ECCENTRIVIA – hairy-nosed wombats, almost dead parrots, Scots and tossers

My last blog ended with the mention of comedian and author Janey Godley’s meal of mince on toast being the subject of a prominent news article in Scotland’s Daily Record newspaper.

The next day, England’s/the UK’s Daily Star newspaper picked up the Daily Record story and it also turned out that, according to Google, ‘Janey Godley’ was the most-searched name for and by Scots in 2020.

Forget toast; she is on a roll.

********

Fame though, like the hairy-nosed wombat, can be a fickle thing.

Hairy-nosed wombat (Photo by Eva Hejda, via Wikipedia)

Creative hyphenate Ariane Sherine’s 9-year old daughter decided that, for her upcoming birthday in April, she wanted to adopt (online) a hairy-nosed wombat. They are an endangered species and she reckons they look sweet.

I am not altogether sure I agree and I felt obliged to point out to her that there are only reckoned to be either 206 or 147 of the even-more-endangered kākāpō left in the world.

These are quirky, large, flightless, nocturnal parrots.

Ralph (Photo: New Zealand Department of Conservation)

As a result, for her still upcoming birthday, she has now persuaded her long-suffering mother to fork out an extra £55 for the adoption of a near-extinct non-Monty Python kākāpō parrot called Ralph.

I suggested that, as the Rule of Three is immutable (she is an expert Scrabble player) Ariane’s daughter should also adopt the two squirrels who live in my back garden and, as I cannot tell them apart, we should call both of them Cyril. 

So she has now informally and additionally adopted Cyrils the Squirrels.

We will skate over the fact that four creatures are now involved. 

********

Andy Dunlop in happier days

On a more serious note, I received this sad missive from Andy Dunlop – President of the World Egg Throwing Federation:

“The World Egg Throwing Championships, hosted by Swaton Show, was looking forward to its return this year following last year’s lock down but the Committee fears our June 27th date may be unachievable due to the global pandemic. Movement to another date this year is impractical for wholly understandable reasons.”

I suggested that, when tennis becomes allowed, surely egg throwing must be allowed and that, if Scotch Eggs could be classified as a full meal to get round pub restrictions, maybe they are the future of egg-throwing too – though a bit dangerous for Russian Egg Roulette, which involves smashing an egg into your own forehead.

Andy Dunlop’s disappointing reply was: “Probably not.”

The moment the World Gravy Wrestling Champion failed in his World Russian Egg Roulette title bid in 2012

He added: “Our family continue to be fine as are now both vaccinated and it’s pretty much OK to be locked down when I can work from my conservatory, over-looking a couple of acres of garden and field disturbed only by bird song and the occasional baa from the sheep looking through my fence. 

“The ten girls in there since yesterday, placed by farmer Steven (son of Steve, father of Steven John) arrived after a scan revealed they are not in lamb and, unbeknown to them, are being fattened before their final trip. They will be replaced shortly by a clutch of successful mothers and their new joyous off spring.”

It took me a moment to realise all this referred to sheep.

********

Shortly after that message arrived from the barren outlands north of Watford, I received this photo from comedy uber-fan Sandra Smith on England’s south coast:

I had always assumed the locals in Brighton were fairly sophisticated men and women of the world (other genders are available). But I am prepared to reconsider this opinion…

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ECCENTRIVIA – Mis-gendering, Tit-Bits, Potato Heads and Janey Godley

In yesterday’s blog, I mentioned the NHS wasting time and money sending out three letters when only one was required. That referred to a local hospital appointment I am (still) having on 11th May with the Respiratory Department.

Today I received a text on my mobile from the same hospital about a telephone appointment I have with their Physiotherapy Department on 4th March. The text tells me that my telephone appointment has been changed to a telephone appointment.

Apart from the surrealism of my telephone appointment being changed to a telephone appointment, there is the quirkiness of the fact that they could have saved money yesterday by sending me one text rather than three physical letters. The technology seems to be not unknown to them.

********

The NHS is an organisation that just keeps on giving. After reading yesterday’s blog, a care worker I know sent me a message she received from the NHS’s ‘Health Education England’ – presumably sent to all NHS workers in England who interact with members of the public – advising her what to do if she should “misgender someone by accidentally using the wrong pronoun”.

Her reaction to me was: “FFS, I think I’ll stay in lockdown”.

********

In other gender-bending news, Hasbro’s Twitter account announced that, from Autumn this year, its iconic Mr & Mrs Potato Head toys will be getting “a 21st-century rebrand” as ‘Potato Head’ so that the toy could “break away from traditional gender norms” and, when the new brand is unveiled, “kids will have a blank slate to create same-sex families or single-parent families”.

This would mean the toys would not “impose a fixed notion of gender identity or expression”, freeing kids to do whatever feels most natural to them. A girl potato might wear trousers and a boy potato might wear earrings. Hasbro would also sell “boxed sets that don’t present a normative family structure”. This approach would allow kids to project their own ideas about gender, sexuality and family onto their Potato Head toys, without necessarily offending parents who might have more conservative notions about family.

After some surprised reaction on social media, Hasbro then re-Tweeted yesterday that, although the toys would indeed be re-branded as Potato Heads, they would also still be identified as ‘Mr’ and ‘Mrs’ on the packaging.

So Mr Potato Head will now be called Potato Head to avoid gendering the toy, but the toys will be identified on the packaging as Mr Potato Head or Mrs Potato Head.

I am undecided whether this is good publicity – lots of coverage of the brand – or bad publicity – too much ducking, dodging, diving and weaving in the PR.

Collins Dictionary currently defines ‘Potato-head’ as “[slang] a dumb or stupid person”.

********

Meanwhile, on Facebook, Man-of-All-Arts Peter Stanford has spotted a piece in a 1884 edition of Tit-Bits magazine.

Peter’s reaction was: “I so want some reputable magazine to offer this service. I would write my own, and send it off with my subscription, just in case.”

********

All publications are desperate for readers and ever have been.

In yesterday’s Daily Record (basically Scotland’s national equivalent to England’s Daily Mirror), there was a prominent article on comedian and author Janey Godley ‘dividing the internet’ by posting a picture of her dinner: a plate of toast, mince, peas and onions.

According to the Daily Record, “many were outraged by her choice of dish”.

You know you have really succeeded in the fame game when a national paper starts reporting your dinner (with pictures) for the sole reason that, if they publish your name, people will want to read the article. All the more jaw-dropping because this week Janey started writing a weekly column for the Daily Record‘s competitor, The Herald.

 

 

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ECCENTRIVIA – Political correctness, Facebook hoes, midgets and the NHS

Yesterday, my Yorkshire-born friend Lynn stumbled on this story in The Week from last month, which both of us had missed. She says: “I had to read it three times and I’m still not sure I get it. Whoever the morons are, they surely can’t be Yorkshire folk.

To be clear, the concept of the three wise monkeys became popular in 17th century Japan, before spreading to the West. It is associated with the Tendai school of Buddhism where monkeys are considered sacred and perceived as helpers for divine figures. They are “vehicles of delight”.

I always think people who censor monkeys for being racist should look at themselves in the mirror. Far be it from me to say “political correctness gone mad”… but I will.

That was yesterday.

Today, Lynn spotted this piece in Computer Active magazine about Facebook’s algorithm getting similarly censorious.

I told her: “Eat your heart out for any publican trying to make a living by running the Cock Inn, Scunthorpe.”

Afterwards, I Googled to see if there actually IS a Cock Inn, Scunthorpe.

Sadly there is not, but Google told me there is a Blythe Black Cock Inn. Arguably worse in Facebook terms, but un-censored by them.

I feel the good people of Plymouth Hoe have cause to be aggrieved about being picked-on by a US algorithm.

********

Meanwhile, in other perhaps equally dodgy news, I got an email telling me that the admirable Vaudevisuals Press, whose slogan is “Celebrating the Eccentric Performing Arts”, have published a book on Rose’s Royal Midgets and Other Little People of Vaudeville.

“…both the Dark and the Dazzling sides”

It covers the period from 1890 when Ike Rose “started living the legendary life of a top vaudeville & burlesque producer” to 1957, when Billy Barty founded his “advocacy group” the Little People of America.

Ike Rose, apparently, was “one of show biz history’s great impresarios, now forgotten but once in a league with names like Barnum and Ziegfeld as men who delivered full value for the price of a ticket.”

He seems to have rivalled Barnum is hype.

The book admits: “each component of the troupe’s name crumbles into dust by light of day.

“‘Rose’ was a pseudonym; the company held no Royal seal of approval; and the word ‘midget’ has passed out of use in polite society.”

The selling line for the book claims: ”Without pandering nor passing judgment, this book documents in detail the performers, producers, the stage routines themselves and the various venues from those straight up and upscale to others shameful and shady. This book probes both the Dark and the Dazzling sides of the American Imagination. Only rare books like this seriously confront our more bizarre past and allow the new generations of show folk to revise, to re-invent, to reform American Theater.”

Rare indeed – apparently only 50 copies of the book are being published.

Tomorrow – well, tonight at 8.00pm in New York; tomorrow 1.00am in London – there is a free online Zoom conversation between author Trav S.D. (Donald Travis Stewart) and Vaudevisuals’ own Jim R.Moore.

As I haven’t had a full night’s sleep since May last year (medical conditions) and am currently sleeping on the floor at night because my back is buggered, the possibility of my listening in on this Zoom call is iffy. But it sounds interesting.

********

I have also, this morning, just received a letter from the NHS saying that I should ignore the other letter they enclose in the same envelope cancelling  my appointment with the Respiratory Team on 11th May.

Obviously, in this main letter, they don’t mention when or with whom the appointment is because that is mentioned in the letter which they are telling me to ignore.
 
They say, in the first letter telling me to ignore the second letter, that they will send me a third letter rescheduling the appointment.
 
Regular readers of this blog will know we have been here before (see my blog of a fortnight ag0).
 
The third letter, dated the same day as the other two letters, will inevitably say they are rescheduling my appointment which was at 1345 on Tuesday 11th May and, instead, I will have a telephone appointment at 1345 on Tuesday 11th May.
 
Life is but a surreal dream, a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing….

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Paul Vickers and The Leg: How to write a new music album in lockdown. Or not.

I was talking to musical one-off Paul Vickers (aka comedy one-off Mr Twonkey) a few weeks ago and we thought it might be interesting to do a blog about how, during the COVID lockdown, he had managed to write an entire album for his band Paul Vickers and The Leg.

Exactly a fortnight ago, I FaceTimed Paul and bandmate/co-songwriter Dan Mutch at Dan’s home.

They share a lockdown bubble in Edinburgh.

Yes, a fortnight ago.

COVID lockdown lethargy has hit me. 

This is how the conversation went…


Dan Mutch (left) and Paul in Edinburgh

JOHN: So, you have recorded an album…

PAUL: Well… not yet.

DAN: We’ve written it.

PAUL: We’ve demo’d it. But we now need the rest of the band to come in… I dunno… 

JOHN: So this whole idea of John, call me up and I’ll tell you how to record an album during Lockdown was all bollocks?

PAUL: Well, not complete bollocks. I thought we could talk about how creativity…

JOHN: You were just lonely. Admit it.

PAUL: I dunno. What shall we talk about? I feel like we should do something.

JOHN: Can you juggle?

PAUL: Not to any great standard.

JOHN: How are you going to get all six people in the band together to record this album? You’re having Zoom calls?

DAN: No. Just been the two of us working away on stuff, mainly.

PAUL: We haven’t seen the others for quite a while.

JOHN: You two can be creative by sitting around writing songs, but what are the other four members of the group doing?

PAUL: Pete Harvey’s up in Perth. He’s the cello player.

DAN: He has been making snowmen and he runs his own studio and does arrangements for string quartets. He had a livestream a few days ago of a piece he’d written.

PAUL: He did strings for Deacon Blue recently and he works for King Creosote quite a lot.

JOHN: The others?

DAN: Alun Thomas goes in to the gallery he works at and goes to the cellar and… is allowed to… erm…to do what he wants.

JOHN: (LAUGHS) Any more details on that?

PAUL: Well, he can play the drums.

JOHN: And the other two?

DAN: They’re both care workers.

JOHN: I did a couple of blogs in June last year with two of The Tiger Lillies. One of them was in Berlin and the other in Athens. They were able to record albums together online but, because of the variable time-lag online, the end result was out of sync, so they had to painstakingly re-edit everything after the recording.

But writing is OK? The two of you get together in your bubble or on your separate sofas?

PAUL: Yeah. But it’s what you write that’s the problem.

We tried to write an album about a cruise ship, because that’s what it felt like at the beginning of the first Lockdown. I abandoned the idea because, after the pandemic’s over, I don’t know if anybody is really gonna want to hear songs about lockdown and stuff like that.

JOHN: Well, I don’t know. The whole of the late-1940s, the 1950s and a lot of the 1960s was all films about the 1939-1945 War…

‘Paul Vickers and The Leg’ – all six band members together

PAUL: I suppose.

JOHN: But you’re screwed, aren’t you? You can’t even do virtual gigs, because you can’t get all six people together. So are both of you phenomenally frustrated? You can write things but you can’t perform them.

DAN: Doing gigs seems like a distant memory. But, if you have stuff to do, like writing songs… Well, you have more time to work on and develop them.

PAUL: And – what we’ve done – it’s a really thoughtful collection of songs. I think the album title will be Winter on Butterfly Lake. It’s not our usual kind of thing. There’s a lot of heartbreak and soft and romantic kind of songs.

DAN: It is a heartbreak album on Paul’s part.

PAUL: Yeah, there’s been some things happening in my personal life that sort of… changed things a bit. And we decided to move away from Susan Oblong songs…

JOHN: Which are…?

PAUL: Songs that are kind of angular, funky kind of songs with cut-up meanings or lots of metaphors. That had become our over-riding style, but then I thought I’m going to be a bit more honest and confessional and put my heart on the table a bit.

DAN: It’s much more personal.

PAUL: Yeah. And that’s changed the tone of the songs and they’re put together and produced in a slightly different way. It has resulted in a change of direction to some degree.

JOHN: My cheap psychology here… Is the fact that they’re more reflective also something to do with the fact you’re in isolation?

PAUL: It might be…

JOHN: Or it might not be.

PAUL: Or it might not be. But I’ve tried to be as honest as I can be.

JOHN: The words come first or the music comes first?

DAN: Both. It’s usually me playing an acoustic guitar and Paul having an idea and it sparks off, then we put it into GarageBand and keep working on it.

PAUL: I’ll have things I’ve been thinking about for a while which come to the surface and Dan will have certain bits he’s been playing around with that might fit and, once you get a melody for something like a first verse, it usually starts flowing quite quickly. 

If it goes well, you can’t get it down quick enough; you’re always ahead of the game.

But, if it doesn’t go well, there’s a lot more shuffling of papers, a lot more cups of coffee and moments of… erm… of quiet contemplation.

(LOUD LAUGHS)

Paul sits below and beside Dan’s inspirational black paper

JOHN: Well, what else shall we talk about? Why have you got a black sheet of A4 paper on the wall?

DAN: Ehhhhhh…. No particular reason… I like drawing and things like that. So I like putting blank bits of paper on the wall to think about what I might draw on them.

JOHN: And it’s black because…?

DAN: Somebody left some sheets of black paper round here.

JOHN: Do you actually need to get all six of you together? Surely in modern recording, people often record their individual bits separately and recordings are made in layers.

DAN: Sometimes we do that, but it’s not the same as actually playing with people. And, when we do the final recordings, then we probably want it to have gone through that kind of development with everyone playing it loads of times together because it changes things.

PAUL: Yea, the structure of things will change.

JOHN: So when might Winter on Butterfly Lake come out?

DAN: It would be good if we could get it done by the end of the year.

JOHN: And it’s solely dependant on the indeterminate lowering of the COVID threat…

PAUL: There’s gonna be a real blocked pipe syndrome, I think – All the things that people have been holding on to will be released – albums, films – How many times have they delayed the release of the new James Bond film?

JOHN: Yes, there will be oodles of $200 million films coming out next year which should have been released last year and this year. Maybe you should title your album Paul Vickers and The Leg: The Constipation Years.

PAUL: Well, when all these things come out of the blocked pipe at once, it’s gonna be messy. There will be a danger of getting lost in the sludge… Either the sludge will create a kind of social ecstasy with all these brilliant things all happening at once… or, more likely, most of it will just get completely ignored and people will move on to the next thing.

JOHN: If these Lockdowns continue for another year, what on earth are you going to do? You’ll be so creatively frustrated.

DAN: We’ll probably just carry on writing stuff for when the time comes…

Dan’s fireplace includes a lion in the bedroom

PAUL: You should see Dan’s fireplace. He had a dream where a lion came into his bedroom and…

DAN: That was it. That was it. A lion coming into a bedroom.

(LOUD LAUGHS)

PAUL: I’ll send you some pictures of Dan’s fireplace… There’s no deadline for posting this blog, because… well… nothing’s happening…

(LOUD LAUGHS)

…and I’ll send you a link to our Bandcamp page – and Dan and I will do you an acoustic lockdown fireside version of Slow Runs the Fox from Winter at Butterfly Lake.

 

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Queen Mab hath been with me…

The late Marion Morrison appeared to me in a dream…

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.

No I didn’t.

That was someone else.

I have never been to Manderley and never dreamt I went there.

But, last night, I dreamt I was at school with John Wayne.

Both of us were adults, not children.

We were sitting at the back of the class, in different rows, on small wooden chairs. He was dressed as a cowboy.

Well, he would be, wouldn’t he?

He was John Wayne.

What was that all about?

Dreams are full of surprises.

Much like Life in that respect.

And equally unfathomable.

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Reaction to the incompetence of the UK’s National Health Service…

Yesterday’s blog was me bitching about the inefficient, mindless bureaucracy of the NHS. In particular, about how they sent me three self-contradictory letters about changing my meeting with a Consultant in June (in four months’ time) from an in-the-flesh meeting to a telephone call (because of the infection risk during the current COVID outbreak).

Inevitably, about ten minutes after posting that blog, I got a phone call from the NHS about changing from flesh-to-telephone a different appointment I have tomorrow with a different Consultant at the same hospital.

Something of a pity that I am not seeing him in the flesh because last week I had a recurrance of the vertigo I suddenly had without warning three weeks ago… and the neck/shoulder/arm pain which has recently got worse since it started back in November… and, of course, the fact I have not had a proper night’s sleep since I was in hospital in May last year – I wake up at least once every hour during the night, dehydrated, with my throat and mouth parched and having to drink water.

This means – because of the water – having to go to the toilet a lot during the night, which is not helped by falling-over vertigo or a painful and restrictive neck/shoulder/arm problem which is easier to describe visually rather than over the phone.

It also means I will not be given a blood test to see how my calcium level/kidney function is progressing or not. Those were involved in my problem last May, the cause of which is still a “mystery” (technical term).

Anyway, I got a fair number of comments about yesterday’s blog. These are a few…


Andy’s response was:


You should raise this with The Minister at The Department of Administrative Affairs. The response will be that to change a standard NHS letter issued by a single key stroke that generates three different but essential standard letters to the same person whilst informing several departments of the change is essential in effective running of the appointments system. 

Whilst admitting that this does appear to be wasteful and confusing, particularly if the three letters received by the patient are opened in the wrong order, to alter the system requires the employment of a number of consultants and support staff over a period. It’s estimated, that may extend over several years because there is no central office for administration within the NHS. 

You’ll recall the failure of the government proposed computer system to link all the the NHS computer systems into one seamless system. It’s considered that to fix this issue, which is considered mostly harmless, would take in the area of £736,000,000 and is therefore not worth doing.

In addition, all of the Ministers’ friends are all currently overstretched in other government projects they’ve been awarded so won’t be able to start work in this until at least 2037.


‘King1394’ observed:


Yes it is the efficient work of computerised automation. Once there would have been a thinking clerical worker managing your appointments. But computers are cheap to employ even if they produce three contradictory letters where one would suffice.


Alan commented:


This is the same bureaucracy that, when medics were crying out for Personal Protective Equipment, refused to deal with many suppliers who had stockpiles of exactly the right equipment, in date, authorised for medical use… They refused to purchase it because that particular supplier couldn’t be added to the procurement system due to a lack of past dealings.

Every once in a while there’s a cry-out for everyone in the NHS to receive a pay rise or bonus due to the hard work they’ve done in fighting the pandemic.

While I wholeheartedly agree that every single person in the NHS who has been right there in the hospital, facing danger, risking their own health as well as that of their families should get something, I’m still very reticent to make it a blanket award as I don’t want to reward those who made it more difficult or who simply did their job from home at no additional risk to themselves or others.


…and Sandra said:


The NHS? I have been lucky in my treatment from them in the main.

Apart from the time when I was sent for physio, when in fact my hip was on the point of fracturing.

Plus one other doctor whom everyone avoided.

As it turned out, he mis-diagnosed my condition, complained about the price of the meds he was about to prescribe, then ran after me begging forgiveness because he had given me the wrong prescription. Bastard. 

And I told him so, leaving out the word bastard…


Obviously, I realise my alleged problems are only relatively minor inconveniences, but – hey! – look – it’s my blog. It needs writing and where else can I selfishly whinge up my own arse if not in my blog?

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The mindless administrative mess that is the UK’s National Health Service…

(Photo by Bofu Shaw via UnSplash)

This week, on one single morning, I got three NHS letters in two envelopes from the same London hospital, all posted from Bristol and all written on the same day, five days earlier.

The first told me (in paragraph 2) that my appointment to see a doctor at 10.30am on Friday 18th June had been cancelled “as part of our response to the COVID-19 outbreak”. 

In paragraph 3, the letter explained that, although the second paragraph “states your appointment has been ‘cancelled’, this is not the case. You have been placed on a waiting list.”

Attached to this letter was a second letter saying: “We’re sorry but we have had to cancel your appointment” at 10.30am on Friday 18th June.

Both these letters were in the same envelope.

In a second envelope which arrived at the same time on the same day was a third letter dated on exactly the same day as the first two letters.

It said: “This letter is to confirm that a telephone appointment has been made for you at 10.30am on Friday 18th June. When you have a telephone appointment you are not required to attend the hospital.”

So basically, entirely reasonably, to avoid people attending the hospital in person during the COVID-19 outbreak, my in-the-flesh appointment at 1030 on Friday 18th June (over four months away) had been changed to a telephone appointment at exactly the same time.

To do this, I was sent a letter saying my appointment was cancelled but not cancelled… an attached letter saying my appointment was cancelled… and a third, separate letter saying my appointment had been changed from physical to telephone.

All that I needed to receive was one letter saying my appointment had been changed from physical to telephone, not three letters, all sent from the source on the same day.

Have I mentioned before how much I hate mindless bureaucracy in general and what an administrative mess the NHS is?

… CONTINUED HERE

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COVID Lockdown London: lunchtime in a massive East End shopping centre…

The station at Stratford in East London is always busy because it’s an interchange between two London Underground lines, the Overground, the Docklands Light Railway, national Great Eastern trains and the existing TfL Crossrail service.

Counting Underground passengers alone, in 2019, 64.85 million people entered or exited the station. This was the main exit from the station(s) to the massive Westfield shopping centre today, an ordinary Thursday…

And this was one small area inside Westfield shopping centre around lunchtime today:

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Taking cocaine in the 1980s and early 1990s…

The only recreational drugs I was interested in when I was in my late teens were LSD and heroin… LSD because of its alleged creative expansion of the mind… and heroin for the opposite reason why most people take drugs – the downside not the upside.

I remember when the government’s first anti-heroin drug ads were screened on TV – all that despair, despondency and crouching-down-in-the-corner imagery – a friend of mine said to me that the people who designed the anti-heroin campaign didn’t seem to be on the same wavelength as the people who might be attracted to take heroin. They thought the images would be vey unattractive, but she found them almost a turn-on. 

Ironically, she had, in fact, taken heroin once and the up-whoosh she found completely overwhelming to such an extent that she was frightened by her own attraction to it; but she was also attracted in a self-destructive way to the downside afterwards.

When I myself would have taken acid or smack, they were not really available in the then limited circles I moved in.

By the time they were accessible, I had seen and read about the dangers – Syd Barrett of Pink Floyd had gone completely doolally on LSD and Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys had allegedly initially got psychologically hooked on acid then went doolally after someone spiked his drink.

When I was around twenty, a female friend of mine married a heroin addict.

In I guess the mid-1980s, I remember for some reason sitting in on someone else’s overnight video edit in Soho. The guy I knew directing the edit was being obsessive about every single exact cut and two in particular, getting them moved back and forth by individual frames (there are 25 frames per second on UK videotape).

The edit took about four hours, with those particular two cuts taking about two hours in the middle of it… and with him making regular trips to the toilet, usually emerging rubbing his nose.

Not recommended by me (Photo free from Wikipedia)

At the end of the edit, when he was again in the toilet, the editor told me that the two edits were, at the end of the session, exactly where they had been at the very start.

Around the same time, I also had a job interview with a female company boss who – unsurprisingly but absolutely genuinely – was from South America. She sat behind her large desk and I sat facing her.

Halfway through the interview, she took out some cocaine and asked me if I wanted to join her. I said No; but she herself indulged and for the rest of the interview was occasionally face down on the desk, snorting the stuff while asking me questions or allegedly listening to my answers. Totally true.

I did not get the job which was not really much of a surprise as it was not really much of an interview, with her distracted for most of it.

On another occasion, I was working as an associate producer in an open plan office, sitting opposite a production secretary. When the company boss came into the office in the morning or afternoon, she would guess if he had or had not been snorting coke that morning by the speed he walked across the office floor to his desk.

On yet another occasion, I was at the National Film Theatre where a top TV executive was giving a major presentation to the assembled throng. As it was a very right-on event, to the right of the stage a lady was doing sign language for the deaf although I don’t think there was any reason to suppose there were any deaf people present.

The executive, by repute, was no stranger to coke and was speaking so fast that the sign language lady could not keep up with him and had to stop him occasionally to catch up.

There was some light laughter from the audience, though whether it was laughing with the sign lady or at the executive was unclear.

Difficult to be certain as there was a chance that maybe half the audience was also out of their heads.

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A pain in the neck: Why I really don’t trust the UK’s National Health Service

Bad: cut head. Good: if you have freckles, no need for hair…

I got my Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID vaccination yesterday. Apparently over 12 million people have now been given the jab.

No side effects so far except that, about half an hour after getting the jab, I fell over backwards in my back garden.

I was unable to control the fall, landed flat on my back on the concrete path and hit the back right side of my skull against the sharp edge of my back doorstep.

Now I have a very sensitive-to-the-touch large domed bump on my head and a V or Y-shaped cut. Surprisingly no blood.

Nothing to do with the vaccine, of course – I just accidentally clicked my heel against the slightly raised concrete path by the grass and fell backwards. But it’s a kinda clickbait way to start a blog.

The execution of the vaccination itself was stunningly efficient. A steady flow of people entering the venue, being rapidly processed and exiting. I can only assume the organisation of it was set up by the Army not the NHS and not politicians.

I think anyone who has ever worked with me knows that I do not get on well with mindless bureaucracy.

All large bureaucracies are inherently mindless, inefficient and incompetent, no matter how well-meaning the staff may be.

Aye and there’s the rub. 

Settle back with a nice cup of something hot. This is a lengthy, self-indulgent blog.

Early last week, I contacted my local doctor because I have a persistent pain at the right side of my neck, across my shoulder and in a straight line down the outside of my right upper arm. The pain has been there since late November. It is now early February and has been a bit worse the last month or so.

I think it is a muscular pain and the problem is really in my neck. I could be wrong. 

My shoulder was broken in 1991 – pulverised in two places

In 1991, while standing on a pavement, I was hit by a large truck. It pulverised (technical talk for “powdered”) my collar bone in two places. The back left side of my head was cut open when it hit the edge of a low brick wall as I fell.

It also turned out later that my spine had been damaged at the bottom. The same effect as a slipped disc, though I don’t think it’s medically called that. And it hasn’t mended.

After the knock-down, I was in my local hospital for a week.

I was in the bone section ward of the hospital because of the shoulder injury; but I was bureaucratically under the care of the brain section people because of my head wound. These were/are two different departments/wards on two different floors of the hospital. 

It meant that, in the hospital, although the nursing staff in the bone ward cared for me and looked out for any after effects on my shoulder and brain, the consultant supervising the bone ward ignored me.

“He is not our responsibility,” said the doctor, passing by.

One day, I heard him say, as he approached my bed with a bevy of (I presume) eager and attentive trainee doctors: “This is Mr Fleming. He is one of Mr XXXX’s patients, so he is not our responsibility.” And, as normal, he passed by my bed without stopping or talking to me. 

Mr XXXX, who was on a different floor of the hospital, never visited me.

Eventually, late one Friday afternoon, an exhausted and I presume very over-worked junior doctor who worked for Mr XXXX came down, had a brief chat with me and told the nurses in the bone ward I could be sent home. Presumably they had advised Mr XXXX that I had no long-term head problems. (Which was not the case, as it turned out.)

After I was sent home, there was no physiotherapy, no after care of any kind. Much later I discovered there should have been but – hey! – it’s a big organisation. Shit happens. Some things don’t.

For about the next nine months I had waves of inability to think properly, I presume caused by concussion. I am still unable to read books because of concentration problems. Oddly, I can write books on a computer but I cannot read printed books.

I also buggered my shoulder. Mea culpa.

Because of the fractured bone(s) in my shoulder, I could only walk very carefully and slowly. I discovered walking is quite a violent shock to the torso. Who knew? Every step was a jolt and a knife stab into flesh because my bone had broken diagonally, creating two very sharp pointed ends. And I had to sleep on my back at night. Throughout my life I had previously slept on my side.

To avoid turning over, I slept with my left arm stretched out at right angles to my torso. This meant I mostly did not turn over but also had the side-effect (not realised at the time) that my shoulder bone, fractured in two places, mended with the bits of bone overlapping rather than re-attaching as before.

Not me (Photograph by Dylan Sauerwein via Unsplash)

This, in turn, I think, had the result that my left shoulder is slightly shorter horizontally than it should be and muscles around the back of my neck are a bit bunched-up.

So, occasionally, the back of my neck gets very tense and bunched.

In November last year, this was happening again and the right side of my neck started having an occasional vertical pain. As this developed, it also went along the top of my right shoulder and, for some reason, in a straight line down the outside of the upper half of my right arm.

Currently I get a pain on the right side of my neck and in that line down the outside of my right arm. I can’t really lift my arm more than halfway up my torso without a shooting pain.

All this, I think, is muscular and related to my buggered back-of-the-neck – not anything to do with bones or trapped nerves.

So I phoned my local doctor earlier this week. We are, of course, still in mid-COVID pandemic, so seeing anyone is pretty much of a no-no. The first person I talked to put me through to a second person. She told me: “There are no appointments left today. You have to phone back at 8 in the morning to book an appointment.” I was not asked why I wanted to talk to a doctor.

The next morning, I set my alarm for 0756 and phoned back at 0800. 

This was the same number I had successfully phoned the previous day.

The answerphone said: “Thankyou for calling. This number is no longer in operation. Should you require urgent medical advice, please hang up and dial 111.”

111 is a general NHS advice number.


As an aside… In May, I was advised after a negative COVID test to contact my doctor because I had odd non-COVID symptoms.

When I phoned the GP surgery and told them my symptoms, their initial reaction was: “It is not our responsibility. Phone 111.”

When I phoned 111, they told me to phone back the local GP surgery and tell them that 111 said I HAD to talk to my doctor and he had to talk to me within three hours. I did. He phoned back just over three hours later and got an ambulance to take me to A&E because he believed I had had a stroke (although I had no symptoms of having had one). 

When A&E tested me, they took me into hospital immediately. I had dangerous kidney function/calcium levels. Someone later told me I was probably within spitting distance of being on kidney dialysis machine.

Anyway, back to this week…


I phoned back the surgery’s number again after a few minutes gap. Same message. “Thankyou for calling. This number is no longer in operation. Should you require urgent medical advice, please hang up and dial 111.” 

I went online and checked the surgery’s number. It was the correct number. I phoned back again.

“This line is no longer in use,” a different message said.

I phoned back again. The answerphone again said: “Thankyou for calling. This number is no longer in operation. Should you require urgent medical advice, please hang up and dial 111.”

I phoned back again. Same number. This time, I got a receptionist who put me through to another receptionist who asked what, in general, was wrong with me and said a doctor would phone me back “sometime today”.

Later that morning, the doctor phoned me from a very echoey room. He was either in his kitchen or a very small room with hard walls. It sounded like a toilet but I felt that was unlikely.

He listened to the symptoms I had had since November. I told him I had tried rubbing on Deep Heat, Tiger Balm (suggested by Boots chemist) and Chinese Wan Hua Oil, all to no effect.

He suggested I take paracetamol or some other simple over-the-counter pain killer.

This is why I largely distrust Western Medicine. The object is to relieve the pain and hide the symptoms… not to cure the cause which will continue, masked by the drugs.

“Pain is a sign that something is wrong, Rosemary…”

I have, perhaps, been unduly influenced in my thinking by a line in Rosemary’s Baby… “Pain is a sign that something is wrong, Rosemary.”

I somehow, perhaps foolishly, doubt that I am pregnant with the Devil’s baby, but pain is my body telling my brain that there is a problem in some part of my body, its seriousness reflected in the level of pain transmitted.

I would rather know there is a problem and try to solve it rather than not know and let it develop unknown by me.

I have a feeling that a good neck massage might help me, but – hey! – we are in a COVID pandemic where no-one wants to get to close to anyone else.

The doctor did say he would text me two NHS online exercises for neck pain and shoulder pain. And get a physiotherapist to contact me.

Whether this physiotherapist actually will contact me or not is in the lap of the Gods, but I had a look at the two pages of NHS advice as sent by the doctor.

The one for Neck Pain says: “See a GP if pain or stiffness does not go away after a few weeks”.

The advice for Shoulder Pain says: “See a GP if the pain is getting worse or does not improve after 2 weeks”.

As I mentioned to my GP, I have had pain since November.

I can’t imagine this NHS treatment happening in a pandemic…

Ah well, I should look on the bright side. I am seeing my Chinese doctor in two weeks.

The good thing about Chinese medical philosophy is that they try to cure the problem not mask the symptoms. 

Western Medicine and the NHS is a pain in the neck.

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Filed under Bureaucracy, Medical