Tag Archives: surreal

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 3.3. 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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Filed under circus, Comedy, Surreal, Theatre

The black cat in my dream this morning

I have mentioned in blogs before that, unfortunately, I do not remember my dreams. Perhaps once every nine months or so, if I am woken up while having the dream itself.

John Ward with an Onion Wanging trophy

This morning was such an occasion.

During the week, mad inventor John Ward told me that he was going to be on a Saturday morning BBC Radio 4 cookery show called Kitchen Cabinet, talking about the annual competitive event he runs in which cabbages are hurled along a field by newly-built Roman siege engine catapults. The BBC show had been recorded in Lincolnshire at Burghley House, built by Elizabeth I’s Lord High Treasurer, William Cecil, in in the 16th century.

All that is true.

In my dream this morning, I was somehow involved in the live radio transmission of a comedy variety show.

There was a man inside a tent on the right of the room where the show was taking place. He was attaching bells to his costume but he was not going to be ready in time for the broadcast. So I had to push him on stage, as he was, only half-dressed for his radio performance.

Drinkers shouldn’t mess with sleeping black cats in dreams

The man’s act seemed to mostly involve drinking or not drinking some coffee but, because he was unprepared, he went over to a black cat which was curled up sleeping on a soft leather stool by the stage.

Unceremoniously woken up, the cat bit its teeth into the performer’s right shoulder, so the man pulled the cat up by its tail and bit into the tail with his own teeth.

After this, there were quite a few long silences on the recording, but I kept reassuring people: “Oh! It’s OK, we can edit it out. We can edit it out.”

When I woke up, briefly, I thought…

This may not be a surreal dream…

This may be a flash forward…

…to something real that is…

actually going to happen…

in the future.

On reflection, though…

it seems unlikely.

On the other hand, cabbage hurling, onion wanging and Donald Trump as US President at one time seemed equally unlikely events and they actually came to pass.

Life is but a dream and reality sometimes a nightmare.

 

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Harvey Weinstein, Lewis Schaffer, an iPhone and Becky Fury’s fanny print

James Harris (with microphone) talks to his guests at the wedding party in Hackney this afternoon

This afternoon, I was at comic James Harris’ wedding party in Hackney. He got married yesterday to Ke Zuo.

I was sitting talking to Hannah George and to Toby Williams, the comic who used to perform as character Dr George Ryegold. I was suggesting to them that, when the inevitable movie of the sudden downfall of film producer Harvey Weinstein is made, Lewis Schaffer should play the part of Weinstein.

The Hackney wedding party included a non-hackneyed show.

Not because of Lewis Schaffer’s sexual proclivities (Brian Simpson, the English character actor who plays the role of Lewis Schaffer is gay) but because he would be able to play the New York Jewish character to a tee – ironic, given that Brian Simpson is neither Jewish nor a New Yorker.

Imagine my surprise then, dear reader, when my left nipple began to be tickled by the vibrations of an incoming text message on my iPhone.

The message was from a comedy promoter. It said:


Where are you? Sounds like fun.

And why do you keep saying Lewis Schaffer’s name in vain interspersed with Harvey Weinstein?

Intrigued.


The iPhone in my shirt’s breast pocket must have phoned the comedy promoter of its own accord by pressing itself against my erect nipple… Yes, the party was that exciting.

I sent a message back. It said:


Oops! You can’t trust mobile phones.


I put the phone back in my breast pocket.

A little later, it tickled my nipple again.

Janey Godley’s iPhone told her I had left a 10 second message

It was a text message from comic Janey Godley, in Aberdeen to perform two shows with Scotland’s former First Minister Alex Salmond. It said:


John did you leave a message?


I had not phoned her. But her iPhone told her I had left a 10 second audio message on her phone.

Mysterious cyberspace keyboard not sent by me to Aberdeen

And I also seemed to have sent her a photograph of a keyboard.

A little later, I got an email from comic Becky Fury, the winner of last year’s Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award who has taken to calling herself a double Malcolm Hardee Award winner because of a dubious event in a London pub.

Becky Fury’s new weekly show project

Becky’s email was inviting me on Tuesday to a new weekly show she is organising in Victoria Park, London. The show is called the Demokratik Republik of Kabaret but she has inexplicably abbreviated that not to DRK but to DPRK, the abbreviation for North Korea.

As the weekly comedy night is new, she wants acts who want to perform to get in touch with her.

Her message said:


Anyone who wants to come down and try new or experimental material in a lovely venue please email Demokratik Republik of Kabaret with a submission – PeoplesCabaret@gmail.com


Becky Fury – a woman in search of the bizarre and original

I am not a performer so I think Becky assumed I would not be interested in this message and that is why she included a story for me.

To hold my attention.

I do to know if the story is true or not.

I seem to live in a world in which comics pretend to be doctors. Or not.

And English character actors pretend to be Jewish New York comics. Or not.

And iPhones phone each other without asking permission from the people who own them.

Becky Fury’s message read:


I went to see
Betty Grumble sex clown
(Not available for children’s parties)
And she gave me a paint print of her fanny
(If you think that’s bad you should see the one
Coco the clown did with his anal beads
That’ll be the last time he gets booked to play that village fete)
So I put a picture of it on Facebook
(The paint print of the fanny
Not the anal bead one
Coco’s management have taken out an injunction on that)
I put on Facebook ‘I went to see Betty Grumble Sex Clown and she presented me with this paint print of her fanny’
The next day this comedian comes up to me and says
‘I just went to see Betty Grumble
and she gave me a paint print of her fanny…
And she signed it’ I didn’t believe him
So I said
‘Where did she stick the pen?’
He didn’t know
So I said ‘Betty Grumble didn’t give you a paint print of her fanny, did she?
You didn’t get a signed paint print of Betty Grumble’s fanny, did you? You didn’t get an unsigned paint print of Betty Grumble’s fanny. You didn’t get any paint print of Betty Grumble’s fanny. You’re just saying that because you are jealous Betty Grumble chose to give me a paint print of her fanny
And I was angry
And a man on the way home said ‘What’s wrong?’
I put on Facebook ‘I got given a paint print of Betty Grumble’s fanny and this guy came to me and said ‘Well, I got a signed paint print of Betty Grumble’s fanny and I said ‘You didn’t get a signed paint print of Betty Grumble’s fanny, you didn’t get any paint print of Betty Grumble’s Fanny’
And the man said
‘Jesus you’re angry about who’s been given a paint print of a clown’s fanny
That is ridiculous
You’re meant to be a comedian
Do you not think that’s funny?’
And I thought ‘Yes, ridiculous. Ridiculous one-upmanship. Hilarious.
When I get home I’m going to put a post on Facebook saying
Marcel Marceau mimed/handed me a card which said ‘You are the best comedian in the world’
And a Malcolm Hardee Award made out of modelling balloons
And then Coco the clown gave me a necklace made of his anal beads


That is the message that Becky Fury sent me.

I think I will go and lie down now. It has been a long day.

Sex clown Betty Grumble’s alleged fanny print as photographed by Becky Fury, cunning stuntress

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Humour’s not a universal language – it’s a matter of personal or national opinion

I have sat through some weird shit in my time

Michael Powell’s movie Gone To Earth, Robin Hardy’s movie The Fantasist and Edinburgh Fringe stage show Sally Swallows and the Rise of Londinian. They spring immediately to mind.

And I can now add to that an ‘acclaimed’ Finnish ‘deadpan comedy’ movie The Other Side of Hope.

I was invited to an “influencer preview screening” in Soho yesterday afternoon. It was in English, Finnish and Arabic. With English subtitles.

The first person I saw when I arrived was Scots comic Richard Gadd. His factual movie drama Against The Law is being screened on BBC2 at the end of June.

“What are you doing here?” I asked.

“I’m the lead actor in The Other Side of Hope.,” he told me, apparently slightly affronted that I had not known.

Some people will turn up to the opening of an envelope. I will turn up to anything which has the likelihood of free tea and salmon sandwiches. It does not mean I read the fine details of any press release.

“How come you are the lead in a Finnish film?” I asked Richard Gadd.

“Because,” said Richard Gad, “I am half-Finnish.”

“Heavens,” I said, slightly embarrassed, “I didn’t know that,”

“Well I am,” he told me, slightly wearily.

Thom Tuck (left) and Richard Gadd at Soho House yesterday

The next person I saw was comedian, writer and variably-hirsute thespian Thom Tuck, currently touring Britain in Arthur Miller’s play Death of a Salesman.

“Are you playing Willy?” I asked.

“No,” he said slightly wearily. “He is in his 60s.”

I thought it unwise to mention anything about ‘playing with Willy’ so, changing the subject, I said: “I didn’t know Richard was half-Finnish.”

“I only know how to swear in Finnish,” Thom replied.

“Don’t let me stop you,” I told him.

“Kusipää…” he said. “Vittu pois… Kivekset.” Then, looking at Richard, he asked: “Was my pronunciation OK?”

“Pretty good,” said Richard, generously.

As for The Other Side of Hope – the film we had come to see…

Well, as for the film…

What can I say…?

One selling synopsis for it is:

MORAL CLARITY IN PLURALITY
A poker playing restauranteur and
former travelling salesman befriends
a group of refugees.

It is about a Syrian immigrant from Aleppo during the current civil war who is in Finland as a refugee.

The film won the Silver Bear Award for Best Director at the 2017 Berlin International Film Festival and rave reviews for it include:

“Combines poignancy with torrents of laughter” (5-stars. Daily Telegraph)

“’Surreal and screamingly funny” (5-stars. The Times)

“I laughed, I cried, I shrieked.” (5-stars, Observer)

It currently has a 91% Rotten Tomatoes score.

People say comedy is a universal language.

Well, I am here to tell you it is not.

Rikki Fulton, Scotch & Wry: too straight-faced for the English

I remember working for a cable or satellite TV channel (I can’t remember which) and, in trailer-making mode, I sat through three episodes of Scotch & Wry, a legendary successful BBC Scotland TV comedy show which I had never seen and which I don’t think had been screened on English terrestrial television. It was absolutely terrifically funny,

After seeing the three episodes, I went back into the office.

“Have you seen Scotch & Wry?” I started to say. “Isn’t it absolutely…”

“Yes,” said someone. “It is utter shit, isn’t it?”

That was the general English view in the office and I think it was because star Rikki Fulton et al performed everything utterly straight-faced. I think deadpan comedy works with Scots audiences, not so well with English audiences and it may ultimately be a Scandinavian thing,

I worked in a Swedish TV company with Swedes, Norwegians and Danes. Each nationality’s sense of humour was slightly different and the Swedes in particular were very, very straight-faced though equally humorous.

My experience of Finns is mostly meeting them on holiday – particularly in the former Soviet Union and, as a result, in cliché mode, I think of Finns as very very amiable but almost always paralytically drunk (there are licensing problems in Finland and the exchange rate between blue jeans and vodka in Leningrad was highly in favour of the Finns).

All this comes as an intro to my opinion of The Other Side of Hope.

The film very-noir in its original Finnish: it translates appropriately as “Beyond Hope”

It was like watching zombies perform some dreary social-realist drama about Syrian immigrants in a grey city. It made Harold Pinter’s dialogue and pauses seem like Robin Williams speeding on cocaine.

The film opened with a woman wearing curlers in her hair. She was sitting at a table on which stood a spherical cactus with thin spines sticking out. I thought: This may be a commendably weird movie.

Well weird it certainly was but, for me, utterly titterless. Not a single titter dropped from my lips, missus.

There was a 10-15 minute section towards the very end of the film which showed signs of very straight-faced, deadpan humour involving a restaurant. But even that was titter-free.

I have obviously missed something.

It is oft – and truly – said that Tommy Cooper could walk on stage, do nothing, say nothing and the audience would laugh. I have often wondered if some American or German or Latvian who had never seen Tommy Cooper before would have laughed.

And there is the never-to-be-forgotten lesson of Scotch & Wry.

I am prepared to believe The Other Side of Hope has them rolling in the frozen deadpan-loving aisles of Helsinki. It left me totally enjoyment-free. It was a bleak film about a Syrian immigrant in Helsinki in which people didn’t say much. But, then, I did enjoy Can Hieronymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness, I like eating kimchi and, as a child, I enjoyed cod liver oil.

The Other Side of Hope has had great reviews. It can survive without me.

As a coda to all this, I should mention that, as we went into the screening room, Richard Gadd told me he was not half-Finnish and he did not appear in the film at all. He had just been invited along to see it because he is an “influencer”.

This turned out to be true.

He is not in the film.

Yesterday afternoon was just totally weird. I also met a man in a tube train who was wearing a giant banana on his head like Carmen Miranda. He was not smiling. He may have been an actor of Finnish origin.

Oh, alright.

I made that bit up. I did not meet a man in a tube train who was wearing a giant banana on his head.

The rest is true.

Though I am beginning to think I may have dreamt the whole of yesterday.

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Filed under Comedy, Finland, Humor, Humour, Movies