Despite Lockdown slowly lifting, many train carriages into London are still empty due to COVID-19
SUNDAY 12th JULY
In my last Diary blog I mentioned that the government had announced Christian churches can open for private prayer but there can be no singing for fear of spreading the coronavirus.
Yea, Holy Water hath become hand sanitiser (Photo by Peter Stanford)
I expressed some doubt that this was true. But today angel-voiced singer and Henry VIII impersonator Peter Stanford confirmed:
It is quite true about singing in the Church of England. In my church, the lockdown service on Facebook (originally from the vicar’s front room, latterly from the church itself), the service lasts half an hour. The choir are singing on Zoom but it is not the same. Where the Holy Water was is now a hand sanitiser dispenser.
Also continuing from my last Diary blog, I asked Andy Dunlop, President of the World Egg-Throwing Federation, how my canine twin Rigby was progressing. If you are a new reader, it is complicated but involves calcium and kidney damage.
Andy replied with a mute video, saying: “Your twin is virtually skipping. Vast improvement and doing very nicely. He is one happy dog.”
MONDAY 13th JULY
(Relevant academic name changed below to prevent blushes)
Today I met up with someone I have not seen since the coronavirus started months ago. She suggested we meet in Brompton Cemetery in London, next to Chelsea’s football stadium.
Grade I listed Brompton Cemetery, London, is the resting place of Suffragette Emeline Pankhurst.
She told me that it (the cemetery, not Chelsea’s football pitch) is a well-known pick-up spot for gay men and, sure enough, there were occasional lone men sitting around looking at their mobile phones or enjoying the reasonably warm weather.
“How did you find out this is a gay pick-up spot?” I asked.
In Brompton Cemetery: “Hello, Mr Wallace“
“When my son was small and was learning to ride a bicycle,” she told me, “we used to come down so he could practise. And, one day, Mr Wallace his art master and another man came out from behind a bush by a gravestone.”
“What happened?” I asked.
“My son said: Hello, Mr Wallace and Mr Wallace said Hello to my son…”
“Did your son ask you about this afterwards?”
“No. My son didn’t think it was strange that Mr Wallace suddenly came out from behind a bush in a graveyard, but I was surprised.”
TUESDAY 14th JULY
…Interviewing me is always a mistake because I witter…
Today, I was asked to contribute to a Times Radio piece on late lamented Douglas Gray of The Alberts. It was a section of Mariella Frostrup’s show in which journalist Nigel Williamson highlights particularly interesting recent Times obituaries.
I had been asked how I wanted to be introduced and I suggested “comedy blogger” but, presumably because that sounds a bit like the ne-er-do-well I am, they introduced me, harking back to an earlier century, as a “TV producer”.
Interviewing me is always a mistake because I witter and burble, not helped if I hear my own voice coming back at me. Mariella Frostrop and Nigel Williamson know how to do it.
WEDNESDAY 15th JULY
Spellcheck: I am invited to take a swan test
It looks like I’ve been randomly chosen to have another self-administered COVID-19 swab test.
I received a letter today from the Department of Health & Social Care, the NHS, Imperial College London and market research company Ipsos-Mori.
It will be interesting to see if, this time, I can avoid almost choking to death when shoving the swabs down the back of my throat.
Interestingly, Spellcheck is quite insistent it should really be a swan test.
That would not be easier, but it might be more interesting.
Coronavirus designer masks have now started appearing…
THURSDAY 16th JULY
Coronavirus face-masks are becoming such an item of occasional clothing that designer masks have now started appearing.
My local shop in the high street has a fine collection.
There are even masks for children, although people under ten years old are not required to wear them at all.
FRIDAY 17th JULY
Prime Minister Boris Johnson wants to encourage live performances to re-start from 1st August
Today, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that live performances can re-start from 1st August provided social distancing and other COVID-related precautions are taken.
This will be quite difficult for theatres and I can’t see it really happening with ordinary comedy clubs which largely (perhaps that is not the right word here) take place in small, stuffy rooms above or below pubs. Also, comedy works best if the audience (if you can get one) is packed tightly in.
I hope to be proved wrong, but I can’t see the general comedy ‘circuit’ re-starting until next Spring – if then.
There is also the looming threat of a ‘second wave’ COVID outbreak.
Someone I know reckons she knows a statistical person in Whitehall who is involved in the UK Government’s preparations for worst case scenarios and they are planning fallback positons for a second wave in October lasting to Christmas.
Separately, someone I know who has dealings with Intensive Care nurses in Wales tells me that the NHS there is contracting specialist nurses from September (presumably to anticipate an October resurgence).
With luck, none of this will be necessary though, in his briefing, Boris Johnson mentioned that the Nightingale Hospitals (including the 4,000-bed one at ExCel in London) will be kept available until next March.
SATURDAY 18th JULY
A pagan fertility pole stands ready and waiting for potential human sacrifices in Borehamwood…
In more fantastical news, the tall fertility pole in front of my house has not yet been used for human sacrifices.
But, with each May Day that passes, my hopes increase.
“He and his family dance, naked, on balmy summer nights.”
In addition, as part of (I suspect) the ongoing and rising cult of Wicca witchcraft in suburban Borehamwood, my neighbour has erected a phallic pole behind his house around which he and his family dance, naked, in the balmy summer nights.
There is much wailing and thrashing of arms as the midnight hour approaches.
I feel certain that human sacrifice cannot be far off.
It started when someone told me he had heard the actor Hugh Grant had been refused entry to Eddie Pepitone’s trendy Bloodbath show in Just The Tonic at The Tron (a venue not to be confused with The Tron) AND Hugh had also been refused entry to the even trendier late-night Set List show in Just The Tonic at The Caves (not to be confused with Just The Tonic at The Tron).
So I e-mailed Matt Kirshen, who programmes the Set List show:
“Did Hugh Grant get refused entry to Set List last night?” I asked. “I heard he also got turned away from Eddie Pepitone’s show.”
Matt replied: “Just Eddie, at the Tron. He apparently decided not to try for another show after that.”
Then I went to the TO&ST Showcase – promoting Time Out and Soho Theatre’s new awards for best cabaret shows at the Fringe. The showcase was compered by incomparable Miss Behave (who is also compering my Malcolm Hardee Awards Show this coming Friday – the Edinburgh Fringe is all about promotion). She was justifiably evangelical about the current British cabaret scene. It was only last year that the Edinburgh Fringe Programme included a separate Cabaret section for the first time… and, judging from shows I have seen this year, a lot of the most original comedy material actually appears in cabaret shows.
At the 2007 Fringe, Arthur Smith curated “Arturart”
I had to leave after an hour to go see Arthur Smith get carried up Arthur’s Seat (the dormant volcano which overlooks Edinburgh) in a sedan chair for a show called This Arthur’s Seat Gala Belongs to Lionel Richie organised by Barry Ferns (often mis-spelled as Barry Fern) who changed his name by deed poll to Lionel Richie (not to be confused with the singer Lionel Richie).
Alas, the description of the meeting point for the start of Arthur Smith’s sedan chair ascent of Arthur’s Seat – meet at a lake – was a bit vague, so the BBC and Arthur and I turned up at the wrong lake.
As I did not want to get stuck up Arthur’s Seat (ooh no, missus), I made my excuses and walked back to town. I will see Arthur Smith again on Friday, when he appears in the Malcolm Hardee Awards Show (the Edinburgh Fringe is all about promotion) which, at its end, will merge into one of Arthur’s late night Alternative Tours of the Royal Mile. These have been known to end in nudity and arrests. I can only hope we can be so lucky.
As I walked back to town from the bottom of Arthur’s Seat, several taxis passed me, but I am a Scot brought up among Jews and am overweight, so I ignored them. I also got a phone call from the comedian who had told me about Hugh Grant. He (the comedian) told me that yes, indeed, the previous gossip had been wrong and he (Hugh Grant) had NOT been refused entry to Set List, only to Eddie Pepitone’s show. I began to wonder if I was really that interested.
“He (Hugh Grant) was turned away from Just The Tonic at The Tron,” I was told, “even though he had tickets for himself and his friends but his friends didn’t have ID even though they were clearly of age so that’s what happened.”
“Did you hear Hugh Grant got refused entry to Eddie Pepitone’s show last night?” I asked.
“No,” she said, “But I wouldn’t turn him away if he turned up at my show. I mean, I talk about him in my show. He’s one of my reasons for me wanting to be here in Britain. Cos every American girl wants Hugh Grant. We wanna live Love Actually.
Laura was being successful with her flyering technique, which included befriending a passing Dalmatian dog but, turning another corner, I heard a less experience flyerer try:
“Anyone fancy some comedy?… Free Biscuits!”
By this time, the Dalmatian had left. Bad timing.
Eventually, I got to the Assembly Rooms venue in George Street (not to be confused with the rival Assembly venue in George Square). I had a tea outside by the Spiegeltent temporarily in the middle of George Street (not to be confused with the two Spiegeltents temporarily at Assembly in George Square) and I went in to the Assembly Rooms to see the National Theatre of Scotland’s production of Appointment With the Wicker Man.
Appointment With the W(h)icker Man
The full-house audience loved it. I liked it a lot, but thought it was a dog’s dinner. Unlinked to the Dalmatian. The first ten minutes (a guestimate) were wonderful. The plot’s affectation is that a stage version of the cult movie The Wicker Man is being performed by an amateur dramatic group, the Loch Parry Players, in an isolated Highland community. The audience are even given a fake programme for The Whicker Man (sic) as they go in.
The original movie was bizarre enough to begin with and it might be thought to be beyond parody because it is beyond weird (I am a great fan). And, for the first ten minutes, this production had enormous fun simply by using the original film script, the original music (the movie is heavily musiced with songs) and having fun with the cadences of the accents.
Alas, someone somewhere seems to have lost confidence in simply doing The Wicker Man with a few nods to it being staged by amateurs in a Highland hall and written an original story about the am dram group with far too many dramatic devices in it. KIS KIS. Keep It Simple. Keep It Simple. Just staging The Wicker Man is a bizarre enough idea. The whole production felt like a series of compromises and over-complications by a camel-designing committee with over-commercial attempts getting in the way of the original camp vision. There was also one bit of unnecessary female nudity. Not the famous Britt Ekland dancing-against-the-door scene (which was done very humorously with fake boobs and enough pubic hair to knit a Scottie dog) but a totally gratuitous bit of unnecessary real nudity. I can only presume this was added to somehow make it more commercial. Mistake. I am all for nudity in its right place – in the Royal Mile, up a lamp post, but not gratuitously here.
Very enjoyable, but it needs two more script re-writes and cuts.
John Robertson’s outdoor show on The Mound last night
After that very enjoyable if frustrating show, I went to see Australian John Robertson’s The Old Whore, an extraordinary dissection of his own very odd family background. I only saw half the show in the venue – the General Assembly building of the Church of Scotland – because the whole show ended up outside, halfway down The Mound, with John Robertson semi-naked, standing atop railings… More about this in a future blog.
After the show, I met up with my temporary flatmate Lewis Schaffer, still concerned at the possible backlash from his use of the word “paralysed” in his guest spot on a Storytelling show the previous night. He had asked me if he should blog about it and I had said Yes. He titled it The Worst Gig of The Fringe and typically started with the opening sentence: “The worst part about doing comedy is that sometimes the audience winds up hating me…”
Did I mention the Malcolm Hardee Show?
As even Lewis Schaffer is younger than me – at this Fringe, I am beginning to feel like the Queen Mother in a hallucinatory version of High School Musical – at 1.00am he headed off to the VIP Loft Bar at the Gilded Balloon. I headed home to sleep.
As I walked home, I got a text from Laura Levites:
“I am in the Abattoir Bar at the Udderbelly. Hugh Grant is here. I gave him a flyer for my show.”
I wondered if Hugh would like to take part in my Russian Egg Roulette contest at the Malcolm Hardee Awards Show on Friday.
After what happened last night, I really must go to a Wicker Man festival.
The climax of The Wicker Man(the 1973 version, obviously) was shot at Burrow Head in Wigtownshire. I think my uncle’s ashes were scattered into the sea off Burrow Head; he used to sit there as a teenager and look out to sea. Or maybe it was off some other Head. There are quite a few Heads in the area.
For sure, several Wicker Man scenes were shot in the Isle of Whithorn (which is not an island), where my father was brought up. And several other scenes were shot in Whithorn itself (a totally different place to the Isle of Whithorn) where both my parents went to school and met again during the Second World War (I blogged about their meeting last year).
Nothing in life is ever simple.
There is a speech in The Wicker Man about how paganism is the real religion of Britain and how Christianity is merely a Johnny-come-lately cult.
I paraphrase but, after last night, I am all for paganism.
I went wassailing at orchards in semi-rural Hertfordshire, quite close to where I live. About forty or so adults and children went and blessed the trees. Pieces of toast soaked in cider were hanging from the branches of the trees and cider was poured round the trees’ roots to encourage them to grow and bear fruit in the coming year.
Wassail toast hanging from trees
Much noise was made with bells and horns and spoons on pots and pans to scare away evil spirits; a wassailing song was sung; the children went and told the trees to grow, then waved sparklers around; fireworks soared high into the air from the orchards; there was much cheering and clapping; and then we went inside for soup and bread and cake and cups of mulled wine and cider.
I have been to a local church the last couple of Christmases (avoiding the services) and they provided mulled wine and biscuits. But no toast hanging from trees; no children waving sparklers; and no eccentricity on this scale.
No wonder paganism is on the increase.
This was not a genuine outbreak of paganism in semi-rural Hertfordshire, of course. It was a bit of admirable British jollity.
But Christianity has to pull its socks up.
I think annual human sacrifice (a concept at the very core of Christianity) in Winter or Spring could be the way forward, though the supply of willing virgins might prove something of a problem.
Still, The Wicker Man shows that, where there’s a will, there are ways and means…
I was talking to one of the Killer Bitch cast yesterday and (as one who knows) he came out with the legendary line: “I’ve got no money at the moment and xxxx xxxxxxx ain’t got no money either. The bottom’s fallen out of Crime.”
Has Britain fallen this low? Sir Francis Drake made England great by robbing Spanish ships of their gold and the East India Company built Queen Victoria’s glorious British Empire on the heroin trade.
We live in difficult economic times. Or do we? Opinion varies.
A recent report said organised crime caused “an estimated £30 billion a year in social and economic harm” to the UK. I’m not quite sure what “harm” means in this context. Presumably it means there is a £30 billion black economy underpinning the ‘legitimate’ economy. But it’s all guestimates on guestimates. A recent report by the Association of Chief Police Officers claimed the UK underworld economy is now worth around £40 billion a year.
I’m more concerned that fake DVD production is now reckoned to be worth £300 million in the UK. I had vaguely hoped Killer Bitch might be fairly immune to this because I had hoped that the people most likely to rip us off were actually involved in the movie in some way – and therefore highly unlikely to rip us off. I had, however, reckoned without the international nature of modern movie rip-off-dom.
Still, I am filled with hope for the future of Killer Bitch because Michael Deeley, the highly-regarded head of British Lion Films reportedly said, when his company released The Wicker Man in 1973, that it was the worst film he had ever seen. Years later, the equally highly-regarded Cinefantastique magazine devoted at entire issue to The Wicker Man, famously calling it “the Citizen Kane of horror films”, while the Los Angeles Times said it was: “Witty & scary! No one who sits through it to the end is likely to find it easy to shake off.”
Likewise, no-one who sits through Killer Bitch with an increasingly dropped jaw and open mouth is ever likely to forget it. Bland it is certainly not.