Tag Archives: Fred Finn

A spectacular Lions party in Kiev with sword fights and Red Hot Chilli Pipers

(This piece was also published on the Indian news site WSN)

Honestly! I had to have breakfast in Kiev to hear about the current protection rackets of Glasgow gangsters and Glasgow Council officers. Other people’s lives!

Stuart McKenzie - master of spectacular events in the Ukraine

Stuart McKenzie – master of highly spectacular events in the Ukraine

But, really, I was in Kiev to attend the annual Burns Night celebration which, it seems, is never held anywhere near Burns Night in the calendar.

The only thing I can say about it is that Stuart McKenzie (stepson of the late Scots comedian Jimmy Logan) sure knows how to throw a charity party. I was at last year’s celebration, which was wonderful, but this year he has outdone himself.

Iconic Scots TV presenter Dougie Donnelly flew over to present 11 acts, 55 entertainers, multi-lingual addresses to the Haggis and genuine sword-fighting.

The Lions Club in Kiev is the biggest in Eastern Europe and, judging from last night, no wonder they manage to raise around $300,000 every year for charity, with this annual event contributing mightily.

The Red Hot Chilli Pipers playing in Kiev last night

Red Hot Chilli Pipers left Kiev reeling & rocking last night

Classical music, bagpiping, the aforementioned swordfighting by The Clann, Dutch singer Mark Enthoven and the extraordinary Red Hot Chilli Pipers.

Plus 38 ‘silent’ auctions in which people bid for everything from a $500 Muhammed Ali autograph to a $3,000 two-day training prize for up to 15 people… plus ten ‘live’ auctions which started with an $11,000 bid and ended with the auction of a $23,000 holiday-for-two in the Seychelles (all money going to charity).

The various holiday auction prizes included two separate Seychelles holidays, two Kenyan holidays and a $7,000 London holiday all put together by Fred Finn, the Guinness Book of Records’ title holder as ‘most travelled person’.

Zap, the magician, mystifying a glamorous guest last night

Zap, the magician, mystifying a glamorous guest last night

Fred had also arranged for the magician Zap to perform table magic during the show. I am ashamed to say I had never seen Zap before but, as a close-up magician, he is flawless. One trick involves taking a low-value note given to him by a punter and changing it into a high-value note ‘before your very eyes’.

Fred told me: “I took Zap to Kenya where he changed low bills into high ones and some of the guys there got a bit rough and took him outside to make him do it for all their money. And then there was the occasion with the UK celebrity where he turned £5 into £50 and the celebrity just walked off with the £50…”

Andrei Trilev got into the Chilli Piping spirit of last night’s event

Profile of publisher Andrei Trilev air guitaring

The six hour long but astonishingly fast-moving Burns Night event yesterday evening was quite something.

I was on an interesting table with, among others, Andrei Trilev, founder of the ultra-glossy Profiles magazine. He is a man unafraid to join in the fun.

And let’s not even mention the Scots croft in the foyer, the Scots castle set on stage or the live sheep.

Not surprisingly, Stuart McKenzie co-owns Ukrainian events company Pulse.

He has been in Kiev since 1994 and his company interests now include entertainment, events, logistics, marketing, property, research and training and his attitude is far from that of the cliché dour Scot.

His view is:

“The best marketers are in the game early and are always on the lookout for the next selling opportunity, the latest trend, the next unmet need. It’s enough to keep you awake at night – but from excitement, rather than from fear.

Some of The Clann members fighting during last night’s show

Some of The Clann members fighting during last night’s show

“My crystal ball has been in the repair shop for a long time. I have absolutely no inkling of what the future holds. Don’t ask me what the trends will be in 2015. I do not have a clue. I can say this, though, with absolute certainty: the future will be glorious for the optimists; the creative marketers who will set the trends and stand to profit from the opportunities that they represent!”

It was announced that, after 18 years of being involved in organising this annual Burns Night celebration in Kiev, it may be Stuart McKenzie’s last. If so, Kiev social life and local charities will be poorer for it.

Leave a comment

Filed under Charity, Entertainment, Marketing, Ukraine

Burns Night in the Ukraine in March

Stuart McKenzie - the Celt is their delight

The last time I flew to Eastern Europe it was to Moscow on Aeroflot in 1985 – they served you caviar to show what a People’s Paradise the Soviet Union was. Mikhail Gorbachev had just succeeded from Yuri Andropov, who died after an unusually and some might think suspiciously short stint in power.

Once you accepted that all Aeroflot staff scowled at all Westerners – partly because of the traditional Russian aversion to smiling at strangers and partly lest the KGB thought they sympathised with the evils of Capitalism – and that the interior decor of the planes appeared to be based on a Lambeth council flat circa 1952 – flying Aeroflot was a fairly relaxing experience.

Yesterday, I was flying to Kiev on the more smiley Ukraine International Airlines to meet up with Fred Finn (the Guinness Book of Records’ most travelled person). He arranged the sponsorship for Gorbachev’s first UK trip after the Soviet Union collapsed, has flown 15 million miles, had 718 flights in Concorde and is now an advisor to the Euro 2012 football championship and a ‘Goodwill Ambassador’ to Ukraine International Airlines, for whom he writes a travel blog.

At his behest, at Gatwick Airport, I bought two bottles of vodka for people in the Ukraine. Yes indeed, as requested, I carried two bottles of vodka from London to Kiev. Over the years, I have come to accept such things as normal.

But I am actually in Kiev to attend a Burns Night Supper tomorrow. Yes, that’s tomorrow – the 31st March – and, yes, I realise Burns Night is/was on 25th January. And, no, I have no idea why the Kiev version is being held tomorrow either.

This Burns Night Supper is organised annually for a local charity by Stuart McKenzie, a highly-successful entrepreneur from Edinburgh.

Last year, apparently, his Burns Night Supper was combined with a St Patrick’s Night party.

It sounds like a great idea and one which I think should be picked up elsewhere. Lateral thinking is always to be encouraged, especially when unexplained.

2 Comments

Filed under Scotland, Travel, Ukraine

Christianity and close-up magic tricks at Parliament… followed by naked radio

Radio magic - Lewis Schaffer (left) & Martin Soan (naked)

I had an interesting, if slightly varied, day yesterday.

It started with lunch at the Houses of Parliament and ended with a naked radio chat show near London Bridge.

I had lunch at the Palace of Westminster with Fred Finn (Guinness Record holder as the world’s most-travelled person and blogger for Ukraine International Airlines), Grenville Burn (personal assistant to former Labour Chief Whip Lord Foster of Bishop Auckland) and a barrister who had better remain nameless lest it sound like advertising.

Grenville Burn is a former colonel in the Salvation Army, comes from a family of Salvation Army officers and the only person I have ever met whose opening gambit to me over lunch was “Are you a Christian?” and, when I said, “No,” responded, “Why?”

He is also an intriguingly enterprising man who is involved in the Executives Association of Great Britain and the Mikado Experience which, he tells me, was involved in creating over £70 million of new business last year. He ‘teaches’ Networking – at universities, to directors, for companies. He has some fascinating psychological and schmoozing insights in how to get on in business, something he told me he partially learned by being a Christian preacher… and he is involved in an organisation called BestForBusiness which, he tells me, is already bigger than the Institute of Directors. He is a sophisticated and persuasive man who – perhaps fortunately for me – has not yet started selling double-glazing.

More interesting to me than all that, though, was that he frustratingly told me a couple of extraordinary and totally unpublishable true stories plucked, as they say, from tabloid headlines… and he is a skilled close-up magician – rope tricks, dice, you name it – as well as being impressively fast on the creation of magic squares from any numbers. In years past, he might have been burnt at the stake as the possessor of unearthly powers.

There is no easy way to link from Christianity and magic tricks performed in the environs of the Houses of Parliament to exposed male genitalia in a radio studio near London Bridge, so I will not even attempt it.

I wrote a blog last week titled How I talked myself out of comedian Lewis Schaffer’s naked radio show.

It seems I was over-optimistic.

Last night, after a meal with comedian Martin Soan, I ended up at Resonance FM for their lengthily-titled weekly radio show The Voice of Americans with Lewis Schaffer of Nunhead – a man who could and should never be confused with Lord Foster of Bishop Auckland.

When we arrived at the studio, Lewis Schaffer told Martin: “You can’t take your clothes off. They won’t allow it. Sorry. Apparently OfCom rules say you can’t do naked radio.”

“Well, I’m going to take off my clothes anyway,” replied Martin, “because that’s what I’m doing here.”

“That’s the only reason I’ve come!” piped up my eternally-un-named female friend.

“Do I look good?” asked Lewis Schaffer, stroking his black suit.

“Fuck it,” said Martin. “Being naked is really what it’s all about, isn’t it?. I’m taking my clothes off.”

“Well I’ll take my clothes off too,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“Keep your socks on,” advised Martin, taking his clothes off. “You are never naked with your socks on, man. You are never naked with your socks on.”

Martin had had a few drinks with us before arriving at the studio.

“I don’t want to take my clothes off in front of the young women,” said Lewis Schaffer. “I’ll take my shirt off.”

“I’ve got no microphone,” said Martin.

“I’m so fat. I’m so fat,” said Lewis Schaffer, taking his shirt off. “Am I too fat? I’m too fat. Who can love a man with a… Let’s see your penis…”

“You can see my penis any time you want,” said Martin.

“It’s a lovely-sized penis,” said Lewis Schaffer with warmth in his voice.

“I think I can retain some kind of calm and I will not freak out for this announcement,” said the Resonance FM girl who had to introduce the show on air. “I will not freak out for this announcement.”

“Have I got a microphone?” asked Martin.

“Would I look good naked?” asked Lewis Schaffer. “Am I too fat? Yes I am. Do you understand what I am saying? I am too fat.”

“It’s pointless being naked if I haven’t got a microphone,” said Martin.

“No-one will like me naked,” said Lewis Schaffer. “I dress up nicely. I wear a dark suit. That’s what I wear. A dark suit. Do I look good for my age?” He started to put his shirt back on. He looked at Martin. “He’s got a lovely-sized penis. Me? I’ve gained a bit of waistline; it’s not a sexy look.”

“You’ve got one minute,” said the Resonance FM girl.

“This is just a normal Monday night for me,” said Martin. “Being naked.”

“Take a picture of his penis,” Lewis Schaffer told me.

“You’re listening,” said the Resonance FM girl, “to Resonance 104.4 FM. That was Luscombe’s Choice. Coming up next, Nunhead American Radio with Lewis Schaffer of Nunhead.”

Then the opening music – God Bless America – swelled up, the show started, I coughed a bit and Martin stayed naked and got passionate about funding cuts for the elderly in Nunead. It will probably turn up as a podcast at some point. What can I say?

Leave a comment

Filed under Business, Comedy, Marketing, Radio, UK

“How to Produce, Perform and Write an Edinburgh Fringe Comedy Show”

How many editions do books come in?

I must have coughed myself awake last night, because I remember I had a dream… I only remember my dreams if I wake up during one.

Yesterday evening, I had a meal at an Italian restaurant owned by Iranians in Esher with Fred Finn, the Guinness record-holder as the world’s most travelled person. He told me that his author father was called Fred Finn too and he came from a line of 17 Fred Finns. He also told me the President of Turkmenistan recently visited the Ukraine.  I went to Turkmenistan in 1995. An interesting place.

Last night, in my dream, comedian Ian Fox told me that he, too, had visited Turkmenistan. That was in my dream. In reality, I do not think Ian Fox has visited Turkmenistan, but he knows a lot about Edinburgh.

I am obsessed with places like Turkmenistan. Comedians are currently starting their annual obsession with the Edinburgh Fringe, because the ‘cheap’ entry deadline for the festival is in two days time.

Ian Fox is more than just a comedian – he is a comedian, author, blogger, professional photographer and even, last year, a successful last-minute, thrown-in-at-the-deep-end sound supervisor for the Malcolm Hardee Awards at the Fringe.

Ian has produced and performed in fourteen Fringe shows over the last nine years –  which is why he can justifiably title his book How to Produce, Perform and Write an Edinburgh Fringe Comedy Show. In our new, more complicated publishing world, it comes as a paperback, in a Kindle edition and as an eBook.

So, I asked him yesterday afternoon, why a book in any form? And why by him?

“In addition to my own shows,” Ian told me, “I always make a point of asking how others people’s show are going and I end up learning stuff from others. The book wasn’t my idea – a couple of people suggested that I should write it. I usually get comics asking me Fringe questions in gigs the rest of the year. Writing it down – all my advice and what I’ve learned myself – seemed like a good idea.”

The things which he himself surprisingly first learnt by going up to the Fringe were “from a business point of view VAT and the surprise of discovering you have to pay it on your ticket money. And, from a personal viewpoint, how different people react to the stress and pressure of doing a show each day for almost four weeks. I’ve seen some super egos appearing from people who’ve started to believe their own press.”

But, I asked him, isn’t the Fringe so full of competition and rip-off venues, so chaotic and such a bottomless money pit that it’s not worth performing there at all?

“Competition is not really a problem,” was his surprising answer, “Rip-off venues are an issue but incompetence is usually a much bigger issue, both in the people managing the venue and the temporary staff doing the day-to-day running of the place. But I personally think things of beauty arise from chaos.”

The alternative, I suggested, is losing less money doing a show as part of the PBH Free Fringe or the Laughing Horse Free Festival.

“Well, some of the free shows are surprisingly lucrative,” Ian says, “and, if you’re sensible with the money you put up-front  then I think you can turn a profit. I reckon there’s advice in my book to save a new performer at least £300.”

But why should people need to buy a book? Isn’t it obvious what to do even if you are going to the Fringe for the first time?

“Some of it is,” says Ian, “But some of it you only learn by doing it. In March, you’re usually too exited or confused by the small print to know what it all means. In October, when you get your final figures, you discover what it all means and wish you’d had a better understanding of how it worked before you invested your money. Plus the official stuff from the Fringe Office, is – How can I explain this? – ‘official’. There is more of a street-wise approach to my way of doing things.”

Also recently published was Mark Fisher’s book The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide: How to Make Your Show A Success (which I blogged about here).

How are the two books different?

“Mark’s a theatre critic, I’m a comedian,” Ian explains. “We both have different experiences of the Fringe. His version probably doesn’t include his flatmates going mental and committing assault with a deadly weapon or fist fights with drama students. My book has my own stories in it, aside from one or two anecdotes I included just because they were funny – so it’s unique to me. It’s got a behind-the-scenes element to it that the people who aren’t performers enjoy reading as well.”

Comedian Ashley Frieze is credited as co-author of Ian’s book.

“He edited it,” explains Ian, “and he was a good sounding board for ideas. Plus he added a couple of sections here and there and reminded me of stuff I’d forgotten. The thing he did most was leave comments in the margins saying: Yeah, you probably should NOT mention that! in the true story sections of the book. I’m at that point now where I’ve pretty much got to work with someone or I just don’t do anything other than watch old films I’ve seen loads of time before.”

Ian’s own show at the Edinburgh Fringe this August is going to be “about photos and stories. Similar to last time… in fact, if I don’t get some writing done soon, it might be really similar to last year’s show.”

And is there another Ian Fox book on the horizon?

“I’m hoping the next one is going to be ‘real’ book,” Ian says. “I have a super secret project I’m shopping around, but if that doesn’t pan out I’ll probably do some more erotic fiction written under the pen name Panther Stevens. Starbucks have started asking for your name when you order a drink… I think people should tell them their name is Anus Sandwich.”

5 Comments

Filed under Books, Comedy, Theatre

Cutting the faggots with the lawyers – but not cutting crime in Greenwich

Yesterday afternoon, ironically, I went to the Royal Courts of Justice in London.

The reason why it was ironic will become evident later.

I was given a private tour of the building and, indeed, taken to the very Gents toilet where future Mensa member Alfred Hinds famously escaped for a second time (he escaped three times) by locking his two guards in the toilet round the corner from the Bear Garden. He was not a prisoner to mess with, as he also successfully managed to sue a Chief Superintendant in the Metropolitan Police’s Flying Squad for libel.

It is a very nice building, the Royal Courts of Justice, with allegedly 3.5 miles of corridors and 1,000 rooms, one of which is painted. I had my tour in the middle of the afternoon yesterday – Friday – and there appeared to be only one case being tried. It was suggested to me that this might have been because all the judges had knocked-off early to get to their country homes for the weekend.

Surely not.

But I was particularly impressed when I heard about the Royal Courts of Justice’s ancient ceremony of “cutting the faggots”. This is part of what is claimed to be the the second oldest ceremony in England (after the Coronation ceremony).

Details on this ceremony seem to be a bit sketchy but, as far as I can understand it, “cutting the faggots” is part of the feudal legal ceremony of “Rendering of The Quit Rents to The Crown”.

At this point we enter the area in which it is a joy to be British.

Apparently, “the paying of Quit Rents by the Corporation of the City of London to the King (or Queen) is an annual ceremony dating back to 1235. It takes place at the Royal Courts of Justice, where the City Solicitor hands to the Queen’s Remembrancer two faggots, six horseshoes and 61 horseshoe nails.”

The six horseshoes and 61 horseshoe nails are around 550 years old and are in payment – as rent – for an ancient forge in Tweezer’s Alley, near the Strand.

According to Wikipedia (and you could not really make this up):

During the ceremony, a black-and-white-chequered cloth is spread out — it is from this that the word “Exchequer” derives. The Solicitor & Comptroller of the City of London presents the horseshoes and nails and counts them out to the Remembrancer who then pronounces “Good number.” Two knives are tested by the Queen’s Remembrancer by taking a hazel stick, one cubit in length, and bending it over a blunt knife and leaving a mark. Then the stick is split in two with a sharp knife. After the two knives are tested the Remembrancer pronounces “Good service.”

I am a bit confused about the centrality of faggots in this ceremony.

According to another source, the City Solicitor cuts faggots with a hatchet, and – it would seem on a regular basis – “some of the spectators are amused, while others seem to find it distasteful.”

Someone told me yesterday that, apparently, the rough cost of an average hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice is £5,000 per hour.

Anyway, to explain the irony, last night, I had been in Greenwich the night before and parked my car behind the Up The Creek comedy club in a road 30 seconds walk from the centre of prim Greenwich which the famously uncaring local council has allowed to get run-down because, it appears, the councillors tend to live in flash roads and this road has only a block of council flats down one side.

Yesterday’s irony is that I was looking round the Royal Courts of Justice in the afternoon and then, in the evening, my car got broken into in Greenwich (again).

It was broken into in that exact same road behind Up The Creek in December 2010. I blogged about it.

On that occasion, nothing was stolen. On this occasion, the car was parked under a streetlight with a StopLok on the steering wheel and was double-locked, which means that, if you smash the window, you cannot open the doors from the inside – the doors are double-locked.

What they did was to smash the window (the Autoglass repair man explained to me exactly how it was done, but I am not repeating it). Then someone climbed into the car through the window, looked in the glove compartment and in the central armrest and lowered the back seat to get access to the boot from inside the car. And then climbed out the window again. The car was overlooked by two buildings.

I had, alas and unusually, left a SatNav and CDs in the lower part of the two-level arm rest (it is not obvious there is a lower level). They nicked the SatNav but left my CDs. This is only the latest in a long line of people insulting my taste in music.

It was -2C when I found the car window smashed at 10.35pm. By the time I got home after a 90-minute drive with no passenger window, it was -6C.

Things could be worse, though.

When I got home and switched on my TV, the BBC was reporting 200 deaths from cold across Europe and 100 of those deaths were in the Ukraine where temperatures were -40C.

This morning, ‘the world’s most travelled person’, Fred Finn, who lives in the Ukraine, told me in an e-mail: “I should be home by 8.00pm tonight but, given weather conditions today, anything is possible. The weather hasn’t been like this for 90 years they say.”

Back in Britain, the police in Greenwich told me mine was one of three cars broken into in that street behind Up The Creek last night. To me, that feels more important than the temperature in the Ukraine.

But around 100 people are dead in the Ukraine from the cold; around 200 in Europe; and over 200 were killed yesterday in the Syrian city of Homs by the Syrian armed forces.

Egocentricity is not really an admirable character trait.

I must remember.

Leave a comment

Filed under Crime, Eccentrics, Legal system, Travel, Ukraine

Kim Jong-Il dies and the world’s most travelled man does not believe in jet lag

(A version of this blog was published by the Huffington Post)

Kim Jong-il, the Dear Leader of North Korea died two days ago; it was only announced today.

I went to North Korea in 1986, when his father Kim Il-sung, the Great Leader was still in power.

Now his youngest son Kim Jong-un has been announced as the Great Successor.

There is no way I am writing about North Korea today except to say it is the most interesting country I have ever been to.

However, I will admit I was pleased-as-punch last week to meet Fred Finn, who is officially the world’s most travelled person. He has been in the Guinness Book of Records since 1983 and has now flown 15 million miles – the equivalent of 31 trips to the moon. He made 718 trips on Concorde and always sat in the same seat – 9a – because, he told me last week, “It was the first row to be served from the back galley, so I got served first and, before I got on, the crew used to put a little kettle under my seat with Dom Pérignon in it. They used to change it three times during the flight, so I got a bottle-and-a-half of DP for my lunch on the way to New York.”

Fred has visited 139 different countries but not – and it made me feel good to hear this – North Korea.

“I don’t really want to go there,” he says.

And why should he?

“I’ve been held hostage in Iran during the Revolution,” he told me, “I’ve had bombs on board and I’ve landed without the wheels down.”

I met Fred in Esher one morning last week, although his current home is actually in the Ukranian city of Komsomolsk.

It was very cold in Esher last week, so Fred persuaded a local pub which was closed to open just for us so we could have a seat. He is very persuasive. (We did not drink until the pub officially opened and, then, we only had a cup of tea.)

In his youth, Fred was a professional cricketer. Later, he advised Richard Branson on the start-up of Virgin Atlantic. He also helped arrange Mikhail Gorbachev’s lecture tour of the UK, Sarah Feruson’s charity trips to Kenya and was a friend of country singer Johnny Cash. Any man who can tell first-hand anecdotes about Adnan Khashoggi is someone I will always happily have tea with in a pub in Esher.

Fred is currently a roving ambassador for the Euro 2012 football tournament and for Ukranian International Airlines.

Indeed, Ukraine Airlines are soon to start an online magazine called Fred Finn Destinations.

But the strange thing is, with 15 million flying miles under his belt, Fred does not believe in jet lag.

“I don’t believe in it at all,” he told me. “You never got jet lag on Concorde and you went through five time zones.

“I believe that, if you sit in a flying aluminium tube for over five hours, you get dehydrated, your eyes get dry and your skin gets dry and you get tired because of this. I’ve found that, if you keep water – a little spring water spray – on your eyes and face, you don’t get jet lag.”

“But it’s not jet lag,” I said. “Really, it should be called time-zone lag.”

“Well, it’s a ‘tired’ lag,” said Fred. “But I don’t get it. When I get on a plane, I set my watch to the time zone I’m going to and I eat accordingly.

“When I get off the plane, I stay up until the local going-to-bed time and then I sleep well and I get up in the morning like nothing happened. I know that works for me, because I was doing it every week for Christ knows how many years.”

“But,” I said, “if you fly from London to Beijing, your body clock is all out of kilter.”

“But is it?” he asked. “I didn’t get that.

“You should also take into account, if you’re flying to China, how long your day has been. You are putting in a day and a half on a long-haul flight but, if you keep yourself moisturised and live in the time zone you are going to…

“Some people get on a flight from London to New York in the morning and they eat breakfast. I won’t take breakfast leaving London because it is lunchtime in New York – so I eat as if it were lunchtime. By the time I get to New York, I’ve already lived in that time zone for six or eight hours – the flight is around six hours in one direction and eight in the other because of the jet stream – it changes in March and November.”

“There’s so much hype about so-called jet lag and about deep-vein thrombosis on long haul flights

“I wrote an article 25 years ago called Aerial Isometrics.

“It’s about how to sit in your seat and do exercises without anybody seeing you. Just by clenching the muscles in your leg. And that stops the problem. People said there was no such thing. Then they started selling socks to stop it and there was a big deal about it.”

I am not sure about jet lag, but who am I to argue with the world’s most travelled person? I do know I was once on a long-haul flight where I got three breakfasts because it was breakfast time in each time zone when we were due to have a meal. That really confused my body.

I suspect it was cheaper for the airline than serving lunches or dinners.

We live in an uncertain world.

But I do know for certain that the ice cream in North Korea was very good.

Though I would – of course – expect nothing less in a People’s Paradise.

Leave a comment

Filed under Health, Travel