Friday, 8 June 2012

Royalists and Republicans can drive one up the fence

Last weekend’s Jubilee celebrations enabled many committed to having/not having a monarchy to vent their feelings, particularly on Twitter. My own view is that they’re probably more use than many think but that some sort of publicly elected committee should review them every now and again and cut out any that are misbehaving. Half-way to a democratic situation and possibly a more practical solution than choosing new ones through a TV talent show as in The Royal Factor! But I would urge you to buy it anyway just make sure…
But honestly! The arguments people make could make one swing both ways (not bisexually of course). Some Republicans were comparing the crowds attending the Jubilee celebrations to the adulation of Kim Jong Il.  I didn’t attend although I live nearby, no-one tried to make me go and my career has not suffered for my non-attendance. And the fact that these people could compare the situation so unfavourably with that in North Korea, you would have thought, would be a good indicator that a Kim Jong Il situation really does not exist.
But then you get the Royalists. I don’t think Queen Elizabeth is so bad but I am not going to go overboard on compliments. However, the extreme sycophancy from some Royalists really gave their cause a bad name. One tweeter, who poses as some sort of Royal information service, responded to the Queen’s statement that she’d been humbled by the celebrations by saying: “No, Your Majesty, we are humbled by you!” I cringed a fair bit and thought I might give the Republican thing another go.
Then the big row about the unpaid and unlooked-after stewards erupted. This was a shocking situation, which says so much about society and the business world that now exists. Allegedly, a number of unemployed people were bussed in, made to sleep under bridges and then steward the pageant in return for some boots and hi-viz vests. This abuse of people must be stopped. But several tweeters started to comparing this to Nazi forced labour. One said that the motto Arbeit Macht Frei would be a likely strap-line for the company involved.
I was interested in this approach and asked the person how this would help ensure this situation did not occur again. I asked if they were aware of the other purpose of the camps bearing the motto Arbeit Macht Frei? I suggested that this hysterical comparison of corporate misbehaviour with death camps would actually smokescreen what was going on – as well as being quite insulting to relatives of the millions exterminated. Of course, the replies suggested that my criticism indicated my support for the steward situation(!) and justified this approach by saying that the tweeter was aware of what death camps were about through ‘word of mouth’. So I went a little bit Royalist again, right back to where I started.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Let loose down the shops

"Get me something that'll give me a bit of a buzz," asked Fergie...

Yorkie came in in a bit of a panic, apparently Fergie had asked him to get a flunky to collect something from the shops, I'm not quite sure what it was but he said it would give her quite a buzz, maybe some Pro-Plus tablets. Anyway, it appears that the old girl said she was popping down the shops in Bromley so he asked her instead. Anyway, it seems that the royal correspondents got wind that she was up for some retail therapy and turned out in their droves. Yorkie did ask me to stop the pictures getting on to social media but I think I was too late. Got that bloody Gold woman on the phone now asking if she can have the 'By Royal Appointment' crest on her bunnies now...

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Failure and triumph of the TA

RAOC cap badge

My military career was short-lived, unlike my dad's, who rose from Private to Lieutenant Colonel over a 25-year army career. When I told him I was joining the TA he went on about the slaughter that had taken place, leading up to Dunkirk, of chaps who had "dressed up as soldiers at weekends and gone drinking." He wasn't being disrespectful of them, he was genuinely upset at the way their lives had been wasted by throwing them up against well-trained and battle-experienced German units, with their lack of training and terrible equipment, compared with that of the Wehrmacht.

I joined the TA in the 80s thinking I would run about creating havoc amongst the invading Russians. However, I accidentally joined the Royal Army Ordnance Corps, affectionately known as the Rag & Oil Brigade, which was actually responsible for stores.

The physical fitness test was running three miles in half an hour. I trained for this, it's not actually too hard. However, on the test day I found that you could stop for a 20-minute break and get a taxi to the finish line, such was the desperation to get people to join. So I got in and continued my two weeks of basic training.

As well as the odd physical activity, we had classroom lessons. One of these was a dose of propaganda, where we were told that if you look over the Berlin Wall, the Russian tanks you saw were made of cardboard. My dad told me that during the last war, soldiers were told that many German tanks were cardboard, he found out at Dunkirk that this was not the case. I pointed this out and the fact that we knew for certain that the Russians had thousands more real tanks than us, they would have more difficulty producing cardboard versions. The sergeant said that he was just told to tell us this and had no idea if it was actually true.

We had our passing out parade. I held the flag whilst my colleagues demonstrated their marching moves to a Brigadier as I could not march in a straight line, along with another chap who sobbed throughout the ceremony as he was also unable to march without embarrassing our colleagues. For me it was a triumph, for him it was a humiliation. We were given a lie to tell to the Brigadier to explain why we couldn't march, mine was a 'sprained ankle'. In the evening we had a curry laid on, which meant stripping one soldier naked and sticking chapatis to him with meat korma.

Then it was weekend training. I was issued with a railway warrant to one place and directions to another, a TA tradition. The first weekend was camouflage. We were issued with green netting on the Friday night to find that it had snowed on the Saturday, so we were sent home.

The next training weekend was on the ranges; unfortunately it was foggy so we couldn't see the targets - so we were sent home.

Another odd occurrence was when I and two other 'soldiers' were asked to meet two officers whilst we were in basic training. We assumed that it was to discuss insubordination as the three of us had been pulled up a number of times by some of the less humorous NCOs for ridiculing some of their more bizarre requests. However, we were asked if we would consider training and tests for a commission. All three of us agreed to this. But you won't be surprised to hear that that was the last we ever heard of it. And when we enquired about the situation we were told that such a discussion would never have taken place until we had served for three years...

I would have been in no position to threaten anyone with a weapon even whilst in the TA, let alone after, but I could have demonstrated how to store a number of different types of fire extinguishers. I resigned after one year, I would have been a liability. And I have encountered more organised herds of cats.

In the Royal Factor a group of soldiers features, which I always wanted to be a part of but it was not to be. I hope for the sake of soldiers, their families and all of us, that the TA, or Army Reserve, is better than this now.

Friday, 30 March 2012

The Duke, the mobility scooter and my dad's dog...

My hero has been at it again! Asking a man 30 years his junior whether he'd run anyone over on his mobility scooter. My dad had one one of those scooters, he certainly used to run people over on it. He also used to take the dog for a 'walk' on it, and then a 'drag' when the dog itself reached geriatric years. In the end he was threatened with the RSPCA so the dog used to get on the scooter with him. It was a tight fit but it worked for both of them.

You can read about the Duke's latest edgy conversation here...

And this may have been what my dad looked like, but it's not him, he never wore yellow.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Another Royal lets us down

The Duke of York, impersonating the late Colonel Gadaffi

One Royal who has really let us down in recent years is the Duke of York. Time was when 'Randy Andy' would be linked to a wide range of European and American ladies who were most generous with their wares, and these dalliances would find their way into our papers. King Edwards VII & VIII would have been proud. However, of late he has only managed an unfortunate situation with a money lender who was alleged to be a sex-offender. And now he just gets called 'Air Miles Andy' because of his travels. His ex-wife achieved far more impactful scandals, and she wasn't even a real Royal. Having said that, a friend of mine who was an undercover gossip reporter met her at a party. This journalist and she had no-one else to talk to so they spent the night chatting. He said she was so nice that he couldn't bring himself to report the tittle-tattle he learned that evening; a heart-warming tale in these Leveson times.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Duke of Edinburgh asks Royal Navy girl if she works in a strip club

I once had a meeting with the Duke of Edinburgh through work. I expected to think he was awful. However, I came out of the meeting with my vaguely republican views slightly shaken as he seemed like a bizarrely entertaining kindly old uncle. Mind you, he could still be a sort of honorary uncle without being a Duke.  In the meeting he made an amusing gaffe about the paralympics, which was a common-sense enquiry that he did not mean to be offensive, it just came out that way.

I told a Daily Mirror journalist about it and she wanted to use it, I said no as I would probably lose my client, who had asked me to attend the meeting, if I did so. And to her credit she didn't, even though she asked me about it for months afterwards.

One day I'll say what it was but, in the mean time, here's a video of the naval strip-club incident to be going on with.

Monday, 30 January 2012

Satire, The News Quiz, Camilla and Coronation Chicken

I learned most of the tiny bit I know about politics and business from an old Radio 4 satirical sketch show called Week Ending back in the 70s. Nowadays we have TV's Have I Got News For You, which teaches my kids all about politics and business. We also have the fantastic News Quiz (, again on Radio 4, which through the magic of podcasting means you no longer have to gather around a gramophone to listen. 

Through the News Quiz this week, I have carried on learning. First of all I found out that Camilla has launched the longest-titled competition in the world: The British Food Fortnight's Cook For The Queen's Diamond Jubilee competition. I also learned that Constance Spry invented Coronation Chicken for the Queen's coronation banquet in 1953. I thought it was invented by Heinz or someone like that. Through the magic of Wikipedia I found that Constance was a florist, but as it's Wiki it might be untrue (I'm still reeling from finding out that Norman Wisdom didn't write The White Cliffs of Dover), she might have been the inventor of cooking oil.

In Royal Factor I put in a line about Camilla looking a bit like Leonid Brezhnev. But I thought that was a bit nasty, so I took it out and put in something else instead.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Stand-up versus novel writing

At the nerve (ous) centre of stand-up in Marylebone

For many years I dreamed of performing stand-up comedy. I'd presented at press and other conferences for years and done a couple of wedding speeches, throwing in 'a line' here and there, which seemed to work. I had also begun writing the odd novel, but only ever begun.

But with comedy, where to start? I couldn't turn up at a club and say 'give me a go', surely? And if someone said 'yes', what would I have done? I can't remember how but I came across the name Logan Murray somewhere or another. Logan, apparently, ran courses teaching people how to get into stand-up. Writing sets, developing jokes, getting over nerves, dealing with hecklers... It was all there, an unbelievable combination of jollity and professionalism that led to one of the most daunting nights of my life, the signing up night. It was a room full of people who wanted to be funny watching Logan's best graduates perform and then being asked to pay up and sign on Logan's "I will make you funny" dotted line. I did this knowing that I could never be as funny as the people I'd seen.

I did sign up and it was one of the best things I ever did. Around 14 glorious Tuesday nights of laughing at and with a group of people all wanting to entertain and be entertained. Each one of us, or groups of us, took in turns to be the stars of the show or the audience, jollied along by clown-master general Logan.

There were people who were absolute naturals, people who had it but needed developing, comics who felt they'd lost their mojo and no-one who couldn't do it. Intriguing to me were people who suffered from depression or had a fear of social situations who had been advised to get involved in comedy, these were amongst the star performers.

At the end of the course we put together a showcase of our acts for family and friends. It was the first time that most of us had performed in front of a 'real' audience. I think everyone had a great night, all acts appeared to go well and a lot of people had achieved a significant life ambition: they had an idea that was funny, they wrote it down, they performed it and people laughed.

A number of us got together after the course and put together a comedy club in a pub in Marylebone. Steve 'Straw' was the principal mover and shaker, along with Chris Shevlin, Amy Button and Julian Young (Britain's most famous lawyer after Rumpole, Kavanagh QC and that Mansfield bloke). This was an education in itself, the pub was divided: 20% comprised people we had almost literally dragged off the streets through our 'marketing' (dragging people off the streets), 25% were friends (family had long given up), 50% were pub regulars - and 5% were extraordinarily rich young Arab gentlemen who thought that we were the most incredible thing they had ever seen and would lavish drinks, cigars, etc upon us in a most unsettling fashion.

Unfortunately the regulars put paid to much of our well-practised comedy timing by shouting: "Fuck off, we want our pub back!" Apart from this inconvenience I absolutely loved it. However, I found that although I was a good beginner, as the others got better, I got worse. Nerves were a big issue for me. One night, comedy legend Arthur Smith compered for us, he said after my set: "You've got some bloody good lines David, but your delivery is shit."

I did quite a few shows after that in various places but I didn't enjoy it so much. The nerves were all-consuming and what seemed like the funniest lines ever when I had thought them up, days before a performance, seemed like incomprehensible parts of an MBA lecture from a temperance society executive five minutes before I was due to go on. No performance went terribly wrong but I never, ever felt comfortable at doing this thing I had always wanted to do.

Now compare that with novel writing. Of course, I am far from proven in this area too. But it's possible to think up the ideas, put them down and send them out to an audience without fear of immediate retribution. For years I had never been able to complete a novel but, combined with an idea for a story, I found that the discipline of developing jokes made a whole book so much easier to write.

The feeling of getting to the end of a novel was incredible - it was like the rush I got after a stand-up set had gone well, but it lasted for days. I finished it on a train and as I got off, instead of wanting to hunt down and kill every member of the Southeastern Railways staff on the station, as most of its passengers do if they complete a journey, I wanted to hug them. That's a bloody big step, these people are natural Stasi members and do not hold normal relations withn other humans. But I didn't do that, I saved it for colleagues at work.

So, if you're a frustrated stand up who is too nervous to get on stage, join all those great lines up with a story and bung them in a book. You'll not have to deal with hecklers or 'die' in mid-flow, and if your book ever makes it, you can resurrect your stand-up career. That's an extraordinarily long-term plan but I think it's the only way I'll get back in.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012