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Who sees comic Lewis Schaffer’s shows repeatedly? Well, one is a green woman.

Blanche Cameron with Lewis Schaffer last week

Blanche Cameron and Lewis Schaffer this week

“I would definitely say I’m green,” Blanche Cameron told me.

“Like the Incredible Hulk?” I asked.

“Yes,” she replied, “and, on dark nights or under stress, I do get very cross about things.”

My blog yesterday was about the endlessly fascinating – because arguably neurotic – London-based American comedian Lewis Schaffer. But his audience is almost as interesting and varied as his shows are – and he has an unusually large percentage of people repeatedly coming back to see his Free Until Famous show which has been running at least twice weekly since 2009.

Blanche is a recent convert.

“Why bother to come back?” I asked her this week.

“Well,” she explained, “because, very often with stand-up, a lot of people have got a very structured set-up for themselves. It can be so constricting watching it sometimes. You just feel like it’s a tour guide taking you through a bunch of jokes. But, with Lewis, you’re on a cliff-edge the whole time and it could go horribly wrong. He develops a close relationship with each audience. The show is always different. But he also chooses material on the edge of what might be deemed acceptable and provokes a strong response. I love that because feelings, vulnerability, are still a big taboo. Lewis is happy to embrace discomfort and vulnerability and see what happens.”

“But you don’t want to perform yourself?” I asked.

“Oh no, no, no, no, no…” she said.

“So,” I asked, “when you were 14 in school did you just sit there thinking I want to be green?”

The National Theatre - not my favourite London building

The National Theatre – It is not my favourite London building

“No,” replied Blanche, “I thought I want to do theatre. I worked at the National Theatre for a while as a set painter. When I was growing up, I had done a lot of amateur dramatics, but I always wanted to do backstage stuff: set making and set painting. I worked at the Hexagon Theatre in Reading as a ‘follow spot’ (a spotlight operator). I once shone a light on Harry Enfield.

“The first time I did it, when I was about 17, they put me on something not too complicated to try me out. There was a waltz troupe from Austria. I had headphones on and they said they were going left – meaning stage left but my right – so I went the wrong way with the spotlight and the pair doing their waltz fell over in the darkness and I had to try to find them again with the light. They were very pissed-off afterwards.

Bosco Verticale (Vertical Forest) in Milan under construction. It will host 900 trees. Designed by Boeri Studio.

Bosco Verticale (Vertical Forest) under construction in Milan. It will host 900 trees. Designed (and photo by) Boeri Studio

“Then I did a workshop with Forkbeard Fantasy in the 1980s and they told me If you want to get involved in community architecture, you want to talk to Jim Monaghan. He set up the Covent Garden Community Association in the 1970s, so I ended up working there for a year and a half running it aged 18 because, when I turned up, the two women running it went Great! and went off to have babies.

“I had no idea what I was doing, but it was an open door opportunity. Best experience of my life. We ran a newspaper called the Covent Garden Independent News which was a bit Private Eye-ish.

“I loved drawing and making stuff so I thought Maybe I’ll do architecture. So I went to the Charles Rennie Mackintosh School in Glasgow. But I’m not cut out to be an architect. It’s actually quite dull. Well, it is for me. The two guys who ran the school were very modernist. They were into Le Corbusier and big concrete white blocks and I was all greeny and had spent my childhood going out birdwatching. I struggle because I’m not an aesthetic person and maybe that’s why I’m not an architect.”

“So what do you do?” I asked.

The Gherkin  - 30 St Mary Axe, London

The Gherkin – 30 St Mary Axe

“I don’t do anything,” said Blanche. “I’m not an architect, a developer or a planner or anything myself, but I’m involved in green architecture. I advocate for ecological adaptation, I teach environmental design at the Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London, the Centre for Alternative Technology in Machynlleth and a couple of other universities, but I am NOT an architect. I don’t care too much about aesthetics. I do to an extent. I think the Gherkin is a very elegant building; it’s like a Fabergé egg. I’m not an architect, but I’m interested in what buildings do.

“The cities we have built are not fit for purpose. There’s lots of beautiful things about them, but they over-heat, they pollute, they can’t manage storm water. If you get a downpour in the summer, the streets flood. Victoria station closes several times a year because really heavy rain can’t be managed by the Underground system.

“I would like to see us working more with Nature rather than fighting against it. We’ve had this idea that cities are separate from the countryside and we’ve separated them from the benefits we can get from Nature, which could reduce costs, cool a city and make it livable. Last summer, in the heatwave, hospital wards were being evacuated – the top two floors – because of over-heating. That costs a Health Trust millions of pounds.”

“Why do they over-heat?” I asked.

“Because it’s a hot day and their insulation and air conditioning can’t cope with it. But, if you put a green roof on that with a decent depth of substrate…”

“You mean grass?”

“No. People often think it’s grass or a horticultural thing, but what you want is bio-diversity. A low maintenance roof. Something that’s mimicking nature like a chalk grassland, like a wild hillside. You don’t have to go out and compost and maintain it. Not a rocky, bare landscape, but lots of plants and invertebrates on it.”

“What happens when it rains?”

Transport for London's biodiverse green roof on its HQ in Victoria. Designed by Dusty Gedge of GRC (Photo by GRC) 

Transport for London’s biodiverse green roof on its HQ in Victoria. Designed by Dusty Gedge of Green Roof Consultancy

“It absorbs moisture and, when it rains, it re-evaporates 40% of the rain so you’re reducing what goes into the sewer system by almost half and you’re alleviating the burden on the drains. And then you get the cooling effect. It’s cooling the neighbourhood because it’s evaporating. It’s cooling the building. And it can help filter the air, make it less polluted. A green roof does the job and it’s invisible. It’s a multi-functional intelligent solution to a lot of problems.”

“What about people having to mow the grass on the roofs?” I asked.

“You don’t have to. What you want is bio-diversity where the plants manage their own community.”

“I have read Day of The Triffids,” I said. “They might plot against us.”

“There’s no grass,” said Blanche. “If it’s well designed, you shouldn’t have to maintain it more than a couple of times a year: just go up there and see how it’s doing. Water is going to be the issue of the 21st century.”

“Not in Scotland,” I said.

“Nor in Wales,” agreed Blanche. “I’ve worked at the Centre for Alternative Technology in Machynlleth. But, if you look where the wall built by the Israelis between Israel and Palestine actually goes, it follows underground aquifers. It has nothing to do with religion or even territory. That wall is there to protect the water on the Israeli side of the wall, because Israel imports tens of thousands of gallons of water from Turkey every day. Water is going to be a major issue. Water is life.”

“In the 1950s, vegetarians were thought of as loonies,” I said. “but now it’s acceptable. In the 1960s, Chinese medicine was thought of as loony, but now it’s becoming acceptable. Is green architecture still thought of as loony?”

“Not so much,” said Blanche. “One of the problems with the environment movement has been – though it’s less so now – that the Greenies thought We have the Holy Grail. Everyone should come to us. We know the solutions. But, unless you are a vegan living in a cave up a hill, you also participate in the same mainstream society as everybody else. You’re just kidding yourself if you think you’re not.

“I work a lot with two guys – Dusty Gedge who wrote the London policy plan for sustainables and Gary Grant who’s an ecologist who designed the bio-diversity action plan for the 2012 Olympics. They’re doing the green roof on the Tate Modern extension and advising on the green roof for the South Bank re-construction. It is now in the Greater London Authority’s documents that the Mayor expects to see green roofs and walls integrated into buildings and developments wherever possible. Things are changing.”

And how is this relevant to Lewis Schaffer you, my dear reader, might ask?

It isn’t.

Did I say it was?

I worry more about the invertebrates on the roof and the potential plots of the Triffids.

There is a 50 second time-lapse video on Vimeo of greenery being built into the wall of the Rubens Hotel in Victoria, London. (Designed by Gary Grant of the Green Roof Consultancy.)

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Origin of the word ‘Wally’ + red-faced Malcolm Hardee and ladies’ underwear

Martin Soan and my eternally-un-named friend last night

Comedian Martin Soan, my eternally un-named friend and I went to a Creative England event at Elstree Film Studios last night, where studio boss Roger Morris gave what I think is the most upbeat assessment of the future of the British film industry that I have heard in thirty years.

When the three of us got back to my home, Martin said:

“Jesus was at Weeley.”

He had read my blog a few days ago about the word ‘Wally’ and how it had supposedly come into the language either via the 1971 Weeley Music Festival or the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival.

“I was there at Weeley in 1971,” Martin told us, “and people did shout out Wally!. But, really, anyone from East London was shouting out Dick-eyed Wal – Dick-eyed Wal. There was this chant Dick-eyed Wal – Dick-eyed Wal.

“Why Dick-eyed Wal?” I asked.

“Well,” explained Martin, “Dick-eyed Wal is East End terminology for saying you’re a fucking idiot.”

Martin was born in Stratford in London’s East End. He explained:

“We used to call – and, to this day, they still do call – pickled gherkins Wallies.”

“So it did not start in the 1970s?” I asked.

“No,” said Martin, “it was something I picked up as a kid. I remember buying pickled gherkins as a kid and calling them Wallies. I don’t know where it came from, but Dick-eyed Wal was the same as a Wally and was basically a prick. We used to call pickled gherkins Wallies and they’re sort-of penis-like and we used to call people Wallies back then because you associated them with penis-shaped gherkins and Dick-eyed Wals.”

“Why were they shouting out Dick-eyed Wal at Weeley?” I asked.

“They were saying Where’s Wally? on the PA system and we were shouting out Dick-eyed Wal – Dick-eyed Wal like What a wanker! What a wanker! I remember it distinctly because I was with a couple of East Londoners and they started it. And the other thing I remember is Jesus.”

“Jesus?” I asked.

“He used to be at very early music festivals,” said Martin, “with a pageboy blond haircut which, even in those days, was just a bit too much and he wore these long flowing kaftans and did this trippy-type trance dancing and he was always down the front. I saw him at various festivals.”

“And was he consciously trying to be Jesus?” I asked.

“I dunno, but everyone nicknamed him Jesus. I heard a story about him years and years later… This guy was celebrated, you know? He went to lots of festivals. And, later on, he had a go at becoming someone in showbiz.

“So he got some B-celebrity folk singer to appear on this show with him at Camden and he billed himself as Jesus.

“The B-celebrity folk singer did his thing and went down OK and then Jesus came on with the introduction: Ladies and gentlemen, here’s Jesus… and just down the road were these gasworks and they exploded. So he walks on the stage and there’s this huge explosion and everyone was evacuated from the building. And that was his only attempt at showbusiness and everyone went away thinking Wow! That’s Jesus, man!

Earlier, at Elstree Film Studios, almost inevitably, the subject of the late Malcolm Hardee had come up. Malcolm used to perform with Martin Soan in The Greatest Show on Legs.

“You wouldn’t have thought Malcolm could ever be embarrassed,” Martin told us. “But he was once.

“He wanted some sexy lingerie for one of his girlfriends so there was this sexy lingerie shop in Lewisham and I said to him, Well, go in and buy some, and he said, No, I can’t do it, I can’t do it.

Why not? I asked him.

I can’t, I can’t, I can’t, he said. So I had to go in there for him. He was too embarrassed to go in.

“The strange thing was I went in and told the assistant I want to buy some sexy women’s underwear and she asked Are you a lorry driver? and I dunno why she said that. She must have just had a lot of lorry drivers coming in asking for women’s underwear. Then she asked me Do you want it in red or black? so I stepped outside into the street and yelled out: Malcolm! Do you want your basque in red or black?

“What did he say?”  my eternally un-named friend asked.

“He just ran off round the corner,” said Martin. “It was so unlike Malcolm. I suppose it was because it was Lewisham and that was where he was brought up, just up the road. Perhaps he was a bit embarrassed because of that.”

“But,” I said, “he never worried about showing off his bollocks to hundreds of people at a time.”

“But it’s like,” Martin replied, “me staying at your house tonight. I’ll get up on stage in front of 300 people and stick my cock in front of a camera and fuck it, but walking naked through your living room with just you and your un-named friend – your eternally un-named friend – it would be embarrassing.”

“I wouldn’t mind,” said my eternally-un-named friend. “I can’t see at night without my glasses and you’ve always had the Scandinavian way, you and Vivienne.”

“Yeah,” said Martin. “In front of our children, but not in front of strangers. Not one-on-one.”

“When I used to visit you,” my eternally-un-named friend said, “people were having baths.”

“Of course,” said Martin. “It’s our house. We can have baths in our own house. But, if I walked through naked in front of John in his living room, I’d feel embarrassed. Walking naked in front of 400 people, no problem. If it was part of a stage show, I’d lay my knob over the top of John’s head like a Mohican.”

“Well…” I said.

“… if there were 400 other people there,” continued Martin. “But coming down into his living room at 9 o’clock in the morning with no-one else there and I lay my knob on his bald head, it would be quite…”

“Let’s not go there,” I interrupted.

“…funny, wouldn’t it?” Martin finished. “But tragic and embarrassing. And no-one wants to see that or have that done to them.”

“Oh,” said my eternally-un-named friend, “I don’t know.”

“With the long winter nights coming on…” I said.

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