Tag Archives: Norfolk

Attractive Norwich sheep in a pub; Gary The Goat charged in an Australian court

The Bishop of Norwich was in no way connected to the sheep

The Bishop of Norwich was not involved

In May 2011, I wrote a blog about cat wrestling and a sheep in a pub in Norfolk. It seemed like a good idea at the time and is fairly normal stuff for Norfolk.

At the time, Norwich comedian Dan McKee told me a tale about a local pub – the Ironmongers Arms:

“The peculiarities of the old Ironmongers Arms knew no bounds,” Dan said. “The landlord had no tongue, but he did have a pet jackdaw which hopped around the bar and Friday night entertainment consisted of a young lady singing the hits of Tina Turner. She didn’t sing to karaoke tracks but actually sang over the original Tina Turner records on the juke box and she just tried to sing louder than Tina’s vocals…

“Then there was the night somebody brought a sheep in for a pint. We asked him why he had come in with a sheep and he replied: Well, I couldn’t very well leave it at home.”

Yesterday, I got an e-mail from Howard Posner in Norfolk. It read:

“A friend of mine just referred me to your old blog on the tale of the sheep. The sheep was, in fact, stolen from a field on the way back from a rugby game at Beccles in 1976.

“It travelled on the rear seat of a old Ford Cortina. I was in the front seat. The sheep was very placid and was taken into the pub by some of the University of East Anglia’s rugby fourth team (The Rams). I played for the team on and off for three season (two of which went undefeated).

“At the time, UEA’s first team was called the “u’s” and consisted of a lot of lads who were prepared to train regularly and drink a lot. The second and third teams were made up of those who failed in their efforts to get in the first XV. And the fourth team was made up of ‘social’ students, plus a couple of junior lecturers and a chef from the kitchens at Fifers Lane – who had quite a lot of ability but no desire to conform.

“Our pre-match routine was to meet in a pub somewhere and consume beer in such quantities that we would often arrive at the game with less than the requested fifteen players. Luckily, most of the opposition where of a similar sporting standard.

“As the fourth team, we adopted the Ram as our emblem and acquired a rather large advertising hoarding for pure wool with a sheep on it. The sheep was called Louise and we took this with us to all our games and wrote the results on the hoarding.

“On the way back from winning in Beccles on that fateful night, we decided that it would be more appropriate to have a live ram. There were lots of sheep in the area and we ‘acquired’ one. How were we to know the difference between a male and female sheep? We picked that particular sheep because it was the prettiest in the field.

“Our destination was the usual one, the Ten Bells pub, who would not let us in with a sheep. But the landlord of the Ironmongers Arms was happy to allow in at least fifteen drinking men and a sheep. Sadly, the sheep would not drink the beer, which I recall was high quality Norwich Bitter. When it urinated in the bar some of the liquid was mopped up into a pint glass and was quite favourably compared to the Norwich ale in look and smell. As the evening progressed, our numbers swelled and we moved on.

“When Spencer’s night club would not let us in on the grounds that the sheep was not a member, it was taken away. I was told it was released in a field of other sheep (not its own) but there was a tale, never substantiated, that it was actually taken to the Wild Man pub, escaped and was last seen heading towards the Cathedral. I like this version better.”

Coincidentally yesterday, comedian Bob Slayer also updated me on the progress of Gary The Goat, best friend of Australian comic Jimbo Bazoobi.

Bob’s adventures with Jimbo and Gary The Goat as they crossed Australia last Spring were partially blogged about here last year and Bob is about to publish an eBook about their joint exploits.

Gary The Goat reads the charges against him

Gary The Goat reads the charges against him in Australia

As I mentioned in a blog last month, Gary The Goat was recently disgracefully arrested for eating some grass and (police allege) some flowers.

As a result of this arrest, Gary The Goat’s Facebook page, which had 400 likes, zoomed up to 8,500 likes and the first post about the case went viral, had 25,000 likes and was seen by nearly half a million goat-fascinated folks…

The latest news is that Gary The Goat is going to court next Wednesday, accused of ‘damaging vegetation without authority’.

“Earlier this week,” Bob Slayer tells me, “FOUR cops arrived at Jimbo’s place to deliver their ‘brief of evidence’. It is a 200 page document. So far, I’m only half way through reading it.”

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The offensive ’N’ word? Why not just call a spade a spade and Jew a Jew?

Five days ago, I wrote a blog about IQ and Mensa in which I used the phrase “mental retard”. The next day, it was re-published in the Huffington Post.

A couple of days later, having read the Huffington Post piece, a lady called Hannah irately tweeted me saying that “calling vulnerable people ‘freaks’ really shows your true character” and that “comparing people with special needs to freaks” was unacceptable.

Well, I think she missed the point of the piece, in which I argued that people “whom doctors used to call ‘mentally retarded’” and members of Mensa – incorrectly described routinely as “geniuses” – are both freaks by mathematical definition because they each make up less than 2% of the population.

More interesting, though, was that our Hannah (who I presume is American) said “your use of the word retard is offensive”.

For some reason – possibly because the American Colonies had a high percentage of religious extremists among their early, socially influential immigrants – PC has taken more root in the US than in the UK.

For example, I really do not see what is wrong in calling Red Indians ‘Red Indians’. They are neither ‘red’ nor ‘Indian’ but neither are they ‘ethnic Americans’ (the PC description). They are no more ethnic Americans than anyone else is ethnic anything. As far as I am aware, we all came from the Rift Valley and “white” and “brown” people are just watered-down, second-rate blacks…

The objection to the term ‘Red Indians’ seems to be in calling them ‘red’ whereas, I would have thought, the objection should be in calling them ‘Indians’, which they are clearly not. It’s a bit like St Petersburg being re-named Leningrad and then being re-named St Petersburg. Does it really change the city? If ‘Red Indians’ were called something incorrectly and it was used perfectly unobjectionably for years, why change it?

Words are just words.

Which brings us to the word “nigger”.

There is a centrally important dog called Nigger in 1955 movie The Dam Busters. The dog is black; the word was not felt to be offensive in Britain when the movie was made. How on earth they screen it on TV now I do not know, because the word is deemed to be unspeakably offensive. It would almost need a warning before the screening.

I once heard someone argue (I have a terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach that it was the unjustly vilified British comedian Bernard Manning) that finding the word ‘nigger’ offensive and the word ‘black’ inoffensive is ridiculous because they mean exactly the same thing and, in fact, ‘nigger’ has a more noble historical lineage.

When and why did ‘nigger’ suddenly become offensive? It seems to have been re-defined as racist because mindless racist wankers in the Southern states of the US used it as a term of abuse. But it was not widely used elsewhere as a term of abuse, just as a word. Nigger = black = nigger.

The (Jewish) American comedian Lewis Schaffer, who grew up in New York, says that, in his neighbourhood (or, if you insist, his neighborhood), he never heard the word “nigger” used at all when he was growing up – it was just never used by the Jews he knew. They said “schwarz” (ie black). When (as a child) he first realised ‘nigger’ was a ‘banned’ word – a ‘shocking’ word – he had an overwhelming urge to run down the street shouting it out repeatedly (though he did not). Not as a term of abuse to black people, but just because he had suddenly found a word which could potentially shock adults. He wanted to use a ‘bad’ word; he did not have racist thoughts.

It is not my original thought, but what on earth is the logic in ‘nigger’ being an unsspeakable word for so-called ‘white’ people to say when it is an often perfectly unobjectionable word for ‘blacks’ to say? This bizarre piece of double-think seems to me to be in itself an example of racial prejudice.

I think the term ‘black’ is almost more offensive than ‘nigger’ because it is a ridiculous word.

I have a friend of Indian (‘proper’ Indian, not Red Indian) origin who finds it ridiculous that she can sometimes be classified as black. She quite rightly insists she is not black, she is a brown colour – and a very lovely brown colour. Or, as Americans would claim, color. Very few of even the directly-African-origined people classified as ‘black’ in the US and UK are actually ‘black’. They are variations on brown.

I went to college with someone from Sierra Leone. He was black. President Obama is not black. Not even remotely. I saw him on TV yesterday standing next to President Sarkozy of France. Their skin looked almost the same colour.

Yet President Obama – visibly not a black-skinned person – is called ‘black’ as a term of respect.

With Red Indians, on the other hand, ‘red’ is racially unacceptable.

Words are words and are often what they are through historical accident.

Words do not break bones; sticks and stones do that. Words, in themselves, are not insulting; the intention of the people saying them may be.

If the word ‘spastic’ is said to be unacceptable because it was sometimes hurled at people as a term of abuse, why change the word? Why not mount campaigns to change people’s perception? People’s perceptions are to blame; changing the word changes nothing.

If you do not use the word, the people who use the word will still have the same unacceptable misconceived wankiness in their brain. Changing the word is trying to mask symptoms. It does not cure the disease.

It is how you treat people that is important and what you think which is important.

Words are just words.

If gay people are said to be 10% of the population then, mathematically, in a reasoned argument, you could say they are ‘freaks’ although, personally, I think 10% is a bit too high to be called freaks.

If a definable group of people – let us say members of Mensa – are less than 2% of the population in a way that can be defined by allegedly scientific testing, then they are freaks.

‘Mental retardation’ was a phrase which was long used at the other end of the testing spectrum. The phrase, I suspect, was used because it was more acceptable than previously-used terms and was therefore thought-of as being kinder and less offensive. It is now pretty-much non-PC (which is what I implied in my previous blog). But why?

My new Twitter chum Hannah objected to me using the (as I implied) outdated term “mental retard”. She said she objected to me “calling vulnerable people freaks”.

I would argue that her use of the term “vulnerable people” could be considered appallingly demeaning.

Look.

A dwarf is a dwarf. A midget is a midget.

A word is a word.

A Jew is a Jew.

A Scotsman is a Scotsman.

Just because people have, in the past, hurled the word “Jew!” at people in an attempt to be offensive, does not mean Jews should now be called ethnic Eastern Mediterraneans. The fault is in the racist wankers. Changing the word does not make any difference.

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Normal for Norfolk – cat wrestling and drinking sheep

Norwich comedian Dan McKee read my recent blog about Steve Coogan’s planned film Paul Raymond’s Wonderful World of Erotica and my stories of wrestling bouts in the Raymond Revuebar entrance lounge and a cheetah which was trained to strip the underwear off girls with his teeth.

There used to be an old wrestler up here in Norwich,” Dan tells me, “who drank in a very strange pub I frequented called the Ironmongers Arms. He was called ‘Bear’ and he once told me a story about wrestling in a strip club in what he called ‘naughtly Soho’ down in London.

“One night, when Bear was halfway through a bout with another wrestler in this club, a ‘fucking massive cat’ leapt into the ring and, not wanting to break the ‘kayfaybe’ of the moment, he ended up wrestling the beast for a few minutes before it got bored and walked off.”

This does, indeed, sound like the Raymond Revuebar, but the Ironmongers Arms in Norwich appears to be just as bizarre. For starters, Dan tells me it is the only pub in the UK with that name.

“The peculiarities of the old Ironmongers Arms knew no bounds,” Dan tells me. “The landlord had no tongue, but he did have a pet jackdaw which hopped around the bar and Friday night entertainment consisted of a young lady singing the hits of Tina Turner. She didn’t sing to karaoke tracks but actually sang over the original Tina Turner records on the juke box and she just tried to sing louder than Tina’s vocals.

“Then there was the night somebody brought a sheep in for a pint. We asked him why he had come in with a sheep and he replied: Well, I couldn’t very well leave it at home.

“As we couldn’t fault his logic, we didn’t ask any more questions. We always hoped he might come in again, but he never did.”

I worked in Norwich for two years. This sounds relatively normal.

(There is more about the sheep mentioned in this blog in a 2013 posting…)

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Bad language in Scotland?

Last night I went to a very interesting talk at the British Library by author and publisher James Robertson about The Guid Scots Tongue.

It was a bit like Scots comic Stanley Baxter’s legendary series of Parliamo Glasgow sketches in his 1960s and 1970s TV shows. But with genuine academic credibility.

James Robertson seemed to confirm that Old English developed into Middle English south of the border and into the “Scottish” language north of the border and that, ever since then, people have bemoaned the ‘fact’ that Scots is dying.

I remember Melvyn Bragg saying in his ITV series The Adventure of English that, before Henry VIII, English was a dying language only used by the underclasses. The upper ruling elite spoke Latin and Norman French. But, when Henry decided to split from the Roman Catholic Church so he could knob the wife of his choice, he created the Church of England and commissioned ’The Great Bible’ – the first authorised translation of the Bible into English not Latin. This was distributed to every church in the country and rescued English from its decline and possible extinction.

Last night, James Robertson pointed out that, when King James VI of Scotland took over the English throne in 1603, became King James I of England and brought the Scottish court to London, one of the things he did was to commission the 1611 translation of the Bible into English – the Authorised King James Version of the Bible – which was distributed to every church in England, Scotland and Wales. Ironically, it was never translated into Scottish and this strengthened the hold of the English language in Scotland.

My mother’s grandmother could not speak English until she came down out of the hills. She was born and brought up in the Highlands of Scotland and spoke Gaelic – pronounced Gaah-lick not Gay-lick. She only learned English when she came to the village of Dunning in Perthshire. Or, some might say, she only learned “Scottish” when she moved to Dunning.

Historically in Scotland, after a certain point, Gaelic was the language of the Highlands and so-called “Scottish” was the language of the Lowlands.

I have never believed there was such a language as “Scottish”. To me, it’s clearly a dialect of English (as opposed to Gaelic which IS a different language). Wikipedian debate will no doubt run for decades about it.

If you disagree, haud yer wheesht, dinnae fash yersell aboot it and try no to be too scunnered.

Most languages, dialects and accents are a dog’s dinner of sources. Fash apparently comes from the Old French fascher and ultimately the Latin fastidium. Scunnered apparently has its origins in Middle English. Nothing is pure, not even Baby Spice. Only the French try (unsuccessfully) to keep their language pure.

I was born in Campbeltown near the Mull of Kintyre on the west coast of Scotland. My home town pipe band played on possibly the dreariest song any Beatle ever wrote. When I was three, we moved to Aberdeen in north east Scotland. My parents had friends along the coast in Banffshire where the locals speak to each other in an almost totally incomprehensible dialect which theoretical academics now apparently call Buchan. I call it bloody incomprehensible.

A few years ago at the Edinburgh Fringe, I think I saw a comedy show entitled 100 Shit Things About Scotland though I can’t seem to find any reference to it. Maybe I just imagined the whole thing. But one of the 100 shit things about Scotland I thought I heard was the fact “There are some accents even WE don’t understand”.

Bloody right. Buchan fer yin.

When I was eight, we moved to Ilford in England – it is theoretically in Essex but actually on the outer edge of East London. Over the years, I’ve lost my accent; I never chose to.

So what I’m trying to tell you is I’m interested in language. Perhaps you guessed that.

On the version of the recent Census form distributed in Scotland there is, for the first time, a question about whether you can read/speak/understand not just Gaelic but also the so-called “Scots” language – though how many supposed Scots language variations there might be I cannot even begin to imagine. The words people use in Dundee, Glasgow and Thurso are very different.

There are some great common words. Dreich is almost un-translatable into English in less than an entire paragraph. Crabbit is just a great and appropriate sound. As is Peelie-wallie and many others. But there are amazingly diverse words all over the UK – Perth, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen have wild variations in words, let alone Tyneside, North Norfolk, the Black Country and Devon. They are not separate languages, though.

English is a wonderful language because it has so many variants and has hoovered up so much from other languages – cascade, table and situation are all unchanged in spelling from the original French but pronounced differently. The arrival of radio, movies and then television may have homogenised the English language and be slowly eliminating a lot of dialect and accent variations but, with English now the de facto world language, there are going to be hundreds of variant languages growing up in coming years to rival past pidgin English.

Indeed, this seems to have already happened with BT call centres in India. I don’t know what they are speaking, but it’s no form of English I recognise.

Perhaps I am just mare than a wee bit glakit.

Several times in bookshops, I have picked up Irving Welsh’s novel Trainspotting and looked at the first page then put it back on the shelf. It looks too difficult to read, though lots of English people have, so it must just be wee me. I remember at school in Ilford, for some extraordinary reason, we had to read Sir Walter Scott’s novel The Antiquary and I found it incomprehensible in places; heaven knows what my English classmates made of it. They never said. Must be just me.

When I edited Scots comedienne Janey Godley’s autobiography Handstands in the Darkwhich reads a bit like a cross between Edgar Allan Poe and the movie Gladiator – the two of us had to decide how to write quoted dialogue which could be printed on the page, as she was brought up in East Glasgow where dialect, slang and strong accents prevail. Should we write it with all the dialect words intact or spell words phonetically? Both of those would mean it might be difficult for readers in London, let alone New York or Sydney, to understand.

Eventually, we decided to slightly Anglicise the dialogue but to include Scots words which would be easily understandable to non Scots… and to print some words phonetically so there would be a feeling of accent – for example, we printed the “police” as the “polis” throughout, because that is how it is pronounced in Glasgow and it is a distinct yet not too confusing word. It felt like you were reading genuine Scots dialogue, even though it was slightly Anglicised. I was wary of using the Glasgow word close, which means an indoor stairwell, because, in Edinburgh, it means an outdoor alleyway.

It’s a sare fecht.

Look, I could go on for hours about this. Think yourself lucky it stops here.

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The intangible nature of reality and the man with the (second?) biggest bollocks in British showbusiness

Yesterday, I drove up to see a friend in Cromer, on the North Norfolk coast.

Looking further north, from the end of Cromer Pier, she told me there is nothing until you reach the North Pole. And even when you get to the North Pole… there is nothing.

Well, there’s something, but you can’t quite put your finger on it.

The ‘facts’ surrounding “godfather of British Alternative Comedy” Malcolm Hardee can be a bit intangible too. The myths are many, various and often surreal. I read the other day that he once kidnapped the singer George Michael, mistaking him for a George Michael lookalike. Where that story came from I have no idea, but Malcolm would have enjoyed it.

On the way back from Cromer, I stopped off at North Walsham in Norfolk, for dinner or supper depending on where you come from. I suppose I could call it a dinner party, except I’m not convinced such things exist except in Islington. But one thing I’m sure of is that also tucking-in was Vivienne Soan, who runs the monthly Pull The Other One comedy club in Nunhead, South London (this month’s show headlining Jo Brand has, not unusually, already sold out).

The subject of Malcolm Hardee inevitably cropped up.

Malcolm was renowned for having the biggest bollocks in British showbusness. Although, strictly speaking, we are not talking here of bollocks but of scrotum. In fact, in later years, in rare moments of quiet contemplation, he would admit to me that he only had the second biggest bollocks in British showbusiness, following what he told me was an embarrassing tabletop contest with Jenny Agutter’s dad. Whether this is true or not I don’t know, but I prefer to think it is.

When Malcolm drowned in Rotherhithe at the end of January 2005, the story which initially circulated was that he had probably fallen out of a small rowing boat into the water late at night while crossing the maybe 8ft of water between his Wibbley Wobbley floating pub and his house boat the Sea Sovereign.

The story was that he died happy, drunk, clutching a bottle of Budweiser and – it was said, depending on which version of the story you heard – he had anything from £50 to £250 in his pocket – winnings from a horse race or a greyhound race that day.

The story about the bottle of beer was confirmed at the Southwark Coroner’s Inquest.

According to PC Martin Spirito, when Malcolm’s body was found in Greenland Dock, “the male had a bottle of beer clenched in his right hand.” Sergeant Roy Dawson, overseeing the dive, said: “The bottle was held in his right hand. It fell from his hand on the ascent.”

The Coroner found Malcolm had not fallen into the dock from a rowing boat, as people had assumed and had told each other, but had fallen from the quayside while trying to board the Sea Sovereign. I once fell into a neighbouring dock myself, while helping Malcolm take a vacuum cleaner on board his boat. (Don’t ask.)

Yesterday, though, Vivienne Soan told me another story about the money in Malcolm’s pocket when he died. She and her husband Martin (who long performed with Malcolm in The Greatest Show on Legs) understood there were no £50-£250 betting winnings in his pocket but there were a very very large number of £1 coins because Malcolm had (not surprisingly, if you knew him) raided his own one-armed bandit machine in the Wibbley Wobbley and put all the coins in his pocket.

The weight of all these coins in his pocket would have weighed him down when he fell into Greenland Dock.

Who knows what is truth and what is myth?

Malcolm’s date of death is usually quoted as 31st January 2005. But, in fact, Southwark Coroner John Sampson said at the Inquest: “He was last seen on the quayside outside the Wibbley Wobbley public house at about 6am on Sunday January 30th.”

He was not reported missing until January 31st – because it was not uncommon for him to disappear occasionally – and his body was not found and recovered until February 2nd 2005.

So his date of death is usually quoted as January 31st 2005.

More probably it was January 30th 2005.

But, as Malcolm would have said:

“Fuck it… It don’t matter, do it? There are people starving in Africa… Not all over… Round the edge – fish.”

I would say R.I.P. Malcolm, except that I suspect he would have hated the thought of resting in peace.

Many will be thinking of him on 30th and/or 31st January.

* * * * *

The Malcolm Hardee Awards for comedy are presented annually in August until the year 2017.

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“Killer Bitch” and the ‘F’ word and the ‘C’ word

I was once (well, twice actually) prosecuted in Norfolk in the mid-1990s for telling a solicitor that his client was a “fucking cunt”. I was prosecuted not for insulting his client but under the Malicious Communications Act 1988 on the basis I had told him with the sole purpose of causing him (the solicitor) “distress or anxiety”. Clearly he was a solicitor of rare sensitivity.

In his summing-up, the Appeal Court judge at Norwich Crown Court (yes I lost the case twice) said the word “cunt” was “clearly obscene” – although I had not been charged with using obscene language and a decision based on that would seem to overturn the decision in the Lady Chatterley’s Lover trial of 1960.

I am also old enough to remember someone getting arrested in the late 1970s for walking down Carnaby Street wearing a promotional teeshirt for Stiff Records with the printed slogan: IF IT AIN’T STIFF, IT AIN’T WORTH A FUCK.

So… I’ve always taken an interest in swearing and what may or may not be offensive.

Last night, I went to the event “A Celebration of Swearing and Profanity” at the British Library.

Six years ago, as a work of art, Morag Myerscough and Charlotte Rawlins created a pink neon sign with the question HAS ANYBODY SEEN MIKE HUNT? The British Library included this neon sign in an exhibition, but positioned it in an out-of-the-way spot at the top of the building for fear of offending passers-by. Today, six years later, the British Library feels no need to do that. What is considered offensive has changed and the word “cunt” is uttered on BBC Radio 4 at breakfast time without sackings or resignations following. It is said times have changed.

Yet, earlier this year, two supermarket chains refused to stock the movie I financed – Killer Bitch – unless the title was changed. They both found the title Killer Babe to be totally acceptable, but the title Killer Bitch to  be totally unacceptable – though it seems to me that “babe” is more sexist and more offensive than “bitch”. (It didn’t matter in the long run because, when they saw the movie itself, they found the content even more offensive and refused to stock it – as did others – so we reverted to the original Killer Bitch title.)

Anyway, if times have not yet changed, they may be in the process of changing.

BBC Director General Mark Thompson is said to have told an internal group with some pride that one transmitted episode of the sitcom The Thick Of It was only “four short of 100 fucks”.

An interesting idea from last night’s British Library event was that “fuck” and “cunt” and sexual swearing in general have lost their impact and that the taboo swear words of the future are likely to be racial and religious words.

Already, the word “cunt” is less unacceptable than it was only a few years ago, but the word “nigger” is now more unacceptable – though it was perfectly, innocently inoffensive as a pet dog’s name in the 1955 movie The Dam Busters.

Surely we should encourage more swearing and more creative descriptive use of the language?

Last night, I was particularly impressed by one Viz reader’s use of the phrase “bangers and mash” to describe the soggy, mingled mess of used toilet paper and human excrement left in the water of an unflushed toilet pan.

Which brings me back to that bloke I described as a “fucking cunt” in the mid-1990s…

He was and still is bangers and mash.

Just don’t describe him thus in Norfolk for fear of causing distress to the locals.

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