Tag Archives: Ilford

Improbability factor of L.A. actress and a man at the Edinburgh Fringe, London

Charlie Wood(Underbelly), William Burdett-Coutts (Assembly), Ed Bartlam (Underbelly), Karen Koren (Gilded Balloon), Kath Maitland (Edinburgh Fringe), Anthony Alderson (Pleasance)

(L-R) Big 4 Fringe venue owners Charlie Wood (Underbelly), William Burdett-Coutts (Assembly), Ed Bartlam (Underbelly), Karen Koren (Gilded Balloon), Kath Maitland (Edinburgh Fringe) and Anthony Alderson (Pleasance)

Tonight, I am going to a London Fortean Society lecture by David J Hand on The Improbability Principle: Why Coincidences, Miracles and Rare Events Happen Every Day.

Well, one happened last night when I went to the ‘Big Four’ venues’ Edinburgh Fringe launch at the Udderbelly on London’s South Bank.

I was with Rochdale-born, L.A.-based actress and producer Amanda Fleming (no relation). She was off getting drinks (that is what producers do) when I was accosted by two people – a man and woman.

“Where are you from?” they asked me.

It turned out they meant: “What do you do?”

They were theatre producer Jude Merrill and writer/performer Saikat Ahamed, plugging their new Edinburgh Fringe production Strictly Balti.

“We were told,” said Jude, “that the important thing to do to get publicity was to find bloggers.”

“That’s only,” I said, “because no-one knows what’s going on in the media now and people are clutching at any and every unknown straw.”

Strange results from a decision in Birmingham

Strange results from a parental decision in Birmingham, UK

Strictly Balti tells the true story of how Saikat Ahamed’s Bangladeshi parents in Birmingham – a family of lawyers, doctors and suchlike respectable professionals – did not want him to become an actor so persuaded him to take dancing lessons. The result was that he decided he wanted to become an actor.

At this point, Amanda Fleming (no relation) came back with drinks.

I introduced her to them.

They had a little chat.

Saint Ahamed, Jude Merrill and Amanda Fleming last night

Saikat Ahamed, Jude Merrill & Amanda Fleming (no relation)

Then Saikat Ahamed said to Amanda Fleming (no relation): “Have I met you?”

There was a pause.

“Did you stay in my house?” he asked.

I looked at Amanda Fleming (no relation).

I saw the sudden realisation on her face.

“Good God!” she said.

“I had a house in Ilford,” Saikat told me.

“You did?” I asked. “I was partly brought up in Ilford. Your house wasn’t 39 Mitcham Road was it?” I asked.

“No,” he replied.

“That’s a pity,” I said. “I would have been an even better coincidence.”

“I was doing a pantomime,” said Amanda Fleming (no relation).

“Oh no you weren’t,” I said.

“Oh yes I was,” said Amanda Fleming (no relation).

From Birmingham, Ilford, Rochdale and London to this

From Birmingham, Ilford, Rochdale and Los Angeles to Edinburgh Fringe London launch

“We had a mutual friend, Lee,” said Saikat Ahamed. “You weren’t staying there long.”

“It was only,” said Amanda Fleming (no relation), “like two or three weeks, during rehearsal time.”

They had not seen each other for around 15 years and then only for a few weeks and he had accosted me randomly as I passed at an Edinburgh Fringe press launch to which Amanda Fleming (no relation) had also come. As she was temporarily not in L.A.

Tonight, I will be paying special attention to The Improbability Principle: Why Coincidences, Miracles and Rare Events Happen Every Day.

Who knows what may happen?

There is a trailer for Strictly Balti on youTube.

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What happened when I was admitted to a mental asylum when I was newly 18

I was born on Friday 28th July.

Just after my 18th birthday, on Friday 11th October, I tried to kill myself because of a girl. I have blogged about it before.

Obviously I failed and after I got out of hospital – as was not uncommon then – it was suggested I should go into a mental asylum. It was at Goodmayes, Ilford, in East London.

On Saturday 19th October, I wrote to a friend in Wales about it:

________________________

I never was any good at chemistry in school – I think I once managed to come next-to-bottom instead of bottom. I got out of King George’s Hospital on Wednesday afternoon. My underpants and one black sock had disappeared mysteriously while I was in there.

On Wednesday evening, I went in voluntarily to Goodmayes Hospital (the nuthouse) because I knew I wanted a rest and they thought I wanted help.

I was only there for one day because, on Thursday evening, I discharged myself, much to the annoyance of a point-nosed grey-haired man – a charge nurse – slightly balding, who filled in all sorts of forms and kept muttering about the extra work.

There was a secretary to the point-nosed grey-haired charge nurse – tall, thin and always reading intently – who laughed nervously at anything. He laughed loudly and shrilly. A really shrill laugh. He seemed like a patient, but he was one of the staff. The difference between the staff and the patients was that the patients walked slower.

Anyway, this charge nurse bloke was giving me what sounded like a prepared and rehearsed lecture on how I should not discharge myself and, at the same time, he was rolling a cigarette, looking down at it while he rolled it.

“You’re not reading it from the cigarette paper, are you?” I asked.

“Now why do you say that?”

“Hallucinations?”

“Well, it could be…”

I think that was why he was not too keen on letting me out.

He thought I might be seeing little green point-capped and grinning goblins crawling out of cracks in the walls.

When I had arrived at Goodmayes Hospital on Wednesday night, I had been very depressed. Very in the pits. They gave me a pill which gave me a surge into emotional elation. I did not really want to be elated but I had no choice. It was like a rocket taking off inside my body after I took the pill. Phwoeeeeeeehhh! Mindless happiness. I had trouble getting to sleep so they gave me two sleeping pills. The difference between the staff and the patients was that the patients walked slower.

The next morning, a doctor interviewed me at his desk in his room.

“You seem to explain it very well,” he told me. “I am talking to some students tomorrow. You can come and talk about your feelings to them so they can understand how someone like you thinks.”

The last thing I wanted to do was to talk to a room full of students like some academic lecturer. I wanted a rest. I did not want an audience. I wanted to be away from people. I realised they were not going to let me alone. I wanted a rest and they thought I wanted help.

I was in a ward with about ten people.

There was a queer bloke with glasses and smiling, intent eyes who had not had a shave that day. He kept going on about masturbation and had I ever let anyone do it to me and how good it would be. He was one of the nurses. He had started as a nurse in Goodmayes Hospital seven years ago, then left and been a clerk and a book-keeper and all sorts of things but then he came back.

“I came back to take care of people like you,” he told me.

When he heard I was discharging myself, he looked me deep in my eyes and told me:

“You’ll be back. People always come back. They think they won’t. But they come back.”

Also in the ward, there was an Irishman who read books about three inches from his nose and held them tightly with both hands and never looked at anyone, avoiding any eye contact with anyone else.

Then there was the hairy man with a torn pyjama jacket who lived in a triangular padded room at the back of the ward. They let him out for meals. He walked oddly, like he was doing it in slow motion. He would say: “Charles the First said it would happen,” and “Charles the First said he would never indulge it. He said he would never indulge it,” and “Harold Wilson Harold Wilson Harold Wilson Harold Wilson.”

And then there was the 20 year-old boy in the wheelchair who said he had a jaw disease.

“I’m in here because I have a jaw disease,” he told me.

He looked backward but I don’t think he was.

He kept talking about how he used to go mountain climbing and bog exploring.

“I used to like to go to quiet places and old ruins where I was completely alone,” he told me. “When I was outside. Before I came in here.”

He told me how he wanted to go camping and hiking. How told me how he threw cups and plates and bottles up in the air and liked to see things destroyed.

“I like to see things destroyed,” he told me.

He did nothing but cut out pictures of the athlete Lillian Board.

He was making a large Olympic chart backed by hardboard, covered with pictures of Lillian Board.

When I told him I was leaving that night, his eyes were like the sea without waves. He told me his girlfriend Evie, who used to live in Chingford, could not visit him very often.

“She has gone to live in Exeter,” he told me.

I gave him my address. I told him to write to me and promised to visit him.

When I left, the queer bloke with glasses and smiling, intent eyes was telling him about an isolated shed in the gardens outside the ward.

“You will be in here for a long time,” the bloke with glasses and smiling, intent eyes was saying to the 20 year-old boy looking up at him from the wheelchair, “And I will be in here too.”

_________________________

After I got out, I never wrote to the boy in the wheelchair. He never wrote to me. Other things happened.

Two years later, the athlete Lillian Board died of bowel cancer, 13 days after her birthday. She was 22.

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My encounters with Jesus Christ… and the reason I could say Yes to heroin

In yesterday’s blog – drink.

Today – drugs.

Tomorrow, who knows?

If you are lucky, maybe even sex.

I was 13 when the Beatles hit big; I was 17 in the Summer of Love. Prime druggie material.

I once spent a long time in a kitchen in Clapham with a close friend of mine and the boyfriend of one of her friends who, let’s say, was called Susan. We were trying to persuade him that Susan did not really want to see him and that he should get the train back to his home town in the north of England. The problem was that he knew he was Jesus Christ and this kept getting in the way of the discussion. He kept telling us how he could change anything by deciding it was changed. We eventually persuaded him to go with us to St Pancras station and we did put him on a train north, but he was of the opinion he did not really need to travel on trains as he was the Messiah.

The second time I encountered Jesus Christ was a couple of weeks after a plane had crashed on a crowded rural area in (I think it was) Holland. The person who had done this was prepared to make a plane similarly crash onto the Thames TV building in Euston Road, London. He told me (the person who said he made the plane crash) that he would do this unless Thames TV issued an on-air apology because one of their programmes had offended him and I should pay attention to what he said because his father just happened to be God and he himself, as you will have guessed, was Jesus Christ.

I have never taken any non-medical, so-called ‘recreational’ drugs though, at one time, I would have done.

The only drugs which ever attracted me were heroin and LSD.

Marijuana in any of its forms never attracted me. It just seemed to be an alternative to drink, though less self-destructive than alcohol and spirits.

I lost count of the number of times I sat in a room in the 1960s or 1970s while other people smoked joints and talked utter drivel.

The next day, they would go on and on about what a great, deep and meaningful philosophical discussion they had had the night before and I would think:

“Nope. I was there. You were talking utter drivel, like five year-olds after eight pints of beer.”

Hellfire – forget “I sat in a room in the 1960s or 1970s” – I have sat in rooms throughout my life listening to stoned people talking drivel.

Amiable drivel. But drivel nonetheless.

It is rubbish to say weed has no effect on anyone in the long term. Not if you take it regularly in significant quantities over a long period.

Neil in The Young Ones TV series was not a fantasy character.

That was social realism.

I have worked with real Neils.

I remember a very amiable and well-meaning but totally brain-groggy and decision-incapable head of department at a regional ITV company in the 1990s. His entire brain had been turned into semolina by twenty years or more of weed and pseudo-philosophical befuddlement. If he had been an alcoholic, he would have been dribbling saliva out the sides of his mouth; as it was, his few remaining brain cells were almost visibly dribbling out of his ears.

I might well have tried hash in the 1960s or 1970s but it just seemed to be a milder version of alcohol with less aggressive effects and there was also a seemingly tiny but actually rather large practical problem: I had never smoked nicotine cigarettes, so the whole technique of smoking and inhaling was alien to me. If anyone had offered me hash cakes, I would have eaten them; but no-one ever did.

To me, marijuana in whatever form was and is a mild and uninteresting drug. If you want to be relaxed, then I recommend you just eat a marshmallow, don’t stuff one inside your brain cavity.

A friend of mine told me in the 1970s: “You just don’t understand what weed is like because you have never taken it.”

But, in the 1980s, I vividly remember standing in Soho with a long-term alcoholic I knew as he looked lovingly into the crowded window display of Gerry’s booze shop in Old Compton Street.

You could see the tenderness and nostalgic thoughts in his eyes as they moved from bottle to bottle and from label to label.

I was not an alcoholic, but I could see objectively what the drink had done and was doing to him.

In a sense, to see the real effect of a drug, you have to not take it.

I was always very strongly attracted to LSD.

It held the very major attraction to me of mind-alteration and making surrealism real. But the attraction and alarm bells over-lapped and, in any case, LSD was not available in my circles in my middle class area in Ilford, East London/Essex in the late 1960s.

Yes, I went to events at the Arts Lab in Drury Lane; yes I read International Times and went to Blackhill Enterprises’ free rock concerts in Hyde Park before the sheer scale of the Rolling Stones’ appearance in 1969 ruined them. But life in Ilford at that point was not druggy.

By the time LSD was available to me, I had read enough about people freaking out on it, read of Syd Barrett self-destructing in Pink Floyd, seen other people’s minds gone wrong. And then there were the Manson Murders in 1969. Not acid-induced as such, but not totally unrelated to druggy people’s minds going haywire.

The logic of LSD, as I saw it, was that you could alter the chemical balance inside your mind and, as it were, temporarily re-arrange the inter-connections. But if you felt, as I rightly or wrongly did, that perhaps your mind was potentially ‘near the edge’ to begin with, then there was the obvious danger that LSD would tip you permanently over the edge.

So I would have taken acid during a short window of opportunity but it was not available to me until after that window of acceptance had closed. I never took it. And reading about Beach Boy Brian Wilson’s mind being sent spinning over the edge by one drink spiked with acid did not change my opinion. He spiralled out of control after that first acid trip of course but, the way Rolling Stone told it, the whole spiral began with that one tab of acid.

With heroin: the same thing. When I would have taken it, the stuff was not available to me. When it was available I no longer wanted to take it.

When I was in my late teens, a close friend of mine married someone who was ‘an ex–heroin addict’. But, even then I knew that being an ex-heroin addict is a bit like being an ex-member of the SAS. You can never be too sure.

Years later, when the first anti-heroin ads appeared on TV, a close friend of mine said to me, “They make smack look bloody attractive, don’t they?” and I had to agree with her. If I had been an impressionable young teenager and it had been available, I would almost certainly have taken heroin. The first anti-heroin TV commercials were almost, but not quite, as good a commercial for smack as Trainspotting which felt to me like a positive Jerusalem of an anthemic hymn to the attractions of smack.

That first injection of heroin may, as I have been told, give you the biggest high – the most gigantic orgasmic leap – you have ever had. But it is also a drug for nihilists.

So that’s the one for me.

I think, with heroin, the potential lows can be as attractive as the highs – something the anti-heroin ads never seem to have realised.

Whereas cocaine seems to me to be the drug of self-doubting egotists who want to prove to themselves that they are as special as they hope they might be.

But that is another blog.

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Bad language in Scotland?

Last night I went to a very interesting talk at the British Library by author and publisher James Robertson about The Guid Scots Tongue.

It was a bit like Scots comic Stanley Baxter’s legendary series of Parliamo Glasgow sketches in his 1960s and 1970s TV shows. But with genuine academic credibility.

James Robertson seemed to confirm that Old English developed into Middle English south of the border and into the “Scottish” language north of the border and that, ever since then, people have bemoaned the ‘fact’ that Scots is dying.

I remember Melvyn Bragg saying in his ITV series The Adventure of English that, before Henry VIII, English was a dying language only used by the underclasses. The upper ruling elite spoke Latin and Norman French. But, when Henry decided to split from the Roman Catholic Church so he could knob the wife of his choice, he created the Church of England and commissioned ’The Great Bible’ – the first authorised translation of the Bible into English not Latin. This was distributed to every church in the country and rescued English from its decline and possible extinction.

Last night, James Robertson pointed out that, when King James VI of Scotland took over the English throne in 1603, became King James I of England and brought the Scottish court to London, one of the things he did was to commission the 1611 translation of the Bible into English – the Authorised King James Version of the Bible – which was distributed to every church in England, Scotland and Wales. Ironically, it was never translated into Scottish and this strengthened the hold of the English language in Scotland.

My mother’s grandmother could not speak English until she came down out of the hills. She was born and brought up in the Highlands of Scotland and spoke Gaelic – pronounced Gaah-lick not Gay-lick. She only learned English when she came to the village of Dunning in Perthshire. Or, some might say, she only learned “Scottish” when she moved to Dunning.

Historically in Scotland, after a certain point, Gaelic was the language of the Highlands and so-called “Scottish” was the language of the Lowlands.

I have never believed there was such a language as “Scottish”. To me, it’s clearly a dialect of English (as opposed to Gaelic which IS a different language). Wikipedian debate will no doubt run for decades about it.

If you disagree, haud yer wheesht, dinnae fash yersell aboot it and try no to be too scunnered.

Most languages, dialects and accents are a dog’s dinner of sources. Fash apparently comes from the Old French fascher and ultimately the Latin fastidium. Scunnered apparently has its origins in Middle English. Nothing is pure, not even Baby Spice. Only the French try (unsuccessfully) to keep their language pure.

I was born in Campbeltown near the Mull of Kintyre on the west coast of Scotland. My home town pipe band played on possibly the dreariest song any Beatle ever wrote. When I was three, we moved to Aberdeen in north east Scotland. My parents had friends along the coast in Banffshire where the locals speak to each other in an almost totally incomprehensible dialect which theoretical academics now apparently call Buchan. I call it bloody incomprehensible.

A few years ago at the Edinburgh Fringe, I think I saw a comedy show entitled 100 Shit Things About Scotland though I can’t seem to find any reference to it. Maybe I just imagined the whole thing. But one of the 100 shit things about Scotland I thought I heard was the fact “There are some accents even WE don’t understand”.

Bloody right. Buchan fer yin.

When I was eight, we moved to Ilford in England – it is theoretically in Essex but actually on the outer edge of East London. Over the years, I’ve lost my accent; I never chose to.

So what I’m trying to tell you is I’m interested in language. Perhaps you guessed that.

On the version of the recent Census form distributed in Scotland there is, for the first time, a question about whether you can read/speak/understand not just Gaelic but also the so-called “Scots” language – though how many supposed Scots language variations there might be I cannot even begin to imagine. The words people use in Dundee, Glasgow and Thurso are very different.

There are some great common words. Dreich is almost un-translatable into English in less than an entire paragraph. Crabbit is just a great and appropriate sound. As is Peelie-wallie and many others. But there are amazingly diverse words all over the UK – Perth, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen have wild variations in words, let alone Tyneside, North Norfolk, the Black Country and Devon. They are not separate languages, though.

English is a wonderful language because it has so many variants and has hoovered up so much from other languages – cascade, table and situation are all unchanged in spelling from the original French but pronounced differently. The arrival of radio, movies and then television may have homogenised the English language and be slowly eliminating a lot of dialect and accent variations but, with English now the de facto world language, there are going to be hundreds of variant languages growing up in coming years to rival past pidgin English.

Indeed, this seems to have already happened with BT call centres in India. I don’t know what they are speaking, but it’s no form of English I recognise.

Perhaps I am just mare than a wee bit glakit.

Several times in bookshops, I have picked up Irving Welsh’s novel Trainspotting and looked at the first page then put it back on the shelf. It looks too difficult to read, though lots of English people have, so it must just be wee me. I remember at school in Ilford, for some extraordinary reason, we had to read Sir Walter Scott’s novel The Antiquary and I found it incomprehensible in places; heaven knows what my English classmates made of it. They never said. Must be just me.

When I edited Scots comedienne Janey Godley’s autobiography Handstands in the Darkwhich reads a bit like a cross between Edgar Allan Poe and the movie Gladiator – the two of us had to decide how to write quoted dialogue which could be printed on the page, as she was brought up in East Glasgow where dialect, slang and strong accents prevail. Should we write it with all the dialect words intact or spell words phonetically? Both of those would mean it might be difficult for readers in London, let alone New York or Sydney, to understand.

Eventually, we decided to slightly Anglicise the dialogue but to include Scots words which would be easily understandable to non Scots… and to print some words phonetically so there would be a feeling of accent – for example, we printed the “police” as the “polis” throughout, because that is how it is pronounced in Glasgow and it is a distinct yet not too confusing word. It felt like you were reading genuine Scots dialogue, even though it was slightly Anglicised. I was wary of using the Glasgow word close, which means an indoor stairwell, because, in Edinburgh, it means an outdoor alleyway.

It’s a sare fecht.

Look, I could go on for hours about this. Think yourself lucky it stops here.

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I am a racist and, to be honest, there seems to be not a lot I can do about it

The two groups of people I have problems with are Jews and South Africans.

I went to secondary school – well, OK, grammar school – in East London, near Gants Hill which, at that time, was a very Jewish area. So there were a lot of Jews in my school.

We all had to (allegedly) learn French and one other foreign language. We could choose either Latin or German. Almost all (perhaps actually all) the Jews took Latin. Well, think about it: anything ‘German’ was often associated with family problems… ie relatives and/or friends’ relatives slaughtered in the Holocaust.

Normally, we had three rows of people in Latin lessons. When there was a Jewish holiday, we had half a row. This was not uncommon in other lessons. When there was a Jewish holiday, teachers sometimes gave up any attempt to teach their subject to drastically depleted classes and we had general knowledge quizzes.

We had big classes and four graded streams – A, B, C and D. The Jews were almost entirely in the A stream, with a few stragglers in the B stream.

I have had a prejudice against the Jews ever since.

If I am going to meet someone called John Smith, I have no preconceptions about what he will be like.

If I am going to meet someone called David Goldstein, I automatically assume he will be highly intelligent, well-educated, sophisticated, civilised and interesting to talk to.

There’s very little I can do to shake this pre-judging of someone on purely ethnic, totally baseless grounds.

That may not seem too bad, although it is. It is pure ethnic racism.

But what is worse is that I really do have a blind prejudice against white South Africans. I have met quite a lot and, to quote the 1986 chart-topping Spitting Image song, I’ve never met a nice South African. Not one. Never have. In my experience, the song is entirely true in saying “They’re all a bunch of arrogant bastards.”

I suspect it must be something to do with the past education system or something… They were taught to be self-confident in a world that mostly disliked them and in a society where they used to live a life of self-confident superiority over the majority of their fellow South Africans. The Afrikaans white South Africans are a bit worse than the British-origined ones, but only slightly.

I once interviewed Donald Woods, the liberal, highly-respected and lauded ex-editor of South Africa’s Daily Dispatch newspaper who bravely stood up against the Apartheid regime. He was played in the movie Cry Freedom by Kevin Kline.

The real Donald Woods came across to me as a man with a very strong superiority complex. To me – rightly or wrongly – he too seemed to be an arrogant bastard.

Assuming all white South Africans will be arrogant bastards is pure ethnic racism on my part. It is indefensible; it is a knee-jerk reaction because, in my limited experience, I have met a fair number and they have all been appalling without exception.

On the other hand, almost all the black Nigerians I have met have impressed me by being very highly educated and very sophisticated. We are talking about almost Jewish levels of prejudice within me here.

But on yet another hand, I have a friend – a very caring, middle class, liberal white Englishwoman. She genuinely has several good black friends but she has had major problems with black Nigerian neighbours and, as a result, she has a tendency to be wary of and/or initially dislike black Nigerians. She is aware of the problem, but finds herself unable to do anything about it.

And I have yet another friend – again a very caring, middle class, liberal white Englishwoman – who had a holiday in Israel and came back disliking Israelis (Israelis differentiated from Jews). Her opinion of them is much like my opinion of white South Africans, not helped by the fact they insisted on an internal body search before she boarded the plane on the way OUT of Israel.

Where this gets us all, I have no idea.

Except that anyone who tries to justify their own prejudice is clearly a mental retard.

It seems I am a racist and, to be honest, there seems to be not a lot I can do about it.

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