Tag Archives: eccentric

Canadian eccentricities, one nurse’s fear of sewing machines and J.K.Rowling…

Premier John Horgan wants B.C. to “Live long and prosper”

Anna Smith, this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent who, in a former incarnation, used to dress up as a nurse on stage, then disrobe, sent me an email last Friday about the fact that, when John Horgan, British Columbia’s 36th Premier was sworn into office the previous day, he had raised his hand to recite the oaths of allegiance, office and confidentiality, then his fingers separated to give the Vulcan salute used by Mr Spock on Star Trek.

Now Anna has updated me:


While the Premier of B.C. was flashing his Vulcan hand signal, I was in a police station on Main Street, Vancouver, wearing my hand-sewn Cthulhu mask for another fashion show to benefit the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre.

…It’s all happening at the Downtown Eastside Womens’ Centre in Vancouver…

This is the same women’s center that Meghan Markle visited earlier this year. I believe I was in the shower there at the time… but they didn’t tour her through the shower area.

I tend to shower in various places. I once had a shower at Vancouver City Hall.

I never showered on stage though… at least, I don’t think so. 

At the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre show (L-R) Erna, Sarah and Nurse Annie

That was a fad in the seventies. I might have done it once, but if I did, I have blocked it from my memory. More likely, I danced on a stage where I was told to shower and refused to do so. That is one good thing about dressing as a nurse.  People are less likely to tell you what to do. There’s always a suspicion in the back of their minds that you might be a real nurse.

I am always in awe of what I call ‘real nurses’. 

Last time I was at St. Paul’s, I told a male nurse that I had been a pretend nurse, and been stripping as Nurse Annie, he said that I WAS a real nurse too, adding kindly: “There’s more than one way to be a nurse!”

We had to sew our own masks for the fashion show. We were placed in a large room in the police station, with distanced trestle tables which had a sewing machine at each one. A feeling of dread came over me. I hate sewing machines and have difficulty following patterns. A volunteer fashion student tried to explain how to follow the pattern exactly. 

But I didn’t WANT a normal mask and it turned out that I had been given the WORST sewing machine. The thread kept breaking over and over. All the other ladies had nice new machines and soon they had dainty masks, which they decorated with sequins and buttons. 

I had the idea of making a more costume-y mask, with long, long ribbons that tied in a bow at the back. But, by the end of the workshop, all I had were mixed-up strips of fabric and meters of green thread tangling into massive knots, bobbins flying, cloth pieces on the floor. I looked like Lucille Ball at the end of an episode. 

Anna, post-shower, in Emma Goldman T-shirt …Anarchist Emma hated sewing machines…

I felt like I was back in high school, like my head was going to explode and I walked out after the class fuming… I had wanted to model, not use a stupid sewing machine! 

On the street, I ran into a Quebecoise stripper friend of mine and told her my woes. Surely, as a dancer, she would understand how awful sewing was? She listened a bit, before interrupting: “You do know I’m a seamstress, don’t you?”

Her entire family had been tailors for generations!

She said she could easily sew the mask for me. 

I actually hand-sewed the face part. I can sew by hand, no problem. But the long ribbons would have taken forever…

In a couple of days she had them done: meters of cloth  sewn into long neat ribbons, with nice diagonal tips, like laces.

The show went OK. It was live-streamed and raised money with the tickets and an auction. But I missed having a live audience. And we were confused because we could barely hear our music… though it was heard by the viewers.

I danced to JJ Cale’s song Call Me The Breeze, because his music is so relaxing…

Of course, people asked if I was really a nurse…

Afterwards, I met two more real nurses. One was at a clinic, where I had a COVID-19 test. 

COVID is now spreading rapidly through the Downtown East Side, after a slow start there.

The second nurse was a surprise… I walked into what I thought was a storefront cannabis shop (it used to be), looking for some rolling papers for a neighbour.

I was very surprised to learn that I was in Vancouver’s first psychedelic mushroom shop. Now people don’t have to go down to ‘Mad Mike’s Mushroom Tent’ in front of Pacific Central Station all the time. 

Well, in fact, I don’t  think Mad Mike’s is open in the winter time.

The new mushroom shop on Granville Street is called Zoomers, and there is a registered nurse named Rachelle on staff there. Clients have to have a brief consultation in Rachelle’s office, fill out a form and promise not to drive whilst on mushrooms.

Micro-dosing is recommended…

That was yesterday. This morning, at the very busy intersection of Granville and Georgia, I saw some odd sights:

A middle aged man with a flushed face wearing a Santa hat and also wearing two signs. One sign said:

“I (heart) J.K. Rowling.”

…In eccentric Vancouver, close to the giant statue of Satan…

I take it he was the same man who paid for a billboard saying the same thing in East Vancouver (close to where the giant statue of Satan was erected). The City of Vancouver had the billboard message removed for being an expression of transphobia.  

The other sign the man was wearing said something ridiculous like “Children have the right to experience PUBERTY”.

Another unhinged-seeming man nearby had an ominous sign on his bicycle warning those who do not love Jesus that they are DOOMED for eternity. He was staggering about and holding a stretched-out white coat hanger, for no apparent reason.

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One Dutchman’s poetic criticism of the idiosyncrasies of the English language.

Yesterday’s blog was about bizarre spellings and pronunciations in the English language. I got a comment – and a poem – from Alan Gregory in Manchester. He wrote:

“I’ve always loved this poem despite never having been able to read it with 100% accuracy and being a native English speaker. Perhaps not surprisingly it was written by someone who wasn’t a native English speaker and was equally confused – Gerard Nolst Trenité (1870-1946) was a Dutch writer, traveller, teacher and “observer of English”.

Alan says: “I am currently dodging COVID-19 as a key infrastructure worker in the power sector. My interest in language is mostly from my ex-wife who is a former food critic and university lecturer in English literature. Academically, in linguistic terms, I’m crap: got an E at GCSE English, yet a masters in business. So go figure.” 

Gerard Nolst Trenité published under the pseudonym Charivarius. He is best known in the English-speaking world for this 1922 poem The Chaos (Ruize-rijmen) which demonstrates many of the idiosyncrasies of English spelling. It first appeared as an appendix to his 1920 textbook Drop Your Foreign Accent (Engelsche uitspraakoefeningen).


Gerard Nolst Trenité had a pronounced interest in English

Dearest creature in creation
Studying English pronunciation,
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse and worse.

I will keep you, Susy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy;
Tear in eye, your dress you’ll tear;
Queer, fair seer, hear my prayer.

Pray, console your loving poet,
Make my coat look new, dear, sew it!
Just compare heart, hear and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word.

Sword and sward, retain and Britain
(Mind the latter how it’s written).
Made has not the sound of bade,
Say-said, pay-paid, laid but plaid.

Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as vague and ague,
But be careful how you speak,
Say: gush, bush, steak, streak, break, bleak ,

Previous, precious, fuchsia, via
Recipe, pipe, studding-sail, choir;
Woven, oven, how and low,
Script, receipt, shoe, poem, toe.

Say, expecting fraud and trickery:
Daughter, laughter and Terpsichore,
Branch, ranch, measles, topsails, aisles,
Missiles, similes, reviles.

Wholly, holly, signal, signing,
Same, examining, but mining,
Scholar, vicar, and cigar,
Solar, mica, war and far.

From “desire”: desirable-admirable from “admire”,
Lumber, plumber, bier, but brier,
Topsham, brougham, renown, but known,
Knowledge, done, lone, gone, none, tone,

One, anemone, Balmoral,
Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel.
Gertrude, German, wind and wind,
Beau, kind, kindred, queue, mankind,

Tortoise, turquoise, chamois-leather,
Reading, Reading, heathen, heather.
This phonetic labyrinth
Gives moss, gross, brook, brooch, ninth, plinth.

Have you ever yet endeavoured
To pronounce revered and severed,
Demon, lemon, ghoul, foul, soul,
Peter, petrol and patrol?

Billet does not end like ballet;
Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet.
Blood and flood are not like food,
Nor is mould like should and would.

Banquet is not nearly parquet,
Which exactly rhymes with khaki.
Discount, viscount, load and broad,
Toward, to forward, to reward,

Ricocheted and crocheting, croquet?
Right! Your pronunciation’s OK.
Rounded, wounded, grieve and sieve,
Friend and fiend, alive and live.

Is your r correct in higher?
Keats asserts it rhymes Thalia.
Hugh, but hug, and hood, but hoot,
Buoyant, minute, but minute.

Say abscission with precision,
Now: position and transition;
Would it tally with my rhyme
If I mentioned paradigm?

Twopence, threepence, tease are easy,
But cease, crease, grease and greasy?
Cornice, nice, valise, revise,
Rabies, but lullabies.

Of such puzzling words as nauseous,
Rhyming well with cautious, tortious,
You’ll envelop lists, I hope,
In a linen envelope.

Would you like some more? You’ll have it!
Affidavit, David, davit.
To abjure, to perjure. Sheik
Does not sound like Czech but ache.

Liberty, library, heave and heaven,
Rachel, loch, moustache, eleven.
We say hallowed, but allowed,
People, leopard, towed but vowed.

Mark the difference, moreover,
Between mover, plover, Dover.
Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,
Chalice, but police and lice,

Camel, constable, unstable,
Principle, disciple, label.
Petal, penal, and canal,
Wait, surmise, plait, promise, pal,

Suit, suite, ruin. Circuit, conduit
Rhyme with “shirk it” and “beyond it”,
But it is not hard to tell
Why it’s pall, mall, but Pall Mall.

Muscle, muscular, gaol, iron,
Timber, climber, bullion, lion,
Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, chair,
Senator, spectator, mayor,

Ivy, privy, famous; clamour
Has the a of drachm and hammer.
Pussy, hussy and possess,
Desert, but desert, address.

Golf, wolf, countenance, lieutenants
Hoist in lieu of flags left pennants.
Courier, courtier, tomb, bomb, comb,
Cow, but Cowper, some and home.

“Solder, soldier! Blood is thicker”,
Quoth he, “than liqueur or liquor”,
Making, it is sad but true,
In bravado, much ado.

Stranger does not rhyme with anger,
Neither does devour with clangour.
Pilot, pivot, gaunt, but aunt,
Font, front, wont, want, grand and grant.

Arsenic, specific, scenic,
Relic, rhetoric, hygienic.
Gooseberry, goose, and close, but close,
Paradise, rise, rose, and dose.

Say inveigh, neigh, but inveigle,
Make the latter rhyme with eagle.
Mind! Meandering but mean,
Valentine and magazine.

And I bet you, dear, a penny,
You say mani-(fold) like many,
Which is wrong. Say rapier, pier,
Tier (one who ties), but tier.

Arch, archangel; pray, does erring
Rhyme with herring or with stirring?
Prison, bison, treasure trove,
Treason, hover, cover, cove,

Perseverance, severance. Ribald
Rhymes (but piebald doesn’t) with nibbled.
Phaeton, paean, gnat, ghat, gnaw,
Lien, psychic, shone, bone, pshaw.

Don’t be down, my own, but rough it,
And distinguish buffet, buffet;
Brood, stood, roof, rook, school, wool, boon,
Worcester, Boleyn, to impugn.

Say in sounds correct and sterling
Hearse, hear, hearken, year and yearling.
Evil, devil, mezzotint,
Mind the z! (A gentle hint.)

Now you need not pay attention
To such sounds as I don’t mention,
Sounds like pores, pause, pours and paws,
Rhyming with the pronoun yours;

Nor are proper names included,
Though I often heard, as you did,
Funny rhymes to unicorn,
Yes, you know them, Vaughan and Strachan.

No, my maiden, coy and comely,
I don’t want to speak of Cholmondeley.
No. Yet Froude compared with proud
Is no better than McLeod.

But mind trivial and vial,
Tripod, menial, denial,
Troll and trolley, realm and ream,
Schedule, mischief, schism, and scheme.

Argil, gill, Argyll, gill. Surely
May be made to rhyme with Raleigh,
But you’re not supposed to say
Piquet rhymes with sobriquet.

Had this invalid invalid
Worthless documents? How pallid,
How uncouth he, couchant, looked,
When for Portsmouth I had booked!

Zeus, Thebes, Thales, Aphrodite,
Paramour, enamoured, flighty,
Episodes, antipodes,
Acquiesce, and obsequies.

Please don’t monkey with the geyser,
Don’t peel ‘taters with my razor,
Rather say in accents pure:
Nature, stature and mature.

Pious, impious, limb, climb, glumly,
Worsted, worsted, crumbly, dumbly,
Conquer, conquest, vase, phase, fan,
Wan, sedan and artisan.

The th will surely trouble you
More than r, ch or w.
Say then these phonetic gems:
Thomas, thyme, Theresa, Thames.

Thompson, Chatham, Waltham, Streatham,
There are more but I forget ’em-
Wait! I’ve got it: Anthony,
Lighten your anxiety.

The archaic word albeit
Does not rhyme with eight-you see it;
With and forthwith, one has voice,
One has not, you make your choice.

Shoes, goes, does *. Now first say: finger;
Then say: singer, ginger, linger.
Real, zeal, mauve, gauze and gauge,
Marriage, foliage, mirage, age,

Hero, heron, query, very,
Parry, tarry fury, bury,
Dost, lost, post, and doth, cloth, loth,
Job, Job, blossom, bosom, oath.

Faugh, oppugnant, keen oppugners,
Bowing, bowing, banjo-tuners
Holm you know, but noes, canoes,
Puisne, truism, use, to use?

Though the difference seems little,
We say actual, but victual,
Seat, sweat, chaste, caste, Leigh, eight, height,
Put, nut, granite, and unite.

Reefer does not rhyme with deafer,
Feoffer does, and zephyr, heifer.
Dull, bull, Geoffrey, George, ate, late,
Hint, pint, senate, but sedate.

Gaelic, Arabic, pacific,
Science, conscience, scientific;
Tour, but our, dour, succour, four,
Gas, alas, and Arkansas.

Say manoeuvre, yacht and vomit,
Next omit, which differs from it
Bona fide, alibi
Gyrate, dowry and awry.

Sea, idea, guinea, area,
Psalm, Maria, but malaria.
Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean,
Doctrine, turpentine, marine.

Compare alien with Italian,
Dandelion with battalion,
Rally with ally; yea, ye,
Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, key, quay!

Say aver, but ever, fever,
Neither, leisure, skein, receiver.
Never guess-it is not safe,
We say calves, valves, half, but Ralf.

Starry, granary, canary,
Crevice, but device, and eyrie,
Face, but preface, then grimace,
Phlegm, phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass.

Bass, large, target, gin, give, verging,
Ought, oust, joust, and scour, but scourging;
Ear, but earn; and ere and tear
Do not rhyme with here but heir.

Mind the o of off and often
Which may be pronounced as orphan,
With the sound of saw and sauce;
Also soft, lost, cloth and cross.

Pudding, puddle, putting. Putting?
Yes: at golf it rhymes with shutting.
Respite, spite, consent, resent.
Liable, but Parliament.

Seven is right, but so is even,
Hyphen, roughen, nephew, Stephen,
Monkey, donkey, clerk and jerk,
Asp, grasp, wasp, demesne, cork, work.

A of valour, vapid vapour,
S of news (compare newspaper),
G of gibbet, gibbon, gist,
I of antichrist and grist,

Differ like diverse and divers,
Rivers, strivers, shivers, fivers.
Once, but nonce, toll, doll, but roll,
Polish, Polish, poll and poll.

Pronunciation-think of Psyche!-
Is a paling, stout and spiky.
Won’t it make you lose your wits
Writing groats and saying “grits”?

It’s a dark abyss or tunnel
Strewn with stones like rowlock, gunwale,
Islington, and Isle of Wight,
Housewife, verdict and indict.

Don’t you think so, reader, rather,
Saying lather, bather, father?
Finally, which rhymes with enough,
Though, through, bough, cough, hough, sough, tough??

Hiccough has the sound of sup…
My advice is: GIVE IT UP!

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Filed under Language, linguistics

John Fleming’s Weekly Diary No 31 – Edinburgh cuts, digs, hugs and teeth

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 30

Machete Hetty demonstrates a fascinating narrative in her kitchen with her useful household utensils

SUNDAY 16th AUGUST

In the afternoon, I had tea with Machete Hetty in Leith. She had been going to stage her first Edinburgh Fringe show this year, but was outmanoeuvred by the coronavirus.

“You have never told me how you got your nickname ‘Machete’,” I said.

She told me.

I have told her to forget the show she had intended to stage this year and instead to stage this story at the Edinburgh Fringe next year – if the coronavirus allows.

It is a cracker of a narrative; she is a mesmeric natural storyteller; and, with the correct title, it would have them queueing round the block.

If I may be allowed to review the show before it has even been written, let alone staged, let me say: “Jesus Christ!”

Back in the old routine: Leith Walk dug up again, August 2020

Leith Walk is being dug up yet again for the tram extension. Clearly aiming to get commissioned as a long-running sitcom.

Edinburgh without the Fringe, not surprisingly, feels like Edinburgh off-season with just a few tourists (because of the coronavirus).

Just normal Edinburgh, in other words. There are always some tourists any time of year.

I have been coming to Edinburgh almost every single year since I was (literally) an embryo.

No overly-busy pavements this August; no Fringe show posters. So visually different.

Theatres have not had time to open. Cinemas, as in London, are open but look dead.

Bristo Square with the Teviot building across the emptiness

No Fringe events that I can see. (And I bought an Evening News yesterday – nothing.)

The Potterrow student shop and Dome in Bristo Square are closed (no students). The Teviot (the Gilded Balloon during the Fringe) was open but I didn’t go in. Bristo Square was empty save for a few skateboarders.

George Square was looking rural, green and tranquil.

Lots of people were sitting outside pubs and eateries last night, but they were locals or a dribble of tourists.

Lost Fringe advertising opportunities on the North Bridge…

The rebuilding of what was the St James Centre at the top of Leith Walk is STILL going on – this must have been going on for at least the last 3, maybe 4, years!

And the nearby North Bridge is being repaired. Apparently it fell down around 100 years and killed five people. I only repeat what I have been told. It has temporary wooden and plastic walls on both sides of the bridge ideal for Fringe posters (probably intentionally intended by the Council to get money in).

Because of COVID-19, I can hide missing teeth

MONDAY 17th AUGUST

I got home at 0130 after the flight from Edinburgh into London Gatwick. Very tired.

In the morning, I got a dental appointment – a cap had come off a dead tooth in Edinburgh on Saturday.

Rather than re-cap it, the dentist cut off the top and kept my plate (which I first got when I was about 16) until Wednesday. So I am now toothless at the front on the top.

It could be worse.

But, because of the coronavirus, I can justifiably wear a mask whenever I am out.

TUESDAY 18th AUGUST

In my local paper, the Borehamwood Times, columnist Paul Welsh wrote:


I was sad to read the death of 1960s pop star Wayne Fontana, who I saw in concert several times and who in later life was a character. I especially liked his 1967 hit Pamela Pamela.


Pamela Pamela was a hit in the Sixties. There is an online video of him performing it in 1985.

The phrase “who in later life was a character” drew my attention. I wanted to know more.

Apparently, according to Wikipedia, in 2005, he fought off bankruptcy but was arrested after police were called by bailiffs who went to his home in Glossop, Derbyshire. He poured petrol onto the bonnet of a bailiff’s car and set it alight with the bailiff still inside.

Wayne Fontana as Lady Justice (Photo: Rui Vieira/PA Wire)

He was remanded in custody on 25 May 2007. He later appeared at Derby Crown Court dressed as Lady Justice, complete with a sword, scales, crown, cape and dark glasses, and claiming “justice is blind”. He dismissed his lawyers.

On 10 November 2007, he was sentenced to 11 months for setting fire to the car but was released because he had already served the equivalent of the term, having been held under the Mental Health Act 1983.

Now THERE is a man I would have liked to meet.

Also the judge.

11 months sounds rather a light sentence for setting fire to a car with a person inside it… English justice at its most random.

Wayne Fontana’s group was called The Mindbenders.

Oh! The joy of having a full set of gnashers!

WEDNESDAY 19th AUGUST

I got my plate back from the dentist with the extra tooth on it. It fitted perfectly but was slightly uncomfortable. Well, my gums were not used to it.

I got a 49p McFlurry (ice cream) at the local McDonald’s. This is part of Chancellor ‘Dishy Rishi’ Sunak’s half price meals scheme Monday-Friday, to re-stimulate the UK economy after the economic shock of the coronavirus.

At Euston station, there was a loudspeaker announcement:

“Will Inspector Sands please go to the Control Room.”

I was sitting by an exit and looked around. None of the station staff seemed to be panicking. Nor running fast. I am still alive.

“Will Inspector Sands please go to the Control Room” means that there is a major incident in the building. They want to alert staff, but they don’t want to panic members of the public.

It comes, originally, from theatres, where sand was used to put out fires. It meant the building was on fire. But now it is used more generally in public buildings. Nowadays it is perhaps more likely to be a terrorist attack than a fire.

The announcement went round on a tape loop for about 2 minutes – a long time – then stopped. The only other time I have heard it was on a platform at Stratford station for maybe 20 seconds where, at the end, without explanation, it was followed by: “The test is now over”.

Adam Wilder, entrepreneurial big hitter and hugger

THURSDAY 20th AUGUST

At lunchtime, I chatted to Adam Wilder (formerly Adam Taffler) for a future blog.

He greeted me with a large hug.

A big hug.

A big, big hug.

Honestly! Theatrical types versus coronavirus distancing!

What on earth is one to do?

But NHS bureaucracy is even worse.

Bits of a terribly confusing time-travelling letter from the NHS

I got a letter today (20th August) from the Kidney Man sent to my GP with a cc to me.

It was a bit confusing at first until I realised it was written on 7th July, allegedly signed (no signature) and verified by the Kidney Man on 12th August and printed-out & sent to me on 17th August.

It referred to my medical symptoms and mentioned future treatment which is now in the past. I have received at least three  letters written after this one but sent before this one.

There is nothing like keeping up-to-date and this was etc etc etc…

The NHS is staffed by well-meaning, hard-working people, but all bureaucracies are incompetent and the larger the bureaucracy the larger the incompetence.

What would Archimedes have made of all this?

FRIDAY 21st AUGUST

It is a good thing Greece is known for its mathematical geniuses.

A local Greek restaurant is offering 15% off all food and drink Monday-Wednesday.

‘Dishy’ Rishi’s deal is 50% off food (but not alcoholic drink or spirits) Monday-Wednesday during August.

It would take Archimedes, Euclid and Pythagoras to figure out which offer is better value, taking alcoholic imbibement into account. As I don’t drink alcohol or spirits, the 15% deal would be worse than ‘Dishy’ Rishi’s deal.

A visual equivalent of trying to edit my words

SATURDAY 22nd AUGUST

On Thursday, I had a chat with performer Jo Burke for her upcoming series of online podcasts. I should perhaps have warned her that, although I am quite good interviewing people, I am appalling as an interviewee. I witter and wander off the subject. It sounds not too bad if you are talking to me but, combined with a speech pattern that elides words leaving no gaps, it is a nightmare – sometimes an impossibility – to edit. She discovered this today.

… CONTINUED HERE

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Filed under Eccentrics, Edinburgh, Uncategorized

Anna Smith’s Vag show; drugs kill more than COVID-19 in British Columbia

In the last blog, my occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith explained she felt awkward at having accidentally appeared in a surprisingly Christian YouTube video titled Strippers, Prostitutes and JESUS.

So, obviously, I asked her what else she had been doing… intentionally.

She replied:


In January this year, I was tottering around in an annual charity fashion show – Herstory in History – at the Vancouver Art Gallery (known popularly as The Vag). There were 13 models on the Vag runway and one grass dancer. Here I am…

(VIDEO by Candy ; MUSIC by The Outbursts)

The Vag is about as high profile a venue as I have done here in Vancouver – and for an important cause, so I had to try really hard not to strip.

Highly spirited Anna Smith with Two-Spirited Little Dancing Bear

Luckily I had to take my bra off before I went on because I had forgotten that the dress was a bit small on me and I couldn’t zip it up and it looked terrible with the bra showing. But I left my underpants on for security in case I fell over… and the undies were a bit baggy so if I did go flying and they showed it could be comical rather than tragic…

It was for a very good cause – to raise money for the Downtown Eastside Women’s Center. I often drop by there to get a delicious lunch after work.

The Downtown Eastside is known for being the ‘poorest postal code in Canada’. Researchers from all over the planet come to study the area. 

About half the population of the DTES are of First Nations heritage. The rest could be from anywhere in the world. In Ruggero Romano’s terrific documentary about homeless people, V6A, (available online), one of the characters is a Rastafarian-looking guitarist who concludes his interview with a gentle “Fuck you! I’m from London!“.

Crack cocaine use in a Downtown Eastside alley, Vancouver (Photograph from Wikipedia))

There is a remarkable sense of community in the DTES and, considering the extreme poverty, the level of violence is isolated and not as frequent as you’d expect.

The open use of drug injection is staggering though, with needles and paraphernalia littering the pavements. The sidewalk is lined with people sitting side by side shooting up or passed out. Almost nobody is wearing masks.

Everyone (including me) thought COVID-19 would have already decimated the populace there by now but, for some reason, it hasn’t. The only cases I heard of were of two men, staying at a Salvation Army hostel, who had recently been released from prison.

In fact, many more people have died of drug overdoses than from COVID-19. In June, 175 people in British Columbia died from illicit drug overdose, surpassing the previous high of 171 in May. For four consecutive months now, there have been more than 100 illicit drug toxicity deaths.

COVID-19 has made the drug overdoses increase because more people are ‘using’ alone, mostly young men. The cheap hotels and hostels where most people live no longer allow guests.

‘April’ going through drug withdrawal, on Hastings Street… (Photograph approved for publication on Wikipedia by ‘April’)

The streets are teeming with thousands of homeless people residing in tent cities, in downtown parks and alleyways. Tragically, a high proportion of the homeless and drug addicted are ‘aged out’ youth, formerly in government ‘care’, which ends abruptly at the age of eighteen when they are thrust into one of the world’s most expensive cities and expected to survive on a pittance which doesn’t even cover a quarter of the average rent, let alone food or clothing.

The Downtown Eastside Women’s Center is an amazing resource for all self-identified women who live or work in that neighbourhood, providing free food, clothing, hygiene services and advocacy.

Another interesting thing I did for a Downtown Eastside women’s organization was ear modelling.

I was an ear model in a YouTube made-for-charity fundraiser at WISH, the drop-in center for street sex workers where I work. 

It didn’t start out as an ear modelling video.

They got some of us in the Supportive Employment Programme to say what it meant to us to work at WISH. 

Since we were all current or former sex workers, we were filmed from behind or from the side to protect our privacy and some women chose to have their voices altered but it looked a little funny, because it looked sort of like those televised interviews with criminals and the part most in focus was our ears.

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John Fleming’s Weekly Diary – No 27 – Face masks, new talent and The Iceman

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 26

SUNDAY 19th JULY

Writer/performer Ariane Sherine‘s hugely-talented 9-year-old daughter sent me a song which she had composed about eggs.

MONDAY 20th JULY

Apropos nothing, I was reminded today that, when I worked at Thames Television in London, one of the executives had the job title Head of Further Education and Religion, abbreviated on memos etc – rather appropriately – as Head of FEAR.

TUESDAY 21st JULY

As anyone who wisely reads every posting of this blog knows, I was recently in hospital because my calcium level was very high and my kidney function was very low. The doctors still do not know why.

Back in June, I mentioned in a blog that, when I brush my teeth, I have always cleared my mouth by drinking water straight from the tap – and, in the recent hot weather, was drinking a lot of water from the tap. I wondered if the high calcium level in my body could be due to this drinking from the tap which had developed a (possibly calcium) deposit on it.

Today, my friend and executrix Lynn caught up with reading that blog and commented:


Tap water is far safer and cheaper and better for you than any bottled water – but the only drinking water in the house is the kitchen sink tap.

A discarded sock with duck motif – I may soak it in vinegar and/or lemon juice…

If you are really not trusting even the tap water then boil it, let it cool and bottle it – that is assuming your kettle is scale free?!

Scale is what is clinging to the tap in your photograph and that can be removed with a limescale cleaner – although a cloth/old sock soaked in vinegar or lemon juice and wound around the tap overnight works just as well.

The kitchen tap is a direct feed to outside and is as pure as it can be, whereas all the other taps are fed through the house system and often from a tank in the attic full of…

Well, perhaps we won’t think about that.


WEDNESDAY 22nd JULY

The UK comedy circuit is currently, temporarily dead because of the coronavirus pandemic – live venues are closed.

The BBC has now announced it is on “a mission to kickstart live stand-up again” with “a new stand-up series designed to support grassroots comedy talent”.

The unique and original President Obonjo…

Given that, last year, BBC Studios attempted to rip-off President Obonjo’s long-running unique circuit comedy act with a claim that no-one in BBC Studios had ever heard of said unique act that had been successfully playing the circuit for ten years and had got 4-star reviews at the Edinburgh Fringe…

…and, given that a BBC Studios producer told comedy critic Kate Copstick that they “don’t have much to do with live comedy” and that live circuit comedians are “not nearly as important as they think they are”…

…it will be interesting to see how this change of thinking works in practice.

The line-up for these six half-hour shows has not yet been announced. It will be interesting to see if the BBC peoples it with genuinely talented new-to-TV live circuit comics or the same old rosta of familiar TV comics they already have drinks and expenses-paid meals with.

Is that bullshit I smell in the air?

More refreshingly, I got an email from The Iceman, the very amiable and surprisingly sane man I first met when he auditioned for The Last Resort With Jonathan Ross – ooh! – a century ago..

Since then, The Iceman has long-taken to creating fine art and re-styled himself as ‘The Artist formerly known as the IceMan’ (AIM).

Today’s email read:


The Iceman (AIM) has self-launched into Space. The Duck is the same duck previously referenced by myself/yourself in previous Blogs [from a hotel in Southampton!].

Both The Iceman and Duck survive in space through connection to the Ice-Block and previous intense mind training exercises on Earth.


THURSDAY 23rd JULY

Jonathan Ross – a man who actually cares about new talent

Following on from the BBC’s alleged search for alleged new comedy talent, ITV have now announced an upcoming series with Jonathan Ross which will “showcase the very best new talents performing in a recreation of the vibe and atmosphere of a small comedy venue, all filmed within COVID guidelines.”

There is actually some chance of finding genuine new talent here, as it’s the energetic and enthusiastic Jonathan as opposed to the lazy, uninterested BBC…‬

“This new series,” the publicity says, “will see him get behind fresh new comedians on the cusp of their big break, offering them a stage upon which to make people laugh.”

Meanwhile, The Iceman emailed me his paintings of comedians Stewart Lee and Mike Myers, both fans of his.

Stewart Lee (centre) interviewing The Iceman (bottom right) on Resonance FM radio

Mike Myers (left), a fan of The Iceman, having his mind expanded by The Iceman’s performance

FRIDAY 24th JULY

From today, everyone going into a shop or supermarket will have to wear a face mask in an attempt to stop the spread of the coronavirus. There is the distant threat of a £100 fine for anyone not wearing a mask.

The London Evening Standard reported a man had walked naked down Oxford Street wearing nothing but a mask (covering his genitals).

Meanwhile, The Iceman sent me multiple photos of multiple happy buyers of his art.

A delighted buyer (right) of one of The Iceman’s ice-citing paintings is congratulated by the artist.

“The happiest buyer,” The Iceman told me, “is Tobias with a poster of 42 of my ice blocks. It has increased hugely in value since his purchase date.”

Tobias, left, yet another delighted member of the public who invested in a valuable Iceman artwork.

SATURDAY 25th JULY

Unrelated to this barrage of self-publicity from The Iceman, I coincidentally went into my local Iceland supermarket this afternoon.

100% of the customers were wearing face masks.

0% of the five staff were wearing masks – one at the checkout, two wandering around filling shelves and two having a close-up conversation beside the checkout man.

Apparently shop staff are not required under the government regulations to wear masks. I can’t help but feel the government has not thought it through and this rather undercuts the purpose of wearing masks in shops.

Seeing that the staff don’t actually need to wear masks for any public safety reason will discourage people from wearing masks in shops.

When smoking was banned in pubs, I didn’t think that would work but it did because the pub risked getting fined, not the punters. ‬

Later in the day, I received another email from The Iceman:


Here’s today’s painting.

It is a diagram in space explaining the significance of The Iceman’s ice block. It is self-explanatory.

The Neowice comet is aiming for the Block.

He also sent a self-portrait photo (below) of the artist “as he prepares his canvas by balancing it on his head prior to painting to ensure the concept is properly absorbed in advance.”


… CONTINUED HERE

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The backward-walking man is dead. Long live the backward-walking man!

The late Michael Dickinson, circa 2014, as he appeared in the Camden New Journal this week…

Yesterday, I picked up a copy of the Camden New Journal and was sad to read about the death of Michael Dickinson.

You’ve never heard of him? Neither had I until May last year, when I was in Camden Town and saw a man walking backwards. Not just for a couple of seconds or a minute. He walked backwards the whole time.

I posted two videos of him on YouTube. This was the first:

Obviously, I looked him up online and found out he had been doing this for years and was former actor Michael Dickinson.

He had been born in either Durham or Yorkshire, depending on which legend you believe, and he studied at the Manchester School of Theatre from 1969 alongside future actors Julie Walters and Richard Griffiths.

Michael Dickinson (right) with Simon Callow in Passing By – Gay Sweatshop production at the Almost Free Theatre, 1975.

In the 1970s, he became an actor himself. In 1975, he kissed Simon Callow in Passing By, a ‘groundbreaking’ two-man show about a gay romance.

Rather miscast as Jesus in another play, he eventually mostly gave up acting and took up collage art.

In 1982, he held an exhibition in Primrose Hill and a review in esteemed local paper the Hampstead & Highgate Express (the Ham & High), said he was “wickedly adept at exposing the two-faced tendencies and follies of our leaders”.

In an interview in the Camden New Journal on 25th May 2017, he claimed that he could no longer walk forwards and had self-diagnosed his condition as ‘retropulsion’.

He said: “It could be psychological, or I heard somebody say it could be a disease, but I don’t feel unwell apart from that. If I didn’t feel this retropulsion I would much prefer to be walking forwards. When it first started happening it was bewildering, to say the least.

“Occasionally people in cars blow horns at me, which is dangerous because I turn to look at them rather than where I’m going. 

“I don’t really want to see a doctor, I feel they’ll just put me on some sort of medication and I would rather not be. I can deal with it and there is no law against it. I’m careful that I had never hurt anybody, although I did hurt myself the other day when I tripped over a branch as I walked through the woods.”

From the mid-1980s for almost three decades – before he started walking backwards – he had lived in Turkey, working as a teacher and artist, sometimes telling fortunes to pay his rent.

…with one of his less insulting Turkish collages in 2014… (Photograph by Polly Hancock for the Ham & High)

He somewhat annoyed the Turkish authorities in 2006 by creating a collage which depicted leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan as a dog receiving a rosette from American President George W. Bush in a pet show. The resultant court case stretched over four years.

In 2008, he was prosecuted for insulting Erdogan by creating the collage. He was initially cleared, but the verdict was overturned in 2010 and then, after shouting a political slogan at police in a separate incident in 2013, he was deported.

Back in London between the two incidents, in 2011, he was arrested in Parliament Square (where he was living in a tent) after shouting “No more war!” during a Remembrance Day silence. He was charged with a public order offence, but the case was eventually dropped.

Permanently in London after his deportation from Turkey, he slept in the streets around Camden Town. While living in a cardboard box next to the Sainsbury’s supermarket there, some people who were squatting in the former police station in Hampstead met him at a soup kitchen and invited him to join their squat.

While there, he ate food discarded by shops and cafés and chucked-away in recycling bins. He made some money by telling fortunes on the street.

It was possibly not too rough an existence as it was a Grade II listed building and they had a wide-screen television set.

He was very grateful to the squatters.

He told the Ham & High: “I would still be in that box were it not for them.”

Squatters are evicted from the former Hampstead police station in 2014 with their belongings, including wide screen TV

Eventually, on the afternoon of 2nd May 2014, the police evicted the squatters in the former Hampstead police station and he took to sleeping in a tent in a Hampstead cementery, though he eventually ended up in a legitimate Highgate flat by 2017.

When and why exactly did he start to walk backwards? 

Leonie Scott-Matthews of Pentameters Theatre in Hampstead told the Camden New Journal this week: “I remember when he started walking backwards. He was in a play here; he got off the stage and just started walking back­wards. It was just after he had got back from Turkey.”

His friend Charles Thomson says: “It was clearly symbolic I felt. He enjoyed be­ing in Turkey and he couldn’t go back. He was walking back­wards when I last saw him.”

His friend Kay Bayliss added: “He emailed me around Christmas saying he was having phlegm problems that persisted. He was still suffering this when he emailed me on April 11 and now had serious-sounding gut problems… Michael had a very interesting life. At school all the girls loved him. He was so good looking and very complimentary even in more recent times.”

Michael Dickinson died “from peritonitis resulting from a gut obstruction”, in his Highgate bedsit, aged 70, on 2nd July 2020. 

So it goes.

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The death of the second ‘Albert’ – supreme British surrealist entertainers

The Alberts – images from their Facebook page

In a 2014 blog, I wrote about the death of Tony Gray, one of The Alberts – the gloriously eccentric British brothers who linked the shambolic opening night of BBC2 to The Goon Show, the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band and Monty Python’s Flying Circus

This afternoon, sadly, I received news from Sheba Gray – Tony’s daughter – that Douglas, the other half of the duo, “passed away last Thursday (18th June), just shy of ninety”…

British Rubbish Revisited, a recent release with recordings from their 1960s shows, can currently be found on YouTube, Spotify, iTunes, Amazon etc…

And a 58-minute video – The Alberts – An Evening of British Rubbish – is currently on YouTube.

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Freelance journalist desperately seeks story during the coronavirus lockdown

John Ward with some of the Malcolm Hardee Awards for Comedy which he designed and made

I got an email today from John Ward – mad inventor of eccentricities and designer of the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards.

He is a former member of the Monster Raving Loony Party and is the former Minister for Inventions in The Eccentric Party.

In November last year, he told me about an encounter with a less-then-well-researched journalist. Now history has repeated itself.

He writes:


I had no idea yesterday would be one of those days…

The phone burbled.

An ashen-faced John Ward recalls the phone call yesterday

It was from a (NAME CENSORED) who explained he was a freelance journalist and wanted to speak to “a John Ward” – I pointed out that he was in luck as my name was John Ward but with no ‘a’ in front, so would I do?

He explained he had got my number via “a friend of a friend” – I think it was somebody who covered the Reliant Robin Fire Engine saga a few years back.

The gist of his call was “the current coronavirus matter”.

He wondered if I could give him an idea of The Eccentric Party’s political view on the matter and some idea of precautions or measures that might be of help to the present government.

He said he had tried contacting “your leader Lord Toby Jug” via email but with no response and so decided to contact me as he gathered I was “good for quotes and background ideas”.

A mug shot with Eccentric Party leader Lord Toby Jug (right)

I pointed out that Lord Toby Jug was no more as he was dead… no longer with us… only on the website.

“Was it caused by coronavirus?” he asked.

“Not unless,” I replied, “it kicked off a year last May and, if so, he was the very first, unannounced victim.”

“So,” he said, “he was one of the first victims…”

I pointed out it was he who had just suggested coronavirus to start with, not me.

There was a short bit of silence and then…

HIM: So there is not much likelihood of being able to speak to Lord Toby Jug…

(MORE SILENCE)

HIM: I suppose his death was real?

ME: Well, yes, I think it’s perhaps right to suggest that.

HIM: I mean, him being, well, eccentric… it could have been some sort of stunt thing…

ME: Well, if it was, he may well qualify for the Guinness Book of Records for holding his breath the longest, without toilet or tea breaks being involved and without checking his social media for updates during the performance.

HIM: I am saying, if it is a stunt…

ME: Well, might I say you just suggested it…

HIM: I was just hoping to clarify the situation as I don’t want to interrupt an on-going stunt as there may be a bigger story here…

ME: Like rising from the dead? – Well, with Easter approaching it would be topical

HIM: So there IS something planned for Easter then?

It is now Spring, a Leap Year and it will soon be Easter. (Photograph by NeONBRAND via UnSplash)

At this late stage in the proceedings, I asked if he was for real.

He explained he had got into journalism through assorted ‘family friends’ after leaving college but had chosen the freelance line – He said he was named after his grandfather, who was not a writer, and, in so doing, bypassed his father whose name was not the same, who owned his own business based in Plymouth and who also was not a writer.

I did not like to ask what sort of business his father had as there were concerns he would tell me.

The bottom line was… I was unable to help him. 

ME: Lord Toby Jug is no more. Deceased 

HIM: There was no mention on the Eccentric Party web site about this.

ME: His demise came without prior warning. He had no time to update it on this minor point.

HIM: So, as an eccentric inventor, which you are… and you are still alive of course… what are you working on at the moment as there could be some copy here?

ME: I am trying my best to appease freelance journalists, but I am having trouble getting the wood.


John Ward has now designed and made a Plank Award. 

The prestigious Plank Award for Journalists

It stands just over one foot in height, made from a sustainable material, and he says this newly prestigious award will be presented annually “as soon as the coronavirus thing is over”. 

It will, he says, be presented “to the journalist/writer who shows the greatest ineptitude in their research into the subject matter before contacting people with regard to possible stories or ‘it seemed like a good idea at the time’ moments”.

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Lynn Ruth Miller: “Comedy in LA is very different from British comedy…”

In yesterday’s blog, Lynn Ruth Miller gave an insight into comedy industry life in Los Angeles. The blog finished with Lynn Ruth getting booked to appear in Scot Neary’s unique Boobie Trap variety show AND on Ron Lynch’s legendary midnight comedy club show AND NBC booking her for a spot on Johnny ‘Bananas’ Devenanzio‘s TV show 1st Look. Now read on…


The minute I walked into the Boobie Trap venue, I knew I had made the right decision. This was a variety show that was totally out of the box. I particularly love Scot Nery. He made his name in San Francisco first, cooking pancakes on stage and throwing them at the audience. This time, he piled chairs on top of one another and balanced them on his face.  

I was one of two stand-up comedians. The other acts were magic, mime, song and poetry. The show’s finale was done in the middle of the seating area. We removed all the chairs and watched three men spit water at each other.

After the show, I returned to my hotel to romp around in the shower…alone of course… Some dreams never come true.

The next day, my friend and very talented comedian and cross-dresser Nick Leonard drove down to be part of my Los Angeles experience. Nick is one of the finest comedians I know and has given me many of my punch lines. He has a way of zeroing in on just the right expression to make you smile and still describe what you are after.  

I wanted a succinct description of my poodle and he said: “How about Donald looked like a fluffy baked potato?”  

You simply cannot beat that for accurate humor.

The highlight of my trip was the day NBC picked up Julie and me to begin filming for 1st Look.

The idea was that I was supposed to teach Johnny Bananas how to become a stand-up comedian. Since it has taken me 16 years to come close to figuring out what I am supposed to do on stage, this was a daunting assignment.  

People think that stand-up comedy is just standing on a stage cracking jokes, but it is far more than that.  

I tried to explain timing, mic technique and the need to ‘find the funny’ to this very enthusiastic, over-the-top young man.

The idea was that, after I coached him, he would do a set for Ron Lynch at his midnight show that evening.

Ron Lynch’s show is called The Tomorrow Show and everyone who performs in Los Angeles loves to be on that show. I love being in that show so much I used to drive 382 miles to LA from Pacifica to be on his stage. I always bought a bottle of wine to pep things up. Often I would drive back home the same night if I had nothing else to do in LA. The show was (and still is) that much fun.

NBC filmed both my set and Johnny’s attempt at humor. The highlight of the evening was the band Ron has on the scene, playing unexpected accompaniment to the things we all say and do.

Comedy in LA is very different from British comedy. It lacks the subtlety, the double entendre and the wit… at least to me. But what do I know? With my hearing aids on high, I still can’t hear enough to make a judgment.

The next night was my big show at the Five Star Bar in downtown Los Angeles. Julie had been working for at least a month on creating an audience to stir up interest in that show. She planned to do an hour of open mic performances; then the main show with a few supporting comedians for me; then my hour show; followed by more open mic sets.  Her reasoning was that the open mic performers would fill the house and that would give me a large audience.  

Entrance was free but on the stage for all to see was a big bucket labelled Lynn Ruth Miller’s Retirement Fund. Julie passed this around at appropriate and inappropriate intervals

Edwin Li walked into the bar see the show. Edwin started comedy in San Francisco the same year that I did but the difference is that he was 14 years old and I was 70. He is Chinese and his signature joke was: ”My dick isn’t small; it’s cute.”

Edwin no longer does comedy because he has moved from San Francisco to Los Angeles to make his fortune… as they all do. He said he had to move away from his house full of women because he needed to find out who he really was.

In order to support himself now, he delivers food for a local take away café. By the time he finishes his deliveries and makes his way to a comedy club, it is very late at night. Getting home is a huge problem because all cabs, even Uber and Lyft, are expensive when you are living on minimum wage. 

Los Angeles’s public transportation, while not horrid, isn’t very good.  

It is very challenging for people who do not drive when they live in areas where the buses only run once an hour or not at all.

So Edwin, who moved to LA to do comedy as well as escape a house filled with domineering women, is now too tired and too financially challenged to develop a talent that showed so much promise when I knew him in San Francisco.

It is a great loss to the comedy community. It also is instructive.  

Those of us who really love what we are doing in comedy will manage to do it no matter what. Common sense and logic play NO part in pursuing this thankless, yet addictive, career.  

Edwin did a sensible, pragmatic thing… and I have no doubt he will return to comedy eventually.  

On the other hand, I never paid any attention to common sense. I knew that, for me, comedy was the entrée into living a fulfilled life. So I did it.

And here I am still – 16 years into the game and not even close to wanting to quit.

I was overjoyed to see Edwin of course, though I never managed to find out if it was still cute.

And now I’m back in London.

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The man who made equipment for Brenda the dearly-departed dominatrix

John knew the drill for the Malcolm Hardee Award

Eccentric inventor John Ward designed and made the trophies for the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards at the Edinburgh Fringe.

He can turn his creative mind to anything constructive.

My chat with a London dominatrix in yesterday’s blog reminded him of one of his more eccentric commissions…

Here, he shares his memories of Brenda the Dominatrix…


Some years ago I made some stocks – the three-hole jobby type for head and hands – for a dear lady – Brenda – who specialised in the modes of “indoor sports and correction”.

It was arranged I should pop round for a cup of tea and discuss the stocks and “any other devices that may be of interest” in her line of work. 

The tea was quite normal – “I don’t do chocolate digestive biscuits as they give me wind, you know,” Brenda told me – with an assortment of other biscuits on offer, all on a silver tray – “The real stuff. None of yer plated rubbish here!” she said – as we sat there discussing assorted manacles, stocks and “what else you feel would be nice”.

Brenda was in her late forties at the time. Her hubbie Cliff worked as a manager of a furniture store, in the fitted carpets and rugs department.

Once tea and biccies were consumed, she gave me a ‘tour’ of the house and all manner of ‘normal’ household gadgets seemed to have another purpose for her.

The canvas-type icing bag and assorted nozzles as used by bakers, once filled with a mix of gritty birdseed and lemon curd, could be slowly injected in a part of the body normally associated with exit work – “You have to get the mix just right and you have to get the speed right,” she told me. “It comes from experience.”

One item that had me wondering was the small, industrial-type floor-standing food mixer – I had seen one in our local baker’s years before as a schoolboy.

It was used by Brenda to mix custard powder with builder’s-type sand – “If Cliff’s not about when it’s delivered, it does my back in getting the bags in as it comes in half hundredweight bags, so I have to split the bag and carry it through in bucketfuls one at a time.”

Once her client was strapped down, naked with a gag in his mouth on a plastic-covered couch, she applied the said mix with a sort of paint roller – once again, speed was of the essence – until he was totally covered from neck to toes. The whole process took about two hours or so from start to finish, then scraping it off on old bits of newspaper before taking a shower.

I asked: “How on earth would people first find out they get their kicks from this process?”

Brenda leaned over and whispered: “I have three who did.”

In her dungeon – the cellar – she had manacles bolted on the walls – “My Cliff put them up for me with Rawlbolts. He had never drilled a wall before” – and a full-size rack, something I had only ever seen before in films – “The best part of five grand that cost me, luv,” she said, “but it’s got the best non-rot rope fitted to it.”

I made her a set of stocks as requested, then sets of leg-irons, chains and handcuffs to make it all up into what she called “something meaningful” .

I also did repairs and improvements as some of her whips were “not lasting as they should”. This was basically down to the attachment of the whip to its handle or grip and was, according to Brenda, all down to “cheap imported crap” as she could not get decent English-made stuff.

I put her in touch with a saddler I knew who supplied her with handmade whips although I then realised I had shot myself in the foot as my whip repair work dried up.

Sadly it all came to an end when Brenda had a heart attack during a ‘training session’. She was fifty-seven. Cliff told me: “It’s the way she would have wanted to go.”

At the time of her death, Cliff was away on a company training thing.

The poor client was chained up for about a couple of days before his (weak) cries for help were heard.

It was the postman who heard him.

A friendly matey policeman told me this and the same Plod mentioned that the chains and ‘restraints’ were so well-made “that Houdini could not have got out of ’em, mate.”

I kept silent on the matter.

The client requested no publicity.

I got on well with Cliff as he was always keen to learn what power tools did and I loved his description of Brenda: “She’s a little, fun-loving tinker is my Brenda – nothing phases her you know.”

A while after, he sold their home and moved to Portugal to retire early. He said the house brought back too many memories to stay.

I still miss Brenda and Cliff. 

She once told me: “Do you know it cost a bloody fortune to soundproof that room…”

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