Tag Archives: edinburgh

Scottish comedy – Getting mature?

Is Ben Verth pulling out his hair with his new venture?

Ben Verth lives in London and runs the new Monkey Barrel comedy club in Edinburgh.

“What is your real day job?” I asked him.

“This is,” he replied.

“What?” I asked. “Running a comedy club in Edinburgh while living in London?”

“Yes.”

“You make money from it?”

“Enough. I’ve never been massively rich, but I’ve never been uncomfortable. It used to be just two of us running a fairly profitable gig in a pub on Fridays and Saturdays. Now it’s five of us and our new 7-night-a-week venue. The club is not just me – it’s a collective.”

The Monkey Barrel comedy club opened in Edinburgh two weekends ago. It is a two-level theatre, café and bar space with a 100 capacity main room and a 60 seater basement theatre called The Banana Skin.

Ben told me: “My two big comedy club inspirations are Peter Cook’s The Establishment and The Comedy Store in London. But what John Millar – my business partner – and I most want Monkey Barrel to be is more akin to a National Comedy Theatre of Scotland. Or like the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh – a home for new and exciting writing and performance. We are not just going to be night after night of stand-up.

Monkey Barrel opening night

The opening night of Monkey Barrel

“We want it to be a great home to sketch and improv and comedy theatre too – and, with new media really guiding the development modern entertainment, we want it to be a studio for podcasting and online video content and production. Just a great house for ideas. John and I want to create a great comedy lab and see what happens.”

“Isn’t Scottish comedy,” I asked, trying my best to be provocative, “just second rate London comedy?”

“It’s not shit,” replied Ben. “It’s just young. Scotland doesn’t really have a strong gig infrastructure outside of rowdy weekend shows, so the sort of opportunities to perform are largely harsh and combative and local. It is not really a place for nuance and experimentation – not if you want to start earning money.

“Because I live in London, I can see first hand what the differences are between the two comedy scenes and honestly I think there is as much interesting and exciting comic work going on in corners of Scotland as there is in London. But, in London, you are just much more free to develop on long-established stages. Though things are certainly changing and even over the last few years comedy and comedians’ attitudes in Scotland have begun to mature and acts and like-minded audiences are beginning to find each other.”

“You used to be a performer,” I said. “Have you stopped?”

Ben taking a break from his Sabbatical

Ben taking a break from his Sabbatical

“I think ‘Sabbatical’ might be the right word,” Ben suggested. “I can’t run and market the club and feel like I’ve earned the right to perform there. I started off doing sketch comedy, but there’s no network for that in Scotland, so you find yourself having to become a stand-up. I was not terrible at that, but it didn’t suit me.”

“Why,” I asked, “is the new venue called the Monkey Barrel?”

“We were running comedy nights in a pub in Edinburgh called The Beehive on the Grassmarket and we just generically called ourselves The Beehive Comedy Club. But we knew we were gonna move and thought: What the fuck do we call the new club? How do you even come up with the correct name for something? So we knew ABBA had come about by putting all their initials together and so we put ours into a word randomizer. It was me (Ben Verth) and John Millar – and one of the things the word randomizer came up with was MERLIN’S HERNIA.

“For a brief moment, after a whole day of this bullshit, going absolutely insane trying to think of a name, we thought it would be a great comic name and we could see the figure of old Merlin all bent over with a wizard sign on the door. But then my missus said: That is an awful name! For God’s sake don’t call it that. Why don’t you call it…I dunno… Monkey… Barrel… So we said: Oh, OK.”

“Merlin’s Hernia,” I pointed out, “does not have a V in it.”

“It was right down the list,” said Ben. “It had been a long day.”

“How long,” I asked, “had you been running the Beehive comedy club in Edinburgh?”

“About five years. We had our 5-year birthday last January, but I mis-counted. It should actually have been our 6-year birthday. We were just doing it Fridays and Saturdays and the occasional New Act night as well. But, when there was a bit of economic uncertainty, people stopped coming to the New Act stuff.

Monkey Barrel, Edinburgh

Monkey Barrel is the new comedy contender in Edinburgh

“Now the Monkey Barrel is me and John and our regular host Rick Molland. Chris Griffin is the organisational manager. And a guy called David Bleese, a comedy fan, got on board for the move to the new venue. He used to work with John at the Royal Bank of Scotland.”

“Oh dear,” I said, “There is another club in Edinburgh doing comedy seven days a week. They might be rather vicious if there’s competition? I think there used to be five or six clubs in Edinburgh; then really there was just them… and now you… as competition.”

Ben seems to think the other club is amiable.

“After a rocky first year or so,” he told me, “the old Beehive club started consistently selling out and turning people away, while they (the other club) were also packing out their regular seven nights a week – something which has continued since August when we started our beta-test preview shows in the new venue. So, basically, Edinburgh definitely seems like it has an appetite for weekend comedy. We didn’t go into this with our eyes closed. So I don’t know if the city needs another club, but everything I’ve encountered over the last few years shows it certainly wants one.

“I’ve always been a promoter of some sort and, I think, a decent one – founding and producing The Edinburgh Revue at university, running my own nights at various venues around the city, building up comedy at The Beehive, creating the Scottish Comedy Festival. The real Yes, I can do this! moment came when I met cartoonist and writer John Millar who wanted to do exactly the same thing.  I had the contacts and the know-how; he had the business expertise and the cool head and same ideals and, it must be said, the most remarkable drive I’ve ever encountered,”

“And the new venue is where?” I asked.

“We bought the 17-year lease of a place on Blair Street, just beside the City Cafe.”

“Near the infamous sauna?” I asked.

Google StreetView’s take on Blair Street, Edinburgh

Blair Street seen from the Royal Mile on Google Streetview

“Ah, well, yes…” Ben laughed. “Saunas! We found out very quickly that the landline telephone number we had been given by our phone provider – the one we had started using as our booking line – was originally the phone number of a sauna (not in Blair Street) and it was still listed as their number all over Google. So 50% of the time the phone goes it’s people looking to book tickets.The other 50% it’s seedy-sounding men asking if they can stop by to see Mei Ling (she must be the best one, she’s the most popularly asked for), or can we send her round ‘with some oils’.

“My favourite incident was when a someone rang up asking who was on that night and I said Former Scottish Comedian of the Year Larry Dean… and we’ve got Michael Redmond and… and the voice on the other end of the phone cut me short and asked: Big Jessica not working the night, naw?

“We have been waiting six months to have the number changed. I feel like Mei Ling is the unsung sixth member of staff.  We should maybe start a MeiLing list.”

“Although,” I prompted, “the other organisers of the club are up in Edinburgh, you are doing all this while living in Ealing, London, because of your wife’s job?”

“I am up and down on the train all the time,” Ben said.

“You were born and bred in Edinburgh,” I said. “Do you enjoy living in London?”

Ooh no, missus! - Carry On Constable!

Ooh no, missus! – It’s Charles Hawtry & Kenneth Williams!

“When we first moved to London, we lived in Drayton Grove and, at the end of the road, is the school that was used in Carry On Teacher and the whole surrounding area is where they filmed Carry On Constable. Charles Hawtry’s trousers fell down at the postal depot round the corner.”

“You have a populist taste in movie comedy, then?” I asked.

“I think the greatest four films ever made were the first four Police Academy films. I also love Jon Pertwee’s Doctor Who”.

“So why not,” I asked, “go off yourself and make some comedy B-Movie with cheap special effects?”

“Maybe I will,” Ben laughed.

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When I came home yesterday at dusk… Tomorrow & tomorrow & tomorrow…

Durer_NurnbergRuins

I live on the outer edge of London in what is called a Close but is actually a square, with buildings on three sides and, on the other, the back gardens of houses in another street.

When I came home yesterday at dusk, the buildings on the three sides were half demolished, the roofs non-existent, the walls and innards had been broken down to half or more or less than their old height, the bricks and plaster destroyed or exposed and everything was covered with that light white dust of demolition.

When I had walked up the nearby street to my home, there had been red double-decker buses and waste bins and people walking around like it was hundreds of years ago and you were living in and walking through a world you had only known previously from old, faded images. It was dusk and all the 2-dimensional detailing and colours and sounds were there in 3-D reality.

Then I was standing on the Blackford Hill, looking north towards the Firth of Forth and Fife, with the waters stretched out flat and wet before me, the little black island of the Castle Rock sticking out of the water on the left and the larger green island of Arthur’s Seat sticking up out of the water to its right. And, way down, in the waters between them, were the underwater streets and passageways and stone buildings of what used to be Edinburgh. Just dark stone passageways and alleyways in a dark underwater maze now, with light marine growths on the dark stone walls and fish swimming along and between and inside the empty rooms of all the old buildings.

Dreams are strange.

It is very very rare that I remember mine.

Perhaps once a year; maybe twice.

I wish I remembered them more often.

But all the above was not a dream I had last night.

It was yesterday at dusk and I was awake and the images were in my mind.

MyEye_CUT

 

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Prince and the tangled web which gave farter Mr Methane his big US TV break

Prince in 2008 (Photo by Micahmedia)

Prince in 2008 (Photo by Micahmedia)

I stopped writing this blog daily at the end of last year, thinking it would give me more time to do other things.

Since stopping, I have had less time. Who knew? I am now seven un-transcribed blogs behind.

Almost four weeks ago, I had a chat with Mr Methane – the world’s only professional performing farter.

Around midnight last night, he texted me a message. Surprisingly, it did not say: Where the fuck is the blog your were going to write? Instead, it read:

“Quite stunned and saddened to hear about the death of Prince – an artist whose global success indirectly led to me appearing on the Howard Stern Show in the US.

“I made my first ever visit to the Howard Stern Show thanks to the hard work of Lenny Shabes. He was President of WATV. Lenny was a big fan of Howard and became aware of my alimentary talents while in London visiting his friend, artist manager and producer Steve Fargnoli – a man responsible for the careers of Prince and also possibly my biggest fan Sinéad O’Connor.

Mr Methane Let’s Rip in his VHS release

Mr Methane Let’s Rip opened him up to the US audience

“Steve Fargnoli introduced Lenny to my manager Barrie Barlow and, on returning to the States, Lenny sent a copy of my video Mr Methane Lets Rip to Howard’s producer Gary Dell’Abate AKA ‘Baba Booey’.

“Lenny followed it up with an astonishing 90-odd phone calls until Gary and Howard eventually caved in and watched the tape.

“Gary and Howard liked what they saw and invited me to the show where I performed a special rendition of Happy Birthday.

“The appearance was judged to be a success and was shown on Howard’s E TV & CBS television shows with Howard Stern proclaiming himself to be a huge Mr. Methane fan.

“This may have never happened if Prince’s Purple Rain hadn’t established Steve Fargnoli as a giant of music business management with an office in London.

“The law of unintended consequences strikes again.”

There is a video on YouTube of Mr Methane’s first appearance on the Howard Stern Show.

Last year, I wrote a blog which pointed out Mr Methane is related to the Queen of England and Thurston de Basset, Grand Falconer to William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings.

It now turns out that, as well as being related to Queen Elizabeth II, he is also related to Lord Byron. Genuinely.

When Mr Methane and I met again a month ago in St Pancras station, he was NOT going to the Paaspop festival in Holland. He had been booked to perform in a cabaret tent at the festival but then, for unknown reasons, the cabaret tent and all its acts were cancelled. They paid him half his fee and all his travel costs. So, instead of going to Holland, he took a train down from Macclesfield to London to celebrate what he called his “birthday we won’t mention.”

Mr Methane’s sister is still researching the family tree.

“Our grandma was Joan Byron,” Mr Methane told me, “and she married into the Bassets. She came from the Byron dynasty which used to hang out originally at Clayton Hall, where Manchester City’s football ground is now.

“We’ve got another grandma – Cecilia de Warren and her dad was the Earl of Surrey. She’s a connection that takes us back to the Plantagenets.”

“So,” I said, “your sister’s doing all this family research.”

Mr Methane wearing a Howard Stern badge

Mr Methane wearing a Howard Stern badge

“Yes. She’s got a BA and an MA and she took the BA in Art History. Before she came out with her Art History degree, I used to think Salford Van Hire was a Dutch painter.”

“Wey-hey!” I said.

“I’ve learned a lot off other people,” Mr Methane continued. “Barrie, my business manager is in the music industry and I knew very little about that too. I used to think Dexy’s Midnight Runners was a laxative.”

“Wey-hey!” I said. “So what have you got coming up in your farting career?”

“I’ve got a very very secret thing that I can’t talk about in Finland.”

“And sadly,” I said, “you can’t do the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards show in Edinburgh in August because…”

“…I’m at the Dorset Steam Fair,” agreed Mr Methane. “Blowing my own trumpet. Then I’ve got to start writing the Mr Methane book. It’s going to be a long time in the process, but this year’s going to be the start of that. I think I need to leave a legacy. I don’t know whether to call it Behind The Behind or Life at The Bottom.”

“This will be your auto-blow-ography?” I asked.

“Yes, there will be loads of double-entendres in it,” agreed Mr Methane. “There’s something else I’m doing… I should write a list, shouldn’t I? But, being a performer, I don’t write lists, I just have things rattling around in me that come out.”

At this point, our conversation was interrupted by a text on his phone from a friend. It read:

A Belgian Shepherd dog not on the beach (Photo by Ulrik Wallström)

A Belgian Shepherd dog shot not on the beach (Photograph by Ulrik Wallström)

Can’t get on the beach for sheep.

“That’s right,” Mr Methane told me. “A friend has got a couple of big Belgian Shepherd Dogs and the sheep graze on the salt marsh, so you can’t have big Belgian Shepherd dogs chasing the sheep, can you?”

“No,” I agreed, “you can’t.”

I had no idea what we were talking about.

It often happens.

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One woman’s epiphany in Edinburgh

Edinburgh from Blackford Hill

Yesterday’s blog had a reaction from Sue Blackwell in Edinburgh, who occasionally crops up in these blogs.

I have no idea idea why she had this reaction. Perhaps it was because I mentioned my ‘inherent nihilism’.

For whatever reason, this is what she wrote:


Your blog triggered a memory of something that occurred many years ago now, when I was in my late thirties. I was drying some cutlery at the time.

Possibly I was over-tired, overstressed, I don’t have any explanation for it.

It was a state of mind that is sometimes reached – so I understand – by taking mind-altering drugs, which I had not done.

I don’t have a belief in God or any sort of higher being although, in my earlier years, there was an urge to question the reason for our existence – which took me down many avenues of exploration.

Not so today nor for many, many years now.

But in that moment or moments – I have no recall of how long it lasted – it was as though thought had stopped and this other state of consciousness came into play. I was aware of overwhelming joy, love and an awareness of order in our existence.

This order was incredibly beautiful, and it was as though a curtain had been drawn back and I understood all things. It was an Aaah! Now I understand! moment.

I have no recall of what I understood or experienced, because thought was not there.

As thought returned, this other state receded until it was no more.

I didn’t tell anyone about what had occurred because, certainly for the next three weeks or so, I found it too overwhelming to speak about.

What a lot of old bollocks this sounds now, but there is no denying that it happened.

I was not depressed at the time and have no explanation for it.

Words could not capture what had happened, so there was no way of communicating it with anyone else.

When I eventually did talk about it with one or two people it moved me to tears each time.

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Edinburgh toilet humour, some bearded French Canadians, Death on the Fringe

This morning, I received an e-mail about the Edinburgh Fringe from comic Paul Ricketts. It was something he had actually posted on a Facebook page. It read:

Ceci n'est pas une affiche Édimbourg

Ceci n’est pas une affiche Édimbourg maybe

Four years ago I sent out a press release for a hoax show to be performed in the gents portacabin toilet cubicle in the Pleasance Courtyard.

It was supposed to be taking the piss out of the expense of hiring rooms at the ‘Big Four’ Fringe venues – something which I can’t afford to do.

Strangely, enough people (including US Comic Tom Green) took this show seriously and I went ahead and did a performance on August 20th, 5.30pm in cubicle 3. I charged a penny for all those who want to watch – I made 11p! 

I am considering bringing the show back this year (from Aug 6 to 17) this time as a mixed bill show on dates and big 4 venues toilets to be announced. Everyone is welcome.

Later in the day, I got another e-mail from Paul. this one read:

So far, three comics are willing to do spots/slots in Big 4 venue toilet. I am now SERIOUSLY considering bringing the show back! 

Barbu

The men who conquered the world with timber

At almost exactly the same time, I got sent a picture of three semi-naked men in black trunks and one suspended in a red bag. The accompanying e-mail read:

After having conquered the world with timber, Cirque Alfonse will now hit Edinburgh Fringe with its latest show Barbu (Bearded) Electro-Trad Cabaret

It is two weeks before the Fringe starts, but the quirkiness has started already.

It is probably unfair or in bad taste to use the word ‘quirky’ for my Skype conversation with Robert James Peacock up in Edinburgh this morning. He is the Managing Editor of the TV Bomb website.

“Death,” I started. “Tell me about death.”

“I am,” said Robert James Peacock, “ Director of Death on the Fringe, My main job is working freelance doing arts marketing but last year, as a voluntary thing, I started working for a charity called the Scottish Partnership for Palliative Care and one of their campaigns is a thing called Good Life, Good Death, Good Grief.

“It’s an alliance of various end-of-life associations – a lot of hospices are involved, a lot of NHS Trusts – and it’s run by the Scottish Partnership for Palliative Care. They’re promoting another Scotland-wide festival in November called To Absent Friends.

Robert James Peacock

Robert James Peacock talked from Edinburgh this morning

“The basis is that we, as Brits, are not very good at talking about death and dealing with death. Everyone has to go through it sometime – everyone loses someone close to them – and, if you don’t talk about it, you don’t necessarily confront all the issues involved with it.

“You don’t know if gran wants to be buried or cremated; people don’t leave wills; people don’t know how to support people who have been through a bereavement.

Good Life, Good Death, Good Grief is a year-round campaign doing all sorts of activities and they came to me last year and said: We would like to do something during the Edinburgh Fringe. So we came up with this idea: Death on the Fringe. Basically, all the shows on the Fringe to do with death, bereavement, grief – put them all together in one programme to raise the profile of the campaign. It also gets more people to see some shows and kick-starts a debate about death and bereavement.

“It went well last year and, this year, we’ve had a bit more time to get all the existing shows together, so we have also programmed our own series of lectures – academics and thinkers – about death.

Richard Smith brother of comedian Arthur Smith

Ex-BMJ’s Richard Smith, brother of comedian Arthur Smith

“We have the former British Medical Journal editor Richard Smith, who’s the brother of comedian Arthur Smith, doing a lecture on 31st August about the ‘up side’ of death – based on the idea that, if no-one ever died, there would not be space for all the people who are born.

“And we have Professor Scott Murray, the Chair of Primary Palliative Care at the University of Edinburgh, comparing death in Africa with death in Scotland and how we deal with it differently.”

“Is,” I asked, “death in Scotland any different to death in England? Is there a psychological difference?”

“Well,” replied Robert, “the Celtic tradition of death is very different to the English tradition, if you think about things like Irish wakes which are very different to the Anglo Saxon treatment of death.”

“I suppose,” I said, “Scots just remain dour.”

“All the performers have been very supportive of death on the Fringe,” said Robert. “Lynn Ruth Miller’s involved.”

Lynn Ruth Miller wants to rub some matzo balls

The inimitable Lynn Ruth: nearer to God, than thee

“Well,” I said, “I guess she’s closer to death than most.”

“Last year,” Robert reminded me, “her show was called Not Dead Yet. This year, it’s called Get a Grip. We don’t want things that are necessarily serious things about death; we want things that are contemplative, reflective, which make people think about how they want to live their lives.

“It’s not just comedy. We have a couple of plays at the Traverse Theatre. One is called A Gambler’s Guide to Dying about someone who placed all his savings on a bet that he would live to see the year 2000. The other one is called Am I Dead Yet? which is being done in conjunction with the emergency services and is about how death is no longer a moment: it’s a process.

“Then there’s a comedy play – The Ascension of Mrs Leech – in which a Mrs Brown-esque figure dies and ends up causing trouble in heaven.”

“You’re not,” I asked, “associated with the Dr Death or Mel Moon shows?’

Am I Dead Yet?

Am I Dead Yet? Live as part of Death on the Fringe

“Well,” explained Robert, “because the charity is very involved in things like hospices, Dr Death was a difficult one for us, because putting that in the programme would be almost like endorsing assisted suicide. It is a topic to debate, but we didn’t want to go so far as looking like we were endorsing it. We don’t want people to assume assisted suicide is the way to go if they haven’t explored other issues.

“With Mel Moon, although she’s now separated from Dr Death, it’s a bit too late to start adding her to the programme.”

“How,” I asked, “are you going to develop Death on the Fringe next year?”

“Well, this year, we took the step of programming some of our own stuff, like the lectures and a couple of cabaret evenings. Next year we might actually start looking at finding a space where we can host our own events throughout the Fringe.”

An unexplained giant sloth

Unexplained giant sloth attacked (Photograph by Anna Smith)

“It’s very interesting,” I said, “because Edinburgh does like meaty, serious subjects.”

I talked to Robert via Skype this morning.

When I got home tonight, there was an unexplained photograph from this blog’s Canadian correspondent Anna Smith.

It appeared to show a giant sloth being attacked by a giant cat while a Chinese gentleman looked on.

I was also sent a YouTube link to a video of Cirque Alfonse, the bearded French Canadians. They seem very energetic.

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A man, drugs and a girl in Edinburgh

cropped-blackfordhill1.jpg

Last month, I posted a blog about my chum Sue Blackwell (not her real name) and a psychotic incident she experienced in Edinburgh, where she lives. Yesterday, she sent me an e-mail. She thought it was not suitable for my blog. I think it is. This blog is not always about comedy. It is about people, people, people and perhaps about snapshots of quirky (not always funny) things that otherwise would not get written down and remembered. This (with Sue’s permission) is what she told me:


I don’t know the whole story of the man or even part of it. 

Through the eyes of an adult, I realise that he had a story, which may, if I had known more, have explained a lot. He touched my life as a child in a way that left a lasting impression. I have rarely spoken about him – and thought about him even less. I always felt that having him in our lives conjured up an impression of my mother which wasn’t accurate and made her out to be something she was not.

There was, I suppose, a certain amount of shame attached – and all the uncomfortable feelings that go with it.

It was, after all, the 1950s.

I am not sure what age I was when he came into our lives – maybe seven or eight years old. We met him at a Lyons Corner House. He and my mother got talking and my next memory is that he had moved in with us.

He was Jewish, from Cork or maybe Dublin, I don’t remember.

He had been a vet. His four brothers in Ireland were all doctors. He received a regular allowance of money from his elder brother. I was aware of this but didn’t give it much thought at the time.

He and I disliked each other from the word go.

My dislike probably stemmed from my not wanting to share my mother with anyone as, up till then, I had had her to myself.

My father, an officer in the British Navy, had come home one Friday night for the weekend and, by the Sunday, had died from pneumonia. I was two months short of my fifth birthday.

We lived in a Georgian crescent in Edinburgh. Next door was a princess from Siam (that sounds so much better than Thailand) and a film star lived up the road.

The man who came into our lives had been a prisoner of war in a Japanese camp, so his story went. He certainly looked as though he had been tortured. When we went to the beach at the seaside town of North Berwick, near Edinburgh, I noticed that he had lots of scars the size of modern fifty pence pieces all over his body.

A branding iron had been used on him.

He also mentioned bamboo being pushed down behind his nails, another way of causing extreme pain.

He was a drug addict. He drank a preparation called paregoric on a daily basis. I have only recently looked it up. Wikipedia says that paregoric was a medicine consisting of opium flavoured with camphor, aniseed, and benzoic acid, formerly used to treat diarrhoea and coughing in children.

I think the stated dose was a couple of teaspoons. He used to drink it by the bottle. This would leave him nodding drooling and sleeping on a chair at the kitchen table: a sight that became familiar to me on a daily basis.

We disliked each other intensely. He started saying that he wished I would be run over by a bus. This became his mantra, offered to me on a daily basis. I just looked at him. There seemed to be no reply.

There were occasions when he would get hold of some other drugs and became almost friendly as he showed me the procedure of applying the tourniquet, dissolving the white powder on a spoon over a flame and injecting himself. My mother was never around at these times. I did not know or understand what he was doing, neither did I tell anybody.

He knew a lot of people. It was his way. He would sometimes take me down to the Rabbi’s house next door to the local synagogue, where I would play with the children there.

One day, I had been out along the seafront in Leith with my dog Poppy and possibly with David, a boy that I had previously lived next door to. As far as I was concerned nothing untoward had occurred.

The next day I was at David’s house with my mother, when it was mentioned that Poppy had been found severely beaten and had had to be put to sleep that day. He – the man who lived with my mother and me – said that a deckchair attendant had witnessed me hanging Poppy by her lead over the seafront railings. When questioned about the events of that day, my mind went completely blank. I was in shock.

It was many months later that he admitted to my mother that he had beaten the dog and made up the rest because he was jealous of me.

In spite of this admission, the trauma and the guilt stayed with me well into my thirties and beyond – something else to be stuffed in the box of things not talked about.

I remember times when he would rave incoherently while sleeping, I had no understanding at the time as to why.

One year, on the day before Christmas Eve, my mother was taken into hospital with peritonitis. I spent the night with neighbours. I returned home the next day, as they were about to go away for Christmas.

He met me. He was very incoherent. He dragged me by my neck into the kitchen and told me roughly to get the dishes in the sink washed up.

I ran past him and back next door, where my friend’s father told me that I wouldn’t be going back in there, but would go away with them for Christmas instead.

Sometime after that, the man wasn’t there any more.

My mother remained in touch with him, by letter. The mere sight of that spidery black handwriting could set off so many feelings that I didn’t really understand.

Eventually, news came that he had been sentenced to eight years in prison for breaking into a chemist’s shop. It was “for his own good,” said the judge.

I was just glad that I wouldn’t have to see him again.

But I did see him one more time. When I was in my teens.

He decided to take me to the police station, to the office of someone he knew, to receive a lecture on the dangers of taking drugs.

I have never been tempted to take non-prescription drugs.

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Madness in Edinburgh – It’s not only comics who have psychotic interludes

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As per several of my blogs last week, madness reigns and financial damage to performers comes ever closer as the Edinburgh Fringe approaches because of a tussle between the Freestival and the late-to-arrive PBH Free Fringe organisation, both claiming to have rights to programme the Cowgatehead venue.

Today, there is a meeting to try to sort it out after a compromise was suggested by the Freestival – although, in correspondence last week with critic Bruce Dessau, Peter Buckley Hill (the PBH of the Free Fringe) said: “Such a meeting is not on the cards. There is no compromise deal on the table… There is no meeting.”

So someone somewhere either has to be telling porkie pies or is delusional.

I merely report the facts as a detached observer with a raised eyebrow.

But – surprising as it may be to some – there are other people in Edinburgh during August in addition to comedians and, indeed, some of them actually live there. Lucky them.

I have been going to Edinburgh every year since I was an embryo. When I was a kid, we used to go up every year to visit my father’s aunt who lived there. My mother also had a cousin living there. And, later, my father’s sister lived there.

I also – again surprising as it may be to some – know people other than comedians.

And psychotic interludes are not restricted to comedians.

Take my chum Sue Blackwell (not her real name).

“Have you ever wanted to be a performer?” I asked her on Skype yesterday.

“No,” she told me. “I was in three AmDram plays in the 1990s. I wanted to just try it. The minister at the local church was a very flamboyant character and held the rehearsals in his manse. It was fun. It was an experience.

“I did enjoy it but, at the end of the third one, I became ill. That’s when it started. They held a barn dance after the third one and I went feeling I was alright. The next day, I was telling people I had been hypnotised. It was a quick as that.”

“Did someone,” I asked Sue, “spike your drink?”

“Well, that was what the psychiatrist asked me, but I don’t think so.”

“Had you,” I asked, “had any psychotic incidents before this?”

“No. But I was in a marriage that was particularly bad and abusive and I had probably earned it after 20 years of what was going on. I think I had probably decided to do the AmDram to distract myself.”

“How long did these psychotic incidents last?”

“I was away from work for three months.”

“This was,” I asked, “hallucination stuff?”

“Voices,” Sue told me. “The first voice I heard was a man’s voice. It’s hard to describe. Eventually, I went to see a psychologist. Then I said: I want to see a psychiatrist.”

“Why did you want to change from a psychologist to a psychiatrist?”

“There was no rational rhyme or reason to my thought processes. But I did see the psychiatrist and I took a newspaper with me. I could no more have read that paper than fly to the moon, but I wanted to appear normal. I wasn’t thinking rationally. My daughter was with me and I was telling the psychiatrist this story about feeling different after the barn dance and she said: You’ve been odd for ages, mum.

Odd? Me? I said. And so it went on and eventually I left my home and went to stay with my daughter. I had this man’s voice in my head and it was really scary. I was still telling friends I had been hypnotised and some of them believed me. It felt like I had walked into the barn dance that evening OK but, looking back now, I probably wasn’t OK.”

“What were the voices like?” I asked. “Was it like listening to me now, in reality? Sometimes, when you dream, other people talk to you in the dream and…”

“It was an actual man’s voice,” explained Sue. “Lots of things I do remember, but I can’t remember the nature that it took. It was very unpleasant to me. It must have been me. It didn’t tell me to kill my husband – it only approached that once. But I was very frightened of the voice.

“It went on because it was not treated and, eventually, I went for treatment and they put me on amitriptyline and the voice dampened down. Then I went back to where I was living with my daughter and then it all started again, except it was a woman’s voice, which was softer. It wasn’t so harsh. There wasn’t the aggression in it.

“Eventually, I went to live with a gay friend of mine. I couldn’t talk about it by this time. I disassociated myself to cope. It was like a big egg. I was outside of it and I was not in contact with what had happened to me. Every time I did attempt to talk about it, my whole body would shake. I had been living in a place where I was scared of the person I was living with.”

“Your husband?” I asked.

“Yes. So I went to live with my gay friend and never went back and my gay friend was just amazing. He said: You need a bloody good scream, dear. So he took me out – but trying to find a place to scream in a city… We were driving around and eventually went up Arthur’s Seat but there were people parked in cars and we thought: We can’t do it here. People will call the police. So we drove down to the Blackford Hill in the south of Edinburgh and drove up to the Observatory car park and it was dusk and we walked round to look at the panorama of Edinburgh, where I know you like to go, and I just screamed my head off.

“We had also both been screaming while driving there. We went out a couple of times and screamed from the top of Blackford Hill and my gay friend was probably right. It helped on some level. Eventually, it got better.”

“Did the problem go away as quickly as it had started?”

“No. I went and saw another psychiatrist and I was barely… I can only remember bits of it. Going into the mental health unit. I accidentally went next door, which was a solicitor’s and I thought they were doing that to trick me. I was OK when I was talking to somebody. I told the psychiatrist: There’s a tiny part of my mind… I probably sound normal… rational… But inside I’m not. He gave me Seroxat.”

“Jesus Christ!” I said. “Did you read my blog about The Amazing Mr Smith committing suicide when he took Seroxat?”

“Yes, I know. But for me it worked. It started to dampen down the voices.”

“What were the voices telling you?”

“Every notice I saw… My anxiety was through the roof… I was getting panic attacks and God knows what. I would see a notice for a jumble sale and I would think it was somebody targeting me.”

“What for?” I asked. “To get jumble?”

“Not necessarily. Any old notice.”

“You thought they were criticising you?” I asked.

“Or something. It was all linked. I said to the psychiatrist I’m a schizophrenic and he said Oh no. that’s a totally different thing. He said: If you want a diagnosis, I would say you were very, very deeply depressed. But I had been functioning in the depression. I can look back now and think I was almost becoming manic. I couldn’t cram enough into my life.”

“To cram so much into your life you would not be aware of your depression?”

“Probably. I didn’t feel depressed but I suppose I was distancing myself from myself. Also another big thing was that I’d had these mental ‘absences’. If I went into the bathroom when I was living with my daughter, I might go into a… you know sometimes people are… just not ‘here’ for a minute. Then my daughter would say: Mum! Mum! and I had a sense of being pulled back from this other place, wherever it was, and I would feel a sense of almost anger.”

“At being pulled back?”

“Yeah. It was happening a lot. It was a deep ‘away’. I couldn’t help myself. It wasn’t just absent-mindedness. It was like going to a safe place.”

“But this was 15-20 years ago and you’re OK now.”

“Maybe that long ago. I don’t know. I can’t remember. I don’t put myself under huge stress now. It’s a difficult thing, mental illness. Because it’s all on the inside. It doesn’t show.”

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