Tag Archives: David Bowie

The Tube’s nameless cult surrealist Wavis O’Shave (almost) gets serious…

So I have been talking to a man whose real name I do not know. He performed as Wavis O’Shave on the 1980s Channel 4 TV music series The Tube, often in bizarre comedy sketches as ‘The Hard’.  But he has also appeared as Foffo Spearjig, Pan’s Person, Mustapha Dhoorinc, Mr Haggler, Howay Man and many more. 

In 1994, on Granada TV’s show Stars in Their Eyes, he appeared as ‘Callum Jensen’ impersonating glam rock star Steve Harley,

Before The Tube, in 1980, he had recorded an album called Anna Ford’s Bum referring to the TV newsreader and, in 2004, he recorded a CD single Katie Derham’s Bum referring to another TV newsreader.

In 2021, he wrote and recorded what he claimed was the world’s first palindrome song Mr Owl Ate My Metal Worm.


Nameless talked to me via FaceTime (in a theatrical wig)

JOHN: Because it was screened at an awkward time, I almost never saw The Tube, so I’m fairly unaware of your extensive fame.

WAVIS: A lot of people, if you mention my names, they say: “Oh yeah, The Tube! Oh yeah, Anna Ford’s Bum! Oh yeah, The Hard!”… and then the missing years. They think I’m either dead or in prison. They don’t realise that, sporadically, I just erupt and record a song or do something else that warrants attention, then I disappear.

JOHN: At heart, you’re basically a music person…?

WAVIS: Well, Wikipedia says I’m a comedian and a musician. People always ask: “What are you? Performance artist? This, that, whatever?” And I say: “I’m a Wavis O’Shave.”

JOHN: In 2004, Chris Donald of Viz magazine said you’re not a musician, you’re not a comedian, you’re “a sort of cross between Howard Hughes,Tiny Tim and David Icke”.

WAVIS: Well, Malcolm Gerrie, the producer of The Tube, said I’m a mixture of Arthur Askey, Charlie Chaplin and Lee Evans. That’s a bit more credible, isn’t it? And he knew me quite well. But, really, I’m a fat, skinny nowt, if that’s helpful.

JOHN: Nowt? Sounds like a plug for your own alleged autobiography I Felt Nowt. I typed that title into Amazon and it came up with ‘felt roll’ which was, indeed, a page for a roll of felt.

WAVIS: Yeah. I’m quite happy with that. It only goes up to 2013, I think, and I’ve had some amazing adventures since then. 

JOHN: You think?

WAVIS: I haven’t read it for ages…

JOHN: You have read your autobiography?

WAVIS: I have. It starts at the beginning of my illustrious media ‘career’ – around 1975. 

People wanted me to get it in book form but I thought I couldn’t justify it. The thing is, John, people wouldn’t believe it past Page 10. They would think it was made up. A fiction, because my life has been so ‘alternative’.

JOHN: You were very matey with Simon and Chris Donald of Viz

WAVIS: Yes. I had quite a lot of interaction with Viz at the time and was their Patron Saint. They visited me at my mothers’ ‘bit of shanty’ once and she told them all about her visits from the god Pan whom I’d summoned. I can’t recall what he was being summoned for, maybe for not having a portable sheep pen licence. 

JOHN: You have been called a “forgotten hero of the North East”.

WAVIS: I’m not forgotten!!! Those people! I’m not kidding. The name Foffo Spearjig has been nicked and used by so many people. There’s two Wavis O’Shaves on Facebook who are not me. It’s all out of control. Always has been. 

JOHN: You have done ‘Celebrity Ambusahes’. You harried Debbie Harry. There’s a photo.

WAVIS: I’m living in the North East at the time and friends are watching their heroes and heroines on telly and I tell them: “Why don’t you go and meet them? You can!” And they didn’t.

It started for me with Debbie Harry; then it was Britt Ekland and so on.

At the time, Debbie Harry was the hottest pop act on the planet and you weren’t allowed to take photographs because they had their own photographer. So I asked Chris Stein: “Any chance?” And he went and asked her and he came back and said: Well, yeah. It’s fine so long as you promise you won’t sell ‘em. 

So I was lucky to get those photographs, but I didn’t just want to stand next to her so, out of my back pocket I got something like a 5’9” polystyrene nose and we took the picture.

JOHN: You had a very big back pocket.

WAVIS: I do.

At the time, I’d released some vinyl and both the NME and Sounds picked up on it  and were praising me and normally the NME and Sounds were deadly enemies like Celtic/Rangers. But they both loved Wavis, so I was getting lots of good press regularly and, when I took these pictures from what I called Celebrity Ambushes, they would appear. 

Anna Ford’s Bum led to the Sunday People…

I ended up on the front page of the Sunday People with Anna Ford, which was quite a big thing. She was the gentleman’s top totty at the time and here’s this ragamuffin from Up North singing about her bum in a national newspaper.

My last celebrity ambush was only a couple of months ago – Harry Hill. I mentioned our mutual friend Gary Bushell and told him: “Gary said many years ago that Wavis was Harry Hill before Harry Hill was Harry Hill, but, mind you, you’re not a bad Harry Hill anyway.”

That was the last one. The next-to last one was Tyson Fury, the World Heavyweight Boxing Champion. I laughed all the way home after that. What had I been doing? I’d been in the middle of all these really massive blokes, sense of humour not that prominent, and I’m wanting him to sign a poster of The Hard.

JOHN: How did Tyson react?

WAVIS: My success rate has always been 99.9%, catching people one-to-one. But he was surrounded by his bouncer folks and one of them just took one look at me with me ‘Hard’ poster and said: “He doesn’t do autographs”.

Then, as he went into the building, we exchanged glances… I have stared him out, technically… he went into the building and signed autographs for these VIP people who paid £320 to get them! That’s Showbusiness, folks! 

JOHN: So you didn’t get one.

WAVIS: Well, I didn’t really want it. I just wanted to be there because it was ridiculous. What was I doing there?

Locally, up North, the first celebrity I ever mixed with was Spike Milligan around 1975/1976.

“The idea was to play anything that wasn’t music.”

I had a group I called the Borestiffers. We did a ‘world tour’ of two dates at our local hall in Southshields. I had to fill in a form. I said it was for ‘poetry recitals’. All the rival gangs came – they’d kill each other on sight – and the hall was quartered by all these rival gangs who had come to see what on earth was going on. They didn’t know what to expect. 

I came out with an illuminated Subbuteo floodlight strapped on my head with my wacky little band and I’m doing my songs and I just managed to finish it before the chairs started getting thrown at each other from the rival gangs.

The idea of the Borestiffers was to play anything that wasn’t music. We had empty suitcases for drums, Bullworkers and we genuinely had a kitchen sink, because someone was having their kitchen done. We had everything and we freaked everybody out so much that they didn’t know how to react.

I thought: Right! I like this reaction!

JOHN: …and so you decided to do comedy?

WAVIS: People want me to be a comedy/haha person. But nobody’s one person.

On  the day Elvis died – 16th April 1977 – I went up to Dumfries and joined the Tibetan community there – the same one David Bowie went to ten years earlier with Tony Defries. The Kagyu Samye Ling Monastery.

The Samye Ling Temple at Eskdalemuir in Scotland (Photograph by Robert Matthews)

JOHN: I’ve been there.

WAVIS: I met the Dalai Lama there in 1994.

JOHN: He’s a bit of a giggler, isn’t he…

WAVIS: He can’t stop laughing… Anyway, I studied there and had a lama teacher – a celebrated rinpoche – Akong Rinpoche. He was murdered in China in 2013. I had Akong as a teacher in 1977 and I seemed to already know the stuff. What I got into was a thing called Vajrayana – you may have heard of the ‘crazy wisdom’ of Vajrayana.

It kind of frees outrageous behaviour.

I thought: This is the way I seem to be. Polar opposites. I’m up here at the apex, sitting with the emptiness of the Vajra diamond and the supreme oblivion where you can really bamboozle people with your behaviour.

And this was the formulation of Wavis.

When I left the Community, that’s when I got into recording the vinyl.

The reason I ended up doing sketches on music shows is… They said “Come on in and sing your Don’t Crush Bees With the End of Your Walking Stick or You Think You’re a Woman Because You Don’t Eat Fishcakes… Come on and do one of your songs.”

And I thought: No. I don’t work like that. If you want me to do songs, I won’t do songs… “Can I do a comedy sketch instead?”… I kinda wrote one on the spot for them. Sketches and characters pass though my brain. It never dries up.

So I ended up doing sketches on The Tube. A national audience. Four million people a week.

JOHN: And it all goes back to the Samye Ling Temple? You wanted to bamboozle people with surreality?

WAVIS: Well, the crazy wisdom of the Tibetan teachings do allow for… Well, you gotta end up talking about the unconscious mind. Surrealism is like a bubble rising up from the bottom of the lake.

The origin of comedy interests me, John. I’m very into neurology.

My wife – we’ve been married 38 years – has very high-functioning Asperger’s Syndrome. She worked for the Ministry of Defence. She has had to put up with me for 38 years. She says it’s like living with Zelig.

I know quite a few serious researchers into neurology. Simon Baron-Cohen is a friend.

I live with two people who have Asperger’s – my wife and her son – and there are other immediate family members on the spectrum as well. All quite clever. Cambridge University have studied the family. They actually came here and did DNA swab testing. That’s how I met Simon Baron-Cohen in 2013 or so.

Researchers have pointed out that when serious people like Oliver Sacks take psychedelics, they report back that – ooh – you see UFOs, you see fairies… BUT lots and lots and lots of people have also reported seeing circus clowns. 

JOHN: And the conclusion is that they see clowns because…?

WAVIS: Well, yes, why should they see circus clowns? Is it indicating … Is it possible… that the origin of comedy resides somewhere in the unconscious mind? Or, certainly, on another level of consciousness? Very serious stuff this, isn’t it?

JOHN: A lot of people find clowns very frightening…

WAVIS: That’s true.

JOHN: You must have had a career before the surreal stuff. You mentioned Zeus to me in an email. Everyone knows Zeus, but you also mentioned Hera. Now that’s relatively obscure.

WAVIS: Hera? Is she obscure? When I was a child, one of the first movies I saw was Jason and The Argonauts and that has got a lot to answer for. Life can be dull, mundane and boring. But I wanna be off! The other movie I saw that inspired me was Ursula Andress as She.

I went to the movies when I was ten. I wanted to walk into the screen. A search for the ultimate female. Ayesha (She). I have studied all that (Greek) stuff, but not as an academic. 

JOHN: Ayesha and Jason: that’s all fantasy stuff. You were interested in fantasy?

WAVIS: Ah!… Ah!… Well, Wavis is a fantasy figure. How many times have I had to say to people that Wavis is just a fig roll ment of your imagination? I have no end of names. I was called Callum Jensen when I went on Stars in Their Eyes. Well, Steve Harley had been a friend, you see…He sent his own guitar to use on the show and let me keep it…

(…CONTINUED HERE …)

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Bad memories of Bowie and the 1960s

Paul Gannon at Fubar Radio this afternoon

Fubar Radio today – Paul Gannon raising Comic Relief money

This blog is being posted very late today because, basically, I slept all morning. Pure laziness. Then I went to a 27-hour Comic Relief live podcast being run at Fubar Radio by Geekatorium podcaster Paul Gannon. There was a smell in the studio of stale Red Bull intermingled with under-arm deodorant.

I was not there for 27 hours. The live show had started at 8.00pm last night and ends at 11.00pm tonight. I was there for about an hour.

But still, as a result of all that, today’s blog is an irrelevant, partially-mistaken memory.

I have a terrible memory. I always have.

Sometimes people think I have an excellent memory. But that is because I write appointments and events in a diary.

If I remember to.

I am the perfect audience for comedians. I hear jokes, like them and, five minutes after leaving the venue, I have forgotten them.

I am usually the oldest person in a comedy club.

It stands to reason.

Though I think reason is much over-rated.

I was saying to someone last night that, inside, no matter how old they are, everyone feels they are around 26 years old.

But, even when I really was around 26 years old, I had the memory of a 126-year-old. And what follows happened well before I was 26.

David Bowie in 1967, the so-called Summer of Love

David Bowie in 1967, the so-called Summer of Love

When I talked to musician Clifford Slapper recently for an upcoming blog, I mentioned I had never seen David Bowie perform music live, but I had seen him perform live as a mime artist under the name Davy (or it might have been David) Jones at, I thought, the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London. David Jones was, I said, supporting Tyrannosaurus Rex, the (much better) hippie precursor to rock/pop band T-Rex.

That was all I remembered – and part of that was wrong.

Today, Clifford told me he had managed to piece together the actual facts.

The gig I remembered apparently took place on 3rd June 1968 at the Royal Festival Hall in London.

I should have known this, because I actually mentioned it in a blog in 2011, which I had forgotten.

David Jones did indeed support Tyrannosaurus Rex on a bill which also included Roy Harper and Stefan Grossman, both of whom deserve to be, but are not, widely remembered. Ha! I say remembered. They are still around.

David Bowie - so unimportant he was not billed

I remember David Bowie being introduced as David Jones – yet ‘David Bowie’ is clearly billed as such  in this ad for the gig

“He did a 12-minute mime performance,” Clifford tried to remind me of David Jones/David Bowie. “His mime piece was called Yet-San And The Eagle with a backing track made by Bowie and Tony Visconti.”

I had mentioned to Clifford that Tony Visconti had turned up at a rather odd series of weekly philosophy lectures which I attended around that time. All I remember is that he wore a black velvet jacket and had a very attractive girlfriend.

I remember nothing about the David Jones mime at the Tyrannosaurus Rex gig. I had gone along to see Tyrannosaurus Rex. And I tend to go along with the late comedian Malcolm Hardee’s opinion of mime as a tragic waste of time.

“The backing track to the mime piece,” Clifford reminded me, “aimed to sound Tibetan but used a Moroccan stringed instrument from Portobello Road and sound effects with saucepans rather than cymbals. The compere was BBC’s John Peel.”

I remember none of this.

Tyrannosaurus Rex’s album My People Were Fair and Had Sky in their Hair, But Now they’re Content to Wear Stars on Their Brows

Tyrannosaurus Rex: My people were fair and had sky in their hair… But now they’re content to wear stars on their brows

Marc Bolan of Tyrannosaurus Rex,” Clifford tells me, “was fiercely competitive and allowed Bowie on the bill only on condition that he mimed but did not sing. The piece was about the invasion of Tibet by China and some Maoists had got wind of it and turned up to heckle the mime. One voice shouted out Stop the propaganda!”

I remember none of this.

“Bolan,” Clifford tells me, “was delighted by the heckle, but Bowie later said: I was trembling with anger and went home sulking.”

All I remember is seeing David Bowie perform as David Jones or maybe Davy Jones.

David Bowie has gone through Ch-ch-ch-changes

David Bowie has gone through Ch-ch-ch-changes

This happened on 3rd June 1968.

I guess I knew David Jones was also David Bowie, because Bowie had apparently released his single The Laughing Gnome (under his David Bowie name) in April 1967.

According to Wikipedia (so it must be true), the single was not a success. I rather remember it being quite widely played and thought I remembered it being a success.

But history is whatever is written down and read, not the possibly faulty memories of those who were actually there.

I feel I have turned into a cliché character. I was there, but clearly I cannot remember the 1960s.

And I did not take drugs. Fuck knows what the people who were drugged out of their skulls don’t remember.

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The very highly talented and now slightly forgotten Anthony Newley

(A slightly revised version of this blog was published in the Huffington Post)

When I got back from the Edinburgh Fringe at the start of last week, the newly-released DVD collection of The Strange World of Gurney Slade was waiting for me – a TV series by the immensly talented Anthony Newley so obscure that even the word ‘cult’ cannot be attached to it, although its style allegedly influenced the young David Bowie.

When originally transmitted on ITV’s sole channel in 1960, the first two episodes were screened to general apathy at 8.35pm on (from memory) Friday nights, but were then quickly moved to the graveyard slot of 11.10pm.

The Strange World of Gurney Slade was far too strange and avant garde for the mass audience and did not quite have the right ingredients to be a cult for Guardian-reading trendies.

But strange and quirky it certainly is.

The Prisoner – which, when first transmitted in 1967/1968, received high levels not of apathy but of active dislike, became a lasting cult success – I suspect, partly because it was screened in the US so had a wider fan base… and partly because it was transmitted on ITV at 7.30pm peaktime on Sundays

But, The Strange World of Gurney Slade is weird even for a surreal neo-Brechtian fantasy. Even so, it was but a mild trial run for Tony Newley’s 1969 all-stops-pulled-out feature film jaw-dropper of a Fellini-esque fantasy Can Hieronymus Merkin Ever Forget Merchant Humppe and Find True Happiness?   

Newley – a creative all-rounder – singer, songwriter, actor, director, fantasist – will be remembered, if at all, as an idiosyncratic performer and writer of mainstream songs. But he should also be rated as a considerable experimental creator of visual fantasies.

I have blogged previously about my only encounter with Tony Newley – and it was a very favourable encounter. He impressed me as a person.

TV producer Danny Greenstone knew Newley peripherally through theatrical agent Jeremy Hicks, who had been the company stage manager for Newley’s West End musical The Good Old Bad Old Days and spent a year working with Newley at the Prince of Wales theatre in London.

In The Good Old Bad Old Days, Newley played the Devil and wore horns and a tail, the edge of which he used in the show to peel an apple. Before going on stage, he always took a swig from his ‘honey flask’. Danny Greenstone says:

“Lord only knows what formula was in there but it did contain honey as well. After taking a swig, he would stomp on stage, perform and stomp off again on cue. As he came off stage, he would reach for the honey flask again and, referring to the the bit of business or gag or song he had just performed, would mutter under his breath: ‘Masterly…. Masterly….’.

“During the interval, his favourite thing to do, with various members of the cast – but notably with Bill Kerr – would be to sit and watch videos of The Bilko Show, one of his very favourites.

“For the 50th performance of The Good Old Bad Old Days, he and his writing partner Leslie Bricusse wrote parody lyrics to fit all sixteen of the show’s songs for a celebration party held in the circle bar of the Prince of Wales for all the cast and crew. I have that recording. I also have a whole recording of the show from start to finish and it’s a crime that the original cast recording (once available on cassette and LP) has never been made available on CD.

“When my daughter Katy was about eight years old I took her to see Newley perform at the Dominion Theatre in London, where he was appearing as Ebeneezer in Bricusse’s musical adaptation of Scrooge!. I had rung him beforehand to say we were coming (we had front row seats) and asked if we could come round and see him after the show. It was New Year’s Eve.

“In typical Newley fashion he said: ‘No! Come round before… and then come round after…‘.

“We met him in his dressing room, which was lovingly adorned with posters from the films he’d appeared in and we spent a good half hour just chatting happily. He laughed his way through at least 28 of those 30 minutes while removing the scalp latex that covered his own hair during the show in which he had a long grey wig as Ebeneezer Scrooge. We both watched, transfixed, as he removed the makeup and prosthetics.

“He took Katy’s hand, kissed it, took her programme and wrote on it – with a silver gel pen – To Katy – you are very beautiful. I still have it. I don’t think it meant very much to an eight year old, but it meant the world to me.

“He told us of his plans to create a musical based on the life and career of Charles Chaplin. We wished him a very Happy New Year ahead and much success with everything.

“The Chaplin musical (co-written with Stanley Ralph Ross, an American who also wrote for the Batman series and the Monkees series on US TV, was doomed to never get onto Broadway or anywhere near the UK.

“The Chaplin estate denied Newley rights to portray the image of the Little Tramp character for reasons we can only guess at.

“And  three years later, after a fleeting appearance in BBC TV’s EastEnders and far more sumptuous but likewise fleeting appearances as The Bishop in BBC TV’s The Lakes, Tony Newley was dead.”

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Rutger Hauer says more about life in “Blade Runner” than the Bible, the Koran and Douglas Adams

Last night, I watched Brian De Palma’s movie The Untouchables on TV. The music is by Ennio Morricone.

“That music is very sad,” I said to the friend who was watching it with me. “An old man’s music. He composed the music for Once Upon a Time in the West too. That’s melancholic.”

I think you have to be over a certain age to fully appreciate Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West. It’s not about death, it’s about dying and it’s very long.

On YouTube recently, I stumbled on the closing sequence of Richard Attenborough’s movie Oh! What a Lovely War.

I cried.

I watched it five times over the next week. I cried each time I saw the final shot. I bought the DVD from Amazon and watched it with a (slightly younger) friend. I cried at the closing sequence, watching the final shot. One single shot, held for over two minutes. She didn’t understand why.

Clearly the cancer and cancer scares swirling amid my friends must be having their toll.

Someone has put online all issues of the British hippie/alternative culture newspaper International Times (aka “it”).

I was the Film Section editor for one of its incarnations in 1974.

Tempus fugit or would that be better as the Nicer sentence Ars Longa Vita Brevis?

There comes a point where I guess everyone gets slightly pretentious and feels like Rutger Hauer in Blade Runner.

Especially when you look round comedy clubs and you’re by far the oldest person in the room and you don’t laugh as much because you’ve heard what must be literally thousands of jokes told live on stage over decades.

I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I’ve watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.”

With me, it’s flashes of memories from the 1960s.

I remember working at the long-forgotten Free Bookshop in Earls Court. It was really just a garage in a mews and people donated second hand books to it but – hey! man! – wouldn’t it be great if everything was free? I remember going downstairs in the Arts Lab in Drury Lane to see experimental films; I think I saw the long-forgotten Herostratus movie there. I remember walking among people holding daffodils in the darkened streets around the Royal Albert Hall when we all came out of a Donovan concert. Or was it an Incredible String Band gig? I remember the two amazingly talented members of the Incredible String Band sitting in a pile of mostly eccentric musical instruments on stage at the Royal Albert Hall; they played them all at one point or another.

No, I was right originally. It was a Donovan concert in January 1967. It’s in Wikipedia, so it must be true. On stage at Donovan’s gig, a ballerina danced during a 12-minute performance of Golden Apples.

I remember it.

Moments in time.

Like tears in rain.

It’s not true when they say that if you can remember the Sixties you weren’t there.

I remember being in the Queen Elizabeth Hall (or was it the Purcell Room?) on the South Bank of the River Thames in London, seeing the two-man hippie group Tyrannosaurus Rex perform before Marc Bolan dumped Steve Peregrine Took and formed what Tyrannosaurus Rex fans like me mostly felt was the far-inferior T Rex. And the Tyrannosaurus Rex support act that night on the South Bank was a mime artist who did not impress me called David Jones who later re-invented himself as David Bowie. I still didn’t rate him much as David Bowie: he was just a jumped-up mime artist who sang.

No, it wasn’t in the Queen Elizabeth Hall or the Purcell Room. It didn’t happen there. It was in the Royal Festival Hall on Whit Monday, 3rd June 1968. There’s an ad for it on the back cover of International Times issue 31.

The gig was organised by Blackhill Enterprises, who were part-owned by Pink Floyd.

The ad says DJ John Peel was providing “vibrations” and the wonderful Roy Harper was supporting.

I remember that now.

But the ad says “David Bowie” was supporting.

I’m sure he was introduced on stage as “David Jones”.

I think.

I used to go to the early free rock concerts which Blackhill Enterprises organised in a small-ish natural grass amphitheatre called ‘the cockpit’ in Hyde Park. Not many people went. Just enough to sit on the grass and listen comfortably. I think I may have been in the audience by the stage on the cover of the second issue of the new Time Out listings magazine.

I realised Pink Floyd – whom I hadn’t much rated before – were better heard at a distance when their sounds were drifting over water – like bagpipes – so I meandered over and listened to them from the other side of the Serpentine.

I remember a few months or a few weeks later turning up ten minutes before the Rolling Stones were due to start their free Hyde Park gig and found thousands of people had turned up and the gig had been moved to a flatter area. I think maybe I had not realised the Stones would draw a crowd. I gave up and went home. The Hyde Park gigs never recovered. Too many people from then on.

I remember going to The Great South Coast Bank Holiday Pop Festivity on the Isle of Wight in 1968. I went to see seeing Jefferson Airplane, Tyrannosaurus Rex, The Pretty Things, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown and Fairport Convention. I didn’t go back the next year to the re-named Isle of Wight Festival because top-of-the-bill was the horribly pretentious and whiney non-singer Bob Dylan. What have people ever seen in him?

Moments in time.

Like tears in rain.

Ars longa,
vita brevis,
occasio praeceps,
experimentum periculosum,
iudicium difficile.

You can look it up on Wikipedia.

Though equally good, I reckon is the ancient saying:

Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.

OK, maybe I spent too much time in the 1960s…

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