Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Layer 341 . . . Depression, Joy, Laughter and Linda Smith

There's been lots in the media recently about mental health and about depression, which seems to be more and more common in this century. There was a superb account of it in the Guardian, for example, told by someone who's gone through it.


The very opposite to depression is joy and laughter. Looking around various places recently, both at home and on holiday, there appear to be very few people either expressing or exuding joy or enjoying a good laugh.

Holiday reading this year has been "I Think The Nurses Are Stealing My Clothes: The Very Best of Linda Smith." This may well be the funniest book ever published - hilariously, eye-wateringly funny - which is ironic as most of it consists of words that were never intended to be read, as they're quotations from the late Linda Smith's broadcasting contributions to programmes like The News Quiz, Room 101 and Have I Got News For You, plus some transcripts of various shows and stand-up comedy performances.

On the subject of the US elections: "They want to get Anne Robinson out there. She'd sort it out. 'George W Bush, you are as thick as shit - goodbye!' "

"You sometimes wonder if this government are drug addicts. They just seem to be selling everything off. If you went round to Downing Street, there's probably not a stick of furniture."

"What is a gay mafia anyway? 'Hey, you know what would brighten up this hideaway? Some scatter cushions.' "

"David Gest seems to have had quite a lot of plastic surgery done - but not by a plastic surgeon."

To Neil Kinnock, guest presenter on HIGNFY -

"In 1992 do you think you'd have won if, instead of campaigning, you'd just pissed off on holiday for three weeks? Just gone away, kept your gob off the telly, maybe replaced yourself with, say, a lovely little kitten. A ginger kitten if you'd wanted to be a bit rebellious. A jar of ginger marmalade. Something like that. Do you think you would have sailed in? I mean, I realise you were up against the mighty charisma of John Major. That's a tough old one, isn't it? The man who ran away from the circus to become an accountant."

Linda wasn't simply our most brilliant comedian, she was also an incredible human being who seemed to inspire love and affection in everyone who got to know her. Several contributions to the book consist of appreciations written by those who worked or performed with her.

Jo Brand, for example, wrote, "Linda has been deemed a 'radical', a 'wit' and 'unique' . . . words that are not really enough to describe the essence of Linda and her spirit. I always envied the ease with which Linda turned weighty and unfathomable political topics into something warm, funny and fit for consumtion by Joe Public, who didn't have a degree in PPE from Oxbridge to know what she was on about. Her material was clever, perceptive, politically sharp and above all very funny."

Politics, however, wasn't the only topic for Linda's comedy and satire. She also made fun of Saga louts, The Church of the Vague Sense That There Must be Something More Than This, and the practice of drugging kids who can't seem to make themselves sufficiently passive and obedient at school - "I just need to lie down in a darkened room with a pint of Sunny Delight, Ventolin top, thank you. Once you're nine every day's a bonus . . . "

She did a brilliant bit about what happens when friends have a baby. "So when they come round your house, pantechnicons draw up outside, roadies start unloading great stacks of Pampers . . . and baby swings and changes of clothes and bottle warmers and organic baby food . . . And the parents are like the walking dead - they come in like bush babies just woken from a sleep - they're totally sleep deprived - they're like they've just crawled out of Guantanamo Bay, confessing to crimes they know nothing about. And you're going, "Can I get you anything?" and they say, "Yes, some sleep please, we'd like some sleep . . ." I usually give them a cup of Radox."

"All of a sudden the room fills with an ungodly stench coming from the baby . . . and now what I assume will happen here is that they will put on protective clothing, like for chemical weapons, helmets and gauntlets and some sort of sterile tongs, pick the baby up, run outside with it, leave it by the wheelie bin, hose the street down with disinfectant, phone the public health authority - get everyone in the postal district inoculated against cholera . . . basic measures . . .

Oh no - they look at you as if you're mad 'cos you're vomiting - I think new parents are like soldiers in the First World War - they've seen so much squalor that they've lost all veneer of civilisation, haven't they? They don't know how to behave any more - you have to explain gently . . . no, sick isn't a brooch - not really . . . "

Linda was brought up in Erith. "It's in South-East London, stroke, Kent - it's what's known as Greater London - but to be honest, the further you get away from the middle of it . . . London doesn't really get greater - it's better where there is stuff - it's more Lesser London really - I'll tell you how miserable it is . . . Erith is so miserable and depressing and dreary and soul-destroying and boring that it's not even twinned with anywhere. It just has a suicide pact with Braintree."

"I love civic information generally - I gather it wherever I go . . . brilliant leaflet I picked up in Cleethorpes . . . big list of all the attractions in Cleethorpes and the slogan was . . . 'Cleethorpes - There Has To Be More."

"The competition to name the Erith Leisure Centre was won by the competitor who suggested it be called . . . the Erith Leisure Centre."

"So that's my home town and I come from a perfectly ordinary working class family, and in fact I didn't really meet middle-class people until I went to university - it was quite a shock really . . . people were saying things like, 'Well I was always going to end up doing English because I was brought up surrounded by books - brought up in a house full of books' . . . and I'd think, 'Yes, so was I - but they were full of Green Shield stamps.' I suppose we could have swapped them for some books - but we had our eye on a twin tub."

Sandi Toksvig wrote, "She was a remarkable, kind and generous woman and her loss is incomprehensible."










One final bit of Linda:

On having live debates between leaders of the main political leaders during general election campaigns:

"If these people want to break into showbiz, let them do it the hard way - get an act. Of course Hague already has a lucrative sideline as a voice-over artist - mostly as Wallace from Wallace and Gromit, 'Oh, it's the wrong trousers, Gromit.' Tony Blair and his pal Peter Mandelson could curry favour in their North-East constituencies by remaking Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads with Tony Blair as the socially ambitious Bob, Peter as the eternal batchelor Terry, and Cherie as snooty Thelma Pet."

And a final word of appreciation, from Hattie Hayridge,

"We talked into the early hours and discovered how much we had in common; our working class 'doff your cap' -type backgrounds . . . She's often been described as a female Mark Steel or Jeremy Hardy [or Mark Thomas] . . . I think comedy is best when it puts forward a belief or a purpose . . . I have never felt brave enough to make that push to be political onstage, despite actually having a degree in the subject, but I don't think my views fit into a framework as well as Linda's did. Linda's brilliance lay in her ability to focus her wide range of literary knowledge, petty annoyances, anger, political views, her idealism and her enthusiasm into one laser sharp incisive comment, delivered with a wicked wit and a twinkle in her eye."

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