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January 12th

On this day in 1995 Qubilah Shabazz, the daughter of Malcolm X was arrested for conspiring to kill Louis Farrakhan.

Qubilah with Malcolm

This is in fact a really shitty little story of a woman being hounded, nasty little FBI informants and, being left with a feeling that it all seemed to be about getting one over on Malcolm’s daughter rather than any real awful murder about to be committed.

Why do I think that? Qubilah had seen her father murdered when she was just four years old. From that moment onwards her mother, Betty Shabazz believed that Louis Farrakhan had been involved in the murder of Malcolm. Farrakhan has denied being actively involved, but at times has said that maybe the things he said led to it happening. Then again in a speech he gave in 1993 he said:

Was Malcolm your traitor or ours? And if we dealt with him like a nation deals with a traitor, what the hell business is it of yours? A nation has to be able to deal with traitors and cutthroats and turncoats.

To be honest, if a man who I had reason to dislike, fear and possibly

Qubilah escorted into court (May 1995) by her lawyer

hate, said that about my father’s murder, I’d be strongly inclined to believe that he had been part of the conspiracy to murder him. Qubilah did hate Farrakhan and worse, she was worried about her mother’s safety. Betty was vocal and without fear in her belief that Farrakhan had planned her husband’s murder. Her daughter feared, rightly or wrongly, that Farrakhan might also plan the murder of her mother.

Forward to 1994. An old school friend of hers, Michael Fitzpatrick, claimed that she called him and asked him to murder Farrakahn. She definitely did call him and there was talk of how dangerous Farrakhan was and that she wanted him dead. Unfortunately for Qubilah, what she didn’t know was that Fitzpatrick was an FBI informant. They spoke throughout May and June of that year. He asked her to marry him and actively encouraged her to talk about her hatred of Farrakhan and her desire to see him murdered.

However, luckily for Qubilah, Fitzpatrick also started recording his phone conversations with her, probably at the request of the FBI. After her arrest she was indicted on the charges of using telephones and crossing state lines in a plot to kill Farrakhan. A couple of surprises came up at this point. One was that the recordings made by Fitzpatrick to prove her guilt, made him look like he was entrapping her. She came across as unsure, nervous, tentative and an unwilling conspirator. The other was that Farrakhan himself spoke in her defence, saying he did not believe her capable of murder, that she was a good girl who had been led astray. Certainly, Qubilah was, by then, suffering from alcohol and drug problems. Her life had not been easy, she was almost certainly paranoid and Fitzpatrick and the FBI had used this to push her into breaking the law.

This is the bit I find so despicable. Hadn’t the woman suffered enough? I mean really, did the FBI think that she was some sort of national danger? Anyway! It was clear that it would be hugely difficult to find her guilty of the original charges (which could have seen her do up to 90 years in jail) and so a plea bargain saw her maintain her innocence, but she took responsibility for her actions. She was then required to undergo psychological counselling and drug and alcohol abuse treatment for two years in order to avoid prison.

As far as I know, the FBI weren’t told to sort themselves the fuck out and nothing happened to Fitzpatrick, even though a good kick up the arse was the very least he deserved for being such a nasty little shitehawk.

Unfortunately, there was more sadness in the Shabazz family in the years following this, but let’s end on something that at least approaches a happy ending. I am in no mood to bring myself and all of you down any further than I already have.

Today is the birthday of French actor and serial dater of hot women, Olivier Martinez.

His name won’t mean much to you if you never read the gossip pages, because while he is an actor, he’s not really that famous as an actor. He is however famous for being good looking and dating, cheating on, breaking up with and then dating, a number of hot famous women. It has been said of him that given the number of women he has probably had pre-marital ghastliness with, his wank bank is probably as big as Fort Knox.

His Milkshake brings all the girls to his yard

He first came to notice as the boyfriend of Mira Sorvino and has since been attached to a lot of famous women, including Kylie Minogue, Rosie Huntington-Whitely and is now, allegedly, engaged to Halle Berry. He’s definitely been her boyfriend for a while and he’d probably be mad to not want to marry her. Well, for all I know she could be as mad as a box of frogs, but she is stunningly beautiful.

Anyway,he’s 46 today, still hot, still making laydeez go weak at the knees and occasionally being in a film that no one ever gets to hear about. I’m not going to wish him a happy birthday. I’m not being churlish, but frankly the man has everything. He needs nada from me!

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January 7th

On this day in 1618 Francis Bacon became the Lord Chancellor of England.

Francis contemplates how he's going to pay back all his debts.

Of course you are all more aware of his later fame as an Irish born artist, but before he began painting screaming popes he spent his [far] earlier life as a statesman, scientist, jurist, lawyer and author. As you can see he was quite the Renaissance man.

We might never have been introduced to his painting skills if it hadn’t been for the fact that he got into a bit of bother as Lord Chancellor. Unfortunately in 1621 it was discovered that he was in serious debt which did not look good, so he was fined £40,000 which was about a billion pounds in those days and sent to the Tower of London. Luckily he only spent a couple of days there before the king let him out and realising that a bloke in debt would probably not have forty grand, the king let him off his debt too.

Of course, nowadays people would be suspicious of the Lord Chancellor wasn’t a bad man with debts aplenty, or so it would seem given the type of person who gets that job these days. In 1621 Bacon was declared unfit for office. In 2012 he’d have been given the job as Chancellor of the Exchequer as we seem to be happy to give that job to numeric idiots in the second decade of the 21st century.

Anyway, long story short, due to him being all disgraced and stuff,

Bacon looking all smug after he gave up the other stuff and became a painter

Bacon had to find something else to do. He was fed up with writing and as he couldn’t event a nuclear bomb because he hadn’t heard of nuclear energy, he decided to do some painting which made him very famous and renowned.

Because his paintings did not appear until the 20th century, by which time he was allegedly an artist who had been born in Dublin, most people think that the painting Bacon is different to the earlier Bacon. He is not, he’d just had a rather long kip and not woken up for a couple of centuries. It could happen to anyone.

Today is the birthday of a man who we all know is a few follicles short of a full head of hair and several sandwiches short of a picnic. On this day in 1964 Nicholas Kim Coppola, better known as Nic Cage was born in Long Beach, California.

Nic Cage, mad as a badger on Ketamine

Back in the old days, Nic was a rather wonderful actor, if a bit of a batshit mental human being. The Oscar he won for Leaving Las Vegas was well deserved, even if it was a very difficult film to watch. However, in recent years you can more or less measure the shite content of a film by whether or not Cage is in it. He has been in some hideously shit-shite films in recent years.

But, through it all, there’s been his compellingly ugly but interesting face, the fact that he’s about as sane as a box of manic frogs and the knowledge that under the increasingly awful hammy acting there is a real talent that he’s decided to forego in favour of being the go-to mentalist for shit films.

I can’t help liking him, even when his personal life becomes almost too hard to look at and his talent fades more quickly than his ever receding hairline. So, for a change, I’m going to be nice to today’s birthday celebrator and say to the wonderfully insane Mr Cage that I hope he has a rockin’ good birthday!

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May 1st

On this day in 1930 the Planet X, which Percy Lowell had been looking for since 1906, sort of seen but not realised it in 1915 and finally seen and properly discovered on March 13th 1930, was given its proper name: Pluto.

Pluto, yes, it is like totally moving!

Actually, in the end it wasn’t Lowell who discovered it, mostly because he upped and died in 1916. That was a chap called Clyde Tombaugh who was working at the Lowell observatory and had been handed the job of looking at the sky, taking photos and being clever enough to locate Planet X.  The thing is, they knew it was there because once Neptune had been discovered back in the 19th century, astronomers had been aware that there must be another planet doing funny things (scientific term) to Uranus. That’s why they were looking for it and why after looking long and hard they eventually found it. And, yes. It isn’t a planet these days. All sorts of new calculations and definitions have been formulated which have left poor old Pluto, along with Ceres and Eris, as a pathetic little dwarf planet. In other news, fact fans, it has three moons, a big old moon called Charon and two smaller ones named Nix and Hydra which were only discovered in 2005. We don’t know much about its composition because it’s really quite far away from us, but in the next few years (by 2015) we should know a lot more as a New Horizons, a robotic spacecraft is on its way there to have a look around.

So, that’s the planet and how it got discovered, but how did the name come about? Constance Lowell, Percy’s widow, suggested it should be called Zeus, then Percival and finally, Constance. All of these were turned down and frankly it’s hardly surprising, the egotistical old baggage. In the end there were three names up for grabs, which the members of the Lowell observatory were allowed to vote on. The first was Minerva, which was already the name of an asteroid, the second was Cronus, which might have won the vote if it were not for the fact that it was suggested by an astronomer by the name of Thomas Jefferson Jackson See, who everyone hated.

Come 'ere, Pluto!

Pluto had originated with an eleven year old school girl in England, Venetia Burney. Venetia was interested in astronomy and classical mythology. Given what was known about the planet, she thought Pluto – the god of the underworld – would be a good name for this cold and dark place. While she was just a schoolgirl her grandfather had been a librarian at the Bodleian Library and when Venetia told him her idea, he told an astronomer mate who cabled it to the Lowell observatory and, la. Everyone liked it, it got chosen and announced on May 1st and Venetia’s granddad gave her a fiver for being a clever girl.

The hoopla around this and its popularity can be seen by the fact that later that year Walt Disney created a dog for Mickey Mouse called Pluto . And yes, Mickey’s mate Goofy was also a dog and it’s all a bit of a headfuck, but Walt Disney was a very strange and unpleasant mind and he probably liked messing with everyone’s heads. The Disney studio’s pretended that they didn’t know why Pluto the dog got that name, which is a bit bloody disingenuous of them, given that their history of names at that time stretched to Mickey, Minnie and Goofy et al, they were hardly noted for their ability to come up with a really good classical name. Maybe they should have given Venetia a fiver as well.

And that, is the story of how Pluto got found, named and eventually totally disrespected. That’s astronomy for you.

Today was the birthday of Martha Jane Cannary, better known as Calamity Jane.

Pantsuit Jane

For most of us, our idea of Calamity Jane comes from the 1953 musical where she was played by Doris Day. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that a 1950s musical might not be the best at representing actual facts, but apart from getting her name right, there’s little else in the film that bears even a passing resemblance to Calamity’s life. That’s probably a little unfair; they did also highlight what a good shot Jane was.

So! Her life! Her family moved out west when she was a young girl. On the way her mother died and so when they reached Utah, they were motherless. They were soon fatherless too. Jane then took over as head of the family and moved them all to the Wyoming territory. Along the way she had to take on duties that wouldn’t normally be the lot of a teenage girl. She learned to hunt and shoot and by all accounts was pretty damn good at it. The rest of her life is shrouded in legends of her own imagining. She was, according to her own autobiography, involved in many plains Indian fighting campaigns. Records would indicate that a lot of this was little more than fantasy. Others claim she was never involved in fighting against Indians at all. She claimed that she got her nickname from a Captain Egan whose life she had saved and in return he had christened here “Calamity Jane, heroine of the plains”. It’s far more likely that it came about from her habit of saying to men that if they messed with her they were courting calamity.

As for the rest. Well, Jane took on a variety of jobs to help the family and to keep body and soul together. She worked as a dishwasher, a waitress, a nurse, an ox-team driver and a dance-hall girl. At the age of 22 she got a job as a scout at Fort Russell in Cheyenne, Wyoming and also supplemented her income by working as a prostitute at a local brothel. Yep, Calamity Jane was a part-time hooker. She was also a heavy drinker and latterly an alcoholic. The whole Wild Bill Hickokthing? Well, she moved to Deadwood a couple of years after arriving in Cheyenne and settled there and met ole Wild Bill. After his death she claimed to have been married to him and to have borne him a daughter. This is almost certainly delusional. She was wild for Bill but Wild Bill was not so keen on her. It’s not all bad though. Calamity’s reputation has lived on and

Cheers Big Ears

stuck for two reasons. She was ornery, but she was also kind and generous to the poor and sick and in 1876 she helped nurse victims of smallpox in  Deadwood.

She moved about a bit more, got married, actually had a daughter, Jane, who was fostered out to guardians, she was in Buffalo Bill’s show, the Pan American Exposition and increasingly depressed and, by the latter part of the century an alcoholic, possibly using drink to medicate her own fragile mental state.  And, that, is the story of Calamity Jane. She was a pretty feisty broad, but not in the way that most of us have ever imagined. She was tough, hard-living, hard-drinking, kind, vulnerable, a little lost, a lot misunderstood. A frontiers woman whose early responsibilities as head of her family never really left her. She might not be the sort of woman you’d want to sit and drink with – she’d drink you under the table and possibly shoot you for looking at her funny – but in her own way she was an admirable woman in a world that was dominated by men. Happy birthday Martha Jane Cannary, I’m really glad you weren’t a bit like Doris Day.

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April 14th

On this day in 1881 some heavy shit was going down in El Paso, Texas. Mosey on down with me pardners and I’ll tell y’all about it.

My name is Dallas and I'm about to kill you dead.

Now the first thing you should know about this part of the world in the latter part of them there nineteenth century years is that it was one helluva fighty ole place. In this very year the Southern Pacific, the Texas and Pacific and Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railways arrived in the town and the population grew to 10,000. Doesn’t sound like that much by today’s big city standards, but it was pretty much a boom town at the time. The boom was great for the economy, but a real bugger for the crime statistics, and that, my friends, is where we come in. You see, in the middle of this fightiness, there was a gunfight. It was epic. It was awesome. It was The Four Dead in Five Seconds Gunfight. Sure, you’re all more familiar with the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, but let me tell you something, those shooters took about 30 seconds to kill three people. I call that, well, frankly, disappointing. So let’s forget about the O.K. Corral and learn all about a real gunfight! Yeehaw!

Here’s what happened leading up to that fateful day. One of the big crime problems was cattle rustling and Johnny Hale, a rancher just outside the city, was a noted cattle rustler. He’d been stealing cattle from some Mexicans and two vaqueros (that’s a Mexican cowboy) named Sanchez and Juarique had been up to El Paso looking for thirty head of cattle he’d stolen off them. But, they’d been gone some time, and their friends and neighbours had set up a posse to come looking for them. Now, this was 1881, and even back then there was a deal of racism aimed at Texas’s Mexican neighbours. Mexicans were not allowed to carry firearms within the city limits. This is not what caused the problem though. The mayor, when he heard why the posse was there, was pretty sympathetic and allowed them to keep their guns and hunt out that low down dog, Hale. A constable called Gus Krempkau rode out with them to the ranch and lo and behold, they found the corpses of Sanchez and Juarique close to the ranch.

Turns out that Hale and some of his cattle rustling brethren were worried that the two Mexicans would find the cattle and come back with more men to dispense justice. So, two of them, Fredericks and Pervey, killed them stone dead. The whole sorry affair was taken to court where it was decided that Pervey and Fredericks would stand trial for murder. Krempkau, who spoke Spanish, was on hand to translate for the Mexicans. When the court adjourned everyone headed out for dinner and beer and that should have been the end of it. But, of course, there was more to come.

Hale had turned up with a friend of his, George Campbell, who had been the town marshal of El Paso (he lost the job because he was a drunk and a dick). They were not happy, but retired

The street where it all went down

to a local tavern to drink and drink and drink a little more. Across the road from the tavern, the newly appointed town marshal, Dallas Stoudenmire, was eating some dinner. He’d been in the court room too and knew all that had gone down. All was quiet until Gus Krempkau arrived at the tavern. Hale and Campbell were pretty much the worse for wear by this time and Campbell started trash-talking Krempkau for being a Mexican lover and talking their goddamned greasy language. He probably said worse. If Deadwood has taught us anything it’s that people in frontier towns and places like that swore like utter fucking bastards back in the day. In the midst of the trash-talking, Johnny Hale – who was so pissed he could barely see straight – got hold of one of Campbell’s pistols shouted “I got you covered, George!” and shot Krempkau. And now the stopwatch starts. Krempkau reeled back and collapsed against a wooden joist, he pulled out his own gun. Dallas Stoudenmire had heard the shot and he ran from the diner with his pistols drawn. He started shooting as he ran and gunned down an innocent bystander, a young chap named Ochoa; this did not slow him down, not even a little bit. Hale saw that his ass was on the line and managed to jump behind an adobe pillar, but Stoudenmire was too quick for him. Hale, popped his head around the pillar and Stoudenmire shot him right between the eyes. Campbell screamed at Stoudenmire to keep out of it, Krempkau, on the verge of losing consciousness shot Campbell twice. One bullet hit him in the wrist, breaking  his hand, the other got him in the foot. He screamed again and Stoudenmire whirled toward him and shot him, hitting him square in the stomach. He carried on walking toward Campbell who was now writhing in agony. Stoudenmire stood over him. Campbell’s last words were “You big bastard! You’ve murdered me!” And indeed he had.

It was all over. Krempkau, Ochoa, Hale and Campbell all lay dead. Now, call me picky, but I think that all of this may have taken a tiny bit longer than five seconds. Indeed some bystanders said afterwards that they thought it was closer to ten seconds. I guess four dead in ten seconds just don’t have that same ole murderous ring to it. Either way, there were still more dead than they managed at the O.K. Corral and in much less time, but for some reason it’s always been overshadowed by them thar Earps and that thar Doc Holliday. I dunno, I guess that maybe the guys from Tombstone had better P.R. agents or something.  But Dallas and Gus have me now and I’m bigging up those shooty men for fearlessly waving their guns around and killing each other for no damn good reason at all. Respec’ y’all!

For Today’s birthday we’re sticking with the law, but going for a less-shooty kind of law man. Today it’s Frank Serpico’s birthday. If you thought he was just a character in a film, played by Al Pacino, shame on you!

Serpico at the time of the Knapp Commission

Frank Serpico was a simple NYPD police officer. He worked as a patrol man, in finger printing and then got assigned to plainclothes where things got a little, sticky. Serpico was pretty disgusted by the widespread corruption he encountered and as a result of him trying to avoid it and refusing to be a part of it his career there was short-lived.  However, he didn’t just walk way from it. He spent the next years trying to bring the corruption to the attention of his superiors. Funnily enough they didn’t seem that interested. He was stymied by red tape and bureaucracy and seemed to be getting nowhere until he hooked up with another officer, David Durk, who felt the same way that he did. Now he head someone on his side, but as time passed  they were still being ignored. Finally after years of trying to go about things the right way, Frank went to the press. In 1970 he contributed to a New York Times story on corruption in the NYPD. This forced the mayor of NYC to do something and the Knapp Commission was appointed to investigate police corruption.

In 1971, Serpico was with other officers on a drug raid, when it became clear that his peers were not happy with him. The story of how he got shot in the face is long and convoluted, but at its heart lies the indisputable evidence that while the officers on the raid with him may not have deliberately sent him to be executed, they certainly did not give him back up, support him, or call in his injury when he was shot. Without the assistance of an Hispanic man in the building being raided, Serpico may have died. As it was he was left deaf in one ear and in constant pain from gunshot fragments left in his brain.  Later that year he testified to the Knapp Commission, becoming the first NYPD officer in its history to have the courage to publicly confront corruption in the force.

He retired in 1972 and after spending a decade living in Europe he returned to live in upstate NY. He lectures at universities and

Frank Serpico as he is now

police academies, helps out officers in similar positions to his own and campaigns against corruption and the weakening of civil liberties. Frank Serpico is an ordinary man who refused to stand by and see dishonesty cow honesty into silence.  When Al Pacino met him in 1973 to talk to him in preparation for playing him, he (Pacino) asked why he had done what he did, with all its concomitant risks. Frank replied, “Well, Al, I don’t know. I guess I would have to say it would be because … if I didn’t, who would I be when I listened to a piece of music?”

I doubt this blog is your cup of tea (or even coffee), Mr Serpico, but if you happen across it, I want you to know that I think you are a genuine hero, a good and fine man who refused to stay quiet. We need more people like you and it makes me happy to tell people a little more about you. Happy birthday, sir, and I hope you have many, many more.

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March 27th

On this day in 1881 Basingstoke erupted in rioting. The cause? The Salvation Army.

The Salvation Army had turned up in Basingstoke the previous year and immediately begun temperance campaigns. So far, so ever so slightly annoying, but their campaigns became rather noisy. Every Sunday they’d march around the town blowing their trumpets, banging their drums and calling out anti-drinking slogans that were as imaginative as  “Ban all drink!”. One can only imagine that

The riot probably looked a bit like this, but better drawn

religious self-righteousness had taken up the part of their brains where the imagination lived and killed it. The good people of Basingstoke were rather irritated by these marches. Some, who would no more think  of going into a public house than they would show off their hairy gardens on the high street, because they did not want the peace of the Sabbath being broken by the noise and the clamour. Others, who liked a pint or eleventeen, were outraged that these dull fuckers were ruining their drinking time and trying to close down their favourite haunts. Something had to give and give it did.

 

Before the big riot, there had been smaller incidents and there were also a group, who called themselves Massagainians, who followed the Sally Army around the town. They would play home-made instruments, sometimes nothing more than a tin can filled with stones, and sing bawdy songs very loudly, in an attempt to drown out the holy Joes and Josephines. There was something of an incident on 20th March, when 1,000 people gathered in Market Place armed with sticks and cudgels and had a bit of a go at the Sally Army. There were few injuries as supporters of the musical prohibitionists protected them and got them away. Not deterred, the following week saw full-on action from the folk of Basingstoke.

2,000 people turned up, armed as before. There were also 100 special constables there to ensure that things didn’t get out of hand. They didn’t quite manage to do that. It kicked off big time, sticks were flying, blows were being rained upon the Sally Army and high dudgeon was a place being occupied by all those who’d had enough of being told they shouldn’t have a pint or several to enliven their otherwise dull lives (this was Basingstoke after all, it was a bit of a deadly place to live if you wanted excitement). The Mayor (himself a member of a local brewery) had to call in the Horse Artillery, who were stationed in the town, to break up the riot before someone got killed. He then mounted the steps of the Town Hall and read them the riot act. Yes, that’s right! Back in Victorian Britain if you got a bit rioty, you were physically read the riot act. I love the idea of some poor bugger having to read out reams of legalese in an attempt to subdue an angry mob.

Luckily, no one was killed, but there were plenty of injuries and many sore heads that couldn’t be blamed on too much ale. The attempts to rid themselves of the God Squad went on until 1883, but there were no more riots. By 1883, the townsfolk realised that Salvation Army were going nowhere so they might as well get used to having them around. It took a little longer for the Sallies to realise that drinking wasn’t going to be stopped by hymns, pipe and drum. Stalemate, is not a victory, but it is an end of sorts.

And there we have it, dear readers. Even somewhere as boring as Basingstoke has had its moments and its lovely to know that while people might be backwards about coming forward over issues as varied as workers’ rights, social deprivation and the pointlessness of war, can be relied upon to break heads when it comes to the matter of depriving them of a drop of the hard stuff. Basingstoke we would salute you, but then you might think we were all Sally Army and get out your sticks again. So we won’t.

 

Today is the birthday of a man with a face like a Halloween mask. He is a writer, director and sometime very bad actor whose name is Quentin Tarantino.

Tarantino is one of those men who you know you’d slap stupid if you had to spend more than ten minutes with him, but he has made a couple of good films. Personally I mostly hate Reservoir Dogs because it’s a rip off and because there’s that whole bit about Like a Virgin which is totally fucking sexist. I love Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown, however, so kudos and all that. I’m not keen on Natural Born Killers, which he scripted, but I love From Dusk Till Dawn, especially the bits where we get to see Salma Hayak’s lovely eyes and when he is killed.

I have yet to figure out if Tarantino is an idiot savant or just an idiot, but given that occasionally he gets it spot on he’s probably at the

Quentin styling out those smouldering looks of his

very least an idiot semi-savant.  He used to go out with the wonderful Mira Sorvino and I do feel a bit sorry for her because I imagine that sometimes she must have woken up and seen that face looming over her and thought that a burglar in a bad mask had crept into the house and was going to kill her.  I think he’s single at the moment, so no jostling in that queue laydeez!

 

Whatever his faults, and I don’t blame  him for his face because he didn’t ask to be born like that, he does love film with a passion and this makes me like him more than I’m otherwise minded to. He’s also not a big fan of the whole digitization thing, the 3-d thing and other related jiggery-pokery, so this makes him sort of okay (but not quite) in my book.

And so, there remains nothing to say but that elusive genuine happy birthday thing. Happy birthday then, Quentin. If you happen to read this after I’ve submitted a screenplay and you think of ruining my chances in Hollywood because of my scant praise for you, do not. If you do I will cut you.

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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 21st

On this day in 1848 a very small pamphlet that was to have a very big influence was published. It was The Communist Manifesto and its authors were Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. For those who haven’t read it, and you really should give it a go because unlike

Karl was a martyr to his bum-grapes

Das Kapital by Mr Marx, it is not eleventy billion pages long, here is a brief outline of its contents.

It sets out its stall in the introduction, where the authors state that the governments of Europe are scared of communism (“a spectre is haunting Europe”) and that opposition parties are accused of being communist by ruling parties and more mainstream opposition parties accuse slightly more radical parties of being communist and … basically “Communist!” is the bad word to use on those people you not only disagree with, but whom you also want to discredit. Of course that sort of stuff doesn’t happen any more and  no one, for example, calls Barack Obama a socialist. Oh.

Four sections follow on from the introduction. They look at the bourgeois and proletarians, wherein the bourgeois rid the world of slavery and serfdom and turn free men into wage slaves with no certainty or security in their lives; proletarians and communists, wherein the proles realise that we are all communists if we are not the ruling class; socialist and communist literature, wherein Engels and more specifically Marx flick Vs at Socialist ideas of reform and say “Das ist schieße!”; finally, they present us with the position of the Communists on various opposition parties, which is the most outdated part of the pamphlet, dealing as it does with the situations in various European countries at the time of writing.

A little bit of context. 1848 was a pretty out there period in European history, known now as the year of revolutions with France starting the whole thing and many other countries getting all “Yeah, fuck off and stop oppressing us, you oppressors!” So, there was a lot of fear of radicalism amongst the ruling classes and the Manifesto was pretty much tuning into this, feeding off it, and scaring the pants off of quite a few mustachioed overlords.  That said, as we know, there weren’t any communist or even socialist revolutions at the time. They were far more bourgeois and capitalist in nature, but as Sam Cooke sung, many years later, a change

Engels won "Beard of the Year" for five years running in the 1860s

was gonna come. The Manifesto wasn’t so heavy on detail of how the proletariat would rise up and bring about the classless society, mostly because Marx, especially, was a thinker and not a doer, but it was important and still remains so, despite what we might class as the failure of communism in the 20th century. Er, at this point I could write a long and detailed refutation of the communist nature of those communist states that all started falling over in 1989, but while I am a genius who loves to share my big ole brain with you all, I have more sense than to bore you all rigid with my opining  on the necessary basis for a true communist revolution, the problems inherent in skipping over the necessary capitalist revolution, and totalitarianism 101. Let’s move on instead to a quick look at the lads Marx and Engels before wrapping this baby up.

Many lesser wits have pretended that they thought Karl was one of the Marx Brothers. This isn’t even a little bit funny and anyway, as true giants of intellect know, he was the grandfather of Groucho (but not the others, who were in fact foundlings) and it was his lack of humour and lifelong battle with haemorrhoids that inspired Groucho to seek out a career in comedy. The Marxes managed to cover up their controversial antecedent, but there are many glimpses of their grandfather’s influence in their films. Duck Soup, for example, is an obvious and not very well disguised allegory on the corruption of the ruling classes (Mrs Teasdale), the tyranny of leaders who aspire to ape the role of the ruling class (Rufus T. Firefly) and the manipulation of the good proletariat (Chico and Harpo), who seek for nothing but fairness and equality. Other things that we know about Grandfather Karl are that he had a large and bushy beard which was generally stained with Heinz tomato soup, was fond of criticising Hegel and loved a bit of Kant, and he had a preternatural fear of Dachshunds after being mounted and sexed by one as a young child.

Engels is more of an enigma. He always put Marx first, pretty much denied how influential he was in his collaboration with Marx, despite the fact that  he had undertaken a more serious investigation into the lives of the poor in Britain, and that he too had a large and rather splendid beard. Engels managed his family’s factory in Manchester in order to fund Marx’s research, even though he hated being a bourgeois, the very type he despised most, and eventually went to live in Primrose Hill in London where, when jaded by too much politics, he would party with the likes of Kate Moss and Sadie Frost.

These were the two men who wrote what was undoubtedly, whatever your political affiliation, the most important political document yet written. It was certainly blinkered as to the nature of humanity’s ability to fuck things up to the nth degree, a little too utopian and unwilling or unable to foresee possible dystopian consequences, but right, left and centre have all been influenced by the words of these two German chaps who knew that in order for change to happen, the workers of the world had to get down, get with it, and unite.

Today is the birthday of actor and reformed gak-head, Kelsey Grammer, famous for playing the snobby and erudite psychiatrist Frasier for far more years than he really should have. To be fair he was rather good at it and it is difficult to know where Frasier ends and Kelsey Grammer begins. It is, however, clear that, good as he was, he was often upstaged by Eddie the dog who was utterly adorable in ways which only served to highlight the pretensions of Frasier and his brother Nile Rodgers, who was famed for being the greatest dancer.

Put it away!

Since the end of Frasier, Grammer has worked pretty consistently in television, most notably voicing Sideshow Bob in The Simpsons, but it’s fair to say he’s been more famous for his private life, which has often consisted of him being drunk, taking drugs, and marrying women who used to work in porn and then divorcing them. He has recently been seen snogging  his new fiancée and showing off his torso, which has not been a good look for him. Dr Frasier Crane would not approve.

All of that said, and despite him thinking that John McCain would make a good president, he’s brought a lot of pleasure to a lot of people (even if Eddie brought more), and so it would be too, too ignorant to not wish this slightly washed-up ham a very happy birthday indeed. A note to the not-so-wise, Mr Grammer, shorts and an open shirt are not a good look on a 56-year-old man who has a very distant relationship with the concept of exercise.

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February 11th

On this day in 2006 Neo-Con pin-up and all round supporter of corrupt business practices and use of slave labour, Dick Cheney, went for broke and shot a man (Harry Whittington) in the face.

Harry Whittington: Cheney thought I was a quail.

The two men were part of a hunting party at a ranch in Texas, ostensibly shooting at quail. The incident occurred in the late afternoon after what might or might not have been a boozy lunch. The facts, as they often are when a man has been shot in the face, are hazy. First reports were that no booze  had been drunk, then “maybe a beer or two”, then “I only had one beer” or “I did not have a beer”, and “there was lashings of beer and spirits!” We do know that later that evening, after having shot a man in the face, Cheney had a few cocktails to celebrate calm his nerves. The poor lamb. This is what we do know, or think we know, or in the words of Cheney’s good mate, Donald Rumsfeld “As we know, there are known knowns. There are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns. That is to say we know there are some things we do not know. There are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don’t know we don’t know.” It’s fair to say that we know there are unknowns about that day on a Texas ranch, but there are undoubtedly unknown unknowns too. Anyway, here goes!

There were men shooting quail. They had lunch and beer. Maybe. They went out to shoot some more. Whittington shot a quail. Whittington went to retrieve his quail. Cheney saw another quail. The quail was near Whittington. Cheney shot at the quail and missed. Cheney shot Whittington in the face. And breathe!

The shooting was of course an accident. Cheney had no reason to shoot Whittington in the face and he did not mean to shoot him right in the face with his big gun. And awful as the accident was – three days later Whittington suffered a heart attack because some of the shot that did not hit him right in the face got lodged in his heart and caused a cardiac incident – there was a big apology in the aftermath. Naturally, as is the right and proper etiquette in incidents of this kind, Whittington apologised for being in the way of Cheney’s gun, getting shot in the face and causing a big ole media hullabaloo for poor Mr Cheney. Naturally, Dick did not apologise in public or private for shooting Whittington in the face and making him have a heart attack, because in order to do that he’d have to have been a half decent human being.

All’s well that ends well. Mr Whittington recovered from being shot in the face and has had the good sense to have nothing further to do with Dick Cheney, especially not when he’s carrying heat.

Today is the birthday of right-wing vapid totty, Sarah Palin. Ah Sarah! How shall I revile, thee? Let me count the ways. You know all about Russia because you can see it from Alaska, you thought your allies were North Korea, which is an easy enough mistake to make if you have shit-for-brains, you charged rape victims for rape kits when you were mayor of Wasilla, you fired a Police Chief, a

Sarah Palin makes a strong first impression

State Trooper and anyone else who didn’t fawn over you and have basically shown throughout your short rise to infamy, that you are a chancer, a pretty vile excuse for a human being who is very good at spreading hate and ignorance and very little else.

There are other things that contribute to making you a human being beneath contempt, but one doesn’t need to delve into the personal and your private hypocrisies to understand that your rise to prominence says something very troubling about the public’s collective psyche.  I can no more wish you happy birthday, Ms Palin, than I can sprout wings and shit on your head, but two days in a row of hating on the birthdays of the rich and famous? That’s a little too much hatred so …

Today would also be the birthday of a lovely man and a wonderful father by the name of Eamonn Bruen.  He was born in Castlerea, Co. Roscommon and eventually joined the diaspora and moved to London where in the 1960s his first and much-loved child was born, a daughter, who just happened to be me. Eamonn spent some of his youth singing in a show band and had a voice that was somewhere between Tom Jones and Otis Redding. He introduced me to Otis and Johnny Cash, for which I am truly thankful. The

No photos of Eamonn available, but he looked a lot like Rod Taylor, so this will have to do

last Christmas present I bought for him was a compilation of country and western hits, as like many an Irishman before and after him, he loved a bit of C&W. He was handsome, funny, bright and the most terrible piss-taker in all the world. He was also the best daddy a girl ever had and proof positive that not only sick and twisted demons from the bowels of hell were born on February 11th. Happy birthday daddy! Your little girl still loves you!

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February 10th

On this day in 1355 the first recorded pub brawl in history took place and was known as the St Scholastica Day Riot. But this was no ordinary brawl between a few blokes who’d had a few too many and then got in a fight over someone looking at their pint a bit funny. Oh no.  The whole thing started in the Swindlestock Tavern in Oxford and was started by two Oxford students named Walter Spryngeheuse and Roger de Chesterfield. The la-di-da pair complained to their host, John Groidon that his drinks were shit. He took umbrage at this and a war of words broke out, with many of those words being of the four-letter variety; this wasn’t enough for the posh wee shites. They threw their drinks in Mr Croidon’s face and beat him up and probably pissed on him too, much like their natural descendants, the Bullingdon Club would do centuries later.

This is a scene from the battle of Agincourt, which was not quite as bad as the St Scholastica Day Riot

So far, so minor if totally out of order pub brawl, but there was more to come. The good folk of Oxford were not much enamoured by the behaviour of the “bloody students” at Oxford and there was some retaliation: armed retaliation. At this point the mayor thought it was getting a bit loco in the coco so he went to see the Chancellor and have a bit of a word. It was, on the surface a good move, but talking to the chancellor was like talking to a brick wall. “I think you should really have these rebellious upstarts arrested good John.” he said (the Chancellor’s name was John, as was the mayor’s). “Fuck you, you grubby little oik!” was the Chancellor’s response. It’s easy to guess what happened next, but whatever you’re guessing is probably a little short of what actually took place. Take a deep breath, what follows is pure mental.

Two hundred students who thought it was fine to get stocious, throw beer in a tavern keeper’s face, beat him up and piss on him, went into town, beat up the mayor and anyone who got in their way, braying and waving their stupid floppy hair about all the while. And there was more. The riot went on for two days, during which time 63 students and about 30 townsfolk were killed! While it is at least  small relief that more students were killed than townsfolk, it was utter nutjobbery that allowed it to happen in the first place.  The killing and mayhem was eventually stopped when the wimpy students were routed and the mayor gave in and said “Yeah, those bastards at the university were in the right. They are allowed to do anything they want.” They were and they did.  A special charter was created and every year after that on 10th February, the mayor and his

Medieval students were noted for their small stature

councillors had to march bareheaded through the streets and pay a fine(!) to the university of one penny per student killed; this amounted to 5s 3d and was paid every year until 1825, when finally a mayor said “Fuck this for a game of soldiers! They can whistle for it!”

By this time the Bullingdon Club had been formed and its members were the spiritual ancestors of Messrs Spryngeheuse and de Chesterfield, drinking, puking defecating, micturating and beating up the plebs, the possible gays and anyone who they deemed weaker than them. Of course this sort of behaviour only takes place before they go on to run the country and look down their inbred noses at, and legislate against the oiks who get up to the same sort of stuff, but in less expensive clothes. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Today is the birthday of Glenn Beck, a man for whom the phrase “utter shitclown” may well have been coined. He is famous for his radio and television shows wherein he rants about communists, socialists and progressives, says that Barack Obama is a racist and gets very shouty about anything at all that doesn’t agree with his far right “beliefs”. Born and brought up a Catholic, he converted to Moronism Mormonism later in life. He is loved by the sort of people who share brain cells with their families on a rota system, as well as cynical Neo-Cons who like the fact that he whips up a big ole ferment about increasingly bizarre conspiracy theories, saving them the job of doing it themselves.

Beck may be doing it all for shits, giggles and money, he may be a buffoon with the learning capacity of  an educationally challenged

Beck's ability to cry like a baby on cue, marks him out as a probable infantilist

amoeba, or he may be a clever bastard who knows exactly what he’s doing. One thing is certain: even at the age of 47 he looks like a corn-fed baby who is always on the edge of throwing a tantrum. He uses this to good advantage by doing a lot of on-air crying. Fuckwits see this as a sincere outpouring of heartfelt emotion; anyone with half a brain wants to give the big blubbering piece of lard something to cry about. It is also worth noting that in the right light he looks like clown-loving serial killer John Wayne Gacy. Probably.

So, it’s his birthday today, he will probably eat cake before hauling his arse onto television to make vile accusations against some minority group or other. Or maybe he’ll go off to his Mormon Temple, boogie on down with the Osmonds before going out in the moonlight to shoot stray dogs. Whatever. There will be no happy birthday to him here, just a steadily raised middle finger and a sneer of pure and utter derision. Fuck you, Mr Beck, and the raggedy horse you rode in on.*

*No horses were hurt in the making of this comment.

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February 9th

On this day in 1950 Senator Joseph McCarthy gave a speech to the Women’s Republican Club of Wheeling, West Virginia, in which he played the big old braggart and claimed that he had a list of 205 members of the State Department who were in fact dirty Communist spies. He was a bit backward about coming forward with actual names, mostly because he was making it all up. That said, he was taken aback by how much publicity his speech got and in later speeches and meetings he kept changing the number of real honest to badness communists. It was 205, then it was 57, then it was 81 and then … etc. Poor old Joe forgot that the first rule of telling a good lie is to keep it simple and not to change the story when you think you might be found out, no matter how outrageous the lie.

Joseph McCarthy's idea of what a communist looked like

However, brazen, silly and easily pulled to pieces as the lie was, it created what became known as “the Second Red Scare”, because people were looking for something to be scared of. The first “Red Scare” was particularly nasty and involved people getting executed for being a bit too bright and a bit too far to the left of centre. That didn’t happen this time around, but it did get a bit bloody silly, given that it was all based on the rantings of an alcoholic who had a bit of a stick up his arse about communism and wasn’t afraid to go on for hours about how he knew that X person was in fact a top communist spy. There was a big hearing which was set up by Democrats to discredit McCarthy, but it backfired, despite the fact that McCarthy talked pure shite the whole time. This just made McCarthy worse. He had begun naming names in the committee hearing and when it was over he named more and more ridiculous names including, the lone Ranger and Tonto, Speedy Gonzalez and Harry Truman’s dog Feller. Despite this he got re-elected to the Senate in 1952 and continued to malign anyone he felt like having a pop at. By now Truman was out of office and Feller was left alone a little, although for the rest of his life, he was known to get a bit bitey if  he encountered a man who looked anything like Joseph McCarthy.

Thankfully, he went too far with Dwight D. Eisenhower when he started in on the army. Eisenhower was already a bit pissed off with McCarthy, but this made him go ballistic. While he remained a calm demeanour in public, in private he was saying to his closest aides, “It was bad enough when he went after that poor dog, but now he’s messing with the army, I’m going to kick that sonofabitch up the ass!” And he did. In a secret event that has never before been publicised, Eisenhower invited McCarthy for drinks and pretended that he had dropped his pen on the carpet. When McCarthy bent down to pick it up for him, Dwight took a run at his target and kicked him right up the arse. It was the beginning of the end for the old soak. Everyone started turning against him. Ed Murrow did a spot on his TV show wherein he stated that “McCarthy is an old drunk and a bastard liar.” and everyone who had been going “Yeah! That dog is a communist. Kill it!” was now all “Aw, the poor doggie. Shut the old drunk up!”

He continued to get all red in the face about communism (this was quite painful for him, as he’d see his face and hallucinate that it was turning into the Soviet flag) for another couple of years, but no one paid him any attention and so one of the bigger liars of history, met his end in obscurity in 1957. He was survived by Feller, who may or may not have peed on his grave.

Today would be the birthday of Brendan Behan, who met a premature death in 1964. Jaysus he was a grand aul soak! (that is Irish for “good golly, he liked a drink!”) and a fine writer. The drinking started early. Biographer Ulrick O’ Connor, tells the story of an 8-year-old Behan out with his grandmother. A passer-by was alarmed by the look of the lad and declared, “Oh my! Isn’t it terrible,

Brendan was a bugger for the bottle

Ma’am, to see such a beautiful child deformed?” Granny replied, “How dare you! He’s not deformed, he’s just drunk!” Brendan described himself as a drinker with a small writing problem. Unfortunately, the writing problem became smaller as the drinking became bigger. He left behind some great work, including The Quare Fellow and Borstal Boy, but he knew that his public reveled in his drinking and despite his diabetes and other health problems, the grand aul soak, drank himself to death. ‘Tis a coincidence and an irony that both of today’s entries involve men who were far too fond of the sauce. In the case of our first drunk, ’tis a grand aul shame that he didn’t drink himself to death earlier and in the case of the very wonderful and much missed, Brendan, ’tis an awful shame that he didn’t wean himself off the demon teat and live to write us a million more stories.

Happy birthday, you silly old fool, you may have been deformed by the drink, but you left a fine legacy behind you!

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