Tag Archives: Dublin

Comedian Lynn Ruth Miller gets a cold – and very warm – reception in Dublin

Lynn Ruth in Dublin at the weekend

Irrepressible and unfathomably energetic 85-year-old London-based American comedian and occasional burlesque performer Lynn Ruth Miller has been off on her travels again.

She has just returned from six days performing in Dublin.

She did not get a warm initial welcome.

The occasional Colonial trans-Atlantic spellings are hers.


Every time I go to Dublin, the weather is wet, windy and cold. It is utter hell to be walking the streets of this city with the rain turning umbrellas inside out and making puddles so deep you can swim in them.

This time I decided I would visit when I KNEW the weather would be gorgeous.

I thought.

I arrived at the airport in the middle of a sudden rainstorm where the temperature plunged to mock winter and I shivered through my comedy gigs all week.  

Summer in Dublin is only a concept, not a temperature.

But the comedy scene there is growing by leaps and bounds.

Each time I go, there are more clubs and all of them attract good audiences who love to laugh and love to drink even more. For me, THE club is always The International, run by Aidan Bishop. It is the one club that never sees color, sex, age or disability. Aidan gives everyone a chance to perform and pays them for doing a show for him.

It is a small room above The International Bar with no sound system and it has a casual feel to it. It feels like we are all together in someone’s living room telling jokes.  

Doing comedy at The International teaches you how to project your voice so everyone can hear you. If you swallow your punch lines you might as well be talking to your mirror. People have to HEAR you to laugh with you.

John Francis Smith was amazing…

I started doing my comedy in Dublin at the International almost ten years ago and that first time I performed there was an older barman who stood behind the bar at the back of the club. His name was John Francis Smith.  I was told he had been working there for forty years. He was amazing at his work. He managed to serve everyone in the ten-minute intervals and still find time to race through the room to pick up empty bottles and glasses.  

That first time I saw him, he said: “You were really funny….” And, after that, he always made an effort to stop whatever he was doing and listen to my set whenever I performed.  

I used to worry each time I took to the stage that I wasn’t giving him any new jokes, but he didn’t seem to care. He always made an effort to say hello and tell me it was good to see me.

This year John Francis Smith was not there.  

He died suddenly on March 8th and for me it was a huge loss.  

I always loved being on stage and seeing him standing there at the back listening to every word I said. It made me feel noticed and very important.

In Dublin, I always stay with an amazing family who take care of me as if I were royalty. There are three boys in the family and they all love to cook.

I come from the generation where men went to the office and women stayed home to cook and clean house. I still remember the first time I saw a man actually do the dishes. It was back in 2003. I reacted as if he had just ripped off his clothes and started dancing in my kitchen.

The daddy of my Dublin family keeps kosher but he has adjusted the fact that two of his boys are vegan. He also cooks. He baked kichel (Jewish biscotti) and yummy cauliflower soup that everyone could have eaten if he hadn’t added crème fraîche to it. He loves chicken soup with K’naidles (Jewish dumplings) but, in deference to his sons, he has it in vegan chicken soup.  

While he was creating his dinner, one son was busy making vegan daal and chapatti while the other was dining on ramen with corn, seaweed and mushrooms. There is always someone cooking something in his house. It is like living in the midst of a revolving smorgasbord.

With Richee Bree (left) & Danny O’Brien at Laughter Lounge

As well as my gigs at the International, the centerpiece of this trip for me was a weekend gig at The Laughter Lounge. So I found myself doing two gigs on Thursday and Sunday and three on Friday and Saturday. It involved a lot of walking back and forth but, since everyone in this town operates on Irish time, I was never late for my sets. 

I figure I made more than 2,000 people laugh during this six-day stay and that isn’t bad for an old lady.

My first gig in Dublin is always the Wednesday show at Jonny Hughes’ Anseo and performing there feels like a homecoming for me. I have been performing at this small but beautiful space for at least six years. It was created by Aidan Killian who still books me for HIS clubs in the Bangkok and Singapore, but Jon took it over the place almost immediately because Aidan has always done so much traveling.

Sundays in Dublin are always wonderful because I drop in at Danny O’Brien’s’ Comedy Crunch where the audience gets in for nothing and gets free ice cream at the break. Although why anyone in their right mind would want ice cream when the temperature in Dublin feels like it is below zero with wind and rain is beyond me.

From there I go to the International for my final performance. The Irish like their whiskey and begin greasing up at four in the afternoon at the very least. Most of the shows begin at nine p.m. and, by that time, the less hearty are three sheets to the wind and the tougher natives are just beginning to feel the alcohol they have been filtering into their system for the past five hours.

My last night in Dublin was Monday at Cherry Comedy in Whelan’s doing jokes for a relatively sober group a bit more settled and older than the weekend crowds. Then the Woolshed Baa, which was originally Al Porter’s venue until he disgraced himself.

Lynn Ruth being fruity at Cherry Comedy

The comedy club continued and it is always well attended and a good finale to my Monday series of comedy gigs.

One of the perks of returning time and time again to a city is that I have accumulated a lot of people who know me and make an effort to see me and spend time with me. I am beginning to feel like I have an Irish family just as I have one in Berlin and one in Bangkok, Jakarta and Singapore, not to mention those I left in San Francisco.

At the rate I am going I will most likely have an international crowd at my funeral.   

Though I am not at all sure that is reassuring.

Next is Stockholm, where it probably will be balmy compared to Dublin.

My God it was cold there…

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Lynn Ruth Miller in Dublin – on Irish comedy, Ryanair & middle-aged women

Lynn Ruth – Where will she turn up next?

Lynn Ruth Miller, itinerant American comic based in London, has blogged here about her gigging jaunts to exotic locations in the last few months. She spent last week gigging in Dublin. She writes…


I have been headlining at Anseo, this lovely small room on Camden Street, for at least four years. It is run by a prince of a man named Jonathan Hughes who has built the club up from nothing into a comedy staple on the Dublin scene.  

I did a 40-minute set for him and discovered that the Irish are still squeamish about some of the landmark decisions that have come down from their higher courts.  

I made a reference to the woman whose rapist was not convicted because she was wearing a lace thong. Either they didn’t get it or didn’t want to.  

But they did love the one about all the pipes leaking in Dublin’s ancient buildings. They also got the one about how my generation killed their roaches and now their young people smoke them.  

Thursday night was my first night at The International Comedy Club: the reason I return every six months to do comedy in Dublin. It is run by Aidan Bishop.

All comedians complain about the glass walls we need to break: the unsaid prejudice toward women, minorities, disabilities and age.  

Aidan gives everyone an opportunity at his club and, not only that, he always pays his comedians fairly. To make the experience even nicer, there is always a good audience at The International. That means everything to a performer. It is a lot easier to tell your jokes to 100 people than it is to 20, no matter how badly those 20 want to laugh.

Friday night was my big night. I was booked in three comedy clubs.

I left the International (it was packed with standing room only) to get to Anseo’s new Friday night where twenty people were waiting for me (the headliner) and then off to Comedy Gold, Emily O’Callaghan’s’ new room, where there were a dozen people remaining to see me, the late night headliner.  

The interesting thing about all these rooms is that I arrived ten minutes late to every one of them and I still had plenty of time to unwind before I went on stage. Evidently, Irish time is like Jewish time… very flexible. This rarely happens in London. You almost always go on very close to the time you are scheduled. The English pay attention to time.

The Irish comedy scene is growing and very solid yet everyone I talk to there wants to come to London where they think the action is. I certainly felt that way in San Francisco… but now that I am back home IN London I wonder whether wherever you are doing whatever you do, you always think the market is more open somewhere else.

One of the things that makes my Dublin trips so marvellous is that I stay with this magic family that reminds me of an episode of Leave it to Beaver: a happily married couple with three amazing sons and a tight, loving family unit with aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents all intricately woven into their lives.  

When I am there, I am treated like another granny: fed, pampered and transported to my gigs.

This is an immense novelty for me as I have lived a very long time and usually make all my arrangements, get myself to wherever I am going and make sure I am properly fed.  

For these short periods in Dublin, I get all the rewards of being a grandparent in a large functional family without having done any of the groundwork.  

I never fool myself however.  

If I had had my own family, my children would have been so over-indulged, they would have become psychopaths and serial killers.

Judging by the caliber of the men I fall in love with, my husband would  have been a conscienceless misogynist with a whip and a gun in the closet to keep me in line and I would have spent my days scrubbing toilets and ironing shirts, never dreaming I could live a life without a dust mop and a sponge.

On Saturday night in Dublin, there are two shows at The International and both are always filled. This time there were two new comedians. One was Robbie Bonham, who is in his forties and has that wry Irish wit that always amazes me.  

I am convinced that a great deal of comedic ability cannot be learned.  

It was Bonham’s very Irish-ness that made his jokes even funnier.  

I know that being Jewish has always given me an edge – and black comedians usually have a dimension to their delivery that adds to every joke they tell.

As our world becomes more diverse and television and the internet reduce our differences, I suspect this will not always be so. The more we assimilate, the more we lose those special ethnic characteristics that add flavor to our jokes and our conversation.  

Much as I applaud universal acceptance of everyone everywhere, I think this loss of ethnic identity is a loss for us all in so many ways. I know we are all alike essentially, but there are attitudes and mannerisms that are handed down generation to generation that I hate to see homogenized.

This intense week in Dublin convinced me that I love the performing life. It does not tire me. Instead, each show I do inspires me to go further and do better.  

Is that what being professional is all about?  

Or is it the stuff of a nervous breakdown?

Sunday was my last performance at The International and it was wonderful.  

Sunday night is normally a slow night but this night it was very crowded.  

I was in the first section and David McSavage was the headliner because he is on TV and is very famous in Dublin. The interesting thing about this night was how diverse the audience was. We had a huge segment from France, so English was their second language… and a girl from Lithuania who had no idea what was going on. But we all managed to hit a responsive chord and the evening was a success despite the immense cultural diversity of the audience.

The Irish have a way of taking you into their hearts and the family I stay with make me feel very loved and important. However, I was brought back to reality sharply when I approached Ryanair on the flight back. Rules are rules and, by God, you are going to pay if you don’t follow them.

I saw a man who could barely speak English (and obviously did not understand the regulations), gulp down a huge bottle of tea as fast as he could. The poor fellow gurgled as he sloshed through the line and I couldn’t help thinking: How on earth would that container of tea with all the tea bags in it have endangered anyone but the poor guy who had to drink it so he wouldn’t have to pitch the container?

I have seen the personnel at Ryanair pat down a tiny baby and all I can say is I hope the kid had a giant poop as the inspector checked out his diaper.

The other interesting thing about this trip was the number of single women in their late forties and fifties who are feeling unfulfilled. They are at that “Is this all there is?” stage of their lives. 

Do men get that feeling? Or do they just put another porn film on the computer and wank off?

These women I met in Dublin were all earning good livings, but still feel they want more than coming home to an empty house with perhaps a dog or a cat to greet them.  

There is no way I can explain to them that these are normal clouds before the rainbow splashes gorgeous color on a grey sky. It is very much like what Winston Churchill said: “When you are in hell, keep going.”  

Middle aged femininity is not hell at all, but it often feels very bland.

For some reason, none of us realize that the best is yet to come.

But it is.

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Comic Lynn Ruth’s Irish adventure, from passport control to birth control

Just over a week ago, Lynn Ruth Miller, the 84-year-old currently-globetrotting stand-up comic, blogged here about her trip to Prague. She is off to Berlin on Monday and has just returned from Dublin. Here she goes again…


Young chicken about to go out on the town…

So. I was in Dublin again. My trip ended in a blast of sunshine and alcohol. If my liver survives all this travel, I just might live to see 85.

My Irish adventure always begins with passport control. The last time I arrived in Dublin, the officer in charge looked at my passport and said, “You don’t LOOK 84,” and I said, “I would if I took off my clothes.”

The man who admitted me this time said he agreed with that officer and there was a spring to what is left of my step as I waltzed through that green door with nothing to declare except that I was a young chicken about to go out on Dublin town.

When I am in Dublin, I stay with an amazing family filled with geniuses who are actually fun. So it is that when I am there I get an education in how to cope with cyberspace.

Zak is the eldest of their three amazing boys, each of whom are going to remodel the world and bring peace and happiness to all of us on earth.

After two days with them, I had already learned how to create my own video blogs and set up a conversation on Reddit where I answered 36 questions and had 5.7k views and an 81 point rating just because I said nothing shocks me anymore. I did not add that this is because I don’t hear anything.

The matriarch of this gorgeous family is Lisa, a woman who really is not shocked by anything. That is her secret to bringing up three boisterous boys with amazingly perceptive and active minds and training a husband who is such an angel that he has to wear a larger suit jacket to hide his wings.

“Luca is now as tall as my first husband and far fonder of my crotch”

Lisa picked me up at the airport and I hurried to her home to change clothes and look glamorous. This is called comforting self-deception. I nurture it by never looking in a mirror. As soon as I entered the house, I was accosted by the family’s new puppy, Luca, who is now as tall as my first husband and far fonder of my crotch.

Three of the family – Lisa, Zak and Ken (the angel, remember?) – came to the show at Anseo, the wonderful comedy club where I headline each time I come into town.

The delightful thing about this show was that Jim Elliott from Washington DC had ASKED to host so he could see me again.

I made the audience laugh for about 45 minutes, which is an accomplishment in Dublin’s fair city because usually, after about 5 minutes, the audience is so drunk they are asleep or singing loudly in an off-colour manner. A dog loved the show and I got three barks and a tail wag from her.

On Thursday I began my run at The International, THE comedy place in Dublin for the past 16 years.

The interesting thing about this particular Thursday night audience was that there were only two couples from Dublin. Everyone else was from somewhere else and there was a preponderance of Americans: four from Lake Tahoe in California, three from Dallas, plus a group from Sweden and another couple from Vancouver.

That makes the comedy I do more challenging because I could not use either my Dublin or my London references because no-one would know what I was talking about. The funniest gaff was when headliner Damo Clark talked about putting a dummy in a baby’s mouth and the Americans thought he was stuffing in a stupid person into its mouth instead of a pacifier. God only knows what the Swedes thought.

I have also now learned how the Irish say goodbye. Evidently they do not. They just walk out as unobtrusively as they can. Very different from the Jews who stay at least an hour after they say good-bye explaining why they are leaving. (Lynn Ruth is Jewish.)

Lynn Ruth Miller sought romance on TV’s First Date series

Walking down George Street on the way to The International a woman stopped me and said, ”I KNOW you! First Date! – The nicest thing about dating at my age is that you don’t have to meet their parents.

I was in the Irish papers for appearing in that TV show.

My final night in Dublin was spent at The Comedy Crunch where we get free ice cream at the interval and by this time the weather was so warm that they probably got the last ice cream bars left in Ireland for the show.

The big issue that everyone was joking about and happy about was the Irish Abortion Referendum. Its passing did more than simply make it easier for women to terminate a pregnancy. It gave women renewed status.

All over Dublin, women’s comedy shows are springing up. Emily O’Callaghan has one series at The Meltdown Café that has an all-woman line-up and she said she got a lot of grief about that. Irish women are very, very funny. I heard several this trip and every one of them was top notch. For way too many years women have been totally left out of comedy line-ups. Perhaps now our time has come?

Next week, I will be performing in Berlin. I am hoping NOT to run into any swastikas or Jeremy Corbyn fans.

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The man on the Dublin omnibus

As I have virtually no time to write a blog today, here is an extract from my diary on this day in 1999. I was working at television station RTÉ in Dublin. I have changed the names:

Siobhan started talking about how her 10-year-old son who, she says, is uncoordinated with absolutely no sense of direction. Then she got a tea and some toast on a plate and sat down on the settee in Reception; she put the plate on the arm of the settee but was unable to hold the cup without spilling tea, so had to stand up: co-ordinating a cup in her hand while sitting static on a couch was too much for her.

We went into the RTÉ canteen at around 1115 and it was full. Apparently everyone takes a 30-minute tea-break at 1100 and a 30-minute tea-break at 1530, as well as their one-hour lunch break.

Siobhan told me that, last night, she dreamt she had run away from RTÉ and from her family and become a freelance earning a lot of money. She met film star Tom Cruise (to whom she claimed she’d never particularly been attracted before this dream) and he was very interested in how much she earned.

Over lunch, Sean told a story about someone he knew who, when in a bus which stopped next to another at traffic lights would attract the attention of a passenger in the other bus, then motion as if he knew and wanted to contact the person sitting in front of the stranger. Invariably, the stranger would tap the shoulder of the person in front, who would turn round and Sean’s friend would turn his head to look directly forward as if he had never even noticed the other bus let alone encouraged one stranger to tap another’s shoulder.

Taking off from Dublin Airport late, at about 2140, I had a window seat and, over England, I could see all the towns and cities below me: electronic spiders’ web nerve centres spreading delicate orange fibres outwards into a sea of blue-grey black.

Arriving back home in Borehamwood, I found a postcard from David Jenkins. It showed: “Oil platforms and the Cromarty Firth at dusk”…. That’s what comes of being a Socialist like David. You think postcards of Albanian electricity sub-generating stations are glamorous.

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God and a joke told to me in Ireland

Back in the mists of thirteen years ago there was Tara TV...

Back in the mists of thirteen years ago there was Tara TV…

I see that the RTÉ Player is now downloadable from the Apple App Store, giving access in the UK to Irish TV shows.

Thirteen years ago, I was working in Dublin for a now-deceased TV station called Tara TV which broadcast Irish programmes to the UK.

Today, in 2000, there was a Tara TV staff outing to Shelbourne Park, the dog-racing track in Dublin.

Someone told me that, when you go greyhound racing, you should always bet on the black dogs. Sure enough, in the first five races, four had black dogs running. Three came 1st; one came 2nd.

I had not bet on them.

On that day thirteen years ago, someone also told me that God had been chatting to a chum (Yes, God has a chum) and explained that he was very happy with the balanced world he had created. There were dry bits and wet bits. There were hot bits and cold bits. There were nice bits and nasty bits. Everywhere there was light and shade equally balanced.

“I’m particularly keen on that green bit down there,” God explained to his chum. “That’s Ireland. Beautiful countryside. Nice people. Good sense of humour. Lovely music. Laid back and gentle. I’m very happy with them.”

“But,” his chum said, “I thought you said everything was balanced. How come everything is so idyllic in Ireland?”

“Ah well,” says God, “you should see the wankers I put on the island next to them.”

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Gay love hopes of two Celtic comics dashed at Israeli killer’s comedy gig

Daphna Baram providing killer last night

Daphna Baram – killer comic last night

I went to Miss D’s Silver Hammer last night – the weekly London comedy night run by Israeli comic Daphna Baram who tends to successfully deter any potential hecklers by pointing out in advance that she has diabetes and has been trained to kill by the IDF. Not, as I at first thought, the International Diabetes Federation but the Israeli Defence Forces.

Next Monday, she has an entirely Irish group of comedians performing her day-after-St-Patrick’s-Day show, but she did pretty well on the Celtic line-up last night too.

I was there to see Irish podcast supremo Christian Talbot perform and also because he and Daphna Baram had mightily pushed to me the talents of camp-ish Dubliner Al Porter.

Also performing were two Glaswegians – non-gay Gary Sansome (soon to de-camp to Australia) and extremely talented and gay-in-both-senses-of-the-word Larry Dean.

Al Porter - ooh yes, missus, t’be sure

Al Porter last night, ooh missus, t’be sure

Al Porter was, indeed, as good as Christian and Daphna had told me. Both reckon he will become very successful very soon and he well might do, though one can never tell.

Talent is usually never enough but sure Al has the gift of rapid patter in depth, great audience controlling charm and very good clothes sense (never something to underestimate with this sort of act).

He claimed on-stage that the only reason he had accepted the gig was to meet the afore-mentioned gay Glaswegian Larry Dean who tragically, between booking and performance, had become tied-up in a monogamous relationship, thus scuppering Al’s cherished hopes.

In other circumstances, I might have thought this was part of the act.

Sadly, I fear the wreckage of Al’s shattered dreams may have been a reality.

I had been told there was an element of Frankie Howerd in Al’s act. I could see very faint traces, but only because the idea had been planted in my mind. The delivery was so fast, so smooth and so overwhelming that the act was nothing like the blessed Frankie.

Oddly, what last night reminded me of was seeing an early-ish stage performance by Steve Coogan at Manchester University Students’ Union in what, I guess, must have been 1992.

There was something about the self-confidence of the delivery and movements, something about the sharpness of the costume and something of the ambitiousness behind the eyes which reminded me of that 1992 Steve Coogan both on and off stage.

Christian and Daphna may be right.

Al Porter may well be very successful very fast.

But, as I say, you can never tell.

Sometimes talent – and even sharp, driving ambition – are not enough.

On the other hand, if I were being superficial – “perish the thought” as my dead father used to say (before his death) – a flamboyantly gay, brightly dressed, highly-self-confident Irish comedian with strong audience empathy is a good starting point and a good selling point for English and American audiences.

I expect to see him on the David Letterman show within five years.

Or maybe Al will have his own chat show in Ireland or the UK.

But my comic expectations are often dashed.

And, as I oft quote: Nobody Knows Anything (Saying © William Goldman, 1983)

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Fear of flying for cult comedian Charlie Chuck?… Only ducks and pianos fly…

Charlie Chuck was feeling under the feather...

“Your mission, should you accept it” I said, “is to think up something for my blog tomorrow. I’m off out to get milk, eggs and baked beans.”

It was around midnight and Charlie Chuck was staying at my eternally-un-named friend’s flat behind Up The Creek comedy club in Greenwich, which was founded by comedy godfather Malcolm Hardee.

The club, not Greenwich.

So I left Charlie Chuck and my eternally-un-named friend with my hand-held tape recorder, embarrassingly like the one occasionally used in I’m Alan Partridge.

When I got back from the Sainsbury all-night supermarket, I listened to what was on the tape recorder:

“Malcolm Hardee,” Charlie Chuck was saying, “used to book me to go over to play the Laughter Lounge in Dublin. I used to go over in the ferry with him. He used to come back by plane; I used to catch a boat. I wouldn’t get on a plane.”

“Have you never flown?” my eternally-un-named friend asked, slightly surprised.

“Once,” said Charlie Chuck. “In 2007. Canada. I went to see Notre Dame in Canada. It’s a replica of the one in Paris. When we went to Notre Dame in Paris, I were disappointed because it wasn’t as beautiful as the one in Canada.”

“You only went over to Canada to see Notre Dame Cathedral?” asked my eternally-un-named friend.

“No, to perform in a stage show,” he replied.

“Ah,” she said.

“If it hadn’t been for John,” said Charlie Chuck, “I wouldn’t have gone. He went to the airport with me. It were a big thing for me to fly. There were quite a bit of money involved – around £20,000 – and, if I hadn’t gone, they would’ve sued me. They wanted me out there for six months, but I were only there for three weeks.

“They offered to pay me to go to Canada on the QE2 liner; it would’ve cost ‘em £3,500. It would’ve taken about three weeks, but I looked up about the QE2 and it were in a hurricane once with 90 foot high waves and I thought I don’t want three weeks of this. So I flew out but I were terrified.

“On the plane going out there, people recognised me and they were saying Tell us a joke, but I were nearly crappin’ meself.

“I were out there to play the part of Jean Lapointe, a Canadian senator, eighty years old, who had done the Ed Sullivan Show and about 30 films. The routine I did were his routine when he were a younger man.

“The tour people told me that, on the show, I’d be on wires and I ‘d probably be 10 or 20 feet above the stage. But it ended up I was playin’ this piano that were lifted 30 feet high in the air and upside down. I were strapped to it. I were playin’ Moonlight Sonata and In The Mood and talking to the piano. It were a routine I did. I climbed across the piano but kept the arpeggio going. I sneezed and the sheet music went three-quarters of the way across the piano. It were a bit like an Andrew Lloyd Webber production.

“It were for Franco Dragone. He’s big. He does Cirque du Soleil and Las Vegas and makes elephants disappear like David Copperfield. He books acts from all over the world. It were a big thing.

“So, after I sneeze and the sheet music flies away, I start playing again and the piano turns over and the moon comes out. And the piano goes up and tips over upside down and back again and the big band kicks in. It were on hydraulics but you couldn’t see them; you only saw me and the piano.

“It were going to be filmed and be on national television in Canada. But, when the piano were upside down, there were technical problems,. It banged into me leg and nearly broke me ankle. It bruised all me leg and they had to take it away to sort it out and they called the whole routine off. I’d rehearsed for a week but they didn’t do it. It were too risky.

“Because they knew I played drums, they brought in a brand new £2,000 drum kit for me to wreck, because that’s what I do in me show. I talk to me drums and wreck the kit and bite me hands and all that. I used to do a forward somersault off me drums when I were younger.

“They’d have to get me a lot of money to get me on a plane again.”

“Why?” my un-named friend asked.

“I just think of Jim Reeves,” said Charlie Chuck. “He died in a plane crash. Otis Redding. Buddy Holly. They all went down in plane crashes.

“But I’m not bothered about going anywhere either. I’m not bothered… I’m just not bothered. Where’s John?”

“He’s gone to buy some milk,” my eternally-un-named friend said.

“Milk?” asked Charlie Chuck, “It’s past midnight.”

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Police corruption and the excessive use of four-letter swear words in Ireland

Last week, I was talking to someone about the Isle of Man and the subject of political corruption came up.

“I think maybe the Isle of Man is too small to be a country,” I said. “It’s like Ireland. Almost everyone in any position of power in Dublin seems to have gone to school or college or is very matey with everyone else in any position of power. The place is inherently corrupt because it is too small.”

And, indeed, I worry about an independent Scotland for the same reason.

This conversation came back to me when I saw the Irish movie The Guard yesterday, which has collected a fair amount of word-of-mouth enthusiasm. It has been called “subversive”, presumably because of its casual acceptance of corruption.

The phrase ‘The Guard’, by the way, is used as in someone who is a member of the Irish police force, the Garda

It is a very funny little film starring the always-good Brendan Gleeson as a village policeman in the West of Ireland. He uses prostitutes, has taken cocaine and ecstasy and swears casually. Which I found was part of the slight (but only slight) problem with the script.

What this film is… is a modest, easygoing Victoria Wood or Alan Bennett film set in Ireland, in the same genre as Brassed Off or Hear My Song or The Full Monty. It is quintessentially a small British (Isles) film. As I said in yesterday’s blog, let us not get into distinctions between British and Irish.

The Guard is written and directed by John Michael McDonagh, the brother of In Bruges director Martin McDonagh, who has said (obviously) he would be quite happy if his $6 million movie did the same amount of business at the box office as The King’s Speech (which has currently grossed around $386 million on a $15 million budget).

In fact, I think The Guard stood more chance as another Full Monty ($257 million gross on a $3.5 million budget) because it has neither the big historic story nor the middle-of-the-road appeal of The King’s Speech.

The plot of The Guard is spiced up with the arrival of FBI agent Don Cheadle, who is black, allowing for streams of non-PC  comment from the local cop – which we are never totally sure is real or tongue-in-cheek.

Which is fine.

The trouble is the swearing.

There is too much of it.

The first 20 minutes is full of “fucking” this and “fucking” that, as if the film is nervous it is too middle-of-the-road and is trying to establish itself as a movie not just for middle-aged lovers of Victoria Wood humour but for ‘the kids’ in ‘the Projects’. The trouble is that the excessive swearing is likely to alienate the audience that made The King’s Speech such a blockbuster and, as far as I can see, it is just plain unrealistic.

I just do not buy into the fact that the local policemen, whatever his foibles, and his mother and, it seems most of the population of rural Connemara/Galway are going around swearing like fucking troopers in fucking casual fucking conversation. It tails off after the first 20 minutes, but it remains distracting and unnecessary. It is as if North Dublin speech rhythms had been imported into a rural West of Ireland setting.

I also did not swallow the idea that three down-market scumbag heroin smugglers (and they are established as that) would be discussing Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Bertrand Russell and Dylan Thomas… nor that locals would be mentioning Dostoyevsky and Gogol in casual conversation.

Perhaps this is an attempt to ‘do a Tarantino’ with the script, but his characters tend to discuss Madonna lyrics and hamburgers.

It was, at the very least, distracting.

But I am being far too critical of The Guard. It is a very enjoyable small-scale film – and very funny – though I think it has been damaged by trying to make it more commercial.

But, then, who am I to tell anyone how to make a more commercial film?

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The Welsh language is just plain silly and is a clear sign of national insecurity

So, tell me, what is the point of having a blog if you can’t write bigoted pieces based on truth, half-truths and misunderstandings?

For the last couple of days, I have been staying on Cardigan Bay in West Wales.

When you walk in the streets and go into shops in Cardigan – or Aberteifi as it is now pointlessly half-re-named – people are sometimes speaking Welsh not English to each other. It was not until I worked in Ireland that I started to think the propagation of the Welsh language is ridiculously pointless.

If a language is dead, let it die. If it is still alive, it will survive without heavy-handed insistence that it must be used.

What is very relevant to this blog is the fact I am Scottish not English. Remember that my mother’s grandmother did not speak English until, in her late teens I think, she came down from the hills. The image of my grandmother coming down from the hills is one a friend of mine finds peculiarly funny but, anyway, my mother’s grandmother originally spoke Scots Gaelic as her native tongue, not English.

I once spent some time in the Outer Hebrides where I admired and was fascinated by how, in shops, people would speak to each other in sentences that meandered almost randomly between English and Gaelic words and phrases. They used whichever words and phrases came more naturally and fitted better. Sometimes the words were Gaelic, sometimes English; all within the same sentence.

I once had an interview for a job with Grampian Television in Aberdeen which basically transmitted to the Highlands while Scottish Television transmitted to the Lowlands. The conversation came round to starting a number of Gaelic-language programmes transmitted on Grampian (part of ITV) and on BBC Scotland. I said I thought it was silly because such a relatively small percentage of Scottish television viewers – by then almost entirely in the Western Isles with a small smattering in the Highlands – actually spoke Gaelic as their natural tongue.

The Grampian TV executive interviewing me was highly miffed.

“Ah! But you’re English!” he said to me.

“I was born in Campbeltown and partly brought up in Aberdeen,” I told him. “Where were you born?”

“London,” he said.

I did not get the job.

Later, I did a lot of freelance work over many years for HTV in Cardiff – or Caerdydd as it is now pointlessly half-re-named. It’s a bit like re-naming Saigon as Ho Chi Minh City when most of the inhabitants continue to call it Saigon.

As far as I remember, when I started working in South Wales, almost all the local signs were in English. I mean the road signs and the general retail shop signs.

At some point, almost imperceptibly, dual language signs started appearing, usually with the Welsh version first.

At around this time, or maybe a little later, there was an extended period where my full-time freelance work alternated between working for HTV in Cardiff and Tara TV in Dublin.

In Dublin, I could see old, rotting, rusting and ignored street signs in Irish Gaelic. All the current signs were in English. This was the period when the ‘Celtic Tiger‘ was on the rise and the Irish Republic had re-discovered its self-confidence.

It is very relevant that I was once sitting in an edit suite at Windmill Lane Studios in Dublin, directing a trailer for an RTE television programme which included an interview in which someone said a couple of sentences in Irish Gaelic.

“What did he say?” I asked the Irish videotape editor sitting with me.

“No idea,” he told me.

We had three other Irish people come into the suite. None of them knew what the Gaelic words meant. They had all had to ‘learn’ Gaelic at school but, just like British schoolkids who do five years of French at school, they could not speak and could barely understand the language because it was bugger-all use to them in everyday life.

It was at this time – alternating my time sometimes one week here/ one week there/ one week here/ one week there between Cardiff and Dublin – that I began to think the Welsh language was just plain silly.

It was silly because it was a mostly dead language being revived and imposed by a clique on a predominantly non-Welsh-speaking population.

One week, I returned to Cardiff from Dublin to find that the local Tesco store had changed all its signs to dual-language Welsh and English signs. Someone (Welsh) told me in near-disbelief that all the signs at the Tesco store in Abergavenny, where she lived, had also been changed.

“I swear to God, no-one bloody speaks Welsh in Abergavenny!” she told me.

By the time I stopped working at HTV, Lloyds Bank was calling itself Banc Lloyds (it has since re-re-branded itself simply as Lloyds TSB) and other shops and businesses were doing the same: making up their own names in Welsh. Mostly, I suspect, they were English companies trying to be politically correct and liberal, much like that English executive at Grampian TV trying to be so ‘right-on’.

Shortly before Tesco started changing its signs to dual-language Welsh & English, I had been on holiday to Cambodia and, in Phnom Penh, there was a street of hovels and shacks which were all English language ‘schools’. At that time, no-one had any money and there was a very real possibility that the homicidally extreme Khmer Rouge might regain power in the next month or two. But, as in almost all other parts of the world, people wanted to learn English because it was and is the ‘international’ language. If you are an outward-looking country with outward-looking thoughts, you learn English.

My understanding is that, after most of Ireland gained independence from Britain in the early 1920s (let us not get into any pedantic details of dates in Ireland: it will all end in many tears and much wailing), the republicans who ran the country wanted to encourage self-confidence and national pride.

So they called the new country Eire instead of Ireland, painted the red pillar boxes green, changed a few of the royal crests on stone buildings to harps and tried to get everyone to speak Gaelic. The country rotted in inward-looking isolation for decades, admittedly not helped by the fact successive UK governments had every reason to dislike American-born Eamon de Valera and his blindly Brit-hating chums.

But, by the time I worked in Dublin in the mid and late 1990s, the Irish Republic had regained its self-confidence and, although civil servants had to know Gaelic, the English language had taken over all everyday usage except in the extreme west of the country. The few Irish language signs in Dublin were faded and/or rusting.

Irish, like Scots Gaelic, was then and is now effectively a dead language naturally spoken by few people. Though long may they speak Gaelic in Ireland and Scotland. I have nothing against the natural rise and fall of any – indeed, all – languages.

But I am told by Welsh friends that, except in the West and sparsely-populated central highlands of Wales, the Welsh language had pretty-much died out by the late 19th century.

It was re-imposed rather than re-grew in Wales in the late 20th century.

My memory is that extreme Welsh nationalists got publicity in English newspapers by setting off some minor explosions and burning down occasional second homes owned by ordinary English people in Wales.

Then some second-rate people who could not get jobs in media, politics and the local civil service had the bright idea of looking to what their USP was – they could speak Welsh – and they pushed for Welsh-language TV programmes, an entire Welsh TV channel and the use of the Welsh language in the local civil service because, that way, they would have a positive advantage in getting jobs.

The Welsh language was, to an extent, partially revived not by natural growth and usage but by xenophobia and the self-interest of a small clique.

Yes, that’s a very personal view of what happened, but not necessarily totally untrue.

English politicians, frightened of alienating the Welsh, went along with it for electoral gain and you now have a country where people have a TV channel –  S4C – which most of them don’t understand and dual-language signs only half of which most understand – the English language half.

While the rest of the world was moving towards internationally-understood English, a group of self-serving xenophobes in Wales (where English was already established) were pushing for the renewed use of a mostly-dead language known only by some in Wales and nowhere else except some obscure area of Patagonia.

Looking inwards in an increasingly international world is not a good idea. An insistence on trying to spread the Welsh language more widely in Wales is not a sign of national identity. It is a sign of national insecurity.

Right or wrong, that’s my viewpoint. Like I said at the start, What is the point of having a blog if you can’t write bigoted pieces based on truth, half-truths and misunderstandings?

Oh – Abergavenny has now been pointlessly half-re-named Y Fenni.

Really! Give me a break, chaps or – as Google Translate claims that would be said in Welsh – yn rhoi i mi egwyl, chaps.

What sort of sensible language doesn’t have a word for “chaps”?

Dim sense.

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Oy! Oy! – Anti-Semitism, a murderous Israeli cross-border raid and a Jewish joke from the Prime Minister

This week, I was talking to Israeli-born, London-based freelance journalist Daphna Baram, who wrote a fascinating book Disenchantment: The Guardian and Israel about that British newspaper’s relations with and perception of Israel. (The 2004 hardback is currently on sale at amazon.co.uk for an eye-popping £94.98p)

The only prejudice I know I have is that I am unthinkingly pro-Jewish, largely because I went to a grammar school with a very high percentage of Jewish pupils. That prejudice in favour of Jews used to transfer equally to Israel.

Hey! – remember why Israel occupies the West Bank, the Golan Heights etc – it’s because, in 1967, the countries surrounding it were foolish enough to threaten to attack Israel (not for the first time) in an attempt to wipe it off the face of the map… They lost their gamble… and, in six days – spookily the same amount of time in which the Jewish God allegedly created the Universe – Israel created more defensible borders. Like him, they rested on the seventh day.

Egypt, Jordan and Syria miscalculated so badly that Israel’s defensive attack originally pushed the Egyptian Army back to the Suez Canal and threatened Cairo, while Jordan’s West Bank territories were over-run and Syria lost the Golan Heights. But, when I hear the words “Golan Heights”, I don’t think “wantonly occupied by Israel”, my memory is of the Syrian Army pouring heavy artillery shells down onto the farmland of northern Israel from the heights before the Six Day War started.

My automatic pro-Israeli thinking, of course, has lessened. Bulldozing the houses of terrorists’ families and taking ten eyes for an eye if you are attacked smacks of the Nazis in their occupied territories in the 1940s and makes me think Have the Israeli government never read their own history books? It was counter-productive for the Germans. It is counterproductive for the Israelis. When they bulldoze a house, does the name Lidice never spring into their minds?

They only have to look at a map. The town of Lidice is still there on modern day maps.

I am always a simplistic thinker.

If you constantly fire rockets into Israel, then Israel is going to react, possibly – and not unreasonably – by sending troops into the country from which it is being attacked. If the IRA had been repeatedly/constantly shelling Liverpool from positions just outside Dublin, the British government would have done more than send a few SAS men into the Republic of Ireland to assassinate people (as they did without the provocation of suffering rocket-attacks from foreign soil).

But I mentioned to Daphna Baram that I thought Israel’s image in the UK had mainly gone downhill since my erstwhile youth largely because of accents.

When I was a kid, the Israelis were automatically the good guys because they sounded like us and wore Western clothes, whereas the Palestinians/Arabs sounded like foreigners and wore costumes straight out of Lawrence of Arabia.

In my erstwhile youth, Prime Minister Golda Meir had an American accent and looked like a grandmother from Baltimore. Israel’s long-time Foreign Minister Abba Eban spoke like he had been educated at a rather stuffy English public school and dressed like the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Yasser Arafat, on the other hand, looked and sounded like a rather dodgy bloke up an alleyway in Casablanca or some similar black & white movie, selling dirty postcards to tourists.

I mean… Golda Meir – she was a Jew, the Israeli Prime Minister – and she titled her autobiography My Life… you have to admire her for having a sense of humour. Yasser Arafat did not look like he sat at home and watched Monty Python’s Flying Circus on TV. Golda Meir might have watched The Benny Hill Show.

It was around the time of Prime Minister Menachem Begin and his successor Yitzhak Shamir that things started to go downhill for Israel in PR terms. This was, I think, mainly because Begin and Shamir both had a guttural accent when speaking English though – yes, OK – there was also the minor matter of them both being former anti-British terrorists.

Begin had been leader of Irgun and Shamir was a former member of both Irgun and The Stern Gang.

But that has never been an insurmountable problem for the British – from Jomo Kenyatta in Kenya to Michael Collins, Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness in Ireland, we have always accepted terrorists as the political leaders of ‘our’ former countries.

The trouble with Menahem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir was that they sounded as foreign and alien as their Palestinian rivals – and their suits were not as smart as Abba Eban’s had been.

Daphna did not really agree with me about accents changing Britain’s attitude to Israel, but she did tell me a story about Abba Eban.

In the late 1950s, when Abba Eban was Israel’s representative at the United Nations, Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion ordered an especially murderous raid across the border.

Abba Eban stood up at the UN General Assembly and made a particularly brilliant speech defending the raid. He than phoned David Ben-Gurion to express his utter outrage at what he considered had been an appalling and reprehensible attack.

Ben-Gurion listened to Abba Eban, then said:

“Well, I was having second thoughts about the raid myself but, after I heard your outstanding speech, I  was convinced that I did the right thing”.

A story more Oy! Oy! than Oy Vey! perhaps.

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