Tag Archives: Malcolm hardee

Facebook attacks the long-established UK tradition of a ‘banger-up-the-bum’

It seems to have taken six months for Facebook to decide that sticking a banger up your bum is unacceptable. This message arrived just before 07.00am this morning (UK time). Bad news for fans of football and Chris Lynam…

The above was posted in a members-only Facebook group for fans of the late comedian Malcolm Hardee.

I think the picture of England football fans in Leicester Square during the Euro 2020 Championsip was taken from the UK newspaper Metro – owned by Associated Newspapers, publishers of the Daily Mail – or possibly from the BBC News website, though I can’t quite remember. It was also published online by the Daily Mail itself.

I can’t help but feel this frown from Facebook demonstrates a cultural gap between UK (possibly European) and US sensibilities. Sticking a banger-up-your-bum is a commendably British tradition which started in the 1980s – 40 years ago.

Comedian Malcolm Hardee, in his 1996 autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake, tells how the revered banger-up-the-bum routine originated…


One of the most popular acts with any Tunnel audience that enjoyed General De Gaulle was Chris Lynam, who had been so kind to me when Pip was ill.

He was in The Greatest Show on Legs at one point and we were all sitting round saying:

“How can we follow The Balloon Dance? We’re all naked. What can we do? We just have to walk off stage. There’s no way to finish it!”

“Well,” I said, “You might as well stick a banger up your arse!”

“Good idea!” Chris said: “You do it!”

So I was the first one to do it. But I only did it once.

You don’t actually stick the banger up your arse, you just clench it between your buttocks, then light it. I didn’t have the necessary muscle-control. It drooped a bit and set light to the hairs on my testicles. I said to Chris:

“You’d better do it”.

So now the finish to his act involves putting a firework up his bottom, then an extravagant version of There’s No Business Like Show Business starts playing on loudspeakers, the firework is lit, goes off and he exits the stage trailing glorious sparks. Sometimes it’s a three-stage Roman Candle shooting forth increasingly spectacular jets of silver sparkles. Good finish. Difficult to follow.

The first year he did it in Edinburgh, we were playing a little pub called The Comedy Boom. It wasn’t very big, but we got the Banger Up The Bum routine passed by a Fire Officer called Maurice Gibb. That’s his real name. It just is. We did the routine the first night then the landlord said he wouldn’t let us do it again. He said:

“You’re not doing that in my pub!”

I said we’d compromise. At the end of our show, we’d take the audience outside and do it in the street. So we did that the second night and it wasn’t just the audience from the show who were there: it drew a bit of a crowd. The landlord said:

“No! You’re not doing that again. It’s bringing my pub into disrepute!”

So we had to video the routine and show the audience the video and it wasn’t the same.

On the last night of our run, I decided we’d do it again for real. We’d been paid already, so fuck the landlord. I was sick of it. We’d had other rows about our act – obviously.

So Chris Lynam bought an extra-large firework.

That night – banger in the bottom – light it – No Business Like Show Business – and it set the pub alight. Just the wall. A bit of plaster. It wasn’t much damage. But some people…. moan, moan, moan.

The next year, The Greatest Show on Legs played The Assembly Rooms, the big, prestige venue at the Edinburgh Fringe. Same thing again. The Fire Officer passed it. First night went without a hitch. Lovely. On the second night, for some reason, it set off all the fire alarms in The Assembly Rooms and they had to evacuate the entire building – about 3,000 people had to evacuate, including our audience and some Russians who were doing a four-hour play and only had three minutes left to go.

We were all standing around outside The Assembly Rooms – a motley crew – when the fire engines turned up with Maurice Gibb. He was there, ready with the hose. Then he saw me naked, saw Chris Lynam, and said:

“Banger up the bum?”.

“Yes,” I said.

“Hoses away, lads!” he said.

And off they went.

The Russians – fair play to them – went back upstairs and did the last three minutes of their play.


YouTube has a clip of Chris Lynam’s routine, as shown nationally on France’s Got Talent in 2014…

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Too mild? Chris Rock should learn from Jerry Sadowitz and/or Malcolm Hardee

Last weekend, actor Will Smith (a former comic) slapped Chris Rock (a current comic) in the face at the Oscars ceremony for allegedly slighting his wife with an ad-libbed joke obliquely-referring to her alopecia-caused baldness/shaved head.

I can’t help but feel that Americans’ sensibilities are a little too touchy and their attempts at edgy comedy could do with a bit more edge-sharpening. 

Still… it was the slap that echoed round the world, making front-page news and generating much comment.

On Twitter, British comedian and writer David Baddiel observed: “As a comedy moment it’s still not up there with a member of the audience at Montreal’s Just For Laughs 1991 punching Jerry Sadowitz out cold for opening with Hello moose-fuckers!

The full line was: “Hello moose-fuckers! I tell you why I hate Canada: half of you speak French, and the other half let them.

As David Baddiel pointed out, there is no footage of that particular punch, but there is a video of Clive Anderson interviewing comedians Denis Leary and Bill Hicks about it after the event…

In a comment on David Baddiel’s Tweet this week, Mr AR Felix (who describes himself as a “Ferrari supporter, casual artist and culture vulture”) wrote: 

“The rarely-quoted follow up line, which Sadowitz claims is what actually led to him being attacked was: Why don’t you speak Indian? You might as well speak the language of the people you stole the country off of in the first place.

When I mentioned the Sadowitz attack on my own Facebook page, former Time Out editor Dominic Wells commented:

“Loved Jerry/Gerry Sadowitz — the reason for my G/J being that when I was still chief sub on Time Out, and editor Don Atyeo showed his new columnist round the office, I asked him (pre-internet): How do you spell G/Jerry? 

Spell it how ye fucking want, son, ah don’t give a shite, quoth the comic. 

Jerry or Gerry Sadowitz takes Time Out with Ben Elton

“So I (unlike Wikipedia, now that it exists) spelt it with a G in all his Time Out columns and the cover he was on, throttling the Spitting Image puppet of Ben Elton, for which Ben apparently never forgave us. 

“G/Jerry was by a long chalk the funniest columnist I have EVER read, let alone subbed. I would hoot with laughter at his copy. Sadly G/Jerry proved too close to the edge even for Time Out. The editor couldn’t handle the letters of complaint and sacked him after just four or five, despite my entreaties. 

“I guess the tone was set by his very first column, replacing Muriel Gray, who had departed for the Guardian or similar. It opened with a poem: 

See that Muriel Gray/ In a’ the Fleet Street papers/ You can read her if you want/ But I’d rather fuck the Proclaimers.

After this Facebook comment, comic and cultural icon John Dowie reminisced:

What’s the worst opening remark a comedian could ever say? asked Nick Revell, backstage prior to a 1980s comedy gig. Nelson Mandela – What a cunt! was the winning answer… Jerry opened with it… Of course.”

Then, returning to the subject of outrage caused at Montreal’s Just For Laughs festival, Rob Williams (who describes himself as a “writer of stuff” added:

“Malcolm Hardee at Montreal got told before going on that they love observational humour. Do observational stuff and you’ll be fine, they told him… So he opened with: Have you ever noticed that if you stick a carrot up your arse and lick it it tastes like shit?

I can’t help but feel that Will Smith – especially as an ex-comic – was being more than a tad over-sensitive and Chris Rock could have been more offensive.

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A DIY guide to getting and making an Edinburgh Fringe comedy award…

This morning, a month after this year’s cut-down-by-Covid Edinburgh Fringe finished, the 2021 Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award winner was announced. Yes, a month after it finished. 

The late Malcolm Hardee outside his childhood home

Alas no attempt was made to link the fact that the Award and the dead-but-impossible-to-forget comic Malcolm Hardee himself are both late.

Normally, there are three Malcolm Hardee Awards but, with no Fringe last year, with Covid still stalking the land and with staggeringly fewer shows at the Fringe this year, it’s a miracle there was any award at all.

As for the lesser Fringe awards… There were no Edinburgh Comedy (aka Perrier) Awards at all this year. And the eponymous TV channel did not attempt to award any prize for ‘DAVE’s Best Joke of the Fringe 2021’.

Fittingly, then, the winner of the Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award this year was Will Mars, who announced his own ‘(Some Guy Called) DAVE Joke of the Fringe 2021’.

A cunning stunt indeed.

The TV channel’s annual prize is awarded after multiple allegedly top comedy industry professionals assiduously scout for jokes to nominate a shortlist and the final winner is decided by an allegedly carefully supervised public vote. 

This year, Will Mars just got together a few gags from people’s shows and then wandered up the Royal Mile in Edinburgh trying to find anyone called Dave who would pick a winner from the bunch.

Surprisingly, finding someone called Dave turned out to be almost as difficult as picking a winner.

The chosen winning joke was Masai Graham’s:

“I thought the word ‘Caesarean’ began with the letter ‘S’ but, when I looked in the dictionary, it was in the ‘C’ section.”

The shortlist of other jokes – inexplicably Caesar-centric – which Will had got together included:

Adele Cliff: “The Roman emperor’s wife hates playing hide and seek because wherever she goes Julius Caesar.” 

Ben Clover: “Getting a caesarian is dangerous in Russia. If they open you up and find a little girl, they open her up to see if there’s another.”

Ivor Dembina: “My therapist told me, ‘A problem shared, is a hundred quid’.”

Sameer Katz: “I think Chewbacca is French because he understands English but refuses to speak it.”

Leo Kearse: “Marvin Gaye used to keep a sheep in my vineyard. He’d herd it through the grapevine.”

Will Mars’ own: “My grandparents were married for forty years, but everything took longer back then.”

Tom Mayhew: “Me and my ex were into role play. I’d pretend to be James Bond and she’d pretend she still loved me.”

Rich Pulsford: “I don’t know what you call a small spillage from a pen but I have an inkling.”

The trophy for the one-off 2021 Award itself was designed and crafted by mad inventor John Ward, who has designed and made all the previous trophies.

But you can’t just knock-off a Malcolm Hardee Award in a minute or two. Oh no. Oh my dear me, no. Quality counts.

You need raw materials and then you have to decide what the fuck to do with them…

Once you have ’em, you have to shape ’em and craft ’em…

Then, if you’re talented like John Ward, you have to tart ’em up into a final trophy…

John Ward (he’s the one on the right) with the Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award 2021

John Ward told me: “It’s basically Malcolm’s bonce, with real imitation hair, plus the specs mounted on an ‘H’ shaped base for Hardee.

“I used a BAFTA type theme but tried to take the piss out of it with the silver (on the right) symbolising the bland year and half it’s been with Covid and the golden ray of laughter (on the left) is pure (if that’s a suitable word) Malcolm with a hearty grin.”

“With real imitation hair?” I asked. “From where?”

“From a fabric shop I patronise for such things…”

“Such things?” I asked.

“I use it to make wigs and I buy it by the yard as you never know when you might run out of the hairy stuff…” replied John.

Here is a reminder of John Ward.

Here is Will Mars’ typically non-promotional speech accepting the 2021 Cunning Stunt Award…

 
And here is the base of John Ward’s trophy…

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This year’s Edinburgh Fringe in the very personal opinion of ex-Sir Gideon Vein

The Edinburgh Fringe – or what passes for the Fringe in this let’s-hope-it’s-almost-over-Covid-pandemic netherworld – finishes this coming weekend. It started on 6th August.

The former Sir Gideon Vein with a very personal look…

I have not been up there but, when I chatted to performer Tony Green aka Sir Gideon Vein for a blog posted a fortnight ago, I mentioned that he might like to give his view of what it is like this year. He lives in Edinburgh for a lot of the year.

I have just received his highly-personal account…

I say ‘highly-personal’… That is exactly what I asked him for but, in other words, if you are an act who is mentioned, don’t send the hit-men to shoot ME…


The Duke of Wellington had developed a pointed head

A couple of weeks ago, ‘The Duke of Wellington’ had a cone placed upon his head. It seemed to herald the beginning of The Fringe (albeit a severely pared-down version). Although Queen Victoria’s statue at the top end of Leith Walk where the down and outs invariably assemble is frequently treated to a cone.

Anyway, as I mentioned to you, there has been practically no-one flyering up here – only the occasional one around the St Giles area giving out flyers for their own shows. 

I went to see Walshy’s (formerly a homeless geezer whose face tells the story) show (A Number of Stand-Ups) in Niddry Street.

It turned out to be in the back annexe of a basement. No distancing and about sixty people (a capacity audience) crammed into one small oblong room about 20ft by 9ft with some wearing masks, some not. 

There was no way I felt I could go in especially with a partner (not actually with me) who is totally vulnerable as regards this bloody virus. 

So I walked along to The Canons’ Gait in the Canongate to see PBH’s Show (I’ve known him for years)… It turned out to be his night off. The compere was a woman called Kate Smurthwaite who opened with a stream of extraneous expletives.

I see the objective here but personally don’t feel it is necessary. 

Kate Smurthswaite’s own one-woman show

Not that she actually said this but it could just as well have been something like:  “Right, so Jack and Jill went up the fucking hill to fetch a fucking pail of water…” 

I certainly have no objection to so-called ‘bad language’ – far from it – just the way it is used… e.g. When Malcolm Hardee used the ‘Fuck’ it was necessary AND funny in a lighthearted way – but this is a different arena. 

Then there was a bit about about her ‘bush’ and pubic hair removal, then onto asking the audience intrusive questions (par for the course these days it would seem) e.g. “And what do you do for a living…?” 

I was not asked – a pity perhaps. 

Although the Oxbridge-educated Kate, who was formerly an investment banker in London and Japan, is a deeply politically-motivated comic as well as an activist and teacher, she didn’t touch on politics in her opener. Perhaps she was saving the political stuff for her midnight chat show. 

I later saw her on the internet clashing with Laurence Fox – this was a TV link-up. 

So the Chat Show would indeed have the potential for an explosive midnight hour and it is, by the way, the only midnight show at the Fringe.  

The first comic on was a very young Norwegian bloke called Thor. He was alright, I suppose, and not unlikeable but nothing there really for someone like me  – also asking the audience personal questions and explaining the problems he’d encountered regarding his ethnicity. 

His English was actually better than many English people’s. Early days for him though. 

It started to look a bit packed and there were no precautions or any distancing so I left early which may have been a pity. 

Critic Kate Copstick went there last week and gave the night she went a 5-star review and later I believe Kate Smurthwaite’s own show was also highly commended. 

A couple of days ago I saw a bloke – ‘Edinburgh Fringe Favourite’ Robert Inston – doing a one-man show about Jack the Ripper – a subject I know a fair bit about. 

He attempted to portray five characters all of whom were closely associated with the Whitechapel Murders. This was in the large basement (so it was possible to sit far back) called Maggie’s Chamber at The Three Sisters in the Cowgate. 

I appreciated his effort but, as he said, he is used to performing as women. 

The trouble was (for me) ALL of the characters were portrayed in an overtly camp manner (fair enough with Queen Victoria) and his depiction of Walter Sickert (about whom crime writer Patricia Cornwell has a definite bee in her bonnet) as a nasty homosexual bitch hardly tied up with what is actually known about the man who was allegedly born with a malformed penis but who was married a couple of times (to women).

‘Leather Apron’ (John Pizer) was depicted as a fey gay (or that was the impression given).

An opportunity missed I thought. 

Some people put as little as a penny in the collection bucket. The audience nevertheless were very well behaved throughout. My partner fell asleep (a large area and we were able to sit at the back). 

Few posters at the Fringe in 2021

It sort of reminded me of a production of Dorian Gray (merit-wise) that I saw up here a few years ago. Oscar Wilde would have taken out a lawsuit – to call it lacking in subtlety would be a gross understatement. 

The board with the posters at the end of the Cowgate is virtually the same board ALL over town. I haven’t seen Daniel Sloss or Craig Hill and somehow can’t imagine I ever will. The former I know got good reviews up here a few years ago.

In Hill Square (Hill Place), off Nicholson Street, there is a marquee with a raised platform. The venue is called The Space. On stage there were about six or seven young English girls by the sound of them singing pop songs a cappella, often with interpolation. It was Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive I heard. No disrespect to them, but hardly my bag. They had a reasonable audience.

It is a pity I couldn’t have said something nice about a show. The Free Fringe is hit and miss as expected. And this year there was not exactly a great deal to choose from…

The a cappella girls got a reasonable audience in Hill Square…

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Comic Malcolm Hardee remembered by Australian performer Matthew Hardy…

Malcolm Hardee on the Thames (Photo by Steve Taylor)

In yesterday’s blog, Australian performer Matthew Hardy remembered British comedian Sean Lock, who died earlier this week. 

Matthew also mentioned the late comedian Malcolm Hardee – oft called ‘the godfather of British alternative comedy’ – as “the most outrageous individual I’ve ever known”. 

Eight days after Malcolm’s death by drowning in 2005, Matthew Hardy shared this memory. 

Stories about Malcolm Hardee are plentiful but, to my mind, this one from Matthew may be the definitive one…


Malcolm took my visiting elderly parents out in his boat. Goes up the Thames and on the right was some kind of rusted ship, pumping a powerful arc of bilgewater out of its hull, through a kind of high porthole, which saw the water arc across the river over fifty foot.

I’m on the front of the boat as Malcolm veers toward the arc and I assume he’s gonna go under it, between the ship and where the arc curves downward toward the river itself. For a laugh.

Just as I turn back to say “Lookout, we’re gonna get hit by the filthy fucking water” – the filthy fucking water almost knocked my head off my shoulders and me off the boat. I looked back to see it hit Malcolm as he steered, then my Mum and then Dad.

I wanted to hit him and my Dad said afterwards that he did too, but we were both unable to comprehend or calculate what had actually happened. 

Malcolm’s decision was beyond any previously known social conduct. 

He must have simply had the idea and acted upon it. 

Anarchy.

We laugh… NOW!”.

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UK comic Sean Lock remembered by Australian performer Matthew Hardy

(Image by comedy news website Chortle.co.uk)

The British comedian Sean Lock died of cancer on Monday, aged 58. I remember him in the 1990s as highly intelligent, a very very funny stand-up and, most of all, a kind man unspoilt by any discernible ego. I don’t think he changed when he became successful.

Here, Australian performer Matthew Hardy pays tribute to Sean…


(L-R) Matthew Hardy, Malcolm Hardee, Sean Lock (Photograph courtesy of Matthew Hardy)

Rising up the London stand-up comedy club ladder in 1993, I’d started to get paid gigs (after 12 months of poverty-stricken gradual improvement), many of which were ‘Door Splits’ (meaning the Promoter splits the door-take equally with the comedians).

I’d been living in Welwyn Garden City, way too far out of London (grateful though I was for anywhere at all, having landed from Australia without a clue) and needed a room closer to the city, quickly. 

I ended up staying with the most outrageous individual I’ve ever known (who became a great mate, the comedian Malcolm Hardee, pictured above in the middle, but that’s a whole other story) and that opportunity came about because I’d been telling anyone who’d listen within the comedy community (I didn’t know anyone else) that I was desperately lacking in both money and a place to live. 

After an early paid Door Split gig at a well-attended club I won’t name, another act (who I met for the first time that night) named Sean Lock, offered me a lift to Kings Cross station (where most changeover train routes threaded through: trains I couldn’t afford tickets for, so I’d be nervously watching out for inspectors the whole way in and back) and, having delivered a good show, I spoke excitedly to him about how awesome it was to be have been paid £20.

“TWENTY POUNDS!” Sean said, loudly and incredulously.

“Yes”, I said, “I’ve been doing open-spots (free 5 minute trials) for a year now and it’s great to have gotten good enough to get paid”.

“You told the Promoter you were skint and needed somewhere to stay, didn’t you?” Sean said. 

“Yeah – and they said they’d try to help me out if they could,” I replied, enthusiastically. 

“Help you out?” he said. “The rest of us got £120 pounds each!”

I’d been lonely and thought I was about to cry, at which point Sean pulled over, took £50 out of his wallet and shoved it in my hand.

“Now we’ve both been paid the same,” he said, with a smile. 

And then, “You’re not in the outback anymore, cobber. Keep your mouth shut and your eyes open. And, by the way, I loved your ‘Windy Day’ routine”.

He dropped me off and I recall this all concisely because I was keeping a daily diary back then.

People remember kindness. 

People won’t forget Sean Lock.

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Amazon anarchy runs riot in long-lasting Malcolm Hardee mystery

Malcolm Hardee while researching his autobiography in 1995

In yesterday’s blog, I mentioned British comedian Malcolm Hardee in passing. He was, to understate the truth, very anarchic. A comedian, club owner, agent and force of Nature, he has been called the father of (British) alternative comedy.

He drowned in 2005. At least, that is the story.

He wrote his autobiography in 1996. It was titled I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake which, indeed, he did. It has been out of print for quite a few years.

At the time of writing this blog, there are a couple of second hand copies available on amazon.co.uk – one at £49.98, the other at £109.95.

One second hand copy is also available on amazon.com at $49.98.

Full disclosure: I own 20% of the royalties from I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake. But, as the book is out-of-print and these are second hand copies, there are no royalties. So I would get nothing if anyone forked out £49.98 or $49.98 or £109.95.

On amazon.com, the book’s description correctly reads:

“The humorous memoirs of criminal-turned-comedy agent Malcolm Hardee, who recalls a life of crime and misdemeanours before finding fame and fortune in the comedy boom of the 1980s. He also recalls how he did in fact, as the title suggests, steal Freddie Mercury’s birthday cake.”

On amazon.co.uk, the description reads:

“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. With reference to reflective practice, best practice and Continuing Professional Development (CPD), this book provides essential support for trainee teachers, new teachers and experienced teachers looking to extend their repertoire.”

Yup. It is the description of a totally different book. Amazon’s computers have somehow got their techno-knickers in a twist. Originally I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake had the correct listing on amazon.co.uk but somehow, between 1996 and 2021, it got surreally mistaken for this other academic book.

It has been listed like that for years, certainly since 2015. But, as I get nothing out of any sales, it doesn’t particularly bother me and I have a sneaking feeling that Malcolm Hardee would have somehow enjoyed the mix-up.

I mentioned most of this in a blog way back in November 2015.

Over the six intervening years, I have more-or-less halfheartedly but officially notified Amazon.co.uk of the error I think four times – helpfully pointing out that the listing was correct on amazon.com, so they only had to copy their own listing from amazon.com.

The last time was a couple of months ago.

But nothing has been been changed.

Not about comedy and criminal activities

The bizarre incorrect description of I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake actually comes from Warren Kidd and Gerry Czerniawski’s niftily-titled book Teaching Teenagers: A Toolbox for Engaging and Motivating Learners.

Sadly, the blurb for Teaching Teenagers: A Toolbox for Engaging and Motivating Learners on amazon.co.uk does not describe it as “The humorous memoirs of a criminal-turned-comedy agent who recalls a life of crime and misdemeanours”.

A couple of nights ago, I was talking to multi-talented performer Matt Roper aka Wilfredo in New York.

Full disclosure: he was in New York; I was in London…

…and I mentioned all the above jolly shenanigans to him. I explained to him that the amazon.com listing for I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake was correct.

But, yesterday, he contacted me to tell me he had just looked up the amazon.com listing and although it was, indeed, mostly correct… it did say that I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake had been published on January 1, 1600… He attached a screen shot of the page. 

He told me: “Amazon.com seems to think the book was published in 1600, just as Giordano Bruno was being burned at the stake by the Inquisition and when the first Queen Elizabeth was on the throne. Perhaps that’s why it costs so much here.”

The price advertised at the time was $164.66.

I have just looked it up myself and the amazon.com page now says I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake was published on 5 Aug 1996 and it now has a $49.98 price tag.

Full disclosure: My head is swirling a bit – I seem to be getting bouts of vertigo – and I am beginning to think that Malcolm Hardee faked his own death by drowning in 2005 and is playing anarchic games from beyond the non-grave. 

I would not put it past him.

Incidentally, I have some pristine copies of I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake available at a mere £675.99 plus postage… They are collectors’ items for marketing surrealists and increasingly prestigious.

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Depression is a funny thing…

(Photograph by Kat Love via UnSplash)

I’ve been through – before the pandemic – in fact, last century – I’ve been through that odd phase of not leaving the house and leaving my curtains closed all day.

I also went through a phase of not opening mail for a week or so. This was strangely like the English comedian Malcolm Hardee – a man never visibly depressed. He once told me that he would randomly throw some mail away, unopened, not knowing who had sent it nor how important it was. 

At least I opened mine eventually.

Now I open my mail as soon as it arrives and I keep my curtains open during the day.

I don’t open my windows, of course.

I was partly brought up at a very impressionable age in a council flat on a hill in Aberdeen, Scotland.

If you opened the window fully there, you would have frozen to death.

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Confusion over why Burns Night is celebrated in Scotland and worldwide

History is whatever people in the future are led to believe happened in the past.

History is what you are told it is in the People’s Paradise…

In North Korea, they are taught that the Korean War started when, unprovoked, the South Korean allies of the US invaded the North. The valiant forces of the North then pushed the US invaders back into the south where, with their backs to the sea, the defeated Americans pleaded for peace.

This does not explain why the current border is halfway up the peninsula nor why people alive at the time would have seen US and allied troops in the north of North Korea and Chinese troops pushing them back south. (In North Korean history, as taught in schools, the Chinese were never involved.)

So history is fluid. It is whatever you believe happened.

When I wrote an obituary of comedian Malcolm Hardee for the Independent newspaper in 2005, I started it by saying he “was arguably the greatest influence on British comedy over the last 25 years”. I did this partly because I thought it was arguably true but also because I figured that, in future, it would be picked up by other people writing about him and stated as fact rather than opinion.

And, occasionally, it has been. It was, after all, printed in a respected national newspaper.

History is whatever people in the future are led to believe happened in the past.

A couple of days ago, comedy icon Janey Godley hosted her Big Burns Supper on Facebook and YouTube, attracting a live digital audience of over 327,000 with viewers tuning in from Scotland and 50 countries across the world…

Janey Godley’s Big Burns Night line-up

Performers on the show included KT Tunstall, Donovan, Skerryvore, Camille O’Sullivan, Dougie MacLean, Tidelines, Manran, Colonel Mustard and the Dijon 5, Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, Robert Softly Gale, Amy Conachan, Grant Dinwoodie, Ray Bradshaw and LOKA.

Yesterday, someone I know – an intelligent and well educated Englishman – told me he had seen Janey Godley’s Big Burns Supper and it had been a revelation to him. 

He had never realised Robert Burns was a poet. 

He had thought Robert Burns was the Scottish king who had seen the spider in the cave when he was hiding from the English and who had burned the cakes

He thought Burns Night was a celebration of the burning of the cakes.

For my reader in Guatemala…

The legendary cakes were allegedly burned by Alfred, a Saxon king in southern England, around 900 years before Robert Burns’ time. The legendary spider was encountered by Robert the Bruce around 500 years before Robert Burns’ time.

Life is but a dream.

And it is probable that neither event actually happened.

However, Janey Godley’s Big Burns Supper did happen and did get those verified viewing figures.

For educational reasons, a recording is, at the time of writing, still available on YouTube:

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My doctor, the COVID notification and the warning – My Weekly Diary No 40

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 39

SUNDAY 18th OCTOBER

“…in fact, I was totally calm and relaxed…”

My friend Lynn popped in to see me as she was on the nearby M25 motorway. She hadn’t seen me for a month and told me I looked better than the last time.

I mentioned that, twice when I was in hospital in May, staff had thought I was very anxious when, in fact, I was not remotely: I was totally calm and relaxed. Lynn told me my wittering comes across as nervousness.

I remember once walking across an open plan office at Granada TV in Manchester and someone asked: “What on earth has happened, John?”

Apparently I looked as if my entire family had been killed in a sudden air crash or a freak attack by a rogue herd of rabid wildebeest. In fact, I was particularly relaxed, happy and at ease with the world.

To quote Rabbie Burns:

O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us.

MONDAY 19th OCTOBER

After a two-month gap, I saw my Kidney Man at the hospital again. He/they still have no idea what was/is wrong with me.

I am much the same. Waking up maybe 8 or 10 or 12 times every night with my mouth bone dry and having to drink water.

He told me my blood test results… My calcium level should be 2.2-2.6. Last time it had settled at a good 2.4 but it has gone up to a little over 2.6. My low kidney function, which should be 60+ and which was 19 when I was taken into hospital – rising to 33 a week later and, after a couple of months, to 44 – is now around 50.

He is booking me in for another appointment in 4 months but may move that if required and he will recommend I get seen by two other different specialists before then – a calcium man and an Ear Nose & Throat man.

Afterwards, I had a new blood test, the results of which I will presumably hear about in 4 months time.

TUESDAY 20th OCTOBER

This morning, unlike previous occasions, when letters took several weeks/months to arrive, I got a copy of a letter from the Kidney Man to my GP about yesterday’s meeting.

It said I had last been weighed in 2002 rather than 2020 and that my next appointment would be in 2 months not 4 months. Attention to detail is always reassuring in someone who is diagnosing me and who may, at some point, perform surgery on me.

Later in the day, a notification flashed-up on my iPhone from the NHS coronavirus Track & Trace app saying I had maybe been exposed to COVID-19. It was followed immediately by another notification to the effect that they had checked and I could ignore the whole thing!

This seems a very ineffective notification system. No idea when/where/how it occurred. (Though I was inside a hospital yesterday). And seemingly designed to give old people with paranoia a jolt big enough to trigger a heart attack. 

Track & Trace sounds like the name of a more successful female pop duo of the 1980s.

WEDNESDAY 21st OCTOBER

I woke up even more than normal last night – maybe 15 times. Mouth bone dry. Needed to drink water.

My eternally-un-named-friend e-mailed me to say:


The friendly Gents (not the Ladies) toilets at Canary Wharf

Yesterday I saw an elderly woman stripped to the waist washing her armpits at the sinks in the toilets at Canary Wharf.

She apologised to me, saying it was because she was hot.

I said: “No need to apologise,” and offered her a few of my tissues to dry herself off with. She also helped me locate a tap with running water as the first two didn’t work when you waved your hands underneath. It was like being at school. It was heartwarming.

She looked quite fit for her age. Well, for any age. It did help that she was slightly slim

I wonder what her story was.

Maybe she just didn’t have hot water at home or maybe she was homeless, though she didn’t actually look that rough with bags and stuff. 

I saw a woman maybe last year in the toilets at Marks & Spencer in Oxford Street. And you could tell she was a street homeless person.


THURSDAY 22nd OCTOBER

Aha! That letter I got on Tuesday from the Kidney Man… the one which arrived so quickly… was NOT from the previous day’s consultation! A duplicate of the letter arrived today with an extra sheet on the back.

It was written on 7th October about my meeting with him on 3rd August, modified on 14th October, printed on 20th October and presumably posted on 20th October (although I actually received a copy through the post on 20th October). So bureaucracy at work and all the details to my GP are 2 months out of date.

I also got a separate letter this morning – from Bristol – about my next appointment with my Kidney Man – in London – on 15th February next year… so the 4-month gap between appointments was true.

FRIDAY 23rd OCTOBER

Last night I woke up less often than normal – maybe 5 times – with a bone dry mouth, having to drink water.

In the afternoon, Ariane Sherine‘s 9-year-old daughter was telling me about a woman who is addicted to eating bricks… and how cuttlefish hypnotise crabs. Both true.

It was an educational journey.

Later I received an email telling me that (after a complaint) YouTube have admirably put an age-restriction on one of the videos I posted 14 years ago – unsurprisingly one featuring the late Malcolm Hardee – though, mysteriously, there is no hint what the age restriction is… I think Malcolm would have been shocked not by the age restriction but by the fact it took 14 years to happen…

SATURDAY 24th OCTOBER

I am thinking of seeing my excellent Chinese doctor, as the NHS are not really getting anywhere on figuring out what caused my calcium/kidney problems nor why I am waking up dehydrated maybe 10-12 times every single night with a bone-dry mouth.

My Chinese doctor is not cheap. But he has always been value for money.

On my mobile, there was a notification which said: Your iPhone continues to look for possible exposures on your behalf.

When it was pointed out to me that this was a message about the COVID-19 Track & Trace app, I felt strangely disappointed.

British Summertime ends tonight and the clocks go back one hour.

I received a message from my eternally-un-named friend:

… CONTINUED HERE

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