Tag Archives: machismo

Comedian Malcolm Hardee, a man in a van from Up North and a beautiful swan

Confrontations with swans are never wise

Confrontations with swans very seldom have a good outcome

While comedian and prop-maker Martin Soan was painting the public areas of my home at Fleming Towers, the subject of dead comedian Malcolm Hardee came up, like it does.

“When I first met my friend Don,” Martin told me, “he just challenged me all the time. Exactly the same as when I first met Malcolm.

“Malcolm told me: I’ve fucked all the women round here. And I said to him: Fine. That’s great. Cool. So then he knew I was no competition.

“Don did exactly the same thing. We’d been thrown together like me and Malcolm and Don just casually said: I could kill you. I know how to. And I told him: Fine, mate, but why? You don’t want to kill me.”

“And he said: No. I don’t wanna do that. But I could if I wanted to.

“And I said Fine again and he knew I was no competition.

“When Malcolm and Don eventually met, they did exactly that same face-off to each other that both of them had done to me individually when they first met me. It might be a machismo thing.”

“I think it might be,” I agreed.

“It was a face-off to test the other man,” said Martin. “If you were to reply How are you going to kill me? You can only kill me if you’re within five paces of me, then he’d know he has a competitor.”

“So,” I said, “in this face-off between Malcolm and Don, who won?”

“Well,” said Martin, “they accepted each other. I think Don, with his Northern work ethic, lost out to Malcolm, really. Because Malcolm already had the air of celebrity. There was mutual respect there.

“The most beautiful story Don ever told me,” said Martin, “and the most tragic, was when he was doing a job and he had to get up very early on a Sunday morning and he was driving along the M62 in the North, which goes over the Pennines. It’s the highest motorway in Britain.

“There’s this long valley you go along and you can see the other end which is like four miles away or something.

“It was early on a Sunday morning. No other traffic at all. Very early. And he was driving towards the sun and he saw a swan flying low over the motorway towards him in the same lane.

“So he changed lanes.

“And the swan, still flying towards him, changed lanes.

“Don changed lanes again.

“The swan changed lanes, still coming towards him.

“Whatever he did, the swan mirrored him to the point that they collided.

“The swan flew through the windscreen into the cab.”

“And the van crashed?” I asked.

“Yeah,” said Martin. “Completely wrote off the van.”

“Don has talked long and hard,” said Martin, “with loads of different types of people and the only theory anyone can come up with is that the swan was confused and was flying towards the sun’s reflection in Don’s windscreen.”

“Face-offs with swans very seldom have a good outcome,” I said.

“No,” agreed Martin.

“Did Don return the body of the dead swan to the Queen?” I asked.

“No,” said Martin.

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Filed under Comedy, Psychology

Sexism on a small Italian island in 1998

Fourteen years ago, on 30th June 1998,  I was on the volcanic island of Pantelleria with an Italian man whose autobiography I eventually failed to write. Pantelleria is known by some Italians as “the black pearl of the Mediterranean” because it is simply an island of solid black lava. They think it is romantic; I thought it was just plain barren.

The nickname I have given the man I was attempting to write the book with is Ozymandias; all the other people’s names have been changed too. Ozymandias was accompanied by his teenage son and daughter. There, too, was an American woman called Christina. This is what I wrote in my diary at the time:


Apparently Pantelleria was the island of Venus and Christina is sure there must have been lots of priestesses here. Christina is very thin, a bit gawky and has an unfortunate look in her eyes that gives me the general impression she would be at home in some Calfornian religious cult, perhaps believing that Atlantis was destroyed by its nuclear-powered crystals.

Over dinner, she was a bit disappointed to learn from Ozymandias that Pantelleria was never connected to Africa or Sicily: it is just a straight-up volcanic pillar.

Ozymandias explained to her that he could not afford to take his children off on a beach holiday anywhere because it would cost $4,000, so he had thought up the idea of working on Pantelleria to get free hotel accommodation every summer and take his children along. Christina told me she thought it was nice he kept his children involved.

A few minutes later, there was an emotional argument over the meal (a complete mystery to me, as it was all in Italian), with Ozymandias’ daughter bursting into tears after words with her father. Ozymandias told me that it was all about how he wasn’t allowed to criticise his daughter for her dress or when she could stay out, yet she felt he had to ask permission from her to go anywhere. Later, Christina – who speaks Italian and whom Ozymandias calls Chrissie, possibly to annoy her – told me the daughter had been saying she felt sad and unwanted because Ozymandias was out all day and she was left alone. (The brother and sister, not abnormally for teenagers, don’t pal-up together.)

Continuing the meal, Ozymandias explained to Christina (in English, which his children slightly but do not fully understand) that he hates all women and the more his daughter grows into a woman the more he grows to hate her. The trouble, he explained, is that he only meets the sort of women who are no use to him. He only meets women who are interested in him intellectually and who are quite intelligent. These are exactly the women who do not know how to cook, look after homes and look after children, which is what he needs. He said the only relationship that works is one in which each person ‘pays’ something to the other because you have to get something out of it.

At the end of the meal, Christina and I were left alone. She told me she felt sorry for the daughter but reckoned the son must be more screwed-up because his father was his role model. She said she could not understand why Ozymandias had ever had children.

I said it was because, in his eyes, that is what men do.

Christina wondered what on earth Ozymandias’s mother must have been like to him for him to hate women so much. She also spotted that Ozymandias had “a lot of knowledge but no heart” and, rather worryingly, added, “although he is obviously very sensitive”. This is true, but possibly a dangerous avenue of thought for any woman to go down where Ozymandias is concerned.

Rather oddly, she wondered if I had anywhere I ‘went’, if I was writing his autobiography and lived through all of this.

“Surely,” she said, “you have to go outside occasionally and just scream?”

I said I’d had to deal with a lot of supposedly difficult entertainers and performers so it was, pretty much, water off a duck’s back. Also, I have never been the object of any of his diatribes. Ozymandias was unusually ratty tonight but usually his anger and violence is turned inwards.

I also mentioned that an Italian friend, when I told her about Ozymandias, said all Italian men were like this. Christina said, “Oh no, nothing like what I’ve just seen”. (And what she’d seen was Ozymandias being relatively low-key and restrained.)

Christina said it was ironic that Ozymandias was on the Island of Love.

I think this idea she has of volcanic Pantelleria being the island of Venus is mildly off-the-wall, but at least she’s an American who understands irony, so I should be thankful for small mercies.

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Filed under Italy, Sex