Tag Archives: food

Comic Lynn Ruth Miller in Amsterdam meets a man she stimulated 12 years ago

The unstoppable 85-year-old London-based US comedian Lynn Ruth Miller continues her travels. Last time it was Glasgow. Next time, it is New York. This time it was to perform for a week in Amsterdam… where she met a man from her past… Here she tells all…


Amsterdam is a fun city and this trip was even more rollicking than ever.

The local food is execrable which makes it more amazing that all of the natives are tall, blonde and exceptionally healthy.  When I walk down the street dodging between the bikes, I feel like all of them are Snow Whites and I am the dwarf.

The typical foods are things like deep-fried meatballs with a mustard dip, gooey pancake sandwiches and thick greasy Dutch fries. The Dutch actually hunger for raw herring and deep-fried sweet dumplings. Their comfort food is stewed mashed potatoes, cabbage and kale topped with a fat greasy pork sausage. I cannot believe any of them have a waistline much less any teeth. Evidently their metabolism considers these delicacies to be the equivalent of sprouts on whole grain toast.

In addition, Dutch people are very reserved.  When they hear a joke they nod approvingly and say: “That is funny” (in Dutch of course). But they do not laugh. That type of uncontrolled reaction is reserved for the tourists.

As is getting stoned.

Dutch people do not do marijuana.

They are very smart business people. Pot is good money. Their motto is: “Let the tourists get high. We need to keep our wits about us so we can make a profit.”

“It was a beautiful experience, but quite a challenge…”

On my first night in Amsterdam, I headlined at The Comedy Cafe. I have worked there before and it was a beautiful experience, but quite a challenge. The audiences were at least 70% native Dutch which means that English was their second language. They got the jokes all right, but they needed time to process the punch lines. This meant that I was two jokes ahead of them. I had to adjust my pace so they could absorb what I said.  

It was a huge challenge and an exciting one because, when you succeed in making them get the humor, you have overcome a huge hurdle in your presentation. The last time I managed three times out of five and the truth is that it is those two failures that have haunted me ever since. I guess that is why I call comedy an art instead of a craft. You have to have that instinct that knows the pace, the emphasis and the time to pause for each individual audience.

I was very, very worried about this new performance because of the mixed reactions I got the last time, but this was a very different crowd. The show was run by Tim van’t Hul who has joined several other comedians to form a troupe called The Comedy Embassy. They put on English shows at comedy venues on their empty nights.

And the Comedy Cafe has become an all-English club. It was founded by Bob Maclaren who is a magnificent comedian. When I was there two years ago, he presented both English and Dutch language shows. Thursday night was his only all-English show. Now, Tim and his group fill in the extra nights with their own comedians. They are all young, upcoming performers and, although the quality varies, the enthusiasm is wonderful and the shows are always a delight.

Because all the shows are now in English, tourists make up most of the audience. On the first night, there was a group of about 20 men in the audience who were there on a training weekend to learn internet marketing techniques. They had evidently decided to take in some comedy after their dinner. They were from all over Europe, but most were from England. 

When I saw them, I was terrified. My comedy makes fun of men and there were hardly any women in the audience. Those I saw were obviously on a date and were unlikely to encourage emasculating humor. It destroys any hope of a happy ending (so I am told, of course).

But I had forgotten that there is nothing the British like better than to excoriate themselves. The more you insult them, the more they love you. I think it is a male thing. You cannot get a British man to admit he has one good quality. To do that is in bad taste. And this self-flagellation seeps into the rest of their lives. 

They celebrate the people who defeat them like Guy Fawkes. They gobble up fish and chips and complain that they have horrid teeth and bulging bellies. They do not know how to express disapproval. They shrug their shoulders and roll their eyes when you do something they think is gauche, like laugh out loud or rattle a newspaper. They are the prototype of up-tight. And this audience was very British.

I got on stage with the help of a pulley and a rope and discussed my views on male inadequacy, blaming men for the state of society and all my personal failures in life. I was greeted with thunderous applause so loud I actually heard it.

The man who didn’t want to be a comic at one point…

After the set. I went to the bar for a drink. A man named Kees van Amstel said: “I have something to show you.”  

Naturally, my first reaction was to explain I wasn’t interested in seeing his, but then he bought me a drink and explained that, back in 2007, he was in Edinburgh at the Fringe, having a terrible time getting audiences for his comedy show. (And who among us cannot relate to that?)

He was terribly discouraged and ready to give up the whole project when a friend of his took him to see a late night show to take his mind off his troubles. I was in the line up for that late night show.  

He said: “I watched you having so much fun up there on stage and I thought If that old woman (I was a young chick of 74 at the time) can have so much fun AT HER ADVANCED AGE and be that funny, why am I complaining about low attendance and huge monetary losses?  I have plenty of time to create my dream.

So, that night, he went back to his Edinburgh flat and wrote a blog (HERE it is, in Dutch) about the ancient hag who inspired him to continue has career and not give up too soon.

(BLOG EXTRACT: “Old School kicks ass! Ze sluit af met een liedje over hoe sex is als je man net een niertransplantatie heeft gehad en krijgt het grootste applaus van het festival. Ik sta perplex. Lynn Ruth Miller. Om 2 uur ‘s nachts. Fucking hell, ik ben eigenlijk helemaal niet oud. Find of the Festival.”)

That incident was twelve years ago.

Now, he has his own shows and is on the board of directors of Toomler, the other major comedy club in Amsterdam. He decided to take a night out to see what the competition was doing. He did not know I was on the bill.   

“When you got on that stage,” he told me, “I said to myself I KNOW that woman. And then I remembered that time so many years ago when you changed my life.”

When you are at the Edinburgh Fringe, slogging from one open mike to another, you never think that you are accomplishing anything more than getting a couple of bums on a few seats for the show you are doing. It certainly never occurs to you that someone might actually remember you twelve years after they hear you perform.  

I cannot even remember something that happened twelve minutes ago much less twelve years ago. I assure you both my husbands instantly forgot everything I ever said within seconds of their departure from my life.  

And here I was talking to a man who remembered everything I said twelve YEARS ago.

I have always believed that I do comedy because I love it and that is all the reward I really need. But that man gave me something far more valuable than 20 Oscars and 50 Nobel prizes. He made me feel that I was actually part of a bigger picture, one that tells the world they can do whatever they want to do if they just get out there and do it.

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Impoverished comedians grasp at floating food skydropped in Australia

Juliette promoting her When I Grow Up show

Juliette has always taken an interest in aerial transportation

Juliette Burton ended her run at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival last night.

This morning – early evening to her – we talked via Skype

“We have an end-of-Festival party this evening,” she told me. “It’s a Tarantino-themed fancy dress party. I have two costumes and I can’t decide, so I’m going to go in a yellow jumpsuit in Kill Bill style AND as Mia Wallace from Pulp Fiction with the black bob haircut.

Not Juliette Burton

Not to be confused with Juliette Burton

“I’m planning to make a fool of myself in one outfit, then make a quick getaway, change, then come back and make a fool of myself in the other outfit.

“Sounds like a fully-formed Edinburgh Fringe show,” I said.

“A few days ago, you blogged about the lovely Lili La Scala in London,” Juliette said. “And the other day in Melbourne Sam Wills (Lili’s husband) phoned me up and asked Do you want to take part in a Jaffle-shoot contest – Do you know what that is?

“Shooting Jaffa Cakes?” I guessed.

A jaffle - as parachuted-in to comedians in Melbourne.

A jaffle – as parachuted-in to comedians in Melbourne.

“Well,” explained Juliette, “jaffles are toasties – toasted sandwiches. Two slices of bread with cheese in the middle and you press them in a sandwich toaster. Over here they call them jaffles and it’s not a jaffle-shoot as in shooting jaffles with a gun…  it’s like in parachutes – jafflechutes. They come down from the sky with little parachutes attached.

“So, basically, Sam Wills aka The Boy With Tape On His Face arranged for a group of comics to get together at a certain place at a certain time and we had to follow some arrows on the ground to X-Marks-The-Spot and that’s where the jafflechute was going to happen.

“When we got there, we looked up at every plane or helicopter that went over because we thought there might be some Third World country sending jaffles down by parachute to us poor impoverished comics. But, suddenly, this mysterious figure appeared on the top of a building and started dropping toasted sandwiches attached to small parachutes.”

“Was he dressed as Spiderman?” I asked.

“No. In fact, everyone was dressed very casually.”

“Strange for such a formal occasion,” I suggested.

“Well,” said Juliette, “Frankie Lowe, my musical director, and I are currently editing together a video of what happened which we’re going to put on YouTube. As soon as I finish talking to you, I’m going to go and record a voice-over. It was really awesome fun.”

“Did you just say the word awesone?” I asked.

Juliette (left) with Felicity Ward and (behind) Squid Boy

Juliette (left) in Oz with Felicity Ward and (behind) Squid Boy

“Yes,” said Juliette, “and, while we keep talking, I’ll send you a photo of me with Felicity Ward… Oh, Celia Pacquola was there too and Trygve – who does Squid Boy and Kraken – and, of course, Sam who is The Boy With Tape On His Face and Alexis who performs as Marcel Lucont…”

“It sounds like an upcoming Marvel superhero movie,” I said.

“…and we were all leaping about,” Juliette continued, “trying to catch melted cheese that was airborne… We were grabbing at floating food… So we’re going to post that video on YouTube soon. But now I have to go do the voice-over and then dress up as Kill Bill and Pulp Fiction for the party.”

Juliette is flying back to Britain tomorrow with stopovers in Bali and Dubai.

Tomorrow I might go to Watford with a green-eyed monster.

In the meantime, there is timelapse video on YouTube which shows Juliette being prepared for a photoshoot promoting her upcoming Edinburgh Fringe comedy show Look At Me which is about the relationship between people’s external appearances and what they really are. She is co-writing it with comedienne Janey Godley.

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Filed under Australia, Comedy, Food

I am afraid I may be becoming a voyeur or, at the very least, an eavesdropper

A symbol of going round in circles

A sign of going round in circles

This is a tale of good intentions messed-up and of coincidence.

I was talking to my eternally-un-named friend last week about the recycling information on packaging. Yes, I lead a rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle.

White paper is usually paper, but not always. And brown paper is sometimes the same as bananas and grass. Some things which are clearly plastics are apparently not. And, with some packaging, some plastic bits are recyclable as plastic and some are not. Last week, even trusty Marks & Spencer confused matters.

Marks & Spencer’s brown symbol on brown bread

Marks & Spencer’s brown Green Dot on right of packaging

Their plastic bread wrapper had a symbol on it that said it was not recyclable but also had a symbol that said it was.

Or so we thought.

I Googled the brown recycling symbol on the M&S plastic and found out it was called The Green Dot.

Yes, the brown symbol is called The Green Dot.

And it means that “the manufacturer of the product contributes to the cost of recovery and recycling” but it does not mean that you can necessarily recycle what the dot is printed on.

Bear this confusion in mind, dear reader, when we come to what happened on a train on the outskirts of London yesterday afternoon.

My jury service trundles ever onwards. I was supposed to finish today. But it looks like the trial will finish on Monday and then we have to consider our verdict. This is the second trial of my jury service. At the end of the first trial, we took 9 hours 23 minutes to decide on a verdict.

So yesterday, on my way back home by train, sitting at the other side of the carriage from me were a thin English woman and a fat Irish woman.

They were talking about recycling in Swansea.

On a whim, I turned on my iPhone’s audio recorder. I am slightly afraid this may become a habit.

“When I used to go to get on the ferry at Swansea to Ireland,” the fat Irish woman was saying, “I used to pass these great big stockpiles of broken glass, piled up high – green glass, clear glass – and a bit later in the papers I read that a lot of this stuff was not being recycled. It was just being dumped in the sea.”

“In thousands of years time...” she said

“In thousands of years time…” she said, “we’ll have jewellery”

“In thousands of years time,” said the thin English woman, “we’ll have pieces of jewellery that came from a certain area because that’s where the green glass was dumped.”

“In just 20 years time,” said the Irish woman, “we won’t have to have factories making anything new, because we’ll be recycling everything like mad – everything.”

“In the War,” said the English woman, “everyone did recycle their bits and buttons and they made knickers out of parachutes and coats out of blankets.”

“And lampshades out of skin,” added the Irish woman.

The English woman screwed up her face and continued: “So why is it, if we’re trying to save the world and re-cycle everything, why is it when I go to the supermarket and buy anything, they offer me a free chicken? I don’t want a free chicken. Why should I have to have a free chicken? I always have an argument with the girl at the cash desk when they offer me a free chicken.”

A chicken (deceased)

A chicken (deceased)

“It’s terrible when you go shopping,” said the Irish woman, sympathetically, “and you want to buy something of one thing and it’s a 2-for-1 and you’re forced to buy two and then you have to eat these two things.”

“I know,” agreed the English woman, “you could leave one behind, but you’re not brought up to be… You’re supposed to be careful with whatever, but you didn’t really want two in a row and it turns into a nightmare. No wonder everyone’s getting fat.”

“A few years ago,” said the Irish woman, “they were trying to get rid of their chickens in Ireland. It was something to do with Europe. When I was a kid at home, chicken was a special meal. You had a bit of beef, a bit of lamb and that was it. A chicken? Whoaa! That was something special. And now… In Ireland they’re very, very cheap but, in England, they give them away.”

The fat Irish woman started making clucking noises and wiggling her elbows. After an initial flurry of clucks, she looked over at me and smiled.

“Poor chickens,” she said to me. “Poor little chickens. They’re all going to be slaughtered. And what with that Oyster card for travelling on the tube where you’re supposed to clock in and out.”

I smiled back at her and pretended to be engrossed in my copy of Metro.

Barry’s Tea - Ireland runs on it

Barry’s Tea – Ireland lives on it (woman not included in packs)

“In Ireland,” the fat Irish woman was by now telling the thin English woman, “we get sent vouchers through the post for a place called SuperValu. If you go there, you have vouchers and you can get things for, say, one Euro less. So, if you’re eating cheese, tea is something quite good. And washing powder. But the thing is – and this is the snag – you’ve got to read the small print, because it’s a certain size. Barry’s Tea. Ireland lives on Barry’s Tea. You’ve got to have Barry’s Tea which has 600 bags in it and they say Oh, we don’t have any of those.”

“I was in Sainsbury’s,” agreed the English woman, “and they had yellow tea on special offer. You could get 80 bags for £2 or you could get 160 bags on special offer at £5.70. They said the 160 bag packet was on special offer… and I suppose it was in a way.”

“I was in a flower shop last week,” said the fat Irish woman, “and they had Sell By dates on the cactuses and I said That’s ridiculous and the man in the shop said Yes, the European ruling is you can’t have more than two years on it. I asked him: What do you do when it reaches its Sell By date? and he told me We put a sticker on it with a new date. Apparently there’s a European rule that says you have to have a Sell By date on everything including cacti.”

“And black trousers,” said the thin English woman.

“You can get them cheaper if they’re a year behind,” said the fat Irish woman.

“Yes,” agreed the thin English woman.

At this point, I had to get off the train, both because it was my station and to save the few remnants of my sanity.

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The British comedian who battled anorexia and was sectioned under the Mental Health Act – and what God said

(A version of this piece was also published on the Indian news site WSN)

Juliette Burton in London yesterday

Juliette Burton in London yesterday

“Someone recently told me,” I said to comedian/actress Juliette Burton yesterday, “about a 26-year-old female comedian who was turned down by two major agents because she was too old. They wanted younger, inexperienced comedians who could be moulded by them. My reaction was: What does an 18 year-old know about except homework and things they’ve read in books?

“Most comedians I’ve met,” agreed Juliette, “need to have experienced the extremities of the experiences of life to have a slightly different take on things. I think anyone who’s been through some darkness in their lives… the only way you can come out the other side is to find comedy in some way. You have to have darkness to appreciate the light.

“For me, at the really dark times in my life, I discovered Monty Python and other things like The Muppets and Richard Curtis’ The Vicar of Dibley.”

On Saturday, I saw a preview of Juliette’s happy, life-enhancing Edinburgh Fringe show When I Grow Up in Stowmarket, Suffolk. Tonight, she performs the first of three previews at the Brighton Fringe.

Yesterday, I chatted to her as she passed through London on her way to Brighton.

“So you were sectioned under the Mental Health Act,” I said.

“Yes,” said Juliette. “I’d been in and out of clinics most of my teenage years. The first time I was sent to a clinic, I went in voluntarily… but, when I say voluntarily, it was because my parents wanted me to and I was very young. I was fifteen – my GCSE year. And then the next time I went into a clinic I was sectioned under the Mental Health Act, which was involuntary. They turned up in an ambulance and took me away.”

“I went into a mental home when I had just newly turned eighteen,” I told Juliette. “They seemed to think it was a bad idea that I had tried to commit suicide. So going into a mental home was suggested as a good idea. I had taken an overdose, which was a silly idea because I had always been very bad at chemistry in school… What did they say was wrong with you?”

“They said I was a month away from dying,” Juliette told me. “It was anorexia… To be sectioned, you have to have five people who agree you are ‘a danger unto yourself or others’. And I was a danger unto myself.”

“I’ve seen your show,” I said. “You’re a danger unto others.”

“In a positive way,” Juliette laughed, “ I hope I’m dangerously fun now!… But my mother had to agree to me being sectioned. Definitely my doctor and then some other medical people and people close to me. Then, after a couple of weeks in that clinic, I had a psychotic episode.”

“What’s a psychotic episode?” I asked.

“I’m sure you know,” said Juliette. “but it’s kind of similar to schizophrenia and it can vary for different people. For me, it wasn’t brought about by drugs or induced in any other way, it was just down to the mental and physical stress that my body was under.

“I personally feel that I was so underweight and the stress of going into hospital and losing all control over my life and the stress of that… basically my mind decided to give up and I went off into various different experiences mentally, so I wasn’t really aware I was in the place I was in.”

“You were hallucinating?” I asked.

“It was… Yes…” said Juliette. “It’s really tricky, because the people I’ve met who have had similar experiences… It’s so… It’s difficult because obviously your body is present in that room in the hospital, but mentally you are elsewhere. It’s a bit philosophical, but who’s to say what’s actually going on? I had experiences of seeing things that weren’t there.”

“Such as?” I asked.

“Such as I saw God,” said Juliette. “And the Devil. And I saw angels.”

“What did God look like?” I asked.

Juliette was surrounded by white light

Juliette: a bright white light from God surrounded her

“I say I saw God because language is really limited,” explained Juliette. “Mentally, the way I processed it was I saw God. What I actually experienced was an intensely bright white light enveloping me, 360 degrees around me, and an overwhelming feeling of being unconditionally loved, like I’d been searching for all my life. Being completely safe and completely held. And I was aware of a figure but not aware of a face or anything distinct.

“I’m not saying this actually happened. It could be medically explained with chemicals. But my experience was that I remember asking God what the meaning of life was. And I remember being very disappointed with his answer, because I was expecting something deep and meaningful… I only got two words back – BE NICE – but, then, I think that is what all the major religions boil down to. And it’s the best moral code to live by.”

“I remember,” I said, “in the 1960s or 1970s someone took an LSD trip and saw God and realised what the meaning of life was, but he couldn’t remember what it was when he came down from his trip. So he decided next time he’d have a notepad and pen near him. He took another trip, saw God and again realised the meaning of life and wrote it down. When he came down again, he looked at the notepad and he had written: The smell of methylated spirits permeates the air…. What was the Devil like?”

“That appeared to me in shadows,” said Juliette. “I was aware I was in the room I was actually in but, in the shadows, there was some menacing form that was coming to get me… There was a time during that psychotic episode when I felt I was God. I thought I was in charge of the world. There was also a time when I thought that everyone in the hospital was talking about me, so that was more paranoia than anything.”

“Sounds more like what most performers hope for at the Edinburgh Fringe,” I said.

“I was hearing voices,” continued Juliette, “telling me what to do. And that was also part of the psychosis. It only lasted three weeks, but I had an amazing adventure…”

“Definitely like the Edinburgh Fringe,” I said.

“I thought I was time travelling,” said Juliette. “I went back to the Victorian age, I was a little girl and I was aware of a father not being there and I was crying. Then I was in another time when women ruled the world. I could see very bright flowers and it was lush and green and I was a High Priestess and I remember lots of people turning to me for advice, which was lovely. Then another part of it was when I saw aliens, which was exciting.”

“And they looked like…?” I asked.

“Again, it’s the limitations of language,” said Juliette. “I saw blackness and there was a red laser and it was trying to communicate with me and I understood that to mean that an alien communicated with me. But all of that sounds completely mad and it was over ten years ago…”

“When I was in the mental home,” I said, “they gave me happy drugs. Did they drug you every night?”

“Every day when they could get me to take them.”

“Did they not force you?” I asked.

“I think they must have had to sometimes. But I wasn’t fully aware of what was happening.”

“They gave me drugs,” I said. “The drugs made me feel happy without wanting to be happy.”

“I was put on Prozac when I was sixteen,” said Juliette. “It was really too heavy for me. I felt like a zombie. Yes, you don’t have any major lows; but you also don’t have any highs whatsoever. So what’s the point of being alive if that’s all there is?

“Lots of the anti-anxiety medication that I’ve been given over the years I’ve found actually made me more anxious. The drugs I had at the time I was having the psychosis I think did bring me back down to earth but there were a few weeks where, although I knew who I was and where I was, the paranoia was still strong.

“I remember once being out in Marks & Spencer’s in Chelmsford and I suddenly had an attack where it was like picking up on frequencies and thinking everything everyone was saying was about me and about what I was doing and they were judging me.”

“The Edinburgh Fringe again,” I said.

VanillaSky_poster_Wikipedia

Never watch if having a psychotic attack

“Never watch the movie Vanilla Sky if you are in the middle of a psychotic episode,” advised Juliette, “On one of my weekends out of the clinic when I was past the worst of it but not quite fully grounded, I was allowed back to my parents and we watched Vanilla Sky, which really screwed me up and set me two steps back.”

“Chinese medicine,” I said, “tries to cure the cause, whereas Western medicine tries to hide the symptoms, like papering over the top of the cracks but not filling them in. Giving people drugs just papers over the cracks, doesn’t it? So have you just papered over the cracks?”

“I’m not on any medication at the moment,” said Juliette. “I think the NHS has improved a lot but, for me, the answer is almost never medication. You have to deal with the root cause which, for me, is anxiety and being able to accept the things I can’t change.

“When I was fifteen, I was under-eating, at seventeen, I was very under-eating. At nineteen, something changed. Within three months of my 19th birthday, I doubled my body weight and, within six months, I’d gone from a size 4 to a size 20.”

“What are you now?” I asked.

“I’m a size 8 so, if anyone would like to send me any dresses, particularly any French Connection dresses…

“Back then, it went from food being, in my mind, something I wasn’t allowed to touch to being something I over-indulged in. And that was all about control. Anorexia for me was about trying to retain control. And the compulsive over-eating was about me trying to avoid taking responsibility for life by losing control.”

“How old were you when you were sectioned?” I asked.

“I was seventeen. I spent my eighteenth birthday in the clinic.”

“And with you, why was your anxiety all about eating disorders?” I asked.

“Food is one of the few things in your life,” explained Juliette, “that you can have total autonomy over. For a long time, I used food as a solution – because, if you focus on the details of life, then you avoid the bigger picture. For me, at that time, I wasn’t ready to deal with the bigger picture. Over-eating and under-eating are just flip sides of the same coin. Different symptoms of the same core problem. All the psychological problems I’ve had have stemmed from anxiety.”

“And yet your show When I Grow Up” I said. “is jolly and enthusiastic and life-celebrating.”

Juliette Burton: happy and positive

Juliette Burton: happy & positive show

“Well,” said Juliette, “I hope it’s a positive, fun, uplifting show about me trying to be all the things I wanted to be when I was a child. So, in the last year, I’ve gone off and tried to be all the things I wanted to be when I was a kid – ballerina, baker, princess, pop star, artist, farmer and Muppet.

“I would really love people to see the show and feel positive. A lot of the stuff I’ve just spoken to you about is really dark and I have spent a long time turning into who I am now, but who I am now is somebody who desperately wants to make other people feel happy and connected and not alone. The only way I feel I can do that is though comedy and storytelling and taking people on a little escapist journey and come out the other side feeling Wow! I feel better about life.

“And people will go out with a smile on their face,” I said.

“Did you go out with a smile on your face, John?” asked Juliette.

“I did.”

“Awesome,” said Juliette.

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Filed under Comedy, Drugs, Food, Health, Mental health, Mental illness, Psychology

Michael Palin in the rainforest + steaks rubbed round toilet rims in Hampstead

Last night I dreamt that I was in some sort of Eagle Has Landed / Went The Day Well? scenario in which my village (I have never lived in a village) was being taken over by infiltrators, except the infiltrators really were the villagers themselves and I and others were trying to get out before the violence started. Surely some psychological theory to be had there.

A photograph not taken by a forest tribe

I had that dream before I saw Michael Palin at the Oldie magazine’s Soho Literary Festival yesterday. He was plugging his upcoming travel book Brazil, which is published in a couple of weeks.

“My father lived through two World Wars and one of the greatest Depressions the world has ever seen,” said Michael Palin, “and how they came out of that – how they psychologically dealt with it – is amazing.

“We have had a very cushy time with lots of choices, lots of stimulating chances, just in travel. No-one in the 1950s… Certainly when my father was around, you didn’t travel except on company business. The idea that you can travel recreationally, that you can now go almost anywhere in the world for a relatively small amount of money… that is all new.”

When Michael Palin arrived at one remote Amazonian community, already in the village were one American anthropologist, one Brazilian film crew and one American photo-journalist.

“This was a remote part of the southern Amazon Basin,” he explained. “The extraordinary thing was that this tribe who, fifty or sixty years ago, had barely made contact with the rest of the world, had seen so many photographers come through that the one thing they wanted was to become photographers themselves.

“These people were still dressed in primitive rainforest garb, wearing skirts, all painted with their basin haircut and hennaed hair, but they all had quite sophisticated cameras. This remote tribe was filming us.

“To me, the big story of this place was how people can change – Two thousand years or whatever of civilization, the Enlightenment, all the various steps we’ve taken to get to the ‘sophisticated’ world we have now – and they just jumped straight from face paint and catching frogs to computers. And they understood them perfectly well and they were actually quite truculent if you gave them a rather second rate edit app – Some people give us this the other day! – These guys were waiting for the new iPhone 5.”

Steaks on toilet rims in Hampstead

In another session at yesterday’s Soho Literary Festival, The Times’ food critic and humourist Giles Coren was plugging his new book How To Eat Out.

He used to be a waiter at a restaurant in Hampstead and was asked about a section of the book in which he says the steaks were wiped on the floor.

“It is rumoured,” Giles said, “that people you don’t like… Well, it’s since George Orwell in Down and Out in Paris and London claimed to have spat in everybody’s soup, but you only need to read six pages of Orwell to know he’s the kind of fellow who would do that.”

And wiping the steaks on the floor in Hampstead?

“It was actually on the toilet and the lawyers wouldn’t let me say that,” said Giles. “The guy was called The Captain, named after Captain Sensible; he was a Russian punk. This was in the late 1980s and he just didn’t like what he called capitalist shitbags. He came over basically (joked Giles) just to wipe steaks round the rim of the toilet bowl and serve them to some really quite nice people in Hampstead.”

What this says about the relative values of Amazonian tribesmen and Westerners, I dare not even begin to imagine.

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Could spaghetti-juggling have a future?

There are going to be two spaghetti-juggling events held as part of Malcolm Hardee Week at the Edinburgh Fringe in August and, last week, Alan from Johnstone got in touch with Tom Morton’s afternoon show on BBC Radio Scotland to say “Many years ago I discovered a unique talent while seated at the kitchen dining table…”

Yup.

It was spaghetti-juggling.

So the momentum is building, something that is always useful in the art – or possibly it is the science – of spaghetti-juggling

The two Malcolm Hardee Spaghetti-Juggling Contests on 24th/25th August also now have a sponsor. The far-sighted Blue Moon cafe/bar in trendy Broughton Street, Edinburgh, has offered to supply spaghetti for the event.

Juggler Mat Ricardo’s enterprising chum Julie-ann Laidlaw also suggested to me the bright idea (which I will, of course, pretend was mine) that, in the spirit of turning food wastage into art, I should donate the remnants of the contest to someone who can craft a piece of sculpture out of the mess left behind.

I did contact Edinburgh College of Art about this but, apparently, they feel spaghetti-juggling is a wee bit beneath them.

So I am now open to offers – an e-mail to john@thejohnfleming will get me – food sculpting with the late Malcolm Hardee freely providing the pasta-based raw materials – remnants of 45 minutes of spaghetti-juggling on 24th/25th August at the Edinburgh Fringe.

If Tracey Emin can make her name with an unmade bed and Damien Hirst can become a millionaire on the back of a shark in formaldehyde, then spaghetti-sculpting could be the next big trend in Art.

Quite what we would do with the resultant piece of high art I don’t know, but my tendency would be to try to auction it off in aid of Scots critic and polymath Kate Copstick’s Mama Bashiara charity which is already set to receive any profits from the delights that are Malcolm Hardee Week.

The two debates, the two spaghetti-juggling contests and the two-hour variety show are being staged in Edinburgh as part of  the too-too wonderful Free Festival, so there’s no charge for participants or punters but, if they like what they see, an appreciative audience can bung money – coins or preferably notes – into a bucket.

So long as one does not lose one’s dignity.

I think that’s so important.

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I have seen some unexpected acts in my life but I had never seen what I saw last night… I am still shocked.

This morning, I used the Listen Again button on the BBC’s website to hear Boothby Graffoe being interviewed on yesterday’s Radio 2 Arts Show with Claudia Winkleman (it’s 18 minutes in, but is only available online in the UK if you are reading this within seven days of me writing it).

He was on the Radio 2 show to plug his new music album Songs For Dogs, Funerals (the comma really is there – don’t ask) and his UK comedy tour, which starts next Tuesday.

I knew he was the only comedian named after the small Lincolnshire village of Boothby Graffoe but, until he mentioned it on the show, I hadn’t realised this meant he was also named after the second largest site in Europe for testing genetically-modified food. Now there’s a thing.

I listened to the Radio 2 show this morning because I bumped into Boothby last night when I went to Vivienne & Martin Soan’s always extraordinary monthly comedy club Pull The Other One in Nunhead, South London. You know a comedy gig is good when other comedians go to see it even when they’re not on the bill and Boothby just went along to see Pull The Other One before he went back home to Leicestershire.

If I were using glib phrases – which, of course, I wouldn’t dream of writing – I might say it turned into an evening of unexpected revelations.

After the show, I was chatting to Martin Soan and, despite the fact I’ve probably known him since around 1990, I never knew he wrote several sketches for Spitting Image at the height of their TV success.

It was no surprise, of course, that, during the actual Pull The Other One show itself, Bob Slayer enticed a woman from the audience onto the stage and ended carrying her off over his shoulder.

What was unexpected was the climax of Mat Ricardo’s act. He is billed as a juggler, but is more than that and he introduced the final highly-visual thing he did as “impossible”… as indeed it is, but he still did it.

After Mat’s act, there was an interval and one of the other acts – smiling broadly – just looked at me and said: “Jesus!”

Another said to me: “Jesus! I have never seen that done before.”

The Lord was being invoked quite a lot after what we saw. I was and remain so shocked by what he did that I am going to pay to go to see his full live show Three Balls and a Good Suit next week in the hope he does it again.

What he did involves a table and a tablecloth and – no – it is not at all what you think.

There is seldom anything new under the sun – but I have never heard of anyone else doing what I saw and I have certainly never seen it before.

I can’t believe I did see it.

And I have seen a lot of acts.

Jesus!

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