I feel in need of some light relief in the midst of a depressing time of the year when all sorts of things seem to be getting me down. I’ve had no heating/hot water for over a week, but they are supposed to be coming to fix it over the next two days. In under 3 months I have been sent no less than 7 notices of tax codes from two different tax offices, all of them incorrect, by their own admission after I queried them. And other things that are sent to try us – such as a music magazine I write to/subscribe to and which also sponsors gigs and other events managing, over the last few months, to annoy the Irish, Muslims/Arabs and which has now signed up someone who thinks Dave Copeland did a good job at the Admiral Duncan gay pub in Soho. All we need at future gigs/events is to be looking over our shoulders for the Continuity IRA, Al Quaida and also rightwing lunatics.
So here are a few things people have said or done over the years which have made me laugh. Some were people I knew personally, some people my mother knew, or who her mother knew/encountered. Some I got from the press. All are supposed to be true.
Such as ‘Flop’ Langley, a rather large woman my mother knew as a kid, who’s favorite meal was ‘boil-the-pot’. When my mother inquired what this delicacy was, she said: ‘Well yer know all those bits left over at the bottom of the saucepan when yer cook somefink? At the end of the week we boil it all up together wiv some water. Boil-the-pot, ‘s’luvly!’
Or the man and woman my grandmother overheard talking on a bus. Man: ‘Well haven’t we got anything at home?’ Woman: ‘No, only a few slices of stale bread and some moldy cheese!’ Man: ‘But I’m starving.’ Woman: ‘Well it’s your own fault. If you ‘adn’t got up and put yet coat on she’d ‘ave ‘ad to give us something to eat. Bert was due in from work any minute, and she ‘ad to get ‘is meal ready.’
Talking of ‘starving’, the manager of a charity shop we knew was always grumbling. A woman came in to buy something/donate some clothes and said that she did so admire what the charity did for starving people in Africa and other places. The manager said: ‘Well I’m starving, and they don’t do anything for me. I don’t even get paid.’ Feeling sorry for him, she went and fetched him a take-away meal, most of which he then chucked in the bin. He had breakfasted at Selfridges on the way to work, as he did every morning!
Or Mrs White, another large lady, who lived next door to us as kids. She complained to my grandmother one day: ‘Your kitchen clock’s slow, would you mind putting it right? My ‘ubby was late for work this morning!’ Rather than buy a clock of her own she looked over the garden wall and into our kitchen window whenever she wanted to tell the time by the clock on our mantelpiece.
Into the room upstairs, after the Whites left for a New Town, came Mrs Do-Not-Shout, a Polish woman trying to study to become a doctor. My brother and I would go out into the garden and shout and scream at the tops of our voices just to see her slowly open the window, pop her head out and say in a sing-song voice, and a very heavy Polish accent: ‘Yoo mus’ nod shou-owt!’ My grandfather heard her one morning at the end of her garden behind our chicken shed, reading a book and apparently muttering her prayers. The poor woman was actually trying to study her medical books, and this was the only place she could find some peace and quiet.
Then there was the American tourist visiting Chairman Mao’s mausoleum in Beijing. The Chairman’s ear had become detached from his head, but the Chinese were far too respectful and in awe of the Chairman to point this out. Suddenly, in the hushed silence of the mausoleum with people filing silently past the glass coffin, the American shouts out: ‘Say, that guy’s ear has fallen off!’. Shock, horror! The mausoleum was quickly closed for several days whilst the Chairman’s ear was glued back on.
Chairman Mao’s embalmed corpse
On a tour of the Soviet Union in 1966, some bright spark in our coach spotted some big iron sheets by the side of the road being moved by crane: ‘They’re moving the Iron Curtain’ he shouted out. Our Intourist guide was not at all amused.
In Leningrad, we had a local guide with flaming red hair which matched her politics. ‘Comrades look left, comrades look right!’ she said thruout the coach tour. ‘There is the glorious statue of Peter the Great’.
Peter the Great statue, Leningrad (now St Petersburg)
At lunchtime she gave a little speech: ‘Comrades, you are very ill-disciplined.’ This was because at photo stops some of our number had been slow getting back on the coach. ‘You will be back on the coach at 2pm sharp because we are going to visit the glorious heroic Leningrad cemetery’.
Piskarevskoye Cemetery, Leningrad/St Petersburg
‘Please miss, we won’t be coming. We don’t like cemeteries,’ said a whining voice from a young girl on the back seat. ‘Nonsense comrades, everyone who comes to the heroic city of Leningrad visits our glorious cemetery, the same as everyone who goes to London visits the grave of Karl Marx’. Yeah, right!
Karl Marx grave, Highgate Cemetery, London
Nicos, a Greek-Cypriot Communist, was on the trip and added a new phrase to the great works of Lenin: ‘In the workers’ paradise tourists go free!’ He refused point blank to pay his fare on buses, trolleybuses or trams, where the system of payment was an honesty box. He got very dirty looks from other passengers, who clearly didn’t remember that this was the whole point of their revolution – free travel for tourists, well according to Nicos anyway.
Comrades, our glorious Great October Socialist Revolution means free travel for tourists!
Another story from my mother’s childhood. A woman had committed suicide by putting her head in the gas oven. A neighbor came home, saw the commotion and asked what had happened, so they told her. ‘Ooh what an ‘orrible way to die to bake yer ‘ead’ she said.
Then there was the family who lived downstairs at one house we lived, divided into four flats. There was Cyril, Queenie, their overweight daughter Carol and Randy the mad dog who was never let out or taken for a walk, was untrained and caused cars to nearly crash if it ever got into the street. One day Queenie had enough of Randy’s constant barking in the backyard, and screamed at Carol, who was going for a walk with us: ‘Carol, take that bleedin’ dog wiv yer!’ Randy, overjoyed at being taken for a rare walk, was pulling at the lead and Carol was puffing away. She said: ‘I ain’t walkin’ wiv this bleedin’ fing!’ picked the poor dog up and carried him the rest of the way. Randy never did get his walk.
One day my mother was rushing off to work and Queenie popped her head round her front door as my mum passed and said: ‘D’ya want it? There’s cows at the bottom of the garden and everyfing?’ My mother didn’t know what on Earth she was talking about. ”Me sister’s ‘ouse in Welwyn Garden City, she wants to exchange wiv your flat, d’ya want it?’ ‘Oh yes yes!’ said my mother, remembering the sister looking over our flat months before and deciding it wasn’t suitable as half of it was sliding down a hill, and a huge crack had appeared. The council had propped it up with huge wooden supports, and after we moved to Welwyn Garden City the house was demolished.
My father perhaps came out with the most surrealist and sexist remarks, which were not funny at the time. Such as being found with horsemeat in the fridge at his restaurant by a Health and Safety Officer and claiming: ‘it is only for the staff, they like it’. Or knocking down a ‘Keep Left’ bollard in the road around Regents Park and saying by way of excuse: ‘It shouldn’t have been in the middle of the road.’
My mother was not amused when, on asking for more housekeeping money, he told her to ‘Go up Piccadilly and earn yourself some’. Nor when, on asking why they never went out together, he said: ‘In Cyprus we have a saying: women and dogs stay in the house.’ Another time she asked if he loved her, and if so why did he regularly sleep with prostitutes and waitresses from his restaurant: ‘Of course I love you,’ he reassured her, ‘I also love baked beans but I don’t want them every night!’
You can see why that marriage ended in divorce! So I suppose I’m quite lucky really. My own partner, who died over 16 years ago, was very witty. On a tour of Italy we had visited many ancient sites, and the courier was trying to get us to go on another tour. ‘What is it exactly?’ asked George. ‘Oh some very interesting old Roman ruins’ she replied. ‘Oh no thank you, I’ve been living with an old ruin for the past 18 years’ he replied, referring to me of course.
And there was that poor Welsh widow we met on that, or another, tour of Italy. We were going by coach thru France en route, but she had no French Francs or Italian lire, only Spanish pesetas (we were going nowhere near Spain). All thru the holiday she was trying to get rid of them, but luckily she also had plenty of British money which people were ready to accept. We saw her in Venice holding open her handbag and saying desperately to a postcard seller: ‘Take as much as you want, I’m trying to get rid of it,’ but even he wouldn’t take any of her Spanish pesetas.
Apparently, long before the days of the Euro, she had just gone to her bank/bureau de change with the receipt her husband had got for pesetas when going on their last holiday together to Spain and just asked for ‘More of that foreign money they spend abroad’. She was at least more knowledgeable than staff at an international airport in the United States, where they had never heard of ‘foreign currency’ at all!
I was lucky to get into the States at all. As we neared U.S. Immigration Control, a supposed friend turned to me and said: ‘Do they know you were a card-carrying member of the Communist Party?’ He knew I had been, but they apparently didn’t hear the remark or didn’t take it seriously.
CPGB membership cards
A relation of my mother’s, on being offered food, would always whine in a soppy voice: ‘No thank you, I only eat cake’.
My partner’s mother, as straight speaking as he was, took him and his sisters to the cinema in Glasgow where a relation was working as an usherette. After the film was over this relation came up to her and said: ‘Did you like the film, Lizzie?’ ‘A darn sight better than I like you!’ said George’s mother, dragging her brood away from the disliked relative.
That’s it for now. For the x-rated funny stories you’ll have to read my biography of myself and my partner, and some of the outrageous characters we knew.
A: They all have the same political message, i.e. Keep Left! (OK, Peter the Great was not particularly leftwing, but as you see above, his statue in Leningrad, now St Petersburg, was preserved and revered even by hardline Communists thruout the Soviet era.)