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.
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.
“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.
“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…”
“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.
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?”
“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.