Tag Archives: fate

Everything happens by happenstance… My mother re-meets my undead father

The long-nosed stranger of Strasburg in Tristram Shandy

The long-nosed stranger of Strasburg in The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman

Today’s blog is about how my mother met my father.

I have not read Laurence Sterne’s book The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, which was published 1759-1767. As I understand it, the book is supposed to be the autobiography of Tristram Shandy and it starts off with his birth but – in order to explain why that happened – he has to explain about his parents and the background to his birth to such an extent that, after nine volumes, he is way back before his birth and has never started his autobiography. That is what my English master told me at school.

The reason I cannot read Tristram Shandy is because, in 1991, I was hit by a truck while I was standing on a pavement and now I can write books on computer screens, but I cannot read books.

It would take too long to explain.

I was hit by a truck because, one Saturday in Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, I was rushing to post a birthday card to someone I knew in Norwich, Norfolk. She was not a friend, just an acquaintance of an acquaintance whom I had met by accident a few years before.

My mother and my father went to the same school together in Whithorn, Wigtownshire, Scotland, but they had not really known each other then. They were in different classes. My mother lived in the small village of Garlieston. My father lived in the Isle of Whithorn (which, confusingly, is a totally different place to Whithorn).

My parents re-met by accident in their twenties in the 1940s

My parents re-met by accident in their twenties in the 1940s

During the Second World War, my father was home on leave from the Royal Navy. He took a wrong bus and was walking down the main street in Whithorn. My mother was in the street with a friend who had gone into a jeweller’s shop. My mother looked up the street and was surprised to see my father walking towards her.

She was surprised because she had heard he had been killed.

“I thought you were dead,” she told him.

They got into a conversation.

“No, I wasn’t killed,” he told her.

A few weeks later my father, his sister and some other people went from the Isle of Whithorn to my mother’s village of Garlieston for a dance.

My mother’s family dog disappeared and she went off looking for it with my father.

The dog (a Jack Russell called Vick) eventually turned out to be asleep under the sink in the kitchen.

Me (aged 1) with father near home in Campbeltown, Scotland

Me (aged 1) and my father near home in Campbeltown, Argyll

I think my parents married in 1948. It might have been 1946. I can’t be bothered to check. It does not matter. It is in the past. The past is only what people remember or what people claim in writing happened in the past. The past does not exist, even though everything is interconnected by happenstance.

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Filed under Coincidence, Fate

Desperate Housewives and Fate


The hip bone's connected to the back bone
The back bone's connected to the neck bone
The neck bone's connected to the head bone
Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones

Last night I accidentally caught the end of an episode of Desperate Housewives on TV: not something I have ever watched before.

Someone got shot in the chest at the end. As normal, there was red blood on the shirt-front, but no tear in the pristine fabric of the shirt.

Even in successful TV series, people cut corners to save money.

There was much voice-over pseudo-philosophising from his TV wife about how life can be changed in an instant.

But it’s true.

I have slept on my bedroom floor for the last two nights because my back has ‘gone’ again. If I move in certain positions, it is like someone stabbing a Samurai sword into me and twisting it.

It is the result of an accident in 1991 when I got hit by a truck while standing on the pavement. I was walking to the post box with a birthday card for someone I had accidentally met around ten years before; not a friend; just someone I kept in touch with.

If I had not met her and if her birthday had not been on a certain date and if I had not been going to get the last postal collection that day… it would not have happened 21 years ago and I would not have been sleeping on the floor and in quite a lot of pain the last two days.

Same thing with anything.

If the question is Shall I do this? or Shall I not? the answer should always be to do it. Because you can never calculate the ramifications. The more you do, the more possibilities there are.

Although, of course, there is always the danger of the being-hit-by-a-truck ramification.

But no-one can calculate the possibilities. At least if you try to do something, you know the outcome. You may fail, but at least you know the outcome. If you don’t try, you will never know and will always ponder on what might have happened if only… if only…

Ye Gods!

How do I have the gall to criticise Desperate Housewives for pseudo-philosophising?…

And where did I put that Chinese ointment which sometimes helps me?

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How not to work on famous TV shows and what to do if you want to build a decent career in stand-up comedy

I think it may be my Scots Presbyterian upbringing. When people have screwed or tried to screw me over money, I have always tended to tell them, “Fuck you!” and flounce off. This is not necessarily a good career move.

In my time, I have been nicknamed John ‘Difficult’ Fleming because, when people did not pay me as they had agreed to pay me, I got uppity. They tended to see this as an example of me being difficult. I tended to see them as cunts. Or – if I was feeling wildly generous – as incompetent, unprofessional wankers who deserved to have their throats ripped out.

Frankly, if you are lying in a hospital bed with a broken leg and fractured pelvis having been run over by a truck, it does not really matter if the driver intended to run you over or if it was an accident. The end result is still the same. You have a broken leg and a fractured pelvis.

Call me old-fashioned but, if people don’t pay me as agreed, I take it with much the same good humour as the Russians did when Nazi Germany invaded.

I almost worked on the seminal TV variety/alternative comedy series Saturday Live. Why I did not is an interesting tale of TV bureaucracy.

Although screened on Channel 4, it was produced by the ITV broadcaster London Weekend Television.

Immediately before Saturday Live started, I had worked for LWT on a series of Surprise! Surprise! and, because of previous problems at more than one company, I had a contract which specified I would be paid weekly in arrears.

When I had been working on the series for three weeks and still seen no money, I queried this – I think not unreasonably – with the Wages Dept. I was told:

“Ah! Your contract says Payable weekly in arrears but it doesn’t specify exactly when the first of those weekly payments will be made. Really, if we wanted to make the first of those weekly payments a month after you finished your contract or even in five years time then, provided we paid you weekly from that first payment onwards, you would be being paid as it says in the contract: Weekly in arrears.”

They were logically correct.

So, when I was asked to be a researcher on Saturday Live, I insisted that I had to have a contract in advance of starting work on the show and that it had to specify I would be paid weekly in arrears with the date of the first payment specified in the contract.

LWT felt I was being unreasonable. I felt they were being unreasonable. They refused to give me a contract with any specific date on which I would be paid. I refused to work without one.

So I did not work on Saturday Live.

I later did work with the producer of Saturday Live at Noel Gay Television. After working perfectly happily on several shows, I again left when they would not give me a contract in advance of starting work on a particular pilot show. They thought I was being unreasonable asking for a contract in advance; I disagreed. So I did not produce a Malcolm Hardee pilot called Lose Yer Shirt! It was produced for Channel 4 who rejected it. I have never seen the show, but I’m told that Channel 4 showed good taste.

Yesterday, a young-ish comic I know had to make a work-related decision. In a spirit of up-my-own-arse pomposity, this was my advice…

By and large, there are no right or wrong decisions because, if you take the ‘right’ decision, it can lead to bad consequences and, if you take the ‘wrong’ decision, it can lead to good opportunities. So life is anarchy. Showbiz life is even more anarchic. You can never tell what the ultimate outcome of taking the ‘other’ decision might have been, so you can never know, even in retrospect, if you took the right or wrong decision. You can only guess your best and never look back, only forwards.

I hate to quote that ghastly and utterly wanky Californian saying “Today is the first day of the rest of your life” but, erm, even Californians can get it right sometimes.

After anything you do, you are at the starting point of what happens next not at the end point of what you did before.

So just do what you think is best (with some calculation of the financial cost, as you have to eat!) and then don’t worry about whatever consequences follow as the inevitable and unavoidable result of what you did; it’s the ground zero of whatever you do next – always look forwards not backwards.

And don’t be impulsive.

I always have been and look where it didn’t get me!

Worry away about what you should do right up to the point at which the decision is made. Then it’s in the past. You can’t change your new starting point. You can only change the future not the past. You cannot un-destroy the twin towers of the World Trade Center.

Ultimately, you and I are both going to die within this century and, a bit later on, the sun expands and the Earth is totally destroyed. Everything you see around you becomes stardust. We are stardust.

Of course, the alternative to this advice is to suck cock and, ultimately, that might be far better for your career.

I’m surprised no-one’s written a song about it.

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Filed under Comedy, Television

The fickle finger of fate, fame and mortality, featuring comedy, cancer, Libyans and a nuclear explosion

Yesterday I had tea in London with David Kirk Traylor. widely known for his character Mr Zed

Born in the US, he has lived in Rome for many years. He has starred in eight television series, seen in 35 countries worldwide. He has done command performances for the Pope and the President of the United States and had a top 40 hit record in Europe. He has dubbed and voiced literally hundreds of films, cartoons, CD ROMs and computer & arcade games including an Indiana Jones game for Lucas Arts. His success became such an international phenomenon that he was the subject of a special report on CNN. I booked him on Jack Dee’s Saturday Night on peaktime ITV in 1996, yet he remains ‘unknown’ in the UK.

So it goes.

He told me two of his friends died of cancer around 25 years ago. Their cancer was caused by the radiation cloud from the 1986 nuclear explosion at Chernobyl. The radiation cloud was blown over Rome and they died about a year later. The Italian government lied about the cloud and no-one knew the danger. Several hundred people are thought to have died.

So it goes.

I remember reading about a man who was mending his bicycle in his living room just before Christmas 1988. He lived in a small, quiet Scottish town I knew slightly when I was growing up because, when I was a child, my parents had friends who lived there. The man who was mending his bike died in his living room and neither he nor his house were seen again. Nor the bicycle. They disintegrated. Nothing was left of them. A jumbo jet fell on them. They lived in Lockerbie.

So it goes.

The then-apartheid South African foreign minister Pik Botha was supposed to be on the jumbo jet, but got an earlier flight.

The Four Tops singing group had been due to fly on the jumbo jet, but had been late getting out of a recording session and overslept.

Johnny Rotten, formerly of the Sex Pistols, had been due to fly on the jumbo jet, but missed the flight.

Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, convicted in 2001 of bombing the jumbo jet in 1988, was released from his Scots prison in 2009 because he had terminal cancer and had about three months to live. He returned to Libya to die. He is still alive now, in 2011.

BBC TV News has just reported that Human Rights Watch claim, in the last week in Libya, at least 233 people have died in the ongoing demonstrations.

So it goes.

A friend of mine, whom I have known for 36 years, now has cancer.

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Filed under Comedy, Health, History, Television