Tag Archives: John Ward

The Kray Twins book review, setting fire to a politician and saving dirty nappies

Micky Fawcett, with son Michael, talked to me at the May Fair hotel

Micky Fawcett (left), with son Michael, at the May Fair Hotel

“There’s been a bit of a coincidence,” former Kray Twins associate Micky Fawcett told me at London’s May Fair Hotel yesterday.

In this blog a couple of days ago, Micky was talking about Nipper Read – the policeman who arrested the Kray Twins.

Micky said Nipper “was straight. But he weren’t straight with me”. He also mentioned James Morton, whom he called the “mouthpiece of Nipper Read.” James Morton was a lawyer, who later wrote books with gangster Mad Frank Fraser and about gangland in general.

Back in September last year, a mutual acquaintance of Micky Fawcett and James Morton gave Morton a copy of Micky’s book Krayzy Days. Morton asked the acquaintance: “Do you know how I can contact him?” But he never did.

Three weeks ago, the acquaintance told Micky what had happened back in September and gave him James Morton’s phone number.

Micky’s Krayzy Days remembered

Micky’s own Krayzy Days remembered

“So,” Micky told me yesterday, “I phoned James Morton and it was on answerphone. That’s typical, I thought. You can’t get through to them so they’ve got the upper hand straight away. But I left a message: I’ve been told you’d like to have a meeting with me. If you wanna give me a ring back, it can be arranged… A few hours later, the phone rang and it was him. He said: I’d like to ask you a couple of questions, and he then asked: Are we alright? Are we OK?.

“I said: Yeah, we’re OK. So he asked me a couple of questions and I said: Shall we have a meeting? He said: Nothing I’d like better.

“So, a couple of Fridays ago, we met at the Churchill Hotel in London. Most of the people we talked about were dead. It was that sort of conversation. There were a couple of things I couldn’t tell him, because people were still alive.

“One of the things I asked him was: How’s Nipper Read? I heard he had a blood pressure problem.

Well, he said, he’s 90. He’s had blood pressure problems and this and that.

“I asked him: Have you read my book? because, when I had walked into the Churchill Hotel, he had been reading it.

I was reading it, he said, but I put it down because you slagged me off in it and I’m not going to read it if you’re slagging me off in it.

“I didn’t know if he was being serious. He is very deadpan. But, he said, if you give me your e-mail address, I’ll finish reading it and tell you what I think of it. I’ll do a review. And now he’s sent me a paragraph.”

Micky showed me the paragraph that Andrew Morton had written:

Teddy Machin (Photograph from the book Krayzy Days)

’Terrible’ Teddy Machin’s death explained (Photograph from the book Krayzy Days)

Micky Fawcett and I have not always seen eye to eye (page 210) so this is not a review of a mate’s efforts. His book, Krayzy Days, however, is one of the best books on the Krays around. It is not one of those ‘I spent a night on the same wing as one of the Twins’. Fawcett was a genuine player. A former Long Firm fraudsman he had the sense to step away from the Krays after they invited him to kill a member of the Richardson gang following the Mr Smith’s Club shooting in 1966. But it is not just about the Krays. Fawcett knew the rest of the East End underworld intimately and he tells of the feuds behind such deaths as that of the hardman Teddy Machin. And then there are his experiences in the worlds of boxing promotions, counterfeiting and his time in Belgian prisons. A cracking good read.

“That’s a great review,” I told Micky yesterday. “Basically, he’s saying: I have no reason to like this man, but he’s written a bloody good book.

I was typing all that out this morning when I got an e-mail from this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith, based in Vancouver. The e-mail was headed:

The granite mountain towering over Squamish

The Stawamus Chief at Squamish

A one thousand cubic meter slab of granite fell off this local mountain on Sunday, the afternoon I took this photo 

and, indeed, there was a photo of the Stawamus Chief mountain attached. The text of Anna’s e-mail said:

I didn’t go downtown on Monday, but 25,000 people celebrating marijuana did. There was a lot of smoke, traffic gridlock all afternoon and 75 people were taken to hospital, mostly for ‘dizzyness ‘. 

There was a gigantic banner hanging from the art gallery shaped like a packet of rolling papers.

Instead of going downtown, I stayed home. I carried a bucket of water across the road to the vacant lot where transport lorries park containers. Beside the drying remains of a vast mud puddle, I built a small campfire from the twigs of a nearby dead pine tree and I placed a piece of plumbing hose and its fitting onto the fire.

Vancouver stag painting

What Anna missed on Vancouver’s weedy day

It was a bright sunny afternoon. The fire was cheerfully popping and gradually burning the piece of hose. Up on the road, cars and trucks rumbled over the speed hump. A man walked along the road. I wondered if anyone would see me and wonder why I was sitting beside a mud puddle and a fire, but nobody stopped or called the fire department. 

The rusted hose clamp which had given me so much trouble fell away when the hose was done burning. When the clamp cooled down I threw it into the bushes. I put out the fire with the water and put the two bronze fittings into the bucket. Then I went home and fixed my shower.

Your mad inventor friend John Ward was on the radio talking about his bra.

John Ward demonstrating his bra-warming device

John Ward demonstrating his original bra-warming device

The photo of the granite mountain which Anna attached was one which, she says, “towers above the town of Squamish”. The mountain does; not the photo. She added: “Ten people were climbing the rock face meters away from the chunk that broke off.”

She previously mentioned Squamish in this blog last November, when a local politician said he would set himself on fire. This week, when Anna was in Squamish again, she tells me:

“I asked a local if their politician had set himself on fire yet. The local looked at me as if I was stupid and said: Oh he did that months ago“.

And, sure enough, there is a video on YouTube of him, this February, setting himself on fire to the delighted whoops of local voters. Perhaps some British politicians might consider doing this during the current General Election.

As I finished typing the above, yet another e-mail arrived. It was from my local council. It said:

It’s Real Nappy Week! Hertsmere residents can claim up to £50 if they choose to use real nappies instead of disposable ones. 

Babies and toddlers go through lots of nappies – eight million of them in the UK every day. On average, a baby will need a staggering 4,500 nappy changes before they are potty trained. That’s 4,500 disposable nappies sent to landfill, or just 20 real nappies washed and used again.   

Councils across the county, in partnership with Hertfordshire County Council, offer a real nappy reward scheme to discourage the use of disposable nappies. People using real nappies or a nappy laundering service need to complete an application form in order to claim any money back through the scheme. Alternatively, we have free starter kits available for anyone who is interested and would like to give real nappies a go. 

This week we’re running a competition to win real nappy goodies.  Simply watch the new ‘Real Nappies Rock’ video and tell us what colour nappy the boy doing the roly poly is wearing! 

Hertsmere Council do not specify what their ‘free starter kits’ include.

The moral to this blog is that Life is full of shit, but it is also an occasionally interesting rollercoaster of variables.

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Filed under Canada, Crime, Drugs, Eccentrics, London

Six days in March: mafiosi in Prague, war in Serbia, Yanks in Amsterdam and a flying saucer in the Thames Valley

I have no time to transcribe the blog I should be writing today so, as always in such cases, you get a copy-and-paste from my e-diary – in this case, starting today 16 years ago in 1999


MONDAY 22nd MARCH 1999 – AMSTERDAM

Amsterdam (Photo by Massimo Catarinella)

Amsterdam (Photo by Massimo Catarinella)

There are precipitous stairs up to my new hotel. This, as with other houses in Amsterdam, is because there are two storeys below the two-storey hotel and people live vertically because, at one time, house tax was based on the width of your house so everything was built narrow.

The hotel is run by two thin gay men, probably in their late-40s or mid-50s, heavily wrinkled like white prunes.

The room has a brown carpet, pink bedsheets and bedspread; high light green walls with horizontal hanging ivy atop one of them. When trams pass, there is a thunderous rattling through the tall, single-glazed window. I think I may move soon.

TUESDAY 23rd MARCH – AMSTERDAM

Dinner with the Englishman who runs the TV station where I am freelancing. We previously worked together at TV stations in Prague in 1994 and 1995. He says Prague has changed since I was there; the various foreign mafias have taken over large sections of society; it started, he says, with the privatisation of taxis. The TV operation we both worked for in Prague was sold (at a loss) by UIH to Time-Warner last week; but, in return, UIH got Time-Warner cable interests in Hungary and elsewhere in Eastern Europe. Since the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, Eastern Europe has become the new Wild West.

WEDNESDAY 24th MARCH – AMSTERDAM

Dinner with three workmates. One of them observed that the Dutch give a bad time to Germans – shop assistants are coldly difficult to them in shops etc – because of the Second World War. As we ate, NATO planes and cruise missiles were starting to attack Yugoslavia/Serbia/Montenegro/Kosovo.

THURSDAY 25th MARCH – AMSTERDAM

In McDonalds, the assistant was giving a hard, contemptuous time to a well-dressed family of Russians who spoke very bad English.

FRIDAY 26th MARCH – AMSTERDAM

At breakfast in the hotel, there was an American couple: he was wide and tall like some American Football player, she was much smaller and much younger. The TV was tuned to BBC1 News. The American couple had missed the start of the bombing of Serbia, presumably because they were travelling around. Their abbreviated conversation went:

Him: “What’s going on?”

Me: “NATO has started bombing Serbia.”

Her: “What’s NATO?”

Him: “North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. It’s…what is it?…The big six?” (LOOKS AT ME)

Me: (CONFUSED)

Her: “I thought that was just a trade organisation.”

Him: “No, it does some policing, too.”

At Schiphol Airport in the evening, there was a group of very jolly people in their 20s – about a dozen – on the travelator in front of me. It turned out they were going to my Gate. And they were drunk – amiable, jolly and drunk. It came as no surprise they were travelling on Finnair to Helsinki as the only times I had encountered Finns before – in Leningrad in 1985 – they were all amiable, jolly and staggeringly drunk. Something to do with the strict drink laws in Finland: at that time, Finns came across to Leningrad, sold denim jeans and Western goods to Russians and got very charmingly drunk on vodka.

My friend Lynn’s partner Frank had asked me to get him some schnapps at the airport duty free – stuff you can only get in Schiphol. It comes in an opaque brown bottle. I couldn’t see it, so I asked a man who was stacking the drinks shelves: “Do you have any schnapps?”

Inevitably, I was standing right by the schnapps: he pointed to two different brands, both in white bottles.

“I was asked to get some schnapps in a brown bottle,” I said: “Do you have any in a brown bottle?”

He looked at me as if I was mad, almost shrinking backwards, and replied:

“No, we do not have schnapps in a brown bottle.”

The EasyJet plane to Luton took off two hours late because:

a) the incoming plane broke down in Luton and
b) they had to fly a replacement plane into Amsterdam and
c) they said: “Air traffic over Western Europe has been disrupted by NATO”

I suppose squadrons of giant B-52 bombers taking off from Gloucestershire and flying to Serbia would do that.

SATURDAY 27th MARCH – BOREHAMWOOD

John Ward drives home in his Wardmobile

John Ward driving to his home in his self-made Wardmobile

My chum mad inventor John Ward has built a flying saucer. Today, with his son, he was collecting it from a garage in Weybridge then coming round to collect some stuff from me on his way home to Northamptonshire.

On the way to me, he was stopped by a Thames Valley police car with flashing lights and siren. Inside was a Sergeant Whittaker.

“What do you think you are doing?” asked Sergeant Whittaker.

He told John they had looked at their cameras and seen John and his son driving along the road in their car pulling an object brightly painted in fluorescent orange, red, yellow and blue.

“You are a distraction,” Sergeant Whittaker told John.

“Thankyou,” said John.

“Don’t be flippant,” Sergeant Whittaker warned him.

Sergeant Whittaker then appeared to flounder around trying to find something on which to arrest John.

“Have you got a licence for that?” Sergeant Whittaker asked, pointing at the flying saucer.

“It’s a trailer,” John replied.

“It has a seat in it,” observed Sergeant Whittaker.

“Ah,” said John, “But it has no engine in it: so it is legally a trailer.”

John Ward knows about these things.

At this point, an old man on a motorcycle passed by and was so amazed by the flying saucer and the police car with the flashing lights that he lost control of his motorcycle, hit the central barrier and fell off.

“Look!” Sergeant Whittaker told John. “He was distracted by your… your… thing!”

“No,” argued John. “It’s all your flashing red and blue and white lights distracted him.”

Sergeant Whittaker said accusingly: “Why didn’t you tell us you were coming? We could have arranged a police escort.”

“You’re joking,” said John.

“No I’m not…..Where are you going with it?”

“I’m dropping in at a friend’s in Borehamwood to collect some stuff, then taking it home.”

“Oh no you’re not. You’re a distraction. You’re taking it straight home.”

At this point, John phoned me on his mobile.

“Are you phoning the press?” the sergeant asked.

“Not yet,” said John.

“I know you from somewhere,” Sergeant Whittaker said. “Have I seen you on television?”

“No, I’m not him,” said John. “Reg, the bloke with the glasses in Coronation Street. People sometimes confuse me for him. But I’m not him.”

“No, you’re not him,” agreed Sergeant Whittaker, “but I think I’ve seen you somewhere.”

Eventually, Sergeant Whittaker got in John’s car and his policeman mate drove the police car. They set off in convoy, lights flashing and escorted John’s flying saucer to the border of the next police area – where a Buckinghamshire police car took over.

“Is that it?” the Buckinghamshire policeman asked when he saw the flying saucer. He had obviously been expecting something like a vast over-hanging mobile home on a pantechnicon.

When the Buckinghamshire police car reached the borders of Northamptonshire, there was a Northamptonshire police car waiting for them.

“Oh,” the Northamptonshire policeman said on seeing John, “It’s you.”

“Have we met?” John asked him.

“No,” said the Northamptonshire policeman.

When the other car had gone, the Northamptonshire policeman told John: “They’re mad down south. It’s a waste of time. They should be out catching criminals. I’m going back to the station.”

And off he went.

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Filed under Czech Republic, Eccentrics, Holland, Police, Yugoslavia

British political party promises 15% off phone bills for people who stutter

Al Murray - future MP

Al Murray – future MP? Or scuppered by bureaucratic rules?

Politicians? Comedians?

Eddie Izzard seems to keep saying he may or may not stand as Mayor of London.

And Al Murray – brighter than most politicians – has said he is standing in the upcoming General Election.

But will he?

Lord Toby Jug, leader of the new Eccentric Party of Great Britain (a protégé of the late lamented Screaming Lord Sutch’s Monster Raving Loony Party) says:

Lord Toby Jug launches his new party

Lord Toby Jug is on the look-out for floating voters

“Al Murray may end up crying in his beer. His Free United Kingdom Party (FUKP) has not yet been registered with the Electoral Commission nor approved. It takes 30 days and, if it sounds similar to other parties’ names, he will have to find another name.

“It took me four months to register my party; they deemed my previous names too similar to other parties. Al won’t be doing much canvassing in South Thanet either, as he’s on tour – and will be doing a gig in Dartford on election night. I personally think it’s a massive publicity stunt to promote his tour.”

Lord Toby Jug’s new Eccentric Party includes, as its Chairman and Minister For Inventions, Sir Dusty Wells-Fargo – otherwise known as mad inventor John Ward.

John Ward with some Malcolm Hardee Awards for Comedy

John Ward with some Malcolm Hardee Awards for Comedy

John designed the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards. and was previously Minister for Inventions in Screaming Lord Sutch’s Monster Raving Loony Party.

Already-announced policies of the new Eccentric Party include the nationalisation of public toilets, building taller buildings for higher education and getting dental charges capped. Their controversial immigration policies include putting giant photos of Russell Brand, Katie Hopkins and Jeremy Clarkson at airports to discourage people from settling in Britain.

An inaugural Eccentrics Party meeting was held two days ago at Party HQ –  the Oliver Cromwell public house in St Ives, Cambridgeshire. I am told it was “packed to the rafters with prospective candidates and party members from all over the UK.” The new party’s policies were discussed.

I quote from the minutes of the meeting:

The Eccentric Party launched yesterday

The very first members of the Eccentric Party & some seagulls

We will stop alcohol abuse in our cities and town centres by introducing an unhappy hour with one drink for the price of two to stop drunken yobs making them no-go-zone areas at weekends. 

All swimming pools will be drained once a week for all non-swimmers.

We will make the British climate more temperate all year round by tapping into the natural resource of hot air around Westminster.

We will paint Britain’s sea limits so that British fish know where they are at all times.

15% off of phone bills for people who stutter.

The Eccentric Party launch

The Eccentric Party’s literal launch on the River Great Ouse

TV Debates… All participants in the TV debates will be made to wear suits colour-coded to their party. David Cameron will be in a sober-looking midnight blue suit. Ed Miliband would wear a pillar-box red suit. Nick Clegg would be in canary yellow. The Green Party’s Natalie Bennett would be in bilious green. And Nigel Farage of UKIP would wear the purple-and-yellow stripes of a seaside entertainer. This solution will allow viewers to easily differentiate the parties without reference to their confusingly similar policies.

It was discussed that fuel tanks in motor vehicles would be converted from accepting gallons to the now poplar litre versions over a slow phasing-in period.

Approaches would be made to the Heinz food company to change their product range to Heinz 60 as opposed to the present Heinz 57 so as to go to the nearest square figure as this would help with auditing processes and saving a small amount of ink.

John Ward and Rev Pedro Perrnackerpan

John Ward (left) and the Very Reverend Pedro Perrnackerpan

This motion was carried although the Very Reverend Pedro Perrnackerpan wondered if it was possible to enquire at the same time if they were considering manufacturing tins of beans on toast as his grill was in need of repair as the gasman had missed three appointments so far.

Guest speaker Baron Giles Fromhome of the St Ives and Huntingdon District Mountain Climbing Club was present to enquire as to the Party’s feeling about handrails being fitted on the local mountains and, after much discussion, it was agreed in principle that this would be possible but only on the left hand side going up, due to lack in resources. But it would be possible to use this facility coming back down by walking backwards though using caution with respect of possible bumping into those going up.

Lord Toby Jug’s letter to the papers

Lord Toby Jug’s letter to the newspapers was much admired

The Party Leader, Lord Toby Jug, was congratulated by the honourable members on having letters printed in the Independent, Daily Mail, and Daily Mirror, giving his unique take on the Battle of South Thanet… Murray v Farage.

Copious amounts of jelly and ice cream were then consumed before legendary politician and party leader, Lord Toby Jug, took to the stage and told all prospective candidates to return to their constituencies and prepare for government.

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Filed under Comedy, Eccentrics, Humor, Humour, Politics

My surreal yesterday

A selfie taken by myself while asleep

A selfie taken by myself while asleep but not while dreaming

I am someone who remembers his dreams only rarely. This morning, I remembered a detail from last night.

I was with a group of people and went ahead to check-out or to book a restaurant.

The restaurant was crowded and, at the entrance, there was a piece of paper lying on a table with a partially completed painting of an ape’s face. A man then drew a single line top-to-bottom on the uncompleted face of the ape to create a nose which comprised both a left and right side.

Before this (in my dream) I had been to another restaurant where another man had been creating a painting of something else. I do not remember what. I am not sure I even knew in my dream.

I have no idea where either of these dreams came from.

In what passed for reality last night, in crowded pre-christmas London, a traditional Christmas-card stage coach pulled by two horses passed me in Charing Cross Road, near Leicester Square. Further down, a small Cinderella type spherical coach pulled by two horses was passing the National Portrait Gallery. Round the corner, inside the National Gallery there were no pictures of apes and no-one was painting.

Afterwards, my eternally-un-named friend and I went to see the play King Charles III at Wyndham’s Theatre. Lovely theatre.

King Charles III poster

King Charles III poster for the man who would be George VII

The play is plotted around some future time when the Queen dies and Prince Charles becomes king.

Though, in fact, I seem to remember Prince Charles saying years ago that he would take the title King George VII when he ascended the throne, presumably because King Charleses have a dodgy pedigree – the first had his head chopped off and the second hobnobbed with female orange-sellers. The recent Georges (well, V to VI – let’s ignore I to IV) have a solid, dependable feel to them.

The play had a good enough plot with a good enough ending but it was utterly ruined by the fact it had been decided to write all the dialogue of this future fantasy in pseudo Elizabethan blank verse interspersed with modern-day slang. I am sure this affectation was bullshitted as something deeply intellectual and meaningful and possibly even looked good on paper, but it scuppered both credibility and my will to live.

London was crowded last night

Crowded London last night,  last Saturday before Christmas

After this, at London Bridge station, in a crowded corridor, we passed a man with bulls horns on his head. A few minutes later, in a totally different corridor, a man was trying to run through the crowd dressed as a matador.

The two men appeared to have no connection.

When I got home, there was an e-mail from mad inventor & Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award designer John Ward telling me that he was now Chairman and Minister For Inventions of The Eccentric Party. He signed himself ‘The Most Honarabble Sir Dusty Wells-Fargo’. This hints, I think, that it is unwise to live in Lincolnshire.

Although Vancouver must run it a pretty close race.

Because I also had an e-mail from this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith. I have no explanation for her reference to a spaniel. Nor for much else. Her e-mail reads:


Anna Smith in the Vancouver bookshop

Anna Smith, a woman with surreal tendencies

I know a couple of feral puppies just flown in from Santiago de Chile to the suburban wilds of Surrey, British Columbia. One is male, one female (in case the spaniel is gay) but they won’t be old enough to marry for a while.

I saw two different men on Davie Street who were wearing long tails: one looked like a rope, the other a rainbow-coloured horse tail.

A few nights ago, a man on Robson Street was wearing a white home-made dog-like mask. A few minutes later I saw a man wearing a white ten gallon cowboy hat, a white T-shirt and black Wellington boots. I think he was wearing shorts.

In the library, the kid at the computer next to mine was rolling a huge joint.

The librarians no longer have desks. They roam around and are difficult to locate but there is a phone from which they can be summoned. There are wicker baskets full of condoms and lube on the shelves and still a few books.

There is a lot of swearing, with people screaming “Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!” at their computer screens and fights break out with monotonous regularity. Everyone is used to this. They glance up to be sure it is not escalating towards them and return to their screens.

The provincial government is very smug because they just spent millions of dollars to increase the mental hospital capacity by fourteen beds.

Out in the rain, I talked with a broken-looking older man trying – without success – to sell calendars for charity. I asked him what he was going to do for Christmas and he said he was going to stay home and do ecstasy.

Earlier in the day, a couple of gay Jehovah’s Witnesses stopped to talk to me. They said they could show me how I could live for a thousand years.

“But I don’t want to live for a thousand years,” I told them.

“You won’t have to die,” they said.

“But I’m not afraid of dying,” I told them. “I have died so many times. It was not scary at all. It was totally relaxing. All the things you worry about like the water bill you don’t care any more. I did not go through a tunnel or see lights or anything and, when I came back, I was happy.”

They looked relieved… What I said to them about dying not being unpleasant really seemed to cheer them up and they walked away happily of their own accord and went across the street into a cafe to take a  break from the witnessing.


Perhaps I am missing nothing by seldom remembering my dreams.

Life can be surreal enough.

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Filed under Canada, Dreams, Surreal, Theatre

The surreal show at the Scala last night

The Scala at King’s Cross in London

Purveyor of oddities – the Scala at King’s Cross

Sometimes it is better to see shows blind.

A few months ago, I was invited to go see a show which happened last week.

By the time the day came round, I had completely forgotten who had invited me or what the show was. So I went along not knowing what to expect.

It was very good.

Much the same thing happened last night.

I went along to the Scala in London to see the Greatest Show on Legs perform during a show which I thought was probably a music event of some kind. I had not really bothered to ask.

In fact, it turned out to be a mega-variety show staged by promoters White Mischief. It was called The Haunted Halloween Ball.

Stage crew watch as The Greatest Show on Legs perform their naked balloon dance to startled Halloween-themed audience

Stage crew watch as The Greatest Show on Legs perform their naked balloon dance to a startled Halloween-themed audience

The audience dressed in Halloween costumes and the performers were of a top-notch quality which I can only compare to the level of the old Paul Daniels Show on BBC TV or ITV’s old Sunday Night at The London Palladium in its heyday (not to be confused with ITV’s misbegotten recent dog’s dinner called Sunday Night at The Palladium).

It is still relatively rare to see a wildly energetic exotic dancer with a flaming hula hoop (I mean the hoop was in flames) followed by a near-naked werewolf trapeze act.

I was talking to one of the acts in the backstage corridor later.

They told me that the buzz of performing had been amazing – like the first and only time he or she had ever taken heroin.

Showman Adam Taffler last night, as the Greatest Show on Legs prepare to perform Michael Jackson’s Thriller with rubber bands

Showman Adam Taffler last night, as the Greatest Show on Legs prepared to perform Michael Jackson’s Thriller with rubber bands

I am not sure this kind of simile should be encouraged, but there was certainly a buzz in the auditorium from a very good audience who wanted to see new things.

Showman Adam Taffler – one of the more extravagantly-dressed people backstage despite the fact he was not performing – told me he thought London audiences had now developed a taste for large-scale one-off events with strong formats. He recently staged Soirée in a Cemetery with Stewart Lee, the British Humanist Association Choir and much more.

Last night, The Haunted Halloween Ball show started at 9,30pm. It finished at 4.00am. I left at 12.30am when the show was still going strong. In the train home to Elstree, three middle-aged women were dressed as nuns. I think they were in fancy dress costume. But they might have been real.

By that time, reality and surreality had started to blur.

One of the UK’s more sensible political parties - The Monster Raving Loony Party

One of Great Britain’s more sensible political parties.

This morning, I woke up to an e-mail from mad inventor John Ward. It simply said:

“I have just had an e-mail from the Monster Raving Loony Party with a request to build something for one of their candidates in the forthcoming General Election next May.”

Like I said, reality and surreality have started to blur.

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Filed under Cabaret, Performance, Surreal

New documentaries released about mad eccentrics: inventor John Ward and dangerous art performer Ian Hinchliffe

John Ward with small but effective fire engine

Mad inventor John Ward with small but effective fire engine

Last week, I mentioned that mad inventor John Ward had built probably the smallest fire engine in the world (it is for small fires) based on the chassis of a 3-wheeled Robin Reliant car.

As there is only one Robin Reliant Fire Engine and he owns it, John decided to start an Owner’s Club for himself (why wouldn’t he?) and drew up a membership form. He tells me that, at the last event he attended (yes, he attends events), he signed-up two other members to the club.

He told me this morning: “It is not hard to see how governments get in.”

Further joy, he tells me, was unleashed on his already happy body by picking up a copy of Classic Car Weekly newspaper yesterday to find they have added his Reliant Fire Engine Owners’ Club to their listings.

Not surprisingly, John Ward features in a new feature-length documentary: A Different Drum: Celebrating Eccentrics. It also features the late and much-lamented Screaming Lord Sutch, Canadian pianist Glenn Gould and one Sarah Winchester, who built a 158-room mansion to house the ghosts of those who died as a result of her husband’s inventions.

The movie premiered at the Vancouver International Film Festival this week (it gets a second screening later today) and this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith went along to see it.

“It is a good movie,” she told me this morning. “Long, but interesting and funny.”

She attached a photo of a man, a woman and a duck on stage.

Director John Zaritsky with duck lady and duck this week

Director John Zaritsky with Duck Lady & Bobby at premiere (Photograph by Anna Smith)

“In the pic,” she said, “is the director, Academy Award winner John Zaritsky, and Duck Lady, who is another eccentric in the film. I have seen her often, over the last thirty years, doing her gig on Robson Street in Vancouver with her fortune-telling ducks, The duck in the pic is called Bobby. Since I am not that interested in ducks or fortune-telling, I had never interacted with her. But I stood and took this pic for your blog after the screening and held Duck Lady’s hand getting down the stairs from the stage. Bobby the Duck spoke a bit during the screening, but was declining interviews afterwards.”

Director John Zaritsky won an Oscar in 1982 for his documentary Just Another Missing Kid. He also won a Cable Ace Award in 1987 for Rapists: Can They be Stopped, a Golden Gavel Award from the American Bar Association for My Husband is Going to Kill Me, a Robert F. Kennedy Foundation Award for Born in Africa, and a DuPont-Columbia Award in 1994 for Romeo and Juliet in Sarajevo.

An interesting range of documentaries.

Which brings us to Hinch, a documentary he did not direct.

Last night, I went to Hackney Wick in London to see the DVD launch screening of this further leap into eccentricity.

I was a little surprised to see myself credited on the back of the DVD’s cover for supplying some film clips used in the production.

But I think this is a fair glimpse into the state of my memory.

Ian Hinchliffe in mud & rubble outside Riverside Studios

Ian Hinchliffe in mud & rubble outside Riverside Studios (in a still from Hinch: A Film About Ian Hinchliffe)

Hinch: A Film About Ian Hinchliffe does exactly what it says on the front cover. It is a film about the late performance artist Ian Hinchliffe, who has occasionally turned up in this blog before.

In July 2011, one of my blogs mentioned the occasion when he set fire to his own foot at the ICA.

In July this year, another mentioned the occasion when he went to roadworks in a street outside the Riverside Studios in London, removed his clothes, jumped into a muddy trench and began to build a giant penis with the mud. Police were called. Film of the incident is included in the new DVD.

The blurb for last night’s screening gives a fair idea of Hinch…

Ian Hinchliffe (1942-2011) was a performer who could bring a sense of menace, unpredictability and absurd humour into any creative arena. Hinchliffe hated the bland: life to him was an adventure and he pursued it with an insatiable, dangerous and playful delight with little distinction between on and off stage. His impromptu performances took place in the street, on public transport systems, in social clubs, art centres/laboratories, theatres, summer festivals, pubs, once in a consecrated church and, God help us, even the odd art gallery.

Ian Hinchliffe in the 1980s

Ian Hinchliffe in 1980s – genius, bully, fisherman or drunk?

Last night’s screening was followed by a live discussion on (I quote) “whether Hinchliffe was a performance genius, social terrorist, formidable artist, musician, bully, fisherman, entertainer or an irritating drunk.”

In truth, he was a bit of all those.

The DVD was produced by Ian Hinchliffe’s friends Roger Ely and Dave Stephens.

Last night, Roger Ely said of Ian:

“We had a big bust-up because he tried to throw me out of a car going at about 70 miles an hour. Ian and I had come back from a very successful two month tour of North America and Canada and we were doing three performances at the Oval House in London. The first two were awful, dreadful. He tried to throw me out of the car at 70mph because he was annoyed that the third performance had actually worked.

“I first met him in 1973. He was about to be beaten up by a whole crew of people at Leeds University. His performance was causing a riot – a load of what Ian called ‘rugger buggers’ were out. Insults and fists were flying.

“You couldn’t get two more opposites than me and Hinch. He taught me so much. I was a ponced-up public schoolboy working with this kid from Huddersfield. That kind of battle – and it was a battle – continued throughout our relationship and kind of came to a crunch with him trying to throw me out of the car. I suppose it was a scenario about control. We didn’t talk to each other for five or six years, but we made up. I made the film because I didn’t want to see his legacy disappear.”

Released yesterday: an art absurdist captured - Ian Hinchliffe

Released yesterday: an art absurdist captured

Roger’s co-producer Dave Stephens added:

“There is a kind of gap in the art history of Britain. When you go into places like the Tate Gallery, you often find the conceptual kind of art is very heavily recognised, quite rightly so. But there is a gap – the whole period of the 1970s, where there was a tie-in with overlaps between theatre and performance art – which is not really being acknowledged.

“It is almost like the thing you hide under the carpet – It doesn’t fit into any brackets. One of the problems is that, with people like Ian, they didn’t give a shit whether they were called artists or theatre people or whatever. What they were interested in was actually being creative – creating whole new visions for people to look at and often taking those out into places which were never recognised as art venues.

“In a way, what our film is about… is trying to package something which is unpackagable so it becomes palatable for people to then start finding a place for it. One of the problems is that (almost) nothing was ever recorded in the 1970s – almost intentionally never recorded.

“Nowadays it is like (artist) Richard Long goes for a walk in order to record the walk. We went for a walk to have a walk and we wanted people to come with us. We didn’t care if nobody had a record of that, because it was remembered inside them.

“And that does not quite fit into art history. What is inside people can get kind of lost. So, for me, what the whole purpose of this film has been about is building a package that can re-introduce some of what is being lost.”

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Slugs having sex, dogs high on drugs, sawing-up cars & comedy in cemeteries

The Bo Diddlers diddling last night (Photo by my eternally-un-named friend)

The Bo Diddlers last night via the comedian from Venus (Photograph by my eternally-un-named friend)

Strange things are happening.

No change there, then.

Last night I saw Ewan Wardrop aka The Silver Peevil, the stand-up comedian from 1930s Venus – aka a George Formby one-man play – aka a former Matthew Bourne principal dancer – perform an astonishing hour-long dance show Stump! with his six-man morris dancing troupe The Bo Diddlers.

It is very rare to see a morris dance based on The Midwich Cuckoos book/Village of The Damned film nor another based on what appeared to be the Dawn of Man ape sequence from the movie 2001. Astonishingly original choreography.

“They are gorgeous,” said my eternally-un-named friend, “Captivating. They made me feel like dancing. You know the way boy bands have dolls they sell to fans? This group could have figurines. You could arrange them dancing on your mantlepiece.”

“Maybe,” I said.

The Bo Diddlers are repeating the show at The Place tonight.

Soiree in a Cemetery

A fully sold-out soirée in a Cemetery somewhere in London

Which clashes with the one-off Martin Soan/Adam Taffler event Soirée in a Cemetery in which comedian Stewart Lee, the British Humanist Association Choir and others perform a comedy show in a Victorian cemetery somewhere in London (it’s a secret until later today) – all accompanied by cake and hot spiced cider from the Women’s Institute. Tickets have sold out.

Slightly eccentric you might think. But only comparatively.

I have received an email from mad inventor John Ward, who designed the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards trophies. He lives in Lincolnshire. He tells me he is in a documentary being premiered next Wednesday at the Vancouver International Film Festival.

The film is called A Different Drummer after a quote from Walt Whitman: I step to the beat of a different drummer. Not surprisingly, as John Ward is featured, it is about eccentrics. There is a trailer on YouTube.

What is it about Vancouver? Is it becoming the world centre of eccentricity? Or has the entire world gone doolally?

This blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith lives in Vancouver. She spotted a notice:

Notice spotted by Anna Smith in Vancouver

Anna Smith spotted this in an educational Vancouver building

ATTN: Debriefing for the Porn & Genital Image Online Survey and the Romantic Relationships & Mindfulness Online Survey will now be held in room 1606.

Anna has also been watching TV and tells me:

“On the CBC, the big news is veterinary. Doctors are saying that far too many stoned dogs are showing up at clinics and they wish the owners would just be honest about the problem, because vets have to give the dogs expensive blood tests. The laboratories found that although, in a few dogs, traces of cocaine and heroin were detected, the overwhelming majority of the dogs had ingested too much marijuana. However, the veterinarians said that it is not lethal, not a reason to panic and the most common side effect is that – I quote – It gives the dogs the munchies…”

Without pause or link, Anna then asked me:

“Just wondering, have you ever taken a picture of slugs fucking?”

A reasonable enough question (it seemed to her) but I had to say I had not, although my eternally-un-named friend appears to be on a barely-controllable mission to eradicate slugs from Planet Earth. She was out in the dark again late last night.

Slugs mating with something coming out the bottom (Photo by Cathleen Smith, Anna's mother)

Slugs mating with something coming out (Photo by Cathleen Smith, Anna’s mum)

“My mum,” Anna Smith told me. “took pictures of slugs fucking. They created a thin string of slime about a metre long and were dangling from the roof all day, possibly for several days. I visited my mother whist this blessed event was taking place. I don’t know which slug was emitting the slime or if it was both of them or what that blob of goo is. We live in what is left of a rainforest. Slugs love it. People make fun of them.

“My grandmother used to wonder why there was so much fuss about slugs. She once asked: Why don’t people just eat them? They eat snails.

Anna had no answer to this. Neither do I.

Meanwhile, back in the UK, John Ward has started to tinker with motorised vehicles again.

John Ward with small but effective fire engine

John Ward with his small but effective fire-fighting engine

He was last heard-of in this blog arranging and supervising a charity cabbage-hurling event, but his last motorised effort was creating what is apparently the smallest fire engine in the world, based on the chassis of a 3-wheeled Robin Reliant car. He created it because the British government has been trying to save money and has closed various local fire stations. John Ward likes to help out.

He tells me his next effort involves stripping down another Robin Reliant to the chassis.

“I took the car apart,” he told me, “but what do you do with the body? It’s too big for our local rubbish tip. So I got a small bench saw and reduced it to a wheel barrow full of smaller bits before putting them into carrier bags – Tesco ones of course as every little helps. Then I took it to the tip.”

I have no idea where any of this leads – neither the sawing-up of 3-wheeler cars nor taking photographs of slugs mating; neither trained ballet dancers doing morris dancing nor holding comedy shows in cemeteries.

I can only sit back and wait expectantly.

Strange things are happening.

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One man’s memory of two brief chats with Robin Williams… So It Goes.

John Ward's snow machine

John Ward’s snow machine

John Ward, designer of the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards, has sent me a memory of comic Robin Williams, who seems to have committed suicide yesterday. John writes:


While in New York some years ago, I was on a couple of TV talk shows with Patch Adams, a doctor of medicine and self-taught clown who brought laughter to medicine and had a large following in the States because of his ethos of not turning sick people away because they don’t have medical insurance or money to pay for their treatment.

The book on which movie Patch Adams was based

The book on which the movie was based

We got on rather well as we have the same basic sense of humour and, on his visit to England a while later, he stopped with us for a few days as he was giving lectures to assorted medical colleges etc and he told us his book – Gesundheit! – was being turned into a film and he was hoping that Robin Williams would play him. Which he did. A few months later, our phone rang and it was Patch. He was at Robin Williams’ home in a ‘meet the person to study for the role’ type of thing and had explained he knew me and, before I could utter a word, I was handed over to Robin Williams. Robin spoke in fluent ‘machine gun’ and I think I kept up with him. After a few minutes of general banter of the ‘when next in the US, pop round’ sort of thing, I was handed back to Patch. I said I would be thrilled if he could send me a photo of them together.

Robin Williams’ photo sent to John Ward

Photo sent to John Ward by Robin Williams and Patch Adams with the message “nuts of the world unite”

A month later, a signed photo arrived of them together outside the front of Robin’s home with him in one of Patch’s clown costumes and – as Patch used assorted rubber noses in his clown roles – Robin had a selection of them stuck to his head. Another month on and the phone rings at 1.00am and this time it is Robin. I had only just got to bed as I had returned late from a talk engagement I had given, so I was a bit ‘four parts to the wind’.

Poster for the Patch Adams movie

American poster for the Patch Adams movie

But he then settled into telling me about the film that was to be called Patch Adams and, as we talked, he glided into a sort of ‘old English Army Officer’ type of voice not unlike Peter Sellers doing his Major Denis Blodnok in The Goon Show and we chatted for a while and eventually called it a day or – in my case – a morning. It is not often you meet or talk to a genius but think I may well have done on this occasion. Robin Williams RIP

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Egg-throwing, cabbage-hurling, onion-wanging and Hardee Comedy Awards

Spot The Cabbage competition 2014

A 2014 Spot The Cabbage competition in Lincolnshire

Throwing things at other things is always interesting especially, it seems, in Lincolnshire.

In a couple of weeks, the World Egg Throwing Championships take place in Lincolnshire and, yesterday, I went up to Holbeach Town & Country Fayre to see cabbage hurling and onion wanging (that’s hurling too).

Both events are connected to the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Andy Dunlop, President of the World Egg Throwing Federation, supervises the Scottish National Russian Egg Roulette Championships during the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show at the end of August.

And John Ward, supervisor of cabbage hurling and onion wanging, designed the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award trophies.

Egg smashes on forehead in Amritsar Test Match

Russian Egg Roulette at the Amritsar Test Match in India

Russian Egg Roulette is a bit like the Russian Roulette seen in The Deer Hunter but without bullets and with eggs. It involves two contestants sitting opposite each other at a table on which is a box of six eggs. Five of the eggs are hard-boiled; one is raw and will smash on impact. Each contestant takes it in turn to smash an egg on their forehead. The one who finds the raw egg loses. It is a knockout competition.

Cabbage hurling is for adults. Onion wanging (because of the smaller size of the missile) is for children.

At the World Egg Throwing Championships, trebuchets (basically large catapults similar to but smaller than medieval siege catapults) are used to throw eggs. You have to build and bring your own trebuchets.

Careful preparation is all in the cabbage hurling world

Careful preparation is important in the cabbage hurling world

Thus, too, with cabbage hurling and onion wanging, except two trebuchets are provided.

Yesterday, there were 3½ tons of cabbages delivered in a refrigerated trailer.

“They’re actually grown for coleslaw production,” John Ward told me. “That’s why they’re white not green. They’re all Grade 1. Last year, I asked: Any chance of a box of cabbages? and yea and behold this behemoth of a truck arrived with 4 tons of cabbages. We asked them to cut it back to 3½ tons this year. There’s a limit to how much you can hurl in one afternoon and a lot of them get re-cycled in the field. Each team of three has three attempts and some of the contestants run up and retrieve and use the same cabbage again, shouting: That’s my lucky cabbage!”

Cabbages hurled at tyre targets

Cabbages are hurled at multi-dimensional tractor tyre targets

The object is to catapult the cabbage into one of several marked vehicle tyres for 10, 20, 25 or 50 points. The 10 point tyre is large; the 50 point type is small.

John Ward, who has been known to encourage journalists to call him a ‘junkist’,  told me: “All the scrap metal to build the two trebuchets came from farms in the area. The uprights are from the transit cases for Kubota garden tractors which come from Japan. In transit, they have metal cages, then a wooden box inside and then the tractors are inside that. Normally the cages are unbolted and thrown away as scrap. Last year, someone told me he had a yard full of them and asked: Are they any use to you? ARE THEY ANY USE????? Red rag. Bull.”

John Ward contemplates the ecological impact of hurling

John Ward contemplates the ecological impact of his hurling

“Do you get complaints about wasting food?” I asked.

“I had some herbert this morning,” John told me. “who was ranting at me about wasting food and I told him: Well, if you come back later today, you’ll find it’s all been picked up – all the loose leaves and everything – and it all goes to animal feed. Cows thrive on all this sort of stuff. There’s no waste. There’s an end product. It’s a win-win situation. We get entertainment. The cows get fed.”

“You could franchise cabbage hurling,” I suggested.

“We’ve been asked to take it round other shows in Lincolnshire. But, at the end of the day, No, it stops here. It’s associated with Holbeach Town & Country Show. Like they have cheese-rolling in the West Country.”

2014 Cabbage Hurling winners with John Ward (lorry behind had 3½ tons of cabbages)

The 2014 Cabbage Hurling winners with John Ward yesterday (The lorry behind had delivered over 3½ tons of cabbages)

The winners get £150 and a silver cup which they keep for a year.

With the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards, the winner gets one of the eccentric trophies designed by John Ward. But he/she gets to keep that trophy forever. I like to think, rather than give a trophy which the winner keeps only for a year, with the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards, we give the winner something interestingly decorative which lasts longer, like herpes.

There is a video report on Cabbage Hurling on the BBC website

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The awesome Juliette Burton’s first Grumpy review and why I will be multi-award winning at the Edinburgh Fringe

I talked to performer Juliette Burton in Australia this morning. After awesome reviews for her show When I Grow Up at the Adelaide Fringe, she has now had her first awesome review at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival after only three performances. The reviewer was there on the first night thanks – Juliette says – to me.

Juliette Burton outside the Little Cafe of Awesome today

Juliette Burton outside the Little Cafe of Awesome today

“The closest cafe to where we’re staying,” Juliette told me this morning, “is called The Little Cafe of Awesome. The first time we walked past it, I said to Frankie (Juliette’s musical director): We have to go in there, because John Fleming thinks I say ‘awesome’ all the time and I do.

“So we went in there on our first day here and it’s run by Lee Bemrose and his wife Ann, but their actual names are Grumpy and The Dreaded One.”

“Their actual names?” I asked.

Writer Lee Bemrose aka Grumpy

Writer & Awesome cafe owner Lee Bemrose

“Yes,” said Juliette. “That first day we went in and I read the menu, which has Lee’s comedy column on it. He’s really funny. I was laughing out loud. He writes a blog. He also writes reviews for the Australian Stage, so I told him about my show and he came along last Friday – the first night – and the review was published yesterday. So I have my first Melbourne review out because of a very chance meeting and because of John Fleming’s blog.”

(A tenuous link, but I’ll grab it.)

The Scottish Comedy Awards 2014

NEMO ME IMPUNE LACESSIT

As it happens, tonight my increasingly prestigious blog is also up for an award at the Scottish Comedy Awards in the category of Best Online Contribution. I do not quite know how it got nominated in the established prestigious company of Darren Connell’s Twitter, Joe Heenan’s Twitter, Scottish Comedy FC and Limmy’s Twitter, but I reckon I should milk this presumably doomed nomination for all the short-term self-publicity I can get.

When I am inevitably shamed tonight, I think my best course is to bitterly complain to organiser Alan Anderson that I think all the other nominees are Lowlanders and they should have been disqualified as Sassenach Hanovarian scum.

NEMO ME IMPUNE LACESSIT, as it says on the edge of a Scottish pound coin.

Campbeltown and the non-loch not made of whisky

Campbeltown – known for its whisky – and, in my day, its fish

I am a proper Teuchter (Highlander) born in Campbeltown on the West Coast of the Highlands and brought up in Campbeltown and Aberdeen, so I clearly outrank them. Indeed, I was brought up within smelling distance of Highland fishing boats. (My father serviced marine radar on the fishing boats.)

Throughout my life, I have maintained an unhealthy diet involving lots of sugar, confectionery and generally fried fatty things.

Does good breeding and bad eating habits count for nothing in the new Scotland?

My award as Best Awards Founder

My award as Best Awarder of Awards

Anticipating shame at tonight’s Scottish Comedy Awards, I am quietly consoling myself with the fact that, in 2010, I won a Fringe Report Award as ‘Best Awards Founder’ for starting the highly coveted Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards in 2005. All three Malcolm Hardee trophies were designed by mad inventor John Ward… so, in 2010, I won an award as best awarder of awards by a Ward.

When I was around 11 years old, I also won a Brooke Bond Tea Award for handwriting so, from now on, I am gong to bill myself – especially at the Edinburgh Fringe – as “the multi-award-winning John Fleming”.

Hear me roar.

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