Tag Archives: Maurizio Tosi

John Fleming’s Weekly Diary No 35 – Life is but a dream. This week for sure.

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 34(b)

All the world’s an online stage in the coronavirus era (Photograph by Tianyi Ma via UnSplash)

THURSDAY 13th SEPTEMBER

I was talking to a stand-up comedian. She said she had done an online gig, but didn’t like them.

I can only imagine what it is like to play an online gig in silence from an invisible audience. It must be like a rehearsal where you have to deliver your performance at 100% all the time with no motivation and no reaction.

It is a strange twilight world, this coronavirus world, like a dream where brain fog is dense, motivation to do anything is very low and every day seems the same.

THURSDAY 14th SEPTEMBER

To add to the dreamlike quality of this week, I travelled on a Thameslink train today – never a good idea.

There was a lady with green hair and a red skirt sitting half a carriage away from me with a corgi dog on her lap – She looked like upside-down traffic lights.

When the brightly-coloured lady got up to leave at the next station, the dog was on a lead and followed her out of the carriage… And I saw it was not a corgi but a fox.

Is this even legal?

How did she get through the ticket barrier with a fox without being queried about it?

Thameslink may be unreliable and incompetent, but it has the bonus of having its fair share of eccentrics.

Don’t even get me onto the woman with the teddy bear who talks to anyone and everyone about the aforementioned bear; or the bloke with the bright clothes and over-enthusiastic moustache who, according to the Evening Standard, was once convicted of killing his brother.

THURSDAY 15th SEPTEMBER

In a chilling warning to all forced to use the Thameslink line, someone arrived at Elstree station to see me today and, before coming out, used the toilet facilities.

Thameslink: bottomless home of horror

She sat in there doing what she had to do.

The toilets have recently been refurbished.

This included the installation of a movement sensor controlling the lights in the ceiling.

Because there had been no movement for a short while, all the lights suddenly went off.

Pitch black.

My friend was sitting in a windowless cubicle inside a windowless Ladies’ toilet. She waved her arms around. No effect. She could not remember if the door had a bolt or a lever or where it was and she couldn’t find it. She couldn’t immediately see her handbag but eventually found it and, by touch and much guddling around, found her iPhone and switched its torch on.

The lesson to be learned from this is that, while sitting on a Thameslink toilet, be as quick as you can and move around as much as possible.

THURSDAY 16th SEPTEMBER

I think my constant waking up with a dry mouth during the night may be getting to me.

In my last Diary Blog, I mentioned an incident that happened in the street. No need to check back. It doesn’t matter; it’s just a McGuffin or possibly a MacGuffin.

A McMuffin – not to be confused with a McGuffin

But, for some reason, it has been reminding me today of a story I was told once. I may have mentioned it in a blog years ago. Dunno. I can’t be bothered to check. It doesn’t matter; it’s just a McGuffin. This is a story within a story within a story.

Back in the 1990s, I did not write someone’s autobiography. He is dead now. He was a ‘sleeper’ agent for the Soviets, part of a sleeper group run for them by East Germany’s Transport Minister. Strange but true.

This is the story as told to me by the man whose autobiography I did not write.:


One of the most famous legends of Central Asia tells of a horseman, the standard-bearer of the great Khan. As the Khan’s army are entering a city after a glorious victory, the standard-bearer sees a dark lady looking at him. The dark lady has fearful eyes, as if she is looking right inside him.

Afterwards, he becomes scared that this woman is a witch and she has put the Evil Eye on him, so he goes to the great Khan and tells him his fears and says he wants to go to another city.

“Of course!” says the great Khan. “Give him the finest horse we have! Let him escape!”

So the standard-bearer takes the fastest horse in the Great Khan’s army, rides off across the desert and, in record time, travels to the other city. When he arrives, he sees the dark lady standing by the city gates, waiting for him. She looks at him, smiles and says:

“I was so worried. I knew I was due to meet you here today but, when I saw you in that other city so far away, I was worried that you would not make it here in time for your appointment.”

And the standard-bearer realises that she is Death.


THURSDAY 17th SEPTEMBER

Even the spam is kinda weird this week. This was a comment on one of my blogs this week. You can tell it’s a tad odd from the first sentence:


Spam (Photograph by Hannes Johnson via UpSplash)

Hello and welcome to my webpage. I’m Kyran.

I have always dreamed of being a book writer but never dreamed I’d make a career of it. In college, though, I assisted a fellow student who needed help. She could not stop complimenting me.

Word got around and someone asked me for to write their paper just a week later. This time they would compensate me for my work.

During the summer, I started doing academic writing for students at the local college. It helped me have fun that summer and even funded some of my college tuition. Today, I still offer my writing services to students.


I was impressed by Kyran’s turn of phrase, particularly: “someone asked me for to write their paper”.

There was a link to his website and to his Trustpilot reviews which were almost all of the 5-star variety. The latest review read:

I may sub-contract writing my blog to Kyran…

THURSDAY 18th SEPTEMBER

Below is what happens when you give your iPhone to a 9-year-old and she asks Siri to translate the word ‘John’ into Chinese…

She also told me that one of the boys in her year had stolen one of another schoolmate’s micro pigs.

“A micro pig?” I asked. “This is some sort of cuddly toy?”

“No, they are real pigs,” I was told and, to prove it, a Wikipedia entry and Google photos were produced.

“He stole one of her micro pigs?” I asked.

“Yes, he stole one of her micro pigs after school. She has six. She brought one of her pet micro pigs into school in a top hat and he stole one after school.”

“She was wearing the top hat?” I asked.

“Of course not. The pig was inside the top hat. She carried the top hat in her hands with the pig in it.”

“Did she notice the pig had been stolen?” I asked.

“Of course… There was a tug-of-war. He tried to steal the top hat and the pig but she held on to the hat, so he ran away with the pig.”

As a postscript, I was later told that, although the light-fingered boy had stolen the micro pig, it was later returned to its rightful owner by “the man who looks after the boy”. I know no more about the pig’s fate.

“The man speaks English but I think he is French,” I was told.

“Have you heard him speak?” I asked.

“No,” I was told.

THURSDAY 19th SEPTEMBER

Last night, I woke up 14 times with a bone dry mouth and had to drink water. As always, this resulted in me being mentally zonked all day. Not helped by Thameslink.

I arrived at Elstree station at 1026 to catch the 1038 train which was (obviously) due to arrive at 1040 unless you read the indicator board which said the next train was at 0514…

Thameslink. The rail franchise holder with the slogan:

Reassuringly dependable incompetence in an ever-changing world.

I need to conserve my energy, because tomorrow is a big day – Thursday.

Oh… And… by the way… I made up the story about the fox on the Thameslink train. Life is what you make it and reality and surreality overlap all the time. Everything else apart from the fox story – the live miniature pigs, darkened toilets, illiterate humanity paper writers, the top hat, the homicidal man with the over-enthusiastic moustache and every day of my life being a Thursday – was true.

Or was it?

Yes, it was and is.

… CONTINUED HERE

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My surprising top ten blogs of last year

(Photograph by Ariane Sherine)

I started this blog in 2010 and it is usually referred-to as a “comedy blog” but, just out of quirky interest, here is a list of what were my Top Ten blogs in terms of hits last year.

This list is obviously more a reflection of who my readers are than anything else…

1) Where the Kray Twins gangster film “Legend” got it all so very badly wrong

2) The practicalities of putting your head in a gas oven: my 2nd suicide attempt

3) Krayzy Days – Why London gangster Ronnie Kray really shot George Cornell inside the Blind Beggar pub in 1966

4) What the REAL Swinging Sixties were like – gangsters and police corruption

5) Hello to the Bye Bye Girls – Ruby Wax’s offspring – two Siblings on the Fringe

6) Creating a Legend – The Krays and the killing of ‘Mad Axeman’ Frank Mitchell

7) What it is like to be on the jury of a murder case at the Old Bailey in London

8) Why Chris Tarrant’s TV show OTT was taken off air – a naked Malcolm Hardee

9) Edinburgh Fringe, Day 12: How to destroy a comedy career & other news

10) The death of an Italian archaeologist who knew so many 20th century secrets

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The death of an Italian archaeologist who knew so many 20th century secrets

Maurizio Tosi, highly-regarded archaeologist

My shoulder in 1991 - pulverised in two places

Uncovering the past: my shoulder was pulverised in two places

In 1995 I wrote the autobiography of comedian Malcolm Hardee.

‘Ghosted’ seems such a strange word to use.

In 1997/1998 I almost wrote the autobiography of someone else: an Italian archaeologist.

His opinion was that archaeology and biography were very similar: both involved uncovering the past from fragments and sometimes having to simply guess what had really happened. Sometimes, he suggested, it is even the same with autobiographies.

Yesterday morning, I woke up with a pain in my lower back and hips and upper legs. I was hit by a truck in 1991. One long-term effect it has had on me is that the bottom of my spine is slightly damaged. The bones occasionally go slightly ‘out of alignment. What usually happens is that I get a pain on one or other side of my hips and, as it mends, the pain moves round my waist and ends up at the bottom of the spine – where the real trouble lies – and then it goes away.

Initially, the problem is perceived to be somewhere it is not. Normally it takes about three nights of sleeping on the floor for the pain to go away.

This morning, at around 02.30am, I was lying on my bedroom floor unable to get to sleep because I could find no position to lie in that did not give me an awkward nerve-end-tingling pain.

For no particular reason at all – except that it came into my head – I decided to Google the phrase Maurizio Tosi death and this came up

The obituary of Maurizio Tosi which I Googled

The obituary of Maurizio Tosi which I stumbled on

MAURIZIO TOSI (1944-2017) 

February 26th, 2017 

“A leading figure in Italian archaeology and Co-Director of the Italy Oman international research program studying the beginnings of navigation and long-distance trade in the Indian Ocean died at the age of 72 yesterday in Ravenna, Italy. The cremation ceremony will take place at Ravenna on this next Monday at 3.30 pm. Friend and colleagues are organizing a commemoration in Ravenna on March 5th at 3 pm.”

I had not thought about him for years. Today is Wednesday. It would seem he died on Saturday with his funeral two days ago and I haven’t thought about him for years. Strange that I looked him up.

We were both fascinated by Shelley’s poem Ozymandias which ends:

‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

I never wrote Maurizio Tosi’s autobiography.

I had met him by accident at Ashgabat airport when we were both leaving Turkmenistan in 1995.

In 1997, in London and in Rome, we discussed the background to his autobiography.

In 1998, I travelled to Italy again to chat to him in Rome, Sienna, Bologna, Ravenna, Milan and on the island of Pantelleria.

Eventually, the project fell through because he tried to financially screw a friend of mine. His attitude to honesty was as variable as the wind in the deserts he often professionally frequented. He was a highly troubled man but also highly intelligent. Or, at least, well-read.

A younger Maurizio Tosi in one of the deserts he frequented

A younger Maurizio Tosi in one of the deserts he frequented

There were nine drafts of the book, some in the first person; some in the third; some in a mixture of both.

The book’s title was to have been Traveller.

When we had first discussed the idea of the book, he had e-mailed me:

“In archaeology, in history and in politics, the mistake that’s often made is looking at effects, not at primary causes. If you want to know why something developed, you have to look back in time before it existed: at what caused it to exist and develop in the way it did. It is the same with people and the same with me.”

Since childhood, he told me, the mind inside his skull had always felt it was in a darkened cave, looking out – frightened – at a world it did not understand.

When I had first suggested the title Traveller for his autobiography, he had reacted in a characteristically OTT way.

“Yes! yes!” he had cried dramatically (in an e-mail). “Traveller! It has so much meaning! I travel through time. I travel through different lands. I travel to escape from reality. I travel because the day-to-day details of everyday life are a problem for me. They always have been. It is all the little things that drive me to distraction – bills, banks, mortgages, paperwork, bureaucracy. I can’t live alone, but I can’t stay faithful to any woman with whom I live. I want stability, but I get bored by it when I have it. Traveller is the ideal title! It is so symbolic!”

It was like listening to someone impersonate an Italian.

“And you are also a fellow traveller,” I said.

One key point in his life had been in 1967.

Le Monde 2013 - Maurizio Tosi, archaeologist and ex-spy Advisor to the Sultan of Oman, the Italian palaeoethnologist was also an intelligence officer of the Soviet bloc.

2013 Le Monde article on “Maurizio Tosi, the archaeologist & ex-spy”

He was in communist East Germany when the Cold War between the Soviets and the West was at its height. Most of the people he had worked with in his Soviet-backed Network had already been caught – they had ‘disappeared’ – some had been captured by the West, some had been disposed of by the East. He was the last one left of those he knew.

He told me he had been in West Berlin and had been asked to deliver an envelope to a town in East Germany. He knew the envelope contained microfilm, because he had made the same delivery before. He had no overnight visa for East Germany, so he had to get a train back to East Berlin by 11.00pm and return through the Friedrichstrasse security checkpoint into West Berlin before midnight, otherwise he was in trouble.

He told me: “East German Security was separate from the police. Everything was separate. Everything was chaotic. There were so many different agencies all working separately from each other – sometimes in competition with each other. I didn’t have full coverage. It wasn’t as if I was officially working for the East German secret service. I was working for the Network but the complete implications of that were uncertain. I knew my network was handled by part of a section of East Germany’s security system and was linked to the Soviet Union, but things had changed. Everything had changed that year.

Erich Apel

The East German politician Erich Apel ‘committed suicide’

“When the East German ‘Planning Minister’ Erich Apel ‘committed suicide’ in 1965… when Apel was made to die in 1965… it sent a signal to all marginal people like me. Apel had been one of the masterminds and controllers of our subversion operation and when it was said he ‘shot himself due to depression’ it was clear something was changing very fundamentally.

“Our entire project of undermining and fighting American power in the Third World – and ultimately in Europe – was falling apart. Ché Guevara had already – and very clearly – been abandoned in Bolivia.”

Maurizio Tosi had been part of a network run by the East Germans for the Soviet Union. He had been trained partly in Europe, partly in Cuba, partly in South America. His job as an archaeologist meant that he could legitimately be in ‘fringe’ areas – Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan. He was in Afghanistan when the Soviet tanks rolled in.

When we talked, it was mostly on tape.

“I dislike lies,” I warned him, early on.

“But ambiguity?” he had asked.

“Ah,” I replied slowly. “I’m fascinated by ambiguity. And by…..”

“Me too,” he had interrupted.

“…..and by amoral characters,” I had completed.

Maurizio Tosi in his office in 1998

Maurizio Tosi in his 1998 office was “fascinated by ambiguity”

During one of our chats he told me, as we sat in his book-lined room in Rome: “One of the most famous legends of Central Asia tells of a horseman. The horseman is the standard-bearer of the great Khan. As the Khan’s army are entering a city after a glorious victory, the standard-bearer sees a dark lady looking at him. The dark lady has fearsome eyes, as if she is looking right inside him. He becomes scared that this woman is a witch and she has put the Evil Eye on him, so he goes to the great Khan and tells him his fears and says he wants to go to another city.

Of course! says the great Khan. Give him the finest horse we have! Let him escape!

“So the standard-bearer takes the fastest horse in the Great Khan’s army, rides off across the desert and, in record time, arrives at the other city. Then he sees the dark lady standing by the city gates, waiting for him. She looks at him, smiles and says:

I was so worried. I knew I was due to meet you here today but, when I saw you in that other city so very far away, I was worried that you would not reach here in time for our appointment.

“And the standard-bearer realises that the dark lady with the eyes that look right inside him is Death. I always feel I am running like the standard bearer,  that there is never enough time and I know I will never complete what I should do.”

RIP Maurizio Tosi (1944-2017)

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