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?”


 

1 Comment

Filed under Comedy, Medical

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Health, Medical, Radio

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!

2 Comments

Filed under Books, Publishing, Sex, Television

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…

Leave a comment

Filed under Art, Eccentrics, Humor, Humour, Performance, Uncategorized

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

2 Comments

Filed under Acting, Movies

Has the UK’s National Health Service any idea about what it is actually doing?

I have blogged about the chaos in the UK’s National Health Service before. The larger a bureaucracy, the larger the potential chaos.

I was in hospital for a week in May last year – with abnormally high calcium levels and dangerously low kidney function. This was reversed by a week’s worth of intravenous bisphosphonates – a drip to you and me.

But I have not had a full night’s sleep since June last year (ie exactly 12 months ago). No-one knows why I had the calcium/kidney problems and no-one knows why now, when I eventually go to sleep at night, I wake up at least once every hour every night with my mouth as dry as the Sahara Desert, forcing me to drink water.

As no-one has been able to diagnose the cause, there is no treatment. 

Currently, I have appointments with a Calcium Man in July, a Respiratory Man in August and a Kidney man in October.

One of the 6 pages of my Blood Test results

Yesterday morning, I got a 6-page print-out of my latest blood tests. I also got a call from another man at my local hospital to arrange a ‘Water Deprivation’ test two days before I see the Calcium Man. 

The Water Man was arranged by the Calcium Man.

The Calcium Man told me that it would be an early-morning urine test and I would not be able to drink liquids for several hours before the test.

Yesterday, the Water Man (who was a tad dithery) told me I would have to do “a 12-hour fast” before the test so I would not be able to eat or drink anything after 6.30pm the previous night. He had not told me what time the test would be.

“Oh,” I said, slightly surprised, “is my appointment at 6.30 in the morning?”

“9.30 in the morning,” he replied.

A slight pause.

“Oh,” I said, with a sinking heart. “So really a 15-hour fast.”

A slight pause at the other end of the line and then some linguistic confusion along the lines of “Umm… Err” followed by some audible recalculation.

“7.00pm,” the Water Man said, having recalculated the 12 hour gap before 9.30am. “So you can’t eat or drink anything after 7.00pm the previous night.”

I know when there is no point asking any more questions.

We left it at that.

But this does not increase my confidence in the efficiency of the UK’s National Health Service. I guess each generation thinks its doctors are experts and know what they are doing. Frankly, I do wonder if giving up on the application of leeches to the body was a good idea.

“The lies, and truths, and pain?… oh! yet… Stands the Church clock at ten to three?
And is there honey still for tea?” (Photograph by Ivan Mani via UnSplash)

 

1 Comment

Filed under Bureaucracy, Health, Medical

A fond memory of eccentric – and very noisy – comedy performer Chis Luby

John Ward made the Malcolm Hardee Awards

Mad inventor John Ward is a man of many parts, many of them going spare. He designed and built the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award trophies and I have occasionally booked him on TV shows. 

One was in 1988 on the weekly ITV series Prove It! Participants had to ‘prove’ they could do something bizarre.

John now writes a weekly column for the Spalding Guardian newspaper and today he remembered fellow eccentric Chris Luby. Here are some of his memories:


The late Chris Luby was absolutely brilliant at ‘noise impressions’ such as a WW2 spitfire starting up, going down a runway and into battle, trains on the underground that to the untrained ear sounded very real plus many more.

I first met him some years ago when we both appeared on an ITV telly show called Prove It! presented by Chris Tarrant

We both recorded the pilot show plus both appeared in the first episode while I appeared in the whole series on a thirteen week basis presenting assorted inventions and gadgets.

Chrises Tarrant and Luby

Day one was rehearsal day with everybody involved getting to know each other, then going through our paces plus a studio run-through, then – all those still breathing – off to our designated hotels for a clean-up before dinner.

I was on the same table as Chris (Luby) for dinner/supper and it was an experience sitting there, looking at the menu while hearing about The train now leaving platform whatever… and going through to Kings Cross station, with all the assorted sounds and voices.

He sat there, menu covering his face, making these noises and, apart from the fact they were ‘spot on’ and very realistic, my thoughts were: “Does he ever stop!?”

He was doing his impression of whatever plane it was as the waiter came over to us to ask if we were ready to order. I said we would, just as soon as my companion came in to land.

The look on the poor waiter’s face was a classic as he didn’t know what was going on but then nor did I… but I was learning – I hoped.

The first night we spent in the lounge bar area of the hotel and, yes, he carried on going like a good ‘un with his assorted impressions of objects and people.

Eventually it was off to bedtime and I did sleep very well all things considered as it had been a really long day.

So imagine being woken up the next morning by what sounded like a detachment of the Grenadier Guards at the bedroom door, ‘marching on the spot’ outside.

I know I had asked for an alarm call but this was pushing it a bit.

I then heard what could be called a sergeant major’s ‘rallying call’ or “Git ‘art of bed, you ‘orribel little man!!!” as it dawned on me (well, it was by then daylight) it could be only Chris Luby. 

Does he ever stop? I asked myself.

Chris Luby – N0-one ever slept in HIS shows

His initial appearance had him in a Coldstream Guard’s uniform, coming through the middle of the stage curtains, making the sounds of a marching regiment… hobbling on crutches as he had broken his leg a week or so beforehand.

Culture didn’t come any better than this.

He used to perform about a twenty minute act consisting of assorted ‘sounds’ or noises, many military based and he made a decent living from it on the comedy circuit.

Sadly there is not much on the internet about him apart from the fact he passed away in January 2014 following an accident at his home when he tumbled downstairs.

That ended the life and sounds of ‘The Man of Many Noises’.

He wasn’t what you might call a ‘mainstream’ entertainer but anybody you mentioned his name to in ‘the show business’ always broke into a smile as they all seem to have a Chris anecdote.

He was one of those unique but talented people that, once met or seen, never forgotten.


SoundCloud has an audio clip of Chris Luby impersonating an RAF fly-past at the legendarily raucous church funeral of Malcolm Hardee in 2005…

…and YouTube has a clip of John Ward (though sadly not Chris Luby) on Prove It!

1 Comment

Filed under Comedy, Eccentrics, Humor, Humour

Waisting time with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s wristwatch in Italy…

News reaches me from my friend Sandy in Italy that the national media have suddenly discovered an unhealthy interest in Kim Jong-un’s wristwatch.

Every time the North Korean leader is not seen for a few months or does not appear at an important Party event, there are rumours about his death and/or health. He has just reappeared after an absence of a month and the niche group of North Korea watchers in the West are split over whether he was:

a) dangerously ill

b) having an internal Party fight with someone or

c) just having a rest

Apparently one school of thought in Italy is that his most recent non-appearances were because he was either terribly ill or on a strict diet.

Sandy tells me:

“He has obviously lost a lot of weight. His clothes hang baggy and his round face is less round… The name ‘Slim Jong-un’ comes to mind.

“There were photos in an Italian newspaper on Friday with three close-ups of his wristwatch strap from 2019 and 2021… showing which hole he had it on to measure how much weight he has lost.

“He must,” she added, “think the Western press is totally barmy.”

And who is to gainsay him?

Giant statues of Kim Il-sung (left) and Kim Jong-il (right) in North Korea’s capital Pyongyang (Photograph: April 2012)

“Another theory being published,” Sandy tells me, “is that he only put on weight in the first place to resemble his father Kim Jong-il and his grandfather Kim Il-sung… and, now his authority is consolidated, he can go back to what he really looks like. A bit like method acting. Do you think he plays air guitar to Bohemian Rhapsody?”

This seems unlikely as, last Thursday, the New York Times quoted Kim saying that South Korean K-Pop music was “a vicious cancer corrupting young North Koreans’ attire, hairstyles, speeches, behaviors.” North Korean state media warned that, if left unchecked, it would make North Korea “crumble like a damp wall.”

The New York Times explains: “North Korean state propaganda has long described South Korea as a living hell crawling with beggars. (But) through the K-dramas, first smuggled on tapes and CDs, young North Koreans learned that, while they struggled to find enough food to eat during a famine, people in the South were going on diets to lose weight. South Korean entertainment is now smuggled on flash drives from China, stealing the hearts of young North Koreans who watch behind closed doors and draped windows.”

As well they might. Last December, North Korea enacted a new law with increased sentences to 5-15 years in labour camps for people who watch or possess South Korean entertainment. The previous maximum sentence was 5 years hard labour.

Kim Jong-un’s father Kim Jong-il was a great movie fan and appeared in the movie Team America.

(If any North Koreans should be reading this, can I point out I live in North Carolina in the USA and my real name is Margaret Smith.)

Leave a comment

Filed under Humor, Humour, Italy, Newspapers, North Korea

There was a funny smell inside an English prison in the 1980s…

Keith introduces a programme at Anglia TV in his inimitable style…

So, yesterday I was having a chat on the phone with the delightful Keith Martin, a TV announcer whom I encountered during his 27 on-and-off freelance years at Anglia TV.

“…when I went to prison for the only time in my life,” was the end of one sentence. So, obviously, I asked for more details…


HMP Wayland in Norfolk: “It wasn’t a high security prison…”

KEITH: I was working at Anglia at the time. How or why we were invited to go to the prison, I just don’t know. I went with another of the Anglia announcers. This was probably in the late 1980s.

It was quite a modern prison – Wayland. It opened in 1985; Jeffrey Archer was imprisoned there for perjury in 2011. But I was there, as I say, I think in the late 1980s…

It wasn’t a high security prison but, as we went into one section, the door was locked solidly behind us before they opened the next door. It was that kind of prison.

JOHN: Why were you there?

KEITH: Probably some promotional thing for Anglia. I actually never knew. It was arranged last-minute. But, for some reason, we were there to watch the prisoners performing a pantomime.

JOHN: Oh no you weren’t.

KEITH: Oh yes we were. We went into a hall, not a particularly large hall. I can’t remember if the chairs were screwed to the floor… In fact, I think we were probably sitting on big, heavy benches.

JOHN: What was the first thing you noticed when you entered the prison?

KEITH: The smell. When we entered the inner sanctum of the prison, there was a very strong smell.

JOHN: Of what?

KEITH: Drugs.

JOHN: What was the inner sanctum?

KEITH: As we approached the recreational area.

JOHN: Recreational drugs?

KEITH: Indeed so.

JOHN: If there was a strong smell of drugs, the prison officers must have been aware of this too?

KEITH: I had the impression it was one way of pacifying the inmates. They allowed a certain amount of it to go on.

JOHN: Did someone actually tell you that?

KEITH: The way I would prefer to phrase it was that it was implied at the time that this was… tolerated… that this would be allowed to happen.

JOHN: How did the prisoners get the drugs in?

KEITH: Well, I found out one way years later when I went to a second-hand mobile phone shop in Clapham Junction where they gave you money for your old phones. I told the man: “I’ve got one of the original Nokia phones,” and he said: “Oh! They’re very popular… because people use them for other purposes!”

“What?” I asked.

“They stick them up their arsking-for-it,” he told me… And that’s how they were smuggled in to prisons back then. With a contraceptive. They put the Nokia phone inside a contraceptive.

(This would have been around 1999/2000.)

JOHN: It would be embarrassing if the phone rang in transit.

KEITH: I don’t know what the signal strength would have been like.

JOHN: Do you still have a Nokia?

KEITH: Yes, the old one and it still works.

JOHN: Where do you keep it?

KEITH: In a safe place. As a back-up. But, as I’m sure you know, this was why they put certain people on the potty.

JOHN: Why?

KEITH: They used to put them on a potty and then wait until they did ‘an evacuation’.

JOHN: What?? In prison??

KEITH: Didn’t you know that?

JOHN: No. They did that in case a Nokia fell out?

KEITH: Other brands are available but, yes, this was part of the security thing. Maybe they used German toilet bowls.

JOHN: German?

KEITH: When I worked for BFBS in West Germany and West Berlin, there was a ceramic platform at the back of the toilet bowls onto which your evacuation fell so you could inspect it before you flushed and the water gushed it down the hole. Some Germans are obsessed about what’s happened to their poo.

JOHN: Up the Ruhr?

KEITH: Enough, John.


As a sign of how things have changed, a 2017 report in the International Business Times revealed that inmates at Wayland Prison were now being allowed to use laptop computers to order meals from their cells and had been given in-cell telephones to keep in touch with relatives in the evenings. 

All the prison’s cells had telephones and the prison was “also planning the limited introduction of ‘video calling’ to friends and family later in the year.”

“However,” the report continued, “in common with most prisons, HMP Wayland continues to battle a tide of contraband flooding into into the jail… So far, in the first six months of this year, the jail’s seized haul includes over a kilo of drugs, 177 mobile phones and almost 500 litres of alcohol, most of which was illicitly brewed inside the premises.”

1 Comment

Filed under Drugs, Prison, Television

Anarchy in the UK’s National Health Service during the Covid 19 pandemic…

(Photograph: Jr Korpa via UnSplash)

Occasionally I start a blog with a variation on: 

What’s the point in  having a blog if you can’t be self-obsessed?

This is one of those blogs. But we don’t get to that bit until towards the end.

At the time of writing, England is almost out of Covid Lockdown. 

On June 21st, all restrictions may (or may not) be lifted. The chaos caused has been, of course, even worse in large bureaucracies like the NHS.

This morning I got an email from someone I know. 

“If you think you are having a rough time with the NHS,” it said, “below is a cut ‘n’ paste of an email from my son about his wife, Sue.”

I have changed the names to protect their privacy. The email he attached read:


Dear Dad,

Hope you are doing OK.

All OK here – except that Sue had an interesting unexpected phone call last week. The number was not recognised, but she answered because it was a local number. 

The person introduced himself as her consultant and said it was urgent that he speak to Sue Simpson. 

Sue said she was speaking, then the consultant asked her why she had not attended any of her appointments over the last 18 months, at which point Sue pointed out that they had cancelled her three booked appointments and she had not received any more. 

Last January Sue had some scans – CT scan, X-ray, cat scan and bone density scan because the year before she broke three vertebrae in the accident, as you know.

She never got the results due to cancellations as a certain pandemic hit. 

We wondered why the results were not passed on to her GP but the consultant said they were too important to give to the GP and had to be dealt with by themselves… But they were obviously not important enough to keep the three appointments!!!!.

 Anyway, the consultant asked if Sue was sitting down, so Sue said she could cope standing up. The doc then said that Sue should start three new medications immediately as she has been diagnosed with osteoporosis and he was sorry but this diagnosis was made after his scans nearly 18 months ago. 

It means she has missed out on 18 months of meds and it could cause permanent damage to her spine and other bones. Basically, he said that if she has a severe jolt to her body there’s a possibility of her spine being crushed and possible loss of feeling. 

We have to take it one step at a time. But it does explain why she’s lost so much weight and her bones and muscles really play her up. 

Waiting 18 months for results has meant that she’s lost 18 months of medication and her health has got worse.


That was the email which was forwarded to me. 

If you remember, there was a reference to “If you think you are having a rough time with the NHS,…”

The rest of this blog is really an aide-memoire to myself.

Feel free to abandon ship.

I have been not 100% since I was hospitalised for a week last May with a high calcium level and dangerously low kidney function. I am still an outpatient with The Kidney Man at my local hospital. They only realised I had dangerous calcium/kidney problems by taking blood tests; all other tests showed no problem.

I am booked-in to see him again, in-the-flesh, on 14th June which is reassuring because I have not had a blood test since 19th October last year.

I was also supposed to have a telephone appointment with ‘the Respiratory Team’ at my local hospital last month – on 11th May. The appointment had been made by my Calcium Man way back on 30th November last year so, on 10th May, the day before the appointment, I thought it wise to check if it really was going to be in the flesh or by phone. In fact, the Calcium Man had asked for a Respiratory Team appointment on 27th November and it had taken to 2nd January to actually confirm an 11th May appointment in writing.

When I phoned, I was told the appointment had been cancelled altogether back on 21st February because there would be no doctor available on 11th May. I had never been notified of this cancellation. But I was told would not have to make another appointment as it was now “in the system”.

Obviously, the next day, I checked with the secretary to my Calcium Man’s secretary, who said she would sort it out.

So, on 20th May, I got two letters, both dated 18th May.

One told me my 11th May appointment had been cancelled and I had a new appointment on 14th September. The other told me my 14th September appointment had been cancelled and replaced by a 9th August appointment. Both letters, as I said, were dated 18th May. Both arrived in the same post.

Now we reach the even-more self-obsessed bit.

I have had vertigo since January. Its seriousness comes and goes. When it is not serious, I just feel light-headed and not 100% in control of my balance. 

Yesterday morning, just after midnight, for about an hour, without any warning, I had very very very bad vertigo… then with added bad diarrhoea, then with added vomiting.

After that, I managed to sleep for four hours, which was quite an achievement as, since coming out of hospital last May, I have not had a single full night’s sleep – I wake up at least once ever hour, very dehydrated.

Yesterday, when I did wake up – at around 0530, I was a bit better though, if I stood up, I was still dizzy and wobbly.

Mid-morning, a text arrived from the Kidney Team at my local hospital. My appointment with the Kidney Man on 14th June has been changed – “due to COVID19” – from a face-to-face meeting to a telephone call. “We will phone you in due course” it said.

This was – erm… – somewhat disappointing as it means no blood tests.

The Kidney Man had said when I talked to him by phone on 15th February that I would be contacted about a further blood test by one of two local hospitals, but I never was. That’s large bureaucracies for you.

Anyway, yesterday I was told my next ‘meeting’ with the Kidney Man would be by phone… so no blood test there.

That was yesterday morning.

Then, just after midday, the SEVERE vertigo came back, including my bedroom walls whizzing round, it appeared, both from right to left AND from left to right. Who knew this was possible? That only lasted for about half an hour and the rest of the day was just a bit wobbly inside my head.

This morning I feel a bit light-headed.

To be continued, I feel…

Though who knows when?

Leave a comment

Filed under Medical