The late Malcolm Hardee outside his childhood home
Alas no attempt was made to link the fact that the Award and the dead-but-impossible-to-forget comic Malcolm Hardee himself are both late.
Normally, there are three Malcolm Hardee Awards but, with no Fringe last year, with Covid still stalking the land and with staggeringly fewer shows at the Fringe this year, it’s a miracle there was any award at all.
As for the lesser Fringe awards… There were no Edinburgh Comedy (aka Perrier) Awards at all this year. And the eponymous TV channel did not attempt to award any prize for ‘DAVE’s Best Joke of the Fringe 2021’.
Fittingly, then, the winner of the Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award this year was Will Mars, who announced his own ‘(Some Guy Called) DAVE Joke of the Fringe 2021’.
A cunning stunt indeed.
The TV channel’s annual prize is awarded after multiple allegedly top comedy industry professionals assiduously scout for jokes to nominate a shortlist and the final winner is decided by an allegedly carefully supervised public vote.
This year, Will Mars just got together a few gags from people’s shows and then wandered up the Royal Mile in Edinburgh trying to find anyone called Dave who would pick a winner from the bunch.
Surprisingly, finding someone called Dave turned out to be almost as difficult as picking a winner.
The chosen winning joke was Masai Graham’s:
“I thought the word ‘Caesarean’ began with the letter ‘S’ but, when I looked in the dictionary, it was in the ‘C’ section.”
The shortlist of other jokes – inexplicably Caesar-centric – which Will had got together included:
Adele Cliff: “The Roman emperor’s wife hates playing hide and seek because wherever she goes Julius Caesar.”
Ben Clover: “Getting a caesarian is dangerous in Russia. If they open you up and find a little girl, they open her up to see if there’s another.”
Ivor Dembina: “My therapist told me, ‘A problem shared, is a hundred quid’.”
Sameer Katz: “I think Chewbacca is French because he understands English but refuses to speak it.”
Leo Kearse: “Marvin Gaye used to keep a sheep in my vineyard. He’d herd it through the grapevine.”
Will Mars’ own: “My grandparents were married for forty years, but everything took longer back then.”
Tom Mayhew: “Me and my ex were into role play. I’d pretend to be James Bond and she’d pretend she still loved me.”
Rich Pulsford: “I don’t know what you call a small spillage from a pen but I have an inkling.”
The trophy for the one-off 2021 Award itself was designed and crafted by mad inventor John Ward, who has designed and made all the previous trophies.
But you can’t just knock-off a Malcolm Hardee Award in a minute or two. Oh no. Oh my dear me, no. Quality counts.
You need raw materials and then you have to decide what the fuck to do with them…
Once you have ’em, you have to shape ’em and craft ’em…
Then, if you’re talented like John Ward, you have to tart ’em up into a final trophy…
John Ward (he’s the one on the right) with the Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award 2021
John Ward told me: “It’s basically Malcolm’s bonce, with real imitation hair, plus the specs mounted on an ‘H’ shaped base for Hardee.
“I used a BAFTA type theme but tried to take the piss out of it with the silver (on the right) symbolising the bland year and half it’s been with Covid and the golden ray of laughter (on the left) is pure (if that’s a suitable word) Malcolm with a hearty grin.”
“With real imitation hair?” I asked. “From where?”
“From a fabric shop I patronise for such things…”
“Such things?” I asked.
“I use it to make wigs and I buy it by the yard as you never know when you might run out of the hairy stuff…” replied John.
Here is a reminder of John Ward.
Here is Will Mars’ typically non-promotional speech accepting the 2021 Cunning Stunt Award…
Malcolm Hardee on the Thames (Photo by Steve Taylor)
In yesterday’s blog, Australian performer Matthew Hardy remembered British comedian Sean Lock, who died earlier this week.
Matthew also mentioned the late comedian Malcolm Hardee – oft called ‘the godfather of British alternative comedy’ – as “the most outrageous individual I’ve ever known”.
Eight days after Malcolm’s death by drowning in 2005, Matthew Hardy shared this memory.
Stories about Malcolm Hardee are plentiful but, to my mind, this one from Matthew may be the definitive one…
Malcolm took my visiting elderly parents out in his boat. Goes up the Thames and on the right was some kind of rusted ship, pumping a powerful arc of bilgewater out of its hull, through a kind of high porthole, which saw the water arc across the river over fifty foot.
I’m on the front of the boat as Malcolm veers toward the arc and I assume he’s gonna go under it, between the ship and where the arc curves downward toward the river itself. For a laugh.
Just as I turn back to say “Lookout, we’re gonna get hit by the filthy fucking water” – the filthy fucking water almost knocked my head off my shoulders and me off the boat. I looked back to see it hit Malcolm as he steered, then my Mum and then Dad.
I wanted to hit him and my Dad said afterwards that he did too, but we were both unable to comprehend or calculate what had actually happened.
Malcolm’s decision was beyond any previously known social conduct.
He must have simply had the idea and acted upon it.
The Iceman crops up in this blog erractically and eccentrically.
He used to be a humorous performance artist, destroying blocks of ice – sometimes by just letting them melt, sometimes using a blowtorch, sometimes blowing them up with explosives. Nowadays, though, he is a painter.
He paints pictures of blocks of ice.
Recently, he did a Zoom call with pupils at the highly prestigious Westminster School in London. I Skyped him to ask why…
ICEMAN: A young sixth former became aware of my work and approached me on behalf of the Westminster Literary Society, which sounded very prestigious.
JOHN: But you’re not a literary creator; you’re an artistic performer and performance artist and now artist.
ICEMAN: Yes but, as you know, I use words, often with “aim” or “ice” in them.
JOHN: Errr… “aim”?
Portrait of the Artist as a mystery man
ICEMAN: That’s the n-ice name I have adopted as a painter. AIM = Anthony, Ice Man. But it always has a deeper meaning…
ICEMAN: That is the correct response. Ooooooh! Deep. Deep. What are we AIMing for? I’m aiming for something very particular.
JOHN: Yer wot?
ICEMAN: Some people call it Nirvana. I call it NirvanAIMa… The Westminster Literary Society liked the wordplay… I am now a cult figure in the sixth form at Westminster School… I was baptised in Westminster Hall.
Westminster Hall is the oldest surviving part of the Palace of Westminster – ie the UK Parliament building (Photograph by Jwslubbock via Wikipedia)
JOHN: Westminster HALL???
That’s in the Houses of Parliament!
ICEMAN: Yes. The old hall where Charles I was tried.
JOHN: You were baptised there???
ICEMAN: I had good contacts in those days.
JOHN: Bloody good contacts. Tell all!…
JOHN: Forget the Anyway. Why did you get baptised in Westminster Hall and where did you get the water from? There’s no font. You must have brought your own water. What was the font? Times Roman? What connections did you have? Political or Lordly?
ICEMAN: I’m a commoner.
JOHN: So you had a relation who was in the House of Commons?
ICEMAN: As a baby, I was good at networking. I have a little block of ice here…
JOHN: I don’t want to know about your little block of ice. I want to know about the water in your font and how and why you got baptised in Westminster Hall. Does this mean, bizarrely, you have a connection with Westminster School?
ICEMAN: One wonders, with all this synchronicity going around… You have an unhealthy interest in this… I think the person who invited me – at Westminster School – unbeknown to me, took my work very seriously, thought it was deep and funny and the initial subject I was talking to them about was Can Stand-Up Comedy Be an Art Form?… but I turned it, really, into a promotion of my paintings.
JOHN: Your paintings not your ice-melting performance art?
ICEMAN: I am a man of two parts.
JOHN: You’re a man of three parts. One is in Westminster Hall as a baby.
ICEMAN: There was ice in the font. It was February… No, it was April, actually.
JOHN: You remember ice in the font?
ICEMAN: I sensed it… Anyway… One of my audience at Westminster School was called Cecilia. She said she laughed so much at my Zoom meeting that her eyeliner ran.
ICEMAN: But the thing that I appreciated was that my art – seemingly genuinely – was being appreciated by a new generation. Now they can’t stop sending me emails. And even their English teacher said how deeply moving and funny it was at the same time. They had a block of their own. They called it Alice.
ICEMAN: – Al-ice.
JOHN: Aah! So you’ve inspired new ice artists?
ICEMAN: Well, they say I have inspired them. They are painting lots of pictures and they are going to send me a booklet of all their pictures. It has been a stimulus for their writing and art.
JOHN: But will they cough-up to buy a painting from you? How much would it cost?
ICEMAN: I dunno. If they gave a fiver each, how big is the Sixth Form?… £500?
JOHN: That’s quite cheap for your ice blocks.
ICEMAN: They haven’t replied to that e-mail.
JOHN: This would be you selling them not a block of ice but a…
ICEMAN: …a painting of a block. Yes. I know you met me when I was a performance artist, but my main creative activity now is painting, though still using the motif of blocks of ice. Every painting has a block of ice. I told the Literary Society that, when I look back, I see the blocks as stepping stones to my later career as a painter.
JOHN: But if the past blocks are stepping stones, they will melt, so your future career is uncertain.
ICEMAN: Yes, but I’ve got there now. A painter called Alfred Wallis reminds me of myself. He was part of the St Ives Group in Cornwall, but he was really a Cornish fisherman and he painted on cardboard, using ship’s paint. Very simple and child-like, which reminds me of me because I tend to paint on mounting board. He was taken up by Ben Nicholson. He was a genuinely naïve painter.
I’m not saying I’m emulating him. I came across him later and realised he’s like me in some ways. He only started painting in his Sixties.
The Iceman in full flow… His art is not easily accomplished… It is a combination of art and art-if-ice
JOHN: Back to your birth. Where was your father born?
ICEMAN: In Aberdeen. But I was born off the King’s Road in Chelsea. I think there might be a plaque there. It was a bit more bohemian in those days. I broke free and became The Iceman.
JOHN: Did you go to university?
ICEMAN: I can’t give too much information about myself without demystifying myself.
JOHN: When you were 19, what did you want to be?
ICEMAN: I think I wanted to join the Royal Navy.
ICEMAN: To do ice patrols…
JOHN: Of course you did. But, at 19, did you decide you wanted to be a creative person of some kind?
ICEMAN: I think I had an idea of being some kind of actor. But then I recognised the limitations of that field.
JOHN: What are the limitations?
ICEMAN: Spouting forth other people’s words. I guess I became a performance artist but not one of your heavy Marina Abramović types. More of a slightly humorous performance artist. When I played comedy clubs, they said I should do art galleries; and art galleries said I should go and do comedy clubs. That’s the story of my life.
I ran into Arthur Smith. I said to him: “I never had success.” He said: “You had your moments”.
JOHN: Well, you’ve done better than Van Gogh did in his lifetime.
Shrewd buyer (left) of a second Iceman painting – thaims 16
ICEMAN: I’ve just had an order from a previous buyer. He’s the Head of Music at Monkton Combe School. Many years after buying the original one – LidO – based on Tooting Lido where I did a block, he became interested in a painting called thaims 16, which is basically a boat with an ice block on it… and the other one he likes is more abstract. I tried to get him into three figures, but he’s whittled me down to £50.
I like the fact I’m now painting. That has given me a completely different experience from performing. When you perform, you’re interacting in rough and ready ways. But when you’re painting you’ve usually alone. They are both intense, but completely different experiences.
When I paint, I think it’s the one time I forget about… well… For all my limitations as a painter – because I’ve had no training – I think what I bring to it is a spontaneous feeling. In one way, that relates back to the performance art work, which was always rough and ready.
I like using oils because, on canvas, they can emulate the ice block effects… I like dribbles.
The Iceman’s Zoom chat with the boys and girls of the Westminster Literary Society is on YouTube… The video lasts 29 minutes…
In my last blog, I mentioned that a 9-year-old of my acquaintance in London had adopted a kākāpō called Ralph in New Zealand. These are quirky, large, flightless, nocturnal parrots, not all called Ralph. They have a reported lifespan of up to 100 years. Over that period, they learn a trick or too.
My blog mention got this comment from a reader:
“I was in New Zealand a few years ago and took a bus tour from Queenstown to Milford Sound on the South Island. Somewhere along the winding and mountainous journey, the bus pulled up for a moment and a kākāpō strode up to the door and the bus driver fed him while tourists took photos. I don’t know how the kākāpō trained the bus driver to do this, but I am convinced that they are smart birds.”
In other bird-related news, this blog’s occasional Vancouver-based correspondent, Anna Smith, sent me a report from the CTV Network in Canada about a man who was killed by his own cock in Southern India.
It seems a rooster fitted with a knife for an illegal cockfight in the Karimnagar district of Telangana state “inflicted serious injuries to the man’s groin as it tried to escape”. The cock was briefly held by local police before it was sent to a poultry farm.
According to CTV, “Specially-bred roosters have 7.5-centimetre (three-inch) knives or blades tethered to their legs and punters bet on who will win the gruesome fight. Thousands of roosters die each year in the battles which, despite the efforts of animal rights groups, attract large crowds.”
It seems Adam Linsell, an air conditioning engineer, wanted to get back into shape after Christmas and chose to start running routes in the shape of penises.
Some of Adam’s runs are fairly long (nearly 7km) while others are on the short side (around 4km). The Welwyn & Hatfield Times helpfully reports that “cold weather doesn’t put Adam off or cause the runs to shrink in size”.
Andy Dunlop bike ride route: sadly neither penis nor America
Adam is quoted as saying: “I’m chuckling to myself as I go along passing people who have no idea what I’m up to!… I uploaded the pics onto Welwyn Garden City Unhinged and they’ve currently had 4,000 shares, 3,000 likes and 2,000 comments.”
Inspired by Adam, Egg-Throwing supremo Andy Dunlop tried to re-plan his bike ride routes across the North Yorks Moors to emulate his hero, but “only managed a bad map of America.”
Meanwhile at home, in the last week, I have been bombarded by a barrage of spam/scam phone calls.
These included a pre-recorded phone call from 0118 348 2605 (a Reading number) telling me my British Telecom landline was about to be cut off and asking me to press key 1 on my telephone.
I have no BT landline.
On another day, two calls from different numbers told me that I was under investigation for tax fraud by HMRC (the taxman) and told me to press 1 or the police would arrest me.
On yet another day, I had a text message from HSBC bank to my mobile phone checking if I had authorised a payment of £240 to Mr C Jones and telling me to click on a link to security.hs-online-authpayee.com if the payment was not legit.
I have no HSBC bank account and I imagine that clicking the link would probably have connected me with some vastly expensive premium phone line in some far-flung country.
The (I hope) final scam was a pre-recorded call to my mobile phone from the National Insurance Office (surreally via a mobile phone number 44 7836 703246) saying I should phone them back immediately by pressing 1.
I do not recommend phoning that number, because of the potential ‘vastly expensive premium phone line in some far-flung country’ factor. But there seems to be some as-yet-inexplicable love of Button 1 by scammers.
I also got a (I think) perfectly legitimate email from London’s Natural History Museum asking me if I wanted to opt out of receiving “Mother’s Day themed emails” from them – presumably on the basis that, if your mother has died, being reminded of the fact would upset you.
A worthy thought but, methinks, an email asking if you want to opt out of emails about Mother’s Day would equally remind you of the bereavement and be equally upsetting.
“Because,” said Michael, “of our wonderful new collaborative CD effort Parrotopia.”
“You sound like,” I told him, “a Northerner trying to be posh by using long words – collaborative, indeed!”
“But it IS collaborative!” he insisted. “The crazy thing about this CD is that, without any kind of planning, it has 12 tracks, six of which are mine and six of which are his. We then cross-pollinated it, of course.”
“You’re using big words again,” I told him. “So the music is random?”
“Yes, it’s very random,” Michael said. “I suppose, if it has a genre, it might be front step.”
“That is a pun beyond my ken,” I told him.
“The young folks,” Michael told me, “have something called ‘dubstep’. Or maybe they don’t. Maybe that was ten years ago or more.”
“A couple of days ago,” said Rodney, “I got a magazine from PRS and I didn’t know what they were talking about in it.”
The Bonzos’ 50th Anniversary show at KOKO in Camden, 2015
“It’s been a helluva lot of fun,” said Michael. “A gestatory nine months.”
“You’re at it again with the words,” I said. “But why another CD? Artistic inspiration or the lure of more filthy lucre?”
Rodney laughed: “Gross money is pouring out of our pockets! Why did we do this?”
“Because,” Michael told him, “we couldn’t not. Let’s be honest, we’re never going to become rich doing this. As it is, we’re selling teeshirts as well as the CDs to get money back. We do the music and the songs because we have to do it. Essentially what happened was we started talking during the Bonzo’s Austerity Tour last year, as things got increasingly more fraught…”
“In what way ‘fraught’?” I asked.
“It was nice amongst us,” said Michael. “Lovely among the players… Let’s not talk about it.”
“So the new CD… Parrotopia.” I said.
“The initial spurt,” explained Michael, “was that Rodney bought an iPhone and, all-of-a-sudden, you could email him. And there was no holding him after that. Pretty soon, we were sending each other stupid things about long-dead Northern comics and long-dead, obese footballers. Just tittle-tattle in general.”
Susie Honeyman of The Mekons, Rodney Slater and Michael Livesley during Parrotopia shed recordings.
“It’s just a collection of stories, really,” said Rodney. “Stories we wanted to tell that happened between 2016 and when we finished it in June this year. Our reaction to what was happening in the world and what was particularly happening to us in that context.”
“Not,” I checked, “what was happening politically in the grand scheme of things, but…”
“There was a sprinkling of that,” said Michael.
“You can’t get away from that,” added Rodney, “because that’s the time we were doing it.”
“Well, Parrotopia was almost like a coping mechanism, wasn’t it?” Michael suggested.
“It’s all about stories,” said Rodney. “Stories we tell ourselves. All of us. Fantasies we enact in our own heads when we go to bed at night. Michael said to me: We’ll make the album that we want to listen to. And that’s what has come out.”
“What we said we were originally gonna do,” Michael explained, “was to declare ourselves The People’s Republic of Parrotopia, because there was stuff going on – and that name stuck.”
“Cultural Revolutionary,” Rodney said, apparently thinking out loud.
“There is,” Michael continued, “a song, one line of which is: Reflecting feudalist tags. That’s the general disjecta membra that is left over.”
“Oooh!” I said.
“Did you make that up?” asked Rodney.
“No,” Michael told him. “It’s a real word. In many ways, we were sort of living this madness through a shared past. A strange shared past, because Rodney is older than I am, but I was brought up by my nan – my grandmother – and she was brought up around the same time as Rodney’s parents. So we maybe both have a similar outlook. We see what we’ve done as very much as a continuation of British music hall and The Goons and The Bonzos.”
“Are you going to do a musical tour of Parrotopia?” I asked.
“Costs money,” said Rodney. “It would need a cast of 10 or 12. We would need some man with a lot of money who was honest, which is a very rare thing in this business.”
“Any videos?” I asked.
William ‘Fatty’ Foulke, Sheffield United goalkeeper 1894-1905
“Well,” said Michael, “we talked to John Halsey – The Rutles’ Barry Wom – who plays drums on our CD – and we discussed making some films – particularly a little silent movie of a track called Fatty – who was a goalkeeper for Sheffield United in 1902. Rodney as the referee with a twirling moustache and a top hat.”
“I think,” I told him, “you should write a song called Rodney Bought An iPhone.”
Rodney responded: “Writing used to be a slow and laborious process by hand. Now, if we have an idea, rather than me learning it, I hum something, he plays it on the keyboard and there’s the dots.”
“It’s a very quick way of working,” said Michael. “I can come up with a melody, I play it on the keyboard into the iMac computer and literally just press a button and the music dots are there for him to play. The computer is the real paradox here. Well ‘irony’ is better. Rodney has this disdain for computers and…”
“I don’t want a computer,” Rodney emphasised.
“But you have an iPhone,” I said. “That’s a computer.”
“I know it is,” he replied, “but it’s not a two-way mirror quite as much.”
“Would you care to expatiate on that?” asked Michael.
“It’s too intrusive in one’s life,” said Rodney. “It’s like walking around naked. It’s just my way of thinking about it. It’s like radio. Originally, radio was a wonderful, educational tool. All manner of communication. It’s when the arseholes get hold of it and then the big money comes in. I have utter contempt for the people running these things. Utter contempt because of what they’re doing with it. I’m not very good technically. I manage an iPhone; well, part of it.”
“One of the tracks on the CD,” said Michael, “is One Step Behind where Rodney sings about Who harvests your data? He was telling me about opinions being shaped and formed by…”
“Algorithms,” said Rodney. “I’m very interested in all that. The way it shapes human behaviour. I don’t like the sort of society that these things are making. The parallel worlds that we all live in. I prefer to go down the pub and play darts and crib and have a fight.”
“What attitudes are being formed that are bad?” I asked.
“Isolation,” he replied. “Parallel lives. Self-centred interest. What really pisses me off is that people are totally inconsiderate of the consequences of their actions on other people. They don’t think about that.”
Michael says Rodney’s Parrotopia album is “riddled with it”
“Are you going to do a second Parrotopia album about it?” I asked.
“We are doing another one,” said Michael.
“Parrot-toopia,” said Rodney.
“And when is that out?”
“Maybe next year,” replied Michael, but this one is riddled with it. Virtual reality. Augmented reality.”
“I just think, as I get older,” said Rodney, “it is time to write things down. I’m not a grumpy old man. I don’t write grumpy old man songs. I write reality, looking from now to what I’ve known, which is 76 bloody years. It’s a bloody long time. I was born at the beginning of the Second World War and I saw all that social evolution…”
“You retain a lot of optimism,” said Michael.
“A lot of optimism,” said Rodney, “from a bad beginning.”
“There is a lot of attitude on the CD,” said Michael.
“You have had a haircut since we met last,” I observed to Michael.
“Yes,” he said. “I went to Chris the barber near where I live. It is in the back of a garage. You go through his car sales bit and there’s a shed and you sit there surrounded by Classic Car Weeklys.”
“Where do you live?” I asked.
“Between Andover and Southampton.”
“I think there is a stuffed cat museum in Andover,” I said. “In tableaux.”
“I don’t think so,” said Michael.
“Maybe it’s in Arundel,” I said.
“There’s a pencil museum up in Keswick in the Lake District,” suggested Michael helpfully.
“And a vegetarian shoe shop in Brighton,” I said.
“I know,” said Michael. “I popped in once.”
I looked at him.
“I was starving,” he added.
Parrotopia was successfully financed by crowdfunding, using this video…
Today turned into very much a Spirit of The Fringe day: a spirit far too often submerged by giant posters and promoters/managers/agents/venues screwing their performers. As is often muttered, SOMEONE is making money, but it is rarely the performers.
Yesterday’s blog included Mark Dean Quinn attaching other people’s stars and quotes to his own flyers… and enticing Narin Oz into this moral jungle.
Narin today told me: “The fake stars don’t work. It’s useless without people knowing what the real show is about!”
But Mark Dean Quinn is sticking to his figurative guns and actual stars.
Meanwhile, the increasingly prestigious Grouchy Club shows chaired by feared comedy critic Kate Copstick and my loveable self continue. Today on Twitter, someone calling themselves TheAntiCrit Tweeted:
5 STARS The Grouchy Club – After the usual dodgy 1 STAR start, legendary fest talkfest is firing on all cylinders.
Today, the conversation in this alleged comedy chat show turned to the upcoming one-off Malcolm Hardee show (in which I am not involved) staged by former squatters on his Wibbley Wobbley boat, the rapist tendencies of the Kenyan police and an adopted lady in the audience who was meeting her birth mother for only the second time (mum is staging a Fringe show), who had had a brain operation recently and had gone blind in one eye while losing peripheral vision in the other. All human life is, indeed, mulled-over at The Grouchy Club.
Rowdy Peter Michael Marino rousing just part of his audience
I stayed on in the Lounge of the Counting House to see the lovely Peter Michael Marino’s show titled Show Up which was full-to-overflowing and which, much like The Grouchy Club, happily varies in content from day-to-day because it is highly audience-based.
Michael is American and, in their quaint Colonial lingo, a ‘hyphenate’ – a stage performer-producer-director force of Nature who can (again in their quaint Colonial tongue) ‘own’ a room. Wonderful audience control and charisma. He is occasionally called ‘Blackout Pete’ because he was conceived during an electrical blackout in New York.
Possibly too much information.
The most interesting part of the show for me, though, was when performer Jane Hill, who was in the packed audience, revealed that she used to “make tampons”. I could have asked her for more details after the show but decided that some things are better left to the imagination. In this case, the vision of her knitting tampons in an armchair in her quaintly thatched home as part of some little-known cottage industry.
My next trip was to the small wooden garden shed next to Bob Slayer’s Blundabus where Michael Brunström had promised an unadvertised one-off event of an undefined – and, as it turned out, indefinable – type.
Michael Brunström in fetching fruity shorts
Unusually, he did not turn up in a lady’s dress or Greek toga but in some very fetching white shorts with a pineapple motif.
The shed had a notice on it which was, loosely, also the show’s title and format – UP TO YOU.
“When I conceived it,” Michael explained, “I knew this would be a very stressful Saturday, especially for performers: it’s busy and the whole machinery, the whole ‘game’ of Edinburgh seems to be building up to this big crescendo next week of awards and wotnot. Winners and losers starting to be announced. Today is quite a frantic, busy day and what I wanted to do was just have a little space where we weren’t bothering about any of that. We’re just doing whatever we want to do. Just to leave Edinburgh aside for a little bit and just have a bit of fun. That’s all.”
Shed Art – the audience’s impression of Michael Bruström
The audience was me and a very amiable couple who were up for any new Fringe experiences. The event included trying to play rummy with a pack of playing cards, Michael reading from E. W. Hornung’s stories of Raffles, the gentleman thief, the female half of the couple – unbidden – drawing a sketch of Michael, the male half of the couple whipping eggs, Andy Barr chopping some edible green vegetables, Mark Dean Quinn cooking an omelette and everyone eating said. The couple gave him a definite genuine 5-stars for his omelette-making skills.
Mark Dean Quinn holds up a vegetable while Michael Brunström reads from Raffles aloud
The show was due to last 20 minutes. I left after half an hour.
I was later told that it continued for another hour after I left.
It was, like The Grouchy Club, entirely free.
Later, I went off to join Arthur Smith’s annual hour-long alternative tour of the Royal Mile – again, totally free, totally unpredictable.
This is the spirit of the Edinburgh Fringe.
People doing things for no reason except enjoyment.
I applied for the volunteer massage work which I had happily done in 2112 and 2013. I enjoy giving massages and it is interesting meeting musicians, even the ones I already know. I have never had any complaint about my massages, ever.
This morning, I received a letter from one of the festival co-ordinators stating:
There is a lifetime ban on you volunteering for the festival from an incident that occurred in 2013. I trust you know what it is in regards to. I’m sorry for not communicating earlier, but the info has just caught up with me. Cheers.
In fact, I don’t know what it is in regards to. It is upsetting but also hysterically funny that this supposedly peaceable music festival has banned me for an incident that I am not even aware of.
I remember massaging a huge, very polite mariachi singer who kept his clean white underpants on and a guitarist whose back was fucked from too much driving.
I massaged the teenaged daughter of a protective blues singer and the daughter talked to me about her school.
I ran into violinist Ben Mink and Dennis Nichol, a bass player who had played at The Zanzibar in Toronto who remembered me as ‘Nurse Annie’ (Anna’s stage persona as an exotic dancer).
None of these people were unhappy to see me.
And I got to hear Lucinda Williams sing Car Wheels on a Gravel Road.
It surely could not be because I took a photo of the lady with cucumber on her face or wrote about the hula hoop theft in a comedy blog, could it?
Dressed as a nurse, I stripped for lesbians, but my strip show at The Penthouse was just a month ago, so it could not have been that.
And (unlike Malcolm Hardee) I have never driven any tractors, naked, through any other performers’ tents.
I feel dissatisfied just being banned for life from volunteering at the Vancouver Folk Festival. I wish they could ban me for life from volunteering for anything.
Especially now that summer is here and soon men will be falling in the river again. And dogs.
I have just woken up. It is very peaceful on the river except for a couple of crows causing a little ruckus from the treetops.
Anna’s exotic dancer alter ego – ‘Nurse Annie’
Very late last night, when I was downtown, I met a little old lady as we were waiting for a streetlight to change. She was pushing a walker and was elegantly dressed in a light blue jacket with a long matching blue coloured scarf. She had curly white hair and I almost had to stop her from heading into a busy street before the lights changed to green.
“I’m 94 years old!” she cried cheerfully. “I would give you a hug but I’ve run out.”
She fumbled with a small green purse.
“I had a thousand when I set off this morning,” she told me, “but I’ve given them all away. I give them to everybody. They are only this big… about two inches…”
I heard a skateboarder rumbling towards us, so I stood closer to her.
“We have to be careful,” I said. “They don’t realise the damage they could cause to people our age.”
“It’s true,” said the old lady. “But they are nice, the young people. When I tell them to stop, they always do and they are so sweet about it.”
“I’m 94 years old,” she repeated. “I’m not supposed to be out this late, but I was giving out hugs. People need them, you know. They say Vancouver is the loneliest city in Canada. I’ve had grown men crying in my arms.”
I walked her to her bus stop and waited there with her.
A fire engine drove past and she waved excitedly to the firemen.
Firemen outside the Balmoral Hotel in Vancouver this week
“Oh,” I said. “You wave to firemen? I do that too. I waved to some this afternoon, outside the Balmoral Hotel.”
“I wave to firemen and to the police,” she told me. “And ambulances too.”
Then her bus arrived and she boarded it. She greeted its driver enthusiastically.
I plan on staying home today, thank goodness, so I don’t expect to face the cruel world of folk festivals or anything. I think I may do some gardening when it cools down.
“So what are you?” I asked Adham Fisher in London’s Soho Theatre Bar.
“I’m not a comedian,” he told me. “Not a proper one, anyway. I have held a Guinness World Record but I have never been in the Guinness Book of Records. It wasn’t considered for the book because there are thousands of records and they can only put a select few in the book.”
“What is your world record for?” I asked.
“The fastest time to go to every New York subway station.”
“How long did that take?”
“22 hours, 26 minutes and 2 seconds… I must stress that I no longer hold the record, but I did hold it for 14 months. The current record is 21 hours, 49 minutes. There were 468 stations at the time I attempted it; there are now 472.”
“And why did you want to hold that record?” I asked.
“It stemmed from my attempts at the corresponding record here in London: the fastest time to go to every tube station. There are 270. I have been attempting that for 13 years. I have been a dismal failure at that and everything else.”
“Do other people do similar things?” I asked.
“There are a lot of people who have attempted the tube record or the various other unofficial challenges and races. There is a yearly one for Zone One stations only.”
“Why have you been a dismal failure at the tube record for 13 years?” I asked. “Is there a trick to it?”
“The trick,” Adham told me, “is the tube running as it should. Every single day there is a delay or suspension or a trespasser on the line or whatever.”
“You should go to Germany,” I suggested. “I imagine their trains run on time.”
“I did go to every station in Berlin – 8 hours, 2 minutes and 56 seconds. There are only 173 stations.”
“Have you met any of the other people trying to visit stations?”
“Yes I have.”
“Do you find they are kindred spirits?”
“Why,” I asked, “do you want to do this at all? Just to get into the Guinness Book of Records?”
“Not necessarily,” Adham replied. “I have no reason.”
“Well,” I told him, “that is a very good reason in my book. But it must cost an absolute fortune going round the world doing this.”
“I have only done it in Europe and North America.”
“What is the ultimate?”
“Just to go on every rapid transit system in the world.”
“Do you have a full-time job?”
“Everyone thinks I don’t, so I will let them carry on thinking that. It makes for some very interesting comedy. If, for example, I happen to court some media attention, people will comment online, saying: Well, obviously he doesn’t have a job. And these are people who are able to spend tens of thousands of pounds following football teams.”
“Have you had media attention?” I asked.
“Yes. My moment of fame was appearing in the Guardian.”
Adham took the cutting out and showed it to me.
Adham’s own copy of The Guardian, 28.11.16.
“You carry it around with you?”
“How did all this start?”
“When I started trying to ride every single bus in Leicester and Leicestershire. I was 16. When I first attempted to travel to every London tube station, I was 19.”
“How old are you now?”
Adham did not answer.
“What did your parents say when you were 16 and went off to ride buses?”
“Well, I had to leave the house at about 4.00am.”
“Did you tell them why you were leaving that early?”
“No… Well… I said: I am just going to ride buses all day. See you later.”
“And they said: Fair enough…?”
“They might have done. I shut the door before they could answer.”
“Do you live with your parents now?”
“Are they in any bizarre way related to transport?” I asked.
“No. In fact, I don’t think my parents have ever liked me being interested in transport and so that has led to me just not talking to them.”
“What did they want you to become?”
“I don’t know and I never cared. I never really talked to them about that sort of stuff.”
“16 is an age,” I suggested, “when people start thinking about future careers. What did you want to be?”
“I have never had a career plan.”
“Are you,” I asked, “trying to make order out of disorder?”
Adham still always plays the revered Human League on vinyl
“I have all my LPs in alphabetical order,” I confessed. “I am so old I have LPs… Before your time.”
“I was,” said Adham, “the only person at my school who liked the Human League and I was the only person at my school who knew what vinyl was. I sometimes DJ at Leicester railway station… with vinyl.”
“They employ you to do this?” I asked.
“Oh no no no. I just ask them once in a while if I can turn up and play.”
“You sit in a corner of the station and play vinyl LPs?”
“Inside or outside?”
“On the station front. Not in the foyer: that would interfere with the announcements. There is a nice bit outside by a coffee bar.”
“You have two turntables and loudspeakers?”
“Yes. A little busking amp.”
“The greatest record ever made”
“What sort of music?”
“Anything. There is a record I almost always play, called the MMs Bar Recordings – a compilation of buffet car announcements from the old Midland Mainline trains before they became East Midlands Trains. It consists of various staff saying things like: Good morning and welcome to the 1054 service from London St Pancras. The MMs bar is now open and clear for service with a wide selection of sandwiches, savouries, sweets, hot and cold drinks and complimentary Midland Mainline tea and coffee.”
“This was released commercially as a record?” I asked.
“Yes. I actually think it’s the greatest record ever made because it’s so stupid it’s great.”
“Who released it?”
“An artist named Sandra Cross. I have met her.”
“Is it,” I asked, “edited in a creative way so it has rhythm?”
“No. It’s just as the announcements were recorded.”
“Do passers-by get confused by this as they enter the station?”
“One or two have. Very few of them stop. About 99% turn their heads with either smiles or bemused looks.”
“You only play announcements?”
“No. Absolutely anything from Peter Gabriel to…”
“How long,” I interrupted, “do you do this for?”
“The longest stint has been about 13 hours.”
“Is there a record for this?”
“You know the Rule of Three?” I asked. “So far, we have had the Guinness Book of Records and you playing vinyl records. Is there a third type of record in here?”
“There is the Public Records Office.”
“Have you been there?”
Adham’s publicity for a 2016 MOvember record attempt
“You have been doing this since you were 16,” I said. “How are you going to develop it? You could play your records on every station platform. You could play Midland Mainline announcements on the New York subway system. Do you think you will still be doing it in ten years time?”
“I would like to.”
“Are you married?”
“Not last time I checked. I am the least likely person I know to be married.”
“Marriage just isn’t really my thing.”
“Your main passions are transport and music?”
“I describe myself as a very unpassionate person. I don’t consider myself very passionate about or an advocate for anything. I have just somehow wound up doing certain things. I never wanted to be a DJ. Public transport and comedy and music are just things I have happened to do. I would not describe myself as being any good at any of them. Or anything.”
“You should,” I suggested, “be working for some transit system somewhere.”
“I think if I worked in the transport industry, I would end up hating it. Rolling stock track gauge, infrastructure; I know nothing about that; I don’t particularly care for that sort of thing. So far, it has always been a novelty for me, especially in London because I have never lived here. So taking the tube, the bus, any commuter rail or the tram or the cable car is always a novelty for me.”
“You did a comedy show at last year’s Leicester Comedy Festival.”
“What was it called?”
“And this year’s show was called…?”
Publicity for this year’s Leicester Comedy Festival show
“Extreme Commuter 7.”
“The Comedy Festival gig this year was my seventh. I have done one since, which was the 8th and the next one will be in Sheffield. My ninth.”
“I have no idea. I have never been diagnosed with it, but… I don’t even know what I would have to do to request a diagnosis.”
“These comedy shows you do are anecdotes about you riding the rails?”
“Exactly. Rails, buses, trams, whatever.”
“Do you want to do the Edinburgh Fringe?”
“To have a successful show in Edinburgh is the Holy Grail of all fledgling comedians but, because I don’t consider myself very good at this comedy thing, I am not actually bothered if I go to Edinburgh or not. If it happens, great; if it doesn’t happen, great. It would be nice, but I don’t expect ever to be a success there.”
Rain – In my long experience, it seldom goes up AND down
This is often described as a comedy blog.
Sometimes it is. But I have always really seen it as an insight into seldom-reported sub-cultures with some quirkiness, eccentricity and WTF stirred in.
Yesterday Anna Smith, this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent used the line “Strange things are happening”.
Yesterday, too, I was walking through my local outdoor shopping centre. It had started to drizzle and a woman whom I did not know, passing me by, said: “Rain! It’s up and down all the time, isn’t it? Up and down. Up and down.”
Afterwards, thinking about it, I figured out maybe she was referring to umbrellas not the rain itself. But she was not carrying an umbrella and neither was I.
Soft Secrets: a paper with a growing readership
Later, I had a visit from someone I used to work with at Granada TV in Manchester. I shall call her Mary from Manchester, though that is not her name and she was not born and does not live in Manchester. She is not in the comedy industry.
She was passing through London and had taken time off to visit a seed centre in North London. I thought perhaps she had been buying some geranium or petunia or marigold seeds but, no, she had been buying some cannabis seeds.
My disdain for the English legal system knows few bounds, but I was amazed to find out this was perfectly legal. And that, in the North of England, there is a major trunk road lined with emporia perfectly legally selling cannabis seeds.
Because, in the UK, it is perfectly legal to buy cannabis seeds even though it is illegal to grow cannabis plants from those same seeds.
I am an innocent in a weedy world.
Mary from Manchester showed me a copy of Soft Secrets, which bills itself as “The Cannabis Newspaper Since 1985”. It was full of relevant articles and advertisements. It was clearly a right-on paper read by right-on people.
So it came as a surprise that there was a Readers’ Wives page with photos of female wives and partners in various states of undress posing amid cannabis plants.
Fleshing it out – legally acceptable but politically incorrect?
As Anna Smith, this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent said yesterday: “Strange things are happening”.
Then the subject of budgerigars came up.
Mary from Manchester told me – and I can only pass this on in good faith – that, in the 1970s, the famed budgerigar food Trill (which is made up of a fine and presumably tasty-to-a-budgie variety of seeds) contained – amid the various seeds – cannabis seeds.
If you were of a curious and adventurous disposition, you could throw handfuls of the aforementioned budgerigar food into the borders of your back garden and, with luck, after a time, some cannabis plants would appear.
Did budgerigars of the 1970s got high without flying?
Mary from Manchester and I paid a visit to my local pet shop yesterday and picked up a packet of Trill to read the ingredients but, alas, the variety appears now not to contain cannabis seeds. It does, however, make me wonder if it affected my grandmother’s budgie who was named Uncle Mac and who chattered away the whole time with a glazed look in his eyes and who, when ill, was given neat whisky by my grandmother.
In the early hours of this morning, a missive arrived from Anna Smith, this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent. She lives on a boat in Vancouver.
Strange things are happening at the marina.
An old man on the dock, whom I’ve never met before, just greeted me with a cheerful “You’re back,” even though I have been nowhere for a month.
A friend of my extended family is an exotically dressed elderly socialite from Brazil named Benita. I feel imaginarily glamorous when I run into her. She thinks we are related. She tells me that I remind her of her aunt, the model Georgia Quental.
“She had red hair,” she tells me. “She was a free spirit like you…”
I don’t know Benita well but she is very fond of me and often wants to go out for tea. Sometimes I run into her as I am leaving the library. The last time I saw her, she greeted me, full of enthusiasm: “Anna, my darling! How was Brazil?”
I have never been to Brazil.
Benita grew up in Rio but attended an exclusive girls school on the eastern seaboard of the United States. She won an award for her artwork there. She says that one of her ancestors was a famous Scottish poet. She borrows his books from the library. I forget his name.
Sometimes she asks me: “Anna, don’t you miss South America?” as if I had left there recently
I have not been there since I was five. I missed it a lot as a child and well into adulthood. I still drink mate.
The last time I saw Benita, she told me she had just been in Greece.
“Ahhh, my darling,” she said. “You must go there. It is absolutely beautiful. I was on an island.”
“Did you go with your daughters?” I asked.
Two of her daughters live in Manhattan. They are very beautiful blondes and have worked as models. One designs jewelry and one is divorced from the heir to Budweiser. I am never sure which is which…
“Of course my dear,” Benita replied. “We were the guests of the designer, my daughter’s friend. What a gorgeous place he has, but you have to take a boat to get there. We were constantly on boats. It was beautiful. We went to Leonard Cohen’s house. He had a house on the same island. His grandchildren are living there now.”
Benita wants me to visit Rio with her. I tell her I can’t go yet, because my health is still a bit delicate. Which it is.
“You need,” she told me, “to take Palo Santo (a herb) and Ayahuasca ( a powerful hallucinogenic).”
We don’t have to go to Brazil to get Ayahuasca. There are people in North Vancouver doing it in their basements.
Two years ago I ran into Benita after I had been at a small protest against Donald Trump. There were only twelve protesters. The others were all Mexican. It was after Trump had made his comment about Mexicans being rapists.
I thought Benita would be glad I had been standing up for Latin Americans, so I told her: “I protested against Donald Trump.”
She looked a bit confused. “Why?” she asked. “What did he do?”
I told her about his comments.
“That’s strange,” she said, looking puzzled. “He is always very nice to my daughters. He always pays for their ski trips to Vermont when they go with his daughter.”