Tag Archives: guns

There were these four times I sort of remember with guns pointed at me

Sometimes a question comes out of thin air, no context, no cause.

Yesterday someone asked me: “Has anyone ever pointed a gun at you?”

I have no idea how that got into their mind.

And nor, I am told, do they.

I am a fairly placid person but the strange thing is, yes.

Four times.

But not this century.


Albanian soldier, 1979

The first time was in 1979 when I was wandering in a wood on a hillside just outside Titograd (now Podgorica) in what was then Yugoslavia (now Montenegro). Or it might have been just outside Durrës in Albania.

The strange thing is I now can’t remember which country it was in.

I was just wandering through the wood – somewhere – when I heard a sharp CRCK-CRCK. It was the sound of a rifle being cocked; the sound, as I understand it, of the bullet going into the chamber.

I looked up, startled, and there was a young soldier sitting up on the branch of a tree by the trunk. He was equally startled, looking down, pointing the barrel of the rifle at me.

We stared at each other for maybe half a second, maybe a full second, then I continued walking and he continued to look at me as I passed.

I think maybe he had been dozing, half asleep in the tree, and he woke up, startled, when he heard me below. I have no idea why he was up in a tree.

Understated posters in Bible-intimidated Leningrad in 1985

The next time was at the airport in Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg) in 1985. I had a beard at the time and someone surmised later that they thought I might be religious – the Orthodox Church and all that. The guy was just officious, I guess, trying to show he was enthusiastic in his duty of protecting the USSR against outside anti-Soviet Western pollution.

The officer had two obviously junior men in hats with him. They took their handguns out and vaguely waved them at me to shoo me into a back office. The Soviets never cared much about their PR image with tourists, but I never saw border guardy people waving guns around any other time. I think maybe they had watched too many American movies.

The officer got me to open my suitcase and, with pretty limited English, just kept asking me: “Books? Books? You have books?” All I could imagine afterwards was that he thought I was smuggling in Bibles to destroy Lenin’s Socialist Paradise.

Syrian checkpoint by a Kentucky Fried Chicken in Beirut, 1993

The next time was in 1993 when I was in Beirut and the Syrian Army was still present there with roadblocks and sandbagged gun positions at intersections.

Some (again young and officious) soldiers took exception to me taking photographs on the coast and, with their AK47s and no English language, shepherded me into a building where a rather laid-back Syrian Intelligence officer was brought in – it seemed rather unwillingly – to ask me questions. ‘Interrogate’ seems too excessive a word to use.

He seemed to be unconvinced I was a major threat to Syrian military rule, soon realised I was not an Israeli spy and started chatting about the time he had spent in the United States, the frequency of Israeli jets flying over Southern Lebanon and the perceived though unlikely threat of an Israeli seaborne attack on Beirut.

With polite apologies, he confiscated the two rolls of film in my two cameras and I was left trying to remember if there were shots of Hezbollah flags and the Airport Road on them and/or what else.

I was mildly worried because, on that trip to Beirut, I had tried to get into Syria to see Palmyra and had been refused entry – it seemed because my passport said I was a writer. I had previously got into Albania in 1979 and North Korea in 1986 with “writer” so I was not quite sure why the Syrians had taken so agin it.

He had a bit of an attitude …

The fourth time I had a gun pointed at me was in South London round 1998 or 1999.

He said it was a joke, but I think it was more that he had a bit of an attitude problem and an inferiority complex.

What have I learned?

Always be aware what is in the trees in Balkan woods and forests.

South London can potentially be as dangerous as Beirut… but not really.

And I still can’t remember which actual bloody country that bloke in the tree was in.

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Comic Del Strain on Americans, the EU and Nazis on the dark side of the Moon

This penguin is real and is not a spider

This penguin is real and is not a spider

I rarely remember my dreams but, this morning, I remember I dreamt I threw something on the floor and out of it came a brown spider. A big one.

“It’s too big,” I told someone,” to put a glass over it. And then I realised it really was too big – vertically – because it was white and black with orange-yellow feet or flippers, because it was a penguin. But it was not smooth and slimy as, I suspect, penguins actually are. Instead it seemed to have a slightly ruffled and wrinkled cotton skin as if it was made from cotton and was maybe one size too big for it.

That was in the early hours of this morning.

This afternoon, I had tea with Scots comic Del Strain at Soho Theatre. The very first thing he said to me, rather excitedly, was:

“I’ve got a new gun!”

“Is it legal?” I asked.

“Of course,” said Del. “It’s a new stage prop. I treated myself.”

“Most people who want to treat themselves,” I suggested, “might have a tea and fairy cake or something like that.”

“This is a sight to behold,” said Del. “It’s a Smith & Wesson but it’s too heavy to go down the back of my strides; I think I will have to buy a shoulder holster.”

“How can this possibly be legal?” I asked.

“I dunno,” said Del. “Ask the man in Newcastle who sold me it… It’s one of these old shops you go in and…”

“Is this genuinely legal?” I asked. “Can I mention it in my blog?”

Del Strain with his new Smith & Wesson

Del Strain at home with his new Smith & Wesson purchase

“YES!” insisted Del. “I’ve got a receipt and everything. This shop does everything: replicas, gas-fired guns. It’s legal. If I was in the foyer of Barclays Bank with a mask made out of a pair of someone’s old stockings, I would be in a lot of trouble.but, as I’m on stage…”

“How do you carry this around?” I asked.

“In my bag,” said Del. “The old gun I’ve got was enough to get you shot, believe you me, but this one would REALLY get you shot.”

“By whom?” I asked.

“Armed police, who are nervous and who seem to shoot poor black guys for just having a diary in their pocket. They’re getting a bit trigger-happy on this side of the pond too, John. But I bought it for a prop. See, rich people have got TESSAs and pensions and shit but, the way this country’s going, I’ve got this.”

”I think,” I said, “when John Wilkes Booth went to the theatre he may have claimed it was only a prop.”

“Well,” said Del, “maybe that bullet DID kill Lincoln – or maybe the people that were ready to send Andrew Johnson in to rape the South and kill all the Indians and steal the gold killed him. Who knows? History is a wonderful thing when it’s written by the victors.”

“But,” I asked, “surely politicians would not lie to us?”

“I don’t trust none of them,” said Del. “Brown, Blair, Cameron, Osborne – all playing the flute of Rothschild and the EU bankers. They’re never going to change nothing, because they’re all greedy madmen and they’re going to end up leading us all to the brink of destruction. They’re raping London; they’re ripping the soul out of it – all to build these ghettos in the sky where no-one can hear you scream. It’s ridiculous. They’re taking out the salt of the earth that made London what it was, because people can’t afford to live here no more.”

“Is Scotland going to be the People’s Paradise?” I asked.

“Yeah, well,” said Del, “I don’t know about that. It depends if we’ve got some undercover oil that we haven’t declared, which is what I hear.”

“Really?” I asked.

“Yeah. Apparently the Yanks are in on it. The Norwegians. Just rubbing their hands in glee, waiting. So who knows?”

“Until Apple brings out an electric car,” I mused. “But, then, plastics need oil in the manufacturing process, don’t they?”

“Yeah,” said Del, “but it’s that synthetic oil that I think the Nazis started inventing in World War Two. When they couldn’t get any oil, they invented synthetics in drugs and oils and everything else.”

“When you live on the dark side of the Moon,” I said, “you can develop all these things. Have you seen Iron Sky?”

Iron Sky from the dark side

Iron Sky from the dark side of the Moon

“No. Is it about Nazis on the Moon? I don’t even think the Americans went to the Moon.”

“Surely,” I suggested, “the Russians would have known if the Americans did not get to the Moon and would have told everyone?”

“The Russians,” said Del, “are quoted as saying to the Americans: If you don’t tell people about the aliens, we are going to. The Russians are quoted as saying that Eisenhower met these people in 1947 and the American newspapers from the time are actually quite open about the fact of there being aliens.

“You don’t know what to believe, because these people propagate and manipulate history so much that it’s like archaeologists putting dirt through a sieve to find what is real, because there’s just so much rubbish out there. All I know is that these people have been running the show since the Battle of Waterloo.”

Iron Sky,” I explained, “starts from the supposition that, In 1945, some Nazis escaped to the dark side of the Moon and Now they’re back!

“There is a swastika up there on the Moon,” Del told me. “Someone took a picture of it and there is a swastika on the Moon. No shit. The guy who was in charge of all the Nazi’s specialist weapons, his body was never found. He disappeared. The bell that they had – which was a little mini flying saucer – was taken to America. They were on it. The Nazis had been building these superstructures in South America. Some people say that it wasn’t even Hitler that died – that he lived out his days there.”

“Can I quote all this?” I asked.

“If you want,” said Del. “Some people say that. I am not saying it is a fact, but what I’m saying is, considering some of the shit these people have pulled – the deaths of Martin Luther King, John F Kennedy, Bob Marley… Bob Marley gets cancer through playing football but no football player has ever had that injury? Come on! When people get too vocal, when people listen to them, you become a danger and who knows? Who knows if it was his body? I hope it was his body. I think they dug him up in he 1990s and said it definitively was.”

“Who?” I asked.

Del Strain with his hand on his heart today

Del Strain showing his sincerity at Soho Theatre earlier today

“Hitler,” laughed Del. “Not Bob Marley. I’m not definitively saying that. I’m only surmising. But Hitler still has living relatives in America. They changed their name.”

“I suppose they would,” I said.

“The CIA,” Del continued, “took them all over there as well as the 90 Nazi scientists who were the ones who invented the Moon landings and Apollo 11 and all that. If you look at The Odessa File, that was based on a true story. Within four or five years, they all slipped right back into their old roles running the courts, the police system, running everything.”

“In Germany?” I asked

“In Germany, yes. I see the EU flag as a swastika. I see it as a sign of oppression. They are doing now with a pen and economics and banks what they used to do with Panzer tanks and MP40s. It’s still the same terror. It’s still the same control. It’s still the same dictating.

“You cannot make Barnsley like Barcelona at 4.00am on a Saturday night. Barnsley will never be Barcelona because, in Barcelona, they’re sitting and talking about Gaudi and architecture and philosophy and drinking Stella Artois. In Barnsley, they’re fucking each other over skips, eating kebabs, drunk that much that they’re lying on the fucking road. That is Britain. You can’t change that. It is everything that made this country strong.

“You go from Lancashire to Yorkshire to Scouse – 28 miles and we’ve got our own slang, our own foods, our own people. That is everything that made Britain Britain. We are an island nation. We need that. But they want us all to be a bland little revenue gerbil, just spinning on the wheel for some feed and some water.”

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John Lennon, Aristotle Onassis and the famous ballerina who was a gun runner

“There’s nowt as queer as folk,” is a saying which perhaps doesn’t translate too well into American. In British English, it means there’s nothing more strange nor more interesting than people.

So bear with me, dear reader, as I tell this meandering tale of less than six degrees of separation, a Wagnerian concentration camp, John Lennon and hand grenades in Cricklewood, north west London.

In my erstwhile youth, while I was a student, I lived in a Hampstead house of bedsits. One of the other inhabitants was the late Martin Lickert who, at the time, was John Lennon’s chauffeur. He lived in a bedsit because he was rarely home and only needed an occasional single bed to be unconscious in at night. Although, one night, I had to swap beds with him as I had a double bed and he had to entertain a girl called Juliet. He later went on to become a poacher-turned-gamekeeper. Long after I knew him, he trained as a barrister and specialised in prosecuting drug cases for HM Customs & Excise.

His relevance, as far as this blog is concerned, is that he accidentally appeared in the little-seen and staggeringly weird Frank Zappa movie 200 Motels.

In that film, shot at Pinewood Studios, the part of ‘Jeff ‘was originally going to be played by the Mothers of Invention’s bass player Jeff Simmons who quit before filming. He was replaced in the movie by Wilfred Brambell, star of BBC TV’s Steptoe and Son and The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night, who walked off set in a rage after a few days and Frank Zappa said: “The next person who comes through that door gets the part!”

The next person who came through the door was Martin Lickert, by then Ringo Starr’s chauffeur, who had gone to buy some tissues for his drumming employer who had a “permanent cold”.

The co-director with Frank Zappa of 200 Motels was Tony Palmer, famed director of documentaries on classical composers who, last night, was talking about his career in a Westminster library. I was there.

It was an absolutely riveting series of anecdotes which lasted 90 minutes but it seemed like 20 minutes, so fascinating were Tony Palmer’s stories.

He has, to say the least, had an odd career ranging from directing Richard Burton, Vanessa Redgrave and Frank Zappa in feature films to large-scale documentaries on heavyweight classical composers and from making documentaries on Liberace, Hugh Hefner and Peter Sellers to Swinging Britain TV rock shows like Colour Me Pop, How It Is and the extraordinary feature-length 1968 documentary All My Loving, suggested to him by John Lennon and so controversial at the time that it was shelved by David Attenborough (then Controller of BBC2) who said it would only be screened over his dead body – Attenborough denies using these words, but Palmer has the memo.

All My Loving was eventually screened on BBC TV after the channel had officially closed down for the night. I saw it when it was transmitted and, even now, it is an extraordinarily OTT piece of film-making.

Tony Palmer’s film-making career is much like the composing career of Igor Stravinsky (whom Palmer introduced to John Lennon when The Beatles were at their height). Stravinsky saw Tchaikovsky conduct in the 19th century and was still composing when he died in 1971, after The Beatles had broken up. So there are fewer than even six degrees of separation between Tchaikovsky and Martin Lickert.

Palmer – who is currently preparing a documentary project with Richard Dawkins – has had an extraordinarily wide range of encounters from which to draw autobiographical anecdotes.

He directed Michael Palin and Terry Jones in Twice a Fortnight, one of the important precursors of Monty Python’s Flying Circus and he directed the 17-hour, 12-part 1977 TV series All You Need Is Love tracing the development of popular music. Again, that project was suggested to him by John Lennon and he discovered that, though The Beatles had never tried to copyright the title All You Need Is Love, it had been registered by a Hong Kong manufacturer of sexy clothing and a brothel in Amsterdam.

Palmer also advised director Stanley Kubrick on music for his last movie Eyes Wide Shut and has apparently endless anecdotes on the great creative artists of the 20th century.

Who knew that the cellist Rostropovich used to get paid in cash, would put the cash inside the cello which he then went and played on stage and bought refrigerators in bulk in the UK so he could send them back to the USSR and sell them at a vast profit?

I, for one, had never heard that the German composer Richard Wagner, Hitler’s favourite composer and much admired by the Nazis, actually had a grandson who ran a concentration camp towards the end of World War II.

Nor that, in the 1950s, ballerina Margot Fonteyn got paid in cash which she then took to a Cricklewood arms dealer to buy guns and grenades which were channeled though France to Panama where her dodgy politician husband was planning a coup.

It’s amazing that, by now, someone has not made a documentary about Tony Palmer.

I suppose the problem is ironic: that the perfect person to have done this would have been Tony Palmer.

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Filed under Classical music, Drugs, Movies, Rock music, Television