The following morning John Ward, esteemed eccentric inventor and designer of the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards including the Cunning Stunt Award, was out shopping when his mobile phone rang from a withheld number.
“Warily,” John told me, “I answered it.”
It was the BBC.
John writes a weekly newspaper column for the Spalding Guardian.
Occasionally, he has been known to add in these columns, in the past, an unlikely throwaway line about how he gave up performing a Tina Turner tribute act some time ago with people citing such minor problems as his colour, height and girth – “She is taller and slimmer than me” – and the fact that wearing the high heels gave his feet a hammering.
John is is in demand as an after-dinner speaker and local personality. At some functions/events which he attended, people would occasionally ask him if he might consider “going back to doing the Tina Turner act”.
John says: “I do detect that some of them have been quite serious… They actually thought I had done a Tina Turner tribute act. In one case, a lady at one charity bash said she would have ‘dearly loved’ to have seen me performing as Tina. She was not alone. I would have dearly loved to see it too…”
Anyway he got a phone call from BBC Radio the morning after Tina Turner’s death was announced.
John tells me:
“The young BBC lady wondered if I had a moment or two as they would like to get a quote from me regarding the passing of Tina Turner as we had a ‘connection’ due to my tribute act…
“I asked how she had got my number but it was from somebody at BBC Radio Lincolnshire – so they, or somebody there, had read my stuff!
“I said Tina was a great performer and will be sadly missed by many around the world but, while we had never met personally, I felt sure Gyles Brandreth must have met her.
“Next thing was: Would I mind giving an interview over the phone, there and then, to discuss my tribute act and what inspired me to do it which might/might not be broadcast either on steam radio or online or both.”
The questions and answers went like this:
BBC: What inspired you to do it?
JOHN: I really wanted to do a George Formby tribute act but found I could not master the ukulele. So I did Tina Turner instead.
BBC: Was the Tina act easy to do?
ME: The biggest hurdle was to overcome my initial colour but, while this took some time, I like to think I nailed it.
BBC: Did you consider your singing voice on a par with Tina?
ME: She was an octave or two higher than me as many who had seen her perform in concert told me, but I was more of a visual act.
BBC: Will you be attending the funeral?
ME: The funeral arrangements have not been published yet, as far as I know, so I prefer not to comment.
“The BBC lady seemed to accept all this, thanked me for my time and said she would let me know if and when my segment would be broadcast.”
“Have you heard back?” I asked John.
“No. But later, in the afternoon, around four o’clock, someone from Central TV News rang up to find out why they had never covered the story. I asked him where he heard about my Tina Turner tribute act.
“I was told by a friend at BBC Radio Lincolnshire…” he said. “So it seems the news is spreading.”
A few weeks ago, he mentioned to them that he had invented a tunnel.
The Daily Mail has always had a keen eye for the bizarre…
“I was getting fed up,” he told them, “with constantly hearing the hackneyed expression: ‘There is light at the end of the tunnel’. So I made my own tunnel with a switch to put the light on and off as required.
“It could be an executive stress device for those who want total control or like to think they have.
“I have updated it because, due to Brexit, the light is now central. Before it was adjustable from right to left, depending on what country it might be used in and what side of the road they drove on.
“Never let it be said we are kept in the dark. Being British, we are streets ahead of the game. Work is progressing on a solar-powered model.”
John tells me: “Some hours later, after the Daily Mail hit the newsstands, a researcher for BBC Three Counties Radio got in touch to see if I could do an interview over the phone and describe how my tunnel works.
“I told him: ’It’s purely visual. It’s something to be seen. The light is very quiet.”
And the line went very quiet.
The next day, a lady contacted John about the cost of making one for her husband’s birthday.
“I quoted,” John told me, “depending on size, between £150 and £250 as being I hadn’t made it and it would be individual to them but would come with a certificate of authenticity. She said she would be getting back to me as she and her daughter were going to buy it if her daughter agreed…”
That was ten days ago. Now John has had another brainstorm.
No stranger to the media, he has his own weekly column in the increasingly prestigious Spalding Guardian newspaper – and he has come up with a new cracker of an idea which has now been featured in a lengthy piece on their esteemed sister website Spalding Today.
He has created a board game based on the number of potholes in the roads of South Holland in Lincolnshire.
The game has been designed for two players – who throw dice from an upside-down miniature traffic cone.
How did he get the inspiration for this?
Players throw dice from an upside-down miniature traffic cone
“I was driving down the A17 road last Easter time,” he explains, “when I ‘hit’ two such holes, both within a few yards of each other, then felt the car really jar but the more I thought about it this is a right old game – three such jarrings and your left front wheel falls off crossed my mind.
“From a personal viewpoint,” continues John W, never short of words, “Lincolnshire is blighted with potholes from major roads to side streets and they are a constant talking point, with forever debate about when or if they will be repaired. Although once repaired there is a very good chance the situation will return almost as soon as it’s been ‘repaired’ as the repair possibly was not as it should have been or rather it appears that way to the common layman.”
Players have the option of picking a sports car, pick-up truck or a tractor as a marker.
Realistic detail: “a fly-tipped pile of rubbish left on the grass”
“Realism,” explains John, “comes in the form of a fly-tipped pile of rubbish left on the grass.
“Each player starts with a set of ‘hole fillers’ or plugs, each colour-coded, to use to fill a pot hole when landing on one. Although it is not that straightforward – much like reporting a pothole and expecting it to be attended to.
“If you land on a square with a coloured star on it, you then pick a card from a pile with that co-ordinating star to find out if you can progress through to the next square or miss a go, forfeit a go to your opponent and so on.
“I am in the process of registering the design and copyrighting it at the moment. However, as these real life pot holes affect many millions of motorists, the possible potential for this game could – I stress ‘could’ – be very interesting.”
Last year, the Lincolnshire Free Press reported: “A woman from Lincolnshire is spray-painting potholes around the county in a protest surrounding the state of the roads. Karen Holland, 55, is decorating the roads with different bugs – and even the occasional cheeky genitalia – to warn other motorists about the potholes and show just how many there are around Lincolnshire.”
This story, I think, has more mileage in it.
The art of Lincolnshire potholes in 2020 – as decorated and photographed by Karen Holland
I thought stockpiling toilet rolls was bizarre enough… But now my local Lidl supermarket has had an outbreak of what appears to be panic buying of bread and eggs… I can only assume this is caused by people who were unable to join in the earlier mass panic buying of toilet rolls trying to bring on constipation by over-eating bread and eggs, thus negating the short-term requirement for the toilet rolls they do not have.
SUNDAY 15th MARCH
Someone has shared a story about a Hindu cow urine drinking party – “Dozens of Hindu activists in India hosted a cow urine-drinking party. Some members of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist party have claimed that cow urine and dung can prevent and cure COVID-19”.
This is a new twist on an old story.
Moraji Desai, the Indian Prime Minister 1977-1979 used to drink his own urine. He said ‘urine therapy’ was the perfect medical solution for the millions of Indians who could not afford medical treatment.He also attributed his longevity to drinking his own urine – which he called “the water of life”.
I remember English actress Sarah Miles, who was on The Last Resort With Jonathan Ross TV chat show when I was a researcher, likewise drank her own urine, though thankfully or sadly (depending on your viewpoint) not on the show. She seemed a lovely, gentle, very vulnerable person. From memory, I think she used to drink a pint of urine every morning.
MONDAY 16th MARCH
What is it with the lack of eggs in Lidl? Is there panic buying of eggs or have the hens gone into self-isolation?
Is a plague of frogs next? (Photo by Gary Tresize via UnSplash)
The coronavirus is killing off the oldest people… in other words, the first-born… On past documented evidence, I suspect self-isolation may trigger an outbreak of boils, then there will be a plague of frogs and then the locusts will arrive…
In the US, President Trump urges Americans to avoid gatherings of more than 10 people… Is it merely coincidence that this is less than the number required to form a jury…?
TUESDAY 17th MARCH
I have had a dry, irritating-to-others, cough throughout my life. My father had a similar cough throughout his life and he died at 82 (not from the cough). The benefit of this now is that, if I clear my throat in a supermarket aisle, people part before me like the Red Sea before the Israelites.
Facebook has gone mad. I posted a jokey post from the New Yorker about wrestling without an audience being like avant-garde theatre. This apparently breaches Facebook’s community standards and, as such, it has been removed and flagged as fraud… The explanation, apparently is that this is a result of the coronavirus because Facebook is starting to rely on machines, not humans, to check posts.
Not even a single grain of sugar was left in Lidl
WEDNESDAY 18th MARCH
Mystifyingly, there has now been panic buying in the Lidl sugar section in Borehamwood. The Lidl middle aisle still has plenty of grass seed, children’s socks and post-war Russian rocket launchers, but there is not a grain of sugar anywhere…
McDonald’s at Highbury Corner in London is serving only take-aways, no eat-in meals; and my local Costa, from tomorrow, is not accepting their plastic loyalty cards – only via the app – because staff are not allowed to touch strangers’ plastic cards.
Last night, I saw what may have been one of the last comedy shows in London – performed flawlessly by the staggeringly-multi-talented Dragos Mostenescu. I would not normally quote from shows directly, but he started with… “I used to cover the sound of my farts by coughing, but now I am covering the sound of my coughs with farts…”
“Not the arse!” (Photo by Erik Mclean via UnSplash)
THURSDAY 19th MARCH
I have just come back from the local shopping centre where a little old lady was tottering along. As she passed, she glared at me and said unnecessarily loudly in a voice straight out of the EastEnders TV soap: “It’s the face that matters, not the arse! Why are they buying toilet rolls?”
I had not bought and was not going to buy toilet rolls, but I had to admit she had a point…
It turns out that, nowadays, Lincolnshire is the new Wild West even though it is in East England – Mad inventor John Ward told me that thieves had broken into Gosberton Baptist Church, Spalding, and succeeded in stealing toilet rolls.
FRIDAY 20th MARCH
Normally a very rare sight (Photograph by Alex Nevin-Tylee)
In good news, Thameslink are running regular trains. This is odd as they were not doing that before the coronavirus outbreak…
A friend explains the strange lack of sugar on the shelves in Lidl and elsewhere. She says there is also a shortage of flour. Presumably people, she says, are doing home baking. There is not, of course, an ACTUAL shortage of sugar and flour… people are just buying it faster than the supermarkets can re-stock and re-fill the shelves.
An arts journalist (not a news journalist) emailed me: “Well, I still think that it is all being blown out of all proportion, I DO NOT trust anyone in power anywhere to do stuff that is not VERY BAD while we are all locked in our houses quivering. This IS political. Make no mistake. It is political.”
SATURDAY 21st MARCH
Someone told me I am old fashioned… but I think all avenues should be explored in this crisis.
Leeches have long been used (Photo by GlebK via Wikipedia)
I already have paracetamol tablets but, for safety, I looked for leeches in Lidl today. Nothing. Panic buying has emptied random shelves. No bread, eggs or leeches. The world has gone mad. I have had to go online where, it transpires, medical leeches are available.
The John Lewis department stores are temporarily closing from Monday. We are entering a new Dark Ages. John Lewis closing? This is like the fall of Constantinople…
SUNDAY 22nd MARCH
My English friend Sandy, who lives in Milan with her husband, has had some admirable lateral coronavirus thinking…
“My job today,” she says, “is to try and make some face-masks using filter material meant for vacuum cleaners (same principle and we have a box of them). Ready for next time we have to go out.”
Unfortunately, a Facebook Friend then told me: “Some vacuum cleaners’ filters contain fibreglass… something you do not want in your lungs, especially now.”
I had tiny, almost imperceptible headaches in the afternoon. I was not sure if I might be imagining them. In the evening, I had a very slightly hard-edged cough but it was, again, difficult to know if this was real or only a slight variation on my normal lifelong dry cough…