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British comedy critic Kate Copstick attacked in Kenya by 17 men while public & police look on and do nothing

(A version of this piece was published on the Indian news site WSN)

Copstick (in blue) at Mama Biashara project

Copstick (in blue) at Mama Biashara project

Yesterday, my blog continued the saga of comedy critic Kate Copstick’s recent visit to Kenya, where she has been running her Mama Biashara charity since 2008.

This time, her trip coincided with the terrorist attack on the Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi. So far, she has been stopped by the police, had £800 stolen and been stalked by gunmen. Because of the perceived danger elsewhere, she and helper Doris decide to hold Mama Biashara meetings at Nakumatt Junction – Nakumatt being Kenya’s biggest chain of quite posh supermarkets. Copstick tells Doris:

We’ll meet there, because they’ve got guards and a huge car park and we’re not going to get held up, unless it’s terrorists who just blow the whole place up. It’s as safe as Westgate… It’s as safe as Westgate…

“So,” Copstick told me, “I was on my way to meet Doris at Nakumatt Junction and there’s a thing called the Nairobi Show – it’s part trade fair, part industry fair, part fairground – and everybody goes, including every petty criminal in the Nairobi area.

“When I was leaving my tiny slum palace, it was chucking-out time at the Nairobi Show, which is a bit like Millwall, Arsenal and QPR all chucking-out of the same football ground at the same time. So I had my bag strapped round me and my bum bag under my coat.

“After I took my law degree in Scotland, I nearly did a PhD in something called Victimology which says that, in the case of an apparently motiveless crime – if someone just walks down the street and is horribly attacked – there is something about the victim that attracts the criminal. Not anything conscious but in the same way that, if you get on the back of a horse, a horse will know if you’re terrified and it will do crazy things with you…

“I’ve never been scared in Kenya.

“I was really upset by the theft of the money. I was mildly un-nerved that armed gunmen were roaming Dagoretti Corner with a view to robbing me. And I’d never really experienced anything like the crowds that were in Dagoretti Corner as I walked down. All the time – every two minutes – there were young guys making pincer movements, one on either side of me – Hey! Hello shosho!

“No, no. Get off! I know you’re all thieves! Get off! Get off!

“The longer I walked, the more nervous I got. I had my bag strapped over my body and I was clutching it and was quite scared by the time I got down to a traffic island where the major junction is. I was thinking: I just want this to stop! I should never have come out! I just want this to stop!

“I’ve never ever felt like that in Kenya before.

Nakumatt Junction, where Copstick was attacked, in Nairobi

Nakumatt Junction, in Nairobi, where Copstick was attacked

“It’s a big traffic island with grass and little hedges, so I thought I’d walk across it because it was low and everyone could see it and there were no little dark corners. If I went round the traffic island, I would have been going off into the dark where there are ditches and all kinds of stuff.

“So I started to cross the traffic island and suddenly behind me there was like a herd of young guys in their late teens or early 20s – there were maybe seventeen or eighteen of them plus one very big guy. They weren’t scruffy. They were well-dressed in sportswear. And I just thought: Fuck!

“I stopped walking and I thought I’ll go back but, as I stopped walking, the big guy looked straight at me and I thought Game over.

“…because I knew I looked pathetic, scared and – to be honest – I did not look athletic, like I could suddenly turn on my heels and run.

“Then it was like a cartoon. You know like Roadrunner is there and suddenly – Whooooshh! – he’s here beside you? Like a streak of light. It was like that and this big guy knocked me back through a hedge and had his knee on my chest and had what I thought was a gun barrel pressing into my stomach. Now I think maybe it was his forefinger and middle finger poking into my solar plexus.

Do nothing! Do nothing! He just kept saying Do nothing! Do nothing! but he didn’t seem to be doing anything himself. He had his knee in my chest and I think I was just so scared. And then he must have started pulling at my bag but, of course, it didn’t come off because the strap was wrapped round my body. So, as he pulled at it, I sort-of got pulled upright and down across the other side of the path into the other hedge… I mean, their topiary was just so devastated by all this.

“The other guys were just standing round us, which I now know is a standard thing they do to stop anyone coming to help you. One guy attacking. Fifteen or sixteen standing round going: Eeaayy! Mzungu! Mzungu!

“He was pulling away at my bag and I remember hearing my voice saying: LOOK – FOR GOODNESS SAKE! – IT’S WRAPPED ROUND MY BODY! and I realised He’s panicking and he obviously didn’t have a gun or a knife, so then I just started kicking him on his thighs and hips and then he started pulling on the bum bag and I felt something give and he took a step back and they all started running off in different directions and that was when I turned slightly girlish.

“I went a bit blubbery, stood up and I could see the whole traffic island was surrounded by a traffic jam at a standstill and people were hanging out of bus windows watching… There were two traffic policemen watching… Everybody was just watching, doing nothing… And, even after the guys ran away, the only person who came up was a little 5-year-old boy who came up and pulled my coat and said Shosho. (meaning Old Lady) Did they hurt you? That was the worst thing. Being called Shosho.

Mama Biashara’s Kate Copstick

Kate Copstick still loves Kenya

“I blubbered: They took all my money!

“And then I thought: Wait a minute…. I still had my bag. And I still had my bum bag, because the only thing he’d taken was the very front smallest pocket of the bum bag, which contained an £8 Nokia phone with no airtime on it, my Kenyan house keys – with no indication of where the house was – and three or four receipts for de-worming syrup.

“Between my bum bag and my satchel bag – because I was on my way to do a funding at Nakumatt – I had about 100,000 shillings (£800) plus my passport. I almost felt a wave of sympathy for the robbers.

“All that hassle just for some de-worming receipts.”

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At the Edinburgh Fringe, physical attacks on comedians and on a critic

Comedian Charmian Hughes is married to comedy magician David Don’t.

Her Edinburgh Fringe show Charmian Hughes: Odd One In includes tales of kissing disgraced government minister Chris Huhn. It is part of the PBH Free Fringe.

David’s show David Don’t: The Delusionist (unbilled in the main Edinburgh Fringe Programme) is one of Bob Slayer’s Heroes of Fringe shows within the Laughing Horse Free Festival – whom PBH of the Free Fringe sees as bitter competitors.

I met Charmian and David at the Pleasance Dome shortly after she had collected him at Waverley station, off a train from London.

It is David’s first Fringe and he is only performing for three days – Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday this week – at Bob’s Bookshop. He was also keen to promote his new website.

“It’s been put together,” he told me, “by the fantastic new web designer (and comedian) Harriet Bowden…”

“She’s not called that any more,” said Charmian.

“Oh no,” said David, “she’s Lyndon Grady.”

“She’s designed me a new website too,” added Charmian. “Harriet went to a numerologist, who told her great success would only come by changing her name. So she has changed her name to Lyndon Grady. Isn’t that the name of the person who married Catherine Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights or was that Lytton Strachey? Anyway, everyone loves magic, except for me. A magician says what he’s going to do – like a dustman says what he’s going to do – and does it. Where’s the entertainment in that?”

“Except,” I pointed out, “that, when David says he’s going to do a trick, it often doesn’t work.”

“I never set out to fail,” said David Don’t.

David Don’t opens his wallet for Charmian Hughes yesterday

David Don’t opens his wallet for Charmian Hughes yesterday

“I almost lost David once, through his magic,” Charmian continued. “It was when he was doing escapology from a postman’s sack at Pull The Other One. He was handcuffed and tied up in the bag and was failing to get out. One of the people in the audience said: Let’s put him on a bus.

“I don’t do magic at home any more,” David told me. “Charmian looks at me and doesn’t ask How did you do that? She asks Why did you do that? I think she’d rather find me wanking off to a porn mag than playing with a pack of cards. I don’t leave packs of cards round the house any more.”

“But do you lea…” I started to ask.

“Don’t go there…” said Charmian. “Barry Lyndon… That’s who I was thinking of. Have you noticed that Sean Hughes’ Edinburgh show is called Penguins but there is no image of a penguin on his poster? And I am Charmian Hughes. There is no penguin in my show title, but I have a picture of a penguin on my poster. That’s not planned. It’s a random serendipity of the universe.”

“When do the actual penguins arrive for your show?” I asked.

“Tuesday,” replied Charmian.

“And on Wednesday,” I said, “Andy Zapp and Ivor Dembina have a gorilla arriving to appear in their show for the rest of their run. Isn’t that a coincidence?”

“No,” said Charmian.

My secret view revealed

Non-secret launch party for book last night

Then the three of us went off to the launch of the new Secret Edinburgh book (my non-humorous piece is on page 179) at Bob’s Bookshop.

On my third day here, I saw Jimmy Savile: The Punch & Judy Show and the two performers in it asked me not to name them in my resultant blog. So I did not.

They were Gareth Ellis and Richard Rose – the comedy double act Ellis & Rose.

The reason I can name them now is that other, arguably less amiable, sources have.

Jimmy Savile: The Punch & Judy Show has currently received three 1-star reviews and one 3-star review.

“We feel that the 3-star review in The Skinny has ruined it,” Richard Rose told me outside Bob’s Bookshop last night. “That 3-star review is getting in the way of us doing one of the Shit of The Fringe competitions. We might ignore the 3-stars.”

The 1-star reviews came from Broadway Baby, London Is Funny and the Chortle website with Three Weeks still to publish its review.

Jimmy Savile: The Punch & Judy Show

STAR Jimmy Savile: The Punch & Judy Show

“We fear it might be more than one star,” Gareth Ellis told me.

“As well as Jimmy Savile,” I said, “I saw your own show at The Hive and it was all over the place, but I thought you were both TV presenter material. Very loveable and amiable and jolly; just no linear script.”

“There IS a script,” said Richard. “This is what irritates us slightly. It’s all written down and we play around with it.”

“But not a linear script,” I suggested.

“That’s not what we do,” argued Richard. “We’re fun and, today, we had a cracking show, but this heckler blundered into the room in the last five minutes.”

“He stumbled in and sat down at the back of the room,” explained Gareth. “He had a bottle of vodka in his hand – a big one – and it was half empty and he just shouted out: Yer mum!

Yer mum!” agreed Richard, “and I said Sir, it seems like an odd time, about three minutes before the end, to start heckling and that got a laugh. And then it came to the point in our show where Gareth says I’m feeling sexy! and the guy shouted out You’re not sexy – You’re shit! and Gareth just exploded… in character.”

Ellis (left) & Rose walk the Edinburgh streets alone last night

Ellis (left) & Rose walk Edinburgh’s mean streets last night

Gareth said: “I told him You will feel the wrath of my sex! and slammed a chair down on the floor.”

“And you started humping the chair,” said Richard. “And people were applauding. People loved it.”

“He kept going on and I kept putting him down,” said Gareth. “And then the show finished, we got changed, went outside and the heckler was waiting for us. He said: You’re them two cunts who do that Savile thing! and took a swing at me. I managed to dodge it and he managed to land a slap on Richard and then we legged it.”

“For about two hours afterwards, it was really funny,” said Richard. “Fucking hell! I can’t believe we provoked that much reaction! But then it seemed to be less funny and we were quite shaken and now we’re just befuddled and a bit drunk.”

Two minutes after talking to Gareth Ellis and Richard Rose, I was inside Bob’s Bookshop, talking to Scotsman newspaper reporter and reviewer Claire Smith.

Claire Smith consoled last night by Topping (of Topping & Butch)

Claire Smith consoled last night by Topping (without Butch)

“A couple of nights ago,” she told me, “I was walking home and I was very, very tired. I went to Tesco to buy some avocados and there were a whole load of guys running round from one side of the road to the other on Great Junction Street in Leith, throwing eggs at people’s houses, trying to hit the windows.

“Then one of them ran along behind me and whacked me really hard on the back of my head with his hand. So I’ve got this huge bump on the back of my head and I have concussion.”

“Have you seen a doctor?” I asked.

“No,” Claire told me, “I went to see Bob Slayer. “I needed medical advice and I thought Bob’s an ex-jockey who’s fallen off loads of horses. So, in between seeing shows, I thought I’d pop in and see what he said. He’s got a very calm, helpful side to him. It’s ‘Quiet Bob’ and I sometimes pop in hoping to catch Quiet Bob. I really like Quiet Bob.

“It was just before his own show started; he was dealing with a load of Phil Kay’s books which had just arrived; and there were all sorts of admin things going on to do with the bar at Bob’s Bookshop. But, when I told him what had happened, he sat down and chatted to me about it, which was very sweet. But what happened after I got hit was…”

“You went down?” I asked.

“No,” said Claire, “which is strange, because I fall over all the time. I just didn’t fall over when someone tried to make me fall over.

“I shouted something – I don’t know – You’re an arsehole! Fuck off! What are you doing? – they were across the street now, a big gang of them. And then this huge guy came and stood next to me. He was like a knight in shining armour.

Stuart - Claire’s knight in shining armour

Stuart – knight in shining armour

“He started speaking really slowly and really quietly and it was frightening because the gang of guys carried on shouting and they followed us for a bit.

“The big guy told me My bus isn’t for half an hour, so I’m going to walk you home and he walked me round the corner and then they started throwing eggs after us which were hitting the wall beside us and hitting the pavement in front of us.

“The big guy said to me: If they catch us, just run away. He said: You might need a brandy. So we went to a pub and I asked What do you do for a living? and he said I’m the most hated person in Edinburgh.

What do you mean? I asked.

I’m a traffic warden, he told me.

“He’s an ex-Army guy called Stuart. He had been shot twice – in Kosovo and somewhere else. He showed me his bullet holes in the pub.”

“Where were they?” I asked.

“They were both in his back,” Claire told me. “It was odd. Because Matt Price is staying at my house during the Fringe and I was thinking This is the sort of thing that happens to Matt. We have been invaded by the story-telling gods.”

Lewis Schaffer consoled last night by Topping (without Butch)

As I left the Secret Edinburgh book launch at Bob’s Bookshop, I picked up one of the daily Broadway Baby review sheets with, on the front, a review of actor Brian Blessed’s one-man show Shout: The Life of Brian.

Oh, I didn’t know he was doing a show, I thought to myself.

On my way home, at around 1.30am in the morning, I bumped into Arthur Smith in a kebab shop.

He is guest on the first of my Edinburgh Fringe chat shows next Monday. The show finishes at 4.30pm and, at 5.00pm, Arthur is getting on a train back to London. The audience will be invited to accompany him to Waverley station.

“Are you still doing my chat show next Monday?” I asked him. It is always worth checking everything in Edinburgh.

“Of course,” he replied. “I’m looking forward to people waving me off at the station.”

When I got back to my flat, I found a series of Tweets:

Broadway Baby - send in the cunning comedy clones

Broadway Baby – send in the cunning stunt clones

Broadway Baby ‏- They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. This isn’t us folks. Someone’s copying BB! pic.twitter.com/YWPV32QCJK

Sean Brightman ‏- That is very funny.

Broadway Baby ‏- We are bemused and baffled by the effort someone’s put into this!

Sean Brightman – Well, the clue may be in the reviews methinks. And if it is who I think it is, he should win an award.

Broadway Baby – Best publicity stunt this year? Writing your own audience reviews happens. Printing an entire edition? That’s a first!

Sean Brightman – Yep, it should be in the running for a @thejohnfleming Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt award.

I looked up the Fringe Programme to check if Brian Blessed really was performing a show called Shout: The Life of Brian. It was not in the Fringe Programme. According to the Broadway Baby review, it was supposedly being performed at the Underbelly’s DistendedBelly venue.

Then I read the rave review on the sheet of Barry Fearn’s show Barry on Arthur’s Seat – 6 stars – “A phenomenal show. Better than life itself” – and went to bed.

Reality, fantasy, a few laughs and occasional random violence.

Welcome to the spirit of the Edinburgh Fringe.

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Women pray for God to strike down feared UK comedy critic Kate Copstick

Ian Fox yesterday, at the Pleasance Dome in Edinburgh

Last night, after I posted my blog chat with Ian Fox about how he got attacked in the streets of Edinburgh, I got a Tweet from Ian Hawkins saying: “I’ve felt very unsafe flyering in Grassmarket sometimes.”

It’s good to know someone reads my blog.

I drove down from Edinburgh to London overnight last night with a couple of sleeps in service station car parks and, when I was somewhere around Milton Keynes, I got a phone call from Alan McEwen at the Edinburgh Evening News.

He had just read my blog about the attack on Ian.

The Edinburgh Evening News should be running an article about the assault tomorrow, in an attempt to find the attackers.

And, indeed, the Huffington Post this afternoon carried my blog piece about the attack.

So, with luck, the psycho yobbo duo of Edinburgh may get their comeuppance.

Meanwhile, I have asked Alex Petty of the Laughing Horse Free Festival to pencil in Friday 23rd August 2013 for next year’s increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show at the Edinburgh Fringe and (I hope) have booked Miss Behave to compere, Andy Dunlop of the World Egg Throwing Federation to supervise another Russian Egg Roulette competition and Kate Copstick to hand out the prizes.

Although she does much more than that.

She has been a judge for the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards since they started.

Although she does much more than that.

I ran a blog back in February this year headlined Top comedy critic Kate Copstick spends $2,500 on prostitutes in Nairobi, Kenya.

All the money donated by audience members after the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards goes to Copstick’s charity Mama Biashara. No money is deducted for any show costs nor for any expenses of any kind; 100% is passed on to the charity.

The Mama Biashara charity works in the slums of Kenya, setting mainly women up in small businesses to help them pull themselves out of the absolute poverty in which they are living. Copstick spends four months of every year in Kenya, mostly in the slums of Nairobi. Below is a diary extract from one of her visits this year. It may give an insight into Copstick beyond her being the feared doyenne of British comedy critics:

______________________________________________________________________

Kate Copstick spends four months of every year in Kenya

Wednesday

I meet up with Doris in Kawangware and we head for the next workshop. This time out in a place called Wangiki, about an hour from Nairobi.

Doris is looking uncharacteristically nervous and asks the women who meet us at the matatu stage if we should get piki pikis to the meeting place. The women say “No, no, we are meeting ‘hapa tu’ (just here)”. They point at a building just down the hill.

Turns out it wasn’t really that one they were pointing at. It was one about half a mile further on. Kenyan distances are very much like Kenyan time – having the elasticity of a bungee rope over the Grand Canyon.

As we walk down the muddy lanes, I am increasingly fascinated by Doris’ bottom. It is an extraordinary thing which moves entirely independently of her skeleton. With each step forward it sways from side to side with a very attractive fluidity. But I digress.

The room is packed with women and the occasional spluttering child. We kick off with the ground rules of Mama Biashara:

– The money is only for business

– Know your status

– Respect for all

It is this last that causes consternation.

I explain that Mama Biashara has respect for all races, colours, religions and sexuality. I do not believe in God but I am fine if you do. You simply cannot refuse to help someone on the grounds that their beliefs/colour/sexuality etc are not yours.

There is much chatter. I start the workshop.

There is the usual litany of disaster, illness, abandonment etc but a lot of these women have good business heads. And good ideas. We are getting along well up to about number 12, when the increasing din outside reaches a crescendo. I get up and look out.

There is a… let us call it a group… outside the house. Animated to say the least. They are not happy that I do not believe in God. They say my money is corrupt and they have been off to the church opposite to pray to God to strike me down.

Doris wades in and emphasises that no-one needs to take my money, I am here only to help and just because I do not believe in God, I do not care if they do. She asks if I want to stop the workshop and leave. I say, “No”. We continue. With some terrific women. Good business plans.

At around number 28, there is another commotion at the gate.

This time, the women have brought the heads of the local Mungiki.

They are (to be fair) the most feared gang/sect in Kenya.

They are (or were originally) very strict Christians. And many Kenyans wish they were running the country now. They are real… errrr… disciplinarians.

We go out and Doris explains again what we are about. I shake hands and nod along with what she says. The Mungiki ask if we are forcing the money on the women. I laugh. We explain. The Mungiki say that is absolutely fine with them and shoo the women away. The remaining women relax visibly.

The rest of the afternoon passes in financing, medication, back rubs, demonstrations of stretching exercises, nutritional advice and the usual whole nine yards.

I get an escort of about fifteen women back to the matatu stage. Doris suggests we leave ASAP. It turns out that Wangiki is not really the safest of areas. Doris says she was shocked by what happened today. She has been working with this group for three months and had not imagined they would pull a stunt like that.

I end the day munching delicious mutura (a sort of barbecued sausage made from goat intestine) washed down with a can of Tusker. With jelly babies for pudding.

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Comedians punched and headbutted in the street at the Edinburgh Fringe

Ian Fox in Edinburgh earlier today

Before I left Edinburgh this evening, I had a drink with comedian-writer-photographer Ian Fox  who was attacked in the street on Wednesday night.

When I was with him today, he got a phone call from the police.

“It was around 11.30 at night and I was coming up that curved street Candlemakers Row, just before you get to the statue of Greyfriars Bobby,” he told me. “There were loads of people walking about, because the Tattoo had just finished.”

Throughout the Edinburgh Fringe, Ian has been taking nighttime photos of Edinburgh between around 10.00pm and midnight.

“I’d taken a photo in the Cowgate,” he told me, “ but put my camera away because there isn’t anything else to take photos of until you get to Bristo Square. The camera was round my neck, but underneath my top, so they didn’t see it. But it wasn’t a mugging.

“Some students were arsing about on the left hand side of the road, kicking a traffic cone about, so I crossed over the road to avoid them. I was in the road and only vaguely aware there were people walking down the other footpath then, as soon as the guy got level with me, he just hit me. He was wearing a ring, which is what cut me.

“I hit the ground, mainly out of surprise, then I heard another guy say: He’s gone down. I think the first guy had passed me, the second guy then hit me and I think the first guy had turned  to watch, because he knew what was about to happen and then he was celebrating the fact I’d gone down.

“When I heard him say He’s gone down! I thought to myself This probably isn’t the best place to be because I’ll get a kicking when I’m down on the ground. I’d quite like it if this was over now. So I stood up and turned around and walked to Greyfriars Bobby’s Bar.

“There was a chef outside. I thought he must have seen the whole thing, but he later told the police he hadn’t seen anything. I asked him if he could help me. He took about three seconds to make a decision on that. He obviously just thought it was drunks fighting but then I think he could tell from the way I was dressed and the way I was speaking that I wasn’t drunk.

“So I went into Bobby’s Bar and the waitress in there took over; she started handing me all the blue papery stuff to soak up the blood.  They phoned the police and the paramedics, because they were worried about how much blood was coming out of me. My cheek was bleeding; my nose was bleeding; so there was a lot of blood.

“The woman in there told me they’d just refused service to two blokes because they were very loud and very aggressive so the chances are it was these two blokes who had just got refused who walked outside and clocked the first person they saw.

“From the way they had been moving, I think they were on speed or something. They were on something, they’d had a skinful and the adrenaline buzz of hitting someone was the next thing they were after.

“The police said they hoped the cameras inside Bobby’s Bar had got a clear shot of them coming through the door, but that phone call I just got was the police saying it turned out the CCTV inside Greyfriars Bobby’s Bar has not been working since the 12th of August. The police said they’re now going to look at the Council’s CCTV in the street. But I’ve had a look three times and I can’t see a camera around there. I’m guessing somebody who behaves like that has probably done it before so would not do it near cameras.”

“You had another check-up today, didn’t you?” I asked.

Ian Fox with his mending eye in Edinburgh earlier today

“Yes, at the specialist Facial Injury unit in Livingston at 9 o’clock this morning,” said Ian. “It turned out everyone was given a 9 o’clock appointment, so it was first come, first served.”

“Livingston?” I said. “That’s miles away! That’s about 15 miles away!”

“It still counts as Edinburgh,” Ian said, “because it’s got an EH postcode.”

“Good job you brought your car up here,” I said. “You might easily not have done.”

“They told me I don’t need any further treatment,” said Ian, “but I may have a permanent scar beside my nose and the nurse advised me to avoid being punched in the face for a few months.”

“She didn’t,” I said.

“She did,” said Ian. “and I’m sure that’s very good advice.”

“I imagine the police won’t do anything about it,” I told him. “Did you read that blog of mine a couple of days ago, where a comedian had his computer stolen and he told the police where it was from the Apple GPS positioning and they wouldn’t do anything about it?”

“Well,” Ian said, “a deli I go into every day here… The guy there told me he had an incident a while back where one of his fridges wasn’t working and he called a repair man from an advert in the paper. The guy came and gave him a ridiculously high quote, so he said No.

“A couple of hours later, the cafe owner goes to the bank. Whilst he’s away, the repair man comes back, tells the girls behind the counter he’s there to fix the fridge, moves the fridges, hacks all the wiring at the back, tells the girls the griddle’s broken and says he needs to take it away for repair and leaves with the griddle.

“The cafe owner comes back, finds all the fridges are knackered and the griddle’s missing. So it’s criminal damage and theft. He rings the police, gives them the phone number of the advert and tells them this is the bloke who has done it – the girls have given a description of the guy… That was five months ago and he hasn’t heard anything since.

“He says he opens at 7.00am in the morning and has trouble with drunks coming in and, in the past, he’s tried to get the police to come and shift them and they won’t do it.”

“I love Edinburgh,” I said, “and it’s physically beautiful, but it’s a tough town under the surface. I’m surprised more comedians don’t have problems.”

Seymour Mace got head-butted outside the ScotMid in Nicolson Street in 2009,” Ian told me.

“Was that unmotivated as well?” I asked.

“Exactly the same thing as me,” Ian said. “Except he got headbutted instead of punched. Never even saw them. Though headbutting seems a lot more personal, somehow.”

“More Glaswegian,” I suggested.

“Seymour had a black eye for a week,” Ian said, “and he was doing a children’s show, so he had to explain to the children that he’d hit his head on a door. You can’t tell children there are random nutters out there in Edinburgh who will just headbutt you for no reason.”

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While I was away in North Korea, they were crying and mugging in London

The startled Conservative candidate

I came home on Saturday, two days ago. My eternally-un-named friend had been staying at my place while I was away.

“A few days after you left,” she told me, “some Conservative Party canvasser for the local elections came to the door and asked if Mr Fleming was at home. I said you were in North Korea. He looked a bit startled.”

She told me the contest for London Mayor was also in full flow:

Ken Livingstone was going mental while you were away. Bursting into tears saying he would let the people down if he didn’t get elected and said the amount of tax he’s paid over the years would have been enough to have bought an aircraft carrier.

“But Paddick pointed out Ken had got away with paying less income tax than the average person because of some loophole.”

“Who’s Paddick?” I asked.

“The gay one,” she told me.

“The policeman?”

“Yes. He’s Liberal,” she added.

“I guess so,” I said.

“Some Green Party person,” she continued, “referred to someone who had come in their chauffeur-driven car and hadn’t caught taxis like ‘the rest of us’. That was rather unfortunate because a load of people in the audience had come on bicycles and this was the Green Party person implying everyone should have come in taxis.”

“This was Question Time?” I asked.

“No, I think it might have been some Mayoral debate. I could be mixing up my politics. Boris Johnson said in a newspaper he’d offer the Green person a job working on his bikes. There was something slightly embarrassing in the press about Boris, but he didn’t care. It was Ken who was going mental.”

“So Ken burst into tears on TV?” I asked.

“I think it was at the first screening of some new campaign video of his. But I was reading it all off the front pages in newsagents and supermarkets, like I do. So I don’t really know what was actually happening but you know what I think about Ken. Someone who’s managed to make something like three single mothers and he gives all the teenagers free public transport so they can go to different parts of the town and stab each other and phone each other to come along and help with the stabbing.”

I also got an e-mail from comedian Bob Slayer:

“I am gigging in Ireland this week,” he told me. “The week before last, I was in South Africa and foolishly de-climbed Table Mountain on the Wednesday. The next day, I took an economy flight home with very knackered legs. They even offered me a wheelchair when we changed planes at Dubai.

“And on the Friday I did a gig with Eddie Izzard at Pull The Other One in Herne Hill (although I went to their club in Nunhead and was late).

“After the show, I had to get on two night buses to get home and was taking the short cut across Mile End Park as I have done maybe hundreds of times… The next thing I remember is waking up the following day with a huge lump on the back of my head and feeling doolally… I assumed I had fallen over due to my wobbly Table Mountain legs.

“But I had aching ribs, a sore jaw and there were marks down my back, so I thought It must have been one hell of a fall. Then, by 2 o’clock the next afternoon, I remembered that I had been beaten up by a group of youths in the park.

“Concussion is a very odd thing, I had it numerous times when I was a jockey and I’ve had it a few times since. I am aware that it can play tricks on your mind but I am absolutely certain I was beaten up by a bunch of blokes in dresses and lipstick… Maybe I was beaten up by an Eddie Izzard vigilante squad.”

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Return from North Korea to China, land of individual freedom & Keanu Reeves

Keanu Reeves’ new movie “Man of Tai Chi” shooting in Beijing

During the night, on the long train trip back to Beijing from Pyongyang, I mention that, since an accident in 1991 in which I was hit by a truck, I have not been able to read books. I can write books, but I cannot read them.

Our English travel agent guide tells me he was recently mugged in the street in Bristol. “They hit me on the back of the head with a baseball bat,” he told me. And roughed me up a bit at the front, too. I have had difficulty reading – and slight speech problems – since then. It’s very frightening when it affects your mind.”

I develop a slight toothache.

As soon as we crossed the bridge over the Yalu River which divides North Korea from China, two smiling strangers (everyone was smiling) separately observed to me how strange it was to feel that entering China was returning to ‘freedom’.

A woman I did not know said to me, smiling: “It’s like a weight has been lifted.”

Somewhere between a station signposted Tanggu and Tianjin city, I noticed there were satellite TV dishes on some of the old, single-storey peasant homes. Not Party buildings, not notable buildings, not in any way rich homes. And occasional clusters of buildings had solar panels on their roofs; possibly communal buildings; impossible to tell.

Then, for mile after mile after mile, a gigantic new elevated road/train track was being built. Make that plural. Over mile upon mile upon continuous mile, new highways, new tower blocks were being built. It is as if the country is building a new city like Milton Keynes every week or a new London Docklands nationwide every few days.

So very different to when I was last here in 1984, 1985 and 1986.

The irony with China is that, in the Cultural Revolution – the Chinese call it the ‘Ten Year Chaos’ – of 1966-1976, the Red Guards wanted to destroy the past, to start from the ‘now’ and build a new society. That now has happened. The irony is that it is not the future they envisaged; it is the future they feared.

Would this giant leap forward have been possible in a country without the unstoppable anti-democratic will and irresistible totalitarian power to push it through? Who knows? But it is an interesting thought/dilemma.

As we arrived at Beijing railway station, someone told me they had seen on BBC World TV that the North Korean satellite launched last week had exploded shortly after launch. Back in North Korea, of course, they will ‘know’ that Satellite 3 was a glorious success and will ‘know’ the giant leaps which their country makes continue to be the envy of the world.

If you live in a self-contained village isolated from all outside knowledge – or, indeed, in The Village in The Prisoner TV series – you know only what you know. There are no known unknowns, only unknown unknowns.

Living standards and social/technological advances are comparative. The North Koreans can see for themselves – they ‘know’ – that their society has advanced in leaps and bounds – from the electricity pylons of the 1980s to – now – mobile telephones and three satellites in space. And they have seen the tributes brought to their leaders by the admiring leaders of other countries.

China – with 7.5% growth per year – is living the advance a stagnant North Korea falsely believes it is making.

In the afternoon, in Beijing, I go into a Bank of China branch. It is in a suburb of the city. The door guard and staff look shocked that a Westerner has wandered into their branch.

I get a ticket to go to the cashier. A recorded message on the loudspeaker tells me when my number – Number 46 – is ready to be dealt with and which cashier to go to. The recorded message is in Chinese… then in English. Like the road signs, the metro signs and many shop signs. It is not just for my benefit. Each customer announcement is made in Chinese… then English.

At the cashier’s desk, facing me, is a little electronic device with three buttons marked in Chinese and in English. By pressing the appropriate button, unseen by the cashier, I can say if her service has been Satisfactory or Average or Dissatisfied.

Welcome to capitalism. Welcome to China 2012.

About half an hour later, near the Novotel and the New World Centre shopping complex, I pass a woman with one eye, begging. Welcome to capitalism. Welcome to China 2012.

Close to a nearby metro entrance, an old grey-haired woman is lying flat on her back, immobile, on the pavement. Beside her, by her head, a middle-aged man, possibly her son, kneels, rocking backwards and forwards, bobbing his head on the pavement, as if in silent Buddhist prayer. A large sheet of paper with Chinese lettering explains their situation. Passers-by drop Yuan notes into a box.

Welcome to China 2012.

At dusk, walking back to my own hotel from a metro station on one of Beijing’s busy, modern ring roads – a 45 minute walk – I see some movie trucks belonging to the China Film Group – dressing rooms, a director’s trailer, equipment vans.

Further along, down a side street, they are shooting second unit photography for a movie called Man of Tai Chi – actor Keanu Reeves’ directorial debut – in an area of grey, old-style, single-storey streets just a 15 second walk off the busy ring road.

In Pyongyang, the North Korean film studios had clearly been doing nothing. But they wanted – they liked – to pretend they have a thriving film industry.

In China, they do.

But they also block Facebook, Twitter and, indeed, this very blog you are reading.

Welcome to China 2012.

… CONTINUED HERE …

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Comedian Charlie Chuck gets a sexual disease and is attacked in Germany

(This was also published by the Huffington Post)

Last night, Charlie Chuck performed at Vivienne and Martin Soan’s monthly Pull The Other One comedy club in Herne Hill. Afterwards, he and his lady friend stayed at my friend’s flat in Greenwich.

This morning, I was chatting to him over tea and toast.

I was partly brought up in Aberdeen; my friend was brought up in various places including Lossiemouth in Scotland and in Germany.

A lot happened to Charlie Chuck when he was 19. He has memories of being in Aberdeen, Lossiemouth and Germany that year. This is what he told me over tea and toast:

______

I was performing at the Beach Ballroom in Aberdeen when I discovered I had the crabs.

I felt a tightness against my groin and I didn’t know what it was. I were on the beach and I had me trunks on.

I looked down and there were these little brown things and I counted 43. I didn’t know what they were. I thought Blimey! and I scraped one off, which drew blood. I put the thing on me fingernail and it started moving and then I realised it were a crab.

I scraped all 43 of them off me and cracked them all on me fingernail like you did with nits – well, I did – but also, at the same time, my dick were starting to grow… it were getting redder and redder and were swelling up and I remembered sleeping on a settee with a girl from Birmingham in a derelict house about a fortnight previous.

I was playing in a band at the time. When I went to the doctor’s, the first thing he said to me was: “Are you seeing anybody else?”

I had met somebody else called Violet from Elgin so he told me: “Stay well away from Violet from Elgin.”

He gave me an injection and some stuff to put on, but I had to shave everything down there. All me pubes. He gave me tablets and he said, “When you get back down to Leeds Infirmary, get straight to the VD Clinic.”

Well I shaved myself and got rid of everything – my pubic hair and underpants and the crabs, which I’d kept – and I put them all in a briefcase and, when I was driving along a country road near Lossiemouth, I threw the briefcase out of the window.

Two weeks later, me dad in Leeds got a letter from the Lossiemouth police to say they had found something belonging to me because, when I threw my briefcase away, I’d left my National Insurance stamping card in it.

The police asked me dad: “What do you want us to do with what we’ve found?”

I remember my dad asking me on the phone: “What do they mean? You’d better go claim your stuff, hadn’t you?”

I said, “No, it were just rubbish.”

He kept insisting: “Send for it. There might be something else in there.”

I said, “No, there’s nowt else in there.”

I eventually got my National Insurance card back.

A lot happened to me that year.

I got attacked in Germany.

I were with an Irish girl called Kate from Cloughmills, County Antrim. She used to like a drink and, this particular night, I were carrying her back from the pub because she used to like a pint of whisky and orange – it were a quarter full of whisky topped up with orange – and, every month or so she used to go off her head.

So I were carrying her like a fireman’s lift across me shoulder and these two black American GIs came towards me and one of them just swung at me – they were sending the GIs to Vietnam through Germany at that time. He swung at me and he hit me on my left shoulder. He just missed Kate. It hurt and I didn’t know what it were but blood were coming from my shoulder.

He’d stabbed me.

There were some Military Police on main gates about half a mile up the road and I told ‘em I’d been stabbed. It turned out the two GIs had already stabbed a sergeant and they got about four years for assaulting an Englishman on German soil, so they were put in a German jail, not an American jail. But at least they didn’t have to go to Vietnam.

About a year before that, I’d also got attacked. I’d just done an audition for someone and I were in Bramley, in Leeds, and I were stood at this bus stop in a really colourful outfit with a boater on me head and a man come round in a car – I were only 19; he were about 35 – and he pulled up and said: “Do you want a lift?”

I’d been stood there for about half an hour, so I got in and he shot off really quick and straight away round the corner came his friend in another car. They started taking me to Bramley Canal and I were getting dead worried. I had a suitcase and in that I had my ice blue jeans and my hobnail boots and a lock-knife because I were a dustbin man at the time and I’d just gone from work to do this audition. But I was wearing all this Flower Power stuff for the audition – furry slippers and all that kind of stuff – so I looked a bit feminine.

As we started to get near the Canal, it were dark – it were 11 o’clock at night – and, as the driver slowed down to go into the fields, I jumped out. We were doing about 25mph, but I knew these guys meant business.

I ran like mad and got to a graveyard wall. I threw my suitcase over and clambered up this wall – I were fit at that time – I were really fit – and I ran into this massive big cemetery and I got behind a gravestone.

The two guys – big blokes – came looking for me and my heart were pounding like chuff. I were scared stiff. But they didn’t see me, so they went away.

I then got changed into me ice blue jeans, me steel toe-capped hobnail boots and got my knife.

I stayed in the graveyard for an hour.

There were derelict houses all around and, when I got back on the road, I started to make my way back to my sister’s place – she was renting a dentist’s surgery at the time – but I heard the two cars coming again. They were looking for me; they were after me. So I lay down on an island in the middle of this little road among a load of daffodils.

I could hear the cars coming and they stopped. I heard one of the men say to the other: “He’s around here somewhere,” but they left it at that and got in their cars again.

When they both disappeared round a corner, I ran like mad but I heard the cars coming again so I got in a doorway in an alleyway and they went round the corner again and I decided to go for it again and I were running like mad.

But it turned out what they’d done was they’d gone round the corner and doubled back so they were coming towards me. I could hear my boots running on the road and I had me knife in me hand and the first guy pulled up in his car ahead of me and got out and I threw my suitcase at him with full force. It knocked him sideways and the other guy pulled up and were ready for me, but I were going at such speed and I’d got this knife and I shouted out, “I’ll stab you, ya bastard!” and he moved to one side.

But they still both gave chase.

I got to me sister’s door and, just as I did, there were a car that came and I started booting on the front door really loud with me hobnail boots and they ran off. They took my suitcase and off they went.

My sister let me in and the police were called, but I didn’t drive then, so I couldn’t tell them what type of cars the men had used.

They found my suitcase in the canal about a week later.

I was always streetwise anyway but, ever since then, I’ve always looked behind my back. I started doing karate to protect myself. Whenever I played any pubs or clubs after that, I was always aware. Still am.

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Filed under Comedy, Crime, Germany, Scotland, Sex