“I Hear You’re a Racist Now, Father?”

How do! / 你好 (nĭ hăo) / Namaste / Welcome!

This week I was asked to recommend some cheery comedy viewing and a book, by several people. During this COVID-19 days, with seemingly endless lack of positive news, I turn to Russel Howard’s Home Time Live, amongst other shows.

My early exposure to comedy was catching the odd bit of Spitting Image or other such TV series. I was never too keen on Children’s Television, other than say Stingray, Thunderbirds, The Real Ghostbusters and a few other cartoons. The ones that really got my attention were Dangermouse and Count Duckula. These last two titles had Only Fools and Horses great and comedy star David Jason as the voices of many of the great characters. I also recall David Jason appearing in bits on one of many Ronnie Barker shows. For years David Jason in a show meant that I wanted to see it. From the gentle drama of The Darling Buds of May to the gritty detective show A Touch of Frost, or seeing David Jason as Rincewind in Terry Pratchett’s The Colour of Magic, I enjoyed every appearance. But, I have never seen one full episode of Still Open All Hours or Open All Hours. I’m sure I’ll see Granville in the future. Sir David Jason OBE turned 80 years old this year. He is to television comedy as Sir David Attenborough is to wildlife on television.

Have I Got News for You represents perhaps the longest running show I have watched attentively throughout my life. If I miss a few episodes, or a run over a period of months, I will find a repeat online or in the archives. It now boasts over 520 episodes and the regular panel show game contestants Paul Merton and Ian Hislop share a camaraderie that few series can muster. They swipe at news and bring satire to often bleak or dull matters. They’re often inciteful and wide-sweeping in their opinions. It isn’t a how that tells you what to do. It is entertainment with buckets of wit. Guests such as Victoria Coren Mitchell (who really is very clever and sexy), Jo Brand, Janret Street-Porter and Ross Noble, mix it with politicians, entertainment stars, future Prime Ministers and stars of the silver screen. It isn’t free of controversy or wasn’t so when regular host Angus Deayton left after 12 years. Other satirical shows have been around but few have shown the staying power of this series.

“If it wasn’t for your wellies where would you be; You’d be in the hospital or infirmary.” -Billy Connolly, The Welly Boot Song.

At Aberystwyth University, I’d seen Jimmy Carr, Alan Carr, Men In Coats, and almost every stand-up comedian or visual comedy act from September 2001 to leave four years later. That may explain my poor graduation grades. Still, I met Al Murray as the Pub Landlord. After university I’d go to Manchester’s Frog and Bucket and the Comedy Store. Mark Thomas, a political comedian, became a great favourite and an emerging German Comedy Ambassador called Henning Wehn whet my appetite for comedy that enabled you to think too. Great shows like Dave Gorman’s Googlewhack Adventure and even Jim Bowen having a round of Bullseye in Aberystwyth’s Student Union made for memorable evenings. I’m very lucky to have access to comedians such as Andrew Lawrence over the years. Freedom of speech is a marvellous thing.

“The Buddhist version of poverty is a situation where you have nothing to contribute.” -Sir Michael Palin KCMG CBE FRGS, Himalaya

On paper Jon Ronson, Ardal O’Hanlon (best known as the hapless Father Dougal in Father Ted), and Christopher Brookmyre had my eye for their witty writing fashions. Recently I discovered Based on a True Story by Norm Macdonald which was picked up and never put down until it was finished. Saturday Night Live was also responsible for Steve Martin, Robin Williams, Bill Murray and numerous comedians gaining a foothold in the mainstream, but the ones who have gone on to write add greatness to their portfolio. However, Rich Hall and Charlie Brooker (creator of Black Mirror) remain my all-time favoured comedic writers, just after Eric Morecambe. I guess the Reluctant Vampire, Eric Morecambe on Fishing and Stella hold so much warmth that they are essential bookshelf companions for me. I don’t even like fishing. Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 is probably the only classic comedy writing that I’ve enjoyed. I found Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men In A Boat a little dull. I do have a book published in 1892 on my ‘to read list’: Diary Of A Nobody by George and Weedon Grossmith. Perhaps, that will be my latest essential shelf-filler.

Woody Allen may have been celebrated as a great writer of movies, but I didn’t get taken in by him at all. Mel Brooks’ Spaceballs was more my thing. Anything Monty Python became so laughable and cult that everyone (it seems) shares the same thoughts on their archive of classics. Richard Pryor was a bit part in Superman III. I am glad he was in the movie because years later after university life I delved into his back catalogue. What a star! His  observational and political speaking was acerbic and iconoclastic. For me, as a Caucasian Mancunian, I only spotted Lenny Henry and a few others on the predominantly white British TV stations as a kid. Andi Osho and Stephen K. Amos came later. But, for the most, few black or mixed-race comedians made it onto the television and Craig Charles in Red Dwarf had a scouse accent. Over time, and as the internet-age gave rise to more comedians from that America reaching our shores comedians such as Reginald D. Hunter, Martin Lawrence, Eddie Murphy, and Whoopi Goldberg became regular viewing. Comedy is like this COVID-19 disease: it doesn’t recognise gender or race. You’re either funny or you’re not (or ill or not).

“I think some of the best modern writing comes now from travellers” – Sir Michael Palin KCMG CBE FRGS, comedian, writer, & actor

Comedy needs diversity and it needs lovable rogues heading to foreign shores to ply their trade. Father Ted, written by Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews flung religion and culture onto the television with the powerful Catholic Church as the celebrated and loved butt of many jokes. It is surely the most successful comedy production from Ireland ever – and I hope the Pope Ted: The Father Ted Musical arrives sooner rather than later. Father Jack will surely approve. Arthur Mathews is the author of Well Remembered Days: Eoin O’Ceallaigh’s Memoirs of a Twentieth-century Irish Catholic. Pick that book up. Read it. Then, find the audiobook read by none other than actor Frank Kelly (who played slightly inebriated and loaded Father Jack from Father Ted).

My mum introduced me to David Tynan O’Mahony, better known as stage name Dave Allen. Dave Allen was an Irish satirical comedian well-known for sitting on a chair and talking. His style wasn’t too fast-paced but coupled with some creative sketches and ramblings, he remains an Irish comedy legend. Nowadays surreal comedic talent David O’Doherty, fast-mouthed Ed Byrne, the tremendous Tommy Tiernan, Dylan Moran and snappy Andrew Maxwell bring the great wit of the Emerald Isle to the world. Whilst America has its fair share of divide and racism to talk in the open Britain and Ireland have a fair bit of oppression and divide to discuss. Then there are also the political troubles, religion, sectarianism, recreational drug abuse, crime, and self-deprecation. But, being Irish and British means we’re not as good as the Americans when it comes to self-deprecation.

“I get snow blindness from looking at my diary.” – Barry Cryer, writer and comedian

Dag, a Norwegian comedy-drama, about a marriage counsellor and his sex-mad friend Benedict’s struggles through life, is a great dark comedy. It will make you cringe and feel warm in equal measures. Atle Antonsen plays the lead character and he is brilliant counterweight to his love-interest that is Tuva Novotny’s character. I’ve just found there to be a fourth series so I shall look this up soon.

From great comedy series such as Goodness Gracious Me, The Fast Show, Harry Enfield and Chums, or Not The Nine O’Clock News, Britain has been blessed with comedy. Such editions could not be seen in lesser-free states of the world. It is hard to reimagine Father Ted reimagined as Monk Lama set in Tibet, or the ‘going for and English’ sketch of Goodness Gracious Me being re-filmed in Pakistan as ‘going for a Russian’. The right blend of social awareness, love of culture, and respect of differences are required.

“Drumchapel is a housing estate just outside Glasgow. Well, it’s in Glasgow, but just outside civilisation,” – Sir Billy Connolly.

And now, ‘The Big Yin’, the one stand-up comedian I have never seen live, despite chasing ticket after ticket since I was a wee man. Sir William Connolly, CBE is as titanic as the ships that floated out of the Glasgow shipyards. He was and remains the heavyweight champion of storytelling. Having jumped ship from The Humblebums (Billy sang folk alongside Gerry Rafferty and Tam Harvey), lovable comedy-musician scraped a living in his homeland of Scotland doing comedy. Almost 55 years later he stopped, enforced mostly by Parkinson’s Disease, but probably by love of art. Along the road from Glasgow he’s starred with The Muppets, acted alongside Dame Judie Dench, produced music, been a pet zombie, travelled and ran entertaining documentaries and shared his love for his home country. On stage, Billy has always worn what he wants, danced like nobody watches him and shouted whenever he likes. ‘The Big Yin’ has an encyclopaedia of material and an archive that would probably take a lifetime to follow. You can do much worse than sit down to some Billy Connolly. He really is a fine orator much like the smooth whiskies of his homelands.

“It’s up to yourself. You manufacture it. You either look at the world one way or another. It’s the old half full half empty. It’s up to you. The world’s a great place, it’s full of great people. The choice is yours. Pessimism is a luxury you can’t afford”. – Sir Billy Connolly on optimism, BBC Radio Five.

Stay strong. Stay optimistic.

If I could only find the words, then I would write it all down…

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do,

‘If I could only find the words, then I would write it all down…’ (Read ’em and Weep lyrics by Jim Steinman/sang by Meat Loaf)

Where are the great writers? They are everywhere. Songwriters, scriptwriters, playwrights, newspaper correspondents, comedians, bloggers, and authors. Great writers are everywhere. I am nowhere near them. I just enjoy writing and have ambitions. The popular writers spill off shelves in major bookstores, on eBook devices, and fill newspaper reviews about their works. The modern classics and classics get published in varied and often colourful editions. Some copies get graphic novel versions or huge distorted modifications to lure in new and old readers alike. Books are wonderful and shouldn’t need a World Reading Day to attract a soul. Impressive braille, audiobooks and many other delightful formats, such as large print, keep penned words open to the widest possible audiences. And, then there are translations! Some of the Harry Potter novel serials have reached 80 or so languages, including Scots, Hindi, and Chinese.

‘muckle, beefy-boukit man wi a stumpie wee craigie’ (Mr Dursley in Scots, from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone)

The novelists aren’t a bad place to start. I find Sir Arthur Conan Doye and H.G. Wells have caught my eye more and most from the considered classical writers. The Valley of Fear and The Sign of the Four are two of the former writer’s most gripping examples.

superfudgeLooking across the metaphysical divide at female writers, there are some wonderful writers in Mary Shelley (Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus; Rambles in Germany and Italy in 1840, 1842 and 1843), Elzabeth Gaskell (Cranford), Val McDermid (Trick of the Dark), the Poet Laureate for Great Britain Dame Carol Ann Duffy, Enid Blyton (The Island of Adventure), Edith Nesbit (Think Five Children and It, and not Stephen King’s It), Agatha Christie (By the Pricking of My Thumbs), Betrix Potter (The Tale of Peter Rabbit and 22 other similar tales), and Judy Blume (Fudge-a-mania and books that hist topics such as masturbation, racism, bullying, menstruation, divorce and other such family topics). But, most importantly, when I pick up a book, it isn’t based on the author’s gender.


now that daysIn my childhood, my varied reading included Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book; Jack London’s White Fang, The Sea Wolf; Colin Dann’s The Animals of Farthing Wood; Felix Salten’s Bambi; Aileen Fisher’s Now That Days Are Colder; Herman Melville’s Moby Dick; and a set of World Encyclopedias given to me by Mr Andrew Jones, in my final days in class 5AJ.

‘Now that days are colder, now that leaves are down, where are all the chipmunks at the edge of town?’ (Aileen Fisher’s Now That Days Are Colder)

roald dahlAs I grew from size 9 shoes to size 12 shoes, I picked up such reads as Eoin Colfer’s Benny and Omar, and soon discovered Michael Crichton. J.R.R. Tolkien was read with vigour. The college years involved Roald Dahl’s complete works getting a read. Douglas Adams and George Orwell added to the vibrant multihued reading material. I even had a crack at the works of Robert Louis Stevenson and Charles Dickins. Amongst the known names, I recall reading two pieces that really caught my attention. The first was about CJD and prionic diseases. The title was rather welcoming, Deadly Feasts: The “Prion” Controversy and the Public’s Health by Richard Rhodes. There is a real detective feel to this book. It zips from cannibals in New Guinea, cattle globally, young people in America, Britain and France – and beyond. It really makes you think and carries a powerful warning about beef, and eating meat. That being said, I carried on eating meat after a year’s experiment as a vegetarian.

‘Don’t gobblefunk around with words.’ (Roald Dahl’s The B.F.G.)

wewishThe second covered a dark period of recent history and journalist Philip Gourevitch’s We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda (the link directs to chapter one). The theme chronicles the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, in which an estimated 1,000,000 Tutsis and Hutus were killed. What shocked me, was how neighbours turned on themselves and the psychological effects followd. It skirts on the political challenges of survival. It is gripping and full of pain. I even had a crack at the complete works of one William Shakespeare. The dramas make for tough reading but nevertheless their importance and influence is beyond comparison.

‘At least fifty mostly decomposed cadavers covered the floor, wadded in clothing, their belongings strewn about and smashed. Macheted skulls had rolled here and there.’ (Philip Gourevitch’s We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda)

aberAt university I switched into daydreaming mode and the movie popularity of The Lord of the Rings led to a re-read of everything J.R.R. Tolkien. Between daydreaming, textbooks and general procrastination of university work, I found little time for reading. There was always something shiny or distracting. However, I did read through the entire available works of Michael Crichton and the brilliant noir writer Malcolm Pryce – his Aberystwyth Mon Amour series being topical to my location.

‘That’s the trouble with people like you, Knight, you only know how to mock. How to break things. You don’t know how to create anything. You never did.’ (Malcolm Pryce, Aberystwyth Mon Amour)

JurassicparkJurassic Park had been on and off my bookshelf since my mother bought me an omnibus edition, with the novel Congo included. The distinctive movie red, yellow and black logo made for great artwork but within the text was something more appealing. Scientific facts mixed with imagination and fiction. Like every book I have read by the late Michael Crichton, there are technical descriptions crossing the genres of action (Prey), science fiction (Micro), thrillers (Disclosure), and medical fiction (Five Patients). One of my favourite pieces has been Eaters of the Dead [a tale of Ahmad ibn Fadlan’s own interpretation of his genuine voyage north and his understandings with and reflections of Vikings], however the posthumous release of the 1974 penned piece Dragon Teeth [fossil hunters in the historical fiction form] comes close. But then, Pirate Latitudes, as action goes is damn exhilarating. Whilst the movies and series versions of some of his works never live up to the style of his writing, I hope that those who watch them gain enough curiosity to pick up the books. 200 million book sales is too few for such a great writer.

‘All major changes are like death. You can’t see to the other side until you are there.’ (Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park)

ducksFollowing university, I dipped in and out of books like rain lashing the rooftops of Manchester. Ian Fleming’s great travel novellas sporting a certain James Bond gripped me for a while. Every shadow writer of that spy-battering ram has been read since. From BBC’s The Fast Show, comedy writer Charlie Higson has delivered great slices of young Bond novels for teenagers and a series called The Enemy. Well worth of a read. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert should be reviewed by the #MeToo movement. Forget 50 Shades of Gray! George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four actual reads as a documentary and doesn’t seem like fiction in one way! The entire works of Christoher Brookmyre was far more than an Attack Of The Unsinkable Rubber Ducks – more like All Fun And Games Until Someone Loses An Eye. Every book of his will grip you tight – don’t be fooled by his colourful covers.

“People are islands,’ she said. ‘They don’t really touch. However close they are, they’re really quite separate. Even if they’ve been married for fifty years.” (Ian Fleming, Casino Royale)

psychoIn China, I have been limited to the works of Andy McNab (notably the Nick Stone and Tom Buckingham series) alongside other odds and ends found on bar book exchange shelves or tucked away collecting dust in book shops. I have found time to re-read Peter Pan, by playwright J.M. Barrie. Johnny Marr’s autobiography Set the Boy Free, War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (which wasn’t to my enjoyment, and the riveting Moby Dick, by Herman Melville. The complete works of Jon Ronson (I thoroughly recommend The Psychopath Test) have been perused. The Welsh neo-journalist loves a good debunk or conspiracy to grip and twist until all the juices ooze out into the pages. Hunter S. Thompson (Hell’s Angels) would be proud of his works! I wonder if Jon Ronson has booked a firework-clad funeral for his future passing.


touchMy obsession with Mount Everest has drawn me to a related selection of books. I read most of these in the shadow of the mountain during January 2017. The following works were all written following the 1996 disaster in which many climbers and sherpas lost their lives.

“Ultimately, the Buddhist teachings say, misfortune happens less often to those whose motives are pure.”  (Jamling Tenzing Norgay, Touching My Father’s Soul: A Sherpa’s Sacred Jouney to the Top of Everest)
  • Into Thin Air: Death on Everest – a well-known climbing disaster book by Jon Krakauer;
  • The Climb by Anatoli Boukreev;
  • Left For Dead: My Journey Home from Everest, penned by Beck Weathers;
  • Touching my father’s soul: a Sherpa’s journey to the top of Everest, by Jamling Tenzing Norgay;
  • Climbing High – a lesser known read by Danish Psychological Counselor and climber Lene Gammelgaard;
  • The Other Side of Everest by Matt Dickinson.

If you piece together the events on the mountain based on the accounts and reports received soon after and long after, you will be no clearer as to what happened – other than it being a monumental mess of tragic proportions. The best of the bunch for me, was Jamling Tenzing Norgay’s account, as it touched on the spirituality and complexity of Sherpa and beliefs within the shadows of the highest mountain peak on our Earth. It also explored his relations and the effects of living in the following of his father Sherpa Tenzing Norgay.


“Colonel Vivian had convinced himself that Ivor Montagu’s enthusiasm for Ping-Pong was a cover for something more sinister.” (Ben Macintyre, Operation Mincemeat: How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured an Allied Victory)

mincemeatSince that rambling holiday to Nepal, I have picked up Ben Macintyre’s Operation Mincemeat at Murray’s Irish Pub in Dongcheng. Since then Double Cross, Agent Zig-Zag and just this week Rogue Heroes: The History of the SAS, Britain’s Secret Special Forces Unit That Sabotaged the Nazis and Changed the Nature of War have followed. For Your Eyes Only: Ian Fleming and James Bond, was a book I read in 2008 and didn’t enjoy quite as much as his other well-researched and fine-tuned storytelling. Facts and simple description, even criticism and questioning of reported myths bore at you like an angry wolf. They are real page turners, not bogged down by over-complicated technical terminology and wordings unnecessary. The Times columinist cuts a good read up and builds a remarkably fascinating picture of moments in history. I guess with an extra day of freedom each year, he has extra time to write. His birthday being on Christmas Day. Some other writers lose their focus and clutter text or fill pages for fun. Every page of Macintyre’s work is blessed by an assiduous and attentive hand. His mind has carved questions in reported stories and embellishments that others may have accepted. When it comes to knowns, he wants the reader not just to read, but use the full force of their frontal lobes.  Next up, I will re-read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. To pick that particulatr gem up will be like revisiting an old friend. Another good friend could even be Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. Not a single movie version has touched on the depth of that epic adventure!

再见/ Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Ta’ra / Goodbye