Tag Archives: oddities

Memories of eccentric real life in 2001

Again, no time to write a blog so, again, some extracts from my e-diary, this time in 2001:


MONDAY 26th MARCH, 2001

An Italian archaeologist told me a true story from the Western Desert in World War Two.

In some battle between the Eighth Army and the Afrika Corps, a British tank got hit by a shell which wrecked the tank and embedded itself in it but did not explode. There was no way out for the crew. The British won the battle and, afterwards, the British (presumably the Royal Engineers) tried to get into the tank to see if any of the crew were still alive. It took time but, when they opened up a hole, the first thing they saw was the tank commander sitting back, relaxed, smoking a pipe and surrounded by high explosive shells and the bodies of his dead crew. He had tried everything to get out but found he couldn’t. So, as he knew there was nothing he could do, he lit up his pipe.

TUESDAY 27th MARCH

I was in a tube train coming home. A mad man started talking in a very sane and reasonable tone of voice to the whole carriage:

“My house,” he said. “It’s so big. It’s worth four and a half million pounds… Do you want some spuds?”

As he continued, in the same very reasonable tone of voice, a blind man came into the carriage and his brow furrowed, confused at the sane-sounding man saying strange things which had – without sight – no context in which he could put them.

WEDNESDAY 28th MARCH

A Bournemouth film student told me:

I used to walk past two women every day who stood on their doorsteps in all weathers and gossiped about the people on the street. Once they told my dad that they liked his new coffee table – despite never having been in our house! 

THURSDAY 29th MARCH

In the evening, BBC1 had paid £280,000 for a one hour interview with gangster Reggie Kray, recorded a few days before his death. Reggie said that he killed Jack The Hat McVitie because the man “was a vexation to the spirit”. Of the killing, he said: “I wanted to do it neater than I did, but I didn’t get round to it.”

FRIDAY 30th MARCH

At lunchtime, I went to see a fan of imprisoned criminal Charles Bronson. Her entire bedroom walls and the walls of her upstairs rooms were covered with immensely detailed pastel-covered drawings and poems by Charlie himself. Downstairs, two massive light brown dogs with squashed black faces slept in the kitchen and the living room walls were covered with pictures of dogs, dog breeding certificates and a framed cartoon drawing of Laurel & Hardy.

A female friend of hers was also there. The friend mentioned that her mother (the friend’s mother) was obsessed by motor racing driver Damon Hill. In her living room, she has a tyre from a Formula One racing car, signed by Damon Hill, which she has made into a coffee table by simply putting a sheet of glass on top of it. She occasionally talks to the wheel and, when the family go out in their car, she has a life-size cut-out of Damon Hill who sits in the front passenger seat (with a seat belt round it) while she drives and her husband and daughter sit in the rear seat.

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A dog’s dinner in our very Fortean times

We live in Fortean Times

We improbably live in weird Fortean Times

What do you do if you get home late, don’t get enough sleep, then have to get up and leave home early, have a busy day ahead, no time to transcribe the two interesting chats you have had with people and have to write a blog before you leave?

You grasp at straws.

I had a quick look at some old e-diaries.

On 7th March 2004, I was in the Anglia TV region and their local news reported that a former Essex Chief Inspector had written a book about his career in the police force called Catching Monsters. He was signing copies of the book in a local shopping centre when he was attacked by a man who hit him about the head with a block of wood.  The man escaped. According to Anglia News, “Essex Police said the attacker could have had a grudge against the officer.”

The lateral thinking of the police constantly impresses me.

Professor Hand’s book on the probability of improbable things happening

Professor Hand’s book on improbability

Last night, I went to a meeting of the London Fortean Society at which Professor David J. Hand, the emeritus professor of mathematics and a senior research investigator at Imperial College, London, explained his Improbability Principle which, basically, explains why the most improbable things are statistically liable to happen.

He said that statistically, in order for it to be likely to have two people in a room with the same birthday (day and month) you only need 23 people. He showed a video in which a man walking along a street was struck by lightning. The man fell down, lay still for a few moments, got up, carried on walking and, around 5 seconds later, was struck by lightning a second time.

The London Fortean Society’s next meeting is called Fucking Strange: The Weird and Wonderful World of Animal Sex in which Dutch ecologist and evolutionary biologist Menno Schilthuizen, based at the Naturalis Biodiversity Center in Leiden and who also holds a chair in evolution at Leiden University will, the billing says, “invite the audience to join him as he uncovers the ways the shapes and functions of genitalia have been molded by complex Darwinian struggles” and “we learn why spiders masturbate into miniature webs”.

I remember, years ago, reading in the Fortean Times, about a road accident in which three cars collided. One of the drivers was a Mr Butcher, another was a Mr Baker and the third was a candlestick maker. Strange and so improbable as to be unbelievable, but entirely true.

I remember another article in Fortean Times years ago which pointed out the false logic of statistics often quoted in newspapers. If there is a 60-million-to-one chance of something happening, it is highly unlikely it will happen to you… But there are over 60 million people in the UK, so it is likely to happen to someone.

Yesterday afternoon, I met a woman behind me in a queue at Marks & Spencer. We got chatting. She was 38 and told me she had only been on an underground train three times in her life. She had never ever bought a newspaper until this week and does not watch TV news. Then I got to the cashier and could ask no more. I will never know how this woman had lived her life.

Last night, at the London Fortean Society, I got chatting to someone who had met Elton John. She told me he looked “like an ageing American housewife”.

This seemed a little harsh.

Life is a dog’s dinner of random events.

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Filed under Coincidence, Surreal

In praise of the Daily Telegraph and Pear Shaped Comedy Club’s quirkiness

To start at the end of this blog and to reply to your reaction…

Look.

It’s my blog. I am allowed to witter.

So, for fans of Tristram Shandy

Brian Damage and Krysstal’s weekly Pear Shaped comedy club has been running in London’s West End for eleven years. Brian and Krysstal promote it as “the second worst comedy club in London”. I prefer to call Pear Shaped the Daily Telegraph of British open spot comedy clubs.

Let me explain.

When I blogged about last weekend’s six-hour event celebrating the anarchic life of Ian Hinchliffe, I did not mention that I told ex-ICA Director of Live Arts Lois Keidan about my admiration for Bernard Manning as a comic, Margaret Thatcher as a Parliamentary debater and the Daily Telegraph as a newspaper. I do not think she was impressed with this triple whammy.

But – in addition to my love of quirky Daily Telegraph obituaries in their golden era under Hugh Massingberd and their sadly now-dropped legendary Page Three oddities – I think the Daily Telegraph is the only actual national NEWSpaper left. All the others are, in effect, magazines with ‘think’ pieces and additional background to yesterday’s TV news.

But the Daily Telegraph prints a high quantity of short news reports and (outside of election times) maintains an old-fashioned Fleet Street demarcation between News and Comment. The news reporting is, mostly, unbiased straight reportage; the comment is what non-Telegraph readers might expect.

They have also consistently displayed an admiration for rebels.

The Daily Telegraph – perhaps moreso the Sunday Telegraph – always showed an interest in and admiration for comedian Malcolm Hardee. They loved quirky MP Alan Clark, though they disapproved of his sexual amorality. The Daily Telegraph even surprisingly championed early Eminem. When the red-top tabloids were claiming his music and his act were the end of Western Civilization, the Daily Telegraph reviewed his first UK tour as being in the great tradition of British pantomime.

I once met a Daily Telegraph sub-editor at a party who hated working at the paper for exactly the same reason I loved reading it. People would yell across the room at him: “Give me a three-inch story!” not caring what the actual story was.

So the Daily Telegraph ended up with an amazing quantity of news stories, often not fully explained because they had been cut short.

I remember reading on a classic Page Three of the old Daily Telegraph, a brief court report about a man accused of scaring lady horse-riders by leaping out of hedges in country lanes dressed in a full frogman’s outfit, including flippers, goggles and breathing tube. That was, pretty much, the whole news item. If ever a story needed more background printed, this was it.

The Pear Shaped Comedy club is a bit like the Daily Telegraph in that it is an extraordinary hodge-podge of fascinating items apparently thrown together randomly but somehow holding together as a recognisable whole with its own personality. Quirky, eccentric and barely under control. Last night, in addition to the consistently good and massively under-praised Brian Damage & Krysstal themselves, the show included increasingly-highly-thought-of Stephen Carlin, rising new comics Laurence Tuck and Phillip Wragg and very new but intriguing Samantha Hannah.

And then there was long-time comic, club owner, compere, comedy craftsman and humour guru Ivor Dembina. He had come down to try out some new material as he is performing in four shows at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, including the fascinatingly unformatted Ivor’s Other Show. He told me:

“I might just invite on people I’ve met in the street. Anything that takes my fancy.” Then he added, “Do you want to come on it one afternoon, John? Can you do anything?”

“No,” Pear Shaped co-owner Vicky de Lacey correctly interrupted, “he can write but he can’t actually do anything.”

But that never stopped Little and Large, so I may yet appear on Ivor’s Other Show, perhaps as a human statue. There is, inevitably, a ‘living statue’ resource page on the internet.

We live in wonderful times.

I refer you to the start of this blog.

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Filed under Comedy, Newspapers, Theatre