrick, a council estate on a hill where, in winter, my mother used to wear an overcoat when she made the beds on cold winter mornings.

My father ran away from his home in Wigtownshire to join the Royal Navy in 1936, just in time for the Spanish Civil War in which we allegedly took no official part, though he remembered his ship dropping off individual men near the coast of Spain who made their own solitary way to land.

He was a radio operator on Navy ships. He was based in Malta in World War Two and, after the War, he got a job with a company which supplied marine radar to fishing boats. The radar bounced off the sea bed and showed up any shoals of fish. He was originally based in Campbeltown, on the Kintyre Peninsula, where I was born.

My father in 1976 on the beach at Clacton

My father in 1976 in retirement in Clacton, England

When I was three, he was moved to a bigger part of the same company, based in Aberdeen, where I went to school. My father serviced marine radar on the fishing boats in Aberdeen and along the coast to the west – including Lossiemouth – and further north up to Wick and Thurso.

At least, I think he serviced the fishing boats in Lossiemouth. He might have gone there later.

Because, later, he moved down to his company’s headquarters in London and he used to occasionally go out ‘on site’ to inspect the company’s on-shore radar and equipment on ‘sites’. This was during the Cold War. The sites were military bases and mostly defence bunkers. He had to have security clearance – ‘positive vetting’ – for that. I think he mentioned that they had gone way back to his childhood and had talked to his schoolteachers. He knew where the entrances to the bunkers were and their layout. It was a long time ago in another world.

Machete Hettie celebrates in a Clerkenwell street last night

Machete Hettie in a London street last year

Maybe he went to Lossiemouth in that incarnation of himself rather than the fishing boat incarnation.

I have never been to Lossiemouth. So I thought I might go today.

I might take photos of where my eternally-un-named friend used to live as a teenager. But she says she can see it on Google Streetview anyway.

The world changes every day.

And the story of Machete Hettie’s adventures in Bulgaria will have to wait for another day.

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Lest we forget: West Berlin in 1985 and the Belsen concentration camp in 1945

Sonny Hayes

British entertainer Sonny Hayes lives in Berlin

In yesterday’s blogI quoted London-based Dutch comedian Jorik Mol on Wagner.

I received a comment from Berlin-based British entertainer Sonny Hayes saying:

“I love his take on Tristan und Isolde, “…it is like coitus interruptus without the coitus. This chord is never released – never”. We did an event in the 1970s where, for background, we combined bits of finales from Wagner, Richard Strauss et al, where the last note began the next finale and then we looped it – a never-arriving climax and very loud. It worked well, was very uncomfortable and one woman had a hysteric breakdown.”

In 1997, Sonny married Russian magician Galina and formed a professional partnership that still continues.

I Skyped Sonny in Berlin at the weekend.

“Anything glamorous coming up?” I asked.

“At the end of January, we go to Hawaii for ten months…”

“Lucky bastard,” I said.

“…which we’ve just found out is very radioactive,” continued Sonny. “The after-effect of the nuclear power plant exploding in Japan. It’s not safe to eat fish, which I was looking forward to.

“We’ve been working for some time on a solo theatre show called One For The Road which we premiered in Germany last month and we’ll be touring that after we finish our variety shows in Hawaii.”

“When did you move to Berlin?” I asked.

“In 2009, we came to work for a year at Friedrichstadt-Palast, a revue theatre, in a show called QI which was extended for a second year and then we decided we liked it here. Before that, we were living further south in Hessen.”

During the Cold War, Germany was divided into West and East Germany and Berlin was divided into West and East Berlin. The problem was that Berlin was deep within East Germany. So, to drive from West Germany proper to West Berlin, you had to travel along designated roads.

A publicity picture from around the time of Sonny’s first Berlin visit

A publicity picture around the time of Sonny’s first Berlin visit

“I remember the first time I came to Berlin in the mid-1980s,” Sonny told me. “I was working for CSE (Combined Services Entertainment).”

“We played in Helmstadt, the military police headquarters for policing the Berlin Corridor. The senior officer there was a Brigadier Gerrard, who was very impressive. I later saw him in the World at War TV series. He gave us a briefing about what to expect when we went through. And everything he said did happen.

“He told me: A Russian guard will salute you, then walk round your car then salute you again. That did happen and I gave the guard a Boy Scout salute.

“The brigadier said: At the time of night you go through, they’re going to want to do some black marketing with you. Under no circumstances are you to involve yourself in this kind of thing… But, as he was saying this, he had his thumbs in his belt and I could see he was wearing a Russian belt.

A tale of two cities - and of two countries - in the Cold War

A tale of two cities – and of two countries – in the Cold War

“You weren’t allowed to speak to anybody or to have any contact with anyone from East Germany. If you were in an accident, you weren’t allowed to get into a Russian or East German ambulance and you weren’t allowed to deal with the police.

“We were given a loose-leaf folder to take with us. If the police stopped you, you had to close the windows of your car, lock the doors and sit with your arms folded until they got really annoyed. Then you opened your folder on the first page and there was a Union Jack printed on it.

“Then you waited until they got really annoyed again and you turned to the second page where there was a smaller Union Jack and, written round it in three languages was We don’t accept you as a country. We don’t accept your authority – basically it said You don’t exist for us. We were told: You don’t speak to them unless they get a Russian officer and, unless you’ve killed someone, they are not going to get a Russian officer.”

“Did you have any problems?”

An East German GDR border scout apparently photographing grass along the border

An East German GDR border scout

“Not really. They did want to exchange bits of military gear – badges and emblems and things – for Western goods. I think I traded some chocolate for some badges. They unscrewed light bulbs and there were things inside the lightbulbs and in the hems of the curtains.

“You had to go to a hut to hand your passport in for checking. There was a small hatch and a hand came out and you could see there was an East German uniform on the arm, but you couldn’t see any more than that.

“They gave you two hours to drive through to Berlin. You didn’t drive too fast because that would mean you were speeding and you didn’t drive too slow. If you didn’t arrive within two hours, they sent a convoy out to look for you.

“Brigadier Gerrard was a super interesting guy; just a regular kind of hero of that generation. I liked him very much. He just did things his way and only followed the rules he wanted to follow. He spent a lot of time with the Russian officers drinking. They would bring vodka and he would bring whisky, which they much preferred.”

“All this happened in the mid-1980s,” I said. “Maybe 1985 – and the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 – so it was quite near the end.”

“Yes” said Sonny. “I was there in 1990 with Circus Roncali and you still needed a passport to go through the wall from West Berlin to East Berlin. Circus fans would have a minibus and take a bunch of us out from the show and treat us to dinner in the East. It was very cheap to pay for things with West German marks.”

“Brigadier Gerrard sounds like a real character,” I said.

“Yes,” said Sonny. “He was in a tank regiment and drove his tank through the wire at Belsen.”

I saw the film footage of Belsen when I was about 11 years old: an impressionable age. I hope it remains the worst thing I ever see in my life. I think, in other concentrations camps, the film cameras did not go in with the first troops; they went in slightly later, so the scenes are slightly less horrific. At Belsen they filmed what the first troops first saw. I remember a pile of corpses like skeletons. Then one of them got up – just a skeleton with thin skin stretched between the bones – and started to stagger around like a newly-born zombie foal.

Former guards are made to load the bodies of dead prisoners onto a truck for burial, April 17–18, 1945

Former guards are made to load the bodies of dead prisoners onto a truck for burial after the liberation of Belsen in 1945

“We’d done a deal with the guards,” said Sonny, “that the guards would leave before the Brits came and took over the camp, though there were still a few people there: mostly Hitler Youth, as I understand it. Brigadier Gerrard had to shoot at least one of them.

“He said they didn’t really know what to do; they just contained the situation. Later the Americans came and they reacted a bit more emotionally. I think they released some of the remaining guards at the same time that they released the women and I believe the prisoners just tore the guards apart.

Nazi doctor. Fritz Klein stands amongst corpses in Mass Grave 3 at Belsen

Nazi doctor Fritz Klein stands knee-deep in corpses at Mass Grave Number 3 in Belsen

“Brigadier Gerrard said they released some Poles who had been prisoners of war in the camp and they went out and started killing Germans at random so, in the end, he had to send out a detail to round them up.

“He told me that, on Friday nights, British soldiers used to go down and smash every window in the town. Every week they smashed the windows; every week they were repaired; the following week they were smashed again. By this time, Brigadier Gerrard was the High Sheriff of Bergen-Belsen and he said he found out about what was happening by accident so he called the mayor in and asked Why didn’t you tell me about this before? and the mayor just shrugged.

“It was extraordinary meeting someone who had been there and experienced history.”

Indeed.

Lest we forget.

So it goes.

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Ignore the new Andrew Lloyd-Webber musical, this is how the Profumo political sex scandal really happened

John Profumo, the UK’s Minister for War

John Profumo, the UK’s disgraced Secretary of State for War

A couple of days ago in my blog, there was a discussion between one of my Facebook Friends and writer Harry Rogers about whether people accused of sex crimes should be named in the press before they are prosecuted.

There is another interesting angle to this which Harry Rogers knows a bit about. Not a sex crime but a sex scandal… The Profumo sex scandal of 1963 which ultimately brought down Harold Macmillan’s Conservative government.

But this blog is really about Johnny Edgecombe, whom I think I probably met at Malcolm Hardee’s Up The Creek comedy club in Greenwich in the 1990s. By then, he was known as Johnny Edge. I have a vague recollection that Malcolm introduced me to Johnny Edge once; but I can’t be certain.

What interests me about Johnny is how small incidents in apparently insignificant individuals’ lives can change history.

For those too young to remember, the Profumo Affair involved ‘good-time party girl’ Christine Keeler having sex with John Profumo, the UK’s Secretary of State for War. This was not good, given that he was married to actress Valerie Hobson. Worse though, given that Profumo knew Britain’s entire defence secrets and this was the height of the Cold War, was that Christine Keeler was also having sex with Yevgeni Ivanov, a senior naval attaché at the Soviet Embassy in London. All military attachés are assumed to be spies.

In October 1962, the United States and the USSR almost stumbled into a nuclear war over the Cuban Missile Crisis.

At the same time, in London, Johnny Edgecombe was Christine Keeler’s boyfriend and allegedly her pimp. Before that, Keeler’s boyfriend had been drug dealer ‘Lucky’ Gordon. When she split from Gordon, he attacked her with an axe and held her hostage for two days. She then became Johnny Edgecombe’s girlfriend.

Just before Christmas 1962, she split from Johnny Edgecombe. What happened then resulted in a court case in which John Profumo’s name was mentioned in open court and the whole Profumo scandal became public knowledge.

Johnny Edgecombe went to prison for what happened in the mews.

I had a drink with Harry Rogers last night.

Harry Rogers in Greenwich last night

Harry Rogers remembers Johnny in Greenwich last night

“I met Johnny Edge just after he came out of prison,” Harry told me. “I think the intelligence services knew very well what was going on with Christine Keeler: that she was having an affair with Profumo and was also seeing Ivanov.”

“What had Johnny done before the Profumo thing?” I asked.

“He’d been friends with lots of jazz musicians in London,” Harry told me. “And he’d worked for Peter Rachman.”

“The dodgy slum landlord?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Harry. “Rachman bought a lot of properties up and, when he had trouble getting people out of a property, he would get Johnny Edge and a couple of others to go and take over the basement in the building and set up a shebeen. A shebeen is an illegal drinking establishment with lots of loud music pumping all night. So Johnny’s role was to set up the shebeen and get musicians to come in there and party. They had a great time and the people got so fed up with the noise they left. It was like constructive dismissal – constructive eviction, really.”

“But eventually,” I said, “he met Christine Keeler, she left him and that triggered off the whole thing.”

“Yes,” said Harry. “When Christine Keeler left him – he was kind of pimping her in a way; he was living off her earnings, anyway – he wanted money and he needed money and also Johnny was in competition with Lucky Gordon, who was out to get Johnny. He saw him as the person who had taken ‘his Christine’ away from him – cos he’d been pimping her too.

“Lucky Gordon had caught up with Johnny in the Flamingo club in Wardour Street in Soho and there had been a big running fight through the club. They were chasing each other about all over he place. Lucky Gordon was going to beat up Johnny, but Johnny pulled a knife and ‘striped’ his face.

“After that, Lucky Gordon was really, really angry and so he got a machete and he was threatening to cut Johnny Edge’s head off. And that’s why Johnny got a gun. And the gun that he got was Christine Keeler’s. She had a Luger pistol.”

“Why did she have a gun?” I asked.

“I think for protection,” Harry replied. “Anyway, Johnny took her gun and he was carrying it because he knew that, if Lucky Gordon did catch up with him – if he wasn’t protected – Lucky was going to kill him.

1964 book on the scandal

A 1964 book on the Profumo Scandal

“When Christine left Johnny and went to Stephen Ward in the mews, Johnny got a taxi to the house. Christine was there but wouldn’t come to the window. Mandy Rice-Davies came to the window and told Johnny Christine doesn’t want to speak to you – Here’s some money – Go away! – and threw a handful of fivers out the window.

“That made Johnny angry, so then he decided he was going to go in and talk to Christine. So he tried to do what they do in the movies. He tried to shoot the door open by blowing the lock off the door with the gun.

“That didn’t work, so then he got back into the taxi…”

“The taxi driver,” I asked, “had just been sitting there twiddling his thumbs through all this?”

“Yes,” said Harry. “The cab driver was still waiting. Johnny got back in the cab. And they drove off.

“Meanwhile, the police had been phoned. They caught up with Johnny and arrested him and charged him with attempted murder. They said he’d actually tried to shoot Christine Keeler from the street through the window. He never did that. But they needed a court case to break open the whole thing so they could officially look into everything that was going on. And, from that point onwards it all came out.

“What Johnny told me was that not only was Stephen Ward supplying various members of the Establishment with women… There were a number of them: Christine Keeler, Mandy Rice-Davies, Rona Ricardo and two or three other girls were involved in this circle, this kind of call girl ring that he was running… They would all go down to Lord Astor’s place (Clivedon in Buckinghamshire) and have the swimming pool, the weekend orgies, all the rest of it… not only was Stephen Ward doing that, but he was also supplying lots of Members of Parliament and the aristocracy with marijuana.”

“Which would be a big thing then,” I said.

“Which was a big thing then,” Harry agreed. “And which Johnny Edge was supplying to Stephen Ward.”

“How did the Russian get involved?” I asked.

The Daily Mirror reports Profumo’s resignation

Profumo resigned because he lied to MPs

“Well,” explained Harry, “Stephen Ward would host parties which diplomats and all sorts of people would attend – He was just a military attaché. I don’t think there was any attempt to screw information out of Profumo. There’s no way that Christine Keeler was pumping Profumo for information to give to Ivanov, who she called her ‘Russian teddy bear’. It was all just sex and drugs, really. But spooks, being what they are, often read a lot more into the situation than is there.

“Profumo was a pretty honourable man. He just liked screwing.”

“You’ve heard about the new Andrew Lloyd-Webber musical that’s being written about Stephen Ward?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Harry. “Johnny Edge told me Stephen Ward was a great guy and it was terrible the way he was vilified out. Really, he was just serving a need.”

“And was driven to suicide,” I said.

“And,” said Harry, “Johnny was sent to prison. He spent about six years inside. The Labour Party – Bessie Braddock in particular – said, as soon as they got into power, they would ensure he was released. But, of course, what happened when the Wilson government came in? They left him there to rot. He kept writing to them from prison trying to get them to honour what they had said they were going to do, but they left him there.

“He’d been sent to Dartmoor! For a while he shared a cell with Frank Mitchell.”

“The Mad Axeman?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Harry. “Everybody was really frightened of Frank in there. Not just the prisoners, but all the Screws. He was like an animal. But he took a liking to Johnny so, consequently, life was easy for Johnny inside because he had total protection. In those days, it wouldn’t have been easy being a black West Indian like Johnny in prison.’”

“And you met him soon after he got out?” I asked.

“When he first came out of prison,” explained Harry, “he didn’t go back to Notting Hill, he moved to a flat in Blackheath, then later he moved to a flat on a council estate by what’s now the Up The Creek comedy club.

“His aim was, if he could ever make enough money, to go out to the West Indies and buy a boat like his dad had had. Of course, it never happened.

“He would wake up in the morning and smoke a joint. Then he would get washed and dressed. Smoke another joint. Have breakfast. Smoke another joint. Then he was set up to go out for the day. He was always stoned. Always.

Johnny Edge in later life

Johnny Edgecombe in later life + one of his cigarettes

“He decided he was going to make money from selling chess sets. He met somebody who had access to a whole load of reproduction fancy chess sets: the Lewis chess set, the Reynard The Fox one, a Mexican carved crystal one and an erotic chess set – pornographic, basically – the bishops had little boys sucking them off. They weren’t cheap. He made a good mark-up on them.

“Also, if you wanted to buy half a pound or a pound of dope, Johnny knew where to go. In 1971, you could probably get a pound of dope for £500 and he’d charge you £550. He wasn’t a big dope importer or anything, but he was big mates with Howard Marks, who was.

“After the chess sets, he got into buying VW camper vans in Amsterdam and filling them up with Second World War leather jackets and overcoats he bought in a warehouse near where he bought the VWs. They looked like Nazi overcoats but weren’t – most were actually Dutch motorcycle police coats, but they looked the business.

“So Johnny would fill the camper vans with these coats, bring them back to Britain and sell them. The rock singer Chris Farlowe used to run a Nazi militaria shop and Johnny Edge used to sell him these Dutch police overcoats as genuine Nazi wartime overcoats at a massive mark-up.

“Needs must when the Devil drives. There was no way he was ever going to get employed in a straight job; he was so stoned all the time.

“He was a very likeable guy. He was a great guy.”

“And he died just over two years ago,” I said. “What did he die of?”

“Lung cancer,” said Harry.

So it goes.

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Someone appears to be trying to screw me out of money I am owed and that never seems to end well

When I was newly 18 – just a couple of months after my 18th birthday – I tried to kill myself over a girl. It seemed like a good idea at the time. I’ve never regretted it.

But, being a novice at such things, I used drugs – aspirin, paracetamol and codeine. This was a mistake. I had always been shit at Chemistry in school. I always came last in Chemistry, except on one occasion when I came next-to-last. The Chemistry master wrote on my report A fair try and emigrated to New Zealand.

The reason I mention this is that people have always tended to mis-read me. For one thing, they misread nihilism for jollity: a very strange misreading, even if it is occasionally humorous nihilism.

But people (as always) read other people’s thoughts and actions based on their own psychological make-up. This seems to mean that most people think I give a shit.

And they assume that I will calculate consequences in the same way that they would. This is not necessarily true. When I get into a tussle of tiffs. I do calculate consequences, but I may calculate them (from other people’s viewpoints) unexpectedly, in the sense that a scorched earth policy or the Cold War nuclear concept of MAD (mutual assured destruction) does not worry me. I do try to warn people about this, but they seem to ignore the warnings.

They are so used to reading between the lines that they don’t really pay attention to what is actually being said.

If you have, at a point earlier in your life, assumed that you would cease to exist in 60 or 30 or 10 minutes time and if that was an outcome you decided was acceptable – welcome, even – then, trust me, risk calculation later in life may not be on the same measurement scale that other people assume.

The comedian Janey Godley has said of performing comedy: “If I ever stood in a room with 600 people and talked for 15 minutes and nobody laughed, then it’s no worse than having a gun held at your head and I’ve already had that, so it doesn’t really scare me.”

She speaks from experience.

In different circumstances, so do I, though I have never had a gun held at my head. Though there was that unfortunate incident with the young Yugoslav soldier sitting up a tree in a forest outside Titograd.

The fact I genuinely care very little about consequences may also have something to do with having had a Scottish – and Scots Presbyterian – upbringing. The world is full of greys. It is not black and white. But, whereas others may not see a dividing line between the shades of grey I see from my personal viewpoint, I do.

Most decisions and most things in life don’t matter. But, if I decide something DOES matter, then I know where I have drawn that line. One side of that pencil thin line is what is acceptable. On the other side of that pencil thin line is something that is unacceptable under all circumstances.

Up to that line, I am told I am very malleable. If that line is crossed, though, then I will attempt to rip your throat out.

My rule of thumb is three strikes and you are out.

Fuck the consequences.

Just thought I’d mention it…

Now, anyone got any money-making propositions they want to run past me?

Perhaps a job as a risk assessment advisor?

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Dangerous holidays in quirky places

The most dangerous place I was ever on holiday was Bogota in Colombia in 1983, at a time when the Medellin and Cali drug cartels were on the rise. At that time, the presumption in Bogota was that any white Westerner speaking English was carrying large amounts of cash to use in major drug deals.

About an hour after arriving in the city, I was crossing a central road junction when I heard a slight scuffle behind me. My companion, walking about four steps behind had been mugged by two men.

“They held two knives at my throat, so I gave them my wallet,” he told me, slightly surprised. “It seemed like a good idea at the time.” It must have taken all of four seconds.

I remember, one Sunday morning, the two of us walking down a main street in the city – walking on the actual road, not the pavement, because it seemed safer to risk being hit by a car than walking close to narrow alleyways and shop doorways. It was less paranoia than common sense. A week or so later, in Lima, Peru, I got chatting to a young American in the bar of the Sheraton hotel.

“Yeah, Bogota is dangerous,” he agreed. He told me he visited the city quite often.

“What do you do?” I asked.

“I’m in the import/export business,” he told me.

“Ah,” I replied.

I like interesting places but not dangerous ones.

Yesterday I went to the Destinations holiday exhibition at Earls Court in London, courtesy of the wonderful travel company Regent Holidays. In 1979, I went with them to Albania, largely because I had read the country had no motorised traffic and was dotted with pillbox bunkers in case they got invaded by unspecified other nations. “Dotted with pillboxes” turned out to be an understatement. Albania had concrete pillboxes like a pointillist painting has dots – and they were white curved things which could be clearly seen from a distance (surely not a good idea for a pill-box).

Albania in 1979 was a restful country – said to be the poorest in Europe – and, indeed, it had virtually no motorised vehicles. Occasionally you might spot a military truck or a Mercedes-Benz limo belonging to the Party; other than that it was horse-drawn carts and people walking. It was ruled by the admirably OTT Marxist-Leninist dictator Enver Hoxha who was said to always carry a pistol on his hip and once shot a member of his government over a dinner argument.

Now that’s my kinda ruler!

You can imagine Boris Johnson, given a tiny bit more power, doing that sort of thing.

Albania in 1979 was the most eccentric place I had been until I wisely went to North Korea with Regent Holidays in 1985. I recommend the country highly. When I went, it was ruled by The Great Leader (that was his official title) Kim il-sung about whom I’m saying nothing as I might want to go back there sometime. All I will say is that I went in 1985 and 1985 was a year late for North Korea’s definitive year. It was illegal for individuals to own a radio: the simplest effective piece of state control over people’s thoughts I have ever heard of.

Regent Holidays specialised then and specialise now in unusual destinations and, during the Cold War, that often meant extreme Communist regimes. I do lament the passing of widespread hardline Communism because you were always safe travelling to communist countries and right wing dictatorships. If anyone messed with foreign-currency-carrying tourists in those countries, the perpetrators tended to end up being thrown in a cell and the key thrown away or being shot in a football stadium. This tended to minimise casual street muggings.

I went to a lot of Communist countries during the Cold War because I was sadly too late for all the truly great right wing dictatorships. The only right wing dictatorship I did visit was Paraguay under General Stroessner. He is reported to have been ousted in 1989 because his military chiefs feared he would be succeeded either by his son Freddie, a cocaine addict, or by his son Gustavo, “who was loathed for being a homosexual and a pilot”. Bigotry apparently ran deep in Paraguay.

People have always told me I should go to Cuba and maybe I should, but I never felt it was extreme or eccentric enough. Fidel Castro always seemed to me a decent sort-of chap though, like comedian Ken Dodd, he tended to drastically over-run on his allotted stage time. He (I mean Fidel, not Doddy) ousted a particularly nasty dictator in Batista; this understandably annoyed the American Mafia, in particular Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky – and it is never a good idea to annoy powerful chaps like them. The modern-day equivalent might be a pub singer annoying Simon Cowell.

Having gained power, Fidel did approach US American President Eisenhower for aid and a meeting and was rebuffed. So it always seemed to me that Fidel was a decent bloke and the Americans brought on their own heads what followed. I mean, honestly, chaps in Langley getting CIA operatives to try to kill Fidel with an exploding cigar or to discredit him by trying to make his hair fall out… well, it’s the basis for a good comedy movie and I admire the lateral thinking, but leave the poor man alone.

I prefer holidays in quirky countries with eccentric dictators and there are precious few at the moment.

I did go to Turkmenistan in 1995 because President Saparmurat Niyazov sounded doolally. Sadly, he wasn’t, at that time, eccentric enough for my taste, though he did go slightly more impressively barking a little later: re-naming months of the year after members of his family and officially replacing the Turkmen word for “bread” with the name of his mother.

I like countries in a state of flux which will have changed utterly in 20 years time. Where is there to go now? Chechnya? Ingushetia? I’m not that mad. Somalia? You’re joking.

At Earls Court yesterday, the most interesting stand by far was Hinterland Travel, who were selling holidays to Afghanistan – their brochure was sub-titled “Discerning Adventures” which I don’t think anyone could dispute.

Around 1989, a friend suggested we go on holiday to Afghanistan because, she claimed,  “it’ll be safer in a couple of years or so”. It never did get safer. At the time she suggested it, I read that commercial jets were landing at Kabul Airport by making very tight spiral descents in an attempt to confuse any in-coming heat-seeking surface-to-air missiles. There comes a point where “interesting” strays into “fucking dangerous” and, call me a wimp, but this was well over that line.

On 15th October this year, Hinterland Travel are offering a 14-day trip starting in Afghanistan costing £2,100. This adventure holiday for discerning travellers who are attracted to something slightly different from a Spanish beach holiday is called “The Retreat”. It starts in Kabul and aims to recreate the retreat of the British Army from Kabul to Jalalabad in 1842.

A note at the back of the leaflet says: “We do insist that you take out some form of insurance… principally health and repatriation cover while recognising that you will not be covered for Afghanistan re War and Terrorism.”

Suddenly Bogota in 1983 doesn’t seem so dangerous.

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