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How to perform a comedy show to an audience with dementia in a care home

Ben Targét (left) & Pope Lonergan are working on a project

So I chatted to comedy performers Pope Lonergan and Ben Targét…

“The two of you have this joint project,” I said. “Does it have a name?”

“At the moment,” Pope told me, “it just has the banner title of The Care Home Tour. One thing we are doing is a three-hour Alzheimer’s benefit Forgetting But Not Forgotten, organised with Angel Comedy at the Bill Murray in London on 2nd October. Lots of different comedians.”

“It’s a great line-up,” said Ben. “Richard Gadd, Lou Sanders, Robin Ince, Candy Gigi, lots more.”

“And,” said Pope, “we are doing two Work In Progress shows in the lead-up to that. We are doing those with Fight in the Dog, which is Liam Williams’ production company. The whole thing is being supported by NextUp and they’re partially funding it.”

“And these shows lead to?” I asked.

“A performance that is specifically tailored for an audience with dementia in a care home. I mean, anyone can enjoy it, but the feed line/punch line of a conventional joke is too complicated. They can’t follow the logic of it. Instead, they respond with a visceral, limbic response to visual comedy and physical comedy – the slapstick stuff.”

“What is limbic?” I asked.

Cross section of the human brain showing parts of the limbic system from below. (Illustration from Traité d’Anatomie et de Physiologie, 1786)

“The limbic system,” Pope explained. “When we process music. It’s an emotional response, a visceral response; it’s like our primitive brain. It’s what develops early in children. There’s a correlation between child development and mental deterioration.”

“So the humour,” I said, “must not be too sophisticated.”

“A perfectly-structured joke is not gonna land,” said Pope.

“It’s got to be driven,” Ben added, “by the visual rather than by words. How the residents are stimulated is no longer through wordplay or story.”

“But they can,” I checked, “be stimulated through sound and music and audio effects?”

“Yeah, yeah,” said Pope. “100%. Even when they have really advanced dementia, if you start singing something like Knees Up, Mother Brown, they all know the words.”

“Is there,” I asked, “a difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s?

Pope explained: “Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia. Dementia is the umbrella term. There’s Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s… My nan and David Baddiel’s dad both had Pick’s Disease – frontal lobe dementia – and that made my nan very libidinous. She was having sex with a lot of the men in the care home.”

“At what age?” I asked.

“About 85. She done well. Every time we went in, one of the carers would come over to my dad and say: Mark… A word? And my dad would come out pale, saying: Yer nan’s been at it again.”

“Is anyone going to be offended if I print that?” I asked.

Ben Targét & Pope Lonergan take afternoon tea

“No, no,” said Pope. “Good on her, you know? People with dementia obviously have diminished responsibility. They don’t really know what they’re consenting to etc, so there’s a line. But we have a husband and wife in the home who have been married 60 years. We have caught them in flagrante having sex and some people have said: We need to stop them. But that was not policy. It was just some people projecting their own discomfort. They are a married couple. They are adults. They are married. Why on earth would you stop them?”

“At a certain age,” said Ben, “we stop seeing people as adults and they become infantilised in our eyes. I don’t know if we are trained to or whether it is innate.”

“And that’s where it’s tricky,” Ben added. “Infantilised means dehumanised. The efficacy of their brain is not what it used to be but they are still adult, complex human beings.”

“I can say,” I checked with Pope, “that you work in the care industry?”

“Of course you can,” he told me.

“I am always wary,” I explained, “about saying comedians have a ‘proper’ daytime job because punters want to think of them as full-time professional comics.”

“Most of us have proper jobs,” said Ben.

“But sometimes don’t want to admit to it,” I suggested.

“We should, though,” said Ben. “I think it makes us way cooler. You get far more respect from people if you are grounded in reality.”

“Yeah,” said Pope. “Some comics think they are de-legitimised by it – Oh, my God, I’m actually part of the real world! I actually have a real job!”

“So you work in a care home,” I said to Pope, “but Ben, how did you get involved in this?”

“I used to work in care homes as well,” he told me, “as a teenager – when I was about 16 or 17. And recently Josie Long introduced me to Pope because he was looking to work with people who do physical and visual comedy. So I am trying to assemble a troupe who are willing to embrace the project.

October 2nd Benefit before the gig on 9th

“We are building to this first gig on October 9th in the care home and we do think of it as like the first exploration vessel that’s been sent out. We are hoping to reassess afterwards and then, in the New Year, do more gigs across the country in care homes.”

“There are,” Pope said, “loads of comedians who have expressed an interest. Sara Pascoe used to do theatre productions for people with dementia in care homes.”

“And there’s David Baddiel,” Ben added. “And Adam Riches – who has a lot of experience in his family of dementia and caring for people. And Phil Nichol. I’m interested to see Phil because, every time I have seen him, he’s got naked on stage and yelled at the audience!”

“Then,” said Pope, “there’s John Kearns. And Deborah Frances-White has been very supportive: she was the one who got David Baddiel interested. And Josie Long has been vital in putting it all together.

“I had done some of Josie’s gigs at the Black Heart. I was trying to figure out a way to incorporate my experiences in the care home into my stand-up act.

“Josie said: I’d love to see you bring your authentic experience of working in the home to your act. I told her: The problem is there’s a bit of dualism there. The way they act is not like the normal way ‘we’ behave. So you love the residents, you’re compassionate, you really care for them, but there is also a day-to-day blackly comic streak that you can’t put on stage because it would just sound horrible: that you are laughing at vulnerable people.

“The first time I done it, it was a bit too nasty, really. I didn’t intend it to be like that, but I hadn’t honed the material and it just came across as a bit mean-spirited. Afterwards, this woman who was apparently a High Court judge was shouting at me about it. It’s sort-of a tight-rope walk.”

“Even more so,” I suggested, “when performing to people with dementia?”

Josie Long said: “I’d love to see you bring your authentic experience to your act.”

“There are so many different types of dementia,” said Pope. “With some, the language centre (in the brain) has really diminished. Some have still got linguistic capacity – really good – they can process it. But still the normal, conventional joke is a bit too convoluted for them. So I always do things like shit gymnastics or shit karate. Anything that’s a minor spectacle they really respond to and laugh at.”

“Surreal,” I said, “rather than verbal.”

“Oh, absolutely,” said Pope. “Anything that is a minor spectacle and visual and silly. If you do wry observational comedy about Donald Trump, it won’t work.”

“Will seeing comedy,” I asked, “actually help them or is it just passing the time?”

“It is definitely better for their welfare,” said Pope, “in that there is a deficit in certain types of stimulation. When it comes to interaction, they don’t want to get up and be physically active, but they do want to be engrossed in something. They do want to sit there and watch something.

“We have told the comedians who are involved that they will have to re-calibrate their idea of what a successful gig is. There ain’t gonna be uproarious laughter. There ain’t gonna be the energy of a comedy club. But, even if the audience are not outwardly laughing, it doesn’t mean they are not stimulated and enjoying what they are watching. They always feel better after they have experienced some kind of entertainment.”

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Filed under Comedy, Mental health, Mental illness, Psychology

Bizarre UK cannabis laws, photos of readers’ wives and drug-taking budgies

Rain – In my long experience, it seldom goes up AND down

This is often described as a comedy blog.

Sometimes it is. But I have always really seen it as an insight into seldom-reported sub-cultures with some quirkiness, eccentricity and WTF stirred in.

Yesterday Anna Smith, this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent used the line “Strange things are happening”.

Yesterday, too, I was walking through my local outdoor shopping centre. It had started to drizzle and a woman whom I did not know, passing me by, said: “Rain! It’s up and down all the time, isn’t it? Up and down. Up and down.”

Afterwards, thinking about it, I figured out maybe she was referring to umbrellas not the rain itself. But she was not carrying an umbrella and neither was I.

Soft Secrets: a paper with a growing readership

Later, I had a visit from someone I used to work with at Granada TV in Manchester. I shall call her Mary from Manchester, though that is not her name and she was not born and does not live in Manchester. She is not in the comedy industry.

She was passing through London and had taken time off to visit a seed centre in North London. I thought perhaps she had been buying some geranium or petunia or marigold seeds but, no, she had been buying some cannabis seeds.

My disdain for the English legal system knows few bounds, but I was amazed to find out this was perfectly legal. And that, in the North of England, there is a major trunk road lined with emporia perfectly legally selling cannabis seeds.

Because, in the UK, it is perfectly legal to buy cannabis seeds even though it is illegal to grow cannabis plants from those same seeds.

I am an innocent in a weedy world.

Mary from Manchester showed me a copy of Soft Secrets, which bills itself as “The Cannabis Newspaper Since 1985”. It was full of relevant articles and advertisements. It was clearly a right-on paper read by right-on people.

So it came as a surprise that there was a Readers’ Wives page with photos of female wives and partners in various states of undress posing amid cannabis plants.

Fleshing it out – legally acceptable but politically incorrect?

As Anna Smith, this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent said yesterday: “Strange things are happening”.

Then the subject of budgerigars came up.

Mary from Manchester told me – and I can only pass this on in good faith – that, in the 1970s, the famed budgerigar food Trill (which is made up of a fine and presumably tasty-to-a-budgie variety of seeds) contained – amid the various seeds – cannabis seeds.

If you were of a curious and adventurous disposition, you could throw handfuls of the aforementioned budgerigar food into the borders of your back garden and, with luck, after a time, some cannabis plants would appear.

Did budgerigars of the 1970s got high without flying?

Mary from Manchester and I paid a visit to my local pet shop yesterday and picked up a packet of Trill to read the ingredients but, alas, the variety appears now not to contain cannabis seeds. It does, however, make me wonder if it affected my grandmother’s budgie who was named Uncle Mac and who chattered away the whole time with a glazed look in his eyes and who, when ill, was given neat whisky by my grandmother.

We lived and live in strange days.

We always have.

 

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Filed under Drugs, Eccentrics, Humor, Humour

The decline of British television comedy. The elitist iceberg of Brexit and Trump.

The Grouchy Club Podcast

Below is a short extract from the 100th Grouchy Club Podcast in which the (yes she certainly is) controversial comedy critic Kate Copstick and I ramble on about anything that takes our fancy, occasionally stumbling into the subject of British comedy. Occasionally, too, we stumble into cyber-trouble.

This may be one such example.


JOHN: There is a sort of bizarre snootiness in comedy where the Oxbridge elite…

COPSTICK: Oh yes…

JOHN: …who, by-and-large, don’t get (big) ratings for their shows – are very snooty about people who do get ratings. For example, Benny Hill.

COPSTICK: Yep…

JOHN: …who at the height – the height – of his fame and his ratings success and his foreign sales for Thames Television – He must have been churning money out like nobody’s business for Thames Television – was dragged into – was it Brian Tesler’s office? Someone’s office… and told they were getting rid of him because he was in bad taste.

COPSTICK: Yes, yes.

JOHN: He was staggeringly popular. I heard that when he died – I dunno if this is an urban myth – Chinese television broke into their broadcasts to announce it as a newsflash.

COPSTICK: I’m sure that’s absolutely true.

JOHN: But I mean he was staggeringly popular. They didn’t like him because they said he was sexist.

COPSTICK: But I think that… I’m going to get a bit political here, John…

JOHN: Oh God! We’re going to be in trouble!

COPSTICK: Only mildly…

JOHN: Oh dear.

COPSTICK: …and fleetingly.

JOHN: Oh dear.

COPSTICK: Just fleetingly.

JOHN: That’s never stopped her before.

COPSTICK: I think that is exactly the same thing – talking about the Oxbridge elite and all that running TV, so they say what gets dumped because they don’t like it – They are the ones whose voices are out there but Benny Hill had gazillions of viewers – I think that’s exactly the same thing we got with Brexit and the Trump vote – because the people at the top…

JOHN: This is Copstick!

COPSTICK: …the people at the top are completely unrepresentative of the mass of the voting iceberg that is underwater. And somehow, when the bottom mass of the iceberg rises up and votes for Brexit or Trump, it’s all Oh! Shock! Horror! How can this have happened? Well, it happened because it was always there. You just weren’t listening to it.

JOHN: Also, I was talking to someone the other day and said that, in my erstwhile youth, when they had sitcoms, they used to have them on at 8 o’clock or 8.30 at night or 7.30 at night. Nowadays, sitcoms are on at 10.30 or 11.00…

COPSTICK: Yes, yes.

JOHN: … because, in my youth, the sitcoms got massive ratings and now the humour, the comedy is not getting big ratings because it’s being scheduled and programmed and decided on by people who don’t like what the public like.

COPSTICK: Which is why Mrs Brown’s Boys is the highest rated…

JOHN: Yes and that’s only on at 10.30 because he keeps saying Feckin’ or something, doesn’t he?

COPSTICK: People are very snotty about it: Ooh! Mrs Brown’s Boys!

JOHN: I saw one episode and thought: Oh, that’s not really for me. But, of its type, it’s well done. I mean, Mrs Brown’s Boys and My Family must be, recently, the biggest sitcoms on…

COPSTICK: Absolutely. And surely somebody somewhere in some television company must see that.

JOHN: There is a lot of Emperor’s New Clothes going around.

COPSTICK: Ooh!

JOHN: I have to say Vic & Bob – sorry – I never ever thought they were funny. There was one pilot for, I think, Granada, which I saw and liked: it never got made into a series because no-one else liked it, but I have never ever ever thought Vic & Bob were funny. They were always in minority slots and, when the BBC I think it was tried them at peak time on a Saturday night they came a phenomenal cropper. With good reason. Because they ain’t funny… (LAUGHS) …in my populist opinion! (LAUGHS) But what do I know?

COPSTICK: I have almost stopped watching comedy on TV because there is very little that appeals to me and makes me laugh.

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Filed under Comedy, Politics, Television

Dave Cohen & John Dowie: Why they became comedians in the good old days

Dave Cohen & John Dowie

Writer/performers Dave Cohen and John Dowie are one gig away from the end of their current world tour.

“Yes,” Dave told me, “it’s a world tour of independent London bookshops.”

They are at Clapham Books this coming Thursday.

“Why,” I asked, “are two people with no new books out doing a book tour?”

“In my case,” John told me, “to try and get enough people to pledge to my book – The Freewheeling John Dowie – to get it out.”

Dave Cohen with his new book at last night’s launch

Dave at the launch of his How To comedy book

Dave said: “I did do a book and basically published it myself – How to be Averagely Successful at Comedy.”

“How did that do?” John asked him.

“It does as well as I can be bothered to flog it. I am going to do another one.”

“So,” I asked, “on this world tour, you are doing a split bill in these bookshop shows and reading from your books both published and unpublished?”

“No,” said Dave, “I’m doing a show. I tried to write a novel and it didn’t work. So I thought: Maybe it’s a sitcom. But that didn’t work either. So I thought Well, maybe it’s a 40-minute stand-up poem.”

“Why didn’t it work as a novel?” I asked.

“I don’t know how to write novels. Well, maybe I do. But I didn’t have whatever it takes to do it.”

“I think,” said John, “you have to write quite a lot before you can get a good one out of yourself.”

“I think,” I suggested, “writing a novel is the most difficult thing to do.”

“Well no,” said John, “having your leg taken off without an anaesthetic is worse. Tell us your dirty secrets, English paratrooper, or we will make you write a novel! That never happens.

Guns ’n’ Moses (L-R Mike Cosgrave, Al Murray, Dave Cohen, Jim Tavare)

Guns ’n’ Moses were (L-R) Mike Cosgrave, Al Murray, Dave Cohen and Jim Tavaré

“To write a good joke…” suggested Dave. “Maybe 10 words, 12 words? To write a really fantastic joke: that’s a really hard skill. The most brilliant comedy writers who can do that are not necessarily that good at being able to write characters. You get people who are successful gag writers who can’t do a sitcom as good. It’s a different skill.”

“Yes,” I agreed. “Horses for courses. Like comperes and comedians… It’s a different skill. Really good comedians are very often shit MCs…”

“Anyway,” said Dave, “my show… It’s called Music Was My First Love and it’s about me falling out with my dad. I did it at the Edinburgh Fringe and I think that’s in the contract. If you do a show in Edinburgh and you’re a male comic it has to be about not getting on with your dad. Did you ever do a ‘dad’ show, John?”

“It’s in me forthcoming book,” John replied. “The Freewheeling John Dowie. And I did a show about Joseph, father of Jesus Jesus, My Boy I guess that was partly to do with parenting.”

“That was great,” said Dave. “I saw it in a packed West End theatre.”

“Starring…?” I asked John.

Tom Conti starred in John Dowie’s Jesus, My Boy

Tom Conti starred in John Dowie’s Jesus, My Boy

Tom Conti.”

“Did you ever perform it yourself?” Dave asked him.

“When I first wrote it I did. Nothing sharpens the writer’s pen more than having to go on stage shovelling filth over the footlights yourself – Then it’s:  God! That scene’s going! That’s gone! THAT’s gone!”

“I’ve only done my show eight times,” Dave told me. “The first time I did it, it was about an hour and ten minutes long. The poor people who saw that first show really sat through my entire life story! So I got up the next morning and had a cup of tea and cut and cut and cut it down to about 55 minutes. Then John here told me thought 40 minutes was enough. So I cut it and cut it again and it’s now 40 minutes long.”

“How did you two meet?” I asked.

“I was,” explained Dave, “a fan of John before he even knew I existed. He was one of the pioneers in the punk days. I got into punk and, at the same time as I was setting up my record label in Bristol, John was appearing on Factory Records. There was a very small circle of people who were doing music and comedy in the late 1970s. There was Alberto y Lost Trios Paranoias and John Dowie and that was kind of it. Billy Connolly sometimes – though he was Folk, really.”

“I became a big John Dowie fan and bought this record which had John on and also happened to have Joy Division and the Durutti Column. As a result, I suddenly became really hip among my Bristol contemporaries. Wow! You’re into Factory Records! But it was really just for this funny Brummie bloke who did comedy songs.”

An early John Dowie album by the young tearaway

An early John Dowie album – this one was on Virgin Records

“How,” I asked, “did a Brummie end up on Factory Records in Manchester?”

“I lived near Manchester,” John told me.

“What year is this?”

“Around 1978.”

“You did gigs with Nico when she was living in Manchester,” I prompted.

“Briefly. She lived with John Cooper Clarke. She was being managed by a guy in Manchester.”

“And you, Dave,” I said used to share with Kit Hollerbach and Jeremy Hardy

“It was very pleasant living with them,” he said. “But a single person living with a couple was very…”

“You were a gooseberry,” suggested John.

“Yes. In fact,” Dave added, “John O’Farrell always said he wanted to write a sitcom based on me: a single bloke living with a married couple. I said: Yeah. Thanks for taking the sad loneliness of my pathetic life and turning it into comedy.”

“He never tried it?” I asked.

“He came close. He was writing with Mark Burton at the time and that was one of their ideas.”

“I am,” said John, “going to sue God for my life. It was a disappointment from start to finish. It didn’t say that on the label.”

“Anyway,” I said to Dave, “basically you were a John Dowie groupie.”

“I was,” he agreed, “and then, years later, I was doing a gig at the Earth Exchange and I think John turned up with Arthur Smith and we went for a drink afterwards. So there I was with my absolute god hero and it was… eh… It was character-building.”

John laughed out loud.

Dave explained: “He basically told me what was wrong with my act and he was absolutely right. I went away and thought: He’s absolutely right! I don’t look at the audience! I do move around too much.”

Dave got better. In the 1980s and 1990s,  with Pete Sinclair, he co-wrote several songs for ITV’s Spitting Image, including one when Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher left office.

“When I first started,” John Dowie said, “I was up in Edinburgh and a theatre director came to see it, liked the material and hated the performance. I spent a week with him in London learning how not to walk away every time you get to the punchline. Why do you keep walking away on the punchlines? Stand still and say the punchline! Of course, the reason you walk away on the punchline is because you’re frightened of not getting a laugh and then, because you do it, you don’t get a laugh.

“They were quite nice,” John continued, “those 1980s days, because everyone was sort-of-doing the same gigs and hanging out in each others pockets and drinking in the same bars and going to the same nightclubs and slipping in the same sick. And it was not always mine. It was very camaraderie orientated, wouldn’t you say?”

“It’s a career now,” Dave agreed. “In the early 1980s, nobody who was doing it was thinking: Right, OK. This is my life now. I’m going to work as a stand-up, get some TV work and…”

“Well,” said John, “there was Mike Myers. He was the Paul Simon of the comedy generation. Came to London. Told everybody how he was going to be rich and famous in three years or else it was over. Went off and proved himself to be completely right.”

The Comedy Store Players (L-R Paul Merton, Dave Cohen, Kit Hollerbach, Neil Mullarkey, Mike Myers

Very early Comedy Store Players included (L-R) Paul Merton, Dave Cohen, Kit Hollerbach, Neil Mullarkey and Mike Myers

“But,” said Dave, “he was still also very much a part of the spirit of it. I worked a lot with him at that time. When we set up the Comedy Store Players, he was fantastic. He was very giving and very much into the whole ethos of that whole stand-up scene. But he had come from Canada and…”

John interrupted: “I assumed he was from the US.”

“No,” said Dave. “Kit Hollerbach was the American one. She brought that professionalism and Mike Myers brought the improv side thing as well. So it became sort-of professional at that point. They made it a professional thing. Which was not a bad thing. A couple of years before that, nobody would see somebody like Paul Merton and think: Oh, right, this guy’s gonna be the hugest comedy star in the country and successful for 30 years.”

“So,” I asked, “if, before this, the incentive was NOT to build a career, why was anyone doing it?”

“It was better than working,” John replied.

“And what,” I asked, “are you going to do after this world tour is finished?”

“God knows,” Dave replied.

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The Brexit vote to leave Europe was a lie. Percentages were more like 10/90.

The pencil is more powerful than the pen?

The pencil is more powerful than the pen or the sword?

Yesterday, I was travelling in an Overground train in London and got chatting to someone who works as a plumber. Let’s call him Peter (not his name).

Peter the Plumber is maybe in his late twenties. I could be way out. He could be in his early thirties but, if I had to guess, I would put him at maybe 29 years old.

We bonded on a lot of things, though not everything.

He thought the police were corrupt from bottom to top. He thought the court system had nothing to do with justice and was a game for lawyers and judges. He thought the drug laws were ridiculous – it is legal to willy-nilly prescribe variations of heroin and cocaine for medical purposes but not marijuana.

He said he did not vote in elections because the whole political and ruling system was corrupt. If he were to vote for anyone, he told me, he supposed it would be Jeremy Corbyn. I suggested maybe the Green Party and he was not averse to that but, as he thought the whole system was unworkable, there was no point.

I suggested, if there were a candidate or a party he thought had the correct policies and beliefs, then, by voting for them and increasing their majority even by one, he was giving them more profile and more visible backing – he should vote for them even if he believed they had no chance of winning.

“Like Jeremy Corbyn,” he suggested.

But he is not going to vote in elections because he believes the whole system is corrupt.

“Why do they give you pencils to mark the ballot paper in voting booths?” he asked me. “The people who mark you down as having voted and the people sitting outside the polling stations have pens. Why do they give you pencils to vote with? Pencils are more expensive than pens.”

I said I thought it odd that, as far as I know, when policemen write down statements, they are required to do it in pencil not pen. (I could be wrong that it is a requirement.)

brexitmapbbcHe said he did not believe the Brexit vote to leave the European Union was correct. The vote was 52% to leave. “I think the real vote,” he told me, “was more like 90% to 10%.”

“In which way?” I asked.

“To leave,” he said. “No-one I know wants to be in Europe. The Scots have it right. They want to leave the UK because they don’t want this other place making decisions for them. They want to make their own decisions.”

Let’s leave aside the fact that a high percentage of Scots voted to remain in the European Union.

Given the fact that many people who voted ‘Remain’ in the Brexit referendum find it unacceptable that there was a ‘Leave’ vote because everyone they know voted ‘Remain’… I thought it was interesting that youngish Peter The Plumber, who shows all the signs of being a true Corbynite and an anti-Establishment Left-Winger could not believe that the ‘Leave’ vote was as low as 52%.

Everyone thinks they are ‘normal’ and average and that their mostly self-chosen circle of friends and acquaintances are the norm. Everyone thinks they know what the majority of ‘normal people’ think.

Everyone is almost always wrong because they see and hear in their own bubble of ’normality’.

And, yes, I know if I write ‘everyone’ I should not write ‘they’ and ’their’ – I should write ‘he or she’.

But let’s not be pedantic. It is normal to use ‘they’ to mean ‘he or she’. Isn’t it?

Well, it seems that way to me.

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Filed under Europe, Politics, UK

Five random UKIP members talk

The UKIP logo

Ages ago, my eternally un-named friend objected to the fact that, in my blog, I have often quoted people saying things I don’t myself believe. “People will think they are your views,” she told me.

Well, I reckon, that’s their problem. If they can’t read reported speech without getting confused, they ain’t worth bothering about.

I think it’s interesting to listen to other people’s views if you don’t agree with them – perhaps especially if you don’t believe in or agree with them. There is very little point listening to people whose opinions are exactly the same as yours.

I went to Albania in 1979 and North Korea in 1986 and 2012 but I really don’t think you could call me a hardline Marxist-Leninist or a Kim Il-sungist or an Enver Hoxhaist.

Thus this blog…

I was in a local coffee shop today and, at the next table, were five people of a certain age – well, five fairly old people. They were members of UKIP (the UK Independence Party), discussing who to vote for in the UKIP leadership election.  

This is what they said…

As context, some demonstrators recently stopped flights at London City Airport by sitting in the runway.


UK results of the 2014 European Parliament election. Districts where UKIP received the largest number of votes are shown in purple. (Map by MrPenguin20 on Wikipedia)

UK results of the 2014 European Parliamentary election. Districts where UKIP received the largest number of votes are in purple. (Wikipedia map by MrPenguin20)

MAN 1
I do believe, if we sat across the motorway, like some other people have… If we do that, if we get the publicity and we then have somebody clever with words to stand there, being arrested, standing there saying: This is why I am doing it. Give us our country back! Give us our democracy! That is a power above politics.

WOMAN 1
I just read in the Daily Mail that they’re trying to bring in a rule that they (immigrants into the UK) can only come in if they’ve got a job, first of all. and they’re not going to get free benefits.

MAN 1
That was then. What Theresa May is saying now is: I’m not telling you. Her own party is saying: Mind your own business. The reason being is I think that she has to wait for the people jerking her strings to decide. What she’s done so far is everything you would do if you were going to cheat us. It’s no good saying: They promised this and they promised that. Actions are louder than words and the actions of the Tory Party are: Up yours! You’re not getting it! and we’re going to delay, delay and obfuscate and we’re going to compromise. I’m sorry. I don’t believe a word any of those Tories say.

WOMAN 2
I don’t believe a word any politicians say.

MAN 1
Exactly. At least Labour is honest enough to say: We’re against this and we’re going to have a new Referendum, which I suppose they are not. They are anti-democratic.

WOMAN 1
Look at all the U-turns they’ve had.

MAN 1
Owen Smith has said that’s what he’s going to do if he gets in. You know where you stand with Labour. They’re anti-democratic, hard Left and don’t give a damn for the working man. They haven’t done for a generation.

WOMAN 2
None of the Labour lot care.

MAN 1
The Tories – They don’t come out and say: This is what we want. That little spin man from advertising (David Cameron), he did a grand job of re-marketing what was and still is The Nasty Party. And then he put shedloads – billions and billions – into the laps of African dictators and gangsters, just to show that We care… We care to waste your money. We never did anything for the ordinary people in those African countries. They didn’t get it.

MAN 2
They never do. They never, ever get it. It’s all siphoned off.

MAN 1
He knew that and he didn’t care. A load of black peasants – they’re even worse than our oiks. They say: We’re gonna do this and we’re gonna do that. We’re not gonna have immigrants. We’re gonna stop them if they don’t have a job. That’s a heck of a lot harder than saying: Here’s the points system. Make your application. We will process it. Yes you can come. No you can’t. That is EASY! That’s the way the Aussies do it.

MAN 2
It’s fair.

MAN 1
When they say We cannot do it while Australia can do, it is a lie. A nasty little lie.

MAN 2
If it meets that criteria, it doesn’t matter what they’re like. If they haven’t got a criminal record, if they’re not this, if they’re not that – the basic criteria – then they’ve got a basic job coming. They’re welcome. No problem.

MAN 1
Part of that points system IS that you’ve got to have a job.

WOMAN 3
And all the riffraff from…

MAN 1
Anyway, let’s get back to who is going to be the least obnoxious or the best person. I’ve been making some notes on this and, frankly, I’m confused. Patrick O’Flynn is a man I respect. Diane James? She’s got some background. One of the things that’s funny about her is that picture. She’s quite a good-looking young woman there, but she’s a bit older now.

WOMAN 1
Why can’t we get Farage? He was the only one. They will be a pale imitation…

MAN 2
They’ll be a shadow.

MAN 1
Apparently she came a very close second in the Eastleigh by-election. She’s the Justice & Home Affairs Spokesperson. She’s on the NEC… There’s Elizabeth Jones… Oh no, I’m getting them mixed up. It’s Elizabeth Jones who had that really nice picture. Airbrushed or whatever they do nowadays.

MAN 2
Airbrushed?

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I Skyped a stand-up witch at midnight

Jackie Juno via Skype last night

Jackie Juno talking to me from Caerwysg via Skype last night

Last night, appropriately just before midnight, I had a Skype chat with stand-up poet Jackie Juno. She is also a witch. She knows comedian Matt Roper, who was passing through my spare bedroom.

On Saturday, Jackie is organising the Grand Witches’ Ball in Exeter.

“Last year,” she told me, “we held a Grand Witches’ Tea Party, which was a daytime thing and was outside.”

“And this one,” I asked, “is a night-time thing and is inside?”

“Yes. In the 450-seater Exeter Phoenix Arts Centre. We’re going to have bands and loads of different acts, including The Invisible Opera Company of Tibet. I am the lead singer. It’s been going 23 years.”

There is a clip of The Invisible Opera Company of Tibet on YouTube.

“How invisible and operatic are you?” I asked.

“Not very, but I’m very showy-offy. Not very operatic at all. Well, I hate opera, really.”

“But you must love Tibet, obviously.”

“Yes… Well… I’ve never been. But we’ve got a sort-of connection… with Gong, which is another psychedelic rock band. The Invisible Opera company of Tibet was founded by Daevid Allen, the lead singer with Gong. He founded it with my husband Brian.”

“You’re psychedelic?”

“Yeah.”

“Psychedelic witches!” I said enthusiastically.

“I love dressing up,” said Jackie, “and being mad and cackling loudly at people and wearing striped tights”

Jackie Juno reaches 21st century cyberspace on Twitter

Jackie Juno now reaches 21st century cyberspace on Twitter

“I don’t,” I said, “remember striped tights being part of the traditional witch costume.”

“They’re quite important,” said Jackie.

“But I feel,” I said, “maybe not from the Middle Ages.

“No,”agreed Jackie, “it’s probably from kids’ story books, but it’s great fun.”

“Are you treating your witchery seriously?” I asked.

“Yes. As well. I just think it’s important to have a sense of humour.”

“What’s the best thing about being a witch?”

“Connection.”

“With what or whom?”

“Everything and everyone. Connection to the universe, the Earth, yourself, others.”

“How long have you been a witch?”

“I think I was born that way. I used to get loads of stuff in my dreams when I was younger. Loads of psychic things happened. Dead people appearing. So I’ve had all that psychic stuff happen.”

“That sounds a bit scary,” I said.

“I didn’t find it scary,” said Jackie. “Never have done.”

“Not even when you were a child?” I asked. “Dead people appearing?”

“Yeah, well it was my grandad and my uncle. And other people. If I went somewhere, somebody would be there and I would describe them and it would be later confirmed. It doesn’t happen that often, but it has happened intermittently.”

“Does it run in the family?” I asked.

“Doesn’t seem to.”

“I seem to have met a lot of witches,” I said. “So you’re a white witch…”

“I don’t know,” said Jackie, “what this white business is. I am many colours.”

“I thought,” I told her, “that a white witch was a good witch and a black witch was a bad witch.”

“That,” she replied, “is like saying you get good Christians and bad Christians.”

“How does one become a witch?” I asked. “You can’t be born one, can you? You have to choose to become one.”

Jackie runs experiential workshops in Goddesses

Jackie runs experiential workshops based on Goddess archetypes relevant to life now

“You can do both,” Jackie told me. “But I think it’s more of an uncovering, a going towards something. I think being a witch is like a natural state. We’re just in touch with the earth, in touch perhaps with other realms that we don’t often see. Before these organised, patriarchal religions came along and made all their rules and dogmas. I think we are our own people in touch with our own spirituality through the earth, through Nature.”

“I suppose you have seen The Wicker Man?” I asked.

“Yes. Great. I love it. A classic. I must re-watch it.”

“There’s an interesting line in it,” I said, “about Christianity being a Johnny-come-lately religion.”

“Yeah. Yeah.”

“Were you ever a Christian?”

“God, no. I wasn’t brought up that way. My dad used to describe himself as an agnostic.”

“Not an atheist?”

“No. He believed there was something going on, but he wasn’t sure what.”

“So why did you decide to have a Witches’ Tea Party last year?”

The Grand Witches Tea Party 2014 (Photo by Jim Bachelier-Moore

The Grand Witches’ Tea Party in 2014 (Photograph by Jim Bachelier-Moore)

“I was given the title Grand Bard of Caerwysg (the Welsh name for Exeter), which is a 7-year role. Each ancient bardic seat has a sacred hill associated with it and, in Exeter, it’s Rougemont Gardens. There is a plaque in Rougemont Gardens which honours the last three women witches that were killed in England. They kept the witches – the women – in a tower of the castle in terrible conditions and then they took them to be hanged.”

“Hanged?” I asked. “I thought witches were burned alive or chucked in the river?”

“No. I think in this country most of them were hung.”

“You said England. What about Scotland?”

“I think they carried on killing witches in Scotland after 1682 – the last ones in England.”

“So, in Exeter,” I said, “the sacred hill is Rougemont Gardens…”

“Yes. I’ve always felt a strong affinity with that place and, when I became Grand Bard, I wanted to do something to honour the women that were killed.

“I wanted to hold a ceremony but then it kind of grew and we decided to have a tea party afterwards and then we decided to try and go for the world record of number of witches gathered in one place. But, to qualify for that, you had to have a cloak, a broom and a pointy hat.”

“That,” I asked, “is a Guinness Book of Records rule?”

“Yes. The record had already been set so, if you want to break it, you have to follow the rules. So we thought it would be a bit of fun. That was what got media attention. It just went mental. But the local witchy community were all: Oh! this is a farce! This is Disney! we don’t wear pointy hats! We’re proper witches! They got a bug up their arse, basically. They couldn’t believe you could have a bit of fun as well.”

“How are witches organised?” I asked. “Is there a national Witch Council?”

A queue of witches in 2014, signing a petition to get the executed women pardoned (Photo by Jim Bachelier-Moore)

A queue of witches in 2014, signing a petition to get the executed women pardoned (Photo by Jim Bachelier-Moore)

“There are various groups all across Britain – pagan moots.”

“Any old pagans?” I asked. “Not specifically witches?”

“Yes, any old pagans. Or young pagans. There’s various pagan groups and lots of kind-of I guess witchy, goddess groups.”

“I have met a few witches,” I said, “but I have never met a wizard.”

“Well,” said Jackie, “there are a lot of men who consider themselves witches.”

“So a ‘witch’ can be a man or woman?” I asked.

“Yeah.”

“So there’s no such thing as a wizard?”

“I’m sure people might also describe themselves as a wizard, but I don’t know exactly what a wizard is…”

“So your husband Brian is not a wizard?”

“No.”

“Is he a witch?”

“He describes himself as a pagan Buddhist.”

“Was he a Buddhist first and then you converted him?”

“I think he was a pagan anyway, really. I think we all are underneath. Pagans do have a lot of fun.”

“It is the old religion,” I said. “Last year was…?”

“A wonderful event,” said Jackie. “It was incredibly moving.”

“Because?”

“Because the ceremony itself was very moving. People came from all over England and Wales.

This Saturday - the grand witches Ball

This Saturday – The Grand Witches’ Ball

“This year, we’re going to hold a ceremony at the beginning and at the end of the night, remembering those killed.”

“And two psychedelic rock bands,” I said.

“And a mind-reading act,” Jackie added.

“A stage act or a psychic act?” I asked.

“A stage act. He lives down Penzance way.”

“You don’t have to be part of witch culture to attend this event?”

“No. It’s open to all. Once we’ve covered our costs, we are raising funds for Womankind Worldwide, which champions women around the world.”

“When did you meet Matt Roper?” I asked.

“Before he got into his Wilfredo character – without the teeth and trousers – and I thought What a delightful young man! How handsome! and then I saw him as Wilfredo and – Christ! – I couldn’t believe it! Has he told you about Reincarnation Street, my mystical soap opera set in Totnes?”

“No.”

“We did it using finger puppets. Johnny Depp is in it.”

“As a finger?”

“No, as a puppet. He has a walk-on part – Well it’s more of a shuffle-on part, because I’ve got my finger up his skirt. The first episode is on YouTube. Reincarnation Street: A Mystical Soap Opera Set in Totnes.”

“Has it got a theme tune like Coronation Street?”

“Yes, but with an Indian sitar.”

“Matt took me to Totnes,” I said.

“Oh!” replied Jackie, “so you have experienced the aura-polishing and the chakra dancing and the womb whispering?”

“Womb whispering?” I asked.

“I saw an advert for it.”

“In the local paper?”

“In a poster up on a notice board. Chakra dancing, womb yoga, womb whispering, equine therapy, free hugs.”

“I have to say some people may think witchery is a bit odd,” I said, “but it has nothing on Totnes.”

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