Tuesday
Sep062011

Blog 58

It was fascinating looking at that old photo of me at the old Raleigh factory.  For some reason, because I was keen on cycling and I already rode a Raleigh,  the company actually gave me two bikes.  One was a “Chief’s Special” which they took out of an export order for Nigeria.  It had roller rod brakes and twenty-eight inch wheels.  I still have it but its in a shed in Northampton.  The other bike was the racer you see in the photo which was designed for me by their top designer, he told me I had exactly the same body shape as the famous fifties champion Beryl Burton.  I don’t have that one anymore.

 

In comedy news, after doing that Stewart Lee curated thing at the Royal festival Hall in the summer it started me thinking about doing some standup again. However I don’t fancy performing a whole set so I thought I might MC some nights and see how that goes.  At the moment I’m in talks with the Soho Theatre about me putting together some comedy nights in the autumn and I’m going to MC a part of one of Robin Ince’s Christmas events at the Bloomsbury Theatre, so that should be interesting.  I went up tp Edinburgh to look at new comedians but I only saw three and one of those was Stewart Lee.

 

 

Friday
Aug052011

Blog 57

Mark with reference to the Comic Strip, I don’t know how much help I can offer.  It seems to me you are operating a club through which performers pass whereas the Comic Strip was a comedy troupe-a group of people who wanted to work together-who happened to have their own club.  After all the place only lasted a year, once all the performers moved in to TV and film  the club closed, it was not passed on to other comedians.  So if you want to move things on then you might want to try and found your own troupe who move on together or you can keep running the club but the quality of the performers I think will inevitably vary.  I suppose there are clubs like Second City that do have a continuing ethos but I don’t have any experience of that. 

 

Dan, I felt shame when you described the behaviour of people at the supermarket salad bar because that is me, I am a crammer.  However I do think taking a rubber band is cheating, you have to be able to get the lid on, that’s the game yo. Its like there used to be one of those weird Chinese Veg buffet places just over the road from the pub in Clerkenwell where all the bike messengers used to meet on a Friday.  Some of them would come in, pay the takeaway price of £3.50 rather than the sit down price of £6.00 but then they would cram their takeaway container way beyond  the level where they could ever possibly get the lid on.  The messengers would then sit outside the restaurant and eat their food.   To me that was an absolute outrage completely betraying the whole morality system of the all you can eat buffet but I never said anything because I didn’t want my parcels to go astray. 

 

Since you ask, here’s my article from The Times yesterday but sadly not the photos.

 

 

 

ALL-YOU-CAN-EAT-BUFFETS

You don’t always know exactly when you fall in love - once it has happened it is very hard to remember that you were not always in thrall to the beloved one - but I can date my lasting passion for all-you-can-eat-buffets to a specific moment which  involved some art students, gravity and a hat-stand.  When I was a child in Liverpool working-class families such as ours did not eat out frequently but when we did, at the Bon Marche department store or a Kardomah Cafe, there always seemed to be a tremendous lack of generosity in both the service and the cuisine.  The staff would grudgingly dole out tiny portions of food as if us diners were survivors of a shipwreck who were now crammed into a lifeboat under the baking sun with rescue not expected to arrive for weeks.  You always had the feeling while dining in a British restaurant in the 1950s or 1960s that if you tried to get more than your meagre rations the head waiter was going to shoot you with a revolver.

I might have accepted this if I hadn’t had something to compare it with.  My father was a railway guard and the most important thing that came with my his job was free rail travel.  Every railway worker and their family could go absolutely anywhere in Europe for twenty-five percent of the normal fare and we were in addition entitled to six free passes a year which meant we could travel right up to the borders of the Soviet Union for nothing.  All ferries - to Ireland, the Isle of Man, the Scottish Isles, across the Baltic and over the English Channel - were also included in the deal.   So from the age of six I travelled with him and my mother all over Europe and, as he was also a communist, our journeys tended to end in one of the countries of the old Soviet bloc. In a workers’ cafe in Paris I had dined on simple cuisine de terroir: fresh bread, coq au vin, fragrant salad of a quality you couldn’t approach even in a top hotel in Liverpool. On the tables were Duralex glasses, sturdy and elegant, carafes of water and a rough but drinkable vin de table. I’d eaten a Wiener Schnitzel with a fried egg on top in a traditional restaurant in Vienna, a huge old place with warped ancient wooden floorboards and a gigantic, ornate, black iron stove in the centre of the room with a fat pipe reaching up to the ceiling and among the tables waiters in long aprons pirouetted with massive trays of food held high above their shoulders. In Hungary in a cafe beside Lake Balaton I saw what a salad really could be like :there were red, green and yellow peppers, corn on the cob, huge tomatoes stuffed with Russian salad, artichokes, celery, lentils, okra and fresh herbs all of them covered in rich oils or smooth mayonnaise.  In none of these places did I feel like I was appearing in an amateur production of In “Which We Serve.”

I longed to discover the same munificence in Britain but it wasn’t until I was studying at art school in Chelsea that one of my fellow students told me about a place in Kensington that for a single price let you eat as much as you wanted from what they described as a groaning buffet table. Almost in a trance I said “I want to go to there.”  Urged on by me an enthusiastic group of us arranged to visit this Promised Land the very next night.

Entering the place in Kensington I was overexcited and nervous. I did not notice the hat stand by the door was already vastly over-loaded and without thinking I took my coat off and flung it on top of the heap of clothing already hanging there.  The weight of my coat proved to be the final straw and caused the hat stand with a creaking groan to topple like a giant redwood tree:  it seemed to tumble in slow motion until finally it came crashing down onto a table around which six or seven diners were seated. This table proved to be only an unsecured circle of chipboard resting on a trestle so the whole thing, with all the group’s food on it, tipped up and flew through the air, fortunately without hitting anyone.  For a second I was paralysed with fear: in any eating place, especially back in my native Liverpool, at the very least I would have had to pay for seven people’s dinners and would still in all likelihood also have got beaten up, but with a rush of gratitude I suddenly realised that in this place and this place alone I only needed to say to the people at the table, “Look I’m very sorry about that but you can see that the hat stand was overloaded and anyway you can just go and help yourselves to more food.” Which is what they all did. And from that moment I was in love with all-you-can-eat-buffets.

Since that day I have watched as the concept has slowly spread across the country and I feel by and large that it has been a good thing.  Admittedly not everyone agrees, I was reading an article a while ago lamenting the fact that Manchester’s Chinatown now has many all-you-can-eats where before there were conventional restaurants and describing this process as a race to the bottom. There is an element of truth in this. Certainly you are not going to get absolutely the finest cooking at a serve-yourself joint: it’s highly unlikely that Heston Blumenthal is ever going to open an all-you-can-eat snail porridge and black pudding ice cream restaurant (though how much of that you could manage to cram down yourself is open to question) but at the top end of the buffet market there are plenty of Chinese and Indian places that have their own sushi chefs, naan makers and wok fryers while at the bottom of the scale they are just incredible value. A friend, knowing my interest, told me about a number of pubs in the Hull area that do a carvery for a mere £3.50! Admittedly you only get one go at the huge joints of lamb, beef and pork but you are allowed to make as many trips to the vegetable selection as you like.  She said that this formula had saved many of these large pubs from closing and each day coachloads of residents are brought from care homes, hospitals and prisons to eat a much nicer lunch than they would get if their establishments were doing the catering and at a price the institutions can’t match.

But I think the most persuasive argument for them is that, in my experience at least, all-you-can-eat-buffet restaurants always seem to be full of really happy people. Maybe this is because the diners are freed from many of the anxieties that still trouble them when they visit other  establishments.  None of the customers are going to act superior, there is no daunting menu and you serve yourself so there are no snooty staff unless you fancy being snooty to yourself.

Of course on the downside it can be hard to have a conversation because you’re always thinking about what you are going to eat next and a certain compulsion can settle in. Once when we were visiting Zen CX at the now sadly vanished Oriental City Complex in Colindale North London my friend Harry found himself pouring with sweat and certain that he was having a heart attack but he still couldn’t stop himself eating.  It was only when he stopped trying to force more shrimp down his gullet that the sweat and the palpitations went away and he realised his number wasn’t up just yet.

Since the incident with the hat-stand I have dined at some of the finest buffet places in the world, such as those at the Oriental Hotel in Bangkok  and the Oberoi Hotel in Adelaide, but It has also become a hobby of mine to try and find the cheapest all-you-can-eat place in Britain.  So far it is still Indian Veg in Chapel Market Islington. When I started going there the price was £2.50 though it has now crept up to £3.95. There always seem to be an extraordinary mix of people in there, including a large number of academics discussing string theory with pappadum crumbs in their beards, off-duty Buddhists and a smattering of people in those paper jump suits the police give you when you’ve been sick on yourself in the cells. 

I have mentioned this place in a newspaper once before and when I next visited I discovered they had constructed a little Hindu shrine to me consisting of an old photo garlanded with paper flowers.

The manager also said, “ Of course Mr Sayle your meal is on the house.” “ Great... “ I thought, “everybody has their price and mine turns out to be £3.95.”

Saturday
Jul232011

Blog 56

Well I’ve been all over the place me.  I did Latitiude last Sunday which was fine but muddy and I had to keep yelling at the next stage to turn the bloody music down.  The next day we gave this really interesting guy and his son a lift back to London.  They’d foolishly come down on the Sunday by public transport and had had to take five different trains to get there!  His name was Saul Williams an American poet and actor and musician who’d been appearing on the poetry stage.  We were having such a good conversation that I missed the turning from the A14 to the A12 and we were nearly in Ipswich before I noticed but since it is near our house I was able to take him right to St Pancras to catch the Eurostar to Paris where he lives.  The way I described Suffolk to Saul was that its such a media part of the countryside (the most common name in Southwold is either Freud or Murdoch) that you meet the same people as you meet in London but in Suffolk they’re on horses.

Then on Tuesday we caught the train to Liverpool for the opening party of the Musuem Of Liverpool  which made me resolve from now on to only visit museums I’m an exhibit in.  Then on Thursday we had a signing for the paperback of Stalin Ate My Homework at News From Nowhere, Liverpool’s radical bookshop.  

I also took my mother to the Tatton Park Flower Show which was nice but a bit disappointing, I thought there’d be more flowers and less stalls selling wierd carved wooden owls but perhaps I missed some bits.

Also I’m doing an article for a newspaper on my hobby of going to all you can eat buffets and I wondered if any of you had any stories about them, I think I said I’d file copy by the 29th of July so before then would be handy if you do.

Saturday
Jun182011

Blog 55

Yes Bobby Chariot.  I loved Bobby and he’s the one part of my standup career that I do miss.  Also I think there was probably more life left in him when I dropped him.  Its actually an interesting story how I invented him.   In that C4 film “Itch” where I lived on the roundabout, one of the cast was a very young Johnny Lee Miller, I guess he was maybe 8 or 10 at the time and to amuse him, I’d tell him stories in one of which I invented this comedian character called Bobby Chipperbottom who was an early version of Bobby Chariot.   So there you are Angelina Jolie’s (1st, 2nd?) husband inspired Bobby.  Though he was my invention I do think a lot of his best stuff was written by Graham Linehan and Arthur Matthews, I love the bit where Bobby asks the audience if any of them have been tortured and one man says yes and starts crying.   To answer your question Ewan I do sometimes think of reviving him, his hair and teeth are still in a cupboard in my office, but if I’m honest I think it’ll probably never happen, partly because I think I’ve moved on too far to know what to write for him now and partly because to play him I’d have to shave off my beard and I’m frightened to find out what’s under there after all this time.

Without retracting any of it I do sometimes feel a little guilty about Nic and Tob, (Vic’s still funny with me if we meet but Bob’s fine) and its true they had done very little to deserve it at the time but then that was sort of the point.  After all its easy to attack those that deserve attacking but to pick on somebody who’s blameless, popular and talented takes things to a whole different level.

At Last the 1981 Show Report.  Well it was a very odd night, I felt very relaxed and I thought all the new material I did went really well and I definitely got the biggest cheer of the night so all that was good, it was gratifying to find out how much love there is for me out there as a comedian (though quite what I do with it is another matter).  However for reasons unrelated to the show it was also a very sad night because after I’d been on I got a phone call from Peter Rchardson to tell me that the lovely Simon Brint (one half of Raw Sex and the original keyboard player in the Comic Strip house band who also did the music for all my TV shows ) had died.   So it was really wierd to be with some of the people from that time, Nigel, Arnold and Pauline and to find out that the first of our gang had gone.

Friday
May272011

Blog 54

Well interestingly enough, this thing I’m doing on Sunday at the Festival Hall, “At Last The 1981 Show.”  Also features Pauline Melville who played Pauline Sneak in “Didn’t you Kill...” and of course is now a highly respected author.

I think my part in The Strike is certainly one of my favourites because for once I’m underplaying while everybody else is giving big performances along with that BBC 2 Film Night Voice, also Selling Hitler also I’m very proud of Sorry About Last Night (the radio version of which I think they’re repeating/have repeated on Radio 4 Extra.)  

I was debating with my friend Muriel Gray what is my worst performance, I thought a very odd film I did in Spain called Siesta but she said its actually quite good, (I don’t know if anybody’s seen it).  She said Carry On Columbus was definitely my worst film by miles.