Tag Archives: marriage

Kate Copstick on married life in Kenya

Kate Copstick. My house. Yes this is more or less all of it. I am standing with my back to the other wall.

Where Kate Copstick lives when in Nairobi: “Yes this is more or less all of it. I am standing with my back to the other wall.”

More news from comedy critic Kate Copstick, who is currently in Kenya, where her charity Mama Biashara gives small grants and advice to mostly women wanting to start small businesses which can raise them out of their extreme poverty.

Note. Zimbabwean men in Kenya tend to have more than one wife.

A blog from Kenya a couple of days ago mentioned that Mama Biashara has stalls at the Nairobi International Trade Show – the Big Event of the Nairobi year in terms of business and enterprise – and that the President was due to pay a visit. Now read on…


Mama Biashara’s Kate Copstick at a happier time in Kenya

Copstick, currently in Kenya

FRIDAY 2nd OCTOBER

It is another slightly odd day when nothing happens as it should.

I am supposed to have a meet with Doris and more of the Zimbabwean Third Wives Club who need a grant to start business. They are trapped in the ghastly jam caused by the Prez going to the Show (he was scheduled to go yesterday but, of course, he is late). Lest the Prez be tainted by anything approaching real life in Nairobi, the roads are cleared and all normal traffic held back while his motorcade sweeps by.

When Doris does arrive she has two young women with her, representing the two groups of Zimbabwean Third Wives. The groups could not come en masse – there are 50 women in one group and 62 in the other. The young women are charming. We discuss the businesses.

I ask if the ladies could let me know how many children the women in the group have. The total is 479 for both groups.

Many of these young women already have 5 children by the age of 17 or 18. They are married at 12 and impregnated almost immediately. The young women I am sitting with are 17 and 18. They have 8 children between them. The first and second wives sometimes have as many as 12. The men do and give absolutely nothing by way of support.

The living conditions are pretty horrific – given the enormous numbers of children and the extreme poverty in which they live. They do not, Doris tells me, even have enough unga (flour) to make solid ugali. Their ugali is like soup. It should be like cake. They sleep as many as twenty to a room.

Now that the Zimbabwean community here is a couple of generations old, women of the Third Wives’ ages are looking for another way. Mama Biashara was the first ever help they were given.

These are the women for whom we ran the Secret School (but we don’t have the infrastructure or resources to continue it – much as we would like). These are the women for whom (at their begging request) Doris supplies the pill. These are women who, in secret, are doing massive business across Sudan. The effects can be seen in the much improved living conditions of their families, their nutrition, the number of their children going to school… but apparently the wazee (the much MUCH older husbands) are beginning to talk… to notice the money coming in. And this is dangerous for our women. But they are desperate to continue. And expand. They want a better life for themselves and their (many) children. They are going further underground with their supply lines.

Third wives are aged anything from 12 to 20. After that they are sort of discarded as hubby gets another 12 year-old and they are left to support the children and feed the husband.

I really want to offer them an alternative.

Their community operates like a sort of sect. Any deviation from its religious rules meets with fairly ghastly consequences. They have their own ‘courts’ and their own punishments. Any girl not getting married when told to would be an absolute pariah in the community. An outcast. But not allowed to leave. Ditto any mother not allowing her 12 year-old to be laid waste (literally and metaphorically) by some 50 year-old in the market for Wife No 4.

There is no real option for the young women who want out and there are many now.

The women who have had the experience of going to Sudan to do business love the freedom, love the power, love the life of independence and they want to learn to read and to write and they want their girls to have a proper chance in life. They are brought up in this closed community ruled by men with their over-active rods of iron. I want to give them an option. An escape route. We are not going to persuade anyone, we are not going to do a hard sell, but I want to (and it is a way off) establish a refuge for up to ten Wives at a time, with their children.

They come, they get acclimatised to life outside, they continue their business and make money but no longer have to hide it. And, when they are ready, and have found somewhere they think they can live happily, they go. And thus we establish little mini-communities of Zimbabwean ladies all over the place. But without the men forcing them to do anything. Least of all forcing them to hand their 12 year-old daughters over to a a 50 year-old man.

It needs a lot of planning. Somewhere very safe. And it will need a fair old wedge of money. I am very much against the march of Middle Class White ‘Liberalism’ hurtling in to trample all over cultures which are thousands of years old and ways of life that suit the people living them. But too, too many of these young women have come to us now wanting out. Wanting a different life for themselves and their kids.

Sorry I have been wittering on quite repetitively.

But I have never met a 17 year-old with 5 children before. It is an experience I found quite difficult.

Doris goes off to the show.

I start packing for Monday when we take the stuff to the airport cargo area.

Doris calls to ask what would cause a 21 year-old woman to scream in pain and say her chest is burning. I ask if her chest is, in fact, burning. It is not. I ask the usual – What has she eaten/drunk? Where exactly is the pain? Has it happened before? Are there any other symptoms? – and have only just got into my quasi-medical stride when Doris texts to say that the young woman knows what is wrong. She is possessed by demons.

I lie on my mattress and look at my WhatsApp conversations with Rebecca right up until the day before she died. Suddenly, before my eyes, her picture disappears from the profile to be replaced by some ghastly, pouting, lipsticked, anorexic 14 year-old.

The phone had, as promised, been stopped and the number was now someone else’s.

I turn to my new addiction. Solitaire. Known to us older people as Patience. I play it obsessively. I understand that this is about making order from chaos. And it comforts me. My phone tells me I have spent 34 hours playing since I started about a month and a half ago.

I am visited by the two, now grown-up, kittens I knew when I lived in the other little house here. One is seal point and the other tortoiseshell and very reminiscent of William, the cat who entered and enhanced Daddy Copstick’s life for a while and then left as suddenly as he came. They are ridiculously affectionate. To the point of developing (in the case of William Jnr) a tiny feline erection as I played with him (not like that!).

I notice he has MASSIVE balls (for a cat his size) and immediately re-christen him Malcolm (after Malcolm Hardee, of course). I have never actually been as close up and personal with a young cat’s tackle, but Malcolm made his attributes hard to miss.

A couple of games of Solitaire later I sleep.

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Filed under Africa, Kenya, Sex

Two comedy performers to have fairytale marriage in Disneyland

Laurence Owen & Lindsay Sharman

Laurence Owen and Lindsay Sharman at last night’s party…

Last night, I went to the engagement party for performers Lindsay Sharman and Laurence Owen. They are getting married at Disneyland.

“Yes,” said Laurence. “We’re taking ourselves off to Florida as a… erm… sort of… a…”

“Marriage?” I suggested.

“Yes,” said Laurence. “We’re getting married. That’s the main gist of it. For ten days in May.”

“That,” I said, “is a long marriage by American standards.”

“Well,” he replied, “if we get through ten days, we know it’s going to be alright.”

“Why get married at Disneyland?” I asked. “Have they heard your song?” (Laurence has a wonderful humdinger of a Disney pastiche song.)

“That’s the thing,” he explained. “Disney looms very large in our lives. As a kid, I used to go to Paris Disneyland with my dad. And, about this time last year, Lindsay and I had a week with no gigs in and I was temporarily homeless – between flats – so we went to the Paris Disneyland and we had a really amazing time there. Then we went again in September, immediately after last year’s Edinburgh Fringe.

“I had this idea that, in January this year, I would pop the question to Lindsay. Then she sort-of beat me to it. Cos we were chatting by text late on Christmas Eve – Christmas Day early morning – and we just got talking about Disney weddings and decided to go on from there, pretty much. So that was it.”

“Proposal by text?” I asked.

“Proposal by text. We’re thoroughly modern.”

“I didn’t realise,” I told him, “that Disney do marriage packages.”

“Oh yes,” said Laurence. “For your basic package, you get a location for a ceremony. We have a gazebo next to a big lake and there’s a pirate ship by the lake and it’s themed like a 1920s boardwalk-type thing; it’s all very nice.”

“And it’s more expensive to have the castle?” I asked.

“Oh yes,” said Laurence. “And, if you pay $3,000, you can arrive in the Cinderella pumpkin coach and you have two footmen.”

“Frogs?…” I started.

“For that price,” said Laurence, “you would hope so.”

“… or English?” I concluded.

“Maybe,” said Laurence. “And, as well as those guys, you get two buglers who will announce your arrival on long trumpets with flags hanging off them. You have to pay through the nose for that, though. And, if you want to have Mickey Mouse present, you have to pay another $900.”

“Are Mickey, Donald and Goofy all the same price?” I asked.

“Any costume characters,” explained Laurence, “you have to pay $900 each. So, if you want Mickey and Minnie together, that’s $1,800.”

“I wondered if maybe Goofy was relatively cheap.,” I said. “Who wants Goofy officiating at their marriage?”

“Possibly,” said Laurence. “On a sliding scale of Disney characters, maybe if you only want Pluto, you could get him for fifty quid.”

“You’re getting married on May 6th…” I said.

“Yes. We tried to get May the Fourth because that’s Star Wars Day, but they were full up on that day.”

“Of course!” I said. “Disney now own Star Wars. So you could have Stormtroopers in attendance. The ultimate white wedding.”

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Where do comedians get their ideas from? And are they all mad or do their lives thrust madness upon them?

Towards the end of the recent Edinburgh Fringe, Scots comedian Billy Watson did a handful of unbilled gigs in an out-of-the-way pub.

This is what he explained at the very start of his hour-long show.


Billy Watson at last month’s Edinburgh Fringe

Billy Watson at last month’s Edinburgh Fringe

I was married to a Turkish lady and she, basically, had a series of mental breakdowns over the course of twelve years – because she was married to me, basically. Trying to make that shit funny isn’t easy. How do I turn that into a comedy show? It was a challenge.

I gave her acid.

The relationship wasn’t working too well and I gave her some LSD and then, three days later, she just went completely… I came home from work at 7 o’clock in the morning and she was completely out to lunch.

She started speaking in tongues. She’s going Argwahburgh! Speaking in tongues. So I think: What’s the fuck’s going on here? and I go to the policeman and says: Help me! Help me! The policeman told me to piss off.

Policemen are supposed to help society. He just ignored me.

After two days of this crazy woman – completely out to lunch – I got her to the doctor’s and the doctor was saying: Right, we’d better get an ambulance here – and she jumped out of the doctor’s window. Fortunately, it was on the first floor. But I grabbed her and she was that strong she dragged me out the window too, pulling my trousers down to my ankles.

I fall on the other side of this window. She starts to run. I start chasing after her and the doctor starts chasing. It was like a scene from Benny Hill. He grabs her; I pull her down to the ground. The medical staff turn up and they get this syringe of something, inject it in her leg and it makes her totally zonked. I was trying to get the name of it from the bottles. I thought: I could do with some of that myself.

They put her in a mental ward in Falkirk. She got sectioned for two weeks. That was the first one. Then, every eight months, something would trigger it off and I’d have police at the door.

Basically, we had all these break-ups, right? Because being married to me isn’t easy, right? And we had temporary break-ups. One time she went to Turkey and I thought that was the relationship finished, but she came back and said: I really love ya. God knows why. She wanted us to have a baby to try to save the marriage.

I should have known having a child with a psychotic patient was not the wisest idea.

So, when the baby started to grow inside her, I had to say I thought it would be a good idea to go and be a hotel entertainer in Majorca. I left her and went to Majorca to train as a dancer in Grease – I was 34. For six weeks, I performed in Grease. I was John Travolta at one point. It was awesome.

But she came out there after six weeks. She packed up the house to rent it out to have the baby in Spain but, after a week, she had another mental breakdown.

So I didn’t go in to work that night because I had something to deal with – I got her to hospital.

This is funny, isn’t it? This mental shit was good.

Billy at The Grouchy Club last month

Billy Watson at The Grouchy Club last month

I got her to hospital and then, the next day, when I went in for work, the woman – the boss of the hotel – says: Why didn’t you come in to work last night?

Well, my wife had a mental breakdown. I had something to deal with.

The boss, she says to me: Oh, I think you are finished.

I got a major red eye; tears were pouring down my face. My bottom lip was trembling: My wife’s in hospital.

She said: I’ve got a hotel to run here.

I said: Well thanks for your boundless compassion.

She’s just sacked me. I’ve got red eye. Then she says to me: By the way, for the rest of today, can you take the Killer Darts? This game. The fucking Killer Darts.

I said: Aye. I’ll take the Killer Darts. Here, you hold the fucking board. We’ll start with the eyes closing. Whoever throws the killer dart wins.

Basically, I didn’t go to work for the next six months. I had to hang around Majorca while my wife had the baby there. Then, six weeks after having the child, she had another breakdown, right? I grabbed the baby off her. There’s this guy at the door saying: What’s going on there? I say: Phone an ambulance! Phone an ambulance!

This ambulance comes, takes her to hospital again and I’m left with a six-week old baby in Spain and I know nothing about babies. I’ve got to try and look after that child for a week while she was in mental hospital.

This woman who rented me the apartment got some of her friends and came to see me and I just cried and said Why did I bring my schizophrenic wife to have a baby in Spain?

(At this point, a member of the audience interrupted Billy and asked: “Did you know she was schizophrenic when you dropped her some Acid?”)

No, but…

(“Well, it was the acid,” said the man in the audience.)

That… You would… Maybe, you see…

(“The kind of causation ends with you,” said the man in the audience.)

That’s why I probably stuck with the marriage for fourteen years, to be honest with you. I felt guilty.

Billy Watson at The Grouchy Club last month

Billy Watson at The Grouchy Club last month

But, after that, right, listen to this… She has had the baby. She has had a caesarean. And now I’m looking after the child. Then, after that, she was having a check-up for the caesarean. The pediatrician – or whatever the doctor’s called that deals with that part – he tests her and discovers she has cancer.

She’s got lymphoma, so we had to go back to Turkey, where she had an operation to take out the cancer, but she wanted to go back to Scotland to see what the doctors there said.

So we took her and her mother – who doesn’t speak English – back to Scotland and she got chemotherapy and all her hair fell out and I was working in a call centre and that was pretty bad.

So we decided to go back to Turkey and after about a year there I got a job as an estate agent and, after two weeks of me working, she had another mental breakdown.

At one point, she decided to jump out a fourth floor window. She was going mental, right? Basically, her dad wouldn’t take her to hospital for three nights. One night she had this purse on round her shoulder and she wouldn’t take it off: a very small purse. But then the next day, when the medical people eventually came… Remember, every time she sees the medical people, she runs away… I realise – Fuck! The window of the kitchen is open! She runs past me, heading straight towards the window. I grabbed the strap of the purse she had refused to take off… I grabbed that, pulled it, pulled her to the ground… another injection in the leg.

Afterwards I thought maybe I could have done something differently because, if she had jumped, about 50 of my problems would have disappeared just like that. Though probably it would have created 100 new ones.

The thing was we got her to hospital that day and this big, new, huge hospital said they didn’t have a bed for her. The ambulance people just dropped her off, then the psychologist people wouldn’t take her in and wouldn’t even explain to me what the situation was because she didn’t speak perfect English. Turkish people are a bit embarrassed if they’re not perfect.

The doctor said to me: Ask your father-in-law.

I said: He doesn’t speak English.

Anyway, they refused to take her and made us go to this other hospital out in the sticks.

Billy Watson (left) & Mr Townkey (right) (Photograph by Kate Copstick, courtesy of Billy Watson)

Billy Watson (left) with me and Mr Townkey (right) (Photograph by Kate Copstick, courtesy of Billy Watson)

We get there. I think: Great. I’ve done my job. She’s saved. She’s gonna be locked up.

I get a call two days later. She had escaped from the hospital, jumped into this big thing, broke her back and busted her leg all up, right? She still walks with a limp.

After that, I said: I don’t think this relationship’s doing either of us any good. Moreso you. So that’s why I ended up getting divorced. It wasn’t going too well.

Is this comedy gold??


Two days after this gig in Edinburgh, Billy Watson returned to Turkey where, as I understand it, he intends to stay.

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Filed under Comedy, Marriage, Mental health, Mental illness, Scotland, Spain, Turkey

My father dies on 26th/27th June

In recent weeks, I have been posting extracts from my 2001 diary about the period when my father was dying from cancer.

I previously posted a shorter version of what follows in November 2011, when Apple boss Steve Jobs died. I think this one has a better ending.

Edvard Munch’s Der Schrei der Natur (The Scream of Nature)

Der Schrei der Natur (The Scream of Nature) painted in 1893 by Edvard Munch

Saturday 23rd June

My father’s mind was on another planet. He did not recognise the nurse when she came in. He could not recognise words said to him. It was not that his ears could not hear them; it was that his brain did not recognise their meaning.

Sunday 24th June

When we visited by father this afternoon, he was unable to communicate, staring blankly into the middle distance.

Monday 25th June 

My father told the nurses he felt pain this morning. So he will now be given an extra daytime tablet with a morphine-element in addition to the one he is given in the evening. His eyes stared, as if at something faraway and long ago. As I left and put the trolley tray by his bed, he looked at me and said: “There’s something not at all right with me.”

Tuesday 26th June

I had a 2-hour medical check-up in a BUPA building near King’s Cross.

London was sweltering in extraordinarily hot weather, but inside the building it was cool and relaxing. Later, I sent an e-mail to my friend Lynn, saying:

They say I’m getting into the start of being dangerously overweight and VERY slightly too cholesterolly. I do wonder if it was really necessary for the short Chinese gent to put his finger up my bottom to test for Prostate Cancer. Surely there must be another way to do this or was he just ‘avin’ a larf?

I phoned my mother around 6.00pm and she told me that, when she had visited my father in the afternoon, there had been no response to anything she or my aunt (his sister) said. His eyes were open but staring ahead. “I think he was drugged up to the eyeballs,” she told me. “I don’t think he’s in any pain.” (Later, the matron told me the medication he was on was not that strong and that they had not given him a daytime tablet to avoid making him zombie-like.)

At around 8.30pm, I was mowing the grass on my front garden. The matron phoned me on my mobile phone to tell me my father had deteriorated very badly and I arranged to leave at 10.00pm, to get to the nursing home around 11.30pm, telling my mother I was getting to her home in Clacton at 1.00am and not to wait up for me. I was going to see how he was as 11.30pm and decide what to do.

The matron rang back at 9.30pm to tell me the doctor had just been and said my father only had four to five hours left before he died, so I went immediately, told my mother I had been phoned by the matron and asked if she want to go to the home to see my father.

She said (quite rightly) No, with a sad, tired, tone to her voice, and I phoned her just after 11.05pm when I had gone in and seen my father briefly. I suggested my mother take her two nightly sleeping tablets and go to bed and I would stay with my father all night and phone her at 7.00pm when she got up. She knew it was terminal because she had told me where the undertaker was. There was some surprise in her voice when I phoned her:

“Is he still here?” she asked.

When I arrived, the nursing home’s night sister warned me he had deteriorated a lot since my mother had seen him this afternoon and warned me “his eyes are open”.

The first thing that shocked me when the door was opened, though, was the sound. I had never realised the phrase “death rattle” was anything more than a colourful phrase. It is an exact description. I had also thought it was a brief final sound rather than an ongoing sound.

It was a rhythmic, rasping sound.

His face was side-lit in the darkened room by a yellow-cream glow from a bedside table lamp sitting not on a table but on the floor of the room with old-fashioned floral wallpaper. It was bit like a Hammer horror movie of the late 1950s in slightly faded Technicolor.

His bed was behind the door and when I saw him lying there on his back in bed I was shocked again because his face was like Edvard Munch’s painting The Scream.

His false teeth were out, so his mouth was abnormally small considering it was open to its fullest extent, the skin between his upper lip and nose seemed wider than normal; and there was an indented line on his nose between his nostrils which, in profile, made him look like he had two noses.

He was lying on his back staring straight up at the ceiling with wide open, unblinking eyes as if he was shocked by something he saw on the ceiling. His head was tilted back slightly from his torso as if his head had been dropped into the soft pillow from a great height.

This tilted-back head, the shocked eyes, the open mouth all combined to make it look like he was frozen in a silent scream yet the sound coming out was a death rattle from his throat, as the air mattress beneath him made discreet little isolated cracking sounds presumably caused by the slight movements as his body made the rattling rasping breathing and his distended stomach rose and fell under the bedclothes.

The rattle was like a machine breathing through a very slightly echoey plastic tube partially blocked by air bubbles in water. I wondered if he was dead already, inside. It was as if his brain or heart must be telling his throat and chest to desperately gasp for air even though they knew it was pointless.

Towards the end, the rattle became less pronounced as the sound of the breaths within the rattle became slightly more human.

Towards the very end, the rattle slowly died out and human light breathing returned, getting gentler and gentler as his life ebbed away. When the breathing ended, I pressed the buzzer for the night sister.

When she arrived, there was some slight breathing again, but only for 40 or 60 seconds. For perhaps the last 15 seconds of his life, his mouth – until now rigidly open – partially closed then reopened three times, then his eyes slowly closed, his mouth partially closed and reopened twice more and he was dead, his eyes closed and mouth open. It was 00.35am and 22 seconds on Wednesday morning. I had arrived at about 11.03pm.

After he died, I went downstairs to the nursing home office with the night sister, whose father-in-law had died in the same room – Room 11 – of the same disease. I then went back up to the room where my father lay for 15 or 20 seconds during which time there were a couple of tiny surreal flashes through the window from the outside world.

When I went outside to my car, the black sky was flashing white with lightning. Every few seconds, the whole night-time sky was silently flashing white with increasing – but still silent – violence. On the drive back to my parents’ bungalow in Great Clacton, the flashes became whiter and more frequent and the thunder sound arrived. On the drive beside their front garden, small surreal white specks were being blown across the tarmac. When I got out of the car at my parents’ – now my mother’s – house, there was a neon-like flash of vertical lightning and a sound of rustling which continued for 60 or 90 seconds.

I took my bags inside the bungalow and then the rain started. Torrential rain thundering on the streets and windows and roof. Violent and angry rain.

It all struck me as unfathomably dramatic. My father’s death… then immediately the heavens in turmoil… then strong winds… then thunder crashes and angry, violent rain… As if the heavens, in turmoil, were protesting.

It reminded me of the death of Julius Caesar in Shakespeare’s play.

I looked up the quote later:

There is one within,
Besides the things that we have heard and seen,
Recounts most horrid sights seen by the watch.
A lioness hath whelped in the streets;
And graves have yawn’d, and yielded up their dead;
Fierce fiery warriors fought upon the clouds,
In ranks and squadrons and right form of war,
Which drizzled blood upon the Capitol;
The noise of battle hurtled in the air,
Horses did neigh, and dying men did groan,
And ghosts did shriek and squeal about the streets.
When beggars die, there are no comets seen;
The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes.

My father was a very ordinary man. Yet it was like the heavens were protesting.

Wednesday 27th June

In the morning, my father’s dead body lay on an occasionally cracking air bed in Room 11 of the nursing home.

People were talking about the dramatic overnight storm. The telephone lines had been cut at Weeley Crematorium but the fax line was working, so the funeral director could only talk to the crematorium by fax.

Thursday 28th June

The curate who will lead the service at my father’s funeral came round to chat to my mother.

“What was Harry like as a person?” he asked my mother.

“He was very placid,” she told him. “But if he was riled he would go through a brick wall. It would take an awful lot to get him riled, though.”

My mother partially broke down later in the day saying of the funeral: “It’s only his family that’s going to be there – only his family not my family.”

Almost immediately – within 15 seconds – the phone rang. It was her cousin Sybil ringing from Edinburgh to say she and husband Osmond (who is dying of cancer) would be coming down to the funeral.

Friday 29th June – Clacton

My mother partially broke down again in the evening.

“I’ve been worrying about this all day,” she cried to me. “When I said yesterday I had no family……. I’ve got you……. That was a terrible thing to say!”

Of course, when she had said there would be no members of her family at my father’s funeral, I had taken it the way she had meant it.

Her parents were dead. She was an only child. Almost.

She had had a brother. He died when (I think) he was aged 16 and she was 11.

Her parents had adored her brother. He was the perfect son.

My parents after their wedding

My parents married in the 1940s. My mother died in 2007, aged 86

My mother was born with no left hand – only a rounded stump. When she was a small girl, her mother told her: “Keep your left hand in your pocket. Don’t let anyone see.” She always hid her left hand from strangers.

Once, in the 1930s, she saw a man in a Glasgow street – she still remembers him clearly – leaning on the wall by an office doorway and she saw he “had exactly the same as me”. But he didn’t care if people saw it; he just behaved as if it was natural. “I wanted to talk to him but I didn’t,” she told me. “I wish I had.”

Before my mother married my father, my aunt (my father’s sister) told her: “I wish Henry could marry a whole woman.”

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Forgotten famous British comedians and Sean Brightman’s comedy condoms

Sean Brightman at the Sanderson Jones gig

Sean Brightman this week at Sanderson Jones’ Internet gig

Yesterday, I blogged about Sanderson Jones’ geeky new comedy night All Your Internet Are Belong to Us and how this month’s show developed into a bit of a gross-a-thon.

But, before it went so entertainingly off-the-rails, it had stayed on its geeky theme with the end of a ‘tumblr battle’ between comedians Sean Brightman and Stuart Laws in which, for about three weeks, they had created collections of tumblr images.

Stuart Laws had created a collection of comic ‘riders’ demanded by performers.

Sean Brightman had gone for his rather more ambitious A-Z of Alternative Comedy – The Alternative Alphabet.

This proved interesting because, the All Your Internet Are Belong to Us show had a full audience of average-aged comedy punters, many of whom had simply never heard of a few of the famous comedians whom Sean had chosen.

Sic transit gloria.

It was an age thing. I guess it also demonstrates the power of television.

Comedian Charlie Chuck - aka “Donkey!"

Comedian Charlie Chuck – now popularly known as “Donkey!”

When Sean showed his tumblr graphic for Charlie Chuck and asked, “Does anyone know who this is?” someone immediately shouted out in a throaty voice: “Donkey!”

Everyone knew who Kevin Eldon is, presumably because of his current TV series; before that, I suspect, most comedy-watchers knew the face but not necessarily his name.

Everyone, of course, knew Stewart Lee but no-one knew his hero and inspiration Ted Chippington.

No-one in the audience had heard of the great Stanley Unwin – admittedly more of a personality than a comedian, but he did gain television fame in his day. Sean admitted Stanley was “not really an alternative comedian, but there is fuck-all else for ‘U’.”

Oy! Oy! - Who the hell is this unknown famous bloke?

Oy! Oy! – Who the hell is this unknown famous comedy bloke?

And absolutely no-one in the full room knew who Malcolm Hardee was, despite I think valiant efforts by me over several years to link the phrase ‘the godfather of alternative comedy’ and the name ‘Malcolm Hardee’ together in the comedic collective mind…

As Sean explained to the audience: “This is Malcolm Hardee. He was a famous… well, not too famous… but he was quite famous… erm.. around the comedy scene… especially round London… for being the… the… he was… Just buy his autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake. You’ll find out all about alternative comedy. He’s a comedy legend. He sadly died.”

Afterwards, I chatted to Sean.

“Why?” I asked. “Why do the tumblr Alternative Alphabet?”

“It was an educational device to teach people a little bit about alternative comedy,” he told me.

“Are you being serious?” I asked. “Are you going to take it into schools?”

“I think it could live on longer than a tumblr battle,” replied Sean. “It’s a project I’ve wanted to do for a while. I’m a designer as well as a comedian, so I present things all the time and this was a nice way of combining my skills.

“I’m doing a show with my wife Renata at the Edinburgh Fringe this year, which is going to be a PowerPoint presentation. It’s called Philip and Marjorie’s Marriage Preparation Course For Regular People and The Gays.

A man with a mission - well, quite a lot of missions, in fact

A man with a mission – well he owns rather a lot of missions

“Renata and I got married in September in a Catholic church. I’m not a Catholic. They send you on a marriage preparation course and you can either do it over five weeks or you can do it over one day. We did it over one very warm Saturday last year and it just struck us both how hilarious it was.

“In many ways, it’s good to get 26 or 27 couples together in a room and work through different scenarios and troubleshoot various areas of marriage that might come up.

“The spark for our show was that the couple teaching the course had been reading off this Comic Sans presentation – endless Comic Sans slides – and they stopped for a second and decided to ad-lib something. They looked at us all up and down and said:

“OK. You may have seen what’s going on in the news. How many of you, by a quick show of hands, believe that gay people should be allowed to get married?”

“A lot of people’s hands went up, including ours.

“They were taken slightly aback by this and I thought Wow! We’re at a Catholic event with a lot of people who ARE Catholic, yet there’s a big groundswell of support for this. 

“So the idea for our show is that these two (fictional) bumbling characters are doing a marriage preparation course and they’re trying to modernise things when, really, they probably shouldn’t and they don’t really have an understanding of the issues.

“But the show will be done from a place of love. Trying to walk that fine line between being offensive and putting on a show that’s educational and a bit different.”

“Renata’s a comic herself?” I asked.

“She is a comic, explained Sean. “She was performing a lot in Australia and then came over here to pursue comedy and met me. But then she had a horrible back accident and had to rest and stop. She broke her coccyx and had to take time off. So she’s just finding her way back into it now and she’s helping me run my We Love Comedy gig in London.”

“She was born in Australia?”

“Yes,” said Sean. “Australia’s a great place. I’d love to live there at some point in the future.”

“But,” I argued, “it’s just a big desert with bits round the edge.”

Australia - a big desert with bits round the edge

Australia really IS just a big desert with bits round the edge

“Yes,” agreed Sean. “Desert is the word, but it’s not what we’ve got here. It’s summer here now and it’s snowing outside. We had plans to move to Australia, but we’ve put them off because we’ve now adopted a three-legged dog and a cat.”

“Have you done the posters for your Edinburgh show?” I asked.

“We’re going to do very simple printed leaflets,” replied Sean, “of the sort you’d see in a church. And then we’re going to staple condoms to them.”

“This afternoon,” I said,” I was talking to Kate Copstick and she told me that, if you go to Poundland, you can buy 12 condoms for £1.”

“It’s been worth talking to you tonight,” Sean said and left quickly.

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The untold story of comedian Malcolm Hardee’s extraordinarily odd wedding

Jacki Cook and Jon Hale remember in Whitstable yesterday

Jacki Cook and Jon Hale run the Emporium, a vintage clothing shop in Greenwich which also supplies costumes to the movie industry – they supplied jackets for Tom Cruise in his first two Mission Impossible films.

They were also friends of the ‘godfather of British alternative comedy’ Malcolm Hardee and supplied his clothing when he got married to Jane in 1994. I was there that day and – like his funeral in 2005 – it is not an experience anyone present is ever likely to forget. But I did not know the full story until I had a day trip to Whitstable with Jacki and Jonathan yesterday.

The way Malcolm told it in his autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake:

On the morning I was married, Julia was rushing around making sure the wedding suit I got from Jonathan Ross was alright and Annie The German gave me this bottle of German rum. It was about ten times the proof of normal British rum. I only had a couple and then I staggered off to the wedding at 11 o’clock.

After the Registry Office, I went back home and had four hours to recover before the Church Blessing at 5.00pm – or so I thought. But Annie The German gave me another rum and spiked it with some sort of hallucinogenic drug. It’s some liquid stuff they have over in Germany – a mixture of amphetamine, hallucinogenic and some other stuff.

I suppose she thought she was doing me a favour.

Emporium kitted me out with tails and a top hat and all that game, though I didn’t wear the top hat. Didn’t look right on me.

Someone had painted HELP! on the soles of my shoes – which I didn’t know about – so that when I knelt down in church everyone in the congregation could read it. I felt a bit faint halfway through, so I had to go to sit down on one side.

“It was Jon who wrote HELP,” Jacki told me yesterday.

“We supplied him with his outfit for the wedding,” explained Jon. “He came to our house to get the clothes to get dressed for the wedding. But Malcolm had seen a bag of dope at a friend’s house…”

“…and he had smoked it,” said Jacki, “and, what with everything else, that was it. He was finished.”

“I’d done his shoes the night before the wedding,” explained Jon, “with the letters HE written on the sole of his left shoe and LP on the sole of his right shoe. Obviously, I didn’t tell him.”

“He looked nice in his suit,” said Jacki.

“When did he find out about HELP being on the soles of his shoes?” I asked Jon. “Did he ask afterwards why people laughed when he knelt down?”

“Malcolm was totally wiped-out,” Jon explained. “Remember halfway through the ceremony he had to sit down and the vicar had to…”

“Oh!” said Jacki, remembering. “Malcolm keeled over, didn’t he!”

“He had to go to the bench…” Jon continued.

“Didn’t someone else almost get married to Jane?” I said, dimly remembering what I saw. When Malcolm had had to go and sit down, his best man – comedian Martin Soan – stood-in for him at the altar while the vicar warbled on until Malcolm was able to stand again. It had looked, for a time, as if Malcolm was not going to be able to stand again in time for the vows.

“It was close,” agreed Jon. “Malcolm could only just get through the ceremony.”

“He said I do,” Jacki reminded us. “And then he lost it.”

“Malcolm disappeared into one of the Confession booths,” said Jon. “And everybody…”

“He was being sick in there…” said Jacki.

“… everybody was waiting for him to come out and he was being ill in there, wasn’t he…” added Jon.

“…and that mad German woman was there,” Jacki reminded us. “Annie The German. Clare’s (Malcolm’s sister’s) pen friend. But Malcolm used to write her filthy letters, didn’t he, when they were kids. And she was mad for Malcolm. She wanted to marry Malcolm. He said it was such a shock when he saw her.”

“I think I met her at the wedding,” I said.

“She’s crazy,” said Jacki.

“She was a chemist,” said Jon. “She made this stuff and was going round giving us all these little drops from this pipette thing. A thing she’d engineered herself.”

“She was pretty crazy,” said Jacki. “Two hundred Rothmans cigarettes and a bottle of whisky in the handbag. A big 200 pack of Rothmans… ‘kin hell, Malcolm was scared of her, but it was because he’d sent her all these filthy letters. She was Claire’s pen friend… The German!” Jacki laughed. “Annie The German!…”

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Filed under Comedy, Drugs, Marriage, Weddings