Tag Archives: london

I was brought up in Aberdeen and Campbeltown in 1950s Scotland…

I was born on the west coast of Scotland – in Campbeltown, Argyll, near the end of the Kintyre peninsula, AKA – as Paul McCartney would later eulogise it – the Mull of Kintyre

Scots singer Andy Stewart had much earlier sung about Campbeltown Loch.

At the time, as well as having an unfathomably high number of whisky distilleries, Campbeltown was a very active fishing port. My father used to service the echo sounders on the fishing boats.

Radar spots incoming aircraft and suchlike. Echo sounders do much the same but vertically, with fish.

A fishing boat would use its echo sounder to project an acoustic beam down under the surface of the sea and, when the beam hit the seabed, it bounced back and you could see any shoals of fish which interrupted the beam.

My father worked for a company called Kelvin Hughes, who made the echo sounders.

When I was three, my father got a similar job with Kelvin Hughes in Aberdeen, in north east Scotland. It was a bigger depot in a bigger town. A city, indeed.

“Give me a child until he is seven and I will show you the man,” is a quote either from the Greek philosopher Aristotle or the Jesuit writer St. Ignatius Loyola. Neither copyright nor political correctness held much sway back then.

Anyway, I lived in Aberdeen from the age of 3 to 8, in the 1950s.

I remember idyllic summer days in Duthie Park and Hazlehead Park… and happy warm afternoons on the sandy beach, playing among the sand dunes. It must, in reality, have been like combining the sands of the Sahara with winds from the Arctic. 

When we first came down to England, I remember being horrified by the beach at Brighton: not a sandy beach, more some bizarre vision from a horror movie where the grains of sand have all been replaced by hard egg-sized grey stone pebbles.

This is not a beach! I remember thinking. This is just a load of stones!

I was also surprised by the uniform blackness of Central London. This was before the cleaning of buildings with (I think) high-pressure water jets. The whole of Whitehall, I remember, was just flat, featureless black buildings, caked in a century and more of soot. Aberdeen, by contrast, was/is ‘The Granite City’ – uniformly light grey stone but, when the light hits it at the correct angle, the stones sparkle.

London also had no decent ice cream: a feature of key importance to me both then and now. At that time, ice cream in London was mostly oblongs of fairly solid yellow ‘stuff’ compared to the glories of the delicious softer white Italian ice cream in Scotland.

No-one seems to have a definitive explanation of why there are so many Italians – and, in particular, Italian ice cream vendors – in Scotland. Explanations vary from Italians on Scottish POW Camps in World War II who went native after the War ended and married local girls… to an inexplicable influx of Italian coal miners in the 19th century. I only repeat what I have read.

I vividly remember playing in the living room of our first rented flat in Aberdeen, beside the wonderful warm flames of an open coal fire while a storm raged outside. My mother was in the room. I was playing on a patterned rectangular carpet with the gaps between the edges of the carpet and the walls filled-in by hard brown lino – fitted carpets were an unimaginable and thought-unnecessary luxury back then. I was racing small metal Dinky cars round the band at the edge of the old and randomly threadbare Persian-design carpet.

It felt so warm and lovely and safe in the room with the raging fire while the storm outside loudly battered and spattered rain against the window panes. And my mother was with me.

I went to Aberdeen Grammar School when I was a kid. This was a state school and it had a Primary School section for under-11s, but you had to be interviewed to be accepted, presumably to get a better class of person. I must have slipped through.

My mother had heard that one of the things they sometimes did during the interview was to ask you to tie up your own shoelaces. This was not something I could do. Frankly, I’m still not too good at it. Fortunately, it was snowing the day I had my interview, so my mother dressed me in Wellington boots, thus circumventing the problem.

I do remember one question I was asked.

I was shown a cartoon drawing and the grown-up asked me what was wrong with it.

The cartoon showed a man in a hat holding an umbrella in the rain. But he was holding it upside down with the handle in the air and the curved protective canopy at the bottom. 

I have a vague memory that I may have thought the grown-ups there were stupid, but I did point out the umbrella was upside down and got accepted into the school.

Weather was an important factor in Aberdeen.

We lived on the ground floor of a three-storey roughcast council block on the Mastrick council estate.

Modern Google Streetview of a similar – but not the actual – council block on the Mastrick estate

It was cold cold cold in Aberdeen. In the winter, my mother used to make the beds and do the housework in her overcoat.

She used to get up before my father and I did and make the coal fire in the living room. She used to start with tightly rolled-up newspaper pages which, once rolled-up, were folded into a figure-of-eight. These and small sticks of wood were put below and among the lumps of coal. The rolled-up newspaper ‘sticks’ were lit with a match and burned relatively slowly because they were rolled-up tight and, when they went on fire, they set the wood on fire which started the coal burning.

At least, that’s the way I remember it. 

The bedrooms, as I remember it, had no lit fires, which is why she had to wear an overcoat when making the beds in the morning.

I remember making an ice cream shop man (probably Italian) very happy one afternoon by buying (well, my mother bought for me) a cone of ice cream. I was his first and possibly only customer of the day.

My father had been in the British Navy based in Malta during the Second World War and always told us that, in very hot weather, the Maltese drank lots of hot tea on the principle that, if you made yourself feel as hot inside as the weather was outside, you felt the extreme heat less.

As a reverse of this he said, in cold weather, you should eat cold ice cream because, if you feel as cold inside as you are outside, you will feel the extremity of the cold weather less.

Rain, snow, sleet and high winds were, of course, not uncommon in Aberdeen.

I remember once, coming back from school one afternoon, being on a bus which got stuck on a hill on an icy road in a snowstorm. I think it was maybe not uncommon then.

The Mastrick council estate was built on a hill with lots of open areas between the buildings, so the wind tended to build up.

The main road, a few minutes walk away from our council flat was The Lang Stracht (literally The Long Straight) and I remember it in a snow storm once. Or, at least, I think I do. I may have got confused by seeing a YouTube video a few years ago of a snowstorm on the Lang Stracht.

Either it reminded me of a genuinely-remembered snowstorm on the Lang Stracht; or it made me think I remembered one but hadn’t.

Mental reality, like any memory, is flexible.

All the above could be a whole load of mis-remembered bollocks.

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Filed under 1950s, Scotland

COVID Lockdown London: lunchtime in a massive East End shopping centre…

The station at Stratford in East London is always busy because it’s an interchange between two London Underground lines, the Overground, the Docklands Light Railway, national Great Eastern trains and the existing TfL Crossrail service.

Counting Underground passengers alone, in 2019, 64.85 million people entered or exited the station. This was the main exit from the station(s) to the massive Westfield shopping centre today, an ordinary Thursday…

And this was one small area inside Westfield shopping centre around lunchtime today:

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Lockdown London looks like a scene in a 1950s post-Apocalyptic SciFi movie

The UK is in lockdown because of the COVID pandemic but, yesterday, my eternally-un-named friend and I (in our bubble) had to go into Central London. Here are some photos of the current West End, mid-afternoon, on a Friday…

Oxford Street, London – 5th February 2021

Oxford Street, London – 5th February 2021

Berwick Street, Soho, London – 5th February 2021

Bond Street, London (Fenwick’s store on left) – 5th February 2021 (Photo by MEUNF)

Piccadilly, London (Fortnum & Mason’s store on right) – 5th February 2021 (Photo by MEUNF)

 

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Filed under London, Photographs

The oddity of no sex north of London

This morning my chum, writer and songstress Ariane Sherine, Tweeted about the oddity of London postcodes. 

There are SW (south west) postcodes, SE (south east), postcodes, NW (north west) ones but no NE one for north east London. That is because NE is the postcode for Newcastle.

Likewise, there are N, E and W London postcodes (north, east and west) but no S postcode, because that is used for Sheffield.

Another quirk, designed to confuse the unwary, is that the numbering of London postcodes is alphabetical, not geographical. So a postcode area 3 is not necessarily next to 2 and 4…

However, I am more interested in sex.

So, we have or had Middlesex (the central area), Wessex (ie West Sex), Sussex (South Sex), Essex (East Sex) but no North Sex, presumably because the people of Nosex eventually died out.

Apparently, in this context, ‘sex’ turns out to be an abbreviation and corruption of ‘Saxon’, which is a disappointment.

But life is full of disappointments.

I am going to have breakfast now.

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Filed under Eccentrics, London

The mystery of my baffling and slightly surreal iPad disappearance and/or theft

The cyber centre of the baffling iPad disappearance mystery

Right… So find a comfy chair, have a warm cup of tea or coffee by your side and sit back to take this in.

It is a tangled tale, but possibly worth reading if your brain does not explode with bafflement.

So…

My mobile phone rang in the morning, 

It was one of those all-too-frequent phone calls – from Manchester – 0161 – and this lady with an indefinably non-British accent asked me was it correct I had had a car accident in the last six months that wasn’t my fault. I told her to Fuck off!

I find this is usually the best for both parties. It leaves little room for misunderstanding.

Then I blocked her number.

About ten minutes later, I got another call – this time from a mobile number – and it’s this different girl saying in an indefinably non-British accent: “John… Is that John?…” etc etc etc. I mess her around for a bit, saying “John… John?… Where is John?… You are John?” then ask her if she has had a car accident in the last six months that wasn’t her fault.

She says: “No.”

“Then you can fuck off,” I tell her and I block her number.

A couple of minutes later, my landline rings.

Same woman.

She explains she has found my iPad (and bag and contents), which were stolen the previous evening.

Oh Lord!

I am effusively apologetic about being rude to her.

My iPad was inside my bag and has my name, contact phone numbers and email address on it.

She says found it outside the house where I left it.

“The one with the Winkworth’s sign,” she says.

That’s the one – in West Hampstead. Winkworth’s are an estate agent. The house is for sale.

She lives nearby, she says.

Well, she explains, SHE doesn’t live nearby – her boyfriend does and she stayed with him last night.

Possibly too much information, I think to myself.

Her boyfriend is out so, quite reasonably, she doesn’t want me to come round to the flat where she is because I’m this stranger who just told her to Fuck Off and she’s a female on her own. 

She didn’t say all that as such; but that’s what we are both, in effect, saying to each other. 

Her boyfriend should be back soon, she says, so I arrange to meet her in about an hour and a half outside the house where she found the bag. I will phone her when I arrive at the Winkworth’s sign.

Along the way she mentions she is black – I have no idea why.

This, of course, to me, makes telling this Good Samaritan to Fuck Off MUCH worse. She also somehow mentions in passing, laughing – the slightest hint – that I might want to give her a reward.

I was going to give her £10 anyway for finding the bag but I mentally upped this to £40 for the verbal abuse I had unleashed on her.

As I’m walking up to Elstree station, on my way to meet her, she phones me back and tells me her boyfriend has not yet returned. She doesn’t have a key to the flat so, if she goes out to meet me, she has no way of getting back in again. So we arrange to delay it until her boyfriend gets back.

After an hour or so, she phones back to tell me the boyfriend has arrived and I go off to West Hampstead to meet her in a pub in what I think she says is Rensen or Renson Road, near where the bag was found.

When I check Google maps on the train there, I can’t find any Renson or Renson or Henson or Hensen Road. I phone her and get her to text me the actual road name – which is nothing like Rensen Road.

At the pub, I meet her and the boyfriend. Both very amiable. I give her £40. She is very modest. Neither wants a drink. Very honest, I think.

The bag she gives me is, bizarrely, mine but not mine. 

My bag was a very interestingly-designed Ted Baker bag with a typewriter keyboard design on it. It cost me £35 many years ago. The bag she gives me is a purple canvas bag. It had been folded up into quarters inside the Ted Baker bag.

Was this the object of desire of a design-conscious thief?

So the only logical conclusion I can think of is that a very design-conscious thief fancied the typewriter bag, took out the purple canvas bag inside, unfolded it and tipped the contents including the iPad into it, leaving it where he (or she) found it.

Not noticing the iPad inside.

Or maybe the genuinely charming couple who returned everything to me nicked the bag for aesthetic reasons but wanted to return the iPad to me as they did not consider themselves thieves. The boyfriend works in media.

I was fine with it either way, as I had got my iPad and iPhone charger back.

Let us do a quick flash-back here…

The previous night, I had been taking the 7-year-old daughter of a friend of mine from one side of London to the other to return her to her father. The parents are separated but share custody of their daughter.

Whenever I collect and drop-off the daughter, I text a photo of her to her mum just to reassure the mum that everything is hunky-dorey. And she likes photos of her daughter. Mum’s do.

The previous night it had been very dark in the street outside the father’s house. Neither I nor the 7-year-old had twigged that there was a power cut and the street lights were out on one side of the street – her father’s side.

The 7-year-old looked at the two photos I took and said: “They look creepy!”

They did, indeed, make her look like some combination of zombie-vampire in the gloom.

“I’ll take a selfie,” she said.

I was standing with two bags of hers between my feet, the phone in my hand and my typewriter bag under my arm. 

I put the typewriter bag on the wall by the street. I handed her my iPhone, she took a selfie, handed the phone back to me and I texted the picture to her mum. She still looked a little zombie-like but it was, indeed, a much better photo.

I picked up the two bags between my feet, went to the front door, rang the bell, her dad came down, I handed him the two bags and he said to his daughter: “Have you got the guitar?”

She is learning the guitar at school and had taken it to her mother’s. Both she and I had forgotten about the guitar.

I said I would return to her mum’s, get the guitar and bring in back. She needed it for school the next day.

About half an hour later, on the train to her mum’s, I remembered I had left my typewriter case on the wall. 

I phoned her dad. He went out to the wall. The case was not there.

When I returned with the guitar, I also looked around outside the house; the typewriter case was not there. It had, I assumed, been stolen.

Not an unreasonable assumption.

“Though round here,” suggested the father, “if you leave things on a wall outside a house, sometimes people think you are giving them away.”

So, chronologically…

I left the bag on the wall.

In the half hour between me leaving it and her dad searching for it, it had disappeared.

Yet the Good Samaritan who found it said she found it outside the house with the Winkworth’s sign – the only one in the street. 

The bag returned to me – not the expected one

So the ‘thief’ must have stolen the bag, taken it away elsewhere, emptied the contents into the purple canvas bag and gone back to return it to the exact spot it had been stolen from, keeping the typewriter bag but not keeping the iPad.

While the ‘thief’ had the bag elsewhere, both the dad and I had searched outside the house where it was left and it was not there.

This struck me as very odd.

The next day, I realised that, although the iPad and everything else was in the purple canvas bag, the iPad cover was not there. The black iPad cover was pretty-much held together with black tape because it was starting to come apart and I had been thinking of getting a new one.

So someone had found the typewriter bag lying on a wall where there was a power cut, taken it away, looked inside, taken the purple bag out and unfolded it, taken the damaged cover off the iPad, put the iPad itself and all the other contents into the purple bag, gone back to the exact place they ‘stole’ the bag from and left the purple bag there.

So they stole the typewriter-designed bag and they stole the damaged iPad cover but left the iPad which they knew was there – because they had removed the magnetically-attached iPad cover.

They stole the damaged iPad cover but left the iPad.

I have decided not to think too much about this, because I think my brain might explode.

Oh – PS…

In case you wonder if I tried to get a replacement iPad cover and ‘typewriter’ bag – Yes, I did.

I bought a new iPad cover for £10.95.

As for the typewriter-designed bag…

Remember I bought it for £35?

I Googled and there was one on eBay priced at £172.43.

I did not buy it. Instead, I went to a Barnardo’s charity shop in Borehamwood and got a plain black iPad-sized bag for £2.50.

It’s not the same, though…

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The Loneliness of the British Transport Policeman on a London tube train…

I posted this on my Facebook page last week but the incident is staying in my mind because it was just so surreal.

In the middle of the afternoon, I got on a Metropolitan Line train on the London Underground.

There were not many people on the train. 

But, standing in the middle of the aisle with his back to me, was a British Transport policeman.

He just stood there silent, un-moving, like one of those human statues who stand for hours in Covent Garden, hoping for cash to be thrown in their hat by passing tourists with cameras and thinking heaven knows what for all those immobile hours.

What do they think while they stand there?

I was on the train for four stops.

He was there too, standing immobile and silent for four stops. He was bulky and bearded and real. Like some bizarre policeman-suited Buddha. 

Occasionally, one of the other two passengers in the carriage would look at him.

But no response.

There he stood, immovable and silent, perhaps thinking he was some oddball PR message from the Metropolitan Police to travellers. 

YOU ARE SAFE

WE ARE WATCHING OVER YOU

But the surreality overwhelmed any message he might be trying to give, standing there, blocking the aisle, silent, looking to neither left nor right.

When I got off the train, he was still there, silent, blocking the aisle, thinking whatever thoughts he was thinking.

Not moving.

Eight minutes of my life.

And his.

Less than a pinprick in eternity.

One man, standing alone, immobile, silent, on an underground train, beneath in a city, on a planet, in a solar system, in infinity.

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Three racial insights into the UK at Christmas 2019/New Year 2019/20

I think the first time it happened I was on a Victoria Line train on the London Underground.

I was feeling quite mellow and relaxed, standing by the exit doors of the train when he talked to me.

He was a young black bloke, maybe around 19. The shrewd observer of life in London might have guessed he was a black troublemaker and/or mugger.

He got up, looked me in the eye and offered me his seat. This was maybe two years ago. It was a first.

I had got to that point in life where I look so old (and presumably appear to be so frail) that people offer me their seats in trains. And one thing always strikes me. This is, I think, a fairly accurate guesstimate of the numbers…

Around 90% or maybe even 95% of the people who offer their seats to me in trains are non-white.

It is very rare for a white person to offer me their seat.

Young men; young women; even, the other day, an older Indian guy who was maybe 50.

I think: What the fuck? How old do I look? How geriatric must I look?

But it’s almost always the same. They are non-white and (I think; I guess) are British residents. I don’t think tourists would offer their seat to me unless I looked REALLY frail and looked like I was about to drop down at any moment. Tourists would not be absolutely sure about the local protocol. 

I don’t know what the social or ethnical or upbringing reason is; but it is non-white-skinned people who offer their seats to me.

And, just before Christmas, there was a more unsettling incident.

I was with a friend’s 8-year-old daughter.

An unsettling encounter on a fairly crowded London bus…

We got on a fairly crowded bus. But there was a double seat occupied by a young woman in her twenties of Chinese origin. I say that because I don’t think she was Chinese. She may have been Malaysian or similar. Mostly Chinese ethnically but not by birth.

She had a small child – presumably her daughter – standing in front of her; they were interacting. They were using one seat; the seat beside them was completely empty.

The young woman looked up and saw me approaching. I was going to let my 8-year old sit on the empty seat and stand beside her.

The Chinese woman, looking me in the eye, made to move so that I and my 8-year-old could sit down in the two seats and she and her daughter would stand, giving up their one seat. There was a look in her eye that made me think she felt I presumed I, as a white man with a white chlld, had a right to the two seats and she – a young Chinese woman with a Chinese daughter – had to defer to me. 

With a look, I communicated she did not have to get up.

They had been quite reasonably and very politely only using one seat, so my 8-year-old was able to sit down in the empty seat without affecting them and I stood by the eight-year-old; there was no other empty seat nearby.

But the look in the young woman’s eye – that she had to defer to a white man – unsettled and still unsettles me.

Another incident happened just after Christmas.

I had arranged a meal with a chum in a Japanese restaurant in Soho. My chum is of Polynesian/Chinese descent. There was a queue of about four other people, mostly Japanese, outside the restaurant, including my chum; she had arrived before me.

“Did you see that man with the zimmer frame?” she asked me.

I had passed him. He had just turned round the corner.

“He told us all to get off the street and get out of the way,” she told me, “and to get back to where we came from.”

The queue was not blocking the pavement.

I went back to the corner but he was no longer there.

I can think of one reason why he had to use a zimmer frame.

The Christmas/New Year period roughly coincides with the 9-day Jewish Hanukkah holiday.

The confusing menorah at Hanukkah in  Borehamwood…

I live in Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, just on the NW edge of London. For reasons unknown, there is a fairly high Jewish population; and a fairly high Romanian population. We have two Romanian grocers… one generic Balkan grocer also catering for Romanians… and now a triple-fronted Romanian restaurant in the high street.

This year, in the shopping centre, to celebrate Hanukkah, there was a large menorah installed – made out of balloons – and a few tressle tables. The gents supervising it all wore skullcaps/kippahs and long beards. They looked Jewish. There were DJ disco tracks playing on a loudspeaker. The music was a mixture of Jewish music and what sounded confusingly like black Caribbean music.

When I listened to the music properly, I realised it was Rasta music and the song lyrics referred to “the Lion of Judah” (ie Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia) and “have a happy Hanukkah”.

As I was loitering around listening to all this with some bemusement – OK, to be honest, the scene looked like a Jewish celebration, with West Indian music playing, manned by black-bearded members of ISIS – I realised quite a lot of the passers-by were speaking to each other in an Eastern European language that was not Russian. (I sort-of learned Russian at school.) I surmised the language was Romanian.

So there was this scenario where fairly recent immigrants from Romania were walking through a typically English shopping centre at Christmastime where some Jewish festival was being celebrated (there was the large menorah made from balloons) while West Indian music was playing. 

I suspect this was culturally beyond confusing to them but, somehow, I also find it very reassuring.

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Filed under London, Racism, UK

Lynn Ruth Miller on comedy in Singapore, London and Edinburgh

In immediately preceding blogs, she wrote about performing comedy in Cambodia, then in Bangkok, Saigon, Hanoi and Jakarta. Now London-based American Lynn Ruth Miller continues in Part 3 of a 4-part blog…


My next stop was Singapore.

The comedy scene there is not a good one in which to polish your craft. The open mike opportunities are sparse and, unlike London or even San Francisco, the only audiences at these events are other comedians and that is no way to judge if your comedy has a broad appeal.  

When I had been doing comedy for seven years I had already been elevated to paying gigs and could improve by listening to the reaction I got from larger more diverse audiences  

In Singapore, they have only two outlets.  

Umar Rana runs Masala and he always has international headliners. He is very good at employing locals, but his shows are only once a week and he cannot have the same person week after week. That means there is little opportunity to practice your craft with a real audience. There are too many comedians and too few slots to fill.  

The Merry Lion began two years ago and is not as established. I was very interested to see if it had improved. It had been a very basic room with few comforts or amenities when I last performed there. 

The result of this paucity of opportunity – only two outlets – is that the ‘big’ names here are not that effective in the larger international scene. 

Here they are local headliners; in European venues throughout the world they are mediocre at best.  

Comedians in Singapore who feel they have an edge want to go to the Edinburgh Fringe to get reviews and make an international name for themselves.  

I find that appalling because they do not understand the true nature of what the Edinburgh Fringe has become.  

It will cost them an inordinate amount of money. The cost of getting a show listed and advertising it – even if they are part of the Free Fringe or Free Festival – is very high. 

They will be paying twice as much for food and three times as much for lodging as they would anywhere else in the world. The reviews they receive for the most part will be by amateur reviewers hired for no pay by the reviewing outlets who do not understand the challenges of doing comedy in your second language. 

They may very well fill the house in Edinburgh (although I have my doubts about that) but, when they launch their career internationally, it founders because they are simply not sharp  or experienced enough.  

And that is not because they are not funny.

It is because, despite what people think, it takes years and years to polish a set so it has universal appeal.  

I have been doing this for 16 years and I have a natural talent for comedy. Yet, I am still far from there… and I have had plenty of opportunities to practice and to work on my delivery.

People in this part of Asia do not have those outlets. 

Furthermore, standup comedy has become a business. You have to have a name that people recognize if you are to be booked at the major clubs who make a profit from their shows.  

That becomes a Catch-22 situation because you cannot get that name unless you have the opportunity to perform and those chances are given to people who are already established.  

I always tell comedians that they have to truly love doing what we do for its own sake. This is easy enough for me to say because I am on a pension and only have myself to support. If you have a family and expensive tastes, I do not know what to advise. It is true that money can get you pretty far in the field but then even kids with rich daddies (and I see far too many of them on the scene) grind to a halt.   

Stand up comedy has changed my own life for the better. I am not sure even now if this is an individual thing because my previous life was such an unflushed toilet or something I can say will happen to anyone who devotes himself to it. 

…CONTINUED HERE
IN SINGAPORE and KUALA LUMPUR

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Filed under Comedy, Edinburgh, London, Singapore, Travel

Romina – Il Puma Londinese – with English variety and multilingual comedy

Romina – Il Puma Londinese – is back with a vengeance

Romina Puma used to run a fortnightly Italian language comedy night in London – Il Puma Londinese. I blogged about it in 2014.

She stopped in 2016.

But now she is back with more than one show.

This week, on Monday (tonight) there is The Puma Goes Wild at the Craft Beer Co in Islington. (It’s really more like in Angel).

On the next four Wednesdays, there is filming at the same Islington venue of an Italian-language show for the internet.

And, on 28th November, there is another Il Puma Londinese show at The Colonel Fawcett in Camden.

So I chatted to Romina…


JOHN: Il Puma Londinese ran until October 2016 then stopped. Why?

ROMINA: Giada Garofalo had been helping me with the night and she went back to Italy. I was too tired. I needed a break. And when I came back from the Edinburgh Fringe last year, I said: I’m not going to do comedy any more! 

JOHN: But now you’re back again. What made you start again in September this year?

ROMINA: Well, it’s what you like to do and you miss it after a while and you need to carry on. It was a show I did in December 2018 for Radu Isac, the Romanian comic. He had a free slot in one of his shows and asked me to perform all in Italian. It went really well.

JOHN: So Il Puma Londinese is back again in Camden on 28th November with stand-up acts in Italian and in English. 

ROMINA: Yes.

JOHN: But The Puma Goes Wild – The shows in Islington/Angel. They’re not straight stand-up comedy shows…

ROMINA: I wanted to do something different. So I am the only stand-up. The others are all surreal, weird, character, impro, sketch – all other styles. I’m trying to create an English/British following because, before, my audience were mostly Italian.

JOHN: And the Puma Goes Wild nights are in English.

ROMINA: Well, they can perform in any language they like. French, English, Italian, Spanish – any language. If it’s that type of comedy – surreal, impro – people will more-or-less understand in any language. Whereas, with stand-up, you need to know the language.

So far, I’ve always had an improv group who perform in Italian. All the others have been in English, including me.

JOHN: Would mime groups perform in English?

ROMINA: I still haven’t had a mime.

JOHN: What were you doing when you were having a break from comedy?

ROMINA: Recipe videos… Italian recipes online. There are lots of recipe/cookery groups on Facebook.

JOHN: And getting a following?

ROMINA: Yeah.

JOHN: Italian?

ROMINA: From America mainly. I was doing it in English. An Italian recipe, Italian cuisine, but in English.

JOHN: Any chance of a TV version in Italy?

ROMINA: Well, as you’ve mentioned it, there is an Italian online TV service based in London – Tele Londra – and this Wednesday in the Puma Goes Wild venue in Angel – we are recording a competition show – Il Puma Londinese Approda su Tele Londra – four episodes with me as MC, all in Italian.

JOHN: A competition show?

ROMINA: Two acts will compete against each other. The audience decides who wins. The final will be recorded on 4th December.

JOHN: Recorded. Not live.

ROMINA: At first, they wanted to stream it all live, but then they were too worried about the signal.

JOHN: Will there be further ones after the initial four?

ROMINA: We will show it to people and see if we can find a sponsor for next year.

JOHN: Other plans?

ROMINA: I am preparing a new stage show.

JOHN: About?

ROMINA: Well, the title is Freewheeling. It’s mainstream, light, fun. I’ve been asked to do the show in Italy next year, in Turin. 

JOHN: Where are you from?

ROMINA: Near Milan.

JOHN: Oh, just round the corner from Turin. That would be your first time performing in Italy?

ROMINA: With a full hour show, yes.

JOHN: Why Turin?

ROMINA: I know a girl who runs a comedy night there and she asked me. I would also do it in London. 

JOHN: And at the Edinburgh Fringe next August?

ROMINA: I’m not sure I’m keen on Edinburgh any more. After my last one – It’s All My Mother’s Fault – I… Well, you spend a lot of money just to be in the brochure and it doesn’t really help to get audiences in, so what’s the point? My plan is to go round the UK on my own – various cities – without festivals, getting people in via Facebook and so on.

JOHN: And it’s called Freewheeling?

ROMINA: Yes.

JOHN: Appropriate.

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Filed under Comedy, Italy

Dreaming the start of a novel – not

Two or three days ago, I woke up at about 5 o’clock in the morning with the idea of a novel which was basically four or five real-life stories cobbled together into a narrative.

I thought about getting up and writing down the ideas but, instead, turned over on the floor and went back to sleep.

I was sleeping on the floor because I buggered my back about four weeks ago.

This morning, again at around 5 o’clock, I woke up with the same opening idea in my mind, minus the other stories.

I thought I had better write it down this time, so I did. 

I doubt if I will add to it because I’m useless without a deadline.

I don’t need a person from Porlock and I ain’t no Coleridge.

I don’t fancy the opium.

Especially as I had a blood test yesterday and that nurse sure needs more practice in how to stick a needle in someone’s arm.


CHAPTER 1

So there was this Irishman, a Dalek and four Scotsmen.

The Irishman was called Michael Julian Andrew Hardwick Bantam Smith. He was married with a younger wife, five children and a parakeet called Charlie.

He – Michael, not the parakeet – had been pushing the Dalek round the Scene Dock, a circular covered roadway that ran round the outside of the studios at BBC Television Centre in West London. He was clutching his stomach and standing half bent over, about to fall, because he had just been shot in the stomach.

The Dalek was a prop. Writer Terry Nation had described it, roughly, as a pepper pot with a sink plunger sticking out the front. BBC designer Raymond Cusick had refined the look and the Daleks became iconic villains in the Doctor Who TV series which, at that time, was fading in popularity. It would later be revived. Unlike Michael the Irishman.

One of the four Scotsman was called Jimmy the Joker. That was not his real name. The four Scotsmen had just robbed the cash office at BBC Television Centre. This was back in the day when people got paid weekly in cash. Jimmy the Joker had just shot Michael the Irishman by mistake. 

Out of the corner of his left eye, he had seen a Dalek suddenly appear into the Scene Dock through one of the open studio doors and some inexplicable reflex action had made his brain fire the Walther PPK hand gun at the human being beside it. It’s a Dalek! was all his brain had thought. Jimmy carried a Walther PPK because that was the gun James Bond used in the books and movies.

Michael the Irishman would die in an ambulance on the way to hospital twelve minutes later. His last words would be whispered urgently but inaudibly. When he was dead, the elder ambulance man would look at the younger ambulance man, shrug and start filling in a form.

Three of the Scotsmen running in Television Centre – including Jimmy the Joker – were dressed as policemen. Two were carrying large canvas mail bags filled with banknotes. Jimmy was carrying a gun. The fourth was dressed in ‘civvies’, carrying a lightweight video camera, apparently filming the other two. All four men wore clown masks.

They ran out of the scene dock and through the car park at the front of the building. People just looked at them with mild interest, thinking it was part of some new TV show. 

The uniformed security men at the front gate looked a little bemused, thought the same thing and stood aside to let the three policemen wearing clown masks – one carrying a gun – and the clown-masked man with the camera out into Wood Lane, the main road which ran past the studios. That was when the trouble really started.

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Filed under Crime, Dreams, Writing