Tag Archives: Scotland

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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Scotland being ‘insignificant’ may make it independent (that and weather maps)

Today’s edition of The Sunday Times

Today’s edition of The Sunday Times

I was going to blog about something else today but the TV News has been leading with the Sunday Times poll which says the Scottish YES vote for independence is ahead of the NO vote for the first time – with only 11 days to go to the poll.

I have always thought Devo Max was a better solution than independence – more powers without opening the Pandora’s Box of complications and unknowns that independence would cause. But Devo Max has never seemed to be mentioned as being on the table and it was not put on the ballot paper.

Apparently it now is.

A rather late-in-the-day offer

A late-in-the-day Westminster offer

Presumably this will be seen by the Westminster government as a magnanimous gesture. In fact, the offer may well be another nail in the coffin of the UK because – coming so obviously immediately after the Sunday Times poll – it looks like an insincere move of desperation.

Not helped by the fact that nothing specific was actually offered today. The government seemed to be saying: “We will give you some Devo Max. But we will tell you the details – well, maybe some of the details – tomorrow. Err… when we have thought what they might be… Which we have not bothered to think about until now.”

The American comic Lewis Schaffer has a joke about why Americans do not know much about Britain… “Because you’re insignificant!” he says.

To many Scots, I think, this looks like the English attitude to Scotland.

I worked on a nationally-networked TV show in London years ago where the very liberal, open-minded, sophisticated producer wrote a script which referred to England.

“You mean Britain not England,” I told him. “If you say England, it will antagonise viewers in Scotland and Wales and maybe even Northern Ireland.”

“It doesn’t matter.” he told me.

It may seem minor to someone born in England, but there has been a widespread and oft-repeated gripe by Scots throughout my lifetime that, when a Scots sportsperson wins, it is a win for Britain; when an English sportsperson wins, it is a win for England; when a Scots sportsperson loses, it is a loss for a Scots sportsperson.

Over years, small bitternesses become ingrained bitterness.

Why does the UK exist?

James VI of Scotland and James I of England

James VI of Scotland and I of England

Because Scottish King James VI inherited the English throne in 1603 and the two kingdoms were united through him. (Alright, the Acts of Union were 1706/1707.)

As for me, I have been pissed-off for years with the weather maps on BBC TV and elsewhere.

In some artistic ambition to show the curve of the earth, the viewpoint of the British Isles is taken from a position which appears to be over Central France. Why on earth is the viewpoint from outside the country?

The result is that the islands are distorted with a giant southern half of England and increasingly diminishing northern parts, so Scotland is distorted into less visual significance compared to England. Why? Why is the viewpoint not over the UK looking directly down?

A ridiculously minor gripe. perhaps. But something other people have mentioned to me.

Minor gripes combine to grow into major bitternesses.

It is that Lewis Schaffer (semi-)joking observation again that, to Americans, the UK is insignificant in comparison to the US.

To many Scots, it seems Scotland is insignificant to England.

After the recent Edinburgh Fringe, I stayed on for a week, going up to Perth and Inverness.

When I was in both Perth and Inverness, I was asked what the English in London thought about the looming independence vote.

“They don’t think about it,” I said. “No-one talks about it or thinks about it – no ordinary person. It is in people’s minds less than what’s happening on Celebrity Big Brother and no-one talks about that.”

The YES campaign is not winning the argument because no-one has any idea what would happen after independence.

The NO campaign has been losing the campaign by (arguably) not treating the possibility of independence seriously. Until today.

Just by agreeing to a ballot paper which has a psychologically positive YES for independence and a negative NO for the status quo is a benefit for those pushing independence.

As always, young David messes things up

Ed idiocy in today’s Mail On Sunday

A load of bullshit has been spouted about the pound sterling. But, before it joined the Euro, The Republic of Ireland got along happily by having their Punt float with the UK Pound. They appeared to have no problems with that.

And a load of bullshit has been spouted about Europe. But I cannot see Scotland splintering off from the UK and being accepted into Europe. The Spanish would surely veto it because of their problems with the Basques and the Catalans.

Personally, I think there is a risk that an independent Scotland (with only 5.3 million people – the UK has 64 million) would go the way Ireland has – widespread engrained corruption. I can see Scotland becoming like some Balkan state with fiefdoms.

After all, as Bonnie Prince Charlie found out to his cost, Scotland was never really a single country. There was the Highland/Lowland (or, at times, Catholic/Protestant) divide. But, beyond that, were a whole collection of regional and clan (read gang) loyalties.

I still think Devo Max is the best solution.

But it may be too late for that.

Who knows?

I got a message from a Scot who lives in Scotland this morning:

“It feels like we are on the edge of revolution. I’ve noticed a change today though… The move to Yes has stirred-up some of the more negative elements of the Yes campaign… But there are still seven per cent undecided.”

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Where do comedians get their ideas from? And are they all mad or do their lives thrust madness upon them?

Towards the end of the recent Edinburgh Fringe, Scots comedian Billy Watson did a handful of unbilled gigs in an out-of-the-way pub.

This is what he explained at the very start of his hour-long show.


Billy Watson at last month’s Edinburgh Fringe

Billy Watson at last month’s Edinburgh Fringe

I was married to a Turkish lady and she, basically, had a series of mental breakdowns over the course of twelve years – because she was married to me, basically. Trying to make that shit funny isn’t easy. How do I turn that into a comedy show? It was a challenge.

I gave her acid.

The relationship wasn’t working too well and I gave her some LSD and then, three days later, she just went completely… I came home from work at 7 o’clock in the morning and she was completely out to lunch.

She started speaking in tongues. She’s going Argwahburgh! Speaking in tongues. So I think: What’s the fuck’s going on here? and I go to the policeman and says: Help me! Help me! The policeman told me to piss off.

Policemen are supposed to help society. He just ignored me.

After two days of this crazy woman – completely out to lunch – I got her to the doctor’s and the doctor was saying: Right, we’d better get an ambulance here – and she jumped out of the doctor’s window. Fortunately, it was on the first floor. But I grabbed her and she was that strong she dragged me out the window too, pulling my trousers down to my ankles.

I fall on the other side of this window. She starts to run. I start chasing after her and the doctor starts chasing. It was like a scene from Benny Hill. He grabs her; I pull her down to the ground. The medical staff turn up and they get this syringe of something, inject it in her leg and it makes her totally zonked. I was trying to get the name of it from the bottles. I thought: I could do with some of that myself.

They put her in a mental ward in Falkirk. She got sectioned for two weeks. That was the first one. Then, every eight months, something would trigger it off and I’d have police at the door.

Basically, we had all these break-ups, right? Because being married to me isn’t easy, right? And we had temporary break-ups. One time she went to Turkey and I thought that was the relationship finished, but she came back and said: I really love ya. God knows why. She wanted us to have a baby to try to save the marriage.

I should have known having a child with a psychotic patient was not the wisest idea.

So, when the baby started to grow inside her, I had to say I thought it would be a good idea to go and be a hotel entertainer in Majorca. I left her and went to Majorca to train as a dancer in Grease – I was 34. For six weeks, I performed in Grease. I was John Travolta at one point. It was awesome.

But she came out there after six weeks. She packed up the house to rent it out to have the baby in Spain but, after a week, she had another mental breakdown.

So I didn’t go in to work that night because I had something to deal with – I got her to hospital.

This is funny, isn’t it? This mental shit was good.

Billy at The Grouchy Club last month

Billy Watson at The Grouchy Club last month

I got her to hospital and then, the next day, when I went in for work, the woman – the boss of the hotel – says: Why didn’t you come in to work last night?

Well, my wife had a mental breakdown. I had something to deal with.

The boss, she says to me: Oh, I think you are finished.

I got a major red eye; tears were pouring down my face. My bottom lip was trembling: My wife’s in hospital.

She said: I’ve got a hotel to run here.

I said: Well thanks for your boundless compassion.

She’s just sacked me. I’ve got red eye. Then she says to me: By the way, for the rest of today, can you take the Killer Darts? This game. The fucking Killer Darts.

I said: Aye. I’ll take the Killer Darts. Here, you hold the fucking board. We’ll start with the eyes closing. Whoever throws the killer dart wins.

Basically, I didn’t go to work for the next six months. I had to hang around Majorca while my wife had the baby there. Then, six weeks after having the child, she had another breakdown, right? I grabbed the baby off her. There’s this guy at the door saying: What’s going on there? I say: Phone an ambulance! Phone an ambulance!

This ambulance comes, takes her to hospital again and I’m left with a six-week old baby in Spain and I know nothing about babies. I’ve got to try and look after that child for a week while she was in mental hospital.

This woman who rented me the apartment got some of her friends and came to see me and I just cried and said Why did I bring my schizophrenic wife to have a baby in Spain?

(At this point, a member of the audience interrupted Billy and asked: “Did you know she was schizophrenic when you dropped her some Acid?”)

No, but…

(“Well, it was the acid,” said the man in the audience.)

That… You would… Maybe, you see…

(“The kind of causation ends with you,” said the man in the audience.)

That’s why I probably stuck with the marriage for fourteen years, to be honest with you. I felt guilty.

Billy Watson at The Grouchy Club last month

Billy Watson at The Grouchy Club last month

But, after that, right, listen to this… She has had the baby. She has had a caesarean. And now I’m looking after the child. Then, after that, she was having a check-up for the caesarean. The pediatrician – or whatever the doctor’s called that deals with that part – he tests her and discovers she has cancer.

She’s got lymphoma, so we had to go back to Turkey, where she had an operation to take out the cancer, but she wanted to go back to Scotland to see what the doctors there said.

So we took her and her mother – who doesn’t speak English – back to Scotland and she got chemotherapy and all her hair fell out and I was working in a call centre and that was pretty bad.

So we decided to go back to Turkey and after about a year there I got a job as an estate agent and, after two weeks of me working, she had another mental breakdown.

At one point, she decided to jump out a fourth floor window. She was going mental, right? Basically, her dad wouldn’t take her to hospital for three nights. One night she had this purse on round her shoulder and she wouldn’t take it off: a very small purse. But then the next day, when the medical people eventually came… Remember, every time she sees the medical people, she runs away… I realise – Fuck! The window of the kitchen is open! She runs past me, heading straight towards the window. I grabbed the strap of the purse she had refused to take off… I grabbed that, pulled it, pulled her to the ground… another injection in the leg.

Afterwards I thought maybe I could have done something differently because, if she had jumped, about 50 of my problems would have disappeared just like that. Though probably it would have created 100 new ones.

The thing was we got her to hospital that day and this big, new, huge hospital said they didn’t have a bed for her. The ambulance people just dropped her off, then the psychologist people wouldn’t take her in and wouldn’t even explain to me what the situation was because she didn’t speak perfect English. Turkish people are a bit embarrassed if they’re not perfect.

The doctor said to me: Ask your father-in-law.

I said: He doesn’t speak English.

Anyway, they refused to take her and made us go to this other hospital out in the sticks.

Billy Watson (left) & Mr Townkey (right) (Photograph by Kate Copstick, courtesy of Billy Watson)

Billy Watson (left) with me and Mr Townkey (right) (Photograph by Kate Copstick, courtesy of Billy Watson)

We get there. I think: Great. I’ve done my job. She’s saved. She’s gonna be locked up.

I get a call two days later. She had escaped from the hospital, jumped into this big thing, broke her back and busted her leg all up, right? She still walks with a limp.

After that, I said: I don’t think this relationship’s doing either of us any good. Moreso you. So that’s why I ended up getting divorced. It wasn’t going too well.

Is this comedy gold??


Two days after this gig in Edinburgh, Billy Watson returned to Turkey where, as I understand it, he intends to stay.

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How do you reform yourself if you have been a gangland enforcer in Glasgow?

William Lobban with his car and his book yesterday

William Lobban with car and book yesterday

William Lobban is selling his car tomorrow. A man is coming up to the Highlands from Glasgow to buy the car. That is quite a long way to travel to buy a car, but he thinks it is worth it. Then William will buy an even better one.

I blogged about William last November when his book The Glasgow Curse was published. It was a No 1 Amazon bestseller pre-publication.

That was last November. In June this year, The Glasgow Curse went back up to No 1 in Amazon’s ‘true crime’ sales chart. It is still hovering around the Top 20 in various lists of crime books. And it was his publisher’s second best-selling e-book (after Alexander McCall Smith).

None of this is normal.

So, as I am still in Edinburgh, I drove up to the Highlands yesterday to ask him why the book had gone back up to No 1 in the summer. It seemed like a good idea at the time. It seemed a shorter distance on the map.

He had no idea why the book had gone back up to No 1 in June, so I asked him: “Why did you move up here from Glasgow?”

It was a sunny day in the Highlands yesterday

It was a lovely sunny day to meet in the Highlands yesterday

“There’s a big pal of mine lives up here,” said William. “He’s about 79 now. One of the old school. Done a life sentence. Two of them got life back in the early 1960s for killing a butcher. Robbed him in his shop; killed him. They both got caught and got a lifer. It was just after they stopped hanging people, so he was quite lucky.

“He was a big man in his day. I came up to see him initially and quite liked the place. There was no really great connection. You know the cops are carrying guns up here now?”

“I read that in The Scotsman,” I said. “They’re carrying guns on regular call-outs. They were photographed just going into a McDonalds with guns for no reason.”

“You remember,” said William, “that Paul Ferris was (allegedly) threatening me online and on Twitter and stuff. Veiled threats like: Your time’s coming soon.”

Yesterday’s Daily Record report on Ferris (left) and Lobban

Daily Record reports on feud between Ferris (left) & Lobban

“He was allegedly posting your postcode online,” I said.

“That’s right,” said William. “Although that’s an open secret. People have known I’m here since I’ve been here. But I sought advice on what to do and I was advised I should report it to the cops, which I did – cos I want to be seen as a reformed character doing the right thing. Right after that, the local police started carrying guns up here. It does make you wonder if they decided to do that just in case they do get any trouble. It just makes you wonder. Who knows?”

William is usually referred-to in the press as “a notorious underworld enforcer”. He was once the ‘Most Wanted’ criminal in the UK.

“But I’m trying to create a different image for myself,” he told me yesterday. “I’m a different person. I want to be accepted for who I am and what I’m trying to do now, not for what I did 20-odd years ago. I’m on the e-fags now. I’ve not smoked a cigarette in about two months.”

“Much cheaper,” I said.

“A lot cheaper,” agreed William, “but it’s the health aspect. I was a smoker all my life. I’ve changed my ways, John. I take tablets to lower my cholesterol. I’m on 40 milligrams of simvastatin.”

“And I see you’re drinking orange juice,” I said.

William Lobban, aged 19

William when he was aged 19

“When I first came up here (he lives just outside a Highland town) back in 2006 or 2007, I had a bad problem with drink. It lasted for about a year. I went off the rails a bit. Now I have not touched a drink in over four years.

“I first got done in Stornoway for drink driving. I got a two-year ban there and then I got done just outside Perth. I was out of order. I really was. They gave me another four-year ban and that ran concurrent. So I ended up losing my licence for about five years in total. I got it back two years ago.

“It’s all behind me now, but it was at that time the police came and lifted me. I was in one of the local nightclubs here and I had a suit and a big coat and all that on. I was drunk and I must have been standing and swaying about and the bouncers have come up and they says: Can you take yer coat off, because people are starting to get a bit paranoid? Can you just take yer coat off and put it in the cloakroom? And I says: F off. I was out of order. So the next thing is they’ve all jumped on me and the police have come.

“So they’ve got me in the back of the police car and I can’t remember doing this – that shows you how drunk I was – but apparently I head-butted one of the cops while I was cuffed. I can only remember waking up in the morning and I was sore everywhere and black-and-blue because the cops had beat the shit out of me. But they dropped the charge of me assaulting the police because I had such a list of injuries myself. I guess they must have thought Well, if we take this any further, then he is going to bring all that out. It ended up as a breach of the peace.”

Even before publication, a No 1 Amazon bestseller

Even before publication, a No 1 bestseller

William is currently writing a sequel to The Glasgow Curse. “Spain is going to be a big part of the second book.” he told me. “But not just Spain: all over Europe. France, Holland; I’ve got lots of great stories to tell.”

The Glasgow Curse included the killing outside the family home of the son of Glasgow’s godfather Arthur Thompson and the revenge killings of Bobby Glover and Joe ‘Bananas’ Hanlon, who were suspected of being involved.

Gangster Paul Ferris was arrested for the shooting of Thompson’s son and later found not guilty after a £4 million trial. He accused William Lobban of luring Glover and Hanlon to their deaths, which William denies. A 2013 film – The Wee Man – was made about Ferris’ life. There is a trailer on YouTube.

“You know that Ferris film The Wee Man?” William said to me yesterday.

“I was trying not to mention that,” I said. “I was reading recently that the producer felt it had been pirated out of existence. He appeared not to have seen the irony of being ripped-off by criminals. I have to say I thought it was a very good film. Bits of it might not be true, but it was a good film.”

“You enjoyed it?” asked William.

“Yeah,” I said.

“Did you?” William asked again.

The Wee Man movie

The Wee Man movie: not always correct

“Yeah,” I replied again. “You know what the real people in the movie were really like and what really happened, but I don’t. Once I’ve accepted the main actor as Paul Ferris, I can go along with it. Because you knew him, you never can.”

“I suppose so,” said William. “But the explosion in the Jaguar, for instance – when Arthur Thompson’s mother-in-law gets killed. Ferris was only two or three years old when that happened, so to put that in the film wasn’t right because it wasn’t part of his story.”

“I think,” I said, “if you know the truth about something, then you can’t watch films about it. I mean, Arthur Thompson, for some bizarre reason, seemed to be played by an actor with an Irish accent. What was that all about? But maybe someone will make a film of The Glasgow Curse. You seem to be successfully changing yourself from a ‘hard man’ gangster into an author.”

“Well,” said William, “turning the corner and living legitimately can be very difficult. It does throw up challenges all the time.

“A couple of months ago, I was in Tesco’s car park. I was coming out of the shop with the trolley and someone says to me: Oh, he’s just spat on your car.

“I’d just had it all polished.

“I said: Who?

That man there.

Time to set matters straight

Not a man to mess with in Tesco’s

“So I left the trolley and, sure as hell, on the driver’s window was – och – he’d brought all this up and I… I thought: How disgusting. So I ran after him and got hold of him. I never put my hands on him, but I says: You’ve just spat on my car there. He tried to deny it and, to cut a long story short, I ended up saying: Now, look, you’d better get back and clean that or I don’t know what I’m gonna do here. 

“And he did. He must have known by my… you know… by the way I was… And my reaction was – to me – it was a good thing, because normally I’d have just head-butted him… because I felt like doing that… But I managed to hold myself back – and that is a good thing.”

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Just for a change, a little bit about me, my father, cold Scotland & the Cold War

Me (aged 1) with father near home in Campbeltown, Scotland

Me (aged 1) with father near home in Campbeltown, Scotland

Of course, my recent blogs from the Edinburgh Fringe just skimmed the surface. I was seeing around 6-8 shows per day for three-and-a-half weeks. I realised halfway through that I should, perhaps, have included a list of the shows I had seen with, perhaps, at least three adjectives on each.

Perhaps next year.

I had been going to blog today about Machete Hettie, one of the comedy acts who turned up at The Grouchy Club and who I went to see perform in Leith on Sunday. I wrote about her last year .

But I do not have the time today.

I have to go up to the Highlands and meet a man at a post code.

He – under the circumstances, quite reasonably – has not suggested a specific meeting place. Just a time and a post code which covers an area. And then we will find each other by chatting on mobile phones. I can see he might not want to say he will be at a specific place at a certain time, under the circumstances.

I am leaving Edinburgh around 8.15am (just before the draconian parking restrictions start at 8.30am).

This is earlier than I need to, which will leave me spare time.

I might go to Lossiemouth on the way up or the way back.

Lossiemouth in the north east of Scotland

Lossiemouth in NE Scotland – the beaches are better than this

My eternally-un-named friend partly grew up in Lossiemouth… as well as Malta, Cyprus, West Germany, Northern Ireland etc. Her father was in the RAF. Lossiemouth was/is an RAF base. She remembers the idyllic sandy beaches at Lossiemouth – and also clothes freezing on the washing line in winter.

I grew up partly in Aberdeen, not too far away. I remember the idyllic sandy beaches and sand dunes when I was a child. We lived in Mastrick, a council estate on a hill where, in winter, my mother used to wear an overcoat when she made the beds on cold winter mornings.

My father ran away from his home in Wigtownshire to join the Royal Navy in 1936, just in time for the Spanish Civil War in which we allegedly took no official part, though he remembered his ship dropping off individual men near the coast of Spain who made their own solitary way to land.

He was a radio operator on Navy ships. He was based in Malta in World War Two and, after the War, he got a job with a company which supplied marine radar to fishing boats. The radar bounced off the sea bed and showed up any shoals of fish. He was originally based in Campbeltown, on the Kintyre Peninsula, where I was born.

My father in 1976 on the beach at Clacton

My father in 1976 in retirement in Clacton, England

When I was three, he was moved to a bigger part of the same company, based in Aberdeen, where I went to school. My father serviced marine radar on the fishing boats in Aberdeen and along the coast to the west – including Lossiemouth – and further north up to Wick and Thurso.

At least, I think he serviced the fishing boats in Lossiemouth. He might have gone there later.

Because, later, he moved down to his company’s headquarters in London and he used to occasionally go out ‘on site’ to inspect the company’s on-shore radar and equipment on ‘sites’. This was during the Cold War. The sites were military bases and mostly defence bunkers. He had to have security clearance – ‘positive vetting’ – for that. I think he mentioned that they had gone way back to his childhood and had talked to his schoolteachers. He knew where the entrances to the bunkers were and their layout. It was a long time ago in another world.

Machete Hettie celebrates in a Clerkenwell street last night

Machete Hettie in a London street last year

Maybe he went to Lossiemouth in that incarnation of himself rather than the fishing boat incarnation.

I have never been to Lossiemouth. So I thought I might go today.

I might take photos of where my eternally-un-named friend used to live as a teenager. But she says she can see it on Google Streetview anyway.

The world changes every day.

And the story of Machete Hettie’s adventures in Bulgaria will have to wait for another day.

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