Tag Archives: humor

ECCENTRIVIA: The joys and perils of writing in the English language…

The funeral of Prince Philip takes place in England today and it seems to have encouraged an outbreak of dodgy journalese… First of all I read this on a BBC post…

One can only imagine what connections the military units had had with Prince Philip on the grass, which is how that can be read.

Later, this more jaw-dropping Antipodean literary blunder was spotted online:

It is easy to make an English language faux pas.

English can be a subtle language, as this Facebook posting (also today) makes clear:

 

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Irresistible US performer Lynn Ruth Miller’s visa struggle to stay in the UK

87-year-old American comedy performer Lynn Ruth Miller is not just an international treasure but a national treasure. And she eventually got the UK government to agree…

Eventually…

Here she explains…


YOU CAN’T GET IT ALL

But I always try. 

I have a little voice inside me that says, “Yes you can!!! If you want it, it is yours.”  

And I listen to it. 

So it was that I decided to move to Brighton, England, at the nubile age of 81.  

A man named Bill Smith promised me a fascinating job, a living wage, a beautiful home and a visa to guarantee that the British Government would welcome me.

I believed him.

I should have known that anyone with such a boring name would be up to no good, but I did not. I just listened to that stubborn little voice whispering, “Go on! Do it! Do it!”

So I did.

I sold my California home, packed up my feathers, tassels and thongs and crossed the ocean, filled with optimism and hope.  

I would begin a new life! I would speak like Queen Elizabeth and learn to drink tea. I would say, “Are you well?” to strangers I didn’t care about and bitch about the weather. I would be British.

It didn’t turn out that way.  

I was housed in a flat above a fish and chips place and fired from my job in three months with no living wage and no visa. I still had an unmistakable American accent and I drank coffee.

But that little voice whispered in my ear, “You can get that visa… You can get that living wage… You don’t have to smell like fried fish… Move on!”

So I did.

I managed to get a ‘tier five’ visa that involved me leaving the country every three months and I moved to London where the action is.  

Then the little voice said: ”You have to find a way to stop running hither and thither. You are not as young as you used to be. Besides, travel is expensive. You have to get a permanent visa. Then you will be safe.”

“What about a living wage?” I asked.

“We will get to that later,” said the little voice.

So it was that I found a lovely sponsor who kept reassuring me that the three month routine was enough and I kept saying, “But it doesn’t give me medical care,” and he said, “Take your vitamins.”

So I did.

But then the worst happened. 

The Home Office disqualified my lovely sponsor and I tried to find another person to give me proper papers. Each one I found either wanted to charge me three times the price of a new home in Chelsea to do the work or else decided I was too big a risk.   

Meanwhile, the little voice kept saying, “Do not give up. You really CAN have it all.”

So I didn’t. 

I talked to lawyer after lawyer and each one said, “The only options open to you are to marry a Brit, study at a University or to be so talented that the British people cannot bear to let you go.”

By this time, I was 86 years old and had lived alone for so long I did not close the bathroom door. My memory was like a sieve and felt I had never had any talent. But I DID have that little voice.   

“If you marry, you will have to cook him three meals every single day and do other uncomfortable things,” it said. “If you study, you will have to use intelligence and that went when you lost your waistline. Try that talent thing. What do you have to lose?”

That was when I stumbled on an angel named Peter. 

He and I consulted more lawyers who told me to give up and go back to America. 

But Peter said, “There must be a way. Do you know anyone who can convince the Arts Council that you are indispensable?”

And I said, “My dogs are dead.”

But the little voice said, ”Just try!”

So I did.

I managed to convince a lot of people who were sympathetic to the elderly to write letters swearing I was a national treasure and, to my amazement, The Arts Council bought it.  

“See? What did I tell you?” said the little voice. “The British love eccentric old ladies.”

But, sadly, the Home Office does not. 

They wrote me and said, “Well, the Arts Council says you are a ‘Global Talent’ from America. But why are you still here?”

And I said, “Because there is a pandemic going on and I had to stay here or die.”

I said this once.  

I said this twice. 

And, finally, another angel named Kate wrote them a letter and so did cherubic Peter and the Home Office buckled. 

“OK,” they said, “we will let her stay. After all she is 87. How long will it be?”

Success at last!… Lynn Ruth Miller can stay in the UK!

AND I DID IT!! 

I GOT IT! 

I AM HERE FOR FIVE YEARS!  

THE BRITISH SAY I AM TALENTED.  

I GET MEDICAL CARE. 

But I didn’t get it all.  

To my dismay, the visa says I cannot work as a sportsperson.  

A tragic end to 87-year-old Lynn Ruth’s hopes of attaining track, field, boxing or Olympic stardom…

No rugby, no cricket, no soccer for me.  

I will have to return my helmet and chest protector to Bat And Ball.

“Stop bitching,” said the little voice. “You win some; you lose some.”

Don’t I know it?

 

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ECCENTRIVIA: Mad inventor John Ward builds a tunnel and goes potty

Mad inventor John Ward has an ever-fertile mind. He designed the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards and is a regular contributor to the Daily Mail’s letters column.

A few weeks ago, he mentioned to them that he had invented a tunnel.

The Daily Mail has always had a keen eye for the bizarre…

“I was getting fed up,” he told them, “with constantly hearing the hackneyed expression: ‘There is light at the end of the tunnel’. So I made my own tunnel with a switch to put the light on and off as required.

“It could be an executive stress device for those who want total control or like to think they have.

“I have updated it because, due to Brexit, the light is now central. Before it was adjustable from right to left, depending on what country it might be used in and what side of the road they drove on. 

“Never let it be said we are kept in the dark. Being British, we are streets ahead of the game. Work is progressing on a solar-powered model.”

John tells me: “Some hours later, after the Daily Mail hit the newsstands, a researcher for BBC Three Counties Radio got in touch to see if I could do an interview over the phone and describe how my tunnel works.

“I told him: ’It’s purely visual. It’s something to be seen. The light is very quiet.”

And the line went very quiet.

The next day, a lady contacted John about the cost of making one for her husband’s birthday.

“I quoted,” John told me, “depending on size, between £150 and £250 as being I hadn’t made it and it would be individual to them but would come with a certificate of authenticity. She said she would be getting back to me as she and her daughter were going to buy it if her daughter agreed…”

That was ten days ago. Now John has had another brainstorm.

No stranger to the media, he has his own weekly column in the increasingly prestigious Spalding Guardian newspaper – and he has come up with a new cracker of an idea which has now been featured in a lengthy piece on their esteemed sister website Spalding Today.

He has created a board game based on the number of potholes in the roads of South Holland in Lincolnshire.

The game has been designed for two players – who throw dice from an upside-down miniature traffic cone. 

How did he get the inspiration for this?

Players throw dice from an upside-down miniature traffic cone

“I was driving down the A17 road last Easter time,” he explains, “when I ‘hit’ two such holes, both within a few yards of each other, then felt the car really jar but the more I thought about it this is a right old game – three such jarrings and your left front wheel falls off crossed my mind.

“From a personal viewpoint,” continues John W, never short of words, “Lincolnshire is blighted with potholes from major roads to side streets and they are a constant talking point, with forever debate about when or if they will be repaired. Although once repaired there is a very good chance the situation will return almost as soon as it’s been ‘repaired’ as the repair possibly was not as it should have been or rather it appears that way to the common layman.”

Players have the option of picking a sports car, pick-up truck or a tractor as a marker.

Realistic detail: “a fly-tipped pile of rubbish left on the grass”

“Realism,” explains John, “comes in the form of a fly-tipped pile of rubbish left on the grass.

“Each player starts with a set of ‘hole fillers’ or plugs, each colour-coded, to use to fill a pot hole when landing on one. Although it is not that straightforward – much like reporting a pothole and expecting it to be attended to.

“If you land on a square with a coloured star on it, you then pick a card from a pile with that co-ordinating star to find out if you can progress through to the next square or miss a go, forfeit a go to your opponent and so on.

“I am in the process of registering the design and copyrighting it at the moment. However, as these real life pot holes affect many millions of motorists, the possible potential for this game could – I stress ‘could’ – be very interesting.”

Last year, the Lincolnshire Free Press reported: A woman from Lincolnshire is spray-painting potholes around the county in a protest surrounding the state of the roads. Karen Holland, 55, is decorating the roads with different bugs – and even the occasional cheeky genitalia – to warn other motorists about the potholes and show just how many there are around Lincolnshire.”

This story, I think, has more mileage in it.

The art of Lincolnshire potholes in 2020 – as decorated and photographed by Karen Holland

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Amazon anarchy runs riot in long-lasting Malcolm Hardee mystery

Malcolm Hardee while researching his autobiography in 1995

In yesterday’s blog, I mentioned British comedian Malcolm Hardee in passing. He was, to understate the truth, very anarchic. A comedian, club owner, agent and force of Nature, he has been called the father of (British) alternative comedy.

He drowned in 2005. At least, that is the story.

He wrote his autobiography in 1996. It was titled I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake which, indeed, he did. It has been out of print for quite a few years.

At the time of writing this blog, there are a couple of second hand copies available on amazon.co.uk – one at £49.98, the other at £109.95.

One second hand copy is also available on amazon.com at $49.98.

Full disclosure: I own 20% of the royalties from I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake. But, as the book is out-of-print and these are second hand copies, there are no royalties. So I would get nothing if anyone forked out £49.98 or $49.98 or £109.95.

On amazon.com, the book’s description correctly reads:

“The humorous memoirs of criminal-turned-comedy agent Malcolm Hardee, who recalls a life of crime and misdemeanours before finding fame and fortune in the comedy boom of the 1980s. He also recalls how he did in fact, as the title suggests, steal Freddie Mercury’s birthday cake.”

On amazon.co.uk, the description reads:

“For successful classroom teaching, your students need to be engaged and active learners. In this book, there is practical advice that is grounded in the realities of teaching in today’s classrooms on how to be an inspirational teacher and produce highly motivated students. This book contains 220 positive, practical teaching ideas that are relevant to both new and experienced classroom teachers. With reference to reflective practice, best practice and Continuing Professional Development (CPD), this book provides essential support for trainee teachers, new teachers and experienced teachers looking to extend their repertoire.”

Yup. It is the description of a totally different book. Amazon’s computers have somehow got their techno-knickers in a twist. Originally I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake had the correct listing on amazon.co.uk but somehow, between 1996 and 2021, it got surreally mistaken for this other academic book.

It has been listed like that for years, certainly since 2015. But, as I get nothing out of any sales, it doesn’t particularly bother me and I have a sneaking feeling that Malcolm Hardee would have somehow enjoyed the mix-up.

I mentioned most of this in a blog way back in November 2015.

Over the six intervening years, I have more-or-less halfheartedly but officially notified Amazon.co.uk of the error I think four times – helpfully pointing out that the listing was correct on amazon.com, so they only had to copy their own listing from amazon.com.

The last time was a couple of months ago.

But nothing has been been changed.

Not about comedy and criminal activities

The bizarre incorrect description of I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake actually comes from Warren Kidd and Gerry Czerniawski’s niftily-titled book Teaching Teenagers: A Toolbox for Engaging and Motivating Learners.

Sadly, the blurb for Teaching Teenagers: A Toolbox for Engaging and Motivating Learners on amazon.co.uk does not describe it as “The humorous memoirs of a criminal-turned-comedy agent who recalls a life of crime and misdemeanours”.

A couple of nights ago, I was talking to multi-talented performer Matt Roper aka Wilfredo in New York.

Full disclosure: he was in New York; I was in London…

…and I mentioned all the above jolly shenanigans to him. I explained to him that the amazon.com listing for I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake was correct.

But, yesterday, he contacted me to tell me he had just looked up the amazon.com listing and although it was, indeed, mostly correct… it did say that I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake had been published on January 1, 1600… He attached a screen shot of the page. 

He told me: “Amazon.com seems to think the book was published in 1600, just as Giordano Bruno was being burned at the stake by the Inquisition and when the first Queen Elizabeth was on the throne. Perhaps that’s why it costs so much here.”

The price advertised at the time was $164.66.

I have just looked it up myself and the amazon.com page now says I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake was published on 5 Aug 1996 and it now has a $49.98 price tag.

Full disclosure: My head is swirling a bit – I seem to be getting bouts of vertigo – and I am beginning to think that Malcolm Hardee faked his own death by drowning in 2005 and is playing anarchic games from beyond the non-grave. 

I would not put it past him.

Incidentally, I have some pristine copies of I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake available at a mere £675.99 plus postage… They are collectors’ items for marketing surrealists and increasingly prestigious.

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Sleepless nights, gushing waters and a new lockdown – My Weekly Diary No 41

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 40

SUNDAY 25th OCTOBER

In my last diary blog I mentioned that, as I am not seeing my NHS Kidney Man again until next February – and as the Ear, Nose & Throat and Calcium blokes he suggested are but mere possibilities in a bureaucratic future mist – I was thinking of seeing my Chinese herbal doctor. Pricey but value for money.

I asked my friend Lynn what she thought. She suggested I should pursue the two misty-futured NHS blokes to gee-up the bureaucracy and not go to Chinese doctor – or, at least, do both. Try the Chinese path AND certainly try to gee-up the NHS. But I can’t be bothered, NHS bureaucracy takes its own sweet time, even if it kills you.

MONDAY 26th OCTOBER

“Wrongly mistaken for anxiety or nervousness”

In my last blog, I also mentioned that my tendency to witter is sometimes – wrongly – mistaken for anxiety or nervousness whereas it is simply mindless wittering.

After reading this, comedy uber-fan Sandra Smith emailed me:


Re your blog and anxiety.
I can see how you could present as anxious, having seen a couple of videos of you being interviewed. Your speech speeds up without pause and you constantly fiddle with your ears. If the the interviewer is female, a slight self consciousness creeps in. You appear much more comfortable as the interviewer.


I replied:


Mmmm… Interestingly, I’m not nervous being interviewed. In fact, I always did badly in job interviews; I think because I never got nervous so came across as being over-casual and therefore potentially unreliable! I have never noticed the ear thing. Must stop that.


In fact, what I thought was: “If the the interviewer is female, a slight self consciousness creeps in”…  Oo-err. What’s that about? and Is that a good or a bad thing?

TUESDAY 27th OCTOBER

All this came after sticking out my tongue…

I saw my Chinese doctor at lunchtime. As always, he took my pulse and asked me to stick my tongue out at him. That’s Traditional Chinese Medicine for you.

I think the theory is that the tongue is the only internal organ which you can see externally and so its state – cracks in it etc – reflect the state of your body.

He thought my sleeping and dehydration problems are connected with my kidneys – in fact, in the 1990s, he said I would have kidney problems in the future.

I got a month’s worth of tablets and made an appointment to see him again on 24th November.

WEDNESDAY 28th OCTOBER

In yet another reference back to my previous blog, the NHS Track & Trace mobile phone app again sent me two too-fast-to-read notifications – A COVID alert followed by a message saying it signified nothing.

I also got a message from my eternally-un-named friend.

She told me she had been crossing a pedestrian bridge at Canary Wharf, looked down and saw a group of skimpily-clad people in a hot tub sailing by.

“The weather was dry but chilly,” she told me. “There was a little fire in a front funnel, so I guess that must have been heating the water inside the tub.”

I was left fairly speechless. So was she.

Not a normal sight in the waters of Canary Wharf, London, in the chilly late weeks of October…

THURSDAY 29th OCTOBER

I never used to remember any of my dreams until this recent calcium/kidney problem which has resulted in me waking up 8-12 times every night. So the world of dreams is new to me.

“…gushing water, tumbling down towards the platform…”

Last night, I dreamt that I was rushing to get on a plane at an airport and the escalator down to the departure platform – Yes, platform… It was a narrow platform like a railway platform with tracks on both sides – the escalator down to the departure platform was covered in gushing water, tumbling down towards the platform.

What on earth was that all about? 

FRIDAY 30th OCTOBER

This probably won’t be happening until 2022.

I had another disturbed night of waking up pretty much every hour with a totally dry mouth, my tongue almost sticking to the inside of my mouth… made more entertaining at one point by simultaneous hiccups and heartburn… That’s potentially an hour-long Edinburgh Fringe show there. I have seen worse.

Online, there was the news that the Edinburgh Fringe will probably not be back properly until 2022 (its 75th anniversary) as the COVID pandemic effects will still be screwing-up things next year.

SATURDAY 31st OCTOBER

Chris Dangerfield: “How much of what he said is printable?”

For a forthcoming blog, I had a Skype video chat with sometime comic, always controversial raconteur Chris Dangerfield, who now lives in Cambodia. How much of what he said is printable is something I will have to grapple with.

He told me I looked well.

Clearly he is not a reader of my blog.

Boris Johnson precipitated a surge of toilet roll buying…

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that, to try to slow the recent surge in coronavirus cases, England will go on a second total lockdown from next Thursday for a month (November 5th to December 2nd).

I thought it was probably bad PR for him to announce this on Hallowe’en, the precursor to the Day of The Dead… and to start the lockdown on Guy Fawkes’ Night, which is about blowing up Parliament.

When I went out to a supermarket later, it was obvious that, as in the previous lockdown, a sudden panic-buying of toilet rolls has started, which makes no sense – the coronavirus, as far as I am aware does not result in diarrhoea and there was/is not a shortage of toilet rolls. Come to that, there is a wide variety of alternatives to toilet rolls – kitchen rolls, newspapers and small furry woodland creatures.

The COVID-19 effect: devastation in the toilet roll section of Lidl supermarket, Borehamwood.

… CONTINUED HERE

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John Fleming’s Weekly Diary No 35 – Life is but a dream. This week for sure.

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 34(b)

All the world’s an online stage in the coronavirus era (Photograph by Tianyi Ma via UnSplash)

THURSDAY 13th SEPTEMBER

I was talking to a stand-up comedian. She said she had done an online gig, but didn’t like them.

I can only imagine what it is like to play an online gig in silence from an invisible audience. It must be like a rehearsal where you have to deliver your performance at 100% all the time with no motivation and no reaction.

It is a strange twilight world, this coronavirus world, like a dream where brain fog is dense, motivation to do anything is very low and every day seems the same.

THURSDAY 14th SEPTEMBER

To add to the dreamlike quality of this week, I travelled on a Thameslink train today – never a good idea.

There was a lady with green hair and a red skirt sitting half a carriage away from me with a corgi dog on her lap – She looked like upside-down traffic lights.

When the brightly-coloured lady got up to leave at the next station, the dog was on a lead and followed her out of the carriage… And I saw it was not a corgi but a fox.

Is this even legal?

How did she get through the ticket barrier with a fox without being queried about it?

Thameslink may be unreliable and incompetent, but it has the bonus of having its fair share of eccentrics.

Don’t even get me onto the woman with the teddy bear who talks to anyone and everyone about the aforementioned bear; or the bloke with the bright clothes and over-enthusiastic moustache who, according to the Evening Standard, was once convicted of killing his brother.

THURSDAY 15th SEPTEMBER

In a chilling warning to all forced to use the Thameslink line, someone arrived at Elstree station to see me today and, before coming out, used the toilet facilities.

Thameslink: bottomless home of horror

She sat in there doing what she had to do.

The toilets have recently been refurbished.

This included the installation of a movement sensor controlling the lights in the ceiling.

Because there had been no movement for a short while, all the lights suddenly went off.

Pitch black.

My friend was sitting in a windowless cubicle inside a windowless Ladies’ toilet. She waved her arms around. No effect. She could not remember if the door had a bolt or a lever or where it was and she couldn’t find it. She couldn’t immediately see her handbag but eventually found it and, by touch and much guddling around, found her iPhone and switched its torch on.

The lesson to be learned from this is that, while sitting on a Thameslink toilet, be as quick as you can and move around as much as possible.

THURSDAY 16th SEPTEMBER

I think my constant waking up with a dry mouth during the night may be getting to me.

In my last Diary Blog, I mentioned an incident that happened in the street. No need to check back. It doesn’t matter; it’s just a McGuffin or possibly a MacGuffin.

A McMuffin – not to be confused with a McGuffin

But, for some reason, it has been reminding me today of a story I was told once. I may have mentioned it in a blog years ago. Dunno. I can’t be bothered to check. It doesn’t matter; it’s just a McGuffin. This is a story within a story within a story.

Back in the 1990s, I did not write someone’s autobiography. He is dead now. He was a ‘sleeper’ agent for the Soviets, part of a sleeper group run for them by East Germany’s Transport Minister. Strange but true.

This is the story as told to me by the man whose autobiography I did not write.:


One of the most famous legends of Central Asia tells of a horseman, the standard-bearer of the great Khan. As the Khan’s army are entering a city after a glorious victory, the standard-bearer sees a dark lady looking at him. The dark lady has fearful eyes, as if she is looking right inside him.

Afterwards, he becomes scared that this woman is a witch and she has put the Evil Eye on him, so he goes to the great Khan and tells him his fears and says he wants to go to another city.

“Of course!” says the great Khan. “Give him the finest horse we have! Let him escape!”

So the standard-bearer takes the fastest horse in the Great Khan’s army, rides off across the desert and, in record time, travels to the other city. When he arrives, he sees the dark lady standing by the city gates, waiting for him. She looks at him, smiles and says:

“I was so worried. I knew I was due to meet you here today but, when I saw you in that other city so far away, I was worried that you would not make it here in time for your appointment.”

And the standard-bearer realises that she is Death.


THURSDAY 17th SEPTEMBER

Even the spam is kinda weird this week. This was a comment on one of my blogs this week. You can tell it’s a tad odd from the first sentence:


Spam (Photograph by Hannes Johnson via UpSplash)

Hello and welcome to my webpage. I’m Kyran.

I have always dreamed of being a book writer but never dreamed I’d make a career of it. In college, though, I assisted a fellow student who needed help. She could not stop complimenting me.

Word got around and someone asked me for to write their paper just a week later. This time they would compensate me for my work.

During the summer, I started doing academic writing for students at the local college. It helped me have fun that summer and even funded some of my college tuition. Today, I still offer my writing services to students.


I was impressed by Kyran’s turn of phrase, particularly: “someone asked me for to write their paper”.

There was a link to his website and to his Trustpilot reviews which were almost all of the 5-star variety. The latest review read:

I may sub-contract writing my blog to Kyran…

THURSDAY 18th SEPTEMBER

Below is what happens when you give your iPhone to a 9-year-old and she asks Siri to translate the word ‘John’ into Chinese…

She also told me that one of the boys in her year had stolen one of another schoolmate’s micro pigs.

“A micro pig?” I asked. “This is some sort of cuddly toy?”

“No, they are real pigs,” I was told and, to prove it, a Wikipedia entry and Google photos were produced.

“He stole one of her micro pigs?” I asked.

“Yes, he stole one of her micro pigs after school. She has six. She brought one of her pet micro pigs into school in a top hat and he stole one after school.”

“She was wearing the top hat?” I asked.

“Of course not. The pig was inside the top hat. She carried the top hat in her hands with the pig in it.”

“Did she notice the pig had been stolen?” I asked.

“Of course… There was a tug-of-war. He tried to steal the top hat and the pig but she held on to the hat, so he ran away with the pig.”

As a postscript, I was later told that, although the light-fingered boy had stolen the micro pig, it was later returned to its rightful owner by “the man who looks after the boy”. I know no more about the pig’s fate.

“The man speaks English but I think he is French,” I was told.

“Have you heard him speak?” I asked.

“No,” I was told.

THURSDAY 19th SEPTEMBER

Last night, I woke up 14 times with a bone dry mouth and had to drink water. As always, this resulted in me being mentally zonked all day. Not helped by Thameslink.

I arrived at Elstree station at 1026 to catch the 1038 train which was (obviously) due to arrive at 1040 unless you read the indicator board which said the next train was at 0514…

Thameslink. The rail franchise holder with the slogan:

Reassuringly dependable incompetence in an ever-changing world.

I need to conserve my energy, because tomorrow is a big day – Thursday.

Oh… And… by the way… I made up the story about the fox on the Thameslink train. Life is what you make it and reality and surreality overlap all the time. Everything else apart from the fox story – the live miniature pigs, darkened toilets, illiterate humanity paper writers, the top hat, the homicidal man with the over-enthusiastic moustache and every day of my life being a Thursday – was true.

Or was it?

Yes, it was and is.

… CONTINUED HERE

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The backward-walking man is dead. Long live the backward-walking man!

The late Michael Dickinson, circa 2014, as he appeared in the Camden New Journal this week…

Yesterday, I picked up a copy of the Camden New Journal and was sad to read about the death of Michael Dickinson.

You’ve never heard of him? Neither had I until May last year, when I was in Camden Town and saw a man walking backwards. Not just for a couple of seconds or a minute. He walked backwards the whole time.

I posted two videos of him on YouTube. This was the first:

Obviously, I looked him up online and found out he had been doing this for years and was former actor Michael Dickinson.

He had been born in either Durham or Yorkshire, depending on which legend you believe, and he studied at the Manchester School of Theatre from 1969 alongside future actors Julie Walters and Richard Griffiths.

Michael Dickinson (right) with Simon Callow in Passing By – Gay Sweatshop production at the Almost Free Theatre, 1975.

In the 1970s, he became an actor himself. In 1975, he kissed Simon Callow in Passing By, a ‘groundbreaking’ two-man show about a gay romance.

Rather miscast as Jesus in another play, he eventually mostly gave up acting and took up collage art.

In 1982, he held an exhibition in Primrose Hill and a review in esteemed local paper the Hampstead & Highgate Express (the Ham & High), said he was “wickedly adept at exposing the two-faced tendencies and follies of our leaders”.

In an interview in the Camden New Journal on 25th May 2017, he claimed that he could no longer walk forwards and had self-diagnosed his condition as ‘retropulsion’.

He said: “It could be psychological, or I heard somebody say it could be a disease, but I don’t feel unwell apart from that. If I didn’t feel this retropulsion I would much prefer to be walking forwards. When it first started happening it was bewildering, to say the least.

“Occasionally people in cars blow horns at me, which is dangerous because I turn to look at them rather than where I’m going. 

“I don’t really want to see a doctor, I feel they’ll just put me on some sort of medication and I would rather not be. I can deal with it and there is no law against it. I’m careful that I had never hurt anybody, although I did hurt myself the other day when I tripped over a branch as I walked through the woods.”

From the mid-1980s for almost three decades – before he started walking backwards – he had lived in Turkey, working as a teacher and artist, sometimes telling fortunes to pay his rent.

…with one of his less insulting Turkish collages in 2014… (Photograph by Polly Hancock for the Ham & High)

He somewhat annoyed the Turkish authorities in 2006 by creating a collage which depicted leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan as a dog receiving a rosette from American President George W. Bush in a pet show. The resultant court case stretched over four years.

In 2008, he was prosecuted for insulting Erdogan by creating the collage. He was initially cleared, but the verdict was overturned in 2010 and then, after shouting a political slogan at police in a separate incident in 2013, he was deported.

Back in London between the two incidents, in 2011, he was arrested in Parliament Square (where he was living in a tent) after shouting “No more war!” during a Remembrance Day silence. He was charged with a public order offence, but the case was eventually dropped.

Permanently in London after his deportation from Turkey, he slept in the streets around Camden Town. While living in a cardboard box next to the Sainsbury’s supermarket there, some people who were squatting in the former police station in Hampstead met him at a soup kitchen and invited him to join their squat.

While there, he ate food discarded by shops and cafés and chucked-away in recycling bins. He made some money by telling fortunes on the street.

It was possibly not too rough an existence as it was a Grade II listed building and they had a wide-screen television set.

He was very grateful to the squatters.

He told the Ham & High: “I would still be in that box were it not for them.”

Squatters are evicted from the former Hampstead police station in 2014 with their belongings, including wide screen TV

Eventually, on the afternoon of 2nd May 2014, the police evicted the squatters in the former Hampstead police station and he took to sleeping in a tent in a Hampstead cementery, though he eventually ended up in a legitimate Highgate flat by 2017.

When and why exactly did he start to walk backwards? 

Leonie Scott-Matthews of Pentameters Theatre in Hampstead told the Camden New Journal this week: “I remember when he started walking backwards. He was in a play here; he got off the stage and just started walking back­wards. It was just after he had got back from Turkey.”

His friend Charles Thomson says: “It was clearly symbolic I felt. He enjoyed be­ing in Turkey and he couldn’t go back. He was walking back­wards when I last saw him.”

His friend Kay Bayliss added: “He emailed me around Christmas saying he was having phlegm problems that persisted. He was still suffering this when he emailed me on April 11 and now had serious-sounding gut problems… Michael had a very interesting life. At school all the girls loved him. He was so good looking and very complimentary even in more recent times.”

Michael Dickinson died “from peritonitis resulting from a gut obstruction”, in his Highgate bedsit, aged 70, on 2nd July 2020. 

So it goes.

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John Fleming’s (half) Weekly Diary No 22 – Coughs, teeth, dead surrealists

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 21

SUNDAY 21st JUNE

One of my front upper teeth has gone out of alignment with the others. Hopefully this is a false tooth.

Staying on things oral, I have a lifelong dry, irritating (to others) cough, which is very useful for clearing queues during the current coronavirus outbreak.

One of the many British comedic highlights of the past which I missed was The Fast Show on BBC2 (1994-1997 + 2011-2014). I never saw an entire episode though I saw occasional excerpts.

One thing I apparently missed was a running gag/character called Bob Fleming, who had a dry irritating cough. Someone drew my attention to it today.

I had zero involvement in The Fast Show, but I did (inevitably, though Malcolm Hardee) peripherally have a nodding acquaintance with a couple of the cast members. It would be nice to think one mentioned in passing about this bloke John Fleming who had a perpetual irritating cough. That would be my 15 seconds of inspirational fame.

Alas, I imagine the thought of phlegming/Fleming is a more likely source.

Today I also chatted with TV chap Simon Kennedy for an upcoming blog. Inexplicably, the subject of long-time Chinese statesman Chou En Lai came up… and his famous quote.

Ever-wise, much quoted Chinese statesman

In the early 1970s, talking to Henry Kissinger, he was asked if he thought the French Revolution had had a successful outcome. The French Revolution happened in 1789.

Chou said: “It is too early to say.”

I have always seen this as the epitome of Chinese long-sightedness.

But Simon correctly told me that Chou was actually referring to the 1968 student riots in Paris.

What a pity.

It is far more Chinese to say that 1968 was too early to say what long-term effects an action in 1789 had.

MONDAY 22nd JUNE

China – and, indeed, similar political paradises – are known for their bureaucracy.

So today I arrived at my local hospital at 0845 (with my three appointment letters) for my 0900 Nephrology appointment at Outpatients and, on presenting myself and my three letters at Main Reception, was told the department was closed and all appointments had been moved to another hospital.

I ignored this – as I had had the three letters and had had a phone call confirming the appointment. I phoned the Kidney Man’s answering machine, found Outpatients and sat in Main Outpatients Reception (open from 0830 but with no receptionist).

About 0900, the Kidney Man’s secretary phoned me back to confirm I would be seen and if no-one turned up, to phone her back. I was due to see a Kidney Woman.

I said if no-one turned up by 0920 I would phone back.

The Kidney Woman arrived at 0917, unlike the receptionist.

She (the Kidney Woman) told me that, during my 7-day hospital stay, they had not treated me – just observed. Fair enough.

During that time, my calcium level had gone back to normal without any treatment (except the saline drip for 7 days). My calcium level had been 3.2. I had been told in hospital it should be 2.6.

The Kidney Woman told me: “2.6 would be an absolute maximum.”

Apparently ‘normal’ would be 2.2 to 2.6.

My kidney function last October had been an OK-for-my-age 62 but, on entering hospital, it was down to 19. Over 7 days in the hospital I had been told it had risen to 28 which was concerning but no longer “dangerous” and the Kidney Woman today told me it had been 34 on discharge from hospital.

“Anything over 60 would be OK for a man of your age,” she told me. “Your calcium level would affect your kidney function, but your kidney function could not affect the calcium level.”

Still, there is no hint of why my calcium level/kidney function went haywire nor why I keep waking up 6 or 7 or 8 times a night with a parched, bone-dry mouth and have to drink water. Next week, I will hear the result of today’s blood test.

During the day I am mostly OK though I sometimes have to have a late afternoon nap for a couple of hours; and I go to bed, tired, around 8.00pm or 9.00pm. My normal bedtime used to be around midnight.

Whether this tiredness is a result of my calcium/kidney problems or just being old or having constantly woken up 6 or 7 or 8 times the previous night… Who knows?

TUESDAY 23rd JUNE

The pandemic has resulted in much more dental bureaucracy

The tooth cap that was out-of-alignment on Sunday has now got decidedly wobbly. It is hanging on in there, but threatening to either fall out during the day or (in my fantasies) drop out and get swallowed by me during the night.

Miraculously (because of the coronavirus lockdown) I was able to get a dental appointment next Tuesday. My dentist re-opened last Monday (eight days ago) for emergencies.

I got an appointment after answering a lot of detailed medical questions and, I think, because the dodgy upper tooth is towards the front and visible.

There will be absolutely no drilling of any kind because of the danger from airborne spray from the mouth. So anything that would normally involve drilling will, instead, be temporarily repaired.

Around lunchtime, I was sitting on a bench with someone (the regulation two metres apart) in the Green Belt area near my home when a stray football from a nearby game headed towards us. I got up, kicked the ball back and nearly overbalanced and (did not) fall over.

I am constantly lightheaded during the day and waking up hourly at night.

Who knows why?

In the afternoon, I was told of the death of Douglas Gray last Thursday. He and brother Tony were The Alberts, a surreal comedy duo which linked The Goons and Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

I met the brothers years ago – in the 1980s, I think, at their home (I think they lived in the same rambling house but I could be wrong) in Norfolk. They were interestingly and gently eccentric and one – I think it was Douglas – appeared to be dressed for playing cricket for no apparent reason.

They should have been British cultural treasures but, alas, mega-fame escaped them, like so many worthy performers. I seem to remember that they used to pretend to work on a national newspaper in London, before Margaret Thatcher destroyed the ‘closed shop’ policies of the trades unions.

They told me, I think, that they would drive down from Norfolk to London each Friday, sign on as print workers (they had union cards), then drive straight back to Norfolk. They got paid well for working at the weekends although they were not even in London, let alone working on the production of the newspaper.

They were surrealists on and off stage.

Today was the last day of the daily government Briefings/updates about the coronavirus pandemic. The lockdown restrictions will be partially, but not by any means totally, lifted on the 4th of July – our ‘Trim-dependence Day’ as one BBC News reporter put it, because hairdressers will be allowed to open with safety restrictions.

The total of reported UK coronavirus deaths is now 42,927… up 171 in the previous 24 hours

WEDNESDAY 24th JUNE

I have received the three pages of forms I have to fill in before seeing my dentist next Tuesday.

The accompanying letter details what will happen.

The tooth will out…

– I should rinse my mouth with mouthwash before leaving home, to kill off any bacteria in my mouth.

– I should not arrive early, because the surgery’s street door will be locked and I will only be allowed in when the previous patient has left.

– On entry, my temperature will be taken with an infra-red thermometer.

– I will have to wash my hands with anti-bacterial gel before seeing the dentist.

– The dentist and nurse will be wearing protective clothing: presumably face masks and/or plastic face visors.

As if to celebrate my filling-in of the dental forms…

…my tooth fell out.

… CONTINUED HERE

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The death of the second ‘Albert’ – supreme British surrealist entertainers

The Alberts – images from their Facebook page

In a 2014 blog, I wrote about the death of Tony Gray, one of The Alberts – the gloriously eccentric British brothers who linked the shambolic opening night of BBC2 to The Goon Show, the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band and Monty Python’s Flying Circus

This afternoon, sadly, I received news from Sheba Gray – Tony’s daughter – that Douglas, the other half of the duo, “passed away last Thursday (18th June), just shy of ninety”…

British Rubbish Revisited, a recent release with recordings from their 1960s shows, can currently be found on YouTube, Spotify, iTunes, Amazon etc…

And a 58-minute video – The Alberts – An Evening of British Rubbish – is currently on YouTube.

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John’s Weekly Diary 21 – Bureaucracy, the NHS, a cough, a death, a long walk

… SORT-OF CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 20 …

I have been posting a diary supposedly about life in Britain during the coronavirus pandemic – focussing on the everyday amid the historic.

But it took a sidetrack when, instead of COVID-19, I developed some unknown kidney infection or damage or/and calcium imbalance and/or… well… something. No-one has yet found out what is wrong.

So this strand of the blog will now become a more general diary until I get bored with it or it meanders even more pointlessly than normal like a dildo lost in a jellyfish.


A typical 1888 cough syrup (courtesy of Stephen O’Donnell)

SUNDAY 14th JUNE

I had a bad, hacking cough: probably nothing to do with coronavirus.

I took a Tyrozet tablet.

Stephen O’Donnell in Glasgow reminded me of the type of cough linctus they had in 1888 with alcohol, cannabis, chloroform and morphia “skilfully combined with a number of other ingredients”.

Presumably, if that didn’t cure your cough, at least you would be unaware you had one.

Forget the telephone consultation – It’s a face-to-face meet…

MONDAY 15th JUNE

As is now normal, overnight I woke up about six or eight times – basically, at least once every hour – with my throat parched dry, desperate to drink water.

When I left hospital just over a fortnight ago, the Kidney Man told me he would treat me as an outpatient. Then, a week later, I got a letter saying it would be a face-to-face consultation at the local hospital.

Forget the face-to-face consultation – It’s on the phone…

Then, another week later, I got a text saying that, because of the COVID-19 virus, they were changing the face-to-face appointment to a telephone consultation. I joked to a couple of people that, as the NHS is a vast bureaucracy and all vast bureaucracies are a mess, they were bound to phone me up today and ask why I was not at the hospital.

Today, after over an hour waiting for the call, I phoned to check that all was OK.

The appointments people told me: “He’s not actually ringing absolutely everybody. Some patients he’s looking up on the system and, unless he feels he absolutely has to speak to them, what he’s doing is dictating a clinic letter which will go to your GP and you will get a copy as well… It’s a little bit of a grey area.”

Fair enough.

About half an hour later, the Kidney Man phoned up because he had been expecting me to go in for a face-to-face consultation and wondered why I hadn’t turned up.

Fair enough.

He told me that the Petscan I had about two weeks ago showed nothing abnormal and they still didn’t know what was wrong with my kidneys. So a blood test would be arranged and I definitely had to come in for that, even if I got a letter or text saying I should not.

After that, I went out (perfectly legally) to South London to see my Eternally Un-Named Friend. It was the first day when face masks HAD to be worn on public transport in England. So I wore a face mask on the mostly empty trains.

We walked along the River Thames from Greenwich to the O2 Millennium Dome – a long walk on what (I had forgotten to check) was a Very High Pollen day. I felt hot and sweaty and slightly light-headed and, for my feet, the walk became a plod.

Nothing to do with the pollen or the company. Something to do with the kidneys, I think.

View of Canary Wharf from near The O2 Dome (Photograph by My Eternally UnNamed Friend)

The south (well, really east) bank of the Thames between Greenwich and the Dome has become mostly a post-industrial wasteland which is being flattened or is already flattened for high-rise flats, with some already built. My Eternally UnNamed Friend found some sort of Wordsworthian Romanticism in the open spaces and vistas. I thought it just looked more like a post-apocalyptic landscape.

At 11.15pm, back home in Borehamwood, as I was about to go to bed, sniffles, sneezes and an itchy right eye started to kick in. Over the last few years, I have tended to get hay fever fairly late at night and almost always after dark. What is that all about? What on earth are the flowers doing at 2315 at night?

Well, the news took me a bit by surprise…

TUESDAY 16th JUNE

The man whom I called ‘George’ in my hospital diaries died yesterday. I know this because my friend Lynn spotted his obituary in various newspapers today and – very impressively – guessed it was the person whose identity I had (I thought) disguised in my posts.

I then (perfectly legally) went to East London by train to see writer Ariane Sherine and her daughter in their back garden (well, back decking).

On the way there and back, I wore a face mask in the mostly empty train carriages. There were some other passengers. But we all seemed a bit half-hearted about it as we were all seated so far apart.

The government’s figure for total coronavirus deaths in the UK is now 41,969… Up 233 in the last 24 hours.

Me in my lost hat – Maybe not a great loss…

WEDNESDAY 17th JUNE

I went to Tesco’s in Borehamwood in the afternoon to buy a hat to protect my bald head from the sun. I lost my previous hat two days ago, somewhere by the post-apocalyptic River Thames.

I was hot and sweaty (despite having had a bath at lunchtime) and light-headed.

Ariane Sherine texted me:

“I’ve made a few jokes about you in my new book. I thought I should run them by you to check you’re OK with them.”

I replied: “I will be OK with them. You can say anything you like about me. I fancy being described as a dishevelled, shuffling, shambling mess. I would quite like to be described as a Dickensian character rotting slowly in my wrinkly skin as the dust gathers in my ears. I always think it is better to be laughed at rather than be laughed with… It is much more memorable. People forget jokes but remember OTT characters… Perhaps you could say something like: He was having a mid-life crisis at least 30 years too late, with fantasies of Baby Spice in a bikini rolling around in tiramisu.

Alas, the book is a serious – though populist – non-fiction work and the reply I got was:

“We are at the proofreading stage, so I can’t add anything, but thank you for being such a good sport.”

My heart sank. I quite fancy being a badly-dressed Dickensian character. But I have never aspired to be a sport.

The government’s figure for total coronavirus deaths in the UK is now 42,153… Up 184 in the last 24 hours.

The ever-admirable kick-ass vicar Maggy Whitehouse

THURSDAY 18th JUNE

Last night, in bed, I had about an hour of feverish hot temperatured forehead and a hacking cough.

I think I may be turning into a paranoid hypochondriac. Or is that tautology? Who cares?

Meanwhile, admirable kick-ass vicar Maggy Whitehouse (I blogged about her in 2018) posted on her Facebook page:


Well that’s a first… I’m on the prayer line this morning and the first caller was a man who said he was in social isolation and lonely. He turned out to be calling from his bath… and was making somewhat too-enthusiastic noises during the prayers. He did say, “Thank you,” and that he was feeling a lot better now afterwards. Obviously, I have to report him to the boss… but I think I should have charged him a very large amount of money… and fortunately, I’m just trying not to giggle.


This seemed bizarre and unique to me but apparently not. Comments on Maggy’s post included:


– I had a fair few of them while on my Samaritans hotline 😉
– I used to work for a crisis helpline similar to the Samaritans and we had many a call along those lines…
– I used to be a Samaritans listener… we had similar calls…
– Sounds like the time I was a Samaritan on duty on Christmas Day. The tale was different – at the end he learnt it was seen through and it was good he had opened his ‘Christmas Present’ quickly!!


The government’s figure for total coronavirus deaths in the UK is now 42,288… Up 135 in the last 24 hours.

FRIDAY 19th JUNE

Original edition. Lots of good advice.

In 2012, Ian Fox published his excellent book How to Produce, Perform and Write an Edinburgh Fringe Comedy Show which was edited by fellow comedy performer Ashley Frieze.

Now, with the coronavirus pandemic causing chaos in comedy and entertainment generally and the Edinburgh Fringe effectively cancelled this year, the dynamic duo have published a follow-up:

How to Write, Perform and Produce a Cancelled Edinburgh Fringe Show: A complete guide on how to not write, perform and produce a show at the Edinburgh Fringe.

A new book for the new COVID-19 era.

The book is a must-read. Handy tips include:

  • When and how to cancel things

  • How not to travel to Edinburgh

  • Writing a show that is cancelled

  • How not to get a review for a show that isn’t happening

And it’s all in aid of a good cause… The authors have suggested, for every copy purchased, a donation to the Trussell Trust which supports a nationwide network of food banks.

The book was free until yesterday and may be free from tomorrow in one form or another.

Ashley Frieze says: “The ongoing pricing seems to be some random mystery concocted by Amazon.”

Ian Fox: “Truthfully, we didn’t realise you couldn’t just do free Kindles anymore.”

The government’s figure for total coronavirus deaths in the UK is now 42,461… Up 173 in the last 24 hours.

If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing in triplicate…

SATURDAY 20th JUNE

As of today, I now have three letters – all confirming my Monday face-to-face appointment at the hospital.

It is to have another blood test, so it is unlikely it will get changed to a telephone call.

But never say never…

Never underestimate bureaucracy…

An article in The Guardian yesterday suggested that, at the height of the current coronavirus pandemic, deaths in the UK may have been 64% higher than reported because, part of the way through the current run of the pandemic, the government changed or, at least, the bureaucracy was able to re-define the type of deaths included in the statistics.

But the worst news of the week is that today I discovered – who knew? – that Tyrozets have been discontinued following a challenge from the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) over whether the use of an antibiotic in throat lozenges is “clinically relevant”.

Who cares? They worked.

Does anybody know where I can get hold of some 1888 cough syrup “with alcohol, cannabis, chloroform and morphia skilfully combined with a number of other ingredients”?

… CONTINUED HERE

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