Tag Archives: community

Tony Blair and the Lord God persuaded me Britain should get out of Europe

Tony blair - These are the eyes of a man who has talked to god (Photo: Marc Müller

Tony Blair – These are the eyes of a man who has talked to God (Photograph: Marc Müller)

Tony Blair has opened my eyes to the way the Good Lord God thinks.

I saw him (Tony Blair) give an impassioned speech this morning on why Britain should stay in the European Union.

Well, I suppose it was not actually impassioned because we are talking, here, about Tony Blair. But I suspect he would have had a chat with God before making the speech, so I guess what Mr Bliar – eh, Blair – was spouting was what he deemed to be the Word of God. And it clarified my thinking on the matter.

Before I listened to Tony Blair, my gut instinct was that Britain should get out of Europe, but there might be some slight economic reason for staying in. Now, after Mr Blair’s impassioned pro-European Union speech, I have no doubts.

I am old enough to remember the referendum which took us into what was then the European Economic Community (EEC). The politicians said the economic argument for being a part of – rather than outside – the European Economic Community was strong. There was no political angle. You could banish that thought from your mind. There would never be even any talk of political union. The clue was in the name – the European Economic Community. It was merely a free trade community like the existing smaller free trade community of which we were happily a part.

Pro-European politicians now seem to act as if the choice back then was – and still is – between little Britain being on its own or being part of Europe.

That is utter bollocks.

Wikipedia’s map of the current EFTA (dark green) showing ex-EFTA members who are now EU members (light green0

Wikipedia’s map of the current EFTA (dark green) showing ex-EFTA members who are now EU members (light green)

We were part of the European Free Trade Association – Austria, Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK.

The bigger EEC comprised Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.

When we joined the EEC, so did Denmark and Ireland. (Portugal joined in 1986)

Soon after we joined the European Economic Community – “It’s only a free trade area, nothing to do with politics” – started calling itself the European Community and now it calls itself the European Union.

I always thought it was bizarre that we were joining an economic organisation with vaguely similar Western European economies and abandoning or weakening our Commonwealth trade ties with countries around the world who had complementary not competing economies – Australia, Canada, New Zealand, developing countries in Africa and lots of other complementary economies including the rising future superpower of India.

Culturally, Belgium and France – just 22 miles away – are far for more foreign than New Zealand – literally on the other side of the world. And our historical and cultural ties with India are – arguably – as close as any ties to continental Europe.

EFTA made sense. Denmark, Iceland, Norway and Sweden are far ‘closer’ and far more complementary to us than France, Germany and Italy. The Commonwealth makes sense.

Wikipedia’s map of the NAFTA free trade area

Wikipedia’s map of NAFTA’s trade area

My gut instinct is that we should get out of a pointless European Union of power-hungry politicians who want to control larger areas and get back to a trade-based economic association of countries. The Commonwealth is already ideal. EFTA was fine. And there is the interesting though embarrassingly acronymed NAFTA – the North American Free Trade Agreement between the US, Canada and Mexico. Not ideal, but interesting.

Free Trade = good.

Power-crazed politicians trying to get control over ever-larger areas = bad.

I remember being in a hotel in Samarkand in Uzbekistan in the mid-1980s.

Opposite the hotel, a new multi-storey building was rising. Only the concrete skeleton was visible so far… and the concrete was already cracking.

One of the people I was with was an architect.

He explained: ‘The trouble is someone in Moscow is deciding which concrete they will use across the USSR but, in Siberia, it’s freezing – way-below zero – and, around Samarkand, it’s baking-hot desert.’

Centralised decision-making does not work.

Wikipedia’s map of the USSR

Wikipedia’s map of the USSR

The USSR fell apart – partly – because it shoved totally unconnected countries together which had nothing in common. The same thing happened, in a way, in Yugoslavia.

The European Union is a dog’s dinner of separate countries with little holding them together except politicians’ lust for greater power over more people. I mean – come on – is Denmark really a neat cultural and historical fit with Greece?

One of the few sensible ideas the appalling Tony Blair (the UN’s peacemaker in the Middle East) ever floated was for a Council of The Isles  – but not just the British-Irish Council – one to encompass a possibly independent England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

Economic links between countries with complementary economies or a clubbing-together of countries with cultural and/or historical similarities tends to work. Just shoving together incompatible entities into bigger and bigger units for the sake of increased political power has a tendency to lead to wars.


Filed under Europe, Politics, UK

A first meeting with Malcolm Hardee, the godfather of British alternative comedy (and some four-letter words)

Malcolm Hardee (left) & Martin Soan: The Greatest Show on Legs (photo by Steve Taylor)

Malcolm Hardee (left) & Martin Soan: Greatest Show on Legs (photograph by Steve Taylor)

This morning, I got a text message from Jonathan Hale, co-owner of the Emporium vintage clothes shop in Greenwich:

“Quite expecting my whole day to be chaos owing to Malc,” it said. “He will be playing tricks from wherever he is.”

Today would have been the 63rd birthday of Malcolm Hardee, the godfather of British alternative comedy. He drowned in 2005. The annual birthday tribute to him takes place at the Lord Hood pub in Greenwich, London, on 20th January and the three increasingly prestigious (www.increasinglypresigious.co.uk) annual Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards are presented during the now traditional two-hour variety show in his honour at the Edinburgh Fringe on 23rd August.

For almost thirty years, on and off, Malcolm performed with Martin Soan’s comedy group The Greatest Show on Legs.

Last night, I phoned Martin.

“It’s Malcolm’s birthday tomorrow…” I said.

“I remember one year,” Martin replied, “I discovered that his favourite soup was mulligatawny soup. So, that year for his birthday, he got 48 cans of mulligatawny soup off of me.”

“How did you first meet him?” I asked.

“Ah,” he said. “I was asked to join the Put It All in The Pot show directed by Diane Brookings – Diane Broken-knees, as Malcolm nicknamed her.

“I was working as a Punch & Judy man afternoons and weekends. One of the gigs I had was Sunday lunchtime at Greenwich Theatre, performing to children in a jazz lunchtime thing – The jazz band would have a break and, in the ante room, I would do a Punch & Judy show for all the kids who’d come down with their parents to watch the jazz.

“This woman, Diane Brookings, came up and asked if I’d like to join her community-based touring show for children. I’d never done anything else except Punch & Judy and was interested and flattered that someone had asked me to do something else.

“The rehearsals were in the main hall at Goldsmith’s College, which had this staircase which came up in the middle of it.

“I ascended the stairs and my heart sank a little bit because I could hear this voice doing these theatrical exercises: I want you to stretch-stretch-stretch. I want you to pretend your fingers are like the tips of the ends of the branches of trees. Stretch-stretch-stretch. And I thought Oh fuck me! This is going to be exactly what I do NOT want to be involved in.

“As I came up the stairs, I looked round the hall and there were two other men. All the rest were women and they all had Fame-style leg-warmers on and they were all wearing lurex-lyrex-spandex whatever you call it. They were all doing these drama school warm-ups, but there was this one man who had a jacket on and a greatcoat and jeans and he could barely get his arms above his head and, every now and then, he’d adjust his glasses with his middle finger. He wasn’t really trying. It was Malcolm, of course. I looked down and there was this bald boxer dog, wearing a bow tie, fucking his leg. I thought Aha! There may be some saving grace within this show.

“That was my first image of Malcolm. It was Stuart North’s dog fucking his leg, but I can’t remember the name of the dog. It always wore a bow tie.

“During a break, Malcolm came over to me and said: See him over there? – It was the only other bloke; he was called Dave – He’s gay, Malcolm said. See that girl over there? I’ve fucked her. See that one over there? I’ve fucked her. See her over there? I’ve fucked her. I’ve fucked all these girls here. What you wanna do? You’re not gay, are you? 

“He just assaulted me with this little barrage of how good he was at everything. I was half convinced it was actually his show until Diane Brookings came over and handed out scripts.

“A number of people I’ve met who have become good friends… my first meeting with them has been strange.

“I remember the very first time I met Don, another of my friends. We were standing by a river and he just turned round to me and said: I could chuck you in that river, if I wanted. I dunno what it is in me that brings out the worst in types like Malcolm.”

“How did the Diane Brookings show go?” I asked.

“It was absolutely atrocious,” remembered Martin. “It was Malcolm, me Dave and about twelve women. There were about three weeks of rehearsals. We had scenery, costumes and a terrible script. After about a couple of weeks, I knew Malcolm as much as I knew him two weeks before he died. We were that close. Roaring with laughter backstage and playing-up and acting-up, enjoying ourselves. I think Malcolm probably shagged a couple of ‘em, but he didn’t shag ‘em all. The women were not the main reason we did it. Malcolm needed something to do when he got out of prison. I still remember one of the songs:

Put it all in the pot!
What have you got?
You’ve got fun!
You’ve got fun!

Put it all in the pot!
What have you got?
A good ti-i-ime!

“It was shockingly bad. We went to Cheltenham with it. We went to village halls with it. I think Diane Brookings had realised the script was a bit weak, so she got me in and Tom and I – he was my Punch & Judy  ‘interpreter’ at the time – basically did one half of the show with the Punch & Judy and a song at the beginning and a song at the end; and then there were a few sketches.

“But the show wasn’t really working,” said Martin. “Then the van that had all the props in was broken into overnight and nothing was stolen apart from the sound tapes. An expensive tape recorder was in there and was left; only the tapes were stolen. It was a bit odd. Diane Brookings discovered it and blew up and said We’re going to cancel the rest of the run!

“There were only about five shows left and we were quite enjoying ourselves. She got us all around in a circle and basically lost it and slagged us all off about how useless we all were. We had worked at it and we had learned our lines. We were putting on the best show that we possibly could, singing and dancing and I was putting on my Punch & Judy show.

“But she went round each one and did a character assassination on each person. When she came to Malcolm, she said: Oh, you’re absolutely useless! You’ve not been long out of out of prison. Call yourself an actor? No such thing! You’re just a useless waste of space!

“Malcolm just leant down and put his face up close to hers and said Well, at least my mum still loves me and there was something extraordinarily funny about it. She had broken her leg and she was in a wheelchair.”


Filed under Comedy, Theatre

Wannabe policeman is illegally ripping off London comedy show posters

(This piece also appeared in the Huffington Post)

The bike, after the attack by the representative of The Law

The bike, after the attack by the representative of ‘The Law’

In joke-telling, there is ‘The Rule of Three’.

Sometimes, this spills over into real life and overlaps with the saying ‘It never rains but it pours’.

In my blog three days ago, I mentioned that comedian Martin Soan had broken a rib in a bicycle accident and that a comedian who double-booked himself for two simultaneous shows had caused problems for Martin’s Pull The Other One comedy club in January.

In the last year, Pull The Other one has featured top comedy acts like Omid Djalili, Stewart Lee and Arthur Smith.

On Friday, as an end-of-year thankyou to locals, Pull The Other One staged a free comedy show in Nunhead, Peckham. As normal, Martin and Vivienne Soan publicised it widely locally – as they have done for over five years – with flyers and posters. Some of the posters were on bicycles which were ridden round the area.

The show was a success – despite what appear to be illegal actions by a local wanna policeman.

To save money on paying the police, England and Wales are now blessed with cheaper “Community Support Officers” to back-up the ‘real’ police. I suspect (with no evidence, m’lud) that these are often wanna policemen and wannabe policewomen with over-developed superiority complexes.

“It seems we now have a special constable,” Martin Soan told me yesterday, “who has taken it upon himself to tear down our posters and most disturbingly rip them off our bikes… I’m not sure that’s within his powers or even if it’s legal.”

I would have thought it was most definitely not legal. This guardian of ‘The Law’ appears to have decided to remove a piece of private property attached to a private vehicle without the owner’s permission which I would think, in legal terms, must be pure vandalism and damaging private property – perhaps even theft.

“This bloke,” says Martin, “rides around on a bike with a ‘Comunity Warden’ sticker on it…. Am I within my rights to rip that off?… Or deface a Sainsbury’s lorry?… Or paint over shop signs?… He also told me that he would remove my bike if I put a poster on it again.”

The offensive poster for free comedy show

The offensive poster for a free comedy show

Martin’s wife Vivienne, who co-runs Pull The Other One, says: “The community policeman has systematically taken down all our publicity, telling us that we are making money from free advertising at the council’s expense. He says we are no longer allowed to put our poster on local notice boards and even took down a poster from British Rail property on which we have placed posters over the last five years!”

To my mind, this seems to be, again, a case of the ‘Community’ wannabe policeman damaging private property which stands on private land and removing property without the owner’s permission.

An interesting mindset for a guardian of ‘The Law’.

“Mind you,” Vivienne told me yesterday, “it has saved Martin a job, as he usually takes down all the posters the day after the show. And Martin’s rib is obviously greatly improved, as he wants to punch the guy in the face !!!!!”


Filed under Comedy, Police

Alien lifeforms, empty schools and sexual promiscuity in County Kerry

The people I am staying with on the currently rain-swept Iveragh Peninsula in south west Ireland obviously (despite the weather) have a refrigerator.

On a shelf inside the fridge is a 1,000 kg block of cheese.

On the wrapper are printed the words “EC Aid White Cheese”. The cheese is supplied free to locals by the European Union. You just go along and ask for it and you are given it. No-one knows why, but no-one is going to turn down 1,000 kg of free cheese.

EC Aid is part of the European Community’s Development Programme which stems from the Cotonou Agreement. The central objective of the agreement is “poverty reduction and ultimately its eradication; sustainable development; and progressive integration of 77 African, Caribbean and Pacific countries into the world economy”. Quite how my two chums living in considerable comfort with two cars and five TV sets in Kerry fit into this no doubt admirable scheme and qualify with all the other locals for 1,000 kg of free cheese, I know not.

But this odd circumstance is, of course, not a solitary example of a wee taste of the bizarre here in Kerry.

The local newspaper The Kerryman (established 1904) carries a headline:



PHRONIMAS, deep-sea creatures that inspired the Alien movies because of their practice of burrowing into their victims, were discovered on Ventry Beach last week.

The discovery is believed to be the first time creatures of this kind have been found in Kerry and, according to head aquarist at Dingle Oceanworld Katie O’dwyer:

“Phronimas are a type of amphipod, related to crustaceans, such as crab and lobster and they live in very deep oceanic waters,” she told The Kerryman. “They find a Salp, a type of Tunicate or Sea-squirt, and they carve them out to create a ‘barrel’ which they then live in.

“However, scientific studies have found that the bits of the Salp that are left when the Phronima is living in them, are actually still alive.”

The Phronima still has to swim around but uses the barrel like a little dwelling; as the food and water comes through it.


The Kerryman’s editorial then rages at:



While the east Kerry Scoil Mhuire National School in Clonkeen has no pupils and is due to be shut down in the near future, a ludicrous regulation set down by officials at the Department of Education meant that for the last three months the school’s principal still had report for work every day at a completely empty school.

Since September this teacher, who was willing and waiting to be transferred to another school, was forced to fill his days compiling logs and rolls for a deserted school and wandering the empty classrooms and halls.

That this situation was allowed to continue, and was arguably ignored altogether by officials at the Department of Education, while schools the length and breadth of Kerry cry for additional teachers is nothing short of scandalous.

It’s a damning indictment of the culture of spin that exists and our government and the officials involved in this whole outrageous fiasco should hang their heads in shame.


and, in even more personal social news, The Kerryman reports:



Infidelity is on the rise in Kerry. According to figures published by website ashleymadison.com, which is designed to accommodate people who want to cheat on their partners, there are a huge number of people in Kerry seeking to play away from home.

The site, which was launched in Ireland in 2009, now has 3,692 members in Kerry. This is one of the highest figures in the country outside of the major cities. According to the site about a third of these users are women.

Users of the site, described as attached people by the website, can use it to flirt with other people who are married or in a relationship through online chat services and message boards.


The AshleyMadison site’s slogan is:


Perhaps my blog yesterday about the “feckin” nuns cavorting on a local beach during their summer holidays was not as odd as I thought.

Life in Kerry is never dull and often unexpected.

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Filed under Education, Ireland, Politics, Science, Sex