The Christmas cracker

is pulled and I pretend to read the joke inside:

‘Why does Noddy wear a bell on his hat?’

A standard beat.

“Because he’s a cunt.”

My audience is shocked

and silent

except for the 12-year-old boy

I had not seen

who is doubled up

and laughing harder, I reckon,

than he has ever laughed before.

 

Arthur Smith

EXPOSED! – Tour dates and more: http://www.arthursmith.co.uk/gigs.htm

 

Oh what a day that will be

Oh what a day that will be

 

When the Tories are out and Margaret’s a goner

And Wimbledon F.C. buy Diego Maradona

When they arrest the Queen and drugs are found on her

Oh what a day that will be

When Murdoch’s riches are converted to rags

When you don’t die young from smoking fags

And we all have the chance of afternoon shags

Oh what a day that will be

When the worst you can get is a dose of the clap

The day Palestine appears on a map

When Jeffrey Archer says what I write is crap

When being black is no longer a crime

And the condom slides on (pop) first time

And when Nigel Lawson crawls back to the slime

Oh there’ll be a day to remember

When the Berlin wall has got no bricks

And when men don’t measure the size of their dicks

When Sylvester Stallone weighs 7 stone six

When High Court judges don’t countenance rape

And we’re not so tight-arsed that a fart can’t escape

Then its time for Batman to hang up his cape

Oh what a day that will be

Oh yes

Oh what a day that will be

 

A Poem – November 2012

November 2012

Pulling up after the wedding reception

they see her, their neighbor,

standing in the street.

She is looking, she says,

for a lift to her home in London.

‘Hazel,’ they tell her,

‘you live here in this house.’

The door is open.

They take her in

and see she has packed a bag,

(if a jumper and a biscuit count as packing)

Oh Hazel,

It is 35 years since you left London

to live, as you said, ‘in the shires’.

but she is still

within you

the grammar school girl

from Loughborough Junction

kissing sailors and dancing

In Trafalgar Square.

It is VE day

and the rest of the century

Is yours.

My Dad’s End of the War

On Saturday April 14th the gunfire from the west slowly moved towards Colditz. Colonel Todd was told that the camp was to be evacuated but he flatly refused. The Germans conceded but held the colonel responsible for any casualties as the result of the shelling or bombing by the Americans.

On Sunday 15th April everyone was at upper windows looking for the approaching army. Suddenly a shell hit the guardroom near the main gate. The castle made a good target, standing high on the skyline and dominating all the surrounding buildings and countryside. Another shell hit Wing Commander Bader’s window. The room was empty.

We saw the Germans attempting to blow up the bridge over the river which the GIs would have to cross. Later a tank approached over the bridge and the Germans held up their arms in surrender. White flags appeared at all the windows of the surrounding buildings. Freedom was nigh!

Soon American infantry entered Colditz. They were kissed by the French and had hands shaken by the British. They informed us that earlier they had instructions to raze Colditz to the ground and it was only because someone had the foresight to put Allied flags out that saved it.

It was a day to remember. Freedom after 2 ½ years. For some it was since Dunkirk. The Yanks gave us food and real coffee.

Arrangements had to be made to move us and it was made difficult because the war was not yet over. In the meantime I, amongst others, went down to the village. I met and embraced a 16-year-old polish girl. The first female I’d seen for many a long day. She had been forced to work as a maid for a German general since the age of 14. She was extremely pretty and I spent an ecstatic few hours with her.

While waiting for the transport to move us I ambled around the camp and was shown the glider which was being made by two RAF officers. It was situated in a camouflaged room in the attic under the roof. It was made out of wooden bed posts and sheets. The idea was to knock a hole in the roof, put it together and glide off far enough to get over the river. The Americans were most impressed. So was I.

Our convoy took us through a forest and suddenly we stopped as apparently there was fear of an ambush. A patrol was sent forward to search things out but fortunately it was a false alarm.

We passed by Leipzig, which was being sheltered by our forces. The enemy were still holding out. We came under a bit of shelling ourselves and were glad to see the back of that episode.

Eventually we reached an aerodrome, which I think was somewhere in France. We were to fly home in a Dakota. Before I boarded the plane I was stopped by an American soldier who said that I wasn’t allowed to take the German pistol that I had pinched from Colditz as a memento. He said he would give me a bottle of Scotch for it. I was only too pleased to make the swap.

We sat on the floor of the Dakota. We took off and it was hard to believe that we were on the way home. The plane rattled and vibrated. It was the first time that I had flown and I prayed that it would make it because it sounded to me as if the engine was about clapped out.

We crossed the English Channel and there before our very eyes we saw the white cliffs of Dover. Men cried and all of us were speechless with emotion. It was some time before anyone spoke. We embraced each other.

 

Blog by my late father Syd Smith from his memoir – he was captured at El Alamein 70 years ago on Saturday

The battle of El Alamein started on 23rd October 1942 at 9pm. It was dark and suddenly the sky was alight with the flashes of 1000 25 pounder artillery guns firing simultaneously. It was awe inspiring and at the same time terrifying. It continued far into the night and I couldn’t believe that anybody could survive such an onslaught. I felt sorry for those on the receiving end. To me it seemed such a nonsense that I had no desire to kill anyone and that most of the hoi polloi on both sides felt the same.

On the 27 October we had orders to move towards the front. Apparently, the German guns were preventing any progress by our tanks and it was our job to put them out of action. As we approached our starting point we went through the lines of tanks. The crew sat by the side of them and they wished us good luck.

When we reached the right position we were half an hour late. The artillery barrage which was supposed to support our attack had ceased. We were refused any more of their support.

We had orders to attack and attempt to destroy the big 88mm guns. We were also told that there was nobody in front of us but the enemy. Furthermore we were told to take no prisoners. On reaching our objective we were to dig in and our tanks would come to relieve us.

It was 9.30pm. It was very dark except for the flashes of gunfire. We fixed bayonets. I also had a wireless on my back but all I could hear was Egyptian music. We got the order to attack.

We moved off in single file. We saw a lorry on fire with figures circling around it. We moved in on them and discovered to our horror that what we thought were Germans turned out to have Scottish accents and in fact were squaddies of the 51st Highland Division. So much for the false information.

We pressed on. Machine guns firing lead bullets started up. They appeared to come straight towards us. Men began dropping around me. It was eerie because all you heard was a thud as a bullet hit and then a figure just seemed to fall over. Even so, 6 Italians and a German surrendered to us and we disarmed them and pointed to them to go back behind our lines. In fact we were ordered to shoot them but we refused.

The 88mm guns began to find their targets. All our wireless vehicles were knocked out as were our bren gun carriers. It was pure chaos and I couldn’t see myself surviving.

Eventually what was left of us were told to dig in. I and a colleague began desperately to do just that. I never shovelled as fast in my life but unfortunately we got down to about a foot but then hit solid rock. As there was so much flak coming towards us we lay on top off each other in the shallow slit trench. My bum was protruding over the top. About 20 yards to our left we saw an old gun emplacement and decided to run for that. My pal went first and reached it safely. Then I went but discovered on my arrival that I had left my rifle behind and had to go back to get it.

The gun emplacement, which was 50 feet deep with rocks piled around the top, was already occupied by 4 of our men. It was reasonably safe although shells were hitting the top and showering us with broken rocks. You could see the shells coming like a fireball. As dawn began to break we looked behind us and saw in       the distance our tanks moving up. They laid a smoke screen and we thought that they were coming to relieve us but unfortunately they instead retreated behind it.

We discussed our position and decided that it was pretty hopeless and to bury any identification in the sand.

The enemy began to counter attack. Hell was let loose. We peered over the top of our hole and saw tiger tanks moving towards us. We saw no sense in firing rifles at them and if we emerged from our position we would have been mowed down.

Shells from the tanks were landing all around us and eventually a barrel from a tank was pointed down to us. The tank commander, in perfect English, ordered us out. He allowed us to pack up our wounded and began to escort us back. Captain Harrison made a run for it but was shot down.

I helped carry one of our wounded to an Italian first aid post. He was very kind to us. He showed us photographs of his family. He said Mussolini, Hitler no good and I responded Winston Churchill no good.

As we were escorted through the enemy lines ironically our artillery began firing and several of our fellow prisoners were killed. We also passed by the huge 88mm guns which were our original objective.

I didn’t feel that I had been a great help in the Battle of Alamein but so far I had survived and felt very lucky that I wasn’t one of the 14,000 who had been killed.

Cockney Rambler

A beautiful afternoon; I am enjoying a walk in the countryside when I hear a voice

‘Excuse me, you.’

Oh dear, a man in a tweed jacket and cap is marching angrily towards me. Just now, I climbed a fence and walked along the edge of a large field, climbed another fence before finding the legitimate path on which I now stand facing the red-faced farmer.

‘How did you get here?

‘I’m sorry, I climbed over the wrong fence. It was a mistake.’

This does not placate him. His eyes narrow.

‘How did you get here?’

He is aggressive; the bull-male in me rears up.

‘I came on my legs – it’s known as walking.’

He looks momentarily confused then tries another tack.

‘Tell me, do you have a garden?’

I know exactly where he is going with this. He is going to ask me how I would like it if he turned up in my garden. As though his farm is an urban garden.

‘Yes.’

‘How would you like it if I turned up in your garden?’

‘I should be delighted. It’s not as big as all your fields but I like to invite in anyone who passes.’

He blinks. Game to me.

The antipathy between the countryman and townie is a game that has been played for two hundred years and more. To him I am a trespassing smart-arse and probably a leftie; to me, he is a posh yokel who was easily outwitted.

Neither of us looks back as we stride away from each other. (well, I don’t know – maybe he did)

Blog

So me and a younger stand-up are sharing a bill and comparing heckling scenarios in the dressing room before the off; I describe a middle-aged comedian I saw recently whose volume of delivery was in inverse proportion to the strength of his material. In the middle of his set a woman’s serious voice cut through the silence that followed one of his ‘gags’ – “You know, I think you really need to think about the way your life is going.” Ouch! She was rubbishing not only his act, but his entire existence.

My young colleague winces, laughs and tells me about a show during which a woman threw a glass at him.

“Oo, nasty!” I am sympathetic. “What led up to that?”

“It was a table of drunken girls on a hen night. They were just talking all through my act. I managed to quieten them down, apart from one who just wouldn’t shut up, so I said to her, ‘You’re the sort of woman who makes domestic abuse possible.’ She was the one who threw a glass at me.”

I say nothing but in truth I am appalled at his presumption of innocence in this situation. I do not believe it is acceptable to throw heavy objects at entertainers – but equally I do not believe his put-down line was anything other than crass, witless and offensive. Yeah, let’s all have a laugh about men beating up their partners. I consider asking him if, had the heckler been black, he might have said, “you’re the sort of man who made slavery possible.” But I don’t.

“That’s the thing,’” he adds, “there’s no line with me.” He says this sentence with a thinly-disguised tone of smugness and pride, as though he has just uttered the phrase, “That’s the thing with me – I have spent all my life struggling on behalf of freedom of speech.”

And what do you think of his ad lib? It is entirely possible that you are in accord with Dan Dan domestic-abuse-man (as he shall be known). ‘Hey, it’s just a joke, doesn’t mean he approves of domestic abuse, we’re all grown ups.’ It has been remarked (not least, of course in the Guardian) that among the recent crop of new male comics, not to mention the current crop of young men, there is a rebirth of old school sexism. Why is this? Is it a reaction against the perceived ‘political correctness’ of my generation of comics? Is it in imitation of the Jimmy Carrs who do flippant rape material? Is it to do with porn on the internet or video games or magazines like Nuts and Loaded ?

I watch Dan’s opening spot of MC-ing. It mostly involves him asking women in the audience if they are single and then dispensing low grade suggestive smut in response. To be fair to him he seems to get away with it, which I find somewhat depressing. He does a bit of material about how he inserted chocolate between the cheeks of a woman’s bottom so that on awakening she thought she had had an accident. Why a woman? The joke, such as it is, would be the same if it were a man’s bottom, wouldn’t it? Then he gets the men in the audience to growl and then the women to giggle. He observes, “sounds a bit rapey doesn’t it?” ‘Rapey’ – is this the most repulsive new word in the English language?

I return to the dressing room. I’ll read the paper til I’m on……..

 

Blogberry

What is the best orange you ever ate? You don’t know? You’ve never thought about it? Well, do.

And while you are – here is my story.

On holiday in Andalucia in Southern Spain I had just woken from a brief but deeply satisfying siesta. The lady continued snoozing as I sauntered through the open door of our little balcony for the first time and stood in the generous late afternoon sun. Lighting a Ducados, I gazed across at the long, jagged silhouette of the Alpujarras mountains on the horizon. A very decent smoke was had.

Then, at the very moment that I realized I was thirsty, my eye was caught by an object in the foreground; there, sitting on a plate, more or less screaming, ‘eat me!’ was a huge orange. I guessed it had been plucked from one of the trees in the hotel gardens and placed there as a welcoming gift by the thoughtful hotelier. The peel fell away easily beneath my thumb and within moments the first segment had started an exhilarating taste bud party in my mouth. Oh, it was so juicy and sweet – it was the emperor of all my oranges and I shall not forget it….

I have similar stories relating to my best-ever cup of tea, my finest diet coke and my all-time top tomato. And so should you. The perfect storm of human, place and foodstuff is a rare event and should be embedded in the memory like a fat currant in a cupcake. I am still waiting for the unbeatable pistachio nut, the greatest of grapes and the sublimest ice cream – I know, however, that these perfect sensations, like most idylls, will probably never happen.

So I am delighted to report that I underwent a new fruity epiphany last week as I was rambling along the sumptuous Devonian cliffs between Dartmouth and Salcombe on a glorious, warm day…

Having walked ten miles or so I have begun to wilt beneath the hot sun. ‘Hmm…maybe my blood sugar is a bit low,’ I think, which is, if you are, like me, diabetic, a potentially dodgy situation. If sugar levels plummet too far you become confused and weak and you can, in extreme circumstances, fall into a coma. No problem for yours truly though; I plunge my hand into my rucksack to retrieve the large bottle of apple juice I have brought. Uh-oh, the drenched jumper sulking at the bottom of my bag announces my old mistake – I haven’t screwed the top of the bottle on properly. There is no apple juice.

I walk on into the burning sun but am feeling feebler and feebler. I either have low blood sugar or I am dehydrated, or both, and the nearest shop is at least a mile away….. Should I suck my jumper? I spot a house on the brow of a hill and totter off towards it, hoping to find a Samaritan with something liquid and saccharine, or really anything I can consume, but as I walk uphill the house seems to grow no closer. Maybe I need a lie-down…..

And then I see them; dotted among the green buds by the bushy path there are a few gleaming blackberries that have ripened early. I fall upon them and, as I guzzle greedily, I see more that are already in their prime – and then more. O goodness they are exquisite. After gobbling several handfuls I feel stronger and my body begins to return to its normal, (relatively) robust state – even if I am dribbling waterfalls of purple juice down my chin. Though I live another 1000 years I know that I shall never enjoy a blackberry as much as those sweet West Country beauties.

You don’t have to go to Gordon Ramsey restaurants to experience the most sensational tastes (though it does help to be diabetic).

Have you remembered a great orange? Or a Ryvita sans pareil, or a piece of cheese made in heaven? Do please write and tell me your favourite food moments. The winner will receive a sherbert fountain, which, if you are lucky, will be more brilliantly sherberty than any other sherbert there has ever been.

 

Stage Ed 2012

When you have appeared in as many as Edinburgh fringes as I, you are allowed the occasional easy one; this year I have been in town but only doing radio stuff and a few one-off gigs, which means I have been joyfully immune from fretting over reviews, audiences and from having to source a prop kipper minutes before curtain up.

Although audience numbers are down and number of shows up, I have nevertheless detected an especially joyous atmosphere on the cobbled streets this year. It may be a carry over from the Olympics, or possibly an eat-drink-and-be-merry-for-tomorrow-we-are-all-skint spirit but it sure feels good in Auld Reekie.

Some fringe highlights: Fletcher the Butler is a nicely suited chap who will come and be your unpaid butler for as long as you wish; he is prepared to run errands, make tea, receive abuse and read poems by William Mcgonagall. Similarly, in the Hunt and Darton ‘pop up café’ off the Royal Mile, 2 witty waitresses with pineapples strapped to their heads will not just serve coffee but perform funny poems and sketches for you.

She is not a fringe act but Catherine the Great is also appearing in Edinburgh this year at the National Museum of Scotland where you can learn about her voracious interest in art, philosophy and her huge contribution to the Enlightenment – my only disappointment was that I could find no reference to her rumoured affection for horses…..

My favourite afternoon of the festival, and one of my best ever, has undoubtedly been the surreal couple of hours I spent in the presence of the splendid comic experimentalist Barry Ferns. Barry, who for a previous show changed his name to Lionel Ritchie (honestly), is putting on live stand up gigs on Arthur’s Seat. On Saturday Barry made a special effort on my behalf – since he (correctly) assumes Arthur’s Seat is named after me; he had somehow persuaded 5 other blokes to help him carry me to the top in a sedan chair (so called because you can sedan in it).

This was not quite the relaxing trip up I had anticipated because, even as I sank into my portable armchair, my ears were assaulted by the gasping, groaning and wheezing of my 6 porters. If I shut my eyes it sounded like the sound track to a very vigorous gay orgy. I found myself wondering if anyone had a handy defibrillator in their rucksack.

Having deposited me in the audience Barry started by telling us about the venue and quoting some of the ludicrous ‘reviews’ of Arthur’s Seat people had posted on the Trip Advisor web site (‘beautiful views – but not much else. 2 stars.’ ‘It was bigger than I imagine, quite intrusive, it would be more exciting if you can get a tour inside’). He then introduced the very funny Joel Dommet, the uplifting music of ‘A Moveable Feast’ and then man-of-the-moment, the wild-haired comedian Tony Law. Tony was great but upstaged by the appearance of a tiny boy and an even tinier girl who were determined to grab their dad’s mike and have a go themselves. They did this to such great effect that Tony left the arena and left them to it. As Barry pointed out it must have been a strange sight for anyone who happened to be out on a stroll up the venerable seat – a crowd of 150 laughing heartily at two six year olds doing stand up on top of a mountain……. Ah, but it is of these wondrous surprise moments that the Edinburgh fringe is made. Sod all the arena guys and the corporate stuff – this was the very essence of a comedic event. Take a bow Barry Ferns.

 

 

Tube

The train taking me to Nantwich ground to a halt in a tunnel outside the station. It was hot, crowded and we passengers (‘customers’ as we have become – how ludicrous and irritating) were sweating and exasperated. There was a bing-bong and then the following announcement. ‘Good afternoon, this is your driver speaking. I’m sorry for the delay. This is due to the fat greedy gits who own this company.’

Passengers exchanged smirks.

‘All they care about is money – they’re not bothered about your pathetic trip to Nantwich. Where is Nantwich anyway? I don’t know and I’m the driver of the train.’

Now, despite the stuffiness and discomfort, people were giggling – an exceedingly rare occurrence on a British train. He continued, ‘Or rather I was the driver of the train – you may take this as my resignation.’  Loud hoots of merriment reverberated between the carriages. ‘And while I’ve got your attention I’d like to tell you about some trouble I’ve been having with my wife…twenty five happy years – and then we met each other.’

Everyone was laughing as the driver continued with a stream of ripe old gags and, in true showbiz style, closed with a spirited rendition of the Monkees great hit, Take the Last Train to Clarkesville, substituting, of course, ‘Nantwich’ for ‘Clarkesville.’

When finally we crawled into the station, we had been united by one man and we all had a tale to tell. That man was a hero, or rather he would have been one had he truly existed instead of being a character I dreamed up to demonstrate my theory about the healing power of laughter. It’s true though isn’t it? On the rare occasions when a train driver departs from his (or her) script, makes a witticism that shows their humanity, there is an instant bond created between the passengers sharing the moment.

My old routine came back to me when I agreed to participate in a scheme aimed at tube drivers on the Piccadilly line of the London Underground. They were each given a booklet containing weighty or humourous quotations selected by the artist Jeremy Deller, a splendid, creative fellow who pays the public the tribute of looking like an artist. My job was to do a gig for the drivers, encouraging them to read some of these quotes out over the PA to supplement the normal diet of obligatory and superfluous phases. Eg  ‘As one gets older, one discovers everything is going to be exactly the same with different hats on. Change here for the Hammersmith and City line.’ Or   ‘He who digs a pit for another will fall into it himself. Mind the gap.’

I was really hoping I could pull this off so that I could have a hand in resisting the impersonal and ever-multiplying announcements that anyone who uses public transport is obliged to hear. ‘Smoking is not permitted anywhere on this train.’ Really? I never knew. The example I find most insidious and depressing is, ‘If you see anything suspicious please report it to a member of staff.’ I don’t know why they don’t just say, ‘see that bloke opposite? I bet he’s an evil bastard.

If the scheme had gone well there were plans to extend it to other underground lines but alas, since my gig I have never heard a quote from Plato as I stood on a tube in the rush hour with a stranger’s head up my jumper. I think it felt too weird for the drivers to start delivering lines from the solitude of the their cabin at the front. Besides they are tube drivers, not public speakers. Oh well, can’t win ‘em all – go for bronze.

That is the end of this blog. Please remember to take all your possessions when leaving the page. And remember – laughter is the one true metaphysical consolation.