From the Bradford Monk to Purple Aki and Lenny the Tramp, the one thing we're not short of in the UK is the local nutters...
“I heard he’s really a millionaire and lives in a huge mansion but would rather sleep at the bus stop”
“I heard he lives in a cave on the moors”
“Even my dad remembers seeing him when he was a kid”
“I heard he killed his wife and then went mad and this is his penance”
“He used to carve the letters ‘P’ and ‘A’ on their arse cheeks”
“He got the name because he used to walk behind women making chicken noises”
Local nutter rumours. Men of mystery. Everyone has a story. The mate who knows someone who knew someone who used to live with them before ‘the event’. When they were ‘a regular bloke’ you know, before they took to standing all day outside Boots playing a child’s xylophone or shouting at bins.
Ask anyone in Bradford about the local nutters and they’ll invariably tell you about one man. A man who’s legend strides the area like the Colossus of Rhodes from Wharfe Valley in the North, along the length of the Aire Valley and down to Calderdale. The Monk. Or Bradford’s Jesus Man if you’re a bit younger. As he’s quite clearly a monk. Not Jesus. The Monk, walks all over the district. In a habit. With sandals. And a leather satchel hung round his neck. He doesn’t seem to age, and has been doing it for as long as most people remember. Say hello to him and he’ll stop and wave. I’ve heard he lives in a cave, murdered someone, used to live with an old art teacher of mine, and that his name is John. All but the latter seems to be false. His name may well be John. What I have discovered through CSI style forensics / map plotting / just seeing him about is that he lives in the same part of a village that was home to Bob, from “Rita, Sue and Bob Too.” I’ve got close enough to ask if my deductions are right, but always shied away. They say you should never meet your heroes, they’ll only let you down.
What prompted me to think about him, was not just another sighting as I drove into town the other day (by Manningham Park, heading towards town at a brisk pace fact fans) but the emergence of a controversial new nutter in town. The Shipley Dancer. A man who over the last fortnight has taken well over half a dozen viewers on YouTube by storm, along with passing motorists, office workers and shoppers at Asda. I gather he’s styling himself on a chap called Louie Spence from the television, and true to the moniker bestowed on him, he choses not to walk, monk-like, through the streets of Bradford, but rather dance, mince-like. He’s a controversial character, who’s dividing opinion. Is he merely clinging to the habit-tails of the monk and other Bradford nutters like ‘Mad Liz’ and ‘Mad Mick’ (see a theme here?) to make a name for himself? The Milli Vanilli of nutters. It remains to be seen whether he’s a false prophet and can maintain the staying power of the monk, or whether he’ll possibly be arrested for crimes of a sexual nature, but he does, like the monk, bring a brief moment of amusement into the lives of some passers by, and admittedly, profound discomfort to many more.
The UK is rife with nutters. We might not have an empire any more, and all our jobs have gone to the Chinese, but we’re still world leaders in local nutters. And they aren’t going anywhere. Purple Aki is probably one of the most famous local nutters in the North West. Thought by some to be just a myth – a huge black fella, who’d hang round the gyms of Merseyside asking to touch boys muscles – he revealed himself to be all too when court cases against him were published in the press in the late 00s. The bogeyman was real, given a ‘muscle touching’ ban and is currently residing at Her Majesty’s pleasure after breaking the ban touching a 16 year olds thigh muscles in Llandudno. Sadly, not all local nutters are content to just wave or dance.
It was during my time in London, that I realised this ‘monk phenomenon’ was going on down South too. Enfield had their own celebrity nutter. Lenny the tramp. A man who’s photo’s probably in the dictionary under the word ‘tramp’ and could teach Russell Brand a thing or two about backcombing. He’s lived on the streets of Enfield, supposedly, for the last 30 years, favouring the 191 bus stop. Such is his status in the hearts and minds of Enfield folk that he’s got his own Facebook page and filled plenty of local column inches when reports of his death turned out to be greatly exaggerated. He’s even put a record out with ‘a local producer’ and word has it that he knows his punk and rock music.
Equally endearing himself to the locals was Frank Robinson. For reasons best known to himself, he took to playing a child’s xylophone outside C&A in Nottingham town centre in the late 80s and carried on til his death in 2004 aged 72. It’s actually quite touching that the good people of Nottingham dedicated a plaque to him on the spot he used to busk. Now there’s not many people who can boast that accolade, possibly because they’d be dead, but you know what I mean.
Norwich’s Puppet Man and Worcester’s Chicken George are two more characters that fit in this ‘endearing’ category. Chicken George made his name dancing to the music of buskers in the street, tossing in the odd profanity for good measure, just to give it a bit of edge. He claims to have taken a bayonet in the head from the Jerries in Dunkirk, which may go some way to explaining his odd behaviour. Then again, would you really believe anything an 80-year-old who follows people around making chicken noises tells you?
The Puppet Man has plied his act in Norwich for years. His act consists of, singing and dancing whilst waving about sock puppets to the music from a portable stereo that he pushes around in a pram. Something which I’d imagine passes as prime time entertainment for the people of Norwich. He’s recently branched out and taken his act to Great Yarmouth, where the residents aren’t quite so accommodating. Only last month he was attacked by two men and told to ‘Get back to Norwich where your sort belongs.’ One has to wonder whether this is a bigger slight to the people of Great Yarmouth or the people of Norwich.
Finally, and by far the the most bizarre, Catman of Greenock. A mysterious figure that crawls round the back alleys of this town in Western Scotland. Local legend tells he eats rats, could be a Russian sailor, is looked after by workers at a bus depot and may have had his legs broken by a local gang. No one even knows if he really exists. The only evidence being a pretty shocking video of Catman lying down eating a rat. Whilst he doesn’t immediately seem to have the same charm as a fella who plays a xylophone or a monk who walks around waving at people, Catman appears to have been taken in by the residents of Greenock. They’re protective of him, as you can see in the superb short film below. And maybe that’s what the ‘local nutter’ stands for. He may be different but he’s one of us. They appeal to our parochial side.
Of course, nutter is a harsh term. And in these more enlightened, politically correct times there’s probably a word that’s more suitable. Local character? There’s plenty of people in the local pub that are ‘characters’, telling a few jokes, making people laugh. Local legend? A word overused usually by people on Facebook about Raoul Moat, or Jade Goody or Gary Neville. Local eccentric? Maybe so. But it doesn’t have the same ring. I’ll stick with local nutter. Two words combined that guarantee a response from anyone, anywhere in the UK. “Oh, you mean Crazy Davey? He sleeps in the park by the pond. Walks round with a load of newspapers in a trolly shouting at road signs. You know he’s really a millionaire though?”