A LIFE IN THE DAY #2

By Edward Wilkinson Latham

HUGO TUFFLEY, 46, was the Conservative MP for Salisbury Plain from 1988-9 and was sent to prison for his part in the “Feng Shui Affair”. Today he works in France as a human cannon ball, performing under the name of Capitaine Flamme.

“During the political excesses of the late 1980’s when I was a member of parliament, I required a wake up call every morning. I employed a young Tamil boy at the time, but he always let me oversleep, so I ended up buying an alarm clock at Argos and that did the job much better. I still have trouble getting out from bed from time to time, and on occasion I think I’m still in my bedroom at Tuffley Manor and I awake screaming for my Tamil boy- Ponnadi! Ponnadi! Today I don’t have such luxuries to call my own, not that I don’t have accesses. I live in a seventy-five foot caravan on the Côte d'Azur, complete with modern kitchen, hot tub, cinema and putting green. At times it is unbearable and I have to find a small space for solitary confinement. When I went to jail I had to adapt a great deal to a more monastic way of life and that has stayed with me ever since. Thankfully, the Gendarmes in France are always happy to oblige.

It’s ironic, but while I was inside as they say, I became an alarm clock for a Mr. Jasper Featherlight, one of the most violent men in the prison, doing life for an assault with a battery. He was a fussy, complicated man and didn’t like to be woken suddenly in the morning, more stroked awake softly. I learnt a lot of skills during my time in prison such as soap carving and stain removal, but one of the more interesting was the human cannon ball. Some of the lads had fabricated a cannon in woodworking class with the blessings of the warden, but no one wanted to be the one to test it. Mr. Featherlight was so confident of my abilities that he put my name forward and the rest is history. On the first attempt I cleared the prison wall, and three rows of surrounding houses but, with no safety net, I came down rather hard in the middle of a crown green bowling league game. It was the regional final between Chedington and Compton Pawnsfoot and the game had to be rescheduled, which was not easy for the Chedington team to accept as they were seven point up. I spent the next six months in the prison hospital in traction, however I still had to perform my alarm clock duties. I think that was my lowest point during my sentence, when I had to drag my broken body along to the east wing every morning at seven to wake Mr. Featherlight and then again at nine o’clock at night.

When I was released it was very hard for Jasper. In fact I was released three days late, because he refused to let me go from his cell. He demanded that he should be given a new alarm clock, preferably British made. So after a bit of a stand off they drafted in a young blonde offender from Cleethorpes and I was set free. When I was released I decided to pursue my newfound skills as a human cannonball. I knocked on the doors of a lot of circus tents, but I came up against brick walls. I did manage to interest Eddie Stringfellow for about five minutes one evening at a 24 hour Shell garage in Romford. I spotted him on the forecourt enjoying a cheese and bacon torte and a carton of Um Bongo. It turned out he was more interested in shooting naked girls out of the cannon while he straddled it, or at least that’s what the drawings looked like that he sketched for me.

Disparaged and running out of money I decided to become a busker, or street artist as it is referred to these days. As I had moved back to Tuffley Manor in Wiltshire after my release, I had to become a member of the commuter class, but when Ken Livingstone brought in the congestion charge I was in trouble. The round trip every day was costing me a fortune in petrol and scotch eggs and as you can probably appreciate, carting around a fifty-foot cannon attached to the back of a old constituency F reg Vauxall Astra has its own set of challenges. At a loss, one afternoon I rang an old girlfriend in Swindon, who I used to see every Wednesday at sixteen hundred hours while I was an MP. She’s very tuned into South American philosophy and never fails to lift my spirits with her potions, powders and hand on approach. It was while I was over there for a treatment one afternoon, that she mentioned she was sailing to San Tropez with a Prince from Brunei and “would I like a lift?” Well it was wonderful happy ending to the whole endeavor and after a little nap I got her to ring the prince. After some skillful negotiations with the harbour authorities, we managed to strap the cannon to the back of the yacht and off we sailed. During the voyage I performed for the prince and his crew on a number of occasions as entertainment and to ‘pay for my way’ as it were.

Since settling in San Tropez I haven’t looked back. It’s been wonderful, it really has. The French know how to appreciate a human cannonball with a background in politics. Within a week of doing my act over the harbour in San Tropez, I was invited to perform at a barbeque at the home of Bridget Bardot. We got on extremely well and she has kindly let me park my cannon at the bottom of her garden ever since. Saint Tropez is a wonderful place if you can handle the luxury and the topless bathing. And there is no problem with sleeping in here. Bridget has got lots of alarm clocks hanging around the house, a few made in China, one British, one Japanese, a couple of them from France of course, a Russian model and an old model from East Germany which she picked up on a trip to Leipzig.

These days I usually work the tourist season and the rest of the year I do private events, both in France and abroad, especially the Middle East. Due to my fame and diplomatic friends in France, I managed to secure a grant to set up human cannonball schools across the Middle East - Palestine, Gaza, Syria, Lebanon. An old cellmate gave me the idea when I bumped into him at the 2002 Cannes Petanque Championships. He said his brothers in the Middle East were very keen to learn the ‘skills of the cannon’, as he put it. Well he was right, interest has been overwhelming and we’ve had more applicants than we ever dreamed. It’s a one-year City & Guilds course and graduates get a certificate and their own starter cannon. There’s a lot of coursework about building and maintaining your cannon - fuses, trajectories, telemetries and so forth, but they seem to love it. When I was an MP I learned to take, take, take and that all came down on me with the Feng Shui Affair, but now I feel it’s time to give back a bit. Plus this is a prime time in history to bring back the popularity of the human cannon ball and so we now offer franchises of the Capitaine Flamme brand. We’re getting interest from all over the world, Pakistan, Indonesia, Latin America, the Far East. Only yesterday I was talking on the phone to a man in northern Sri Lanka who wants to incorporate the human canon ball into the current school curriculum at The Tiger Cub Academy. And you know who he was? My old alarm clock, Ponnadi from my days as MP. I couldn’t believe it. He’s a Colonel now, done frightfully well for himself. Life is very strange isn’t it? And I thought that sort of thing only happened to other people. Of course with fame and notoriety does come a certain amount of sacrifice. Fans follow me from time to time, even when I go abroad. Mostly they’re businessmen in dark glasses, who perhaps would also like to leave the world of politics or the grips of corporate life, but they never approach me for my autograph. They just watch me. I suppose they’re a bit nervous or something, but I don’t bite. Well maybe nibble a bit.

When I’m working or on the road I usually get into a bed after dark, but that depends really whose it is, but I never forget to brush my teeth though, a habit that has stayed with me since prison. I dream a lot too, mostly about being shot out of a cannon, so it often feels like I never sleep at all.”

EWL 2006