Tag Archives: Scotland

Simple explanation of the Irish problem

With all the hassle over Brexit and the Irish border, I think it would be wise to bear in mind these two simple explanations of the British Isles, taken from 1066 and All That:

“The Scots (originally Irish, but by now Scotch) were at this time inhabiting Ireland, having driven the Irish (Picts) out of Scotland; while the Picts (originally Scots) were now Irish (living in brackets) and vice versa. It is essential to keep these distinctions clearly in mind (and verce visa).”

“Gladstone… spent his declining years trying to guess the answer to the Irish Question; unfortunately, whenever he was getting warm, the Irish secretly changed the Question.”

One explanation of the British Isles (there are many conflicting explanations). This one on MapPorn

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The most feared comedy critic at the Edinburgh Fringe and her links to crime

Could this wordsmith have saved you from a prison sentence?

At this month’s Grouchy Club meeting in London, I talked to comedy critic Kate Copstick, one of the judges of the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards.

“So,” I started, “you were trained as a lawyer in Scotland…”

“Yes, I did a law degree at Glasgow University because I watched Margaret Lockwood in the TV series Justice at a very impressionable age and I saw the original Witness For The Prosecution with Charles Laughton when my whole brain was malleable. I got this idea that lawyers were there to help people… I pause for laughter.

“I really just wanted to be an actress, but then my mum died very suddenly and my dad went to pieces and I thought: We must do something to cheer up my dad. What I had always done to cheer up my dad, my gran, my mum – anybody – was do something clever – win a prize, be first in the class, something.

“So I thought: Great! I will make him magically forget the love of his life to whom he has been married for 17 years has just died overnight of a brain haemorrhage… by announcing that I am going to do a law degree.”

“Very sensible,” I said. “How long was the course?”

“Four years for an Honours degree. And then, in Scotland, you do an apprenticeship and then, if you want to go to the Bar, you do devilling.”

“Devilling?”

“They call it pupilage in England.”

“You enjoyed your law course?”

“It was great. I was drunk through most of the degree.”

“And you were bonking…”

“Endlessly. I fucked people for the same reason people climb mountains. Because they’re there.”

On his death in 2015, the Telegraph called Joe a man of “integrity and passion”

“And you wanted to be…?”

“A criminal lawyer and the really, really famous guy who all the criminals in Glasgow went to was Joe Beltrami. He was a phenomenal lawyer who judged nobody and absolutely gave everybody the best defence they could get. They had never had any women working for them other than as secretaries but I persuaded Joe Beltrami and did my apprenticeship with them and it was – fucking hell! – a bit of an eye-opener.”

“You were not doing motoring offences…”

“No. They only did the biggies – murder, armed robbery, rape. So I spent most of my time interviewing witnesses, talking to the police, collecting bits-and-bobs of evidence at prisons or in the High Court. It was a TOTAL eye-opener.”

“At what point,” I asked, “did you discover there was no justice?”

“Fairly early on. It completely turned the way I thought about… the way I thought about everything. I had just come out of university. What the fuck did I know? Nothing.”

“Why did you stop being involved in the legal system?”

“One reason was that I was just getting so angry. Because of the unfairness of the system. You see an actual policeman standing there just lying. Not being mistaken, but telling a direct lie and then two of his friends stepping up and saying: Yes, I can corroborate what DC So-and-so was saying. Seeing that and knowing there is nothing you can do about it because the jury are thinking: It’s the police. So it’s true…

The Scottish media called Walter Norval Glasgow’s Godfather & “first crime boss”

“I learned more and more that you can be found guilty because your accent is wrong, because you look wrong, because you don’t know the right words. You can be found innocent because you have a posh fucking Eton accent and you can see the jury thinking: He’s such a nice chap; how can he have possibly done that? And there is nothing legally you can do about it, because the law is just a big boys’ game. If you try and go up against that, you’re not going to get anywhere.”

“I only know the English system,” I said, “not the Scottish system, but isn’t the whole basis of the court system that you are not judging whether someone is innocent or guilty, you are judging which of two legal eagles is putting forward a better case and which is the more credible liar?”

“It’s all shite, John,” said Copstick. “I was at the point where I was thinking: Well, if the police are going to lie, then I will lie. And, that way, absolute madness lies.”

“I once,” I said, “talked to (a former Conservative Prime Minister)’s personal solicitor. He was a top city solicitor. And he told me he would never put a Metropolitan Police officer into the witness box without corroboration because you could never guarantee they were telling the truth.”

“The scariest people I ever met in Glasgow,” said Copstick, “were members of the Serious Crimes Squad.”

“Joe Beltrami,” I said, “was Arthur Thompson’s lawyer, wasn’t he? So that is very serious stuff.”

“I never met Arthur Thompson,” Copstick replied. “But one of the clients I worked with was a guy called Walter Norval, who was known as The Glasgow Godfather. That would be at the end of the 1970s or the early 1980s, I guess. His speciality was armed robbery. He was another nail in the coffin of my legal career.

“This was a man who had stood like a colossus over the criminal world of Glasgow… allegedly… for many years with many armed bank robberies. Nobody particularly got hurt. But there were a load of sawn-off shotguns going around and a load of banks robbed. Generally speaking he was never at the robberies. He was the mastermind. You don’t get Mr Marks and Mr Spencer on the shop floor offering 2-for-1 on knickers.

Daily Record reported Norval’s 2014 funeral.

“Walter Norval was arrested. The big evidence the police had was that he had gone from the site of an armed bank robbery, driven home and parked his brown Ford Granada car outside his house with four sawn-off shotguns in the boot – like yer average criminal mastermind does. And that was what he got convicted on.

“I went in and saw him afterwards and asked him: Is this not driving you absolutely mental? It was all a lie! 

“He said: Well, to be honest, there’s a lot of things I’ve done that I’ve got away with and this I did not do but it sort of evens-out.

“And I thought: But that doesn’t excuse it! This is criminal policing at the highest level. And they’re fucking liars. I was just too angry. I was getting too angry. And angry gets you nowhere in law. Especially as a female. Emotion gets you nowhere.

“You have to know when you’re beaten. I would have ended up being found out to have fiddled something. It just made me so angry.”

“If a crime is committed in England,” I said, “the police investigate the crime and find the person they believe committed the crime. Then they go to the Crown Prosecution Service who decide if, on a balance of probability, they will get a Guilty verdict in court. In court, it’s nothing to do with finding out the facts because the facts have already been investigated and the accused is presumed to be guilty unless ‘proven’ innocent. In court, it’s about two trained liars in a competition to see which performs better.”

“Up to a point,” said Copstick. “It’s a game. It’s like chess. I think what you’re struggling to say is that there is a massive dichotomy between law and justice.”

“I went to a grammar school,” I said, “which was a bit up itself. So it had a ‘debating society’ and the most admirable thing you could do there was argue on and win a proposition you did not believe in yourself. To me, that’s dishonesty. But that’s the basis of the legal system. You are very argumentative.”

“Yes,” agreed Copstick.

“Once you decide to take one side,” I suggested, “you will argue that case come what may.”

“Now I can be Devil’s Advocate,” said Copstick. “Back then, I was completely incapable of doing that.”

The argumentative side of Copstick will be on show next month when she and I host the daily Grouchy Club at the Edinburgh Fringe 14th-27th August, as part of the Laughing Horse Free Festival. The Grouchy Club has been labelled by The Scotsman as “a talking shop for comics riding the emotional rollercoaster of the Edinburgh Fringe” and by me as “a rolling Copstick diatribe”.

After the Fringe finishes, the Grouchy Club continues monthly in London.

For anyone on the receiving end of one of her comedy reviews in Edinburgh – Best of luck.

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Filed under Crime, Glasgow, Legal system, Scotland

Scottish comedy – Getting mature?

Is Ben Verth pulling out his hair with his new venture?

Ben Verth lives in London and runs the new Monkey Barrel comedy club in Edinburgh.

“What is your real day job?” I asked him.

“This is,” he replied.

“What?” I asked. “Running a comedy club in Edinburgh while living in London?”

“Yes.”

“You make money from it?”

“Enough. I’ve never been massively rich, but I’ve never been uncomfortable. It used to be just two of us running a fairly profitable gig in a pub on Fridays and Saturdays. Now it’s five of us and our new 7-night-a-week venue. The club is not just me – it’s a collective.”

The Monkey Barrel comedy club opened in Edinburgh two weekends ago. It is a two-level theatre, café and bar space with a 100 capacity main room and a 60 seater basement theatre called The Banana Skin.

Ben told me: “My two big comedy club inspirations are Peter Cook’s The Establishment and The Comedy Store in London. But what John Millar – my business partner – and I most want Monkey Barrel to be is more akin to a National Comedy Theatre of Scotland. Or like the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh – a home for new and exciting writing and performance. We are not just going to be night after night of stand-up.

Monkey Barrel opening night

The opening night of Monkey Barrel

“We want it to be a great home to sketch and improv and comedy theatre too – and, with new media really guiding the development modern entertainment, we want it to be a studio for podcasting and online video content and production. Just a great house for ideas. John and I want to create a great comedy lab and see what happens.”

“Isn’t Scottish comedy,” I asked, trying my best to be provocative, “just second rate London comedy?”

“It’s not shit,” replied Ben. “It’s just young. Scotland doesn’t really have a strong gig infrastructure outside of rowdy weekend shows, so the sort of opportunities to perform are largely harsh and combative and local. It is not really a place for nuance and experimentation – not if you want to start earning money.

“Because I live in London, I can see first hand what the differences are between the two comedy scenes and honestly I think there is as much interesting and exciting comic work going on in corners of Scotland as there is in London. But, in London, you are just much more free to develop on long-established stages. Though things are certainly changing and even over the last few years comedy and comedians’ attitudes in Scotland have begun to mature and acts and like-minded audiences are beginning to find each other.”

“You used to be a performer,” I said. “Have you stopped?”

Ben taking a break from his Sabbatical

Ben taking a break from his Sabbatical

“I think ‘Sabbatical’ might be the right word,” Ben suggested. “I can’t run and market the club and feel like I’ve earned the right to perform there. I started off doing sketch comedy, but there’s no network for that in Scotland, so you find yourself having to become a stand-up. I was not terrible at that, but it didn’t suit me.”

“Why,” I asked, “is the new venue called the Monkey Barrel?”

“We were running comedy nights in a pub in Edinburgh called The Beehive on the Grassmarket and we just generically called ourselves The Beehive Comedy Club. But we knew we were gonna move and thought: What the fuck do we call the new club? How do you even come up with the correct name for something? So we knew ABBA had come about by putting all their initials together and so we put ours into a word randomizer. It was me (Ben Verth) and John Millar – and one of the things the word randomizer came up with was MERLIN’S HERNIA.

“For a brief moment, after a whole day of this bullshit, going absolutely insane trying to think of a name, we thought it would be a great comic name and we could see the figure of old Merlin all bent over with a wizard sign on the door. But then my missus said: That is an awful name! For God’s sake don’t call it that. Why don’t you call it…I dunno… Monkey… Barrel… So we said: Oh, OK.”

“Merlin’s Hernia,” I pointed out, “does not have a V in it.”

“It was right down the list,” said Ben. “It had been a long day.”

“How long,” I asked, “had you been running the Beehive comedy club in Edinburgh?”

“About five years. We had our 5-year birthday last January, but I mis-counted. It should actually have been our 6-year birthday. We were just doing it Fridays and Saturdays and the occasional New Act night as well. But, when there was a bit of economic uncertainty, people stopped coming to the New Act stuff.

Monkey Barrel, Edinburgh

Monkey Barrel is the new comedy contender in Edinburgh

“Now the Monkey Barrel is me and John and our regular host Rick Molland. Chris Griffin is the organisational manager. And a guy called David Bleese, a comedy fan, got on board for the move to the new venue. He used to work with John at the Royal Bank of Scotland.”

“Oh dear,” I said, “There is another club in Edinburgh doing comedy seven days a week. They might be rather vicious if there’s competition? I think there used to be five or six clubs in Edinburgh; then really there was just them… and now you… as competition.”

Ben seems to think the other club is amiable.

“After a rocky first year or so,” he told me, “the old Beehive club started consistently selling out and turning people away, while they (the other club) were also packing out their regular seven nights a week – something which has continued since August when we started our beta-test preview shows in the new venue. So, basically, Edinburgh definitely seems like it has an appetite for weekend comedy. We didn’t go into this with our eyes closed. So I don’t know if the city needs another club, but everything I’ve encountered over the last few years shows it certainly wants one.

“I’ve always been a promoter of some sort and, I think, a decent one – founding and producing The Edinburgh Revue at university, running my own nights at various venues around the city, building up comedy at The Beehive, creating the Scottish Comedy Festival. The real Yes, I can do this! moment came when I met cartoonist and writer John Millar who wanted to do exactly the same thing.  I had the contacts and the know-how; he had the business expertise and the cool head and same ideals and, it must be said, the most remarkable drive I’ve ever encountered,”

“And the new venue is where?” I asked.

“We bought the 17-year lease of a place on Blair Street, just beside the City Cafe.”

“Near the infamous sauna?” I asked.

Google StreetView’s take on Blair Street, Edinburgh

Blair Street seen from the Royal Mile on Google Streetview

“Ah, well, yes…” Ben laughed. “Saunas! We found out very quickly that the landline telephone number we had been given by our phone provider – the one we had started using as our booking line – was originally the phone number of a sauna (not in Blair Street) and it was still listed as their number all over Google. So 50% of the time the phone goes it’s people looking to book tickets.The other 50% it’s seedy-sounding men asking if they can stop by to see Mei Ling (she must be the best one, she’s the most popularly asked for), or can we send her round ‘with some oils’.

“My favourite incident was when a someone rang up asking who was on that night and I said Former Scottish Comedian of the Year Larry Dean… and we’ve got Michael Redmond and… and the voice on the other end of the phone cut me short and asked: Big Jessica not working the night, naw?

“We have been waiting six months to have the number changed. I feel like Mei Ling is the unsung sixth member of staff.  We should maybe start a MeiLing list.”

“Although,” I prompted, “the other organisers of the club are up in Edinburgh, you are doing all this while living in Ealing, London, because of your wife’s job?”

“I am up and down on the train all the time,” Ben said.

“You were born and bred in Edinburgh,” I said. “Do you enjoy living in London?”

Ooh no, missus! - Carry On Constable!

Ooh no, missus! – It’s Charles Hawtry & Kenneth Williams!

“When we first moved to London, we lived in Drayton Grove and, at the end of the road, is the school that was used in Carry On Teacher and the whole surrounding area is where they filmed Carry On Constable. Charles Hawtry’s trousers fell down at the postal depot round the corner.”

“You have a populist taste in movie comedy, then?” I asked.

“I think the greatest four films ever made were the first four Police Academy films. I also love Jon Pertwee’s Doctor Who”.

“So why not,” I asked, “go off yourself and make some comedy B-Movie with cheap special effects?”

“Maybe I will,” Ben laughed.

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How to fail at the Edinburgh Fringe

How NOT to succeed at the Edinburgh Fringe

At around this time each year, a lot of performers preview their upcoming Edinburgh Fringe comedy shows in London.

‘Preview’ in this case is a word with many meanings. It can mean the full, finished Edinburgh show; or a jerky show with the performer reading some or all of it off notes; or some thrown-together mishmash of ideas which do not yet gel but which may yet end up as a smooth Edinburgh show in August.

I have been seeing a lot of previews recently and, earlier this week, I saw one which was fully written, rehearsed and well-performed. Unusually, the show was in a packed-to-overflowing venue and went down a storm. The audience LOVED it, as well they might, because it was skilfully crafted to appeal to them.

And, as I watched it, I saw – minute by minute, second by second – an almost 100% Edinburgh Fringe disaster unfolding before me.

The show comprised observational comedy and was tailor-made for a wide audience who could identify through their own experience with all the observations in the show. To make it even more enjoyable, there were a large number of audience participation sections – dividing the audience down the middle; that sort of stuff.

The audience loved it.

We now have a flashback to my erstwhile youth when, on big TV shows like Sunday Night at The London Palladium, major US comedy stars would be flown over to the UK and would smoothly perform their slick, tried-and-tested material… material about living in New York; material about eating turkey on Thanksgiving Day; material about mom’s apple pie.

You can see where I am going with this.

The comedian I saw this week had a very-well-put-together themed show with the linking device narrative of a trip on the Underground, visits to ‘West End’ clubs etc etc. It was not just very very English; it was utterly London-centric and almost certainly could not easily have the London elements removed and replaced with other references.

One bit was: “You know what it’s like at 12 o’clock on a Saturday on the Central Line…”

The act performing this has never, as far as I know, performed at the Edinburgh Fringe before and this is his certainly his first show there.

The first hurdle he has fallen at is Know your audience.

The last time I heard any figures, the Fringe Society reckoned that around 60% of audiences at the Edinburgh Fringe come from EH postcodes. That means that they come from Edinburgh. Not even Glasgow or Fife. Specifically Edinburgh.

Sometimes ‘newbie’ performers assume that, at the Edinburgh Fringe, they are playing to the same audiences they play to in London. They are not. They are often not even playing to English audiences. They are playing to Scottish, Irish, Welsh, Australian, American, wherever audiences. And to English audiences.

It is reasonable for the performer to assume they are British audiences because foreigners will make allowance for the fact they have come to see UK comedy.

But it is not reasonable to assume they are audiences from South East England. The show I saw would likely get right up the proverbial noses of audiences in Manchester, Liverpool, Plymouth and Newcastle let alone Edinburgh or Glasgow.

It will come across in Scotland as “yon fuckin’ wee English cunt” showing disrespect for where he is.

I have seen South London audiences turn on comedians who talk too much about life in North London.

Move that to the Scottish/English divide and magnify it 100 times. Especially at the moment.

Of course, that figure of 60% of Fringe audiences coming from EH postcodes can only be from research taken from people buying tickets for pay shows. Who knows the make-up of audiences going to free comedy shows? But it may not be much different.

And the other thing to consider is word-of-mouth.

Word-of-mouth is HUGE at the Edinburgh Fringe. Totally unheard-of acts in obscure venues can suddenly take-off and become the hottest shows in town. Or in both towns (in Edinburgh). And, if any would-be Fringe performer reading this does not know why I wrote “both towns”, then he or she has not researched the city they are playing enough.

Again, the last figures I heard from the Fringe Society were that the average Fringe visitor stays for three days.

But those are visitors to the city and the word-of-mouth between genuine visitors is highly unlikely to be vastly significant. The real word-of-mouth is what happens between the locals (remember that EH postcode) and between the media. A single 5-star review of an obscure show from Kate Copstick in The Scotsman will likely fill a venue for the whole run and ensure the rest of the media pay attention.

When those American comedians used to play sets of American-themed observational comedy on Sunday Night at The London Palladium, UK audiences felt they were being shown contempt. The Scots have never taken kindly to English comedians per se (see endless horror stories of the dangers of playing the Glasgow Empire in its heyday).

My advice to any London comedian playing the Edinburgh Fringe is:

1) Remember Edinburgh is not in England

2) The audiences you are playing to are not entirely and possibly not even predominately from England.

3) The audiences you are playing to are almost certainly not predominately from London.

4) Showing what may be perceived as contempt for your audience is never going to end well.

5) The word ‘England’ is not the same as ‘the UK’ or ‘Britain’ or ‘here’.

6) Edinburgh is north of Watford.

7) If you do not know what a ‘Weegie’ is, you may end up ‘brown bread’ on stage.

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Who are the British? Or are they at all?

Nigel Farage (left), comic Al Murray (centre) & Thanet South winner, Conservative Craig Mackinley

Nigel Farage (left), comic Al Murray (centre) & Thanet South winner, Conservative Craig Mackinley

During last night’s General Election coverage – with the Scottish National Party effectively wiping out the other three parties in Scotland, Labour just-about holding the North of England and the Conservatives (except in London) dominating the South – someone on BBC TV talked about a three-colour layered cake of a nation. Yellow at the top, red in the middle and blue at the bottom.

The line between red and blue is somewhat skewed by Wales being red, but it is a fairly good image.

The result of the 2015 Election

The constituency result of the 2015 Election

I think to people outside the UK – particularly to people who have always referred to the UK as “England” – the extent to which the UK is and always has been a hotchpotch has never been realised.

My blog yesterday headed Maybe the Scottish Nationalists should move the border south into England? was about nationality.

Five years ago – in November 2010 – I wrote a blog headed The British have always been a violent race 

That was about what the people on the island of Britain – England, Scotland, Wales – were arguably like, not about the individual nations.

There were a couple of interesting comments about that November 2010 blog – one made in June 2013 and one made in October 2014 – and, yesterday, an unknown (to me) person called Dean replied to both of those comments. Below I reprint the comments and Dean’s responses as an interesting insight into some people’s thinking, which is perhaps relevant in view of the strong support the UK Independence Party got in yesterday’s election.

I have to say I think some of Dean’s facts are a tad suspect – and I think he confuses “British” with “English” – but his views are interesting.

The Union flag without the Scottish St Andrew element in it

The Union flag without the Scottish St Andrew element in it


COMMENT BY RONNIE (June 2013)

I think all Germanic countries are more violent than Southern European countries. It’s strange because they tend to be richer and more successful than the Southern European countries. There is a big drinking culture and that only makes things worse. England is worse than other Germanic countries like Germany and Holland when it comes to violent behaviour. There is a big difference here between working class and middle class people. The working classes are often undereducated and this leads to poverty, child pregnancy, unemployment which in turn leads to frustration and violence.

RESPONSE TO THAT COMMENT BY DEAN (May 2015)

England is not a Germanic country in the very least… England is a pre-Celtic origin country. Germanic invaders had little impact there unlike the myth usually tell us… Germanics like Dutch or German are cold with the outsider but gregarious with their family and close friends…They are direct, can appear rude as being too direct but are in reality very honest and civilized people, who rarely will fight. They have respect for human beings and love to discuss like civilized humans.

Britons like to cheat… They are polite, which means they always will show you fake acceptance… but they do nothing else but backstab you… The Brits are not direct people… and that can grow a big bad enviroment… People don’t really know how to communicate in England… so every frustration comes in form of physical aggression. Brits love to fight and have no sense of human aesthetics or style.

Dutch, Germans, Swedish, Danish, Norwegians, etc – true Germanic people – are very civilized people. They can be colder but once you get to know them well they will accept you and they will be honest to you; they have sense of human aesthetics; they like to appreciate human life and love to look good.

Britons are animals. They don’t care about people but only about their own instincts.


COMMENT BY ALAN (October 2014)

Britain is made up of 3 countries: England, Scotland and Wales. The Scottish and Welsh are Celtic and the English are Germanic. The Welsh are the native Britons, the Scottish are Gaels and Picts from Ireland and the English are Anglo-Saxons. Britain has always been a violent place, its culture is based on violence.

RESPONSE TO THAT COMMENT BY DEAN (May 2015)

English origins aren’t Germanic. English look the same as Irish or Scottish. The Anglo-Saxon impact in England was tiny. Most English roots (as much as 80%) come from pre-Germanic/pre-Celtic inhabitants, which were of neolithic origin.

That’s why there are so few natural blonde and Nordic/Germanic looking people in England or the UK compared to Scandinavia, Holland or Germany. Most Brits have dark hair, pale skin and hazel eyes and their stature is mediocre at best.

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Maybe the Scottish Nationalists should move the border south into England?

Nicola Sturgeon: the most trusted party leader in England

Nicola Sturgeon: the UK party leader who is most trusted by English voters

There is a General Election in the UK today.

Last night, I overheard a conversation at St Pancras station.

“Why do you vote for the Conservative Party?” one man said.

“I could never vote for the Labour Party,” said the other man, “because socialism isn’t a political philosophy; it’s a religion. You have to believe that, if you follow the true path and all the rules of the religion, then all the wrongs of the world will be solved like the wave of a magic wand.”

“But,” said the first man, “Labour is not a socialist party any more.”

Who knows what the result of the Election will be?

The polls say a hung Parliament.

Personally, I suspect there will have to be a second Election this year.

I have jokingly said to people in the last week that, if the SNP had put up candidates in England, there would have been a landslide for them, given that the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon is (according to polls) by far the most trusted party leader among English voters.

Welcome to Scotland - but maybe the border might move?

Welcome to Scotland – but maybe the border might move?

But, in all seriousness, I do idly wonder what would have happened if the SNP had put up candidates in Berwick-upon-Tweed, Carlisle and Newcastle.

In 2008, an apparently very well conducted ITV poll showed that a large majority of people living in Berwick-upon-Tweed wanted the town to be in Scotland not England.

When I was there a few years ago, the streets had Scottish banks, Scottish gas, Scottish electricity and the predominant currency used in shops seemed to be Scottish not English bank notes.

Admittedly there is ‘a bit of previous’ with Berwick see-sawing between the two countries in the past.

The Danelaw and Northumberland held power in 878

Danelaw and Northumberland held power in 878

But my local optician, a clear-sighted man, comes from Carlisle and he told me there was quite strong support – even if only theoretical – for Carlisle too being in Scotland not England.

With Newcastle and Geordieland in general, it would be more interesting. That area is almost defiantly proud of its separateness from the English South and it could be argued it is far closer culturally to Scotland than to Anglo-Saxon England.

Historically, in Britain, the north was Scandinavian; the south was Anglo-Saxon German. Although the Normans too, of course, were Scandinavian.

Northumberland originally stretched from Edinburgh down through Newcastle and south of Durham. The Danelaw took in a very large swathe of what is now England.

King Canute's domains in 1016_1035

King Canute’s watery domains in 1016-1035 included England

There has been an awful lot of talk about how the Labour Party could come second in this election and still gain power – with SNP support. There has been almost nothing about what would happen if you removed Scotland from the figures entirely.

As I understand it, if Scotland gained independence, the Labour Party would never again be likely to get power in what was left of the UK because, by removing Scotland’s 59 seats, Labour’s voting numbers would be scuppered.

There is an interesting scenario that the Labour Party would have to woo the SNP to gain and maintain power but, in thus gaining power, it would destroy itself.

Meanwhile, for no particular reason, here on YouTube is the result of the 1992 General Election vote in Greenwich. Comedian Malcolm Hardee stood in the election solely to get a free mailout publicising himself and his Up The Creek Club to 10,000 people which would normally have cost him over £3,000 in postage alone. All he did was lose his £500 deposit.

He is standing behind the right shoulder of the Electoral Officer who announces the result.

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Comic in Kray Twins’ territory tells of being kicked in the street cos of his act

Ellis & Rose in Kray territory

Ellis & Rose in the old Kray Twins’ heartland

Yesterday, I went to Malcolm Hardee Award winning Ellis & Rose’s irregular Brainwash Club show at the Backyard Comedy Club in London’s Bethnal Green. The full house saw a knee-face-painting contest and the hosting duo accidentally knock over and almost terminally smash punster Darren Walsh’s MacBook computer… twice.

The audience also saw Harry Hill, Jody Kamali, Harriet Kemsley, Darren Walsh, John Henry Falle as The Story Beast and Matt Tedford as a singing Margaret Thatcher.

Matt Tedford at the Backyard Bar last night

Matt Tedford at the Backyard Bar last night

I talked to Matt before the show.

“How was your Edinburgh Fringe last year?” I asked.

To publicise his Margaret Thatcher: Queen of Soho show, he had walked round town dressed as Margaret Thatcher.

“I got kicked in the street,” he told me.

“Why?” I asked innocently.

“Because they didn’t like the poll tax. I got heckled nearly every day about the poll tax and Scottish independence – it was about a month before the vote. I’ve been a gay man for about ten years and it’s the only time I’ve ever had any abuse.”

“Did they not,” I asked, “realise that Margaret Thatcher was very dead and you were not actually her?”

Matt as Margaret last night at the Brainwash

Matt as Margaret last night at the Brainwash in Bethnal Green

“Well,” Matt told me, “they went for it anyway. I got things thrown at me – you name it. One woman threw-up in her handbag and that nearly came at me and a lot of people launched themselves onto the stage. Pulling the wig was popular.”

“But,” I checked, “you were actually being attacked outside in the street for being a famous dead politician…”

“Oh yes. And what could I do? Report it to the police? – I’ve just been attacked – Why? – I was dressed as Margaret Thatcher.”

“And then,” I suggested, “the police might have kicked you.”

“Exactly,” said Matt. “Margaret Thatcher’s ex-bodyguard came to the show and told me afterwards: You’ve not changed a bit, ma’am.

“And these two little old dears came and sat in the front row – very pearls, twin-set and blue-rinse – and they came up to me afterwards and said: We were her nurses towards the end of her life. One told me: I saw her tits… Oh, I said. How were they… Very good for an old bird, she said.”

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Police corruption according to a Grouchy Club comedy critic & a blogger

Kate Copstick and I expressed our views at The Grouchy Club

Kate Copstick and I expressed our views at The Grouchy Club

Yesterday’s blog was two brief extracts from the first Grouchy Club “mostly comedy” weekly podcast with Kate Copstick and me.

Before Copstick was an actress or TV personality or comedy critic or ran the Mama Biashara charity, she was a lawyer in Scotland – an Advocate. During the podcast, I asked her why she changed careers. Was it because she got fed up with trying to get guilty clients found innocent?


COPSTICK
Exactly the opposite. I stopped being a lawyer because I sat one too many times in a court where members of, for example, the Serious Crimes Squad lied in their teeth.

JOHN
This is in Glasgow?

COPSTICK
In Glasgow and Edinburgh. I realised that Law is just a big posh boys’ game where your accent will always matter and money will always matter and everything other than innocence or guilt will always matter and I was on a very fine knife-edge between thinking… well, I did… I thought: If they’re going to lie, then I’ll lie – and that is the slippery slope.

JOHN
Well, the only people who lie more than lawyers and solicitors and barristers are the p…

COPSTICK
The police, yes.

JOHN
… and, bizarrely, all the criminals I’ve met have actually been terribly honest.

COPSTICK
Well exactly. The most frightening people I met – ever – were members of the Serious Crimes Squad in the Glasgow police.

JOHN
Does the Serious Crime Squad still exist? – I think the London one was dismantled because it was so corrupt (in fact, it was the West Midlands Serious Crime Squad).

COPSTICK
I sincerely hope not. (It does.) There was a code – It’s ridiculous – It’s all that Oh no! We only slit the throats of the bad guys – But there always seemed to me to be a kind of a code of honour…

JOHN
Among thieves?

COPSTICK
Among thieves and murderers and armed robbers. I would have been a terrible… I’m a far too emotional and shouty and not-watching-my-mouth person to be a decent lawyer.

JOHN
I’ve always found criminals are very upset by injustice, which is bizarre.

COPSTICK
Yes. Absolutely.

JOHN
They commit crimes and, if they get caught, fair enough: that’s part of the game.

COPSTICK
Yes.

JOHN
But if a genuine injustice is done, they get terribly uppity about it…

COPSTICK
Absolutely.

JOHN
… whereas a policeman just thinks that is part of the game.

COPSTICK
Those in charge of the system are the ones in whose interest it is to keep the system corrupt.

JOHN
If proof were needed, this is an example of how this podcast might not always be comedy.

COPSTICK
Well, indeed.


The Grouchy Club’s first 43-minute weekly audio podcast is available to hear HEREwith a 10-minute video extract on YouTube. The Grouchy Club will be live at London’s Jewish Comedy Day this coming Sunday.

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Is this why the British government does not like amiable Scots comic Del Strain?

I managed to photograph Del Strain by Royalty Mews yesterday

I managed to photograph Del Strain by Royalty Mews in Soho yesterday. I felt some elation at this triumph.

“Are you a Scottish National Party supporter now, or still Labour?” I asked Del Strain yesterday.

“I’m at the stage now,” he told me immediately, “where the rotted corpse of the three or four party system has gone.”

“Well,” I suggested, “there’s only going to be one party in Scotland after the General Election.”

“The SNP is part of the problem, not the solution,” Del told me. “How about we have a society where, before you become an MP, you have to wear a lie detector to take public decisions? I don’t care if, at the weekend, you’re into dominatrixes or crystal meth or taking ecstacy… I don’t care so long as, when you come to work at 9.00am on a Monday morning, you’re all biscuits and gravy and non-corruptible.

“We need revolution, we need change, we need radical men to form this country into the next generation. We need to be world leaders, we need to make stuff, not just people who work for minimum bloody wage and Tescos, watching The Great British Bake Off while our children won’t have a National Health Service and will be aspiring to have teeth in a few years.”

“So it’s you and Tommy Sheridan against the world?” I asked.

“I would let Tommy run the country.”

“Free crystal meth for everyone?” I suggested.

“No. Don’t do meth,” said Del. “Meth’s a bad drug. It was invented by the US military so they could kill for longer in Vietnam. It’s a very horrible drug.”

“Everything was invented by the US military,” I said. “LSD was invented by the US military, wasn’t it?”

“That’s right. And the internet and false flag attacks.”

John Lewis store in Oxford Street, London (Photograph by Martin Addison)

John Lewis store in Oxford Street, London (Photograph by Martin Addison)

“But you surely can’t want Communism?” I asked. “The only place where Communism has ever worked is John Lewis and Israel – and Israel’s been at war since 1948, so that doesn’t really count.”

“Well,” said Del, “we live in a world now where neo-liberals have actually become Fascists. They’re the Thought Police. See me? If it’s 1936 in Spain, I’d be fighting Franco. If I was in Warsaw in 1943, I’d have stood tooth & nail with those brave Jewish people against the Nazis. But, at the same time, right now I understand the plight of the Palestinians. And I can say Muslim extremists blah blah blah and that’s OK, but the minute I say anything about Netanyahu or Israel, I’m ‘anti-Semitic’. There seems to be a whole lot of double standards and people trying to censor stuff that shouldn’t be censored. There’s dark forces at work here, John.”

“But,” I said, “there’s a difference between being anti-Israeli and ant-Jewish.”

“It’s not being anti-Israeli,” replied Del. “It’s being anti-Zionist, cos they’re extremists… Jew, Arab, Catholic, Protestant, black, white, it’s all bogus. It’s all just labels to have us all at each others throats and divide and conquer. There’s only one battle and that’s the battle between good and evil and rich and poor and that’s all over the world. The rest is just semantics.”

“Have you met Naom Chomsky?” I asked.

“No. I’ve met (punk rockers) Mick Jones and Joe Strummer, but I’ve never met Chomsky. There must be something to commemorate Joe Strummer better than an underpass at Paddington where people urinate. I would have him on Nelson’s Column. I would have Clash lyrics in the national curriculum for all children to liven them up.”

“So when are you becoming an MP?” I asked. “Comedians are standing in elections now.”

“I wouldn’t like to be an MP,” said Del. “Apparently I’m undesirable. They wouldn’t even let me in the Houses of Parliament during the War on Welfare or into a Select Committee on Palestine with George Galloway. I was invited to both and I got to the gate and I was told I was ‘an undesirable’.”

Del Strain in Trafalgar Square yesterday

Del Strain in Trafalgar Square with Parliament behind him

“Did George Galloway invite you there?”

“Yes. He wanted me to speak, man.”

“So why did they stop you going in?”

“I dunno. I presume it was because of my criminal convictions. They had a list of people who had been invited, but they must go and do a police records check before you arrive and it just had ‘Undesirable’ next to my name.”

“But terrorists are being invited to the Commons to speak all the time,” I said.

“Yes,” said Del. “You’ve got Gerry Adams. Martin McGuinness for godsake! But I’m telling you it happened to me twice – ‘Undesirable’. Twice. Last year. And I was one of the main set-ups: me, Francesca Martinez and Rick and Caro from War on Welfare; we were the ones who got the ball rolling. That got 120,000 signatures to the Select Committee.”

“Your criminal record is not for anything political, though,” I said.

“Not at all,” agreed Del. “And there’s no extreme violence on it either.”

“There isn’t?” I asked.

“The trick with extreme violence,” laughed Del, “is Don’t get caught.”

“It’s just drugs, then,” I said.

“Well, intent to supply, concerning supply, importation…”

“That’s surely OK,” I said. “It’s perfectly politically clean.”

“But I was, for a couple of weeks, every day, sending Tweets to the Conservative Party and David Cameron and George Osborne telling them a few facts about the nest of paedophiles that was running the country. So maybe it was something to do with that. Free speech, John! We gotta use it while it’s still here!

“They wouldn’t let me in. ‘Undesirable’. I couldn’t even go to Disneyworld with my kid, because of felonies. The Americans are shit hot on stuff like that. They’re just paranoid. It’s not even the drugs. They just see the words ‘felony’ and ‘British passport holder’ and, because of that guy with the shoe bomb, they just changed everything. It’s a paranoid world we live in.”

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How Scotland could rule England + London punk rock news from Canada

The front of today’s ‘i’ newspaper

The front of today’s ‘i’ newspaper

Tonight is Hallowe’en and things are getting strange.

An IPSOS Mori poll commissioned for STV says that, on current voting intentions at next year’s General Election, the Scottish National Party would win 54 of the 59 Scots seats in the UK Parliament at Westminster.

The Labour Party would have four. The Liberal Democrats would have one. The Conservative Party would have none.

At the 2010 UK General Election, the figures were:

Conservatives – 307
Labour – 258
Liberal Democrats – 57

Given the strong possibility that the Liberal Democrat vote collapses in England and that UKIP gain a number of seats, Scotland’s votes might (as always) affect the outcome of the election and there is a very real theoretical possibility that the SNP could hold the balance of power at Westminster and/or become part of a ruling coalition in the UK. Also complicating matters, of course, are the votes for Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland and Plaid Cymru in Wales.

That is so complicated, the implications are incalculable.

If the SNP actually put up candidates in Northern England – Berwick-upon-Tweed, Carlisle and possible even the Newcastle/Tyneside area, the results there would be interesting. I seem to remember that an apparently well-conducted poll a few years ago found that the majority of voters in Berwick-upon-Tweed would prefer the town to be in Scotland not England and I understand there is at least some level of theoretical support for Carlisle to switch countries.

That old Chinese proverb springs to mind: May you live in interesting times.

Which we do.

Following on from yesterday’s blog about Anna Smith – this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent – being attacked by a Doberman dog, more missives have arrived from Vancouver.

The Blood Bank at St. Paul's Hospital in Vancouver

Anna Smith visited the Blood Bank at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver

“We were recently hit by a ‘pineapple express’,” Anna tells me. “A warm tropical storm belting up from the equator via Hawaii. Its name was Ana. It was supposed to be destructive with strong gusts. But it wasn’t that terrible after all. I was prepared to go out to my boat the night it struck to make sure it would withstand the storm. Instead I went to the doctor and to St Paul’s hospital for lab tests and a chest x ray.”

That was before the Doberman attacked her.

“My boat is pretty tough,” says Anna.

So is she, in seems.

I woke up today to this e-mail:

“It is 2.00am here. It is very warm. My window is open. The storm (Ana) is finally over. It dropped so much rain that there is barely any low tide today.

“I am still not able to walk because of my crash with the dog. I am still in my boat cradle. I like to be able to sit in bed and look at water. It is very interesting.”

Zombie Strippers lust after The Outburst

Zombie Strippers lust after Outbursts

As today is Hallowe’en, Anna sent me a poster for Zombie Strippers and told me that she had heard news of what Ian Breslin’s neo-punk group The Outbursts are doing in London.

“I have heard a rumour,” she told me, “that The Outbursts will have song sheets at their next gig, so the audience can sing along to Splashing Out (a song about wanking), Whatever Happened to Me (drugs), and Filthy Nina (the police).”

There is a video of Whatever Happened To Me on YouTube.

“Song sheets for Punk?” says Anna. “What a great idea. Finally everyone will understand the meaning of these gloriously disruptive tantrums.”

Anna used to be an exotic dancer and, according to a recent blog, may still occasionally dabble.

“Strippers are always on the lookout for good music,” she tells me. “Especially Zombie Strippers.”

Anna also seems to be branching out into music. She sent me a video of her and a lady called Natasha Nault singing.  It can be viewed online.

Anna (right) and Natasha Nault go beep

Anna Smith (right) and Natasha Nault go beep

Well, Anna admits it is less singing and more beeping. She says they made the video because they were doing their best to assist a man (who, she says, does not wish to be identified) to find his car. The unidentified man, she says, is not London-born Jian Gomeshi.

I have no idea what any of that means.

But she adds:

“We made up the beepy thing song after sitting through a seven course dinner at a downtown hotel hosted by a megalomaniac Italian construction magnate whose office decor includes photos of himself with Silvio Berlusconi. I once gave him shit about this, even though Berlusconi does have good taste in young belly dancers.

“The dessert table had its own room and the highlight of the evening was the magnate’s lengthy red-wine-fuelled stream-of-consciousness speech expressing gratitude to his employees, especially the ones who had worked twenty years without an accident.

“He also said: I would like to take this opportunity to thank Maria, who I love, because she is Greek and I am Italian.

“I was not sure who Maria was… The builders were squirming in their suits and turning away plates of giant ravioli stuffed with porcini mushrooms because they were smothered in parmesan cream sauce (the porcini mushrooms were). The builders thought the porcini mushrooms were Eggs Benedict and cried out: Take that shit away!

Anna Smith ignores the BBC in Canada

Anna sometimes lives on a boat near fish

We managed to escape just as the disco lights started flashing and narrowly avoided seeing Portuguese dancing to that song about Rasputin.

“Now I am in a panic because of Hallowe’en and having to lie so still when I want to dress up like a zombie and dance…”

Personally, I blame much of the foregoing on the lingering effects of 1970s and 1980s drug culture. But I thank the non-existent God that we live in interesting times. And I am looking forward to next year’s UK General Election.

 

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