Tag Archives: Mensa

An actor’s tale: “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars”

Peter Stanford took tea with me at Soho Theatre

Peter Stanford sipped tea at Soho Theatre Bar

The last time I blogged about Mensa member Peter Stanford was in June four years ago, when he was taking part in the annual Naked Bike Ride in London.

A couple of weeks ago, he was telling me: “Yes.  I am moving out of the hostel for the homeless to a Church’s Housing flat soon and do not know how much notice I will have. (Four hour’s notice to get in the hostel.)  Library computer running out. If you blog about me, will it affect my chances of getting acting work? Should it therefore be anonymous?”

When we met, we decided it would not.

We met in the Soho Theatre Bar.

“So currently,” I said, “you are living a transient life…”

“I am living in a hostel, yes. I was sleeping rough, living on the pavement, from last Christmas to about April this year.”

“I suppose, as an actor,” I said, “it doesn’t matter where you are.”

“And I have a bicycle,” said Peter. “I haven’t got my youth, but I have my stamina and I can cycle across London and back. Swimming and cycling I can still do.”

Why he is homeless is complicated and he feels too personal to print, as it might affect someone else.

"I have turned down two offers from producers saying: Tell your story"

Turned down 2 offers from producers saying: Tell your story

He also told me: “I have turned down two offers from producers saying: Tell your story about middle class homelessness.”

“You were,” I said, “almost in Sacha Baron Cohen’s movie Grimsby.

“Well…” he replied. “I got an email from one of the agencies saying: Would you object to being a urinating vicar in the film called Grimsby? So I told them: Not at all; sign me up. But then I never heard from them again.

“I can,” he continued, “think of other tales to destroy one’s self-image – being invited onto Take Me Out, turning up on set in my normal clothes for the role of a squatter and being told: You’ve been to costume and make-up then?

“On the other hand, I was writing out my theatrical CV the other day and it looks quite impressive. I sang at the London Palladium with Robbie Williams. I sang at the London Coliseum with ELO.”

“With Robbie Williams?” I asked.

“I was ‘a fat popstar’,”he explained. “At the time, Robbie Williams was getting a lot of flak in the press for looking fat, so he wrote a song and all these fat people ran out and sang No-One Likes a Fat Pop Star. And I’ve sung opera in my time.”

Peter Stanford: one man in his time plays many parts

Peter Stanford… “One man in his time plays many parts…”

“Weren’t you Henry VIII?” I asked.

“Yes. At Hampton Court. But my best story of being a homeless actor was when I was living on the streets. I went to the library to do my emails and was offered the chance to be the new face of Stella Artois beer. I had not told any agents that I was sleeping on the pavement.

We would be filming in Rumania, they told me, so we will put you up in a five star hotel for a week and then buy you out for eight thousand Euros. Is that acceptable?

“I told them that it was and thought that I must get the job for the irony alone. Pavement to 5 Star hotel, then back to the pavement (if I know anything about the wait before payment). I was going to be a Victorian doctor in the ads. Unfortunately, I didn’t get it.”

“But you almost got it,” I asked, “by going to the library?”

Peter’s multiple London library cards

Peter’s has multiple London library cards

“Oh, every day I go to the library and log on: Wandsworth, Ealing, Kingston, Southwark, Greenwich… Westminster is good because it’s open until 9.00pm. They are all good places to go and sleep. I once fell asleep while I was cycling.”

“What?”

“Fortunately,” Peter continued, “I didn’t go under a bus. I went to other way and hit a kerb, flew through the air and landed on my knee. It woke me up.”

“So how do you survive financially?”

“When I became homeless, for the first time in my life, I signed on the dole. I had been living off my acting and living with a relative. I was always brought up to be frugal.”

“I think,” I said, “you’re allowed to work up to something like 16 hours a week and still sign on?”

“Something like that.”

“How many acting jobs do you get a month?”

“Two or three. I’ve been auditioning a lot. I was a vicar the other week. When they gave me the address, it was where they had had my uncle’s cremation last year.”

“You seem to be getting typecast as vicars,” I suggested.

“Well, I have a deep voice, so I am either good guys or bad guys. A deep voice means evil or benign. A psychopath or wise old man.”

“There’s no way out of this, is there,” I asked, “unless you get a big role?”

“There is my one-man show about James Robertson Justice,” said Peter.

“Except,” I said, “no-one remembers who he was.”

“Alas,” said Peter.

“You wrote it for yourself,” I prompted.

James Robertson Justice in his prime

Actor James Robertson Justice

“I was writing it as a one-man play about James Robertson Justice and someone was interested and, three quarters of the way through, he suddenly asked: Could you make it about Brian Blessed instead? I told him the main reason I couldn’t do that was it was based on James Robertson Justice’s life.”

“Ironically,” I said, “the best person to play the part of James Robertson Justice would be Brian Blessed.”

“That part’s taken,” laughed Peter. “By me.”

“You have already performed it?”

“Written and performed it.”

“You could do it at the Edinburgh Fringe,” I suggested.

“I could do it anywhere. I’ve got a friend for free accommodation in Edinburgh, but I have never been to the Fringe.”

Peter Stanford at Wellington Arch, London, yesterday

Peter Stanford at the Naked Bike Ride in 2012

 

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The windmills and intelligent hedge gaps in comic Simon Munnery’s mind

The poster for Simon’s new Fylm show

Poster for Simon Munnery’s new Fylm show

A few days ago, I posted a blog in which comedian Simon Munnery talked about his stage show Simon Munnery – Fylm, which opens at the Leicester Square Theatre on Tuesday for ten nights.

I also asked him:

“You’re the comedians’ comedian aren’t you? Everyone says Oh, that Simon Munnery, he’s a genius.

“Not everyone,” laughed Simon.

“But you’re said to be an intellectual comedian, aren’t you?”

“I dunno… I don’t really… Am I?… I’ve got a joke about Socrates.”

“You were a member of Mensa.”

“Only briefly. My English teacher at school was talking about Mensa and people with high IQs and said Of course, nobody in this room could join and I went home and there was an ad in a newspaper – Write off for the IQ test – and I joined Mensa on those grounds for about six months.”

“And you left because…?”

“I went to a couple of meetings. I went ice skating, though I didn’t actually ice skate. And a picnic at Kenwood House. Friendly people. I’d thought we might be doing puzzles or trying clever things out but, instead, people were just chatting about their lives. I was a bit young – 13 or 14.”

“Your comedy’s not going to play Butlins, is it?” I suggested.

“I’d give it a go,” said Simon. “I’ve had a set for the last three years. It plays clubs everywhere. It changes slowly like a sedimentary rock. I’m happy to play that anywhere to anyone.”

Simon Munnery spoke as Buckethead

Simon Munnery spoke as Buckethead

“When Malcolm Hardee and I compiled the book Sit-Down Comedy,” I said, “the first thing you submitted was basically the script for your Buckethead show plus footnotes and I thought it was absolutely wonderful but it was too unconventional for Ebury Press/Random House. You then wrote a more conventional and wonderful Sherlock Holmes story. But, when I read the Buckethead script (with footnotes), it was almost funnier than the stage show, because the comedy material was so dense there was a lot I had not picked up.”

“Well,” said Simon. “Maybe that’s what comes of speaking through a bucket… It doesn’t help your diction.”

“You should be writing books,” I suggested.

“I’m too busy doing this Fylm show,” said Simon.

His new show involves him sitting behind the audience, speaking into a camera, so they see him on screen in front of them while he performs behind them.

“I’m not inventing the wheel,” he told me, “but I think I’ve discovered a wheel… Well, the wheel’s there and there’s another one over there and I put them together and – Look! – I’ve got a bicycle!… I’m surprised no-one else does it. Talks to the camera. People do Powerpoint presentations and they’re well aware of the power of the visual. Powerpoint, slides, little videos. But talking to the camera? Why not?”

“I thought your stage act changed after you lost a bollock,” I told him.

“Really?”

“Before that, you were always a character – Alan Parker, Urban Warrior, Buckethead or whatever. Then you had testicular cancer and, after you had one removed, I think in Australia you started talking about it and talking about yourself, which you hadn’t done before.”

“Yes. That’s right,” said Simon. “As in classic stand-up. But, no, I did Buckethead after losing a testicle.”

“So that’s that theory buggered then,” I said. “But you did seem to become more yourself on stage.”

“Yeah,” said Simon. “Deliberately. I thought I’d give that a go. I’d just been doing a series of characters forever.”

Simon performing in London last week

Simon performing in London last week

“Had you wanted to be a comedian when you were at Cambridge University?” I asked.

“I suppose when I went there I wanted to be a physicist but,” he laughed, “within a week…”

“Did you actually have a career idea?”

“No. I was just looking forward to studying, finding out things. But I went a bit mad. I didn’t work very hard.”

“How did you stumble into comedy?”

“I was at Cambridge and I joined all the clubs.”

“You were doing Physics?”

“I ended up doing The History & Philosophy of Science. It was a long time ago. I didn’t really do it. That’s when I started doing gigs. And I loved it the first time. It’s a bit like a gambler walking into a casino and winning. You’ll be back. Fortunate or unfortunate. I still like it.”

“I’ve never,” I said, “understood the mentality of comedians. If you fail, then you think you’re as bad as you think you possibly are on your worst days. If you do the best gig in the world, then you think I can only go downhill from here. I can never be this good again; it will all be a comparative disaster. You just know that, at some point, on stage – not necessarily because of you or the material – but maybe because of the audience or whatever – you are going to die on stage.”

“Statistically. Yeah,” said Simon. “That’s very exciting.”

“The thought of dying?”

“Yeah.”

“The thought of clawing them back?”

“Or not,” said Simon.

“So, after your Fylm show,” I asked, “what are you going to do? You’ve done stand-up comedy and mastered the art…”

“I wouldn’t say that,” said Simon.

“What have you yet to master?”

“I dunno. Make a windmill.”

“A comedy windmill?”

“Or a tent.”

“I‘ve seen you put a tent up at Glastonbury.”

DVD of Simon’s cult BBC TV series

Simon’s bizarre cult BBC TV series in 2001

“Not put one up. Design a tent. A house. Design a house. A totally eco-house. Making things out of concrete. Get a plastic tube, fill it with concrete, leave it for a couple of days, come back and you’ve got a concrete pillar. Easy. I’ve just got to find a use for it… It’s invention… then necessity.”

“Is all this,” I asked, “because there’s a scientific/physics element to your brain?”

“I think about things like that a lot,” said Simon. “Windmills.”

“Why windmills?” I asked.

“I dunno. It’s very windy. Might be that. I’d like to build a collapsible windmill, like a camping one. I like being in things that are just on the verge of collapsing.”

“What is a camping windmill?” I asked.

“Say you’re camping somewhere and it’s windy and you’d like to tax the wind for a bit of electricity. Perhaps you’re a refugee. I dunno. A collapsible, easy-to-carry windmill, wind generator. That would be worth making. I think you could make one out of four poles. No, five poles.”

“You’ve thought this through,” I said.

“I’ve been obsessed by it. I nearly cut up an umbrella the other day. But I stopped myself.”

“Because?”

“Why damage an umbrella? I could think about it a little more. I could see it wouldn’t work exactly as I wanted. I thought if you slashed one of the panes of the umbrella and brought it back and stretched it to the next pole, then that would be a bit like the blade of a propeller. If the wind came along from here… Whoooshh!!… All of them. All just coming back rather than going straight round, each one comes back at an angle, it could spin round its axis.”

“Is there a practical reason why you want to build a windmill?” I asked. “Or do you just like the idea of something spinning round?”

“For a long time, I’ve had some sort of Survivalist approach to…” Simon started, then began laughing. “I like building things like that. I look at gaps in hedges and think I could live there. Dis-used railway sidings. I’m always on the lookout for that sort of thing. Give me a network of tunnels I’d be happy.”

“So,” I said, “the cliché question is Where will you be in five years time?”

“No idea.”

“You don’t care?”

“Can’t answer it. Dunno. I’m happy doing what I do. Hopefully I will pursue the visual thing.”

“To the extent of doing a half-hour or 90 minute film?”

“I’m still playing with it. It’s a very rich seam. I’ve just discovered 3D. Apart from my face, there’s cardboard animations and graphics.”

“Do you like being interviewed?”

“Dunno. Not really. Don’t mind. Dunno. Call it a draw?”

“Is it OK if I take some pictures now?” I asked.

“Yeah. But that’d be illegal in King’s Cross.”

King’s Cross station, London, with Remembrance poppy

Photo of King’s Cross station, London, taken without a flash

“King’s Cross?” I asked.

“King’s Cross station,” said Simon. “You’re not allowed to do flash photography. There was a big announcement on the tannoy: Flash photography is not permitted in King’s Cross. The people using flash photography on Platform 5, stop immediately or you will be escorted from the station and you will not be allowed to travel! It was really harsh. At 6 o’clock today.”

“Why?”

“Dunno. Life’s a mystery.”

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Filed under Comedy, Surreal

Mensa or Densa? A choice of IQ groups.

(This was also published by the Huffington Post)

Egeria Densa aka the Brazilian Waterweed plant

Egeria Densa aka Brazilian Waterweed

In my blog just before Christmas, I quoted nine questions posed in the British Mensa ‘Special Interest Group’ newsletter called What If?

In doing so, of course, I breached their copyright and, as penance, I have now given them thirteen new questions which they might choose one from. My questions are:

– What if you always knew the results of your own actions on others?

– What if it were impossible to tell the sex of another human being?

– What if we knew exactly what had happened in history and not what we thought had happened?

– What if we only had one eye and saw everything in 2D?

– What if Henry VIII had never married?

– What if we shed our heads every seven years and they re-grew?

– What if we could manipulate molecules so we could make the walls, floors and ceilings/roofs of our houses whatever we wanted them to be?

– What if humour did not exist?

– What if Margaret Thatcher had been born a man?

– What if Jesus had not been crucified?

– What if homo sapiens had decided to live in the sea and not on land?

– What if everyone had a 3D printer in their home and you could print everything from cars to paperclips by going online and downloading a program into your printer?

– What if an organisation called Densa recruited people only with IQs in the bottom 2%?

I thought of the ‘Densa’ question by, basically, ripping-off someone I met in 1981 who had had the idea of creating a ‘Densa’ organisation for people who wanted to consider themselves stupid. At that time, I was a researcher on the children’s TV show Tiswas and we had thought of incorporating Densa or Densans into the show. We never did. It was the British nation’s loss.

The guy who ran Densa in 1981 was one Nigel Ffookes. I think he used to advertise for members in Private Eye magazine but never managed to get the organisation off the ground. If anyone knows where he is now or what became of him, I’d be interested to know.

I also found out this morning that there used to be an unofficial ‘Densa’ group within Mensa – they had badges made which they wore upside down so they could read what their badges said.

Densa organisations are not thin on the ground. I have heard of several since 1981, but Wikipedia (always to be trusted on such things) claims the original idea dates from 1974. The current Wikipedia entry (liable to change at a moment’s notice) reads:

* * *

Densa was originally a fictional association created in parody of Mensa International. Rather than belonging to the smartest 2% of the population (the criteria for membership eligibility for Mensa), members of Densa must be in the stupidest 98%...

The concept of an organization for the mentally dense originated in Boston & Outskirts Mensa Bulletin (BOMB), August, 1974, in A-Bomb-inable Puzzle II by John D. Coons. The puzzle involved “the Boston chapter of Densa, the low IQ society”. Subsequent issues had additional puzzles with gags about the group and were widely reprinted by the bulletins of other Mensa groups, before the concept of a low IQ group gained wider circulation in the 1970s, with other people creating quizzes, etc.

A humor book called The Densa Quiz: The Official & Complete Dq Test of the International Densa Society was written in 1983 by Stephen Price and J. Webster Shields.

* * *

I have always thought there was mileage in a Densa organisation and I suspect the name, widely used over almost 40 years, is not copyrightable. Any prospective members, please let me know…

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A four-year-old boy’s latest dreams and Mensa’s latest questions ask “What If?”

The number of unknown unknowns is unknown

“Did you have any dreams last night?” I asked the four-year-old boy yesterday.

“The purple guy saw me,” said the four-year-old boy, “and I fighted the purple guy and then we fighted and I kicked him into the swimming pool and he couldn’t swim.”

“What happened?” I asked. “Did he drown?”

“Yeah!!” shouted the four-year-old boy triumphantly. “And then someone was talking about getting germs and then a monkey came and he dropped something that he was holding on someone’s head, so that would spread a germ, wouldn’t it?”

“Would it?” I asked.

“Yes,” the four-year-old boy told me.

“So the monkey scratched his head?” I asked.

“No,” said the four-year-old boy. “He dropped something onto someone’s head and that would spread a germ. And then he snatched something off someone, so now he got a germ. And then he passed it to me and I didn’t want it, but he just maked me hold it and then I got a germ.”

“What sort of germ was it?” I asked. “Did you see it?”

The four-year-old boy shook his head.

“Because it was a small germ?” I asked.

“I did not want it,” the four-year-old boy told me. “It was smaller than me.”

Also yesterday – slightly related by the idea of letting your mind think whatever it wants to think – I saw a copy of the latest What If?

British Mensa has a SIG – a ‘Special Interest Group’ – called What If? which issues a regular newsletter suggesting questions which members might want to answer. The latest issue has these New Questions to Ponder:

– What if rain was alcoholic?

– What if skis and toboggans were the only legal form of transport when it snows?

– What if we were limited to saying 200 words a day?

– What if we had a maximum wage (including bonuses) as well as the minimum one?

– What if all retail outlets, garages, factories et cetera were by law required to be controlled and run  by only one nuclear family and share selling became illegal?

– What if all serious questions could only be replied to with a silly answer, and vice versa?

– What if it were possible to create a Jurassic Park?

– What if you really were what you eat?

– What if humans shed their skin like snakes as they grew?

It would be interesting to ask the four-year-old boy what his answers to some of those questions might be. Particularly the last two.

I must ask him.

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London’s naked bike riders exposed to heavy traffic yesterday (& Prince Philip)

Peter Stanford holding a bag of small genitals

(Versions of this blog were also published in the Huffington Post and on the Indian news website WeSpeakNews)

While the supposedly trend-setting Edinburgh Fringe gets more-and-more Puritan, edging ever closer to insisting that all female performers wear burkas… and this year – in a new move – censoring words like C*ck and Pr*ck from their listings because “our Programme is read by families”, London yesterday paraded up to a thousand real-life cocks, tits and ladies’ pudenda unimagined by the Fringe around the main streets of a sunny capital city thronged with children, tourists, persons of a nervous disposition and, in Piccadilly, three nuns.

It was the annual Naked Bike Ride.

I first met actor Peter Stanford at a Mensa meeting in a basement in Holborn, London. He was working as Henry VIII at Hampton Court and the Tower of London at the time, but had just dipped his toe into comedy – He had rushed on-stage at a comedy club in Kingston, done five minutes on why he hated Agatha Christie and rushed off again without saying hello, goodbye or telling the audience what his name was.

Yesterday afternoon, I met him again in central London, just behind Buckingham Palace, at the Wellington Arch, where Piccadilly meets Park Lane and Hyde Park Corner. Peter was naked and was wearing a crown; he was carrying a small canvas bag which had printed on it The Three Pintos.

Starkers starters with a prophetic message

“Why are you wearing a crown?” I asked.

“Because I’m Henry the Eighth,” he replied.

“Next week,” he told me, “I should be performing at the National Theatre in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, but they’ve cancelled it again, so it’s going to be September now. I’m going to be Lord Hatamkhan in a play by the wildly famous Azerbaijani playwright Mizra Fatali Akhundov – it’s his bicentenary.

“I did a play written by the current Deputy Minister of Azerbaijan. He booked a whole theatre for his bodyguards and people, just in case there was a coup or someone threw a bomb at him.

“Apparantly I’m reading Dickens to an Azerbaijani audience in a couple of weeks. I saw my name advertised and contacted the director who said he was going to tell me soon.

“As an actor in Britain, I’m mostly type-cast as doctors these days. I was an evil doctor in March and I had these genuine metal obstetric forceps and I strangled our heroine with them. That was in an opera.”

“And how long have you been doing the Naked Bike Ride?” I asked.

“I think it’s my fifth or sixth year. Just for fun. No reason. You shouldn’t have reasons for these things.”

“How did you hear about it?” I asked.

“Somebody said Why aren’t you doing it? So I did the next year. And, of course, I have been naked on Page Three of the Sun and also ‘Image of the Day’ in the Guardian.”

“Of course you have,” I said. “You have? Page Three?”

“It was a mass naked event by Spencer Tunick,” Peter explained.

“How many of you were there?”

“I think about 1,500. It was in Newcastle. During the Mensa Weekend in Newcastle. The one day I was in Newcastle, so I thought These things are meant.”

“And the Guardian?”

“It was the ‘Image of the Day’ – they have a double-page spread. They had a picture of the Naked Bike Ride but I’m right in the front. I thought People who read the Guardian are very good at re-cycling so, on re-cycling day, I crawled round all the bins in my neighbourhood and got ten copies.”

The Duke of Edinburgh, on his bike yesterday

At this point, a naked man with a Prince Philip mask walked past us, dressed only in bow tie and white cuffs.

“You don’t mind being naked?” I asked Peter.

“There’s a great difference,” he explained, “between one person on their own being naked among lots of clothed people and 1,500 people being naked.”

“What if it rains?” I asked.

“You get wet,” Peter replied.

“Human skin is waterproof,” a passer-by chipped in.

“Exhibitionism?” I suggested.

“Mmmm… possibly,” Peter admitted. “All us actors are naked on stage, you know,” he laughed.

“Have you done nudity on stage?”

“No,”

“This could be your calling card.”

“You get more money if you’re naked on stage,” Peter told me. “There are special Equity rates.”

“You have nude roles planned in the near future?” I asked.

“No,” said Peter. “I’m doing the Dickens bicentenary at the Poetry Cafe and I’ve got a one-man show as James Robertson Justice. I’m still fixing that because the hip young dudes who do comedy have never heard of him and the old folk who liked him don’t go to comedy clubs.”

“You look like him.” I said. “You should think about staging it at the Edinburgh Fringe next year, if the Fringe haven’t banned acting by then. People think James Robertson Justice is Scottish and anything Scots gets bums-on-seats. My mother met him when she was in the RAF during the War. She didn’t like him. He acted like a star and didn’t pay his bills.”

“Yes,” said Peter, “the more I find out about him, the less I like him.”

“Why are you holding a bag which says The Three Pintos?” I asked.

Riders were exposed to the heavy traffic in London’s West End

“It’s an opera by Weber,” Peter said, “but someone told me that apparently, somewhere in South America, ‘pinto’ is slang for ‘small genitals’. I’ve asked all the South Americans I know, but none of them could confirm it.”

“You are under-selling yourself,” I said.

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Filed under Censorship, Comedy, England, London, Sex, Theatre, UK

Cutting the faggots with the lawyers – but not cutting crime in Greenwich

Yesterday afternoon, ironically, I went to the Royal Courts of Justice in London.

The reason why it was ironic will become evident later.

I was given a private tour of the building and, indeed, taken to the very Gents toilet where future Mensa member Alfred Hinds famously escaped for a second time (he escaped three times) by locking his two guards in the toilet round the corner from the Bear Garden. He was not a prisoner to mess with, as he also successfully managed to sue a Chief Superintendant in the Metropolitan Police’s Flying Squad for libel.

It is a very nice building, the Royal Courts of Justice, with allegedly 3.5 miles of corridors and 1,000 rooms, one of which is painted. I had my tour in the middle of the afternoon yesterday – Friday – and there appeared to be only one case being tried. It was suggested to me that this might have been because all the judges had knocked-off early to get to their country homes for the weekend.

Surely not.

But I was particularly impressed when I heard about the Royal Courts of Justice’s ancient ceremony of “cutting the faggots”. This is part of what is claimed to be the the second oldest ceremony in England (after the Coronation ceremony).

Details on this ceremony seem to be a bit sketchy but, as far as I can understand it, “cutting the faggots” is part of the feudal legal ceremony of “Rendering of The Quit Rents to The Crown”.

At this point we enter the area in which it is a joy to be British.

Apparently, “the paying of Quit Rents by the Corporation of the City of London to the King (or Queen) is an annual ceremony dating back to 1235. It takes place at the Royal Courts of Justice, where the City Solicitor hands to the Queen’s Remembrancer two faggots, six horseshoes and 61 horseshoe nails.”

The six horseshoes and 61 horseshoe nails are around 550 years old and are in payment – as rent – for an ancient forge in Tweezer’s Alley, near the Strand.

According to Wikipedia (and you could not really make this up):

During the ceremony, a black-and-white-chequered cloth is spread out — it is from this that the word “Exchequer” derives. The Solicitor & Comptroller of the City of London presents the horseshoes and nails and counts them out to the Remembrancer who then pronounces “Good number.” Two knives are tested by the Queen’s Remembrancer by taking a hazel stick, one cubit in length, and bending it over a blunt knife and leaving a mark. Then the stick is split in two with a sharp knife. After the two knives are tested the Remembrancer pronounces “Good service.”

I am a bit confused about the centrality of faggots in this ceremony.

According to another source, the City Solicitor cuts faggots with a hatchet, and – it would seem on a regular basis – “some of the spectators are amused, while others seem to find it distasteful.”

Someone told me yesterday that, apparently, the rough cost of an average hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice is £5,000 per hour.

Anyway, to explain the irony, last night, I had been in Greenwich the night before and parked my car behind the Up The Creek comedy club in a road 30 seconds walk from the centre of prim Greenwich which the famously uncaring local council has allowed to get run-down because, it appears, the councillors tend to live in flash roads and this road has only a block of council flats down one side.

Yesterday’s irony is that I was looking round the Royal Courts of Justice in the afternoon and then, in the evening, my car got broken into in Greenwich (again).

It was broken into in that exact same road behind Up The Creek in December 2010. I blogged about it.

On that occasion, nothing was stolen. On this occasion, the car was parked under a streetlight with a StopLok on the steering wheel and was double-locked, which means that, if you smash the window, you cannot open the doors from the inside – the doors are double-locked.

What they did was to smash the window (the Autoglass repair man explained to me exactly how it was done, but I am not repeating it). Then someone climbed into the car through the window, looked in the glove compartment and in the central armrest and lowered the back seat to get access to the boot from inside the car. And then climbed out the window again. The car was overlooked by two buildings.

I had, alas and unusually, left a SatNav and CDs in the lower part of the two-level arm rest (it is not obvious there is a lower level). They nicked the SatNav but left my CDs. This is only the latest in a long line of people insulting my taste in music.

It was -2C when I found the car window smashed at 10.35pm. By the time I got home after a 90-minute drive with no passenger window, it was -6C.

Things could be worse, though.

When I got home and switched on my TV, the BBC was reporting 200 deaths from cold across Europe and 100 of those deaths were in the Ukraine where temperatures were -40C.

This morning, ‘the world’s most travelled person’, Fred Finn, who lives in the Ukraine, told me in an e-mail: “I should be home by 8.00pm tonight but, given weather conditions today, anything is possible. The weather hasn’t been like this for 90 years they say.”

Back in Britain, the police in Greenwich told me mine was one of three cars broken into in that street behind Up The Creek last night. To me, that feels more important than the temperature in the Ukraine.

But around 100 people are dead in the Ukraine from the cold; around 200 in Europe; and over 200 were killed yesterday in the Syrian city of Homs by the Syrian armed forces.

Egocentricity is not really an admirable character trait.

I must remember.

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Filed under Crime, Eccentrics, Legal system, Travel, Ukraine

Three comedians & a baby in Australia + the problem of German stereotypes

(Part of this blog was also published in the Huffington Post)

Things are looking up Down Under.

I got a message yesterday from Australia, which started:

Carlsberg don’t do Press Releases, but if they did perhaps it would read…

It then told me that amiable British sub-mariner turned stand-up comedian Eric had had a baby. Well, Helen had. This somewhat belated (it arrived on 31st January!) ‘press release’ read:

Tuesday December 27 2011 at Flinders Medical Centre, Adelaide, South Australia …. 09:03hrs ACDT (23:33hrs Monday 26 Dec GMT)

Blonde Hair. Blue Eyes. Both mother and baby are doing well. After a process that began on Xmas morning at 9am Both parents are tired but absolutely delighted.

Sorry we couldn’t notify you before, but we are exhausted and so are our phone batteries. This info is somewhat belated, but as you can imagine our lives have been literally turned ‘upside down’. We have been trying to send you this for a while now…

I also got a message from a euphoric Bob Slayer in Australia saying:

Hey, Mr John, The Drum magazine wrote a nice feature on me on page 21 in their centre spread and I had an interview on RTRfm Radio in Perth. I like to think that I managed to be surprisingly funny, considering it was 8:25am. I did not know before this there were two 8.25s in the day. My first show is tonight, tickets seem to be selling at a beautiful rate and I have negotiated free beer from the venue!

Comedian three in this blog is Paco Erhard, who is taking his 5-Step Guide to Being German show to the Adelaide Fringe and Melbourne International Comedy Festival after a one-off at London’s Leicester Square Theatre on 13th February. This is the show I saw at the Edinburgh Fringe last August and wrote about in a So It Goes blog and in Mensa Magazine (Paco is a member).

On his re-designed website, he quotes a line of mine:

Paco Erhard is a German comic, not a comic German

“Quoting a nonentity like me smacks of desperation,” I suggested to him. “And you have five star reviews you can quote from reputable publications. Festivals Review said you were one of the ten best shows at the Fringe!”

“Well,” he replied, “your quote expresses too nicely how I want to be seen to not use it.”

So what will Australians make of Paco’s German show?

“I try to refute German stereotypes,” he tells me, “but, ironically, I actually have quite a bit of difficulty making people believe I’m really German. I don’t look or sound stereotypically German enough, especially outside my solo show – ie in normal comedy gigs.

“Some people watch my act for 20 minutes, hear me talk about being German and they’ll still think Why is this Irish guy pretending to be German? It’s a weird, paradoxical situation. Should I put on a German accent and dye my hair blond, in order to convince people that Germans are not like they think?  It’s ridiculous that I should have to desperately convince people I am German, thereby conjuring up all the stereotypes that they allegedly hold about Germans, just in order to then blame them for thinking what I have just brought up and then telling them what we’re really like. Okay, this is an extreme description, but there is a bit of that involved in some comedy club gigs that I do.

“That’s why I like festivals more at present, because there the people come to see my show because they are interested in the topic and it is established well before the show that I am really German. That way I can just be myself more or less. However, I do have some sort of accent, so if I don’t say anything about where I’m from, they’ll sit there more focussed on trying to find out where my accent is from than on my comedy. Maybe I should just use my real name, Erhard Hübener. But I wanna see the MC who can pronounce that or the punter who will remember it after the gig, no matter how much he liked me. I could be on TV every day and, in the credits, I’d probably still be called The German guy. Oh well.

“I don’t think my show is a show about stereotypes. I try to go beyond that. But I do address the stereotypes at the beginning of the show. It’s important to me to do that in a clever, deconstructive, ridiculing way (although I still have one or two in there that are a bit naff… but hey, they get a laugh and I’m a whore…)… it would be a lie to say I don’t do stereotypes at all. However, I think you have to address them to get them out of the way. It would be silly to pretend they aren’t there. And, especially when talking to people who still cherish some of those stereotypes somewhere deep in their hearts, you have to pick them up where they are… they won’t follow you on the journey of your show if you depart from a point of knowledge or an attitude that they don’t have yet.

“I am off to Adelaide and Melbourne on the 21st of February and I think doing the Australian festivals will make me a much better comedian. In my comedy here in Britain I still lean on the (alleged) British-German conflict too much, which is one thing I really want to get away from. I was strongly influenced by my five or six years of being a compere to those Sun-reading package-holiday imbeciles in Majorca, most of whom I actually liked, but a considerable amount of whom gave me a lot of (stupid) shit about being German.

“Some Brits seem to think that they have a sense of humour or know how to be funny (there’s a difference between these two) when in reality they are just stupid, unoriginal and offensive. (But it’s okay, you know, because everybody knows that, just like fish, Germans don’t have feelings.) So I came to Britain thinking I would be up against a lot of hostility just because of my nationality and that I’d better talk about being German a lot and also giving them a bit of a hard time for being British. While I realised quickly that British people in Britain were very, very different from the ones I had encountered on Spain’s beaches, that old feeling of hurt and defensiveness paired with a certain aggressiveness remained with me for quite a bit of time and I think hasn’t completely gone away yet. It was a real epiphany a few months ago when I realised that most Brits actually quite like the Germans.

“Anyway, this whole issue won’t be, well, ‘an issue’ in Australia. Which will be a relief, a challenge and an adventure all rolled in one. I’m free of all that old We don’t like each other bullshit, that subconscious unrealistic feeling that somehow there is a rift between me and the audience (that I then involuntarily fortify by addressing it implicitly). I can’t use that as a crutch anymore. All of that material I had best forget about doing in Australia. They won’t care. So I will have to dig deep within myself for the things I really want to say. Which I already did to a large degree at the Edinburgh Fringe last August. But I know my show can definitely be further purged of all that. And I have a lot of stuff I’ve been wanting to say for a long time… and I will say it now in Australia. Also, I will improve the show’s structure a lot for Australia. And then I’ll bring all that back to Britain. (And also I will have free rein to say some rough things about Britain without hurting anybody’s feelings or getting bottles thrown at me :-D)

“I will need quite a bit of new material for Australia, but I see that more as an opportunity to finally use some great material I’ve been writing for years and that I never got to do.

“I have some concerns, but they are less to do with the art, than the marketing. I’ve been bitching about having gotten a lot of grief from Brits about being German, but being ‘a German comedian’ simply is a fantastic selling point in Britain. I do think I had a good or maybe even very good show in Edinburgh, so yes, I delivered, but I think lots of people came because GERMAN COMEDIAN stands out of the crowd more than “British white middle-class comedian, number 2417”. It’s a selling point and it helps me. Not when I’m on stage – then I better be funny – but to get people into my shows. And I don’t know if this selling point is quite so strong in Australia. They live on the other side of the world, so their attitude to Germany is bound to be very different from Britain’s, which has had a direct relationship with Germany – in good times and in bad ones – for centuries. They might not go for it as much. Who knows? I hope they do.”

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Filed under Australia, Comedy, Germany, Racism, Theatre, Uncategorized