Tag Archives: Oman

Amy Howerska, the sassy comedian raised by a family of trained killers

Amy Howerska - allegedly

Amy Howerska really was “raised by a pack of trained killers”

Comedian Amy Howerska’s Edinburgh Fringe show in August will be called Sasspot. The publicity blurb for it says she was “raised by a pack of trained killers”.

This understates the truth quite considerably.

I had tea with her.

What this blog does not and cannot represent is the amount of laughter in the recordings. There was a LOT of laughter.

Halfway through, I asked her: “You are allowed to tell me all this, aren’t you?”

“I don’t know,” she said,

“I think when they get married,” I mused, “they are not allowed to have any photos of themselves in the local newspapers?”

“There are no pictures of my dad anywhere on the internet,” said Amy. “You can’t find him online.”

“Is your dad’s surname the same as yours?”I asked.

“No.”

“It’s probably OK, then,” I said. “There was something recently about three people dying on the Brecon Beacons while training. But that’s happening all the time, isn’t it?”

“That’s in my show,” said Amy. “I almost died on the Brecons when I was seven. My dad used to take us camping. Re-living his glory days. With his kids. Climbing the highest point in the Brecon Beacons in the worst weather recorded in over forty years. He set up a sky-diving centre after he left the… military. He had very limited skills.”

“What?” I asked. “Like overthrowing regimes?”

“I think he did do that to get the money to buy a house,” said Amy. “He went and… I’m not sure what I’m allowed to say.”

“When I have met SAS men…” I started to say, “allegedly-ex SAS men… they were…”

“Short!” laughed Amy. “They’re all short and Cockney! I tried to get a quote off Andy McNab for my Edinburgh Fringe poster, but he wasn’t up for it.”

“You know Andy McNab?” I asked.

“I’ve met him at a… at a few funerals,” she laughed. “He’s very charismatic. He’s very short.”

“Were you born into the SAS?” I asked. “When you were an embryo, was your dad in the SAS?”

“No. Let’s call it The Regiment. I asked my dad for some stories the other day. I asked him what his favourite gun was. He told me all these stories of all these fuck-ups. All these training exercises, hostage situations that all went wrong.

“I have quite a dark sense of humour – obviously. When I have been previewing the show, people have been pissing themselves laughing but some have gone Oh my God!

“I did a preview of the show to 100 Marines on a Royal Marine base and there are loads of jokes about Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, which I think is probably the funniest thing in the show. It’s a bit that goes consistently well.

“All the young Marines’ wives were pissing themselves laughing because now, if someone comes back with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, they send them off for CBT – Cognitive Behavioural Therapy – so they found it quite funny. And the young men were laughing as well. But the older wives were: Ooooh! Is she talking about that? It split the room a bit. But I always think you’re doing something right in comedy if you’re splitting the room – maybe 50% howling with laughter, 25% who are confused and 25% who are angry.

“When I was talking to my sister about writing the show and trying to gather memories, she said: Do you remember when dad used to get out his machete and cut an apple up like he was still living in a hole in the desert? 

“Some of it is so outlandish it sounds made-up but, actually, it’s watered-down to make it more believable and less mental. I just accepted everything as normal and it wasn’t at all.

One day he came in and found me and my sister throwing knives at a dart board when we were about eight years old. He said: What you doing??!! What you doing??!! – and then he taught us how to do it properly. He ran a sky diving centre – a drop zone – for years. He’s 66 now and he still sky dives.”

“So,” I said, “you decided to do a comedy show about your dad and his top secret exploits…”

“Well,” said Amy, “it wasn’t like that. I decided to do my first hour-long show about growing up in a sky-diving family – three generations. My parents met at my granddad’s drop zone. My granddad was also in… in The Regiment.”

“When was that?” I asked. “The Second World War?”

“No. He was only six or seven when the Second World War broke out.”

“So he was in Oman?” I asked.

“No, my dad was in Oman and Dhofar..”

I switched the recorder off at this point.

I like to tease.

When I switched the recorder back on again, Amy was laughing…

“When I started talking about my childhood, people were like: That’s fucking batshit! And I thought: Oh, yes, it is! So it has been quite a challenge to make it relatable. the core of the show is really about people’s family relations.”

“So,” I said, “it’s about life in a family. A bit like The Godfather.

“But with more sky diving.” laughed Amy. “And death. And guns. The show is not about my father. He is in it, but my sister and dad are in it equally; my mum features; Evil Dwarf features; and…”

“Evil Dwarf?” I asked.

“My mum’s father. He’s an ex-sergeant major. That was his nickname in…”

“In what?” I asked.

“The Regiment. The show is about my family, my upbringing.”

“And grassing-up your dad,” I said.

“I’m not grassing him up. He gets off very lightly in it.”

“And in your family…” I asked. “What does your sister do?

“She runs a drop zone. She’s married to a sky-dive champion. My mum’s brother is the Ozzy Osbourne of sky diving: he’s just had so many head injuries. And we call my mum ‘Peggy’ after Barbara Windsor on EastEnders: she’s really sassy and little with big boobs and big opinions and not afraid to say ‘em. It’s all about that, really.”

“So you grew up wanting to be a comedian?” I asked.

“I wanted to be a nun. My family is a bit Jewy, but they thought, to confuse me, they would send me to a convent school when I was little. The nuns were lovely: I think I’m one of the few people with a positive experience of Catholicism and I think I wanted…”

“Why,” I asked, “did your parents send you to a convent school?”

“Because they weren’t very Jewish. Only a bit Jewy. So I wanted to be a nun. I liked the accessories. Madonna was very big at the time. They used to let me swing my rosary around in the playground.”

“Was one of your parents Jewish?” I asked.

“My dad’s father was Jewish. and my mum’s grandmother.”

“So,” I said, “after you got over wanting to be a nun, what did you want to be?”

“A journalist, an actress or a comedy writer. I remember watching Blackadder and thinking: Who writes that? Who’s that Richard Curtis bloke? I loved reading and I loved comedy.”

“Then you should,” I suggested, ‘have become a comedy reader.”

“I came to comedy arse-backwards,” explained Amy. “I came in as a writer. I was writing for an act. I’ve been doing all this for five years, building my way up.”

“And now,” I asked, “you don’t want to write any more? You want to get the orgasm of applause?”

“The most fun you can ever have,” said Amy, “is when there’s a group of you writing something together.”

“If you had to put one thing on your passport as a profession,” I asked, “would it be Writer or Performer?”

“Writer probably,” said Amy.

If, dear reader, I die unexpectedly in a car crash in a tunnel in Paris or a random domestic animal falls fatally on my head in Soho, please draw this blog’s existence to the attention of the police.

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The man who kept accused war criminal Ratko Mladic’s hat in his living room

I posted this blog a few months ago but, with the arrest yesterday of former Serbian general Ratko Mladic, I thought part of it might be of interest again. It is about one of the most interesting people I never met.

* * *

Bill Foxton is dead now and we’re back to that famous Rutger Hauer death speech in Bladerunner.

He’d seen things you people wouldn’t believe and, when he died, almost all those moments were lost in time, like tears in rain. His death went mostly un-noticed, but he intersected with History.

In the mid-1990s, I (almost) wrote the autobiography of a Soviet sleeper agent who, let’s say, was called Ozymandias. I have blogged about him before. He believed that the British and the Spanish were the most violent people in Europe. He told me about a British friend called Bill Foxton who, he said, had gone to public school in Somerset, then joined the French Foreign Legion for five years and fought in the Algerian War of 1954-62.

“At that time, a lot of guys in the Legion were German,” Ozymandias told me, “Many of them former S.S. men. Bill told me that during the French Algerian War in the early 1960s, when they entered a village to ‘clear it up’, the Spaniards were the only ones who would shoot babies in their cradles. Even the ex-S.S. men didn’t do that.”

After his experiences in the Algerian War, Bill Foxton returned to England in the Swinging Sixties with lots of money in his pockets and met lots of girls who fancied him and, according to my chum Ozymandias, joined a privately-run special services group. They used to train Idi Amin’s bodyguards in Uganda and there was an incident in Qatar when the Emir’s brother was shot.

“Finally,” Ozymandias told me, “in 1969, Bill was employed as one of a group who were paid to go and kill Colonel Gaddafi in Libya. But they were stopped at London Airport by the British security services and the private company they worked for was closed down. Because of his experience, Bill was persuaded by the British authorities to join the SAS and was immediately sent to Ireland 1969-1973.

In a previous blog, I mentioned an extraordinary true story in which an Irish Republican was kidnapped in Belfast, drugged and put on a plane from Shannon to New York. Bill Foxton was involved in that. He was also a member of the British bobsleigh team in the 1972 European Championships. He was an interesting man.

In 1973, he was sent to fight in the secret war in Oman which, at the time, was called ‘the Dhofar insurgency’ and was said to be restricted to southern Oman; it was claimed the Omani Army were fighting some Yemeni insurgents. In fact, the insurgents were backed on the ground by South Yemeni regular troops supported by East German advisors and troops, acting on behalf of the Soviet Union. Oman was backed on the ground by British SAS troops (plus, in the early stages, the Royal Navy) and by units of the Shah of Iran’s army and the Jordanian Army. The commander of the British forces was an admiral and his problem was to cut the rebels’ supply routes from South Yemen into Oman. The British strategy was to construct three fences along the border, manned by more than 5,000 Iranian troops. Behind these three fences, inside Oman, the war was fought by the British SAS and Oman’s mainly Baluchi army while Jordanian desert troops defended the northern part of the desert in Dhofar province.

In 1975, Bill was inspecting a sector of the border fence when East German troops fired an RPG – a rocket-propelled grenade – at him. He was alone, but managed to jump back onto his jeep and drive off, holding his blasted and bloodied arm onto his torso with a torn strip of his uniform. He held the strip of fabric with his teeth and drove with his other hand, while the enemy troops continued firing grenades at him. He drove about 6km to a British base where a Pakistani medic came out to see him.

“I think I’ve lost my arm,” Bill said through his clenched teeth.

“Well, let’s have a look then,” the Pakistani medic replied sympathetically. Bill let go of the strip of fabric he was holding with his teeth and, when his arm fell out, the medic fainted on the spot. Alan fainted too. They flew him to the British base at Akrotiri on Cyprus, where his arm was amputated and, by the time my chum Ozymandias met him, he had an artificial one.

“I am a big man,” Ozymandias told me, “but Bill has a neck twice the girth of mine. He may only have one arm but, when we met in 1982, I could see immediately he was extremely tough. Red hair, red beard, strong, broad neck. We immediately got on.”

According to Ozymandias, Bill Foxton had won an award from the SAS:

“At that time, Bill had already lost his left arm but was still a serving member of the SAS; he was training in the deserts of Oman with younger SAS troopers closing in on his position from all sides and he buried himself in the sand. He dug a hole with his one good arm and simply buried himself deep underground. The SAS troopers passed over him without realising until he told them and the Regiment was so impressed they gave him their Award.”

After the secret war ended, Bill decided to stay in Oman and started running the Sultan’s Armed Forces (SAF) Beach Club: apparently a splendid, well-organised place with a restaurant full of ex-patriot British soldiers from a wide variety of armies. He had his SAS Award plaque hanging on the wall of his office.

I heard all these stories about Bill Foxton from my chum Ozymandias and then, one day in the 1990s, I accidentally heard him being inteviewed – Bill Foxton – he was by then spokesman for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe and apparently also head of the European Commission Monitoring Mission during the Yugoslav wars.

According to Ozymandias, Bill kept a hat in his living room in Britain. The hat belonged to Serbian General Ratko Mladic. During the Yugoslav wars, Bosnian forces ambushed Mladic’s car in an attempt to assassinate him; he was not in the car but his hat was. So the Bosnians killed his driver and gave the hat to Bill, whom they admired. That was the explanation Bill Foxton gave.

In 1999 he was awarded the OBE for his work in Kosovo.

By 2008, he was working in Afghanistan, running humanitarian projects.

The next year, in February 2009, he shot himself in the head in a Southampton park with a 9mm Browning pistol after he lost his life savings – reportedly over £100,000 –  in the $64 billion Bernie Madoff fraud.

His death was not news except in the local Southern Daily Echo in Southampton. The BBC mentioned it as a ‘human interest’ aside to the Bernie Madoff ponzi scheme fraud story, like a teardrop in rain. His death went mostly un-noticed, but he intersected with History.

Oh – that British plot to assassinate Colonel Gaddafi in 1969, the year he came to power… it was allegedly stopped because the US Government felt that Gaddafi was sufficiently anti-Marxist to be worth ‘protecting’.

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A canny gaun man, the IRA, the SAS, the Oman war and the plan to assassinate Colonel Gaddafi in 1969

I agreed with Margaret Thatcher when she said Society doesn’t exist. It is made up of individuals. ‘Society’ is something made up by sociologists.

Just like History does not exist. It is made up of and by sometimes extraordinary individuals.

At the weekend, amid all the TV and radio reports from Libya and the non-reports about what is happening in Algeria, Bahrain, Jordan and Yemen, there was a tiny news item about trouble in Oman. This reminded me about one of the most interesting people I never met. He was a man you don’t meet every day.

He’s dead now and we’re back to that famous Rutger Hauer death speech in Bladerunner.

He’d seen things you people wouldn’t believe and, when he died, almost all those moments were lost in time, like tears in rain. His death went mostly un-noticed, but he intersected with History.

In the mid-1990s, I (almost) wrote the autobiography of a Soviet sleeper agent who, let’s say, was called Ozymandias. I have blogged about him before. He believed that the British and the Spanish were the most violent people in Europe. He told me about a British friend called Bill Foxton who, he said, had gone to public school in Somerset, then joined the French Foreign Legion for five years and fought in the Algerian War of 1954-62.

“At that time, a lot of guys in the Legion were German,” Ozymandias told me, “Many of them former S.S. men. Bill told me that during the French Algerian War in the early 1960s, when they entered a village to ‘clear it up’, the Spaniards were the only ones who would shoot babies in their cradles. Even the ex-S.S. men didn’t do that.”

After his experiences in the Algerian War, Bill Foxton returned to England in the Swinging Sixties with lots of money in his pockets and met lots of girls who fancied him and, according to my chum Ozymandias, joined a privately-run special services group. They used to train Idi Amin’s bodyguards in Uganda and there was an incident in Qatar when the Emir’s brother was shot.

“Finally,” Ozymandias told me, “in 1969, Bill was employed as one of a group who were paid to go and kill Colonel Gaddafi in Libya. But they were stopped at London Airport by the British security services and the private company they worked for was closed down. Because of his experience, Bill was persuaded by the British authorities to join the SAS and was immediately sent to Ireland 1969-1973.

In a previous blog, I mentioned an extraordinary true story in which an Irish Republican was kidnapped in Belfast, drugged and put on a plane from Shannon to New York. Bill Foxton was involved in that. He was also a member of the British bobsleigh team in the 1972 European Championships. He was an interesting man.

In 1973, he was sent to fight in the secret war in Oman which, at the time, was called ‘the Dhofar insurgency’ and was said to be restricted to southern Oman; it was claimed the Omani Army were fighting some Yemeni insurgents. In fact, the insurgents were backed on the ground by South Yemeni regular troops supported by East German advisors and troops, acting on behalf of the Soviet Union. Oman was backed on the ground by British SAS troops (plus, in the early stages, the Royal Navy) and by units of the Shah of Iran’s army and the Jordanian Army. The commander of the British forces was an admiral and his problem was to cut the rebels’ supply routes from South Yemen into Oman. The British strategy was to construct three fences along the border, manned by more than 5,000 Iranian troops. Behind these three fences, inside Oman, the war was fought by the British SAS and Oman’s mainly Baluchi army while Jordanian desert troops defended the northern part of the desert in Dhofar province.

In 1975, Bill was inspecting a sector of the border fence when East German troops fired an RPG – a rocket-propelled grenade – at him. He was alone, but managed to jump back onto his jeep and drive off, holding his blasted and bloodied arm onto his torso with a torn strip of his uniform. He held the strip of fabric with his teeth and drove with his other hand, while the enemy troops continued firing grenades at him. He drove about 6km to a British base where a Pakistani medic came out to see him.

“I think I’ve lost my arm,” Bill said through his clenched teeth.

“Well, let’s have a look then,” the Pakistani medic replied sympathetically. Bill let go of the strip of fabric he was holding with his teeth and, when his arm fell out, the medic fainted on the spot. Alan fainted too. They flew him to the British base at Akrotiri on Cyprus, where his arm was amputated and, by the time my chum Ozymandias met him, he had an artificial one.

“I am a big man,” Ozymandias told me, “but Bill has a neck twice the girth of mine. He may only have one arm but, when we met in 1982, I could see immediately he was extremely tough. Red hair, red beard, strong, broad neck. We immediately got on.”

According to Ozymandias, Bill Foxton had won an award from the SAS:

“At that time, Bill had already lost his left arm but was still a serving member of the SAS; he was training in the deserts of Oman with younger SAS troopers closing in on his position from all sides and he buried himself in the sand. He dug a hole with his one good arm and simply buried himself deep underground. The SAS troopers passed over him without realising until he told them and the Regiment was so impressed they gave him their Award.”

After the secret war ended, Bill decided to stay in Oman and started running the Sultan’s Armed Forces (SAF) Beach Club: apparently a splendid, well-organised place with a restaurant full of ex-patriot British soldiers from a wide variety of armies. He had his SAS Award plaque hanging on the wall of his office.

I heard all these stories about Bill Foxton from my chum Ozymandias and then, one day in the 1990s, I accidentally heard him being inteviewed – Bill Foxton – he was by then spokesman for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe and apparently also head of the European Commission Monitoring Mission during the Yugoslav wars.

According to Ozymandias, Bill kept a hat in his living room in Britain. The hat belonged to Serbian General Ratko Mladic – who is still on the run for war crimes as I write this. During the Yugoslav wars, Bosnian forces ambushed Mladic’s car in an attempt to assassinate him; he was not in the car but his hat was. So the Bosnians killed his driver and gave the hat to Bill, whom they admired. That was the explanation Bill Foxton gave.

In 1999 he was awarded the OBE for his work in Kosovo.

By 2008, he was working in Afghanistan, running humanitarian projects.

The next year, in February 2009, he shot himself in the head in a Southampton park with a 9mm Browning pistol after he lost his life savings – reportedly over £100,000 –  in the $64 billion Bernie Madoff fraud.

His death was not news except in the local Southern Daily Echo in Southampton. The BBC mentioned it as a ‘human interest’ aside to the Bernie Madoff ponzi scheme fraud story, like a teardrop in rain. His death went mostly un-noticed, but he intersected with History.

Oh – that British plot to assassinate Colonel Gaddafi in 1969, the year he came to power… it was allegedly stopped because the US Government felt that Gaddafi was sufficiently anti-Marxist to be worth ‘protecting’.

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