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Sir Bruce ForsythMuch-loved British entertainer Sir Bruce Forsyth died in August 2017. He passed away a few months after he’d undergone key-hole surgery to repair a couple of aneurysms. In case you’re hazy on aneurysms, they are bulges in an artery that could burst and kill you.

I know because I had one that almost killed me.

Sir Bruce Forsyth (aka Sir Bruce Joseph Forsyth-Johnson CBE): Song & Dance Man

Before I get on to my own tale of cardiac misfortune, let’s concentrate on Brucie. I must confess, I’ve never been a huge fan. Don’t get me wrong, I can acknowledge that he was talented, thought on his feet, and I realise he oozed charisma out of every pore. Song and dance is an art form. I can appreciate that as much as the next person. Especially if the next in line is a tone-deaf builder who only listens to Brummie Metal.

Without spending any more time watching ‘song and dance’ and ‘all-round entertainers’ than I have to, I can see that the top of the league was Sammy Davis Junior. Sammy was a polished entertainer and his journey to the top was fraught with prejudice and hard won. To me, Brucie was never quite as at ease and polished.

Brucie and Sammy appeared together on a British television show. Although Mr Davis did his best not to upstage his British host, it’s obvious who was the boss (just look at the jewellery):

When I was growing up, Bruce Forsyth was hard to avoid. My father was a Yorkshire farmer who transformed himself into the manager of a pub company. He didn’t get to where he was by being a Bruce Forsyth fan. He also refused to have any truck with programmes featuring Sir Jimmy Savile or Rolf Harris either. Not that I’m suggesting anything. Valerie Singleton, Dickie Henderson, and Frank Bough were on his hit-list, as well.

Sir Bruce Forsyth: The Early Years

Back then, Brucie seemed to be everywhere. I was too young to remember the very early days of ‘Boy Bruce, the Mighty Atom’ or even when he shot to fame as the replacement host to Tommy Trinder on ITV’s top variety show, Sunday Night at the London Palladium. Aside from anything else, my family was more inclined to watch What’s My Line and Sunday Night Play on the BBC.

By the time I was ready to go to college, Bruce had extended his Beat The Clock game show skills to compete with Hughie Green and Michael Miles for the title of ‘Britan’s favourite TV host’. I can admit it now: I quite enjoyed watching The Generation Game when I saw it. Nevertheless, it wasn’t the kind of TV an eighteen-year old faux-radical student would set the clock not to miss.

Sir Bruce Forsyth CBE: The Traveling Music Show and beyond

When Brucie announced he was taking a break from television in 1977, to go on the road with the musical, The Travelling Music Show, I don’t think I noticed. But the show closed early and he was enticed back to the goggle box by a huge slab of ITV cash. Bruce Forsyth’s Big Night became essential viewing for British students but for the wrong reasons. I think it was dated even then. Having a short episode of Jimmy Edwards’s 1950s radio sitcom, The Glums, every week didn’t help in an era when Britain was undergoing the Punk revolution.

To me, it was like watching a live two-hour car crash live on peak hour TV. Here’s a video of the first episode:

As far as I am concerned, it was downhill from there on for Sir Brucie. The comedian Frank Skinner tells a story about him. Whilst Frank was interviewing Bruce for his TV chat show, he noticed he was constantly referring to notes written on his thumb. Afterwards, Frank asked him how could he read such small writing. Bruce’s proud reply was, “I’ve never read a book in my life!”

After the Generation Game, I lost touch with Bruce Forsyth. I avoided the likes of The Price is Right, Play Your Cards Right, You Bet!, and Strictly Come Dancing, though I did encounter the man himself on three-and-a-half ‘real life’ occasions.

My First Public Appearance With Sir Bruce Forsyth CBE

The first time Sir Bruce Forsyth stumbled into my life was outside the National Westminster Bank in Stamford Street, on London’s South Bank. My recollection is that he parked illegally outside the bank and strode in, chequebook in hand. He was taller and thinner than I was expecting from black & white TV, wearing his customary toupee, a salt-and-pepper jacket and dark trousers.  It would have been in the mid-to-late 1980s. I had nothing better to do, so I followed him into the bank.

There wasn’t much of a queue so he was served almost immediately. I couldn’t see exactly how much cash he was drawing out, but it wasn’t more than a few notes that went straight into his wallet. You could tell that people knew who he was but no one (least of all me) was going to accost him. Unmolested, he climbed back into his vehicle and drove away. I seem to think it was a red Jaguar, but I might be making that up.

Sir Bruce Forsyth and I Meet Again (Almost!)

The second occasion our paths crossed was a decade or so later. I was on the top deck of a London bus on my way back to south-east London. I’d been reviewing Indian restaurants for Time Out magazine and I was full of curry. It must have been a Saturday or Sunday evening, around 9 pm.

We were sitting in traffic in Whitehall, when someone on the bus said, “Look, it’s Brucie!” We followed the pointing finger and saw the man himself marching around the corner, surrounded by a small squad of scurrying army officers in red and gold dress uniform. Bruce was wearing a dinner jacket/tuxedo, and he seemed to be giving the officers some kind of instruction. He was taller than any of them.

Someone yelled out a version of “Nice to see you,” which ended on a swear word. Another voice almost immediately shouted: “Piss off!”. This may or may not have been Sir Bruce. It all happened so fast. The squad then disappeared into the building, which was guarded by two police officers.

Sir Bruce Forsyth CBE: Live on Stage

On Saturday 30th June 2012, I found myself at the Hop Farm Festival in Kent. Organiser, Vince Power, allowed me to advertise my own Rhythm Festival to his assembled masses and I was handing out flyers to anyone who would take them. Sir Bruce Forsyth was sharing the main stage with Bob Dylan, Patti Smyth and Randy Crawford. This was to be Brucie’s first festival appearance.

The following year he played Glastonbury Festival, which claimed the same honour. The Glastonbury folk also said he was the oldest performer ever to appear there, which I doubt. He may have been 85 at the time, but I’ve a sneaking suspicion some of those Jazz, Blues and Reggae players were older. Many of the Skatalites were in their eighties and I remember seeing Pinetop Perkins play at London’s Jazz Café when he was 94. I’m pretty sure he’d performed at Glastonbury around the same time. By the way, Perkins was the last surviving Blues performer to have known Robert Johnson, but that’s another story…

Sir Bruce Forsyth at Hop Farm Festival

By the time he appeared at Hop Farm, Brucie had become Sir Bruce Forsyth, having been knighted by the Queen the previous year. He was appearing with what he called ‘His Orchestra’ and he’d brought along a couple of guest singers. To be honest, Bruce’s 90-minute set didn’t really rock my boat or even float my dinghy. It just came as a disruption to my promotional activities.

Having said that, the majority of the audience seemed to lap it up. I wonder what they would have thought had it been an unknown Ted Hopkins from Barnet, doing exactly the same set.

To me, the highlight of the show was when Sir Brucie handed over to the guest female vocalist near the end. She could sing, but I’m not sure there’s much of a market for unknown lounge singers in the UK in the 21st Century.

The ‘half a meeting’ happened something like five years before Hop Farm, when I was visiting Brucie’s manager’s office in Battersea. Ian Wilson also looked after musical comedian Mitch Benn and I was promoting a show with him at London’s semi-fabulous 100 Club. We were drinking tea and talking when the assistant rushed in to announce that Bruce was on the telephone. Ian shot to his feet and said, “I’ve got to take this,” before leaving the room to pick up the call on another extension. I’m not sure if Bruce asked about me or not…

About Aneurysms

Although it has since been revealed that Sir Bruce Forsyth died from pneumonia, it was brought on after he’d undergone heart surgery to repair his aneurysms. The pesky blighters were discovered after he’d a fall at his home the previous year.

Something similar happened to me.

I went to see my doctor, complaining about always feeling tired and occasionally breathless. My fairly high blood pressure was on the suspect list and Dr Cardwell booked me in for various tests. The final one was a heart scan at QEQM Hospital in Margate. The technician was training a junior. After roughly five minutes of rubbing a paddle over my chest, their cheerful banter drifted into uneasy silence.

“Is it supposed to look like that?” The trainee quietly asked. I think the lead technician must have shaken her head because they both fell into silence again. I could sense a certain amount of pointing and gesticulating at the screen.

The technician excused herself and left the room. She came back and asked me to go and wait in a small room. The doctor wanted to see me. He arrived a few minutes later, dressed theatrically (no pun intended) in green scrubs. He explained what was wrong and told me it was vital I be admitted to hospital straight away. No time to lose, any delay could be fatal, etc…

I’d arranged an appointment to have my eyes tested immediately afterwards.  I’ve still got the optician’s bill somewhere.

That was just the start of my crazy adventure in cardiology. I’ll write about the whole incident in greater detail in a forthcoming post.

In the meantime, RIP Sir Bruce Forsyth. You may not have been my cup of tea as far as entertainers go, but you stole the hearts of many generations. (I’m sure there’s a joke in there somewhere…)

Note: the picture at the top of this page is of the actor Gus Brown impersonating Sir Bruce Forsyth in the pilot episode of Matt Berry sitcom, Toast of London. It comes highly recommend.

I’ve recently spent time writing sleeve-notes for a Balham Alligators box set. That’s exactly the kind of thing washed-up hacks like me have to do when they reach a certain age. I was researching “pub rock” when I stumbled on something surprising. It now seems accepted that the Pub Rock scene collapsed following the Punk Explosion of 1976-77. It is said that the old dinosaurs were flattened by the New Wave comet, and that clubs like The Marquee, 100 Club, Roxy, and Dingwalls took over. I was surprised, because my recollection of what happened is totally different.

Will Birch’s extensive and well-written reference book, No Sleep Till Canvey Island: The Great Pub Rock Revolution is great as far as it goes, but he ends in 1977 with most of the main players in the game signing to Stiff Records and touring on the Stiff’s Greatest Stiffs Live tour. Birch’s contention is that the exponents of Pub Rock were promoted within the Rock mainstream and moved from playing the Hope & Anchor is Islington to the College circuit and larger venues like the Rainbow and Hammersmith Odeon.

robey_1982 The Sir George Robey in 1982, when it still had Music Hall memorabilia on the walls.

As someone who was involved as a music promoter and agent, I know that this isn’t the whole story by any means. Many older venues, such as the Nashville, Kensington and Pegasus, did close or transform into restaurants or family pubs, some victims of their own success, others just badly managed. Their place was immediately taken by dozens of new pub venues. Some of them were already putting on Irish music and so had the infrastructure (stages, lights, and often PA systems) ready to go.

Off the top of my head, I can recall great nights at The Bull & Gate in Kentish Town; The Cricketers at Kennington Oval; The Robey at Finsbury Park; Bridge House, Canning Town; Hare & Hounds, Upper Street; Half Moon, Putney; The Weavers at Newington Green; and… so many more. My memory is hazy. Like the man said, “If you remember the ’60s, you weren’t there.”

Between not writing my novel and trying to be a manager and agent, from 1984 to 1990 I organised and booked live music for the Cricketers, at Kennington Oval, London SE11. I took over from a teacher called Joe Pearson, who’d been responsible for a series of prestige gigs – Dr John, Richard Thompson, Paul Brady – at the Half Moon, Putney. Before that, he’d promoted at the White Lion, opposite Putney Bridge (which became a Slug & Lettuce, and a Walkabout; now it’s a derelict Wahoo Sports bar). Joe replaced Gordon Hunt at the Cricketers. Gordon went on to become Sade’s guitarist and musical arranger.

I’d also promoted shows in Putney. Three promoters dominated Putney’s music scene in the late 1970s and early 1980s: myself, Joe Pearson, and an older Scotsman called Bill Knox. Bill had worked in London’s Denmark Street (aka Tin Pan Alley) back in the 1950s and ’60s, and had been quite a mover and shaker in the Folk and Jazz worlds of the time. This included the time Bob Dylan and Paul Simon had been in London, playing tiny folk clubs. Bill had a mountain of great stories he’d tell over a cider at the Duke’s Head – the only pub in Putney with no background music. Sadly, most of his stories were either unprintable or undecipherable.

The second wave of Pub Rock had much in common with the American Wild West. Venues would sprout up and disappear all the time, and audience members were very often part of individual and very distinct tribes: Skinheads, Punks, Mods, Teddy Boys (yes, really!), Psychobillies, Folkies and more. I particularly remember a night at the White Lion when Anarchist Punk band Conflict were attacked by BNP thugs with pickaxes as they unloaded their gear. It was a Thursday, and the attackers were beaten off with the help of Irish workmen drinking in the public bar.

Then there was the Friday in 1982 or ’83 when the police closed down the White Lion for good, after a line of bizarrely dressed Rock ‘n’ Rollers queued almost the entire length of Putney High Street and brought traffic to a standstill. Over a thousand people were waiting to get into a venue that couldn’t hold many more than 300, and would probably have been licensed for 200, if it ever had a licence, which it turned out, it hadn’t!

Back to The Cricketers. After “crashing” there at weekends, I was eventually given a couple of rooms above the pub, which became my home and business address for six years. It was a surreal world. Ostensibly, the pub’s landlord was Roy, who operated clubs and restaurants in town. We hardly ever saw him, and the business was run by the locally-born Ken and his wife, Sheila. Ken is one of life’s gentlemen; he would come out with sayings like “You can’t educate a mug”, which is so true I still quote it nearly every day.

pearly_coupleKenny’s dad, also called Ken, was a local character who used to occasionally wobble up on his push-bike after a day’s drinking, demanding money and free drinks. After a few pints, he’d turn on anyone within spitting distance and give them an earful. Luckily, no one could understand what he was saying, what with his South London accent, rhyming slang, and slurred words.

Then there was Ronnie, a natural barman who (when sober) could serve four or five people at the same time and keep them entertained with his Liverpudlian wit. His “party trick” was to confront someone – customer, band member, postman, whatever – and say, straight-faced, something along the lines of (expletives deleted): “I think you’re a total idiot. No one likes you and I can’t believe you still keep coming round here.” The victim would invariably start to break down, which would make Ronnie double up with laughter and say: “Only joking – I had you going there, didn’t I?” Great relief all round. Trouble is, people who knew Ronnie knew he’d really meant what he’d said.

Every Saturday Ronnie and his mate, Moody, would dress up in their best suits and talk themselves all the way into the Directors’ Box at whatever football match they fancied seeing. Preferably Liverpool (Ronnie’s team) or Chelsea (Moody’s). They hardly ever failed and would return at 6pm, full of free champagne,canapes and juicy football gossip.

Kenny’s past was somewhat chequered. He’d been a senior member of the gang that sold fake perfume on Oxford Street in the 1970s. He had a collection of “unusual” friends, who’d sometimes drink at the pub. Some lived very well but had no visible source of income, others ran secondhand shops, greengrocers and one a chain of tanning salons. I’ve recognised one or two since then on Donal McIntyre type programmes. They were always very sociable to me and I’m sure they treated old ladies admirably.

The annual Test Match held at the adjacent Oval Cricket Ground was big business for the pub, but aside from these three or four days each year, and occasional major cricketing and Australian Rules Footie fixtures, trade was entirely reliant on my booking the right bands. In fact, the Cricketers only opened from 8-11pm, and for Sunday lunch. These free entry lunches were hugely popular. Kenny “the governor” would provide free jacket potatoes (liberally laced with salt to encourage libation) and hundreds would turn up to eat, drink and watch bands like Zoot and the Roots, Alias Ron Kavana, and Little Sister perform until licensing laws demanded an end to the fun at 2.30pm prompt.

These fresh-faced young people were called The PoguesIn 1983, these fresh-faced young Londoners were called The Pogues

For a small venue (capacity 200), the Cricketers boxed well above its weight. Several folk-based artists lived in Putney and singer/songwriters such as Bert Jansch, Davey Graham, Ralph McTell and Roy Harper played for me fairly regularly. I’d been an early champion of The Pogues and their first major gigging success had been a series of Tuesday night gigs I’d put on in the spring and summer of 1983 at the Sir George Robey in Finsbury Park. They were called Pogue Mahone (“kiss my ass” in Gaelic) back then, and the venue sold out from week one. The band was walking out with hundreds of pounds in door money every Tuesday. I had aspirations to be their manager, but they wisely chose Frank Murray instead. As a parting gift, they played a week of gigs for me at the Cricketers. Every night we got very drunk, and earned stacks of money. None of this made it into any account of the band’s history.

It was a lively time for the British music industry. The Cricketers was only a mile or so over Lambeth Bridge from the centre of town, so it was easy to attract record company A&R men (no women back then), and music paper reviewers. As a result, new bands liked to “showcase” there, and more established acts knew they could persuade reviewers to drop in. When they were starting out, T-Pau played a residency there. Touring acts such as Flaco Jiminez, Guy Clark, The Bhundu Boys, Townes Van Zandt, Terry Allen, Butch Hancock, Joe Ely, Steve Earle, Laurel Aitken, Giant Sand, Redgum, and Birthday Party, would often end up at the dodgy end of SE11.

frank_sidebottom_sievey

Frank Sidebottom was a Cricketers regular. Guardian columnist and broadcaster Jon Ronson recounts how he was recruited to join Frank’s Oh Blimey Big Band:

In 1987 I was 20 and the student union entertainments officer for the Polytechnic of Central London. One day I was sitting in the office when the telephone rang. I picked it up.

“So Frank’s playing tonight and our keyboard player can’t make it and so we’re going to have to cancel unless you know any keyboard players,” said a frantic voice.

I cleared my throat. “I play keyboards,” I said.

“Well you’re in!” the man shouted.

“But I don’t know any of your songs,” I said.

“Wait a minute,” the man said.

I heard muffled voices. He came back to the phone. “Can you play C, F and G?” he said.

The man on the phone said I should meet them at the soundcheck at 5pm. He added that his name was Mike, and Frank Sidebottom’s real name was Chris. Then he hung up.

When I got to the bar it was empty except for a few men fiddling with equipment.

I was one of those fiddling men and the venue was The Cricketers. I could go on to reveal how Frank (or rather Chris) “slept with” a fetching young woman I was trying to romance, but I won’t. Nor how I felt when I discovered that Mike The Manager had also “slept with” her — and with her 16 year old sister.

I’d been agent for Desmond Dekker and manager of Geno Washington and they’d come and play for me, as would Georgie Fame and George Melly, when I could afford them. Manchester’s Happy Mondays made their first ever London gig in front of  30 people, most of them A&R on the guest-list. It must have been 1987 or possibly 1988. It’s hard to say because the event has been erased from the band’s history. I wasn’t there at the time – it was a rare night off – but next morning I was ticked off by Kenny because they’d been far too loud, had only played for 30 minutes, and had (rather ineptly) tried to steal a bottle of whiskey from behind the bar. He’d slung them out on their ears.

Captains of Industry (featuring Wreckless Eric) at Cricketers in 1985.Captains of Industry (featuring Wreckless Eric) at Cricketers in 1985.

What eventually killed the Cricketers and many other pub venues was Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s insane Beer Orders, which was said to be a measure to decrease the power of the Big Brewers. It certainly did that: one of the biggest, Whitbread, stopped brewing altogether and turned into a pizza and cheap lodgings company. Its main impact was to transform pub owners from companies with a vested interest in keeping pubs open in order to sell the product they created (booze), to property developers, who quickly saw that putting rents up and selling off prime properties was more profitable than trying to sell pints to music lovers.

The Cricketers was owned by Trumans Brewery – part of Grand Metropolitan, a huge conglomerate that included Watney’s and various whiskey and gin companies – and the beer came from the then magnificent Black Eagle Brewery in Brick Lane. The Beer Orders meant Grand-Met had to set up a new company to run their pubs and this was given the ominous name Inntrepreneur. They demanded a rent increase of something like 200% which, for a venue that could only open 25 hours a week, was impossible to meet. We had a final week of gigs in September 1990 and were slung out on October 1st.

The new occupants were a gang of bikers from the South Coast (think less organised Sons of Anarchy), who immediately threw out all the fixtures and fittings and painted everything black. They soon realised they were paying far too much rent. One of their major stumbling blocks was that a gang of smelly fat blokes in leathers can appear quite intimidating to people who don’t follow their creed. I heard something about a bogus insurance claim in which a petrol bomb was supposed to have done a 90 degree turn after being thrown through a window, and they vacated the premises in a midnight flit.

“The Rats” (as they liked to be known) were followed by a retired policeman from Jamaica who thought he was buying into a piece of cricketing history. He lost his entire life savings in less than a year and was plunged into debt. After him followed a four year period as a Portuguese restaurant that could only afford to pay £1 a year rent. By this Inntrepreneur had realised the Cricketers was more a liability than an asset. Eventually it was sold for development and has been boarded up for a decade or more (see main photograph, taken by me in March 2014).

I found a video on YouTube of Diesel Park West, a regular act at the Cricketers during my 1980s tenure. I was amazed to see the video features photographs taken at the Cricketers (from 0:27 to 2:06). I’d totally forgotten about the great jazz players mural, which was painted on board (I wonder what happened to that?!) and the Hovis sign. Ah, memories…

There’s an update (thanks for letting me know):

I don’t know what Ronnie would make of it…

Comedy is subjective. So is writing. I’ve just come across a 45-minute video I felt I had to share. It skirts around both subjects and comes up with some savoury little insights. The video will not please everybody – the comments below it are testament to that – but anyone who shares my vague interest in the psychology of comedy will find it fascinating.

Like him or love him, Stewart Lee is a man who knows his allium from his Elba.

The talk begins slowly and in a slightly rambling, self-conscious manner. Stick with it and your patience will be rewarded. Writer, comedian and (dare I say it?) intellectual Stewart Lee gives a very interesting talk to Oxford University students about his comedy and the writing of it. It’s a reprise of a talk he gave on a writers’ day in February at the University that wasn’t recorded first time around. The recording is straightforward and low-tech, with some gooey fades.

Lee is entirely open and reveals much about his stand-up technique. There’s a fantastic sequence in which he opens up the box and explains how he puts together a stand up show: character, mood and how the “flip” comes about at the end. I’ll never be a comedian, I’ll never be much of a writer, but I can admire the technique.

01_seperated_at_birth_01

UKIP, or the United Kingdom Independence Party as they’re known to their friends and carers, is currently the hottest political topic in the United Kingdom. Well, probably just in England, but let’s not split hairs.

UKIP’s leader is a likeable, middle-aged, middle-class gent called Nigel Farage, often pictured with a beer, occasionally sporting a cigarillo. He’s not a professional politician like the others, more an ordinary chap like you and me. He began as an ardent Conservative in his youth and a big fan of Margaret Thatcher. When the wretches in the Tory party booted her out in 1990, it angered him. He was clearly still hurting in 2010 when he told the Daily Telegraph :

The way those gutless, spineless people got rid of the woman they owed everything to made me so angry. I was a monster fan of Mrs Thatcher. Monster. Hers was the age of aspiration, it wasn’t about class.

Significantly, Farage’s last straw with the Tories came when Prime Minister John Major signed the Maastricht Treaty in 1992. A year later Nigel founded UKIP and became its leader.

Looking something like a thoroughly-decent chap on the sidelines of a PG Wodehouse novel, Nigel Farage has become hugely popular with almost everyone not called Cameron or Clegg. He received the ultimate right-wing bloke’s accolade earlier this year when Boris Johnson described him as “a rather engaging geezer”.

As leader of his party, Nigel has a huge approval rating. Something like Nick Clegg’s before the last general election. This rather suggests that to be popular, it helps if people don’t know what you stand for – or what you don’t stand for.

If you ask anyone in Britain what UKIP’s policies are, they’ll know. At least the headlines. “Get us out of Europe!” would be the cry, perhaps with the addendum, “and put a stop to all these foreign scroungers coming over here and *nicking our jobs/ *living on benefits” (delete as applicable).

All people seem to know about UKIP has to do with getting out of Europe and banning immigration. What else do they propose to do when they assume power, as they surely must now that media giant Des Lynam is backing them?

What We Want To Know About UKIP

Based on what’s being searched for on Google.co.uk (see screenshot above), these are the 10 burning questions the British public want answered about Britain’s most popular fringe party (well, England’s… but let’s not split hairs):

  • Is UKIP racist? According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “a racist is a person who believes that a particular race is superior to another”. Their website may state: “UKIP is a patriotic party that believes in putting Britain first” but as the British are not a race, it would clearly be libellous to accuse UKIP of racism. Their policies on immigration and Europe may attract some “clowns and nutters” with racist opinions, but that’s clearly not UKIP’s fault, just as you can’t blame armaments manufacturers if their products are used to bash people over the head.
  • Is UKIP Fascist? Again we must turn to the OED, which tells us:

    “Fascism tends to include a belief in the supremacy of one national or ethnic group, a contempt for democracy, an insistence on obedience to a powerful leader, and a strong demagogic approach”.

    Nothing like UKUP, right? Right.

  • Is UKIP Libertarian? OED to the rescue again. It tells us that libertarianism is defined as:

    An extreme laissez-faire political philosophy advocating only minimal state intervention in the lives of citizens. The adherents of libertarianism believe that private morality is not the state’s affair and that therefore activities such as drug use and prostitution, which arguably harm no one but the participants, should not be illegal. Libertarianism shares elements with anarchism, although it is generally associated more with the political right, chiefly in the US.

    Nigel Farage, UKIP leaderIn the 2010 Daily Telegraph interview Farage further stated:

    I am also a libertarian. I think prostitution, for instance, should be decriminalised and regulated. I feel that about drugs, too. I don’t do them myself but I think the war on drugs does more harm than the drugs themselves. I am opposed to the hunting ban and the smoking ban, too. What have they got to do with government?

  • Is UKIP far right? Not as far right as some of its more ardent supporters would like it to be.
  • Is UKIP a party of bigots? Obviously not. That’s like saying the Conservative Party is full of toffs and Labour stuffed with wishy-washy liberals (with a small “L”).
  • Is UKIP right wing? See above.
  • Is UKIP BNP? Clearly not. BNP stands for the British National Party, which is an extremist right-wing party strongly opposed to immigration and membership of the European Union.
  • Is UKIP racist yahoo? Isn’t that just the same question as #1 with a yahoo on the end?
  • Is UKIP on the rise? Definitely. In the 2013 local government elections they polled 23% of the popular vote (plus 96% of the unpopular vote).
  • Is UKIP Liberal? Not very.

The Other UKIP Policies…

I checked out the official UKIP website to see what policies they hold on less important topics, such as the economy, defence and health. Here are the “Lucky 7” best UKIP policies I found:

  • “Double prison places to enforce zero tolerance on crime”. Lots of jobs going for G4S prison guards at minimum wage. A good way to kickstart the economy once we lose our trade links with Europe.
  • “End the ban on smoking in allocated rooms in public houses, clubs and hotels”. That should get the vote of every smoker in the nation. It’s a pity UKIP’s immigration policies will exclude East Europeans, many of whom have been known to enjoy a crafty smoke with their vodkas and tonic. If only stalwart British actor Alfie Bass were alive to front the campaign…
  • “We must leave the electorate with more of their own money.  Government is only a facilitator for growth.  Low tax, few regulations and small government are the recipe for a successful economy. ” A personal allowance of £13,000, a flat rate of tax at 25%, abolishing VAT and National Insurance and (presumably) cutting services drastically to pay for it all. Sound very fair – especially for those who are earning lots of money. Yahoo!
  • churchill_smokingukip“Hold country wide referenda on the hunting ban”. Yes, that should be a definite priority. Why should those pesky foxes – many of whom I suspect arrived in this country illegally – get away with lounging around all day doing nothing? A bit of exercise will do them the world of good.
  • “Global warming is not proven – wind power is futile. Scrap all green taxes, wind turbine subsidies and adopt nuclear power to free us from dependence on fossil fuels and foreign oil and gas.” It’ll come as a relief to many of us affected by the recent long winters, wet summers and flooding that it’s all in our imagination and nothing to do with so-called “Global Warming” after all. Thanks to the learned scientists at UKIP for that welcome news. And how typical of the BBC to try and keep it quiet.
  • “UKIP would like to offer people a choice of how they wish their health care to be delivered. Patient choice in a monolithic government funded system is one of the greatest challenges now facing the NHS and we believe that other models are worth considering to see whether lessons can be learned from abroad.” Er, does that sound a little like privatising the National Health Service? More work for G4S (Health Services) me thinks…
  • “As the UK regains its place as an independent global trading nation, we will need to ensure that we can defend our trade, and our independence… UKIP would re-establish the UK’s defence capabilities at viable levels.” Quick, put everything you’ve got into British Gun Boats PLC!

So there we are: UKIP in a nutshell. Who in their right nicotine-stimulated mind wouldn’t want to return to a time when the United Kingdom was truly great, before those pesky Europeans pushed their human rights and employment regulation nonsense onto us and spoilt everything?

Hang on… it’s just occurred to me… Maybe I misunderstood the question. The answer to “What does UKIP stand for?” might just be “United Kingdom Independence Party”. Sorry, Little Britain… er, England (but let’s not split hairs).

Whenever something looks too good to be true, it almost certainly is. Take 1 and 1 Website Hosting, for example. Their website offers what looks like a fantastic deal: all packages FREE (their emphasis) for six months. Sounds good? Yes, and after the six months is up, the rates seem quite reasonable, too. Why not give it a go? I did.

When you sign up you are made to confirm that you will abide by their General Terms & Conditions. Just click the box. Who reads the terms and conditions anyway? After all, it’s 7,981 words: that’s over three times as long as the Magna Carta, six times as long as the U.S. Declaration of Independence or about as many words as you’ll get in a 2.5 hour movie script. Even if you do try and read it, most of what you find doesn’t apply and you can bet that no one from the Plain English Campaign has been anywhere near. This, for example, is one paragraph from section 3.4, which covers Web Hosting:

A web hosting package with unlimited web space will provide the Customer initially with 30 gigabytes of web space. Where at least 75% of the available web space is used the capacity will be automatically increased in increments of 1 gigabyte without charge until the usage reverts to less than 75%. Usage will be checked daily. Increases will be limited to once per day. 1&1 reserves the right to change the server used for this service to a server which is suitably equipped for the customer’s usage. In such cases a suspension of the service may be technically unavoidable.

All I’ve discovered from that paragraph is that an “unlimited web space” isn’t actually unlimited. Good start.

Assume you click the button and sign up. You set up a website – not the easiest thing to do for someone who, like me, is used to Dreamhost.com – and get started. Then you find you don’t like it and want out. So you try and find out how to cancel your “FREE” contract (their emphasis). Cancelling is not something that’s covered very well on the 1 and 1 website. You eventually find the FAQs (link at the bottom of the page in small type). This brings you to this screen:

1and1_01

Still not obvious? Try Billing & Contract. Clicking on this shows up another menu:

1and1_03

Shall we click on “Cancellation System”, do you think? When you do, another menu opens up. This looks like this:

1and1_02

Almost done. After clicking on the wrong link a couple of times, you eventually land on “How do I cancel an entire package”, which takes you to another page. This is the steps you have to take in order to cancel your contract with 1&1 websites:

Step 1:

You will first need to log into http://contract.1and1.co.uk/ using your Customer ID and Control Panel Password. Click the Login to log in to the cancel site.

Step 2:

A welcome page is shown after logging in. Click the Cancellation button at the top of the page.

Step 3:

Select the package that contains the domain (or other item) to cancel from the list of packages.

Step 4:

Select to cancel Entire contract and then click the Next button to proceed.

Step 5:

Select an option from the drop-down box for Cancel contract on.

Step 6:

Any remaining domains or features will also be shown on this page. Select cancellation options for these domains/features and then click the Next button.

Step 7:

A summary of the cancellation options chosen is shown. Please double-check the options chosen and click the Confirm button to submit the cancellation request. If any changes are needed, simply click the Back button.

Step 8:

To complete the cancellation, you will have to contact our service team to confirm the cancellation of the package. Without calling the service team, the cancellation will eventually void itself.

So you’ve done all that (upwards of 15 clicks!) and you’ve still not cancelled your contract. Another potential problem is that the service team only work from 9am-5pm, Monday to Friday. Whatever happened to the “24 hours a day, 7 days a week” support you were promised before you signed up? This does not apply when you are trying to cancel a contract, apparently.

If you are doing all this at night or over the weekend and forget to telephone the support team to confirm your cancellation. You have wasted your time. This happened to me and I eventually got an invoice. I didn’t pay it and it was passed on to a “collections agency” called Arvato, who slap on their own charges. I have refused to pay, citing that their cancellation system is illegal because it is so damned difficult. I’m pretty sure I have a good case. You might want to try it out for yourself.

It now appears that the story behind this exchange is not all it appears and that some of the “witnesses” were in fact not witnesses at all. The article remains here purely as an historical record. You can draw your own conclusions from what is said (or not said).

The day after two unarmed women police officers were shot dead in Manchester, it seemed somehow insensitive for a government minister to shout insults at police in Downing Street who refused to let him ride his bike through the main gates. Hardly a den of left-wing vipers, the Sun newspaper reported that the recently appointed Tory chief whip Andrew Mitchell launched an “F-word rant at armed police officers”. What he is alleged to have shouted include the phrases:

“Open this gate, I’m the Chief Whip. I’m telling you — I’m the Chief Whip and I’m coming through these gates.”

“Best you learn your f***ing place. You don’t run this f***ing government.”

“You’re f***ing plebs… Morons”

Mr Mitchell denies using the word “plebs”.

The problem here is not what was shouted but the attitude behind the tirade. Although grocer’s daughter Maggie Thatcher and “pants man” John Major bucked the trend, the Conservative party has long been synonymous with Britain’s “ruling class”. These are people who send their children to Eton, Oxbridge and then enveigle them into well-paid jobs in the City. Perks include being able to park your Range Rover on double-yellows because you can afford to pay the odd fine.

The rich see themselves as the social and economic elite, above the general rules and laws that keep the rest of us in line. If you want to see the effects of this in action simply spend an afternoon in London’s Knightsbridge or Belgravia and see how traffic wardens, shop staff and even police officers are spoken to when they try and enforce laws, rules and regulations.

Before the last general election, you’d be hard-pressed to find a cop in Britain who wouldn’t have voted Conservative. Maybe the odd dippy Lib-Dem, but the Police Federation is, and always has been, blatantly Conservative-supporting and Right-leaning. But not any more. They may still be Right-leaning, but now there’s a hatred of this government that’s surprising ferocious.

Even more surprising is that it’s been brought about by the words and actions of government ministers. Andrew Mitchell’s comments are just the latest in a long line of attitude-revealing gaffes. Now the rank and file police state that they are “fed-up to the back teeth with the anti-police policies of the current government” (Police Federation spokesman). They say that Theresa May’s ‘police reforms’ consist merely of cutting pay, axing resources and imposing political control over them in the form of elected police commissioners.

There is little denying that, despite the banter and “man of the people” positioning, David Cameron, Boris Johnson and their fellows are from a privileged class. Aped and admired by the self-made nouveau riche, these people are the essence of British nostalgia. It was thanks to their good governance that the sun used to shine every day, strikes were virtually unheard of and Bertie Wooster was able to pop down to Totleigh Towers for a weekend’s smooching.

The traditional hierarchy was that the Lord of the Manor acted as law-giver and local magistrate and the primarily role of the village constable was to ensure that poachers didn’t get away with too many of his Lordship’s rabbits, trout and upstairs maids. The attitude persists that the police are there to look after their interests and not to tell them what they can and cannot do.

One of their own, maverick Tory MP Nadine Dorries said in the Spring of 2012:

Not only are Cameron and Osborne two posh boys who don’t know the price of milk, but they are two arrogant posh boys who show no remorse, no contrition, and no passion to want to understand the lives of others – and that is their real crime.

Problem is, this is exactly what British voters seem to want. In the South and East, where UK general elections are won and lost, there are two types of Tory voter and there are lots of each. To wildly generalise, there’s the middle class and rich who consider themselves part of the Tory ruling classes; then there’s the rest, who “know their place” and would rather be governed by people who “know how to rule”. All right, they may moan and vote in Alternative Tories like Tony Blair on occasion, but the status quo in Britain is to have a Tory government.

You want proof? The “people’s favourite” to replace David Cameron as Conservative Party leader is not a self-made man or even woman, but fellow Bullingdon Club member, self-styled buffoon and current London Mayor, Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson. And if Boris wants to be Prime Minister, I am afraid he has the will-power and the connections to do it.

Good grief.

With the European Football championships diverting attention from racism at home to racism in eastern Europe, it may be time to take another look at this most illogical of human prejudices. The bad news is that it might not be as easy to stop racism as we thought.

In January 2012, a little reported but major Scientific study found distinct links between low intelligence, prejudice, and social conservative ideology. The research team was led by Gordon Hodson, a psychologist at Brock University in Ontario. The main conclusions were published on January 5th, 2012 in the journal Psychological Science and then reported on the Science website LiveScience.com, which is where most of my quotes come from.

It doesn’t take a genius to see that racism is invariably highest among the least well educated. Putting to one side the problem of well-educated racists (Mosley, Powell, Irving and so on), stereotypical racists include the British skinhead from the council housing estate, the American red-neck, and so on. After all, as someone much cleverer than me said (it might have been Elmore Leonard), a cliché only becomes a cliché because it’s probably true. Anyway, as previous studies also concluded that racism is more prevalent among the poorly educated, Hodson decided that studying intelligence was the logical next step.

He and his researchers turned their attention to the findings of two British studies. One has followed a group since their collective births in the spring of 1958, and another that repeated the process for babies born in April 1970. Both sets of children had their intelligence assessed at around their 11th birthdays. When they’d reached 30, another study look at their levels of racism and social conservatism.

One problem (for me) with the study is that it concentrated on what the people said their views were. I wish they’d managed to find a way to examine their unconscious levels, but they didn’t. Instead they asked questions to define how socially conservative the subjects were. The results were based on their answers to whether they agreed with vaguely right-wing statements such as ” Schools should teach children to obey authority” and “Family life suffers if mum is working full-time.” Attitudes toward other races were captured by measuring agreement with statements such as “I wouldn’t mind working with people from other races.”

In practically every case, low intelligence in childhood matched up with racism in adulthood. Surprise, surprise. The most interesting finding was a link with political thought. Basically they found that people socially aligned to the right (i.e. Republicans in the USA and Conservatives in the UK) are more likely to be racist than the left-leaning. That’s something I’ve known since I was in my teens. I’m grateful that someone has finally found scientific backing for my gut feeling.

For the first part of the story, read “Rabbit: Chas and Dave Reunion – Gertcha! (Part 1)” – click here

After Glastonbury 2005, all went well for a number of years. I did an average of 15-20 shows a year with Chas & Dave: most made me money but a few lost. In retrospect I suppose they were playing just too many gigs in London, but every time I tried to ease up, Barry would sell a show to someone else, so I kept up the pressure. Their fee had trebled since that first show, but the audiences had doubled, so it was still worth doing.

Then tragedy struck. Dave Peackock’s lovely wife, Sue, fell ill. She was a genuinely happy woman who had never smoked a day in her life but she succumbed to lung cancer. Just when we thought she was on the mend, Sue grew weak and finally passed away on July 4th, 2009. It was a sad time for everybody, especially Dave, who was absolutely devastated. He withdrew from live work with Chas & Dave and for three months, Chas carried on with Micky Burt and a stand-in bass-player.

I called their agent, Barry Collings, in early September, and he told me that Chas was expecting Dave to return in time for the Christmas Beano. So I booked a date at the Electric Ballroom and started to advertise and promote the show.

On September 22, 2009, an important news announcement came out of the blue – at least to me. Aside from the Christmas Beano, I had several shows booked , including two at the 100 Club. I got an email from a friend saying they’d heard on the radio that Chas & Dave had split up, was it true? I didn’t know. I went to the band’s website, which carried an official announcement:

“Following the death of his wife. Dave has decided to call time on touring. All dates already booked and those going forward will be fulfilled by Chas & his band (details here). Dave has been overwhelmed by the huge number of messages of support for him at this difficult time and we say a big thank you to all who got in touch and posted their regards on the web.
“To quote Chas: ‘It’s sad but Rockney will roll on with  Chas & his band’.
“CHAS & HIS BAND are CHAS Piano/Lead Vocals, MICKY BURT on Drums and DARREN JUNIPER Bass Guitar. Darren is the son of an old school friend of Chas, the man who introduced Chas to Dave years ago, a story Chas relates on stage.”

The British public are a funny lot. The Chas & Dave show without Dave wasn’t all that different. It featured the same songs in roughly the same order and they sounded like they did on the records, but for some reason people stopped coming. My first show at the 100 Club billed as “Chas & His Band” drew less than a hundred people.

It was obvious that the Christmas Beano at the 1100-capacity Electric Ballroom could not go ahead. Barry Collings and Chas thought I should go ahead with Chas and His Band. But I knew it was better to lose the money I’d already spent on the show than gamble several thousand more pounds that I was wrong. Promoting is always a gamble, but when you’re betting against your own instincts, experience and knowledge, it’s a hiding to nothing.

I gave it a good go with Chas and His Band – playing the 100 Club shows booked for Chas & Dave, but every one cost me money, including one – on New Year’s Eve at the 100 Club – that lost £4,000. Chas reduced his fees for the shows, but the high overheads and the fact that audiences weren’t showing up, meant that I still lost money. All in all, with the cancelled show and the ones I went ahead with and lost on, I was down the best part of £12,000, which was more than I’d made out of all the Chas and Dave shows in the previous year.

I owed Chas and Dave £6,000. I suggested I deduct a couple of thousand towards the cost of the cancelled Beano and my other losses but this was rejected and I ended up paying them the whole amount, on top of my losses. Barry Collings rang me and said that he thought there was a good chance that Dave would come back – at least for a farewell tour – and when that happened, I could recoup my losses that way.

Nothing happened for a year. Barry kept asking me whether I wanted to put on more shows with Chas & His Band and I kept telling him I couldn’t afford to, which was true. I’d given it a good try but it just didn’t seem to work at the 100 Club. Then, on June 12th, 2010 one of the 100 Club doormen rang me and asked me if I was involved with Chas & Dave’s Reunion Tour. I knew nothing about it. I fired off an email to Barry Collings, asking him what was happening.

He replied within eight minutes to say:

Hi, Chas & Dave are getting together again for one six week final theatre tour March /AprilI have sold the London date to the Indigo 02
Regards, Barry

I emailed back, pointing out that he told me I’d be getting the first call. He replied:

Hi they paid me big money. Otherwise I would have spoken to you regards. Barry

I pointed out that on the deal we’d agreed for the Christmas Beano, if transferred to the 02, Chas & Dave would walk out with very nearly £50,000, if the show sold out– which I believed it would. Were they getting more than that, I asked? No reply.

I emailed Chas. On June 14th he came back and said:

Jim, It was all left to Barry. He is our agent. If you want to get involved, give him a call.

So there it was. I asked if they wanted to do a warm-up at the 100 Club and I was told no. Chas and Dave eventually played 50 shows (31 of them sold out) including 3 at London’s Indigo 02.

It was a bad year for me. The 100 Club was threatened with closure because the owner was finding it hard to pay the rent. It was eventually saved, but by then I was told that the Fridays I had successfully promoted for nearly eight years had been given to someone else who was prepared to taken them on for 52 weeks of the year (I take July and August off to concentrate on the Rhythm Festival). Jeff wanted me to do Sunday nights at the 100 Club, but I had already been approached by he Borderline, a nearby club in central London, and I moved my Friday promotions there.

Then on April 25th, 2011, I was forwarded an email from the 100 Club:

To celebrate the end of their record breaking farewell UK tour and forthcoming live CD release with EMI Records, Chas n Dave perform to their friends, families and diehard fans in a special 100 Club show where all lucky ticket holders will receive a free limited edition live double CD of this final tour show together. The first half will be made up of their 1970’s pub set followed by all their hits from the 80’s, in what is going to be a highly emotional farewell to them on their final tour show together.
TIME: 6.30pm – 11pm
ADMISSION: £27.50 adv + bf (get your tickets now as there is only a limited number left)

Again, it would have been nice to have asked. Or even invited. Apparently I am not counted as part of their “friends, families and diehard fans”.
Gertcha!

Update (18 May, 2011)

A friend who was at the “last ever gig” at the 100 Club and who spoke to Dave, said he was up with working with me again and that another reunion show was not out of the question. Not being one to miss a chance, I sent an email to Chas and Dave’s agent, Barry Collings that read:

Hi, Barry. Any chance of a one-off c&d christmas beano?
Good money for a one-off.
Cheers, Jim (Driver)

He replied:

Hi. Sorry. Already booked at 02 indigo. Regards. Barry

There you go!

Update (30 January, 2012)

Word came back that Chas and Dave were going to do some more shows in 2012. On 23rd January 2012, I emailed Barry Collings and I said:

Hi, Barry. I’d like to do a short little tour with Chas & Dave to “round things off” as I feel I was given a slightly raw deal after I had to swallow the costs of the cancellations (with the promise of first option on a reunion) after Dave left but then wasn’t given a chance to recover any of this when he returned and the O2 offered such a great deal.

We could then all make some money, shake hands and travel our separate ways. Or maybe do it again…

Could I please put an offer in for a Chas & Dave “Back To Their Roots” short tour in May 2012. This would not interfere with the O2 shows and would be fun for everyone to do. It could go one of two ways:

I then went on to list two offers that involved either playing three shows or five shows and offering many thousands of pounds.

Barry replied and said:

Will put these offers to them but i would say very doubtful
Dave has retired aside from one or two major festival dates in the summer and a couple of xmas shows at 02 indigo

On January 30th he came back to me with the answer:

Put your enquiry to the guys but regret that Dave has not changed his mind about semi-retiring
Best Regards
Barry

… apart from the odd music festival and shows at the O2, of course.

So, Prince William and Catherine (“Kate”) Middleton have been married at Westminster Abbey and their Royal Wedding Invitation List has become an historic document. Though not quite up there with Magna Carta or the Abdication Speech, it is revealing more for who is excluded from it than who made it to the “Wedding of the Decade”.

First of all, the happy news. Among those who received invitations – aside from family and a smattering of old school chums – were Elton John and David Furnish; David and Victoria Beckham; another former England footballer, Sir Trevor Brooking and ex-England rugby coach Clive Woodward; jockey Sam Waley-Cohen, a few villagers from the Middleton’s home of Buckleburry; TV adventurer Ben Fogle; comedian and writer Rowan Atkinson; mockney film director Guy Ritchie, Julia Samuel, the head of the Child Bereavement Charity; and Help for Heroes founders Bryn and Emma Parry.

Assorted others were invited, including a few wounded servicemen, Tara Palmer-Tomkinson and singer Joss Stone. Former Prime Ministers Lady Margaret Thatcher and Sir John Major also received invitations (though Maggie was too ill to attend – mental illness didn’t stop her sinking the Belgrano, though, did it?). But, as has been noted elsewhere, the last two Prime Ministers, Gordon Brown and Tony Blair were not included in the party.

Royal spokespersons gave two reasons for this: one was that Margaret Thatcher and John Major had personal connections with Prince William. (Major was apparently appointed a guardian after the death of  Princess Diana – though why the two Princes would need guardians when they had a living father is anybody’s guess.) And the other was that Thatcher and Major are both Knights of the Garter and Blair and Brown are not.

In a somewhat parallel situation, former Etonian Boris Johnson, Conservative Mayor of London, was invited, but not his Labour predecessor, Ken Livingstone. (To be honest, no one really expected Ken to get an invite, except maybe Ken.) There was enough room in the Abbey to include influential Tories William Hague, Theresa May, George Osborne, Ken Clarke, Jeremy Hunt and their spouses, all of whom received invitations.

The right-wing historian – now billed on Channel 4 News as “Britain’s leading historian”, presumably because he’s  on the telly a lot – put his finger on the truth of the Blair/ Brown “snub”. Not when he said on Sky News on the evening of the wedding: “I think the plain truth is that for all sorts of reasons, (Prince) William developed a powerful dislike of Mr Blair. Particularly the way in which he intervened at his mother’s funeral service. These are not political at all, they are personal choices.” Presumably Gordon is perceived in Royal circles as another pea from the same interfering pod.

But rather when Dr Starkey told Channel 4 News (again that same evening – historians do get around when there’s a fee on offer) that the wedding was a “typical public school wedding” and he implied though did not say, that “nice people” like William and Kate do not invite beastly people like Blair and Brown to their social occasions.

Let’s face it, former Etonian David Cameron and Westminster old boy Nick Clegg (not to mention political colleagues William Hague, Jeremy Hunt, Boris Johnson et al) are much more the Duke and Duchesses’ kind of people than those terrible Socialist oiks. Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (Haverstock Comprehensive) had to be invited but once he’d arrived and sat down, he was forgotten by the BBC, who spent far more time focussing on the mating head-dresses worn by a couple of Royal Princesses. After having the BBC Licence Fee frozen by the new Tory-Lib-dib government (not to mention saddled with all kinds of new financial burdens such as the Welsh S4C channel and the BBC World Service budget), they want to head off accusations of left-wing bias by swinging to the careful right.

It’s all getting very 1980s, isn’t it?

You can tell William and Kate never travel by proper train otherwise, they would have had to exclude Major merely on the grounds of his having privatised the trains in 2004, against all advice and reason. Surely being a Tory knight can’t be enough to erase that legacy? And if space was at a premium – maybe that’s why they couldn’t include any old riff-raff such as road-sweepers, dustmen and former Labour prime ministers – couldn’t Gordon Brown have been given Maggie’s vacant seat?

Among the many (including 99.99% of Labour Party members) who didn’t get invites were Lady Diana’s friend Sarah Ferguson, The Obamas and Mohamed Al-Fayed. When you think back to his connections with William’s late  Mum, you’d have thought Mr Al-Fayad would have been a shoe-in. Just goes to show how wrong you can be.

It’s all Richard Herring’s fault.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I’ll start at the beginning…

One major benefit of owning an iPhone is, instead of listening to other people speaking rubbish to each other via their own handsets, you can inflict podcasts on yourself. I subscribe to 63 at last count, ranging from Lord Melvyn Bragg proving how intellectual he is by prodding patient academics about Neuroscience, to Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo arguing about films and pronunciation on BBC Radio 5 Live. I was particularly partial to the Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross podcasts from the BBC but that pleasure was recently snatched away from me by readers of the ‘Mail On Sunday’. Grrrr.

Deprived of my weekly dose of BBC presenters fucking actors’ granddaughters on air (Was that it? my recollection is hazy), my current favourite is a pod by comedian Richard Herring and his journalist “colleague”, Andrew Collins. One of the attractions of these things is the way the podcasters reveal themselves over 35 or more hours of conversation. Try as they might to present a favourable if slightly skewed image of themselves, time, conversation and caffeine will tell.

Collins has a thing about wheat, wants to kiss a duck (but only once – he’s not a pervert), and cooks his own mince-and-onion lunches, transporting them around in Tupperware containers. He’s also a regular in the Waitrose wholefoods sections, though Richard Herring seems to snaffle most of his nuts and trail mix during the course of their podcast. Andrew is apparently married, but we never hear a word about the Mrs or even know her name. He’s also a self-confessed bird-fancier and travels to Norfolk with a friend on bird-watching missions. His minor-key pomposity coupled with a low resistance to caffeine often results in a revealing rant or two.

Richard Herring is a different kettle of podcaster. Over 40 and an Oxford graduate, so no intellectual slouch, he comes over as a cross between Peter Pan and Che Guevara. Living alone on Marks & Spencer ‘ready meals’ in a large house in Shepherd’s Bush, west London, Herring veers between drinking too much beer or none at all, and reveals a concern for his podginess. He and Collins record the podcast in the attic of his house, amongst the remnants of Fortnum and Mason hampers sent over by his manager. It is a recurring theme of recent podcasts that Herring doesn’t have to worry too much about the credit crunch. In fact he enjoys the recession because it means he doesn’t have to queue at all at Marks & Spencer.

The point of all this is that, for a year now, Richard Herring has written a daily blog. Yes, a blog entry every single day.

This morning, after listening to an old podcast – I’m currently catching up with ones I missed – I took a peak at my own blog and saw to my horror that I’d not written anything here for almost two months.Two months. Although I can’t claim that this omission has had much effect on the low mood of the nation, it’s obviously not very good.

Richard Herring’s Blog can be found at his website: richardherring.com
Andrew Collins’ website: wherediditallgoright.com
Your can download “The Collings and Herrin Podcast” from iTunes or from here: Collings & Herrin Podcast