"FOAMING BLOOD capsules!" said Vivan Stanshall
with an air of satisfaction. "There's always foaming blood capsules, I've used
them before. We used to go into an off-licence and cough up onto the counter
belching blood and ask for a half bottle of brandy". He smirked at the reminiscence.
"The bloke would just bring out the bottle and wrap it up! And if you were twitching
with your five pound note he would manage to extricate it from under your twitching
palsied, Parkinson-diseased fingers and everything would be alright. He'd maybe
even help you to the door. but he'd never ask you if there was anything wrong".
Vivian Stanshall, formerly japer-in-chief with the Bonzo Dog Band and Stephen
Turner, a writer, were sitting in the rather bizarrely decorated front room
of Stanshall's home. They were desperatelv racking their brains for practical
jokes to try out the next day. Stanshall moved restlessly in his chair and began
to light a home-made cigarette. "I never thought that the things I did were
practical jokes really!", he exclaimed, blowing a cloud of smoke into the air.
"It's sociological research! Whether it makes me laugh is by the bye. In the
first place I just thought it was a good idea to make it unpleasant or stifling
for people, and when I realised I had the power to disgust I thought I would
use that and see how people reacted." Turner already knew quite a bit about
the chap's reputation as a joker. Was it not Stanshall with his chum Keith Moon
who had visited a London Bierkeller dressed in S.S. uniforms and who had consequently
been ejected? Was it not Stanshall who tested the strength of a pair of new
trousers bv tearing them in half in front of the shop assistant and then sent
in an accomplice wearing a single trouser leg to buy a matching leg? And was
it not he who interviewed fellows at the London Zoo as to whether animals should
clothed in the cause of public decency?
"A tube train is an important area to work in," said Stanshall slowly with the
air of an expert, "because people can't escape. They're lumbered with you for
as long as it takes. The only thing that tops that is lifts because you can't
get out. You've got to react! Violently if necessary!" Turner chuckled at the
thought. This sounded super fun. He could just imagine people's faces. But which
pranks should they use? Stanshall suggested the toupee one. "What's that?" rasped
Turner. "Well," said Stanshall leaning back in the chair, "If you had a toupee
that fell off as you were getting out of a tube train or getting into a tube
train or even if you just leant backwards and it pulled off as you leant forwards
so that someone would have to explain that, er . . . it had gone." It sounded
tremendous. A good prank for advanced receders, a blow to the artificial hair
industry. "Smelling is the other thing" said Stanshall excitedly. "Smelling?"
snapped Turner. "Yes" boomed Stanshall. "Smelling and Having Something Wrong
With You. I started by spraying myself every two minutes on the tube with Waspese
which is an insect repellent. I kept looking at myself as though some kind of
awful carbuncle was about to rise or whatever and spraying it on myself. And
then the bloke next to me got up and moved away and then the bloke opposite
moved and so on and so forth untii I'd got half the carriage to myself."
"What about Following The Man" interrupted Turner. "That was one you did on
your own wasn't it?'' "What? Tapping him on the shoulder?" asked Stanshall grimly.
"What do you mean by Following A Man?" "I thought you once told me that you
followed a man for some distance until he really got frightened." "Oh. I've
done that." "What happens in the end?" "Nothing happens in the end." "I thought
there was some twist to it." "No." "What's Tapping A Man On The Shoulder then?"
"Well that's a bit rotten," breezed Stanshall. "You have to be fairly deft at
that. You've got to be fairly nimble on your feet because you just walk along,
find two people who are walking in the same direction at more or less the same
pace and as soon as they draw level you tap both of them on the adjoining shoulder
so that they look at each other. I've actually started fights like that which
hasn't really been the object. I just wanted to get confrontation to see what
would happen." Things were beginning to look good although Turner was anxious
not to get involved in a scrap if a prank should misfire. Stanshall began looking
through a notebook where he'd stored more ideas.
"I'd like to gargle in a toilet." he chortled. "What's that!" exclaimed Turner.
"Well if you hear gargling noises coming from one of the cubicles what does
that suggest? That you're gargling with the toilet water. Why are you gargling
with the toilet water? That's fairly disgusting anyway. What sort of reaction
would that have?" His chum wasn't so sure about this one. He sealed his lips
and quietly awaited the next suggestion. "Speakers Corner!" snapped Stanshall
with the authority of a bingo caller. "Just getting up on a box and miming or
talking about Straight Lines which I can get fairly animated about, or maybe
going down one of the many subterranean tubes of Oxford Street and miming to
a tape of Segovia or John Williams with the ukelele." "Then there's the Rat
In The Pocket where you have a piece of meat which you put into your pocket
and attach a piece of thread so that you can pull it and make it look as though
it's being snatched by something obviously fierce and carnivorous in the pocket.
But that's a disturbing tube joke." The chums sat nodding their heads and imagining
the pile of fun that was in store. "Let's go to the pub now", blurted Stanshall,
stubbing out his ciggy in the ashtray. "Yes, let's." chorused Turner with a
smile on his face.
THE SECOND CHAPTER Sounds In The Subway
THE TWO boys met in the bar of a London pub the next day.
Stanshall, his big red beard laying on his chest, was sitting in a corner intently
writing on two pieces of cardboard. SORRY NO CHEQUES WITHOUT BANKERS CARDS THANK
YOU read the first card, and PLEASE DON'T ASK FOR ENEMAS AS DEFECATION OFTEN
OFFENDS, the second. "What are enemas?" asked Turner with a quizzical expression
floating across his brown. "Enemas?" chortled Stanshall. "They're what they
stick up your bottom in hospitals." "Oh" said Turner grimly. "What are the cards
for then?" "Busking" he replied with a sly grin, replacing the top back on his
Magic Marker pen. "Let's go, eh?"
They left the bar and loafed down to a nearby subway where buskers performed.
Stanshall began to set himself up. He adjusted his ukelele around his neck and
hid the cassette recorder containing the tape of John Fahey guitar tunes beneath
one of the carboard notices. When the tape started playing his fingers began
to move clumsily over the fretboard without actually touching the strings. All
seemed quite proper except that the sounds were proceeding from ground level,
and were the sounds of a guitar rather than a ukelele! Even then, fellows walking
by seemed to think that such deceptions were commonplace and hardly blinked.
Some even threw money into his cap. Having failed to outrage and incense Stanshall
then slowly drew out of his small leather bag an instrument which he called
the Cacophone. It resembled the mouthpiece of a trumpet and a metal funnel with
four feet of transparent hosing in between. Surely this would raise a glance.
He blew into the mouthpiece and whirled the piping around his head like a cowboy's
lassoo. At times it crashed into the low ceiling. At other times it narrowly
missed the passing heads. But still the coins came falling and still the heads
remained unturned. All this time Turner had concealed himself in a corner to
observe the passing faces. "You could do anything down here and people wouldn't
question it" he called to his friend, somewhat disappointed at the response.
"Let's go and do things on the tubes!" "OK" barked Stanshall, before breaking
into an unaccompanied rendering of My Baby's Gone Down The Plughole. "What one
do you want?" "The ill fitting toupee" he smirked.
THE THIRD CHAPTER Stanshall Loses His Hair!
the wig, perched
THE CROWDS, unlike Stanshall's hair, were getting thicker,
as he struggled to clip the ill-fitting toupee into position. The result was
pleasing: the wrong colour, the wrong texture, the wrong style! Turner couldn't
stop grinning as the two of them strolled knowingly towards the platform, drawing
glances as they went. They boarded a train travelling South and Stanshall sat
himself down while his friend chose to stand some distance away. People had
already begun to notice the strange and badly thatched gentleman reading a paper
when he started feeling in his pockets for his glasses. He then proceeded to
open them and push them behind his ears - an action which simultaneously dislodged
the toupee. A few of the chaps opposite started to look puzzled. One began to
cup a grin in his hand. Stanshall remained seemingly oblivious to his plight,
the toupee by now hanging down his neck like a badly designed missionary bun,
attached only by a single clip.
The next move was to suddenly realise the loss and discreetly replace it without
drawing attention. While raising the paper to above eye level with his left
hand Stanshall grasped the fallen toupee with his right and dragged it back
over his head. Grins were bursting out all around, only to be met by Stanshall's
accusing glare with the re-emerged toupee uncomfortably slewed across his scalp.
Continuing to make the very aware passengers embarrassed at what they'd witnessed,
he clumsily and noisily searched through his bags and then drew out a cap which
he jammed on top of the unreliable hair piece in a similar act of secrecy. "I
didn't know thev were supposed to fall off" blurted one laughing office worker
to his friend as they waited to alight. Another chap who had noticed Turner's
stifled grins came up to him as he left the train. "I wish I'd have had my camera
with me" he chortled. Turner just smiled.
THE FOURTH CHAPTER A Rather Nasty Smell
GETTING INTO another carriage to perform 'Stealing' Stanshall
and Turner became an immediate cause of attention with their hushed whispers
and the plastic hand which was attached to the end of Stanshall's coat sleeve.
"We can't do anything here" hissed Turner, "We've attracted attention." "No.
It's O.K.", gasped Stanshall. "We'll be alright". Then, suddenly, just as the
doors were sliding closed, Stanshall crushed a stink bomb beneath his plimsolled
foot and leapt skilfully from the carriage leaving Turner to face the baleful
glares of the passengers. The smell was awful. Some fellows started coughing.
Others moved away. Some people who'd had their backs to the action seemed quite
worried. "What is it?" one man was wondering "Where's that smell coming from?"
Turner just kept his head down and waited for the lights of the next platform
where he could get out - away from the terrible smell and the glares. "Just
like Stanshall to make me a victim of my own project" he thought, as he waited
for the next train to draw in with the prankster aboard. Turner was overjoyed
to discover that the prank had partly backfired as Stanshall had inherited half
the stink on the sole of his plimsoll and had become the subject of glares on
his own journey up!
THE FIFTH CHAPTER Caught In The Act!
AFTER SWAPPING TALES, the two boys boarded another train
and sat themselves down next to each other. Turner, now with his chum's cap
pulled down close to his eyes, was reading a newspaper. Meanwhile Stanshall
clasped his false left hand with his right hand while the real left hand snaked
out and into the partly opened bag laying on Turner's lap. Startled faces opposite
couldn't quite believe what they were seeing and were not even sure whether
or not they wanted to notice or whether or not they wanted to be noticed not
noticing. Stanshall lifted out the first piece of swag and with deliberation
hid it in his own bag. Turner recalled something Stanshall had told him the
day before when discussing the pranks. "I'm more interested when people are
put on the spot" he had explained, "situations where they don't have to be involved
and yet they feel that morally they should be. Then you can see how they're
going to get out of it."
Again Stanshall's left hand whipped in and retrieved a large plastic joint of
meat from the bag. Two people opposite smiled weakly at each other, not quite
sure of the correct procedure in events of this nature. The meat was then stashed
carefulIy away as the thief began to lean over for the third attack. Feeling
a nudge, Turner glanced suspiciously at his neighbour and then looked at the
opened bag. There were objects missing. He searched on the floor. Nothing. Again
he looked at the bearded man on his left - but more searchingly this time. Could
this man have relieved him of his possessions? He folded up his paper, closed
the bag and took a vacant seat opposite looking pleadingly into the travellers
eyes for information. At the next stop the victims alighted leaving the two
pranksters to laugh about the incident between themselves.
THE SIXTH CHAPTER Post Prankem!
THE NEXT day the phone rang in a house in North Finchley.
Stanshall sprang towards it and picked up the receiver. "Hello Viv" said Turner
cheerily on the other end of the line. "What did vou think of the pranks, eh?
What about the busking one for starters?" Stanshall was pleased to hear his
chum's voice. "Didn't seem to work very well did it?" he beamed. "People didn't
take the blindest bit of notice did they? Most of these pranks are to do with
enclosure and panic. It was too easy to escape there. Provided you've got an
absolutely captive audience you can do all sorts of ridiculous things. The toupee
business and the stealing business on the train were infinitely more successful
because the people didn't quite know. There was always the possibility of you
turning nasty or them having to become involved in between stations". The chums
gurgled at the memory. "I had a heck of a job keeping a straight face during
that one" he continued. "Really!" cried Turner with a tone of amazement entering
his voice. "I couldn't tell that because you were staring so hard at the people
opposite." "Oh yes. I was trying to catch them out" laughed Stanshall. "I mean,
I wanted to cop their reactions. The only time I really cracked up was when
those West Indian girls started giggling during the thieving. I just couldn't
keep a straight face". "Were you watching people's reactions during the toupee
thing?" snapped Turner inquisitively. "Oh yes". "What did you see?" "A mixture
of horror . . . some stifled mirth. I thought it went down quite well . . .
particularly since the toupee was so ridiculously obvious in the first place
and so impossible. I mean, it wouldn't have been unusual to have seen magpies
and cranes roosting in it! It was so hopelessly mismatched! Ridiculous!" "And
so what about the stealing?" wondered Turner out loud. "I don't know if I enjoved
that so much" he replied with an uncertain tone edging its way in "because it's
a bit sad that nobody reacts. Don't you think so?" Turner bit his lip. He knew
Stanshall spoke the truth. This was how fellows behaved - they preferred to
turn their backs and not notice what was happening. "But", he blurted . . .
"You do still get fun from pranks don't you?" There was a hopeful, enquiring
edge to his voice. "Oh yes", wheezed Stanshall. "Tremendous. I enjoyed the toupee
one enormously. I thought that one was hilarious." Turner breathed a sigh of
relief. Everything had worked out alright in the end. The two chums signed off
with greetings and looked forward to the next time.