Tag Archives: humour

Ariane Sherine wants to live to 100 and write 100 books, starting with this one

Ariane Sherine has had a busy week. It’s her birthday.

And she released the first episode of her weekly podcast Love Sex Intelligence.

And she has published her first novel, Shitcom, about two male TV sitcom writers.

She knows that about which she writes. She has been a writer on BBC TV’s Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps and on My Family.

She claims Shitcom is her first book, although she has previously published The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas, Talk Yourself Better and How To Live To 100.


A TV sitcom, a shitstorm and a switch…

JOHN: Why’s the new book called Shitcom?

ARIANE: It’s a novel about two comedy writers on a sitcom. One’s extremely successful and an arsehole. The other one is extremely unsuccessful but very nice… And they swap bodies.

JOHN: So it’s a cosy little comic romp…

ARIANE: No. It’s got racism, misogyny, homophobia, extreme swearing, graphic descriptions of violence and a short rape scene. The villain calls his mother a jizz-lapping old whore and calls his step-father a fisting spaffmonkey. He is obsessed with his penis because it’s only 2 inches long.

JOHN: You wrote it in 2004, when you were…

ARIANE: …a sitcom writer for BBC TV.

JOHN: So it’s all semi-autobiographical?

ARIANE: It’s ‘loosely based’ on my experiences. But all the characters are fictional.

JOHN: The plot is a body/identity swap story.

ARIANE: There IS a body swap and Neil – the nice guy – inhabits Andrew’s body and is able to get his sitcom idea commissioned, but he then realises fame and success are not all they’re cracked up to be.

Andrew is trapped in Neil’s body and there’s a hilarious/outrageous and disturbing turn of events which sees him end up homeless and having to have sex with a guy for money so that he can buy a gun.

JOHN: Why are fame and success not what they’re cracked up to be?

ARIANE: Because nobody treats you normally. It’s a very hyper-real/surreal type of existence. Most of the famous people I’ve met have been very nice, professional and reliable. They treat people really well. But I would not personally want to be famous. I don’t think it makes you any happier and you never know if people like you for you or just because you’re successful.

Ariane created and ran the Atheist Bus Campaign, seen here at its launch with Richard Dawkins (Photograph by Zoe Margolis)

JOHN: You famously created and ran the Atheist Bus Campaign and got shedloads of publicity.

ARIANE: I experienced the slightest distant glimmer of fame in 2009/2010 and it was quite disorientating. You don’t feel like yourself because people have this impression of you which doesn’t tally with your own impression of yourself. It’s confusing and I personally wouldn’t really want to be wildly famous.

JOHN: You wouldn’t want to be successful?

ARIANE: I think there’s a difference between having recognition for what you do and being a megastar where it’s so out-of-proportion that it’s ridiculous.

You really wouldn’t want Fred Bloggs accosting you when you’re trying to take the bins out – thrusting a camera in your face, demanding a selfie or an autograph.

JOHN: Alas poor Chris Whitty. You don’t want to be famous at all?

Ariane keeps her fingers in many pies, including podcasts

ARIANE: I wouldn’t mind a bit of recognition, but not being followed around by paparazzi wherever I go.

JOHN: Why did you not publish the novel in 2004 when you wrote it?

ARIANE: I had always wanted to write novels and I was putting the finishing touches to it in 2005 when I was violently assaulted by my then-boyfriend when I was pregnant with his baby. I had to have an abortion which I didn’t want to have. I cried every day for a year and I shelved the novel because I thought: I don’t want to focus on comedy! I’ve just been through hell! I don’t want to be focusing on jokes when my baby is dead.

JOHN: Wouldn’t focusing on comedy be cathartic in that situation?

ARIANE: I just didn’t feel I could write it successfully and, instead, I wrote a memoir of what had happened. That didn’t get published and I’m very glad it didn’t get published because it was so raw. It had a lot of scenes from my childhood and my dad was still alive and I think it would have got me into a massive mess.

So I sort-of lost interest in Shitcom. I shelved it and then a little later I started writing for the Guardian (until 2018) and I think I made some tweaks to Shitcom in 2008, but, as a Guardian columnist, I didn’t want to put out a book with an incredibly racist, sexist, homophobic male character and a ton of racial slurs in it. That felt like it might be a bit of a faux pas.

JOHN: And the Covid lockdown happened last year… That had an effect?

ARIANE: Yes. I was going to do a 100-date book tour for my last book How To Live To 100 but then the Covid lockdown came in, so the tour got shelved.

Shitcom was published after servicing Patreon subscribers

But I have a Patreon account and one of the subscriber tiers is my Writing Tier. 

Subscribers to that tier get a sample of my writing every week.

I came across Shitcom again and I thought I would send them that chapter by chapter. As I was reading it again, I realised it was hilarious and I loved it. So I thought Why don’t I just put it out rather have it languish on my hard drive?

I didn’t even try to get it traditionally published. Nobody in the publishing industry has seen it and, in this age of ‘cancellation culture’ I don’t think any publisher is going to be too keen on it.

JOHN: Have you thought about also publishing your ‘too raw’ memoir which you could now look back on objectively?

ARIANE: If I ever did write a memoir, it would probably be at the end of my career. I have so much left to do; and also my mum and brother are still alive and I wouldn’t want to hurt them with what’s in it. It might be something I do in 40 or 50 years.

I am aiming to write 100 books in my lifetime and I see Shitcom as the first book.

My next book – traditionally published by my publisher Hachette – is called Happier and will be my fourth traditionally-published book. 

Ariane also wants to write 100 books…

JOHN: You’ve said you consider Shitcom your first book but you have published three books already.

ARIANE: Well, they are all either co-writes or they contain a ton of contributions from other people. I think they are very enjoyable and I love my publishers, but I also want to put novels out – and, by self-publishing them, people can read them for just £1.99 each.

JOHN: So what’s your next solo book?

ARIANE: I’m Not In Love, another novel.

JOHN: Autobiograhical?

ARIANE: Partly. It’s about a girl who’s not in love with her boyfriend. He smells of banana. He does not eat or like bananas, but he has a strange banana smell.

JOHN: This bit is autobiographical?

ARIANE: Yes. It’s based on a boyfriend I had who is a comedian and writer and actually quite successful now. I don’t know if he still smells of banana, but I do feel sorry for his wife if he does. Also (in the book) he wears these terrible slogan T-shirts like While You Are Reading This, I Am Staring at Your Tits… And she falls in love with another man, but he’s engaged to be married and one of her unscrupulous, amoral friends says to her: Why don’t you just keep this guy that you’re engaged to around as insurance and date other guys behind his back?

So that’s what she does. But she is in her 30s and is aware that time is not on her side if she wants to have kids. So it’s a rom-com. 

It’s already written, the main character is really acerbic and funny and it will be out before the end of the year.

Shitcom is out now, though, for just £1.99. Buy it!

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A fond memory of eccentric – and very noisy – comedy performer Chis Luby

John Ward made the Malcolm Hardee Awards

Mad inventor John Ward is a man of many parts, many of them going spare. He designed and built the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award trophies and I have occasionally booked him on TV shows. 

One was in 1988 on the weekly ITV series Prove It! Participants had to ‘prove’ they could do something bizarre.

John now writes a weekly column for the Spalding Guardian newspaper and today he remembered fellow eccentric Chris Luby. Here are some of his memories:


The late Chris Luby was absolutely brilliant at ‘noise impressions’ such as a WW2 spitfire starting up, going down a runway and into battle, trains on the underground that to the untrained ear sounded very real plus many more.

I first met him some years ago when we both appeared on an ITV telly show called Prove It! presented by Chris Tarrant

We both recorded the pilot show plus both appeared in the first episode while I appeared in the whole series on a thirteen week basis presenting assorted inventions and gadgets.

Chrises Tarrant and Luby

Day one was rehearsal day with everybody involved getting to know each other, then going through our paces plus a studio run-through, then – all those still breathing – off to our designated hotels for a clean-up before dinner.

I was on the same table as Chris (Luby) for dinner/supper and it was an experience sitting there, looking at the menu while hearing about The train now leaving platform whatever… and going through to Kings Cross station, with all the assorted sounds and voices.

He sat there, menu covering his face, making these noises and, apart from the fact they were ‘spot on’ and very realistic, my thoughts were: “Does he ever stop!?”

He was doing his impression of whatever plane it was as the waiter came over to us to ask if we were ready to order. I said we would, just as soon as my companion came in to land.

The look on the poor waiter’s face was a classic as he didn’t know what was going on but then nor did I… but I was learning – I hoped.

The first night we spent in the lounge bar area of the hotel and, yes, he carried on going like a good ‘un with his assorted impressions of objects and people.

Eventually it was off to bedtime and I did sleep very well all things considered as it had been a really long day.

So imagine being woken up the next morning by what sounded like a detachment of the Grenadier Guards at the bedroom door, ‘marching on the spot’ outside.

I know I had asked for an alarm call but this was pushing it a bit.

I then heard what could be called a sergeant major’s ‘rallying call’ or “Git ‘art of bed, you ‘orribel little man!!!” as it dawned on me (well, it was by then daylight) it could be only Chris Luby. 

Does he ever stop? I asked myself.

Chris Luby – N0-one ever slept in HIS shows

His initial appearance had him in a Coldstream Guard’s uniform, coming through the middle of the stage curtains, making the sounds of a marching regiment… hobbling on crutches as he had broken his leg a week or so beforehand.

Culture didn’t come any better than this.

He used to perform about a twenty minute act consisting of assorted ‘sounds’ or noises, many military based and he made a decent living from it on the comedy circuit.

Sadly there is not much on the internet about him apart from the fact he passed away in January 2014 following an accident at his home when he tumbled downstairs.

That ended the life and sounds of ‘The Man of Many Noises’.

He wasn’t what you might call a ‘mainstream’ entertainer but anybody you mentioned his name to in ‘the show business’ always broke into a smile as they all seem to have a Chris anecdote.

He was one of those unique but talented people that, once met or seen, never forgotten.


SoundCloud has an audio clip of Chris Luby impersonating an RAF fly-past at the legendarily raucous church funeral of Malcolm Hardee in 2005…

…and YouTube has a clip of John Ward (though sadly not Chris Luby) on Prove It!

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There was a funny smell inside an English prison in the 1980s…

Keith introduces a programme at Anglia TV in his inimitable style…

So, yesterday I was having a chat on the phone with the delightful Keith Martin, a TV announcer whom I encountered during his 27 on-and-off freelance years at Anglia TV.

“…when I went to prison for the only time in my life,” was the end of one sentence. So, obviously, I asked for more details…


HMP Wayland in Norfolk: “It wasn’t a high security prison…”

KEITH: I was working at Anglia at the time. How or why we were invited to go to the prison, I just don’t know. I went with another of the Anglia announcers. This was probably in the late 1980s.

It was quite a modern prison – Wayland. It opened in 1985; Jeffrey Archer was imprisoned there for perjury in 2011. But I was there, as I say, I think in the late 1980s…

It wasn’t a high security prison but, as we went into one section, the door was locked solidly behind us before they opened the next door. It was that kind of prison.

JOHN: Why were you there?

KEITH: Probably some promotional thing for Anglia. I actually never knew. It was arranged last-minute. But, for some reason, we were there to watch the prisoners performing a pantomime.

JOHN: Oh no you weren’t.

KEITH: Oh yes we were. We went into a hall, not a particularly large hall. I can’t remember if the chairs were screwed to the floor… In fact, I think we were probably sitting on big, heavy benches.

JOHN: What was the first thing you noticed when you entered the prison?

KEITH: The smell. When we entered the inner sanctum of the prison, there was a very strong smell.

JOHN: Of what?

KEITH: Drugs.

JOHN: What was the inner sanctum?

KEITH: As we approached the recreational area.

JOHN: Recreational drugs?

KEITH: Indeed so.

JOHN: If there was a strong smell of drugs, the prison officers must have been aware of this too?

KEITH: I had the impression it was one way of pacifying the inmates. They allowed a certain amount of it to go on.

JOHN: Did someone actually tell you that?

KEITH: The way I would prefer to phrase it was that it was implied at the time that this was… tolerated… that this would be allowed to happen.

JOHN: How did the prisoners get the drugs in?

KEITH: Well, I found out one way years later when I went to a second-hand mobile phone shop in Clapham Junction where they gave you money for your old phones. I told the man: “I’ve got one of the original Nokia phones,” and he said: “Oh! They’re very popular… because people use them for other purposes!”

“What?” I asked.

“They stick them up their arsking-for-it,” he told me… And that’s how they were smuggled in to prisons back then. With a contraceptive. They put the Nokia phone inside a contraceptive.

(This would have been around 1999/2000.)

JOHN: It would be embarrassing if the phone rang in transit.

KEITH: I don’t know what the signal strength would have been like.

JOHN: Do you still have a Nokia?

KEITH: Yes, the old one and it still works.

JOHN: Where do you keep it?

KEITH: In a safe place. As a back-up. But, as I’m sure you know, this was why they put certain people on the potty.

JOHN: Why?

KEITH: They used to put them on a potty and then wait until they did ‘an evacuation’.

JOHN: What?? In prison??

KEITH: Didn’t you know that?

JOHN: No. They did that in case a Nokia fell out?

KEITH: Other brands are available but, yes, this was part of the security thing. Maybe they used German toilet bowls.

JOHN: German?

KEITH: When I worked for BFBS in West Germany and West Berlin, there was a ceramic platform at the back of the toilet bowls onto which your evacuation fell so you could inspect it before you flushed and the water gushed it down the hole. Some Germans are obsessed about what’s happened to their poo.

JOHN: Up the Ruhr?

KEITH: Enough, John.


As a sign of how things have changed, a 2017 report in the International Business Times revealed that inmates at Wayland Prison were now being allowed to use laptop computers to order meals from their cells and had been given in-cell telephones to keep in touch with relatives in the evenings. 

All the prison’s cells had telephones and the prison was “also planning the limited introduction of ‘video calling’ to friends and family later in the year.”

“However,” the report continued, “in common with most prisons, HMP Wayland continues to battle a tide of contraband flooding into into the jail… So far, in the first six months of this year, the jail’s seized haul includes over a kilo of drugs, 177 mobile phones and almost 500 litres of alcohol, most of which was illicitly brewed inside the premises.”

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You will not be paid for what you write “of course”… a not abnormal phone call

Mad inventor and Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award designer John Ward has a varied life. For the last six years, as well as all his other surreal duties, he has written a weekly Ward’s World column of around 1,200 words for the Spalding Guardian newspaper.

John Ward toiling over his weekly Ward’s World column for the Spalding Guardian…

Last week, his column was about telephone scammers.

Today, I got an email from John about reaction to that column:


Following on from my Ward’s World column last week about scammers ringing to tell people that their internet will be closed in 24 hours unless… blah… blah… “but give me your card details and I can sort it” tosh… I have heard of two ‘near misses’ and one who sadly fell for it – all being elderly, which comes as no surprise I suppose.

But the best reaction so far is…

My phone rings on Monday morning…

I am speaking to Andrew, who informs me he represents something called the Lincolnshire Rural Crime Prevention and Awareness Forum. He said he had read my piece online and was quite impressed with it.

He pointed out that the ‘Forum’ bit in the long convoluted title might be changed to ‘Panel’ (as in wooden maybe?) as this was to be brought up in their next meeting of minds.

However, while he thought my column was written ‘tongue in cheek’ (I begged to differ on that), he also thought it would be ideal – subject to my agreement – to reproduce in a new free quarterly county magazine that is in the throes of being put together before being sent to print.

So far so good.

However, the more we chatted, the more it seemed that he would not be ‘terribly’ happy to include the segment mentioning Argos, as this was ‘advertising’ plus, due to the length, it would have to be cut down “of course”.

I pointed out that the Spalding Guardian didn’t have any problems with printing it.

Plus, Andrew said, they could not pay me “of course” as I would be “donating it” for their use “of course”.

I asked him in return if he knew the date when slave labour was abolished or are they still pursuing this line of employment?

The term “of course” was beginning to grate a bit by now I must confess. But, if nothing else, I feel sure, if he gives up what he is doing now, a career at the BBC awaits him… based on some of the ordeals I have suffered with assorted individuals employed there over many years.

By now I was wondering if he was going to ask me for my bank card details but the next bit was quite something.

Would I object to it appearing without my name?

I responded with “Why not go the whole hog and reproduce Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens but leave out the author’s name… You would be on safe ground there as he is now dead.”

Andrew’s pause was acceptable…

… before he asked: “Who is dead?”

After another of his acceptable pauses, he said he thought I was being flippant.

John often gets unusual telephone calls…

So I pointed out that, if I read it right, he/they wanted me to ‘donate’ my writing efforts, for him or A.N.Other to edit as they saw fit, leave out assorted ‘segments’ that didn’t pass their standards plus I was not even going to get a mention, credit-wise, as the original author!

I asked him how much he would like me to donate to their cause and I bade him farewell with an old Russian sounding greeting – with the second word being “off”…

Of course.

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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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