Tag Archives: Russian

It’s Trump country seen through the cataract-dimmed eyes of a comedian

She’s off on her travels again!

85-year-old London-based US storytelling comic and occasional burlesque performer Lynn Ruth Miller.

She has just returned from a week working in New York and having meetings in Washington DC.

I have just received this from her…


Here is my new view of Trump country seen through the cataract-dimmed eyes of the elderly…

I landed in J.F.Kennedy Airport where I was being picked up by Val, a Russian man whom I had never met.

Suddenly there he was: a zaftig Russian man with a bouquet of flowers waving at me. The trip to my hotel with him was not just eventful, it was a lesson in pessimistic politics.

Val evidently has been studying historic trends since he came to the United States thirty years ago and he alone has figured out the source of world’s problems. No one else in the universe knows the answer to all the unrest we are experiencing. But he does.

It is those damn Russians causing all the trouble.

No one dares admit this, but all these little countries that SAY they are independent, are not. They are ruled by Russia. In fact, it turns out that the Soviet Union still exists and controls us all. Every world power is in collusion with the KGB.

Angela Merkel? A Russian ally. Theresa May? A Soviet cipher.  Jeremy Corbyn? Trained by the KGB.  

“Have you seen what is happening in Venezuela?” said my omniscient driver. ”Well, thirty years ago, they swore they were a peaceful country, immune to Islamic forces and look what is happening there today. And what about Sri Lanka? Who do you think instigated that attack on that church there? Right! The KGB.”

Notre Dame? Syria? Islam itself? Even Israel! All Russian controlled.

And would I mind if he stopped and got his wife some tea?

By the time I got to my hotel I was so depressed, I thought I would have been better served to simply jump out of the moving cab and throw myself into the traffic. It is a matter of moments before the Russians invade Britain and confiscate the EU because who do you think instigated Brexit? Right. Those damn Russians. My mother would have commiserated with Val. It was back in 1957 when the Asian Flu swept American that my mother swore it was the Russians infecting us all. Nothing could convince her that the virus had no nationality.

I wandered around the streets of New York the next day trying to revive old memories of the time I lived here in 1965. I lived next door to the United Nations Building then and spent my time going to matinees in the afternoon and writing freelance stories no magazine wanted at night. The face of the city has changed since then. It is busier, louder, angrier, more crowded and far more impersonal than it was when I was here. People shove you and push you. They are on their way to somewhere important and evidently they are all late. My toes and shoulders were impediments they are determined to demolish.  

That night was my first comedy show at Dangerfield’s. The first thing I noticed when I arrived there was that everyone spoke with my accent. I now realize that I must stop blaming my inadequate hearing aids for squishing sound together into unintelligible speech. Evidently, I have not learned to decipher an English accent. It could be because there are at least twenty different dialects spoken in London, all purporting to be the King’s English, whatever that is.  

In New York, everyone talks just like I do and I understood every word. At Dangerfield’s, a man named Quentin hosted the show. I realized then how very different New York comedy is from what we do in London. First of all, the host chats with the audience in a very different way than our British MC’s do. He does not ask anyone’s name or what they do for a living.  

Instead, he asks random questions and riffs a bit before he goes into his own set. There were only three comedians besides me and the host and each had a fairly long set. Each one got up on stage and told involved stories with no set ups, no punches and very few big laughs. All three had a least ten years experience so they knew what they were doing and the audience responded to them, even though I did not.  

The format of the evening was very different from the shows I do in the UK.

There was no interval. They had a man named Joey doing a long set in the middle of the show and he was evidently the headliner because he had TV credits. His comedy reminded me a bit of Ken Dodd’s. It went on and on and on. He had lots to say about young men and the unpredictable and embarrassing reaction of their dicks. I found this fascinating. It is obviously a guy thing. I do not remember my vagina surprising me like that. Of course, now, the poor thing is dead. 

My set seemed like an encore for the show. I finished the evening with a ten minute set.  To my surprise, I did very well despite a sharp difference in my style of comedy compared to the others on the bill. Everyone stopped to chat with me and tell me how wonderful I am, which was very gratifying.  

The next evening, I was booked as the headliner at a Comedians Over Sixty event at Stand UP NY, one of the major clubs in the city. There were nine comedians on the bill, all experienced. Each one did 10+ minutes of the kind of comedy I was used to hearing when I did the clubs in California.  

They had short set-up-punchlines peppered with funny stories. Again, this MC was not anything like those in the UK. He was more in the style of the MCs at The Punchline in San Francisco. He did his own comedy set to warm us up and then reappeared throughout the show to introduce each new comedian. Once again, there was no interval and all I could think of was OMG, these people will not be drunk enough to laugh at nothing when I get up there. 

The comedians that night were sharp and funny. Most memorable for me was a guy named Joe who did brilliant comedy about his autistic son, Theo. He made us laugh and at the same time, he endeared himself to us all. I knew I could not possibly follow anything that professional and profound. Thank goodness there were three more comedians before it was my turn.  

I did about 25 minutes and got a standing ovation. Both managers have invited me back. The audience all wanted pictures with me and who am I to say no?  Sadly, I am so short I came up to everyone’s waistline so all you can see in those photos is the top of my head. You cannot have everything.  

I am writing a memoir,  so I went to Washington DC to discuss it.

Diane Nine, the agent, is from Bloomfield Hills, Michigan just outside Detroit. It felt very comfortable to be with someone who talks like I do and has a Midwestern background. 

Just as people in the UK from the north have a different mind-set from those in the south and London is unique in its attitudes, so it is in the United States.  

The Southern personality is directly opposed to the rushing, killer attitude in New York City. Midwesterners are very hospitable and kind. They will bring you a casserole if you move next door and will be there to help you find the right stores and supplies. They will invite you over for backyard barbecues and treat you like family… as long as you do not want an abortion, are not gay and you are the right color.  And should you knock on their door unexpectedly, you would be shot. Guns are standard household equipment.  

Diane Nine has been involved in politics all her life. She worked for Jimmy Carter in the White House and met both Clintons. She said that Hilary Clinton was a charming, gracious woman, not at all the bitch the press painted her to be and that Jimmy Carter used to take her to church with him when she was his intern. He was and still is a very religious man. The Obamas actually live in her neighborhood now that they have left The White House. Her mother’s best friend was Helen Thomas, the Washington correspondent who was banned from that press corps because of her offensive remarks about Israel and Jews. 

For lunch the next day we met Lora who works for the Department of Agriculture. She is part of a team that monitors plant imports and plant diseases.  She was saying that they work with the EU on imports and, when Britain leaves the EU, there will have to be a whole new set of standards for agricultural products shipped between the UK and US; just one more complication caused by our Brexit upheaval. 

Life never stops, does it?

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A comedy award winner in tights; fifth Fisting Day; and confused linguistics.

spectacularspectrumofnow_logoLast night, my comedy year was completed when I went to The Spectacular Spectrum of Now (image above) – Cassie Atkinson and Neil Frost’s quarterly show in London’s King’s Cross.

It was billed as a Psychic Strippers show and – sort of – delivered on both. But I went because the bill was such a cracker – Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award nominee The Story Beast, the very talented Katia Kvinge and Beth Vyse, very intelligent musical comedian Luke Courtier and Fred Strangebone as a walrus. There was also a bit of nudity at the end though I am not sure if this was 100% planned or not.

Michael Brunstrom last night - as Mary Quant

Michael Brunström last night – as Mary Quant

But the cherry on the cake – if cherry he be – was this year’s Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award winner Michael Brunström re-performing the act he sadly did NOT include in his Edinburgh Fringe show this year – 1960s fashion legend Mary Quant talking about her time on an Antarctic whaling vessel, dressed in a pageboy wig and tights, holding a home-made harpoon and speaking in what I still think is a slight German accent. Michael Brunström tells me it is not a German accent, so maybe it is a residual Chaucerian accent. But it is the second time I have seen it and I can but dream of a third time. Comedy gold.

After this welcome oddity, I went home to find an email from visual artist Marc Seestaedt, one half of the Berlin-based performance duo Sticky Biscuits who insinuated their way onto the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show in August this year by gatecrashing a live Grouchy Club show and auditioning unasked.

They are very good at self-promotion.

Which is what the email was about.

Hey John it said. This Wednesday is International Fisting Day (yes, that’s a thing that exists) and, if you feel like mentioning it, this video we did  is just right for the occasion.

I, perhaps foolishly, DID think he might be making it up but – No – tomorrow is, indeed, the the FIFTH annual International Fisting Day. Further than that, dear reader, I could not bear to investigate. But I should mention that Sticky Biscuits’ video is perhaps not for people who are easily offended. I might also say it could make some people uncomfortable. But I won’t.

But now to grander things – linguistics.

In yesterday’s blog, I mentioned that the Facebook computer translated

Тетка на идише шпилит, лучче, чем мы с тобой на иврите. Кроме того, она стендапистка и , реально классная!
as
Aunt in Yiddish nail, лучче than we are with you in Hebrew. In addition, she стендапистка and, really cool!

And Google Translate rendered the same
Тетка на идише шпилит, лучче, чем мы с тобой на иврите. Кроме того, она стендапистка и , реально классная!
as
Aunt Yiddish spiers, better than we are with you in Hebrew. In addition, it stendapistka and really cool! 

Which left me none the wiser.

I did two years of Russian at school but can only barely read Cyrillic.

However, my eternally-un-named friend (who neither reads Cyrillic nor understands Russian but has a Monk-like ability to uncover the truth) told me that стендапистка should, in fact, have a gap in it:

стендап истка

And, indeed, Google Translate successfully renders this as meaning:

Cleaning the stand-up – presumably stand-up comedian or stand-up comedy.

Thus the sentence becomes:
Aunt Yiddish spiers, better than we are with you in Hebrew. In addition, it is cleaning the stand-up and really cool!

It still means bugger-all, of course, so the linguistic mystery remains.

But I just thought I would clear that up slightly.

до свидания товарищ

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Comedians abroad, Archbishop Tutu & the “Britain’s Got Talent” egg-throwing

Last night at the London Palladium...

Last night on tour at the London Palladium

I never go anywhere. Nothing interesting ever happens to me.

Last night, I went to see John Cooper Clarke’s show at the London Palladium, courtesy of comic Matt Roper, who had tickets but then had to fly South Africa on Saturday to appear in the June/July comedy festival where, apparently, all proceeds go to the Desmond & Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation and, in Cape Town, Archbishop Desmond Tutu will be performing a stand-up comedy spot on the press night.

See what I mean?

I could say Whooo! I went to the London Palladium last night! But Matt Roper has trumped me by going to South Africa to (in a sense) perform comedy as his dribbling, lecherous alter-ego Wilfredo with Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

And, while I was in a train on the way to London yesterday, comedy critic Kate Copstick was flying to Kenya for three weeks where she will be working for her Mama Biashara charity.

AND I got a text from comedian Sarah Hendrickx, cycling to Barcelona to better her soul and to collect material for her upcoming Edinburgh Fringe shows. Sarah has barely cycled any further than a local ice cream shop before this. Her text said:

“I covered 520 miles and could easily have done more so not too shabby.”

See? Sickening. All I’ve done is go to Oxford Circus in a train and a tube.

And then there is the extensive egg throwing.

Yesterday - an irresistible pun for the Sun

It was an irresistible pun for the Sun

Yesterday, the papers were full of the woman who threw eggs at Simon Cowell during the live televised final of Britain’s Got Talent.

This is good pre-publicity. The increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show at the Edinburgh Fringe in August will include the official Scottish national Russian Egg Roulette All-Comers Championship.

American comic Lewis Schaffer will be defending his 2012 title against the likes of comedian Richard Herring and aforementioned comedy critic Kate Copstick. The event – basically people smashing eggs on their foreheads for a laugh – will be supervised by Andy Dunlop, President of the World Egg Throwing Federation, who is travelling up to Edinburgh for the event.

But, again, Andy has trumped me and gone one – or several – better.

Organiser Andy Dunlop provides eggs for Russian Roulette

Andy at last year’s World Egg Throwing…

“August is going to be busy,” he told me yesterday. “We have the Australian Egg Throwing Championships early in the month, the Malcolm Hardee Show in Scotland on the 23rd and the Belgian Championships on the 31st.

“Meanwhile, we have a Japanese TV game show coming to Lincolnshire for the World Egg Throwing Championship on June 30th – they’ll be bringing four raw viewers with them to take part. And there is an Australian children’s TV show coming for some egg throwing here in September.

“I am already gut busted. I have just spent six days in hospital due complications with surgery to repair complications from surgery in May that followed a life saving op in October (that had complications).  That was because of complications from a life saving op to repair a bust gut 32 years ago, which was a complication from failure of my umbilical cord to wither correctly 55 years ago. Life is full of complications, as was the bag, attached to the tube that drains the wound in my belly, until it detached overnight……. twice.”

Ever-sympathetic, I asked him to send me a photo of himself in hospital for this blog.

Egg-throwing man Andy Dunlop in hospital

Andy Dunlop – ‘Mr Happy’ – in hospital…

“Here it is,” his e-mail said, a few minutes later. “The photo was taken last October by a ‘friend’ to show how cheerful I was following emergency surgery at 03.00am. Note the tubes (including auto morphine drive) inserted into various openings in me, not all natural. I am wearing a badge that says Mr Happy.

“I left hospital on that occasion after five days with an infection in my belly wound that required several months of treatment as it was 10cm deep and wider than a wide-mouth toad. There were daily visits by the local district nurse team to prod and re-stuff me with magic seaweed-based filler. I had four belly buttons along my rather impressive 10 inch scar

“The weakened area of belly then developed a rather cute little bulge (or, as my wife said, What on earth is that?, pointing to my nether regions) which was identified as an “incisional hernia” that required day case surgery to repair.  I had that on the 23rd of May and one of my four belly buttons was removed during this process.

“That led to an emergency re-admission and a rather grotesque distension of my belly, which was drained of two pints of red gunge last week during my last six-day stay. It is still draining. Another two pints since done. Still infected.

“I am still happy… and alive.”

Andy then added, as well he might:

“So it goes.”

Other people!

Their lives are too interesting.

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Toilet seats and the difference in the collapse of British & Russian empires

A bottom-shaped toilet seat as it was meant to be

A toilet seat as it was meant to be…

I flew to Kiev yesterday. I went to the toilet first.

They have tried hard at London’s Gatwick Airport.

There is a new ‘super-loo’.

The holes in the toilet seats are rectangular.

I checked my bottom before and after using one. My bottom is not rectangular. I was unable to check other people’s bottoms. But I suspect the design of these new ‘super’ toilet seats is a triumph of design over practicality.

A triumph of good intentions over actual effectiveness.

Some seats in the Departure Lounge at Gatwick have little flat surfaces next to them with plug sockets and USB ports so you can use and charge your computers and mobile phones.

All the sockets and USB ports had been switched off.

A triumph of good intentions over actual effectiveness.

Ukraine International Airlines were very attentive on the flight to Kiev. All the pilot and cabin announcements were, of course, in both Ukrainian… and in English as, I think, the rules say they have to be. At least, I think they were in English.

But the English was around 97% totally incomprehensible. It was like audio origami. I basically only knew it was English because of the polite addition of clear Thankyous at the end of sentences.

A triumph of good intentions over actual effectiveness.

A street in Kiev at 9.40am this morning

A central street in Kiev – or Kyiv –  at 9.40am this morning

So now I am in Kiev.

In an enlightening conversation last night, a local was telling me how the corruption system works.

It is a triumph of actual effectiveness over good intentions.

I say I am in Kiev… but actually I am in Kyiv. Because ‘Kiev’ was the Russian-approved Western spelling used in the Soviet era. Now Ukraine is independent. So now it is written as ‘Kyiv’.

As with all ex-Soviet states, there was and is a problem with the Russians.

I remember a historian (not British born) telling me in the 1990s what he thought was the difference between the collapse of the British Empire and the collapse of the Soviet Empire.

I do not know if he is right or wrong, but it is an interesting viewpoint.

The way he saw it, the British had conquered an empire but had, by-and-large, not fully integrated themselves within the local community, particularly in India.

In the Raj, they tended to live in British communities, go to British clubs and continue living their British lives separate from the local communities. Britain was always seen as their home country. They lived consciously as ex-pats.

With the Soviet Empire, the Russians, to a greater extent, colonised each country and moved their families and lives lock, stock and family barrel into them because they, perhaps, felt that all these other countries really were part of one great Socialist country.

When India got independence, by and large, most British families simply upped-sticks and left, mostly going back to their ‘home’ country – the UK.

But, when the Soviet Empire collapsed and satellite countries got independence, the Russian populations within those countries had psychologically, economically and physically integrated their families’ lives within the communities. They had no actual close family ties back in Russia. They were not expats living away from mother Russia. They were Russians who felt fully part of the satellite countries.

For example, in Uzbekistan, they were not Uzbeks yet, in Russia, they were not ‘real’ Russians. They had nowhere to ‘go home’ to. These were Russians who had been in Uzbekistan for generations and were now left stranded in what had been their home country and was now a foreign country.

Same thing in the Ukraine… exacerbated by a history of invasions over the centuries.

There is a heavy Russian presence in the east and in the south of modern, independent Ukraine. According to a 2001 census, 67.5 percent of the population declared Ukrainian as their ‘native’ language and 29.6 percent declared Russian.

They considered Russian their ‘native’ language.

Almost 30% of the country.

Almost all in the east and south.

This is not good.

Some people talk of splitting the country.

Mostly the Russians in the Ukraine. And the Russians in the Kremlin.

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Edinburgh Fringe Russian Egg Roulette – and the First Indian Egg Test Match

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

Russian Egg Roulette at last year's Edinburgh Fringe

Russian Egg Roulette contest at 2012 Malcolm Hardee show

Last year’s increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show at the Edinburgh Fringe included a celebrity Russian egg roulette contest featuring the likes of comedians Richard Herring, Arthur Smith and eventual winner Lewis Schaffer.

It was officially sanctioned and supervised by internationally-renowned Andy Dunlop, president of the World Egg Throwing Federation – himself a former Dutch National Russian Egg Roulette Champion and 2012 Birdman of Worthing winner.

Russian Egg Roulette will be back at this year’s increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show on 23rd August in the ballroom of The Counting House in Edinburgh.

The official rules are fairly simple, if messy:

Individual challenge against an opponent on a knock out basis. Players sit opposite each other, across a table. A tray containing 6 specially selected eggs will be proffered. 5 hard-boiled, 1 raw. Each player takes it in turn to select one and then smash the egg onto his or her own forehead until one player finds the raw one. The finder of the raw egg loses the game or match.

Today I feel honoured – indeed, humbled – to announce that, after long and careful consideration, the World Egg Throwing Federation has decided that this year’s contest at the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show will be given the official accolade of Scottish National Egg Roulette Championship.

Andy Dunlop confirmed the details yesterday.

England egg team - Bell, Dunop, Bath and Leech

Hopeful Russian Egg Roulette team Bell, Dunlop, Bath, Leech

This morning, he and a team of top English egg throwers scrambled to get on a plane bound for India where, next week, Team England will be facing the might of India in a historic First Indian Test Match in the Russian Egg Roulette Series.

Andy told me yesterday: “The four of us have honed our skills in reiki, aura differentia and egg divining.  We won’t be relying upon luck.”

The match itself will take place in Amritsar, which Prime Minister David Cameron yesterday visited barefoot.

But I can reveal today the shocking truth that Team England will include a non-English ‘ringer’ – Scotsman Norry Bell, who has been brought in to boost England’s chance of success because, well, frankly, because the Scots are better than the English. As a Scot, Norry says he hopes to do well “as long as the eggs are wrapped in sausage meat and bread crumbs”.

I did ask Andy Dunlop yesterday why the team is representing “England” and not “Great Britain” and he was somewhat evasive.

“Hmm,” he told me, “we did consider that but, due to historical differences of opinion between the two nations, we decided to drop the Great Britain tag. And, apart from that, the damn Welsh would have complained about exclusion from selection.”

The other two team members, Stephen Bath and David Leech, look on Andy Dunlop and Norry Bell as joint team captains and say: “We would follow our captains anywhere, mainly out of curiosity to see what they do next.”

Team England will have a short period of acclimatisation before their match next Wednesday. During that acclimatisation period, they will be supporting the Polio National Immunisation Day on Sunday 24th February in the Lucknow region, as part of Rotary International‘s project to rid the world of this disease. And, on Monday 25th, they will help undertake a sweep of the area to ensure no children under 5 have been missed in the immunisation.

Amritsar plays host to the First Egg Test Match next week

Amritsar will play host to the First Egg Test Match next week

On Wednesday 27th, the big match itself will take place at the Mohan International Hotel.

The cost of the trip has been financed out of the team’s own pockets. They receive no funding whatsoever from any government, any polio campaign funds nor any charitable organisation nor Sport England. Virgin Atlantic declined to upgrade Team England from cattle to upper class on their flight, despite pleas. Two of the team are using their Air Miles. The others, Andy told me, “are too inexperienced” to have attained the right amount.

He also tells me that absolutely no chickens will be harmed and all eggs used will have been checked and declared unfit for human consumption before use.

The winners will receive a fine silver trophy. For the losers, there will be a carved wooden cup with a lid to hold the shells of defeat.

The 2013 World Egg Throwing Championships will take place in Swaton, Lincolnshire, on Sunday 30th June.

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The poor Vietnamese woman, the Gilded Balloon & the millionaire Iranian

Yesterday evening, American comedian Lewis Schaffer (who, like all other self-obsessed comedians, likes to be name-dropped at every opportunity and to get a link) sent me a text message about my blog:

It’s amazing you can keep on doing it every day.

Well, I can tell him and you it ain’t always easy.

Yesterday, I moved a friend’s sofa from Essex to Greenwich and was helping clean up a house. Not a good subject for blogging.

So, this morning, I looked through my e-diary for what had happened around this date in previous years. These extracts are the results:

1989

In Hanoi, my local guide tells me:

“This is still a Socialist country – like Russia, da.”

He keeps absent-mindedly saying “da” instead of “yes”.

A fat woman in a rickshaw in Hanoi, 1989

Fat woman of money in rickshaw in Hanoi, Vietnam, 1989

I think I now eventually have the economics worked out.

Beggars ask local people for money but they don’t ask me. They assume I am a Russian, because I am a white-skinned foreigner.

The Vietnamese have no time for Russians because they (a) don’t smile and (b) have no money. No-one wants roubles, only dollars and, even if they did want roubles, the Russians don’t have spare cash.

The problem with using travellers cheques here is the US economic embargo on Vietnam – US companies are banned from trading with the Vietnamese. (This does not stop the North Koreans accepting cheques, though – they deal with American Express via Moscow.) My Hanoi guide tells me credit cards here are “many many years” away because there are very few computers in Vietnam.

When we pass the very flash Hanoi Opera House, he tells me it was intended for the people, but only the very rich can afford it. This implies there is a group of very rich (as opposed to just very privileged) people.

At lunchtime, I took a walk and met Hanoi’s equivalent of a bag lady in ragged-sleeved jacket, the bottom half of her face entirely red. Her face was like a robin redbreast. Brown top half. Red bottom half. I think she must have been knocking-back some particularly brutal local equivalent of meths. She muttered (and probably cursed) at me a bit, then staggered away.

'Hanoi Hilton' no longer taking foreign guests in 1989

The ‘Hanoi Hilton’ prison – not taking foreign ‘guests’ in 1989

My local guide asked me if he could use the shower in my hotel room. Perhaps it is a perk of the job – a glamorous Russian shower. He told me he lives on his own in a Tourist Office room with no cooking facilities – presumably he can always eat in hotels……I think he agreed when I asked about this last bit.

I was writing a postcard on the balcony of my hotel when bits of brick started falling on me: they are building a new storey above me. I had to go to two separate buildings to send the postcard. One to buy a stamp and another to hand it in for sending. There was a power cut halfway through this process.

I had dinner tonight with the two Hong Kong Brits I met in Da Nang – plus a couple of Canadians. When he was in Da Nang, the Canadian bloke told me he had had a T-shirt printed saying in Vietnamese I AM NOT A RUSSIAN.

He lives in an apartment in Calgary with a one-metre long iguana which, he says, craps in a sandbox behind the television set. He feeds it on cat food and says it can sense when he is about to go away because it pines and goes off its food. The iguana has its own dead tree – “well, it’s dead now,” the Canadian said – in the apartment, so it can climb occasionally. It normally sleeps on its own heated pad although once the Canadian found it curled inside his pillowcase. The only problem is it likes to climb up the Canadian’s leg and has sharp claws.

In the same apartment block, a neighbour keeps a pet boa constrictor.

I must remember to avoid Calgary.

2000

A taxi driver told me that lap dancers at Stringfellows nightclub in St Martin’s Lane pay £200 per night to work there, then make the money back by commission on drinks bought by punters and tips from punters. Competition among the girls is cut-throat… not surprisingly, given that they have to make £1,000 in a five-day week just to break even.

2001

I went round to an interesting Iranian woman’s home. She is thinking of writing her autobiography… but will probably not.

“I am not rich,” she tells me. “If I get £100,000, I spend £25,000 here and £25,000 there. It soon goes.”

She has what appears to be a part-time Kosovar maid, pale, white skinned, hook nose, melancholic hang-dog expression, cavernous eyes with black lines in the skin underneath as if on drugs.

Also there was a Kosovar translator from Pristina.

The Iranian has a British and (as of two years ago) an Iranian passport. She is thinking of publishing her autobiography when her son is 21 because he will be “more able to take things” then. He is now 16. Her family is related to the former Prime Minister of Iran assassinated by Khomeini’s agents in  Paris. Her grandmother was a Mossadeq – as in the Mossadeq who was overthrown by the CIA to install the last two Shahs of Iran.

She lived in Dubai with first husband. She once had to go to China to buy a plane – she knew the Chinese general who was selling it.

If it gets around that she is writing about her life, she says, there will be panic calls from Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Saudi offering her millions not to publish. She has lots of dirt on the Saudi royal family.

A former Swedish boyfriend found oil in Texas and she spent one year in LA after her son was born (by her second husband). She has stories of the Playboy Mansion and Hugh Hefner’s parties.

“I always went for the wrong men,” she told me.

Once, she says, she lost £5 million in a London casino.

She has a tiny and very amiable shih tzu dog which came from the US. She flew with it to Paris, then drove to the UK, hiding the dog under her armpit to avoid the six-month quarantine restrictions aimed at stopping rabies.

2002

I heard a radio report that a big fire in Cowgate, Edinburgh, had destroyed the Gilded Balloon venue last night. I phoned comedian Malcolm Hardee, who phoned his Edinburgh friend Maurice The Fireman. When Malcolm phoned him, Maurice was still fighting the fire.

The bestselling hardback version of Janey's book

The bestselling hardback version of Janey Godley’s autobiography

2003

Comedian Janey Godley is writing her autobiography. I have a terrible cold. My advice to her today was:

DON’T DON’T DO NOT GO BACK AND RE-WRITE THAT BIT. YOU CAN SORT IT OUT IN THE NEXT VERSION YOU WRITE. KEEP GOING EVER FORWARD LIKE THE SNOT DOWN MY NOSE. 

But just remember I am either a man living in New Zealand who has never seen the building you are writing about nor heard your life story… Or I am a housewife in Gloucester reading the book in bed at night before she goes to sleep. And, frankly, the way I feel I would prefer to be a housewife in Gloucester. Lead me to the sex-change shop. Bring on the Rabbi with the meat-cleaver.

I will read tonight’s (I’m sure excellent) piece tomorrow. If I live. Which seems unlikely. I don’t so much shiver as wobble around the waist and shoulders while an invisible Grimm giant takes an axe to my throat. Childbirth? Pah! NOTHING compared to the suffering of men with slight chills.

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At the Edinburgh Fringe: a battered face, Russian Egg Roulette and thefts

Ian Fox’s injuries at the Edinburgh Fringe yesterday

The increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show was held last night at the Counting House in  Edinburgh.

Before the show started, comedian-writer-photographer Ian Fox  came along to say hello.

“Will you be staying?” I asked.

“I don’t think so,” he said. “I am feeling a bit nauseous. It’s going to be hot in there.” He was attacked in the street a couple of nights ago, as I mentioned in yesterday’s blog,

He took his dark glasses off and showed me the damage inflicted on him and the three stitches used to sew the side of his nose up. Not a good look.

That is, perhaps, my most vivid memory of the show. That and three naked men in the same corridor.

The show lasted two hours with 24 people performing in 11 acts. I think we came in four minutes under time, but I have forgotten the exact figure. I saw more of it than I usually see of those annual shows but still not very much, as I was running around slightly. Well, at my age, tottering around. So, if anyone can tell me what happened, I would be grateful. And I don’t even drink.

Miss Behave comperes the Malcolm Hardee Award Show (Photograph by Lewis Schaffer)

I do remember the Greatest Show on Legs preparing for their Naked Balloon Dance by stripping off in the narrow corridor leading to the room, as there was a space problem backstage. This meant that a more-than-middle-aged couple who left the room to get drinks from the bar returned to find three naked men talking about balloon movements as they turned the corner. The woman looked simultaneously surprised yet pleased at the sight.

I also remember the extraordinarily superb compering of Miss Behave  in her skin-tight red costume. She head-butted a watermelon. What can I say? It exploded and was very messy.

The three Award winners were:

Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality: The Rubberbandits

Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award: Stuart Goldsmith

Malcolm Hardee ‘Act Most Likely to Make a Million Quid’ Award: Trevor Noah

I remember those winners accepting their awards, of course.

And fairly memorable also was the sight of comedians Arthur Smith and Richard Herring smashing eggs against their own foreheads in our Russian Egg Roulette contest supervised by Andy Dunlop, World President of the World Egg Throwing Federation.

Andy Dunlop: Russian Egg Roulette supremo

Earlier in the week, I mentioned in a blog that Andy Dunlop and World Gravy Wrestling champion Joel Hicks had recently triumphed at the Worthing Air Tattoo. In my innocence at the time, I assumed this was an air event which involved planes. But, last night, Andy told me it was actually what used to be called the Bognor Birdman Rally transferred to a new seaside home in Worthing – that’s the one where people leap off the end of the pier with wings attached in an attempt to fly.

“The soles of my feet were sore,” Andy told me, “because you hit the water at about 35 mph.

Lewis Schaffer + Egg Roulette medal

The eventual surprise winner in our knockout Russian Egg Roulette contest last night was American comic Lewis Schaffer.

Claire Smith of the Scotsman newspaper later lamented to me:

“What have you done? The award winning Lewis Schaffer – We are never going to hear the last of that…”

As the winner, according to Andy Dunlop, Lewis Schaffer automatically becomes official champion Scottish Tosser, something of which Lewis Schaffer seemed inordinately proud.

His win at the Counting House was all the more impressive because, last year, he had been banned from the Counting House because, during his shows there, he kept turning the loud air conditioner off and, when it got hot, opening the doors.

Arthur Smith was an early casualty in the Russian Egg Roulette contest and made an early exit from the show to prepare for his legendary annual Alternative Tour of the Royal Mile, which started at 2 o’clock.

I missed about the first ten minutes of this, but was in time to see Arthur try to prove the non-existence of God by standing on the entrance steps to St Giles’ Cathedral and saying, if there was a God, then would he please provide a naked woman.

Unfortunately for Arthur’s thesis, a naked woman then did appear to join him on the steps only to leave almost immediately, mumbling something about it being very cold out.

Martin Soan of the Greatest Show on Legs (currently in the spare bedroom of my rented Edinburgh flat) tells me that Arthur’s Royal Mile tours used to include genuine historical facts but, last night, this seemed to include only: “That’s some old church over there.”

Naked man stands proud in Edinburgh’s Royal Mile last night

Certain traditions were maintained, though – in particular, getting a punter to climb on top of a reasonably high object for £10, strip naked and sing Flower of Scotland and, further down the Royal Mile, Arthur getting drenched when someone threw a bucket of water over him from an upstairs window (also hitting a passing and entirely innocent cyclist).

One (I think new) addition to the tour was Karen O Novak being designated as an official kisser and comedian Shappi Khorsandi having a theatrical snog with her… and a punter saying he had to go to the loo and being persuaded that, for £10, he should instead piss on the cobbles in the middle of the High Street while the tour throng (perhaps 30 strong) stood in a circle round him with their backs to him. He said he couldn’t pee if we watched. I felt we should have watched.

There was also the appearance of a live and apparently untethered crocodile at what I think was the junction of George IV Bridge and the High Street.

Those, rather than my own two-hour show are my main memories of last night.

But, on a more sobering note, today I got a message from Lewis Schaffer which said:

Lewis Schaffer loses £600 in Edinburgh

It was a horrible day yesterday. Two brilliant shows from me and then I go to my venue to retrieve my suitcase and about £600 was missing. It was stolen from inside my bag there. I was a plonker for leaving money in the suitcase. A schmuck. 

I’m still in pain today. 

Your event was the best ever and not just cause you let me be in it. I loved the Greatest Show on Legs and Miss Behave was amazingly over the top. 

For me to beat Arfur Smith was a comfort as, on a few occasions, he’s trashed America on stage right after I’ve been on. Deliberately. So sweet revenge. 

And see what I mean about boiling Edinburgh rooms? No ventilation at all. A freezing cold evening outside and inside it’s boiling. A simple extractor fan would have cooled that room!

Lewis was not the only one whose property was stolen. I heard today of a comedian whose MacBook Pro laptop computer was stolen from inside a locked room at his venue. It contained all his scripts and the lighting cues for his shows.

Because it was an Apple computer, he had taken the precaution of activating the Find My Mac facility in the iCloud. This means that, using GPS, you can see on another device where the MacBook Pro is.

He traced it to a student accommodation block and to one of three rooms. He told the police, who said they could do nothing about it unless he gave them the IP address

Quite why (given that they had due cause to believe the stolen computer was where it was) they could not go and knock on doors to locate the stolen machine, is one of those mysteries of policing to rank alongside Is there a standard bribery rate card for the Metropolitan Police?

The increasingly prestigious critic and judge Kate Copstick

I heard about the stolen computer when I was having tea with Kate Copstick, a long-time judge for the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards.

We were talking over ideas for Fringe shows next year and how best to honour Malcolm’s memory. Ideas included hosting a Biggest Bollocks competition and having famous male comics appear in full drag – the audience has to guess who they are.

It is ideas like this, I suspect which make the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show increasingly prestigious.

After that, we went our separate ways: she to have tea with a millionaire, I to see the Greatest Show on Legs strip off for their penultimate show at the Hive venue.

My life. Don’t talk to me about my life.

But things could be worse. I could be Ian Fox.

Before I went to bed tonight, I emailed him to find out how his battered face was.

“Starting to itch a bit tonight,” he e-mailed back, “and my teeth are starting to throb slightly, as the sensation is starting to return.”

This sounds at least hopeful.

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World Egg Throwing Championships: cheaper and funnier than the Olympics

(Versions of this piece were published by the Huffington Post) and on the Indian WeSpeakNews website.

Consequences of failing to catch

I woke up this morning in the middle of a dream about comedian Helen Keen riding at breakneck speed atop a camel racing along Old Compton Street in Soho while her writing partner Miriam Underhill kept pace by calmly walking with a large brown bird (not a falcon) on her ungloved hand.

I used to regret that I could never remember my dreams. Now I should perhaps be concerned that yesterday was almost as surreal as my dream.

I went to the World Egg Throwing Championships in a very large field at Swaton in Lincolnshire. There were teams from Germany, Greece, Holland, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa, Sweden, the UK and the USA

John Ward with his grate egg Olympic torch

Events included long-distance egg throwing, the egg throwing static relay, the World Egg Trebuchet Challenge and, terrifyingly for me, the World Russian Egg Roulette championship. Why the Russian Roulette event was personally terrifying I will explain later but, initially, I was there to support my chum, mad inventor John Ward, who turned up wearing a Mat Hatter’s top hat and holding what he called an Olympic Egg Torch. This appeared to be a gold-painted cheese-grater on top of a gold-pained cracked wooden egg on top of a silver bicycle horn.

“I thought other people would be dressed up too,” he told me in a vain attempt to explain the hat. “Egg throwing is the People’s sport,” he added. “It’s cheaper than the Olympics.”

John Ward and others catapulting eggs

John Ward also came with a nine feet high wooden catapult, because the World Egg Trebuchet Challenge not surprisingly involves trebuchets which are, according to my dictionary, “machines used in medieval siege warfare for hurling large stones or other missiles”. There were five in the contest. John Ward had only had time to spend three days building his and competed valiantly for Queen and country but, maintaining an age-old British tradition in field sports, failed.

Which brings us to the Russian Egg Roulette event in which John Ward was also competing.

This involves two seated people facing each other across a table – as in The Deer Hunter, but with a box of six eggs instead of a revolver with one single deadly bullet. The twist is that five of the six eggs are boiled and one is raw.

An Irish competitor comes to a not very unusually sticky end

Each competitor then takes it in turns to smash an egg of their choice onto their forehead. If the egg is boiled, it does not explode into sticky gunge all over their forehead. If it is the raw egg, then… erm… it does. Obviously, the person who smashes the raw egg onto his or her forehead loses. And gets sticky.

Imagine my surprise, dear reader, when I heard my name called for this event.

This is one of the downsides of having worked on the slapstick children’s TV show Tiswas. When I was a researcher on the show, people I met (for research purposes) felt duty-bound to ram a custard pie in my face to show they had a sense of humour. Oh my! How I laughed.

Organiser Andy Dunlop provides ammunition

At the World Egg Throwing Championships, very highly efficient organiser Andy Dunlop thought he would surprise me by putting me in the Russian Egg Roulette event and announcing me as “former Tiswas wordsmith John Fleming”.

In fact, I was never a Tiswas scriptwriter. In my day, that considerable honour was held by David McKellar, a man eternally worshipped by me for having previously written the weather forecaster line: “And now, bad news for 4-foot dwarfs… 5-foot snowdrifts.”

Aaaannnny-way……

One of the other Russian Egg Roulette contestants was one of the two identical twins representing Greece, but the organisers were unsure which one it was.

World Gravy Wrestling Champion fails in Russian Roulette

Another was handsome hunk Joel Hicks, male model and World Gravy Wrestling Champion, who had come stripped to the waist and dressed in shorts and boxing gloves as Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky. Earlier, he had been the human target in a rather random Target Egg Throwing event and, as a result, spent the whole afternoon covered in dried egg yolk with fragments of embedded eggshell sticking out of his face.

I triumphed in the Russian Egg Roulette heats in face-offs with two small children – who seemed to be the only children in the contest, the others being egg-hardened professionals. As my second tiny opponent smashed the raw egg against her forehead, the crowd roared and I heard event organiser Andy Dunlop yell out: “Now that’s fun! THIS is entertainment!”

I fail to mask my gloating at the sticky shame of a Dutch girl

I was equally successful against a very attractive Dutch girl. I suspect Dutch girls smashing eggs on their foreheads commands a very high price in some quarters.

I had decided to represent Scotland in this contest, as I had been wantonly and incorrectly introduced as: “John Fleming representing England” and so I started singing Flower of Scotland, which was an unfortunate choice, as I discovered I only knew the first four words – Oh flower of Scotland… No-one was impressed.

John Ward smashes the thankfully losing egg on his forehead

Bizarrely (as, by its nature, it is not possible to ‘fix’ a Russian Egg Roulette contest) I faced John Ward in the semi-final. I triumphed again. He had the minor consolation of an in-depth interview (I kid you not) by an unsmiling film crew from some Russian television station and he later told me: “The interviewer guy said It will not be transmitted until July – I imagine they must be vetting the footage for any coded messages.”

My nemesis: clearly a man of extreme brutality

In the grand final, I then unfortunately faced a large man called Jerry Cullen dressed in black wearing sunglasses. Very intimidating he was. Hard-boiled, some might say, but not me. Oh no, not me.

The first four of the six eggs we smashed on our foreheads were, indeed, hard-boiled, leaving only two more eggs – one for each of us.

At this point, a lesser egg contestant might have cracked and, admittedly, I resorted to saying, “I’m doomed, I’m doomed,” in the best John Laurie (from Dad’s Army) accent I could muster.

It was like a penalty shoot-out in a football match, so I was relieved not to be representing England.

The man in black went first… smashed the egg against his forehead… and it was hard boiled. He had won the contest.

Cameraman + small child gloat over my ignominious defeat

But this meant I had to smash the final egg against my forehead knowing it was raw and would explode into yellow gunge. I thought of bravely saying something like, “The yolk is on me,” but even I baulked that. So I just smashed the egg onto my forehead as the – I felt somewhat unsympathetic – onlookers rhythmically chanted “Splat! Splat! Splat! Splat! Splat!” until the deed was done.

A broken man with mangled egg and a medal

The good news was that I got an unexpected runners-up medal – a silver star with a picture of a hen on it – with a red-white-and-blue ribbon to go round my neck. My chest swelled with patriotic pride. I felt I had not totally let down the nation of my birth.

Though, unlike the Olympic Games, there is no xenophobia at the World Egg Throwing Championships. The static relay event was won by a team of Germans, Greeks, Irish and English. I chatted to two of these fine athletes: Reg Marchant from Catford and his partner Sandy Winterton from Dagenham.

“I understand this is your first time being a tosser in public,” I said to Reg.

Reg and Sandy: two triumphant tossers amid trebuchets

“Yes,” Reg answered, “but I do actually practise tossing every other day. Sandy does it for me quite a lot. Sandy said to me Do you want to toss in public at the World Championships, so we came and it’s been great.”

“It’s been wonderful,” agreed Sandy.

“We’ll be back next year,” Reg told me, “to try to reduce the time it takes. Sandy and I have to fine-tune our tossing technique over the next year.”

At this point, John Ward wandered across to join us.

“It’s been an interesting afternoon,” he said.

(There are video news clips – with me briefly at the very end – on the ITN site here, the International Business Times TV site here and I actually get to speak in the middle of the report on the Chinese 7M Sports website here)

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The News of the World, the Profumo Affair and the planned military coup

(This blog was later published in The Huffington Post)

I studied journalism at college – well, radio, TV and journalism.

The man in charge of the journalism part of the course was the Production Editor of the News of the World. So we got lots of good lecturers – people like Cecil King, who had created Mirror Group Newspapers and the then-all-powerful IPC.

As a result, we got a very good insight into the real workings of the press and occasionally some great anecdotes.

One was about Rupert Murdoch’s take-over of the News of the World in 1969.

At the time, obviously, there was a lot of publicity about the re-launch of the ‘new’ Murdoch version of the paper and the News of the World’s TV ads promised one big thing – the REAL story of the 1963 Profumo Affair which had brought down Harold Macmillan’s government.

The News of the World had been a major player in the 1963 scandal and had interviewed almost everyone involved in the affair on tape at the time and had sworn affidavits from all and sundry.

But, when Rupert Murdoch took over the News of the World in 1969, he realised that, sitting in the basement in boxes of tapes and papers, there was much that had gone unpublished in 1963 – in particular about the sexual proclivities of Profumo’s wife, actress Valerie Hobson… and about exactly what type of sexual services Christine Keeler provided to Profumo (the UK’s Secretary of State for War) and to Yevgeny Ivanov, the senior naval attaché at the Soviet embassy in London.

However, when the News of the World published their ‘new’ stories about the Profumo Affair, they were just the re-heated previously-published stories. There was nothing new or earth-shattering.

Apparently this was because there had been such unrelenting legal, political and financial pressure on the News of the World that they had backed off. There were even stories of the police listening to tape recordings in one room while, next door, News of the World staffers were busily erasing parts of tapes.

I am a great fan of Doctor Who and, boy, do I wish I had a fully-functioning TARDIS so that I could come back in 100 years or 150 years and find out what had really been happening during my lifetime.

Cecil King, our occasional lecturer at college, was an interesting man because, with some good reason, he had an ego that engulfed any room he entered. Years later, it was claimed or revealed (two words that expose a gulf of possibilities) that he had, in 1968, talked to Lord Mountbatten (who was later assassinated) about the possible overthrow of Harold Wilson’s government with Mountbatten replacing the Prime Minister.

It seems to have been a relatively low-key bit of idle ego-boosting by Cecil, as opposed to the more seriously-thought-through plans for a military coup to overthrow the Wilson government in 1974-1975.

This plan for a military coup in the UK was briefly mentioned in some editions of Rupert Murdoch’s Sunday Times in 1987 but, I think, removed from later editions. The article does not seem to exist online at the Sunday Times, but I have the original newspaper cutting.

I did once ask the MP Dale Campbell-Savours about the ‘Cunard Affair’ – part of the plans for a military coup in the UK – as he had brought the subject up in the House of Commons. He asked me to phone him at home at the weekend, not at the House of Commons. I did. And he then told me he could not remember any details. “We were looking into a lot of things at the time,” he told me. “I can’t remember.” I always thought this was a little strange. However many murky affairs you were looking into, a planned military coup to overthrow the UK government (with a dry run during which tanks were taken to Heathrow Airport), might stick in the memory.

Only journalists or time travellers know the truth about history while it is actually happening.

The general consensus seems to be that the perceived necessity for a military coup in 1974/1975 lessened and became unnecessary when Margaret Thatcher became leader of the Conservative Party in February 1975 and subsequently won the 1979 General Election. The so-called Operation Clockwork Orange in which Margaret Thatcher’s close adviser Airey Neave (who was later assassinated) may have been involved may also have had some effect.

Clockwork Orange and the linked Colin Wallace affair, in which he was framed and imprisoned for manslaughter after he claimed the security services had tried to rig the 1974 UK General Election, surely has the makings of a feature film. A pity the title has already been used.

Conspiracies and conspiracy theories are always gripping entertainment, especially if they are real and who knows what is real?

Earlier in this blog, I specifically wrote that both Lord Mountbatten and Airey Neave were peripherally involved in political machinations and were both later assassinated.

Paranoid conspiracy theorists could have a field day with that. But, of course, they were both assassinated by Irish terrorists for reasons totally, utterly unconnected with the alleged plots: they were assassinated because they were high-profile targets.

As for other matters, I always think it is healthy to maintain a certain level of paranoia. There was a saying circulating in the 1960s: No matter how paranoid you are, they are always doing more than you think they are.

I wish I could get a time machine and go forward 100 years to see what was really happening in the world during my life.

If only.

If only.

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The Welsh language is just plain silly and is a clear sign of national insecurity

So, tell me, what is the point of having a blog if you can’t write bigoted pieces based on truth, half-truths and misunderstandings?

For the last couple of days, I have been staying on Cardigan Bay in West Wales.

When you walk in the streets and go into shops in Cardigan – or Aberteifi as it is now pointlessly half-re-named – people are sometimes speaking Welsh not English to each other. It was not until I worked in Ireland that I started to think the propagation of the Welsh language is ridiculously pointless.

If a language is dead, let it die. If it is still alive, it will survive without heavy-handed insistence that it must be used.

What is very relevant to this blog is the fact I am Scottish not English. Remember that my mother’s grandmother did not speak English until, in her late teens I think, she came down from the hills. The image of my grandmother coming down from the hills is one a friend of mine finds peculiarly funny but, anyway, my mother’s grandmother originally spoke Scots Gaelic as her native tongue, not English.

I once spent some time in the Outer Hebrides where I admired and was fascinated by how, in shops, people would speak to each other in sentences that meandered almost randomly between English and Gaelic words and phrases. They used whichever words and phrases came more naturally and fitted better. Sometimes the words were Gaelic, sometimes English; all within the same sentence.

I once had an interview for a job with Grampian Television in Aberdeen which basically transmitted to the Highlands while Scottish Television transmitted to the Lowlands. The conversation came round to starting a number of Gaelic-language programmes transmitted on Grampian (part of ITV) and on BBC Scotland. I said I thought it was silly because such a relatively small percentage of Scottish television viewers – by then almost entirely in the Western Isles with a small smattering in the Highlands – actually spoke Gaelic as their natural tongue.

The Grampian TV executive interviewing me was highly miffed.

“Ah! But you’re English!” he said to me.

“I was born in Campbeltown and partly brought up in Aberdeen,” I told him. “Where were you born?”

“London,” he said.

I did not get the job.

Later, I did a lot of freelance work over many years for HTV in Cardiff – or Caerdydd as it is now pointlessly half-re-named. It’s a bit like re-naming Saigon as Ho Chi Minh City when most of the inhabitants continue to call it Saigon.

As far as I remember, when I started working in South Wales, almost all the local signs were in English. I mean the road signs and the general retail shop signs.

At some point, almost imperceptibly, dual language signs started appearing, usually with the Welsh version first.

At around this time, or maybe a little later, there was an extended period where my full-time freelance work alternated between working for HTV in Cardiff and Tara TV in Dublin.

In Dublin, I could see old, rotting, rusting and ignored street signs in Irish Gaelic. All the current signs were in English. This was the period when the ‘Celtic Tiger‘ was on the rise and the Irish Republic had re-discovered its self-confidence.

It is very relevant that I was once sitting in an edit suite at Windmill Lane Studios in Dublin, directing a trailer for an RTE television programme which included an interview in which someone said a couple of sentences in Irish Gaelic.

“What did he say?” I asked the Irish videotape editor sitting with me.

“No idea,” he told me.

We had three other Irish people come into the suite. None of them knew what the Gaelic words meant. They had all had to ‘learn’ Gaelic at school but, just like British schoolkids who do five years of French at school, they could not speak and could barely understand the language because it was bugger-all use to them in everyday life.

It was at this time – alternating my time sometimes one week here/ one week there/ one week here/ one week there between Cardiff and Dublin – that I began to think the Welsh language was just plain silly.

It was silly because it was a mostly dead language being revived and imposed by a clique on a predominantly non-Welsh-speaking population.

One week, I returned to Cardiff from Dublin to find that the local Tesco store had changed all its signs to dual-language Welsh and English signs. Someone (Welsh) told me in near-disbelief that all the signs at the Tesco store in Abergavenny, where she lived, had also been changed.

“I swear to God, no-one bloody speaks Welsh in Abergavenny!” she told me.

By the time I stopped working at HTV, Lloyds Bank was calling itself Banc Lloyds (it has since re-re-branded itself simply as Lloyds TSB) and other shops and businesses were doing the same: making up their own names in Welsh. Mostly, I suspect, they were English companies trying to be politically correct and liberal, much like that English executive at Grampian TV trying to be so ‘right-on’.

Shortly before Tesco started changing its signs to dual-language Welsh & English, I had been on holiday to Cambodia and, in Phnom Penh, there was a street of hovels and shacks which were all English language ‘schools’. At that time, no-one had any money and there was a very real possibility that the homicidally extreme Khmer Rouge might regain power in the next month or two. But, as in almost all other parts of the world, people wanted to learn English because it was and is the ‘international’ language. If you are an outward-looking country with outward-looking thoughts, you learn English.

My understanding is that, after most of Ireland gained independence from Britain in the early 1920s (let us not get into any pedantic details of dates in Ireland: it will all end in many tears and much wailing), the republicans who ran the country wanted to encourage self-confidence and national pride.

So they called the new country Eire instead of Ireland, painted the red pillar boxes green, changed a few of the royal crests on stone buildings to harps and tried to get everyone to speak Gaelic. The country rotted in inward-looking isolation for decades, admittedly not helped by the fact successive UK governments had every reason to dislike American-born Eamon de Valera and his blindly Brit-hating chums.

But, by the time I worked in Dublin in the mid and late 1990s, the Irish Republic had regained its self-confidence and, although civil servants had to know Gaelic, the English language had taken over all everyday usage except in the extreme west of the country. The few Irish language signs in Dublin were faded and/or rusting.

Irish, like Scots Gaelic, was then and is now effectively a dead language naturally spoken by few people. Though long may they speak Gaelic in Ireland and Scotland. I have nothing against the natural rise and fall of any – indeed, all – languages.

But I am told by Welsh friends that, except in the West and sparsely-populated central highlands of Wales, the Welsh language had pretty-much died out by the late 19th century.

It was re-imposed rather than re-grew in Wales in the late 20th century.

My memory is that extreme Welsh nationalists got publicity in English newspapers by setting off some minor explosions and burning down occasional second homes owned by ordinary English people in Wales.

Then some second-rate people who could not get jobs in media, politics and the local civil service had the bright idea of looking to what their USP was – they could speak Welsh – and they pushed for Welsh-language TV programmes, an entire Welsh TV channel and the use of the Welsh language in the local civil service because, that way, they would have a positive advantage in getting jobs.

The Welsh language was, to an extent, partially revived not by natural growth and usage but by xenophobia and the self-interest of a small clique.

Yes, that’s a very personal view of what happened, but not necessarily totally untrue.

English politicians, frightened of alienating the Welsh, went along with it for electoral gain and you now have a country where people have a TV channel –  S4C – which most of them don’t understand and dual-language signs only half of which most understand – the English language half.

While the rest of the world was moving towards internationally-understood English, a group of self-serving xenophobes in Wales (where English was already established) were pushing for the renewed use of a mostly-dead language known only by some in Wales and nowhere else except some obscure area of Patagonia.

Looking inwards in an increasingly international world is not a good idea. An insistence on trying to spread the Welsh language more widely in Wales is not a sign of national identity. It is a sign of national insecurity.

Right or wrong, that’s my viewpoint. Like I said at the start, What is the point of having a blog if you can’t write bigoted pieces based on truth, half-truths and misunderstandings?

Oh – Abergavenny has now been pointlessly half-re-named Y Fenni.

Really! Give me a break, chaps or – as Google Translate claims that would be said in Welsh – yn rhoi i mi egwyl, chaps.

What sort of sensible language doesn’t have a word for “chaps”?

Dim sense.

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