Tag Archives: law

Doubt cast on the legality of PBH Free Fringe contracts at Edinburgh Fringe

An Edinburgh street during the Fringe

An Edinburgh Fringe street scene: this could be a comedian…

Yesterday’s blog about the unnecessary chaos surrounding PBH Free Fringe and Freestival shows at the Edinburgh Fringe estimated the financial damage to around 150-170 acts at around £77,000 in total.

As I wrote yesterday: It does not matter who is right and who is wrong here. There was a compromise on the table which would have meant no act lost money, no act lost their advertised venue space and no act lost shows.

As an example of the effect of the intransigence on one individual act, 2015 UK Pun champion Leo Kearse has told me this:


Short answer – I’m currently down about £1,200

I had two shows booked in to Cowgatehead and St John’s – Pun Man’s Pun Party and Hate ‘n’ Live (a show where comedians improvise rants about audience topics pulled out of a bucket).

They are both great shows. They will be replaced by some shit from the PBH z-list. I shudder to think how shit that’ll be.

I have paid Freestival fees, Fringe registration, train tickets, accommodation deposit.

I’m baffled as to how the current situation is beneficial to the venue owners, the Fringe Society, the audiences, or the acts.

I think PBH and his evil cohorts have behaved despicably to cause maximum disruption to the acts.

I doubt I’ll do the Edinburgh Fringe again. Other festivals offer better gigs and better exposure.

There is a clip on YouTube of Leo performing:


Promoter Bob Slayer has also issued a press release about surrealist act Michael Brunström:


MICHAEL BRUNSTRÖM: THE GOLDEN AGE OF STEAM

Michael Brunström, nominated last year for the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality, has moved his Edinburgh Fringe 2015 show to Heroes @ The Hive, following the dispute between PBH Free Fringe and Freestival over programming rights to the Cowgatehead venue.

More money wasted: the poster Michael Brumstrom had designed for his Freestival show

More money wasted: the poster Michael had designed for his once-a-Freestival-show

Heroes promoter Bob Slayer offered Brunström a slot at the Big Cave in The Hive in exchange for a large (400g) bar of Toblerone. This agreement was made orally.

“Both PBH Free Fringe and Freestival could learn a thing or two from Bob Slayer about professionalism, efficiency and mature behaviour,” said Brunström.

Heroes will also be hosting Phil Kay and Russell Hicks – whose show Psychedelicious had also been scheduled at Cowgatehead – in Bob Slayer’s Blundabus.

In 2014 Michael Brunström was nominated for the Malcolm Hardee Award for his show The Human Loire, in which he impersonated the longest river in France, nailed grapes to Ted Cruz’s face and chewed the legs off a heron. Brunström’s 2015 show, The Golden Age of Steam, includes further surreal stunts involving his body, voice, legs, some ping-pong balls and a tiny fern.


Interestingly, Pear Shaped Comedy’s Anthony Miller had this comment to make on my blog of yesterday, in which I mentioned the PBH Free Fringe’s contract which (uniquely among Fringe operators) bans acts appearing or wanting to appear at a PBH Free Fringe venue from appearing or negotiating to appear at any other free venue. I called this a restriction of trade. Anthony Miller wrote:


Anthony Miller

Anthony Miller asks Why? Why? Why?

I still maintain that by applying exclusivity terms to people over who else they can work for BEFORE employing people (and he is an employer even if he pays people by venue barter) he is attempting to run a de facto pre-entry closed shop system. This is illegal.

Someone said it doesn’t matter if it’s illegal or not just that it’s stupid, but the law – when it works – exists to protect us from destructive patterns and practices in society.

So why is it illegal? Why is it more than just an old man with eccentric rules on which of his competitors his acts and people who want to gig for him can also gig for?

It is illegal because the effective purpose of all pre-entry closed shop systems is effective control over entry into the labour market by one body with the effective result of decreasing the overall number of people in the labour market. And that is exactly what is happening here.

It is not an accident that a load of people are now going to the Fringe NOT to work. It is by design.

PBH wants to be a monopoly controller.

Why?

He wants to control the number of people entering the labour market.

Why?

Then he can decrease competition.

Why?

He has become a victim of his own success…. Monopoly of £0 entry gigs gives him control of who does and doesn’t enter the labour market. And that is what he wants.

This situation is not an accident. It is the inevitable long term consequence of any closed shop system. A system which always puts one-person coterie in charge of who can work and who can enter the workforce.

I am sure PBH has an incredibly long waiting list… but would it be so long if people who were not on it did not fear blacklisting?


Robin Ince (Photo: Vera de Kok)

Robin Ince (Photo by Vera de Kok)

I also this morning received some reaction from Robin Ince to a reference in yesterday’s blog to an upcoming benefit gig for the Free Fringe which includes performers Stewart Lee, Nick Helm and Robin Ince. Robin writes:


Stewart. Nick and I agreed to do benefit to support acts doing Free Fringe; we have no gain from it. Maybe it is time we stopped doing benefits and let the lazy comedy fucks who can’t be bothered to do any to start doing ten minutes here and there.

Do I support the acts who have been fucked over. Yes. Would I do a benefit for them? Yes.

Do I think Freestival are innocent victims and PBH is the big villain?  No.


Meanwhile, the saga continues.

A general perception I think (including by me) was that the fact there were three members of the same family – all called Kenny Waugh – somehow involved in the saga meant there was chaos between Kennies. In fact, I understand, there was only the one Kenny – the middle one – involved in talking to both the PBH Free Fringe and to the Freestival.

The Waugh family – one or more of them – rent the Cowgatehead building from the Crolla family. 

A Crolla family is involved in ownership of the La Favorita pizza company which sponsors the Freestival. But, as I understand it, they are different Crolla families.

Elio Crolla, who was involved in the Cowgatehead building last year, died on 26th January this year, which will not have helped the tangled web of ownership, rentals and rights within the building.

I think my head may soon explode.

 

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Filed under Comedy, Edinburgh, Legal system

A newspaper mystery & Britain in 1950

The mysterious smudged Guardian

The mysterious smudged copy of he Guardian

I was passing through Kings Cross St Pancras tube station a couple of days ago when I saw. in the Evening Standard bins, some newspapers which were not Evening Standards.

Several were an odd, blurred-print, 40-page edition of, apparently, The Guardian. Except everything was artistically smudged and it was some edition covering the overthrow of Colonel Gaddafi in Libya.

Maybe it was some bit of agitprop, but there seemed to be no message.

Maybe it was some offbeat advert for some product, but there was no visible plug anywhere.

The other paper in the Evening Standard bin was a copy of the long-deceased Daily Graphic newspaper dated Friday March 24, 1950. The headline was:

STOP THE CRIME WAVE

and that story ran beside a photograph of Queen Mary doing needlework in the garden of Marlborough House. The caption inexplicably said: Picture released, yesterday, as New York hailed her million-stitch carpet.

The Crime Wave story said, in part:

The viewpoint on crime in 1950

A viewpoint on law and a crime wave in 1950

Lord Goddard, Lord Chief Justice, warned the Government in the House of Lords last night that the wave of violence must be stopped. A way of ending it had got to be found.

“If the crime wave goes on,” he said gravely, “the demand that it be stopped will be overwhelming.

“Strength must be applied. I hope to goodness it will not be applied too late.”

But Lord Goddard, who was speaking in the second day’s debate on a motion calling attention to the crime wave, made it clear that he was not asking for corporal punishment to be brought back.

“It is one thing,” he explained, “to deplore – as I do – abolition of all forms of corporal punishment, and another to demand their reimposition.

“My reluctance to do so is because I think there is nothing worse than continually altering penalties….

“It is true I suggested the abolition of the ‘cat’ and the retaining of other forms – not merely the birch, but the cane, so that boys could have been caned…

“When a prisoner comes out after having the ‘cat’,” he said, “he is treated as a martyr or hero.

“But when he gets the birch he knows he will come out the object of ridicule – and nothing kills so quickly as ridicule.”

A double-page Guardian spread

Double-page Guardian spread in a 40-page enigmatic paper

The 1950 copy of the Daily Graphic was maybe an insight into another world 65 years ago.

But why it was in a modern-day Evening Standard bin and what the purpose was/is of the multiple smudged copies of The Guardian remains an utterly unexplained mystery.

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Filed under Crime, Legal system, Newspapers, Nostalgia

Comedy critic Kate Copstick on Jewish prejudice and the Scots/UK legal system

A selfie of Coptick and me at The Grouchy Club

A selfie of Copstick and me at The Grouchy Club last month

At last month’s Edinburgh Fringe, comedy critic Kate Copstick and I hosted the daily Grouchy Club. It will return at next year’s Fringe and we are currently looking into running monthly Grouchy Club events in London.

In the first Edinburgh show, I asked her about herself.

“You went to Glasgow University…” I said.

“Yes.”

“And studied drinking?”

“No. That came to me naturally. There was no need to study. I wrote my final Honours paper – which was on Kelsen’s Pure Theory of Law – on a breakfast of two litres of Guinness. I was pretty much incapable of leaving the house without wrapping myself around something alcoholic – I mean a drink, not a person. I farted and belched my way through the exam and got a 2:1.”

“You wanted to be a Scottish lawyer?” I asked.

“Well,” explained Copstick, “I had seen Witness For The Prosecution at a very impressionable age and had this ridiculous idea that lawyers were there to help people. I was very, very naive and obviously had not met any lawyers. I saw myself as Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird mode. And also I was an appalling smartarse at school. I was unpopular. I was short, fat and ugly. The only thing that was any good about me was that I was clever.

“What clever people went on to do was Law or Medicine and, as my Highers were English, French, German, Latin and History, I was not going to be a doctor.

“The Law degree was good fun and I got to shag a lot of Jewish boys and really upset a lot of Jewish mothers. I had a boyfriend called Michael. Well, he and I were not ‘going out’. I wasn’t into relationships. I was more into just shagging randomly and frequently. Those were the days.

“Michael’s parents were quite rich and, for his 18th birthday, they bought him a Mini-Cooper car which they then locked in the garage because he took me out in it – a shiksa had soiled the seats.

“That was the first time I really understood prejudice. One Jewish guy invited me over to dinner and his mum and dad were there and I was put at the end of the table with the crockery and the cutlery for the goyim. It was like Unclean! Unclean!

“Michael – the guy with the Mini-Cooper – got me for my 21st birthday The Code of Jewish Law.”

“What,” I asked, “IS the code of Jewish Law?”

“God loves us. God hates everyone else.”

The figure of Justice - blindfolded to avoid seeing any truths

The legal system… is blind to justice

“Anyway,” I said. “You decided not to become a lawyer. Why?”

“I did quite enjoy it, except I did come to realise that it is just a big posh boys’ game. It is not even so much about the boys. It’s about the posh. An ordinary person is never going to win. The police are liars and bastards. The prosecution services are liars and bastards. Your best defence is a rich dad and posh accent. If you don’t look right and don’t sound right, you’re probably guilty.

“I sat in front of juries and listened to them talking because I was an Advocate at that point. I was the instructing solicitor. I heard them say things like: Aw, see that Mr Taylor? (Bill Taylor was a Defence Lawyer) He’s got such lovely blue eyes. See when he looks at you? Ya cannae help but agree wi’ him. That is not a fucking defence! But that was the kind of reasons they had. You think: This is all just fucked!

“The scariest people I ever met were the Glasgow Serious Crime Squad. They would have ‘fitted you up’ faster than a Chinese tailor. Just unbelievable!”

“The clue’s in the name,” I suggested. “The Serious Crime Squad. They commit serious crimes.”

“That’s absolutely true,” said Copstick, “but I just thought: Fuck this for a game of soldiers.

‘Which years are these?” I asked.

“The mid-1980s.”

“How long do you train to be a lawyer/liar?” I asked.

“You do a four year degree and then you go off and become a baby apprentice and then, if you’re smart enough, you get to skip a year of apprenticing. So I got to skip a year.”

“So,” I said, “after being trained to lie for four years solid, you can only become either a lawyer or a politician, really.”

“After four years, you know nothing other than books,” said Copstick.

“So,” I said. “If you decide not to be a lawyer after four years, you’ve got no other career.”

“Well,” said Copstick, “what you do know is how to learn. It trains your brain like nothing else. It teaches you not to be frightened of words. If someone sends you a contract, read it. It’s not scary. It will basically just say the same thing over and over and over again to make you think it’s saying a lot of things. They could hide anything in there.”

“So basically,” I said, “all they teach you is how to encapsulate things quickly so you can speak about something you don’t understand and make it sound credible like a politician or a lawyer?”

“In a nutshell, John,” said Copstick. “In a nutshell.”

… CONTINUED HERE

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How I forgot what happened in a British court in 1999 and what really happened

The figure of Justice - blindfolded to avoid seeing any truths

.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a blog headed A Rare Case of British Justice about a court case which happened in 1999, when I had to write a character reference for someone I knew who was being prosecuted for a second time over the same incident.

‘Harry Hardwicke’ (not his real name) had been found guilty about a year before over something he had done, but had been given a sentence which the police considered too lenient.

Now, over a year later, they were prosecuting him again over the same incident.

He had been driving with his girlfriend and a male and female friend in a car. The two men were in the front; the two girls were in the back. A police car, for whatever reason, appeared behind him and signalled him to pull over. Harry was about to do this when the man beside him lifted up a small bag containing pills and said: “You can’t stop. They’ll search the car.”

Harry accelerated, pursued by the police car. They drove towards his fellow passengers’ home. The other man suddenly said: “Pull in here”. It was a narrow entry and, by the time Harry had pulled off the road, the police car had caught up with them. All four jumped out of the car and ran away. The man with the bag of pills had time to bury it under a tree.

Harry kept away for a while but, when he returned, his girlfriend and the two friends were arguing loudly with the police.

His girlfriend and the other girl had had time to talk about the situation and realised that only Harry’s girlfriend could admit to having driven the car. Harry was banned from driving; the other man was banned from driving; the other girl had no licence. So only Harry’s girlfriend could legally have driven the car.

The police believed (wrongly) that they had seen four men in the car and seen the car being driven by a man in his early 20s.

Harry and his girlfriend gave statements saying she had been driving but, in the meantime, the other man told the police Harry had been driving.

So the police were able to charge Harry with six offences: perverting the course of justice (for the false statement), driving while banned (twice), driving without insurance (twice) and failing to stop when commanded to by the police.

He faced two charges of driving while banned and two charges of driving without insurance because, in each case, the first charge referred to the occasion when he was stopped by the police. The second charge in each case was because, when he was arrested, the police found a petrol receipt in his wallet therefore, they reasoned, he must have committed the offence of driving while banned and without insurance on another occasion too.

The police had then taken the immense time, trouble and expense of going to the garage and going through the video security camera’s tape until they found pictures showing Harry buying the petrol and driving off at the time the receipt in his pocket stated (and getting into the driver’s side of the car).

The charge of attempting to pervert the course of justice carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. The police said, if they failed with this serious charge, they would then prosecute him on the less serious charges of driving while banned and driving without insurance.

In court, Harry’s solicitor was able to get the prosecutor (a young woman who lived next door to Harry’s solicitor) to drop the failing-to-stop charge.

Harry and his girlfriend pleaded guilty to attempting to pervert the course of justice; this triggers an automatic jail sentence. The girlfriend got two months in Holloway; Harry got four months in an open prison. Both got the normal 50% remission on their sentences, so they served one and two months. The lesser charges were left to lie “on file”.

Now, more than a year later, the police and the Crown Prosecution Service had decided to prosecute Harry on the lesser charges of driving while banned and driving without insurance.

Harry was sent a summons to appear in a magistrate’s court, but had been avoiding opening official-looking envelopes on the basis they might be bills which he couldn’t pay. On Saturday 2nd January 1999, he was arrested at home by police for not appearing in court. They held him in London until the Monday morning, when he was taken down to a court outside London.

So now Harry was being charged with – on two occasions – driving while banned and driving without insurance.

I wrote in my blog two weeks ago that he received a conditional discharge in court. In fact, my memory was faulty. He did not.

He appeared in court this week in 1999. At the time, I kept an electronic diary. So what follows, as written in that diary, is true:

__________

At court with Harry Hardwicke for his sentencing. I collected him and his three children, depositing the children with his ex-wife and then carried on to the court.

Harry told me he had yet another new solicitor. The last one was busy and the founder of the firm had come out of retirement to help out, as he sometimes does. He was old, tall, thin, bald, bronzed and bright-eyed.

We had been called for 2.30pm. The case before Harry’s somehow involved a small, wiry middle-aged woman with a nervous look and curly brown hair; a teenage girl with short dyed-blonde hair; and a youth of about 18 with short mousey hair. I guessed it was a mother and her two kids. Before that case was due to restart, their solicitor came through and said to the woman: “There’s no reason for you to be nervous.” – “No,” the woman said, agreeing.

Halfway through their hearing, as Harry and I sat outside in the waiting area, the mother emerged, red-eyed, and sat with her back to us, sobbing. After a few minutes, she went back in. A few minutes later, the daughter emerged, blubbering tears and sobs and went outside sobbing. Later, she went back into court. Eventually all three emerged, shaking with emotion, the woman and girl crying. The girl was sobbing hysterically to the mother: “He won’t be able to take it. He’s already tried to top himself twice. He’ll never be able to face it.”

At this point, their solicitor emerged, ashen-faced.

“Was it me?” the mother asked him. “Was it me walking out of the court in tears?”

“No, no,” the solicitor reassured her.

“I did my best,” she sobbed on. “I gave evidence, didn’t I? I did my best.”

“Yes,” the solicitor said reassuringly. “Yes, you did.”

Then all four left the building,

“That doesn’t fill me with confidence in the softness of the magistrates,” said Harry, looking glum.

His previous solicitor had told Harry he thought he might get away with two weeks in prison plus a fine with costs awarded against him. The ‘dream outcome’ might be a community service order. The Probation Officer’s pre-trial report (they had met on Wednesday and Harry had broken down in tears during the meeting) suggested the “highly unusual option” of giving him a conditional discharge for two years.

But, in court, the magistrates rejected the Probation Officer’s report and the solicitor’s suggestions and said they were taking the “highly unusual” option of giving Harry an absolute discharge with no fine and no costs awarded against him… but they did impose a six month driving ban to start today, knowing that he is already banned from driving until June next year, so it has no practical effect.

Harry’s solicitor was gobsmacked: he said he hadn’t even attempted to argue for an absolute discharge because he didn’t think it was a possibility. He also thought the magistrates were actually wrong in law in that they could not give someone an ABSOLUTE discharge AND a driving ban, even if the ban had no practical effect because the person was already banned.

After I drove Harry home, we had a chat. He broke up with his girlfriend about a week ago (the long-term one who had been involved in the original court case).

On his own laptop, he had stumbled on an email which his girlfriend had written. It was to a female friend she had made while in prison and said she had re-met a man she had had an affair with a year ago and was again sleeping with him and liked him very much. She thought the relationship had a future etc. But she was not going to leave Harry yet. Her message said:

I am going to leave Harry not just yet but as soon as I can get myself together. I have to lie to him because I have so much to lose. I have to get myself somewhere else to live and some money into the bank.

I am seeing (she gave the boyfriend’s name) and we are both totally mad about each other. This is not why I am leaving Harry. I am leaving Harry because now I am not off my head I am now awake. I cannot continue. I gave a go. I tried to make it work, it hasn’t and now I am ready to move on.

I feel so good at the moment I can barely wait to start over. I have no idea where I am going to go or what I am going to do but I am overwhelmed. It’s weird how different life can feel if you make a change. I have no intention of telling Harry my plans. It will be better for both of us this way. I am not in a situation where I can just leave now.

All my love

x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x
x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x
x x x x x x x x x x x
x x x x x
x x x x

Harry told me it was her lying that took him aback because “she used to be so honest”.

He went on to me about how much money she cost him and how much he realised too late was “going up her nose”. When I said I thought the cocaine might have had something to do with her change into constant lying because it changes people’s personalities without them knowing, he did not agree – presumably because he still takes it himself.

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Filed under Legal system, Psychology

Vaginal knitting and seven new morals which I learnt in the last seven days

The last seven days have been a week of oddity and surrealism…

Blackfriars station proudly proclaims its modernity

Blackfriars station proudly proclaims solar power, but is cold

LAST THURSDAY

I am at the new Blackfriars station, which spans the River Thames. It cost millions and took forever to build. There are solar panels built into the roof. A large ad proudly says: The biggest solar bridge in the world. Generating up to 50% of the station’s energy.

Yet, on the side of the platforms, the glass only reaches halfway up to the roof, allowing gales to blow in over the top from the Thames on both sides at head level. It will be Arctic in midwinter.

Moral: Even people who know what they are doing do not know what they are doing.

Freedom Pass - You can come but you can’t go

Freedom Pass – You can come but, for some, you cannot go

FRIDAY

I get around. The London transport area is divided into six zones. I know two people. Both are over 60 years old. One lives in Peckham, South East London. One lives in Elstree in the north west, which is in Zone 6, within the M25 orbital motorway which encircles London.

Because he is over 60+, the person in Peckham can get a Freedom Pass which allows him free travel within London. The 60+ person in Elstree cannot get a Freedom pass because he lives in Elstree, which is in London’s Zone 6 but is postally in Hertfordshire not a London borough. So the 60+ person in Peckham can visit the person in Elstree for free. The 60+ person in Elstree has to pay £8.90 to visit the person in Peckham. On the same trains.

Moral: Even well-meaning bureaucracy will bugger you. 

Greenwich Christmas tree netting 1

Human Christmas netting: first insert your human in the tube

SATURDAY

I am in Greenwich, in a rush to go somewhere. As I pass a collection of Christmas trees being sold on the pavement, I notice a group of people are putting one of their friends into a Christmas tree netting machine to take photographs. Very funny, I think. I take two photos quickly on my iPhone and hurry on.

Greenwich Christmas tree netting 2

Human Christmas netting: then push him in

I later think: Perhaps they actually did put him through and netted him up. I should have stayed to take the third picture.

Later still, I hear that his friends did indeed truss him up in a net and he was last seen hopping along the road.

Moral: Always hope for a climax, even if it is late coming.

SUNDAY

I am phoned by a market research company “on behalf of the Metropolitan Police” wanting to ask me questions related to “social research”. I ask: “Are you cold-calling me?” – “Yes,” the man replies.

Telephone Preference Service logo

TPS will protect you against SOME calls

I am registered with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) so that companies are not allowed to cold call me.

“What law allows you to cold call me?” I ask.

“We do not need to act under any law,” replies the man.

“So you are telling me you can act outside the law?”

“No”

“So you are telling me that any market research company can phone me up and ask me questions without me asking them to?”

“We are not doing market research; we are doing social research,” said the man.

Émile Durkheim, early social researcher

Émile Durkheim, early social researcher… Perhaps turning in his grave due to bullshit

I later find out from a Facebook Friend that social research companies “are actually required by law to only call randomly generated numbers, so that survey results cannot be skewed.” He had worked for a social research company and told me: “I don’t now how many times I had to explain that to someone as they swore down the phone at me about being on TPS (by company policy I wasn’t allowed to put the phone down unless they did first.) In the case of social research where it is important that no bias appear in the results, as said, it is the law that the numbers have to be randomly generated. Therefore TPS cannot apply, and these companies are exempt.”

It appears that the TPS covers sales and marketing calls but not calls carried out by market research companies who are doing social not market research. So a market research company doing marketing research cannot call you but a market research company doing social research can.

I had asked the man on the phone: ”So any social research company can phone me up and ask me questions which I have to answer?”

“It is voluntary,” he told me.

“So fuck off, then,” I told him and hung up. As I now understand it, I should not have hung up because, if I did not, he could not end the call and would have to still be holding on, however long it took.

Moral: The law is an ass out of which turds emerge.

StPancrasChristmasTree2013

A safe picture of St Pancras station in London

MONDAY

I am at St Pancras station and see that the police who occasionally meander around the station carrying sub-machine guns are now doing so in threes. This seems a bit excessive. They also walk close together, Surely this makes them an easier single target? I want to take a picture of the police officers, but decide it might be unwise.

About one minute after this, I go into the Gents toilet. A man dressed as a banana is telling a man at the hand drying machine that using the hand drier spreads germs into the air. I want to take a picture of the man wearing the banana suit in the Gents toilet, but decide it might be unwise.

Moral: Bananas always have comic potential, especially in toilets.

MargaretThatcherQueenSoho_flyer

Gay girl Margaret Thatcher Queen of Soho

TUESDAY

I see Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Soho at Theatre 503 in Battersea. It is described as “a drag comedy Christmas musical extravaganza”. For me, as a heterosexual man, this does not bode well. But it is absolutely gobsmackingly good with jaw-dropping levels of production and direction. Amazing. You should see it. The script whizzes along. The production and direction are out of this world. Amazing for a Fringe show. Staggering.

Moral: The old and new meanings of the word Gay can sometimes coincide. 

Il Puma Londinese - whatever that means

Il Puma Londinese – whatever that means

YESTERDAY

Comedian Giacinto Palmieri persuades me to go see a show at an Italian-language fortnightly comedy club in London’s Soho called Il Puma Londinese Lab or, more fully, Laboratorio di Cabaret – Il Puma Londinese. I neither speak nor understand Italian. Giacinto tells me I should go because he knows I like new experiences. Within reason. Buggery and long mime shows are beyond my limitations.

I have directed Czech TV voice-overs in Prague and Danish/Norwegian/Swedish TV voice-overs in London. Usually, with European languages, the intonations are the same even if you don’t understand the words. In North Korea, they might as well be talking Martian and I suspect they often are. North Korean TV announcers have a breathless excitement because (I presume) they are overwhelmed by the honour of living in such historic times ruled by such godlike people. But back to Italian comedy.

Romina Puma warms up the audience last night

Romina Puma warms up her Soho audience last night

Il Puma Londinese was tremendously enjoyable. It was started and has been run for the last two years by the energetic Romina Puma (not to be confused with Canadian Puma Zuma who runs the Lost Cabaret comedy evenings). Romina Puma could enthuse the inhabitants of a mortuary into being a joyous comedy audience up for a night of fun (although I would advise her against this).

Who cares if it sounds racist or xenophobic or cliché – Italians always sound excitable and exciting when they speak because there are more syllables spoken per second than in average English delivery; and the up-and-down variation in tone tends to be greater. It is in the nature of the spoken language.

Il Puma Londinese ended in a sing-song

Il Puma Londinese ended in a very festive sing-song italiano

Last night, there were three English speaking acts sandwiched in the packed Italian bill at Il Puma Londinese. The equally packed audience included a group of Spaniards who enjoyed it as much as I did.

I even picked-up on a few Italian words which I could half-understand so that I half-knew what was being talked about. The words Nigelissima, Coke and vaginal knitting stood out.

I may have mis-heard that last phrase.

Although perhaps not.

The audience laughed a lot.

Moral: Italians and Italian comedy clubs are fun. But listen carefully.

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Filed under Bureaucracy, Comedy, Eccentrics, Equality, Italy, London

Heroin wholesaling in Scotland & why comedian Del Strain was shot in the leg

(A version of this piece was also published on the Indian news site WSN)

Del Strain in Trafalgar Square yesterday

Del Strain shares bis thoughts in Trafalgar Square yesterday

“I’ve never really understand why anyone wants to perform comedy,” I said to Scots comedian Del Strain yesterday.

“Because when I’m on stage,” he told me, “for them twenty or thirty minutes – when you’ve got the audience, for that piece of time, my legs ain’t sore, no matter what’s going on in the world, no matter what your financial state, no matter if someone’s died in your family that day… there’s nothing else there. It’s just like being a surfer riding a wave.”

“And why are your legs sore?” I asked.

“Cos of the gunshot wound,” replied Del. “Getting knee-capped. When I’m on stage, nothing else matters. It’s a better buzz than any Class ‘A’ drug I’ve ever took. I’m buzzing on adrenaline all the way home. That’s why I do it… It don’t feed you, it don’t put shit in your fridge, but it feeds you in the soul.”

“Why a gunshot wound?” I asked.

“Cos I got shot by accident,” replied Del, after a pause. “The gun went off by accident and I got shot.”

“Who accidentally shot y…” I started to say.

“My brother,” said Del immediately.

“How come?” I asked.

“Because, basically, I was winding him up,” said Del, “and he picked up the gun and he didn’t realise that there was still one in the chamber and it went off. He didn’t mean it to go off, he didn’t mean to shoot me, my parents were very, very…”

“How old were you?” I asked.

“About 17. But my parents were… Let’s say they didn’t have the best morals around, but they did teach us how to shoot. If it had been intentional, it would have been in the head.”

“It may seem a bit dull,” I told Del, “but, when I grew up, we didn’t have guns in our house.”

“We did,” said Del. “We had quite a few guns in the house.”

“Because?” I asked.

“Everyone I knew had a gun,” Del replied.

“This is in Kilmarnock, Scotland, in the 1980s?” I checked.

“Yeah,” said Del. “Late 1970s, early 1980s. We grew up with pump-actions and .22s. People did use guns up there for legitimate reasons, I suppose. Like shooting vermin on their estates.”

“Depends on your definition of words,” I said. “What did your parents do?”

“They were heroin wholesalers,” Del told me. “Well, my dad… The first 20 years of his life, he was heavily involved in drugs. But my dad’s been ‘clean’ 27 years and actually started working in a rehab. So he spent the first half of his life putting people on the gear; and the second half of his life getting them off it.”

“He’s had a full life,” I said.

Del in St Martin in the Fields crypt yesterday

Del in St Martin in the Fields’ crypt yesterday

“My birth mother actually died a year ago yesterday,” said Del. “Cancer. It was horrible. Fair warning: anyone who’s had an alcohol or a drug problem in their life and who has anything like that on their medical record… When you come to the end of your life, the NHS will treat you like a piece of shit. They will Hum and Hah about benzos and morphine and they won’t even give you the duty of care – because you’ve got that on your record.

“Even though you’ve got like a week to live, they think you’re trying to blag them to get some extra morphine. It wasn’t until the third day that the Macmillan nurses came in and done great work… She came in and she trebled the morphine and my mother had two peaceful days, God bless her, and she slept and went. That was a bit of a shock to me when I saw it with my own eyes.

“My dad’s been clean 27 years. He had a liver biopsy and he went to the hospital and asked What about pain relief? He’d never took no pain relief, cos that’s the way he rolls. But the doctor’s still looking at him after 27 years like my dad’s trying to do him out of 4 or 5 codeine a day. Like 10 pence worth of codeine. Which I take as an insult but also find pretty funny.

“It’s people’s psyche. They don’t change their opinion about you, no matter how much you turn your life around. Every day of my life, I try to do two mitzvahs – two acts of random kindness. I’m a big believer in What goes round comes round and I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life and I’ve had Bad back for those mistakes, but the way I’ve tried to live my life for the last seven or eight years is just trying to be a better person, trying to be creative and trying to make the world a better place.”

“When we talked about this a few years ago,” I said, “you told me your son had turned your life round.”

“That was it,” said Del. “I went to jail and I had never been away from my son for a day of his life – he was about 5 – and that was a shock to my system. What I was doing at that time – selling pot – gave me what middle class people would call flexi-time. So I did very little work. I would go out for three hours on a Sunday and make £1,000. I could live on that and spend lots of time with my son. Going to jail was a shock to my system. I wanted positive affirmation for my son. My son is now in all the top classes at school, never been in trouble at school. He is all the things I wasn’t at 15.”

“And how old is he now?”

“15.”

“Even if I stop doing stand-up tomorrow,” Del told me, “in the last eight, nine, ten years, it was never about fame or fortune. It was about me actually putting some good into the world. It was about bringing my son up with positive affirmation, because I don’t want him to be a scally like I was. But I don’t know what’s going to happen. Tomorrow, I could go back to doing what I done ten or twenty years  ago. Who knows?”

“You sold pot,” I said, “and…?”

“Only pot,” said Del. “I’ve never sold any Class ‘A’. After everything I saw with my parents, I never ever wanted to sell Class ‘A” – I don’t believe you get any luck with the money.”

“And your father…” I prompted.

“They were the main dealers,” explained Del, “for the whole West Coast of Scotland for about eight years.”

“And he was using it as well?”

“Yes. He was using it from the 1970s. But people don’t understand that there were no illegal drugs in this country back then. There was a small select group where he came from of about eight people. And that’s all there was for many years. They got their drugs by breaking into pharmacies and chemists and, in chemists at that time, you had 98.7% pure heroin and cocaine.

“In 1979, my dad was one of the first five registered addicts in the whole of Scotland and he was on a scrip (a prescription) from Edinburgh… But the first thing Margaret Thatcher did when she got in as Prime Minister was take away the junkies’ scrips and that’s when the illegal drugs market started. It was an accumulation of the (Soviet Union’s) war in Afghanistan and the Shah getting thrown out of Iran. The 1980s were just flooded with heroin for a catalogue of reasons but, if Thatcher hadn’t done that then, we probably wouldn’t have had the numbers on heroin that we ended up with.”

“I’ve never understood why we stopped supplying heroin to addicts,” I said. “We seemed to have a system that worked at that time.”

“There was 300 addicts in London in 1973,” said Del. “The whole of London. Think about that. While my dad was on that scrip, he had a job, an apprenticeship. He was actually working, going to his work every day, living a normal life.”

“And, getting back to your gunshot wound…?” I said.

“I still get horrific pain,” replied Del.

“And there’s nothing they can do about it?” I asked.

“No. It’s fucked,” said Del. “It makes my leg swell up and the blood don’t pump properly. Veins and nerve damage. All smashed-up. They wanted to cut my leg off and I wouldn’t let them.

“I went home and, after about four years, when I came to London, I was doing Class ‘A’ and my leg swelled up and Guy’s Hospital threw me out with some morphine and told me if I started urinating blood to come back. I sat in a room for fifteen months and my leg wouldn’t straighten – bright red, like a boxing glove – nearly lost my leg – and it took me fifteen months to learn how to walk again, to straighten my leg. I was shot in my left leg and now, when I walk, I walk on three toes on my left foot and the heel on my right foot.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know. That’s just how I’ve adapted to walk. The blood clot caused nerve damage in my ankle so, when I pull my sock on… you know when you hit a nerve in your tooth and you go Agghhhh!? My ankle’s like that. But it’s been like that since I was 23. I take prescribed drugs now to block the spasms: you know the drugs they take to stop seizures? It’s them things. It stops the nerves from jigging.”

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Comedy critic Kate Copstick faces court fraud charges during Edinburgh Fringe

David Allison - a Fringe virgin’s first trial

David Allison, Fringe virgin, risked getting screwed up there

The Edinburgh Fringe – which starts next week – has shows where you buy a ticket in advance, it has ‘free’ shows where you get in for free but can (if you want) pay on the way out and now it has shows where you are not allowed in.

Producer David Allison is staging a series of five shows called This Is Your Trial, three of which are private and only two of which are open to the public.

“I just didn’t know the ‘rules’ of doing the Fringe,” David Allison says.

blogged about This Is Your Trial back in February.

Basically, David structures a personalised comedy show based round the idea of putting one person ‘on trial’ for a spurious offence and inviting the person’s friends, workmates and acquaintances along as prosecution/defence witnesses, jury and audience.

This Is Your Trial,” says David,has been described by Mark Dolan (of Channel 4’s Balls of Steel) as Judge Judy meets a comedy roast. It has taken some time to develop, with different comics and audiences and all its ups and downs.

“People tell me I should be waking up in a cold sweat and I should be panicking… I should be regretting embarking on this plan… That is how I’m told people normally prepare for going to the Edinburgh Fringe and yet I feel quietly optimistic. Am I getting it all wrong?”

He does have one big problem, though.

“One proviso when I started my Edinburgh adventure,” he says, “was my partner Nina’s demand that it wouldn’t put me (further) into debt. Otherwise, I was told, I might as well stay up there and not come back.”

David, a Fringe virgin, at first naively thought: Surely people don’t lose money at Edinburgh Fringe?

HA! I say. HA! HA! I say.

I told him: “Going to the Fringe is like standing in a cold shower tearing up £20 notes” and one comedy act he spoke to told him that if he (the act) sold all his tickets for the entire run he would only lose £3,000. Only.

David Allison feared losing his shirt in Edinburgh

Mr Allison feared losing his shirt in Edinburgh

It was at this point, apparently, that David realised going to the Edinburgh Fringe and not losing his shirt (and his partner) was going to be more tricky than he thought.

But comedian now Fringe venue runner Bob Slayer offered him performance slots at the new Bob’s Bookshop venue under his inventive Pay What You Want – Heroes of Fringe banner, a spin-off from the Free Festival.

Bob told David: “Everyone will tell you to expect to lose money at the Fringe and that is sound advice based on most performers’ experience. But £2 million of tickets are sold during August, so someone somewhere is doing OK. I think it’s probably the people giving you the advice that you’ll lose money – the PR people, marketing people, big venues, agents. They are are probably the ones making all the cash. It’s not in their interest to see the Fringe model change even if that would make it a more creative and vibrant Fringe. So don’t be swayed by the general industry consensus. Find your own way and you can succeed (or fail) on your own terms.”

Spurred on by this, David says: “My first decision was to limit the time spent up there. I couldn’t get any more than a week off my (proper) work anyway, so that decision was made for me. And the nature of the shows I do requires a lot of detailed research, so a limit of five shows would help ensure the quality wouldn’t suffer.

“The unique position I had was that, although most shows might need to sell a lot of tickets per day to make a profit, my shows are personalised experiences for groups who know each other – so selling individual tickets is not relevant. I only need to sell one ticket for each show. That said, as the ticket buys the whole show, I was asking for £500 per ticket. This led to the awkward boast that This Is Your Trial is the most expensive ticket on the Fringe. But that became a useful ‘hook’ attracting press coverage in The Scotsman… and a blog by you.

Judge Norman Lovett

Judge Norman Lovett will preside over a court

“I also decided I needed some big names. So I just approached a few of my favourite acts and asked them directly: Scott Capurro, Mark Dolan, Barry Ferns, Tim FitzHigham, Janey Godley, Tony Law, Norman Lovett, Glenn Wool. To my surprise, each one said Yes.

“But, just as I was beginning to wonder how hard this Fringe thing could really be… I realised I still hadn’t sold any tickets.

“The only person I knew in Scotland was a solicitor in Glasgow who had been to one of my London shows. He bought the first ticket for Inksters, his firm of lawyers. Not so difficult.

“Then Bob Slayer sold another to the cheeky Edinburgh underpants manufacturer, Bawbags and Scottish Borders Brewery.

“The third went to a stag party I found through a local website.

“And then Thomas Black – a local Edinburgh comedian and huge fan of Hearts FC – introduced us to Scott Wilson, the stadium announcer. A couple of calls later and we had secured our fourth booking – a fundraiser for Hearts, who are in administration. Players and fans are invited to watch manager Gary Locke face charges before a court of Judge Norman Lovett, prosecutor Janey Godley and defence counsel Bob Slayer. The show will take place on August 5th at Tynecastle Stadium itself.”

This meant David was staging three private shows, one public show – at Hearts’ Tynecastle Stadium, no less – and he had only one show left to sell before he could boldly claim a 100% sold out show and attach a laurel to his Fringe flyers next year.

“My costs were now almost covered,” he says. “I knew I could pay all the comedians involved and maybe even buy my partner Nina a nice present for putting up with me and my obsession.

“So I decided to stop busting a gut to sell the last show and find a worthy cause instead. I asked The Scotsman’s comedy critic Kate Copstick – who had been super supportive all along – if she would like a show in support of her Mama Biashara charity.

“We did, however, attach one condition, which was that she herself would be put on trial. She is a game bird and she agreed without hesitation.”

Copstick consults with defence counsel Slayer

Copstick (right) consults with her defence counsel Bob Slayer

The Trial of Kate Copstick is on August 7th at The Hive venue where she will be charged with being A failed performer who snipes from the pages of the Scotsman instead.

Scott Capurro will be prosecuting Copstick. Bob Slayer will defend her. Glenn Wool is the judge.

Now David is looking for witnesses to the alleged crime.

Maybe you got a great review from Copstick,” he says in his appeal. “Or you got a terrible but accurate Copstick review that spurred you on to better things… Or maybe you once saw her appear on Chuckle Vision and thought her performance worthy of a BAFTA… If you did get a terrible, unfair, scathing review from Copstick, maybe she was lambasting you because she knew you were better than she ever was?”

If so, he wants to hear from you.

You can contact him HERE.

This morning, I asked Copstick what she thought her chances were at the trial.

She told me:

“I am slightly worried that I have Bob Slayer as my defence lawyer – a bumbling, drunken ex-jockey who is quite likely to get his cock out in court. However, Scott Capurro is the prosecutor and he is going to be so busy cruising the audience and trying to seduce Glenn Wool (the judge) that he will probably forget to do his job. One fly in my ointment is that I am, of course, totally guilty of being a failed stand-up. But please don’t tell anyone.”

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Filed under Comedy, Legal system