Newsletter 2020

Dear Reader,

I have been touched recently by the good wishes for my retirement and concerns for my health so I thought I should write to tell you that I am neither retired nor dead but in robust health and very happy to be working.

I no longer spend August in Edinburgh doing one or two shows a day during the fringe but I am not retired. I’m busy doing other things elsewhere.

After I wrote the last newsletter I was supposed to set off for Rome on my scooter – a Honda Forza 300cc called ‘Modestine.’

Well, I didn’t go. I booked the scooter on the ferry, marked up the map with my stopping points, programmed the sat nav, then went to the doctor to get a month’s supply of medicine. She gave me a quick check up and didn’t like the look of something. Possible melanoma. Another doctor, then a skin specialist, then minor surgery, then a six week wait for the result of the biopsy. By the time I got the result that there was no problem the wind had gone out of my sails.

However, during the month I was neither in Italy or Edinburgh I discovered my garden. I spent August digging and cutting and I now have a market garden which provides me with courgettes, potatoes and beans, a greenhouse full of tomatoes, peppers and aubergines, and a cold frame with enough chillies to fuel a rocket to the moon.

In March 2018 I became a grandfather and have all the joy of looking after the most beautiful, innocent, happy child. She’s the apple of her parents’ eye and the jewel in my crown. I’m 70 and she’s 1 so robust health has become even more important to me.

Busy gardening and grandfathering and not showing up at the Edinburgh festival I suppose I might appear to be somewhat retired.


I rehearsed a new version of ‘Did You used to be R.D.Laing?’ with a new pianist, Alan Benzie and we took it on the road to village halls in Aberdeenshire. Colin Steele and I took ‘A Funny Valentine’ to a cabaret in Strasbourg. ‘R.D.Laing’ and ‘Funny Valentine’ are both available for touring throughout 2020 and I’m working on the diary now.

I’m writing a fictional biography of William Hildebrand who was Mahler’s (fictional) gofer and chauffeur (Mahler didn’t have one!) and who became Leonard Bernstein’s gofer and chauffeur (Bernstein did have one but his name wasn’t William) The action takes place between 1900 and William’s death in 1965.

A lot of my writing over the years has been carefully researched. The joy of fiction is making it up instead of looking it up. Alma Mahler’s biographers will be astonished to discover what William discovered as he chauffeured her around. My flights of fancy treat Alma rather better than do her biographers.

If the story of William Hildebrand, 1882 – 1965, who looked after Gustav Mahler and then Leonard Bernstein, ever gets made into a film the music will, of course, be fantastic!

Oh, and the ride to Rome on a scooter called ‘Modestine’ – that’s still to happen. This year I was all set to leave for Rome when my brother fell seriously ill. I spent most of August at his bedside. But next year I’ll do it, I really will, and then I’ll write it up and make another book.

This next book will be an account of a scooter ride to Rome following the route of my first scooter ride to Rome in 2009 which I did as a fund-raising effort to raise money for cancer research. I never kept a diary on that first ride so in order to write about it I’ll do it all over again – this time with a notebook and pencil. My second trip to Rome will revisit the first, stopping at the same places and sleeping under the stars, just like the first time when it never rained – not a single drop. (I should be so lucky next time!) I’d like to write a book that starts with the diagnosis of my cancer in June 2008 and ends with my arrival in Rome on a scooter just over a year and two operations later – a story with an upward trajectory don’t you think? I have been living in the land of the healthy ever since.

In 2020 there are plans to tour ‘Did You Used to be R.D.Laing?’ in Scotland and ‘A Funny Valentine’ (the Chet Baker Story with Colin Steele on trumpet) at the Cambridge Jazz Festival and other venues in England. I hope to see you there.