My Dad’s End To The War

“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.

We landed somewhere in Buckinghamshire. We were greeted by bands and cheering crowds. We were deloused and medically examined and then given a new uniform and regimental emblems to be sewn on. We were able to send a telegram to our loved ones saying that we would be home in about a week. I suppose they wanted to spruce us up a bit.

Each of us was handed over to the WVS. I was taken in charge by a lovely young lady. She took me to her home which was a farm near Great Missenden. She sewed all my emblems on and generally knocked me into shape.

I had an embarrassing moment as I wandered round the farmyard with my hosts. I saw two chickens which I thought were knocking the living daylights out of each other. I pointed this out to my chaperone, who made no comment but gave a sort of sardonic smile. I slowly began to realise that the chicken which appeared to be less belligerent seemed to be enjoying the battle. A tinge of red coloured my face.

The week on the farm was heavenly and only tainted a little by the thought of going home.

The big day arrived. I said goodbye to my farmer friends. They had done me proud. They said I could return any time. In fact, I was to see the young lady many times again.

I packed my few belongings and made my way to the station. I think I arrived at Marylebone. I caught a tube to the Oval and then a 59 bus to New Park Road. It was a sheer delight to be travelling under my own steam without being surrounded by armed guards.

I walked down New Park Road and entered the gates of Byng House. There were flags flying from all the windows. I was home after 3 ½ years.”

I am a stand up

I am a stand up (from my autobiography My Name is Daphne Fairfax)

ARTHUR SMITH SINGS LEONARD COHEN (VOLUME TOO) AT EDINBURGH FRINGE PLEASANCE CABARET BAR : 3-18 AUGUST 2013

ARTHUR SMITH SINGS LEONARD COHEN (VOLUME TOO) AT SOHO THEATRE – JAN/FEB 2013

I am a stand-up comic. Even now, after a couple of thousand gigs, making this statement gives me a bristle of pride and a bump of self-importance. ‘That must be the hardest job in the world,’ people say routinely to stand-ups. It is not of course, but it is the most singular job in show business and, in some ways, the most glamorous. The stand-up comedian is a solitary warrior, ignoring the theatre’s fourth wall in a direct Brechtian assault on his (or her) audience, the one performer whose success or failure is determined instantly and audibly. He does not sit down in timid informality, he stands up, like you stand up against bullies or for your rights. He has come to banish cant, bullshit, hypocrisy and the straight face. He does not hide behind costumes, music, cameras, props or masks, he relies on no-one but himself, he is not edited or enhanced after the event, he strides onto the middle of the stage and addresses the crowd, like a politician with no party on his back, like a preacher without God, a gladiator come to slay a roomful of lions and Christians. He ‘kills’, he ‘rips the room apart,’ he ‘storms it’ and the world applauds at his feet. I am a stand-up comic. Who would not be proud to be able to stand up and say that?

 

But when he fails, when no laughs come, when he ‘dies’, ‘goes down the toilet,’ why then he is an arse and he must get the first train out of town. The stand-up is a con artist who will dance to any tune that gets him a gig and pander to any prejudice that keeps him in the spotlight. He distributes prejudice with a smile, disseminates the lie that laughter redeems or that it is, as Nietzsche said, ‘the one true metaphysical consolation,’ when really it is a way of hiding from the serious business of life – the tragedy of existence.

 

The first time I tried stand-up I died. I also went down the pan at gigs numbers five, twelve, thirty-seven and so on, until just two weeks ago when, in a large, bland businessmen’s hotel near Derby, my quips left a roomful of car salesmen indifferent to the point of belligerence. To add to my shame, the shape of the room meant that after my public humiliation, when every part of me screamed to get out quick, I had to skirt around the edge of my former audience to reach the exit. They turned in their seats to consider me. Every comic knows this walk of shame. You try to avoid eye contact with anyone. You know what they are thinking; they are thinking you are a useless, unfunny cunt. They are wondering how much you’ve been paid for pissing them off  and how the hell you ever persuaded someone to book you. Like the golden-duck batsman’s long walk back to the pavilion, or the defendant’s grim passage from the dock to the cells, the cry of `take him down` pounding in his ears, it is a head-down procession of despair.

In stand up comedy when you die you are a zero but when you kill you are, briefly, immortal.

Mostly, though, it’s somewhere in the middle.

 

Arthur Smith Sings Leonard Cohen (Volume Too)  Soho Theatre, London – 16th Feb to 2nd March 2014

 

The Sun (*)

The sun (*)

A savage review is much more entertaining for the reader than an admiring one; the little misanthrope in each of us relishes the rubbishing of someone else. But however much I enjoy it in others, I find it hard to be a rude critic myself. Even after some bum-murderingly boring play I think, “At least they turned up and had a go.” Wrath should be reserved for important things.

Today though, I choose vitriol.

The show in question, which has been running longer than The Mousetrap, has been in the news again lately, generating endless crass conversations. The sun has turned up for a brief run at a few venues around the country, and I for one am sick of its predictable, pathetic routine.

It always opens in darkness with a mob complaining. Then a suggestion that the sun might be coming transforms the mood into one of happy anticipation.

The macabre figure of the doctor warns them it will kill them, but they ignore him and run off to buy new clothes. Then the sun makes its big entrance and we’re all meant to be impressed by the clever lighting tricks.

Yes, of course it created all life-forms and keeps us alive, but haven’t we heard enough about all that? If the sun is so great, why are we prevented from looking directly at it? What has it got to hide?

It is a very arrogant character compared with its rival the moon. Where the moon invites the stars out and plays among them, the sun obliterates them, jealous of their greater but more distant strength. The capricious moon will appear during the day, but the sun never surprises us by showing up at night. The moon puts on an elegant show, different every time in shape, colour and nuance.

The sun is just a round, yellow thing with one trick. It continually comes out and goes in like some vacillating homosexual. Its closing number, Sunset, always peters out after a few minutes.

The PR people know that recent productions in Britain have been feeble and sporadic. For years they’ve been promising the global-warming version, where the central figure is more brilliant and the doctor has a much bigger part but it seems some Gulf Stream subplot has ruined that. Recent shows seem to have conformed to the same tired old formula that we’ve been watching for years but evrytime a little worse. In short, the sun is crap.

It won’t I think be appearing at the Edinburgh Festival this year and if it does it won’t be welcome in my show either – but you are.

Arthur Smith sings Leonard Cohen (volume too)

And yet – we’ve been friends for a long time and I owe it a lot. So let’s forget about this production and consider future ones, which will surely be passionate, engaged and full-blooded.

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

 

Written for the Guardian Travel Section

I had gone to a friend’s place in the South of France intending to forget my broken heart by writing a comedy show for the Edinburgh Fringe. Arles, as occupied by Romans and painted by Van Gogh, is an exquisite little town but, for 3 days, all I had done was to moon joylessly around the house sipping brandy. I felt little enthusiasm for France, life, comedy, or anything really. Disconnected. On the third evening it occurred to me that I needed to get out.

So the next day I crossed the Rhone, hired a bicycle and set off South into the broad, even, watery Camargue – home to horses, bulls, mosquitos and many breeds of bird, most famously the flamingo. The flat terrain suited my mood and empty roads smoothed my way. After a couple of hours I spotted a spire on the horizon and turned towards it. The crooked old church was now a crooked old bar, dark and gloomy after the bright blueness outside.

Inside an old lady in black with a sad, distracted air served me a cold beer and a sandwich jambon. Poor old girl, she seemed even glummer than me. I decided to try my French out. ‘Do you ever get flamingos come into this bar?’ I enquired.

She stared at me, totally baffled.

It was not much of a gag (though I was planning to follow it up with a question about them falling over) but it seemed to pole-axe the woman. Flamingos in the bar? What was this peculiar foreigner talking about? Then I saw it dawn on her – it was a joke! She broke into a broad if toothless smile. The thought now tickled her. She started chuckling and I could see that this silly remark by a passing tourist had suddenly, somehow reawakened in her the memory of laughter, that I had, by chance, unlocked something in her. The chuckling gave way to cackling and full bloodied hooting and her bleak introspection seemed to dissolve to reveal a wrinkled but open and beautiful old face. After my lunch she came outside to wave me off as I set off cycling again out into those broad Mediterranean skies. Arriving back in Arles later I sat straight down and started writing.

It is now fifteen years since my cycle in the Camargue and I am preparing for another tour of my solo show (the ‘gentleman’s tour’ – a handful of dates in agreeable places) and I will, wherever possible, stay over after the gig in a nice hotel, breakfast on porridge and kippers the next morning, then spend the day rambling in the surrounding countryside (note to self: get OS maps for Abingdon, Frome, Stratford and Barow). And, at some leafy point along the way, I will no doubt remember once again the encounter with the lady in black, which has become mythic in my mind; that marvellous old woman, laughing, laughing, laughing.