Seven days in an NHS hospital: Day 5 – “He was punching him in the stomach”

(DAY 1 OF THIS HOSPITAL BLOG STRAND STARTED HERE)

Sunday 25th July

When you twice miss the vein with the needle…

During the night, I woke up to find Michael grappling with a male nurse, trying to push him back with his outstretched hands. The nurse was trying to calm him down by making light of it as if it were a dance. Michael and the male nurse were surrounded by three female nurses and a male security guard trying to calm him down.

I had to go to the toilet. When I came out, the grappling was over. The male nurse was washing his hands and a new security guard was there. He was a stand-in while the night’s main security man had a one-hour break. Michael was back in his bed.

Four or five times during the one-hour break, Michael got up and made a dash for the door of the ward and was silently tussled (reactively – not in an aggressive way) by the security guard.

By the time the main security man came back, Michael was quietly sleeping in his bed.

A bit later on, I was woken by Michael facing-up to the security man who was on his own in the ward. Michael made a lurch at the security man. Michael started punching him in the stomach. There was probably no power behind the punches, but they were still punches.

The security man managed to calm him down by talking to him in a firm but quiet voice.

In the early hours towards dawn, the cancer man asked for and got a double dose of morphine. 

Today, a Sunday, there was no 1-1 nurse care for Michael, just a security guard; there were not enough nurses to spare one full-time to constantly watch over Michael.

The black machine and drip bag on their frame

After the nurses’ shift handover in the morning, I was told that, today, I did not need to have the drips in my arm, but I should drink a lot of water. This made it easier to go to the toilet, because I didn’t have to drag with me the whole wheeled drip apparatus attached to my arm.

Michael was told he could go ‘home’ tomorrow if he allowed them to give him a COVID Rapid Test. At this point he was meek and quietly allowed it.

And for most of the day he was fairly quiet. I figured this was because he had been told he could leave if he behaved. He was fairly quiet. But, mid-afternoon, another possible cause was revealed. He had had diarrhoea all day.

Michael, as most days, was alternating between meekness and aggression but today meekness had the upper hand..

I read a piece in today’s Observer newspaper online:


Pay for nurses and other NHS staff in England will have fallen in real terms by more than 7% since 2010, even if they accept the latest offer from the government, according to new analysis that will fuel rising anger about public sector pay deals.

Figures produced by the TUC show that remuneration for nurses, community nurses, medical secretaries, speech therapists, physiotherapists, paramedics and radiographers will have dropped by between 7.3% and 7.6% in real terms in just over a decade, even after factoring in the 3% rise offered last week.


The nurse in charge of the ward yesterday was telling another nurse that, when she goes home at night, she has to sleep with her legs on five pillows and her head on two pillows. She has a shoulder injury. If she didn’t sleep like that, she said, she wouldn’t be able to come in to work and function properly.

What on earth poor blind Italian Claudio makes of all the current shenanigans in the ward, heaven only knows. Lots of unknown voices around him in a language that he only has a passable not good knowledge of. He has had to learn the words Left, Right and Straight when he is guided by a nurse to the toilet with his Zimmer Frame.

At 4.00pm, Claudio started saying he is going home tomorrow. He isn’t.

He must have picked the idea up from Michael.

And, ironically, Michael has decided that he does not want to leave and go to “that place” tomorrow and is trying and failing to get his brother William on the mobile phone to cancel it.

Michael has now taken to occasionally either curling up on his bed in a foetal position or sitting on the edge of the bed, head bent, gnawing at the fingers of his clenched hand like a caged bear going mad.

Around 6.30pm, after a quiet day, Michael started sniping at other people claiming they were conspiring against him.

At around the same time, there was discussion among the nurses because a Covid non-believer was going to be brought in to a neighbouring part of the ward and had refused to take a Covid swab test before admission. 

One of the nurses said that, although she would, she didn’t really see why she had to look after “people like that”.

Another said: “I’m in the 13-to-24 age group, so I will do it.”

Presumably this is also happening elsewhere in the country and it must put the nurses in a moral quandary – they have to treat all patients even if the people they treat may cause a risk to them by reckless behaviour.

We seem to have two, maybe three security guards tonight.

(TO BE CONTINUED TOMORROW…)

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Seven days in an NHS hospital: Day 4 – “You’re doing it on bloody PURPOSE!”

(DAY 1 OF THIS HOSPITAL BLOG STRAND STARTED HERE)

Saturday 24th July

I was woken up from a deep sleep at 07.00am to have my blood pressure checked. 

This is significant because I actually had some real sleep last night. Michael settled down after two or three hours last night and I don’t think caused chaos by wandering around, talking in rambling forgetfulness etc etc.

It is potentially a big day for him today as his brother William is allegedly coming to pick him up at 2.00pm.

No 1-1 nurse care for Michael today, just a security guard; they don’t have enough staff to spare a 1-to-1 nurse.

This morning, Michael didn’t get up until 8.45am, making a staggery break for the door to get out of the ward but not wearing the bottom half of his pyjamas. He was caught and re-directed to the toilet. 

At around 9.20am, there was an almighty crash of crockery, cutlery and loud sundries as he threw (well, I think maybe kicked) his breakfast off his trolley/wheeled table onto the floor. One plate was broken; the rest bounced.

The cancer patient in the bed next to me told the male nurse that there seemed to be blood on his (the cancer patient’s) pyjamas. It turned out it was jam from his breakfast.

At 10.45am, Michael started complaining that he was hungry and had not been given breakfast today. 

Round about midday, without warning, I was taken in a wheelchair to some imaging unit – a slightly-better than X-ray place. I had no idea why. A porter pushed the wheelchair and a nurse accompanied us.

All three of us wore Covid masks. 

Reception at the imaging place said that an appointment had been made by my Calcium Man but at no specific time. So no spot was booked. After about five minutes of the nurse and the receptionist discussing this, a woman coincidentally came along with the paperwork. It turned out the appointment was to look at my liver.

When we were waiting outside the actual imaging room, another patient was waiting with us. He either was – or was the spitting image of – a middlingly-famous actor in British B-movie gangster films. He told me he had been put in a ward with mad people. No sleep at nights for him because (like Michael) they were speaking all the time.

He mentioned the name of the ward.

My nurse said: “Yes, that’s a dementia ward.”

“They said it was the only bed they had free,” the maybe-actor replied.

My liver was said to be OK and I was taken back to my ward.

The grand daughter of the cancer man was in for a one hour visit. She had travelled up to North London from Brighton.

Normal visitors are not allowed in the hospital but a close blood-relative can come in to be with an end-of-life relative. The man has incurable cancer. They are going to start giving him radiotherapy treatment. It will not cure the cancer but it may (or may not) stop it spreading further. 

The man with cancer and his grand daughter talked about what was going to happen after he died. Cremation. No church. Money in a Cyprus bank account. 

Simultaneously, Michael was complaining to a nurse that the chain in the ward toilet had been taken away. In fact, it never had one. It is just a handle-flush toilet.

The grand daughter was telling the man with cancer: “No, we won’t forget you.”

Michael’s brother William arrived at 1.15pm and said, in fact, he isn’t taking him home but that it has now been arranged that Michael will be “released on Monday” and “taken to a hotel” for “consultation, to see what you want to do”. 

I think this means he is going to be taken into a care home. My iPhone voice recorder is a wonderful thing. (All names in this blog have been changed.)

William: Well, you been here about two weeks, haven’t you?

Michael: No! About three months… four months… It’s driving me mad. I’m very nervous, very anxious.

William: Yes, I would be, too. 

Michael: How you doing?

William: Well, Carol, my son’s wife’s got cancer, you know. This is the hospital where you were having the cancer treatment done, wasn’t it? But you haven’t got cancer.

Michael: Well, they say that. They say that.

William: They told you you haven’t got cancer. You’re definitely leaving Monday now. I’ve booked it. You’ve only got one more day, tomorrow, here. It’s Sunday tomorrow and you’ve just got one more day. You’ve only got tomorrow. On Monday, I’ll be here to sort it.

Michael: I get about three meals a day here; that’s all. It’s not worth the money.

William: Don’t worry. Everything’s free in the hospital. It’s just one more day here.

A couple of hours later, Michael phoned the police and said he was in Hospital and was imprisoned, unable to go home and do what he wanted and it was “like being in a concentration camp”. They said they couldn’t help and told him to talk to the staff.

“Did you just call the police on us?” a male nurse asked gently. “Why did you do that?”

“I can’t go anywhere. I can’t do anything.”

“We let you move around,” the nurse said. “We listen to you.You can talk to us as often as you want. You should be speaking to your family, not talking to the police.”

“I never see my brother,” said Michael. “He doesn’t come here.”

Michael again refused to take the eye drops prescribed by the doctor then, later, complained about his declining sight and that he was going blind. That is his latest obsession:

“I am going blind and need to see a doctor about it!”

The nurse offered again to put the eye drops in, but Michael yelled: “Eye drops ARE NO USE! I’m GOING BLIND!”

Meanwhile, in the bed next to him, Claudio the Italian actually IS blind.

Michael’s thoughts about going blind seem to have started when Claudio arrived.

“What do you put in the eyedrops?” Michael was saying accusingly to the young nurse. “They make my eyes bloody worse. I don’t know what you’re doing, do I?”

“Please, please?” the young nurse said.

“I’m diabetic,” Michael told her.

Later, a soft-voiced young Asian nurse came to give Michael his nightly medication. 

“Take your tablet now… Please.”

Michael pretended to take the tablet with water but threw it on the ground.

She noticed.

“This is not fair,” she told him reprovingly. “This is not fair, Michael.”

He bent down to pick the tablet off the floor.

“I will give you a different one,” the nurse told him. She gave him another tablet and watched him take it.

“Why are you doing this to me?” he asked her. “What have I done?”

In today’s nursing shift, coincidentally, one of the black male nurses and the Indian security man speak Italian.

Occasionally they talk to Claudio in Italian. He talks happily to them. His English is very weak.

Sometimes the person Claudio is talking to in English has to deal with something elsewhere in the ward and, without telling him, they wander off. Blind Claudio does not realise this, so carries on, believing he is having a dialogue but actually he is talking into the nothingness in front of him.  

With the Italian-speaking security guard, Claudio was (I think) sharing his life. He was talking animatedly about Roma, the Pigalle and Hertfordshire. 

The security guard went off to attend to something else and Claudio carried on unknowingly talking to no-one for about 5 or 6 minutes. He eventually realised there was no-one there and sat back in his chair looking into space, a sad smile on lips.

After a while, the security man came back and said a few words to him. Claudio replied but the security man wandered off again. Claudio again kept talking into space and eventually sat back again, his fingers feeling the smooth plastic surface of his wheeled trolley.

Meanwhile, the cancer man got more morphine.

At about 9.00pm in the evening, Michael threw a wobbly.

“I don’t know what I’m doing. I want to get out. My brother is  coming to see me.”

“Michael,” a male nurse said, “He came at lunchtime. I need to take your blood pressure…”

“Come on, then.”

“…and I will give you your eye drops.”

“I want to get to see my brother. Get away from me! Please, hurry up, come on… You do it on purpose. You do it on purpose. My brother’s coming today… Come on, you’re doing it on bloody PURPOSE!”

“What?”

“You’ve done it on purpose, yes you did!”

“Did what?”

“Ive already had the eye drops today.”

“What time?”

“Earlier on. I don’t want them again today. I’m getting out. I’m getting out of here. My brother’s coming. I don’t want to stay here! Get out of it. Stop it! STOP IT! STOP IT! You do it on purpose, don’t you?”

“Do what, Michael? Why are you fighting with me?”

“I want to get out and see my brother! He won’t come here.”

“What,” another nurse asked, “is your brother’s name, Michael?”

“Michael,” he replied then, after a slight pause, “William… William!”

“Why don’t you call him on your mobile phone? Phone him and ask him what time he is coming.”

Michael left a message on William’s home answerphone. 

A couple of minutes later, someone (I guess William’s wife) phoned back. I heard only Michael’s end of the conversation:

“I’ve just given you a phone call. What time is Will coming today?…… He’s been? He hasn’t been here. I haven’t seen him yet…… No, but I’ve seen him yesterday. Today I’m seeing him…… No, I didn’t see him today! I didn’t see him! I didn’t see him at all today…… He hasn’t seen me…… (STARTING TO SHOUT) He DIDN’T see me today! He HASN’T!…… So what now?……Hello? Hello, it’s Michael. Hello?”

A few minutes later, Michael said to a nurse: “No, I’m not going anywhere because I haven’t found him. (STARTING TO SHOUT) No, I HAVEN’T FOUND him… No, I haven’t seen him today. I haven’t seen him. He said he’d be about eight-ish o’clock. That’s now. I don’t know what to do. I know, you’re laughing at me. You’re bloody laughing at me. I can see you. Why did you say he’d seen me? He hasn’t seen me.”

Michael crossed the ward to another nurse.

“Bloody liar,” he said to her. “Bloody liar.” And he walked away from her.

Ten minutes later, William phoned him.

Michael said: “So you’ll see me Monday again. What do you mean you saw me today? I didn’t see you…… You didn’t see me…… Yeah, well, no, what’s the day today anyway?……Saturday? That was yesterday, though…… Look, I don’t want to spend it in a place like this, Will. I hate it, you know? I don’t want to spend my last days in a place like this. I hate it Will, you know?…… Well I probably won’t see you Monday anyway……The people here are trying to stop me coming out…… Monday, yes.”

(TO BE CONTINUED TOMORROW…)

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Seven days in an NHS hospital: Day 3 – The blind Italian and an old obsession

(DAY 1 OF THIS HOSPITAL BLOG STRAND STARTED HERE)

Friday 23rd July

I find I am very attached to the equipment…

A new patient was wheeled in last night and put in General Davide’s former bed. The new patient is Italian and is blind. His name is Claudio. (I have changed all the names in this blog.)

He shouts: “I am blind!”

A nurse replies: “You are blind, not deaf. You don’t need to shout.”

Each patient has different toilet requirements.

When I get out of bed and go to the toilet, I have to disconnect the drip machine from the mains power; it then runs on battery and I re-plug it in when I return. 

At 11.10pm last night, I got up to go the toilet and, half-asleep, ripped the whole plastic tube and needle out of my arm. I went to the toilet. I went back to my bed. Using the torch light on my iPhone. I looked at the bloody torn-flesh gash on my arm.

Then I wanted to go to the toilet again. I did. This time I disconnecting myself from the wall. 

When I opened toilet door to come out again, a bed was being wheeled in through the main doors of the ward.

I saw the haggard face of an old man on it. I think he had a surgical cap on. I think there was a surgeon in attendance and maybe six people round the bed as it was wheeled in. They put him on my side of the ward, two beds away from me.

Later, during the night, Michael got up and started aimlessly, absentmindedly walking around, confused. He went over to the foot of my neighbour’s bed and started rattling the bottom up and down. The young security man in the ward stopped him.

There is now a security guard here 24 hours a day.

Michael wandered off, then turned round and round in tight circles. His face, side-lit in the mostly darkened ward, was uncontrollably distraught and almost in tears. I switch on the recorder in my iPhone.

“I’m going mad,” Michael says. “He’s got money.” (Referring to General Davide) “He can do anything.” A few minutes later, Michael was grappling with a female nurse’s hands. She was trying to control him. “You’re a woman,” he said.

Third time lucky: torn arm, re-inserted tube

About ten minutes later, a young nurse came to re-insert the drip in my arm. She tried to put the needle in the back of my left hand. She tried again. Neither attempt worked but it was very painful. Then she got a more senior nurse to come and the more experienced nurse managed to put it in the back of my left hand at the base of my thumb. 

This must be the rule of thumb – Try to put the needle in twice and, if you fail, call a trained nurse.

A little later, Michael starts saying to a nurse: “You know it’s not fair. You know it’s not bloody fair. He can do what he wants and I can’t do anything.”

He is again talking about Davide. Two nurses are moving Claudio the blind Italian off his bed – with some difficulty – onto a commode chair by the bedside, so he can sit and shit.

“He can do what he wants and I can’t do anything,” Michael repeats, still talking about Davide. “I’m going out of here. I want to get out. It’s not fair. The system’s not fair.”

Claudio the blind Italian shouts out something in Italian.

Michael continues, obsessed: “It’s not fair. You know it’s not fair. He can do what he wants that feller.”

The two nurses have managed to get Claudio the blind Italian, who speaks only rudimentary English, onto the commode.

“Why not,” one of the nurses suggests to Michael, “go to bed and you can sleep?”

“He can do what he wants,” replies Michael, as if accusing the nurse. “You know yourself.” 

Michael continues talking about Davide while Claudio the blind Italian sits and shits.

“You know what it’s like,” Michael says. “He can do anything he wants to do. He’s got money. That’s why. It’s true. I know it. You know it. He has £500,000”

A little later…

“Blanket!” says Claudio the blind Italian.

“You want another blanket?” asks a nurse.

“Yes! “shouts Claudio the blind Italian.

“You say you’re a Christian,” Michael says to the nurse. “You should worry. You know it’s true.”

“We love you,” a nurse tells him, consolingly, “and we are doing the best for you.”

“No, no,” says Michael. “You know what this is. Tell the truth. I hate it here.”

“Don’t say things like that, Michael,” says the nurse gently.

“You know it’s true,” he replies.

“Can I do your temperature?” asks the nurse, gently.

“Oh!” snaps Michael. “That’s all you care about! I hear that every night, near enough now. You know what this is!”

“Sit down and let me check your sugar level,” says the nurse.

“No. Let’s get going.”

“You are safe in here…”

Michael wanders off to the other end of the ward.

A little later, there were loud yells of agony from the man in the next bed to me. 

He has cancer. 

They give him a lot of morphine. 

The handover between the nursing night and day shifts takes place in middle of the ward at around 7.30-8.00am and all patients can hear it.

The plan for the man with cancer next to me has been to take him for preliminary radiotherapy at a larger hospital at 10.00am but this morning the hospital’s Transport Dept said they can’t take him until noon.

The new supervising nurse, coming on shift, asks: “Has the appointment moved?”

The nurse going off shift says: “It is still at 10.15. You will have to keeping phoning up and pestering to try to get them to collect him before noon.”

Michael still has a female nurse looking after him 24 hours a day in case he does something silly; and there is still a hospital security man there 24 hours a day making sure he does nothing dangerous.

In the online edition of the Guardian this morning, I read:


Ministers are forcing the NHS to cover part of the cost of its 3% staff pay rise in a move which health service chiefs say could lead to cuts in patient care.

The NHS in England will have to find about £500 million to help fund the 3% increase that the health secretary, Sajid Javid, announced on Wednesday, despite already struggling to meet the extra costs of the pandemic, including the care backlog and treatment for the soaring numbers of people with ‘long Covid’.

Ministers are also facing mounting anger from the medical profession after it emerged that tens of thousands of doctors have been excluded from the 3% deal, despite the government’s advisers on NHS pay specifically recommending that they also be rewarded for helping to tackle Covid-19.

Traditionally, the Treasury meets the full cost of annual pay rises for NHS personnel. However, Boris Johnson has decided that the service will have to help shoulder at least part of the bill for the 3% uplift, payable to more than a million staff for 2021-22 and backdated to April.


My Calcium Man and his two junior doctors come to see me.

My calcium level is down to near but still not perfect normal. My kidneys have not quite recovered as well. One has slight damage, I think. I am not absolutely sure. It is all a bit vague.

I am seeing the Kidney Man this afternoon.

The Calcium Man says I will be on a continuous drip all weekend.

As he and his two junior doctors turn and walk away, suddenly a loud alarm goes off, seemingly in the ceiling of the ward. Almost immediately, there are doctors and nurses everywhere and a heart resuscitator is brought in – for the man two beds away from me who, sometime in the last few days, swallowed his false teeth and they went into his lungs. 

A crowd of doctors and nurses look on, as if round a car crash; just observers.

The man’s heart is restarted.

A little later, Michael and his new Sikh security guard start talking about religion.

Later still, two ambulance men are in the ward with a bed on wheels – for the man with cancer in the bed next to me. The ambulance man is telling a nurse that he knows someone (not an ambulance man) who is getting a £33,000 pay rise.

A little later, one of my Calcium Man’s junior doctors comes back in to ask some more questions. She tells me Junior Doctors will get no pay rise. But, she says, nurses deserve anything they get. 

Yes indeed they do.

At lunchtime, an older security man tells a younger one about the best physical moves to take when attacked by a patient.

The Tokyo ‘2020’ Olympics have started. Just like the Euro Football Championships, because of the delay caused by the pandemic lockdowns, 2021 is still called 2020. Future generations will be numerically confused.

I am now not seeing the Kidney Man today. 

I am told, if my kidneys don’t get better, he will see me as an outpatient and maybe arrange a kidney biopsy. I will also be given another PETscan at another hospital – I had one last year. That’s the one where they put radioactive stuff in my blood and watch it go round.

I am told the hospital has started my discharge process but that doesn’t mean I’m getting out today.

They are putting me on a constant drip but – because of weekend – the earliest I can imagine anything happening is Monday or Tuesday. The main medical men don’t work weekends.

Michael is lying on his bed literally praying to God for help.

“Please God, help me. Dear God, help me…” he mutters, lying curled in a foetal position.

He refuses to allow a nurse to put in the eye drops the doctors have prescribed for him and, as normal, starts getting fully manic around 8.15pm, just after the change in nursing shifts.

(CONTINUED HERE…)

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Seven days in an NHS hospital: Day 2 – “He got away with bloody murder!…”

(CONTUNUED FROM HERE)

THURSDAY 22nd JULY

For breakfast, there was a choice of cereals; I chose Corn Flakes. I could also have had bread. And fruit juices, tea and coffee.

There is now a nurse 100% of the time with Michael – to keep him as calm as possible.

But he is still mentally swirling: a new obsession every ten minutes and no memory of what he has said or what has been said to him.

He said he had lost his wallet so it must have been stolen. But his nurse finds it in the jacket in his wardrobe with £20 inside. He then says he has lost his mobile phone, but his nurse finds it in the wardrobe.

He chats to his nurse, a gentle young girl. She is a Buddhist. He was, he says, a Christian and wants to be a Christian again. They chat about religion.

The Calcium Man visits me with his two student doctors. He says today I will have three 6-hour drips – ie 18 hours of drips – with more to be decided after that.

Half an hour later, one of the Calcium Man’s junior doctors comes back to get more information from me and she spots a red circular mark on my right arm. I tell her it is a patch which was heavily sunburned a few weeks ago and, when the skin started to peel off a couple of days later, I foolishly ‘helped’ it by peeling the edges off.

She does not look convinced.

I am now wearing four socks – two tight, long green socks to try to avert deep vein thrombosis two short red slip-over non-slip socks.

The drip has been moved from my right to my left arm – it was leaking plus it is easier for me, as a right-handed man, to have it in my left arm. The trainee nurse had two attempts to inject me with a needle to get the plastic tube into my left arm and failed. So she gave up and got a more experienced nurse to needle it in.

Michael’s brother William phoned him. He said he is going to collect Michael at 1.00pm on Saturday to take him ‘home’… As far as I can gather, this actually means an old people’s care home. Michael does not really understand this and, as far as I can see, confused, he thinks he is being collected at 5.30pm tonight.

Around 6.00pm, I start watching the BBC News on my iPhone, with my earphones in. As a result of this, I don’t really hear the rumpus that is going on (I think) just outside the ward,

It seems that, at some point, the tall man from a small African country who only has one arm hit a nurse. Another nurse.

There are now two hospital security men at the door of the ward; one sitting inside the ward; and five in the outer area by Reception.

The tall man from a small African country who only has one arm and Michael both have beds on the other side of the ward.

Their verbal tiffs have been continuing throughout the day and I am amazed it was not Michael he hit.

Michael, still obsessed with his brother William not coming to collect him at 5.30pm, now also starts obsessing about the tall man from a small African country who only has one arm and who is called Davide.

“He’s got away with murder!” Michael says to the nurses about the tall man from a small African country, who is lying in his nearby bed. “You know he has. I saw it. Because he’s got half a million quid. That’s why you treat him different. He is always shouting.”

Trying to get out of the ward, he is physically restrained and brought back from the Reception area into the ward by two male nurses, a security man and a female nurse.

Michael tells a nurse (my iPhone is a good recording device): “I want to die. I do. I want to die. Why did you let him go? Get out of it! Get out of my way!… No. No! You let him get away with murder!”

He starts walking round the ward in an agitated, random way, never looking at the tall man from a small African country.

The nurse: “Michael, what’s wrong?”

Michael: “You let him get away with murder!”

The nurse: “No-one has been murdered…”

Michael: “There WAS money in the bag! There WAS! You know it. You knew it.”

The supervising nurse calls for more security to come up to the ward.

Michael: “He got away with it.”

The nurse: “Alright. Alright, Michael. (with concern in her voice) What’s upsetting you?

Michael: “That fellah got away with murder!”

The nurse: “Nobody got away with murder… It’s OK…”

Michael: “Get away!”

The nurse: “Michael, come and sit down. What’s wrong?”

Michael (SHOUTING): “I SAW THAT FELLER COME AND… COME AND… he was shouting all of the time and he… got away with… murder… didn’t he… You know he did!”

The nurse: “Nobody’s done an…”

Michael: “He done that. Security wise you know that.”

The nurse: “Please, you’re going to injure…”

Michael: “Get away, get away, get away… I see that feller get away with murder…”

The nurse: “Nobody’s got away with…”

Michael: “He got away with it… I see him”

The nurse: “OK… OK… What do you want? How can we help?”

Michael: “Well, I should have the same things.”

The nurse: “OK. Come and sit here and we’ll talk about it, OK?”

Michael: “No, I feel very upset about it.”

The nurse: “Do you want to sit here and we’ll talk about it?”

Michael: “No, no, no… He got AWAY WITH IT! He got away with it. I see him got away with it.”

The nurse: “Do you want a cup of tea, Michael?”

Michael: “He got away. He got away… with… No, he got away with bloody murder!”

The nurse: “Do you want to sit down and we can get you a cup of tea?”

Michael: “I saw it with my own eyes.”

The nurse: “Tell me. What did you see?”

Michael: “I’ve seen him… I see… I see him abusing a couple of women. I saw it happen. You know it happened.”

The nurse: “Do you want to come and sit beside me?”

Michael: “Why should I come and sit beside you?… No, no. You saw that happen, didn’t you! He got away with bloody murder!”

During all this, the tall man from a small African country just lies quietly in his bed.

Later, the tall man from a small African country is wheeled out of the ward on his bed. 

As he is taken out, he says to no-one in particular: “I am General Kofi Davide.” (I have changed all the names in this blog)

Later, Michael wanders round the ward and comes over to my bed, confused. He absentmindedly bends down to pick up my shoes.

“They’re my shoes, Michael,” I tell him gently.

“Davide was always shouting,” he says later.

“Why are you keeping me here?” Michael asks a nurse. “I’ve done nothing. You know I haven’t.”

He is genuinely frightened, but it also feels like maybe he gets a kick out of being noticed. He is 83 years old. He wanders round the ward absentmindedly, touching objects – the end of beds, walls, windows – as if making sure they are there.

He refuses to have a nurse put in the eye drops doctors have prescribed for him.

On a whim, I look up Kofi Davide online. (I have changed all names in this blog.)

He was a commander in the Liberation Front army during his country’s war of independence, later becoming a politician with roles in the new government but, eventually, he fell foul of the new leadership and, allegedly, has not been heard of for the last ten years, presumed to be in prison somewhere. His wife was also a freedom finder during their war of liberation.

Around 8.00pm, Michael desperately tries to leave. He is pulled back by a male nurse, today’s current 1-to-1 care nurse and a security guard (who is now permanently in the ward and follows Michael wherever he goes). The security guard has Michael’s arm in a half-nelson.

Throughout the night, Michael lies on his bed, gets up, wanders around the ward, lies on his bed, gets up, wanders around the ward, lies on his bed, gets up, wanders around the ward, lies on his bed, gets up…

At one point, he bangs on the windows with his first.

“Why are you doing this?” the nurse asks.

“I want to smash the windows!” Michael replies. “I want justice done!”

“Look, Michael,” the nurse says, “the security guard is here.”

“No no,” Michael replies. “I see what happened then. What’s he doing now?”

“Davide is going away,” says the nurse. “He’s gone upstairs.”

Michael keeps pacing the ward all night, occasionally having verbal outbursts.

I get little sleep.

(CONTINUED HERE…)

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Seven days in an NHS hospital: Day One – Mad Michael and the tall quiet African

WEDNESDAY 21st JULY

So I had blood tests last Friday.

The Calcium Man phoned me up at teatime yesterday, sounding slightly rattled. He said I should come into hospital, either last night or this morning. I said this morning would be easier.

It’s the same problem as last year – a high calcium level and very low kidney function. Dangerously low. They never knew and still don’t know the cause of last year’s problem. Or my ongoing problems.

I was in hospital for a week last year until they could sort out the calcium/kidney levels.

This year, when I checked in to the hospital this morning, I was told it will probably be a shorter stay this year, because they had tested EVERYTHING last year and in the year in between… because cancer had been a possibility. This had never been mentioned to me before.

One of the advantages of being in hospital for a Scot is that you get free food and, despite the reputation of UK hospital food, I found out last year that it is very good.

I am told they will sort out the calcium level with a drip – like last year. And that should sort out the kidney function. And maybe they will do a brain scan, as they’ve scanned pretty much everything else.

I think the nurses are mostly trainees in my ward. Certainly the woman in charge is and at least one other nurse is.

It is a ward of five beds.

The trainee in charge has maybe two nurses under her plus there’s a bloke sitting at a computer in mid-ward who I presume is doing admin stuff but who acts as a general nurse if no-one else is about or they’re busy. It’s difficult to tell.

Not unusually, all the female nurses are black. The bloke in the middle at the computer is, I guess, Eastern Europe somewhere. 

The supervising nurse has a lovely sense of humour and seems very efficient. It helps that she is something like 12 feet tall. I exaggerate. But it feels like that.

A nurse is currently checking a patient:

“Do you know where you are?”

“Dominique.”

“What is your name?”

There is a long pause and eventually no answer.

“Do you know what month it is?”

“No.”

A little later, more dialogue with a different patient:

“Here are your tablets…”

“Why?”

“They are your medication.”

“I don’t need them!”

“They are to help your problem.”

“I’ve never had so many tablets in my life.”

“You are in hospital.”

“No I’m not!”

This is not a mental ward. This is an ordinary NHS ward.

I could never be a nurse.

All the nurses in the ward wear masks, although we are now mostly out of Covid restrictions. The patients do not wear masks and, when the Calcium Man comes to see me, he wears no mask – nor do the two trainee junior doctors who come with him.

The Calcium Man says I will be linked up to three consecutive bags of saline drip, from noon to 8.00pm

BBC Newsflash re NHS pay rise

In mid-afternoon, the government announces there will be a 3% pay rise for many NHS workers. The initial offer had been for 1%. Two nurses were discussing it and one said her salary was £10,000pa. They worked it out – the increase would mean an extra £300 per year for her – roughly £5.76p extra per week.

Later in the day, there is heavy verbal abuse from the man who thinks he is not in hospital about how the nurses are liars and that he doesn’t need to be in hospital. 

“You know it,” he says. “You know it’s true.”

This patient’s name is Michael. (Well, not really, All names in this blog have been changed to protect people’s privacy.)

Michael is like a human goldfish. He is a small white man with long white hair. His memory is very short indeed. His conversations are circular, because he does not remember what he said or what he was told ten minutes ago. 

In the bed next to Michael and in the opposite corner from me is a tall man from a small African country. He doesn’t say much. He only has one arm. 

A hospital security man is called up to the ward because of Michael.

The security man says Michael is no real threat and the security man goes away again.

In the corner bed, the quiet tall man from a small African country tries to persuade various nurses to get him 12 packs of cigarettes.

The nurse sitting in the middle of the ward at the computer mentions to someone that, a while ago, in another ward, the quiet tall man from a small African country who only has one arm hit him.

Michael is obsessed about wanting to leave the ward and, occasionally, he and the tall man from a small African country who only has one arm start shouting at each other.

At 3.00am in the morning, Michael is determined to go out shopping for clothes and food and has to be restrained.

The shouting continues and, I think, the tall man from a small African country must have been given a knock-out injection because he went quiet. 

I get little sleep.

CONTINUED HERE
WITH A MURDER IN THE WARD…

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Vertigo, a stroke, partial paralysis, two heart attacks and an inoperable cancer…

Irony upon irony.

In the UK, we are in the middle of an extreme heatwave.

Irony upon irony. It never rains but it pours.

Last Wednesday, torrential rains started in western Germany triggering deadly floods. At the time of writing, the German death toll is 188, with around 1,300 missing and an estimated 31 dead in Belgium. Poor old Belgium always gets forgotten.

And let’s not even mention the current Covid infection rate. Yet.

Irony upon irony.

The newspapers here in the UK are billing today as ‘Freedom Day’ when most Covid restriction in England are lifted. Yet the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and, yes, the Health Minister are all quarantining lest they have or spread Covid..

And, as ‘Freedom Day’ – freedom from Covid day – approached, there was a large surge in Covid cases which continues.

But more important to me, in my own little world, is that my vertigo returned with a vengeance this morning at 5.00am and I have been in bed all day. If I lie in bed on my right side – ie with my right ear on the pillow, it is like the inside of my head is being pulled apart by centrifugal force while I am spinning round on a phenominally fast fairground ride. 

But the importance of anything is comparative. 

In Germany: 188 flood deaths seems very bad… But they have had 91,370 Covid deaths.

Joe Palermo in hospital… He’s a fighter AND a lover…

I have vertigo again, but…

About a week ago, comedy critic Kate Copstick sent me an email saying that comedian Mark Dean Quinn had been hospitalised by a stroke and was paralysed down one side.

And London-based Italian performer Joe Palermo had had a heart attack.

Joe lived. So did Mark.

Mark Dean Quinn in better days at Edinburgh Fringe

After a week, Mark Dean Quinn was back at home. His speech was still slightly slurred, but he was able to cut two eggs, two onions, two tomatoes and open two jars… though it took him 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, before all that, on 8th July, Copstick had also told me about 87-year-old London-based American comic Lynn Ruth Miller. Copstick wrote:


Lynn Ruth Miller had what she calls a “mild” heart attack last week.

She is leaving hospital today.

That is not the worst of it.

She has been told she has oesophageal cancer. A large, ulcerated tumour which is wrapped around her oesophagus. Inoperable, they said.

She cannot eat solids.

They can operate to put a stent into the oesophagus to stop it closing completely BUT they are not happy about surgery because of her age.

She is talking to them on Tuesday to discuss treatment options – chemo or radiation.

She is continuing to do her gigs.


I talked to Lynn Ruth after that billed Tuesday NHS appointment.:

“How did it go with the doctors?” I asked.

“I am getting the same runaround you are from the NHS,” she said. “I am unable to eat food and I am unable to sleep. They keep postponing the consultation that will tell me exactly what kind of cancer I have and what they can do about it – and they are doing nothing at all about it. I have to find out what kind of cancer it is and what stage it is at first before I can fight it and they keep moving the date forward.  

“I do not know what to do or where to turn. I do not want to die just because no-one got around to figuring out how I can eat and sleep but that is exactly what is happening.

“I do know if I don’t get some help pretty soon I won’t make it and I want to make it very very badly. 

“In other news there is a dead rat stinking up my kitchen and I cannot find it.”


I got in touch with her again today.


“I have been complaining about the symptoms since mid May,” she told me. The NHS has known about this cancer since the end of June because it showed up on a CT scan when I went to A& E.  

“On July 2 I had the mild heart attack and, while I was having it, darling, I made the bed, brushed my teeth, did my etc and dressed properly, got the coffee ready and then collapsed.  

“When they took me into A&E (for a second time) the doctor knew what was wrong and said: You had a heart attack and you have oesophageal cancer…  

“WHY DIDN’T THEY TELL ME THAT AT THE END OF JUNE? I might have avoided the heart attack!   

“In all this time, NOTHING, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING has been done to treat the fact that my oesophagus is closed and I cannot eat solid food and it is getting worse. I have lost about 12 pounds and am losing more every day.   

“I have told them that and they have increased the pain meds (they are working).

“I now have a ton of meds for my heart,  but nothing for my digestive problem and, when I was in the hospital, the dietician couldn’t get it through her head that I really really really cannot chew or swallow ANYTHING… They kept giving me Heinz’s cream of chicken soup.  

“So the bottom line is I can’t eat solid food and I cannot sleep because the pain is keeping me awake. Without food and sleep one dies… I am not in the mood to go this soon. I have a lot more trouble I want to cause.  

“I also have a LOT of morphine I am planning to sell on the street to finance going private. Who do you know?

“Tomorrow I am supposed to get a diagnosis. I still do not have an oncology doctor or a gastroenterology doctor or a diagnosis.  

“They have put off telling me three times. 

“And this is socialized medicine!  

“What has this world come to?”


 

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John Ryan – “Most comedy is about the self-indulgent egos of the performers.”

Comedian John Ryan appeared in this blog a couple of times in 2014. The first time, he talked about scripting Teletubbies and getting awarded a Royal Society for Public Health Special Commendation for contributions to the field of Arts and Health Equalities.

In the second, he said: “People ask me why I’m not as big as Michael McIntyre and I say I’m just too normal.”

Recently, he contacted me about his new online radio show Reading The Signs. His pitch was: “It is on two sister stations: Men’s Radio Station and Women’s Radio Station. It is the world’s first and only comedy and mental health radio and social media show going out on YouTube, Twitter, FacebookLive and Soundcloud as well as over 40 stations worldwide as part of the deluxe radio network.”

So we talked via Skype…


ME: You’ve not taken a conventional comedy career path…

JOHN RYAN: Well, ten years ago I decided, rather than pursue that elusive dream of being on 8 Out of 10 Cats and Mock The Week, I thought I would use my academic background. So I got into ten years of community care work and pursued that avenue. And this is the next step.

ME: You do stuff for about five NHS regions around the country.

JOHN RYAN: Yes.

ME: But you are still a comedian.

JOHN RYAN: Essentially, yeah. Up until the Covid lockdown, I was still doing cabaret on cruise ships and doing all the clubs up and down the UK.

ME: So, if you had to put your primary ‘job’ on your passport, what would your profession be?

JOHN RYAN: (PAUSE) Memory maker. (A LONG LAUGH) I suppose I would put down Entertainer, really.

ME: Reading The Signs is…?

JOHN RYAN: Every week, I get a comedian on and we talk about comedy: how they got into it, why they did, gig experiences… but also how they stay resilient, especially through the last 18 months.

At the best of times, comics are ‘fragile’. So having no live work for the last 18 months meant having no constant validation from audiences, no ‘love’ and no money. It’s a combination cocktail for disaster and I’m interested in how they have survived. If THEY can do it, then the average Joe in the street can maybe learn stuff from them.

ME: It started online a couple of weeks ago…

John Ryan – well-being training and mental health training

JOHN RYAN: Every Monday at 7 o’clock.

There is a company called WJ who do all the road markings on the motorways and schools and places and they sponsor me. They have been using me for the last three or four years to go into their teams and do well-being training, mental health training and corporate comedy shows.

The idea of Reading The Signs was to show there’s more to comedy as a vehicle than just standing in front of an audience, trying to get on that comedy industry rat race. And it’s trying to show there’s more to comedians than people who go on stage and make you laugh. Last week my guest was Ria Lina.

Traditionally I’ve just done men’s health and men’s mental well-being. But this is more about the resilience of comics.

Just cos you don’t appear on 8 Out of 10 Cats don’t mean you can’t make a good living. I’ve travelled the world. It is possible to make a GOOD living from a comedy career even though nobody knows you. I live in (he mentions a very up-market area of London).

ME: So it is possible to monetise comedy without being on TV?

“When everyone was trying to get on the train…”

JOHN  RYAN: When everyone was trying to get on the train with the Off The Kerb and Avalon agencies, I targeted the NHS and BUPA and, when auditions and castings came up, I got onto the cruise ships and the military gigs and the corporate circuit. My thing was not about doing comedy as a vanity project. I was raised in Hackney and…

ME: Hackney is a bit Yuppie…

JOHN RYAN: I grew up there before people ate avocados for breakfast.

I’m from a very multi-cultural, working class background. I brought that work ethic into my comedy career. I would say: “You need a compere, I’ll do that… You need a headline act, I’ll do that… You need a musical act, I’ll do that…”

Most comedy is about the self-indulgent egos of the performers. But Reading The Signs is actually about getting below the surface and seeing what makes people do comedy. So, if there’s anyone out there suffering from depression or anxiety or mental un-wellness, they can see that most comics have got some kind of ‘block’ that stops them being able to interact ‘normally’ or in a ‘usual’ manner.

“I’m not preachy… I’m not a clinician…”

It’s not preachy. I’m not telling people to hug trees. I’m not a clinician. I’m not a consultant. I’m just a bloke who has managed to stay sane in this world. Here are some of the things that work for me – and here’s some of the things that work for my friends. And they are people who are not part of the mainstream society.

One of the things about mental health is that, when you suffer, you’re excluded from mainstream society.

ME: You got interested in mental health because of family things?

JOHN RYAN: Yes. My mother suffered from clinical depression all her life and, as a child, I used to sit with her on her dark days and just read loads of books which meant I developed an amazing thirst for knowledge.

Both my parents were barely literate, but I managed to get a Masters Degree plus two other degrees. And it was all because of what I picked up as a little child: the quest for knowledge; the drive to know Why is that like that?

ME: A Masters Degree in what?

JOHN RYAN: In Health and Social Policy.

ME: And the other two degrees?

JOHN RYAN: One in Social Science. The other in Trade Union & Labour Studies.

ME: What? Why?

“The quest for knowledge… to know Why is that like that?

JOHN RYAN: It was hobbies.

My first degree was because I wanted to get out of Hackney and change my friendship circle.

But the others I did as hobbies. I also have an NVQ in Gardening… I just like learning.

ME: Is your life going to dramatically change when the Covid lockdown finally ends?

JOHN RYAN: I have a reluctance to travel now. In the year up to lockdown, I did 64 flights.

ME: Any change to your on-stage style because of lockdown? Zoom gigs are very difficult for comedians – no feedback; no laughter.

JOHN RYAN: Well, I think comedy is like sex. It’s always better if there’s someone else doing it with you and they’re near you and enjoying it. But my comedy was never necessarily funny stories. It’s basically just sheer force of persona. So Zoom suited me. I’ve come to terms with Zoom.

ME: Have you lost part of the urge to step on a live stage?

JOHN RYAN: No. I did a live gig last week and loved it. The audience was very receptive and really willing. But I think we have to embrace the fact things have changed.

I’ve been talking to someone about doing a little theatre tour in the autumn and what we will do is sell tickets for a live audience but also stream it online.

ME: Any other projects?

JOHN RYAN: I’ve written a kids’ book – me and my mate have written it. It will be published next month. 

ME: The title?

JOHN RYAN: A Mission Most Fowl.

ME: I smell chickens.

JOHN RYAN: It’s basically four anthropomorphic creatures in a post-Apocalyptic future… Mankind has gone… There are some genetically-modified animals living in a cave where all Man’s technology was. Some baddie ducks want to capture the cave and take over the planet.

ME: For what age kids?

JOHN RYAN: 11 upwards. Publishing a book was on my tick list of things I wanted to do.

ME: Anything un-ticked?

JOHN RYAN: To be in a musical.

ME: That’s not impossible.

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Ariane Sherine wants to live to 100 and write 100 books, starting with this one

Ariane Sherine has had a busy week. It’s her birthday.

And she released the first episode of her weekly podcast Love Sex Intelligence.

And she has published her first novel, Shitcom, about two male TV sitcom writers.

She knows that about which she writes. She has been a writer on BBC TV’s Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps and on My Family.

She claims Shitcom is her first book, although she has previously published The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas, Talk Yourself Better and How To Live To 100.


A TV sitcom, a shitstorm and a switch…

JOHN: Why’s the new book called Shitcom?

ARIANE: It’s a novel about two comedy writers on a sitcom. One’s extremely successful and an arsehole. The other one is extremely unsuccessful but very nice… And they swap bodies.

JOHN: So it’s a cosy little comic romp…

ARIANE: No. It’s got racism, misogyny, homophobia, extreme swearing, graphic descriptions of violence and a short rape scene. The villain calls his mother a jizz-lapping old whore and calls his step-father a fisting spaffmonkey. He is obsessed with his penis because it’s only 2 inches long.

JOHN: You wrote it in 2004, when you were…

ARIANE: …a sitcom writer for BBC TV.

JOHN: So it’s all semi-autobiographical?

ARIANE: It’s ‘loosely based’ on my experiences. But all the characters are fictional.

JOHN: The plot is a body/identity swap story.

ARIANE: There IS a body swap and Neil – the nice guy – inhabits Andrew’s body and is able to get his sitcom idea commissioned, but he then realises fame and success are not all they’re cracked up to be.

Andrew is trapped in Neil’s body and there’s a hilarious/outrageous and disturbing turn of events which sees him end up homeless and having to have sex with a guy for money so that he can buy a gun.

JOHN: Why are fame and success not what they’re cracked up to be?

ARIANE: Because nobody treats you normally. It’s a very hyper-real/surreal type of existence. Most of the famous people I’ve met have been very nice, professional and reliable. They treat people really well. But I would not personally want to be famous. I don’t think it makes you any happier and you never know if people like you for you or just because you’re successful.

Ariane created and ran the Atheist Bus Campaign, seen here at its launch with Richard Dawkins (Photograph by Zoe Margolis)

JOHN: You famously created and ran the Atheist Bus Campaign and got shedloads of publicity.

ARIANE: I experienced the slightest distant glimmer of fame in 2009/2010 and it was quite disorientating. You don’t feel like yourself because people have this impression of you which doesn’t tally with your own impression of yourself. It’s confusing and I personally wouldn’t really want to be wildly famous.

JOHN: You wouldn’t want to be successful?

ARIANE: I think there’s a difference between having recognition for what you do and being a megastar where it’s so out-of-proportion that it’s ridiculous.

You really wouldn’t want Fred Bloggs accosting you when you’re trying to take the bins out – thrusting a camera in your face, demanding a selfie or an autograph.

JOHN: Alas poor Chris Whitty. You don’t want to be famous at all?

Ariane keeps her fingers in many pies, including podcasts

ARIANE: I wouldn’t mind a bit of recognition, but not being followed around by paparazzi wherever I go.

JOHN: Why did you not publish the novel in 2004 when you wrote it?

ARIANE: I had always wanted to write novels and I was putting the finishing touches to it in 2005 when I was violently assaulted by my then-boyfriend when I was pregnant with his baby. I had to have an abortion which I didn’t want to have. I cried every day for a year and I shelved the novel because I thought: I don’t want to focus on comedy! I’ve just been through hell! I don’t want to be focusing on jokes when my baby is dead.

JOHN: Wouldn’t focusing on comedy be cathartic in that situation?

ARIANE: I just didn’t feel I could write it successfully and, instead, I wrote a memoir of what had happened. That didn’t get published and I’m very glad it didn’t get published because it was so raw. It had a lot of scenes from my childhood and my dad was still alive and I think it would have got me into a massive mess.

So I sort-of lost interest in Shitcom. I shelved it and then a little later I started writing for the Guardian (until 2018) and I think I made some tweaks to Shitcom in 2008, but, as a Guardian columnist, I didn’t want to put out a book with an incredibly racist, sexist, homophobic male character and a ton of racial slurs in it. That felt like it might be a bit of a faux pas.

JOHN: And the Covid lockdown happened last year… That had an effect?

ARIANE: Yes. I was going to do a 100-date book tour for my last book How To Live To 100 but then the Covid lockdown came in, so the tour got shelved.

Shitcom was published after servicing Patreon subscribers

But I have a Patreon account and one of the subscriber tiers is my Writing Tier. 

Subscribers to that tier get a sample of my writing every week.

I came across Shitcom again and I thought I would send them that chapter by chapter. As I was reading it again, I realised it was hilarious and I loved it. So I thought Why don’t I just put it out rather have it languish on my hard drive?

I didn’t even try to get it traditionally published. Nobody in the publishing industry has seen it and, in this age of ‘cancellation culture’ I don’t think any publisher is going to be too keen on it.

JOHN: Have you thought about also publishing your ‘too raw’ memoir which you could now look back on objectively?

ARIANE: If I ever did write a memoir, it would probably be at the end of my career. I have so much left to do; and also my mum and brother are still alive and I wouldn’t want to hurt them with what’s in it. It might be something I do in 40 or 50 years.

I am aiming to write 100 books in my lifetime and I see Shitcom as the first book.

My next book – traditionally published by my publisher Hachette – is called Happier and will be my fourth traditionally-published book. 

Ariane also wants to write 100 books…

JOHN: You’ve said you consider Shitcom your first book but you have published three books already.

ARIANE: Well, they are all either co-writes or they contain a ton of contributions from other people. I think they are very enjoyable and I love my publishers, but I also want to put novels out – and, by self-publishing them, people can read them for just £1.99 each.

JOHN: So what’s your next solo book?

ARIANE: I’m Not In Love, another novel.

JOHN: Autobiograhical?

ARIANE: Partly. It’s about a girl who’s not in love with her boyfriend. He smells of banana. He does not eat or like bananas, but he has a strange banana smell.

JOHN: This bit is autobiographical?

ARIANE: Yes. It’s based on a boyfriend I had who is a comedian and writer and actually quite successful now. I don’t know if he still smells of banana, but I do feel sorry for his wife if he does. Also (in the book) he wears these terrible slogan T-shirts like While You Are Reading This, I Am Staring at Your Tits… And she falls in love with another man, but he’s engaged to be married and one of her unscrupulous, amoral friends says to her: Why don’t you just keep this guy that you’re engaged to around as insurance and date other guys behind his back?

So that’s what she does. But she is in her 30s and is aware that time is not on her side if she wants to have kids. So it’s a rom-com. 

It’s already written, the main character is really acerbic and funny and it will be out before the end of the year.

Shitcom is out now, though, for just £1.99. Buy it!

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The mysterious Iceman’s birth, baptism, Westminster connections and dribbles.

The Iceman crops up in this blog erractically and eccentrically.

He used to be a humorous performance artist, destroying blocks of ice – sometimes by just letting them melt, sometimes using a blowtorch, sometimes blowing them up with explosives. Nowadays, though, he is a painter.

He paints pictures of blocks of ice.

Recently, he did a Zoom call with pupils at the highly prestigious Westminster School in London. I Skyped him to ask why…


JOHN: Why?

ICEMAN: A young sixth former became aware of my work and approached me on behalf of the Westminster Literary Society, which sounded very prestigious.

JOHN: But you’re not a literary creator; you’re an artistic performer and performance artist and now artist.

ICEMAN: Yes but, as you know, I use words, often with “aim” or “ice” in them.

JOHN: Errr… “aim”?

Portrait of the Artist as a mystery man

ICEMAN: That’s the n-ice name I have adopted as a painter. AIM = Anthony, Ice Man. But it always has a deeper meaning…

JOHN: Ooooooh!

ICEMAN: That is the correct response. Ooooooh! Deep. Deep. What are we AIMing for? I’m aiming for something very particular.

JOHN: What?

ICEMAN: Nirvanaima.

JOHN: Yer wot?

ICEMAN: Some people call it Nirvana. I call it NirvanAIMa… The Westminster Literary Society liked the wordplay… I am now a cult figure in the sixth form at Westminster School… I was baptised in Westminster Hall.

Westminster Hall is the oldest surviving part of the Palace of Westminster – ie the UK Parliament building (Photograph by Jwslubbock via Wikipedia)

JOHN: Westminster HALL???

That’s in the Houses of Parliament!

ICEMAN: Yes. The old hall where Charles I was tried. 

JOHN: You were baptised there???

ICEMAN: I had good contacts in those days.

JOHN: Bloody good contacts. Tell all!… 

ICEMAN: Anyway…

JOHN: Forget the Anyway. Why did you get baptised in Westminster Hall and where did you get the water from? There’s no font. You must have brought your own water. What was the font? Times Roman? What connections did you have? Political or Lordly?

ICEMAN: I’m a commoner.

JOHN: So you had a relation who was in the House of Commons?

ICEMAN: As a baby, I was good at networking. I have a little block of ice here…

JOHN: I don’t want to know about your little block of ice. I want to know about the water in your font and how and why you got baptised in Westminster Hall. Does this mean, bizarrely, you have a connection with Westminster School?

ICEMAN: One wonders, with all this synchronicity going around… You have an unhealthy interest in this… I think the person who invited me – at Westminster School – unbeknown to me, took my work very seriously, thought it was deep and funny and the initial subject I was talking to them about was Can Stand-Up Comedy Be an Art Form?… but I turned it, really, into a promotion of my paintings.

JOHN: Your paintings not your ice-melting performance art?

ICEMAN: I am a man of two parts.

JOHN: You’re a man of three parts. One is in Westminster Hall as a baby.

ICEMAN: There was ice in the font. It was February… No, it was April, actually.

JOHN: You remember ice in the font?

ICEMAN: I sensed it… Anyway… One of my audience at Westminster School was called Cecilia. She said she laughed so much at my Zoom meeting that her eyeliner ran.

JOHN: Where did it run to?

Iceman and duck talk to Westminster scholars

ICEMAN: My duck was there. You remember my duck? You blogged about it.

JOHN: How could I not?

ICEMAN: But the thing that I appreciated was that my art – seemingly genuinely – was being appreciated by a new generation. Now they can’t stop sending me emails. And even their English teacher said how deeply moving and funny it was at the same time. They had a block of their own. They called it Alice.

JOHN: Alice?

ICEMAN: – Al-ice.

JOHN: Aah! So you’ve inspired new ice artists?

ICEMAN: Well, they say I have inspired them. They are painting lots of pictures and they are going to send me a booklet of all their pictures. It has been a stimulus for their writing and art.

JOHN: But will they cough-up to buy a painting from you? How much would it cost?

ICEMAN: I dunno. If they gave a fiver each, how big is the Sixth Form?… £500?

JOHN: That’s quite cheap for your ice blocks.

ICEMAN: They haven’t replied to that e-mail.

JOHN: This would be you selling them not a block of ice but a…

ICEMAN: …a painting of a block. Yes. I know you met me when I was a performance artist, but my main creative activity now is painting, though still using the motif of blocks of ice. Every painting has a block of ice. I told the Literary Society that, when I look back, I see the blocks as stepping stones to my later career as a painter.

JOHN: But if the past blocks are stepping stones, they will melt, so your future career is uncertain.

ICEMAN: Yes, but I’ve got there now. A painter called Alfred Wallis reminds me of myself. He was part of the St Ives Group in Cornwall, but he was really a Cornish fisherman and he painted on cardboard, using ship’s paint. Very simple and child-like, which reminds me of me because I tend to paint on mounting board. He was taken up by Ben Nicholson. He was a genuinely naïve painter.

I’m not saying I’m emulating him. I came across him later and realised he’s like me in some ways. He only started painting in his Sixties.

The Iceman in full flow… His art is not easily accomplished… It is a combination of art and art-if-ice

JOHN: Back to your birth. Where was your father born?

ICEMAN: In Aberdeen. But I was born off the King’s Road in Chelsea. I think there might be a plaque there. It was a bit more bohemian in those days. I broke free and became The Iceman.

JOHN: Did you go to university?

ICEMAN: I can’t give too much information about myself without demystifying myself.

JOHN: When you were 19, what did you want to be?

ICEMAN: I think I wanted to join the Royal Navy.

JOHN: Why?

ICEMAN: To do ice patrols…

JOHN: Of course you did. But, at 19, did you decide you wanted to be a creative person of some kind?

ICEMAN: I think I had an idea of being some kind of actor. But then I recognised the limitations of that field.

JOHN: What are the limitations?

ICEMAN: Spouting forth other people’s words. I guess I became a performance artist but not one of your heavy Marina Abramović types. More of a slightly humorous performance artist. When I played comedy clubs, they said I should do art galleries; and art galleries said I should go and do comedy clubs. That’s the story of my life.

I ran into Arthur Smith. I said to him: “I never had success.” He said: “You had your moments”.

JOHN: Well, you’ve done better than Van Gogh did in his lifetime.

ICEMAN: That was one of your greatest blogs – The Iceman out-sells Van Gogh… You don’t remember! You don’t know your own blogs!

JOHN: I send the recordings off to some bloke in China and he transcribes them and puts them online. I seldom read them. But I remember the duck.

ICEMAN: You have a sort-of tabloid journalist’s eye for a good headline.

JOHN: Yeah: The Iceman was Lord So-and-So’s Son

ICEMAN: No.

“a bit of blue tarpaulin attached to it that looked like a fish.”

JOHN: You sent me an image of a new painting of a block yesterday.

ICEMAN: Yes, it is called The Tombstone Block. It has a lateral flow test thing block and The Iceman was in PPE outfit and it had a bit of blue tarpaulin attached to it that looked like a fish.

JOHN: Anything seems reasonable. Has the pandemic lockdown inspired you to create more things than you would otherwise have done?

ICEMAN: At one stage I created  a regular routine of painting more or less every day. Recently it’s more like one a fortnight.

JOHN: They take about a week to complete?

The Iceman amid his recent art, holding an old Polaroid

ICEMAN: About five minutes. (LAUGHS) But the build-up… I do think about it prior to the event.

I used to take Polaroids and, when I started painting, I was painting my interpretation of those photographs. But, when I ran out of photographs, I started painting more from memory.

And, more recently, I’ve painted more from a concept.

The block I did with Stewart Lee at the Royal Festival Hall – I imagined it going to Gravesend, Richmond Bridge, the North Sea, lift-off into space, then to a neighbouring universe. I’m getting more away from the basic literal block portrayal.

JOHN: How are sales of your paintings going?

Shrewd buyer (left) of a second Iceman painting – thaims 16

ICEMAN: I’ve just had an order from a previous buyer. He’s the Head of Music at Monkton Combe School. Many years after buying the original one – LidO –  based on Tooting Lido where I did a block, he became interested in a painting called thaims 16, which is basically a boat with an ice block on it… and the other one he likes is more abstract. I tried to get him into three figures, but he’s whittled me down to £50.

I like the fact I’m now painting. That has given me a completely different experience from performing. When you perform, you’re interacting in rough and ready ways. But when you’re painting you’ve usually alone. They are both intense, but completely different experiences.

When I paint, I think it’s the one time I forget about… well… For all my limitations as a painter – because I’ve had no training – I think what I bring to it is a spontaneous feeling. In one way, that relates back to the performance art work, which was always rough and ready.

I like using oils because, on canvas, they can emulate the ice block effects… I like dribbles.


The Iceman’s Zoom chat with the boys and girls of the Westminster Literary Society is on YouTube… The video lasts 29 minutes…

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Gene Wilder: “After the crowd sees Willy Wonka is a cripple, they all…”

Today, the excellent website Letters of Note posted this:


Happy 50th Birthday Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory

In 1970, when originally offered the lead role in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory by director Mel Stuart, the great Gene Wilder accepted on one condition.

“When I make my first entrance,” he explained, “I’d like to come out of the door carrying a cane and then walk toward the crowd with a limp. After the crowd sees Willy Wonka is a cripple, they all whisper to themselves and then become deathly quiet. As I walk toward them, my cane sinks into one of the cobblestones I’m walking on and stands straight up, by itself; but I keep on walking, until I realize that I no longer have my cane. I start to fall forward, and just before I hit the ground, I do a beautiful forward somersault and bounce back up, to great applause.”

Asked why, Wilder said, “Because from that time on, no one will know if I’m lying or telling the truth.”

His request was granted, but thankfully his input didn’t stop there. Just one example: Soon after seeing some early sketches of Willy Wonka’s eccentric outfit, Wilder wrote the following letter to Stuart and offered some charmingly constructive feedback.


Dear Mel

I’ve just received the costume sketches. I’ll tell you everything I think, without censoring, and you take from my opinion what you like.

I assume that the designer took his impressions from the book and didn’t know, naturally, who would be playing Willy. And I think, for a character in general, they’re lovely sketches.

I love the main thing — the velvet jacket — and I mean to show by my sketch the exact same color. But I’ve added two large pockets to take away from the svelt, feminine line. (Also in case of a few props.)

I also think the vest is both appropriate and lovely.

And I love the same white, flowing shirt and the white gloves. Also the lighter colored inner silk lining of the jacket.

What I don’t like is the precise pin pointing in place and time as this costume does.

I don’t think of Willy as an eccentric who holds on to his 1912 Dandy’s Sunday suit and wears it in 1970, but rather as just an eccentric — where there’s no telling what he’ll do or where he ever found his get-up — except that it strangely fits him: Part of this world, part of another. A vain man who knows colors that suit him, yet, with all the oddity, has strangely good taste. Something mysterious, yet undefined.

I’m not a ballet master who skips along with little mincy steps. So, as you see, I’ve suggested ditching the Robert Helpmann trousers. Jodhpurs to me belong more to the dancing master. But once elegant now almost baggy trousers — baggy through preoccupation with more important things — is character.

Slime green trousers are icky. But sand colored trousers are just as unobtrusive for your camera, but tasteful.

The hat is terrific, but making it 2 inches shorter would make it more special.

Also a light blue felt hat-band to match with the same light blue fluffy bow tie shows a man who knows how to compliment his blue eyes.

To match the shoes with the jacket is fey. To match the shoes with the hat is taste.

Hope all is well. Talk to you soon.

All my best,

Gene

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