Tag Archives: school

Why Robert White went on Britain’s Got Talent and what comedy has taught him

Robert White won the Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2010 (beating Bo Burnham and Dr Brown). He claims to be – and I think no-one is going to dispute this – the only gay, dyslexic, quarter-Welsh, Aspergic, web-toed comedian working on the UK comedy circuit.


JOHN: So why did you do Britain’s Got Talent?

Robert White, aspiring primary school teacher

ROBERT: Because I had given up comedy.

In August last year, the Edinburgh Fringe financially destroyed me so much that I decided I was going to go full-time into teaching music in primary schools.

JOHN: I genuinely thought it was a wonderful Fringe show.

ROBERT: Well, doing an opera like that was artistically spectacular but the only thing it did for my career is that, now, if I die in poverty, at least I’ve got a chance of being recognised 200 years after I’m dead as a composer.

JOHN: Why primary school children? Because they are not as stroppy as teenagers?

ROBERT: Yes. There is an element of discipline. But, being dyslexic yet very creative, I’m very good at taking things and translating them in a very innovative and creative way. Obviously, I have done a degree and highly academic work, but, rather than engaging with HUGE amounts of written material and expressing it in an academic, written way, I would much prefer engaging with limited written material and expressing it in a creative way

In secondary schools, there is a lot of This Date… That Date. I can and have done all of that but, because of the nature of me, I would not choose to do so much of it; there is just so much more writing and so much more reading. With primary school, you are taking things like scale or high and low and the basic elements of music and conveying them in various different interesting creative ways.

I looked into it and, because I had not used it for so long, the PGCE (teaching qualification) I had from 20 years ago was no longer valid. So I would have to re-train. When I decided to go into teaching full-time, it was literally a week after the training course had stopped. There is a thing, though, whereby you can teach primary school music if you have a degree and some teaching experience: which I have.

So I thought: If I do some primary school teaching, that will give me some income. And, if I do the gigs I have, that will give me some other income. And the primary school teaching I do will give me enough experience so that, at the end of the year, instead of having to re-train, I can get a position in a private school where you don’t actually need to have the teaching qualifications.

So that was going to be my career path. A year of finishing-off comedy and building-up teaching then, at the end of it, I would be teaching full-time.

The reason for Britain’s Got Talent was I thought: Well, I’ve done 12 or 13 years of comedy. I may as well cash in what I’ve done and at least that way I can prove to my mum that I’ve done the most I can.

“At least that way I can prove to my mum that I’ve done the most I can.”

I told my mum: “Look, I just don’t want to struggle any more.” I don’t mind whether comedy works or teaching works or if I move home and just start a job in a shop and work my way up to be a supervisor. I just don’t want to struggle any more.

The last 20 years, it has felt as if I’ve been trying to pay off the same £1,000 overdraft and never succeeding…

JOHN: You’ve been doing comedy for a while now…

ROBERT: I have Asperger’s Syndrome and comedy through the last 13 years has been like CBT – Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.

I have been putting myself in difficult situations, night after night after night, and it has helped so much. Comedy has not just brought me a comedy career, it has actually helped my Asperger’s enough that I can now do a normal job. It has got me to a point now where I can teach.

Comedy has taught me about people and Asperger’s and the way I think. Every year, I’ve become more free. Even walking on stage, I now don’t think I have to do A-B-C-D in a certain order. I’m more relaxed.

JOHN: Whereas before…?

ROBERT: Because I have Asperger’s, I find it very difficult to connect with people in the real world and all of my social processes are thought-through processes. Now, with what I’ve learnt from years of doing comedy, some have become more intuitive. But they are not naturally intuitive.

You don’t have Asperger’s so, to you, reading facial expressions is intuitive. To me, it is not. Literally thinking-through and analysing: What is this other person thinking? How do I act in this situation? Which becomes very very very very tiring.

The thing that comedy has done for me is it taught me about social skills and gave me an understanding of people. If you think of the audience as a macro-person, then that translates into how one person acts to the individual micro-person. It has helped me understand about people.

But conversely what that has meant is that, sort of like horse whispering, I’ve got an almost unusually natural understanding of audiences that other people wouldn’t have – because I analyse them in a certain way. If there’s any way my autistic mind does work well in the overly-analytical way, it’s basically an understanding of the audience and what’s going on.

I’m the only person I know who, before he goes on, fills up his hand and his whole arm not with jokes but with social cues. That’s because, when I first started – and now – I needed to reinforce myself with certain things. I still do that.

JOHN: Writing on your arm such things as…?

ROBERT: Be nice. No rudes. Time equals money. There is an understanding that there is a right sort of groan and a wrong sort of groan. That has now come to inform me on a level other people don’t have. Which is why standing on stage now and being able to say whatever I want is an amazingly freeing thing. 

The judges’ reaction to Robert White on Britain’s Got Talent

When it got to Britain’s Got Talent and the audition, I looked at my act…

If you take away the crudeness and swearing – there is so much still left. I had not considered that before. There is quirkiness, jokes, puns, silliness, music. I have got many more strings to my bow than I originally considered.

JOHN: You are playing 20-minute spots at the Comedy Store now.

ROBERT: I did the Gong Show at the Comedy Store about two years ago and it was a really rough gig. There was this woman shouting me at the front and I had to go off-piste and really properly play the gig. So, in an absolute, utter bear-pit gig, I won the night.  Eleven years earlier, I did the Gong Show, walked onto the stage; same response; but I ripped my tee-shirt and started crying.

That is what comedy has done for me.

The whole process of doing comedy and then Edinburgh making me give up comedy led to Britain’s Got Talent and rising like a phoenix from the ashes.

But we don’t know what tomorrow holds.

All I want is to not struggle.

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Comedy critic Kate Copstick on Jewish prejudice and the Scots/UK legal system

A selfie of Coptick and me at The Grouchy Club

A selfie of Copstick and me at The Grouchy Club last month

At last month’s Edinburgh Fringe, comedy critic Kate Copstick and I hosted the daily Grouchy Club. It will return at next year’s Fringe and we are currently looking into running monthly Grouchy Club events in London.

In the first Edinburgh show, I asked her about herself.

“You went to Glasgow University…” I said.

“Yes.”

“And studied drinking?”

“No. That came to me naturally. There was no need to study. I wrote my final Honours paper – which was on Kelsen’s Pure Theory of Law – on a breakfast of two litres of Guinness. I was pretty much incapable of leaving the house without wrapping myself around something alcoholic – I mean a drink, not a person. I farted and belched my way through the exam and got a 2:1.”

“You wanted to be a Scottish lawyer?” I asked.

“Well,” explained Copstick, “I had seen Witness For The Prosecution at a very impressionable age and had this ridiculous idea that lawyers were there to help people. I was very, very naive and obviously had not met any lawyers. I saw myself as Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird mode. And also I was an appalling smartarse at school. I was unpopular. I was short, fat and ugly. The only thing that was any good about me was that I was clever.

“What clever people went on to do was Law or Medicine and, as my Highers were English, French, German, Latin and History, I was not going to be a doctor.

“The Law degree was good fun and I got to shag a lot of Jewish boys and really upset a lot of Jewish mothers. I had a boyfriend called Michael. Well, he and I were not ‘going out’. I wasn’t into relationships. I was more into just shagging randomly and frequently. Those were the days.

“Michael’s parents were quite rich and, for his 18th birthday, they bought him a Mini-Cooper car which they then locked in the garage because he took me out in it – a shiksa had soiled the seats.

“That was the first time I really understood prejudice. One Jewish guy invited me over to dinner and his mum and dad were there and I was put at the end of the table with the crockery and the cutlery for the goyim. It was like Unclean! Unclean!

“Michael – the guy with the Mini-Cooper – got me for my 21st birthday The Code of Jewish Law.”

“What,” I asked, “IS the code of Jewish Law?”

“God loves us. God hates everyone else.”

The figure of Justice - blindfolded to avoid seeing any truths

The legal system… is blind to justice

“Anyway,” I said. “You decided not to become a lawyer. Why?”

“I did quite enjoy it, except I did come to realise that it is just a big posh boys’ game. It is not even so much about the boys. It’s about the posh. An ordinary person is never going to win. The police are liars and bastards. The prosecution services are liars and bastards. Your best defence is a rich dad and posh accent. If you don’t look right and don’t sound right, you’re probably guilty.

“I sat in front of juries and listened to them talking because I was an Advocate at that point. I was the instructing solicitor. I heard them say things like: Aw, see that Mr Taylor? (Bill Taylor was a Defence Lawyer) He’s got such lovely blue eyes. See when he looks at you? Ya cannae help but agree wi’ him. That is not a fucking defence! But that was the kind of reasons they had. You think: This is all just fucked!

“The scariest people I ever met were the Glasgow Serious Crime Squad. They would have ‘fitted you up’ faster than a Chinese tailor. Just unbelievable!”

“The clue’s in the name,” I suggested. “The Serious Crime Squad. They commit serious crimes.”

“That’s absolutely true,” said Copstick, “but I just thought: Fuck this for a game of soldiers.

‘Which years are these?” I asked.

“The mid-1980s.”

“How long do you train to be a lawyer/liar?” I asked.

“You do a four year degree and then you go off and become a baby apprentice and then, if you’re smart enough, you get to skip a year of apprenticing. So I got to skip a year.”

“So,” I said, “after being trained to lie for four years solid, you can only become either a lawyer or a politician, really.”

“After four years, you know nothing other than books,” said Copstick.

“So,” I said. “If you decide not to be a lawyer after four years, you’ve got no other career.”

“Well,” said Copstick, “what you do know is how to learn. It trains your brain like nothing else. It teaches you not to be frightened of words. If someone sends you a contract, read it. It’s not scary. It will basically just say the same thing over and over and over again to make you think it’s saying a lot of things. They could hide anything in there.”

“So basically,” I said, “all they teach you is how to encapsulate things quickly so you can speak about something you don’t understand and make it sound credible like a politician or a lawyer?”

“In a nutshell, John,” said Copstick. “In a nutshell.”

… CONTINUED HERE

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Malcolm Hardee’s autobiography “will provide ideas that motivate that most difficult of audiences, the teenager”

Malcolm Hardee outside Grover Court in 1995

Malcolm Hardee: comic, promoter, inspiration to teenagers

Malcolm Hardee’s autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake was published in 1996.

I co-wrote it with him. Well, OK, I wrote it from taped conversations with him.

It got quite well-reviewed:

“Hilarious” (The Scotsman)

“Blindingly funny” (The Independent)

“Makes you laugh in great snorts” (Daily Express)

“You will laugh out loud at least a dozen times” (Sunday Times)

“The funniest read in longer than I care to remember” (The Stage) 

“Characterful and not overly ghost-written…a feast of scabrous reminiscence” (Independent on Sunday)

It is now out of print, but Amazon has been happily selling occasional ‘new’ and ‘used’ copies for years.

Now surrealism has struck.

Comedy critic Bruce Dessau (about whom I blogged yesterday) has just drawn my attention to something.

An Amazon.co.uk person or, perhaps, computer has got their/its knickers in a twist.

Malcolm, Glastonbury 2003

Malcolm at Glastonbury in 2003

For those who don’t know, the late comic Malcolm Hardee was known for his outrageous behaviour. His autobiography tells anecdotes of sex, drugs and the time Malcolm had his genitals painted in luminous paint at the Glastonbury Festival.

Until recently – I think I looked a few months ago – Amazon’s description of the book was fairly spot-on. It was supplied by the book’s original publisher and (I think) read:

The humorous memoirs of criminal-turned-comedy agent Malcolm Hardee, who recalls a life of crime and misdemeanours before finding fame and fortune in the comedy boom of the 1980s. He also recalls how he did in fact, as the title suggests, steal Freddie Mercury’s birthday cake.

Currently, the book description on Amazon.co.uk reads:

Something has gone terribly wrong in amazon.co.uk's listing

Something has gone terribly wrong in amazon.co.uk’s listing

For successful classroom teaching, your students need to be engaged and active learners. In this book, there is practical advice that is grounded in the realities of teaching in today’s classrooms on how to be an inspirational teacher and produce highly motivated students. This book contains 220 positive, practical teaching ideas that are relevant to both new and experienced classroom teachers. With reference to reflective practice, best practice and Continuing Professional Development (CPD), this book provides essential support for trainee teachers, new teachers and experienced teachers looking to extend their repertoire.

Well, if teachers want to ‘extend their repertoire’ (Ooh, missus!) with impressions of French President General De Gaulle using only a pair of spectacles held atop a naked, flaccid penis representing his nose, then this is certainly the book to buy.

Something has gone terribly wrong in amazon.co.uk's listing

Amazon’s listing opens up a whole new audience for Malcolm

In the current Reviews section, the highly-regarded Teacher magazine is quoted as saying:

This book will provide ideas that motivate that most difficult of audiences, the teenager.

Absolutely true. It will certainly spice up biology classes.

The book also now has some excellent new quotes in the Reviews section including:

I enjoyed this book, and got a lot of good ideas from it” (Chris Kilby, PGCE student)

Puts a strong emphasis on the how” (Sarah Davies, Senior Lecturer, Nottingham Trent University)

Well, that is true.

And there remain some older and more representative reader reviews…

At the Tunnel, Malcolm Hardee (left) and Chris Lynam with a firework up his bum. CREDIT Geraint Lewis

At the Tunnel club, Malcolm Hardee (left) watches Chris Lynam with a firework up his bum. (Photo by Geraint Lewis)

I’d recommend anyone to look up the balloon dance on the internet to witness how amusing it was, ditto the ‘banger up the rear’ routine. It takes the reader on a journey of… his touring, drinking, womanising… a great book” (5 STARS – Comedy Cum Hardee, 1st March 2012)

A little piece of comedy history and an amazing insight into the Malcolm Hardie’s (sic) incredible life and journey.” (5 STARS – Sam, 19th May 2011)

Full of cheeky chappies and crazy anecdotes guaranteed to generate random fits of laughter. Malcolm was a lovable rogue who liked to show his knob a lot!” (5 STARS Mitzi, Wales, 9th September 2009)

I am inclined not to tell Amazon about this balls-up and see what happens.

The book is available via them in both new and used editions. Copies of the used books currently vary in price (+ £2.80 delivery) from £7.98p to £999.00. Copies of the book in ‘new’ condition vary from £49.99 to £999.00.

Interestingly, it is the same seller – UK_Bookstore – who is selling both New copies for £999.00 and Used copies for £999.00. The difference seems to be that New copies are in pristine condition and Used copies “may have some underlines and highlights”.

In case you should think I have made all this up or have changed the Amazon listing myself, I have not.

Barry Ferns won last year’s Cunning Stunt Award

Barry Ferns won Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award 2013 (Photograph by Keir O’Donnell)

The annual Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show is being held at the Edinburgh Fringe this year on Friday 22nd August. The three awards include a Cunning Stunt Award for best publicity stunt promoting a performer or show at the Fringe.

This Amazon surrealism is not a cunning stunt.

We simply – it seems – live in increasingly surreal times.

I am very glad of that.

 

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Filed under Books, Comedy, Humor, Humour, Internet, Publishing

A girls’ boarding school, unwanted sex with rabbits and comic John Moloney

Rabbits and their habits taught to young girls

Rabbits and their habits were taught to innocent young girls

After last night, I wish I had gone to a girls’ boarding school in my teenage years.

Last night, I sat between two women who did go to boarding school together and who were reminiscing about their not-so-good old days.

I will call them Mary and Margaret.

They had found a Facebook group thread for their old school:

“Does anyone remember The Rabbit Lady?” said one online comment. “Once a year, the whole school had to sit in the hall for ‘sex education’ while she drew diagrams and prattled on about the reproductive cycle of rabbits.”

“She was The Bunny Woman,” someone else had posted. “So-called because the first ‘sex’ lesson she delivered was all about Mummy Bunny and Daddy Bunny and how they managed to produce all those little bunnies… That’s all she talked about. I don’t remember any follow-up lessons, just the rabbit one. It left us all a bit mystified.”

“Do you remember anything about rabbits?” I asked Mary.

“No, that was before my time,” she replied, “but we had our equivalent of The Rabbit Lady.”

“Did we?” asked Margaret.

“You don’t remember?” asked Mary. “Once a year in the gym? Our whole class – well, two years together – we had to bring our chairs in a semi-circle and sit there and we thought this woman was obviously going to tell us the details of sticking it in and ovaries and stuff like that – maybe making it clearer to us, though we’d guessed some bits – and Catherine asked What are periods? and that was it. The whole lesson was spent talking about what periods were. We weren’t interested. We wanted to know about bits & pieces and hot dogs & sausage rolls.”

“Is there a Facebook page for your school?” Margaret asked me.

There was.

“You have a lot of notable former pupils,” Margaret said, scrolling down the list. “Air Vice-Marshal Arthur Button, Director of RAF Education…”

“Ah!” I lied. “Old ‘Butters’,” I knew him well.” In fact, he was born in 1916, before my parents were even born. But I had known about (though never knew):

Raymond Baxter (1922-2006), TV personality (presenter of now sadly forgotten science series Tomorrow’s World)

and

Sir Trevor Brooking (b.1948), Footballer

and, more interestingly

Kathleen Lonsdale (1903-1971), Chemist, who had studied at the girls’ school and transferred to the boys’ school at the age of 16 so she could study science.

Then, another surprise to me:

Boyd Hilton (b.1967) TV Editor, Heat Magazine

We scrolled further down the list.

“Good heavens!” I said.

John Moloney (b.1965), Comedian and Writer

“I didn’t know he went to my school,” I said. “I worked with his wife Anna on a Jack Dee TV series. She was wonderful. Phenomenally efficient. John Moloney’s very good. He started out billing himself as an Angry Young Accordionist. I wonder if he learnt it at school.”

“The accordion?” asked Mary.

“Being angry,” I said.

I was not on the list of notable former pupils.

It is good to see that standards have been maintained.

But I would like to know more about Kathleen Lonsdale (1903-1971), Chemist, who had studied at the girls’ school and transferred to the boys’ school at the age of 16 so she could study science.

If I had known that and if she did that, perhaps I missed my chance and I really could have gone to a girls’ boarding school and learned about sex with rabbits.

Life is full of missed opportunities.

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North Korea – Phallic monuments, war lies, famine and an interview with MI5

An amazing erection in Pyongyang: the Tower

(A version of this blog was also published on the Indian news website We Speak News.)

Surprisingly today, our older male guide admitted that North Korea had a famine in the 1990s. It was, he said, caused by “no rain” and, in the period 1994-1999, “only 200,000” people died, not the 3 million he said was claimed by the Americans.

I think Apartheid in South Africa was doomed when they let television into the country. People could see what life was like outside the country.

Widespread tourism in North Korea brings much the same threat.

Being a North Korean must be like being a sheep or a goat. You are born into a place where people look after you and you learn to trust them and believe they care about your welfare. Then, one day, they may slit your throat and eat you with vegetables.

North Korea is an enclosed world of brown countryside and white-and-red towns. Or white-and-off-red towns. Brown earth. Off-white buildings. Red banners and slogans.

The Great Leader Kim Il-sung’s Juche Idea of self-reliance – much touted when I was here in 1986 – seems to have been superceded by the Songun philosophy of “military first” – which “prioritises the Korean People’s Army in the affairs of state and allocates national resources to the army first”. Interestingly, this first seriously appeared in 1995, the year after Kim Il-sung’s death, when his son the Dear Leader Kim Jong-il took over the country.

I wonder what sucking-up to the military Kim Jong-Il’s son the new Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un will have to do.

All towns seem to have at least one tall thin monument in a central position with slogans carved around or on it – the ultimate being the Tower of the Juche Idea in the country’s capital Pyongyang with eternal sculptured flame atop. It all seems a bit like worshipping a stone phallus erected in the middle of ancient communities with dwellings huddled round it.

North Korea is very big on icons.

We were taken to the national film studios today. The late Dear Leader Kim Jong-il was much bitten by the would-be-Hollywood bug. We were proudly told that he had visited the film studios more than 590 times. We were told the studios made 20 films each year. So that would be almost two per month with lots of overlapping.

But the studio buildings and the widespread backlot streets were deserted. The ladies and gents toilets were closed and had to be found and specially opened. The gents was flooded. Someone told me there appeared to be an old woman sleeping in the ladies toilet.

The man in charge of the film studios said that the Great Leader Kim Il-sung himself had given advice on the positioning of the studios. He had said they should be outside the city.

Good advice, I believe.

The school year here starts on April 1st, which seems a very appropriate date given some of the facts learned in school. We were taken to an ‘ordinary’ school today.

In reality, of course, foreign visitors are never taken to ‘ordinary’ schools.

The school we were taken to – the June the 9th Middle School Number One School – was closed. This is the fourth day of a two-day public holiday. the extra two days, we were told, are “because in the previous two days the people had to celebrate”.

The science schoolroom had a small, cheap microscope on each desk. There was one room devoted to lessons about the Great Leader Kim Il-sung. And one room devoted to lessons about the Dear Leader Kim Jong-il. “The children have one lesson each week on them,” we were told proudly.

Some children had been dragged in to perform for us. As with all performances in North Korea, they were perfect in every way, though with a slightly unsettling emphasis on accordion-playing.

I was very impressed by one small picture among many others stuck on a wall. It was of the small children undergoing military training – crawling under barbed wire and the rest.

Then we were taken to the War Museum where we had explained to us why the Korean War started. Basically, as I understood the story, the US made lots of money during the Second World War by selling its armaments. When the War finished, the US went into a big economic Depression and decided to start the Korean War to stop the Depression.

Last time I was here, in 1986, the line was that the Korean War started when the running dog South Korean lackeys of the US imperialists wantonly attacked North Korea, but the valiant North Koreans pluckily fought back, drove the Americans back to the sea and the Yanks begged for a peace treaty.

This fails somewhat to explain why the border between the two Koreas remains in the middle of the peninsula and, as told in 1986, the Chinese Army was not involved in any way. Presumably North Korean grandfathers who remember US/UN troops surging northwards through their village and then remember Chinese troops surging southwards through their village see the value of keeping schtum.

Today, I asked if many Chinese visitors came to the War Museum and if they saw the same rooms as us. “There are four Chinese rooms in the museum,” I was told, “but we do not have time to see them today.”

I do not really care. The more important factor to me is that, although there is some talk of the US conning the UN into being involved in the Korean War, it is the Americans who are 100% blamed (or credited) with the war. We see their downed aircraft, captured vehicles and photos of their POWs. Britain is never mentioned because it seems important to keep the focus of North Korea’s xenophobic hatred on the Americans alone.

That’s fine by me. It gives me a quieter life as a Brit.

In the evening, as a special treat, we are taken to Pyongyang’s main theatre for a special mega-performance by a cast of 2,000 in honour of Kim Il-sung’s 100th birthday. Broadway and Andrew Lloyd-Webber eat your heart out. A stupendous production of professional perfection. It is later put on YouTube:

But, really, you had to be there to appreciate the scale of it.

At a restaurant meal, one of our group tells me his story about being interviewed for a job in MI5. He passed the tests where you are given lots of disparate information from different sources about a fake situation and have to compile a risk assessment  situation report. He got through to the interview stage and failed. He says he thought it was because he was around 22 years old at the time and “they like more fully-formed people… all the others were older, maybe in their early 30s.”

I wonder how uni-directional the microphones are in the restaurant. I feel reassured that the North Koreans have better people to bug in this celebratory period.

When I get back to the hotel – our final night is unexpectedly in the 5-star Yanggakdo Hotel – the television, very bizarrely, has the BBC World TV channel on it. What are the authorities thinking of? North Korean workers in the hotel can see this. I think of South Africa and Apartheid.

The BBC is saying there has been a Los Angeles Times report with photos of US soldiers posing with the severed limbs and other body parts of suicide bombers… and North Korea has said it will no longer allow UN nuclear inspectors into the country because the US has withdrawn food aid to North Korea in response to the launch of their rocket last week.

We live in interesting times.

Most of it utterly unknown by the people of North Korea.

… CONTINUED HERE …

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Alien lifeforms, empty schools and sexual promiscuity in County Kerry

The people I am staying with on the currently rain-swept Iveragh Peninsula in south west Ireland obviously (despite the weather) have a refrigerator.

On a shelf inside the fridge is a 1,000 kg block of cheese.

On the wrapper are printed the words “EC Aid White Cheese”. The cheese is supplied free to locals by the European Union. You just go along and ask for it and you are given it. No-one knows why, but no-one is going to turn down 1,000 kg of free cheese.

EC Aid is part of the European Community’s Development Programme which stems from the Cotonou Agreement. The central objective of the agreement is “poverty reduction and ultimately its eradication; sustainable development; and progressive integration of 77 African, Caribbean and Pacific countries into the world economy”. Quite how my two chums living in considerable comfort with two cars and five TV sets in Kerry fit into this no doubt admirable scheme and qualify with all the other locals for 1,000 kg of free cheese, I know not.

But this odd circumstance is, of course, not a solitary example of a wee taste of the bizarre here in Kerry.

The local newspaper The Kerryman (established 1904) carries a headline:

________________

‘ALIEN’ INVADER WASHED UP ON VENTRY STRAND

PHRONIMAS, deep-sea creatures that inspired the Alien movies because of their practice of burrowing into their victims, were discovered on Ventry Beach last week.

The discovery is believed to be the first time creatures of this kind have been found in Kerry and, according to head aquarist at Dingle Oceanworld Katie O’dwyer:

“Phronimas are a type of amphipod, related to crustaceans, such as crab and lobster and they live in very deep oceanic waters,” she told The Kerryman. “They find a Salp, a type of Tunicate or Sea-squirt, and they carve them out to create a ‘barrel’ which they then live in.

“However, scientific studies have found that the bits of the Salp that are left when the Phronima is living in them, are actually still alive.”

The Phronima still has to swim around but uses the barrel like a little dwelling; as the food and water comes through it.

________________

The Kerryman’s editorial then rages at:

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BIZARRE SITUATION OF TEACHER IN SCHOOL WITH NO PUPILS

While the east Kerry Scoil Mhuire National School in Clonkeen has no pupils and is due to be shut down in the near future, a ludicrous regulation set down by officials at the Department of Education meant that for the last three months the school’s principal still had report for work every day at a completely empty school.

Since September this teacher, who was willing and waiting to be transferred to another school, was forced to fill his days compiling logs and rolls for a deserted school and wandering the empty classrooms and halls.

That this situation was allowed to continue, and was arguably ignored altogether by officials at the Department of Education, while schools the length and breadth of Kerry cry for additional teachers is nothing short of scandalous.

It’s a damning indictment of the culture of spin that exists and our government and the officials involved in this whole outrageous fiasco should hang their heads in shame.

________________

and, in even more personal social news, The Kerryman reports:

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KERRY’S LOVE CHEATS IN A RUSH TO LOG ON FOR AFFAIRS

Infidelity is on the rise in Kerry. According to figures published by website ashleymadison.com, which is designed to accommodate people who want to cheat on their partners, there are a huge number of people in Kerry seeking to play away from home.

The site, which was launched in Ireland in 2009, now has 3,692 members in Kerry. This is one of the highest figures in the country outside of the major cities. According to the site about a third of these users are women.

Users of the site, described as attached people by the website, can use it to flirt with other people who are married or in a relationship through online chat services and message boards.

________________

The AshleyMadison site’s slogan is:

LIFE IS SHORT. HAVE AN AFFAIR.

Perhaps my blog yesterday about the “feckin” nuns cavorting on a local beach during their summer holidays was not as odd as I thought.

Life in Kerry is never dull and often unexpected.

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Other creatures’ lives: Charlie Chuck and Elsie the duck who sits on his head

Yesterday, I drove up to Leicestershire to take photographs of comedian Charlie Chuck with his ducks. Well, they are not his ducks. They are his girlfriend’s ducks.

It is not a quiet nor a simple life having 21 ducks, two dogs, an occasional fox and Charlie Chuck in your back garden. Because they have to be mostly kept apart for safety reasons.

There are four females ducks, four very large males and 13 newly-born ducklings.

The four males have to be kept separate to stop them leaping on the four females, grabbing them violently by the back of their necks and making what Shakespeare almost called the duck with two backs.

The four females and 12 ducklings can be left to roam but need careful shepherding in case they make a bolt for the wrought-iron side gate and, from there, the front garden and road.

And then there is Elsie.

Elsie was a sickly duckling, excluded from the family nest which was in a large wooden dog house. She was tended by Charlie Chuck’s girlfriend’s grown-up son and has bonded with him and humans not ducks. She does not like water except to drink. She refuses to swim. And, if she goes outside when the other ducklings are around, they attack her. But she will settle on human shoulders – especially Charlie Chuck’s – like a miniature would-be pirate’s parrot.

And on his head.

If no human is available, she will follow the nearest mother substitute available – usually Billy the Jack Russell dog belonging to Charlie Chuck’s girlfriend. Of a night-time, Elsie would ideally like to sleep with Billy the Jack Russell dog, but Billy does not want this, so he tries to avoid the arrangement by running away, resulting in a regular circular chase round a tree in the back garden, with Billy pursued by Elsie in the twilight.

And then there is Charlie Chuck’s dog Ollie the collie who never barks at home but who does when he visits Charlie Chuck’s girlfriend’s home and hears Billy the Jack Russell dog bark.

And then there is the occasional fox, kept at bay at night by Charlie Chuck’s girlfriend’s grown-up son with a catapult in an upstairs window.

And then there is Charlie Chuck.

At home, the books on Charlie Chuck’s bookshelf include all the children’s stories written by C.S.Lewis, the autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake by Malcolm Hardee (he drowned) and The Paranormal: A Bishop Investigates by theologian Hugh Montefiore who was born a Sephardic Jew but who became the Church of England’s Bishop of Birmingham 1977-1987. He (Montefiore) converted to Christianity as a 16-year-old schoolboy when he had a vision of Christ while sitting in his study at Rugby school.

Jesus was a Jew who never converted to Christianity.

It can be a complicated world.

There are pictures of Charlie Chuck with Elsie the duck on my Facebook page here.

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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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The story two-faced Tony Blair/Bliar successfully hid from the British public

The individual’s right to privacy, the public’s “right to know” and freedom of the press.

Now there’s a difficult balance to strike.

And then there are super-injunctions.

One of the reasons for granting one of the notorious secret super-injunctions was apparently that, if the man’s marital infidelity were revealed, his children might get bullied at school. I rather think that, if the guy’s kids get bullied because their father has been sticking his knob within someone other than his wife, then the guy should take responsibility. It ain’t for the public courts to help him try to hide his adultery.

But the protection of children versus freedom of the press can be a well-balanced problem – of which more later, with Tony Blair.

Yesterday, the Guido Fawkes blog ran a story that, since 2008 – unknown to the British public – it has been an offence punishable by imprisonment to reveal that Lakshmi Mittal, the richest man in Britain – who has donated £2 million to the Labour Party – has a super-injunction gagging all reporting of an unknown and unprintable matter.

And much was made in the press yesterday about the super-injunction with which former RBS boss Fred Goodwin tried to hide an affair he had with a married subordinate before the financial crisis of 2008. This was the super-injunction which also, technically, made it illegal to describe him as “a banker”.

There have been lots of worthy ‘public interest’ words about how the public deserved to know about Fred Goodwin’s affair because it may have affected his judgment in the period leading up to the point at which the British taxpayer had to fork out billions of pounds to save RBS.

I’m not convinced that Fred The Bed’s rumpy pumpy is too likely to have specifically contributed to RBS’s woes in any major way. I think that may be more to do with the near-meltdown of the entire world’s financial system – and, from my biased perspective, two Icelandic banks which stole the money I had invested in them. But stress, obviously, does affect people’s judgment in times of crisis.

If – let us say for argument’s sake – if… a Prime Minister were making important life-or-death decisions in a highly volatile post-war situation, the public would have a right to know if he were making those decisions under extreme personal stress, wouldn’t they?

Well, no, apparently the public would not have any right to know that.

Call me old-fashioned, but I think highly personal matters SHOULD be in the public domain if people – perhaps hundreds, perhaps thousands of people – might die because of a potentially wrong decision taken by a politician under extreme personal pressure.

Tony Blair – sometimes called Tony Bliar, a far more fitting spelling – the man who brought in the Freedom of Information Act – claimed he wanted ‘open’ government.

Yet, when his 16 year old daughter Kathryn attempted suicide on or around 13th May 2004, he and his chaps went to the editors of the main British newspapers and had all reporting of the attempted suicide barred from publication because it was a solely personal, private matter. Rupert Murdoch barred publication of any reporting of the incident in any of his newspapers worldwide; I do wonder what sort of political payback he could expect for doing that.

It remains one of many stories known by but not reported in the UK media. Many people who knew about the attempted suicide at the time agreed and still agree with the blanket non-reporting of the fact it happened. They believe that it was and is a family tragedy and there is no “in the public interest” factor involved; they argued and argue that the physical and psychological protection of the individual child outweighs any public right to know. I disagree.

In a recent blog I mentioned I tried to commit suicide when I was 18.

The Blair daughter suicide bid happened almost exactly one year after the invasion of Iraq, which was in an even worse mess and the Abu Ghraib torture pictures had recently been publicised. The suicide bid was rumoured to have been caused by a combination of exam stress and bullying by schoolmates about her father’s involvement in Iraq. Which is where that earlier reference to school bullying comes in.

The Blair suicide story is not an urban myth. I know someone who, at the time, was connected to the Blair daughter’s Roman Catholic state secondary school, the Sacred Heart in Hammersmith. I heard about it at the time because, obviously, the school knew it had happened.

I first heard the story mentioned in public by an Irish comedian at the August 2004 Edinburgh Fringe. The story had been published in Ireland and abroad but not in the UK and not by any news sources controlled by Rupert Murdoch.

At the time, there were unexplained stories in the British press that Blair was considering leaving office. No reason was given in the reports as to why Blair might leave office beyond, occasionally, some vague reference to “family”. And it seemed to me that Blair suddenly visibly aged at that time.

If those stories were true and he was indeed considering actually resigning for family reasons then it does not seem to be a vast leap of supposition to believe that he was making important decisions of life and death in an extremely volatile and unpredictable high-pressure post-Invasion situation while under extreme psychological stress.

The reasons for his stress might well have been “personal” and “private” but, when personal, normally private events affect national and international decisions and potentially the deaths of hundreds or thousands of people, the public has a right to know the circumstances under which those decisions are being made.

There ARE cases where the public’s “right to know” and freedom of the press over-ride people’s “right to privacy”.

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Someone appears to be trying to screw me out of money I am owed and that never seems to end well

When I was newly 18 – just a couple of months after my 18th birthday – I tried to kill myself over a girl. It seemed like a good idea at the time. I’ve never regretted it.

But, being a novice at such things, I used drugs – aspirin, paracetamol and codeine. This was a mistake. I had always been shit at Chemistry in school. I always came last in Chemistry, except on one occasion when I came next-to-last. The Chemistry master wrote on my report A fair try and emigrated to New Zealand.

The reason I mention this is that people have always tended to mis-read me. For one thing, they misread nihilism for jollity: a very strange misreading, even if it is occasionally humorous nihilism.

But people (as always) read other people’s thoughts and actions based on their own psychological make-up. This seems to mean that most people think I give a shit.

And they assume that I will calculate consequences in the same way that they would. This is not necessarily true. When I get into a tussle of tiffs. I do calculate consequences, but I may calculate them (from other people’s viewpoints) unexpectedly, in the sense that a scorched earth policy or the Cold War nuclear concept of MAD (mutual assured destruction) does not worry me. I do try to warn people about this, but they seem to ignore the warnings.

They are so used to reading between the lines that they don’t really pay attention to what is actually being said.

If you have, at a point earlier in your life, assumed that you would cease to exist in 60 or 30 or 10 minutes time and if that was an outcome you decided was acceptable – welcome, even – then, trust me, risk calculation later in life may not be on the same measurement scale that other people assume.

The comedian Janey Godley has said of performing comedy: “If I ever stood in a room with 600 people and talked for 15 minutes and nobody laughed, then it’s no worse than having a gun held at your head and I’ve already had that, so it doesn’t really scare me.”

She speaks from experience.

In different circumstances, so do I, though I have never had a gun held at my head. Though there was that unfortunate incident with the young Yugoslav soldier sitting up a tree in a forest outside Titograd.

The fact I genuinely care very little about consequences may also have something to do with having had a Scottish – and Scots Presbyterian – upbringing. The world is full of greys. It is not black and white. But, whereas others may not see a dividing line between the shades of grey I see from my personal viewpoint, I do.

Most decisions and most things in life don’t matter. But, if I decide something DOES matter, then I know where I have drawn that line. One side of that pencil thin line is what is acceptable. On the other side of that pencil thin line is something that is unacceptable under all circumstances.

Up to that line, I am told I am very malleable. If that line is crossed, though, then I will attempt to rip your throat out.

My rule of thumb is three strikes and you are out.

Fuck the consequences.

Just thought I’d mention it…

Now, anyone got any money-making propositions they want to run past me?

Perhaps a job as a risk assessment advisor?

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