Tag Archives: london

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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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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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

The greatest hits and the Jungian psychology of a London dominatrix

So I know this dominatrix.

Not professionally.

On Friday, we had a chat in London, at McDonalds in The Strand.

Outside, Extinction Rebellion protesters were blocking traffic in the street.


JOHN: So you are starting an online blog – The Dominatrix Diary. Why?

M.PSYCHE: Because I think it’s a good place to store the information and I want to develop an online presence.

JOHN: What’s your dominatrix name?

M.PSYCHE: BDSM Butterfly: Mistress Psyche.

JOHN: Why Psyche?

M.PSYCHE: It means butterfly in Greek. And I have an interest in the mental side – ‘mental’ as in the mind side, not the crazy side – of BDSM. The stuff that’s most interesting to me is the mental control of people rather than any actual physical domination.

JOHN: You have an urge to mentally control people?

M.PSYCHE: (LAUGHS) It gives people space to relax in a safe way.

JOHN: So being whipped is relaxing?

M.PSYCHE: It is for some people. I had  guy who wanted me to nail his testicles to a board.

JOHN: Not his actual testicles?

M.PSYCHE: No. The scrotum sac. 

JOHN: And he found this relaxing?

M.PSYCHE: He fell asleep while I was doing it.

JOHN: You’re joking.

M.PSYCHE: No.

JOHN: How long did it take?

M.PSYCHE: How many carpet tacks can you fit round a testicle?

JOHN: It’s not an area I have any expertise in.

M.PSYCHE: He found it relaxing. It gave him space where he didn’t have to think… 

JOHN: Surely the thought that one of his testicles might be accidentally nailed to a board might keep him awake?

M.PSYCHE: He trusted me.

JOHN: The impression I get is that a lot of the clients for this sort of thing are men in positions of power – bankers, top executives, the masters of industry and let’s not even mention Cabinet Ministers and judges…

M.PSYCHE: Yes.

JOHN: …and I can’t understand why people who have spent their entire working lives wanting to dominate and actually dominating other people should want to be dominated.

M.PSYCHE: Well, for powerful men who have to be in charge all the time in their jobs, it’s quite mentally intensive so, to go to someone… with the pain, the bondage, the scrotum-nailing… it’s not the actual experience itself, it’s the space it creates in their mind to be able to relax inside yourself and have some time off.

JOHN: You surely can’t relax if you’re expecting the next stroke of the whip on your back or a cane on your buttocks or carpet tacks in your scrotum. You’re anticipating not relaxing.

M.PSYCHE: Not necessarily… SOME people ARE just into pain. They are going to be excitedly expectant and awake and aware that the next stroke of the whip is coming. 

JOHN: Are you telling me they are not the predominant type?

M.PSYCHE: Most of the sessions I do involve relaxing people and putting them into a submissive space where they can relax.

The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in stiletto heels…

JOHN: So you are like the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi?

M.PSYCHE: (LAUGHS) Yes… in stiletto heels and a leather skirt.

JOHN: Getting back to powerful men like politicians and the captains of industry… Is it not that, even though they are tied-up, they are still in control because you are doing to them what they tell you to do? So the person being dominated is actually dominating the dominatrix?

M.PSYCHE: People say that. I don’t think it’s true. I am definitely in charge of all my sessions. Beforehand, they tell me what they want me to do and then I will facilitate it, but I am definitely in charge when it happens.

JOHN: Surely, if I come along to you and say: “Hello, missus, I want you to nail my balls to a plank,” surely I am in charge – You are doing my bidding.

M.PSYCHE: No because, once you enter the ‘play space’, you hand over the power. I have to decide in advance if it’s safe and sane and consensual and then, as soon as the session starts, I’m in charge.

JOHN: Presumably you have ‘safe’ words.

M.PSYCHE: No. You can tell the difference between someone enjoying something – even pain – and not enjoying it… I mean, I’m not a sadist. I’m not interested in moving beyond the point of them enjoying it.

JOHN: The first stories you have posted on your blogsite are… erm… quirky.

M.PSYCHE: I’m picking out the more eccentric fetishes and… Well, to be honest, most of them ARE quite eccentric. There’s the Welsh guy who gets turned-on by inflatable PVC bananas and the optician who wanted to see things. He wanted me to give him some quasi-religious experience in the basement of a famous high street chemist’s shop.

JOHN: I’ve had a bad back for the last three weeks and had to see three osteopaths. One of them has several clients who are dominatrices because they have to do a lot of odd movements – I guess like whipping and caning – so they get what I suppose are repetitive strain injuries.

M.PSYCHE: Well, I don’t do those sort of sessions. I don’t do much whipping and beating and things…

JOHN: There’s scrota-nailing…

M.PSYCHE: …I mostly do transformative stuff. People know what I’m offering and, if they want a hard-core pain session, I’m not really the person to do it. They will go somewhere else.

JOHN: I’ve not seen your online pitch for clients…

M.PSYCHE: It just lists my interests. And there are reviews on the site where I advertise where people leave reviews of the sort of sessions they’ve had from me. I don’t deal with hardcore masochists. The review I have right at the top at the moment says: “She’s a sensitive and very lovely spiritual girl”… which (LAUGHS) isn’t particularly useful. I had to add underneath it: “I do like to give the client the session they request.”

That particular guy wanted me to gag him. I went along to meet him at a hotel in Park Lane and he took me for dinner and told me all about the fact a court had placed a ‘gagging order’ on him. He talked about it and that seemed to be all he needed to do. So I got dinner and a bottle of perfume. He just wanted someone to talk to.

JOHN: You must have turned some people down…?

M.PSYCHE: I only turn people down who want sex.

JOHN: Nothing so bizarre you don’t want to do it?

M.PSYCHE: No. I like interesting, bizarre stuff. Though there was one guy who wanted to be ‘un-gayed’. He wanted me to rape him with a dildo, which he hoped would un-gay him. I told him: “I’m not going to do that, because you’re gay and what you want is dangerous. It could cause internal physical damage.” He wasn’t looking to enjoy being ‘raped’; he was looking to be physically damaged to be put-off being ‘bummed’.

JOHN: So he was encouraging physical damage.

M.PSYCHE: Yes. So I said No.

JOHN: So you are more interested in… what?

M.PSYCHE: What I do is a sort-of renegade form of therapy. I’ve tried to help people but obviously, if you try to help people too much, it stops being sexually exciting. Which is not what they want.

One of Mistress Psyche’s Dominatrix Diary blogs

JOHN: So why am I not interested in BDSM? I’m just a tad too dull? I’ve had enough emotional pain; I don’t need physical pain, thankyou very much.

M.PSYCHE: You might have a different form of masochism. I mean, I’m an emotional masochist. I like being slapped-about emotionally.

JOHN: Being unhappy?

M.PSYCHE: Yes. That’s my type of masochism.

JOHN: So you have analysed yourself.

M.PSYCHE: Yeah. I know absolutely all of my mental illnesses and conditions. I know what they are; I know how they get triggered; I know how to manage them.

JOHN: So you never get over-emotional?

M.PSYCHE: Well, I’ve figured out how to manage that. But is over-emotionality a sign of mental illness? What is considered ‘sane’ and ‘insane” changes over time. Being gay used to be presented as being… It’s all very dubious. I mean, they were still lobotomising people until the 1960s. That’s the nature of mental health: very fluid and also very culturally determined and that’s why it’s all quite dubious. I’m very glad I figured out all my stuff before I went to… I mean, I have never been to an actual doctor.

JOHN: You mean to a psychiatric doctor…

M.PSYCHE: Yes. Or to an actual doctor. Because I would have been prescribed things and I would have been given ‘diagnoses’ that are actually very unhelpful and limiting.

I had a random consultation when I was doing another job and this woman told me that, probably because I was abused, I have borderline personality disorder. Which has become much more mild. But they give you drugs for that. And actually NOT having the drugs has meant that I have been able to manage it myself and get it under control rather than using medication which just suppresses it.

I have a friend who was also abused who went to a psychiatrist after a breakdown and they basically just papered-over it. She’s still really mental. They just gave her drugs and coping strategies whereas, because mine is DIY, I seem to have done it at a deeper level and actually got to the roots of stuff and sorted out the real underlying issues causing problems. It’s about creating balance in yourself. It’s basically the Jungian idea that you’ve got light and dark.

A little bit Jung; a little bit old yin-yang

JOHN: Jungian or yin and yangian?

M.PSYCHE: Jungian AND yin/yang and Zen and all these things that exist on a spectrum inside you and you need to find ways of balancing them and, if you can’t do it in one way, you have to do it in another.

JOHN: I’m not up on Jungian stuff.

M.PSYCHE: Basically, you have a shadow self. You can use these things as an access point to understand your shadow and integrate it because, in the West, we have a very disintegrated sense of identity and this is why you end up with these bizarre fetishes.

JOHN: Why?

M.PSYCHE: Because we are disintegrated as individuals. We have stuff which is acceptable; we have stuff which is unacceptable – all the taboo stuff which you actually need to accept as being an essential part of your human psyche. This is why people don’t function properly: that they can’t just accept these things are actually an aspect of them.

JOHN: Being healthy is balancing the yin and yang…

M.PSYCHE: Yes, exactly. It’s a counterbalance. That’s what I’m interested in. That’s why I’m called Mistress Psyche.

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Martin Besserman brings Alternative Variety to the London comedy circuit

It’s Camden Cabaret and the man behind it…

Martin Besserman, host of the long-established London comedy club Monkey Business is starting another night on Friday this week at his regular venue – the Pembroke Castle in Primrose Hill/Chalk Farm… It is not altogether comedy, though there will be some.

So we had a chat about it in his car, because it was raining. Well, you would, wouldn’t you? It was bloody wet.


JOHN: So, your new Camden Cabaret night. It involves burlesque. Will you be getting your kit off?

MARTIN: (LAUGHS) The most I’m likely to do is show a nipple. Those days of me showing a bit of my body – which I used to do at Speaker’s Corner – are long gone.

JOHN: You’re a long-time comedy venue runner. So why are you starting it? Bottom fallen out of comedy?

MARTIN: Well, all businesses are challenging. I was once a market trader. Before that, I was in a band and this is part of my journey in life. I’ve always been attracted to providing entertainment.

JOHN: So from band to street market to comedy to stripping.

MARTIN: I think stripping is an exaggeration. These days, stripping completely naked is rare. The emphasis is more on the creative aspect. I have gone through something like 150 different clips to identify the more creative and funny burlesque performers.

JOHN: How you suffer for your art…

MARTIN: (LAUGHS) But the shows are not just burlesque. It’s a real variety show.

“I was in a band” – Martin was performing in the mid-1980s…

JOHN: You know I have this obsession that, when Alternative Comedy first started in the mid-1980s, you would see a magician, a juggler, a comedian, all sorts of bizarre acts on the bill. Now you go to a comedy club and it’s six 24-year-old white blokes talking about wanking and how they watch porn.

MARTIN: And variety was on the bill before the 1980s as well. Bruce Forsyth and Ken Dodd and all those people. Our shows will have burlesque and drag artists and comedians and magicians. The character of the night will be one of unpredictability.

JOHN: Ironically, a lot of those old-school comics learnt their trade dying terrible on-stage deaths to apathetic audiences in between strippers at The Windmill.

MARTIN: Well, the new type of burlesque has really taken off in a big way. It is huge. Once there was an awareness that I was going to host this kind of night, a lot of performers – more than I had ever envisaged – were sending me their clips and wanting to get on the night. Perhaps in recognition that Monkey Business has been hugely successful over many, many years.

JOHN: Will you be having comics like (I NAMED A SPECIFIC COMIC) on the Camden Cabaret bill?

MARTIN: Well, we are living in a completely different political environment and it’s a dilemma for me to allow people to be a little bit rebellious on stage without offending customers who you want to return.

JOHN: So the punters won’t be offended by tits and bums, but they might be offended by (THE SPECIFIC COMIC I NAMED).

MARTIN: And you know why also? Because the burlesque performers are primarily feminists.

JOHN: Really?

Martin starts to prepare for the big night on Friday

MARTIN: Well, you gotta understand there would certainly be feminists opposed to the idea of women taking their clothes off and potentially turning men on. But – again – I have to say this is not about women taking their clothes off. This is about Art and we have some really, really creative performers. There’s a marvellous hula-hoop girl. Not all of the burlesque performers take their clothes off. 

On the night that Stephen Bailey is hosting – because I’m taking a back seat on some of these – he has an act on called Soul Illusion, a wonderful magic dance act.

What I’m trying to bring to this night is unpredictability. And it’s all about costumes as well. I’m trying to create a combination of old fashioned AND new entertainment. By doing that, we will hopefully cater for all.

It’s a cabaret night that happens to have a bit of burlesque in it. And comedy. And drag. But not always drag and not necessarily always burlesque.

It will cater for the straight AND the gay community. I should point out that The Black Cap in Camden closed about five years ago. It was a gay pub before homosexuality was even legal. (Homosexuality was decriminalised in the UK in 1967) It did temporarily relocate to another venue in Camden, but it was very very short-lived.

I am not saying that Camden Cabaret will be a replacement for The Black Cap, but I hope Camden Cabaret will cater for that community as well.

JOHN: A bit like the late lamented Madame Jojo’s in Soho, then…?

MARTIN: Yes.

JOHN: And Camden Cabaret is not replacing Monkey Business but is running in tandem…

“I’m trying to create a combination of old fashioned AND new entertainment…”

MARTIN: Yes. Monkey Business is at the Pembroke Castle on Thursdays and Saturdays… and Camden Cabaret is on Fridays.

JOHN: You have President Obonjo appearing on your second Camden Cabaret show – presumably not stripping – and the wonderful Malcolm Hardee Award winning Candy Gigi compering your third and fourth nights.

MARTIN: Yes. For what I want to achieve with this kind of night – unpredictability – she will be fantastic. I want it to be a crazy kinda night.

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