Tag Archives: surreal

John Fleming’s Weekly Diary No 35 – Life is but a dream. This week for sure.

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 34(b)

All the world’s an online stage in the coronavirus era (Photograph by Tianyi Ma via UnSplash)

THURSDAY 13th SEPTEMBER

I was talking to a stand-up comedian. She said she had done an online gig, but didn’t like them.

I can only imagine what it is like to play an online gig in silence from an invisible audience. It must be like a rehearsal where you have to deliver your performance at 100% all the time with no motivation and no reaction.

It is a strange twilight world, this coronavirus world, like a dream where brain fog is dense, motivation to do anything is very low and every day seems the same.

THURSDAY 14th SEPTEMBER

To add to the dreamlike quality of this week, I travelled on a Thameslink train today – never a good idea.

There was a lady with green hair and a red skirt sitting half a carriage away from me with a corgi dog on her lap – She looked like upside-down traffic lights.

When the brightly-coloured lady got up to leave at the next station, the dog was on a lead and followed her out of the carriage… And I saw it was not a corgi but a fox.

Is this even legal?

How did she get through the ticket barrier with a fox without being queried about it?

Thameslink may be unreliable and incompetent, but it has the bonus of having its fair share of eccentrics.

Don’t even get me onto the woman with the teddy bear who talks to anyone and everyone about the aforementioned bear; or the bloke with the bright clothes and over-enthusiastic moustache who, according to the Evening Standard, was once convicted of killing his brother.

THURSDAY 15th SEPTEMBER

In a chilling warning to all forced to use the Thameslink line, someone arrived at Elstree station to see me today and, before coming out, used the toilet facilities.

Thameslink: bottomless home of horror

She sat in there doing what she had to do.

The toilets have recently been refurbished.

This included the installation of a movement sensor controlling the lights in the ceiling.

Because there had been no movement for a short while, all the lights suddenly went off.

Pitch black.

My friend was sitting in a windowless cubicle inside a windowless Ladies’ toilet. She waved her arms around. No effect. She could not remember if the door had a bolt or a lever or where it was and she couldn’t find it. She couldn’t immediately see her handbag but eventually found it and, by touch and much guddling around, found her iPhone and switched its torch on.

The lesson to be learned from this is that, while sitting on a Thameslink toilet, be as quick as you can and move around as much as possible.

THURSDAY 16th SEPTEMBER

I think my constant waking up with a dry mouth during the night may be getting to me.

In my last Diary Blog, I mentioned an incident that happened in the street. No need to check back. It doesn’t matter; it’s just a McGuffin or possibly a MacGuffin.

A McMuffin – not to be confused with a McGuffin

But, for some reason, it has been reminding me today of a story I was told once. I may have mentioned it in a blog years ago. Dunno. I can’t be bothered to check. It doesn’t matter; it’s just a McGuffin. This is a story within a story within a story.

Back in the 1990s, I did not write someone’s autobiography. He is dead now. He was a ‘sleeper’ agent for the Soviets, part of a sleeper group run for them by East Germany’s Transport Minister. Strange but true.

This is the story as told to me by the man whose autobiography I did not write.:


One of the most famous legends of Central Asia tells of a horseman, the standard-bearer of the great Khan. As the Khan’s army are entering a city after a glorious victory, the standard-bearer sees a dark lady looking at him. The dark lady has fearful eyes, as if she is looking right inside him.

Afterwards, he becomes scared that this woman is a witch and she has put the Evil Eye on him, so he goes to the great Khan and tells him his fears and says he wants to go to another city.

“Of course!” says the great Khan. “Give him the finest horse we have! Let him escape!”

So the standard-bearer takes the fastest horse in the Great Khan’s army, rides off across the desert and, in record time, travels to the other city. When he arrives, he sees the dark lady standing by the city gates, waiting for him. She looks at him, smiles and says:

“I was so worried. I knew I was due to meet you here today but, when I saw you in that other city so far away, I was worried that you would not make it here in time for your appointment.”

And the standard-bearer realises that she is Death.


THURSDAY 17th SEPTEMBER

Even the spam is kinda weird this week. This was a comment on one of my blogs this week. You can tell it’s a tad odd from the first sentence:


Spam (Photograph by Hannes Johnson via UpSplash)

Hello and welcome to my webpage. I’m Kyran.

I have always dreamed of being a book writer but never dreamed I’d make a career of it. In college, though, I assisted a fellow student who needed help. She could not stop complimenting me.

Word got around and someone asked me for to write their paper just a week later. This time they would compensate me for my work.

During the summer, I started doing academic writing for students at the local college. It helped me have fun that summer and even funded some of my college tuition. Today, I still offer my writing services to students.


I was impressed by Kyran’s turn of phrase, particularly: “someone asked me for to write their paper”.

There was a link to his website and to his Trustpilot reviews which were almost all of the 5-star variety. The latest review read:

I may sub-contract writing my blog to Kyran…

THURSDAY 18th SEPTEMBER

Below is what happens when you give your iPhone to a 9-year-old and she asks Siri to translate the word ‘John’ into Chinese…

She also told me that one of the boys in her year had stolen one of another schoolmate’s micro pigs.

“A micro pig?” I asked. “This is some sort of cuddly toy?”

“No, they are real pigs,” I was told and, to prove it, a Wikipedia entry and Google photos were produced.

“He stole one of her micro pigs?” I asked.

“Yes, he stole one of her micro pigs after school. She has six. She brought one of her pet micro pigs into school in a top hat and he stole one after school.”

“She was wearing the top hat?” I asked.

“Of course not. The pig was inside the top hat. She carried the top hat in her hands with the pig in it.”

“Did she notice the pig had been stolen?” I asked.

“Of course… There was a tug-of-war. He tried to steal the top hat and the pig but she held on to the hat, so he ran away with the pig.”

As a postscript, I was later told that, although the light-fingered boy had stolen the micro pig, it was later returned to its rightful owner by “the man who looks after the boy”. I know no more about the pig’s fate.

“The man speaks English but I think he is French,” I was told.

“Have you heard him speak?” I asked.

“No,” I was told.

THURSDAY 19th SEPTEMBER

Last night, I woke up 14 times with a bone dry mouth and had to drink water. As always, this resulted in me being mentally zonked all day. Not helped by Thameslink.

I arrived at Elstree station at 1026 to catch the 1038 train which was (obviously) due to arrive at 1040 unless you read the indicator board which said the next train was at 0514…

Thameslink. The rail franchise holder with the slogan:

Reassuringly dependable incompetence in an ever-changing world.

I need to conserve my energy, because tomorrow is a big day – Thursday.

Oh… And… by the way… I made up the story about the fox on the Thameslink train. Life is what you make it and reality and surreality overlap all the time. Everything else apart from the fox story – the live miniature pigs, darkened toilets, illiterate humanity paper writers, the top hat, the homicidal man with the over-enthusiastic moustache and every day of my life being a Thursday – was true.

Or was it?

Yes, it was and is.

… TO BE CONTINUED …

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John Fleming’s Weekly Diary No 34 (b) has weirdness, confusion and a witch…

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 34 (a)

WEDNESDAY 9th SEPTEMBER

A bit of glamour, showbiz and crime… always popular in blogs

This blog is usually described as a “comedy blog” but perhaps oddly – perhaps not, given the eclectic bunches of readers and followers I have – the blogs which consistently get big hits are ones about crime and subjects other than comedy.

In fact, the two which have consistently, steadily got hits are:

Where the Kray Twins gangster film “Legend” got it all so very badly wrong (September 2015)

and

The practicalities of putting your head in a gas oven: my 2nd suicide attempt (January 2015)

Clearly, I must have been doing something right in 2015. Which is possibly confirmed by the fact that, in the last two or three months, the above two have been joined as consistently hit blogs by another May 2015 one:

The paedophile sculptor and the image on the front of BBC Broadcasting House

Someone suggested to me that renewed interest in this one might have been stoked by the spate of pulling down statues linked to the Black Lives Matter movement. But it seems to have lasted beyond that.

Weird.

THURSDAY 10th SEPTEMBER

My sleeping pattern seems to have returned to weirdness…

My sleeping pattern seems to have returned to my New Normal.

Waking up 10 or 12 times a night with my mouth and tongue parched totally dry.

Today, I managed to get on two wrong trains because my mind was not paying attention.

Intending to get on a train to Greenwich at Blackfriars, I managed to get on what I feared might be an express train to Brighton. Fortunately, it stopped at East Croydon and I was able to get back to Blackfriars.

All these names mean nothing if you don’t live in the UK so, suffice to say, later in the day, I got on another wrong train. Very confusing.

In the evening, I saw the movie TENET, which continued the confusion. I wrote about it HERE.

The UK law (or is it only the English law? Everything is confusing) now requires cinemagoers to wear COVID masks throughout all movie screenings even when social distancing is adhered to.

The reality was that, once inside the cinema and seeing that everyone was socially distanced, Most people lowered their masks.

This made no scheduling, audience or any sense (Photo by Levi Stute via UnSplash)

FRIDAY 11th SEPTEMBER

I had a dream in which I was attending the rehearsals for a live 2-hour peaktime TV variety show.

The rehearsals for the show were being screened live at 8.00pm on broadcast television and later, the actual show itself would be transmitted live.

This made no scheduling, audience or any sense of any kind. And the live broadcast rehearsals were going badly.

I have no idea what this was about but, then, for the last few weeks, every day feels like it is a Thursday.

And I don’t even know what specific feelings define a Thursday.

SATURDAY 12th SEPTEMBER

I was walking along a street in North West London with the 9-year-old daughter of a friend of mine when an old lady who looked a bit the worse for wear approached us.

“I don’t want anything from you,” she said. And then started telling us what she had been doing that day.

She got as far as a couple of sentences and “My daughter was supposed to transfer money into my bank account today, but…” when I felt it was better to move on. The whole incident took maybe 45 seconds.

The 9-year-old seemed slightly unsettled and I thought she was going to say I should have given the old lady some money (though she hadn’t actually got to the point of asking)…

But, in fact, the 9-year-old had been very unsettled by the incident.

“That is the third time I have seen that lady,” she explained. “The first time was near here (in North West London) about three weeks ago… Then I saw her a couple of days later in East London… and now I have seen her again here… She looks like a witch.”

I tried to reassure her but a new weirdness has become the New Norm.

Anything is possible.

“I tried to reassure her but a new weirdness has become the New Norm. Anything is possible.”

… CONTINUED HERE

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John Fleming’s Weekly Diary No 34 (a) – My dog clone and a bat swoops down

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 33

I was determined NOT to get into medical whinging in this week’s blog diary, but it didn’t work out…

Andy Dunlop weighs up the mysteries of the codes

SUNDAY 6th SEPTEMBER

In my last blog, I mentioned that, at St Pancras station, I had heard an announcement for ‘Inspector Sands’ which I said was a coded message meaning that there was a major emergency in the building.

World Egg Throwing Federation President Andy Dunlop today reminded me that the phrase “Inspector Sands“ was used because of  the need to throw sand on a fire.

So it is fire-related.

“It could just be a bin fire,” he told me. “Major stuff (bomb, other terrorism, robbery, armed people) tends to have different codes… No, I’m not telling you what they are.”

Wikipedia reckons ‘Inspector Sands’ can involve bomb threats, but I trust Dunlop. He has been around a bit and is a President and therefore beyond reproach.

I also asked him about my doppelgänger dog Rigby, who had been exhibiting the same symptoms as me.

“He is doing great,” Andy told me. “Treatment working it seems. Very happy.”

I can only dream of having treatment.

MONDAY 7th SEPTEMBER

I had a bath. I had been having trouble recently – with no warning – getting out of my bath.

My new technique is to put in more and more and more water until the bath overflows, casting me out in a tidal wave of Archimedean proportions.

That may not be altogether true; but what follows is…

I got a text from my GP:

Injecting a little bit of uncertainty into my mind and arm

“If you DO NOT want a flu vaccine we would appreciate it if you would email us to let us know so we can remove you from our RECALL list. This is very important as, this year more than ever, vaccines supplies are expected to be in extremely high demand. Thank you.”

I have no idea if being injected with a small dose of flu when I already have some unknown calcium/kidney/other problem is a good idea. I will have to get advice.

In late afternoon, I got raging toothache.

What next? Gout? Hiccups? Bodily takeover by aliens from Alpha Centauri?

TUESDAY 8th SEPTEMBER

My raging toothache got worse overnight. A veritable symphony of comedic ailments. Might be an abscess. Might not.

After a couple of hours of not sleeping, I took a couple of paracetamol. No effect. I also managed to develop heartburn and, after an hour or so, chewed a Gaviscon tablet. And I then developed very loud, OTT hiccups. My nose started to get a bit sniffly. Then a hacking cough, though I think that was from the heartburn.

Obviously taken after-the-event and, frankly, really rather over-dramatically posed…

The only way to stop the heartburn was to try to sleep sitting upright in my bed, with a pillow between my head and the wall.

After about three hours of sitting upright, half-sleeping, I woke up with the raging toothache worse and the back of my neck and my right collarbone giving me pain. But that was to do with getting hit by a truck in 1991, not any current problem.

Well, I did say there was a symphony – a veritable cacophony – of comedic overnight ailments.

Obviously, when I woke up, there was my of-late normal bone-dry mouth – no moisture inside my cheeks, nor on the roof or floor of my mouth, nor on my tongue, which felt almost stuck to the inside of my cheek.

I drank water. As always.

All this pretty much repeated itself throughout the night, though the heartburn went away and I sort of was awake at 8.30am, having slept vey sporadically and, it seemed to me, rarely.

At 9.30, I phoned my dentist. There are still restrictions because of the coronavirus. Basically, you can only get an appointment if it’s an emergency. I could only see my own dentist for my toothache in a fortnight; I could see another dentist in the practice next Monday. I could have a ‘normal’ appointment in October.

A stronger, hopefully more effective, bedside

As the paracetamol tablets were having no effect, I went to Boots the Chemist and they recommended I try co-codamol (paracetamol & codeine) of which I can theoretically only take two tablets four times a day for three days (because, after that, it can become addictive). In fact, the pharmacist told me, it would be OK to take two consecutive three-day courses, which would get me to Monday. And I also bought some Orajel Extra Strength to rub on the tooth; again, limited to four times a day “short term” (whatever that means).

For the rest of the day, the pain – not ache – pain – ebbed and flowed, depending on how close I was to the four-hourly point of taking the tablets/gel.

To add to the jollities, in the post, I got a CCd letter from my Kidney Man consultant to my GP telling him how I was doing. This was a duplicate of the same letter I got last week, except with an extra page showing dates.

The letter had been written by my Kidney Man on 29th July about the phone appraisal he had with me on 6th July. The letter had then been transcribed by his secretary/assistant on 6th August, modified by my Kidney Man on 28th August and the letter was posted out on 7th September.

It referred to a future meeting the Kidney Man would have with me in August which, of course, has already happened.

As if to confirm the dream-like nature of the day… at dusk, a bat appeared in my back garden.

My eternally-un-named friend tried to attract it by rubbing the edges of two 10p pieces together; then tried to ward it off by holding aloft a large bulb of garlic. I think this merely ended up confusing the poor winged creature. My eternally-un-named friend wore a jacket with her hood up in case the creature was suddenly attracted to and got entangled in her hair.

I can barely believe all this either.

But all this is true.

Spot the fast-flying bat, held at bay at dusk by a bulb of garlic held by my eternally-un-named friend

… CONTINUED HERE

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John Fleming’s (half) Weekly Diary No 22 – Coughs, teeth, dead surrealists

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 21

SUNDAY 21st JUNE

One of my front upper teeth has gone out of alignment with the others. Hopefully this is a false tooth.

Staying on things oral, I have a lifelong dry, irritating (to others) cough, which is very useful for clearing queues during the current coronavirus outbreak.

One of the many British comedic highlights of the past which I missed was The Fast Show on BBC2 (1994-1997 + 2011-2014). I never saw an entire episode though I saw occasional excerpts.

One thing I apparently missed was a running gag/character called Bob Fleming, who had a dry irritating cough. Someone drew my attention to it today.

I had zero involvement in The Fast Show, but I did (inevitably, though Malcolm Hardee) peripherally have a nodding acquaintance with a couple of the cast members. It would be nice to think one mentioned in passing about this bloke John Fleming who had a perpetual irritating cough. That would be my 15 seconds of inspirational fame.

Alas, I imagine the thought of phlegming/Fleming is a more likely source.

Today I also chatted with TV chap Simon Kennedy for an upcoming blog. Inexplicably, the subject of long-time Chinese statesman Chou En Lai came up… and his famous quote.

Ever-wise, much quoted Chinese statesman

In the early 1970s, talking to Henry Kissinger, he was asked if he thought the French Revolution had had a successful outcome. The French Revolution happened in 1789.

Chou said: “It is too early to say.”

I have always seen this as the epitome of Chinese long-sightedness.

But Simon correctly told me that Chou was actually referring to the 1968 student riots in Paris.

What a pity.

It is far more Chinese to say that 1968 was too early to say what long-term effects an action in 1789 had.

MONDAY 22nd JUNE

China – and, indeed, similar political paradises – are known for their bureaucracy.

So today I arrived at my local hospital at 0845 (with my three appointment letters) for my 0900 Nephrology appointment at Outpatients and, on presenting myself and my three letters at Main Reception, was told the department was closed and all appointments had been moved to another hospital.

I ignored this – as I had had the three letters and had had a phone call confirming the appointment. I phoned the Kidney Man’s answering machine, found Outpatients and sat in Main Outpatients Reception (open from 0830 but with no receptionist).

About 0900, the Kidney Man’s secretary phoned me back to confirm I would be seen and if no-one turned up, to phone her back. I was due to see a Kidney Woman.

I said if no-one turned up by 0920 I would phone back.

The Kidney Woman arrived at 0917, unlike the receptionist.

She (the Kidney Woman) told me that, during my 7-day hospital stay, they had not treated me – just observed. Fair enough.

During that time, my calcium level had gone back to normal without any treatment (except the saline drip for 7 days). My calcium level had been 3.2. I had been told in hospital it should be 2.6.

The Kidney Woman told me: “2.6 would be an absolute maximum.”

Apparently ‘normal’ would be 2.2 to 2.6.

My kidney function last October had been an OK-for-my-age 62 but, on entering hospital, it was down to 19. Over 7 days in the hospital I had been told it had risen to 28 which was concerning but no longer “dangerous” and the Kidney Woman today told me it had been 34 on discharge from hospital.

“Anything over 60 would be OK for a man of your age,” she told me. “Your calcium level would affect your kidney function, but your kidney function could not affect the calcium level.”

Still, there is no hint of why my calcium level/kidney function went haywire nor why I keep waking up 6 or 7 or 8 times a night with a parched, bone-dry mouth and have to drink water. Next week, I will hear the result of today’s blood test.

During the day I am mostly OK though I sometimes have to have a late afternoon nap for a couple of hours; and I go to bed, tired, around 8.00pm or 9.00pm. My normal bedtime used to be around midnight.

Whether this tiredness is a result of my calcium/kidney problems or just being old or having constantly woken up 6 or 7 or 8 times the previous night… Who knows?

TUESDAY 23rd JUNE

The pandemic has resulted in much more dental bureaucracy

The tooth cap that was out-of-alignment on Sunday has now got decidedly wobbly. It is hanging on in there, but threatening to either fall out during the day or (in my fantasies) drop out and get swallowed by me during the night.

Miraculously (because of the coronavirus lockdown) I was able to get a dental appointment next Tuesday. My dentist re-opened last Monday (eight days ago) for emergencies.

I got an appointment after answering a lot of detailed medical questions and, I think, because the dodgy upper tooth is towards the front and visible.

There will be absolutely no drilling of any kind because of the danger from airborne spray from the mouth. So anything that would normally involve drilling will, instead, be temporarily repaired.

Around lunchtime, I was sitting on a bench with someone (the regulation two metres apart) in the Green Belt area near my home when a stray football from a nearby game headed towards us. I got up, kicked the ball back and nearly overbalanced and (did not) fall over.

I am constantly lightheaded during the day and waking up hourly at night.

Who knows why?

In the afternoon, I was told of the death of Douglas Gray last Thursday. He and brother Tony were The Alberts, a surreal comedy duo which linked The Goons and Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

I met the brothers years ago – in the 1980s, I think, at their home (I think they lived in the same rambling house but I could be wrong) in Norfolk. They were interestingly and gently eccentric and one – I think it was Douglas – appeared to be dressed for playing cricket for no apparent reason.

They should have been British cultural treasures but, alas, mega-fame escaped them, like so many worthy performers. I seem to remember that they used to pretend to work on a national newspaper in London, before Margaret Thatcher destroyed the ‘closed shop’ policies of the trades unions.

They told me, I think, that they would drive down from Norfolk to London each Friday, sign on as print workers (they had union cards), then drive straight back to Norfolk. They got paid well for working at the weekends although they were not even in London, let alone working on the production of the newspaper.

They were surrealists on and off stage.

Today was the last day of the daily government Briefings/updates about the coronavirus pandemic. The lockdown restrictions will be partially, but not by any means totally, lifted on the 4th of July – our ‘Trim-dependence Day’ as one BBC News reporter put it, because hairdressers will be allowed to open with safety restrictions.

The total of reported UK coronavirus deaths is now 42,927… up 171 in the previous 24 hours

WEDNESDAY 24th JUNE

I have received the three pages of forms I have to fill in before seeing my dentist next Tuesday.

The accompanying letter details what will happen.

The tooth will out…

– I should rinse my mouth with mouthwash before leaving home, to kill off any bacteria in my mouth.

– I should not arrive early, because the surgery’s street door will be locked and I will only be allowed in when the previous patient has left.

– On entry, my temperature will be taken with an infra-red thermometer.

– I will have to wash my hands with anti-bacterial gel before seeing the dentist.

– The dentist and nurse will be wearing protective clothing: presumably face masks and/or plastic face visors.

As if to celebrate my filling-in of the dental forms…

…my tooth fell out.

… CONTINUED HERE

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The death of the second ‘Albert’ – supreme British surrealist entertainers

The Alberts – images from their Facebook page

In a 2014 blog, I wrote about the death of Tony Gray, one of The Alberts – the gloriously eccentric British brothers who linked the shambolic opening night of BBC2 to The Goon Show, the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band and Monty Python’s Flying Circus

This afternoon, sadly, I received news from Sheba Gray – Tony’s daughter – that Douglas, the other half of the duo, “passed away last Thursday (18th June), just shy of ninety”…

British Rubbish Revisited, a recent release with recordings from their 1960s shows, can currently be found on YouTube, Spotify, iTunes, Amazon etc…

And a 58-minute video – The Alberts – An Evening of British Rubbish – is currently on YouTube.

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Paul Vickers aka Twonkey fails to explain next week’s comedy show…

Paul Vickers aka Twonkey performs his latest show Twonkey’s Ten Year Twitch at the Soho Theatre in London next Monday night. He lives in Edinburgh. I live in London (ish). We talked via Apple FaceTime… We both got sidetracked in cyberspace…


JOHN: So your new show is…

PAUL: Last year’s Edinburgh Fringe show. But it’s not been seen in London before… Well, no, that’s not true. The very first early version of it I did at the Bill Murray comedy club in London. But that was a disaster. All over the place. It was the first time I’d ever done a show where I had misjudged it so badly.

JOHN: Yet it was successful at the Fringe last August. What had you got so wrong in the first version?

PAUL: The right bits in the wrong order. I had sussed-out a formula for how to do my shows. The best way to do a Twonkey show is to have loads of short, fast, fun bits to (LAUGHS) lure people into a false sense of security and then, about halfway through the show start telling a longer narrative right through to the end.

For some reason, I decided in that first version to do it in reverse to see what would happen. I started with the story and then went to short, fast bits at the end and it didn’t work because people said: “You were telling a story and then you just completely abandoned it.”

JOHN: So, like Eric Morecambe, you did all the right bits, but not necessarily in the right order… in that first London try-out.

PAUL: Exactly. So I did major surgery on it overnight and, the next day, I did it in Leicester in a completely different way and it worked. Can you hear the dog?

JOHN: What?

PAUL: There’s a dog here. He’s going tomorrow. He’s going to live on a farm, which offers him a more rewarding life than we can… Eric.

JOHN: Eric?

Eric is Paul’s dog, but is not Paul

PAUL: That’s his name. Eric.ou

JOHN: After Eric Morecambe?

PAUL: I don’t know. It was my friend Mary who named him. I suppose it’s a strong name. I’ve written a song about him.

JOHN: How does it go – the song?

PAUL: I remember! The name! It’s because of Lynn Ruth Miller… That’s why he’s called Eric. Because Lynn Ruth always calls me Eric. Whenever she sees me, she yells out (in an American accent): “Oh, my God! It’s Eric!”

JOHN: She has always thought you are named Eric?

PAUL: Yes.

JOHN: When I worked at Granada TV, there was a man who called me ‘Peter’ for two years. I never had it in my heart to tell him I was not Peter. But he was happy and I was happy, so no problem. It’s only a name.

PAUL: Yeah, well, that’s how it goes, isn’t it? After a while, I stopped correcting Lynn Ruth because it seemed pointless.

JOHN: What does she say when she sees the dog? Does she call it Paul?

PAUL: She’s never seen the dog.

Mr Twonkey is cleaning up (Photo by Steve Ullathorne)

JOHN: Just as well, The dog might have developed an identity crisis… You were talking about the narrative story in Twonkey’s Ten Year Twitch? What’s the narrative?

PAUL: It’s about the fact that all the weather in the world has been replaced by fake weather in 1982. 

JOHN: Why?

PAUL: Because the old weather was being repaired and so there is a factory in the Dordogne where the weather is being stored. I travel to the Dordogne and find out who invented the weather originally… That kind of thing.

JOHN: Oh, the old ‘weather factory in the Dordogne’ meme…

PAUL: The previous year’s show Night Train to Liechtenstein had been about inherited wealth. It was a bit like Jack & The Beanstalk because, when I went to collect the inheritance, all there was were some beans but, when I grew the beans, inside there was a pumpkin and inside the pumpkin were diamonds. 

JOHN: But that is not what Twonkey’s Ten Year Twitch is about…

Paul’s head is full of Twonkey ideas (Photograph by Steve Ullathorne)

PAUL: No. But the bit of music I was working on at the time of Night Train to Liechtenstein was like a choral thing and I realised the key it was in was exactly the same as Somewhere Over The Rainbow. So the end of the show had me holding up this pumpkin with diamonds in it and suddenly there was this weird choral music and out of it came Somewhere Over The Rainbow and it almost felt like I was floating out of the room. It was very odd, especially when I got tired.

JOHN: But that’s not the ending of Twonkey’s Ten Year Twitch.

PAUL: No. It’s probably going to end with an advertisement for my next show, which will feature an interview with Maradona, the Argentinian football player. He will be played by Simon Jay, who is also in Twonkey’s Ten Year Twitch. He plays ‘the old hag’ – and he’s also the technician as well. I thought: Well, it’s daft him just sitting there pressing buttons. If he came on and acted a little part, it would be cool as well.

JOHN: So he is going to do a trailer as Maradona for your next show at the end of this show in which he is ‘the old hag’.

PAUL: Yes. He was Leonardo da Vinci’s landlady in Night Train to Liechtenstein.

JOHN: And in your next show he will be Maradona.

PAUL: Yes. My next show is going to be called Twonkey’s Custard Club.

JOHN: It’s about custard?

“I misjudged what a physical mess…”

PAUL: It’s about rival custard shops. I’m still writing it. I’m hoping ‘the custard chef’ will be built in time, but he has very long arms and is difficult to pack. I’ve done one dry run of it, but I misjudged what a physical mess it creates, because there is a bit where I get covered in custard pies and I can’t actually see anything. It was difficult to see my laptop computer and it was not actually good for my laptop computer to be covered in shaving foam.

But it was good in terms of working out the parameters of what I need to do. I realised I will need a couple of towels close-by. And I now know how many custard pies you can get out of one tin of shaving foam. And I have a good Django Reinhardt kind-of jazzy song called The Custard Club, so it seemed like a good idea.

JOHN: But that’s not what happens in Twonkey’s Ten Year Twitch…

PAUL: No. Sometimes you don’t know what a show is about until like five years later and then you sort-of think: Ah! That show was about me! I think it’s impossible to create work without it being about yourself. But you can’t necessarily see it immediately… I had quite a difficult year last year. I had a lot going on in my personal life. Just a lot going on.

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My dream is out-surrealed by reality…

Yesterday morning, before waking up, I had a dream.

Well, that’s the way dreams work normally. You tend to be asleep.

I have no idea what triggered the dream.

I was looking down on the scene, either from a balcony or from the first floor of a building opposite. That’s the second floor for any readers in the United States.

Factual reality can be fluid.

I was watching a hidden camera TV show ‘sting’ going on. 

I used to work for a couple of TV shows which used hidden cameras to pull ‘stunts’ in the UK – Game For a Laugh and Surprise! Surprise! 

Fair enough. At least that has some connection with my reality.

From the right of frame in my dream, a young woman was approaching another person who was standing by some grey stone steps on the left. The young woman was an ordinary member of the public – she was the object of the TV sting. 

As the young woman got to the other person by the steps, another older woman came in from the right.

She (the older woman) ‘misunderstood’ why the younger woman was meeting the other person by the steps and she turned away, back towards the right, distraught. 

What she misunderstood and why she was distraught I had no idea.

The distraught older woman then walked off to the right and onto a grey railway station platform. But, instead of railway tracks beside the railway platform there was a choppy, grey, storm-swept sea with white foamy crests on the waves.

The older woman intentionally walked straight into the water and disappeared beneath the waves. 

I was shocked.

And then some man, who was in some way connected to the TV production, was being interviewed on television.

“So you write for The Times and…” the TV interviewer said to him and, somehow, I knew this meant he wrote for the New York Times.

“And…” the interviewer continued…

…and then I woke up.

I had no idea/have no idea how any of that connects to my reality nor what any of it meant.

The strangeness was in the back of my mind all day yesterday.

But made-up dreams and surreality can never compete with the allegedly real world.

Last night, I accidentally spotted an online article on a site called Catholic New York, which bills itself as “America’s Largest Catholic Newspaper”. Not a satire site… A real, genuine Catholic site.

The headline on the article was:

LOURDES SHRINE CLOSES HEALING POOLS AS PRECAUTION AGAINST CORONAVIRUS

…and the story was, indeed, about that. It started:

“As the number of people testing positive for the coronavirus in Europe continued to grow, the French Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes announced that pilgrims were still welcome, but the pools the sick bathe in hoping for healing would be closed temporarily…”

As Wikipedia currently correctly says, Lourdes is “one of the world’s most important sites of pilgrimage and religious tourism. (It) hosts around six million visitors every year from all corners of the world”… hoping to be cured of their ailments in its holy, healing waters.

Now, I am no Christian believer, but I just cannot get my head round how someone who believes that illnesses can be cured by God at Lourdes can possibly logically come to terms with the fact that the holy waters have had to be closed and put out-of-bounds in case a visitor should catch a current viral disease.

Reality is almost always curiouser than fiction.

Or dreams.

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The mystery of my baffling and slightly surreal iPad disappearance and/or theft

The cyber centre of the baffling iPad disappearance mystery

Right… So find a comfy chair, have a warm cup of tea or coffee by your side and sit back to take this in.

It is a tangled tale, but possibly worth reading if your brain does not explode with bafflement.

So…

My mobile phone rang in the morning, 

It was one of those all-too-frequent phone calls – from Manchester – 0161 – and this lady with an indefinably non-British accent asked me was it correct I had had a car accident in the last six months that wasn’t my fault. I told her to Fuck off!

I find this is usually the best for both parties. It leaves little room for misunderstanding.

Then I blocked her number.

About ten minutes later, I got another call – this time from a mobile number – and it’s this different girl saying in an indefinably non-British accent: “John… Is that John?…” etc etc etc. I mess her around for a bit, saying “John… John?… Where is John?… You are John?” then ask her if she has had a car accident in the last six months that wasn’t her fault.

She says: “No.”

“Then you can fuck off,” I tell her and I block her number.

A couple of minutes later, my landline rings.

Same woman.

She explains she has found my iPad (and bag and contents), which were stolen the previous evening.

Oh Lord!

I am effusively apologetic about being rude to her.

My iPad was inside my bag and has my name, contact phone numbers and email address on it.

She says found it outside the house where I left it.

“The one with the Winkworth’s sign,” she says.

That’s the one – in West Hampstead. Winkworth’s are an estate agent. The house is for sale.

She lives nearby, she says.

Well, she explains, SHE doesn’t live nearby – her boyfriend does and she stayed with him last night.

Possibly too much information, I think to myself.

Her boyfriend is out so, quite reasonably, she doesn’t want me to come round to the flat where she is because I’m this stranger who just told her to Fuck Off and she’s a female on her own. 

She didn’t say all that as such; but that’s what we are both, in effect, saying to each other. 

Her boyfriend should be back soon, she says, so I arrange to meet her in about an hour and a half outside the house where she found the bag. I will phone her when I arrive at the Winkworth’s sign.

Along the way she mentions she is black – I have no idea why.

This, of course, to me, makes telling this Good Samaritan to Fuck Off MUCH worse. She also somehow mentions in passing, laughing – the slightest hint – that I might want to give her a reward.

I was going to give her £10 anyway for finding the bag but I mentally upped this to £40 for the verbal abuse I had unleashed on her.

As I’m walking up to Elstree station, on my way to meet her, she phones me back and tells me her boyfriend has not yet returned. She doesn’t have a key to the flat so, if she goes out to meet me, she has no way of getting back in again. So we arrange to delay it until her boyfriend gets back.

After an hour or so, she phones back to tell me the boyfriend has arrived and I go off to West Hampstead to meet her in a pub in what I think she says is Rensen or Renson Road, near where the bag was found.

When I check Google maps on the train there, I can’t find any Renson or Renson or Henson or Hensen Road. I phone her and get her to text me the actual road name – which is nothing like Rensen Road.

At the pub, I meet her and the boyfriend. Both very amiable. I give her £40. She is very modest. Neither wants a drink. Very honest, I think.

The bag she gives me is, bizarrely, mine but not mine. 

My bag was a very interestingly-designed Ted Baker bag with a typewriter keyboard design on it. It cost me £35 many years ago. The bag she gives me is a purple canvas bag. It had been folded up into quarters inside the Ted Baker bag.

Was this the object of desire of a design-conscious thief?

So the only logical conclusion I can think of is that a very design-conscious thief fancied the typewriter bag, took out the purple canvas bag inside, unfolded it and tipped the contents including the iPad into it, leaving it where he (or she) found it.

Not noticing the iPad inside.

Or maybe the genuinely charming couple who returned everything to me nicked the bag for aesthetic reasons but wanted to return the iPad to me as they did not consider themselves thieves. The boyfriend works in media.

I was fine with it either way, as I had got my iPad and iPhone charger back.

Let us do a quick flash-back here…

The previous night, I had been taking the 7-year-old daughter of a friend of mine from one side of London to the other to return her to her father. The parents are separated but share custody of their daughter.

Whenever I collect and drop-off the daughter, I text a photo of her to her mum just to reassure the mum that everything is hunky-dorey. And she likes photos of her daughter. Mum’s do.

The previous night it had been very dark in the street outside the father’s house. Neither I nor the 7-year-old had twigged that there was a power cut and the street lights were out on one side of the street – her father’s side.

The 7-year-old looked at the two photos I took and said: “They look creepy!”

They did, indeed, make her look like some combination of zombie-vampire in the gloom.

“I’ll take a selfie,” she said.

I was standing with two bags of hers between my feet, the phone in my hand and my typewriter bag under my arm. 

I put the typewriter bag on the wall by the street. I handed her my iPhone, she took a selfie, handed the phone back to me and I texted the picture to her mum. She still looked a little zombie-like but it was, indeed, a much better photo.

I picked up the two bags between my feet, went to the front door, rang the bell, her dad came down, I handed him the two bags and he said to his daughter: “Have you got the guitar?”

She is learning the guitar at school and had taken it to her mother’s. Both she and I had forgotten about the guitar.

I said I would return to her mum’s, get the guitar and bring in back. She needed it for school the next day.

About half an hour later, on the train to her mum’s, I remembered I had left my typewriter case on the wall. 

I phoned her dad. He went out to the wall. The case was not there.

When I returned with the guitar, I also looked around outside the house; the typewriter case was not there. It had, I assumed, been stolen.

Not an unreasonable assumption.

“Though round here,” suggested the father, “if you leave things on a wall outside a house, sometimes people think you are giving them away.”

So, chronologically…

I left the bag on the wall.

In the half hour between me leaving it and her dad searching for it, it had disappeared.

Yet the Good Samaritan who found it said she found it outside the house with the Winkworth’s sign – the only one in the street. 

The bag returned to me – not the expected one

So the ‘thief’ must have stolen the bag, taken it away elsewhere, emptied the contents into the purple canvas bag and gone back to return it to the exact spot it had been stolen from, keeping the typewriter bag but not keeping the iPad.

While the ‘thief’ had the bag elsewhere, both the dad and I had searched outside the house where it was left and it was not there.

This struck me as very odd.

The next day, I realised that, although the iPad and everything else was in the purple canvas bag, the iPad cover was not there. The black iPad cover was pretty-much held together with black tape because it was starting to come apart and I had been thinking of getting a new one.

So someone had found the typewriter bag lying on a wall where there was a power cut, taken it away, looked inside, taken the purple bag out and unfolded it, taken the damaged cover off the iPad, put the iPad itself and all the other contents into the purple bag, gone back to the exact place they ‘stole’ the bag from and left the purple bag there.

So they stole the typewriter-designed bag and they stole the damaged iPad cover but left the iPad which they knew was there – because they had removed the magnetically-attached iPad cover.

They stole the damaged iPad cover but left the iPad.

I have decided not to think too much about this, because I think my brain might explode.

Oh – PS…

In case you wonder if I tried to get a replacement iPad cover and ‘typewriter’ bag – Yes, I did.

I bought a new iPad cover for £10.95.

As for the typewriter-designed bag…

Remember I bought it for £35?

I Googled and there was one on eBay priced at £172.43.

I did not buy it. Instead, I went to a Barnardo’s charity shop in Borehamwood and got a plain black iPad-sized bag for £2.50.

It’s not the same, though…

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The Loneliness of the British Transport Policeman on a London tube train…

I posted this on my Facebook page last week but the incident is staying in my mind because it was just so surreal.

In the middle of the afternoon, I got on a Metropolitan Line train on the London Underground.

There were not many people on the train. 

But, standing in the middle of the aisle with his back to me, was a British Transport policeman.

He just stood there silent, un-moving, like one of those human statues who stand for hours in Covent Garden, hoping for cash to be thrown in their hat by passing tourists with cameras and thinking heaven knows what for all those immobile hours.

What do they think while they stand there?

I was on the train for four stops.

He was there too, standing immobile and silent for four stops. He was bulky and bearded and real. Like some bizarre policeman-suited Buddha. 

Occasionally, one of the other two passengers in the carriage would look at him.

But no response.

There he stood, immovable and silent, perhaps thinking he was some oddball PR message from the Metropolitan Police to travellers. 

YOU ARE SAFE

WE ARE WATCHING OVER YOU

But the surreality overwhelmed any message he might be trying to give, standing there, blocking the aisle, silent, looking to neither left nor right.

When I got off the train, he was still there, silent, blocking the aisle, thinking whatever thoughts he was thinking.

Not moving.

Eight minutes of my life.

And his.

Less than a pinprick in eternity.

One man, standing alone, immobile, silent, on an underground train, beneath in a city, on a planet, in a solar system, in infinity.

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Waiting for Guido with aerial artist Avi

Becky Fury, Geoff Steel and Johnathan Richardson are Waiting For Guido at the Cockpit Theatre

On Monday night, Malcolm Hardee Award winner Becky Fury is presenting a show called Waiting For Guido at the Cockpit Theatre in London. It is billed as:

“Fusing comic improvisation from world class performers, a little sprinkling of circus performance and an improvised musical score. This is Jesus and the Easter bunny waiting for the return of the enigmatic and insurrectionary battery chicken, Guido. In a basic story structure inspired by Waiting for Godot, Dada and Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta, we present an evening of entertainment, theatrical innovation and carefully curated chaos.”

Johnathan Richardson, Becky Fury, Geoff Steel in rehearsal

As well as comics Trevor Lock, Johnathan Richardson, Geoff Steel and Becky, there is music by a house band featuring Bang Crosby and aerial acts from “contortionist and rope and hoop expert” Avital Hannah.

Aerial acts? I thought. Aerial acts? So I went to the National Centre for Circus Arts in London to see Becky and Avital talk through and swing through what might be happening on Monday.


JOHN: So what is Waiting For Guido?

BECKY: It’s basically a cabaret show with some theatrical comedy vignettes. A contemporary freakshow inspired by Principa Discordia and the Dogme manifesto. This one’s more Catme but I always have to be so extra. Everything’s not so much falling into place but descending in beautiful yet bizarre shapes and landing elegantly in place.

JOHN: What’s the narrative?

BECKY: Waiting.

JOHN: What is Avi doing? Just hanging around?

AVI: Hanging from the rafters.

BECKY: She will be mirroring some of the characters in the show. Everyone has a character. It’s a hybrid cabaret comedy circus show.

Avi at the National Centre for Circus Arts

JOHN: Why did you decide being an aerial artist was a good career choice?

AVI: I kind of decided on a whim… I had gone to college to study law, psychology, philosophy and critical thinking. I thought: There’s a future for me as an aerial artist because I’m highly-strung and not very good at letting go. And I thought: If I go to circus school then I can do what I want but I still get a qualification.

JOHN: Did the glamour of circus attract you?

AVI: No.

JOHN: So what was the attraction?

AVI: The ownership of my own body.

JOHN: Define that.

AVI: It was really positive for reclaiming my body as a woman. I had often felt it was ‘owned’ by other people. I’m definitely in control of it now. It will always be more useful to me than anyone else. Before circus, that had not necessarily always been apparent.

JOHN: ‘Being in control of your own body’ sounds like it might overlap into hatred of men.

AVI: Well, to some extent I think it’s a feminist answer but I think it’s just as a human I have my right to own my own body and this has enabled me to do so.

JOHN: Where is the career in being an aerial artist outside a circus? You can’t play the upstairs room of a suburban pub.

Waiting For Guido in rehearsal

AVI: No, but there’s corporate gigs, the corporate circuit at Christmas time, charity gigs, Council things and it’s more integrated into theatre and dance than it used to be. There are circus shows in the West End. There’s TV and film stuff. It’s quite broad; you’ve just gotta know where to look.

JOHN: Corporate gigs?

AVI: Making posh people’s parties look cooler. If you can get someone to hang off the ceiling, it looks good.

JOHN: Is there a career path?

AVI: I’m interested in the production side. I’m really interested in production management and directing, producing.

JOHN: How do you two know each other?

BECKY: From festivals. The DIY culture. The Unfairground stage at the Glastonbury Festival.

JOHN: There is a lot of twirling involved in what you do.

AVI: I find it easier to learn things on the left. It’s generally easier to rotate one way. I generally spin to the right but there are certain tricks that require me to spin to the left and that’s fine; it’s just a different type of training.

JOHN: Is that something to do with the left side of your brain controlling the right side of the body and vice versa?

AVI: I don’t know, but there are certain things you can do to make them talk to each other a bit better.

JOHN: Such as?”

Becky shoots Avi at the National Centre for Circus Arts

AVI: Stand up and stand on one leg with your eyes closed and then try standing on the other leg. You will be better doing it on one side than the other. Then open your eyes and bring your thumb towards them until it’s uncomfortable to see it and do that three times. Keep your thumb really steady while doing it. Then try standing on one leg again. It should be way more even between left and right. It tricks your brain somehow.

BECKY: It must realign everything into a balance because you have to focus on the thumb straight-on rather than left and right sides and one of your eyes being lazy.

AVI: I don’t know. It seems to work.

JOHN: Have you got public liability insurance if you fall on someone?

AVI: Only if I’m performing. Not in normal life.

BECKY: Everyone should have it. A friend of mine was performing at a Secret Policeman’s Ball show. He threw rice during the show and someone slipped on a grain of rice in their stiletto shoe and broke their ankle. Luckily he had public liability insurance, because they sued him.

JOHN: Why are your powdering your ear?

AVI: I always put make-up on my ear lobes before a show. You don’t want red ears when you go upside down. Blood goes to them when you are upside down.

JOHN: Ah… Why are you in Becky’s show? It’s basically a comedy show.

AVI: It’s different. I wanna see what happens.

JOHN: Yes indeed.

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