Tag Archives: South Africa

Comedians, coincidences, cocaine and yet another Edinburgh Fringe accident

It's around the corner in Soho, where other broken people go.

It’s around the corner in Soho, where other broken people go

It’s a small world in oh so many ways – a small world with lots of coincidences – Prague, television, Bar Italia and the Edinburgh Fringe.

“Hey, John!” Wingman said to me yesterday. “What are you doing here?”

I had accidentally sat down next to him at Bar Italia in London’s Soho.

Bar Italia has been there for what seems like ever – actually since 1949. In I guess the 1960s and 1970s it became legendary among music and film/TV people because, back then, it was the only place open in the wee small hours in the middle of the night when dawn was approaching and people staggered out of recording studios and editing suites in Soho. Jarvis Cocker of Pulp even wrote a song called Bar Italia:

There’s only one place we can go.
It’s around the corner in Soho,
Where other broken people go.

Yesterday lunchtime, I was waiting at Bar Italia for itinerant comedian Matt Roper, back from his travels in the Far East and South Africa.

Wingman and I worked together at Granada TV years ago. Now he is a TV executive, though I don’t suppose he thinks of himself as that. He had been chatting to a colleague called John who had just come back from shooting promos in Prague.

“You worked there, didn’t you?” Wingman asked me.

“Yes,” I said, “for UPC in the mid-1990s.”

Then Matt arrived and Wingman & John left.

Earlier in the year, I blogged about Matt having deep vein thrombosis in Vietnam, Burma and Thailand.

In South Africa, Desmond Tutu (third from left) and Matt Roper as 'Wilfredo’ (second from right)

In South Africa, Desmond Tutu (third from left) and Matt Roper as his character ‘Wilfredo’ (second from right)

Now he had just returned from a month in South Africa at the comedy festival and looked very healthy.

While in Saigon, he had had to cancel his Edinburgh Fringe show this year, because the Vietnamese hospital could not tell him when he would be able to fly again. He could have come back to Britain by train via Beijing and Moscow. But, at the time, he had to have weekly blood tests and, he told me yesterday, “I didn’t want to be messing around trying to find Mongolian and Russian hospitals. It was a challenge, but it’s my health.”

“It’s not a challenge,” I told him. “It’s a 2014 Fringe show and you look healthy now. Did you like South Africa?”

“Very much,” said Matt, “though, I only went to Cape Town. We went to a game reserve and to vineyards, sat on an ostrich and then ate an ostrich.”

“The same one?” I asked.

“No. We met the smallest ostrich in the world. He’s there. He’s a Guinness record holder.”

“I’ve never met a nice white South African,” I said.

“I have,” said Matt.

Like the song says, they really are all a bunch of arrogant bastards,” I said.

“I like them,” said Matt.

He is just about to go off on his travels again – to help a friend research a book – Poland, Ukraine, Moldova, back through the Ukraine, the Czech Republic – Prague – and then fly back to Britain from Austria.

The reason he was in Soho, though, was because he was going to Totnes in Devon.

Frank Zappa or a crapper

Frank Zappa on the crapper in 1967

Robert Davidson lives there,” he told me. “You should meet him. He’s a photographer. He photographed Frank Zappa on the toilet in a hotel room in 1967.”

“He shot that for International Times,” I said. “I saw it when it was published. I wrote for IT a few years later.”

At this point, comedian Chris Dangerfield – oft blogged about here – walked into Bar Italia.

“I was thrown out of Totnes,” said Chris. “I was literally taken up an alleyway by the police and told to leave town.”

“Totnes,” said Matt, “is sometimes like an open hospital ward. It’s full of bizarre people. So to actually have been asked to leave is…”

I was distracted by a group of people clustered outside Ronnie Scott’s jazz club opposite Bar Italia.

Tourists crowded round bricks in London

Tourists crowd round Ronnie Scott’s club’s bricks in Frith St

“What are they doing?” I asked.

They were just standing outside, looking up at the building.

“It’s a tour,” said Chris Dangerfield. “It’s on the tourist trail. They’re taken to places like that and told: Oh, Mick Jagger once looked at that.”

“They come and look at Bar Italia too,” said Matt, “because John Logie Baird invented television in a room above here.”

“Although he didn’t,” I said. “He invented the wrong system.”

“Who did invent TV, then?” asked Matt.

“I think it was EMI and maybe some Germans,” I said. “But back to Chris getting thrown out of Totnes…”

Matt Roper (left) and Chris Dangerfield yesterday

Matt Roper (left) & Chris Dangerfield in Bar Italia yesterday

“I was the second time,” said Chris. “It was my return to Totnes, because I done a degree down there, so when I went back to sell crack, all the pubs were empty because everyone was spending all their money on crack. And that was essentially what the police said: The local economy has taken a dent because of you. Take your cocaine back to London. So I did.”

Chris then got on his black bicycle and rode off quickly.

“Drive safe!” Matt shouted after him, then turned to me and said: “We’ve never properly met, him and me. We just keep bumping into each other. Coincidences. Life’s all coincidences.”

“I was once,” I said, “sitting outside Bar Italia talking to your chum Grace Gelder and Chris Dangerfield walked by and said Hello and walked on. A couple of weeks ago, I was walking through Soho with someone and I got a text message saying You just walked past me – Chris Dangerfield.”

“Well,” said Matt, “I yelled out of a car window at you once, but it wasn’t you.”

“It’s an easy mistake to make,” I said.

Bob Slayer with Miss Behave before she broke her heel

Miss Behave with her heel in London

On my trip home, I picked up a voice message on my mobile phone from comedian Bob Slayer. He told me that  Miss Behave – who is allegedly compering the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show on 23rd August – has broken her heel in Ireland and doctors have told her she should put no weight on it for six weeks.

“She keeps doing this,” I said when I talked to Bob. “She nearly died a couple of years ago just before the Fringe. Now a lame excuse like this. Let’s hope she can do it in a wheelchair or in plaster. Where are you?”

“Leith,” he told me.

“Is there sunshine on Leith?” I asked. “It’s horrible, hot and sticky here in London today. 30 Centigrade. I think that’s about 90 in Fahrenheit. Would-be SAS men are dying on the Brecon Beacons.”

“There is sunshine on Leith,” Bob confirmed.

“Send me a picture,” I told him. “Why are you there?”

While the Chief puts Bob Slayer in Leith

Meanwhile the Chief puts sunset and Bob Slayer in Leith… (photograph by Keara Murphy)

“I’ve been buying fridges for my new venue Bob’s Bookshop,” explained Bob. “For all the beer. I have a licence and people can buy beer there. I went into the British Heart Foundation’s charity shop in Edinburgh – they have one for electronics and I bought lots of their stuff. I told them I would give it all back at the end of the Fringe and they  could sell everything a second time.

“I have found Miss Behave a great flat. It’s right next to the venue so it’s very convenient and right in the middle of town, but I’m not sure which storey it’s on. Not good if you have a broken heel and it’s on the third storey up. With luck, she’ll be on the first.”

“That’s another storey,” I said.

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While I was away in North Korea, they were crying and mugging in London

The startled Conservative candidate

I came home on Saturday, two days ago. My eternally-un-named friend had been staying at my place while I was away.

“A few days after you left,” she told me, “some Conservative Party canvasser for the local elections came to the door and asked if Mr Fleming was at home. I said you were in North Korea. He looked a bit startled.”

She told me the contest for London Mayor was also in full flow:

Ken Livingstone was going mental while you were away. Bursting into tears saying he would let the people down if he didn’t get elected and said the amount of tax he’s paid over the years would have been enough to have bought an aircraft carrier.

“But Paddick pointed out Ken had got away with paying less income tax than the average person because of some loophole.”

“Who’s Paddick?” I asked.

“The gay one,” she told me.

“The policeman?”

“Yes. He’s Liberal,” she added.

“I guess so,” I said.

“Some Green Party person,” she continued, “referred to someone who had come in their chauffeur-driven car and hadn’t caught taxis like ‘the rest of us’. That was rather unfortunate because a load of people in the audience had come on bicycles and this was the Green Party person implying everyone should have come in taxis.”

“This was Question Time?” I asked.

“No, I think it might have been some Mayoral debate. I could be mixing up my politics. Boris Johnson said in a newspaper he’d offer the Green person a job working on his bikes. There was something slightly embarrassing in the press about Boris, but he didn’t care. It was Ken who was going mental.”

“So Ken burst into tears on TV?” I asked.

“I think it was at the first screening of some new campaign video of his. But I was reading it all off the front pages in newsagents and supermarkets, like I do. So I don’t really know what was actually happening but you know what I think about Ken. Someone who’s managed to make something like three single mothers and he gives all the teenagers free public transport so they can go to different parts of the town and stab each other and phone each other to come along and help with the stabbing.”

I also got an e-mail from comedian Bob Slayer:

“I am gigging in Ireland this week,” he told me. “The week before last, I was in South Africa and foolishly de-climbed Table Mountain on the Wednesday. The next day, I took an economy flight home with very knackered legs. They even offered me a wheelchair when we changed planes at Dubai.

“And on the Friday I did a gig with Eddie Izzard at Pull The Other One in Herne Hill (although I went to their club in Nunhead and was late).

“After the show, I had to get on two night buses to get home and was taking the short cut across Mile End Park as I have done maybe hundreds of times… The next thing I remember is waking up the following day with a huge lump on the back of my head and feeling doolally… I assumed I had fallen over due to my wobbly Table Mountain legs.

“But I had aching ribs, a sore jaw and there were marks down my back, so I thought It must have been one hell of a fall. Then, by 2 o’clock the next afternoon, I remembered that I had been beaten up by a group of youths in the park.

“Concussion is a very odd thing, I had it numerous times when I was a jockey and I’ve had it a few times since. I am aware that it can play tricks on your mind but I am absolutely certain I was beaten up by a bunch of blokes in dresses and lipstick… Maybe I was beaten up by an Eddie Izzard vigilante squad.”

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Edinburgh Fringe publicity stunts: the planned drowning of Malcolm Hardee

The Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards – there are currently three of them – are being given every August until the year 2017. This is because that’s the number of physical awards I got mad inventor John Ward to make.

Of these three prestigious annual prizes, the Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award (won last year by Stewart Lee) honours the best publicity stunt for any act or show at the Edinburgh Fringe that year.

There are no rules for the Malcolm Hardee Awards. If there were, Malcolm’s ashes would turn in their urn. But one rule-of-thumb for the Cunning Stunt Award is that people do not have to apply to be considered. Because, if you have to tell the judges you have done a publicity stunt then, by definition, the stunt has failed.

I started the Cunning Stunt Awards because it seemed to me that the marketing and publicising of comedy shows on the Fringe had become too serious and what was lacking was a bit of mindless irresponsibility. The Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award aims to encourage this.

The late lamented Malcolm was a comedian, club owner, compere, manager and sometimes agent, but it was often and correctly claimed that his real comedy act was his life off-stage and, at the Fringe, he was known for his stunts – writing a review of his own show and conning The Scotsman into printing it under the byline of their own comedy critic; driving a tractor naked through American performance artist Eric Bogosian’s show; announcing at a press conference that Glenda Jackson had died then eventually adding, “No, not that Glenda Jackson.”

If it had not been his mother who phoned me up in 2005 and told me Malcolm had drowned, I would probably have thought it was a publicity stunt.

Especially as, a few years before, I had tried to persuade Malcolm to fake his own death by drowning, as a publicity stunt.

The Assembly Rooms venue (now re-branded as simply Assembly) were paying him that year to do a show for the duration of the Edinburgh Fringe but he had also somehow managed to double-book himself on a mini-tour of South Africa.

“My kids have never been to South Africa,” he told me dolefully. This was after he had already started his Fringe run at the Assembly Rooms. “I think I’ll just do a runner.”

“How will the Assembly Rooms react?” I asked.

Malcolm shrugged his shoulders, blinked a bit and mumbled something inaudible, as he often did.

“Rather than pissing-off the Assembly,” I suggested, “why don’t you fake your own death?”

Malcolm had once been in prison with disgraced MP John Stonehouse, who had faked his own death by drowning then been found living with his mistress in Australia.

“You could hire a car in Edinburgh,” I suggested, “and drive it to North Berwick. Leave it near the beach with your clothes in a bundle nearby and something in the clothes which has your identity on it – a letter addressed to you, maybe. Then piss off to South Africa.”

“Mmmmm…” Malcolm mumbled.

“You go off to South Africa for two weeks,” I continued, “When you come back, you can read your own obituaries, with luck you can go to your own funeral and everyone including the Assembly will think it’s a great joke that’s in character. It’s a triple whammy. You get to go to South Africa for two weeks, you get publicity and you don’t piss-off the Assembly too much.”

Malcolm thought about it for a bit.

“I can’t do it,” he eventually said to me. “The only way it would work is if I didn’t tell Jane (his then wife) or my mum.”

Malcolm was a surprisingly sensitive man:

“They’d get hurt,” he said. “It wouldn’t work unless I didn’t tell them and I couldn’t not tell them.”

So that particular publicity stunt was never pulled.

One day, he just never turned up for his show at the Assembly Rooms. He had gone to South Africa. I don’t think, under the circumstances, the Assembly Rooms took it too badly.

I guess they just shrugged their shoulders and thought:

“Fuck it! It’s just Malcolm.”

(This year’s Malcolm Hardee Awards, including the Cunning Stunt Award, will be announced on the evening of Friday 26th August during a two-hour comedy show at the Edinburgh Fringe.)

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Are Pipex/TalkTalk, BT and Virgin Media in a contest to be the most incompetent UK telecoms company?

Right… Standby for a pointless complaint about an insanely incompetent British company. Indeed, companies. No enlightening information. No message for Mankind.  Just a rant… You have been warned… What’s the point of having a blog if you can’t have a rant?

Is there actually no competent telecoms company anywhere in Britain?

Really.

A serious question.

BT treats its customers with much the same care and respect as the Libyan and Syrian governments treat its people.

But Pipex/TalkTalk appears to be in some sort of heavy-handed contest with BT and Virgin Media to win a prize as the most PR-stupid and professionally incompetent telecoms company in the UK. They seem to manage to be devious, deaf and incompetent simultaneously. At least Virgin Media is not devious, it’s just plain incompetent.

Virgin Media claims to have the fastest broadband in Britain but, in my first-hand experience, its broadband does not work for 60% of the time and constantly drops. Someone else I know reckoned, for her, Virgin Media’s broadband was perhaps 10% the speed of her former BT line for 90% of the time. Perhaps it has the fastest broadband in Britain over a measured two second spurt. Try to get any customer service, of course, and you might as well be trying to play football underwater.

As for Pipex/TalkTalk…

In the last five weeks, I have had five cold calls from them using an 0161 (Manchester) telephone number but actually phoning from abroad to avoid the restrictions on cold calling within the UK. When I asked the man with the Indian accent where he was phoning from, he said South Africa.

At least Pipex/TalkTalk’s people are comprehensible, if unwelcome. BT, in my limited experience, have ‘help centres’ in ‘proper’ India staffed by unfortunate people with accents more incomprehensible than drunken Glaswegians wearing gas masks. That’s not racism, it’s a rant against BT’s stupidity in having foreign help centres. They might as well have their help centres staffed by deaf mutes in Guatemala for all the good they do. When will BT realise that saving money on help centres costs them more in lost customers and disastrous damage to their already low image?

I used to be with Pipex. I left because they were generally incompetent, they couldn’t actually supply me with VAT bills and two separate Pipex people told me I had to make phone calls to them not use the internet because the Pipex online service was “insecure”. Not reassuring in a telecoms company. What I didn’t know then but do know now is that apparently Pipex routinely cut off customers who left them before the changeover date for a new supplier so that customers were left without a line.

Now they are trying to tell me they are part of Pipex/TalkTalk and are a brand sparkling new company and offer sparkling service.

I think Colonel Gaddafi’s spokesman has been saying much the same thing about the Libyan regime every few weeks over the last few months. I can’t say I’m convinced.

I work on the principle of three strikes and you’re out.

If I get cold calls, I ask to be removed from the list of the company. After trying this twice – or, if they’re lucky, three times – the phrase “Fuck off, you cunt,” tends to get used in the hope they put me on a list of people who perhaps don’t altogether want to be cold called and might just hurl random verbal abuse at anyone who calls me.

If I forced my way into the home of the chairman of Pipex/TalkTalk five times in five weeks, I somehow think the sentence “Fuck off, you cunt,” might be very justifiably used by him to me. If someone forces their way into my home, uninvited, via my telephone line, I feel much the same applies. If you come into my home uninvited, you can’t complain I am being unreasonably impolite if I tell you to fuck off out of it again.

I find “Fuck off, you cunt,” is often an effective deterrent to unwanted calls and far less hassle than complaining to any alleged regulatory body. With luck, the company has some list of abusive potential customers. Pipex/TalkTalk seem not to understand the words – simple enough to understand, I would have thought.

Like I say, five calls in five weeks.

Clearly they think it is good PR to circumvent the UK restrictions on cold calling by phoning from foreign soil. And clearly they think it is good PR to keep calling an ex-customer who is not a current subscriber and who had zero interest in re-joining them even before these annoying phone calls.

They’re not alone, of course.

I had much the same trouble with BT. I eventually left them when they would not stop making marketing calls to me despite the fact I was on the Telephone Preference Service list to receive no calls.

“We can’t stop marketing calls,” I was told by two separate BT Helpline people. “It’s another department… No, I don’t know which department. It must be one of our marketing departments.”

A friend of mine tells me the tale of BT harassing her dying mother with marketing calls which could not be stopped. It added to the distress of her mother in the months before she died. This same friend has had  a worse time than me – she herself had hassle from BT marketing calls for months and now has had computer-generated calls from Barclaycard for six months (using an array of different originating numbers and still continuing) because their computer got her confused with someone else. The calls say – “Please call this number”.

Can she get the calls stopped by calling the number(s) given? No she can’t. Can she get the calls stopped by writing to Barclaycard? No she can’t.

I am currently with the very efficient Sky TV, though their lines are supplied by the appalling BT and occasionally drop in two of my rooms. But, unlike the utterly unspeakable Virgin Media lines, at least they work almost all the time.

Sky seem to be the only British telecoms company that has anything like a customer-friendly policy – or a broadband service that works – or any corporate ideology that values PR.

So Rupert Murdoch is OK with me.

But perhaps I am tempting fate…

(There was a later mention about this in my blog on 22nd May)

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“The Long Good Friday” – inside one of the two greatest British gangster films ever made

Last night I went to the Museum of London’s Docklands cinema for a special screening of the 1981 movie The Long Good Friday, introduced by its scriptwriter Barrie Keeffe. Very appropriate, as the film’s plot is partly about 1980s plans for Docklands’ re-development. In the film, there is a model of what Docklands might look like in the future. As Barrie Keeffe said last night: “We never imagined it would look like it does tonight – Manhattan…”

I am a great admirer of The Long Good Friday – it is on an equal footing with Get Carter as the greatest British gangster film ever made.

I have blogged before about The Long Good Friday – I was working at Lew Grade‘s ATV in Birmingham when the film encountered its post-production problems.

Both Barrie Keeffe and I assume that Lew Grade did not actually read the script before agreeing to finance the £1 million film but then – hey! – I never read the Killer Bitch script which I financed – I still haven’t. Not that the two movies are exactly comparable… Anyway…

When Lew Grade saw the completed movie of The Long Good Friday, he was so shocked by some of the plot details – especially the film’s climax – that he refused to release it as a feature film, refused to screen it on TV without massive cuts to the violence and the plot and even refused to allow anyone to buy it off him – until George Harrison (yes, the Beatle)’s Handmade Films made him an offer he felt he couldn’t refuse – a financial offer not involving any horse’s head.

It is difficult to discuss The Long Good Friday without mentioning the twist that most offended Lew Grade, but here goes…

It is a wonderful film partly because the crucial opening sequence is shot without audible dialogue – the only line clearly heard by the audience is someone saying something in an East London accent during an abduction… also partly because the audience is suckered into looking the wrong way in plot terms… and also partly because it has a triple ending.

There are two scenes at the end which feel like the rounding-off of a normal thriller but then there’s a sudden shock ending which should, in theory, have an equally sudden cut-to-black (as in French Connection II). Instead, director John Mackenzie uses a final static and very effective shot held on one character’s face for an extraordinarily long time.

Barrie Keeffe says his inspiration for The Long Good Friday was his love of film noir movies from the 1940s and 1950s. He wanted to make a black and white Humphrey Bogart film noir of the 1940s in colour in 1979 (when the film was written) – and he always had the then relatively inexperienced Bob Hoskins in mind for the central role of gangster Harold Shand; producer Barry Hanson had previously worked with Bob.

Barrie and Barry had a crucial script discussion with Bob shortly after he returned from filming Zulu Dawn in South Africa. They went to see him at the School of Tropical Medicine in London because he had managed to get ill with a 26-foot-long tapeworm inside him during the shooting. The film-making duo were told by medical staff not to get Bob excited about the Long Good Friday script because they were operating on him the next day and, if he got too excited, the tapeworm might split in two with dangerous consequences. Bob got excited but the tapeworm kept calm.

One format for film noirs is that the chief protagonist is a gangster who faces rivalry from another gangster. Barrie decided to make the opponent Harold Shand faces not a rival gangster with his own values but an opponent of an entirely different kind who does not share Shand’s values.

Perhaps mistakenly, Barrie revealed who that opponent was to the audience before last night’s screening and some members of the audience had not previously seen The Long Good Friday. A friend who was with me had not seen the movie before and told me afterwards that knowing whodunnit had not spoiled her enjoyment of the film (she said it was “brilliant”) but I still think audience ignorance is a good thing in The Long Good Friday.

The film was criticised by one newspaper for over-use of religious symbolism – in particular. the sequence in which one man is found crucified on a wooden warehouse floor. But, as Barrie explained, this was not uncommon as a punishment in London gangster circles at the time. As a young reporter on East End newspaper the Stratford Express, he was once sent to interview the victim of a crucifixion. The guy lay there in his hospital bed covered in bandages and, when Barrie asked him what had happened, his reply was: “It was a self-inflicted D.I.Y. accident.”

Barrie’s background was partly as a journalist on the Stratford Express during the heyday of the Kray Twins in 1960s London. As an innocent-eyed 18 year old, he once stood in the men’s toilet of an East End pub with notoriously violent and rampantly gay Ronnie Kray.

“Take a look at this,” Ronnie said to him standing at the urinal, looking down at his own groin. “Go on, son, look at this – the handle on it.”

Barrie reluctantly looked down.

It was a gun.

Barrie was relieved it was only a gun.

In The Long Good Friday, there is a scene in which a gangster is approached by a woman in black widow’s clothing who raises her veil and spits in his face. This was taken from a real incident in which a bereaved widow raised her veil and spat in Barrie’s face after he had pretended to be working for a newspaper rival of the Stratford Express.

After the screening, I was able to talk to Barrie briefly and ask if it was true that he had once been going to re-write John Osborne’s classic 1950s play The Entertainer with comedian Malcolm Hardee in the Laurence Olivier role.

“I wasn’t going to re-write it,” Barrie told me, “but we were going to adapt it to suit him.” He paused, then added: “But I don’t know what his discipline would have been like…”

Indeed.

Yes.

Indeed.

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Apartheid is still alive and thriving in South Africa

A friend of mine works for a multi-national company which divides the world into geographical sales sectors.

The company has made a decision which apparently is not going to work commercially.

It has appointed an Indian as head of its South African sales force.

The problem is that he will not be able to meet the decision makers at the companies within South Africa which traditionally buy the specialised product.

Because the white South African decision makers will not meet an Indian.

As I wrote in a recent blog…

I’ve never met a nice white South African.

In the words of the Top Ten Spitting Image song: They’re all a bunch of arrogant bastards.

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The fickle finger of fate, fame and mortality, featuring comedy, cancer, Libyans and a nuclear explosion

Yesterday I had tea in London with David Kirk Traylor. widely known for his character Mr Zed

Born in the US, he has lived in Rome for many years. He has starred in eight television series, seen in 35 countries worldwide. He has done command performances for the Pope and the President of the United States and had a top 40 hit record in Europe. He has dubbed and voiced literally hundreds of films, cartoons, CD ROMs and computer & arcade games including an Indiana Jones game for Lucas Arts. His success became such an international phenomenon that he was the subject of a special report on CNN. I booked him on Jack Dee’s Saturday Night on peaktime ITV in 1996, yet he remains ‘unknown’ in the UK.

So it goes.

He told me two of his friends died of cancer around 25 years ago. Their cancer was caused by the radiation cloud from the 1986 nuclear explosion at Chernobyl. The radiation cloud was blown over Rome and they died about a year later. The Italian government lied about the cloud and no-one knew the danger. Several hundred people are thought to have died.

So it goes.

I remember reading about a man who was mending his bicycle in his living room just before Christmas 1988. He lived in a small, quiet Scottish town I knew slightly when I was growing up because, when I was a child, my parents had friends who lived there. The man who was mending his bike died in his living room and neither he nor his house were seen again. Nor the bicycle. They disintegrated. Nothing was left of them. A jumbo jet fell on them. They lived in Lockerbie.

So it goes.

The then-apartheid South African foreign minister Pik Botha was supposed to be on the jumbo jet, but got an earlier flight.

The Four Tops singing group had been due to fly on the jumbo jet, but had been late getting out of a recording session and overslept.

Johnny Rotten, formerly of the Sex Pistols, had been due to fly on the jumbo jet, but missed the flight.

Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, convicted in 2001 of bombing the jumbo jet in 1988, was released from his Scots prison in 2009 because he had terminal cancer and had about three months to live. He returned to Libya to die. He is still alive now, in 2011.

BBC TV News has just reported that Human Rights Watch claim, in the last week in Libya, at least 233 people have died in the ongoing demonstrations.

So it goes.

A friend of mine, whom I have known for 36 years, now has cancer.

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