Updates

I’ve neglected this site for a while, so apologies to the literally millions* who check it every day looking for my wit and wisdom.

I’m going to go through and add a few bits and pieces I’ve written in the last few months. A lot of these are pieces I wrote and submitted to spoof news sites, so I’ll backdate them to when they were written.

Other bits I’ll add as and when.

As you were.

*of atoms, on average, occasionally adding up to a whole human being on a given day.

Chilcotte report criticises Richard the Lionheart

Richard the Lionheart has been strongly criticised by the Chilcotte Report into the Third Crusade.

Sir John Chilcotte’s report, which has taken 820 years to produce and runs to 436,000 sheets of parchment, says King Richard failed to make a case for invasion.

“There was no evidence to support Richard’s claim that Saladin was building a ‘bloody massive catapult’ in the desert,” the report states.

“There was, however, plenty of evidence to show that the Crusade was a preconceived war of aggression, for example in the Pope’s announcement: ‘How’s about a Holy War to kill all the Muslims, huh? Benedictus Benedicat, yee-haw!'”

Chilcotte also criticises Richard for not preparing for the Crusade’s aftermath,  and the Middle East’s inevitable descent into eight centuries of interfaith slaughter.

Campaigner Julia Scones welcomed the report on behalf of her anti-war ancestor, Egbert the Muckraker.

“This report vindicates everything Egbert was saying, it’s just a tragedy he died a mere eight centuries before it was published.

“Egbert had such a big heart. We know this because it was ripped, still-beating from his chest by an angry mob denouncing him as a traitor to King and God.”

Others are angry that the report took so long to produce. Dave Jenkins’ ancestor Geoffrey the Massive Target was killed by an arrow during the siege of Jaffa.

Dave said: “Geoffrey died over 800 years ago. How can it have taken this long to find out why?

“Of course King Richard will get away scot free, having been dead for centuries. I’m sorry, it’s hard to talk about this. Is there, err, is there any chance of compensation?”

Osborne ‘could be up to all manner of evil right now’

Political experts have warned that the Chancellor George Osborne could be using the post-Brexit chaos to get away with “some truly unspeakable shit.”

On Friday, the Chancellor quietly shelved his plan for a budget surplus by 2020, abandoning the entire basis for the last six years of punishing austerity.

When journalists barely seemed to notice, Mr Osborne announced plans to restore the country’s finances by making big businesses pay even less in corporation tax.

Political analyst Philbert Henkle fears that this will have emboldened the Chancellor.

“Everyone’s obsessed with the soap opera of Michael betraying Boris, and whether Angela will evict Jeremy.

“Everything else gets in under the radar. Who knows what horrors Osborne will try to get away with next?”

Rumours over the weekend suggested that forced labour camps have sprung up outside shattered former industrial towns, with unemployed people rounded up to work on Mr Osborne’s ‘Northern Powerhouse’.

Meanwhile, reports emerged of artists, writers and Guardian journalists being executed in an impromptu killing field in Shoreditch Park, overseen by a terrifying figure in a hi-vis jacket.

Another pundit, who did not want to be named for fear of reprisals, said: “This is just the beginning.

“If the crisis continues into winter, expect Osborne to realise his long-held dream of heating the homes of Tory pensioners by burning disabled people for fuel.

“Watch him. Fear him. Watch his hands, not his face. And never look directly into his eyes. They’re just empty holes into the bleak void that lies behind.”

Mr Osborne was contacted for comment, but did not respond. Probably because he was dislocating his jaw in an attempt to swallow a newborn baby whole.

Historians row over ‘which politician is most like Caesar’

Roman experts are engaged in a fierce battle over the use of Julius Caesar for political metaphor.

Mary Weird, Professor of Really Old Stuff at Cambridge, said: “Corbyn is clearly Caesar.

“He’s been stabbed in broad daylight by all his former friends and allies, who say they’re doing it for the greater good.

“The only difference is his rivals forgot to let him conquer an empire first. He even has the initials JC.

“Presumably headline writers are waiting for Ken Livingstone to betray him too, so they can do an ‘Et tu Newtus’ headline.”

Simon Shwarma, Professor of Ages Ago at Oxford, disagrees.

“Boris is clearly Caesar, the imagery is all there. He crossed the Rubicon to oppose Cameron, he led a victorious European campaign and then was assassinated by his closest ally.

“Boris is a classicist, he’d get this stuff. And he looks like he’s partial to the odd imperial banquet and orgy too.”

Non-classicist Bob Jenkins of the Eight Bells offered a compromise: “They can’t both be Caesar, one of them’s got to be the Gauls.

“So Johnson can be Oborix – an overweight, vain egotist in stripy trousers. For some reason he’s been invincible since birth despite always doing stupid stuff.”

“Gove can be Asterprix – a twitchy short-arse who’s always sulking or looking for a fight.

“The two of them have been running around offering everyone ‘magic potion’ to make everything better, but now they’ve fallen out.

“I’m no expert, but this is exactly like that famous time in history where everyone in the little village got jealous of each other and their eyes went all green.

“Still, that magic potion they promised should turn up any day now and everything will be fine.”

Rugby princes

Another sketch update this week. I’m not sure if this one made the final script stage at Newsjack or not – something I submitted did, but it could have been one of the one-liner jokes submitted instead. Either way, it didn’t make the final edit so here it is for posterity:

ANNOUNCER: At Wales’ Rugby World Cup victory over England on Saturday, much was made of the body language between Prince William, who supported Wales, and Prince Harry, supporting England. As if at the final whistle Harry was saying “First primogeniture, and now this.” But the feud between the Princes had its roots in the days before the match…

GRAMS: MALE VOICE CHOIR ON RADIO IN BACKGROUND

WILLIAM: Borrow dar. Borrow dar. Come roo.

FX: DOOR OPENING

WILLIAM: Oh, hi Kate. Just brushing up on the old Welshish before the big game. Come roo. Liddle widdle gog… blimey! You’d need a second chin to get your mouth round some of these

KATE: One would be a start. Why are you pretending to be Welsh?

WILLIAM: I’m as Welsh as leeks, ‘boyo’! Actually, Pater just said one of us should identify some kelp. Apparently Welsh people eat seaweed.

KATE: [SIGHS] Are you sure he didn’t want you to identify as a Celt?

WILLIAM: What’s that song I’ll need to sing?

KATE: Land of My Fathers.

WILLIAM: Good-ho! I’ll take off the plural on Father, then it’s technically true. Jolly good of them to organise that for me. Borrow dar…

FX: DOOR CRASHING OPEN   

HARRY: What’s happening bro!? Getting ready for your boyos to lose and England to win? Ha! Burn! Classic Hazza! Hashtag banter!

WILLIAM: Yeah? Well, err, that’s what you think, because we’re totally going to beat your bunch of… actually I’ll not be rude, I probably went to school with half of them.

HARRY: You’re going to be crying all the way back to…what’s that dreadful little town on the north coast?

KATE: Rhyl?

HARRY: You bet, I’m totes for rill! ‘Cry God for Harry, England and Saint George!’ The Bart wrote that you know. Bart Simpson.

KATE: Bloody hell.

WILLIAM: Yeah well, err… Kate and I will be crying ‘God for Wales, Willy and the Dragon!’ Won’t we darling?

KATE: Whales, willy and a dragon sounds like a very impractical underwater orgy.

HARRY: I don’t care, as long as I get to charge in, chase a dragon and ride a fine filly! Hashtag saucy! Well I’ll see you losers tomorrow, when I get to sing God Save Granny very loud, and you have to be Corbyn! Ha! That really is top class hashtag Hazzabantz.

KATE: Harry, why do you speak in hashtags all the time, can’t you just get it out of your system and go on twitter?

HARRY: Not allowed. Grandma says if I get a twitter account she says the whole monarchy will be done within a week. The proles aren’t ready for this royal jelly! Hashtag boom!

FX: DOOR SLAMS           

END

My Gaffe or Yours?

Apologies for slower updates recently, I’ve been working on a few other things. Here is a sketch I wrote for the BBC Radio 4 Extra show Newsjack that made the final script but was then cut from the edit. Thought I might as well post it here:

MY GAFFE OR YOURS

ANNOUNCER: An ongoing sexism row has erupted after a female barrister exposed LinkedIn comments by a senior male lawyer, who described her photo as “stunning”. The man clarified that he was, of course, talking only about the quality of the photography. Inspired by this, the BBC has commissioned a new game show in which lawyers explain away perfectly reasonable misunderstandings on social media, entitled: My Gaffe Or Yours. Here’s an exclusive clip.

GRAMS: GAME SHOW STYLE INTRO MUSIC

FEMALE HOST: Now Mr Hampton-Jones, in this round you’ll be justifying comments made to a female colleague half your age on LinkedIn. Your first comment is as follows: “Wow! You look seriously hot in that photo!”

HAMPTON-JONES: Clearly, the photo must have been taken on a warm day and the young lady was looking flushed. An entirely innocent comment.

FEMALE HOST: And the next one: “Phwoar, my tongue is hanging out here!”

HAMPTON-JONES: Another hot day, I was simply struggling to catch my breath. Nothing sinister at all.

FEMALE HOST: “I would like to have full intercourse with you.”

HAMPTON-JONES: I meant social intercourse, naturally. Dialogue, professional debate. As is appropriate between colleagues

FEMALE HOST: “I would literally abandon my wife and family for you”

HAMPTON-JONES: [BEGINNING TO STUMBLE] Well… every morning I go to work and kiss my loved ones goodbye. I was probably suggesting an early morning business meeting with my colleague, meaning I’d have to leave my family earlier than normal.

FEMALE HOST: And the next one: “Hey sweetcheeks, take a look at this!” – and there’s a picture attachment with this one, that’s the photo you can see on your screen. We’ve enlarged it for you.

HAMPTON-JONES: Errr… Clearly… sweetcheeks must refer to the young lady’s habit of eating donuts messily in the office and getting sugar on her face. And as for the…ah…photo… err…I expect I merely wanted a second opinion on whether it looked normal, and I didn’t want to bother a doctor.

FEMALE HOST: And your final one: “You are one incredible piece of crumpet”

HAMPTON-JONES: Well obviously I meant I was fantasising about covering her in butter and honey and nibbling… OH DAMN!!

FX: BUZZER SOUNDS

FEMALE HOST: Oh dear, I’m afraid you didn’t get through but – like in our uncomfortable lift ride up to the studio – you really were very, very close.

END

Edinburgh roundup

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival is one of those venerable institutions I always meant to visit but somehow never got around to, like a test match at Lords, or like my granddad in his nursing home. But this year I finally made the time, and spent a long weekend wondering why on earth I’d never taken the trip sooner. Apart from the cost. And the time away. And my other commitments. And the inevitable liver damage.

Given that the festival’s over, it seems slightly late to put up reviews of things I enjoyed. But in no particular order, the following things were good or great, and I’d recommend seeing them if they’re touring:

Alex Horne: Monsieur Butterfly. Inspired clevernonsense.  He spent an hour building a giant mousetrap-style machine that filled the stage, involving the audience and keeping up a stream of anecdote and interaction that came together beautifully at the end. Possibly the most purely enjoyable thing we saw.

James Acaster: Represent. Same stage, directly after Alex Horne, perfect counterpoint. Once the DIY was tidied away James Acaster gave us an hour of cleverly structured standup with different strands weaving in together around a story of jury service, secret santa, Christingle and log flumes. The sort of show that demands the audience pay attention and rewards them for it. Fantastic stuff, was nominated once again for the main comedy award, well deserved, shame he didn’t win.

Tom Binns: The Club Sets. This probably had more proper belly laughs than anything else we saw. His Ivan Brackenbury character has been around forever but the idea’s great and like a lot of music-based acts you can watch it multiple times. Ian D Montfort is strong enough as a character he could do a show with no tricks and a show with no jokes and both would still be worth watching. And his new ventriloquist act finding increasingly desperate reasons for his puppets’ speech impediments was one of the funniest 20 minutes we saw.

Piff the Magic Dragon: Breakfast at Piffany’s. Great character, impressive tricks, esentially it’s a Jack Dee-type figure but dressed in a spangly dragon suit doing world-weary card tricks and hating his audience. We saw it early in the run, when a couple of set pieces are tightened up it’ll have become even better.

Tiff Stevenson: Mad Man. Strong hour of standup, some topics felt a bit familiar but she always found a new angle on them. The bit on Jack Daniels marketing itself with nostalgia for the slave-owning Deep South was especially good.

Brendon Burns. he seems determined to hide away from view these days, if he ever came across this post he’d probably hate the very fact it’s been written. But I caught his free standup show and it was very good, and he seems to be loving the freedom of a lower profile. He’s still a great stage presence and a master at a kind of extremist logic, taking you step by step to a conclusion you’d not have expected to agree with but without there being any obvious flaws in the argument. With good jokes.

Liberi Di: Something. very enjoyable circusy show, very impressive acrobatics on what looked like a relatively low budget. Surprisingly funny slapstick routines in there as well, and I usually have very little time for clowning.

Clowntown. Very nice little gig in a yurt at the Free Sisters. Good selection of acts the day I was there in a friendly venue, despite the football blaring at a million decibels in the courtyard outside. No actual clowns, to everybody’s relief.

Alun Cochrane: A Show With A Man In It. An hour of really strong conversational standup. Managed to skip from observational bits about life’s minutiae (such as the accidental eating of apple stickers) to flights of fancy about keeping people locked in his basement ‘just to help out around the house’. Perfect for the intimacy of the Stand.

Marcus Brigstocke: Why the Long Face? Another really strong show, a blend of his political stuff and the more confessional stuff of the last few years. It felt like it was shoehorned into an hour a bit – it overran and still felt like a few bits were truncated rather than being allowed full reign. Good enough to want to see a longer, toured version though. A couple of really good set pieces too, he always seems to have a cracking ending to his shows.

Edinburgh’s a great place to visit any time of year, but especially so during the festival. There’s something about the fact that most of the stages are smallish, and there aren’t really any VIP areas that gives the whole thing an extra intimacy compared to the big music festivals. We met and chatted to a load of people who were performing, bumped into people we knew who were up to see the festival, and tried not to trip over the hundreds of jugglers and buskers lining the streets. Only regret is not having taken a few more risks and seen more shows that might have been terrible rather than largely sticking to safe bets. But seeing how much stuff there is on for kids, I’ve no excuse for leaving it so long before visiting again.

Patriot blames

Just a quick post to link to an article I wrote for the Morning Star, published today. Thanks to everyone who’s said nice things about it or shared it. And if anyone reading this would like to commission me to write something, please get in touch on jonnalism@gmail.com.

P.S. I do know it was Samuel Johnson not Ben Johnson who said the thing about patriotism. It was one of those silly jokes people seem so fond of nowadays.

Walking With Dinosaur


This time last week I was staring peevishly up a steep path from a Devon beach to a clifftop. It was the third such climb I’d stared at that day, and it wouldn’t be the last. My dad came up behind me, saw the trajectory of the path and swore quietly into his beard, before puffing determinedly off up the hill with the measured, rhythmic breathing of the Little Engine That Hoped It Still Could.

My dad and I have been walking the south coast of England a week or so a year for five years now, and have made it from Lands End almost to the Devon-Dorset border. He’s a perfect walking companion, and stoically endures my teasing, including my habit of referring to our annual hike as “Walking With Dinosaur”.

Dad is in great shape for a man of 65, albeit carrying the legacy of perhaps one more steak-and-red-wine dinner than is medically advisable. He’s still capable of walking 15-20 miles in a day if necessary, though we usually tend to stick to 10-13 miles, given the frequency of swearworthy cliffs on the coastal path. He’s also more than capable of holding his own in the piss-taking stakes, given that he taught me everything I know, then held quite a bit back in reserve in case I get uppity.

Spending up to nine hours a day on a trail together gives time to chat as father and son that is harder to come by the rest of the year, though I’d not pretend we necessarily use the time for deep philosophical chat. Dad is always ready with a joke or an interesting opinion (invariably more thought-through than my own), or, when necessary, silence. Though maybe my opinion of when his silence is necessary differs slightly from his own. Possibly because time in the company of parents often makes people revert to their sixteen-year-old selves, my current favourite trick is to say something deliberately provocative or needlessly offensive just as we start up a big hill, knowing that dad will lack the requisite puff to argue the point during the ascent. For some reason, this is particularly enjoyable if he agrees with the basic thrust, but I overstate the case to the point of being completely indefensible.

“Given the harm caused to vulnerable people from cuts to the welfare state,” I’ll begin as we start to climb, “It’d be best for us as a species if George Osborne were to slip in a pigpen during a photo op for the NFU. And for him to then be devoured: living, breathing, screaming, dying, by a horde of ravenous Gloucester Old Spots. Ideally they should start from the toes and work their way upwards, don’t you agree? Oh golly gosh, is that another climb? See you at the top!”

We’ve developed a routine whereby we talk over the issues of the day, I overstate something in a kneejerk way, for what I hope is comic effect, and he patiently corrects me, using anecdote, legal precedent and, from time to time, quadratic equations. I then wait until the bottom of the next big hill before restating my case, often with a gratuitous knob gag thrown in for good measure. Dad is, at least in this context, an admirably patient man.

With a perfect walking companion, I’m lucky enough to also have a perfect location in which to walk. For all our occasional moaning about the up-and-down terrain, the south coasts of Devon and Cornwall are spectacular places to hike. Around corner after corner, clifftop meadows and wooded valleys give way to beautiful sandy coves (these sound like a P.G. Wodehouse description: “Old Biffy was known as something of a sandy cove…”).

DSC_0134A few conurbations like Torquay and Plymouth aside, the paths mostly run along uninhabited coastlines looking out over clear blue waters, punctuated by occasional beaches or fishing villages with names like Porthfallus and Polpott. These often offer deeply agreeable cream teas or crab sandwiches. That said, one can’t criticise the newer, more developed bits of the coastline without risking sounding like David Bathurst, the author of one of our guidebooks. Although Bathurst’s guide is excellent on the specifics of which stile to climb over when the markings are overgrown, his book seemingly channels the art critic, pompous opinion-profferer and first-class snooty sneerer Brian “R” Sewell. Bathurst moans incessantly whenever the trail comes anywhere near a caravan park or amusement arcade, and God forbid that anyone young or working class might go within 500 yards of his beloved coastal path. Here is Bathurst on the nightlife of Torquay, cracking what he presumably thought was quite the humdinger of a gag:

“You should also bear in mind, if lodging in the resort, that it attracts a fair multitude of what The Rough Guide describes as ‘drink-sodden revellers’; indeed, your muddy gaiters and stripey bobble hat, while wholly acceptable on the windswept heights of Bolt Head, may look somewhat out of place in the kebab queue among the boob tubes, thigh-length boots and six-inch heels. And some of the women’s clothing is a bit radical too!”

Of course the reader thinks Bathurst is referring to women wearing boob tubes, but the twist is that he is implying they are cross-dressing men! What an hilarious misunderstanding, he really is a card! Or something that sounds like a card, anyway. You can imagine Bathurst walking through a caravan park, ostentatiously pinching his nose between thumb and forefinger, muttering “ghastly, my dear, simply ghastly!”

Despite the walk being something my dad and I decided to do together, the real unsung hero is my mum. Each year she comes along, sorts out the accommodation and ferries us to the beginning and end of each day’s hike. If my mum had been on Scott’s Antarctic expedition they’d not only have made it back from the Pole alive, she’d probably have found them a lovely igloo to stay in on the return journey with a barbecue area out the back and a play room for the kids. She finds beaches and cafes and medieval churches to explore at her own pace while we’re out (as she would say) walking a very long way to get to somewhere we don’t particularly intend on visiting. My wife and son now also come with us, and my sisters too on occasion, meaning that what began as a foolish bloke-project has turned into a really enjoyable annual family holiday. The others are great at accommodating our plans, and we make sure we keep a couple of days free to join them on family outings.

We hope to make it to Dover before my dad’s knees give out. We’re around a third of the way there in terms of mileage and have done some of the hardest walking in terms of terrain. I give us a decent chance, as his knees are probably in better nick than mine.

Walking the coastal path has been a great way to spend time with my parents, to get fit, and to spend time in a lovely part of the world. Next year we’ll be starting at Budleigh Salterton, which marks, appropriately enough for our Walking With Dinosaur tour, the start of the Jurassic Coast.