Tag Archives: bonfire of the vanities

April 7th

This day in history is a most auspicious one, so it pained me to look through the annals and find events that bored me or stuff about fucktards (hello Savonarola) who we’d already covered and quite frankly had enough of.  Anyway, given that nothing can quite compare to an event that happened at 4am in the Royal Free Hospital in Liverpool Road in 1965, I did uncover something that appears to be completely fictitious, but is too wonderful to consign to the dustbin of made-up history.

And then she hit me right here on the nose!

All around the web, it is stated that on this day in 1926, Mussolini’s Irish wife broke his nose. There is no further detail, because, well Mussolini never had an Irish wife. The terrible bald fucker had two wives, both of them Italian, one discarded and all records of their marriage destroyed because he wanted to pretend he’d never been married to her. The second stuck with him until the end. Neither, as far as history shows us, broke his nose. Perhaps the history of WWII might have played out a bit differently if one or both of them had, preferably on a regular basis.

Of course, I am not advocating mindless violence, but given the circumstances I’m sure they could have found a way to break his nose mindfully. It’s a shame that this story is so clearly a fake, because I can picture it all in my head. Benito at the table complaining that his stupid Irish wife hasn’t cooked the spaghetti properly and all she knows her way around is potatoes and cabbage like a stupid bog-trotting peasant. And up she gets. Small in stature but a mighty

Cover your nose, Benny, the bitch is back!

warrior all the same. Her eyes are green and sending out sparks of anger. Benito is too self-satisfied and stupid to sense the danger. Her hair is loose and a symphony of red and gold and orange and copper and rich sweet-smelling ginger. It seems alive as she moves closer toward her target. He still goads her, he holds up his spaghetti in his fork and mocks her like the pompous wee shite he is. And then she is in front of him, finally he feels a little fear. She is still, but her hair still seems to be moving, her eyes still spark and her nostrils flare. He is silent as she stares him straight in the eye. He gulps. And then it comes. Her fist moves as if in slow-motion but he can’t move away from it. He is rooted to the spot as though his wife has become Medusa and he is turned to stone. And. And. And. BAM! Right in the fucking conk. “Shitehawk” she throws over her shoulder as she walks away. His blood mingles with the tomato sauce and he cries quietly with the pain.

Ah, Maureen McMussolini, where were you when we needed you!

Today is and was the birthday of many a great and grand person. And Russell Crowe. Russell Crowe is one year older than me and I am glad he exists because when I am feeling like a haggard old crone, I look at him and say “thank fuck I look better on it than he does.” The truth is, I look about a million times better than the big fighty git who gets all precious when people say “Oh Russell, why did you do an Irish accent for Robin Hood?” Well, Russell, I’ve seen some of that film and you did do an Irish accent, you great fat lummox. I’ve only seen some of it because I was on a plane and it was so shit I fell asleep. Here’s the thing, on the way out, I’d watched Sex and the City 2, which is one of the worst films ever and an abomination to womankind, but I did not fall asleep. That’s how shit Russell Crowe’s Robin Hood was. He stands as a reminder that however great a day April 7th is, some right shitters were born on this day too (see also David Frost).

Billie as a lovely wee girl

But, let’s move on to the sublime, the beautiful, the troubled, the big old skag head with a voice that could tickle your spine in a way that felt slightly obscene: Billie Holiday. She was born 50 years before I happened down onto the earth and had left it before  I  joined it.

Her life was never easy from the start. Born Eleanora Fagan, her thirteen year old mother was thrown out of her parents’ home for being pregnant. Young Billie was looked after by relatives while her mother worked on the trains. She was troubled, played truant and was in a Catholic reform school for this before the age of 10. She was then released into her mother’s custody to live and work in a restaurant she had bought. At the age of 11, Billie was raped and sent back to the reform school to be kept safe while they waited for the trail to come to court.

And then it all went  a bit more downhill. You all know that she and her mother then lived in brothels, that that’s where Billie started to sing and also to turn tricks as an under age prostitute at $5 a time.  And she learned to drink, to take drugs, to favour men who would beat her and hurt her over men who would love the beautiful soul she was. She went to prison, she came out, she took more drugs and she sang, oh how she sang. Even toward the end when she had all but destroyed her voice with drug and alcohol abuse she still sang and it was more beautiful in its ruin than most people can  hope for in their own version of perfection.

Lady sings the Blues

She died in 1959 and her death was described on sleeve notes by the NY Times journalist, Gilbert Millstein, who had been a narrator at her 1956 Carnegie Hall concerts:

Billie Holiday died in the Metropolitan Hospital, New York, on Friday, July 17, 1959, in the bed in which she had been arrested for illegal possession of narcotics a little more than a month before, as she lay mortally ill; in the room from which a police guard had been removed – by court order – only a few hours before her death, which, like her life, was disorderly and pitiful. She had been strikingly beautiful, but she was wasted physically to a small, grotesque caricature of herself. The worms of every kind of excess – drugs were only one – had eaten her … The likelihood exists that among the last thoughts of this cynical, sentimental, profane, generous and greatly talented woman of 44 was the belief that she was to be arraigned the following morning. She would have been, eventually, although possibly not that quickly. In any case, she removed herself finally from the jurisdiction of any court here below.

She was no lady, but she was Lady Day. Happy birthday my birthday twin. You know how much I’ve always loved you and thrilled to share your birthday, and I’d like you to know that I always will. We’ll both just forget about that cunt, Crowe. He ain’t our sort of peoples.

Oh and she loved dogs too!

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March 4th

On this day in 1966 a  member of a popular beat combo gave an interview to a London newspaper. In it he talked about gorilla suits and car phones. He also said “We’re more popular than Jesus.” You may think that the shit hit the fan immediately, but you’d be wrong. It appears that no one in London really gave a flying act of fornication about this comment, but four months later the remark turned up in the US and a whole heap of opprobrium ensued.

Which beardy man is your favourite?

In context Lennon – for it was he – had been talking about the fact that Christianity seemed to be on the decline, that it was disappearing. Being more popular than Jesus wasn’t a boast, it was a (probably quite factual) comment on the waning of religion and the rise of celebrity culture, especially that surrounding the Beatles, which was, by any yardstick you care to measure it with, pretty batshit mental.

In parts of the US, well let’s be more specific, in the bible belt, this out of context remark was seen as blasphemy. Some DJs put a ban on playing any Beatles records ever again. This was of course their right, but then arranging places where ex-fans could bring any Beatles records and memorabilia for burning was a tad beyond the pale. Lennon realised that things had got a bit out of hand when he heard about the scheduled Alabama Bonfire of the Vanities and apologised, not for what he said, but for how he had said it.

Some bona fide idiots have stated that it was this remark that led to the end of Beatlemania in the US, completely overlooking the fact that after August 1966 the Beatles never toured again. Granted there  were a few problems with the last US tour as officials got their knickers in a twist about religion being mocked, and there were a few empty seats, but the tour was a commercial success. The Beatles stopped playing live, not because fuckwits burned their records but because there was no point doing live shows when the audience screamed so hard that you couldn’t hear the band playing or singing.

It’s worth noting that one of the radio stations that organised a public burning of Beatles stuff, KLUE in Texas, experienced a spot of bother the day after their exhibition of utter lunacy. Their transmission tower was hit by lightning and all broadcasts screeched to a halt. It would appear that your man Jesus was a Beatles fan.

Today was the birthday of the original Jack the lad, Jack Sheppard . He was born in 1702 in Spitalfields in London to a poor family. We know they must have been poor because just about everyone in Spitalfields was. You’re probably wondering who this man you’ve never heard of was. Well, he was the model for Macheath in John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera and he was Jack the lad.

Ladies Love Cool Jack

His early life was pretty ordinary, he found himself apprenticed to a carpenter and was happily learning  his trade, but he fell into the wrong company, or maybe it was the right company, and soon his apprenticeship was behind him and he was  thief and a burglar.  That in itself is not that unusual or interesting. What brought Jack his fame was his ability to escape from imprisonment. He was first arrested on 5th February 1724. He was imprisoned on the top floor of St Giles Roundhouse and within hours he had escaped through the roof using his bedding as a rope to lower himself to the ground. He remained free until May when he was arrested again.  This time it took him a little longer to free himself as he had manacles to saw through, but within five days he was lowering himself down the walls of New prison in Clerkenwell  into the neighbouring Bridewell, where he scaled a 22ft wall and was free again.

And again? This time he was in Newgate and had received a death warrant. With a little help from a couple of female friends, he loosened a bar in the window where he got to speak to visitors, got himself through it (Sheppard was a very slight and slender man) and was then dressed in women’s clothing and smuggled out of prison. By this time, Jack was quite famous. The public loved to hear tales of his derring do and his escapes. The authorities were not quite so enamoured of him, I really can’t think why. When he was arrested and imprisoned for a fourth time, again in Newgate prison they got a bit tougher.  When warders found files and tools in his cell – the condemned cell – they were removed and he was put in another cell, one that was

Jack was also a bit of a graffiti artist. Is this Banksie finally unmasked?

even more secure than his old one. Feeling that was not enough, they clamped him in leg irons and handcuffs. While in this compromised position, Jack was visited by the great and the good who were also rather titillated by tales of his exploits. Jack treated all the same, he was polite, funny and not at all depressed by his situation. He had no need to be. A few nights after his imprisonment he freed himself from his handcuffs and escaped, still wearing his leg irons. This was his most spectacular escape of all. He broke through six locked doors, made it on to a neighbouring roof, broke into the house under that roof and made his way through it to the front door and out onto the street. All of this without waking the inhabitants.

He was only free for two more weeks. He was captured whilst utterly off his face – Jack did like a drink or several – and taken to a cell in Newgate where he was under constant scrutiny. This time he did not escape. His journey to Tyburn was like a public holiday 200,000 people accompanied the cart that was transporting him. They stopped along the way at an inn where Jack drank a pint of sherry and then finally he was upon the gallows. The hangman found a penknife with which he had been intending to cut the noose and it was taken from him. He was hanged for five minutes and then cut down. At this point the crowd surged around him to prevent the theft of his body for vivisection. This action prevented friends from getting to his body and taking him to a doctor to be revived. It’s likely he was dead already, but if there was any life in his body he would have had his most daring escape to date. Alas, his fame and popularity meant that it wasn’t to be and Jack was dead at the age of 22.

Now, far be it from me to big up a thief and a burglar, but Jack was a bit exciting and fun and for a while he really stuck it to the man and who can fail to enjoy that, even if just a little. And Jack was not violent. In his brief criminal career he never physically hurt any of his victims. He was loyal as well. If Jack had agreed to grass on his associates his death sentence would have been commuted to transportation; he refused.

So, good on you, Jack the Lad. You were a very naughty boy, but by golly you were a grand man! Happy birthday you terrible rogue!

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February 7th

On this day in 1497 the most famous Bonfire of the Vanities took place in Florence, directed by infamous joy-sucker, Girolamo Savonarola. This wasn’t just a burning of books, which would have been bad enough, but just about anything they could get hold of that might cause an occasion of “sin”. Books, paintings, statues, mirrors, cosmetics, fancy-schmancy dresses and musical instruments. There are no contemporary reports of any serious injuries, but one has to imagine that the mirrors might have got a bit explodey and hit a few observers in the eyes. Granted this would have made certain occasions of sin less likely – no more coveting of

Burn, baby, burn! Savonarola feels the heat.

the neighbour’s wife – but it was a little ill-thought out by the naughty fire-starters. Luckily, there wasn’t much in the way of man-made fibres in those days, so the chances of toxic fumes from polyester, flammable foam or flying lurex bombs was pretty much nil.

There has long been a historical rumour that Botticelli took part in the bonfire and threw some of his own work in. This is true, but what is less well-known is that the young Michelangelo, who thought Savonarola was an utter dick, egged Botticelli on, seeing it as a good way of getting one of his rivals out of the way. The even younger Machiavelli was an observer of Michelangelo’s wicked deed and was heard to say to his mates “That’s a bit Michelangean, I’m going to use that in a book I’m thinking about writing.”

Whatever the ins and outs of the combustibility of the materials burned and the cunning plots going on among artists and writers, it is clear that Savonarola was a bit wrong in the head. Worry not, dear scholar, the Borgias come to our rescue. History has not been kind to the Borgias, one might say with good reason, but while Pope Alexander VI might have been, to all intents and purposes, a very bad sort of a pope indeed – corruption, mistresses and slightly killy children – he did have Savonarola executed. The manner of his execution? Well, given that he was a bit of a pyromaniac, it was only fitting that he got stuck on a bonfire, in the exact same spot that he’d burned some nice schmutter, and met his death via the means of state sanctioned arson.

Many centuries later the author Tom Wolfe wrote a novel called The Bonfire of the Vanities which was well-received. However, it was later turned into a film that was so bad it left some critics calling for a bonfire of the vanities of The Bonfire of the Vanities.


Today is the birthday of pie-eater and survivalist expert, Ray Mears. He is famous for his television programmes which consist of him wandering around forests and wilderness type areas, surviving on a diet of insects, poo and twigs. He explains to the hapless viewer that they too can be like him. He never points out that if, unlike him, they haven’t eaten a quantity of pies before heading off for a few days of (quite literally) eating shit, they may well get a bit hungry and scared.

Prodigious Pie Eater, Raymond Mears

Mears is also lacking when it comes to things like how to fight a bear, fool a snake and wrestle a crocodile, which means that while he can point you toward the tastiest insect in any given locale, his survival skills are somewhat lacking. What if a bear and I are both after the last stick insect in the rain forest – or wherever bears and stick insects live together – or I have to pretend to be a statue so a boa constrictor doesn’t eat me and my dinner of poo and locusts? Mears has no answers for these important questions.

That said, it is the man’s birthday, so enough quibbling. Happy birthday, Mr Mears and to celebrate, why don’t you try a nice Club Med holiday this year!

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