As a sad PS to several recent blogs about the removal and rumoured scrapping of comedian Malcolm Hardee’s floating pub venue The Wibbley Wobbley, below is a photo taken by Stephen Mccreadie.
As a sad PS to several recent blogs about the removal and rumoured scrapping of comedian Malcolm Hardee’s floating pub venue The Wibbley Wobbley, below is a photo taken by Stephen Mccreadie.
This week, I had a chat with Darryl, one of the squatters.
“So you got ousted from the Wibbley Wobbley,” I said. “Where are you squatting now?”
“In a building. An ex-restaurant.”
“No. Only mice.”
“You could eat the mice,” I suggested.
“We could, but we have standards.”
“So,” I said, “The Wibbley Wobbley got moved from Greenland Dock to South Dock Marina. Were the squatters still on board at the time?”
“I wasn’t on board,” replied Darryl, “but other people were. There was no notice and it was a dawn raid. They just cut off the supports, attached a boat with a power motor and towed the Wibbley Wobbley around the corner.”
“What happened,” I asked, “when it got taken away from South Dock Marina?”
“No idea. It’s a mystery. We had all got off by then.”
“Because you had decided it was not a good place to stay?”
“No, the people were quite aggressive. They booted us off.”
“Pretty much, yeah. We couldn’t put up a resistance, so…”
“There was some verbal aggression and you left?”
“Well,” said Darryl, “there was some physical violence to one of our crew. But we realised the boat was going to be sailed away and dismantled or whatever, so we…”
“What sort of physical violence?” I asked.
“A punch to the head,” said Darryl. “It was not very nice.”
“How had you originally started squatting there?” I asked.
“We went on board in late May last year – Pirata Mala Pata…”
“What?” I asked.
“Pirata Mala Pata,” Darryl repeated.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“The name of the man who went on board to start off with. He’s my friend. Pirata Mala Pata. It’s Spanish.”
“What does it mean?”
“No idea. We have pirate names. Pirata Mala Pata. He went on board first, with Back from the Dead Red.”
“Back from the Dead Red – That’s his name.
“Then I went on – Darryl Kia Kaha – and then Conrad the Cut-Throat Lipstick Killer. Then, after that, quickly, there were Bristima Long Wave, Diabolito, Deptford Drake, Slayer Crow, Belly Bones Beerhead and Bluebeard Barbarossa. They are all very interesting characters.”
“I don’t doubt it,” I said. “When you started squatting on the Wibbley Wobbley, you told me no-one was clear who owned it.”
“When we went on board,” Darryl explained, “the power was still all activated, the fridge had been running for I don’t know how many years and there was a lot of alcohol left on board which was good for about a week.”
“What was in the fridge?” I asked.
“Nothing, but there was lots of electrical equipment still on board. The water supply was still on. It was a great environment.
“We contacted the Harbour Master to find out who the owner was so we could maybe make a deal with him and say we would look after the boat. The person we met at that time – we could not confirm if he actually was the owner – said we would have about three weeks.
“So we said: OK. That’s fine. Three weeks is great. And those three weeks came and went and we were there for about six months. But the Harbour Master didn’t want us on board. He turned off the power pretty quickly, so we got a generator and a lot of battery stuff. After another couple of months, he removed the water supply, which was a bit contentious. You’re not supposed to remove a water supply. But there was not much recourse for us, so we just bought big bottles. And then there was the sewerage problem.
“That was part of why the whole boat closed down in the first place. There is a big sewage tank at the back of the boat and, when it gets filled up, it starts to sink the boat.”
“Ah yes,” I said. “I was at Malcolm’s birthday party in 2002 when the boat started to sink with the weight of its own shit.”
“We actually sorted it out,” said Darryl. “The Harbour Master disconnected the sewerage. We didn’t like that. So we re-connected it, got a pump and our generator and managed to send the shit back up the pipe and around the harbour to his tank. He didn’t know. But it worked and we were pretty much self-sufficient.”
“Did he ever find out?” I asked.
“No… In the squatting network, people are very resourceful. A lot of people have a lot of knowledge. As you can imagine, with a disparate group of people, everyone has their own agendas. My agenda was to run creative events. My background is film-making and music. We made little films on the boat, which was cool. And we had events, which was really cool.”
“When did you find out about Malcolm Hardee?” I asked.
“As soon as we got on, we started researching. We found lots of articles inside the boat and really quickly found out about him. We thought: Wow! This is exciting! This is obviously a kindred spirit. And, amongst many people who came by the boat, were a couple of people who said: Malcolm would have approved of what you guys are doing.”
“I think they are probably right,” I told Darryl.
“But,” he continued, “along with that, we also endured quite a lot of hostility.”
“From…?” I asked.
“Oh, as soon as we got on the boat, word spread around. It had been the pub for some of the old locals, so it was understandable they would feel jilted that we had taken over what used to be their bar. So we suffered quite a lot of verbal abuse, threats of violence. We recorded a lot of it on camera to protect ourselves. Also there were drunk people trying to come on board. There was also a mad woman who would throw huge rocks at us. We had to get the police around to her.”
“She lived in a nearby flat?”
“And threw rocks?”
“Yeah. Big rocks. She was mentally not well. Also, towards the end of summer, we had a gang of marauding 10-year-olds on bicycles throwing rocks at us.”
“What,” I asked, “did the police say?”
“They came round in the early days and said: You guys are fine. You’ve got occupancy, so you have the right to be here.
“Once, we had an open painting day and put large canvasses up on the pier and invited people to come and paint. We had lots of kids come along. The Harbour Master came along and said: You can’t do this! You’re trespassing! He called the police. He told them: Look! These guys are trespassing and disturbing the peace!”
“And,” I asked, “the police reaction was…?”
“They said: No, no. They’re not. Sorry. There’s nothing you can do about it. Bugger off.”
“Not in those exact words?”
“No, not in those exact words, but it was a bit humiliating for the poor guy.”
“And the future…?” I asked.
“Ooh,” I said. “Are they actually staging a show at the Fringe?”
“Yes. the group intends to put on a comedy piece.”
“And the stunt is…?” I asked.
“Something is going to happen,” said Darryl.
“Always good,” I said. “Is it legal or illegal?”
“Legal, I think.”
“How disappointing,” I said.
“Well,” said Darryl, “the hologram might infringe some boundaries. You’ve got maritime law, terrestrial law and then you have aerospace. They are going to attempt a hologram between the dimensions.”
“Between time and space?” I asked.
“Yes. Totally shred the space-time continuum,” said Darryl.
“What,” I asked, “is the stage show they might be putting on at the Edinburgh Fringe?”
“Apparently it’s going to be inside a four-walled venue for one day only – because, once you have burnt down a building, you can’t do it again…”
“Malcolm did,” I told him. “And when might this show happen in Edinburgh?”
“No idea,” said Darryl. “But they have said they will release information. They have got birds: pigeons. They will be sending them out to various addresses at the right time.”
“Including my address?” I asked. “I hope so.”
“Maybe…” said Darryl. “Maybe leave some crumbs outside the front door to your house so the pigeons will know where to land.”
“Except,” I said, “I suppose I should not tell you my address in case I wake up tomorrow and find you are squatting in my back bedroom.”
“Absolutely,” said Darryl.
A few weeks ago, I posted a couple of blogs about the late comedian Malcolm Hardee’s floating pub/venue The Wibbley Wobbley being removed from Greenland Dock to South Dock Marina in Rotherhithe and then, on 14th December, being taken away from there to be scrapped.
To round off this sad story tale, coincidental confirmation came from comic Sinead Wheeler, who sent me a message saying:
“I had to get my own boat (my home!) rescued and towed up the River Medway on Wednesday 14th after it sank in mid-October.
“The towing guy said he had come straight from being up all night on ‘the Wibbley Wobbley job’. I didn’t ask at the time as I was a bit distracted by seeing my boat and all its contents (books, clothes my best undies!!!, all my food cupboard contents etc) covered in stinking mud and full of dead fish… but I texted him later.
“His answer was basically: Yes, it’s gone.
“It is gutting that it wasn’t saved, but boats are total twats to look after and never make things easy. The PLA / Southwark Council / CRT or whoever no doubt could have done more or less but that’s how they roll. People on boats lose their homes every week.
“The Wibbley Wobbley was only a small part of what Malcolm did, thankfully anyway – he won’t be forgotten.”
(THERE IS AN UPDATE – WITH PHOTO – IN A LATER BLOG)
When I was in the choir at St Stephen’s, I had a surplice and I used to wear it to go carol singing and earn some money at Christmas. I used to take a whole gang round with me.
We’d go round the posh houses in Blackheath carrying candles and everything. People would invite us in and put us on tape recorders to send to their relatives. They thought it was for the church, of course.
I used to make money all the year round.
From early October until November 5th it would be the ‘Penny for the Guy’ routine. Then, once November had gone, I got the carol singing going.
The rest of the year, we went round in Boy Scout uniforms and did Bob-a-Job. No-one knows when Bob-a-Job Week actually is, so you can do it any time.
We almost got caught out once because we accidentally went to a Scout Master’s house and he knew it wasn’t Bob-a-Job Week. But I explained to him I was in a different branch of the Scouts and it was our Bob-a-Job Week.
The Scouts I was in were not the Baden-Powell Scouts. This guy had set up a splinter-group called BBS (British Brotherhood of Scouts).
The Baden-Powell Scouts’ motto is “Be Prepared”. The BBS one was “Always Ready”. So everything was almost the same but not quite. We still wore the uniforms and had the scout oath and ran flags up the pole and all that. When I saw my BBS Scoutmaster years later, it was so obvious that he was gay but at the time he was just a Scoutmaster to me. People weren’t so aware of gayness in those days.
I’ve never had any homosexual experiences and yet they must have been going on around me. That Scoutmaster didn’t fancy me, he just used to hit me with ropes every now and again. He used to like hitting people with ropes. I think he must have got chucked out of the Baden-Powell lot for some sort of sexual scandal. He also had another church he took us to called St Magnus the Martyr up by London Bridge which was another High Church. His real name was Charlie Brown, but we called him ‘Bosun’. We had three Scoutmasters: Bosun, Beaky and Kim.
I eventually got thrown out of the BBS for writing fake notes from my mother to avoid going to a Camp.
I was no angel.
I got thrown out of the choir.
I got thrown out of everything, really.
I got expelled from primary school apparently – I don’t remember it – I was too concussed. We used to have these stairs at the school and I used to dive up to hold on to a ledge and swing. I swung up and my feet touched the bottom and my hands let go and I fell on my head and ended up in Lewisham Hospital. I had to stay in three or four days. They discharged me early because I was going a bit berserk – racing about in the wheelchairs in the ward and stuff. So I got thrown out of hospital too.
The last Increasingly Prestigious Malcolm Hardee Awards Show will be staged at the Edinburgh Fringe on Friday 25th August 2017.
It got a response from Jody VandenBurg on Wednesday. He is making a long-in-production documentary on Malcolm: All The Way From Over There.
“Saw the news about the Wibbley Wobbley,” Jody wrote. “I was down there filming today, met a few interesting characters. Future is uncertain, but am not convinced it’s for the scrap heap just yet.
“The squatters and other people seem convinced it’s going to be scrapped but I met a guy who said he has bought it. He seemed very upset at what had been done to it, that the boat has a lot of history and he wants to preserve it. He said he intended to take it to dry dock in Sea Reach at Canvey Island if it can make it up there.
“Anything he finds of any note in the boat, he said, would go to Rotherhithe Museum. He was emptying the boat of all the crap the squatters had left behind and putting it in a van to be taken to dump.
“The only thing is that his account of what happened when they evicted the squatters and the squatters’ version of what happened are completely different so I am not sure who to believe on that front… So that makes me wonder about the entire thing.”
The next day – Wednesday – I got another e-mail from Jody. It said:
“So they are moving the Wibbley Wobbley properly out of the dock on Friday at about 2.00pm. I am going to go down with a couple of cameras to film it.”
I was not able to go yesterday – I was on child-minding duties – but, last night, I got another message about the Wibbley Wobbley from Jody:
“Unfortunate news. They moved it on Wednesday without keeping me updated whilst I was organising the shoot for today and it got scrapped.”
There is a trailer online for Jody’s short documentary on Malcolm Hardee’s club The Tunnel.
It was moored in Greenland Dock, Rotherhithe, by the River Thames in London.
There were some very amiable squatters living in the boat, putting on monthly performances. They had been there for several months.
Suitably anarchic slogans adorned the sides of the boat.
Today, while watching the annual Pantomime Horse Race in Greenwich, I got a message from Evening Standard comedy critic Bruce Dessau telling me that the squatters had been evicted; the Wibbley Wobbley had been towed away from its berth and would be broken up.
Bruce asked me for a quote which he could add to the news item he had written on his Beyond The Joke website. I gave him a quote but suggested he should just make up a much better one and claim that I had said it – something of which I think Malcolm would have approved.
Alas, he just quoted the load of old cobblers I had thought of:
“I thought 2016 was bad enough with Bowie, Prince and Manuel from Fawlty Towers dying, but this has really pissed me off.”
It’s not a great quote, is it?
The moral to this part of the story is:
If someone or something snuffs it, don’t ask me for a quote.
After the Pantomime Horse Race finished in Greenwich, I went to Greenland Dock in Rotherhithe, where the Wibbley Wobbley had been moored and where Malcolm had drowned in 2005.
The boat was, indeed, not there.
But I spotted it in the adjacent South Dock Marina.
Coincidentally, before he bought the Wibbley Wobbley, Malcolm had lived in another boat in South Dock Marina and, ironically, I had fallen in the water there and almost drowned, myself, while carrying Malcolm’s vacuum cleaner onto the boat.
As always, it is better not to ask for too many details.
The banners which had been adorning the Wibbley Wobbley two weeks ago had, tonight, been removed.
But the boat itself looked perfectly OK; not ready to be scrapped.
As I left, I heard two people connected with the dock talking about the Wibbley Wobbley.
“The thing is,” one said, “if you get rid of squatters, they’ll just find somewhere else.”
A bit like memories, in that respect.
The Shipping Press account on Twitter posted an image of workers removing the Wibbley Wobbley from its original berth in Greenland Dock with text which said: “So called pirates left #wibbelywobbley after trying to sink her! They converted upstairs into 7 bedrooms-and left a big mess.”
Leigh Miller replied: “How did this happen without notice? Admiralty Writ necessary- did anyone investigate?”
Cockney Rebel: “Don’t know yet. LBS very good at smash & grab doing what they want & abusing rule of law…to please developers!”
Leigh Miller: “There must be a worldwide shortage of brown envelopes by now….”
Cockney Rebel: “…mountains of used empties in every Labour/Tory Town halls also rumour has it massive stash at GLA/County Hall!”
THERE IS AN UPDATE ON THIS STORY HERE.
There is a famous quote from Steve Jobs of Apple. He said: “Good artists copy, Great artists steal.”
Ironically, he probably actually stole this quote from T.S.Eliot, who wrote: “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal.” Although apparently Steve Jobs thought he stole the quote from Pablo Picasso.
All this is to add intellectual credibility a.k.a. bullshit disguise to what follows.
Last Saturday night, I went to see an unadvertised comedy/music gig at the Wibbley Wobbley, a (still just about) floating former Rhine cruiser now moored at Greenland Dock, Rotherhithe, by the River Thames in London.
Regular readers of this blog will realise this was where comedian Malcolm Hardee drowned in January 2005 and that the Wibbley Wobbley was his floating pub/club.
I was vaguely thinking I should write a brief blog about my Saturday night visit but then, yesterday, up-standing comic Becky Fury wrote one.
And here they are:
John Fleming and I went to the Wibbley Wobbley on Saturday night.
It was Malcolm Hardee’s old boat and has been squatted by an art collective. John said Malcolm only nicked cars and they’ve nicked a whole boat and that Malcolm would have approved.
The squatters had hung protest banners outside, so we took our own banner which said KNOB OUT! (one of Malcolm’s catchphrases) and hung it with the others.
Which is the equivalent of putting flowers on your mate’s grave.
I had spray painted KNOB OUT! earlier in the day on an old bed sheet on my own boat and hung it to dry by the busy tow path in Camden.
A lot of people ushered their children past very quickly.
Those that didn’t spoke approvingly about it as a protest against Donald Trump.
Context is everything.
Back on the Wibbley Wobbley, John presented me with a copy of Malcolm’s autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake.
It has a picture of Malcolm as a cherub or angel on the cover.
Greenland Dock is where Malcolm died. He fell in the dock and drowned – as the story goes – weighed down by pound coins ‘stolen’ from his own fruit machine and, when his body was dredged from the dock, he was still clutching a bottle of beer.
So the mythos goes.
Given this back story, I thought it was a very poetic and appropriate place to be handed a copy of Malcolm’s autobiography. Especially as the front cover has a Malcolm as an angel.
John gave the squatters a copy of the book too.
I tried to stop him but he was insistent.
I performed an adequate turn. Quantities of pirate juice 1 and 2 – a dubious home brew distinguishable only by colour – were consumed and a band played some music. Me and John recorded a Grouchy Club podcast.
But the most interesting part of the night was spent. So we left to catch the last tube.
On the way to the station I needed a piss, so I popped in a nearby Weatherspoons pub.
Weatherspoons likes to commemorate local characters.
There was a picture of Malcolm with the birthday cake story underneath.
Local boy Malcolm Hardee stole Freddie Mercury’s £40,000 birthday cake. When the police raided, there was no evidence of the cake because it had been donated to a local old people’s home.
I told John: “There’s a picture of Malcolm Hardee on the wall. With the story about stealing Freddie Mercury’s birthday cake.”
“In the women’s toilet? he asked. “That’s appropriate.”
I spoke to my friend the street artist Stik and told him about my evening and that Freddie Mercury’s birthday cake was stolen by Malcolm Hardee.
“Can you get me a copy of the autobiography?” he asked. “And I’ll send it to Brian May. I’m sure he’d love to finally know what happened to his mate’s cake.”
I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake – the picaresque autobiography of Malcolm Hardee – is out of print but available from Amazon whose online description has, for several years, been of a completely different book. It currently continues to describe I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake thus:
“For successful classroom teaching, your students need to be engaged and active learners. In this book, there is practical advice that is grounded in the realities of teaching in today’s classrooms on how to be an inspirational teacher and produce highly motivated students. This book contains 220 positive, practical teaching ideas that are relevant to both new and experienced classroom teachers.”
I have never attempted to correct this mis-description because, in its full, irrelevant, surreal glory, I think Malcolm would have approved.