Tag Archives: Exeter

I Skyped a stand-up witch at midnight

Jackie Juno via Skype last night

Jackie Juno talking to me from Caerwysg via Skype last night

Last night, appropriately just before midnight, I had a Skype chat with stand-up poet Jackie Juno. She is also a witch. She knows comedian Matt Roper, who was passing through my spare bedroom.

On Saturday, Jackie is organising the Grand Witches’ Ball in Exeter.

“Last year,” she told me, “we held a Grand Witches’ Tea Party, which was a daytime thing and was outside.”

“And this one,” I asked, “is a night-time thing and is inside?”

“Yes. In the 450-seater Exeter Phoenix Arts Centre. We’re going to have bands and loads of different acts, including The Invisible Opera Company of Tibet. I am the lead singer. It’s been going 23 years.”

There is a clip of The Invisible Opera Company of Tibet on YouTube.

“How invisible and operatic are you?” I asked.

“Not very, but I’m very showy-offy. Not very operatic at all. Well, I hate opera, really.”

“But you must love Tibet, obviously.”

“Yes… Well… I’ve never been. But we’ve got a sort-of connection… with Gong, which is another psychedelic rock band. The Invisible Opera company of Tibet was founded by Daevid Allen, the lead singer with Gong. He founded it with my husband Brian.”

“You’re psychedelic?”

“Yeah.”

“Psychedelic witches!” I said enthusiastically.

“I love dressing up,” said Jackie, “and being mad and cackling loudly at people and wearing striped tights”

Jackie Juno reaches 21st century cyberspace on Twitter

Jackie Juno now reaches 21st century cyberspace on Twitter

“I don’t,” I said, “remember striped tights being part of the traditional witch costume.”

“They’re quite important,” said Jackie.

“But I feel,” I said, “maybe not from the Middle Ages.

“No,”agreed Jackie, “it’s probably from kids’ story books, but it’s great fun.”

“Are you treating your witchery seriously?” I asked.

“Yes. As well. I just think it’s important to have a sense of humour.”

“What’s the best thing about being a witch?”

“Connection.”

“With what or whom?”

“Everything and everyone. Connection to the universe, the Earth, yourself, others.”

“How long have you been a witch?”

“I think I was born that way. I used to get loads of stuff in my dreams when I was younger. Loads of psychic things happened. Dead people appearing. So I’ve had all that psychic stuff happen.”

“That sounds a bit scary,” I said.

“I didn’t find it scary,” said Jackie. “Never have done.”

“Not even when you were a child?” I asked. “Dead people appearing?”

“Yeah, well it was my grandad and my uncle. And other people. If I went somewhere, somebody would be there and I would describe them and it would be later confirmed. It doesn’t happen that often, but it has happened intermittently.”

“Does it run in the family?” I asked.

“Doesn’t seem to.”

“I seem to have met a lot of witches,” I said. “So you’re a white witch…”

“I don’t know,” said Jackie, “what this white business is. I am many colours.”

“I thought,” I told her, “that a white witch was a good witch and a black witch was a bad witch.”

“That,” she replied, “is like saying you get good Christians and bad Christians.”

“How does one become a witch?” I asked. “You can’t be born one, can you? You have to choose to become one.”

Jackie runs experiential workshops in Goddesses

Jackie runs experiential workshops based on Goddess archetypes relevant to life now

“You can do both,” Jackie told me. “But I think it’s more of an uncovering, a going towards something. I think being a witch is like a natural state. We’re just in touch with the earth, in touch perhaps with other realms that we don’t often see. Before these organised, patriarchal religions came along and made all their rules and dogmas. I think we are our own people in touch with our own spirituality through the earth, through Nature.”

“I suppose you have seen The Wicker Man?” I asked.

“Yes. Great. I love it. A classic. I must re-watch it.”

“There’s an interesting line in it,” I said, “about Christianity being a Johnny-come-lately religion.”

“Yeah. Yeah.”

“Were you ever a Christian?”

“God, no. I wasn’t brought up that way. My dad used to describe himself as an agnostic.”

“Not an atheist?”

“No. He believed there was something going on, but he wasn’t sure what.”

“So why did you decide to have a Witches’ Tea Party last year?”

The Grand Witches Tea Party 2014 (Photo by Jim Bachelier-Moore

The Grand Witches’ Tea Party in 2014 (Photograph by Jim Bachelier-Moore)

“I was given the title Grand Bard of Caerwysg (the Welsh name for Exeter), which is a 7-year role. Each ancient bardic seat has a sacred hill associated with it and, in Exeter, it’s Rougemont Gardens. There is a plaque in Rougemont Gardens which honours the last three women witches that were killed in England. They kept the witches – the women – in a tower of the castle in terrible conditions and then they took them to be hanged.”

“Hanged?” I asked. “I thought witches were burned alive or chucked in the river?”

“No. I think in this country most of them were hung.”

“You said England. What about Scotland?”

“I think they carried on killing witches in Scotland after 1682 – the last ones in England.”

“So, in Exeter,” I said, “the sacred hill is Rougemont Gardens…”

“Yes. I’ve always felt a strong affinity with that place and, when I became Grand Bard, I wanted to do something to honour the women that were killed.

“I wanted to hold a ceremony but then it kind of grew and we decided to have a tea party afterwards and then we decided to try and go for the world record of number of witches gathered in one place. But, to qualify for that, you had to have a cloak, a broom and a pointy hat.”

“That,” I asked, “is a Guinness Book of Records rule?”

“Yes. The record had already been set so, if you want to break it, you have to follow the rules. So we thought it would be a bit of fun. That was what got media attention. It just went mental. But the local witchy community were all: Oh! this is a farce! This is Disney! we don’t wear pointy hats! We’re proper witches! They got a bug up their arse, basically. They couldn’t believe you could have a bit of fun as well.”

“How are witches organised?” I asked. “Is there a national Witch Council?”

A queue of witches in 2014, signing a petition to get the executed women pardoned (Photo by Jim Bachelier-Moore)

A queue of witches in 2014, signing a petition to get the executed women pardoned (Photo by Jim Bachelier-Moore)

“There are various groups all across Britain – pagan moots.”

“Any old pagans?” I asked. “Not specifically witches?”

“Yes, any old pagans. Or young pagans. There’s various pagan groups and lots of kind-of I guess witchy, goddess groups.”

“I have met a few witches,” I said, “but I have never met a wizard.”

“Well,” said Jackie, “there are a lot of men who consider themselves witches.”

“So a ‘witch’ can be a man or woman?” I asked.

“Yeah.”

“So there’s no such thing as a wizard?”

“I’m sure people might also describe themselves as a wizard, but I don’t know exactly what a wizard is…”

“So your husband Brian is not a wizard?”

“No.”

“Is he a witch?”

“He describes himself as a pagan Buddhist.”

“Was he a Buddhist first and then you converted him?”

“I think he was a pagan anyway, really. I think we all are underneath. Pagans do have a lot of fun.”

“It is the old religion,” I said. “Last year was…?”

“A wonderful event,” said Jackie. “It was incredibly moving.”

“Because?”

“Because the ceremony itself was very moving. People came from all over England and Wales.

This Saturday - the grand witches Ball

This Saturday – The Grand Witches’ Ball

“This year, we’re going to hold a ceremony at the beginning and at the end of the night, remembering those killed.”

“And two psychedelic rock bands,” I said.

“And a mind-reading act,” Jackie added.

“A stage act or a psychic act?” I asked.

“A stage act. He lives down Penzance way.”

“You don’t have to be part of witch culture to attend this event?”

“No. It’s open to all. Once we’ve covered our costs, we are raising funds for Womankind Worldwide, which champions women around the world.”

“When did you meet Matt Roper?” I asked.

“Before he got into his Wilfredo character – without the teeth and trousers – and I thought What a delightful young man! How handsome! and then I saw him as Wilfredo and – Christ! – I couldn’t believe it! Has he told you about Reincarnation Street, my mystical soap opera set in Totnes?”

“No.”

“We did it using finger puppets. Johnny Depp is in it.”

“As a finger?”

“No, as a puppet. He has a walk-on part – Well it’s more of a shuffle-on part, because I’ve got my finger up his skirt. The first episode is on YouTube. Reincarnation Street: A Mystical Soap Opera Set in Totnes.”

“Has it got a theme tune like Coronation Street?”

“Yes, but with an Indian sitar.”

“Matt took me to Totnes,” I said.

“Oh!” replied Jackie, “so you have experienced the aura-polishing and the chakra dancing and the womb whispering?”

“Womb whispering?” I asked.

“I saw an advert for it.”

“In the local paper?”

“In a poster up on a notice board. Chakra dancing, womb yoga, womb whispering, equine therapy, free hugs.”

“I have to say some people may think witchery is a bit odd,” I said, “but it has nothing on Totnes.”

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Christmas with Malcolm Hardee: a pint of strange-tasting beer and falling fish

(This was also published in the Huffington Post)

I will be spending a quiet time at home on Christmas Day.

I asked ‘Digger Dave’, a friend of the late ‘godfather of British comedy’ Malcolm Hardee, if he had any memories of spending Christmas with Malcolm.

Perhaps this was a mistake.

“Most of the stories are still far too embarrassing to the living for me to tell,” Digger Dave replied. “And we won’t mention shows where the box office take got lost!!!

“Malcolm once lured me to some country house for a Boxing Day sexual extravaganza with some game show hostess and then asked me to reglaze the broken glass in the patio doors. He also ensured that another member of The Greatest Show on Legs crashed in the same room – well flaked-out across my legs, making movement or undressing impossible. It’s quite an impediment to romance – having a Greatest Leg unconscious on your own legs. No leg-over is possible.

“You can ask someone else about their memories of the Great Christmas Can Can Tour of London’s East End pubs. It was his sister Clare’s idea to do the dancing and I did the promo and posterwork (which I had to pay for myself, as the ‘free’ service at Goldsmiths College couldn’t).

“Some of the pubs had secret handles that couldn’t be opened by unwelcome persons. Most of the audiences would have looked good in a movie like your Killer Bitch, but the cast usually outnumbered them. Sometimes it wasn’t possible to get across the room. It’s quite difficult doing dance-centred performance when the play area is only two feet wide.

“It was the normal Greatest Show on Legs routine – the Scotsman striptease, the dustbin lid clog dance,  the beer mat dance and spinning the dirty old men plus Malcolm doing his impression of French President General de Gaulle using nothing but his genitals and a pair of spectacles… with a Can Can dance added at the end.

“I once had to relieve myself in a pint glass and hide it behind the music player. I never saw Malcolm wash his harmonica in anyone’s beer for quite a while after that night.

“There is one Christmas story that I never actually checked out with Malcolm. But two anarchists who knew him maintained that he had a hand in planning it.

“It happened in Exeter Prison, on the Friday before Christmas, when Malcolm was doing time there. As it was a Friday, there was supposed to be fish for dinner – in this case, mackerel, which had been caught off Cornwall, shipped to a very dodgy fishmonger in Truro in an un-refrigerated van and then delivered to the prison gates in another un-refrigerated van during the Thursday night. But that’s where the fish stayed – outside the prison gates – as the staff were on a Christmas rota and there was no-one to take them in. So the fish were well and truly past any relevant sell-by date by the time they arrived.

“Devon and Cornwall are not being famous for snowy Christmases, so the Friday before Christmas was nice and hot and sunny and the fish sat there until someone eventually took them in.

“The inmates always used to eat in their cells. So they were unlocked and marched one wing at a time to collect their meals on a tray from a central servery. It took an age because of the Christmas staff cuts.

“No-one wanted inedible rotting fish in their cell for the next 23 hours and there were no warders to notice what was being done, so the stinking fish contents of the trays were tipped over the landings. The falling fish hit the anti-suicide netting between the floors and stayed there.

“Rotting mackerel has a strange clingy consistency… but only for a time. After that, the warming oils make it quite fluid.

“So, after a while, the fish fluid dripped down – slowly at first – and then a really big flush hit the ground floor where the just-arrived Salvation Army band were playing God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen!”

I do not know if Malcolm was involved in this merry incident, but it does sound in character and the sort of festive fun he would have enjoyed. He liked to entertain.

It is also a typical Malcolm Hardee story – it sounds improbable or impossible but then turns out not only to be true but to actually be understated.

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The origin of the banger-up-the-bum routine

One ‘Digger Dave’ tells me on my Facebook page that the legendary banger-up-the-bum routine made infamous by comic Chris Lynam and The Greatest Show on Legs originated when some aggrieved criminal in jail with Malcolm Hardee threatened to shove a stick of dynamite up Malcolm’s arse for selling him a jamjar full of wheat seeds in exchange for three packets of tobacco and telling him that the wheat seeds would turn into whisky.

As a result, Malcolm was transferred to Exeter prison farm for his own protection and later, on his release, turned the explosive threat into a spectacular entertainment.

Digger Dave also reckons a dodgy bloke in a Catford pub once threatened to shoot all the members of The Greatest Show on Legs after seeing their “Scotsman striptease” (I’m not quite sure which routine that is, but I’m open to enlightenment.)

For what it’s worth, Malcolm told me that the banger-up-the-bum routine originated when The Greatest Show on Legs were trying to come up with some even more spectacular act to follow their naked balloon dance routine and someone said: “Well, you’re wasting your time. You can’t follow the naked balloon dance. You might as well stick a firework up your arse!”

Malcolm either took this as a sensible suggestion or as a challenge and he was the first person to try out the banger-up-the-bum routine which involves holding a large firework – preferably a three-stage Roman Candle – between your clenched buttocks and lighting it to the musical accompaniment of Ethel Merman singing There’s No Business Like Show Business (other tunes are far less effective though the copyright holders of the Ethel Merman version won’t legally let it be used with the routine). Tragically, Malcolm told me, he lacked the necessary buttock control and, as a result, the lit firework drooped and set fire to his pubic (or should that be derriere) hair. According to Malcolm, fellow Greatest Show on Legs member Chris Lynam had tighter buttock control, successfully did the act as part of their show and has become the living legend he is today.

Which of these two stories – if either – is the true origin of the banger-up-the-bum routine I know not. Personally, I prefer the prison threat story… When in doubt, particularly where Malcolm is concerned, print the legend.

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